Sunday, 7 August 2011

Rediscovering Country Pubs


I haven’t blogged much recently, mostly due to domestic stuff, then last week, being away for a much needed rest I began to have some ideas but the Internet connection broke, so I gave up and had a few days free of any major news or contact with the blogosphere. Being back online I simply don’t know where to start! There are so many important things happening, most of which make me both angry and worried because so many are lies, smokescreens and the surface activity of much deeper hidden agendas than the MSM can comprehend. So while our great leader is enjoying practicing his tennis with his specially flown over tennis coach in his £10,000 a week villa and while the markets burn, along with the streets of London, I’m going for escapism.

When the Mrs. and I travel anywhere it’s often in our camper van. Only a smallish thing, you wouldn’t want to live in it for any time, but absolutely ideal for weekends away, music festivals, an overnight stopover on a long trip and the like, without being much more unwieldy to drive or park or worse on fuel than a medium sized car we use it for most long pleasure or social journeys.  I would go as far as saying that the van is easily the most liberating thing we have ever bought. As I once pointed out to the driver of a Bugatti Veyron (yes really, we were behind one on the Eurotunnel shuttle) “Yes yours does go faster, but we can make tea in ours and it has a much better loo”.

The biggest problem here in the UK for touring is finding somewhere to informally and cheaply park up overnight, and partly for that reason we frequently go to France. In rural France you can park overnight free at almost any of the motorway aires (services), many have attractive and well cared for campervan and picnic areas. In addition almost every small market town has provision for overnight stopovers in a campervan.  Frequently a section of a town car park that can be used free overnight, often with a coin slot operated service facility that provides a water supply, an hour’s electricity and a waste drain point. Some towns offer an inexpensive but well set up ‘camping municipal’ site, and these too are welcoming for overnight stopovers, generally being open late so one can book in during the evening. Almost always these sites are at the edge of the town in easy walking distance of the centre. The French understand that visitors bring money! Arrive for the night, stroll into the town, eat in the bars and restaurants, stock up for the next day in the local shops, everyone gains from the deal. Many of the sites get very busy in season and travelers become regulars at their favourite ones. Even the private rural sites normally have a bar so you can arrive late and book in then have a meal or a beer.

Here in England however it’s a very different story. Would you honestly want to pay £8 or £10 to pull up overnight at a UK motorway services? Thought not. But camping and caravanning club sites prefer advance booking, like you to arrive in ‘office hours’, are relatively expensive and are usually in rural areas. There are smaller allied sites that take up to 5 vans which are cheaper but again most prefer advance booking and are often full with people staying longer periods. They don’t usually have a bar or restaurant nearby. Most ordinary options are geared up for people to stay and none provide what is needed for a brief overnight stop while travelling. This ideally needs the ability to arrive in the evening so that you can use the most of the daylight to travel (or sightsee). Somewhere to eat and relax until it’s time to sleep and somewhere level to park out of the way. It doesn’t need to have full camping service facilities as most vans can be self-contained for a couple of nights.

At last, after years of trying different options we have rediscovered rural pubs! They are open in the evening so you can arrive later, they have large car parks, they welcome customers, provide great value meals, and many are perfectly happy to allow you to sleep in your van overnight provided you spend money there.  Some are now getting organized and there is at least one register at http://www.motorhomestopover.co.uk/. There is a signup charge to fund the register (I am not connected with them, just a member). The standard arrangement is that you can park up free overnight provided you have at least a meal in the pub. The more organized ones often leave a side door open to the toilets, have water available, and if you park close enough to the building there is wi-fi. It’s 100% ideal for a one night stop. Arrive, have a super pub meal, enjoy some great beer, stagger back to the van to sleep it off and away in the morning, and all for little more than you would spend on an overnight site fee. We have found a super friendly place only just off the M20 very close to the Channel Tunnel, ideal for an early crossing the following morning, and last week discovered a lovely old pub (top picture) down a lane near Bewl Water just off the A21 that provided us with a smashing meal, wonderful views over the Sussex downs and some great draft Harvey’s as we broke our journey home.

For daytime stops when we are not in a hurry we tend to use the National Trust. If you are a member there are numerous country houses with glorious parklands where you can rest an hour or so, eat your sandwiches or get a meal at the café, have a look at some history, and drive on refreshed. So much nicer than using motorway services and if you can get to a nice country pub for the night a couple of days away or even a long journey feels like a real holiday.

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