Saturday 30 December 2023

Wednesday 27 December - Perth

Where was Erica? To her surprise, and ours, she spent the night in the Park & Ride car park at Perth, where parking is free.
Weather: Bit rainy and a bit blowy.

After Christmas with Ma-in-Law in Halifax, it was an early start yesterday morning to drive up to Newtonmore in one go. Aware of a yellow weather warning for Storm Gerrit, I’d been keeping an eye on the forecast for Newtonmore and there was nothing that suggested our journey was ill-advised. The A9 is a major route that receives a lot of winter weather, and it is generally kept clear and open, but in any case, we were scheduled to arrive at our destination some hours before the forecast said it was going to snow.

The first part of the journey was unremarkable, and we arrived at Hamilton services right at lunch time. Making lunch was something of an endeavour; as we weren’t going to be spending a night during our transit north or south this time, we didn’t pack light, so Erica’s rear was well loaded (in hindsight, making some sandwiches before we left and packing a flask would have been a good plan).

It was as we lunched that I received a message from Ali in Newtonmore containing a screenshot of the Drumochter webcam:

This didn’t look promising, but we were going to be stopping in Perth for some groceries, so we would review the situation when we got there.

A short while after arriving at the Park & Ride in Perth (no point going to the supermarket and adding more to Erica’s load if we were going to be spending the night) the A9’s woes increased when the section between Dunkeld and Ballinluig was closed due to flooding.

Ignoring the flood issue for the time being, we refreshed the Drumochter webcam page obsessively, even though it only updates every half an hour, and for a while we were convinced the feed wasn’t working, until we realised that the variances in each half hour snap were so subtle that it was like a tricky game of spot the difference.  Those vehicles first appeared in front of the webcam in the image at 1029. They were all finally gone at 1654 (at 1629 all bar one had gone), by which time a major incident had been declared (I have no idea what that actually entails, but it sounds like resources have been allocated and attention is being focussed!).  

The webcam images are approximately 30 minutes apart, but looked liked a game of Spot the Difference for most of the day.

It didn’t take that long for us to decide that we were spending the night in Perth, and thanks to having a bedroom, kitchen, living room and toilet with us, the fact that there were more thwarted motorists than hotel rooms available didn’t affect us.

It’s amazing how much stuff you can cram into Erica’s cab when you need to – it swallowed five crates, one massive food chiller bag, three bags of shoes, a carrier bag of snacks and my knitting bag. That left the back clear for us to move around and to get the bed out.

Looking back from the passenger seat mid-journey. Had I known this photo would come in useful for the blog, I might have made more of an effort to make sure it was sufficiently illustrative.

The bed was out not long after 8. 'Lights out' was just after nine. The only disturbance was at eleven when I peered out to see a truck with orange lights flashing but I couldn’t see what they were doing to create the banging. We woke up just before 6am, when the temperature inside had dropped to a not-quite-comfortable-without-a-hat level, and soon had Erica’s heater making us comfortable again (don’t know how cold it got inside, other than it was low enough to kill the batteries in Erica’s room thermometer).

As we drove away just before 7am, we saw we’d been joined by 7 motorhomes at some point. I wonder if any of them had intended to spend the night there?

McDonalds provided us with a quick breakfast (we had breakfast makings with us, it was just too much effort to retrieve them from the back of a cupboard), over which we established firmly that the A9 was still open. Police Scotland had announced it to be passable at 2030 last night, but Google was still showing it to be closed at Drumochter. Thankfully, the A9 Traffic Info Facebook Group had recent confirmations from real people, and even better, the chaps on the next table had just driven down from Inverness.

The rest of the journey was uneventful. Half the carriageway was underwater just before Ballinluig, but traffic lights had been set up and at that hour of morning there was no queue.We arrived in Newtonmore 25 hours after leaving Halifax.

Snowy and grey but road completely clear. 

