October came and passed, because of Sue’s on-call commitments to the hospital and the fact that everyone seemed to want heart surgery there was little chance at getting away. However, December looked promising. Sue’s colleague was due to have major knee surgery in December, so getting away before then would be ideal, after her colleague’s surgery Sue would be on call until at least the end of January. The prospect of mulled wine and a Christmas market seemed good. A brief search on the internet reveled that Lincoln Christmas Market was one of the top events this time of year. Going on to the C & CC’s on line booking system was a nightmare, some idiot decided that it needed improving and instantly took it back several steps in my opinion… and that of many others looking at the complaints and postings on some of the forums. Just as I thought it was sorted, Sue announced we would have to move it back a week due to work commitments changing.
Right, so Lincoln was out… where else. We had been in touch with Pete & Julie as we were hoping to meet up again with them…. and they suggested York. Back on to the C & CC website… better still ring the sites. After ringing a few, some would be closed, some were fully booked and some were advising that the same time last year they were either flooded or knee deep in snow. York was off.
Searching again… Wrexham looked like it might be an option. Wrexham had a one day market, nearby Erddig Hall had its Christmas Fayre and Chirk Castle had a Christmas Fayre, and Wrexham’s one day market was on Sue’s birthday too. The C & CC website was next to useless for finding anywhere. In frustration I did a Google search… Ah, the Caravan Club had a site, Lady Margarets, at Chirk near the castle and handy for Wrexham… downside it was members only. OK, we will have to join. From starting to type my details in to the membership application page to receiving my booking conformation took less than 15 minutes. I was amazed. The information available for downloading about each site was better than the C & CC web site, the booking system was simple, quick and logical. Was was even more amazing was the fact my membership welcome pack was delivered by the postman the following morning…. it took the C & CC three weeks to achieve that. For tha last few months I had always thought the C & CC was the right club to be members of, but if my first dealing with the Caravan Club were anything to go by, we might be changing.
We were due to arrive at Chirk on Wednesday 7th…. just as the winds were forecast to increase. I checked a couple of pilots weather info sites, and the TV weather guys were being a bit over cautious. We would be OK travelling on the Wednesday…. Thursday and Friday were out for moving anywhere with a caravan, Saturday was risky but Sunday would be fine. The trip down the M56 was windy, but nothing exceptional. In the section between junction 11 and 12 I could tell it was gusting a bit more, but nothing close to gale force. I did slow down on the section from junction 12… if you know this bit, you emerge from the protection of a valley and descend over an open viaduct with views to the south of Frodsham and Helsby. To the north and west, Runcorn and the petro-chemical plants along the Dee estuary. For the last two or three miles or so, an Eddy Stobart lorry that had been catching us up slowly also reduced his speed and remained tucked in behind us making no attempt to overtake. He followed us past junctions 11 and 12 and across the viaduct. Once we had dropped down and were on the level he indicated to pull out and overtake. As he passed I flashed him he was clear and he pulled back in to our lane ahead of us. I think he timed his overtake so as to reduce the risk of any chance of his lorry causing an adverse effect in the prevailing conditions and location. Thanks un-named Eddy Stobart driver.
Lady Margarets CC site is tucked away over a small railway bridge and totally surrounded by trees. I’d downloaded the map of all the pitches and drawn on where the sun rose and set, so already had in mind where we wanted to be. I needn’t have bothered… there were only four other outfits on site.
Because of the forecast high winds, we were away from trees and we decided not to put the Fiamma Caravanstore awning up. They are designed for light winds only, although at Barnard Castle a few weeks earlier, it had proved to be more than capable of withstanding lively conditions. As this was our first time on a Caravan Club site, a few things were different, nothing radical, but knowing how some people complain if you don’t get it exactly right, we didn’t want to upset anyone… not that there was anyone within 100 yards of us to upset!
We pitched with our now routine efficiency, if you can call it routine after all we had only been at this caravanning lark for less than 6 months, but in that time we had learnt such a lot. I had come to realise that a lot of the “experts” in caravanning forums were just in fact people that liked the sound of their own voice… in text form on a screen. After someone had posted a long piece about towing…. which I’d thought was utter tosh… I wrote a guide about the dynamics of towing, so that newcomers could quickly come to grasp with some of the fundamental things that were happening with the white box on wheels that was hopefully still following them.
Thursday arrived…so did the wind. Not too bad, but at least it gave us clear skies. Sues birthday also arrived, and after a lazy breakfast we caught up on the news and I checked out the internet options. The Christmas Market at Wrexham was not due to start till after lunch, so there wasn’t any point in setting off too early. I was impressed with the infrastructure that the CC had put in for WiFi around the site. Every other lamp-post had a WiFi repeater on it creating one huge ‘hot spot’ over the entire camp site. I picked up one of the 100 Hours access cards from reception and fired up my MacBook. I use a gadget called “Bear Extender” for my WiFi access rather than the inbuilt WiFi card. I allows me to put a remote aerial on the roof of the van and greatly extends the range I can access hot spots. Even with the Bear Extender sat in the front window of the caravan, I was showing around 8Mbps connection speed. I checked on my emails… checked in on the Caravan Talk forum and Swift Talk forum and replied to a couple of emails. By now it was time to set off for Wrexham. Well wrapped up against the wind and cold we arrived in Wrexham and found somewhere to park. Looking at the map on the iPhone we quickly established which way to walk.
