On tour at home and abroad with the Sumpners

The view below is Toad Rock, Tunbridge Wells

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Jun 20th to July 7th – The Lake District Part 1 – the arrival

Is our holiday ACTUALLY a go-er?

In our last post, we arrived home on Sunday afternoon. On Sunday evening, disaster struck! Paul was out walking the boys just as he has always done and the boys were playing, just as they have always done. He heard a loud yelp and Bill emerged from the bushes limping and unable to bear weight on his left back leg. He carried him home. We thoroughly examined his leg and could find no place from where any pain emanated. We cuddled him and then put him to bed for the night, resolving to take him the vet if things had not improved. By morning he really was no better so it was off to our vet (Portchester Vets). After a very thorough examination, the vet diagnosed that he had fractured his “tibial tuberosity” – effectively a broken leg. It is apparently a very common injury in puppies and is more often caused by jumping off a bed or sofa. As Bill had eaten that morning, he could not be X-Rayed and so we arranged one for the following day. He advised to keep Bill in his crate. Thank goodness we crate-trained them from the start!

The next morning (Tuesday) , the X-Ray was taken and he was proved right. We were offered a choice of veterinary hospitals and chose Anderson Moores in Winchester. They set up an appointment for us for that afternoon and we drove over with Bill, still drowsy from his X-Ray sedation. We had a consultation with the lovely and talented surgeon James Grierson, who explained everything in full detail and said that they would be keeping Bill in overnight and operating the next morning. He explained that Bill would need to be kept in a crate for 6-10 weeks after the op. That was a bit of a shock.

We said goodbye to Bill and – reassured by James saying he thought that Bill would be a big hit with the team and would not be lonely – we drove home. I think we both had a bit of a lump in our throats as we drove away. Poor Bill.

Before we left, we sought James’s advice as to whether he thought we should cancel our holiday or go – either way Bill would need to be kept in his crate. He said that if we were prepared to follow his instructions and only let Bill out for pee times, that he was quite happy for us to go. We had planned a walking/cycling/boating holiday and would have to modify our plans, but we could still go. That was a relief.

The op went well and Bill was kept in on Wednesday night too. We arranged to pick him up and be shown what needed to be done with regard to his recovery at 1 pm on Thursday. We decided to take the caravan to our appointment and continue our journey North from there.

Thursday 20th June

We spent the morning finishing our packing and set off for the hospital to pick up Bill. He was still a bit woozy and we were given instructions as to how to cope with the wound and the physio showed us what we needed to do, 3 x daily – to aid his recuperation. We popped him in his home for the next 6 weeks – aka his crate – and hit the road, bound for Woodstock.

Our destination for the first night was one of our oft-visited sites – Bladon Chains – just off the A34 at Woodstock. It was a smooth journey until the last leg, off the A34 – which was very heavily queued. Just before the turn-off to the site, on the verge was a couple of proper bow-topped Romany caravans and horses – they seemed to be producing wood carvings (by chain-saw) for sale. It was very picturesque, and I’d love to have taken a picture as it’s a rare sight, but it seemed a bit rude to do so.

When we checked in, the lady told us that there would be fireworks at 23:00 as Gladys Knight was appearing at Blenheim Palace (in the grounds thereof, which adjoin the campsite). Great! But at least we now knew what the queue was all about! We use a very basic set-up for one night stops which comprises a 5 litre water container for drinking water and a bucket for our grey waste, so set-up was pretty quick.

We needed to go and get a few bits for Bill – such as a “cone of shame” and some natural calming tablets so we set off for Oxford. It was rush hour and took longer than we had hoped, but we did see some bits of Oxford that we had never seen before. We got all we needed and made our way back – through the queue – again. Then it was supper and an early night as we were all tired. The fireworks were very loud indeed so we didn’t get to sleep early! That one night cost us £24.30 by the way.

