As is usual with me, preference jumped from site to site, with a final change of heart on the Wednesday before we left, and Camping in the Forest's Bracelands site was finally booked as the lucky venue.
Friday 10 February
I've the day off work to get the van ready, only when I get up it Dawns on me that I've not got much to do. Herself has been busy all week and the van is already loaded with food and clothes, and Herself had put the heating on a few days ago to air it out.
It is still dark as I head on down to our local Shell filling station to brim Vera's tank, and once that's done it's still way too early for the shops to be open. I'm heading for home when the warm glowing lights of Bryn Breakfast entice me to stop and indulge in a Full cooked breakfast to kill some time.
I've not fessed up to Herself about this yet!
As it starts to get light I take Vera down to our local illegals fer them to throw a few buckets of water over her before striding into Trespass as they unlock the doors to pick up some walking socks.
Back home I make a start on getting Vera and the van ready for the tow, and with legs wound up and security devices removed, I unplug the hookup and engage the motor mover.
Nothing. Not a thing, dead!!!! I glance up at the volt meter and it's reading zero. So I do the only thing you can and turn the power off and back on again! Nope, still dead. We've had our leisure battery for 7 years now, and when we had the mover fitted in 2013 the guy from PowrTouch gleefully informed me that the 75ah would not run the mover for long.
How wrong he was, but never the less it would appear that the battery had given up the ghost over the winter lay up.
I jump into Vera and call in on PC. He hasn't one in stock so Rickard's in Bont is my next port of call. Luckily I know the bloke behind the counter and come away with a heavily discounted 110ah jobbie. It's fitted in no time and I'm looking forward to see the difference that the additional meat will make.
A flick of the switch and it would appear that the voltage needle is stuck on zero. I try the lights and still nothing. Panic!!
After I'd stopped swearing the fuse box is the next port of call, where I find a blown blade fuse. I'm now cursing my earlier judgement as, with a fresh 15a fuse inserted, I flick the switch and it's like Blackpool.
I've not fessed up to Herself about this yet.
The van is inched out and coupled to Vera in readiness for Herself finishing work. I set about inflating the car and van tyres up to towing pressures, but my age caught up with me as I feel a burning sensation in my right calf!! Bugger!! I curse my innermost Cardi instincts that forced me to buy a foot pump last year instead on an electric one, and wonder how I'm going to manage a walking break with a maimed leg!
I didn't have long to wait until the off. Herself wangles an early finish and we're on the road by 1pm. I hide my injury and avoid fessing up to Herself. We stop briefly at my work so I can sort out some paperwork with the Omar Sherrife, and we're crossing the Kenfig viaduct in rather breezy conditions by 1.30pm.
The tow was effortless and Vera behaved impeccably throughout. We're pulling up outside the site gates at just before 3pm. The warden advises that there is one pitch left on the middle tier that affords a view of the forestry, only when we get there some git has parked up his LR Disco on it to "reserve" the pitch for his mate. I'm all for the battle but Herself does not do confrontation, so we settle on a pitch on the upper level.
We get out of Vera and just as we uncouple the van it starts to snow. This is a first as we've never set up in the snow before. The novelty soon wears off though as I'm crawling around pegging out with frozen candles hanging from my nose losing the feeling in my frozen hands. That feeling soon comes back though as I smash the lump hammer into my frozen fingers!!
Setting up takes no time at all as we only have out small canopy with us, and we;re sat inside the lovely warm van with a few ham rolls watching the birds on the tree opposite.
Gwawr has taken to watching TV at home, and quite enjoys some programmes. We power up the goggle box and she takes no time whatsoever in settling down to catch up on her soaps!
Herself remarks that the van is in a sorry state, so while she stays in the nice warm van and throws a duster about, It's my job to go back outside and go to work with a waterless wash spray and some microfibre cloths.
It starts to snow again, and I've a fresh set of candles. Siadwell would be so proud.
Winter caravanning requires you to take a few precautions with the water supply. Last week I'd invested £1 in a length of pipe lagging to protect the water pump pipe, and a few years ago we'd brought a quilted cover for the aquaroll. Only despite emptying the front locker I cannot find it and in the back of my mind I have a nagging doubt that I'd put it in the shed last summer. Doh!
