East England Escapades, July 2017

16 July 2017, a mild Sunday in July. We had planned to do a National Trust property and have a picnic. It was a bit overcast, but still warm and humid, so a picnic did not seem too out of the question. Everyone was up early for once. The end of term excitement had meant we were all knackered and had an early night. This also meant we all woke up at the crack of dawn. After a few days in the garage, we now had the old Freelander back in action. A seized brake calliper and a broken ball joint (front drivers side for both) had been repaired and the car was driving like new again – thanks yet again to Doug and Kev at AVS garage. I put £40 worth of diesel in it and got a loaf of bread from the garage. We the made a few sandwiches (my egg mayo being the favourite of everyone), lobbed them in the cool box and set off bang on 9-30 in the morning.

Ramsey Abbey Gatehouse

Ramsey Abbey Gatehouse

As usual we had to get Ash from Leicester city centre. We met him at the nearby Lidl which is an ideal stop for cheap picnic food. Fully stocked up, we headed off to the National Trust property chosen by Ashley – Ramsey Abbey Gatehouse. This was about 55 miles away, almost directly east across the A47. It was a dull drive, made slightly more enjoyable by the fact the car worked much better. We didn’t get a drum roll every time we hit a pebble thanks to the new ball joint, and the car actually sped up when the accelerator was depressed now the front bake was not perpetually on (and squeaking). When we eventually got to Ramsey, we couldn’t see any Brown Signs (the colour of road signs used to show where places of interest are), and promptly drove straight past it. After a quick U Turn and a consultation with Google Maps, we backtracked and found it. Now, I am a big fan of the National Trust. We have been to over 16 of their properties in the last 18 months or so, but I can happily report that this was not what we had expected. This was, in part, down to both Ash and myself not reading the blurb in the book and just using the app to find somewhere within a reasonable distance. The Ramsey Abbey Gatehouse is essentially a very old wall with a gate in in and a couple of windows. That is it. Suitably dismayed, more at our own stupidity than anything else, we returned to the car and looked for somewhere else to go. Luckily for us there is a wealth of NT places in the East of England, and we set off for Houghton Mill & Waterclose Meadows which were a mere 10 miles or so down the road.

Flour Mill

Flour being Milled

It was very easy to find, and they have a large car park which also backs onto a caravan and camping area. Once parked up we hit the picnic. Suitably fuelled up on egg sandwiches and Lidl viscounts we set off for the mill. This is the oldest working watermill in the country and, as luck would have it, they demonstrate the flour milling every Sunday. This is a very old, mostly wooden structure, that contains engineering elements which are over 300 years old. The original owner, a Quaker, reinvested the profits from the mill into the village, and was so well respected that the residents of the village purchased the mill from him when it came to the end of its working life. It was later acquired by the Youth Hostel Association and for a period of time was used as an active Youth Hostel. In the mid 1980’s they sold it on to the National Trust for a pound. Thanks to a heritage grant from the European Union, over a million pounds has been spent on renovation and maintenance, and now the mill is up and running and there for all to enjoy. The upper floor is very cramped, and has some old children’s games and some YHA history and artifacts. The rest of the mill is dedicated to its own history, and lessons on how to mill flour the traditional way. As usual, the NT staff were incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. We were also in time to see flour being milled. Incredible to see the cast iron and wooden cogs working in conjunction with the huge milling stones to grind the flour out. For all we have gained in technology, it almost seems we have lost the art of clever engineering. After an couple of hours exploring the Mill, it was time to move on.

Hunstanton Car Park

Hunstanton – Bingo Hall

In conversation with the NT volunteers at the mill, it transpired that the coast was not more than 60 miles away from where we were. A mere drop in the ocean, pardon the pun, in terms of driving. The weather looked like it was picking up, so we thought – why not? We worked out we would be there by 3 (or thereabouts), so set off feeling excited about the seaside. About 5 minutes into the drive, it began to rain. Light rain at first, then it blatted down. Undeterred, we ploughed on. This is the British summer, after all. The rain cleared up, eventually, and gave way to grey skies. Although it was a bit miserable, the temperature stayed up so we didn’t freeze as we reached Hunstanton, a coastal town in Norfolk. We parked up on the beach front in front of some closed down arcades and a bingo hall. We could hear the Bingo Caller shouting out the numbers, and for some reason they were piped through a PA system for the whole world to hear. The tide was out, the donkeys were on the beach, and with the recent rain having drenched everywhere, it was a fairly bleak scene. We went for a walk down the beach and did a bit of rock pool exploration around the giant zig-zag wooden wave breaks that ran down the beach at staggered intervals. It was unilaterally decided that we should seek sandier shores, and move down the Norfolk coast. Before we left, we purchased a bucket and spade for Erin, as tradition dictates.

