A last minute Brit Stop night away in North Essex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone got any winter tours planned?

Until Next Time

Lx

A long weekend in Rural Essex; Oct 2014 part 2

Bluebell the motorhome is safely tucked up at home again after a lovely few days exploring the Essex countryside.

We had a pleasant night at BritStop number 209, and a very quiet nights sleep. With the clocks going back it was nice to enjoy our extra hour in slumberland, however we did find ourselves waking up the hour early! In actual fact, we were pleased we did- it had only just gone 08:00 and we’d just finished our breakfast when we noticed cars arriving onto the field in which we were parked on. Turns out the pub landlord had parked us on the community football pitch and although we did know this – the goalposts that he had directed us to park behind were a give away, it hadn’t occurred to us to double check at the time of parking that the football field would not be in use (neither of us are into football one bit). In our minds why would he, the pub landlord, tell us to park behind some goalposts of an in use football pitch, knowing that the pitch would be home to a football match at 09:00 the next morning and then not to bother to tell us/warn us about said football match. Well- turns out we were wrong, and that was in fact what he had done. The footballers were obviously not impressed to see us there, and rather than take the normal approach and come and ask us to move, they decided the best way way to kick a football full pelt right in the direction of Bluebell, which of course slammed right into the side of us – but amazingly caused no damage whatsoever *phew* Needless to say, we were on the road, albeit with a few ruffled feathers by 08:20 on a Sunday morning (I didn’t realise there was such a thing as pre 10:00 on a Sunday!)

We had found a localish walk that we fancied in our trusty onboard walks box which started at nearby Earls Colne. The walk itself was varied, taking in meadows, a disused railway track, along a riverside and an ancient woodland. Somehow, we managed the entire 6.5 mile walk without taking any photos!!! Not sure how that one happened-sorry!!

After a pleasant picnic lunch, we decided to head back to the tranquility of beautiful Thaxted for our overnight stay. We’ve actually stayed here before – the parish council very broad mindedly encourage visitors in motorhomes into their small town by having designated free parking for up to 48 hours. Perfect. The town itself is gorgeous, with a lovely windmill, guildhall, 14th Century church, lots of historical picture postcard houses and the house where Gustav Holst composed his famous works, The Planets.

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You can read about our previous adventures in Thaxted here

As you can see on the photos above, the weather when we arrived on Sunday was overcast but Monday morning dawned in beautiful sunshine, so again we found ourselves heading out walking at 08:15- this time on a 3 mile walk around the village outskirts.

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I’d been put in charge of the map and GPS ^

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Thaxted Guildhall
We were very lucky, we were just taking in the sign outside the Guldhall when a gentleman asked if we would like a look inside- he was a member of the parish council and was about to open up to give his grandson a special visit, so we were invited up to have a look inside. It was a real treat, it only opens to the public occasionally as it’s still in use as the parish council chambers.

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first floor- the council chambers (sorry for blurry pic)
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top floor, now an art gallery
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out the window of the top floor, looking down the high street. The blue step just above the telephone box on the right is where Gustav Holst used to live
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After a good luck around (thank you kind man) we had a quick cuppa and set off towards Saffron Walden, via the scenic route (suggested on the tourist board outside The Guildhall

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It was a lovely journey round the quant little villages but again we failed on the picture front- this time I blame Keefy as I was driving and he had the camera!! Our favourites were: Thaxted obviously, Finchingfield, Arkesden and Saffron Walden.

Onto Saffron Walden just in time for some lunch, after which we set off on the 3.75 mile (which somehow turned into 5.5miles according to our GPS) World War 2 trail around the town. It was a lovely walk, which took us all the way up to Audley End House (EH)

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Over a bridge that during the war was mined and barricaded to prevent German tanks passing through in the event of a Nazi invasion

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Passed a Pill Box

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And numerous remains of mortar spigot emplacements all around the town.

