Windy Wiltshire – part 3 – Wet & Wild

Hello again, well at last we’ve managed to do a bit of sightseeing, in-between the showers and gales. Wednesday night Patsy 2 was buffeted by some of the worst winds we’ve known in our short time caravanning. Patsy 2’s substantial build – plus the extra 26 or so stone of her occupants – made sure she stayed put.

Anyway, with the promise of a reasonably dry day on Monday we decided to venture forth and see what this county had to offer. We’d already decided to save the south-eastern area for another time – we have that deposit to use against a future booking in Stonehenge, so the likes of Salisbury, Amesbury and so on, will wait until then.

First up was the Caen Hill locks, just outside Devizes. A ladder of 29 locks covering 2.5 miles that lift the Avon & Kennett canal 237ft or 72m up from the Avon valley to Devizes. It was dug by hand and took 16 years to build, the excavated clay being used for making bricks. We could have had a walk along the towpath but neither of us were feeling particularly energetic. The skies above were starting to look threatening and whilst I had come sensibly attired in winklepickers Trev was rather foolishly wearing proper walking shoes.

We settled for taking a few pictures and it was then I discovered that the camera’s memory card was still sitting in the laptop. What a muppet. So all pictures today are from a phone.


Next up was Silbury Hill, a 130ft or 40m high mound of earth situated beside the A4. Oh the excitement. Seriously though what makes it interesting is that construction started over 4,700 years ago or thereabouts. It appears to have been built in three stages over a 400 year timespan and is at least as big as some of the smaller Egyptian pyramids. Experts are still unsure as to why it was built and it was not originally surrounded by water, that’s a fairly recent addition – the last few weeks in fact!


We continued west to Marlborough a pretty and quite affluent looking town with a large wide high street spoilt somewhat by that necessity of the modern age – the car. Having decided not to add to the collection, we parked around the back of one of the rows of shops. The fact that it was free helped….

Smart independent shops jostled for shop frontage with some of the more usual high street chain store suspects.  We killed a few minutes looking around one waiting for the recently arrived rain cloud to pass.

The town hall seemed worthy of a snap or two once the rain passed and the sun emerged again as we traversed the opposite side of the street. Coffee was procured at Greggs to accompany the sarnies Trev had made up that morning.


To the western end of the town lies Marlborough College, an independent school that can count young comedian Jack Whitehall among it’s former pupils.  I wouldn’t  say he’s more or less funnier than any of  the current crop of comedians but I do like the fact that he doesn't try and hide his privileged upbringing and (expensive) education but draws on it in his routine.

Swindon was next, a place I knew little about other than that Honda have a big car plant nearby. We should (particularly after reading the guide book) have headed to the old town but happened instead on a multi-storey and emerged a short while later in to the concrete jungle that is Swindons shopping area. There really was very little of note that I could see – but given the prevailing damp and windy conditions we weren't very enthused about exploring off the beaten track.

Having procured  a couple bits and bobs for Patsy 2 we took a circuitous route back to the car park and came across an area of beautiful stone built cottages that formed the basis of the the original ‘new town’. Swindon was, for a while, the heart of the Great Western Railway and the cottages were built to house the railway workers and their families in a time when philanthropy was much more prevalent  than it is today. The cottages still look smart although here, that other apparent necessity of modern life; the wheelie bin, joins the car in spoiling the view. The once impressive social club, also built for the workers, now stands boarded up.



Our final port of call was Royal Wooton Bassett, famous more recently for the military repatriation processions that passed through numerous times when the wars in Afganistan and Iraq claimed yet another life. The bodies of our serviceman would arrive back at nearby RAF Lyneham and the local Royal British Legion members took to the streets to show respect as the processions passed. They were soon joined by locals all wanting to pay their respects to our fallen. RAF Lyenham closed in 2011 and RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire returned to it’s role with the processions now taking place in Carterton. WP_20140210_032

There was one final stop of the day – an extremely brief one - to take a picture of some scaffolding. Yes that’s right, scaffolding. This was pretty impressive though:

Tuesday afternoon and a break in the weather saw us in Devizes. The focal point of the town not surprisingly – for me anyway – was the vast red brick structure of the Wadworth brewery. We didn’t bother with a tour but I was hoping to find some as yet un-sampled ales to research. I was out of luck…


Talking of grog, one thing Devizes is not short of is pubs, they are everywhere. I would have loved to been able to erm, research them all, but neither my wallet or liver was up to it.


