Posted on May 25th, 2015 No comments
All images below are hyperlinks to the full res versions.
So, last weekend I assisted five fine friends finish a fantastic foray through the northern Lake District and Pennines from the harbour at Whitehaven to the breakwater at Tynemouth.
You can see the whole route they cycled here. Just look at the height profile in the top left. Once you let that 1998ft height wash over you, head here and drop some dosh. It’s all for charity of course.
Our job was simple; we’d meet the cycling team at pre-arranged points, or as near as we could get. If anybody was injured, supply first aid, or if more serious, take them on board and less dramatic, carry the water and other supplies to refuelt the cyclists with! We would also try and drive the road routes ahead of the crew, and phone them to let them know if our plans changed or where to meet us if a specific place was not decided upon.
In all there were nine of us. Five cyclists, four support, and just under 140 miles. We needed space for seven cycles – each cyclist had their own carbon fibre framed bike, there was one serious spare, a steel one provided by Rob, and the dreaded easy rider, a forfeit bike that, due to a total lack of brakes, having more rust than paint, and having handlebars that freely span around, was more a deathtrap than bike, as demonstrated to the right by myself.
All this mean the necessity of a van. Fortunately, Adam Cherrett, one of the cyclists owned a Ford Transit, which I commandeered for the weekend. Unfortunately a transit only has three seats. Six more to go more than could reasonably and legally fit in any one of the alternative vehicles, so we brought both; a Renault hatchback and a Land Rover Discovery. Luckily there were three drivers willing to take the vehicles from West to East, negating the need for the cyclists to have to cycle back, or worse – take a train. This was also fortunate, as Sarah, one of the cyclists, was unable to commit to leaving on the Wednesday evening, and instead needed to come up on the Thursday morning.
As we’d be leaving on Wednesday, we sought permission to leave work earlier, which was granted. There would be two vehicles heading up on the Wednesday – Kari and her hatchback took Mark and Ash at around 3pm. As for myself, I would drive the transit up with it’s owner and Sean, another of the cycling team. When we would leave depended on when everyone’s work was squared away, and this came to be possible around 3:45. So we headed around back and loaded up. I hopped into the driver seat – having only ever driven vans around my estate when we needed to move one my brother had brought home, this was going to be a new experience. The only real pain is the traffic on the A483 and M6 on the way up – since the pedals are different from a car, it really starts to make your ankle ache trying to hold the bite on the clutch all the time! I had a fear I’d fall off and zoom off into the car in front…
After a four and a half hour hour journey, we came into the Northern Lake District, and the sight of all the hills was unnerving to Sean, who admitted didn’t train on too many hills. Cherrett was spot on though by pointing out you typically wouldn’t have roads high over the mountains. That might have been true for the lake district, but the North Pennines… We were about 45-60 minutes behind Mark, Ash and Kari, and we recieved some updates on the way up. Mark was fuming about the state of affairs regarding the sleeping area, and so was Ash. Kari wasn’t impressed either. Not only about the state of the accomodation, but also because of the rudeness of the woman who greeted them. This was not a good sign for us, and we later turned up in the village of Sandwith, with Kari Mark and Ash having gone to the shops. After a lovely jaunt in a transit down lanes far too narrow, we waited for them to turn up and then checked out the room.
Oh my lord.
When I had heard it was a “camping barn”, I envisaged a barn with a load of bunkbeds in it. Now, a week before, Kari had looked into the places and said we needed to bring our own bedding. Fair enough, take the bunkbeds out of the equation, I still imagined something like a small parish hall or sports hall – a sealed building with lighting, electricity, heating and a bathroom, right?
Instead, we had a small rectangular room, not much bigger than 15ft along the longer edge. Along the “back” was a weird trough made out of terracotta half pipes, filled with foam mats. Most of the room was taken up by a raised concrete slab, topped with a bit of wood. That was it. Now, there were six of us, and unless we planned on anything intimate, you would not get more than five on that slab. There were other rooms, sure – but most of them were the same. Worse was that in the other room there was somebody’s stuff. “Some guy who went rock climbing”. I never saw him but Kari, Mark and Ash said he had been sleeping there earlier. The door to our little room was barely a door – it must have been a fine oak stable door back in the day but it had rotted away around the corners and then been painted. This left huge gaps between the inside and the outside – breezy. Worse still was that every nook and cranny was covered in Spider webs. The room was an outside barn, and it was full of spiders. Very very large spiders. Oh dear. Mark swore that Adam Edwards, a cyclist who had booked all the accomodation, would not live to see the Coast 2 Coast. Especially since he wasn’t turning up until the next morning. Thanks Ad.
We unpacked our bedding and it was decided I’d sleep on the floor area at the end of the raised area. By the window. WHERE THE SPIDERS COME IN okay enough of that. I didn’t mind. I brought a folding camping bed meaning I was about at the same level as the sleeping area anyway. Mark, Ash and Kari however were running into difficulty. They had brought old school inflatable air beds. Which wouldn’t inflate – because the air pump had split. It took a while but it did inflate. The air pump was left on the raised area, next to where my head would be. Keep that in mind.
Sean and Cherrett were good – Sean had brought two camping beds, not folding, so some assembly was required. Sean was able to get his completed with help from Ash rather quickly, snapping the dozen or so pieces together, but poor Cherrett had to use the foam mats provided/left behind by former
murder victimsguests, because when he emptied the bag with Sean’s other bed in, only three pieces of metal fell out. Whoops.
After dealing with that, we decided to go get some food. Mark has a Wetherspoons app on his phone, so we knew there was one in Whitehaven, The Bransty Arch, and we wanted to use it! It was rather empty, and we got a table that fit all six of us. It was a lovely meal, and a nice pint went down nicely. Until the woman who served us asked us where we were staying. We said a camping barn. She said “oh Tarn Flatt hall?”. We affirmed. She said she went there with her school. She said it was haunted.
This lead to multiple ghost related discussion and jokes, some of which made some of the part uncomfortable. One of the things Ash kept saying was “wouldn’t it be scary if you opened your eyes and there was a face right there?”.
We headed back. It was around 11pm, and the rules, as explained by numerous SHOUTY SIGNS and the rude woman, stated that any noise after 11pm would get you kicked out. So we tip toed. We whispered. But then hilariously, Mark and Ash realised their beds had deflated somewhat, so they had to bust out the air pump again, but pump it as quietly as possible. This resulted in the most hilarious “silence” in which the night air was permeated by the sound of what I could only describe as somebody doing CPR on an asthmatic badger.
Anyway, we all hopped into bed and put in our ear plugs, but not before looking at the ceiling. The spiders had come out. The big boys too. Not fun. We just cocooned ourselves in the sleeping bags and tried to get off. After around 15-20 minutes or so, I heard one of the air beds making creaking noises, as if somebody was trying to wrestle it to death. I opened my eyes to see Ash hovering over Kari, trying to re-enact his joke from the pub. I closed my eyes and went back off to trying to sleep, but I kept seeing light through my eyelids, and eventually took out my ear plugs. Kari and Mark had just finished saying something. I noticed the air pump was right next to my head still, and decided to gently push it down. C-R-R-R-R-R-R-E-A-K. It made the most terrifying noise. Gently releasing it made the same noise. “What was that?” said one voice. “It’s coming from the wall” said another. I did it again. C-R-R-R-R-R-R-E-A-K. Mark was now trying to wake Ash up. Ash was just like “go back to sleep”. I did it a few more times, whereby Mark gets more and more agitated, until on one go I get busted when Kari turns on her phone light as I’m doing it. I just look and say “hello there!”.
Unfortunately I had to escort her across the farmyard to the toilet in the dead of night as pennance. We then went to sleep.
The next morning, it was back to Wetherspoons. Now, Whitehaven is a faded mining town that has the claim to fame of being attacked during the American War of Independence – by some definitions the last “invasion” of England. After a breakfast, we headed over the road to Tesco to buy some stuff for the day. This is when the Land Rover carrying Sarah, Adam E and Rob turns up. We meet in the car park, and then drive over to the harbour where everyone gears up. At this point, Ad E attached a speaker to the wing mirror, and wired it up to a DB radio in the van. Awesome, now I could issue demands if I got close enough!
We walked to the starting point, where a few photos were taken and last minute prep done. We turned on our Walkie Talkies – 2 way radios are not covered by mobile phone legislation so can be used legally whilst driving.
At around 11am, the five cyclists set off. We had Adam Cherrett, Adam Edwards, Ashley Powell, Sarah Staples and Sean Taylor as the five intrepid souls, and myself, Kari Cartledge and Robert Jones as the drivers. Kari was also host to Mark Roberts. Since the first part of the journey took place on mostly old railway trackbeds, and railways aren’t notorious for their steepness, we decided to meet them at the village of Rowrah, roughly 9 miles in, and near the end of the railway stint, just before the first road sections. Being the North of England – Rowrah is an ex mining village. It did not take long to reach here – only 20-25 minutes, and whilst we spent 10 minutes trying to park under a railway bridge, no sooner than we had parked and walked to where the cycle path intersected a lane, they arrived. Having not dealt with much in the way of climbing, they were in high spirits – no refills needed. Unfortunately by this point there had been two falls, and Ash had injured his leg on his bike, and it had bled quite bit, looking quite nasty. It had stopped for now though, and it was decided no first aid was needed.
We agreed to meet them in yet another 10 miles, and began our drive. After stopping at a few village greens so I could double check the map (I don’t use a sat nav), we reached the tiny hamlet of Thackthwaite – a place so small I can’t even rip a fact from the net – roughly 30 minutes later by car, and began our wait. This time though, it took a little longer – about another 40 minutes or so, which we spent mostly waiting around near the cars, and eating my store bought Tesco sandwich.
This time, they did refill on essentials – there had been some ascents and the on-road section was a bit tougher than a gently sloping railway alignment! We set off again, following the guys for a short time. This is where the DB radio with the speaker came in handy, as I could issue such helpful commands as “go faster” and “get off the road”. Eventually they came to a junction and two of them started heading right. One of the others called them back though as if we were going left. So we drove left, and as I passed I shouted “you’re going the wrong way” over the speaker. After a short while, nothing was making any sense from what I’d seen on the map – we should be heading down through a mountain pass, not passing through rolling hills and verdant meadows. Eventually we came to the local major road, the A66, and there was a small layby we pulled over in. I looked and the map and realised we had gone the wrong way, not them. Fearing that they might have followed us, and not wanting them to end up on the major road (which becomes a fast, 70mph dual carriageway further on), we phoned them and let them know, to which they said they turned around shortly after we drove off. Phew!
After this point, we drove on down the A66 to Keswick, 10 miles away by bike from the last point – finding a pub in the Pheasant Inn and enjoying a fine pint whilst waiting for the others to catch up. What we had not done however, is agree on a meeting point in Keswick with the team. So we had to again interrupt the cyclists and we phoned Sarah to let them know where we were and how to get there, not helped by me giving them directions to “Cockthwaite lane” instead of “Crossthwaite Road”. whoops.
Rather than depend on mining, Keswick was a market town and still retains a vibrant shopping street to this day. The cyclists had to descend into the town of Keswick through the Whinlatter Pass – a steeply sided valley with scree slopes – where the road travels along the bottom shared with a forest of conifer trees.
The route from Keswick to the day one finishing line – Greystoke – was mostly off-road ex-railway trackbed again, so instead of driving ahead right away, we decided to check in to our accommodation for the evening, which was in Denton House, Keswick. It’s an independent Hostel, not run by the YHA, and it was nicely kept and had some very comfortable beds! As such, it was a world apart from the previous night’s stay… One of the staff waited for us and gave us a guided tour, which was friendly and very useful!
Once we’d checked in we decided to have a cuppa and then we drove on to Greystoke, near Penrith – another 13 miles away from Keswick. Greystoke is a small village centered around a very well kept village green. There is also Greystoke castle – not a traditional castle but a posh house that looks sorta like one built in the 16th century. We waited here for around 20 minutes before the cyclists arrived, and they were glad to have finally done so, having cycled a nearly 40 miles in a day, mostly uphill! The highest point on this first day was around 950ft, and since they set off from Sea level, it’s quite some work!
We loaded everyone up and drove everyone back to Keswick, where everyone enjoyed a well deserved shower and got changed, before heading to the pub, the Twa Dogs Inn, just down the road! The cyclists had a well deserved pint and a meal, before having a few more and heading back. But the support team… well, we stayed a bit longer – late enough the bar staff started to turn off the lights! I was also beaten 2-0 in pool, which was renamed because of how completely inept we both were. After that, we stumbled back to find everyone was fast asleep but also that the room was absolutely boiling hot, so trying not to disturb anyone, we opened a window and clambered into our bunks.
The next morning we again found a Wetherspoons, The Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, an old Courthouse this time. We again had a breakfast, and then we drove the cyclists back to Greystoke, where they set off toward a village called Langwathby, 12 miles away. Since Langwathby is at the bottom of the valley, this would take them from around 700ft at Greystoke to around 300ft. They would also pass through the large – and busy town of Penrith. After crossing the “temporary” Langwathby truss bridge (installed in 1968 to replace the flood damaged sandstone original), we arrived in another “garden” village much like Greystoke, only busier. After a short wait, whilst we were grabbing an ice cream from the local shop, the cyclists turned up – they refilled and prepared themselves – the next meeting point was at Hartside Summit – 1903ft from Sea level, and it was 11.5 miles of up. There were some serious ascents ahead, and we drove along the route to preview them and arrived at the top.
We decided to get some food at the cafe here whilst waiting, and it was filled with bikers – not like something out of Sons of Anarchy, but bikers who just ride for fun. Now, when getting out of the car, the weather is the first thing that hits you, literally. At Langwathby, the wind had not been an issue – in fact the air was a bit stifling – but at Hartside Summit, the wind was strong, and consistently so; no gusts, just a constant flow of high wind. It made you cold, and you constantly had to fight it to keep balance even when standing. It also probably explained the lack of trees up there.
