To the Brecon Beacons

Off to the mountains for us next. The Brecon Beacons are supposedly named after the practice of lighting fires ‘beacons’ to warn of impending danger.

The road to the Brecons runs along the ‘heads of the valleys’ via old industrial towns like Merthyr Tydfil and the remains of that Victorian industrial heritage are everywhere, obvious with their slightly ostentatious and (given the dark stone of the area) forbidding architectural style.

The Brecons offer a wealth of parking/wild camping possibilities so we were intending to take advantage.

Our first night was at the National Trust carpark below Pen-y-Fan, we arrived on possibly the sunniest day so far in the early afternoon and watched the locals using this as their outdoor gym, turning up in lycra and trainers and making a quick dash up and back down the peak. That night the wind picked up and gusts rocked Bertie, the following morning was still brightly sunny but the wind was blowing, a better day for mountain walking as it mitigated the intensity of the sunshine. We were doing the horseshoe walk across Corn Du, Pen-y-Fan and Cribyn and then back along Graig Fan Ddu ridge. On the way we dropped down to the Neuadd reservoir where we could see one of those Victorian structures, a huge towered dam/weir which was no longer holding back any water as the reservoir had been drained.  Despite the wind keeping the temperatures down we were still very happy to see the ice cream van at the bottom to reward us for out 10 miles in the mountains.

Deeply eroded paths on the popular Brecon Beacons
Resting spot at Lower Neuadd reservoir
Looking back from the Graig Fan Ddu ridge

That night we decided to move to a lower elevation to avoid the wind. We moved along to a parking/picnic spot next to the A470 and the Llwyn-on reservoir. No wind maybe, but a bit too much traffic noise. However we were in good company with a couple of families in a caravan and motorhome enjoying a stopover on their way to their half term holidays and treating themselves to a BBQ.

After a traffic disturbed night we had a look at the maps and spotted a parking place on the other side of the reservoir. We moved first thing and then we made our plans for the day which were based around watching Exeter Chiefs in the rugby premiership final. To earn a few pints we cycled into Merthyr, then back out across the viaduct to Cefn-Coed where we found the Railway Inn serving an interesting (and yummy) selection of pies who were willing to feed us and put BT sport on. Chiefs won again in a nail biting (for Paul) final that went to extra time. It made the final uphill struggle in the rain all worth it.

Part of the Merthyr Tydfil viaduct – this picture doesn’t show just how miserably rainy it was

We stayed in that parking spot for the next night, watching the comings and goings of cars with interest – what were they doing? We had fun making up stories about them – but I did make sure we were extra secure that night!

The next day we moved on, the spell of sunny weather had obviously gone for good, the skies were grey and showery. We moved onto the west of the Brecons area to the Black Mountain where we stayed in another wild camping spot with massive views north, probably the best views so far.

That was four nights in a row wild camping. Thankfully the toilet had not reached capacity, but our water supplies had reached zero. Time to find a campsite so we could have a shower and cup of tea!

Wye not?

One of the things I wanted to do while in the Forest of Dean area was to cycle the Peregrine path alongside the Wye. Our wild camping spot was a bit too far from the Wye for our cycling legs so we moved a bit closer. We were going to miss this camping spot and the forest generally. I haven’t heard so much bird song in a long time, it was as if the dawn chorus continued all day, and there is something special about deciduous forests which have a much wider variety of plant and animal life that some of the heavily managed coniferous woodlands.

We couldn’t find any free spots nearer to the Wye so we booked a couple of nights on an enormous campsite – Bracelands – a mile or so from the Wye. Luckily it was very quiet so we felt like we had loads of space – I wonder how it feels in high season with all the pitches taken?

Over the last couple of days we had seen the weather really start to heat up, and during our couple of days at Bracelands we saw barely a cloud in the sky. We even treated ourselves to a BBQ.

We rode our bikes down the long hill from the campsite, trying to put the return climb out of our minds. When we reached the river cycle path we turned right at first towards Symonds Yat, then we turned back towards Monmouth.  Although the bike path was well maintained, wide and level, it was annoyingly a little far from the river to really allow us to get great views. So at the Biblins bridge we decided to cross the river and take the footpath instead. A little more tricky under our wheels, with narrow sections, roots and dips, it was both more fun and much more scenic, even if it was a bit naughty.

Paul cycling across the suspension bridge at Biblins

Along the route we stopped for occasional rests to watch the river life, there were plenty of large fish (trout or maybe even salmon) jumping for flies, lots of birds as well as canoeists and swimmers making the most of the lovely weather. The trees created lots of pleasant dappled shade to keep the sunshine at bay.

