Monday, 31 December 2012

The Maiden Voyage

Was having a sort through my hard drive earlier and found this blog that had not been posted.  It dates back to November 2011 ........
We’d bought the van at an awkward time of the year.  It was the end of November, we had little leave left in work and many sites were closed up for the winter.
 We were both itching to try out the new van, but everything was transpiring against us.  We needed somewhere local so that we could try it out to ensure everything worked and to leave Friday evening and be back by Sunday morning for Roids to play rugby.
 Herself and Roids were out doing a weekend shop when I rang herself to drop the news that the van was hitched to the back of Mandy and ready for the off.  Herself didn’t put up much resistance, and on her return from shopping the goodies were loaded into the van instead of the house, and we were off.
 Three gear changes later, in the pitch black, we are pulling into Gateway Holiday Park in Llanelli.  The site roads are poorly lit and cars are parked everywhere.  My sphincter tightens as the outfit is threaded through the site and I instantly regret not booking onto a Caravan Club site.  The hard standing pitches are narrow and overgrown, but we fit the van on and get set up.

Usually that late at night I wouldn’t usually bother with the security devices, but Gateway is situated adjacent to another site occupied by members of our dear travelling community.
 After 45 mins of wrestling with our new Alko hitch lock and several ‘Black mans’ pinches’ later, I have enlightened the whole site to my rather extensive vocabulary of expletives.
 We settle down for the night trying desperately to ignore the howling gale and lashing rain outside.
Saturday morning didn’t exactly dawn, it more or less arrived in the form of a slightly less dark outside.  I put my coat and boots on, before losing my fingernails as the howling wind ripped the van door out of my now pulsating fingers, smashing it cruelly against the van side.  I took the dogs down to the coastal path for a walk, not my best ever move, before returning to the van via the scenic route!
 I took in the sights of the gyppos burning fridges in the adjacent field, the boarded up now defunct dog kennels and the piles of pallets and tarpaulins that occupy the outside space of the seasonal pitches at Gateway.
 I failed to find the entrance to the widely advertised new toilet block, so the last 250 yds of my morning walk were completed in a  fashion that would cause much hilarity on a Monty Python sketch!
 It quickly becomes apparent to herself that dogs and a beige caravan interior do not make the best of friends.  Cerys and Tali and bundled into Mandy’s boot before we make our way to Trostre Retail Park and the money pit that is Dunelm Mill.  Several throws and loose mats later we return to site to dog proof the van interior.
 The phone rings some time later and Roids announces he is going for a ride on his pushbike and will pay us a visit.  It’s still hammering down, but he wants to burn off some energy.
 We sit and wait his arrival, and we wait, and we wait.  The phone rings.  It’s him asking where we are as he’s ridden all round the site but cannot find us.  After a heated exchange the sudden realisation is that he is at the wrong site and had ridden to Gowerton, some 5 miles further on!
 He eventually makes it and looks a sorry sight.  He’s soaked through to the skin and sits in the van drinking hot chocolate in his pants.  We feed him before waving him off with the promise that he’ll ring us to let us know he’s home safely.  He didn’t.
 A very cosy night was spent watching Strictly and listening to the rain forming a lake around us.
Sunday morning actually dawned, and it was bright.  But all was not well with Mandy.  She started ok but was coughing and spluttering like a 60 a day smoker.  My revving the life out of her brought disapproving looks from herself and the gyppos in the adjacent field.
There was noting else for it but to take her out onto the road to try and clear the problem.  It didn’t work and with time running short we towed the van home on what sounded like 3 cylinders!

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Happy New Year Everyone

I hate New Years Eve with a vengeance I do. It has nothing at all to do with me being a miserable git at all.  Honestly it does not.

I like to socialise with the best of them, but cannot cope with the invariable upset that the turn of the year brings.  People have a drink and with that drink emotions can run high.  I can understand it but cannot be doing with it.

The turn of the year is usually a time to reflect.  Herself is in work today and I have a bit of time on my hands to do some key tapping.

We entered 2012 with a 'New to us' caravan having purchased the Sancerre in November of 2011.  I think it's safe to say that it's seen some use in 2012.

