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One of the great things about owning a caravan or motorhome is that you can go everywhere like a local, you don’t have to be a day trip visitor. In the past we have visited Christmas markets at Lincoln, Erddig and Chirk. This time we wanted to see if we could fit two Christmas Markets in one break.

Using www.christmasmarkets.com to browse the options we settled on Cheltenham and Oxford, two markets that we wouldn’t ordinarily do in a day trip. Choosing two sites near by would allow us to visit them like a local and not have to worry about driving and parking.

Situated between Gloucester and Cheltenham (near GCHQ) is Briarfields Motel and Touring Park run by Scott and Jo Sanderson. Briarfields has around 75 pitches and can accommodate motorhomes up to 40 feet in length. For Oxford the obvious choice would be the Camping & Caravan Club site.

Travelling in December always needs a bit of additional thinking about. Roads tend to be busier and the vagaries of UK weather can make even a normal journey an adventure. With that in mind, a flask of coffee and supply of sammiches for the journey seemed prudent… just in case.

Sunday 7th December

With the Sat-Nav programmed with a POI for Briarfields we picked up the caravan from the storage facility and at exactly 10:35 we pulled out heading for the M60. The Sat-Nav indicated 133 miles to destination. The traffic was unusually light, even for a Sunday and the run down took just three hours, no delays and fine weather all the way.

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We pulled in and stopped at reception. Checking in was quick and simple and we were given a useful information sheet that had lots of information, everything from the bus routes into Cheltenham and Gloucester, site layout and a password for the free WiFi (other sites please note… WiFi should be free!) Passing through the security barrier we followed the perimeter road round to our pitch and were surprised just how full the site was.

All pitched in the late December sun....

All pitched in the late December sun….

The weather had been clear all day. While storms and gales had been forecast for northern England and Scotland it was calm and clear skies. However, the temperature did start to drop in the evening.

Power Problem 1.

Our friends F & R who had hired a motorhome as a ‘test’ to see if they liked it (read Time with Friends… ) had given us a lovely small Christmas tree complete with battery operated lights for the caravan when we went down to stay with them on the Isle of Wight in September. When we were all set up we got the little Christmas tree out and put it on the table… turned the lights on and… nothing. The batteries were flat. Despite plunging into the depths of my camera bag… and tool bag… and side pockets in the Freelander I didn’t have two double A size batteries. Ho Hum, we would have to get some in Cheltenham tomorrow. However, by the time I was finishing my second glass of mulled wine I suddenly realised I hadn’t checked my “Man Cupboard” in the caravan. Ah-ha… a recently acquired LED torch (a torch is what we call a flashlight for the growing number American readers out there) I had forgotten about had two of the required AA size batteries. With tree now looking resplendent with it’s LED lights shining brightly we celebrated and had another glass of mulled wine…. or two (I swear those litre bottles of Gluewein from Aldi have a hole somewhere that allows the contents to evaporate)

Monday 8th December

Monday morning was quite busy on site. The lady in the fifth wheel unit next to us was packing up as was the caravan on the other side of us and for the first hour or so there were a steady flow of caravans and motorhomes departing after the weekend. We had decided to head into Cheltenham for the day. Just outside the campsite on Cheltenham Rd you can catch the number 94 Stagecoach Gold bus that takes you into the centre of Cheltenham. From the site it only takes about ten minutes and the bus conveniently terminates on the Promenade right in the heart of the shopping area.

We did a bit of window shopping and in the Lakeland shop Sue discovered some nifty storage containers that sealed but had a vent you could open in the lid for microwaving the contents… ideal for pre-paired lunches. It was advertised as “Porridge-To-Go” but we recon it can be used for anything. By now it was lunchtime and as it was Sue’s birthday we kept an eye open for a suitable establishment. Now I’m not a big sea food aficionado and Sue is, but a few times while in the Trafford Centre in Manchester we had passed “Yo Sushi” where there always seemed to be a long queue and I’d said I wouldn’t mind giving it a try sometime. Now we just happened to be passing Yo Sushi…. and with my nose pressed to the window I said “Do you fancy giving it a go” There wasn’t a queue and we opted to sit at the ‘bar’ where we could watch all the dishes pass right in front of us. As we were Yo Sushi virgins the basics were explained and we were told it was “Blue Monday” so nearly all the dishes were priced at the lower ‘blue’ rate… handy.

Now what was intended as a small lunch ended up being over two hour’s of trying between us nearly every type of dish that passed in front of us on the little conveyor system… as well as ordering one or two specials.

