Adventures Stateside; A Texas Roadtrip. Houston

Ruby the VW Campervan is parked up at a Heathrow hotel for half term. We decided to take advantage of the January flight sales, bagging some cheap seats to Houston, TX, enabling us to tick off a few more items off our ever expanding bucket list.

Wednesday

Despite travelling down late after work on Tuesday night, our alarms were still set to an ungodly hour on Wednesday, in preparation for our 10am flight. We really enjoy airport departure lounges so always make a point of giving ourselves plenty of time in there. It was my first time flying from Terminal 5, which I adored, especially travelling there by driverless pod, it felt like something from the future.

Sadly our flight was delayed for 3.5 hours as there was a problem with the window in the flight deck. At one point it looked like it may be cancelled altogether- so by the time we got on the actual plane our emotions were all over the place but we were relieved we were finally on our way.

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10.5 hours later, and a pretty uncomfortable flight due to the family behind us continuously kicking our chair backs, we had touchdown and were very excited to be back in the USA. We hadn’t slept but I did get chance to catch up on the recent series of Body guard- wow.

An hour later and we had requested our Uber and were enroute to our first Air b n b of the Roadtrip. Tired but very happy to be here.

Our Air b n b was in the Montrose area of Houston, an area close to both the interstate and downtown, and an area famous for having plenty of bars etc. The road itself was a lovely quiet residential street and the apartment was a really great space, equipped with the most comfy bed we’ve ever experienced and enough gadgets to keep my very own gadget man husband occupied in our downtime. On arrival at 7pm we wasted no time in showering, hitting trip advisor and taking a walk a couple of blocks away for a bite to eat and couple of beers.

We found The Pit Room, a really casual bbq joint, which served the most phenomenal beef brisket- a state dish, we’ve read. Keith had strips of brisket with coleslaw and I had brisket tacos with mac n cheese, washed down with a local IPA for Keith and a Texan Cider for me. It was divine and suddenly all our travel related stress had vanished. Next door was their sister bar, the patio, where we enjoyed a couple of drinks and soaked the atmosphere of the local baseball time team, the Astros, playing the Boston Red Socks. Before too long though, our weary bodies began to remind us that we’d been awake almost 24 hours,so we headed back for a long comfy nights sleep.

Thursday

Travelling East to West always means we wake up extra early on our first few days – we never mind as we are always keen to get out and about exploring. Today was no different, we were awake by 0430, so after an hour NASAmanagedor so of dozing and researching eateries etc, we actually were up and out by 0615 in search of coffee. We took a walk round the neighbourhood admiring all the beautiful homes in this historic district, eventually finding The Breakfast Klub, a place I’d read loads about. Apparently it’s the place to have breakfast. We were met by super friendly staff, and huge mugs of coffee. I ordered their signature dish of waffle and wings and Keith had waffle and eggs and bacon. It was as huge, but hands down the best breakfast I’ve ever had. Arrive early though, it filled up really quickly.

From there we walked down another mile or so to Avis to pick up our rental car. The handover was smooth and by 9am we were on our way to NASA, about 20 miles south of Houston.

Words can’t describe how much I adored our visit to NASA – it was everything I hoped it would be and more. As soon as we arrived we went to take the tram tour- this is advisable as we’d read that sometimes the wait becomes so long you miss out later in the day and it is unmissable.

The tram tour takes you right around the site with 3 stops -first being the historical and famous mission control room- which was the centre of activity when both Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin famously became the first men to walk on the moon, then again with the Apollo XIII mission. The room is currently undergoing major renovation, however we got to see the original computers and equipment and also sat in the VIP viewing area. If you visit next year, you’ll see it completely set up including the flight data etc on the screens.

Next stop was the NASA training mock up centre. This was really exciting as we got to see where all the astronauts train in the mock up capsules. We saw all the capsules including Soyuz, The space shuttle, Orion- the brand new one capable of travel to Mars- along with robonauts and buggy’s that are still under development. It was so exciting, we were both in our element!

Last stop of the tram tour was the Rocket Park, where we saw Saturn V. It was huge and just mind boggling. Saturn V was the rocket that got men to the moon.

The grounds of NASA are like a uni campus- and what we didn’t realise was that it is still entirely working- so we were seeing government workers driving around doing their business, including astronauts having meetings etc. All the training facilities are still here and used daily. How exciting to be able to observe it all. Underneath the historical mission control room was the active mission control for the International Space Centre so we had to be silent when moving about in that building. How cool!

Back at the Johnson Space centre and we got started on the exhibitions, of which there were loads. The Americans really do these attractions well. Our favourite exhibits were the space shuttle and jet it piggybacked on- being able to see inside the space shuttle was so exciting. The flight-deck was beyond complicated to our untrained eyes!

We also saw the very first capsules that an American orbited in space in, the Gemini and Mercury. We got to go inside the training mock up of the Skylab, which preceded the international space centre.

We saw the last ever Apollo capsule to return from space and see actual moon rock.

And Keith had a proper nerd out when he discovered the original Star Trek Galileo shuttle prop in the cafe.

After a full day exploring NASA on the back of our jet lag, by the time we got back to our apartment we were exhausted, so we had a quick shower and took an Uber to a restaurant recommendation from our host.

La Tiempo was a lovely Mexican in Montrose and we enjoyed a fabulous meal washed down by some margaritas. The meal was fantastic but we were so tired so had an early night- went to bed dreaming of rockets and space!

A brilliant day.

Friday

Another early morning, so we made the most of it by having an early breakfast down the road and checking out early. We had a driving tour of some cool sites in Houston. It’s really sprawled out so you definitely need a car. We took a drive down Heights Boulevard, a traditional affluent neighbourhood with fabulous houses and wide streets.

