Monday, 31 January 2011

35 Back to Hertford

Monday 24th January
We drove back down to Dumfries today and my parent’s short respite was over, we were back.  I   hadn’t managed to sneak any of Bruce’s dogs away with me either.  I did have my three next best friends in the sheep dogs and we went for our nightly walk, well they did, I got to play on the quad bike, (some things never change). 

Karens favourite doggys
Tuesday 25th January
It was only for a short stay, as on Tuesday, Mum and I got all dolled up and into the car and drove down to Liverpool to go to the Liverpool Echo to see, Strictly Come Dancing.  I had booked us an overnight stay in the Jury’s Inn which is in Albert Dock and was described as being 300 meters from the Echo, it turned out to be about 50 and we had a fabulous view of the rest of the docks and the Mersey and also a millennium wheel which was beautifully lit up, but was a lot smaller than the one in London, still impressive in its own way though.  We ran out of time again so I didn’t get to spoil mum with a nice meal, we ate on the go and went to watch the show.  It was brilliant.  There were the three judges, all the male ones.  Zoe Ball did the introduction of all the dancers and dances. It was much more fun than the t v show, far raunchier and loads of double meanings, and the dancing was great.  We got a programme and in it was a poster that had Craig Revel-Horwood’s signature sayings, one on either side, so we could show “fab u lous” or “dis as ter” depending on what we thought.  It soon became apparent that I was one of the only people using it, much to my mum’s embarrassment.  (I think it is called role reversal). It was one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in a long time, and Ann Widdicome dancing with Craig, I use the term loosely, was hilarious, but the best bit was, there was no doddery old fool by the name of Bruce Forsyth.  We hiked back to the hotel, took us 5 minutes as we stopped to take photos, partook of a few glasses of wine and slept really well.

These photos were taken from the hotel room of the venue opposite.

Wednesday 26th
We got back to the farm about mid afternoon, Mum and I stopped off for some retail therapy on the way home.  This time it really was our last night so we were taken out for a meal by Mum and Sandy, lots of laughter, and on returning to the farm, my last trip with the doggies and the quad, I get very miserable when I have to leave, I love the farm and have been really lucky that Sandy puts up with my efforts, right back many years ago when he let me help with the lambing and now when I try to do him out of his quad and the dogs.
Thank you both for a wonderful time.

Thursday 27th
Twas,  with great sorrow I climbed into the motor home to leave Scotland, lots of sniffing and wearing sun glasses, and poor Ray wondering why I stare out the window so much, but this is about our adventures travelling, and it might get a bit boring if that was all I could tell you about.  So M74, M6, and here we come.  I must just put in, whilst I’ve been swanning around and enjoying myself, Ray has been doing the “let’s make sure the motor home works” thingy.  He had arranged for the generator to be serviced in Clitheroe, so that was our first port of call. We had to leave it with the firm and then carried on down to Hertford, to our usual camp site.  We decided to collect the Fiesta from Trula’s and as we had made good time down the road, arrived about 9.30 and went in for a cup of tea.  This may seem like waffle at this stage in the blog, but stick with me, it does have a point.  We cannot take vehicles into the campsite after 11pm. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem because we would run off of the generator, but it is in Clitheroe, and we would not be connected to the electric either. Anyway, we stopped and had a cup of tea and a catch up, and about 20 past ten, decided to head off leaving us with time to spare.  Ray jumped into the motor home, I got in the car, I had a problem with the brakes releasing, (apparently it has sat there since we dropped it off) but as I drove off, I noticed that all  was not going well.  On further checking, I noticed that one of the rear tyres was quite flat, and called Ray by phone.  We tried the nearest garage and the only thing that didn’t work was the air, not that it mattered in the end, because when we got up close and personal, we could see a huge nail in the tyre.  10.30pm, ( F1 pit crew, eat your hearts out), we only had a normal fiesta jack, no pneumatic drill, but by 10.38pm,  I was left in a cloud of dust, putting the last tools away, spare tyre in place, as my husband took off from the garage in Lizzy, to do a trip, which would normally take twenty minutes by car.  I swear that I drove to the speed limits, and I never caught him up, until we reached the camp site, I thought at one stage I must have passed him parked up somewhere, but didn’t know Lizzie or Ray, had it in them, we made it with a minute to spare.
Great timing.  Great driving by the boy.

