7 – 8 May: Castles, Champagne and Churches

Author: Mrs A

Location: Château-Thierry & Reims, France

Tuesday was the day Mr A and I had planned for the household, taking us to the small town of Chateaux-Thierry, about a 25 minute drive from our gîte. We parked up outside the town hall, a grand building in the centre of town, and climbed up the stairway to the castle above.

Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall)

A magnificent view awaited us at the top of many stone steps, looking out over the town to the Marne River and south to the farmland beyond.

View over the town from the first set of stairs
Jenny enjoying the sunshine and view
Thank goodness for breathing!
Mates. Mr A and David
Mr A proceeding along an avenue of trees along the castle wall
Ancient varieties of roses grow here, with incredible aromas
Jenny climbing the tower steps up to the next level
More great town views as we walk around the castle
Jenny and Karen

The walls and tower

The castle has a varied history dating back to Roman times, starting with a wooden fortification and gradually being added to and amended by subsequent inhabitants. There is evidence of the biggest castle kitchen in Europe within this shell, once employing in excess of a hundred workers in meal preparation.

We all had an explore around the town before meeting for a delicious plat du jour served at L’adresse Rive Droit, a superb recommendation from our next destination.

Wandering along the pedestrianised streets
This feels a very authentic and alive town, many local residents and lives lived here
Pretty streets
Pretty dogs 🙂

After lunch we drove a short distance to Champagne Pannier, a champagne cooperative sourcing grapes from 400 small producers across the region. Our guide, Elina, took us into their caves, a combination of natural and man-made caverns originally discovered in the middle-ages.

The Middle Ages carving found on the walls which inspired the archer on Champagne Pannier’s logo
Champagne is laid down for a minimum of three years before bottling
The caves

We learnt a lot more about the making and bottling of champagne, giving us an appreciation of why champagne is so expensive. We finished off with a tasting of two champagnes, one a 2014 vintage. Delicious.

Champagne and Ratafia Champenois (made from the skins of grapes pressed for champagne) were purchased.

Happy times. L-R: Ann, Jenny, Peter, Penny, Karen, Chris, Steve, Mr A, David and Mrs A

After this we returned to the castle in the hope of witnessing a falconry show – sadly after climbing up to the entrance we were advised they did not do it on a Tuesday any longer (despite the sign saying they did), and so we did a little shopping for the evening’s dinner and moved on.

Our final destination for the day was the American War Memorial, a magnificent monument overlooking the town in recognition of the relationship between the American and French armed forces during World War II. It was quite sobering after a jovial day, and reminded us how fortunate we are to live in peaceful times and to be able to do what we are doing.

‘This monument has been erected by the United States of America to commemorate the services of her troops and those of France who fought in this region during the World War. It stands as a lasting symbol of the friendship and cooperation between the French and American Armies’

Mark and Karen reading the inscription – horrified at the sheer numbers of lives lost (67,000 American soldiers alone)

We returned home to consume our goodies of the day – delicious food from the bakery, deli and greengrocers, accompanied by some fine French white and red wines.

Wednesday morning began with rain, which continued on as we piled into the minibus and Chris drove us all for an hour to the nearby town of Reims.

Our plan had been to split into two groups, five members heading to a car museum, and the rest of us heading to a large market in the city centre. Mr A and I were in the market crowd. On arriving at the market we found it was closed. What we hadn’t realised is that today is a national holiday in recognition of V-E Day, the day in 1945 the Germans surrendered in Reims following World War II. The wet weather didn’t discourage several people from attending a ceremony close by, and we immediately forgave them for closing the market.

I decided to break from the rest of the group and go to see the cathedral. Mr A and I leave this region tomorrow, so we wouldn’t have a chance otherwise.

The city of Reims was very quiet, with most of the shops closed and the rain keeping people at home. It has some fabulous classic French architecture and the cathedral itself is hard to miss as you wind your way through town.

Shining empty cobbled streets of Reims
Beautiful architecture in empty squares, the cathedral towering over in the background
Need a hand knocking on the door?

Strangely it was great to see the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Reims in wet weather, as the water poured from the roof and out through the mouths of gothic wolves.

Gothic wild beasts foam at the mouth, drainpipes channeling the rain down to the street

The more than 800 year old cathedral has been listed by UNESCO since 1991, and is has been the location of the coronation of many of France’s kings. It’s quite incredible to stand inside and imagine centuries of kings and courtiers looking at the same or very similar view.

It was built between 1211 and 1516 and during its time has been damaged by revolutions, attacked by peasants, and bombed during World War I. But the cathedral within told of a progressive view, with beautiful stained glass windows telling stories from the old and New Testament as well as more recent additions which are there for the pure art of colour and form. There is a fabulous window dedicated to the local peasants, recognising their part in the congregation and work in the champagne industry.

One of the newer stained glass windows
Dedicated to the wine growers, harvesters and makers in the area

I returned to meet the others, who were sipping coffee in a local bistro, and together we went up to the local war memorial to watch the ceremony, observe a minute’s silence and spend a moment or two in recognition of the significance of the day.

The local gendarmes in short sleeves despite the chilly wet day…their dogs ensure we observe the minute’s silence

We returned to the house for a fine three course dinner prepared by Penny and Steve, starting at 3pm and concluding around 8pm. Much fun, very delicious and a fine end to our visit with our friends in this area.

