A Very Important Birthday

06/09/18 – 09/09/18

Feeling like we were on possibly the shortest tour of the UK’s market towns we returned to Taunton. More celebrating was on the cards as Nan’s 90th birthday was imminent.

Nan was making the most of a fortuitous weekend Birthday with a lunch on Saturday in the medieval hall of Blackmore Farm, followed by a cream tea at home and then breakfast at Rumwell Farm Shop on the Sunday (the actual Birthday). Family had been gathered from around the country, children, grand children and great-grandchildren were present to help with the celebrations, close family friends (practically family after all) joined us in the celebrations. 

Family and friends gathered at Blackmore Farm
Waiting for dinner in the great hall

Ninety Years! Trying to imagine the changes that a ninety year old has seen is almost impossible. The ability to keep up, from the point when motorisation and automation was rare to the present computerised day, is not something that should be taken lightly. Despite Nan’s protestations she has kept up with the changes well, uses her laptop regularly (a new laptop was one of her gifts), banks online and is a keen texter. She is even looking forward to getting her first smart phone now that there is one available from the fantastic Doro.  

One of Nan’s gifts, a complement to her conscientiously kept diary and work in progress memoirs, was a picture album ranging from her childhood to the present day. It was handed from person to person while we enjoyed cream teas (hands were wiped clean first), with pictures taking us back to the time when Nan was a child and my great grandparents worked the land, through important weddings, family gatherings, and other events. Pictures started in black and white, until the early colour photos started to reveal things you may never have guessed from the monochrome prints, like the startlingly bright auburn of my Mum’s hair. Modern pictures may be more realistic but there is something evocative about the artificially painted quality of those colour photos. 

Me, my sisters and Nan

All too soon the gathered family members dispersed and went their separate ways, mostly back to the Luton/Watford/Bedford area. Who knows, in ten years time we may be celebrating a centenary, whether I’m still blogging at that point I don’t know, but I hope that I follow in Nan’s footsteps and keep a record of my day to day life.  

An Unexpected Journey

28/08/18 – 05/09/18

About 6 weeks ago we were on our way to Northumberland to spend a couple of weeks with Aaron and fiancé Kate, both of whom serve in the RAF. Now we were on our way back again to celebrate their last minute decision to tie the knot.

During the two weeks we spent with them they had shared their thoughts on their potential wedding. They didn’t want anything over the top and had been considering going abroad with close family and friends, or maybe a small wedding in the UK. We joked about them running away to get married without telling anyone. It was obvious they had been discussing their options and had lots of factors to consider, not least the armed forces rather old fashioned approach to couples (i.e. you have to be married or in a civil partnership to be considered for benefits like married quarters). Little did we know that a couple of weeks later they would have evaluated their options and decided to go ahead with a small wedding as soon as possible, although perhaps we should have seen it coming. 

With Kate due to be posted abroad in mid September they didn’t have a huge window of opportunity, and so the date was set as the 1st. We were notified by WhatsApp – how else would you let your parents know that you were getting married! Paul’s suit was dusted off and I ransacked the storage unit for possible dresses and had a minor meltdown when I couldn’t find any of my nice shoes. We booked a small site in Alnwick so that we could be within walking distance (the Shepherd’s Rest was expensive for a certified site, but we were paying for convenience).

Before we made our way up North we spent a few days in Taunton with my family, this time including youngest sister (also called Kate) and her two children. Then we made the long journey north, stopping off for a night in the carpark of the Bluebell Inn near Shirley in the midlands.

Entertaining the kids at French Weir park in Taunton

After a lovely intimate wedding with plenty of good food and drink, as befits such a food obsessed couple, we followed them down to Scampton where they were picking up the keys to married quarters. A substantial but empty three bedroomed house. Our role was to be there when various deliveries arrived and help sort out the various practical needs of moving into new accommodation. A flat pack extravaganza later and their house was looking more like a home and we could leave them to enjoy it for the few days before Kate’s posting. 

Flat Pack heaven – I was reading the instructions!

