On tour at home and abroad with the Sumpners

The view below is Toad Rock, Tunbridge Wells

A Weekend Close to Home 15-17 February 2019

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It seems a long time since our lovely break in the Cotswolds at the tail end of last year/beginning of this, so we were really happy to be spending a weekend near lovely Chichester. Especially as it really seems as if Spring is in the air.

I had chosen a stay at Concierge Camping as a surprise and a sort of Valentines treat for Paul although, typically, I could not keep the secret in!! We had an “Emperor Pitch” – which is a fully serviced pitch PLUS. And what a plus! More later.

Friday

We set off, late afternoon, as it was so close and arrived at our destination in around half an hour. The site is nominally located in West Ashling – about 5 miles from the town of Chichester. A word of caution – you can get to the site by taking the first left (on the B2146) after you have crossed over the A27, but this is a very narrow route and – we are told – is often overgrown in the summer and may cause scratching. It is better to proceed to the next left at the T-junction and follow the road (Ratham Lane) until you reach the next junction, where you turn left. See map below.

We got a friendly welcome at the very smart reception and were soon driving round to our pitch – Augustus – yes, they are all named after Roman Emperors. It was a beautiful evening so we resolved to pitch up as soon as poss and then pop back to reception for coffee (Nespresso) and a piece of Victoria Sandwich. We also needed to buy some wood and fire-starters for the wood-burner. For the pitch comes with a massive Safari tent, complete with facilities including a fridge/freezer, dishwasher (I know right!) and sink unit with granite worktops. Also a dining table (which would easily seat 10 people) plus a log burning stove with small oven and hot plate. Did I mention the coat rack? Or the Nespresso machine? Or the 50″ TV? And free wi-fi. It was A-MAZ-ING! Npow – I know the purists among you would probably say “Well – that’s not camping!”. Well I disagree. It’s camping to the MAX!! As you know – we are not fans of fancy-schmancy sites, preferring really quite basic ones. But this is something rather special and was such a treat. We were very excited.

We had a quick look round the tent (and tent hardly seems the right word for the structure, to be honest) and then finished our set up, and popped over to reception. There is a fridge with local beers and champagne, plus local produce, plus chocolates etc. and a bar. And every morning, you can buy fresh Viennoiserie for your breakfast, too. We had a nice chat with the owner and a very nice coffee and cake. We bought some beer and some logs and some Twizlers – a “green” form of fire-lighter, made from natural waste wood, and set off back to the van. Reader – this was a weekend in February and I had overheard the chap turn someone away as they were full that weekend. Not surprising – even though it’s not cheap.

We lit the fire in the Tent and then Paul popped over to the shower block to shower and shave, as he had an early start the next morning. He came back full of admiration for the shower rooms – of which there are four. They are very hi-tech. When empty, there is an arc of green LEDs around the door-frame which, when you enter, turn to red, so that people can see at a glance that they are engaged. There is a basin and shower cubicle, with bench. All in granite. The shower is a rain-forest style with an additional handheld head for those hard to reach places. Perfect. And – to accompany you while you shower – there is a SONOS speaker (a Play:1 for the geeks among you!) in each each cubicle. They opened in 2015 and it’s hardly surprising that they already have won a clutch of awards – including a recent and prestigious Campsite of the Year and also a Loo of the Year. I’m going on a bit aren’t I? But you would too,. Honest!

Anyway – dinner followed and an early night. There is very slight “road roar” from the A27 nearby but nothing excessive and we had a peaceful and restful night.

Saturday

Paul wanted to rush back home to play Walking Football, which is his new passion. For the uninitiated, it is a game for senior players (over 50) which outlaws all running and allows no contact between players. It also has over-head height restrictions and indirect free kicks which help to ensure that it can be played with less risk of injury. It was conceived in 2011 and is gaining popularity all round Britain and there are also clubs in Europe and further afield – even one in Vancouver and as far away as Sydney.

He arose quietly (but still woke me up) and set off, so I got up and went to the ablutions. We had friends coming over for dinner and by the time her arrived back on site, I had showered, dried my hair, put on my make-up and made some (delicious!) fresh Pineapple Salsa to accompany the Chicken and Chorizo Quesadillas which were to be our starter, plus some Banoffee Tartlets for dessert.

