6 Hotels, 22 nights, 5 Counties

7th Nov 2021

Yes, we know. We are supposed to be ‘on the road’ – lapping up the freedom and travelling the world. However we have spent the last 6 weeks staying mainly in hotels in several places throughout Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Buckinghamshire, Devon and Somerset. 

Well an opportunity came up to earn some dosh and catch up with old acquaintances. As many of you know (especially as I mentioned it briefly in the previous blog!), Michelle and I have both worked freelance for a national photography company for many years. (In my case, many, many years!). I take loads of photography gear-(cameras, tripods, studio lights, posing tubs etc )-and spend my days taking photos of university students (graduants)  while they are holding onto a piece of plastic tube with a ribbon on, standing against a fancy background. The company provide the backgrounds, the laptops, and the camera memory cards and such like and at the end of the day I hand the memory card back ….. Michelle welcomes the graduates and families and get them into the studio either as pre-paid customers or selling packages on the day. She is often a Sales Manager and looks after a team of Sales Staff at the events…and get paid.. £ . We are offered ceremonies at many locations round the country and we accept or decline the offer dependent on times/places. It turns out that due to the Covid backlog we had the chance to do many events, over several weeks so it wouldn’t impact on our travels for too long….. The beauty of this is that we can accept offers of places we have not been to before, get put into a hotel and get fed and watered throughout the days/week at the company expense. We do have to find our way to the photography venue often in unfamiliar locations, which can be tricky, but on arrival we meet up with many other photographers and sales staff that we have known for many years.- Some we consider as friends and some are a pain in the ass, but always interesting and entertaining. We then set up the photo studios using the exact same layout and settings as we do every single time. Home from Home. Whats not to like.!  It can be really busy on occasion but often it is pretty quiet and sociable.

As you can imagine, we regularly eat dinner out together as a group and sometimes when things get out of hand, we are grateful that the camera has ‘auto focus’ the next morning as the students photos would likely be very blurry.. !

Some of the crew..

Anyway this is meant to be a travel blog so I will just add that we have worked in Bath, Bristol, Weston-super-Mare, Cirencester, Southampton , High Wycombe and Plymouth over the last six weeks so we still enjoyed our travels albeit not in Ruby. Those of you that are paying attention will note that Bournemouth was mentioned in the previous blog. We did however opt out of that ceremony as it had the look of being far too busy and full of intimidating , ungrateful graduants with large family groups. Yuk..!

So we will step out of our travel blog for a few pages and share some of our photography moments just to keep you entertained. (Bored!) …

The two months went a bit like this- 

2nd Sep- Bath for ten days (the best venue of them all)- this is mentioned in detail on our previous blog.

28th Sep Cirencester – Travelodge for two nights while working for two days. We are not fans of Travelodges mainly because they don’t tend to have anywhere to eat. Fortunately there is a Greggs immediately alongside meaning we could grab a sausage roll at 6.30am before work….. I am only slightly joking…!

The Finished Products above

3rd Sep and we moved on to Southampton and we were provided thankfully with a Premier Inn, close to the city centre. We really enjoyed this as we could spend our evenings after work trying out one of the dozens of eating establishments within five minutes walk. Trouble is that the Premier Inn for some reason could only produce Curry/Vegan Curry/Chilli for evening meals for the whole week due to supply problems. Strangely they could manage to obtain the fullest of breakfast menus every day.! One evening we decided to order a Chinese meal via JustEat which was delivered to the hotel reception. We sat on the side of the spare bed in our room eating Chinese from the top of the ironing board, washed down with a bottle of cheap plonk from Tesco Express… Classy. !

Chow Mein- Ironing Board Style

As we had several spare days after working, we booked an additional three nights at the same hotel (despite the limited menu) so we could have a good look around this most interesting of cities.

