A Christmas escape, full of light and hope; Blenheim Palace Dec 12th/13th

Gandalf the VW Campervan is parked on a fairly quiet Caravan and Motorhome Club Site on the outskirts of Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire. We are sat here pinching ourselves, quite amazed that we’ve managed to make this trip. The odds seemed so against us fulfilling a trip that we booked months and months ago, we’ve barely dared mention it, let alone think about what to expect.

When we booked this back in July I think, we were just coming out of lockdown #1. Christmas seemed ages away and talk was that we’d be near enough through the end of this awful pandemic by then. It seemed a good idea to not book a European Xmas market trip, but we felt sure a trip to Blenheim Palace Christmas Light trail would be an easy escape. The days and months ticked by, new restriction upon new restriction came and then changed. We quickly realised that things weren’t as close to returning to normal as we’d hoped so shelved any further plans and just let this little trip to Blenheim sit in our diary, not daring to think about it at all. Lockdown #2 came and went, and then came the tiers. The chances of us and our destination being in tier 2 to enable us to make this trip seemed unlikely, but here we are. We were immensely lucky to be able to grab a change of scenery and we were going to enjoy it as who knows when we will manage it again.

The C&MC club site on the outskirts of Blenheim Palace is great (Bladen Chains). It’s walkable to Blenheim Palace and the pretty small town of Woodstock, where every building is built in Cotswold Stone.

On arrival to the site we enjoyed a quick set up and cracked open some fizz. The weather gods were shining down on us, and although it was cold, the sun was out, so we wrapped up and had half an hour sat outside the van, watching the day visitor cars exit the Blenheim estate.

We enjoyed Mulled wine and amaretto before walking to nearby Bladen, and The White House pub where we’d pre booked a table for dinner. The White House was allegedly Winston Churchill’s old local- I hope the food and service was better for him – we had a so-so meal and left underwhelmed. We walked in the footpath towards Woodstock (20 mins) where we saw 4 or 5 much prettier pubs – but sadly tier 2 restrictions on having to have a meal meant they were largely empty.

We continued into Blenheim estate for our timed entry to the light show. Immediately we knew we were in for a treat- the projection/light show on the house alone was absolutely sensational.

The rest of the trail did not disappoint- in fact it completely overwhelmed us and we both ended up crying several times on the circuit. Each section was carefully constructed with its own theme/song. The lights utilised the landscaping of the grounds, and the mix of Christmas music used was fabulous. It was atmospheric, tasteful and just utterly mesmerising. By the far the best Christmassy experience we’ve been on in the UK, and we’ve done a few now- nothing ever has surpassed Kew Gardens, until we visited Blenheim.

We took our time, making a couple of stops at the festive bars of course and drinking the atmosphere in. We were pleased to see that although it was fairly busy, everyone was making an effort to adhere to social distancing throughout.

After we exited we walked the short distance alongside the estate exit road back to the campsite, where we enjoyed a dram under the stars, watching the meteroid shower that happily was peaking this weekend.

Sunday dawned wet and grey but this wasn’t going to dampen our spirits. We’d got timed tickets for the inside of the house thanks to our Tesco Clubcard points so after a bacon butty and a hot shower in the heated block we made our way back to Blenheim Palace.

The Christmas tree display inside was stunning and we enjoyed our visit – although sad that we couldn’t see the room in which Churchill was born, it gives us an excuse to return another day.

After our self guided tour we headed back into Woodstock for lunch at a pub, before making our way back to Gandalf for mulled cider and a big chill. It felt wonderful to be away and enjoying chill time in Gandalf as so far our trips since getting him have been more jam packed and faster paced.

Sunday night we were treated to another wonderful display of the meteroid shower- I’ve never seen so many shooting stars. They were like natures own light show.

Monday morning soon arrived and we had set our alarms bright and early as we had to return in time to begin work.

We arrived home feeling re charged, thankful to have escaped for a couple of days and ready to face whatever comes next.

We’re supposed to be away for New Year but that’s looking unlikely so for now we’re hunkered up at home keeping ourselves and our family safe.

Christmas is going to be different for many of us this year, but whatever you end up doing, keep safe and well. Fingers crossed there is light at the end of this dark and gloomy tunnel.

