New Year – Van Style!

I’m not a fan of New Year – the annual excuse to let off yet more fireworks, make impossible resolutions and top up the food and alcohol levels from Christmas (actually, I don’t mind those bits)

For many years now we have spent new year’s eve just at home, normally watching a film or other televisual spectacle that doesn’t involve Jools Holland or anything that comes from north of the border wearing a kilt and saying “hoots mon” every couple of minutes (too many years as a kid watching Moira Stewart and her fellow Scots dancing around celebrating Hogmanay to the sound of accordions and bagpipes), then tuning in at the last minute to see the increasingly spectacular fireworks lighting up London’s skies and briefly toasting the year that’s gone and the one that’s to come. 

So no wild parties, no vastly overpriced meals out or standing amongst a crowd of thousands for hours on end waiting in a city centre for that last 10 seconds of excitement before spending hours trying to get home before sunrise. No, our New Years tend to be on the quiet side so spending it in the van was little different to normal. 

We were actually on a site just outside York – the Caravan & Motorhome Club’s Beechwood Grange site which, although lovely with easy access into York, is a bit of an oddity – for dog owners anyway. Billed as being “dog friendly” the site information then proceeds to inform us that dogs cannot be walked, or even carried down the approach road to the site because of it being shared with a stud farm churning out prize-winning donkeys (or thoroughbred horses as I believe they call them) The concession to being dog friendly was to have an area, on site, where dogs could be walked off-lead. Short of using a catapult (or dogapult in this case) there was no way we could get Jack off site for a walk without using the van, which rather defeats the object.

However, we were very pleasantly surprised on arrival at the site reception to be invited to a drinks & nibbles “do” on the great Eve itself. By the time we arrived there were already several other people in attendance and despite being warned by Annie beforehand not to go into “buffet mode” (i.e. stand by the refreshments eating and drinking everything in sight) I nonetheless gravitated to the snack table just to give things the once over. Pork pie in hand I was about to head for a handful of my favourite dry roasted peanuts when a young child appeared from nowhere and plunged its grubby hand into the bowl before scooping up a mouthful and heading on to the crisps. Appetite suddenly diminished I headed for more liquid sustenance instead. 

It was a great idea by the Club though and we got to chat to many people that we wouldn’t normally have seen as, it being winter at the moment, everyone tends to stay in their respective vans rather than sit outside and chat to passing campers. 

After clearing up what was left edible on the buffet table (whilst Annie was distracted chatting to the wardens) we headed back to the van to spend the rest of the evening as usual, popping a bottle of champagne at midnight to toast an exceptionally brilliant and eventful 2018 and welcoming what we hope to be an equally exciting 2019. Some plans are already in place for this year and all will be revealed shortly…

However you spent your new year we hope it was enjoyable and wish you a very happy and healthy 2019

Christmas – Van Style!

I’m not a fan of Christmas – the annual Festival of Excess which seems to begin earlier and earlier each year, so it made a refreshing change to experience the festive period in a more unconventional style for a change.

We had arranged to spend Christmas with our fellow motorhoming friends Josie & Dave who were similarly keen to break free from festive conventions and do something different. The chosen venue was Run Cottage Touring Park near Hollesley in Suffolk which was a beautiful (adults only!!) independent campsite only a couple of miles from the sea.

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Sally, on site at Run Cottage

Although the site wasn’t completely full there were a surprising number of people who obviously had similar notions to us as there was quite a mixture of motorhomes, caravans and camper vans, some of which had really gone to town with decorations – both inside and out. There were elaborately festooned Christmas trees, inflatable Santas, enough flashing and pulsating lights to put most mobile discos to shame and one van even had a “Santa Stop Here” sign outside. On an adults only site? Maybe nobody’s told him yet…

Our concession to yuletide decorations was to put a string of LED lights along the top of the cab. Inside of course, wouldn’t want to be too ostentatious now would we?

Our first night together, the eve before Christmas Eve as it were, was spent huddled over a huge baked camembert accompanied by various dippy bits and, of course a couple of drinks or two whilst catching up and planning the next few days.

The next day, Christmas Eve proper, dawned bright and sunny so a walk down to the sea was in order to blow away any lingering cobwebs from the night before and to get some exercise prior to the body-wrecking fare about to come. It was a wonderfully scenic and invigorating 8 mile walk enhanced no end by calling in at the (surprisingly quiet) Swan pub in Alderton on the way back before groping our way in the dark the last one-and-a-half miles back to the site.

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Christmas Eve night was spent in Josie & Dave’s van this time with more food and drinks on hand whilst discussing how we were going to actually tackle cooking the festive feast tomorrow.

As Josie is a vegetarian and neither Annie nor myself are fans of turkey, we’d elected to go for a joint of beef this year and, due to our oven being required for roast potatoes, this was to be cooked on the barbecue.

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The barbie all set up ready…
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Jamie Oliver eat your heart out!
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The joint…

Now, although we have a gas barbecue with the ability to reasonably regulate the temperature, you can’t approach cooking a joint the same way as you would a burger or couple of bangers because otherwise the outside would be charcoal before the inside was even thawed. The secret is to get the barbie up to temperature then put a perforated baking tray over the burners before placing the joint on a wire rack, getting a drink in hand and waiting…

Although I like my beef rare, after the suggested cooking time a good vet could have got the joint back on its feet so another drink and 45 minute wait ensued.

In the meantime, Annie & Josie were busily preparing the veg (and Josie’s nut roast) whilst Dave became master of the obligatory stuffing balls and pigs-in-blankets on his Cadac.

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Sprout-tastic!
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Pigs-in-blankets and stuffing balls

Eventually, it all came together only a few hours later than planned and we could all sit down around the table in our van, crack open another bottle of Champagne and enjoy Christmas dinner – van style. And bloody marvellous it was too! 

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The finished feast!

After finishing the “dinner” bit, we decamped to Josie & Dave’s for puddings, more drinks, silly games and general rib-aching hilarity.

What an absolutely fantastic day it was and I realised that Christmas can actually be enjoyable after all.

Bah humbug!