We really enjoyed doing the tourist bit which included a trip to the Isle of Wight which was very exciting. We simply walked the short distance from the hotel to the Red Funnel terminal and caught the ferry as foot passengers. ‘Would you like the concession rate of £14 return’ says the nice lady on reception. ‘What do you mean? concession? What is that for?’ – ‘For the over 60s’ she says. Cheeky mare. ‘OK then..Course we do!’– I quickly replied anyhow – (she never even asked for proof of age…!).

The Isle of Wight trip consisted of three ferries and six buses all within an eight hour visit. It was an interesting trip which showed us around half the island but it was not enough to get a true picture of the place. But enough to be impressed by the bus company…! It was really pleasant and particularly enjoyable sailing back into Southampton alongside a beautiful sunset. 

11th Sep we returned to collect Ruby from storage for a few days and stayed local at our favoured Home Farm in Burnham on Sea again. Managed to avoid smashing my head into the wall of the swimming pool this time! Got the laundry done..

14th Sep saw us having a brilliant trip, popping down to Yeovil to visit family for the day. This was well overdue and great to catch up. 

The evening afterwards we parked up at The Haymaker pub near to Chard in Somerset. This is one of those ‘free’ nights that cost a fortune. We get the details from a book called Britstops which is supplied for a £10 annual payment. You then call or visit the pub/restaurant/vineyard and the like. ‘Can we stay in the car park overnight for free?’  we ask- ‘yes indeed, but we would hope you would eat/drink in the bar’ – good stuff, however we end up paying £45 for dinner and drinks in the restaurant. We keep falling for this ..doh ! 

Free overnight parking… £45..!

15th Sep was pretty exciting for me. I met up for breakfast with a gang of eight mates that I used to work closely with about 300 years ago. We spent a terrific couple of hours chatting over a full breakfast at the Monks Yard restaurant in Somerset catching up and comparing retirement notes. -(Its strange how none of us looks any older…..until the menus arrive. Then there is the clamour by everyone reaching down to grab their specs in an attempt to read the print. I also noted lots of hearing aids hanging around..! It was really good to catch up with a group that spent many years working closely together through often challenging incidents. 

Michelle meanwhile sat in Ruby munching a bowl of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes in the gravel car park !

Later that evening we booked into a rather dull site further into North Somerset called Withy Water. The excitement came however when we took a long walk alongside the Huntspill river. We were sat on the banking trying to catch a good look at the many kingfishers swooshing by when suddenly, right in front of us we both saw an otter…..yes… your actual otter.. quite a large one too. Just one quick view of the back of it splashing down into the water…but wow! never seen one in the wild before. 

So, after returning Ruby back to storage we got back to work for the next ceremony. 

17th Sep in High Wycombe for the New Bucks Uni graduations. We managed to get back into a Premier Inn for the week and they had a full evening menu in this one… Yet again we were working with a bunch of freelance photography buddies (different ones this time) to spend our time with. The work was somewhat busier on occasion added to which both Michelle and I managed to get hold of a heavy cold through the week but we pushed through..!

22nd Sep and we arrived early in Plymouth with two days to spare prior to our next gig. We decided therefore to splash out and pay for a couple of nights in the slightly posher Crowne Plaza hotel in the city, overlooking Plymouth Hoe. This was a most relaxing couple of days and the chance to shake off our colds and see another slice of Plymouth. And for those of you that are curious about these things.. we took the chance of using a proper launderette (rather than on a camp site) to wash our rather large pile of dirty laundry. We did our first actual Service Wash, (bit like on East Enders!)  which was actually pretty efficient and good value to be fair. Might do it again one day.. We really are Living the Dream.. lol…!