February half term saw herself and I tow up through the mid Wales Hills to stay at Daisy Bank in Montgomery.  The 4 night mid week break saw some highs and some lows, but we quickly fell in love with the fixed bed and end washroom in our new van.

Early March saw a mini heat wave hit the UK and raise everyone hopes for a long hot summer.  By Easter those same hopes had vanished as the Arctic North Easterlies had the UK firmly in it's grip.  The bank holiday weekend was spent shivering at Pembrey Caravan Club Site with Mr & Mrs Shag, consuming far too much alcohol in the awnings until late at night.

Just after Easter it started to rain, and rain and rain.  Our plans for Mayday were subject to last minute alterations as the planned rugby tournament at Usk was called off.  Some frantic work on the phone by Mrs Shag ensured the weekend was not lost and we went on tour with Llangenench U16s to Blossom Park near Abergavenny.  For such a hastily arranged weekend it went off really well, and all credit to Mrs Shag for sorting out a campsite that was able to accommodate us so late on, and getting the boys games for the weekend.

It continued to rain throughout May and the extended Spring BH / Jubilee weekend saw us pitching up at St Davids with Mr & Mrs Shag for a rather enjoyable weekend.

With so much rain, weekends away were out of the question, but early July saw us tow up through Mid Wales again for a week at Fforest Fields with Nana Coupons.  In spite of the weather we had a great week in mid Wales on a superb independent site.

Straight from Builth Wells we towed to Pembrey Country Park for a weekend Rally with Llangennech Juniors, except that the weather was so bad that the juniors didn't show up.  Never the less, we were rewarded with some sunshine, drank far too much, and me and  Mr Shag almost got caught by the wardens emptying the rubbish from his works van into the park skips.

It continued to rain throughout July until the day we arrived at Broad Park Club Site for the start of our 2 week holiday in the West Country.  We were blessed on this holiday with good weather, we had 10 days of wall to wall sunshine in South Devon, and the break was a real tonic.  Our Sons Ronnie and Roids joined us for some of the time as did Grandpa Grumbles and Nana Creaky.

From there we headed up to the Cornish North Coast, and stopped at Trewetthette Farm perched on the Atlantic cliff tops.  The weather here was not so good, and we almost lost our awning during one of the overnight storms.

Mr & Mrs Shag were still away in France, so August BH weekend was spent as 'billy no mates' on the Pembrey Club site in not too great weather.

Late October saw us again heading along the M4, over the Severn Bridge and right towards the West Country.  Our destination this time was the Exmoor House Club site in Dulverton.  This served to be an excellent destination for our late Autumn break, and is a site I'm sure we'll revisit soon.

This usually sees the end of our touring year, but this year I won a competition with the Caravan Club.  I may have mentioned this previously!

So with the loan of an X Trail and 7 free nights of camping we set off on a mini tour of the North of England, Firstly to Chatworth Park in the Peak District before going further North to Beechwood Grange in York and taking in Chester Fairoaks on the way back down south.

The individual blogs for all these breaks can be read on this site, so I won't bore you with them by regurgitating my antics here, but suffice to say, it's been quite a busy year.  We spent 53 nights away in the van on 12 different sites.  Of those sites 7 were sites that we'd not stayed on before in areas that we'd not explored.  On our travels we covered 1967 miles towing the van, and enjoyed every bloody minute.

Here's to an equally good 2013 ...... Happy New Year everyone.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Fame at Last

I've had a few mentions in the Caravan Club magazine at late, and now they've featured one of the blogs I wrote for them on the front page of their website!!

I am excited beyond mun, and may even consider awaking herself from her afternoon nap to break the good news to her.

The plan for the rest of the day is to get a load of prints done of the screen shot in readiness for my personal appearance and signing session outside Woolworths in town tomorrow.  It'll be packed there, Woolies always have good sales!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Service with a smile

Have we really had the Sancerre for a year now?

The fact that the van's service book is screaming out for another stamp confirms this.  Earlier in the year we used the services of a local mobile workshop to fit an external gas point for us, and so impressed was I with the price, competence and level of service provided, the decision was made to use them for the annual service instead of towing the van back to the supplying dealer.