We are so proud of Aaron and Kate. No one can ever know what life has in store for them, but it’s always better with someone you love by your side. Here’s to the happy couple.

Just married

 

Bank Holiday Fun

24/08/18 – 27/08/18

The weather had truly turned by the time August bank holiday weekend came around. Gone were the long sunny, unnaturally warm days. Welcome back to the typical bank holiday weather; damp, cool and unsettled.

It got pretty chilly at times, blankets were needed.

But nothing was going to stop us enjoying ourselves. We were booked to spend the weekend with friends at Forest Glade campsite on the Devon/Somerset border. A motorhome, caravan and tent, 7 adults and one small child. We had booked it up quite late but they managed to get us into three very spacious pitches next to each other and the price wasn’t bad either.

Did I say one tent? I forgot about the VW.

We had a lovely weekend enjoying the facilities on the site. There was a small pool under a greenhouse style shelter – I bet it was lovely in the warm weather but it was a little chilly for us. The adventure playground had a very good zip wire (it’s not just for kids!), and an area for smaller children. There are plenty of bridleways and paths around the site, which is on a very level plateau on top of a hill, surrounded by forests, moorland and farms. I even managed a run (with Beverly) as well as several walks around the site.  

 

We Passed Our MOT

15/08/18 – 23/08/18

We took Bertie back to Tedburn St Mary and the accommodating and helpful MC services to have various repairs done to get through the MOT. As well as the steering rack and CV joint repairs we needed a few bits and pieces done including repair to the exhaust and handbrake adjustment. Bertie seems happier now, and if Bertie is happy then so are we.

Paul’s Dad took advantage of our visit to have some logs delivered to rebuild his winter log supply. A couple of hours saw us stack three tonnes of logs in one of the outbuildings. Paul and his Dad are very similar so I got lots of ‘helpful advice’ from both of them on the best log stacking technique. Let’s hope that it doesn’t fall over like some giant game of Jenga. We did such a good job of stacking logs that we were then invited to help fill bags of ice for ‘Mike the Fish’. Our reward was a roast dinner at the local pub, at OAP rates. Cheap labour.

Neatly stacked logs

We left Tedburn, had a quick stop in Taunton to do some chores, visit the family and get some washing done before going back down to Exmouth. We got our fix of rugby at a pre-season friendly for the Chiefs. Fingers crossed we will get to see them playing French side Castres in October.

All smiles at the rugby

While in Exmouth we also visited a few friends and had one day following the Exe estuary trail on our bikes, going from Exmouth into Exeter and then back out to Dawlish, before retracing our route a short distance back to Starcross where we got the foot (and cycle) ferry back to Exmouth.

Catching up with the gorgeous Sebastien (and his parents)

We spent most of the time on the campsite in Exmouth but also tried out the parking at the Imperial Recreation ground. This is one of the designated Motorhome parking areas in Exmouth now that overnight parking is no longer allowed at the seafront. It’s a lovely spot overlooking the estuary with views of stand up paddlers, kayakers and kite surfers enjoying the calm, shallow waters of the ‘dock pond’, but I can foresee some conflicts arriving between the motorhomes and the people who use that area for water based activities (although some people combine both). At £11 for twenty four hours it’s not cheap, but there were plenty of motorhomes using it, by the Thursday the majority of vehicles were motorhomes. 

Approaching Exmouth on the ferry

 

 

Two Descend on Dorset

08/08/18 – 14/08/18

Enid Blyton, author of the Famous Five books (amongst many others), was a great lover of the Dorset countryside, particularly the Isle of Purbeck and it’s main town Swanage. You can see how closely the landscape resembles the descriptions in her books, the ruined Corfe Castle, the bay at Lulworth Cove, the heathery moorland of Godlingston Heath. Any trip to the area brings back memories of reading her books. Of course when I read her books nearly 40 years ago I had no idea of the controversy that would arise over their racist, sexist and classist content, I just saw them as wonderful examples of the adventures that could be had by children who managed to escape their parents.

