Monthly Archives: February 2015

Love’s Labour’s Lost & Love’s Labour’s Won

The next day dawned beautifully sunny, but after our night drive not only did I feel tired, but the cough and cold which had been stalking me for a while had come back with a vengeance, and even though  after my trip to Scotland last winter and spring I am much more for doing things as soon as the sun shines – on the basis it may disappear at any second – this morning I just could not raise the enthusiasm.  But eventually I roused myself and  set off to check on my tickets

I was fortunate that the sun continued to shine for me, and the scooter which had been sulking and refusing to start sometimes now seemed happy to take me on my travels, and because of our long trip was also nicely charged up.  I popped into the tourist information office which was not far away, and thought it a nice touch that set into the Stratford pavements were little roundels at regular intervals to keep you on the right path.  The girls in the office were very helpful, and armed with maps and places to visit I crossed over to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

I have to say the whole building and area seemed changed, and I learned later that it had been the object of a huge improvement scheme a few years ago, which I feel was a highly successful one.

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Tickets pocketed I went up to the restaurant, which the lady at the ticket office told me had wonderful views.  Although I was late and they were getting ready for early pre-theatre diners they kindly let me sit at one of the tables, even though all I bought was a coffee, and a very nice and reasonably priced one it was too.  They even opened the doors so I could walk along the balcony afterwards to take some photos.  There are not all that many large concerns that would take so much trouble for one single coffee, so full marks to them, for service and politeness.

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The fine bridge spanning the river there and carrying the main road traffic of huge artics and double jiggers is even more amazing when one finds out that it was built in 1480. Financed by Hugh Clopton of Clopton House http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clopton_Bridge it replaced an earlier timber bridge and was described by Leyland the 16th C historian as

a great and sumptuous Bridge upon Avon at the East Ende of the Towne, which hath 14 great Arches of Stone and long Causey made of Stone, low walled on each side, at the West Ende of the Bridge.

Driving through Stratford without stopping, as I have probably done many times, one is totally unaware of the elegant and understated simplicity of this wonderful structure which has lasted over five hundred years and is still continuing to do service for loads impossible to entertain when it was designed .

The day, although sunny had a definite chill in the air and my cough and cold was beginning to drag at me again so I gratefully headed back to Thebus and some warmth, before getting changed to sally forth again for my evening’s entertainment.

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Love’s Labour’s Lost was terrific.  The set and scenery plus the costumes were all top class, and as expected, the acting wonderful.  The director, Christopher Luscombe had chosen to place the play in the period running up to the First World War, and it worked very well, plus one had the elegance of the Edwardian dresses for the ladies.  Most enjoyable.

Back outside it had now started to rain so it was a quick dash back to Thebus so as not to get too cold and wet, especially as I had put on a skirt and pretty jumper rather than my normal thermal underwear, corduroy trousers, a couple of wooly jumpers and thinsulate beanie hat.

During the night I felt dreadful again and next morning woke to incessant heavy rain, which was probably just as well as it gave me an excuse to spend the entire day indoors, mostly in bed before sallying out for the second of the plays usually known as Much Ado About Nothing, but renamed for this duo of plays as Love’s Labour’s Won.

And if yesterday’s performance was excellent then this was a triumph.  The cast really go into their stride and carried the audience along with them, and received a standing ovation at the end, well from those who could stand easily.

Thank goodness it was a better night for riding the scooter back to Thebus, though this time I had elected for the corduroy and cable jumpers complete with scarf and beanie hat.

On to Stratford-upon-Avon

As with many caravan sites they don’t allow you to leave early, which is fair, as many people are on their annual holidays and enjoy the peace of a morning lie in.  But I was within the ambit of the M25 and had no intention of starting out after 8 am and getting tangled in the rush hour or should I say rush four hours, as by five o’clock  in the morning the traffic is already quite heavy.

So I sorted myself out and left to spend the night in the next door carpark and as dusk fell I parked up amongst the departing golfers to wait for my window of opportunity on the M25 – which I have discovered is between 12.30 a.m. and 2.30 a.m.  Okay there is still traffic but mostly the revellers have returned to bed, many of the lorries are tucked up in the lay-bys sleeping away their waiting time for early morning delivery slots, and all that is left are a few early shift workers, an odd taxi and the big overnight delivery lorries.  The only time this doesn’t seem to work is on Friday and Saturday nights when the traffic is streaming out of London all through the night and right through until the morning rush begins,  but as long as you are going in the opposite direction you are safe.

So we hung around a bit and started out just gone midnight.

There is really nothing to loose with travelling in the dark in this part of the country.  You are normally on a motorway or dual carriageway, the scenery is nothing special, and if it were you would not dare to look, as all one’s skills and mental effort are directed solely towards the driving.  Plus the advantages of being able to change lanes on the M25 at will are not to be underestimated, especially when one doesn’t know the roads.  On an earlier trip I misunderstood Strict Lady’s directions and not only did we have a short tour of Heathrow and its environs, but we included a little of the surrounding hotel-land as well.  Imagine that in rush hour!  No thanks.

But in the early hours we cruised along, and where we made mistakes there was normally time to rectify the situation, and if not one could find somewhere to turn round.  And as we drove further and further westwards the traffic grew lighter even though the day was now drawing nearer, and little by little I could feel myself relaxing.

There are more things I would like to see in London, and a few more places that I missed on my abortive trip to the East Coast, plus most of Kent and the South Coast is yet to be explored, but driving round Essex was making me feel perhaps I had made a mistake to linger so long in the UK when everyone assures me that the driving in France and on the continent in general is so much easier, and far more motorhome friendly.

But our next destination was drawing nearer, and even with more than one abortive stop for LPG – not the easiest of fuels to fill up with – we arrived at Stratford-upon-Avon in the early hours, crossed the river bridge and filled up with LPG at a nice quiet 24 hour service station.

I had located a carpark within the town where you could park for 72 hours and which was close enough for me to visit the theatre which was the object of my trip here.  Strict Lady once again failed at the last hurdle and took me straight past the entrance to the HUGE carpark, which I could not see in the dark, and instead led me into one of the tightest little carparks one could imagine.  Bollards, road humps, metal barriers, overhanging trees, and lots of cars already parked up for the night.  How we got in and out of there amazes me and says a lot about the power of prayer.

Having escaped and breathing a sigh of relief I thought my best bet was to return to the filling station and ask the nice guy there for directions, and whilst I was doing so a lovely lorry driver, who had filled up at the diesel pumps said he would drive on ahead and stop when we got near.  I was sooooooo grateful.  There are some really kind folk around.

So we crept in and I could see some motorhomes there, and very quietly tried to arrange Thebus somewhere nearby, but of course there was no way he was going to fit in and eventually we headed over to the coach and lorry section and as silently as possible slid into a vacant plot, paid for our 72 hours and settled down for a bit of well earned sleep.