We got the feeling that Christmas in Wrexham had been canceled. There were few street decorations or lights, the shops put on a better show. We walked through one of the main shopping streets, past a garden shed outside one of the council buildings that was supposed to be Santa’s Grotto. I think it was an old potting shed borrowed from the Parks Department. We continued down to where the Christmas market was… nothing…. on towards the church. The door of the church was open and we went in. There were eight or nine stalls set up inside the church, that was it. It took us all of five minutes to do one lap of the stalls and leave the church. Convinced we had got the wrong place we wandered round the rest of the town centre. Apart from a big office-cum-showroom trailer parked in a square with a handful of people from one of the energy companies clustered round it trying desperately to hijack passers by, there was not much going on.
Sue was convinced we had the wrong day… I was convinced we had the right day. We dived into Costa Coffee, bought two coffee’s and sat down. I got my iPhone out and fired up the browser. I found the website advertising the market… “Due to Health & Safety the council has canceled the Christmas market in light of the high winds” WHAT! It wasn’t even windy enough to flap Sue’s scarf… We sat there… OK, what next. Well it was Sue’s birthday, so I needed to find somewhere we could have a nice meal. A brief search on the iPhone came up with a couple of possibilities… one we had walked past in the town centre and was closed… the other we didn’t like the look of. However, there was one that had a few good reviews just through Chirk on the B5070, The Bridge Inn, which apparently had been made famous by Eddie Izzard.
It wasn’t long before we were passing back through Chirk and looking for the Bridge Inn. As we rounded a bend in the road I spotted it…. it was in complete darkness… OK cross that off the list. I found somewhere to turn round and we headed back into Chirk. As we had come through Chirk, there had been road works and a set of temporary traffic lights, and we had stopped in front of a hotel waiting for the lights to change. “What about the Hand Hotel… they do meals?”…. “lets have a look then”. We pulled into the little car park, parked up and walked in to the bar and asked for a menu.
If you are ever in the area around Chirk, we can recommend that you pay the Hand Hotel a visit. The service and menu choice was excellent, and food was absolutely first class. I would personally recommend the pigeon starter. It was around 8pm by the time we headed back to the caravan…. time to put the mulled wine on to warm.
The following day, Friday, the weather had arrived, the wind was blowing and it had rained quite heavily in the night. The warden was going round the site on his small tractor towing a trailer piled high with twigs and small branches that had broken off during the night. It looked like it was going to be one of those days you don’t do much with. While we were out the previous day a few more people had arrived…. a couple of motor homes and a handful of caravans. We hadn’t seen them when we returned the previous night. Friday ended up being one of those days we just wandered round the caravan site… ‘browsing’ as we like to call it, at other caravans and following the dog
walk through the woods. We called in the small hut near reception that has all the local tourist information and recommendations from other caravanners on things to do in the area…. and there were numerous recommendations for the Hand Hotel! Friday was one of those days you caught up with things… Sue finished a book off and started another… I started on another one of my guides, this time about car and caravan electrics and as it was starting to go dark… the mulled wine was warming up in a pan. Friday night ended up being a turn the heating up, put your feet up and watch TV night.
Saturday was as different again. The skies had cleared through the night, the temperature had dropped to just below freezing and we woke to a cold, clear crisp winters day. Today was Erddig Christmas market and Chirk Castle Christmas market. Erddig was great, there were over 60 or 70 stalls, all packed to bursting with all sorts of things. Sue bought a rather natty hand knitted hat from one stall and we got our fix of Christmas early, another stall was selling hot turkey and stuffing muffins, who could not resist that! Next we tried some mulled cider. Sue liked it, I was not so keen. It did remind us though we did need to pick up some more mulled wine at some point. We stopped by a stand from an owl charity. They had five or six owls that would quite happily sit on a glove on your hand. All the children thought this was wonderful and would stand perfectly still holding an owl on one hand, stroking it with the other. I guess some had only ever seen owls on television, and never expected to be able to hold one. It was very busy and packed, but it was very friendly and free and looking at some of the dealer stickers on the cars parked in the fields as we walked back to our car, people had come from miles away.
We then set off back to Chirk, to visit Chirk Castle’s Christmas market. Now considering that Erddig and Chirk Castle are both National Trust properties, for me it was really annoying that if you wanted to go into the Christmas market, you basically had to pay full entrance fee. When I asked why I was told it was because they had decorated the house for christmas…. well two rooms actually according to the blurb. Not to me, in these economic times, it seemed short-sighted that one NT property didn’t charge and another did. Well I put my Scrooge hat on… we didn’t pay. Sue was not best pleased, but it really annoyed me that they wanted to charge to get in to the market on the pretext they had decorated some of the castles rooms for Christmas. If that was the case, just charge those that want to go into the castle. I did fire an email off bearing my grievance… but to date I have never received a reply.
Saturday evening the weather started to close in and the rain arrived along with the wind. So far we had been lucky, this time last year apparently, it had been so cold all the water pipes around the site had frozen and the snow was so deep you couldn’t move round site. Sunday morning it was still raining. We had breakfast and started to pack up. I left all the outside jobs till last and then headed out in the rain. The Thetford cassette was emptied double quick along with the wastemaster and aquaroll… everything was wiped down put in bags and stowed away. Sue reversed up to the van and I hitched up. By the time I got back in the car, I looked like a drowned rat. Everything was soaked. Sue told me to go and get changed… I dived back into the van, found a towel to dry off and changed into dry clothes. We set off for the 60 mile drive home in the pouring rain. Funnily enough, by the time we had got on the M56 and picked up the signs for Manchester, it had stopped raining and the sun made an appearance. Who says it always rains in Manchester.
As this was out last trip of 2011 I added up the scores since we had got our caravan in July, six months earlier… 1171 miles towed, 20 nights away. Not bad for our first “season” as beginners.
PS. If you want to look for Christmas markets to visit check out:
As usual, I’ll leve you with a few photos, this time of a very quiet Lady Margaret’s site…