Sunday, 29 December 2013

Erich and her Spanner in the Works

We'd had this trip planned for a little while, though the finer details have changed quite a bit.  The plan was to tow up to London, stop 2 nights and take in a West End musical.  The club's Crystal Palace site was full so we'd reserved a pitch at Wyatt's Covert just outside Greater London. I'd kept an eye on the CC website every day, and my perseverance paid off when on the 20th a pitch became free at Crystal a Palace for our stay.

In the run up to Xmas the UK took a battering from the storms. I was sat in Miranda at a Half Way lights on Xmas Eve and she was being rocked by the winds. @DerekTheWeather has promised that it will   be like this on Boxing Night and on 27th.  Not exactly ideal towing weather.

Friday 27 December

I wake and peak out of the blinds. It had been a rough night and the street is. Strewn with blue recycling bags.  We get ourselves together and are on the road by 10 am, weaving in and out of the debris as we make our way through the village towards J48.

We accelerate up the slip road and are slammed sideways by a gust as we cross the estuary, and that little episode set the tone for the 200 mile journey.  The elevated section of the M4 through Port Talbot was down to a 30 mph limit as was the Kenfig section, but herself remarked on how well Miranda was coping with the tow in the horrendous driving conditions. I told herself to turn round and take a good look, which she did before asking "Where is the bloody caravan?"

I'd chickened out of the tow on Xmas Eve when I'd checked the forecast and seen that Erich was lurking off the west coast of Spud Chucking Land, and was coming our way. So with a Travelodge booked in the City we pressed on. The Severn crossing was lively and the rain by Bath slowed the traffic to a near standstill. Once we hit the Shires the weather opened up and we were accompanied by bright sunshine for most of the remainder of our journey.

The winds were still gusting strongly though, and we had a few heart in the mouth moments. The best of which was when a Megabus went sideways over 2 lanes just 100 yards in front of us.

As we passed Windsor jets filled the sky and a glance to the right confirmed that she was in residence with the flag being flown at full mast. I'm talking about 'Our Kathy' here mind and not HRH!

I always get a buzz driving into the capital as the M4 winds its way through Greater London, elevated through Chiswick carrying traffic three floors up, and then on to the Hammersmith Flyover and passed B&M Bargains in Knightsbridge (sorry .... Harrods).

This is where our journey through the capital got a bit more interesting.  TomTom decides it can't find any satellites and I'm on my own to find my way to the NCP car park in London's city district.  Our route takes us along side Hyde Park, through the road tunnel to Piccadilly and onto Piccadilly Circus, past Trafalgar Square and The Barbican before the car park looms into view.

Chalkie comes out of his booth and while he's asking us how long we want to park for, his head is in herself's window casing the car for valuables.

He tells us to reverse Miranda into the lift and press the button the the fourth level.  I say "say what?" And he repeats the instructions like as if it's a normal thing to do.  I reverse into the lift, and up we go, grinning at each other like Cheshire cats!

When parked up, everything is cwtched away out of sight before we take the same lift back down and start off on the 1/2 mile walk to the hotel ....... In the wrong direction!  Just 1 1/2 miles later we arrive and check in fast track on the machines in reception before heading to our room which has a view over City Road. Travelodges have come a long way, this one just having had a makeover, and is very comfortable indeed.

No point wasting any time in the room, so after a quick cuppa we're straight out to take in some of the capital.  Travel in London gets expensive for us.  Herself refuses point blank to travel on the underground and I can't work out the bus routes and timetables, so anything further than a walk involves us entrusting our future financial viability in the hands of a London Taxi driver!

A reasonably short, but quite expensive can ride later sees us hopping out somewhere between The Barbican and Covent Garden.  We stroll along taking in the sights, until Covent Garden comes into view, actually we could hear it before we could see it.  We spent some time browsing the market and watching street entertainers before moving on to try and find somewhere to eat.

You'd think that wouldn't be too difficult, wouldn't you?  But herself had been suffering from a stomach bug, and when herself suffers, I suffer!  Time is now getting on and we walked the streets of Covent Garden, on up to Leicester Square, on through China Town, along Shaftsbury Avenue and up into Soho, until Herself eventually found somewhere that was suitable for us to dine.

The place's web site proudly proclaims.......

Bill’s Soho restaurant has become a very popular destination in the heart of this hip area of London. Parquet floors, leather club chairs, chandeliers, vintage mirrors, and plenty of other signature Bill’s features, give it a real sparkle.

In fact, Bills did not disappoint.  The food was lovely, the ambiance was spot on, and the waitresses were very attentive.  Any thought that Herself had of leaving a tip were soon dispensed with as I checked the bill which included a 12.5% service charge!

We settled up and made our way down through Soho back towards Leicester Square.  I try my best to persuade Herself to let us take in one of the neon lit establishments, but she was having none of it.  I cannot think why!

Back in the square we take a seat by the winter fair and spend some time people watching as the thousands pass by on their way to take in a film or a show, go for a meal or find themselves a prostitute!

It's been a lovely evening walking hand in hand with herself through the West end, but we're quite tired now after the journey and the expedition to find a suitable restaurant, so take another expensive cab back to the hotel.  Once in the room we settle down, open a few bottles of wine and relax on the  very comfortable bed.

It strikes us how lucky we've been with our room allocation and don't bother to close one set of the curtains.  From our bed we can look straight onto City Road with all it's hustle and bustle!

Saturday 28 December

We had planned to get up nice and early today, but did not wake until gone 9.30am.  It was 11am before we were out on the street and flagging a cab down for another expensive ride west.  About £16 later we pull up on The Mall just a few hundred yards from The Palace.  Our driver this time hails from Garnant, a shit hole around 10 miles from where we live.  I'd always thought that Amman Valley people were robbing barstewards!

My heart sinks further as we look to The Palace and it's jam packed, we cannot get near it but crowds seem to be congregating around the Victoria Memorial and on either side as the road forks to both Constitution Hill and Birdcage Walk.

