Thursday, 27 April 2017

Le Grande Tour of the West Country

Friday 21 April

I'm sure it's easier to pack yo go away in the caravan.  Two hours it took me to load up Vera with enough luggage to sink the QE2.

We're also taking a cool box with us, stuffed full of bottles of Champagne that have kindly been given as gifts.

By 10am we're accelerating up the slip road at J48 and heading off on our own little Grande Tour, intending to zig zag our way across the West Country for 5 nights, ending up at Lands End at the far tip of Cornwall.

The journey east and then turning right after the bridge sees us fighting through heavy traffic, though the mood is lightened somewhat by our accompanying music,  You see, Ronnie had put a bit of thought into it and bought us the Now21 CD to play in Vera.  Now 21 was release just a few weeks before we got married 25 years ago and the tracks are evoking some memories!

Before we know it we're turning off the A38 and up onto Dartmoor.  We stop at Widdicombe in the Moore for lunch at an old favourite of ours, The Old Inn, before climbing higher to our first stopover of the tour, The Two Bridges Hotel.

We park up and check in.  This place is oozing olde worlde charm.  Oak panelling everywhere, antiques in every room and big comfy Chesterfield sofas scattered about the place.

On opening the door to our room it immediately becomes apparent that we have been given an upgrade as we enter the "Brooklands" themed room, with a view over the manicured gardens.

Race posters adorn the walls and it would appear that a well know motoring journalist has previously stopped in this room.

I however am more impressed by the (what I thought was a) complimentary array of truffles and chocolates that have been left on a piece of wood for us!

Outside the hotel is a buzz of activity so we head down to grab some drinks from the bar to take outside with us. It's quite idyllic, geese wander the grounds free range as walkers stop off for refreshments, cream teas are being fetched out on trays like it's going out of fashion and the warm sun rays hitting our chops taking off the chill of the cool moorland air.

It was then that a procession of classic cars of varying vintage started to arrive and park up in a row. It then clicked why we had the "Brooklands" upgrade.  You see, they then erected banner that announced to everyone that they belonged to the "Brooklands Motoring Club".  There were quite a few of them, and the hotel could hardly allocate the Brooklands room to just one of them!

I am quite envious as the Morgans, Bentleys, Mercedes and Bugattis roll up.  Then with a "look at me" honk of the horn and a few unnecessary blips of the throttle, an Austin Powers wannabe arrives.

I already dislike him before parks on the end of the line, but when he steps out in tailored shorts, deck shoes and a rugby shirt with the collar turned up my feelings are irrational.

We pop upstairs to freshen up and get changed for dinner.  Herself scrubs up somewhat better than me and takes my breath away in her dress and heels.  I feel like I'm 10ft tall with her on my arm as we walk through the lobby towards the restaurant.

The mood is set as we pass a harpist doing her stuff as we are escorted to our window table.  Waiting for us is a bottle of the best Champagne they have.

I give the waiter the eyeball, as this place is eye wateringly expensive and I know that Herself will say to keep it, even if it is a mistake.

The waiter explains that my wonderful sister had rang them us and put it at our table for us as a gift from her and her significant other!  How thoughtful. (Edit .... it wasn't until we arrived home that we discovered that the "complimentary" chocolates were also from them).

The evening meal was delightful.  A fine dining experience to remember. After some warm breads Herself had a monkfish pakora and I had Mackerel to start, pork and lamb were our mains and a desert of sticky toffee followed.

We adjourn with some drinks to the big Chesterfields in the resident's lounge before heading to bed at around 11pm absolutely stuffed.

Saturday 22 April

I didn't sleep last night, not a wink.  I'd like to say it was a combination of eating a little late and drinking too much, but in reality I'd read earlier that the Hotel has a bit of a history and is haunted.  I thought someone followed me into the toilet earlier, but when I turned around there was no one there. I'd tried texting Sabrina, but she only wound me up more and the night was spent peeking at the ornate coving from under the duvet.

At 6am I gave up trying and got up to run myself a bath,  By the time I'm done it would appear that I've woken Herself and we are both downstairs by 8am waiting for breakfast to be served.  A plate of Eggs Benedict is washed down with a pot of tea before we hit the road once more, heading deeper into the West Country.

We're parking up in Tavistock by 9am.  We've been here a few times before but never managed to catch the Panier Market open.  It was open today, and we've now seen it.  By 9.15am we are back on the road heading towards Kernow.

Herself announces that she needs perfume and my suggesting that she doesn't smell earns me a dig in the ribs.  Google tells us that there is a Perfume Shop in Drakes Circus in Plymouth.  TomTom guides us to the door and my wallet has lost another 50 notes before  the clock turns 10.45am.

