Winter Adventures and festive fun; London Part 2

Saturday arrived after another really great sleep- the Crystal Palace campsite is so incredibly quiet, despite being in so close to the centre of London.

We enjoyed a quick egg bap for breakfast before doing some house keeping- Keefy emptied the loo & refilled the water whilst I did the washing up. By 10.30 we were on the bus- this time we took the 363 to Elephant and Castle and then a short walk to Borough Food Market. Despite living in Croydon for just under 40 years, I was supposed to learn that Keith had never been here! When I lived in Croydon I’d often nip on the train to London Bridge and spend a few hours expanding my overdraft here.

Borough market is one of London’s oldest and largest food markets- a market has been there since the 12th century. Our first visit of the day ticked all our boxes- food and history and we spent a very happy hour or so perusing the stalls, trying as many samples as possible, buying some British saucisson and English mature soft cheese, and then treating ourselves to a sausage roll and also a portion of haddock and chips – well the stall proclaimed they’d just won an award for ‘best fish and chips’ so it would be rude not to ‘check’. They were bloooomin lovely by the way.

Borough Market is a perfect place to visit from Crystal Palace- and is totally dog friendly. It does get busy though.

After our fish and chips it was time for a beer to wash it down, so we popped to nearby favourite of ours, The George- a National Trust owned galleried pub, nestled just off Borough High Street and only 5 minutes walk from London Bridge station.

Inside the smaller bar there is a very interesting clock – apparently it’s one of the only clocks still hung in its original place. It was hung in this bar in 1797!

Fish and chips washed down, we took the short walk to London Bridge and made our way on the underground to Notting Hill Gate. Our destination was The Churchill Arms – one of instagrams most pictured pubs in London. The reason..

It has over 100 Christmas trees on its exterior and over 12,o0o lights. It’s not just the Christmas time when it becomes popular to visit. In the springtime it’s completely covered in over £25,000 worth of flowers! Another pulling point for us was that is serves very highly recommended Thai food – in fact it was London’s very first Thai restaurant in a pub over 30 years ago.

It. Was. Packed.

Properly rammed inside, but as luck would have it, we managed to get a seat at the bar to watch the endless tourists and locals battle their way through. We booked a table for lunch and happily got seated only 30 minutes later.

We enjoyed a couple of pints of Fullers Snow Globe whilst we waited and are 90% sure that we spotted Ian Mckellan emerge from the restaurant.

The meal was absolutely beautiful, we shared a chicken pad Thai and Thai green chicken curry. It was incredible value, just £9 per meal!

As the weather had turned bad, and we managed to get a table in the bar, we enjoyed another pint whilst we waited for it get dark to enjoy the lights outside. As day turned to dusk the bar became even busier, I seriously don’t know how everyone fit in!

Around 4pm, we jumped back on the tube and headed further west- to Turnpike Green. Our destination was Chiswick House and gardens for their After Dark light display. Sadly by now it was lashing it down but we weren’t going to let that dampen our spirits. Scuse the pun.

Chiswick House is a beautifully elegant 18th century villa, with acres of land. Sadly given the weather we weren’t visiting the inside – the After Dark trail was an outside event. The first part of the trail was a 4 minute loop of specially commissioned music composed by Sergio Pizzorno from Kasabian, set to a light display by Nick Gray. It was brilliant. We really loved the music, and actually the wet weather gave the whole thing an added atmospheric effect. Aren’t we British!

The trail was a little sparser than others we have done, however enjoyable nonetheless. We especially loved the laser projections over the lake and the large moon.

At the end of the trail there was a handily located marquee with street food and a bar, serving hot mulled wine and mulled cider – or wassail. As we were drenched we took advantage of a spot by the heater and warmed up with a mug of wassail before making the journey back to Westminster on the district line and then picking up the no. 3 bus to Crystal Palace just outside the Houses of Parliament. We were back to Ruby just before 9pm.

Sunday dawned much dryer thank goodness- in fact it was a perfect winters day- dry, yet cold and crisp with a stunning blue sky. We took our time packing away, but decided to make a couple of stops en route home. We stopped off at Greenwich, parking just off Blackheath common in a free parking spot, and walked down through Greenwich park to Greenwich Market.

Another great place for food lovers- we forced a sausage roll and a scotch egg down whilst browsing and finishing some Christmas shopping off.

After an hour or so we went back to Ruby and crossed underneath the Blackwall tunnel towards Hackney, our second stop of the day. We found a free on street car parking space on the road near Sutton House, a National Trust Grade II Tudor Manor House. It’s amazing to think that this old building is right in the middle of Residential Hackney. At the moment it has a ‘Christmas through the ages’ exhibition on which was really interesting; some rooms were set out as they would have been at Christmas in the Tudor times

Some rooms were set out as a Victorian Christmas which is more like the Christmas that we know.

And finally an 80s Christmas, which is a nod to when squatters took over the house before the National Trust evicted them and took over the house.

The most fascinating fact I learnt was that in the Tudor times turkey was eaten- however the Norfolk turkeys were walked from Norfolk to London, setting off around August!

It was a lovely visit and one to stop at if you’re passing- it’s right by the start of the M11 but is a pig to get to on public transport from central London.

We had the most wonderful time, despite learning of our friends death the day we arrived. Christmas in London is just so special and this time we found pockets of areas off the mainstream list of tourist spots which we just loved exploring.

Until next time, which won’t be long, as we’re heading north for a few days next weekend.

