We have just returned from our first trip away in Wilma and have come back wondering if we should, in fact, have bought a boat instead.
It was wet. Very wet.
In fact problems with water seemed to dominate the trip even before we left home. Due to the sub-zero temperatures we’ve had recently courtesy of the so-called “Beast from the East” we have had to winterise the van whilst she was just sitting on the drive which involved draining the onboard tanks and systems to stop the water freezing up and causing expensive damage to the pipes, taps and heater. However, before leaving, the tank needed filling with at least 20 litres of water so the heater reservoir could be filled and the water system primed.
The ideal way to do this is to run a hose (food grade of course, not garden hose grade) from a tap in the house to the water filler point on the side of the van but, at only 5 metres long, our hose didn’t reach. No problem – we have a 10 litre water container which could be filled up and then simply poured into the neck of the filler point. In theory. However, water has a natural tendency to flow downwards rather than sideways with the result that the only thing that filled with water was my shoe.
Plan B saw Annie hanging out the front bedroom window attempting to pour from the water container into the hose with a similar amount of success. At this point, filling up at home was abandoned and left until we arrived on site, which in retrospect would probably have been more sensible from the start.
With the rest of the packing complete (or so we thought) the maiden voyage began. The day had dawned bright and sunny, although the temperatures were still a little low for the time year but with sunglasses donned we drove off and headed south.
The destination for our first trip was to be one of our long time favourites – the New Forest, and this time we had booked in to one of the Camping and Caravan Club’s listed sites at Gorse Farm Caravan Park near Fordingbridge.
The trip down was uneventful apart from the regular realisations of things that we’d forgotten to pack – my camera gear being the most unforgivable!! I’d carefully packed everything the night before and then left the camera bag in the bedroom. Thankfully, I’d got my iPhone with me so the trip didn’t go entirely undocumented pictorially.
On arrival, the water tank was filled successfully and without leakage, spillage or unwanted filling of clothing and we settled in for the evening.
Friday morning was my birthday and we celebrated this by opening cards and looking at the rain on the windows and the newborn lambs trying to shelter under their mothers. The tone of the day was set.
Whilst filling the water tank on the previous night we’d noticed a sign on the notice board saying that payment could be made in cash or by cheque (yes, cheque!?!) and since we had little of the former and definitely none of the latter a trip to a cashpoint beckoned. The nearest of these was in the village of Fordingbridge which was about a mile and a half away so we togged up in wet weather gear, put Jack on his lead and set off.
Fordingbridge itself is a reasonably quaint, if slightly dated village hosting the usual mix of local and national shops interspersed with the obligatory touristy tat outlets but everything looked especially drab under the leaden skies and steadily increasing drizzle. After a quick trudge up and down the high street to ensure we’d experienced the full drabness on offer that day, we found the cashpoint. As we were outside the local NatWest branch Annie thought this would be the ideal place to convert a £5 note into some change, as the showers at the campsite were 50p a splash.
Given that we were at a bank you would think, as we did, that this would be a simple procedure – a £5 note in, a handful of change out – but that wasn’t the case at all. Apparently, because we didn’t have an account with NatWest they “were unable to comply with our request” Despite assuring them that they weren’t going to be short-changed in the deal and the balance of monies would be exactly the same when the transaction was complete, seemingly this simple request was beyond their abilities. Unbelievable! And then high-street banks wonder why people don’t use them anymore. I said we should have gone through the whole process of opening an account, getting the change and then closing it again, just to make the point but Annie, ever the voice of reason, ushered me quickly away and distracted me with thoughts of coffee and birthday cake.
On the way back to the campsite we noticed a park and thought it would be good to let Jack have a runaround to burn off some energy. The first entrance, which was to a kiddies play area, predictably had a “No Dogs” sign prominently blocking the entrance and another informing us that anyone with a such a foul beast must walk a further 100 miles down the road and find the hidden entrance more inaccessible than Narnia. Ok, I exaggerate, 100 metres to another, clearly marked entrance. But when we arrived there was another large sign at the entrance to the sports field proclaiming there was to be “No dogs off the lead, no unaccompanied children, no drone flying, no model aircraft flying, no kite flying and no fires” and then, a bit further on – and bearing in mind this was a sports field – another sign saying “No ball games”! I fully expected walking a little further to see an illuminated billboard banning all people from doing absolutely anything altogether!
So Fordingbridge was a memorable experience but not necessarily for the right reasons.
By now the rain was getting heavier as we headed back to the site and in fact once we were back it just poured down for the rest of the day and night leaving us to enjoy the confines of the van to the full. Not exactly the first trip we’d hoped for and we decided that on this occasion it would make more sense to cut the trip short and leave a day early because, as lovely as Wilma is, another day sat looking through rain-soaked windows at deepening puddles all around would not be ideal.
By Saturday morning however the rain had eased and, although there was evidence of heavy flooding everywhere, we decided to head off into the forest for a walk. The original plan was to walk from the site but since we’d decided to move on we paid our dues and drove off towards Brockenhurst for a 6 mile stroll in a favourite part of the forest before heading home.
As the day progressed, the weather improved substantially so we decided to book in to Black Knowl campsite which is right in the heart of the forest and has just reopened after a major refurbishment of the wash block – which we took full advantage of and had a lovely, long, hot and, more importantly, free shower!
By Sunday morning the rain had stopped, the wind had dropped and Jack had flopped – on the ground outside the van to indulge in his favourite activity of people-watching. We actually managed to have breakfast in the van with the side door open and finally got to experience what life will be like camping in warmer weather.
Despite the appalling and unseasonable weather, the trip was an enjoyable success. Wilma performed brilliantly (apart from blowing a fuse for the 12 volt sockets which I still can’t explain) and we performed brilliantly too (apart from forgetting so much important stuff) so now we’re on the countdown to the next, big adventure.