Festive Fun in London

Gandalf the VW is parked at one of our favourite city break campsite- Crystal Palace on the outskirts of London. We made it to the end of term, dodged Covid (touch wood), gone through illness and sudden family bereavement. And that’s just been the last week. 

I don’t think I can remember ever needing a break like we needed this one. With constant reminders of life being short, yet the fear of travelling to the capital due to Covid high, we found ourselves at a moral crossroads as to whether we would make the trip that had been planned and booked for months on end, but in the end, we decided we would but with caution. And I’m really glad we did.

I’ll just mention about our journey into Crystal Palace – as a reminder for our future trips more than anything, but this may benefit you too. As some will know, London has expanded its LEZ zone to the ULEZ which impacts on driving older vehicles or those with diesel emissions around Greater and Central London. We were worried about how this would impact our trips to Crystal Palace. Well- we can now say, it didn’t. Our route from M25 (east- Dartford) was this. Come off M25 on the A2- turned left onto the A205 (south circular). This is the boundary of the ULEZ and providing you don’t turn right from it (inside it so to speak) you are fine. We stayed on the A205 until Sydenham Hill and then Westwood Hill towards the site.  This has to be the best route we’ve ever taken (granted the traffic was smooth) but we avoided the ULEZ- which was very well sign posted and hard to get muddled up in.

Our first night at Crystal Palace was spent in Crystal Palace. We had tickets for the Lightopia event- an illuminated light trail around the park. It was terrific. A real mix of bright and beautiful shapes and a real comfort to us – we’d both been in a dark place the previous few days due to the sudden death of my step brother which had taken a toll on us. 

Keith also took a trip down memory Lane as a Croydon boy, Crystal Palace Park – and it’s listed dinosaurs dating from the Victorian era featured heavily in his childhood. It was the first time I had seen them and I was blown away by their size and beauty- especially considering their age.

We really enjoyed Lightopia and would recommend it for all ages as a great alternative Light trail.

Next morning and the highlight of our trip. Keith, as some of you know, is a huge film fan. He adores the story of A Christmas Carol and lovingly watches every single version, every single year. Earlier this year he dreamt up, with the help of this an “A Christmas Carol “ themed” day.

We started at The Charles Dickens museum, sited in his old house on Doughty Street, and were in awe as we saw artefacts from Charles Dickens’ life. The absolute highlight was his writing desk and chair- which Dickens used whilst writing Oliver Twist amongst others. Just incredible. The house is beautifully decked out for Christmas in a very traditional style. It set the perfect mood for our Dickens inspired afternoon.

From the museum on Doughty Street, Keefy guided us to the Bank Area of town, pointing out landmarks such as workhouses and prisons which may well have inspired Dickens. “Are there no Prisons? Union Workhouses?” He used the map – and his knowledge of the story to guide us the couple of miles to Bank.

The alleyways and side streets in this area are thought to have inspired Dickens- and having spent the day exploring by them we can absolutely get on board with this idea.

We’d pre booked lunch at the chop house, which was likely to have been inspiration for the location of Scrooge’s office due to the description of the church tower from the window. Having never been to a chop house before we had no idea what to expect. It was small, comprising of benches and booths and oozed atmosphere. The menu was small and to the point- meat; Barnsley chops, pork chops, rump steak, gammon and sausages then you pick your side of mash, bubble and squeak etc. We had a great meal- Barnsley chop for me, sausage for Keith served with mash and bubble and squeak. For desert we had Stewed cheese. Oh wow we were in heaven!

After a great dining experience we followed our map around the back alleys of Bank, passing The Jamaica Inn – site of the first coffee shop location in London and also White Lion Yard which was said to be the inspiration behind Scrooge’s house. 

We really were enjoying ourselves, and despite walking through this area more times than we can remember, by exploring the nooks and crannies  we felt like we were having a real adventure!

We stopped for a couple of refreshment stops, highlights were Leadenhall Market, which is believed to be where Scrooge sent the young boy on Xmas day to purchase the “prized bird”.

