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Archive : January

Winter Sun Part 2 – Bordeaux to Aranjuez

Monday 27th January

Moving day. We were up and at it and tip-toeing around so as not to disturb other campers. We left the site at just gone 08:00.. Good preparation pays off!

Today we shall mostly be seeing trees, as we will be passing through the vast Forest of Landes which, at 3900 sq miles, is the largest man-made forest in Western Europe. To put it into perspective, our own New Forest is a mere 219 sq miles. It is huge!

Two hours of trees on a very straight road can be a little tedious, so we had a quiz. Each round had 7 questions and a boiled sweet was awarded each time we scored 7/7. Reader – the excitement was almost unbearable!

It was 13C and a fairly dull day. and then, just after 10:00.we got our first glimpse of the Pyrenees. More excitement. We last saw them back in 2011, when we holidayed there and saw a stage of the Tour de France.

We passed into Spain at around 10:45 and then it was time for our first stop, near San Sebastián. We immediately noticed that the Autservicios look somehow a little more tired than those in France. The roads are – so far – not as good either. Just two lanes mostly.

But the service station gave me my first challenge of the day. I can cope with just about any situation in France, but my Spanish is very limited. I ordered two coffees with milk to take away – and got them!!! Chuffed with that small victory.

We noticed that all the road signs were in Basque and all the place names too. It’s an interesting and quite mysterious language being a “language isolate” which is to say it has no roots in any other European language currently spoken. Visually, it is language with lots of x-es and zeds. I’ve never actually heard it spoken.

I’ve saved you the bother – this is a light-hearted video which illustrates just how different it is:

For the next couple of hours we drove through what I’d describe as the Spanish equivalent of Dartmoor. It started off quite scenically, with elegant bridges spanning ravines and gorges and lots of tunnels both short and long. But it soon became quite desolate plains-type country. And pretty wet and windy too. Scarily so if you’re me!! It was a bit of a white knuckle ride for me and my over-active imagination! I wondered whether we were on those plains in Spain where the rain mainly stays?

We stopped again for a leg stretch and a not very appetising roll at about 13:45 and then arrived at our destination – Camping Fuentes Blancos – in Burgos.

This is probably the most open of the “open all year” sites we have encountered, with a chap clearly on duty in reception, a shop and even a little restaurant. Quite a few units arrived after us.

Burgos is the ancient capital of Castile and the site is located on the banks of the River Arlanza – although sadly you can’t see it from the site.

We had arrived about 3pm and it was all a bit muddy. The pitches were on grass so we drove round for a while until we found a spot to our liking. The site looks much like a campsite in Winter, really, despite all the itinerants like us!

Our muddy pitch in Burgos

Before we finally pitched, Paul used his home-made European test-lead.

We had a choice of four electric connectors and the first one lit up two lights – meaning it wasn’t earthed. That’s apparently A BAD THING and potentially dangerous – normally the earth is there to protect electrical stuff. Or something ….

Anyway – no harm done, the next he tried was fine. We soon had the van warm and cosy and Paul was very quickly working away while I wrote most of this. Dinner was Spaggy Bog left over from yesterday. Paul worked all evening while I watched some telly.

We are sited next to a couple of tents. Rather them than me in this weather! Clearly they couldn’t sleep as – while we were dozing off that night – they were talking very loudly and animatedly. I woke up at 12:30 and they we’re still at it. I made a mental note to learn the Spanish for “please be quiet” – or similar. I must ask my friend Begoña for an apt colloquial phrase! Buenas noches a todos.

Miles travelled: Day 270 / Cumulative 1005

Tuesday 28th

Another rest day – another lie in. For some. Well – one. Yes! Me!! It was me!! Paul, bless him, got up very quietly and got his nose to the grindstone straight away while I slumbered. I eventually arose and had breakfast. Suitably restored, I managed a little light blogging.

Eventually, Paul having worked for a good five hours , broke off for an extended lunch break. We drove into Burgos with the express intention of a visit to Burgos Cathedral – especially as it has a UNESCO World Heritage status.

The avenue leading to the Cathedral

Immediately we clapped eyes on it we could see why. I had looked on line and thought it looked big but – in real life – it is pretty amazing. Building commeneced in 1221, following the French Gothic style. We couldn’t go inside because of our canine encumbrance (we wouldn’t be without them!) so walked round the perimeter. The Cathedral’s full name is long and richly deserved. It is the Santa Iglesia Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de Santa María de Burgos. Oh yes.

