Bath, Caravan, Caravanning, Caravans, Chippenham, Great Western Railway, Plough Lane, Swindon, Swindon Designer Outlet, Touring, Towing, Wiltshire
Sunday 6th September
Despite the weather the previous week being a bit ‘iffy’ Sunday started out bright. We had loaded up the caravan the previous day and within 20 minutes of arriving at the caravan storage compound we were hitched up and ready to set off by 9:35 for the 170 mile journey south to Plough Lane Caravan Park ( a member of the growing number of Tranquil Touring Parks sites) near Chippenham in Wiltshire.
Virtually all trips south for us involve the M6 and even for a Sunday it was busy, but the traffic was flowing and we didn’t get held up. On the northern outskirts of Birmingham it slowed to 30 to 40 MPH and there was a bit of a queue to get on to the M5. Once that hurdle was passed, again it was a nice easy drive with the traffic thinning out the further south we got. We were planning to have a coffee break and leg stretch at Michael Woods services ( a brief look at the map and I’d planned in my head M5 to Bristol and then M4), but the Sat-Nav had other ideas and brought us off the M5 early and we did a pleasant bit of cross-country. On this trip I had a new gadget to play with, a TyrePal tyre monitoring system (a full review can be found here) and was fascinated by how the tyres responded to different types of road – motorway and A roads. We arrived at Plough Lane around 13:15 and as we pulled in we were 3rd in the arrivals queue.
We pulled up to the automated barrier and pushed the button… a friendly voice told us to drive through the barrier and pull into the parking lay-by… when the next parking lay-by was empty pull forward into that one.
We drove through the barrier and pulled in. We could see the next caravan ahead of us. While we were waiting I dug my camera out and took a few photos.
The caravan in the bay ahead of us pulled forward to reception and we moved up another bay and a motorhome pulled in where we had just been. In all it only took seven or eight minutes before it was our turn to pull forward to reception.
At reception we were greeted by Helen Wilding, who with her husband Rodger created the site nearly 20 years ago. After a brief introduction and run through of the facilities we paid our £10 deposit (refundable) for a token for the electronic barrier and given a mahoosive site guide… probably one of the most comprehensive site guides we have ever seen!. We were given directions to pitch 39 (the site has around 50 pitches) and we returned back to the Freelander to follow the road round to our pitch.
We had booked on to a fully serviced pitch which had plenty of space and it didn’t take long to set up and plumb everything in.
It was time to relax and enjoy the clear blue skies and warm September sunshine… and have a read through the mahoosive visitors guide!.
Monday 7th September – Chippenham
Chippenham (tourist guide) is in western Wiltshire, at a prominent crossing of the River Avon, between the Marlborough Downs to the east, the Cotswolds to the north and west and Salisbury Plain to the southeast. Plough Lane is only 4 miles outside Chippenham and in the site visitor guide it said there were maps in reception for a nice short walk around Chippenham along the river. Never ones to turn down a river walk, or a bit of shopping, we drove into the centre and parked in the central car park near Brunel’s railway viaduct constructed as part of the Great Western Railway connecting London to Bath.
Being Monday, Chippenham was fairly quiet and we soon found somewhere to have a coffee and do a spot of people watching. We decided to head into to Waterstones where I bought “The Girl In The Spiders Web” the fourth book continuing Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo” trilogy, and do some window shopping. As well as the main street, there is a small shopping arcade complete with a Tesco’s if needed and on the opposite side of the street a modern open air shopping mall with a Wetherspoons, which we returned to later for a late lunch.
Once we had completed the rounds of the shops and picked up a few essentials we set off back down the high street towards Town Bridge to follow the map we collected from the site reception. It was an easy walk of about one and half miles and mostly level that first crossed over the river on a foot bridge and passed through a park….
… and then turned to skirt round part of the golf course with a rather grand building overlooking it…
Continuing to follow the path brought us right by the side of the river and you could glimpse through the trees some of the houses that backed on to the river Avon.
We continued to follow the river Avon and you eventually come across a foot bridge that takes you back into Chippenham… or you can carry on to the next bridge to cross back over… we continued to the second bridge.
Crossing over the bridge we stopped a while and just stood looking up and down the river… a great place to play “Pooh Sticks”
The path continues and leads you back into Chippenham past some really interesting old buildings that looked like they were rather grand houses when they were built. It was time to head back to the centre and call in Wetherspoons for a late lunch then back to the caravan and consult the mahoosive site guide… to plan tomorrows adventures.
Tuesday 8th September – Swindon
For a number of years I worked for one of the train operating companies, and that involved me travelling down to Swindon to First Great Western offices frequently. Some trips I’d take “The Welsh Rattler” as we knew it, from Manchester to Newport and then get on the London train stopping in Swindon. Other times I’d take the cross-country to Reading via Oxford and catch the Bristol train to Swindon. I used to prefer the Welsh Rattler route and each time entering Swindon station you pass the long line of buildings that made up the Great Western Railway Engineering Works that covered some 320 acres and at its height employed over 14,000 people. When I was travelling to Swindon over 12 years ago, a lot of these buildings were just shells some with no roofs. Now however some have been converted into a new shopping mall and a couple of others are now “Steam” – Museum of The Great Western Railway. Still having an interest in steam and the railway in general, it seemed like a visit to both was on the time-table for a first class day out.
