Our Travel blog
Wednesday 27 April
Last night we enjoyed a meal and some beers with friends on Mersea Island, and the walk back to Mavis sobered us up enough to get a good nights sleep without recourse to clambering up and down the ladder to and from bed too much.
This morning we took Mavis for her first MOT, which we got to after a couple of wrong turns, at one point into an alleyway masquerading as a road, causing Alison to execute a faultless three point turn with a calmness that Ray's erratic navigation didn't deserve; especially since we were in his adopted home town of Colchester!
Fortunately Mavis passed the MOT with flying colours and on the drive back we realised we'd both been anxious about it and tried not to let it show to the other. Still, to celebrate we went shopping in Colchester for odds and ends and Alison popped in to see her former colleagues at The Youth Enquiry Service. Popped in, by the way, is Alison speak for any time just shy of 60 minutes and probably a bit more - and when she finds you standing outside under a blanket of snow with a parking ticket stuck to your forehead and asks if you've been waiting long you will say "on no, just got here honeybunch light of my life."
Anyway everyone was hunky dory, so with a cheery farewell to the good folk at Y.E.S we went to a motor home and caravan supply shop in Weeley for even more stuff, passing an advert for an inventively titled raggae gig as we went. We brought some LED bulbs for the 12V system so that we can live longer off grid and some of those supplies you never know you need until you see them, like adjustable rails, cup holders and some added security. Which, much to Alison's amusement Ray measured up using the time honoured method of spaghetti broken to the exact (or very approximate if your anyone other than Ray) length required to check if outside and inside fittings will match.
Back at Seaview we made coffee, grabbed the Hob Nobs and sat on the sea wall in the sunshine as the waves lapped the shore. A wherry in full sail drifted by on the horizon and a dog let off its leash dived into the water and played in the surf for the joy of it, lost in its own happy world. It was all most becoming and in the sinking sun we reflected that 4 weeks and 1188 miles into our travels we're only just starting our adventures.
Last word for today goes to a bit of a rant on the subject of the amenities here at Seaview. Upon arrival there was a brief ceremony where we were handed a key to the toilets and showers in exchange for a £20 cash deposit. All well and good but the single key is the gateway to four little havens of ablutionville. Firstly for men's and women's toilets with wash basins and shaving points, presumably the later more generously provided for in the former. Then the same key for the adjacent men''s and women's shower blocks. By now you will already be seeing the intrinsic difficulty in, for example accompanying each other for a morning - let us say comfort stop - when one of us has to unlock the door for the other. Now imagine that having finished said comfort stop the person without the key wants to use the showers, they have to rely on the other person returning to unlock them, which of course is unlikely as they are now merrily singing away in warm soapy bliss unaware of Mr Stinky shivering outside clutching his towel and soap-on-a-rope. All this is manageable after a bit of practice for two people but imagine if you had children or grandma along too?
Oh, and now we're warming to the theme - the gents has a door sprung so hard it could propel a small child into the next field, the taps are on press down self timers so short you don't get a chance to manoeuvre your hand under the stream before it stops, which is mute anyway since all the taps run cold and the hand dryer is so feeble it like having your cold hands sighed on by a pixie. One further point to make. Why, and I ask in all seriousness, does the gents have a toilet brush in every other stall? What are you supposed to do if its busy? Peer over the wall with an "excuse me, I seemed to have made a bit of a mess, do you mind just passing me the toilet brush...Oh, and I see you've got today's paper - how did Albion get on last night?" Tsk!
Tuesday 26 April
Last night, wrapped up against the sea breeze we resorted to Jack Daniels warmed Apple Punch. Well, this is a most welcome and rather marvellous invention and one that we shall be returning to.
Its Rays birthday today - he seems to have accumulated quite a few in his time but this one is the first 'on the road. And its been splendid so far with presents and cards smuggled in (including a very complicated furtive exchange in Brighton that George Smiley would be proud of) and a very generous smattering of Facebook and text greetings.
We also have a new web address so now alisonandray.co.uk directs straight to our site thanks to Matt & Louise and the promise of a warm hotel bed when we need it thanks to James & Juliet.
