We spent a couple of nights at a nice little campsite at San Giusto, just a few kilometres from our destination at Vinci. Being early season the site was almost empty and we had a whole section, including a block with four large shower/loo cubicles, virtually to ourselves. The only other occupant was a friendly little cat which sat diligently outside the ‘van’ for hours on end in the hope and expectation, ultimately fulfilled, of being fed – our first Italian friend.
Casa Eden is exactly what we hoped it would be. The villa is a large, six or seven bedroomed house about three or four kilometres outside Vinci, sitting about 300 metres up among the olive groves with great views over the Arno valley. Plenty of room for eight of us, nine including Gretel, with space to rattle around in if needed. The weather continues to be fantastic – temperatures on the early 30s, clear blue skies and the occasional light evening breeze to make the daytime heat bearable. Last night we walked a few hundred metres to the local restaurant – great pizzas at crazy low prices and views to die for – and today we walked down to Vinci to spend a couple of hours in the Leonardo Museum for an insight into the Master’s genius.
No, the title’s not a prediction, but it just so happens that the second stop in our journey from Le Mans en-route to Italy was near to the town of Die (we still don’t know how to pronounce it) which sits in the Drôme region of France, between the Ardèche and the Hautes Alpes.
Our first stop, however, was at the lovely village of Montpeyroux just to the south of Clermont Ferrand. Picked out of our book of free overnight stops we were fortunate to stumble on ‘one of the most beautiful villages of France’ (their words, not mine, but not much of an exaggeration) which, in addition to offering free overnight parking, provided us with a picturesque location with the bonus of free toilets. What more could any weary travellers want?
The next day (Tuesday), sticking to the routes national, we headed south-east through the Haut Loire region and across the Rhone, ending the day at the campsite at Die next to the River Drôme. A quick swim before supper and then an hour or so sat in the bar watching France beat Belgium in the company of a partisan audience who didn’t seem to care that their team spent most of the match falling over at every opportunity and then rolling over in feigned agony. Concrete pills needed all round.
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!
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!
Having settled the ‘van’ onto the very well-manicured and equally expensive Islawrffordd Campsite for a couple of nights we decided yesterday to ‘let the train take the strain’ and bought a brace of ranger tickets allowing us to explore the coastal railway line that follows the edge of Cardigan Bay, skirting the coastline and stopping at numerous small towns and even smaller villages along the way. The grey landscape and buildings seemed largely to be unaffected by the equally grey weather – perhaps on a bright sunny day it would have been a more uplifting experience, but I doubt it. Not that the place is depressing or dull – just a little bit, well, grey.
We journeyed north past Harlech as far as Pwllheli, did a quick tour of the town, took in a few charity shops, had a coffee and slab of bara brith cake and then hopped back on the train which chugged (I’m old enough to remember the days when trains puffed rather than chugged) its way south, past our starting point of Tal-y-bont, through Barmouth and on to Tywin, which sits on the coast below Cader Idris. There’s not a great deal to do in Tywin, so we took in a couple more charity shops and scoffed a brace of sandwiches from the local Co-op on the promenade whilst looking out for bottle-nosed dolphins – which had obviously decided to stay home for the day. Yes, I know it doesn’t sound very exciting, but we enjoyed our day.
Today was Denise’s birthday, so obviously the wind dropped, the sun shone and the temperature started to rise. Having decided to advance our itinerary by a day we drove south to Aberystwyth which came as a pleasant surprise. Quite why the Victorians decided to establish a place of higher learning in the middle of nowhere I’m not at all sure, but no doubt generations of university students have been extremely grateful for their decision to do so because it’s lovely. Or at least it is when the sun’s shining and there’s ice cream to be eaten.
The surprise of the day was Aberaeron. It seems that at some time in the 1970s one of the residents decided to paint her house a bright shade of something and the idea caught on. Now virtually all the houses in this well-preserved town are painted in bright and contrasting colours and the effect is wonderful. Perhaps because they haven’t allowed the thing to become gaudy or ‘over the top’ the colour scheme just seems to work extremely well and it’s quite uplifting that so many in the community have joined in to make something that obviously gives pleasure to residents and visitors alike.
Tonight we’re staying at Ty Rhos, a small campsite just outside New Quay, which is a pretty and as yet unspoiled harbour village just a little further down the coast. A nice birthday meal in the village followed by a short walk along the harbour breakwater convincing ourselves that we could see bottle-nosed dolphins a good half mile out to sea made for a very pleasant end to a very pleasant day.
There’s no doubt about it, life in the ‘van’ is infinitely more comfortable than camping. No tent to erect, no beds to make, hot and cold running water on demand and, most important of all, a large fridge to keep all that nice wine and beer properly chilled. I’m not at all sure how we’re going to cope if we have to revert to spending nights under canvas with the ‘Tufty Club’. Still, life is full of compromises – so perhaps we’ll just have to get used to occupying our ivory tower and be content to feel superior when necessary.
First stop on our Welsh itinerary was Powis Castle and gardens which proved to be a very worthwhile stopover. In the care of the National Trust since 1957 the castle has been in continuous occupation since the 13th century and was formerly the home of the Herbert family whose alumni, we learned, included Clive of India. The house/castle is fascinating (made even more so through the efforts of the many enthusiastic NT volunteers who were on hand to answer our questions) and certainly worth a visit …… but the gardens are simply sensational!
Timing, of course, is everything and I think that we probably judged our visit to perfection. Just about everything was in bloom and, although we didn’t actually see any gardening staff at work, there must have been dozens of hard working horticulturists running ahead of us just making sure that everything was perfectly prepared for our visit. Highly recommended and perhaps even worth a return visit at some time in the future.
Our second night’s stopover was at Tal-y-bont, just north of Barmouth on Cardigan Bay. With more holiday homes to the acre than it’s possible to calculate without using an abacus this type of location probably wouldn’t be our first choice in high season, but outside the school holidays there’s nothing more raucous about most of these sites than the sound of pensioners gently snoring their way through Coronation Street or Eastenders. It seems that quiet and comfortable has got to be the way forward.
….holiday blogs, motoring obsessions and a general account of life in the Ewbank household…..