Sunset over Wells Harbour

Sunset over Wells Harbour

As we drove through the coastal villages, we kept looking for side roads to the beach. We found on in Brancaster, but it just lead to a marina. The tide was so far out that most of the boats were resting on mud flats. We took a couple of photos, drove the car through some mud and sand, then carried on down the coast to Wells Next The Sea. A family favourite, and a place we have been to many times. When we first arrived we parked up down by the beach. Its a massive car park, with shops and facilities at the top end, including a Joules shop which is always dangerous when Erin is around. We went down to the beach and spent a couple of hours walking along the shore, catching crabs, making sandcastles and collecting shells. The sun had come out and was busy beating heat down onto everyone. It was idyllic. With the tide out you can walk for miles. The beach is very sandy at the top with a row of brightly coloured beach huts stretching out along the line between the beach and the forest. With time running out, we headed up into the town and parked by the harbour. We took a stroll up into town to find a cashpoint (ATM) before going back down to the waterfront for some fish and chips. We then had a quick blast in an arcade, wining many sweets from the 2p Push machines, and getting very filthy fingers in the process. As we bid farewell to Wells, the sun was going down offering some great photo opportunities. Take a look in our gallery for some of the ones we took.

We left just before half 9. As we travelled home, we watch the sun set over Norfolk. It was a deep, burning red sunset, that the camera could only hint at when we tried to capture it. We stopped briefly at a service station near Peterborough, and were back home around midnight. I dropped the girls off before having to make another trip into Leicester to drop Ashley off. I eventually hit the hay around half 1 and slept like a log! Total Miles: 310.8

Mileage

Mileage

Bloxham, June 2017

car park

Parked Up On The Cricket Pitch

24th June 2017. Although not technically a family day out, this is worthy of a mention, plus June was a very quiet month despite it being the hottest on record to date. Some 30 years ago my school life ended, as it does for all of us at some point in time. My senior school was a place called Bloxham School, located in the picturesque Oxfordshire village of Bloxham, which lies on the outskirts of the Cotswolds. Every year, they hold an open day called Founderstide. This is a day for pupils past and present, and their families, to get together and have a look at the school and all its departments. There is a church service, prize giving for the best students (of which I never partook for some reason!), displays, sports events and a bit of food and drink. It is then rounded off by a grand ball in the evening.

Over the years I have popped back on the odd occasion. It is always a bitter-sweet experience, as life in a British boarding school is not all Harry Potter-esque fun and japes, despite my kids nicknaming the place ‘Hogwarts’. There were dark days there for almost everyone at one point in time or another, but age, and a mortgage, puts school life into perspective, and you tend to rose tint the past, filtering out all the bad bits. Although you spend a relatively small amount of time at school (in this case, I was there for 5 years), it seems to leave an indelible mark on your psyche.

Seeing the place evolve over the years is interesting. Best summed up by the phrase ‘Everything changes, but it all stays the same’. The growth of the School has been very subtle, with new buildings sneaking in unnoticed, and old ones disappearing back into the village, or repurposed for other school duties. For those who have not been back since leaving, they would still be able to navigate the place, only hitting the odd dead end, or brick wall where once there were none.

The route to get there had not changed (Lutterworth, Rugby, Dunchurch, Southam, Banbury). Neither had the mode of transport – my father’s car (the TD4 Freelander this time, and not a 1980’s Audi 100 filled with cigar smoke). As soon as you hit Banbury, you can smell the food factory nearby. Still not sure what they make but it is a heavy sweet smell almost like coffee baking. There were some days in the 80’s when this smell gave me butterflies, and anxiety. In an almost Stockholm Syndrome way, it now signals an imminent sense of nostalgia.