Oldest Wooden Building in Europe – Greensted Church

So having looked round the Secret Bunker at Kelvedon – a rather sad and sombre place felt, I set off to visit the oldest wooden building in Europe.

The peaceful little church at Greensted was originally though to be the oldest wooden building in the world, and was dated at 845, but more modern methods have since decided it is from around the time of the Norman Conquest or just after, which would still make it the oldest wooden building in Europe, predating Scandinavian stave built churches by one hundred years or more, and there is evidence for older wooden buildings on the site previously.

Though many of the present timbers are not the original, it is amazing to me that in Tudor times a careful restoration was undertaken, with the rotting ends of the existing staves being removed and replaced with brickwork, but leaving the originals in place. Whilst at the same time a charming Tudor brickwork chancel was added.  The white painted wooden clapboard bell tower being a Georgian addition.

The inside of the church is dark with its side walls lined by the half tree trunks with simple lathes covering the gaps.  The Victorians replaced the roof, and at the same time put in dormers with stained glass, and rediscovered the little squint, thought to be for lepers to view the service.  Though since – more prosaically – found to have been the top of the pointed arch containing the holy water stoop, positioned at the side of the entrance door which was originally, and unusually, in the North wall of the church, and would have been in line with the Roman road.

I couldn’t resist a photo of the model of the church constructed from matchsticks.  Beautifully and painstakingly done, and probably taking many hours, if not years to finish.  It took me straight back to my childhood, when my father having seen something similar, probably in Reader’s Digest, of which he was an avid fan, started us all making models, and we spent many happy hours with matchsticks glued to our fingers, or the end of the glue tube, various pets, or bits of our clothing.

The Churchyard seems to be positioned on high ground, and the name Greensted means Green Place, so presumably a clearing in the woods, and of course many of our ancient sacred sites were in groves.  Standing there looking at the church walls constructed from single tree trunks split down the middle and set upright, it was tempting to imagine an early missionary priest, having set up his cross next to a site of pagan worship and converted the local population to Christianity, the ‘Sacred Grove’ was felled and used to construct a church in its place.

But whatever its history the little church there is still loved and cared for, and opened each day to welcome visitors, and is well worth a visit for its peace and history.  If I had been a walker there were many footpaths in the area to explore, but I took Phoebe for a short stroll along the well used path in the nearest meadow – she has long since given up running!

Kelvedon Hatch Nuclear Bunker

There are certain things I have long wished to do, or places I have wanted to visit and am gradually fitting in to my journeys, and other things which just crop up and seem interesting.  One of the latter was to look round a Cold War Nuclear Bunker, and there was one not too far from the M25 at Kelvedon Hatch.

I was lucky there that on my visit I met and had a chat with the grandson of the original owner of the twenty five acres of woodland purchased by the government in the early 1950’s to construct an early warning station, which was then developed for use as a Nuclear Bunker Communications Centre.

What appears to be a farmworker’s bungalow was built as the disguised entrance to an underground complex.  From there a long sloping tunnel led down to three storey deep underground offices which could have held up to  six hundred communications workers.

There were fresh water storage facilities, sewage works and fuel stores which should have been sufficient for up to three months. I think it said that those survivors outside would have received a ration of 200ml of water per day and 400 calories of food, but no rations at all if you were affected by radiation sickness, and whether you got that during the three months, or not until the time was up I am not sure.  Though how anyone could have survived on that for the ensuing three years it was thought for anything to have been able to grow again is beyond me.

Still fortunately, for once, human aggression did not overcome reason.  Though I can remember in infants’ school having a government visitor come to explain to us children about pasting white paper onto the windows to reflect radiation, and getting under the tables if the warning sounded.  And I vaguely remember having to practice under those little stacking plywood tables to seat four infants.  What a farcical notion!  Still I suppose it made folk imagine that they would be helping to protect themselves.

Has the world changed much I wonder when we listen to what our politicians offer us now!

Kelvedon Hatch was kept functional until the 1990’s and was costing us £3million a year in upkeep, before being sold back to the original farming family who now run it as a film set and tourist attraction.

 

 

And this is the Kelvedon Hatch Official Video Tour

So having looked round this rather sad place I set off to visit the oldest wooden building in Europe. A far more uplifting experience.

 

Pie ‘n Mash

For some reason British Rail, or whatever it is called nowadays, had decided to publish and print a timetable listing our return station as one of the stops until the very last train left at just before midnight.  But then not actually include it in the places the train stopped at.

With the result that we had to find another station which looked not too far away, catch the last train there by the skin of our teeth, find a taxi to the original station, then drive back.  Poor Phoebe.  I felt so guilty.  I am sure it is the longest she had ever been left.

She used to be so pleased to see my brother, but I did notice that when he arrived she looked less than delighted, probably remembering that we had gone on a few too many jaunts last time he called.  And she certainly looked quite sour when we set off the following morning, but it was not to be a long outing this time.

Today we went back to the hunting lodge that I had tried to park at in the early morning hours.  And a most fascinating visit it was.  I have often seen hunting lodges, and thought them rather small for a Royal Court to stay at, even for a few days hunting.  But that is not how they were used at all.

This one was built for Henry VIII towards the end of his reign, though it may not have been finished in time for him to use.  But it was almost certainly used by Queen Elizabeth I who had further works and improvements carried out.

These places were basically shooting platforms, quite open on all sides, but with a roof and enclosed staircase, plus kitchens on the ground floor.  The views of Epping Forest were far reaching and you could get a real feel of what it might have been like to stand waiting for the deer to be driven towards you, although in the intervening years all the sides had been enclosed and the building then used as a normal house.  There were excellent line drawings of how the building had been constructed, and the guides were knowledgeable and helpful, without being over bearing. An interesting and informative morning

Then off to try Pie and Mash at a local Pie ’n Mash Shop.  It was rather from the sublime to the – well shall we say – ‘less sublime’.  Lunch at a Michelin Two Star provided by a Three Star Chef on Monday – then Pie ’n Mash in Tony’s Pie ’n Mash shop, Waltham Abbey on Tuesday.

Apparently a favourite with David Beckham, and even I, totally disinterested in team sports, have heard of him.  Though I had to google to remember they are called Posh and Becks, and am so rubbish at face recognition I probably wouldn’t have known if they had been there.  Anyway, unless pie and mash in general is substantially better than at Waltham Abbey I don’t feel a taste test coming on.  The dish of Pie and Mash was originally Eel Pie, and I have discovered a positive loathing for Jellied Eels, so it may be one of the dishes I need to put on my list with Tripe as ‘something best to avoid’.

My impression Pie and Mash is one of overwhelming saltiness, and other than that no other flavour I could discern. But I remain open minded as yet.

I tend to think that things in this life should be tried at least twice to be sure you don’t like them, as you might just have been unlucky the first time – with of course the exception of Jellied Eels and / or Tripe.  Neither of which I feel a need to experience more than once.  And possible Pig’s Trotters.

