Mackerel

23/08/17

We decided to move to New England Bay the following day. There is a large picnic area here right next to the beach and we had seen people wild camping in tents as well as campervans on the previous day’s bike ride.

I did have a concern with using this as an overnight spot because it is right at the entrance to a campsite, in fact you drive through the picnic spot to get to the campsite. One of our guidelines for choosing an overnight wild camping spot is not to park in direct line of sight of a campsite, this avoids bad feeling from campsite owners who might feel they are missing out on trade and can often be the driving force behind a lot of the unenforceable but off-putting ‘No Overnight Camping’ signs.

Getting ready for kayaking at New England Bay picnic area

We agreed that we would go out fishing and then decide what to do. In the end we decided to stay at the campsite because we still had a lot of the day left, it was pleasant weather and we could do our laundry and hang it out to dry. This was our first campsite for over a week and was a Caravan Club location. We are members of the Caravan Club but I’m not a fan, the main sites are pretty expensive and overly regimented. However it was in a lovely location and had all the facilities we needed. We kept the cost down by asking for a non electric pitch which came as a surprise to one of the wardens who asked us twice whether that was really what we wanted – they only have a couple such pitches and didn’t seem to believe that we could cope without it.

We launched the kayak from the shallow sloping shingle beach in front of the picnic area and paddled out into the bay, trying to gauge how the wind and current would move us. Ideally we would paddle out and then fish as we drift, which worked here with a few corrective paddles to stop us from floating out into the centre of the bay. We could see cormorants, gulls and gannets diving for fish, so we knew there must be something around. And there was, mackerel, lots of mackerel. Luckily mackerel is our favourite eating fish, but we couldn’t get through the mackerel to catch anything else. We decided to limit our catch to 6 large mackerel, but we must have caught and released 50 or more small mackerel in our efforts to catch something else. There were plenty of other fishing boats, including some kayaks, in the bay and I wondered if they were having the same problem. A bass would have been nice for a bit of a change.

View from the Kayak

Most sport angling boats in the Bay of Luce go out tope fishing but I don’t have any interest in tope a) you can’t eat it, because they have to be released, and b) they are too big. I have seen pictures of kayak fishermen who have caught tope and wrestled them onto their kayak for the trophy photo. I entertained myself by wondering what I would do if I inadvertently ended up with a tope on my line. I decided that I would probably panic and then capsize, or possibly be dragged out to sea never to be seen again.

After a couple of hours or so of catching mackerel the wind started whipping up white horses on the water and my legs were starting to goose pimple so we called it a day and paddled back in, feeling happy that we had managed to catch something after our (Paul’s) disappointing record so far.

I cooked up all of the mackerel that evening, simply wrapped in foil with butter and lemon. What we couldn’t eat that day went into our rolls for lunch the next day. Full of Mackerel and with our laundry clean and blown perfectly dry by sea breezes we were two happy people.

Rhinns and Mulls

21/08/17 – 22/08/17

From the Isle of Whithorn we were heading to the Rhinns of Galloway, the word Rhinns (or Rhins) is derived from the Gaelic for point or headland, and the Rhinns of Galloway is a hammerhead shaped peninsular on the far west of the mainland. We drove along deserted roads, following the coast for a while. Under the grey sky, the grey sea and grey beaches looked bleak and lonely.
We stopped off in Stranraer for a bit of grocery shopping and to refuel. Then we made our way south to take a look at a few possible parking spots, we wanted somewhere with a sea view and there were lots of possibilities around the peninsular. In the end we decided on Port Logan, there was a car park at the north end of the beach close to the Port Logan fishpond; an intriguing little tourist attraction, the fishpond was created from an existing geographic feature in 1788 as a larder for live fish. Now it’s used as an aquarium and holds lots of native species of fish. 

Bertie’s view from the Port Logan parking spot

A Thomas Telford designed quay and bell tower protect the southern end of the beach. It strikes me that most of the impressive engineering projects we have seen in Wales and Scotland have had something to do with Thomas Telford, I don’t know if he is the most prolific British engineer but it certainly feels like it.

