On tour at home and abroad with the Sumpners

The view below is Toad Rock, Tunbridge Wells

Twixtmas 2018 – 28 Dec 2018 to 1st January 2019

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I’ve probably said it before, but what a revolting expression that is, eh? It refers of course to those lost, dead days between Christmas and New Years day, where we all stumble around in bloated bewilderment. Those odd days before the shock of how much we actually spent and how much weight we have put on hits us.

I think you can gather that I am no great fan of Christmas these days. It has lost its sparkle for me. We all have way too much stuff and too much disposable income. I look back to the Christmases of my childhood with misty eyes. In retrospect, it all seemed so much simpler then. And it didn’t start way too early as it does today, thanks to the evils of TV and capitalism. Thus it’s a big bah humbug from me. I am also not a fan of enforced merriment on New Year’s Eve. This may all be due to my advancing years but I am, simply put, over it.

For the last few years we have gone away to spend the period somewhere quiet and – preferably – away from fireworks, because of poor Archie, who was terrified of them. But he is no more. Miss him terribly.

Friday 28th

This year we chose a spot in the Cotswolds, just outside the regency spa town of Cheltenham. It’s a part of the Cotswolds which we have not much explored. We chose a CS (a small, private site) in Gotherington, home of the famous Prescott Hill Climb and the Bugatti Owners Club. The CS – Pardon Hill Farm – has just 5 pitches, all of which are fully serviced (constant water and drainage) and boasting a flat level, hard-standing with beautiful views over the hills. And all this for only £16 per night. Perfect.

We left home at around 10:15. It was the first outing for our new tow car. I say new but it’s actually a 10 year old Volvo V70 with 123,000 miles on the clock. We set off a little tentatively but we needn’t have worried. She (Vicky the Volvo) did the job with ease. We arrived – after victualling stops – just before 3 pm but missed it on our first pass. Manoeuvring a caravan on narrow country lanes is no mean feat anyway  – hats off to cool-as-a-cucumber Paul  – and thank goodness for Prescott (which was closed) into the entrance of which we turned in slight desperation! We had to unhitch to carry out the turn around but this was swiftly accomplished and we were soon heading back the couple of hundred yards to the site. It really could do with a little more obvious signage. We were both looking out for it and also going slowly but still missed it. No real harm done, though and we were soon setting up and settling down for the evening.

As we were setting up, we heard a steam whistle and the lovely sound of a steam train. The line for the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway ran along the bottom of the field! Excellent.  We often have a quick orientation outing when we first arrive on site but neither of us felt like moving that evening. We had a lovely meal – one of my favourites of the Christmas period – of cold home-baked gammon, egg and chips. Lush! Followed by an early night. We were lulled to sleep by the soft hooting of an owl and rudely awoken in the morning by the harsh “crarks” of a couple of pheasants!

Saturday 29th

After a windy night (which had nothing to do with sprouts, thank you!) we set off for the Cheltenham Park and Ride at the Race Course. Very efficient it was too and we soon arrived in town.

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Lloyds Bank

We had a good look round the very large shopping area and a delicious lunch in Yo Sushi and then made our way back to the P&R and the car. We made a quick visit to Cook, to pick up a couple of meals (Salmon and Asparagus Bake and Steak and Kidney pie – both delicious) and then set off again.

The plan was to visit pretty little Winchcombe via a pleasant B road type of route (aka  one of Paul’s Misery Tours). Our route took us past Brockhampton Park in Sevenhampton. Not to be confused with the Brockhampton Estate in Herefordshire, which is managed by the National Trust. This is a beautiful old house, built in the 1600s and now – after being acquired and stripped by asset strippers in the late 70s – divided into flats. Probably a casualty of Inheritance Tax/Death Duties.

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Brockhampton Park

Winchcombe was busy, but we managed to find a space to park and set off to explore. I had not found anything I wanted to buy in Cheltenham but there were any number of lovely little shops in Winchcombe, including the lovely Emporium Gift Shop, where I was forced to part with some hard-earned cash! We also had a coffee (tea for Paul) and cake in Food Fanatics cafe. I had a piece of Mincemeat Shortbread (you can watch out for that next year!). And then it was home to our cosy van for the evening. More trains, more owls, more pheasants.

Sunday 29th

After a delicious breakfast of smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels, we set off for Tewkesbury. It was a lovely sunny morning and the drive through the beautiful countryside was very pleasant. We visited the Marina (of course!) , which is set at the junction where the Avon joins the Severn and the Abbey (although not inside as it was Sunday) and then popped down to Lower Lode, a favourite mooring for my Dad and my stepmother, Lynne in their boating days.

