Winter Wanderings Part 3 - Kent

Well, here we go again, after a little bit of a Christmas break, the blog continues as we have moved from Cambridge and the immaculate Caravan Club Cherry Hinton site and are now sited in Ramsgate, Kent for the last stop of our trip. In fact I’ll say that again, because it’s worth mentioning. The site was immaculate and the facilities were always gleaming. Moreover, Alan & Julia are two of the friendliest and helkpful wardens we have ever met. The site is a credit to them. Well done.hilda01

So, how was your Christmas? Ate too much, drank too much? Yeah, me too, but I don’t need Christmas to do that. We went out for lunch – myself, Trev and his Mum, the much mentioned HRH. Not cheap, for what was essentially a carvery but I don’t have a problem with that. I wouldn’t want to work on Christmas Day, and really appreciate people that do. My only hope is that they were suitably rewarded and were there by choice. So, the food was good, not great, but the service was fantastic, they really made us feel welcome and the pub had a great atmosphere. Trev’s Mum was erm, entertaining. In her own way…

Our time in Cambridge flew by as it always does. I did get to see a couple of friends of my Mum’s that I hadn’t seen for years, but sadly missed out on others. There were a couple of research expeditions obviously – with two pubs within walking distance of the site. Given the dominance of Greedy, sorry Greene King around here there was nothing new to try. Sorry, I have no personal experience of that but I heared a Landlady use it!

Anyway, enough of the space filling pre-amble - lets get down to business.

It was Sunday that we moved from Cherry Hinton. It was – as predicted by the prophets of doom at the Met Office – wet, but having watched the dreadful flooding in parts of the north I aint ever going to moan about a bit of rain again. Until the next time anyway.

The journey was, mostly on the motorway and trouble free. We’d expected to get held up on the M25 passing the Lakeside Shopping Centre exit as we have done so many times in the past, but even that was quiet. We arrived on site just a little before the hallowed midday arrival time, but were met by a very friendly chap who showed us around and to our pitch.

The site is Nethercourt Touring Park on the outskirts of Ramsgate and set in part of the gardens of the old Nethercourt House, a manor house now replaced by a housing estate. All the usual facilities are offered and there are very few of us on site.  Bus stops are almost right outside the entrance to the site.

The site owner was very helpful with the locations of local research facilities and we headed out late afternoon in much need of refreshment and refuelling. One of two pubs overlooking nearby Pegwell Bay obliged for the food as well as getting a chance to sample an ale from local Ramsgate brewery Gadds. I’d had their Number 5 Best Bitter in a bottle on an overnight visit to Margate earlier in the year, and the cask version proved to be every bit as tasty.

After the gloomy grey overcast skies of the last few days, it was great to see the sun when we eventually opened the blinds of the caravan on Monday morning. The coast had to be the destination on such a lovely day so we headed first to dear old Margate and our first stop just had to be Dreamland.

Dreamland is, basically an amusement park. Although rides had been on the site since 1888, it opened as Dreamland in 1920 and was very popular with day trippers and holiday makers visiting Margate. Ownership changed a couple of times in the early eighties with several rides being moved or sold off and after years of decline it closed in 2005. All rides were removed from the site with the exception of the original wooden Scenic Railway which had been awarded listed status.

A significant part of the scenic railway was destroyed by arson in 2008 but it’s listed status was upgraded soon after.

To cut a long story a little bit shorter, there were many that saw a future for Dreamland and a campaign group to save Dreamland was formed. With considerable funding from the lottery, local and central government and private investment, and an awful lot of hard work, the park reopened in June 2015, although the centrepiece – the Scenic Railway would not run again until October. It must have been a fantastic day for all those involved when the gates finally reopened again on that June day. This is not a park for thrill seekers – they’ll find the scenic railway pretty pedestrian compared to modern rides, but that’s not what Dreamland is about.

A great story, but what has that got to do with me? Well, I used to go there as a kid – our annual holiday was in neighbouring Cliftonville – and once during the week we had an evening in Dreamland. It holds many, many happy memories for me and having followed it’s progress on social media over the years it was fantastic to be back there. I must confess to filling up a little - yes, there is a bit of a softie under all that black leather cladding.


