On tour at home and abroad with the Sumpners

The view below is Toad Rock, Tunbridge Wells


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Bucks Early May BH

Friday 3rd May
We left Рlater than planned as usual Рand had a pretty good trip up, stopping once for a comfort break for all concerned  and arrived at our destination at about 1:30 in a short but sharp shower. Within the hour, though, it was bright sunny again. Our destination was Laurel Cottage Рa CL in Ivinghoe Aston, not far from Leighton Buzzard. And what a delightful site it was! We had a warm welcome from the owner who suggested that we might prefer a grass pitch in the upper field rather than the hard-standing we had booked. He was right. We did. For most of the remainder of the day we had that upper field to ourselves.

We whistled through the set up work and soon had the kettle on and the boys pegged out to play so that we could relax. It was lovely. Nothing but birdsong. Utter bliss.

“Our” field

One of the hard-standing pitches

The info hut and produce stall

It showered on and off all afternoon but we needed to get some provisions for an impromptu boat trip tomorrow. Well it would have been churlish to be so very close to the Grand Union and not spend some time afloat, wouldn’t it? It was a bit on the dear side, but as I said to Paul – we’ll be a long time dead, so we went for it. We also managed to persuade some pals to come along. I do love a spur of the moment plan!

The rain was torrential by the time we reached Waitrose in Leighton Buzzard and so Paul’s plans of walking the boys whilst I shopped were scuppered. But it didn’t take too long and soon we were off. As we were near Linslade (Leighton and Linslade are interlinked, being a parish currently and formerly an Urban District) we thought we’d pop in to The Globe, an old canal-side pub haunt of ours from the late 80’s early 90’s. Also known – by us – as “The Globule”. It hasn’t changed much and we stayed for ” a swift half” as my Dad used to say. Happy memories of my Dad, in his cups, singing from atop the bridge parapet. He used his Cavan O’Connor Irish tenor voice, although he was actually a bass. Always a delight! His favourite song was “I’m only a Strolling Vagabond“. How we laughed, how we loved him.

By the way – it’s a good job we went when we did as I now note it is closed for renovation (for spiffing-up and grooming– spot the musical reference here! Click the link for the answer.)

Paul also had his interview (c 1995) for his MD job at C-Map, aboard my dad’s half-fitted-out narrow-boat “Sam Gunter”. Unconventional, but it worked – he got the job! The C-Map “Boss” and his lady friend then came to a dinner cooked by my step-mother “Nanny” Lynne, where they both sampled rhubarb crumble for the first time. And loved it! It may have been the crumble that swung it? ūüôā

This was a trip full of nostalgia. My Dad and step-mum used to manage a boatyard – Willowbridge Marina – on the Grand Union, between Stoke Hammond and Fenny Stratford and we had such happy times there. We announced our engagement there, and then our pregnancy there, my brother got married there (first time round)¬† and George spent many happy times there during school hols as a little lad. He enjoyed helping lovely Charlie, the gardener, and I have such sweet memories of him toddling off, “to work”,¬† holding Charlie’s hand . We loved Willowbridge days, where they stayed until they retired, before moving aboard their narrow-boat Sam Gunter, to be live-aboards.

We meandered home to our van via the Three Locks at Soulbury – another pub that we occasionally frequented and also Great Brickhill where our favourite pub, “The Duncombe Arms”, was located. Many great evenings there. Alas it is a pub no longer.Some of the famous code breakers who worked at the famous Bletchley Park were billeted there during WW2. The billiard room apparently became a social club of Bletchley Park.

The Three Locks

The former Duncombe Arms

Then we had a drive along the “new road” where our friend, Michelle,¬† did a ton in her new Porsche.¬† We saw the very much unchanged and quite notorious (in those days, anyway) “Lakes Estate“. We also got a glimpse of Willowbridge and then the lay-by, known as “Randy Mandy‚Äôs” lay-by (long story!) where Paul fell in. The last thing we saw as he submerged was his fag-packet! He was utterly determined that he wasn’t going to waste them. It was a bit like the sword in the lake but with 20 Red Band instead! We noticed that the roads round here have changed a lot, though!!

It rained heavily in and off during the evening and through the night. We had an early night as we were all tired and we always get a pretty early start with these pesky pups!

Saturday May the 4th (be with you)
We all slept well – especially the pups and we actually had to wake them up at 6:45. As I was getting breakfast I noticed that the car door had been left open all night! Paul had omitted to close it on his last trip to fetch a puppy crate. Oops! No real harm done though.

