On tour at home and abroad with the Sumpners

The view below is Toad Rock, Tunbridge Wells


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Forest of Dean/Wye Valley – May 23-27th

Thursday 23
We had a very pleasant and trouble-free journey to the site, arriving about 13:50. Our allotted pitch on this small, charming and peaceful site was right next to the forest. It was very sunny and all we could hear was birdsong. The site was called Hawthorne Cottage and is just our kind of site. Mainly that means quiet, with no clubhouse!

On the A34

We did all the chores associated with setting up, staked the boys out on the grass to play, got the kettle on and relaxed. We already felt very much at home here and knew we could reckon on a quiet night too. The guy who showed us our pitch told us that we would fall asleep to the sound of the owl hooting. Bliss.

As we had arrived quite early, we decided to pop and explore one of the sights on our to-do list – Lydney Harbour. The Lydney Canal passes out into the vast River Severn at this point. It was built in the early 1800s to transport iron and coal from the Forest of Dean mines/works onto larger boats bound for Avonmouth.

We had a lovely walk round and marvelled at the thick, gloopy mud that was there in abundance. You could see across to the old Berkeley nuclear power station. It was de-commissioned in 1989 but is not actually scheduled to be fully cleared of nuclear waste until 2070 or thereabouts. You could also see the exit of the Gloucester & Sharpness canal into the Severn. We had boated to the terminus there and also cycled there and it was good to see it from another angle.

Glorious Mud!

Leaky Gate

The G&S Canal Terminus

 Power Station 

The Lydney Canal

Paul & Ted

Berkeley Nuclear Power Station

I popped into a shop to pick up a couple of bits after we had visited the Harbour and, while he waited, Paul was tasked with finding a riverside pub for a drink before we returned home. He hadn’t been able to find the exact postcode and had selected a nearby one. Big mistake! He did not reveal this fact until we rocked up at the location of the postcode to find – no pub. Nowhere to be found!

We had passed through Clearwell on the way. We had visited there before when an old friend got married at the beautiful Castle. But back to the pub – the actual postcode of the pub was in Wales and on our Satnav the transition between the two countries is not as seamless as it should be. You actually have to change country and once we’d done that, the postcode could be found and off we set. It transpired that the pub Paul had selected was on the Wales side of the river and so we had to go up river until there was a crossing (near Monmouth) and then all the way back. Later research showed that we should have parked roughly where the original postcode had taken us and gone on foot across the bridge. Lesson learnt!

The pub was called The Boat Inn in a village called Penallt (opposite Redbrook on the English side of the river). We had originally planned just a quick drink before going back to the van to cook dinner, but the faffing outlined above meant that it was rather later than anticipated and so we decided to eat there. We both chose “Pan Haggerty ” – a delicious potato, onion and cheese concoction. Paul also had a pint of Butty Bach – a Wye Valley Brewery beer, which he pronounced to be rather fine. We drove home and I tidied up and got ready for bed whilst Paul took the boys for their last walk/pee opportunity. An early night all round.

The Footbridge from Redbrook

The Boat Inn, Penallt

Friday 24th May
We had planned a bike ride today from Cannop Cycle Centre. There is a lovely 9 mile circular ride, with a really good surface and all very clearly way-marked. You pass a couple of the disused Forest of Dean coal mines and we absolutely loved doing it.  They advise you to go clockwise but – as we had e-bikes – we decided we’d be able to tackle anything they could throw at us and went anticlockwise. There is one steep (to me!) but short climb section which was hard work but otherwise it was AOK. The boys loved being off lead and running alongside the bikes – a skill they need to learn for canal towpaths, which they’ll hopefully see a lot of in their lives. They weren’t quite so keen being in their backpacks, but they’ll get used to them. It was such a beautiful ride and I would recommend it to anyone – especially those with kids. You can hire bikes too, including a some rather gnarly e-Mountain bikes! These, and baby/dog carriages/tandems etc. are all available from Pedal A Bike  Away. You can even hire an off-road electric wheelchair/mobility vehicle (called a Tramper) from Walking with Wheels. They work closely with the Gloucestershire Wheels for All Project It’s very inclusive, and rightly so. A link to a map of our ride appears here.

Paul and a pair of pups!

Foxes Bridge Colliery

Refreshed after a flapjack

Thirsty Boys

All too soon, we arrived back at the Cycle shop having completed the circumnavigation. There is a very nice cafe at the shop and we treated ourselves to a coffee and a yummy flapjack. Rather enterprisingly, they also sell individual Bonios, so the boys had a treat as well. Happiness all round.

As you can see from the map, there is short stretch to Mallards Pike Lake, which we had not bothered with on our ride. We decided to visit it by car before lunch. It was lovely and I haven’t seen so many tadpoles in years! They have a section of the lake called a “doggy dip” and the boys enjoyed playing with a lab, in and out of the water, fetching sticks – or not…… It was a lovely stroll round the lake and we liked the look of the very smart new cafe, but lunch was waiting for us back at the van so we noted it for, perhaps, (hopefully?) another visit.

The new cafe – sensitively designed

So many tadpoles! All round the lake edge.

We had lunch (quite a late one) and it seemed we were all tired from our morning’s exertions so we all had a little beepy. We woke up refreshed and fancied an ice-cream. Looking online, we found just the thing in Monmouth – an Italian gelateria! We didn’t hesitate and set off for Monmouth, with our mouths watering. Monmouth is a lovely little town with lots of interesting-looking shops. But our minds were on just one thing! We located the gelateria, which was sited on Agincourt Square (after Henry V who was born in Monmouth) and Paul parked, while I went to get the treats. And boy – what a treat! We had a very naughty three scoops! Yummy. I urge you to visit Green & Jenks if ever in Monmouth and fancy an ice-cream. You won’t be disappointed. In fact they are so good they featured in June’s Country Living magazine – as did an article on visiting the Wye Valley.

