About Me

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Hi! I'm Eunice and I live in Bolton, Lancashire, with my two dogs Sophie and Sugar and an assortment of cats - well it used to be Sophie and Sugar, now it's Sophie and Poppie. I first began camping back in 1997 when my then partner took me to Anglesey for my birthday weekend. We slept in the back of the car - a hatchback - using the cushions off the settee at home as a mattress, and cooked and brewed up on a single burner camping stove. The site was good, the views were great, the weather fantastic and I was completely hooked. Following that weekend we got a two-man tent and some proper accessories and returned to Anglesey two weeks later, then over time we progressed to a three-man tent followed by an old trailer tent, then a new trailer tent, a campervan and finally a caravan. When my partner decided that the grass was greener on the other side of the street - literally - in April 2009 and I suddenly found myself alone after fifteen years, I decided there was no way I was going to give up camping and caravanning if I could cope on my own. This blog is the story of my travels, trials and tribulations since becoming a solo camper - I hope you like it

Friday May 21st 2010 - Wyreside Farm Park (2)

It was a gloriously warm sunny morning and I was off for my second visit of the month to this lovely little site. The weather had been lovely for quite a while and was set to continue so as I had been so impressed with the site on my previous visit, on the spur of the moment a couple of days before I had phoned to see if there was a pitch available for the weekend and I was in luck. Unfortunately though, not being a lady of leisure, I had to work that lunchtime and evening, so to make the most of my weekend I hit on the idea of driving up to the site that morning, putting up the awning and setting it out inside, then driving back home and going to work. Then when I had finished work at 7 o' clock that evening all I had to do was collect the dogs from home and drive back to the site, where I could relax instead of spending the evening setting up camp. I suppose you could say it was a sort of 'reverse commute'!

And that's exactly what I did. I arrived at the site at 9.30am, and after paying my pitch fee at the farmhouse I drove onto the field and chose the same pitch as before. I had just over two hours to set everything up before I had to leave for work and I hoped I could do it all in time. At least I knew what I was doing with the awning this time so hopefully it wouldn't take as long to erect as it did before. I worked quickly and methodically and without problem, and in less than half an hour it was upright and ready for pegging down, though I didn't bother attaching it to the van as I would soon be driving away from it. The sun was blazing down and I worked up quite a thirst while I was hammering the pegs in, but even though the water tap was only a few feet away I decided I wasn't stopping until every last peg was in. It was while I was pegging down the groundsheet that a lady from the first static caravan came across and asked if I would like a drink of juice - by that time I was so hot that I could willingly have jumped in the river, so I accepted gratefully and she provided me with a glass of deliciously chilled fresh orange juice. Her husband wandered over then and we stood chatting while I had my drink, then with the glass empty I thanked them and returned to my awning. It didn't take too long to set out everything inside, and I even had time to sit and relax for a few minutes before I had to leave for home. The drive back was uneventful and I arrived home with just enough time to get changed for work - and when I got there and told my colleagues what I had done that morning they thought I was completely mad!

The rest of my plan went without a hitch - I finished my evening job at 7pm, drove home and collected the dogs then set off back to the site, arriving just before 8.30. It was great to be able to drive onto my pitch knowing that the awning and everything else was already set up - I only had to attach the awning to the van, and apart from taking the dogs for a walk later on I had nothing to do except relax. My idea had been a good one, and certainly one to be remembered for any future summer camping weekends not too far from home.

While I had been away from the site a couple of tents and a caravan had arrived - the tents were pitched at the bottom end of the field and I knew that the blue one would be occupied by Wendy, a fellow UKCampsite member, and her boxer dog Max. We had never met before but had corresponded through the UKCS website, and I hadn't been there long when she came over to introduce herself. We had quite a chat, and by the time she went back to her own tent it was as if we had known each other for ages. Somehow the evening flew by and it was soon time to take the dogs for their bedtime walk - once that was done I settled them on their beds in the awning, made myself a brew and climbed into my own bed to watch a bit of tv before finally settling down to sleep myself.

Tuesday May 4th 2010 - What goes up has to come down....

I woke to another lovely morning, just the sort of weather that makes you wish you didn't have to pack up, but unfortunately I had to go home as I had to be at work at 12.45 lunchtime. After I had taken the dogs for a walk I put some tea and toast on then breakfasted at leisure, sitting in the sun outside the awning. The one remaining caravan had left the site very early on so I on so I was entirely on my own in the peace and quiet of my surroundings. A couple of the resident chickens wandered over to say hello so I threw them some bits of breadcrust - I don't know if chickens are supposed to eat bread but they didn't refuse it and they didn't keel over and snuff it after they'd eaten it so it must have been okay for them. Anyway, it was Weight Watchers wholemeal so it was definitely a healthy option!

With breakfast over and the dogs on their anchor so they wouldn't get in my way I started to pack everything up. Leaving the bed made up I put the larger items on top of it and the smaller ones underneath, and in just over half an hour everything was packed neatly away. The next job was to unpeg the awning; it didn't take long to get the pegs out using a claw hammer, and with the two side poles removed from the inside all I had to do then was unpeg the three guylines running over the top of the van. With those released it was a simple matter to push the back pole and the whole thing collapsed forwards onto the grass, where I removed the pins from the pole ends and working from first one side then the other I slid the poles out of their sleeves. Spreading the awning out a bit more to keep it straight I folded it and rolled it and - wonder of wonders! - it went back in its bag with no trouble, along with the poles. And it had come down an awful lot quicker than it went up! So with the awning and box of pegs stowed away safely, the blinds removed and the dogs settled on their beds in the back of the van I was ready to leave for home. And that's when I hit a big problem - the van wouldn't start.