We had wanted to see changing of the guard ceremony, but our lie in ensured we did not.  We settled in against the barriers and battled to keep our place.  And some battle that was.  Some bloke had the nerve to ask me if he could come to the front with his child! I allowed his kid to stand in front of me but he was told to sling his hook!

We saw enough as it happened.  The guards and the band marched straight past us on their way to and from The Palace and it was quite special to be that close to it.

We then walked down through St James' park, stopping briefly for a coffee where the wild life was rather brave, one squirrel being confident enough to climb onto out picnic bench and onto Herself's lap looking for goodies.  We strolled through the park down to Horse guards Parade where a lone armed rozzer stood guard over the back of Downing Street.

Through the arches we continued into the throngs of Japanese tourists trying to get a photo taken with the guards and the horses.  I willed one of the guards to take action as an over exuberant tourist disrespectfully pretended to punch the guard in a photo opportunity.  Don't think he'd look quite so brave impaled on the end of a bayonet!

Turning right we made our way past The War Rooms on Whitehall towards the front of Downing Street where the Met's finest has screamed to a halt where a BMW was stranded having broken down - they get a bit twitchy about stationary cars in these parts.

The front of Downing St is guarded a little better than the back, and if I were minded to launch an attack it would be over the wall and through the back door.

We round the corner in the shadows of Big Ben and it's rammed solid outside Westminster Abbey.  Time is now getting on.  we've not eaten yet today and our show tickets are for 3pm.  We flag down a cab for a ride back up to the West End and get dropped off at Leicester Square.  Herself is feeling better today and thankfully does not take long to find somewhere suitable for lunch.

Before too long we are sat at a table in the snug Il Padrino Italian restaurant just off the square.  Trip adviser does not rate this place, but I have to say that both our meals were very tasty, served hot and the table service was very attentive again.  But again a 12.5% service charge was added to the bill so the money left in the dish allowed for no change.

With full bellies we set off up Charring Cross Rd to the Theatre.  With a bit of time to spare before doors opened we had another drink, this time in the Back Stage bar over the road.  Actually when I say in I actually mean outside on the benches.  We were not alone, although we were the only non smokers!  After some time people watching we finished our drinks and headed for the Theatre.

I am a cheapskate so our seats were some way up.  By the time we've climbed the stairs to The Grand Circle I am a gasping and sweating mess in my coat, though not quite as bad as some poor unfortunate who was sat down on the stairs with a lot of worried looking staff running around clutching glasses of water for her!

I nearly need CPR as herself announces she wants glass of wine to take into the auditorium.  Bloody £8.80 they want and I tell herself she'd better make it last.

As I said, I'm a cheapskate, I know this, but if you are selling tickets with a 'slightly restricted view' you need to define the term slightly.  We take our seats and herself scowls as she turns to me and says "Where's the bloody stage?"  I don't say anything, as now would be a bad time to anything at all and pretend to read the programme.

A rough estimate of mine establishes we can see about 60% of the stage front - but how deep is the stage?  Just as the show is about to start the 3 pints I've thrown down my neck in the last hour and a half are having a nasty affect on me and my bladder is screaming.  I climb the steps to the back of the auditorium to use the bogs trying hard not to blast the glaze off the porcelain.  As I came back through the curtain it strikes me how much better the view is from up here on the walk way.  Do I stay here to view and pretend to herself that I've had bad guts?  No, I sheepishly take my seat next to my beloved in our shielded seats, taking dirty looks and digs in the ribs in my stride.

Herself is getting i bit pissed off with the lady next to her (who also does not have a great view - although better than ours) who keeps asking Herself if Robbie Coltrane is starring in the show and keeps complaining that she can't follow it because  of the Oirish accents and is also deeply offended by the swearing.

Things are not going too good!

It's a good job we've both seen the film a few times and were able to follow the plot!  The interval arrives and herself announces she wants another wine. I start to protest but to no avail.  It is pointed out that I can spend the money I saved by purchasing shit tickets for the show. I know she's right and toddle off with my tail between my legs.

Curtains up for part 2.

I've got a bit of a cough at the moment and have consumed a packet of Lockets and a few pints of water to try and keep it at bay.  I restrict the coughing fits to when there are loud musical sections of the show and during the narrative parts I make for the bogs to open the release valve to off loaf some of the previously consumed fluids, pausing to take in some of the show before returning to our seats

The show is very good actually -even with our restricted view- and the finale has the audience on their feet and dancing in the aisles!

Once outside we fought our way through the packed streets and flagged a cab down for another rather expensive ride back to the Hotel where the intention was to relax for a few hours before going back out.
It really was a struggle as we'd both been drinking on and off since 1pm, but if we didn't make a move we would have fallen asleep by 8pm and gone nowhere!

The area we are staying in is in the middle of London's financial district, and outside of Monday to Friday it is really quite quiet.  Most of the bars locally are shut until the NewYear and those that are open are struggling for custom.  Having spent enough these last few days on taxi rides I had no intention of throwing another £35 in their direction so conducted a bit of internet research for somewhere to go within walking distance.

Showered and changed we left the Hotel and turned right up City Road towards Moorgate Tube Station.  We crossed the busy road and herself starts to make remarks about how she's not too impressed with the area we are walking through.  I assumed she was talking about the few shabby looking shops that were open!

After a short walk we find the place I am looking for.  Herself is not quite convinced but I want to give it a go.

We take the stairs down into the below ground Bavarian Beerhouse.  We take our seats after being ordered by the rather hard looking black bouncer to WAIT HERE, and order some beers.  I am asked if I want a stein or a pint.  I scowl at the waiter and he says "A stein it is then!"

It's very noisy.  There's a stag do on the next bench, and while the city slickers are not doing much drinking they are doing a lot of clashing of glasses and shouting.  Lightweights probably only had about 1 1/2 steins each!!!

We order our traditional Bavarian dishes.  Herself has a pork scallop in some sort of mushroom sauce and I go for the spicy sausage medley with mash and sour kraut.  Very nice it was too.  We could so easily have stayed for longer, but with the beers at £10 a throw that was never going to happen because I can pot a few and it wouldn't have stopped at 2 or 3 or 4 steins! The 12.5% service charge ensures that we pay the bill with the exact amount of cash before leaving.