It hadn’t been long since our last visit to the area with my Nan, and we had promised ourselves that we would return in Bertie to do some more exploring. So when I looked on the Out and About App and found that there were three Temporary Holiday Sites in the area we knew we would be heading that way.

On the Temporary Holiday Site near Corfe Castle – a huge field with plenty of space

For anyone unfamiliar with Dorset, the Isle of Purbeck is not actually an island, but is a peninsular bordered by Poole Harbour and the River Frome to the north and the sea to the south and east. A line that runs roughly from Wool in the north, to Lulworth Bay in the south, makes up the western boundary. There are extensive firing ranges on the moorland, which are not usually used in summer or during weekends. Activity on the firing ranges can make some places inaccessible but you check up online.

We ended up spending a week on the THS near to Corfe Castle. The area is beautiful and has lots of opportunities for getting outdoors. We took two long walks, one along the chalk ridge to Studland and then to Swanage, the other south, following the Purbeck way to the coast at Chapman’s Pool and then along the coast path to Dancing Ledge. There is an excellent summer bus service that runs around the Purbeck and Poole area and we used the buses to return to the campsite after we’d worn ourselves out, waiting for the next bus was a good opportunity for a beer.

We had a bike ride on the cycle tracks across the heath, heading up to Arne nature reserve and then over to Studland. At Arne we wandered around the reserve and stopped to watch the birds wading in the shallow waters of Poole harbour  from the large hide. On a separate occasion we cycled to Studland where we met with Mum and Dad, my nephews, Auntie Margaret (Mum’s best friend from her school days), her sisters, children and grandchildren. In all there were seventeen of us and we joined the throng on what little space existed at high tide. The weather didn’t promise wall to wall sunshine but was still warm enough for swimming and a bit of SUP action.

Our encampment on Knoll Beach – Studland – photo courtesy of ginger grandma

In Corfe Castle we visited the eponymous castle, bringing back memories of previous visits when Aaron was small. We wandered around the town and topped up supplies at the local shop and the bakery. The bakery seemed to be staffed with all of the local population of teenagers who spent a lot of time staring vacantly into space avoiding eye contact with customers. Our wanderings always took us through the station for the local steam railway service where we could watch the trains going too and fro. The sound of the whistle accompanied our stay in the THS, and when the final train had been put to bed in the evening we had the distant sound of firing on the ranges, and the sight of the Perseid meteors to keep us entertained.

We didn’t solve any mysteries or drink any ginger beer but we had a blissful time in Dorset.

 

Another 40th Birthday

31/07/18 – 07/08/18

We still had a few mundane activities to take care of, a trip to the dentist for both of us (no work required – phew), a trip to the optician for me and a much needed trip to the Chiropractor for Paul who has been suffering with his back and shoulders since our skiing trip (where the majority of the injury was gained by falling over on the way to the shower block). Needless to say these appointments were spread out over a number of days because it was impossible to line them up and get them over and done with. 

Bertie had new wipers, a fuel filter change and a bit of a dig around to find out what was causing the fan to make a strange noise – turns out we had a leaf stuck in the fan, that was a nice easy one.

As a welcome counterpoint to the humdrum, this week’s special occasion was Carrie’s 40th birthday. A fabulous night out was had by all, starting with bowling and ending in a club. How did that happen? – I repeatedly tell people I have no inclination to ever go in a club again. I blame it on the under 40s – you know who you are – in the group who haven’t yet reached the point where hangovers last for 48 hours, we felt rather jaded on the Sunday and almost back to normal on the Monday.

Birthday celebrations

What else happened over this time? We had a lovely evening cycling to Budleigh Salterton beach where I felt very smug because I also went for a run while Paul fished for our supper. (this was obviously before our night out!) He caught enough mackerel to make dinner for us and the Eynon family the following evening too.  

