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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
Bastei is a large area of rock formations which tower 194m high above the River Elbe. There is a fabulous bridge nestled amongst the rocks and lots of viewing platforms dotted around – some of which aren’t for the faint hearted, especially when they are covered in ice and snow as they were for our visit!
I managed to put my big girl pants on and conquered them all, despite a few deep controlling breathes and jelly legs as you can just about see from this pic!
We managed an hour of exploring the paths before we lost the sunlight
and enjoyed a bratwurst sausage and beer (alcohol free for me being Des, but it was fab!!) at the kiosk just as they shut, before returning to our car and discovering a car parking ticket -whoops!
Our journey back to Berlin Schönefeld Airport took just under 2 hours, where we stayed in an airport hotel (which was grim but served its purpose) ready for our extremely early 06.30 flight back home. We had a lovely traditional meal of Schnitzel at the local Gasthaus – which we needed to drive to as there was nowhere within walking distance of the hotel and no restaurant at the hotel. Check out the size of those Schnitzel’s!
We had a brilliant time – and can’t believe we were actually only in Germany for a day and a half. We covered 582km/361m and found German roads brilliant. A note to myself, next time the car hire kiosk asks me if I would prefer automatic or manual – get automatic! I kept going for an invisible gear stick!
Until Next Time (which won’t be long as this time next week we will be in the Lake District for half term in Ruby- woo)
Sometimes the best laid plans are those that are conceived after a few too many sherbets in the village local. That’s certainly how this little weekend’s escape came about; an unplanned pub session on Halloween saw us chatting to a local about all things Pagan. Keith was explaining to anyone who would listen about the end of harvest festival Samhain, and a local farmer went on to tell us that if we liked that sort of thing then we should check out Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival. A few days later and after a Google and Instagram reccy, we were booking a campsite and blocking the January weekend out of our new diary.
Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival has been happening longer than records exist. It begins on the Tuesday following Plough Monday (the 1st Monday after Twelfth Night), when it became customary to dress one of the confraternity of the plough in straw and call him a Straw Bear. The Bear then is led around the town to entertain in a clumsy and frantic manner whilst the townsfolk provide great spreads of beer, beef and tobacco. The straw for the bear was carefully selected and the whole point of the exercise was to hope for good fertility and a good harvest in the year ahead.
We originally booked to stay at nearby Northey Lodge campsite due to its close proximity to Whittlesey- an easy walk apparently. However, on arrival on Friday we had one of the most bizarre arrival and check in procedures that we’ve ever encountered, leaving us both rather creeped out to be perfectly honest, and so as the site itself was an absolute dump and the electrics were hanging off with loose wires on show, the shower covered in plastic and the next door caravan sporting a large “no valuables left inside” we made a sharp exit and went elsewhere.
Thankfully The Camping and Motorhome Club have a Club Site, Ferry Meadows Peterborough fairly close by and they could accommodate us for the weekend. Phew.
Friday night was spent downing a few beers and a homemade turkey balti whilst mulling over our day; it had started with us playing a gig and accompanying the State Secretary for Health in a dance with a resident at a celebration lunch and finished with this bizarre encounter at Northey Lodge.
Saturday arrived and it was time to figure out how we would get to Whittlesey. There was a bus stop nearby to the Campsite which we could have used along with a connecting bus in Peterborough, and also a train service from Peterborough but to get to the station was around a 4 mile walk. We needed up grabbing a local cab for just £14 each way for ease, speed and laziness. Once in Whittlesey we soon found the heart of the festival, on Market Street, and it wasn’t long until the Straw Bear had been located for a selfie! 🤳
There were loads of different Morris dancing teams, all with their own individual style and costume. Some had black face paint, others had multicoloured.
We found a souvenir programme and found the history of the Morris dancers really interesting. We also learnt that this is the biggest Morris dancing event in the UK and teams come from across the country to participate.
We followed the Straw Bear and his team of minders and musicians along the high street towards the Ivy Leaf where he was to have his lunch.
We made use of the hour and half gap to enjoy Morris Dancing displays outside the Wetherspoons, and of course sampling a few beers whilst we did. We particularly enjoyed the Straw Bear Ale. it was amazing to see some of the teams using really traditional instruments- we saw two hurdy-gurdy’s which was amazing!
After his lunch, the Straw Bear came back along the high street and weaved round the small streets and alleys, stopping at each pub for a dance with whichever Morris dancing team was already dancing in the car park or beer garden.
