Just a short week ago we were unsure whether this trip was going to happen. I had a bit of a funny turn in a meeting in work, with pain in the side of my head, my face dropping on the right side along with inability to control the facial muscles on my right side.
I'd convinced myself I was having a stroke, but a visit to the Dr confirmed I had Bell's Palsy. The main concern was my eye, as being unable to close the eyelid puts it at risk and necessitates me doing pirate impressions with a patch. Nevertheless, a week on steroids has seen some improvement so the trip was on.
Friday 1 May
With our clothes loaded up last night, it was just a matter of getting the van out of her cwtch and hitching up the Miranda's rear end. We are all set and climbing the slip road at J48 by just after 10am. Traffic through south Wales was heavy, but at least it was moving at a reasonable pace. Things improve as we join the M5 and we are able to pick up the pace a little with cruise control set to 65mph.
We are pulling into Taunton Dean services at 12.15pm and the plan is to let the dogs have a stretch first before we grab a McDonalds for lunch. We are both starving having skipped breakfast before leaving. We are up on the grassy bank loitering while the dogs water the weeds and Herself starts to groan. She does not groan very often so I know something is wrong.
I turn around and to my dismay I clock 4 x 52 seater coaches pull in an disgorge their passengers to make a dart for the services. They all are wearing blue hoodies, and a closer inspection reveals that the "Lads on Tour" are from Grimsby RFC on their way to Devon.
I convince herself to take a peek at the queue. Reluctantly she does so and emerges from the throng sans burgers of any sort. It goes without saying that all the other food outlets in the fine establishment were also out of bounds as the blue hoodies swarmed all over the place.
Still starving we rejoin the M5 resolving to stop at the next available place to grab some grub. We followed the A361, and we followed it and we followed it. Not one poxy roadside fast food joint did we happen across.
We are getting close to the Caravan Club's Ilfracombe site now and my mind wanders to setting up, and I know deep down it's not going to be pretty. Adjacent to the site is a wind farm, and the turbines are spinning at full tilt. Putting up the awning will be interesting.
We roll into site at just after 2.15pm, and I'm happy to note that the site is nearly empty. It's well kept and at £12.50 per night represents excellent value for money.
We pick a spot after just the 3 circuits of the site. Regular readers will remember this time last year when we had to abort erecting the awning in high winds at St Davids. This is not an option today as Ronnie and FG are joining us for the weekend once they finish work this evening.
The following two hours were not pretty. They were not pretty at all. All was going well until we unpacked the canvas and unfurled it. All hell broke loose. Herself lost just a few nails in the process - of course this was my fault - and I lost all of my self respect.
However, after a full two hours of wrestling, cursing, chasing, trapping fingers and a fair bit of full on swearing I eventually manage to get it up. And a fine erection it is too!!
We still have not eaten and my mood is not improving. Regular readers will also recall that last October we came to Devon with out any awning furniture - we had left it in the shed. And that's where it had stayed neglected for the whole of the damp and cold winter, until yesterday.
Herself opened up the chairs and we are dismayed to mote that they are beyond use - thick with green mould and covered with black spores. They are consigned to the bin and I know my day is going to hit a further low point. We rock up at Stowford Farm Meadows and park Miranda in the middle of a TV set. Practical Caravan have their reader's rally here this weekend and The Caravan Channel are in the middle of a shoot. The producer asks me to move Miranda from the shot, but there are no other parking spots, so I ignore him and hit the lock button as we walk away.
The next 15 mins were quite painful for me as i got into a wrangle with herself into how much one needs to spend on camping chairs to achieve a compromise of comfort, being able to support my considerable weight and overall cost.
I lost, and we are now the proud owners of some rather expensive camping chairs.
We roll into Ilfracombe on the hunt for a pub serving food. Filling Miranda's windscreen is a rather splendid looking Weatherspoons establishment. Herself turns her nose up and I can feel my blood pressure rising.
Everywhere else is closed on not serving for another hour, so we agree on fish and chips to be eaten on Miranda's tailgate parked up by the sea.
