It has been such a busy summer. Three months we have been back and yet I don’t know where the time has gone. It’s been wonderful to catch up with people while we’ve been in the UK, and for everyone we have failed to see – apologies – we’ll make the time when we next return.
Our feet were getting really itchy and we were looking forward to getting back to Folkestone to get the tunnel (Tesco Clubcard vouchers again!) across to mainland Europe. Before we left we had three days in Taunton, an opportunity to spend some time with Auntie Margaret who was staying for a few days after Nan’s birthday, to give Bertie a wash (not a common event) and to cook dinner for Vicki and family in return for the use of their driveway and water.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
It took a bit of google action to discover that the song ‘Nel blu dipinto di blu’ was that song. We had been prompted into a google search after seeing a statue of Domenico Modugno, Polignano a Mare’s most famous son, standing with arms outstretched on the promenade. After hearing it once it became a bit of an ear worm and we caught ourselves singing ‘Volare ooh oh, Cantare oh-oh-oh-oh’ while wandering round town. We weren’t the only ones.
Polignano had been a good choice of venue for a short break, we had a lovely little apartment just outside the old town, with a sunny and safe terrace and bedrooms with vaulted stone ceilings like little caves. The town doesn’t have any distinctive tourist attractions, but it does have a pretty little old town that is almost entirely given over to tourism and a very attractive cove of a beach that must be hell in high season. The majority of the seafront is a low cliff ten or so meters above sea level where they hold Red Bull cliff diving competitions. We only saw a couple of lads taking the plunge while we were there, the water was cold and deep and the air temperature not yet warm enough to entice sane people in for more than a paddle.
It’s the type of place that is busy throughout the year, so restaurants and gelataria were open for business. There were people of all nationalities, including quite a few British families, enjoying their Easter holidays here. We spent time on the beach, paddling in the cool sea, climbing onto the cliffs to get sight of the fish swimming below us and clambering over the clifftop limestone spotting lizards. We ate pizza and pasta, creamy soft burrata and lots of ice cream (Bella Blu was our favourite place for gelato). We drank the non-regional but very easy drinking Lambrusco. We wandered out in the early evening to spot bats flitting around the lampposts and fisherman setting out with bright lights for catching squid. Between times we relaxed in the apartment, talking, reading, and listening to the kids playing ‘the shopping game’.
Not far from Polignano we found a great beach near the Abbazio di San Vito where there were shallow rockpools hewn from the rocks just right for little ones to explore, turning over every available rock to look for fish, crabs and shrimp. Locals were buying plates of freshly opened sea urchins from a table set up outside the abbey but we didn’t find any underfoot.
A bit further away we visited Alberobello to see the Trulli houses; constructed from limestone these dry stone walled, single roomed and conical roofed buildings looked like something from a fairytale. We ran the gauntlet of cheap tat and slightly more upmarket ‘gourmet’ gifts for sale along the streets of this intensely tourist town, but with children in tow we couldn’t avoid it completely and two not-irritating-at-all whistles were purchased. Uncle Paul used his grumpy face to successfully forbid any playing of whistles in the car.
All too soon we had to take everyone back to the airport. The car was dropped off and help was obtained from tourist information to phone Parcheggio Il Pinguino and get picked up and returned to Bertie.
That night we were back in Bertie again and normal service resumed. You might have heard us humming ‘Volare ooh oh, Cantare oh-oh-oh-oh’ one more time.
We were very, very excited because today was the day my sister and her two bambini were due to arrive to join us for a short break.
But we were also a little apprehensive because we had a few things to sort out before picking them up from the airport at 9pm that evening. Would all the logistics fall into place?
The plan was that we would stay over in Polignano a Mare the night before arrival. Then we could pick up the keys for the apartment we would be sharing in the morning.
Parking proved a little tricky. The car park we had identified as being suitable for an overnight stop was indeed large and empty and still free. However there were signs everywhere saying that parking was forbidden from 7am – 2pm on the 8th. We didn’t want to get up that early! We learnt later that the local driving school was holding some sort of scooter lessons/tests in the car park. Another Italian motorhome had parked up anyway and the scooters worked around it. Oh to feel confident enough to ignore the signs.