Wednesday brought with it more wind and heavy rain, so with any sort of sightseeing out of the question we fired up Rosie and headed over the border in to Somerset to say hello to James & Tara at The Old Oaks Caravan site near Glastonbury. You may recall that we stayed here before Easter last year and it still remains our number one site. Preparations were continuing for their opening for the new season of Friday but they took some time out for a good chin wag and catch up over coffee. There was concern that the media are painting the whole of summerset as being under water when a relatively small part has been affected. Somerset IS open for business and you will not be disappointed if you book up for The Old Oaks.

The rain had ceased Wednesday evening and we popped back in to Devizes for a bite to eat – and yes, a couple of pints too – for research purposes obviously.

Thursday brought with it more showers but with a break in the weather around lunchtime we headed to Chippenham – a pleasant little town on the banks of the Avon that can boast one Robert Peel as a former MP. He was, as  many will recall, charged with setting up the country's first police service. Eddie Cochran’s association with the town is much briefer. It was nearby that the taxi he was in hit a lamppost in the early hours after a concert in Bristol. He was dead by the following morning.


We paused  - briefly at Melksham on the way back for some shopping but little else.

And that really is our stay in Wiltshire. It will certainly not go down in Nonsense! history as one of our better trips. In fact had it not been that we had two new toys to play with we may well have stayed at home. The weather has been exactly as forecast – awful - and has made any sightseeing more of a chore than a pleasure. Added to that that I appear to have picked up a bug of some sort, causing me to reach for the paracetamol at frequent intervals and feel even less than enthused about getting out and about in the cold and wet. Our ‘research’ expeditions have not been as frequent or wide ranging either.

I am looking forward returning at some point later in the year when (hopefully) the weather is better to see more of this currently rather soggy county.

On another positive note, aforementioned new toys have performed well. Patsy 2 is nice and warm – and stable in the face of some pretty ferocious winds. Rosie has proved competent and the tow home tomorrow – with more of a trailing wind – should yield much better fuel economy.

So, what’s next. Well the Easter holidays are coming up and for our school at least occur before that actual Easter weekend. The three weeks of will see us up in Durham and then Yorkshire before returning south for the second ever Twittercamp at Rutland. We’ll then head to Cambridgeshire to catch up with friends and family before finishing the trip off with a few days in Essex.

For on line readers I’ll probably knock out one more blog once we get home, looking more closely at our new toys and how they performed. But for everyone else, ‘till the next time…














Windy Wiltshire – part 2– Sited & Sated

It’s me again, time another for another dose of inarticulate prose from West Wiltshire, where, guess what – it’s been raining. Poor old Patsy 2 took another battering from the wind and rain last night. It has eased considerably now though and should be dry later. We shall see.

Right, so where are we exactly. Well just a few miles west of Devizes on a Camping & Caravan Club Site. In fact this is the first C & CC site we’ve been on for over a year. Not for any other reason than when we’ve planned trips they either don’t have a site nearby, or it’s been out of season and they haven’t been open.

In fact we hadn’t even planned to be here now either. We had booked a private site near Stonehenge but advice from fellow caravanners who’d stayed there just a week prior suggested that If the weather didn’t improve we should give it a miss as the rain was playing havoc. We decided to cancel but the site owner was very understanding and said we could use our deposit against a future booking. Very fair I though and much appreciated.

So, on the recommendation of friends who stayed here for new year we booked this one. Finding it was easy – just off the A361 with a pub conveniently placed at the turning point. No trundling warily down a long narrow winding lane either. We pulled up, a little earlier than the sacred Midday arrival threshold and were welcomed warmly. Markedly different from when we pulled up at our local site on Thursday to load Patsy 2 up prior to travelling west on Saturday. I got the usual lecture about arrival times being there for a reason, congestion caused, it happened last week, etc, etc. All valid points and the road is quite narrow and long to the site but you can see if anything is coming and there are passing places for those reasonably competent behind the wheel. Which should be everyone with a licence, but sadly isn’t.