A picnic blanket gets wasted to come to the rescue, and we are winter proof.
My calf is burning big time and I get onto Roids for some advice, he's doing a degree in Sports Massage see. His advice of "Maybe you should man up a little" was not really what I was after, so after hobbling under torchlight through the forest with the dogs we head off to Lidl in Monmouth for some ice and flowers (the flowers are to keep a tradition going that I started foolishly 2 years ago).
We stop off with the dogs to let them have a run in the forestry in the darkness. Surprisingly we are not alone. It's like a C&A sale in the dark!
Back at the van Herself puts on tea while I go about cling filming an ice pack to my calf and elevating it hoping for a miraculous recovery.
We settle in for the night. I have a box of Coors and Herself a few bottles of Prossecco for company.
Saturday 11 February
I'm woken by the stifling heat at 4.30am. It may be below freezing outside, but it's too warm in here. I get up to turn down the heating and wait for it to cool down a tad before retreating back to bed.
I wake at 8am and a peak outside shows we've had a light dusting of snow.
The skies are heavy though, and by the time I've fired up my GPS over breakfast it has started to snow quite heavily. We wrap up against the elements, and with day sacks packed with tea, coffee and other stuff. It's blowing a blizzard.
I'd filled Herself's Zippo hand warmer and lit it. Before I could pocket it she's barged me out of the way and it's stashed in her jeans pocket.
We opted to follow the forest tracks that loop around the site. This site is big though, and by the time we return to the caravan, Map my Hike is telling me we've covered 3 1/2 miles.
The dogs are filthy and are bundled straight into Vera. We catch a quick cuppa then head off in search of some Calor gas. We failed.
Next we have a lunch appointment in Monmouth. We park up and meet Bear and Sabrina outside The Robin Hood where we dive in and grab a table. A few hours flew by in good company and Bear tipped me off that I'd be able to get gas at Raglan Garden Centre nearby.
He was right, and with that duty out of the way we make tracks back to site.
When we get back I stop in my tracks to wipe my eyes and shake my head. Now since we've been away I've had all sorts of comments posted on my FB timeline, FB friends who caravan themselves and understand, saying how envious they are as they are now away or simply to enjoy. Some who don't caravan, and do not "get it" remarking that we must be barking mad.
It's February, the temperatures are hovering around freezing, the ground is very soggy as it thaws during the day and there are snow flurries galore. Yet these nutters are out with only some canvas as protection from the elements.
Hardcore they are, Hardcore!
I make sure I have enough stock in my beer bucket by my side before switching my awning light over to red and settling down to the big game taking place in Cardiff.
After an quick bite to eat, we wrap up and head off for a torch lit walk in the forestry. My nerves start to jangle, and I question our wisdom as I spot a sign as we exit the site.
The spookily quiet forest does nothing to calm my nerves and I'm jumping at every twig snap that I hear. In the end I turn off my hearing aid. If I can't hear it I can't be frightened of it!
The van is getting hot again. Herself is still cwtched under a throw and I'm sat in my pants and a tee shirt watching TV. Herself is horrifies as I open a few windows onto the night vent position and crank open the roof light above the bed onto it's lowest setting in the hope of getting some sleep tonight.
Google warns me that there is a little snow forecast overnight too, so the roof blinds are left open should we want to watch it fall.
Sunday 12 February
I had a cracking night's sleep, and when my screaming bladder woke me at 7am I turn over to give Herself a peck on the cheek only to get a mouthful of hair. Now I know Herself said that her Lady Shave needed charging but this seem ridiculous. I wipe the sleep from my eyes and see that Gwawr has sneaked up onto the bed and is cwtching tight up to her mam.
Whilst we have some ice crystals on the roof lights a peak outside reveals that there is no snow on the ground and it's very grey with light rain falling.
I light a flame under the kettle and just as it comes to the boil Herself gleefully announces that the bog is full. I throw on a pair of shorts with a hoody and beanie hat in readiness to brave the cold. By the time I've emptied the poo box and topped up the flush tank Herself has produced a few bacon muffins to go with the mug of tea.
After breakfast we throw a chunk of cow into the slow cooker, pack some flasks and a picnic into our day sacks and head off out for a day's damp walking in the forestry.
