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We’ve just returned from our first trip in Madge. She performed well through the Lakes and the Peaks and, barring one or two minor niggles, we are impressed. 

Another first for us was the night spent at a Britstops location. Having paid £25 for the book (and automatic membership until March 2013) we were determined to try one of the many free sites listed. Our options ranged from pubs through farm shops and breweries to official UK ‘aires.’ Motor homing members are welcome at every site, entirely free of charge and with no obligation to buy from the hosts. No facilities are provided other than a secure place to overnight, which is what most of us really want.

We chose the Blue Cow Inn at South Witham, Lincolnshire. The car park slopes a little but that never bothers us. We don’t carry levellers; if we are on an incline we simply change our sleeping position to compensate. This pub brews its own beer at 4% ABV, a palatable cask ale from first sip to the downing of the fourth pint (and no doubt beyond if we hadn’t reached our capacity). Food was straight forward and tasty home-cooked pub-grub with no fancy pretensions. The welcome we received from the proprietors was sincere and friendly. The Blue Cow provided an excellent introduction to the ethos of the Britstops scheme and we believe that the cost of the book is money well spent.

From there we went to Keswick and met in quick succession both the most miserable camp site warden in the country and one of the most pleasant. A booking mix-up meant we couldn’t go where we’d originally intended and had to move to the nearby affiliated site in the middle of town – a stroke of luck arising out of misfortune.

We walked on the fells (Catbells) during the one day of shining sun and bought new walking boots in town on the one day of constant rain. Then home via Saddleworth Moor, Snake Pass and Castleton, bringing our brief but interesting first trip to a close.

A small snagging list of minor issues will be attended to soon. In the meantime, we’re about to find out whether paying for a Superguard external protective coating was worthwhile. Madge is filthy, mainly because of sugar beet and potato harvesting around home.






We chose the name Madge as a joke, because we bought the motor home from Simpson. Now a reliable source has advised that Bart’s mother is Marge. It’s only one consonant out, but we’re left with the quandary of keeping an irrelevant name or going through the whole tedious process of fixing a new name in our minds. What to do?

two weeks to go

Two weeks to go. We’re meeting friends and will travel to the Pointe Du Raz area of Brittany. That’s the most westerly point of France. To cross the channel, we’re taking a ferry from Dover to land in the most easterly port of the country, Dunkirk. That gives us several days to wend our way along the coastal route through Normandy.

So I, in my appalling ignorance, asked why we’re going due east to end up more or less south-west at the far end of the spectrum – that’s surely taking extremities to the extreme. The answer is found in ferry tariffs. Norfolk Line will carry us, and our motor home, for little more than the cost of a new hat. Their competitors will charge a full wedding trousseau including silk ribbons and Calvin Klein underwear. The decision was made; we’ll go under-dressed and spend the savings on seafood, red wine and cheese. It’s an old age wedding; who needs frills?

Our intention is to walk around the coastal fringes of the region known as Cornouaille. With our friends’ pronunciation, the area sounds to me suspiciously like Cornwall. It will be a very short joint holiday if they’ve misunderstood our intentions. Around the edge of Cornouaille is a long distance footpath skirting granite cliffs, white-sand inlets and plangent Atlantic waves. Between us, and maybe even together, we’ll tackle as many of these wind-hewn tracks as practicable.

That’s if time and weather permit. We’ll walk as far as you like on a warm sunny day. However, the only lashings we like are of wine, so if rain persists, we’ll fall back on a selection of DVDs, good books and cosy interiors. It’ll be just like our usual holidays on the west coast of Scotland only without midgies.

All we need to do now is buy currency. We’re leaving that as late as possible. Rates of exchange seem to be moving in our favour. No doubt another crisis will hit just before we leave and the pound will drop into the Atlantic again. But the really good news is that with a little luck, we’ll be away while all those ugly and execrable politicians find new ways to throw mud at each other in support of their twisted and corrupted notion of democracy.

Mais c’est la vie.

ici la post premiere sur France

un hoboWe’re preparing for our first ever trip abroad. A few years ago we went to Eire for a few weeks, but that doesn’t really count as abroad because they drive on the left. But in April we’re heading for France where they drive on the right. This will be the first time I’ve driven on the right in other than a left-hand drive vehicle.

Hobby is German, but she’s right-hand drive. I take a little comfort from knowing that the gear stick will be in the same place even if the roundabouts are a challenge to my sense of balance and direction.

Our French is poor. Michel Thomas is trying to rekindle dim memories of schoolboy GCE French (failed) but I can’t move beyond “comfort-A-bler.” Why are educationalists so obsessed with pronunciation and precise grammar? Most who are proficient in English as other than their mother tongues speak English as it is spoken in their home towns. They speak the language but their accents always betray their true origins and we always know what they mean when they say “I be here tomorrow.”

Everything is more or less gathered together now. The ferries are booked; insurance has been arranged. Spare light bulbs have been acquired. We have a pair of day-glow yellow waistcoats and our health cards and Camping Card International are fully valid. An emergency triangle is in the post from that nice company on E-bay, together with a set of headlamp adaptors. The ‘van has had a full service and I can feel her straining at the leash to enter the breach once more.

