The recent half-term break gave us the first opportunity to haul Patsy out of storage since Xmas – the eye wateringly expensive annual service of Her Ladyship notwithstanding – and we’d decided to head back to the caravan Club site in Crystal Palace, South London, so we could ‘do’ a bit more of the Capital.
We were both looking forward to it – the break more than anything really. The Portly Partner, A.K.A Trev had been trying to fight off a cold the previous week – not an easy ask given that one of his tasks at work means being outside in all weathers managing the daily school run drop-off and pick-up as the yummy (and not so yummy) mummies deposit and collect their little ones.
Whilst I had – so far – managed to avoid the various bugs that were going around, the silly o’clock starts together with the dark mornings and damp grey days were starting to get to me – and I’m sure I wasn’t alone.
With the earliest arrival time being the usual midday, we knew we would cop the traffic around the retail parks on the Purley Way but it was worse than we’d ever known it. A queue up the hill just outside Crystal Palace, not helped by some illegal parking outside the local police station of all places meant some delicate clutch work by Trev, who had elected to drive, but we still managed to arrive a little after 12:30pm.
We followed our usual routine setting up – Trev takes care of the inside, while I deal with the outside stuff – legs, loo, power, hitch & wheel locks. And water. Ah. As I was attending to the other tasks there was something nagging at me – no, not Trev – but I couldn’t put my finger on it. The fog began to clear however when I went to retrieve the water and waste containers from the ‘van. We looked at one another and both immediately knew that pretty soon we’d be heading back to Brighton – as they were sitting in our garage! Great.
Early on I mentioned Patsy had been in for a service – one of their requirements is that the ‘van must be empty of all clutter. Their wallet bashing hourly rate doesn’t include moving stuff about. So, all the bits and bobs had gone in the garage. And as the garage we have the use of is a couple of miles away, it really was out of sight, out of mind and we’d never gone to pick all the stuff up. Twits.
The idea of driving back through the Saturday afternoon traffic was about as appealing as an endoscopy, but the sooner it was done, the sooner we would be back and could start enjoying our break. The journey wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared and about and hour and a half later we’d retrieved what we wanted, gobbled down some snacks from the local shop – and were on our way back.
Ever since we started caravanning – we’d always used the same route into Crystal Palace – straight up the A23, turning right at Streatham Common – it’s straightforward as long as you keep your wits about you around the various one way systems and keep in the correct lanes. We’d often wondered however, if there might be a better way, but had never wanted to take a chance with the ;’van on the back. Now of course we were driving solo, so an opportunity presented itself. I set the sat-nav app on the phone, to see which way it would take us.
Well, the early part of the route was certainly better. We turned off and headed straight through Croydon – we’d avoided the retail parks and there was nothing that couldn’t be safely negotiated with a caravan – as a friend on Facebook said – if a London Bus can get through, than so can you.
What the sat-nav app didn’t realise though was that Crystal Palace F.C. were playing at home and we were in the vicinity of the ground when the final whistle blew and the crowd started turning out. We didn’t need to listen to final score on the radio – the expression on the supporters faces indicated that it hadn’t been a good afternoon for the Eagles.
Traffic aside, the route was still fine – certainly one we’d be happy to bring Patsy on – but then the sat-nav had us turning off and winding round some narrow streets that were most definitely not on bus routes – and thanks to match day parking some were almost impassable. Eventually we arrived back, and a later glance at a road map and Google street view suggested that had we carried on rather than turning off, we would have come across a main road, that would easily have accommodated Patsy’s girth and probably still got us to the site quicker. Still, we were now fully set up and ready to enjoy the rest of the week. An excursion to the local Wetherspoon's provided the evenings solid & liquid sustenance.
An early morning cuppa – one of those occasional ones that really, really hits the spot - and a long lie in followed be a wonderfully lazy morning. Mid afternoon we emerged and strolled the 10 or so minutes to the Crystal Palace ‘Triangle’ for a truly delicious Sunday lunch at the Grape & Grain – beef for me and lamb for Trev, washed down – obviously – with a couple of pints before heading back – via another pub – purely for research purposes – and settling down for a quiet and cosy evening in Patsy.
There was a little admin needed doing – one of things we had hoped to do whilst in London was the London Eye, and had been keeping a close eye on the weather forecast, in the hope of a clear day. Things were looking good so I went online and got booked up for Tuesday. The London Dungeon was also in our sights – Trev had never been and I had but only as a child – so a long while ago then. There was some discount in booking the two together which I took advantage of. Last on the list was a show – we had nothing particular in mind and it being half-term, there weren’t many discounts about, but in the end settled on ‘The War of the Worlds’. There were some big names in it and even I found the ticket prices bearable, although we’d probably end up needing binoculars to see the stage.
