Monday, 5 April 2010

Weekend in Wiltshire

“We’ll meet half way.”

Half way between Surrey and Leicester came out as Wiltshire, so that’s where we headed to the Saturday after we both finished our jobs.

Needless to say the voluntary ending, possibly only temporarily, of our careers was bound to be emotional. For me that was floods of tears – the Burbage tsunami, according to one colleague – for Rob it was doling out fine cheese and Bosnian pastrami – well, we all have our idiosyncrasies.
Rather than mope at home muttering “It doesn’t seem real,” we headed off to meet family, and half way seemed sensible.

The van was duly brought out of storage and loaded up. One additional visitor was disposed of in the back garden – a mouse had got into the shower, presumably through a heating vent. It couldn’t have been there long as there wasn’t much damage and it was still very much alive, although Charlie dog nearly saw it off as it was released to find new mousy friends and most likely invade the garden room and eat the sofa.


We had a good drive down to Wiltshire and drove past Rob’s sister and brother-in-law as they got out of their car in Marlborough. It eventually registered on them why a woman was waving at them out of the window of a van and we stopped for a coffee before moving on to our destination –a small village nearby with a camp site and a pub with accommodation.

They say first impressions count, but in the case of the campsite the first impressions weren’t good, yet it turned out to be a fine place to stay. Yes, we did park up in a corner of the farm yard, between two barns, but we had a view of a field on one side. Yes, it did seem to be populated by a work force, hitherto hidden to us, of semi-itinerant, casual labour, living in small, permanent caravans, but they were very friendly and seemed happy to welcome any new face.

Typically of many small communities, word was soon out that the people in the posh van were there with the people in the even posher car who were staying in the pub.

We had loaded up the van in a bit of a rush to get away early, but on settling in we found we had failed to pack any saucepans or a frying pan. Luckily we were planning to eat at the pub, but we’d have to be inventive on Sunday.

We filled up with fresh water, parked up and switched everything on, only for the water to dump out of the boiler – all of it – gushing – very dramatic - this just as our family arrived to look at the van in action. Thank goodness we’d joined a motor homing website though. Weeks of idly reading posts in the Motor Home Facts forums had prepared me for this. Don’t panic. Nothing had burst in the very cold weather we’d had in February. We’d done something wrong. The boiler was dumping water. This happened when the weather was cold – below freezing – which it wasn’t. It also happens when you forget to put the little drainage valve switch thingy, that stops it dumping water, back into the position after you left it open when stored away. We’d written all this in the little yellow notebook which was...on the breakfast room table...not good. Still, we had the boiler handbook. The fact that none of the pictures or descriptions seemed to match our particular boiler didn’t faze us and we got it all going, albeit with very little water now in the tank.

We made our way round the dark little lane, past the church, to the pub, and spent a very pleasant evening with our family. The food was surprisingly excellent for such a small, out of the way pub and all four of us were satisfied with our choices, which was good because there’s nothing worse in a restaurant than being jealous of what someone else has ordered.

We got back to the van around 11:30, which suddenly turned into 12:30 as the clocks were springing forward into spring. It took another half an hour to get the bed up - if only we’d packed the little yellow book where I’d carefully drawn the layout of the cushions. Without it the whole process was like some cruel tangram puzzle. First Rob moved the pieces about, swore gently, scratched his head, then I did the same. Each time we were left with cushions which didn’t fit the available gaps. After four goes we had a bed. I swear it wasn’t the bed we had last time, but it did fit the space and we had another very comfortable sleep.

Sunday, Palm Sunday to be precise, was the time to get clever with the cooking. As the church bells called the faithful to come and celebrate the run up to Easter we were happily tucking into a bacon sandwich – grilled – and a cup of tea – boiled in our 24 year old Turkish teapot – a nice link back to leaving our jobs as we bought it on our big camping trip before we started PGCE teaching courses and got our first real jobs – for me at the very same school I’d left on Friday actually.

We said our goodbyes to family, assuring them we would see them again before we left the country and reaffirming that if they could find us we would happily meet up somewhere during the coming year.

Barrows at Overton Hill - known locally as "hedgehogs" .

Then we drove off to visit barrows and standing stones, which must surely be what Wiltshire is most famous for. These sorts of trips always end up with endless questions about what such ancient sites were used for. Barrows are easier – burial mounds, rituals surrounding death, they seem to be a basic of most societies.

                          Silbury Hill
The stones are more problematic. We ended up with likening them to the building of cathedrals. Huge structures to the glory of something outside their worlds – a god – several gods – maybe some alien beings who’d visited our planet thousands of years ago (damn that Erich von Däniken bloke – he’s ruined me for anything spiritual).


There’s only so much culture we can take in a day though and since it was late afternoon we didn’t bother looking for any of the experts’ information in the museum. We’re much too know it all for that malarkey. Instead we headed for the very attractive campsite at Postern Hill.

It’s amazing what you can cook in a van oven in one baking tray, and since we’ve been without an oven at home since Christmas it was a change to eat roast carrots, onions, potatoes and sausages. Gravy was made in the pan too. See Mum, all those cooking skills you taught me still come in handy. Not only did I assure myself popularity at university 30 years ago by being able to cook a full Sunday roast, I can still come up with tasty meals with virtually no cooking equipment at all.

It rained fairly solidly for much of the night and so the first Monday after leaving our jobs was a bit of a damp squib. Still, we were away on a Monday morning and it wasn’t a bank holiday, but life always likes to throw up little problems and ours was a good degree of wheel spin in the mud and no discernable forward movement. We tried rolling into reverse to get a grip on the tree roots we had carefully parked on but nothing was happening. In the end we were pulled off by the tiny campsite tractor. It was more of a lawnmower really, but it did the trick and we were able to head off home to start on the next stage of our journey, packing up the house.


  1. Well done! You will have a great time. We had 200 days away last year in a smaller van and have too many plans and desires left! So selling our house and then having a big adventure. See you in Europe somewhere!

  2. My tip for the bed cushions (obviously you don't need it now you've put the bed up so many times!) is to take a photo with your phone, then it's always with you!