We climb the stairs back to street level and turn right for the 1/2 mile walk back to the hotel.  Herself starts again to tut and moan about the area that we are walking through.  I start to take a bit more notice of my surroundings and notice quite a few young ladies of eastern European origin wearing short skirts and rather a lot of makeup.

We retreat to our room where we have a bottle of wine and some cans of beer chilling nicely between the panes of double glazing.  With London buses passing our window at around every 30 seconds the time flies as I people watch on the street below before we both turn in absolutely knackered just after mid night.

Sunday 29 December

We both wake early this morning and are up, packed, dressed and checked out of the Hotel by 9.30am.  We now know our way round a bit so the walk to the car park was somewhat shorter than when we arrived on Friday.  Chalkie was there waiting for us, all teeth, and took £36 off my card before allowing us to be reunited with Miranda.

Thankfully we step out of the lift to see her still where we parked her with her side not stoved in and all her windows un smashed!

I had planned to take a different route out of London, but any thoughts of driving out past Buckingham palace and up Constitution Hill were swiftly kicked into touch as we emerged from Admiralty Arch to see that The Mall was closed off to traffic from Horseguards Rd on wards.  A swift U turn was required and we then retraced our steps from Friday in reverse to find Piccadilly, Knightbridge and The Great west road towards the promised land!

Traffic was quite heavy for the length of the M4 but we kept moving all the time.  I must say though that Miranda has impressed me this trip.  We've not done a long motorway journey in her solo yet.  All other long journeys have been done with the caravan hitched to the back.  When towing we only get 24 mpg and running around locally struggle to get 27 mpg.

This trip, we travelled to London and back on 3/4 of a tank at a steady 70 mph to 80 mph.  For the trip (440 miles) she has returned a very healthy 36 mpg.  That's not bad going for a beast that weight close on 2 tonne that has a 2.7 litre engine and is in full time 4wd!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Towing in High Winds

With the high winds and heavy rain we are currently experiencing, my arse is twitching a bit about towing to London at the end of the week for a short break between Christmas and the New Year.  I don't know why because I tow with a big heavy 4x4 and the van is fitted with ATC.

Anyway, the pitch is booked at The Caravan Club site in Crystal Palace and we have tickets to see The Commitments at The Palace Theatre on Shaftsbury Ave (Hopefully their ceiling will be fully intact).

This got my memory racing back to the very first time we towed up and into London just after Christmas 2006.  Again we had a pitch booked at Crystal Palace (where else can a family of 4 sleep in London for £20 per night?) and show tickets in my back pocket (We Will Rock You), and again we were promised horrendous storms.

Sat in the house on the evening on December 29th 2005 we watched the weather forecast anxiously.  herself and I had a little look at each other when @DerekTheWeather cheerfully announced what was coming in off the Atlantic towards us (it was due to hit us at around 11pm and stay for 2 days).

It was decision time.  Do we call the whole thing off?  Or do we leave now instead of the morning and try and outrun the storm?

Show tickets were bought and paid for, so we quickly phoned everyone we needed to to let them know what our plans were, hitched up and hit the road in under 20 mins.  @DerekTheWeather was a little out on his time keeping; as we climber the slip road at J48 we were launched sideways as we crossed the Loughor.  Luckily no one else was silly enough to be on the road!

The winds eased a little as the M4 moved inland, but crossing the Seven Bridge was interesting to say the least.  We managed to outrun the storm, and on my chin straps I informed herself that we would pull into Heston services in Greater London to get some kip at around 2am.

The storm caught us up and the van rocked like an orgy was taking place inside for the rest of the night!

As regular readers will know, I am hearing impaired.  Sometimes my lugholes play tricks on me because of the frequencies that I have lost.  I woke to the sound of wind howling outside (we'd not bothered to open up the black out blinds) and informed herself I was going outside to wind up the legs ready for the off.

I put on my coat, zipped it right up, and gingerly went to open the door.  Frightened that the wind may blow it off its hinges (taking my fingernails with it) I opened it carefully inch by inch.  The air outside was still, the sun was shining, but I could still hear the howling wind!

I looked up to see a 747 on its final approach to Heathrow!!!  We'd only parked up for the night under a bloody flight path!!

Towing into Central London is an interesting experience.  You get lots of stares because folks don't see that many caravans on the road, and traffic can be both busy and aggressive.  I always get myself in the right frame of mind, and by the time I get to Earls Court other road users are mounting pavements to get out of my way as I AM COMING THROUGH.

Taxi drivers in London are full of bluff, and when it comes down to it they will always give way (time off the road after a collision is lost money), and I work on the principle that if a bus can go down the road so can I.  I actually get a buzz from it, but herself's fingernails seem to be permanently embedded in the dash as we make out way through Tooting and Clapham towards Crystal Palace.

We like breaks in London over Christmas, it's an excuse to get out and about, and to give the Quality Street a rest.  We repeated it in 2007 (Avenue Q) and again in 2009 (without the van - Travelodge 1 night - Dreamboats and Pettycoats) and again in 2011 (without the van - Travelodge 1 night - Rock of ages).

Herself and I are stopping in 'The Smoke' for two night, and I had considered looking for a budget hotel, but this year the cost is coming out at anywhere from £180 upwards against a pitch cost of £26 per night.  It's a no brainer really.  The extra fuel will be covered by saving £50 on 48hrs parking and the rest will go in beer tokens!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Blowing our loads at Cheshire Oaks

We had promised Nanna Creaky (NCr) that if she could keep herself out of hospital we would take her on a shopping trip for a few days in the run up to Christmas. With her having kept her side of the bargain we were all set to go.

Sunday 1 December

On one of those cold damp December type mornings we were loaded up, up the hill to collect Nanna Coupons (NC), back down the hill to stop off for Grandpa Grumbles (GG) and Nanna Creaky, before setting off on our way to Chester for a few days. There had been some debate before hand about the route, as GG likes to do motorways if he is going anywhere.