Looking across the bay to Port Logan and the quay

We took a walk down the beach to check out the village, tempted by the mug of ale symbol on the ordnance survey map, but unfortunately the hotel/pub was shut and looked like it was undergoing renovation or conversion.
That night we had a lovely quiet night’s sleep, one other campervan joined us in the car park, they were off to catch the ferry to Ireland the next morning.
We decided to go on a bike ride the next day, so we headed out to the Mull of Galloway, the most southerly point in Scotland (Mull is derived from a Gaelic work for bare or barren and is often applied to headlands i.e. Mull of Kintyre) home to a lighthouse and an RSPB reserve. As we approached the Mull the cloud got lower and lower so that we were cycling through fog and all we could see was the road seemingly endlessly uphill in front of us. The fog lifted slightly as we got to the lighthouse so we saw the building being unveiled before our eyes.

Mist shrouded lighthouse at the Mull of Galloway

From here we took a short walk around the headland and stopped for a spot of lunch. We didn’t spot much of interest, nesting season is over and although we could see flocks of sea birds out to sea it was mostly pigeons on the rocks.
We cycled back along the east coast of the Rhinns before we cut back across to Port Logan, this gave us the opportunity to look at a few possible parking spots for the next day. The forecast was for sun so we were planning to take the Kayak out.

In the footsteps of pilgrims … almost

19/08/17 – 20/08/17

Because of my usual tardiness in posting the blog I have decided to label each post with the date(s) it pertains to. That way you, the reader, and I, the forgetful and occasionally off-grid author, have a point of reference.

Still heading west we moved onto the Isle of Whithorn, not an island any more but a peninsular linked to the mainland by a causway. On the way we passed through the Galloway countryside with it’s lush green forests, equally verdant farmland and the many herds of cows that contribute to some of Galloway’s dairy products.
The parking spot just past the harbour on the Isle of Whithorn was more like a small informal campsite with people in caravans and tents as well as campervans and motorhomes. We parked with a view across the bay and harbour, very picturesque.

Bertie’s parking spot and view at the Isle of Whithorn

We set off on a walk towards St Ninian’s Cave. St Ninian was a pictish saint who was said to have introduced Christianity to the southwest of Scotland, and the Isle of Whithorn is a place of pilgrimage The remains of St Ninian’s chapel are on the headland and a cairn stones sits within the walls of the old lifeguard building, stones are placed by pilgrims (and others I expect) in remembrance of people and pets. The headland also has a lighthouse and the remains of an Iron Age fort.  

Remembrance cairn with the ruined St Ninian’s chapel in the background

As we walked along the coast the wind was blowing strongly directly at us and we only managed to get as far as Burrow Head before it started to be too much for us and we turned around. So we didn’t get to St Ninian’s cave, but we did see plenty of interesting rock formations in the folded layers of rock along the coast. At Jamie’s Hole (I don’t know who Jamie was or why his hole was significant) we stopped to watch the seals that were beaching themselves in anticipation of the low tide. We have seen seals on the majority of our coastal walks but we never tire of them.

The devil’s staircase – one of the rock formations along this stretch of coast

The wind didn’t show any sign of easing and that evening Paul did his good deed of the day by lending our windbreak to a group who were trying to BBQ, we were glad to be cooking in Bertie.

The following day we walked in the other direction and Paul took his fishing gear. The wind had abated and the hazy cloud was letting through plenty of sunlight and warmth. Paul fished while I clambered around the rocks looking for interesting things, I found some pellets, presumably regurgitated by a seabird (not as repellent as it sounds), and the remains of a couple of lobsters which may have been dinner for otters (lucky them). There were plenty of seabirds flying around and fishing boats out to sea.

Looking for fishing spots

To the south we could see the silhouette of the Isle of Man (on the headland at the Isle of Whithorn there is a memorial to the crew of the Solway Harvester, a tragic loss of young lives in the Irish Sea), we could also see the northern fells of the lake district in the distance.

The lighthouse tower on the Isle of Whithorn

Paul’s fishing didn’t leave us with anything we could take home, pretty standard at the moment. The one mackerel he caught was thrown to a waiting seal who was very inquisitive, but also camera shy – every time I went to take a picture he dived underwater. Whether the seal found the mackerel or was even interested I don’t know.

That evening the car park was full, we wondered if there was something going on at the local pub, but it turned out that there was a church service taking place on the harbour along with a brass band. The minister had a strong voice which carried across to Bertie so we could hear his sermon as well as the hymns being sung.