I turned the key four times but there was absolutely nothing, the battery was dead  - strange, as it was a new battery and it had been fine when I went to the car boot sale the day before. Then the blue display on the front of the radio made me realise what had happened - when I had ejected my new cd from the player the previous evening and it had reverted to radio there was a song playing which I don't like so I had turned the sound right down to nothing; then after I had put the blind up in readiness for bed later on I had forgotten to take the key out of the ignition. So the radio had been playing silently for over 12 hours and had flattened the battery, leaving only just enough power to operate the windows. I sat for a few minutes and considered the situation - I was all alone on the camping field, with a van which wouldn't start and an hour and a half to get home in time to go to work. I thought about phoning the RAC but then decided that would be the last option as they would probably take ages to arrive - I would try to get some help closer to hand first. I walked over to the farmhouse to ask Penny, the owner, if she knew if any of the residents in the statics could start the van for me using a set of jump leads - and she came to my rescue herself. Jumping into her own 4 x 4 she drove across to my van and produced a set of heavy duty jump leads which she proceeded to connect to my battery - and after a few revs of her engine my van finally started. It was such a relief as I had visions of being stuck on the site for hours - and although it's a very lovely place to get stuck on I really did have to get home. After thanking Penny for her help I sat in the van for a while with the engine running to give the battery chance to charge up a bit, then released the dogs from the back and took them for a final quick walk round the field. Looking back from near the entrance my van looked rather lonely, parked there all on its own with the rest of the site unoccupied except for a group of resident chickens who were pecking away at the grass.

With the dogs walked for the last time and settled back in the van I set off for home - thanks to Penny and her jump leads I hadn't been delayed too much so I would still just about be in time to get to work. As I closed the site gate I looked back at the field and felt as though I was leaving a little piece of heaven behind - and I promised myself that at the earliest opportunity I would be back.

Monday May 3rd 2010 - A car boot sale and the Wyre Way

I woke that morning to more sunshine and the promise of another lovely day. It was still early; too early really to get up but I was feeling peckish so I decided to make some tea and toast and take it back to bed. The dogs woke up when I opened the van door but for once they didn't seem to be too eager to go out - maybe they realised it was still early and wanted a lie-in. It didn't take long to sort out breakfast, and with everything on a tray and a camping magazine to read I climbed back into bed. I may not have been in a five star hotel but this was my first breakfast in bed in the van, and with the cosy red bedding and matching cushions it actually felt quite luxurious. I could have stayed there all day, but after a while the warmth of the sun on the side of the van became a bit too much even with the window open, so reluctantly I had to get up - the dogs were getting restless by then anyway so I knew they needed to go out.

With the dogs walked and the breakfast things washed and put away I sat in the sun outside the awning to plan my day. And for once I decided I would do very little - there was a big car boot sale in a field only a couple of miles from the site, so I would go there first then come back to the site, park up and take the dogs for a long walk in the local area. I could have killed two birds with one stone and walked with the dogs to the car boot sale and back, but I thought I had better drive there in case I bought anything I couldn't carry! So with that decision made I put the dogs in the back of the van, detached the awning from the side and set off.

It only took a few minutes to get to the car boot sale, and once I had parked up I took the dogs for a quick walk round the bottom end of the field before I went to browse round the stalls. There were several long rows of stalls and I walked up and down them all twice but didn't see anything that really interested me. The only stall I did linger at was one run by a young Jamaican guy and which sold strings of brightly coloured beads, knitted hats and many other things pertaining to the Caribbean. It wasn't the items on the stall which caught my attention though, it was the reggae music being played - it was a really catchy tune and soon had me tapping my foot in time to the beat. I asked the young guy what the cd was called and he told me it was a 'Best Of...' album, but as I had never heard of either the singer or the song I was none the wiser. I really liked it though so I asked if there was a copy for sale and there was, so I took a chance that I would like the rest of the songs on the cd and bought it. And that was the only thing I bought from the whole of the car boot sale, apart from treating myself to a cheeseburger and a coffee from the permanent refreshment kiosk - I don't normally eat fast food but I do like to treat myself to a cheeseburger on the odd occasions that I go to a car boot sale, and having been to that one before I knew their food was good. I didn't sit outside the kiosk though, I took the burger and coffee back to the van and enjoyed them in comfort while listening to my new cd, then with the rubbish deposited in a nearby bin I drove back to the site.

Once back on my pitch I re-attached the awning to the van, as I had no intention of driving anywhere else that day, then set off with the dogs on a voyage of exploration. Reaching the path along the riverbank I turned right and headed in the direction of the main road and the hump-back bridge. Alongside the stone-built road bridge, which was only just about wide enough for two cars to pass, was a steel-constructed footbridge and a gate from the footpath opened out onto the end of it. Directly across the road was another gate leading to the continuation of the footpath which, later information told me, was part of the Wyre Way. Getting across the road at that point with two dogs was no mean feat as it was very busy and gaps in the traffic were few and far between, however I managed it eventually without any of us getting squashed and we got safely through the far gate. The path from there led through a small copse of tall trees then back out onto the top of the wide steep riverbank. There was an open field to my right with a large herd of cows dotted about, with their heads down and munching away at the lush green grass - there was no fence to separate the field from the riverbank and it was obvious from the many large and messy cowpats that the animals roamed quite freely, so I had to watch where I was putting my feet. There was a wire fence and a stile across the path at the far end of the field and once I'd got across that I was able to let the dogs off the lead. The grass at that point appeared to be reasonably well looked after and a little further on I came upon a small fishing lake, shaded on one side by tall uncultivated hedges and a few trees. At the far side of the hedges, and a bit further along the path, was another lake, larger than the first one and with a couple of people sitting fishing. Again, this lake was bordered on the far side by a high hedge, and on the other side of the hedge was a strip of land which had once been part of a field but which was now a nicely cultivated lawn dotted with shrubs and small cherry trees, and separated from the footpath by a border of lovely late-flowering yellow and white daffodils and a low well trimmed hedge. At the other side of the lawn the land turned to vast fields stretching almost as far as the eye could see, separated by hedges and trees and dotted here and there with farm buildings. On my left the river flowed slowly and silently and up ahead, on a bend, was a red-roofed farmhouse with a white-painted gable. I stopped walking and just stood there for a few moments, taking in the lovely views and savouring the peace and tranquility of the surroundings - and wondering how, when this place was only 45 minutes from home, I had never discovered it before.

