Knowing how warm and sunny England can be in late March we had absolutely no hesitation in accepting Richard and Collette’s invitation to join them and Gretel for a few days in delightful Devon over the Easter break. No doubt we had visions of sitting out under the van’s awning playing with Gretel whilst enjoying a quiet drink and listening to the gentle sound of the sea lapping against the sun drenched beach. Right! Unfortunately reality set in as we drove across Exmoor on our way to Croyde with snow beating against the windscreen and the temperature hovering around freezing; although things improved a little when we reached the coast and our rather soggy campsite I’m sure it can’t have stopped raining for more than a few hours over the entire long weekend.
Had it not been for having to lend our electric heater to the ‘young ones’ to warm up their ‘glamping pod’, and the van’s central heating system chose that moment to throw a hissy fit, we would probably have been quite smug snug as the wind whistled and the rain beat down on our roof! Fortunately we’re British and won’t be defeated by a little ‘inclement’ weather – and in fact we remained (mostly) dry and thoroughly enjoyed the entire long weekend. Gretel was her usual amenable self and ‘Granny Denise’ revelled in the opportunity to do a little babysitting.
No, I’ve not taken to using profanities in my blog, but when you’ve had the privilege of visiting The Bloody Tower its important to say so. In point of fact not only did we see The Bloody Tower but we also saw The White Tower, St Thomas’s Tower and most of the other 16 towers that make up The Tower of London.
Friday evening was a very special event. Having been invited by Nick and Maggie, otherwise known as Lord and Lady Houghton of Richmond (as Nick is Constable of the Tower they’re fortunate enough to live over the shop), we were privileged to enjoy supper in The Tower with them and eight fellow guests, and to attend a wonderful Carol Concert in the Chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula performed by the Choir of the Chapels Royal, HM Tower of London.
The evening started with a short tour and whistle-stop history of The Tower given by ‘Barney’ one of the Yeoman Warders. Quite how he managed to pack 940 years of history into 30 minutes I’m not entirely sure, but suffice to say that he had all the patter and most of the facts at his fingertips.
Nick and Maggie live in ‘The Queen’s House’ which was built around 1540 and is supposedly the most original timber-frame dwelling in London having missed the ravages of the Great Fire (it’s built into the inner wall of The Tower itself) and the best efforts of Hitler’s bombers. In their cellar is the room in which Sir Thomas Moore was imprisoned for 15 months before his execution, and in the space now occupied by their dining room Guido Fawkes was interrogated following the failed plot to blow up Parliament. So there’s a bit of history about the place!
The Choir Concert was fantastic and completely up to the standards you’d expect of the venue – Queen Anne Boleyn was executed just outside the Chapel and re-united with her head before being buried under the altar.
Supper in The Queen’s House was interrupted briefly at 10 o’clock while we observed the Ceremony of the Keys, which is apparently the oldest unchanged ceremony of its kind in the world and has only been missed once in the past several hundred years (on one occasion it was delayed by an air raid – which earned the Constable a sharp rebuke from King George VI). I remember attending the ceremony once before as a ten year old on a family holiday to London and can therefore say with some authority that it hasn’t changed noticeably in the last 55 years.
All in all it was a wonderful evening and we will be eternally grateful to Maggie and Nick for allowing us to enjoy such a special event in those historic surroundings. We hope that they’ll come and visit us soon so that I can repay their hospitality by giving them a guided tour of the Ewbank car collection!
Well, the day of the Royal Parks Half Marathon finally dawned for Denise to put all that training and effort to good use. Having raised loads of dosh last year for Perennial, her chosen charity, and then having an operation just three weeks before the event which prevented her from from taking part, she was understandably keen to complete the event in fine style this year.
And she did it – and in a really good time of 2 hrs 18 mins! A good 10 minutes faster than she expected and four minutes quicker than a certain well-known Radio 2 DJ who just happened to come in a few minutes before her.
No doubt the encouragement provided by her loyal travelling supporter group played an important part in her success – but obviously the real credit goes to Denise for committing to this masochistic ordeal and then seeing it through to a very succesful conclusion. Well done darling!
