This was to be a bit of a celebration weekend. It was Sue’s big birthday on the Saturday, two projects I have been working on were coming to a finish and we were going to meet up with some friends Pete and Julie, who we hadn’t seen for over a year…. in fact since we went to Barnard Castle Camping and Caravanning Club’s site back in August 2011. Mind you it wasn’t a certainty we would see them this time…. they live in a small valley on the North Yorkshire Moors and it was looking like they might be snowed in.
Last year we had wanted to go to Lincoln’s Christmas Market but Sue had to work the weekend that the Lincoln market was on so we had to change date and location to Wrexham (see my post Wrexham Christmas Market). This year it fitted in nicely with Sue’s birthday. Back in September I had booked a site that was only five or six miles outside Lincoln at Thorpe-on-the-Hill just off the A46. Thorpe Park Lodges is a C & CC CL which only started a couple of years ago but from their website looked really nice. As you can probably guess from the name is mainly lodges but does have a number of pitches for caravans and motor homes.
The first project I had been working on ground to a halt. I had been building a new ‘Santa’s Sleigh’ on a trailer for my local Rotary club and what should have been a simple task of obtaining 12 volt LED rope light proved a challenge. 12 volt is available in the USA, but not it seems in the UK. After two weeks of trying, I decided to run the old lights from the previous float via a couple of small inverters. Come spring when I have a bit more time I will be ordering 12 volt rope light from the USA. The second project is an aerobatic airplane. A close friend has been building a DR107 aerobatic aircraft and for my sins I designed and built the electrical system for the aircraft. After a bit of an issue with the new engine which required its removal and return to the engine builder, we had reinstalled it and were waiting for the guy who built it to come up to the airfield to do the final checks so we could start it. Unfortunately I was waiting for stuff to arrive for the float so wasn’t there for the start…. which went well. I was due to go with Anthony the following day to set up some of the electronics now the engine was running but had to put it off till after the weekend due to a delay in getting bits for the float. Ant decided to go and was on his way to Sleap airfield to do some finishing work on the aircraft and unfortunately hit black ice. He managed to reduce his car to a mangled pile of scrap and in the process broke both legs, crushed a couple of vertebrae and broke an arm. It took about an hour to cut him out and as a bonus he got a free flight in the air ambulance. Considering he’s a captain for Easy Jet it must have been hard not to say “cabin doors to manual” when they landed at Stoke Hospital. He was in intensive care for several days but the day before we were due to set off for Lincoln I went down to see him in hospital. I have to thank his girlfriend and family at this point as I kind of jumped the queue a bit as some of his family had not been able to see him yet.
Friday 7th December arrived and we loaded up the Freelander with our boxes. It was only a short run to the caravan storage place and by 11:10 we were hitched up and on our way. Normally our route to Lincoln from Manchester would be over the top, either Woodhead or the Snake Pass. Both were closed due to snow, so to head south-east we had to set off north up the M60 to join the M62 and turn east to head over to Pontefract and pick up the A1M southbound. At least the Freelander was behaving its self running on UK diesel after our problems with the French stuff, although we are still looking for a LR Discovery as the primary tow vehicle now.
The M62 had its usual Friday crawl through the road works but once through that it was a fairly clear run south on the A1 to just north of Newark-on-Trent where we picked up the A49 into Lincoln. We pulled into Thorpe Park Lodges entrance bang on 2:00PM. The barrier is controlled by a key less system so I left Sue in the Freelander and wandered in to find reception… which was still in the final stages of being built. A helpful young chap who was just finishing off some of the exterior trim work on the building greeted me and he walked back with me to open the barrier. He told us we could park on any of the vacant pitches and said they would be full for the weekend. We followed the little track round past a motor home, then past another mahoosive motor home based on a lorry chassis, past another and finally on to pitch 8 which had a view through the trees of the fishing lake… mind you they all had views of the fishing lake!
We unhitched and with the help of the chap who let us in swung the van round and pulled it forward ‘nose in’ to the pitch so we had a perfect view of the lake. We soon had the steadies down and the heater on. Between each pair of pitches is the EHU bollard and next to it there is a fresh water tap so no long walks towing the aquaroll were required. It would not take much to upgrade each tap to allow a super pitch type water supply to each caravan or motor home. I didn’t even have to turn the Status TV aerial to get all the lights on the signal strength meter lit, I have never seen them all on before!
Saturday 8th December
It was Sue’s birthday and she opened all the cards we had brought with us. We had arranged to meet up with Pete and Julie in Lincoln at 12:00. They were staying on a site at Sturton near RAF Scampton. They had not been able to book into Thorpe Park Lodges as it was full when they tried to book!
