Food Slamming

We needed to make a decision for the next stage of our journey – stick to the coast on the Lleyn Peninsula or spend some time in the mountains of Snowdonia. The weather forecast was for overcast and cool weather and so the mountains were likely to be shrouded in mist and cloud, whereas on the coast there was the possibility of an onshore breeze to push the cloud back inland and provide some clearer skies. The weather made the decision for us and so off to the Lleyn we went.

We decided to start at the end of the peninsula and then work our way back, but this plan was slightly overturned when we passed Criccieth on the A497 and saw signs for the Criccieth festival. A bit of research indicated that one of the festival events was a ‘Food Slam’, we’re not completely ruled by our stomachs, but if it has the word food in the title…

We had a couple of nights to kill before the Food Slam so we stuck with our original destination and headed for Abersoch, a small village on the southernmost ‘toe’ of the peninsula and from there to Hells Mouth beach (aka Porth Neigwl) where there was a small parking area. From here we took a walk around the headland. Paul took his fishing gear and we stopped at a couple of fishing spots and finally caught something worth eating. One mackerel doesn’t make a meal, but it made a starter for that evening.

Finally – an edible fish

What is a food slam? Well, I think the idea is that it is a combination of street food and music, not quite a music festival and not quite a food festival. I’m sure that the intention is that it is quite ‘street’ but this was Criccieth so instead the feeling was local and regional, which wasn’t a bad thing. There was a good selection of food and drink, and a variety of music from brass bands, to jazz; I particularly enjoyed Patrobas, a folk influenced band with some strong fiddle lines. There was also a young indie style band I enjoyed whose name I didn’t get – here Welsh is definitely the first language and I didn’t manage to hear all of the announcements.  

Criccieth Food Slam

We had tried to find a campsite within walking distance of Criccieth so that we could watch the fireworks at the end of the evening, have a couple of drinks and stumble back to the motorhome, but there wasn’t anything close enough. In the end we parked up along the seafront. It took us a few tries to find a spot that would work for us. The carpark and the seafront east of the castle only had car sized spaces and no easy place to squeeze in. The parking along the beach to the west of the castle was in front of homes, hotels and holiday lets; we don’t like to feel we’re blocking anyone’s view or parking spot. In the end we found a corner which wasn’t in front of anyone’s house. I don’t think it would have worked in high season but it just about worked for this weekend.

Sea wall at Criccieth

Shell Island

It’s been a week since we were in Shell Island, but we’ve had limited 3G/4G signal so it’s been difficult to post. This was also the last day of the mini heatwave, so if – as it is for us – the weather is currently drizzly and cold, hopefully this post will remind you that sometimes the sun did shine in June.

Shell Island is a sandy promontory on the coast west of Snowdonia and is reached by a causeway across tidal marshes. The causeway is closed for certain high tides but luckily for us the high tide was early in the morning so we didn’t have any hold ups. The campsite here covers a large area and is very busy and popular even in low season. It offers reasonable value pitches without any electric hook-ups but with a good selection of facilities on site, including very good showers, happy days.

We used the last of the hot weather to wash some clothes and get them dried. Paul sorted out a few odd jobs on the van. One of the jobs was to try and sort out the fridge, as we’d reported before it hadn’t been working consistently when on electric hook up. Paul had noticed some poor and unnecessary connections when he’d been doing some poking around in the van and he wanted to sort them out. Happy to report that since then the fridge and the electrical system in general have been much better behaved. 

One thing that I wanted to do while the weather was so warm was have a swim in the sea, so we walked down to the beach. The beach around Shell Island is extensive but quite rocky in places so there are a couple of main swimming areas (the pitches with easy access to these areas tend to be the busiest). The tide was coming in and the water was pleasantly warm where it was washing over the hot sand, it felt very Mediterranean. Swimming might be a bit of an overstatement, but I bobbed around in the waves for half an hour or so.

Overnight the temperature started dropping and a breeze started up, for which we were quite thankful. The next morning was bright and cheerful and much more suited to us.

For some reason we didn’t take any pictures while were here, so here is a picture of our fridge.

 

Downhill in Coed y Brenin

The weather was still very warm, but we decided we wanted something to do other than sit under our awning, so we took advantage of the campsite facilities for one last time before moving back the way we had come.

We didn’t go all the way back to Fairbourne, but stopped at the car park in Penmaenpool. From here we could easily cycle to Dolgellau and from there pick up one of a number of cycle routes.

View to the toll bridge from Penmaenpool. The bridge wouldn’t take Bertie’s weight.

Because of the heat we decided to head north from Dolgellau which would give us some cycling opportunities in the Coed-y-Brenin forest. What we didn’t realise was that Coed-y-Brenin is also home to a mountain biking centre with an extensive network of mountain bike trails and single-track.

Now when we set off on our travels Paul made me choose which bike to take with me, my mountain bike or the bike I had been using for commuting. And when I say he made me choose, what I mean is that he strongly suggested that I was only allowed to bring one bike and that should be my mountain bike.

I couldn’t fault his logic really, although a mountain bike isn’t as fast as a road bike it gives more flexibility. We can use them on terrain which would be challenging for a road bike or hybrid and that opens up more of the off-road routes that we (mostly) enjoy. However we haven’t used our mountain bikes for technical downhill trails for years, and when compared to modern mountain bikes they look pretty backwards, I haven’t even got disk brakes.

