In September my Nan will turn 90. As an advance birthday treat we took her away for a short break to Dorset. A trip in Bertie would have been great but Nan would have had difficulty accessing the over cab bed, so instead we booked a cottage and based ourselves near Wool.
We left Bertie in storage and for transport we hired a car using our Tesco clubcard vouchers. We had a wonderful three days enjoying outings in the area. Here are a few photos of the places we visited.
On our first night back in Taunton we stayed on a local campsite. Tanpit’s Farm is our favourite campsite near Taunton. It’s in a great location on the canal, allowing us to easily get into town and is a great price at £10 without electric. We also like the setting in an orchard between apple trees festooned with mistletoe; rabbits, geese and peacocks all roam around the area. Fresh eggs are on sale and, of course, they sell cider.
A night in the campsite allowed us to sort out Bertie ready for a couple of weeks in storage while we stayed at our official home in Taunton. All available bags were put to use to transfer clothes and others essentials from Bertie, who has been our home for the last year, into the brick-and-mortar house. In a couple of weeks we’ll be doing the same in reverse and hopefully it will still all fit.
Once all had been unloaded we dropped Bertie off and cycled back to the house, wondering how it was going to feel to have so much space to knock about in. It didn’t take us long to adapt, but we’re very sure now that we won’t need a big house when we get back from our travels.
We spent our first few days catching up with the family that live in Taunton, doing lots of washing and complaining about how hot it was. We came back to the UK in summer because we expected it to be cooler than the continent. But we seem to have arrived in the middle of a heatwave!
Our drive from Dover to Somerset was not a particularly long one, but by the time we got to Reading we were already shattered, mostly because of the large amount of traffic on the roads and also due to the concentration required to ensure we drove on the right (that’s left) side of the road.
While we stopped for fuel and food in Slough (it having the nearest supermarket fuel station) I had a little scout around on Searchforsites for a parking spot that wasn’t too far away. We haven’t used Searchforsites much in France or Italy, but because it’s a British website it tends to be the best for British parking spots.
I decided that we should head to a parking spot on the Ridgeway – a long distance path over the North Wessex Downs that is badged as ‘Britain’s oldest road’. The parking spot on Hackpen Hill was not very big, but after a couple of cars had left we managed to squeeze ourselves (as much as a seven meter motorhome can be squeezed) into the corner so that we didn’t feel too selfish. We also had a bit of a tidy up, something we have started to do wherever we are. We like to leave a parking spot clean because all too often motorhomes and campervans will be blamed for any rubbish that has been left behind. And of course it’s also a good thing to do.
As we wandered around the area we noticed that there were quite a lot of campervans driving around looking for parking. Paul muttered something about hippies and then we both looked at each other. Of course! It was the summer solstice and we were only a stone’s throw from Avebury.
Only a couple of vans chose to park near us, that stone’s throw was just a bit too far from the main gathering. As we settled down for the night an older man with long grey hair knocked on our window, trying to find his way back to the gathering. As I gave him directions I looked at the unlit narrow roads and asked whether he had a torch. His laid back attitude was that he didn’t need one, but I wasn’t quite so relaxed. While I went back inside and rummaged for a spare torch (I knew we had one knocking about somewhere) he absconded. I just hope he found his way back ok.
Shortly before sunrise – an event neither of us had a particular interest in being awake for – several cars pulled up into the parking area. I listened in to the conversation as the occupants gathered. They were off for a solstice run down the ridgeway to Avebury. Very nice for them, but that meant they would probably be back in an hour or so and we’d have the sound of car doors slamming again. Such are the risks of sleeping in a parking spot, so I cant complain. I wondered if I should pull on my running shoes and join them, but it was just one of those idle thoughts and I drifted back off to sleep as the sound of their footsteps pattered away.
When we finally got out of bed we decided that we would cycle down the ridgeway to Silbury Hill and then across to Avebury, then we could make it a circular ride back to our parking spot. Along the ridgeway we cycled, through dry deep ruts that didn’t ever seem quite wide enough for our pedals. The ridgeway leads directly to The Sanctuary, an ancient wood and stone circle complex that was destroyed by farmers in the 18th century and now has the site of the sarsens and posts marked out by concrete blocks. Down at this end of the ridgeway were many campers in tents, vans, motorhomes and one horse drawn caravan. They had all obviously had a good night celebrating the solstice; some probably very serious about the rituals associated with dawning of the longest day, others more interested in the party that accompanies it.