This wasn’t good news for the cyclists either, but slowly and surely they appeared through the zoom lens of my camera, rounding the curves on the approach to the summit. Eventually they made it to the top, feeling victorious at “getting to the top” and everybody took a few minutes to refill, recoup, have a photo with the summit sign, and also get out of the wind. Unbenknown to them, it was not the highest point on the C2C, and was in fact, the first ascent of many more that day. We had a plan I wasn’t aware of for these several hills, and that was to keep telling them the next one was the last one. But I didn’t know of this plan. So kept ruining it. Inadvertantly.
After a short while, they set off again, on a long downhill stretch that was very fast. We overtook them and headed for the next meetup, which was the village of Nenthead – another ten miles away. This would first take them back down to nearly 1000ft, at the hamlet of Leadgate. However, shortly after passing through the small village of Garrigill where the River Tyne is first crossed, we came across a massive hill – very steep. It was in fact a struggle to get the transit up it, and we knew that the cyclists would find it difficult also. After ascending it, the route seemed to flatten out but in fact it continued upward again for quite a while, to another summit which was higher than the first – almost 1970ft. Instead of going on to Nenthead, we decided to wait here at the summit, because they would no doubt take some time to get up this hill. Despite us only being a nine miles from the previous meeting point, we waited about an hour here for them to arrive, by far the longest wait over the entire weekend. The wind was again strong here and it made waiting outside extremely cold so I layered up. At the top here, there was some cycling related graffiti and a long list of initials. Unfortunately it seems the original artist wasn’t a great speller!
Whilst waiting here, we met three guys who were cycling in the other direction, but taking as many off road routes as possible, as evidenced by one of their bikes having huge tyres! They stated that there were a few more ascents to be made in the other direction, and that “just after Stanhope it’s all downhill” A short while later, we could see brightly coloured specks appear far down the hill – they were nearly at the top!
As they all made it to the top, we had one further fall from Adam Cherrett, as his chain came off, he lost all momentum and fell over before he could disengage his cleats, suffering a small gash to the knee. We warned them of the descent ahead, which was amply signposted as 20% gradient with several sharp bends, and then due to the next hill being having an even higher summit (although less of a climb), we decided to more closer shadow the cyclists with myself in the Van at the top, Kari in the Renault half way, and Rob in the land rover at the bottom, who would wait then follow.
Although no assistance was needed, this allowed us to keep a closer eye on proceedings just in case – there was patchy or no signal for phones, and the walkies we had only had a max of 10km range. The next hill was the summit of the C2C at 1988ft, between Nenthead and Allenheads. We set ourselves out, and it did not take them long at all to climb this hill. Nevertheless, at the summit they decided to have a stop and refilled their various flasks. The wind was still strong on the tops of the hills, so shortly afterward they continued. We agreed to maintain our system as it was working well so far; whilst this was “the highest point”, there were still hills on the way down to Tynemouth – including a small one before Allenheads.
It was at this point we agreed to end it in Allenheads and drive on to Rookhope. As it turns out, cycling to Rookhope would have been 10 miles extra than planned for day two. This was agreed upon, and so we continued. First of all there was a small dip of around 300ft, followed by a 200ft climb. I drove on to that next summit, and waited, whilst Mark and Kari went half way, and Rob followed the cyclists.
From that point it was all downhill to Allenheads. There were some high speeds and lots and lots of roadkill for some reason. Eventually I got to the bridge just before Allenheads and waited here for the rest. Kari was some way behind, as apparently they’d stopped by a cattle grid to warn the cyclists. Ash was first to me at the bridge, falling off as he stopped. It was decided I carry on into the centre of Allenheads, as apparently they might try pushing through to Rookhope today after all, which would need one more big ass hill to climb.
I pulled over in a really posh gravel drive and asked for confirmation of this over the walkie after which it was decided I should head to the top of the hill and report back on it. I went to move off and as I did, accidently performed a bit of a wheelspin, sending gravel everywhere and earning me a confused look from a girl walking a dog.
This “last hill” looked a doozy – it was an S bend for starters, with one of the bends being pretty much a hairpin. Even though an S bend should reduce the gradient it was still pretty gnarly. It would also mean a climb of 420ish ft from Allenheads to the top. I reported this back over the walkie and it was confirmed they’d like a crack at it anyway. So it happened – the last hill was climbed, but probably the slowest!
From here it was all downhill to Rookhope – 5 miles from the top to the bottom, and a drop of 650ft. Rookhope meant a pint. Rookhope meant food. Rookhope meant sleep.
Although I was meant to take the lead in the van, it was here that I decided to wait and take photos of all the riders as they reached the top of this last hill of day two. Sure, it wasn’t the highest hill, but it was the most dramatic! First was Sarah, then Ash. Then came Mr Cherrett, and finally Ad and Sean.
As soon as these two passed, I hopped in the van and took after them. At the summit was a weird cairn and the sign welcoming us to County Durham – three counties in one day, since they started in Cumbria! Due to the fact this section was all downhill, it took nearly the entirety of the 5 miles before I overtook Ash and Sarah again – they’d reached some very high speeds, possibly upward of 45mph. We then arrived in Rookhope. On the way down, we passed some old stone arches, and some mining ruins. Apparently Rookhope used to be a big lead mining town, but it was too poisonous to smelt (they literally had “horizontal chimneys” up the mountainside to carry away the gases) so the mines switched to fluorite mining.
Once everyone was available, Kari went to find the lady who runs the place we would be staying. Val, as was her name, promptly came out to say hello in person. She also helped us park the vehicles in the very narrow lane behind the pub – and let me tell you this – it was difficult trying to reverse the van down there, nearly hitting a few propane cylinders!
Once parked, we were able to take everything inside, and we were absolutely stunned. Not stunned in the way you are when you see a camping barn for the first time, but a good stunned. As I walked in behind everyone else I heard Val saying “some people call this a camping barn”. I looked around. On no planet in any universe in any dimension was this a camping barn. It was warm, comfortable and furnished to the brim with all sorts of lovely furniture. It was like something out of a novel.
Everyone was in high spirits. Day 2 was always said to be the most difficult for them, and it had definitely thrown a lot at them – four big climbs. We all knew there was one more in the morning “just after Stanhope”, but how bad could it be for them?
Val gave us the rules. Firstly, we had an extended talk on the toilets – specifically a macerator, which is a like a blender in the drains so you can easily pump waste to a sewer should it be uphill. Apparently some earlier people had put more than waste and paper in the loo and this caused the macerator to break – which also stops use of the sinks, showers etc. Not cool.
Secondly, we were invited to the pub – there was to be a quiz night and bingo and we could stay for both. Val said she didn’t mind us being “hardcore” and getting in at 2am. The quiz and bingo were cool, but mostly we needed food and drink. Even for a driver, The Wetherspoons in Keswick and the chips at Hartside felt like days ago. So we ate and we ate well. We then headed up to the former pool room (as the table had literally been taken away earlier in the day) where we made camp. The rest of the pub’s lounge area were filled with people and although it would be hard to hear the quiz questions and we seemed isolated, there was simply not room elsewhere.
The first thing to be done was moving the furniture into one area for us to all sit, but this triggered an intense philosophical debate about whether it’s okay to move furniture without permission. We obtained permission anyway and made a nest in the corner by the jukebox. The jukebox which kept belting out hits. Even when the quiz was on. We couldn’t even turn it off, the bar man just had to turn down the speakers.
By this point, news of the Coast 2 Coast trip had spread, and the quiz announcer even mentioned it too. Before we knew it, a collection went around all the locals. We were told by Val that the pub had shut down in 2013 and only opened again in Aug 2014 with new managers, and this was the first time they’d done anything like this before. We were humbled, and public speaker no 1, Adam E, made a beautiful speech thanking them all for their generosity. The landlord put some in as well, and in all they put in quite a bit!
At some point, Ash decided it would be a good idea to play darts. Sarah decided to play with him despite not having done so before. She beat him anyway. Apparently this is a thing that happens – if you challenge her to a game of anything she will kick yo ass using amazing powers of sportsmanship.
During the quiz, Val came in and inadvertantly tricked us into changing our answer for this picture from Ross Noble to Eric Idle. Lost us a valuable point there, Val.
Anyway, after way way too many beers for the second night in a row, we all headed back to bed. Before we jumped in, Val dropped by again to set the fire, and also told us her history and the history of the bunkhouse we were staying in, and even the history of some of the furniture. It was interesting to hear about these things and when Val was explaining something we all just shut up and listened. Except Ash, but I think Rob was able to shush him in time (literally with a patronising hand on the shoulder and “shush”). She even explained that the Bunkhouse was formerly a Village Hall, but before that it was an ecclesiastical school built by the bishop of Durham, a “Shute Barrington” – hence the name, Barrington Bunkhouse.
At some point Kari had an impromptu tour of Val’s house and Mark ran off. It was apparently quite awkward. Eventually we all jumped into bed and the majority went right off. There was a lot of laughter though, I can’t remember the specifics but I’m sure one reason was that Ash lost his ear plug and he really needs them.
The next morning, we didn’t really eat that much. Some people prepared some light snacks but I just had some nice bread that Val brought in. We packed our things, and drove out the vehicles and unloaded them. We also stopped to let Val take the group photo that adorns this post. Mark’s in the car so he isn’t in it though. At this point, three cyclists fly by – two all in black, and one in a hi vis. All three had saddle bags full of stuff – they were without a support team.
Just as the photo was done I turned around to see a bus in the road. Waiting. The driver gestures to me. I look at the bus, then at the van, then at the bus, then at the fact the van is parked in the bus’s truning area. Whoops. I quickly say “we’ve got to go!”, and then everybody started rushing around to their vehicles, like I’d just scrambled a squadron of fighter pilots in Ww2. I jump in the van and am about to move off before I realise the back door was still open, so I go and shut it, then pull out onto the road. After waiting a short while, we had the all clear to go.
We had decided to meet the cyclists at the top of the hill outside Stanhope, the small town nearby. This was a distance of 8 miles from Rookhope Inn, but this was the last hill entirely, and from that point on it would be all downhill, it would even be the last time they really cycled on any country roads too – as the last part is all cycle paths on railway lines again.
After driving into Stanhope, I missed the turn, and we had to turn around and come back to find it. What we did find was perhaps the most horrible hill of them all – a very steep initial section, followed by a long ascent. This would take them from 670ft in Stanhope to 1512ft at the top. Yikes. We set up again so Rob was at the bottom, Kari in the middle, and myself at the top. I turned around to face down the hill. From here I could see the top of the steep section where there was a cattle grid, as well as Kari’s car. After a short while, those three cyclists with the saddle bags came past – they were doing okay but hi-vis looked like he was going to die.
After a while longer Rob chimed in on the walkie – he said Adam C and Sean had lost momentum so were pushing up the steep bit, and that the others looked a bit peaked! Mark could roger this back but it seemed my 5km range walkie couldn’t get through to Rob. Eventually they did show up over the brow of the hill and they stopped by Kari’s car before heading on up to where I was. Another cyclist in a red waterproof zoomed by. At this point I also started to get surrounded with sheep. The traffic didn’t seem to bother them and neither did me waving my arms from inside the vans. I don’t mind sheep, but there were two lambs pissing around and no doubt they’d end up under the wheels of the fast moving traffic when it did come by!
Eventually they came past – no stopping at the van, as they needed to keep up momentum. Kari and Mark had asked for me to go ahead but I said I wanted photos, so they went ahead “to the top”. Fair enough, I was pretty sure that’s where the right turn was that the cyclists should have taken. Once all five go past, I head up to the top myself, and we wait for them to catch up. Ash was first, and he was totally tuckered. He disengaged his cleats and jumped on the ground for a rest, where he had some impromptu physio from Kari.
One by one the others joined, and also were absolutely knackered. It was at this point I had a horrific realisation – they’d missed the turning. I decided to present the news with “I have good news and bad news. The good news is you’re at the top. The bad news is that the last bit.. you didn’t need to do”. Ash thought I was joking and just told me to “f*** off”! But upon further explanation to Ad, the railway line forked off where I parked the van at the top before! Luckily there was a small road just at the bottom of the last hill which would take them to the path. They turned around and joined the line there, at a little C2C stop called “Parkhead Station” – which was a cafe. We decided to break here for a cuppa, and spent ten minutes doing so.
That was it for us – our “intensive support” was over, as we wouldn’t see them for another 16 miles – the longest distance yet, but also all downhill. The meeting point was where the old line crossed the road at a place named “Hamsterley Mill”. They’d also go through the town of Consett – which we would avoid on the ring road. Bad move.
We headed straight for Hamsterley Mill and waited in the little hiking car park provided. But just as we did, we had a phone call from Ad E. Immediately thinking something has gone wrong, it just turns out they want to meet us in Consett, because they’d found a KFC and McDonalds and were going to eat, given they were all starving due to the light breakfast. We were all hungry, Mark mostly so. We waited the 20 minutes for them to show at Hamsterley Mill, and whilst doing so the three saddlebag cyclists came by rather quickly, we also saw a guy dressed in traditional German costume with a German car plate on it, and a load of horses. They then arrived, and we quickly allowed them to refill, before deciding to look for a McDonalds along the way to Tynemouth, the end. It was 22 miles away for the cyclists, but again was mostly flat. I drove along the route as closely as I could, following the main road into Newcastle upon Tyne and then following the roads closest to the river. By rights, we should have seen a drive through, but there was none. We even passed through Byker, where Byker Grove was set. As we proceeded there were still no McDonald’s so Mark talked on the Walkie about looking on his phone. At this point, Rob’s walkie died and he had no further comms.
