Thursday 23rd July
There is a special reason for this trip as many of you will already know. We have a meeting with our boat-builder, Ortomarine, based in Shenstone (between Kidderminster and Bromsgrove.) in Worcestershire. The story of our quest to move onto a narrow boat has been a lengthy one and is covered on our new blog “The Sumpners Afloat” but we were very excited as we left our “home base” for the journey North to the Clent Hills Camping and Caravanning Club site.
We had chosen the A34/M40 route as there were better opportunities to stop (with a caravan) than on our usually preferred A34/M4/ A417/M5 route.
It was a good choice and we only stopped once for a quick pit-stop at the Cherwell Valley services. Traffic was free flowing and we arrived on site – after a slight last-minute hitch with an unexpected road closure. The friendly Caravan and Camping club team soon put us right and we were getting set up on our pitch by about 3:30.
There was a very cordial welcome and our first impressions of the site were very favourable. We had read some reviews that mentioned uneven, sloping pitches. I suspect that they have used the shutdown to make improvements, as all the hardstanding pitches looked newly built, with very smart stones and new edging.
It was showering with rain when we arrived and we spared a kind thought for the hardy souls who were camping on the centre section of the site. Tents in the rain – been there, done that. One of the reasons we took up caravanning!
The Clent Hills are a range of hills in North Worcestershire. They are managed by the National Trust and, at just over 1,000 feet, give fantastic panoramic views over the Malverns, Shropshire and the West Midlands. The site is located adjacent to the hills and is quite rural. Definitely our sort of site. Quiet with great views.
Once set up, we nipped out to pick up our groceries (a Sainsbury’s Click and Collect job) and then back to the van for a quiet evening, preparing for our meeting the next day, and setting up our new blog, which will initially follow the progress of the build and then become more about our new life afloat.
Friday 24th July
The day was finally here and we set off at around 09:30 for the short trip to the unit where Ortomarine build their boats. It was going to be a bit of a boring day for the boys but we parked in the shade, with all the windows open and left them snoozing. There is more info about the meeting on our other blog, so suffice to say it went very well and we had taken some quite radical decisions about the build. It finished at around half past two and we went straight to Howdens to look at kitchens! Nothing like striking while the iron is hot!
When we arrived back at the van, it was a very pleasant afternoon and we sat out in our new chairs, with a cuppa, watching all the Friday evening new arrivals. Including one who rather spoiled our view!!
We were both pretty pumped after the meeting and spent the evening going over all the stuff we’d discussed. We had worked separately,with Paul leading on tech stuff and me on interiors. Play to your strengths!
Saturday 25th July
Saturday was forecast to be showery but that would be OK – or at least better than rain all day! I had ordered some sourdough and some Viennoiserie from an independent Bakery called “Loaf” in nearby Stirchle, on the outskirts of Bournville and we had to pick it up before midday. This had seemed fine when I had booked it, before we left home on Thursday, but as things turned out, it was a bit of a mad dash, with the satnav predicting that we would get there at 3 minutes past. We hoped that they would not be too eager to close. We arrived in the nick of time and I also bought a couple of their delicious looking sausage rolls for our lunch.
Stirchley has been named in international magazine Conde Nast Traveller as one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the UK. It’s certainly an up and coming place to live in Birmingham and there are lots of lovely independent traders. We liked it.
We had been through Bournville by canal and had even visited Cadbury World from the Canal, but had never really properly visited before. Bournville was founded in 1900 and is a a “model village” on the south side of Birmingham. It is best known for its connections with the Cadbury family and chocolate – including a dark chocolate bar branded Bournville, which most people will have heard of.
Our first port of call was the Sycamore Road shops – very quaint and purveying pretty much everything a body could need, including a butcher, florist, a pharmacy and so on. As we parked, we heard an amazing sound. It was the Bournville Carillon, which was gifted to the village in 1906 by George Cadbury. A carillon is a musical instrument consisting of a set of bells. It’s played (and it’s quite physical – you use your fist!) by means of a keyboard and foot pedals. There’s a video of a famous UK carillonneur called Trevor Workman playing it here. It’s well worth a watch!
