5. first overnighter

AT last we have had our first adventure in Topsy up in woolly Weardale, with a slightly delayed departure due to her brakes - but thankfully this problem was swiftly rectified by the highly recommended Norm the mechanic at Gregg Little's, and he also put the new seat belts in so I can drive Topsy with the kids safely in the back - which is great as you can barely hear the constant questions from them when you're up front with the window open - ah peace!

THE first scheduled stop (not counting the brief halt in Stanhope for Rog to have a five min breather from supervising me driving, and where I did me seventeen point turn in the road!) was Killhope Mine which is one the the best museums of it's type - the kids got to search for their own minerals, and go down the mine kitted out in wellies and hard hat, and play with old-fashioned toys, and see a great collection of minerals and spar boxes, oh and lots lots more - and there was no interactive computers in sight! Killhope is great for a day trip from anywhere in the north east for adults and kids and is highly recommended by us all! (Belle and Babz found loads of bonnie crystals and Belle is now engaged in making her own spar box).

WE then drove back down the valley in Westgate where there is a great quiet basic campsite right next to the Weir of the Wear, with toilet and showers for Barbara and a five minute walk to the pub for Rog! One vw bus for the girls to sleep in - one tent for me n Rog (I will get around to putting the hammocks in!). After sunset we had the pleasure of watching very fast bats chase midges (of which several bit us - midges that is, not bats!) over the river Wear, and fish jumping out the water, and also one large trout (well nearly a foot and a half long) wriggle expertly over the weir. There was an owl somewhere near by, but even Roger's impression of an owl call didn't entice it into view!! And we saw the stars - lots and lots and lots of stars, it's great without light pollution - if only we hadn't camped up in front of the street light!!

BREAKFAST was a luxurious affair - we drove over the moors towards Teesdale, and stopped by a little river to eat strawberries and other goodies in the open air surrounded by nobody, the kids tried to build a damn, Rog went off for a little walk to a quarry, and I relaxed in the sunshine laid next to me bus .... a very nice time was had by all!

AND now we're back from the weir on the Wear where we were at (say that quickly after a few pints!) and I think we're all agreed that Topsy is the best thing we've ever had - excellent for the girls as a changing room after falling in river accidents, and great at just trundling steady away up and down the hills - though I have had her up to 60 mph, I much prefer cruising round at a modest 35-45! Also, we went all that way to see nature at its best, only to find a sparrowhawk in me own back garden! Next week a new adventure, but we don't know where as there is no plan! Well, there's a plan to write a list of things we might need, like insect repellent - we were hopelessly unprepared as always!

ps - I'd like to say thanks to the chaps at Homeplan DIY (Greenwell Road, Newton Aycliffe, DL5 4DH 01325 312037) who even at this early stage of my slow Topsy interior project have been an invaluable source of knowledge, materials, tools and very good advice, especially when it comes to camping stoves and gas bottles, connecting the right two things together!! So, THANK YOU, from the camper van girl... who can now enjoy a cup of tea anywhere!

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