Christmas 2019 Part 4

Friday 20th December

Proof that there’s no rest for the knackered came on Friday as I was on my travels again, not with Patsy this time but on the train, putting my faith in Greater Anglia for lunch with friends in London.

I was up at silly o’clock – in holiday terms anyway – and heading for the bus stop soon after nine, the leather duster coat and brolly – not leather sadly - keeping out most of the rain and the bitterly cold wind.

Rush hour traffic had started to ease and I was at the station in good time and procured a bacon roll and coffee for the journey.

The train could best be described as tired, at least inside. Low, unsupportive seats that had clearly already given of their best, no doubt after taking daily poundings on what is a very busy commuter route.

The journey passed quickly enough however and after a few stops we were soon pulling into Liverpool Street, a station I’d not visited since I was a kid on days out with my parents. Within a few moments I’d hooked up with my companions for the day, Richard and Michael from Caravan insurance specialists Cover 4 Caravans. As we walked to the exit a group of workmen noticed my attire. In that truly British way of talking loudly about someone, ensuring that they hear, some comment was made along the lines of “**** me, look at the state of that fellas”. I ignored it.

The weather was still inclement so a cab was hailed for the short trip to the restaurant called Smiths on the banks of the Thames. The fantastic views, dominated by Tower Bridge and a massive gin palace moored close by were eclipsed only by the food.


The sirloin with big fat chips followed by banoffee cheesecake was absolutely superb, accompanied by a good old chin-wag with Richard and Michael. Although we talk on social media I hadn’t seen them for over a year and there’s nothing like a face to face catch-up. Many many thanks to Richard for another great choice and for picking up the considerable tab too. Very generous and much appreciated.


The skies had cleared somewhat so we took a gentle half hour walk back to the station, passing through the re-developed St Catherine's Dock. It’s an area I’ve not really visited so far on my numerous trips to London and there were a number of very appealing pubs – sorry – research venues on route.

We said our goodbyes at Liverpool St, Michael heading back to the office in Southend and Richard heading over to West London to see his Mum in hospital. There’s was only a few minutes to wait for the next train back to Cambridge, albeit a slow, frequently stopping one.

I was back at Patsy around 5pm and decided on a nap after getting her back up to habitable temperature. The following cuppa really hit the spot and, deciding that traffic would by now have eased, headed out to the supermarket for supplies and, most importantly diesel for Rosie, rewarding her relative frugality on the run across from Henley with cheap supermarket fuel. She gets used a lot less these days when not away. I don’t need her for work and without a run out once a week to check all is OK, her duties would almost be entirely confined to towing. Hence I’m happy to generally keep her fuelled with something better, but convenience overtook this time.

The shop was mercifully quiet and whilst I didn’t fancy turning out again that night, the alternative would have been going Saturday or Sunday morning. Neither of which appealed given the upcoming festive period and folks needing to shop, seemingly for a month.

Some fresh bread was procured, along with the usual ‘supplies’ - ale and wine for the uninitiated – and a delicious sarnie was enjoyed along with one of said ales back in Patsy.

The night’s telly was good – Have I Got News For You and Would I Lie To You are two of my favourites. I do enjoy sharp wit, particularly at the expense of those in power and influence. Given the recent election there was lots of ammunition.

After I adjourned to the laptop, fancying a bit of music rather than an early night. Not the usual playlist of tear jerking sad songs that were once a staple of my Friday nights but a whole array, plucked from YouTube, of disco and dance classics. A friend joined me online and we swapped suggestions of our favourites, neither of us realising the passing time. The lengthening line of empty beer bottles on the cooker top would have given a hint however and it was nearly 2am by the time I closed the lid of the laptop, the process of making up the bed proving somewhat more challenging than is usual. Completely unplanned but fantastic fun. Some of the best nights are like that.

Christmas 2019 Part 3

Thursday 19th December

Moving day. Moving as in moving sites, not emotionally challenging. Destination Cambridge and the Caravan & Motorhome Club site at Cherry Hinton, by some margin our – now my – most visited site.

With arrivals not permitted until after 1pm and a circa two-hour journey – traffic permitting, packing up was leisurely. In truth I’m better when I want to get away early as a later departure means putting it off – another quick look at Twitter, Facebook et al, rather than getting on with it. It was only a little after eleven though when I pulled away, retracing my steps as far as the M25 before heading North & East to the M11.20191219_140221

Traffic did permit and I arrived around 1:15pm, the diversion past the closed Queen Edith's Way making little difference. My ageing tug Rosie, clearly didn’t find it too hard going, returning a shade over 30mpg over the 105-mile journey. A considerable improvement on the first leg of the trip. I keep an eye on such things as it’s a fair indicator of her overall health, taking speed, weight and prevailing conditions into consideration. I’m in no rush to replace her. Pitch 15 was to be Patsy’s resting place for the next few days, one I’d not been on before. Down a slope to the left it was quiet and near a service point too.