Beautiful Budleigh
Mackerel supper

We also had a BBQ lunch and visit to A la Ronde with Kayleigh. A la Ronde is a national trust property in Exmouth, a 16 sided house built by cousins Mary and Jane Parminter. It’s an interesting house with amazing views and a gallery lined with intricate designs made from shells and other natural materials. It’s so delicate that it can only be viewed from afar or by camera.

A la Ronde and spectacular views across the Exe estuary

 

 

  

A Visit to Cragside and a Long Journey South

29/07/18 -30/07/18

For our final weekend in Northumberland we moved again, this time to a newly opened Temporary Holiday Site in Alnwick. This THS was quite different to the one at Beadnell, it was located at the Alnwick Rugby Club so was quite close to town and was much quieter than the one at Beadnell. I may have put my foot in it by mentioning that we’d come from Beadnell as the warden was quite uppity with us, she muttered that Beadnell THS crammed people far too close together, but we actually ended up closer to our neighbours here. Anyway, despite my faux pas, we liked it here. We had the use of the rugby club changing rooms for showers and toilets, the ladies were spotlessly clean but Paul said that the gents were a little more run down, probably an indication of the proportion of male to female rugby players. It was also possible to get electric hook up if needed.

We had a day out at Cragside, a National Trust property about 10 miles away. The bus to Cragside left from the main road near the rugby club, it doesn’t run very frequently but had services that allowed us to get there at 11 and leave at 4 which was plenty of time. The bus driver asked us what time we were planning to come back so he could look out for us, the staff on duty at the entrance to Cragside told us that the bus had occasionally missed people who were waiting at the stop and one kind gentleman said that if we missed the bus back he could give us a lift to Alnwick, but we didn’t have any issues in the end. The bus was incredibly quiet with only one other passenger on each journey. You can see why services get reduced.

The Mock Tudor exterior of Cragside

Cragside was a great day out, a really interesting house and grounds. The house was built by Victorian engineer and industrialist William Armstrong, who was later given the title of Baron Armstrong. It was the first home to be lit by hydro electricity and William Armstrong was a true ‘early adopter’ installing an hydraulic lift, dumb waiter, dishwasher and other electrically operated gizmos as well as the famed lighting. Around the grounds you can see the way in which he harnessed the water to power the house and later added steam engines to supplement the power. I thought the house externally was a rather ugly Victorian mock Tudor manse, but inside there was a wealth of over the top Victorian details, massive marble inglenook fireplaces and substantial amounts of arts and crafts wood panelling, tiling and stained glass. It was all rather ostentatious, but this was offset by the interesting ‘downstairs’ rooms and the engineering details. I loved it.

The Iron Bridge over the stream at Cragside
Waterwheel
Truly enormous inglenook fireplace – the internal dimensions of the ‘nook’ are not much smaller than our van!

We spent plenty of time with Aaron and Katie over the weekend, including a visit to RAF Boulmer for Family Day. This gave us the opportunity to see how they live on base; it’s very like student accommodation with a room each, shared bathrooms but no kitchen to speak of (the expectation is that they eat in the mess). They cant wait to get into a house and I cant blame them. Sadly we had to say goodbye on the Sunday evening, but we’ll be seeing them soon when they come down for Nans 90th birthday celebrations.

We managed to drive back down to Taunton in one hit on the Monday, it was a long day but we took it easy with plenty of stops and eight hours later we were back. 

Getting Around near Beadnell

23/07/18 – 27/07/18

I have always been a fan of public transport. I didn’t learn to drive until I was in my late twenties, and that was more out of necessity for work rather than any desire to actually do any driving. Unlike many people I didn’t equate the ability to drive with any form of freedom, after all you cant read books while driving and that is a serious impediment to my liberty! I suppose it also helps that I always lived in towns within easy walking distance of amenities, had I lived in a village in the middle of nowhere things may have been different. Certainly Paul has a completely different perspective.

On our travels so far we haven’t used as much public transport as we expected, we’ve moved the motorhome to be close to the attractions we want to visit and the trailheads for walks and bike rides. It’s just part and parcel of the way we have travelled, moving every one or two days. It’s also a sign of how well the countries we have visited are set up for motorhomes, the parking areas seem to be in the right places. Now we’re in the UK we are finding ourselves spending more time in one place and a static Bertie means that we need to find a way to get out and about.