About to start course 2 – delicious roast chicken, potatoes and vegetables. L-R: Mrs A, Jenny, Ann, Mr A, Chris, David, Karen, Peter, Steve and Penny.

5 – 6 May: In the epicentre of Champagne…Epernay

Author: Mr A

Location: Priez and Epernay, France

Truffy drive-surfing outside our farmhouse home

Sunday: We had been invited to join friends who had hired a gite near the hamlet of Priez on the western edge of Champagne country.

Bumble bees alive and well in the garden

Would be lovely in summer out here – sadly not the weather for sitting outside for breakfasts or lunches

The rear courtyard
What is written on this roof joist? And by whom? And why?
Made in Paris

Our first evening together was of course a lively affair…we thought we had catered sufficiently for the group of 10 with a dozen bottles of wine, beer, pastis, breads and cheeses. However, the night drew to a close with not much left on the table and a few sore heads in the morning!

Monday: We left early for our first day learning about champagne with two tours that couldn’t have been more dissimilar. The first was to a relatively small, family run producer called Champagne Jacquinot.

Jean-Manuel passionately telling us his family story – he is the third generation
Chris and David listen intently
On our tour – some of this champagne is currently on a boat to Sydney
Rose champagne during its first fermentation
Mrs A, and behind the original concrete vats
The steep stairwell down to the hand-dug chalk caves

What a great way to learn about the complicated business of growing, harvesting, cellaring, fermenting, and finally bottling this product. For many of this the big takeaway was the impact that climate change is having on all the growers in the region. More variation, less predictability in weather patterns and hotter temperatures all serve to narrow the window for growing and harvesting as one example.

The tour was so eloquently given by the grandson of the man who established the business. He took us down into the cellars, dug in 1873 out of the chalk layer that enables the champagne region here to produce the amazing vintages that it does. It was so good to see a small business doing so well. Demand is strong and the production tightly controlled to ensure a sustainable future, even with the climatic impacts they face.

Champagne stored to allow sediment to fall to the head of the bottle
Graffiti in the chalk cellar walls
Beautiful coloured rose bottles
A tasting session before we head to lunch
Team photo

After a typically French lunch, except for how quickly we had to get through the three delicious courses, we were off to the next tasting at the by contrast very expansive and “Corporate” house of Mercier. You are likely to recognise their logo, they distribute all over the world.

It was a total contrast to the last place with an almost Disneyland like approach to showing us through their extensive cellars…on an underground train!

Mr A admiring some of the 18km of underground cellars full of champagne
Recorded stories in English timed with the train ride through the caves
Literally millions of dollars worth of champagne down here
Sculptures and relief artwork carved in to the walls
Machines which take away the need to turn the bottles by hand
One of the many relief carvings

When it came to the tasting I wasn’t sure to what extent my lack of excitement about the flavours was contextual or “real”. What I mean by that is I think tasting wine is so influenced in my case by what I am thinking and feeling at the time, who I am with, my engagement with whoever is presenting the wine and so on. It felt like quite a bland presentation to be honest, by people who seemed to have little passion for their product. And so the champagne tasted the same…how much of that was in my head or in the bottle?

Mr A sharing some thoughts with Steve
Chris holding court over champagne
Team photo of course

It’s a fascinating industry, clearly Epernay is doing very well. The place oozed money and presented a really smart brand for the this oh so French business. Grateful to be able to experience it with old friends and making new ones.

One of many champagne brands along Rue du Champagne
Views across the vineyards as we headed back to our farmhouse
Almost team photo

2 – 4 May: And off to France we go!

Author: Mrs A

Location: Newhaven Ferry Port, Dieppe, Grandvilliers, Saint- Quentin, Longpont, France

Thursday: The day had finally arrived to board our ferry across to France. We originally booked our tickets while visiting my dad in New Zealand, and it seemed so far away. We had sat there wondering what would have happened to us in the intervening five months…an awful lot as it turned out!

We had not had the best night’s sleep. While sleeping at the port seemed like a good idea (and we were not the only motorhome to do so), the night was punctuated by the arrival of multiple heavy goods vehicles running their engines and freight trains moving to and from the port.

Nevertheless, a crisp clear morning greeted us, blue skies and light winds seeing us off from England.

Truffy all ready to board
Passports checked and tickets in hand…
Into the belly of the ‘Seven Sisters’ we drive

The three hour journey went without incidence, and we pulled off the boat in Dieppe reminding ourselves to drive on the right and give way to the left on roundabouts. Finally our left hand drive truck was coming into its own.

Both tired, we decided not to drive too far on our first evening. Those of you unfamiliar with travelling by motorhome in France will probably not have noticed the ‘Aires de camping car’ in many of the small towns and villages. These are designated areas for motor homes with often four or five parking spots. Sometimes there is the option for a couple of hours of electricity (around €2) and drinking water, which is often free. Generally there will be a drain to dump your grey water (showers/dishwashing) and a dump-point for your black water (toilet).

We selected a random one from an app which had good reviews and drove over.