We've listened to the fabulous new Mavis Staples album thanks to the ever lovely Alison somehow secreting an LP aboard and then enjoyed a brisk walk in alternating sunshine and snow. Meeting up with friends tonight for a meal and then tomorrow young Mavis goes in for her first MOT. (The motor home that is, not the singer).
Monday 25 April
The morning starts with the usual muted exchanges of a couple living in close proximity..."What time is it?" Where's my other sock?" Is this your bra or mine?" "Was I snoring?" To which the correct answer is always "no dear", in defiance of any evidence to the country, and so on as we ease ourselves into a moving on day.
Moving on days are distinct from others as there is a procedure of stacking, storing and stowing away to be done to make Mavis ready to roll on to the next site. Given the confines of motor home life we've established that this is best divided into inside and outside jobs. We learnt early on that otherwise we'd inevitably meet amidships, as it were, both laden with stuff to poke into cupboards with no feasible way of passing, and exchanging our loads demands either a fifth arm or juggling skills of Palladium headlining magnitude. The alternative is for one of us to remain seated but neither feel comfortable watching the other scurry around while we effectively do nothing except watch; although Ray tries to make a virtue of writing this blog while Alison ambles by laden with pots and pans and a determined look about her.
By the way the main outside job on moving days is emptying the cassette toilet. To make this less unpleasnt than it could be we adopted a motto passed on to us by a friend used to touring with bands - "No solids on the bus."
Hatches batterned down and suitably refreshed from our morning abultions, and Rays now customary wrestle with the utilities - today the shower snatched a late victory from what looked like a certain 0-0 draw when it had been craftily showering his clean pants with an errant jet of water the whole time he was washing, we set off for Mersea Island.
Mersea is an island because its connected to mainland Essex by a causeway that floods when there is a particularly high tide. It has a long history of occupation, including an ancient burial mound we passed on our way in and was an important settlement in Roman times, where they established the still flourishing oyster trade. It's a special place for us as it is only a few miles from our former home in Colchester so well known and we have several friends who live on the island.
We are here for the Cosmic Puffin festival, about which we'll update in later blogs. In the meantime we are staying on the Seaview holiday park, which, to be fair, is an accurate description as we can indeed see the sea from Mavis as we've pitched right on the sea front. In fact we are the only people presently on the touring park, the rest is taken up with an extensive estate of elaborate static caravans. Some of these are positively palatial judging by the little we can see, with tiny but immaculate lawns and ornate fences. There is also a surfeit of KEEP OFF and PRIVATE signs suggesting the temporary citizens of this little suburban home from home are intent on protecting their precious little piece of this green and pleasant land. Wandering around its all rather surreal, not unlike a film set where everything is just a little too 'real'. Colours too vibrant, windows sparkling, lawns manicured into perfectly green submission and paintwork fresh and unblemished.
The facilities in this little oasis of middle England are the most rudimentary we've yet encountered and seemed rather grim and utilitarian, especially in the heavy leaden sky and intermittent rain. Nevertheless we've made good use of the daylight and carried out some adjustments to the living quarters in Mavis as we continue to tweak her into even greater comfort and convenience.
Sunday 24 April
Today was a day of visits to Mavis by family and friends, lots of tea was drunk, anecdotes exchanged, tales told, news swapped and hugs traded.
Tomorrow we leave for Mersea Island and start preparations for our first festival of the season.
Saturday 23 April
We set aside today and tomorrow for friends and family, but we both noticed our lack of exercise over the last couple of days so we elected to walk to Alison's parents. The downside of this arrangement was carrying two loads of washing but, determined to do it anyway we headed off like two packhorse's up Comberton's well named Long Road. This is well named, although not long compared to, say the A1; its dead straight and soul destroying to trudge along on a Saturday morning, into the wind and facing the oncoming traffic. Cars seemed to either skirt us by driving as far away as possible or whiz past a hairs breadth away so it was a relief to discover that along part of the road Comberton Parish Council have negotiated a permissive path parallel with the road. Which was all very pleasant until faced with an abrupt end on a footbridge where an angry sign declared PRIVATE - KEEP OUT. Quite why the landowner presumably withdrew their permission is a mystery, especially as the section in question goes through a wooded area so is of little agricultural value; and as it turned out is only for a few meters before it joins an official bridleway.
