Welcome to part four of the Smith and Swain family adventures this year. I didn’t blog yesterday for reasons that will become apparent in a moment or two. Read on…
As you know we were staying on a lovely little campsite on the banks of the Thames near Marlow for the first leg of our holiday and we had planned on heading to South Wales for the second leg. Kevin had done a bit of research on the internet and found a highly recommended site just outside Monmouth so we thought we’d give them a try.
I rang them up and spoke to a lovely gentleman who asked all the usual questions – “how many of there are you? How many caravans? Will you be bringing awnings?” “Any dogs?”, that kind of thing. My answers – five in total, two caravans both with awnings, no dogs. He said they had plenty of room and our four night stay would be no problem. In fact, if we wanted to we could stay a week. Fantastic!
So off we set yesterday morning (typing this now, it feels like about a week ago…keep reading) and headed along the M4 from Berkshire towards Wales with high hopes and high expectations of a lovely next leg.
Apart from a little detour (curse you TomTom for sending us down a narrow country lane, up a hill, over a mountain, through a forest and down the other side of the mountain) we arrived at our campsite at 4.00pm on the dot. We piled into the Reception to book in and the lovely lady took our payments and guided us onto our pitches. The park was absolutely beautiful – the grass was well kept, there were no bare or scorched earth patches on any of the pitches and there were lots of well-tended trees and bushes etc. Spread out along the banks of the River Trothy, it was a picturesque little piece of heaven.
The lady walked us down to our pitches and helped us place the vans correctly (this should have rung an early warning bell), and she went bananas when my Dad drove onto the pitch on the other side of the road when he was backing his caravan in (this also should have rung a warning bell). She was flapping because it was a seasonal pitch and we weren’t allowed on it. Apparently.
As we began to set up my Dad said “Pam, did you see that sign in the Reception saying that the awnings can’t be longer than the length of the van?”. I hadn’t seen it, so quickly checked on the (4-page) rule book that the lady had given us. After the flap and fuss of getting the caravans sited properly I didn’t want any more aggro so I was happy that there was no mention of awning size. We have a standard awning with an annexe in one end where Ethan sleeps. It zips into the end panel of the awning and there is an inner tent pod that hangs from the framework to form his space – pretty standard camping arrangement, but extends to the front to just beyond the towing A-frame so technically not quite “no longer than the length of the caravan”. I presumed the notice in Reception was an old one as it wasn’t on the rules that she gave us.
We had our meal sat in-between the two caravans which was lovely after the long journey and the setup. It’s always tiring to pack everything up and then put it back up again. Those awnings and water bottles are blinking heavy, especially when weighed down with morning dew!
I’d just moved into the caravan to do the washing up when I heard a car screech to a halt outside our pitch. It was the owner. And she had bad news.
“You can’t have that,” she said, tapping the annexe.
Kevin said “what do you mean?”. She said, “this isn’t allowed. It’s longer than the van and it’s not allowed on this site. Kevin pointed out that nothing had been said about that when we booked, and there was nothing in the rules that she’d just handed us. She said that the rule is “in the brochure” and we should have known about it before we booked. He said that we booked it by telephone only a couple of days ago – how could we have seen a brochure??
Then came the most ridiculous conversation I’ve ever heard in my life. It went along the lines of “you can’t have that, it has to come down. But it’s where my son sleeps and it’s part of the awning. You can’t have it. But we’ve got it. Well you can’t keep it if you want to stay here. Well we can’t get rid of it because the awning will fall down and my son will have nowhere to sleep. Well you can’t stay here then.”
By this time it was 7pm and we were thinking about showers and bedtime stuff, as you do on travel day, but we had to find another campsite instead. Luckily, we have our camp directory with us so we did a quick search and found one about 3 miles away. We jumped into the car and shot off to see if they could accommodate us for the rest of our planned stay.
Kevin asked the owner “do you have any restrictions on awnings?”, to which he answered, “no, we don’t. Have you just been thrown off xxxxx site?” Kevin said, yes how do you know? He said, “They’re funny buggers there. Bonkers!”.
We went back to our site to tell the owner that we would be moving in the morning, and we would expect a full refund for the nights we weren’t going to use. She said, “we don’t do refunds.”
I have to say that Kevin, in his usual Kevin-like way, went bananas. Now, if you know my Kevin you’ll know that he doesn’t usually lose his temper. He is slow to burn so if he gets riled, you know he must be REALLY riled. Let’s just say that at the end of that conversation she had agreed to refund our unused night’s fee so long as we didn’t let on to “him” that she’d done so. We later learned that “him” was her ex-husband who was co-owner, and it was his rule about the awnings (and many, many other things) and it was his rule that they don’t give refunds. She ended up refunding us out of her own cash because if she’d put it back on our cards he would find out and go mad at her.
We didn’t want to cause any more domestic strife for her, so agreed that we wouldn’t tell him that she’d refunded us. But then – and this is where it gets bizarre – she asked us that when we leave and get our deposit back for the barrier key, would we kick off and cause a fuss in front of him please?
Yes, that’s right. She wanted to draw us into their squabble by getting us to kick off as disgruntled customers so that they could have an argument about it. Weird or what! She visited us a further three times after that with various other bits of moan (couldn’t we just take that bit down and roll up the end? No we can’t – there is nothing to roll up and if we take it down then my boy has nowhere to sleep!), and then finally with our cash.
We had an extremely early night so that we could be up and off the site as soon as we could this morning. In fact I don’t think it had properly gone dark before I was asleep last night. I don’t like confrontations at the best of times, but at the end of a long day like that I am just not at my best.
We did manage to get off there at 9am this morning and despite her request we didn’t really kick off – what was the point? – and we booked in at this new site just down the road before 9.30am. The awnings on both vans were soaked through from overnight rain and dew so were even heavier than before which made it difficult work to put them down and then back up again almost straight away.
However, here we are and this site is lovely too. It’s not quite as picturesque as the one yesterday but the owner is infinitely more friendly and NORMAL. We had a lovely chat with him this morning and he filled us in on the goings on down the road. Apparently the campsite has been failing for a number of years and the couple who own it are notorious in the area for being oddballs. He told us that there is a certain sales rep who can’t go back to their site again because last time he was there, the owner threatened to shoot him!! I can’t vouch for how true that is but it certainly has a ring of truth based on the things we saw there. He also told us that they had evicted people from the site lots of times in the past too, including several in the middle of the night. I guess we got off lightly then.
And so to today’s activity. After the downing and upping of tents and awnings and setting up the caravans two days on the trot we weren’t really up for much so just had a little drive down the Wye valley to Tintern Abbey. We stopped at the Abbey Mill to have a late lunch and to have a look around the village. We walked to the Abbey but by the time we got there it wasn’t long before closing time so we decided to make another journey tomorrow and see more of it.
We passed through the town of Monmouth on the way to the Abbey and we will definitely be stopping there again while we are down here. It is the birthplace of Henry V, my favourite monarch, and we went through Agincourt Square which is well worth an investigative visit.
As I type this, the gorgeous blue sky is clouding over and it looks like it might rain a little shortly. I was hoping for clear skies tonight – I want to see the expected meteor shower that is forecast for the next couple of nights. There are wide open skies here and it would be the perfect chance to see shooting stars if only it wasn’t for the clouds. Go away rain!!
So long readers – more next time.