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I had a shoot to do in Southampton in September, and as Sue could get a few days away from the hospital we decided to go down for a few days. It would also allow us to catch up with some very good friends of ours that live on the Isle of Wight. The shoot was planned for the 24th September, so we thought rather than tow all the way down to Southampton in one go, we would break the journey with an overnight stop at Oxford C & CC’s site, then continue down to Southampton on Friday.

Sue catching up on a bit of light reading...

I searched the C & CC’s website for suitable places to stay…. we were not yet up-to-speed on CL’s & CS’s so wanted to stay somewhere a little larger. Having found a couple of sites, I checked them out on Google Earth and looked at the distance between them and my planned photo shoot. There was nothing close, in the end I Googled “caravan sites, Southampton” and a list of commercial sites appeared on a map… there was one that was perfect. Sunnydale Farm in Netley Abbey. I rang up to check availability… yes they had pitches free…. but as it was the end of Southampton Boat Show, the prices were higher. It still seemed a reasonable deal, £100 for 5 days, so I booked us in. Next, back on to the C & CC website and book us back in at Oxford for one night for the return trip north.

The trip down to Oxford was uneventful, we stopped at Norton Caines services on the M6 Toll road for a loo and coffee break, and for the first time we experienced a full set of caravan parking bays. They were not all full of caravans, one had a car towing a boat, another had a minibus that was on hire from a company in Blackpool parked in it. The boat I could accept, the minibus… no. The only place for me to pull in was behind the minibus. I stopped about 6 inches from the rear of the minibus and the lady that was sat in the front passenger seat dangling her feet out of the door jumped out and came to look. She stared at me…. as though I’d just rammed the back of the minibus at full speed. Oh well. Sue went off to the loo and to get the coffee’s and I got my torque wrench out and went to check over the caravan’s wheels and do my usual walk round. More people arrived at the minibus and kept looking how close I had stopped.

As the back of our van was right on the rear end of the parking bay, it was difficult for anyone to see round if there were any further spaces. In the bay next to me, the car and caravan were well forward and a second outfit could probably fit in. A couple towing a Hymer arrived. Not a clue what model it was… still too new at the caravan identification lark! I wandered round and told him there might be enough room next to me… so he pulled round and just about fitted in, with the last 3 or 4 feet of his van outside the bay. Another van arrived…. he saw the chaos and drove straight past into the main car park. Another van arrived… he parked behind the boat trailer with 7 or 8 feet sticking out which now blocked any chance of anyone going back in to the main car park. Sue arrived back with the coffee’s…. to be met with three more vans waiting in a line to get in to a space and effectively blocking off one of the entrances to the main car park. I was out of my depth directing this lot… I took my coffee and sat in the car with  Sue.

Eventually, the occupants of the minibus had all returned from wherever and boarded, and after tuning round in the front seat and pointing back, which caused all the occupants to turn and stare at us, the minibus pulled out. I started the engine and pulled out behind it… closely followed by one of the trapped caravans pulling into the space we had vacated.

The stay at Oxford was uneventful, it allowed me to do a bit of shopping in Go Outdoors for a few “man essentials”… I wanted a spare 13 pin plug, we needed a top up of Pink Fluid for the loo and I could have a mooch round looking for anything else I thought we just possibly couldn’t do without. In the mean time, Sue took it upon her self to make sure the two ducks that wander around from van to van were suitably fed… she was convinced that no one had fed them since the last time we were there. One thing we did notice this time at Oxford was the trains sounded louder in the evenings.

Oxford to Southampton was a surprisingly quick trip, just over an hour and a half and we sailed through the traffic on the outskirts of Southampton. I’d already looked at the route from the motorway to the campsite and checked the last mile or so on Google Street View, so knew what to expect road wise. I always program a set of waypoints into the GPS corresponding to my Street View checking, and so far, we haven’t had any navigational problems. Mind you, if Sue can navigate us VFR round Spain and Portugal in the aircraft, hopefully she can keep us on the right road on terra firma. We pulled into Sunnydale Farm just before 12:00.

The weather for the next 5 days was very mild for mid September. The photo shoot job went well on the Saturday and Sunday and the site we were on was excellent. Sue missed the ducks at Oxford… so gained some chickens that were wandering round from the farm. We met up with our friends from the Isle of Wight and had a lazy pub lunch sat outside in a warm September sun at The Old Ship on Bridge Road, Swanwick.

Yet again, it just seems to pass so quick, it was soon time to head back to Oxford, then on to home. The drive up to Oxford was a bit of a balancing act. I hadn’t filled up with diesel since leaving home and I was keeping a wary eye on the fuel gauge. I had it in my mind we would stop at the BP service station on the A34 as we made our way north towards Oxford… the miles were passing and the fuel gauge was dropping. I have been amazed at how economical the Freelander has been working out… currently as I write this we have been averaging 29 to 31 MPG calculated on the towing runs where I have topped the tank off at the end of the tow. We were now getting low… the needle was just the right side of empty and no BP station. The only reason I wanted the BP station was so I could collect the Nectar reward points… silly I know. We passed a sign “5 Miles to Services” that will do nicely… it wasn’t the BP station though. As we pulled back onto the A34 I said to Sue “I’ll bet the next service station we pass will be the BP one”…. three miles later it was.

Arriving at Oxford was almost like arriving at a friends…. this was our third stop in as many months and everything had that familiarity about it. I could satisfy the man-need to check for more gadgets in Go Outdoors and Sue could feed the ducks again. However, in the evening and throughout the night, the trains seemed even noisier… and adding to the din there was a local company that seemed to be running a refrigeration plant or something all night and lorries were constantly shunting back and forth with their reversing beepers cutting sharply through the muffled sounds of diesel engines ticking over.

We were both awake fairly early next morning and by 7:00 we had broken camp and everything was stowed away and we were waiting for the official time we could drive about on site so we could set off home. As we pulled back onto the A34 for the last stretch up to the M40, we both said maybe we’ll give Oxford a miss and find another “half way house” for trips south. The search is on.

S