My Grandmother, having lived through the austerity of two World War’s and the two preceding depressions had quite a taste for these, and once I started cooking for myself I thought I would give them a try.  Finding a recipe from an old book I followed it to the letter and prepared to sit down to results of my efforts, firstly of finding them and secondly cooking them.

I dished them, somewhat wetly, onto a plate and removed the slimy and slightly hairy skin. Then I removed the blubbery jelly, and bones, to be left with a marble sized piece of tasteless boiled meat.  Asking my Grandmother afterwards where I had gone wrong it transpired it was in throwing away the blubbery jelly – I think not!  And I thank God for having been spared the indignities of wars, poverty, and real hardships.

After our Pie Shop outing we had a bit of a walk round the town of Waltham Abbey with its thriving open air market and beautiful old church obviously originally part of a huge abbey complex – the last to be dissolved by Henry VIII – and from which the town of Waltham Abbey takes its name.

Then back to Thebus and Phoebe – Nick left for home in Norfolk and I got ready for an late night / early morning departure, to avoid the M25 traffic.

Le Gavroche

There was a bit of consternation at the campsite when I arrived, as although I had said it was a large motorhome they were perhaps not expecting something quite so large, but bless them they managed to fit us in, and it was a relief to settle down and wait for brother number one to arrive, and we had a lovely time catching up when he did

Then next day into London to meet second brother for our special meal at Michel Roux’s Le Gavroche, and a wonderful meal it was too.  This is one of the places I had been meaning to visit since his father and uncle put it on the map back in the 70’s as the first British restaurant to gain a Michelin star, and then the first to gain a second star.

It is a wonderful restaurant, and Michel Roux came out in his chef’s whites after the main course had been served, and personally greeted the diners at each table, which I thought was a lovely touch.  And what a main course it was!  Truly outstanding lamb cutlets in a wonderful jus.  Totally memorable!  And the cheese trolley was every bit as good as one could possibly imagine a cheese trolley to be.  Of course every part of the meal was wonderful, but I don’t want to bore you with too many superlatives.

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Then back to second brother’s hotel by Tower Bridge to spend a little time before going on to the Tower of London to see the Keys Ceremony, carried out each and every evening at 10 o’clock for over seven hundred years.

Standing in the dark by Traitor’s Gate waiting for the parade to begin and thinking of the young Queen Elizabeth I weeping outside the gates refusing to go in – thinking she would never see the outside again in her lifetime.  What a history our country has!

Our guide was a Tower Beefeater, very gruff, but in a charming way.  And the soldiers performing the ceremony, so very young!  And so very sincere!

Another first class day in my travels around Britain.

Then…. the electrics went wrong !

The LPG system was tested using the computerised whatever it is they use nowadays and given the all clear.

Asking what might have caused it the possibility was that the faulty pump at the filling station had something to do with it, being a rather large coincidence that everything on Thebus worked perfectly both before and after.

The owners of the Shell station, after a series of phonecalls from me eliciting promises from them of returning calls, which of course never were -eventually, and rather triumphantly,  declared their pump was in full working order and they had a certificate to prove it.  Which I had no reason to disbelieve on the day I was given the information, nearly a week after the incident, though would dispute on the day I called and it managed to fill my tank completely unassisted!

Shell themselves denied any responsibility as it was an “independent trader’ – shades of Trotter’s Fools and Horses there, and Autogas said they would send an engineer to check the pump, which I thought was pretty pointless

Then – the electricity in Thebus failed. Arrggghhhh!   So a drive to the Midlands was undertaken where it transpired that a unit which had been fitted last year as a ‘safety feature’ – when all my previous electric problems had occurred – was found to have melted internally.  Apparently it was in the line bringing the 16amp electric hookup to Thebus, but was a 13amp rated box.  Sometimes I despair.  But we must keep cheerful.

It was all fixed and I just had time to drive all the way back to the M25 where I should have been a few days before.

On getting close to my booked campsite the approach road declared that it had a 7ft 6in width restriction.  As I am over 3.55m a hasty calculation was called for and the road dismissed as not useable.

Strict Lady was adamant and kept whittling on about turning round, and every other road I passed she dismissed, and which, in any case looked quite unsuitable.

On and on in the dark of the early morning we went, really having no idea where we might be headed.  One of the reasons for continuing was that there was simply nowhere to stop anyway.  But at last there was a straight enough section of road, with no parking restrictions and wide enough for the early morning traffic to pass me safely without causing any real obstruction. So I pulled over and fired up the laptop

The road with the width restriction appeared to have a bridge over a river, but so did all the other roads approaching the site.  It was too early on a Sunday morning to phone and ask.  Suddenly I remembered that I had thought of going to visit Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge in Epping Forest, and the site had said there was parking there.  It wasn’t too far away so with the Strict Lady reset we trundled off.

There was no lighting on the parking area when we arrived, and worrying there might be height restrictions and then not enough road width to back out and turn,  I gave up and we headed further on – goodness knows where really.

Then off to the left – Hurray – a Carpark.  Going really slowly I could see no height barriers, and though tightish there might just be room for us.

Pulling in slowly my headlights shone directly into the back window of a parked courting couple and a startled head was raised above the rear windowsill.  Dimming the lights I crept on round.

Great!  🙁    –  No end to end spaces.

I pulled onto five slots longwise and fired up the laptop again to see what other campsites might be in the area, and found one, but it wouldn’t let me book online.

Now the whole idea of me being in this area at this time was to meet up with my brother travelling down from Norfolk later that same Sunday.  Then on the Monday we would take the train into London and meet up with younger brother to go for a ‘special’ birthday meal.

I had already changed our intended meeting time and place once.  Would he be able to find me in a carpark somewhere in Epping Forest?  Could I afford to pay for five parking spaces for two days, and what about leaving Phoebe alone in a carpark while we galavanted off?

I didn’t even like to get out with the torch to check on the parking tarriff.  I had already driven round the rather smallish carpark a couple of times in hopes of fitting Thebus in somewhere sensible, and I would think the courting couple were finding it all pretty off-putting.  If I then got out with a torch and started wandering around I am certain they would have thought they were being pestered by a peeping Thomasina.

I was pretty tired by now anyway.  So setting the alarm for 8am, when I though the caravan sites might be up and doing I crept wearily under the duvet.  Of course the first of the dog walkers and joggers arrived with the morning light, and when I awoke I discovered I was in a highly popular parking place.  So popular that I was now stuck fast with no way of escape.  I had tried to allow half a space in front to exit, which meant there was about half a space behind as well.  But being within the circle of the M25 a car had managed to squeeze itself in front, and another behind.

A phone call to both the caravan site I should have been at, and the alternative produced answerphone replies, so with messages left at I thought I might as well take Phoebe for a little walk so she could meet some of the many dogs now milling about

Just as we got out a lovely guy with a super little Bichon Frisé greeted us and said if we were going for a walk they would accompany us.  And it was lovely for Phoebe to be off the lead and unrestrained, though the most she did was to stroll sedately and majestically along, occasionally greeting a passing dog, rather like Queen Elizabeth I may have greeted any of the passing peasantry on the way to her hunting lodge.

