On tour at home and abroad with the Sumpners

The view below is Toad Rock, Tunbridge Wells

The Hop Farm – Kent, May 4-7

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We selected this site for a variety of reasons  – for its closeness to (Royal) Tunbridge Wells,  because it was sited on the River Medway and lastly because of its proximity to my brother’s home in Beckenham.

I had been looking forward to visiting RTW at Easter, the year my lovely mum died, but, before we had a chance to visit, we had to turn round and come home after an urgent call to say she was fading fast. I could not face going back to the same site and the Hop Farm looked interesting – particularly as it was by a river and we could take our boat.  We also had a plan to hook up with my sister -in-law and the kids as my brother was away. SO – it all fitted.

Friday 4th May

We left at about 10.30 and had a quite surprisingly traffic free journey – considering it was A) a bank holiday weekend and B) much of the journey was on the M25! We arrived at about 12.50 – just 10 minutes early – but were permitted on site with no problem. We were located on Camping Field C – and when we arrived we were pretty much unaccompanied. As the afternoon wore on, though, more and more people rolled in. Somewhat oddly though, we had a spare pitch either side of us. Perhaps our reputation had preceded us?

We went though the well practiced set-up routine and were pleased to note that there was a handy tap on each power point. Not too far to fill up. After this – lunch, a bit of a relax and then a trip to the nearest Aldi, near Maidstone with a view to possibly buying a new water barrel as ours has a slight leak. Alas they had none (although there had been plenty in our local store the evening before. Doh!). A little research showed a caravan and camping shop not too far away, and we popped in there too – to see if we could buy a new seal instead. This tale may have a familiar ring to it, as we bought a new seal last time we went away (at Easter) but – annoyingly – can’t find the flipping thing now.

We noticed that traffic in the area was very heavy , and we experienced this phenomenon, which we dubbed “Kentish Queuing”, quite a few times in our travels around the area.

We arrived back at the van and set about relaxing. The site (which has 300 pitches) had filled up even more in our absence. But we still had no neighbours! Nice. It was a pleasant evening and we were excited to notice that an air balloon was being inflated in the adjacent field. Judging by the wind we estimated that it would fly right over us. We were right! I was very envious of the passengers. It’s a wonderful thing to do (I did it for my 40th birthday ) and it was the perfect evening for it.

We had a delicious dinner and retired early as we were both tired.

Saturday 5th May

Wow! What a lovely day! Filled with a desire to get out and about in the sunshine,  we breakfasted, washed and got ready in record time, and set off for RTW. I particularly wanted to visit the Pantiles  as I had fond memories of a trip many years ago with friends Alsion (then Stewart) Deacon, Sharon and Tania. We parked nearby and walked to the Pantiles. It had not changed too much – from memory. People were out and about in droves, lured by the lovely weather and the numerous street cafes.

I had a recollection of “taking the waters” at the “Chalybeate Spring” and I thought Paul should try them too. My recollection was that they were vile! Nothing has changed – it still tastes like sucking a rusty nail!

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The “Dipper”

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For the princely sum of £1, we were treated to a short and informative talk by the “Dipper” in her Regency costume. The water was presented to Paul who quaffed. And then grimaced. It’s awful stuff – but was believed to have beneficial properties and is one of the reasons why the Wells of Tunbridge  came to prominence. Interestingly – the Spring stopped flowing for 7 months in 2014/15, putting the Dippers out of work for a while. The reason why the spring failed doesn’t seem to have been fully determined, but low rainfall has historically had an effect on flow. This was the first time in 400 years that they had actually stopped altogether. One wonders whether climate change may have been the culprit?

Welsh dandy Beau Nash certainly saw the business opportunites in RTW! Fresh from his success as MC in Bath, he declared himself MC of RTW and it became a very fashionable place to take the waters. I’d love to go back to the mid 1700s and attend a ball,  in a sprigged dimity frock with gloves, fan and dance card, all presided over by Richard “Beau” Nash himself.  I imagine it might be a bit stinky though?

We browsed the stalls and bought some interesting Scotch eggs – Curried, Chorizo, Chicken and bog-standard, with a view to lunching on them. We also paid a visit to a magnificent cook-shop (dog-friendly!) where I bought a whisk for the caravan. This was because I had made Polenta the previous evening and had to use the fish-slice to mix it! Not a disaster but a whisk would have been so much easier! We also bought Arch some Peanut Butter and Banana, hand-made dog biscuits as a treat.

By then, it was coffee time and we had delicious flat whites and a scrummy pain au chocolat each – a Hobbit-style second breakfast!

Another place I had a yearning to visit was Toad Rock. On that same holiday, many years ago, we had visited it and gone egg-rolling (it was Easter). There are rocks all around RTW  and it was while I was researching their provenance, I came across this – possibly the BEST ever local news story:

https://www.kentlive.news/news/someone-keeps-abandoning-cucumbers-tunbridge-633695

Anyway – back to the rocks. It has previously been speculated that the rock was man- made – including some rather fanciful ideas that it wafashioned in the shape of a rocket (!)  to appease the space men who came travelling. Yes. I know. More modern thinking is that it  was eroded into its current shape by wind action during the Ice Age. I think that’s a tad more likely?