With my reverie over I continued walking, following the river as it wound its way through the fields. The dogs were having a high old time running through the grass and sniffing all the different smells, and it was great to see them enjoying themselves - it makes a walk so much more enjoyable to know that the dogs are having fun. About half a mile further on the fields on my side of the river gradually dwindled till there was only the steep riverbank left, with a lane running parallel alongside. I had no choice but to walk along the top of the bank, with the path becoming narrower and more overgrown the further along I got. Eventually it petered out completely, meaning I had to go down onto the lane, but even with the dogs back on their leads I didn't think it was a good idea so I decided to turn round there and head back towards the site.

By then a lot of clouds had appeared and the sky had lost some of its bright blue colouring, though the sun was still shining - knowing how changeable the English weather can be I was just hoping that it wouldn't suddenly decide to rain while I was in the middle of nowhere. It didn't though, and by the time I had got back to the site the clouds were clearing and the bright blue was returning to the sky. The site was almost deserted when I arrived back - the handful of campers and caravanners who had been there over the weekend had all packed up and gone while I had been out and there was just one caravan left in a corner - if the site hadn't been quiet before it certainly would be now!

With the dogs on their beds outside the awning I made myself a brew and something to eat then relaxed in the sun till the warmth went out of it. The rest of my evening was spent in the awning watching tv, then when it got to the stage where I couldn't stop yawning I took the dogs for a final quick walk, settled them into the back of the van then climbed into my cosy bed for my final night on site.

Sunday May 2nd 2010 - Skippool Creek and Wyre Estuary

I woke that morning to warm sun shining on the side of the van, and a quick peek through the curtains showed me blue sky and fluffy white clouds so it looked like it was going to be another nice day. The dogs were still asleep in their bed behind me so I lay for a while just savouring the peace and tranquility of the morning, the silence only punctuated by the occasional bleat of a sheep or the crow of the resident cockerel. Lying there with idle thoughts running through my head I was very tempted to drift back to sleep but the morning was too lovely to waste and the dogs would soon need to go out anyway. Once up and dressed I filled the kettle ready for breakfast, let the dogs out of the van, clipped their leads on and set off across the site - my route this time was a circular one along the lane, through the village and down the riverside path which lead back to the site. Back at the van I put the dogs' beds out on the grass and attached them both to their anchor so they could enjoy the sunshine while I had breakfast.

With tea and toast made I put my chair and small table outside the awning and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast while reading a magazine and watching the comings and goings of other site residents. It was so relaxing sitting idly in the sunshine that I briefly thought about staying there all day, but I'm not one for being idle for too long and I won't waste good weather if I can go out with the dogs somewhere, so I got out the map book to see where I could take them. I finally decided on Skippool Creek - it isn't marked on the map but I had once been told about it though never had the opportunity to go there before. Studying the map book had jogged my memory about it so that's where I decided we would go after lunch.

The drive to Skippool Creek was relatively simple - along the main road from the village in the direction of Blackpool, turn off and head for Fleetwood then turn off again and head for Thornton. The actual lane down to the creek is easy to miss though as even though it's signposted it's very narrow and the entry is partially obscured by a high hedge - I did miss it and had to drive half a mile or so further on before I found somewhere I could turn round safely and go back. A couple of hundred yards along, the lane widened out and I could see the beginning of the creek - or the end, depending on the direction of travel. At first it looked to be nothing more than an expanse of rough grass with a very narrow water-filled gulley running through it, but as I drove slowly along it widened out and there were yachts moored up at the many wooden jetties built out along the bank. Looking across to the far side it was obvious from the thick mud banks which lay between the grass and the water's edge that the creek was tidal, and I could imagine that 'low water' actually meant 'no water'.

A bit further on the lane widened out more and I could see a car park on my left so I pulled in there and parked up. After looking for a ticket machine and not finding one - the car park was obviously free - I released the dogs from the back of the van, clipped on their leads and set off to walk along the creek. I don't know how many boats were moored up there but there was a lot, so it looked like the creek was a very popular place.

Further on still the creek joined the main river estuary and the leisure craft gave way to fishing boats, many of which looked like they had seen better days - further on than that the lane ended in a wide concrete slipway leading down into the water, and the clubhouse and car park of a sailing club. The slipway was a hive of activity, with sailing boats being hauled out of the water on trailers and people in brightly coloured life jackets looking very busy - at first I thought that's where my walk would have to end but then I realised that the path continued behind the clubhouse so that's the way I went. Once I was away from the vicinity of the building I let the dogs off their leads so they could explore as they wanted and say hello to other dogs we met along the way.

Beyond the clubhouse the riverbank gradually widened out into an expanse of rough grass and there were many more fishing boats moored up at the ends of long jetties which stretched across it from the lane to the water's edge. Some of the boats had been moored about halfway along the sides of the jetties and were actually beached on the grass - it looked like it had been quite some time since there had been any water round them. Many of the boats were deserted, and being tilted on their sides made them look very forlorn and abandoned, but the hammering noise coming from one of them signified that probably some repair work was in progress. The last two boats were larger than the others and were beached further up the grass with large chocks to keep them upright - the grass had been fenced off into private 'gardens' and each plot had a shed, so it looked like both boats had permanent residents.

Leaving the boats behind, the path curved round to the right, with open fields on my left bordered by fences and hedges. Wooden bench seats were set at intervals alongside the path, a couple of them being occupied by walkers taking a breather and admiring the view, and another by three teenagers enjoying a picnic. Here the estuary widened out and the rough grass of the riverbank gave way to an expanse of saltmarsh interspersed by narrow water-filled gulleys, some of which lead down to the river itself.

