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 in Edinburgh

Having had a wonderful night at Fletchers Farm, we hit the road north, Ruby’s wheels heading for Edinburgh. Unfortunately it seemed the rest of the world were also heading north and our 3 hour journey turned into a 5 hour journey. We did however manage to stop off at Carter Bar for lunch and we found the journey along the A66 very picturesque- we normally are on this stretch at midnight!

We arrived at Keith’s cousin Simon’s house in Leith late afternoon and embarked on a lovely couple of days in the sunshine enjoying one of our favourite cities.

We like Leith and as the Proclaimers sang, the sun really DID shine on Leith during our stay. The shore

area is particularly lovely and dotted with bars with outside seating. It felt very continental.

We stocked up on Haggis too- enjoying a full Scottish breakfast and also some Haggis Scotch eggs from the market.

Despite the Fringe festival and the Tattoo being cancelled due to Covid, the centre of Edinburgh was busier than I expected- I mean not as busy as a normal August by far, but still plenty out and about.

The Royal Mile – a bit emptier than a normal August day

We had a nice meal on Grassmarket and did a great 10+ mile walk taking in the sites.

It was lovely to see Simon again too.

Anyone recognise which film was filmed here?

Tomorrow we venture further north again; heading for the Cairngorms.

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.

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)

Lx

 

Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival, Jan 2019

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. 😜

He’s being fed something in a tankard 😜

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.

Fotheringhay Bridge was the earliest bridge over the Nene. This stone one dates from 1722 and replaced an original timber bridge.

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,

Until next time

Lx

Winter Adventures and festive fun; London Part 1

Ruby the VW campervan is parked up almost directly underneath the Crystal Palace transmitter mast and she’s experiencing a sense of deja vu. It been just over 6 months since we last visited this campsite, and we booked this mini break almost as we departed back in June.

Since June, the Camping and Motorhome’s Crystal Palace club site has some good news. Developers have the lease on the land and when we last visited it was set to close this very weekend in fact, hence our booking. Happily, the developers are not ready to build yet, so the campsite has been given another year of being able to be open.

End of the Christmas term is our busiest and this year has been no exception. We actually started Christmas music engagements over 4 weeks ago, and have been flat out with Christmas concerts and performing at Christmas parties etc. This year we decided to book the last two weekends off so we could have some downtime so here we are in London for treat number 1. My mum is Jazz sitting so we can embrace London in all its splendour.

We arrived at a Crystal Palace club site around 7pm on Thursday and was greeted by the very cheerful warden Matt, otherwise known as one half of Walter’s Wardens on Twitter. That afternoon we had learnt of the sudden death of a friend of ours so it was nice to have a friendly face greet us, thanks Matt. W had a quick and simple dinner of spag Bol which I’d made a couple of weeks ago and frozen, then wandered to the local, the Weston House, for a couple of drinks and a dram each.

Despite it being almost zero outside, we were once again amazed at Ruby’s fabulous insulation, with the help of our little plug in heater we remained snug as a bug all night.

Friday dawned a beautiful crisp winters morning, so we wasted no time in heading into London on the very conveniently located number 3 bus to Trafalgar square. We had some time to mooch so we walked along the Strand to Fleet Street, for a pint in The Old Bank of England (Fullers) pub. This really is a stunning pub, as the name suggests it’s housed in the old bank and the decor as such is brand and wonderful. We’ve eaten here before, the pies are tasty.

Next up we wandered down the road 200 metres or so to our next watering hole, Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, a phenomenal old character pub which dates from the 1600s- it’s interior looks like it’s straight out of A Christmas Carol. Their sausage rolls and pork pie bar snacks are just delicious by the way. Research obviously- we knew you’d ask us how they were 😉

It was now time for a longer walk to Soho which took us around 45 minutes without stops. We love wandering the streets of London and rarely take the tube. We wandered through Covent Garden and Leicester Square, before heading across Piccadilly Circus into Soho. We met up with Keith’s dad and Valerie as we had a reservation at Cahoots bar at 3pm. Cahoots is a brilliant little hidden gem found just off Carnaby Street. It’s an underground bar set out as it would have been underground on the tube during the 1940s. It’s atmospheric and quirky, and they serve lovely cocktails. You need to prebook your table in advance and the tables are timed with a strict entrance time. During the evenings you can expect to hear live swing music, but during the day they place atmospheric jazz. We really loved our visit.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and left slightly merry! We wandered down the beautiful Carnaby Street towards Regents Street for our dinner reservation at John , Yes; John Lewis. During the winter months the roof of John Lewis turns into a winter wonderland, with a pop up restaurant, bar and this year ice rink (albeit slightly small ice rink). Nestled high above the chaos of Oxford Street a little of a week before Christmas, we were transported to a haven, an oasis of calm and festive ness. This years pop up is MYPIE- as the name suggests a pie and mash pop up. Keith, Valerie and I went for chicken leek and brie pies and Barry went for shepherds pie. Honestly they were completely and utterly scrumptious.

We waved Barry and Valerie off in an Uber- they were heading to Festival Hall for a carol concert. We chose to take in more of the street life, and enjoyed a walk down Regents street to enjoy those iconic and beautiful Xmas lights.

We went back for another look at Carnby Street as the lights there were linked with Bohemian Rhapsody and were fun, before walking back to Trafalgar Square for our bus back to Ruby.

We’d had a jolly good day but don’t want to burn ourselves out as we had more planned for tomorrow.