Monday, and another late start saw us head to Kings Cross. Yes, not the most obvious of tourist destinations I know. In fact the last time we we here was at least 12 years ago on one of our long weekends in Brighton. The Cambridge train came in at Kings Cross, then, depending on the time there would either be a mad dash to the underground for the train across to Victoria, or a scamper a few hundred yards down the road to the old Thameslink station. The area was noisy, grubby, smelly and pretty seedy too. What a difference this time. The impressive red brick of St Pancras, the renovated Kings Cross and smart plaza out the front was a world away from what we remembered. It was still noisy and traffic choked – this is London – but there was a much smarter look to the place.
This trip wasn’t just about memory lane however. We met up with a friend who works for Eurostar who had some time out between duties giving us the opportunity for a good catch up over a cuppa and a slice of cake in what must be one of the campest tea shops in London.
After filling our faces we took the chance to have a snout round with our unofficial guide. The inside of St Pancras is stunning – and the contrast of the modern platforms and shiny Eurostar trains contrasts well with the original features of the station. A statue of Sir John Betjeman – credited with saving St Pancras from destruction – looks out towards the platforms.
At the far end under the station clock there is another, even more impressive bronze of a couple in a romantic embrace entitled the meeting place. It stands 9 metres high and weighs in at at around 20 tons.
Beyond the stations themselves building work continues – an art college has been built utilising the remains of some old locomotive sheds. In one of the office units – occupied it seemed by google – stood an old red telephone box and a caravan – a Coachman no less. Presumably the bright young things find these spaces conducive to creative thinking – or maybe just thinking of new ways to dodge tax….
In among the shiny new builds was the framework of an old gas tower – preserved and enhanced with an impressive array of mirrors creating a little oasis.
Our walk back took us along the canal past St Pancras lock – the overhead wires serving the nearby trains provided an interesting backdrop to the still waters of the canal.
With the light fading and grog & grub o’clock approaching it was time to say goodbye. It was great to catch up with Andrew again and it was great to see another facet of this great city – one that is not on the obvious tourist trail but interesting nonetheless.
Tuesday, and the day of our ride on the big wheel A.K.A The London Eye, and the weather chaps had got it right – clear blue skies.
Trev still wasn’t feeling 100% – far from it in truth. He’d developed a nasty cough which resulted in a rather broken nights sleep, but nevertheless we were soon on our way to the South Bank, taking the same combination of buses as yesterday, hopping off before the bus crossed the Waterloo Bridge.
Close up, you got a truer sense of the size of the wheel – it was massive. Also, sadly and to our dismay was the queue to get on it. A little disheartened we joined the back thinking we’d be here for hours but in fact waited no more than about 30 minutes before we were clambering into one of the capsules.
Of course, the views were fantastic, although a little more elbow grease with the Windolene on the glass wouldn’t have gone amiss. It was great to spot so many of London’s famous landmarks from above and there was of course plenty of lens clicking going on. Perversely, because of the bright sun – and the aforementioned Windolene drought , the view across to Westminster and the Big Ben wasn’t that clear, but it was still good to see it all from above.
Back on terra firma, we popped in to the adjacent London Dungeon to book our slot for Friday, then headed towards Waterloo Bridge in search of another bus. We were heading to North Greenwich – the days aerial theme was to continue with a ride on the cable car, called officially the Emirates Air Line.
Nowhere in the vicinity could we find the number of the bus we wanted though, so we ended up on a rather circuitous route ,taking in the underground from Brixton, changing once, before eventually emerging at North Greenwich.
No pre-booking is required – you can pay ‘at the door’ or just scan your Oyster Card – which is the best way because you get it cheaper – just £3.50 one way. It takes around 10 minutes to cross and is extremely smooth – the views are again good although you don’t go as high as with the wheel. You are further around the Thames to the east so you get a good view of Docklands, The Dome and East London.
And that, was pretty much that as far as the trip went. After another sleepless night due to almost continual coughing fits both Trev and I were feeling pretty ragged, so we did little on Wednesday in the hope that some rest might improve things, so at least we might be able to make the theatre the following night, and the Dungeon the next day. No such luck and we ended up coming home a day early on Friday. By now it was obvious that I had picked up something too.
So, not the best of trips, although we did enjoy the early part of the week. Trev ended up at the Doctor’s and on the second visit was diagnosed with a chest infection after previously told all was clear. It really took it’s toll and he’s had to have some time off work – the first in the 25 plus years that I’ve know him – if you don’t count the small matter of the quadruple bypass 13 years ago!
So it’s fair to say that we are very much looking forward to our next trip, and by the time I’ve finished this it will only be a couple of weeks away. We are starting in Cambridge, for the first of two Twittercamps and very much looking forward to meeting up with everyone again – and hopefully seeing some new faces too. Then we’re off up to North Yorkshire – to Ripon – then down to Buxton to explore the Peak District.
So, until then….