The approach to the Catheral
The Cathedral in all its glory

We saw our old friend the pélérin (pilgrim) again or – as we are in Spain, the peregrino. We would be parting company with him from today as his next stop is León to the West and we are heading South tomorrow.

Il peregrino

There was an accordion player in one of the Archways – playing Jingle Bells! I suppose it’s actually about a sleigh ride and yet – in our culture – inextricably linked with Christmas, so seemed a bit out of place.

We drove up to the top of the hill, where there was a viewpoint. I had a chat with DIL2B while Paul walked the boys and then we stopped at the viewpoint for a pretty good overview of the town.

We popped into our Mercadona supermarket (or rather I did) to get some fresh bread and some fruit for another late lunch and then back to the van, where Paul went back to work and I prepared lunch.

He worked on until around 8 and then we both agreed we were still too full for supper so he had cheese and biscuits and I had a banarnie sarnie. Haven’t had one for years and just fancied it. It was yummers.

We watched the end of the movie we had started a couple of (k)nights ago. The King – the story of Henry Vs ascent to the throne and Agincourt. Very realistic (one imagines) battle scene. Accounts of the battle say the five thousand longbowmen, each loosing fifteen arrows a minute, let fly a total of seventy five thousand arrows in one minute: an arrow storm that was said to have blocked out the light of the sun. It was a pretty good movie.

As we had driven in to town yesterday, we had admired the streetlights, which look like they are encased within some sort of transparent gloop. Very attractive we thought.

My quick review of the site. is that we probably did not see it at its best but it’s a useful stopping point. The facilities are good (seats and loo-roll) They are very clean and warm, too. There is a handy shop for basics but also big Mercadona in town. We did not try the restaurant as it was not dog friendly. In normal circumstances we’d probably be happy to leave them in their crates in the car, so that we could dine without them, but because they are spending quite a lot of time in them as we travel, it just does not seem fair to bung them in there, just for our convenience.

29th Jan

Heading South today. We were off just after 8 – as usual. It was grey and overcast and 8C as we left Burgos.

The Spanish interior is big, red and scrubby. Not sure it’s quite what we expected? I kept thinking about how Sharpe and his men would have found it. Especially in summer. I imagine it’s baking hot, with very little shade or cover.

A random town along the route
Our Spanish go-faster stripes

As we drove along, some guy overtook us, waving at us and flashing his lights at us. We’ve heard horror stories of people pulling over and then getting robbed, so we drove on. You can see how people get caught out. It does feel a bit weird ignoring it, but was probably just that he was happy to see us because we are English!Might be a different story on Friday?

We pulled off for 2nd breakfast just before 10, near Milagro. Paul checked the van over (nothing untoward) and walked the boys while I went to fetch the refreshments. I’ve noticed already how much cheaper it is than in France.

We saw a couple of big birds of prey. One flew right over us, talons out. Really impressive. I though Golden Eagle but Paul thought Condor. We’ll never know – but either is possible round these parts.

As we continued our journey further South, we glimpsed some snow on some of the mountain tops. Happy to see it but happier still not to be in it!! Although one hears that the Spanish have it sorted and soon have the snow-ploughs out. We spotted a couple of areas where they shepherd you off the motorway if snow strikes.

It was as at his point that we experienced what we now call “a Gabby Garmin detour”. We were cruising happily along the road when she told us to leave at the next exit. Taken by surprise we obeyed, although I was quickly checking with our other navigation system, Via Michelin, which allows you to specify that you are towing.

Gabby was playing tricks, as she often does. She gets you off a main road, onto a lesser road and then – a little further on – returns you to the same road you were hitherto travelling. For no apparent reason!

This detour was along a quite twisty minor road with a narrow bridge. Luckily, no-one else was around and we were soon back on the Autopista. Fortunately, Micky Michelin saved us going down what was little more than a track by suggesting a different route to that which Gabby had suggested – although we would definitely have balked at taking it. See pics below!

Gabby’s suggested route
The reality on the ground

Very soon, we were on the outskirts of Madrid and the traffic started hotting up. I am such a wuss. And I read and retain too much. I’d read a few articles about how crazy it was (although surely nothing could be worse than Palermo!). My heart was in my mouth as we journeyed through the city. The Motorway plunges straight through the heart of Madrid and it’s pretty confusing. And it seems that white van man (or le hombre de la furgoneta blanca!) also lives in Spain! But good old Paul! He is such a trooper. Cool, calm and collected, he powered through – although we did have both navigation systems running in tandem, just in case Gabby started any of her monkey business!