We're over the Tamar and into Cornwall enjoying the tunes and Looe looks uncharacteristically quiet as we bag a spot to abandon Vera on the quayside.having fed £12 into the machine for the privilege!

It's too early to check in so we walk over to East Looe for a mooch around.  We did try and find a sea food restaurant that we ate in during our honeymoon, but either it is not there anymore or our memory has faded over the years.

We grab a pasty for lunch and give ourselves heartburn whilst taking in the view and watching the world go by.

2pm is soon with us, so we make back to Vera to collect our baggage and check into our hotel for the night, the Portbyhan Hotel, which is situated right on the quayside in Looe.

As we approach I am regretting my innermost Cardi that made me book a standard room when planning the Grande Tour and just know that instead of one of those nice rooms with a private balcony we'll get one tucked round the side with a view of scaffolding for 24hrs.

The lady on reception tells us that they have allocated us a superior room - wow another free upgrade I thought - and Herself is beaming as we swing open the door to room 108.

We stop inside long enough to hang my shirt in the wardrobe before settling ourselves down on our own private balcony for the afternoon watching boaty people doing boaty things on their boats down below.  We spent some time opening our cards from well wishers and some presents we had bought each other while getting shitfaced on Champagne, gin and San Miguel.

We then realise why the lady on reception had advised that we have dinner a little later.  Edwards Coaches from South Wales own this place and at about 5pm one of their buses pulls up under our balcony and disgorges hoards of the valleys SAGA crowd.

After a shower we head off over to the bar for pre's, although in actual fact the pre's started at 2pm on the balcony!  Herself has bagged a window table and we settle down admiring the view.

The lady on reception had said that there was live entertainment in the bar at 8pm.  By 7.45pm there's still no sign of the turn and I remark to Herself that it's probably just some bloke with a guitar and an amp!

Right on cue a 4x4 pulls up below us and the black suited git of a driver throws his kit into the disabled lift.  Much banging ensued as he unloaded on our level before he saunters over to our table and instructs us that we would have to move as he wants to set up in that exact spot.  No please or apology for disturbing us, just an instruction.

I ignored him!

The duty manager saw what was unfolding and ran up the stairs to tell the Enrique Iglesias wannabe to set up somewhere else.  We finished off our drinks watching him throw us filthy looks while he set up in a different corner (without the harbour backdrop that he wanted for his act).

Just as he's finished we get up and make our way over to the restaurant for dinner. As we walk past Enrique looks crest fallen as he realised that if he'd waited 10 mins he could have set up in his preferred spot.

He says "You're leaving are you?" to which I replied "Aye, we've seen you perform before!"

We're still giggling as we take our window table for dinner.

A much simpler affair than last night, but very nice none the less.  The young girl serving us was delightful and Herself instructs me that I must give her a decent tip - of the folding variety.  I'm still smarting after Herself tipped them a brown one last night, but say nowt and retrieve another brown one from my wallet (it was a blue one at first but the look said I had to up the ante somewhat).

Then a miracle happened.  As it turned 9pm they must have had a changeover of staff and our waitress was nowhere to be seen.  My heart rate slowed considerably as the brown one was tucked safely away once more!

I took the opportunity to check my electronic receipt, and it would appear that old age does not come on it's own.  We had not had a free upgrade at all.  I had initially booked a superior room ..... and I inform Herself immediately in the hope of earning brownie points.

Back in the room we didn't draw the curtains, instead falling to sleep looking out over the festoon lit up quayside.

Sunday 23 April

I slept well last night, well until 4,30am anyway.  Our room got lit up like Chevvy Chase' next door neighbors in National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.  You see, directly opposite us is the quay and warehouse where they land the fish, and they switched all the floodlights on for the trawlers coming in on the 4am tide.

I got up and watched for a while leaving Herself in the land of nod oblivious.  Once daylight arrived it came with bright sun shine and clear blue skies.  Herself talked me inti tipping up a £2.50 tray charge and we took breakfast ourside on the balcony,

Once checked out we load up Vera and make the short journey to Polperro.  We're here early doors though so bag a space in the deserted car park before getting mugged in broad daylight.

A stroll down intio the village lightens my spirits as the shops are closed, with signs on most advertising a 11.30am opening.  We walk down to the end of the harbour before taking an outside table for a mug of tea at the cafe.

It's starting to get busier as we retrace our tracks back up through the village and I get caught for a pair of ear rings in the only shop that was open.  We were feeling lazy and caught the tram back up to Vera before pointing her nose in the direction of the ferry over the river Fowey.

Fowey holds nothing for us so we turned right and made a bee line to the north coast and the pretty little town of Tintagel.