The direct route up through mid Wales is 148 miles while the rather round about way of getting there via the motorway network is a full 100 miles longer.  In the end common sense prevailed and we took the shorter, and much more scenic route through the open Welsh Countryside.

We’re just over 1 hour into the journey when NCr rings, claiming her back is in bits and she needs to stop.  We’re only just a third of the way!!!!

We pull into Builth Wells and stop in a pub for some drinks and sandwiches and she seems fine.  I’m convinced she was just bored and wanted a chat (and a coffee).

Caffeine levels topped up we hit the road northwards before we were forced to stop for another coffee some 35 miles from our destination, where the locals are still enjoying their Sunday Lunch.  With the light fading we arrived in Chester but managed to locate our apartment with ease. Chester Apartments

Although at ground floor level it is far from accessible.  Steps up to the front door have risers of at least 300mm which require some getting up. NCr has an arm thrust under each arm pit and is lifted, while NC (who has got very little legs) climbs them in a fashion akin to something like you see a toddler climbing onto a couch.

Inside the sets of fire doors require forearms like Popeye to open and there’s a further set of steps to accommodate a change in level in the open plan living area.

My heart sinks as I take a look at the steps down into the basement area where Herself’s and my bedroom is located.  The flight is only 450mm wide with the handrail protruding 100mm into that.  Going up and down that is going to take some effort.

Settled in we set off for Chester Racecourse which promises a Winter Wonderland complete with food fair to browse.  We roll up and hand over our £2.50 to park (pricey I know) and head off for the illuminated extravaganza.

We got no further than the goons guarding the entrance.  On top of the £2.50 to park they now want a further £5 per person just to go in and walk around.  We refuse as we can see most of the stalls packing up for the night anyway and trudge back to the car.  NC is now seething and I have to physically drag her away from abusing the old git on the gate who took our parking fee earlier.

From there we make tracks to the local Toby Carvery, where we are told it’s ½ hour wait and are given this plastic thing that were are told will vibrate when there is a table free.

We’re in the holding pen as everyone sits gazing at their own plastic things, seemingly checking them every two seconds in case they have turned themselves off. When it’s your turn you are left in no doubt.  The thing shakes like a pneumatic drill and lights up like a Christmas tree!  The family next to us hold theirs high, grinning as those of us less fortunate look on as they skip towards the dining area.

The meal was lovely and service was superb.  I am now a fan of Toby Carvery.

Monday 2 December

We’re all up, breakfasted and out of the door by 10am.  It’s cold and damp, but not raining.

One destination today, and that is the Cheshire Oaks shopping outlet.  It’s massive.  No really, it is massive.  Is you want a brand they have a shop here.  We spend a full day traipsing the shops.  Well they all did.  I don’t do shopping so was limited to standing outside shops waiting for them to emerge, gathering up all the bags (making occasional trips back to the car to unload) and moving onto the next shop to repeat, and repeat and repeat.

We break briefly half way round for an overpriced coffee served by overly attentive staff in the overly ponsy establishment that is Café Rouge.

All shopped out, and at least £1k poorer (between us) we seek sanctuary in the local Hungry Horse (yes things were that bad) for some food and drinks before moving on.

At around 5.30pm we are parking up in Chester city centre to take a look around the Christmas Market that they hold in the Town Hall Square.  We’d seen it last night from the car but it was closed up.  Quite frankly there was more atmosphere last night, as tonight we appear to be the only customers.  It takes us less than ½ hour to walk around, but the bloke who is selling scented oils thinks all his birthdays have come at once.

By 6.30pm everyone is knackered so it’s back to the apartment to settle in for the night.

Tuesday 3 December

We did very well this morning.  We were up, dressed, breakfasted and out of the apartment by 9am.

Back up to Cheshire Oaks we trudged, but NCr had a spring in her step (well, more air in her tyres) as we were heading to the mahoosive M&S superstore there.  The olds were suitably impressed –herself and I less so.

After ensuring they were OK and could get up to little mischief, we left them to it and popped over to Superdry so that herself could blow some serious dosh on Ronnie and Roids.

We collected the olds from M&S and started to make tracks back down south.

After an hour on the road it was time for a break.  The old station at Welshpool has been converted into a retail outlet and as we pull up GG has a go at me because NCr is spending far too much money.  An hour flies by and it’s 1pm (dinner time).  Herself doesn’t fancy the onsite restaurant, though I quite fancy the minted lamb they have on the menu.

Herself also declared that she’d like to get some miles under our belt before stopping for food.  I’m thinking, firstly, it’s dinner time now, and secondly, we’re driving through mid Wales where there are miles and miles of sheep (and eff all else), so the prospects of finding somewhere else –that serves food- on the way are grim.

Never the less we hit the road south.  Grumbling stomachs are now louder than the car stereo and  herself starts to look out for open pubs.  40 bastarding miles we drove, stopping briefly outside many closed pubs and restaurants before we happened across The Drovers Rest in Llanwrtyd Wells.

They had stopped serving lunch by the time we poured through the door at 3.30pm. but their Michelin star rated chef who has an MBE after his name and photos of him in his gear cooking for the queen all over the place was only happy to accommodate us.

Maybe it was our tale of driving all the way from Welshpool trying to find somewhere to eat and sad faces that swung it?  What a welcome, and ham sandwiches and chips have never tasted so good.

Back home by 5.30pm and the gifts are stashed away, herself has the washing on and the dogs are pouting and ignoring us.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Serendipity in The Mendips

That's a big word in the title innit.  All will become clear now in a minute mun.

This October break has been a long time in the planning.  Well 12 hours to be precise. Plan A was to make our way to Cirencester in the Cotswolds for the week and the site was all booked up, the caravan loaded and sat on the drive ready for the off.

By some fluke I came across a forum thread on tinternet that had me cancelling our plans quicker than Kevin Webster when the rozzers rolled into Coronation Street.  Turns out there is to be a Horse Fair in Stow on the Wold this Thursday that is attended by thousands and thousands of Pikeys.  That means that the Cotswold's will be crawling with our travelling friends all this week in the lead up to the fair, and I quite like my caravan and all the equipment I have invested in where they are thank you.  In my ownership and not being sold of for the price of a few pints in a Cotswolds pub.