Merry Christmas

And until next time

Lx

Kitting out our VWT5 SWB Bilbo’s Campervan

We started motorhoming in 2010 in a large traditional shaped white motorhome.

Over the following 7 years we acquired more and more “stuff”, then suddenly we had to downsize to Ruby, with was an experiment in itself. Would we cope with the smaller leisure vehicle? We were amazed that most of our stuff from our motorhoming days still fit in – Ruby was a LWB T5 and significantly smaller that Bluebell and Daisy. But over the 3.5 years we had her, we felt we were becoming more and more cluttered. We did carry A LOT! So when we downsized once more, this time to a SWB T5 we decided a ruthless sort out was in order. As we reloaded Gandalf we couldn’t believe how much we fit in once more, but with space to spare! Below we’ve listed exactly what we carry to enhance our camping experience, along with where it gets stored!

Bathroom

12v Shower with bucket – stored in Boot

Folding Paddling pool to stand in to collect waste – stored in Boot

335 Porta loo – which fits underneath the seat when travelling. It sits under a piece of carpet which makes sliding it out very easy and smooth. As soon as we are parked up (if we put up the tailgate awning) this is transferred into the tailgate awning. The cupboard is then used for our clothes bags and shoes.

Micro fibre towels

Kitchen

Cadac Safari chef – stored in Boot

Slow cooker – stored in Boot

Remoska – stored in Boot

Moules pan – stored in Boot

Ridge monkey – stored in Boot

Multi pan for breakfasts – stored in Boot

Hairy bikers cast iron frying pan – stored in Boot

Square griddle pan with folding handle – stored in Boot

Small egg frying pan – stored in Kitchen cupboard

Camembert baker – stored in kitchen cupboard

2 saucepans (from Home bargains) – 1 large, 1 small – stored in Boot

Melamine Dinner set – stored in kitchen cupboard

Melamine mugs – stored in kitchen cupboard

2x pint glasses -stored in kitchen cupboard

2 x on the rocks glasses – stored in kitchen cupboard

2x wine glasses – stored in kitchen cupboard

Cafetière – stored in overhead locker

Silicone colander – stored in kitchen cupboard

Grater – stored in kitchen cupboard

Steak knives – stored in kitchen cupboard

Small Spice jars – stored in kitchen cupboard

Collapsible washing up bowl– stored in boot

2 soup flasks– stored on overhead locker

Whistling kettle – stored under seat

Travel Kettle for EHU – Stored under seat

Bedroom

For the winter; fleecy duvet set and 13 tog duvet

Fleece blanket

2x hot water bottle

For the summer; lighter duvet with cotton cover set.

Storing them…. Day to day, the duvet and pillows are stored behind the seat. When we travel we add our clothes bag on top, along with the food box.

Garage / in the boot

Short hose pipe with attachments

20l plastic Jerry can with screw on hose nossel – stored in boot

Levelling chocks stores in boot

External screen – stored in Boot until on site

Tailgate awning – stored on bedding until on site

Canopy for awning rail (attached permanently in the roof gutter) stored on bedding until on site

Folding Camping Chairs stored on bedding until on site

Table stored on bedding until on site

Dog spike stored in boot

Storage

Folding storage cube for extra seat and foot stool. – Folded up behind the drivers seat next to the table.

Plastic boxes x 2 – one lives under the seat with cleaning items in; washing up liquid, micro fibre clothes, floor wipes, kitchen roll etc. One has gin, wine, food that is brought out from the house as we leave. It travels on the back above the bedding, and when we park up it sits on the pop top shelf along with the cleaning box.

Entertainment

Roberts radio

iPad Pro – loaded with Netflix, bbc iPlayer, prime video, and Monopoly

Kindle

iPhone 11 Pro Max for photos/videos

Polaroid and Sproket Instant Printer

Inflatable paddle board – this only comes on occasions that we know we will use it and when parked up on site is stored either in the tailgate awning or in the front footwell.