We had a lovely couple of days at the Isle of Whithorn, I can imagine that it gets really busy on a sunny day so perhaps we were lucky that the weather wasn’t perfect.

7 Stanes

The next day we moved on. It seemed that most people at Glencaple were breaking their journey to go further north, but we were heading west deeper into Dumfries and Galloway. It was a day of sunshine and showers, the type of day where everything is sparkling and jewel like, the sun tempts you out but the heavens could open any minute and drench you.

We stopped off at one of the 7 Stanes mountain biking centres for a little bit of a bike ride. There are (no surprise) 7 of these centres in the Southern Uplands, each managed by the forestry commission and each of them home to mountain bike trails. This time we did a short 9 mile blue circuit which had a few bits of fun single track but was mostly on the forestry commission trails. I’m in a position where I find the blue trails too easy and sometimes a bit boring, but parts of the red trails scare the bejesus out of me. So my choice of trail depends on how I feel, this time I felt a bit chicken so blue it was. Still, Paul managed to fall off his bike and sustain a knee injury as he raced around the trails. Paul tends to fall off quite often which is probably because he commits (i.e. goes too fast) more than I do. I don’t fall off, but I do end up in embarrassing situations where I’m astride my bike with both feet on the floor attempting to waddle down steep bits of track.

 

We were going to stay overnight here but they were preparing for an event the next day and it could have got a bit busy early in the morning, so after dinner we moved up the road to the Dalbeattie Town Wood parking area where we spent a quiet night.

We did take advantage of the facilities at the 7 Stanes car park before we moved though. We emptied our toilet cassette in the public toilets and used the tap to top up with some water.

Emptying the toilet cassette into a public toilet is usually frowned upon, not so much because it creates a mess (it’s quite easy to dispose of it without any trace if you have a steady hand), but because of the chemicals that are used by (probably) the majority of people to keep the smells at bay. These chemicals can cause issues by killing the necessary bacteria in septic tanks and sewage treatment works and so should only be disposed of at specific chemical waste disposal points. To avoid this restriction we don’t use any chemicals in the toilet. The down side of this is that we need to ensure we empty it frequently to avoid nasty niffs. And we also feel that we need to be surreptitious when disposing of our waste in case anyone does think we’re chucking any of those chemicals away. So our toilet disposal is often a bit of a clandestine operation, this time I made a furtive dash for the loos while Paul kept a look out for anyone arriving. Of course we always make sure the toilets are as clean after we leave as they were when we went in – sometimes cleaner!

The only photo from today – Paul’s dreadful injury

 

 

 

Caerlaverock

We remained parked up in Glencaple for the next day and night. The next day was bright and sunny to start with, and although it clouded over later and there were some spots of rain it was mostly a pleasant day. To make the most of it we took a bike ride south along part of Sustrans route 7 which roughly follows the coast of the Solway Firth.

The coast here is low lying and extremely tidal, there are expanses of rushes and lots of the distinctive Reedmace with it’s fat sausage-like flower spike. Between the taller plants and the sandy tidal flats is low lying salt marsh. So the road is quite a way back from the water.

This type of land is a haven for birds and wildlife and the majority of the area is owned and managed by the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust. We stopped off to walk through some of the paths of the Caerlaverock Wetland Centre, but the only thing of any significance that we saw on our short ramble was a tiny Natterjack Toad that Paul escorted off the middle of the path.

Natterjack toad – looks like my phone case was misting up

 

 

Large fungus – possibly Dryad’s Saddle

When we got back to the parking spot there was a minor drama, a couple of police cars and a someone wearing a hi-vis vest marked ‘Rescue’ turned up and focused binoculars upstream. Eventually a police helicopter made a circuit overhead – we were on tenterhooks – was something drifting downstream towards us? What would it be?. We could hear some of the radio conversations but were still none the wiser when they all eventually departed without anything of interest happening.  

While we were here we had a chat with a Estonian lady who was asking where she could get rid of her toilet and grey waste. We commiserated over the lack of French style facilities as I explained that designated disposal areas are few and far between and she would probably need to go to a campsite every few days. There are a few places that provide facilities – some of the Scottish Islands for example – and it does appear that the increasing popularity of Motorhomes is starting to make an impression on local councils. For example our home town of Exmouth looks to be planning to provide motorhome facilities in town as well as designated parking spaces. If this comes to fruition I think it would be great for the town. Fingers crossed!  