Set up was rather hurried as I wanted to squeeze in a kip and a shower before my next port of call; the blood donation centre at the nearby Addenbrooke's hospital. Knowing time was limited the kip did not prove notably restorative but the long hot shower did. Blood donors are a privileged bunch on the Addenbrooke’s site as we get free parking and I was checking in just on time despite the increasing later afternoon traffic.

The initial blood drop test was not promising – apparently my iron levels were a little low – but a further test confirmed that it was just high enough to donate and I was soon dispensing my 400ml of A+. The usual advice was given after which included suggesting I try to avoid alcohol for 24 hours. I refrained from asking how hard I should try, knowing the evenings’ activities consisted of a curry and a pub quiz.

The curry, with a friend from a neighbouring village was superb – for the record it was the Tamarind in Teversham. I, opting for my usual these days went for Chicken Madras. There was a time when Vindaloo was the only choice but I prefer something a little more mellow these days. Particularly when the following morning comes...20191219_181438

The pub quiz was at the Six Bells in Fulbourn. I’d joined my friends’ team in the summer on my previous visit and enjoyed it immensely, without contributing significantly to the score. This time however with new management and a revamped quiz it seemed easier, with more questions we felt we could answer. Results wise, in sporting parlance we managed mid-table, just missing out on the play-offs.

The Adams Southwold bitter went down very well indeed, probably a little too well. However, considering said consumption of both grog and grub I returned to Patsy with waistcoat still comfortably buttoned. Some gentle weight loss since the summer seems to have paid off, although whether it will still fit as well in the new year is in some doubt!

Christmas 2019 Part 2

Tuesday 17th December

A bleary eyed glimpse out of the window and a look at the weather forecast – once the tea had kicked in – convinced me I would not be going far but, in truth I wasn’t that bothered. I had another full day left, for which the forecast was much better and I wanted to say goodbye to Deb & Steve too who were headed home. With the cold still lingering a day doing little would probably do me good.

And so it did. Deb & Steve left just before lunchtime and the most strenuous activity was probably when I put finger tips to keyboard and started on the preceding blog post, chasing letters that had clearly had a re-shuffle. I read a lot, listen to the radio and snoozed too without feeling guilty about not getting out and about. A proper lazy caravanning day.

Wednesday 18th December

Given the previous early night I was awake before sunrise, but rise it did – the sun that is – accompanied by reasonably clear blue skies. The bods in the Met Office were spot on and I was feeling much more energised and looking forward to getting out and about.

The town of Marlow a few miles up the road was my intended destination and I did contemplate driving as I could also have taken a look at the route through – my next stop at Cambridge meant continuing around the M25 clockwise and joining from the M40 would have meant a few less miles on the clock.

In the end though I took the bus, downloading the Arriva bus app then having to sit down rather hurriedly when I saw the price of a day ticket. To be fair it would have taken me all over Beds & Bucks too but I guess being in one of the most affluent areas of the country made a difference as well.

The bus was on time, the UK Bus Checker app once again proving it’s accuracy and the twenty or so minute journey took us through some lovely countryside too. Marlow town centre, when we arrived looked pleasant too, almost picture postcard like if you could only remove all the cars. Traffic seemed far worse than Henley and it was probably then I decided against bringing Patsy through the following day, better the devil you know as it were and it was only a few miles further.

Anyway, I headed for the bridge first, crossing to get a view back towards town, then back over and into Higginson Park that sat alongside the river. Like Henley, rowing is a big thing and the town has it’s own regatta, though not as well known as the one hosted up the Thames.


It is apparently possible to walk back to Henley along the tow path. It’s not something I’d seriously considered as I doubt my troublesome knee would have played ball, but at the western edge of the park the path disappeared under water anyway.


I took a look at the statue of local lad and five times Olympic champion Sir Steve Redgrave then utilised Google Maps to get me to Marlow Lock on the Eastern side of town. Another cracking spot and it was a fine view looking back to Marlow across the water. Houses nestled by the water side in what I can best term a nautical cul-de-sac hinted at careers far more lucrative than school minibus driving. Jealous? No, although they did look nice, but the recent high water levels have have been some cause for concern amongst the residents.


