On tour at home and abroad with the Sumpners

The view below is Toad Rock, Tunbridge Wells

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A Weekend Close to Home 15-17 February 2019

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.


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.


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.


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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Twixtmas 2018 – 28 Dec 2018 to 1st January 2019

I’ve probably said it before, but what a revolting expression that is, eh? It refers of course to those lost, dead days between Christmas and New Years day, where we all stumble around in bloated bewilderment. Those odd days before the shock of how much we actually spent and how much weight we have put on hits us.

I think you can gather that I am no great fan of Christmas these days. It has lost its sparkle for me. We all have way too much stuff and too much disposable income. I look back to the Christmases of my childhood with misty eyes. In retrospect, it all seemed so much simpler then. And it didn’t start way too early as it does today, thanks to the evils of TV and capitalism. Thus it’s a big bah humbug from me. I am also not a fan of enforced merriment on New Year’s Eve. This may all be due to my advancing years but I am, simply put, over it.

For the last few years we have gone away to spend the period somewhere quiet and – preferably – away from fireworks, because of poor Archie, who was terrified of them. But he is no more. Miss him terribly.

Friday 28th

This year we chose a spot in the Cotswolds, just outside the regency spa town of Cheltenham. It’s a part of the Cotswolds which we have not much explored. We chose a CS (a small, private site) in Gotherington, home of the famous Prescott Hill Climb and the Bugatti Owners Club. The CS – Pardon Hill Farm – has just 5 pitches, all of which are fully serviced (constant water and drainage) and boasting a flat level, hard-standing with beautiful views over the hills. And all this for only ¬£16 per night. Perfect.

We left home at around 10:15. It was the first outing for our new tow car. I say new but it’s actually a 10 year old Volvo V70 with 123,000 miles on the clock. We set off a little tentatively but we needn’t have worried. She (Vicky the Volvo) did the job with ease. We arrived – after victualling stops – just before 3 pm but missed it on our first pass. Manoeuvring a caravan on narrow country lanes is no mean feat anyway  – hats off to cool-as-a-cucumber Paul  – and thank goodness for Prescott (which was closed) into the entrance of which we turned in slight desperation! We had to unhitch to carry out the turn around but this was swiftly accomplished and we were soon heading back the couple of hundred yards to the site. It really could do with a little more obvious signage. We were both looking out for it and also going slowly but still missed it. No real harm done, though and we were soon setting up and settling down for the evening.

As we were setting up, we heard a steam whistle and the lovely sound of a steam train. The line for the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway ran along the bottom of the field! Excellent.  We often have a quick orientation outing when we first arrive on site but neither of us felt like moving that evening. We had a lovely meal – one of my favourites of the Christmas period – of cold home-baked gammon, egg and chips. Lush! Followed by an early night. We were lulled to sleep by the soft hooting of an owl and rudely awoken in the morning by the harsh “crarks” of a couple of pheasants!

Saturday 29th

After a windy night (which had nothing to do with sprouts, thank you!) we set off for the Cheltenham Park and Ride at the Race Course. Very efficient it was too and we soon arrived in town.

Lloyds Bank

We had a good look round the very large shopping area and a delicious lunch in Yo Sushi and then made our way back to the P&R and the car. We made a quick visit to Cook, to pick up a couple of meals (Salmon and Asparagus Bake and Steak and Kidney pie – both delicious) and then set off again.

The plan was to visit pretty little Winchcombe via a pleasant B road type of route (aka  one of Paul’s Misery Tours). Our route took us past Brockhampton Park in Sevenhampton. Not to be confused with the Brockhampton Estate in Herefordshire, which is managed by the National Trust. This is a beautiful old house, built in the 1600s and now – after being acquired and stripped by asset strippers in the late 70s – divided into flats. Probably a casualty of Inheritance Tax/Death Duties.

Brockhampton Park

Winchcombe was busy, but we managed to find a space to park and set off to explore. I had not found anything I wanted to buy in Cheltenham but there were any number of lovely little shops in Winchcombe, including the lovely Emporium Gift Shop, where I was forced to part with some hard-earned cash! We also had a coffee (tea for Paul) and cake in Food Fanatics cafe. I had a piece of Mincemeat Shortbread (you can watch out for that next year!). And then it was home to our cosy van for the evening. More trains, more owls, more pheasants.

Sunday 29th

After a delicious breakfast of smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels, we set off for Tewkesbury. It was a lovely sunny morning and the drive through the beautiful countryside was very pleasant. We visited the Marina (of course!) , which is set at the junction where the Avon joins the Severn and the Abbey (although not inside as it was Sunday) and then popped down to Lower Lode, a favourite mooring for my Dad and my stepmother, Lynne in their boating days.

Tewkesbury is famous for its role in the Wars of the Roses in 1471. A decisive battle was fought here not far from the Abbey. We were amused to see, during our perambulation about town, an ancient helmet hanging from a sadly run down house. I thought perhaps it was from the Civil War but that maybe wrong? Although there was definitely fighting around Tewkesbury at that time. Anyone? Check out the hole (left hand side), though! Rust or a direct hit, I wonder?

The Lower Lode

We then set off for Gloucester Docks. This was a bit of a disappointment We had overnight-ed here about 15 years ago on our way down to the end of the Gloucester and Sharpness canal. It had probably just started to be “gentrified” then but still had a bit of charm. Now it is really and truly gentrified. Or ruined as I like to call it. Horrible new Outlet Shopping centre with lots of chain eateries. That said, we did lunch in Carluccios!

Sunset at Gloucester Docks Aug 2004

We had a larger than usual lunch as we planned to snack on the Cheese Mountain we had brought with us from home that evening.

We were off, that evening – after a beepy,  to Sudeley Castle  (final resting place of Catherine Parr)  to the Alice in Wonderland-themed “Spectacle of Light” – and what a spectacle it was. We had a brilliant time and would suggest a look at the video in this link to get a real flavour of what we saw – our pics hardly do it justice.

It was unseasonably warm – hardly any need for a coat (I wore a gilet) but a hot choc and doughnut break was still essential. And then – cheese beckoned. Followed eventually by bed. No cheese nightmares for me!


Monday 31st

To the Race Course again – but this time for a ride on the Steam Railway. The line has been restored by volunteers from Cheltenham to Broadway. They have even built a brand new station at the terminus, which opened earlier this year. The station had the effect of doubling the number of passengers!

We boarded the train with great excitement. The carriage we were in very much reminded me of a train trip I had done with my mother when quite young. We went down to Plymouth on the train to see Dad (who was then in the Navy) and the main thing I remember was having dinner on the train. I recall feeling very grown up.

We looked out at the beautiful countryside – especially as we passed through  Gotherington station, in the hope that we would catch a glimpse of where we were staying, but the line is down in a cutting then,  so all we got was a glimpse of muddy bank.

I couldn’t help but also recall Stevenson’s famous poem “From a Railway Carriage” which I learnt as a child:

Faster than fairies, faster than witches, Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;

And charging along like troops in a battle, All through the meadows the horses and cattle:

All of the sights of the hill and the plain fly as thick as driving rain;

And ever again, in the wink of an eye, painted stations whistle by. Here is a child who clambers and scrambles, all by himself and gathering brambles;

Here is a tramp who stands and gazes; and there is the green for stringing the daisies!