Friday 28th
Settled in, bird table up, life has moved to London pace. All appointments and driving lessons have started.  We have had the fiesta MOT’d and Lizzy goes for her service and MOT on Tuesday.  Our next planned trip, is from about the 16th of Feb, when we will be heading over to Italy and skiing.  We are basically back to what we do best, which is meet up with everyone that we can and socialise, eat, drink and enjoy our retirement.

Saturday 29th
I must put in that this part of the blog has been all about me, but one of the biggest things I have missed out, has been Ray’s withdrawal symptoms from the missing bike.  He has been buying bits and pieces for it, so we lasted until Saturday, and now the bike is back in his possession, no doubt in a couple of days I will become a “Tenere” widow , no matter, Subaru Impreza, you will be mine.

Ray Says-
My cousin John and his wife Jackie Hall have looked after Wallace whilst we have been in Scotland. We went for a Chinese with them in Epping and collected Wallace from their house afterwards. They are fantastic company and are like two ends of a magnet that completely complement each other whilst being poles apart. John runs a plumbing business and Jackie works for the NHS. We are all of a similar view of the world and we absolutely love their attitude and outlook on life. 

Ray, Karen, John and Jackie. Chinese restaurant Epping.

Sunday 30th.
An early start  (for me anyway!) and a quick trip to Harlow to collect trula for a driving lesson. The night before, I had asked her if she wanted an early lesson and she eagerly said yes, I then said "I'll be there at 5:30am". The phone went quiet for a few seconds and she said in a low voice "no". I laughed my socks off and told her 9am.
An interesting morning. Trula, God bless her, told me she was able to drive to the industrial estate where I wanted to teach her some more. After a quick couple of attempts it was obvious that she was wrong !
I then drove to the industrial estate and started from scratch. After a slow start she gained confiidence and skill very quickly and at about 10:30, she drove us very competently to McDonalds for breakfast. We then had another session in the estate and she had pretty well mastered reversing, clutch control and the use of the handbrake. She did very well in 2 hours of driving and then took us home. I was very impressessed. Well done Trula.

Monday 31st January
I spent the Morning putting some new accessories on Wallace and in the afternoon we went to Rye Meads nature reserve for some twitching (no not a nervous problem - bird watching). A very cold day and not much activity but it was lovely day.

Bull rushes. I love these things.

Backlight low winter sun on long grass - I liked it.

Swam climbing over a small weir.

Monday, 24 January 2011

34 Aviemore..

A 5 hour drive including a drive over the Forth Road Bridge saw us pull into the campsite at Lock Morlich just as darkness was decending.
Forth road bridge

We do not like to arrive at campsites in the darkness. I popped into reception, informed the lady on the desk that we had arrived and gave my name. "You are not on my list" was the reply. Now, we all know the "your names not on the list" thing. My reply was, Oh yes I am, I've paid a deposit. "I'm sorry sir, no you haven't, are you at the correct campsite". "Of course I am, this is Rothiemurchus isn't it.". "No, thats 4 miles back down the road".


A 4 mile drive with my tail between my legs and we arrived at the proper place in complete darkness. Plonker !
A black and white night time piccy of our camp site.

I booked us in, paid the ballance and was told not to let the cat out. Apparently they can be prey to the Pine Martins. A cute carniverous, cat sized creature with a real bad temper and very sharp teeth.

