Adventures in  London 

(backdated from the beginning of September- Sorry for the delay!

Friday 10 September

Gandalf the VW Campervan is parked up on an old favourite site of ours, the C&MC Club site at Crystal Palace. Its usually an oasis of calm in the middle of suburban south London, however something tells us that this time may be different. Our spider senses were tingling as we made our way towards the site, and road closures became apparent, and then came the vast amounts of teenagers, many wearing less than I’d wear on the beach, swarming towards Crystal Palace! We felt old as we arrived at the campsite, and were utterly confused as to what was going on. The wardens soon set us straight. The Wireless festival was being held just metres behind the campsite for the whole weekend. DRAT! “Don’t worry” they said, “the music * stops at 10pm”.

*Music – Thats one word to describe it!!! Good grief!!!

The festival began at midday and therefore we were treated to its opening act as we set up. Our pitch was the closest to the stage. My goodness me- it was LOUD. We could NOT stop laughing. It was just so bad/loud. All we could do was laugh and thank our lucky stars we’d not planned to go to this site for a relax. Our neighbours, who arrived just after us, lasted a whole 30 mins before they threw the towel in and moved on to a different site. We left Gandalf to vibrate to the drum and bass beat, and hopped on the next bus into London. This site is soooo convenient for city breaks – the bus goes directly to Horse Guards Parade and runs 24 hours a day. Wireless wasn’t going to ruin our break.

Our first stop in London was the house in which Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s founding Fathers, resided during his time in London.

Benjamin Franklin’s House was situated in a lovely Geogian town house just behind Charing Cross, and we really enjoyed a pre booked tour around the house, which included lots of original Georgian features such as a terrific marble fireplace and wooden staircase which bore the weight of Franklin’s weight lifting efforts.

It was a terrific tour, and we learnt loads about the life of Benjamin Franklin – and also his inventions, including the interesting Glass Armonia, a musical instruments that uses glass and a rubbing technique to create different notes.

After our visit we had a quick drink before making our way towards The British Museum. The main feature of our trip to London was to visit the Nero Exhibition.  

The exhibition showcased hundreds of absolutely INCREDIBLE artefacts, many in pristine condition which dated from as early as AD30. Many looked like brand new.

The exhibition completely and utterly blew our minds. In fact, I actually thought Keith was about to collapse when he saw the ORIGINAL Praetorian Guard relief, dating from AD51. He was beyond emotional.

Other highlights of the exhibition were the wall paintings brought over from Pompei- the colours still outstanding.

We saw hundreds of coins, again as new, and depicting all sorts of scenes from Nero’s reign.

We even saw a writing slate that had imprints of Roman handwriting on. It was truly wonderful and if you have any interest in Roman history whatsoever it is vital that you go and see this exhibition – however be quick as it ends on 24th October!

After a couple of hours of having our minds blown, we wandered down into Soho and found a lovely Italian – it seemed appropriate – for dinner. We discussed the exhibition over a bottle of Italian red wine and a lasagne. It had been a great day!

Even better that when we arrived back to site at 11pm, all signs of Drum and Bass and underdressed teenagers had disappeared and our campsite was lovely and peaceful once more.

Saturday dawned a little earlier than hoped – as we were so close to the main stage and artist area, we were woken by hoovers from 5am which went on til 8am. Then we had sound checks from 9am. Not quite the morning we’d anticipated but it gave us a kick to get up and out and so we were on the bus by 10am! 

Today’s agenda was more Roman history sites. But before that we treated ourselves to a drink in our “London Office” – the Tattishall Castle – the best view for your drink on ground level London.

We toasted Londinium and watched the world go by on the Thames for a while before carrying on to Chinatown for a Dim Sung lunch.

We then walked from Soho to Bank, along the Strand and Fleet Street. We just love exploring London by foot. There is always something cool to see, somewhere new to take a picture and a new pub to try a pint in. We got great views of St Pauls as we wandered by.

We arrived at Bloomberg Space ready for a (free) tour of the London Mithraeum.