From there we popped to see the water wall which was really cool and then onto the Beer Can House- yes, a house made of beer cans! It took the designer 20 years to collect enough beer cans!

Our final stop was to get some cupcakes from the only cupcake ATM- Sprinkles. The cupcakes were good and it was novel ordering them through the ATM at the back of the shop. Only in America.

High on sugar, it was time to hit the road, our next destination was calling. We are off to Dallas.

Until next time

Lx

Fall into October with a visit to Undley Farm Pumpkin Patch, Suffolk

Whether we like it or not, Summer is becoming a distant memory now. The nights are drawing in and the air has become fresher and less humid, the smell of log burners lace the night sky and supermarkets and shops have started stacking shelves from floor to ceilings with Halloween and dare I say Christmas paraphernalia.

Personally, I’m happy to see this shift. I love Autumn. Firstly I’m an October baby, so once those blackberries and apples have been harvested, people start asking me if I have any birthday present ideas. But aside from celebrating, I adore the darker evenings- no feeling guilty for snuggling up in my pjs on the sofa drinking hot chocolate on weekends, the return of Strictly, winter walks, crispy leaves under my feet in the woods and those gorgeous golden colours. I’m definitely an Autumnal addict.

If you are looking for an October break away, especially if you have kids (or dogs!) We highly recommend a day at Undley Pumpkin Patch.

A pick your own pumpkin patch, which offers a huge and wonderful display of pumpkins and squash in all shapes and sizes, at a remarkably good price.

There are seasonable food and craft stalls, photo opportunities galore, inflatables, mazes, and faceprinting, so grab your wellies and head on over to Suffolk for a really fun day out.

It’s open weekends and right through half term, so why not book onto the local campsite The Willows Campsite and make a mini break of it.

Until next time

Lx

*NB We made our visit a couple of years ago, but forgot to blog about it- from what I’ve read it’s grown from strength to strength. We just haven’t had chance to visit this year and due to our USA trip in a couple of days, and then someone pranging Ruby last week, we won’t get there this year ūüėĘūüéÉ

A weekend at Duxford Battle of Britain Air Show

Ruby the VW Campervan is parked up on the C&CC site at Cambridge. It’s a quiet site despite being only a couple of miles from the centre of Cambridge, and has the usual high standard of facilities and cleanliness that we have come to enjoy this year, as we’ve stayed mainly on Club Sites.

The reason for our visit – as we are under an hour from home – is the Duxford Battle of Britain airshow. We booked our tickets in February, and booked the campsite at the same time as this event is so popular that it sold out a number of weeks ago. We opted to stay over and get a weekend ticket – which actually was only a couple of pounds more than just a one day ticket, due to reports of terrible traffic chaos last year. Plus we could both enjoy a proper drink. After quite a bit of research, we decided to book this campsite due to it’s close proximity to Trumpington Park and Ride, where there is a free shuttle to and from the airshow.

After a day of gigs and chores, we didn’t actually leave home till after 5pm on Friday and we been had dinner before leaving. It only took us an hour to get to the campsite and it was the quickest set up we’ve ever had! Within 10 minutes, we were having a little walk to the local the pub for a pint. The Hudson’s Ale house was about 15 minutes walk away towards Trumpington Park and Ride and we enjoyed a pint of their Hudson Ale and Lager before heading back to Ruby for a good sleep. I don’t know about you but I always sleep so well in the campervan.

Saturday – a day at the airshow

Saturday morning dawned rather early as we had set an alarm. The gates opened at the air show at 8am, so we decided to have an early shower and bacon and egg bap before walking with our chairs and a picnic down to the park and ride for 9am. We stopped at the Waitrose for a fresh baguette for our cheese and pate picnic.

When we arrived at the Park and Ride there was already a massive queue for the shuttle – but it was early still and so we didn’t mind too much. We waited for over an hour and only one shuttle bus had arrived. About 200 people had joined the queue behind us and there were no members of staff advising the situation – the mood was a bit panicky all round as we all knew the flying started at 12:45 and you could sense people calculating how many buses would need to suddenly appear to get us to Duxford in time. Some people at the front had been there since 7.30am!

By 10.15 I had decided I didn’t want to wait any longer, so arranged for an UBER to pick us up. A couple of ladies behind us heard me sounding off to Keith and said they would come in with us if we didn’t mind and spilt the fare. 10 minutes later our ride arrived – an 8 seater! It seemed silly for us to only fill half of it, and not entirely knowing how much it would be, I shouted out to the Queue – 4 spaces – who wants to join us! Better to split it 8 ways than 2!

Taxi full to capacity and the driver instructed to take the NON motorway route Рtwitter had informed us the buses and half of the Duxford crowd were stuck on the motorway Рand 20 minutes later we had arrived half a mile from the entrance. The driver kindly let us exit before the official entrance rather than sitting in the traffic jam he could turn round and go back the way we came. The fare came to just £14! I chucked on a fiver tip, and we all paid £2.50. Situation taken control of- 8 happy strangers marched the half an mile to Duxford and joined another queue to get in!

Once in, we found a place to set our chairs up and paid and extra fiver to walk the flight line. I’m not sure whether this was worth it or not, we weren’t blown away – however that may because the weather had decided to go awol and start to rain, despite the forecast saying it wouldn’t. I think to be honest the stress of getting there had exhausted us!

We settled down with a couple of pints of Spitfire and awaited the opening of the flying. The opening act was 16 Tiger Moths in formation marking 100 years of the RAF.

The flying went on for 5 full hours and was terrific value for money, it really was. We saw pre WW1, WW1, WW2, Korean, American aircraft – plus modern. Sadly the rain had set in however and we were cold and wet! But we perservered as the forecast for tomorrow was even worse. Photos were impossible as the rain made them unable to focus!