Here is a cart run away in the road, lumping along with man and load;

And here is a mill and there is a river: Each a glimpse and gone for ever! R L Stevenson

I remember particularly liking the mention of “lumping along” – an expression which I still use to this day. I am a bit of a “lumper” myself! I guess steam railways have a very nostalgic effect, especially on those who are old enough to recall the “Golden Age of Steam”, as I am.  I remember the steam trains at my local station and playing dare on the footbridge as a train went through. You had to stand there all through the billowing smoke, without flinching or screaming. Maybe not very daring by today’s standards but it certainly seemed it then! It was pretty exhilarating.

We stayed on the train at turn round and headed back to Cheltenham and then picked up the car and quickly drove back to Broadway as we wanted to visit the Tower.  We had a quick and quite late lunch in the town and a wander up and down. It really is a beautiful town. with some lovely shops. We were particularly taken with the Deli and I hanker after a stay at the Lygon Arms one day.

And so – as the light faded (although I swear it’s getting dark later!) we made our way back to the van for our last night before returning home. We stayed up until gone midnight , which was a surprise as I wasn’t sure I’d make it earlier in the evening! My last task of the 2018 was beating Paul 2-1 at Cribbage. A fitting end, I feel.

Jan 1st

We’d had a nice, relaxing break after the madness leading up to Christmas, Vicky had done us proud and there was a shiny New Year to start on. I wonder, as I write, what this year will bring. Our plans are currently on hold as we can’t seem to sell our house. Let’s hope the market picks up and we can embark upon the new life we had planned. It seems we shall be keeping the caravan a little longer than we had anticipated, so look out for more adventures in the following months. Already have a trip booked for February. Never one to let the grass grow!

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A quick catch up – it’s been a while!

22nd to 25th November

We made a repeat visit to the lovely Orchard Bank near Yatton because Paul had some business to do at HQ. We decided that we’d also go to Bath Christmas Market and make a weekend of it.

It was lovely to arrive on the Thursday evening. We’re not generally returners, but coming to Orchard Bank seems to feel a bit like coming home. We even got “our pitch”.¬† Funny to feel so territorial.

Paul went off to work on Friday morning and I settled down to do some work on the forthcoming Christmas Show I was producing and then I got a phone call. It was my friend Heather, who lives in Yatton and who is the sister of my dear friend Linda. She was free and would be popping in to see me. How lovely!¬†And she arrived with a treat from the renowned Pullin’s bakery in Yatton. Doubly welcome! We had a nice chat and then she went on her way and left me to my work.

I had a beepy in the afternoon and then Paul arrived home from work. We popped to Yatton for a couple of things we needed and grabbed a quick coffee at the aptly named “That Coffee Place”. Then it was home for dinner and an early night.

Saturday morning saw us up early, ready for our trip to Bath. We were going by train from Yatton and it seemed like a bit of an adventure. I love a train journey.¬† We had to change at Bristol Temple Meads¬†and as we boarded the next train there was a person handing out Brownies. How very civilised! I don’t recall that happening on my daily commutes of old!¬† Then it was a short hop to Bath Spa station. This station was clearly seriously geared up for the influx (and indeed the outflux), with queuing systems and a leaflet on the services especially for the Christmas Market. And people were pouring in to the town! Trade was brisk and it was a short step to the Market. Everywhere was bedecked in its Christmas finery and I felt the first real twinge of Christmassyness.

I have visited before but Paul was quite overwhelmed at the sheer size of it all. It was a grey and drizzly day (grizzly?) but they even had laid on some snow. It was very pretty but does not photograph very well, hence no evidence of it. There was stall after stall all around the town and our noses were assailed by the smells of mulled wine, sausages, cinnamon and other good Christmassy things. And there was plenty to ooh and ah over.


Our first stop was for coffee at the very pretty Sweet Little Things tea room on Lower Borough Walls.¬† It was one of those days where you have to dress for inclement weather but, the minute you go inside, it’s like you’re in a sauna. Suitably refreshed, we wandered round the market for a while until lunch beckoned. Now that was a real challenge! Everywhere was inundated with people. They get over 400,000 visitors to the market each year and I reckon half of them were there that day!

We eventually decided on Bill’s and joined the queue to be seated. It didn’t take too long. We had the Sauna effect again, though! It was a relief to sit down, in truth and we enjoyed our lunch. Then it was out to the market/shops for another hour or so, before we decided we’d had enough. We walked back via Pulteney Bridge, overlooking the much-photographed Weir, remembering the very happy times we had spent there, visiting by narrowboat and thence to the station. It was about 3 pm and seemingly a good time to leave as the queuing system was starting to be enforced. We hopped on the train, canal-spotting as we made the return journey. Last Christmas, whilst staying at Bath Chew Valley site,¬† we had cycled along the disused railway line and we spotted that too.

We relaxed for the evening and then packed up and returned home on the Sunday morning, feeling a little more like Christmas was on the way than we had before our visit.

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The Spinney – for the Alresford Show – 30/8 to 2/9

Thursday 30th Aug

This was our annual Evie and Lenny weekend, which had had to be re-arranged due to Paul’s work commitments. It was originally scheduled to have been on the August Bank Hols weekend and we are actually glad that we didn’t have them with us, in the end,¬† as the the weather was rather less than sparkly.

I drove to pick them up, together with Uncle D (who had been staying at Bruce & Mel’s for a couple of days) and we met at the usual venue – Guildford Cathedral on Thursday afternoon. The arranged time was 2 pm and I drove into the grounds and parked, swiftly followed by Bruce. Very handy. We loaded up with all their bits and pieces and drove home, after dropping off Uncle D.

George had very kindly given up his bedroom for the night for Lenny. George would be sleeping in the van and Lenny was very excited to have a double bed to himself. Poor Lenny was finding it hard to be in the house and going away in the caravan with Archie. He really did love that dog.

After dinner (perennial favourite meatballs and Spaghetti) we went out for a trip down to Southsea and rocked up at the fair – which is not what it used to be but pretty amazing through a kid’s eyes. But it closes at 8 pm these days! What’s that all about? We went on the Big Wheel all together and then we split up – Lenny and I on the Roller Coaster and Evie and Uncle Paul on the Waltzer. Then we bought pots of 2p coins and had fun on the cascades. Lenny learnt that fairgrounds are not very fair. A hard lesson.

And then it was back  for hot chocolate and bed. Lenny went out like a light and Evie followed soon after.

Friday 31st Aug

Paul did the breakfast shift and then I took over while he worked. We wiled away an hour or so with TV and games and then we popped out to see Sue and her new Puppy РLulu.  Lulu was very excited to see us and I think she was a bit much for Lenny! Luckily, Sue and Paul have a new trampoline and they both enjoyed playing on that while Sue and I had a catch-up.

On the way home for lunch, we popped into to Sainsburys. As is traditional, the kids had packed unsupervised and – as is always the case -there were obviously missing items. Just pants this year. Most years it’s pants AND socks. I think their parents use it as an opportunity to refresh the kids’ underwear drawer –¬† for free!! We also bought comics – to tide us over until Uncle Paul could finish work.

Then it was home for lunch and a short wait until it was time for them to help with the hooking-up process. Lenny was allowed to use the motor mover, which he seemed to enjoy. And then we were off. It’s less than an hour to New Alresford – although we took a slightly dodgy route down a narrow lane! Don’t ask! But we had visited The Spinney last year, too, and were soon set up and the kids were very helpful again, with Lenny helping Uncle Paul with the steadies and Evie going off to fetch the water.

The people opposite us had a drone and were flying it which afforded us some amusement. There were a couple of other vans there, but plenty of space for Lenny to kick a ball around (with out any fear of damaging other units) and he and Paul spent some time doing that. But soon there was more work to do.