Pretty soon we were seeing signs for Aranjuez and then for our stopover for the next three nights – Camping International of Aranjuez. It was brighter, with hints of blue sky as we pitched up and the temperature was in the mid to high teens. Lovely. It’s the first time since we came away that we haven’t had the heating on, although it’ll probably go on tonight.

Our pitch
More of the site

We needed some chicken so we popped to Mercadona and got a bit lost in what looked like a failed commercial centre project of some sort. Lots of half-built and abandoned buildings, complete with massive car park, all laid out but overgrown and cordoned off. There was a large hotel, which did seem to be open and and a large Casino again open, but half the lights on the frontage out. It all looked very sad indeed – presumably a victim of the big Spanish Depression? It looked about the right age.

Hi from our well travelled boys! Ted L and Bill R

Miles travelled: Day 180 / Cumulative 1185

Winter Sun Part 1 – Fareham to Bordeaux

Weds 22nd January

Today was the day for the start of our pretty epic (to us!!) road-trip. We had prepared as much as we could the evening before and we spent an hour or so prepping the van so that we could just hook-up and go.

Next was a visit to the flat to shower (both) , do some work (Paul) and collect the last few bits (me) before the off.

Paul then left for Portchester to go and grab the bikes while I popped to Soothills to get some lunch. Our bikes have been stored at the lovely Linda’s since the move. It was when I arrived, bearing pasties all round that we realised that we had forgotten the vital bike keys, which lock the bikes to the car roof. They were nestling happily in a drawer in the sideboard. Doh!

We quickly hatched a plan. Linda would come with me to the flat to collect the keys while Paul would go back to the site and start the hook-up process. Linda would then drive my beloved Jizzy back to her house. Jizzy is being cared for by Linda and Anna while we are away, so this all worked out very well.

We eventually set off at 2:30 – about an hour later than planned but that’s my life, as those who know my husband will attest.

I had hoped we would arrive before dark but that was out of the window. Traffic on the M25 linear car park was pretty abysmal and we finally rocked up at our first night stop – 1 – The Drum Inn – which is situated roughly 8 minutes from the Tunnel and a favourite spot of ours when visiting France with dogs. They were very good, dropping off to sleep just after we left and staying that way until we arrived. Paul drove and answered the phone and dictated responses to emails all the way.

We were the only people on this very handy pub site, so we got a nice spot where we could stay hooked up and leave (very) early and with minimum fuss the next morning. We got some drinks from the pub and had our dinner. Paul went back to work, while I watched a spot of television and we ere in bed by 10:15, ready for our early alarm call. We set double alarms- just in case.

Miles travelled: Day 125/ Cumulative 125

Thursday 23rd

The alarm went off at 04:45. We arose and Paul walked the boys while I made some coffee. Last night I had prepared some cereal in lidded bowls that we would eat while we were in the tunnel. The boys seemed very puzzled that we were waking them up so early!

We were booked on the 6:50 train but managed to get on the 06:20. We boarded the train at 06:00 and proceeded to have our “first breakfast”. Then it was putting the beam deflectors on the headlights, applying the Crit’air sticker and then the Télépéage gizmo on the windscreen.

The dogs didn’t bat an eyelid in the tunnel. I doubt they even noticed. They had Bonios for their first breakfast.

The obligatory “approaching the train” shot
The obligatory “on the train” shot

We arrived in France at around 07:00 or 08:00 French time. It was a nice sunrise, about 7C and a tad cloudy. Our first stop – as usual – was at the Aire du Baie du Somme, where coffee and 2nd brekker (a pain au choc) was procured. At a Starbucks! Zut alors! Is nothing sacred? V disappointing that France has finally succumbed to the big boys from Seattle.

Next stop was just a petrol stop, near Rouen – the location of my very first trip to France with Uncle D when I was about 11. We caught the ferry overnight to Le Havre and then a train to Rouen. I remember being entranced by everything and am still grateful to him for opening my eyes to the joys of travel. We also have fond memories of a visit to the town with our dear friends Sue & Paul Rogers – particularly our hilarious trip on a very squeaky land train – with French only commentary and a lady with a new phone who was trying out every ringtone. We were convulsed for most of the very memorable (for all the wrong reasons!) trip.

The temperature was now down to 0c and it was quite foggy between Rouen and Alençon, but it warmed up during the afternoon and and we actually saw some sunshine.

