Campervanning at Durdle Door Holiday Park

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!

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Quick and easy mini mood boosters

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!)

https://www.whtimes.co.uk/news/man-fundraises-by-running-in-shape-of-penises-7564206

Go for a walk

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.

Spread kindness

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.

Treat yourself

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.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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How will you be spending Summer 2021?

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).

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A weekend in Chepstow

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?

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Instagram top nine 2020

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

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How I took the stress out of Christmas

I have always loved Christmas, but in recent years it’s started to stress me out a lot.

The main reason for the stress is Christmas presents. I put huge amounts of pressure and expectation on myself to buy wonderful thoughtful presents, not buy vouchers or, worse, just give money. This makes the lead up an absolute nightmare as I start to get annoyed and then panic.

The truth is these days we live in a “now” society, and many people are fortunate enough to be able to buy themselves things as they want them throughout the year, rather than waiting for Santa to come. So then you’re either buying people something they already have, or something they don’t really need or want, just to say you’ve bought a present. Lifestyles have changed too. No-one buys DVDs or CDs as gifts now we’ve all got Netflix and Spotify. Everything is expensive. My brother only wears branded expensive clothes. My Mom says she’ll be happy “with anything”. And my mother-in-law is 81; what can you buy an 81 year old?!

It sounds cheesy to say, but when I think of Christmas, I don’t get a warm feeling from receiving gifts. I love putting up decorations and watching Christmas films. When I think back to Christmas Days gone past I couldn’t tell you what gifts I received, but I could tell you how I love cooking roast turkey and all the trimmings, how I keep my mother in law topped up with whiskey, how we settle down to watch a film in the afternoon and I invariably fall asleep. Those are the things that make Christmas for me.

So, last year, we made a decision not to buy presents for adults in the family. And it made life so much easier. It may sound Scrooge-esque, but the lead up to the big day was so much nicer without endlessly trawling websites looking for gift inspiration, and keeping all receipts safe and sound in case you need to return something in January <<shudder>>

Of course, having a 1 year old nephew makes Christmas different these days, and all the more exciting. And yes he will be spoilt. There is absolutely no stress in buying presents for children – the only problem is when to stop!

I know the world is pretty weird right now, and for many people Christmas may be the one thing to look forward to, but if you struggle with gift buying – either from an ideas point of view, or because it’s just so damn expensive – then I really recommend having a chat with your family and suggesting getting back to the real spirit of Christmas. You may find they’ve already been thinking the same thing but didn’t know how to approach the subject.

But if you are buying gifts, try to support businesses who have struggled this year due to the weird world we find ourselves in. Independents will value your custom so much more than big corporates. Something handmade or a voucher for a local restaurant might just help to keep a small trader in business into 2021.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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A visit to Witley Court and Gardens

We’ve talked about joining English Heritage for ages, every time we visit one of their sites actually, but we always put it off for some reason. Back in August we visited Witley Court in Worcester, as we were staying at a campervan site not far away. As this was post lockdown we had to book tickets in advance, for a timed entrance (ah, remember the days when you could just rock up somewhere whenever it suited you? Good times for disorganised people like me!)

On arrival one of the lovely volunteers explained the new one way system to us (ah, remember the days when you could just wander freely in whatever direction you fancied? Good times…) and also talked about the merits of joining, which included a refund on what we’d paid for our tickets that day, and a special offer of 15 months for the price of 12, which will cover us all through next summer as well.

Now I know that the pandemic is bad and sad and horrid, but there are some benefits to it (sorry) and that includes fewer people visiting tourist attractions. Which meant that we barely passed anyone else as we walked through the grounds towards Witley Court itself. The grounds alone are incredible; very well tended, clear pathways, huge trees and shrubs, and a big lake.

And then you walk up a big gravel driveway, and the ruins of Witley Court loom large.

100 years Witley Court would have been one of the great country houses in the UK. It hosted banquets, parties and welcomed royal visitors. Sadly it was ruined by a fire in 1937, which tore through the building and destroyed the interior, although the grand scale of the building is apparent even in it’s ruinous state.

The Perseus and Andromeda fountain, which has been restored in recent years is a magnificent sight to behold. The fountain displays for 20 minutes every hour, on the hour and the main jet reaches a height of 30 metres.

The gardens are incredibly well kept and manicured – the green fingered side of me was in awe at the accuracy and neatness of the curated planting!