This site was discovered when the underground was being constructed nearby in the late 1800s. The temple of Mithras as it was also known, would have been a mysterious place to visit, with the mystical temple being underground and frequented by men who wore masks and worshipped scenes depicting Mithras killing a bull within a cave. The cult remained fairly secretive despite spreading across Europe over the period of around 300 years.

The remains of the Temple of Mithras were really great to see – but the highlight was how the site was displayed with a fantastic audio light show making the underground cave ooze in atmosphere. The vapoured light column were ingenious, and we really REALLY enjoyed our visit. 

From here, we had a drink on nearby Watling Street – an original Roman Road which also has great views of St Pauls Cathedral.

We then walked all the way back to Soho, via Millennium Bridge and a couple of really cool historical pubs – The Blackfriars being a highlight with its very instagrammable architecture and really great original decor.

We had a Thai meal for dinner before making our way back to Gandalf.

We’d walked miles but had a BRILLIANT day. We haven’t had much of plan for today other than the temple of Mithras and so it was especially good to have had a spontaneous mooch, going where our noses took us. Since Covid, there’s been a shift in spontaneity- most things have to be pre booked well in advance so today felt really good. We enjoyed using a book which Keith got for Xmas – it helped us find some hidden gems for sure. London for Instagrammers – would make a good Christmas pressie for those who like exploring London by foot.

London, you never fail to disappoint. We can’t wait to be back again! 

Until Next Time 

L x

Adventures on the Thames

Gandalf the VW Campervan is parked up a stones throw from the River Thames in Newbridge, a tiny hamlet consisting of 800 year old bridge, two pubs and a farm, who’s field we are camped on! We’re on Newbridge Farm, a C&MC CL, with no facilities other than a loo disposal, tap and bin. We’ve come for a last hurrah before we return to work next week, after a terrific summer of travel and adventures. The first part of this trip is a bit of a “working holiday” as we both attacked our return to work admin and time tabling for the term ahead. However, as all we needed for this was a phone, iPad and 4g, we decided a change of scenery out of our office window would be nice. Also there is something really liberating about being off hook up- it does something (positive) to our mind and so we’ve found the headspace here that we needed to crack on with admin.

The site itself is a medium sized field, with elson point, tap, and rubbish disposal and views over the fields. There is a footpath which takes you across a field to the Thames and the Thames Path, and not one but two pubs, and a very historical bridge.

There is some road noise, however it didn’t cause us too much of a problem, and at £6pn we just can’t complain at all! It’s packed as you can see…..!

As I said earlier, we just ADORE these off grid sites. It’s also really interesting to see how the solar panel copes as it’s very grey and cloudy- we seem to be stuck in a cloudy tunnel at the moment! (Update – it worked brilliantly! 2 nights off grid with very cloudy skies and we’re still sat at 12.5 v – really chuffed!)

We arrived here on Tuesday afternoon and settled down for some admin time before taking a dog walk to the local for a river view. We enjoyed a pint in the Rose Revived, a green king pub, and as the seasons have apparently shifted to autumn, it would have been rude not to try an Abbots Ale overlooking the bridge and river.

Newbridge, contrary to its name, is actually the oldest original crossing of the River Thames. It’s 800 years old and was built during the reign of King John. It’s a beautiful bridge.

After our pint at The Rose Revived we decided to inspect the bridge from the other side, this time taking a river front seat at The Maybush. Our luck was in as they had declared £1 a pint as they tried to clear some left over beer festival stock.

We returned to Gandalf, had a shower each in the awning and then made beef and potato curry for dinner. Delicious! Before settling down under fairy lights and reading our magazines.

Wednesday dawned grey again, never mind, we cracked on with our admin in the morning, and just before lunchtime went for a 3 mile linear walk from Newbridge towards the sea (which is 153 miles to the east)

In lockdown earlier this year, I spent a considerable amount of time planning a Thames Path adventure using Gandalf and campsites as our base each night. Sadly I got a foot injury and we had to postpone our walk. The Thames Path runs for 183 miles and runs from the source of the Thames just south of Cirencester where it’s just a spring and tiny stream, into the sea at the Thames Barrier. I really really want to walk this, so hope my injury improves for next year. In the meantime I’ll blog about my Thames Path plans separately sometime.