The Red Arrows were an absolute highlight – they were just terrific and lifted the crowd (and our) moods no end. 20,000 people were there and every single person was silent. It was actually eeery! Wonderful stuff.

The finale to the show was a flypast formation of 19 Spitfires in the air – the largest ever to have displayed at an airshow. Despite being cold, wet and tired, it was just phenomenal.

As they started landing after the flypast, they played Nimrod over the speakers and I realised that the water on my cheeks was not rain, I was in fact bawling like a baby! It was utterly emotional and I can’t believe that almost half the crowd had left directly after the Red Arrows and before the finale so missed it.

The airshow finished at 5.45pm and getting back to Trumpngton Park and Ride was a mission. We ended up queuing up for another hour and half and so we didn’t get back to Ruby until 8pm. We were very tired and cold, but the joys of a lovely hot shower was wonderful, and a quick and easy reheat of a spag bol I’d made previously made made for a stress free dinner time. We were in bed snoring by 9.15pm dreaming of the spitfires.

Sunday dawned rainy and then some! It was so wet that we decided to forget about the Park and Ride and have a lay in before getting Ruby as close to Duxford as we could, for a quick walk around the indoor sections of the museum before coming home. We’d written off seeing the flying as we assumed, like most according to Twitter, that there wouldn’t be any due to the abysmal weather.

It ain’t over till the fat lady sings

When will us British learn NOT to trust the weather forecast? We found a great (free) parking spot within a mile of the front gate (I’m not going to name it as it may not be there next year!), and dressed head to toe in waterproofs made for the museum. Today there wasn’t a queue – mind you we were arriving closer to midday than 11am as we did yesterday.

We explored the whole of the main museum hanger, looking at Concorde and the Lancaster up close, amongst others. Duxford Museum is a great day trip by the way, we’ve been before, but it was good to relook around.

The flying schedule was exactly the same at the Saturday, but I requested to Keith that we nipped outside to watch the Typhoon display as I loved that yesterday but didn’t film it as it caught me completely off guard and I was just in awe of it. I just loved the immensity of the noise it made! It was wonderful!

So out of the hanger we emerged – to beautiful blue sky and sunshine! Can you believe it? All the rain had cleared up, so we stayed at the airshow, dressed in our waterproofs which we really could have done with yesterday, and enjoyed seeing all the displays again, this time with blue sky as the backdrop and no raindrops affecting the focus of my cameras.

The new Lightening bomber

Our favourites were the Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane flypast,

The mustangs

the red arrows

and of course the spitfires, although it was too windy for all 19 today.

We had a terrific afternoon- our mood completely lifted by being warm and dry. Our secret parking spot was away from the congestion of everyone leaving, so we were back home by 7.30pm feeling very satisfied from a great weekend.

Would we recommend Duxford Battle of Britain Airshow? Absolutely! However, I think their logistical arrangements sucked. If we were to go again, we would stay at Cambridge campsite and cycle. We couldn’t this time as Keefy was recovering from a minor op on his leg. There are loads of bike parking spaces at Duxford. Or I’d park a mile away (check google earth for back roads with laybys and walk- but get there very very early. And take your waterproof trousers EVEN if its forecast for sunshine all day!

I hope you like my pics of the planes, I really enjoyed snapping away and was stunned at the performance of my hand held√ā Sony Superzoom camera. Lots of people with HUUUUGE lenses on their cameras but I’m pretty chuffed with my pics and it is very portable.

Until next time

Lx

A last minute Brit Stop night away in North Essex

Ruby the VW Campervan is parked up across the Border – we’re in deepest North Essex at Brit Stop number 221/18. It’s a lovely historical pub that we are nestled behind, and we have a private glade on hardstanding in the very quiet staff carpark. ¬†The pub has some links to a very famous Norfolk Boy so we are feeling right at home, and across the road we have a wonderful traditional Village Green – which if you carry on reading, you will see, comes in verrrrry useful later on!

We’ve had a busy one today doing heaps of admin – but admin of the pleasant kind – booking trips including NYE and February Half Term amongst other things. Since downsizing to Ruby and loosing our on board shower, we are enjoying C&MC and C&CC Club sites lots more than we used too, as the facilities tend to be immaculate and plentiful in hot water supply. Perfect for winter touring when you’ve had a long muddy walk and need a long hot shower – some of the non club sites we visited earlier this year were quite frankly gross, so we’ve kind of gravitated to Club sites which have so far done what they said on the tin for a reasonable enough price.

Having said that, we’re not quite ready to throw in our spontaneous souls just yet, so after filling the diary and part of next years, we made the most of a free Saturday night and travelled to North Essex for a few drinks, meal and more importantly, a head start on a journey that could have meant setting the alarm for 7am on a Sunday – a unheard of occurrence in the O’Gorman household.

On arrival at Britstop number 221 (in the 2018) book, Kevin, the landlord gave us a friendly welcome, and we spent an hour or so dribbling over the DELICIOUS looking menu whilst having a pint of Broadside and Aspall. We then took ourselves for a leg stretch around the paths of the village – admiring some of the pleasant properties on the green and a tasty looking farm shop. Luckily for the bank balance this was closed – next time however…

We enjoyed a really delicious meal in the restaurant – I had breaded Brie and Keith had homemade garlic mushrooms in a stilton sauce to start, which quite frankly was one of the best pub starters I’ve ever tasted. Next up was beef with chinese spices sizzler – on a¬†¬†bed of noodles. It was GORGEOUS. However the portions were huge! So for the first time I think in the 9 years of knowing Keefy – neither one of us could finish our meals! Luckily the pub was adequately prepared and we got the remains boxed up – which we finished for dinner tonight! Prices were really reasonable – the starters were ¬£6 each and the sizzler ¬£13.95 each.