Due to the layout and location of Witley Court, it’s one of the sites that English Heritage have managed to keep open safely during this second lockdown. Adult tickets cost £9 each (£9.90 with gift aid donation).

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Campervanning – what I’ve learnt so far

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you’ll have seen that, after a lockdown start to Summer 2020 and not being able to go anywhere, we threw ourselves into it wholeheartedly from mid-July to mid-September.

It seemed cruel that, having bought our van in October last year, with plans for 2020 to be the summer of roadtrips, Covid came along and stopped everything in its tracks. Not to sound selfish and self centred, as I’m aware there are a lot LOT worse things going on for people, but here we were with £12k of van sitting outside our house and nowhere to go. Even daytrips became out of the question.

We could have spent that time getting prepared for when the situation changed and we could get on the road, but that would have been too sensible. Instead, when restrictions were lifted and we felt safe enough to venture out for our first overnighter, we had a mad rush to buy plates, dishes, glasses, cutlery, a duvet cover, mattress topper, screen cover, tent pegs for the awning and a porta potti. Yup, if we were going camping we were doing it properly.

Our first overnighter, in Much Wenlock, was a learning curve. Our set up was easy thanks to our pop up tent which is so easy to assemble. Everything went pretty smoothly, I congratulated myself for the ease with which I had accustomed myself to life on wheels.

Alas it all went a bit wrong when we realised the screen cover was in the cupboard, behind the bed, after the bed was all set up ready for us to get into. I had a meltdown, cried, stormed off, said everything was shit and this wasn’t the life for me.

In short, I was a drama queen.

Not one to give in, I insisted we try again ASAP, doubling our chances of me losing the plot by going away for 2 nights. This time I forgot some of the ingredients for our Saturday night dinner so instead of being logical and making do, I threw everything away and we went to bed hungry.

If you think you can see a pattern emerging, I’m glad to say you’re wrong. From shit beginnings we have now absolutely nailed it, having completed two 4 night trips without incident.

More importantly, I love it!

So, what have I learnt so far?

We could not exist in a campervan alone

All credit to people who can live purely from their van, but we have stuff. We like stuff. Stuff makes us happy and comfortable and more likely to enjoy ourselves. When we go away the living space is packed to the rafters so we need somewhere to put it all. A stand alone awning (basically a tent) means we can unload. We have a dumping ground where bedding, dried goods, shoes, clothes etc can sit so it doesn’t get in our way during everyday life.

For us, comfort is key

We have a thick mattress topper, full size duvet, and we take our own bed pillows. A decent night sleep is key, especially if you’re short tempered and highly strung like me!

Organisation really does help

The first time we went away I put all of our eating and drinking utensils in a bag, then got really irritable when I couldn’t find things easily. After that I bought a set of 4 plastic drawers which keeps everything in it’s place. It’s lightweight enough to get in and out easily, and sits in the corner of our awning when we’re set up for ease of access.

A porta potti isn’t as grim as it sounds

The idea of peeing in anything that isn’t a toilet didn’t fill me with glee, but they really are pretty good and hygienic. We bought one with a proper flushable tank and with the right chemicals and specific loo roll even emptying it isn’t awful, because everything dissolves. Plus, if it’s a choice between that and walking to the toilet block in the middle of the night – no brainer.

Mundane tasks feel more fun in a camper

Cooking breakfast, making up the bed and even washing up have a novelty element to them. Not to mention having drinks from our well stocked bar!

A serviced pitch is good for longer stays

For us, an electric hook up is essential regardless of how long we’re staying, but on our one and two night trips that’s all we’ve needed. We can fill a water container from the central tap and make do without washing up by having enough crockery and cutlery and bringing it home in a black bag to stick in the dishwasher. For our 4 night trip we booked a serviced pitch, which means that, as well as an electric point, you also have your own water tap and a drain to empty away waste water. That way you don’t need to use the washing up facilities or walk to the tap which just makes life a little easier (this may sound precious, but I don’t care).

Camping people are both friendly and trustworthy

From sites not taking pre-payment, to other visitors leaving their deckchairs outside all night and people actually making eye contact and saying hello, there’s a feeling of camaraderie and all being part of something. It’s nice.

I’m far from an expert, and we’re not the type of people who can just pack up and go at a moment’s notice, but I’m loving the whole experience WAY more than I expected to. In truth I thought we’d go away every few weeks and I would grin and bear it for my husband but, if anything, I’ve been the driving force behind planning more trips, looking at destinations, and booking our stays.

