On tour at home and abroad with the Sumpners

The view below is Toad Rock, Tunbridge Wells

Lady Heyes Caravan Park, Frodsham, Cheshire 24th – 27th May Plus Crick Boat Show 27th- 29th May

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Thursday 24th May

I had booked this site (Lady Heyes)  so very long ago (early 2017) as demand for pitches, complete with their own hot tub is – not unsurprisingly – high! And it was in a part of the world that neither one of us has explored,  so we were really looking forward to it. Although perhaps not to the journey but time would tell. As it was a bank holiday weekend, I think we made the right choice to set off on Thursday. We rolled off the drive just after 09:00 and arrived at our destination at around 15:00 – including a couple of stretch and comfort breaks, for us and Arch, so not too bad, really. The M6 was – by and large – pretty reasonable traffic-wise. We do wonder what the cows make of all the traffic, though!

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It was a really beautiful day and we were excited to finally see our pitch with its really quite private hot tub. Larks! We had to sign forms and get a lesson on operating it but it wasn’t too complex.

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We had a quick cuppa and then set off on an orientation trip. On the way to the site we had spotted the River Weaver (or the Weaver Navigation), so we popped for a quick look round Frodsham ( whose famous residents include Gary Barlow (who was born there ) and Daniel Craig (who lived there at the Ring o’ Bells pub as a child), before heading off to the waterway. It was BIG. A really big boat (trip boat The Daniel Anderson) and high bridges – maybe one day we’ll give it a go, who knows?

As it was such a lovely evening, we thought we’d pop and have a quick look at the nearby  Anderton Boat Lift – a marvel of Victorian engineering which lifts boats down from the Trent and Mersey Canal to the River Weaver below (and vice-versa). Archie (our elderly Border Terrier) had a great time. It was out of commission for quite a while in the 80’s and I have never been up or down it. That’s definitely one for the Canal bucket list.

 

We were peckish by the time we had finished looking round and so we made our way to the pub where we had dinner booked – The Tigers Head in Norley, just south of Frodsham.  Thursday night is Steak Night so, of course that’s what we had, with all the trimmings. It was pretty good. Then it was home to our hot tub and fire pit. What fun!

After this, we retired quite early, as it had been an early start.

Friday 25th May

Lovely peaceful night and I awoke early. I didn’t want to disturb the boys, so I grabbed my towel and shower accoutrements and went off to check out the shower block – of which I had heard good things (award-winning). Had a lovely shower and then settled down for a read until the boys were ready to get up and carpe that diem. Arch always used to be eager to get out and start enjoying himself, but these days he prefers to snuggle in bed as long as he can. Sad to see him getting old.

After such a beautiful day yesterday, the forecast was not so good for today. I had always fancied a visit to Alderley Edge and so we set off in a light drizzle towards “the golden triangle”. This is an area of Cheshire, much loved by WAGs and made famous by the awful “Real Housewives of Cheshire”. The Beckhams, the Rooneys and even Ronaldo have all lived within the area. It is bounded by Wilmslow at the apex and Alderley Edge and Prestbury in the lower two corners.

Wilmslow was actually the first placed we reached. It’s a pretty town – also known as the home of Umbro sportswear. We weren’t tempted to stop though. As we drove through the lush Cheshire countryside, I recalled from my geography lessons that Cheshire was famous for dairy-farming (Mr Bradley would be proud to know) and one can see why. You may be interested to know that Cheshire cheese was once the nation’s favourite, before being taken over by Cheddar.

We arrived in Alderley Edge (average house price just under £700,000 compared with Fareham at £320,000 and nationally around £230,000) and parked in the Waitrose car park. Well we did need a few bits – as usual! We then had a walk round and I had a good poke around the charity shops. My best find was a Coccinelle  – an upmarket (ish) Italian brand – handbag for £50. Even though I love a designer handbag, I didn’t buy it. They’re not really my style.

We have noticed – on our travels – that there are many fine and imposing churches in the area and the one in Alderley Edge is no exception. After the Edge, we pressed on to Knutsford – named after King Canute, he of the failure to stop the tide coming in story, that every kid knows (or maybe not these days?). His bones apparently are in Winchester, by the way. Nowadays, it’s allegedly home to comedian Sarah Millican. We didn’t see her.

It’s another pretty market town with some lovely buildings and looked very festive as we drove through. The weather was not conducive to much exploration, although it did look to be improving. We thus decided to press on towards finding the Trent and Mersey canal – location of many a happy holiday. We passed one of the imposing gates to Tatton Hall on the way. We’ll save a visit until next time.

 

One of the other things Cheshire is famous for is salt. Very handy for that salty, tangy cheese! In fact over-zealous salt-mining (since Roman times)  has been the cause of much subsidence in the area. As you pass along the T&M you can still see piles of salt on the bank and one of the most famous old workings (Lion Salt Works)  has now been turned into a museum.  And Northwich has – even in this century been given aid to stabilise the old workings.

