As avid readers, (which you all are obviously), you’ll know that we recently went on a bit of a motorhome adventure, in a van very kindly lent to us by Bailey of Bristol.
This was it:
As well as being great fun, and an opportunity for us to listen to countless mystery novels on audio book, it was actually part of a grander plan. It isn’t for nothing after all that a girl is prepared to wheel a box of her own poo across a field of holidaymakers. It was in aid of ticking off another item from my list of 40 things to do before I am 40; specifically to visit every county in England.
Now I will say upfront that when I added this item to my list, I did feel justified in including the counties I have already visited – I didn’t start from scratch. I was strict about having to actually visit them though – just driving through on my way to somewhere else wasn’t enough. In all on the trip we visited 12 different counties, but we had been to some of these before. We did however manage to scratch all of the outstanding ones off the map – hoorah!
Belle put together this little video to show you where we went:
I’m pretty sure Belle loved the fact that I sang On The Road Again every time I started the engine. That sort of thing never gets old does it? This is how the trip panned out…
We arrived, after a long journey, at Bladon Chains in Oxfordshire and our first task was to fill up with water. I stared for some time at the end of the hose, with as much understanding as if it were a Russian newspaper, until a kindly Caravan Club warden took me in hand and found me the required attachment. I obviously looked like I was not to be trusted as he does the whole thing for me. Score.
We spend a lovely evening getting to know the van. Belle adds some homely touches.
I could talk here a lot about our day out at Blenheim Palace, but in all honesty I think it’s safe to say that the highlight for Belle was making smores. I can try as hard I like to instil a bit of culture in her, but at the end of the day I can’t compete with a squishy marshmallow.
Relaxing into the holiday spirit, we head off first thing and into Bedfordshire. My plan was to park and ride, but the car park has a height restriction and instead I find myself driving into Bedford. Still feeling a little unsure about my driving capabilities, I panic, and we decide that a trip to Bedford Morrison’s definitely counts as having visited Bedfordshire and I practice my supermarket parking.
I buy a local newspaper too, just to prove we did stop.
We finish the day at Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire. This Caravan Club has a pool, and Belle’s day (possibly life) is made when they let her take in her mermaid tail.
Today doesn’t begin terribly well. As we are leaving, I send Belle off to return our keys, telling her to meet me at the exit gate. Unfortunately she thinks I mean the entrance gate. Ten minutes later I have a queue of traffic behind me wanting to get out, and nowhere to park the van while I look for her. I end up leaving the park, abandoning the van in a lay by, and running back to find her. Driving off feels awful – I imagine her spotting me and running after me crying. We find each other though in the end. All’s well that ends well.
After my slightly shoddy expedition into Bedford, I decide that today I am going to be brave and drive to actual places, not just supermarkets, so we head into Northamptonshire and visit a National Trust property – Lyveden New Bield. It’s beautiful but sad – a pleasure gardens and lodge that never quite made it to completion, abandoned as a shell.
We spent a really lovely night in Leicestershire. The site was what’s called a ‘Certified Location’ – a small site with just five pitches and basic facilities, ideal for anyone looking for a bit of peace and quiet. This was Belle’s favourite site as there were horses, a cat and a puppy and no one she had to share them with.
Unfortunately it was also the night that we blew a fuse and couldn’t lower the bed, but it gave us a good excuse to test out the third berth facilities – we did manage to both squeeze into the bed space you can create with cushions between the sofas. Bailey were also super helpful at arranging for us to pop into a retailer the next day and get it fixed.
We head off to Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire but get distracted on the way by signposts with pictures of rockets on and stop for a visit at the National Space Centre. The 4D film in the planetarium is amazing, and Belle takes some first steps on the moon.
I kept a little diary while we were away so I would remember what we did each day. I have a note on this day that says ‘baby genuinely disappointed’ but have no idea what it means. Clearly I need to make more detailed notes and not overestimate my short term memory.
We have a day off from driving today and decide to spend two nights at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire as it’s such a beautiful location. We take a walk up a two mile stretch of lime trees to the National Trust visitor centre for lunch. Half way there the heavens open and gallons of water falls on us. We are completely soaked to the skin, in that way where you stop caring after a while and just revel in competing to see who is the wettest. We arrive at the restaurant in much need of some fortification.
In the evening, Belle plucks up the courage to head to the park to make some non-puppy friends and plays with a girl called Kitty until it gets dark. I sit happily in the sunshine knitting and listening to the radio, feeling like I could quite get used to the Caravan Club.
Originally planning an early start I decide it best not to stifle Belle’s new found friend making skills and instead let her play for the morning with Kitty. It’s lovely watching her enjoying herself, and reminds me of those times as a child when you would find a new friend and play for what felt like hours, trying to stay quiet at the same time in the hope that your parents would forget about you so you could play for ever and ever.
When we do finally pack up and leave we head to East Yorkshire and visit The Deep in Hull, which markets itself as ‘one of the most spectacular aquariums in the world’. Now personally I feel that if you have seen one tank of clown fish you’ve pretty much seen them all, but Belle seemed to enjoy herself. They did have Gentoo penguins, but I found it slightly disappointing that they didn’t burst into a dance routine like the Mr Popper ones.
We then headed up into North Yorkshire to stay the night at the most northerly point on our route. The park here has a lovely little restaurant on site where we have our dinner.
We wound our way back southwards today, stopping for a visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Belle was getting a little tired at this point of me dragging her around places of cultural interest and instead opted to stay in the van reading a Jacqueline Wilson book while I wondered around the park for long enough to feel it counted as a visit.
From there we drove into the Peak District. Of all the counties we visited, Derbyshire was my favourite; the scenery was just beautiful. Travelling in a motorhome gives you a whole different view of the landscape too – the higher position means you can see over hedges and stone walls and further into the distance, making everything seem somehow more dramatic.
For our final day on the road we decided to visit Chatsworth House. I won’t bore you with details about the architecture and history and what not, as my absolute best bit of the day was getting Belle to recreate one of my favourite ever family photos, alongside a statue of a horse. In the original I always imagine Belle as a very small but very serious history professor, presenting some sort of Open University programme.
The perfect end to a wonderful trip.
Thanks again to Bailey of Bristol and the Caravan Club for helping us with our adventure!