It's one of those dark, damp, windy and miserable December days that only West Wales can have when the cheerful little man from Leisure Medic rings the bell.

I take up far too much of his time picking his brains about this and that, as well as sounding him out for a motor mover.  In addition to the service, there's a few jobs that need doing.

  1. The fridge door drops whenever too much stuff is put in it, and has resulted in herself breaking one or two nails which in turn results in me being the most popular bloke on the planet ...... again!!!!
  2. Your ham-fisted scribe also broke the awning light when changing a blown bulb, so that needs replacing.
  3. Our travels along the rather wed and muddy mid Wales roads throughout the year have left our rear steadies in a state such that you need to have forearms like Popeye to be able to wind them down, so they need freeing up.
Just over 2 1/2 hours later I am presented with a newly stamped up service record, all jobs done and an itemised receipt.  All for the very reasonable £130.  I am a very happy chappy as I was paying more than that in 2005 at a dealer for a basic service!!

I would not hesitate to recommend Leisure Medic to anyone who needs work doing on their caravan in South West Wales.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Nissan Blogger Part 3 - Chester Fairoaks

Tuesday 4 December

It has rained overnight, but with the low temperatures the site was like a sheet of ice this morning when we woke up.  We've a lot to cram into today, so a lie in is a luxury we cannot afford.

While packing up I notice that the motor home that pitched along side us yesterday had a Carmarthenshire County Council recycling box outside.  The occupant appeared and it turns out he is from a village just a few miles from us at home.  Small world!!!  An even bigger coincidence is that like us they had travelled to Chatsworth House first before moving to York, and guess where they are going next?  Yes, Chester just like us!

Anyway we are breakfasted and pulling out of the site at 9.15am.  The long access road has not been gritted, but the 4wd on the X Trail is faultless, not losing traction at all.  With the Blues Brothers blasting out of the Bose speakers we are rolling at cruising speed on the A64 towards the motorway network.

The weather starts to change the M62 takes us up over the Pennines and we pass Slott Hall Farm sited between the two carriageways.  By the time we get onto Saddleworth Moor, the highest motorway in England (372m) the rain has turned to snow and herself gets all excited.  The motorways that circle Manchester are tedious, the wind is gusting and the HGVs are causing a bit of turbulence.  The X Trail however never loses control of the van and the 112 mile journey passes without incident.

We arrive at the Chester Fairoaks Caravan Club site just before noon.  We pitch up, have a brew and are pulling back out through the gate by 12.30pm

Another day and another city, and we exit the NCP car park straight into Chester's Christmas Market.  It all looks very festive with stalls in log cabins.  Herself is taken by one that is selling hand made tree decorations while my favourite one is the Xmas BBQ.  The smell radiating from it is Divine, and despite me hanging round and looking longingly at the sizzling burgers and bangers, herself is having nothing of it.

We walked the city centre and it's obvious that the recession has yet to travel this far.  There are no boarded up shops, and most of the shoppers appear to be well heeled.  We are in the middle of 'Footballer's Wives' territory here, every other woman is made up heavily and the standard uniform seems to be designer over the knee boots worn over designer jeans.

We have walked by all the designer coffee shops and expensive eateries, and while browsing the indoor market I talk herself into stopping at the reasonable priced cafe.  My accent seems to be a problem here because the chicken salad I ordered turned up in the shape of a chip batch!!!

We were all too aware that the NCP clock was ticking at an alarming rate so decided to head out of town to the Cheshire Oaks shopping outlet.  It's massive and has every shop you could imagine.  It's very easy to spend a lot of money very quickly here.  And we do.

Shopped out we head back to the van and it starts to rain quite heavily. I'm in JFO mode, and tea tonight is Steak with new potatoes.  For afters I have a case of 'Old Speckled Hen' and herself has two bottles of Champers that we picked up reduced earlier.

Settled in for the night and the booze is going down a treat, while outside the rain is coming down in sheets.  There is nothing like being nice and warm in the van and listening to the rain hammering down on the roof.

Monday 5 December

It had stopped raining some time in the night and the temperatures outside plummeted.  Not that we were bothered inside the van though.  Skipping breakfast, we were pulling out of the site gates by just after 9am.

