Stranraer, Scotland, May 6, 2013
We had chosen the Cairnryan to Belfast route as being the shortest, the cheapest and also the closest port to our first Irish stop at Lesley's Aunt Helen’s in Lisburn. The downside is that it is a long way from Seaford to Stranraer, involving
two stopovers en route. On the plus side it did mean we had a chance to see our daughter Helen and our son & daughter-in-law Mike & Nicole en route, at Oxford and Leeds respectively.
The Spring Bank Holiday had been glorious, hot and sunny. Needless to say by the time Thursday came the weather was due to change. We set off in bright sunshine and stopped at the new Cobham services on the M25 for morning coffee. I chose to ignore the dark clouds on the horizon and walked over to the services without a coat. Starbucks was the only option, so we had to order small (i.e. giant) mugs of coffee- flavoured water and we shared a giant chocolate cookie. I was going to offer to pay the requested amount less corporation tax, but did not feel like the argument. We then had to wait a while under a freezing air conditioner while three baristas struggled to keep up with the orders for four coffees that were presented to them. Finally we got to sit in an area which seemed to be doubling as a meeting room, with groups of earnest salesmen clustered round notebooks, mobiles and laptops discussing tactics. Of course by the time we had drunk our coffee, popped to the loo and then bought a paper the heavens had opened and I got drenched on the way back to the car.
Four miles down the road the rain had stopped and a few miles further on the roads were completely dry. It was obviously one of those rain clouds with my name on it. Amazingly we negotiated the M25 and M40 without any hold-ups. However, just north of Oxford, a few miles short of our camp site, there was an ominous rumbling from the caravan. I thought at first the jockey wheel had dropped, but then a truck driver flashed and waved at me so I pulled off the main road to inspect. The off side caravan tyre had burst and was in shreds. I managed to tow a few more yards into a side road and set about changing the wheel. The bottle jack I had bought for the purpose would not fit under the caravan, so I had to use the car jack which was hard work.
We arrived at Bladon Chains Caravan site a short while later and set up camp. The site warden suggested a tyre dealer a few miles away, as it happened just a few hundred yards from where the burst occurred, so I was able to pop back and get the tyre replaced.
That evening we went round to Helen’s flat for the last time, as she would be moving whilst we are away, then to her local pub, the Talkhouse at Stanton St John, for an excellent meal with Helen and her partner Jon.
The onward journey to Leeds next day was completely trouble free and we pitched up at one of our favourite sites, Moor Lodge at Bardsey. Then on Saturday we went through to Bradford to Dickinsons caravans for some bits and pieces and in the evening went round to Mike & Nicole’s for one of Mike’s gourmet meals.
Sunday was a quiet day, with a bit of shopping in the morning and a brief visit to Mike’s in the early evening. Later, back at the campsite, we were sitting reading the paper when the caravan mains electrics failed. Thinking that we had simply exceeded our amperage and tripped the hook-up I popped outside in the dark and the rain and switched connections. No different. Every time I tried another plug the electrics tripped again. Fortunately the lights work from the battery, so at least we were not groping around in darkness.
On Monday morning I tried again but still no joy. We had to set off for Stranraer so I resolved to check it later. The northbound A1 is much improved since last time I travelled it, with new dual carriageway most of the way. This makes driving much easier, but the downside is that there are very few places to stop for a coffee. As we approached the Leeming Bar area I recalled that there used to be services there, and sure enough it was signposted off the road. Whilst the road might have been upgraded the services certainly haven’t. The café was like something from the fifties in all aspects but the prices, which were extortionate. I suppose it is their now monopoly position.
Shortly after setting off again we noticed a sign for Roper’s caravans, leave at the next exit. We decided to call in to see if they could check the electrics. Needless to say neither of us had read to the end of the sign to see which way to turn at the exit, and it goes without saying I chose the wrong way. After several miles of narrow country lanes I found a pub car park to turn round in and we returned to the motorway and tried the other way. This led us into Catterick and I remembered that Catterick Caravans is a member of the same caravan forum as me, so if we didn’t find Ropers then we might find them. We found Ropers first, pulled in and asked them to have a look for us. The service manager plugged us in and all worked fine. Most odd. Well, not to worry, all’s well that ends well.
We continued over the A66, driving into a strong headwind and through rain and hailstorms, then north on the M6, feeling ready for lunch. We pulled in to Southwaite services to eat our sandwiches and I recalled how my colleagues and I always used to call here for a coffee or lunch on our way from Leeds to Hamilton. Just as with Kennedy’s assassination, everyone remembers where they were on 9/11. We were sat in the café here glued to the television watching the horrific event unfold. One of our number on that day had a cousin who worked in the Twin Towers and she was at her wits end all day wondering if he was safe. As it happened he was one of the lucky people who were late to work that day.
By the time we passed Carlisle the skies were blackening again and as we turned west at Gretna we had more rain and even a little snow. For the rest of the journey we had bright sunshine, torrential rain and hailstorms at ten minute intervals! Fortunately when we arrived at our site northwest of Stranraer it was during one of the dry spells, but by then it was very cold and windy. The site at Low Glengyre Farm was close to the crest of a hill and the wind was whistling over the top of the hill and down across the pitches. The farmer’s 9 year old daughter Rebecca insisted on helping us pitch up, and to our great surprise she knew exactly what she was doing. Unfortunately her knowledge of travelling by caravan was a bit limited. She asked where we had been, and we started to tell her about our trip round Europe. "How on earth did you get the caravan on the plane?" she said.
Sadly, when it came to plugging in the electrics, guess what? Yes, everything tripped again. Bah. We survived the night using gas heating and gas for the fridge and vowed to consult a dealer again when we got to Ireland.