Our retirement adventures

Christmas 2013

on January 16, 2014

Christmas in Clearwell again is now a bit of an institution but of course we are all subject to what the weather can throw at us and this year is no different.

Unload car and hope for a nice relaxing evening on our own before everyone arrives, but….. heating not working!  Very fortunately, we have an excellent heating engineer and he arrives the following morning which is good news. Lunch at the Butcher’s Arms with John & Dierdre who are down for the day, excellent food and service as usual and of course excellent company.

Now for the next problem, we have a flood in the bathroom and we are 5 days before Christmas.  However we are off to Bristol so just mop it up to attack problem later.  Get to IKEA which is quite empty, obviously not many IKEA Christmas presents this year, instead some helpful staff who seem to be pleased to be doing something, then off to see Only Men Aloud.

If you like harmony in your music then get to see these guys. They won a BBC amateur choir competition back in 2008 and have performed with style whenever they can since then.  Some absences from the original line up but this doesn’t detract from an entertaining evening with Jack Topping and a local Salvation Army Band making guest appearances.

By now, the rains have started and the brisk walk up the hill from the Colston Hall is not a comfortable experience although I pass many Friday night pre Christmas party goers wearing clothes more suited to Summer.

Only need SatNav to get me out of Bristol but it gives us directions as if we were 20 minutes ahead of our time, very weird.

Sarah & Harry changed their ferry so as to arrive from Jersey a day early as poor weather expected and boat tomorrow would probably be (it was) cancelled, it is good to see them although Harry asleep when we get home.

21 December 

Happy Harry and Mum

Happy Harry and Mum

Harry wants to Skype us when he wakes up – he’s not quite got used to the fact we are in the next door room but he remembers our names which is good. He has a fantastic laugh which is infectious.

Drive to Port Talbot to see John who is doing well after Joan’s death last June. Good meal in local hotel. Sarah & Harry stay in Clearwell. 

22 December

Off to see Phillip & Sylvia with Sarah & Harry after Sarah manages to fuse the wall sockets by switching on the garage light. Lunch out in local pub and Harry does well, transfixed by the Gruffalo DVD. Return to Clearwell just as ASDA delivery arrives for Sarah.

23 December

Yet even more rain and complete change of clothing required after going food shopping in Coleford. Ali P arrives with Toby and Ava who is doing well at 3 months old after her heart scare and operation. They try to go with Sarah & Harry to Clearwell caves but queue too long in the rain.

Our weekend at the hotel with J & D just after New Year is now to be at the Dormy House Hotel as the one we booked is only to be occupied by us, so we have been moved and upgraded at the same cost.

For about an hour while I drive to Birmingham Airport to collect Mel It stops raining but back to normal on way back.

24 December

Absolute chaos at Gatwick North terminal with a flooded sub station cutting all power to N Terminal. Ali’s booked BA to N Terminal with trains to Reading and Bristol to follow so it is not looking good. Eventually, Ali books a flight to Bristol and Sarah picks him up there. He arrives at about 7 although his scheduled BA flight eventually arrives at Gatwick at about 23:30, some 9 hours late.

Xmas day

Harry with presents

Harry with presents

Harry didn’t really enjoy last Christmas as he was very unwell but this year is different and he is his normal cheeky bubbly self.  He thinks his stocking is a Welly boot but he gradually gets the idea that there might be toys in some of the things wrapped up. Christmas is about the magic for children and Harry is not yet two, so the next couple of Christmases will be even better. 

Lunch of chicken is followed by Christmas pud, delicious, not much on the TV though. Nick and his two boys, Peter and Paul arrive and set up camp for the night in our living room.

Only Flic was missing from today but she arrives the following day with Gary so we now have a house of 11 including Harry.

Harry's "welly boot"

Harry’s “welly boot”

Dinner is a Buffett before Nick and the boys go back to Cambridge and after even more presents are exchanged although Sarah and Ali keep some back for Harry’s birthday. 

Friday 27 December 

Enlist help of Gary, Sarah & her van to take old big TV, old carpet and a few other things to local dump in even more rain.

The first time we have been able to get away for an hour or so, as the others go to IKEA at Bristol, whilst we go to Monmouth dodging the raindrops. The Wye is getting full, not as it was last year but maybe that will come as it is still raining.

Jon Newton had suggested we visit Robin just outside USK this afternoon as we had a book to return to Robin after last year’s MGP. We hadn’t anticipated a wonderful spread for a late lunch put on by Robin and his wife so by he time it got to 5pm we were stuffed and needed to be back at Clearwell to make dinner for Stewart and Lyn, down in Monmouth for 2 days.

Harry and friend

Harry and friend

Arrived just before them in the end. 

Harry adores Lyn’s guide dog, Jannie which is comforting. 

Saturday 28 December 

Ali has managed to fix the bathroom leak and put some mastic around the bath whilst Sarah packs the van for their early departure tomorrow at about half five in the morning. Thankfully no repetition of last year when Sarah and Harry were stranded for five days with Ali flying back to Jersey from Liverpool on his own. 

Sunday 29 December 

Only slightly hear the early departures but up early ourselves as we are off to Fleet to meet up with VIV. First we stop and buy new bedding for Clearwell and Mel goes with Flic for an afternoon’s shop in Reading. 

More reminiscences about NZ with VIV and then back to pick up Mel and her extra suitcase that she got back to the UK from Florida but couldn’t get back to the IOM from Gatwick.

Monday 30 December 

Still more rain and our journey even to Monmouth encounters a very swollen River Wye as well as pockets of standing water all over he place.

Jim & Laura’s flight from Jersey is 3 hours late arriving so they miss lunch which we have with Elizabeth at a canal-side pub near Solihull.