We had bought a new “event shelter” after a tip-off. They were reduced to ¬£12.95 and looked too good to pass on, so this was a first outing for it. Useful if we want to cook outside and it’s raining. The kids helped us erect that and then it was time for them to cook their dinner. Sausages, smiles and beans for them, mash for us. I think they enjoyed the process and were overjoyed to have potato smiles as a treat. Poor deprived kids!

While I washed up, Paul and the kids walked into town to pick up the one thing we had forgotten. I have now forgotten what that was! But it doesn’t matter, they enjoyed the walk.¬† When they got back, Lenny wiped up and then we played a game of “Say What” and then it was time for all of us to go to bed – a process which took at least half an hour, maybe longer. We read for a bit and then it was lights out.

Saturday 1st September

Well¬† – we weren’t expecting that! No-one stirred until gone 8 o’clock. How lovely! We are used to an early start with them but this was really quite civilised.¬† We had breakfast and then set off for the show. We parked and walked through to the site and started looking at all the stalls. Lenny spotted some finger-less gloves which he ABSOLUTELY had to have, despite attempted persuasion otherwise. We saw some Giant African Snails – which only I had the nerve to hold (look at Len’s face!) and then made our way to the climbing wall and Lenny had a go on that – he’s the right build for climbing. Then the kids had a milkshake, while I queued for coffee.


Unbeknownst to the kids, we had arranged for George and Beth to join us for the day, so that the cousins could spend a rare day together,¬† and we met up with them, before touring the livestock section. By now it was very hot indeed! We stopped in at the petting farm and talked to turkeys, chatted to chickens, gossiped with goats, dallied with donkeys and then¬†cuddled a few furry things. Finally the kids both had a go at milking – kinda…

We then moved on through to the sheep, where I showed Lenny just how deep a sheep’s wool was (and thus how hot they might be) then cattle, then pigs and then we were all thirsty so we went for a drink and a sit down.

Beth and I had frozen cocktails which were amazing. We ate our picnic and then set off again. Daredevil Lenny wanted to go on the scary looking slide thing , so we took advantage of some seats in the shade while he climbed up and threw himself off a tall thing.


Evie and I then went and watched the Donkey racing (hilarious!) while Len took a few photo opportunities and had a go on a ride simulator (of sorts!).

We were all boiling hot and decided to decamp to New Alresford, where there is a nice ice-cream parlour/ tea room. But first there was a few vintage cars to pose by.

It was a good decision. The Tiffin Tea Rooms have a great choice of cakes and some lovely ice-cream flavours and we were soon all tucking in.

After that, we said goodbye to George and Beth and went back to the van. We decided to show the kids how to play Petanque with Paul coaching Lenny and me coaching Evie and we all had a fun game. I can’t actually remember who won, but it didn’t really matter. Paul and Lenny went off to play more football while Evie and I read for a bit and then it was time to get ready to go out. We were off to Pizza Express for dinner. It was a very pleasant meal and we enjoyed just sitting and chatting. I noticed how grown and confident my lovely Evie had become when she went off to the loo all on her own. Even a year ago she would have wanted someone to go with her. Lenny has always had that confidence, bless him.

We went back to the van and played a game of Beetle. I think Paul won that too! And then it was the bedtime routine  Рwhich seemed to go on a bit Рbut we were soon all snuggled in bed. I think all of us were tired because it went quiet quite quickly!

Sunday 2nd September

We awoke at a reasonable hour and set about making Blueberry Pancakes. I use a very simple Jamie recipe that just uses cups, so there is no need for scales and other complicated equipment – although a whisk does come in handy. If there are only two of you – use a small teacup and for four use a larger mug. It’s so easy.


1 cup SR flour

1 cup of milk

1 egg

Punnet of blueberries

Whisk all the ingredients together before adding the blueberries. Use a hot surface – a frying pan would do – very lightly greased. Pour a circle(s) of batter onto the hot surface – they will spread a bit, so remember to leave a gap between them. They are usually cooked one side when you can see dimples/holes in the raw side. Flip them over and cook that side until it has the right shade of brown for you and serve. I serve with maple syrup but the choice is yours.

The kids seemed to enjoy making the batter and cooking them – and they certainly enjoyed eating them! They went down very well indeed.

After brekker, Lenny did some more boules practice – declaring it his favourite game after football. He looked pretty good after a bit of practice. And then it was more football for the boys, while Evie and I started gathering up their bits and pieces and packing them ready to return them to their parents. It had all gone way too quickly and we had had such a lovely time. We gave them lunch and snacks for the journey and off they went.

We had decided that – for speed – I would stay and tidy up the van while Paul ran the kids back to Guildford. I was so sad to see them go. Look forward to spending more time with them soon. It didn’t take Paul long – straight up the Hog’s Back to Guildford. I had only just finished cleaning and tidying when he arrived back and we quickly packed up the van and were home in time to have a bit of a relax, before the next week kicked off. I’m not currently sure when our next time away in the van will be, so keep a look out for our next adventure.


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Bristol to Wales 23-27 August

Thursday 23rd

We’re back at Orchard Bank – it’s been a while! We did all the tasks that required us to nip back home on Wednesday and made the return journey today, at about 18:30. We drove through the heart of Bristol this time and it was nice to see all the sights. It was also lovely to see our van safe and sound when we arrived. So grateful to the owners of the site for keeping a lookout. And it kind of feels like home, somehow?

We had stopped for a very naughty – and very rare – MacDonalds on the way, so no food was required. Just a quick coffee and then it was lights out for yet another early start.

Friday 24th

We had originally booked to stay at the next site – Llangorse Lake – from the Thursday night and had thus rung and arranged to arrive early today – because we could. It would also help avoid the Bank Hol weekend traffic – or that was the plan. So the alarm was set for 06:00 and we got up and packed the van and hitched up for a last pass through those blooming gates. I’m not really complaining – they are a necessary evil and would make it pretty hard to make a fast get-away. Although, I guess if you’re nicking a caravan, you’re not going to be too scrupulous about closing a couple of gates! But they might be a bit of a deterrent?¬† It’s a pretty tight exit actually! But soon we were on our way. We have really enjoyed this CL and will definitely stay again, should the need arise. We’d be glad to.

We planned to stop at the first services to grab brekker “on the hoof”, but sadly that plan went awry when we missed the flipping exit. I say we –¬† but as I wasn’t driving I was reading…. Ah well. The first opportunity (it’s not always easy stopping when your total length is around 12.5 metres!) to stop was thus at Morrisons in Abergavenny. The coffee wasn’t bad but I threw my pastry away half-eaten. Vile.

We pressed on and the traffic was not too bad (phew!) and we arrived at Llangorse at around 09:30. We set up and had a bowl of cereal and I had a bit of a relax while Paul did a bit of work. The skies opened and it poured down. We were under a tree, which makes the  rain sound worse somehow and the sound of large acorns bouncing on the roof only added to the noise! But eventually it cleared up and we set off out.

Llangorse Lake Campsite view

We thought we’d pop to Brecon for a look round but as we arrived it started to heave it down. We bolted into Costa and took refuge in a coffee until it passed again. I wondered if this would be the weather story all weekend. Brecon is a nice little town and we remembered our visit there some years ago with our friends Sue & Paul and our lovely dogs Freddie and Archie, both of whom we miss terribly. It was in August 2007, before we started caravanning, but I remembered that the site was called¬† Brynich. It seems it is now a Caravan and Motorhome Club site. We had a lot of laughs at that site in our tenting days.