By this point we were in the Temporary Holiday Site at Annstead Farm near Beadnell. We took the plunge and moved from the campsite at £22 a night (without electric) to this THS at £8 a night. The THS was as busy as the campsite, but the wardens explained that they try not to turn anyone away; their overflow field and the ability to squeeze some of the generously sized pitches give them room to manoeuvre and still stay within the rules (minimum of 6m from the neighbouring unit). By the time we left on Friday we had been rearranged to provide a pitch for another motorhome between us and our neighbour. They started with over 100 spaces, who knows how many units were on site by the end. 

All lined up on the well organised THS

From here we were able to walk the coast path in either direction and make use of the excellent X18 bus that runs along the coast between Newcastle and Berwick-upon-Tweed. The bus comes with a bit of tourist commentary, and kept us entertained as it pointed out key sights along the route.

On our walks we visited Long Nanny, the location of a breeding colony of Little and Artic Terns. The beach is closed off and a community of volunteers and naturalists live on-site during the breeding season. Sadly this year hasn’t been a good one for the Little Terns whose nests were almost wiped out by a storm earlier in the year. We spent a little while talking to one of the rangers who explained how they raise the nests off the ground to try and protect them from high tides and storms. While the parents are away, each nest is painstakingly removed from the ground, boxes full of sand and shingle are then placed over the nest site and the nest is reconstructed on top. By the time the parent birds return it all looks the same as when they left – just a foot higher. All the time we are talking the more successful arctic terns are noisily wheeling around overhead, readying themselves for their migration.

The beach at Long Nanny
The river at Long Nanny
View from the bird hides at Newton-by-the-Sea

Dunstanburgh Castle sits on an outcrop of rock looking out over the surrounding farmland and sea. It’s one of those evocative ruined castles, sufficiently intact to clamber about in the towers or the remains of the bailey walls. We used our NT membership to visit for free and ate our lunch while watching children running around with wooden swords playing at being knights. You could tell that the school holidays had started. There are plenty of other castles around but we chose to view Bamburgh Castle and Alnwick Castle from the outside rather than pay the entry fees. I’m sure we’ll be up this way again.

Approaching Dunstanburgh Castle from the north
View from the towers at Dunstanburgh Castle

Craster was the furthest south that we managed to walk in one hit, famous for it’s kippers, the smell of smoke and fish wafts through the village. It’s much nicer than it sounds. We visit a number of other pretty villages on our explorations, Embleton Newton-by-the-Sea, Seahouses, Beadnell and Bamburgh are all attractive places, but Craster is our favourite and we can sit and watch the harbour for hours.

Looking out to sea at Craster harbour
View from the coast path round Bamburgh golf course

We ended the week being treated to a slap up meal by Aaron and Katie, we indulge our love of seafood with a couple of massive seafood platters at The Old Boathouse in Amble. It’s a wonderful meal and food wins this contest – we have to take home the smoked salmon for lunch the next day.

Enjoying fabulous food
So much seafood!

 

Sushi lessons in Northumberland

19/07/18 – 22/07/18

It has been seven months since we last saw our son Aaron, when he came out to visit us in Spain just before Christmas. Since then he has got engaged to his girlfriend Katie and they have both been living at RAF Boulmer in Northumberland. Paul and I are both rather excited to be going up for a visit, it’s a stunning part of the country, but one that we only skirted while we were on the UK part of our travels last year. 

It’s a long old drive from Devon to the North East, especially in a machine as sedate as Bertie, so we gave ourselves permission to stop en-route. We ended up stopping on the edge of the North York Moors in the town of Helmsley, it’s one of those rare examples of a town that has designated motorhome parking, albeit with no facilities. We divert off of the A1 and follow the A170 eastwards, wondering if we should follow the diversion for caravans and HGVs. By the time we made a decision we were already climbing the steep switchback of Sutton Bank, at one point a 25% climb. Bertie made it, but was close to pushing the car in front up the hill as we tried to maintain momentum. Paul was not happy with the car in front who decided to take the hill in 1st gear at about 5mph, there was a lot of muttering coming from the driver’s seat. If we had stopped there is little chance we would have managed to start again, except by rolling backwards down the hill. We made a note to take the diversion if we came this way in future.

