Tuesday 23rd April until Tuesday 30th April 2013
Stratford upon Avon Racecourse Touring Park
Hosted by Ian & Frances Dow
19 outfits were booked in to this event, which was held on the Stratford Racecourse Touring Park. This is a fairly simple site, alongside the race course, with toilets and shower, on a flat, grassy, well-drained area. There was plenty of space to exercise dogs, and the racecourse backs on to the river. Sadly, due to health reasons three people had to cancel, so we actually had 16 outfits on site. A very good number for a small national organisation!
The first caravans were queued up as several people all arrived at the same time, right at the start, or even just before. Keen. By 3pm all 16 outfits were on site and either setting up or sitting around with others in the warm sunshine. A great start with the weather. The first activity of the event was the welcome evening. For the whole of this event we had hired a room in the Racecourse Grandstand. During the evening, we were all able to welcome our new members who were with us for the first time, Peter & Heather Roach. The programme was explained and the opportunities for places to visit were also covered. People then got on with catching up on what had been happening since the last time they met. The usual noisy first night.
Wednesday morning saw our first main activity, a guided walk of Stratford upon Avon, guided by yours-truly. Surprisingly, the majority of members decided to walk in to Stratford beforehand. It is a nice walk through the racecourse, then beside the river and behind the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The guided walk was meant as an introduction and took us around the main attractions in the town and gave quite a lot of detail of the history. Having researched it 6 weeks before, I was a bit disappointed that one of the things I was going to talk about had been taken away. We started near the Theatre in Bancroft Gardens, and then walked up Bridge Street to stop outside Barclays Bank. I had chosen a spot outside the bank to stand as we were a large group, and we would be out of everyone’s way (the professional tours use it also). Just as we walked up a Security Van parked on the exact spot. We had to go on the other side of the road and we kept getting in the way and nearly getting run over! Pity, as in the end I cut this bit short and it was a very interesting location, rich in history.
Later just as we were standing opposite the Garrick Inn, a very ancient pub in the middle of the town, an unnamed member said to me “The next hotel on the left, in the black and white building is where David & Judith spent their honeymoon”. So, I made an extra stop, but there was no sign of David, who had disappeared to look for some clues for the quiz and Judith was not with us. Having waited I announced that this was a very famous spot as D&J had spent their honeymoon here. This brought howls of laughter, just as David caught up with us. “This is not it”; he said it is further along. It proved to be not that one either!! Obviously, things have changed a bit since they came here!
The tour lasted just under two hours, and so people could either go back to the site or have lunch in Stratford or look at more of the town.
That evening we had dinner at the Bell Inn at Welford on Avon. They organised it very well for us. The night before we had provided all of our choices for starter and main courses and they had prepared name cards for everyone and on the back of each card was printed what they had ordered. The food was very good, with I think just one exception, and we had a very good evening.
On Thursday morning, Bill Aspin did a presentation on Geocaching, explaining what it was and how you do it. He also explained the items of interest that are found in the caches, although the main interest is the "thrill of the hunt". A surprisingly large number of people turned up (almost everyone). Afterwards, Bill took us to the site entrance, where there was a geocache hidden. They found it and looked at the contents. There was an amusing incident, although maybe not initially for the person involved. When Bill took the members to find the geocache, they were a couple of stragglers left, but having ushered them out, I locked up, so that I could also have a look at the “find”. As I was walking away, I was called back by a unnamed female member, so I went back and discovered that she had been in the loo, and I had locked her in. She had got out using an emergency exit, so I had to go back and lock it up again! She took it very well, although I think she had panicked a little at first, as we did not plan to use the room again until the following evening!
The rest of Thursday was a free day, and as usual people did a variety of things. Pam & Bill went to see As You Like it at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Bill, despite his earlier reservations really enjoyed it, and Pam enjoyed it, but then she had expected to.
Friday morning we had a walk along the river from Welford on Avon back to the camp site. We set off from site and the plan was to catch the bus at 10:38 from outside the site to Welford. Having done the research I was pretty confident that this bus was always a double decker, but I was sweating a bit before it arrived. When it came, it was not only a double-decker but it had a driver with a sense of humour. He needed it; there was 28 of us and 6 dogs!! It is only a short ride and we got off and walked down in to the village and passed the pub where we had eaten on Wednesday. Then there was a problem. The path we were meant to take was blocked with a fence and police signs barring entry as there had been a catastrophic fire in a building next to the path, which was now unsafe. Out came the maps, and there was a simple alternative and we were soon back on track. It was a very pleasant walk, except for a very sudden and heavy hail storm when we were about two thirds of the way back.
Fortunately, it was just as we approached an old railway bridge and most people sheltered under the arch. The hail stones were quite large and it was heavy for a few minutes, but then it stopped and the sun cam back out again.
In fact, it was really Friday afternoon that I realised just how much good weather we had had. My forehead had started peeling! It was not as if I had been pale before, but suddenly, I had gone red and was now peeling badly.
Friday evening was a good night. It started with a “Jacob’s Join” organised by Glynis. She had put together a menu and then people had volunteered to bring different dishes, so that Glynis could make sure we got a good spread. It was well organised and we had an excellent meal with a huge choice for main course, plus starter and cheese and biscuits. Everyone had more than enough to eat, with a wide choice of good quality food. There was food left over, so some of it was shared out the next day amongst the participants, but then we also had some cheese and biscuits and fruit on the Saturday evening.