Only a very brief hallo and goodbye to Jim & Laura for Mel who we drop off at BhX for her flight back home and we depart for Clearwell via Cheltenham with Laura & Jim.

Wye in full flow at Skenfrith New Years Day

Wye in full flow at Skenfrith New Years Day


New Year’s Eve

Still wet, so not a lot of point walking too far although we manage a stroll around Monmouth and then a brief drive to Tintern and Chepstow, just to show Jim & Laura the area.   

Evening meal at the Butchers Arms was excellent value for money with welcome drink and midnight champagne included in the price. Not a full restaurant but a very lively evening. 

New Year’s Day 

Rainbow at Symonds Yat

Rainbow at Symonds Yat

More incessant rain and a visit out before lunch totally out of the question, when will the rain stop? Lunch booked at the Bell in Skenfrith but our journey there is delayed by an impassable road between Newland and Redbrook and slowed by several floods from Monmouth onwards.   

A few people had called off so atmosphere in Bell not brilliant, but food OK.
Possibly the chef was one of those not able to get in as the menu a tad limited?

Although at an adjacent table, a woman protested about the food and really made herself look very silly, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the food, strange. Richard suffering from sore throat and can’t swallow well making meal slower than normal. 

River Wye under bridge outside hotel exceptionally high and drive back very slow through more flooded areas. 

2 January 

Laura, Jim & Sal at Symonds Yat

Laura, Jim & Sal at Symonds Yat

A very brown Wye at Symonds Yat

A very brown Wye at Symonds Yat

A clear day at last!

Go up to Symonds Yat with good views and a rainbow in view for a brief while.

Many logs floating down a very brown and flooded Wye river and a few twitchers around but nothing really to see in the way of birds – they were complaining of the cold! 

Off to Labels in Ross for some retail therapy and lunch, passing so many flooded fields. Those around Ross-on-Wye were not flooded when we went to collect Jim & Laura from Birmingham Airport but you now cannot see the join between Wye and fields.

Holiday cottages regional rep rings and we now have an inspection next Tuesday so the purchase of new bedding a few days ago timely.

Brief visit to Sainsbury’s again for some “free from” items for Morag that she can’t get in Jersey.

3 January

Chimney Sweep arrives to clean chimney – no issues here fortunately although a fire brick probably needs replacing soon. 
Take Laura & Jim back to BHX, and off to Dunhelm Mill for more bedding.

Begin to clear up at Clearwell, our home for the last three weeks; this is the longest continuous time we have stayed in Clearwell since we bought the house.

4 January 

Tidy up and off to Dormy House Hotel for a weekend with John & Dierdre. Surprise, surprise, it is still raining and by now also very windy.   

The hotel has just gone through an £10m refit although the spa is only opening mid February. Photographs cannot do it justice, just visit their website:

Doormen at front door, seats by reception to sit down at, guided tour around hotel before being taken to room which has a tablet for info, a clock radio that doubles up with an iPod charger, fruit, biscuits, coffee machine, tea in pyramid bags, wonderfully comfy bedding and proper milk on demand rather than those ubiquitous UHT pots.

The staff are so well trained, they are friendly (it is as though they are showing you around their own homes), take a pride in their work and the public areas have real fires that are topped up regularly.

Is it that all the staff are locals?

Dinner in the Michelin * restaurant, The Garden Room, very good value for money at £40pp. No venturing out from this fantastic hotel tonight, weather awful. 

5 January 

A drive to Broadway and a look around the shops, pretty deserted, presumably no one has any money left after Christmas or just can’t be bothered to go out in view of the really bad weather as by the time we leave and head for Stow-on-the-wold, the rain is starting again. Steam Packet ring to say tomorrow’s sailing almost certainly cancelled due to bad weather so we opt for Tuesday afternnon’s sailing instead. Dinner in the Potting Shed tonight.

Weather even worse tonight and a bit fearful about trees falling on cars in car park. 

6 January 

Get a very welcome “party bag” on departure of water and what probably are home baked biscuits before heading up M5 & M6 to Alan & Debbie’s.

Never been here before but sat nav does it’s job eventually and we find Rose Cottage after driving through flooded single lane roads.


Indian meal with the Read's, the Wall's and Holly Lewis

Indian meal with the Read’s, the Wall’s and Holly Lewis

Although small, it is wonderfully decorated and appointed with a lovely roaring fire.

Time flies when you are catching up after an absence of a number of years and it is soon time for dinner in Stafford at an Indian where we can take our own food.

Sam and his girlfriend, Holly Lewis, join us and we discover that one of Holly’s friends is the girlfriend of the grandson of one of Sally’s former colleagues.

7 January 

Set off at half ten for drive to Heysham. Join M6 at J14 but no sooner are we on motorway, matrix boards advise of an accident. Crawl to a halt just after J16 @ 11am and remain stationary for about two hours.

M6 queue at a standstill

M6 queue at a standstill

A lorry has overturned we eventually discover from traffic reports, hit another and shed it’s load.

The Air Ambulance had been required and all lanes closed.

It took us 3 hours to cover the distance from J16 to Keele services (about 3 miles) so we won’t be getting home today as ferry due to leave at 2:15pm and we are at least 2 hours away when we clear the crash at about 2pm.

Phone Steam Packet who are aware of delays on Motorway and transfer us to sailing tomorrow afternoon as tonight’s already full. An enforced night in Holiday Inn Lancaster with a visit to Sainsbury’s and Matalan before a very smooth crossing back the following day.   

Whilst we will be glad to be back home we did have a wonderful Christmas, seeing 11 sets of friends and relatives (apart from Sarah, Flic & Mel) in such a short space of time and driving just under 1700 miles.


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