Not my photo - wish it was though

Next day, the 20th Jan, we slowly sorted ourselves out with our ski gear and caught the bus up to the slopes. There was not much snow about on the lower slopes. £30 each and a short funicular train ride later, it was apparent that there was not much snow further up either. There was a lot of whiter stuff, but most of it was ice - it was rubbish. The worst snow conditions I have seen since I was last there as a teenager in 1974.  However we had a couple of runs and lots of coffee. Karen was having problems with her boots so we called it a day.
Now thats what I call a quad - Sandy will be impressed

We made our way into the town of Aviemore and bought Karen a better pair of boots and then scrounged a lift from Bruce to his accommodation for tea and biscuits.
Next day we did the same again, spent and extortionate amount of money for a rip off ski system.
Looks better than it is - skiing on ice is scary

There are no proper chair lifts, except the one bought from Europe just after the iron age but that was not working anyway. All the rest are "T" bars or button lifts. For those that do not ski, a "T" bar is like a huge rubber pick axe on a rope extending to a steel cable being dragged up and down the mountain. 2 people sit on each side of the head of the pick axe and get dragged up the slope. Its hard work to say the least. The button is worse. Instead of a pick axe head, it is a disc the size of a small plate that you shove between your legs and it drags you up the slope by your goolies.
We did a few runs and then laughed at people in the cafe who thought it was good. We jacked it in and went home to get cleaned up for Bruces dog sled pre race meeting, which was opposite our campsite in the Hilton hotel. As a bonus, there was a free whiskey tasting for all competitors and we ended up with 6 tasters as we were given them by the non drinkers. Was our luck changing.

Saturday 22nd Jan.
Dog race day 1. We set the alarm on my phone (for the first time since retirement...he...he) and got up at 7am. We sorted ourselves out knowing that the bus would come past at about 8:25am. At 8:18 as we walked the 50m to the bus stop, the bloody thing drove past us. Bugger.
A quick call for a horribly expensive 4 mile cab ride back to the same camp site that we originally turned up at and the place was completely awash with all the worlds siberian huskies. They were everywhere, Bruce states that there are about 1500 in total - he should have an idea, he is a commitee member for the Siberian Husky Club of Great Britain and having been a"Musher" for about 28 years.
It was complete pandemonium. Nothing else comes close to a description.

Bruce was due to set of second at 9:32am with 7 dogs in the premier "A" class (7 or 8 dogs). Along with Bruce was a friend of his called Chris. Chris is an ex paratrooper having served in the falklands during the conflict at the same time as me.
Putting on the huskies harnesses
With 7 dogs and a rig to prepare, Bruce needed a hand and we were drafted in to hold on to some of his dogs whilst setting up. These dogs are as strong as oxen and all they want to do is run but at the same time they are extremely human friendly and love being petted. When they are being hooked up to the sled (actually a 3 wheeled kart - no snow for the proper sleds as stated above) they know they are going running and are difficult to control.
Bruce sets of, the blurr of the dogs says it all

On top of this, they are among the most handsome dogs in the world, the ice blue eyes and striking faces make them extremely desireable pets, unfortunately, all they want to do is run, so unless you can run 7 miles at 20mph, they make bad pets.
Bruce approaching a hairpin - helped by Chris - dogs don't usually do hairpins
Nearly round
Bruce coming in to the finish

Oh...hello Ray

Some of the 43 huskies that Bruce keeps.

Chris, Ray & Bruce

Karen & Splash

Saturday, 22 January 2011

33 More Lag Farm

Well, the snow buggered off and the ice then had its day.

The ford looks a but different. The lumps of ice flowing down the river were scarily huge. This blockage and the ice on the hill (the other way into the farm) sealed us off from the rest of the world.

This ice step was about a foot high with half in the water - no way through here then.

The thawing ice makes for some interesting scenery changes

Eerie but pretty

I had a phone call from my brother Bruce and when we told him we were in Scotland he invited us up to Aviemore where he was due to have a dog sled race.

We decided that was a great idea and decided to add a couple of days on to do some skiing. I found a campsite and made a booking.

So, to do this I had to re-commision the motorhome. By this I mean sort out the water system which was drained down whilst we were staying in the farm. I decided to move Lizzy from a previously frozen area which was now a bog and promptly got bogged in. I still had one set of snow chains on and promptly snapped one of them off breaking one of the chains. I was lucky not to snap the brake pipe off. Anyway, Sandy saved the day with a tow from his tractor.

