31st January 2022
So… at this point -(17th December)- we have now arrived back in England though restricted by Covid rules. Requirements at the time were for us to self-isolate immediately on return and arrange a PCR test within two days. It seems never ending…. Can’t complain though as we did get chance to visit Europe for the month and we certainly expected big restrictions.
Michelle had previously booked a PCR test kit collection from Bexhill on Sea – as you will recall this is where we stayed overnight prior to heading to France. We had a great place to stay overlooking the sea ‘wild’ camping and with a view across to the town too.
We collected our PCR test kit (£35 each..) from a local garage then parked up on our chosen spot and out for an immediate walk into town and a fish and chip supper….yum. The following morning saw us painstakingly going through the process of sticking swabs up our nostrils and tonsils again (or was it the other way around!) but with the added bonus of a very comprehensive bunch of paperwork to submit online to accompany this. We were then required to locate a drop-box on our travels and drop off the PCR sample package. This was done at a service station near Newbury. It works pretty well to be fair. It is a flexible enough system to allow us to still deal with the process wherever we were in the country. We were, of course, still required to self-isolate whilst we waited the next 36hrs for the email (thankfully)saying we were clear.
By this time we were still on the road despite isolation, and headed west back towards the Somerset area for the Christmas period. Our plan was to spend a couple of nights ‘wild’ camping on route to North Somerset so we could start to hunker down for the dark, cloudy, cold nights before us. Our research found a decent looking lay-by set back from the A36 near to Salisbury. It was quiet, with a toilet block and with good views during the day. Sounds ideal…… It actually turned out to be one of the worst places we have found in all our travels. Two things really. Firstly there were rats the size of Yorkshire terriers running round the site. I had the joy of watching Michelle walking cautiously to the waste bin to dump some of our rubbish. Already spooked by the rats she slowly sidled up to the bin in the near dark, one step at a time ‘You can hear something in there’ – she says but bravely moves in….. as she gets close the monster rat jumps up into the air, flying out of the bin like a cork out of a bottle whilst Michelle leaps a similar distance backwards. ! The brave girl still managed to hold her ground and dispose of the rubbish whilst Roland scampered into the undergrowth…and we both burst out laughing..
Now the second thing, the worst thing- the thing that stopped me even getting out of Ruby – was the prevalence of cars arriving and leaving the parking area outside the toilet block. All containing males on their own. All wandering in and out of the toilets then sitting alone in their cars for 20 minutes at a time. Bad enough during the daylight but once it got dark. I was bloody livid. How dare they take over public toilets for their own gratification and make it seedy and forbidding. Not only was I angry, I was also too scared to go outside…. Ha! – There was no way we were going to spend the night there.
’Time to move on- there is no way we are spending the night here’ says I by 8pm. We made the decision to just get back on the road and take the hour and half drive to one of our favoured overnight spots in Burnham on Sea. Despite the hour and the ‘road fatigue’ we knew it was a straightforward easy drive on fast A roads and motorways. No problems. …… Except…. Some handy Highways chaps had decided to close the A303 near Yeovil for overnight roadworks…. Noooooooooo. Big diversion, round tight back-roads in the dark with our fanciful satnav adding a few circles to keep us entertained. I also have to admit to a couple of Glenn short-cuts that I knew. – These added another 20 minutes or so! This was a painful trip after all the miles we had travelled over the last week.
But three ‘wild’ nights on the seafront in Burnham on Sea gave us chance to step out of Ruby for a while and recover from the road.
There is a long quiet cul-de-sac piece of seafront road in Burnham that has no restrictions in the winter and it makes a comfortable parking space.
AND a Wetherspoons nearby to provide posh warm toilets when needed… Luxury…!
During this time we became aware of a problem with the ‘leisure’ part of Ruby’s electrics. There are two batteries in Ruby, one for the Peugeot cab and chassis, and a second leisure battery for all the ‘camping’ elements such as lighting, heating, pumping and stuff. This is charged either by electric hook-up and/or by the solar panels. Now as we are distinctly short on bright sunshine in the UK, the solar panels struggle to provide enough power for daily needs. Understandably this will then flatten the leisure battery slowly when not on hook-up. Our problem was that the vehicle battery was the one getting flat rather than the leisure one, which led to us having to call out the AA one morning to jump start us. It appears that for some reason the ‘camping’ electrics were flattening the vehicle as the switch was somehow the wrong way round. We hadn’t noticed in Spain previously as the mucho plenty sunshine kept both fully charged. This is a big problem for us that love to ‘wild’ camp without hook-up in the UK. So yet again we had to book a repair session down in that there Paignton for another fix. Bugga.
Meantime we had to wait for Christmas and the New Year to get out of the way.