I placed my order with the delinquent on the other side of the counter, and painfully watched as he counted the chips out into the tray. Despite appearing to have more than 10 digits between both hands he appeared to have a little trouble counting and says "£18 exactly please." I take a sharp intake of breath and ask if he's sure, but Herself is getting fractious in Miranda so I make tactful retreat.
It's bothering me, so I start doing a mental tot up of my bill. Including the obligatory sausages for the dogs, it should have come to, a still rather extortionate, £16. I'm half way out of the door to have it out with Trigger, but Herself pleads with me to leave it as she's bloody starving.
We find a quiet spot near the sea, let out the dogs and perch on Miranda's tailgate to attack out fish and chips like a pair of savages. Not a word was spoken until we were done.
We had company though, and I got into trouble when I totally forgot myself and threw some chips for the large gathering of sea gulls. It was some fight I tell you.
Tescos was the next place to relieve me of some purple bits of paper before we headed back to site to complete setting up, including getting the sleeping annex for Ronnie and FG sorted.
Ronnie rocks up at 11.30pm, we could see him coming for miles what with his new headlights, and we sit up for a while snacking and chatting. For some reason Tali has taken up residence next to the pork pies, and me thinks he's hoping against hope that we forget to put them away before turning in.
Saturday 2 May
Well what a night. Rocked to sleep by the wind slamming the side of the van I slept like a baby. herself informed me that it also hammered with rain for most of the night.
I glance at my Samsung and it tells me it has stopped by now, but flicking the blind open says otherwise. I tweet @DerekTheWeather to vent my disapproval.
We have quite a lazy morning around the van and don't get out until after 12 noon. I point Miranda's nose west onto the Atlantic Highway and we head down into Cornwall. Surprisingly we easily bag a space in Port Issac (Port Wen in the TV series Doc Martin) and head down the hill. As we approach the village we can see that the beach below is a throng of activity. There is a row of Mini Coopers lined up attracting attention as well as what appears to be a stag doo trying to get off a rib boat.
Refreshments are called for, and I'm gasping for a pint. I am still unable to drink any sort of quantity of liquid from a glass, so Red Stripe through a straw it was.
This takes me back some years though, as I've not had a pint of this stuff since about 1989 in The Moonraker!
Turns out the stag doo are on an epic pub crawl, down from the smoke flashing their cash. They have hired the rib for the day, and Andy their captain is tasked with coast hopping and dropping them in each village along this stretch of coastline ....... what a day out! It also turns out to be Andy's birthday today, so he has to neck a pint as they serenade him football crowd stylee. Fair play, he emptied the glass in a few seconds, but to be honest, even with my Bell's Palsy at the moment, I would have spilled less down my tee shirt!
We climb the hill up to Doc Martin's house and pose for the obligatory pictures.
On the way back out of the village we had a bit of a serene moment. Standing in a shop doorway was Ian McNeice (the actor who plays Bert Large in the TV series). We take a seat half way up the hill while Ronnie and FG pop into the bakery for some pasties.
Bert is climbing the hill towards us, and stops for a chat while he tries to catch his breath. he's a lovely man, and was very keen to have his picture taken with me. I was happy to oblige, just so long as he gave me a quid towards the life boat fund.
Our pasties were eaten overlooking the Atlantic crashing against the rocks, before heading back up country towards Bude, where Herself made the most of the few shops that were still open at that time in the afternoon by emptying my wallet at an alarming rate.
Back on site I get into JFO mode, and we dine in style on pork steaks with every imaginable side dish. We do not venture back out and are content to slob around the van for the rest of the evening quaffing cocktails, bulmers, fizzy wine and G&Ts.
I get bored with the shite they are all watching late on, so retreat to my man cave with a rather large G&T.
Sunday 3 May
We were rocked to sleep again last night, and when I eventually stirred at 9.30am the weather wasn't looking too great out there. I nip out to get some Sunday papers, but what with our Kate having dropped yesterday I wish I hadn't bothered.
We have a lazy morning around the van, and by noon it's brightened up somewhat. Herself took the opportunity to take some photos just in case the sun fails to make another appearance this week.