Friday 21st June

Up and at it. We had about 180 miles to do today, so we wanted to get on the road as early as possible and breakfast en route. With such a basic set-up it doesn’t take long to get ready and soon we were off, heading further North.  Our destination was The Old Barn in Heskin, near Chorley, Lancs. – very near Charnock Richard services, for those of you accustomed to travelling the M6.

As we left we noted very heavy traffic heading for another event at Blenheim Palace. We were very glad we were heading in the opposite direction!

We stopped at the first services to get breakfast and then continued our journey, stopping as and when we felt the need for coffee/pees etc. We arrived at our destination at around 14:30. The access was very narrow indeed and my heart was in my mouth for the last 10 minutes or so.

The site was very basic – although it had hard-standings and everything we needed and even a shower if required. The farmer helped us with a longer lead for the hook-up and then set off on his mower to mow a path round the field to act as a dog walk! How lovely it was.

Our view from the van

Poor old Bill

Ted chillaxing

As it was a lovely sunny afternoon we relaxed and read. There was just one other van on site and they had some very yappy dogs. As I walked to the path the farmer had so kindly mowed, I was assailed by 5 very noisy and aggressive seeming chihuahuas. I quickly scooped Ted up, and in the ensuing kerfuffle my favourite necklace got broken. I tried to tell the lady who had, by now, come to gather up her unruly pack. She didn’t hear me, it seemed, so I said it again a little louder. “Your dogs have broken my necklace” quoth I. All I was met with was the lady rapidly beetling off with her little yappers in tow. I was NOT amused. But her husband was very burly and – even though they were right across the field from us, e could hear him effing and jeffing non-stop. The flipping dogs should have been on a lead, as ours were. But I wasn’t going to tell him, coward that I am.

A cuppa soon assuaged my temper and then, when the sun had waned a little, we decided to go out and explore the surrounding area. We set off for Parbold, through which the Leeds and Liverpool canal runs and were rewarded by the sight of a very quaint old ex-Windmill. And then it was on to Chorley, home of the famous Chorley cake and of course, this being Lancashire, cotton mills. It’s quite a pretty town. We then pressed for home, stopping at the local shop where I found some fabulous delicacies, made by the famous (locally) Handley’s Bakery, of which more tomorrow. I also bought a couple of beers – an American Shipyard IPA (smooth and not too hoppy) and a  Buster IPA from Clitheroe-based Bowland Brewery (refreshing clean taste). Some food, a bit more reading and bed. It was going to be a lovely quiet one, with virtually no noise from the M6.

The Old Mill at Parbold

Leeds & Liverpool Canal – Parbold

Chorley – in its summer finery

Sat 22 Jun

After a good night’s sleep, we were raring to go and decided, as we only had just over 100 miles to do today, we’d have a pleasant breakfast in the “garden”. Mr Burly of Burly’s Chihuahuas walked by and I went to smile at him. No dice. No eye-contact. No pleasantries. We were quite glad when they left. And then, just before 11:00, it was time for us to go. And we had found another, rather less scary way of leaving the site with easy access back on to the M6, so we were soon under way. First stop was at the Lancaster Services, with it’s rather space-age tower.known as the Pennine Tower. Some fascinating facts about it here.  Coffee time and a Handley’s “Courting Ring” each. Yum. Courting Cake is a Lancashire tradition and you can find a recipe here. But they seem to vary between a slightly firmer Victoria Sandwich to being made of Shortbread – or a combination of both. Ours was rather less elaborate and very definitely shortbread based – more like a Scottish Empire Biscuit (one of my favourites).

The Pennine Tower – Lancaster Services M6

We rolled further North and were soon getting glimpses of hills as our destination loomed ever nearer. For lunch, we had a Handley’s Beef Pie – very similar to a Pork Pie, but made with Beef. Delicious! Soon we were nearing Keswick – at the opposite end of Derwentwater to where our campsite is. As luck would have it, we couldn’t get a decent signal so could not check the the instructions provided for very rural sites. And typically, our sat-nav took us down what looked like a reasonable route, initially, but soon looked a bit foolhardy. We stopped a taxi driver who told us that the route was madness with a caravan, so the ever cool, calm and unflappable Mr Sumpner found a place to unhitch and turn the caravan round. We went the way the taxi driver advised and once in Keswick we got enough signal to follow the prescribed instructions. A salutary tale – I should have loaded the page earlier, while I had some signal. Lesson learned!!

