Monday 22 October
The time has come for our October half term break that’s not really in half term this year. I woke up, and a peak through the blinds revealed it was still dark! No doubt that winter is coming!After waving Roids off to college, Ronnie was dragged out of bed to
1 – see his mother before we left; and
2 – give me a hand to push the caravan out of it’s hidey hole and get hitched up. We do this whilst herself hides in the house, curled up in a corner rocking back and fore humming nursery rhymes!
We live on a main road, and the process of getting the van out terrifies the life out of her.
We are hitched up and on the road by 09:45 hrs. I hate the tow out of South Wales along the M4 with a passion (I may have mentioned this before) and Mandy’s trip computer tells me that she’s knocking back the diesel at a rate of 29mpg. This is to be expected as she is hauling 1450kg of caravan up and down quite a few hills and the traffic is heavy hampering any attempts at maintaining any momentum.I spend the journey through South Wales waving at people I know in Transit vans, including Mr Shag who hurtles past us in his works van on his way to St Mellons to fit a carpet, which is some way outside his comfort zone (I can almost hear the cursing from inside the cocooned interior of Mandy).
In the past I’ve always had the utmost respect for Eddie Stobbard drivers. Well, the clown that almost ran me off the road near Cardiff Gate has put a big huge dent in that respect I had for them ….. bloody knobhead!!!
Anyway, we towed through the drizzle in South Wales, over the Severn Crossing in the drizzle we carried on, and turning left towards Avonmouth and signs for the West Country and the M5 in thick fog! The drizzle continued as we headed south west, and 2 hrs after starting from home we pulled into the Sedgmoor services on the M5 for a comfort break.
After my escapades at services in July involving an extending lead, a dog, lots of VOSA people and rather a lot of blood, herself decides it may be a good idea that I drop the legs on the caravan while she takes the dogs off to splash their boots.
The legs are wound down, the toilet in the van is prepped and I’m just about to hop inside to relieve the burning sensation in my guts when herself shouts that the dogs are back in the car and she’s going to have a pee. This is not they news I wanted to hear! In midwifery terms, I am now about 3cm dilated and am in serious danger of touching cloth! I set about pacing around the van pretending to inspect it, but my walking is somewhat impaired as I had got to 4cm. At some point I considered dropping my trousers in the hedge as the contractions were coming thick and fast.
Why does it take women so long to have a pee? Out she comes, oblivious to my predicament. Dropping my trousers as I climbed the steps, herself is unceremoniously barged out of the way.Harmony restored we have lunch overlooking the absolute shithole that purports itself as the caravan parking area at Sedgmoor, before hitting the road for the rest of the journey. It’s still drizzling as we exit the M5 at junction 27 and head up towards Exmoor. The mood is set with trees being ablaze with the deep colours of Autumn. The roads narrow as we get nearer the national park and we grow a tail of impatient locals. We pull through the gates of Exmoor HouseCaravan Club site at 1315 hrs and the front of the van is pastered in mud and leaves kicked up off the winding country roads.
We’re on a fully serviced pitch, which means we have our own water tap and waste outlet. I made the schoolboy error of turning on the tap at full bore before connecting the hose up to our aquaroll. The high pressure spray that resulted (and soaked me to the skin) would not have looked out of place in the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games!We take our time setting up before putting the dogs on their leads to walk into the nearby village of Dulverton. It’s a pretty village with narrow streets and quaint buildings, and the chimneys bellow the smoke from the woodburning stoves within. I love the smell of woodsmoke!
We have a mooch around buying a dog brush and doggy treats in the pet shop and I find a little shop selling locally ground spices and emerge with a bag full of exotic smelling powders. I’ve been waxing lyrical for weeks about a pub that’s close to the site that is super dog friendly! Herself is sold and we trundle off in that direction for a well deserved pint of scrumpy in front of a roaring log fire! We round the corner and the sign on the door cheerfully tells us they don’t open on Monday in the winter!We head back to the van to chill for a while before tea. I have a bag full of fresh spices and have promised herself a chicken curry to die for. I am now in JFO (JamieF~~~~~gOliver) mode as the onions and spices are being fried off before adding the chopped chicken breast. I crack open a can of John Smiths before my sixth sense (herself) lets me know something is up. The pan is no longer sizzling as the gas had gone out. The conversation went something like this …..
“Has the bottle run out?” she asks.“Probably!” I answer sheepishly.