The long and not very winding road!

Once again we drove and responded to calls and emails and this, coupled with stops every couple of hours or so, helped the long journey pass reasonably tolerably.

We eventually arrived at our site – Camping les Acacias – in Tours at 16:15. It had been a long day and was not the most welcoming arrival – no-one in reception and – as is customary – no instructions or envelope with our name on telling us where to pitch. I know it is winter, but if you are going to say that you are open all year but it’s not economical to staff the place, at least leave some sort of welcoming envelope? I don’t think that’s an unreasonable demand.

We had been warned of possible electrical problems by another English guy who had arrived before us. He was quite correct- the first four connections we tried kept cutting out as soon as we put the fridge and heating on. It was barely above freezing and getting quite dark and – as I sat in the van in coat, scarf and blanket – I had visions of a very miserable couple of nights.

Good old Paul tried everything but his patience was sorely tried by the dodgy supply. Eventually, he tried a different approach and finally, we had power! First priority was heating and, once the van had defrosted (OK – slight exaggeration!) we added in the fridge and then lights and soon everything else was able to be used with no tripping. I love my electric over-blanket!

Paul settled down and did some more work, we popped out for a quick squizz of Tours by night and a Maccy D (Bacon and Blue Cheeses!). We spotted nearby a Supermarket and, better still, a petrol station with cheap fuel. Then more work for Paul and eventually bed. It really had been a very long day.

Our pitch at Les Acacias

Miles travelled: Day 380/ Cumulative 505

SERVICE STATION REPORT 5 loos visited, of which only 2 had toilet seats. Grim!

Friday 24th

Paul was up and working by 08:00. I – aka Mrs Lazybones – slept in until 10:30!

I awoke to a bright sunny day, with a temperature of about 10C. That’s better!! Very springy. Paul worked until 14:00 and then we set out to have a quick look round Tours and a drive along by the beautiful River Seine.

And our impression? Very elegant, lots of fin de siecle buildings in wide tree-lined boulevardes. The Cathedral (de Saint-Gatien of Tours) is wonderfully intricate. The location by the Loire is perfect. The Grand Theatre has seen better days, though it’s still shabby chic and the Chateau is not as impressive as the Hôtel de Ville. We liked Tours very much.

Tours from the Loire
Cathedral de Saint-Gatien 
The Grand Théâtre
Le Chateau du Tours

After our whistle-stop tour of Tours we returned to the van and Paul did some more work. When he finally declared himself done for the weekend,we made a quick visit to E Leclerc for some food for supper (Tuna Lasagne) and some cheap gazoile – €0.30 per litre cheaper. Makes a big difference!

So a quick review of Les Acacias – maybe I’m expecting too much out of season, but I would have hoped for a better arrival. The site is pretty close to Tours and would be a good base for the Loire Valley and its delights. It’s also just off the A10 and very near a large supermarket (E Leclerc). The shower block was clean and warm and the washing up facilities very handy. When we are travelling like this, we tend to do a “light” set-up, rather than the “full monty”. By which I mean we pop a bucket out to collect waste water and use a 5 litre water bottle for our drinking water. We then rely on the site’s facilities for loo, ablutions and washing up.

I’d gladly stay at Les Acacias again but those electrics do need looking at as I write this (Jan 2020) – avoid the 4 way pole at the bottom left – or at least check before you pitch.

Sat 25th

We got up immediately the alarm went off at 7:45. Paul took the boys out while I got breakfast ready. After packing everything up and unhooking, we set off just after 9. It was a lovely sunny day but only 0 degrees as we set off. We were to spend most of the day on the A10, which is a toll road.

Just a short note here about toll roads. They are our preferred method of transit. Many people make it a point of honour to avoid them. For us the benefits are pretty simple. Excellent road surface, frequent stops either with or without all mod cons. We have a tag and just drive straight through the péage. This is less of an issue in winter, admittedly, but in summer you beat the queues. And it’s nice to hear that satisfying beep! This all comes at a price, but we feel it is worth the hit to travel stress free.

Our first stop was just South of Poitiers. We caught a glimpse of the Futuroscope theme park from the road. As we drove further South the temperatures rose steadily and it was 11C by midday.

The next stop was at a really pleasant Aire just South of Saintes (a city I’d like to visit one day). There was even a climbing wall, high tree walks and a zip wire in the wooded bit, although it’s of course seasonal. The French do their rest stops or aires very well.