Even following the proper route, It was pretty hairy in places and – just as we turned into the site we met a Dutch couple who really weren’t sure what to do so they passed on the wrong side! No problem though. But it was good to be at the site. We found a lovely spot, right at the end of one of the roads with a clearing that was very much “ours”! We were very pleased. We thought we’d like it here.

Rough location of our pitch

It was very peaceful. I had been too stressed to look at the Lake on the very narrow approach to the site. I was actually dry mouthed!! So, after we had done a “full” set up, we decided to go for a circumnavigation . I was excited to see some of the islands, such as Rampsholme, which feature heavily in one of my favourite plays “Neville’s Island” by Tim Firth.  We stopped in Keswick for beer for Paul –  Keswick Bitter (a little too bitter). We then made our way back to the site and had a barbecue. I really think I might be over barbecue? Both of us felt the same. And then it was time for SHOWERS! Reader – we had not showered since Thursday morning – although we had washed of course. It was utter bliss. The site has no facilities, as it’s a forest site, so we used our own, which I prefer anyway.

Our glade pitch

Derwent Water

Little Rampsholme on the right

And then we watched a little telly, after which we started the new bedtime routine which, with Bill’s injury to be attended to, is rather lengthy! We have ice for as long as he will stand it (between 10 and 20 minutes) and then do some simple physio, the boys both have to be taken out to pee and then (and only then) we can settle down for the night. It was so quiet – and yes – there was an owl or too. My favourite. And the holiday stretching out for days and days to enjoy. Happy dreams…………


to be continued………..


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Oxford Canal with the Smiths 7-9 October

Another day on the Oxford Canal, another stay at Bladon Chains, near Woodstock. This must make it one of our most visited sites, I think?

We had the usual Friday evening crawl up the A34, with plenty of traffic at the usual pinch-points. We had expected our friends Martin & Rachel Smith, who live in North London, to be there before us but we arrived first. We managed to nab a couple of adjacent pitches at this always busy site,  got set up and waited for them to arrive. They came over to us for dinner and we had a pleasant evening catching up on what’s been going on in each other’s busy lives. We went to bed at a reasonable hour, though, as we had an early start the next day.

Saturday was fine but overcast and as were were waiting to go we had fun watching a squirrel busily stocking up with acorns for the winter. He was totally oblivious to us and – even though we tried to point him out to Archie – he was totally oblivious to the squirrel. Soon it was time for the off and we all bundled into the car with our picnic, ready for the short trip to Thrupp.


Our pitch


Archie ready for the off

As we were frequent hirers, the handover at the boatyard was swift  and we soon had the kettle on for the first of many cuppas. It’s almost uncanny how, on the canal, the drinks are always freshly made just as you come round the corner to see a lock or a swing bridge, so that when you get back your cuppa is cold. Now that’s fine with me as I can come back to a cuppa, quite happily, after several hours have elapsed but does not please others.

We went safely through the first lock and then it was Martin’s turn to have a go at steering and then Rachel’s. Both took to it like – ahem –  a duck to water. I attribute that to excellent tuition.


Approaching Shipton Weir Lock


Cap’n Smith


Rachel – multi-tasking


Instructing the new crew

We pottered on until lunch time, with Archie keeping on eye out and making sure we were doing everything properly.

Lunch stop was – as usual – the old quarry just outside Kirtlington. We had already winded (turned) the boat and so after lunch we began the return leg. By this time Martin and Rachel were well into the swing of things. Shaping up to be a good crew!