Back on the road

After our MOT disappointment we finally managed to get away. We said goodbye to friends in Exmouth (again) and had a night at home in Taunton; using the laundry of Mum and Dad to catch up on about four loads of washing, having a lovely home cooked meal with family and sleeping in a real bed (it felt a bit exposed as we’re now used to sleeping inside a box with no fear of falling out – well except through very unlikely circumstances).
The next morning, fresh and fed, we made our way towards Scotland. This is the next part of our adventure and the rough plan is to work our way through Dumfries and Galloway, then across to Arran and from there to the Kintyre peninsular. Then we’ll see, plans have a habit of changing anyway.
We didn’t know how far we would get. With Paul doing all the driving it was left to him to decide when to stop and how long for. In the end we had a couple of reasonably long stops for food and drink but made it across the border and ended up parked at Glencaple near Dumfries.

Crossing the border – at last

When we got to our destination the rain was hammering down and the views were obscured by low cloud. We could see the signs warning us not to drive off the harbour wall and the other signs warning of quicksand and strong currents – a place fraught with risk!

Bertie resisting the temptation of a swim – taken the following morning in the sunshine

But we could also see half a dozen other motorhomes and a welcoming sign inviting motorhomes to contribute via the honesty box. Something we’ll definitely do as it’s refreshing to find communities that welcome visitors. We had tea and went to bed listening to the rain hammering on the roof. The forecast was for pleasant weather the next day and that was good enough for us.
On the journey we achieved a fuel consumption of 27 miles per gallon which is pretty good for Bertie. I think it’s probably as good as it’s going to get, but we have now started to record our mileage so we’ll be better informed, although possibly in this case ignorance is bliss.

The Money Pit

Bertie has been a bad motorhome, using most of our annual repair budget getting through the MOT. We knew that we had an ABS issue, but a couple of other issues and four hours labour doesn’t make a cheap bill. Bertie passed first time last year so I had high expectations. I am very disappointed.

We also bought two new leisure batteries for Bertie; we knew that our current battery wasn’t always going to be sufficient especially with winter approaching and because we want to spend more time wild camping. Leisure batteries aren’t cheap, but the advice is always to buy matching batteries if you are increasing the number you are using – the same capacity and the same age – otherwise the battery performance is always dragged down to the lower of the two.  

To top it off our water pump decided to bite the dust. We got back to the motorhome on Saturday evening after a day at the rugby (watching the Gareth Steenson 10 year testimonial which was very entertaining) and could hear the pump running – very odd. I went through and checked all of the taps, none of them seemed to be open. In the end we had to turn off the electricity at the control board to stop it. When we checked the water tank it was completely dry, so maybe one of the taps had been open a fraction. When we re-filled and tried to use the taps we weren’t getting any water – the pump was making feeble whirring noises but not sucking. To cut a long story short we ended up replacing our pump, luckily we have OutdoorBits in Exmouth – a good source of parts and advice. We took the slightly more powerful Shurflo pump than our existing one. Not only does this mean we can now get water from the taps, but it also seems to have cured Bertie’s spluttering and spurting issues and made showering dangerously enjoyable (dangerous for our water usage that is). In all it’s been a good outcome for us, but frustrating that we were forced into spending the money rather than choosing to. 

Having the work done also meant we were delayed leaving Exmouth and I started to get a bit ansty; there is a certain feeling of frustration when you make travel plans that are thwarted, I’m sure there must be a specific word for it, if not in English then in another language. We’d had a lovely time being tourists in what we still consider to be our home town, seeing friends and indulging in meals, days out and too much alcohol but we were ready to move on and tackle the next bit of our adventure. 

Into the Hartland

After Croyde we had a brief interlude near Looe with friends. We stayed at possibly the best value campsite I’ve encountered so far – West Weyland – it was school summer holidays but even so a pitch for two people with electric was less than £15, and without electric less than a tenner. You don’t find may campsites that cheap in Cornwall.

And then we were back on the road to North Devon, poor planning on our part as we re-traced our steps along the winding A roads. This time we were spending a few days with Mum and Dad who were staying in their caravan. Our journey was relatively uneventful, but Mum and Dad got stuck in traffic chaos caused by a tragic accident on the North Devon link road.