The site wasn’t quite as I remembered it – it had seemed to be more open in my memories, but perhaps time and buildings have encroached? Or – more likely – my memories were dim and I filled the gaps with fancy. Whatever – it was nice to visit and take a few photos to keep the 70’s memories alive. Wish I’d noticed the bin when I took that picture, though.

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As they day was getting on a bit now, we decided we would follow the route of the “Heart of Kent Scenic Trail“.  We had noticed a prancing horse on several signposts and it seems that these mark out the trail. We made our way to Wateringbury, where it starts. We went through some very pretty towns and villages – most notably Mereworth, fab church,  built in the Palladian style; beautiful West Malling  – key features are a Cascade and St Leonard’s tower – probably built by Bishop Gundalf (he of the white Tower at The Tower of London) to name but a few.

Kent Tour

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The Medway at Wateringbury

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St Lawrence’s, Mereworth

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West Malling Abbey Cascade

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St Lawrence’s Tower, West Malling

We then arrived in Tonbridge, another Medway town. We decided to have a look round as there seemed to be a lot of stalls and goings-on at the Castle. We spent a very pleasant hour or so there. The “goings-on” were a food festival (too full of Scotch Egg!) and a demo of the 18th century army (think Culloden) and the various roles each type of soldier played. Perfect location and weather.

We decided to abandon the trail after Tonbridge and pop back to the van for a siesta before our big evening out!

We snoozed, cooked dinner and then popped out to Waitrose in nearby Paddock Wood to buy a few bits for a picnic tomorrow and then came back to the Moonlight Drive In. I felt like a 50’s teenager – although there was very little in the way of “making out”.  Prefer comfort these days!! And there is no need for PDAs!

The film (which started at nine, as dusk fell) was OK – I knew it wouldn’t be great but it was the experience I was after rather than a great movie (which it very definitely wasn’t). But we had popcorn and coffee and our comfy car seats. A very enjoyable experience. The film, by the way,  so that you can avoid, was called “Truth or Dare” and starred no-one in particular!

And so to bed.

Sunday 6th May

Rudely awoken by the yappy dogs at 07:30 from our new neighbour’s (one side only still!) van, we dozed for a while. Mel and the kids were due to arrive late morning so we had no need to hurry. We had the usual eggs’n’sourdough toast combo and then got ready for a picnic on the boat. As soon as we had notification of Mel’s departure, which was swiftly followed by a return to home for Evie’s forgotten swimming costume) we set off down to the river. By the time they called to say they had arrived the boat was blown up and ready for the off.

It was a bit of game getting aboard as there was no pontoon or anything  – just the river bank,  but we were soon afloat. 5 people and a dog plus picnic. It was cosy! But so lovely to be on the water. Jolly fine boating weather. Mel didn’t realise we were using the outboard until we had been underway for some time. She thought we were being transported by the flow of the river, it was so silent.

We were going upstream as far as the first lock – Oak Weir Lock.  (see the map on this link (Part 2) They are BIG locks! All went ashore while I stayed with the boat. And then we turned round and went back to the Sluice Mill lock, passing the campsite on the way. Our final leg was back to the campsite, where we disembarked and deflated the boat with our very clever pump. Rather than pack it away wet, we stuck it on the roof of the car and drove back to the caravan, where we laid it out to dry and had a cuppa. Needless to say – we had grazed our way through the voyage and the heat was quite enervating. Mel and the kids went off to check in to their hotel for the night and we had a snooze. We planned to meet for dinner at 7.

 

Our evening destination was The Chequers in Laddingford – pretty much equidistant from their hotel and our campsite. It is dog-friendly and has a large garden for the kids to run around in. The food was average (I thought). But we had a pleasant evening and made plans for the next day before going our separate ways.

Monday 8th

We had arranged a late check-out and again had a leisurely morning reading and relaxing until Mel and the kids turned up. They had been making good use of the pool at their hotel. We had decided to go to Teapot Island – a nearby tourist attraction/cafe. Its claim to fame was that it was once on the Guinness Book of Records for the largest teapot collection (7,600) but that was a short-lived moment of glory as their record was smashed (ha ha!) by a chap in China (ha ha!) whose collection number a whopping 30,000. I read a review from the funny “Crap Days Out” book  – “”It’s awful if you don’t like teapots. But it’s probably all right if you do.” I think that about sums it up?

We had a nice coffee and a walk around by the river, where we watched people on Hobie stand-up paddle-board. They look like really good fun. The kids had a go on dry land. And then it was time to say goodbye – we went back to the site to pack up and they went home. Our journey home was a little more congested than our journey there but we were soon home, unpacked and looking forward to our trip to Frodsham (childhood home of Gary Barlow, no less!) in Cheshire on the next Bank Holiday weekend at the end of May. Where we have a pitch with our own personal hot tub! Larks!

 

 

 

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