We then played some games. Despite some people saying they did not like games, I think most people enjoyed themselves. The games had been designed
to be not too onerous and not to force anyone into doing anything they did not want to do. We started with a simple “couples” game. These were all forms of couple, so it could be Bonnie & Clyde, or Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, or it could be Morecambe and Wise. Everyone got a slip of paper with one half of a couple on it, and by asking only yes or no questions, you have to find your other half. It is a good game to get everyone to mix, and Heather Roache and Bill Addlington were the first to find each other. We then played “Would I Lie to You”. This was a variation of the TV Show. Everyone had been given a form on arrival to help them. It gave everyone a chance to think of three things about themselves; two of them were true and one had to be a complete lie. Everyone were sitting in groups of 6 on 5 tables, and volunteers were asked to stand up and to tell there three facts, adding description to them, and painting a complete picture of all three items. There was then time for everyone to ask questions and then each table had to decide which one was the lie. From the start the room was in stitches. David Dewhurst was the first volunteer and he had three amazing stories, one of which was that he had been on Jim’ll Fix It, with a wish to milk a cow while blindfolded. Tom had built a man-trap and caught people in it (including women), Paul had been co-driver to Richard Branson in a car rally, Peter had shut down a refinery by putting in the wrong codes, Tony had been a Crumpet Baker, David W had been on holiday with Harold Wilson, Glynis had made their first bed when they got married in woodwork classes and Pam had undertaken Bathroom Gymnastics. Which of these were true and which were a lie? Well, you would need to have been there to find out!!
On Saturday, we had another free day, and again people did a range of things. Some visited the Shakespeare properties, while others went to National Trust properties and while a few got on with the Quiz; that needed you to look around Stratford to find the answers. Of course, the Cheshire Mafia were in their new favourite café, Carluccio’s. Patisserie Valerie was consigned to history.
n the evening we had something different. It was an evening of presentations with questions. It started with David Ulyett doing a very informative presentation on how to get the best out of your camera and produce photographs suitable for winning competitions. He gave an excellent talk for 45 minutes with some superb photos on the screen. After a break to change over computers and for everyone to get some cheese and biscuits and other nibbles, David Dewhurst, assisted by Judith and David & Wendy presented a slide show and a lot of valuable information on their experience of wintering in Spain. There was a lot of interest and a lot of questions were asked. It is clear we will be running a Casual Event in Spain again for part of next winter, and quite a few people are talking about going. It was a good evening and people stayed much later than on previous evenings. Perhaps everyone was getting well-relaxed by now and enjoying everyone else’s company.
On Sunday morning some of us were awoken a little earlier than planned as a charity cycle race started right behind us from 7am. Later we had to say good-bye to Jill & Greg, although they could not leave too early, as the Stratford Marathon was going along the road outside the site. Although the road was still open, it was a bit narrow for a caravan, and a bit tricky to cross the line of runners. It turned out that the organisers of both events did not know the other one was taking place! The rest of us went to the Dirty Duck, a famous pub opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre for lunch. We walked in to town, but changed our route to avoid the Marathon runners. The only other absentees from were Edward & Susan, as they had had grandchildren staying overnight and then had the family with them during the day. The rest of the day people did various activities, but then after a pretty active few days, the Vanmaster caravan row was pretty quiet this evening.
On Monday we had a guided tour of the backstage area of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. This was a fantastic tour. 26 of us went on this and they split us up in to two groups. These were public tours which we had pre-booked, but being a Monday morning, there was only two ladies who actually joined us. Each group then had two guides who took us around the theatre, going in opposite directions, and we passed in the middle. It was fascinating and we saw both theatres in the main building. In the main theatre they were changing the set from the weekend production of Hamlet and getting ready for As You Like It that evening. There was a team of more than 20 changing the scenery.
The smaller Swan Theatre is fabulous and looks much more historic and has a more intimate atmosphere. In this auditorium they produce newer plays and plays by authors associated with Shakespeare. We saw the dressing rooms, the quick changing areas, the costume department, the laundry and much more. The Control Room for the main theatre was fascinating, where the Deputy Stage Manager sits and directs the whole production, with the lighting controller next to her and the “automation” controller on the other side. This person controls all of the hoists and lifts and so on that are used throughout the production to move scenery and actors. The sound controller is at the rear of the auditorium so that they can hear the true sound, and the deputy stage manager is in contact via lights and radio. She also has control of the actor’s movements on to the stage using a series of traffic lights behind the stage. The Stage Manager is actually down behind the stage and controls the movement of the cast and also makes such major decisions such as whether to stop the performance, if something serious has gone wrong. It was very interesting and we came out after an hour and a quarter with most people wishing they had gone to see a performance after all. Your tour ticket then enables you to go up the new tower at the theatre for £1 extra, which most people did, and it gives you an excellent view from 8th floor level of the central part of Stratford.
In the evening we had our Au Revour evening in the function room, which was a simple final getting-together before departure the next day. The “Cheshire Mafia” won the quiz, getting 50 out of 52 answers correct, even though they disputed that one of their answers that they had got wrong was actually right. The Quiz had been taken from a book and designed so that you had to seek the answers in an around Stratford. No sitting in your caravan and using Google on this one! Edward and Susan were second. There was then a run-through of our upcoming Main events and then the last chance to chat with friends for a little while.
Tuesday morning we awoke to more lovely sunshine, although a slight frost on the grass, before everybody set off. Some went home, but others went on to somewhere else.