It must be over three weeks since we came home from our last trip in the motorhome. The garden has been tidied, the motorhome has spent several days with the dealer in Great Yarmouth having some long standing problems sorted out and now we have itchy feet again.
We are going north to a Vulcan to the Sky Club members day in the hangar at Finningley (now Doncaster Sheffield Robin Hood Airport) where Vulcan XH558 is kept. We are really looking forward to this day as it will be a great ‘getting together’ of the friends we meet and work with throughout the summer months at airshows.
Since we are making quite a trek northwards, we might as well make the best of a long drive and spend a few extra days away. Our first idea was to go back to the lovely Yorkshire Dales and the splendid town of Hawes, somewhere we have been several times before and always like. The problem is though, Hawes is almost a thousand feet high and the weather men on TV are predicting arctic conditions across the country for the days we would be there. It seems a bit daft to risk taking four tons of expensive motorhome along narrow winding roads in ice and snow when we can stay a bit further south and at lower altitude, so we decide on Derbyshire.
It must be twenty years since we last went to Chatsworth and the Caravan Club have a campsite on the estate (GPS 53°14’14.77″N 1°37’03.77″ W) very close to the house and gardens and for once there seems to be a few spaces left. I phone the site and am delighted when I manage to bag the last place for the four nights we want to stay.
On Monday morning we leave home in murk and mist for the 170 mile drive. The forecast was for heavy rain for much of the day but we only have occasional drizzle to contend with and with no traffic hold ups we make good time, arriving on-site at 2pm.
Turning off the main road there is a single track road running through fields and deep into the estate. The site is located in a wooded area surrounded by high walls that look as though they were once surrounding a kitchen garden. Through the trees there are glimpses of parkland and steep wooded hills beyond and through a ‘secret’ door in the wall, for which we were given a key, there are acres of park to roam over. We go for a walk before it gets dark and venture through the door and into Chatsworth Park where we see lovely views of the house, the River Derwent and sheep grazing peacefully.
Tuesday 19th November.
A frosty start to the day with clear blue sky and the sun lighting up the autumn colours in the surrounding hills.
After breakfast we once again venture through the ‘secret’ door and into Chatsworth Park. This time we walk all the way across to the house and buy tickets for the house and gardens. Despite it being November, when one might expect things to be quiet, the place is heaving. There is a large Christmas market taking place outside in the park and the house has been ‘dressed’ with a Christmas trail which must be the reason for all the visitors.
The theme for the house is ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ and the effect is quite stunning and beautifully done.
Each room has been transformed with huge Christmas trees reaching up to the high ceilings, candles, and all manner of decorations. The downside is that you don’t notice the room itself, the highly decorated ceilings or the many works of art hanging on every wall. A return visit to really look round the house seems to be called for.
Leaving the house, via the obligatory gift shop, we walked around the gardens in the chill winter air. The sun lit up the newly cleaned facade of the house with the gold leaf on the window frames glinting in the bright light while the spray from the Emperor Fountain created its own rainbow. All of this with the magnificent back cloth of the Derbyshire countryside.
Lunch was a pasty from the estate shop in the stable yard then on to a free shuttle bus for the ten minute drive to the estate farm shop. This was one of the first shops of its type and has always had an excellent reputation. We came away with all sorts of pies and cakes plus a couple of bottles of their own beer. Back on the shuttle bus to the front of the house and then a walk back across the park to a snug and warm motorhome.
Wednesday was cold and showery so we stayed in the warm and looked out at the countryside beyond the walls and trees. On Thursday, after a few early morning showers we ventured out and back across the park to have a look around the Christmas market. There was a lot of great smelling hot food on offer as well as an awful lot of schmutter. As a shopping expedition it was a failure but it was a great walk and we even managed to avoid the showers.
Friday 22nd November.
We leave Chatsworth and drive back through Chesterfield to join the M1 and head further north west to our site for the next two nights. It is only fifty miles to Hatfield Woodhouse and a small and pleasant CL (GPS 53°34’07.94″N 0°58’43.84″W) we have used before when visiting Robin Hood Airport. Seven miles north of the airport our site is in a village with a first class Chinese takeaway a short walk away and a general store fifty yards away. The site is neat and tidy, tucked away behind the owners house and backing on to paddocks with friendly horses.
Saturday 23rd November.
Vulcan To the Sky Club Members Day.
We are all meeting at Doncaster Sheffield Robin Hood Airport, better known to many by the old name of RAF Finningley, in the hangar that houses Vulcan B Mk2 XH558. Vulcans occupied these same hangars when they were in service in the 1960’s and 70’s and XH558 was here as part of 230OCU squadron from 1961 to 68 so she is back home.
We arrive early as we are in the motorhome and knowing that parking is in short supply I think that we can park and then the stewards can park cars around us. I start reversing into a piece of waste ground I have used before outside of the official hangar parking area when Ray Watts, one of the engineers, rushes over to tell me to park on a spot right by the hangar entrance. I protest that it means occupying a disabled slot but he tells me he has authorised it and that is that. Talk about VIP treatment. The volunteer organising parking runs ahead to open the barrier to let us in and we park right by the door.
The day starts as it carried on, with lots of hugs and handshakes, as we meet so many good friends and many familiar faces that we see at air shows around the country. We stop and chat to lots of people, in many cases we don’t know their names but they know us, having visited the Vulcan Village at some time.
There are talks about flying the Vulcan by our Chief Pilot, Martin Withers DFC (of Black Buck fame), Kev Rumens compared flying Vulcans to his day job of flying Airbus A340’s for Virgin Atlantic and his previous job flying Tornado’s over Iraq. He also explained the mechanics and science of bombing and how it was a major success when Martin had managed to get one bomb on the runway at Port Stanley. Ray Watts (propulsion engineer or ‘sooty’) made a brilliant and entertaining auctioneer as he sold off parts removed from the aircraft. Sam Evans (Airframe rigger) explained the life extension modification that is to be fitted to the leading edge of the wings and which will give an extra two years flying.
VTST Trustee Ken Smart gave an overview of the areas of expertise and influence that each of our trustees can bring to bear and the various ways that can help the project and the day was rounded up by another trustee, Richard Clarke (almost the same name as me and often confused with me), talking about his role in PR and his hopes for next year.
After a brilliant day everyone reluctantly said their goodbyes and drifted off home, some like our good friend John, having to drive all the way to the south coast. We only had seven miles to go, back to our temporary base.
Sunday 24th November.
For days we had discussed whether we should go home or spend a few more days away. Kate had a long standing appointment for a check up at Ipswich Hospital for the following Wednesday so if we did delay going home it would only be for a couple of days. Our preference would have been to go further north and spend a few days in the Yorkshire Dales, as we had originally intended, but with just two days it wasn’t feasible.
So, home it was. A good drive down the A1 with no hold ups and we arrived home just after 2pm, in good time to watch the Brazilian Grand Prix.
We had covered 431 miles @ 25.4mpg. Total mileage on the ‘truck’ is now14136.
Among the pile of mail waiting on the door mat was a letter from Ipswich Hospital cancelling Kate’s appointment…….bugger!