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It was a very factual trail and we both enjoyed it- although having already done a 3 mile walk that morning we both felt exhausted afterwards! The sunlight was beautiful though throughout

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We decided we would try and get on a site that evening as we were running low on water and desperate on a toilet empty. Having made a couple of phone calls we soon got booked onto the nearby Little Henham Hall Farm Campsite At £12 for the night with electric it was a steal, and we were lucky enough to have the site to ourselves. The view across the field was lovely and we had a wonderfully peaceful night, enjoying the luxury of being on electric hookup, and being able to have a loooooong shower- bliss. Although there was no facilities onsite other than a Chemical loo point, water tap and 5 hookups, it was perfect for us and struck the exact balance of what we need to feel totally relaxed. From now on we are going to try and incorporate more small sites into our holidays. Although we love staying on BritStop sites, and don’t like the larger regimented campsites one bit- we feel these certified back to basic sites may be just what we could do with every third night or thereabouts.

Next morning we were again treated to a phenomenal sunrise right from our bedroom window.

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Eager to enjoy what was forecasted to be the last of the glorious weather, we set off to West Stow Country park, half way between the campsite and home. We enjoyed having a gentle wander around the Country Park before heading home.

Once again we’ve had a brilliant mini break, and have been particularly lucky with the weather. We travelled exactly 200 miles over 5 days- and the total cost was just under £200.

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We are impressed with this as this includes my splash out birthday meal which obviously was more expensive than we would usually perhaps spend *well, I’m worth it!!* 😉

Until next time
Lx

A long weekend in Rural Essex; Oct 2014 part 1

Bluebell the motorhome is currently parked up on a lovely field behind BritStop number 209. We aren’t too far from either Halstead or Braintree and the sun is shining for us all to enjoy.

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Yesterday was my birthday and to celebrate we chose a nice looking Brit Stop to book into for a splash out meal. We chose number 210, a vineyard/restaurant in Essex, and had a pleasant hours journey through the countryside to get there.

The BritStop itself didn’t disappoint one bit- as soon as we arrived we knew we were going to enjoy ourselves!

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Bluebell parked amongst the recently harvested vines

After a quick sandwhich for lunch we took ourselves for a leg stretch down to the very pretty village of Coggeshall. The village itself is quite large and is home to 3 pubs, some nice shops, a couple of nice looking restaurants and tea rooms. Pretty much every single property is listed and we spent a very happy couple of hours doing the well designed Coggeshall town walk (leaflet obtained from the library) which took in all the main sights.

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The very pretty Paycockes NT property- a former wool merchants house

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The colours around the river were breathtaking especially once the sun peeped out.

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Another highlight was a cheeky look into Grange Barn, another NT property in the village. Grange barn is an 800 year old barn, with huge timber roof- in fact it’s the largest and oldest in Europe. I say sneaked as the lady was closing up for the night and let us peep round without charging us! Thank you nice lady.

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After a couple of refreshment stops we tottered back to the van to get in our glad rags ready for our big night out. Keefy had arranged a private wine tasting followed by dinner. He’d even booked the best table in the house ❤

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I cannot put into words how much I LOVED the entire night- many many thanks to our wonderful hosts, we had such a great time. The wine, of which we tried 3 English whites (the one from that vineyard was particularly good), an English rose, an English red (from a Norfolk vineyard down the road- which was superb!) and their own sparking wine which was fantastic. The girl conducting the tasting was knowledgable, friendly and patient and we supped our way through fair amount of wine! A nice touch was the complementary glass of fizz we each received as a birthday treat from the lady afterwards, as an aperitif. Delicious.

We had a lip smackingly great 3 course meal. I had goats cheese, beetroot, pickled Apple and walnut salad to start – a lovely reminder of food we enjoyed in The Dordogne region of France, followed by fish tagine- too good for words, and white chocolate and cappuccino cheesecake. Keefy enjoyed squid to start, homemade chicken schnitzel with hen egg on top and the best sticky toffee pud (with rum sauce) that he’s ever had. We washed the meal down with a bottle of their 2013 white- the whole experience was perfection.