Lx

Our Annual Scotland Pilgrimage – May 2018 Part 1, Norfolk to Arisaig

Thursday

Is it me, or has this half term just flown by?! It only seems like last week that we were returning from China, but in fact we’ve been home for 6 weeks now and therefore it’s surely time for another road trip. May Half Term for the last few years has been earmarked as our annual jaunt up to our most favourite travel location of them all, Bonny Scotland. Thursday is our mad busy day at work and we don’t finish in Thetford until 7pm. We parked a fully loaded Ruby the Campervan at school, then Mum delivered Jazz the pampered pooch to the school gates at 7pm, and by 7.10pm we were on  A14 heading towards Carter Bar border crossing near to Jedburgh. 

This year we were particularly excited as the weather forecast was looking amazing! I think this excitement and the fact that we avoided every traffic jam going, helped us pitch up just after midnight at the large lay-by at the Border Crossing on the A68 Jedburgh road (Carter Bar) 

Friday dawned disappointedly cloudy, but this enabled us to make a very quick exit from Carter Bar as we weren’t distracted by the view. We shared our space with a traditional romany gypsy cart and horse, but for the first time ever, no other motorhomes. We had quite a drive today as we were skipping through our normal stopovers of Loch Lomond and Black Mount in order to get to Silversands Arisaig in one day. We did however make exception for the Loch Lomond Farm shop, a traditional stop for us to line Ruby’s fridge full of local fresh meat and ale and cider. 

We had a quick picnic “on the Bonny Bonny banks of Loch Lomond…..” before carrying on the A82 up past the Bridge of Orchy, Black Mountain, Glencoe and then Fort William.

We were noticing that the traffic was a lot heavier than other years, in fact we were nearly unable to get parked at the Glencoe viewpoint, definitely no cuppa this time, so instead we stopped at the Glenfinnan monument for a cuppa and a quick leg strech before arriving at Arisaig Silversands campsite at 5pm. 

We’ve been to this site several times previously. In our opinion, its one of the best beachside campsites in the UK. Especially if you book early and manage to get one of the beach front pitches. The showers and loos are basic but clean. And just look at our view!

We got the gas grill out and set about cooking a burger feast from our farm shop haul for dinner before enjoying a sensational sunset and a wee dram.  We couldn’t believe when we looked at the clock, expecting it to be near to 9pm – it was actually nearly 11pm and still pretty light.

Saturday

The weather was just glorious! Our plan was to unload the bikes and cycle round to nearby Camusdarach Beach which is where Local Hero was filmed, just like we did last year. However, the weather was just so gorgeous, and the beach in front of Ruby looked so inviting, we decided that we would stay at the campsite all day and enjoy the campsite beach and have a chill.

Out came the self inflating sofas and we made the long (10 metre) walk to the beach which is where we stayed ALL DAY!

We’ve never ever done this on a camping trip – we always try and cram in some cycling or walking or exploring. Jazz loved it as because the beach was empty he got to do lots of off leading which we normally can’t do as he’s not the most obedient pup in the world!

 

 

We actually managed to get sunburn – this is a first for us in Scotland. We felt like we were in Greece on a beach holiday. It was perfect. A perfect day has to end in a perfect BBQ, and Keefy did not let us down on this.

After another incredible sunset we hit the sack. A lovely relaxing day.

Sunday

We had a relatively early start today as it was time to wave goodbye to our stay at SilverSands. We waved a sad goodbye to owner Jim, around 9am and drove the short distance on the coast road to Camusdarach Sands. As the beach was quiet I had a play with my drone and Keith pretended he was Peter Reigert (Mac in Local Hero) and went for a long walk along the shoreline.

See drone video here

The weather was just beautiful again. Around 10am, we set off to Mallaig, and after stocking up on some supplies at the Coop we boarded our first of two ferries that day – Mallaig to Armadale (Skye). 

The journey was smooth and enjoyable, we had the binoculars out looking for wildlife. We were first off the ferry which was handy as we had to drive across Skye from Armadale to Uigg for our next ferry to the Isle of Harris. Skye was looking wonderfully green against the bright blue sky. We were desperately looking for some local fresh fish to take with us to cook as we were fairly sure we were going to be on the sea again tonight, but as it was Sunday there was nowhere other than the coop open. I managed to get some Hebridean salmon, but that was it. The Sunday closing also prevented us spending a sizeable amount in Uigg at the Isle Of Skye Brewery shop! If you are passing through, we highly recommend the Skye Red and Skye Gold Ales. 

After a quick ploughmans lunch in Ruby whilst queuing for the ferry, we loaded onto the slightly larger ferry, the CalMac Hebrides Ferry. We were so excited, its been a plan to revisit Harris after our last visit in 2012 and the weather was just incredible and looked set for the week. The ferry journey was a lovely and smooth 90 minute journey. We sat on the top deck looking for whales and dolphins and enjoyed an Isle of Skye red. It got so hot we actually needed to move to the shade! 

You can read our next instalment here

Until Next Time 

Lx 

48 hours in Boston, MA

Day 1

We had arrived late (well 8pm – but 1am English time) so after arriving at our Air B n’ B around 9pm we hit the sacks, and therefore woke up very early on Day 1.

Not wanting to waste a second, we showered and were out by 7am having breakfast at Dunkin Donuts, which was near enough next door to our 2 bed flat.

Our Air BnB was located on the outskirts of Charlestown, about 10 mins cab from the airport and about 10 mins taxi to the centre of Downtown Boston. We like the idea of AirBnB as because we are used to motor homing, we really just needed a base, with a shower, bed and coffee making facilities.