We humans had a lovely chat on the way round, and I managed to walk far farther than I had intended, though of course the walk was not meant to be for my benefit.

Getting back I just missed escaping when the car in front left his place, only to be replaced in less than the blink of an eye by another containing a young couple with children come to feed the ducks.

Phoebe and I headed in and I started to check on the campsites, then someone was looking at us from the outside, and I felt obliged to apologise for hogging five plus spaces in what had turned out to be a free and hugely popular parking place.  Cars were parked in every corner, and in lots of places whey shouldn’t have been, plus pulled up on the verges outside for really quite a long way.

But the couple looking in were just interested in Thebus, so we had a lovely long chat after my apologies – then the young duck feeding family were back and packing to go.  The batteries on the laptop were now flat.  The Sat Nav was throwing a wobbly.  But I felt I had to move on immediately, or lose the opportunity.

Out into the traffic melee we rushed – me convinced I would find a quieter carpark.  Though of course there was NO chance of that.

I couldn’t set the Sat Nav as with the laptop down I had no post code, and in any case still didn’t really know where were we going.  Then I saw a brown Camping & Caravanning Sign – knowing the site I had tried this morning was somewhere near I took a chance that this must be it, thinking even if it wasn’t there would be room for us to turn round, and they might tell me where it was or suggest somewhere else.

Wrong on every count.  I found out later it was an associated site, but still firmly  closed for the winter season.  In fact so firmly closed it was locked, barred, gated, bolted, chained and, for good measure had a barrier, and the bit one might normally use for turning had padlocked chains across both of the accesses.

I got out and paced the length of Thebus and the width of the road.  Assessed the angles.  Thanked my lucky stars no one else had followed us in for some reason, and after a bit of climbing in and out, and to-ing and fro-ing got us facing the right way to escape.

As still no-one had arrived in the interim I took the opportunity to get the laptop going and contact the campsites again. Still no reply from the one with the 7ft 6in approach road – but Saints be Praised – my pretty well last hope said – Yes they had one space which might fit us as there had been a non arrival.

They gave me the post code and with Strict Lady programmed we were off – though having emailed Brother to tell him the change of meeting place.

Breakdown Truck

BREAKDOWN TRUCK

Fortunately I hadn’t quite got ready for bed when there was yet another phone call.  Where exactly was I.  Okay! – now the situation is this! – I am waiting till the morning!  Reply – I have driven over from Cambridge and am within a few miles of you, I just need to know exactly how to find you in the dark.

He didn’t know exactly where he was – and I couldn’t explain exactly where I was – but I said if he was sure he was on the same B road as me I would go outside and flash a torch when I saw him coming.  Getting to the road I though I could see some lights in the distance though it could have been a house, then they gradually grew brighter and as they drew nearer I could see the orange flashing hazard lights and the big truck ground into view.

What a lovely guy he was, and turned out to be from a super firm as well.  He cheerfully backed into the extremely awkward space with his incredibly long low loader, and proceeded to hook us up, and carefully winch us on.  He was great with Phoebe and kindness itself to me.

Fortunately the road was quiet all the time he was working to load us, with just a couple of cars who managed to squeeze past, then just as we were almost ready to go a a road gritting lorry turned up, which would have been unable to get past had we not been ready to move off.  I had already climbed the high and steep ladder to the cab, and Phoebe was on the loader at the back in Thebus, so in a twinkling of orange flashing lights we were off down the icy B road with the gritter behind us.  Then through a maze of B road villages to finally reach an A-road and head off to Star Spangled Spanner in Lincolnshire.

My rescuer thought the journey would take us a few hours and we might arrive at about 3 to 3.30 a.m. all being well, and I had the code for the site barrier to let us in.  We were on our way!  Then a worried phone call from Lincolnshire – there was a restriction on large vehicles arriving at the site after 10pm and before 7am.

Urgghh….. I wondered if we could be left in layby reasonably near, but a few phone calls later it was decided Thebus, Phoebe and Me would be taken back to the depot in Cambridge, unloaded for the night, and start out again next morning.  To be honest I was grateful as I would just as soon not have driven through the night, then have the responsibility to see the low loader didn’t get stuck in the dark going into the site to drop me off.

The transport depot was in full swing when we arrived at gone midnight.  They have the contract to keep all the Cambridge area gritters on the road, and with the conditions that night there were men and gritters in all directions, but we got turned round, and Thebus unloaded.  The manager asked if I had everything I needed for the night, which of course I did, and said he would be back at four anyway – Its amazing how hard folk in the background work to keep our lives running smoothly.

Phoebe got out, and was very pleased to be back with me, and excited to see the couple of inches of soft snow, running around and ploughing it with her nose.  Then back inside where she had a nice big meal as I hadn’t fed her since the morning worrying about how she would cope with the journey on the low loader.  Then at last to bed, and even with the comings and goings I slept pretty well, waking around seven as the depot really swung into action for the day.

My driver of yesterday turned up at about nine to reload us.  Poor Phoebe thought she would repeat the playfulness of last night, but since then many heavy lorries had been in and out, and despite having gritters in every direction their own drives were just hard packed ice, so she slipped and twisted her front ankle which has had a weakness for years, and came back looking very sorry for herself, especially when she had to climb the steps into Thebus.

Then across the country to Lincolnshire, where we were expertly unloaded, and within a few minutes Duncan had discovered that a cover had blown off one of the manifold pipes, and Thebus was fixed and could drive under his own steam to the parking field round the corner.  But what had caused the backfire was something of a concern so an expert was to be called out to investigate, and also change the LPG filters and run some electronic tests.

 

Somewhere on a B-road…..

Monday dawned clear and crisp and frosty.

The woods looked lovely so Phoebe and I went for an early morning walk once the sun was up, but we couldn’t go too far, partly because my scooter wouldn’t get over the piles of earth they had put in the way to stop anyone parking up in the woods, and partly because I wanted to phone the breakdown firm, so sadly we had to turn back before long.

The breakdown insurance phone line took ages and ages to answer, and it turned out that the frosty morning had caused lots of accidents, plus there had been a very bad crash on the A1 and most of the breakdown men and lorries were already out, but someone would be with us soon – maximum of an and hour to and hour and a half.

That wasn’t the last time I was to hear that phrase!

A few hours later I had a phone call to ask where exactly I had broken down, and they then said someone would be with me soon – or in an hour to an hour and a half maximum, which would make it around lunchtime.  So we settled down again to wait.  The day had deteriorated and was a lot colder so we didn’t go for another walk, plus I didn’t want the break down truck turning up just when I was as far away from Thebus as possible.  At gone 2.30 I phoned to ask when I was expecting someone, and told soon – possibly and hour or less…… well that was an improvement as we had knocked thirty minutes off the waiting times!