If you love good quality local food and wine you NEED to visit this place ^ Look it up in your Brit Stop book- number 210- and if you aren’t a member then go buy a book www.britstops.co.uk so you can be in on the secret. And if you haven’t been convinced yet……… How’s this for a morning view from bed???

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The morning after the night before…
How do you top an evening like we had? We took full advantage of the Autumn sunshine and hit the road to Braintree, where we joined the Flint Way- a 7.5mile off road, traffic free cycle route along an old disused railway line.

A particular highlight was the station at Rayes which despite being redundant for many years now, still captured the feel of a busy working railway by having a disused carriage set up at the station as a museum and a busy cafe housed within the old station building.

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Further along the line was another old station, this time Bannister Green Holt, which proved to be a nice place for a picnic.

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The scenery along the whole route was lovely and it was a really nice way to burn off some of the cobwebs from last nights tasting!!

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The 15 mile cycle nearly finished us off- so once we arrived at our Brit stop for this evening we had a major chill, and a couple of pints in the pub. We are shattered after our eventful couple of days so an early night is planned with the intention of a nice walk tomorrow.

Until next time
Lx

A weekend mini break exploring the beautiful Essex countryside

Day 1Bluebell the motorhome is parked up behind Brit Stop number 216- which is nestled in an absolutely gorgeous part of Essex’s countryside. The sun is shining despite the forcast warning of rain all day (win!) and we are having a brilliant weekend, that has been a combination of a little work and some play!

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Brit Stop 216

Yesterday, after a gig in Suffolk, we hit the Friday rush hour traffic (although in reality we had a great run) with the destination of Thaxted, a pretty town in Essex, that was on our map for three reasons: it was close to a gig we were doing the next day, it was listed in both our Brit Stop bible and our Europe Camper Stop book as there being a motorhome aire in the car park, and it was close to the Secret Nuclear Bunker at Kelveden Hatch.

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Thaxted Motorhome Aire- the parish council welcome motorhomers to park for up to 48 hrs, free of charge

We arrived at the carpark in Thaxted at around 18:30 and were instantly made to feel welcome as motorhomers in their village. If only all towns had this mentality, the amount of space allocated for motorhomes was minimal, however because of their welcoming attitude we relaxed and went for drinks and a meal in their pub.

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The Swan Hotel, Thaxted, where we enjoyed a lovely meal

The town of Thaxted is just gorgeous: it has a picture perfect windmill, a good example of a traditional long house and Armshouses, an interesting Engine house that houses the village fire engine, a medieval Guildhall, the house where Gustav Holst lived, and numerous other medieval properties.

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Thaxted Windmill

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LongHouse and Armshouses

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Engine House

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Guildhall

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Standing outside Holst’s former house! Very exciting treat for us

Next morning, we decided on another quick wander around the town of Thaxted, before a 40 minute drive south towards Kelveden Hatch- a small village which is home to a decommissioned Secret Nuclear Bunker. The bunker has been on our list of places to visit for a while; it was only revealed in 1992, prior to that it was run by the government and would have been used to house up to 600 Government officials, including the Prime Minister in the event of a Nuclear War.

Visiting Kelveden Hatch was absolutely incredible – it was without a doubt one of the most interesting places I’ve ever visited. It stirred up a mixture of emotions from us both- fascination at how it was built, maintained, and how it would have been used to “run” the country in the aftermath of a nuclear blast; fear over the prospect of how it would have affected not only our country but the world, how close it came to happening, the impacts of it happening, the preparation that civilians needed to undertake in the event of an attack; the questioning of morals when we discovered that the survival guide written for civilians was giving false hope in order to maintain calm and order in the hours running up to an attack; and amazement at the engineering of this humongous underground city, that was built underneath what looked like from the outside, a normal farmhouse!

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the farmhouse which sits over and disguised the bunker below. scary!!