As we left Yo Sushi the clear sky was changing colour into the faded blue as the sun was preparing to depart for the day. The shop window lights were now brighter than the day was and creating their own shadows as you walked past. There was a distinct chill as we headed towards the wooden huts that made up the stalls of the Christmas Market. With it being Monday it wasn’t too busy thankfully and as we approached the aroma of mulled wine, bratwurst and roasting nuts mixed with the sweet smell of aromatic candles filled the air…

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People were now starting to spill onto the streets heading home or doing some shopping. We walked down past the last few stalls and headed towards the bus stop. As the service is every ten minutes we didn’t have long to wait for a bus and joined the other people heading home for the evening. We made a slight mistake in where we got off the bus. Not thinking to check where the bus stop was for the return trip, we knew it had to pass GCHQ then round the roundabout before heading down Cheltenham Rd. but where was the stop?. Playing it safe we got off just before the roundabout and followed the underpass to the other side. We needn’t have though, as the bus stop is right outside the front door of the motel section of the campsite. Well at least we walked off a bit more of our extended lunch!

Power Problem 2

We got back to the caravan and we had left the heating on it’s lowest setting and it felt quite chilly. On our first winter outing we discovered the quickest way to get the temperature inside up to comfort level was to turn both electric and gas on to the highest setting on the Truma heater. I turned the electric on to 2000 and went to light the gas… nothing. The familiar ‘click click click’ of the igniter wasn’t there. Bugger. Quick check of the gas… yep plenty and the gas hob lit OK. Right it must be a power problem. Checked the fuse in the 12 volt panel – it was OK and if I removed it the igniter on the hob stopped working. While the hob was on might as well put the mulled wine on to warm up!. At least the Christmas tree lit OK.

Right… where to start. I don’t do gas… so if it was a gas problem it would have to wait till we got home. Thankfully a while ago I put all the caravan documents on Sue’s kindle, so while warming up drinking a glass of mulled wine I perused the Truma handbook. ….. blah blah blah…. change the battery annually… What battery?. Reading further I discovered that right down at the bottom of the unit behind the front panel is a battery that runs the igniter. So, heater off, screwdriver out I removed the front panel and I found the little sliding door that concealed a single AA battery. The Christmas tree lights had to be sacrificed and a battery borrowed… so with a new AA battery installed the gas ignited. Refitting the front is a slightly more challenging task than it’s removal by the way!

They say things come in threes…

That evening we were sat watching something on TV and the mains powered lights went out… can we have any more power problems. “Bloody bollard’s tripped” I announced to Sue…I thought the bollard may have tripped as it’s only a 10 amp supply and by the time I had got my feet on the floor the lights came on again. “Ooh that’s novel” and we both peered out of the window in the general direction of the bollard who’s light was shining brightly. However it was very dark past our bollard. All down past us caravan doors were opening and people were appearing. The lights went off again and came back on almost immediately but past us everything was still in darkness. About five minutes later one of the motorhomes opposite us came and plugged into our bollard with I guess his short EHU lead extending his normal length EHU lead. I said to Sue that as only part of the site was in darkness it’s odds on that they have dropped a phase on the supply.

As the temperature inside our caravan had now reached the melting point for lead… yep forgot to turn the gas heating off… I went outside for a cigar and to cool off a bit. Scott the owner of the site had just finished talking to one of the motorhome owners opposite us and came over for a chat. It would seem that the local electricity supply company had indeed dropped a phase somewhere between the substation and campsite…. it was going to be a long night for someone trying to find the fault in the cable.

Tuesday 9th December

Overnight the temperature had dropped to zero and there was a light frost on everything.

SPB_5D_098164It was one of those grey damp winter days that you just know isn’t going to improve much. We had pencilled in a day in Gloucester. Despite flying into Gloucester Airport on many occasions neither of us had ever been to Gloucester before.

Catching the same number 94 bus, this time in the opposite direction took us past Gloucester Airport and a couple of caravan dealers and 30 minutes later we were right in the centre of Gloucester.

Even for a grey Tuesday morning there were a number of shoppers braving the winter dampness and following a little map of the town centre we had we completed a tour of the shops and shopping mall ending up back near where the bus dropped us off.

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As it was now lunch time and we were almost next to a J D Wetherspoon’s, it seemed like an omen. The J D Wetherspoon’s in Gloucester is a converted cinema and at one end a large proportion of wall that would have been the original screen’s position has been replaced by glass, so we sat next to this glazed expanse and chose something warm and filling from the menu.

Gloucester has had long maritime history especially in trade and after lunch we walked down to the old docks that over the last few years has seen a substantial investment and now boasts apartments, offices and retail units built in the old shipping warehouses. On a damp Tuesday afternoon in December is was almost deserted, but in summer we guessed that it would be heaving with people.

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P.S. I managed to get a pack of AA batteries from W H Smiths and that evening our little Christmas tree’s lights shone brightly again… as did my LED torch!

Next: More Mulled Wine and Markets…