Day 1 started with us exploring the Freedom Trail – which is a 2.5 marked trail through the centre of Boston taking in the most famous and historical sites the city has to offer. Before we booked Boston, I had no idea about what a historical city it was.

boston-nps-map

Our plan was to take in half of the freedom trail on day one and half on day two. We began at the Visitor centre on Boston Common so took a Tube from our accommodation to Park Street Station.

We walked through the common admiring the golden leaves and soon found ourselves at the State House.

We followed it though the city centre stopping at the old Burial Ground and the Old State House which is where the Declaration of Independence was read (pictures above).

We popped into Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market – two of the oldest markets in Boston – Faneuil Hall was great to shop for souvenirs and Quincy was a food lovers heaver. Crammed full of food stalls from every cuisine you can imagine, but a recurring theme was seafood of course due to our seaside lication, and lobster and clam chowder featured heavily – as it’s a popular dish here in New England.

Mouth’s set to drooling we popped to the waterside grabbing a beer each at Boston Harbor Cruises ‘The Landing’ – harbor-side bar, before making our way to Quincy Market to pick up a picnic lunch.

I opted for the Lobster Ravioli and boy was it good – Keith went for a Lobster roll, Mum a mac n cheese pie and Alec, a Hot Dog.

After lunch we went back on ourselves back through Boston Common and up Beacon Hill – we stopped for a quick beer in the famous Cheers Bar – slightly disappointing inside, but a must anyway, before exploring the trendy and insanely pretty Beacon Hill district.

All the houses around here had gorgeous fall decorations on their doorsteps and Acorn Street was worth a stop for a picture with its charming cobbled hill.

We went for another wander around Boston Common before requesting an Uber to take us back to our apartment for a freshen up and change for dinner. That was a mistake – traffic in Boston is horrible most of the time. Avoid taxis during peak hours – we called ours at 4pm and it took us over an hour to get 3.5 miles. If we hadn’t have been so tired we could have walked – but the T rail is very good and cheap so if I were there again that’s what I’d do.

Day 1 was our lobster meal night. After many recommendations from Twitter etc, we had pre booked a table at Legal Seafoods in Seaport region. Alec had never had Lobster and it was his dream to eat it in Boston, one of the reasons behind our trip. We had a cocktail on the roof terrace before we made our way to our table by the window – Keith and Alec had the full lobster experience, whilst Mum and I had other lobster alternatives. The meal was fantastic, as was the service and I would wholly recommend this place to try Lobster, our server held Keith and Alec’s had throughout the “cracking the lobster” procedure and actually the meal was very good value -each lobster was under £30 each!

Day 2

Darned Jet lag – we were awake early again, so got up and dressed and went for breakfast at Dunkin Donuts once more. Today was part 2 of the Freedom trail, along with a look around the Naval yard, USS Constitution, the Italian North End and we even squeezed in a boat trip too!

We took our T line train to Haymarket station where we picked up the Freedom trail and followed it all the way around the very charming North End – the “Little Italy” section of town. It’s a lovely place to browse around, perusing menus for later on, taking pictures of the many buildings decorated in lead, and smelling the wonderful aromas of coffee and other Italian delights. The buildings are charming and it was lovely looking around.

Before too long though it was time to head back to Long Wharf for our 10.30am Historical Harbour Cruise. What we didn’t realise when we booked it, was that today was the day the USS Constitution was making it’s first sailing in over 2 years because of restoration works that have taken place. Also – when it’s not being restored, it only sails once a year – so we were beyond thrilled to learn that not only was it sailing but it had just left it’s shipyard and was about to sail RIGHT PAST US! Wow! It truly was the most wonderful sight.

The Harbour Cruise worked as a hop on, hop off, which was perfect as we got to hop off at the Navy Yard, where the USS Constitution usually is based – despite it not being there we could still look around the USS Cassin Young, and also pick up the ending of the Freedom Trail, which led us through the absolutely stunning area of Charlestown and up to Bunker Hill Monument.

We climbed the 492 steps up Bunker Hill Monument and we rewarded with views of the USS Constitution making it’s way back to the yard.

We opted to go for a sandwich lunch at one of the oldest taverns in Boston, which handily was right by the Bunker Hill monument, The Warren Tavern. It served delicious food – mum and I loved our clam chowder, whilst the boys had humungous burgers. The local Downeast Pumpkin cider was one of the best ciders I’ve tasted.

After lunch we walked back to the Navy Yard where we were in time to see the USS Constitution back in dock – what a majestic ship she is. Our Harbour Cruise picked us up at 2pm and we made our way back to Long Wharf.

From here we walked the mile down to the Boston Tea Party Museum and got booked onto the next tour. Whilst this wasn’t my cup of tea (scuse the pun!) – Keith loved it. It was a proper all out American presentation of the history of the Tea Party Massaceur and was very interactive – i.e. the actors all gave us a role to play. There were a couple of moments inside the museum which were pretty impressive (technology based and I won’t spoil it) and also you got to see one of the original tea crates which was  pretty cool.

We made our way back to the apartment for a quick change before heading back into downtown for a couple of local beers in two more historical taverns – The Green Dragon and The Bell in Hand, before wandering into the North End for a delicious Italian meal at  Quattro.

Itinerary Details

Day 1

AM: Freedom Trail  from Visitor Centre Boston Common to Visitor Centre Fencuil Hall.

Lunch: Beer at The Landing (Boston Harbor Cruises) and Lunch at Quincy Market

PM: Beacon Hill District especially taking in Cheers Bar, Acorn Street and Chestnut Street.