Today’s walk took in a very remote and pretty section of the The Thames. It’s hard to image this picture perfect rural river ending up running through the capital of England with high rises, Parliament etc on each bank.

After our walk we stopped for lunch at The Maybush -unfortunately the staff in The Rose Revived were extremely rude to us, but it was their loss. Plus, the Maybush still had £1 a pint!

As we’d had such a productive couple of days, we decided to treat ourselves to a trip on the Thames, by hiring an electric punt boat from a stall just by the Rose Revived – Oxford Punts. We spent an hour having the most relaxing time making four way towards the source of the Thames. [£25 for 1 hour on electric punt, £3 for dog] I was desperate to see either an otter or a kingfisher but it was not to be. This stretch of the Thames is so quiet and tranquil. Keith did a marvellous job driving the punt- much better than me! It was great to sail under the historic bridge too.

Following our adventure on the Thames we made our way back to Gandalf for a rather large chill. We attempted pizzas on the Cadac using our new pizza stone but they weren’t successful. We followed the instructions of putting the stone directly on the flame, but it soon became obvious that this was a misprint and infact we ended up with a burnt base. Never mind, next time we will know to follow our instincts rather than the instructions!

Thursday and it’s moving on day! Admin completed, we’re off for an adventure with my Dad and Step mum down the road. Stay tuned for updates!

Until next time

Lx

Adventures in the South Downs: Part 1- Bignor Roman Villa

Gandalf the Campervan is parked up on the very pretty North Stoke Farm, a caravan and Motorhome club certified location, in the heart of the South Downs. This is our favourite type of site- absolutely nothing here apart from a chemical loo and water tap and bin. Having no electric means people can space out to their hearts content, and it is oh so peaceful and green. We’re in heaven.

As you may have seen on our previous post, we should be in Madeira. Or actually Peru! Then Madeira when Peru got cancelled. Madeira got cancelled on Thursday and as its Keith’s 50th this week, I’ve planned a week of surprises- the first being a trip to Bignor Roman Villa, which we did today. We arrived at our campsite at 5pm last night and had the most wonderfully peaceful evening and the morning birdsong was tremendous.

Monday dawned slightly overcast but with a promising forecast ahead, we cracked on. Our first mission to test out our new gadgets: his n hers E bikes which we brought recently from Aldi.

Our maiden voyage on our the bikes was just 4.4miles away – a trip which took in rolling hills and beautiful villages and have our pedal assist a good testing!

Bignor Roman Villa was just Amazing. Utterly wonderful and overwhelming considering this is home to the largest mosaic in the UK at 24 metres long. The mosaics were astonishing. How exciting it must have been for those who unearthed it as they ploughed a field 200 years ago. And how lovely it is that the same family run the site. We actually met the 7th generation of the man who found the first mosaic; my pedal fell off a mile from the Villa and the lady kindly called her husband who drove a spanner to us. The staff here were so unbelievably nice. I told them about our reason to be there and not in Peru (K’s bday) and they gave him a bday gift. He (and I) was blown away by the site and I e hospitality. If you have any interest in Roman History at all this is an absolute must.

We enjoyed a cream tea in the sunshine and a local ice cream before making our way back to Gandalf via a farm shop/honesty shed and a section of the South Downs Way. Amberley looked pretty and there were two good pubs here but sadly both closed on a Monday.

We dropped our bikes off – we were thrilled with them by the way- hills… what hills?! And then walked 1.8 miles along a very pretty footpath and over the Gurka Suspension bridge – made by the Gurka engineers, to the Black Rabbit pub in Offham, a picturesque pub on the banks of the river Arun, with terrific views of Arundel Castle; our activity (Keith’s surprise) for tomorrow.

