A long walk before home time

Just like the previous day the morning started off rather dull but it did brighten up as time went on. With only a small cabin bag and a backpack it didn’t take long to pack my things for coming home then I took a walk up to town as there was one thing I wanted to do – get something suitable to leave at the grave. Sometime during the summer Michael had added half a dozen solar lights and only a few days previously had put two vases of fresh tulips there ; Nellie had added a remembrance plaque for Jimmy, the lantern which I’d left there last year was still lit, and with the remembrance plaques Michael and I had put there last year and another couple of flower arrangements, albeit artificial, the plot looked quite pretty, but I still felt like I should add something. Eventually I settled on a bunch of  red and white flowers and and a small plaque and made my way up to the cemetery.
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Back at the house, and with some time to spare, I decided to go in search of something I’d only found out about since my stay there last year – a stream with man-made waterfalls running through the grounds of Mount St. Joseph Abbey, which I hadn’t seen when I walked round there last November. Having previously promised Trixie that I would take her for a walk sometime I clipped the lead on her, grabbed the camera and off we went ; it was 11.15am and my coach wasn’t until 3pm so I would have plenty of time to walk two miles to the abbey, find and photograph the stream and walk the two miles back again.
All the time I was walking the weather was brightening up until eventually the sun came out and blue sky appeared, and my brisk pace made me so warm that I ended up taking my jacket off and tying it round my waist. I reached the monastery in forty minutes and following Michael’s directions went past the parking area and round into the woods where I found the stream quite easily, and realised that if I’d walked just a little bit further into the woods last year I would have found it then. Being surrounded by trees it was a bit gloomy but I got a handful of photos and made a mental note to revisit, if possible in spring or summer next time.
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The abbey grounds
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It was 1.15pm when I got back to the house so I’d only been out a couple of hours, and I hadn’t been in long when Nellie put a dinner on the table for me – she said she didn’t want me travelling home without having had a decent meal even though I told her I could get something at the airport. Michael was out but he came back in time to come up to the bus stop with me – he wasn’t coming home with me but staying on for another week. Nellie said she would come too as she needed to post a letter, so after saying goodbye to Trixie who was curled up on her cushion we all walked up to town together.
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Recovering from her long walk
Now while I may have had no problems at all on my journey from home to Roscrea the same couldn’t be said of the reverse. The coach to the airport arrived bang on time at 3pm and it was a very pleasant ride up to Dublin although with traffic building up through the city centre the coach was twenty minutes late at the airport, but that didn’t matter as my flight wasn’t until 7pm so I had plenty of time. The delay was actually with the plane itself ; wherever it had come from it was late, and though the departure gate closed at 6.30 there was no sign of any staff or any indication of when boarding would start.
Eventually, just before 7pm, the staff arrived and after a load of faffing about started the boarding process ; I was third in the queue but it didn’t make any difference as everyone had to queue up again and wait for the door onto the tarmac to be opened. Then when we got to the plane we had to queue up again  before they would allow us on as they were still trying to clean and tidy up. Finally we were allowed on, and it was obvious they’d only done a quick job as there were crumbs on the three seats and the floor where I was, and probably in many other places as well. Eventually the plane took off forty minutes late and finally landed in Manchester at 8.15pm, but even then my problems weren’t over – and this is where it gets ever-so-slightly stupid.
On my three trips to Ireland last year, on all outbound and return flights and the flight to Dublin a few days previously, passengers have always walked the very short distance from the plane to the airport building but not this time. When everyone got off the plane we all had to queue to get onto a couple of shuttle buses ; I thought maybe the plane had pulled up quite a distance from the entrance we had to use so that’s why we had to go on the buses but in actual fact the plane was right where it should be and the buses just turned in a big circle and pulled up right outside the building! Of course the second bus, which I was on, had to wait until everyone had got off the first one and it had driven off before it could pull up to the entrance – yet another few minutes delay and there were grumbles coming from several passengers. Honestly, it would have been quicker to walk across the tarmac as on previous occasions! I really couldn’t understand the reason for all that at all, and I’ve actually done a very  rough drawing to illustrate it – as you can see, I’m no great artist!
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This just didn’t make any sense at all
By the time I’d got through the airport and done the ten minute walk to the station Sod’s Law decreed that I would just miss a train and I had twenty minutes to wait for the next one. Fortunately it only made three brief stops going through Manchester so I was back in my home town a bit sooner than I expected. With a taxi from my local station I finally arrived home almost eight hours after I left Roscrea; needless to say the dogs were pleased to see me so I took them for a quick walk then made a coffee and retreated to my bed – any unpacking could wait until the morning. I’d had such a tiring and frustrating few hours I just wanted some chill-out time and a good night’s sleep – and with the whole bed to myself I was sure to get it!