We notice that we seem to have the caravan area pretty much to ourselves. Somebody not telling us something? By now it was 16C and really very pleasant. People were sitting out in the sun having their lunch.

After our break, we pressed on and were soon approaching the outskirts of Bordeaux and its “rocade” or ring road, which is notorious in the same way as the M25. It was pretty busy today even though it was Saturday. Paul is so calm and collected. I’d be a wreck!!

We arrived at Camping Beausoleil in Gradignan, just south of Bordeaux at 15:15, to a friendly welcome from Madame, who also took time to show us how to get to Bordeaux by public transport.

Saint Pierre – Gradignan Church

We have a pitch right next to the shower block – handy for a quick nip across when it’s nippy out. We got set up, had a cuppa and did a bit of screen staring.

We needed some grub for a couple of night’s meals so Paul dropped me at the shop while he went and walked the boys. While he was out he visited the Priory of Cayac – one of the stops on the pilgrim’s route to Santiago to Compostela.

The Priory
Un Pèlerin
The scallop shell – symbol of the Santiago pilgrim

On our return, we cooked, watched half a Netflix movie (King) and retired to our comfy bed.

Miles travelled: Day 230/ Cumulative 735

SERVICE STATION REPORT 1 toilet visited – with seat

Sunday 26th

After a really peaceful night, we had a fairly lazy start, kind of easy- much like a Sunday morning.

There had been a little rain overnight and we took the opportunity of dry daylight weather to get the “long vehicle” boards stuck on the back of the van. Spanish road regulations dictate that any vehicle over 12 metres in length must bear these attractive accessories. This includes vehicles whose combined length when towing is over that length. Unluckily for us, our rig is 12.2m. We did discuss risking it, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Don’t want any bother with Spanish road cops!

Chores done, we set with hopeful hearts to find the bus stop. Mission accomplished- and we had very helpful driver, who explained to us the intricacies of the Bus/tram system and sold us two tickets – allée et retour. Two people for an hour each way for €6. Bargain!

We set off, keeping our eyes open for the stop – Peixotto – where the bus interfaces with the tram. Mission accomplished. Doing well! Odd name you might say? It’s very Basque – we are very nearly in Basque Country and it’s influences show.

The tram was packed and a bit hot but the boys – once again – were perfectly happy. We clocked the places we wanted to see on the way back and soon arrived at the planned stop – the Cité du Vin. Once off the tram we strolled along by the river. We were very impressed by the bridge crossing the large, fast-flowing and very muddy R Garonne. Even more so, when we researched it later and found that it is a vertical lift-bridge, first opened in 2013. See the pics below.

We were lucky enough to find a a cafe/bar – l’Austra – who were happy to take us and the boys . The waiter spoke great English and we had soon ordered our tapas. Mozzarella Sticks, Ham & Cheese Croquettes, Chicken Balls stuffed with sweet chilli jam and some Pate with Cornichons. All delish and way too much!

The Cite du Vin Building
Pont Jacques Chaban Dalmas closed
And open!

Lunch finished we re-boarded the tram (B line) back to the bus stop for the Gradignan line (No. 10), passing the massive Place des Quinconces – one of the largest city squares in Europe  – and stopping at another impressive cathedral, the beautiful Saint-Andre, with its separate campanile Very interesting history) , and taking photos. We had a video call with Uncle D while we were there!

Place des Quinconces
Cathedral of Saint-Andre
Pey Berland Bell Tower
Notre-Dame d’Aquitaine
Paul with his camera out

We arrived back at Peixotto where we had, earlier, checked out visually where the return tram would be. Luckily we only had to wait a couple of minutes for a number 10 to come along. Result! UNluckily, he drove straight past. We were speechless! He made absolutely no attempt to stop. We looked around and saw a stuck on sign saying that this stop was temporarily out of order and that we had to walk back to where we had got off the tram. Grr.

We used the opportunity to grab a quick cafe á emporter and sat to wait for the next bus. It came along quicker than we had anticipated. Hurrah!!

Bill and I had one foot on the bus when the doors started to shut. I quickly got back off and the bus drove away, leaving us standing like numpties AGAIN!! Reader – a few sharp words ensued.

We sat back to wait for the next bus, a tad disgruntled. Once again it turned up promptly. There was NO WAY we were going to let this one go without us. The doors- it must be said – close very smartly. You need to get a real wiggle on. Not easy with two dogs, coats and rucksack! But we sat down and heaved a sigh of relief. It was 17C by now.