The village of Grandvilliers sits on the far northern outskirts of Paris, and is fairly unremarkable. We had a stroll around the village and bought some bread from an artisan bakery before retiring for the night.

Hotel de France

Wonky old house along the road from where we parked up

Loving the tulips
A beautiful array of tulips on the entrance to a mechanic’s workshop
Monsieur A very proud of his ‘Je voudrais du pain s’il vous plaît’

Friday: A bit of research of the area revealed nothing too exciting for us to aim for, so we picked another location in the general direction of the Champagne region we’re heading to. Either there are no towns of note here, or nobody is writing about them (probably the latter!)!

We drove through relatively flat countryside, mostly growing rape seed for canola oil and various other vegetables, and ended up at another small town, Saint-Quentin.

Picturesque patchwork of fields on our drive
Driving along a straight Roman road

Saint-Quentin has a long history and was originally founded by the Romans in around the 4th century. Many of the roads we drove to get there were dead straight, a clue to this history. Apparently many Roman artifects and coins are still found in the surrounding fields and properties. This town has a bit of a tragic story, with more than half of its population killed during the great plague and during World War II 80% of the town was destroyed or severely damaged as it was part of the German Hindenburg Line.

Today it is a peaceful centre, with a train line into Paris taking just under two hours, and the Canal du Nord taking water borne traffic through town. Our aires for the night was right beside the canal, so we decided to jump on the bikes for an explore.

Despite the grey day, a picturesque cycle
Potential to go a long way…we stuck to 20km

Other than a few rowers, there was little traffic on the water, perhaps a bit early in the season for barges. We were interested to see that the canal near here heads underground for a few kilometres. In the early days, it took hours to travel through the 5 or so kilometres but today it is traversed using a chain boat. We didn’t make it up as far as the tunnel.

Saturday: The temperature plunged to 3 degrees centigrade overnight which made for a slow emergence from bed. We really miss the warm bedspread we left with my mum in Hastings, but are hoping that nights this cold will be few and far between as we head south.

We drove to the town of Soissons where there was a choice of large supermarkets to choose from. There we did a huge shop for 10 people – tomorrow is Sunday and French shops will be closed, and we are joining a group of friends who are staying nearby in a house. Somehow we managed to make a whole trolley load of purchases disappear into Truffy, and set off for our night’s destination.

It was not too far to drive to the little village of Longpont. The village is very pretty and dominated by the ruins of an old abbey which was active between 1131 and 1793. It was open to be visited, but with looming black clouds and no roof on the abbey we retreated to a nearby pub instead. Are you surprised?

Abbaye de Longpont – ancient ruined monastery
Can almost imagine the stained glass in this grand window
The old entranceway, several hundred years old
Mr A already half way to the pub
One pastis and one vin rouge, merci boucoup
Un chien noir
Fairytale French village…

The Forest of Retz is close by to here, an ancient woodland which has been under protection since 1672, quite rare for Europe where forest was seen as something to cut down and use for fuel or clear for agriculture. Hopefully the rain will hold off so we can go for a stroll tomorrow before we head to Priez, our home for the next few days.

As for tonight, we’re sheltering from the showers (currently marble sized hail!) and are going to enjoy an Italian red (yes, I know, blasphemy in France) with a home made Pad Thai. Bon soir!

27 April-2 May: Our final family time this spring in Sussex

Author: Mr A

Location: Brighton, Hastings and Newhaven Ferry Port, East Sussex, UK

Saturday-Sunday: Before heading to Continental Europe, we spent our final weekend in Brighton with Catherine’s sister Helen and her family. London-on-Sea, as it is jokingly known locally, served up its usual eclectic way with everything from fine dining to a wonderful greasy spoon cafe for brunch.

Feeling a little neater after some haircuts
Catherine, Helen and Isabel – just the girls
Just a small brunch to start Sunday!
Miss Isabel ready to party – Catherine bravely accompanied her to a 5th birthday celebration, despite the promise of party balloons 😲

Then it was time to head along the coast to Hastings and Catherine’s mum, Jenny.

Monday: Catherine and Jenny visited her nearly 97 year old grandma, good genes on that side of the family at least!

Jenny looking radiant
96 years young, Jean enjoying the sunshine
Jean will be 97 in a few weeks’ time – this may be her first selfie!

A few more lovely home cooked meals from Jenny, and a chance to get some last minute tasks ticked off before we head over the English Channel on Thursday.

Young Marmalade enjoyed the mouse on a stick we bought for him

Tuesday: Jenny took us over to Hastings Country Park for a short walk and some fresh air, another place of great memories for Catherine.

Views over the gorse flowers across the country
Jenny heading through the kissing gate…

The sun breaks through the cloud…team photo
A lovely woodland walk on our return circuit
More bluebells adorn the woodland here

A mother-daughter shot to complete the walk

Later in the day, Catherine took me on her and her sister’s favourite after school activity, a ride down to the beach and along the coast. It was a cold day, but the sun shone and Hastings showed us her good side.

Warming up in a sheltered spot on Hastings Pier
Yes, there is sand (at low tide) in Hastings!
Matching bikes and huts
Mingling with the local wildlife on the pier…odd….
Riding the bike path along to Bexhill-On-Sea

It’s an interesting mix here of demographics, with everyone from a scattering of celebrities, and working class housing estates. If feels an authentic town, with the largest beach based fishing fleet in Europe still bringing in the delicious fish and cockles that we just had to sample.

