Now being classed as ‘semi-retired’ i.e a part-time job means that I’m limited as to when I can get away. This coupled with Sue’s on-call commitments and theatre schedule at the hospital means that our trips are a bit last-minute. Regular readers will know that since buying our caravan we have always tried to fit in a Christmas Market trip, just to get into the festive spirit. This year looked like it was not going to happen. However, having to use up the last of my holidays before year-end and coupled with the fact the cardiac unit at the hospital was quiet meant we could just about fit in a cheeky little break before Christmas. We had originally set the time aside for a possible trip down to the Isle of Wight to see some friends as one of them was due to undergo surgery a couple of weeks earlier. However surgery was delayed and it would have been too soon after the op. So the next problem was where to go?
Over the past few years we have done a few Christmas markets and a quick check of the ChristmasMarkets.com web site soon gave us the dates for all the markets and Birmingham seemed like a good candidate. Next was to find a site within walking or bus distance – who wants to drive to a christmas market when there is lots of wine being mulled !. The Caravan Club came up trumps with Chapel Lane Caravan Site about 8 miles south of all the Christmas action. A quick check of the Caravan Club website showed the site had spaces and four nights were booked.
Thursday 17th December
We were both off the day before and so we could take the clothes and bedding down to the caravan, which made it easier as all we had to do was load up the comestibles boxes and fridge stuff into the back of the Freelander on day of departure.
Setting off from the storage unit at 10:20 soon had us on the M60 and eventually navigating the road works on the A56 cut through to the M6. Although quite busy the traffic was flowing. We made a brief stop to pick up coffee at Sandbach Services (yep we had forgotten to make a flask of coffee before setting off). I’d programmed the site in as a POI on the sat-nav so it took us straight there without any dramas. It was about 12:40 when we checked in. The site was quiet with maybe twenty or so vans and motorhomes so we had a choice of pitches, eventually opting for one on the corner opposite the facilities building.
Friday 18th December
The weather was forecast to be grey and overcast but no rain and after talking to the wardens the previous afternoon we had an option of catching the bus ( either the X50 or 150 from near the campsite entrance) or catching the train. A train journey of twenty minutes versus a bus trip of about an hour won out. It’s just over a mile (1.2 to be exact) from the site to Wythal Station and it took us about twenty minutes to walk there.
We originally opted for Snow Hill as a destination but looking at the map, Moor Street Interchange was closer. Tickets were £6.80 return each for an open return and the train seemed a logical choice as it was more frequent at peak times. You can buy tickets from a machine at the station entrance.
Moor St Interchange is right next to Selfridges (the pimply building) and is a good landmark to use for getting round. As it was only 10:30ish we… well me.. actually needed a coffee top up so we made a stop at a coffee shop to check the map and come up with a plan of action. The streets were still fairly quiet and we wandered down New Street towards Victoria Square. Following the market signs we navigated round a building that was in the process of being demolished to Centenary Square where there were some smaller craft stalls and a ferris wheel. We headed back towards Victoria Square where the smell of cooking bratwurst sausages, donuts and mulled wine got to us. We purchased a couple of mahoosive red bratwurst sausages, which were delicious.
Looking down New Street it was getting busier and we set off towards New Street Station. A few weeks before we had watched a program about the demolition of the old concourse and opening up of the building, including a new roof, and we, well me really, after working for a number of years for one of the train companies and passing through New St so many times, was keen to see the results. The transformation is amazing….
It was now light and seemed bigger, and the transformation with all the shops and food areas was such an improvement. However one thing to note – the signs for the toilets on the main level all direct you to facilities that are on the rail side of the barriers. The only loo’s that are available for non rail travellers are on the mezzanine level.
Even though it was a grey day never rely getting fully daylight, the light coming into the main concourse area made such a difference.
We had spotted a couple of options for lunch and continued exploring the rest of the malls that were now linked to the main station building. It reminded us of Boston, Mass. where you can walk from one mall through to the Prudential Centre and on to another mall without ever going outside… kind of handy with their winter weather.
Eventually we headed back outside on to New Street and wandered past all the market stalls that were all now brightly illuminated and with lots of people shopping. We did notice that some of the stalls did seem to repeat, having the same things for sale as another stall further up the street.
By the time we had got to the other end of New St again (and I’d bought a new camera) it was time for a late lunch and a sit down (plus I wanted to play with my new purchase). We wandered back to New Street Station and headed for a tapas bar (Tapas Revolution, Grand Central Station) we had spotted earlier.
After enjoying some tapas washed down with a rather nice house red, we ventured out again and re-visited some of the locations we had been to earlier so I could take a few photos with the new camera (OK why the new camera… well normally I’d have a full frame body with a 70-200 on the front and a couple of other lenses on my back pack and sometimes I just don’t want to carry all that gear about but have something I can slip in my pocket but still have the functionality and resolution of my normal gear and a Canon G7X fitted the bill)
By the time we got back to Victoria Square again, Sue decided it had to be mulled wine time by now and I wanted one of those hot chocolates with the squirty cream on top. The large Swiss chalet building had a bar underneath and a balcony with a group playing festive music. Just as we got served, it started to rain so we squished in under one of the covered tables with a few others to listen to the music. All very festive… except for the rain but it was way to warm to snow.
Saturday 19th December
For the past couple of years I’d always wanted to visit the Heritage Motor Centre as it is located adjacent to the Jaguar Land Rover Gaydon Centre the home of the Land Rover Collection. I’d had it as a POI in the GPS for a while and we had been in striking distance of it on several trips, but never had the time (or it was a school half term) However we thought it would be a quiet time to visit, so set off to drive the 12 miles from the site. We came off the motorway and followed the sat-nav through some road works and turned into the road that leads up to the entrance and were met with a small banner cable tied to the fence:- “The Centre is closed for refurbishment and will reopen on the 13th Feb 2016”. Nooooo!