A visit to Nenagh

Sunday morning December 3rd was very much a chill-out morning after the previous rather uncomfortable night. Nellie had gone to morning mass so I made myself some coffee and toast and took it back to bed to relax with my book for a while, only getting up when she came back in. Even though I said I’d already had breakfast she insisted on making me another one and did me some more of her divine scrambled eggs – I don’t know how she does them but they really are delicious.
Although the day had started off dull it brightened up by late morning so I decided to take myself off to Nenagh, a half-hour coach ride away from Roscrea ; Nellie had told me that although the town centre wasn’t a big place there was a nice church and a castle there so it would be worth going to take a look. As the coach got further west the day brightened up even more until I arrived at Nenagh in bright sunshine with blue sky – that would do for me.
Nellie had told me that if I turned right when I got off the coach I would find most things of interest close by so that’s what I did. The first thing I came to was the Courthouse, designed and built in 1843, and in the very pleasant grounds were the bronze sculptures of three Olympic gold medallists with links to Nenagh. Next was the gatehouse to the old prison which now has only one cell block left intact and with its unique octagonal governor’s residence is classed as a historic monument.
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Nenagh Courthouse
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L-R Matt McGrath (weight thrower) Johnny Hayes (athlete) Bob Tisdall (athlete)
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Old prison gatehouse
Further along the road I came to St. Mary’s of the Rosary Catholic Church, a neo-gothic church built in 1895 – and this must be the most spectacularly ornate church I’ve ever been in so far. The whole place was truly beautiful and it was hard to know what to look at first – if I’d been using 35mm film I would have used up more than one roll. As it was, with limited time if I didn’t want to fall foul of the odd bus times back to Roscrea, I stuck to just over a dozen photos but that’s one place I will definitely return to at a later date to get some more shots.
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St. Mary’s of the Rosary Church
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Out in the grounds, and adjacent to this church, was the smaller St. Mary’s Church of Ireland, built in 1862 and seemingly a much simpler building than its more ornate next door neighbour. Any intention of looking inside though was forgotten about when I saw that the castle keep was right next door, separated from the church grounds by a tall wrought iron fence and gate. Unfortunately the gate was locked so I took a shot of the keep through the bars then went off in search of another way in.
I was destined to be disappointed however, as when I did find the official entrance that gate was locked too and a notice informed me that the castle isn’t open on Sundays, so I had to be content with a couple of shots from a nearby car park down a narrow side street. Also down the side street was the back yard wall of a pub which fronted onto the main street, and set into the wall was a very colourful mosaic picture – pubs and alcohol don’t interest me but the picture was worth a photo.
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St. Mary’s Church of Ireland
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Nenagh castle
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Mosaic picture set in a wall
From there I made my way round to the main street to have a look at the shops. The town centre was a bit bigger than Roscrea but it didn’t take long to look round ; I only went into two shops though I didn’t buy anything from either of them, and just two hours after arriving in Nenagh I was back on the coach to Roscrea. I hadn’t been in the house long when Nellie said dinner was ready ; it was a lovely meal and I couldn’t have eaten another thing afterwards. As soon as it had gone properly dark I nipped out to take a shot of the Christmas display in the garden of a house a few doors away then I settled indoors for the rest of the evening.
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There’s more but it wouldn’t all fit in the shot!
Nellie told me that the people who live there add one extra thing every year – it certainly looks pretty and it brightens the street but I wouldn’t like to get their electricity bill afterwards!