A few views of Brecon:

We had hired a day boat on the Mon and Brec canal with Paul & Sue, and this fact leads me to our next destination Рwe popped to have a quick look at the canal and were lucky enough to see a boat in the lock. It was the trip boat from Brecon. The canal is an interesting size, being wider than the usual narrow canal lock width (such as on the Oxford Canal) which is 7 feet, but not as wide as the usual wide lock Р(such as on the Trent & Mersey Canal) which is 14 feet. The Mon & Brec locks are around 9 feet wide and their wide boats are, of course, built accordingly. So Рconsider yourself informed!! The canal runs adjacent to the very attractive River Usk, which is crossed by a packhorse bridge nearby, where my Lord and Master is pictured.

We then took a general tour of the area, mainly reservoirs – Talybont, Ponsticill¬†etc and they all looked pretty low on water after our very hot summer. We also had a lunch stop near Torpantau at the Old Barn Tea Rooms. Very pleasant and nice, freshly-made sarnies. After which we looked out for the Brecon Mountain Railway,¬†as we had spotted odd puffs of steam and heard a whistle. We got an all too brief glimpse and, sadly, you’ll have to rely on the pictures on the link above,¬† but we also saw a very attractive ventilation shaft for a disused tunnel at Pant Station. Sadly it was too late to take a trip but it does look well worth doing.

It took about an hour to get back home to the van and we had time for a quick wash and brush up before going out for dinner. I had booked a table at Hills, just outside Brecon. It’s a burger joint with wonderful views of the Beacons. We had a lovely meal and would definitely return if we were in the area again. We drove home and¬†settled down for the remainder of the evening, although it wouldn’t¬† be a late night, in view of our recent early rises. Or that was the plan. We were snoozing soundly when we were awoken by our new neighbours arriving back at their moho with their three barking dogs and loud “see you tomorrows” and lots of noisy laughter. Which went on a bit. There are rules on campsites¬† – usually no noise after 10:30¬† – which most people (including us) follow religiously. Not them.¬† I asked them to desist but they carried on regardless. We were not amused.

Saturday 26th

We awoke quite early (must be getting used to it?) and found ourselves moving around and whispering so as not to disturb our neighbours, who had not yet surfaced. I actually felt like making an unholy racket but that would have been childish and we are above that sort of behaviour. Mostly….

Today , we had planned to go boating on the Lake, but the weather looked more than a bit iffy and we didn’t want to take a wet boat home in the car so we abandoned that idea. We were quite late going out but we had a new plan. And a picnic!

The new plan was to go to the Red Kite Feeding station at¬†Llanddeusant. Feeding wasn’t until 15:00 and, although they ask you to arrive early, we still had some time to kill. Time for one of Paul’s delightful misery tours! We drove to Sennybridge – famous for being the home of the quirky X Factor contestant Rhydian (Roberts) back in 2007 –¬† and thence Trecastle and on to the beautiful¬†Usk reservoir, where I stopped for a chat with a friendly sheep.

Then it was time to drop down onto Llandeusant for Kite feeding. On the way we were stopped by a tractor crossing the road and what followed was a joy!. A procession of tractors – many of them vintage (much like me!) – and we really enjoyed watching them. There is a video of part of the procession here.

We arrived at the Kite Station and settled down to eat our lunch and await the Kite Feeding time. It was a fantastic display of aerobatics from the Kites – who eat on the wing. We were also joined by a couple of Buzzards (BIG!!) who eat on the ground. A great experience and one I’d recommend. We also loved the cat, who loiters with intent to pick up scraps too. So sweet and very friendly.

On the way home, we came across a VERY narrow bridge – with a gauge to check before you attempt to cross. It was pretty close. I wonder how many people have been caught out?

We called in on Brecon on the way back, as we had heard tell of an excellent ice-cream parlour. We were not disappointed. It (Llanfaes Dairy) was very busy indeed and the ice-creams were amazing. And there was very clearly an Italian influence, which is unsurprising as there is a long tradition of Italian emigrants setting up Ice-cream Parlours (and also cafes and fish and chip shops) in Wales. Indeed, the famous Berni inns proprietors emigrated from Italy to Merthyr Tydfil. This article about the diaspora is well worth a read.

There were so many flavours it was all a bit bewildering! I can’t resist Salted Caramel, Cinammon and Rum Raisin. So I had a three scoops and it was delicious. After this, we popped to have a look at the canal basin, which looked very pretty in the lovely sunshine.

We then made our way back to base where we relaxed for a while and Рeventually Рcooked a delicious meal, (pork with fusilloni and basil) courtesy of the amazing Gousto. Having washed up we watched a bit of TV before retiring Рhoping for a quieter night.

Sun 26th

We were not disappointed! A largely unbroken night’s sleep was afforded us. How nice! I say largely because I was occasionally awoken by rain and acorns but – after I put put my ear-plugs in – I snoozed until morning. And awoke refreshed

Today we were off to Kerry, near Newtown to visit my dear Aunty Vera. And as a bonus, my cousin Martin was over from New Zealand and we had a very pleasant afternoon catching up and reminiscing, as one inevitably does when one advances in years. We were also joined by my stepmother – Nanny Lynne and a good time was had by all. It was about an hour’s drive each way and – oddly and annoyingly – we took no photos, so you’ll have to believe that we went!

We filled up ready for our trip home the next day on the way back and then had a quiet evening.

Mon 27th

Home today and thus not much to report. Although Noisy Neighbours reared their ugly heads again. Boo to them! But we had a nice break and we’re away in the van next weekend too. Watch this space!



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Orchard Bank, Claverham 16-23 Aug

Thursday 16th

Claverham is situated half way between Bristol and Weston-super-Mare, in the Unity Authority of North Somerset and – more specifically –¬† in the Civil Parish of Yatton.¬† The reason for our stay was that Paul had some business to do for a few days and, rather than him zooming up and down the M4 several times, we decided that we would take the caravan and stay for the duration. Great decision!¬†We chose a CL – Orchard Bank – as our base – another great choice!

We had arranged with the CL to arrive early (very often midday is the earliest you can arrive on a site and usually it’s 2 or 3 pm) – and this is one of the reasons we love CLs; they are much more relaxed and flexible than a “proper” site. They have fewer facilities but all we need is a electric hook-up, fresh water and somewhere to dump grey & black waste. This one ticked all the boxes and was only 20 minutes from where Paul needed to be.

We arose at 05:45 and were on the road by 06:20. We had a smooth trip Рstopping for a quick breakfast on the run at Sutton Scotney Рin the pouring rain Рand arrived on site, to clearing skies, at around 09:15.  Access to the site was through 2 gates. There was one other unit on site and we chose to set-up in a quiet corner (as per the pic below). It was lovely. And all hard-standings Рwhich we prefer. Quite rural too Рas you can see.



We soon got set up and then I dropped Paul off at work in Flax Bourton – the home of his company. And what a home it is, located as it is in the old Workhouse. A very imposing building, built in 1838 and used initially as a workhouse and then as a “mental deficiency colony ” a role it performed until the early 90’s – when it was closed as a result of the “Care in the Community” initiative. It was redeveloped as offices in 2005 but has retained its imposing buildings – thank goodness.

Farleigh Ct

So! Now I was left to my own devices and, as it was an impromptu trip, my first stop was at Waitrose in nearby Nailsea. I had thrown together a quick menu plan and I had a good list. Although I do most of my grocery shopping on line and have done for over 15 years, I do enjoy the occasional trip round a supermarket – especially a Waitrose. So much to discover. And a free coffee at the end to boot. Perfect.

