Christmas 2019 Part 7

Monday 30th December

With friends and family arriving later I had no plans for the morning other than a steady time cleaning and tidying Patsy. I was soon busy with the duster - one of the er, joys of blown air heating being that it likes to distribute dust all over the ‘van. The little hoover came out too and being having done a quick bit of mental arithmetic, made sure that I wouldn’t be drawing too much power for the hook-up. Nevertheless the power tripped as I finished up - not in the ‘van but at the bollard. Easily rectified and I just assume some sort of spike or surge caused it. The likely culprit wouldn’t be revealed until later on.

Alison was first to arrive, soon after one pm and I pottered around helping her set up as well as serving up the all important cuppa. Andy & Janet weren’t far behind and after another cuppa, helped Andy with his erection - the awning that is. We had pondered walking to the village for a meal but Janet had come with a fridge load of pizzas so we decided to reconvene in their ‘van later. I went back to mine for a sit down, noticing that the heater fan seem quieter - and slower than usual. The water pump and loo flush pump both sounded a bit sluggish too and a prod at the caravan voltmeter confirmed that that battery was almost flat.

You may recall I had this issue last year and the culprit was a loose mains plug to the battery charging and 12v supply unit - then easily rectified. No such luck this time. A careful probe with the multimeter confirmed my worst fears - there was mains going in but nothing coming out of either the 12 supply or battery charging points. It appeared that the unit had failed, having only been replaced less than four years ago - then under warranty. I thought back to the power tripping in the morning and suspected that this was when the charger went tits up, with the elderly battery slowing draining ever since.

So what did this mean practically? Well for those that go ‘off-grid’ frequently you’d already know but if like me you usually use mains hook up, you might not. Most of the lights are 12v, the aforementioned water and flush pump are 12v as is the fan for the Truma blown air system. I’d still have heating - although without circulated air - and the water heater would still work as would the fridge and cooker. An inconvenience but hardly a disaster though I still wanted to sort it as quickly as possible. However at 4:00pm on the day before New Years Eve it wasn’t straightforward. Nearby Venture Caravans were not answering the phone, no doubt having packed up early for the day like so many. I found a couple of places online that could deliver ‘next-day’ but again phone calls went unanswered. There was no point in placing an order online if there was no-one in the warehouse to pick and pack it. Sandra, who would be traveling down from Chester the following morning offered to pick one up for me but she ran into the same problem. However her mobile service engineer came up with an idea that I had heard before but had forgotten; hook up a conventional car battery charger to the leisure battery until the proper unit can be replaced.

So off I went to nearby Letchworth to Halfords and having first picked up the cheapest, as per usual, decided that having an automatic one that didn’t need to be switched off was worth an extra few quid.20191231_110209

Back at the ‘van it took some fiddling about - the mains and charging leads weren’t quite long enough to site the charger either inside or outside under shelter, fortunately Alison had a small extension lead and eventually I manged to position the charger out of harms way under the ‘van by the battery box with the mains lead running to the external socket on the other side.

All the right lights were showing on the charger, the ‘van voltmeter was back to where it should be and everything was working. To give the battery the best chance of recovering I kept the heater fan switched off as it would be one of the biggest current draws. The less power used in the ‘van would mean the battery would hopefully recharge quicker. Satisfied that all was good I joined the others and gorged on various pizzas washed down with an ale or three. It was a lovely evening and was nice to relax again after a somewhat stressful couple of hours. Since I’ve been on my own I’ve always worried about sorting things that go wrong, conscious that there’s only me to put them right these days, although having friends around to call on for advice is always great comfort and sometimes I wonder how I’d cope without them.

For the second part of this blog post I’m handing over the reins to Sandra who has wrote about her trip down south to join us for New Year. Here we go:

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With much anticipation I left my home town very early New Year's Eve to travel once again to the Cambridge area to join Richard, family and friends to celebrate the arrival of the New Year. The journey started well but a breakdown midway led to missed connections but I eventually arrived in good time for the evening get together. A spot of supplies shopping meant that we were well set for a lovely evening buffet, research samples, excellent companionship and a bottle of bubbly to toast the New Year ensured a perfect evening.