We took in The Sanctuary, West Kennet Longbarrow, Silbury Hill and Avebury circle and avenues. There were still some robed figures conducting rituals around the stones and a few people just chilling out in the sunshine, but the area is large and despite the date it didn’t seem at all crowded. It is an amazing and thought provoking area of ancient monuments that feels quite rural and wild despite it’s location just off the M4. There was a police presence, and private security at each of the sites, but by now this seemed to be more directed at ensuring the traffic was flowing smoothly than anything else.
That afternoon we made our way to Taunton. We were going home.
We stayed in the motorhome aire at Bergues the night before our Ferry. The aire here has no facilities but is large and popular. It sits just outside the city walls next to a sports complex and amongst allotments where crops and cut flowers are carefully tended. Once we had determined that we could ignore the 3.5tonne limit on the approach road, which applied to the road into the town rather than the road to the aire, it was easy to find.
Bergues was an attractive Flemish town which had been significantly but sympathetically rebuilt after WWII, we had a short wander around but know that we didn’t see many of the sights. I’m sure we’ll find our way back when we are channel hopping at some point.
We booked our return ferry with P&O because it was the cheapest we could find. At £60 for a single crossing it was half the price of the tunnel. A few scare stories had led us to anticipate a disorganised mess of a crossing, but it couldn’t have been further from the truth. Of course we have the luxury of being able to book a mid day crossing, as we aren’t trying to make as much precious time as possible for a short holiday. So after a leisurely start and a quick final supermarket stop we drove to the ferry terminal where we were swiftly ushered into the right queue for our crossing. We had time for a cuppa and a bit of van watching before we needed to board. One of the best bits of being on a campsite or in a queue of motorhomes is seeing what other people have got. We were very impressed with the pristine state of the van next to us which was a good 10 years older than Bertie. It spurred us to talking about washing Bertie, but sadly no further action has taken place on that front.
The ferry was not very busy, probably another reason for the crossing being so easy. Before we knew it we were back in the UK; having to convert back to Miles per Hour, driving on the right and limited motorhome facilities outside campsites. And Traffic! Never have we seen so many vehicles in such a small space.
Nevertheless we are happy to be back in the UK and cant wait to see everyone.
I’m sure that, to some people, the journey through the Channel Tunnel is a boring everyday activity, but for us there was some excitement as we prepared to do something we’ve never done before.
Bertie’s trip on the tunnel was free courtesy of the Tesco Clubcard vouchers we had exchanged. It would have been £118 otherwise, which would make it more expensive than the Dover-Calais ferry.
Because this was a new experience for us we arrived a couple of hours before departure, although now we’ve done it once it would be easy enough to leave it till the last minute if we chose to do it again. The directions from the M20 were easy to follow, and we drove down the designated passenger lanes to the automated entry booths which recognise your number plate and spit out a windscreen hanger which also acts as your ticket. Passing through British and French passport control we were then ‘inspected’ to ensure our gas canisters were closed off. This consisted of being asked whether we’d turned them off – no inspection necessary as we obviously look honest and trustworthy (and of course we were). Finally we could park by the terminal building which offered the usual airport style facilities.
The windscreen hanger gives you a letter for your ‘crossing’ and we sat in the car park watching the large screens which told us when to make our way to the trains. We couldn’t miss the large arrows saying France which directed us to the departure area where we were directed into the lanes for large vehicles (the train has some carriages which are single storey and some that are double decker). At the top of the gangway the train entrance looked pretty small – how were we going to drive Bertie in there? – but as we got closer the scale became clearer and it was easy to get on board.
Driving down the inside of the train was quite bizarre, but very easy and staff directed us where to stop so that they could ensure they could lower the barriers between carriages.
As we set off we got that slightly unsettling feeling of moving, yet not moving, that sometimes happens on trains. Through the small window we could see a limited view of the outside world, and then darkness as we went underground. A short 30 minutes later we could see daylight again. As we were being unloaded from the train we set the sat nav for our destination – Bosc Geffroy – a scant 300 km away and started driving.