He quickly showered again and then we set off for a visit to Chichester itself. We parked in North Street – just opposite the old flint ex-Council building, that is now a branch of Jack Wills. We walked up to the top of the road before making our way back, calling into a nice variety of charity shops, where I made a couple of purchases – including a nice vase to put some flowers on the table for this evening’s dinner. We also pressed our nose against the windows of the amazing Cafe Paradiso, which was absolutely buzzing and which had a fine array of goodies, from which we managed to tear ourselves away without succumbing.

We popped into Lakeland, where I bought a dog bone shaped cookie cutter for a future project and some re-usable bowl covers (to avoid using so much cling-film). They are great – although they look like the old-fashioned plastic pants that used to go over a terry nappy! They are still plastic, but multi-use, which is better, but still not the best thing for the planet. I did have some beeswax ones, which are compostable, but they are quite expensive – especially when “someone” who shall remain nameless, but whose initials may contain a P and and S, throws them away after use.

Then it was coffee time, and we popped in to Luckes, and this time did NOT manage to avoid the goodies. By the time we had finished our coffee, our parking was up, so we returned to the car. We popped to Homebase (more logs) and Sainsbury’s (flowers) and then back to Turner’s Pies in East Gate Square for a Cornish Pasty (Paul) and a Cheese and Onion Slice (me) for our lunch and then it was back to the van.

After lunch and a bit of a relax, we carried on with prepping for dinner, doing everything we could do in advance, so that the evening ran smoothly. Our friends, local showbiz couple Peta and Steve Reading were scheduled to arrive at 7:30. We had asked them to keep the evening free, told them to wrap up warm (just in case) and informed them that they were coming to a venue near Chichester, but gave them no more details. They were intrigued. And we gave them half the postcode around mid-afternoon and the remainder at around teatime. Just before they were due to leave home, we gave them some additional instructions and asked them to ring as they turned into the lane leading towards the site. Paul would be waiting for them.

We had lit the fire a little earlier to ensure that the “Tent” was nice and warm and – to our horror – managed to set light to the heat-proof gloves provided for dealing with the stove, which had been left on the hot-plate. It turns out that they generate a great deal of acrid grey smoke! So we had to open every orifice of the – by then – lovely warm tent to let out all the smoke. This discovery was made at around 7:10 but luckily it warmed up again pretty quickly.

Our guests arrived and were offered drinks. They were enchanted with the tent and the venue in general. We were trying out a new (to us at least) mixer for rum – Schweppe’s 1783 Muscovado. We used it over ice with a squeeze of and a slice of lime and it was really rather tasty!

The first course was the Quesadillas, which we cooked on the Cadac. They went down very well. This was followed by steak (a tad undercooked – initially – for some tastes) again cooked on the Cadac and accompanied by Parmesan Polenta chips and a rocket salad. I made the mushroom sauce for the steaks on the hotplate of the wood-burner, which was handy. And then came the Banoffee pie.

After dinner, we retired to the easy chairs, which Paul had picked up whilst he was back in Portchester (along with some proper plates etc, as there was a dishwasher). It was a cosy and warm evening and our guests eventually left at around midnight. We quickly piled all the stuff in the dishwasher and closed the fire down and retired. What a lovely evening.

Sunday

After another restful night, we arose, had brekker and finished clearing up in the tent. The owner popped round to remind us that we needed to be off site by midday. We fessed up about the gloves and he was lovely about it. We offered to pay but he would have none of it. I said it must happen a lot and he told me that it had happened only twice. And both of those had been that very weekend! Would you believe it?!

We finished packing up and were rolling out of the entrance at about ten to twelve. And home before 1! Marvellous. Would we come again? You betcha! It’s a great and really quite different model for camping and seems to be very successful. We loved it. It’s also child and dog friendly and has several ” Safari Lodges” that sleep either 4 or 6 people. They are very luxuriously appointed and would be great for a family birthday or suchlike. I think you could, henceforth, describe us as big fans of Concierge Camping. We highly recommend a visit and will definitely return. Book early though, as it is very popular.

Our house is on the market (and has been for some while) so planning ahead is a bit tricky. But we have booked for a break down in Devon at Easter and will try to squeeze in another weekend away before then, if at all possible.

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