Christmas and New Year 2009
A month long tour of Hampshire, The Isle of Wight, Devon and Cornwall and then finally snowed in at Stratford Upon Avon.
A rough map of the route taken

A dodgy start to Christmas

It’s a few days before Christmas and the weather is awful. We have had snow and more is forecast. Our van is front wheel drive and is useless in the snow. Problem is we have a ferry and a site booked for a week on the Isle of Wight for Christmas (300 miles away).

Our first couple of days are to be spent on a CL on Hayling Island as we want to see HMS Victory at Portsmouth.

The Day we leave Teesdale heavy snow is forecast. We belt down the M1 as fast as we can. I want to get to the south coast before all the bad weather hits. If it snows like its forecast to we won’t be going anywhere for days and the ferry, our site booking and Christmas will be Fubared! (Google it)

We don’t quite make it. As we pull off the M25 and into Surrey the snow hits us. I’m not stopping and belt through the falling snow as fast as I can into Hampshire. It’s getting quite bad now but we are only 30 miles from the coast.

Around 5 miles from Hayling Island it all clears and we leave the snow behind us. It’s actually not a bad late afternoon now.

The CL is charming and only £6.50 with hookup! I’m almost embarrassed to hand over such a paltry amount for such a lovely spot.

We settle down and watch the news. The whole of Surrey and Hampshire has now ground to a halt. People end up spending the night in shops and offices as nobody is going anywhere. I think we made it through with literally minutes to spare before we also were engulfed.

Hayling Island and Portsmouth

We spend a couple of days or so here. The island (which has a road to the mainland) I suspect had its glory days a few decades ago and the coastal side of it is a little run down. The CL is in some lovely countryside and we manage to get out on the folding mountain bike and scooter. We wanted to take the scooter over to Portsmouth but the ferry isn’t running so we opt to take the van up the motorway to Portsmouth as its too flipping cold on the bike even though it’s not very far.

Portsmouth is a bit of a dump if I’m honest. It’s impossible to park even with a blue badge but eventually we get parked near the historic dockyard.

I’m in to all things nautical and HMS Victory doesn’t disappoint. Best known for her role in the Battle of Trafalgar, the Victory currently has a dual role as the flagship of the Commander-in-Chief Naval Home Command and as a living museum to the Georgian navy. The ship still has an official captain and crew as it is still a Royal Navy vessel.

HMS Victory was launched in 1765 at Chatham Dockyard and was commissioned in 1778. She continued in active service for the next 34 years which included her most famous moment-the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. In 1812 the Victory was retired from frontline duty and anchored in Portsmouth Harbour, on the south coast of England.

On the tour everyone is looking for the plaque which marks the spot where Nelson fell mortally wounded. It’s some time before it’s discovered I’m standing on it.

It fascinating to be shown around such a famous vessel. The actual ship that Nelson fought one of the most important battles in history.

The rest of the dockside houses several museums, one with the original sails from the battle of Trafalgar. It’s a memorable day out.

Isle of Wight

With just a couple of days until Christmas we set off back to Portsmouth from the CL to catch the morning ferry. The ferry terminal is lethal. It’s like a skating rink with black ice and people don’t realise as they drive into the queues. I fear somebody will plough into the back of Hank. We have some amusement in the Queue watching some official who seems to be in charge getting irate with lorry drivers and cars. As departure gets nearer he seems to lose it more and more. We think he might be Spanish as there are occasional curses in a foreign language. It really shouldn’t but this just makes in more amusing.

Eventually in some kind of free for all we all drive onto the ship. I’m amazed by all the commercial traffic. I thought the Island was about the same size as the Isle of Arran, why so many Lorries?

The Campsite

Yes I know we “don’t do campsites”. It is against all our ideas of motorhoming freedom but we managed to get a deal for 7 nights on a site at Cowes including the ferry for pretty much what the ferry would have cost anyway. I have heard wild camping is difficult here anyway.

The Waverly Campsite is ok, not many people on it and its got a sea view (of sorts). We are not that impressed with the first impressions of Cowes. I have only ever been to Cowes once before. This was during Cowes week in the 90’s when I was crew on a yacht in one of the races. I swam 200 yards to shore in order to buy fags before the race started. It looked quite nice then.

The first problem is the bike won’t start. It just keeps backfiring. If we don’t get it fixed today it will be out of action for days with it being Christmas. We frantically search the net for a bike dealer on the Isle of Wight and finally find one in Newport (the capital) that will have a look. So the bike is bundled back onto Hank and off we speed to Newport.

