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.