The Monthly Newsletter of Chelmsford YHA Local Group
The Bradwell Village ENIGMA
Milton Keynes has long been associated with codes and secrecy with the codebreakers at Bletchley Park reckoned to have shortened WWII by at least two years. This October saw covert MK rise again as the secret location of Dave P's fortieth birthday weekend. After months of surreptitious planning, whispered conversations and increasingly frantic emails, 22 of us all turned up at the right hostel, laden with party food and eager for fun. The question on most peoples lips was "So, was Dave surprised? When did he find out where he was going?". Although the secret was kept pretty well I think it's just as well some of our members don't work for MI5 or we'd all be speaking German (or Russian, or Chinese, or possibly even Welsh). Mind you, Dave was guilty of a little party-related espionage as well! The biggest surprise of the weekend was the enormous generosity shown to Dave by everyone. Many thanks to everyone who helped make the weekend a very special occasion.
The October Trip
Bradwell village was the secret location chosen for Dave P's 40th birthday celebration weekend. After a hot meal in the Queen Victoria we crunched across the gravel to the hostel. I will admit that I needed instructions for the sleeping bag liner. After a hearty breakfast, we headed off on the short journey to Bletchley Park.. Lynn & Paul's arrival at the car park distracted us from realising that we were one vehicle missing. With pre-determined tour times, and unable to contact them by phone, we set off and began the tour of the Bletchley park site - home of the Enigma machine code-breakers. A fascinating story involving ingenuity, crossword puzzlers, hard work, luck, heroism, and pigeons! All shrouded in secrecy until the publication of some memoirs.
In keeping with the historical theme, the on-site cinema treated us to a selection of Pathe News clips with the famous cockerel; and the Toy Museum brought exclamations of …. "I had one of those!"… from many of us. Nostalgia rules Ok.
With our missing sheep safely back within the flock, we returned to the hostel to begin preparations for Dave's party. A splendid buffet meal and well stocked bar helped Dave P enjoy his birthday evening to the full. Well done to all of those who contributed to the success of the evening regarding food and drink. Dave J introduced us to the very latest dance style - it looked foreign to me!
Sunday morning began with a quick photo shoot, followed by a red-leafy stroll along the Grand Union canal, with the occasional brightly coloured canal boat to remind us of a slower pace of life.
Station X can keep a secret but the location of Dave's do was obviously picked up by Essex local listening stations by someone with a Enigma machine.
Party time! who's got the sausages? where's Polly?, last seen making off with trail of sausages with Dave in hot pursuit (after a large swig of that which fortifies the over the hill brigade).
As for the Milton Keynes Vertical take off grid road system, how were we vertical all the time and Jane was horizontal? I now know why station X is so called.....it's from the number of local xroads in the area!. Are those two Germans from Station X lost on the Milton Keynes by pass?
The Ballad of the Lost Pie
I was made for a purpose and the purpose was
Forty years old and never been to Milton Keynes...
Some time ago I remember reading about Bradwell Village Youth Hostel in Buckinghamshire. "A 17th century farmhouse overlooking Norman castle earthworks in a quiet village setting...". Sounds wonderful, we must go there, but checking the map, the village isn't surrounded by countryside, it's surrounded by Milton Keynes! Doubtful I could persuade everyone that they want to go to MK for a weekend, I never suggested it.
But where had Alison and Helen arranged for my 40th birthday party? In the few weeks before, I overheard some comments about MK. Was this a cunning ploy to put me off the scent, a code word for what was really planned? No, it really was a trip to tick off one of the few hostels I've not visited before!
Arriving in style courtesy of Jane's Morgan, I was not disappointed, it's a great hostel in a pleasant village with two pubs only a few yards away.
I haven't been through Milton Keynes before, and was pleasantly surprised, wide tree-lined boulevards with stunning autumn colours, it seemed like we were on holiday in a foreign country. I enjoyed the visit to Bletchley Park on the Saturday. Lots to see there - German Enigma machines, the reconstructed Bombe and Colossus code-breaking computers, a computer museum (including a ZX80s, BBC micros and space invaders games), all sorts of WWII stuff, including a collection of vehicles, vintage cinema showing old newsreels and lots more that we didn't have time to see. And on Sunday we had a pleasant walk along the Grand Union canal, including visit to the famous concrete cows!
The highlight of course was Saturday night's party with a wonderful spread of food. Lorna reminded us of the events of the year of my birth: JFK assassinated, the Beeching report, the Profumo affair, the great train robbery, Dr Who started and the Dartford Tunnel opened....
Thanks to everyone for all the birthday cards, emails, text messages, phone calls, letters, photos and so many kind comments. The huge array of presents, including a pair of walking socks stuffed with chocolates (40 of them), swiss army altimeter, miscellany calendar, map measurer, mini electric whisk (Ian says I've got to make the cappuccinos next time), 50 things everyone must do in a lifetime (some I've done, some I wouldn't dream of), Over 40s Joke book, the Vintage Book of Walking (for vintage walkers), Sanatogen tonic wine, a coal Capri, a crate of beer, a string of plastic sausages... I hope I haven't forgotten anything. And the magnificent Official History of Everest ("one hill you're not over yet"), signed by about 40 people...
As if that wasn't enough, Trudi had collected a pile of suggestions from which to choose another gift - some sensible, some outrageous, some absurd; themes started to emerge: travel, food, age... here's a selection:
....and then, to pay for my choice, Dave J had collected an unfeasibly huge amount of money!! (Are you sure you didn't miss the decimal point??). I can now afford to do most of the above (or at least the ones that are legal, decent and possible!). I haven't decided how to spend it yet... a hot air balloon ride is tempting, possibly a new handheld computer to replace my ageing Psion, or a flashy new printer for enhanced CYHA newsletters... I'll keep you informed!
