Monday, 15 March 2021

Reelin’ in the years

 

March 2021

Post from John


Our first van experience - hired from Wildax

We have spent some time during lockdown reflecting on things (as have many others, I suspect), including motorhoming. We have been looking back, re-reading the blog and looking at all the photos we have taken on the trips. It has been great to bring back the memories, almost all happy, of our 8 years with the vans. We have also been looking forward, re-evaluating what we want to do in the future in terms of travel. Thankfully we are not the type with a huge bucket-list of exotic destinations; there is a lot we want to see and do without stepping on an aeroplane.

Amelia and Theodora

 In this retrospective mood, I also totted up our travels in the van(s) since 2012.

Nights away

Own Van

Hired

Total

Sites

CL/CS

Aires

2012

4

7

11

6

2

2013

37

37

12

1

1

2014

33

33

14

2

3

2015

42

42

12

3

3

2016

37

37

17

1

2017

59

59

30

3

1

2018

18

30

48

24

18 NZ

2019

71

71

33

2

2020

15

15

5

316

37

353

153

11

11

 

Our NZ van

Our usage for the first few years was fairly consistent; nowhere near as many nights as other van owners, but not bad given the other calls on our time, such as close family scattered from Scotland to Bedfordshire, and my trips to the Channel Islands for lecturing. Ruth stopping work in 2015, and me in 2016, should have led to an increase in trips, but as has been chronicled in the blog, other factors ensured that we didn’t quite achieve that. The most annoying part was that in 2020, having become officially pensioners, we should have been putting some serious miles on the van. As the great John Lennon said:

“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans”

Still, onward to 2021, which must be a better year!

 

Saturday, 31 October 2020

Moreton in Marsh

 22 - 24 October

Autumn Almanac

After the abruptly curtailed trip to Devon (for medical reasons) we were determined to get our days away in the ‘van this year to more than the current fantastic total of 11!  But the shorter days and less predictable weather made us decide on a very short and local trip, just to have a change of scenery.  So here we are in Moreton-in-Marsh, just twenty miles from home.  We know the town a little; in fact, we did consider it as a place to live when we moved from Cambridgeshire.  It has a long high street, with many individual shops, cafes and hotels, plus the Redesdale Market Hall. It still has a busy market on a Tuesday.  There is also a fantastic, independent toy shop, aptly named “The Toy Shop” which comprises many inter-connected small rooms and where you can lose yourself for hours.

We arrived on site as soon as the doors had opened, just after noon, along with many other caravanners and motorhomers.  We drove around the site, procrastinating on which pitch to take, only to find that, due to the one-way system, we would have to exit the site and re-enter.  The wardens chuckled and enquired “did you get lost?” before allowing us entry for the second time. 

After a quick lunch outside the van in the sunshine we put on our walking boots and made our way to the town centre (just a ten minute walk away) to follow a three and a half mile circular route across fields and along a country lane.  I had found this on the website www.cotswoldaonb.org.uk, which looked to be a very useful resource.  The route took us beside Batsford Deer Park and then suggests you might see birds of prey being exercised from the Falconry Centre (we didn't).  In the distance we could see Batsford House, a Victorian building, where the Mitford girls grew up.  At one point you are walking the watershed, where raindrops turn left for the Bristol Channel (via the Stour, Avon and Severn} or right for the North Sea (via the Evenlode and Thames).  Although the walk was not spectacular, it was very pleasant to be in the open air with the sun shining down on us.


Next day we had booked tickets at Batsford Arboretum, but not until 1 pm.  So there was plenty of time to walk into town in the morning and face the difficult decision of which coffee shop to choose.  The Cacao Bean at the far end of the High Street won us over and we had great coffee with a home-made scone.  The owner was very friendly towards us and it became obvious that many local people used her café as she was on first name terms with several of her customers.

After a quick lunch in the motorcaravan we drove the short distance to the arboretum.  The weather forecast for the afternoon had not been brilliant, but against the odds, the sun came out which really enhanced the beauty of the autumn colours.  The acers were particularly striking.  



Despite the restricted number of visitors, it was still fairly busy and I took the opportunity of practising “street photography”, grabbing shots of children kicking in the leaves and of unsuspecting adults.
  




From the arboretum you get a much closer view of Batsford House from the other side.



We arrived back on site in time to freshen up before walking into town for the second time that day for a delicious meal at The White Hart.  Their Covid compliance made us feel at ease.

