Our Travel blog
Monday 8 August
We left Cambridge Rock around midday and made our way the short distance to visit Alison’s parents and friends. We felt ourselves slowly draining as the afternoon wore on, in spite of the company. The effect of working 9am – midnight 5 days in a row on limited sleep and doing heavy lifting was beginning to take its toll. It got to the stage where every time we stood up we would accompany ourselves with oohs and arrhs, various joints would crack or pop and we’d hold our backs or stiff legs dramatically.
At this point after a festival we’ve found it best to do as little as possible so after fond farewells we took Mavis for a relatively short spin to a Caravan Club site near Royston in Hertfordshire. Caravan Club (CC) sites are all very similar, a bit ‘Stepford’ as Alison puts it. We tend to favour them when we know we want a good shower (in my case good being one that there’s an even chance of being able to operate without outside assistance), a laundry and peace and quiet.
I suppose 2 out of 3 wasn’t bad. Showered and laundry on we sat with tea in hand resting our aching limbs, listening to a party of caravaners guffawing and cackling away as they relayed tales that seemed so inordinately mundane that the normal response would be to make up an excuse and leave. As if listening to ‘the day Roger broke the kettle’ and ‘that time Margery forgot the napkins’ accompanied by their raucous laughter at such thrilling comedy gold wasn’t enough a yappy dog joined in, the icing on our aural cake. It was their good fortune that we were too tired to bother beating them to a pulp with a rolled up copy of the CC magazine, an action sure to attract a stern rebuke from the Warden but still worth trying. In time they drifted back to their vans satisfied with the afternoon’s merriment and the dog went mysteriously quiet.
Occasionally a dour gentleman would amble passed being towed by a small dog of indeterminate breed. It seemed his purpose was to sneer at our laundry drying on the clothes airer. It’s a fact of life for us that laundry needs to be done and it needs to get dry. We have noticed before that some people take a dim view of it flapping away in the breeze. This particular chap brought his dog back for a 2nd and 3rd look. I toyed with the idea of offering a pair of my pants as a souvenir but by then he’d presumably got enough information to retire to his caravan to compose an angry letter to the CC magazine editor.
Tuesday 9 August
On our travels we’ve found that the caravan fraternity are early risers. By the time we emerged from Mavis at around 9am the site was half empty. The cacklers, the yappers and the sneerers had left or were out for the day and we packed up in relative peace and quiet.
We arrived in Burford, Oxfordshire to our site just over the road from the pretty Cotswold village. And what a charming site it was too. The owners were hospitable and kept it immaculate but not too fussy, the pitch generous and screened by hedges and the facilities clean and well thought out. It had personal bathrooms, shower, toilet and wash basin all in one private room.
Having taken the day at a leisurely pace we settled for the evening and having planned the next couple of days adventures we were eating dinner when Alison spotted a face we knew setting up their motorhome nearby. It seems our choice of site is favoured by the rock and roll fraternity as one of the major acts from Cambridge Rock was in town.
Wednesday 10 August
Buses are wonderful. The first proper motorised bus was probably a 1930s steam bus and since then they’ve become an important means of public transport. They are essential for transporting commuters through busy city’s or across rural landscapes, a lifeline for the elderly and a greener option for the socially conscious. I mention this because I’ve been reacquainting myself with the positive side of bus travel after a hair rising journey from Burford to Woodstock.
It started pleasantly enough with our driver pulling up 5 minutes late, and really that’s nothing when you see the traffic he had to contend with in Burford. More about that anon. Once aboard we lurched off and dashed up and down the by-ways of rural Oxfordshire like a fat red rattling bat out of hell. We slid around on the seats as the bus took corners without brakes, probably on two wheels. At least roller coasters have harnesses to keep you in place. We had each other. Alison gripped the seat in front, knuckles white against the vivid blue swirly seat pattern, while I seriously considered getting off at any stop within sight of civilisation and calling a cab to complete the journey.
Somewhere around Brize Norton we slowed to a mere gallop and started taking on passengers. At every stop the bus shuddered alarmingly, a ball of barely harnessed energy eager for our driver to unleash it. And he did, a purr as it went into gear, a modest crawl out into the road and then we’d be forced back in our seats like astronauts returning to earth as it bolted forward in a cloud of gravel and squeal of rubber, free now to hurtle through sedate villages and picturesque market towns. Well, I assume they were pretty, it was hard to tell at the speed we were travelling. Mostly we saw a smear of colourful landscape.
Eventually we arrived at Woodstock, the pretty town that sits on the edge of the Blenheim estate. Now, I know I may, on occasion be prone to exaggerate slightly for comic effect but honestly our first stop was the pharmacy for travel sickness pills to survive the return journey. Second was the Co-Op to get something light for a picnic. I choose only ingredients that would taste as good coming up as going down, just in case the pills didn’t work.
