Tag Archives: Caravan Holiday

East Anglia – Bury St Edmunds and The Patron Saint of Pandemics

Bury St Edmunds was another town that I had never visited. A few years ago I drove through it and was struck by the elegant market place with a tall cathedral and fine Georgian buildings and I made a note to self to pay a proper visit one day.
This was it.
In terms of the weather we had unfortunately picked a very bad week to be on an English staycation and we weren’t too disappointed to be leaving the holiday home (caravan) so we packed up early and headed away from the coast and into rural Suffolk and drove through villages which had seen significant overnight snowfall. I thought that I was in Alaska. Contrary to popular folklore March had roared in like a lion and instead of going out like a lamb was going out the same way.
Fortunately the further west that we drove the weather began to incrementally improve and there were even some glimpses of elusive blue sky. We arrived in late morning which was too early to book into our chosen hotel so we made instead for the centre of the town. Local folk call the town Bury but being from the North I always think of Bury as being in Manchester so I prefer to think of this place as Bury St Edmunds. It sounds posher.

After Ipswich and Lowestoft, Bury St Edmunds is the third largest place in Suffolk and we liked it immediately. After tea and biscuits in the Cathedral coffee shop Kim and Mum made directly for the High Street shops and I went off to investigate the Abbey Gardens and the Cathedral.
The Abbey of St Edmund was once one of the richest and most powerful Benedictine monasteries in all of England. In 869, Edmund, King of the East Angles was murdered by invading Danes when he refused to renounce Christianity. For his stubbornness he was tied to a tree and shot through with arrows and had his head cut off to make sure. No half measures in those days. I wonder sometimes about medieval torture, surely the victim was well and truly dead before the torturers had finished. Vladamir Putin would have been a medieval torturer I am sure.

His death led to the building of the Abbey to house his remains and his shrine quickly became a place of pilgrimage. The Cult of Edmund flourished during the Middle Ages and he was temporarily revered as the patron Saint of medieval England until at some point he was replaced by Saint George.
Today he has the unlikely title of the Patron Saint of Pandemics so I imagine that he has been rather busy listening to prayers for the past couple of years or so. He is said to have been given this title after the French city of Toulouse (who claimed to have some important relics of his) became ravaged by plague in the seventeenth century. Residents of the prayed to Edmund after which the plague came to an abrupt end. As Michael Caine might have said “Not a lot of people know that”.

Maybe if more people had known this the World could have saved a fortune on developing Covid vaccinations and going into expensive lockdown. I wish that I had known that because if I had I would have said a prayer to St Edmund because a few days after returning home from East Anglia both Kim and I both tested positive for Covid.

After the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s the Abbey naturally began to fall into disrepair and lots of stone was taken for alternative building projects around the town. I was quite surprised therefore to discover that so much of it remained in a vast well maintained town centre park.
Near the Cathedral there are houses built into the walls which reminded of Antoni Gaudi creations in Barcelona. I don’t suppose that Gaudi ever visited Bury St Edmunds but if he had he may have got inspiration here,

I spent some time in the Gardens, walked every path and read each and every information board.

Towards the end of the afternoon I made my visit to the Cathedral. Free admission by the way. Up to 1914 Suffolk didn’t have a Cathedral and was part of a wider diocese of East Anglia with the Cathedral in Norwich in Norfolk but it was then decided that it required one of its own. This presented the Church with a dilemma.

Ipswich is the biggest town in the County but Bury St Edmunds had the most famous church thanks to the St Edmund connection. The Church came to a compromise, Ipswich would get the Bishop’s House and be the base of the diocese and Bury St Edmunds would get the Cathedral and everyone agreed that that was a good idea except perhaps for the Bishop who has a hundred mile round trip every week to get to Sunday service which would have been much more of an inconvenience over a hundred years ago than it is today.

Ipswich is not unique, it is not the only County town without an Anglican Cathedral and there are others – Warwick, Cambridge (I mentioned that before), Northampton (I mentioned that before as well), Nottingham, Aylesbury and Shrewesbury are other examples. At the same time that Suffolk became a diocese so too did Essex with its own Cathedral in Chelmsford.

Not a brilliant Cathedral I have to say but it provided me with a pleasant fifteen minute visit, especially as the choir was practising which was very nice, before I left and rejoined the others at the agreed time.

I had enjoyed my afternoon in Bury St Edmunds and I was forced to concede that this was a town where half a day it isn’t long enough so I will have to make another note to self to return one day and stay longer.

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East Anglia – The Evolution of Caravans and Fish ‘n’ Chips

Warning – the post contains images that some readers might find upsetting.

