Part two of our “Camping with Wolves” aventure saw us leaving a sunny Combe Martin on the Thursday morning for the 150 mile drive north to Winchcombe C & CC site near Tewkesbury for 3 nights.
Being a Thursday, there was more chance of getting caught up in a traffic snarl-up with delivery vans along Combe Martin’s narrow main street. I think Mr Clarkson must have been having a late breakfast this morning though as we sailed through and onwards towards the Atlantic Highway. The sun was shining as we left and it was forecast to be sunny for the next couple of days which ment I would probably have another chance at incinerating something outdoors with the Cadac. Woo Hoo!
The M5 seemed full of caravans and motor-homes – all heading south. Lots of them, I mean mahoosive amounts of them, so what did they know that we didn’t? Had there been an apocalypse “up north” somewhere and they were fleeing for their lives? I think Devon and Cornwall would be full by around tea time at this rate.
We reached junction 9 on the M5 by around 12:30 and 20 minutes later we pulled into the C & CC site at Winchcombe. I have to admit, this was probably one of the warmest greetings we have ever had by wardens on any site so far in our ‘vanning’ adventures. We were given the quick intro tour of the facilities and then asked if we had anything in mind for a pitch. Having never been there before we had no idea on pitches. “OK I’ll cycle round and if you see a pitch you would like – stop and shout out, we can go all the way round if you want so you can see them all“
We found a pitch in the first pass and were given some excellent reversing instructions to get us just in the right spot. I suspect its quicker for the wardens to do this on a busy day rather than wait for someone who’s blocking the road to un-hitch and park the caravan with a mover. I didn’t spot it but Sue said there was a sign asking people to vacate their pitch promptly as they had a lot of incoming campers today and would be full.
We had a wander round the ‘facilities’ and called in the site shop. I’d stupidly left the signal finder for the TV aerial on and the PP3 battery was flat so we needed a replacement. There was a poster letting us know a travelling “Fish & Chip” van was on site each Thursday and Saturday. The rest of the afternoon was spent sitting in the sun, having a beer or two (or wine in Sue’s case) and generally doing bugger all. I managed to clean my lenses and empty out all the rubbish collected in my camera bag and clean the worst of the black streaks off the van, but that was about it.
Sitting there I announced “I think I’ll incinerate something on the Cadac for tea”. Sue’s thought of a quick trip to the fish and chip van soon disappeared with a “whoomp” as the gas ignited in the Cadac and set to “smelt iron”…. one down from “core of the sun”
Friday 14th September
Well, both still alive despite my cooking last night, so better go off and do something today. Neither of us had been to Tewkesbury before so a six or seven mile jaunt down the road seemed in order. Sue had been checking out all the tourist info at the site’s information point and come across a time-table for the GWR – Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway and thought that this would be a good way to get into Cheltenham rather than driving.
Turning left out of the campsite site and it’s basically a straight road into Tewksbury. You pass the DSG depot where you can sometimes spot anything from a Challenger Tank to a pontoon bridge stacked up ready for transport and all sorts of other kit for the armed services. Cross over the M5 and follow the A438 straight into the town centre. Tewkesbury has a couple of car parks right in the centre that are well sign posted so it’s just a case of following your nose really. We parked up and a quick look at the map to get our bearings we set off down High Street. I was looking for number 44 – Sweets & Treats Hopefully I’d found a traditional sweet shop. 15 minutes later, we continued on our way, stocked up with Coltsfoot Rock, Cough Candy and Wine Gums. I was doing my usual ‘non shop’ check and Tewkesbury High St seemed to be thriving with a good mix of shops and it didn’t seem full of the usual chain stores that take over. It also seemed to have a good selection of restaurants featuring cuisine from all round the globe too.
We continued to the end of High Street and followed Church Street round towards Tewkesbury Abbey. We saw a sign for the river so headed off in that direction, leaving the Abbey visit for another time.
We followed the small road down to the old Abbey Mill which had ceased milling long ago and had now been turned into apartments.
We followed the small road round along the water’s edge but had to cut back towards the hight street again. We spotted a sign that said boat trips and pointed down an alleyway so followed it hoping it would lead back to the river again. We continued to follow the path along the river bank and came to another mill that looked closed and abandoned. This must have replaced the original Abbey Mill at some point. Following the path over the bridge led us to the lock that connected the Avon to the Severn. You walk across the lock gates and past the keepers cottage.
