National Forest 2014
Although this holiday is about the National Forest the reality is that only two nights of the ten were spent in the forest and this blog will cover the other stuff as well. Three main routes go through it travelling North/South (A38, A42 and M1) and its only about three hours from home so its an area we have tended to pass through rather than linger. Its boundary is also rather new and somewhat artificial.
The holiday started with a two hour drive to a 'Britstop' south of Birmingham: www.britstops.com/welcome.html.
This was a farm shop and whilst it was a bit ramshackle, they gave us a good welcome, had lovely goods on display and really free-range chickens, two of which decided that under our van was the place to be. It also had good connections to the M5 and M42 so may be useful in the future to break up journeys north.
Then it was on the the Cathedral Grange camping site in Lichfield. This involved negotiating the A446, M42, M6 toll junction in order to go on the A446. It always causes me a moment or two of panic as all roads and my TomTom seem bent on dispatching me up the toll road. Still we got away with it again and soon were at the campsite. We were going to be here with a small group of people who belong to a Renault motorhome group www.rtmr.org . We don't have a Trafic anymore but have stayed with the group because we like the people. We had a day before they joined us so I did something I never normally do I cleaned the outside of the van a bit.
The site was not one I would return to, there were far too many 'commercial' residents, there for work rather than a holiday, far too many noisy children with parents who did not exercise sufficient control, the same ones also failed to control their dogs and site staff who stayed out of the way and didn't enforce those rules on good behaviour which they had posted. It also seemed to be a site in decline. It was clear from the planting and landscaping that it had once been a very nice site.
Next morning, Thursday, we caught the bus into Lichfield. I have an app called 'nextbus' which shows the position of bus stops at or near any location and the times of the buses and their destinations. There had been, I imagine, some fairly recent changes at the road junction just outside of the site and as a result two bus stops had been removed. The app, which relies on bus company information, had not been updated so we missed the first bus!
Lichfield is delightful. A good mix of shops, cafes and a distinctive cathedral with three spires. There is a small market three days a week. On Friday Doreen went alone and I did the same on Saturday the one staying behind to look after Lottie who finds bus rides rather too stressful.
After four nights at Lichfield we set out to explore the National Forest on Sunday starting near Abbots Bromley which is just outside the area to the West and working East along the B5234 towars Burton. There were some isolated copses but 'forest' I don't think so. I have a 1992 map of the area '50 miles around Birmingham' and only two areas are marked as being wooded. Needwood to the west of Burton and Charnwood towards Leicester. Needwood is aptly named for as a forest it certainly needs more wood.
You might expect the National Forest to be managed by the Forestry Commission but instead its managed by the National Forest Company. The following map is taken from a report on their website www.nationalforest.org and it shows the two areas I mentioned. The bright green areas are woodland.
We came through Burton and went south east on the A444 looking for new woods, eventually we saw a brown sign to the Rosliston Forestry Centre. This is in area 3 of the above map. We stopped for a bit of lunch and looked around the small visitor centre. A mature avenue of horse chesnuts had led us to the centre and we found out that these were dying back and were being replaced by new plantings of lime trees. We thought we might return there and spend longer, you get the choice of 1 hour (£1) or all day parking (£2.50).
We went through Swadlingcote next towards the top of area 5 near Melbourne hoping to stop at a reservoir beauty spot for tea and to phone ahead for a campsite from our downloaded guide to the forest or our C&CC book. Well the beauty spots were not free and the first two campsites we tried didn't answer their phones and having driven to one of them it looked closed. We eventually left the forest area and drove back west to a CS just above Burton at Rolleston on Dove that had the advantage that they answered the phone on the first ring. Mid September and already we sensed that some smaller campsites had closed for the year. That evening we saw a buzzard perched on a nearby tree.
To the south of Burton lies the National Memorial Arboretum which was opened on a former sand and gravel extraction site. www.thenma.org.uk A look on google had shown that it had very few mature trees, which might be expected. So more in hope than expectation we went to see it. Well it might become an arboretum in 20-30 years but for the moment its a series of mainly concrete monuments surrounded by hedges and saplings.
The centrepiece is a memorial to those service people killed in active service since the end of WWII. This gave pause for thought because of the numbers in every year, you of course expect it in some years like 1982 (Falklands) but it was every year. Take 1988 the year I retired from the Army there were 19 soldiers killed by the IRA plus some naval aircrew killed in flying accidents and one by an IRA bomb (all researched from wiki since leaving the site).
Also of note is the poignant memorial 'Shot at dawn' a collection of posts with the names of all 306 British and commonwealth executed for desertion or cowardice, now recently given posthumous pardons.
On a lighter note one of the memorials that I specially sought out was having its path resurfaced:
We decided to stay on a 'proper' C&CC site for a couple of days so went to 'Conkers' we had been here before when breaking our journey north a couple of New Years ago. It is between Overseal and Moira and next to 'Conkers' the HQ of the National Forest.