“Well you’ll just have to connect the spare bottle.”
“Aye.”“You did get us a fresh spare didn’t you?”
“Of course I did!” I answer pretending to be hurt by the suggestion.I go through the motions outside, in the pitch dark, on my knees in the damp switching over the bottles. I know in my heart of hearts this is a fruitless task as I had not replaced it when is ran low itself last time (tight as cramp me) and was very nearly empty. I go back inside to light the cooker, but the flame coming off the hob would struggle to light a piece of paper, let alone cook a meal.
My heart sinks as herself gives me the look. I have failed. It’s now 7pm and pitch black outside, we are out of gas, the light in the warden’s office has gone out and so have they as there are no lights in their accommodation, we are miles from anywhere and I’m 3 cans into my stash of John Smiths so driving is out of the question and we have a sammonella curry sitting on the hob. JFO never has these problems.
After an uncomfortable silence, broken periodically by the words “You f@@@@@g T@@t!” the raw curry is transferred into a pot and put into the popdy ping to be nuked into submission.
It doesn’t turn out too bad, and all is forgotten as we turn in quite late.
Tuesday 23 October
We rise to a damp and overcast sky. Well, I rise alone as Herself refuses to get out of bed until there is a remote possibility of a cup of coffee being presented to her. Just as soon as the wardens open up I’m through the office door quicker than Jimmy Saville heading for the Children’s ward at Stoke Manderville hospital.
We have gas, and peace is restored.
I take the dogs for a walk down by the river while herself goes about tidying up the van and getting a brew on.
The one thing that strikes me is that there are Game birds everywhere, and we’re not talking about the type you see swinging their beads on street corners either. We are talking pheasants and grouse, and hundreds of them too. They are everywhere! The roads are narrow and twisting, visibility is now down to 15m, Cerys is tangled again, Tali is barking and herself is trying to hold a conversation with me, when IT happened.
A grouse wandered into the path of Mandy, I slammed on her breaks, but that only served to lower her nose and close the gap between her front spoiler and the road below. Herself gasps and is almost in tears as the bird's colourful feathers fly in every direction as it gets snarled up in Mandy’s front grill. I try to console herself by pointing out that we didn’t kill it as I saw it scurrying towards the shelter of a hedge, but herself is worried about the prospects of it’s survival. I am thinking of pointing out that as the shooting season is due to start next week it’s chances of a long and happy life were quite slim anyway, but think better of it and look straight ahead, knowing that now would be a bad time to say anything.
Suffice to say that after his close encounter with Mandy’s grill he won’t be modelling for any Whisky adverts in the near future.
As we near the coast the skies clear and we drive through the pretty Waters Meet on our way to Lynmouth. We walk around the village before heading for the sea front for a spot of lunch.
Looking at our none too detailed map we decide to take the coast road to Minehead. Only, very soon it become apparrent to us that the A39 is not at sea level, and being perched on the cliff tops and hills where Exmoor meets the sea it is shrouded in fog! We drop down into Minehead and the clouds clear, but I wish they hadn’t. It’s chav central, and Butlins must have a Sun Holiday promotion running because it’s rammed with families during term time. I can’t blame them really because in my opinion a family holiday is every bit as important as a few days in a classroom, and in these hard times if the only way a family can afford to do it is during term time then so be it!
My phone rings, but the number of the caller is withheld. I don’t usually answer these as it’s usually my best mate Sanjay ringing from India to tell me that they’ve detected a virus on my computer, but something inside me made me pull over and take the call. The caller opened up the conversation introducing herself as Becky from the Caravan Club. My imagination is now working overtime and I have an image in my mind of our caravan being in flames back at the site! But no, the very nice lady goes onto explain that I am the winner in one of their competitions. I have one a week’s holiday to be taken on Caravan Club sites in the UK and to go with it a 10 day loan of a new Nissan Pathfinder for the holiday! I am over the moon, but troubled at the same time. How on earth am I going to break the news to Mandy that she won’t be coming on holiday with us?
Time is getting on so we decide to make our way back to site. Other than the amount of game birds about, the one thing that has struck me is how inconsiderate, impatient and downright rude the local motorists are. It’s not like we’re in the middle of a busy city centre or anything! They all want to get everywhere at 100mph, will never ever consider giving way and when you do give way to them you are thanked with a stony stare that says “You took your time reversing!” Other than that the only communication with them is when they slow down to hurl a long list of profanities at you.