The cycle route followed the Afon Mawddach from Penmaenpool, through Dolgellau and then up into the forest where it eventually crosses a footbridge over the river. We stopped here to take in the view and have a quick refuel, the river runs through a steep sided gorge with multiple pools and waterfalls at this point, it was so warm it would have been nice to just dive in.

Cooling off by the river

Next to the bridge was a map of the downhill trails and we realised that we could pick up a number of trails that would take us back downhill without needing to retrace our steps. After a bit of a discussion about whether we were to old or too chicken to do it and whether our bikes would fall apart on the way down, we decided to go for it. So we bounced up and down 4 miles of red graded single track and had a great time. We may have looked a little odd, I’m not sure that many people go down these tracks with Panniers on their bikes and I know I made some strange noises on the way down, but we made it with nothing broken on us or the bikes.

The rest of the route back seemed very tame in comparison, we stopped for a bit of shopping in Dolgellau and them made it back to the carpark where we were going to stay overnight. Another motorhome joined us and then an extremely large bus sized German motorhome drove in, we looked at it with incredulity – how on earth did they expect to get parked? – and awe – how on earth had they managed the roads? – but they obviously decided that this wasn’t the parking spot for them, executed a 37 point turn and exited the car park. We saw them parked in a much more manageable layby the next morning.

While driving through Dolgellau we chanced upon a film crew who were filming a new TV series called Requiem. This was a bit of a pain as Dolgellau’s streets are quite narrow and the diversion was ‘interesting’. However it did allow us to do a bit of ogling of actors. Paul recognised Joel Fry straight away, the poor chap is always going to be the nice but dim Leighton from Trollied in Paul’s head, but we had to come back and google the rest.

 

If you cant stand the heat…get up a mountain

The weather was settling into heatwave territory, even Snowdonia expecting temperatures of 27 degrees, so we decided we needed to find a campsite where we could stretch out the awning and make the most of the shade it would offer.

So we stopped at a campsite in the village of Llanuwchllyn http://www.bwch-yn-uchaf.co.uk/. A pleasant campsite, we pitched ourselves in the top field where we could see the station for the Bala lake railway and watch the steam trains going backwards and forwards.

All alone in the campsite

 

 

Steam train ready to go

The location also gave us access to a walk up the Aran ridge in case we felt like it – which we did. One day of lazing in the shade is enough.

Our objective for Snowdonia is to tackle some hills that we haven’t climbed before. We have become creatures of habit in Snowdonia with Tryfan and Snowdon featuring in almost every trip we’ve done to date. To meet this objective I’d been studying the map, and Aran Fawddwy popped up as a good candidate for a substantial walk in southern Snowdonia.

We walked directly from the campsite and followed the well marked path all the way along the ridge as far as Aran Fawddwy before dropping down across featureless bog, through pleasant woodland and across fields to the village of Rhydymain. There was nothing particularly technically challenging about the walk, the most challenging thing was working out how to say Llanuwchllyn so that I could get the bus without too much embarrassment, but I was worried about two things – dehydration and thunderstorms.

Taking shelter from the sun

The temperature was still in the mid twenties so we took as much water as possible, our Camelbak reservoirs are ideal for this as you can drink while on the move without having to stop and find a water bottle. But we also had water bottles and our flasks (it might sound odd to take hot drinks on a walk in such high temperatures, but it’s all liquid), all of which were dry by the time we got back. The thunderstorms didn’t materialise in the end, although each passing aircraft sounded like a potential rumble of thunder. There is a cairn on the mountain in memory of a mountain rescue member who was killed by lightening, which hi-lights the risk especially when you’re the tallest point on a mountain ridge.

View along the Aran ridge

We nearly adopted a dog on the way back when we passed a farmhouse, but luckily a helpful lady we met near Rhydymain offered to take him back to his owners, he was known for going AWOL. IF we’d had to return him to the farmhouse we would have missed our bus and it would have been a long walk back.

That evening we were exhausted and too hot to cook for ourselves so took ourselves to the local pub Yr Eagles where we had a very nice meal. Standard pub meal choices but done well, including an exceptional Chocolate Torte for dessert. Just what we needed.

 

Up the Estuary

As we headed for our next stop – Fairbourne, just across the estuary from Barmouth – we had to pass through the lower slopes of the mountains of Snowdonia. Beautiful scenery, but all of that rock around means that instead of hedges the roadsides are mostly walled – slightly less forgiving if you need to pull in tight to let another vehicle pass. We had a few ‘breathe in Bertie’ moments but only one point where we met another motorhome and kissed wing mirrors, not too bad. 

Fairbourne, like Borth, is a seaside village with long sandy beaches, dunes and a golf course, but the Mawddach estuary has a cycle trail and kayaking and that’s why we were there.

View up the Mawddach estuary from Bertie’s parking spot

The parking spot at Fairbourne has a no Motorhome sign up, which we were assured we could ignore so long as we weren’t the type of person who leaves litter behind and dumps their toilet waste on the side of the road (who would?). It was also the busiest motorhome parking spot we had stayed at.