So many memories from Catherine, shared with me, and it does draw you even closer together understanding someone’s childhood, as I had shown her mine in Kettering.

Wednesday: Now it’s our last day in the UK, with a ferry across to France early tomorrow. I few nerves on my part as I keep running through all the things we need to have sorted. Catherine as ever the calm one, thank goodness.

We are parked up at Newhaven Ferry Port for the night. Little Truffy is dwarfed next to his bigger HGV cousins all waiting for the 9am ride across the Channel to Dieppe. What adventures await us in France?

24-27 April: Heading back down the country

Author: Mrs A

Location: Ivinghoe, Bucks, Little Gaddesden, Herts & London UK

Tuesday: Leaving Milton Keynes we headed south, travelling just half an hour to reach our next destination. We settled for the night at a farm in the hamlet of Ivinghoe Aston, close to the rolling hills of the Chilterns. The evenings here are light until about 8.30pm, allowing us a chance to go for a stroll.

Ten kilometres (about 6 miles) later we had crossed beautiful countryside via a bridleway and had explored the village of Ivinghoe. We even managed to pop into the local pub for a quick drink before heading back for dinner.

A bee swarm in the apple orchard at our farm-stay
Many workers surrounding their queen
Quiet lanes in Ivinghoe Aston

Dandelions line our pathway as we walk
Hard to resist a pub with a good reputation
Old cottages in Ivinghoe – few with parking
Mr A strolling through the village of Ivinghoe

Mr A swears a half pint goes down much faster than half-a-pint within a pint
Truffy, outstanding in his field…

Wednesday: The following morning we departed and drove up to Ivinghoe Beacon. Ivinghoe Beacon is a hill standing 233 metres above sea level. It sits within the Ashridge Estate and is managed by the National Trust, but it has great significance historically. In the past, this location was used to send signals from and was also a fort during the Iron Age (around 800 BCE). More recently it has appeared in Harry Potter and Star Wars movies… For us though, it was a spot to enjoy lunch and a few cups of tea as we sheltered from the blustery cold wind and showers. A good day to be behind glass, as we say!

Fabulous views from the beacon
A couple of long distance walks/cycles start from this point
Truffy with dramatic skies

Eventually there was a break in the weather and we drove a short way down the hill towards Dockey Wood. This woodland is famous for its incredible display of bluebells, and my cousin Karen had let me know they were in full bloom after the warm Easter weekend.

We had only driven a few minutes and we spotted a carpet of purple by the side of the road. We quickly pulled over and went in for an explore. It was incredible, and unbeknownst to us, we were in the quieter less visited woodland area – the main display (and crowds) we found were just down the road where the official car park was.

Mr A wanders through the sea of blue
Just breathtaking – set off by the bright green new leaves
A mass of purple

Dizzy with the delicate perfume of the bluebells, we headed on down to our home for the next three nights, parked up on a farm track close to my cousin and her family in Little Gaddesden.

Before long a taxi arrived to take Mr A, my cousin Karen, her husband Iain and I into nearby Berkhamstead. There we caught up with my old school friend Jo and her husband Stuart for a beverage at a local wine bar, The Berkeley. From there we enjoyed a fabulous Thai meal at The Giggling Squid – delicious food and probably the best Thai we have tried in the UK so far.

The years flash on by with nearly 30 years of friendship
Much laughter – L-R: Stuart, Karen and Iain
Mr A finds himself beside a nude….

Thursday: After a relaxing night’s sleep, Iain gave Mr A and I a lift up to the cafe in Ashridge Estate so we could catch up with an old friend of mine from way back, Amanda. We last met up when she was visiting her sister in Sydney Australia, more than 15 years ago. It was great to see her, and we had a stroll through the woodlands, admiring yet more bluebells.

Footpath windings through the wild flowers
Amanda caught between two Andersons
Old friends reunited
Mr & Mrs A – (incidentally, I left my lens cap on this tree trunk, in case you find it!)
Walking back to Karen & Iain’s house via Ashridge House

Mr A and I walked back to Karen’s house through the estate, spotting many deer and enjoying the sunshine as we went.

We’d been back a few moments and I was back in the car with Karen off to visit my aunt while Karen took my uncle to the doctors. It was just enough time for a cup of tea and a tour of the house and garden before heading back for the evening.

Mrs A with auntie Pam and uncle Brian

Friday: Mr A and I hitched a lift into Berkhamsted when Karen was dropping off her daughters, Hannah and Ella to school. From there, we caught a train into London – Mr A heading off to do some shopping, while I went to Hammersmith and Charing Cross Hospital to take part in a focus group about the major airway surgery I had there back in 2014.

After the group I caught up for an hour with Jacky, a lovely lady with iSGS I have met through the support group I run, before heading back across town to meet up with Mr A, and some more friends at a pub near Warren Street.

L-R: Karen, Mrs A, Mr A, Martin, Karen’s sister, Chris

It was a fun catch up, with Martin (who was best man at our wedding 17 years ago) plus friends from Australia, Karen and Chris, who are staying with Karen’s sister near Greenwich.