Not to worry though, on our walk through the village yesterday saw an outdoor type shop. Not like the ones we have back home selling overpriced Regatta jackets and the Chris Ryan guide to survival in Outer Mongolia, but the type that sells interesting stuff like guns, knives and crossbows. I’ll be taking a wander over there in the morning to brows their selection of Tazers! So look out motorists of Exmoor, I’ll be back.
Back at the van I get into JFO mode and rustle up a superb evening meal of rump steak served with garlic roast spuds, mushrooms and stir fries cabbage and leak.
It’s a lovely mild evening so we decide to don our walking boots and jackets. The dogs are leaded and have their LED blinkers attached and we go out for an intended long evening walk. We exit the site and walk along the road past the Fire Station all the way to The Bridge Inn where the walk is halted abruptly.
We settle ourselves down at a candle lit table (Outside) and have a few pints of Addlestones scrumpy while the dogs are kept happy with a few bags of pork scratching’s. We while away a few pleasant hours talking to the smokers having their nicotine fix before staggering back to the van to turn in for the night.
Wednesday 24 October
We wake quite early. It’s dry but the wind is getting up. Outside looks like a leaf storm as the trees shed tonnes of them. The birds have also tracked me down and give me dirty looks as they switch their gaze from me to the front of Mandy, where half of their cousin is still evident.
We rolled up, parked and walked round the place in 45 mins flat. The variety of shops left something to be desired, though if you were after outdoor clothing you were spoilt for choice!
Herself did not rate the shopping trip very highly, but I thought it to be a great success having not spent a single penny!
Time to move on. I’ve spent many hours camped on the Gower looking over to Ilfracombe across the Bristol Channel, and as a child watched the passenger ferry leave from the pier at Mumbles. It’s always held a magical place in my mind but I’ve never been there. Now that I have, perhaps it would have been better if it had stayed in my mind!
We found a parking spot overlooking the channel, and if the list had not rolled in we would have been able to see Swansea and The Gower over the water. A picnic lunch was taken overlooking the sea breaking against some rocks before we made for the promenade to see if it was worth getting out. It wasn’t.
Ok, maybe we didn’t really give it a proper go. The mist had rolled in, there was a cold wind and the place had an end of season feel to it.
We then followed the coast over towards Combe Martin, but although very pretty it had closed down for winter! We did find a good spot to walk (read – run the legs off) the dogs before carrying on.
It’s at this point that we decide to head back to site. Tom Tom appears to be struggling a bit on the high ground. There is a thick fog and more of the road is covered by a tree canopy than not. Firstly he takes me down to some god forsaken tiny village with narrow roads about 3 miles out of my way just to tell me to turn round. FFS!
Back on the right track, we head onto Exmoor. As we climb the fog is getting thicker and visibility id drastically reduced. It’s dejavu time as I see a pheasant wandering out into the road some 25m infront of me. Oh shit! I know deep down that if I kill something 2 days on the trot I will be in deep shit. I’m always in the shit, it’s just the depth that varies! Anyway, I grip the wheel hard and stamp my foot on the middle pedal as hard as I possibly can.
Mandy’s ABS is groaning like a cheap whore as her nose scrapes along the carriageway in a desperate attempt to avoid the collision. Some evasive steering on my part that a Swansea traffic cop would be proud of saves the day, and the pheasant lives (well for today anyway as the shooting season is looming).
We are now travelling in thick fog for what seems like ages. As we lose some altitude is starts to clear and herself remarks that the road looks familiar. My heart sinks as we come to Watersmeet on the outskirts of Lynmouth. There is nowhere to pull in to consult a paper map so we have to carry on all the way to Lynmouth to turn round.
Tom Tom had lost it’s bearings some 13 miles back and had directed me all the way here just to tell me to turn round. 26 miles out of my way FFS just to avoid a 3 point turn. If any of you have watched MTV The Valleys I can tell you I was tamping raging fuming I was. I screeched into a parking space and leapt out of the car looking for a cat to kick! There was no cat, but have you seen that Fawlty Towers episode where he loses it with the car?
Herself must have a weird sense of humour because she finds this amusing and her giggles only serve to send me further into a rage. We set off on the climb back out of Lynmouth at a fair old lick. Herself is holding on, the dogs are getting thrown about and pedestrians are jumping out of the way like on the Greek stages of the World Rally Championships!