Walking along with the dogs at my side I had no idea where the path would lead, only that I was heading in the direction of Fleetwood. Further along, and round a bend and up a slight incline, I came across a car park on my left and a sign on my right proclaiming the area to be the Wyre Estuary Country Park. Past the car park and round another slight bend and there was another car park with a slipway leading down to a wide channel off the main estuary - this seemed to be a popular place for water sports as the car park was full of vehicles and trailers, and in the water were several people wearing wet suits and zipping about on brightly coloured jet skis. Across the car park was an information centre and cafe, so I decided that this was to be my turn round point and I would stop for a brew before heading back the way I had come.

Outside the cafe were three large circular wooden tables with bench seats so I fastened the dogs' leads to one of these while I went inside, then with coffee and a slice of carrot cake on a tray I returned to sit at the table outside. This seemed to be a very popular place and it was very pleasant sitting in the sun, enjoying my snack and people watching. A couple of young children came and asked if they could stroke the dogs, and someone else's dog came to say hello to me. Eventually, with the coffee and cake finished and the tray returned to the counter, I released the dogs and made my way back across the car park, lingering for a while by the slipway and taking in my surroundings and the view. To my right across the estuary were gently sloping fields bordered by hedges and with farm buildings and houses dotted about, and in the far distance the hills of the Trough of Bowland. To my left, and across the far side of the car park, the path continued through countryside in the direction of Fleetwood, though the view was rather marred by the presence of the huge ICI chemical plant. Ahead of me, and a couple of miles in the distance, was Fleetwood itself, and I could just make out the stern of a large ship in the docks. The tide in the estuary was going out, quite rapidly it seemed, and the people with the jet skis were bringing them in and putting them on their trailers - what had previously been a wide, deep channel where they were having fun was now narrow, shallow, and had deep mud banks on each side.

My walk back to Skippool Creek was relatively uneventful, though I did encounter an odd coincidence. I got chatting to a couple who were walking their dog in the opposite direction, they said they often walked along there as they lived locally, but during the conversation it came out that they originated from my home town and had actually lived not that far from me. What a small world it is! After chatting for quite a while I continued on my way, back past the fishing boats, round by the sailing club and eventually arrived back at the van, then with Sophie and Sugar safely settled in the back I set off along the lane past the creek, out onto the main road and so back to the site. I don't know how far I had walked but it had been a lovely afternoon and it must have tired the dogs out as they never moved from their beds of all evening till it came time for their final late night walk round the site. And the combination of country air and sea air, and the peace and quiet of the site, guaranteed that when I went to bed myself I slept soundly all night.

Saturday May 1st 2010 - Wyreside Farm Park (1)

It was lovely and sunny when I left home at 8.30am that morning for a long weekend at Wyreside Farm Park in the village of St. Michael's near Garstang. This wasn't just any old weekend though, it was a milestone in my single life - since my last outing with the caravan, when someone else had towed for me, I had learned to drive and passed my test, and this was my very first weekend away with my own vehicle. Not that I was towing the caravan - I wasn't even going to attempt that until I had been on a towing course - I was just using my humungous great people carrier with a drive-away awning on the side, which I knew from previous years would be fine for a long weekend. I had already packed everything in the van the previous day, and not being one for wasting good weather I wanted to get to the site reasonably early, hence the 8.30 start. I only had one slight niggle, and that was if I could put up the large awning on my own, but summoning up lots of positive mental attitude I decided that it just wasn't going to be a problem.

It only took 45 minutes to get to the site - I had never stayed there before so didn't know what it would be like, but my first impressions were very favourable. Access from the main road through the village was down a narrow private lane which ends right at the site gate - the owner's house was to the right of the gate and a well set out group of a dozen very nice static vans to the left, with the camping field straight ahead. I had chosen it because it was a small site and reportedly very peaceful, and it certainly looked quiet enough. Parking the van to one side of the gate I went over to the farmhouse to book in - Penny, the owner, seemed very friendly and after giving me the code number for the gate said I could pitch wherever I wanted. Before driving through I walked onto the field and took stock of my surroundings - to my left and down the bottom end the field was bordered by tall trees, to my right it had a slightly more open aspect and I could see that the sun would go round in that direction, so I opted for the second pitch along on that side. Once I had positioned the van where I wanted it I let the dogs out from their safe area in the back and took them for a quick exploration of the site before I started setting up camp.

The first job was to unroll the awning and spread it out on the grass, then the fun began. I put together the first of the three flexible poles and started to feed it through the sleeve on the awning - it took a while to get it all the way through, and I had to keep changing sides to do it, but I got there eventually and fastened the pins into the ends. I followed the same procedure with the other two poles but when it came to putting in the last pin it just didn't want to co-operate. Bending the first two poles to take the pins had been easy, but for some reason bending the third one seemed to need the strength of Goliath and no matter what I did the pin just wouldn't go in. It crossed my mind that I might have to ask someone for help but I wasn't going to let it beat me - after having a quick breather I tackled it again with renewed strength and this time the pin almost fell into place.

Next I had to stand the whole thing upright - my first attempt was a dismal failure when it collapsed forwards back onto the grass as soon as I stood it up, but on my second attempt I cracked it. After tying a long guyline to the centre of the rear pole I lifted the awning with the front pole and pushed it upright and over to lean against the van at a slight angle, then threw the guyline over the roof of the van and pegged it down securely at the other side. Pegging down the rear pole at both ends to keep it in place meant I was able to bring the centre pole, then the front pole, forwards and peg them into position without the whole lot falling over again. It was then a simple matter to release the guyline running over the van and re-peg the rear pole - sorted! And once I had got the two rigid poles inner poles in place to give the sides some stability the awning didn't look too bad at all. Then came the laborious task of pegging down the guylines and all round the bottom - I was fleetingly tempted to miss out some of the pegging points to save time, but thought again. This being England there was no guarantee that the weather would stay nice, and I didn't want to risk the awning being damaged if it became windy so I had to get on and do the job properly. It took a while but finally it was done and I took a quick breather while I admired my own handiwork - not perfect by any means, but good enough for me.

