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.
The past nine months have been a tad difficult – not least when it came to sitting down and attempting to write an interesting, entertaining or informative blog. In August of last year I started to feel unwell and by the time I had been diagnosed with kidney disease towards the end of 2016 I was well and truly under the weather and largely ‘confined to barracks’ with little prospect of having anything interesting to write about.
These days the media seldom seems to have much that’s good to say about the NHS, however I have to say that my personal experience has been pretty much wholly positive. No doubt I’ve been fortunate to live in a part of the country where the service doesn’t seem to be permanently overloaded and in crisis, however being able to get to see my GP at virtually no notice and most importantly being able to rely upon the services of the experienced, caring and highly professional staff of Gloucester and Cheltenham hospitals has made the overall experience of being ill vastly more bearable than it might otherwise have been. I am immensely grateful for their help and support but, at the risk of seeming ungrateful, hope to be seeing rather less of them in the year to come.
Anyway, enough of all that! The good news is that as I hopefully near the end of my initial treatment (the wonderfully named Ponticelli Regimen) I seem to be making good progress and have at last been able to get back towards living a more normal existence, enjoying some of those things that I’ve been looking forward to over the past few months.
The first and most important news to report is the arrival of our first granddaughter, Gretel Lilly Ewbank, who came into this world in Nürnberg on 23rd February 2017 courtesy of her parents Richard and Collette. She’s a beauty and a delight and no doubt will one day be a famous scientist, renowned artist or perhaps even a skilled restorer of classic cars. Who cares just so long as she remains healthy and happy?
On the automotive front I have to report that Bertie has moved on to pastures new. Although we thoroughly enjoyed our relatively short period of Austin ownership it became increasingly clear over the past year that he was just one car too many for us and that we would have few opportunities to gain full use or enjoyment from him going forward. The good news is that he’s moved on to enthusiastic new owners and that for the first time in 47 years of automotive ownership I’ve actually managed to make a small profit from buying and selling a car!
Nature abhors a vacuum and the prospect of having a little spare space on the drive was obviously insufficient reason for not going out and buying another vehicle (not sure that sentence makes sense, but you know what I mean) so we immediately went out and bought a motorhome – what else? Our first short expedition to the north Devon coast in early May was an unqualified success so as I sit here tapping away at the keyboard we’re actually parked in a field in Powys at the start of a six day break which, if all goes well and the weather stays reasonable, should see us exploring the Welsh coastline and getting to know our new mode of transport. Today Welshpool, tomorrow the world – we’re on the road again!
Having thoroughly enjoyed last year’s TSSC trip to Spa we decided that for 2016 we’d ‘double up’ and join in with the Club’s planned trips to both Laon and Le Mans. As we once again planned to camp it was an easy decision to take the Stag, which has enough room to squeeze in essentials such as camp-beds, extra blankets and a comprehensive toolkit.
The attractive provincial French city of Laon sits on one of Picardie’s rocky outcrops just to the north west of Reims, and as the drive from Calais passes through the Somme region we decided that after the Laon events we’d stop off for an extra night in Albert to visit a couple of the July 1916 battlefields.
In company with six other intrepid members of Gloucester TSSC we crossed from Dover early on the Thursday morning and then enjoyed an excellent and fairly uneventful drive through rural France, ending up in the central square at Arras with around five hundred other classics just in time for lunch.
Arriving at our camp site just outside Laon in the late afternoonfate intervened. Having stopped the car for a few minutes to help move a tent I jumped back in again to find that the power steering had packed in. Disaster! The wheel wouldn’t turn at all in one direction and would only move jerkily (a word I never knew existed) in the other. Doom and gloom descended as I made arrangements for the car to be recovered (likely to take weeks), cancelled our stay in Albert and contemplated the prospect of once again attending a classic event without a classic car. Fortunately at that moment a fellow traveller (thanks Matt) made the sensible suggestion to see whether the car would steer with the power steering disconnected. It would – albeit you quickly develop arms like Schwarzenegger.
The rest, as they say, is historique. Saturday involved a 100+km ‘topless’ route through the local countryside, whilst on Sunday everyone congregated in the centre of Laon to show off their cars before tearing through the cobbled streets at high speed whilst the local gendarmerie conveniently looked the other way. Overall a lovely weekend in great company with more than a thousand classic cars as a bonus. Next stop Le Mans – what can possibly go wrong …….?
….holiday blogs, motoring obsessions and a general account of life in the Ewbank household…..