We also indulged in a glass of champers at the Fortnum and Masons pop up champagne bar in the Royal Exchange following our dinner of mini pies and mash in The Counting House. In keeping with our “A Christmas Carol” themed walk, The Royal Exchange would have likely been the place in which the fellow bankers were discussing Scrooge’s funeral plans during the ghost of Christmas Future’s outlook.

What an utterly splendid afternoon we’d had- and we still had Kenwood House to look forward too! 

We took the tube to Hampstead Heath, and walked about 2 miles to Kenwood House in time for our 7.30pm tickets. Kenwood House is a 17th Century Villa and for the first time this year offered a ticketed Christmas light trail. We really enjoyed how the trail felt inspired by the nature surrounding the grounds, with a lime tree avenue lit up in lights and fire displays, it felt natural and lovely.

Our favourite was the immersive laser display which was just superb. The projections on the rear of the house were just incredible too. It really got us in the Christmas mood and we just had the most lovely of evenings.

By now we had clocked up almost 10 miles on foot, and it was a tricky journey back to Crystal Palace, with bus, tube, bus etc. So we investigated the price of an UBER from door to door- and were surprised it was less than £30, so went for the taxi ride home instead which worked really really well!

The next morning arrived and we hadn’t got to rush off quite so quickly this morning so we had a bit of a chill, reading and snoozing. We set off towards London on the number 3 bus, getting off at Lambeth Palace where we enjoyed a walk along the Thames along the southbank. Big Ben has started to emerged from his scaffolding which has been up for years now, and is looking really shiny and sparkly, despite the grey clouds above. 

Our first stop was the Southbank Xmas market, which was noticeably smaller this year, presumably a result of Covid and the uncertainty of restrictions this festive period. We did however eat some lovely food, and actually had show our Covid passport to gain access to a food area.

From here we crossed the Millennium Bridge and wandered towards Covent Garden via Trafalger Square where there was another Xmas Market. Sadly the stalls were absolutely identical to those on the Southbank which I felt was a shame, so we continued to Covent Garden to sniff out some hidden alleys.

We continued on foot from Covent Garden all the way to Knightsbridge and more specifically Harrods, Via Picadilly and a browse in Fortnum and Masons flagship department store.

We brought some posh coffee from F&M and in Harrods stocked up on Cranberry Sauce for the Xmas Dinner.

At Harrods we enjoyed a drink in the basement bar called Baccarats. It’s a lovely art deco space which felt like an oasis compared to the hustle and bustle of Harrods. 

From Harrods we made our way back to Trafalger Square via Regent Street to see the Xmas lights which were now sparkling away beautifully before having dinner at Thai Square just off Trafalger Square.

We finished our day of festive fun with a drink on The Tattishall Castle, our favourite London pub with a terrific view over the Thames.

All too soon our adventures were over and it was time to head home to Jazz who had been having fun with my Mum. We were really pleased to have enjoyed a couple of days in London despite Covid taking hold again and the mood in the city being uncertain to say the least. The change of scenery had done us both good and we had tried to enjoy it as much as we could in case its the last time we are away for a while. 

Wishing you all a WONDERFUL Christmas and New Year – here’s hoping for happy and healthy 2022 filled to the brim with adventures far and wide. 

All being well, although we’re not away for New Year this year, we hope to snatch a trip before the schools go back…

You’ll have to stay tuned to see where to!

Until next time 

Lx

Adventures in Cirencester

Monday night

Gandalf the VW is nestled beneath the autumnal hues on a lovely woodland glad on the edge of the Cirencester Park C&MC club site. During the summer months we’ve been trying to avoid club sites where possible, finding them a bit busy for our liking but now with Autumn firmly here and Winter on its way, we like the reliability of nice hot showers in a heated block and hard standing spacious pitches. With the nights drawing in we find them quieter than the summer months- as the sun drops fellow campers seem to retreat back to the cosiness of their own units rather than making noise outside. (I promise we’re not antisocial- we just like some peace and quiet to recover from the noise we encounter teaching music in and out of school during term time)

Our first evening here was spent enjoying long hot showers and a simple supper of chicken fillets in the Remoska and vegetable rice. We’re still recovering after a crazy half term so the Remoska has come into its own, being able to just dump food in it with zero effort and watch it cook with absolutely minimal effort is just what we need right now.