It was well into lunchtime by now and a sandwich was procured from the High Street and I stood people watching as cholesterol levels were restored.

I’d spotted my next point of interest on the bus in and I soon found myself in The Ship, a delightfully cosy low cellinged boozer in West Street. I’d come across ales from the nearby Rebellion brewery before and the IPA was beautifully bright and clear. Very very quaffable too. Alongside it was Roasted Nuts, a deliciously malty, much darker brew which will appear in the Ale Archive at some point.

The bus stop was only a few steps away – handy for when more extensive er, research is undertaken and we were soon back in Henley, remembering almost immediately when I got off the bus that I’d left the Treasure Trails printout for Henley back in the ‘van. No matter, it would keep and I wouldn’t be wandering far anyway thanks to the aforementioned knee. There were a few interesting looking antique shops on the streets to the south of town but I declined, thinking that given the location and relative affluence I’d unlikely find a bargain. I did just that though, in one of the charity shops where I picked up some DVD's along with an ornament for my little decorating project. Pictures of which will appear on social media when it’s nearer completion.

There were plenty more research opportunities in Henley, but decided on just two – The Argyll ‘pub and kitchen’ for a pint of Midsomer Murders (the TV series is often filmed around these parts), by some margin the most expensive and then The Bull on Bell Street for a Brakspear Gravity. Neither beer was as appealing as the offerings from Rebellion earlier.

I could have walked back to the site but decided instead to extract more value from my gold plated day ticket and got the bus the two stops back to the site. The garlic bread was more appealing than the lasagne it accompanied – shop bought I might add – but there was room left for cheese and biscuits later. Patsy was warm and cosy and a few more lights slung up made her even more festive – or garish depending on your point of view.

I would be heading off in the morning but there was no rush and it was a pleasant evening. I’d enjoyed my stay here immensely – far too short to see the area properly but, at the time of typing have booked a return visit next year.


Christmas 2019 Part 1

Sunday 15th December

With most of the loading done in the days prior there was mostly just the pre-flight checks to complete in the morning. Nevertheless I’d allowed myself an hour at the storage yard to get Patsy shipshape and she was hitched and ready to go at around 10:15am. I’d decided to avoid the problem of the sharp right hand turn from her resting place and instead used the mover to drive her around the bend which also avoided hitching up in the lake that had formed in front of her thanks to the recent rain.

Progress on the open road was soon halted however as we came to a standstill only a couple of miles in. Had I bothered to check traffic reports I would have known about the RTC that had partially blocked the road but, to be honest that wouldn’t have made much difference. There were a couple of options to turn around but that would have meant towing along and extremely windy seafront – something I was keen to avoid and the reason that I hadn’t put Patsy on my local site on the edge Brighton over the weekend.

About twenty minutes later though we were moving again. Both police and an ambulance were in attendance at what looked like a four car collision – one of which was buried in the hedgerow off to the side. It looked nasty and hopefully all involved were OK but whilst it’s impossible to say how it occurred, knowing the road well, I bet excessive speed combined with wet slippery roads played a part. There’s some extremely tempting twists and turns.

There was inevitable congestion on the M25 before the Heathrow turn-offs but it could have been and often is, so much worse. I got my first glance of Henley-on-Thames as I crossed the bridge into town and was very impressed.

The Caravan & Motorhome Club Site named Henley Four Oaks was on the Marlow road, easily accessible just a few minutes through town and was quite sparsely occupied when I arrived soon after 1pm, enabling me to take a pitch away from the road. No. 35 was to be Patsy’s resting place for a few days, roughly in the middle of the site and equidistant from both the facilities and the gate to the footpath into town. Rosie recorded 96 miles from pitch to pitch, returning 26mpg. Not a great figure but it was windy in places and I got going when traffic allowed, particularly once we’d got away from the windy south coast.


Set up was swift, not least because, since doing it on my own I have managed to streamline things a little. In addition I wanted to make a start on Patsy’s Christmas lights and was also awaiting the arrival of fellow caravanners and friends who would be joining me on site for a couple of days.

Within a short while a familiar combo hove into view, heralding the arrival of Deb and Steve who’d just spent a few days in my old home town of Cambridge – a journey I would soon be making in the opposite direction. Many will know Deb & Steve from their In Pursuit of a Dream caravanning  and travel blog and it’s well worth checking out.

Hot drinks dispensed we had a quick catch up before reconvening later on for a walk into town in search of grog and grub.