I am not sure what time he turned up, but promptly said Thebus was far too big for his truck, which was true as they were both about the same size – plus it was no point him looking at it as he knew nothing about them, but he would have a word with his company.  Who then phoned me to say someone would be with me in an hour to an hour and a half, but with a larger truck.

At around 5pm a totally different firm called to ask where I was, and said that someone would be with me in a couple of hours maybe longer.  Oh no, we were worse off than first thing this morning!  Then about two hours later a completely different firm phoned to ask where I was – and said they would be with me in two hours maybe a bit longer.  When I got a bit shirty they said they had only just been given the job and were in Cambridge so couldn’t possibly be with me in less than two hours.  Then about an hour later the lady from breakdown insurance firm phone to ask how narrow was the road outside, and what was the access like for the breakdown vehicle.  As it had been pitch dark for hours and the road was like a skating rink I didn’t think there was much point looking, and said I would wait till morning and we would start again, but if I ran out of petrol for the generator I would need someone to bring some out.  So she was happy and disappeared.

Then after an hour or so yet another phone call from yet another firm asking exactly where I was.  I explained I was going to wait till morning, to be told they had been given the job and would be with me in a couple of hours.

As I put the phone down from that call a new lady came on shift at the breakdown insurance so I told her as well that I would prefer to wait till morning now, which made her happy and she disappeared.

Finally I drew the curtains and settled down for the night to get ready for bed…….

Woodbridge Tide Mill

WOODBRIDGE TIDE MILL

After Sutton Hoo, with the light fading fast and the grey clouds overhead threatening snow we hastened on up to Woodbridge, to take a swift look at the Tide Mill there.  Thought to be one of the earliest in the country, appearing in records as early as 1170, and possibly in existence even earlier, It worked on continuously on this site for the next eight hundred years.

Built by Augustinian Priors and confiscated by Henry VIII, sold by Elizabeth I, the building now standing dating from 1793 and was still milling flour using the power of the tides until 1957, when it was the last working tide mill in the country.  It has now been restored and is open in the tourist season and not only can you look round and see it in action you can actually buy flour.  But my visit was much briefer.

The road to it is a sharp hook back just past a level crossing, and there is no way Thebus would have made the corner in one, so it was up the road to find somewhere to turn, then down to what google had promised me was a large open carpark, and I was looking forward to that, as the approach road is tiny.

Of course when we rounded the final corner just in front of the mill there was no such thing, just a pair of locked barriers.  I was just about to get out and see exactly how we were going to reverse out round the corner, and whether there would be space anywhere to turn about, when, thank you God, someone was leaving the carpark.   In fact there is no way he could have got past me anyway, but he kindly suggested that I came on into the carpark to turn, and hence allow him to get out.  Thank goodness.  I think I might have still been there now otherwise, as when I walked round afterwards there was certainly not enough space for us to have turned by the harbour wall.  Reversing Thebus is bad enough, but reversing next to water is even more worrying.

The kind gentleman said he couldn’t see any harm in us staying there for a short while, as everyone had already gone home, so I took the opportunity for a quick walk round the harbour area and took a few photos.

When I got back to Thebus the snow had started in earnest, and not wanting to get stuck there we set straight off.  My next intended ‘port of call’ being Orford, where I had heard there was an excellent seafood restaurant, then I hoped to go onto Lowestoft Ness which is the most easterly point of the country.

By now it was completely dark and snowing in some order, and though it was a Saturday, being just gone five the traffic was heavy.  The grease and salt from the roads smeared the windscreen, the snow was building up thickly at the ends of the windscreen wipers so one had to lean forwards and peer out, and everyone else knew the roads and wanted to go faster than I did.

Keeping an eye out for somewhere to pull over, not easy in the pitch black when the car behind you is right on your tail, with headlights shining into your mirrors, I spotted an entrance to what I desperately hoped would be a layby, that I could pull into and wait until the homebound traffic had eased, and hopefully the snow cleared up a bit.  And guess what.  It was some sort of large pull in amongst trees.  Its hard to know where you are in the pitch black, but I could see there were lots of water filled potholes and quite sizeable ones at that, and having found just how deep they can be at Leigh on Sea I tried to avoid them as best I could and found us a place to stop which hopefully would not be in anyone else way.

Before too long the traffic eased and the road we were on was now very quiet, though it was still snowing heavily, and I thought my best bet would be to spend the night here, then set out early just as it was getting light.  Being a Sunday there should not be too much traffic, and maybe I would be lucky like yesterday, and the snow would have thawed.  So we made ourselves comfortable to wait for daylight.

Here begins a rather unhappy part of my tale.

When I went to start the engine, there was a very loud bang, and although the engine did start it was running very, very roughly.  I immediately switched off and checked for warning lights – non.  So thought I would leave it for a while then try again, but although we didn’t have the loud bang this time the engine sounded as dire as before.  Being Sunday there was little I could do as most garages are closed, and also my chances of getting a roadside repair on something as complicated as Thebus were not good so we would just wait it out till Monday then phone for rescue.

Thankfully I had plenty of supplies for Phoebe, and food for me if I wanted it.  There was water in the tank and I had recently filled with LPG.  When the day lightened we were in the middle of what appeared to be a large wood, but with snow, sleet, wind and rain it didn’t encourage much exploration.  Still we were warm and dry, and had food and hot water.

At least when you break down in a motorhome you are at home when it happens!

Sutton Hoo

Hoo is an ancient word for high or high ground, so from its name you can guess that Sutton Hoo is on high ground, and it seems that this high windswept hill has been a burial ground, possibly even before the famous ship burial with its fabulous treasure.

The actual ‘mounds’, and there are many of them, are not very mound like at all, it almost looks like an exceptionally undulating field,  and it is no wonder that it wasn’t until just before the beginning of World War II in 1939 that someone suggested to the then owner – Mrs. Pretty – that they might be worth investigating.  Initially she was not all that interested.  Someone suggested a local, who was a geologist rather than archeologist, might be a good man to undertake the work as he was careful and thorough, and Mrs Pretty said he could have the use of her gardner and I think handyman to help and the three of them set to work and dug a trench across one of the smaller mounds.  Although there was evidence of a burial the grave had been robbed out, it is thought probably in Tudor times after the dissolution of the monasteries.  They tried a second small mound with similar results and after discussions with Mrs Petty as to whether it was worthwhile carrying on, she said try just one more – try a large one this time and so excavations were begun and soon showed evidence of a ship burial – and a large and important one.

It may be that this mound was left untouched as a medieval trackway ran through the site, and cattle being driven along it had damaged the one side to such an extent, that the middle of the mound was not where it appeared to be, but the grave was obviously untouched and intact, and contained a large ship.

The British Museum got to hear of it and soon became involved and Basil Brown and his assistants rather pushed aside.  Eventually a staggering amount of truly beautiful objects were found, and as a result of a Treasure Trove inquest it was decided that they all belonged to the landowner, Mrs. Petty.  Who magnanimously donated them to the nation and they are now on show at The British Museum.  But she made two stipulations.  One was that when the articles were removed from the excavations it was Basil Brown who had the honour of doing so, and the second was that top quality replicas be produced and put on display in the county.

