Weight Expectations

Having departed York, we headed west towards the ancient market town of Knaresborough which boasts a mention in the Domesday Book, still has the remnants of a once imposing Norman castle and whose magnificent viaduct straddles the river Nidd in Nidderdale – both of which sound like names from a Monty Python sketch (The Knights Who Say Nidd anyone?)

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Knaresborough seen from the Castle grounds

We stayed at the Caravan & Motorhome Club’s Knaresborough campsite and once again had difficulty in booking due to the site being full on Fridays and Saturdays! Still, caravans and motorhomes aren’t cheap so I do at least applaud their use in all seasons rather than just sitting on a drive save for a quick trip away in the summer. 

We were lucky to arrive around lunchtime in glorious sunshine so having checked in and pitched up we walked back down into Knaresborough as it was only a mile and a half away.

The town itself is lovely and, with it being Sunday afternoon, was quite busy with singles, couples, families and an unusual number of dogs all meandering about and enjoying the winter sunshine.

The castle ruins were definitely on the agenda and once again I was pleased to see that entrance to the castle (or at least what was left of it) and its grounds were completely free for all to wander around, as we did although Jack spent most of his time trying to hide from all the other dogs – he’s such a wuss!

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Knaresborough Castle ruins
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Castle ruins seen from the rear

From the castle, there is quite a steep drop via a number of stone steps to the riverside where a profusion of bars and cafes were plying their wares to the passing crowds. In summer I’m sure they would be even more packed than they were today with punters enjoying a tranquil riverside view to accompany their snacks. It was all very picturesque though and the late afternoon sun picked out the colour of the buildings beautifully – albeit that the sun was in the wrong location for a really good shot of the viaduct!

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Viaduct over the River Nidd. (Worked better in Black & White because of the sun’s angle!)

One of the main reasons for visiting Knaresborough, charms of the town aside, was to catch up with my cousin Mick and his wife Yvonne which we did the following day and, predictably, had a great laugh catching up over far too many biscuits!

Unusually for a Club site, Knaresborough has an on-site bar and restaurant called The Wanderer. Normally, I’m not a fan of any such thing on a site as it can often be filled with the wrong sort of people (children) but as there were none of these on site I thought I’d try it out so one night I left Annie catching up on Call the Midwife as I enjoyed a couple of episodes of Call the Barman. A successful evening all round then.

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The Wanderer Bar & Bistro at Knaresborough (Image courtesy the Caravan & Motorhome Club)

The stay at Knaresborough was a short one as Sally had an appointment to get her weight problem sorted out. Because we are, effectively, fully loaded all the time (whereas a “normal” van has different loads depending on the circumstances) we decided to have air suspension fitted to the rear which assists the standard suspension by means of a couple of inflatable air-bags mounted between the body and the axle.

The system we chose was the VB Semi-Air system which can either be ordered as a kit only or can be fitted by an expert. Now although I know my way around a spanner something like this was WAY too complicated and important for me to attempt so an appointment with the brilliant Rhino Installs in Preston was duly booked and we had to move over the Southport club site for a couple of days whilst the work could be completed.

So with her weight problem sorted, Sally has now had a bum-lift and certainly sits a little higher off the floor at the rear. In addition to carrying the extra weight, she certainly rides a lot better over the utterly APPALLING surfaces which comprise the majority of Britain’s A-road network!

Annie says if only her weight problem could be sorted so easily…*

 

(* I, of course replied that she hasn’t got a weight problem)

A Tale of Two Cities

After surviving the entry into 2019 we headed north from York up the A1 to Durham where we spent just over a week. The primary reason for the visit was to catch up with some of Annie’s family who hail from the nearby village of Murton, but we also wanted to take a trip into the great city itself as it’s been many years since we last visited. 

Having been virtually imprisoned on the last site by the thoroughbred nags it was a real pleasure to be able to walk from site, along the River Wear (or at least the banks of it) into Durham on a glorious, if a little chilly day. 

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Durham Cathedral seen over a misty River Wear
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The more popular view of the Cathedral

To say it was the last Friday of the Christmas and New Year holiday there were surprisingly few people about and the whole place had a lovely calm and quiet feel about it which meant we could  mooch about freely and Jack wasn’t constantly tripping people up as he darted about sniffing his way along.