After a power nap in the sun we get motivated to go out and point the cars towards Woolacombe. We drive down the hill into the pretty sea side resort. The expansive beach is rammed with families frolicking in the sunshine. There is not much here, but would be worthy of stopping for an hour or so to have a mooch.
I carry out an emergency stop as we approach the barrier to the car park. £5 they want to park a car here mind. We did not stop.
Next we travel in convoy along the narrow and scenic road that hugs the coast, and very nice it all looks too. The sun is still shining as to roll into Ilfracombe; there is a beer and music festival on at The Pavillion Theatre but we manage to bag two spaces on the sea front.
We set off in tee shirts, but after no more than 50 yds the sun goes back into hiding. Herself starts to make a show of shivering.
It's getting darker by the second and in no time at all my slightly sunburnt suede is sizzling at God decides to take a leak. We traipse the streets down towards the harbor. Tali is yanking Herself's arm out of her shoulder socket, and crowds gather under the canopies outside shops, so we are reduced to walking in the wind and rain.
Ronnie and FG dive for cover in the aquarium while Herself and I retrace our steps to try and find somewhere undercover that we can sit with the dogs and have a drink. Weatherspoons gets our custom, but I have to mark them down on Tali's instructions as they do not sell pork scratchings. You should have seen the young girl's face when I explained that prawn cocktail crisps would not be a suitable alternative as Tali and Cerys were not too keen on them.
Still my pint of Amstel through a straw was very acceptable. Sorry Tali.
Ronnie and FG rock up after all on 15 mins. Turns out there was not much to see, it was just some fish and stuff. Quite what else they expected to see in an aquarium is beyond me. Our thought turn to food. We've still got the dogs with us, it's too chilly to sit out and eat so I suggest trying an eatery back closer to the site.
There followed a rather tense 5 mins after I suggested to Herself (I was trying to help, honest) that she may like to go back to the van first to tidy Herself up a little, as the windswept and interesting look is not one that she always carries too well.
We pull into the Cook Island establishment and head on in to enquire about a table. Sat infront of us are two couple from the same village as us, one couple living only a few doors down. They can fit us in even though the place is rammed, so we settle down and place our order. They are most apologetic that there will be a 20 min wait for food, we are astounded as some establishments at home take longer than that to sort out your drinks order!
The burger was great and filled a hole lovely.
Time is getting on, so we head back to site where Ronnie and FG start packing up. Ronnie is back in work tomorrow so stopping any longer is not an option. It's hammering down as we wave them off at just after 8pm, and after a few very late nights we are struggling holding out until it gets dark before turning in for the night ourselves.
The wind is still rocking the van.
Monday 4 May
I get up at 8.30am and the sun is shining. It may not be raining, but it's not stopped long. I leave Herself in bed as she had a restless night worrying about the awning in the wind.
It's BH Monday so we've no plans to go far today. The van needs a spring clean, but before setting about the task I make sure that refreshments for the afternoon are sorted.
Herself goes about sorting out our lockers - she manages to fill a whole black bag, so that's about 20kg of spare shit I've been carting around the country with us. I put myself to work with our little hand held steam cleaner on our hob, stripped down omnivent and roof vent before attacking the fly blinds and the shower room and bog.
Regular breaks are required, and the afternoon refreshments are once again taken through a straw, as I'm still unable to purse my lips around a bottle neck or the rim of a glass.
Now I don't know whether it was a senior moment, or a lapse of concentration, or too much chilled Corona, but there was a bit on an incident.
Firstly I feel it fair to point out that I don't really do instructions, but even I can recognise the danger symbol on the top of the pressurised cap on a steamer, and that is would be bloody fool hardy to try and open it while the machine was 1- still hot and 2 - still switched on. Which is why I still cannot fathom why I struggled with the idiot proof cap for a full 5 mins to conduct a refill of the resevoir.
Mind you, I succeeded to open it and the resulting gizza would not have looked out of place on the National Geographic channel, while at the same time the burn on my forearm would have been far too gruesome to be screened on Casualty.