We spent the next couple of days clearing crap of of Lizzy and trying to make some more space. We did succeed to a degree, but we also loaded up with our ski gear so I suppose we ballanced it all out and aro no better off realy !

Now that the days were a bit warmer and the farm hose had thawed out It was drain plugs back in and I then filled the water tank back up and saw that I had a leak. The internal filling hose had frozen (obviously not completely drained) and pushed the hose out of the connector. Simple job once identified.

Next job was to turn the pump on and pressurise the system. I fired it up and wondered why I could not get the pressure up. Then I found that there was water pissing out of the bottom of Lizzy. The water purifier (a 12" long carbon filled filter) had shattered with the frost. I had pumped about 50 litres of water into the inside of Lizzy, fortunately only in the underfloor void. We wait to see if there has been any permenant damage.
Again, fortunately, I had a spare filter and fitted it in minutes.
Next problem was the outside temperature guage, which was now reading minus 40 deg C...nice. I did not bother even trying to fix that.

Whilst we were doing all of the above, Leon decided to start acting realy strange and became extremely clingy with Karen. He would not stop squawking (constant meowing) at her. AZfter a couple of days It was driving her mad. On top of this his teats were getting enlarged so there was obviouly something wrong with him.
We booked an appointment with the vet the day before our departure for Aviemore. Once there the vet told us to stop him eating and bring him back the next day for blood tests...brilliant. We were due for a 9am getaway the next morning...not any more.

The next day, the 19th Jan, we duly popped down to the vets in Sandy and Margo's Terios as we could not park Lizzy anywhere near the vets. At the vets, we met a different vet, the one that gave Leon his rabies blood test many months ago. This female vet was like Sweeny Todds younger sister. She took 3 needles to get the sample. 
In Leons typical fashion, he did not make a murmour - bless him. 

We then drove back to the farm, fired up Lizzy and set off for Aviemore...3 hours late.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

32 Lag Farm, Scotland

Once at the farm we were made very welcome by Margo, Sandy and the three border collies. We settled in very quickly with Margo force feeding us every 10 munutes or so (only joking Mum). Karens brother John and his partner Tim were there having driven up from London a few days earlier.

The farm and surrounding countryside were beautiful in the crisp white snow.

Crystal beauty
Ice where the water crosses - the access hill was like this
The farm looking towards the ford

The ford at the edge of the farm was completely frozen to a depth of about 6". We had driven Lizzy over this on arrival.
The ford at the edge of the farm

The river up from the ford

The Routin bridge referred to in the previous post.
The Routin Bridge - ice fall underneath

The ice from on top of the bridge
Karen, the quad and the dogs - it'll end in tears...
Told you so...

31 The 7 week wait...

OK folks, it's been 7 weeks since our last post.

Why, you ask. A combination of things realy, laziness, not having anthing to write about and not realy going anywhere except for the trip home.

So what have we been doing since the 16th Nov ?

Well, we witnessed a geriatric sporting event over the weekend, windsurfing to be precise. It was surreal, these people have more energy than most teenagers and watching their perseverance was something to behold. There was about 30 of them and most were pretty good.
This is surreal...
And they can do it too....

We though we would make you all jealous with this pic taken whilst shopping - a place of torture for me you understand.

£4.50 for a bottle of Irish whiskey....nice

The weather was pretty good as Leon can testify to...

Oi, bugger off with that camera....I'm trying to sleep

On Wed 20th we had an ABBA fix and attended the on site bar and showed our age (we are younger than most there - he  he).
Shame we could not hear them over their own music...

We then started to get ourselves ready to make the long journey home. We had a lot to do. During the storm in Barcelona, the wheel spokes on Wallace took a battering and rusted quite badly. Not good for a new bike and I was not impressed. I had to take them all out, 2 at a time and clean them up and varnish them knowing that it would not last long.
The aftermath of the storm in Barcelona
 At the same time, Yamaha agreed to replace them but I decided to get some stainless steel ones made up. Job for when we get back to the UK.
I also had a problem with the trailer (again). The steel mud guard frames appeared a bit loose. On closer inspection I saw that they were completely breaking up and I had caught it just before they snapped off completely. As a temporary measure, I got some large backing washers and some plastic shims to stop the degradation and allow me to at least get it home.
I supplied some photos to the manufacturers and they agreed to replace them free of charge, sending them to Scotland.