The satnav has French roads pre-loaded and we’ve bought an atlas so we know what we’re missing when we follow instructions slavishly. The dust has been brushed off the passports and I’ve checked my stock of khaki shorts, white socks, rainbow braces and knotted handkerchiefs. The first-aid box is loaded with Factor 800 and we can’t decide whether or not to take the mosquito repellent so useful in Scotland. Being “comfort-A-bler” is very important to us. The English abroad, eh?

I’m assured it never rains in Brittany during April and May. The man who told me is normally very reliable. His brother knows a man who read it somewhere on Wikipedia I think. Should we take waterproofs?

Oh dear. Only three weeks to go.

first trip of the year

After a long winter’s lay-up, during which this elderly couple applied chapped hands and aching backs to an even more elderly and gnarled house, we finally put our Hobby back onto the road where she belongs. Grandson was celebrating the first major 0 of his birthday catalogue and we headed to Devon to help pass round the sticky rice-crispy cakes.

En route, we stopped at Bristol for a couple of nights. We took a pitch at the Caravan Club’s Baltic Wharf. If you’ve never been there, be warned that to step for the first time through the wicket gate at the back of site is to experience the Narnia effect. Push open the rear of the wardrobe and you’ll pass from the mundane to the sublime in a sudden roman candle of revelation. On a June evening a few years ago, we did just that.

As the name of the place suggests, the site is on the actual quay wall of the main wet dock. We sat on steps at the water’s edge outside the adjacent Cottage pub, a pint of beer in hand, and watched, in no particular order, a squadron of hot-air balloons ghosting over head, a fleet of sailing boats tacking through the dark waters, teams of scullers straining against oars, a group of sea cadets practising life saving techniques, a couple of lads fishing patiently from the dock’s edge, narrow boats wending towards the Cumberland locks and flights of geese ticking their approval of the scene below. On the opposite bank, al fresco on a small floating pontoon, a choir practised selections from show tunes. Their mellow songs wafted to us over the water. All around, the normal bustle and clamour of city life was somehow softened and slowed as if the clear blue skies above had ordained a moment of sequestered peace.

Even in winter, this is a place to cycle or walk. In fact, one of Britain’s great town-walks starts at Baltic Wharf and covers a couple of miles or so along the quays to the city proper. Here will be found evidence for why I believe Bristol planners know what they’re doing: the old sits comfortably and amicably with the new; overalls share cafés with pin-stripe suits; your Ferrari parks next to my battle-weary people carrier.

On the walk, we pass new housing built in a style congruous to the maritime character of the area. The Yacht club and a large marina are not mere showrooms for exorbitant wealth; they are crammed with personality, some craft obviously being used as house boats, some for fishing, others of more dubious provenance or purpose. A few yards along is an industrial area with an active chandlery, ship repair yards and a dry dock still busy with welders and marine engineers. Through a dank alleyway and we find Wallace & Grommit’s crucible opposite a derelict warehouse patiently awaiting the sprucing hand of a developer. Right next door is the SS Great Britain, proudly dry docked in her original native home and awaiting completion of her new visitors’ centre. Then the quays open out again. Modern apartments mingle with warehousing, rail lines are still set into the dockside, ships and boats of all types moor alongside, the best open-air café in town is always packed and ancient cranes are preserved as part of the developing Industrial Museum, due to re-open in 2011 after a major refit of the warehouses used to house Bristol’s heritage collection.

On both sides of the dock, new marries old. Ancient port buildings and factories are preserved even as pristine riverside complexes are being built around them. So many cities have bowed to the avarice of land owners and swept away all vestiges of their industrial legacies to be replaced by the brash. Bristol is somehow different, and not just because of the occasional glimpse of Clifton Suspension Bridge and Cabot’s Tower. Very few cities are visually improved by developers, planners and architects; Bristol is in a palpable state of becoming better without sweeping a sometimes grimy past under the carpet.

We love the place. Pity we have to book about a year in advance to get a pitch at Baltic Wharf.

unexpected dovedale

pollys cottage_1

polly's cottage, milldale

Much of the mystery of travel in the UK has gone these days. Everything worth seeing is assiduously recorded and publicised on the internet, in guide books, magazines, leaflets or travelogues. When we journey to a new area, we’re not exactly emulating Marco Polo or even H. V. Morton. Most things have been discovered and we journey to view them so they can be ticked off against our list of 1001 places to see before we die.

Perhaps for that reason, we take most pleasure in unexpected delights. They are usually fairly minor events, but all the more intensely exciting because they surprise us. We didn’t know they were there.

For example, earlier in the year we paid a visit to Derbyshire. On a day of snow flurries and heavy hail, we walked through Dovedale. We mentally ticked off anticipated sights – Lion Rock, the caves, Tissington Spires, Lovers’ Leap and the famous stepping stones to name a few – and agreed that the three miles of river gorge, deep craggy valley and meandered water meadows deserved every published eulogy.