It wasn’t a late night though, we were back on the train to Berkhamsted by 6.30pm and back tucked up in Truffy for the night by 9.30pm. A great end to the week.

Saturday: It was time to say goodbye to Karen and Iain and the girls, and continue our journey south. We really appreciate the hospitality we’ve been shown by the whole family.

L-R: Ella, Ryan, Merryn, Karen, Iain, Hannah, Mrs A

Mr A and I are both are loving rekindling old friendships and making new friends on our travels, and particularly cherish the time such as this with family who are also good friends. I hope we are leaving each time with stronger relationships and a better understanding of one another and look forward to spending more time together when we’re back from our European travels.

18 – 23 April: An Easter to remember with friends and family

Author: Mr A

Location: Harby, Nottinghamshire and Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire

Thursday-Saturday: We were kindly invited to stay over the first part of the Easter weekend, with friends in Harby in Nottinghamshire, a village embodying all thats good about the remnants of rural England. A good pub, a strong sense of community, roads where cyclists still feel safe to venture out on a morning in droves and endless opportunities to potter around the fields on the rights of way that make this beautiful countryside so accessible.

Woodlands filled with wood anemones

Rape-seed fields of golden yellow
A grand woodland entry along one of our cycles
Spring flowers blooming
John whizzes out of the woods after a slight diversion
Team beers at the Pyewipe Inn (the Lincolnshire name for a Lapwing!)
Team cycle on the return route
Enthusiastic Andrew
Does Stuart suit his helmet?
Warm enough to get the legs out!
Evening dinner at the local pub
Cheers!
Concluding with cheese and night caps back at the house

I was lucky enough to make friends at secondary school that have become lifelong mates, along with their wives and partners. The party begins, the catching up on our lives lived so distantly for much of the year.

Without the full team, night one hit the ground running!

It feels like we have only just left each other’s company last week. The sound of laughter, music and popping corks rings out over the usually tranquil garden of our hosts. Stunning food is served with of course wines to match. We are having an Italian theme to the party to get us in the mood for a major birthday milestone one of the group has in June, as we have organised to celebrate it together there.

Saturday lunchtime feast – incredible food, joined by Andrew’s family – Lyn, Sam and Emma
Old school mates sharing a beverage as the sun sets
Just a small one please Stuart! The famous dairy-free lasagna – verdict? Delicious!
A fabulous Barolo shared with dinner
Sun setting on Saturday night

We decide our appetites need to be sharpened by a little cycling, and off we go down a “greenway” as they are called here, that can be accessed from the village. Of course it leads to a pub, and oh…another one on the way back!

Saturday morning a short cycle ride
Mr A completes John’s off road circuit in 9 minutes

It was a merry bunch that sat down to dinner each night!

Easter SundayTuesday: All too soon it was time to bid our farewell and hit the road once again. Next stop: my daughters and grandchildren in Milton Keynes. After catching up over Chinese takeaway the first night, we kicked off with cycling from one daughter’s house (where we were parked), to the other’s house, via the extensive network of “redways” as Milton Keynes calls them, that were designed into the city’s original blueprint. It was fantastic riding with my oldest grandchild, taking his first big ride on a new bike. He did so well.

Luke bravely tackling the cycle paths, as long as nobody was too close in any direction!

Both of my daughters are moving to new houses within a few weeks of each other, so an exciting time to hear their plans and see their properties. When we come back in September so much will have changed. They all have worked so hard to make this jump to bigger homes. Very proud of them both. At their age they can afford to take some risks with big mortgages. A period of economic instability, especially in the UK, looks pretty likely.

Hayley and Phil’s new-build home…just a few more weeks and they’ll be in!
Luke playing with his cousins at a park close to Zoe and Mark’s new home
The tickle robot is chasing…
Giggling Jacob escapes the tickles
Cousins Luke and Jacob
Nine year old Lily hides cannily
Here comes the robot again…!
Sisters catching up – Hayley and Zoe
Blossom heavy trees and endless blue skies – such a great long weekend
Jacob looking rather serious
Down the slide…
Team Anderson and Team Moss ready for the cycle home

Proud dad with his daughters

Our visit also coincided with my oldest grandson’s 7th birthday. He really is maturing at a rate of knots, and in such a good way. A real pleasure to see. So a little surprise was hatched where we met him out of his first day at a new school, in Truffy, and they got to take a ride in their first motorhome. Hopefully memorable!

James waving the flag for England while Luke is beside himself with excitement

So we then bid a big goodbye to my family until we are back in September, and pointed Truffy’s nose south in preparation for our upcoming ferry to France next week.

15-17 April: A brief dalliance with Derbyshire

Author: Mrs A

Location: Dronfield and Newhaven, Derbyshire, UK

After leaving Fuller Leisure on Monday afternoon we headed north, hoping to find a spot for the night not far from where we were to have Truffy’s eye-mask (see previous post!) fitted. We’re pretty new to the travel apps for motorhoming, but both Search for Sites and CamperContact showed a pub 8 miles away which allowed free stopovers.