We set off at 08:30 for Tring and Cowroast Marina. The origin of the name Cowroast is not actually as tasty as it might sound. It is widely thought that it is a corruption of the name Cow Rest – a place where cows rested on the way to market – and nothing to do with what you might eat on a Sunday.

They (Anne and Gray Robertson) were already there and we were soon loaded up, briefed and off towards Marsworth. It was a bright day, very warm in the sun but with a biting and very chilly when the clouds masked the sun. But we were on the canal! Who cared? ūüôā

Paul started the morning walking the pups on the towpath and – predictably – “Terrible” Ted was the first to fall in! Grass grows over the edge of the canal bank but Ted didn’t yet know this. He walked boldly out, only to find that his legs were suddenly walking on air! A rather damp learning experience but he was unscathed by it all. As he was walking along, Paul managed to take a great shot of a Kingfisher – usually just a flash of blue. Zoom in – it’s really sharp.

We soon arrived at Marsworth Top Lock where the short Wendover Arm branches off the main line. It’s a very pretty canal, quite rural and currently under restoration. We turned at the current terminus and headed back, arriving back at the Junction in a heavy hail storm! Short lived and quite entertaining!

Wendover Arm finger-post

Evidence of hail

More evidence of hail

It was a good job it cleared up as as it was time to tackle the Marsworth flight. We set off, with Gray at the helm and Paul and I doing the locks. Big, heavy Grand Union locks – it’s been a while –¬† but well maintained so no big deal.

As we approached the third lock we noticed a poor heron with a badly broken wing.¬† Heron’s are normally pretty shy but he was unable to fly. All he could do was shuffle a bit further away. Poor thing. I wondered what his chances of survival were and whether the volunteer lock-keepers might be able to help him out.

It was nearing the time we needed to be thinking about turning round so we stopped and had our lunch by the reservoir. It’s one of a string of four, collectively known as the “Tring Reservoirs“. They are all teeming with wildlife (they are an SSSI) and much used, recreationally, by the locals. Their raison d’etre is to feed the Grand Union.

Lunch over, we turned (or winded) the boat. No need for a winding hole as the GU is wide and our vessel was a  mere 38 feet. We set off back up the locks, this time with me at the helm, Paul and Gray on lock duties and Anne on dog-sitting.

We had soon cracked them and were on our way back to the yard – past the beautiful Bulbourne Yard. It is the site of a former lock-gate building workshop (still in use as late as 2003), but sadly now disused. It’s future looks almost certain to be a residential redevelopment, hopefully retaining as much of the character of the Victorian buildings as possible. I find it rather sad, but what can you do? Interestingly, an episode of Call the Midwife was filmed there.

Bulbourne Yard – now disused

As we were going back up the flight, we saw a chap carrying the poorly Heron. Obviously taking him to a place of safety where he might hopefully be healed.

We stopped after a while for our sweet treat – Victoria Sandwich cake with fresh strawberries and cream. A match made in heaven. And British strawberries, to boot – the first of the year. Lush.

All too soon, we arrived back at the yard, said goodbye to Anne & Gray and set off. The boat had had to be returned by 4.30 and we’d had such a lovely day, we felt very sad to say goodbye. But there was quite a lot of day left. We decided we’d have a walk on Ivinghoe Beacon, which is the highest point of the beautiful and vast (5,000 acres) Ashridge estate.

The bluebells were spectacular and we and the boys both enjoyed our early evening walk.

We drove further through the Ashridge Estate to nearby Berkhamstead to pick up a few things I had forgotten. We saw a deer on the way. I was left with the impression of the woods being so full of bluebells it was like they were clad with a blue haze or mist. It was a really memorable sight and photos just don’t do it justice.

Sunday May 5th

A nice leisurely, Sunday morning kind of a start today. We had a plan Рcycling! Another first for the boys. We popped in to Tring for a coffee and spotted what looked like a Banksy.  I suspect it is more likely an attempt to clone a Banksy, but pretty nonetheless.

We took a look at Wendover Woods, but decided it might be a little hilly for for our first foray. Thus – change of plan – we decided to do one of the many “red ways” in Milton Keynes. When the new town was designed (in the early 70s) they really looked to the future and built – alongside the town – a network of dedicated traffic free (thus safe) cycle/footpaths to enable easy non-motorised transit around town.