After a bit of cloud as we climbed over  Bodmin Moor we rolled into Tintagel with blue skies overhead and bright sunshine.  As is the custom in Cornwall we get mugged for the privilege of abandoning Vera for a few hours and set off down the main drag.

Tintagel is known for (and makes the most of) the King Arthur connection.  A museum dedicated to him greets you at the top of the drag and every gift shop tempts you with swords, not joking plastic ones mind, but real proper steel ones.  I'm tempted but couldn't find one at a price that I'd be willing to pay. Herself remarks that I'd look a bit silly going to Trostre dressed like Tenpole Tudor!

With the wind taken out of my sails we take refuge in the beer garden of The Cornishman Inn for beers and lunch before walking back to Vera via a few very unauthentic witches shops.

It's time to head to our hotel for the night at Port Isaac (famous for being Port Wen in the Doc Martin TV series).  Normal visitors have to park at the very top and walk in but our hotel has a small car park so we breath in and thread our way down the narrow approach.

The Old School Hotel is used as the schoolhouse on the programme and cashes in on it's fame big time. The rooms are not cheap and the place has an unkemp feel about it, and it shouldn't given the cost of sleeping here for the night!

Somehow I got Vera through a very narrow gap only just avoiding contact with the unforgiving stone walls.

Once checked in we are escorted up to our room, no surprises here though as I'd stumped up for their best room, the Latin Room.  The big arched windows afford a fantastic view over the harbour directly to the house they use as Doc Martin's surgery on TV.

It's too nice to be sat indoors though and since we've been here and done all the touristy things before we opted to get drunk.  First we took an outside seat at the Golden Lion before following our noses and the smell of fish to The Slipway.

There seem to be more Yanks here than Brits.  The place is overrun by them and as the film crews are due back in town tomorrow they're no doubt hoping to do a bit of star spotting.  The Yank group sat next to us are in full flow and are discussing scenes from series 2 episode 4 and then series 3 episode 5 before going back to series 1 episode 2.  Do you get my drift?

I did think of digging out the photo I had taken with Burt Large here a few years ago, but then thought better of it.

Back up the hill we staggered and finished off the afternoon having a few outside the hotel entrance and watch more arrivals struggle with the gap.

Before too long it's time to scrub up for dinner.  We are eating in again tonight and take our table in the very airy school dining room.

My mussels started and salmon main were out of this world and as time is getting on I (wait for it) skip dessert!  The sofa in our room is facing the windows and we have a bottle Champagne on ice waiting for our return to watch the sun set over Port Isaac.

Monday 24 April

We slept with the curtains open last night, wanting to wake up to the view, but when I got up at 3am for night time essentials this is what I could see from my pillow.

It's fine again by the time that normal people wake and we scrub up for breakfast.  No room service available this morning and we're sat waiting for them to start serving at 8.30am, not that we were starving or anything, but we've a lot planned for today.

Vera is loaded up and i risk scraping her sides once more to negotiate the car park.

We get through ...... just ........ but the stress of it all was a bit much for her and she blew a headlight as we squeezed through the gap.

Pretty soon we're at cruising speed on the Atlantic Highway, though why it's called that is beyond me as you con't really see the ocean from it.  Our intention was to visit The World in Miniature at Goonhavren. We had visited the attraction on our honeymoon and just once since with Ronnie and Roids in 2007.  I start some finger swiping to establish the entrance fee while Herself pops into a Co-op and Google tells me that it shut down in 2008.

Plans are re-hatched and we cruise into Newquay in bright sunshine.  After bagging a parking space and feeding a fist full of pound coins into the meter, we dodge the tramps sleeping in doorways of the main drag.

Herself last bought me a watch a few years back, but with my lamps not what they used to be I can't see it.  She treated me to a new one before we went to one of my favourite shops in the town to buy some rather impractical knives for the boys.

We take a front row bench in the park overlooking the beach and soak up the view and some rays.

Healeys cider farm is the next port of call where we stock up on Rattler before continuing our journey west through the Duchy.

Herself spots a brown sign on the A30 near Redruth and Yanks on the wheel to point Vera up the slip road.  I'm having palpitations now as I'd also seen the sign.  The Cornwall Gold "clip Joint" beckons, and the ladies serving are a little too helpful for my liking!

Herself gets a ring before we continue westwards, scouting out a couple of camp sites on the way.  We veer off the A30 at Penzance and take the coast road through Newlyn to Mousehole.

After feeding yet more pound coins into another machine we take a superb bench and table at Rock Pool Cafe looking over Mounts Bay with a seal putting on a show just for us close to shore!

The Newlyn crab was superb.

Full once more we make the final push to Lands End.  Herself had been getting worked up.  We've had superb rooms so far on this trip and she was concerned that the room for the main event - the only one that she'd chosen would not live up to expectations.  It's still sunny as we cruise into lands End, park up and check in.

