Thursday 28th December
We’d had a day to recover and clear up from Christmas and it was time to up steadies and make our way down to the West Country for the New Year. We keep our van on the drive at home and had been sleeping in there since Christmas Eve (we had family staying) but it was still great to be getting away. We have done this for several years now and it has become part of our festive seasonal routine. I think I look forward to it as much as I look forward to Christmas, these days. Having dealt with all the left over meats by freezing them, we packed all the other goodies (Cheese mountain!) into the van and set off. We had chosen Chew Valley, one of our favourite “Tranquil Parks” (Adult only) sites for this year’s trip. It had been on our list of sites to visit for some while and we couldn’t wait to get there.
Traffic was not too bad and we stopped once for a comfort break for the dog and a coffee for us and arrived early afternoon, with daylight to spare. Chew Valley is at Bishop Sutton – a Somerset village, and the nearest bigger town is probably Keynsham ( spelt K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M for those old enough to remember Horace Batchelor on Radio Luxembourg!) and pronounced Cane-sham. Quite interestingly, Bishop Sutton, is an ex- (as recently as 1929) coal-mining village. It has a pub, a shop and post office and even an Indian Restaurant. And of course our caravan site. It was well sign-posted and easy to find and we were soon reporting our arrival to reception.
Now for the treat! They ask you to unhitch on arrival, hook your van up to a tractor and then site and level it for you! We have never experienced this before. All you have to do is put the steadies down and hook-up electricity and services and you’re done! You leave the car in the car park – once you’ve unpacked all you need. Then you just need to put on the heating, make a cuppa, eat a mince pie (or other delicacy in season) and relaaaaaxxx. We like! Oh and we were presented with a nicely wrapped Christmas gift (a Chocolate Orange) and another nice touch I omitted to mention was that we got an email from them just before we came saying “looking forward to seeing you”! Likewise.
And relax was just what we did for the remainder of the day. And the site looked very pretty at night – lots of Christmas lights. Many people had bedecked their vans with festive illuminations, too, as you can see below.
Friday 29th December
Well that was a Cold, Haily, Windy Night and no mistake! Actually it was just wind and heavy rain and we were snug as, but I’ve always liked the song (Steeleye Span – Please to see the King -Track 2). Even with ear plugs in I could hear the rain! We had a slow morning but eventually headed out to suss out the lie of the land and to replenish our victuals (no cheese required!).
Our first destination was Chew Magna – a very pleasant little village that actually seems to have a thriving heart. The Chew, by the way, refers to the River that runs through the valley, and Chew Magna is/was the most important of several similarly named villages in the area. The Chew is a tributary of the Avon.
As we were driving to our next destination, we encountered an usual sight. A pair of (I think?) Rheas, in a field. They are a long way from home (South America). They were quite friendly and very inquisitive.
We passed through Compton Dando (nice name!) and thence to Keynsham, where we visited the Waitrose to pick up some fresh stuff and grab a coffee. Our tour then took us on the Bath road, and we decide to have a late lunch at The Blathwayt Arms, a nice-looking, dog-friendly pub overlooking the race-course. We shared a baked Camembert (cheese again!), which was delicious.
Thus refreshed, we made our way home, via Bath, to our cosy van for a snooze. We stopped for a quick look (the light was fading) at the Canal leading down to the centre of Bath. Some happy memories of these locks.
Saturday 30th December
Well that was a Cold, Haily, Windy Night and no mistake! Are you seeing a pattern here? I didn’t get a great deal of sleep as the caravan was battered by the wind and there were a couple of gusts which made my heart beat faster. It truly felt like we left the ground, briefly! Luckily we survived with no harm done but I felt pretty groggy!
It was a grey and blustery day, with a louring and sullen sky as we set out, late morning. No cycling today. We popped in to Chew Valley Lake, which is very near the site. The Lake is actually a reservoir (opened in 1956) which supplies Bristol with its drinking water. Unlike other lakes we have visited, there is no provision for an off-road cycling (or walking) circumnavigation, which seems a shame. Lots of dog-walkers though, on the trails that are there. Bristol Water don’t seem too encouraging of such an idea, judging by this article, although there is progress towards one. Anyway – as I already said, it was not a cycling day as it looked like it would pour down at any minute, so not an issue.
We thought we’d go on to have a look at another local lake – Blagdon Lake. This, too, is reservoir, again owned by Bristol Water. From my reading, it seems to be a a bit of a mecca for fisherman. There is a visitor centre – Blagdon Pumping Station and Visitor Centre – but this is sadly not open at the moment due to “works” (according to Bristol Water)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avoncliff_Aqueduct. This is a shame, because it looked pretty interesting and has a couple of old steam-driven beam engines.