We walked across the road bridge and found ourselves back on the High Street at the other end. It was approaching caffeine and calorie time and as luck would have it we found ourselves outside Costa Coffee… Ah well a medium latte for me with an extra shot please. Sitting in the window delicately eating a pannini watching the people of Tewkesbury parade past. We set off again up High Street, this time on the other side. Sue spotted a green grocers that we would call in on the way back to the car and we decided to look for a butchers. At the end of the main street where we turned towards the Abbey previously we went in the opposite direction and came across David Dudley Butchers‘ shop which had a fine display in the window… so two huge gammon steaks later we were heading back to the green grocers that Sue had spotted to pick up other comestibles…. it looked like I had some gammon to incinerate later for tea.
We wandered back to the car. Tewkesbury had lots to offer and would be added to our list of places to visit again. On the way back to the camp site, Sue suggested we call in the station to double-check on train times and to see how far it was from Cheltenham Racecourse into Cheltenham. We had flown into Gloucester Staverton airport on numerous occasions before and had always just got a taxi from the airport to the Queens Hotel so had no idea on distances between the racecourse and the centre.
Somehow I missed the turning for Winchcombe village and we ended up at Toddington station. Reading the notice board answered a big question… why there were two timetables hauled by different engines – there had been a landslip that had cut the railway in two sections. We wanted the other half…. the Winchcombe bit. We headed back to Winchcombe, and this time I didn’t miss the turning. Pulling into the station car park there were only a couple of cars there (the railway is closed on a Friday and Monday) but there was a very helpful chap just going into the main station building who told us that from the Racecourse station it was about a 10 minute walk through the racecourse to a Park & Ride bus stop where we could catch a bus into Cheltenham. The first train of the day left at 10:00am so we would have to be on our toes in the morning.
That evening I incinerated the two huge pieces of gammon…. along with boiled new potatoes, runner beans and a fried rubber egg on top. Creative aren’t I?
Saturday 15th September
I’m please to report we are still alive after my gammon and egg extravaganza. Bit of a rush this morning to get sorted and out for the 10:00 train. A quick check on the weather forecast…. warm and sunny. I missed the turning for the station again…. a quick turn round in a small industrial estate soon had us whizzing along the B4078 towards Winchcombe and the station… which is actually at Greet about half a mile from Winchcombe.
The car park is only small so if you want to park there I’d suggest getting there early. We were lucky and managed to find a spot without any problems.
We bought our tickets – £12 return each from the period ticket office and wandered onto the platform. The train was already waiting so we found an empty compartment carriage and settled in.
The journey from Winchcombe Station to Cheltenham Racecourse Station only takes about 25 minutes and passes through some wonderful countryside. OK, I know £12 each for the return journey does seem a lot, but your parking is free and its a lot easier to drive to Winchcombe than it is to drive and park in the centre of Cheltenham. Anyhow, half the fun is being on a steam train. From the station it’s about a 10 or 15 minute walk through the racecourse car parks. Some of it is up hill and it looks a bit daunting, but it’s not that steep really. Follow the road round to the left past the stables and veterinary centre and you will see the park and ride bus stops. You need to take the “D” bus from the furthest of the two bus stops. It cost £1.50 each for a single ticket. When you get off the bus, ask the driver where the return stop is as it’s not located in the same place but round the corner.
Cheltenham is always a wonderful day out. We spent the morning wandering round the shops and when it got to that time of day when consuming beer and wine was socially acceptable we headed off up the Promenade past all the stalls filled with wonderful creations by local artists towards Montpellier Walk where there are numerous pavement cafe’s and bars. We chose O’Neils – and ordered drinks and a couple of starters. For lunch we usually order a starter each and share them. It’s something we got used to doing in the states as the portions over-there are usually delivered by fork lift truck.
