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.
After Croyde we had a brief interlude near Looe with friends. We stayed at possibly the best value campsite I’ve encountered so far – West Weyland – it was school summer holidays but even so a pitch for two people with electric was less than £15, and without electric less than a tenner. You don’t find may campsites that cheap in Cornwall.
And then we were back on the road to North Devon, poor planning on our part as we re-traced our steps along the winding A roads. This time we were spending a few days with Mum and Dad who were staying in their caravan. Our journey was relatively uneventful, but Mum and Dad got stuck in traffic chaos caused by a tragic accident on the North Devon link road.
Our campsite on the Hartland Peninsular was the spacious Stoke Barton Farm and luckily we were nestled behind a hedge as the wind was still blowing – I don’t think it will stop until the school holidays are over. Despite the cover of the hedge we still had to adjust the straps that hold the Kayak on the roof which were thrumming in the wind and using Bertie as a giant sound box.
Mum has covered our days on the Hartland peninsular on her blog which I don’t intend to duplicate, so why not take a look at http://gingergrandma.co.uk/. Below are a few photos for you.
After our Chagstock weekend we had already planned to spend the rest of the week in Croyd with my sister and her family. Fortunately we had booked the campsite in Croyd while we were still working – at £30 a night it would never have made the cut in our new frugal lifestyle. As promised it was a short walk to the beach and the festival trolley came into it’s own as beach transport for tired children.
I’d forgotten how nice Croyd is when you’re away from the massive holiday park. And in fact even the holiday park seems remarkably gentrified since I was last in the area. We wandered through it at one point and took advantage of their well maintained play area.
We had a good Monday and Tuesday, windy it may have been, but the sun came out and at times we even felt warm.
We went in the sea in just bathing suits, no wetsuits for us, and then realised that wetsuits also serve a practical purpose – swimming costumes get pulled around in the surf and need frequent adjustment (extraction even). We went rock pooling and met ‘the enemies’ as well as crabs, shrimps and fish. Good times.
On Wednesday the weather started to deteriorate, but we had my other sister, Vicki, visiting to celebrate her Birthday. Her husband (another Paul) drove her and her two boys all around Devon that day and they ended their day with a visit to Croyd, a birthday BBQ and cake, of course.
Unfortunately Kate’s partner, Hannah, couldn’t make it down to Croyd until the Thursday. Thursday morning was spent in great anticipation and the weather forecast promised that the bad weather would break for the afternoon and give us some sun for a beach afternoon. They lied; we had about half an hour of sunshine before the heavens opened again. Aaron also joined us for the day on Thursday and was of great assistance pulling the kids back up to the campsite in the festival trolley while we battled with body boards against the wind. We retired to Bertie for food and drink to cheer us up.
The week was due to get worse, the forecast was for 40mph westerly winds and as the campsite faced west with no barrier between the sea and our vans…the decision to return home before it got worse was a good one. Poor Hannah only got the one night of holiday, but as she pointed out, it was 21 degrees and sunny in London.