After the meander around Dreamland it was time for Margate, or more accurately the Old Town. As I mentioned, we used to holiday here – virtually every year – up until I was about 16 I think. I never came back then until 2009 when we stopped overnight in the lovely Walpole Bay Hotel along in Cliftonville – you can read my blog about it HERE. It’s fair to say neither Margate or Cliftonville were in the best of health, and given that my only memories were childhood happy ones it was extremely sad to see that the area had gone downhill so much.


Thankfully, it appears that a corner has been turned. Yes, it still has it’s problems but the Turner Contemporary gallery, together with Dreamland appear to be making a difference. The Old Town looked fresh, with plenty of niche independent shops sporting freshly painted shop fronts. The was a whole different atmosphere now to when we were here in 2009.


Our trundle alonng the coast took us through Cliftonville then inland a bit to Broadstairs. Patronised regularly by old Charles Dickens, it’s a seaside resort that appears to have retained it’s popularity when others – such as Margate – have seen such a decline. It certainly looked in good nick today with the sun out and plenty of people were taking advantage of the brighter weather.


Our last port of call was Ramsgate – just a mile or so from our site. We mooched around the shops for a while but agreed, over a much needed pint – that we would return later in the week for a proper look – particularly around the harbour area.

Right that’s it for now. Check back soon for more from the Kent coast, a visit to Canterbury and more!


Winter Wanderings Part 2 – More Suffolk, and a bit of Essex

Tuesday morning (just) saw us in Stowmarket, a little to the west. We had actually been here before – on the Sunday night when we’d stumbled across the local Wetherspoons in search of some grog and grub. Some independent shops mingled with the more predominant chains and it seemed to be reasonably busy. Pleasant but not particularly inspiring was how I found it. There are a number of supermarkets surrounding it and again, the local council seem to be doing their bit in one way at least by keeping parking charges reasonable. Very reasonable for anyone who’s been asked to stand and deliver by Brighton & Hove Council in exchange for a parking spot.


Our next and last stop was at Needham Market and fairly brief as the weather deteriorated and WP_20151215_13_10_32_Prothe mist turned into rain. Mostly independent shops cluster along the main road which was at one time the route of the old A45 – now the A14. Can you imagine the traffic now! Continuing the famous former residents theme, Needham Market can boast June Brown, much better known as Dot Cotton in Eastenders, who was born there.

Tuesday evening Elizabeth & David invited over to the farmhouse for a drink and we had a very pleasant evening chinwagging whilst getting to sample some local brew too.

Wednesday saw us head over the border again – but south this time in to Essex and Southend. Not perhaps the obvious destination when staying in charmingly rural Suffolk, so let me explain. We were there to meet Richard Burgess, director at Cover 4 Caravans – as the name might suggest an insurance company favoured by Legs Down and many of our caravanning pals too. Well, meet we did, along with manager Michael and the reason for the meeting was to confirm Richards’s very kind offer to sponsor our Twittercamp meets for 2016. This will allow us to procure some merchandise as well as put on BBQ’s, transport to attractions and the like. Thank you once again Richard for your support, it was nice to finally put a face to the name to you and Michael and we really appreciate what you are doing for us.

Thursday was a little brighter, weatherwise and we headed south again, back down the A14 to have a look around Ipswich. To be honest this was more shopping than sightseeing – I came away emptyhanded but Trev found a very nice jacket – not black sadly but there’s no accounting for taste! It was nice to see, in amongst the garish modern shop fronts, some of the orginal buildings still remained.


Next (and last) up and further down the A14 and the impressive Orwell  Bridge was Felixstowe – probably best known for it’s large container port. We’d been here before – a couple of years ago but never venture beyond the town centre. This time we followed the signs to the port viewing area right at the southernmost tip on which is the old Landguard Fort. The fort was closed for the winter sadly, along with the accompanying museum and there were no shipping movements whilst we were there but it afforded great views of the harbour and we could see a monster of a container ship being unloaded. The area reminded me a little of the stark beauty of Dungeness


We had a pootle along the seafront, looking remarkably good in the late afternoon December gloom, before stopping briefly in the town centre for some bits and bobs.


