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The Filthy Lucre Tour
Telegraph pole 1, Caravan 0
30th Apr 2006 - 2nd May 2006
Hexham, Into France, and the Palace of Versailles

I can't be bothered writing multiple entries for multiple places any more, so you'll just have to make do with Things I Wrote Since The Last Diary Entry. Perhaps people would prefer that, who knows.

As some (either) of you may know, we were at Stuart and Nicola's wedding in Hexham. More specifically in Langley Castle, which isn't really in Hexham at all but it's close enough. We booked a caravan site near Haydon Bridge and headed down from Edinburgh - as we didn't leave until 2pm or so, we didn't arrive until after ten. The fact that it was dark was indubitably a major contributor to the fact that we went off in the wrong direction just before reaching the caravan site, into someone's drive. During the somewhat laborious process of getting out of this person's drive backwards (something we discovered the next day that we didn't have to do, as there was a turning area) I managed to gently nudge a telegraph pole with the caravan. Pictures of the damage are on this site, should you be the sort who relish in the misofortune of people swanning around without jobs. There's nothing actually broken, just a small bit of bodywork remoulding and some brown paint that wasn't there before. From the look of it some sort of previous damage had occured on the same corner of the caravan, and been filled in a little.

I went for a run before the wedding - pretty much my first one since we started travelling. I'd been making brash boasts before we left about perhaps running every day, but that really hasn't happened. Anyway, I ran off and decided to continue down the narrow country track that our campsite lay on, which wound nicely through the lowlands just next to the river. After about 0.5km, it turned left up a hill and didn't stop climbing until the clock nudged twenty minutes and my heart rate hit the highest I've ever seen it. I ran back down again in that sort of half-running, half-falling way that people have when they appear at an oasis after being in the desert for three days.

The wedding was a rather irreligious one, to the point of excluding any religious words from any of the readings, vows or any music played (no Robbie Williams' "Angel" here) so I was quite keen to see how it went. The venue was really very nice - it's a large building in nice private gardens, but I have my doubts as to whether it was ever really a castle or whether it was some sort of 1920s folly like Castle Drogo. I didn't have that many doubts really, as I could probably have asked someone at reception and they'd have told me. At the time I was more interested in drinking beer and Kiki was more interested in dancing. Something we both managed to keep up all night, and strangely although Kiki was the one up on her feet all night, it was me that fell over.

The non-religious ceremony was good, and the parts that could have been awful ("and now Nicola and Stuart will read the vows they wrote themselves") were actually quite touching. Strangely, though, there's still a part of distinctly atheist me that enjoys church weddings more. I've always believed that we should take out of religion what we can before we ditch it - this always included buildings and festivals, but I never thought about including actual church ceremonies. Perhaps as we become less and less religious, we'll also think of ways to pep up the wedding ceremony. At the end of the day you really just need the bride and groom to tick a couple of boxes and everyone can fuck off, but somehow now that everyone's dressed up to the nines and have all filed in here, you need something else. What better than some religious nonsense that nobody listens to anyway?

After losing the sweepstake about the combined length of the speeches, we settled down to some nice boozing and the whole evening went very nicely. I don't think I'd realised how much I'd miss the company of other people whilst travelling - we generally keep ourselves to ourselves on the campsites and the only people we actually socialise with are people we already knew, who we come across en route. This will of course be happening less and less as we go through Europe, so perhaps we'll eventually have to start chit-chatting to the caravan fraternity about diesel engines and stabilisers.

And as a practice, here's some stuff about stabilisers. For the caravan dunces here, a stabiliser is a device that clips onto the towing end of the caravan and stops the caravan and car moving laterally independently so easily. There are a few different sorts, but our one is a whole new tow-hitch on the caravan which grips the towball with carbon fibre plates instead of just metal. These provide a damping action - the overall idea is to stop the caravan swinging around willy-nilly in high winds or when trucks pass you. Anyway, ours has been working very nicely but making a rather loud creaking noise whenever we turn around corners. This is pretty much hidden on the motorway, but rather visible when you are driving down windy roads through the middle of small towns or trying to pitch up on a campsite where everyone else is asleep. I replaced the friction pads like the good caravanner I am, but it didn't seem to help much. A quick search on the internet (at our pre-France internet pitstop in Kent with Grant and Tiffany again) revealed that I just needed to sand the towball down a bit in order to stop the noise. I borrowed Grant's electric sander and we buffed away for a few precious minutes together, but that doesn't seem to be quite enough. It's much better, but it's not gone away. Fortunately I stole one of Grant's sander pads, so I can have a further manual grind tomorrow. Keep your eyes glued for an update.

And so into France. I've done the UK->France trip rather often on the way to the Nürburgring so nothing much was different apart from the 55mph average motorway speed. We decided to drive all the way down to Paris on the first day and after negotiating two comparatively hairy road systems into and out of Paris we ended up at our campsite near Rambouillet at 21:59, which was fortunate as they closed the gates at 22:00. The pitches were all rather dainty little ones surrounded by hedges, and we had our own electricity supply, water tap and waste water disposal. It said it had a bar, but the sign on the door of it (it looked like a pretty shit bar anyway) claimed that it was "exceptionally closed".

And so off to the Palace of Versailles, where of course the treaty that ended World War One was signed. We both expected it to be a, well, palatial affair well outside town but in actual fact it's slap bang in the centre of Versailles. Inside it's the usual fare for a palace with some splendid roof paintings, mostly done by the same chap. I forget his name - he was Louis XIV's personal artist, and apparently back then an artist would as much a project manager than anything else, and would allow students of his to do the great majority of the actual painting while he sat around defining an overall vision for the piece. And no doubt drinking wine and humping court ladies, or men, or whatever he fancied. Anyway, his name's on the bottom of a lot of the ceilings (does that work?) and jolly nice they are too. Actually I couldn't see a lot of the rest of what was in there because of the truly breathtaking throngs of tourists taking photographs towards the ceiling (see pictures attached).

We were finished with the palace in about an hour, and outside are some amazing gardens. Despite being right in the middle of town, I'm not joking when I say that the landscaped part of Versailles' gardens extends pretty much as far as the eye can see. There's a steady slope down to two man-made ornamental lakes - I tried to involve Kiki in a dialogue about how hard it must be to make a symmetrical ornamental lake but she seemed to think it was a silly sort of a conversation. Presumably you'd have to have entirely flat ground to start with, which must have been a real job of work in the sixteenth century. If anyone wishes to discuss this, please give me a ring.

I know I said I'd post our European itinierary on the first of May, but this hasn't been sorted out yet. Right now we're thinking we'll stay here for another couple of days and then head to Switzerland, but we're not quite sure. What we do know is that we have to be back in this direction - Reims to be precise - for Mark and Marjorie's wedding in a fortnight.

Miles travelled: 2045
Average mpg: 18.5
Bottles of wine remaining: 8
Countries visited: 2

Next: Bouldering at Fontainebleau, Eurodisney, Dinner in Paris
Previous: Two new sports in a day

Diary Photos

Telegraph pole 1, Caravan 0

Pitch at Haydon Bridge

Ready for wedding

Ferry to Calais

Pitch at Rambouillet (Paris-ish)

Largest touring caravan ever made

Common view of Versailles

More of Versailles

The Hall of mirrors. Look, you halfwits

Guys... everyone has this photo already...

Versailles gardens. Spot the surrounding town

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