Helmsley in an attractive Yorkshire market town with a ruined castle and market square and many stone buildings glowing a warm gold in the glorious sunshine. We stretch our legs with a walk around the town and surrounding footpaths. It has the sort of shopping that is great for passing the time, more tourist oriented than practical, but we do manage to pick up some bits for our tea in the local co-op. Our night passed incredibly peacefully in the car park and we wake feeling more refreshed than we have for some time. 

Helmsley Castle
We pass by Byland Abbey on the way north from Helmsley

The following morning we stopped for fuel and shopping before moving onto Beadnell Bay where we had our initial three nights booked in at the Caravan and Camping Club site. It’s a busy site with a long queue of caravans and motorhomes waiting for the 1pm opening time. We booked our first few nights here because of a slight, and unfounded, nervousness about getting a space on the nearby Temporary Holiday Site (THS). It is a pretty bog standard campsite which has the benefit of a good position just across the road from a long dune-backed beach and a short distance away from Beadnell to the south and Seahouses to the north. There is also a food stand which does reasonably priced breakfasts and fish and chip suppers, we didn’t manage to sample any ourselves but looked with yearning at the huge and crispy portions of battered fish. 

However we don’t go hungry as Aaron and Katie both love to eat. Being young and fit they can afford to and we spend the next few days feeling permanently stuffed as we tried to keep up with them. We wore off some of the calories with walks to see the countryside and coast that Northumberland have to offer. We visit Beadnell and Seahouses, where the number of fish and chip restaurants beggars belief and where we see dolphins frolicking just outside the harbour. We walk around the island of Lindesfarne with the eerie keening of the seal colony a constant background noise, and we venture into Alnwick (which I have to constantly remind myself is pronounced Annick) to see a small parade, part of the RAF 100 celebrations. After our trip to Alnwick, Aaron and Katie give us a lesson in Sushi making and we get carried away making maki rolls of various flavours.

Pots and nets at Beadnell Lime Kilns
Meadows on Lindesfarne
Sheds near Lindesfarne castle
Beach at Lindesfarne
Alnwick market square
The Pipes and Drums – I imagine they were feeling rather warn
Fabulous beach at Howick
Home made maki rolls

          

Steering in the Wrong Direction

16/07/18 – 18/07/18

A long time ago, in a land far far away (well, Spain) we had a bit of an issue with our steering. When adjusting our tracking the mechanic managed to break the adjustment arm and ended up welding it in place.

As we had just shelled out for new front tyres we didn’t want to be driving long distances without checking our tracking again, plus we wanted to get the temporary weld upgraded to a proper fix, so we booked Bertie into our usual garage to get it sorted out. We dropped Bertie off at the garage and Paul’s parents picked us up and took us back to Tedburn St Mary where we would spend the next couple of nights.

Frustratingly it was two days later that the garage told us they couldn’t fit Bertie on the ramps, something that should have been evident as soon as they saw the vehicle. With a long drive to Northumberland planned we were not best pleased and set about looking for an alternative garage who could fit us in at short notice and at least adjust the tracking, even if they couldn’t fully fix the steering before our trip up north.

Paul’s Dad to the rescue, he mentioned a garage down the road from their house who serviced farm machinery and commercial vehicles, they were bound to be able to fit us on their ramps. Could they fit us in to do the work?

In the end they nudged the tracking towards acceptable, but couldn’t fit us in until August. So after bidding Paul’s parents farewell we set off towards Northumberland, hoping that we weren’t doing too much damage to the tyres on the way.  