Certainly, with our personal decision not to get on a plane this year, being able to still get away has been an absolute lifesaver. Mentally we’ve felt less trapped, medically we’ve felt less at risk by being more or less self contained, and financially that £12k van has earned it’s keep by being our home on wheels.

We’re pretty much fair weather campers; autumn winter camping isn’t for us. But I’m already excited for what next year will bring and where we’ll go. It really does feel like a whole new chapter of life.

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Gluten free findings

Hey! Earlier in the year we came to the conclusion that my husband is gluten intolerant, and it seemed like a really big major deal. Oh the innocence of life before Covid…

Not that I’m belittling gluten sensitivity. I know for some people it can be hugely debilitating. With a process of elimination we’ve worked out that there are only certain things that cause the physical discomfort, pain and bad tummy for the husband but, that said, there’s obviously something that triggers him and, just because not all wheat products cause a tangible effect, it’s probably not doing his insides any good.

The journey to gluten free was an immediate one – as soon as we recognised the signs our house became gluten free. That included a new toaster and wooden kitchen utensils in case of any pesky gluten hiding away on surfaces.

Here’s what I’ve found:

  • Gluten free food is expensive. A bag of pasta is easily twice the price of a standard one. Biscuits three to four times the price. At a time when some people are losing their jobs or having their income reduced by furlough, I can see that some people couldn’t afford to buy GF products. And that sucks.
  • Gluten free bread is rubbish (as well as expensive). You don’t get a choice of thickness – it’s just one standard naff slice size (we’ve always been thick sliced bread people, and thick sliced it is not). The slices are teeny tiny, like they’re made for children. It has no rigidity or strength, so if you use it for a sandwich it falls apart. It’s ok toasted. My favourites are the Genius White sliced, or the Warburtons seeded sliced. Buns aren’t much better, again not having the strength to hold a burger, but the best I’ve found are the Asda white buns. Still not cheap (£1.50 for 4) but cheaper and better than others I’ve tried (and I’ve tried a lot!)
  • Own brand items tend to be more GF than branded. Pringles contain gluten, but Lidl do their own version call Snax which are GF, and much cheaper than Pringles, albeit only in 3 flavours. Many Walkers crisps are now out of bounds, but Asda own crisps in the same flavours are wheat free.
  • Some “standard” items are already GF. For example, Asda do a “free from” white sauce for lasagne (no, I don’t make my own!) but the Dolmio one doesn’t contain any wheat anyway. In this case the “free from” refers to dairy, which I didn’t realise at first.
  • Wheat and gluten is in things you wouldn’t expect. For example, frozen chips, just potato and sunflower oil, right? Actually in many cases they’re dusted with a coating for crispiness. I can highly recommend Lidl’s own brand french fries, which are delightfully crispy, super cheap, and use rice flour which is GF.
  • Pizza was kind of a big deal for the husband, and he was very upset at not being able to eat it. We tried the GF options from Pizza Hut, but the dough was claggy and a bit naff. We’ve never been fans of frozen pizza cooked at home, but I gave the Goodfellas GF ones a try and OMG. They’re just so good. Not “good for GF pizza” just “good” full stop. We usually buy a margarita which we pimp up with peppers and onions, and a pepperoni which we add mushroom too. Break a ball of mozzarella over the top for extra ooze and I defy you not to love them.
  • Most of the Asda range of sausages are gluten free, and say so on the label, which I found surprising as I assumed supermarket sausages would be full of breadcrumbs. On the flip side, I went to a local butcher to source some sausages, thinking they’d be higher quality, and was told they weren’t GF. More expensive isn’t always better.

My best advice for anyone who is newly gluten intolerant is:

Labels, labels, labels – you’ll soon get used to scanning ingredients quickly to identify whether something is suitable. Do check items you buy regularly though, in case they’ve changed the ingredients

Google, google, google – there are some great GF food bloggers out there who have come up with alternative recipes for gluten containing favourites.

I’ll leave you with this recipe from Slimming Eats, which is so accurate in terms of taste and texture that it’s hard to believe it isn’t the real thing – “fakeaway” kebab. It’s also much healthier and lower is calories and crap than anything you’ll get from the chip shop! Seriously, try it!

If anyone has any GF suggestions, alternatives or supermarket foods, do let me know in the comments.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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