You may recall we stayed near here before and visited Blenheim on 3 May so I won’t repeat myself. Suffice to say once our stomachs had settled we picnicked overlooking the extensive lake and took advantage of a free guided tour of the state rooms which helped fill in some of the detail we’d missed on our previous visit. Satisfied we returned via the bus, this time suitably medicated for the journey.
Arriving surprisingly intact back at Burford we wandered along the main street and decided it was worth a more extensive look tomorrow when there would be less chance of us barfing up our bus churned lunch in one of Burford’s array of touristy shops and high end clothing stores.
Thursday 11 August
During the day Burford appears little more than pleasant background scenery for its constant traffic jam. The medieval bridge spanning the River Windrush at the foot of the hill was thoughtlessly designed without considering our modern requirement to ferry coachloads of tourists and lorries full of expensive fripperies to and from nearby Chipping Norton. Thus beautiful Burford, once ranked sixth in Forbes magazine's list of "Europe's Most Idyllic Places To Live” (April 2009) is choked by traffic snarled up and down the hill and its fine citizenry spend their days poised grimacing over the steering wheels of their 4X4’s, knuckles whitened and teeth clenched as they try and ease out of Burford’s quaint side streets between the caravans and coaches.
Away from the high street St. John the Baptist church is a wonderfully erratic affair, much altered and added to, subtracted from and generally mucked about with over successive generations. Today it’s like an architectural historian’s wet dream. I was particularly interested to find that it was once used as a prison to hold The Banbury mutineers. These were around 400 members of Cromwell’s New Model Army who became sympathetic towards the contemporary Levellers political movement during the English Civil War. The Levellers believed in popular sovereignty, extended suffrage, equality before the law, and religious tolerance, and had spread their message by successful use of leafleting and pamphlets – the social media of the day. Their beliefs were not necessarily views shared by Oliver Cromwell and his “model’ army, whose soldiers generally had deeply held puritan views. Local information suggests that the Levellers were also tired of the brutality that Cromwell’s army was inflicting on the Irish.
Inside Buford church you can see where one of the prisoners carved their name in the lead lining of the font. Apparently the graffiti artist survived but for the three leaders, Cornet James Thompson, Corporal Perkins and John Church it all ended rather dismally and they were executed on 17 May 1649 in Burford. A plaque on the wall of the church commemorates these men and Burford celebrates Levellers Day in May each year.
Although the imprisonment and executions all but brought an end to the Levellers cause some of the other leaders imprisoned in The Tower of London at the time still managed to publish a pamphlet entitled "An Agreement Of The Free People Of England" (written on May 1, 1649) which included reforms that have since been made law in England, such as the right to silence, so maybe it wasn’t an entirely lost cause.
And so after a brief stop at one of Burford’s many cafes we left for nearby Witney. It’s a larger town than Burford with a busy high street, lovely old market square, pleasing greens and some unpleasant new shopping precincts. It probably has loads of interesting history but I think I’ve spoilt you enough today with Burford and anyway we weren’t here to sightsee. We came to see an old friend, country singer/songwriter Ags Connolly, play a gig along with American blues, country and folk impresario Todd Day Wait. Ags has played one of our Queensland Live house concerts and has won over many fans who wouldn’t normally admit to liking country music. Pleasingly, for me anyway, he also supports Spurs (the football team not the jangly horse riding accruement).
We parked Mavis up on an out of town industrial estate as we would embarking on a late night journey to Stafford after the gig finished. Walking into town I was aware of a beeping from a pedestrian crossing to our right and a few paces on realised I was alone. I turned to see Alison stepping onto the pavement opposite where, in a Pavlovian response to hearing the all clear for pedestrians, she had crossed the road and was now stranded on the opposite side. Her look of satisfaction at having traversed the busy carriageway turning slowly to confusion and disbelief at having somehow found herself outside Witney Leisure Centre for no apparent reason. Luckily by deft use of skills learned as a once member of The Tufty Club I escorted her back to the correct route and she managed to make the town centre safely and without me having to fetch her reigns from Mavis.
The gig was at Fat Lils, a Tex Mex restaurant and venue. I’m happy to report the food was excellent, the company of Ags and Todd, two real country gents, engaging and the music as wonderful as expected. It was a great night, so much so that we left rather late and hit the road at 11:30pm, not arriving in Shallowford until around 02.30am as, practically within sight of our destination, we were sent on a long diversion along dark, narrow country roads. Annoyingly the following morning we found out our excursion was unnecessary as the road closed signpost neglected to mention we could have reached our journey's end before the point at which it was closed.
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