Once in the village there is a diversion away from the main car park, to the playing fields, which serve as a temporary car park during Founderstide. I arrived in the clonky old Land Rover just as the prize giving had taken place. It has moved from a modest marquee on the Headmasters Lawn to a massive marquee on the uppermost playing field. My car drew, what I imagine were, some admiring glances from the array of Range Rover owners who walked past it on the way back to the school. I joined the throng and headed straight for a look at my old house.

raymond

Raymond House

The school (still) has 6 boarding houses. Mine was called Raymond House and was opened by Margaret Thatcher in the early 1970’s when she was Minister for Education. It is possibly the most ill-fitting of all the buildings in the school, being a 3 storey rectangular box, with a small house clamped at a right angle to the far end of the building. Bar new windows, and a new name plaque it has not changed a bit externally in almost 4 decades. I did not look inside, as it has now become a house for girls only in the aftermath of the school becoming fully Co-ed at the end of the 1990’s. The quad, the rectangle of tarmac outside the house, was full of cars but used to be full of life. I remember sitting out there, reading Stephen King, listening to ‘Born In The USA’ by Springsteen and being all that was the 80’s.

I moved around from there to the Science Block. I almost got expelled due to an incident early in my school career in this building, but that is a story for another time. It has not changed a bit. I think some of the desks have been replaced, and a couple of rooms have been chopped in half but again, very recognisable to all who have been though it over the last however many years. The buildings outside have changed a bit though. As you look at the front of the building, it is now flanked to its left by the Technology Centre, a very modern piece of architecture, housing computers and design stuff. In front of the science block used to be the Squash Courts, Five Courts and an antique Gym. These have been replaced by a Music School, built into what was the old gym. Beyond that, sandwiched in between the Music School and the Great Hall is the ultra-modern Vallance library, named after the headmaster of my era.

main school

The Main School Building

I walked up past these buildings to the Great Hall itself. This was really the heart of the school both now and then. It has the English block at the far end and the language block at the front end. In the middle is a large, obviously, hall. This is where all school assemblies took place, along with plays, prize giving, talks, and even movies thanks to a cinema screen that lowered down across the stage. I explored either end of this building, as the hall itself was being prepared for further activities. Once again, nothing has changed, and in one classroom, even the desks were from my era. I did notice all the plastic chairs had been replaced by ones with cushioned seats and backs. The youth of today clearly softer than the youth of yesteryear.

chapel

Inside the main Chapel

There were many areas I had missed, and I may go back again one day, but I was pressed for time, so rounded off my visit to the main school campus by wandering through the main school building which is home to the Chapel, dining room and a small library among other things. This has changed quite a bit, with the old staff room being replaced by catering equipment to service the new and rather large refectory area. The Chapel itself has not changed, and I think any pupil from any past era would agree, going right back to the start of the school around 1860. Whilst it is a delightful bit of architecture, it was a place I tried to desperately avoid whilst there as a pupil. We had to use it at least 3 times a week – house chapel, school chapel and your year chapel. I feel that all those years spent gorging on God were enough to last a lifetime…

The main school is also now adorned with CCTV cameras, which makes sneaking out under cover of darkness for a crafty cigarette virtually impossible. WIth this type of security it makes me wander how the odd rebellious student is able to rock the boat these days! I am sure they have new and different things to do that would upset the system.

workhoue

The Workhouse

I ended my walk down memory lane by walking up Workhouse Lane. The name arose from an actual Workhouse situated on the lane, which was, in my day, owned by the school and converted into a small theatre for plays not grand enough to be performed in the Great Hall. I am not sure of the buildings purpose now, but it looked dishevelled and unloved. Its use seemed to have been consigned to the history books.

Back on the playing fields, I fired up the car and hooked my iPhone up to the Bluetooth cassette in the cars old tape player (things of science fiction 30 years ago), firing up ‘Misplaced Childhood’ by Marillion as I once again bade farewell to a place I will never truly leave behind.

Total mileage: 72.5 miles

Watery Gate Lane, Leicestershire. May 2017

14th May 2017. Although this was not a day out per se, it was a place we went to, whilst out for the day. We happened to be scoffing at the Phoenix when a friend posted a video on Facebook. He was driving his Land Rover Defender through some water, whilst a saloon car sat there not daring to drive through. He went through like a hot knife through butter. He then put up #becauseican. First thought was – we will have some of that!

