Twin Bleaks

With Sally’s weight problem sorted, and almost being in the vicinity, we felt a visit to the Lake District would be in order so a weekend at the Coniston Park Coppice site, on the shores of Lake Coniston (as the name suggests) was duly booked. 

It’s been a while since we’d last visited the Lakes and on the previous occasion one of the more memorable features, apart from the lakes, was the mountains. Unfortunately, due to the low cloud and incessant rain we could have been in Norfolk, as nothing above about 20 feet (6 metres for you Millennials amongst us) was actually visible. 

This was the case for pretty much all of the weekend. In a brief respite from the unending deluge we managed a quick walk along the lakeside where, bizarrely I bumped into an old friend who I haven’t seen for years! What are the chances? With contact details swapped we went our separate ways only to meet up again as we walked past their van on the way back. Serendipity is a strange thing indeed. 

Monday – the day we were leaving – dawned bright and sunny with a near cloudless blue sky affording several magnificent glimpses of the snow-capped peaks as we drove past. I am not a fan of winter sunshine when driving and heading south, with a low sun and wet roads made for extremely difficult driving conditions. 

Our next destination was Castleton in the Peak District where we’d booked a few nights stay. In the end, a relatively short (134 miles) journey took over four squinting hours to complete (note: “squinting” is not a euphemism!)

abt23072
Castleton village centre (before the snow)

Although the sun was still hanging low in the sky the darkness of the sky on the horizon alluded to the forthcoming weather and sure enough, overnight, the snow arrived. 

ABT23080
Sally in the snow!

It was still snowing the following day when we headed into Castleton village less than a mile along the road. After a quick perusal of what the little village had to offer (not a great deal unless you were into all manner of trinkets fashioned out of stones from the nearby Blue John caves) and with the snow still falling fast, we were forced to take refuge in a rescue shelter (or pub as the locals call them) and spent a very cosy couple of hours – and pints – in front of a roaring fire. Now that’s what winter days are all about!

abt23073
The welcoming interior of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Inn rescue shelter
abt23076
Sustenance for a cold winter’s day!

Eventually, and with Jack’s fur approaching self-combustion, we donned fleeces, coats, hats, scarves, and gloves before heading out once again into the wilderness. 

One of the many things we love about Sally is the warmth and comfort once inside with the heater on. Although Wilma (the previous van if you’ve not been keeping up with past adventures) was great, winter would have been a whole different experience in her!

Although it snowed again overnight, the next day actually dawned bright and clear so a walk over the fields to the nearby village of Hope was planned. Good name, and one that was to prove quite salient. 

ABT23090
The local cement factory on a wintry day

Due to the outside temperature (about minus three) the overnight snow had frozen and the previously muddy ground now had the appearance of solidified chocolate. Due to my complete stupidity when preparing for our walk across such terrain I opted for lightweight walking boots rather than the much more sensible, completely waterproof, fleece-lined and equally available Wellington boots!

ABT23088
Snow-covered ground – for the moment!

Very little time had elapsed before my error of judgement surfaced. The previously solid snow and ice holding the solidified ground together was melting. Fast. Suddenly, we were wading through quagmires of liquid mud embellished with various flavours of similarly fluid excrement. The water-proofness of our boots was brought into question as another step plunged ankle-deep into the morass. 

ABT23097
On the way to Hope – snow melting fast…

I was not a popular man, and Annie was not a happy bunny. 

“Hope” had now ceased to be a place but a state of mind as field after field presented another navigational challenge. Jack, as ever, was the only one in our party who had no problem with it. Now resembling a chocolate Labrador, he continued to plunge headlong into whatever bog was presented to him with the same gleeful appearance as bounding through a summer’s meadow. 

Eventually Hope arrived (as it had almost departed us) and a decision to take the roadway back was quickly agreed on, only stopping along the way to buy some homemade pork & leek sausages from a local farm shop. 

Another pretty bleak trip was saved by sausage, egg & chips for tea.

What simple souls we are really. 

 

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?)

abt23063
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!

abt23057
Knaresborough Castle ruins
abt23065
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!

abt23061
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.

knaresboroughcaravanclubsite0218006
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. 

abxf0545
Durham Cathedral seen over a misty River Wear
abxf0551
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.

abxf0556
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. 

abxf0571
Ray Lonsdale’s “Tommy” Sculpture looking toward Seaham Harbour
abxf0569
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. 

img_0636
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?

img_0642
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. 

abxf0579
Sewerby Hall
abxf0578
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. 

abxf0580
The walk into York from the campsite
abxf0589
One of York’s many old streets
abxf0600
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. 

abxf0593
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.

abxf0487
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.

abxf0491abxf0497abxf0508abxf0513abxf0502

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.

abxf0525
The barbie all set up ready…
img_0617
Jamie Oliver eat your heart out!
img_0612
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.

abxf0518
Sprout-tastic!
img_0614
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! 

img_0622
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!