So, an unplanned night in Erica. No hardship to have broken the journey in Perth, but had it been planned we wouldn’t have troubled ourselves to leave Halifax until noon, giving us less time to sit around, listening to the rain drum down, in Perth.  

Friday 15 December 2023

Friday 15 December - Downham Market

Weather: light cloud and dry

Last evening's entertainment - a Sherlock Holmes game. It got abandoned without conclusion at bedtime, so we still don't know whodunnit.

Another relatively early alarm this morning, as we needed to do our touristing early today, so as to get home in daylight (more on which at the end of this post). 

A few minutes before 9 we left the campsite and headed 10 miles down the road to Downham Market where, after a false start with the town car park being full, we found Bertie a slot at Tesco, giving us a maximum of 3 hours in the town. 

Whilst poking around the internet deciding whether Downham was worth a visit, I came across the Downham Market & District Heritage Society, which has published 6 leaflets on different themes of self-guided walking tours giving some of the history of the town. I made the random selection of the 'Gingerbread Town Trail' - the town being referred to as the gingerbread town in reference to the colour of the carstone out of which buildings were traditionally built. 

The Priory House - probably the oldest house in the town - but there's no evidence that there has ever been a priory (according to the leaflet and a plaque on the wall; a different information sign outside referred to the priory with more confidence)
Two chapels and the Sexton's House, in the old cemetery
A high point! We were standing on top of contour lines! Looking down on the flatness beyond the rooftops of the town.
The leaflet brought out attention to the oddity that this retaining was built using flint, whereas carstone is the traditional stone of this town. It wasn't the out-of-placeness of the flint that stood out to us, but the ugliness of the concrete into which the flint is set.

Market square, with town hall beyond. Today was market day, but the market is now held on the other side of the town hall.

With two sizeable supermarkets, I'd expected Downham to be quite a big town with a standard commercial High Street, but instead it mainly has independent shops, and is quite small. Having completed the heritage trail and feeling that we'd done a reasonable job of exploring the place (only as I type this have I remembered that I intended to go and take a look at the waterways), we adjourned for tea and brunch. 

Incidentally, the cafe visits of this trip have effectively been free. We have a rule about 'magic money' which is money that you don't expect to have (so a ten pound note found in a patch of heather on a hillside, or a refund that you didn't expect to receive), and thus can be spent frivolously without being considered an expenditure against the budget. I stretched the definition for this trip, but I'd had some cash sitting in my wallet for, quite literally, years. I almost never spend cash, so when someone gives me some (usually Ma-in-Law when I've bought something on her behalf), it doesn't get spent. This money had hung around for so long that I decided that it had become magic money and I opted to spend it on tea and cake/brunches.

And then we came home. Given how short the trip was, we would have made slightly more of it, and spent another couple of hours doing something, except that when we performed a check of Bertie's lights before we set out on Tuesday, we discovered that he had a tail light out. I didn't feel inclined to delay our departure, so my solution to this was that we would only drive in daylight and sort it out when we got home. The problem with this solution is that there aren't too many hours of daylight at this time of year!

In the repairs department I also need to confirm that the non-return valve on Bertie's relatively-new water pump (the one that pumps water out of Bertie's taps, not the one in his engine) is faulty and, assuming it's not a leak above the valve, sort out a return and replacement.

Thursday 14 December – Sandringham and Hunstanton

Where’s Bertie? He’s at King’s Lynn Caravan and Camping Park at a cost of £22.
Weather: Just a couple of periods of light mizzly rain. Cold when walking into the wind (unsurprising, really, in mid-December.

An early start, partly to put right the previous two days’ failures to use the showers, and secondly because I wanted a walk before we left.

With the latest departure time from the campsite being 11am (a bit strict at this time of year when all bar three of the pitches sat empty, and why do campsites need a 2-hour empty window on their pitches anyway? It’s not like they have to clean them and change linen as you would in a hotel.), we weren’t at leisure for the longer ‘to the beach’ route, so opted to wander through the Sandringham Estate, lying just across the road.