There are 20 carillons in the UK. Who knew? And the Bournville is one of the biggest in England with 48 bells. They make an amazing sound all around the town and there are recitals at midday and 3 pm each Saturday. So glad we were around at the right time to experience it.
We really liked the area – which was built to “alleviate the evils of modern, more cramped living conditions” and included all mod cons, except (of course) a pub as the Cadbury family were strict Quakers.
We popped back to the van for a quick cuppa before driving down to Hanbury Wharf (Droitwich) to visit the chandlery. Just a whim really but it ended in ice cream so it wasn’t a bad thing!
We returned home and spent the evening poddling about on the net – there are choices to be choosed and decisions to be decisioned!
Sunday 26th July
As is customary in the Sumpner menage, Sunday breakfast was a late and leisurely affair, with eggs (of course) and Stirchley Sourdough. A great combo!
We finally gathered our limbs and set out around lunchtime, bound for Stourport on Severn – specifically the canal basin area. Stourport has always fascinated me. It’s got a river, a canal and a permanent funfair! I don’t know why but it just seems odd. Just me?
We were last here 14 years ago, just after my Dad died. It’s changed a bit. New waterside apartments have sprung up for one thing. But the dear old Tontine Hotel is still there – no longer a hotel but now apartments. Luckily it is a listed building, which saved it from demolition when it finally closed its doors. It’s looking smarter than the last time we saw it, certainly.
The name Tontine came from an Italian- Lorenzo Tonti, who devised an early form of life insurance. A group of people would take out a policy where only the last surviving member would get the payout! Sounds pretty good – until they ended up killing each other to get the cash! They are now illegal. Naturally.
We sauntered down to the river and to the entrance to the canal (the Staff Worcs) hoping to see some boats. We were not disappointed. And then we spotted a narrowboat coffee bar – Oliver’s Coffee Bar. Just the job! 2 coffees and a Blueberry Muffin – freshly baked by the owner and possibly the best I have ever had – mine included!
Whilst there we met some folk with the tiniest Border Terrier bitch we have ever seen. We thought the boys’ Mum was petite but she was even smaller. And utterly adorable. They nearly lost her! But 3 border terriers – that’s greedy. Isn’t it…………………………?
We eventually finished gongoozling and made our way back to the car and decided that – before we made our way home, we’d pop further upstream to Bewdley. Bewdley is a delightful Georgian town on the Severn and has a very elegant bridge designed by Thomas Telford. It’s also very prone to flooding, the most recent being earlier this year.
But today it was looking beautiful and absolutely heaving! There didn’t seem to be much evidence that we were in the midst of a pandemic and it was all a bit too peopley. Paul very bravely volunteered to go and get us an ice cream (Oh come on! It wasn’t that much of a sacrifice . He’d do anything to get an ice cream! He IS Ice Cream Boy!) from Mrs Chill’s Ice Cream Parlour and I’m very glad he did. It was to die for.
Thus sated we made our way home, where I cooked a lovely roast while himself walked the boys. We had a nice evening watching Netflix and chilling. Behave!
Monday 27th-Weds 29th July July
Paul was working on each of these days and I entertained myself by cutting out some stuff for a new project, a little embroidery – I’m just doing a little taster to see if I like it – and researching stuff like gangplanks, shower wall panels and suchlike. Largely uneventful in all other respects – although we did pop to the Sainsers in nearby Halesowen – my first visit to a big supermarket since lockdown. A little surreal, I felt, with everyone wearing masks. Incidentally – Halesowen is one of the largest towns in the UK without a railway station. Historically, Halesowen was big in the nail-making industry. Nail-making was essentially a cottage industry. The “nailers” worked for middlemen known as “foggers”, or as out workers for bigger companies. And that’s all I know about Halesowen. Apart from the fact that they have a little narrowboat on their roundabouts, which is a nice touch.