It would have been nice to have finished our break with a leisurely morning over the newspapers, but the forecast had deteriorated so we decided to beat a hasty retreat and get home before the worst of the rain.


Thursday, 24 September 2020

Don’t look back in anger

 

September 2020

Post from John

Any form of planning this year has turned out to be an exercise in futility…

When we returned from Chertsey, we decided that we would have another trip in the van in mid-September, before having Mum to stay with us at the end of the month. We booked sites up for 10 nights in the Brecon Beacons and Elan valley in Wales. Then family circumstances changed and we would need to travel a bit earlier; bookings were duly amended and the planned trip shortened. The week before we were due to go, Ruth was doing her daily check of Covid-19 infections in family-relevant areas (you can take the woman out of Public Health, but you can’t take Public Health out of the woman….). Mid-Wales had seen an increase in infections, to a considerably higher level than Warwickshire, so it didn’t seem wise to head that way.

So, plan C was concocted, involving a complicated decision tree of where are infections not too high, where are there available pitches, and do we want to go there anyway? The upshot was that we booked 5 nights at the Camping and Caravanning Club site just outside Tavistock. We hadn’t been to Dartmoor, so we were looking forward to the trip.

We’d had to start the trip on a Saturday, which we realised was a bad move once we got onto the M5. Stop-start traffic from North of Bristol to well into Somerset meant a somewhat protracted journey, and we arrived at the site late in the afternoon.

We’d booked a slot at the National Trust property at Cotehele, just over the border in Cornwall, for the next day. It was about a 30-minute journey in the morning sunshine, but the last couple of miles involved typical Cornish lanes. Allegedly 2-way roads had high hedges on both sides almost brushing the van’s wing mirrors; thankfully nothing was coming the other way.

Cotehele House dates back to the 15th century, and was home to the Edgecumbe family; the grounds stretch down to the River Tamar, with views of the magnificent Calstock viaduct a little way upstream. After the obligatory coffee and scone, we walked through the various sections of the garden, including the orchard where visitors could pick their own apples and pears from over 200 trees. Then we wandered through the terraced Italian garden and onto the pleasant woodland walk down to the river.

Cotehele House and Italian garden


Calstock viaduct


The track leads down to Cotehele Quay, once a busy loading and unloading point for trade with Plymouth, but now a pleasant place to enjoy an ice-cream or cold drink in the sunshine. We took the path which follows the stream up to Cotehele Mill, also on the estate. This Victorian watermill is still used for grinding corn, but unfortunately closed at present.

Cotehele Quay


The mill


Sadly, the trip went downhill from here; I’d been unwell during the day, and we thought it best to have it checked out. We took the reluctant decision to abandon the trip and headed home on Monday morning. Thankfully it was nothing serious, but I am now awaiting some minor surgery in the New Year.

2021 can only be better than this year – can’t it?

Saturday, 22 August 2020

Kent and Chertsey

 August 11-18 2020

 Everything Changes

 Post from John


 A couple of posts ago I said that trips this year would probably be at short notice. It soon became apparent that late booking was not going to be an option; a combination of more people staying in the UK and having to go away in school holidays. So, we managed to stitch together an itinerary for an August trip to the Yorkshire Dales, based on what sites had spaces. Then family matters intervened again, and we found ourselves instead having to head in the opposite direction, back to Kent to see Ruth’s mum. But to add a bit of “holiday” to the “duty”, we booked a few days at the C&CC site at Chertsey to follow on from Kent.

Rather than stay at Bearsted again, we opted for the CMC site at Hythe. Unsurprisingly, it was pretty full when we arrived on a sunny Tuesday afternoon. According to the wardens, it had been near- or fully-booked since it re-opened. We managed a couple of outings in between spending time with Mum; firstly, a cycle ride along the Royal Military canal into Hythe.


This canal was constructed during the Napoleonic Wars as a defence against French invasion. It runs in an arc around Romney Marsh from Cliff End near Hastings, to Seabrook near Folkestone. It made a pleasant ride in the late afternoon sunshine, with an ice-cream from the tea room at the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch’s station at Hythe an enjoyable treat.

We also decided to head down to Dungeness early one morning; sadly, when we arrived the weather was somewhat damp and murky. The new lighthouse was just about visible through the gloom.