Our stop – Beau Soleil – (presumably named after our campsite?) was the end of the line and we tripped happily back to our little home.

The boys immediately fell asleep, while it was time for a cuppa for us.

Tonight we have spaggy bog for supper and we plan to watch the end of the film and pack up ready for the off tomorrow. Le Pay Basque beckons!

Some bloke with his bird

My quick review of Beausoleil. Lovely welcome. Madame speaks good English but switches between if she sees that you can follow her, It’s a cute little site with – I think – 30 pitches. The toilet and shower block are both mixed which I was perfectly fine with. The shower block is very clean and nice and warm. There’s a nicely comprehensive recycling area, all clearly labelled. Despite being near a road, it’s very quiet. And its a great location to pick up a bus to Bordeaux. Couldn’t be easier – bus to Peixotto, pick up the tram, the B line and off to town. Your ticket lasts an hour, after which you need another. there machines at every station . And the best bit? Dogs are allowed on both bus and tram.

Beckenham and Bexhill Dec 20th to 31st

Well it’s been a while since we last posted – largely because we have been downsizing our goods and chattels, prior to moving to a new flat. Every weekend for months and months, it seems, has been tied up with sorting stuff into four piles – Keep, Tip, Sell or Charity shop. It’s just amazing how much stuff you accumulate in a lifetime.

We finally moved (after an agonisingly slow sale and an equally agonising but not-quite-as-long purchase) on 29th November. It soon became evident that, despite our best efforts, we had not got rid of enough “stuff” and for the first month we could not actually find enough space for a bed so the beloved caravan came in to play. We sited it a local pub – The Traveller’s Rest in Newtown – and we have spent our days and weekends at the flat, Paul working and me sorting stuff out and then sleeping in the caravan. It hasn’t been at all onerous – we love it. It’s very quiet at night – we don’t even hear noise from the pub – just owls at night and pheasants in the morning.

20th – 27th December

We were scheduled to be spending Christmas at my brother’s place in Beckenham, and had a slightly madcap plan to site our caravan on his drive, mainly to help with the pressure on accommodation. Measurements had been taken and it all looked feasible. We arrived later than planned (in the dark) but the van fitted pretty much perfectly – thank goodness! The journey had not been without stress and it was a relief to drop the steadies and relax.

The Christmas Tree at Bruce and Mel’s

We arrived on 20th Dec and left on the 27th, enjoying the run up to the big day, the day itself and leaving on the morning of Evie’s 14th birthday. We had such a great time and were sad to leave but new adventures on the South Coast beckoned.

The Birthday Girl

We left at around midday and set off for Kloof’s, near Bexhill on Sea, in East Sussex. It was an easy journey – less than 2 hours on good roads – apart from the approach to the site – which was pretty narrow and which required strict adherence to the instructions posted by the campsite rather than listening to the Sat Nav.

On arrival – whilst the campsite was open for business – there was no-one physically on duty and you had to ring through to find out what pitch you were on and where it was. The instructions given over the phone did not translate very well on the ground and we ended up overshooting and going round again, but we were soon all set up with the obligatory kettle on.

The pitch

The pitches are very nice – level and with a picnic bench, a place for a barbecue and water and drainage. Our favourite type of pitch. We got ourselves sorted out , had a cuppa and a light snooze, walked the dogs and then set off for Eastbourne, where I had arranged a grocery collection at Sainsbury’s. We drove there via Pevensey and Pevensey Bay – where there has been much building of new houses and if William the Conqueror were to land here today, as he did in 1066, I think he’d feel very lost! It was getting dark so we didn’t actually see that much – apart from houses.

It was the first time that I had done a pick-up for my grocery shop and it went very smoothly – apart from the fact that single-use plastic bags are not used any more and you have to very quickly unload everything, item by item. But it’s the same with Grocery delivery these days, too. Quite stressful when you have someone waiting at the door for you! But we were soon on our way “home” again, where we had dinner, watched a spot of television and then turned in early.

Our Christmas Tree
The site at sunset

Saturday 28 December

Our first priority was ablutions! The boiler at Bruce’s had packed up on Boxing Day – it still gave heat but no hot water, so showers had been impossible. Whilst we could not have been described as dirty, it was nice to feel fresh!