This blogging is all very well, but if you get behind with your scribbling its a devil to catch up! Anyway, having left the Loire Valley we headed south down to Confolens, which sits on the River Vienne to the north west of Limoges. Its an attractive town which our 15 year-old Rough Guide (not nearly as bad as our 10 year-old satnav) described as ‘rather touristy’ – well the tourists must have come and gone as we saw little sign of them. In fact we rather liked the town and especially the campsite which was literally on the banks of the Vienne which flowed sedately past our doorstep. A short (well reasonably short) cycle ride took us up the road to St Germain de Confolens which we particularly enjoyed. The next stop on our own personal ‘tour de France’ was Bugeat to the southeast of Limoges, but on the way we spent a few hours at Oradour sur Glane. It was here in June 1944 that a Division of the German Waffen SS, which included a number of Frenchmen, committed a particularly terrible atrocity, destroying the village and brutally murdering some 650 men, women and children in a so-called reprisal for attacks by the French Resistance. After the war the local population decided not to rebuild the village which has been left as a memorial to those who died here and elsewhere in France. We had a lovely warm day for our visit but one couldn’t help but be affected by the atmosphere of the place and the thought of what took place 73 years ago.
It would be nice to think that a few days spent in France would be the perfect antidote to all the Brexit crap we’re being fed in UK at the moment. The reality, however, is that if you’re any sort of Europhile all that happens when you spend time in Europe is that you realise just how much our continental cousins have got right and just how dire the UK’s situation is going to be when the umbilical cord is eventually cut. Not that everything in the European garden is completely rosy, and there are undoubtedly many things that the European bureaucrats have got completely wrong, but I have no doubt that five or so years down the line we’re all going to be feeling very sorry for ourselves. Still, that’s what happens when you give peasants and old people the vote. In the meantime I’m sure that I can detect a distinct sense of sympathy in the attitudes of the French people we meet – ah, les pauvre Anglais; ils sont absolutement fou!
For this, our fourth adventure in the ‘van, we decided to go ‘off piste’ and, apart from our first stop at the outset of our journey, we decided not to book campsites in advance. To be fair we’re not taking too much of a risk as we’re right at the end of the holiday season and, apart from the Dutch, who seem to be perpetually on the road, most holidaymakers have returned home and there’s more chance of sites being closed than packed-out.
Our first stop was at Saumur in the Loire Valley, home of the French cavalry school and the country’s biggest producer of mushrooms – there has to be a connection there somewhere. We picked a campsite on the Ille d’Offard , which is both in the centre of the town and on an island in the middle of the Loire. It’s a lovely location and within easy cycling distance of the chateau, which is Saumur’s main tourist attraction, and in reality is more of a fortress than a palace. Constructed initially by ‘Charles the Bald’ (the French certainly know how to call a spade a shovel) around the turn of the first millennium, over the next eight hundred years it had a busy and frequently violent history, ending up as a prison for Napoleon’s political opponents. Bizarrely, in the middle of our guided tour we were greeted by Jeanna Ind, a member of the Glavon chapter of the TR Register and someone we know quite well. What are the chances of bumping into an acquaintance like that completely out of the blue when far from home?
Today we’d planned to take in the Chateau du Rivau, but in the end we instead visited Chinon and enjoyed a walk around its well-preserved medieval streets followed by a visit to the town’s fortress which, like Saumur, has been partially reconstructed and is well worth a couple of hours spent wandering about. After a misty start to the day the skies cleared around midday and the sun shone and I spent some time cogitating about how things would have been very different if some of our medieval Kings of England hadn’t so carelessly lost our possessions in France; and that brought me back to Brexit all over again. Bugger!
I like a challenge and, although I’ve probably got more than enough to keep me busy for the foreseeable future , when I heard about this rather unloved little Triumph Herald convertible I couldn’t resist going to look at it and ………. well one thing leads to another. So we now have four Triumphs and I have a BIG challenge for the winter months.
This latest member of the Ewbank stable is a 1967 Herald 1200 convertible which by all accounts has sat, untouched, in a garage for at least the last 26 years, maybe longer. It has 89,000 probably genuine miles on the clock and although the bodywork is tatty and a bit rusty in places the car seems to be generally sound – which is to say that it’s only rusted through in one or two places! The engine currently seems to be seized but with a bit of luck and a lot of gentle persuasion I’m hopeful that I may be able to get it turning again and hopefully save it from the scrap pile.
Hours of endless fun in prospect. It’s strange how these enthusiasms addictions can take you isn’t it?
When it comes to attending outdoor events during the English ‘summer’ timing is everything, and for once we seem to have got our timing spot-on. Our trip to the Goodwood Revival has been planned for months; in fact, ever since Denise bought me a couple of tickets to attend Saturday’s activities for last year’s Christmas present. At the time it was a bit of a leap of faith because I was really quite unwell at the end of last year and the beginning of 2017, but the big day eventually dawned and fortunately coincided with the ‘Ewbank Remission’ (an event of equally epic importance as the Revival!).