Eventually we got to Tynemouth high street in front of the Castle, which was the end of the route. At this point we still hadn’t seen any fast food joints, so I got on the Walkie and asked “what now?”. My only reply was from Mark “turn left here thrusty!”. Presuming these were directions to McDonalds, I did as was requested and headed left onto the front. After a load more directions I was told I was missing the turnings, but the only turnings I was missing were small side streets filled with houses. It was at this point I was told we were actually looking for the hotel for that night. Whoops! We then proceeded to go in circles for ten minutes, whilst myself, Mark and Kari argued over over the walkie. It was trying to take us down a tiny single line service road with a dead end – I would not have been able to turn the transit around down there and refused to go. At this point we decided to head back to the finishing point, but not without managing to round in circles twice more.
This must have been really confusing to Rob, who was just following us with no reason why.
Eventually we got back to the end – Mark and Kari went McDonald’s hunting at this point, but with the cycle route being mostly flat, and us having wasted 30 minutes on a wild goose chase, I was worried we might miss the victorious end, so me and Rob remained. The wind was present here, and the tide was going out. Myself and Rob watched a fishing trawler return battling the immense current. After around 10 minutes we saw three cyclists meander down the riverside path. It was the three guys from this morning with the saddlebags. That must mean the others are only 30 mins or so out! Mark and Kari returned and let us eat a couple of fries!
Sure enough, after many more false cyclists, we counted five heading down the river. So we called Mark and Kari and together, the support team were able welcome them to Tynemouth!
Everyone was elated but the job was not done yet – traditionally the front wheel needs to be in the sea where you finish, just as the rear wheel needs to be in the sea where you start. Me and Rob had found a small beach right next to the “finish”, and we directed them down to it. Strangely, three guys were uncomfortably close to the van and land rover, and Mark and Kari agreed to stay and keep an eye out. Unfortunately they went past the entrance, and then passed it again! Eventually we used the alternative steps onto the beach.
At this point we had our final casualty. Ad E decided to head back around to cycle onto the beach and into the water in style. But this stalwart, who hadn’t fallen off even once, forgot he was on a road bike with ultra thin tyres, and he sank into the sand, falling straight over, yards from the North Sea.
We laughed it off and everybody was then able to dip their wheel in the sea. Everyone was over the moon, as it had all come to this moment. The journey was over.
Everybody carried their stuff up to the van, and we loaded everything up, under the watchful eye of the three suspicious guys. Of course, with bikes being worth a lot, bike thieves are a thing and can be very crafty; so everyone was understandably nervous. One of them was even having a full on lean on Ad’s Land Rover. It wasn’t behaviour that was normal! Kari sneaked a picture of Sarah that had them and their rental van in the background, and then we set off to find the hotel. We were convinced that they weren’t following, so headed right there, to Whitley bay. This time we had better luck and found it right away, with spaces to spare out front.
We checked in, people had a shower and got changed, and we went to find food. We found a Tiger Bills on Whitley Bay high street, and so ate there. We ate and drank quite a bit, including cocktails in jugs!
After that we headed to a bar, which when we passed it earlier in the day was described as “grebby”. That was an understatement – it was the sort of place where drinks have to be served in plastic cups and we saw some couple going at it in the front window. We returned after, again, too many drinks and jumped into bed.
The next day, we found another Wetherspoons, this time The Fire Station in Whitley Bay. After another breakfast, we divided luggage and cycles into the right vehicles in the right order for unloading, and said our goodbyes.
It was a great weekend.
Posted on March 14th, 2014 No comments
In May, we went to France. This was to be one of our camping trips, only in another country. As the only driver amongst us it would also be my first time driving on the Right side of the road and also my longest drive ever, a daunting prospect. On May 3rd we were to head to Portsmouth, take a ferry across during the night to St Malo, and then drive half the length of France to Les Sables d’Olonne. I’ll leave this google maps widget thing here so you can see the journey:
As can be seen, it was quite the journey!
Anyway, even though as a night ferry, we would be leaving the UK about 9pm, we left very early, wanting to leave plenty of time for us to get to Portsmouth. Even though I blundered at Birmingham and drove down the M5 instead of the M6 > M40 (which took us toward Swindon, then down the M4 to meet the A34 btw, if you know what that means (you won’t).
Despite this, after quite some journeying and a couple of rest breaks so Ash can smoke and we can eat, we arrive still quite early in the day. Now, I’d been to France before many times as a kid, but hadn’t been on one in coherent memory, so was not quite sure what to do. I knew we needed to drive into the waiting area and check in, but couldn’t remember boarding procedures or anything like that for the life of me, since it was always Deggsy who dealt with that.
But given the amount of time we had, we parked in a pay and display and decided to walk around the front for a bit. Now, Portsmouth, if you don’t know, is home to the headquarters of the Royal Navy, and also houses the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, where many older ships and exhibits are kept. Unfortunately, going on board any of them is an expensive thing to do, so we couldn’t do that. We could, however, have a nose around the public areas, and pose for images! So we got in front of HMS Victory, Nelson’s ship – and took some photos.
As we walked back we saw a line of black cars with some VIPs in. Mark swore he recognised one of them, but wasn’t sure who. Given that the Navy is pretty big, it could really be anyone, but perhaps it was someone he’d seen on the news.
After looking around the gift shop, which even sold wood from Victory from before it was replaced, we went back to the car, and drove down to the front (the docks being in an estuary). As soon as we parked up, we could see our ferry heading toward us.
I’d been on this specific ferry before as a child. The cabin we had then was an awful thing, in the middle of the ship, and square shaped. Worse was that there was some sort of structural support or pipe in the midle of the small room , and there was no en suite. There was also a strong stench of engine oil or some sort of fuel, and we were pretty far down in the ship. The ship itself was launched in 1989, so was almost as old as I was.
We watched it pass by, then decided we needed to eat. Even though it would be imminently docking, there was still a few hours before we needed to board – they needed to get everyone off and turn it around, and it’s much smaller than a plane!
Lucikly for us, there was a nearby pizza place on the front, Mozarella Joes. We ordered a Pizza and it was made pretty quickly. We were outside, but it is hand made and baked in an oven right inside, not just heated up! We were able to watch the local ships come by, including the hovercraft service to the Isle of Wight right from our table. Pretty nice!
After our Pizza, we headed back to the car, and then moved on to the port itself. When we got there, we were asked for our materials. Unfortunately, we hadn’t recieved them, due to a computer problem at Keycamp. Luckily customer service forwarded us printable versions; so we provided the agent with them, and we were allowed through. There was a small queue of cars, so myself and Ash immediately went to the nearby toilet block. After finishing our business though and coming back out, the queue was starting to move! A quick dash back to the car and moving off didn’t cause too much of an issue!
Unfortunately we were marshalled right into another queue. This one we were in for 40ish minutes. The ferry was in front of us now, with the various boarding ramps attached. Whilst waiting, another came, and vehicles began to pour off. It gave us something to watch, I suppose!
After a while, the queues began to move, one at a time. Filling a ferry is a complex procedure, with heavy lorries and taller vehicles in the bottom, and cars in the upper garage decks. This way nobody scrapes a roof! We entered the ferry as if being eaten by some sort of gigantic beast, but were then marshalled up a ramp and into precise position by many of the crew. An attended then provided us with materials to find the precise stairwell closest to us. Very good customer service from Brittany Ferries.
After turning off the engine, and trying to ensure the alarm is off (I think clicking lock doors once on the fob instead of twice keeps it off, at least), we went to find our cabin. The agent at the initial booth gave us printed materials for the rooms, so no more waiting at reception on the ferry as we did when kids. We went straight to it; it was a standard affair. En suite bathroom and shower, four bunks. We threw our luggage on one, then went up on deck to check out the view. Whilst there, they continued loading. Now, for some reason, I love being on the deck of a ship. I can stay up there for hours, looking at the sea, whilst it’s in motion. This I did, whilst Ash and Mark went back in after some photos in front of the chimney.
I took the time to take some photos of the Navy ships at the docks. We cast off just as some sort of ceremony took place on them all, whereby one man on each ship took down the flag whilst two others looked on. There were plenty of ships in port, including alot of the Navy’s new high tech destroyers, and a visiting ship with Arabic writing on it, as well as HMS Warrior, one of the first iron ships from 1860. After we passed the Navy dockyard, we passed Portsmouth itself. Here, the Spinnaker tower looks over the entrance to the docks and the estuary itself. It is a landmark for the city and is viewable for far out to sea.
As the night closed in, I took a few shots and then went back indoors. I found Ash and Mark in the lounge with a pint each. They’d been here since they left me. Mark regaled me of Ash’s first encounter with a moving ship, as when the engines fired up to reverse us out, everything had shaken, and he had displayed such a look of panic it was apparently hilarious! I was sad to have missed it. We watchd a magic show put on by a pair of women from Portsmouth, and then went to get some food from the restaurant. They had a very nice steak on offer, so we all went for steak and chips, but as usual Ash wasn’t impressed with anybody else’s attempt at cooking.
At this point I was worried about getting GB sticker for the car. In the EU, you need to display which country you’re from on the number plate on your car. Most countries are fine, and have mandated mandatory blue bars on the plate with the country code on. But not Britain, oh no; here it’s optional, and my car didn’t have one. After looking in the ships main duty free shop, I couldn’t find one either, so now was worried about flouting the law in France and getting arrested. Fortunately, there was a separate Travel shop on board which sold them. I bought two, since they were magnetic, and one was a spare.
We retired to the cabin, and after assigning bunks, went to sleep.
Luckily they won’t let you sleep in on Brittany Ferries, as an alarm goes off 60 minutes before arrival. This gives you plenty of time to get on deck and get some approach photos. Sure enough when getting out on deck, we could see France approach. It wasn’t that far away either; and the weather seemed okay, even though there were now plenty of clouds around. During the night, we’d headed West, then around the Cotentin peninsula, and down between the two channel islands, Jersey and Guernsey. It was still quite early, around 6:45am; the ferry could make a much faster crossing, but they slow it down as to let everyone sleep.
As we headed into the Port, we stayed on deck and watched the ship dock. They call people to the garage depending on where you are, so we knew when to leave. Foot passengers leave separately. After watching us dock and the men far below tie the lines to the quayside, the tannoy announced our section should report to our vehicles. We were able to do so without any issues; however we were on the upper garage deck, and the lower decks had to go first, before we could be lowered. By this point I was pretty nervous about driving on the right side of the road; I’d never done it before, and so understandably was a little anxious.
Anyway, the ramp went down and off the ferry we drove. Exiting the port was fine, despite the French soldiers (border police?) with machine guns around the security booths.
After leaving the port though, that was problematic. I’d turned roaming off on my phine to not get charged ridiculous costs, and the iPhone using just GPS couldn’t get a signal for the TomTom app. So we were officially lost. Now I’m panicking and Mark’s trying to get directions. I keep driving down the road since it seems like it led out of town, but then Ash sees a McDonalds and starts wittering on about McDonalds for some reason. Not what the situation needed; I shout at the guy to shut it just as we get to our first roundabout – I get beeped at since I looked the wrong way. Ash then says I shouldn’t speak to him like that but by now I’d seen red and just told him to shut it again. Then we were able to pull over in a layby to get the TomTom working.
After this brief spat, the TomTom got us on our way. We were already heading the right way apparently, and so got onto the AutoRoute (French Motorway) and headed South East to Rennes. From there it was a straight drive to Nantes, and then to Les Sables D’Olonne. Just before Rennes, Ash and me made up with a handshake; and we pulled into a McDonalds. The place was empty, and it would be our first attempt speaking in French. Mark went first, ordering in French, but the guy responded in English anyway! Myself and Ash ordered in English.
After many more hours, we arrived at Les Sables D’Olonne. We drove down the front and then to the site itself. We were taken to our caravan (which Mark insists on calling a Chalet, despite it being a mobile home and not having any Chalet characteristics, though apparently it’s what Butlins accomodation was called in the 60’s so perhaps thats where it comes from?). The site itself is quite nice. I had been to it three times as a child, once in a canvas Cabanon tent and the other times in caravans, so I sort of remembered the area.
Once settled, our first business was to get some sort of food. Not to mention, Ash had not smoked since the previous night’s Ferry journey – he was out of cigarettes and needed his fix!
So we ventured to the nearby supermarkets. We first arrived at Super U in the nearby Talmont-Saint-Hilaire. Here, we found foods were different – quite different in fact. Bacon was different, bread was different, and so were many other things.
Luckily we still completed a shop, and most importantly got ourselves lots of beers. Mark had also brought his own cider, so wouldn’t be put out by the lack of choice, if any. What did cause a concern is that there was no cigarettes. Nowhere. We tried some other shops, but found nothing. Ash was really anxious by now. After returning and unloading the food, we found that in France, only licensed Tobacconists can sell cigarettes, and supermarkets cannot be licensed. So we had to find a tobacconist (Tabac). Luckly, Talmont-Saint-Hilaire provided one, and Ash was able to get some by ordering “the blue one”. Or as he reportedly said, “BLEURGH”.
Once Ash was drugged up with his tabac, we returned to the site. After a short while, we decided to walk down to the sea; I remembered it was a rocky place, not stony, but rock formations, the beach being long eroded away by the relentless Atlantic ocean. Once there, I went out to the largest rock and climbed up on it. I remembered climbing it as a child; something me and my brother had Christened “Crab Heaven”, because of the sheer number of crabs hiding in the cracks there.
After this, we returned to the site again, just a short walk up the hill. We got changed and went to the bar, but did not stay for long; it had been, after all, a really long day.
The next morning, our plan was to head into Les Sables d’Olonne, and visit the beach. So off we went. The town itself is only a ten minute drive from the site, so we headed down the road and entered the place. Unfortunately a rather weird one way system is in place, and we ended up looking for a car park for ages. Eventually we found one run by Vinci, and I was able to buy a ticket on the debit card.
Our main issue though, was that we had dressed like tourists. I mean shorts, flip flops and brightly coloured clothes. However; everyone else was in a normal shirt and jeans with shoes. So we stuck out like sore thumbs. I myself have never really been a “beach” person; I find them boring and full of sand. The swimming’s fun but you can do that in a swimming pool.