20191215_182522Torches were welcome as much to avoid the plethora of puddles both through the site and along the footpath into town before the street lights took over. Progress was paused temporarily in a couple of places to avoid getting a soaking from passing traffic.

Henley was looking very pretty indeed thanks to some tasteful lighting and decorations  - much prettier than my cheap phone could capture - as we made our way to the main drag and the unanimous choice of venue which was The Catherine Wheel, a very large Wetherspoons’ pub which boasted accommodation too.

Our faith was rewarded with excellent value food - ‘festive’ burgers dominated – and ridiculously cheap beer, which whilst not particularly bright tasted fine. More importantly it was great to have a chance for a damn good chinwag, not just about all things caravanning but everything else too. Even the ‘B’ word got mentioned along with the recent election.

There followed a quick walk to the bridge to take in some more sights and night air then a slightly wobbly walk back to the site this time caring considerably less about aforementioned puddles. I can’t imagine why…

Monday 16th December

Breakfast consisted of copious amounts of tea, some rather dull cereals and a side order of paracetamol, before meeting up again late morning for another walk into town under leaden skies.


It remained thankfully dry if overcast as we ambled along the riverside commenting how high the Thames was and noting signs of recent flooding.


The houses on the small island of Rod Eyot looked vulnerable given the high water but still a lovely place to live if you were bestowed with very deep pockets.


We went as far as Marsh Lock, accessed from our side of the river via a rather rickety looking angled wooden footbridge. Some of the sluice gates were open at the weir, presumably to help prevent flooding further up and towards London. It was a pretty spot as are so many locks I find.


Heading back we stopped briefly at the Museum cafĂ© – brief because one look at the menu convinced us to head back into town for something more appealing. And cheaper. It will come as no surprise that we once again graced ‘spoons’ with our presence - after a brief diversion to the church to find the grave of Dusty Springfield. Burgers once again dominated the table. Different fillings though, so that’s all right then! Just one pint this time – sensible if uncharacteristic. Of me anyway.

With both the effects of the night before and a cold weighing heavy on my eyelids I welcomed the chance for a long late afternoon snooze back in cosy old Patsy. Stirring rather groggily, I wolfed down a filling if uninspiring homemade chilli then, later re-joined Deb & Steve in their ‘van. They would be heading off tomorrow, back home after over a month on the road. Once again a good time was had, although I think an earlier night was welcomed by all.


Up in (the) Smoke - London October 2019

Most of you reading this will know that I - as last year - spent the school autumn half-term break first in Brighton, then London. You hopefully will also have already read Sandra’s excellent blog post about her stay on the South coast so I’m not going to write about that part of the trip. Suffice to say that it was wonderful to have the company of good friends who I enjoyed showing around, doing and seeing new things - something I all too often lack the motivation to do on my own. A good time was had by all.

I’d booked to head up the A23 to Crystal Palace on the Monday, previous experience suggesting that traffic would be lighter than on a weekend when seemingly everyone heads to the retail parks and superstores on the Purley Way. Mercifully, so it proved although I, as always, mentally breathed a sigh of relief as I turned into Old Cople Lane and the site. I’ve said before, I don’t enjoy towing and find it particularly tiring now it’s just me, but it’s a means to an end and this route is one I at least know well - this was my ninth visit.

Pitches are always allocated here according to unit size and I was to find myself on no 31, one that I think Patsy graced with her presence a few years back. As usual I reversed on to get her thereabouts but used the mover to get her up the ramp needed on the nearside. The mover was working very well after my efforts in the summer changing the rollers and bearings.

Tuesday dawned with some lovely Autumnal sunshine, so first stop after brekky was Crystal Palace Park, right next door to the site. Despite, as mentioned, numerous stays I had not been around it in nearly six years and then it was at the end of December. It was looking lovely and worthy of my attentions with the camera. A little of the original Crystal Palace still remains and the dinosaur trail was getting plenty of interest from some little ones on their half-term break.


The afternoon saw me heading into ‘town’ on the dear old number three bus. I had plenty of time before my first show of the week, so jumped off at Parliament Square for a wander down Victoria Street past Westminster Abbey towards Victoria Station. No camera - apart from my phone - and no plan, just being a tourist wandering aimlessly was very liberating.