The next couple of days were spent preparing for our journey under the sea. Under the eerie light of a sallow sky and umber sun, a product of dust carried in by Hurricane Ophelia, Paul replaced the gears in the REMIstar sunroof and tinkered with the aerial for Bertie’s radio while I made lists of things we needed.
First on the list was two more new tyres, so we used blackcircles again and booked up a morning visit to Autokwik near Maidstone.
Also on the list we wanted some additional locks for our garage which seems the weak point on the van, a key cut for the habitation door, and the makings of a headboard for our bed so that we stop head-butting the window blind. Plus of course shopping for anything we think might be difficult/expensive to purchase in Europe. For me that’s tea, although I like my tea black and relatively weak I’m not keen on Lipton’s yellow label and wanted to take some of Tesco’s everyday tea away with me. I’ve bought enough for three tea bags a day – which is never going to be enough for my tea habit!
We had a couple of overnight stops in Kent; one free parking spot near Maidstone at Barming church – I was uncomfortable about parking outside a church to start with but actually the area was so large I think there would only be problems if there was a service scheduled – and one night at the Aire in Canterbury’s park and ride carpark – a good example of what local authorities can do to welcome motorhomes if they put their minds to it.
We spent a couple of hours in Canterbury doing a spot of shopping, but were a bit put out when we realised we couldn’t get more than a glimpse of the cathedral without paying £12.50 each as there was a single charge to enter the grounds and the cathedral. As we didn’t have time to do the interior justice we decided not to go in, a shame that they don’t have a lower fee for just taking a walk around the outside. We made do with a quick amble around the streets of the old city where there are plenty of timber framed buildings and narrow streets to provide interest.
On the way south we took a small detour around the bottom of the M25 to allow us to visit friends and family who live in South London. We booked into a campsite in Surrey for the duration but didn’t end up spending much time there, Bertie must have felt abandoned, the Low Emissions Zone is not very inviting to motorhomes of a certain age.
Aaron and Kate also made their way down to London to see us before we left the UK, hopefully they will be able to use some of their leave to come and visit us while we’re away.
We had a great day with Mark and Carrie, visiting them on their home turf for the first time (they usually come to Devon) and spent the Sunday with my sister’s family enjoying a roast dinner – masterminded by Aaron – and plenty of time with our niece and nephew.
It feels very strange when we tell people we will now be away from the UK for eight or nine months, although we’ve been on the road for five months so far it has included time spent back in Devon and visiting people around the country. Once we’re on the continent that will not be possible and although we’ll be in touch regularly I know we’ll miss friends and family.
We moved from our overnight parking spot to the National Trust parking at Dunwich Heath ready for a stroll around the heath. The heath to the north and inland was a little uninspiring in the subdued autumnal light so we extended our walk alongside Docwra’s Ditch and then across to RSPB Minsmere before heading back along the coast to the car park.
The landscape on the latter half of the walk was more interesting, we joked that Docwra had made a better attempt on his ditch than Offa – subsequent research seems to indicate that it’s a recent feature built as a firebreak, I have no idea why it specifically named after Docwra though. We stopped in a couple of the enormous and well appointed hides at Minsmere hoping for a sight of something interesting but the wind was keeping the birds away. We did see a hobby though as we walked through the wetlands.
That afternoon we moved onto Sutton Hoo, the site where an Anglo-Saxon burial mound was excavated in the 1930s to reveal an amazing ship burial with it’s treasure intact, including the now iconic Sutton Hoo helmet. The exhibition contained a number of artefacts from various of the burial mounds at Sutton Hoo and replicas of the more substantial treasures which are now in the British Museum. I find this period of British history fascinating, probably because so little is known about it so it crosses the boundaries between history and myth.
Also on the site is the house of Edith Pretty, the landowner who requested the excavation of the mound in the 1930s. It contains the story of the excavation and in particular the race to complete the work once war was declared, much more interesting than I was expecting, and we took a short stroll around the mounds. It always makes me wonder now many treasures have not only been plundered by grave robbers but also just ploughed under by farmers or builders.
Our overnight spot was at some quiet parking on the coast at East Lane near Bawdsey. Sadly the radar station museum was still undergoing refurbishment – all part of the 100th anniversary work according to Aaron – but there was still an opportunity for a morning walk along the coast, so we set off past Shingle Street and along to the mouth of the Ore and it’s shingle spit before heading back. Along the way we saw remains of pillboxes, some falling into the sea, and four impressive Martello Towers – cylindrical forts built to help defend us from Napoleon’s forces. Some of these had been converted to private houses with additional glass roofed structures to provide views out to sea.