A grey day in Roscrea

December 2nd, the morning of the memorial mass for Michael’s dad and uncle Jimmy, arrived cloudy and grey and with a touch of rain in the air. The service was at 10am so Nellie said she would just do coffee and toast for breakfast then do a fry-up when we got back from church, which sounded like a good plan. The service itself wasn’t exactly what I was expecting – well, to be honest, not being particularly knowledgeable about the Catholic faith I hadn’t really known what  to expect, and neither had Michael, but even so it was a nice way of remembering his dad and Jimmy. Afterwards Michael and I went up to the grave and spent a few minutes there then we went back to the house for the fry-up Nellie had promised us, and it didn’t disappoint either.
The rain in the air hadn’t materialised into anything major but it was still too dull to go anywhere proper so after lunch I took the camera and went for a wander round town and to find Roscrea’s own Round Tower which was situated near the Tesco supermarket. Dating from the early 12th century the tower was originally 80ft tall but the top floor was demolished in 1798 after an insurgent sniper used it’s prime position to fire at sentries in the nearby barracks ; it now stands at just 60ft tall and with its flat top it looks nowhere near as impressive as the one at Kildare.
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Roscrea Round Tower and museum
While I was round that way I went for a mooch round Tesco and the nearby Dunne’s store then from there I went back to St. Cronan’s church to photograph some of the stained glass windows which I didn’t get shots of last year. Unfortunately though a funeral was taking place so I couldn’t go in ; instead I just wandered round and took a couple of shots of the nearby river before making my way back to the house.
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Bunnow river and Glebe Park
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The river running through the church grounds
With Michael off out with some friends my evening was spent reading my book, watching a bit of tv and playing with Trixie, but when the time came to go to bed I encountered a bit of a problem. Nellie had gone up quite a while before me and was well into the land of nod but instead of being on her own side of the bed she had moved into the middle and had her head almost on my pillow, meaning there wasn’t much room for me. I didn’t want to disturb her though so I got in gingerly and spent a very uncomfortable and sleep-deprived night right on the edge of the mattress. This bed sharing lark was all very well but I certainly wouldn’t want to do it too often!

A visit to Kildare and Portlaoise

The first day of December arrived cold but with lots of blue sky and sunshine so not wanting to waste such a glorious day I decided to take myself off to Kildare for a bit of exploration. On my first trip to Ireland last October the coach from the airport had turned off the main route and gone to Kildare Village, which isn’t an actual village but a very attractive shopping centre just outside Kildare town, and it looked so nice that I’d put it on my list of places to visit when I had the opportunity. Allowing for three stops en route it was an hour by coach from Roscrea so it was doable, though the stupidly infrequent coach times meant that (a) I may not have very long there or (b) I would be there longer than I wanted to be before making the return journey.
After a late-ish breakfast of the most divine scrambled eggs on toast done by Nellie I got the 10.30 Kavanagh’s coach from the stop round the corner from the house and arrived at Kildare Village an hour later – and for anyone who likes designer and expensive stuff it’s definitely the place to go to as every single shop was a big name. Calvin Klein, DKNY, Karen Millen, Lacoste, Ralph Lauren, Ted Baker, Versace, Cath Kidston, Kurt Geiger, Heidi Klum, Nike, Lulu Guinness, Armani, Swarovski….. those were just some of the names among the 90-plus shops, and even though most of them were advertising ‘discounts’ their stuff was still expensive. I don’t ‘do’ designer anything though so the only shop I went in was the Lily O’Brien’s chocolate shop – I may have given up eating cake several months ago but I do like a bit of chocolate occasionally so I treated myself to a bar of Salted Caramel and one of Malted Chocolate Crunch then spent most of my time taking photos.
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Kildare Village
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One of several reindeer in set displays around the village
One of the side ‘streets’ of the village led to a children’s play area and a boardwalk running between two pleasant grassy areas to a main road a couple of hundred yards away, and about halfway along was what seemed to be an old ruined church. With a couple of shots taken from the boardwalk I went along to the road to see if I could find a way in and discovered an information plaque set in the boundary wall – this place was the Grey Abbey, named from the colour of the habits the resident monks wore.
The ruins occupied one corner of an obviously still used graveyard but with the entrance gate locked my only means of access was via a primitive stone ‘stile’ which went up and over the wall; a wire fence separated the ruins from the graveyard and a large notice said ‘Danger – Keep Out’ but part of the fence had collapsed to ground level and it was obvious that others had gone before me so in I went. The ground was very overgrown and there was nothing in there other than a couple of simple but very rusty metal crosses standing side by side and looking very unloved, so with just a couple of shots taken I made my way back through the graveyard to the main road.
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Grey Abbey ruins from the boardwalk
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Inside the ruins
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Following my nose a few minutes walking took me to Kildare town centre – what there was of it, which wasn’t much – and a walk along Market Square got me to St. Brigid’s Cathedral and Kildare Round Tower which was set in the cathedral grounds. At 108ft high it’s Ireland’s tallest accessible Round Tower, with seven levels of floors and ladders (installed in 1874) to reach the top; I would have loved to do the climb but unfortunately both the tower and the cathedral were closed for the winter so I had to be content with taking a few photos from the grounds, though I’ve put them both on my ‘places to visit’ list for another time.
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St. Brigid’s Cathedral
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Kildare Round Tower
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With nothing much else to see or photograph I returned to the Village for another quick look round the shops then went to get the 1.50pm bus back to Roscrea, though as I still had a big part of the afternoon left I decided to stop off en route at Portlaoise (pronounced Port-leesh) and have a look round there. Michael had previously told me in conversation that there wasn’t much there but although the town centre wasn’t a large place it was actually bigger than I expected. There was a nice modern indoor shopping centre there too, with many of the shops we see here in the UK, though I didn’t find anywhere or anything worth taking a photo of so my visit only lasted just over an hour before I got the 3.40pm Bus Eireann coach back to Roscrea, arriving back at the house at 4.15.
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Sunset through the coach window
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Wind turbines at sunset, viewed from the moving coach
As soon as I walked in Nellie had a mug of coffee on the table for me then not long afterwards she produced a large plateful of stew with potatoes and veg – and very good it was too. Michael spent most of the evening in his room reading a book he’d recently bought and Nellie and I watched the soaps and a couple of other programmes, punctuated by playing tug-of-war with Trixie and an old cushion cover, until it was time for bed. Still not entirely comfortable with the bed sharing thing I let Nellie go up first and waited until I knew she would be asleep before I went up, then after reading a couple of chapters of my book I finally settled down for the night.