Thanks again to everyone for your incredible generosity and a great weekend! It's ok being 40 ... and you're all invited to my 50th birthday!
AGM - The Essential Highlights!
The group's Annual General Meeting was held on 8th October.
Dave J gave a very entertaining Chairman's Report highlighting another action packed year full of expertly organised trips to all corners of the British Isles in mostly great weather and wonderful company. Dave also expressed the hope that the coming year can be completed without the Chairman's annual visit to hospital.
Jim gave an excellent Secretary's Report. We've had three births (Katie Hawkins, Rosie Lewis and Matthew Strellis) plus the marriage of Dave and Jane and their planned emigration to the delights of New Zealand. We've also had some 10 new members since the last AGM.
Dave P gave the Treasurer's Report with a rundown of our financial fitness. Current membership is at 79. If you had been away on every trip in the last year you would have been away a total of 41 nights at an average cost of £20 per night, including all food, transport and accommodation - what a bargain! In the last 12 years the group has travelled approx. 1.3 million miles (about two trips to the moon and back) and we've done it on 420 sausages, 140 cans of beans, 25kg of cheese and about 213 loaves of bread.
Election Of Officers: All the current committee members agreed to stand again and this was unanimously carried by the meeting. As we have lost some committee members during the year John Maton, Marion Green, Tom Yarwood and Claire Longden were proposed and voted in as members without portfolio.
The full minutes of the AGM are available at www.chelmsfordyha.org.uk/minutes/agm03.html, or copies can be obtained on request from the Secretary.
Ice-Cool in Iceland
While the rest of you were sweltering in record August temperatures here in Essex, Dave and I were luxuriating in the cool breezes of an Icelandic summer.
Arriving at Keflavík airport at about 11.30pm, local time, by the time we'd grabbed our luggage and clambered on the bus it was after midnight and we were treated to the sight of the sun setting spectacularly over the bay that gives Reykjavík its name. This being virtually midsummer, it was one of the few occasions when we saw either sunrise or sunset.
A much needed night's sleep at Reykjavík YH had us raring to set off on our circumnavigation of the island. Having listened avidly to the in-flight video warning of the perils of Icelandic roads, it was with some trepidation that we familiarised ourselves with our transport for the next fortnight. A rugged 4x4? Nah! Only whimps need all 4 wheels on the ground! We were trusting our lives to a well-travelled Nissan Micra.
Reykjavík is a lovely city. Clean, quiet and modern with a fabulous location on the edge of a bay with mountains behind. Nevertheless it was wonderful to set out from the city and into the surrounding countryside.
Our planned route was to stick mostly to Route 1, which famously circles the island, with the odd digression over mountain passes and into the Western Fjords. This meant that we were travelling on a mixture of tarmac and gravel roads. We quickly came to learn that there are gravel roads and there are gravel roads! It was almost impossible to judge how long it was going to take to get from one place to another. We had to allow plenty of time for every journey, but even so we nearly came unstuck. On this particular day we'd been caught out by 25km of gravel road which was so rough we could barely drive above walking pace, and even then the car windows were shaking themselves undone. Luckily our Micra was up to the challenge!
Travelling clockwise round the island, we started with the Snaefellsnes peninsular. Driving through ancient lava flows we got our first views of explosion craters as well as the icy coolness of the Snaefell glacier (location for Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth).
A ferry took us over to the Western Fjords (highly reminiscent of the West coast of Scotland but with gorgeous deep fjords). Iceland is about the size of Ireland, but with a population only slightly larger than the borough of Chelmsford. Of this tiny population most live in Reykjavík, leaving the Western Fjords as one of the least populated regions. Serene days in lush valleys hemmed in by steep-sided mountains with more ponies than people.
From the west we travelled across the top of the country, passing through amazing scenery on our way to the stunning volcanic area around Mývatn. Here the lake is surrounded by lava flows, volcanoes and geothermal areas on virtually every side. It is situated on a hot spot on the mid-atlantic ridge, which runs diagonally through Iceland. At Krafla you can see tears in the earth's crust as the two continental plates are being torn apart.
It was while we were crossing the north of the country that we took a break from the road for the excitement of the ocean. Húsavík is billed as the whale watching capital of Europe, although this still doesn't guarantee a sighting. We were extraordinarily lucky in that we saw not just one whale, or even two, but a pod of some 60-odd killer whales all ducking, diving and spinning in the surf.
Our journey down the Eastern Fjords was very atmospheric. The weather had closed in and although still dry, there was low cloud sweeping in and out of the valleys.
In the south eastern corner of Iceland we found the best glaciers. Fed by the massive Vatnajökull glacier, the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier flowed down the hillside, calving into a deep fjord and on out to sea. We took a trip in an amphibious craft out onto the glacier lake (Jokulsárlón), winding in between massive chunks of glacier worn into fantastic shapes by wind and water.
Along the south side of the island we stayed in our most vernacular youth hostel. Fljótsdalur was a converted farmhouse, complete with wonky floors and turf roof, right at the end of a remote valley.
The last few days of our holiday were spent in the south west travelling around the famous "Golden Circle". Waterfalls and geysirs were the order of the day along with the massive tears in the earth's crust at Þingvellir.
By the time we returned the car to the airport we had seen a huge variety of scenery and covered over 2000 miles on our most expensive holiday ever. Was it worth it? You betcha.
See some more pictures of our trip to Iceland.
Please send any comments on these pages to Dave Plummer