Bertie amongst many other motorhomes at Fairbourne

The weather had been very windy for the past couple of days – so much so that it was starting to drive us slightly nuts, one of many reasons why I could never be a lighthouse keeper. But we knew that the forecast was for the winds to drop and a spell of very warm weather to arrive. Plus the tides were ideal for kayaking with high tide in the early afternoon.

The plan was to head up the estuary a couple of hours in advance of the high tide, stop at the pub in Penmaenpool and then turn around and head back down to Fairbourne on the outgoing tide. The estuary is very shallow with numerous sandbanks and dead end channels so trying to navigate at low tide is pretty difficult.

We set off at 11:30 from our launch point, nice and close to our overnight parking spot so we didn’t have to carry the Kayak far, and navigated our way up the estuary. Behind us were three other paddlers – two Canadian style canoes and one sit-on-top kayak like ours. The paddle up was mostly easy – with only one Laurence of Arabia moment where we had to get out of the kayak and find our way across the dry and arid sandbar that seemed to stretch on forever in order to find the channel that we should have taken. 

‘Resting’ on a sandbar

We stopped for our pint at the George III inn before heading back. Route finding on the way back was easy, but fighting the strong breeze that was pushing us back up the estuary was a lot harder – we both had achy shoulders by the time we got back. 

We didn’t get round to cycling the estuary trail  the next day because it became really hot, too hot to do much except for escaping to a campsite where we could put the awning out and escape from the sun.    

Borth

Morrissey once sang about the ‘Seaside town they forgot to shut down’, and that’s what came to mind when we arrived in Borth, a town on the coast of Wales north of Aberystwyth. The long stretched out seafront, with closed shops and boarded up tourist attractions felt like it was being slowly, reluctantly mothballed. Only the golfers keeping it going.

The long crescent of Welsh coast between Pembrokeshire and the Lleyn peninsular looks as if someone has taken a bite out of it, and they are still nibbling away at the edges. In fact there are legends of medieval land that has been lost beneath the sea – the Cantref Gwaelod.

Whatever the truth of the legends, Borth has a fine example of a submerged forest, the stumps and roots of which can be seen at low tide. Originally preserved by being submerged under layers of peat, storm action has now uncovered sections of the (possibly)  6000 year old forest that will slowly start to decompose.

Submerged forest at low tide
Ancient tree roots looking eerily like a woman trying to drag herself up the sand

Borth’s other draw, in common with a lot of beaches around this area, is the expanse of sand dunes. We spent some time climbing and descending the dunes until rising winds drove us back to Bertie.

Playing in the dunes

It’s a place where you could spend a day or two, so maybe my first impression was a little unfair. 

Sunset from Borth

 

 

Midge Attack

Never let it be said that midges are a Scottish phenomenon.

Our next stopping point was the reservoir of Nant-y-Moch, by the head of the dam was a wide parking spot with a view down the valley where we chose to stay for a couple of nights. It was strangely busy during the day with passing vehicles using the small road between the A44 and A487 and double articulated logging lorries managing the single track lanes with far more confidence than we managed.

Maybe we should have expected the midges, as we headed up the road to the reservoir we commented on the way it felt like the nighlands – long stretches of single track road, but with long views as well, so you could usually see what was coming. On the final approach to the parking spot there were highland cattle grazing by the road. The weather was mild and damp. Of course there were midges. Thousands of the blighters.

After a quick walk we decided to hole up for the rest of the afternoon and evening and shut down the van – even so a few managed to find a way in, every vent was fair game, and it was pointless using the flyscreens as they could get through the mesh.

Bertie’s parking spot seen through the mist

At one point we thought we were going to have company as a VW van pulled up across the parking space, opened his doors and put out cycling gear to dry. Less than half an hour later he was off, doors slammed in disgust and top still popped up as he raced away to escape the midges. When we saw him round the next bend he had thankfully stopped to put his roof down.

The next day dawned brighter and midge free, Bertie was covered in rivulets of dead midges who must have all decided that Bertie made the ideal final resting place.

We thought we would go for a bike ride round the reservoir, the OS map showed roads, tracks and bridleways that went all of the way around so off we trundled.

We fell at the first hurdle, where the landowner obviously didn’t care that the track was marked as a public right of way and had padlocked his gates. After looking at the map we realised we’d be spending a lot of time lifting our bikes over gates if we continued down this route – so we retraced our steps and took a slightly longer route. There were a few exciting sections with a number of rivers to ford (the trick is just to go for it and keep peddling – we got wet but it was a nice day so no harm done) and some very rocky sections of track that had to be walked. We saw lots of kites and buzzards and fighter jets passing overhead. All in all it was going well until we hit a point where the track ended and the bridleway ahead passed over some boggy ground.

It’s always a bit of a gamble when planning a bike ride using bridleways. Horses can manage far more varied terrain than a bike (especially a bike powered by me) so generally we avoid anything that looks too steep, I now know to avoid bogs and marshes too. We tried to keep to the line of the path – but there was no path and we ended up having to push and carry our bikes through about a mile of grassy tussocks and boggy ditches, by the end we walked down the river as it was the path of least resistance. To top it off a herd of cows decided to make a combined run towards us which scared the living daylights out of me. Paul made some farmerish noises at them though and they begrudgingly stopped and watched us like a bunch of surly teenagers as we struggled past. It wasn’t fun, the only upside was that we could see where the track started again and after that it was a short two and half miles back to the van. In hindsight though I’d rather have turned around and retraced my steps! 