We found ourselves quite a distance from the front, so had a bit of a walk ahead of us to even get to the beach. Eventually, we did though, and I thought to myself “this won’t be so bad, I’ll lie down, get a tan and a bit of relaxation, maybe even catch up on some sleep”. Wrong. After just two minutes – thats 120 seconds, Ash and Mark decide food is on the agenda instead. So the beach was over already. We climbed the stairs, crossed the road and started looking for restaurants.
However, having no French skills, they don’t know any of the French menus. I know some of it from when I was a kid; moules = mussels, avec = and, frites = chips. Everyone was nonplussed by the mussels suggestion, not that I would try them myself. Steak haché = beef steak? We were up for this, so we entered a restaurant and ordered up.
Ash was still up for trying to order in French, but the waitress clearly wasn’t impressed and used to English tourists so took an order for three steak and chips instead.
After eating, we decided to go back to the caravan, so we did. On the way back though we found a shortcut, so didn’t even need to walk so far in the first place, and we’d been carrying towels around like a bunch of muppets the whole time. Oh my lord.
After that, we headed back to the site. We spent the next few days lazing around, travelling to the supermarket, having coastal walks, eating barbeques, and then in the evenings retiring to the pub. The bars in france are dangerous – there were no pints, just 33CL glasses. On the other hand, Desperados was on draught. On the other other hand, 33CL of draught Despers cost more than a pint would in the UK. It wasn’t cheap at all!
On one of the later days, we were anxious to hear if the local club, Wrexham FC, would make it back into the league, with their playoff at Wembley. I had planned to go to Wembley earlier in the year, but intense snowfall stopped that plan.
On another day, the other two decided it would be a good idea to go to the pool. However, the manager strictly enforced the “no-bermudas” rule, meaning it was Speedos or nothing. So off they went to the shop to get some. Ash, thinking that the tight material would be “too small” went for a larger size. This was an awful mistake as he realised later, when the too large by far swimsuit tried to leave him naked in the pool surrounded by children. That would have been an interesting trip to bail him out at the local police station! Luckily he realised and they both returned within an hour. It definitely seems that both beaches and swimming pools just don’t work!
One night at the pub, Ash brokered international relations with France by having a game against a French tourist. He won two, and “let” the Frenchman win one as well.
On the last full day, we went for a stroll down the coast and found a cave, which Ash promptly decided to explore. However, after a short foray inside, he found it full of spiders; absolutely loads of them. “Oh no!”, we cried to him, “the French biting spider!”. At this, Ash egressed from the cave as fast as humanly possible. I’ve never seen somebody move backwards and hunched so fast.
The next day, we left early. We drove northward, this time avoiding the toll system. We got to Caen about an hour before the ferry was due. The port for Caen was miles away from the city itself, and actually in a place called Ouistreham. The ferry arrived on time and we were able to board. Ash decided to tease Mark, saying it “looked rough”. When the deckhand put chocks under the wheels of the car after we loaded, he said “oh it must be rough, they’ve put the chocks down!”. However, upon boarding, things seemed fine. We set off, and despite a strong gust, we went on deck to get some photos of France leaving us behind.
After we went inside, things did get rough. But myself and Mark did not care. It was Ash who was suffering. He went pale, felt totally ill. He nearly collapsed twice. Upon going to reception, they had to get the ships doctor involved, and he prescribed some anti sea-sickness drugs! Then he purchased a cabin (so much cheaper in day trips) and went for a lie down.
Five hours later, we arrived in a dark and gloomy Portsmouth. I spent most of the time on the deck: I just like observing the sea. I was freezing as a result though.
After getting through customs (and the agent said I had a baby face, gee thanks), the drive back was surprisingly short. Maybe it was because we were driving back.
I dropped the guys off, and another holiday had come to an end.
Posted on January 19th, 2014 No comments
Quite some time since the last post! Oh well.
Since April 3rd, when I last updated this blog, I’ve been to France, London, bought a new Car, then went to Cornwall, London again and not to mention Shell Island twice more.
I’ll probably write some blogs about some of these over the next few days.
Posted on April 3rd, 2013 No comments
It’s been a while since I updated this blog last. I guess using Facebook means I use this less.
Way back in 2009 I bought a new BenQ monitor. 24 inches and in HD, it was amazing. Well, a couple of weeks ago, it up and died. That means it lived not far off four years! A new record, perhaps. I think it was something to do with the DVI cable always falling out. I had recieved a PS3 for Christmas, and in order to have it show on the monitor I needed to swap cables, so I left the screws loose. I also move my monitor a lot in order to see it from the bed. Anyway, I now have an ASUS VK278Q. Some might think 27 inches is too much for a monitor, but I respectfully disagree. I’m not sure I can ever go back. The webcam is slightly disconcerting though because the image is always upside down. Not to mention this has a DVI and HDMI in, so no more cable swapping, and it has speakers so I can actually hear the PS3.
On the weather front, snow has caused mayhem. As can be seen on the left image, we had around 19cm of snow settled on things. The drifts were even worse. We had to abandon a journey to Wembley to see Wrexham FC play. The Sky signal was gone for days, and the driving snow had blocked the ventilation for the boiler, so it wouldn’t start until cleared. Thankfully we were able to, and we maintained heat, and the internet.
One game we were able to see of course was Rugby – Scotland vs Wales up in Edinburgh again. This time we rented an apartment for a few days. It was pretty damn snug, though due a bed shortage I used my camp bed and sleeping bag. We won by ten points, and went on the following weekend to beat England by an extremely large margin – 30-3!
Despite the horrible weather, we went camping on Easter weekend. It was actually pretty sunny, and in the shelter of the tent it was pretty warm as a result. Leave the tent and you get buffeted by freezing wind, but that’s besides the point. Of course, when the sun went down it also got freezing, but we kept warm enough.
My car also seems to be dying. It needed a new ABS hub before it could try to pass the MOT. That cost £600. While they did the work I had a Courtesy car. A tiny Corsa – urgh. At least it was new, it only had a couple thousand on the clock!
Posted on June 7th, 2012 No comments
Time for another big update of stuff that has happened! It’s been like six months so is probably required.
In March I made the trip to Cardiff to see the Grand Slam win against France. Granted I went to see Wales play France, but they won!
We started off later than usual so there was a bit of a kerfuffle with parking, but in the end it was fine and we made it to the game! There were lots of mistakes on both sides, but Wales pulled ahead to win the game, and the Grand Slam!
In April we went on the first camping of the year. This time it was just me, Mark and Ash! Also on arrival, it seems Shell Island have realised their portaloos are not sufficient, and are slowly upgrading them to semi-portaloos (think toilets in a portcabin).
On reflection, maybe it was too early in the year. We braved some wind, rain and also temperatures of –3 on the first night and we were surrounded by snow capped mountains, which actually made a nice backdrop. A trip to Tesco was needed to get our all important food (Ash is quite the chef), but ended up spending WAY too much! We also visited the Gelert shop in Porthmadog; which was definitely required to pickup some better equipment to better protect us against the cold! We spent the first night watching The Inbetweeners movie on an iPad, and were quite immersed so didn’t feel the cold until it was done! When it was, damn was it cold! As I said, it reached -3°C over the course of the evening, and even in our sleeping bags we felt the cold!
The next day, we headed to Barmouth, to walk around and take in the sights. Last time we wanted to do this, but it began to rain and we did not want that!
That night was spent in the warmth of the small Pub that Shell Island had! We spend a load of time near the fire here but then moved back to the tent so that Ash could prepare his legendary fajitas!
After we were fed we got the fire roaring as we do, and as the night was warmer than the prior anyway we were quite fine!
Unfortunately the Monday had been forecast to be windy and wet, so rather than have a big wet tent, we decided to evacuate a day earlier. We left and returned via The Berwyn Arms, a pub at Glyndyfrdwy! Never have I seen a friendlier place.
All in all it was a good experience! Never been camping in minus temperatures before…
Not even four weeks later off we were again to Shell Island! This time with two newbies; Dave and Sian, and Mark as a fellow usual!
The journey there was the usual but with a twist – WALKIE FUCKIN’ TALKIES! Oh yes. this shit just. got. real. We mostly used this for upcoming directions, or when to stop for fuel, or one time when we went past Harlech castle and I described how it was built by Edward I in 1283 to control the Welsh as part of an iron ring of castles. But that was just one time. The rest of the first day was used doing the usual – erecting the tents, going to P-Mad to visit the Tesco and get food. Again we got loads of stuff and spent more than we wanted by quite a bit.. yet this time we had few meals? wtf, I wonder if it was mostly snacks (hint: it was).
As a result of our lack of food, we decided to descend on Shell Island’s cafeteria. It’s a bit.. retro (think a 60’s school canteen) but the food was fine. While here we sat right next to the tourist information leaflets so we perused them and decided to visit some! We’d not done anything like this before while camping in Shell Island (we did it in Cornwall but we had a week there and there wasn’t much on the campsite). So we decided on the Ffestiniog Railway and the Llechwedd Slate Caverns.
So, the next day we got up with the intention of visiting the Ffestiniog Railway. We travelled to Porthmadog to catch a train. We originally thought of returning half way, but instead in the end did the whole trip. This left us in Blaenau Ffestiniog for a couple of hours for food. I’ve described Blaenau before on this blog; precisely:
“…It’s a great journey, the only problem being you have to spend time in Blaenau Ffestiniog for a few hours to make a day out of it and the only problem with that is that you have to spend time in Blaenau Ffestiniog. The only two things to alleviate this issue is to do one of two things; Go under Blaenau Ffestiniog in the Llechwedd slate caverns, or get away from Blaenau Ffestiniog on the Ffestiniog railway. The latter made more sense, as it takes you away from that forsaken place.”
“It was raining, the sky is grey, the enormous slate tips are grey, the buildings are grey, their slate roofs are grey, the tarmac roads are grey, the pavements are grey, and the only green areas are tiny gardens, and council run playing fields. Lovely.”
As can be seen, not a fan of Blaenau Ffestiniog. To make matters worse this time, the whole high street was closed. On a Saturday, and there was a big construction project to rejuvenate the place. Not going to work guys.. not without mass planting around the place! Trees would make the place friendlier I say. Digressing here though.
We found a cafe that I still think is a bit thin (never trust a thin building people), and had dinner there. Not much in the way of hot food but I think I had some sort of food with chips. Not really sure. We then caught the train to return to Porthmadog; the return journey was made better as we were in a corridor carriage allowing the nice man to sell us alcohol.
When we returned to Porthmadog we decided to return to the campsite. So we did. It was still light, so rather than lighting a fire we decided it would be a better idea to explore the sand dunes again (again for us I guess, it would be the first time for Dave and Sian!).
This was of course, after our return to the car to even get there. I was going on about how I once saw a Seal in the water there when I saw some splashing. So like a great big fool I start pointing and shouting “look a seal!” when it was just a bird. Even the passing crazy man said it was not a seal. I think. He could have been proclaiming evil or the apocalypse.
So when we got back we did what we did the previous July; which is to climb the highest sand dune we can find and get to the top. Turns out it is still the same dune! Not sure how long it takes for a sand dune to change in this country.
Anyway, once we were done messing around in the dunes we returned to the tent for a while, not having food though we ate some bacon and sausages on bread!
We did however, get the fire going and chilled around it until the flames died down. Dave’s burning methods are a lot more refined than Ash’s!
So. The next day we went to the caverns. There are two tours; we did both. One thing I noticed immediately upon entering the complex is that it is a lot like Shell Island: it has barely changed since it opened. Aged speakers that you can’t really hear and dummies that look older than anyone alive. The place could do with a re-doing!
The first tour involves getting onto a really small train that then drives you inside This one is fully guided – our guide seemed a bit new; but I definitely thought having a “real” guide worked!
The second tour involves being lowered 45° into a deep mine 200ft below. This one is self guided. I think either timers or motion sensors activate automatic voiceovers and lighting for characters that are lit – not animatronic, this is a wet mine after all, just stationary dummies. This is not so good. If it had a live tour guide like the other, it would probably be a lot more engaging.
The tours required the use of hard hats through both – it was a mine after all.
One of the awe inspiring things is the size of some of the chambers – the largest are called Cathedrals, no doubt because of their size – but there were lift five levels above you and six below, of similar size. Those mountains are so hollow now a major earthquake could probably cause major subsidence!
That evening included a return to the beach and dunes. This time we mostly stuck to the beach itself. It was sunny and lots were milling around. This was our final night here so we were to enjoy it. The next day was to bring rain but this time we weren’t leaving, and would persevere!
Once back at the tent Dave and Sian insisted on making the next round of Bacon and Sausage as Mark and myself had done so the previous evening. They did a damn good job!
The next day we rushed and rushed to pack everything up in a gap in the rain. However the rain never came back, and the sun broke through. Worse still, upon trying to leave the tide was in; we were going nowhere! We went to the harbour and played some games over the walkie talkies. Most fun.
Afterward we returned, no detours. It was a good weekend.
May – SNOWDON
Nontheless, despite a late arrival we made it up in record time! 2 hours and 40 minutes, in comparison to the 4 hours plus it took the first time. Granted, the first time we enjoyed 20 minute breaks and the weather was inclement. Really inclement. However we made it at quite the pace this time and even though it almost killed me I am glad of the feat!
Though once we neared the top, as usual the clouds came in. This was after we had suffered minor sunburn of course and also after we’d lugged coats and such to the top!
The way down wasn’t any easier, as lactic acid buildup had of course meant aching legs! Glad I could still drive, but not glad that there was also now a huge nail in my tyre, we limped into Wetherspoons Caernarfon for food.
Posted on January 21st, 2012 No comments
It’s been a while since I last put something on here; and it’s one of those nights in which I’m bored and have nothing better to do than to write on here. So I will.