We got so full that we had to do 3 laps of the village green to make ourselves comfortable! That along with an emergency cup of peppermint tea, and then a good ol singsong along to the Last Night of the Proms, ensured we got a great nights sleep.

This morning Keefy woke up bright and early – he was like a kid on Christmas Day – the reason for our night away was he was booked onto an Owl Encounter morning at nearby Lavenham Falconry (belated birthday present) Keith adores Owls. Eagle eyed of you may have noticed in pictures, in Ruby’s side window we have an owl cuddly toy. ¬†In our house we have owls everywhere! He’s obsessed with them.

So today Рhe got to handle and fly 4 different species, The Barn Owl, The Dark Breasted Barn Owl, The Great Grey and the Eagle Owl. We also saw the Eurasian Eagle Owl Рwhich is huge and way too big for us to handle with normal falconry gloves. For an extra £15 I booked myself in to be his guest Рwhich meant I could be paparazzi and snap away to my hearts content.

The 2 hour Owl experience cost ¬£60 and was 100% worth every penny. It was fantastic value for money, and I can honesty say I have never seen Keith smile for such a long period of time ¬†(I don’t mean that horribly by the way!)- he’s still beaming away now 12 hours later.

If you have any interest in Owls or Birds of Prey including Falcons and Hawks, you need to check out Lavenham Falconry. Turn it into a mini break – stay at the BritStop and have a day in historic and wonderful Lavenham whilst you’re at it. We popped in on our way home, but we had a mound of stuff to do still at home plus it was packed being a Sunday afternoon so we just revisited the National Trust Guildhall before making our way back home.

Back to school tomorrow after a wonderful summer break. But lots of winter adventures planned – next up, is a weekend trip to Duxford in two weeks time for the Battle of Britain airshow.

Anyone got any winter tours planned?

Until Next Time

Lx

Touring the Thames Valley; Part 2 Henley on Thames

As you will have read from our last post, The Thames Path has been on our “to do” list for a while now. We enjoyed a great walk along the River Thames from Chertsey to Shepperton and now it was time to explore a little more of the Thames Path around Henley on Thames.

We were booked onto the Caravan and Motorhome Club site – Henley Four Oaks – which sits just on the outskirts of the beautiful Georgian town of Henley on Thames.

As we’d had a busy day exploring some of the area downstream around Chertsey, we didn’t end up arriving to the Club site until around 4.30pm. As usual we arrived to a cheery welcome, and were given a list of available pitches that we could choose. One thing we particularly like about the Caravan and Motorhome Club over the Camping and Caravan Club, is that you are allowed to pick your own pitch on arrival, you just nip back to reception to let them know which one you are on.

As the site wasn’t full, we were allowed to upgrade to a hardstanding awning (larger) pitch if we so wished, but actually we preferred pitch 34, a lovely private grand pitch that was on the edge of the site overlooking the woodland. The layout of the pitch meant that even with our nose lined up with the pitch marked as per the rules, we were still able to use our sliding side door to full pitch potential which gave us ultimate privacy.

Set up didn’t take long, and after a cuppa and a shower each, we opted for a leg stretch into Henley on Thames for an evening wander and perhaps a swift pint. The walk down to the town was on the pavement of a busy fish road, however only took 20 mins. We admired the beautiful houses and down found a tempting beer garden at the Angel on the Bridge – as the name suggests, its right on the Thames and overlooking the gateway to the town – the Georgian bridge.

I tried the Mr Hobbs Henley gin, whilst Keefy enjoyed a Brakspear Oxford Gold. We managed to resist the temptation of every single takeaway in the town as we walked back to Ruby the VW for a lovely leek and potato soup we’d snuffled from the freezer before we left home.

We had the most wonderfully peaceful nights sleep – whether it was the excitement of the paddle boarding, or just the tranquility of the site, I don’t know, but Tuesday dawned and we were fresh as a daisy, both of us. I made us a bacon butty whilst Keefy prepared our lunch for our walk and by 11am we were putting our best foot forward on our little jaunt back into Henley and onto the Thames Path.

Using Keith’s memory map, which he now uses on his phone, we’d devised a lovely walk along the Thames from Henley north towards Hambleden Lock, which took us right along the Henley Regatta course to the official start – Temple Island. From there we carried on a little further along the river, until we saw signs for The FlowerPot Hotel – an obvious place for a quick pint, before joining the Chiltern Way Berkshire Loop through Remenham Woods and back joining the river at Henley Bridge again.

The walk was 6.5 miles and only took us 2.5 hours – even with a pub stop, so after eating our lunch on the banks of the Thames by the bridge, we decided to carry on the opposite direction of the Thames towards the River and Rowing Museum, past Marsh Meadows to the next locks.

Again, just like our walk on Saturday from Chertsey, it was a stunning walk, and wonderful to see all the river boats, and houses on the banks. It really is a beautiful area – albeit very affluent!

We enjoyed a beer on the banks again at The Angel before a bit of top up shopping and “one for the road” at the The Old Bell – the oldest building in Henley on Thames before walking back to Ruby – a grand total of 9 miles walked today!

Dinner tonight was a first for me – homemade burgers and they were absolutely gorgeous, especially washed down with a pinot noir.

What a wonderful end to a wonderful 5 nights on the Thames. We realise we’ve only scraped the surface of the Thames Path – it runs for 184 miles, as The River Thames is the longest in England. So – keep an eye out here for updates, as we’re already planing to return to walk more of the National Trail.