Clubbing in the UK

When we first got Bertie we joined both of the main clubs in the UK – The Caravan and Motorhome Club (CMC) and the Camping and Caravanning Club (CCC). We were working, so the cost of joining was not an issue, and we really believed we would get good use from them. However it just wasn’t the case, we wild camped (i.e. spent the night outside of a designated campsite), and camped in privately owned campsites but only spent about two weeks in club sites, a couple of bigger sites and a couple or three certified sites. Although the clubs do offer discounts on other things useful for travel abroad (insurance, ferry travel etc) we found they couldn’t match what we were already getting, so as soon as we could we cancelled our memberships.

On return to the UK we decided to take a more considered approach to joining a club. Originally we had just thought that we wouldn’t bother, but a recent post on facebook had alerted us to the existence of Temporary Holiday Sites (THS) run by volunteers in the CCC. These sites are usually cheap and don’t always have facilities (other than water and waste disposal), a bit like a temporary aire. With our eyes opened we looked at the various clubs again, paying more attention to information about rallys rather than the main campsites.

This time in the UK we weren’t going to be touring extensively, we wanted to spend most of our time in three places; home in Taunton, visiting our old haunts in Exmouth and visiting our son in Northumberland. Our experience is that it is quite easy to ‘wild camp’ in the UK if you want to spend one or possibly two nights in a parking spot and aren’t heading for an exact destination, but because we wanted to spend long periods in specific places we were intending to use campsites for the majority of the time.

We had a look at the places we wanted to be and the overnight options in those places and decided that the Camping and Caravanning Club would be our best bet. It offers a very nice certified site in Exmouth and we were able to find out (through their Out and About section) that there were two THS in Northumberland in the summer. In Taunton we’ll have Bertie in storage some of the time, but when we need a campsite we’ll use Tanpit’s Farm which is a great value private site.

As we were being scientific about the process we looked at the numbers – last year it cost us an average of £18.36 per night to stay on campsites in the UK. We expected to stay at least 10 nights on THS at £8 a night and 13 nights in the Exmouth CS at £13 a night, plus the £39 membership fee.  That works out as an average of £12.52 per night, definitely worth it. The additional benefits of easy search engines and apps for THS and sites, plus facebook communities are the icing on the cake.  

 

 

 

No More Wet Trainers

09/07/18 – 15/07/18

After our time in Taunton we picked up Bertie from storage and took the short drive to Exmouth, settling ourselves on a good value campsite with fantastic views across Lympstone and the Exe estuary. Exmouth was our home for 17 years and we were excited to be going back to see our friends in the town.

Bertie’s view of the Exe estuary

In between all of the social activity we took the opportunity of the long dry spell to remove and re-seal our roof light. The leak from our roof has been a constant irritation since we got the van, but every time we’ve been somewhere appropriate to fix it the weather has been too wet. We have learned to park with our nose pointing slightly downhill so that water runs off of us rather than into us, but even so we sometimes find ourselves caught out. Usually the resulting drips end up in one of my trainers. Only one, and if I’m lucky I realise what’s happened before I put it on. Mostly I end up with a wet foot.

After a quick chat to get permission from the campsite owner (who happened to work in the electrical industry so had plenty in common with Paul, including knowing a lot of the same people) Paul set to work.

Removing the REMIstar roof light was a lot easier than envisaged. The internal trim came off easily once the screws were removed and the electrics were disconnected. The main part of the unit was held on with two large screws and angle brackets and despite concerns that we might need brute force to prise it off, it lifted out with no problems, leaving sealant on the roof but none on the unit itself.

I was getting ready to go out for lunch so played no part in the process apart from making encouraging noises every time Paul showed me something. It was definitely a one-man job, I’m sure I would have just been in the way.

When the unit had been lifted off it was easy to see why we had a leak, the sealant was not one continuous line but must have been ‘blobbed’ on and there were three largish gaps along the front edge of the rooflight. Although it was highly frustrating to see the shoddy workmanship, it was pretty pleasing to find an obvious problem that would be easy to resolve. We were pleased that we couldn’t see any evidence of water ingress between the layers of material in the roof, the recent dry weather had done it’s job.