I know I will incur the wroth of the Caravan Club for cancelling within the golden 72 hours, but to be quite frank, eff them.

The Cirencester booking was cancelled and a pitch reserved at the club's Cheddar site in the time it took herself to put on her make up in readiness for us to go out for the night.

Sunday 20 October

No early set off today as herself was working.  With a fuzzy head I dropped her off at work at 7am and returned home to fester on the settee until it was late enough to start making a noise.

Sundays are never the best day to try and get our van out from its hidey hole because all the neighbours kids and their off spring seem to turn up for Sunday dinner, meaning parking space out on the road is at a premium.

Anyhows, by 2.30pm I've collected herself from work, got the van out onto the road, hitched up, got the dogs into the boot and we're rolling towards J48 in broken sunshine and high winds.

Quite how high those winds were took me by surprise as I came off the slip road and joined the motorway elevated above the Loughor estuary below. An emergency lane change manoeuvre that Practical Caravan's towcar testers would be proud of ensured we remained intact as we made slow progress eastwards with my 'Nip It' muscle making buttons.

By the time I had passed the exposed section at Ynysforgan J45 and crossed the elevated section at Briton Ferry I was a little concerned (Bricking it).  The van was a little twitchy and Miranda was not her usual composed self.

Then my sub conscious slapped me across the face shouting "You Effing Twat" at the same time.

I'd not finished loading the van properly before leaving, and the awning, chairs and ground sheet were still on the bed (behind the axle) which is not good.  Before losing  my dignity altogether we exited the M4 at Margam for me to adjust the nose weight and held our breath as we rejoined the M4 and crossed the Kenfig Viaduct in a howling gale.

All was now well again and Miranda had regained her composure, we gained speed and settled down to enjoy the journey.  At one time I did consider stopping again to check if the kids had taped a sign to the back of the van saying "All Truckers are Wankers" because not once during the journey did a single miserable Sunday driving trucker flash me back in after overtaking them.

At a little after 4.30 pm we were checking into the Caravan Club site at Cheddar where the wardens appear to have had a charisma bypass!!

Never the less, check in was efficient (mostly due to the fact that the personality disadvantaged pair would not engage in any small talk, and exchanging pleasantries was out of the question).

Why do such miserable bastards ever take up a position where they have to deal with  Joe Public?

We were set up by 5.30pm and starving.  Herself was too tired to cook the indigents I had thoughtfully gone out to buy earlier so we headed off out in search of a takeaway.  A short trip to Cheddar village and the Gorge has us spoilt for choice ......... NOT.  The only thing open was the scabbiest looking Chinese I have ever come across.  The window proudly displays a 4 star rating for hygiene.  I can only assume that money changed hands during the inspection process.

Living life on the edge, we ordered our meal and headed straight back to the van, where I will admit, the meal outshone the establishment that it came from, though not quite in the same league as Mr Peter.

Herself cracked open the very special and very expensive sparkling wine that she purchased in Cornwall, and once that was polished off we hit the sack very early and were out cold by 10pm.

Monday 21 October

We did not stir all night, and were awoken at 9.30am by the sun streaming through the blinds and the van heating up like an oven.  No scratch that, this is October.  We were woken by the rain hammering down on the roof.

Today is the 47th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster, and I suppose it's rather fitting that as I open the blinds I am greeted by a site shrouded in low cloud with the heavens emptying at an alarming rate.

The dogs now have their legs crossed and their eyes are watering, so arses have to be put into gear pronto. There is no dog walk on the site so to allow the dogs a little freedom it seemed easier to take them somewhere else in the car so they can have a run.

I head towards Cheddar Reservoir, only my satnav took me on a 4x4 expedition that would not have been out of place in Zimbabwe (in the wet season).  Miranda is in a sorry state as I take a look at Google earth, re trace my (very deep) tracks and eventually find the public car park, having passed through the very interesting medieval square in Axebridge where pedestrians were diving for cover as Miranda's wheels threw off globules of thick red mud at an alarming rate..

Dog friendly this place is not, and I am greeted by signs telling me that dogs to be kept on a lead, dogs not allowed in the water blah blah blah.  The weather is foul and there is not a soul about, so I wing it and pretend I am illiterate.

Due to my 4x4 diversion I had been some time and herself was getting a trifle concerned (I massage my ego pretending the concern is for me and not the dogs) and was about to send out a search party.  Never the less, I unzip the awning flap and am greeted to the smell of cooked bacon.  She has obviously learnt from her mistakes down in St Davids earlier in the year.

The van is spic and span, and we breakfast on bacon and egg rolls washed down with a few mugs of steaming tea.

The weather forecast for today is pants, and I mean proper pants.  No point sitting it out hoping for it to brighten up because @DerekTheWeather's West Country Yokel equivalent says it's not going to.

First destination for the day is England's smallest city, Wells. My first impression is that they can stop bragging about that one for a start.  If they want small cities they need to head west and take a looky at St Davids in West Wales.  Small my arse!! It has a shopping centre bigger than Llanelli - and none of the shops are boarded up.

We walk around browsing for an hour or so, and herself is rather taken with all the independent jewellers in the town.  I am thankful that I'd had a tight attack in the car park and only coughed for an hour's time, so a tactical retreat was necessary to avoid a parking fine.

Second destination is Glastonbury.  Today Glastonbury will not benefit from our custom, it was rammed full of witches and hippies and other assorted weirdos (and it was also devoid of any parking space).  It looks interesting so we will attempt another visit later this week.

Next stop is the Clarkes' shopping outlet at Street.  We spend some time shopping for Roids, failing to buy anything for Ronnie (he's rather fussy), getting me some new shoes for work and a set of reduced steak knives.

The visit is rounded off by a sit down in Prezza Manga for a rather expensive (but nice) sandwich and drink before making our way back towards Cheddar.

During the journey we stop at a roadside farm shop and invest in some strawberries, plums, apples and an onion before returning to the car and a screaming smart phone.