It was rush hour in Monmouth so not the best time to visit. We did manage to get a snap of the famous and ancient Monnow Bridge (named after the River on which Monmouth stands – just before it empties into the Wye).

Monnow Bridge – Monmouth

After we had queued to get out of Monmouth we returned to the van, where we sat out in the early evening sun, while the boys played and squabbled. I love this area and will inevitably return to Monmouth to explore it further. It warrants it.

Saturday 25th
The boys were real early birds this morning so our day started a tad earlier than we might have wished but we had a plan, so cracked on with the day. We planned to ride the Dean Forest steam railway the short trip from Norchard to Parkend, passing through Whitecroft station. The boys are quite happy on steam trains, as you may recall, and we always love to support the preservation by taking a ride. It was a very pleasant – if short – trip through the Forest and we were glad we had done it. Parkend is the current terminus – although there are plans to extend further.  There were some interesting industrial remains – possibly mines – or even iron works, both of which were prominent in the Forest. This article about the Forest of Dean Coal field is an interesting read.

As the journey was quite short, we were done and dusted by mid-morning and decided that our next port of call would be Tintern Abbey. But as we were returning to the car we spotted this rather attractive outfall – the signage tells that the “Norchard Drain” is an outfall from old colliery workings The outfall enters the River Lyd at a rate of 20,000 litres per minute, winter and summer. The red colour is caused by iron oxide as the water leaches through layers of ironstone.

We pressed on to Tintern, which is located in a beautiful location, right on the Wye. It is the best-preserved medieval abbey in Wales and rather beimpressive. It is administered by CADW, an organisation which safeguards Wales’ heritage. It means “keep/protect”, by the way. Tintern is dog friendly, so we paid our entry fee and explored the site. There was something very peaceful about it. That may seem fanciful, but you’d see what I mean if you visited.

By now, lunch was calling. LOUDLY! We decided not to hang around Tintern as – being a Bank Holiday weekend – tourists were thronging. A quick search on Trip Advisor revealed somewhere called “Toast” in Tutshill that sounded rather good. It was a pleasant drive, but when we arrived in Tutshill we could not find anywhere to park for Toast. We eventually did but – as we walked in – they told us that the kitchen had just that minute closed. It was 13.47 and the kitchen closed at 13.45. Very disappointing indeed. We won’t be back, which is a shame as it looks great.

As we were so close to Chepstow by now, we decided to try and eat there, as there would definitely be more opportunities. We happened upon the Riverside Wine Bar – located right on the river. Perfect. And so was the food. We ordered a selection of Tapas and each one was delicious. A special mention for the Brown Sugar Glazed steak which was lush!

Chepstow Castle

On the way back home, we stopped off at Tidenham Chase (which gives access to Offa’s Dyke and the Devil’s Pulpit) to give the boys a run and then continued our journey through St Briavels, which had spectacular views over the Wye Valley and then called in at Lydney to get some ice-cream for our dessert. 

Bill on an OS Trig Point

View – St Briavels

Finally,  it was home and another quiet evening – with a broken TV, which I forgot to mention earlier. Annoying! We played Doble to pass the time. Although we had had an early start, had packed a lot in and so were yawning and ready for bed -almost before it was dark!

Sunday 26th

Our destination today – after a nice eggy breakfast – was Symonds Yat Rock. It had been quite a while since we had visited (with our friends Sue & Paul Rogers) and we found it to be quite changed or, at least, it wasn’t quite how we had remembered it. 

It’s a very popular beauty spot with a stunning viewpoint over the Wye. It’s renowned for its Peregine Falcons and they have RSPB volunteers to answer any questions you might have. There was a long list of all the birds that had been spotted there – including Goshawks and Buzzards. It really is a special place. 

We made a traditional visit to Symonds Yat East, down at river level for a drink. Last time we were here it was raining. This time there was a spot of drizzle but otherwise fine. It was heaving so we didn’t stay too long. We popped back to the van for lunch and then decide we would go back to Cannop to cycle the trail again, but this time take the path down to Mallards Pike Lake. It was a lovely ride and we rewarded ourselves at the half way point by having a slice of cake and a cuppa at the very smart cafe. There is a Go Ape here as well and we later found out that my cousin Alice was “going ape” there around the same time that we were there. What a coincidence! The boys were, by now, getting used to their backpacks and were, in fact, quite eager to get in! They were clearly tired.


We cycled the return leg and arrived back at the car park. The trail is such a great resource and very popular with families. We could do with something like it nearer home. We’d be out every weekend!

Back to the van for dinner and to start the packing up process ready for the off in the morning. It had all gone too quickly. Not enough time visit all that the area has to offer – such as Puzzlewood, Goodrich Castle, Clearwell Caves, and so on. It looks like we will be back.

Monday  27th

We were up and at it, packed up and home after another stress-free journey, by around 13:30. Our next trip is in June when we are off down to Dorset with our pals Bob and Barb. We loved our time at Hawthorne Cottage and do plan to make a return visit. In the pic below, we are the blue dot. 

 


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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.

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Our pitch

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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.

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Approaching Shipton Weir Lock

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Cap’n Smith

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Rachel – multi-tasking

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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.

route

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.

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Sunlight through the trees

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Basking Border

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

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