We headed on up there, just an hour’s drive from Gunthorpe. It was an ‘interesting’ drive with Miss Google Maps directing us down little single track lanes with blind bends…but we made it without incident. We even managed to do our first LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) fill up on the way, meaning we’re all set again for off the grid heating, hot water and cooking.

Our stop for the night was the Hyde Park Inn, a cosy pub opposite playing fields in the village of Dronfield. We called in for a drink before we settled down for the night, welcomed by the publican and locals alike.

A nice quiet stopover

We were joined by another Hymer during the night
Mr A enjoyed a local brew

On Tuesday afternoon (after getting Truffy’s thermal eye-mask fitted) we headed off on the road, leaving South Yorkshire and the surrounds of Sheffield, and heading into the Derbyshire Peak District. Despite working in Derby back in the early 1990s, other than one weekend trip, I have never fully explored this area. Mr A’s previous experience hails back to when the world was black and white and he was in the Boy Scouts.

Our first impressions were very positive – quiet winding lanes lined with dancing daffodils, stone walled paddocks full of skipping lambs.

Truffy heading off down towards his next adventure
Monyash area marker

We called into the village of Monyash for lunch, opting for delicious baked potatoes before we moved on.

Little village of Monyash
Mr A checking out the local pub

We continued on from here to our little farm stay parking spot for the night.

Wednesday morning we awoke to perfect blue skies, an ideal day for a cycle. We had selected our campsite based on its proximity to two of the Peak District’s best rail trails – the High Peak and the Tissington. Our home for two nights was Brundcliffe Farm, a working dairy farm alongside the High Peak trail.

It was a fresh start to the ride as we headed up the trail towards Parsley Hay, before moving onto the Tissington Rail Trail south. These old rail routes were turned into traffic-free walking and cycling routes back in 1971.

Heading north along the High Peak trail
Wrapped up warm as we reach the junction of the High Peak and Tissington trails
Stripping off layers as the temperatures climb from 6-16 degrees centigrade
Beautiful scenery as we ride along
Newborn lambs skipping across the fields
Continuing our ride to Ashbourne

We reached Ashbourne around midday and so set about finding somewhere for lunch. Ashbourne is a pretty market town, its roots dating back to Anglo-Saxon times (around the years 500-1000, before King Harold met his death near Hastings in 1066). Today it looks like a prosperous settlement, with classy boutiques and lovely cafes and shops.

We ate lunch in a sunny courtyard at a Mediterranean restaurant called Jack Rabbits. Mark enjoyed melted Brie on toast with a fig chutney, while I went for the home made sweet potato and tomato soup. Delicious.

Did I forget to mention the sweet potato fries? Naughty but oh so nice!
A very good soup. My only criticism is their menu is a bit heavy on the dairy products!

After a good feed we jumped back on the bikes and headed back on the trail. As it was uphill on the way back we had to make use of the motors on our eBikes – but still had to do plenty of work. It’s a pedal assist motor, so unless your legs are moving, it will not work.

Mr A passing a perfectly mowed field
Endless possibilities for walking here, with public footpaths criss-crossing the dales
Flowers galore along the path – daffodils, celandine, violets, daisies and more
I swear the buds on the trees were bursting with new leaves as we rode

This is definitely one of the loveliest cycles we have done. The scenery was spectacular and the Peak District National Park carefully manages the land through clearing to ensure there is a year round corridor of wildflowers.

The temperature climbed to 16 degrees centigrade – the warmest we’ve been in about three weeks, and we saw our first bees and butterflies along the track.

Bright yellow buttercups light up the side of this cutting
Plenty of old bridges to cycle under, built in the 1800s
Reaching Parsley Hay we saw the track continued north…we could go on and on forever!

We continued on past Parsley Hay to the next ‘station’ where we went to a local pub garden for a refreshing drink.

Our legs were aching by the time we reached Truffy, having clocked up 56km in the saddles (35 miles), and we were pleased to say we had plenty of battery left on the bikes.

This was a fabulous taster of the Derbyshire Peak District and we definitely would like to come back. There is so much to do here. Big tick from us!

15-16 April: Truffy the Truck gets some loving

Author: Mr A

Location: Brant Broughton, Lincolnshire and Sheffield, South Yorkshire, UK

It’s funny how when you think you’re “finished” with modifying your motorhome or caravan you then realise it will never be done. There will always be something else that needs adding or tweaking. Part of the fun really. Well, until you check your bank balance.

Over the past few days we have been racing between various suppliers in the motorhome business here in England. I have to say its been a delight to deal with these people. All of them have been so quick to respond to enquiries, executed on what they committed to, and do so with absolute courtesy.

We started the week with a visit to an auto electrician to get an invertor fitted, basically it enables some 240v charging from your 12v system in the motorhome. A husband and wife team called Automate UK Ltd and had already done some work on Truffy for our dealer and done a great job. It was good to finally meet Rob and his wife Charlotte (who was also wielding the tools) as he had been so responsive, answering my initial e-mails about alarm systems and other electrical mods at all hours of the night, even on Christmas Eve!

Bella supervising Rob and Charlotte’s work

Then it was over to Fuller Leisure where we brought Truffy from, for a few minor tweaks. These guys have also been superb. From Neil our sales contact, who continued to be as diligent in answering questions after they had our money as before. We met the workshop guys – so keen to help, nothing was too much trouble, they even gave us a loan car so we didn’t have to hang around! Amazing…thanks Dave and Nathan!