There were two options today for the journey home.  Firstly a 148 mile tow along the twisting, but very scenic  and traffic free roads of Mid Wales or a 247 mile tow home via the motorway network.

Mid Wales won hands down.  It was quite a challenging tow with the roads twisting and turning and also some steep ascents and descents.  The X Trail, as it has done all week, took everything that was thrown at it in its stride.

We got home by 1pm.  The van has been washed and is now parked up in winter mode, and The X Trail washed ready for collection tomorrow.  I'm going to miss that car!!


In the week we were away in it we covered a total of 1056 miles, 570 of those miles towing the caravan.  Over the whole trip we averaged just under 35 mpg, which I consider to be not bad going for a car of this size - and when not towing I've not exactly spared the horses.

We packed a lot into our 7 nights away.  We stayed on three sites, all of which were very nice.  Our favourite site though has to be Chatsworth, purely for the location.

Personal highs??  Well for herself it has to be the day we walked through the Chatsworth estate and round the formal gardens, and for me the day we visited Heartbeat country.

Personal lows?? Herself will say the time I dragged her onto the York Wheel, but for me it has to be the let down of York's Winter Wonderland.  The website promised so much, but it delivered very little.

We called in on 4 Christmas markets during the week, some good and some bad.  Our favourite by some distance was the Dickensian experience at Lightwater Valley.  We also shopped at quite a few city centres and out of town centres.  The best by a long way out of the lot was the Cheshire Oaks outlet in Chester.

Finally my thanks to Nissan, Fuse, Trackworks and the Caravan Club for making the whole experience possible.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Nissan Blogger Part 2 - Beechwood Grange York

Saturday 1 December

We woke to the sound of rain hitting the van roof, though by the time we had breakfasted and showered it had stopped.  Stepping outside revealed it was no warmer, though watching one of the site wardens doing his rounds on his Kubota in shorts and a tee shirt you'd be forgiven for thinking that it was July.

We are all packed up and pulling off site by 10am.  Everything is still frozen as we take off down the long driveway to the main road with the heating on full blast, the heated seats on full and music blaring out of the Bose speakers.

The built in sat nav has been very reliable so far and guides us expertly as we thread our way through the early Saturday morning shoppers in Chesterfield before hitting the motorway network for our 85 mile journey north to the Caravan Club site at Beechwood Grange in York.

The approach to the site is somewhat complicated and needs many lane changes on traffic signal controlled roundabouts.  The air is blue and the atmosphere inside the X Trail is a little tense to say the least.  Sometimes it would just be easier all round if herself just closed her eyes and hummed a happy tune, leaving me to cut people up with gay abandon.

We pull up to reception just after 12 noon.  Checking in takes a little longer than usual as we still cannot remember the X Trail's numberplate and it is parked out of sight. The compute system then flags up that we are competition winners and we have to explain everything to the very friendly and very chatty warden.  By 1.30pm we are set up, have had lunch and are ready to go out for the rest of the day.

Some Internet research revealed that there is a Dickensian Christmas festival taking place at the Lightwater Valley centre some 30 miles from site. The roads are busy and the going is slow.  We stop briefly for some Polish immigrants to wash 500 miles worth of winter grime off the X Trail.

Now sparkly clean again we pull into the car park just as the light is starting to fade.  I know I'm never going to fit into a pair of 32" skinny jeans, but does that really mean I have to be the easy target for anyone manning a food stall at a fete?

We've only just walked in and a woman in fancy dress forces me to sample some fudge, and of course I then feel obliged to part with some hard earned for a slightly larger sample!  We spend an enjoyable few hours browsing and soaking up the Dickensian atmosphere and buying some wares off the craft stalls as Christmas presents before retreating to the coffee shop for a brew.


I've not done much conversing with the locals yet.  Herself does most of that for me as I'm deaf.  Anyway before coming away herself treated herself to a new pair of boots, and has had them on all day.  Her feet are now talking to her so I let her take the weight off them at a table while I go and get the tea and coffee.