Evening: Pre dinner cocktail on the roof terrace then seafood dinner at Legal Harbourside (Floor 1) 

Day 2

AM: 9.00am  Pick up Freedom Trail at Haymarket Station then do the North End Section up to Copps Hill Burying Ground.

10:30 Pre booked Harbour Cruise   $22.99 pp (Hop on Hop Off)

11:00 Disembark Harbour Cruise at Navy Yard, look around then continue up to Bunker Hill on the rear end of the Freedom Trail.

Lunch: Warren Taven – one of the oldest tavern’s in Boston

2pm: Take the Harbor Cruise back to Long Wharf and walk to the Boston Tea Party museum 

Evening: Couple of beers at Green Dragon Tavern and The Bell In Hand – both historical taverns then an Italian meal in the North End – we went to Quattro and it was delicious.

ACCOMODATION

Air B n B – 2 Bed apartment by Sullivan Square transport hub. Total for 3 nights for 4 people – £ 411

Next Up: (Coming Soon)

2 Day Roadtrip in Vermont

2 Day Roadtrip in New Hampshire

24 Hours in Salem, MA

24 Hours at Niagra Falls

Our annual Pilgrimage to Scotland Part 3: A quick stopover at the Lake District 

Ruby the campervan is parked up alongside  Gillside Beck- we arrived here yesterday, Friday, after a fairly longish journey from our Loch Ness Brit Stop. The reason for departing Scotland a day early is stood proudly behind us, and frankly looks scary as hell- perhaps that’s where the name Helvellyn comes from! For a couple of years now, Keith and I have talked about how we’d like to tackle Helvellyn and Striding Edge. For both of us, it’s a personal challenge. Neither of us particularly like hill walking, and I’m terrified of drops, yet I have spent hours marvelling at people’s instagram pics of Striding Edge. I just knew I had to go and give it my best foot forward. Luckily, my husband is also crazy so despite his hatred of walking up hills agreed to attempt it with me, if he weather looked ok on or way home from Scotland. 

So back in February we booked our pitch at Gillside Farm, knowing there was a hefty chance we’d cancel if weather looked bad. We’d been about internet for well over 24 hours and finally picked up 4g as passed through Fort William. Keith as driving and I checked Patterdale – well il be blowed it was only showing full sun for tomorrow. “Off we go then”, I said, feeling the colour draining from my chops! 

Gillside Farm is nestled right at the bottom of the main path from Glenriding up to Helvellyn- so on arrival we decided to check where our oath started, before prepping our rucksacks, making a packed lunch and enjoying a simply cook Murgh Kari curry for tea. The mood in the Ruby was certainly of apprehension! We watched the live election debate before calling it a night. I dreamt that we got stuck on Helvellyn! What a great dream- not! 

Saturday dawned as promised, absolutely glorious. There really is nowhere as beautiful as the Lakes in this weather! Apprehension was again strife! We moved around our daily routine almost in silence- I chucked some venison and a few bits of stray veg into the slow cooker to bubble away ready for our return. Keith packed, double packed and triple checked the rucksacks. By 09:15 we’d had our porridge and cereal bars and were ready to go. I was BRICKING it. 


The first mile is literally uphill. There is no relief from it – it is hard. Really really hard. Loads of people passed us, we were both puffing like a steam train and I was almost ready to chuck the towel in. However-the  views were stunning and that really kept us going. The views to Ullswater were sensational. 

 

After over an hour and exactly a mile- the uphillness became easier! I thought I’d suddenly become super fit but Keith declared “hurray, we are now following the contours rather than crossing them” We were rewarded with great views of Helvellyn and red tarn and actually started enjoying ourselves! 

Before we knew it we were reaching the start of Striding Edge. I gave myself one last talking to and before I know it we were across! Striding Edge if you are not familiar, is a ridge that leads to Helvellyn, England’s 3rd  highest behind Scafell and Sca. It was really, really hard- in fact a man in front of us stopped and turned round- he said he couldn’t cope with it any more- so was going to find the easier path. Keith and I (and jazz!) kept our heads down,took it very slowly and carefully and stopped regularly for photos – AND I DIDNT HAVE A PANIC ATTACK! 

I still can’t believe we walked across that ridge!!!

Getting to the other side my legs were like Jelly. Then we realised we had nasty scramble ahead to get to the summit. It wasn’t a scramble it it literally was rock climbing. Omg. 😳 However the camoradory between all the walkers was fantastic – and as we crossed the last ridge before the summit I had a tear in my eye! We’d done it! Bucket list ticked ✅




After a cheese roll or three we discovered it was as steep if not worse on the way down! Off we set, taking so much care- we even had to carry Jazz over a couple of bits as he refused and dug his claws in! Slowly we descended and 3 hours later we were back at Ruby feeling immensely proud of ourselves! 


We had a swift dram before continuing to the pub for a couple( including a Lake District Gin!!) and returning to Ruby for our venison stew.


Tomorrow we head home (sad face!) we have had a blast and couldn’t have wished for an sweet finish today. We’ve survived 10 whole days in our downsized campervan with no pop top. Ruby is working for us! Hurrah! 

Until next time 

Lx 

Our annual pilgrimage to Scotland, May 2017. Part 2. Wester Ross

Tuesday

 We had such a peaceful night at the foot of the Cuillin Hills and slept like logs! Unfortunately when we woke up it was still not great weather wise, so we wasted no time in packing up and hitting the road. We made a quick stop at the Spar shop in Broadford before taking the Kyle Bridge back over to the mainland. We had a brilliant time shopping in the Spar, it was crammed full of local food and drink- our major weakness! We popped in for some potatoes and some rice, and came out with over £60 worth of goodies, including some local frozen venison, sausages, veg, a bottle of Misty Isle Gin (whoops, that slipped in the basket!) cheeses, chutney, ales etc. Whoops!


