As shitty weeks go this week as been pretty shitty. On a scale of a little pile of rabbit droppings to a the biggest pile of manure you’ve ever seen in a farm yard, my past week has involved a farm yard every day.
We’d agreed to this break quite some time ago, it was all paid for. We had promised herself’s mam that we would go away with them for a few days as without us they simply could not get away, and seeing that Andy’s funeral was still over a week away we decided to continue with our plans.
The day dawned bright and sunny and by 8am I had the van out onto the road and hitched up to a sparkly clean Miranda ready for the off by 9am.
The 128 mile tow from home to Home Farm Holiday Centre at St Audries Bay on the North Somerset coast was uneventful and we were pulling off A39 and onto the the B road before shortly turning onto the ½ mile private approach lane not long after noon.
The approach road winds it’s way down through the woods and the gloom does an expert job of concealing the unmarked speed bumps that are placed every so often. By the time we pull up outside reception most of our crockery is on the van floor and my fillings have worked themselves loose.
We’d not stopped and the owner was running out to meet us pointing to where our pitch was located. We were set up on the all serviced pitch in no time whatsoever, but had no food or more importantly wine or beer in the caravan.
We speak to the olds (Nana Coupons, Nana Creaky & Grandpa Grumbles) on the phone and they say they are on the Seven Bridge. Time to go shopping then so we head off out to Minehead to get in some provisions.
As we are checking out in Tesco our phones are going ballistic. The olds have arrived on site and want to know where we are. They were obviously on the Avon bridge when we spoke to them which is somewhat closer! We get back to site at breakneck speed and help them settle into their Lodge, which is within spitting distance of our caravan.
Once settled in we head off out for a spin to take in the sights of Watchet. Regular readers will remember that herself and I visited this place in the winds and rain of last October. At that time we did not see it in it’s best light and thought we ought to give it another go.
In blazing sunshine we parked up close to the railway station and took a stroll around the Marina. Regular readers will also know that I am deaf and not always aware of what is going on around us. Stood outside a shop I had the olds’ dog on a lead and became aware of herself and the olds frantically waving at me and trying to point. I shrug my shoulders and they start running towards me. I turned around and noticed that I had the savage on his extending lead and he was happily filling in two other dogs in a shop doorway. The two mutts were quite shaken, as were their owners (who themselves were shaking like shitting dogs). What do you do at times like that? Apologies and stopping to talk will only end in large vet’s bills, so I took advantage of their state of shock, just said “Alright!” to them and walked off.
Having now visited Watchet in glorious weather we can now say we’ve seen the place in it’s best light, and it is still a shit hole.
Back on site we spend some time sitting out in the hot sunshine while I get into JFO mode and fire up the Webber to cook up a feast for the 5 of us. It’s a lovely view from our pitch. We are slightly elevated and can see the Bristol Channel and over to the South Wales coast through the trees. I just wish that the sea was blue, but unfortunately the Bristol Channel is a murky brown colour this far east.
After the sun went down behind the trees we adjourned to the olds’ cabin for the rest of the evening before turning in absolutely knackered at just after 11pm.
Sunday 9 June
We wake to bright sunshine and upon checking the awning through the door window I note that we've had a visitor through the night. It appears that a fox had been in and been going through our bins. I do my very best to accidentally wake up herself so she can do the cleaning up, but she's having none of it.
We then make up a picnic for all of us before picking up the olds and heading out for the day. Minehead is the lucky town and Nana Coupons gets all excited as we glimpse Butlins through the barbed wire fences with security towers high above Billy Butlins' Wonderwest World.
We cruise the sea front a few times before parking up in the town and strolling up and down The Avenue browsing the tat shops as we went. Nana Creaky has a coffee habit. It’s a coffee habit that would knock Mr & Mrs Starbucks for six, and she’s starting to moan. We find a pub with some tables out front and settle down in the hot sun for some refreshments – along with the numerous stag and hen groups that frequent this fine resort on a weekend.
Next stop is to find somewhere to have lunch, so after an abortive visit to a very packed Dunster Castle we parked upon the sea front in Blue Anchor. We are all starving. The olds are sat on one bench while herself, the savage and I are sat on the other. I’d looped the savage’s lead around the barrier so we could all eat hands free. A stroke of genius I thought. Until that is he decides he no longer wants to be on the bench and jumps down. Not usually a problem, except that his lead is not long enough to reach the floor. He dangles for a moment or so making this strange rasping sound before herself springs up to rescue him.