Off to Ireland

A chilly but sunny morning on Thursday Nov. 30th saw me travelling over to Ireland for the forthcoming memorial mass for Michael’s dad and uncle Jimmy, and for once everything went according to plan. I’d arranged to have a couple of minor jobs done on the van while I was away so I left home at 8.30am, dropped the van off at my friendly mechanic’s workshop then phoned for a taxi to take me to the station. I was aiming to get the 9.35 train to the airport but when I got down onto the station platform I found there was an earlier train just about to leave so I got that instead and arrived at the airport well ahead of schedule.
Having had no breakfast – not even so much as a mug of coffee – I got myself and my bags through the security check straight away then went to find something to eat and drink and a comfy seat where I could relax while keeping an eye on a nearby information board for my flight details. As soon as the gate number appeared on the board I made my way there – fortunately I didn’t have far to go – and with no delays in boarding the flight took off on time at noon.
Up in the air, and with clear blue sky and sunshine, I could see for miles, and as we passed over Manchester city centre I recognised Old Trafford football ground and cricket ground, and The Quays at Salford, home to The Lowry theatre and gallery complex. A couple of minutes more and I saw the wind turbines on Scout Moor just above Bleakholt animal sanctuary, then the Winter Hill tv mast came into view and I could just make out the steeple of the church in Belmont village just up the road from home – and of all the flights I’ve made over the last twenty two years this was the first time I’ve ever been able to recognise anywhere in the UK from up in the air.
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Above Manchester city
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Winter Hill and the tv mast just left of centre
The good weather lasted all the way across to Ireland and I arrived at Dublin in more glorious sunshine ; the coach to Roscrea wasn’t until 2pm so I had plenty of time to get myself another coffee before the last leg of my journey. Michael met me at the bus stop in Roscrea just after 4pm and within minutes of arriving at the house Nellie was putting a hot meal and a mug of coffee in front of me – and only having had a sandwich at Manchester plus the coffee at Dublin airport I was more than ready for a good meal.
The conversation that evening turned to Michael’s recent achievement in one of the local pubs, something which he’d told me about the last time he was home. He’d gone there with some mates and somehow had been coerced into taking part in a friendly darts competition even though he swore he couldn’t throw a dart to save his life – and somehow, after literally giving it his best shot, he ended up as runner-up and got a trophy for his efforts, a trophy which now sits proudly on the unit in Nellie’s living room.
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A couple of weeks ago, here at home, Michael and I had been discussing the sleeping arrangements for my few days stay at the family home, and bearing in mind that last year I’d experienced the strange situation of sharing the bed with Nellie I’d said that I’d be quite happy sleeping downstairs on the settee – at least that way I could watch tv until late if I wanted to and I wouldn’t be disturbing anyone when I finally decided to turn in for the night. However, when Michael recently put that suggestion to Nellie she wouldn’t hear of me staying downstairs, so when my long day finally started to catch up with me I crept upstairs for my first night of bed sharing, hoping that I would at least be able to get some sleep in spite of the odd arrangements.