Walking boots – put on the floor and moved into the front footwell when parked

Cagoules and Fleeces/Hats and Gloves – stored in Wardrobe

Walking books: 1001 Walks AA Pub Walks in a Box

Insect and plant book

Foraging book

Campervan cooking book 200 Slow Cooker Cookbook – above books all stored in overhead locker

Adventures with our National Trust membership card…

Gandalf the VW Campervan is parked at Alderstead Heath Campsite for the night, just off the M25 in Surrey. This is our third trip here; the reason for our return visit is that Keith’s dad lives just ten mins down the road – although the campsite is well worth a visit in its own right.

We’ve spent the weekend giving our National Trust membership card a bashing. On Friday we stayed local but took Keefy’s mum for a day out to Ickworth House National trust on the outskirts of Bury St Edmunds. We’ve visited before and it’s one of our favourites. Ickworth’s iconic Rotunda is just re-emerging from many months under scaffolding as the NT undertook a large re roofing project but the extensive woodlands are worth visiting, especially at the time of year as the leaves start to turn into a wonderful autumnal display.

We spent some time geocaching and also really enjoyed looking at an outdoor photography exhibition too before showing off Gandalf whilst we had a picnic lunch.

Keith received his flu jab first thing on Saturday, following this we made a mad dash to Alderstead Heath, arriving just after midday. We had a super speed set up as my father in law picked us up promptly at 12:30 and we set off for a couple of hours wandering around the grounds of Chartwell, former country home to Winston Churchill. (Dog friendly)

The remainder of the day we spent at Barry and Valerie’s enjoying some quality family time together before getting dropped back to Gandalf later on that evening.

Parakeets visit my father in law’s garden

Sunday dawned really sunny and a perfect autumnal day. We started as we meant to carry on; a full cooked breakfast. Yum! My breakfast pan copes very well on our new hob layout and I LOVED being able to stand up whilst cooking it!

On the way back to Norfolk we stopped at a (pre booked) visit to Emmetts Garden.

Emmets Garden stands at one of the highest points in Kent. The views from the hillside gardens are fabulous and the gardens host many exotic species of plant, tree and shrub. Neither of us had been before and we really loved our visit. The colours were sensational and the blue skies did wonders for our mood after a hard few weeks back at school,

I also achieved a week long ambition – yes really!- of spotting a Fly Agaric. Any ideas what that is?!

A popular pastime this week has been spotting as many different types of fungi as possible. Here’s just some that we spotted on our local dog walk last week…

But my top two have been…

This Beefsteak Mushroom at Ickworth House NT
An arial view of the Beefsteak mushroom

… and this pièce de résistance today

Just two more weeks til (hopefully, Boris allowing) we can dart off for a week in Half term. We’re keeping everything crossed! For now we are feeling reenergised and grateful to have had some time to reconnect with nature this weekend; and of course spend some family time with our nearest and dearest.

Until next time

Lx

PS I need a haircut!

Adventures in London 🇬🇧

Gandalf the Grey is nestled underneath a rather famous landmark on the London Skyline. No, it’s not the Big Ben, or the London Eye; it’s the radio transmitter mast at Crystal Palace!

We’ve had this break booked in for some time, and have been carefully monitoring whether we’d be able to able to travel and actually make the trip for some time too. The reason for the visit was to make use of our historic Royal Palaces membership which we invested in for the coming year: in February.

After a fairly smooth journey to London on Friday morning we had a very quick set up before jumping on the conveniently located number 3 bus which stops near enough outside the campsite and takes you all the way to Westminster. We then made our way west on the District line towards Kensington. We paused for a drink before making our way to Kensington Palace; childhood home to Queen Victoria and many of the young royals over the past few years; including Princess Diana and even now, HRH Prince William and the Duchess Kate.

Kensington Palace turned out to be a highlight of our visit. They focused on 3 different eras of Royals, one of which was Queen Victoria and there were quite a few original items on display that belonged to the young Queen, including an old dress from when she was 12 years old and her Coronation Robe.

Because of a Covid tickets are pre book only and we hit jackpot as we were the only ones there! We had a very happy few hours wandering around taking in every room. Personal highlights for me were seeing a room where court composer Handel played and seeing a dress of Princess Diana’s.