In October, pretty much only two months after Cornwall, we went to Shell Island for the End of Season Bash. This was fun because it kept raining on us and it was cold. But not so much that it was unpleasant.
We headed off on Friday – I didn’t have much in the way of holidays left so I booked only a half day of work. Add this to an extra hour I was owed and I had plenty of time to go home, transfer beers from the fridge to the cooler and pack the last things, most of which had gone in the previous night.
After this I drove the 100 metres or so to the local Petrol Station to rendezvous with the others, who left work an hour later. Two of the guys were already there – We had a new driver, and with him a new car. We got to Shell Island at around 3pm, and unfortunately our spot was taken by a couple of camper vans. So we ended up in the middle of a field facing the mainland. Not bad as we got to see the full effect of the tide coming in, as with the guy in the water just up there.
We had three tents to put up and it was dark before we were done; with piss poor karaoke being played over massively loud speakers while we did it. We headed to the marquee once done and drank some, and ate some of the burgers they had. Unfortunately the wind had been tearing at the tents all night, and caused some damage to the larger one.
The following day was also wet, so we went to Barmouth because there was some sort of off road thing happening on the Beach. But as it started raining we instead went to the shop and then the chip shop for food.
We headed back to camp and then lit the fire for a while before heading to the Marquee to get drunk and also to see the big fireworks show. The morning after we spent packing up and going home.
And those fireworks:
It was started off way back in 1881, brewed right here in Wrexham and was served around the world on liners and found in Egypt and India. It was brewed right here in Wrexham and was something to be proud of, though to be honest the brewery did make the town smell. Unfortunately it was taken over by Carlsberg who ran it into the ground and closed it down in 2000.
Luckily the brand was purchased and now brewing has resumed with the pre-Carlsberg formula. Which is bloody amazing. Apparently sales are really good, and I wish them well and hope they can expand.
As well as this we played a few games of pool. I have played this very sparingly ever, so am therefore terrible at it. I was able to film it though!
Another one was at the Pant yr Ochain, which is the only place people can get Purple Moose in this part of the world.
In Jan, went for a walk down through the valley. Not much, but really didn’t do much in that month anyway, seeing as it’s that time of the year in which nobody has any money to spend, either because they’ve spent it all on loved ones at Christmas, or they’re a bit more mean and spent it all on themselves come the sales.
Either way, boring month!
Now this is a mental month, for drinking at least! A works night out as well as somebody’s birthday night out. A week apart. Fun.
Posted on September 26th, 2011 No comments
Went to Go Ape Delamere on Saturday. I am extremely peturbed by heights. Especially artificial ones; cliffs don’t bother me but roller coasters will. So this was kind of a big deal. However there were no freakouts at all and everything was completed without any problems. I was so paralysed with fear on the final one that I just went forward on autopilot without thinking much.
I did not take a camera because I thought it may have been damaged; on reflection though, it would have been fine. I might just start taking it everywhere just in case
Also I’ve enabled FACEBOOK COMMENTS; so you can make comments if you’re logged into Facebook. Click on the comments above to see!
Posted on September 18th, 2011 No comments
So, I’ve just come back from another camping trip, this time much further away, at the bottom end of Cornwall! If you want to see any of the photos larger, simply click on one. Brace yourselves for the longest blog post ever written (taking 18 days to write! madness, eh?), as we delve into the adventure that was Cornwall…
Cornwall, of course, being much further away than Shell Island (which is more of a walk in the park in distance) meant that we had to utilise our nations Motorway network, and of course it’s multiple service stations. The site was brilliant; Not a scouser or Brummie in sight (or should I say sound?), though plenty of Cockneys and also strangely even more boatloads of Germans. As well as this, the showers and toilets were kept exceptionally clean by the small family keeping the site running. By the way this site is called Penrose Campsite. That’s Penrose Campsite. Pen as in the stationery and Rose as in the plant. If you find yourself near Helston, Cornwall in July or August, just drive toward Porthleven and follow the "camping www.campingcornwall.net" signs. They’ll come around and get your money in the evening. If this isn’t reaching alarm levels on a shameless plug scale yet, that’s www.campingcornwall.net .
So, lets run through the daily highlights! Now with chapter titles! Scary wooo, bow before my scary chapter titles.
THURSDAY: The Journey
We agreed to meet at McDonald’s Chirk at 5am. This meant getting up at 4am, which meant sleeping from 7pm the previous evening. We met at around 5:10pm because Verity was late (which must be quite a rarity given her cornering speeds), had a breakfast, and then headed out. I had made a conscious decision to Check in on Facebook everywhere I could, because many people were in work and this would keep them updated, and it also makes writing the next section much easier! Our route took us via the M54 past Telford, the M6 through Birmingham, and then the M5 in it’s entirety. Our first stop was at the M50 junction with the M5; they had a Costa coffee so I bought a Latte, our second at Bridgewater services at junction 24 in Somerset; fortunate because by now I had inexplicably spilt my Latte all over my car and myself so could do with a wipe down. Our last stop was in Devon at some greasy spoon diner in a portacabin called M&G’s Diner. Not bad food though.
Upon arrival at around 1:00pm, we weren’t sure of check-in procedures so moseyed around asking random farmers and other campers and eventually decided on a site just vacated (literally, the people were leaving as we arrived).
As we had passed over Bodmin moors, we had hit several really heavy showers. The kind where the fastest windscreen wiper setting does nothing. But when we did arrive it was, as in the photo, sunny and clearish, only because the showers could be seen in the distance. We started erecting the big tent only to be battered by a shower one it was all unfolded. However once it had passed (only when we had clambered to get the waterproofs on), the sun came back out and things heated up (meaning off with the waterproofs).
By half three, the first tent was up and various items were unpacked. We now had a waterproof shelter. Although there were no more showers in daylight, at least we had a refuge just in case. We then put up my tent, and this went up much more quickly. We unpacked many items and decided to move on to going to TESCO in neighbouring Helston to get some food and beer. We did, and got so much snacks that we barely touched most by the end of the week. At this point we remembered we MUST HAVE LOGS FOR FIRE, so we scrambled around many local garages, who only sold kindling or were out of stock. Eventually we found some in the local Costcutter at Porthleven. When we got back from the shops, we were met by Lisa, one of the owners doing the rounds. Incredibly friendly and with terrier in tow, she accepted our money for the weeks stay and chatted with us for a while.
After she left we decided to try and find the way to sea, as she had provided basic directions. We passed a corn field and then once on the road decided the sea was too much downhill for us to come back up, having depleted our energy on seven hour drives.
So, we retreated to the tents, started a fire, and opened the beers. We also watched the stars, as the sky was that clear that satellites could even be seen flying over. After a while though we decided to call it a night, doused the fire, and went to bed.
FRIDAY: Boxers and Lizards
RUMBLE. Was that thunder? I asked myself this having been suddenly woken with no memory of what actually had. Eyes barely open I surmised the situation. Heavy rain on the tent, heaviest I’ve ever heard while in it? No thunder though. Close my eyes again. A flash is seen through my eyelids just as I am about to drift off. Open them again; followed by another distant rumble. I decide that we’re on the edge of a storm and there’s nothing to worry about. Remembering that Mark had said that T-Storms had been forecast, I had looked into the protection a tent could give to a human in such a storm. Nothing; if a lightning strike hit my tent, or anywhere nearby, I would be dead; or seriously injured. These thoughts had been swirling around my head for the previous days, but no issues, we were on the edge of a storm. I decide to go back to sleep.
KRAK-A-THOOM – How wrong was I; the brightest lightning strike I’ve ever seen and loudest thunder crack I’ve ever heard happen simultaneously above me; the almost absent delay between the two placing it almost, if not, directly above me. Mind numbing fear of imminent death took over; with no time to spare I put my Nike Hoodie on and sprinted to the safety of the car; if there’s one thing Top Gear repeats on Dave have taught me, it’s that cars are as safe as houses, in a thunderstorm due to the metal shell acting as a Faraday cage and redirecting the current around you, though it will play havoc with any electrical systems (true for aircraft too).
The only problem between myself and the car was the ridiculous amount of rain. Knowing that time is a serious issue here, with each nanosecond passing meaning we’re closer to another strike, I just ran anyway, soaking myself and my bare legs with freezing rainwater. In the rush for the car, I did not put on trousers, so I was just in the boxers. So I climbed in, turned on the engine and put the heaters on full; but I remembered that I did not actually close the tent. So I ran back and closed the zip, and came back to the car. After getting into the car a second time, a combination of shock from what had just occurred and the fact my legs were coated in freezing water, I began shivering almost to the point of having convulsions.
At this point, Mark and Verity had shown up too. I had forgotten about these two due to my own personal emergency; though them being alive was a bonus to my own survival. After waiting ten minutes I went to go put my jeans on. So after making another trip without trousers on I was cold again. Not wanting to put them in in the confines of the tent I pulled them up outside. The rain had stopped by now but the ground, being clay, was still very wet, so were my socks, and therefore so were the inside of my jeans when I put them on. After waiting another 30 mins, we went back to the tents, comfortable that the storm had passed. I went straight back to sleep.
Throughout the night there were more distant rumblings, but nothing major. The next day, we had breakfast, consisting of Bacon and Sausages. The weather had now warmed up a lot, and the wind, while strong, was once again a prevailing one. The nasty storms had come from Europe it seemed. Unfortunately this meant the front of the tent was now facing the wind, forecasting bad things for that fire. After breakfast and showers,we then decided to head to Lizard Point; the most Southerly point of the UK. It was extremely picturesque and I took enough photos of the area that it has a dedicated set on my Flickr account.
Upon arriving, we saw there was a pay and display car park here. Unfortunately we had no change (I had left mine in the storage hammock in my tent), but we had cash. So we had to go to the tea room first. A single guy had started to take the car’s details, but Mark explained him away that we were paying but had gone to get change. We did manage to spend a while here, taking photos, walking to the point itself, and then down to the old lifeboat station and then over to another point around the corner. After spending a great deal of time here, we moved back toward Helston for another round of shopping at Tesco, this time a larger one.
After we had done this we needed more logs for the nights fire. The logs from Costcutter seemed to take a while to burn and were covered in a soggy grime, but as they were the only logs around we bought some. Once back at the tent, the logs were piled up, kindling piled around the logs, and a few firelighters shoved into various positions. Then they were lit and the whole thing went up quickly due to the kindling. However the logs would not properly burn and let off a lot of smoke. Now that the wind was swirling around the windbreak area, there was always smoke in somebody’s eyes. Terrible.
SATURDAY: Pirates of Penzance
We drove West, it only took about 15 minutes to get to Penzance; the sat nav took us through the town itself so we got bogged down in traffic but it seemed nice enough so we decided to return that night. We drove on to the mines, but when we got there it turns out it was Closed. Yes, the tourist centre is closed on Saturdays, the most touristy day there is in existence. So, bemused by this we decided to go to Geevor the next day and instead go to Lands End that day. So we did.
Lands end, if you have not heard of it, is the most Westerly point of the UK mainland. It is where most charity runs from and to John O’ Groats begin and end.
The sea down there is not like much of the rest of UK seas. It is actually blue, not some green hue. With the currents bringing warm water from the Caribbean I suppose this is the reasoning. Which is good, because having been to Cuba and Mexico, I can say the sea is pretty similar in colour! Much better than Rhyl’s water anyway. I can’t imagine Rhyl’s beach being used for anything other than for collecting washed up drug addicts from Liverpool who just fall into the Mersey. This would also explain why Rhyl is so full of druggies; having finally scrounged enough money to go back home, they realise they can buy more smack instead! I digress.
When we arrived there were a lot of different nationalities here, as told by their number plates. Dutch, German, Belgians, even a Russian Lexus 4×4! A lot of others had driven further than us to get here. We paid the fee to enter and then walked not to the point itself, but to a rocky outcrop just to the South. It was more picturesque than lands end itself so we went there first. We spent about 20 minutes here taking photos; I was even asked to take some photos for a group of other people!
On the way back, we had to walk through a tiny farmstead, which had been converted into a small petting zoo type thing with craft shops for ancient, traditionally crafted, deeply cultural Cornish items; like fridge magnets. The place was overwhelmed with chickens as well. This made me nervous as I was waiting outside with them while culturally important fridge magnets were bought by the others. Chickens unnerve me; what do they want? Why are they here? Why are they birds if they don’t fly?
One this I had noticed about Lands end is the constant buzz of ‘copters and planes. These things are like buses to the Isles of Scilly, 28 miles off the coast. After we had finally loaded up on pricey
cheap crapancient Cornish artefacts that are culturally significant, we moved to go to Lands End itself. As we got to the top of the hill, some cyclists were just getting in from an 8.5 day cycling mad-dash from John O’ Groats, the most Northerly point! Amongst all the clapping and whooping and general good feelings floating around over these people completing done this monumental task for some reason, we took images of them like the rabid tourists we were. It turns out it is all for Wooden Spoon, a childrens Rugby charity helping disadvantaged children.
After this we ventured into the lands end complex itself. Lands end is not owned by a non-profit entity like the National Trust but is privately owned for charity. So it’s a bit commercial and shamelessly so, with a “4D” cinema, some museums and experiences and a bit gift shop.
Despite this, we bought some useless trinkets from there, myself some badges to stick on my suitcase which is a thing I had spontaneously decided to do. Seems a bit geeky on reflection and it will also require sewing and I have no idea how to do that but I will give it a whirl. After that we saw the point itself. We would have had a personal image with it (“Avox 343 miles” was suggested for the custom sign!), but the thing was overrun with Japanese tourists. Japanese tourists get everywhere, except Wales it seems!
We went to the “First and Last Refreshment House In England” (everything within a 5 mile radius seemed to have the moniker of “First and Last”, pubs, garages, maybe even the local crack house?) in search of libations, but alas there were none, so we had ice creams instead.
