Archive | September, 2013

Where Once Was a Garden

21 Sep

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I always feel guilty when I think about the original owners of our house. At sometime in the past the garden was laid out with a loving attention to detail and no small amount of skill. That much was evident when we moved in despite the previous owners’ lack of care. However, our stewardship can only be described as neglect coupled with vandalism. This is what happens when you spend long periods of time away from home.

At first it just became terribly overgrown, out of control really. In all honesty, drastic measures were probably called for. To facilitate this there then occurred the brand of chainsaw gardening that would make Alan Titchmarsh’s blood run cold. The garden fence, weighed down with aggressive ivy, was repaired and two hawthorn trees that had outgrown their allotted spaces were removed. In the process few plants survived.

Neglect did the rest. Nature abhors a vacuum and the cleared space was soon filled. Nettles, brambles, rosebay willow herb, creeping buttercups, bindweed and the ever-present dandelions moved in with a vengeance. Pathways, steps and patios turned green as virulent weeds filled every nook and cranny despite spraying in the spring. The wisteria which had been untouched in the chainsaw massacre grew heavy, weighing down its supporting framework, fronds dangling down in triffid-like profusion. And the lawn, oh dear God, the lawn.

So, yet again, an attempt at some sort of control had to be made. The mower struck swaths threw the jungle, clogging the blades and filling the compost bin in no time. The profusion of willow herb, already dying back, was wrenched from the ground, the last of the seeds floating aimlessly in the still air, irritating eyes and nose before settling on the soil ready to start the whole cycle again next year. Nettles stung and brambles scratched and still nothing much seemed to have been achieved beyond a pile of weeds wilting on the concrete where once a green house stood.

But then just stop and look around. In the midst of this disorder is beauty. Nature likes to be left alone. Although the robin on the fence post seemed to approve of my efforts. 

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Smothering and pernicious, the flower of bindweed dazzles against its leaves

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Self-seeded this is one weed that will be staying. Anybody know what it is? 

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Where once gold fish swam, there’s now a new occupant of the clogged up pond.

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And fungus springs up in the moist underbelly. 

 

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The Learning Curve

20 Sep

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So, what have we learnt in these first months on the caravan?

An alarm goes off in the car when towing the caravan and indicating. It’s something to do with reduced power to the lights on the car. We’ve turned the volume down.

Turning the water heater on doesn’t trip the power supply (at least not in the UK). Turning a faulty water heater on does, however.

Don’t forget to detach the breakaway cable when unhitching and driving the car away. It breaks.

If the pitch slopes you may well need some wooden blocks to stand the jockey wheel/steadies on. Worth keeping some on the ‘van ready or you may spend the nights with the blood rushing to your head.

If the pitch also slopes from side to side you will need a ramp to put under one of the caravan wheels to level it off. Remember to put it on the lower part of the ground otherwise it rolls down again. And use chocks – not the edible kind although they come in handy, too, to lower the blood pressure and rescue relationships.

The motor mover works much better if you take the handbrake off the caravan. Manoeuvring with this marvellous device is like driving a remote control car except you can’t see all around. It’s easy for trees and bollards to get in the way.

Whether you need an awning or not is debatable (see previous entry). The newer style porch awnings are comparatively easy to put up but tempers can still get frayed. Have a routine then leave him to it as soon as possible.

Awnings aren’t much use in the rain – you don’t sit in them as the caravan is much more comfortable. They are useful for storing chairs, BBQ etc and provide some shade when it’s hot.

We wouldn’t be without it but beware the siren voice of the Sat Nav. Her dulcet tones can seem so reasonable and persuasive. Some roads were never meant for caravans.

Take notice when an oncoming vehicle flashes their lights at you. Check the caravan asap!

Finally, wedge the beer at the back of the fridge so it doesn’t roll around on the journey. There’s nothing like that first gulp after setting up and you don’t want it to be just froth. Oh, and don’t forget the corkscrew. Or you could just drink the fizzy stuff. 

Our First Year – Route

16 Sep

We didn’t get as far as we’d hoped this year. We had originally planned to do more of the south coast of England in the autumn but we knew we’d had enough. Maybe the change in the weather was just the excuse we were looking for, although a very real one. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve loved this year’s wanderings but there comes a point when you just want to be still.

So – here is the route we took this year:

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If you want to find a post about a particular area:

Clicking on May 2013 will take you to the entries about Hereford and Brecon but also includes buying the caravan.

June 2013 takes us to Cheddar Gorge and Swanage with entries on Weston-Super-Mare and Wells as well as some rambling on awnings.

July 2013 saw us in South Wales, Tewkesbury, The Lake District, Carlisle and Berwick-Upon-Tweed.

August 2013 we were still in the North East including Whitby and York before heading south for Cambridge and Norfolk.

September 2013 we were in Suffolk, London and Henley.

 

You won’t find tourist or site guide, that’s not what this blog is about. It is more of a diary, a record for ourselves and those who have an interest in what we’re getting up to. If you enjoy reading it then that’s me happy. 

Autumn’s Arrival

9 Sep

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Summer ended the day we left London. We’ve still seen beautiful blue skies at times but the temperature plummeted by about 10 degrees overnight and today the rain has set in. It certainly doesn’t encourage getting out and about. Perhaps we’re just tired after the non-stop pace of London or maybe we’ve become a little jaded. But here in Henley, on a site close to the town and river, we certainly don’t feel like going far.

