The last week has or so was pretty tumultuous. The packers had given every indication that they would fail to make the deadline, but with a last minute push they completed at 6pm on Friday 26th August – they must have done twice as much as on any previous day, which I suspect speaks more for the frequency of coffee and tea breaks on those days than the frenetic pace of their last day. And we spent the days while they were there trying to work out what to do with all our stuff – shipping, airfreight, take it on the plane with us, or take it in the caravan? The piles for each grew, shrank, and moved daily. Finally, with the packers out of the way, our options were narrowed and decisions became final.
On Saturday we packed lightly and set off to the Cotswolds for a weekend camping with friends met through the kids’ school, Princes Mead. Angus and Leigh McQueen organise the camping weekend each August bank holiday – this was our third. We camped at the farm co-owned by Angus and his brother near Chipping Camden, a beautiful and historic Cotswold stone village. The caravans and tents were arranged in a circle resembling the pioneers in defence against the native American Indians – ours was more in defence against marauding children. We had a lovely relaxed weekend, gathered around the enormous fire made in a disused domestic oil tank with holes strategically cut for draught, playing games including the melon ball eating competition (most melon balls in a minute – George 23, France 34, Geoff 38, and the winner, Angus 46!), and the raw egg catching competition (pairs of players throwing and catching a raw egg, longest distance wins – George and Geoff came second!), barbecuing vast quantities, eating, and of course drinking the occasional beverage! The kids ran feral and had a wonderful time with their mates. We even managed a walk into the village along the beautiful Cotswold way, to admire the ancient buildings….or more accurately, to sit in a pub to watch the Grand Prix! A great weekend, and a lovely way to say farewell to our friends.
We left in good time on Monday, the bank holiday, in order to make the short drive to Sutton Courtenay near Abingdon where we stopped for lunch with the Rowes. Frances, who went to school with Jackie Rowe, and I had spent many lovely weekends and holidays in our teens with Chris and Lorna Rowe and Jackie and Andrew at 78a High St (they’ve since moved, directly over the road) and in Turkey in 1981 when Frances and I met! Andrew and his sons Alex and Marcus were there for lunch, entertaining us with their piano playing and impressing us with Marcus’ incredible GCSE results (7 A stars, 4 As and a B!). Chris and Lorna were on great form and clearly very active, with Lorna just getting her piano Grade 8 and Chris winning the local veteran’s golf championship.
We departed after lunch and drove back to the Maples for a quick unpack and scrub up in time for a birthday dinner for Mummy Sue and Gom at a Chinese restaurant in Winchester. George and Charlie stayed the night with Susie and John while Frances and I stayed in the caravan at the Maples, ready for an early start to do the final clean and clearing of the house. I made the final umpteenth visit to the tip with another trailer load (amazing how much junk can be acquired and then discarded after four years) while Frances sorted all the stuff to be left at Susie and Johns ready for air-freighting or taking with us in November. Finally, I packed the car ready for the off on Wednesday morning, and we bedded down in the caravan again.
We started early on Wednesday, handing over the house to Helen, the owner’s PA. It seemed quite odd really, talking about how the garden needed constant maintenance to keep on top of the ground elder and nettles, how the apples would need pruning, the grapes were nearly ready for picking, the lawn needed an autumn weed and feed – I shall really miss the garden. And the house, which Frances had left in a much better state than we’d walked into four years ago but is in such need of remedial maintenance. It’s been a brilliant house to live in – lovely, big and comfortable, close to France’s parents, the kids school and the station – we really made it our home, we’ll miss living there.
After a final couple of admin jobs (banking, post office, visiting the removalists to check on their reconditioning of our garden furniture) we were finally ready to set off at about 11.30 to drive to Harwich. After a quick fuel stop and to check tyre pressures we headed up the M3 – and for the first time the outfit felt stable and not underpowered. The extra 3 PSI I’d put in the caravan tyres (to the recommended 45 PSI) seem really to have helped. With more careful packing I’d managed to get the whole awning and all the other heavy items in the car – and without the bikes on the roof, the whole rig was lighter, more aerodynamic and more stable. I’d fuelled with premium unleaded – this also makes a huge difference to the performance and fuel economy over the regular grade petrol. So at a steady 55-odd miles per hour we headed to Harwich, arriving in plenty of time for our 4.30pm check-in and 5.30pm sailing.
As we checked in we were handed a very threatening warning about the consequences of having more than the strict limit of two gas bottles on board. Despite their very small size, our three camping gaz bottles were in clear breach – we confessed, and were told we’d have to get rid of one. After abortive attempts to do so at a nearby supermarket and petrol station, Frances found a very receptive family of Irish travellers to donate it to – four very smartly dressed kid and the biggest and fanciest caravan we’ve seen to-date!
We boarded the enormous and two-thirds empty ferry, parked up the caravan and prepared to make our way to our cabin – at which point, George discovered his car door wouldn’t shut – the locking mechanism wouldn’t release! After some frantic fiddling with a pair of pliers I managed to fix it and shut the door, so we were able to head off to our cabin. The boat seemed pretty big to me – we were on level seven of ten, in an outside cabin. We had a very pleasant and vast buffet dinner, the kids went off to the on-board entertainer’s balloon making show, and then we hit the hay. It was a very smooth crossing considering we were sailing across the North Sea. But despite this, I managed to dream all night of the caravan rolling un-tethered around the empty car deck below us.
In the morning, the multi-skilled entertainer, in his new guise of the Pirate Captain took us on a tour of the bridge – fantastic to see how the ship is operated. It all looked very calm and un-complicated – just one officer on deck, a few monitors for radar, speed, depth (only 25m in the mid north sea!), a very small wheel, a couple of throttles for the engines and a couple more for the thrusters, and an assortment of lights and buttons – I’ve seen more complicated looking cars! A little later, this time as a magician, the entertainer (who in the off-season is a Manuel [Fawlty Towers] impersonator) occupied another hour with his magic show. And before we knew it, it was time to disembark.
We drove off the ferry, were waved straight through without stopping to show documents, and were in Esbjerg!
And after an hour’s drive on Denmark’s beautiful clear smooth and straight roads (albeit with a pretty strong side wind whistling across the vast fen-like landscape to keep me on my toes) we arrived at the campsite. Campsite? This is a luxury holiday resort – vast, clean, neat, picturesque and almost deserted! The Danish schools went back a couple of weeks ago, so all that’s left in the site are a number of enormous caravans and awnings left here all season by their owners, along with a very sparse sprinkling of tourists. There is every facility imaginable – an ‘aqua-park’ with pools, waterslides and Jacuzzi, trampolines, pedal-kart racing track, communal barbecue and cooking area (complete with microwaves, ovens, dishwasher(!), barbecue pits, washing up facilities – all immaculate and really well thought out. I imagine it will be busy again over the weekend until the end of the month, as the weather is still really pleasant.
We’re well set up now – the whole camp is complete in under two hours (awning and inner tents up, water, electricity and gas sorted, tables and chairs erected, beds made. As long as we don’t move too often (every three to four days probably) it’s really manageable. We’ll stay here just two nights, and then head to a site closer to Copenhagen before heading into Sweden. We’ve decided to have a very quiet day today – Frances and I went for a walk this morning (having discovered that a run was out as my running shoes seem to have made it into one of the other consignments – shipping, airfreight or packing for the flight!). And now she’s home schooling the kids (maths, English, spelling etc) while I write this. This afternoon we’ll muck around in the pool for a while, then head into Give this afternoon for a mooch about. And then an early night. We’ll aim to leave here by 10.00 tomorrow so that we can be set up at the next stop in good time.
And so the journey begins!