Pleasant woodland

Back at Bertie, we soon had the departure chores done and off to Hunstanton we went. Our first walk was to the scant remains of St Edmund’s Chapel, following the Wolf Trail, and completely forgetting that I’d intended to take us to a different, but nearby, point of interest.

Lighthouse, minus light, viewed through the doorway of the chapel remains.

Same snap, but taken in 1895 when less remained of the chapel than there is today (hmmmm).

None of the cafes along the seafront was open (and all of the car parks were empty, making it obvious why it’s not worth them opening), so it was clear that we needed to go into town to find refreshment. We stopped at the first open place we found and had it to ourselves. Even as we sat there, we suspected that if we had walked just around the corner we would have found the bustling place where all the locals go. It turned out that there were several, but no matter – we shared a tasty XL pork and chilli sausage roll, and the most ridiculously large slab of rocky road ever seen. I’m no stranger to cake eating, but have no idea how one person could get through a whole serving; I ate a quarter and took another quarter away with me to eat later.

Back at Bertie, after a bit of shopping in Tesco having used their (also largely empty) car park, we considered where to go next, and opted simply to move Bertie to some roadside parking we’d spied on the cliffs, have a cup of tea, then take a walk through Old Hunstanton.

It was as we drank tea and did a crossword that I remembered that I’d failed to deliver on the shipwreck that was supposed to be the objective of our first outing. As it turned out, it’s not visible from the cliffs, so we walked beyond them, down onto the beach, then back along it, nearly overshooting our objective, with it being so well camouflaged into its surroundings.

The Steam Trawler Sheraton, built in 1907, and commandeered by the Royal Navy for use in the first world war, then used again the second world war. It was then painted yellow and moored for target practice, but it broke its moorings in a storm and washed up here in 1947. Mick was disappointed at how little remains (when I said ‘ship wreck’ he anticipated something more substantial). I was impressed at how much remains after knocking on for 80 years of being battered by the tide and both getting saltily wet and drying out on a daily basis.

Back at Bertie having walked a total, including the Sandringham walk, of 10.5km, we declared that was enough activity for one day and drove over to this campsite, a few miles S of King’s Lynn. As tempting as it was to have another night at Pinecones, this site is £6 per night cheaper, is nearer to where we’re going tomorrow, and has everything we need.  It’s not as nice to look at (it looks to me as if most of the motorhomes and caravans around us are here on a seasonal basis and being used for residential purposes), but as it was soon dark, appearances don’t matter.

Wednesday 13 December – Dersingham

Where’s Bertie? He’s still at the campsite in Dersingham.
Weather: wetter than forecast!

I gave Mick the choice of which of the three recommended walks we did, and he opted for a circuit through the village of Dersingham. He may have been swayed that way by the promise of a tea room, although the same held true of the option to walk to the Sandringham Estate visitor centre (although, somehow, a village tea room sounds nicer in my mind than a visitor centre one).

The first part of the route was running along the back of garden fences, so wasn’t great, but the middle third was on a perfectly pleasant disused railway line. 

Then we got into the village which wasn’t of the ‘oh isn’t this lovely!’ variety, but still had enough interesting properties (both new builds and old) to allow us to keep up a running commentary on our surroundings.

As promised the tea room appeared before us as we got the village proper, and a popular place it was.

My scone was huge. This snap doesn’t do it justice.

Just one of the two cake/scone cabinets

Our visit was only marred by an incredibly smelly chap coming and sitting on the next table. Made our eyes water, he did. Fortunately, he didn’t take as long over his coffee as we did over our elevenses, so relief came before we left.

The radiator next to our table dried our jackets and gloves as we sat there, but we soon got them wet again as the rain returned in the final 1km back to Bertie.

At 6.5km, it’s the longest single walk I’ve done post-op, although I suppose that with the prolonged cafĂ© stop I could reasonable call it two walks.

