Nerves of steel, that’s what this takes – balancing doing a handstand 10 metres up while preparing to push off, then spectacularly twist and somersault before diving into the pool below at 34mph. It’s what British Olympic diver Tonia Couch does. Every day for hours. It’s why she’s one of the world’s best divers.We were lucky enough to meet the lovely Tonia at the impressive Plymouth Life Centre, where she used to train with fellow Olympic diver Tom Daley. Among the things we chatted about was how if you want to get great at something it needs dedication, and to never get distracted from your aim. It’s a great lesson in life. And it’s why Tonia trains four hours or more each day. Then we watched her dive. It was absolutely exhilarating!
Still thrilled from Tonia’s display of skill, we headed to Plymouth Hoe – where legend has it Sir Francis Drake finished his game of bowls before setting off to defend Britain against an attacking Spanish fleet. These days it has an air of relaxation about it, and perhaps always has – which explains Sir Francis being so chilled out on that day.From there we strolled to the National Marine Aquarium, the UK’s largest aquarium. First off, we sampled a cream tea in the cafe, and both view and food were tasty! Then we took in the hundreds of sea creatures they have here. Afterwards we had some special marine lessons from Stu there, who captivated us all with his charm and knowledge. Amazing that we know more about space than we do what’s deep down there… Next day, it was off to the excellent Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, which we know well as both our boys were born there. Here we met the amazing Resuscitation Team’s Ross & Wendy who showed us the Clinical Skills centre. And “Barrie”, the simulation dummy, who could mimic many human actions and even noises. (Barrie was less talkative than Ross and Wendy but charming nonetheless in his own way.)It’s here that people train how to keep people alive, or bring them back to life. Simply astonishing, and amazing people – true heroes. Getting back on the road, we jumped once more into our lovely and well-travelled Swift Escape 696 to arrive at the first of many Camping & Caravanning Club campsites, this one at Bude, complete with sea view and stunning sunsets.We chilled for the evening, as ever making some new friends among the other campers, then after the usual awesome sleep on a campsite headed for English Heritage’s Tintagel, driving along some roads with a view. In Tintagel we visited the old post office, and then the castle. Having lived in the West Country for a decade and having seen many of its wondrous sights, we have to say this is just about its finest (we think, but there are so many to choose from…).
It is stunning and atmospheric, with wonderful layers of intriguing history and legend. Let the pictures do the talking… From Bude it was on to Somerset’s Minehead. And so far, weather-wise, so good. The sun has shone. So much that our four-legged travelling companion Colin developed a big thirst, one we had to quench by improvising to use our collapsible Outwell food bowl as a doggie drinking bowl. It did the job, no more panting dog!Then we arrived at the Minehead campsite, the view as awesome as the warmest of welcomes from Keith. A really lovely campsite, up high on Exmoor. Even the boys were mesmerised by that view. It was simply stunning!Sadly, we were only here for the night, stopping en route the next morning at a local pub-hotel for some snacks and refreshment. And a grasshopper that Daniel found. Both Debs and I remember being wowed by Cheddar Gorge in our childhoods, and so it was when we returned there with our own children. Who were wowed too. It is an awesome landscape, formed by meltwater floods during the past 1.2 million years. It was only several minutes from the campsite too, at Cheddar Mendip Hills, and on the way to Bristol – our favourite British city – where we headed.
Bristol is known as the bohemian city, and so it is. It’s full of art, and so young, funky and vibrant – plus we’ve never seen anyone rushing there! We parked up near Brunel’s SS Great Britain, then grabbed a ferry across the River Avon. From here we took a stroll, including past one of the city’s finest pieces of art, by local artist Banksy. Of course, we explained to the boys that the painting depicted a game of hide and seek… The city also has an interesting street art walk that shows more hidden gems, including this one.We jumped on an open-top bus tour, past the beautiful cathedral and College Green.Then underneath another of Brunel’s creations: Clifton Suspension Bridge. (Not many up top on the bus you may note due to the weather clouding over, but we didn’t let that deter us…) Back in the centre, we took a visit to the city’s aquarium – where we saw this quite amazing blue frog.Afterwards we went past the one of the city’s newest pieces of art, this whale made from recyclable products, including plastic bottles and bottle tops to make the sea (with the important message not to litter as these might end up in the sea and kill sea creatures). The whale even blows from its blowhole, and if you’re near Bristol check it out. And if you’re not near Bristol, arrange a trip. It’s a completely fantastic city.Here we went in the fascinating At-Bristol, a first-rate hands-on science centre. It fits in ideally with our Education By Astonishment concept, making all things scientific fascinating and fun.Bristol’s the home of Aardman, the animation gang behind such as Morph (the little man in the above pic), Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run – and Shaun the Sheep, who’s presently displayed all over the city, even on the ferry back to our motorhome. Always a little sad to leave Bristol, at least we got lost on the way back and discovered this fantastic windmill.
The next day, also just a 30-minute drive from the Cheddar campsite, we visited Bath. Its cathedral is awesome, but historically shadowed by its famous Roman baths. We rounded our Bath visit up with another open-top bus tour, and this time took Colin the dog, who fully appreciated the stunning history and architecture around this most lovely city.On to another lovely city, the next day – Oxford. We had a family wedding here (congratulations Anna & Keith!) and as we’d wanted to visit this educational city anyway, that worked out very well. Even better is that Anna had both studied at Oxford and then worked there, so the wedding meal and reception was in the astounding and historical St John’s College. Founded in 1555, its alumni include former British PM Tony Blair and writers Kingsley Amis, Robert Graves and Philip Larkin. Which is all very well, but didn’t our boys look smart! (Not to mention the bride and groom too, naturally!) On Sunday we visited (from the Oxford campsite, just five minutes from the city centre) the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, which is a great museum – with lots of massive dinosaur bones to keep the boys intrigued!
Then it was time for us to roam onwards, for…