I have numerous missed calls and a text asking me to ring as a matter of urgency from Omar Sherif in work. A few lengthy phone calls later results in a premature return to the van so that I can send a rather wordy e mail of explanation to the Ayatollah.  The brown solids are hitting the fan big time in work due to what Cameron fondly refers to as austerity.

I get into JFO mode and dinner is a splendid effort of carrot and coriander soup followed by Cumberland sausages in onion gravy with a desert of fresh strawberries.

Not only did I cook tonight but I aslo cleared up too. Herself had just done her nails and couldn't possibly put her hands in dishwater.  I didn't grumble at all.  Honest now, I didn't.

After tea has settled we decided on going out for a spin to Weston Super Mud.  I am of the firm opinion that night time is the best time to visit as you can't see the beach.  I was harassed by NEDS all the time we were there.  This place appears to be NED central, but to be fair to them, while many of the Saxos had just been lowered and decorated with under slung sets of fairy lights, there were one or two that were making the right noises that suggested some serious money had been spent under the bonnet.

At this time of year the promenade is closed off to traffic, so I ignored a no left turn sign and drove up a no entry, did a nifty three point turn and reversed up to the barrier (while herself dived for cover in the passenger well of the car out of shame).  We walked the dogs along the prom in the wind and rain (well I did while herself did the sensible thing and stopped in the car playing on my smart phone) and the dogs jumped the wall down onto the beach running along the sands in the inky darkness that you get this time of the year.

Weston and its pier looked nice all lit up in the darkness, but due to the filthy night it was devoid of people (not even any smack heads in the shelters).

Returning back to site we settled in the finish off our wine and beer supplies before hitting the sack at about 11pm with the rain hammering on the roof.

Tuesday 22 October

It was still grey outside and raining lightly by the time I motivated myself to get out of bed at 8.45.  After yesterday's events I thought it better to avoid the reservoir and headed up into the Gorge this morning to walk the dogs below the cliffs.

On my way back to site I thoughtfully stopped off at Tesco express to pick up the ingredients for a Full English.  Thrusting the carrier bag into Herself's eager hands I settled down with my iPad and a mug of tea while herself went about cooking the ingredients I had so thoughtfully picked up for her.

@DerekTheWeather's gap toothed west country cousin has promised it will clear up around midday, so the rest of the morning was spent doing not at all much really except nagging Herself to make me another cup of tea..

We motivate ourselves enough to head off out for the day. A quick looky at the map and my eye catches a rather attractive looking place called Castle Cary which is only a short distance away.  In my mind I have it as a Medieval village dominated by a castle up above.  Castle Cary took some finding.  Road closures and diversions aplenty in the Mendips ensured that Miranda had more than one opportunity to get up to her axles in mud again!

I must admit that at one point the air inside was a little blue as we hit dead end after dead end.  With Miranda spraying red mud from her wheels at pedestrians we rolled into Castle Carey and an atmosphere of dismay.  Herself took an instant dislike to the place so we did not stop.

I look at the map and point Miranda's nose towards Yeovil.  My only prior knowledge of the place is that Ian Botham played football for them in the dim and distant past.  We park up in Tesco car park (free for 2 1/2 hours) and lead the dogs to walk around the town.

We notice that a lot of people are staring at us with the dogs in the shithole that purpotes itself to be the high street but do our best to ignore them.  I'm half hoping that Tali curls one down on the high street to give them something to moan about.  With the dogs safely back in the boot we go into Tesco to get some provisions before hitting the road again to find somewhere for a late picnic lunch.

National Trust properties are always a winner for picnics and we followed the brown signs to Lytes Cary Manor where we parked up over looking a field and watched on as a bull mounted a heifer right in front of the car.

I have to admit the picnic was not a great success.  One of our flasks is knackered and had managed to radiate all of its heat into the surrounding ham sandwiches, semi toasting the bread in the process.  The crisps I had brought along were rank and the chocolate bars had also suffered at hands of the flask.

Still, Herself had a nice cup of Coffee that I went to fetch for her from the cafe round the corner.

Time to head back to site, firstly via the gorge to exercise the dogs and secondly to pick up some scrumpy to chill down in the fridge for tomorrow evening.

This is where today went somewhat tits up.  Getting back into Miranda in the car park herself managed to brush against the side of the car which was caked in semi dry mud and cow shit.  She said nothing,but she didn't need to either.  We toured the garages of Cheddar looking for a jet wash without success.  This is getting desperate because I know that any more episodes involving Herself and a dirty car will have severe consequences for me and my holiday conjugal event allowance.

Our crusade to find a car wash took us all the way back to Wells FFS mun.

And also @DerekTheWeather's gap toothed west country cousin is a lying git.  It never cleared up for the afternoon.

Back at the van, while I sorted out all the outside jobs, herself went about preparing a tremendous evening meal.

With everything cleared away we settled down enjoying the silence of the country night.  Well I enjoyed the silence (I am deaf) while Herself got more and more infuriated by the bell ringing session taking place in the adjacent church.

The skies appeared to have cleared by 9pm so I put on the Dogs LED blinkers, leaded them on their extended leads and went off out for a stroll.  The site was deathly quiet with all caravaners cwtched up behind closed curtains and blinds.  Many vans were without the flicker of a TV screen too, so early nights must have been called for.

I walked the site roads nosing at outfits while the dogs enjoyed the freedom of their 7m extending leads making the most of the opportunity to piss on people's alloy wheels as we went.  We did venture out into the lane outside, but as I had never been further along it and it was inky black without street lighting, I shit out and returned back to wander the site roads.

Shattered, we hit the sack quite late (for this site) at 11.30pm.

Wednesday 23 October

You'll have to say this out loud in a full on West Country fisherman's drawl to get the full effect.......

"I ain't never known a night like it ............... and I'm not looking forward to the journey home neither!!!!!!"