The TD4 has not done a lot of purposeful wading. By not a lot, I mean basically none. I hadn’t done any for some considerable period of time, but remembered the basics. One of these being that the wading depth for the Freelander 1 is 1400 mm (as recommended by Land Rover in the user manual). There had been a drop of rain or two that day, but this had abated by the time we found the spot. For anyone local it is between Huncote and Earl Shilton.

map

Watery Gate Lane, Leicestersire

I attached the GoPro to the front of the car before we left Leicester, and began recording as we approached the ford. In my haste to play, I forgot the golden rule of driving through water. Stop and have a proper look first. I didn’t, and just ploughed into it. I was driving slowly, but not as slowly as I possibly could have, especially considering the foot and a half of water was a bit deeper than the recommended limit (by about 200 mm). Water came up over the bonnet and there was a large amount of steam bellowing out from under the bonnet. This was just the water hitting the hot engine and evaporating, not any damage to the car. What I hadn’t realised at that stage, and only picked up after my fourth trip through the ford, was that the under car protection for the engine (a plastic sheet under the engine bay) had been partially ripped off by the force of the water. Having had our fun we headed home but not before stopping to jack the car up and pop the protection tray back in place! Much fun had by all – results available on YouTube!

water

Watery Gate Lane, with me in it!

Leicester in May

Clock Tower

Leicester City Centre – Clock Tower

With various forces conspiring against us, we were not able to explore for a couple of weekends toward the end of May 2017. We did, however, have to go to Leicester a couple of times for various reasons. As a result, we started to actually take a look at the city which is the heart of our county. Like most people, I take for granted places I go to regularly. This is especially the case with Leicester. You normally go to town on a mission – be it shopping, sport, hospital and so on. Sometimes it is a good idea to stop and take a proper look. This is what we have started to do, so we will put some galleries together over the coming months, years, decades possibly!

Phoenix

Parked up at the phoenix

It turns out that a lot of history occurred in Leicester, from the Romans to Richard III and beyond. In terms of driving, its basically a 26 mile round trip from home to the car park we use the most – The Phoenix Arts Centre car park. It probably has an official name, but that is one mystery I will not be rushing to solve!

As luck would have it there was an event occurring during our first exploration trip into town. Morris Dancing. Lots of Morris Dancing. Dozens of dancing troupes were performing at 19 locations throughout the city. For anyone who doesn’t know, Morris Dancing is traditional English folk dancing which can be dated back to the 13th century. It made for a very bright and noisy addition to an already vibrant day in the city. We had to take a break from the festivities at Mrs Bridges Tea Rooms. Could it be more of an English spring day?! I almost rushed out and got a St Georges Cross tattoo, but luckily restrained myself. On the same day we strolled around the market, both indoor and outdoor versions.

On that day and on a later stroll around, we lamented the loss of several old shops, some of which were in landmark buildings (such as Fenwicks). The face of the city centre has changed so much in our lifetime, that it makes you wander what the future holds. Have a look at the ‘Leicester May 2017’ gallery for more interesting photos and information.

 

morris dancers

Morris Dancers outside the old Corn Exchange.

Badders! May 2017

flag

Welcome to Badders!

7th May 2017 – Badminton Horse Trials in Gloucestershire.

We were all set to get up at 6 and be on our way by 7 as its a trek to get there, but as usual we ran away from us and we ended up leaving at 7.50 a.m. It was cold and overcast, so we wrapped up warm. First stop was the garage to fill up and diesel, and grab a copy of the Sunday Times (with this years Rich List attached). We then began the trip down a series of motorways. It was about as interesting at the French Presidential election (which was also taking place today). M6 to M42 to M5. As per last weeks outing,  only the last 20 miles or so were on any vaguely interesting roads. With only a quick stop on the M5 for a Micky Dee’s breakfast, we were off the motorways by around 10 a.m. Went through some picturesque villages including Cockadilly near Nympsfield (I kid you not, its just of the B4066 not far from Stonehouse). Anyway, we eventually arrived around 10.30 a.m.

The sun had began to break through but it was still a bit on the chilly side as we parked up, sorted some kit out and headed to the arena. It was heaving. The Cross Country had finished, so it was Show Jumping for the horse and riders. The actual arena on Show Jumping day is a ticket only affair, but there are some decent size screens around the ground where you can catch the action. Before all that we hit the stalls. Clothes, food and horse gear everywhere. We visited our friends at the Festival Of Food marquee. Um Bongo is back! We also picked up some funky cooking oils while we were there. We trawled through many of the clothes stalls and also had a look at a classic Mitsubishi Colt that was on display. Some amazing food was on offer. We tried some Wild Mallard, lots of Venison. I had a gourmet Lamb & Mint burger, and plenty of whippy ice cream was consumed. The sun came out with a vengeance, and the afternoon enjoyed a total heat-wave.