We enjoyed a lovely meal overlooking the castle and a couple of pints of their own lager.

Arundel is only 5 or 6 miles from the campsite so easily explorable from here – but we are moving on to a new location for our site tomorrow evening.

This campsite is one heck of a gem in the C&MC network. At just £10 pn, we will definitely be back as we have fallen head over heels with this area.

Tonight we had a cheese board washed down with red wine, pretending that we are Romans before settling down to another very peaceful night (we hope!) ahead.

Adventures in Roman Chester

Ruby the VW Campervan is nestled between the Apple trees, on a beautiful C&MC certified location on the outskirts of Chester, called Heathfield. This site is a huge orchard and because there is no hook up here we get the choice of where we pitch. We’ve taken social distancing to the next level as you can see.

On the way here we made a (pre booked) stop off at National Trust Speke Hall on the outskirts of Liverpool. The property is a fabulous wooden Tudor property and has some beautiful gardens to wander. Obviously at the moment we can’t go in the house but we spent a very happy hour or so enjoying the grounds, and the hydrangeas were stunning. We also found the moat garden interesting – this was converted from a moat in the Victorian era. We’re going to make a real effort to revisit here when the house is open as it really is a stunning example of Tudor Manor House.

On arrival at the site we were welcomed by the very friendly owner Phil. Little did we know this guy would be our saviour on more than one occasion this weekend! We set up in the blistering heat and humidity, each time it’s getting quicker and more familiar which is good.

Keith prepared a bbq for us for dinner, and we were relieved the humidity died down after a light showers. As mentioned before this site has no hook up so we connected our briefcase solar panel up to the leisure battery and placed the solar panel on the roof.

At this point we realised we forgot some very essential supplies for breakfast, the beans and mushrooms 😂, and so I popped to see Phil to see where the nearest shop was. He said it was too far to walk so offered to drive and get some for us! How nice was that?! Minor crisis averted we settled into a relaxing evening outside enjoy the utter serenity and space of our new home.

Saturday arrived and the weather was mixed – we had a fairly lazy morning and cooked a full English on our new pan- which is brilliant by the way – link here – before wandering into Chester.

Chester has been on our must visit list for a while; Keith being so into history, particularly the Roman’s; makes me wonder how we’ve managed to take this long to visit! Chester is home to the only compete set of city walls and also a number of Roman ruins, including the largest amphitheatre ruins in UK. What absolutely astounded me is that the amphitheatre was found when engineers were building a main road – and while they tried to be sympathetic to these impressive ruins, it’s slightly ruined (pardon the pun) by the constant stream of traffic passing by.

We enjoyed a wander through the city centre to admire the medieval buildings, of which there are loads- Including some amazing timber galleries that still house traders to this day. This was really incredible and actually we feel stunned that this isn’t UNESCO. The Rows as they are called, house many shops and barbers and have been slightly ruined by the sheer amount of billboards displayed but shops need to advertise I suppose. There were some questionable planning decisions in our humble opinions right through the city, but I suppose that could be said all over.

The city walls were impressive, particularly a steep section leading up to the cathedral. At just over a mile in length they took us almost an hour to walk round with picture stops along the way. If we’d have had our way we would have had some refreshment stops too, but, for a city with such impressive history and historical buildings there was a disappointingly lack of historical pubs (and dog friendly pubs to be specific). There is an interesting old pub situated in the Rows, called the Old Boot but not only was this not dog friendly it also was not technology friendly either and with big signs saying no Phones, cameras, cash only etc etc even if we’d not got Jazz I think we may have felt uncomfortable visiting especially when most places are card payments only with COVID etc. Hey ho.

Luckily, we accidentally stumbled across Hickeys, a smokehouse situated on the river and below the Roman Gardens (pics above). We enjoyed a drink mid afternoon in their garden and perused their menu which looked incredible. Sadly though, it was full for dinner reservations. I genuinely nearly cried – it’s no secret that our trip to Texas left a lasting impression on us and our tastebuds, and seeing a Texas smoke house in the UK is rare. I was right in the mood for a plate of brisket! I may have communicated this to our poor waiter and unbelievably just as we were paying for our drinks he came over, delighted to tell us that he had managed to move some things about and if we didn’t mind coming back at 5pm they’d found us space in a dog friendly part of the restaurant. Perfect!