That evening we moved on to parking at Felixstowe where we watched with awe as the massive container ships were loaded up with their containers using equally massive cranes. The industrial sound of the loading, with the distant thunder ‘boom’ of each container being settled onto the ship soothed us to sleep, with only the sound of the ship’s horn waking us up as finally it was loaded and could set off to sea.
Aaron’s Graduation was a punctuation mark in our journey, the event that would free us up to travel overseas. But it wasn’t really a full stop, more of a semi colon as we had a few more people to see before we left.
Given we were in Lincolnshire for Aaron, it made sense to continue our journey down the eastern side of the UK and see the members of my family who were in the general direction of the Channel Tunnel – our chosen crossing to France mostly due to the fact that Tesco Clubcard vouchers could be used to pay for the crossing.
My Godmother, Auntie Margaret, lives in Norfolk, which was certainly on the way for us. She is Mum’s best friend from their school days and timing had worked out perfectly, it was my Birthday and Mum and Dad just happened to be visiting. Divine providence or Mum’s planning (the two are pretty much the same thing)?
We made our way down to Thetford forest, with a very frustrating stop off in Ely that came to nothing as parking seems was at a premium on a Saturday, and spent a night in the car park at Two Mile Bottom. Who knows what was going on that night, we closed our blinds and speculated, we have no idea whether our imaginations dreamt up anything close to reality.
We spent the next two nights at the Caravan and Motorhome Club site in Thetford Forest, a very reasonably priced club site as it doesn’t have any toilets, showers etc, just water and waste disposal and the facilities in one’s motorhome or caravan. It gave us a base to meet up with Mum, Dad and Auntie Margaret for a walk, a hefty birthday lunch at the Elveden Inn and then a birthday cream tea provided by Auntie Margaret. I was too stuffed to drink my birthday prosecco which has been saved for another day.
Around all of this we gave Bertie a wash, inside and out, which left Paul aching from the continual stretch and squat of washing Bertie’s outsides. I was less achy, so when we went for a mountain biking session on the morning after my birthday Paul only managed the blue circuit but I felt the need to do the red circuit as well. Luckily there is not a mountain in sight in Thetford Forest so the red mountain biking route didn’t involve staring down an endless set of steep slopes which took away a lot of the fear factor for me. Paul’s achy legs also meant we stumped up for the parking at High Lodge in Thetford Forest – at £8 for a few hours parking it’s certainly the most expensive we’ve paid, but we have taken advantage of the Forestry Commission free car parks often enough that we didn’t feel too upset at the cost.
We had toyed with lots of different options for the next couple of days but decided to stick to Suffolk, so our overnight stop after mountain biking was at Westleton Heath near the Suffolk coast.
Our son Aaron was due to graduate as an RAF officer on 5th October so we had booked a campsite for a few days to use as a base. Wagtail Country Park is just outside Grantham in Lincolnshire, it feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere but in reality is scant minutes from the A1. Paul’s parents and Aaron’s Mum’s family were staying at a hotel in Grantham so we were all within a short distance of each other.
As well as the graduation day itself, full of pomp and ceremony, our time was spent catching up with Paul’s parents and spending time with Aaron and his fiancé Kate who is also in the RAF.
A selection of graduation photographs; proud grandparents, parents and the parade
We were incredibly proud of Aaron for making it through his training, showing great determination and perseverance to get to this stage. His training doesn’t end here, he now moves onto RAF Boulmer where he starts his job specific training as an Aerospace Battle Manager.
The cockerel that had been strutting around the previous evening decided to give full voice at sunrise so we were up bright and early. With the dawning of the new day all was well and the tribulations of the previous day’s shopping were behind us. Even Paul’s sore neck had improved. We made our way to Fountains Abbey in a good mood.