Until Next Time

Lx

Touring The Thames Valley: Part 1, Chertsey

The Thames Towpath has been on our list of places to visit for quite a while now, but as with all these things, things get bumped up/down, life or sometimes long haul trips get in the way, you know how it goes. We both naturally enjoy being around water and enjoy walking and cycling along Rivers and Canals. For one thing, they are usually dead flat – so no sneaky hills for us to contend with!

This Summer Holiday gave us the ideal opportunity to get cracking on our Thames Towpath walk, and luckily we were able to get booked on to a couple of Club sites in ideal locations for us. So, after a gig on Friday morning, we threw everything we needed into Ruby the VW Campervan and set off south, only getting caught up briefly around Heathrow, which wasn’t bad considering it was the Friday before the last bank holiday and we were travelling in the afternoon.

Our first campsite base was the Camping and Caravan Club site at Chertsey – situated right on the banks of the Thames, overlooking Chertsey Lock and Weir it was an ideal location for us. The Club Site was clean, spacious and tidy and we were very happy with our pitch which had a lovely view of the river.

Last night I made a homemade Chicken Dhansak which I’d portioned up for our dinner tonight – an easy and delicious meal for our first night. Across the road from the club site is a 24 hours Spa and Petrol station so after a quick wander down the Thames and a pint at the local pub, The Kingfisher, we popped in and picked up a samosa to accompany our DIY curry night. The fresh samosas heated up very well in our Ridgemonkey.

As the site is situated close by to Heathrow, you get to watch the planes as they are ascending. We downloaded an app called Flight radar which was amazing as it told us where the flight was going and how long its flight was. We are so nosy and probably a bit geeky but we enjoyed ourselves!

We had a great night sleep and actually didn’t wake up until 10am – which must be a camping first for us! The noise of the planes or the M3 certainly didn’t bother us!

After a quick bacon bap, we made a packed lunch and donned our walking boots – we were heading off onto the Thames Path for a walk towards Shepperton.

The walk was a suggested walk off the C&CC website and took in the section of Thames Towpath between Chertsey and Shepperton, then we crossed the river via a 500 year old passenger ferry, before returning back to Chertsey via Weybridge and the River Wey. It was a lovely walk – and there were some absolutely magnificent riverside houses to admire the entire way round.

We enjoyed a half way beer at The Old Crown in Weybridge which was a quirky and historical little pub with a lovely terrace overlooking the river. The second half of the walk passed by a charming lock-keepers cottage, managed now by the National Trust.

You can view the walk as a PDF here: Chertsey-Shepperton

When we got back to Ruby, I put two jacket potatoes in the slow cooker (see recipe here) and settled in our chairs outside with a cider watching the planes and making the most of the late summer sun. 3 hours later, I reheated up a mexican bean and beef chilli that mum had made us whilst we were away in Cuba (thanks mum!) and we served it along with the jacket spuds and tacos and salad. It was delicious, and just what we needed after a long walk – plus the temperature was just starting to drop – proper comfort food.

Sunday dawned wet, wet, wet!

Well, it wouldn’t be a bank holiday would it without some rain. Actually we didn’t mind it at all – some on the site were packing up and heading home, but we made the most of the enforced rainy day, but staying in bed till almost 2pm and having a massive chill- reading, catching up on crappy tele. All the things you don’t do when its clear and you feel you should make the most of the day!

A break in the rain around 5pm meant a mad dash to the pub (well we had to walk Jazz!) for a swift pint – Keith enjoyed the local Windsor and Eaton Brewery Ale whilst I had a glass of fizz. Dinner on Sunday was a delicious Swartz Slow Cooker mix – chicken in red wine, served with mashed potatoes. It was gorgeous even if I do say so myself!

Bank Holiday Monday arrived and it was time to move to our next site. We’d brought the Kayak and Stand Up Paddleboard with us to try out, as the Chertsey site has a launch point onsite. However because of the rain yesterday, we didnt get chance to launch, so we decided to stop enroute to our next site in Henley on Thames for a go instead. On our walk on Saturday we had spotted somewhere suitable for us to drive to and launch, so shortly after breakfast we waved bye to the Chertsey Club site and drove the short distance to Chertsey Mead B carpark. *This carpark has a height barrier of 2.1m in height

The Aldi Stand Up Paddleboard was fantastic – it took less than 10 mins to roll out and inflate. The Kayak sadly had picked up a hole in its bottom chamber and therefore we couldnt use it. We both had a good go on the SUP and I even managed to STAND UP! (for roughly a minute and a half!) It was exciting and we both felt proud that we’d given it a go and got across the Thames and back without drowning! (we do wear lifejackets!)

After a clean down of both the board and ourselves, we made our way to Runnymead National Trust- the site where the Magna Carta was signed and sealed over 800 years ago! The National Trust Parking is right on the river bank and is the perfect place for a picnic – something which everyone was doing. It was wonderful – I loved having a picnic of pizza (cooked in the ridgemonkey) and cheese, and salami whilst watching the boats going by. If I’d have realised we would have been picnicking here, I would have gone to far more effort – but we will definitely return here.

After lunch, we took a wander down to see the JFK memorial – apt as we will be visiting the site where he was assinated in just a couple of months in Dallas. We also looked at the Magna Carta monument. There were tons of walks that were avaiable and wonderful open meadowland. I really recommend a visit before the summer is out if you’ve not been and have time.

Next stop before our next campsite was Ankerwycke – which is just across the river from Runnymede, but 15 mins in the car. Here lies a 2500 year old yew tree which is just astonishing.

There are some theories that now say that this was the site of the sealing of the Magna Carta, not across the river, due to it’s proximity to a Benedictine Abbey – the remains of which you can see by the tree. The tree has a girth of 8 metres and is said to have been a location that Henry VIII canoodled Anne Boleyn. National Trust have devised a short circular walk that takes in some more of the Thames across the bank from Runnymede and some ancient woodland. It’s very pretty but not brilliantly signposted so watch out!

