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.