Yet for us, our greatest joys were when we came across three unheralded sights, one at each end of the short walk, and one on the approaches. The first was Polly’s. Her little shop is tucked away on the corner of a tiny lane in Milldale. From over the stable door, open only at the top, she serves mouth watering sandwiches for the hungry. Queues form outside; we’re not allowed into the cottage no matter the weather – I doubt she has room anyway. Her fare is probably unsuitable for the pretensions of the likes of Giles Coren, but after a five mile walk with another nine ahead, what she fashions out of bread and sundry fillings seems like a snack fit for a wilting emperor. Never walk Dovedale without taking refreshment at Polly’s.

Where Dovedale ends is the village of Thorpe. Here we climbed a steep hill heading for the Tissington Trail to lead us north. As we topped the brow of the hill, music was flowing down the slope towards us. And here we found our second unannounced delight. Dovedale Garage forecourt is home to the Mighty Compton Organ, and two vast mechanical organs mounted on the backs of lorries were pumping out their deep breathy and brassy melodies. We could almost taste the candyfloss and sniff the nostalgic aroma of fried onions mingling with old mown grass, redolent of the fairgrounds of our day. The Galloping Major cantered through and reluctantly we wrested ourselves away to follow. Time was now pressing.

Rain spattered us; at times we had to lean into the wind. Then, half-way home, the sun burned a small gap in the clouds and bathed nearby hills in golden evening light, finding the tower of a distant hilltop church, I think at Ballidon. We sat on an opportune bench and looked across the shallow valley as for about 120 seconds the landscape was afire with gleaming greens and golden russets framed by darkling clouds. Behind us, a solitary farmer worked late repairing a dry-stone wall while his old wiry dog twitched sleepily in the field, no doubt dreaming of bowls of rabbit stew and maybe Polly’s off-cuts of beef and ham. No guide book could prepare us for this vignette of crepuscular pastoral tranquillity.

These little encounters are not something to include in a travel book or a Sunday supplement’s guide to country walking. But for us they give more pleasure than all the seven wonders of Derbyshire combined, simply because they were totally unexpected.

We stayed at Rivendale caravan park. The entire round walk was 14 miles, most of it off-road thanks to the Tissington Trail, the track bed of an abandoned railway line. If you’re interested, the camp site is listed under Ashbourne on the “good camp sites” page.

something’s lost in the translation

water tower blog_1We haven’t been away lately, mainly because we’ve now moved house and discovered why certain cabinets were placed in strange places against walls. Apparently surveyors no longer move furniture to see what’s going on behind and caveat emptor still applies. The outcome is we have a lot more work than anticipated. So, this is an update to the blog despite Hobby sitting disconsolately alone in the storage compound back home. It’s drier there. That word ‘home’ says it all really.

Two years ago we bought our Hobby motor home. It was two years old at the time and we paid what we considered to be a lot of money. The attractions were the two fixed single beds at the rear, putative quality of German design and low-profile curvaceous bodywork.

During handover, a demonstrator talked us through the various features. He was obviously bluffing and learning about the ‘van as he worked his way round. Eventually I reached data overload and asked simply “Do we get an owner’s manual?” He nodded reassuringly and my mind promptly shut down, figuring all I needed to do was spend a few moments one sunny evening browsing with the book in one hand and a glass of Montana Reserve in the other.

Later, when about 450 miles away from the dealer and the Irish rain was thrashing wildly against the roof, I opened the manual to discover it was written in German with no English translation. Now – I can buy a £16.99 electronic gismo from China and it will arrive complete with instructions in English. Admittedly the language is pidgin but I always know what they mean when they instruct things like “project the flange across the blue terminus and clamp the nodule with the fritillary clip provided.”

And yet I buy a German motor home for £36,000 pre-owned, presumably costing the previous owner at least £54,000 when brand new, and the manufacturers can’t even be bothered to provide a few welcome lines in English. The vehicle is right-hand drive, by the way, so was obviously intended for the British market. Failure to provide an English language manual is to my mind cheapskate in the extreme.

We still don’t know what’s going on with the control panel fascia light when we first hook-up. It flashes red, becomes static red, then turns amber for a very long time and finally goes green. Take if off hook-up for just a moment, and it reverts to amber again and stays there for hours. What’s that all about? We tried running the German text through Google but the result was too hilarious to take seriously.

But I don’t complain. And that’s probably the trouble; we don’t complain enough. Attitudes from suppliers and manufacturers would be different if we repeatedly took issue with them over these little irritations and short-comings. Eventually they would start to learn. But instead we’re afraid of being dismissed as grumpy old people and instead we ‘get by’ with what we have.

I could write a very long letter, but it’s easier to open another bottle of wine and seek solace on the shoulder of Bacchus. Instead, I now refuse to buy German wines. That’ll show them. And I can vent some of my spleen here. This isn’t a moan by the way. If it was I’d post it under the moans page. I’m merely making observations in a moaning sort of way

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