By the time I had finished victualling I was a little peckish and so I decided to treat myself to a solo lunch in Clevedon – home of the iconic cast iron pier and a favourite of ours. It is located on the Severn estuary, with views across to Wales (probably Newport) –¬† and I’ve never seen the water looking anything other than murky, because of all the mud. It (Clevedon) was used in the filming of Broadchurch, by the way.

Parking was quite challenging – but I struck lucky after a couple of passes and whipped into a newly vacated space on the seafront. My destination was Tiffin Tea House, which we have visited on previous occasions.

The cafe overlooks the beach and it was – by now – pretty breezy! I had chosen one of th special – Mushrooms and Cheese on Sourdough toast. Shortly after it had been served, a gust blew my salad garnish off the plate! I had to weight down the napkins too.¬† Hilarious.The cheesy, mushroomy toast was delicious, but I felt it was all a bit over-priced though, sadly? ¬£10.95 for a slice of sourdough, four mushrooms, a few blobs of cheese and some (horrible) frisee lettuce. Hmmm….

After lunch it was time to make my way back to the van in the lovely sunshine. This took about 20 minutes. In view of the early start, I rather fancied a nap – or “beepy”, as we call it in my family. I unpacked all the shopping and settled down with my book, thinking this is the life! I think I may have fallen asleep smiling?


I was scheduled to pick Paul up but his boss very kindly dropped him back, which saved me a trip. He had a cuppa and then we put the awning up. I had done some prep for dinner, which was delicious – Corned Beef Hash, cooked on our Cadac. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

After dinner we watched a little Netflix and chilled. Our current favourite series is “Ozark” – highly recommended.

Friday 17th 

It was up early to get Paul to work – I just threw some clothes on and drove – figuring I’d sort out my toilette when I returned to the van, which I did.

I had a leisurely morning and then set off for Cribbs Causeway, for a little light retail therapy. For some years, my stepfather, Terry, had been based in Bristol at BAE Systems in Filton  during the week (home at weekends). My Mum often went to stay at his rented home during school holidays and had often mentioned visiting, but I had never been. Today was the day for me to visit.

I set off. Google Maps says it’s a 20 minute journey. Google Maps lies! Traffic was heavy and it took me nearly an hour! But I was soon parked and ready to shop.

I lunched in John Lewis (a cheese scone and coffee, thank you for asking). I wandered around the shops, desperately trying to spend money but nothing really caught my fancy. I did buy a couple of rolls of kitchen foil in Lakeland, though! I know how to shop, don’t I? Actually – I don’t really enjoy speculative or window shopping – I prefer to have a mission.

I set off for the journey home and it was then I realised my mistake. The M5 on a Friday afternoon is no picnic. Reader, it was rammed. The hour turned into nearly two on the way back. And even after I had left the motorway, i was happily tootling along when a guy came round the corner flashing his headlights. I assumed he was warning me of a speed trap (although I never exceed the speed limit – fact). But no. I rounded the corner to see a Police car parked across the road, blocking it. The policeman indicated that I should do a three pointer , so I turned round.

Not knowing the area, I was heavily reliant on the satnav, which was most insistent on taking me back down the route that was impossibly impassable! Nightmare.  I think it took me another hour to find a route that avoided the blocked road. Kitty Kia (the satnav) was next to useless. But I eventually made it back to the site. And in through the double gates Рwhich I was growing to despise, even though I had developed a routine. Viz Рdrive up to the gate, get out, open it, walk to the next gate, open that. Walk back to the car, drive through both gates and then walk back to shut both gates. Get back in the car and drive to the pitch. We were alone now, by the way. Just how we like it.

Once again, Paul’s boss dropped him off, so it was a repeat of the previous evening . Dinner, tv and bed. Dinner was a slightly unorthodox full(ish) English – complete with home made hash browns. Delish though I say it myself. So much nicer than those flipping waxy triangles they pass of as Hash Browns in the freezer cabinet.¬†Yuk. We first experienced proper Hash Browns in the States. They were a revelation!¬† If you fancy having a go, it’s very easy.


  • 4 medium potatoes (maybe Maris Piper or King Edwards)
  • 1 medium¬†onion (chopped finely)
  • 1 egg – beaten
  • salt and¬†pepper – be generous or it can be bland
  • vegetable oil¬†for frying

Grate the potatoes, put them in a clean tea-towel and wring them out. You will be surprised how much water comes out! I always am. Mix it all together with the other ingredients and then put it in “clumps” (about 1cm thick) on your frying surface. Cook until browned on both sides. About 6-10 minutes, approximately.

Saturday 18th

It had rained overnight and so we had a bit of a lie in after the recent early mornings. Our plan for today was to take the bikes along the Strawberry Line, in nearby Yatton. What a fab resource! It is a well-surfaced path along the route of the old Cheddar Valley Railway Line. The line Рwhich runs 10 miles from Yatton to Cheddar was closed by dear old Beeching, back in 1963. But the first job of the day was to ring Linda Mary Wise and Nanny Lynne to wish them a very happy  joint. birthday.

We drove to Yatton station, where the track starts,¬† parked the car, got the bikes off the roof and set off through the lovely Somerset countryside. The area – part of the North Somerset levels – is criss-crossed by ditches – known as “rhynes” (pronounce reens) – which is basically¬†a drainage ditch, or canal, used to turn areas of wetland at around sea level into useful pasture.

As we cycled, we met dog-walkers, walkers, runners and other cyclists. Our plan was to have lunch in Cheddar but we got as far as Sandford – about half way to Cheddar – when Paul realised he had left his wallet in the car. We were hot and thirsty and hungry and so decide to turn round and go back to Yatton. A shame but there it was. One day we’ll do the whole route as it’s lovely.

We cycled back. I had noticed that the hedgerows were particularly heavy with nature’s produce. Apples, elderberries, blackberries rose-hips (not to be confused with Haws) sloes and damsons. What a bounty!








I wish I’d had a container to plunder some of those goodies. Crumbles, Elderberry Wine, Rose Hip Syrup – very popular for babies when I was a kid – remember Delrosa?¬†But it’s nearly time to make a new batch of Damson Gin (which I prefer to Sloe Gin). Here’s the recipe – this is a quick way, by the way, which removes the need for pricking the damsons as is more usual. Note – you need to do Step 1 the night before you want¬†to make¬†the gin. And you’ll need one quite large or a couple of large screw top jars.¬†:


  • 500g¬†damsons
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 1l bottle¬†gin

Step 1 – Wash the damsons all over, dry, put in a poly bag and freeze overnight.

Step 2  РRemove the damsons from the freezer and bash them a few times with a rolling pin to break the skins. Pour the damsons into the jar(s).

Step 3 – Pour in the gin and the sugar¬† and shake it all well – with the lid on!! Repeat the shaking process every day for a week. Then – stick the jars away in a dark cupboard for 2 or 3 months to allow the flavour to develop. Damsons are an autumnal fruit, so it’s usually ready in time for Christmas. Yum!

Step 4 – Strain the jars, discard the damsons (some folk eat them. I don’t. Yuk.) and bottle the now reddish-purple gin. Enjoy!

I digress- we arrived back at Yatton Station with only one thing on our minds! LUNCH! and a drink. So that’s two things. Whoops. Luckily there is a nice cafe right there that does a nice line in toasties and we fell upon them with relish. After (quite a late) lunch, we replaced the bikes on the roof and set off. Paul had a fancy to visit¬† Portishead. I was happy to concede, having never been there myself (that I can recall).