I don’t know if it were a coincidence or not, but as time ticked on and more pubs were visited, the Bear’s dancing became more and more lively. 😜
By 3pm, we’d found ourselves right in the heart of the Parade, humming along the tune of the March thoroughly captivated into the spirit of the event. It seemed like the entire town, young and older were out enjoying themselves- it’s obviously a real tradition here.
By 3.30 the finale had taken place, the Straw Bear had been joined by another and also a smaller bear and a mass dance along with the Morris dancers took place to mark the end of the day.
It had been a really unique experience for us “outsiders’ but we were made to feel welcome and we really enjoyed ourselves. What really surprised us was how many younger people were part of the Morris Dancers- it’s obviously still a very popular pastime.
Back at the campsite we settled in for the night and enjoyed a homemade carbonara and a bottle of wine. Ferry Meadows campsite is lovely and we will definitely return with our bikes next time as there are loads of off road paths.
Sunday dawned a beautiful winters morning, however it was chilly! It dropped to -4 last night as whilst we were snug as a bug in bed, the doors and windows had frozen up so we had to spend a few extra minutes in bed whilst we defrosted with the heater and kettle on. What a shame!
We decided to make the most of the beautiful day and do a walk so after a hearty breakfast, we waved goodbye to the site and drove 5 miles to nearby Elton.
Our 7.5 mile walk took in some really beautiful scenery along the Nene Way. The weather couldn’t have been any better – I just love this crisp winter sunshine on a frosty ground.
Half way into the walk we stumbled across the birthplace of Richard III and also the place where Mary Queen of Scots got beheaded in the small quaint village of Fotheringhay. The motte and bailey is really well preserved and although the castle remains are no longer there the views from the motte are spectacular. The church at Fotheringhay is also really interesting as it has a octagonal tower.
We stopped for lunch at the Falcon Inn and made a note of the Certified Location Campsite right next to the Motte and Bailey- right on the river banks it looked a definite for us to return to someday.
What a varied but lovely weekend. Have a great week,
Ruby the VW Campervan is parked on the very lovely Deepdale Backpackers hostel and Campsite, at Burnham Deepdale, North Norfolk. We’ve driven by this place many a time, but the recent addition of electric hook ups and a complete toilet and shower revamp saw us booking on back in September for our much anticipated New Year break.
The campsite is absolutely excellent by the way; huge pitches and probably the best facilities we’ve ever come across; plenty of massive wet room showers with your own private loo and hand basin, even heated flooring! There are plenty of dish washing facilities, free Wi-fi and even not one, but two warm doggie showers!
These are the facilities just on site, aside from these we’ve got a fully stocked supermarket/petrol station that is open 7-7 even on New Year’s Day! A number of lovely shops, a cafe, not one but two pub/restaurants, the Norfolk Norfolk coastal path running practically from the site and a bus stop that is the coastlines and runs from Hunstanton to Fakenham and back every hour. It’s just the perfect place to spend New Year- a time when we always end up walking miles and miles to try and burn off some of those excess pounds that we’ve gained since, well Texas really!
The journey here on Sunday was indirect from ours but relatively quick- just over an hour and we were pulling onto our pitch. We took our time setting up as our last pack away was in the middle of the night and after a hearty lunch of homemade pea, ham and mint soup, made in my compact soup maker that Santa brought me, we donned our boots and set off on a small walk. The soup was amazing by the way!
We turned left out of the campsite and walked along the coast path towards Brancaster Staithe, a walk of around 1.5 miles and then looped back along the road, obviously checking the two pubs out too. We passed two small places selling fresh mussels. Obviously we brought a bag of live mussels, (and some fresh eggs) ready for a starter tonight.
Sunday night was spent chilling before dinner. Dinner was a rather exciting affair; first we had the local Brancaster mussels, cooked in a simple white wine and onion sauce- oh my they were good.
Main course was homemade turkey, ham and leek pies using our new gadget, an electric pie maker. I made the pies at home and we reheated them in about 15 mins using electric. It was a blustery wet evening, and our pie and mash dinner really hit the spot!
It never fails to surprise me how well we eat in Ruby, considering we only have just two gas hob rings!
New Years Eve
We had a fairly lazy morning, and after a breakfast of sausage and egg baps, we set off on a 3 mile or so saunter, this time in the opposite direction of yesterday’s walk – so turning right out of the campsite.