The next job was to connect the back of the awning to the side of my van - once that was done I could open up the rear panel in the awning and the side door of my van, allowing me access to the rest of my stuff so I could set up the inside. The groundsheet went down first, then I set out my storage unit and the kitchen unit with kettle, toaster and fridge on one side, and my coffee table, chair, dogs' beds and loo on the other side. Finally I unrolled my hook-up cable and connected it to the hook-up point behind my pitch - and almost three hours after I had arrived on site I was able to make a brew and have a sit down. This was the first time I had erected and set up the drive-away awning totally on my own, and apart from a couple of little niggles it had gone quite well. Sitting there with my mug of coffee I surveyed my surroundings - and felt rather a sense of achievement that I had actually done everything by myself without help from anyone.

When I had relaxed for a while I decided to take the dogs for a good walk and explore beyond the site - the site owner had told me that there was a river close by with a raised bank which was good for dog walking and I thought I would check that out, so clipping the leads on the dogs and grabbing my camera I set out across the field and through the gate at the site entrance. To my left was the toilet and shower block and just beyond it a gate leading to a gravel footpath marked private, and a sign pointing the way to the river. To the right of the path was a small field with a handful of grazing sheep and several cute little lambs curled up on the grass in the sunshine. I've always wanted a pet lamb, and I wondered if the site owner would miss one if I kidnapped it and took it home with me. Though of course I wouldn't really do that!

The gravel path took me through a small wooded area and up a slope onto a tarmac path running along the high riverbank - the river meandered slowly round a long double curve and on the bend in front of me was a sandy 'beach' at the water's edge. The path was bordered on one side by a well-cut hedge and on the other by a new-looking timber fence - a couple of hundred yards to my right I could see the stone hump-back bridge which took the main road over the river, and through the trees I could just see the square tower of the village church.

I decided to go left, and the path took me through the wooded area to a stile where the trees gave way to a couple of open fields on my left and the steep wide riverbank on my right. The river was running so slowly it was hard to see that it was moving at all, and I guessed it must be fairly deep at that point.

At the far side of the field there was a couple walking with their dog off the lead, and as there was no livestock around I guessed I would be okay to do the same so I let Sophie and Sugar run free. As I walked along the lie of the land became even more open, with plenty of scope for the dogs to explore. Eventually the river doubled back on itself in the direction of the village outskirts, which cut off the field I was walking through from the rest of the land, and meant that I couldn't go any further than the top of the riverbank. While the dogs explored through the long grass I surveyed my surroundings - down below me at the water's edge was a sandy beach, the river was quite shallow just there and it looked an ideal place to take the dogs for a while. Across the river the fields stretched out beyond the outskirts of the village and over in the distance were the hills of the Trough Of Bowland, with farm buildings dotted around their lower reaches.                                                                                                                    

It was so quiet that I decided to linger for a while so I found a nice patch of grass where I could sit and take in the view in front of me while the dogs explored a short distance away. The river slipped silently along below me on its long journey out to sea, and other than a few birds in the trees and the occasional bleat of a sheep there was no noise at all - truly an idyllic place of peace and tranquility. I could have stayed there for hours just looking at the view and with idle thoughts running through my head, but eventually hunger called so I made my way back the way I had come and returned to the awning for something to eat.

With food out of the way I set about sorting out my bed for later on - I had already made up the actual bed prior to packing up the van, but I still had to put up the front and rear blinds to give me some privacy. When I say 'blinds' they are actually a pair of curtains - one is draped over the dog guard behind my bed and the other is tucked into the sun visors at the front and trapped in the driver's and passenger's windows. With the van's curtains and blinds closed I have complete all round privacy, and being red they go with the van's interior grey and red decor. My bedding is red too - can't you tell it's my favourite colour! - and only the week before I had treated myself to a gorgeous new duvet set. Looking at the bed made up with the red bedding, red cushions and red blinds I thought it looked quite sumptuous, but then wondered if maybe it looked rather like a tart's boudoir. And quite coincidentally I did have a red lamp, though it was only the outside that was red and not the bulb! So that's what I nicknamed the van - my tart's boudoir on wheels!

Once I had sorted out the blinds I spent a couple of hours watching tv before taking the dogs for a last walk round the site. It had gone a bit chilly once the sun had gone down so I put the hot water bottle in my bed and the fan heater on low in the front of the van to warm it up before I got in there, then transferred my little table and the tv to the space between the front seats. I also put the dogs' beds in the back of the van - normally the dogs would have slept in the awning, but even though Sugar can snore for England I decided they might be warmer in the van. If Sugar kept me awake though they would be in the awning the following night!

After the dogs had been walked I settled them into the back of the van, made myself a bedtime brew, then climbed up into my boudoir. The 'bedroom' was certainly unconventional, but I was very pleased with how it had turned out, and the combination of hot water bottle and fleece blankets instead of sheets made the bed so cosy that it wasn't long before I turned off the tv and settled down to sleep.

Monday August 31st 2009

After all the rain of the previous evening that morning dawned fine though still very cloudy, and I was just hoping it would stay fine till much later on. With the aid of the fan heater the awning had dried out, and as it was going home day I didn't relish the thought of taking it down and packing it away wet. After I had taken the dogs for a walk I made some tea and toast and breakfasted at leisure - there was no real rush for me to start packing up as Vanessa wasn't coming back for me till early afternoon, and it wouldn't take me long once I got started.