The end (and beginning) of the line

I’m not sure what I was expecting but Portishead was not as I anticipated. it was quite busy with people (holidaymakers?) and the beach area is quite dominated by a very 70’s looking orange and yellow open air pool complex. Again – very busy.¬† The business end of town was more as I imagined it although most of the old docks/power station buildings have been imaginatively redeveloped into a marina/housing complex – the housing area is loosely based¬†on the¬†Cornish¬†seaside town of¬†Polperro¬†with narrow streets and multi-coloured houses. Quite attractive, we thought?

We had a yearning for an ice cream and spotted this place in the town centre¬† called Shanicattis Shakes – which looked interesting. It has long been an ambition of mine to try a “freakshake” and it seemed here was my opportunity! To be honest, I’d never even seen one. I’d heard that they had originated in Australia, were pretty popular and I just knew I wanted one. Aye Caramba! What was I thinking? I’d say a month’s calories in one hit!! A bit much in truth, and I couldn’t actually finish it,¬† but we are no longer freakshake virgins.

Yerp! That actually is a ring doughnut on the top!!!

We made our way home – stuffed to the gills. Cheese and biscuits – and not many of them –¬† for supper was the order of the day. In for a penny, in for a pound! But not before we had played a couple of games of Boules to work up something of an appetite! Other than that, the evening passed pretty much as usual,¬† until it was time for bed.

Sunday 19th

Big day today. Our best chums Linda and Anna had driven up to Linda’s sister’s house in Yatton,¬† after the show at Chichester which she was currently working on (Me & My Girl) and we were scheduled to have a day out with them, culminating in dinner at ours. Larks!

As they would not have arrived until v late, we were not scheduled to pick them up until 11:00, which also allowed us to have a nice lazy morning, too!

We eventually rocked up in Yatton and off we went. Cheddar was our destination but – as is Paul’s preference, we took an “interesting” route there. Suce routes are also known as “one of Paul’s misery tours”. Somewhat unfairly? Well those of you who have experienced one will know whether that is fair!!

Our first stop was at Burrington Coombe – location of the Rock of Ages – which is where the hymn of the same name is sometimes claimed to have been written. A perfect photo opportunity!

After this, we moved on to a bit of moorland for a bit of a scrabble round and – of course – more photos!

Thence – on to Cheddar Gorge, where we stopped for a while to watch some climbers and do a bit of clambering of our own. And even more photos….

We parked in Cheddar village and went to look at all the tacky souvenir shops and bought the obligatory lump of Cheddar Gorge Cheddar cheese. Then it was time for lunch at the White Hart – sandwiches only, as we had a proper meal later on in the day. A group of youngish potty-mouthed lads kept me amused – although their language was a bit over-ripe – even for me!!. My favourite saying was (in a rich West Country accent ) “Go down Bristol on a Saturday, get bollocksed, ‘appy days” – why it made us chuckle quite so much I don’t know. Nothing to do with the cider, I’m sure.

On the way back to the campsite, we stopped off at the Railway Inn in Sandford – home of Thatcher’s Cider – for more cider – although not for me or the driver! Well it was a birthday trip for that girl! It was a beautiful pub and we got to meet Pepita the Repeater – you had to be there!

Back at the van, we introduced the girls to the joys of boule and then cracked on with dinner. A Cadac Chicken, Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto, which went down really well. Along with the wine and beer! There was some Risotto left over for Linda’s lunch the next day too! Happy days! We had laughed a day away, as usual.

All to soon it was time for them to go back to Yatton, ready for their trip back down South the next day. We were quite pleased to go to bed too. Back to work tomorrow for Paul.

Monday 20th/Tuesday 21st

We had to pop back down, urgently, to Portchester for a couple of days on Wednesday for various compelling reasons and we had negotiated with the lovely owners of the CL (Charles and Diana Рyes!) to pay and stay an extra couple of nights, leaving the van unattended for one night.  his was largely because we were coming up to Wales on Friday and it seemed silly to drag the van all the way back only to drag it back up on Friday.

I took Paul to work and then came home and pottered a day away. I did some work. Рplanning the Christmas show for Spinnaker and various other bits and pieces and it was soon time to get ready to go out for dinner. I picked Paul and his boss (Nick) up and we went to Clifton, where Nick had booked a table for us and the French Digital Yacht Sales Manager, Nico. We went to The Mint Room Рan upscale Indian which was excellent and we had a very pleasant evening. I had a Biriani, which served very imaginatively. See below.  My review can be found here Рit has already been read by nearly 300 people!  I drove home, dropping both Nico and Nick off on the way.


Lamb Biriani – served with a pastry lid!

I had a lie-in on Tuesday morning as Paul needed the car for work. I had a late breakfast and did some more planning work, before deciding to go out for a bike ride mid-afternoon. It had been a gray morning, but the sun had come out and I had a plan to go to Poppie’s Tea Room in Claverham. I punched the address in my phone and off I set. Only to find this:

Closed – and up for sale!

Very disappointing. Not deterred, I decided to set off to cycle to Yatton and I was breezing along when CLUNK! This happened:

Yup – the chain had come off. I was a tad annoyed. And I didn’t really fancy the walk home – it was hot! So I thought about it and I thought about it and decided that – as I have watched Paul put chains back on many times – I’d have a go for myself. After much swearing I managed it!¬† I was cock-a hoop! At least!! Thrilled, I got back on the bike and returned home to get washed up! No WAY was I going to risk it coming off again!

I had a quick beepy after my exertions and got ready to go out. Paul had arrived home earlier than anticipated and so we set off together to meet my cousin, Alice Legge, in nearby Backwell, at The George.  Alice had booked a table and we spent a really lovely evening chatting and catching up. It had been a while. We returned home to the van and went straight bed as we had an early start the next day.

Wednesday 21st

Another 5:45 alarm. We arose, secured the van and then set off for home. The owners messaged me to say that they would keep an eye on things and would add extra security to ensure the van’s safetyF. How very kind!. We arrived home nice and early, sad to have left – but knowing we’d be going back the very next day, after work.








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France ‚Äď Summer 2018 Days Part 4 Days 12-16

Tuesday 10th July

The end of the holiday has started to loom into view. Don’t you hate that? The first week it seems endless and then the second week just runs away with itself. We have to leave to start the journey home on Thursday morning, so today is our penultimate day at this beautiful location. Anyway. STAY POSITIVE. That’s the key.

We had decided last night that we would make today a real tourism day. We planned to get up early and drive to Chamb√©ry, for a look round. So that’s just what we did! It is about 12 kms south from Le Bourget du Lac and we arrived just after the morning rush hour. It is an ancient town and very cleverly, they have put all their parking underground so they are not plagued by horrible multi-stories – or carbuncles as Prince Charles would have it!. They are quite deep – the one we used, by the Palais du Justice,¬† was 5 stories deep.

We parked and had a wander round the street market, where the produce looked top class and was beautifully presented. Sadly, we were going to be out all day so it was not practical to buy anything.

We had seen signs for The Old Town and decided to head that way (after a quick flick round Monoprix ¬† – love them!). Food and frocks all under one roof. There were loads of very cute shoes (not reflected on their website) in small sizes. Curse my big plates! Not that I really need any more shoes….

