Cumbrian Adventures, part 1; February Half Term

Ruby the VW campervan whisked us away at the earliest opportunity after breaking up for half term. By lunchtime on Friday we were passing Wetherby Services after an early start, and by 2pm we’d arrived at the exceptionally pretty little village of Dufton, Cumbria and were enjoying the February sunshine with our first al fresco beer of the year.

Our location for the first part of our half term trip was Dufton Caravan Park, also known as The Grandie. The reason we were here? To attempt to walk England’s Grand Canyon – High Cup Nick. I saw this fantastic U shaped valley featured on Julia Bradbury’s 100 best walks programme a few years ago, and it’s been on my bucket list ever since. I was beyond excited that we were here and that the forecast looked fairly ok for our attempt tomorrow.

We spent the afternoon stretching our legs around the pretty village of Dufton before grabbing a couple of beers in front of the marvellous fire in the local, The Stag Inn, and settling in for an early night.


Saturday arrived rather earlier than I anticipated as I woke up at 06:15, however I was so excited I just couldn’t wait to get up and start our walk! Keith managed to grab a couple of extra hours sleep, so I had to wait patiently to leave until 10.30, by which time we’d had a lovely omelette and packed some soup and food for the day.

The route we chose starts at the campsite and through a lovely section of woodland before taking farm paths up to where the gorge is.

We approached the steep valley from the other side of the Pennine Way path and soon the path dropped down to the basin.

The steep sides of the gorge were impressive and the further in we walked the more spectacular it became.

As we got closer to the Nick – the head- we could see the route upwards was going to be tough but we’d come this far ( 5 miles) there was no way we were turning back now without the view I’d seen those years back on the tv!

The last scramble goes near enough vertical, and you’re on all fours, negotiating the loose boulders and stones under foot! I’m not going to lie, it was the toughest bot of walking I think I’ve ever done. There were a couple of areas to pause and appreciate the views looking back down the valley.

On this last pic above, you can see the people behind us on all fours!

Although the climb up is hard, it’s relatively short, so before I could talk myself out of finishing the last bit, we’d made the final hurdle over the rim. Keith’s first words to the couple looking down were “well that was an experience”. Mine I think involved a swear word! The sheer elation at reaching the top made my legs turn to jelly and it took me about 5 minutes on the floor with my back to the view before I even turned round!

When I did turn around, the view quite honestly took my breath away. I’ve never seen anything like it in the UK- it’s a perfect example of a U shaped valley and we reckon quite unique.

It was blowing an absolutely hooley, but the sun came out and we managed to sit right on the edge to enjoy our lunch before a local runner ( yes he ran up behind us!) took our photo, and then we took theirs as they were in shorts! 😱

The wind chill up there was extreme, and we were thankful we had our waterproof jackets as they took some of the wind off us. But it was just too cold to hang around there for too long so once we had all our pictures, we hit the old miners trail (now the Pennine Way) for our 4 mile return to Dufton. The route followed the upper ridge for a couple of miles and we had a great view of our walk, before bearing right away from the valley back towards to exceptional marker of the pub, the smoke billowing out of its chimney!

It was a tough walk back, we were absolutely exhausted, in fact Keith had hit the wall I think, he said he felt like he’d ran the London marathon – he’d know, he’s ran it 3 times! But luckily we had some chocolate and plenty of water, and the promise of a log fire and a pint of ale as soon as we got back to Dufton soon got us back down.

We passed a shepherd and his dog moving a herd of sheep up the track which was fun to watch.

By 4pm, we’d made it back to civilisation- and wasted no time in celebrating our successful walk with a pint of the local ale and three packets of crisps! Jazz made full use of the fire to rest his weary paws. We booked a table for dinner that evening as I didn’t fancy cooking plus the menu looked amazing.

So after a freshen up and a rest, we made our way back out again for our meal at 7.30pm. The pub is fantastic- a real walkers pub with slate flooring and thick stone walls. We ate a delicious meal of black pudding fritters and Appleby smoked cheese soufflé to start and then the stag baked suet pudding – crammed with venison and veg and absolutely huge. A perfect end to a fabulous day on the Pennines.


