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Monday, 29 July 2013

One Girl and Two Dogs on the Bummel: castles, catastrophes and condensation.

Missed the beginning? The bummel begins here

All good things come to an end, and where today I began in an idyllic setting, having fallen asleep to gentle rain and birdsong, I ended the day in a most miserable manner.

Monday started well; I awoke to blue skies and a gentle breeze that dried out my tent nicely- although it did pick up just as I was trying to pack it away, ready to move on. Curses. I ended up bundling it into a ball and letting Alfie use it as a cushion in the car on the way to Warwick. My plan, such as it was, was to take a stroll around Warwick before heading over to Moreton-in-Marsh to see my family, and then going on to Oxford to spend the night in a superbly situated campsite that would mean I could explore the city tomorrow without needing to find anywhere to park. It was a good plan, and I was feeling excited to be moving on.

In Warwick, I headed straight for the castle. I'm not daft; I knew I wouldn't be allowed in with the boys but I thought we could stroll around the periphery and enjoy the view. At the barrier to the car park I spotted- just in time- the fee to cross the threshold. No way I was paying that with no guarantee of even being let on the grounds! I reversed and did a U-turn, parking instead outside a pub over the road and opposite the castle. I now had two hours free parking in which to explore.

The boys pulled me (literally) up the hill towards the West gate, where they and I enjoyed the cool wind that rushed through the tunnel. I was especially taken with the row of houses opposite, high above the road and with what looked like a private walkway. A German man was excitedly taking photos of a post box, so each to their own. The boys would have been happy to stay there all day I think, but I pulled them on to explore further and have a wander around the town.

It was charming, and I was tempted to stay much longer and investigate the side roads and lanes, but the clock was ticking and my tummy was rumbling so, via the pedestrian entrance to the castle (another no-go, but it was worth a shot) we went back to the pub with the sign proclaiming "Dogs Welcome!".

Alfie, to my mortification, saw off the pub's resident dog as soon as we stepped inside, so I ordered a drink and slunk off to the tables outside by the road. It was pleasant, even with the cars whizzing by, to sit out and enjoy the sunshine. I rang my Nan and texted my Auntie, making sure they'd be in later as I flew through on the way to Oxford. When it began raining, I evacuated indoors, apologising again for Alfie's bad manners, to eat. The food was tasty, filling and cheap- perfect! I was considering a pudding when a coach-load of German tourists descended unannounced. Seeing the proprietor battle to keep her warm charm (which she did admirably) with skeleton staff and minimal notice, I decided not to add to her stress and instead paid up and moved on.

It was a lovely drive to Moreton-in-Marsh, and even lovelier to see my Nan and Uncle Andy. As an added bonus, my cousin Nathan popped in too, and we caught up on family gossip. Nan offered me a bath, bless her, but I said I'd be OK as the next site had full facilities. Then it was time to go over the road and see my Auntie Sue and Uncle Raz, and Hettie, of course.  A year ago, almost exactly, I'd visited with my Mum and the boys and Auntie Sue had been most concerned about the boys behaving themselves. I reassured her they were house-trained, well-behaved (expect for Alfie's bum-biting tendencies) and wouldn't go on the furniture. Within half an hour, Alfie was on Auntie Sue's lap and in her heart, accepting treats and tummy-tickles, and a few months later they'd welcomed a dog of their own, Hettie, into their home. Alfie has that effect on people.

He's not so good with dogs though. I muzzled him before we arrived, and he spent the majority of my visit trying to nose-butt poor Hettie, who was also trying to avoid Harvey's romantic advances by wedging herself between my Uncle Raz's legs. Nevertheless, it was nice to catch up, although Uncle Raz was concerned that time was ticking on and I still had to get to Oxford before nightfall. I wasn't worried; it wasn't far, and I had a site to head for. Even better, the site was next to a camping superstore! It was perfect. They made me promise to come back if I got stuck for somewhere to stay and I agreed, confident that I wouldn't have to.