The Duchess Of Cornwall

The Duchess Of Cornwall

As we headed over to the big screen, we stopped by the Badminton School stall and enjoyed some flapjack as well as learning a bit of science. The big screen area was fairly full, and was also surrounded by food and drink stands. We even bumped into some friends from our neck of the woods. There was a lot of pomp and ceremony in the show jumping arena as the Duchess Of Cornwall was in attendance. I managed to grab 40 winks whilst sitting on the grass. Erin played with some of her friends from home as well as some new friends she had made whilst sitting there. We stayed for over an hour before going for a slow stroll around the arena and back to the car.

IMG_5970

Strange Tower!

It didn’t take too long to get out of the car park (which resembled a Land Rover showroom). We then had a nice meander along country lanes back to the motorways. There is lots of lovely rolling farmland and some quaint villages on the way, and we stopped to take photo of a very interesting building on the edge of one such village. No idea what it is – send any information to us on a postcard! The motorway trek home was trouble free, stopping only for a bit of food at the services on the M6. We eventually got home around half 7, and the sun was still out. All in all a good day out.

 

Total Miles: 233.1

Mileage

Mileage

Solihull Outing May 2017

1st May 2017 – Bank Holiday Monday. It was cold, overcast and generally miserable. The weather was typical of Bank Holidays. Running low on dosh and diesel, we decided to National Trust it on the attraction front and bin off any extra curricular eateries. A picnic was also the order of the day. I made my legendary Egg Mayonnaise, and Shani put it into different forms of bread. We filled the car fridge and then headed off to Leicester to fetch Ash.

car aprk

Packwood House Car Park

Once we picked him up, we took a very dreary route to the first location. We went through Leicester and then the M69, M6 and M42. The last couple of miles were on slightly more interesting country roads. It appears there is a lot of greenery on the outskirts of Solihull (for those not in the know, Solihull is a few miles south/south-east of Birmingham). When we eventually found the car park, the Sat Nav having failed us, which it very rarely does, it was heaving. Luckily there was an overflow car park, in a field next to the main car park. Anyone with a 4×4 will tell you what a dream scenario that is! I proceeded to park at the farthest point away from the entrance, which gave me the most amount of driving on grass as was humanly possible. We had a quick snack on the picnic, and then headed into Packwood House.

You have to cross a road to get to the house and main grounds, although there are lots of scenic walks around the whole of the grounds. As you enter the main house area there is the obligatory shop in the Sundial building. We had a quick look, making a mental note of what to buy on the way out. Next stop was the gardens. There is a range of mad topiary in one section of the garden with ancient trees trimmed into shape. We strolled through to the end where there is a winding, circular path, almost like a botanical helter-skelter, that has a large tree with a bench at its centre. The path is not best suited to anyone who likes to eat.

garden

Packwood House Garden

 

We then went for a wander around the lake before going into the house. It was during this walk that the rain began, light at first, torrential moments later and it was joined by its best friend Hail. It cannot have lasted for more than 20 minutes or so, maybe even less, but it was enough to drive us to the house. Here we came across an anomaly – a grumpy National Trust volunteer. To be fair to the poor lady, she was having to hand out blue shoe covers to everyone in order to protect the house. An understandably tricky and annoying job. Shoes adorned with blue plastic bags, we slid our way through the building. It had been restored about a century ago to  ring it back to its Tudor glory and had a lot of interesting rooms. There was even a Dalmation hunt for children to help hold their interest. After a good hour in the house, and some interesting facts gleaned from the ever knowledgeable NT staff, we headed back to the car (via, of course, the gift shop). Back at the car we ploughed into the picnic, and decided we had just enough time for one more NT property visit.

moat

Baddesley Clinton Moat

The property in question was Baddesley Clinton. It is about 5 to 10 minutes away and is actually walkable from Packwood. It too had a packed car park despite us arriving an hour and a half before closing time. An amazing moated house which is over 500 years old, set in some lovely grounds. We watched the ducks swim around a river that runs through the estate, and kind of braches off to create little islands which are all linked by bridges. Shani and I took a tour of the house, leaving the other two to mess around outside. It always amazes me how these buildings were constructed all those years ago, without all the modern, mechanical, building equipment.