Our campsite on the Hartland Peninsular was the spacious Stoke Barton Farm and luckily we were nestled behind a hedge as the wind was still blowing – I don’t think it will stop until the school holidays are over. Despite the cover of the hedge we still had to adjust the straps that hold the Kayak on the roof which were thrumming in the wind and using Bertie as a giant sound box.

Mum has covered our days on the Hartland peninsular on her blog which I don’t intend to duplicate, so why not take a look at http://gingergrandma.co.uk/. Below are a few photos for you.

Walled vegetable garden at Hartland Abbey – my ideal garden
Glasshouse at Hartland Abbey
Impressive waterfalls at Speke’s Mill on the Hartland coast
Rock Avenues on the beach at Hartland Quay
Cave amongst the folded rocks at Hartland Quay

Surfing North Devon

After our Chagstock weekend we had already planned to spend the rest of the week in Croyd with my sister and her family. Fortunately we had booked the campsite in Croyd while we were still working – at £30 a night it would never have made the cut in our new frugal lifestyle. As promised it was a short walk to the beach and the festival trolley came into it’s own as beach transport for tired children.

The drag to the beach

I’d forgotten how nice Croyd is when you’re away from the massive holiday park. And in fact even the holiday park seems remarkably gentrified since I was last in the area. We wandered through it at one point and took advantage of their well maintained play area. 

View across Croyde bay from the campsite play area

We had a good Monday and Tuesday, windy it may have been, but the sun came out and at times we even felt warm.

Sitting in the shade on a rare sunny day

 We went in the sea in just bathing suits, no wetsuits for us, and then realised that wetsuits also serve a practical purpose – swimming costumes get pulled around in the surf and need frequent adjustment (extraction even). We went rock pooling and met ‘the enemies’ as well as crabs, shrimps and fish. Good times. 

On the rocks at Croyde

On Wednesday the weather started to deteriorate, but we had my other sister, Vicki, visiting to celebrate her Birthday. Her husband (another Paul) drove her and her two boys all around Devon that day and they ended their day with a visit to Croyd, a birthday BBQ and cake, of course.

Sisters

Unfortunately Kate’s partner, Hannah, couldn’t make it down to Croyd until the Thursday. Thursday morning was spent in great anticipation and the weather forecast promised that the bad weather would break for the afternoon and give us some sun for a beach afternoon. They lied; we had about half an hour of sunshine before the heavens opened again. Aaron also joined us for the day on Thursday and was of great assistance pulling the kids back up to the campsite in the festival trolley while we battled with body boards against the wind. We retired to Bertie for food and drink to cheer us up. 

The week was due to get worse, the forecast was for 40mph westerly winds and as the campsite faced west with no barrier between the sea and our vans…the decision to return home before it got worse was a good one. Poor Hannah only got the one night of holiday, but as she pointed out, it was 21 degrees and sunny in London.

Country Summary – Waylaid in Wales

When we started out on our adventure, we had decided to use Wales as a route to Scotland. The plan was to hot foot it along the Welsh coast and take in a few highlights as a way to break up the journey. Scotland was the goal. 

The beauty of our current lifestyle is that we can change plans if we want to – we have very few things set in stone and so long as we manage to meet those few commitments anything else is up for grabs.

So when we found ourselves taking longer than expected just to get through Permbrokeshire we knew that we were unlikely to make it to Scotland and gave ourselves permission to linger a little longer in Wales.

Coupled with this we were also finding out about our travelling proclivities. We didn’t really know how we would feel about travelling, whether we would prefer wild camping to campsites, whether we would want to drive long distances or short, whether we would stay in one place for a long time or move on daily. It turns out that we like moving daily (or every two days) but we don’t tend to move too far. Wild camping is great, and usually available in convenient locations for outdoor activities, but it is a nice treat to get the BBQ, table and chairs out every now and again in a campsite.

A few stats

Number of nights spent in Wales: 52

Number of different overnight locations: 37 (of which 9 were campsites and the rest were parking spots, most of which were free but some were paid; we were pleasantly surprised by the wild camping available in Wales)

Average ‘camping’ cost per night: £5.45

Average total spend per day: £57.56 (this includes all spend over this time, even if it was not directly related to our travels and is roughly in line with our budget)

Number of miles driven: I don’t know, we didn’t record it, something I’ve started to do.