I pretty much skipped around the remainder of the walls!

Our dinner at Hickory’s was FABULOUS. Proper proper good! The staff were fab, they fell in love with Jazz and as such he was rewarded with his own bowl of brisket which he inhaled! It was a perfect evening and that meal was worth a return to Chester in itself!

We passed a Motorhome overnight parking spot in Chester here which looked good for future reference.

Back at the campsite it became obvious that something was adrift with our battery in Ruby. There has been not too much sun so the leisure battery was struggling. We also lost our central locking which indicated our vehicle battery was dead. It turns out that our new cool box/beer fridge had been plugged into the wrong 12v plug – thus draining the vehicle battery. This was definitely Keefy’s fault by the way! 😉 there wasn’t much we could do about it until the morning so we had a quiet (and dark) night!

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny. The campsite owner very kindly agreed to give us a jump start with his land rover. But Ruby’s battery was too flat for a jump. “No problem” Phil said, “I’ll bump start you off”. Then we realised we don’t have a tow ring on the front end. “What about the tow bar at the back” I said tentatively. Don’t worry, he didn’t bump me backwards (sorry couldn’t resist that phrase!) but that’s how at 9.30am on a Sunday morning, much I’m sure to the rest of the campsites amusement, I found myself being towed backwards half a mile through the apple trees, and a very tight gap between trees may I add – our lovely private pitch only private because of all the trees surrounding it! Luckily for us Phil had a garage with lots of boys toys in it and managed to charge our battery with some sort of flash gadget, whilst we enjoyed a cuppa in their garden. And I had a proud moment when my reversing skills got a big thumbs up from Phil and Keefy.

Sorry there is no photo evidence for this; stress levels were a bit high!

Once Ruby sprung into action again we hit the road heading home. We’d had a wonderful 6 days, full of lovely food, drink, walks and scenery and a fair share of adventures too! We’ve just got a couple of days at home before we head off north again on Wednesday so when we got home we had a mad hour emptying, washing clothes and bed sheets and beginning to refill Ruby.

Until next time

Lx

Ps on returning home I’ve managed to rescue my missing Bronte pics – so there will be an update of the Haworth blog shortly with my own pictures on!

A Royal Retreat; Part 2

Ruby the VW is parked up in Windsor, and we can see Windsor Castle from our window! We are parked up in a sectioned off part of the Coach Park in Alexandria Car Park and amazingly they allow overnight parking/sleeping in Campervans/Motorhomes.

We arrived late morning having had a lay in and a full English Breakfast. The weather had been unsettled over night and the wardens at Chertsey C&CC were quite rightly closing the Island part of the campsite due to fears of flooding. Overnight the river had burst its banks and water was getting close to the pitches on the island area.

We made the short journey to Windsor (about 25 mins) from the site and arrived at the car park just before noon. The Security team showed us where we could park and we felt very pleased to be “wild camping’ for the night. We paid £15 for our parking but this was from 12 noon through to 9am the following morning. Considering we paid £6 to park at Hampton Court Palace for 4 hours, we felt this was fairly reasonable. There is a toilet near the station however this closes in the evening and overnight. There was also a tap near to the coach area but not sure if that’s for use by campervanners.

See video here

Feeling pleased to be parked up we made the short walk to Windsor Castle entrance. I’d been very excited to make this visit – I have just recently finished reading Lady in Waiting and am watching The Crown so am totally in ‘The Zone’ when it comes to the Royal Family right now!

We’d pre booked our tickets through the Windsor Palace website (£23.50 pp) and arrived just after noon to no queues or anything. It was just a shame that the weather was drizzly and wet.