Trainers drying on Bertie’s dash after a soggy bike ride

 

Ystwyth yomp

We fancied doing the cycle trail alongside the Ystwyth river so scouted round for a parking spot, something that we could access easily with Bertie and would place us on the cycle path at a reasonable distance from Aberystwyth.

As an aside, I think I knew that the ‘Aber’ in welsh place names meant river mouth and preceded the name of the river, just like the suffix ‘mouth’ in Exmouth, but it still managed to surprise me that there was a river called the Ystwyth.

The parking spot we found was a picnic area near Trawscoed (translated quite literally on some maps as Crosswood – it wasn’t angry, just on a crossroads), a lovely spot with plenty of parking and picnic benches by the river. Although we hadn’t been planning to stay overnight we decided that we would be missing out if we moved on, it was a very quiet spot mostly used by dog walkers although we did see one suspicious transaction (man drove in, looked around and then left, second man arrives and gets out his phone, first man comes back, exchanges something with second man and then leaves, second man walks his dogs…hmmm. First man could have at least pretended to be making use of the car park – his undercover operations skills need some work I think), and there were a couple of pleasant short walks along the river banks.

Trawscoed parking spot, the only problem with parking under the trees is that the solar panels don’t charge as quickly.

 

Now it was only ten miles into Aberystwyth, so not a long cycle ride by any stretch, and on a cycle route that promised to be very flat as it followed the river nearly all the way and the only gradient was where it met the coast. But this wasn’t going to be about pushing ourselves, we just wanted to enjoy more of the lovely scenery we had walked through the day before, that mixture of deciduous woodland, river and coast.

It didn’t disappoint, the sun shone sporadically through the clouds, bringing summer warmth whenever it managed to break through. We had a pleasant meander through Aberystwyth, going round in circles as we tried to break out of the one way system. On the way back we stopped to have a picnic on the pebbled river bank where Paul saw a kingfisher, his second of this trip, yet again I missed it – I’m beginning to think he makes these sightings up! 

View across Aberystwyth from the castle
Springy suspension bridge across the Ystwyth
View down the Ystwyth river

 

An embarassment of kites

In my head, the Red Kite is a rare and infrequently seen bird, but here in mid wales that certainly is not the case. And in fact, reading the RSPB pages about Red Kites, they are now so numerous that they no longer count the number of breeding pairs.

That doesn’t stop me being captivated when we see them though, there is something about the way that they fly, soaring through the sky, twisting their distinctive tail to use as a rudder. Effortless elegance that belies their mediaeval reputation as carrion eaters. 

After our short trip inland we turned back to the coast, in Ceredigion now rather than Pembrokeshire, so the coast is losing some of it’s crinkled cragginess and tending towards a more expansive geography with open bays, wide river mouths and long straight cliffs.

Our first spot was near Llanryhstud, where we walked along the coast path towards Aberystwyth before heading back inland and completing a circular walk by taking little used paths through wooded valleys, fields and villages.

Enormous parasol mushroom seen along the coastpath

It was at Llanryhstud that we saw our larges numbers of red kites yet, floating over the caravan parks were at least a dozen of them, occasionally swooping down low but mostly circling at height. We stopped to watch them for a while, wishing for a better camera and the skill to use it. Further along the path we also saw kestrels hovering, a completely different type of flight.

One of the red kites swooping overhead

The wind blew us along the cliffs but the sun was shining, we could see Aberystwyth in the distance but decided against going all the way and turned off across fields and the main road to  Llanddeiniol, from there we took footpaths that had seen little recent maintenance, including a bridge that had been swept loose from the banks of the stream, leaving us with a practical challenge. A few stones later and we had created a couple of points in the flow that we could use as stepping stones.   

Footbridge to nowhere

We were facing due west across the sea that evening and had high hopes of a glorious sunset, but sadly the clouds came in and obscured the sun for all but the last couple of minutes.  

Bertie’s parking spot near Llanrhystud

Something different?

Our search for something different took us inland to Newcastle Emlyn where we visited the Wool Museum and a local food festival.

I found the Wool museum very engaging for a couple of hours, it’s one of the National Welsh Museums and so entry is free. Paul was there on sufferance initially but couldn’t help being won over by the tools and machinery on display. Through the exhibits it charts the history of this particular mill, established in the early twentieth century, as well as providing a more general overview of the history of the wool industry in Wales. On the site there is also a small working woollen mill, Melin Teifi, which produces blankets, shawls and other woollen fabrics and clothing. You can access a viewing gallery that runs across their workshops and see them at work. I think I would find it quite uncomfortable to be watched in such a way when I was at work.

Attaching the warp threads
Loading the bobbins
Operating the loom

Reading and listening to the exhibits in the museum you can see how much life changed between the beginning of the century, when production of wool and cloth was mostly home based and highly manual, work for women during the winter months, and the end of the century when it was almost completely automated with foreign manufacturers  putting the woollen mills of wales out of business. The machinery being used by the Melin Teifi woollen mill now seems old fashioned and ‘manual’ even though in it’s time it would have been the height of automation.