Beautiful river views

At Monmouth we topped up supplies for the BBQ, this meant I had a pannier with another 10kg in it to get up the hill back to the campsite. I walked up the last steep section!

Getting ready for a BBQ at Bracelands campsite

 

Boar Encounter

Our next stop was the Forets of Dean for some wild camping.

Wild camping usually means two key things, firstly finding somewhere to park overnight where no-one is going to object and secondly relying on the resources in the van for day to day needs. 

Bertie had been topped up with water when we left the Mendips, that would take care of drinking and washing, Bertie’s toilet had been emptied, which would take care of sanitary requirements (wee and poo in other words – we don’t know how many days we can go before it will be full up, but we’ll find out I’m sure) and one of our refillable gas canisters had been installed and filled, to take care of heating, cooking and the fridge. Hopefully the solar panels would mean our leisure battery would stay topped up for that most important of needs – connectivity.

We found a spot in a forestry car park, busy with cyclists and dog walkers but big enough for everyone. Later that evening, as the day time visitors started to leave, we  were joined by a German and another British Motorhome.

Our spot in the forest

We stayed here for two nights, at one point a chap rolled up in a Motorhome next to us and started chatting about the Bore, it took us a little while to understand that he’d seen the big yellow banana (kayak) on the roof and wondered if we were going to ride the Severn bore. We weren’t. We had toyed with going to watch but given it was due to happen over the bank holiday weekend we’d decided to leave it for another occasion.

We made the most of the next couple of days with bike rides and wanders through the woods, at one point we thought that the woods all looked the same, but it was just us going round in circles. 

There was an interesting sculpture trail, some picturesque ponds, and most exciting was our close encounter with a Wild Boar; we were cycling along the nice easy family cycle path when I heard a loud rustling in the undergrowth, ‘wow – that’s one big dog’ was my first thought as something large and brindled charged out of the undergrowth, across the path and into the bushes on the other side of the cycle track. By the time I’d realised it was a boar, put my brakes on and fumbled my phone from my pocket it was way too late for a photograph, but I was really chuffed to have seen my first wild boar.

Sculptures in the forest

View over Woorgreen lake

Strawberry Line

Our final day in the Mendips was spent on our own as Aaron and Kate went to the Fleet Air Arm museum to take advantage of their free entry.

We decided to do the Strawberry Line cycle route to Clevedon. We knew it was going to be a grey day, so we’re prepared for rain. But it rained! By the time we got to Yatton we’d had enough and turned round to go back, after all it would still be a 24 mile cycle, even if it was all on pretty easy cycle track.

On the way back a rare spot of blue sky and sunshine appeared at the same time as we cycled past the Thatchers mill in Sandford, buoyed by a sign of improving weather we decided we would stop for a quick one. Cider really is Paul’s favourite alcoholic drink and it would be rude to pass by without stopping.

Well then the rain started again, so why would we move on – a second pint was ordered. And then we realised that Exeter Chiefs were playing their premiership semi-final against Sarries. The phone was propped up against the menus and we started to watch a very close game. A third pint was ordered to see the match through to a very exciting climax, and Chiefs won! Chiefs! Chiefs! Chiefs!

When we finally left, powered by three pints, the rain didn’t bother us. 

Mud splattered, but cider happy!

ps I don’t drink Cider (evil stuff that has an aftertaste of vomit – or maybe that’s just my teenage memories) so I had a beer or two instead.

A flying visit

The next stop for us was the Mendips. We were due to spend a couple of days with Aaron and Kate before they flew out to Morocco for a well deserved break.

Unluckily for them Aaron was told at the last minute that he’d been nominated for some additional training that meant their holiday was going to have to be cancelled. Luckily for us that meant we got an extra couple of nights with them.

We stayed at Cheddar Valley touring park, Aaron and Kate stayed in a static van on the same site. Next to a caravan club site, this was much better value and the staff very friendly and accommodating with our change of plan.

We did an extended circular walk around Cheddar gorge with Aaron and Kate, followed by a bit of tourist shopping and beer drinking. The last time I was in the Mendips was when I was at university, I was a member of the university caving club (LUSS – Lancaster University Speleological Society) and we had a little trip underground at Swildon’s Hole. Visiting the tourist caves didn’t hold much appeal for me, and the price didn’t appeal to anyone else either, so we contented ourselves with a lot of cheese tasting (and buying).

All of us (and Aaron’s dodgy facial hair) as we walk back along Cheddar Gorge

As we walked back down into Cheddar we had a minor drama as we met a couple and their two dogs walking up the steep section from the village. One of their dogs, an elderly poodle cross, took it into her head to follow us downhill and nothing could stop her. In fact she then bounded ahead of us and much to everyone’s consternation went off piste as she tried to find a way across the wall and back onto the main road. Luckily, between us and another couple we managed to get her reunited with her owners, who sternly told her that she wouldn’t be allowed off the lead again.

