Back in June we went away for a long weekend for the husband’s birthday. The booking at Cheddar Bridge Touring Park was kind of knee jerk when there was talk about lockdown lifting and we needed something, anything, to cling to, but the site ticked a lot of our boxes nicely – not too far a drive for a 3 night stay, in a picturesque location, places to eat nearby and – an added bonus – a river running through the site. Plus it had the benefit of being adults only, with a strict noise policy in operation between 11pm and 8pm. We’re generally in bed before 10pm when we’re away in the van (I’m not even joking) so knowing we wouldn’t get woken up by errant partygoers was a relief.
The site is privately owned and not too big, which we have so far found preferable to the more commercial larger sites. It has a separate field for camping, and also some cute log cabins. I’d emailed in advance and asked whether I could request a riverside spot for Tim’s birthday and they came good with a coned off pitch right on the riverbank. Beautiful.
So, back to the title regarding the prettiness of the site, never have I seen so many hanging baskets, pots and attention to detail. Everywhere was an array of blooming flowers. The toilet block, washing up area and even the Elsan point (where you empty your portable toilet – it’s not as vommy as it sounds) were pretty. Cuteness overload.
Climbing roses grew around the bin store. Every time a pitch was vacated, someone came round with a lawnmower to keep the grass pristine. Each pitch had some type of division, whether that be a small fence, a hedgerow or trees giving a sense of privacy and individual space that many sites don’t offer.
The facilities were immaculately clean and there were even nice touches like complimentary washing up liquid and sponges (you can tell I’m a changed person that these are the things about a holiday that now impress me!)
Cheddar itself was around a 20 minute easy walk from the site, although there were some shops, a Tesco Express and a stunning hotel/restaurant (The Bath Arms) where we had an incredible birthday lunch at much closer. There’s not an awful lot to Cheddar, like many small villages, but it was very pretty with coloured buildings, a river and weir and some tourist shops selling cheese (of course!), and randomly, a year round Christmas shop!
There are a handful of pubs, of course, this is Britain after all – we love a pub. For the more energetic you can climb Jacob’s Ladder or walk through the village and then up through the gorge, which has jaw dropping scenery, but we chose to head back to the campervan for chilled wine and snacks by the river instead.
Initially we had hoped to visit the famous Cheddar Gorge caves, but unfortunately they were closed due to social distancing. We did drive through the gorge on the way home though, and stopped off for a little photoshoot – not of ourselves, of our camper!
It was our first trip of 2021 and our first trip with our new awning, so I was a little nervous in case I’d forgotten what to do in the 8.5 months since our last trip, or how to live in a van, but as soon as we were set up and that first glass of wine was poured, it was like no time at all had passed.
I’d definitely head back to Cheddar Bridge Touring Park, and would recommend it to anyone.
I’ve been despairing of certain elements of the population for a while – we all know that social media gives the scourge of society a platform to peddle their sub-human beliefs – but lately things seem worse than ever, if that’s possible?
Hey! It’s been a while. I can’t believe I used to blog a regularly as I did – sometimes every day! Where did I find the time or things to talk about? I thought a chatty catch up might be a good way to get back into things, and hopefully it won’t be another two months until my next post!
When we bought our campervan, we talked about places we would like to visit, and one that we both agreed on was Durdle Door in Dorset. I remember learning about Durdle Door in my geography lessons over 30 years ago but as I haven’t spent much time holidaying in the UK it’s somewhere I’ve never been to. With Covid putting a stop to overseas travel last year, the UK was our oyster!
So, the government has announced the roadmap for returning to normality. Obviously that’s a good thing but, when you actually think about it, elements of it still seem a long way off. There’ll be no boozy Easter drinks with friends. Our favourite restaurant won’t open for another 7.5 weeks. Holidays are up in the air.
With all that in mind, it’s still perfectly OK to feel crap about things. I’ve had some terrible mental health days in recent weeks, even last week, which proves that getting closer to elements of normality isn’t enough to complete buoy us up. Obviously mental health struggles can’t be just made better by pulling ourselves together and cheering up, but a bad day can be improved with some small actions.
Here are some of the mini (and very simple) mood boosters I’ve used over lockdown 3, and will probably turn to again in the next few months.
Donate to charity
Everyone’s a winner in this scenario – the charity gets much needed donations and you get to be a good person. Obviously I appreciate not everyone is in a financial position to be able to do this, but if you are it feels great. In addition to my existing monthly charity contributions, I’ve been erring towards smaller funds when giving money. The kind of campaigns where you know the recipient will look at your donation and feel a real heartfelt thanks. Friends doing charity events, setting up birthday collections, and even strangers like this one; purely for the comic genius (and a great cause too!)