It’s my fault, I should have checked on-line, but in all fairness who the heck thought they would close the whole damn thing. I was not a happy camper to say the least. I’d even picked up a brochure in the site information centre about it too!
Sue to the rescue
Sue being Sue had put one of the pamphlets from the information centre in her bag about Hatton Shopping Village which also had some christmas things going on and was only a couple of junctions back along the M40, so sat-nav suitably programmed we turned round in the empty drive to the motor centre and headed off to our new destination. It was a bit off the beaten track and if you go when it’s raining you need a 4 x 4 as the overspill car park is a field of deep Warwickshire mud.
There is an eclectic collection of shops from farm produce to bridal gowns and everything in between. It’s not huge but there are some nice outlets selling local crafts. We both spied a sweet shop that had a resident chocolatier and after small investment we emerged stocked up with a bag of hand made chocolates and regular readers will know my weakness for coltsfoot rock and traditional cough candy. Opposite the sweet shop was a furniture shop and in the small window there was a rather nice reproduction art deco square table lamp that would just be right in our hallway at home. Wallet somewhat lighter we emerged with a lamp. We continued our wanderings… past the bridal gown shop where a young woman was trying on a wedding dress… It took me all my strength to stop Sue from pressing her nose up against the window… not really, but it did look nice even I have to admit that.
We continued round and as luck would have it just as it was lunch o’clock a cafe appeared. The menu had a reasonable choice – Sue opted for salmon fish cakes with poached egg and hollandaise sauce with green leaf salad and I went for chicken schnitzel and a cheese sauce.
Unfortunately when it arrived mine was served on a planed down scaffolding plank. Sorry but scaffolding planks, bits of driftwood, roofing slates, cute mini dustbins/flower pots/buckets, shovels (yep there is a place somewhere that serves breakfast on a shovel) to me are not my cup of tea. Call me strange, but I do like a plate with my food.
On the way out we called in the village shop and picked up a hand raised pork pie and a selection of local artisan cheese along with a jar of sweet chilli jam and a fresh cottage loaf – still warm, just the required ingredients for an evenings grazing sat with one’s feet up in front of the TV. I wouldn’t say Hatton Shopping Village is a destination in its self, but it is worth stopping off if you are in the vicinity or passing near by.
Sunday 20th December
We woke up to clear blue sky and a chill in the air, it was only 6 degrees according to the digital thermomiterbob do-hicky, which was a drop from the past few days where it had been in double figures.
After the incident of the closed museum the previous day, I did check to make sure the “Think Tank” was open, it was and so we set off in the Freelander back into the centre of Birmingham not far from where we had been on Friday. It took us around 25 minutes and passed through the centre of Kings Heath so mid-week or on a Saturday it might take a little longer. Birmingham Science Museum is housed in one of the university buildings at the heart of the university complex. Quite handily there is a multi-story car park right next door and we took a gamble that on a Sunday morning it would be quiet. If you do decide to pay a visit head for the multi-story car park on Jennens Road rather than the sat-nav info on the web site as that takes you to Curzon St – the ‘wrong’ side of the car park for the entrance. Walking out of the car park it’s easy not to see the sign for the entrance. Car parking was a reasonable £3.20 for the time we were there.
For the two of us, including a planetarium show it was £27.50, which is not too bad I guess. The museum is spread over 5 floors (there are lifts) and we headed down to the ground floor to start there.
The museum is great for children/grandchildren with lots for them to get involved with, however for me, it does seem a little haphazard in it’s layout and as though the curators have had to cherry pick exhibits to fit into the available space.
After we had visited the planetarium for one of the shows we headed back down to the ground floor to the cafe for coffee. We were in the queue and the chap in front of us wearing a USMC shirt turned and asked “Is that a Breitling Emergency you are wearing?” It must be a man thing. I can generally spot Breitling watches at 20 paces and Sue is always amazed at this skill. And Sue herself wears a Breitling that she would never expect anybody to recognise. After a bit of a chat it turned out he did have the right to wear that shirt – he was a US Marine (semper fi) and he still had his Breitling issued by Uncle Sam.
Monday 21st December
Monday started clear and chilly, and it didn’t take long to pack everything away. We had already taken the awning down on Saturday evening as the wind was quite gusty and it was flapping around a bit so while Sue cleaned inside, I loaded up the Freelander and squared everything away outside. It was a joint effort making the sammiches for the trip and I stored them in the electric cool box on the back seat of the truck, along with some water.
It wasn’t long before we were ready to hitch up and pull off site. We remembered to post the barrier tag through the reception letter box and we headed out on to Chapel Lane. The run back home was as easy as the trip down with the M6 being fairly free-flowing again.
What do we think?
A great four-day mini break with a Christmas Market, some trips and some great memories. Chapel Lane Caravan Club site is an ideal base for Birmingham and the surrounding area. There are plenty of things to do and see in Birmingham and within a 20 to 30 minute drive from the site there is easily a week’s worth of places to visit. Extend the driving range to 45 minutes and there is enough to do for a second week.
The site seems well run and very clean and there is little or no road noise. Showers were hot and the facilities block well maintained and clean. They however might get a little busy when the site is full. The Club WiFi works OK with good signal strength and good phone signal too. TV reception was not a problem.
Would we go back? – It’s on our list of places to re-visit as there are still lots of places to visit in the surrounding area.
For those wishing to visit the Caravan Shows at the NEC it would be a good base for a show visit and to include other attractions in the same trip.
We would just like to wish all our caravanning and motorhome readers a very Merry Christmas.
Simon & Sue