We spent the evening reading and enjoying the stillness of the campsite, whilst digesting our exciting day of exploring the Cotswolds today.

Tuesday

Tuesday soon arrived and we awoke to more dry weather after some rain during the night. We showered before our morning tea as the club site facilities are closed between 10:15-12:15 (I’m sure there is a calculated reason for this schedule, but it always feels a strange point in the day to close; particularly a two hour closure this early in the day!) but regardless, anticipating a queue we decided to get on with the mornings ablutions which worked well.

After breakfast we made the short walk under the underpass and to the Roman Amphitheatre site. Cirencester (or Corinium Dobunnorum as it was known as then) was a Roman inhabited town, and actually had 18,000 Romans living here in its day (interestingly it only has 20,000 population now according to the Corinium Museum). The Roman Amphitheatre which was sited here was a large one, seating 8000. Whilst there is nothing structurally to see now, you get a very good idea of its size and it’s shape remains with steep banks still encompassing the arena.

From here we picked up a published walk, the Cotswold Gateway walk, which took us through some pretty woods and back under the underpass and down into the town centre.

As we became closer to the town the building became prettier, once more with that flagship Cotswold stone gleaming in the autumnal sunlight (well it did when the sun popped out from behind the cloud!)

Keith visited the Corinium museum whilst I dog sat in the cafe next door.

He really enjoyed the museum and learnt some bits and bobs about Roman life in Cirencester; and saw some interesting artefacts. His stand out item was a rare bronze table lamp that was made in Italy but found here in Britain. He also learnt that Romans typically would start an evening meal with a mouse kebab – they would eat anything and everything. This made us both recount fondly our visit to Wuhan and Beijing several years ago, where the markets all sold bats, Scorpions and spider kebabs. Of course that market in Wuhan has become well known more recently for other reasons hasn’t it.

From the museum we went in hunt for lunch. Cirencester appears to be exceptionally dog friendly and there was no problem in finding a place to eat. Sadly Covid has left the hospitality industry struggling with service staff and therefore it took us a couple of go’s to find a pub serving food without a huge huge wait. We did find a nice place on the very pretty Blackjack street through and their Cotswolds Poutine was absolutely delicious.

After lunch we continued with the walk we were following which took us through the Abby Gardens to see the 12C Norman arch, and a surviving section of Roman wall.

We then broke away from the published walk to explore the town centre some more

before making our way back to Gandalf via the very grand and typically Georgian Cirencester Park.

We did nearly get stuck here as the gates close at 5pm! Luckily a warden spotted us and waited for us before he locked us in! In hindsight we should have navigated away from the published walk earlier today and used this route into town rather than along the road as per the published route.

Nevertheless; we’d had a great day exploring. Cirencester is smaller than I’d imagined but prettier. I feel like it’s possibly missed off when people come to the Cotswolds, despite being the “Cotswolds Capital” which is a shame as it has a lot to offer including some lovely independent shops and quaint, picturesque lanes.

Of course, if you’re a Roman History enthusiast like Keith then it’s an essential place to visit. The highlight for me was definitely seeing the amphitheater site.

Those who know, know!

Dinner tonight was another Remoska special! (We’re getting lazy!) We cooked up some Game burgers which we picked up on our route into the Cotswolds last week along with chips.

They were AMAZING! I’m not sure if we’ve had game burgers before but we said if our route home takes us past that butchers then we’ll be stopping to stock up our freezer!

Wednesday

After another great nights sleep (we’re really catching up on rest- hurrah!) we woke to grey but dry skies above. Todays plan was taking the bikes for an explore of the wider Cirencester area. We ended up having a fairly early (for us) start! Waving bye to Gandalf as early at 1015am was unusual for us!

We took inspiration from a published bike ride but adapted it slightly to include a couple of Roman Roads.