We had a coffee and fed the ducks before having a quick look in the shop and driving home. We set off around half 5 and took Ash back to Leicester first before coming home ourselves. Another fun day out, but a sad lack of driving satisfaction! Total miles: 131.2

mileage

Todays Mileage

Warwickshire Wander April 2017

Sunday 23rd April 2017

We were going for a leisurely 10 am pick up of Ash in Leicester, but got somewhat delayed by McD’s not-so-fast breakfast service. It put us almost an hour behind schedule, but it was a small price to pay! At around 11 we picked Ash up and headed off to Stoneleigh for the Great British Landrover Show. I had high hopes for the show, and we were looking forward to seeing some large chunks of 4×4 greatness. When we got there, it was like a 1970’s military base crossed with a 1970’s industrial estate. It was very well signposted from the road, but once in the grounds we were left to find the show halls on our own. We followed the crowd and eventually found it. It was £10 each for me and Ash to get in, while Erin went in for free. No tickets, just a black ink stamp on the back of our hands.

CT 110

Camel Trophy 110. My dream car!

As we went in there were a dozen great vehicles. The new Discovery, a Camel Trophy 110, a couple of tweaked defenders, an old Series pick-up and the millionth Discovery. All very impressive. Then we went into the first of 2 halls. Basically, it was a spare parts warehouse for Defenders. There were a few odd stands for Greenlaning, clothing and the Billing show. That was about it. I was somewhat disappointed. A more accurate name would have been the Mediocre Defender Parts Show. There was not even an official Land Rover presence. There were a lot of nice Defenders on some of the stands as well as a couple of ‘Classic’ Range Rovers. There were only 2 Freelander 2’s on show, and the only other Freelander 1’s we saw were in the car park (5 in all, not including us). The cars in the car park were far more interesting than the show.

Classic Range Rover

The Classic Range Rover opened up.

We decided, as usual, to go an find somewhere to eat. After a bit of cogitating we decided to National Trust it and looked for a relatively close property to visit. Coughton Court jumped to the top of the list. We trundled over there in good time. First stop once in was for food. The place was heaving as the sun was still out. We had the last but one of the sandwiches in the coffee shop. Didn’t go down well with the folk in the queue behind us.

Coughton Court

Coughton Court from the grounds.

As usual, we had to go to the shop to get Erin something. She decided to buy a red and black football. It was then off to the grounds to make use of said ball. Many photographs were taken of me literally looking like a professional athlete as I ran around kicking the ball with Erin. I await my call up to the England squad. Before I keeled over in cardiac arrest, we headed over to the house for a tour. Its a fantastic house, and still in use by descendants of the original family. It is great to see modern family photos alongside the antique portraits of yesteryear. The NT staff/volunteers are always beyond compare and here was no exception. I think all attractions across the UK should send their staff for training with the National Trust guys. After a good day out it was time to head home. Horrible roads all the way – A46 & M69 being 2 of them – we dropped Ash back in Leicester and headed home.

Todays Mileage

Todays Mileage

 

Total Miles: 146.9

Down South April 2017

Friday 14/4/2017 (Good Friday). Marwell Z00 – Hayling Island – Central London

Hayling

Hayling Island South Beach

A very early start beckoned, as we wanted to be at the Zoo around 10 am when it opened. Shani went off to fetch Ash from Leicester around 6 am to save me an extra 30 odd miles and 45 mins driving. By the time they got back, and we had set off, it was 20 past 7. The weather was mild, but thankfully no rain. Driving was going to be boring – mainly motorways and A roads (M1, A34, M40 etc). We stopped off for breakfast en route, but aside from that it was a straight run down to Marwell Zoo. According to my tracking App, including the stop, it took bang on 3 hours.

Marwell Zoo was easy to find and they have a huge car park. We skipped the queue as we had booked and paid online the day before. A well laid out park was simple to navigate and they have fun exhibits for kids. We found some of the animals were a little reticent to show themselves, and all of their big cats were asleep. You can get very close to some of the other animals, the Penguins, Meerkats and Giraffes being some of the best. They suggest you give it at least 4 hours, and we were there for a little over that. They also have a massive gift shop, which Erin had to be prised out of.

Zoo done, we went back to the car and had a quick bite to eat before deciding where to go on the coast to enjoy the rest of our picnic. Ash suggested Hayling Island, near Portsmouth. It was about half an hour away. When we arrived there, we parked up right in the middle of the southernmost beach. Parking is expensive, and the beach is shingle, not sand. Not many people there, so we had food by the ocean, and went for a walk along the shore. We then drove down to the Ferry Point on the south western tip and had another wander around. After an hour or so it was time to bid farewell to the coast and head home. We chose a route that took us through the South Downs to Farnborough. It was supposed to be scenic but the Sat Nav unusually let us down and sent us down A roads. We once again found ourselves amidst military towns as we went through Aldershot. I tapped the Home icon on the sat nav, and before we knew it we ended up on the M25.