Loaded up, we point Vera's nose in the direction of Beechenhurst in the forest, and in particular the Sculpture Trail. We park up and feed £3 (£3 mind) into the machine for the privilege of abandoning Vera for the day, and head off to the start point - after first being fleeced for another £1 for a map and guide leaflet.
We pass through the gate and start climbing quickly. It's not long before lungs are bursting and lactic acid is being pumped into my rather delicate calf by the gallon. the trail is 4.5 miles long, but I was close to giving up after 450 yards! The trail is post marked as are the side trails to many of the sculptures. So while the main trail is 4.5 miles the diversions off it to take in the artwork adds nearly a mile.
Canoes hollowed out from tree trunks.
This one is just a tump of debris. It's supposed to represent something deep and meaningful.
These are supposed to be mock graves, I didn't get the meaning of what they are supposed to represent.
We stop half way round for lunch. Sat on a bench in the forest, in February, with snow flurries in the air, eating a picnic and slurping hot tea and coffee.
I'm not really an arty person, so the meaning of some of the sculptures was lost on me.
A fossilized tree trunk.
They saved the best on till last though, a mahoosive stained glass window hanging from a trunk framework in the trees.
Some of the terrain was challenging and by the time the lodge comes into sight through the trees in the hollow, we are ready for a sit down with a hot chocolate.
We could have done without, or cheated like some others and taken a table and drank from flasks, but if everyone did the same and didn't support these places they wouldn't stay open. Anyway, it was nice to sit at a table under the canopy watching people come and go. The ones who'd already done the trail were easy to spot. Like us they looked a trifle disheveled and splattered with mud.
Refreshed, if not recovered we load the dogs into Vera. We are in desperate need for some open water. The dogs are filthy and cannot return to the caravan in that state. Racking my brains for a destination we head to Lydney, and it's harbour.
As we approach the gates on the level crossing for the Forest of Dean Steam Railway come down and we get a front row seat to watch a locomotive shunting back and fore changing tracks.
The approach to the harbour is not what you'd call scenic and I'm at a loss as to how the local planners have allowed an historic monument to be spoiled like this.
The Severn has one of the biggest tides in the world, and on our arrival the tide is most definitely out. The lock gates are doing a sterling job though holding back 5m of water in the harbour. We cross the lock gates and climb up onto the viewpoint over looking the massive, empty, expanse of the Severn estuary.
There are a couple on monuments, and some clever rocks with boreholes in them at set angles. If you look through the 100mm hole a plaque by it's side tells you what you are looking at. Sharpness Docks or the Severn Bridge are there for all to see. At least they would be if it wasn't so foggy!
The dogs still haven't been in water, so we drop down to walk along the quayside.
This is where our day went tits up. The path is only about 50cm wide and does not look like it's been walked on for some time. We are hopping over ropes next to the quayside which is about 4ft above the deep water.
Warning signs point to the dangers of deep water, a big drop and under water hazards. Herself is getting fractious and suggests that maybe we shouldn't be there. I ignore her as I hop over more ropes. Herself again says that we may be better turning around. I ignore her.
Then it happened.
I hear a sort of Aaaagghhh, then a sliding sound and then a crunch as Herself hits the deck and then a scream. I freeze, too frightened to turn around, waiting for the spalsh.
I spin round and Herself in a heap on the floor, she's got hold of the rope she was hopping over and is frantically pulling herself further onto the quayside. Once her dangling legs are no longer dangling over the water, it is my turn to feel some pain.
Herself unleashed a torrent of abuse in my general direction. Any attempts to help her to her feet were rejected with a "Just leave me alone" and "I told you, didn't I?"
I could see she was frightened and just wanted to get away from the water so bite my tongue and resist asking how it could possibly be my fault that she fell? Now I usually laugh when people fall, it's a reflex reaction and I can't help it, but this time I could see that it had been a very close call and Herself has really hurt herself.
She was breathing heavily and walking like Quasimodo along the quayside, wincing at every rope she had to hop over - again.
We get to the top of the ramp. She's visibly relieved to be away from the water, but she's in a bad way and badly shaken. We need to assess her injuries as she's limping badly and Abu Hamza's hook is straighter than her index finger.