I think these would have snapped off on the way home.

Anyway, having sorted out the bike and trailer we were now in a position to load up for the trip back.
Now, knowing the salt that was on the road in the UK I got hold of a can of anti rust spray from a mate in the UK and sprayed the disks and spokes having taken the brake pads out.

In France and Spain they do not have a Halfords of anything similar so buying degreaser and cleaner for motor vehicles is a nightmare. Sometimes the UK is better !

We loaded Wallace onto the trailer, stuffed the push bikes on the back of Lizzy and sold our inadequate tent extention to Dick. We went out for a meal with Dick and a lovely couple called  John and Jackie. This is the second meal they have taken us for and have showed us some fantastic restarants that we would not normally have even thought of. Some people are just plain beautiful, inside and out and these people are just that.

The next day, the 2nd, we set off on the long, 2100km, tedeous trek home. We drove all day and stopped at about 10pm to watch "I'm a Celerbrity, Get me out here". Its quite mad, just pull up, start the generator, flick the sat dish up and watch UK TV. It's a hard life isnt it.
After the break, we set off again and drove into France. It was now starting to get realy cold and started to snow heavilly. A bit of a contrast from the place we had left about 18 hours previously. We had reached an area of France called the "Central Massif", which is a big plateaux about 400km long and about 1200m high. About midnight we were turned off the motorway as it had closed (due to snow) - not good.
As we got to ther bottom of the exit ramp, the police stopped us and asked us what we were doing. After a breif chat we were told to go back onto the motorway and carry on. Apparently it was only closed to lorries. I was a bit concerned as Lizzy is about the same size as a small lorry ! We stoped a short while later at about 1am, in an Aire and got our heads down for a bit.

We set off again at about 7am and the snow was wild.

Short break on the Cebtral Massif

We pressed on gaining height all the time and suddenly we came out of the clouds and the sun started to shine. We assumed we had to go back down the mountain through what we had just come through, but it was nice neverless. We assumed correct !

Ooh look, snowploughs....a lesson for the UK perhaps

I also noticed that we had lost one of our trailer wheel arches. Nice, but not entirely unexpected.
We plugged on and on and made the mistake of arriving in Paris during the rush hour. Bloody hell! I'm glad I wasn't driviving.....

After this we were both seriously stressed out so decided to park up just outside Paris and again watch Celebrity. Sad aren't we.

The next day, the 4th, we made the final push to Calais. The snow had stopped and it was a pleasant but cold day. We parked up within 200m of the town centre (try doing that in the UK with a motorhome) and had a short bimble around the town and then hit the cheap booze supermarket, overloaded poor Lizzy and them headed for the port.

Big mistake. We should have booked the ferry on line. It cost £36 to sail out and this trip back cost £160. Grrrrrrrr

The crossing was undramatic. Can't say the same for the landing. Lizzy was parked up against the sea door and as the door opened there was 2" on snow on the front of the ship and when ther ramps went down we did not think we would get off. It was a white out blizzard. Following a slow and careful drive up and down the elevated roadway we finally cleared customs and exited the port.
The next 90 miles was interesting to say the least. Unlike France, Kent council obviously do not look at weather reports. The A2/M2 was down to 2 wheel tracks and was awful.It obviously had not seen a plough or any salt for a long time.