Sunday dawned sunny and despite our intentions of a duvet day at the van, we soon felt restless so whilst I cooked us a full English breakfast, Keith devised a small route that would take us low level around the base of the imposing Dufton pike, which is the backdrop to this tiny village.

The short circuit was lovely and we enjoyed the scenery all the way around the pike. We returned to the campsite through the very scenic Dufton Gyll woods which had banks upon banks lined with beautiful snowdrops. We whizzed through the walk, and were surprised that it was 5 miles- but after yesterday it seemed like a walk in the park!

The rest of the day has been spent chilling – we’ve got a joint of ham in the slow cooker and had Steak and Stilton panini’ s for lunch.

Dufton Grandie Campsite is lovely and quiet and a perfect location. There are lots of lovely little touches, like a water tap on each pitch, free Wi-fi, and fairy liquid in the washing up area. However the showers could do with a bit of TLC, and actually a couple more for each sex. For a site that holds up to 40 units, 1 shower per sex is probably a little sparse. The chemical loo point is a little grim too. However as it’s still out of season, it’s very quiet here, and at only £20pn it’s not bothered us for the short time we’ve been here.

Tomorrow we move on into The Lake District for some more walking and scenery.

We can’t wait!

Until next time

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

Touring the Thames Valley; Part 2 Henley on Thames

As you will have read from our last post, The Thames Path has been on our “to do” list for a while now. We enjoyed a great walk along the River Thames from Chertsey to Shepperton and now it was time to explore a little more of the Thames Path around Henley on Thames.

We were booked onto the Caravan and Motorhome Club site – Henley Four Oaks – which sits just on the outskirts of the beautiful Georgian town of Henley on Thames.

As we’d had a busy day exploring some of the area downstream around Chertsey, we didn’t end up arriving to the Club site until around 4.30pm. As usual we arrived to a cheery welcome, and were given a list of available pitches that we could choose. One thing we particularly like about the Caravan and Motorhome Club over the Camping and Caravan Club, is that you are allowed to pick your own pitch on arrival, you just nip back to reception to let them know which one you are on.

As the site wasn’t full, we were allowed to upgrade to a hardstanding awning (larger) pitch if we so wished, but actually we preferred pitch 34, a lovely private grand pitch that was on the edge of the site overlooking the woodland. The layout of the pitch meant that even with our nose lined up with the pitch marked as per the rules, we were still able to use our sliding side door to full pitch potential which gave us ultimate privacy.

Set up didn’t take long, and after a cuppa and a shower each, we opted for a leg stretch into Henley on Thames for an evening wander and perhaps a swift pint. The walk down to the town was on the pavement of a busy fish road, however only took 20 mins. We admired the beautiful houses and down found a tempting beer garden at the Angel on the Bridge – as the name suggests, its right on the Thames and overlooking the gateway to the town – the Georgian bridge.

I tried the Mr Hobbs Henley gin, whilst Keefy enjoyed a Brakspear Oxford Gold. We managed to resist the temptation of every single takeaway in the town as we walked back to Ruby the VW for a lovely leek and potato soup we’d snuffled from the freezer before we left home.

We had the most wonderfully peaceful nights sleep – whether it was the excitement of the paddle boarding, or just the tranquility of the site, I don’t know, but Tuesday dawned and we were fresh as a daisy, both of us. I made us a bacon butty whilst Keefy prepared our lunch for our walk and by 11am we were putting our best foot forward on our little jaunt back into Henley and onto the Thames Path.

Using Keith’s memory map, which he now uses on his phone, we’d devised a lovely walk along the Thames from Henley north towards Hambleden Lock, which took us right along the Henley Regatta course to the official start – Temple Island. From there we carried on a little further along the river, until we saw signs for The FlowerPot Hotel – an obvious place for a quick pint, before joining the Chiltern Way Berkshire Loop through Remenham Woods and back joining the river at Henley Bridge again.

