Friday, 29 May 2009

Motorhoming Lessons - Episode One

The following article has been written by guest blogger - "Mrs Snail":

Last year, having decided on a week’s holiday in our motorhome in the Lake District, we consulted our saved library of magazine articles. An
Out and About magazine article on cycling in the Grizedale Forest took our fancy. The recommended site was Bowkerstead Farm, located on the south of the Forest, with hard standing, showers and toilets and the location was good enough for us to forego hook-up for a couple of nights.

Having stayed at Low Wood Caravan Club Site, near Kendal, and done the walking part of the holiday in depressing rain, we set out in anticipation and high hopes for the cycling part. Surely the weather HAD to improve?

My husband is a HGV driver so a little (!) motorhome presents no problem to him. He decided (bless him) to take me along the scenic country roads to show me Esthwaite Water. I really don’t know how my nerves stood the narrow roads and oncoming traffic, but we survived. However, worse, much worse, was still to come.

Firstly, we missed the right turn to Grizedale Forest. Well, that’s not strictly true. As the navigator, I had dismissed it as far too narrow for a motorhome. But after stopping and consulting the map, yep, there was no doubt, that was where we had to go. Fortunately, that made it an easier left turn than a right would have been. Then it got very steep, very narrow and for me very VERY scary. Eventually, we came upon the the Grizedale ForestVisitors Centre, and after an embarrassing trauma that I won’t go into (if you go there, park in the coach bays), we collected our cycling map in readiness for the next day’s activities. Carrying on driving, we located Bowkerstead Farm easily enough thanks to a large Forestry Commission sign announcing the location – so far so good.

The entrance was over an extremely narrow bridge which wasn’t so good. Husband decided that our ‘van would not fit over that bridge and we must turn around and find some where else to stay. Wimp. I negotiated with him to continue and see if there was another entrance to the farm. There was, however it was along a very bumpy unmade road. We persevered and eventually got there with the sides of our ‘van still intact. Phew.

On arrival, there were no humans to be seen, just lots of cats, so now we had to find the hardstanding – where was it? All we could see was a tent area accessed through a narrow gap in a wall. Eventually we located a human being who told us that motorhomes usually went on the bottom field. Unfortunately, that was currently too wet for motorhomes therefore there were no hardstanding pitches available.

Have you guessed where this is leading yet....................? To be continued in the next blog.


Friday, 22 May 2009

Canterbury, Chatham Docks ... and home

On the final day at the Canterbury site we set ourselves a real challenge - to get to Chatham Docks by public/sustainable transport – bus, walk, train, walk, bus, walk. Now, with hindsight, we could have taken the motorhome, because we discovered there is a HUGE car park at Chatham Docks and no height barriers, and indeed there were several large motorhomes already parked up - but we didn’t know that at the time. Anyway, the way we did it was an adventure as we don’t often use buses or trains.

The 09:00 hours bus was already running 10 minutes late when it arrived, and was almost full, so things were already getting stressful regarding catching the train on time. However, we were allowed on the bus, and after alighting (don’t you love that word?) at Canterbury Bus Station, we had a brisk 10 minute walk to Canterbury East Railway Station, via the road bridge, where a return ticket to Chatham was £9.00 each. A short walk round the corner from Chatham Railway Station took us to the bus stop where an Arriva bus took us to Chatham Docks on the outwards journey, the Dockside Shuttle was used on the return journey. Door to door, the journey took a total of two hours each way.

Getting into Chatham Docks cost us nothing - we used our Tesco Deals Vouchers to pay the entrance fee of £13.50 each for adults. However, this buys an annual ticket allowing unlimited visits during the year (not much use if you live in Derbyshire and not the South East.)

This is a large, spread out site and some walking is required between the various parts. It was hauntingly quiet when we were there midweek, so we were able to see and do what we wanted without delay. Now regarding dogs, we’d already checked on their website that dogs were allowed on site, however, different parts of the site had different policies. In some places she was allowed with us, and made a fuss over, in others she had to wait outside. Or we had to take it in turns. The whole issue of dogs in public places is a real gripe with me, and will be the subject of a future blog. There are two café/restaurants with plenty of outside seating (for dog owners and smokers), the prices were reasonable, quality of food was good and staff were friendly and helpful.

The Ropery Tour is absolutely fascinating, in fact, the highlight of the day, and is conducted by staff in period costume, and we got roped in (!) as volunteers for the rope-making demonstration. All I can say is that it must have been a HORRENDOUS place to work all those years ago. Many phrases which are common in every day use come from the rope-making trade including “Not enough room to swing a cat”, “Give him enough rope and he’ll hang himself” and “Let the cat out of the bag”. And did you know that it is 31 miles between Canterbury and Chatham and that’s how many miles of rope was used on an old-fashioned sailing ship??

Canterbury was our last stop on our grand 2008 tour, and the next day, it was up early to head for home in Derbyshire. The end of another fabulous tour.

Now – where shall we go next year?

Above image - The Ropery, Chatham Docks. Copyright 2008

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Friday, 15 May 2009

Exploring Canterbury ... and beyond

Most car parks in Canterbury don’t have height barriers and midweek in September, there were always plenty of spaces including room for larger motorhomes, however, the buses were so convenient and cheap that was better to leave the ‘van parked up at the Canterbury Camping and Caravanning Club site and use public transport into the City.