We really, really enjoyed our visit to the Chertsey and Shepperton area of the Thames Valley- but for now it was time to move upstream for our next leg of our adventures.

Until Next Time

Lx

A cheeky trip to The Caribbean!

Regular readers will remember me saying here that by the end of the school year, I was absolutely wiped out, so we decided to book a very last minute and ridiculously cheap all inclusive package deal to Cuba with Thomas Cook.

We stayed at Playa Pesquero, in the Holguin province and had an absolutely fabulous time. Sun, Sea, Great food; despite terrible complaining Brits EVERYWHERE within the hotel – we thought the food was wonderful and didn’t get ill at all and plenty of Rum.

For the purpose of continuity on our blog, I thought I’d do a mini blog for our Cuba trip – amongst anything else, we enjoy reading back what we got up to each year.

On the way to Manchester Airport, which by the way, is a bit of a drag journey wise from Norfolk, but a cheap deal is a cheap deal (!) we stopped at National Trust’s Little Moreton Hall, which was amazing, and worth the journey alone. An immaculately preserved Tudor Manor house, which is over 500 years old – it reminded us out of something off the set of a Tim Burton film. With its wonky beams and frontage and quirky windows and unlevel flooring, its a rare example of original Tudor architecture and a great place to explore.

This wallpaper is original- over 500 years old!

On arrival at Manchester Airport we checked into Clayton Manor Hotel and airport parking. We paid ¬£125 for overnight stay and 8 days parking which we felt was quite reasonable. What we didn’t realise was that the parking was off site – so your vehicle is moved elsewhere during the night – we weren’t hugely happy about this, but had no choice at this point. Our VWT5 LWB Camper was no issue for the parking despite us being a little bit longer than the “terms and conditions” allowed. We didn’t mention it and neither did they.

Monday morning came round quickly and we set alarms for 6am. The hotel is literally across the road from terminal T1 and before we knew it we were on board plane. Thomas Cook keep their costs down by not providing drinks complimentary during even long haul flight, but we did get a meal and a snack along with a coffee and one soft drink.

We arrived at the small in comparison Holguin airport at 2pm Cuban time. By 4pm we’d arrived at the hotel, booked information our allocated 4 ala carte restaurants and by 4.30pm we were enjoying our first (of many) Pino Colada’s in the pool from the Pool Bar.

We even managed a trip to the beach and a dip in the sea. The first view of the Caribbean beach and crystal clear water was overwhelming for me – I’ve always dreamed of visiting and it really was just beautiful.

The next week passed in a pattern of getting up at 7.30am -aren’t body clocks annoying – never can wake up that time when I need to for work, but on holiday – bam – I’m awake! Then we’d grab breakfast from the HUGE breakfast buffet. In all our worldwide travels we’ve never seen such a phenomenonal breakfast offering. Then we’d mooch to the beach. At 10am Alexa, the wandering beach bar man would arrive to take our first orders, we’d break for lunch around 1pm where we’d grab a seafood lunch on the beach or a pizza, or both! A few more hours on the beach snoozing or reading followed and then we’d grab a shower and head off for our evening mea and a cocktail or two. Always in bed by 10pm at the latest.

We took two day trips Рone called Island Paradise Рwhich was a trip on a Catamaran to Paradise Island, otherwise known as Cayo Saetia. We stopped for snorkelling on the reef and had a delicious lunch, followed by beach time on the most glorious of beaches, before heading back to mainland.

The other was like a Great Rail Journeys tour – we went to Santiago de Cuba for the day on the coach. As it was a journey of 3 hours each way, we departed at 7am, stopping for breakfast at a local farmers house, and we got to see how they lived – they also offered us loads of homegrown food including their own mangos, coconuts, and even cheese and coffee. Right up our street.

We then carried on to Santiago de Cuba, Cuba’s 2nd largest city and one full of history. Fidel Castro proclaimed the victory of the Cuban Revolution here, and as such his grave lies here, which we visited and got to see the changing of the guards – the Cuban equivalent to Buckingham Palace ceremony. We also visited a UNESCO fort; Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, a real life Pirates of the Caribbean Fort! Situated high on a hilltop over looking the sea, it was really atmospheric and we really enjoyed our visit.

We finished the trip with mojitos on the rooftop of the Case Grande hotel and a mooch around the city, before snoozing all the way back to our hotel. A great day!

Both our trips gave us chance to see the real Cuba – life beyond the resorts. Fascinating as it really is a poor country which relies on tourism and agriculture. Some of the roads were merely dirt tracks.

On our final evening in Cuba, we took a trip to the yearly local carnival – it was so much fun, but sadly I drank WAY TOO MUCH rum, and actually can’t remember a great deal. The pictures looked bright and colourful though!

Before we knew it it was time to fly home – and straight into a rehearsal for our next show.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Cuba, and would highly recommend a stay at Playa Pesquero. Despite all the negativity on tripadvisor (and a story even made the Mail yesterday so I hear!) we would definitely return. The food was excellent (if you enjoy eating local cuisine that is) – there was a lack of English food such as chips and burgers (hurrah) and lots of fresh fish, lovely tender slow cooked beef and rice and beans. As with travel to any of these exotic countries – it’s important to exercise a bit of caution. If you see food lying around, give it a miss – there was so much choice and absolutely loads of fresh food to cook stations. Give your bellies time to adjust, so don’t get absolutely HAMMERED on the plane or as soon as you arrive. Keep hydrated, there was oodles of bottled water available. We drank 1.5l of water each on the flight over. The Cuba staff couldn’t do enough to help us, they were absolutely lovely. I really felt for the Thomas Cook reps out there as they were having to deal with so many people complaining – at the end of our stay we went to personally thank them and the relief and shock on their faces said it all.