So, after visiting two other unsuitable carparks in Polignano a Mare (one too expensive and the other with signs forbidding motorhomes), we spent the night of the 7th inland in a free sosta in Castellana Grotte instead. We parked with four shiny brand new lorries on the edge of an industrial area. It was one of those utilitarian sostas, nothing pretty (in fact the facilities were less than pretty), but useful for visiting the caves that make the town famous – not that we were going there.
We didn’t have to pick the keys up until 11am so we easily made it back to Polignano a Mare, parked as close as we could get to the apartment and popped to pick up the keys. It was Sunday and the town was busy with people enjoying the beautiful spring weather that had arrived.
From this point onwards the plan went pretty smoothly. We managed to do a couple of loads of washing, taking advantage of the washing machine in the apartment and the sunny terrace for drying. We did a supermarket shop to stock up with the basics and packed a couple of rucksacks and a holdall of clothes and things to leave in the apartment. Two rucksacks and a hold all may seem overkill for a four night break away from Bertie, but Paul does like to be prepared for every eventuality! Compare it to my sister who arrived with one carry-on case and one rucksack for the three of them.
It was the sort of day you spend on tenterhooks waiting for something to happen. We couldn’t settle or relax and kept running over our plans for the rest of the day, which just gave me more things to worry about. It was a relief when the time came to head off to the outskirts of Bari where we would be leaving Bertie in secure parking. Parking Il Pinguino was the only secure airport parking we had found that specifically mentioned motorhomes, so we were parking Bertie here and hiring a car for my sister’s visit. The staff at Parcheggio Il Pinguino didn’t speak much English, we only speak a few words of Italian (we had booked up via email using google translate to aid us), but we managed to get Bertie parked and the shuttle to the airport without too much difficulty, after all – why else would we be there? At the airport we picked up the keys for our hire car for the next few days (yes, a compact car was big enough, no need to have worried) and finally settled in to wait for their arrival.
It had been a long day of waiting, but everything had worked out and finally we saw them coming through the arrivals door. We were all set for a few days of family fun.
After Ronda we made our way down to the coast to meet up with Aaron and his fiancée Katie who were joining us for a few pre-Christmas days in the sun. They had booked an apartment near Fuengirola in one of the sprawling white developments that characterise much of the Costa del Sol.
We spent the night before they arrived parked down at the Playa del Castillo, taking a quick walk into Fuengirola to depress ourselves in the shadows cast by the seafront tower blocks. The parking was definitely more pleasant than the town.
It was very odd moving ourselves into the spacious apartment, we’ve become so used to our little space and the way in which have organised it to work for us. The apartment felt very poorly designed and the space unproductive. We did enjoy the sofa though and a chance to sprawl.
We spent a lot of the time with Katie and Aaron doing holiday things, going out for meals, sitting in bars and cafes by the beach and generally catching up. However we did venture further afield on one of the days to visit the Caminito del Rey, the trail that runs the length of the El Chorro gorge, with it’s two sections of aerial walkways hanging halfway up the wall of the gorge.
We cant provide any insights into getting to the walk by Motorhome as Aaron drove us in his hire car, and so much has been written about this walk that I don’t intend to describe it again except to say that it is spectacular and well worth doing.
So any pointers from us? Remember to ask if any of the party have a fear of heights (Katie hadn’t realised what she was letting herself in for), read this page when planning your visit so that you get to the arrival point at the time you have booked, don’t take walking poles or anything else that you cant fit into a rucksack (we saw one gentleman having his poles taken from him as they don’t allow them on the walk – they did offer to take them to the end point though) and leave your vanity at home – hairnets and hardhats are compulsory.
On the way back from the Caminito we stopped at the Castillo del la Mota because we were intrigued by it. We’re still not sure what it is; a folly, a water tower or a house? Whatever it was intended to be, it doesn’t look like it was ever finished and the construction quality was poor. We climbed to the top to see the views.
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.
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.
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.