We didn’t stir out of doors for the rest of the day. Some work was done, books read, ‘things to do’ researched for the last couple of the days of the trip, and knitting knitted, completely forgetting that, having paid the high-for-us price of £28 per night for this campsite, we intended to make use of the excellent facilities by using the showers.

Thursday 14 December 2023

Tuesday 12 December - King's Lynn & Dersingham

Where’s Bertie? He’s spending two nights at Pinecones Caravan and Camping, on the edge of the village of Dersingham, Norfolk, at a cost of £28 per night.
Weather: Showers, some particularly heavy.   

After sitting abandoned, untaxed and unwashed since the end of July, it was high time that Bertie got a little trip. Shorter than intended, thanks to a failure of memory causing me to commit us to be at home on Saturday, but four days is better than no days, so Bertie was packed, put back on the road and on Tuesday morning off we jolly well went.

Arriving in King’s Lynn just before noon, a quick lunch was had, over which I Googled to find things to see in the town, as a result of which we started by walking over to the Minster (it was just a plain church when we passed by, but didn’t visit, in 2011, but has since been upgraded). The building is reasonably impressive, and distinctly old looking, from the outside, but unremarkable (save for the racket coming from the organ which presumably was being tuned or otherwise fixed) on the inside.

A poor illustration of the minster. It was raining and I trouble myself to find a better vantage point.

It was raining as we came out of the church, which was unfortunate (and contrary to the weather forecast probabilities) as neither of us had any waterproof clothing with us, but it didn’t stop us from walking down some clearly historic lanes…

…to the riverside. That we recognised from walking along both banks on our way from Lowestoft to Ardnamurchan in 2011 – a sizeable detour necessitated to get to the nearest bridge.

Having walked along the riverside, we might have visited the Fisherfolk Museum, except that the town museum had equally good reviews and the latter is free in winter. A meandering walk through the town and at the museum we arrived, to find it closed to the public until 3pm due to a school group (it’s a small museum, not an over-zealous safeguarding measure). Not feeling inclined to hang around that long, we proved once again how bad we are at towns and were back at Bertie just over an hour after leaving him.

Two ill-timed downpours then struck as I made two trips into Morrisons. The first involved buying screen wash, the second a funnel to get the screenwash into Bertie’s vertically-mounted washer bottle neck (his usual funnel having been called into use in Erica a couple of weeks ago and not having been returned to its rightful place).

A visit to the ruins and quaint village at Castle Rising was next on my hastily researched agenda, but it wasn’t our day for being cultural as we arrived to find the castle and its car park closed, and no other suitable parking to allow us a look around.

An earlier-than-planned arrival at the campsite it was then!

The chap on reception was the most suited to his job that I’ve ever come across. A friendly and incredibly informative ten minutes was passed with him, and I returned to Bertie clutching three laminated sheets detailing local walks, complete with maps, text descriptions and photos of all the navigational landmarks along the way.

I perhaps wasn’t as grateful as expected about being upgraded from a Super Pitch to a Super Pitch with picnic pod, as even though the picnic pod provided us with a covered picnic table, with it being mid-December and with heavy shower coming through every few minutes, it would have been madness to abandon the comfort of Bertie to sit outside.


Not sure whether you can make out the picnic pod – I can’t on my phone’s screen. In the next row, behind the hedge, large shelters have just been erected over the standard picnic benches, with those shelters cunningly doubling up as solar panel array holders.  

With the rain coming down with only the briefest of pauses, I postponed my second walk of the day until, with ten minutes until sunset, I decided that I couldn’t put it off any longer. For the first 800m it stayed dry; for the last 1200m it lashed it down. I felt fully justified in staying in for the rest of the day!

Sunset walk – an out-and-back along a soggy path.

Wednesday 13 December 2023

The Fibroid Diaries, Part 3

My surgery was seven weeks ago. As of last Wednesday (six weeks) I’m allowed to do most things again (vacuuming the house, driving the car, carrying shopping – all the fun things…), but it’s still another week until I can contemplate running.