We first visited St George’s Chapel – the site of the most recent Royal Wedding of Harry and Meghan. We also saw the tomb of Henry VIII which tied in well with our visit the previous day to Hampton Court Palace. The chapel is beautiful, especially the roof and the organ. Sadly no pics were allowed.

We then moved on to the State Apartments and also the Queen Mother’s Dolls House. The Doll’s House was incredible – made in the 1920s its a full scale model of a Royal Household, and everything inside it works! The scale is 1 foot to 1 inch. Even the grammerphone plays real LPs, and the miniature wine bottles had real wine in!

From here we walked through the wonderful collection of State Apartments. Its hard not to be impressed here, especially given that they are still in use for Royal Receptions and the such to this day. St George’s Hall was destroyed in the 90s by a terrible fire, but has been rebuilt and was the venue for the most recent Royal Wedding.

After visiting this section of the castle the rain had nearly stopped so we went to look at the outdoor courtyard where we could see the current Queen’s private apartments. We were told by a guide that she regularly comes to Windsor Castle, in fact she’d been there a couple of days prior to our visit.

We enjoyed looking at the round tower, the oldest part of Windsor Castle, and hope to return in August or September as it opens up to the public then. Our ticket today got stamped so we can return for free again within 12 months.

We really enjoyed our 3 hours or so exploring Windsor Castle – the audio guide was really informative and for me it was a big bucket list tick.

After our visit, we decided to enjoy the fact that we were parked up for the night. We went for a drink at the nearby Horse and Groom – opposite the Castle. Keefy soon spotted a Windsor and Eton Brewery ale trail leaflet, and so the rest of the afternoon was spent dodging the rain as we made our way around the trail – we may have added in some extra pubs too! We really enjoyed the pubs it took us to and the ale was really tasty too.

About 8pm we realised we hadn’t eaten since our breakfast, so made our way back to Ruby where I cooked up a Carbonara before we both crashed out – we were asleep by 9pm and enjoyed a very peaceful night in the carpark along with one other motorhome. I fancied trying the BBQ restaurant in town but as we’d been on the go all day (and had a few jars) we were ready to turn in! We will definitely return and will make a point of eating there next time.

We’d had a marvellous day exploring Windsor and really commend the council for having the business sense to make this scrap part of a car park a place for us to park up overnight. If we hadn’t have stayed here, then there were no other campsites for us to stay at within the range of public transport and therefore we would have been unable to take part in the pub crawl.

Well done Windsor! See our video Here

Tomorrow we are making our return journey home but not without a visit to Bletchley Park to see if we can bag a a new job as a codebreaker.

Thursday Dawned another wet and grey day. We waved goodbye to Windsor Castle just before 9am and the new day’s parking charges kicked in and made the 1.25 hour journey north to Bletchley, near Milton Keynes.

Bletchley Park has been another place on our ‘to visit’ list and we were excited to be finally ticking it off. Despite the grey and murky weather we arrived just after 10am and after having a quick late breakfast/early lunch in the carpark we entered the very important historical site.

During WW2 Bletchley Park would have been a hive of activity and the people who worked here were instrumental in ending the war. It was here that mathematicians and scientists worked tirelessly trying to crack the codes that were being intercepted from Germans to their Army. It was also here that Alan Turrin and his team developed the Bombe machine which was instrumental in deciphering and decoding messages from the German Enigma machines. If you haven’t already seen the film, Benedict Cumberbatch plays a fantastic Alan Turrin in The Imitation Game.

Visiting Bletchley Park is an all day affair. The site is large and there is lots and lots of information to read (perhaps too much) and quite a number of interactive code breaking multi media displays. There are numerous huts to visit, including the famous hut 11a and 11 where the Bombe machine was made and also Hut 8 which was where Alan Turrin had his office and team. There is also the mansion – although half of it was closed sadly.