20th December found us parked up on a site at Uphill – Weston super Mare for a couple of nights. ‘A very popular site’ we hear ’Is that why it’s £30 a night mid-december?’ Says us thinking ‘then why the hell is the place almost empty!!?’- But hey, we had chosen to try the place and could go elsewhere if we weren’t happy. And to be honest it wasn’t too special at all. It did give us chance to get our electrics booted back up and get ourselves sorted out.
The Christmas period itself was planned with a couple of pre-booked chalets in Cheddar, Somerset. This was for a group of seven of us family members including all the Old Folk…. So prior to this we booked Ruby back into her cosy storage site, swapping her for our Mini, which was doing remarkably well to say that she has sat in a cold, dark, damp field for months, started up straight away bless her.
This left us with the opportunity of staying for one night (22nd) in the posh Hilton Hotel and Spa in Congresbury. Right nice it was, particularly after our(very early) arrival. ‘Is our room ready yet?’ Says I. But as she is looking at her screen, she has a look of ‘fat chance’ on her face. So a quick attack by me of ‘hopefully, as it is Michelle’s birthday today’ – To which the receptionist lifted her head, gave a huge smile and ‘brilliant, congratulations- let me see what I can do’.. wahey. Yup, the nice lady managed to upgrade us to a Deluxe room with a view. Wow. Thanks. And, of course, it was ready straight away. (And yes it was actually Michelle’s birthday!). So we quickly dumped our stuff and headed off to lunch then to the swimming pool and sauna (and yes- mums we did allow an hour between food and swimming).
In celebration of Michelle’s birthday we dressed up (in the best clothing that we carry with us in Ruby) and had dinner in the Marco Pierre White restaurant in the hotel. ’Twas a very nice change and we splashed out on a great steak dinner and a glass or two of red. We are proud to say we were the last to leave the restaurant bar at the end of the evening. Happy Birthday Michelle..
Dec 23rd-27th was spent in the chalets in Cheddar with the family for a cosy, fun, busy Christmas with the added joy of a hot tub in both chalets to enjoy whilst it rained outside. One chalet was for us with my parents whilst next door was Michelle’s parents and sister. All of us running backwards and forwards between the two. Well to be fair, there was more of a shuffle than a run..! But we had an enjoyable four days without too much stress. We were even joined by kids/grandkids one afternoon. Lovely.
We had a bit of a problem on the 27th-28th as we could not collect Ruby from storage as they were closed up for Christmas so we visited yet another hotel for a couple of nights. Really get fed up with hotels after a while but we remembered a Premier Inn near to Cribbs Causeway shopping mall burning down last year…. Great…. This means that this was now a brand new one which would guarantee decent quality. ! The added bonus of being next to the shopping mall meant we could start to do our very overdue Christmas shopping AND at ‘sale’ prices. Win win.
New Year was spent back in the old haunt of Burnham On Sea seafront after collecting Ruby from storage. This was not a very exciting party time however, in reality, Covid had put the kybosh on everyones partying due to very tight restrictions. We did manage to pop a cork out of a bottle of fizz on the seafront in the freezing cold breeze.! HAPPY NEW YEAR.. Do we hope that 2022 is an improvement on 2021 then…. Yes indeed. Despite the fact we travelled well, did lots of things and managed to spend time with loved ones….. we really need things to pick-up.
We were lucky enough to spend some family time with daughter and granddaughter visits whilst parked up here too.
So 2022 started off very flat. The first few days were pretty grim, both with the flat, cloudy, cold weather but me and Mich were also attempting ‘Dry January’- Not even a drink to keep us warm. We were intent on getting back over to Spain at the earliest opportunity to get some blue sky and extra 10º of warmth. However by this time the French govt had decided to stop us Brits entering France or even driving through. This meant that our plan on taking the ferry to Santander/Bilbao was set back on as this was now the (only) vehicle route to Spain and it was therefore quickly booked up. We would have a six week wait..!
In addition, thanks to Brexit we can only spend 90 days out of each 180 days in Europe (with some Schengen exceptions). We therefore had to make some decisions as to when we would prefer to take our remaining 60 days. We figured that by spending January at home we could just hunker down and enjoy the anticipation of the next trip in February and March. Not sure if this was the right decision as January was sooooooooo long…! And soooo overcast. But hey. Sit tight and keep smiling.
We were pretty irritable and gloomy (unusually for us) and this is one period when a tiny motorhome is a little too cosy for two grumpy monsters! Thankfully we also took the decision to learn to speaka De Español to distract us from our woes. Here we are several weeks later and still learning every day. Gracias….!
January 3rd was spent on the driveway of Mich’s aunt and uncle near to the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire. Just the one night but enough to spend more quality time and see their lovely new house and the local village. The use of their electric was useful, not to mention the generous food and coffee….. We had a real test of the ‘dry January’ whilst here under extreme pressure but we pushed on through…!