While en-route, it appears the path is suffering serious erosion, with part of the path missing along with the land beneath it as the cliffs move backward. I wonder if Lands End itself will fall into the sea at some point…
Once we were done with our ice creams we walked back to the car because we were to investigate Penzance. More importantly we’d not ate so wanted food. Before we did though, we attempted to eat some Slush Puppies; now I’ve not had these since I was a kid, and neither had the others, so we made various painful winces on account of brain freeze while attempting to finish them.
On the way through we’d spotted a Wetherspoon’s. So we drove back toward Penzance. We saw several “Minnack Theatre” signs on the way back, and each time we did, somebody had to keep reading them; but we decided to visit there the next day with Geevor.
When we stopped at Penzance we had to pay in another pay and display, and then moseyed up the street, as the Wetherspoon’s is at the top. At this point we went into Pound Stretcher looking for milk and duct tape. Except there was no duct tape; not even upstairs where it was warm and smelled of burning. So we continued on an got some from a real pound shop where everything is a pound.
We then moved on to Wetherspoon’s at the top, and ordered our food. I could only have a pint because I was driving, but I was content with Coke after that. Just to note, the particular JD Wetherspoon pub was called The Tremenheere, and was just like the Elihu Yale in Wrexham because it was also full of old men (we have two Wetherspoon’s in Wrexham being especially awesome). One old man on his own was being bothered by the staff because he drank like three pints in a few minutes. A large number of Australians also arrived to start their night on the town. I’m not sure why Australians would be in Penzance; if any Australians read this let me know as it must be national knowledge why.
We walked past the harbour and then the car in the end because we wanted to see in the other direction but the sea defences were quite high, so we had to find a gap. We did in the end and saw the island with St Michael’s Mount on. It is a bit like the French equivalent but less built on.
Once done with this we went back to the car and then drove back to Penzance, but not without first going down to try and find a car park for the sea; we’d tried to find it the day before but had bee unlucky and had to give up because Verity’s car needed fuel. However I had an inkling of where to go and went down a dead end road, with the car park and coastal path heading off. We decided to come back later, but not before we saw perhaps the most awesome sunset ever.
After this we went back to the tent, which was perhaps 100 metres away but via windy roads so was a bit much to walk back and to.
We had another fire, though it was much warmer so we did not need to shiver nearly as much! So we busted out the drinks and had more, and slept around midnight.
SUNDAY: The Mines of
We arrived at the mine around 1pm, having spent the morning showering and breakfasting. I didn’t know what to expect from this mine; it could turn out to be interesting, or as boring as Wrexham Council’s heritage centres. Sorry Wrexham, but having a museum on the site or or near to the actual thing is not interesting.
Turns out, this place was interesting. The mine had been preserved as it was when it closed in 1990, right down to anti-Thatcher graffiti on the walls and porno VHS tapes in the lockers. I suspect some items were returned by the miners after it was announced the mines would open as heritage though.
Much of the original machinery and equipment is as it was when it was left behind, but the museum said that most equipment was sold, so either a lot is missing (a video showed a modern mill but this entire facility seemed to be gone, building and all), or some machinery is from other similar mines.
The old stuff was interesting, mind, but it wasn’t what really showed the place off. What did, was the miners equipment, left from when they worked at the mines, and this really showed the conditions they worked in. The older tunnels were cramped and barely workable under modern standards, though the later tunnels were large enough for large machinery to drive around (taken down in pieces and assembled underground), like the mining ponies before them who never saw daylight.
The locker rooms had many old items in them, Woodbine cigarettes, old British racing stickers, keys, and of course, the porn. The image to the right, for example, is labelled “Big Blonds 4”. You also had the communal showers still in place, as well as the managers areas, slightly better off but not modern by any standards. The Cornish tin mines were so deep that they were very hot; the miners often wore t-shirts with torn off arms for maximum coolness.
Of course, it seems a lot of this stuff is placed; but the experience is really authentic. Especially the old graffiti; in the last days, it seems that the miners scrawled all sorts on the walls of the place.
Walking through this place made me think of what my ancestors must have done in the 18th and first half of the 20th century; in the Bersham colliery. I also wondered what could be done to turn Bersham into a similar tourist facility. Perhaps even lower people into the old workings?
After “the dry”, which was the name for the mess areas with the lockers, we went to the Mill. This is where the almost endless process of getting the tin out of the mined material began. It takes ages, with various different methods used to get it all out. The spoil was mixed with water and put into the sea; just being dirt after all. This avoided huge spoil tips like those seen in the coal and slate industries of wales.
We made our way through the mill, through old machinery, on old wooden catwalks above the ground in most places, but before long we were on the ground. When we exited we were provided with a dust coat and led to the underground path. Upon leaving the mill, we were greeted with the sight of the Atlantic. We had to walk downhill toward the underground section. This was a much older, separate tin mine called the Mexico shaft, within the Geevor grounds. We were led on a tour of the tunnels, they were extremely low, extremely narrow and really dark. There were ex-Geevor miners around the tunnel to explain some of the features, which was quite interesting.
Apparently over the hundred or so years since these mines were abandoned, they had filled with mud and had recently been dug out. So they could expand in the future as they dig out more. As the surrounding rock is solid granite, there is no need for any roof support, as can be seen in the right image.
People were much shorter back then, as we found out by constantly banging our heads on the roof of the thing. Again and again, bang bang bang. It was like having a headache drilled into you. Using this small tunnel as a base for all future knowledge, I now know that in the 1800s, everyone was midgets. Yes, Midgetkind ruled the earth with an iron fist and made fun of the “tallies”. Well who’s laughing now, midgets? Hmm? In your face.
After this, it was off to the Minack theatre. The Minack, if you don’t know, is a fancy outdoor theatre in Cornwall, started in 1932 by the inhabitants of Porthcurno. it has been home to most popular plays, and has also been featured in many programmes such as the BBC’s Coast, or the old idents (not indents!) they used to introduce funerals (such as for the Queen Mum or George Best)
We paid a small entrance fee. No play was on, so the fee was just to walk around; so we did; BUT IN STYLE. There were a lot of Europeans around, and they decided to put on their own performances, including seemingly drunken singing, and also some amateur acrobatics, which was quite funny to watch! They only did it for about ten minutes, but it was enough for some photos! So I can now say I’ve watched a performance at the Minack. The views from the place were amazing. We could see an isolated beach further down the coast, where the only routes to it were rambling along a worn path, or around the rocky outcrop itself.
Travelling around the Minack can be precarious, some of the access routes are very.. precarious, and it’s a steep slope down to the stage area. Fortunately we managed it with no major qualms. Unfortunately, we also had to get back up again!
This was not as successful and I was out of breath by the time we got up top again. Not surprising; I’ve been out of breath a lot again recently. I blame the lift in work, I always used to take the stairs! Anyway…
After spending some time here, we eventually left. Surprisingly, for a place right at the end of a headland, accessed only along single track country roads, the car park was quite full! I imagine they make similar amounts of money from visitors in a day than they do from a play!
After this, we headed back toward the campsite, lit the fire, and again drank into the evening. During the evening, I had a message from my Dad saying we should visit Falmouth. Apparently as an infant I’d been down to Cornwall extensively and visiting Porthleven, Lands End and Penzance before (I bizarrely have a conscious memory of driving through Penzance); so I deferred to his opinion. Falmouth it was.
MONDAY: Adventures in Falmouth
Falmouth is a big port. The last major one before Britain ends. The river Fal is also a major artery for many communities as far North as Truro (which we sadly did not visit).
After usual morning shenanigans, we left for Falmouth. It is closer to our site than Penzance, just the opposite direction. On the way in, we saw “Float and Ride/Park and Ride” signs. Being wooed by the novelty of a Float and Ride like the shameless tourists we were, we were only disappointed when the tide was out so had to take a bus. Seriously, Falmouth, build a fancy floating pier like most modern Marinas, so the ferries can operate at all states of time. Seriously, what kind of place wouldn’t have those? Losers.
Anyway; I’m not a fan of buses. Years of Arriva under-investing in the division covering Wrexham has meant we get the old hand-me-downs, including one with a dedication plaque from the Mayor of Wigan in 1992! They could never cope with the hill to Coedpoeth, and broke down on one occasion; the Polish driver with a thick accent could not get the depot to understand him; so I had to tell him we were on Heol Glyndwr. Don’t even get me started on some of the weirdo’s that take the Wrexham 10 and 11 buses. Anyway, we had to take a bus. Luckily, it was a modern double decker! Woo!
Anyway, digressing again. Gotta stop digressing.
Anyway; the driving force behind going to Falmouth is that it was the only location we could find with a McDonalds, which Verity was suddenly and inexplicably craving. However, turns out the only McDonalds was by the car park, so we took the bus away from Verity, infuriating her to the point where she threw over street furniture, turned green, and could only say the words “Hulk Smash” or “It’s clobbering time”. (Not really)
So we looked for one in the town centre, but there weren’t any; just a KFC, which myself and Mark would have liked, but it was aaaaaaaall about Verity (******* angry ginger midget. >:/). So instead, as a stop-gap, we finally ended her days long search for a Cornish Cream tea. For the time being this ended her McDonalds hulk like rage; one that Cornwall had never seen the likes of.
So, after this, we decided to walk up the high street. This was a proper high street; like Wrexham’s or any other medium town’s. Major brands, nothing too big, but your M&S, your Greggsy Pauls, Stevey Charles and Greggsy Steves (I have no idea what fashion is but it seems pointless so those equally pointless names I just made up will do as “real” brands; whatever “real” is; it’s all made in the same Chinese factory! Get over it. Argh! More digressing). But interestingly, it also had a place called “Trago Mills”. This store was old. Department store old; 60’s old, in it’s post-war, optimistic style. Yet it seemed only a few notches above a flea market/Pound Stretcher type store. However, I saw an excellent deal. Some amazing walking boots I could have bought. They were a sub-brand of Kodiak, but promised the waterproof-like qualities. Having conquered Snowdon in more than soggy conditions and having completely soaked feet in my old old Hawkshead boots, I knew this would be a much desired quality for further wet-walks.
Howevever, disaster! They only had a 9 and a 10. I am somewhere between an 8 and 9. 10 is too big. So, believing that such a store would have the right sizes in the back room, I enquired as to the missing size. However, the guy, who I will name Dilwyn-clone, because he looked like a handyman I may or may not know, simply said that somebody else had walked off with my dream 9 and then without another word, walked off with the defective pair.
DAMN YOU TRAGO MILLS FOR NOT KEEPING THE OTHER SHOE BEHIND CLOSED DOORS LIKE MOST STORES
Anyway, without much more fanfare, we had another tea at Harvey’s Wharf, Falmouth, then walked back toward the bus stop, caught the bus back (we were at the front, AND ON THE TOP DECK. I may revise my bus hatred.), had our McDonalds at last (neutralising Verity as a threat to the greater Falmouth area for good), and then we went back. Not before overloading my car with some finally dry logs from a petrol station en route (after trying B&Q, who only sell logs in winter? Why would people have outdoor fires in winter? Losers).
Anyway, as we drove back through Helston, we finally decided to stop at the lake to… rent a pedalo. We’d talked about this every time we had passed. Now was the time to do it. I was not especially pleased. I was carrying £800 worth of non waterproof camera equipment and did not want to go for a swim.
However, we then rented the boat and headed out. Wow. After like, 30 seconds of pedalling, my legs felt dead. When was the last time I did anything physical? Oh snap, it was back then. I’d really only been able to climb those three mountains because I used to run up the stairs every day in work. This happened a few times each day. Now I use the lift every day. Nooooooooo.
Anyway, upon getting in, I had plonked myself down in a seat. That was it. I had convinced myself that if I moved from this seat, I was falling in. The others were trying to get me to move to the other side of the boat because Mark was on my side, and Verity weighs less than a helium balloon and they kept saying pedalling was hard because of this. I kept trying to explain that because the propulsion method was in the centre, and because of Archimedes’ Principle, this didn’t mean anything; but I don’t think they gave a shit about that. More people need to get down with Archimedes! He was a cool guy!
After this we went back to the tents to chill for the rest of the day, and light a fire and sleep of course. I went to charge my phone while there (in the cars of course, using idling power), however the charger>USB adpater had fallen to pieces in the mean time, and as a result of this, when I put it into the connection, it blew the car’s fuse for the charge port (which is what the manual calls it, don’t think it ever came with a cigarette lighter). So alas, no charging in my car; I did it in Verity’s car instead. We did also, however, go to the Pub in Porthleven that night, travelling using Darren’s taxis! The next day would be a re-visitation of some areas, and exploring more, as it was the last full day we had!
So, this was the last day we had before we had to go home. Instead of using it for visiting new areas, we decide it best to get the most out of our best visits. So the plan was to walk around the Penrose Estate, a National Trust piece of land adjacent to the site which contains the Loe Pool; Cornwall’s largest freshwater lake, separated from the sea by the Loe Bar; once a river estuary.
From the instance we woke up there were constant helicopter noises. Once the bank holiday weekend had finished, it seems that RNAS Culdrose was back on active duty, with constant exercises occurring. Not just copters though, jets too. The runway was right above the valley, so every few minutes, the valley was filled with the ROAR of jets taking off.
After we were done with the Penrose Estate, it was back to Lizard point. However first, I needed a fuse for my car! After investigating Tesco, there were no fuses at all. The Tesco garage did, but no 15amp mini blades, just a pack of assorted others. Then it was on to Texaco! Again, packs of mini-blade fuses, but no 15 amp inside them. So I went to the convenient Garage across the road. Nope, they don’t do them either; “too rare”. However he pointed me in the direction of an auto electrician that would! So we drove past a dodgy used car salesman, and down a gravel path to it. Fortunately he had them, but they cost a staggering 25p. He said I was his biggest customer of the day. I found this snide comment about my girth to be unnecessary and rude, so I kicked him in the nads, leaped over the counter, stole all the 15 amp fuses, and left (this bit didn’t happen).