BBC

BBC Broadcasting House at night

As we endured the mind numbing trip around the magic roundabout, I decided to take a detour and went down the M4 straight to the West End of London. It was fun weaving through the traffic, and Shani managed to upset the driver of a Lamborghini Aventador, He rolled his window up at the lights at Picadilly Circus. I assumed he was upset that our vehicle was a lot better than his. Who can tell. Anyway, we ended up dumping the car in the Q Park at Cavendish Square, and went for a wander up to the BBC, then back down to grab some food at Byron’s.

We came out of the restaurant around half 9. It began to spit with rain just as we reached the car park. By the time we drove out of the car park it was properly raining. We did well to survive the whole day without rain. We then ploughed on home, stopping only for caffeine at Watford Gap services. We had to take Ash home, back into Leicester city centre and didn’t get back home until 1 am. A good, but knackering day out was had by all!

Total Miles: 342

Lincolnshire Run April 2017

Saturday 8/4/2017. A hot day beckoned as we set off on a National Trust day. The first port of call was Woolsthorpe Manor, the birthplace of Sir Isaac Newton. We had our usual diversion via Leicester city centre to fetch Ash, then went out through Melton Mowbray and into Lincolnshire. For the first time in the history of our day trips, we got there too early and it was closed. Admittedly it was only about 1o minutes early (the house did not open until 10), but early nonetheless. The weather was on our side and it was a gloriously sunny day, so waiting around was not an issue. Once inside we headed straight to the café as none of us had had any breakfast. There was an activity centre in the café so Erin was kept entertained for a while – all themed along the Physics line. Next, we went to the house itself. It is in incredibly good condition, and as usual the staff were very knowledgable and friendly. The gravitas of discoveries made there suddenly comes to light when you glimpse the apple tree from the window in Sir Isaacs bedroom. After a tour around the 350 or so year old house, we went to the garden for a closer look at the famous apple tree. Apparently it fell over 200 or so years ago in a storm, however it then started to grow again, and became what we see today. Incredible ot think what ideas came about because of this tree.

appletree

The Apple Tree, as viewed from Sir Isaac Newton’s bedroom window

The day was heating up nicely, weather-wise, so we decided it was time to move on. We bid farewell to Sir Isaac and headed off into the countryside . Tattershall Castle was our next stop. The car park is some distance from the castle, and you go past the Church as you head towards the castle entrance. Another NT property, this one you also enter via the gift shop (as was the case with Woolsthorpe). Built in the 15th Century out of red brick, it is an impressive building. There are 149 steps to the roof top, and we thought it would be a good idea to climb them. We stopped off to view each floor under the pretence of learning something. The reality was it was knackering, so we had to stop to avoid death! It is well worth the climb, especially when it was as clear as it was during our visit. Excellent views of the surrounding countryside. We explored the whole castle, then went and relaxed on deck chairs next to the moat, before having a wander around the grounds. After an hour or so, everyone started getting tired so it was time to bid farewell to Lincolnshire and head home.

Tattershall Castle

Tattershall Castle

The long trip home. Ashley decided we should take a scenic route home. I agreed. This ended up with us almost ending up in Grimsby. I have no idea how, however, I let the sat nave take over when I saw Grimsby was only about 15 miles away from where we were. We drove for hours. We went through lots of little towns and villages including Belchford, Louth and Market Rasen. We also went on a search for somewhere to eat, which failed epically as every pub we stopped at did not start serving until 6 pm. As 6 pm rolled around, we found our final pub stop. They started serving at half 6. We gave up and ended up eating at the Phoenix Arts Centre in Leicester, right back where we started.

miles

Todays mileage total

Total Miles: 225.9

The West Country in March 2017

cheddar

Cheddar Gorge. Spot our tiny Freelander at the bottom!

Saturday 18/3/2017: So it was decided a proper trip in the newly running 2001 Freelander was needed. The West Country is an area we have not really looked at properly, so a destination area was agreed. We eventually got moving by around half 9 and filled up with fuel as we left town. Our first stop was Leicester to collect the brother-in-law. Once we were all settled in we set off properly. The first destination was Cheddar Gorge. As we hadn’t got underway until after 10, it put our ETA around 1 pm. Very boring trip to start with – Motorways. M69, M6, M42, M5 then normal roads. We stopped on the M5 for a coffee and leg stretch.