We spent the following few days visiting sites in the region of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire including the Forest of Dean to explore areas not previously seen other than just driving through. A couple of nights in the Bracelands site near Coleford in the Forest of Dean were pretty impressive with many woodland walks around us and the chance to search for the elusive wild boar. The locals will tell you that they are everywhere, ‘get into your rubbish bins’, ‘dig up your garden’ and ‘attack your dogs’… however when out camping and quietly walking round the ‘forest’ at dusk, there was still nothing to see apart for the masses of dug-up woodland. We did get to really enjoy the magic of the fallow deer. They arrived on the campsite after dark, many of them, walking, running and leaping round in the shadows just far enough away to see them only faintly before they get spooked and come chasing past at speed. One time at around 2am we could hear a snuffling sound just outside Ruby and looking out the window could see deer immediately outside our window. We spent probably half an hour just watching them ghosting close by us and the other motorhomes whilst most people slept. They are such mystical creatures.
Then back up into Worcestershire again and into the Blackmore campsite near the other side of the Malvern Hills for four nights. We were having to miss out on our desire to wild camp at this stage largely due to the electric problems with Ruby. The lack of sunshine on the solar panels combined with the ‘confused’ Control Panel in Ruby meant we were struggling to maintain enough battery to spend more than one night without hook-up. Thankfully our LPG gas could keep us warm regardless (and mighty cheap too). Blackmore site was pretty good, clean with hot showers and very friendly staff which always makes such a difference. We are still not able to grasp that sites are still charging over £20 per night in the depths of winter and very low demand. Especially being a tight Northern Bas***d. !
We took the opportunity to visit the town of Worcester which was an easy bus ride from the site. Well in theory anyway… The freshly updated ‘online’ timetable told us that the only morning bus into Worcester was 10.48am. On walking the half mile to the bus stop, the timetable posted there showed a freshly updated print out showing 11.48am. Bugga. OK so we abandon that and return again later – ‘What happened to the timetable?’ we ask the driver when the bus arrives. ‘No idea’ says he ‘It’s been the same time for the last few years’ !…. Worcester was not too exciting but then again, a damp, very cold, overcast day will always make it difficult to appreciate the qualities of any town. So we treated ourselves to a slap up steak lunch, which had the added bonus of providing a warm restaurant to settle in for a couple of hours. The bus ride home provided us with some more entertainment. Bearing in mind it was pitch dark on our return in an area we did not know, we kept and eye on our location on our mobile phone map and hit the ‘stop’ button as we approached our bus stop. At which point the driver kept going, past the stop and heading purposefully into the local village a further mile away…… noooooo… We had to run forward to get him to stop before things got completely out of control. He thankfully stopped for us and let us out mid way leaving us to trek all the way back in the pitch dark along the muddy footpath. The driver accepted his mistake with the added comment of ‘That stop is a new one on me’ ..!- Cheers.
11th January and we were slowly headed south again – with an appointment in Paignton on 24th for Ruby repairs. After a short family visit, collecting our bikes from Portishead, collecting a new bike cover and other domestic chores we ended up in Dartmoor for one night wild camping and even managed a couple of nights in Tintagel in North Cornwall – still wild camping.
We have by now improved our skillset on managing the battery problems, part of which involves running the engine for ten mins in the evening. Something I am loathe to do but it gets us through for the next day. This ‘wild’ site in Tintagel was actually a paid car park without any facilities. There was a car parking charge which in reality was quite a lot of money for just parking in a tarmac car park. You paid £4 for the day and £5 overnight (that’s £9 in total for those of you from a Comprehensive School education )! But this car park was in the centre of Tintagel, really close to all the local pubs (damn this Dry January!) and cafes and easy walk to the impressive castle and coastal walks. So it suited us and the signage was actually welcoming for motorhomes for once. Mind you one of the guys at the King Arthur Inn (within the carpark area) was less welcoming. As always we are constantly on the search for drinking water to keep our tanks topped up. As I wandered round in search of a tap one of the staff outside the pub said ‘yes mate, you can get water from this tap here if you are camping in the car park’- that’s nice. He even walked me over to the tap alongside the pub and confirmed its availability. Five minutes later and on filling my second water carrier, some bloke steps out of the pub;-
‘hoy, what are you doing!’ aggressively as you like ‘you can’t take that water- you can’t just walk in here and take this water’- A short stumpy kinda fat bloke who wasn’t really the right stature to be so gobby!
‘Well I have just been told quite specifically by one of your colleagues that I can use this water’
‘Who was that’
‘He didn’t provide his name’ says I cheerfully. ‘Are you the manager’?
At which point Stumpy marches off into the pub and I continue filling. A short while later the jovial manager leans out and politely advises me that I really shouldn’t be using this water and I shouldn’t have been invited to.
‘OK fine, perhaps you need to speak to Stumpy and calm him down though. He is likely to blow a gasket with his blustering’ Says I.