After our visit we took a wander around Kensington Gardens, enjoying the bright Autumn sunshine and the fact that we’d escaped terrible weather in Norfolk!

We popped for a drink at another pub in Kensington before making our way to our previous booked table at a local Thai, which was fabulous! New laws had just come in meaning we needed to wear masks which we were more than happy to do as we entered and exited pubs and restaurants, and the whole system was working well and we felt safe.

Can you believe this was taken at 7.30pm on Friday night in central London.

Saturday dawned bright but chilly and were were up fairly early admiring the Crystal Palace mast through our pop up windows! We took the number 3 bus again, this time alighting at Brixton before jumping on the tube to Borough Market. We had a drink at the historic National Trust pub, The George, a Galleried pub underneath the Shard, before picking up fish and chips at Borough Market.

We then walked along the River Thames to Tower Bridge before crossing it and entering The Tower of London.

Like yesterday it was very quiet, there were no queues for the Crown Jewels, we could take our time and when there were areas that clogged up (the Bloody Tower) we were able to stand back and wait for others to clear out. It was amazing seeing not only the Crown Jewels but all the other coronation equipment such as the 12th Century spoon that is used and even an 11th C chess piece.

We really enjoyed our visit, but there is just so much to take in, I will admit, I got a bit over tired at one point!

From here we walked to another favourite spot of ours, St Katherine Docks.

By now the weather had become a bit chilly and drizzly, but we enjoyed our drink on the gallery at The New Inn.

We decided to walk all the way down the North side of the river for 3 miles towards Embankment and Westminster. We passed an old section of the Roman City wall which was pretty impressive. Everywhere was just so quiet, considering it was a Saturday evening it felt eery.

Part of us liked it, part of us found it a bit weird! Either way we were pleased to have London near enough to ourselves though! We managed to bag the best seat in the house at The Tattershall Caste, a floating barge pub, moored directly opposite the London Eye so had a couple of drinks here before making our back back to Horse Guard Parade for our bus back to Crystal Palace.

We had a great time using our Historic Royal Palaces membership. As a charity they really are struggling right now with the devastating effects of Covid on their finances. I worry that they will struggle to continue looking after these historic venues for much longer, so if you are able please think about booking a visit. They have got such strict covid procedures in place, we felt so safe, and the staff were genuinely overjoyed to see us having had month of no visitors.

Crystal Palace, we’ll be back another time to tick off some more of our ever growing London List!

Until Next Time

Lx

New beginnings; Adventures on the Norfolk Broads.. in Gandalf

Gandalf the Grey is parked up on a lovely little Certified Location (a 5 van members only site with no facilities other than EHU) in Thurne on the Norfolk Broads. Home Farm is just 45 mins from our house, and although not quite on the banks of the river, the River Thurne is only a couple of hundred metres walk away and we also have a rather nice looking pub a minute way too. A perfect location for us to try out our new wheels!

The best thing about Gandalf is that all our pre existing gadgets have transferred across from Ruby, apart from the tow bar of course. “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” and this is a sentiment close to our heart after a terrific summer of campervanning in dear old Ruby.

We have made one slight change though. Keith, who has only ever been happy bbq-ing on coals, decided to give up charcoal in favour of a Cadac Safari chef. Mainly because the boot is slightly smaller in Gandalf, this saved having to carry charcoal etc around. It’s compact size fits in our boot a treat.

We’ve changed a few other small bits and bobs here and there and I will do a full list of our new gadgets shortly.

On arrival to our site, we set about our first camp set up. We filled with water at the tap as our water tank is now onboard and accessed through the tailgate. Up went the roof, and I soon discovered that my setting up jobs were minimal as now the food boxes live in the cupboards permanently there was barely anything to transfer from the boot! I helped Keefy with the tailgate awning and we fought with the wind and got the canopy up for an hour or so. The passenger captain chair swivels effortlessly and so we were literally set up and enjoying lunch within 30 minutes. Perfect!

We went for a wander round the local area, following a 2 mile geocaching trail and finished with a pint or two at the local pub before making our way back (with takeouts!) for showers in the tailgate awning and then a bbq dinner on the cadac. Everything worked like a dream and we were loving standing up!