Finding overnight locations in Wales

We mostly used Searchforsites to find wild camping spots, and UKCampsite to find campsites.

We also used our Ordnance Survey maps to find parking spots, usually looking for the picnic table icon that designates picnic spots. Some picnic spots have height barriers or are locked overnight, but the majority offer secluded parking that is away from town centres and residential areas and are usually near walking routes and bike trails. In addition the parking is rarely demarcated so there is no stress of trying to squeeze into a spot that is too small. Google maps street view was very useful for checking out parking spots in advance for anything that might stop us from being able to use it.  

All of the wild camping spots we found en-route have been added to Searchforsites. You can also find our map of locations here.

We didn’t ever feel unsafe or threatened while wild camping, although we did spot some interesting car park based activities. Most people were friendly and chatty and only once in Amwlch did we get a negative reaction to parking for the night.

Driving in Wales

There are a lot of good, newly improved, A-roads in Wales which are great when getting from place to place. This is contrasted by a lot of single track roads leading to some of the more interesting locations. However, when compared to some places in Devon (i.e. the South Hams) there was nothing that really phased Paul and very rarely did I feel a need to suck in my breath and thereby try to make me and Bertie narrower – it doesn’t work, but it makes me feel like I’m adding value.

Our Sat Nav (Garmin Camper) was good at navigating us to avoid low or weak bridges but we found that it had a lot of ‘accessibility unknown’ roads which sometimes led it to recommend a route that wasn’t practical. Only on one occasion did we have a major argument with it, when it tried to send us down a cycle route. We found we often changed the route to one of our choosing after looking at our maps.

Where we knew we would be driving down long stretches of single track lanes we would use the Ordnance Survey maps and Google Street View to double check for access issues. But generally there were plenty of passing places.

There are some great public transport options to some pretty remote locations in Wales, which opens up additional options for getting to places or back from walks. We often think that if a bus can get somewhere then we will be ok, but the downside is the risk of encountering a bus in a narrow lane. Bustimes is a great resource for finding out bus timetables and maps of bus routes/stops.    

Best Bits

It’s difficult to pick out the best bits from this trip, Wales has a lot of diverse opportunities for spending quality time outdoors, which is why we stayed there for so long, but here are some of the things we particularly enjoyed:

Wild camping near Dale in Pembrokeshire. This spot, with it’s view of the twinkling lights of Milford Haven and the ability to launch our Kayak straight into the bay, was ideal for us. Shame we didn’t catch any fish for our supper.

Spotting Puffins at South Stack on Holy Island, Anglesey. We have had some great wildlife experiences, but watching the puffins while listening to the cacophony of the many seabirds on the cliffs was awesome. This is somewhere I could have spent days and days.

Snowdon via Y Lliwedd. Parking at the Lookout carpark on a sunny evening with great views of Snowdon, getting the bus so that we could do a one way walk, and finding out that it’s not always the most popular routes that are the best.

Black Covert picnic spot. Finding our first wild camping spot that wasn’t on one of the online directories. Cycling into Aberystwyth along the Ystwyth trail and spending the evening walking the shorter trails alongside the river.

Coed Y Brenin. The beautiful gorge of the Afon Mawddach and the adrenaline thrill of some proper downhill Mountain Bike trails, our first for years.

Fairbourne to Penmaenpool in the Kayak, yet again the Afon Mawddach, but a very different side to the river which was broad at high tide and a myriad of small channels and dead ends at low tide. This was probably the wild camping spot where we encountered the most motorhomes, I think there were 5 at one point, so it didn’t feel very wild!       

Other stuff

We had much fun trying to pronounce place names in Wales for bus drivers. It’s actually pretty phonetic as a language, so once you have all the sounds sorted it’s easy to pronounce. The problem is that we had a tendency to forget and use the English sounds, and also that the words were very slow leaving our mouths, making us sound as though we’d been slowed down to half normal speed. We were always understood though and only gently mocked. We used this guide.

We encountered lots of 3G/4G black spots, especially while wildcamping. But as we were moving nearly every day this wasn’t too much of an issue. We would just pull over in a layby once we found a signal. We didn’t find a lot of free WiFi, mostly because we didn’t venture near towns very often. Pubs were the best opportunities for a bit of downloading and an excuse for a pint.