Tewkesbury is famous for its role in the Wars of the Roses in 1471. A decisive battle was fought here not far from the Abbey. We were amused to see, during our perambulation about town, an ancient helmet hanging from a sadly run down house. I thought perhaps it was from the Civil War but that maybe wrong? Although there was definitely fighting around Tewkesbury at that time. Anyone? Check out the hole (left hand side), though! Rust or a direct hit, I wonder?

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The Lower Lode

We then set off for Gloucester Docks. This was a bit of a disappointment We had overnight-ed here about 15 years ago on our way down to the end of the Gloucester and Sharpness canal. It had probably just started to be “gentrified” then but still had a bit of charm. Now it is really and truly gentrified. Or ruined as I like to call it. Horrible new Outlet Shopping centre with lots of chain eateries. That said, we did lunch in Carluccios!

Sunset at Gloucester Docks Aug 2004

We had a larger than usual lunch as we planned to snack on the Cheese Mountain we had brought with us from home that evening.

We were off, that evening – after a beepy,  to Sudeley Castle  (final resting place of Catherine Parr)  to the Alice in Wonderland-themed “Spectacle of Light” – and what a spectacle it was. We had a brilliant time and would suggest a look at the video in this link to get a real flavour of what we saw – our pics hardly do it justice.

It was unseasonably warm – hardly any need for a coat (I wore a gilet) but a hot choc and doughnut break was still essential. And then – cheese beckoned. Followed eventually by bed. No cheese nightmares for me!

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Monday 31st

To the Race Course again – but this time for a ride on the Steam Railway. The line has been restored by volunteers from Cheltenham to Broadway. They have even built a brand new station at the terminus, which opened earlier this year. The station had the effect of doubling the number of passengers!

We boarded the train with great excitement. The carriage we were in very much reminded me of a train trip I had done with my mother when quite young. We went down to Plymouth on the train to see Dad (who was then in the Navy) and the main thing I remember was having dinner on the train. I recall feeling very grown up.

We looked out at the beautiful countryside – especially as we passed through  Gotherington station, in the hope that we would catch a glimpse of where we were staying, but the line is down in a cutting then,  so all we got was a glimpse of muddy bank.

I couldn’t help but also recall Stevenson’s famous poem “From a Railway Carriage” which I learnt as a child:

Faster than fairies, faster than witches, Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;

And charging along like troops in a battle, All through the meadows the horses and cattle:

All of the sights of the hill and the plain fly as thick as driving rain;

And ever again, in the wink of an eye, painted stations whistle by. Here is a child who clambers and scrambles, all by himself and gathering brambles;

Here is a tramp who stands and gazes; and there is the green for stringing the daisies!

Here is a cart run away in the road, lumping along with man and load;

And here is a mill and there is a river: Each a glimpse and gone for ever! R L Stevenson

I remember particularly liking the mention of “lumping along” – an expression which I still use to this day. I am a bit of a “lumper” myself! I guess steam railways have a very nostalgic effect, especially on those who are old enough to recall the “Golden Age of Steam”, as I am.  I remember the steam trains at my local station and playing dare on the footbridge as a train went through. You had to stand there all through the billowing smoke, without flinching or screaming. Maybe not very daring by today’s standards but it certainly seemed it then! It was pretty exhilarating.

We stayed on the train at turn round and headed back to Cheltenham and then picked up the car and quickly drove back to Broadway as we wanted to visit the Tower.  We had a quick and quite late lunch in the town and a wander up and down. It really is a beautiful town. with some lovely shops. We were particularly taken with the Deli and I hanker after a stay at the Lygon Arms one day.

And so – as the light faded (although I swear it’s getting dark later!) we made our way back to the van for our last night before returning home. We stayed up until gone midnight , which was a surprise as I wasn’t sure I’d make it earlier in the evening! My last task of the 2018 was beating Paul 2-1 at Cribbage. A fitting end, I feel.

Jan 1st

We’d had a nice, relaxing break after the madness leading up to Christmas, Vicky had done us proud and there was a shiny New Year to start on. I wonder, as I write, what this year will bring. Our plans are currently on hold as we can’t seem to sell our house. Let’s hope the market picks up and we can embark upon the new life we had planned. It seems we shall be keeping the caravan a little longer than we had anticipated, so look out for more adventures in the following months. Already have a trip booked for February. Never one to let the grass grow!

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