Malcolm had said he would come back in time to help me take the awning down even though I'd told him I would be able to manage on my own, and true to his word he arrived just after midday. Little Pip went mental when she saw him - she loves being with me but is always ready to go back to her 'dad' when he comes to collect her. By this time I had already packed most things away but I hadn't yet disconnected the electricity, so I put the kettle on and made a quick brew before we tackled dismantling the awning. And once we had got the pegs out of the ground it came down a lot quicker than it had gone up - and the weather had managed to stay fine so the canvas was perfectly dry when it was packed away. With my bags put away in the boot of Malcolm's car and the hook-up cable rolled up and put away in the caravan all we had to do was wait for Vanessa to arrive, so we took the dogs for a short walk round the site while we waited. Many of the weekend's visitors had already left and the site was beginning to look rather empty - a few ducks pottered about, going from pitch to pitch maybe in the hope of finding some tasty bits of food left behind, and a couple of rabbits hopped across the grass of the children's play area. The grey clouds had broken up a bit and patches of blue sky and sunshine showed through, so after all the rain of the previous couple of days it was really quite pleasant.

Vanessa duly arrived and after a chat we set about hitching the caravan to the back of her car. It didn't take long, and with the dogs safely settled on the back seat of Malcolm's car and me on the motorbike we set off in convoy in the direction of home. Not long after leaving the site Malcolm and Vanessa got held up behind a slow moving vehicle which enabled me to get way ahead of them, but even with such a head start I knew they would still be back at the storage site before me. They were waiting for me when I arrived, though they hadn't been there too long - once the caravan was reversed back into its place and unhitched Vanessa had to leave, but Malcolm wasn't in a rush to get home so he helped me to put the cover on, which I couldn't have done on my own, then we set off on the short ten minute drive home. Once there I collected my bags from the boot of his car and sorted out the dogs and that was it - my weekend away was over.

I didn't know then how long it would be before I could use my caravan again - I couldn't keep relying on other people to tow it for me, and I couldn't tow it myself until I learned to drive, so I had to accept that it would probably be quite a while before I had another holiday in it. But I knew one thing - never again would I use that porch awning, it would be the full awning every time in future!

Sunday August 30th 2009 - Smoke, noise, and lots of tractors

I woke that morning to a very grey and overcast sky - the site, which is normally a very attractive place, looked damp, dreary and dismal, and the view didn't really encourage me to get out of bed. However, the dogs needed to go out, and before that I had to clear the water from the sagging canvas at the front of the awning, so I had to make a move. With the jobs done and the dogs walked I made some breakfast and allowed myself the luxury of going back to bed with it - I wasn't going out till the afternoon so I was able to spend all morning relaxing with a magazine and the tv for entertainment. By mid morning the sky was brightening up a bit, and by lunchtime a few shafts of sunshine were pushing their way through the clouds - I hoped it would stay fine for the afternoon or my couple of hours out wouldn't be a very pleasant experience if it was raining.

After lunch I took the dogs on a good cirular walk round the lanes near the site, then settled them down in the caravan instead of the awning. I don't allow the dogs on the furniture and certainly not on my bed but I knew that the minute my back was turned they would be up there - especially Pip - but for once I didn't mind too much if it kept them happy while I was out, though I did cover my duvet with a throw first. The sun was still shining in fits and starts, but not leaving anything to chance I put my waterproof gear on just in case it decided to rain while I was out, then after double-checking on the dogs I put my helmet on, started the bike, and set off.

I was going to the tractor pulling event at the Great Eccleston showground, which was only a 15-minute ride from the site. The August bank holiday event is the second one held there each year - the first one being in July as part of the Great Eccleston show - and features machines and drivers from Europe as well as this country. As I was riding along it crossed my mind that it may have been cancelled because of the recent heavy rain, but approaching the showground I could see from the line of cars parked at the roadside and the column of thick black smoke rising from the showground that the event was very much on. After parking the bike on the grass verge and chaining it to a handily adjacent gate I paid my entrance fee and made my way across the showground to the competition track. The tractor pulling event is always very popular and normally attracts huge crowds, but I think maybe the weather had put some people off - there didn't seem to be as many spectators as at previous events and I had no trouble finding a good clear vantage point up on the bank near the finish line. The competitions had actually started mid morning but I wasn't interested in watching the lower classes - I wanted to see the big machines with the engines so noisy that they hurt your ears when they went past!

To many people some of these machines don't even look like tractors but they are. They have been modified in many different ways though, and some of them are powered by four Rolls Royce jet engines - that's an awful lot of noise to assault the eardrums! There's something about the thick black smoke pouring from the exhausts, the roar of the engines and the smell of high octane fuel which really grabs me, and I had a brilliant couple of hours watching first one, then another making its way along the track, with each competitor trying to get further than the last one before the weighted sledge he was towing stopped him. By far the best was the one who went so fast that he ran out of track and almost ploughed into the sand bank at the end - of course he was the winner of that class and earned a well deserved first prize trophy.

After the competitions were over I went across to the pits to have a look at the more 'normal' looking tractors and talk shop with some of the drivers. I was very impressed with 'Skipper', the same make and model as one of my own tractors but much shinier and better looking.

I had just about finished wandering round the pits when I felt a few drops of rain - the brief sunshine from earlier had long since disappeared and the sky was now a murky grey, so as the competitions had finished I thought I may as well make my way back to the caravan before I got too wet. And what a wise decision it was - as soon as I got back I took the dogs for a quick walk, and within a couple of minutes of settling back inside the heavens opened with another downpour which lasted most of the evening. It rained so hard that it wasn't long before the canvas started sagging again with the pool of rainwater collecting between the two sets of poles - and when I'd cleared it away for the third time in as many hours I was beginning to lose the will to live. Eventually though the rain stopped and I took the opportunity to feed the dogs and take them for a walk while it was fine, so I knew that once back in the caravan I wouldn't have to go out again.

It was when I came to settle the dogs down for the night that I discovered my next problem - their beds, which were in the far front corner of the awning, were absolutely soaking wet, and so was the awning itself. At first I couldn't understand how this had happened, but then realised that as I had been pushing the roof up to clear it when it sagged the water must have run down the corner of the canvas which had leaked badly, and in turn had soaked the dogs' beds which were touching it. I couldn't let the dogs sleep on wet beds so there was nothing for it but to let them sleep on my throw on the caravan floor, and put the fan heater on in the awning to hopefully dry out the canvas and their beds. And when I got into my own bed later on I was wishing that I had put up the full awning instead of that one - it would have been a lot less trouble and it wouldn't have leaked either!