It had been a glorious day weather wise but the forecast for the next few days was really rather grim and although we arrived in sunshine  clouds were already worryingly close by and the prospects were depressingly bleak.

Before travel I had rather recklessly accepted a challenge from Kim to sometime this week take a dip in the North Sea and although this was only mid March I had rashly accepted.  There was a £10 bet resting on this and as I was not about to part with £10, even to Kim, especially to Kim, so I decided that it had to be done straight away.

Bloody Hell it was cold.  It reminded me of family holidays sixty years ago.

Bad weather didn’t stop us going to the beach in those days and even if it was blowing a gale or there was some drizzle in the air we would be off to to enjoy the sea.  If the weather was really bad we would put up a windbreak and huddle together inside it to try and keep warm.  Most of the time it was necessary to keep a woolly jumper on and in extreme cases a hat as well and Wellington boots were quite normal.

As soon as the temperature reached about five degrees centigrade or just slightly below we would be stripped off and sent for a dip in the wickedly cold North Sea in a sort of endurance test that I believe is these days considered even too tough to be included as part of Royal Marine Commando basic training.

It was rather like being submerged in liquid nitrogen and whilst swimmers in Australia were worrying about sharks we were busy avoiding bits of iceberg that had broken off in the Arctic Ocean.  I can remember one holiday at Walcote, Norfolk, in about 1965 when it was so cold that there was a penguin on the beach!  That is seriously true and being so far from the South Pole I can only imagine that it had escaped from a nearby zoo or aquarium.

I claimed the £10 bet but Kim reneged saying that I hadn’t fully submerged so it didn’t count and the bet was off.  I was too cold to dispute the finer points of the claim.

As promised in the weather forecast the next two days were desperately awful with rain, sleet, snow and high winds whipping in from Scandinavia so for much of the time we were confined to the caravan which was painful but not as bad as swimming in the North Sea.

I have horror memories of caravan holidays.  When I was a boy the family went to caravan holidays all of the time.  Caravans simply had no temperature control, they were hot and stuffy if the sun shone (so that wasn’t too much of a problem, obviously) and they were cold and miserable when it rained, which,  I seem to remember was most of the time .

They  had no bathroom so we had to use the communal camp washroom facilities, it had no electricity so we couldn’t watch TV, it had no kitchen so we couldn’t cook breakfast and it didn’t have heating so when it was cold it was really cold.  The only thing it did have was a bottle of Calor Gas and a one ring hob for boiling a kettle and for lighting hissing gas lamps at night which attracted insects and created so much condensation that after an hour or two, water was dripping off the ceiling onto our sleeping bags on the floor and we were sleeping in a puddle.

As I get older I appreciate more and more what my parents did for me.  They took us for a seaside in a tiny caravan and I can only imagine that they hated it, it must, after all, have been mind-numbingly boring, spending endless hours in a biscuit tin with only the popping of the gas lamp and the smell of  Calor Gas for evening entertainment, especially when it was raining. 

I am pleased to be able to report that modern caravans are much improved and our accommodation had all of the facilities of a modern home with central heating, running water, a bathroom, electricity and a fully equipped kitchen.  So we we filled the fridge with wine, cooked a Shepherd’s Pie that Mum had prepared previously, closed the doors and hunkered down for a couple of days in the comfort of our caravan.

As it turned out it wasn’t bad weather all of the time, only about 95% of the time  out so in between blizzard like Arctic showers and savage North Sea winds we did manage to get out for an hour or two.

I especially wanted to go to Aldeburgh because last time that I was there I had a mind to have some fish and chips from a highly recommended chippy but this was in August and there was queue which lasted well over an hour and however much I like fish and chips I wasn’t prepared to line up for that long.

Today there was no queue so I breezed in and ordered and took them away to the beach to eat them. I sat myself on the sea wall with an uninterrupted  view out over the North Sea, the colour of a day-old bruise, rippling away to the horizon under gunmetal skies. I unwrapped with anticipation and immediately received the anticipated aroma which, once released smells of all the good things in life in the same place at the same time.   The very warmth of it felt like a reassuring defender against the chill wind coming off the sea.

As it happened, the fish was good, the chips were poor, I enjoyed them but I wouldn’t queue for over an hour to buy them.

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East Riding of Yorkshire, Hornsea

Northumberland Seaside Painting

I live in the north of Lincolnshire.  I like Lincolnshire but I like Yorkshire even more.  Lucky for me then that it is only a thirty mile drive to cross the Humber Bridge and arrive in the East Riding.