Sadly for us this didn't go the right way so we continued sluggishly on Long Road and thence through a network of paths and pavements to emerge at the busy Girton Interchange on the M11/A14. This is one of those junctions that looks like a clover leaf on maps and our path took us under grim tunnels strewn with litter and graffiti and across carriageways reminiscent of the 1980s video game Frogger - where the sole purpose was to successfully cross continuous ribbons of traffic by avoiding oncoming vehicles by manoeuvring yourself into the spaces between them.
Successfully across and spurned on now by the adrenaline rush of surviving the crossings we walked into Girton along a country lane and met our knight in a shining VW, Alison's father, at our agreed rendezvous for a lift the rest of the way.
The afternoon was as convivial as you'd expect with much exchanging of news, fine food and sneaky looks at the football scores for the gentlemen present. One thing that always astounds us is the abundance of wildlife in their back garden. in the space of 2 hours we saw a pair of green woodpeckers hard at work, Goldfinches, Blue or possibly Great Tits, sparrows, pigeons, grey squirrels chasing each other around, baby rabbits and at other times deer, foxes and black squirrels have all made appearances along with plenty of other bird life. It's like they have a Disney cartoon permanently projected onto their kitchen window and it was most becoming.
Friday 22 April
So today Ray took himself off to London for work for the day. The city was teeming with security as Obama was in town but the only disturbance was outside the Canadian Embassy where a group of protesters were braving the rain demanding an end to seal clubbing - which seems sensible, especially if you are a seal.
Alison meanwhile went off to catch up with family and friends and was therefore in sole charge of Mavis for the day.
Armed with instant mobile communications we completely failed to rendezvous at St Neots station on Ray's return. This wasn't a great hardship as it gave him 40 minutes to explore the town. It turned out this was more than ample as whatever the charms of St Neots are, and they must exist, none were evident on a damp Friday evening in April. I passed a sprawling school, now of course an academy, in which two surly youths were sneaking a cigarette. This should have depressed me more but the fact that they found a spot away from all the CCTV that ringed the place rather cheered the soul, like Winston finding a spot out of the glare of the prying telescreen in Orwell's 1984.
As I turned the corner Alison and a spruced up Mavis were a welcome sight and thus we trundled back to Comberton.
Thursday 21 April
The facilities at Bath Marina are more rudimentary than the Caravan Club sites, but ample for our needs although I (Ray) had my customary tussle with the shower which seemed to have two settings, face melting scald or Arctic blast. Eventually I found a delicate position where the two merged and thus enjoyed temperate ablutions while pondering how long I'd have left it before asking for assistance. About 10 years I decided. As a bloke asking for help doesn't come naturally, or indeed at all. I could cheerfully set off from Colchester to East Mersea, a journey shy of 10 minutes and be somewhere around Bristol ring road before asking a stranger for directions; and only then if there was a reasonable chance I could abduct them and leave their remains at a remote spot so word didn't leak out.
Alison suffers no such insecurities, she will leap out of the vehicle all smiles, and happily enquire about the route and return 15 minutes later knowing not only the way but also where's a good place for a meal, the exact ages and idiosyncrasies of their children, their favourite brand of oven chip and what their Doris said about our Bob at Julie's wedding. Addresses will have been exchanged and promises of Christmas cards and talk of a reunion. In the middle of a crowded concert many miles from home Alison will spy someone she met while waiting for the bus in Beeston in 1996 and dart off to catch up where they left off 20 years ago. Meanwhile her husband and I will exchange nods and maybe venture an embarrassed grunt or two about the inclemency or otherwise of the weather.
Maybe somewhere in men's evolution the gifts of introspection and meaningful communication were less essential than naked bravado. Preparation for raiding your neighbour's settlement for a few bushels of corn, a couple of oxen and maybe a new wife or two, wasn't helped by reflections on mortality or a fostering a deep understanding of your neighbour's hopes, fears and anxieties. Meanwhile the women of both sides would probably be sitting down together sharing a brew and letting their men folk get it out of their system. Anyhow it's a talent I greatly envy.
Anyway with such thoughts out of the way we packed up and enjoyed a grand journey out of Bath and onto the A4 through the city where the traffic was obligingly slow enough to let us enjoy the grand splendour of Bath's historic buildings. Thus our journey took us away from the crinkly bits of the West and onto smooth Cambridgeshire where we've pitched up in Comberton on the outskirts of Cambridge. The site is lovely with slight overtones of a particular Roald Dahl book.