Saturday August 29th 2009 - Garstang and a thunderstorm

The sun was shining when I woke that morning, and after putting the kettle on in readiness for breakfast I took the dogs for a walk up the lane to the marina next door, where I could let them off the lead in the nearby field. Once they'd had a good scamper round I made my way back to the caravan and sorted myself out some tea, toast and marmalade, and breakfasted at leisure over a few chapters of the latest book I was reading. Then with the pots washed and put away, and the dogs on their line so they couldn't escape, I walked the couple of hundred yards to the little baker's shop at the end of the lane to treat myself to one of their delicious cream cakes for later on. However, when I got into the shop I was met with such a divine-looking array of cakes and pastries that I didn't know which to choose. So with no-one around to call me a greedy pig I bought two - one for lunch and one for tea. I could start the diet the following day!

Back at the caravan I got chatting to the couple on the next pitch, they were regulars at the site and remembered seeing me when I was there in May - they were an easy couple to talk to and I passed a very pleasant half hour with them. After lunch I decided to take myself and the dogs for a walk into and around Garstang, and visit some friends on the way. Their house backs onto the canal and I would be walking past anyway so I thought I may as well call in - there was no answer to my knock though so maybe they were both at work. I continued along the towpath to the next bridge then went up onto the road in the direction of the town. Not far from the town centre my walk took me past the Wheatsheaf pub - now although normally I have no interest at all in pubs, either inside or outside, I thought this particular one looked quite attractive and certainly worthy of a photograph.

The couple I had been talking to that morning had told me about a nice little spot on the river which I hadn't known about before, so I headed along the main street in that direction. Access to the riverside was through a car park - I had been past that car park in May but had never known that the river was at the other side of it, so I was very pleasantly surprised when I got there. There was a bend in the river at that point and a wide, well kept grass bank led down to the water - a couple of sandy 'beaches' lay along the water's edge, and some children and a dog were playing in the shallows. Across the fields on the far side of the river I could see the ruins of a castle in the distance - the same castle I had seen in May while cycling along the canal towpath. Ruined castles intrigue me greatly so I made a mental note to see if I could find out how to get to this one and look round if I could.

A path ran parallel to the river in both directions and at first I was undecided which way to go, but the sky was clouding over and starting to look a bit grey so I opted for the way which would take me back in the direction I had come from. It was a very pleasant walk and the path brought me out at the main road on the outskirts of the town, a little way from where I had started off. From there it was only a five-minute walk back to the canal and onwards back to base. And I arrived back at just the right time - I had only just settled the dogs on their beds and put the kettle on for a brew when I heard the distinct sound of rain on the caravan roof. Looking out of the window I could see that the remains of the blue sky had rapidly disappeared and everything was now dismal and grey, and from that moment on the weather went downhill with a vengeance.

Not wanting to venture out again while it was raining I settled down in the caravan to watch some tv - and that's where I ended up staying. The rain became torrential, pounding the roof of the caravan with such a noise that I had to turn the tv up - resigning myself to the fact that I wouldn't be going out for quite some time I made myself something to eat, then tucked into my second cream cake of the day with another brew. The rain lasted a couple of hours before it eventually stopped, only to be replaced by thunder and lightning, so as a precaution I unplugged the tv and disconnected the aerial. Fortunately the dogs weren't bothered by it, they were curled up asleep on their beds and Sugar was snoring for England. After a while the lightning flashes got less and the thunder rolled away into the distance, so as it was still fine I thought I would grab the chance of taking the dogs for a quick walk round the site. And that's when I noticed it - the awning roof, at its lowest point at the front, had collected all the rain water which had run down from the top, and the section of canvas between the two sets of front roof poles was sagging downwards with the weight of the swimming pool it contained. This was right over the door, and had I unzipped the panel to go outside I would probably have had a sudden and unexpected drenching. I had to get rid of that water before I did anything else, so using the soft-bristled long handled brush which I kept for cleaning the caravan I pushed the canvas upwards, allowing the water to run off over the front and to the sides - it took a few attempts but eventually it was clear and I was able to unzip the door.

I fed the dogs then clipped their leads on and took them for a quick walk round the site - and I'd only just got back to the caravan when the second deluge of the evening arrived. Thinking that maybe I hadn't got the canvas taut enough, and that's why the water had collected over the door, I went round the awning trying to tighten up all the poles to prevent it from happening again, but I couldn't tighten them any more than they already were so I just had to hope for the best. It rained so hard though that it wasn't long before another swimming pool had collected over the front of the awning - I thought about just going to bed and leaving it like that, but then wondered how much worse it could get if the rain continued, so for the second time that evening I pushed the canvas up to get rid of the water. By the time I'd finished I'd just about had enough of the weather for one night, so I settled the dogs on their beds and retreated to mine with a book, hoping for better weather the following day.

Friday August 28th 2009 - Bridge House Marina (2)

It was a lovely sunny day as I made my preparations for my second bank holiday weekend at Bridge House Marina caravan site. This time my caravan tower was Vanessa, another member of the camping and caravanning forum, and she was coming to collect me at 1pm. But this would be a weekend with a difference - not only was I taking an extra dog, I was also taking my motorbike. Little Pip-dog belonged to Malcolm, a good friend of mine - I've looked after her many times before and as he would be away for two days and staying somewhere dogs weren't accepted I had offered to take her for the weekend. In return Malcolm said he would come up to the site and help me set up camp, and the dogs could travel with him. And the reason for the motorbike? There was somewhere I wanted to go to on the Sunday which meant having my own transport, and as I still couldn't drive using the motorbike was the only way I could get there. But not being able to transport it in the caravan meant I had to ride it all the way to the site.