Cycling on one of two Roman Roads in the area

We had a lunch stop at the newly reopened Crown Inn at Cerney Wick, which was absolutely amazing by the way, and passed lots of lovely Cotswold countryside on our 33 mile – yes, 33 mile *shocked* route.

Our particular highlights, other than lunch of course! – we passing a couple of traditional Cotswolds Roundhouses, and even more amazingly, and totally spontaneously, passing one of our favourite composer’s birth house- we’re talking about Ralph Vaughan Williams, composer of The Lark Ascending plus many more who was born in Down Ampney.

The Roundhouse at Cerney Wick
The house in which Ralph Vaughan Williams was born (now a private residence)

We really enjoyed the cycle, and were impressed with ourselves at the distance we covered. Having the electric bikes has transformed our travelling.

Once back at the van, we took early showers and had a chill (for a change!). I finished another book and Keefy enjoyed a couple of films. The site is so peaceful at this time of year, it really was a great place to unwind and we’ve enjoyed our stay here immensely.

Thursday

Time to pack up Gandalf sadly! Not having the awning up made our pre departure routine much quicker, and we were on the road for 10am. We pre booked tickets to National Trust Chedworth Roman Villa as a stop on our journey home – we’ve visited here before but it must be 10 years ago, so we felt it deserved another visit. It’s not dog friendly so Jazz had a chill in the van whilst we donned our walking boots for an explore.

We are so pleased we returned as the exhibition has been updated and we couldn’t remember much from our previous adventure here.

The highlight was unquestionably the bath house. The remains of the brick and underfloor heating system are brilliant, and you can get a fantastic feel for the layout and atmosphere of what used to be the Bath house in this large residential Roman estate.

You can also see the original spring, which would have been the reason why they built a villa here in the first place. We found that really interesting – it’s still dispensing water now despite being a small trickle.

From here we made our way to Chastleton House, another National Trust property. En route we made an impromptu stop at a farm shop, distillery/ brewery and smokehouse to have a nosey. Upton Smokery had a fantastic selection of smoked items- so we brought some trout for lunch, and the distillery and brewery had a taproom so we had a swift “one for the road” which resulted in me buying some gin as it was absolutely delicious. The staff were great and showed us around the brewery as the brewer was actually mid brew!

We drove past Jeremy Clarkson’ farm shop ‘Diddly Squat’ which was RAMMED so we gave that a miss before arriving at Chastleton in time for a car park lunch of cheese, smoked trout, sausage rolls, scotch eggs. All delicious!

Chastleton was also not dog friendly sadly so Jazz had another rest in the van whilst we nipped down to the house.

Chastleton is a unique insight into the Jacobean period- the entire house is a time capsule as it hasn’t changed since the 1600s. It has a tired feel to it- something which the National trust are embracing to show it in its authenticity of when it was lived in as a private residence. There are some fine examples of Jacobean decor, which is unusual as most Jacobean interiors got updated in the Victorian era- this did not as the family who lived here lost their fortune and therefore couldn’t afford to make any changes.

The whole place had a somewhat mysterious feel to it but we enjoyed our visit. Following our visit here we hit the road back to Norfolk. We’ve got a few more days of half term but have a few bits happening in the village that we are organising for Halloween so we are making our retreat back home in time. We’ve had a brilliant break and very much enjoyed our time in the Cotswolds.

We’ve got a few things planned for the next few weeks, including some winter camping, so it won’t be long before we are back out and about!

Until next time.

Lx

Road tripping in the Cotswolds

Monday morning soon dawned after a groggy night in Gandalf. A little too much overindulgence perhaps for my birthday celebrations resulted in a broken sleep as we both tossed and turned with indigestion in the early hours. Still, we’d had a brilliant day in Chipping Norton and were excited about our adventures to come today.

We left the delightful Nuhulme Certified campsite around 10:30, and as we had no firm plans hit “trendy places” on the Garmin Campervan Sat Nav device.