Wednesday 1st January

The next morning saw a reasonably steady getting up and a very welcome cooked breakfast in Alison's Caravan. At my previous visit to Cambridge over the summer, we had run out of time to go and visit Anglesey Abbey NT, just outside the city. Whilst it was overcast and not particularly warm, we wrapped up warm and set off for a visit.

The site was busy but not uncomfortably so and we were all pleased to see that the Winter Garden trail, including Lode Mill, (working waterwheel flour mill), came highly recommended. A nice level paved walkway made for a very pleasant stroll. Richard took some very beautiful photos of winter flora, as you will see here. Half way round we came upon the mill. It was good to see it working and flour was available to purchase. It was a shame that there were no refreshments available there, a hot drink would have been welcome.

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We moved onwards passing the waterway which fed the mill on our way to the house where we had booked a tour space. We realised that we had time for a coffee and shortbread biscuit in the café at the entrance centre. Fortunately, common sense had prevailed in the café and a drink only queue had been formed and was moving much quicker than earlier.

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We hit the jackpot on the way back as just outside the centre the golf buggy was about to depart. Given I use a walking stick, it was most welcome and meant a timely arrival back at the house to start the self-guided tour. It was a most interesting tour and the house, we all agreed, was homely not too big and full of personal touches, especially as it had originally been am Augustine abbey. We then made our way back to the site for a welcome warm up, snooze and time to get ready for our evening meal out.

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I had been asked to organise this and was very pleased to find the George IV Hotel/pub/restaurant in the nearby village of Baldock was actually serving food that night, (many other local places were not). The waiter had a very good sense of humour and regaled us with what was not available but in a way that had us all laughing with him. Fortunately, everyone was able to choose something they liked and enjoyed. Poppy behaved impeccably and got lots of fuss and the occasional sleight of hand treat, (okay confession time it was mainly me as I had a nice piece of steak). First prize for the biggest dessert was won hands down by Alison with her strawberry and cream choux bun! A thoroughly pleasant evening with much laughter and friendship.

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Thursday 2nd January

The following morning saw another steady getting up and about, ablutions completed, the sky clearing and sun starting to shine. Richard and I decided to walk into the village of Ashwell, about 10 minutes’ walk from the site.

20200102_102115The village site has obviously been occupied over many hundred, if not thousands of years. A mixture of very old, a little younger and right up to the present-day housing and buildings lined the main street. Several public houses all closed at the time, a baker, which handily sold take out coffees about completed the shopping available. 20200102_104257

I happened upon a peculiar out of place building, just off the main street. I had an inkling what it was, having seen several before. There followed much amusement when Richard read the descriptive plaque- it was the old-fashioned village lock up, (a one roomed cell really) used by the local police to lock up miscreants overnight prior to be taken to court, presumably in Cambridge the following day. Of course, Richard had to take his photo in front of this!

20200102_104536There were three other special places to mention. Firstly, on entering the village you passed a very English style cricket ground with pavilion, no matches today. Secondly, we visited the site of one of the Springs which feed into the River Rhee, which in turn feeds into the River Cam and Ouse and out to sea a particularly beautiful place and the water is constantly 52F year-round.20200102_103840

The final place was the rather large Parish Church, for the size of the village it did seem disproportionally so. Sadly, too it was obviously succumbing to weather erosion of the limestone. We were left wondering if it had been, at some time prior to the dissolution of the monasteries, an abbey. Unfortunately, there was no history information available to check. Richard was able to get a few nice sunshine photos, given it was the 2 January and mid-winter.

All too soon it was time to be heading back to site, a very good bowl of stew cum soup with dumplings and once again it was time for me to depart. A very pleasant few days, great company and an excellent start, we hope to 2020. Happy New Year!