Anyway – it was to the “The Salt Barge” just opposite the museum that we repaired for our (late) lunch. Which was – OK. We passed some flashes – small lakes/meres caused by salt or lime workings – on the way there. They are now a fantastic resource for wildlife and recreation. Much like the canals, their industrial beginnings are now to our advantage.

Next we stopped at a couple of marinas to get some idea of how easy casual moorings are to come by and the costs thereof – for a “future project”. One of them  – Venetian – we have visited quite a few times by boat, but the other is relatively new, we think? Venetian is on the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal – which is currently the victim of a serious breach and which must surely have had a bad impact on their trade.

A hot-tub, cuppa and perhaps a gentle snooze beckoned, but not before we had popped to have a quick look at the famous Bunbury Locks – a staircase lock, which causes a few puzzled frowns and scratched heads when people first encounter it. The signs are very useful for first-timers!

 

Bunbury

As you can see – it was still a bit grey and overcast but that didn’t stop us having a lovely warm, bubbly soak! Which we repeated after dark, just because we could . The rules dictate that you are out of it by 10.45, which I think entirely reasonable.  It’s very pretty at night,  with a variety of colours to choose.

 

Saturday 26th May

Another grey day, so we decided we’d go and have a look at the mighty Mersey before a cycle ride round the Delamere Forest.  But first – a full English, cooked on the CADAC. De-flipping-lish – and plenty left over for our sandwiches for tomorrows trip down South. Note the omnipresent and ever-hopeful canine!

Suitably fortified (OK – well stuffed!) we set off for the Mersey. Well one thing led to another and we eventually ended up in Birkenhead, where the ferries across the Mersey ply their trade. It’s quite an exciting waterfront and we took plenty of pics – of which a selection below.

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The Liver Building

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Ferry

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HAMILTON SQUARE – Birkenhead

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Birkenhead Priory

We made our way back up the estuary and stopped at Eastham – site of one of the earliest crossings of the Mersey (since the Middle Ages) for a coffee. There is a cafe in the former ticket office and a very friendly and knowledgeable chap runs it.  He is obviously –  and justifiably – very proud of his heritage. Eastham was, by all accounts, quite the place to go in Victorian times, with pleasure gardens and even a zoo! Apparently the bear pit can still be seen. Sadly it’s heyday was many years ago, now. But it’s pleasant spot and has been designated a Country Park.

Our next stop (for this was turning into a full on expedition!) was Ellesmere Port  – not to be confused with pretty, sleepy Ellesmere in Shropshire. We had visited Ellesmere Port by boat so it was interesting to see it from a different perspective. It was very much as I remembered, being the terminus of the Shropshire Union Canal and also the site of the tail end of the Manchester Ship Canal, before it merges with the Mersey. It’s quite an exciting place to come by boat as it is also also the site of the National Waterways Museum, which we have explored in the past.

Time was ticking away now, and if we were going to do that bike ride in the forest, it was time to press on. We were still quite full from our breakfast, so had not bothered with lunch. It was a bit late to do the planned 7 mile Whitemore trail route, so we chose the shorter 4 mile Hunger Hill trail. Maybe it would help us work up an appetite for an ice-cream?

It was such a lovely ride. Once again we found ourselves wishing we lived closer to such a great resource. Archie had a great time although his enthusiasm and stamina have sadly decreased quite sharply in the last year. He still enjoys it but flags quite soon. In his youth he’d just run and run all day.

By the time we had finished our circuit, the ice-cream booth had closed. And we were SO up for it! Shame. Still – we stopped at the Delamere Station House Cafe Tea Rooms (very mixed bunch of reviews on Trip Advisor) and had a cream tea instead. Naughty but very nice! It’s a real working station on the main Chester to Manchester line. Feels odd sitting there in some ways – you’d expect to see a steam train but it’s a modern diesel that comes thundering through.

We made our way home and had a relax before starting some packing for leaving the next day. Later, I cooked a Chicken and Mushroom Risotto in my new Paella dish on the Cadac – delicious it was too. Although it was a bit beige – hardly a surprise, as all the ingredients actually are beige, but I usually put some peas in it at home – to cheer it up a bit.  And then it was a bit of telly and a hot tub  and shower before bed.

Sunday 27th May 

Thanks largely to our packing efforts last night, and a simple breakfast, we left the site by 09:45 – even after taking time to make sandwiches for the trip. Egg mayonnaise with sausage and bacon. Yum!! We will miss our hot tub and I’d definitely visit again – still plenty to see in the area. And it was such a contrast to the site where we had spent the early May bank holiday. We didn’t feel at all over crowded or hemmed in – even though trade was clearly brisk.