We got to the Gorge around half 1. It took us by surprise as there was no real warning you were there. Just the utterly massive cliff faces of the gorge. The scale of the place is not one that can be easily described. It was made more ominous by the large amount of fog (or mist) that was lingering around the top of the rocks. We drove up to the top then turned round and came back through stopping off at the various parking bays to take pics and have a picnic. As you can see from the size of the car at the bottom of a cliff, its an impressive site. After the drive we went for a wander around the village before deciding to stay for the night.

Most people would think it was easy in this day and age to pop online and get a hotel room or a B&B with little difficulty. Quite the opposite! Firstly, Saturday night prices are high. We found one of the popular ‘cheap’ chains who did have some spare rooms, but they wanted £118 per room. It was certainly a ‘Premier’ price for crappy rooms! Our drive to find a place to stay took us to Burnham-on-Sea and then to Glastonbury. We eventually found a great B&B just south of Bristol (in a place called Dundry) so raced up there on treacherous roads through the Mendip Hills, in thick fog, at night, to get there before 7. It was called the Bridge Farm Guest House, and very pleasant it was too. We nipped to the garage opposite that had a Spa shop and got a few bits as we had not planned to stay overnight, then went a few yards down the road to the local pub, the Winford Arms, for a great meal. 236.5 miles on just over half a tank of diesel – not too bad!

miles

The first days Mileage

Sunday 19/3/2017: After a good nights sleep and a good old B&B fry up, we made our way to Bristol as we were told there were some good sights to be seen. After some faffing around, we made our way to the Suspension Bridge. After the hard days driving yesterday, the car was now beginning to not enjoy hills of any sort. Not handy when in a city like Bristol that has some seriously steep roads. The bridge and its history were both impressive. The first bit of free parking at a tourist attraction, and also very friendly and helpful staff in the visitor centre. We drove across the bridge, parked up, walked over it and back and then had a look at the visitor centre (followed by the obligatory exit via the gift shop).

suspension bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge

It was the back across the bridge and down to the docks for a look around the SS Great Britain. The iron steam ship designed by Brunel. It was very atmospheric once we got below decks, with mannequins performing all sorts of tasks from cooking, to giving birth, sleeping, eating, in the medical bay and even dying in quarantine. Not a place you would like to sleep on overnight! Also, people were a lot shorter a couple of hundred years ago, so if you do go. mind your head. As the ship sits in its original dry dock, you can also look at the underside. That was equally impressive. How it ever floated is a miracle. We had a quick coffee and cake in the adjacent coffee shop, then began the monumental trip home. The car was getting a bit thirsty by now, so we stopped on the way out of Bristol to whack another 40 quid into the tank.

ssgb

SS Great Britain

The trip home has us meandering over to Stonehenge. We took back roads and cut through Salisbury Plain. Many MOD fields full of nice hills and mud for the car, but we were not allowed to drive over/through any of it.  Stonehenge was a total wash out. We got there at just gone 4 but were told even though the place is open until 5, they stop people going in at 3. On top of that, the road that runs closet to it is now shut. Only in England!! It turns out that there is a Wood Henge, just around the corner from the famous stone version. As we drive there we saw Stonehenge from the road. It reminded me a the Spinal Tap movie. Unless you are a druid, I would probably not bother with it. Wood Henge, however, was even less impressive, if that is at all possible. A dirt track runs alongside it, and you just abandon your car and can freely enter the field. It was supposedly a man made shape of wooden trunks, now long since gone, and which have been replaced with chunks of concrete which are only a couple of feet high. Suitably dismayed, we left for Avebury, and another set of stone circles. Our quest to discover Ancient Britain was now fully underway!

It was another 40 minutes or so of driving to get there. It also began to rain. By the time we got there it was spitting heavily. 3 of us got out for a wander around. The stone circles there are very impressive. I assume they are not as famous as Stonehenge due to the fact they are not piled up on top of each other. By this stage we were wet and now very hungry so we ducked into the Red Cow pub in Avebury for a Sunday roast. That was it, all piled back into the car and headed for home. The only sound was that of snoring people and a knackered wheel bearing!

Coming home we did the A34/A43, via Oxford to junction 15 on the M1, and zipped back up to Lutterworth. All in all a great weekend away, albeit somewhat spontaneous!  Final mileage of the weekend – 462.5.

miles total

Total Mileage for the weekend