And in looking at the changes over time you cant help being grateful for the advances in industrial capability across the world; it may have introduced pollution and excessive consumerism, but it also has given us our leisure time, enabled people of all classes to access education and allowed us to start to reduce discrimination based on sex, class or race. I’m not saying that it’s all rosy, but I would rather today’s advantages than the feudal systems that came before where the majority of us would be working from dawn till dusk.

We stayed at Dolbryn campsite, a couple of miles outside of Newcastle Emlyn, the campsite was just over the top of our budget but made up for it in particular with lovely hot water under good pressure, there is nothing as nice as a good shower after you have been showering in the motorhome for a few days.

One of the Dolbryn pigs

The food festival was in the town which was a couple of miles away. We could have driven down but we’d had enough trouble finding a parking space the previous day so we decided to walk instead. It was wet, very wet. We wore our waterproof jackets and waterproof trousers but still it was wet. The two miles down to town went ok, but on the way back it was wet, in our faces windy and uphill. Thank goodness for the pie we had bought for tea, and for those hot showers of course.  

Cooking on Gas

We left the Pembrokeshire coast looking for something a bit different to do while the rain continued to fall on us.

We drove to our next wild camping spot a bit further inland, using winding roads that followed the course of the Teifi river. The river was running high, brown and churning from all of the recent wet weather. Near to Cenarth we found a forestry commission spot up a steep track in the woods and made ourselves as level as possible so that we could get set up and then pop out for a bike ride.

But our plans had to change when we found our gas supplies were running low. Possibly this was a blessing as the afternoon showers ended up merging into each other and it would have been a bit damp.

The motorhome has two main sources of power, the 12volt electrical supply and propane/butane gas. The gas supply provides us with hot water, heating, hob and oven and (possibly surprisingly) it also powers the fridge freezer – the 12volt electrical supply just isn’t powerful enough unless the engine is running.

We obviously want the fridge freezer to run all of the time, otherwise we could be in a food poisoning inducing situation with our food freezing and then defrosting; the fridge freezer in the motorhome is designed to ensure that this doesn’t happen and will (with occasional encouragement) switch between power sources. When we are travelling our fridge is powered via the starter battery, when we stop the engine it should automatically switch over to gas and if we are on electric hook up it should use the 230volt electricity supply as a priority. This means that we have power to the fridge all of the time – until we run out of gas.

We had noticed that the fridge’s automatic switch between power supplies was being a bit temperamental. It would sometimes need a bit of help (turning off and on again – the standard IT practice for any equipment that doesn’t work) to switch to gas after the engine had been running. Also it had not been switching onto the 230volt supply when we were on hookup and again needed some encouragement – this time by turning off the gas supply to force it to consider other options.

Because of the latter we had used more gas than expected. And because the gauges that come as standard on gas bottles are notoriously unreliable we weren’t really sure how much gas we had used. When we reached our parking spot the fridge was refusing to work on gas, we could hear the constant ticking of the ignition, but the little red LED kept flashing. So that was it, we decided to go and top up the gas.

We have opted for a refillable gas system in our van, which Paul has installed, with two 11kg bottles that should hold about 40 litres of LPG. We went for GAS IT, one of a few popular providers of cylinders, tanks and other fittings. This replaced the standard set up of CALOR gas bottles which have to be exchanged at a supplier. Installation was relatively straightforward with the main issue being working out how to fit the bottles and connecting pipes into the small space without any kinks. We now have an external fill point (much easier than opening the hatch each time) from which we can fill both bottles.

The idea of a refillable system is to save money, allow us to carry more gas, and (when abroad) to more conveniently top up as CALOR is not often found overseas and foreign exchangeable gas bottles need different fittings.

Financially this option works for our long term touring situation where we are often wild camping and so using gas rather than electric. We should be able to go to any Autogas pump and fill up at about 57p a litre (current UK prices). A normal 6kg CALOR bottle should hold about 11.5 litres of gas which would cost  £6.56 at the pump, yet 6kg CALOR bottles are about £23 to exchange. With our initial outlay of £320, we should see payback after about 200 litres of gas, or 300 litres assuming we switched to the more economic 13kg CALOR bottles. If we carry on using gas the rate we have been then we’ll be breaking even before a year is up – we’re keeping track and will let you know.

So off we went to find a filling station with LPG, but of course it’s not found everywhere. After a failed attempt at a Texaco garage we were directed to the town of Llandysul where we found a gas supplier hidden behind a fruit and veg warehouse. The myLPG.eu app comes in useful, but seemingly isn’t always up to date.  

When we’d finally managed to fill up (including a lesson on resetting the pump from a very helpful chap at West Wales Gas) we returned to our parking spot. This wasn’t the best place we have stayed. There was a couple who went for a walk and then got up to something very steam inducing in their car, and a lad who obviously felt we had taken up his donut-ing arena and was reduced to a few handbrake turns and some very loud revving before he got bored and left us to a bit of peace and quiet for the rest of the evening. 

When the sun shines

It’s still raining as I write this, but I thought I’d share the sunny side of the last seven days, as there was quite a bit of sunshine and it might cheer me up.

