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Archive : December

Brands Hatch for a driving experience 25-27 November

We left at 10 am on Friday morning as Paul had a meeting in Rochester and we needed to get on site and set up and out to his meeting before 2 pm.

Our destination was Thriftwood Holiday Park, near Wrotham (pronounced “rootam”) in Kent. It was a smooth drive and we stopped for a coffee on the way. The M25 was in pretty good fettle and we were soon checked in, set up and on our way to Rochester for Paul’s meeting. The venue was on a trading estate overlooking the Chatham and the River Medway. It was a pleasant but chilly day and Archie and I went for a walk along the river whilst Paul was in his meeting. Brr!

River Medway
Archie after his walk

On the journey up I had realised that we still had our summer quilt on board and it was predicted to be chilly overnight. On arrival, I looked for the winter quilt but sadly , “someone” had removed the bag containing the winter quilt from the caravan and not put it back. I’ll leave you to guess which of us it was. So we set off in search of a throw. The search was fruitless. Nothing took my fancy, so we agreed to abandon it. We could always use coats if it got really chilly. We had a quick look round the old docks at Chatham, but it was starting to get dark, so home we went.

Back to the van for a relaxing evening and dinner. Considering how close the site is to major roads, it was a very quiet night. People were on the move pretty early and we get the impression that some of the vans are permanently sited here (Clue – check the size of the gas bottles – most were huge. Too big for the gas locker) so we suspect that the early birds were off to work. Our plan for today was to visit Rochester, where there was a Christmas market at Rochester Castle.

It was a busy day and we were lucky to find a parking space nearby – just by chance some one was leaving as we passed, so we nipped in sharpish! We passed a festive couple of hours walking round the many stalls, our nostrils assailed by the smell of gluhwein, candy floss, hot dogs and so on. We settled for coffee.

We had a quick stroll around the town and decided that we liked it.Interesting shops and cafes. Not too generic and with some really quirky buildings.


As the campsite was a mere half an hour from my brother’s new house in Beckenham, we popped back to the van to get some lunch and then drove through the very pretty countryside to go and help with various odd jobs, including building a new trampoline. It was odd to be so apparently rural and yet still within the Greater London area. And following a tractor down a leafy lane with signs for the Low Emissions Zone.

We spent a lovely afternoon with the kids and had dinner and then came back to the caravan for an early night. Paul had to be at Brands by 0730 for his briefing. Bruce and Evie were scheduled to meet us there, too, as the present had been from them. We showered and went to bed, so that we could just get up the next day, get dressed and go. The plan was to get brekker after Paul’s drive.

The site is just 10 minutes from Brands Hatch and we arrived in good time and Bruce and Evie turned up shortly after. There were minibuses to transport both drivers and spectators to the pits, from where Paul would be starting his drive. One of the first vehicles we saw was a massive UniMog. I WILL own one of these one day!

She WILL be mine

We waited while Paul was briefed and they had found a crash helmet for him and then he was off. It was pretty crowded on that track. 14 novice drivers hurtling round the hairpin at Druids. It’s a wonder there aren’t more accidents – especially as it was a damp Autumn morning. As the cars – BMW M4s (0-60 in 4.1 seconds and over 400BHP)  – are all identical, it was pretty hard to keep track of who was who.

We are pretty sure that these are Paul in action!

All too soon it was over and he was debriefed, given his certificate and then it was time for a well-earned breakfast at the Kentagon (see what they did there?). Lovely fry-up. Yum. Bruce spotted a picture there, that he was pretty sure showed him and Dad in it, back in 1976. Happy days.

Then it was time to say farewell to Bruce and Evie and go our separate ways. Evie had a Go Ape session to go to and we had to pack up the van and go home. I had done most of the packing the previous evening and so we were soon off and back home by 2 pm. Great weekend.

Next time you hear from us it will be after Christmas. We are off to Rutland for the New Year. Whoop!!

Oxford Canal with the Smiths 7-9 October

Another day on the Oxford Canal, another stay at Bladon Chains, near Woodstock. This must make it one of our most visited sites, I think?

We had the usual Friday evening crawl up the A34, with plenty of traffic at the usual pinch-points. We had expected our friends Martin & Rachel Smith, who live in North London, to be there before us but we arrived first. We managed to nab a couple of adjacent pitches at this always busy site,  got set up and waited for them to arrive. They came over to us for dinner and we had a pleasant evening catching up on what’s been going on in each other’s busy lives. We went to bed at a reasonable hour, though, as we had an early start the next day.

Saturday was fine but overcast and as were were waiting to go we had fun watching a squirrel busily stocking up with acorns for the winter. He was totally oblivious to us and – even though we tried to point him out to Archie – he was totally oblivious to the squirrel. Soon it was time for the off and we all bundled into the car with our picnic, ready for the short trip to Thrupp.

Our pitch
Archie ready for the off

As we were frequent hirers, the handover at the boatyard was swift  and we soon had the kettle on for the first of many cuppas. It’s almost uncanny how, on the canal, the drinks are always freshly made just as you come round the corner to see a lock or a swing bridge, so that when you get back your cuppa is cold. Now that’s fine with me as I can come back to a cuppa, quite happily, after several hours have elapsed but does not please others.

We went safely through the first lock and then it was Martin’s turn to have a go at steering and then Rachel’s. Both took to it like – ahem –  a duck to water. I attribute that to excellent tuition.

Approaching Shipton Weir Lock
Cap’n Smith
Rachel – multi-tasking
Instructing the new crew

We pottered on until lunch time, with Archie keeping on eye out and making sure we were doing everything properly.

Lunch stop was – as usual – the old quarry just outside Kirtlington. We had already winded (turned) the boat and so after lunch we began the return leg. By this time Martin and Rachel were well into the swing of things. Shaping up to be a good crew!


We saw several kingfishers but never managed to get a good shot. And then it was all too soon, time to hand the boat back. Another lovely day on the canal. The route we took seems very short, but it’s probably a total of 6 hours cruising, at a leisurely pace.


After we had handed over the boat, it was back to the site for a quick snooze and a wash and brush-up before dinner. We were booked at the Boat Inn at Thrupp, where we had a very pleasant meal, with plenty of lively conversation. The fresh air had taken its toll, though, and we soon went back for a quiet night, drifting off to the sound of owls hooting. Lovely.

As luck would have it, Sunday dawned bright and beautiful. Typical!  We had a coffee together while Martin and Paul struggled with stowing Martin’s satellite dish, which eventually complied. And then it was time for us to go. The Smiths were staying on for another couple of nights, a luxury denied us “not fully retired” types. But we got home in good time to unpack and relax before the start of another busy week.

Sunlight through the trees
Basking Border

I’ll leave you with this picture. Can you see what it is yet?