We saw several kingfishers but never managed to get a good shot. And then it was all too soon, time to hand the boat back. Another lovely day on the canal. The route we took seems very short, but it’s probably a total of 6 hours cruising, at a leisurely pace.


After we had handed over the boat, it was back to the site for a quick snooze and a wash and brush-up before dinner. We were booked at the Boat Inn at Thrupp, where we had a very pleasant meal, with plenty of lively conversation. The fresh air had taken its toll, though, and we soon went back for a quiet night, drifting off to the sound of owls hooting. Lovely.

As luck would have it, Sunday dawned bright and beautiful. Typical!  We had a coffee together while Martin and Paul struggled with stowing Martin’s satellite dish, which eventually complied. And then it was time for us to go. The Smiths were staying on for another couple of nights, a luxury denied us “not fully retired” types. But we got home in good time to unpack and relax before the start of another busy week.


Sunlight through the trees


Basking Border

I’ll leave you with this picture. Can you see what it is yet?





Bladon Chains – Aug 14-16

Well I think this visit makes Bladon Chains our most visited campsite. The first time we visited, back in August 2009. it was just an overnight stop on the way back from “oop North”. The remainder of our visits (3) we have stayed because of its adjacency to Thrupp and the Oxford Canal. This trip was no exception. We were meeting our dear friends Bob & Barb Shorter, as we have done as least once a year since we met them on a Camping and Caravan Club guided RV tour of the Canadian Rockies. The trip, which inspired us to go on our American odyssey in May/June of this year,  was back in May 2012.

This year, we decided on a trip on the Oxford Canal as we knew they had much enjoyed our trip on the River Wey last year. Both being retired, they arrived before us and saved us a space next to them at the familiar and very pleasant site – useful for a visit to Blenheim Palace. We had left late afternoon and made surprisingly good time – even though traffic on the A34 was pretty bad. As soon as we arrived Barb had the kettle on and we had a nice cuppa before setting up the van. There was plenty to catch up on – even though they had come to watch Paul abseil down the Spinnaker Tower a few weeks earlier. It was also the first time they had seen our new van so we gave them the “five bob tour”- as my Dad would have called it.

It was my turn to produce the main course and it was soon heating up to a golden sizzle in the oven. We had Tartiflette with a green salad and ciabatta. It went down very well and – after a break – we then tackled dessert. Barb was responsible for this course, and we had an amazing selection of puds to choose from – plus cheese for those who could manage it! We talked and whiled away the evening in an atmosphere of conviviality until bedtime was indicated by loud yawns (mainly from us as we don’t ever seem to get to bed early enough).

It was up early to pack the picnic, which I had prepared the day before, and breakfast and showers and then we were off to Thrupp to pick up our boat for the day.  We went via Woodstock, where I picked up some fresh bread from the handy Co-op, while Paul gave Bob and Barb a whistle-stop tour of the very cute little town. The week leading up to our trip had been a bit dodgy weather-wise,  so we were relived to find that we had a lovely sunny day. We boarded and were briefed and were soon off, with the kettle on the boil for the first of many cups of coffee. We shortly encountered our first lift bridge, swiftly followed by the unusual diamond shape lock, which ushers the River Cherwell into the canal. Bob was at the helm. He had taken to steering like a duck to water on our previous trip – a real natural and he was to spend most of the day at the helm. His choice I hasten to add! He and Paul chatted at the stern while Barb and I set the world straight in the pointy end.

About to go under the lift bridge

About to go under the lift bridge

Entering a lock

Entering a lock

Arch showing Barb the ropes

Arch showing Barb the ropes

Bob's precision steering

Bob’s precision steering

As we had done this trip several times before, we knew the route and – more importantly – the location of the turn round and lunch spot. Bob expertly winded the boat and we moored at the old quarry near Kirtlington  for our lunch. The home-made quiches and salad went down well and we were soon full. A quick look at the old quarry and we were off on the return leg. We made our way back in a leisurely manner as we had plenty of time to arrive back without incurring a fine (about which we had been most sternly warned before we left!).