Our first spot was Martin’s Haven, a National Trust spot at the end of the Dale peninsular. We drove down to the car park through single track lanes early in the morning to try to avoid meeting any cars coming in the other direction (this was where we picked up all of those pesky seeds that we had to clean off in the rain) and got parked up for free courtesy of our National Trust membership. However there were clear signs prohibiting overnight parking, and although we would have got away with it so long as we had left early the next morning before the parking attendants turned up, we decided not to chance it. We don’t really like early mornings.

While we were there though we took a walk around the peninsular to the village of Marloes (where there was a pub of course, for a quick pint). The views from the peninsular of Skomer Island were beautiful and the currents around the headland made for fascinating watching as they clashed and formed whirlpools. In the many inlets we saw seals bobbing about in the foam, just their dog-like heads poking above the water as they took shelter from the wilder waters of the open sea.

View to Skokholm island from the south of Dale peninsular
Boats taking shelter in the bay between Dale and St Davids Headland

We could have launched the kayak from the sheltered beach at Martin’s Haven, but after our walk we were a bit tired so we contented ourselves with watching a couple of other motorhomers in their sea kayaks (which are lean and efficient for cutting through the waves, unlike our fat but stable sit-on-top kayak).

Our next potential spot for a bit of Kayaking was Dale, a free parking spot just before the village next to the lagoon which sits behind the bay. We drove from Martin’s Haven the short distance to Dale. This time we weren’t so lucky in the narrow lanes and met a local bus service, the ‘Puffin Shuttle’, head on. The bus driver was very friendly though and reversed up to let us pass – they must get used to it. This was our first encounter with the Pembrokeshire coastal bus services which are a fabulous service for walkers as well as locals, covering the majority of the coastline of Pembrokeshire and enabling you to do walks in one direction rather than having to go there and back again. A single ticket is only £1.70 which is a bargain. We quickly learned to check their timetables to avoid meeting them in difficult spots.  

When we got to the carpark near Dale it was low tide and the water was a distance across mud and sand, so we didn’t know how great it would be for launching, but we made our dinner and watched the shore from Bertie and gradually the tide came in and covered the bay. As the sun set, we could see the lights of the industrial facilities at Milford Haven twinkling in the distance. 

View from Bertie across Dale bay at low tide

We kayaked around the bay the following day, zig-zagging across the bay in search of the perfect fishing spot, but no luck with the fish. We stopped on the beach at Dale village itself to watch other people indulging in various watersports; kayaking, sailing, SUP and fishing. No one else was having any luck with the fish either so at least we weren’t alone. By the time we got back to our parking spot about four hours later my arms were aching, Paul often compares my arms to those of a tyrannosaurus – of no known use for anything (how insulting), but I agree I relied on him to do a lot of the hard work.

Because we hadn’t caught any fish we cycled up to a nearby house where they were selling lobsters and crab from an outbuilding in the garden, and picked up a couple of crabs for tea, yum.

We’d now had four nights of wild camping on the trot and the toilet was getting dangerously full, we had obviously made more use of public toilets last time. So we booked up a campsite near St Davids, we also knew that the rain and strong winds were due in so felt more comfortable hunkering down in a campsite.

When we got the campsite there was still an afternoon of good weather to take advantage of, so we walked around the coast from St David’s searching for good fishing spots. This time Paul was fishing from the rocks rather than the kayak, and he had a bit more success, but still no Mackerel for my tea, just a couple of launce and a small pollack that had to go back in the water.

At least it was something, even if it was just a launce

Our last spell of good weather and our last couple of days on the Pembrokeshire coast were spent walking, the first day we walked along the coast from Abereiddi through the pretty villages of Porthgain and Abercastle before getting the coastal bus back, the second day we walked around Dinas Head. The coast between Abereiddi and Abercastle has many relics of the slate mining industry; old quarry sites, including the blue lagoon where a school group were having fun (I think that’s what the screams were) jumping into the deep water, ruined mine buildings and the harbours which had at one time been important transport links and are now quiet pretty villages that seemed to be mostly holiday lets or second homes. Dinas Head on the other hand was wilder and we sat on the edge of the cliffs watching the sea birds on their rocky islet, gulls and guillemots sat on the rocks or bobbed up and down on the waves and a solitary gannet made it’s spectacular plunging dives into the sea.

The white markers once used to guide boats into the harbour at Porthgain
Buildings in Porthgain harbour, relics of the mining era

As you can see from the photos, we had plenty of good weather in between the rain, and that’s one thing our extended journey allows – we can take advantage of those good spells. Now we’re leaving the Pembrokeshire cost behind us as we head inland for a bit of a change.

When it rains…

Since our last post we’ve now had a whole week staying in coastal locations. Not time travel, but up till now I have been running a little behind the current date.

During this time we have seen some lovely sunshine, but also had a deep low pressure system deliver 24 hours of strong winds and constant rain. And as I write, the next low pressure system is overhead, promising another 24 hours of rain but thankfully not the gale force winds that we had a few days ago.

Rain on the windscreen

Passing time in the rain is quite difficult when you’re trapped in a small space. We both have jobs to do, but when it’s really torrential and we cant leave the van there isn’t the space for both of us to get on with those jobs. And we’re trapped in our seats – we don’t have much room to get up and move around. It would be fair to say that we get a little stir crazy. On top of that the noise of the rain and wind can be quite loud. So neither of us get a good night’s sleep and we end up a bit fractious.