On the way, we popped in to Willowbridge to see what it was like after so many years had elapsed. Well – it’s not the place it was. Dad and Lynne kept it very smart but it looks less – hmm. Don’t want to offend the current owners but I guess I’d say less cared for. Messy. Past its best. Sad.

We also had a quick drive through Bletchley noting that one of our less favoured pubs – The Plough – had been turned into a mosque. In researching for this article, I note that it was not the most popular decision. For my money, it was a not-very appealing modern pub – as you can see in the pics here – and as it had failed as a pub, I don’t have a problem with it. Bletchley High Street – never the most attractive place – seemed little changed. As we drove through towards Central MK, we both felt that the area had “grown into itself”. More greenery and just generally more established.

We plumped for Great Linford, a pretty little spot on the GU through MK that still retains the pre-MK development village look and feel. We parked and saddled up, with the boys in their back-packs.

We were cycling back towards Bletchley, parallel with the towpath. Now we have been through this stretch on a boat many times but we had never noticed the Brick Kilns that are canal-side (although screened by trees). Beautiful structures. Bricks were formerly big business in the Bucks/Beds area and the famous London Brick Company was a big presence just over the border in Bedfordshire.

Sadly, after having been restored in the 80’s they are now in need of more repair. We cycled a couple of miles, trying the boys running alongside the bikes, which is something they need to get used to doing. Varying degrees of success!¬†As we cycled along, we noted an increase in fairly permanent looking moored boats along the canal.

After a few miles, we stopped and had our picnic lunch and the boys had theirs and then we retraced our steps. It had been a bit stressful but, as another first for them, it had not been a complete disaster!

We set off in the car again and decided we would return home via the Ashridge Estate once more and to make a visit to the rather wonderful¬† Bridgewater Monument in the Park. It seemed that most of the people in the surrounding area had the same idea! We eventually found a parking place though. The boys met loads of dogs and people (as usual). Paul climbed the 172 steps while I waited with the dogs. It’s very pleasant here, with a cafe, and an NT shop, too. Also an ice-cream van. I’ll leave you to guess the outcome of that?

The visit seemed appropriate as our weekend had had a very canal-based theme to it, so far,¬† and Bridgewater is one of THE big names in canal building. He once owned the house and 6,000 acres of the Ashridge Estate. From the top of the monument you get a view of the splendid neo-Gothic Ashridge House, commissioned by the Earl in the early 1800s and now a conference and wedding venue.¬† It’s also reckoned that, on a good day, you can see to Canary Wharf. Today was not that good day.

Then it was back to the van, with two tired boys, for supper and a movie and a good night’s rest.

Monday 6th May
Today was a day for visiting our other less canal-orientated old haunts.  We set off for Dunstable Downs. I though it worth a mention here that Buckinghamshire Рin common with some other counties Рhas a tradition of decorative village signs. This one in Dagnall is a fine example and shows the Whipsnade chalk lion plus a Red Kite,  the rather striking All Saints Church and Рof course Рthe pub.

We arrived at the Downs – only to find that it was pay parking, and since we only really wanted to “poke our nose in” we turned in and then right back out again. We had called in here as this was where we had taken Dad for his 60th birthday. He had always wanted to fly in a glider, so we got him a flight at the London Gliding Club. he loved it and we all had a great day out. Kind of odd to think that I am now older than he was when he took his flight.

We popped in to Luton town centre in search of a coffee but came away empty handed. It was a bit grim, to be honest. We finally found one (Costa) inside a Next at a nearby retail park.

Next port of call was Toddington, in search of the Sow and Pigs pub. Alas, another casualty of cheap beer and wine from the supermarket.

Next stop was Woburn – a beautiful Bedfordshire village. It was caught up with protesters as we went through. They were campaigning for an end to trophy hunting and we tooted our support as we passed. We decided we’d pay for entry to the Gardens at Woburn Abbey but sadly dogs were not allowed entry, so we had to find something else to do. We got a glimpse of some deer in the Deer Park as we drove away.

Next stop was Aspley Guise – smaller than I remembered and I can’t actually recall why the name stuck in my head.¬† But it did! Must ask Lynne. We then pressed on to the nearby woods, where we had a really nice walk with the boys, meeting lots of other dogs again, including a really lovely young Border Terrier. All good for their socialisation and people were very kind in letting a couple of over-exuberant pups mingle with their beloved dogs.