Wednesday 20 April
Today we packed up and took to the road for an overnight stop in Bath, en-route to Comberton, near Cambridge, where family catch ups and a spot of light work for Ray beckons. We pitched up at the Bath Marina site which is, as you'd expect, right on the river, following an uneventful journey, the highlight of which was one of us mistaking the fresh water filler cap for the diesel cap, which would have been unfortunate had they not realised in time.
As we'd paid marginally more than our daily pitch budget for this site we determined to walk the 2 miles or so into Bath and save the public transport fares. Not wanting to waste the warm Somerset sun we left in haste along the tow path which turned out to be a charming walk, in-spite of the graffitied industrial units lining the river for some of the way. We entered Bath via Victoria Park and the famous Georgian Crescent. We lingered next to a guided tour long enough to glean some interesting background information without attracting suspicion before moving on through the park; after all, impressive though it is its really just a bendy row of apartments. We descended into Bath itself via the formal park, and what a fine city it is. The Abbey was a joy, cheap (suggested donation of £2.50 and no pressure), a beautiful nave with impressive architecture, especially the ceiling, a magnificent great window which depicts 56 scenes from the life of Jesus and it boasts many friendly and knowledgeable guides who are keen to help and explain without being intrusive. From them we learnt that Edgar was crowned the first king of England here in 973 and that in fact the Abbey is a parish Church nowadays.
Bath wears its alumni on its sleeve so you get plenty of Roman and Jane Austin memorabilia, but if you look past the commercial side it's a fine city, stately and accommodating to the ceaseless tourists and full of interesting alleyways and byways, enticing views and interesting shops. Even so after a couple of hours we felt ready to return to Mavis. Maybe we were a bit weary after the travelling and in need of a rest but much as we liked the city we grew tired of Olde World Tea Shoppes and decided not to linger. Thus we took ourselves to the rather nice Boathouse Inn just along the tow-path from our pitch to have a pint and watch the sun set over the river Avon to celebrate three weeks on the road.
Later on Ray tripped over a speed-bump because he was busy reading the "Beware Speed Bumps" sign and so to prevent further damage we retired in preparation for tomorrows journey to Comberton.
Tuesday 19 April
They do like a literal place name around here. Great Tree, White Rock and the rather splendid Windy Corner to take three examples that form a little triangle West of Paignton. I'm assuming nearby Garden Centre is a more modern addition. I suppose if a way marker on your journey is a great big tree the name sticks. "Turn right at the great big tree for White Rock Bob, you can't miss it, its a great big tree...come to think of it you'll know when you get to White Rock too..."
Nearby Tweenaways sounds like a 1970's children's TV programme about young scoundrels on an estate who nevertheless solve mysteries and help old ladies across the road, Glampton like a resort full of pine camping pods, and the good Burghers of Dittisham clearly got bored so settled on Dittisham, Higher Dittisham and Lower Dittisham with what looks on the map to be commendable accuracy if not imagination. Just North of where we are staying at the resplendently named Stoke Gabriel its so bereft of population the map even names individual barns. We passed Millcombe Barn on our walk yesterday and thanks to OS map OL20 it proved a handy navigation point. More so than if we were looking for Ham Barn as there are two marked on the map a 1/2 mile or so apart, separated by Ham Copse. My favourite though has to be the local tradition of naming individual clusters of trees. So we have Rypen Clump, which sounds like a member of the Dutch football team circa 1978 and the decidedly less than enigmatic Windmill Hill Clump.
And so, having exhausted all the fun of local place-names we boarded the Number 25 bus into Paignton. This gave rise to today's mention in despatches for the driver who cheerfully steered us around the snug retirement bungalow strewn outskirts of Paignton with ease, slaloming her way around parked cars, road works and loose children. She was also the friendliest soul aboard. She even stopped to let little old ladies burdened with shopping off as near as she could to their destination, disregarding the official bus stops in the name of doing the right thing. This cheered us immensely.