What made the bunker even more interesting to visit, aside from its amazing history, was the way in which it was presented. All the equipment and materials displayed were as it was during the years it was in operation, meaning you really didn’t need to use any imagination at all whilst waking around the dimly lit, long cold corridors. Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos whilst inside due to the numerous signs informing visitors that to do so required a £5 permit, something which in hindsight I wished I’d done – I didn’t because I was intending on getting a guide book or postcards at the end of the visit, but once we got to the end they didn’t really capture the atmosphere. I know though, that our visit will remain in my memory for a very long time.

It was also incredibly good value for money- at just £7 per adult, this fee included a very comprehensive and engaging audio tour, and we both came away agreeing that we would have happily paid several more pounds each to visit.

Once we’d completed our humbling tour, and after a quick lunch in the car park, we made the journey north for 36 miles (though a tremendous rain storm!!) towards Castle Hedingham, another picture perfect village which is home to one of the finest kept Norman Keeps in Britain, and where we are intending to visit tomorrow. As luck would have it, as soon as we pulled up, the rain stopped and the sun returned, and so we celebrated with a cheeky beer in the amazingly characteristic saloon bar of Brit Stop 216 before a village wander past all the old pretty houses. This area rivals some of the pretty villages we are lucky to have in Norfolk and Suffolk, and we had no idea about how chocolate box pretty it was going to be here.

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having a beer at Brit Stop 216 and decided what to eat later!

So tonight we are booked in for a meal at 216, we have worked up an appetite that’s for sure, and Keith’s in his element as he had an interesting chat with the guy that brews the beer for the pub, two pints of which he enjoyed this afternoon! I’ve got my eye on the Turkish specials board!

Day 2
After a delicious meal accompanied by several pints (well, we were researching the gravity fed ale!!) we enjoyed an early night and a lay in this morning, helped somewhat by the rain that was pouring when we awoke this morning! Last night our meal was delicious- I tryed the Turkish special, Lamb and Aubergine casserole, and Keefy tried a homemade burger. Both were mouth wateringly good, and were enjoyed washing it all down with some of the local ale.

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enjoying our meal

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the beer here is gravity fed

Our intention today was to visit The Castle at Castle Hedingham and once the rain had stopped we made the short journey there. The Castle is said to be one of the best preserved Norman Keeps in Europe, and is set within several acres of enjoyable gardens and woodland. We enjoyed walking round the gardens and woodland walks first, tiring out Jazz so he could sleep in the van whilst we went for a look inside.
We were lucky to see some lovely displays of Rhodedendrums and bluebells.

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the gardens at Castle Hedingham

The keep is astonishingly well preserved- the arches and a real treat to be able to not only enjoy from the outside but also have a look around the inside.

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never too old to dress up as a Knight, eh?!

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The arch in the banquet hall is said to be the largest Norman arch in the world that is fully survived, and is 28 feet wide!

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We really enjoyed our visit here, and again, thought it was a bargain at only £7.50 each to enter. On our way to the castle we had passed a road sign saying that the local Water Mill was open today as part of a national Mills Open weekend. Since the weather seemed to be behaving we decided to head on over for a look round.

We had rather a narrow approach into the car park and negotiated several low flying branches but I thing we survived with no damage! It was a lovely way to spend an hour or so, chatting with the volunteers who were very knowledgable, and we even got to try som biscuits that had been made from flour that had been ground at that mill. They were delicious. I was allowed to turn the wheel to make the water wheel go round and we’ve got a video of this, so il try and figure out how to include it on here.

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Alderford Watermill

During our visit, we were recommended a short stroll that left Alderford Mill and walked down to another local mill, Hulls Mill. It was not possible to visit inside as it was privately owned and had been turned into a very large house, but nevertheless, we really enjoyed the pretty circular walk, and the mill itself was gorgeous. I would love to live somewhere like that!

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Hull’s Mill

Both these mills were recorded in the doomsday book, giving an idea of how old they are and it was really enjoyable seeing them.

This marked the end of our visit to Essex, so we grabbed a quick cuppa for the road and headed home- but we had an amazing weekend and we both are quite smitten with this area, so I know that we will return soon!!!

Until next time!
Lx