Back on mainland and we took the Wester Ross Coastal route, which was beautiful despite the wet weather. We pulled over for some toast and marmalade overlooking Loch Caron, and carried on towards Gairloch. We really enjoyed this route and can’t recall taking it before. We will definitely return to this area, and hope for some better weather next time. Talking of the weather, just as we were pulling up at our home for the next two nights, Gruinard Bay Caravan Park, the rain stopped, hurrah! 
The pitches at Gruinard Bay Caravan Park have a super view, they are right on the beach front. We however managed to be assigned the pitch closest to the neighbouring graveyard… so we decided to park on sidewards so our door was directly facing the sea. Not sure if we were meant to, but no one challenged us, and it wasn’t particularly busy there. Otherwise our door would have been directly facing the graves! It was a nice enough site, but needed a bit of TLC to say the least. Showers were clean, but very small, and actually only one of each sex, and situated in a rickety portacabin. We enjoyed a chill overlooking the sea for the remainder of the afternoon, and a hearty Spag Bol for tea before having an early night. 


Wednesday arrives and still no sign of rain, so we enjoyed a full cooked breakfast outside before driving off pitch 8 miles down the road to visit National Trust for Scotland’s Inverewe Gardens.


 We enjoyed their pinewood trail first with Jazz, then left him to sleep in the van whilst we wandered round the gardens. They are billed to be the best botanical gardens in Europe. We enjoyed our visit although I think we were perhaps a couple of days late to enjoy the best of the rhodedendrums. Still worth a visit. 



On our way back to the campsite we followed signs for “The Food emporium”, which turned out to be a little smokehouse where we picked up some delicious smoked cod and smoked cheddar cheese.


 By now the sun was back out in force so we scuttled back to the campsite and set up base again. Tonight we enjoyed a lovely BBQ, this time on the gas one as it was bit drafty, consisting of our smoked cod and couscous for starter then steak and chips for main. Yum! Keith washed his down with some very local ales from a small craft brewery down the road, one of which he said was the best he’d had! I also managed to get the drone up a couple of times. A happy afternoon and evening. 


Thursday 
We decided to make an earlyish start as we’d got a few miles to cover today. We skipped our morning cuppa and breakfast, choosing to stop at viewpoint further into our journey to enjoy those. 

Somehow, despite a breakfast stop and a top up Tesco shop, we managed to arrived at our Brit Stop location almost an hour before our first eta! We are now at BritStop no. 841, a tea room and farm shop situated on the quiet side of Loch Ness. We’d never taken the B852 road on the other side of Loch Ness before, and Keith tells me the road is called General Waide’s Military Road. It was a lovely alternative to the much busier A82 . After introducing ourselves, we had a quick bite to eat and set off for a little walk down the road to the Falls of Foyer. What we didn’t realise was that Robert Burns based his poem “Waterfall” on these falls, and they are set within a most spectacular gorge. 

It really was a lovely walk, and we worked up a good appetite to enjoy a nice afternoon cream time on arrival back at the tea rooms. 
The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent chilling, tomorrow we have a longer drive towards the Lake District as we have a date with Hellvelln and Striding edge (weather permitting!) on Saturday. Dinner tonight was a very very tasty Simply Cook Haddock risotto. Yum! 

Until next time 

Lx 

To Brit Stop, or Not?

Firstly, before I write this post, I need to make it clear that I have no affiliation with Brit Stops, and pay each year like everyone else for our copy of what we call the Brit Stop Bible. This post comes on the back of 5 years of paid membership, and many, many happy stopovers at Brit Stop locations, but mainly after a discussion that Keefy and I had last night, whilst enjoying our latest Brit Stop evening.

brit-stops-logo

For probably as long as we’ve been members of BritStops, I’ve also been a lurker on many of the Facebook Motorhome and Campervan Discussion pages. Over the last couple of years I’ve noticed more and more people on these pages asking “Is Britstops worth it?”- and watched with interest people sharing their different opinions before sometimes feeling somewhat disappointed in people’s responses. Now don’t get me wrong, I know everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and actually isn’t that what makes the world wide web a wonderful place to be part of- so please don’t think that this post is intended to suggest that anyone who doesn’t agree with my opinion is wrong. Far from it. But last night, Keith and I experienced such a wonderful evening, that only came about because of our membership into Britstops, it really highlighted to me why we will always choose to be a member. So I thought I would share it.

photo-25-02-2017-12-11-18

Earlier this week, faced with a pretty long week at work, we decided we would nip out in Ruby the camper van on Saturday night for a change of scenery. We faced two choices- a BritStop location or a quiet CL site somewhere. It coincided with our brand new edition of the 2017 BritStop bible arriving, so after a loooooong day teaching on Tuesday, we sat down together for a leaf through to see if anywhere grabbed our fancy. So much these days is web based and online, and so we LOVE the fact that we can sit and flick through a proper book, page by page to see the locations available. This also is rather handy when you’re out and about on a tour and you need to change your plans but you don’t have any internet, like we did here. BritStops: 1 / other online database of pub stops: 0

You’ve got a user-friendly map page so you can see whats available in each area. In the case of us nipping away for a night we tend to say an hour’s journey from home- and we are lucky that this perimeter gives us lots of choice (although I’m sad that some of our favourites on the North Norfolk Coast are gone this year!) What we like about the BritStops book is that each place has a little write up from the owner describing their place. This really helps us to decide what we are in the mood for.