Although we mostly focussed on outdoor pursuits, we also took some time for other activities. Castles abound in Wales, from ruins to castles that are still in use as family homes today. We saw a few, and I think my favourite was the ruined Dryslwyn. We also enjoyed the Botanic Gardens and finding events such as the Criccieth Food Slam.

There are plenty of places we would still like to visit in Wales, if we had more time we would have spent a couple of days in Cardiff (and taken in the Dr Who Experience), and also spent some time in the Mumbles – it was half term week when we were in the area and seemed a bit busy. I would also have liked to spend more time in the borders, and of course there are lots of places we would return to. So there will be no problems filling up another visit. 

Chagstock

Chagstock is a small and friendly festival near Chagford in Devon, on the north edge of Dartmoor. It’s currently in it’s eleventh year and we have been attending on and off since 2009. In fact it was Chagstock that finally persuaded Paul that camping was bearable, something I had been trying to persuade him of since we met in 2000. Without our camping experiences we would never have thought of buying a motorhome and so we could probably attribute our current adventure to Chagstock.

This year was our first year with small children in tow, we took Aaron when he was 9 but a 9 year old is fairly self sufficient. This time Stephen and Beverly bought their two year old, Emily, and my sister bought her two young children. It’s a different but still fab experience. There was plenty to keep them entertained, and they probably cared less about the weather than us adults. 

Festival fairy wings
Painted faces – Batman enjoys a cheese sandwich

 

 

Ear protection – an essential bit of festival kit for small children!

We turned up in torrential rain intending to camp with Steve and Bev (the campervan field is separate from the tent field and we wanted to be together) but after seeing Paul and Tam getting soaked to the skin erecting one tent I made an executive decision that we would leave the canvas in the garage. Friday afternoon was mostly spent in Bertie as all of us waited for the rain to ease and the bands to start.

Waiting out the Friday afternoon rain in Bertie

Luckily the rain became showery rather than persistent and we managed to have a fantastic festival time. All children (and adults) cope with festivals in different ways. My niece and nephew needed their beds whereas Emily was quite happy to sleep in her trailer until later in the evening. Regardless, the idea was to relax and enjoy the weekend.

All prepared for Friday evening

 

 

Niece and nephew snug in their festival trailer

On Saturday the headliners were The Shires who were excellent despite my previous opinion that they were a bit blandly ‘Radio 2’. As per usual though it was the bands we had never heard of that we enjoyed the most. For me the stand outs were the Raghu Dixit Project – infectiously enthusiastic music with Indian roots but many other influences, Skinny Lister – a folk band with plenty of energy, especially from the female vocalist (sadly no fiddle though), the Goat Roper Rodeo band – a country/blues band with a great double bass player and Buster Shuffle – a fun ska band with hints of Madness and a bit of interesting keyboard playing.   

Fantastic rainbow while the Raghu Dixit Project performed

On Sunday morning we watched as campervans, caravans and motorhomes left the site. The mud at the site exit was deep and rutted. Most of the smaller vehicles managed, but caravans in particular were finding the exit angle tricky (one poor caravan managed to take out the gatepost on the way out, must have done some awful damage to the back corner of their van, but probably made it easier for the vehicles that came through later) and heaver vehicles were finding it difficult to maintain their momentum despite the encouragement of the festival marshals to ‘keep moving’.  Straw and sawdust were being piled onto the mud to try and improve things but it was not looking good.

My sister left the site with ease in her VW California which skipped light-footed over the ruts, and finally we decided that we would make a break for it. Bertie valiantly made for the exit and Paul kept his foot on the accelerator to maintain the revs but we got stuck just before the tarmac, a bit of a push from the marshals finally got us over the lip of the tarmac and onto a proper road – phew. Many thanks to the marshals and other support staff that helped to clear the field. It must have been a wet and muddy job!  

The dates for next year have been announced and we will most definitely be back again.

Where did the Water go?

On our way back from Wales we stopped in at Taunton to see family. We stayed at a different campsite this time – Tanpits Cider Farm – which saw us settled under cider apple trees in the orchard and surrounded by Peacocks, Guinea Fowl and Rabbits. Very pretty and right next to the canal cycle route into town. It was a shame about the amount of building work going on around as Taunton keeps expanding it’s borders, but they didn’t start till 8am so it wasn’t too intrusive.