Anyway, whinging over. With formalities completed the warden, sorry, Holiday Site Manager – we’re not with the Caravan Club now – guided me expertly as I reversed Patsy 2 gingerly. His instructions were clear and precise and Patsy 2 soon came to rest perfectly on our chosen pitch. I was very grateful for his helped and learned a bit about reversing with a caravan in the process. The club’s tagline is ‘The Friendly Club’ and it’s very appropriate here.

Setting up was straight forward and the same as with old Patsy – legs down, mains on, water fetched and loo rinse  tank filled. We decided not to put up an awning – even though that side of the van was shielded from the worst of the wind, we still didn’t want to risk damaging it. And I guess neither of us really felt like doing it either.

It wasn’t long before the rain came so we did very little in the afternoon – but the clouds broke sufficiently to have  a wander around the site with a camera. There are ninety or so pitches, many hard standing but some were out of use thanks to the weather along with the grassed tent area behind the facilities block. Five feet high beech hedges separate area’s of the site in to smaller paddocks. The Kennet & Avon Canal runs along side the site and you can walk along the towpath.



The onsite shops stocks one or two of the basics – I procured the last pack of biscuits, and calor gas is available. The facilities block is tidy and kept clean. More than enough cubicles with wash basins and and plenty of toilets, though some were closed off. There were four shower cubicles but only two were available for use which lead to a bit of a queue Sunday morning. There were about 30 units on site at the weekend but barely a dozen remain now.

The shower’s themselves are lovely – the water is hot and plentiful – push button, which are never my favourite although I understand why sites fit them. Accessory shops will sell you a device that clamps over the button to keep the water flowing for a tenner or so. Anyone with an awning peg and elastic tensioning ladder will be able to achieve the same result for a lot less.

Club Wi-Fi is available – which is just as well because mobile signals aren’t great – at least not on the network's we patronise. A tenner for a week with a 3.5gb limit – though that’s only for one device. There’s ways around it though thanks a free piece of software called Virtual Router.

With very little in the way of provisions and meal time approaching, the only sensible option was to sample the delights of the local hostelry barely two minutes walk away. The Three Magpies is a Wadworths house – as are many around here it seems, which is hardly surprising given that we passed the brewery on the way through Devizes. They offer the usual range of pub food and what we had was extremely tasty – chicken & ham pie for me and bangers and mash for Trev. I would have liked a larger portion (wouldn’t we all dear?) but that’s just me being greedy. I filled the small remaining space in my belly with a delicious desert – cheesecake and ice cream. Oh yum.

IMAG1429_1I’ve had one or two of Wadworth’s beers on the odd occasion but the opportunity to sample, sorry, research  more of the range was too good to resist. Our site manager was in there too and we had a good chinwag whilst this research was carried out. The ‘one for the road’ turned in to two or three and we emerged, eventually, a little unsteadily and made our way back to the comforting warmth of Patsy 2.IMAG1436

Sunday, was, by necessity a relaxing day, apart from knocking out the first blog and paying a brief visit to Devizes to procure some provisions that is. We also got the chance to put on Patsy 2’s new stickers as well. Later on, I read and Trev snoozed, though we did emerge in the evening  for a much briefer return visit to the pub.

Windy Wiltshire – Part 1– All Change

Good morning! Yep, it’s half-term and so time for another dose of delirious drivel coupled with pointless piffle from the Blogger in Black and his Portly Partner.

We’re in sunny (yeah, right) Wiltshire just a few miles west of Devizes. As I type the wind is howling and the rain is falling – which it’s been doing almost constantly since December. We’ve all had enough of it but I really feel for the poor buggers in Somerset. It must be heart breaking.

So, what’s new since my last communication. Well, those that read the online version of my blog will know that we’ve been spending – we have a new caravan. Yes, we’ve traded in dear old Patsy for something a little larger. I say new, but I mean new to us. Patsy 2 is a Coachman VIP 520/4 of 2007 vintage – about three feet longer and whilst only a couple of inches wider it really is noticeable. I’ve always said an inch or two could make all the difference. Ahem, anyway, the layout is similar – front seating area and rear bathroom but with the addition of a side dinette – for eating and blogging. This area can also be converted to bunks to accommodate two extra people – a useful facility but one that we’re unlikely to use.