Season’s Greetings!

Christmas2018As that time of year has inexorably returned again, we find ourselves spending Christmas in an unusual way; not at home spending hours preparing for and eating a gargantuan feast before spending the rest of the day searching in vain for something vaguely enjoyable to watch on the TV that doesn’t involve Munchkins or so-called celebrities that nobody’s actually heard of trying their hapless hands at something that’s way out of their comfort, or indeed, capability zone; no, this year we will be having a simpler Christmas with the only concession to the season being a few mince pies, Baileys cream, a couple of bottles of champagne, maybe a few more bottles of wine than usual, a bottle of Southern Comfort, several dozen pigs in blankets (of course!) a good selection of savoury snacky bits (tv advertising does work, apparently) and a string of fairy lights. Oh, and our new van – our Christmas present to each other. 

However you are spending this festive period we wish you all a very happy Christmas and hope you have a wonderful new year. 

Thank you so much for following our adventures this year and we hope to share many more with you in 2019

Annie & Andy

 

Spot the Difference

IMG_0603
Can you tell what it is yet?

The observant ones amongst you may have noticed that Wilma has had a bit of a facelift, grown a little and even changed colour. So what happened? Well, Wilma is no more… welcome to our new addition, Sally!

Why the change? Well, having actually lived in Wilma – through sun, rain and wind – for the last 10 months, we found that there just wasn’t enough space for us, Jack and all of our respective kit (Jack packed so much!) It wasn’t too bad during the summer months when we predominantly lived outside the van but on rainy days, or during these long autumn and winter nights, poor Wilma just didn’t offer enough room to live in any degree of comfort.

We started to come to this conclusion a while ago and in fact back in October, when we were in the New Forest enjoying the glorious autumn, we thought that we’d “nip up” to the NEC to the Motorhome & Caravan Show just to get an idea of what sort of van layout would suit. A bonus for attending the show was to buy some new awning pegs as our existing ones were either missing or bent.

Living in a space for some time – any space, whether on wheels or static – gives you a good idea of what works and what doesn’t, so we had a good list of “must-haves” for a new van, the main one being space – both to move around and to store everything away in cupboards, drawers etc. rather than just dumping stuff in the footwells or on the bed which of course necessitated moving said items when we needed to drive anywhere or go to bed!

Wilma was 6 metres long and just over 2 metres wide and there’s only so much you can pack into such a relatively small space. When we ordered her the biggest consideration of all was that she had to fit on the drive (by the way vans, like boats, are generally regarded as being female, hence the “she” and “her” references) and therefore 6 metres was absolutely as big as we could go. Now though, without having to worry about fitting on a drive, size wasn’t so much of an issue, within reason of course.

It was a busy and exhausting day at the NEC but, having looked at several models (we’d already made a shortlist) the one that stood out, hands down, above all others was the Adria Coral Plus 670 SL – a “proper” motorhome (rather than a van conversion) whose dimensions of 7.5 metres long and 2.3 metres wide gave a vast amount of additional internal space.

A great place to buy a motorhome is from a show because there are some great deals to be had and before we knew it we were in discussions over tea and battenburg cake about part-exchanging Wilma and buying the Coral! 

Hours of discussions and a fairly sleepless night later we decided the following morning to accept the deal and go ahead with changing vans. At the time, we were told that the delivery time would be 2-3 weeks, which would be ideal as we still had some things to do “down south.” In the event it turned out to be nearly 8 weeks which was a bit frustrating but finally we were able to collect our new home-on-wheels from The Motorhome Depot in Redditch and start the amazingly arduous task of finding where to put everything!

Over the last few days we’ve gradually grown into her and got used (nearly) to where everything is. Staggeringly, we’ve got the same amount of stuff that we had in Wilma and now can’t believe how we managed to fit so much into such a small space! The key difference is that we can now get at everything very easily whereas before, things were packed in boxes on top of other boxes behind bags… with the result that most of the time we just didn’t bother going there. In fact, when we were moving out of Wilma I found clothes I didn’t even remember packing!

Our memories of Wilma will always be incredibly fond. We’ve had some amazing adventures with her and been to some wonderful places. She was a brilliant van and still remains a top choice for short to medium term touring but to live in for an extended period she was just too cramped, for us at least (I know of one couple who long-termed in a VW campervan – now that is brave beyond belief!)

So why name our new van Sally? In the past we’ve always used names that were acronyms: “TILLY” (Two Idiots Living Life Youthfully); “WILMA” (Wandering Idiots Living Many Adventures) but “SALLY” is actually just a name – inspired by Wilson Pickett’s song Mustang Sally (or as Annie says “Must ‘ave Sally” incorporating the lyric “Ride around Sally…” which is what we certainly intend to do!

And we never did get the new awning pegs when we went to the NEC!

(For more details on Sally click here)