I am hard of hearing, and as a result practically nothing will disturb me at night once my head is buried among the pillows.  Well last night at 1.30am I was awoken by what I thought was a tree falling onto the van roof.  It was hammering down and continued to do so for some time.  These things always seem worse at night and a fellow Gwl@der "Ignorant" had thoughtfully reminded me earlier in the week of how Cheddar and its Gorge sometimes gets some interesting floods.

Mr Paranoia was now working overtime, stood over my shoulder screaming in my right lug hole to make himself heard over the din the rain.

Two scenarios were running through my head.  Firstly was a Tsunami making its way down the Gorge towards us, in which case there would be absolutely nothing I could do.  Or secondly, the River that runs next to the site breaking its banks.  As the rain continues to hammer down I am replaying "Hard Rain" in my head and am expecting Morgan Freeman to cruise up in his Avon inflatable at any time.

I spend the next hour or so irrationally peeking out of the blinds watching for rising water before Herself shouts at me to pack it in and go back to sleep.

At 8am I wake to a glimpse of sunlight through the blinds.  @DerekTheWeather's gap toothed west country cousin has promised better weather today so making the most of it is on the agenda.

Dressed in just shorts and a fleece, and daps on my feet I take the dogs out to explore the lane that i was too frightened to go down last night.  We make our way out.  The sun has gone in but it's not raining and I exchange pleasantries with other caravanners as they make their way to tip the skip in the facilities block.  We walk along the river, which seems to be pretty calm considering what God dumped on us last night, and spend some time looking into the private camp site on the other bank that has Gypsy Caravans and Pods to hire.

All caravanners have different ideas about what suits them.  Me? I like a bit of space and comfort while others are a little masochistic in their choice of accommodation.  There is a little Eriba  and an icckle Eldiss pitched a few spaces down from us, and to be honest with you I don't really know if I would enjoy going away in something this small.

The heavens opened and I got wet, very wet, so it would appear that @DerekTheWeather's gap toothed west country cousin is a lying git.

Back at the van Herself has taken charge of breakfast, which is not always good news.  The van strangely lacks the aroma of sizzling bacon and I am presented with a bowl of oats with toast and honey.  Better for me I know, but not quite the same appeal as bacon.

With the weather taking its time to brighten up I consult my smart phone and it tells me that the weather is better on the south coast.  I draw a line straight down on the map and the nearest place is Bridport.  We've never been so that'll do.  We've been thundering along the A road for at least 30 mins before the sun makes an appearance, and from then on, with sun glasses on we enjoy the spin through the countryside as we head for the sea.

We had a bit of a poignant moment as we drove through the Beaminster Tunnel which was the scene of a tragedy when in July 2012 a couple died after being buried alive in their car by a land slide on exiting the tunnel.

We arrived in Bridport and quickly realised that while being a very nice town, it was not a sea side town as we thought.  picking up some road signs we continued onto West Bay which is very much a sea side town and sits on the south coast between Lyme Regis and Chisel Beach.  Although very much out of season there are quite a few people about.  Park Dean have a site of statics here so that would account for the number of families making the most of the sun shine.

To make up for our rather paltry breakfast, after a walk around the inner harbour, Herself offers the chance of a bag of chips for lunch from one of the huts that line the pavements.

We find a quiet spot to eat lunch looking over the bridge to The Riverside Restaurant.  We look on enviously as the diners appear to be enjoying the warmth of the magnified sun through the extensive picture windows.  The same diners also seem to be making the most of the picture windows to take in the view of a fat Welshman huddled over a bag of chips while cutting up a Jumbo sausage to feed to the dogs!

The chips were rubbish by the way, but my crab cakes and Herself's fish were out of this world.

Energy levels replenished we make our way over to the beach. The waves are crashing in and as usual Cerys runs straight into the sea only to be engulfed by a massive roller.  Tali, also true to form, proceeds to curl down a two bagger.  I shouldn't really have found it funny, but I couldn't help being amused by the sight of herself desperately trying to avoid doing a Neil Kinnock in the crashing surf while cleaning up after the pooch.

I would have just left it there for the incoming tide to break up a few seconds later!

I have two old friends who live down these parts.  One a born and bred local (The Fireman) who will not hear a bad word about Dorset waxed lyrical about the TV programmes that had been filmed here (including Broadchurch & Reginald Perin), the other moved down to the area from South Wales describes the area as an absolute shithole on my facebook page.

Having spent the afternoon there I'm afraid to say that I'm inclined to agree with Abercynon on this one and am not surprised that Reggy boy took it upon himself to walk straight into the sea here.

Having said that after a very pleasant few hours it was time to retrace our tracks back North.

Back at the site the sun is still out, the condensation from inside the awning has dried up for the first time and everything looks so much better when it's not pissing down.

On our travels today we've passed through numerous villages, driven passed several Tescos and a few Morrisons.  Approaching tea time it dawns on us that we have no food in the fridge.  Doh!!

Herself is refreshed after a power nap and we go up to the village to get some provisions in for tomorrow morning and to find a takeaway for a curry.  With the food ordered from a very expensive looking restaurant we have 20 mins to kill so decide to take the dogs up the Gorge for a run.  We park up in the darkness, put on their LED blinkers and let them run free under the cliffs.

Peaceful though it is not.  The NEDS are hammering their Saxos up the road through the Gorge.  Quite how they manage to keep control of the cars on the bends and change gear with one hand while they wank furiously with the other (getting off on the sound of their baked bean tin exhausts echoing off the cliffs) is beyond me.

Herself gets spooked and is convinced she can see someone moving around on the cliffs high above us.  All manner of scenarios are played out before she hears some more movement to our left.  Tali shits himself as the wild herd of goats starts bleating at him and is back at the boot of the car post haste waiting for us to open the tailgate so he can growl at them from a safe distance.

We collected our meal and returned to the van where herself and I enjoyed a wonderfully romantic floodlit dinner.  Yes you read that right, floodlit!  The adjacent football club is playing a match against nearby Shepton Mallet this evening.  One of the lights points directly at the front windows of our van and when they turned on the floodlights the scene inside the van was not unlike the one in National Lampoons Christmas Vacation when Clarke turned on his lights blinding the young couple next door.

It's a local derby and there is quite a vocal crowd, so Herself tells me!