Until today, at least, a daily walk along the river and the odd glass of something cold when the sun shone has been a very welcome slowing down. The nights have become much chillier, though, the heating is back on even in the day at times and the walk to the facilities is an unpleasant dash in rain. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, tomorrow we head back to Hereford.

Henley-upon-Thames

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The square in Henley early(ish) Sunday morning. The town looked very different today with roadworks causing long tailbacks of traffic. 

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Along the river bank…

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… are some incredibly expensive houses.

 

London

5 Sep

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What you get up to on a short break to London is always going to depend on your funds. You don’t need me to tell you that there are some magnificent places to visit. Unfortunately, most of them cost big time. While we were quite prepared to spend more than usual on this part of our trip, some of the entrance fees are eye watering.

We did a lot of preparation in deciding exactly what we wanted to do. Greenwich and the Maritime Museum, “We Will Rock You” at the Dominion Theatre, The National Gallery (me) and the British Museum (Neil) were all must dos. Top of our list, however, was to see inside the Houses of Parliament. With that in mind, Neil had emailed our MP in advance and asked if he could arrange a tour. Not only could he arrange it but he was going to show us round himself! I might be easily impressed but I was, well, VERY impressed with this idea. Presenting our letter to security at the entrance as we walked past all the other tourists gawping at Big Ben made me unbelievably smug! Hyacinth Bucket comes to mind.

David Hanson met us in the Central Lobby – you know the circular room you see the BBC interviewing politicians in when they are about to go in for some big debate, the room that gives the name to ‘Lobbyists’. We followed the route the Queen takes to the House of Lords when she attends the State Opening of Parliament to give her annual speech, saw the bronze statues of former Prime Ministers and the painting of the momentous occasion when the Speaker of the House refused to answer Charles I’s questions. We also stood on the spot where the same king was sentenced to death and where Oliver Cromwell who signed the death warrant (which we also saw) had his long dead body strung up until it fell apart when the dead king’s son (Charles II) returned to the throne. I tell you, there is such history in every stone.

Being a guest of an MP also meant we could go out onto the terrace overlooking the Thames where members go for a little R&R. Mr Hanson introduced us to Denis Skinner who was there chatting to Kevin Maguire, the Associate Editor of the Daily Mirror. Name dropping, don’t you just love it?! 

For me, the highlight was standing at the despatch box in the House of Commons. Yes, the very spot where every Prime Minister since Winston Churchill has stood to address the house. Not only did we stand there we were able to put our hands on the box, the front corners worn smooth from the sweaty palms of Ministers being grilled by the house. Next time we see Cameron leaning on that very box it’s going to feel pretty weird!

But it didn’t end there. Oh no. Having stood with us, inches from the Speaker as he paraded into the Commons with the Mace, Mr Hanson left to take his seat and we headed up the narrow staircase to the Visitor Gallery clutching the passes he had procured for us. William Hague was answering questions on Foreign Affairs including what the Foreign Office was now going to do about Syria following the recent vote not to bomb it. Jack Straw, Glenda Jackson and Keith Vaz were there to name-drop a few. And our marvellous MP gave us a little wave. 

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Neil at Greenwich

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The caravan site at Crystal Palace

From One Extreme…

2 Sep

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The last few days have been what I can only describe as “chilled out”. After the charms of Cromer we headed for a small site in Suffolk, many times winner of CL site of the year and praise heaped on by the shovel load in the reviews. Basically we were pitched in the back garden of an elderly couple. Woe betides anyone who got the recycling bins mixed up let alone any more serious misdemeanour. No dogs, no children and certainly no ball games. In fact nothing but a ghostly, fleeting glimpse of other caravanners and the occasional chicken or duck pecking around the water tap.

It’s probably too much to describe this area of Suffolk as somnolent and laid back. It is blessed with excellent roads and water-side towns like Woodbridge, popular with the many small sailing boats. Following the river also brings you to “Constable Country” where the village once painted by the artist brings in the tourists. It all retains a gentile charm.

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So you can imagine the difference when I tell you that we are now in Crystal Palace. Yes, that’s right. Our caravan is now in London. Who’d have thought it? As you can imagine the getting it here was interesting. We’d deliberately picked a Sunday on the assumption the roads would be quieter. But, of course, this is all relative. When I add that, against our better judgement, we made the mistake of listening to the siren voice of the sat nav when she insisted we “bear left”. A traumatic 20 minutes later that included blocking the main through road in both directions as Neil managed to manoeuvre round a particularly tricky corner, we were back on course.

It seemed incredible that there could be a patch of space along these heaving streets that would fit a single caravan pitch let alone an entire site. But sure enough, at the top of a hill and underneath the transmitter tower in the park where once the exhibition palace stood, our home-from-home is set up.

Once my blood pressure had come down, legs stopped trembling and a couple of ham rolls were raising my blood sugar levels, I was ready to start exploring the local area. The multicultural streets weren’t really a surprise but the incredible variety of restaurants this merging of nationalities brings is astonishing to someone more used to a much more limited cuisine. Couple that with us gawping at the views of the City of London on the skyline, buildings only familiar from photographs clearly visible, then, go on, you can call us country bumpkins.