After I dropped Sandra off at the station I headed back to the site and commenced a slow pack up ready for departure the following day. Andy suggested I join him for Poppy’s afternoon walk, the plan being a pint or two in one of the village pubs. The Three Tuns was the nearest and a glance at the website suggested they’d be open. We were disappointed however to find a note on the door advising closure due to maintenance. It would be open again later but we decided not to wait.

Dinner was again back in Andy & Jan’s ‘van working our way through more of the substantial left overs from New Years Eve.

Friday 3rd January

Time to go. I was first to depart as is usual having been up fairly early getting Patsy ready. We hugged and said our goodbyes, sad to go our separate ways but confident that it wouldn’t be too long until we met again.

The 132 mile journey home was trouble free, Rosie eventually managing nearly 28mpg on a breezy day and with a weighty right foot at times too. I must confess to feeling pretty glum as I pulled up at the storage yard; the end of a trip, saying goodbye, the return to work looming. There was something else too but as I prepared to manoeuvre Patsy back into her resting place the text came through that I had been waiting for. A friend had had to undergo an exploratory procedure that morning, a possible outcome of which was not good. The result though was an ‘all clear’ and buoyed by the news I finished getting Patsy sorted with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. It was the best possible news and a fitting end to a fantastic trip.







Christmas 2019 Part 6

Friday 27th December

Yep, skipped a couple of days. Very much great family time with good food and laughs thrown in. Some nice pressies too.

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I’d originally planned to depart for my next and final site today, but decided, as I’d arrived a day late that I would delay my departure by a day. As it happens, it was just as well.20191227_100526

I was outside, just getting some air and having a nose around Patsy when Andy came back from walking Poppy, their Cockapoo. He said had I seen my car. Indeed I had, it was parked across the drive in front of my caravan and hadn’t moved since I arrived. Thinking that someone had dinged it or similar I went to the offside to have a look, to find that the front tyre was completely flat. It wouldn’t take any air so I put the spare on after unloading all the caravanning paraphernalia from the boot, but couldn’t find the likely puncture. A quick look on Google Maps revealed a couple of tyre places just a few minutes drive and off I set. The first place was busy and couldn’t possibly look at it until the afternoon. The second place was quiet and soon found the hole - in the side wall and so un-repairable. No, they couldn’t get one until Monday and I probably wouldn’t get one anywhere else until then. Great. There was no way I was towing without a spare.

Back at Andy’s a search revealed a local tyre place, just across town that could fit one in the afternoon. I quickly booked in, then later set off to get the tyre fitted, grateful that they’d called and said it had arrived and could I go straight away as they were shutting early. No problem.

20191227_152822I called in to pick up a few bits and bobs from the supermarket on the way back but it wasn’t until I was back at Andy’s that I noticed that the rear offside was looking a little deflated. Soon I was too when a screw was discovered embedded in the shoulder. Again, un-repairable and at this late hour, the chance of getting one fitted before my intended departure the following morning seemed very unlikely.

Saturday 28th December

However, Colchester Tyre & Exhausts came up trumps again and I was back there less that 24 hours later. The chap looked surprised to see me but once again, they quickly fitted the new tyre, swapping to the front so at least I had the same brand on each axle. Superb service and they succeeded where the national boys failed, an expense I could have done without though, but these things happen.

In the end I was on my way only about an hour later than planned, having packed up Patsy and got her ready first thing. I waved goodbye to Andy & Jan, knowing that I would be seeing them again in a couple of days when they joined me on site for New Year.

My destination was Ashridge Farm Caravan & Motorhome Club site, just off the A505 near Baldock in Hertfordshire. Heading across on the A120 would have been the more direct route but once again I elected to take the A14, some fifteen or so miles further around but it’s a road I knew and was happy to trade a bit of time and diesel for familiarity.

20191228_142052Shortly after 1:30pm I was pulling up at reception, the wind and a rather heavy right foot meaning Rosie only managed around 25mpg on the 86 mile journey. Another really friendly welcome from the warden - I’ve found that since travelling solo that they seem to make an extra effort - and I’d soon picked a pitch. There wasn’t much left which was hardly surprising given that there were only 25 hard standings and, in my view it’s a little gem of a site. No. 23 would be our home for the next few days.

