Leaving Pocklington quite early as we had a long way to go, we set off for Cheltenham. Mr Snail had decided to eschew the fast roads and to go via the Foss Way. It proved not to be the relatively straight and easy road of his memory and the going was slow.
There was little time to stop and rest and no time for cameras. It was, plainly put, a bit of a slog.
Briarfields, the camp site where we had booked in to is right on the edge of Cheltenham. The GPS sent us through the town. In evening rush hour. It was not a great experience. We were rather later in our arrival than we had anticipated.
As we hit the roundabout just by our destination, we spotted an RV at the junction to our right. Mr Snail was very excited - "Oh, look, an RV!" he exclaimed. "I think it is ours," I replied. And it was.
Briarfields turned out to be a very pleasant site and surprisingly busy for the time of year. We had some concern about being so close to such busy roads but we both slept well after sampling the delights of the Thai restaurant that is but a short stroll down the road, heading away from town.
Wednesday 23rd March
Our appointment was for 10:00 am so we were up and at 'em smartish. When we arrived at Freedom Motorhomes, Hank was there, ready and waiting for viewing.
We agreed the sale. We had been forewarned that it might take up to a week to turn the RV around and make it ours but they had pushed the boat out and Hank was all ready and waiting. We had been correct in surmising the vehicle we had seen last night was this one, it was being brought back from being made ready.
However, there was the small matter of making the up front payment. Naive as we are, we had not considered the need for proof of payment before departing with our new vehicle. We needed to go away and find some cash or a way of transferring funds quickly with confirmation.
Luckily, Briarfields, though busy, was able to let us have an extra night on the pitch that we had vacated that very morning. We returned and set about moving some money out of our bank account. This proved very easy to do, despite the size of the sum required and we soon found ourselves with time on our hands.
We went shopping.
We were expecting to meet up with an online friend and her partner at some point on the coming days. Having only two coffee mugs in the van it seemed only polite to source some more china. We also stocked up the fridge with supplies to see us through some time in the Forest of Dean, where we planned to go for the next couple of nights or so.
Then we set about packing our goods and chattels ready to empty Brunhilde and fill up Hank.
Thursday 24th March
We were given an instructional session on Hank's systems and then Mr L had a practice drive under supervision. When he returned, we began the process of moving our belongings over.
If I had thought Brunhilde to be sizeable, Hank is considerably larger in every dimension. It seemed odd then that there appeared to be no more cupboard space inside than Brunhilde had. I was having trouble finding a home for everything. I began to realise just how cleverly designed the Tabbert was. As we worked on and as my back began to ache,I also began to realise just how much stuff we had with us! Well, in my defence, we had come away for three weeks.
Once the job was done we simply drove off.
It had come to our attention that we were facing a Bank Holiday weekend. It was Easter. We were in a strange part of the world on roads unknown to us and in a very cumbersome left-hand drive vehicle that the driver was unfamiliar with. We decided to head for the Forest and perhaps sit the holiday out.
If we had known the state of the roads between Cheltenham and the Forest of Dean, we might not have gone. The journey was "interesting".
We found a car park without height bars or locking gate and pulled in there. With great delight, Mr Snail put down the automatic levellers and we settled in.
Nell was ecstatic, after so much constraint in the past few days she finally had a place in which to run and run and run.
Friday 25th March
Good Friday dawned with the arrival of cars. Cars and more cars. People and dogs and children. That was one busy car park! We tried very hard not to be embarrassed about Hank. He was taking up a deal of space.
We enjoyed some good walking in bright sunshine, marvelling at the stained glass panels hanging in the trees. Now, they would never survive in Orkney!
We walked around a lake, where we finally found a signal for both the phone and the wi-fi and were able to conduct some necessary business. There were many frogs...
and not a few twitchers.
I did not get a shot of the Great Grey Shrike that they were after seeing but a group of birders invited us to view the Shrike through their telescope. An honour.
Hank had his first visitors! An online friend, Michele, who lives in Gloucester, had kindly made me a mascot for the van, a beautiful wee jointed Dragon hand crafted from antique velvet - a real beauty, whom I have named Ceridwen. Michele and I had been chatting on and off for some years online and we decided to take this proximity as a prompt for a f2f meeting and dragon-delivery. As a former nomad herself, she was interested to see our new home on wheels.
We stayed where we were overnight. Then we became brave and emerged into the world and headed for Wales.
A rather longer day, covering around 180 miles but with the added bonus of fish and chips thrown in.
The Plan had us split the day in to four equal legs, with two coffee breaks and a lunch stop neatly dividing the drive. We were aiming to be at the Bridge of Allan by 4:30 pm, allowing a chip supper from the Allanwater Café and leaving plenty of time to check in at Blair Drummond. As usual Mr Snail declared "too soon to stop" and drove on all the way to Ralia before we stopped for coffee and rather delicious muffins.