Then today Truffy got himself a sleep mask…well it’s a thermal insulator to keep in the heat in winter and keep out that Southern European sun we are expecting this summer. It looks like a sexy mask though right?

All tucked up and cosy

Is this Truffy’s best side?

The guys who made this up (Minster Products) did it while we waited! All you Aussies out there with experience dealing with suppliers to the caravan industry – can you imagine that happening? We certainly haven’t come across that type of service before and it’s a pleasure when we have so much to get done.

Another great product and service experience has been from a company called Motorhome WiFi. We brought from them a bundled Huawai MiFi device (we clearly have no secrets worth hiding from the Chinese Communist Party) and a 4G signal booster (installed on Truffy’s roof). Again another business that has been awesome to deal with – timely and responsive to questions. Combined with a 100GB a month data plan from Vodaphone for £20 a month we have awesome wifi everywhere we go. We can even take the device with us on a day out.

The caravan parks we have stayed at have also been awesome, staffed by friendly, courteous people, who keep using the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. We’ve stayed on three of the biggest site pitches we’ve ever had. It seems odd doesn’t it, in this tiny country compared to Australia, where we are almost always crammed in awning to awning.

I should be clear that we are not receiving any affiliate marketing dollars from these businesses. We just want to give credit where credit is due. To see these mostly small family owned businesses finding a niche and delivering such excellent products and services certainly gives us a buzz. We have had a lot to do to get Truffy ready to embark on his adventures over in Europe. Our ferry to Dieppe is booked for the 2nd of May!

This generally good vibe also seem to extend to the pubs and shops we walk into. We are almost always greeted promptly with a smile and courtesy. Even on the crowded roads 9 out of 10 drivers seem keen to help each other by slowing down and flashing you out of junctions, or waiting for you to come through a tight spot rather than barging through. A very different experience for us than driving on the roads in Australia and New Zealand, where incidentally the mortality rate from car accidents is nearly twice that of the UK’s.

I’m sure it wont always be like this, but we are definitely in the honeymoon period. England is certainly showing us its good side, well apart from the fact that it’s BLOODY FREEZING! But apparently thats all going to change tomorrow…let’s see…hopes high. And you see I didn’t mention the B word once!

12-14 April: A weekend with the HOGs in the pork pie capital

Author: Mrs A

Location: Melton Mobray and Eye Kettleby, Leicestershire, UK

When we first purchased our Hymer motorhome – back in mid November last year – we joined the Facebook group – the Hymer Owner’s Group. Our experience with the Zone (our caravan in Australia) owner’s Facebook group has been so positive, we hoped the Hymer group would be similar. We haven’t been disappointed.

We hadn’t long signed up to the group before we saw a weekend away advertised with fellow Hymer Owners Group members (or HOGs!). Knowing we would have only picked up our truck just over a week before, we thought it would be a great opportunity to get some tips and meet some other motorhome owners. We booked in.

We arrived on Friday afternoon to Eye Kettleby Lakes, an adults only caravan and motorhome park on the outskirts of Melton Mobray. Our first impression on checking in to reception was that this is no ordinary campground…it was more like a ski resort with warm log cabins decorated with modern artwork and furnishings.

We settled onto our site, with a view across fields of sheep and a lake with a large fountain…the only thing missing was the weather! With a top of 7 degrees centigrade and a bitterly cold wind, we were not encouraged to hang around outside.

The Truff-mobile looking small amongst the giants

At 6pm there was a meeting of the HOGs to welcome us all to the weekend. We chatted to a few people but didn’t join them at the pub. After the past few weeks of dinners, lunches and drinks out we decided to stop in for the evening and cook our first meal in Truffy. We felt bad being unsociable but figured we had done our social quota for the time being.

Wooly hats the order of the day at the evening catch up

Saturday morning dawned cold and we were treated to our first sight of frost in a long while. I think we were in the depths of central Australia at Uluru when we last had temperatures this low at night.

The blue sky looks far warmer than it is

We bravely decided to wrap up warm and jump on our bikes to ride into Melton Mobray. As we departed we bumped into the couple from the Hymer in the next site over, also riding their eBikes into town, so joined them for the ride.

By the time we had arrived in the town centre it felt like we had frostbite on our fingers, toes and noses, the windchill absolutely cutting. We decided to invest in a fan heater, having discovered one of our gas bottles had emptied already. A call to Fuller’s Leisure, where we purchased Truffy, advised us they hadn’t fully filled the gas tanks, something we hadn’t realised.

We had a quick look around Melton Mobray, a scoot through the market and brief explore, before heading back to camp.

Melton Mobray looking pictureque…
Melton Mobray is famous for pork pies and Stilton cheese

Most of the cycleway was via country lanes and an off road bridleway. We were not far from being back and I realised it was suddenly really hard to cycle….puncture!

Walking back pushing a heavy bike with a flat soon warmed me up, I can tell you! Mr A and our neighbours wasted no time in getting the tyre off and a new inner tube fitted, and I was back in action.