We gave the boys their lunch after their walk and then set off to find some for ourselves. We came across the Flying Fox and it looked quite popular so we thought we’d give it a go. It may have been an off day but our Fish Finger sandwich was distinctly lacklustre. Shame. I threw most of mine away. The boys enjoyed their Dog Beer – called Bottom Sniffer. Yes really!

We set off for home, stopping for an ice cream to make up for the disappointing lunch.¬†Most people were back to work tomorrow and we had “our” field to ourselves, so we had fun cycling round with boys off lead.

We spent the rest of our late afternoon/early evening  doing a bit of packing in preparation for our departure tomorrow morning, watched a bit of television and then had another early night.

Tuesday 7th May
We were up and having breakfast by 07:30 and left the site by 09:00 to sound of a woodpecker. A delightful site – we may well be back!

Our next trip is at the end of May, when we are off to the Forest of Dean for a few days.


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Bristol/Bryncrach – 21-26 May

Another bank holiday weekend, another few days away in the caravan. This time, as Paul had to visit his HQ near Bristol, we decided to leave on Wednesday afternoon and stay in Bristol for two nights, at the brilliant Baltic Wharf Caravan Club site.

We arrived after the reception had closed and found our details, as had been promised, pinned to the notice board. We pitched in the space allotted to us and were soon all set up. As it was a lovely evening, we decided to go out for a quick explore. This culminated in an unplanned trip to the highly acclaimed Clifton Village¬†Fish Bar. ¬†It is very popular and there was quite a wait to be served but it was well worth the wait. We took our feast up onto the downs and ate them overlooking the gorge as the sun began to set. Bliss! Marco’s home made tartare sauce was to die for!! Then we drove back to the van and eventually to bed.

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The site is quite central and has a ferry stop right outside its back gate and a bus stop for the Bristol Sight Seeing bus right outside its front gate. It is also adjacent to Portsmouth-born Isambard Kingdom¬†Brunel’s great ship, the¬†SS Great Britain, In ¬†1843 she was the largest ship in the world. She was also the first screw-propelled, ocean-going, iron-hulled steam ship. Pictured below

Paul was up and away early to Failand Farm, the HQ of Digital Yacht, which was about a 15 minute drive away. I had a more leisurely start to my day and a plan to meet my cousin Alice, who lives and works in Bristol. I planned to catch the bus and hop off at Cabot Circus, which is closest to her workplace. The route pretty much retraced our steps from last night but being on top of an open top bus in the slightly drizzly day gave it added charm. ¬†If you click on the route link I have supplied, you can see that I got on at stop 4 and off at stop 16. ¬†Alice and I stayed in contact by text as it was difficult to predict the exact time I would arrive. This worked well and she was waiting for me as I alighted. As you can see from the pics, it was not the brightest of days but I never got more than a little “spritzed”!

 

Bristol Templemeads Station

Bristol Templemeads Station

SS Great Britain

SS Great Britain

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The Hippodrome

Good advice

Good advice

 

View from the Sea Walls

View from the Sea Walls

That bridge

That bridge

We had a nice long, chatty lunch and then Alice had to go back to work. I had a little light retail therapy in mind, and we parted, vowing not to leave it so long until we next meet.  I had a mooch round the shops, bought a pair of sandals and then hopped back on the bus to complete the tour. It was very good value for money and I would highly recommend it if you are ever in the vicinity. I learnt a lot abot the City and its history. Loved the fact that the Downs has 32 football pitches and on winter Saturdays, over 600 people can be found playing the beautiful game. They even have their own league and games are played simultaneously.  Top facts!

I read for a while and somehow fell asleep and then it was soon time for Paul’s return from work. We were booked into the Pump House for dinner and what a find! 67 varieties of gin and great food. What’s not to like? ¬†A hearty recommend. They even have a selection of tonics – such as the one on my picture below. This one – No 6 – ¬†and its ¬†fellow gin ¬†is made locally (in Thornbury) and would make a pleasant non-alcoholic drink on its own or with grapefruit juice.

 

The Punp House at dusk

The Punp House at dusk

No 6 Tonic

No 6 Tonic

We had a great stay at the surprisingly peaceful Baltic Wharf site and are aghast at the thought of its closure later this year. ¬†I’d urge you to sign the petition if you wouldn’t mind as it would be a great shame yp lose such a great resource. The plan is to build a school and it seems a very odd place to do so but what do I know?

Up smartly the next morning and off by 10 0’clock. Popped in to say goodbye and thank you to the lovely wardens. They actually remembered my name. That is good customer relations right there!

