76. A night under the stars – in Birmingham

Joy keeps an eye on Travelzoo.com and from time to time she finds a deal for a dinner, bed and breakfast package at a fancy hotel at a cheap as chips rate. This one was £115 for a night at the Dumbleton Hall Hotel somewhere near Stratford. I wanted to take the Sick Bay into Fellows Speed which is also in that area so we agreed to spend Tuesday night in the hotel and Wednesday at a campsite near Fellows so we could be there early Thursday morning and be back home in time for the crucial United versus Celta Vigo game.

In fact the hotel was some distance from Stratford but quite close to Evesham so we pulled in there for the afternoon. Joy likes to wander round the charity shops in upmarket towns because that is where you find the bargains, apparently. I took Leo for a walk beside the River Avon where he made friends with a bunch of Rumanians who were relaxing in the park. They had just completed an asparagus picking contract and were waiting for the next job. They were happy living in the UK but the work is hard and poorly paid. No wonder local farmers worry about Brexit – who else will pick the crop for that money?

Leo can’t resist anyone sitting on the ground and these Rumanians were happy to make friends with him

To my surprise Joy was rather disappointed with Evesham. It was old and full of character but the shops were a bit down at heel and the place seemed to be on the slide. On the plus side, at least she hadn’t bought anything.

Evesham – loads of character but the charity shops are a let down

Her mood lifted though as we approached the hotel. Sometimes these old country home buildings look a bit twee but Dumbleton Hall was both beautiful and interesting. Originally the home of the Cocks family, frequented by the Mitfords and  that crowd, its most recent incarnation was a convalescent home for Post Office workers.

Dumbleton Hall has got the edge on Downton Abbey


I wonder if the guy with the Jag managed to get Joy’s £115 deal

Predictably, the dinner was excellent. I had asparagus which may have been picked by Leo’s mates down by the river and we even had vouchers for cocktails and wine. So nothing to pay except for a relatively small postprandial bar tab.

After breakfast we headed off to Stratford which was packed with huge parties of schoolchildren predominantly from France and Japan. Looking round it was not hard to see why. Stratford is full of those fascinating ancient timber framed houses and everything looks like it did in Shakespeare’s day. The only ugly building is the RSC which is a monstosity. I went there as a kid to see Merrie Wives of Windsor which left me stone cold. But Joy used to teach Shakespeare and she still loves it. At lunch we overheard a couple making plans to go and see a play that evening. I think Joy felt a bit envious but I could think of nothing worse. Fortunately the charity shops were a great improvement on Evesham and we both would love to go back to Stratford.

Stratford is at the heart of the Avon Canal system and you can easily spend ages just watching the barges, and the swans, in the locks. This footbridge was built by prisoners from Wormwood Scrubs.

That evening I had booked us into the Chapel Lane campsite near King’s Norton which is near Fellows Speed. I wanted to go to Fellows to get a new starter motor before we go on our next big trip to Barcelona in June. I also wanted to buy a new sump as the incredible design of my present one makes it almost impossible to extract the drain plug to do an oil change.

We didn’t know if there would be anywhere to eat at Chapel Lane so we took the precaution of buying some bread and cheese etc and a bottle of red just in case. Lucky that we did because the site is in the middle of nowhere and there is nothing there – except a chapel, of course. It is a Caravan Club site but the only camp site in the area which is why we went there. Naturally it was expensive, (£31 which I thought might be a record for a campsite but isn’t), and you have to park just so. When we arrived, I was told that it was important to park ‘with the driver’s rear side to the white post’. I said mine was left hand drive so should I park the other way round? She thought I was taking the piss and things got a bit frosty.

I took Leo for a long walk but apart from nearly being hit by a stray ball from King’s Norton golf course saw nothing of interest in the rather flat and boring surrounding countryside. Tried to take a pic but flat and boring does not make for an interesting photograph. While I was away a couple interrupted Joy’s reading to ask her why there was a string tied round the electricity pole? (So we could tie up Leo so he couldn’t bite people). Really must make a note to avoid Caravan Club sites in future.

So why did I spend the night outside under the stars? Next year I am going cycling in France and Spain for three months, (with my ex boss at Kellogg’s). I have bought an Arctic sleeping bag which I want to use as a bivouac during that trip and with a clear weather forecast in Birmingham it seemed a good time to try it out. So I put a chair at either end for a bit of privacy and settled down for the night. I have to admit that Joy insisted on making me a hottie which I won’t be getting on my cycle trip.

The last time I slept outside was during a hitch-hiking trip round Europe as a seventeen year old. Those days I used to sleep like a baby. This time I slept fairly soundly, was not at all cold, but I was disturbed by the surprisingly powerful lighting dotted around the site. Next year I will try to find dark spots to kip down.

The view from my pillow in the morning
Leo is a creature of habit and every morning he comes onto my bed, regardless of where it is








I suspect our neighbours were fairly glad to see the back of us the next morning and we rocked up at Fellows well before nine. Ben, the owner’s son, a nice lad and a top notch mechanic, told me that Barry from TLB was coming in ten minutes to pick up his new Subaru conversion. It was nice to meet him at last, as we have communicated at some length about Scoobies, Fellows etc in the past. We started chatting about our forthcoming cruise and I asked him if he’d ever been on one. I felt a bit of a tit when he replied that he had spent nine years in the Navy.

Barry, known as Pickles on TLB, spent nine years as a Navigation Officer in the Navy.

As Barry drove off his new engine created a deep throaty roar and I asked Ben if he had a turbo or something. He said he had a 2 litre like mine but the satisfying sound is created by a 2 into 1 exhaust, whereas mine is a 4 into 1. Not to worry but next time I’m getting one like Barry’s.

Ben then got stuck into the little jobs on the Sick Bay and explained how I should fit my new sump when it arrives. (He said there was no need for him to him to do it as, ‘I’m not stupid’.  Joy looked doubtful.)

The journey back was tedious because of the delays on the M6 Smart Motorway project and I worried that we might not make the kickoff of the United match. But the new M6/M56 link is now complete and that is a real bonus for us. We have always hated that stretch through Mere and now it is a breeze. (Watch out though – our sat nav tried to take us the old way).

The new link from the M6 to the M56 is such an improvement on the tedious old A556  They have even landscaped the sides!

Just a postscript – United scraped past Celta Vigo but only thanks to an ex-City player who fluffed a sitter in the last minute, so now we’re in the Final. Thank you City – we’ll do the same for you one day.

Evesham is a lovely old town but has become a bit run down and seems to have a serious homeless problem
The customer lounge at Fellows Speed. All the coffee you want and mags to read but . .
. . . I’d rather nosey round all the fascinating VWs . . . and so would Leo

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