School holidays mean visiting grandchildren so to save the house and garden from being trashed I booked a few days away in a holiday home (caravan) in a part of Yorkshire that I have so far never felt inclined to visit.  Tucked away in the south east of the county is a stretch of coastline between the city of Hull and the town of Bridlington and this was our destination.  A holiday park at Skipsea Sands.

East Riding

The UK was enjoying bizarre weather and an unexpected heat-wave as hot air swept up from North Africa and we set off with high expectations of a gloriously sunny week with the promise of record breaking temperatures and as we approached our first destination we were not disappointed.

I first visited Hornsea in February 2017 and I liked it so much that I vowed to return.  This is what I said about it then…

“On arrival I was immediately impressed.  I live near the resort town of Cleethorpes but although it is a popular holiday resort it has to be said that it is just a muddy estuary where the sea is barely visible for long periods of the day but this was real North Sea coast with a raging sea, barnacled groynes, pounding surf, churning water and a pebble beach clattering away as it was constantly rearranged by the tidal surge.”

It was different today of course as the midday temperature soared through the thirties, the sea was calm and warm and the beach was as busy as Benidorm in July.

fish-and-chip-shops-whitby

We started the visit with fish and chips because there is nowhere like Yorkshire for fish and chips, cooked properly in beef dripping and crisp crunchy batter, a real treat.  I lived for a few months in Richmond in North Yorkshire and would quite happily eat fish and chips every day.

Next we went to the beach.  I wasn’t so keen on this as the children.  I have just bought a new car and I didn’t want it filled with sand that is difficult to vacuum up but I had to give in of course and accept the consequences.

The beach was busy and a few yards away were a family of louts who were ignoring the summer beaches dog-ban rule with a scruffy animal that was causing mayhem.  I just hate dogs.

After half an hour or so they packed up and left but didn’t bother to take their litter with them, several beer cans and empty crisp packets and just wandered off with their obnoxious beast.  Kim was outraged and went across to where they were sitting and picked up all of the mess that they had left behind.  I was impressed by that.

Hornsea Litter Picker

And so with sandy feet and muddy clothes we left the beach but then ran into the moron beach littering family.  Kim couldn’t help herself and walked across to them and handed them the bag of cans and bottles.  I knew that this wasn’t a good idea.  The youth (obviously unemployable and living on benefits) was a tattoed yob (paid for by people like us who pay taxes) who clearly couldn’t be reasoned with or could see no wrong in his actions and responded with a tirade of abuse which shocked the passers-by.  I pulled Kim away but he followed and continued with his foul mouthed response until we were out safely of ear-shot.

Anti-Social behaviour and littering is a real problem in the UK as people seem to think that it is acceptable to dispose of rubbish in any public place and I find that so distressing.

After we had walked the length of the seafront we returned to the car park and continued our journey to out holiday home (caravan) destination at Skipsea Sands.  Caravan allocation is a bit of a lottery, sometimes you get a good one and sometimes you don’t.  This time we struck lucky with a van on the edge of the park overlooking a field of golden corn and the blue sea beyond.  It was quite perfect.

I have visited these caravan parks before and I am certain that the company keeps a database of clients and how they leave the accommodation when they leave.  I try to leave it in really good order and I am convinced that this results in an upgrade for the next visit.

As the girls moved in and chose their bedrooms Kim and I sat on the balcony and watched the monochrome kaleidoscope of grass as the breeze choreographed shifting patterns in the field of golden wheat.  We opened a bottle of wine and congratulated ourselves on our good fortune.

Skipsea Cornfield

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A UK Holiday – Lincolnshire to Norfolk, Traffic Congestion and The Patron Saint of Escapology

camp2

A couple of years ago a good pal introduced me to the experience of modern caravanning.

I had taken quite a lot of persuading.  I remembered staying in a caravan in about 1970 and I said that I would never ever to do it again.  I have consistently maintained that I just do not understand caravanning at all or why people subject themselves to the misery of a holiday in a tin box with no running water, chemical toilets and fold away beds, I could see no pleasure in it whatsoever.

I am pleased to be able to report however that modern caravans are much improved and imagine my shock then when I tell you that I was so impressed with our holiday caravan accommodation which had all of the facilities of a modern home with central heating, hot and cold running water, a bathroom with a shower, electricity and a fully equipped kitchen.

I instantly became a caravan fan.

Earlier in the year my daughter invited us along on a camping holiday.  Not being a fan of tents and not even willing to try it I turned the opportunity down but offered the alternative of a modern luxury caravan.  She didn’t take a lot of persuading, it turns out that she is not such a big fan of camping either!

