Monthly Archives: December 2013

Salisbury Plain – March or Die!

Lets get the preliminaries out of the way first.

Where are we? The Stonehenge Campsite, Winterbourne Stoke, a couple of miles west of Stonehenge: http://www.stonehengecampsite.co.uk  We score it 4/5.

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What’s it like? Tidy!, Tucked away from the A303, located in a natural bowl. It’s protected from the elements, well laid out and at this time of the year economically priced. The wardens led by Elaine are welcoming and enthusiastic. The site facilities are in the process of being upgraded, the “Other Half” informs me the newly refurbished ladies toilets are pristine and very clean. The gents are basic and awaiting an upgrade, but the shower pumps out lots of hot water and the loo flushes so that all I need. The pitches have gravel hard standing and EHU, additionally there are water taps on some of the pitches.

The site at this time of the year is nice and quiet, in the summer however there is also 2 x tent fields being utilised so I can imagine it will be quite busy and less peaceful….Just a thought.

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What’s to do? There are plenty of walks directly from the site and two small village pubs within a 10min stroll that both serve food. This is old England at its best, lots of small picturesque isolated hamlets, thatched cottages and village pubs to explore.

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Winterbourne Stoke

It’s very easy to get off the beaten track and enjoy the rolling chalkland of the Plain, If you have a dog, this is a great place to exercise it. Of course the biggest draw is Stonehenge, which is a 3 mile walk from the site…..Be aware it will cost at least £14 per adult to access the site!

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Winterbourne Stoke – The Parish Church….Impressive. 2 mins walk from the site

We like this site, its deep in winter and we’ve had a glorious days walking and had a distant look at the nations most important relic. Perhaps we might feel differently after the 70mph winds forecast for the south west later tonight!!

March or Die: We’ve had a bundle of fun today. Last night we hunkered down in the van as the temp outside slipped briefly to the wrong side of 0’c….This morning we breakfasted, packed the rucsacs and then we were off on a cross country route to Stonehenge. Salisbury Plain is a great place to walk and walk and walk and walk!…..The missus was all cheerful this morning, however she committed the fatal error of leaving me to plan the route, which was to be circular and long!….This was “Infantry Country” and I was hankering on some tactical movement down memory lane! So off we went, so full of hope and cheer.

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The Other Half and Mutts scampering across the Plains early morning.

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Still scampering….Dog Toy deployed

The great thing about Salisbury Plain is the lack of hedgerows, you can see for miles. The ground is fairly firm going, with lots of public footpaths and permissive byways. An OS Map or App is essential if your going to cover any distance.

Bonus Alert. The Other Half got all excited when we passed the pig farm, I thought at one point she was going to slip one of the piglets under her arm and dance  a jig (she’s N/Irish) 

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Piggy Heaven. All excited and stuff!

(Rant On) I was determined to have a look at Stonehenge without paying the £14 per person for access to the newly opened visitor centre. I’m not tight, but this is a national treasure, its part of the fabric of our nation. If theres one artefact in the country that should be funded by the nation, this is it.

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First sight of the stones

I would object less about the admission charge if the site was kept in a way that was sympathetic to its history, but its not. So now we have a multi million pound visitors centre, that been designed to blend in with the countryside….But………. look at the picture:

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Stonehenge. The cars you can see aren’t parked, they are travelling past the nations jewel

Yep! The Cars! Not seen are the lorries, the caravans, the motorbikes…..The A303 still runs past the stones. Looking from a distance today the most obvious draw to the eye is the snail trail of vehicles that are flowing past the site….No gaps, no quiet periods, just a relentless conveyer belt of traffic. To be honest I felt outraged, only in the UK could this be allowed to happen…..So thats why I won’t be paying £14 for the privilege of funding a part-finished, half measure of an upgrade to the site. 

So instead we sat about 400ms away, eating our lunch in serene silence amongst the burial grounds at Normanton Nature Reserve, watching the site visitors being herded around like sheep to the backdrop of traffic hell.

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Lunch Break Stand Off….Who will blink first? Me or the Mutt

So we’re very relieved that we had decided against a formal visit to the site and the £29 saved. All that being said…I’m a grumpy middle aged bloke….If I had a young family, the visitors centre, which is well reviewed, would be a must…But just to see the stones? I think not. By the way, from Feb 2014, you will need to pre-book your visit. (Rant Off)

Anyway, back to the footslog,  we passed through a few small villages, none more impressive than Wilsford and the Lake House that dominates the valley

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Lake House Wilsford

But by mid-afternoon the Other Half was starting to lag and becoming “All Civvy” with me, complaining about the pace/hill/heat/route/national debt/price of eggs (Delete as appropriate)..Did I listen, no…onwards my dear, we have many miles to cover, and so we did. By the late afternoon I had used most of the following sayings:

  • Stay with me
  • No Pain. No Gain
  • Its just around the corner
  • Stop crying
  • Turn that frown, upside down
  • On me
  • Catch up
  • I want to feel your belt buckle on the back of my hand
  • Its just over the next hill
  • If you can’t stand the heat….Take your hat off!
  • Suck it up
  • Cup of tea at the next bend
  • Take that bad attitude and put it in your back pocket
  • Are you jacking? Are you getting in the back of the “Jack Wagon”?

