Tuesday 4th March – Chirk to Clumber Park (122 miles)
We were getting used to waking up to nice blue skies and sunshine, although today we couldn’t afford to dilly dally as our intended destination, Milestone Camping Park just outside Newark was, according to Snoopy, a three and a half hour drive and we wanted to call in at the ‘Brownhills’ Motorhome Accessory shop before getting to the site. Shazza had a hair appointment in Chirk at 09:30am, so whilst she was being scalped I would get ‘Big Momma’ prepared and ready to ‘roll’ so that I could go and pick her up as soon as she gave me the call.
Since the incident at Swindon, where ‘Big Momma’ failed to start, resulting in me having to call upon the services of the RAC, I have now become a little nervous on ‘Moving on Days’. I need to get the problem resolved but I was rather hoping to be able to wait for another three or four weeks when she was due for her Annual Service & MOT and get it sorted out all in one go. When we had departed Chester to come to Chirk, it had taken four attempts to start ‘Big Momma’ and so I was wondering how many attempts it would take this morning and indeed if it would start at all ! I couldn’t wait for Shazza’s call before starting her up though, if she won’t start and I need to call upon the services of the RAC again I had better not waste too much time. I inserted the key in the ignition and just before turning it I said in a rather gentle but pleading voice “Come on girl, don’t let me down”. I don’t know what the rational is for talking to motorised vehicles of any description but I know a lot of people do it, whether it be cars, trucks, tractors and even boats. ‘Big Momma’ was fast approaching her fourth birthday, we had done a fair bit of touring in that time and the recent ‘Retirement Trip’, up and down mountains in Spain, along potholed and flooded roads in Portugal, had given me a lot of faith in her mechanical reliability, until now that is. But, she started first time, no delay, no coughs or splutters just her normal gentle start and I said “Thank you” and gently patted the steering wheel as if I was patting a dog for good behaviour. I know what your thinking, never mind a Campsite, I should be strapped in to one of those thick padded jackets and taken to the nearest Asylum !! I couldn’t just leave the engine ticking over, who knows how long it would take for Shazza to get finished so I reluctantly turned the engine off again. I whiled away the time with unplugging the EHU cable and stowing it, reversing off the levelling blocks and stowing them and just generally checking that all internal and external lockers were secured ready for travel. I didn’t have to wait too long for the call, the moment of truth again !! But ‘Big Momma’ didn’t fail me and soon we were on our way.
When we left Chirk the sun was shining and it was 10 degrees(c), I hadn’t bothered checking the route on the map and trusted in ‘Snoopy’ to get us there but for some reason I hadn’t anticipated a route over the top of the Derbyshire Peak District. There was a noticeable drop in the temperature, down to 6 degrees(c) and the cloud had thickened, however the contrast when the sun occasionally managed to force its way through the grey blanket made for some stunning scenery.
It was whilst we were enjoying the scenery that we made the decision to change our destination. Our original plan to return to the ‘Milestone’ site was primarily for convenience. It was only seven miles from the ‘Brownhills’ Motorhome dealers and we were going to drop in to pick up a few items from their ‘accessory’ shop, it was also close to ‘Batribike’ where we had arranged to call in to get Shazza’s bike sorted. However, whilst the Milestone site was a nice one, it was in a remote location, nothing to do in the very small village and no regular bus service and we were not desperate for the few items that we had intended to purchase from ‘Brownhills’. But there was a site at ‘Clumber Park’, along our current route, closer than the ‘Milestone’ site and it was only 27 miles from ‘Batribike’, it was a no brainer really, if they had any availability that was ! I knew Clumber Park, not the Campsite just the park, as I had lived within a few miles of it many, many years ago when I was just a lad, in fact it was where I had my very first ‘Bachelor Pad’. There was plenty to do in the large forested park, walks, cycle paths, a visitor centre and cafe. The site didn’t have any ‘mobile’ phone coverage, not a big issue for a few days but we didn’t know whether there would be any WiFi or a TV signal ! I would have liked a TV signal as England were playing a mid-week International friendly football match. Watching England play was very therapeutic, I could shout at the screen telling them how useless they were, this was always a good way of getting rid of any pent-up anxieties !!
We pulled up to the reception office and whilst Shazza went inside to see if they had any availability for a few nights, I checked my mobile phone and was more than happy to discover that there was a good WiFi signal. Shazza came out of the office clutching paperwork, a sign that meant we had a pitch and as an additional bonus, the nightly pitch fee was under our daily budget, whereas ‘Milestone’ would have been over our daily accommodation budget. Not that this was a big issue, we had carried a hefty surplus forward from last month and with some ‘freebies’ coming up this month, namely the Hotel accommodation during our Training Course next week, we were doing alright and would be carrying over another surplus. We drove around and found another perfect place to pitch, right opposite the facilities block, a large pitch and as well as the WiFi we had a perfect ‘Satellite’ TV signal, bonus !!
After a bit of cycling it was time to take a look around the ‘touristy’ bit of the park so we headed towards the ‘Visitor Centre’. This place has not changed in 37 years with one exception, they had a tree by the Abbey which now had a rather unusual attachment !
We continued with our tour around the grounds of the park, like ‘Nene Park’ at Peterborough there are plenty of walks and cycle paths, a largish lake that stretches for a few miles with all the associated water fowl and it makes for a very relaxing few hours, never mind the exercise it was providing. We noticed a board advertising music concerts being held in the park during the summer months, from ‘Status Quo’ to the ‘Last Night of the Proms’, now how handy would it be to get our ‘Elf & Elfette’ contracts working here for the summer !!