Great Yarmouth Post Card 2

So, when the day arrived we packed the car and headed south to the county of Suffolk in East Anglia.  Traditionally in England families took one week holidays from Saturday to Saturday and my Dad used to like to travel on a Friday to avoid the traffic so fifty years later we did the same.  I thought that this was a good idea but it seems however that holiday habits have changed and now everyone travels on a Friday!

It was only a short journey of about one hundred and fifty miles but we had to use the A17 route which is a major English road which takes almost all of the traffic from the North of England into East Anglia and consequently some days it can become horribly congested.  This was one of those days.

Find an easier way I hear you say but sadly there is no way of avoiding the A17 because of the topography of the region.  To get into Norfolk from Lincolnshire it is necessary to pass close by to a stretch of water called The Wash which is a large chunk of water in the coastline of Eastern England that separates the north-east coast of East Anglia from the wetlands and the Fens of Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire.  Building roads over bogs is difficult it seems.

The Wash

Four major rivers flow into The Wash, The Witham, The Welland, The Nene and the Great Ouse and except for the most northerly, The Witham, which is relatively easy to get across, the other three are crossed by the single carriageway A17 and there is simply no sensible alternative route so all of the traffic converges close to Boston in Lincolnshire and then crawls along the A17 for about thirty miles or so until it gets past King’s Lynn in Norfolk.  It makes for a dreadfully frustrating journey.

When you finally get past King’s Lynn the A17 ends and joins the A47 which is another horrible road which brings all of the traffic into Norfolk from the East Midlands and everyone going for an East Coast holiday from the cities of Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Peterborough so even though there are no more rivers to cross there isn’t a great deal of improvement in traffic flow.

As a consequence of this our journey into East Anglia took considerably longer than anticipated and we were about two hours behind schedule by the time we finally arrived at our first planned stop, a National Trust property called Oxburgh Hall which is situated into the village of Oxborough.  I’m afraid I have no explanation to offer as to why the spellings do not match.

Oxburgh Hall Norfolk

Oxburgh turned out to be a fabulous place, nice gardens, woodland walks and a moated Medieval House in a good state of preservation. So we walked the grounds and visited the house and looked out for the highlight feature of the property, a Priest Hole, open for visit and inspection.

A Priest Hole was a hiding place in Tudor and Stuart times for Catholic Priests during the religious persecutions of the Reformation.  Several important members of the Nobility and their families remained defiantly but secretly true to the Catholic faith and in large important houses provided these hiding places for resident priests and various items of Catholic paraphernalia.  The penalty for being discovered and captured was severe with the certainty of horrible torture (almost as bad as driving the A17) and the liklihood of painful death so these Priest’s Holes had to very cunningly designed and built.

A man called Nicholas Owen is famous for carrying out this work in a number of great houses and so crafty were they in their planning that even today it is suggested that they may not all have been found.  At Oxburgh he came up with a sort of sunken pit concealed in the solid interior brick work of the house and with access through a false floor and just a tiny corridor.

The really interesting thing about this one is that visitors are allowed to go down through the floor and narrow entrance and go inside to have a look.

I sent Kim down first to check it out…

Oxburgh Priest Hole

It is quite a tight squeeze but once inside it isn’t so bad although I wouldn’t want to spend a few days down there in the dark with no bathroom facilities.

Nicholas Owen was captured in 1606 and taken to the Tower of London where he was mercilessly tortured for ten days as the authorities sought to discover all of his Priest Hole stories.  He never gave in and eventually died and all of his secrets went with him.  Owen was canonised as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales by Pope Paul VI in 1970.

Today, Catholic stage magicians who practice Gospel Magic consider Saint Nicholas Owen to be the Patron Saint of Illusionists and Escapologists.  His Feast Day is celebrated on 22nd March.

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Northumberland, Seaton Delaval Hall

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A year ago we went to Northumbria for a weekend break, bought National Trust membership and visited as many places as possible just to get our money’s worth.  One of these was Seaton Delaval Hall.

I liked this place immediately. I could imagine living there. Sadly the main block is almost derelict, destroyed by a massive fire in 1822 but even though it is soot blackened and blaze scorched (it reminded me of one of my garden BBQ attempts) it remains a magnificently impressive building.

I liked it so much that we returned for a second visit a year later in the Summer of 2018.

What a tragedy that a place has magnificent as this should be destroyed in a single night and after two hundred years or so still be left as a great ruin.  Now it is a place frozen in time, agony twisted metal, flame seared alabaster statuary, fire coloured bricks of multi-colours and ash blackened floor tiles.

It was designed and built by Sir John Vanbrugh who had been previously responsible for Castle Howard in Yorkshire and Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and although this one is much smaller in scale historians and architects today consider it to be his finest works.