Newport turns out to be a proper town with supermarkets and everything. Hence the Lorries! It’s not what we expected at all. Not that it’s awful or anything, it just doesn’t feel like a small island. I guess we are used to the Scottish islands and there is no comparison really.

Pig the scooter is left at the bike shop while we go in search of a Turkey. Finding a Turkey proves even more difficult than getting the bike fixed. Eventually though by 5pm the bike is sorted, The Turkey is purchased and we are back on our site ready for Christmas. Phew!

The weather on Christmas day is perfect. Sunny blues skies. We are smug at what’s happening in the rest of the country. It takes 4 hours to cook the flipping turkey which only just fits in the oven.

Osborne House

Just round the corner from where we are is Osborne House the summer residence of Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria knew and liked the Isle of Wight after visiting as a child, and she and the Prince Consort were both determined to buy a property there. 'It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot,' wrote the Queen after a visit to Osborne House. In 1845 the royal couple purchased the property with an estate of 342 acres, along with the adjacent Barton Manor to house equerries and grooms and to serve as the home farm.

Michelle is very interested in all things Royal so this is a very exciting trip for her. We are lucky enough to get a very small guided tour and the house is fascinating. A definite must see if you’re on the Island.

Over the week we are here we end up taking the van out most days and dropping the bike off to tour around. It’s just too cold (and often wet) to be out doing any distance on the bike. The Island is quite nice but I wouldn’t rush back. It’s too populated for us and most of the time it just feels like you’re on the mainland and not an island. Perhaps it is different in the summer but I suspect it will then be impossibly busy. Ventnor and Yarmouth are lovely and the ride along the south of the island along the military road is stunning.

Time to move on.

New Forest

From now on there is no plan. Just a drive along the south coast in the general direction of Devon.

As a child I visited the New Forest with my Uncle David and my two Cousins Lynn and Emma where I seem to remember us playing some daft hide and seek game (foxes and hares maybe?). I remember it being nice so we have a look. We book onto a Caravan and Camping Club CS (small 5 van site) as we are told wild camping in the New Forest is just not allowed and you can still be hung drawn and quartered for attempting to do so. We are not members of the C&CC so feel a bit naughty staying on one of their CS sites. We never see the owner however as she just takes our details and credit card number.

The Caravan Club (of which we are members) provides discount vouchers for loads of attractions and we make use of a two for one offer at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu. http://www.beaulieu.co.uk/beaulieu/lotstosee-national-motor-museum It’s a fantastic day out and you could spend all day there. I have a slight problem as I suffer from Arthritis in the knees. Sometimes I’m fine for days on end and can easily walk a couple of miles but days of biking around in the cold and damp on the IOW have taken their toll and after an hour I can hardly walk. The kind people at Beaulieu however come to the rescue and lend me a mobility scooter which is great fun and I spend the rest of the day racing around on that terrorising Mrs D and running down children.

All the cars from Top Gear are here but my prize find is a 1964 Commer Caravenette. This was my introduction to motorhoming in the 80's when my friends dad got one. We went all over in it, including 9 of us all the way to Ireland several times!

Devon

New Years Eve is a sober affair as we have plans to set off early in the morning through Dorset to Beer in Devon. We set off early and the weather is superb. Blue crisp skies and hardly a vehicle on the road. The drive through Dorset is stunning.

We have never been to Beer. To be honest we haven’t really explored the South West much at all. Beer was a favourite place for my Uncle David. Michelle and I were supposed to go there with him and my Aunt Shirley but sadly David passed away before it could be organised so it feels like a bit of a pilgrimage.

The good thing about it being so cold is all the CL sites are frozen so the ground is hard. It’s just about warm enough though to keep the taps running. The CL at Beer is delightful. On a farm with animals about and very quiet and scenic. There are a couple of vans milling around but not much else. The CL is only a short ride away to the town of Beer and Branscombe, Seaton and Axemouth are not far on the bike.

The area is stunning and we partially regret not just coming here in the first place and missing out the Isle of Wight. Still you have to see these places.

On Michelle’s Birthday the 3rd Jan we visit the Donkey Sanctuary nearby. The Donkey Sanctuary Organisation was set up in the 60’s by a Yorkshire woman called Dr Elisabeth Svendsen MBE.

The objectives of The Donkey Sanctuary are the provision of care, protection and or permanent security anywhere in the world for donkeys and mules which are in need of attention by reason of sickness, maltreatment, poor circumstances, ill-usage or other like causes and the prevention of cruelty and suffering among donkeys and mules.

They even have one in Corfu! We’ve been.