An afternoon in Southport

Almost six weeks since I last saw him, Michael finally arrived home from Ireland early last Friday morning ; circumstances kept us both busy on Saturday but yesterday the weather was looking quite promising so we decided to have a ride out somewhere and Southport was the choice. We arrived there at lunch time and with four hours on the car park ticket we went our separate ways, agreeing to meet up again at 3pm to go for a meal somewhere – it had been several years since I was last there so I wanted to be off exploring and taking photos and I didn’t expect Michael to trail round with me.
Starting off near the pier I walked along one side of the Marine Lake then went up onto the bridge which crossed the lake and took me to Princes Park, then from there I wandered along to Pleasureland, the large amusement park. On my last visit to Southport the funfair had been a partially closed small shadow of its former self so this time I wasn’t expecting to see much, however I was quite surprised to find that it’s now grown into a large vibrant and colourful amusement place with rides and attractions everywhere I looked.
After wandering round there for a while I made my way back to the lake and headed through King’s Gardens towards the pier then went down to Lord Street, the long main shopping street. With many nice old buildings, monuments and gardens I could have taken several photos along there but unfortunately I ran out of space on my camera card ; having the dogs with me meant that I couldn’t really go in any of the shops and as it wasn’t far off 3pm anyway I just made my way back to the van and waited for Michael.
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Southport pier
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Marine Lake
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Pleasureland amusement park
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Hook A Duck stall
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Colourful artwork on the carousel canopy
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King’s Gardens
As Michael had been a frequent visitor to Southport over the last few years he said he knew a nice place to go for a meal so I settled the dogs in the back of the van and off we went back to Lord Street and to the Westminster Tea Rooms – and this place wasn’t just any old cafe. With wood panelled walls hung with old pictures and mirrors, ornate coving, chandeliers, white table linen and proper napkins, tea and coffee served in silver pots, afternoon tea served on 4-tier cake stands and the waitresses in black dresses with white collars and aprons, it had a very 1920s feel to it and I felt as if I’d stepped back in time. The meal was good too and once we’d finished we made our way back to the van and I took Sophie and Poppie for a short walk along the lakeside before we set off for home, arriving back just before I needed to put the van lights on. All in all it had been a really nice afternoon, and the old fashioned tea room experience had made a nice change – I don’t know when I’ll get to Southport again but at least now I know of a really nice place for a meal when I do go back.

The holiday from hell?