A much welcome kip was enjoyed after set up and after dinner I considered what to do the following day. Having20191228_204320 visited at the beginning of April I’d already ticked off a few places, but Hitchin was one town that hadn’t yet had the dubious privilege of a visit from the Blogger in Black. It wasn’t far away but I discovered I could take the train direct from the station a couple of miles away. Any chance of research in the town’s hostelries was thwarted however by the complete absence of any buses on a Sunday. Oh well. Another very relaxed evening was enjoyed in her Ladyship. A beer or two, cheese and biccies and the company of good friends on Twitter. I was about as content as I could be.

Sunday 29th December

20191229_125522Soon after 10am I was on my way to Hitchin on the train, 20 minutes or so from the Ashwell & Morden station, the sun was making an appearance and it was a pleasant morning trundling through the Hertfordshire countryside. As the station came into view I realised I’d been here before. Many moons ago we’d booked a special from Cambridge that went all the way to Edinburgh although we decided to alight at Newcastle for the day. Hitchin is on the East Coast mainline and we’d had to change here after the ride down from Cambridge.

Having walked the twenty minutes or so from the station, the first thing to notice was the wide main drag, lined with attractive Tudor and Georgian buildings. Hitchin was a staging post back in the day popular with those travelling two and from London.

The impressive St Mary’s Church features on many websites and literature, it’s size a testament to the prosperity of the town thanks to the wool trade on which it thrived in the 1600’s. It was certainly worthy of my attentions with the camera, the classic shot being from across the River Hiz - apparently pronounced Hitch by those in the know.

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The Market Square was next and there was a lovely relaxed feel about the place as lunchtime approached under the weak winter sunshine. Plenty of independent shops stood side by side with the usual chain store suspects. Plenty of pubs too but they’d have to wait for another time.

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The British Schools Museum was a short walk away but given the day and the time of year I wasn’t surprised to find it closed. A walk to the edge of the town centre brought me too Hitchin Priory, now a hotel and popular wedding venue.

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The knee, having done nothing for the last few days wasn’t being particularly cooperative so I decided on a slow walk back to the station via a different route, traversing the edge of Bancroft Park and and the tree lined entrance to Ransom Rec. It had been a short visit but one I had enjoyed immensely.

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There was a short wait at the station, during which a number of trains came hurtling through on the fast central lines and by early afternoon I was back in Patsy almost perfectly executing a relaxing afternoon in the ‘van. There’s just so much to see in this great country of ours.

Christmas 2019 Part 5

Saturday 21st December 20191222_083954

It was mostly a much-needed lazy morning. My cousin called to let me know that Jan had had a bout of sickness overnight and suggested it would be wise to delay my arrival by 24 hours. Given that I was still shifting the remnants of a cold I was happy to agree. We would keep in touch over the next 24 hours to see what developed. There was a short drive out, to the nearby village of Teversham to lay some flowers and say hello to Mum.

Saturday afternoon I headed to over to Impington, a village north of the city of Cambridge and the one in which I grew up. I was meeting friends and as grog would be involved, so would a bus journey. Two in fact. I didn’t want to be early but was still on the first one from near the site in plenty of time, figuring that it could well run late through the Saturday afternoon traffic. It didn’t and I found myself in Cambridge with time to spare. A nice wander through the Grand Arcade and into John Lewis I thought. On the last Saturday afternoon before Christmas. What was I thinking? It was heaving. I gave it nearly a whole minute and headed for the exit, opting instead for a mooch around the Market Square which was only slightly less packed.

As it happened, I still arrived early but so had my friends, at The Railway Vue, a short walk from where my parents used to live, and where I spent rather too much of my time back in the day, it also being just across the road from Trev’s shop.

There followed lots of chat and laughter and an enjoyable time was had by all although thankfully no-one was in the mood for a lengthy session. I first politely refused then gratefully accepted, the offer of a lift back to the site, quite relieved at not having to spend an hour or so on buses again.