We're back at the car and she fesses up that she's bleeding. Her jeans are soaked with blood, and given that she is also wearing leggings under them I'm worried about what she's done to herself.
She almost spit a few nails at me as I suggest she drops her jeans for me to take a look as there are far too many people about.
We pull in at a deserted spot just up the road, and she's got a puncture wound that is bleeding quite badly. Any thoughts about a trip to A&E are spat back at me with a "Just get me home ...... and I need some wine!"
There are no flies on me, and at this point I deduce that it is still my fault and that any thought I had about cashing in any conjugal rights coupons this holiday have long since flown out of thew window.
It is now 4.30pm on a Sunday and we drive through village after village without a shop being open. herself is wincing with every pothole and we're back in Monmouth before the heavenly glow of a Bargain Booze lights up the gloom.
I exit with 3 bottles of Prossecco and retrieve a plastic cup from the glove box. The first one does not touch the sides and the second one didn't last much longer.
The dogs still haven't been for a swim and all attempts to find a way onto the river in Monmouth are fruitless. We make our way towards Symonds Yatt, and as the alcohol hits her bloodstream she starts to mellow a little. I even get an apology for her shouting at me earlier on.
I took her hand and gave it an affectionate squeeze. She squealed, and I am once again in the dog house. At Symmonds Yat the dogs are thrown into the Wye for an involuntary swim before we return to site.
The slow cooker has done its job, and the lump of cow is cooked to perfection. It was served on a bed of creamy mash with carrots on the side. Superb comfort food!
Herself wasn't late tonight, she stayed up long enough to have a shower and drink enough anesthetic before taking herself off to bed for an early night.
Monday 13 February
My screaming bladder wakes me at 7am, but I go back to bed as it's still dark. When I eventually reawaken at 9.30am Herself it already up and ploughing on through the pain barrier. She's tidies up the front of the van, a flame has been lit under the kettle, the table is out with glasses of juice and the frying pan is warming ready to cook up some eggy bread!
The sun is out and the temperature has risen. Breakfast is taken while watching the site come to life (go to the toilet block) through the front windows.
No long walks today, not only is Herself still in bits but it is Grumbles birthday tomorrow and we need to go present shopping.
We've never been to Chepstow so point Vera's nose in that general direction. On arrival we fight with the locals over a parking space before leading the dogs and walking up to the town centre. I don't know if we caught Chepstow on a bad day or it caught us on a bad day, but we left there seriously underwhelmed and gift less.
Plan B is called for - we didn't have one so drove around aimlessly for a while before deciding to head for raglan garden centre once more. Wyevale is always a winner and we score some pressies for Grumbles just as my rumbling stomach starts to send a Morse code SOS.
We drove past dozens of closed pubs before we parked up in an old favorite of ours, The Lamb and Flag out on the Brecon Rd from Abergavenny. We take some tables in the warm sunshine on the front terrace (February mind) and remark how much difference there is in the weather in 24 hrs!
Lunch, as always was superb and with full bellies once more we go visiting my auntie and uncle who live close by, well my uncle only as my auntie was out hospital visiting Sabrina who's gone into Neville Hall for a major operation.
We stop off in Monmouth on the way back to exercise the dogs and put a drop of go juice into Vera. We pull up on site, and as per normal, Mr & Mrs Antisocial next door close their blinds as they have every day we've been here each time we arrive back.
The multi cooker has once again done it's magic. The chicken supreme smells divine, but owing to our late and unexpected lunch, neither of us are hungry.
It gets pushed around the plate before we abandon all efforts and instead go about finishing off our wine and beer stash - well, no point in towing all that weight back home is there?
Tuesday 14 February
Busy day planned for today, so I'm up out of bed before the sparrows have started farting. We've broken camp and are on the road by 9am, so that I can get home and scrubbed up for an afternoon appointment.
The van is inched back into it's cwtch by 11am and I surprise Herself with a Valentine's day card. I've not given her one since we got married 25 years ago. She quizzes me and I suspect I may have spolit the moment somewhat by fessing up to something for the first time thus weekend ....... I got it free in Bargain Booze when buying Herself some Prossecco!
If you've not tried winter caravanning yet, it's about time you broke your duck. Wrap up against the elements when out and about and it's a superb break! Have fun.