Our personal favourite types of stop are the farm shops and vineyards, of which there are loads in this years edition. I just love cooking, so to be able to buy fresh produce and cook it for our dinner that night is perfect. That or buying  a local wine/beer and drinking it that night on site, knowing you’ve experienced a local taste, local flavour and given something back to the owner in return for a free night’s stopover is just brilliant- and very, very similar to France Passion, which is what Britstops is based upon. The misconception between people who don’t rave about BritStops seems to be that its only pubs and in theory most pubs will let you stay overnight. There are loads of pubs included. But it’s not only pubs, and for that we think it’s worth the £27.50 membership alone.

img_0208
Sunrise amongst the vineyards- the morning after an amazing meal and wine tasting from an English vineyard in 2014.

We stumbled across this inviting advert from BritStop no. 232/2017’s host.

“Completely refurbished in May 2013, this characterful 16th Century pub still offers traditional games. Next to a farm that supplies us with local produce. (Landlord) doesn’t work from a menu, but is more than happy to make most dishes if he has the ingredients in!”

This sounded an unusual, quirky place, and so we wasted no time in giving them a call on the number provided, to book in for Saturday night. After a bit of a chat to the landlord, he asked us what we fancied to eat, gave us a few options and after asking whether we were fish, veggie or meat eaters he said leave it with me, I’ll see you Saturday! I’m not going to lie, we were quite excited! This seemed a novel approach to hospitality and a quick look on trip adviser soon told us people were raving about this place, although we were slightly anxious that we may have signed ourselves up to a private dining experience and therefore may need to remortgage the house on our return as we forgot to check the price!

The rest of the week went in a blur with work, but Saturday soon dawned and it was time to set off on our mini break. We checked the postcode and directions and used the handy key to see if we needed water, would have electric etc. Everything about the book is convenient and you can just tell it has been lovingly assembled by keen motorhomes, Steve and Mandy, who started BritStops in 2011. Since then they have increased the number of stops from 75 to 761!

c5xjeymweaapjwq
Over 700 new stopovers added since 2011. Obviously doing something right!

We stopped for a lovely walk at nearby Clare Country Park- which we found by using our iFootpath app, something we always do when we are heading to a new town/area because we are chasing a BritStop location, and early evening rolled into the car park of BritStop #232, just as the landlord was returning from a food shop. He opened up at 5:45pm and by 6:00pm we were sat at the bar having his last bottle of home brew bitter and having a nice little chat. The home-brew by the way was delicious. Probably just as well he only had the one bottle left though, at 5.5% I think we could have been in for a dangerous night otherwise!

Conversation soon got onto food, and Tony’s enthusiasm and passion for cooking immediately shone through. I can’t ever remember having such a passionate landlord/chef talk through a menu with us like we experienced here, and that includes my 30th where K took me for a Michelin taster menu at Morston Hall. He gave us options that included a curry platter, sausage and mash, linguine or home battered haddock and chips. After ten minutes of umming and ahhing and numerous changes, we decided on curry- Keith opting for a fish curry and me going for a section that included chicken and cauliflower balti, beef tikka, chickpea and sweet potato, homemade naan, basmati rice, popadoms, homemade ago chutney- the list went on. We asked if he could knock up a starter and he asked us if Garlic mushrooms and dough balls sounded ok. It sounded more like perfect.

We spent some time chatting to a friendly local and before we knew it the food was served. Huge portions, piping hot, absolutely gorgeous flavours. We were officially in food heaven. We were asked what we fancied as background music, we had a roaring log fire next to us, and Jazz the pampered pooch was enjoying fist fulls of home cooked ham!

As the evening went on, a couple more tables came in, and we witnessed the same passion and enthusiasm, enabling them to eat exactly what they fancied. It was time to ask for the bill and I’d got my credit card at the ready, with a slight sweat, and not just cos of the curry! You can perhaps imagine my shock when the bill read “Drinks: £21 (well we had had a long walk, and I didn’t have to drive!)… Food…….£28”. £28?! That’s surely per person I whispered to Keith. It wasn’t. £14 each for a completely home cooked to our specific taste meal. I’m not even sure I could cook it at home for that, and I didn’t have to wash up!

There is no way on earth we would have picked this pub, had it not been for BritStops. It’s in a tiny hamlet, in the depths of Suffolk. A little way off the tourist route. Not within walking distance of anything too interesting (although I’m sure given more time we may be proved wrong on this). If we had looked at google maps and tried to “pick a pub and call it” we just never would have found this place. It’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack. But with the help of BritStops, its taken all this information of where we are welcome and puts it into a user friendly format that doesn’t rely on internet connection – for us living on the Norfolk/Suffolk border we do not take this luxury for granted by the way! Mobile date hasn’t reached our village yet and we are not alone!

We look at our BritStop nights away not, as their tag line suggest, as Free Stopovers, but more like finding the real British gems and giving something back to off the beaten track hosts allowing us to spend the night there. Whether its a haggis pizza and a pint of home-brewed ale, some homemade cheese, local wine, or just old fashioned Great British service in a lonely village somewhere, we feel proud to be members and thank Steve and Mandy for their hard work in keeping the book up to date with regular monthly update emails.

It’s worth mentioning that the agreement of those listed in the BritStop guide does state that there is absolutely no obligation to buy anything, you just have to go and introduce yourself etc. However, for us, we couldn’t even entertain this as a thought – if someone is being kind enough to let you stay on their property the least we can do is have a few drinks and a meal. Pubs and small business’ are closing down left right and centre with the increase of larger shops’ and chain pubs- if we can’t help by spending twenty quid or so in their establishment then I’d rather go and stay in a lay-by somewhere. Or stay at home.