On Saturday we headed over to Chertsey, through a thunderstorm, torrential rain, and long queues on the M20. We assume the atmospheric conditions affected the satnav, as it occasionally lost our location, the map on the screen rotated a few times, then she shouted at us that we were driving on the wrong carriageway of the motorway. This was all while we were stationary in a queue…

The C&CC site at Chertsey is right beside the Thames, but it didn’t “grab” us the way some sites do. It seemed a little tired and crowded in comparison to the normal high standards of club sites.

On Sunday we unstrapped the bikes again, and headed off along the Thames Path towards Hampton Court. A lovely ride, watching the coming and goings on the river, and admiring the elegant houses along the banks. The Boathouse Café at Walton Marina made an excellent refuelling stop.


The next day we opted for a walk in the other direction along the Thames Path. The weather didn’t look promising, and sure enough, as we neared Laleham, a thunderstorm approached from the west. We took shelter in Cavo’s Coffee shop, on the pavilion at Laleham’s sports field.

Chertsey site from the Thames Path

Before we left home, we had booked tickets for the RHS gardens at Wisley. So, on Tuesday we drove the short distance to the gardens; I had called ahead to check about motorhome parking, and was told to head for the bottom of car park 3. Sure enough, there were larger spaces for vans.

We had only been able to get tickets for the afternoon, entering at 1.30pm. As it turned out, we felt that 3 hours in the garden was sufficient; we were at risk of becoming “flowered-out”. We explored all the main areas, and very impressive they were too, even to a non-gardener like me. Ruth spent a long time in the fruit and vegetable gardens, coming away with a number of ideas for our (somewhat smaller) garden.





We had an uneventful journey home the next day; hopefully (Covid permitting) it won’t be too long before we get away again.

Friday, 10 July 2020

Kent


July 4 -7 2020

I Feel Free

Post from John

It was a strange, almost guilty, feeling to be driving a motorhome down the motorway. Whilst in some ways it was back to “normality”, passing Heathrow on the M25 and not seeing a single aircraft in the sky indicated that it was anything but.

As soon as I received the e-mail from the Caravan and Motorhome Club giving details of their reopening dates, we decided to make a booking. It was not a trip to explore somewhere, but a way of visiting Ruth’s Mum, whom we haven’t seen for 5 months. We booked the Bearsted CMC site for three nights, as this is only a few miles from where Mum lives.

Arrival and check-in were different – no contact other than the friendly warden handing details of our pitch through the passenger window (we’d been asked to agree an arrival slot so the inflow of vans could be managed). We were not really surprised to see that the site was fairly full – there must be a lot of pent-up demand from caravanners and motorhomers!

Having borrowed a car from Ruth’s sister, we did manage a little exploring. On the Sunday afternoon we took Mum to the nearby village of Chilham. We found a parking spot on the market square, surrounded by period and listed buildings which give it an archetypal “Olde Englande” feel. Indeed, it has been used as a location for TV and film productions. I’m sure that pre-pandemic it would have been far busier on a July Sunday afternoon.




We had a walk around the churchyard of St Marys’ adjacent to the square, then ice-creams seemed in order on such a lovely afternoon. Shelly’s tea rooms were able to provide the necessary items – albeit as takeaways in paper cups rather than sundae dishes at a table.

The next day Mum demonstrated considerable sprightliness for a 94-year old by leading us on a walk around Charing, where she now lives. Charing is situated on the Pilgrims Way from London to Canterbury; our walk took us past the remains of the Archbishops Palace, adjacent to the parish church. The palace was the property of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Church of St Peter and St Paul is said to contain the stone on which John the Baptist was beheaded.

Archbishops Palace

Parish Church

After a loop around a small nature reserve, we headed back to Mum’s cottage and made her a well-deserved cup of tea before returning to the site, ready to head home the next day.

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Days of future passed


Post from John



I know that the current inability of motorhomers to travel scores pretty low on the Richter scale of Mankind’s problems. It is, however, ironic that this was the year when, with the house renovations coming to an end, we were most organised and had lots of things planned.

By the beginning of January we had the outward shuttle and return ferry booked for a long trip to Northern Spain and Portugal in September. By mid-February we had booked the sites for a Cornish trip in June. We had also decided to combine our hobbies of photography and motorhoming, and had joined the Photographic Group of the Camping and Caravanning Club. Their first rally was at the Conkers C&CC club site near the National Memorial Arboretum, which was an area we wanted to visit, so we booked that as well. Then came lockdown.