It was a lovely ‘Autumnal’ day for Winter ! the sun was shining, there were a lot of people out and about and it was once again just nice to be out enjoying the scenery and the fresh air, all of this at no cost whatsoever ! We decided to enjoy a coffee in the courtyard before cycling back to ‘Big Momma’. The other thing that we had started to notice was that the evenings were beginning to stay lighter for just that bit longer, nearly 6pm now and by the end of this month that will be extended by another hour ! The weather is also getting more ‘Spring’ like and next weeks forecast is sounding good with warmer winds drifting up from the ‘Azores’ so temperatures beginning to rise. The timing couldn’t be better as in the next four days we start our one week training course, much of which is ‘practical’ outdoor based activities.
Refreshed from our coffee break we took a short detour before returning to ‘base camp’, Sharon’s ‘Gismo’ reflecting that we had done 8 miles, well at least we will start the training next week with a reasonable level of fitness ! Although there shouldn’t be too much risk of any accidents as the course covers all aspects of ‘Elf & Safety‘ and in the unlikely event that the unthinkable does happen we can still get treatment under the ‘National Elf Service’ !!
After a tea of home-cooked Fish & Chips followed by the last couple of slices of Shazza’s Walnut, Cherry & Sultana cake with hot custard, very scrummy !! we settled down to watch England take on Denmark in a pre-World Cup friendly. I have to say that these matches usually end up as expected, in disappointment, but not this evening. In fact it was a pretty good performance, after they took Wayne Rooney (Shrek) off that is. Now, if Roy Hodgson (the England manager) kept the eleven players who played the second half (minus ‘Shrek’) we may just stand a chance in the real event later this year !!
This campsite was very quiet, from a human perspective, but when you are laying in bed at night the forest comes alive with the sounds of unknown things, Birds and other unknown beasties. They are not noises that keep you awake, just sounds that are heightened in the darkness. What was really nice is that not one of those noises were the sounds of dogs barking !!
Another good nights sleep and it had turned 9am before the eyelids opened, I think we may just be reliant on our alarm clock when we are on our course !! But we have the luxury of a few more long lay-Ins for another day or two. There was no sunshine to greet us when we did eventually open the blinds but we had expected that, the forecast had informed us that today would be overcast but at least no rain. This was good as today was a domestics day, as ‘Big Momma’ was going to be parked up for a week we wanted to make sure that we left her clean, inside and out, ready to go again when we returned. We had left the bicycles in the sites secure storage area as Shazza was doing some laundry today and wanted to make use of the laundry rack fitted to the rear cycle carrier, but first the van had to be washed, especially the rear, as clean washing brushing against dirty van makes Shazza a little ‘tetchy’ !! However, what have I said about ‘meteorology‘ not being an exact science ? Yes, it rained so the laundry rack became redundant and the site tumble dryer was fed with several twenty-pence coins !! But being made if hardier stuff, a bit of rain was not going to stop me from giving ‘Big Momma’ a bit of TLC on the outside, donned with my rain jacket and the wide brimmed hat, the one that Shazza wanted me to discard when we were in Portugal ! I knew that keeping it would have its advantages, I commenced giving her a good wash, ‘Big Momma’ that is and not Shazza !! I quite enjoy cleaning the van, being quite a long vehicle and with lots of ‘nooks and crannies‘ it can take some time but this has two distinct advantages, it can be very therapeutic giving time to think about all sorts or it can be quite a social activity. I recall starting to clean ‘Big Momma’ when on an ‘Aire‘ in Portugal, the next thing I knew I had started a trend or just shamed my neighbours into cleaning theirs. Today however, I had attracted some ‘Caravanning’ neighbours who asked me an array of questions; “How many miles does that do to the gallon” ?, “How do you do your shopping in that” ?, “Do you have to stick to Motorways” ?, “You must have problems finding pitches large enough to accommodate something that size” ? and many more similar type questions. I am not convinced that they believed me when I told them about some of the places that we had recently taken ‘Big Momma’ to, the Mountain roads we had used or the narrow town and village roads we had driven through or the fact that we had not used any Motorways on our route down to the Algarve and had not paid any tolls on the whole trip. When I explained about the Motorhome ‘Aires’, the facilities and the small cost for using them, including the ‘free’ ones they truly looked surprised. Perhaps I may be responsible for causing a few matrimonial spats when they returned to their ‘Caravans’ and announced to their respective ‘other halves’ that they were ‘thinking’ of changing their cherished caravans for a Motorhome !! When I informed them that we had given up well paid jobs, sold the house and all the furniture and that ‘Big Momma’ was ‘home’ I thought that I was going to have to rush to the ‘Wardens Office’ to get the ‘defibrillator‘ !! I could well imagine that that evening we would probably be the subject of many conversations behind closed caravan blinds.
By mid afternoon the rain showers had stopped, the laundry was washed, dried and later that evening ‘ironed’. Shazza had hoovered and cleaned the inside and changed the bedding. I had given ‘Big Momma’ a good clean, even the exhaust chrome ‘tail pipe’ was nice and shiny again, my bicycle was put back onto the rear cycle rack, Shazza’s would be collected from the sites secure storage area in the morning, ‘folded’ down and put into its ‘carry bag’ and transported inside Big Momma, this would save us time when we get to ‘Batribike’ in the morning to have a new ‘controller’ fitted. Then we would return once again, for one night only, to lodge at Shazza’s mums house. We would park ‘Big Momma’ up and take the car to attend our week long ‘Elf & Elfette’ course. After that, will our nomadic adventures continue or would we be dispatched to our first ‘Elf & Elfette’ assignment ?…………………………………………….