In Block B there were a number of original Enigma machines to view, but aside from these and a few original facsimiles and essays written by Turrin we found the original artefacts lacking and this was disappointing considering that the entry price was £20 per person – and that was booking in advance price. Buying tickets on the day would have been more. Whilst we very much enjoyed being on the site, and found being in hut 8 very interesting and atmospheric, the endless multimedia displays and projections of actors and recordings of the actors voices very repetitive and just not needed. We were also incredibly disappointed that there is no original (or replica) Bombe machine here. Very sadly (and not the museums fault we realise) all the work that Turrin and his team did was ordered to be demolished at the end of the war and this included the codebreaking machine and everything to do with it. A working replica was made around 10 years ago but this is not housed at Bletchley. This is down the road at the National Computer Centre and requires additional entry fees.

There is an original Bombe machine in Maryland USA so we’ve decided to go and see that sometime instead as you know we love USA!

As I said, we enjoyed visiting the site, and rewatched The Imitation Game last night with nothing buy admiration for this who worked there. But, we felt disappointed by our visit – we should have read up beforehand, but didn’t, and as such felt disappointed not to be able to see originals. Also we felt there was an overload of repetitive and complicated information. It was hard to follow as it didn’t flow brilliantly well. I suppose its always going to be difficult to understand the information there unless you have a very mathematical and scientific mind as the formulas etc behind the code breaking machines were just so advanced! We would have liked to have read more about the people who worked there and their lives.

Like Windsor Castle, our tickets are valid for 1 year of return visits, so perhaps we will revisit later in the year with fresh eyes and without the expectation of seeing an original Bombe machine.

It’s worth noting by the way, if you plan to visit here, they won’t allow dogs in the car park. We didn’t have Jazz as we had booked three days of none dog friendly attractions so he went for a holiday at my mums, but there was a security guard checking vehicles on entry for animals and even if someone is sitting in the car with them, you would be turned away.

It was a shame to be finishing our mini break feeling flat. We’d really enjoyed our time away, and felt we’d made the best out of a disappointing week of weather, but I could do with a couple more days away to recharge and am desperately craving some mountain vistas.

We’ve got a very busy 4 weeks ahead, with no free weekends as we are gigging and holding exam days etc –  but then we travel to Vietnam and Cambodia for almost 3 weeks! I’m hoping we may manage a night away at a Britstop before then – our new Book was waiting for us on our return home!

For this weekend, we have more rain and more wind on its way so it”s time to batten down those hatches again!

Until Next Time

Lx

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A Royal Retreat; Part 1

The trouble with writing a blog post having had some fizz, is it ends up in the wrong place!

So please click on the link for this mornings blog list about our first day on tour yesterday at Hampton Court Palace!

A Royal Retreat; Part 1

Our morning view at Chertsey Camping and Caravan Club site

Our Escape to Colditz

Keith is a huge history enthusiast and has expressed a desire to visit Colditz Castle for as long as I’ve known him. In fact, we almost made it there in Bluebell the Motorhome in 2016, however decided to stay in Austria and revisit another time when we were a little more prepared. The opportunity finally arose this year as I decided to book tickets for Keith’s Christmas present – the man who has every gadget under the sun – and it went down brilliantly! Due to work commitments, I decided that rather than drive, we would grab a quick weekend return flight from Stansted to Berlin, however I’ve included motorhome/campervan stopovers too on this blog.

We stayed overnight prior to flying at the Holiday Inn Express Stansted, which was convenient as it offers onsite parking and evening meals – we wouldn’t arrive until gone 8pm following work so would need dinner. Free breakfast was also offered, and was actually very pleasant despite it being 5am! A shuttle bus took us to the departures terminal in just 7 minutes at a cost of £3pp.

10.30am local time on Friday saw us touchdown at Berlin Schönefeld airport and by 11am we had picked up our wheels for the weekend – a VW Golf hired from Sixt.com. They did manage to sneak some added extras on which meant we ended up spending over €100 extra to the hire charge which was a bit of an irritating beginning.

Although we had flown to Berlin, due to the regularity of flights available to ensure we got the most time possible from our limited time away, our destination was 2 hours south – Leipzig. It is possible to fly direct to Leipzig however they only fly twice a week from Stansted and it didn’t work timing wise for us.