Now this bit was quite fun… the Crowne Plaza is home to a Marco Pierre White posh restaurant upstairs with great decor, fittings and views. Our hotel package included breakfast, dinner and a complimentary bottle of wine in our room. We enjoyed our first breakfast in the Marco Pierre White restaurant and after a busy day walking round the city we later returned to the restaurant after booking our evening meal. We were very early in order to have a few drinks and enjoyed a cheeky little cocktail and started on a bottle of expensive red wine. (After all we were now wearing shiny, clean clothes so could dine out with confidence!) On starting to drink the wine I realised that we had not had the complimentary wine in our room. I reached for my mobile and checked on my hotel booking email to confirm what it said – and yes our bottle of wine was part of the offer. I also noticed with horror that it said ‘DINNER ON ONE EVENING IN DRAKES BAR AND RESTAURANT AND A BOTTLE OF WINE IN THE ROOM ON ARRIVAL’. Hang on. Drakes bar aaaargh!. Not  the posh Marco Pierre White restaurant. – Oops. So we quickly finished our drink, tiptoed away from the Marco Pierre White waitresses and took the stairs down to the ground floor for our cheap and cheerful supper. Damn.. Well Glenn.. ‘always read the f****** instructions.’ 

Anyway it resolved to bring us back down to earth as the next day we were back into the Travelodge down the hill into Plymouth city centre for four nights (provided by the company). Not too shabby to be honest, but again, no restaurant so we had to enjoy the delights of Plymouth’s varied dining establishments. Tell you what though… people suggest that we are in a recession. We got turned away from three restaurants on a cold and windy Tuesday night because they were fully booked. The place was buzzing and there was plenty of money splashing around. Plymouth was Ok. 

28th Sep we voluntarily visited a surprisingly nice Premier Inn alongside the M5 at Bridgwater. Brand new and with great helpful staff. We had arranged to join family members for breakfast here before grabbing a separate family breakfast in Weston two days later. Gawd have we managed to stuff our faces with hotel food over the last two months. 

To finish the month off we took Ruby out of storage again and spent two nights in a tatty campsite in Weston super Mare. That was kind of ok as it suited our purposes but we did have an exciting time escaping. Three days and two nights of heavy rain meant that our wheel-spinning episode across the sodden grass was a rather tricky affair. Just survived. 

You may recall that we spent the entire winter from Dec 2020 to mid April 2021 at the Tudor Park campsite in Slimbridge- due to Lockdown. We decided to re-visit for a couple of days whilst in Gloucestershire and we were welcomed back in a big way. We felt like we were part of the family when the owners realised we were there and dropped everything to spend time chatting. Very nice of them to remember us fondly.  Speaking of family, we had yet another lovely family meal at the Tudor Arms restaurant next door to complete a lovely few days.

This then was the end of the photographic work period for some time. We both really enjoy the work (despite being retired…!) and it gave us the opportunity to gather some funds to pay for fuel and campsites for our European tour. Many of our nights in Ruby over this period have mainly been to fill the gaps between working. A little frustrating at times as we are increasingly keen to get back on the road. However we are being patient and taking the opportunity to catch up with family and lotsa friends in the meantime. 

The next steps are in preparation for our travels into Europe on 17th November. We have the Eurotunnel booked (exciting. !) and some basic idea of where we might go. We have left the Somerset area and are currently in Devon. One night in a gravel car park in Haldon, near Newton Abbot, one night in a noisy pub car park in Kingsteignton and two nights in the Twelve Oaks campsite in the same area. Bit of a holding pattern really whilst awaiting a week in Paignton. 

Ruby is getting some well deserved servicing done, warranty work and some checks on the gas/electric/water/heating etc (Habitation Checks) in Paignton for a week. We are therefore once more in a hotel….! Premier Inn, (again) in Torquay. Why Paignton? Well this is where we bought Ruby from and since we have great confidence in the company we bought her from, we are sticking with them for after sales work.

Next question. Where do we put all our stuff whilst the work is being carried on on Ruby? Well we have booked a small storeroom within the Big Yellow Storage company in Torquay. Cost about £20 to keep all our bits crammed in for the week. Result.

Next stop >> Europe. Yay…....>>

 Did you know…The Isle of Wight is a few miles off the coast of Hampshire, close to Portsmouth and Southampton and separated by the Solent. It is around 24 miles wide and 12 miles from the North to the South. The main public ferries are accessed from Lymington, Southampton and Portsmouth via the Wightlink, Red Funnel and Hovertravel services.