Her ham sandwiches go flying as she rescues him so herself is now sandwich-less. Suffice to say I was not the most popular bloke in the vicinity and felt like Chevvy Chase in National Lampoons when he tied the dog to the bumper!
We doubled back on ourselves to explore further along the coast to Porlock Wier. A very pretty village, but with the good weather and it being a Sunday, it was packed out, so we did not stop any longer than it took the savage to stretch his legs and take a leak.
We returned to site to freshen up before going out for an evening meal. I’d asked reception for a recommendation so we headed off that way. Starving hungry, our hearts sank as we approached the very closed looking pub. Even if it had been open our chances of getting Nana Creaky up the very steep and very long steps were very slim.
Back tracking we arrived at The Railway or The Foresters Arms in Williton. It depended upon which wall you looked at as to what the name of the delightful establishment was. I entered the bar and was greeted by a deathly silence as all turned around to take in the full splendour of a having a stranger among them. The warning signs were there and I should have heeded them.
The bar was full of NEDS and old men with farmers twine tied round the bottoms of their trousers to counter the effects of too much scrumpy. But they served food and it was now getting on for 7.30pm on a Sunday night, so beggars can’t be choosers.
The food was OK as it turned out, but clean the place was not. I lied about seeing the hygiene certificate to the olds and that seemed the placate them – well sort of! Once fed we returned to site, sitting up chatting until well after 11pm.
Monday 10 June
Again we woke to bright sunshine and clear skies. I've now got 3 day's worth of growth on my chops that need sorting before herself is willing to be seen in public with me. Trouble is, I've not yet got round to getting a decent razor in the van. Gingerly I started hacking away at my face, only cutting myself 5 times. 4 of those were sorted out by the stinging showersptray, but the one on my lip required me to bite on it for the next 60 mins before it stopped bleeding!
Dressed, we went round to pick up the olds to head off out for the day. It had clouded over by the time we arrived at Cleeve Abbey. Religious relics do nothing for me, and Nanna Coupons was not in the mood so we sat outside with the savage while herself and the others went off for a wander.
Once they had their fill of culture we made the short trip to Torre Cider Farm. Herself had a whale of a time tasting and came out looking rather pleased for herself clutching a couple of poly containers of scrumpy. We looked at the penned animals there before getting back into Miranda and making tracks towards the Medieval Village of Dunster.
The village is in a superb setting and is shadowed by thecastle above and has the Yarn Market sited at the other end. We browsed some shops and the Doll Museum before having a break to satisfy Nana Creaky’s coffee habit. I was presented with a very expensive looking bottle of Cola. Wikipedia waxes lyrical about the slightly alcoholic organically brewed beverage. Served luke warm it tasted of the cheapest ‘Rola Cola’ and could not hold a light to even Tesco Value Cola.
Refreshed Nana Creaky pressured Grandpa Grumbles to buy her some Jewellery –like she hasn't got enough of it – and we found a lovely traditional sweet shop.
A misunderstanding over lunch plans resulted in a rather stony silence Miranda as we travelled the A & B roads of Exmoor. We saw a sign for Dulverton and called in the Co-op for some sandwiches (sold to us from a girl that used to live in Upper Tumble) which were eaten down by the river.
Herself and I fancied a swim in the on site pool, so with everyone day tripped out we made tracks. The swim never happened as the pool was closed by the time we got back, but as the pool is free we will make an effort to use it before we leave.
The sun is out on site but there is a cool breeze. I get into JFO mode for another BBQ and we eat in the awning where the olds are sheltered from the biting ‘Arctic Winds’.
With the olds safely returned to their accommodation, changed into jim jams, and sat putting the world to rights, herself and I returned to our van and set about demolishing our scrumpy stash. At 8.4% it's good stuff, and I'll sleep well tonight - that is if my bowels don't decide to involuntarily evacuate following the gallon of rocket fuel consumed.
Tuesday 11 June
It’s decidedly cloudy when we get up, so the shorts are packed away and the jeans are brought back out. We collect the olds and drive into Minehead, where the intention is to go on a train journey. Tickets are purchased for a return trip to Bishops Lydeard on the West Somerset Railway and while we wait for the arrival of our train Nanna Creaky starts to nag about coffee. She is placated by the promise of one from the buffet car as we all climb aboard.
Grandpa Grumbles is a train anorak and is in his element. It turns out there is no buffet car on our train and Nana Creaky spits venom at Grandpa Grumbles for most of the journey!
I too am in full on anorak mode and really feel part of the in crowd. Out comes my camera and my binoculars to make the most of spotting far away cows and sheep and other interesting stuff.