Follow the road signs for either the Designer Outlet or the Museum and they will take you to one of the main car parks. It’s a ‘take a ticket’ on entering and you pay for your ticket just before you leave. However.. here’s a top tip: Do the shopping mall first, then the museum. When you buy your ticket for the museum ask for the car parking validation ticket. When you are ready to leave take this back to the information desk in the shopping mall along with your car park ticket and you will get free parking!
The mall… or “Swindon Designer Outlet” is packed full of the usual shops, however they have managed to retain lots of features of the original engineering works – some sections still have the travel crane’s and you can see where the old line shafts that ran through the workshops once were held on massive bearings. Even if you are not into shopping, its worth a walk round just for the architectural interest. Keep an eye out for the brass plates on the walls that tell you which part of the original works you are in. There are also a few of the old machines once used in the engineering works dotted about. There is a great bandsaw that I wouldn’t mind in my workshop!.
We picked up coffees ‘to go’ not knowing how long it would take us to walk to the museum and headed outside following the signs… the foam on my latte hadn’t even cooled and we arrived outside the entrance. Thankfully there’s a couple of benches and we sat and finished our coffee before going in.
The Museum is well worth a visit. The exhibits are first class and unlike a lot of museums you can get up close and walk on, through, under and even pick some things up. The story of the Great Weston Railway engineering works is fascinating and it’s well worth buying the modestly priced guide (front cover shown above) A number of the displays are interactive and while Sue watched on I managed to set all the signals and points in the box correctly to allow the Royal Train to pass through… OK so it was meant for children, I’m just a big kid really. Sue even commented on how much she enjoyed it and rated it on one of the best railway museums we had visited. It’s just a pity that they can’t run a heritage railway from there operated by steam engines.
After leaving the museum we headed back to the mall and called in to Wagamamma for a late lunch. While we were eating talk turned to replacing the Freelander., which we bought new, but was now nine years old. Originally I’d had in mind to go for another Land Rover, specifically the new Discovery Sport, but Land Rover are now just pricing themselves out of the sensible market not only with the initial purchase price but also the dealer servicing. Not keen on the 4 x 4 offerings from Toyota and Mitsubishi, or anyone else for that matter, by chance a week earlier on the way to work I was stationary next to a white VW Amarok. It was the first time I’d seen one and by coincidence, days later I was talking to someone who had bought one a few months earlier to tow their caravan. I was relating all this to Sue who said she had never seen one, so a quick Google on the phone looking for photos I discovered we were only a mile away from the Volkswagen commercial vehicle distributer in Swindon. So a quick detour on the way back to the caravan was planned.
We spoke to Craig one of their sales people and had a good poke round one in the showroom. It was ticking all the boxes ….. 4 x 4, low emissions, two litre twin turbo direct injection diesel producing 180PS (BHP in old money), eight speed auto gearbox, ladder chassis and could tow 2300Kg’s. It was big, apparently it didn’t need towing mirrors at 1.954 M wide and 5.254 M long and weighed in at 2093 unladen, 3170 Kg gross and a gross train weight of 5950Kg. (The mirrors thing has yet to be tested). Sitting in it was comfy and there seemed plenty of room in the rear seats. There were a few questions the salesman couldn’t answer… was the 13 pin electric fully ISO compliant (I.e. the leisure battery and fridge circuits installed), did the ECU need programming for trailers, what was the hitch nose weight limit, any known issues with LED trailer lights), so I’m going to ping off an email to VW with these and a few other questions. With that new vehicle smell still in our nostrils we headed back to Plough Lane with a few brochures tucked under our arms. Watch this space.
Wednesday 9th September – Devises
Wednesday started out rather misty and was forecast to be a bit of a grey day. Consulting the mahoosive visitors guide, a trip into Devizes seemed to be the way forward. We loaded up the Freelander with warmer gear, just in case, and set off. Parking was easy to find and about a minutes walk from the main shopping area. Compared to other towns around the area, Devizes, although having some tourist type shops, is mainly a working town for the locals. Pulling out a handy map (copies are in Plough Lane reception) we navigated our way around the shops, and of course stopped off for a coffee part way round. Sue wanted to visit Caen Hill Locks which is about a five or six minute walk out of the town centre.
The famous Caen Hill Locks are a flight of 29 locks on the Kennet and Avon Canal. The 29 locks have a rise of about 230 feet in 2 miles and come in three groups. The lower seven locks, Foxhangers Wharf Lock to Foxhangers Bridge Lock, the next sixteen locks form a steep flight in a straight line up the hillside. A final six locks take the canal into Devizes. The locks were designed by engineer John Rennie and provided a solution to climbing the very steep hill. Apparently the locks take 5–6 hours to traverse in a boat and lock 41 is the narrowest on the canal or so we were told.