The walk was 6.5 miles and only took us 2.5 hours – even with a pub stop, so after eating our lunch on the banks of the Thames by the bridge, we decided to carry on the opposite direction of the Thames towards the River and Rowing Museum, past Marsh Meadows to the next locks.

Again, just like our walk on Saturday from Chertsey, it was a stunning walk, and wonderful to see all the river boats, and houses on the banks. It really is a beautiful area – albeit very affluent!

We enjoyed a beer on the banks again at The Angel before a bit of top up shopping and “one for the road” at the The Old Bell – the oldest building in Henley on Thames before walking back to Ruby – a grand total of 9 miles walked today!

Dinner tonight was a first for me – homemade burgers and they were absolutely gorgeous, especially washed down with a pinot noir.

What a wonderful end to a wonderful 5 nights on the Thames. We realise we’ve only scraped the surface of the Thames Path – it runs for 184 miles, as The River Thames is the longest in England. So – keep an eye out here for updates, as we’re already planing to return to walk more of the National Trail.

Until Next Time

Lx

Walking Cambridge’s Roman Road – A One night Britstop Adventure

Ruby the VW Campervan is parked up at Britstop number 217/18 – which is a pub in Cambridgeshire, just off the M11, A11 and A14. We are sharing the carpark with a Dutch family who are on the way to the Harwich ferry.

This one has been on our list since February, when the 2018 book was released and I spent a rainy Sunday flicking through each and every location, adding Post It notes to those which catch my eye. I’m not the only one who does this right?

Despite living only an hour from Cambridge, and having one of our best friends living near enough ON this walk, we had no idea until the Britstop book arrived that there was a Roman Road walk in Cambridge. Those who read regularly will know Keith is a huge history buff, and he particularly loves anything Roman.  We’ve had two failed attempts at this trip – due to weather conditions either being too hot or too rainy. The joys of living in the UK and its unpredictable weather!

The Roman Road is approximately 10 miles in length and runs from about 1 mile away from Cherry Hinton Park and Ride almost to Haverhill, bypassing Wandlebury Country Park, Worstead Lodge, Little Abington, Hildersham, Linton and Horseheath.

We had arranged with the Britstop pub when booking our table for dinner, that we could leave Ruby in their carpark from 10ish that morning. On parking up, we grabbed our two rucksacks packed full with water and snacks, and jumped on the number 13  Stagecoach bus from near enough outside the pub to Wandlebury Country Park at an eye watering £5 each for a single! For any more than two of you, I reckon a taxi may have been cheaper! Shock subsided, we took our seats upstairs for the 20 minute journey to the Country Park, disembarking at “Fort Stop”.

We met our friends for a picnic lunch in the park (you need to bring your own as we didn’t see any cafe’s or anything) before waving bye to them and hunting down the Roman Road – actually its very well sign posted, as is the Bus Stop if you decide to do this walk the other way round.

We were joining the Roman Road about a mile or so from it’s starting point, just off Wort’s Causeway. As with any well-preserved Roman Road, the path was visible for as far as the eye could see. We put our best foot forward, and with the Memory Map app on Keith’s phone tracking us, we were pretty impressed with our pace considering it was quite a warm day and we’re a little out of shape.

The path varied in how well it had been preserved – some bits were really excellent and some less so. The walk took in the rolling hills of the Cambridgeshire countryside, but the Roman engineering never made us feel like we were climbing huge gradients. Well, to be fair, they weren’t huge gradients but there were definitely some gradual inclines!

Along the way we saw loads and loads of butterflies and wild flowers and parts of the path are SSSI.  The heat of the day gave it a Mediterranean feel throughout so it was very atmospheric. We stopped for water every mile and got through a bag of haribo and a box of angel slices! Despite passing several villages equipped with pubs, cafes and shops, there wasnt any signs to these villages off the Roman Road – so you need to bring your own food and drink.

Before we knew it we had reached the end of the road, literally! We were both genuinely shocked that it only took us 3 hours to walk- time flies when you’re having fun but surprisingly considering our lack of long walks recently, physically we felt fine and like we could have carried on! Happily our parking spot in the pub was just off the Roman Road so by 4pm we’d found ourselves a table in their beer garden and enjoyed a few cold drinks – my first pint of Aspall did not touch the sides!