Hunger reared its ugly head and we dropped in on the Plume of Feathers in nearby Rickford for a bowl of soup. The Soup du Jour was Mushroom and Anchovy. Yes. Reader it was not pleasant. I note that their website could do with an overhaul, as the Christmas Menu for 2013 appears in the news section! It has a pretty location by a stream,though, and I imagine it’s pretty popular in summer. I saw an advert for a Mole Catcher in the local magazine, which amused me. You don’t see that very often in our neck of the woods!
We noticed a very interesting building on the way in to the village by a pond, and stopped to take a couple of photos. It transpires the pond is Rickford Pond, and the “interesting building” is a former Baptist Chapel – now a Masonic Lodge.
We realised we needed to buy some more dog food as we had used the last the night before. We decided to go to Cheddar to make the purchase as it gave us an opportunity to see – once again cos we love it – Cheddar Gorge.
Sunday 31st December
Well that was a Cold, Haily, Windy Night and no mistake! Again. The rain was particularly heavy – almost monsoon-like. Not that I have ever experienced a monsoon but it was how I imagine it would be!
We had a bit of lie-in as we had had such a(nother) disturbed night and actually did not go out until about 2 pm. The weather was, again, not up to much. Still not cycling weather and we were starting to wonder why we had bothered to bring them!
Because the weather was so rubbish, Paul devised one of his “misery” tours. We passed a most beautiful country house. Sadly it was closed but it was Iford Manor, which holds a Jazz festival in the summer. It was a nice photo opportunity.
We also passed through Freshford, which is the most beautiful village imaginable. All beautiful houses in honey stone and quintessentially English. Interestingly, the village featured in and filming took place here, for famous Ealing comedy. “The Titfield Thunderbolt“. Also noteworthy is that this film was the first Ealing comedy to be filmed in Technicolour.
Our route took us through Bradford on Avon and thence to Bath, very pretty at night (for it was now dark) and a good re-fuelling location. We arrived home and settled down for the evening, hoping that fireworks would not be too big an issue – although Archie’s hearing seems to be less acute than it was. Certainly the firework season, which has hitherto been pretty traumatic for him, passed reasonably peacefully this year. We did hear them nearby but Archie didn’t turn a hair, which was a relief.
Mon 1st Jan 2018
Happy New Year – and a peaceful night all round! And the forecast was good too. A cycling day, at last. We had stumbled across a cycle path, based on an old railway line, that runs from Bristol to Bath, which has a well-designed, interactive website. The path is tarmaced throughout (so hopefully wouldn’t be a mud-bath after all the recent rain). Our nearest point of access was Saltford, so we made our way there and set off. As is often the case, the path is near the canal and we got some lovely views as we cycled along. Not many boats on the move though, maybe because it was NYD?
The cycle path is a tremendous resource and very well used – walkers, cyclists, runners, dog-walkers, families. It’s really good to see. The surface is good too – a few puddles, but no mud. Excellent! It’s about 8km from Saltford to Bath city centre and we thoroughly enjoyed the ride, passing a few locks, a beautiful bridge and then – sadly – the cycle path was closed – less than half a kilometer from the town centre, due to high river levels. Annoying! The rest of the way was on roads, so we decided to give it a miss. We sat and had a drink and then commenced the return journey.
We eventually arrived back at the car park. We’d had a great ride, Archie had had a great run and we had also worked up an appetite for a late lunch. There is a pub (The Bird in Hand) right by the access point to the track, but I had seen a signpost earlier, to a canal-side pub and we decided to make for that. This was the Jolly Sailor which has a prime position right by Saltford Lock. Bet it’s heaving with gongoozlers in the summer. The pub doesn’t have a website, but it does have a Facebook page, so I’ve included a link for those who use it. It was a nice meal – nothing special, but a bit pricey, I thought. Before we left, we took a few photos of the lock. The water was very high indeed – almost over the top of the lock moorings. It made us look forward to a time when we’d return here by boat, hopefully.
We made our way back to the van to do some packing. Paul was working on the 2nd, so we had an early start to get back in time for that. On the way back to the van, we called in at Avoncliff aqueduct, where we had been by boat earlier in the year with our great friends Sue and Paul Rogers. More happy memories and it was interesting to see it from another angle.
It was probably the wettest, windiest New Year break we have ever had and the weather prevented us doing as much as we might otherwise have done. But that didn’t stop us enjoying it at all. It was actually a nice opportunity to relax and read, eat cheese, make more memories and just be. Chew Valley is a lovely site with great facilities. Well worth all the positive reviews and we’ll definitely head back one day. We currently have no plans yet for 2018 but that will be rectified shortly, no doubt.