The next day we took advantage of Aaron’s (brand new) car to go further afield and visited Brean Down. The peninsular here has some interesting features including a Napoleonic fort and Second World War fortifications which fitted nicely with Aaron and Kate’s RAF interests.

Some of the Second World War fortifications
Napoleonic fortifications, later used for WWII training
Gun emplacements for training – practice rounds were fired into the bay at Weston-Super-Mare

Laundry Day

After leaving Exmouth we spent the next couple of nights in Taunton. Ostensibly  this was about visiting the various members of my family who live there, Mum and Dan, Nan, sister Vicki, her husband Paul and two of my nephews, WIlliam and James.

But we did have an ulterior motive. We had built up quite a pile of laundry, and an opportunity to get it done for free was not to be missed. I’d had quite a shock when I went to the launderette in Exmouth and realised how much it cost. In fact campsite launderettes seem to be much better value that town launderettes.

At the time I had vowed that I would do all the laundry by hand, but this is all very well for smaller items that dry easily, but towels and bed linen are too cumbersome and difficult to wring out.

We stayed at Cornish Farm, a small campsite where you can also find the much lauded Vanbitz team who are experts in Motorhome security systems as well as fitting other electrical accessories to Motorhomes. We haven’t made up our minds whether and how we intend to improve our security so weren’t using their services this time.

From Cornish Farm there is a cycle path into Taunton and we whiled away an afternoon cycling round my old teenage haunts and doing a bit of shopping. Later that evening the laundry staff (ie Mum and Dad) came to pick up our dirty laundry. We spent the next day at theirs visiting Nan and finishing off the laundry before being treated to a family dinner.    

Parked up at Cornish Farm, Taunton

 

 

Pets – No longer at Home

One of the difficult parts of moving out of our house has been saying goodbye to our pets.

Ok – we have the type of pets that don’t really demand much emotional investment – Chickens and Tortoises. But they are still a living part of our life, and not the easiest pets to travel with, so we had to find them new homes.

The Chickens have gone to Paul’s dad, who has a number of Chickens himself (but only one that is laying). So you might think that three extra Chickens who are all in lay would be a welcome addition, but now there are complaints of too many eggs – not something that’s ever bothered us. I just find new ways of cooking them – including Diana Henry’s Pink Pickled Eggs. They weren’t to my taste, but we have a friend who will demolish a few.

Perfectly Pink Pickles

In addition we have heard that our Chickens have established a new pecking order with them firmly at the top – now it’s no longer the two on one that used to happen at ours, but three against the world!

The tortoises have found a foster home with Ang, Tony and their children. I think that Frankie and Jason will do a great job of looking after them alongside all of their other pets. We’ll probably find it difficult to take them back!

Bea and Bob ready for their move

Wild? They were Livid

Our last night in Exmouth was spent ‘Wilding’ – that is, if your definition of Wilding is being without ‘facilities’ usually offered by a campsite.

We parked up on Exmouth seafront with a row of motorhomes and campervans. This is not a cheap option – we paid the princely sum of £11 for twenty four hours, not bad but not much less than a campsite in the local area.

The row of motorhomes on Exmouth seafront.

The view from Bertie’s window was lovely – Exmouth has a long stretch of sandy beach and beautiful views across to Torbay.

However, as a local, I know that there is a lot of bad feeling about motorhomes parking on the seafront. Exmouth facebook communities are full of diatribe against motorhomers, and this made me a tad nervous about our overnight stay.

The main complaints seem to be about motorhomes taking up too much parking space. Exmouth seafront is divided into a number of areas for parking – the furthest from town is diagonal to the seafront and has limited length and width, further back (where we chose to stop) the parking is parallel to the seafront and only the width is marked. It would be fair to say that with the exception of a sunny day in high season – the parking is generally not full – but people have their favourite spots for accessing the beach and feel aggrieved if they are obstructed.

The other complaint is people overstaying their welcome – the max stay is 24 hours and then no return for another 24 hours. This is designed to stop people from spending weeks in the same spot.

There are some who say that the motorhomes spoil the view – although I think that if people are looking at the motorhomes then they probably need to turn around by at least 90 degrees to see

But most frustrating are the general complainants who don’t have any rationale for their dislike – they just don’t like it – and others who actively encourage the boy (and girl) racers to be as anti-social as possible.

It is true that there are people who take advantage, both taking up multiple parking spaces (or backing their overhang onto the pavement), or outstaying their welcome. And that’s where we motorhomers need to be careful – because it wont be long before these spots are restricted due the actions of a very few. 