The meal was superb and I have enough left over to re heat for tea tomorrow night too.  The rest of the evening is spent trying to demolish 5 litres of Legbender Scrumpy.

Thursday 24 October

I slept on my own last night.  Having consumed rather a lot of scrumpy during the evening, I took the dogs out for a late evening piss (them and me) and I'm afraid to say that the cold fresh air hit me like a 40t truck.  With the football crowd next door still chanting I hit the sack and was out cold and dribbling in seconds.  Herself has informed me I was like a star fish stranded in a rock pool at low tide.

Anyway, for the first time this holiday we wake to clear skies and sunshine.  As I open the blinds I spy a hardcore caravanner returning to his pitch after a shower - bare chest, shorts and flip flops.  This guy is mental. It's October, and although it is sunny this morning the mercury has yet to creep passed 10 degrees (and he's done this every morning this week in the wind and rain)

I lead the dogs on their extenders and we set off to walk the lane that runs along side the river bank in the warm early morning sunshine. As we are walking along I'm looking into the crystal clear water and on the river bed, in some 8" of water I spot a £1 coin.  Looking around to check no one is watching I scramble down the bank to get a closer look. It's not far in (about 2 feet) and I reckon I can reach it with a stretch.  I roll up my sleeves and get ready to go for it.  This is where my morning goes tits up.  Tali gets impatient, yanks on his lead.  I lose balance and you can guess the rest without me having to spell it out in detail.  So, on the only sunny morning I return to the site, squelching as I go leaving a trail of water behind me.  And no, I never managed to reach the pound coin.

After a breakfast of bacon and sausage bagels we head off out for the day, rather early for us at 10am.  We've a lot to do today and  first up Herself wants to have a look around the shops in Cheddar Village.  We bag a parking space in the only free car park in the village and congratulate ourselves on beating the crowds.  Our elation is short lived however, as not only have we beaten the crowds, we also appear to have beaten the shop keepers too.  Bugger all is open for another few hours.

With time to kill we decide on heading up to the north coast resort of Burnham on Sea.  We soon hit traffic and are a standstill for ages.  BBC Somerset informed us there has been an RTA on the M5 involving fatalities.  The M5 is closed, and it and all surrounding roads are gridlocked.

Another change of plan, and we do a swift U turn and make tracks to Glastonbury.  After parking up we head to the high street, stopping briefly for me to buy some Shisha in an alleyway for the Omar Sherif.  It would appear that most of the occupants of Glastonbury are either witches or alcoholics.  Every other shop is a witches shop, and I am well outside my comfort zone.  At a rough estimate I would say that in times gone by approximately 60% of the town would have been taking a ride on the ducking stool for their lifestyle.

Herself is in her element, I am just about OK in some shops, but in others I stop in my tracks at the doorway and turn around and make a sharp exit to wait outside, such is the strength of the presence I can feel in them.

I remark to herself that I am a little thirsty and perhaps we could stop for a coffee.  She agrees and we walk by numerous nice looking coffee shops with tables outside in the sunshine and then herself takes a sharp left turn into the George and Pilgrim.  I am sure she is liking how spooked I am by this place, and it's probably safe to say I have never had a tea and cake in such a weird gaff in all my born days.

We realise we have yet to find something suitable for Ronnie, so head to Wells and its Animal shop before heading back to Cheddar where we are hoping that the shop keepers have been arsed to get out of bed yet.

We arrived in Cheddar, but so had everyone else.  I was dreading having to cough up £3.50 for parking when a place became vacant and I bullied an old man in a Picasso to bag it.  Ignoring his attempts at giving me the evil eye we set off to browse the village shops.  Herself has been looking forward to going into the Xmas shop, and came out beaming carrying a few bags of assorted shite.

Mrs Starbucks and Rugby Ref have been reminiscing on Facebook about Iris' shop on Brynmead when we were kids.  Iris' shop was like a little Aladdin's cave to a child.  It was a tiny corner shop stacked full of sweets.  Jars of Frank's Mints and other inferior sweets lined the shelves and she also did a mean line in halfpenny chews and sherbet dips.

With those thoughts fresh in my mind I was drawn by the sweet smell of the Cheddar Sweet Company.  Posters in the window boasted of their connection with the Hairy Bikers, and I'll admit to feeling a little excited stepping over the threshold with Herself's blessing to buy some goodies.  I came out empty handed swearing that there was no way I was paying those prices .... £4.99 for a plastic pint glass filled with sherbet flying saucers FFS.

Iris would be spinning in her Grave.

In an effort to stop me spraying spittle at innocent tourists, Herself suggests a pint.  We climb the steps onto the terrace of The Gallery that overlooks the street in Cheddar Village and enjoy a pint in the sunshine as the World and his Nan go by.

We take one last spin up and down through the Gorge before making our way back to site.

Back at the van we drop the dry awning in readiness for our departure tomorrow before settling down for tea.  I warm up what's left of last night's curry and Herself has a lasagna.

A quick trip out to get fuel and to let the dogs piss all over the seating stones up the Gorge while the NEDS scream up and down the Gorge.  Heading back to site I put on Miranda's main beam to pick out all the shagging couples in darkened corners of the various car parks before we descend into the Village for one last time.

Back on site the wind is picking up and leaves are swirling in the turbulence.  If this keeps up it should make for an interesting tow home in the morning.

Friday 25 October

It hammered down last night,but when we wake at 8.30 all is calm.  After a quick breakfast of oats we are packed up and pulling out of the site gates by 10am.  Traffic on the M5 & M4 is heavy, but Miranda did a sterling job.  We towed home in sunshine, the only unpleasant experience came from handing over £6.20 to the git at the toll booth after crossing the border.

Oh yes, Serendipity.  According to Wikipedia Serendipity means a "happy accident" or "pleasant surprise"; a fortunate mistake. Specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it.

Well, if I hadn't accidentally discovered the Pikey horse fair in The Cotswolds we would never have stumbled across Cheddar.  It's been a great location for a short break in the autumn, and now I wouldn't have changed our destination for anything.