We needed gas (LPG) as we had not filled Lizzy whilst abroad due to not having an adapter for European LPG fillers. We pulled into one service area and straight onto an area that had not been used at all. Lizzy gradually slowed to a halt and we were stuck. I got out and was up to my knees in snow. We disconnected the trailer, pushed it back to from where we had come till we met better wheel tracks and then reversed Lizzy back too.  We connected the trailer again and when we got to the petrol pumps, there was no LPG. We drove on and at the next service station where LPG was advertised we drove up the ramp and got stuck again with Lizzy blocking the whole place. We managed to get going again, filled up and eventually got to Harlow at about 9pm. A quick phone call to forewarn Trula to put the kettle on and we dumped Lizzy ouside her flat. Trula and Paige were (apparently) pleased to see us and after a quick cuppa we stole our car, Penny, back and drove to Hertford campsite which was closed for the night. We parked up outside and went to bed.
The next day we booked ourselves in till the 22nd Dec and when I tried to move Lizzy she had a flat tyre and would not budge in the snow. It just gets better.
After digging about in the snow and cold under the rear of Lizzy (where the spare is) I changed the  tyre and eventually got onto plot.
Once settled with the awning and its tent thing up we had time to relax and get ourselves sorted out.

Now with the ability to go shopping (Wallace was still greased up and on the trailer) Karen jumped in the car to do some urgent shopping and came back with some food for us but more for the local wildlife. Big bags of peanuts, monkey nuts, bird seed, fat balls....just about everthing and....a bird feeder tower.

Hours of amusement for Karen

Initially I was a bit skeptical, but once the food tower was up and running it was worth it. The birds and squirrels mobbed it. We had magpies, pheasants,  robins, blue tits, blackbirds, great tits, long  tailed tits, chaffinches, moor hens, nuthatches and Jays. Karen was over the moon and I have to say it kept her amused for weeks - bliss.

One of the nuthatches.

We used the time in Hertford to good effect, the snow having cleared after about 5 days. We took the kids to dinner a couple of times at the Toby carvery in Harlow. On the second visit we exchaged Christmas gifts and generally gad a greeat day.

I managed to get a set of stainless steel spokes made up for Wallace. I fitted them at -5 deg C. Brrrr
Spoke change - easy on this bike - nice and shiny now.

F**king trailer. This made a real mess of Lizzys posterior

We were worried about the pending trip toScotland. There are 2 ways into Karen's parents farm, they are both steep downhill roads. I knew that they were both covered in snow and ice and any slippage would wreck Lizzy as the roads are narrow with stone walls. On top of this, in december, Germany changed the law and now dictate that from November to April, all vehicles must have snow tyres. (We had intended to go there during htis time) I made some enquiries and for £1000 I could have a set of 6. This is, if they had any, which they didn't !
Next option was snow chains. I had left it a bit late and eventually got 2 sets that I later picked up in Warrington on the way up. I needed two sets, one for the front driving wheels and one for the rear as any slippage on the ice of the rear would have taken Lizzy over an edge and rolled her. A bit of a no brainer realy.

Due to the weather and the fact that we did not want to arrive at the farm in the dark, we set off a day early and drove to near Warrington on the 21st. There was no problem at all with the weather and traffic. We stopped at Knutsford service area, intending to spend the night there and go into Warrington the next day to collect the snow chains. Knowing that we had to pay to park I went into the service area and asked how much........10 f**king pounds....Whaaaat.
It is a good job I paid too, I had to type my registration number into a machine to register it and when I was halfway through typing a photo of my number plate popped up with the entry time. Saved myself an £80 ticket.
On top of that we had to park in the area set aside for caravans - right next to the M6. Expensive and noisy - luverly.
After a very difficult nights sleep we set off again and arrived at Dumfries at about noon. Just outside Dumfries we ran out of tarmac and were driving on packed snow. We got some strange looks from the locals driving this monstrous thing along snow covered country lanes.
We got to the Routin Bridge, a beautiful old river bridge with a waterfall underneath it. I decided to put the first set of snow chains on.
First set of chains going on
Looking the other way at the Routin Bridge - more of this later

We then drove carefully to the road leading to the farm with the ice and snow on. Second set of chains on. A quick prayer and a gentle drive off and Lizzy drove safely down the hill, over the frozen ford and up the farm track and into the farm. £230 for 2 sets of chains well spent.

Finally at the farm - drain the water - let it freeze