This one pains me somewhat, as I’m not a walking person, and I’ve always poo-pooed exercise as a mood booster. I drive everywhere and have since I was 17. I rarely walk for fun. But working from home combined with lockdown of shops, bars and restaurants meant I was literally leaving the house once a week to go to the supermarket. Not healthy. So I’ve taken to having a walk around the streets during the day when I can (meetings and weather permitting) and I can honestly say I do feel better for it. Whether it’s nosing at people’s houses, spotting signs of Spring or just getting some fresh air, it helps.
Do something nice for someone you care about and you’ll feel warm and glowy too. Doesn’t have to be expensive. I’ve done doorstep deliveries of flowers and sweets to pals, posted cards and chocs to friends who live further afield and, most recently, made chocolate cornflake cakes as a taste of childhood for a miserable husband. It’s nice to be nice.
Make an effort with your appearance
I’m intermittent with this one, typing this piece of advice whilst still in my PJs at 12.15pm! But there is something to be said for looking presentable if you feel up to it. A sweep of mascara or even the simplicity of a spray of perfume – all things that used to be a daily occurrence for me but now feel like a treat and kid my brain that I’m in control! With the change of seasons come the opportunity to wear different clothes, so brighter colours will be making more of an appearance too, which always lifts my mood.
Doesn’t have to be big or fancy (I’m not encouraging anyone to max out their credit cards!) but do something nice for you too. I find that buying myself flowers is always a nice little pick me up; it feels self indulgent and they brighten up my workspace (fancy way of saying dining table!) whilst I’m working from home.
What do you do when you need a mood boost? I’d love to hear your suggestions too.
Obviously this is a rhetorical question right now! Lockdown shows no signs of ending, we’re all on tenterhooks to see what the government does next, and there has been no real mention of tourism when talking about easing of restrictions (although bumbling Boris alluded to “a great British summer” last week – so that’s put the kiss of death on things – and the transport secretary has warned against anyone booking holidays right now, which is a kick in the teeth).
As difficult as it is to remember, or even imagine, stuck as we are in the depths of lockdown 3 with no sign of improvement in the short term, there was a brief interlude last year when the country opened up a little bit and we could get out and about and actually go places.
During those halcyon days, and in between campervan trips, I suggested a UK mini break somewhere pretty in a nice B&B. Which is how we ended up in Chepstow.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. I suggested Ludlow. The husband has never been, and I haven’t been for many years. It has a river, and a castle, a good food scene and isn’t too far to drive. So I booked us a great room with a balcony and we were all set. Until I searched my emails to look for the check in time a few days before and found I hadn’t actually booked it at all. A quick phone call to the hotel confirmed there was no booking, and that I had royally screwed up.
One of the big differences between my husband and I is that he will throw the towel in and admit defeat, whereas I cling on to any hope long past the point it’s reasonable to do so. Throw in a situation where the mistake is on me, and I’m the most stubborn mule you can imagine. Ludlow was, by this point, pretty much fully booked so alternative accommodation was a no-no but I refused to just stay home and started looking for an alternative destination.
Which is how I came upon Chepstow.
It’s not really that different; it has a castle, a river, and it ends in “ow”. Almost identical no?
Two things really surprised us about Chepstow. One – it’s really steep. Really steep. From the river up into the town and then beyond is on an incline. One of the roads in the middle of the town is called Steep Street, and it really is a case of steep by name, steep by nature. Guess where we were staying? At the top of a really steep bit. More on that later.
The other thing we were surprised by was the really great food we ate, and how well my husband’s gluten intolerance was catered for on standard menus. We had two wonderful Italian meals; one at Una Vita and another at Panevino (where I tried beef carpaccio for the first time), and both were excellent.
So, what is there to do in Chepstow and the surrounding area?
Chepstow itself is rather pretty, with narrow lanes and boutique shops in addition to the usual UK high street offerings.
You can still see sections of the 14th century mediaeval town walls, although I’m sure the legacy Christmas decorations visible near the ramparts are from more recent times!
Chepstow is situated on the River Wye, and I had visions of idyllic river walks as the sun glistened on the flowing water. Unfortunately it was quite an overcast weekend, albeit warm, and the river was about as dull and murky as you can get. Not quite so picturesque!
The river walk doesn’t go along the banks of the river, but up and around the outskirts at height. The husband was having some back problems at the time, so rather than exacerbate them we gave that a swerve, and settled for a beer garden instead.
The most prominent building in Chepstow is obviously the castle. We almost didn’t get to see it, despite it being one of the main reasons for our visit, because ongoing Coronavirus restrictions meant booking a pre-timed arrival slot, which we didn’t do far enough in advance to get the time we wanted! So, prior to our visit, there was some time killing in a pub beer garden (not a real hardship, I know).
Now, there’s no way to say this without sounding like a dick, but limited visitor numbers really improves the overall experience as a tourist (I know it’s not good for the economy, etc, just looking for a silver lining). There were only a handful of people in there, even though it was sold out, which meant we could wander at leisure with no queues and no discomfort. We were able to easily read the information displays and get photographs without other people on!
