It’s been a while since you heard from us – mainly because of this flipping pandemic we have all found ourselves dealing with. What a strange world it has become. We arrived home from Spain in the nick of time, as you’ll recall, just before the UK went into lockdown. Before we knew anything about social-distancing, shielding and bubbles, and in a world where anyone wearing a face-mask was considered a bit of a weirdo and yet they will shortly be mandatory for all of us! And nobody, but nobody Zoomed! Strange and surreal times – I must admit that there have been a couple of times when I’ve had to pinch myself. It’s been a bit like living in a movie. But lockdown is easing and we have plans. Or perhaps had plans is more accurate. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We have spent lockdown at The Traveller’s Rest, in Newtown, where we were staying before we went to Spain. There was a short time, when lockdown was announced, when we really didn’t know what was to become of us. We had returned from Spain and had felt it only right to self-isolate for 14 days, just to make sure we had not brought back any nasties with us. And then lockdown struck and caravan sites were told to close. Luckily, Scott, our “landlord” was very understanding of our situation and allowed us to stay. Luckily, too, the Government also produced a clarification which said that anyone living in a caravan or moho because they were between houses could be allowed to stay on site if the owner agreed it was OK. Phew. That fitted us – although we are between a house and a boat – more correctly! And, if we had to stay anywhere, we were very glad indeed to be staying here as we really love the peace and quiet and everyone is very friendly.
So there we stayed for the remainder of March, the whole of April, May and June. The April wedding we had originally been coming home to attend was postponed. Then our son’s wedding in May was also postponed – along with live theatre, sports and other events – even singing in a choir. Every event you could possibly think of was was called off and we couldn’t see family and friends. Throughout it all, Paul was working and I had to find ways to entertain myself. Baking and sewing were the main ways, plus my rag rug which has been a work in progress for some years.
But as I said, lockdown is easing and, with that in mind, I spent some weeks planning a grand tour of Scotland. We planned to be away for a couple of months. It took a while as it wasn’t clear when – or even if – campsites would re-open. But it all fell into place and we gave our landlord notice of our intention to leave on Friday 10th July.
Here is a link to the Google map of our planned trip. We planned to go up the Western side of Scotland, then across to the Eastern side, to visit with Paul’s Mum on the Moray Firth and then strike inland, through the Cairngorms, down to Scone, Perth and Edinburgh and then down the east coast of England to Whitby. After that we weren’t quite sure what we would do, but there was no hurry to decide.
And then disaster struck. Bill, one of our 18 month old Border Terrier puppies, was taken seriously ill. The probable diagnosis was a “Portosystemic Liver Shunt”. The full details can be found on the hyperlink, but, effectively it means there is a kind of leak and unfiltered blood is going round his body instead of into his liver, making him feel a bit groggy. We have always, affectionately, called him Lazy Bill because he would always be the one lagging behind on walks and bike rides We also said he would never survive in the wild because he was never as quick to think as his brother, Ted. Imagine how we feel now? He has probably spent his whole life feeling a bit rubbish, bless him. Needless to say, his health took priority and so we cancelled our trip. all 19 sites. We lost a fair bit of money and it remains to be seen as to whether we can go at a slightly later date.
I am now coming to the point! As I said, we had given notice to our landlord and, now that campsites are free to re-open, he had started booking other units in on “our” pitch. He had a three van group booking for this weeked and had asked us to move off “our” pitch, temporarily. As this would have meant taking down our awning and re-distributing the stuff that had accumulated in there over lockdown, we decided we’d use it as a spur to go away for the weekend. We spent evenings last week tidying up and getting everything ready for the off and by Thursday evening, we were ready to take down the awning.
Friday 17th July
It was a fine morning and I found myself feeling quite excited at the thought of going away. Lockdown has been really quite hard on everyone, and we have only recently been able to see family and friends again, which has been such a tonic. Odd though, that we still cannot get closer to people than 2 yards, so hugging is out.
Paul had some work to do and George came over to see us (well, to see the boys, we are under no illusions!) before we went. We finally got away about midday. It felt odd to be trundling out of the gate of our lockdown safe haven. But we soon swung into the old routine, with Paul taking tech support calls and me checking emails etcetera to sort out any that needed immediate response, which Paul dictated. We were on the road again! And it felt good!
It was an uneventful journey – even the M25 played ball. None of the usual hold-ups around Heathrow (things are still not fully back to order) and all other roads pretty quiet – until we got to Henley, our destination for the weekend. There was a long queue to go over the bridge, and by now it was sweltering hot. Luckily, our site was only just the other side of Henley and we arrived at around 2:30.
The site is known as “Henley Four Oaks” and is a Caravan and Motorhome Club site. Paul – armed with face mask – went to check us in. The lady told him we could go on any pitch with a blue marker and that the site was already pretty full. We did a a full circuit of the site before we found one. It was right by the road, which we weren’t too keen on, but beggars can’t be choosers. We set to work and got all set up, in the very hot sunshine. This generally takes about 30-45 minutes.