The evening before we had been camped in the Wye Valley and had showers, did the washing up and all was fine – the following morning I turned on the taps and nothing came out.

We decided not to worry about it until we reached Taunton where we could take a look at what was going on. We checked the pump – all running fine, we checked our water levels – also fine. We looked at the emergency drain valve (this is the valve that empties the boiler if the temperature drops below about 4 degrees to stop damage caused by freezing) – also fine.

When we looked under the van we could see that each time we turned the taps on the water was coming out of the boiler, so there was obviously something wrong in that area. Cue despondency; replacing a boiler is not cheap. But with a bit of help from the internet (there are some great Motorhome forums online and on facebook) we finally found that it was escaping through the venting hose and that there was a valve that was probably at fault.

Truma confirmed that this was probably the case (their customer services were excellent, getting back to us swiftly) and supplied the part number. A quick phone call to Apple Camper who had the part in stock – and sent a picture just to confirm that it was definitely the part we needed – for £9.99, 15 minutes (or probably less) for Paul to remove and refit the part, and all was well. Disaster averted thanks to the power of the internet and some excellent service.

For posterity the boiler is a Truma 3402 combi boiler and the part number is 34150-01.  Paul still doesn’t believe that the part is really a valve – when you look through it, it just looks like a t-piece – but that’s a whole different conversation.

The offending part – the replacement was red but otherwise identical

 

Last days in Wales

By this time we knew we would have to be heading back to the south west as we had a music festival to attend in just over a week’s time. We decided to head inland and then south through the borders to complete a circuit albeit a bit faster on the return leg.
Our next stop was Carrog Station campsite, yet another campsite next to a steam railway, where we shared the field with a 2CV club rally and a number of other families. The campsite was busy with people starting their summer holidays and a large group of children were playing football using jumpers for goalposts, until one group turned up with actual goalposts. They moved onto rugby later that evening and were still playing when the campsite was dark.
The next morning we moved on to Chirk Castle as early as possible. Here we parked the motorhome and got our bikes out for a ride along the Llangollen canal cycle route.

Long tunnel on the Llangollen Canal – barges and bikes alike needed lights for this one

We followed a pleasantly green and shady canal tow path to Thomas Telford’s impressive Pontcysyllte Aqueduct where canal boats can cross the Dee valley and feel on one side as if they are suspended in mid air.

Canal boats crossing the Pontcysyllte aqueduct

 

Not much room for bikes and pedestrians, but at least there were railings on this side

Then we carried on through Llangollen to the Llantysilio falls, a spot we often see from the A5 in passing but have never visited.
When we got back to Chirk Castle we spent the afternoon wandering around the National Trust property and gardens, enjoying the mixture of periods covered from medieval (and later attempts to create a medieval atmosphere) through to 20th century history.

Round towers at Chirk


We moved further south after Chirk to stay near Presteigne; we initially attempted to find a spot in the town’s car park which allows overnight parking, but it was a small car park and we were too big to fit into a space and allow other vehicles to get around us so we headed back to the edge of the town where a small picnic spot provided our overnight location plus the company of another couple in their Burstner who regaled us with stories and pictures of their travels across Europe.

In Presteigne it was the day of the summer fete which provided our evening’s entertainment, including some late night revellers waiting for their taxi. Their conversation was loud but amusing.

From Presteigne we did a circular walk to take a couple of sections of Offa’s Dyke. I know that the Dyke is just an earthwork, but we were a bit disappointed that it wasn’t more impressive. The hot and humid weather didn’t help and we returned to Bertie sweaty and grumpy (I’ll let you guess who was which).

Our final stop in Wales was in the Wye valley again near the village of Brockhampton, in fact it wasn’t really in Wales, as the drive down south meandered between Wales and England several times. But we counted it as Wales as we hadn’t yet crossed the Severn Bridge, which was really the mark that we had left the country.

Leaving via the Severn Bridge – it’s free in this direction!

We also had good news this week that we had received a full refund for Paul’s walking boots (see earlier post). Hats off to Millet Sports who were the retailer and dealt with our return very graciously and to Salomon who have a two year no quibble guarantee on their footwear, fingers crossed the current pair of boots will not have the same issues though.