Having spent the first night in her, she’s warm, dry and even more comfortable that Patsy 1. So far so good. Anyway, here she is:



Now Patsy 1 was no lightweight, something I alluded too more than once. Coachman don’t skimp when building their vans and Patsy 2 is even heavier – some 200 kilos and when fully laden she’s approaching 1.6 tonnes. Our venerable tug Jessie could have pulled that – and indeed she has done when we picked the new van up from the dealers – thanks to the remap we had done on the engine last year, but she simply wasn’t heavy enough. For those that don’t know but care – the towing vehicle must always be heavier than the van – in fact club recommendations say that for ultimate stability the ‘van should be no more than 85% of the weight of the car, or else the tail can start wagging the dog as it were. So Jessie had to go.

The heavier the ‘van, the less there is to choose from when deciding  what to tow with. Power is not an issue any more with modern engines, but weight is. Manufacturers are necessarily building lighter and lighter cars so it took a lot of flipping through web pages checking kerb weights to find something suitable. We had always planned to go back to a Nissan X-trail but they were simply too light to tow Patsy 2 safely. One of the X-Trails’ main rivals – the Honda CRV ticked all the boxes and that’s what we ended up with. Of course black would have been good, but I guess it was time for a change, so say hello to our new tug; Rosie:

RosieRosie 2DSC_0216

Right, what’s she like? Well, things didn’t start off too well. Within hours of picking her up from the dealers it was apparent that there was in issue with the handbrake – the cable turned out to be corroded and seized but the dealers were quick to have a new one fitted. Sadly it’s pretty ineffective and whilst day to day it’s easy to manage, when you’re stopped at a junction on an incline with over a tonne and a half of caravan on the back a good handbrake is quite useful! It will either have to go back again or we’ll get our local guy to look at it.

Driving wise, great all round vision thanks to the higher driving position and a clear view of the rear thanks to the wing mirrors. We’re both minibus drivers so have got use to a commanding driving position and great vision. Parking sensors aid getting her in to tight spots. The 2.2 litre turbo diesel engine is a little noisy when cold but soon settles down. The clutch is light and soft and a pleasure to use. So, how’s it drive? the 140 BHP is enough to get you around reasonably swiftly and, solo, economy has been good. Steering is a little heavy but is assured as is the handling and it’s very comfortable. It’s not a drivers car like the old Jag  - it imparts very little driving ‘pleasure’ but it is a different beast entirely of course.

We bought her primarily as a tow car, and having travelled from Brighton  to Wiltshire yesterday in very windy and wet conditions am happy to report that this she does very well. With the rear seats folded down there was loads of room for all the usual caravanning ‘stuff’ – long leather coats, boots etc. On the road she was very stable in the face of some very strong winds and she kept Patsy 2 on the straight and narrow extremely well. Fuel consumption was, given the conditions, understandably poor though - having hit 30mpg on the M25, once we joined the M4 and headed west, hitting the wind head on, it dropped gradually, levelling out at only 26mpg. I am sure though that will improve once (and if!) the wind ever drops. Power when towing was adequate. Moving off was easier than with the Jag with a lot less throttle needed. It was in the 40-50mph range when the engine was found to be a little sluggish – where, conversely the old Jag excelled. Once we’ve driven in more normal conditions we’ll be able to make a better comparison and decide whether it’s worth paying out to have this engine remapped too.

Right, this where I’m going to end this one. It’ll soon be time for a shower and then we need to go and do some shopping. The sun is putting in a very brief appearance but the forecast for the rest of the day is not good. Tomorrow promises some dry spells at least though.

So, standby for part 2 where there’ll be more about the site, an extremely close ‘research’ facility, and hopefully some photo’s of this attractive – though currently rather soggy – county.



February 2014

Our first outing with our new toys – Patsy 2 – the caravan and Rosie – the tow car. The weather was appalling and did detract from our time in Wiltshire somewhat. However the site – a Camping & Caravan Club site in Devizes – was lovely and the car and caravan both performed well. Looking forward to coming back in better weather.

May 2014