We are lucky in that, other than our inability to see family and friends, we have survived (touch wood) this strange and troubling time unscathed. However, I have found it terribly frustrating not to be able to plan trips. It is usually me who does the bulk of the trip planning – researching books and magazine articles, routes and campsite possibilities. Ruth then does the more detailed stuff, sorting out what main things we should aim to do in each area, and then we tweak the plan accordingly. By the way, we don’t necessarily stick rigidly to this plan (that’s one of the joys of motorhoming) but we do like to have a basic framework.

For the rest of this year, we’ll just snatch short breaks when we can, probably not too far from home, and possibly at short notice. We’ve taken the decision to try to rerun 2020 in 2021, with Cornwall again in June, and Spain in September.

As a final twist, in January we decorated the small bedroom we use as a study. We installed a lot of shelving to house all our books, including our travel books, site guides and maps. Now every time I sit at the computer, they stare mockingly down at me….

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Spanish Trip 7 - Delta de l'Ebre to Stratford upon Avon


25 – 31 October

The long and winding road

The next destination after Delta de l'Ebre was Collioure just beyond the Spanish - French border. We chose a site close to the town so that we could walk in, despite the steep incline out of the site and equally steep descent into the town. Never mind, it was worth the exertion! First priority was to find a cafe or bar showing the England - New Zealand world cup rugby semi-final, to please rugby fans John, Clive and Barbara. We found one straight away and enjoyed the match over coffee and croissants, especially as England won.

 
Tense moment during the game

John and I then went for a walk to the church, which has also been used as a lighthouse, the breakwater around the harbour

Church at Collioure


and the old town, with its profusion of craft and artisan shops, before choosing one of the many restaurants for menu du jour in the sunshine. A second walk led us around the foot of the castle after which we called Louise, to wish her happy birthday (yes, we still know what the day and date is!) and boarded the tourist train, which took us high above the town. The commentary covered local history and told us how the olives were almost ready to be harvested and would be turned into oil at the 14th century mill. It also explained that the vineyards were built on terraces dating back hundreds of years. We had a brief stop at the viewpoint

Viewpoint over Collioure


before descending and passing through Port Vendres, which is the first port north of the Spanish border and all bananas consumed in France arrive via this port. As well as the commercial side, there is a marina and fishing industry based here. The boats go out at night and use lights to dazzle and catch the fish.  Collioure was a delightful place to end the main part of the trip. We now have three long days of driving to get back to Calais.

We were tempted to go back into Collioure next day to watch the Wales - South Africa rugby semi-final but that would have put us under time pressure so we hoped a service station might be showing the match. This was not to be, but we did get reception on the tv in the van so were able to follow the final stages of the match.

Motorcaravan becomes TV lounge


We had another stop for lunch at the Millau Viaduct, which we have seen before but impressed us once again.

Millau Viaduct


There was fantastic scenery along the way through the Massif Central, with lots of ascents and descents. Our overnight stop was at a site in Orcet, where we have stayed before.
The following day it was a 300 mile slog on motorways towards Troyes, in wet or dull weather. In the absence of anything else of interest to report, I'll share the following about Thiers, a town we passed, which is "a major historical centre of knife manufacturing; seventy percent of French pocket knives, kitchen and table knives are produced in Thiers. The knowledge and craft of the Thiernois cutlers are over seven centuries old".  You never know, you may need to know that one day!

There are not too many sites open now so the one we targeted at Geraudot was a bit out in the sticks but gave us a home for the night. It was raining when we got up, so plans to have a look around were abandoned. However, before leaving we did do a bit of birdwatching from Barbara and Clive's van (motorhomes make excellent bird hides!) and we saw a buzzard perched in a tree, redstart, willow tit and flocks of giant crane flying overhead - Clive reckoned there were over 300. As we left Geraudot we saw a sign for a Velovoie (cycle route) and for future reference, this seemed to be the 42 km route between St Julien les Villas near Troyes and Dienville on the edge of the lakes in the Parc Naturel Regional de la Foret d'Orient.

Although dry as the journey progressed on the A26 (aptly called the Autoroute des Anglais) it was quite chilly and the trees were all changing colour so we must face reality, it's autumn! 

An evening meal in Le Touquet was a great way to celebrate a very successful and enjoyable trip. Even at 7 pm most of the shops were open and the town was very lively. The ornate church and town hall and the covered market all looked very interesting.

Le Shuttle carried us efficiently back to Kent, where we had a final night at Bearsted so we could visit Mum before the last leg home.

A few figures to finish with:
Number of days away – 39
Number of sites - 20
Total miles - 4,066

And the only time we got held up in traffic was on our way back into Stratford. Welcome home!