One lock before the boatyard,  we stopped for a lovely cuppa and a cream tea. Very hungry-making, this boating lark! Here are a few images from our return journey.

Beautiful sunflower

Beautiful sunflower

Hungry (greedy?) family.

Hungry (greedy?) family.

Polite and flower sign

Polite and flowery sign

(So far) Unidentified Bird of Prey.

(So far) Unidentified Bird of Prey.

We returned the boat and made our way home via the rather lovely Combe Mill – a Victorian steam and water driven sawmill, owned by the Blenheim estate. We were investigating it as it was it was going to be “in steam” the next day,  but it was further away than we had anticipated and thus not an option for B&B to visit by bike, sadly.

I had booked a table at a local pub for our evening meal but (a) we were not hungry enough to do a meal justice and (b) we had loads of left-over food to use up, so we cancelled.  We went our separate ways for a while on our return and we both had a beepy (or snooze) to refresh us. We spent the evening Chez Shorter, in their lovely vintage Hymer van. We ate more,  drank more, chatted more and then it was bed and a lovely peaceful night.

The Shorters were staying an extra couple of days to explore the area, the lucky devils, but we had to be back for Paul to work on Monday. We shared a last cup of coffee and then bid them a fond farewell, agreeing that we would meet for our usual pre Christmas meal. So – another lovely weekend and only another couple of weeks and we’ll be off to Norfolk for the Bank Holiday weekend. Can’t wait! We love our van 🙂



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Bladon Chains for the Oxford Canal – 29-31 August

Just a quickie as this was  a(nother) repeat visit to this busy camp-site near Blenheim Palace and the lovely Cotswold town of Woodstock, with its beautiful honey stone buildings and independent shops.  Once again, the purpose of our stay was a day boat on the Oxford Canal, our third and last such day this year. It was a good trip up and we were soon settled, in the daylight , and ready to relax. Which we did!

We were up early to make sarnies and meet our friends Kate & Paul and Kate’s dad (Chris) at the boat location in Thrupp. It took us about 10 minutes to get from the camp-site and we spotted the work of some yarn-bombers on the way. Very attractive. Such a pleasant and harmless form of graffiti, I always think.


The work of yarn-bombers.

The work of yarn-bombers.


The Hansford party were coming up from Portchester. Luckily, as it was an early morning start, they  had a good trip up and we were soon ensconced on the boat, hand over and briefing completed and on our way. Coffee was soon on and we ate and drank our way up the canal, past the Rock of Gibraltar pub and on through several locks to our turn round point. We were looking for sloe bushes but didn’t find many accessible ones. There were a great deal of wild hops around  and we gathered some for decorative purposes.  It was a lovely day with no rain and pretty warm, considering we were approaching the end of summer. It was much nicer than the photos make it look, anyway!


DSC_0262 DSC_0252DSC_0253DSC_0260 DSC_0250 DSC_0266 DSC_0267 DSC_0285 DSC_0270 DSC_0286DSC_0261

After we had handed the boat back, we had a quick pop into Woodstock so that the Hansfords could see  how pretty it was. Sadly, it was late afternoon and the shops were all just closing but there were still a few picture opportunities – including a view of the back gate of Blenheim Palace!


The tradesmen’s entrance?


The grounds – Blenheim


Woodstock view


Beautiful stone

Next it was on to the historic pub known as “The Perch” at Binsey, just outside Oxford, where we had dinner booked. We had visited there quite a few years before, but from the Thames itself. We had a very pleasant meal and then said our fond farewells – us back to the van and the Hansfords back to Portchy.

We watched a spot of television and then plumped for an early night after all that fresh air and the early start. There was no reason to dally in the morning and we were off and away and home by about 1 o’clock. Just in time to mow the lawn – probably not for the last time this year.  Happy days.




