We made it to IKEA and then Mersea Island - but didn't make it to lunch with Mitch. Unfortunately Mitchy had to endure some kind of surgery (penis enlargement, I think), so we postponed until we again head past Bedford in a few weeks.
Happily enough, we could therefore get to West Mersea earlier than planned... and spend some time with my dear Mama. We parked up outside on the street, and had a lot of fun. Including - would you believe - lawn bowls!
Mum was playing a match on one day, so midway through a cycle around the village, Sarah and I stopped off to cheer (apparently you don't do that at lawn bowls events; nor throw toilet paper). We ended up being given a short introduction to the game, and a chance to play a match between Sarah and I. Damn, does that girl cheat, or what? (I lost). Without being told how, Sarah came up with a violent solution when my bowls were close to the jack (no euphemism intended) - called the 'firewood'. Which basically means you fire your wood at the opponents bowls (again...), blowing them all out of the winning positions. She claimed it was just the same as using the sticky grenades in Halo. I dunno: it worked.
Never playing that stupid game again. This, by the way, was on top of being beaten twice by Sarah at pool the previous week, and losing (catastrophically) at Scrabble the night before. I'm getting old.
We stayed a couple of nights on Mersea, and I had problems sleeping: not because I lost, no. But because the battery kept dying in the middle of the night, then restarting everything (alarm, fridge, etc.). So we decided to make a bit of a diversion to a caravan store near Clacton to buy a fancy new 'deep cycle' battery, before finding our way to another Coolcamping.co.uk recommendation (remember La Fresneda?).
Rushbank Farm Campsite has a hidden appeal: it is just around the corner from my grandparents' old place, Wormingford Mill. Both the campsite and the local villages are hidden gems. A stunning oasis of quaint cottages and meandering rivers amidst the fields. Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, if you're interested. And the site? Classical camping perfection. We pitched up on the banks of the River Stour and... well... let me show you:
Good fun. With excellent staff - especially the site warden, Mark. Turns out he not only knew my grandfather, but had some amusing anecdotes too.
My grandfather was very proud of his fishing rights on the river, and had a trout lake made out of the old mill pond. Mark and his father were somewhat partial to fishing on the river too. According to Mark, his father had an interesting exchange with my grandfather on one particular day.
"Away!" Shouted my grandfather, as he stood on the millhouse lawn. "Away with you! This is my water!!"
Mark's father, fishing from the opposite bank, allegedly pointed at the gently flowing surface of the river, and replied, "That was your water, but now it's gone. This is new water from further upstream that doesn't belong to you."
The compromise reached was that Mark's father could continue fishing, provided he kept his float within the far half of the river, and none of his tackle (again...) touched the riverbed.... which definitely belonged to my grandfather.
Of course, the provenance of the anecdote is debatable. But the story echoed with the memories of my grandfather. It also brought back memories of long summer days running around the grounds, and hiding in the old barn (where a very dusty Aston Martin resided). There were fruit bushes around the back too, which were far too tempting for a six year old. I remember testing a few samples of the less ripe loganberries, and then having to pretend I was merely carsick on the long drive home, whilst my stomach growled.
We had a perfect stay at Rushbank. It's simple... no electric (it's on the floodplain), and unmarked pitches for tents and self-contained units. They deliver metal firepits if you want them, and - as we did - you can enjoy a few marshmallows warmed over the flames. The site is the epitome of simple camping - and I can't recommend it highly enough. Mark claimed that the site has hardly changed in 50 years. Which is a good thing.
As difficult as it was to leave the campsite and the slightly aggressive swan that objected to our invasion, we decided we also needed to take the time to look around some of the key attractions in the area. On the second day, we headed over to the other side of the Dedham Vale - across single track roads and through picture-postcard villages - to true Constable country. Flatford Mill, and the Haywain scene. And a revised Haywain scene:
Flatford Mill site is a National Trust property - which we support. But it's fair to say that this was not the most thrilling of exhibitions. Still, we had hopes for our next stop. Sutton Hoo?