01.01.2011 - 19.01.2011
The first day of the year began with a big cooked breakfast at 10am at Steve and Helen’s, joining all the relatives who’d stayed over. We had planned to head west after breakfast, but Helen’s other sister Sharon invited us to a barbecue in the afternoon at their place a few miles away in Colyton. The family group piled over there and we feasted on sausages, goose spring rolls, salmon and prawn kebabs, glorious lamb ribs, roast taters cooked in goose fat (yum) and all manner of salads. It was really delicious washed down with some cider.
Though we were enjoying ourselves we had to take our leave and head to a campsite just outside of Axminster; it was already dark at 5pm and I hate driving the van at night. We found the site without too much trouble, but as we couldn’t get any response from the reception or the phone numbers affixed to the door, we worried the camp might be closed.
The farmhouse on the site luckily housed the former owner of the site who told us that the site was “sort of” closed (whatever that means); it was however kept open for any stragglers looking for an overnight stay. We turned out to be the only campers on the site, but we had power and toilets and a hot shower, so who cares?
We took off the next morning and made for Paignton. We were hoping to meet a chap who runs a business selling motorhomes nearby in Torquay the next morning; so we parked up at the Beverley Holiday Park in Paignton, a place built more for family summer entertainment than pure camping. Being winter of course, most amenities were closed; so the rather pricey £24.50 seemed a lot to pay for an overnight stay.
We met Nick Legg from ‘Bundesvan Motorhome Sales’ at the Torquay railway station at midday the next day. He looked the van over and surprised us by saying we should advertise the van for £19,990 ($30,000), with a view to netting (after his fee of £1500 and sundry repairs of about £500) about £18,000. This cheered us up a lot as I’d only really expected to get about £15,000.
Happily Nick also recommended a good campsite in Plymouth only half an hour west; we headed there and parked up at the Riverside Caravan Park, alongside a languidly flowing river and surrounded by tall trees – a lovely setting despite the grey skies and showers.
We moved on after three days, stopping at the local McDonalds to have breakfast and use the internet. We drove west through delightful countryside into Cornwall, finally making for a small farm campsite in Ashton near Helston. Camping is really just in a big field - I was rightly concerned about this as the front-wheel drive on this van is hopeless on wet slippery surfaces. I nearly got stuck in the mud just parking the thing
In the evening Ann and I went to have dinner at the local pub, ‘The Lion and the Lamb’. The meal was great; I had a whopping beef and ale pie with chips, while Ann had a lamb shank. We had a few drinks and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere, although I’m feeling under the weather with a bout of flu.
The next morning, Friday, I managed to slide the van out of the field and decided to do a bit of a drive around western Cornwall, stopping for a delicious Cornish pasty for lunch. Penzance City Centre seemed to have been blocked to traffic for who knows what reason; so we drove on to Land’s End, then to St. Michael’s Mount, a very impressive structure just off the coast at Marazion.
We stopped on a bright and sunny but blustery afternoon at the Lavender Field campsite at Carnhell Green near Camborne. The owner is a jovial sort (not local – apparently Cornish folk are not really big on hospitality to out-of-towners) who owns six mad German Shepherds, fearsomely aggressive until they come up to you; then they turn into softies.
We stayed the day at the campsite just to relax. My flu was in full swing; so it was just as well we stayed - I wouldn’t have been up to driving around. Besides it was a lovely sunny day for relaxing, the first we’d seen since Calais when snow was thick on the ground.
The next morning I saw the first sunrise in about thirty years. The sun blazed over the low rolling western hills giving the whole sky a rich warm glow. We left late as we’d promised ourselves a Sunday roast at the pub in Carnhell Green. For £8.30 a head we had a large meal of sliced beef, roast potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, savoy cabbage, swede, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. We both felt fit to burst when we’d finished – it was yummy.
After staying a night at a campsite near Newquay called Hendra Croft, we drove up to Padstowe on a truly miserable wet day to see Rick Stein’s home town. It’s a truly quaint little Cornish fishing village; sadly the weather was that grim that we only got out of the van to have lunch at Rick’s fish and chip shop (we didn’t fancy the prices at his main restaurant).
Tuesday we continued driving through North Devon, stopping in the early afternoon at North Molton, a very pretty little village tucked away in the pine forests. We had a drink at the Poltimore Arms, where we got chatting to the locals. It was such a friendly place that we decided to have dinner there that evening. The Riverside Park campsite in South Molton was only about 4kms down the road; a pleasant and well-equipped site, typical of most campsites in England.
The Wareham Forest campsite near Wareham (not surprisingly) is of the quality of the Broadhembury one near Ashford – excellent pitches, hot showers, internet access and very pleasant staff. It’s the third site we’ve stayed at that we’ve found in the ‘Best of British’ handbook; and it serves to add weight to the view that the British sites are the best in Europe.
On the Friday before we left, we drove into Poole to book a day to get the van serviced and MOT’ed. It’s been booked in for Friday, which works out well.
We stayed until Saturday after which time we had to leave to see our friends in Portsmouth before Ann leaves the UK on Wednesday when we plan to head back to Portsmouth to a site nearby in Southsea. We received an SMS tonight with an invitation from Liliane (the lady we befriended in Aix-en-Provence) to come over for dinner on Saturday night. And we’re having dinner at Elma’s on Sunday
We arrived in Portsmouth and booked into a dreadful campsite in Southsea ahead of going out for dinner at Liliane’s. We felt honoured as a number of friends had been invited to celebrate the evening – Carol & Garrick whom we’d met at Fiona’s, and Carol from Arc-en-Ciel accompanied by her partner Chris. Great food and a really enjoyable night.
We moved to a slightly better campsite the next day in Gosport, nothing to speak of but not like the one the night before. It seems that Portsmouth has let down southern England; because these last two camps have both been poor; and what’s worse, expensive. Still we had a really lovely meal together with Fiona, Mike and India. As we left I detected a hint of sadness in Elma’s tone, reminding us that she’d been really pleased to have us stay.
Ann and I moved on up to Denham near London the next day and stayed at the ‘Caravan Club’ site there for two nights. A lovely site in every way – small, clean, friendly and great showers AND not expensive – 16 pounds a night.
I took Ann to Heathrow on the Wednesday evening and, due to a fiasco surrounding the short stay car park, I only managed a quick goodbye at the check-in before the tannoy announced that if the motorhome wasn’t moved immediately, it would be towed away by the police!
I returned to the Denham campsite – alone!