The Old Town was lovely, with lots of cafes and independent shops and beautiful architecture. We also spotted a land train, and as we had a limited time (as we need to be in Aix for our boat trip) we thought that this would be a quick way of seeing all the sights. I really don’t know why we hadn’t learnt our lesson. We had, some years ago, taken an excruciating (but oddly hilarious) trip round Rouen in a land train with our friends Sue & Paul Rogers. It was awful – just embarrassingly so. Clearly, though,¬† a trip on a land train is a little like child birth because – some years down the line – it seemed like a good idea. Wrong! We just seemed to keep going round and round the same old bit. The commentary was all in French (it later transpired that Paul had turned down an English translation. Why??!!) and, whilst I’m not bad it was above my level of expertise.¬† Hysteria set in. And we really have learned now. NEVER AGAIN. It was a relief to get off!

But I did learn something. I kept seeing elephant pictures every where and there were signs pointing towards the “Elephant Fountain”. We were in the Alps. Why elephants?¬† I put 2 and 2 together and bingo! Hannibal. His legendary crossing of the Alps with elephants! And he had rocked up in Chamb√©ry. What I had never realised was¬† how long ago it actually took place! It was 218 BC!!! it really was an epic journey and if you’re really interested, you can read more about it here.

The Elephant Fountain was beautiful by the way. And apparently has nothing to with Hannibal! Bang went my theory! It was built in memory of some chap who did stuff in India!¬† He was called¬†Beno√ģt de Boigne¬† and you¬†can read more about him , if the fancy takes you.


Place St Leger – home of the dreaded Land Train




A detail from the famous Fontaine des Elephants. One of the “Quatre sans culs” – or four with no arse!


The Elephant Fountain

We retrieved the car and set off on the journey to Aix les Bains for lunch prior to our cruise. It wasn’t a long trip and we were soon parking near the port.

We found a nice place for lunch and asked for a place in the shade. The restaurant was very un-romantically named The Skiff Pub but the menu looked good so we gave it a go.  Lunch was very pleasant and we had such a lovely waitress. Unusually for me, I had an ice cold glass of rosé with my lunch and it was perfect.

We took our time and eventually relinquished our table, paid up and headed over to the embarkation point for the trip, which was just across the way. You may recall it was to visit the canal we had seen on Sunday. We were scheduled to leave at 2.30.

The boat looked nice but – just at the last moment, we were switched to another smaller boat, which sadly had very little outdoor space. We could only get a space indoors, sadly. Not a great start. It was BOILING hot and the sun streaming through the window (not openable, no blinds/curtains) was relentless. And then the commentary began. Entirely in French. Oh dear. Now – bear in mind this cruise had a duration of some 3hrs “plus stopover (variable duration according to period)” whatever that meant, according to their website.¬† I was picking up bits and pieces from the commentary but it did begin to pall after a while.¬† It wasn’t looking good although the lake looked beautiful.


Hautecombe ABbey – burial place of the Counts and Dukes of Savoy


A detail of Hautecombe – very Italian looking



The mouth of the canal

It took quite a while to get to the canal – maybe an hour. The canal was also beautiful but we were aghast at the speed that the boat progressed down the canal. We are used to British canals, where the rule of thumb is never to have a breaking wash as it this causes damage to the bank structure. Breaking wash? As we passed by smaller boats/kayaks they were tossed around massively on our stern wake. We couldn’t believe it!

We passed through the pretty canal-side  town of Chanaz and then through the lock and out onto the Rhone. A short way up river, we pulled onto a pontoon and moored up. Everyone got off the boat and we followed suit.  I asked one of the two crew members what was happening and he said follow the crowd. So we did, thinking that perhaps there would be somewhere to get refreshments and possibly some retail opportunities (it being a touristy thing to do)?

We arrived in a very hot outbuilding with only a couple of seats left. I sat and Paul stood at the back – both of us still very puzzled! It looked like a workshop of some kind. And then it began. A presentation – goodness knows what it was about! We endured it for some time but I was so hot and – sadly – bored I signalled to Paul that we should leave. He readily agreed! We walked back to the boat and explained that we had returned because the presentation was in very fast French and we were English we had not understood a word of what was said. They reluctantly (they were on a break!) let us on board, where we – rather cheekily – found a space outdoors for the return leg.

There was a good signal and I scanned the boat company’s¬†website for clues. I finally found reference to a “Cuivrerie” – which seems to be a copper works. That made sense. Further research (post holiday) shows that it was in fact the “Cuivrerie du Bugey” and I even found a video online of the presentation.


THAT presentation. Nice chap- not a scooby what he was saying!

Eventually everyone returned and we set off back to AlB. I have to say that it was not the most successful or enjoyable boat trip ever.  We arrived back in AlB at around 7 pm and popped into the crêperie (Crêperie du Port) for a quick crêpe  (well a galette actually) followed by a lovely ice cream sundae (Poire Belle Helene for me. Yum). Then we made our way home and watched a bit of telly before bed. It had been a long day.

Wednesday 11th July

As we start the long journey South tomorrow, we had a lazy day planned. A little light packing and tidying mainly. Plans can change though and we decided to pop to the next lake along – the¬†Lac d’Aiguebelette.


Lac d’Aiguebelette – from Paul’s Nikon camera.

AIG IMG_9023

Lac d’Aiguebelette – from my IPhone. You decide!

It, too, has a cycle path and we arrived at about midday. Yes Рa cycle ride. At midday.  Mad Dogs and Englishmen, eh? But it was lovely. We parked and got the bikes down from the roof and set off. We were going anti-clockwise round the lake from the Maison du Lac to where the cycle route petered out at around the 4km mark. We turned and retraced our steps, stopping at a little cafe for a Croque Monsieur and salad, which was lovely. And shady. It was hot!


Another day, another cyclepath

We returned home and spent the afternoon reading and swimming, deflating the boat and generally tidying up. As we wanted to make an early start, we showered and then got ready for the football. England’s semi-final match against Croatia. Being the good wife I am, I agreed to accompany Paul to the bar/restaurant to watch and have dinner. It all started well with a goal in the opening seconds, but as you will know, eventually England lost and we had a¬†subdued bike ride home. Paul popped the bikes back on the roof and we completed our prep for our early departure and retired.


Waiting for the match

Thursday 12th July

The alarm went off at 07:00 and we – very quietly – started the process of final stowing, fastening windows and roof vents and hooking up. We’ve done it so many times and we both have our personal tasks, so we were pretty quiet. We drove away on the dot of 08:00 as planned , looking forward to the first aire, where we would get our breakfast.¬†I will miss this place.

We were taking a slightly different route back as we were a little further West and the miles soon piled up. We made frequent stops for snacks and drinks and comfort as usual and arrived back in Troyes at about 3 pm. As it was an earlier arrival than our visit at the beginning of the holiday, we had our pick of spots. We parked in almost exactly the same place though, as it had been handy for the loos/showers and bar.

Once set up it was time for some exercise. We had been sitting down a long time! SO the bikes came off the roof, we did a quick bit of planning and then set off along the path along the Canal du Labourat, which runs alongside the campsite. It’s a pretty stinky old waterway, never really a navigable canal, as such, but more a drain for the Seine, which also runs through Troyes and has (or had) a tendency to flood.¬† But there were fish in it! We did notice that a nearby factory was expelling some substances into the canal and the path was blocked off at this point.

As we had a reasonable idea of the lie of the land from our previous visit, we continued by road until we hit the Seine. We spotted a group of old folk playing boules and sat and watched them for a while. It reminded us that we hadn’t played for ages and we decided to cycle to the nearest Decathlon to pick up a new magnet and a circle (saves scrabbling in the dirt). We had spotted the store on our previous visit and we knew roughly where it was and how far, so off we set. We both forgot phones/cameras for this trip so we have no pics, sadly.