So what have we done while it’s been raining? 

Paul has been out and cleaned Bertie. Bertie had managed to get covered in vegetation and seeds when we drove down some narrow country lanes, so we (Paul) took advantage of the rain to give Bertie a brush and remove all the bits.

I have done some sewing – finishing off the pockets I’ve been making to hang in the bedroom – I’ll now have somewhere in easy reach to keep my kindle, glasses and other bits and bobs overnight.

We have finished off watching the TV programmes we downloaded before we set off.

I made scones and we had a cream tea to cheer ourselves up.

We have played a lot of cards, Yahtzee and scrabble. We really need to learn some more two player card games as Crib is starting to get a bit stale.

We have finished off watching the TV programmes we downloaded before we set off.

One downside of the rain is finding out that Bertie has a leaky rooflight. The leak seems to be dependent on the direction of the wind, so we don’t get drips all of the time, but it’s a definite problem that we’ll have to resolve when we get some dry weather. Quite probably this is our fault, we’ve done quite a lot of walking around on the roof, installing the solar panels and working out how we’re going to transport, raise and lower the kayak. All that weight on the roof can cause it to flex which can make the sealant let go and leave gaps for the water to get in.

We now know that we’re going to have to get ourselves a bit better prepared for the rainy days. We’ll be sorting out some films and TV to keep us entertained and using things like our National Trust membership for some indoors days out.

Castles and Coastline

Our plan was to head west to the Pembrokeshire coast, we’ve missed the sea since we left Exmouth.

First though we needed to find somewhere to stay the night after visiting the Welsh National Gardens, a wild camping spot was found not far away next to Dryslwyn Castle where there was a car park and picnic area below the castle on it’s hill and next to the winding river Towy which we had followed down from Llyn Brianne the previous night.

The next morning we had a quick walk up to the castle, a jumbled collection of stone walls and foundations from the thirteenth century onwards which was more impressive than it had looked from the road and had commanding views of the whole landscape. Just as we started down a fighter jet flew past low over our heads and then banked around and flew past again – a little air display just for us (the sheep didn’t seem to be too bothered).

View from Dryslwyn Castle

The weather looked like it was going to be better than expected over the next couple of days, so we jumped into Bertie and set off for the coast. First stop was Skrinkle Haven where we found a car park on the headland just beyond the youth hostel. We parked up and looked for any ‘no overnight parking’ restrictions. Good news, we could stay overnight, as could the three other motorhomes who turned up later and circled around their very own corral, presumably to keep out the natives, or maybe to defend themselves from the young people who ventured up from the Youth Hostel later that evening with their guitars and sang us to sleep with renditions of Ed Sheeran songs.

Parked up, we ventured out along the coast where the geology of the area could be seen in it’s full – 90 degrees to normality – glory. The layers of rock pointing vertically from the ground mean that there are many caves, stacks, holes and arches along the coast. Skrinkle Haven beach itself could only be reached at low tide – which we had missed – so we peered through the small cave that separated it from the accessible Church Doors beach and said that of course we would have wriggled through, if only the tide was low enough.

Church Doors and Skrinkle Haven beaches

We walked as far as Manorbier, Paul saw an ice-cream van and so we had to stop and eat ice creams while admiring the outside of Manorbier castle, no cash to spend on the entry fee after spending on ice-creams!

Back at Bertie for the evening we have a fabulous view over the bay and watched fishermen on the cliffs opposite us. I have no idea how they landed their catch (if they managed to catch anything) as they must have been a good 5 or 6 meters above the sea.  

 

Gardens and Greenhouses

We moved on from Rhandirmwyn on a grey and miserable morning, not sure what we would do to fill our day. We had thought about going to the Welsh National Botanic Gardens, but didn’t really want to trudge round gardens in the rain and indoor entertainment opportunities were limited.

While we made up our mind we headed west and popped into an Aldi to pick up some more shopping. We seem to be stopping for food far more often that we would normally shop at home – I think it’s because we haven’t got used to the food storage in the van. At home we had two freezers, a large fridge and more cupboards than anyone rightly needed, this meant that we could stockpile the basic essentials like bread and milk as well as the not so basic (did I really need 50 different spices? some of them were well past their sell by date), and needed less trips to the shops. In the van we have a very small freezer, reasonable fridge and a cupboard that does hold a lot, but is a right pain to find anything in. Anyway, this means that we cant put a loaf of bread or a couple of pints of milk in the freezer for emergencies and whenever we pop to the shops to buy a loaf of bread a few other things find their way into the basket.

Outside Aldi we bumped into another motor-homer and mentioned our predicament (where to go for the day – not our shopping habits). Don’t worry, he said about the gardens, it’s mostly inside anyway. And although he was wrong (the greenhouse is the main event, but there are a number of outside garden areas) we’re glad that he encouraged us to go.

If the weather had been better we would have parked up and cycled into the gardens to take advantage of the half price entry for cyclists. But to be honest it was just too miserable, so we parked up in the coach car park and went into the ticket office. When I explained that we had a motorhome and were parked in the coach car park, the chap who served us asked if we wanted to stay overnight. Sounds like a plan we thought, nice and easy, but sadly it was a Britstops location and as we’re not members the manager wouldn’t let us stay – boo.

