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Part Two of our Cheltenham and Oxford festive outing…

Wednesday 10th December

Thankfully the wild weather that was affecting northern England and Scotland didn’t extend as far south as Gloucestershire and after a bit of a late start we were packed up and ready to say goodbye to Briarfields and set off for Oxford. We called in reception to drop off our electronic tag that operated the security barriers and waved goodbye to our neighbour who was leaving in his campervan after an overnight stay. The Sat-Nav gave a distance of about 37 miles and a time of one hour twenty minutes to complete the journey. We pulled off the site just before eleven o’clock and headed out into the late morning traffic enroute for Oxford Camping & Caravan Club site.

We hadn’t being travelling long when Sue produced a ten pound note out of her pocket… “That’s the deposit for the electronic tag.”

“Hmm I don’t remember paying a deposit”

When Scott booked us in I think he forgot to take a deposit, and Jo assumed he would have and gave Sue ten pounds back. So apologies Scott and Jo, we seem to be ten pounds up on the deal, just means that we have an excuse to return next year to give you the money! Mind you, I don’t think we need an excuse as there is still so much to see and a visit to Gloucester in the summer is definitely planned.

The trip took us through the beautiful rolling hills of the Cotswolds, the sun was shining and it was a pleasant drive to Oxford. We had stayed at the Oxford C & CC site a number of times before as it is convenient for exploring Oxford. It does have a downside though. It can be noisy as the main Oxford to London railway line runs only a couple of hundred meters away and through the night there is plenty of railway freight run on that line. Additionally there is a large factory that sometimes can be noisy. All that said, the advantages tend to outweigh the disadvantages.

We arrived at the site about 12:20 and checked in. During the winter months the site has to run on a reduced number of pitches due to the ground conditions and motorhomes are parked on the tarmac road areas. We were shown to our pitch which was on the northern side of the site. The grass wasn’t too soft but had obviously been wet for a number of days.

SPB_5D_098184  That evening the clear skies of the day gave way to a drop in temperature as the sun set. Behind us was a Hymermobile Motorhome, which had three satellite dishes on the roof. Now it was either an outpost of Mission Control or Andy Harris of the Motorhome Channel had upgraded to a Hymer…. but we could not smell any fresh toast being prepared, so discounted that idea.

Had Andy Harris upgraded to a Hymer?

Had Andy Harris upgraded to a Hymer?

A quick trip to Aldi to stock up on Gluevine and a few other essentials and a quick wander round Go Outdoors finished off our day.

Thursday 11th December

The weather forecast for the day was generally windy and rain but Friday looked like it would be clear again so we decided to put off our visit into Oxford for the Christmas market until then. Sue had always wanted to go Blenheim Palace and thought it would be a good destination for the day. Checking on-line they had Christmas events and it was looking promising. I checked the ticket price and was floored at the cost. For the two of us for the Christmas attractions it would be just over £45 to get in. As we were mulling that over I clicked on Trip Advisor and read some of the reviews for the Christmas event…. there weren’t many but most complained about the cost and there wasn’t actually that much to see. However one lady that had posted a review (Margaret151151 ), her last line was “…Now our visit to Waddesdon at Christmas WAS well worth the money!”

Neither of us had heard of Waddesdon!

A quick ‘google’ soon found the website and it did look interesting and the ticket price a more reasonable £36 for the two of us. Decision made, I bought the tickets on line which gave us timed entry into the house and Sat-Nav programmed we set off for Waddesdon. Located on the A41 between Bicester and Aylesbury it didn’t take very long to get there.

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The house is the former home of the Rothschild family… (or some section of it… I’ve not read up on it yet) and is set in wonderful landscaped gardens. While most of the house was closed for its annual winter deep clean, one wing was still open and had been decorated for Christmas… with dozens of Christmas trees grown on the estate specifically for certain rooms in the house, so the height and width of the tree had been monitored to ensure an exact fit… here is just a few:

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The trees and decorations were all themed for the rooms and they really were spectacular. Not often I stand in front of a Christmas tree(s) speechless! The timed entry into the house really worked well and there wasn’t a mass of people who could make enjoying the spectacle a disappointing experience.

The corridor from the Manor shop to the restaurant

The corridor from the Manor shop to the restaurant

From the house we headed down to the stable block, a short walk from the main house to the cafe and shops. If we had been there a couple of days earlier we would have also had chance to visit the Christmas market that is also held there.

The impressive and lavish stable block now houses shops and a cafe

The impressive and lavish stable block now houses shops and a cafe

A late lunch in the cafe followed by a walk round the Bruce Munro light installations in the grounds in a vain attempt to walk off the calories.

Waddesdon is somewhere we are planning to return to so we can see the rest of the house. We both would recommend it as a definite ‘to do’ on anyones list of Christmas places to visit.

All too soon we were back on the road towards Oxford again… it was fast approaching mulled wine time.

Friday 12th December

Bus GuideThe weather wasn’t quite as promised but it was clearing slowly. We walked across to the Park & Ride stop opposite Go Outdoors to catch the number 300 service into the centre of Oxford.