Friday, and west was the direction in which Rosie, our muddy old tug, was pointed. First up was Framlingham, not so much for sightseeing but to say hello – and put another face to the name – of another fellow Twitterer – Reg from The Tug Co. Regulars may recall that we reviewed Reg’s great portable trailer dolly ‘The Tug’ a while back – and an updated version just a couple of months ago. Click or tap HERE for a link. Again, we had a good old chinwag and did hang around long enough to take a few photo’s too. Another charming and friendly little Suffolk towm that would look so much better without that essential modern eysore – the car. Hardly unique in that though hey?

Framlingham Castle was on the edge of town, but sadly closed – again unsurprising given the time of year.


By lunchtime, we were on the coast again – back at dear old Southwold. Ok, the main reason for the visit was to buy some beer – Ale heads will know that the Adnams brewery is based here, but it’s always a pleasant place to visit. On the pier is an exhibition of some truly weird and wonderful machines – some completely bizarre – and they are well worth a look. A very civilized lunch fortified us before we headed to the brewery shop, picking up a couple of mini- casks of their excellent Southwold Bitter.


Southwold, apart from being on the coast also sits on the northern side of the river Blyth. To the south is the little village of Walberswick which was almost our  last stop before heading back to base There is no vehicle crossing so it’s a fifteen minute drive or so around. Beach huts – many painted black – wahay! – sit behind the sand bank and a boardwalk stretches out to the beach.


Last stop of the day was back in Debenham – at another brewery shop. Having sampled a couple of beers from The Earl Soham brewery on a nocturnal reserach expedition the night before we decided to pick up a mini-cask from them too…..

Saturday, saw us heading south, and across the border again, to Colchester to see my cousin 10373649_10207588389244453_7947364173231521357_nand his wife who had invited us over for a meal.  It’s so great that after years of hardly seeing one another  - apart from funerals - we now  - thanks to caravanning – have a shared interest and see each other regularly. Not only that but Andy’s wife Janet is a damn fine cook too – we had a great afternoon and evening, meeting for the first time in ages,  their girls Sarah amd Amanda and respective partners Derek and Tim.

Right, by the time you get this we will be in Cambridge – for the ‘family’ bit of the trip mostly but hopefully to catch up with a few friends too. We’re here for a week before hitching up again for the longer journey down to Kent for our final week.


Winter Wanderings Part 1 – Suffolk

It’s been a while hasn’t it but, as you have probably deduced from the appearance of this communication we are away in our caravan again, making the most of the school’s Christmas holidays.WP_20151210_20_50_07_Pro

We actually finished work a week or so ago. I say ‘or so’ as it depends when I get this finished and sent out as to how long the actual timescale is. Normally we would have gone away straight away but for once the school did the sensible thing and held the support staff party at the end of term rather than a week in to the holidays. Well, it would have been rude not too, wouldn’t it and a thoroughly good time was had by all.

Of course it being the end of term my work as a bus driver was done, but soon after the half term break Trev took over as caretaker at the Nursery & Pre-Prep school just up the road. Although also term time only his attendance was required the day after to help ‘de-Christmas’ the school ready for the new term in January. It would have been rather churlish of me  - if somewhat easier - to lay in bed nursing a surprisingly mild hangover so I went in as well. An early visit to the fast food wagon for a bacon baguette helped no end.

With another party to attend on Saturday night – catching up with some friends we hadn’t seen for far too long – it was Sunday morning when we hauled Patsy up out of Sussex, around London and into East Anglia and Suffolk.

We stayed in Suffolk this time last year too – just south of Bury St Edmunds – but this time we’re a little further east, at a lovely CL at Broughton Hall Farm in Stonham Aspal owned and run by fellow Twitterer Elizabeth. The site sits in the orchard behind a lovely old farm house – itself surrounded by a moat -  behind the village church. It’s a really pretty site even at this time of year, but would look truly divine I’m sure when the weather is better. One can only imagine it when the trees blossom in the spring or conversely, when the leaves start to change colour in the autumn.