The stunning helmet found at Sutton Ho is an iconic piece – featured on many history books and programmes, and this is what one of the world’s leading experts has to say on it.

More than a face-guard

The helmet is the armoured head of a warrior, attended by gods. Made of hammered iron, proof against spear, sword and axe, it is also covered with protective metaphors.

Across the face is a bird with splayed wings, its body forming the warrior’s nose, the tail his moustache and the wings his eyebrows. The bird soaring up meets the jaws of a dragon plunging down, its thick iron body inlaid with zigzag silver wire curving over the crest.

The man’s head is equipped with defence at every angle, like a battle ship: the wingtips finish in wild-boar jaws, guarding the lateral blind spots; the dragon has a snarling mouth at its tail, bringing up the rear. All the heads, even the bird’s, have sets of sharp fangs: the bared teeth of the animal bodyguard. 

On the top of the crest is a little hole to carry a plume, and the sides of the helmet carried small panels commemorating victories – an enemy ridden down by a horseman, triumphant warriors dancing. Dragon and bird each have two gleaming eyes of red polished garnet, extra vision for the warrior’s own eyes, watching within their hollows, menacing as dark glasses. 

Dragon, wild boar, bird of prey – these are the symbolic animals of Anglo-Saxon East Anglia where the helmet was found – part of an immense treasure buried with a political leader in a chamber, in a ship, in the early seventh century AD. Helmet and ship-burial were elements of a language of belief then shared widely among the peoples of the Northern Seas. In partnership with their animal gods, men win battles, hoard wealth, claim land. Ruthless, brave, enduring, these people built the kingdoms that northern Europe still has.

And of course the solid gold buckle and pieces inlaid with amber and mounted with gold show the quality of work the craftsmen were capable of, and very much changed our views as to what society was like during the dark ages.  

There is an interesting little film running on a loop giving an introduction and the museum has made a mock up of the boat in the mound, and it is well done, and gives a good idea of how things might have looked when the burial took place

The afternoon was drawing to a close and snow was threatened but braving the cold and winds I went up to the burial mounds, though there is little to see other than some uneven grassland.  But there is a reconstruction of one mound with its ditch which gives an impression of how it all looked originally.

Then back to Mrs. Pretty’s house, which was an Edwardian splendour, built by the son of a wealthy industrialist as a shooting lodge, and very redolent of its period, enhanced by the music being played on the grand piano in the main reception room.

Breakfast at Jimmy’s Farm

BREAKFAST AT JIMMY’S FARM

As I was so close by I thought I would call into Jimmy’s Farm for breakfast, as presumably the sausages and bacon from Jimmy’s pigs are the best things to be eating there.  Of course I was too early, but there was a large layby handily placed just to the side of the narrow lane leading to the farm, and we could park up there until everything opened at 9.30 am.

The approach lanes are fairly narrow but they have a sort of one way system going which probably makes it a bit easier, and as I was there first thing all of the traffic was going in to the farm anyway.  And there really was quite a bit of traffic, by the time I left an hour or two later there were already fifty or sixty cars in the carpark.

Obviously I have seen enough farm animals, and at closer quarters than most folk would like to be, so looking round the farm was of no particular interest.  It seemed a lot of the people there were bringing children for party type experiences.  So after a mooch round outside I headed into the barn for breakfast.  Its a really commercial enterprise there, lots of waiting staff and people in the kitchen shouting out orders, but to be honest I much preferred my breakfast at the little cafe at Coggeshall, which had less of the production line about it.  at Jimmy’s there was no choice with the full English, you got what was on the plate, and you didn’t even know what it was going to be till it arrived.  But there was plenty of it – even though with a glass of orange juice it came to £11.20 – quite a lot for a breakfast I though, but I have been there now, so when I see it on the ‘telly’ I will know what it is all like.

There was a beautiful old house in the grounds, which I don’t remember really seeing on the programme about the farm.  It appears to be boarded up, but it would have been a stunning place to live.  I presume it was the farmhouse which came with the farmland, though I forgot to go into the bit which showed you the history of how they bought the farm and did it up etc.

Because I had gone for breakfast and then wanted to visit Sutton Hoo, it meant more backtracking but it was not too far in the scheme of things.

 

Constable Country – Flatford Mill

I had checked on the internet and Google earthed it on satellite, and although there was a large National Trust carpark not too far from the mill the lanes down to it looked fearsomely tight, and google earth was proved right.

I am not sure if the lane on the way down was worse than the one on the way out, but Thebus had both wheels against the banks and was scraping the hedges all the way down, plus being so high we had to watch out for trees leaning out over the lane as well.

I think my decision to tour at this time of the year has been the right one, as even though, once again everything was shut for the season, really it is the charming views that Constable painted which are the draw, rather than the insides of the buildings.  At least that is what I tell myself.  And there is something particularly memorable in being able to view such a place entirely alone, with just the calls of the ducks and a bit of over optimistic bird song piping from the hedgerows.  Plus I saw my first iris ungicularis of the year, with its incongruously exotic bright blue flowers braving the icy weather.

The buildings and mill ponds are exactly what one expects to see, and the dusting of frosty snow on the thatch of Bridge Cottage was quite literally the icing on top.

Cressing Temple Farmstead and 12th C. Barns

CRESSING TEMPLE FARMSTEAD AND BARNS

Although it was going to be backtracking on my journey I decided to take the time to go back and see Cressing Temple Barns.  Both Paycockes and the large barn owned by the National Trust in Coggeshall had been closed, and I had read that the farmstead at Cressing Temple was well worth a visit and so it proved

But the first thing was to get out of the carpark.  After I got back to Thebus following my most enjoyable look round Coggeshall the snow had come down with a vengeance, and not only that the wet roads and pavements had frozen first to a  horrible skating rink, even Phoebe was finding it difficult to stand up when she went out for a late night widdle.

Wondering whether we would be stuck in Coggeshall for a couple of weeks and also wondering how the locals would view such a large vehicle in their carpark for an extended visit I fell into a fitful sleep, waking each time a car pulled out of the carpark to see if it gave us a better chance of escape.

At five in the morning as yet another vehicle left I checked and not only was there room for us to get out and turn round to face the exit, but it looked as though the snow was thawing.  Hooray.  We both went out to check, and we could both stand up safely, so as quickly as I could I got us ready to move before any more cars came to park up in front of us and foul our escape.

It seemed even tighter getting out than getting in, but we made it, and off along the dark road to Cressing Temple.  Of course when we arrived it was far too early for us to get in.  I had vaguely hoped the large carparks might have been open, but nowadays should have guessed there was little chance.  But the caretaker arrived early, and though surprised to see us there, very kindly allowed us in, though I promised I would stay inside Thebus till the correct opening time of ten o’clock.  It turned out he was just worried that I might have slipped on the icy paths, and as soon as they had got them all salted and gritted came across to say everything was open but to take extreme care when walking round.  What a lovely guy he was.