I took leave of my senses at Ralia and bought a handbag!
After a grey and mizzly start, the sun came out just as we crossed the border in to Perth and Kinross. We drove on to Perth, where Mr Snail hoped to find a motorhome dealer with a waste trolley in stock. We failed in that mission but we did fill Brunhilde's fridge with goodies from M&S - my first M&S in over 14 years. My first pot of their sour cream and chive dip in just as long. Oh, my!
The Bridge of Allan was not at all as I remembered, not a sleepy little village but was in fact heaving with people and traffic. Bruni would not fit in the car park but after a full circuit we did find a kerbside spot outside the care home by the river. Happily this was just around the corner from the Allanwater Café and there were picnic tables at hand.
Two large Cod suppers were speedily ordered.
NB - we do not order Large fish because we are greedy, no, we order Large fish because it simply fries better and yields a nicer result. Skinny fish dry out in the cooking. So, imagine our horror...
I swear it was not a trick of the memory. The years have not been kind to the Allanwater Café. What was once the best chip supper in Scotland is now distinctly average. The business is now in the hands of a new generation, the fourth, I believe. Clearly not safe hands. Greasy batter, lukewarm fish, undistinguished chips. A grave disappointment after so many years waiting for a good piece of cod.
We were so sad that we did not return in search of home-made ice cream and cherries but simply went on our way - though not before I spent some time enjoying the real and definite signs of Spring.
The Blair Drummond Caravan Park is a Caravan Club Affiliated site.Part of the Blair Drummond Estate, the site is set largely within the old walled garden and is separated from the Safari Park by a woodland, accessible from the site. It being the Easter school holidays, the place was quite full but the warden pointed us towards a quiet part of the site outside the wall. This space had three pitches but only ours was occupied.
The woodland walks were beckoning to Nell and she happily slipped through the hedge with us and in to a world of trees, rhododendrons, snowdrops and daffodils. There were woodpeckers pecking and birdsong everywhere about us.
The sun was quite strong, strong enough that I bemoaned not bringing a hat and a bottle of water along. We kept in the shade of the trees as much as possible and were entertained by surprise vistas - the castle hove in to view at one point
closely followed by the realisation that we were looking down on the Chimpanzee's island at the Safari Park!
We found a swing in the woods
and also a tipi construction
and then Mr Snail led me up the
and home to Brunhilde and another early bedtime - we had an almost equally long journey to face the following day.
Owls hooted and called all night and the woodpecker was busy very early in the frosty morning. We were perhaps not as refreshed as we might have been when we set off the next day.
Still alone in the car park. Still in fairly dismal weather, though the clouds were less impressive than on Friday. The Horrible Hoy Midges were in evidence but by no means as numerous as when we arrived last night.
The sea appeared from this distance to be calmer and less impressive too.
Mr Snail assured me that the forecast promised dry sunny weather by lunchtime and so we strapped on our boots and prepared for the walk to The Old Man of Hoy. There was just the slightest hint of rain when we left but the anticipation of better weather meant that we left waterproof gear behind, taking only our Tilley hats as sun/midge protection.
The initial part of our route took us past a house for sale. We were already smitten by Rackwick and it would be the easiest thing in the world to succumb - well, apart from the practicalities of selling up on Sanday, that is.
We crossed the cattle grid and Nell had to go on leash due to the sheep. We set off for the hillside, meeting on the way a local who remarked on how bad the midges were today. I asked how they manage to live with them and was told that they rarely see them these days. I guess we just got lucky...
The walk to The Old Man is a 5.5 mile return journey, skirting Moor Fea and topping out at a height of about 170 metres. The path is very well maintained, especially the section through the RSPB reserve. There are wild flowers all about among the heather and Bonxies everywhere.
I was using a walking pole to assist my climb and this combined with the promise of better weather led to my leaving my camera in my backpack with the intention of taking photos on the return. I took no photos until we reached The Old Man itself.
Once there, I took plenty. We stopped on the cliff top to eat our packed lunch and engaged the attention of a young Herring Gull.
It had, until this point, remained dry. We saw the weather coming at us when we turned around to go home...
...and we got quite wet but that did not stop the camera action. I loved being up on the hill. It has been many years since I was at such an elevation. Looking down on the way home, Brunhilde was just a tiny splodge in the far distance
The route passes by The Cra's Nest, a restored turf-roof croft cottage and steading housing a Museum.
By tea time Rackwick was looking like another place entirely,
with the cloud lifting and clearing and a hot sunshine developing. A slight breeze came up and helped to keep the midges at bay so that they were far less troublesome than the evening before. We walked out with Nell to explore the bay once more and this time I took my camera with me. Unfortunately the sea was looking far more tame by now.
We were joined by a Hymer van for the night but it is a large car park with plenty of room for a decent separation. We cooked our steak supper in peace and quiet and settled down to another early night, this time with a nice bottle of run to hand.