Its well worth a visit and it’s free but you can sponsor Donkeys or indeed purchase a cuddly one from the shop as we did.

http://www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/

Over the next week or so we work our way along the south coast of Devon from CL to CL.visiting places such as Sidmouth, Budleigh Salerton, Exmouth, Exeter, Dawlish, Teignmouth, Torquay and Dartmouth.

Using the Caravan Club CL network is a joy. Its early Jan and most of the small 5 van sites we end up on we have to ourselves and they are really cheap. We would like to do some wild camping but we haven’t seen anywhere worthwhile yet and the CL’s are so lovely and quiet we don’t feel the need.

The weather holds and it’s stunning. The rest of the country is snowed in but somehow for two weeks now we have avoided it. It doesn’t last.

After visiting Dartmouth which is one of our favorites by the way the skies Darken and it starts to snow. We have been told of a wild spot near Slapton sands but it turns out to be not suitable. The snow is falling fast now and its getting dark as we pull into the large car park right on the sea front at Slapton Sands. There is a sign saying no over nighting but it would be dangerous to carry on. Surely nobody would object.

We are totally on our own and it drops to -12. This is our first real test wilding in really low temperatures and the van doesn’t let us down. It’s warm as toast and we have a lovely evening. Thankfully the snow doesn’t last.

In the morning I buy another car park ticket and a chap walks over to me to have a chat. He’s local and quite friendly but the real purpose of his chat is to inform me that there is no overnight parking in the car park. You could have knocked me down with a feather. The car park is massive. Its mid January, there is nobody here and we were forced to stop anyway the previous night. I explain this as nicely as possible and he smiles and wanders off. It’s a pity that things are this way in the UK. Every other country (especially France) seems to encourage motorhomes and cater for them but not the UK. This is probably why so many of us choose to spend our hard earned cash abroad.

Slapton sands were the location for one of the biggest blunders and disasters of World War II. Exercise Tiger, or Operation Tiger, were the code names for a full-scale rehearsal in 1944 for the D-Day invasion of Normandy. During the exercise, an Allied convoy was attacked, resulting in the deaths of 946 American servicemen. The tragedy was made worse by incompetence and badly drilled troops as well as hundreds killed by friendly fire. More here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exercise_Tiger

Eventually we make the frankly superb CL at Salcombe and decide to stay there for a while. Salcombe and the area around it are stunning. The snow and Ice are a bit of a worry as the CL is down a single track road which still has a bit of snow and ice on it. We get the van in ok but wonder if we will ever get out. The bike is a bit dodgy as well. We head out for the day and the main roads are fine, no ice or snow. We manage about 50 miles in one day without freezing to death but the sunshine is back again and it really is lovely.

When we return to Hank I get a bit cocky on the ride up the bank to where he is parked. There is still snow on the grass here and just a few too many revs results in us both ending up on the ground in the snow. We are so padded up we don’t feel a thing and just laugh about it. The owner and the one elderly couple on site clearly think we are bonkers.

Eventually we move on and end up in Looe in Cornwall. There is more snow here and we get lost trying to find the CL. As luck has it the CL owner comes along in his Land rover and we follow him back. The owner is really helpful but the winter is taking its toll. Snow on the pitches and no water. The only tap is one by the house a good couple of hundred yards away. Filling the van keeps me busy for a while with my 20 litre carrier.

It’s now mid January and after exploring the area and concerns over the forecast of more snow and severe gales we decided to head home via Stratford upon Avon for a night or two to break up the journey.

The CL at Stratford is again lovely and only a mile or two from the centre. As we arrive the snow falls in buckets. Within hours there are 5 or 6 inches. We are going nowhere.

Who cares? What a great place to be stuck. We chill out and enjoy Stratford which still feels Christmassy with all the snow (even though it’s no longer Christmas). Eventually after 6 days we manage to get away and by tea time are home after a month of touring in the mid winter.

On our return I feel confident that we can survive anything in our motorhome. If only I knew what was in store for next Christmas!

The CL at Hayling Island and a charming Barn.

HMS Victory

Hayling Beach

No snow here but flipping freezing

A Big Un!

Figure heads museum at Portsmouth Historic Dock

Yarmouth Pier, Isle of Wight

Hank on the Waverley Campsite, Cowes

The Needles

Christmas day on the beach

View from the Military road south side of IOW

Osborne House

Osborne House

Hank on the CS site, New Forest

Christmas at Beaulieu

The Beast! Happy memories

Wild horses in the New Forest

New Years Day Dorset on route to Devon

Beer

Beer

Donkey Sanctuary

Beer

Beer

Slapton Sands

Actual Sherman Tank from WWII Recovered from Sea

Salcombe

Salcombe

Salcombe

Stratford upon Avon