Leipzig is a very exciting place to visit as a musician, and I can’t help but feel that it’s massively overlooked on the tourist trail. Leipzig was home to J.S.Bach, who worked at Thomaskirche as the Kapellmeister for many years.

His family, many of whom were also musicians, also were based in Leipzig, and although their family home no longer exists because of WW2 Damage, the cathedral does and their neighbours and friends house is now The Bach Museum and Archives.

Inside the church you can see Bach’s grave along with many very rare and historical musical instruments from the Baroque Period.

We were lucky enough to hear the organist perform some Bach’s Organ Pieces which was incredibly moving and really very exciting.

 

Our visit to the Bach Museum also didn’t disappoint, we got to see some very rare, handwritten by Bach manuscript, which was ridiculously neat and just completely awesome to see. (No pics allowed)

We did some of the Music Trail although time was not on our side – you could easily enjoy 2 days + here. Other famous musicians who are linked to Leipzig are Felix Mendelssohn’s who died here- his house is now a museum which we’d have liked to have visited but we ran out of time, and Richard Wagner.

During the walking tour we enjoyed looking at some of the beautiful buildings which have survived the war including the opera house.

We also stumbled across a traditional winter fayre, which was a great chance to warm up with some Gluwein.

We had three delicious meals in Leipzig – lunch at Ratskeller, a really atmospheric beerhouse which serves local Saxon Fayre, a bratwurst at the winter fayre, and finally our evening meal at the historic and atmospheric Auerbachs Keller and tried loads of absolutely delicious local beer and even a Leipzig gin!

Our home for the night was the Mercure Hotel which as just down the road from Mendelssohn’s house and had an underground carpark for us to leave the car whilst we explored on foot.

On Saturday we were up fairly early and checked out at 9am. Keith was very excited as today was our trip to Colditz Castle. His reaction as we caught our first sight of the beautiful looking castle was priceless.

I’d booked us the extended tour (€18 pp payable in cash on arrival) and we were surprised to learn that we were the only one booked on the tour – so it was to be a private tour – an unexpected perk of being out of season. Our guide Steffi, began leading us around the vast corridors, cellars, and grounds, giving us brilliant commentary throughout.

Colditz Castle is a striking Renaissance Castle, sat perched on a large rocky outcrop, high above the River Mulde and became best known during WW2 – it was used as a High Security Prisoner of War camp for allied officers who had repeatedly tried to escape from other POW camps. Despite being considered as a high security camp, it had the highest number of successful escape attempts and only one assassination, and that was, according to Steffi, an accident. Prisoners here were treated with respect and a little more dignity than elsewhere and had huge libraries to peruse, a fully functional theatre in which they used to put on full scale productions and also the dorms were less crammed in and some officers even had their own rooms which were bigger than you may expect.

During the tour we got to see the famous gap in which Pat Reid managed to escape from – he later went on to develop the famous boardgame “Escape from Colditz”;

The French tunnel which ran 44m in length right underneath the chapel

The end of the British tunnel

the attic room where the famous glider was built in secret and found when the Americans liberated the castle

and much more. We saw the theatre, complete with secret trap door under the stage,

the officers rooms, the British Dorms, and heard story after story of escape efforts – some successful and some not. Despite the nature of the history here it was hard not to feel inspired here, the sheer determination of those who were held here almost lives on in the walls, its just truly fascinating – even for someone who isn’t such a history buff as her husband!

Our tour was supposed to last 2 hours, but Steffi, encouraged by our enthusiasm and interest I think, showed us some extra places and we actually ended up being there for over 3 hours!

There is a Campsite within walking distance if you go in your campervan/motorhome and also a Stellplatz (overnight parking area) in the next town – although Colditz is very small and I’m not sure I’d fancy driving our old motorhome up to the castle.

Our final stop of the trip was 1.5 hours down the road on the border of Czech Republic, at Bastei. This addition to our itinerary was last minute after reading about it in the Lonely Planet Germany Book and my goodness are we pleased we discovered it.