The hard work for Paul was cleaning the roof of all the old sealant so that he could re-seal with confidence. Some gentle scraping with a super sharp scraper and a bit of final cleaning left that section of roof brighter and whiter than the rest.

We re-sealed with Skiaflex 221 as recommended by our local motorhome repair shop; it remains permanently elastic so allows for the movement of the roof, something that is particularly important to us as we keep the kayak on the roof and getting it off and on definitely creates a bit of flex. If you read up on-line there is a lot of disagreement as to the best sealant to use, but there are two things everyone agrees on; don’t use a setting adhesive and don’t use silicone. 

The prolonged spell of hot dry weather meant that we didn’t see the results until two weeks later. Happily we can report that the we had no water ingress during the thunderstorms that hit the country last weekend.

 

Home. Are we there yet?

03/07/18 – 08/07/18

Our sensation of returning home when we were on the ferry back to the UK was mostly the anticipation of the familiar (we had two KFC meals on the way back to Taunton – don’t judge us!) and the excitement of seeing the people we’ve missed.

It got us thinking; what is home?. Is it our current residential address? Is it the house we have lived for ten years but is now occupied by tenants? Is it Bertie, our motorhome? We didn’t have an answer but we know now that it isn’t about physical location, it’s a combination of the way it makes us feel (secure and comfortable), the activities we undertake (mundane day to day things associated with just living) and the people who matter to us.     

Since returning ‘home’ we’d had two short breaks while Bertie was in storage, and Paul was heading out on a third; a fishing trip to Alderney with his Dad. This is an annual boys trip with various family members (depending on who’s available) and other keen fishermen. It involves an early start and so Paul decided to take the train down to Exmouth where he would stay with friends before setting out at an unmentionable hour the following morning. Only an hour later and he was back, the departure date having been put back by 24 hours. The following day he finally made it.

Paul and Pollack

With Paul away I spent some quality time with my parents and sister Vicki’s family and got on with making appointments; dentist, optician, chiropractor (for Paul) and most importantly hair. Because I’m a bit of a wimp I had avoided having a haircut while abroad, hairdressers can be intimidating enough without the addition of communication challenges. So I had eight months worth of straw like sun, heat and cold damaged hair that desperately needed to be removed. There is nothing quite like the feeling when long hair is reduced to something that exposes the neck. I’m sure it only weighed a few grams but I felt a stone lighter!   

Me (with haircut, yippee) and Dad
Mum around the Mullberry bush. A surprise discovery opposite the house.

Another Birthday; the big Four-O

28/06/18 – 02/07/18

Another Birthday celebration – this time a 40th Birthday for good friend Stephen. We rented a large house in the Somerset village of Waterrow where we barbequed, soaked in the hot tub, played games, ate and drank. The weather had the audacity to rain at one point. but it didn’t dampen our weekend. I think Steve enjoyed himself. 

 

 

 

 

A Birthday Treat

25/06/18 – 27/06/18

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.

 

 

   

Home in a Heatwave

22/06/18 – 24/06/18

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.

Bertie in the orchard at Tanpit’s Farm

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! 

  

A Midsummer’s Night and Day

21/06/18

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.

We were parked next to the Hackpen White Horse. This is not an ancient monument, it was created in celebration of Queen Victoria’s coronation.

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. 

Silbury Hill

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.

Avebury Stone Circle

That afternoon we made our way to Taunton. We were going home. 

Back to the UK

20/06/18

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. 

Bergues walls
The Marble Gate with the remains of Saint Winoc abbey behind

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.  

Getting on the ferry
Views of Calais
Approaching the White Cliffs of Dover

 

 

    

Bertie’s on a Train

19/10/17

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.

Looking down the ramp to the train

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.

Driving down the inside of the train

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.  

Final Days in the UK

17/10/17 – 18/10/17

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.

Bertie gets new shoes

 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.

With motorhomes of all nationalities at Canterbury P&R

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.