Malcolm arrived with Pip just before 1pm, and after taking the dogs for a quick walk round the field at the end of the street we loaded them and my belongings into the back of his car. Vanessa arrived after a short delay and we set off to the storage site in convoy, with me leading the way as neither Malcolm nor Vanessa knew where they were going. Once there it was a relatively simple matter to remove the caravan cover, wind up the corner steadies and hitch up to Vanessa's car, and after a quick lights check we were ready for off. And that's when we went our separate ways - my motorbike having an engine of less than 125cc meant I wasn't allowed to ride on a motorway, so while Vanessa and Malcolm were going the motorway route I had to stick to the A roads. After giving them directions to Bridge House Marina I left them at the storage site gate - my route took me back towards home, then northwards over the moors and on into Preston. Once away from Preston itself it was a fairly easy journey up the main A6 to the site - I went as fast as I could without breaking any speed limits but I knew the others would get there before me. When I arrived at the site they were parked just inside the entrance, Vanessa said they had only been there about twenty minutes so I wasn't too far behind them.

After booking in at reception and getting a barrier key we drove over to my pitch and Vanessa reversed the caravan onto it, then after unhitching and having a chat she left, having arranged to come back for me the following Monday. Malcolm stayed to help me set things up and the first thing we tackled was the awning - I had decided that this time I would use the porch awning instead of the full one, but this turned out to be a decision I would much later regret.

Since its purchase the awning had never actually been used, though with the aid of the instructions I had put the frame together in my garden and colour-coded all the poles with tape to make things easier, and I'd also had a practise set-up without the canvas only a couple of weeks previously. But for some reason things that day just didn't want to go right - in spite of the tape on the poles we couldn't seem to get things right and a couple of times we put the wrong pole into the wrong corner. Then when we did get all the poles in their correct places they didn't seem to want to stay together, and as fast as we were linking two poles at one side the poles on the other side were coming apart. At one point I could see that Malcolm was getting really frustrated but he was too polite to say anything - I was just about to admit defeat and give up when miraculously everything seemed to fall into place. The poles stayed joined together and the frame stood upright without falling over, so finally we were able to tighten everything up and start pegging the canvas down. Once that was done and the groundsheet was down I connected up the electricity, got some water from the nearby tap and put the kettle on for a much-needed brew. It wasn't long after that when Malcolm said he had to go, so after transferring my bags and the dogs into the awning he took his leave. I continued setting up camp and finally wheeled my motorbike from where I'd left it on the vacant pitch next door and parked it behind the caravan. Then it was time to feed the dogs and take them for a good walk before making something to eat and another brew.

I spent much of the evening watching tv, but after the rigours of the day I found myself falling asleep long before bedtime, so I took the dogs for a final short walk round the site, settled them on their beds in the awning and got into my own bed - and I didn't even have time to make any plans for the following day before my eyes closed and I was fast asleep.

Tuesday May 26th 2009 - All good things have to end

Another lovely day dawned, and I lay in bed just savouring my surroundings. The sun shone through the yellow fabric of the curtains behind me and bathed the inside of the caravan with a lovely golden glow - reaching out one arm I opened the blind on the big front window and looked out. Fluffy white clouds drifted idly across a bright blue sky and a family of ducks waddled slowly across a nearby vacant pitch - lying there in the sunshine I felt for a moment like I was in a little bit of heaven. But unfortunately all good things have to end, and as much as I would have liked to stay there I had to go home later that day. Jim and Margaret weren't coming to collect me till 3pm though, so at least I was still able to do something with the morning before I had to start packing up.

After taking the dogs for a short walk through the site and along the lane I set about making breakfast - just as I popped the bread in the toaster I noticed three ducks on the next pitch, so I went out and threw them some pieces of crust. That was all the encouragement they needed to come and say hello, and chattering amongst themselves they waddled across to my awning - they actually seemed reasonably tame and quite happily took pieces of bread from my fingers. When it was all gone I showed them my empty hands and they seemed to understand that there was no more - or was it just my fanciful imagination thinking that? Whichever it was, they waddled away and disappeared over the grass bank behind my pitch.

With breakfast out of the way, and the washing up and tidying done, I decided to have a final walk into Garstang. I didn't really have any reason to go, but it was a way of giving the dogs a good walk and also putting off the inevitable packing up time. I didn't bother taking the camera this time, I just enjoyed the walk without stopping to take photos. I walked as far as The Old Tithe Barn pub/restaurant, there is a canal basin there and there were several cruisers moored there, with a few brightly painted narrowboats alongside the canal bank. I got chatting to a man on one of the narrowboats and he told me of a nice walk using the canal basin as the starting point - I hadn't time to go that way just then, but I made a mental note of it for the next time I was round that way. It was very pleasant standing chatting in the sunshine but I had to return to the site and start packing everything up, so I said goodbye and set off back along the towpath.

Back at the caravan I made myself a brew and sat in the sun outside the awning while I drank it - this would be my last 'caravan brew' for a while and I wanted to savour it while I could. Then with the dogs on their line so they wouldn't get in the way I started putting things away. Doing everything in reverse to when I set things up didn't take as long as I expected, and in less than an hour I was ready for taking the awning down - it took a while to get all the pegs out, but once that was done the rest was easy enough. And I even managed to fold it so it went neatly back into its canvas bag! After that it was a case of waiting for Jim and Margaret to arrive - I didn't have to wait long, and while Jim dealt with the hitching up Margaret helped me to put my bags and the dogs in the back of their car. Then after a quick check round to make sure I hadn't left any tent pegs or anything else on the pitch we pulled slowly away. I had to call at reception to return the site barrier key so while I was there I took a chance and booked a pitch for the next bank holiday in August - I didn't know what my circumstances would be by then, but I had enjoyed my weekend so much I didn't want to pass up the chance of a return visit if I could get there.

The journey back was uneventful, and after leaving the caravan back at the storage site Jim and Margaret dropped me, the dogs and my bags at home. That's when I came back down to earth with a bump - after such a lovely long weekend away I had to go to work! And what was I doing while I was working? - already making plans for the next time I went to Bridge House Marina!