Bless her, it’s official, she now hates me, but i’ve had a brilliant day, it was just like being back in the green stuff.

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March or Die. As the sun sets………Its just over the next rise Honey!

The Route. All 13 odd miles of it!

The Route. All 13 odd miles of it!

We are now safely back in the van, admin squared away, dinner finished, Radio 2 playing quietly in the background. She loves me again, its all in the past, I promise to be good……Now what shall we do tomorrow?

That is all

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Upcoming Xmas Jaunts

With Christmas nearly upon us, we’ve casually been planning a couple of trips for the festive period. For the first time in many years, myself and the “Other Half” will be sharing Xmas dinner as a solitary couple….Just me, her, a free range chicken and of course “The Mutt” eyeing each other up over the sprouts and pigs in blankets!. The Other Halfs strong irish arms and sense of competitiveness means I’m virtually certain to lose every cracker pull. Normally I just bully the kids (22 and 25!) into handing victory to me…Also….We’ll have to have.. like a proper conversation at the table..Eh!….No TV Xmas dinner on a tray in our house 😦

Oh well!

BUT THEN! A couple of days after a proper chrimbo, Team Motorhomedreamer climb into the chucklebus and head in the 4 o’clock position to  Salisbury Plain, staying at a campsite nearish to Stonehenge along the A303.

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We are staying here for about 3 days and really looking forward to doing some walks on Salisbury Plain, looking at the map, I’ve already identified Tilshead, Fox Covert, Imber and Chitterne close by, names that strike a chord in my memory having worked on the Plain constantly over a two year period in the early 80’s and then on further occasions in the late 80’s and into the 90’s.….For those of you who don’t know this part of the world, the Plain is a huge expanse of open country and has been used by our military for training for over a hundred years.

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In the 20th Century it was not unusual to see large-scale tank formations training on there. I’m not sure if thats still the case although Wiki notes the following:

Military personnel from the UK and around the world spend some 600,000-man days on the plain every year.

I do remember all the ancient burial sites dotted about the Plain, as I drove about the training area back in the 1980’s, they were normally marked with a white star on a post, and were out of bounds to all exercising troops.

Because of its military usage, civil access has always been limited, which meant as a benefit many species of flower, fauna and wildlife have flourished without interference. Over the last 30 years the military have had to adapt to changing attitudes to our environment, which is reflected in an even much tighter management of the Plains ecology. See here for more info:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salisbury_Plain

I’m really looking forward to this jaunt, its many years since I spent anytime here, certainly my first trip back as a civilian. We’re then intending to spend New Years Eve in Dorset, with friends, before heading north towards the Lake District over a couple of days.  Anyway it’s christmas, so here’s my favourite song, which never fails to make me smile:

Finally wishing all our occasional followers and fellow bloggers a very Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.

That is all.

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Five Go Down To The Sea (with a respectful nod to Ms E Blyton)

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It’s been a little while since my last blog, with winter blues, a lack of travelling and general idleness on my part all conspiring to squash my updates. So the opportunity to spend a long November weekend in Dorset with a couple of mates, both with forces backgrounds plus two dogs(hence the 5!), seemed a suitable way to find something to write about. Although we would be travelling from deepest darkest N Wales in the Chucklebus, mainly for ease of the dogs, the accommodation was to be found in the Ponciau Princesse’s Summer Residence located at Bovington (see previous blogs). 

We set off early on the Thursday morning, following a full brief from the “Other Half” on…

(a). Standards of Behaviour,

(b). Alcohol and its effects on the over 50’s

and finally

(c). The Mutt and the dire consequences for me, if he came to harm whilst under my supervision!!!!

.….all of which I of course immediately forgot about, except for point “C”.

For the road spotters and serious travellers amongst us, we travelled along the M54/M6 Toll/M42/M40/A34/M3/M27/A31 arriving in Bovington in just under 5hrs…Not bad going.

The first night found the three of us tucked up in a local bar, destroying bottles of cheap red wine, whilst Mutts(no nuts) and his female doggy companion Ffion snuggled up together, back at the Bovington Loveshack.

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Ffion and the Mutt.