Immediately the staff behind the counter clock  my strong West Walian accent.  It's immediately apparent that I'm a bit of a novelty and I'm afraid to say my sense of mischief got the better of me.  The conversation went something like this......

"Can I have a tea and a black coffee please?"
"Oooooo, you sound like you've come a long way."
"Yes, I'm from Wales."
"I went to Wales once on holiday, what part do you come from?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, you've probably never heard of it."
"No, I haven't."
"That's OK, not many people have.  It's a village just over 3 miles from Llanelli!"

I turned away giggling to myself as they gave each other bemused looks.  Back at the table herself refuses to let me have the fudge I bought earlier, and not even my best puppy dog eyes and quivering bottom lip changes her mind, so I sulk while drinking my tea.

Refreshed, we set off back to York.  As we hit the A1(M) I take the chance to play with another of the X Trail's toys.  My phone is blue tooth paired to the car and we make some phone calls home with the cruise control set to a steady (ahem) 80mph.

The website promises a fantastic winter wonderland on the outskirts of York with pictures of the ice rink and many wooden cabins selling traditional Christmas goods.  We pull into the vast but packed car park and wrap up against the biting wind.

It's far too cold to stay anywhere near the chav filled ice rink for anything longer than a photo opportunity so we make out way to the log cabins.

The cabins however are somewhat disappointing.  They are either locked shut or house a frankly crappy Christmas decoration display.  The fairground is struggling with more gyppos working the rides than there are customers.  I'm so glad we didn't set aside a whole day for this!

We retreat into the warmth of the McArthur Glen shopping mall.  We have one of these back home in Bridgend, but this place is something else.  There are some very exclusive shops here, including a Tag Heulier shop.  Herself walks off disowning me as I call over one of the snotty assistants to tell him he's left a decimal point off the price label.

Some of the shoppers here think they're really something special and I'm beginning to feel a little out of place.  Until that is we round the corner and come face to face with a designer shop for campers.

Herself is freezing and has commented more than once that she is looking forward to getting back to the nice and warm caravan.  I say nothing.

When we left site earlier the sun was streaming through the windows, and frankly it was too hot, so in my wisdom I turned it off.  Too chicken to enter the van with her, I stayed outside and pretended to do some jobs until she had stopped swearing at me!!

Tea is a hastily thrown together effort of spicy mince and peppers with rice, but is very nice none the less.  We settle in for the night.  I'm on the net book and herself is getting her Saturday night fix of Merlin and Casualty.

Either herself is really very cold, or she's making a show of it to make me feel even more stupid for turning the heating off earlier.  I am sat in the van in a pair of shorts whilst she is wrapped up in a fleece blanket.

We're both tired after a long and busy day, and I can't see it being a late one tonight.

Sunday 2 December

The frost outside tells me it's been a cold one overnight, I wouldn't know, having slept well outside the duvet last night.  I think I'm wearing herself out with the pace of this holiday, so let her sleep in this morning.  If the truth be told, I would have still been there myself, but with my build I can only lie down for so long before my back starts to hurt too much.

We've been lucky with the weather this trip, and dawn reveals clear skies in the low winter sun. After a cooked breakfast and showers we are read for the off by around 11am.  A brief detour for fuel is needed before we hot the road northwards.

I'm starting to get used to the gearing and handling of the X Trail while driving solo, and it's impressing me.  We pass through Pickering and follow the A169 up onto the North Yorkshire Moors.  Making quick progress is effortless, and as we reach the highest point there is white stuff at the side of the road.

The reason for coming up here is to visit the remote village of Goathland.  Better known as Aidensfield in the TV series Heartbeat.  It's a coat colder up here, and after wrapping up we leave the comfort of the car to explore.  It's like walking onto a film set. There is an old Ford Anglia police car parked outside the village stores.  They are cashing in on the TV connection up here, with the stores retaining the 'Aidensfield' name on a full time basis.

Everything on the shelves seems to be endorsed by Claude Greengrass, and we splash out a whole 25p for a leaflet map of the village telling us where the film locations are.  Next stop is Scripps Garage before diving into the Aidensfield Arms for a rather expensive pint of dishwater masquerading as a pint of bitter. I am a little dissappointed that Gina was not behind the bar to pull the pint too!