Some pictures below of our favourite all time stopovers.

img_3456img_395720140416-211220

So there you go, there’s my two – pennies worth on whether BritStops is worth the £27.50 annual fee.

If you are a member and are in/near to Suffolk and like your food – you NEED to pay #232 a visit. I promise you, you won’t visit anywhere else like it. Keep an eye on the website- he is doing themed food nights – with Italian night, Greek night, Curry night, and even a beer taster night- where you get 5 courses each matched with a different beer.

photo-26-02-2017-10-34-15-1

Until Next Time,

Lx

 

 

 

 

February Half Term ~ Fun and Frolics in Norfolk, Part 2

Bluebell the Motorhome is parked up metres away from the front door of Britstops no. 241 (2015 book), a pub and brewery situated within the Norfolk Broads. As per the Britstops rules, I can’t tell you our exact location as its members only, but if you’re a motorhomer and love your food and drink, then you need to join! It’s a free stopover, but you are encouraged to spend some money within the establishment…. What an utter hardship!! It’s a tough life, but someone’s got to do it…! In return you get a place to park overnight, which is very handy considering all the ale on tap tonight! 🍻 Although some Britstops offer some facilities like water or hook up, there are no facilities here but that’s ok as we filled up/empitied before leaving this morning.

Today has been a lovely day- the weather has been cold but mainly clear- luckily we’ve timed our day so that when the downpours of hail arrived, and we’ve had a few, we’ve not been out and about. We had a fairly lazy morning, partly cos we were waiting for the owner of Deodara to arrive so we could pay him, but he never turned up despite telling us he was coming at 09:30 so we ended up leaving the cash inside the electric hook up box and make our exit around 11:00. Probably wouldn’t rush back to that site if we are honest- nice location, but this business of the clay pigeon shooting every other weekend was a bit off putting not to mention loud, plus Sunday afternoon was spoilt by the neighbourscoming onto our pitch cutting down trees in a tractor whilst we were parked! All these things we’d have liked to fed back to Tim, the owner, but as we never saw him it was difficult!

Moving on, we stopped off at Tescos for a couple of bits and bobs and head towards Ludham, a small village sat on a picturesque broad.

We had a 5 mile walk (courtesy of our AA Walk box) which we enjoyed. About half way through the walk, Keith noticed on his memory map, a detour of about half a mile from Toad Hall, How Hill Centre to the River Ant.

The sun was shining so we went down the track and were rewarded by one of the prettiest spots I’ve seen on the broads.

There were two wind pumps and some decking and picnic tables- in the summer boat trips go from there, but today despite the sun shining, we were the only ones and it was truly wonderful to have half an hour there taking in the world and hearing nothing but reeds rustling in the wind and the water lapping up against the boardwalk. Perfect

The walk took us past a large water tower and back to pretty Ludham.

Our Brit Stop pitch for the night was only a 20 minute drive away and so here we are, parked up outside one of our favourite pubs in the county, faces glowing and bellies rumbling. We’ve already been in to sample a Nog- research of course, needed to check it was on for later! Our table is booked for 7pm and we’re treating ourselves to a slap up dinner. I’ve noticed venison pie on the menu- may have done a little jig at the bar in excitement, I had everything crossed that it would be on..

Until next time

Lx

A Winter’s Escape to The Peak District – Twixmas and New Year, 2015-16 – Part 2

Thursday (NYE)

Today dawned a stark contrast to yesterday, a gorgeous crisp winter’s morning with not a cloud in the sky. Today we were saying a reluctant goodbye to Topley Head Farm, and moving onwards, about 8 miles, to another Caravan Club CL- Flagg Hall. We really liked being at Topley Head Farm and cannot get over its price tag of £10 pn. The pitches were spacious, cracking views and all the facilities that we needed. We are stunned we were the only ones there for 4 days!

Continue reading “A Winter’s Escape to The Peak District – Twixmas and New Year, 2015-16 – Part 2”

American adventures on Amtrak- Part 6 Denver, Colarado

We arrived at Denver Union station almost an hour late, but seeing as it was still 09:00 in the morning no one seemed to mind the extra time in our sleeper cars!

   

  

 We were greeted by a coach and tour guide who gave us a whistle stop tour through the city of Denver before dropping us at our hotel. We were under the impression that we would be able to have an early check in, but sadly this never happened, which did result in quite a bit of waiting around the hotel lobby. John, our tour manager took us on a walk around the city, past the Capitol building with its beautiful golden dome and also the house of  Molly Brown, who was a survivor of the ill fated Titanic.  

 
    
   

   
There was a lovely park which was packed with different food trucks and some interesting sculptures dotted around. Keith and I decided to kill some time by nipping back down to the park and get some food- Keith opted for the Italian beef sandwich and I had a meatball baguette. The sun was shining and we enjoyed a relax in the park, before having a quick look around the Capitol building- we were also allowed up to the observation deck just below the dome. The view towards the Rockies was nice and it was an enjoyable way to spend an hour or so whilst we waited for our room to become available. 

              
Once checked in we grabbed a nap- and woke to an enormous thunder clap! We had a chill whilst the storm passed over and then headed into town. Word on the street was that there was a great place to try out local Bison, Ted’s Montana Grill, so we headed there first. Keith had the Bison fillet steak and I had slow cooked bison ribs, both served with local corn. It was delicious. So good that we ended up going back there the next da        

We stopped for a beer on the way back to the hotel in The Yard House, a bar that had a huge selection of local draft ales and lagers. We got id’ed again and as we didn’t have our passports a local chap said he “would vouch for us”! It’s very confusing the laws re alcohol here- we are now having to carry passports all the time,something we don’t like to do, some places insisting its the law to id everyone, others not bothering at all. Strangely, you can buy pot here legally though and don’t get me started on the gun law.. 

