We spent three nights at the Crowborough CCC site and enjoyed it immensely. It’s a slightly dated, old fashioned camp site with facilities that need a face lift but nevertheless work very well. I feel a certain affinity with such places – can’t think why.
We spent much of our time in Crowborough with Pat and Jann, our Californian friends who were house and dog sitting in the town. They know the region well so were able to take us on a couple of outings to places we would never have attempted in our motorhome. A walk on the South Downs in bright sunshine and brisk winds blew our house clearing cobwebs away and allowed the dogs to run to their hearts’ content on miles of open grassland. The views from the top were fantastic, with the English Channel sparkling on one side and the rolling hills and pretty villages of the Downs to the other. We shared our walking space with horse riders and hang gliders, both of which were of too much interest to Poppy who had to be put back on her lead several times.
We ended up in a beautiful village pub having a slightly strange but pleasant lunch. We were somewhat dumbfounded by the menu that took seemingly simple ingredients and turned them into something that sounded spicy and exotic. When my sweet potato and leek soup arrived with something I couldn’t identify floating on the top I was disappointed to find that in fact it had no seasoning at all and was rather bland. Ah well. The company was good, the sun was shining and we were sitting outside at the beginning of October with good friends and a long adventure to look forward to.
The next day we were treated to a visit to the site of the Battle of Hastings and found, to our additional delight, that our Historic Scotland Cards gave us free access. Cheapskate me? I’m not big on history but this was a real treat. Armed with our audio guides we discovered many interesting facts about the battle, most of which I had no recollection of hearing before. Apparently Edward the Confessor had promised the throne of England to both William and Harold without telling the other of his plans. No wonder they had a fight! Harold was less organised than William and remained unfocussed, even after his death, when he couldn’t decide whether it was an arrow in the eye or a sword that killed him. I guess we’ll never know. Another snippet of fascinating information concerned an unfortunate minstrel who volunteered to be the first to enter the fray and went in singing the song of Roland. He met an immediate and messy end. This story amused Shirley who was reminded of Blackadder. All you minstrels take note and stick with what you’re good at.
After all that culture and feeling a bit chilly, we dived into a local café to sit in front of the roaring log burner and eat some good plain lunch fare, an improvement in lots of ways on the previous day’s meal.
Our evenings were spent in the Crowborough Constitutional Club which offers temporary membership to people staying on the campsite. This was a great spot for us to meet up, play cards, have a few drinks and, on the last evening, have a few games of pool. Shirley did nothing for Anglo-US relations by winning every game but I think they forgave her. If you stay on the campsite, we can recommend taking up the offer to use the club. It’s only a ten minute walk away in the centre of town. One thing that surprised us, incidentally, was the poor quality of wifi and phone signal in this part of East Sussex. We imagined, coming from Scotland, that everything down here would be super-duper, high speed and efficient. If fast internet is a must for you, then this place will disappoint. If, like us, you are looking to slow down and enjoy the scenery, it’s a grand choice. For pleasant scenery, nice pubs and cafés, good independent shops and three supermarkets, it’s a real find for motorhomers who want to be able to walk to local amenities.
On Wednesday afternoon, having received good advice from Paul of Wandering Stars, we set off for the port of Newhaven to spend the night on the dock side before our crossing the next morning. Driving through the lanes of East Sussex we passed a muck spreader who seemed not to have noticed that he was no longer in a field. The front of our newly washed and brilliant white motorhome got a liberal splatter of manure and for a moment I could barely see where I was going. First stop in Newhaven was Halfords for some stuff to remove deposits from paintwork. They didn’t stock anything to clean off cow dung so we went for something designed for organic matter. How polite a term is that? It certainly isn’t the one I used when ‘it’ hit the van.
By 7 p.m. we were tucked in beside the DFDS passenger building on a nice flat parking place and cooking Cumberland sausage and mushrooms for dinner. The wind was getting up, the sea was choppy and we were giving thanks for the fact that we hadn’t booked on the night boat. This is a great facility – parking up next to the check in lanes, free of charge, ready for the next day’s morning crossing and feeling perfectly safe under all the security lights. By the time we were in bed, the feeling of safety was a bit diminished by the howling gales rocking the van but at least we weren’t on the ship. It was no surprise the next morning to find that our ferry was going to be delayed due to rough seas. We were in the check in lane and quite contented, drinking coffee and watching the world go by when one of life’s ‘characters’ turned up and peered into our front windows. Being a helpful kind of girl Shirley opened the door and asked if she could help. The lady in question wanted advice on how to apply headlight deflectors to her Citroen and had chosen us because we have a Renault. You can probably see where this is going. Shirley turned to me and suggested I might be able to answer. Here in a nutshell is the story of our lives. Shirley is the ‘People’s Friend’ (as named by her dear departed Mother and very accurately too) who will approach anyone for a chat, often meeting some very interesting people along the way. The problem comes when the person in question wants some technical or practical help. At this point Shirley turns to me and says, “I’m sure Margaret will know the answer to that.” Do I know the answer to how to fit headlight deflectors? No I do not. I can’t do it on our van, let alone someone else’s random vehicle. The fact that the two vehicles in question were made in France made perfect sense to the lady asking the question but none at all to me.
Being also a helpful kind of a girl I stepped out into the gale to find a lady in the grip of high anxiety because she couldn’t get her headlights deflected. She was waving her instructions around and shouting about the impossibility of working it out. Unaware of the dangers, a member of staff from DFDS approached to tell us that the ferry was delayed and that we should stay where we were or go into the passenger lounge for coffee. This raised the Citroen lady’s anxiety to a whole new level and she started shouting demands at the poor unsuspecting woman. “Is the ferry going? What will happen if it doesn’t? How do I fix these headlight deflectors?” The DFDS lady backed off into the building leaving me with Mrs High Anxiety. I am ashamed to say that even though I was on the Scottish National Training Team for Mental Health First Aid, I had no idea what to do in this situation. I tried suggesting that, like us, she might want to consider not driving at night while on the Continent but this only served to raise her anxiety further. “Who knows how late we’ll get in? It might be late at night!” Oh dear. Actually the delay was to be an hour at the most, bringing us into the port at Dieppe at around 4 p.m. Eventually, having judged me a complete incompetent, the Citroen lady went off up the row of parked vehicles looking for another Citroen. Phew.
Moving into the motorhome boarding queue Shirley leapt out of the van again because the lady in the motorhome in front was smiling at her. I tried to hide but it turned out there was no need. We had a very pleasant chat with Lyn and Roy who were heading south towards Portugal for a bit of sunshine before coming home for Christmas. They gave us some great tips for good Aires on the west coast of France and showed us their very swanky new motorhome and before long we were rolling onto the ferry ready for the off. As soon as we got on the boat and felt the swell from the waves we paid for a cabin and had a long hot shower. We swerved and hobbled our way to the café for a coffee and tried to have a game of cards but in the end gave up and went for a snooze. A couple of granny nap hours later we were woken to the sound of the intercom telling us that we were coming into the port of Dieppe and that the stabilisers would be turned off so sit down and stay down folks – or words to that effect. We were much relieved to drive out of the port and head towards Neufchatel en Bray, a favourite of ours and a great place for a couple of days rest before heading onwards. So, here we are in La Belle France and ready to relax. See you later!