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.

_DSC0034_DSC0010_DSC0043_DSC0045

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.

20191022_15385320191022_15343520191022_151122

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…

20191022_16581920191022_170029

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.

20191022_17594820191022_18134020191022_181624

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.

_DSC0005_DSC0004

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.

_DSC0031_DSC0029_DSC0011

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.

20191025_13400520191025_134511

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.

20191025_13525820191025_135442

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.

20191025_14472020191025_145025

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.

20191025_15032820191025_150645

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.

Rich






Guest Blog Post | Autumnal Brighton Trip

Brighton and that part of the south of England is not an area I am familiar with and so, some months ago, we decided that I would make another trip south and spend some time in the area getting to know the different places round and about. We settled on the start of half term break and thereby enabling Richard to play tour guide; something he carried off with much aplomb!

The first few days were very much about me resting and relaxing after a very wet journey down. We enjoyed some quality time, chatting, eating very nice food and watching several Pink Panther movies which resulted in us both having the stitch from laughing so much!

One of our first visits was to Wakehurst Manor, Gardens and the Millennium Seed Bank. It is part of Kew Gardens in London. The seed bank was set up to commemorate the Millennium and its focus is on collecting seeds from all around the world which are under threat of disappearing and extinction. They remove the seeds to the seed bank vault where they are kept in controlled conditions until they may be needed. As it is Autumn, the leaves on the trees and bushes were starting to turn and you could only start to imagine what they would look like in a week or two’s time. The weather since I arrived had been wet to say the least but we were very fortunate in that it stayed dry for us to have a good walk round, take photos and then a quick look at the manor house, which I found a little disappointing, felt they could have made much more of it than they have. Richard was then very brave or indulging, perhaps both as I had a look round the gift shop!

20191013_13484120191013_13553720191013_140825

We then returned via Ditchling Beacon; an area on which Richard had done a photo blog on a lovely clear day back in January. Clear it most definitely was not this time with driving rain and wind. The clouds did clear momentarily for a good view, from the dry safety of the car!

Sunday lunch was taken at a very olde world pub called the Juggs near Lewes.  Pleasantly busy but not too much, apart from when we decided to move table. Waiting staff were hyper vigilant as my drink disappeared in the few seconds of us moving our stuff from one table to the other! A lovely roast Chicken Sunday lunch was consumed, and they did replace my drink free of charge.

Monday and Richard's last full day at work saw me down at the Marina for a walk around. Even though it is not high season now, I was surprised to see how many of the shops were closed since I had last been there a year ago, a sign of the times, I fear.

Tuesday morning saw us going to pick Patsy up to bring her onto site. Hitching up was achieved relatively quickly, dodging downpours as we went. Wellies might have been helpful due to a massive puddle right in front of the van. That evening, to mark the start of Richard’s holiday proper, we were able to go to a favourite Indian restaurant called Maloncho in nearby Peacehaven. I was pleased we could do this as I cannot eat spicy food, but they did have an English meal offering of chicken and chips which suited me just fine.

Wednesday saw the arrival of Alison for a few days, it was good to be able to meet up again. Over the next few days, we continued to tour round Richard’s adopted home county, enjoying good conversation and food.

A must-see part of the trip was a visit to the Laines shopping area of Brighton, the Pavilion and the Main Pier. Lots of independent shops, many selling jewellery and although you would imagine this has always been the case, it is actually relatively new in that they moved into the Laines in the early 1960’s. There were some lovely clothing shops which sold a huge variety of fashions. Alison was glad to find a material shop and buy some fabric to add to her collection! We then made our way to the Pier, dodging yet more showers. It was quite busy and very blustery, but we managed to get to the end before retiring for restorative drinks in the cafĂ© on the pier. We walked along the front towards the Marina looking at the redevelopment which is going on and yet to be done. Unfortunately, we were out of luck with the Volks Railway as it was a weekday, so a taxi saw us back to the site in some warmth. 20191018_133832

The following day, we travelled eastwards via Seaford, Newhaven and onto Pevensey and a very enjoyable cream tea at the Priory Court Hotel.  The weather was still cold and damp so the visit to the Castle at Pevensey was foregone for another time. We did, however, manage a short walk along the stony shoreline by Pevensey – it is very clear to see how vulnerable the whole coastline towards Hastings is to being flooded.

20191018_153110


We then moved on to Battle – its Abbey and quaint main street shops. It is quite noticeable how many independent shops are still in operation, compared to my home area. We had a look at the Abbey, however, yet another downpour put paid to further exploration.


On the final day we visited the National Trust gardens at Sheffield Park. It was a Saturday and the weather had turned favourable, as a result, the place was very busy indeed. In a week the trees had turned even darker shades of reds, yellows and browns and they were perfect for photography.

_DSC0048_DSC0008_DSC0010_DSC0014_DSC0043_DSC0005

Following this we made a short drive to the famous Bluebell Heritage Railway, between Sheffield Park and East Grinstead where it meets up with the National Rail network. It was a lovely afternoon still and plenty of photo opportunities too. I was able to tick off another heritage railway of which I am very fond.