Somehow we had missed visiting any of the Scottish border abbeys, so this visit was to make up for that omission. What I hadn’t realised, until picking up the leaflet at the entrance, was that it’s UNESCO World Heritage status is not solely due to the abbey remains, which are lovely in their own right but not exceptionally different to other ruined abbeys. It is a World Heritage site due mostly to the way in which the ruins of the abbey were incorporated into the 18th century landscaping of Studley Royal Park. Initially the landscaping was created by John Aislabie to draw the eye to Fountains Abbey, but he didn’t own the land the abbey was on. Later he managed to buy the land and so it could be incorporated more fully. The river has been tamed and controlled to create a series of canals and lakes through the park with many features and follies dotted around to offer interesting viewpoints, with the abbey being the ultimate dramatic and romantic view.
The abbey buildings are very impressive in their scale, especially considering it was established by monks who wanted to live a simple life of poverty and abstinence! Although there are buildings of similar age that are wholly intact, somehow the fact that it is a ruin makes it seem even more impressive. I think that it’s because of the amount of the structure that remains despite it being ruined and raided for stone to be used in other buildings.
We had a good day wandering around the abbey and the park. The sun was shining but it was very windy which meant that some of the wooded walks were closed and we missed out on seeing some of the follies and viewpoints, but even so there was plenty to interest us, including the obligatory tea and cake.
As you are probably aware, we were heading south at this point in order to attend Aaron’s passing out/graduation day at RAF Cranwell. As well as a parade and other day time activities, Aaron was very keen for us to attend the graduation ball and I just didn’t have anything to wear.
The only dress I had that was suitable for an even do oft his nature was 15 years old – the dress I had worn to my sister’s wedding. Not only was it old, but it also had a stain on it that even the dry cleaner couldn’t get out – time for a new dress. Paul was ok, he had his dinner jacket and the only item we hadn’t been able to find was his bow tie – an easy purchase to make.
You might think that the opportunity for a bit of shopping would be a delight, the problem is that shopping is one of our least favourite activities. When I do enjoy shopping, it’s rarely in Paul’s company and involves a relaxing day of window shopping without the pressure of a compulsory purchase, maybe with lunch and a glass of wine thrown in. But here we were, heading for Gateshead shopping centre without a shopping friend in sight. Plus Paul had a bad neck and back and was in one of the grumpiest moods I have seen for a long time.
As a result we shopped in record time (do I hear cynical comments about Paul’s supposed sore neck?), we had some things we needed, some things we didn’t need and some things hadn’t been found, but with no desire to prolong the activity we decided to make do. I did at least have a dress that wouldn’t embarrass me.
Once we escaped from Gateshead we made tracks for Gouthwaite Reservoir, a stop over that would allow us to visit Fountains Abbey the next day. We looked forward to going to bed, putting the day behind us and enjoying a peaceful day at Fountains Abbey.
Having crossed the border back into England we thought it was only fitting that we visit Hadrian’s wall to see how the Roman empire managed the border with the wild lands outside it’s control.
We drove into Northumberland National Park past signs for the Golf Masters tournament which was on that weekend. Luckily for us we were too late for any traffic issues and sailed through on nice quiet roads.
Our destination was Housesteads Roman Fort. We had originally wanted to walk a few miles along the wall but Paul had woken up with a stiff neck and by the time he had driven this far he wasn’t feeling very mobile, so instead we satisfied ourselves with a simple visit to the fort complex and associated exhibition. I wasn’t very impressed by the exhibition which seemed quite simplistic. I’m sure that the one at Vindolanda was a lot better, although I went there about 17 years ago so my memory may not be entirely accurate. The fort complex was interesting though, you could see how the standardised layout had been overlaid onto the hilly site with very little regard for appropriateness to the landscape. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the Roman soldiers who were posted here, especially while the fort was still being built.
We had decided on a campsite that evening so we made our way back towards Hexham and Wellhouse Farm campsite. We arrived but couldn’t find anyone to tell us where to pitch up, we had a quick chat to another motorhome owner who said he hadn’t been able to find anyone either and had just parked up. He also warned us that the showers weren’t working which was a shame for Paul as he was hoping for a long hot shower to relax his neck muscles. We parked up on the grass while I went for a bit of a further explore and found that the lady’s showers did work but were a pathetic trickle of luke warm water so we would probably be best off filling up with water and showering in the van. Except we couldn’t, because we were stuck.
I managed to ring the farmer and he agreed to come and tow us out the following morning, so Paul had a shower in the van with our remaining water while I went back to the shower block and tried to make the most of the dreadful shower.