Our first stop; a point of interest just a couple of miles down the road was the Rollright Stones, which absolutely blew us away. They are a collection of amazing (and large) prehistoric megalithic monuments built from large natural boulders found within about 500m of the site. They consist of a large Stone circle, which legend goes, is impossible to count how many stones make up the circle, and if you do manage it three times you have to make a wish; a kings stone and three whispering knights.

They are sited with a beautiful backdrop of Cotswold countryside and we found the whole site extremely atmospheric. Roadside parking made this site easy to visit with Gandalf, and there is a suggested donation of £1 pp.

From here we continued a short distance to Batsford Arboretum. Wow. What a splendid way to get our steps in for the day. The autumn colours were at their peak, and we thoroughly enjoyed our walk around the Arboretum drinking the colours in. We were exceptionally lucky with the weather. The blue sky provided these autumnal trees with the most perfect backdrop and we both agreed that this was the best display of Autumn colours we’ve seen in the UK.

After a quick lunch in Gandalf, we continued to the tiny village of Lower Slaughter. Parking here was a bit more problematic- the village is tiny and very traditional, and understandably doesn’t cater so well for tourists. After a couple of loops backwards and forwards though we got lucky and timed our pass through with someone leaving.

The village of Lower Slaughter is just beautiful and brims with Cotswold beauty. There is a small stream that runs along the main road and with lovely little cottages sat in front of it, and a beautiful under slung working mill, it’s just perfection. We would have loved to have had a drink here but sadly both the mill tea room and pub were closed.

From here we made our way to Bibury, another very small traditional village with some picturesque National Trust managed cottages, Arlington Row .

Arlington Row was originally built in the 14th century as a monastic wool store. It was later converted in the 17th century into a row of weavers’ cottages. Parking here was available, although it was very busy with tourists and Instagrammers striking poses!

Sadly the weather took a brief turn here so we didn’t spend a great amount of time exploring Bibury, but, we managed a hot sausage roll from the local stores!

After a brilliant day of exploring, it was time to find our way to the campsite via a quick food shop.

One of the best features of the Garmin Campervan device is the ability to shape our route to include places such as supermarkets and farm shops etc. At just a very quick press of the button we discovered a Tesco Extra pretty much on our route (but not visible enough for us to have found it without us knowing it was there). It saves us a lot of time, where we used to have to find addresses for supermarkets and then find where they are on the route. It also came into its own today as several times we were without phone signal meaning Apple and Google maps were impossible.

We are thoroughly enjoying using it for our road trips 6 months on!

We arrived at Cirencester Park C&MC club site late afternoon, first impressions are good. More on our adventures in Cirencester next time!

Until next time

Lx

Adventures in the Cotswolds – Part 1

Friday

October half term is here at last and we can press pause on work for a few days and recharge. I’m not going to lie; the last week or two have been stressful. Covid has become rife in some of our schools and whilst we’ve been able to carry on (thankfully for the bank balance) emotionally it’s been a rollercoaster to say the least, and quite frankly we’re feeling like, somehow, we’ve successfully dodged the bullet. For now.

Keefy and I worked as a true team over the last few days, we’ve both had very little free time, so with any spare ten mins we had here and there being carefully booked out to pack items and tick off our to do list. As such our clothes have been packed in bags since Monday, the wine and beer and gin have been touring in Gandalf around Norfolk as we’ve gone from school to school, the bikes were loaded on between lessons yesterday and therefore all we needed to do this morning was load the fridge and drive off, which was good as we were both a little bit fragile from some early birthday celebrations with friends last night!

We had a decent journey to the Cotswolds, with a brief stop at Deddington because we passed a deli and butchers and couldn’t drive by! Somehow we ended up with a very modest haul- I blame the hangover, but we managed to get some local sausages , game burgers and a local gin and whiskey miniature.

My beautiful birthday flowers have come on tour with us. Thanks Keefy

We arrived on site, a very lovely C&CC Certified Location on the outskirts of Chipping Norton just after 3pm.

The campsite, Nuhulme, has a shower cubicle and toilet so we made the decision to use these rather than set out our tailgate awning this weekend. When we spoke to the owner we were surprised to learn that we are the only people booked on this weekend. So no worries about noisy neighbours!