Ablutions completed, we set off in search of adventure and a coffee – not necessarily in that order! We had a drive along the front at Bexhill and then parked at Cooden Beach, where we let the boys out for a run on the dog-friendly beach. It was breezy and there were plenty of dogs to play chase with, including a sweet Border terrier bitch called Tilly. Border Terrier people always seem extra friendly and always seem interested to talk. Tilly’s Ma and Pa were no exception and the boys loved playing with her.

Having grabbed a coffee at the Cooden Beach Hotel, we pressed on along the coastline, via St Leonard’s to Hastings – a favourite of ours. But for the first time in all our visits, the East Hill Cliff funicular was running so we had to grab us a ride on that! There is a Country park and a beacon at the top and the boys had a good old romp.

On the way up
Passing the other carriage
The view from the top
The boys, taking in the view
The Beacon
Looking over Hastings beach

Hastings was pretty busy and we struggled to find any where for our – by now – late lunch. A quick bit of research on the very handy “Doggie Pubs” website, found us heading off towards the Three Oaks pub, which is aptly named as it is in the village of – yes – Three Oaks – up on the downs above Hastings.

The decor is quite interesting – consisting of what might be described as an eclectic collection of “pub ephemera”, including an enviable (if you’re in the market for one) collection of chamber pots! It might also be described as clutter! I’ll let you decide. But it also had on the menu Steak and Kidney Pudding. This is an increasingly rare sight, these days, where carbs are the enemy and many people eschew offal. We both opted for it and could not believe the size of the mighty meal when it arrived. I have included a picture below, but it does not do it justice. I reckon there was an entire bag or frozen peas each for starters! It beat both of us fairly and squarely and it was almost embarrassing sending the plates back, seemingly hardly touched.

As it was now late afternoon, we set off for home and a little nap to sleep off the effects of the food! We spent the evening playing our new board game – Sequence – which is thoroughly entertaining, followed by TV and bed. No tea required!

Sunday 29th

Being Sunday, we had our traditional boiled egg breakfast, before setting off for Kent and our destination – Hythe, one of the most important of the “Cinque Ports” – a collection of five towns who banded together – originally for military and trade reasons. The plan was to ride the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway to its terminus at Dungeness. Now – in all their blurb – the trains look like normal, full-sized trains. The reality is quite different, however. It is a narrow-gauge railway and the carriages fit 2 medium build people sitting side by side snugly. And the carriage height is less than 5 feet. You had to stoop to get in.

It dawned on us that we would be spending a good hour on this tiny train – not including a half hour “lay-over” at New Romney. How we laughed. But it was actually good fun and the boys – as usual – took it all in their stride.

Dungeness is special. It’s like nowhere else I’ve been. For a start – it has one of the largest expanses of shingle in Europe. It also – and many of you will have heard of this – has a lighthouse. Or rather, it has had a succession of lighthouses – seven to be precise. There are currently two. One which was built in 1904 and still stands but is not used. The newer one was built in 1961 and looks very elegant in my opinion.

The newer one was built partly because the sea had receded and partly because the older one’s light was obscured by the building of the Nuclear Power station, another Dungeness “feature”.

The houses are quite quirky too, being mainly wooden weatherboard beach houses, but there are also quite a few, built in the 1920s, around old railway coaches. One of the houses – the attractive Prospect House – was once owned by artist and film director Derek Jarman.

Derek Jarman’s cottage

The Nuclear Power Station dominates the skyline in quite an ominous way – although that may just reflect my fears over the use of Nuclear power and what happens when it all goes wrong or is shut down. Probably largely fuelled by the Chernobyl disaster.

Dungeness is one of those places that you have to want to go to. Being on a headland – or “cuspate foreland “, it’s not on the way to anywhere. There was an hour to kill there, and I really wished I had worn something warmer as there was a stiff and quite chilly breeze. Paul took the boys for a walk on the beach while I ordered our lunch. As you might imagine, everyone pours off the train and makes straight for lunch – it was a long queue! We were glad of our soup once we sat down (outside because of the dogs). Just what the doctor ordered.

The return journey by train was uneventful – although I did get stung on the arm by a confused bumble bee, which had somehow – and unbeknownst to me until just before it stung me – crawled inside my shirt and down my sleeve! I don’t know who was more shocked.

We finally arrived back just after sunset. The journey home was about an hour. Ted was sick a couple of times during the evening and we wondered if he had perhaps picked up something vile on the beach? We hoped he’d be better by morning.