Paul popped back to let the office know which pitch we were on and the lady said “Oh no you can’t park there. You need a pitch with a white marker”. Paul said that she had definitely told told him blue, but she insisted she had said white. I know I’d rather go by my husband’s version than hers. Whatever – the upshot was that we had to move! Paul was spitting feathers when he came back. But we undid all the work we had done, hooked back up and did yet another tour of the site, which had been filling up further, while we had been setting up on the wrong pitch. Grr!
We found one backing on to a wooded area. Much preferable to the earlier one we had set up on, being further from the road. And so we set up – again. We genuinely can’t remember a worse arrival at a site and hoped that this was not a bad sign.
We had wasted so much time, it was now time to go and pick up our Click and Collect order from the Henley Waitrose. We had a quick look around to familiarise ourselves with the town and then parked in the Waitrose car park. Paul strode off, mask in hand, to collect the shopping. He was gone quite a while – almost half an hour – but eventually arrived back with our bags of shopping. He said it had all been a bit haphazard and nowhere near as well organized as at Sainsburys. Waitrose take note!
We went back to the site and I began a game of what I call “Fridge Tetris” – trying to fit everything into the fridge. And then the awful truth dawned on me – Chicken Kiev? Breaded Cod Fillets? Mince? Lemon Curd Yoghurts? Breakfast Avocado???? I didn’t order these! And then it dawned on us. We had been given 2 bags of someone else’s shopping! This was clearly not our day.
I immediately rang the helpline to report the problem. It took a while and she told us they could not take back the stuff we had by mistake because of Covid. Initially the girl on the helpline asked if we could go back and collect our shopping, but I said I was not prepared to do that – after all, it hadn’t been our mistake. Eventually, she arranged for the manager to drop it over to us. He had told her he suspected that it was HIS shopping we had been mistakenly given. Oops! He soon arrived with all our ordered goods and a rather nice bottle of Prosecco, to boot! Disaster averted – although we could not fit all our food AND the Manager’s food in our fridge, so donated it to another camper, close by. He was delighted. All good.
We had a very pleasant supper of the manager’s cod and settled down to watch television, although it was quite late, after all the fun and games. We were both tired and soon settled down for the night. We are used to pretty near silence at night and wondered whether road noise would be an issue, but no such problems. We slept like babies in our woody spot.
Saturday 18th July
Saturday was altogether cooler and cloudier than yesterday – no bad thing, in some ways. We had a mission to carry out before we could do anything else. Bill needs to be on a special low protein diet (Hill’s Science Diet L/D) for now and you have to order it in. This had been a bit tricky as we were going away and so we got it delivered to the nearest Pets at Home in Winnersh.
We set off and as we neared the shop, I spotted a Wool/fabric/haberdashery shop. I made a mental not to call in on the way back. We arrived at the Pets at Home and got the boys out of the car. They love a PAH and have learnt that there very often titbits on the floor, under the shelves. They know there is always a treat at checkout too. Clever boys.
We never seem to be able to leave a PAH without a big hole in our bank account and today was no exception. This is mostly to do with our never ending quest for a toy that they won’t shred within 10 minutes of it being removed for the packaging and also the need to keep their teeth clean. We left reassuringly out of pocket.
Now it was our turn. A Costa. I have missed a take-out coffee dreadfully during lockdown and it’s such a treat to be able to buy them again. We then returned the way we had come, and called in at the wool shop. It was not quite what I was expecting, but the lady was very sweet and I made a mercy purchase. 3 zips. They’ll get used, no bother. But it seemed the least I could do.
Then it was back home to the van, via Sonning, home of the famous theatre “The Mill at Sonning“. We once spent a very lovely evening there, having dinner and watching Mrs Cole’s Music Hall with Dad and Lynne. This was a great show conceived by recently deceased Penny Cole, wife of the great George Cole. – aka Arthur Daley. Happy times.The queue to get into Sonning village was even worse than that for Henley, yesterday! But we managed to grab a couple of photos.
Then it was back to van and a delicious lunch of the Puglian miracle that is Burrata, with huge, juicy flavoursome Jack Hawkins tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil and a screw of salt. Served with Olive and Feta bread – for mopping up the delicious “juice” that is formed by the olive oil, tomato juice and burrata curds. Oh my! Such a delight.
After a bit of post-prandial R&R, we set off for beautiful Marlow in search of an ice cream. And a fabric shop called Lady Sew and Sew, where I bought a few bits and pieces (fabric, bias binding etc). We were unlucky on the ice cream front but – as often happens – spotted a road that looked interesting. We took it and ended up on Winter Hill, with beautiful views over the Thames. We parked and got out for a walk with the boys and to watch the red kites, spiralling in the thermals. We saw a walnut tree with its fruit just at the right stage for pickling. Yum! Lots of wild flowers and butterflies and a lovely bench on which to sit and ponder. Which I did. Paul was gutted that his camera had been on the wrong setting and thus all the amazing shots of the kites were out of focus. Oh dear.