Earlier that morning I had been chatting to our neighbours who were in a rather nice motor home next to us. They were from the north east and had also travelled down for the Christmas market. They had tried to book a taxi earlier to take them into Lincoln but had been told that it was not advisable to take a dog as it was already very busy…. I’d looked at the park and ride for the market and found it only operated from Lincoln show ground which was about 12 miles away to the north and cost a whopping £15. A taxi seemed like a good idea. We rang the number our neighbours had given us and ordered a taxi. The girl on the other end of the phone told me it would be 11:45 before it could pick us up as they were busy. I said we would wait at the entrance to the site.
By 12:10 Pete was on the phone to Sue asking where we were…. just as the taxi arrived. We agreed to meet them in front of the cathedral…. and asked the taxi driver to drop us close to the cathedral. We followed the A46 bypass around Lincoln and as we crossed a roundabout half joking I said to Sue “Look there’s a Frankie and Bennies, if it all goes pear shape and we can’t find somewhere in Lincoln for your birthday we can go there” The taxi driver overheard us and as we approached the next roundabout he said “If you like ribs, Damon’s is the best place to go”. The taxi driver dropped us off as near to the cathedral as he could. We wandered down the street and rang Pete & Julie to tell them that we would be there in a few minutes.
This is where it started to go pear-shaped. In its effort to cram as many stalls in as possible Lincoln council had to instigate a one way system and at first it was not too bad, but by the time we had entered the market we were down to a shuffle wedged in between hundreds of others shuffling in the same direction. We reached the first corner and knew that Pete and Julie were just the other side of a temporary barrier across the street. The ever efficient council support staff took a break from their texting to tell us that it was a one way system and we had to go round… we set off again shuffling along past some stalls which we couldn’t get near as the shuffling masses pressed on relentlessly. We approached the cathedral gardens and there was a gate staffed by more council support staff…. some texting but most leaning on the barrier. I asked if we could go through round the front of the cathedral… sorry this is for disabled only you have to follow the one way system. It took us 35 minutes of mindless shuffling like something out of a bad 1950′s Russian propaganda film to complete three sides of the cathedral. Lincoln Christmas Market had succeeded in removing any Christmas spirit from us and hundreds of other people. To make matters worse an Orwellian dismembered voice kept announcing over the tannoy that there was a one way system in operation for our convenience….
We finally met up with Pete and Julie and Sue managed to grab a cup of mulled wine as we shuffled past a mulled wine stall relentlessly on towards the castle. Once inside the castle grounds this is where in my opinion it became dangerous. We got to a point where the route turned and became narrower. The shuffling stopped and we were penned in. I turned and looked back and saw they were still allowing people in to the castle grounds and the exit was blocked. We stood for about 5 minutes not moving, then we shuffled forward a couple of feet and stood again for another five minutes. Behind us they were still letting people in. Small children were now being lifted up and put on the shoulders of parents and I could not have lifted my arms up. Some pwople were obviously getting a bit panicky and a few of the stall holders were now letting people ‘escape’ the mass and stand at the back of the stalls. It took 40 minutes to reach the castle gateway, I guess a distance of maybe 100 metres and cross over the small bridge. That was it, we like hundreds of others were looking for a way out. We had all had enough.
We eventually made our way out and found ourselves at the top of The Steep Hill. Sue and I had a number of years ago visited Browns Pie Shop and I thought that this might be somewhere for a spot of late lunch as there was no chance of getting anything in the Christmas market. However the council support staff struck again. In site of Browns Pie Shop we were told we had to follow the one way system… which meant going down a back street to the bottom of The Steep Hill and coming back up with the one way system. For feck’s sake. Sorry Browns Pie Shop, you lost some trade.
Earlier Pete and Julie had driven to the park and ride…. and after recovering from the shock of the £15 fee decided to drive in to Lincoln and chance parking…. which was not actually a problem as they found a pay and display car park right in the centre which was a lot cheaper. After trying to negotiate our way through the main street that was jammed with people shuffling towards the Steep Hill, and the entrance to Christmas Market Purgatory, we headed back to Pete and Julie’s car.
We soon found ourselves heading out of Lincoln on the A46. In the car we were discussing what to do for Sue’s birthday as none of us wanted to go back into Lincoln and as luck would have it we were approaching the roundabout where Damon’s our taxi driver’s recommendation was. Julie or Sue said lets call in and see if there is a menu we can look at for tonight. Pete parked up and the girls disappeared inside. I stood next to Pete’s car and had a cigar. I’d not had a cigar since we were in French France.