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Oxford Canal trip – Autobots on tour! Aug 9-11

We are avid quizzers and meet most Tuesdays at our local, The Seagull, where we enter the weekly quiz. The quiz is free to enter and the winner’s prize is £40. The team (The Autobots – named by Jacquie’s son Harry at one of our early quizzes)   have had a pretty successful year and have saved our winnings. Initially we had a vague idea of going for a curry on the proceeds but as they mounted it was suggested that we should do something more adventurous and we hit upon the plan of hiring a canal boat for the day with a luxury picnic from M&S! The core of the team is four, with others joining as and when to make up the max of 6. Not everyone could make it and in the end there were 7 of us. (Us, Anne and Gray and their daughter Holly and Jacquie and Rob).

We drove up to Woodstock on the Friday evening and stayed at the Bladon Chains CC site, where we had been once before a few years ago. It is in the parkland on the edge of the grounds of the beautiful Blenheim Palace

Up early the next morning and excitement was high. We drove the short trip to Thrupp where we were picking up our boat from the Oxfordshire Narrowboats base there. Being “local” we were first to arrive.

Jacquie and Rob were next to arrive, closely followed by Anne, Gray and Holly with the picnic. It was clear that we would not starve! We had our briefing and were off! On the kids party boat! Funny!

Party Boat


The kettle was soon on and we had breakfast continental style (pastries) and headed off towards Aynho. At our first lock (an unusual diamond shape) we encountered a stag night party on 2 boats. Much banter ensued!

The Groom with Jacquie and Holly

The Groom with Jacquie and Holly

All this for a tea-bag. Mmmm

All this for a tea-bag. Mmmm

I thin k it’s fair to say that they were the most disorganised bunch ever and the operation took ages but we had a good laugh with them before we made our way through the lock.

Discussing the lock

Discussing the lock

The pretty River Cherwell meanders in and out of the canal on this stretch and you are rarely far from it. We passed the Rock of Gibraltar pub (thus legitimately enabling us to claim we had been to Gib on this trip). No sign of any Sapnish fishermen , fortunately!



Our turn round point and lunch spot was the disused quarry at Shipton on Cherwell and we feasted royally – even though we also had afternoon tea planned!

Here are a few more images of the day:

Or the twins as we like to call them!

Or the twins as we like to call them!

It's a love thing!

It’s a love thing!

Busy dog

Busy dog

Approaching the diamond lock on the return leg

Approaching the diamond lock on the return leg

A lift bridge

A lift bridge

A lock

A lock

Rob - putting his back into it!

Rob – putting his back into it!


Our gallant skipper

We arrived back at our start point with an hour to spare, so set off in the opposite driection, towards Oxford. We had afternoon tea on this leg. With scones and clotted cream………..

Afternoon Tea


As we turned (known as winding) the boat we saw this sign which afforded us much amusement:

Isn't it ironic?

Isn’t it ironic?

All to soon it was time to hand over and go home. Another lovely day on the canal. I want a boat!

No evening meal was required that night and we had noticed that the Mikron Theatre Company were at The Jolly Boatman and decided to go and see them perform. They are a touring company, using the narrowboat, Tyseley, as a base. Envious much! We had seen them many years ago, when the then unknown Mark (Suits you sir!) Williams – now more popularly known for being Ron Weasley’s dad –  was a member of the team (1983-85).

It was packed at the pub and we struggled to park. We managed to find seats by moving a bench and shared that with a few others.  This years show is called Beyond the veil and has a bee-keeping theme. Such a talented bunch (Acting, singing and playing instruments) and a jolly good evening.

Beyond the Veil

Beyond the Veil

We returned to the site and tumbled into bed tired but very happy.  We followed the usual Sunday morning “routine” of boiled eggs and a leisurely read and then packed up for the journey home, looking forward to our next trip, the following weekend with our niece and nephew.  As we were leaving the site, I got a call from the boatyard to say that a BW key for the electric lift-bridge was missing. A mad flurry of texts followed and, as suspected,  Rob was the culprit. We agreed to post them back and all was well! Phew. Roll on next weekend.