Posts tagged Thetford

Thetford Forest Campsite – Puddledock Farm

Situated just off the A1075, in turn just off the A11 in Norfolk, Puddledock Farm is a campsite for sore eyes. Well, after the dramas we had getting there it was, anyway.

My virgin camping trip – it had been threatened many times in my life, but I had managed to avoid all sleeping under canvas thus far – a most spacious 6-man tent had been donated to us and, with funds at an all-time low… well… it would have been rude not to.

Four hours into our journey from East Sussex, having just turned off the A11, my beloved Jem turned to me (I the designated driver) and asked “You did pack the bedrooms for the tent, too, didn’t you?” I grinned at him – he is ever the joker – and said “Very funny. They’re in the bag with the rest of the tent, aren’t they.” Apparently not. Apparently, they were in a pile next to the bag containing the rest of the tent. In the garage. Where they had remained. After 6 pm on a Sunday evening there isn’t much open in Thetford, apart from a McDonalds. So… To cut a long story short, four small boys were deposited with accommodating grandparents holidaying nearby and a rather sheepish Al and her long-suffering Jem drove all the way back, loaded up tent rooms, slept for five hours and headed back to collect small boys.

The Tent

The Aztec Palacio 6 is, indeed, palatial. With three bedrooms, each accommodating two people, we were set up: grown-ups on an air bed in one, a five- and seven-year old in the middle one, and a nine-year old with his two-year old brother in a travel cot – yes, in a travel cot – in the third. Arranged around three sides of a square, the bedrooms leave an enormous living space inside the tent; essential when it’s just too wet to be outdoors.

We had committed the cardinal sin of not having practised putting it up before setting off so, with four small boys in the car (“Have you nearly finished?!”, “How much longer?!” etc) we set about erecting it. I guess it took around an hour this first time, but I reckon we could have it up in about half the time in future. Colour-coded poles and colour-coded hooks for the bedrooms make life a whole lot easier. In wet weather, the huge amount of space and very high ceiling mean that you can cook inside, albeit in the doorway, without any problems. In fact, if anything it provides a little much-needed warmth in such circumstances.

As far as we see it, there were only two drawbacks, really: the first is that it could do with another opening other than the main canopied entrance. The air-flow is not brilliant as a result. Secondly, the groundsheet doesn’t reach quite as far as the aforementioned entrance which makes for damp feet on that first loo-run of the morning, scrabbling bleary-eyed for shoes.

The Campsite

The campsite was brilliant. This was not what I had been led to believe camping was like. There was, a short walk away, a fabulous block containing a men’s area, a women’s area, a family area and a covered area containing four or five metal sinks with plentiful hot water for washing up. I cannot vouch either for the family or the men’s area (though I am reliably informed it was the same), but the women’s contained about five toilets, five separate cubicled basins for tooth-brushing and general primping and five showers: push-button operated and free with, once again, an abundant supply of hot water. They also, for those concerned with such things, had a hairdryer. And the whole block was so warm, clean and dry. Most impressive. I mean, wow.

On our arrival, we explained that we had four children with us including one particularly shouty two-year old (that’d be Bert) and we were directed to family row. Backing onto a playing field and children’s play area complete with all kinds of equipment for monkeying about on, we were surrounded by other families who really wouldn’t give a stuff about noise. Indeed, the pitch next to ours was home to a similar number of boys to us who offered the use of their footballs within a few minutes of our rolling up.

The whole site was extremely secure as well. Jittery at the best of times, even I relaxed enough to let my five-year old pootle off to the loo by himself. There is, after your initial registration, a coded barrier to let you in and an automatic one for your departure. I only really kept the two-year old close (and that more for everyone else’s protection than his own – you getting a picture of the little bruiser?)

There is a shop onsite which is not massively well-stocked but will keep you from starving and also keeps some handy equipment (including bottled gas) to hand. Relatively new to the ins and outs of such posh camping and after bemoaning the fact that our milk kept going off, we discovered (after the event) that they would have frozen our freezer packs if we had but asked… Duly filed away for next time. Two days a week, as well, a fish ‘n’ chip van sits in the car park from around 7.15 till they run out. Wonderful idea? We thought so. Until poor Jem got rained on prodigiously whilst queuing for fully an hour and a half for fish and chips that were at best mediocre. The following night, having bought some mince and a jar of cook-in chilli sauce, we cooked a family chilli con carne with much greater effect, on top of which we made many a mouth water throughout the site as it bubbled happily on our stove.

The stove is an all-singing, all-dancing Campingaz stove bought from Amazon at the reduced price of £40 (from £60). Being a bit of a skinflint, I balked a little at the price, pointing to “perfectly adequate” others, but was assured that we would need two burners and that a grill is a great little gizmo. Sure enough, he was right. It was fantastic. I cooked bacon, scrambled eggs and toasted bagels for six every morning with this little beauty (as well as the previously mentioned chilli and rice). It is big enough to hold a big frying pan and a big saucepan at once. The only thing I would have taken, had we thought about it, is some kind of windshield for it. We ended up using the box it came in, which served perfectly well. I am very glad to have had my head turned on this one.

Not that we used it – we were only there for four nights – but there is also a laundry room, which contains a wall of leaflets packed with local information. Our mission being to keep our holiday costs as low as possible, we avoided the likes of Banham Zoo, Grimes Graves etc, but we did allow ourselves one rather large treat…

Days Out

On our last full day there, having visited the local mammoth Tesco’s the day before to stock up on pork pies, coleslaw, chocolate biscuits and miniature bottles of wine, we set off to Duxford Imperial War Museum.  It took us around 45 minutes – an hour to drive there. Once in, it cost a whopping £16 per adult, but children were free. Yes, you heard right. Children. Were. Free. And that 32 quid lasted us the entire day. Quite apart from the constant taking off and landing of planes such as you’ve only ever seen in very old movies, Duxford is home to around 6 hangars full of planes, tanks, displays, works in progress, cafes… It is small (and big) boy heaven. It’s probably girl-heaven if you’re into that sort of thing: enough for me to see the massive enthusiasm oozing from each of the five males in my company. I think by far everyone’s favourite was the last on the runway: the Land Warfare Hall. The exhibits are set up to resemble real-life situations. You can see Monty’s train carriage containing his bathroom and bedroom, use telephone handsets to listen to voices from the past… Most impressive and well worth a whole day out. As usual with such things, probably far better to bring your own nourishment. For a family of 6 cafes are pretty prohibitively priced.

3 boys and a P51 Mustang

3 boys and a P51 Mustang

(More to follow… tired fingers :-))


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