Paignton Harbour was twee and strangely remote from the town it serves but busy with industry nonetheless. The promenade filled up slowly with people who've reached the age where man made fabrics in pastel shades become appealing. Walking into the town itself we ran the gauntlet of countless amusement arcades where the one thing missing seemed to be amusement. Nobody in these places looked happy, they all shared a fixed, expressionless look of defeat. Set between the amusements were various snack and drink outlets where the customers all sat with similar grim expressions, sharing tables
with their significant others but not communicating, just staring numbly ahead as if salvation from holiday purgatory could be found in the pound shops and rock emporiums on the opposite side of the street.
Still we picnicked overlooking the sea, were mildly diverted by two amorous seagulls, strolled on the beach and wandered the promenade where they were painting over the winters rust and replacing bulbs in the illuminations in preparation for the summer season. Back at the harbour we were gratified to get the same driver home and took great comfort in her cheery demeanour, more so than the drivers behind her no doubt who had to repeatedly wait as she stopped to exchange pleasantries with locals and dropped people willy-nilly around Paignton's suburbs. Bless her.
We arrived back to the news that friend and great musician Phil Burdett will be having a transtibial amputation (below the knee) this Friday morning on one leg. Phil has played two Queensland Live sets for us and is a shamefully underrated singer/songwriter. So prolific and talented that last year he released two albums simultaneously - which probably won't win him any marketing awards but if this was a just world it would at least bring him wealth and comfort. Of the two Humble Ardour Refrains is a particular favourite of ours. There are shades of Gil Scot-Heron, Dylan and Tom Waits along with some of the best, subtle, playing from him and his band. There is a link here. Do please check him out.
We finished the day in the company of our friend Rachel with a meal at the Church House Inn at Stoke Gabriel which would have been perfect if it weren't for the mummified cat on display in the bar.
Monday 18 April
This morning I (Ray) happened to get a shower cubicle with a fixed shower fitting. Whoever thought this would be a suitable arrangement should be lightly tortured and then have their Caravan Club membership revoked. I'm presuming it was set for Mr. Average so it just pointed steamy water at my eyes, rather than, for example what's left of my hair. The icing on this particular cake was that unhindered by my grubby pink flesh it directed the water neatly under the shower curtain and into the drying area, where my shoes started cheerfully bobbing around in the surf. I tried taking the shower off of the wall but couldn't coordinate the shower gel as well so I ended up liberally spraying the cubicle, my clean clothes and the person two cubicles down.
Anyway, 10 lively minutes later, with freshly polished eyes and soapy hair I emerged in a mood sufficiently improved to traipse gaily to the twee shop on site and purchase some fresh eggs for breakfast and a walking map of the area while Mrs Canham continued her ablutions unhindered by such trivialities.
Armed with the great walking map (an extract of the OS map centred on the site we're staying at) we took the green lanes for 4 undulating miles into Totnes. These lanes are unsuitable for all but the most robust of 4X4 motor vehicles - the sort you can hose down inside and out - not the type used to drive precious Jeremiah and Rupert 1/2 a mile to school. Anyhow the walk turned out to be a marvellous experience in lanes so eroded by the passage of countless feet, human and animal, that they carve through fields in their own private moss strewn gullies, at times up to 3 feet deep. Fleet Mill marked the halfway point and from there we ascended steadily into the bungalow fringed estates of Bridgetown before descending at an alarming rate into Totnes itself.
Totnes sits on the river from which the town centre rises up in a refreshing parade of independent shops, including rather a lot of butchers for some reason. We ambled around the town for a while, had a peek in the church and amused ourselves as one does by window shopping and generally getting in the way of people with better things to do, pausing only to purchase salad to accompany our vegetarian scotch eggs.
Today's mention in despatches goes to The Green Cafe in Totnes which sold us our scotch eggs. They have a box of knitting needles and wool so that you can knit a square towards blankets for an African orphanage while you sup your tea and you can donate to a scheme to help local people who are homeless. Its all done without preachiness and by cheerful and friendly staff. An honourable 2nd place goes to the drivers of Totnes who seemed to be unfailingly polite, waving people across roads where in other places they'd pretend they didn't see you.
Refreshed and rejuvinated by Totnes and its air of responsibility and politness we retraced our steps along the green lanes and back to Mavis. The only downside is that after all the exertion and general muddiness we have to face the showers again.
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