Lost in the NEC

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Yesterday we went to the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham to the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show, just for a look round and an update on what’s new. Not with any significant purchase in mind. You just have to keep up with what’s currently around.

Our van is just over 7 years old, it’s our 3rd van, and has started to show a few signs of age, with the odd  (and sometimes rather expensive) thing going wrong which needs replacing. So a visit and a day looking at new vans and sussing out the state of the art promised a good day out.

No, we didn’t decide to buy a new van, but we got plenty of ideas on what we might and might not like. It was interesting to note that our tastes and preferences have changed very little over the past 7 or so years, and the van we chose then to be our palace on wheels is still top of the pops for us in so many ways.

When we’d seen enough and had enough van viewing, it was time to head home and make our way back to car park N3, somewhere outside in the vast NEC estate. We’d walked from the car park to the exhibition centre and had more or less followed the flow of the crowd, also going in the same direction. But late on in the afternoon, when the crowds started to thin out, there were not too many people around aiming for car park N3. We got lost.

We looked in vain for signage and directions to the car parks, we followed directions which took us to nowhere we recognised, and we asked for directions from several different members of NEC staff, the press office staff, the bureau de change staff and various stewards on how to get back to car park N3. They were all helpful. Most of them didn’t have a clue and sent us off on wild goose chases. We ended up at the station, then at the airport, then at the main entrance, which was not the one we’d entered by. We looked at a plan of the entire NEC complex and tried to use that to navigate by. We tried to gain access to the Skywalk we needed to cross, but the access doors were locked. It was beginning to feel like us getting Lost in Cumbria all over again. I almost started humming Hotel California – “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave….”

On our second arrival at the main entrance, we asked the security guards for help. One of them vaguely waved directions at us, the other came up with the goods and finally, at long last, we managed to get out of the building and on our way to car park N3.

It had taken us over an HOUR to get out of the NEC and back to our car. As we thanked the security guard who’d come up with the right solution, another stressed out couple were approaching him to ask for directions.

If I ever go to the NEC again I’ll consider taking a large ball of wool to tie to the door I enter by, and keep it with me in my hand to help me get out of the place!

Lost in Cumbria

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It was summer and we’d gone away to Cumbria for a weekend break in our campervan, We were staying on a  site new to us, having read about it and heard good reports. In a park-like setting, with views of the sea, nearby access to the beach and village, and plenty of walks to be had, it sounded ideal.

The weather was good – quite hot as I recall – and we decided to explore the nature reserve area, adjacent to and part of the campsite. Following rocky paths, we climbed through a wooded wilderness, clambered over mossy rocks and stones and took care to avoid the cowpats and the insects which went with them. We couldn’t see any cows, but there was a faint whiff in the air so we guessed they were around. The cowpats were enough evidence.

Enjoying the walk, we explored the area for about an hour but realised quite soon that we weren’t getting anywhere and were going round and round in circles. We were following the same paths over and over again and we started to recognise the same cowpat, which we passed several times.

No matter, it was warm and sunny, we were glad of some shade and we spotted a shy roe deer and several butterflies – painted ladies, wood whites, even a dark green fritillary and a cinnabar moth. We began to wonder if we were a bit lost, passing that cowpat once again, but at that stage we weren’t really worried, knowing it wouldn’t be dark for a long time.

Repeating the same circuit yet again by following the now all-too-familar paths as we tried to find our way out, we both started to get a bit edgy. The dog gamely kept up but did give us a few looks which said “Why are we going down this path again?” It was getting cooler by this time and we were getting tetchy with each other too. Were we really lost? Nobody knew where we were, there was no phone signal and the Google map of the area included the nature reserve, but not the paths. It just showed up as a green space on the map.

Going round the circuit once again, we climbed up one of the rocky paths and found our way blocked by a large bovine. We reined the dog in on his lead, but he’d seen the cow and made an executive decision. He diverted from the blocked path and took off in a downward direction along another path we’d clearly missed, but had been searching for.

With some relief – it was cooling rapidly, and we praised the dog – we reached the gate at the entrance to the reserve. It was the same gate we’d entered through, with a “Please close the gate” sign, but there was no info board with a map of the place.

How good it was, though, to see civilisation again, in the form of the children’s play area in the campsite, and some mown lawns, people, and best of all, to get back to our van and put our feet up!

Another Place

P1080293We took off in our campervan at the weekend, encouraged by the forecast of sunny crisp weather, and headed for the Merseyside and Sefton coast. We’ve been to Crosby beach, near Liverpool, countless times before to walk and enjoy sculptor Antony Gormley’s “Another Place” – his 100 statues of his naked body which stand on the beach, and stretch out into the sea.

They’ve been there for some time now and many are rusting as most are covered at high tide. Those standing higher up the beach are often clad in various garments which people have put on them – Liverpudlians have a great sense of humour so one or two Antony’s could be dressed in anything ranging from hippie gear to part of an NHS worker’s uniform. Some might have a traffic cone as a hat.