The day started to get brighter as we walked around the gardens, the enjoyment a little muted as we don’t have a garden of our own anymore so any thoughts about plants that we would like are going to have to be filed away for the future.

The single span greenhouse (the largest in the world) was impressively inset into the hill and had a meandering path around two levels of plants that thrive in Mediterranean climates from Australia to California. There was a tropical glasshouse with butterflies which I could have stayed in for ages (mostly to warm me up). Outside there was a bird of prey demonstration with a Golden Eagle, Sea Eagle and several smaller birds, where we found out that the British Birds of Prey centre is going to be sited in the gardens and should be open next year. When the rain seemed to have died away we walked around the walled gardens and the lakes, where Paul spotted an otter – I didn’t, all I got was the swish of the vegetation and the ‘plop’ as it disappeared.

Inside the single span greenhouse designed by Norman Foster
The Great Glasshouse from the outside
Butterfly in the tropical glasshouse

My favourite part though, and only a small thing, was the stream that runs down the main path through the gardens, it snakes through various features and geological exhibits and at one point disappears down a hole and bubbles back up again a few meters later, I want one!

After a few hours the sun was threatening to actually make an appearance and we headed off to find somewhere to sleep for the night.       

 

Enjoying some peace and quiet?

We made our way down from the Brecons to spend a couple of nights in a campsite, we had a few sweaty garments to wash and a few tweaks to make to Bertie so access to a washing machine and mains electricity were going to be useful.

The north side of the Beacons is definitely more bucolic than the south, with whitewashed houses, farms and winding lanes – amazing how the landscape can change.

We stayed in a camping and caravanning club site – expensive and I’m not convinced that membership has been worth it. But hey ho, we’ve been members since summer last year and every now and again we get a discount on something.

Paul fitted some additional 12volt sockets in Bertie. We have a few 12v sockets already, but they are European style sockets and we only have USB adaptors for them. Some of the appliances we’re running on 12volts (ie the laptop) have chargers that need a British (cigarette lighter) style socket. So Paul picked up a couple from Halfords, cut a few holes in Bertie and set it all up. I’m glad he feels confident doing this type of thing as the thought of operating on Bertie makes me quite nervous. The addition of these sockets will allow us to be more independent and require a hook up less often, which will be good for the budget.

Paul fitting an extra 12volt socket

We had been warned that the campsite was very ‘away from it all’ so we knew there wasn’t going to be any phone reception or 3G/4G signal. We didn’t think it would be a big deal. However we realised that we do like a bit of background music, and there was no radio reception. Never mind, we thought we had some tunes on our phones – but actually we didn’t. Owing to previously having a phone with very little memory I’d tidied up my music, this meant I had a very small and odd selection of music available to me – none of which were appealing to Paul apart from David Bowie’s greatest hits, which we became very well acquainted with. We’ll be better prepared next time!.

We did manage one good long bike ride from the campsite up (and up, and up, and down a bit, and then up again…you get the picture) to Llyn Brianne, a large reservoir spreading across a number of flooded valleys. The long slog was worth it though when we spotted Red Kites flying over the lake and forest. We also found one spot where we could get some signal and stood by the side of the road doing a spot of admin – may have looked a bit odd to passing traffic, if there was any.

View over Llyn Brianne

May 2017 Summary

So here we are, at the end of May, and although we haven’t quite done a whole calendar month’s living in the Motorhome I thought I would provide a summary of what’s gone so far. So here goes:

Nights Away

We have spent 24 nights in the motorhome, 16 have been in campsites, one in paid parking and 7 free wild camping spots.

This has made our average cost of camping £11.40 per night. Not too bad in the UK, especially considering the first couple of weeks were spent doing practical stuff and visiting family. Here’s a map of where we stayed.

How far have we travelled?

We have done 442 miles and spent £169 on fuel to do so (although we still have quite a full tank).

Other living costs

We have spent £283 on groceries, and an additional £172 on eating out (including drinks and ice-creams). Despite vowing that I would do all washing by hand, this only lasted one wash, and we have spent £14.50 on washing, finding that campsite washing machines are generally far better value than launderettes.

What else have we learned?

Well, for starters our toilet capacity is not the deciding factor when it comes to the number of nights we can spend wild camping; unless we’re willing to subject each other to rancid B.O our water capacity is going to be the thing that brings us into a campsite until we work out the best places to fill up with water.

Vitally, Lidl cider is beating Aldi cider as best budget cider brand (as judged by Paul), at 50p a can it’s not bad value and is keeping us (mostly) out of the pub – apart from those important sporting events of course.

And a free night’s sleep is not worth it if it’s not a quiet night’s sleep, choosing a parking spot wisely is important. Just as key is somewhere where we have access to either the internet or at least a radio. The campsite in Rhandimwryn, peaceful and tranquil as it was, left us with two nights spent with only the music on my phone to entertain us – and Paul is not appreciative of my music taste (a combination of David Bowie, Steeleye Span, Bjork and Laura Brannigan – don’t ask!). 

Now we’re venturing into flaming June, and we’ll have to see how we fare now that we’re getting into the swing of things.