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A surprisingly empty Market Square in Durham

The following day was family catch-up time and first up was a visit to see Annie’s sister June and brother-in-law George at their new house in Murton where they’ve recently returned after spending years cast adrift in the southern wilderness (Sussex)

A lovely and relaxing day was triumphed by June’s gift of a couple of her amazing home-made pheasant and ham pies which we can attest to being absolutely superb! When it comes to culinary expertise our June can certainly give silver-coiffed baking narcissist Paul Hollywood a good run for his money. 

The biggest surprise of the trip came a couple of days later when we visited the coastal town of Seaham which is within walking distance of Murton and just a few miles south of Sunderland. In Annie’s childhood, when living in Murton, Seaham was the sort of place where you’d exit a pub via the window and often with considerably fewer teeth than you possessed on entry.

Now though, after a period of massive  redevelopment, the seafront down by the harbour is home to a number of upmarket bars, bistros and restaurants. The Terrace is home to Ray Lonsdale’s “Tommy” sculpture depicting a World War One soldier sitting forlornly on a packing case. Although only supposed to be a temporary installation, it caught the minds and hearts of the many visitors to the town and after raising over £72,000 the 2.90m, 1200kg figure is now a permanent installation. 

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Ray Lonsdale’s “Tommy” Sculpture looking toward Seaham Harbour
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Frontal view of “Tommy”

I couldn’t help thinking as I stood by Tommy that, had he been there during WWII, and if the Germans had mounted an invasion onto that stretch of coastline they’d have taken one look at the size of Tommy and realise that they’d seriously underestimated how big the British soldiers were!

After leaving Durham the next destination was supposed to be a return to York but we had to make a slight diversion via the unlikely town of Bridlington. The reason for this was because both of the York sites were full! We have been constantly amazed how many sites are fully booked – at weekends particularly – in January!! Do folks not work anymore? 

But, diversion as it was, Bridlington proved to be a great site. Recently refurbished, the pitches were spacious and the washblock spotlessly clean (very important!) There were some good walks directly from the site, Flamborough Head one way and Bridlington the other. 

Bridlington itself though has the faded glory of a once popular, probably upmarket seaside town that’s slightly had its day and has now succumbed to the inevitable seaside staples of tacky fairground, sense-numbing amusement arcades and an abundance of artery-clogging takeaways and fish & chips shops. 

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Bridlington in all its (faded) glory!

However, the all-pervading smell of fish & chips did its trick and before we knew it we were ensconced on a bench overlooking the sea enjoying a styrofoam tub of quite superb haddock & chips. A seagull stood eyeing up a possible feast but surprisingly made no move to invade. As we finished every last morsel leaving not a scrap it simply shrugged and flew off. A polite seagull, whatever next?

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Bridlington beach with fairground in the distance

Although Bridlington may have lost its former charm the nearby, and unfortunately named, town of Sewerby was lovely, boasting Sewerby Hall as its main attraction. It was a refreshing surprise to walk around the abundant grounds, with Jack, and without having to fork out a small fortune just to do so (are you listening English Heritage?!). Entry to the house did incur a small charge but I’m ok with that as everything else was freely available for all to enjoy. 

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Sewerby Hall
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Part of the gardens at Sewerby Hall

So with Bridlington in the rear-view mirrors, once again York was in our sights, although this time we would be staying at the Rowntree Park Caravan & Motorhome Club site which is right in the city centre and alongside the river. That’s the good bit: that York is literally 5 minutes walk away. The site itself though was a disappointment. Little more than a carpark, it has virtually no grass, the pitches feel cramped, is always very busy and can be prone to flooding at times of excessive rainfall. Apparently it’s not unheard of for a chap in a boat to come tapping at your window with a suggestion that it might be prudent to move on before being carried off downstream. Thankfully that didn’t happen whilst we were there. 

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The walk into York from the campsite
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One of York’s many old streets
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Beautifully preserved Tudor buildings

York, like Durham, is a fabulous city dominated by a magnificent cathedral. Although not a religious person I do find cathedral architecture staggeringly beautiful, so a double delight was in order here. Annie contemplated a visit for Evensong but then remembered that in October 2018 a two year restoration project for the organ began involving its complete dismantling and removal. Even though the cathedral is acoustically brilliant, a bloke on a Casio keyboard (or whatever is actually being used as the stunt-organ) just wouldn’t have quite the same effect. 

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The Cathedral (or Minster) seen from the rear. (Because the front was covered by a school trip!)

Overall, the Rowntree Park site at York proved its worth and we can understand why it’s so popular as it’s just so convenient to access the city, as we did on several occasions. That said, I don’t think we’ll return any time soon. 

I hear rain is on the way…

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!