As the locks are so close together there is a danger of running out of water… or over spilling the next lock, so there are elongated ‘pounds’ (I think that is what they are called) that project sideways away from the canal between locks to take the volume of water from the upper lock and store it for the next lock down the flight. We walked down the tow path about half way down the flight, overtaking a few barges descending the flight in the process. Part way down, if you are in need of a spot of refreshment there is a small cafe in the old lock keepers house – or a couple of locks away a nice looking pub with a beer garden on the canal side… well it looked nice Sue reckoned because they had a cat. We turned and headed back up the flight… passing some of the barges we had overtaken while walking down and some of the barges that were still climbing the flight. Walking back into Devises we passed the Wadworth Brewery… handy place to do a tour if the weather is inclement, and decided to seek out a modest lunch in a cafe we had passed earlier in the day. Doing another circuit of the shops we strolled back to the car park and headed back to Plough Lane. That evening I finished the book I’d bought on Monday and started drafting the review for the TyrePal TPMS unit loaned to us.
Thursday 10th September – Bath
Today was our 32nd Wedding Anniversary… how time flies! So something special for lunch in way of a celebration we thought. Consulting the mahoosive visitor guide once again Bath seemed a good option and we could easily get there via bus and train. The visitor guide said timetables for buses were available in reception. The number 91 stops right outside the site… well about fifty feet from the end of the drive… and goes into Chippenham calling at Chippenham Station. A quick check of train times and the train from Chippenham into Bath Spa only takes 12 minutes… it could take that long to find a car parking space in Bath apparently!
We caught the 09:45 train arriving in Bath 12 minutes later after passing through Brunel’s famous Box Tunnel. The weather had been kind to us so far and today was no exception… warm sunshine and clear blue skies. We headed for somewhere to get a cup of coffee, sit down and consult the map (copy available in the site reception) for a plan of action. One of the best ways we think to get a feel for a new place is to take one of the open top bus tours available in many cities. We used the City Sightseeing ‘hop on hop off’ tour costing £14 each (£8.50 for children). There is an added bonus as there are two routes – the city centre and the skyline route all included in the price. We trundled round the city centre route and in the process learnt a little more about Bath’s history. Hopping off the bus we headed for a stroll round the shops, stopping off at some of the sight-seeing spots. A quick stop in the Apple shop to buy a new mouse for my Mac Pro and a new lead for Sue’s iPhone and it was time for a late lunch. An old school friend, Sue Adams had recommended the Pump Station for a suitable anniversary lunch, but the queue for a table was a bit long so a quick check with google gave us directions to Yo Sushi. Always a good standby for us. Time to walk off our lunch and capture some of the classic tourist spots of the city.
Hmm…. could Bath be connected with rugby in any way?
Crossing over the bridge (above) we descended some steps and walked along the river for a while, passing the rugby ground and the big flood gate sharing the path with dog walkers, cyclist and joggers all enjoying the September sunshine.
We planned on catching the 16:43 train back to Chippenham so it was time to turn around and head back to the station. The train was packed but we managed to find two seats. not long after we were sitting outside Chippenham railway station waiting for the number 91 bus and reflecting on how much we enjoyed Bath and making a point to come back and visit again soon.
Friday 11th September
Friday was going to be an easy day before setting off for home the following day. We decided to visit the market in Chippenham to pick up some fresh bread to make sandwiches for the trip back and a few other bits and pieces. I’d finished my book the day before and wanted something else to read so we called in Waterstones again. I didn’t spot it, but Sue’s eagle eye spotted “After The Flood” about what the Dambusters did next by John Nichol (John is an ex RAF pilot who was shot down in his Tornado during the first gulf war in 1991 and I have a signed copy of his book “Tornado Down” about the shooting down, his and John Peters subsequent capture and torture). So that was my reading sorted out. In the afternoon I settled down to write my review of the TyrePal tyre pressure and temperature monitoring system that had kindly been lent to us by TyrePal. You can read my review is here.
I was so impressed by the product, it’s on my list of things to buy… as soon as we have sorted out if we are going to replace the Freelander with a VW Amarok. Of course like any good writer I have my editor…..
Saturday 12th September
Saturday started wet. It had been raining quite hard over night and was still raining when we got up. One cup of coffee later and the rain had stopped and the clouds were slowly breaking revealing patches of blue. We started the well rehearsed routine of packing up. By quarter to ten we were done. All that remained to do was to drop off our barrier token and return the by now well-thumbed mahoosive visitor guide. While Sue walked round to reception, I hooked up the caravan and did my usual pre departure walk round. It wasn’t long before we were pulling on to Plough Lane heading back towards home. Interestingly, this time our Sat-Nav decided to take us directly to the M4 and west towards Bristol before turning northwards along the M5. The trip home was much longer… this time it was down to a couple of accidents on the M6 in Staffordshire which delayed us by about an hour. We eventually arrived back at the caravan storage site a little after three o’clock. Another adventure done.. but not the last of our Wiltshire Wanderings I’m sure of that.
Other Places to visit:- Cotswold Motoring Museum & Toy Collection - http://www.cotswoldmotoringmuseum.co.uk Avon Valley Railway - http://www.avonvalleyrailway.org Atwell Wilson Motor Museum - http://www.atwellwilson.org.uk Swindon & Cricklade Railway - http://www.swindon-cricklade-railway.org