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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Holiday Get Away, High Wind and Rain

So, at last, we get away for a week's holiday over the Easter weekend. Carol finished work at Milton Keynes Academy on Thursday and we packed up the car in the morning of Good Friday and left for West Sussex where we had booked a cottage not far from the National Trust property, Petworth. This had been pre-booked for several months, all paid-up through a company we've used on several occasions, formerly known as 'Cottages For You' but now merely called 'Cottages.com'. It was something of a difficulty getting everything in to the car, together with the dogs, Alfie in his cage in the back along with Poppy, who rides happily in the remaining space in the back of the car. Alfie has to be put in the cage because he won't sit still anywhere in the car. It's no use even attempting to have him anywhere else in the car because we've attempted and he will try and get into the front and get tangled up in the gear-stick so in the end he has to go in the cage. He's a good deal better at riding in the car than he used to be, but getting him on his lead is a bit of an ordeal because he barks and gets very excited and so we got him a harness to wear which he seems to like and seems happy with it on. Actually better for him when he's on a lead because it means there's no pulling on his neck which there would be if the lead is attached to his collar. He did make some noise at first when put in the cage but he soon settled down as the journey progressed.

We got on the A34 just beyond Bicester and the journey seemed to be going well until the traffic began to slow to a crawl. We could see the long tail-back ahead on the road, but there's not a great deal you can do on a dual carriage-way in terms of finding an alternative route as the junctions are so far apart. We were going to continue south and had a route planned as we didn't fancy using the M25 as it was likely to be just as busy and no doubt the traffic would be similarly stationary due to the fact that so many people were going away for the Easter break the same as ourselves.We eventually left the main road and began to follow the instructions to Kirdford and Petworth which we had been given by the owners of the property. Unfortunately our sense of direction isn't particularly good but we did eventually manage to find the property and got there just after 2.30. I think it would have been much quicker if the traffic hadn't been so heavy. We did stop at a spot on the way called Beacon Hill, as the dogs needed to have a break and a run and we attempted to climb the hill, but it proved a good deal more difficult as it was muddy and slippery so we returned to the car and continued our journey. Carol wanted to see Highclere Castle, which is one of the locations used in the television series 'Downton Abbey' but on finding the  entrance there was a sign 'not open to the public' so we couldn't just drive in and 'have a look' as we had wanted to. A pity. We had been past a couple of years ago when we'd visited the Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere which features paintings on it's walls done by the artist Sir Stanley Spencer.

We have been staying in a recently converted egg store. It's been done really well and we really couldn't have hoped for a nicer holiday rental. The people who own the property even left milk and eggs for our consumption. There's a wood-burning stove which I lit with ease but there is a very efficient central heating system.

The weather has changed dramatically, unfortunately. It has been reasonably dry and sunny on the way down from Milton Keynes. On Saturday we took the dogs to Petworth park for a brief walk, but the wind was beginning to rise and it was really chilly. We went on to Portsmouth, with the intention of visiting the Historic Dockyard. I've never seen Nelson's Victory or anything about the Mary Rose, which I would have liked. We had to take the dogs with us, because we're not supposed to leave them in the cottage on their own. As usual Alfie became somewhat noisy but settled down as we got further into the journey. We found a multi-storey car park in Portsmouth city centre, but the traffic entering the city was extremely heavy, probably no more than usual, but made more heavy because of the Easter weekend. We walked with the dogs into the city centre, but it became extremely windy. Poor Alfie is not used to being in a city, what with traffic and people everywhere. He is terrified of sharp noises, particularly the sound to car horns and all those feet. At one point, near the bus station, he almost had a wheeled case land on top of him. We have never taken him into any town centre like that, so it's no wonder he was frightened. We then found we couldn't take the dogs into the Historic Dockyards area, so that was the end of that. We got sandwiches and drinks from a Coop and sat and ate our food sitting on a bench near the Hard. We really wanted to see more, which would have been possible if he hadn't got the dogs with us. So we left, unfortunately. We did some shopping at a Sainsbury's, enough for the rest of the week and the returned to the cottage. 

There wasn't much else we could do as it was getting late. The weather was getting worse and worse. We had our meal and went to bed, but during the night the wind was extremely high and it rained, almost like a hurricane, beating on the windows. The bedroom has a skylight in the roof, and the rain was making noises on the glass. There was a stream of water running down the road outside more like a waterfall than anything else.

We had to endure yet another night of extremely high winds and rain over Sunday into Monday. It kept us awake for most of the night. I have never experienced such awful weather such as we experienced. I thought the roof of the cottage was going to be blown off, or a tree outside come crashing through the roof. It went on for a long time. I can't remember anything like it, or lasting for so long. Not only were we frightened (and I have to admit it takes a lot to really scare me. A thunder storm with lightening and 'the works' doesn't usually bother me. Infant, I quite like a good old-fashioned thunder storm.) Both dogs were really bothered by the whole experience. Alfie doesn't like sudden noises and Poppy is scared on fireworks and 'bangs and crashes.' We discovered, fairly early in the morning, that there had been a power cut. Something I haven't personally experienced in quite a few years. Fortunately we had a battery-powered torch to see and it meant that we'd not only have no light, but the fridge would not be working and we had frozen food in the ice-box, as well as having no working oven. Also, no internet (there was wi-fi in the cottage.) and the cooker wouldn't work, nor the television. So we made the decision to go back home to Milton Keynes. We spoke to the owner of the cottage, who lived in a house near the cottage, and she said that power cuts were a regular occurrence in that rural area and that the emergency hotline had said the power would be back on 'later in the day' but no exact time was given, or guaranteed. We made our decision and we started to pack our belongings as well as cleaning the cottage. The dogs were loaded into the car and by around 9.30 we had handed in the key and were on the road. As we left we found the roads around the cottage littered with bits of branch and twig. Most of it was small and inconsequential, but there were some quite big branches in the roads as we drove towards the A3 and back to the A34 near Newbury. It did make the drive home quite hazardous. We got back to Milton Keynes at around 2.30.
We heard on the B.B.C. news on television that there had been a good deal of damage in and around Sussex, including along the coast. So in the end it would appear that our decision to come home when we did was the right one. We have since learnt that the power had still not been switched on again at 5 p.m. and there was a good chance that the storm (named "Katie".) would strike again tonight and which would mean we couldn't cook any food. Also, on the way past we attempted to visit Petworth House, a National Trust property, to be turned away at the gate by staff, telling us that the estate was closed because of the high winds and the danger from falling trees or branches.
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