We talked about why this campsite felt so poor and decided that it was pure disappointment. After all it was only £12 a night, and we’ve paid as much to stay on campsites with no shower block at all and felt like we got reasonable value. But the fact that modern, hot, showers are advertised and not delivered turned us off completely. Isn’t it funny how our minds work.
Bertie has been a bad motorhome, using most of our annual repair budget getting through the MOT. We knew that we had an ABS issue, but a couple of other issues and four hours labour doesn’t make a cheap bill. Bertie passed first time last year so I had high expectations. I am very disappointed.
We also bought two new leisure batteries for Bertie; we knew that our current battery wasn’t always going to be sufficient especially with winter approaching and because we want to spend more time wild camping. Leisure batteries aren’t cheap, but the advice is always to buy matching batteries if you are increasing the number you are using – the same capacity and the same age – otherwise the battery performance is always dragged down to the lower of the two.
To top it off our water pump decided to bite the dust. We got back to the motorhome on Saturday evening after a day at the rugby (watching the Gareth Steenson 10 year testimonial which was very entertaining) and could hear the pump running – very odd. I went through and checked all of the taps, none of them seemed to be open. In the end we had to turn off the electricity at the control board to stop it. When we checked the water tank it was completely dry, so maybe one of the taps had been open a fraction. When we re-filled and tried to use the taps we weren’t getting any water – the pump was making feeble whirring noises but not sucking. To cut a long story short we ended up replacing our pump, luckily we have OutdoorBits in Exmouth – a good source of parts and advice. We took the slightly more powerful Shurflo pump than our existing one. Not only does this mean we can now get water from the taps, but it also seems to have cured Bertie’s spluttering and spurting issues and made showering dangerously enjoyable (dangerous for our water usage that is). In all it’s been a good outcome for us, but frustrating that we were forced into spending the money rather than choosing to.
Having the work done also meant we were delayed leaving Exmouth and I started to get a bit ansty; there is a certain feeling of frustration when you make travel plans that are thwarted, I’m sure there must be a specific word for it, if not in English then in another language. We’d had a lovely time being tourists in what we still consider to be our home town, seeing friends and indulging in meals, days out and too much alcohol but we were ready to move on and tackle the next bit of our adventure.
After Croyde we had a brief interlude near Looe with friends. We stayed at possibly the best value campsite I’ve encountered so far – West Weyland – it was school summer holidays but even so a pitch for two people with electric was less than £15, and without electric less than a tenner. You don’t find may campsites that cheap in Cornwall.
And then we were back on the road to North Devon, poor planning on our part as we re-traced our steps along the winding A roads. This time we were spending a few days with Mum and Dad who were staying in their caravan. Our journey was relatively uneventful, but Mum and Dad got stuck in traffic chaos caused by a tragic accident on the North Devon link road.
Our campsite on the Hartland Peninsular was the spacious Stoke Barton Farm and luckily we were nestled behind a hedge as the wind was still blowing – I don’t think it will stop until the school holidays are over. Despite the cover of the hedge we still had to adjust the straps that hold the Kayak on the roof which were thrumming in the wind and using Bertie as a giant sound box.
Mum has covered our days on the Hartland peninsular on her blog which I don’t intend to duplicate, so why not take a look at http://gingergrandma.co.uk/. Below are a few photos for you.
After our Chagstock weekend we had already planned to spend the rest of the week in Croyd with my sister and her family. Fortunately we had booked the campsite in Croyd while we were still working – at £30 a night it would never have made the cut in our new frugal lifestyle. As promised it was a short walk to the beach and the festival trolley came into it’s own as beach transport for tired children.
I’d forgotten how nice Croyd is when you’re away from the massive holiday park. And in fact even the holiday park seems remarkably gentrified since I was last in the area. We wandered through it at one point and took advantage of their well maintained play area.
We had a good Monday and Tuesday, windy it may have been, but the sun came out and at times we even felt warm.
We went in the sea in just bathing suits, no wetsuits for us, and then realised that wetsuits also serve a practical purpose – swimming costumes get pulled around in the surf and need frequent adjustment (extraction even). We went rock pooling and met ‘the enemies’ as well as crabs, shrimps and fish. Good times.