Once fused, we headed to Lizard Lighthouse. This was one still in operation by Trinity House. It was beautiful the first time we went and we wanted to go onto the stone beach now that the tide was out. This meant climbing a ladder; but no big issues!
So we went into the visitor centre. Going into the museum and climbing the lighthouse was too expensive, so we just bought some water and left. They had some pricey
knick knackspriceless Cornish cultural artefacts though.
With the amount of money we’d given to the National Trust this holiday, we mused that it would be cheaper to just join them for the free perks. After paying to park in their car park for fifteen minutes, we left and went to the point itself again.
Once on the beach, we wandered around the rocks. This was not a sand beach, but stone, and was surrounded by rocks. Lizard Point had claimed many many ships in it’s time before modern technology allowed to avoid the hazard properly. The RNLI (UK Lifeboats) has a world record for “most people saved” here, when a ship ran aground right outside the lifeboat station!
For a brief moment, due to the low tide, we were the most Southerly people on the UK mainland!
We spent some time chilling here, and posed for pictures, as the tide slowly came back in. We decided to leave and head back up just as our chilling spot was submerged. One thing I did notice, was that a lot of ships pass by Lizard Point! Makes me wonder what working at the Eddystone Lighthouse must be like; 10 miles away from the shore, alone, on rocks barely above seawater!
Anyway, we had to move on from Lizard Point. We decided next would be the small settlement of Lizard itself, to get an ice cream and maybe visit a shop for
pointless trashancient Cornish crafts.
I also wanted to get an image of one of those old fingerposts they had in the 50’s. Everywhere had them once, but only Cornwall seems to have preserved them well enough, all the ones around here are rusted.
After ice cream, we headed back to Porthleven. But first, we went back to the car park overlooking the ocean which we had been to previously. Except this time the plan was to walk a bit along the coastal path and try and find the beach. Unfortunately there wasn’t one for quite some time, so instead we stood above the cliffs and relaxed there for a while. After observing the view, we went back to the car. We were already on the Eastern fringes of the town, so I just had to guess my way into the town. So I did, and we got there, not before having an awesome view of the road. Turns out my awesome innate navigational skills also apply to places I’ve never been! We hadn’t really visited the town despite actually camping there, so decided to look around in daylight.
The town is the most southerly working Port in the UK. There are Ports further west, such as Penzance, of course, but down here where the tourist’s cash means survival, LABELS MEAN EVERYTHING.
So we pulled up into the Car park; I thought I’d have to cough up more money, but it was after 4pm, so no money required! Bonus. We walked along the harbour and then out to the end of the breakwater at the port entrance.
We observed many locals of the rowing club waiting for the boat to return so they could row. There were also many locals in wet-suits jumping off the quay, of all ages; and also some older kids jumping of an old WW2 pillbox into the sea!
After walking to the end of the breakwater and back, we needed food. So we headed back and after visiting a few places, decided on the same pub we had been to a few nights earlier for food. After eating, the Hayle Male Voice Choir turned up outside and started singing!
Porthleven could definitely be described as a “sleepy harbour town”, and it most definitely was! Not one neon sign in sight, and apart from the Germans storming through in their BMW 4x4s, it seemed pretty tourist free, with more Cornish people than not; though we did find a nice Welsh guy at the end of the breakwater!
After this, we went back to the tent, having purchased plenty more kindling and firelighters to help the logs burn. So, we let them burn. We also burned the windbreak sticks, having snapped more than one in each trying to remove them from the clay earth.
We still didn’t burn all the logs, but the windbreaks burned nicely.
So the day had come at last. After possibly the most awesome week ever, we were going to return to the humdrum of normality. Though of course, it would also be nice to return to my corner of Wales. I’ve always had a soft spot for Wrexham and always will; despite whatever crap jaded naysayers will spout about it.
Anyway; we started on the dismantling of the tents quite early. Incidentally, this was the last advertised day of the site operating; all except one group of tents were also preparing to leave. I suspect that as this was a single group of like 15 people over five separate tents, their money had enticed the site owners to agree to them staying a day or few more.
Unfortunately we got the tents down rather quickly, and vacated the site by 11:15. As we were leaving, the toilet rental company had turned up for their portable toilet! We got onto the road, and headed straight for Exeter before stopping. We zoomed along the A30, and at once stage even started racing, like a pair of naughty chavs doing the straight mile by Holt.
So our first stop was Cullompton Services, North of Exeter. We arrived here around 2pm after almost two hours of driving through the moors of Bodmin.
We had a McDonalds here, and I took on fuel. Then we got back on the road and furiously pursued Northward at breakneck speed! At one point, just after Bristol, my TomTom (which I use primarily for arrival times, traffic avoidance, and the pretty graphics) pipes up and declares a delay at Birmingham, and it had offered an alternative route via Kidderminster! As it was not even Rush Hour yet, which would only make the delay worse, I accepted. Coincidently, just after this I got a call because Verity needed fuel. Bizarrely, we stopped at Strensham services again, though the ones on the other side of the road! I explained the situation, and so we left the M5 and went via Kidderminster. I’d only been through here a few times so did not really know my way around; but I knew this town does not have a bypass, so we ended up taking back streets and residential roads just to get through the infernal place. After getting back on the main route by Shrewsbury, we zoomed along the A5. We said goodbye where we had met a week earlier, by McDonald’s Chirk, and went to our respective homes.
So, that was Cornwall. It was great! I’d do it again because it was so great, but of course, there are also much greater places further afield!
Posted on September 12th, 2011 No comments
I have a Cornwall based post coming up but it’s in the works. This post has been lying around for three months now, so it’s best I post it.
The day before I went to Mexico I went to the yearly Dragon Boat race. After missing the previous years, I made sure to go, because a) it was fun, and b) I didn’t want to miss out on it again. In case you don’t know, the Chester Dragon Boat Festival is an annual dragon boating event in which Avox, the company I work for, usually participates. It is located here. This year, Wayne had the Gazebos, and I was going with him, so was Adam; this meant being the first there.
When we arrived, it was not so busy, and it was dry. A bit breezy, and a bit chilly, but not raining and not too cold. We got to building the Gazebos as Sean arrived. This was interesting because this meant I could take a photo of the River Dee as it was when we arrived. Until Wayne wanted me back on Gazebo erecting duties (see left).
So as we put up the gazebos some people arrived. We still weren’t at team strength; but people were appearing, albeit slowly. After a while, the Gazebos were up, and the site was now filling up, our own selected site now flanked by other teams, each preparing for the day.
And right on schedule, here came the rain. Not heavy, but steady. That horrible constant light stuff that soaks you in no time. It was also very cold rain, so if you get wet, thats it. Bear in mind we wore purple T-Shirts and it was very cold. I kept thinking of Mexico the next day to try and get over this!
Unlike most Gazebos, these seemed waterproof, unless you touched the actual material. Unfortunately the tiny gap between the two let water through, so there ended up being two groups of people. Mostly isolated from each other, causing a miniature cold war, like a miniscule Russia and USA on opposite sites of a soggy divide.
At this point the rain seemed set in, and it was time for our first race. So our team headed for the disembarking area. We put on our lifejackets, grabbed our paddles, and went through basic training again (and received wristbands to say we had done so).
Then it was onto the boats, precariously balancing down the middle as not to upset the balance. Before we load, we must arrange ourselves by size, with the largest in the middle and smallest at the ends. This ensures the front or back will not be higher or lower in the water which means a fairer race. Fortunately I was not in the middle, but further toward the back so this was a huge bonus. Except when I had to load rather quickly. We got onto the boats, and pushed off from the shore.
Now we had to paddle to the starting area, some distance down the Dee. We would be paddling against the current.
We were off. It was good.We barely lost with a time of 1.27.28. This was the third quickest time for the first round, and of course this meant we were buoyed (hee hee nautical puns) up by this amazing show. It didn’t last, naturally, but good feelings were abound at this point.
Anyway, wetter and colder than ever, we retreated to the Gazebos. The breeze was making the wet T-shirt situation worse, incredibly so. Most of us were freezing, and only the late arrivals had brought coats because it was raining when they left.
We had another two races to go, and each minute meant we were becoming more and more likely to die from hypothermia.
Fortunately, our rather benevolent boss had arranged a cascade of sandwiches. It was like mana from heaven. We scoffed a lot down. There were crisps and beer too. I couldn’t drink too much beer mind, needing to drive back from Wayne’s later in the day, but had only one because I know my limits.
After this snackage we were due for another race, so again we lined up and jumped in the boat. This time we were not as good. Photo finish good. We lost, but by the skin of our teeth. Wait, what does that metaphor even mean? Honestly, teeth don’t have skin. I imagine if they did eating would really hurt. Lame metaphor in my opinion.
In our last race we came last with the slowest time ever. It was not good. We trailed behind the others at such a distance it made us want to cry. You couldn’t tell, of course, because we were all covered in the waters of the Dee. A river that at this point, while treated, contained all the waste of people living in the Wrexham area. Lovely.
Posted on August 13th, 2011 No comments
Known to his friends as Mr T, Tiberius Pussums is a small feline animal that lives in Llangollen. Due to an unknown incident he has only three legs.
This is all you need to know about Tiberius Pussums.
Posted on July 17th, 2011 No comments
So, as promised, last weekend we went camping again to Shell Island, this time for a longer period covering the Thursday to the Monday, a nice five days, if you include the arriving and leaving parts as days; I do, so deal with it.
A few things before I do a day by day recall of events: This time we were a lot more prepared, so there were less problems! The porta-loos evidently are not cleaned daily when it isn’t a bank holiday, so when we arrived they were disgusting. The only clean one was the one that had been horizontal on arrival so couldn’t have been used much. Again, I know they want to keep things as they they were when today’s punters were kids, but there will be a time when those people will stop coming through old age, and their 21st century kids won’t want to come back to a place where having a shower means a long walk and then waiting in a queue to use cold showers unchanged since the 1980s!
Weather wise, the first 24 hours were a rainy windy mess as forecast, but the rest of our time there it was blistering hot through the days, with evidence of the odd shower in the early morning.
Right, so, into the DIARY OF EVENTS:
This time the plan was different, whereas last time I had to drive almost the full width of Wales three times in a day to retrieve Nick and Ash from work, this time, Ash was to come with, and Nick to follow on Friday evening on the fabled X94, fabled because it is rumoured to be worse than travelling on the back of a donkey driven cart through the mountains of Afghanistan; except worse because you’re surrounded by country bumpkins, you know, the Hills Have Eyes kind. Few people have survived it’s arduous journey to tell the tale, mostly ending up in local butchers shops or kept in people’s cellars, but, I digress.
The day began with Rain; lots of it. I picked up Mark and Ash, and we sped over to Llangollen in driving rain. It continued as we packed Verity’s car with more stuff. Only then were we off for Shell Island, this time the trip was rather uneventful, with no stories of pissing on the side of the road or leaving people behind at traffic. The weather improved somewhat and while blustery and overcast when we arrived at Shell Island at around 11:00, there was no rain, and the grass was dry too. It was like it hadn’t rained all day. We noticed our “spot” had people close by, so at first thought we may need to go elsewhere, but we muscled our way in anyway. By around quarter to one, the first tent was up. By now the clouds were moving on and clear blue sky could be seen over Cardigan Bay, as can be seen in the above left image. Also, I say first tent, because this time we had three. Mark had picked up two new tents since the last time, and both were excellent.
One, a Royal Bordeaux 4 DL, was to only have one bedroom fitted to allow for more space for a kitchen/storage area – this was to be the main tent. It differs a lot from the previous tent because the fibreglass poles (the kind that skewer innocent thumbs) have been totally done away with, and replace with rigid steel poles. This adds a lot of stiffness to the tent, and helps it fare against the wind much better. Not only this, but the groundsheet is zipped in, so few creepy crawlies can get in. The other big tent, a Gelert Marion Vayo 6, was to be a sleeping area for Nick and Ash in separate rooms. It was unique as it employs the steel poles of the first tent, and over the top, the fibreglass pole type. This was also very rigid, although I don’t think we properly pulled the legs away enough because the front was too slack. Finally, my Gelert Beyond Orion 3 was my tent. I spent £130 on this tent so want my moneys worth from it!
Thinking back, it does not feel like two hours putting up the Royal Bordeaux, but according to my cameras timestamps, it was. During erection of the tents there were only two main problems; one was when a rigid pole (the first one as well) bent right over, but it also bent right back, and when the flysheet under the second was pegged down instead of the tent itself, putting a strain on the material and ripping the flysheet from the tent along the front, but there was nothing major, and everything else was shipshape. At this point we wanted to start putting items into the Royal Bordeax. Most important was the tea making facilities, so the folding table, gas hob and water was set up so brews could be made. This was paramount to further success.
Ash was also notably anxious about getting his tent up (almost as if we weren’t going to!), so before we could rest for a bit, we were putting up the Mayon Vario. It was easy to put up, but the groundsheet was the old type (just lay it down on the ground), and let all manner of everything in, including water. We then put the old carpet from the previous tent in it and it was fine! While we did this, verity inflated the inflatable sofas and they went in the first tent. By now the sun was blazing, and temperatures were up, so we shed the coats we had been wearing. A new cupboard was put together for food as well. However, this is what we needed. I also needed supplies, having completely forgotten toiletries and folding chairs in a moment of complete stupidity I can only refer to as leaving everything until the last minute. So, after weighing the options of going to Barmouth where there is only a Somerfield, or Porthmadog, a little further away but to the North because of it’s Tesco and Gelert shop (and that I was more familiar with the town), we headed out North. Verity drove, though I suppose it could barely be that, amongst being thrown around corners and her complaining about how far Porthmadog was and that there was a toll and also not remembering the way back, so much so that we drove through old Harlech and almost missed the turning to Shell Island!