There are plenty of places to walk the dogs and the Clent Hills have spectacular views and also standing stones. But these are a bit of a con, because they are not ancient and shrouded in mystery, they are a folly, built by George Lyttleton of nearby Hagley Hall less than 300 years ago! At one time, it is said – before a succession of boundary changes – that each one stood in each of four counties – Shropshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire. “Clent” is a Danish word, by the way, meaning head, a projecting, craggy rock; local lore suggests that if one faces east then the next highest ground are the Urals of Russia. I wonder if that’s true?
Thursday 30th Jul
Our last day here – and what a beautiful one. I spent the morning working on this blog and then we popped over to Ortomarine for a quick visit (tech stuff) Things were pretty hectic there as they have a boat just about to go out of the door. Lucky people!
We popped into a garden centre on the way home, to get an ice cream and then returned to the van so that Paul could get back to his work. The countryside is stunning in this weather. It was a very pleasant drive.
When Paul finished work, we decided we’d take a trip to “Bumble Hole” Nature Reserve on the Dudley No. 2 Canal, near Netherton Tunnel. Netherton holds the title of “The Last Canal Tunnel built in Britain in the Canal Age”! It was still boiling hot and we hoped that we might find some shade there – although we couldn’t recall any.
The last time we were there, we were with good friends Sue and Paul Rogers and I seem to recall small boys pelting us with apples from a bridge on the other side of the canal. I think we scared them off and spent a quiet night there, before going through the tunnel the next day.
It looks very different from the road, but as soon as we walked up the path and arrived canalside, it all looked very familiar – there was the bridge that the little tinkers had thrown apples from. There were the other fine Tipton-built bridges. Happy memories.
All was lovely until some oik came along with a massive dog he clearly couldn’t control. It had a go at Bill and made him yelp. My heart was in my mouth. It was a few moments of frenzy with scary, mean looking man thwacking his dog on the head and Paul trying to get Bill away from him. Eventually the dog released his hold. the man was effing and blinding and calling Paul the C word as he went off with his mates and some kids. It seemed no real damage done – although Bill is already nervous of other dogs. This wasn’t going to help any. It was a horribly scary incident and it all happened so quickly. Bill wasn’t the only nervous one. I think we were all in shock to be honest. It really took the edge off our visit, that’s for sure.
We had decided to get a fish supper and had spotted one on the way there. It was OK, but – is it just me? Is the idea of fish and chips better than the reality? Most times, I think it is a bit of a disappointment.
And then it was home to do a bit of packing up, ready for the journey home tomorrow. About half an hour after had got home, we noticed some blood on the carpet. It seemed that the dog had done some damage after all. It sounds stupid, but we had checked him over and there was no evidence of any puncture or wound, and he was in good spirits, so we had no reason to suspect any harm had come to him. Also – no blood on his crate mat. Very odd. On closer inspection we could see where the blood was coming from and immediately contacted an out of hours vet. There was a patch of raw skin about the size of a 10p piece. The vet said that they do not stitch such wounds as they are automatically infected as soon as a bite is inflicted. We told her he was on antibiotics and she said that was what she would have prescribed so it was all good. She gave us instructions on wound care (salt bathing etc and that was that. we finally got to bed at around 1am. We trussed poor old Bill up in a pair of Paul’s old pants so that he would be deterred from licking it. and we all went to sleep.
The next morning Bill had clearly left the wound alone and it had scabbed over nicely (sorry for the detail!). It was definitely time to go home.
We had had a lovely time (apart from the incident, which was just bad luck) and would thoroughly recommend both the site and the area. I’m not sure when we are next going away – we have to get Bill fit first. He’s the priority now, bless him, Until next time, then………….