And what a truly fabulous place this is to visit if you enjoy history and old buildings.  Apparently Essex council bought it sometime in the 1980’s as a run down farm stead, and have spent many years restoring it, and deserve full marks for the excellent job they have done.

I think the huge Wheat Barn is meant to be the oldest timber framed barn in Europe, built during the 1200’s for the Knights Templar who owned the manor, but if not it is a wonderful and inspiring space.  As is the smaller Barley Barn built around the same time.  There are huge ranges of wagon sheds, an old sheep race, granaries, well so much to see you could spend the day there.  Mind you it would have to be a warmer day than the one I visited on.  But somehow the dusting of snow added to the atmosphere.  The huge walled garden though charming in the snow, would, I feel, look stunning in the summer.  But having had a most enjoyable walk round I wanted to move on as I had something else on today’s itinerary.

Coggeshall, Essex

COGGESHALL, ESSEX

We were running low on supplies, particularly of meat for Phoebe, so that had to be rectified asap!

There was a Tesco in Southend which was open twenty four hours a day, so my plan was to leave the carpark when most of the traffic to and from it had ceased – it was not wide enough for two vehicles in most places, and the night visitors here seemed to like to arrive and leave at speed.  So we waited whilst the boy racers tore round though the puddles using the area as a skid pan – they had to be home in bed for 10.30 and thankfully we were now parked in a side carpark.  After eleven they were replaced by the headlight flashers and horn tooters, but they must have needed an early night as well, or all got suited at an earlier hour, as by about half past midnight I felt things were quiet enough to chance an exit.

Up the narrow, dark, bumpy, pot-holed lane and over the rickety rackety bridge (I feel like something out of Three Little Billygoats), and on up into Southend.  For some reason Strict Lady took us down a one way street which was obviously a residential area.  None of the housing there had off road parking so we were confronted with about a three quarters of a mile of trying to squeeze between nose to tail parked cars on both sides of the road, not pleasant in the dark, especially as being in the south of the country within about two minutes I had acquired a tail back of impatient motorists – even at nearly one in the morning.

Still we made it to Tescos, and suitably stocked up with beef mince, and chickens, plus a bit of something for me I loaded it all in and we struck out for Coggeshall – arriving to negotiate more parked cars and narrow streets.  We pulled into the carpark, only to find there were lots of cars already parked, and it took quite a while to shoehorn ourselves in.  I only hoped we had a reasonable chance of escape the next day.  So straight to bed, though it is often difficult to sleep immediately when the mind has had to have been on full alert.

By the time I woke next morning around nine the carpark was full, and I worried that I may not (a) be able to get out of the door, and (b) not be able to unload the scooter.  But fortunately just as I was getting ready to leave, the car parked against my door drove off, and when I got to the back I had just enough room to unload the scooter, so I was ready to see Coggeshall.

It’s strange….when starting my tour round the UK if you had said to me …. will you be going to Essex, I would have probably put it fairly low on my list, and although I have only visited a few of the places and sights it has to offer (most of the better known are closed at this time of year) – I have been most impressed.  Coggeshall is an absolutely delightful town –  crammed with so many wonderful buildings one becomes blasé at seeing yet another.  Many towns would be proud having just one or two of their less special buildings, and make a great show of them, but here there are street after street – and some truly outstanding buildings as well.

I had started my day by looking for the Tourist Information office, following the brown i sign, and ended up at the library where although not in charge of tourist information as such they were most helpful, and my next port of call had been to have a warm up and something to eat at the cafe at the Clock House, and what a good recommendation that was.

The building is, of course being in Coggeshall, ancient, and was at one time a school, but it now presents a very welcoming and cosy interior with lots of beams and friendly staff.  I chose the full English, though with some trepidation as something as simple as a breakfast fry up can be got wrong in so many places.  But I needn’t have worried.  Order taken swiftly I exchanged my baked beans (sorry Niner) for another slice of brown toast and when it arrived it all looked delicious – two perfectly fried eggs, two slices of lovely bacon, two very, very nice sausages, two pieces of tomato, some mushrooms, a lovely finger of fried bread, and a good (how unusual) hash brown.  Plus a nice big cup of coffee all for under eight pounds.  All freshly cooked – again – how unusual.  As I left one of the local farmers was delivering trays of fresh eggs.

So suitably warmed up after my first foray round the streets I headed for the well known and beautiful building of Paycockes.   The National Trust has charge of Paycockes and I knew it was closed during the winter months, but as I went past the door to the gardens was open.  There were some folk standing just inside and popping my head in I asked if it would be okay just to look at the back facade even though they were closed.  I am a fully paid up member of the National Trust, but I have to say I was ushered off the premises most swiftly and officiously.

Not to worry!  I had a good look at the street frontage, and what a spectacular building it is.  Constructed for a wealthy cloth merchant on his wedding in 1510 , and incorporating a pre-existing hall of 1490 the detailing on the timber work facing the street is quite exceptional. Essex had been a wealthy sheep farming area under the control of the abbeys before the dissolution of the monasteries, and the cloth industry at the time was exceedingly prosperous.

Then following my little map kindly supplied at the library I headed for the Old Chapel, which had once been the gatehouse to the huge abbey here.  Fallen into dereliction it was rescued a hundred or so years ago and is now a much loved parish church.  I wandered round the outside – accessed by squeezing though a small gap at the side of the railings, and was surprised to see the small fat shetland pony in the field at the side, then guessed it was so rotund it would have never made it out though the gap anyway.

Luckily just as I was about to leave one of the parishioners turned up to do some cleaning prior to their monthly service so I was privileged to have a look inside and see some of the original brick lined arches where the monks would have been seated.  We had a lovely long chat, and as he was from Lancashire I gleaned some tips about other places to visit later in the year.  I have to say after having stood outside whilst admiring Paycockes,  then sat in the church chatting, then driven back down to town on my scooter I was well and truly chilled through, even though I had bought an extra scarf from a lovely shop on the way up.

The White Hart had been recommended as a good place for pub food, and thinking it would at least be warm, even though I was still far too full from my excellent breakfast to eat more at present, I popped in and decided a glass of port would assist in the internal warming department.  And although it was a very nice glass of port it was also the smallest I think I have ever been served.  Not to worry I sipped it very slowly, sitting with my feet in front of their large log fire.  Then recharged with warmth, both inner and outer I headed up to the church.

Mistakenly taking the long way round I finally arrived feeling the cold again, but their church is most attractive, and apparently was mooted at one time as the Cathedral for Essex.  It had been badly bombed in the war, with the whole of the tower destroyed, but they had done a wonderful job of the restoration and it is now a beautiful light airy building, the wonderful soaring gothic arches supported on slender fifteenth clustered columns.  And the carved angels flanking the altar rail an additional surprise.