Whilst some gentlemen may be deluded into thinking that the Goodwood event is all about motor racing, the ladies know different. As probably Britain’s, and possibly the world’s, largest vintage fashion event it really is all about what you wear. After months of angst and countless hours of research and trawling the local charity shops we (that is to say Denise) finally decided what we would be wearing at the eleventh hour. I, on the other hand, simply had to dig out one of my older suits, source a waistcoat from a well known internet auction site, and doff my panama – who says that fashion’s a young person’s game? If only I could have found my flared jeans and US Army surplus jacket I would have felt right at home back in the sixties . Fortunately the TR3A needed no ‘fancy dress’ and was completely at home in ‘memory land’.
As far as timing goes attending on the Saturday turned out to be an excellent choice as torrential rain and prolonged drizzle were the fate of Goodwood goers on Friday and Sunday. We, on the other hand, stayed dry and saw some excellent racing – not to mention more than a few vintage fashion victims.
….and treat those two pretenders just the same…. (with apologies to Mr Kipling – that’s Rudyard, not the chap with the cakes). Well, I’m pretty sure there weren’t any pretenders at the Triumph International meeting held at Malvern last weekend, but if there had been they would doubtless have been overwhelmed by the number of lovely Triumphs (and their owners/masters) that turned out for the annual gathering. As the Three Counties Showground is virtually on our doorstep it would have rude not to have gone along to admire the cars and pick over the usual junk, sorry, autojumble that was on offer to those of us with more money than sense.
Fortunately the weather was kind so we enjoyed a nice run out in the TR3A which behaved itself impeccably throughout the day – perhaps it was just happy to be among so many close relatives or maybe the fact that they were celebrating the 60th birthday of the TR3A had something to do with it?
The weather for our trip to the Waterperry Gardens today wasn’t quite so clement but it was good to meet up with the Wigmores and the odd shower (that’s precipitation I’m talking about – not our good friends) didn’t spoil our enjoyment of the lovely gardens. That said we were perhaps a fortnight late with our visit; next time we’ll aim to visit in June when the herbaceous borders will doubtless be at their spectacular best.
Today (Sunday) we spent a really enjoyable morning at The Classic Motor Hub which we’ve just discovered tucked away in the depths of the Cotswold countryside, about 10 miles up the road at Ablington near Bibury. As it was a warm and sunny day we took the TR3A; fortunately I’d given it a bit of a ‘spruce up’ in preparation because the general standard of the cars there was fantastic. We joined perhaps two hundred visitors, most of whom arrived in or on classic vehicles – everything from Massey Ferguson tractors to vintage Bugattis – and spent a couple of hours wandering around oggling the carson display as well as those in the car park.
Nineteen sixties Ferraris at several million pounds a go, Italian boy racers at extravagant prices, quirky French veterans, monstrous Americans, stately Bentleys, fabulous Aston Martins and even a canary yellow Rolls Royce fit for any pop star! You name it and it was probably there. Well worth a return visit on the first Sunday of the month.
It just so happens that Ty Rhos is only about half a mile from the West Wales Coastal Path, so as Thursday dawned bright and dry it would have been weak and unmilitary not to make the best of our lovely location and take a quick stroll along the coastline. I use the word ‘stroll’ advisedly as setting one foot in front of the other is still a bit of a struggle for me, not least when the path involves conquering the odd contour. Nevertheless we/I managed a mile or so of the cliff-top path which afforded some magnificent views and convinced us that we need to return here to walk more of the coastal path once I’m a little bit further along the way to full recovery.
The drive from mid-Wales down to the Black Mountains was enjoyable; the roads were relatively empty, the scenery was attractive and the sun shone. For the past week we’ve been telling ourselves that we’ve been fortunate with the weather during this trip, but perhaps we’ve had it all wrong and this part of the world isn’t quite as monsoon-prone as we’ve always thought? Naw! The forecasts can’t all be wrong and if/when Atlantic weather comes rolling in towards the UK there’s little doubt that it’s going to drop its lot on this part of Wales first. No matter, as I’ve said before timing is everything and if you can time your visits to avoid the equatorial rainstorms then you’ll be rewarded.
Our final stopover on this adventure was at Pencelli Castle which sits in the River Usk Valley just outside Brecon. The castle is long gone but the campsite that sits in its place is very pleasant and we were once again fortunate with the weather. A short walk along the towpath of the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal in the company of all manner of wildlife was followed by the inaugural ‘firing’ of the portable barbeque that the kids bought for my birthday. Burgers and kebabs have never tasted so good – but we decided not to eat the wildlife!
….holiday blogs, motoring obsessions and a general account of life in the Ewbank household…..