The view from Exmouth seafront

After all of that though, we had a pleasant night. We had a final catch up with friends, the rain kept the traffic down to a minimum and the following morning was bright and sunny, a good omen for moving on.

Home Turf

Our first week of being on the road was, well… not really on the road. We travelled all of two miles to find ourselves on Prattshayes campsite in Exmouth. The campsite was very quite so they let us park two vehicles as well as the Motorhome and didn’t object to a lot of DIY-ing while we were on site.

Bertie in splendid isolation at Prattshayes.

We had a few things we needed to achieve in the first week:

  • Bertie got a thorough wash, we borrowed a friend’s drive (thanks Tam) so that we had access to warm water. Bertie is now looking a lot brighter.
  • We wanted to install the Solar Panels and Refillable Gas cylinders. Solar Panels were done (we’ll do a separate post about that) but we didn’t have all the parts for the gas, so that was left to a later date.
  • We had a new Fiamma awning to replace the one that had decided to get stuck half extended when we were in France last year.
Installing the new Fiamma awning.

We also spent a considerable amount of time moving stuff around inside Bertie trying to set up the optimum configuration for us and slim down our contents. This included Paul having to choose the tools he wanted to bring along, I hope he chose wisely!

Although it was quite a busy week for us, we both felt much more relaxed as we were focussing on activities that were useful for our adventures.

Storage Hunters

We have read a number of blogs where people have regretted leaving personal possessions in storage. But that was only after they had decided that their lifestyle was going to permanently change.

We will have to make our own decision at the right time for us, and we’ll be leaving our possessions in storage until we know what the future holds for us. Current plans are to be back after two years travelling and the (approx.) two thousand pounds we will have spent on storage by that point will be far less than the cost of replacing all of our furniture, not to mention (most importantly) the cost of replacing my books and cooking equipment and Paul’s tools.

We spent some time scouting storage units, indoor storage, storage containers or the garages/lofts of friends and family. In the end we opted for a storage container near to our house. The decision based on convenience (very easy to start shuffling stuff backwards and forwards between the house and the unit), the fact that they also do Motorhome storage (so we could keep Bertie there and move stuff between the storage unit and Bertie) and price (they were the cheapest we could find in the local area).

Then we had to work out our approach to insurance.  Possessions in storage units aren’t usually covered by home contents insurance (except for short periods of time between house moves), and specialist insurance is very expensive, again it’s based on people leaving possessions in storage for a short period of time and is priced by the day, most quotes coming in at a couple of hundred pounds per month. So we decided against insurance.

Now we have moved out, the storage unit is much fuller than I expected. Last time we moved (eleven years ago) we didn’t seem to have much at all and our belongings rattled around in the back of a seven and a half tonne truck.  It’s amazing how much stuff is accumulated over the years. Although we’re not particularly material people (for example I only got rid of our CRT TV last year when we were offered a flat screen in payment for a job that Paul did), we do like to save stuff for ‘just in case’ and we do like to be prepared for every eventuality. How that will transpose to motorhome living I don’t know!

 

 

 

Goodbye Home, Hello Motorhome

This week I drove past our house several times to see how the new tenants are settling in. Not that I can tell much from the outside, but it felt necessary to see someone else moving in and recognise that we aren’t just on holiday – we have moved out.

Yes we are now homeless, or so it feels, although in reality we have a bricks and mortar address at my parent’s house. But we have given up the place we have lived in and called home for the last eleven years. We now have a home on wheels, but I think it will take some time to settle in.

Paul and I have been treading on eggshells around each other for the last month. The process of packing up the house and preparing it for letting has been more emotionally demanding than either of us imagined and we have both been on edge. This has mostly manifested in accusing each other of doing unnecessary jobs. The two of us often have different perspectives of what is important, but normally this adds up to a consensus that is greater than the sum of its parts. However on the run up to our move we encountered situations where the discussion would have generated fruitless argument, so we had a few silent moments as we counted to 10 (or more) and gritted our teeth and got on with what we considered to be the right things. And those moments of frustration were unloaded on friends and family… what else are they there for?

As a final ‘hurrah’ we had a leaving party in our empty house. Everyone was very well behaved considering the amount of alcohol drunk (I counted over ninety cans of various types when I cleared up the next morning, not to mention empty bottles of wine and spirits). Then Mum and Dad joined us on our last day of cleaning, leaving the kitchen and bathrooms looking cleaner than they’ve ever been.

Now it’s done and we’re feeling that sense of freedom that comes from finishing something and handing it over – we can’t keep tweaking it now and if the tenants find any issues we’ll have to deal with them as they arise.