Our meal later on was absolutely sensational. We had scallops and tempura prawns to start, followed by homemade burger and chips for Keith and lamb kebab, flatbread greek salad etc for me. The bar was dog friendly and they served local gin from Bury St Edmunds, so we settled in there for the evening, feeling thoroughly satisfied that we’d managed to walk the walk!

The Britstop did well out of our stay – our bill came to £106! So far more expensive than a campsite, however the food, drinks and service was exceptional – far higher standard than the standard pub grub – and therefore a real treat for us to enjoy together without having to wash up. We also had probably £50 worth of drinks! And Jazz got a handful of dog treats too. More importantly the location was perfect for this walk.

It’s worth me pointing out that most people wouldn’t have to spend the amount we did- mains were between £10-£19- we chose the most expensive starters at £12 for the scallops but they were amazing and we fancied a blow out meal.

After quite a warm night, we woke up early and set off around 7.30am for Wandlebury Country Park again – where we started yesterday. Parking from 8am was £3 all day – we wanted to walk the small northern section that precedes the Country Park before going home. I’m really glad we did too as it was by far the best preserved section – the high banks which had been dug by the Romans are still visible and in use today to make the Road stand higher.

At the bottom of this section there is a free car park – so you could park here and walk the entire length then get the bus back to the Park and return to your car if you didn’t want to stay at the Britstop – your loss though there!

We feel privileged to enjoy this walk – we’ve spoken to loads of people since getting home from it and noone seems to have heard about it. Neither had we – so a big thanks to Britstops for once again opening up a new area/walk for us. We will absolutely deinitely return – next time we will treat ourselves to the Chaetaeubriand that lurked on the menu!

Until Next Time

Lx

Some Helpful Planning tools for this walk:

The Walk information leaflet

About the Roman Road

Getting to the Roman Road

Stagecoach Bus 13 Timetable 

Wandlebury Country Park Access Info

Join Britstops 

A wander around Thetford Warren

We are so lucky to live in the area that we do. We’ve had so much to do this weekend that we were unable to get away; however after blitzing the to do list yesterday we decided to go for a nice walk and a cuppa tea somewhere local today, for a change of scenery.

Just 10 miles down the road lies Britain’s largest lowland pine forest, Thetford Forest.

We headed to Thetford Warren, a (free) English Heritage site that is a rare example of a rabbit Warrener’s lodge, a now lost local industry.

After a quick look at the building remains, we put our best foot forward and set off on the well signposted 4.5 mile Beech Trail. The trail takes you through woodland glades, along grass and sandy tracks, past tall pines, and Rhododendron Bushes (sadly we’ve missed their peak now). Occasionally the track is overlapped by another trail, some of which are bike trails

Nearby is High Lodge which is a hive of activity, with numerous walking and cycling trails along with a Go Ape. You can also get refreshments from the cafe there. Our trail, the Beech trail didn’t go as far as High Lodge but at one point we were very close to the car park (payable)

Parking at Thetford Warren is free though and far enough off the main road to enjoy a peaceful cuppa and cake in Ruby after our walk.

We really enjoyed our walk and will definitely return for a similar day sometime soon. Isn’t it amazing how a walk and a cuppa in the Campervan makes you feel like you’ve had a mini break, even if you’re only 15 mins from home!

If you’re not local enough to enjoy Thetford Forest as a day trip, we’ve heard the following campsites are really good and very local:

Puddledock Farm 9 miles/ 15 mins

Dower House 11 miles/ 18 mins (this is on the outskirts of our village!)

Other things to do in the area:

National Trust Oxborough Hall

Lyndford Stag Walks

Knettishall Heath Walks

English Whiskey Distillery Tours

Where do you like popping to for a local walk/change of scenery? We’d love to hear so comment below.

Also if you find yourself in this neck of the woods, let us know

Until next time

Lx