On Wednesday the weather started to deteriorate, but we had my other sister, Vicki, visiting to celebrate her Birthday. Her husband (another Paul) drove her and her two boys all around Devon that day and they ended their day with a visit to Croyd, a birthday BBQ and cake, of course.
Unfortunately Kate’s partner, Hannah, couldn’t make it down to Croyd until the Thursday. Thursday morning was spent in great anticipation and the weather forecast promised that the bad weather would break for the afternoon and give us some sun for a beach afternoon. They lied; we had about half an hour of sunshine before the heavens opened again. Aaron also joined us for the day on Thursday and was of great assistance pulling the kids back up to the campsite in the festival trolley while we battled with body boards against the wind. We retired to Bertie for food and drink to cheer us up.
The week was due to get worse, the forecast was for 40mph westerly winds and as the campsite faced west with no barrier between the sea and our vans…the decision to return home before it got worse was a good one. Poor Hannah only got the one night of holiday, but as she pointed out, it was 21 degrees and sunny in London.
Chagstock is a small and friendly festival near Chagford in Devon, on the north edge of Dartmoor. It’s currently in it’s eleventh year and we have been attending on and off since 2009. In fact it was Chagstock that finally persuaded Paul that camping was bearable, something I had been trying to persuade him of since we met in 2000. Without our camping experiences we would never have thought of buying a motorhome and so we could probably attribute our current adventure to Chagstock.
This year was our first year with small children in tow, we took Aaron when he was 9 but a 9 year old is fairly self sufficient. This time Stephen and Beverly bought their two year old, Emily, and my sister bought her two young children. It’s a different but still fab experience. There was plenty to keep them entertained, and they probably cared less about the weather than us adults.
We turned up in torrential rain intending to camp with Steve and Bev (the campervan field is separate from the tent field and we wanted to be together) but after seeing Paul and Tam getting soaked to the skin erecting one tent I made an executive decision that we would leave the canvas in the garage. Friday afternoon was mostly spent in Bertie as all of us waited for the rain to ease and the bands to start.
Luckily the rain became showery rather than persistent and we managed to have a fantastic festival time. All children (and adults) cope with festivals in different ways. My niece and nephew needed their beds whereas Emily was quite happy to sleep in her trailer until later in the evening. Regardless, the idea was to relax and enjoy the weekend.
On Saturday the headliners were The Shires who were excellent despite my previous opinion that they were a bit blandly ‘Radio 2’. As per usual though it was the bands we had never heard of that we enjoyed the most. For me the stand outs were the Raghu Dixit Project – infectiously enthusiastic music with Indian roots but many other influences, Skinny Lister – a folk band with plenty of energy, especially from the female vocalist (sadly no fiddle though), the Goat Roper Rodeo band – a country/blues band with a great double bass player and Buster Shuffle – a fun ska band with hints of Madness and a bit of interesting keyboard playing.
On Sunday morning we watched as campervans, caravans and motorhomes left the site. The mud at the site exit was deep and rutted. Most of the smaller vehicles managed, but caravans in particular were finding the exit angle tricky (one poor caravan managed to take out the gatepost on the way out, must have done some awful damage to the back corner of their van, but probably made it easier for the vehicles that came through later) and heaver vehicles were finding it difficult to maintain their momentum despite the encouragement of the festival marshals to ‘keep moving’. Straw and sawdust were being piled onto the mud to try and improve things but it was not looking good.
My sister left the site with ease in her VW California which skipped light-footed over the ruts, and finally we decided that we would make a break for it. Bertie valiantly made for the exit and Paul kept his foot on the accelerator to maintain the revs but we got stuck just before the tarmac, a bit of a push from the marshals finally got us over the lip of the tarmac and onto a proper road – phew. Many thanks to the marshals and other support staff that helped to clear the field. It must have been a wet and muddy job!
The dates for next year have been announced and we will most definitely be back again.
One of the things I wanted to do while in the Forest of Dean area was to cycle the Peregrine path alongside the Wye. Our wild camping spot was a bit too far from the Wye for our cycling legs so we moved a bit closer. We were going to miss this camping spot and the forest generally. I haven’t heard so much bird song in a long time, it was as if the dawn chorus continued all day, and there is something special about deciduous forests which have a much wider variety of plant and animal life that some of the heavily managed coniferous woodlands.