The girls came out clutching a menu…. we all had a quick look and agreed this was the place. They had recommended booking as they were busy so the girls disappeared back inside and booked a table for the four of us at 6:45. Pete and Julie ran us back to our caravan so they could have a look round the site and have a quick coffee. THey then set off back to their caravan and we agreed to meet up in the bar at 6:30 for 6:45 at Damon’s
It’s funny the things that you do sometimes…. I decided that the kettle needed a sort out. Ever since France it had built up a huge amount of limescale. Luckily we had some white wine vinegar in the comestibles box and a quick boil with a 50/50 mix of white wine vinegar and water shifted most of it. A second boiling with a fresh mix cleared the rest and a third of just fresh water to remove any possible taste of vinegar. One of my next jobs will be to tackle the water heater and pipes in the caravan as we definitely have reduced flow.
We arrived early a Damon’s and sat at the bar for a while. It was announced our table was ready, but no Pete and Julie. We decided to sit at the table and wait as the bar was filling up quickly. While we sat waiting we perused the menu… 6:45 and no P & J. We were sat at a table for six on our own and this place was packed to the doors… the waiter came back, were we ready to order? Er…no we were still waiting for our friends. Sue rang Pete…. “Where are you?”. “Stood at the bar”. After much arm waiving and gesticulating Sue went off to collect them. I spotted on the back of the menu it said anyone with a birthday gets their meal for free. When Sue arrived back with P & J I asked one of the waitresses… all we needed was proof like a driving licence. I asked her if she had her driving licence with her…. Sue had a firtle in the magic bag that is the hold-all of all handbags…. no she had left her purse back in the caravan. It’s just our luck!
Considering the place was packed to the rafters, the service was excellent and the food was great. The taxi driver was right, Damon’s was the best place to go for ribs… and steak for that matter. What started as a disaster of a day was made up for by our visit to Damon’s, and if you are in the Lincoln area we can recommend it… and if it’s your birthday take your driving licence!
Sunday 9th December
Not wanting to head back into Lincoln again, we had a quick look on the internet for anything else that was on. At the Lincoln Show Ground there was an antique market … sometimes these are just excuses for people to empty the contents of their loft onto an old pasting table. Pete had gone in search of LPG for their car and we agreed to ring them if the antique market was anything special. There were a few interesting stalls, but we didn’t spot anything that was worth raiding the piggy bank for. We rang P & J and arranged to meet them for a pub lunch. They were staying near Sturton-by-Stow so we headed out that direction and found two local pubs in the village. We chose The Plough Inn simply because there were more cars in the car park… logically thinking it was more popular. Sue tried to ring Pete to tell him… no signal… I managed to send a text through but as Pete was on a new phone and he only had Sue’s number he might ignore it. We went in and ordered drinks. We were perusing the large blackboard that was acting as the menu when the people leaving the table just in front of the blackboard commented and said they had just had a meal and it was wonderful. This was a good sign!
P & J finally arrived and we all ordered, I decided to go the whole hog and ordered the mixed grill…. well it was a very late ‘brunch’ really. The recommendation given to us earlier was not wrong, it was good home-made and honest food. After spending a lazy Sunday lunch in the pub, we headed off to P & J’s caravan. We had not seen their ‘new to them’ caravan. Their last one had sadly ‘died’ not long after the Barnard Castle adventure and they had spent a while looking for a new van. This one was a rather nice and well looked after 1998 Coachman Wanderer 16/5
It was getting late, I was all coffee’d out and the wine had run out about an hour earlier. It was time to leave P & J and head back to our caravan. We went back ‘cross country’ on some of the smaller roads which had been gritted not long before we drove over them. It was only about eight miles this way we missed out the A46 and traffic-cone city. We settled down in the van with our feet up to reflect on the weekend. With the exception of the Christmas market, maybe it had not been a bad weekend. We had a couple of nice meals with good friends and we had both been able to enjoy a drink or two in turn, although we didn’t drink any of the mulled wine we took with us!
Monday morning arrived all to soon and it was time to pack up and hitch up. The couple of motor homes that didn’t leave on Sunday also started packing up and by the time we were hitched up, there was us and our neighbours from the north-east left. We left at around 10:50 and at 13:20 we pulled into the storage place to drop off the van.
Would we visit Lincoln Christmas Market again?. Probably not, but we would most definitely stay again at Thorpe Park Lodges, but don’t tell anyone….. we don’t want it to get too busy there!
S & S
PS….. I’ll leave you with a few pictures from Thorpe Park Lodges site