It looks overcast but this was the pattern of the weather for all this holiday, misty and overcast first thing sun breaking through by mid morning and developing into a lovely day. We were on a grass pitch with no hookup and seniors discount, it still cost £25.40 for the two nights though. I had a Conkers map showing the various venues and walks and explored it first on my bike. This saved us walking to for example the pub, which was boarded up. On our main day we walked to the Conkers waterside centre and their discovery centre (not dog friendly apart from the waymarked walks) then we took the advice of some other walkers and went to the Moira Furnace Museum centre where there were some shops and a dog friendly cafe. I wont bother reproducing the map, it was highly stylized and therefore inaccurate. I hate it when style triumphs over utility. It was impossible to navigate by but we managed not to get lost thanks to my earlier recce.
Enroute we came to Moira firestation which is up for sale. Just the thing for someone to garage a large RV or motorhome in not sure what you would use the training tower for though. Because much of the walk follows the canal and the return route was a former railway line it was a nice flat walk for Lottie and for us. Much flatter than the cycle ride to the Coop in Overseal I might add. Also as you can see some trees.
A review of the days left to us saw us deciding to go to the Battlefield Line railway. This was a mistake, we could have gone instead to the Grand Central Heritage railway that runs between Loughborough and Lutterworth. It would have been a far better experience and we would have driven through more of the forest to get there.
The Battlefield Railway runs between Stenton (by the Bosworth Battlefield Centre) and Shakerstone via Market Bosworth. On a Wednesday it runs a railcar service rather than steam (as does the GCR at this time of year) So we drove through Ashby de la Zouch down the A42 and parked at Stenton. If you start from the other end the parking is free but it didn't look big enough for a motorhome.
It is sobering to think that this railcar is 50 years old, I remember when they were new! The railcar wobbled to Shakerstone and as we arrived we had to decide on a 35 minute stopover or two hours. Five minutes later having found the museum closed and seen the shop/stall which was laid out in a cemented in carriage we opted for the short stay. Amongst the tat the stall had some second-hand books and I got a rare GWR wagon book for 50p so it wasn't a complete waste of time.
The stall also had a tombola you know the sort of thing you draw out a raffle ticket and if it ends with a zero or five you win a prize all procedes to the railway. First of all they had lengthened the odds by winning tickets were only those ending in a zero and second you wouldn't have wanted to win any of the things on offer. I still have to have a go though and luckily didn't win anything. The lady said that she had been told the £1 I had paid would pay for a small shovel full of coal. I found Doreen and gave her a £1 to play the tombola. Luckily she lost, I watched from a distance, and as predicted the lady said that she had been told the £1 would pay for a small shovel full of coal.
So after getting back to Stenton we moved to the Battlefield Herotage Centre www.bosworthbattlefield.com which commemorates the fall of Richard III at the battle of Bosworth, August 22nd 1485 (I know the date because on an earlier trip I bought a mug with the date on and used it at work for at least ten years.) In the last several years they have come to the realisation that the battle hadn't taken place exactly where they built the centre. The problem was that the first written record is by a french monk writing 100 years later. If you had visied 10 or 15 years ago there were tall flag poles dotted around the nearby countryside which had the flags of the various combatants and a memorial to Richard in a small field where he was reputed to have been killed near the station. Now the flags are gone and the field is overgrown. There is a room in the exhibition where they discuss all the theories about where the battle took place based on such oral histories as were eventually copied down and what efforts had been made to discover the truth. Although a concensus has been reached they are still hedging their bets a little by using vague arty maps which bore only a superficial resemblance to the actual ground. The discovery of the bones of Richard under a car park in Leicester has heightened interest. History tends to be written by the victors and the Tudors having won took great pains to paint Richard III as a bad king. The centre does its best to present a more even-handed picture.
We had decided on Britstops for the next two nights, both by a canalside and both new. The first one near Rugby wasn't that good because the parking was next to the road, there was no security, and the pitch too small and sloping. We had to use our levelling blocks. Nice walk along the canalside though.
Next morning we headed for Kenilworth Castle. www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/kenilworth-castle/
They have introduced a new feature since we last visited. In the ruined Elizabethan part (shown above) they have made a series of walkways letting you see the rooms from a better perspective). This part was added to the castle in the 16th century so that Elizabeth I could have somewhere nice to stay when she visited Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Also on view were the Elizabethan gardens which were being refurbished during our last visit.
The castle is a large one but not large enough to distance ourselves from the school group led by a loud mouthed master who punctuated every utterance with "Right" his party included many who clearly did not want to be there; Tod and Danny were constantly being told off. All quite embarrassing.
In some places the walkways seemed to cling to a ruined wall high over the rooms but the underside told a different story.
It gave a whole new dimension to the castle and made a return visit well worth our while.
So on to the last Britstop on a canal north of Oxford, this was much better the parking was alongside the canal and close by was a good dog friendly pub/restaurant (albeit not cheap). There was motorway and road noise but not too intrusive.
This with the farm shop we first stayed at now gives us two overnight stops both around two hours from home which we may use in the future now that Doreen's back requires us to take things a bit easier and be less ambitious on our first days driving.
As expected the rain finally came in the morning so it was a damp pack up if we hadn't wanted to check out that Britstop and have a nice meal we would have travelled home straight from Kenilworth a day earlier than planned. Overall it wasn't the best of breaks but we have ticked a few boxes. The National Forest will be good someday I am sure.