I finally arrived home yesterday evening from my ten days in California, Norfolk, and I have to say that of the 35 years I’ve been holidaying in that area – 20 of them camping at the same site – this is the first time I’ve ever truly felt like giving up and coming home early. In fact if I could have got a refund on my pitch fee I would have been back within three days, however I stayed, and now I am  back I’m wondering if it was really worth all the hassle as it’s been a holiday fraught with disasters and problems from start to finish.
Day 1, and just over an hour into the journey from home I stopped at a roadside truck stop and got a takeaway coffee, but I only managed to drink a mouthful of it before I accidentally knocked the rest of it all over the floor of the van between the two front seats – and that one minor mishap seemed to set the tone for the rest of the holiday. Arriving at the camp site I found that the pitch fees had increased substantially since last year and are now beyond my personal budget; finding somewhere cheaper at such short notice would have been almost impossible without internet access so I paid up – well I suppose someone has to pay for the demolition of the toilet block and the brand new statics and tarmac road which have appeared since last year. Finally on my pitch on the camping field I found that it was too windy to put the tent up so I spent the rest of the day and the evening in the van.
Day 2, and with more wind and on/off rain showers it was a morning spent in the van, though the afternoon was sunny and by 7pm the wind had dropped so I finally managed to put the tent up and get everything set out inside it, although I was actually sleeping in the van.
Day 3 arrived gloriously sunny and I planned a good day out to get some photos, but when it came to actually leaving my pitch I found I wasn’t going anywhere – after a short drive to the local late shop the previous afternoon I’d unthinkingly left the ignition on and the battery was flatter than flat. A quick call to the AA soon sorted that though and less than an hour later a very nice man arrived and soon got the van going again, and I went on to have what was probably the best day of the whole holiday.
Day 4 was nothing short of diabolical. The wind had come back during the night, worse than it had been previously, coupled with several prolonged heavy downpours, and when I unzipped the tent door that morning I was greeted by a scene of total devastation. Everything in there had been up-ended by the wind and was scattered all over, and one of the bedrooms had a huge puddle in the middle of the floor though fortunately the bag with my clothes and personal stuff hadn’t been affected. With dark grey skies, on/off rain and high wind it was another day spent in the van, although during the afternoon I did attempt to walk to the local shop but didn’t get far before I got caught in another downpour and got soaked to the skin.
Day 5 was another day of on/off heavy downpours though it did come reasonably nice for a while during the late afternoon so after a shopping trip to Asda I drove the few miles to Gorleston and took the dogs for a good walk along the promenade and gardens.
Day 6 started out beautifully and I had a lovely morning walk up to Hemsby along the cliff top and back along the beach. I’d planned to visit a large garden that afternoon and actually drove out to it but by the time I got there the sky had clouded over and the rain hammered down again, so that put paid to that idea and I drove back to the site and spent another afternoon in the van.
Day 7 brought yet more rain so my garden visit was put on hold once again and I went into town to do some shopping instead, though it did make an attempt at brightening up during the afternoon. That evening I went to visit some friends who live a mile or so from the site, however I’d forgotten that I’d left the half full kettle on the floor in the middle of the van and as I went round a corner it up-ended, though fortunately most of the water went down onto the side step rather than onto the carpet.
Day 8 turned out to be beautiful all day and I finally managed to do the garden visit, though I’d initially thought I wouldn’t be going anywhere unless I walked. Several lengthy bouts of heavy overnight rain, added to what had fallen over the previous few days, had softened the ground so much that when I tried to reverse off my pitch the back wheels got stuck in the mud and I couldn’t get out; luckily the site owner’s son had a 4 x 4 and a big chain so he dragged the van off for me. The garden visit was followed by a drive down to Redwings Horse Sanctuary to see my adopted pony Cauli then the day was finished off with visits to my friends Ady and Jane.
Day 9 was grey and showery in the morning though it did brighten up at lunch time and the afternoon turned out to be fairly pleasant, though not really sunny enough for long enough to go anywhere proper so I paid a second visit to my friends Eileen and Ron – it was Eileen’s birthday, and although she’s now lost much of her sight I still took a card for her.
Day 10 arrived gloriously sunny after several bouts of heavy rain overnight – it was also going home day so I abandoned the morning dog walk in favour of getting everything packed away and the tent taken down while it was nice. Packing up the van was no problem but I had a lot of mopping up to do before I could sort out the tent. On my shopping trip into town I’d got a cheap mop and bucket from Asda, knowing I would have some mopping up to do, but I didn’t realise just how much. It took ages, and I had several inches of water in that bucket by the time I’d finished.
After a good dog walk along the beach I finally left the site at 12.30pm though my problems still weren’t over; twice I hit queues of very slow moving traffic, the first lot caused by a broken down farm vehicle meaning two lanes were going into one, though there didn’t seem to be any reason for the second lot. Those delays meant that by the time I was heading west the sun was getting low and in my eyes and unfortunately I missed the correct exit off a roundabout, meaning I was heading for somewhere I didn’t want to be so I had to find somewhere to turn round and go back. I got it right eventually though and finally arrived home at 7.45pm.
So there you have it, a potted account of my holiday – or maybe I should say nightmare? Whatever it was, I certainly don’t want another one like it, in fact I feel like I now need a holiday to get over the holiday. I suppose there was one good thing about it though – with all that rain stopping me from getting out and about like I wanted to I had plenty of time for relaxing, and I didn’t spend much money either. Now that’s a bonus!
** A full account of the holiday, with photos, can be found starting here for anyone who wants to read it  🙂