Friday dawned and we were up early- we’d booked onto the optional extra excursion up into The Rocky National Park. Our guide was a lively local lady full of interesting facts and stories and our driver was an Indian Chief… Chief Jim. The tour was absolutely fantastic, we drove to an altitude of 12,000 ft through the most impressive scenery we’ve come across, with plenty of stops for piccies and refreshments. Up at 12,000ft there was the risk of altitude sickness, symptoms which we incurred were light headed ness, shortness of breath, and feeling very “floaty”. During our trip we encountered herds of Elk, (a deer like animal) and we think we saw an eagle soaring above. 

   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
 We returned to the hotel shortly before 18:30, and we had a quick freshen up before heading out for dinner, back to Ted’s Grill, via The Tilted Kilt, a bar where the waitresses dressed in short mini skirt kilts and bras! We met up with another couple on the trip and went for dinner with them and had a lovely boozy evening.

Next stop, Grand Junction, which is right in the Wild West! Can’t wait! 

Jimmy’s Sausage and Beer Festival 2015

Bluebell the motorhome is having a little rest back at home. She’s been a festival van this weekend – providing us with a warm and dry bed whilst we enjoyed ourselves at Saturday’s Jimmy’s Festival

We booked the tickets for Saturday back in May, when we saw that Chas and Dave were billed for Saturday night- a bargain at £17.50 each we felt. Sadly the camping tickets had already sold out, so we found the closest Caravan Club CL, Rookery Farm, which was 3.5 miles away and only a mere £6 per night (no electric), booked that, and we’re all set. 

Fast forward to Last week, and we were keeping one eye on the weather. Our original plan was to go to Rookery Farm on Fri, and have a cycle around nearby Alton Water. But the weather gods had other plans… come Thursday, we made the decision to cancel our Friday night booking, and see out the torrential weather warning from the comfort of our sofa, instead traveling down to Ipswich first thing Saturday morning. Taxis were booked (more on those later) and we arrived at Rookery Farm in merry spirits as the rain was clearing, and we were set for sunshine! 

    
 We experienced a minor set back when we were waiting for our pre booked 11:45 cab by the side of the busy A road. It had gone 12:30, several unhelpful and downright rude (not from my end) phone calls to the taxi company and still no sign of our vehicle, so we decided to walk. A mile down the road, we noticed our cab about to whizz by and managed to flag him down. No apology from the cab driver as to why he was over an hour late and he promptly drove us a mile down the road, before arriving in a traffic jam, where he says you may as well get out here, it’s a mile to the entrance and its queuing the whole way. Fine we say, so we agree to jump out, and he attempts to charge us £9! For a mile journey that was over an hour late with no apology…. Er, right. Keith immediately says to taxi man, we are not paying you that, you were significantly late, you haven’t apologised and you haven’t done anywhere near the whole journey! Long story short, we end up paying him a fiver, and finish by saying to him, if you’d have just have apologised for the delay, and kept us updated then we would have payed you the full fare. 

So, we arrive, and it’s fair to say that our spirits aren’t that high. We manage to find the beer tent as a matter of urgency, and our spirits begin to be lifted, the choice of beer was fantastic. Heaps of Adnams, Woodfordes, Aspall not to mention all the craft beer too. Then we start smelling the meat cooking, there are loads of stalls, selling sausages, pulled pork, burgers, you name it. It’s not long before we start to feel less stressed.

   
   
  
We decided to do a circuit of the food stalls, and make our way for the acoustic tent, being kid-i-less we didn’t fancy the C Beebies man on the main stage doing the hokey kokey. 🙂 We listened to Louise Rene whilst having a Suffolk Pasty and a pint. She was great.  

    
 We did a few more circuits of the site before taking our chairs down to the main stage and settling in. We didn’t think much of the first couple of acts on the Main stage (they weren’t our cup of tea), but were happy enough sat chilling, drinking and eating, and by now the sun had come out again!    

    
 We enjoyed listening to local band The Nik Lowe band, but our highlights were Sonya Titus, the fabulous Ben Waters Band, who in our opinion rivalled Jools Holland, and don’t get me started on his 14yr old son, also in the band on sax, who absolutely BLEW ME AWAY, and of course Chas and Dave, who despite some sound issues at the start, were brilliant. 

   

    
    
    
   
We enjoyed what we saw of Toploader, but decided to leave early in the hope we would get our taxi without the headaches for 10,000 people leaving at the same time. To put it bluntly, the taxi situation was a nightmare. All pre booked cabs, including ours, had been cancelled and there was an hour and a half wait for a cab. It was chaos, and the stewards were understandably fuming at the local cab companies. We ended up having to walk back, which was less than ideal- a 3.5 mile walk in the pitch black along a busy A road with no path. Luckily, Keith’s years of watching movies came in handy- he took the role of a Navy Seal and managed to deliver the package (me and Jazz!) safely back to Bluebell the motorhome. 

All in all, a brilliant day though, and I’d definately recommend Jimmy’s festival to those wanting a lower key/family/dog friendly festival. Next year hopefully we can get camping tickets, as for us the local cab companies didn’t, but could have, let the whole thing down. 

   
   
*if you’re ever in Ipswich area AVOID Hawks Express Cabs*