_DSC0101_DSC0062_DSC0082

We then made our way back towards Newhaven as we had a real treat in store that evening, not that we quite realised just how much it would be at that point. We ate a very pleasant early evening meal in Newhaven, overlooking the harbour at The Hope Inn.

Our ultimate destination was Seaford to see their Bonfire Society parade to be held that evening. We had driven past the site of the bonfire the previous day to find out a bit about what was going to be happening and the all-important parking. The Society is a very historical one and you can read much more about the background at the website. We all learnt that there is a very big tradition around Sussex of having these parades culminating in a bonfire and firework display. Groups from villages and towns all around the area came and joined in the parade and it was an evening of great music, great costumes and marching drum bands of very high quality. After we watched the parade pass, we made our way down to the central park area where the bonfire and fireworks display were to be held. It was quite some time before the parade arrived and another time, we would retire to a local pub for a drink to await the parade’s arrival, you would certainly hear them before you saw them. The firework display was in two parts, separated by the ceremonial lighting of the bonfire. The display was both exciting and exhilarating to see, much more than you would ever possibly achieve at home. After a thoroughly enjoyable time we slowly made our way back to the car and back to the site.

_DSC0131_DSC0159_DSC0166

Sunday morning saw both Alison and I departing and yes it rained again! Another very enjoyable, fun trip, thanks in no small part to Richard and his tour guide skills.

Summer 2019 - looking back

OK, not the summer itself – weather wise it’s been a real mixed bag hasn’t it? I am talking about my time away in Patsy for a month or so and many no doubt okay, maybe some, will have observed the absence of any blog posts during and about the trip.

It was always going to be a tricky one this with the first anniversary of Trev’s passing slap bang in the middle and with this increasingly playing on my mind; as term drew to a close my usual enthusiasm for an upcoming trip was waning considerably. I even cancelled the first port of call, Henley-on-Thames.

Eventually though, I did depart the south coast, my destination being the Camping & Caravan Club site at St Neots in Cambridgeshire, a nice easy reach from the A1 with an expected journey time of around three hours. Yeah, right.

D_NHxefXUAA4omBWith multiple closures on the M25 it took nearly five hours in total, the frequent stop-starting doing Rosie’s ageing clutch no good at all. With around half an hour to go I decided I’d punished my bladder enough and turned off for Baldock services and duly followed the signs for caravan parking. There were three spaces and only one car/caravan combo in residence but they’d selfishly managed to take up all three spaces. There were some choice words delivered to no-one in particular as I dragged Patsy through the car park and out again. Fortunately, a lay-by a bit further on provided an opportunity for some, by now, urgent relief and I was mighty glad when I eventually got to the site and quite chuffed when I successfully reversed onto a lovely grass pitch under the watchful eye of my new neighbours.20190712_120327

It wasn’t the most ‘productive’ of stays, lethargy and lack of enthusiasm rearing their heads frequently, but a nice walk around the town gave me a good overview, the knee largely behaving itself for the duration. There’s a little video slide-show HERE if you want to take a look. I put up the new sun canopy and with the fridge struggling at least initially, deployed the little USB fan we picked up last year, to help with air flow. The Cadac got it’s first - and last - use of the summer, and probably the year. The whole outdoor cooking thing no longer holds it’s appeal.

DSC_0132The undoubted highlight was an impromptu run up the A1 to the Nene Valley Railway. I was in time for the first train and was made up when I saw that we were to have both steam and diesel traction for the day. I stopped off at Overton for tea and cake, fuelling up for a brief walk around Ferry Meadows, noting with interest how close the Caravan & Motorhome club site was – definitely one for a future visit. Back on the train, the journey continued to Peterborough, where I had a stroll around the grounds of the cathedral before returning to my starting point for the run back to the site. Again, a short video HERE if you’re interested. DSC_0091

Next stop was Cambridge, my old home town and at just 22 miles between sites, one of my shortest tows to date and I felt happier as soon as I arrived.

I gave my first ever lot of blood at the nearby blood transfusion centre at Addenbrooke's Hospital and a friend and fellow caravanner joined me for a long weekend, staying at a nearby B & B and I had a lovely time showing her around. You can read her account of her stay HERE.

Once back on my own though, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to meet up with many people, but a couple of meals out and pub quizzes were good fun and it was great to catch up with fellow caravanner Andrew who was also on site for a few days. On what turned out to be the hottest day of the year I took an early run out to Wandelbury Country Park for a pleasant meander while the heat was still comfortable. Just a few minutes drive from the club site at Cherry Hinton and yes, there’s a video HERE.