Our exploration of Canterbury started with walking the wall – always one of the best ways to orientate yourself and see a city from an elevated position. A booklet detailing the walk is available from the Tourist Information Centre - £2.00 and a leisurely stroll takes about 1.5 hours.

Now regarding the Cathedral, you can only get up close and personal by paying £7.50 and going through the gatehouse into the grounds. As with so many English attractions, dogs are not allowed even in the grounds (do they realise how much money they are losing?) so one of us (him) had to stay with the dog. Therefore, a quick gallop round was in order to stop the male one getting bored. Allow at least two hours, 3 or more if you want to do it full justice. The atmosphere is truly amazing as hundreds of years of history is there to be explored.

The "Canterbury Experience" visitor attraction a short walkk away was next on the “to do” list – a similar type of experience to the Jorvik Museum in York (but on a much simpler scale), except I didn’t really enjoy it. It’s self-guided with an audio guide, triggered automatically as you walk round, but it just tells stories from the Canterbury Tales. Call me a heathen, but I found it boring, I’m afraid. A word of warning, it is not suitable for young children – one poor child’s screams could be heard ahead for several minutes before the parents had to reluctantly call it a day – and no refunds.

Wanting to explore further afield, we’d researched public transport options online and decided on a “Kent and Sussex Explorer Ticket” for £6.50 per adult, which departed from Canterbury Bus Station. The faithful No 13 bus took us into the bus station, from there it was straight onto the bus which took a triangular route to Herne Bay, Whitstable and back to Canterbury. Herne is approximately 40 minutes journey, but somewhat tortuous through various housing estates. But it got us there …… eventually. The sun came out, the sky was deep blue and people started smiling again.

Herne Bay is a small traditional resort, not as grand as Eastbourne but gracious, quiet and an interesting little place to potter around for a while.

Whitstable was a real find – a trendy, quirky town with an excellent mixture of shops and boutiques, clapperboard houses and the atmospheric harbour with its fresh fish market. Moules Mariniere were on the menu at the sea-facing and fashionable Pearsons Arms – and as we stood outside looking longingly at the menu and noticing that there was no outdoor seating, the outstandingly friendly staff waved us into the bar, and allowed us to bring the dog in so we could all have lunch. The service, the welcome and food was outstanding and after a few glasses of wine, it was a struggle to get going again to catch the bus back to Canterbury.

Above image: Canterbury Cathedral. Copyright AvailablePitch 2008

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Sunday, 3 May 2009

Canterbury Camping and Caravanning Club Site - Tour 2008

True to its “friendly club” strapline, we were indeed given a very warm welcome at the Canterbury Camping and Caravanning Club. The possible reason for this quickly became became apparent – according to a notice on reception, they were hoping to win one of the “best campsite” awards currently up for grabs.

Prior to arriving we’d checked online availability earlier in the week, and spoken to the Wardens to confirm there were pitches available. We didn’t actually book, however, because the Camping and Caravanning Club require a minimum £25.00 deposit, or the cost of one night, whichever is the cheaper, upon booking (unlike the Caravan Club, which currently requires no deposit at all) and we wanted to keep our plans flexible on this tour.

After a short queue at the entrance barrier, we were “processed” very efficiently and requested, and were allocated, a very quiet pitch well into the site, tucked away in a corner, backing onto a wood, with a nature/dog walk very close by. The Assistant Warden went to great lengths to suggest a pitch which suited us and cycled down ahead of us to guide us there. This is a very pretty site, divided into several very different areas all with their own “feel”. There is a brilliant dog walk which is in fact a small nature reserve, which was peaceful to walk through at night with just a head torch, and a pleasant way to unwind. Reception sells a variety of essentials together with local produce, and nothing was too much trouble for the Wardens, they really were outstanding.

The pitches are located in several meadows, each with a very different feel to it. Some areas have hardstand and are more suited to motorhomes, whilst others are very much a meadow, ideal for “proper camping” in tents and trailer tents. There was a variety of wildlife came to visit us including rabbits, squirrels, owls and bats.

We liked this site so much, that a planned two night stay became three, then four, and eventually five. What made us stay so long? Well, in addition to the site being so delightful, it’s so easy to get around the area on public transport – Canterbury, Herne Bay, Whitstable and Chatham were all visited.
The No. 13 or 14 bus stops outside the site, and is only a 10 minute journey down into the City centre. The alternative is to walk, allegedly 15 minutes, but because the bus was so convenient, we never walked it, but think it would be more like 30 minutes down. One word of warning – the buses are very popular with Seniors using their free bus passes. On one occasion a mid morning bus was so full it only let 2 people on, (not us, unfortunately). This meant we had to change our plans to visit Chatham Docks that day, as we would have missed the connecting train. Luckily the site had provided us with a bus information sheet and following advice, we walked a short distance to catch the shuttle bus which runs round the nearby housing area before heading town into town.

Canterbury is a truly fascinating city, at the heart of which is the world famous Canterbury Cathedral. More in the next blog ................