We get done with only one more minor incident when I stepped on Herself's fingers while she was brushing down the drop in carpets - only for a few seconds mind - and the fuss she made you'd think I had my walking boors on!
Herself announces that she is going to take a nice hot shower in the sparkly clean cubicle. I say nothing and pretend to be busy, as I just know that the next 20 mins pain will be nothing compared to my burning forearm. You see, because I was unsure what sort of amperage the steam cleaner was going to draw down, I took the precaution of turning off our heater and water heater before firing up the beast. Very clever I thought ........ if only I had not run off all of the hot water rinsing down the cubicle and if only I'd remembered to turn it back on.
If any of you have not watched the film Twin Town I implore you to search for the scene on You Tube where Fatty Lewis falls off the rugby club roof. The words of Bryn Carwrite are still ringing in my ears as I type this.
With a sparkly clean and smelling lovely and fresh caravan cooking tonight is out of the question. We make the short trip through the lanes to the nearby Crown Inn. It's closed - on a Bank Holiday Monday evening mind? 360 degrees and we're retracing our steps back past the site towards teh same gaff that we ate in last night. Very nice it was too!
It starts to rain as it goes dark, and we enjoy one of those evenings that only caravanners can appreciate, with the rain drumming on the roof as we cwtch up quaffing lager and fizzy wine.
Tuesday 5 May
We din't have a very good night. The gales hammered the side of the van all night threatening to rip the awning to shreds. By 6.45am we've given up any hope of getting some kip and Herself suggests a cuppa.
I open up my Samsung and fire up the weather app. There's a weather warning.
I make some scrambled eggs for breakfast before venturing outside to re peg the awning and tension the ropes. We head off out at 11am, but are not that comfortable knowing how high the winds are on our exposed site.
We are looking out for a Saltrock factory outlet shop that Herself had spotted yesterday. We missed it and drove all the way into Barnstable before realising, Doh!! Anyway, we find it eventually and Herself relieves my wallet of more purple notes than is comfortable before w ereturn to site to check on the awning.
I re peg it again (these are Wurmi screw in pegs that are being ripped out mind) before we head off out fro a bit of a spin. The plan was to do a bit of coast hopping, taking in the views as we went and possibly stopping off at a tea room or two in order to indulge in a Devon Cream Tea. We drive straight through Woolacombe as we know they want £5 to park up there (this is fine if you're there for the day, but not so if you're only stopping for a cuppa) and continue on towards Croyde Bay.
The place looks lovely, and the approaching lanes are reeking on money. £4 they want here, so we spin round in the gravel car park with Miranda spraying gravel at the opportunistic attendant chasing me with a roll of tickets. We continue on through the lanes to Putsburgh Sands. I've always fancied staying at this site just for the location alone, but what they want to rent a piece of grass per night is well out of my comfort zone, no matter how good the location.
Turns out the whopping £6 they want off me to park the car is also way out of my comfort zone too. I have an aversion to getting mugged. We do not stop and retrace our steps back towards site, stopping off to pick up some ingredients for a late lunch.
The winds are not easing up, and my Samsung tells me that they have yet to peak. Herself tales to bed for some moments of personal contemplation, while I sit in the awning worrying and getting pissed.
The Wurmi pegs start to give up the will to live, and Mother Nature makes the decision for me. The awning has to come down, and soon. There followed a rather interesting 20 mins as my drill worked overtime removing the pegs that were left and we battled with poles that were intent on putting a few dings in the caravan side and Miranda.
It must have been entertaining as the occupants of the three caravans on the other side of the field came out to watch!! Thanks for nothing, a hand would have been nice.
I've been caravanning now for 22 years, and in all that time this is only the second instance where we have had to drop an awning for fear of losing it.
With the awning down and thrown into Miranda we can eventually relax. I set about emptying the fridge of the booze that Ronnie left behind - all drunk through a straw of course - before getting into drunk JFO mode and throwing together a stonkin meal.
Over tea we decide that seeing that our awning is dropped, there is one less barrier to moving on. Tomorrow I'll be waiting for the site office to open so that I can get a refund on the next three nights and we shall tow to a site further up country.
And by the way, the van is still bloody rocking.