We parked by the prom, with clear views of the sea and passing ships en route to the port of Liverpool, ate lunch in the ‘van warming up the home made soup we’d brought with us, then walked along the coastal footpath towards Formby. The frost had gone, but there was a chill, brisk wind. Invigorating, enjoyable stuff, with sea views all the way. When we started to return, the sun was beginning to dip towards the horizon. By the time we were back at the ‘van the tide was in and most of Antony’s statues were either covered, or just head and shoulders above the waves.

One nearby was strikingly silhouetted against the rolling, bronzed waves illuminated by the low sun. Something about that image reminded me of what my dad used to say: “Always face the sun and the shadows will fall behind you”.

Then we continued our journey to Southport, where we stayed overnight, cosy and warm in our ‘van in spite of the sub-zero temperature outside.

The annual photo challenge

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We’re just back from France, having toured in our motorhome for the past 4 weeks through Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and France. We ended up for some R&R at our favourite lush and floral campsite in the Dordogne region, near the River Vezere.

In September there are banks of colourful flowers like these, attracting, bees, butterflies and hummingbird hawk moths. The annual challenge is to get a half decent photograph of  one of these furry moths in action. They move fast, their wings are ususally a blur, and worst of all, they flit rapidly from one flower to another, so the chances of getting a shot often becomes less likely as they seem to know when the lens is on them.

This one isn’t too bad; it’s the best of the bunch. But whenever we visit this campsite I go back for more of what I call photographic torture!

More of our travels to follow – life back in Blighty has be caught up on – but here are links to a few earlier posts with photos from the same location taken at the same time of year.

Hummingbird hawk moth on orange flower – not too bad, this one.

Carpenter bee smothered in pollen.

Clouded yellow butterfly on wild scabious.

A selection of insects, all photpgraphed in the same location.

Grandchild on board

“Oooh, Audrey’s got a TV too!” said granddaughter, as I removed the cover from the flat screen TV so she could watch her Mr. Benn DVD. Audrey is the name of our Murvi Morello campervan; Mr Benn is classic children’s TV from the late 1970s when her dad used to watch this same programme.

On site Freidrichshafen

When we put in the order for our Morello we asked for an extra bunk to fit in the cab area so we could initiate granddaughter into the delights of going on holiday in our palace on wheels. We were shown how to set up the bunk on handover day, and I tried it for size and accessibility, but we had yet to use it for real. That was granddaughter’s job.

At 3 years old, and rapidly approaching her 4th birthday, we took her away for her first trip – two nights at the Caravan & Motorhome Club site at Chatsworth in the last chilly days of May. Excitement was running high when we set off over what she called the “mountains” (Peak District), but she had yet to see where she would be sleeping. The van was set up for transporting passengers, which meant a bit of push and shove as the long sofa was transformed into a back seat with seat belts. The child seat was strapped into one of them, and I was strapped into the other; she wanted Nanny to sit next to her while Granddad got on with the driving. We were on familiar ground here as she’d already taken a preliminary trip in Audrey the Van with her dad sitting next to her.

On arrival, the seat was magicked back into a sofa while she and I took an exploratory walk around the campsite. She liked looking at the vans and asked why some of them had tents (awnings) on them. She also liked the walk we had in the grounds of Chatsworth, and the ice cream she had at the end of it. But would she like the bed?

She ate hungrily, watched Mr. Benn and had some stories. She liked having two tables in the van where she could do her colouring in, and was fascinated by the loo flush mechanism and the way the lights in the van could be changed to ambient blue. She happily got ready for bed. We made it up so that her head was on the driver’s side, loaded it with the soft toys she’d brought and pulled the dividing curtain across, leaving a gap at the foot end for a bit of reassuring light to get through. Once in bed she made token gestures towards sleep but our expectations were realistically low. Rightly so too. She insisted on turning the whole lot around so her head was on the passenger side where she could peep around the curtain.

M in van bed

She proceeded not just to peep but to play, giggle, bounce, sing and generally be as naughty as she dared while we ate our meal and tried not to let on we were laughing too. At 10.25, her mum sent a text saying. “So is she asleep yet?!” and I firmly (but lovingly) read the riot act. She slept.

The next day we tired her out with a full day of walking through the parkland to Chatsworth House and a visit to the farm and adventure playground. That night she slept like a log. And she wants to go away in Audrey the Van again, claiming the bed is much better than the one she sleeps in at our house.

This was written when granddaughter was 3 and went on her first motorhome holiday. She’s now just turned 10, has several van trips under her belt and loves the whole camping experience.

Chatsworth Caravan & Motorhome Club site

Set in a walled area/ large walled garden. Broken up into smaller areas and cul de sacs. Many trees and shrubs, green areas, small children’s play area, reasonably well-stocked shop in reception. Baby/toddler bathroom (£5 key deposit). Direct access to the Park from campsite. Approx 20 mins walk to Chatsworth House and Gardens. Farm offers guinea pig handling, goat and cow milking demonstrations, tractor rides plus horses, sheep, pigs, chickens etc. Adventure playground excellently appointed with top notch activity equipment for young and older age groups, water play, treetop walkways, trampoline. There’s a first aid post on site with magazines for parents/guardians to borrow and browse while the children play.

This edited and updated article first appeared in the Murvi Club in-house e-magazine.