I nearly have a coronary lugging our kit up the stairs to the second floor, but when we flung the door open all our anxiety evaporated.

We have a raised seating platform in-front of the windows that afford a view to Longships and the Scilly Isles beyond.  After my efforts with the luggage I've a thirst on, so a few beers are quaffed in the best beer garden in the world before we make tracks to the room to scrub up for dinner.

While Herself takes a bath I settle down with the view to continue my lager fest (in my pants).

Our table is reserved for 7pm but we're both ready earlier and take a seat in the conservatory restaurant as the sun dips down into the Atlantic.

The food was superb. King Prawn starters were followed by Sea Bass. We did have dessert but I forgot to take a picture of the Peanut butter concoction and the toffee pudding.

Full as gyppo's handbags, we retire to our room to undo a few buttons and stare at the ocean.

Tuesday 25 April

THE big day has arrived, 25 years ago Herself said I do, and made me the happiest man alive.  Mind you we very nearly fell at the last hurdle.  You see, last night I didn't sleep.  I'd drank too much booze and eaten far too much carbs and sugar than is good for my diabetes and was awake all night peeing syrup into the toilet.

I give up trying at 6am and sit up to watch the ocean from bed.

7.30am Herself joins me and we think back to that day 25 years ago (I didn't sleep then either and needed make up applied to avoid the panda look).

We had breakfast brought up to the room before heading of out, not too far today. First stop is Sennen Cove.  First down to the harbour and then up to the car park.

From inside our hotel room it had look lovely outside.  Herself had questioned my sanity in wearing shorts, but I'd ignored her.  I stayed outside Vera for long enough to take the pictures only.

Cape Cornwall was next, and being a little more exposed than Sennen it was no warmer,  I nearly lost Vera's door on opening it.

We know this area very well as we holiday in Sennen quite often.  I'd left it too late to book a pitch at Trevedra this year, but had asked Wendy, the owner, to put us on the reserve list (if they had one).  She knew we were down here on a road trip and I'd said we'd call in for a cuppa.  We pull up, but have just missed the cafe, but as we are just about to pull away Wendy shows up and says that she'd had a cancellation and was keeping it for us, so we popped in for a chat and reserved our pitch for August.

Back at Lands End the wind has not let up and we decide to see the attractions (free for hotel guests). We take 5 mins to walk around the King Arthur experience and do a bit of gift shopping before we got a bad dose of CBA and retreated to the bar.

Well, not quite straight to the bar, I am dragged to have the obligatory picture taken at the sign post before I can whet my whistle.

We didn't move outside the cocooned interior of the hotel all afternoon, opting instead to watch visitors freezing outside in the cold wind.

With just a few hours before dinner we go back up stairs where we have a very special bottle on ice.  Ronnie, Roids and TF has given us the bottle of Tallinger last week, and we'd been saving it for our actual anniversary day.

Very nice it was too, and we were slightly light headed as we made our way back down stairs for our anniversary dinner.

We has the restaurant to ourselves and took another table looking out over Longships and WNW up the Celtic Sea.  We asked to see the wine list and the waiter recommended their best bottle of Prossecco for the special day..  He looked rather crestfallen when Herself declined, explaining firstly that she'd had a bottle last night and secondly we'd just polished off the Tallinger, so his suggestion wouldn't quite cut it.

The meal was superb again, mussels and scallops for starters with a steak and duck mains.  Sorry but forgot dessert pictures again!

Wednesday 26 April

Going home day today after a full on road trip.

Breakfast is taken at our window looking out over the shipping traffic, with a vehicle carrier making it's way from Bristol to Belgium with a belly full of cars.

After breakfast we load up Vera and hit the A30, not too far initially as we diverted off to Philps in Hayle for pasties and cream teas to take home as gifts.

Herself hadn't wanted to go home directly so at Exeter we diverted to Sidmouth and the Donkey Sanctuary.

We spend some time petting and admiring the donkeys before Herself raid my wallet in the gift shop before hitting the road once more.

I'll not regail the blip in our travel arrangements as TomTom took us on a scenic tour of Dorset's lanes in a bid ti find a McDs for lunch, but after 30mins of frantic driving we were not further down it's countdown to home than when we left the sanctuary!

What a trip!  No caravan but luxury hotels.  Pampered we were, pampered.  many people go on exotic cruises for their 25th, but we wanted to revisit the places that were special to us.

Sorry there are no disasters to recount as thankfully the trip was perfect, and sorry about all the food and drink pics too, but that's what we did most of (that I am prepared to publish).

Thanks finally to Herself, who somehow has managed to spend the last 25 years with me and has not resorted to killing me!