Then it was home and a relax before dinner (Lamb Koftas with lettuce and Tzatziki and Pitta Bread). We watched a good film that evening, about the battle of Midway – called, aptly enough Midway. We had seen one of the ships that took part in the battle at Charleston’s Patriot’s Point last year, when we visited South Carolina. Or rather we saw the ship that was named in honour of the USS Yorktown (CV5) which was sunk in battle, The ship we saw, the USS Yorktown (CV10) also saw combat in the Pacific in WW2 and was finally decommissioned in 1970, but not before she earned her place in the space mission history books, being the ship that retrieved the Apollo 8 astronauts and capsule in 1968. Really enjoyed the film.
Sunday 19th July
We had a long, leisurely morning after a bit of a lie-in. We had our usual boiled eggs for breakfast and – as it was essentially a free gift – Paul decided to take a break from the norm and try the Holy Moly Breakfast Avocado with his boiled eggs. The Breakfast Avocado is – so the label says – 2 avocados scooped out and mixed with tomato, lime, salt & pepper. It tasted pretty good but , as much as I love avocado, I am a bit of a stick in the mud when it comes to my boiled eggs, so I left him to it. He pronounced it OK but wouldn’t be rushing to have it again. Nuff said.
We spent the remainder of the morning on a slice of the old “il dolce far niente”. I first learned this expression when doing G&S’s “The Gondoliers“. The phrase has always stuck with me – maybe because I like doing it so much. There’s an interesting article here explaining more about it from the Italian perspective, but it means the art of doing absolutely nothing and thoroughly enjoying it.
Eventually we decided to head out, so as not to waste the entire day. I had read about a cafe at Mapledurham lock and we decided to head out thataway. The route took us over Whitchurch toll bridge (60p each way!). The car in front of us clearly either did not want to cross the Thames or balked at the fee payable so he did a 53 point turn. Odd! The bridge is near Pangbourne, and is one of only two privately owned toll bridges on the Thames. It was rebuilt in 2015 and there was a public outcry when the toll was raised to 60p! It’s a very pretty bridge and worth every penny in my opinion.
We pressed on to Purley-on Thames, where we parked and walked down the footpath and across a field to the lock. The field had previously been inhabited by cows and there were lots of cowpats. One little brown dog, who shall be nameless, but has problems with his liver, decided they were pretty tasty. SO glad we trained the “leave” command!
We sat and watched a couple of lockfuls of boats, feeling mighty envious, I can tell you. I wouldn’t want to be based on the Thames, but it’s a joy every few years. So very beautiful and great to gawp at all the properties as you go by (and speculate how much they might cost). By the way, I can report that the cafe is very firmly closed and has been for some while. What a disappointment.
We eventually tore ourselves away from the water and back to the car. Maybe we’d find and ice-cream in Henley? We hoped so. We thought that down by the river would be our best bet. And we were right. And plenty of space to park and eat them while we watched the river action again. And it was a Tonibell van! I haven’t seen one for flipping years. Took me right back to my childhood. Although that childhood was somewhat deprived of ice-cream vans, as we lived within the Castle Street conservation area and they were not permitted to “stop me and buy one”. How I envied friends who lived in areas where they were permitted. As usual, every lick was very closely monitored by two sets of brown and soulful eyes. As is customary, they got the tip of the cornet with a smidgeon of ice cream. After all – they are on holiday too!
We returned to the van for more relaxing – which actually was the point of this weekend, after recent stresses and strains. Eventually we cooked the dinner (Pappardelle with Mozzarella stuffed meatballs in tomato sauce) and thaen Paul watched a hideous boy film called Extraction – and no, it’s not about having a tooth removed! I entertained myself by writing this, as far as I could. And then to bed.
Monday 20th July
Paul had some work to do before the off, so I had a very nice lie-in. All too soon though, it was time to pack up and leave and we slipped out of the gates just before midday. The journey home was, again, uneventful traffic-wise. As we arrived back at the Rest, it really did feel like coming home. Although not to “our” pitch sadly, as you will recall. Still – we are only here for three nights and then we are off again, up to Worcestershire for a very exciting meeting with Ortomarine, our boat-builder. The meeting is to finalise the design of the hull, as it will be built within the next few weeks! Watch this space. Very soon this blog will be no more. Know anyone who wants a really nice, regularly serviced caravan, with everything you need to start caravanning, including remote-control mover, at a bargain “priced-to-sell” price? Our new blog is “The Sumpners Afloat“and it is now live! Exciting times.