Despite leaving Ruby at 11:30 we found our pace was fast, so we decided to pause for a quick drink at The Hero, and then carry on along the coast path through Holkham and finishing at Wells-next-the-Sea 11 miles later!
Then through the trees and forest before coming up to the sea wall at Wells Next the Sea
We arrived at Wells at 3pm, not bad at all- we really loved the walk, even with our fast pace!
Obviously after such a long walk with no snacks/water (although there is a cafe with water station and loos at Holkham. And a pub which we didn’t stop at!) our first objective was to find a drink, and then fish and chips at Frenchies which hit the spot and beyond, before grabbing the next coasthopper bus back to the campsite (£2.10pp & £1 for dogs). We accidentally 😜 missed our stop and got off at the next stop, the Jolly Sailors, for “one for the road”; well it was NYE!
Our evening was quiet and chilled, exactly as we like it. We managed to polish off a steak and noodle dinner around 9.30pm, and then opened a bottle of fizz as we waited for the big countdown.
The atmosphere on site was good – a lot of campers had gone down to the Jolly sailors (or we assume they did as we watched them leave dressed as pirates and there was a pirate party on). A midnight, a few of our neighbours came out with sparklers singing Auld Lang Syne, and in the distance (but far enough not to trouble Jazz) we watched a pretty impressive firework display. But ten mins later the site was quiet again, so we pulled out the bed and promptly dozed off – not waking again until 10am.
New Years Day started rather lazily, in fact, I don’t think I got out of bed until 11! Once I did get up I made us a fry up, and we tested our legs after yesterday’s long walk. Luckily neither of us had still legs so we decided to do a nice 4.5 miles loop provided by the campsite, Burnham Deepdale – Brancaster and back via Barrow Common.
Despite there being a few drops of rain as we lay in bed, by midday the weather had cleared right up, and actually the sun was attempting to show its face. We really enjoyed walking over Barrow common, and took the opportunity to toast the new year with a swig or five from our hip flasks whilst looking out to sea.
The walk included walking across a field ahem, I mean the remains of a Roman Fort, Branodunum, which dates back from 200AD, and would have been one of three important sites in East Anglia. Keith was absolutely in his element – I’m better at seeing physical remains rather than using my imagination but I understood that it was a very important archeological site, and in its day would have looked like this:
The walk rejoined the coastal path just below the fort and we followed it all the way back to Burnham Deepdale. As we passed Brancaster Staithe the sun fully came out and the light was just wonderful. The tide was now almost fully in and lots of people were out taking pictures, bird watching, even some launched sea kayaks. It really is my happy place here.
A mile or so further along and we returned to our starting point, and paid a quick stop at the church to see the Norman square font, before returning to the campsite, just in time to watch the sun dip down behind Ruby.
The first sunset of 2019.
All this walking means we are hungry Horace’s, so we devoured a cheese board for a late lunch and then a delicious slow cooker venison and red cabbage stew for dinner. Recipe below, it was gorgeous!
We’ve had a brilliant break, and really feel recharged and ready to start the year with a bang. We’ve signed up for Country Walking’s Walk 1000 miles in 2019, (we actually started it on 27th Dec hopefully that won’t matter) so are going into 2019 with lots of walking based trips in mind, and lots of trips in Ruby and beyond already booked.
Whatever 2019 brings for you, I do hope it’s a good one, and if you have a camper van, Motorhome or tent, we really really recommend a visit to Deepdale Farm. We’ll be back for sure!
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.
Since we got home from America, it’s been full on with work as we’ve had a show production as well as our normal teaching routine. As soon as the show was over I was itching to get out for some fresh air, and luckily my lovely husband had preempted this and prebooked some tickets to nearby Anglesey Abbey for their winter lights event.
Anglesey Abbey is a National Trust owned country house that was formerly a priory and is set within acres of woodland. A perfect canvas for a magical winter wonderland trail.
We met Keith’s Dad and Stepmum for a late Sunday dinner at the nearby Red Lion in Swaffham Prior, before driving the couple of miles to Anglesey Abby for our 7pm entrance ticket. Our meal was gorgeous, one of the best Sunday lunches we’ve had in ages and really great value.
We had a few minutes to spare at Anglesey Abbey so had a hot chocolate and a browse of the gift shop; I just love the National trust gift shops and left laden with goodies! At 7pm we were called through and began our winter trail. The lights were extremely pretty and atmospheric, and although completely different to Kew Gardens winter lights which we visited last year, it was equally as lovely.