While we were sat there we heard a ‘crump’ from across the road. Someone in a Freelander while attempting to park had swiped the back-end of another car. Sue and I along with the couple on the next table watched as the driver got out and looked around. He spotted the piece of his Freelander under the back of the car he’d just hit. He wandered off to buy a parking ticket. When he returned, he got back in and sat there looking across at us. I guess he was wondering if we had seen what happened. He then started the engine and pulled out into traffic. Realising he was having a bad day he decided not to waste the parking ticket so went round the roundabout and parked on the same side of the road but facing in the other direction 50 feet away from the car he’d just hit. The chap at the other table asked one of the waitresses for a pen and paper and wrote a note for the driver of the car that had been hit including the registration number of the Freelander. We gave our telephone number to the chap to add and he went over and placed it under the wiper of the car. Fortunately the owners of the car that had been hit came back a few minutes later. They spotted the damage straight away, but didn’t spot the note, however some wild gesticulating and shouting from two tables of patrons of O’Neils soon caught his attention and he retrieved the note. The chap from the other table and I walked across the road and explained what had happened and pointed out the offending Freelander parked 50 feet away. We were thanked profusely and we both returned to our respective tables…. with a bit of a warm glow…. that was not alcohol fuelled.
It was soon time to head off to catch the “D” park and ride bus back to the race course if we were to get the next to last train back to Winchcombe. We sat on the platform at Cheltenham Racecourse Station in the warm afternoon sun. I lit a cigar – something I’d not done for nearly 12 months and looked up into the sky.
It was one of those September days when the sky was that particular colour of blue punctuated by white cotton ball clouds being pushed lazily across the emptiness. In the distance a faint whistle of a steam train and the gentle metallic click as the wheels passed slowly over the fishplates. I’d wondered how many young boys had sat seventy-two September’s earlier and heard the same sounds as me while looking into the sky watching tiny specks perform a deadly aerial ballet.
It was “Fish & Chip” van night at the campsite so no chance of me donning my disguise and becoming my alter ego “One Hairy Caravanner”… shucks. Ah well. We watched as a few people wandered off in the direction of the “Fish & Chip” van. Sue waited a bit so the initial rush would have dissipated and set off in the same direction as all the others. Now at this point I have to say our last experience with an on site Fish & Chip van at the Barnard Castle site was not a good one. Sue joined the queue of five or six people there just as the next person put their order in “Six fish, four sausages, three steak puddings, four cartons of gravy, one carton of curry and 12 lots of chips please…. and do you have any cans of coke?“…. an hour later Sue got served. Expectation levels were not high. I put the news on the TV, got the plates out, set the table… put the kettle on….. had a cup of coffee…. had beer….. watched the lady with the red jumper walk back with two boxes that I had seen walk past us an hour earlier heading towards the Fish and Chip van…. I was just going to open another beer when Sue shot past the caravan window like a guided missile. Now for someone who for a living deals with people prostrate on an operating table with their chest wide open while juggling the demands of a heart surgeon on one hand and trying not to redecorate the walls of the theatre crimson with the other, she is normally pretty unflappable….. unfortunately someone trying to explain that they can only fry one chip at a time is not a valid argument. Sue was now on a mission….. we would have Fish & Chips and we would have them before Dr Who started. Challenge laid down and challenge accepted….. A quick google on the iPhone gave us a local fish and chip shop and a map to it… it was in Winchcombe…. past the Railway station by about a mile and left at the T junction onto North Street.
Anyway…. long story short, we had driven into Winchcombe and bought fish and chips and driven back to the site….. and the six people in the queue for the Fish & Chip Van when we left were still in the queue when we got back. All I can say is The Fish Bar, 8 North Street, Winchcombe do excellent fish & chips and are £2 pounds cheaper… and it was a good episode of Dr Who too! (PS… you will probably only need to order one lot of chips between two)
Sunday 16th September
Well, our nine-day, two centre adventure has come to a close. We broke camp and set off for the motorway. Just past the DSG site on the left hand side is a BP garage so we pulled in to top off the tank. 26.95 litres later and we pulled out back onto the A46 towards the M5. 131 miles later at 12:55 we pulled into our storage compound. Another adventure complete.
Total mileage towing this time: 553 miles, total trip mileage this time: 725 miles
I hope you enjoyed reading about our trip….. next outing Blackpool Illuminations!
PS… Apologies to Harry Warren (music) and Mack Gorden (words) for amending the lyrics of their song made famous by Glenn Miller.