The journey down to our next site was not quite so smooth. For some reason, the M6 was shut near Coventry and we had to make a lengthy and slow detour on alternative roads. But we arrived by about 1.30 pm and got set up. Our new site was a small one – with no hook-up – in the village of Kilsby, situated between Rugby (Warks) and Daventry (Northants), but more importantly, just a stone’s throw from Crick, where we were attending an event the next day. It is called Shire View and my goodness, you could see why. It was approached by means of a bumpy and steep-ish track and surrounded by fields. Our nearest neighbours were sheep  and chickens and there was a beautiful panoramic view our over the lush countryside. Delightful.

I had been a little worried that it might be a bit noisy, as it was sandwiched between the M1 and M45 and also right on the West Coast Main Line, but there was only a little road roar and Kilsby is the site of KIlsby Tunnel (2,400 yds) and thus we were also protected from train noise. You pass one of the tunnel’s recently renovated ventilation shaft on the track up to the site. We were very pleased to be there.

We were not alone – there was another seasonally sited caravan (not occupied) and a camper van (occupied) on 2 of the 5 pitches. But it still felt roomy. Set up was achieved and then we went out for a quick explore, as there would not be time the next day. As neither of us had ever been,  we decided to aim for Rugby, home to the famous Rugby school and – of course, the birthplace of Rugby Football.

Rugby School

A Rugby pitch – in Rugby

Rugby School motto

I had not realised how central the school is, imagining it on the outskirts of town or even in countryside. It has some fine buildings, but the beautiful main building is not easy to photograph. We went for a walk round and found – to our intense joy – a proper Italian gelato shop. This called for a stop. Maia Gelato is a fairly new addition to Rugby town centre, which in common with many other town centres today, looks a little tired. We sat outside and enjoyed our delicious ice-creams – although the experience was a just slightly marred by a strong smell of urine from the alleyway just nearby. Shame.

Yum! Salted Caramel.

That stinky alleyway!

 

On the way back, we popped to Crick to check out the location of the Boat Show we were scheduled to attend the next day. There had been a lot of rain, locally, and it looked a bit muddy, so we resolved to wear walking boots.

The air was quite sultry and as we arrived back at the van, we could hear the vague rumble of thunder and thus followed and hour or so of constant rumbling as the storm approached (as demonstrated in the video above). I have never known anything like it. As it drew nearer, one crack of thunder was so loud the caravan actually shook! Luckily, Archie is now a little deaf or else he would have been terrified. There was rain of biblical proportions, and it later transpired that Birmingham, in particular, had experienced flash floods. This did not bode well for conditions under foot for tomorrow.

 

The storm eventually passed and we had supper and retired early (no TV!) ready for the next day. Missed the hot tub. Such a great relaxer.

Monday 28th May

This day would have been by dear old Mum’s 86th birthday and I sent her some happy birthday wishes, wherever she is.

The day had dawned warm and we decided to take risks by not wearing – or even carrying – waterproof gear. The thought of wearing it (too hot) or carting it around (too heavy) all day was too much. So we set off in our boots with a pair of umbrellas (our trusty Fulton Tornados)  which we hoped would see us right. If they’re good enough for HRH they’ll certainly do for us!

We set off for Crick, site of the Inland Waterways Boat Show for the last 18 years. We arrived very shortly, parked and set off across the vaguely muddy fields. Luckily the organisers had laid walkways everywhere so conditions under foot in the show itself were better than anticipated. We had a good look round before meeting with our boat builder. Reader – it can now be told. We have decided a life on the canal is our future goal and we hope to be happily ensconced on our new-build boat within the next year or so! Exciting times. After much research over the winter, we chose Ortomarine to build for us. They were showing their most recent build at the Show and we had an appointment to view and meet with them again. Them being Caroline and Rob, a very nice couple, with whom we feel we can work. Their latest boat had some innovations which were were very interested to see and we came away from our meeting feeling very happy and with the sense of having chosen well re-confirmed. It had been worth attending the show for that feeling alone.

It was NOT worth attending for the food however. We had a very lacklustre and overpriced lunch before exploring the rest of the show. By mid-afternoon it was HOT! We had definitely made the right decision about coats, too. Archie had had enough of being dragged about and so we left and went back to the van for a snooze. Dinner tonight was home-made pizza on the Cadac. Versatile piece of kit, eh? And it was delish – despite forgetting the pizza peel, which made moving it (from work surface to pizza stone) a bit of challenge! We overcame. We ate. We enjoyed.

We read for a while  and then went to bed, tired, happy and relaxed. Nice feeling.

Tuesday 29th May 

Home time. We set off early and Paul was back at his desk by lunchtime. A lovely break. Looking ahead, we have our annual “Bob & Barb” weekend – on the canal again , this year. On the Oxford again, but this time near Banbury and – at the end of June – France beckons. Can’t wait. And exciting, sometimes stressful times ahead too, as we put our house on the market and find a new, smaller shore base. Watch this space!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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