Just as we arrived, it started to rain again so we headed in the direction of the indoor market for a mooch round in the dry. By the time we had come out the rain had stopped and we set off towards the Christmas market. Sue had an Italian version of mulled wine (well it is nearly Christmas!) while we wandered around the many stalls. As always is was rapidly approaching ‘lunch o’clock” again and we kept an eye out for a suitable place. Last time we were in Oxford it was with our friends Pete and Julie (Julie sadly passed away last year) and we had tried to get into “Jamie’s” – Jamie Oliver’s restaurant but it was full. This time we managed to beat the crowd.

We decided on a light lunch and opted for…..

JAMIE’S ULTIMATE SHARING PLANK

£10.50 PER PERSON

For two or more to share.
Artisan fennel salami, mortadella, spiced chicken-liver pâté, truffled salami & fennel pork scratchings with grissini & music bread, Cauliflower fritti,mozzarella & aged pecorino, tomato mostarda & crispy shallot rings, Olives & pickles, grilled marinated peppers, & crunchy kale slaw

… and a carafe of house white.

Now I’m not sure what I was expecting. It was nice with a good selection but maybe I was expecting more of a ‘wow’ than I got. Service initially was a bit slow off the mark but there was a Christmas party of around 20 people starting to arrive that seemed to delay things a little. The service did improve after the party group got sat down. The lunch was enjoyable and the atmosphere in the restaurant vibrant. However… I was missing the ‘wow’ that I thought I’d get… not sure what the ‘wow’ should be but there you go.Bus Guide_0001

We headed out again to cover a few more shops and to do another turn round the Christmas market – just in case we had missed anything. The light was starting to fade and all the Christmas lights decorating the streets came on. Deciding it was time to head back we retraced our footsteps back to the bus top to catch the 300 back to Redbridge Park & Ride opposite the caravan site.

Saturday 13th December

The temperature on the digital thermomiterbob said minus 2.6 degrees outside and it felt like it as it was only 10 degrees inside the caravan (OK who turned the heating on to the lowest setting then… that would be me!)

It was a bit of a lazy start packing up – Sue attended to all the inside ‘pink’ jobs while I looked after the outside ‘blue’ jobs. Thankfully the water in the Aquarol and the wastehog hadn’t frozen. I drained the loo flush tank back into an empty container and just before 11 we were ready to hitch up.

Now this is the first time that this has happened to us. The pitches at Oxford are lower than the tarmac road and on hitching up I discovered that due to the Freelander still having the front wheels on the road, the tow ball was so low I could not rotate and raise the jockey wheel so we had to unhitch again. We struggled and swung the caravan round so we were at an angle to the road and hitched up again… same problem. So we had to unhitch and swing the caravan enough so that the front wheels of the Freelander were off the road, hence lower so hitching up for a third time finally gave us the clearance to swing the jockey wheel round under the A frame and raise it.

It’s my fault as one our very first trip to Oxford with the caravan we had hired I watched someone have exactly the same problem… I should have remembered. By 11:30 we were pulling out of the site heading for home.

Surprisingly the roads were quiet. The A34 onto the M40 was very quiet and we made good time. On the M40 a National Express coach driver after taking about 40 seconds to actually overtake us (we were doing about 55 mph) decided that he didn’t actually need to know if he was clear and just pulled in without indicating with about ten inches clearance between the back of his coach and the front of the Freelander. I wish we had one of those CCTV camera recording do-hickeys.

A brief stop at Norton Caines services on the M6 Toll road and using the Caravan Club membership card to get our discount at the toll plaza we hit the M6, which even though there are road works at the M6 / M6 Toll junction was free-flowing and no delays. The rest of the M6 north was quiet too… we had never seen it run so freely even on a Saturday. By 3:30 the caravan was parked up in its storage bay and we were off home… time to go and give ‘the boys’ (our three Siamese cats) a good ‘polish’

Summing up…

Six days, three cities, two christmas markets… done!. Visiting Christmas markets is a great way of getting in the festive spirit. We used christmasmarkets.com to find out when and where the Christmas markets are. If you can’t get out in your caravan this year to a Christmas market…. start planning for next year or we might beat you to it!

The sites… 

Briarfields is ideally located for exploring Cheltenham and Gloucester at any time of the year. With the additional on site motel, it’s great if you want to explore the area with family or friends that don’t have a caravan or motorhome. The site is well maintained and the facilities are spotless and it offers free WiFi. It could do with another Grey Water Disposal point though.

It is however about 1 mile (1500 metres) from the threshold of runway 27 at Gloucester airport so there will be aircraft passing overhead at around 300 to 400 feet but don’t let that put you off. They are mainly small single engine aircraft with the odd executive jet and the noise is not obtrusive. The airport operates restricted hours so the aircraft won’t be passing overhead all night. If you are an aircraft spotter it’s ideal!

Time it right and you can do Gloucester Victorian Christmas Market and Cheltenham Christmas Market in the same visit. I would suggest you book early though as it will fill up quickly, especially at Cheltenham Gold Cup time.

Would we return to Briarfileds? – Yes. Would we recommend it? – Yes.

Oxford C & CC site is ideal for exploring Oxford as it’s so easy to get into the centre by bus or walking beside the river. Oxford is a great place to visit any time of the year and is one of those cities you want to go back to time and time again. The Oxford C & CC site is a little tired, but well-kept. As the site is actually owned by Go Outdoors the C & CC club do have limitations on what they can do there to improve things. There is the known noise problem from the railway line, but in fairness it’s not constant like a road.

Would we return to Oxford C & CC? – Yes. Would we recommend it? – Yes.