It’s now baking hot by the time we get to the end of the line and I’m regretting ditching the shorts this morning. We had a result in the station cafe though. I went in the bag a table while the olds visited the bogs. While I waited the lady running the place put up a sign on the cooler. “All Sandwiches reduced to £1”. So they went to spend a penny and saved us ££££s.
The return journey was on the diesel locomotive, so not quite as thrilling, although sharing a carriage with a group of people with learning difficulties proved to be an interesting experience, and I admit to enjoying joining in with them waving at all and sundry as we clattered past. This earned me a swift kick in the shins from herself, and looking back I can see that it looked like I was tacking the mickey out of them.
Back at Minehead and Herself wanted to visit Animal in to pick up pressies for Ronnie and Roids, but the olds insisted on going in with her. I sat outside with the savage for what seemed like an eternity, until the olds emerged some time later declaring that they had been thrown out. There appeared to be some sort of debate in the shop and Herself followed some time later with the steam still coming from her ears.
It’s been a full day out and we return to site to freshen up before going straight back out for a meal. The Washford Inn in where else but Washford was the lucky establishment this evening where we dined before returning to site knackered and ready for bed by 10.30am.
Wednesday 12 June
The olds are going home today, but herself and I have booked to stay on another night so we can take down the awning in our own time after we have helped them pack and waved them off. Grandpa Grumbles’ exhaust is still warming up as we pull out the pegs, and the awning is packed away bone dry.
We have to retrace our steps today. First stop was for cider. Rather than embarrass myself further, I'll spare you the full details of a wasted 2 hours and abortive journey to Bridgwater to find an imaginary cider farm and just pretend it did't happen!
We lunched at Torre Cider Farm and stocked up on Rocket Fuel to take home, before making our way to Dunster to replace the sweets we had bought as presents but ate last night during a bad case of the munchies.
Minehead was next stop to visit a butcher and buy some humongous steaks to BBQ for tea.
Back on site we went for a swim. I’ve not swam since we went to France in 2010 so expect places to be aching tomorrow where I’ve not ached for quite some time.
They have a lovely heated indoor pool here, and we had it to ourselves. The pool may not be that big, but I am sticking to the rules as they were when I was a kid. That is, the distance you swim is measured in pool lengths or widths (it must be right cos you got badges to prove it). We swam quite a few lengths and Herself and I had a whale of a time. And I consider it to be a complete success whenever I go near water and do not get harpooned!
Back at the van I get into JFO mode and tea is rump steak served with garlic roast potatoes, garlic mushrooms, onion rings and salad. I also go for the low cal desert option in the shape of strawberries and a whole tub of Roddas Clotted Cream to myself while herself made a pig of herself with a slice of Coffee Cake.
We chilled for a few hours before deciding to go along the coast for a spin. We followed the B3191 along the coast from Watchet to Blue Anchor. In the twilight we saw Waverley Steamer plying its trade in the Bristol Channel. The photo was taken from Blue Anchor and the steamer was mid channel. The lights in the background are those of Barry on the South Wales coast.
Back on site and @DerekTheWeather informs us that high winds are to hit us tomorrow. We briefly consider packing up and heading home, but that idea is swiftly kicked into touch. It's 11pm and I'm on my chinstraps and in no fit state to tow the van home.
Thursday 13 June
I didn't stir in my pit until 9.15am when I was woken by the site's handyman installing a deck on the caravan behind us. That said, we had no awning to drop so we were hitched up and hitting the road by by 10.30am. As we turned off the M5 onto the M49 at Avonmouth the wind started to pick up, and by the time we joined the M4 the trees were bending in the Gale Force gusts. As we climbed the slip road onto the bridge is was evident that the winds were whipping the channel into a frenzy.
It all made for a butt clenching crossing, and I'm not just talking about handing over the extortionate £6.20 you now have to pay to cross that piece of water either! I have never been so glad to see the sign below as we dropped down from the bridge in one piece.
Having said that Miranda coped admirably. She never lost control of the rig and all things considered the journey was pretty uneventful.
The serious bit .......
We were in two minds whether to do this trip or not. On reflection I think it was the right decision to do so. Whilst we have had a loss on my side of the family, Herself's parents were in desparate need of a getaway. We enjoyed as best as we could, Nana Creaky got her break, and for the most part we were in quite good spirits. That's not to say that we didn't have our moments, because we did, and it was particularly painful to be stood on the North Somerset coastline looking over the Bristol Channel to South Wales where close family are still fighting to come to terms with a devastating loss.