‘Yes, he is a little fiery isn’t he. Sorry’- ‘ and, if it helps, there is another tap round the corner provided for the overnight campers…!’
So we spent the days visiting the castle and the local area. We took a coastal walk into Boscastle and caught the bus back. We really enjoyed these days in Tintagel and will certainly return. Though avoiding the summer probably.
Bude was our next location- still in North Cornwall- for four nights. This was originally booked as two nights but the site was good, staff friendly, showers hot and location good. We managed to use our bikes for the first time in ages to cycle into Bude itself. ‘God, don’t remember being this unfit’… as we trudged up a particularly steep hill…
The Strawberry Fields Farm shop car park near Launceston followed by the car park on the riverside at Totnes made up more of our whistle-stop overnight excitement on our Devon tour.
The next few days revolved around the repairs to Ruby in Paignton. We stayed the night of the 23rd Jan in the Beverly Park campsite in Paignton so we were ready for dropping Ruby off first thing on the Monday morning. We had her booked in for 2-3 days so we had prepared to stay in the old favourite of the Premier Inn in Torquay. – Still not drinking alcohol remember… Who knew that orange or lime and soda with be so tasty…. !
On the Wednesday we had a call saying Ruby was ready so with great excitement we arrived and was met by the workshop manager who painstakingly went through the list of bits that he had repaired. BUT made no mention of the BIG problems at the top of the list ….THAT WE HAD BOOKED HER IN FOR…! Grrrrrrr…
Now don’t get me wrong. All the staff at Alan KERR in Paignton are great people, very helpful and cheerful but don’t seem too good on communication despite the fact we had several times asked them to call us on the phone to discuss any issues…. It was only when we stood and specifically showed them the main fault that their faces dropped. ‘Please try again’ and ‘please try harder’ we say. AND we will have to keep Ruby over night to sleep in as we cannot keep paying for hotels. Now…. Come Friday afternoon we were still there hanging round the Alan KERR office drinking coffee- having arrived first thing Monday morning we were the last ones standing on Friday afternoon. A new Control Panel was eventually decided was necessary and it arrived by UPS with them Friday pm. Brett (bless him) fitted it at about 5pm and announced ‘ The original fault is fixed’ hooray ….but ‘there are now several other new faults!’
We had no choice now but to leave it at that for now and move on. We had to leave for Spain early on Tuesday morning from Portsmouth so could not spend another day with them.
So now we had other issues to work around for two months in Spain. Who said motorhoming was easy!
Next we managed to spend a wonderful time in Portsmouth, getting a taste for the place and deciding that a further visit will be worthy. We visited the top of the iconic Spinnaker Tower and found our new favourite restaurant Phö (Vietnamese).
The other exciting part was seeing the brand new aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth in the dockyard. With a great view of it from the height of the Spinnaker, we also realised that we would be sailing right alongside it from the Brittany Ferries terminal the next morning Wahey. Some of you may not know, but Michelle has spent many months stationed on the Illustrious and the Ark Royal aircraft carriers in years gone by so this was indeed a treat. We had in fact noticed the sister new aircraft carrier Prince of Wales heading out to sea from Portsmouth from our campsite in Paignton several days earlier which was exciting enough.
1st Feb -So here I am now writing this blog whilst on the Brittany Ferry from Portsmouth and headed for the sunshine.
And guess what…. Whilst looking out the side window of the Ferry (Galacia) we see again an aircraft carrier in the distance out at sea. Thankfully we had the binoculars and got a good look at the Prince of Wales aircraft carrier again AND it had three CHINOOK helicopters on the deck. Michelle was in second heaven. What a treat. …… Too much? Well we enjoyed it…
Sooo for those of you still awake….. and interested… The total return ferry price including the very nice, very comfortable, clean en-suite cabin + two meals was a pretty huge £1187..wow. And this was with a Friends and Family discount of 10%.
However, compare this to 5 tanks of fuel @ £80 a time, toll roads totalling £100+ and the Channel Tunnel at £318. Cheaper by road but then add-in four days of travel (via Folkestone-not very direct) and wear and tear/mileage on Ruby it is a worthy comparison. Discuss…
Did you know….HMS Queen Elizabeth is the largest and most powerful vessel ever constructed for the Royal Navy. This awe-inspiring warship is capable of carrying up to 40 aircraft. The sister ship of HMS Prince of Wales likewise.
As well as state-of-the-art weaponry and communications systems, the ships boast five gyms, a chapel and a medical centre.
The flight deck comes in at an enormous four acres, and will be used to launch the fearsome new F35 Joint Strike Fighter fast jet. Four fighter jets can be moved from the hangar to the flight deck in just one minute. HMS Queen Elizabeth, which was accepted into the fleet in 2017, and the HMS Prince of Wales, active service since 2020.