It was not a very pleasant day as we crossed over the bridge ¬†into grey and drizzly Wales and that kind of set the tone for the whole weekend – in terms of weather at least. We arrived mid-afternoon and got set up. Lovely site with great views – usually! It is a working sheep farm and we had no neighbours either side – just empty vans and fields of sheep. Fantastic. We decided on a quick trip to Llandrindod Wells for a flip round Tesco (forgotten dog food – not my department of course!). We also had an little explore as we’ve only ever by-passed it on other trips to Wales. It is a nice little town with a station and all services. It has an attractive lake with a very impressive dragon water feature. It is a spa town, as the name suggests, and there are records of people “taking the waters” as early as the 17th century.

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Lakeside Pavillion Cafe

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Dragon Water feature

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Dragon Water feature closer

There was no TV signal on site so we played a few hands¬†of cards (our current favourite game is called Pitch) and watched a bit of¬†¬†DVD¬†to entertain ourselves before bed once again hollered at us. It was not a peaceful night. The rain hammered o the roof and were glad that we were on a hard-standing rather than grass. ¬†Saturday dawned and we could not see the hills any more. It rained and then it rained and so we decided to stay in the warm and dry, reading and idling away the hours. I believe they call it relaxing? Whatever – we enjoyed. Rather than waste the whole day in this manner, though, ¬†we eventually ventured out to Built Wells. ¬†Builth was full of bikers on a rally – except not actually rallying, just gathering,¬†because of the appalling weather. Fair weather bikers? We had lunch there in a cafe called The Cwtch (Welsh for a cross between a hug and a place of safety). It was somewhat haphazard as I think they were overwhelmed with customers sheltering from the rain and eating to assuage their hangovers! It was too wet to properly explore without getting soaked, sadly, but we did buy a cute keyring made of slate emblazoned with the word “Carafan” ¬†(Welsh for – well I expect you’ve guessed!).

We took the scenic route home – armed with our trusty OS map. ¬†I always look for roads with at least one < and preferably <<! ¬†It was a nice route and we eventually arrived back to greet our neighbours. Who’d be a sheep in that rain?DSC_0449 DSC_0450DSC_0454DSC_0451DSC_0453

Sunday had been forecast to be the best day of the weekend so we set off for the Elan Valley – beautiful in any weather but views can be quite spoilt by mist. The day was much better than Saturday had been and we set off in good spirits. We once again resorted to OS maps for pour route rather than GPS, which always imagines you want the fastest route from A to B – which very often you do, but not in this countryside. ¬†We saw some lovely sights – especially this bluebell carpet. Wouldn’t want to have missed that, hurtling along on some A road! That said the term A road has a slightly different meaning¬†than it does darn sarf. ūüôā

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The Elan Valley is very special to me as it was often visited in my childhood and I have made sure that first Paul and then George ¬†and as many other friends as possible have all experienced its beauty and yes, its grandeur. ¬†We started at this time at Claerwen Dam (there are six) and ended at Craig Goch. See the map here. Since our last visit a few years ago with Sue & Paul Rogers, a new tea room has opened – Penbont House. Very enterprising. They should do a roaring trade – particularly in summer. We lunched there and¬†had the Cheese¬†on a Slate –¬†3 Welsh cheeses with Damson Cheese. Luscious although a tad dear we thought (¬£13.75 each!!!). ¬†They are dog friendly and have a very tame bantam and a sweet old dog. Wild birds are also very tame and alight on your table if allowed. Reminded me of the Caribbean. We were outdoors by the way! Have posted quite a few pics to give a good flavour of the area. The reservoirs created by the dams serve Birmingham with it’s fresh water and are currently as full as I have ever seen them, I think?

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Our trip led us back through Rhayader but by then, the rain had set in again and we did not stop to explore, sadly. We arrived back in the rain but it eventually cleared and I took a picture in roughly the same location as I had on the day we arrived in the murk. What a contrast !

 

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Monday was a beautifully sunny day Рtypical as we were leaving! We were on the road just after 10. Sad to leave Bryncrach. The owners are lovely and very friendly and seem keen to upgrade the site. I love it as it is, but the addition of a spanking new facilities block would be advantageous. We hope to return some day, as this is an ideal base for exploring all the beauty that mid-Wales has to offer. If only it were closer.  The owners have promised us better weather next time. As we drove further and further South,  the weather worsened and we arrived home in rain. Next trip is a canal based one, so we hope for better weather. Watch this space.