We have the site to ourselves – hardly surprising given the time of year – and it’s probably just as well as we’re perched on the access road to the main part of the site. Although firm, the grass is too soggy to risk Patsy’s considerable mass. It may be a CL but there are many of the usual facilities – electric hook up and toilet and shower facilities which are excellent. Decent soft toilet roll rather than the single ply sandpaper grade so beloved of certain club sites and a spacious shower where the water is as hot as you like and plentiful. A cute little old caravan serves as the information room and is well stocked with leaflets and info as well as a range of books should you forget your reading matter. It’s also keenly priced – there are no extras for 15

awnings/dogs/kids/etc. Wifi is included too. Good on ‘em, although my cheap and cheerful Hudl pad struggles to pick up the signal. But then it struggles to pick up our home wifi at the other end of the flat! Everything else has been fine.


Oh, and STOP PRESS! My ageing trusty black leather trenchcoat has not made the 140 mile journey north and east. But don’t worry, I’ve not gone for a sartorial makeover and actually started dressing sensibly. Perish the thought. A recently procured duster style coat from eBay – black and leather – obviously – is getting it’s first outing this trip. It’s lighter than my trench and fits a little better I think, although it took a couple of goes with a bottle of febreeze and a good going over with a leather cream to banish the smell of stale tobacco that accompanied it. It appears, after a few outings to attract a little less attention than the rather ‘in yer face’ trench. There’ll be a photo or two at some point.

Right, so that completes the fashion report, but where have we been? Well, it’s all been a bit relaxed after the silly o'clock starts we’ve been used to for our jobs and as a result we’ve not seen as much as we could have done, particularly when you consider how short the days are at the moment. Anyway, here’s what we’ve been up to:

First up on Monday, eventually, was Diss – just across the border in Norfolk. Why Diss you may ask? Well, it wasn't far away, I’d never been there and Trev had – many many moons ago.

It lies in the valley of a river – the Waveney - and partially surrounds a mere or lake. There is a partially pedestrianised high street and it was good to see a number of independent shops although I would have expected it to be a little busier being as it was, just before Christmas. Parking was free for the first hour and well done to the local authority for being a bit forward thinking. Hopefully, it encourages people to shop local more. A refreshing change from the many that adopt the ‘take ‘em for as much as we can’ approach, then wonder why punters head out of town.


Notable ‘Diss’ians’ include Thomas Lord, founder of a certain cricket ground in North London, England footballer Matthew Upson and a lady by the name of Ethel Le Neve who has the dubious distinction of being the mistress of one Dr. Crippen.

Next cab off the rank was the small town of Eye, back in Suffolk. Worthy of one of those brown tourist signs it wasn’t on our list of places to see but we thought we’d swing by and take a look. It was certainly pretty, even in the gloom of a cloudy mid-afternoon in December but very DSC_0027quiet too – although we later realised that Monday closing may have had something to do with this! What was open was a butchers and we decided to procure some provisions for the coming days. We picked up a pie, sausages and some shin of beef for a stew. As I speak, the stew is in the slow cooker and if the meat is anything like the quality of the pie and bangers it will be delicious.

DSC_0028One of Eye’s most famous son’s is actor Brian Capron – better know to many as murderer Richard Hillman in Coronation Street, but those of a certain age (like me) will remember him as teacher ‘Hoppy’ Hopwood in Grange Hill in the early eighties.


Last up was Debenham, just a few miles from the site and without doubt the most attractive – the numerous cars lining the main road notwithstanding. A couple of pubs looked particularly inviting but we settled instead for a coffee and sarnie at one of the cafes. A local Co-Op ensured that – together with our purchases in Eye – we wouldn’t have to hunt out and traipse around a supermarket, at least for a few days.


Right, the word count is climbing. I’m going to call a halt now, but check back soon for more inane ramblings as our stay in the great county of Suffolk continues – with some exciting news about #TwitterCampUK too.