Xmas over and retirement now official, it was time to start our farewells to our scattered family & friends. Having decided to let out the house for at least 6 months there was a lot of work to do on sorting that out as well.
A whirlwind 3 months.
We spent 5 days on a nearby campsite in January – including a quick decamp to Travelworld after 1 night because the door/alarm problem resurfaced. Fixed (again) we returned and continued testing out our home-to-be.
Then a great week in Ireland – a couple of days with Rab & Miriam at Killinchy then down to Newcastle, Co. Down for some quality family time. As usual everyone went out of their way to look after us -and it was fabulous to see everyone.
Then Newcastle, England for a weekend with Nat & Ian who fed us too well, again, and even got Kate to eat an array of vegetables (cheated by putting it in a stew!).
Meals out with Gail & Roy, Peter & Chris, and Jon & Emma and overnighters with Rebecca & Wally, and Daryl & Rachel all combined to make life feel just a bit surreal. And mum, as always, feeding us up and doing all she could to help.
On 27th February Kate had an operation for carpal tunnel release on both hands and cubital tunnel release on both elbows. Came out looking a bit like an Egyptian mummy, and a result Danny was condemned to all heavy work and ‘van driving for a while. Kate overcame her natural reticences to direct operations.
Getting close to departure date and the rest of the Irish contingent visited us for a night – Trevor & Maggie parked their motorhome on our drive as they did when they first visited us all those years ago, and Brian & Olive stopped off in on their way to a welsh walking holiday (well done for conquering Snowdon without taking the train). The last time we were all together in Parkgate was the night before our wedding – too long. An excellent banquet at Chows
The night before our departure and a farewell meal with mum at our favourite restaurant – yes, Zeera’s. I think we have dragged nearly all our family and friends to Zeera’s over the years and we know that theirs is the food we will miss most (apart from mum’s roasts, of course)
Finally. Wednesday 22nd March – after 4 years of thinking about it, talking about it and even doing a bit of planning, we finally closed the door on our house and set off only 3 hours later than intended. Danny had done some superb stowing in the garage of the van to fit everything in, the van had passed the weigh bridge test, and we were off on our travels. Kate had a good cry after saying goodbye to mum and Danny did driving and sympathy with equal patience.
Our first night we parked at Kate’s younger brothers’ near Stafford and had a lovely evening with Dave, Sandra and young Daisy.
Next day we headed off towards Herefordshire through rolling, rural England. The sun kept trying to come out and we loved the villages, the daffodils, the over-full rivers, the new lambs and the spring growth teetering on the brink. We had a very nice pub lunch with Kate’s cousins Dela & Sue, and Dela’s husband Glyn, at the Trumpet Inn, Ledbury. Del & Glyn, being motorhome owners, had picked the pub for its decent-sized car-park but it was still a challenge for our 7.9m van. They gave us some good advice and a boost of enthusiasm, and Sue provided a ‘good luck’ gift whilst we sent our best to hubby Gary who was recuperating from an op. It was great to see them and have some good pub grub – a stupendous pie for Danny and excellent scampi & chips for Kate. Yum.
After lunch we left the orchards and mistletoe of Herefordshire behind and headed off to our overnight stop at the Caravan Club site outside Burford. We had a friendly welcome and a nice pitch, but we were looking forward to visiting Burford again and had not anticipated that the 2 miles into the village were on a dangerous road with no footpath. On the advice of the site staff we took a taxi – clearly we are not used to rural ways as we found the £10 each way taxi charge exorbitant. However the ambience and food at the Golden Pheasant gave us a pleasant evening. On our return thought, the alarm/door fault recurred leaving us employing our contingency plan of a 2-foot long iron bar through the door handles to secure us for the night. Just what we didn’t want to happen. In effect, we were unable to lock the only door into our van so couldn’t leave tit unattended – not great
Following a strongly worded email to Travelworld that night, we got an early morning call from them and an offer to send an engineer to Oxford to try to fix it. Given that they had “fixed” it several times before we declined and suggested instead that Niesmann & Bischoff themselves may be better placed to sort it as they had built it. We were booked in for servicing with them at their factory in Polch in Germany towards the end of April and we suggested an emergency appointment ASAP. Our ferry was booked for overnight 28-29 March and Travelworld managed to arrange an emergency appointment at Polch for Friday 31st March. The very nice people at Brittany Ferries kindly re-routed us from Santander to Le Havre on the same date with an 10.30pm sailing.
Danny’s ofted-used saying that “no plan survives first contact with the enemy” had come true yet again. Our only plan was to get the ferry from Portsmouth to Santander then drive down to Cadiz to watch the spring migration of raptors from Africa to Europe. An amazing sight by all accounts and one we were really looking forward to. Ah well – one for the future. Worth the change if we could finally get the van properly fixed.
Friday morning we headed across country to visit Joolz & Gillian, and new woof Sherlock Bones, in West Sussex. We took nice and slow scenic route avoiding the nightmare of Friday on the M25 wherever possible. Parked up on our hosts’ drive we treated Joolz & Gillian to the experience of a relaxing drink in our van, kindly allowing them to provide the drink and nibbles.
After a lovely evening and leisurely morning we headed off for our last goodbye visit, with Kate’s older brother. Mark & Jan live in Southborough, Kent and their home is accessed down a long, narrow lane. Mark had assured us we would get the van down there and parked outside their house ok and he was right – just! We chose to sleep in the van – or ‘at home’ as it now was – but took full advantage of the opportunity for our last hot bath in a while. Spent a relaxed couple of days there, with good food & wine provided as well as a nice walk in the Kent countryside in dry sunny weather followed by a pint of real ale.
Finally it was time to head off by ourselves. Monday 27th we said goodbye to Mark , edged carefully down the lane, and headed off to our last UK overnight stop, Chichester Camping & Caravanning Club. After a wrong-turn down a really narrow road, requiring a hideous bit of manoeuvring, we found this really nice site cunningly hidden on the main road. The sun shone and we got our chairs out, poured a G&T and enjoyed the warmth.
We also did our first laundrette. Kate hadn’t used one since 1982, her first year at college before she worked out that taking it home was a better option, and Danny hadn’t since 1984 when he was living in a flat in Lark Lane. Surprisingly painless.
Next day after a walk in the grey english morning along the coast, we spent a silly amount on very little in the nearby farm shop then packed and drove into Portsmouth. Parked near the Brittany Ferries terminal, then got a taxi in to the historic dockyards. It was nearly 2pm by this time but we still managed to get round HMS Victory which was excellent, and the Mary Rose which was also good although a little less atmospheric. Headed back at 5pm and moved the van into the queue for the ferry where we rusted up a tasty chow mein accompanied by a crisp white wine.
After what seemed like forever, we were finally on board, had our cabin sorted and were ready to sail, a glass of vin rouge in hand.