Even though the church had underfloor heating and my feet were quite toasty as I left, the rest of me was cooling down very rapidly and I knew it was quite a long drive back to Thebus, where I would then have to wait for the heating to warm us through.  Plus the next building along also looked very interesting, and that was open as well – you guessed it another lovely old pub!  So with another glass of port inside me plus half an hour warming my toes in front of their log fire, it was back out into the cold, and with the first flakes of snow falling a quick dash back to Thebus, where Phoebe was very pleased to see me, especially when I switched the heating on.

Leigh on Sea Estuary

LEIGH ON SEA ESTUARY

Hooray – there were no barriers.  In the dark it was difficult to see where to head.  There were vast puddles, and it is difficult to gauge how deep such things might be, but we wended our way as best we could onto a concrete strip and being the only vehicle there I just stopped.

Phoebe got out to take a look around, but unimpressed got back in, complete with incredibly muddy feet.  I am training her to get straight into her bed and tuck her feet in, so at least some of the mud is contained, though sometimes I meet with limited success – she does know what she should do, but often thinks she will do as she pleases instead.

Anyway this would do for the night and we settled down, while I thought where to go next.

Then one by one various cars started to arrive, and there were sounds of female voices outside chatting to each new arrival.  Now from what I know of girls/women, standing outside in a muddy, puddle filled, windy, pitch black carpark at coming up to midnight is not something they normally consider a good idea, so I drew my own conclusions, especially when I heard one, possibly older lady, and sounding for all the world like Dot whoever it was from East Enders saying ‘Welcome to Paradise’  I most definitely drew my own conclusions.  As the night went on there was a fair amount of headlight flashing and car horn hooting, so I was pleased that Phoebe had gone out when she did, as I wouldn’t have wanted to get out and take her for a walk round!

It didn’t really calm down and get quiet enough to sleep till nearly two, so in fact the railway station had been a much better bet.  The next morning I simply couldn’t be bothered to get up at 5.30 when the alarm went off, and by the time I really woke it was gone 9.30, and from the little experience I have of this area I knew that already the traffic would be, quite literally, at full throttle, so I just moved Thebus nearer to a better view of the estuary, and took the opportunity of taking Phoebe for a walk down to the waters edge along the boat launch slipway, while there were only dog-walkers around who were not involved with other dog type activities.

It was all very atmospheric as the low winter sunlight glinted off the mud flats where the tide had gone out, and I was reminded of Dicken’s novels and my trip to Rochester last year.  I had hoped to watch the tide coming in, but it was in before light, and not back till after dark, though I could hear it lapping within feet of our front wheels.

Back in Thebus I had decided that Coggeshall would be our next place to visit, as it had a building I had long wanted to see – Paycockes.  Thinking that anywhere in Essex might be problematic on parking I had checked on the internet and though there was a carpark right in the middle of town which had end to end spaces, it looked tight on the access, so it was going to have to be approached when everyone else was asleep

 

Old Leigh on Sea, Essex

OLD LEIGH ON SEA

What a charming place this is, though I would guess in the season it would be very crowded, but today all was peace and calm and I could admire the views of the quaint old fishing village right down against the sea-front.  I was headed for Osborne Bros. a well known and old established….. well I suppose – cockle stall.

I had taken the scooter down into the old High Street driving down what seemed to be called Cockle Row, and passed shed after green painted shed, many, though not all of them bearing the name of Osbornes.

I have to admit that I am not overkeen on cockles, certainly not cold and served alone with just the option of salt, pepper and vinegar, and having tried jellied eels on the sea front at Cromer was certain I didn’t like those, and along with tripe they will be one of the things I never give a second chance to.  So having found Osbornes I decided on crab.

You get a whole crab shell of brown and white crab meat, and a fork, a buttered bap is extra but at £5.60 for the lot you can’t complain.  They have recently set up a part of their building so you can eat indoors, but I chose to be traditional and sit outside.  Chilly on a January day, but I was wrapped up warm, it wasn’t raining, and the sun was trying to break through from time to time. Plus you have a lovely view out over the fishing boats.

Osbornes do have their own seating area at the back, but the main place seems to be the little courtyard in the front surrounded by old buildings and looked over by The Crooked Billet.  I thought that was worth a look inside as well and found that if you buy a drink you can take it outside to have with your shellfish, and I know that white wine is the normal accompaniment to crab, but sitting outside on a January day I decided on a half a local beer.  When you think that places like this have been serving seafood for hundreds of years, I would guess that beer was what you would have had to drink with it then, and I have to say it went down a treat.

Almost as soon as I sat down I gained an audience.  I am not sure it if was a male or a female starling, but it looked directly at me and sang me the prettiest little sotto voce song – as if it was singing  for me and me alone.  I got out the camera, and flicked it a crumb of bread which it ate, and when I flicked it another it left it and chirupped rather pointedly, obviously begging for crab, which of course it got.  Its mate did turn up but was firmly kept out of the way, so I would think it was a girl stocking up for the egg laying season, which won’t be far ahead.  Then a couple of gulls saw what was happening and started flying in, which made my little friends very nervous and eventually they flew off.  What a charming little interlude – to share ones lunch with a startling.

The crab was nice and though sadly not local, I was assured was fresh and brought in from further up the coast.  I took the opportunity of asking what time the tide would be in today and as it was at five o’clock I determined to return and try some of the local fish and chips for my supper.

So back to Thebus and a couple of cups of hot chocolate to warm me through then later as the tide came in another trip past the backs of the cockle sheds, and boatyards with their rows of boats.  It was lovely to see all the harbour boats now afloat, even though the daylight was fading fast.  Then into the warmth of the Mayflower Inn, who have their own take away fish and chip shop as part of the premises, but I decided to eat in, and with half a pint of local brew.  I think they have won some CAMRA awards for their beers.

Their fish and chips were excellent.  Light fluffy batter, with no soggy uncooked white flour paste inside.  I had haddock and it was a lovely large, thick piece, cooked to perfection, moist and delicious, and the chips were good too – chunky but not pretentiously so, and with crisp golden brown outsides.  All in all a highly satisfying day.  Apart from the fact I was parked in the railway station carpark, though I have to say it wasn’t as noisy as I feared in fact I have stayed on noisier campsites.

When googling I found that I had pulled into the wrong carpark anyway, and the one I wanted was further on down, on the opposite side of the road.  So once the traffic had eased from commuters leaving the train station, and the carpark was sufficiently empty for me to turn round and escape we set out – and guess what, although the internet told me there was no height barriers, yet again there was a bar over the top restricting access to 6ft 6in.  I couldn’t turn round as the road was too narrow, but in my googling it looked as though there might be a large parking area right at the bottom by the sea, so down the narrow, bumpy, unlit, potholed road we went.  Over a very narrow bridge, past more carparks with height restrictions, and hoping that if the last one had height barriers at least there would be room to turn round we trusted in God and headed on down.