20190726_134705Next stop was Suffolk and Clockhouse Farm near Long Melford, just for four days and it didn’t start well. The motor mover was giving me grief and it took ages to get the sun canopy properly taut. My obvious relief that an unsecured bottle of Pinot Noir that had escaped from drinks cabinet and landed, unbroken under the dinette table was tempered by the dent it had made in the worktop on the way down. The only outing in the end was to a supermarket in Sudbury and I spent far too long on the phone to Powertouch about the mover - and even longer waiting for them to phone back. I was annoyed with myself for not making more of my stay in what is a lovely area but also aware that this year was always going to be different.20190731_090308

Then it was time for my next tow – south east to Essex and a return to Woodpecker Meadow. I had decided, soon after I came home last year that I wanted to come back – at least this year - on the anniversary of Trev’s death and had soon booked and had confirmed that I could have the same pitch. So I was somewhat put out when I was advised on arriving, that I couldn’t have that pitch as the electrics were playing up and I’d be on the opposite side. My mood was not improved by the heavens opening shortly after pitching and, not trusting myself to keep my cool face to face, I fired off a polite but firm email.

Well, as you know if you follow me online I got nowhere, my frustration more coming from the sense that she (the site owner) didn’t understand the problem. There was a tent occupying ‘my’ pitch and I harboured faint hopes of him leaving the next day, but it wasn’t to be.

DSC_0106Away from the site though I went out with Andy & Janet - and Poppy - their eight month old Cockapoo - for a walk along the waterfront at Maldon and later for a meal at the Layer Fox pub, the food as superb as it was one year ago when Trev and I were there. The light, as the sun set on Abberton reservoir wasn't as impressive one year on though.20190801_091725

And so to the 1st of August. Shortly after nine A.M. I positioned my recliner looking across to the pitch where it all happened last year, with a small glass of Trev’s favourite whiskey on the side. Thought back to the events of a year ago, sobbed for a few moments, then at 09.20 raised a glass in his memory. It was the moment I’d been working myself up to for some time and now it was here. Year one, done. The relief came, not like a tidal wave, but gradually over the course of the morning as I pottered about and was thrilled to hear that Amanda – Andy & Jan’s youngest - had given birth in the early hours. Somehow it just seemed right.

I’d booked for four nights but decided it would be good to get away a day early, so the next day I hitched up and pulled away, confident I wouldn’t feel the need to return again. The next destination was back in Suffolk, on the coast at the White House Beach club site in Kessingland. My cousin would be joining me the next day but was delighted that fellow caravanners Rob and Andi would be on site and I ended up pitching next to them.

There was only one thing definitely on the agenda here and that was to replace the rollers on the motor mover, which I did two days after I arrived, wanting to attempt it early in case it didn’t work out. I didn’t want to attempt it at all but having given up on Powertouch sorting out an engineer I felt I had little choice. It wasn’t easy but I got there in the end, not least thanks to help and encouragement from Rob and Andy. Having people around to bounce ideas off when it wasn’t going well was invaluable. No video, but for those of you interested, there is a blog post about the process HERE.

DSC_0214The rest of the stay was pretty relaxed. I went out a few times with Andy & Jan for a drive, calling in at some delightful little villages on the Broads, often for a lunchtime pint and portion of chips. There was a couple of solo outings too, one of which was to the East Anglia Transport Museum, just a ten minute drive from the site. I had a fun couple of hours wandering about and grabbing rides on the miniature railway, tram and trolley buses.

Another day I took the bus to Lowestoft, hopping off at the train station. I had no plans other than to take a train somewhere for a ride 20190808_114329around and plumped for the next train which was to Norwich. It was clear my birthday had a come a day early when an old Type 37 hove into view as it rumbled along and towards the platform. I hadn’t seen – and more importantly heard - one of these in action since I was a child - waiting at the crossing at Histon as the goods train rumbled through hauling hundreds of tons of sand. Grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat I spent the whole of the 35 minute journey to Norwich in the company of an enthusiast in the doorway, both sticking our heads out of the windows to take in the sounds and smells. I was truly made up.

At Norwich I paused for a pint – the most expensive one I’ve ever bought, and it was dire - before boarding another train, back to the coast at Great Yarmouth. This was rather dull in comparison, the engine of the Sprinter class sounding like a lawn mower compared with the power of the awesome old Growlers.

The triangle was completed with a bus ride back along the coast and a welcome pint with my cousin back at the pub near the site.

We had a run into Southwold on the Sunday – our last full day – to meet up with Sarah and her family – that’s Andy and Jan’s eldest – for a birthday lunch.

I’d decided to head home after – I was beginning to feel quite jaded generally but didn’t fancy the likely four hour run in one go so decided to break the journey at the handily placed Kelvedon Hatch Camping and Caravan Club site near the A12 and M25. The app had only let me book a minimum of two nights but on arrival the extremely helpful and friendly couple at reception amended it to one. Patsy had a bit of a clean up and by lunchtime the following day we were back home.

Well, that was riveting wasn’t it! Again, I was frustrated with myself for not blogging the trip as I went along – it’s what I do and have done for years – but at least there’s this albeit rather truncated version, to look back on.

Thanks for reading – and thank you once again for your support this summer. As I hope you already know, I very much appreciate it.

Cheers & Beers

Rich