Mark’s daughter Hayley, son in law Phil and grandchildren Luke and James had also come to Melton Mobray for the weekend. They brought their huge caravan and were parked up in a brand new campground on the other side of town. Hayley and the kids came over and joined us for a hot chocolate at our campground cafe, regaling us with stories of the alpacas, donkeys and sheep at their farmyard camping area.

A herd of Hymers?
Sunset over the fishing lakes

We had an early dinner in Truffy and headed up to the pub to join other HOGs for an evening beverage and socialise. Lots of tips were shared and travel stories recounted. A lovely bunch of people.

Mr A very excited about his first pint of Old Speckled Hen in a long while
Enjoying a drop of Argentinian Malbec
Some of the HOGs we met

Sunday was another cold blustery day, so we spent the morning going through our instruction manuals before joining Hayley, Phil and the kids for a BBQ at their caravan.

All in all a great weekend – though we are feeling the novelty of cold weather starting to wear off…we wish it could have been warmer so we could have socialised more, but as it was we really enjoyed our time. We hope to meet more HOGs on the road as we travel.

6-11 April: Our UK meanderings continue

Author: Mr A

Location: Brighton, Portsmouth, Milton Keynes & Kettering, UK (phew!)

Friday-Sunday: Brighton is one of our favourite UK towns to visit, and not only because that’s where Catherine’s sister and family live. We love the quirky shops, the pubs, the long cycle paths along the seafront. It just feels vibrant and eclectic. It was also where we were going to spend our first night in Truffy the Truck, our new home on wheels. We had pre-booked a site and turned up with some trepidation for our first experience of “camping” in the UK. Wow…what a find. This place was great with huge sites, spotless facilities that even were centrally heated! Luxury…

Spot our little home 😉
Cycling past Brighton pier

We got a few things wrong though and found our feet higher than our heads when settling down in the drop down bed. No air suspension to adjust on this baby. We did however get the hot water and heating working, apparently more than some folk manage on their first encounter with a Hymer motorhome.

The weekend sped past with wonderful times hanging out with Helen and Stu and their oh so energetic kids. How these guys juggle jobs and raising these two little bundles of joy I have no idea. I was exhausted just watching breakfast unfold!

We cycled, we ran for buses, we ate our way though fabulous dinners, we laughed and we talked. As an only child these guys are the nearest I have to experiencing the joy that a good relationship with a brother or sister can bring.

Curry night with Stu and Helen
Drinks down the local pub
Cycling along the seafront – Helen and Catherine with Miss Izzy
Wild Isabel
Pensive Elliot looking for sharks
Happy days!
Adorable Miss 5
Our first artwork – courtesy of Miss Isabel, an artist’s impression of Truffy – L-R Stuart (top left), Helen, Mr A (with cap on), Elliot looking out of the window, Mrs A and Isabel. Complete with rabbit and sunshine.

Monday: All too soon we were off along the south coast to Portsmouth and a flying visit to Catherine’s half sister Elinor and her family.

Young Nelson clambering for cuddles
Miss Vivienne who simply demands cuddles
William showing Auntie C his toys
Edward munching on breakfast
Catherine and Elle

Tuesday-Wednesday: Portsmouth gets put on the list for “must come back and explore”, as we literally stopped by for dinner before pointing Truffy north and heading up to see my daughters and grandkids in Milton Keynes. We congregated in the local pub and had a lovely catch up before retiring to the car park for an overnight stay.

Just a small meal for Mr A!
Grandson Luke enjoyed his burger dinner too

There are certainly benefits to being in a fairly stubby little 6m motorhome. We also used the opportunity of being close to the huge retail centres in Milton Keynes to do some power shopping in our bid to get Truffy fully functioning as our second home on wheels. IKEA bless you for all those good value products!

We had a quick visit to the local lake, which to Catherine and I felt like we had been teleported to Siberia, with a cruel wind blowing across the water.

Cousins – will nobody look at the camera? L-R James, Lilly, Jacob and Luke

Grandson James doesn’t seem to feel the cold as he plays on the slide

We retired to behind the somewhat expansive glass of Truffy and dashed off to our next stop in this whistle-stop tour. My home town of Kettering, and the ever warm welcome of my long term friends Stuart and Karen. These guys have chosen to stay in the town they also grew up in, and increasingly unusual phenomena, but their extended family has mostly done the same, so its a strong and supportive community they are enjoying.

Thursday: A lunch had been organised to bring together my family still living in the town as well, cousins and their families. It was great to see them, and not for a funeral.

Family gathering. L-R: Derek, Diane, Derry, Lisa, Diane, Robert, Mr A

My last few visits have always been tinged by the sadness of my parents passing, Finally, a short trip to see Stuart and Karen’s daughter Laura, who had stayed with us in Australia. To see her so happy as a mum of 10 months, and getting married to the guy she met on when travelling, this was a joy for us.

Gorgeous baby Oliver – 10 months old today
Karen and Catherine
The boys: Mark, Oliver and Stuart
Stuart, Laura and Mrs A

All of our lives go through ups and downs, and to catch so many people on the up was just brilliant. It’s been a hectic 10 days since we landed, but already we have so many memories tucked away of seeing friends and family, and getting to know our new home that is going to take us on so many new adventures.

Our time in Kettering concluded with a curry in town…our third in a week!