At the end of my last post, which was 2 weeks post-op, my greatest activity in a single day was walking 2x500m (14:45/km pace) to go out for brunch, which exhausted me and caused me to spend the afternoon asleep. It wasn’t much longer (start of Week 3, I think) before the afternoon naps were no longer required.

I continued to build up the walking, only finding my limit on one occasion. On Day 18 I walked 1km (I’m claiming it even though my recording was 40m shy) in the morning, then went out for another walk late in the afternoon. At the end of an alley I contemplated: turn back, turn left or turn right. The correct answer, with hindsight, was to turn back. I turned right, and 100m later gave serious consideration to calling Mick to come and pick me up. But I battled on, taking micro-steps, and made it home having covered another 900m. I hadn’t done anything that wasn’t recommended, but the abdominal discomfort was, well, uncomfortable. The following day I was fine and my pace had increased to just slower than 13 minutes per kilometre.

On Day 22 we went out for cake (or a sausage butty in Mick’s case)…

On Day 24 Strava assessed (quite rightly) my 1.4km walk (still at 13 min/km pace), as ‘harder than your usual effort’. How quickly things can change! The following day I broke through the mile, and three days later through 2km.

Incidentally, it wasn’t all walking. I was also knitting…

Using up left over yarn from the bottom of the wardrobe 

Tension swatch for a hoody I've just started, which will be the most ambitious item I've tackled yet*. 

…vetting TGO Challenge Route Sheets, and making TGO Challenge videos.

Day 31 was the next big thing. Mick drove me to a local nature reserve where we left the car and set out to walk 1.5km up the hilliest road around. With the car then being 1.5km away, we then walked back. Whilst 90m of ascent doesn’t sound like much, some of those inclines are steep. The uphills also proved to be tuggy on the scar, but I’m told that tugging at the scar is good.

Little hills but quite steep

On Day 35 we took a day-trip to Halifax, hitting traffic both ways and I learnt that sitting in a passenger seat of a moving vehicle requires the use of one’s core muscles for stabilisation. My core muscles, as a result of having been severed and needing to heal, hadn’t been used for five weeks and perhaps five hours in the car was a bit much for the first big outing. Goodness, how my abs ached the following day; it was like I’d done an inadvisable number of sit-ups. I was also surprisingly exhausted, which is quite probably what triggered the migraine of the following day, which in turn cancelled our next intended trip: an overnight outing to Lincoln in Bertie, to allow Mick to attend a RAF reunion do.

On Day 37 we took advantage of the frozen ground to walk off-road

Fortunately, once I recovered from the Halifax trip, things seemed to improve in leaps and bounds. By Day 42 (six weeks post-op) I was feeling much more healed.

It was just a few days ago, on 8 December, that I finally hit 5km in a single walk and declared that I am now suitably mended to walk however far I want, at a reasonable pace (I averaged 9:30/km on this one).

The only real ongoing niggle is that the lymphatic drainage pathways on my stomach have been interrupted by the surgery, and as each day goes on, the tissue above the scar becomes swollen. It’s worse the more I do (to my mind, if I move around it should encourage the fluid to move, but it seems it doesn’t work like that when the drainage routes have been cut off). It’s doing me no harm, but it’s not comfortable. Compression knickers and leggings are my friends.

His n hers

Mick’s never expressed an interest in me knitting him a jumper before, so when he suggested I could do him a Christmas jumper I wasted no time.

(*'steeking' is where you cut a knitted garment, for example you may knit a cardigan effectively as a jumper then cut up the front to make it into a cardi - it means that you can do colour work without troubling with purl stitches and also allows you to knit the garment it in one piece, thus not needing to sew panels together. My hoody involves steeking, and so did this swatch, but I've opted to show it in its pre-cut state so you can't see the hash I made of the colour work pattern on the other side!)