Arriving at Dungeness
The 1904 lighthouse and the power station
The 1961 lighthouse from the platform
The boys on the train
Southern Maid Loco

Monday 30th

Poor Ted was still poorly, so we decided he needed to see the Vet. Luckily there was one close by, who were able to see him. She gave him an anti-emetic and prescribed the usual chicken and rice diet and said to bring him back if he continued vomiting. We hoped we wouldn’t have to.

It was a coat and sunglasses kind of a day. We bought coffee and went for a walk on the beach at Bexhill. Interesting modern seating. I liked. Apparently the bit we were on was “the posh bit”. But of course!

Paul has a little gift for me, I think?
Nice design

As we needed petrol, we went to Sainsbury’s (Nectar points) and what a nightmare THAT was! Le tous Eastbourne was on the road. Vexatious in the extreme. But soon we were off to Beachy Head (breezy!) where the boys had a nice walk.

See those wind-blown ears!
Cliff top view

Our next port of call was Birling Gap. The last time we had visited Birling Gap (some 10 years ago) it had been pretty much deserted. We watched the RNLA assisting what looked like illegal immigrants on the beach below. But since then, it’s been “National Trust-ised”. There is now a large cafe and gift shop and – consequently – hordes of people. Particularly Japanese tourists, who were really quiet numerous!

We had had a late start and it was late afternoon and a long time since breakfast and we fancied a spot of of (late again!) lunch. Well, parking was the first difficulty – luckily, after a couple of circulations, we saw a guy who was just leaving and grabbed his space. He even gave us his ticket, which was handy. And food? Forget it – the cafe was literally stripped bare! The ravening hordes had eaten pretty much every savoury thing and left just a few bits of cake, which we eagerly snapped up.

As the light was imminently going to fade, we made our way home by a quite circuitous route – as is often Paul’s wont – but including a stop for the boys to have another run around..

And to the East

We decided to eat out and went to the Lamb Inn, which we had passed several times and thought looked nice. My review on Trip Advisor, entitled “Distinctly Mediocre” says it all, I think? Rather disappointing.

Tuesday 31st

As we were off home tomorrow (New Year’s Day), we spent some time rationalising all the stuff in the boot and in the van to save time the next day. We also did some washing, using the great laundry facilities at Kloofs. Mainly bedding and towels, but a job well worth doing, if a little tedious. It was lunchtime before we ventured out.

We set off for Battle – a nice little town, with a great traditional butcher and some nice independent shops. I bought some fillet steak (for our New Year’s Eve supper) and a birthday present for a dear friend with a birthday in January. I’ll say no more in case she is reading this!

Gateway to Battle Abbey
The roundabout in Battle

We also popped in to Jempsons for some bits for lunch and a coffee. Jempsons are a local bakery/supermarket chain, who have a number of cafes, convenience stores, supermarkets and even a petrol station in the area. They even have their own foundation, set up to help community projects. Nice to see an independent giving the big guys a run for their money. Long may they continue to do so.

The next stop was Herstmonceux, former site of the Royal Greenwich Observatory (now in Cambridge). Sadly the 14th Century moated Castle was closed, but we could see some of the Grade 2 listed telescopes, from the footpath, where we walked the dogs. The largest telescope, the 100 inch (254 cm) aperture Isaac Newton Telescope was moved to La PalmaCanary Islands, in the 1970s. 

We finished our day with a quick trip to Sainsers for one or two bits (including “Smetana” – or in our case Crème fraîche) for our NYE supper and then home.

Our NYE supper was Beef Strogonoff – served with Pappardelle and pronounced delicious by my main food tester – Paul. After supper – although we hadn’t planned to stay up – we spent until gone midnight planning our next trip away. Sadly we had some very nosiy and inconsiderate neighbours who were talking very loudly, laughing and playing loud music until the early hours. But it was NYE so live and let live. I finally fell asleep around 2:30 and they were still going strong.

Weds 1st

We all awoke late and finally got packed up and on the road by midday. But the first thing we encountered was a road block, and what looked like – although we didn’t gawp – a fairly serious accident. We had to reverse and turn round but were aided by a friendly pick-up truck driver. This led to a bit of a detour, but we were soon on the dear old A27 and thence back to our temporary home in Newtown.

We particularly noticed, on this trip, what a bad state the roads are in and wondered why motorists weren’t up in arms about it. What actually happens to our Road Tax??!!

We arrived at about 2 pm, got ourselves set up, had a quick snooze and then went over to the flat, where George and Beth had cooked us a lovely meal of Fajitas. Yum. It was nice to be home, but we will soon be heading off on a bit of an adventure, so watch this space!