We get stuck behind a lorry that will not reverse and an old fart in a car who cannot reverse. It’s a stalemate and we are stationary as neither will back down. Herself is none too impressed as I stick my head out of the window to shout obscenities at the lorry driver. He’s the professional driver and would only have had to reverse 20m to a passing place.
As we lose altitude and near Dulverton we leave the damp and the clouds behind and it’s quite pleasant on site. Today has been a very successful day out as far as I am concerned. We have not spent a penny!
I do not have to get into JFO mode as herself puts the stereo on full blast and puts her Nigella hat on to throw together our evening meal. A splendid effort it was too. A sort of Lamb cottage pie with a cabbage, leak and cheese crust served with green veggies.
Dishes cleared, it’s nearly time to take the dogs for their evening walk. We were out for 3 hours with them tonight, that’s a long time on a dark autumn night I hear you say. Well not really. It’s a 10 min stroll to the pub, a few hours guzzling Exmoor Ale whilst feeding the dogs pork scratchings and a 15 min stagger back to site!
It’s been a long day and I’ll sleep well tonight.
Thursday 25 October
When we are away, Herself and I tend to share the duties equally.
She tends to be 50% cook, washer upper, laundry lady, reversing aid, left wing mirror authenticator, sweeper of the floor, bed maker upper, financier, site booker inner, fridge switch operator, roof vent checker, medical advisor, Health & Safety representative, highway code enforcer, speed trap detector, profanity censor, blind operator, water empty alarm, “bog full” announcer, dietary advisor, disc jockey, meteorologist, and three night conjugal event co-ordinator.
Of course, everything else as usual is down to me, and rather than bore you with a long list, suffice to say I drive. I am also put in charge of anything that in effluent related.
I woke gently this morning after a good sleep. Well gently if you call a dig in the ribs to be told that the bog is full gently! So I was up at 07 00 hrs, emptied the bog, topped up the flush tank and walked the dogs by the time herself had got up and put the kettle on. Did I get a medal?
After the last two days spent driving through a white out up on the moor, we decide to stay at a lower altitude and head in the other direction to Tiverton. My day rapidly starts to go downhill as herself starts to spend some money on pressies for Ronnie and Roids.
We’d seen signs for the Bampton Charter Fair on the way. Apparently it’s been going since well before 1258 when Henry III granted it a royal charter. Held every year on the last Thursday of October, it’s the oldes surviving charter fair in the country. Some of the cheeses on sale looked like they'd been on the tables in 1258 too!
There is a huge street market, a pony sale, livestock sales, craft and food fairs as well as a party tent and street entertainers. We had fancied taking a look at the pony market, but as we are approaching the car park (£5 mind FFS) Tali spots a bloke on horseback and goes apeshit in the back of the car. Herself informs me that he hates horses and barks at them furiously. Our plans are rescheduled and we give the pony sale a miss!
We spend around 3 hours walking around. It’s a fabulous event, not many traders selling tat, but lots selling carfts and quality goods. Loads of food stalls, but very few burger vans and some sort of street entertainment every few paces.
In the 3 hours we were there I learn that Tali also hates balloons, steel bands, folk bands, street theatre, clowns, Punch and Judy, kids with squeaky toys as well as drummers in general. Herself spends way too much money for my liking, but it is enjoyable none the less.
It’s still too early to return to the van, so I look at the map and look for somewhere to go. Matchet on the coast is the lucky place. As we rise we again enter a white out and I have to slam on the brakes every few miles to avoid a kamikaze grouse or pheasant.
We were uninspired by Matchet and the only thing we can say is that it’s another place ticked off the list that we can say we’ve been to.
Back at the van I get into JFO mode and produce a stonking curry for tea before we batten down the hatches for the night.
Friday 26 October
After agreat night's sleep we wake at 08 00 hrs to that familiar pack up day sound of the rain hitting the van roof. A quick cuppa and a bowl of porridge later we set about the task of breaking camp.
Duties are split evenly for this. Herself does all the inside jobs while I trudge about aimlessly getting wet outside. Never the less, we have the awning down and are on the road by 10 15 hrs.
The tow up the M5 is somewhat less than relaxing. Traffic is heavy, spray is everywhere and we are getting buffeted around a bit. This eases as we hit the M49 and M4 over the Severn Bridge into South Wales.