Cuba – you were just what the doctor ordered!

Here’s a pic of our fave member of staff- the real life “Ask Alexa”

Walking Cambridge’s Roman Road – A One night Britstop Adventure

Ruby the VW Campervan is parked up at Britstop number 217/18 – which is a pub in Cambridgeshire, just off the M11, A11 and A14. We are sharing the carpark with a Dutch family who are on the way to the Harwich ferry.

This one has been on our list since February, when the 2018 book was released and I spent a rainy Sunday flicking through each and every location, adding Post It notes to those which catch my eye. I’m not the only one who does this right?

Despite living only an hour from Cambridge, and having one of our best friends living near enough ON this walk, we had no idea until the Britstop book arrived that there was a Roman Road walk in Cambridge. Those who read regularly will know Keith is a huge history buff, and he particularly loves anything Roman. ¬†We’ve had two failed attempts at this trip – due to weather conditions either being too hot or too rainy. The joys of living in the UK and its unpredictable weather!

The Roman Road is approximately 10 miles in length and runs from about 1 mile away from Cherry Hinton Park and Ride almost to Haverhill, bypassing Wandlebury Country Park, Worstead Lodge, Little Abington, Hildersham, Linton and Horseheath.

We had arranged with the Britstop pub when booking our table for dinner, that we could leave Ruby in their carpark from 10ish that morning. On parking up, we grabbed our two rucksacks packed full with water and snacks, and jumped on the number 13 ¬†Stagecoach bus from near enough outside the pub to Wandlebury Country Park at an eye watering ¬£5 each for a single! For any more than two of you, I reckon a taxi may have been cheaper! Shock subsided, we took our seats upstairs for the 20 minute journey to the Country Park, disembarking at “Fort Stop”.

We met our friends for a picnic lunch in the park (you need to bring your own as we didn’t see any cafe’s or anything) before waving bye to them and hunting down the Roman Road – actually its very well sign posted, as is the Bus Stop if you decide to do this walk the other way round.

We were joining the Roman Road about a mile or so from it’s starting point, just off Wort’s Causeway. As with any well-preserved Roman Road, the path was visible for as far as the eye could see. We put our best foot forward, and with the Memory Map app on Keith’s phone tracking us, we were pretty impressed with our pace considering it was quite a warm day and we’re a little out of shape.

The path varied in how well it had been preserved – some bits were really excellent and some less so. The walk took in the rolling hills of the Cambridgeshire countryside, but the Roman engineering never made us feel like we were climbing huge gradients. Well, to be fair, they weren’t¬†huge gradients but there were definitely some gradual inclines!

Along the way we saw loads and loads of butterflies and wild flowers and parts of the path are SSSI.  The heat of the day gave it a Mediterranean feel throughout so it was very atmospheric. We stopped for water every mile and got through a bag of haribo and a box of angel slices! Despite passing several villages equipped with pubs, cafes and shops, there wasnt any signs to these villages off the Roman Road Рso you need to bring your own food and drink.

Before we knew it we had reached the end of the road, literally! We were both genuinely shocked that it only took us 3 hours to walk- time flies when you’re having fun but surprisingly considering our lack of long walks recently, physically we felt fine and like we could have carried on! Happily our parking spot in the pub was just off the Roman Road so by 4pm we’d found ourselves a table in their beer garden and enjoyed a few cold drinks – my first pint of Aspall did not touch the sides!

Our meal later on was absolutely sensational. We had scallops and tempura prawns to start, followed by homemade burger and chips for Keith and lamb kebab, flatbread greek salad etc for me. The bar was dog friendly and they served local gin from Bury St Edmunds, so we settled in there for the evening, feeling thoroughly satisfied that we’d managed to walk the walk!

The Britstop did well out of our stay Рour bill came to £106! So far more expensive than a campsite, however the food, drinks and service was exceptional Рfar higher standard than the standard pub grub Рand therefore a real treat for us to enjoy together without having to wash up. We also had probably £50 worth of drinks! And Jazz got a handful of dog treats too. More importantly the location was perfect for this walk.

It’s worth me pointing out that most people wouldn’t have to spend the amount we did- mains were between ¬£10-¬£19- we chose the most expensive starters at ¬£12 for the scallops but they were amazing and we fancied a blow out meal.

After quite a warm night, we woke up early and set off around 7.30am for Wandlebury Country Park again – where we started yesterday. Parking from 8am was ¬£3 all day – we wanted to walk the small northern section that precedes the Country Park before going home. I’m really glad we did too as it was by far the best preserved section – the high banks which had been dug by the Romans are still visible and in use today to make the Road stand higher.

At the bottom of this section there is a free car park – so you could park here and walk the entire length then get the bus back to the Park and return to your car if you didn’t want to stay at the Britstop – your loss though there!

We feel privileged to enjoy this walk – we’ve spoken to loads of people since getting home from it and noone seems to have heard about it. Neither had we – so a big thanks to Britstops for once again opening up a new area/walk for us. We will absolutely deinitely return – next time we will treat ourselves to the Chaetaeubriand that lurked on the menu!

Until Next Time

Lx

Some Helpful Planning tools for this walk:

The Walk information leaflet

About the Roman Road

Getting to the Roman Road

Stagecoach Bus 13 Timetable 

Wandlebury Country Park Access Info

Join Britstops 

Stepping into Churchill’s footsteps – A night away and a visit to NT Chartwell

It’s hard to believe that our last little adventure in Ruby was back at the beginning of June, when we had a weekend at the Caravan and Motorhome Club Site at Crystal Palace and visited the Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms.