The next day, after fully dealing with the wrongs of the world the night before, we emerged blinking into the sunlight, dehydrated, dishevelled and worse for wear…It was that last bad bottle of Port that finally finished me off!

Anyway, up and at em! So we headed off to Portland Bill, of particular interest was the Verne Citadel, whose fortifications had guarded this part of our sceptred isle since the mid 1800’s with it high angle battery of artillery. Its a great place to get stunning views of the coastline, the impressive Chesil Beach and of course Weymouth which is nestled below.

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Chesil Beach, a natural wonder of the world, that acts as a barrier to the pounding waves of the Atlantic.

Additionally the Citadel also housed an infantry battalion, indeed at the onset of the Great War in August 1914, my own regiment’s 2nd Bn was housed here, before making the step across to the horrors that awaited them in France & Flanders.

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A Royal Welch Fusilier on sentry duty 1914.
Picture: Courtesy Geoff Kirby. http://www.geoffkirby.co.uk/PortlandAchivePictures/index.html

Nowadays the Citadel is partly used by HM Prisons as a Young Offenders Institute, the Citadel no longer houses the military, however it’s still possible to walk around the fortifications, it’s a fascinating place to visit, steeped in our recent military history.

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The Citadel today.

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The view down to Portland from the Citadel.

 OK, military history visit now over, the guys and the 2 dogs were starting to get bored with my army reminisces…Scoff Time! Now you would think 3 blokes, 2 dogs, hungover and hungry, the nearest Maccy D’s would suffice?….WRONG…Only the best for us;  The Crabhouse Cafe is a small fish restaurant tucked in behind Chesil Beach at Wyke Regis: http://www.crabhousecafe.co.ukImage

Highly recommended, even by Rick Stein, one of our group had been unusually sensible and exceeded all of our low expectations of him and booked a table prior to the previous evenings shenanigans. So feeling smug with ourselves we piled in. Wow, very nice…Basic inside, its very understated, its the food here that takes centre stage and it doesn’t fail to impress.

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Starters: Fried Spratts, Mussells and a Thai Fish Soup

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Main Course: John Doore, Baked Hake and Lemon Sole

All polished off with a decent white….Very nice. We followed this with a bracing walk along Chesil Beach. The wind was up and the waves were really hitting the beach with force. This is where the Dambusters did their final testing of the bouncing bomb, prior to the main raid. You can understand why this area was chosen, the shingle beach really is a high banked natural dam and ideal for replicating the targets at the Mohne Dam.

The dogs enjoyed it as well, although they were very wary of the power of the incoming waves.

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Looking up to the Verne Citadel above Portland Bill, from Chesil Beach

Evening: Quiet night in! More Wine…..Homemade Pork Vindaloo….Methane levels = High

Next day, up with the larks and off to Studland at the Isle of Purbeck, an area of outstanding beauty. Although not an island, its 60sq mile of land is surrounded by the sea on three sides, which does give it an island feel. It juts out into the sea south of Bournemouth and Poole, acting as the southern breaker wall into Poole Harbour. Lots of interesting walks in the area and some great beaches, and for those of you slightly bolder in your bathing habits; designated naturist areas.

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As you walk along the cliffs you can see out to the Isle of Wight, just visible through the mist. You can also look in towards Poole Harbour, the immediate area is dominated by Brownsea Island, which is also the celebrated site of Baden-Powells Scouts first ever campsite. It was also the inspiration for Enid Blyton’s book “Whispering Island”. She based many of her stories in this part of Dorset, which perhaps gives the area a familiar feel to anyone who read her books as a child.

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The chalk cliffs of the Isle of Wight, just visible

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Next Stop France! From the cliffs of Studland

One location of interest is Harry’s Rock’s, a series of three chalk stacks and stumps that emerge from the sea off the headland of Purbeck

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Harrys Rocks

Wiki states the following:

“There are two stories about the naming of the rocks. One legend says that the Devil (traditionally known euphemistically as “Old Harry”) had a sleep on the rocks.

Another local legend says that the rocks were named after Harry Paye, the infamous Poole pirate, who stored his contraband nearby. These could be linked as Harry Paye could have been considered as the devil and could well have slept on these rocks.”

Whatever the truth, they make  great photos:

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Finally we finished the walk with a decent pint at the Bankes Arms Studland. A lovely old country inn, with a good selection of local beers and food: http://www.bankesarms.com/index.php

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Picture courtesy: Roy Farr

That pretty much concludes the “Boys Own” trip away, although in comparison to previous trips in my younger days I’m certainly slowing down…No dancing girls, In bed mainly by 11pm, sensible eating, plenty of exercise, I definitely do “Boring”…great trip.

That is all.

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