Mission accomplished, we returned to the site and called in at the bar for a quick drink and to see if we fancied eating there that night, as it would be quick and easy. We did fancy it, as it happened, and returned to the van to put the bikes back on the roof.

We then had a game of boules – I won! Of course. Then a quick hand wash and off to the bar. The menu is basic but very acceptable. We got chatting to a really lovely young English couple who were from Bristol (cute accents!). It (eventually) turned out that they were just coming to the end of their three week honeymoon in their self-converted camper. We wished them a long and happy life together and then it was home and bed.

Friday 13th July

On the road again! This time to a new location. Same routine – leave without breakfast and aim for the first aire. Here I discovered Nutella Brioche buns! Oh dear Lord. They were delectable. We made the usual regular stops. Old hands now. Amazing how you soon get into a routine.

The day wore on and we finally arrived Рat about 2 pm Рat the last site of this holiday. It was in a little town called Escalles Рabout a 15 minute drive (max) from the tunnel. It had seemed the perfect location. The site was called Camping les Erables  (Erables = Maples) and was approached on quite a steep hill. We did meet a car but it was fine. And what a lovely site! Small but perfectly formed. On a hill but with level pitches. It overlooks the coast and we could clearly see those famous White Cliffs.


View from our pitch

And it was obviously going to be quiet. Lovely. We set up and grabbed a cuppa and then set off for an initial explore. Escalles has 3 restaurants and a lovely sandy beach, but as we had the bikes on top, we could not enter the car park. We’ll save that for later. So we pressed on along the coast – firstly towards Calais so we could have a look at the famous Sangatte. I think we both expected something pretty grim but it’s actually a pleasant little coastal town. The refugee camp (whimsically also known as Sans-gate) is quite low key.

Then we went back along the coast towards Boulogne sur Mer Рex ferry port. We hopped over Escalles and dropped in on Wissant, which nestles between Cap Gris Nez and Cap Blanc Nez.  The coastline is called the Opal Coast Рsupposedly because the chalk from the cliffs makes the water a bit milky. And this particular stretch is called La Terre de 2 Caps Рfor obvious reasons!

We loved Wissant – which was just setting up for the evening market, held in the square there. Evening Markets? What a lovely tradition. We found a handy parking space and eagerly hopped on our bikes for a tour round.

The beach there is a beautiful stretch of sand and people were making full use of it in this gorgeous (and unusual!) weather.  We had a good cycle round, took some photos and generally enjoyed milling around with the smell of frites and moules and other slightly less agreeable summer odours!


La plage – Wissant


Cap Blanc Nez


Interesting groynes #1


Interesting groynes #2

I bought a beautiful bedspread from a lady whose shop was a very cute vintage caravan. I am delighted with it. Just right for summer. Very chuffed with my purchase.


Vintage Van shop – Wissant


The bedspread


In situ – very happy

We stopped for a wander round the market and a drink in the square before returning to the car, loading up the bikes and returning to the van. We stopped on the way home to book a table at one of the restaurants in Escalle. Restaurant Les Falaises (The Cliffs). Seafood a speciality. Yum!!

After a cuppa and shower, we read for a while and then got ready for dinner out. I didn’t dress up too much as we had decided to cycle down the hill to the village.

The meal was delicious and we both had moules – Paul’s in a curry sauce and mine good old marini√®re and we had a lovely, lingering meal (Creme Brulee for dessert). But by the end of the evening the temperature had plummeted and there was a chilly breeze off the sea. I was (unusual for me!) really cold!

It was nearly sunset and we cycled down to the beach, just in time to catch the last rays. Beautiful.


La plage au coucher du soleil

Then it was home – as soon as possible. Cycling back up the hill (quite steep!) might warm us up. Can’t believe how chilly it was after such a warm and sunny day. Just couldn’t wait to jump into bed. And it was the first evening¬† we had gone to bed with no fan on. It was warmer down South! We fell asleep to the sound of fireworks from the beach at Wimereux.

Saturday 14th РBastille Day 

We are very often in France on this day it seems – creatures of habit, eh? Our destination today was Boulogne. I was intrigued to find out when the ferry service ceased to operate between Dover and also Folkestone. I seemed to recall a hovercraft too, from my younger years. Apparently, the services were all victims of the opening of Eurotunnel. I imagine this must have had a quite an impact on Boulogne?

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of Boulogne, although I suspected it might be tacky. Got that wrong. The old walled town is a delight and we spent a happy couple of hours wandering around. Everything was looking very smart with their Bastille Day-best flags and we were lucky enough to witness the Bastille Day Parade, complete with band.

After the parade,¬† we stopped for a coffee and a coffee religieuse. These are choux pastry concoctions, filled with coffee flavoured cr√®me p√Ętissi√®re¬† and topped with coffee glace icing. The¬†name means “nun”, and they are supposed to represent the Pope’s hat. Whatevs! They are scrummy. And VERY naughty!

Coffee Religiesue

We went back to the parking, got the bikes back on the roof and set off to visit the other places we had missed on the way back up towards Calais. Before we left we popped down to the port and saw some serious fishing boats. Probably being paid to stay in harbour because of fishing quotas?! Also a large leisure fleet.

On the way out of Boulogne we thought we’d go and have a closer look at the imposing statue of Napoleon – or the “Colonne de la Grande Arm√©e“, as it is more correctly known. It stand 50 metres high and building commenced in the early 1800s . It was intended to commemorate the successful invasion of England, but of course this never took place. So they just changed what it commemorated! An early example of “re-purposing”! It is pretty impressive but not quite as grand as our own column in Trafalgar Square – in my opinion. Interestingly, Napoleon is standing with his back towards England.

After this we passed on towards Wimereux – which we weren’t that keen on and thence to Ambleteuse,¬†home of the very attractive, late 17th century Fort Mahon.


We then pressed on to Audresselles, where we stopped for our lunch. We chose Le Loup de Mer (whose website made us chuckle. They do a nice line in “the carried away”). Loup de mer (or wolf of the sea) is French for Sea Bass, by the way. The plan was not to cook this evening but to have our main meal at lunchtime. As Greg Wallace might say “Seafood doesn’t get any fresher than this”! Audresselles still has a fishing fleet and so we both had more seafood. And delicious it was. It being Bastille Day and thus a public holiday, trade was brisk. And – sadly, though the food was good the service was poor. I am still waiting for the mayonnaise for my frites!

We must have been hungry because we forgot to take any photos of the town.

An observation. I have noticed that many of the place names (e.g. Wacquinghen, Hardinghen) have a vaguely Belgian ring to them and also that the style of building was very similar to the area around Saint-Omer where we have visited several times. It’s very pleasing to the eye. Clean and functional lines and attractive brickwork.

After lunch (it was quite a long and late lunch) we made our way back to the van, where we spent the remainder of the day relaxing, cleaning and packing before our final departure tomorrow.  More fireworks tonight as you might imagine.

This is a lovely area and I’d definitely be happy to return to this campsite.

Sunday 15th July

So that’s it. Time to go home. We had a lovely eggy breakfast and weren’t in too much hurry for the off because our crossing was scheduled for 1:10. We got there earlier than necessary (it’s just a short hop from the campsite)¬† in the hope that we’d get on an earlier crossing. We did get put on an earlier train but – with delays – we ended up leaving around that time anyway. We arrived home at about 3:30.

A great trip – not without sadness but there will be many happy memories. Here’s to our next trip.