Dinner was clearly forgettable as I’ve forgotten what I had, though the inevitable smoked cheese, salami and biscuits most definitely featured later on, watching the same film simultaneously with a friend and chatting on line.

Sunday 22nd December

Another morning at the ‘van, pottering a bit but without achieving much. Andy called to say Jan was much better and was waiting to see if he too would succumb. I’d call later but would stay another night anyway, checking online too that should everything go pear shaped I’d have a pitch somewhere over Christmas. Both here at Cherry Hinton and my next site – Ashridge Farm - had space and whilst I didn’t particularly relish spending it on my own unless I had to, I knew I’d be catching up with them and friends for New Year.

For the second day in a row the regular leather trews got a rest from the inevitable strain of encompassing my thighs and backside, having been worn almost daily since the start of the trip. No jeans though, smart trews, shirt, tie and waistcoat. Black obviously and one of the selection of long leather coats I’d brought. Yes, I’d brought more than one. Again, obviously.

Lunchtime I met with Pauline again for a meal at a fairly recently opened and highly regarded Chinese restaurant called The Dumpling Tree, occupying the premises of a former pub on Perne Road. I’d never properly tried Chinese food – or at least what passes for it here – but Pauline had already been there for their works’ Christmas meal and said the food was superb.

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And so, it was. We planned to start with said dumplings and move on to the sizzling pork, pancakes and chow mien but it all came together. No matter, aside from the fact that we ordered far too much it was delicious and we were both properly stuffed by the time we finished – even dessert was reluctantly refused. Another feather in their caps was the presence of a proper real ale on hand pump – from the Timothy Taylor’s stable too no less. I went back to Patsy a very satisfied fella, calling into reception on the way to book that extra night.

Monday 23rd December

The news from Colchester was good – no more sickness and it was all systems go for Christmas, although I’d call again before I departed the following morning. A blog post was completed, then I contemplated what to do with a spare afternoon. A bus into Cambridge, a run to one of the nearby National Trust offerings, or nothing? In the end though I opted for walk into the village to pick up a few bits and bobs, which was really just a lame excuse for an afternoon pint or two. Three as it turned out – I gave the Red Lion a try but wished I hadn’t. Two of the three pump clips where turned inwards and the only offering was Greedy King IPA which at least was bright and clear when the uninterested bar man deemed to look up from his phone. I didn’t stay long. Across the road, the Robin Hood was much more welcoming, the excellent though rather potent Abbot Ale proving too enjoyable to just have one. A late afternoon snooze back at Patsy was very welcome indeed.

Tuesday 24th December

I was inevitably up early - I generally struggle to sleep in on a travel day and got most of the inside of the ‘van ready for departure in-between slurps of tea. By 9:30am I was off, after checking with Andy that all was good in Colchester.

I chose the longest of the possible routes, heading around on the A14, then joining the A12, a few miles longer than going cross country but similar time wise and a much smoother journey. Traffic was light but it was windy in places and Rosie clearly wasn’t keen, returning just shy of 25mpg on the 70 mile journey. Again not great and probably demonstrates that she’s a little underpowered when it comes to hauling Patsy about. No doubt too, some of her horses and pounds per foot have fallen by the wayside over the years.

There was one job I wanted to do once I’d pitched up on my cousins' drive - and that was wash the roof of the ‘van. It was disgusting and there were little clumps of moss that had taken root. The ‘shampoo’ that  I‘d picked up in the supermarket - having forgot to bring the one from home - turned out to be polish. The perils of shopping without my specs - numpty. Fortunately, Andy had some and a good hour was spent with the long reach brush and hosepipe. Perfect it isn't but at least there’s nothing now growing on it!

The clan - kids and grandkids - gathered that even for a delicious Lamb Rogan Josh, prepared by Andy & Jan. I may have had a second helping but I wasn’t the only one. It was great to be back with my family and I went to bed content, if somewhat full.

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