The castle is obviously a ruin, but a lot of the structure is still in place and there’s evidence from it’s residential status hundreds of years ago.
How amazing is this bench, carved into the shape of the castle?
I love castles anyway, and Chepstow didn’t disappoint. Even better, it was free for us to get in thanks to our English Heritage membership, so happy days!
There’s lots of good stuff in the vicinity of Chepstow, including Tintern Abbey (I wanted to visit but it was closed – thanks Covid) and Clearwell Caves which were fully booked (thanks again Covid). The whole Wye Valley region is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so there are lots of beautiful walks if that’s your bag.
Where to stay
My tip would be to stay as close to the river area as possible. The hotel we were booked into was only about 3/4 mile away from the river, but as I mentioned it was on a super steep hill, so walking down was tough and walking back even tougher. After checking out the route on foot in the afternoon, we actually got a taxi to the restaurant on the first night! Being city people as we are we thought we’d just flag a cab down at the end of the night, but it took 45 minutes of calling local companies, an argument between ourselves and a huffy partial walk before we were able to get one. We checked out the next morning, and relocated to a B&B opposite the castle!
Eating and drinking
I’ve already mentioned the two great Italian restaurants we ate at; both of which I would highly recommend. There were also some cute independent cafes and restaurants we liked the look of that were unfortunately still closed post lockdown.
The Boat Inn is situated on the river and, when we visited, was only offering outdoor table service on both food and drinks, and doing a brisk trade in both.
The Three Tuns is right outside the castle and has an idyllic hidden away beer garden full of wooden tables and fairy lights; we spent a very pleasant time there having pre-castle refreshments and meeting up with friends who live locally we hadn’t seen in a while.
The Woodfield Arms is also opposite the castle; it’s a B&B with a restaurant and beautiful hidden away garden, but unfortunately it closed early for food and drinks on Sundays so we didn’t get chance to spend any time there, which is a shame.
Visiting the castle
At the time of writing this blog the castle is currently closed, as are all attractions in Wales. Who knows what the future will bring in terms of restrictions, bookings and tickets, but you can find all the information you need on the Cadw website.
Before I go, little bit of trivia, on one side of the bridge crossing the River Wye you’re in Chepstow, and therefore Wales, and on the other side you’re in Gloucestershire, and therefore England!
You literally cross from one country to another. Chepstow Bridge opened in July 2016, and at the time it was the third largest iron arch bridge in the world.
When lockdown 3 is over and the UK opens up again, would you consider a trip to Chepstow?
Well it’s the last day of what has been the strangest year of my life. I don’t feel there’s any point in saying here’s to 2021, because I can’t see things changing much if I’m honest – at least not for the first half of the year – but in time honoured tradition I’ve generated my top nine most liked photos from the year on Instagram, which has reminded me that 2020 wasn’t a complete shitshow!
Most of the pictures are in someway campervan related. Bodhi Bongo was the highlight of our year; despite the fact that campsites were closed until early July.
Shall we look at the stories behind the photos? Left to right, top to bottom, here we go!
Top left – this taken at Easter when the weather was beautiful…and the country was in full lockdown with nowhere to go. Instead we had an at home break in our garden, with the campervan set up as a chill out zone for shade, naps and general relaxation.
Top middle – taken on our first overnight trip in July but posted later as I reflected on how I’d adapted to camperlife. This picture hides what came later; I flipped out and had a cry because everything hadn’t gone to plan. It’s been a learning curve!
Top right – our first overnight stay; outside our house in February in a storm. Fuelled by vodka. The end.
Middle left – sulking about the UK tourist industry grinding to a fault in our first year of camper ownership. At this point Bodhi was an expensive ornament sitting outside our house!
Middle middle – the husband chilling out on our 4 day break to Dorset. That was when everything came together for the first time and I really felt cut out for vanlife.
Middle right – the day we bit the bullet and booked our first trip. I was auditing everything we needed to buy for a home from home experience. We don’t travel light!
Bottom left – taken on our first overnight trip away, in Much Wenlock. It’s a really pretty town which we weren’t able to make the most of, because of the effing virus, so we’ll definitely back.
Bottom middle – the only gig we went to this year! A road trip to Nottingham to see Twin Temple. I was really poorly, husband had some health issues and it wasn’t the best. We didn’t know it would be the last though!
Bottom right – the stunning Durdle Door in Dorset, which we visited in August in…you guessed it…our campervan! It literally took my breath away. An absolute highlight of 2020, which I haven’t yet blogged about so I must get round to it.
So that was the year that was and wasn’t! In fact this post has reminded me things weren’t so awful, and actually I fared better than many others. Something to be infinitely grateful for.
What will 2021 bring? More campervanning, hopefully!
Stay safe everyone and thanks, as always, for reading. x