It therefore feels natural that our next little trip away followed in the theme of Sir Winston Churchill, with us visiting his house – National Trust Chartwell. Of course, in reality it wasn’t planned to be so ordered – we were of course supposed to be setting of to the New Forest on Wednesday for two weeks. Life got in the way however, and we decided to treat ourselves to a week in the Caribbean instead to recharge – but we don’t leave for a couple of weeks, so we decided to combine an important visit to Keith’s dad who is recovering after a new hip with a cheeky night away and then a day out to Chartwell.

After spending some time doing some odd jobs for Barry and Valerie and helping them with some chores (and having a little relax in their beautiful garden), we headed just 5 miles to the Caravan and Motorhome Club site Alderstead Heath. In all the years we’ve had a motorhome, we’ve never stayed here despite its close proximity to the M25, London and most of our family and friends! It also is literally across a field from where Keith lived for 6 years!

The campsite itself is fabulous actually Рits huge and the pithes are well spaced out and landscaped. Despite it being close to the M25 its really not noisy Рand is surrounded by rolling Surrey hills. It has all the excellent facilities that you come to expect from a Club site and at £24.90 for the night we thought it was good value.

We arrived at 4pm and headed straight out for a walk to nearby Chaldon Church, which is a really pretty little Church with rare and magnificent medieval wall paintings dating from the 1100s. The walk from the campsite took us about 20 minutes across the heath, over a field and through a field of sweetcorn. It couldn’t have felt more away from the traffic and chaos that surrounds the area! (We both lived there – K for 38 years – me for 3 years – so this area brings back lots of memories!)

There is the option at this point to carry on walking on a circular walk until you reach the Fox, but as it was late in the day and Keith wanted to show me his old house in the other direction we retraced our steps back across the fields and beyond the campsite to Netherne on the Hill to see Keith’s old stomping ground.

Nostalgic session over we got back to Ruby and had the most delicious BBQ we’ve had in ages, before sitting and chatting and chilling as the sun went down.

After a wonderfully silent night and deep sleep we woke and enjoyed a snooze with the tailgate open – the joys of a spacious private pitch! Keith made me an omelette for breakfast using our new gadget – Electric Omelette Maker. Just plug it in, whisk some eggs and whatever fillings you enjoy, pour in and ten minutes later you are enjoying the most perfect omelette. Perfect for campsite days with electric hook up and really dinky to store too. A bargain at ¬£13.99¬†¬†and it’s really easy to clean too.

After breakfast we packed up, waved bye to Alderstead Heath, joined the M25 and drove 25 minutes to Chartwell, once home to Sir Winston Churchill.

We couldn’t have picked a more perfect day to visit, the sky was a wonderful shade of blue with not a cloud in the sky. The National Trust own Chartwell so members visit for free. It is however worthwhile pre booking your house tickets online to make sure you have a time that suits you. Its free to do so (if you’re a member that is)

We really enjoyed our look around the house – but its understandably very busy – especially since the film The Darkest Hour – which parts of were filmed here.

There is also a really good museum which includes plenty of Churchill’s uniforms and medals. I loved the Monet painting of Charing Cross Bridge -it didn’t jump out at me first but when it did I was mesmerised by it.

The grounds of Chartwell are wonderful – there is no doubt why this was a favourite place for Churchill. We brought a picnic with us and enjoyed it on the lawn in front of the house.

After a wonderful few hours (and possibly the best local ice cream I’ve had – the salted caramel Kent ice-cream was gorgeous) we nipped into nearby NT Quebec House – home to General Wolfe, we hit the carpark of the M25 and got home about 7pm feeling refreshed.

Highly recommend a couple of nights at Alderstead Heath – one to walk their walk and one to visit Chartwell, then onto Crystal Palace site (but it closes end of this year) for your Churchill War Rooms visit

Until next time

Lx

A change to our Summer Plans

The long awaited Summer Holidays are finally here. I’m not going to lie; last half term practically broke me. I have never been so non stop in all my career as a self employed music teacher and musician, which is great for the books but emotionally and physically I nearly cracked!

On top of a mad 7 weeks of work, we’ve once more had some hefty family situations to deal with resulting in numerous trips to and from London (some had to take place during the night and back again!), a village fete to organise, a hen do in Dublin and enough other stuff. Other than 2 nights in Dublin its been all work and no play for almost 8 weeks. However, we got through it all (just) and by Friday last week as we neared the end, Keith sat me down with a rather concerned look on his face. The conversation went something like this:

K: “I’m very worried about you – you’re exhausted”

Me: “I am”

K: “I think you need to sit on a beach for a little while and let someone else run around after you”

Me: “that sounds nice – yes please”

Don’t get me wrong – we both adore Motorhome Road trips, and we were both very excited about our 2 week pre booked jaunt to the New Forest, Dorset, Devon and Somerset which should have started on Wednesday. However, they aren’t always the most relaxing of breaks – I love driving, so despite Keith always offering, I generally drive. I also adore cooking so will aways make the most of being in a new area by cooking up some lovely meals. We have the bed to set out, decisions to make – shall we do this today, or that? They just don’t always allow for us to sit and not move for days on end unless we pre book a week on a site somewhere well in advance and then we run the risk of getting bored or the weather being rubbish.

So last Saturday we spent half an hour looking online for some last minute deals on Thomas Cook, flicking through package deals after package deal in Greece, Spain, Turkey. Nothing jumped out and we resigned ourselves to the fact that actually we are campers through and through and we’ll make an effort to chill this time.

We were just logging off when I said “lets see what happens when you click ‘All Caribbean'”…..

7 nights all inclusive in Cuba in a 5 star resort, thats what. £1500 all in for the both of us. Suddenly we felt excited and 10 mins later we were cancelling our campsites.

Sorry South Coast of England. Hope you understand…