Famous last words. I waved goodbye and set off for Oxford, giggling at the bizarrely-named villages I passed. The first hurdle materialised in the form of a police roadblock on the main route that forced a detour that put Gladys in a right tizzy. Then I had to negotiate scary roundabouts and worryingly-signposted roads. Next I missed the turning for the site and spent twenty minutes trying to find it again! I was so glad to finally arrive; I was looking forward to setting up my tent, taking a shower and having some food before settling down to plan tomorrow's adventures.

Then I saw the notice- Campsite Full.

Disaster! I sat in my car, in the camping superstore car park, and turned the air inside blue. It was 7:45pm and there was no room at the inn. I dithered a little, swore some more, then decided to find a near-by alternative for one night and try my luck again the next day. Five phone calls later, I managed to get onto a site in Bicester- for £12! If I wasn't desperate... Also, I'd be jiggered if I was going to pitch my big tent, in the dark, for one night.

I ran into the camping superstore, five minutes before it closed, confused dogs in tow, and rashly purchased a pop-up tent. Now, I hate these type of tent. I once tried one out and had a devil of a job getting it back in the bag, even with help and a very kind demo by a shop assistant. It was most embarrassing. I'm an intelligent woman, but I can't make a stupid tent do what it's told. Bizarrely, I'd even had a conversation with Uncle Raz that very afternoon about how much I disliked the wretched things. Yet here I was, dashing in and grabbing the cheapest, quickest tent I could find (and it still wasn't cheap) and legging it to the counter.

Stupid tent in tow, off I raced- racing the setting sun and an urgent pressure in my bladder- to Bicester. Not only was the site difficult to find, it was nasty when I did eventually find it. And so expensive! I know I wasn't arriving under the most positive of circumstances, which probably clouded my judgement somewhat, but it still makes me shudder to think of it.

I had been told to head for the Rally field (which is code for spare field that caravans will turn their noses up at) so naturally it was furthest from the toilet and shower block, and the lights. I could make out enough, in the dusk, to pop up the tent and peg it down. It looked small and pathetic. I honestly think there is more room in the boot of my car than in that tent, but it was all I had for tonight. That done, I let the boys out of the car. Harvey flat out refused to get in the pop-up monstrosity but I didn't have time to argue as I needed a wee. I trekked to the toilet block, entered the code to let myself in, and got the shock of my life.

For £12 a night, I'd expected luxury. I expected a spacious, warm block of facilities, maybe even a lady to hand me paper towels and offer to do my laundry for me. What I didn't expect was one sink for washing up, two sinks for washing, three grotty toilets to cater for an entire site and two showers with no doors. That's right, in order to get to the toilets, you must first walk past the shower cubicles with no doors, just curtains much like you'd find at home. And by that, I mean see-through.

Luckily, they were currently empty, so I did what I needed to do and then rushed back to take a shower, reasoning that it was so late that people would be in their tents asleep by now and hopefully wouldn't walk in on me mid-shampoo. It was the tensest shower I've ever taken, and I was glad when it was finished. At least I was clean. There's only so much you can do with baby wipes, after all.

Back to the "tent", although I think trade descriptions should have a word about that... I picked Harvey up and forced him inside, grumbling and growling, before squeezing in myself and pulling Alfie with me. Getting into my sleeping bag was a job with no room to manoeuvre and a squashed, grumpy terrier complaining every time I tried to get comfy, but I finally got everyone settled (Harvey at my feet, Alfie in the sleeping bag with me) and closed my eyes.

The steady roar of traffic nagged at me like a mosquito and the light, too dim to see by outside, was inexplicably bright through the lurid orange tent walls. On top of that, the condensation had already built up sufficiently to run down the inside of the tent and soak my pillow. No chance of not touching the tent walls in a space so narrow. I'd hit a low. I spent the hours before I fell asleep planning my escape as soon as it was light enough to see.

The bummel continues tomorrow...

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