There was, of course, the inevitable pit stop and afterwards I started to head in the general direction of the theatre, traversing the eastern edge of St James’ Park along Horse Guards Road, cutting through Horse Guards Parade to Whitehall and around Trafalgar Square to Piccadilly. There may have been another pit stop or two on the way. I love the pubs in the centre, such great places for people watching. From be-suited but largely tieless workers quaffing a pint or three before the ride home, to tourists in search of food that won’t require a mortgage. That’s my excuse anyway…


With dinner taken at lunchtime in Patsy, I didn’t fancy much, so my evening meal consisted of a sarnie, wolfed down in the milling throng of Piccadilly Circus watching the world go by - or a fair portion of it given how busy it was. I know it’s not for everyone - for some it would be akin to torture - but I did love just standing there as night descended, taking it all in.


The show was ‘A Comedy about a Bank Robbery’ at the Criterion Theatre. I must confess it took me a little while to get into it but it was very funny. Some of the gags were old enough to be in a home but the timing of them was exquisite and well executed and overall it was very enjoyable indeed.

Wednesday saw me head to Notting Hill, famous, of course, for a carnival and a film of the same name. Time being entirely my own I took the bus - three of ‘em - rather than the tube. Number 3 to Brixton, then the number 2 to Victoria, finishing off with the 148 towards Shepherds Bush.

My walk took me almost the entire length of Portobello Road, the first stretch being largely residential with smart terraced houses, one of which was home at one time to writer George Orwell.


Further up were the antique and bric a brac shops and what I suspected was a growing number of outlets selling the usual tat aimed at tourists. I passed the Electric Cinema - said to be the oldest working cinema in the world - and off on a side street could be found a shop selling cookbooks that doubled as the travel bookshop in the film.


Despite it’s clear popularity with fellow tourists it had a relaxed feel and was clearly a pleasant - and no doubt pricey - place to live if that’s what you are after. It did remind me to a point of Camden but much less busy and certainly more genteel.

A combination of bus and tube brought me back to the site and in the evening I had a wander up to the Crystal Palace triangle where I was rewarded with several new beers to try for my efforts.

Most of Thursday was a washout but having given my troublesome knee a good pounding for the last couple of days, an enforced rest was probably just as well. I was back on the bus into town by late afternoon for an aimless meander, ‘researching’ a couple of pubs that I hadn’t yet tried, wolfing down a cheap but forgettable burger before the main event of the week; the musical Only Fools & Horses.

Now I’m a big fan of the TV show. I watched it as a kid first time around and have re-watched many times since - it is undoubtedly my favourite and for this reason, when the musical was first announced, I said I wouldn’t go. I wanted to remember it as it was and couldn’t possibly imagine anyone else playing Del Boy, Rodney et al. However, thanks to many recommendations online I changed my mind and I’m mighty glad I did. It was superb, combining sublime comedy with touching emotional moments, much as the original series did so expertly thanks not least to the wonderful talent of writer John Sullivan. It is scheduled to come to an end in February 2020 but I’d highly recommend it if you get the chance.

Friday was my last full day and despite protestations from my knee, I was determined to make the most of it so, set off once again, this time for a walk around Chelsea, taking the tube to Sloane Square, then heading down Chelsea Bridge road and along the embankment, past the Royal Hospital with Battersea Park across the other side of the Thames.


I continued just past the Albert Bridge along the pretty Cheyne walk before turning in, through some of the side streets, dodging the plethora of vanity plated black 4 x 4’s on the famous Kings Road before the inevitable pit stop just the other side of the Chelsea Farmers Market.


Refuelling completed - a pint of Timothy Taylors’ Landlord which clearly hadn’t suffered on it’s journey down from Yorkshire - next stop was just across the road in the garden of St Luke’s Church, where Charles Dickens got married in 1836.


A couple more turns brought me back on to the Kings Road, and whilst there were still plenty of shops whose window displays were notably devoid of price tags, there was plenty of the usual chain store suspects diluting things somewhat.

Across the road were the smart Wellington Square and then the Royal Avenue, both worthy of a pic or two.


So an enjoyable afternoon. I don’t recall visiting it as a kid with my parents and certainly not as an adult so, another area ticked off. I took a rather circuitous route to Victoria, getting the tube to Brixton before swapping to the bus for the final leg back to the site.

Departure was swift Saturday morning, thanks to getting most of the packing up done the night before. I always like to try and avoid the inevitable traffic as much as possible and was back home in the flat by midday, Patsy all tucked up in the storage yard.

Next up is the Christmas getaway, that trip will be more about spending time with friends and family but my first stop is a new one so there should be a blog post or two along the way.

Thanks as always for reading - if you’ve got this far! Until next time.

Cheers & Beers.