Just down the hill from there is the village railway station.  This is doubly famous and not only features in Heartbeat, but was also the location for Hogwarts Station in the Harry Potter movies.

After a while soaking up the atmosphere we head back to warmth and comfort of the X Trail to make tracks.  We pass by the police house and village hall before rounding the corner and going down the track to take a crafty look at Claude Grengrass' farm.  It really is that scruffy in real life!

The road takes us to Whitby where we drive along the cliff road with views of the abbey before dropping down into the town and harbour.  There are chip shops every three paces here and we are starving.  Herself however has us on a diet so they are out of bounds.  We spot a Co-op and park up to dash inside.  The car park to the front is pay and display.  The people behind me nearly have to dial 999 as I realise it's £2 to park for an hour.  Now I know Dick Turpin is from these parts, but really?  He was hanged in 1739 for taking less liberties that Whitby Town Council.

We pick up some reduced (to make up for the parking fee) sandwiches for our very late lunch and park up (without paying) on the harbour side.  Time is getting on and the light is fading fast, and I don't really fancy traversing the moor in total darkness in the rapidly dropping temperatures.

On the way back to site we detour into the centre of York for a nose.  The traffic on a Sunday tea time is horrendous and our minds are made up that we will make use of the park and ride to go into the city centre tomorrow.

Back at the van herself prepares a chicken and bacon melt for tea which is washed down with a few cans of Boddington's finest.

Monday 3 December

It hammered down overnight and but has stopped by the time we peeled ourselves off the sheets at 8.30am.  We open the blinds to find the site shrouded in fog.  By the time we've got ourselves together the winter sun is doing it's best to burn it off.

I did something today that I've not done in 20 years.  I caught a bus.  Once I'd got over the initial shock of sharing a mode of transport with the masses, it was nice for someone else to carve their way through the traffic into the city, and at only £2.50 each with free parking thrown in, I am now a fan of Park and Ride.

The bus dropped us off close to The Shambles, the historic York Street.  We walked its length taking in the atmosphere and browsing as we made our way to take a quick look at the Minster.  What a building!!



There was no avoiding it any longer and I'm obliged to accompany herself around the shops.  We pass a chocolate shop that has a 3ft chocolate Santa on sale for the bargain price of £200.

Herself has had enough of window shopping and I get dragged into a Superdry shop.  It immediately becomes obvious to me why herself does not let me come when she goes clothes shopping for the boys back home.  My asking the till assistant if they keep a Defibrillator on the premises earns me a dig in the ribs from herself.  We go in and out of a few more shops, and I'm starting to cry inside as I keep a mental running total.

Herself can sense I about to tip over the edge, so reluctantly agrees to visit the National Rail Museum. It's free to get in, so I'm won over already, but herself get conned into buying a guidebook from the anorak on the entrance.

We have a nice lunch in the restaurant which is sited on the platform between the Royal Train and the 3rd class carriages.  We note that even the 3rd class carriages are in better nick than current rolling stock!


We're not really train buffs, so after lunch the place holds our interest for all of 30 mins before we move on.  Not far away we'd walked past the York Wheel.  I'd done a crafty Google over lunch, and the cost was not too much.  Herself is not too keen but I drag her along.  We get into our perspex capsule and herself seems to have lost all of her colour.

I always liked to think of myself as an attentive husband, but in 20 years of marriage, I had not realised that herself was scared of heights.  We'd done the London Eye with the kids, buy as I've now been told, she did that for the kids.  Thinking back now, she's never really gone near the parapet in castles and on the London Eye she sat in the centre of the pod.

As we start to move and climb herself closes her eyes shut tight and will only open them as we start to descend.  As we approach the bottom she lets out a huge sigh of relief and prepares to disembark.  Only we don't stop, and go round again ........ and again ........... and again ............ and again.  She is now in bits, and things are not made any better when we stop at the top for what seems like a decade.

When we eventually get off it's safe to say I'm not winning any popularity contests!!!

We catch the Park and Ride back to the car and tour the numerous out of town shopping areas that York has to offer, before having an evening meal out and then returning to the comfort of the van for the night.