The Delavals were rich landowners and early industrialists who made their money from coal, salt and glass and by all accounts they worked hard and partied hard and weekends here of parties and shagging went together like dog’s tails and wagging! Everyone in Georgian society looked forward to an invitation to a weekend rave popping through their letterbox!

Of all the places that we had visited this weekend this was my favourite, I could have stayed and poked about in the corners and the recesses for a whole day. The west wing (not destroyed by the fire) was lived in until relatively recently by a member of the modern day aristocracy but upon his death the owner had a huge bill for inheritance tax and unable to afford it sold the place to the National Trust.

If you missed the full post first time round then you can find it here…

Northumberland, Seaton Delaval and George Washington

Northumberland, Seaton Delaval and George Washington

Seaton Dalaval Hall Northumberland

We were leaving the caravan this morning and I wasn’t especially sad about that.  It was nice enough but disappointing compared to the luxury accommodation that we had enjoyed a couple of months previously in Norfolk; the constant sickly smell of calor gas reminded me of childhood caravan holidays and was giving me headaches, although Kim accusingly suggested that it might alternatively have been the Stella Artois!

We started the day by making a third attempt to visit nearby Seaton Delaval Hall which had been inconveniently closed for the last two days. We arrived at ten o’clock but it didn’t open until eleven (Kim said that I should have checked the web site and I couldn’t argue with that but I blamed the Calor gas/Stella Artois headache) so we walked around the gardens and then sat in the pleasant sunshine in the garden until the ticket office opened.

We didn’t need tickets because now we were members of the National Trust so we flashed our temporary paperwork and walked straight through without stopping even to look in the ridiculously overpriced gift shop.

I liked this place immediately. I could imagine living there. Sadly the main block is almost derelict, destroyed by a massive fire in 1822 but even though it is soot blackened and blaze scorched (it reminded me of one of my garden BBQ attempts) it remains a magnificently impressive building.

What a tragedy that a place has magnificent as this should be destroyed in a single night and after two hundred years or so still be left as a great ruin.

Seaton Delaval Great Hall

It was designed and built by Sir John Vanbrugh who had been previously responsible for Castle Howard in Yorkshire and Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and although this one is much smaller in scale historians and architects today consider it to be his finest work.

The Delavals were rich landowners and early industrialists who made their money from coal, salt and glass and by all accounts they worked hard and partied hard and weekends here of parties and shagging went together like dog’s tails and wagging! Everyone in society looked forward to an invitation popping through their letterbox!

Of all the places that we had visited this weekend this was my favourite, I could have stayed and poked about in the corners and the recesses for a whole day. The west wing (not destroyed by the fire) was lived in until relatively recently by a member of the modern day aristocracy but upon his death the owner had a huge bill for inheritance tax and unable to afford it sold the place to the National Trust.

Taxes! We pay taxes all of our lives to the Government and then when we die we pay them all over again. Bloody outrageous if you ask me, reminds me of a film I once saw with a great line – “There is nothing more certain in life than death and taxes – unless you are Greek!”

Seaton Delaval Staircase

As we walked around the West Wing my eye was drawn to a painting which described the subject as Baron Astley of Hillmorton in Warwickshire and why that poked my interest is because I lived and grew up in Hillmorton in Warwickshire.  None of the guides could give me any information on that point and that was not especially surprising because as it turns out the Baronetcy of Hillmorton was/is just a convenience title and the man who enjoyed it actually lived in Norfolk.

There is however a street in Hillmorton called ‘Astley Place’.

After visiting the Hall we walked around the grounds and the formal gardens, which didn’t take especially long and then we left Seaton Delaval and Northumbria and headed for the Tyne Tunnel and the journey back home.

Before driving into Yorkshire we stopped briefly at Washington Old Hall, another National Trust property and the ancestral home (allegedly) of George Washington of American Independence and First president of the USA fame.

It has to be said that the link is quite tenuous because George’s ancestors left Washington Old Hall almost a hundred years before he was born and he himself apparently confessed had little interest in genealogy or his English heritage.

I have said before that I always like to see how far a place name has travelled and not unsurprisingly there are a lot of Washingtons in the USA and thirty States have a place named after the town in Tyne and Wear or, more likely of course, the first President of the USA.  These are the nineteen that don’t – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming.

Minnesota does however have a statue of Leif Ericson.

We spent a very pleasant hour or so at Washington Old Hall and as we finished with a cup of tea and a slice of cake in the café I did some final reckoning up and was happy to find that we had fully recovered the cost of National Trust membership and we had a full year ahead of us to make a tidy profit.

I wonder where my next caravan holiday will take me?

Washington Old Hall Eagle