We couldn’t find any free spots nearer to the Wye so we booked a couple of nights on an enormous campsite – Bracelands – a mile or so from the Wye. Luckily it was very quiet so we felt like we had loads of space – I wonder how it feels in high season with all the pitches taken?
Over the last couple of days we had seen the weather really start to heat up, and during our couple of days at Bracelands we saw barely a cloud in the sky. We even treated ourselves to a BBQ.
We rode our bikes down the long hill from the campsite, trying to put the return climb out of our minds. When we reached the river cycle path we turned right at first towards Symonds Yat, then we turned back towards Monmouth. Although the bike path was well maintained, wide and level, it was annoyingly a little far from the river to really allow us to get great views. So at the Biblins bridge we decided to cross the river and take the footpath instead. A little more tricky under our wheels, with narrow sections, roots and dips, it was both more fun and much more scenic, even if it was a bit naughty.
Along the route we stopped for occasional rests to watch the river life, there were plenty of large fish (trout or maybe even salmon) jumping for flies, lots of birds as well as canoeists and swimmers making the most of the lovely weather. The trees created lots of pleasant dappled shade to keep the sunshine at bay.
At Monmouth we topped up supplies for the BBQ, this meant I had a pannier with another 10kg in it to get up the hill back to the campsite. I walked up the last steep section!
Our next stop was the Forets of Dean for some wild camping.
Wild camping usually means two key things, firstly finding somewhere to park overnight where no-one is going to object and secondly relying on the resources in the van for day to day needs.
Bertie had been topped up with water when we left the Mendips, that would take care of drinking and washing, Bertie’s toilet had been emptied, which would take care of sanitary requirements (wee and poo in other words – we don’t know how many days we can go before it will be full up, but we’ll find out I’m sure) and one of our refillable gas canisters had been installed and filled, to take care of heating, cooking and the fridge. Hopefully the solar panels would mean our leisure battery would stay topped up for that most important of needs – connectivity.
We found a spot in a forestry car park, busy with cyclists and dog walkers but big enough for everyone. Later that evening, as the day time visitors started to leave, we were joined by a German and another British Motorhome.
We stayed here for two nights, at one point a chap rolled up in a Motorhome next to us and started chatting about the Bore, it took us a little while to understand that he’d seen the big yellow banana (kayak) on the roof and wondered if we were going to ride the Severn bore. We weren’t. We had toyed with going to watch but given it was due to happen over the bank holiday weekend we’d decided to leave it for another occasion.
We made the most of the next couple of days with bike rides and wanders through the woods, at one point we thought that the woods all looked the same, but it was just us going round in circles.
There was an interesting sculpture trail, some picturesque ponds, and most exciting was our close encounter with a Wild Boar; we were cycling along the nice easy family cycle path when I heard a loud rustling in the undergrowth, ‘wow – that’s one big dog’ was my first thought as something large and brindled charged out of the undergrowth, across the path and into the bushes on the other side of the cycle track. By the time I’d realised it was a boar, put my brakes on and fumbled my phone from my pocket it was way too late for a photograph, but I was really chuffed to have seen my first wild boar.
Our final day in the Mendips was spent on our own as Aaron and Kate went to the Fleet Air Arm museum to take advantage of their free entry.
We decided to do the Strawberry Line cycle route to Clevedon. We knew it was going to be a grey day, so we’re prepared for rain. But it rained! By the time we got to Yatton we’d had enough and turned round to go back, after all it would still be a 24 mile cycle, even if it was all on pretty easy cycle track.
On the way back a rare spot of blue sky and sunshine appeared at the same time as we cycled past the Thatchers mill in Sandford, buoyed by a sign of improving weather we decided we would stop for a quick one. Cider really is Paul’s favourite alcoholic drink and it would be rude to pass by without stopping.
Well then the rain started again, so why would we move on – a second pint was ordered. And then we realised that Exeter Chiefs were playing their premiership semi-final against Sarries. The phone was propped up against the menus and we started to watch a very close game. A third pint was ordered to see the match through to a very exciting climax, and Chiefs won! Chiefs! Chiefs! Chiefs!
When we finally left, powered by three pints, the rain didn’t bother us.
ps I don’t drink Cider (evil stuff that has an aftertaste of vomit – or maybe that’s just my teenage memories) so I had a beer or two instead.