Once at Tesco, we bought all the food and drink we needed, as well as myself getting new toiletries! Once we had done this, we went to the Gelert shop where I bought a new folding chair, so I was also set for the weekend. When we (luckily) got back to Shell Island alive, we visited the camp shop and bought wood for the fire and also ice for the cool-boxes. Once back, we put my tent up. This is the Orion 3, and is pretty simple because it has the aluminium poles that bend into shape once all the corners are in the eyelets.
At this point, we realised we had no guy lines for Mark’s windbreak as they were all in mine, so we had to make do without windbreaks. Instead, the next we would go to one of the bargain holiday shops in Barmouth and buy two of the largest to create a private compound.
For dinner we set up the cooker in the Gelert Marion Vayo and had dinner in there, just some basic sausage baps. We brought a lot of aluminium foil this time to avoid any fat dripping issues. After this I walked down to the beach and walked over the extremely rocky area to the sea, as the area of the beach we were near was very rocky!
That night we couldn’t light the fire as it was too windy without any breaks, and the rain was back, and kept on and off, so it was decided to wait until the next day. Instead we drank some beers and chatted until the early hours when we all went to sleep.
I woke at around 10:15am on Friday, to the sound of rain battering my tent. As usual it was deflecting the wind with little movement, so I decided to lie there until around 11 just listening to the rain while being warm. After a while I decided to move. I decided to bust out the poncho I had bought in Mexico to stop myself getting wet, but when I went outside in it, the rain was going away and it was just windy so I just looked like a huge blustery red tool. I quickly took it off. I then realised that nobody was actually at camp except Ash who was still sleeping. After looking bewildered by my missing persons case for a while and looking in ridiculous places like the annex and behind the tent, Verity and Mark turned up in Verity’s car, which despite being a two ton Honda Jazz I didn’t notice missing. However I totally played it cool and nobody noticed I had been behind the tent looking for them. They’d been driving around the site looking around, and I jumped in and assisted in this urgent task.
The site was a lot bigger than I thought, stretching right down into the area alongside the runway of the old RAF Llanbedr site, and into the dunes to the South, which were a lot more extensive that I originally thought; still not a patch on the dunes of Maspalomas. After a brief tour we had a quick mosey onto the beach, it was a sunny spell so we deemed it safe, the clouds were casting shadows onto the sea so it was in varying different colours, and then in the distance there was the darker colour where the seabed drops down. It was quite a lovely image.
Unfortunately this didn’t last long, by 1pm rain was hammering us and we were in the Gelert Marion Vayo waiting for food, as we’d put the cooker in there until we could put it under the extension for the main tent, but we didn’t want to put that up yet because we had no windbreaks and it was also raining.
By the time we had eaten the food, the rain had stopped so we decided to go to Barmouth to get windbreaks. Not the new-fangled ones susceptible to wind, but the old beach kind, wooden poles you hammer in. So after Ash demolished these with his mighty new hammer, of which he insisted on using for every one. He then developed a blister on his hand from this and complained about it for the rest of the day.
We had also erected the extension by this point taking the tent to a further length. The cooker was put under this and so was the seating. With the windbreakers this was now a complete compound.
By this time we had learned Nick would be coming by car courtesy of his Dad; and he’d be bringing more chairs, sparing him the fate of so many X94 passengers. He arrived after he’d finished work, sometime between 7—8pm.
This time we had the fire going to its full extent. Unfortunately Ash, being from a.. ahem.. *underappreciated* part of town, used his entire 20 odd years of fire-starting experience to light the fire. This experience consists of as much newspaper as possible combined with a deodorant spray and a lighter. Of course, once the paper was alight, with the breeze, there was ash (the horrible dirty kind (….err, just not the guy, ok?)) all over the tents. After a frantic wipe down the wood itself had caught and we were fine.
Now that the group was complete (including our fire) we got to drinking as with the night before and went to sleep in the early hours.
Rain struck during the night, making me believe the next day would also be wet and cold. This was fine because I had packed for that weather, being forecast as it was and everything.
How wrong was I? I was forced to get up at 10am because the heat was too much to bear. I got out and there was not a cloud in the sky. This also meant I was completely incorrectly dressed for the warm. Some old corduroys and a black t-shirt. Warmth city. At least I always keep a pair of sunglasses in my car so I won’t get a killer headache from squinting all day.
So, we went to the beach. We would have walked but we had so much crap we drove to the beach with it all in my boot. Once there we were free to drink beers and cider from the coolbox. We took a kite with us but it simply was not windy enough and myself and Ash just made a spectacle of ourselves.
At this point Ash decided he would have Duck’s feet made from sand. So after half an hour of carefully moulding them around him, they were complete. Of course, by this time we were becoming sunburnt and realised we should probably have applied suncream. So we quickly did, but it may have been too late.
Arms, and face burned, we went back to the tent and had another relatively peaceful evening with the fire. This day was also Nick’s only full day with us. So with him leaving the next to go back to work on Monday.
Strangely, the moment the sun went down, it was absolutely freezing. Despite this we carried on again into the early hours and slept well.
Waking on Sunday was similar to the previous day, in that it was boiling, so I had to get out of bed earlier that I would want. The plan was the beach today, except we had a choice of Barmouth or Black Rock near Porthmadog. Verity needed shorts as did I so we went to Porthmadog to see if the Gelert shop sold any. When we got there however we deduced we didn’t have the time to go as we needed food too for a BBQ, and Nick’s dad had already set off for Shell Island to pick up Nick. Also at this time, my parents had driven to Llanbedr right outside the campsite.
Once we had driven back with new food in tow, Nick packed up his things and his Dad arrive to say goodbye, but not before the top group photo was taken.
Once we had gone, it was decided we’d climb into the sand-dunes, find the tallest closest one, and sit there for a while. So this we did, again it was very hot and we probably burnt further, but this was not a problem. I think I had more of a tan than I’d had from Mexico!
Once we were done, we walked (or ran foolishly) down the sand dunes to the beach, walked along it and then up to the tent.
Then we started on the BBQ. We had this behind the tent, overlooking the sea and it turned out to be the best BBQ ever! We’d only used disposable ones, but all was fine.
In fact, it might have been too fine. We bought too much it seems! Given than Verity can only eat slightly more than a hamster before exploding like a pigeon fed rice, us three lads could only manage half the food we’d bought before surrendering. Not only this but the disposable BBQ was getting cold. We also noted the warden patrolling, so quickly moved everything back onto the camping side of the “no camping” boundary just in case.
What follows is the funniest thing I’ve seen ever. I went down to the sea to take some images as the light was failing. A while later, Mark, Ash and Verity joined us. The plan was to walk out across the rocks to the sea itself to celebrate Mark’s birthday. We made it out there fine, a few slips with the odd foot going into a pool of water between rocks. However on the way back, Ash fell face first into a large pool of water which was perfectly sized for him! He was soaked from head to toe. At first, I asked if he was ok. Once he said “yeah”, I burst into laughter.
Yes, all his clothes were soaked. It was magnificent, and a large source of enjoyment for the rest of us into the evening!
So, quitting time, we had to pack up and leave. This time it was worse because there were three tents, there was a lot more stuff including the windbreaks and extension, and we’d also had a better time so it was more painful to leave!
We began anyway. I wiped down my cooker properly this time; it still had grease on from last time.
Once done we went to the pub as usual and had a departing pint of beer.
Then we set off for Caernarfon via Rhyd Ddu, followed by Betws-y-Coed via Llanberis, just for the scenery. At Pen-y-Pass we pulled over for some sightseeing, and to take some images.
We were to visit Swallow Falls on the way back, however I was not certain where it was and it seems we passed by, so continued on home instead. None of us had the change for the turnstile anyway, if I remember correctly.
We all arrived back just as the light was dimming. The weekend was a good one. The next camping trip will be late August, down in Cornwall. I’ll post a blog after that too!
Posted on July 6th, 2011 No comments
Went camping to Shell Island on the last Bank Holiday weekend with a bunch of guys from work. It was a blast.
There were some worries to begin with as we did not know if they were going to let us in or not (we’d pre-booked and the only reason they seemed to let us in is because we’d “been last year”, even though apart from one of the group, none of us had!), as they’re pretty strict on no groups, they want families and couples only, we were kind of a group I guess. It kind of felt like a nightclub, right down to there being bouncers patrolling in 4x4s! Still, I suppose it is a lot better than the nastier campsites further South, where you *have* to stay awake until 3am because the Brummie or Scouser family of 16 year old mums and dads with their babies are bawling out the latest hits or talking about how preggers Charlene is and what brand names she can name the kid after while around a fire while downing litre bottles of cider they’d nicked from the offy and you are afraid that if you go to sleep they’ll probably steal your things, having many nice things about me this is a worry I have.
The only other negative was the lack of facilities. The facilities they do have are great; clean and useful, however there is only one block across the entire site for showers and washing. It is madness! It is an SSSI I suppose but there must be an environmentally friendly and also fitting way to build at least a northern and southern block for this, and throw in some toilets; the only toilet option for most were unlit portaloos (regularly cleaned but still). Apart from those issues, the time we had was brilliant!
We arrived around 10:00am on a Friday morning, beating all the traffic, and zoomed to a spot one of us knew of; a small flat area at the top of a slope, Behind it, the sea. This left us pretty isolated, and out of earshot of families with kids; the only people who came near had a camper van and violated the 20 metre rule, so anything they heard is their own fault! During tent erection, I suffered a long splinter from a carbon pole, I was feeding it into the tent fabric at some speed when a long splinter entered the side of my thumb and came out the other side. I hadn’t realised until I was pulling it out how long it was, the pain was nothing and they were such small wounds they didn’t bleed for long, but my thumb was sore in the days afterward. Once the monumental task of getting both tents up, a large tunnel tent with massive living space and my dad’s much small Halfords value pack tent was finished, I had to return to Wrexham to get Nick and Ash and bring them back to Shell Island, as they could not both get time off the same time as others in the company.
Unfortunately I had forgotten to remove the beers from the boot, and Nick’s massive double bed and duvet had trouble getting in, as well as all the shopping we’d stashed at Ash’s house. However we crammed it all in. After the long trip back, the repacking of the car, and the long, arduous time myself and Nick had waiting for Ash’s mum to iron his trousers, we were finally on the road.
This is when Ash decided to crack open the beers. By the time we got to Bala, he was bursting for a piss. So using my awesome navigational mind, I remembered where the Bala public loos were, and it was at this point that I decided to take the car and hide from Ash behind a camper van. Unfortunately hiding a car is not as easy as car adverts make it out to be and he found us straight away.
Eventually we got back to the site, and through the multiple security checks (consisting of a barrier). We all reunited, and then got to drinking and relaxing. Ash, being the best chef in the group, was our main cooking guy, and he made some awesome food. We bantered and drank into the night, without a care in the world. Of course, being in full view of the sea at the top of the hill left us really exposed, and the wind battered us badly; occasionally I checked on my cheapo tent to make sure it was still there, as the thing had the wind resistance of a sail. Around 11:30pm, I checked again and to my horror, it was no longer upright, but flat. We all mobilised to see what could be done, but it was too late; the first night I lost my tent, when the corners ripped right off the poles in the gale.
We quickly moved sleeping equipment, such as my folding bed and sleeping bag to the big tent and I slept in the main living area with Ash who slept on the hard floor and did nothing but complain how hard the floor was. We jammed the tent remains in Verity’s car and called it a night.
I woke to the sounds of wind rattling the tent; it hadn’t gone away. Mark had just gotten up and gone for a walk to see how many tent collapses there had been; this is what had stirred me. I felt damp, so I looked down and felt my sleeping bag. It was also wet, I thought I had managed to somehow piss myself? I started blaming it on the coldness, it must have an effect, or maybe Ash’s cooking. Fortunately I realised it smelled of cider; it appears in the night a half drunk glass of Magners abandoned in the shenanigans fell over, and onto my bag and me! Unfortunately I now smelt strongly of cider; more so than the park drunk.
Mark returned with the news that many tents were flattened or simply gone! Ash rustled us up some breakfast; sausages and bacon and hash browns! Luckily his griddle pan was the perfect fit for the cooker. Unfortunately it had grease running down the back. As usual though, it was brilliant!
Later in the day we needed supplies, knives from Tesco and a new tent from Porthmadog. So myself and nick ventured North. I picked up an Orion 3 tent and also some things from Tesco.
When we got back the others had gone to the camp pub and the store to buy a brazier and wood for a fire, so me and Nick put up the new tent. This took less than 10 mins and was really easy! As it is a three man tent it was perfect for my clothes and my bed with plenty more room. Only worry was that the legs of the bed may damage the floor. The poles are aluminium; doing away with horrible carbon fibre poles that splinter innocent thumbs. The tent even has a porch area outside the internal area to cook on a small hob or watch the rain. The pack when it is rolled away into it is also really small and light; this was the best £130 purchase I’d ever spontaneously spent.
We then walked down to watch the big football match; however the place was ridiculously crowded and I lost everyone; looking at my phone to text someone it ran out of power, so I walked back to the tent in a huff and started recharging it in the car. Not long afterwards Verity and Ash returned, followed by Nick and Mark.
Instead we ate, drank and bantered into the night. I learned that a friend of Mark’s while at Shell Island in previous years had to go to hospital after she’d been struck in the face by a loose pole on a windbreak (This is relevant, I swear). I retired to the new tent and it provided a good nights sleep, and didn’t move much in the wind.
I was rudely awaken on Sunday morning at around 6am by shouts from Mark. The wind had gotten the worst it had, and Mark’s tunnel tent was showing signs of strain and possible collapse, facing the wind. After quickly pulling on my boots I shifted over to the site and helped peg down the back better, pulling the material taught and reducing the strain.
At this point I noticed the wind had also snapped one of the windbreak poles and it was waving near my car. I moved to take out the errant pole; suddenly flashing back to Mark’s friend and having images of having half my face removed by polewhip. Fortunately the pole was replaced with ease and the guy ropes re-pegged for strength.
After this was done we all went back to sleep. We spent most of the day in the tent, and I proved myself as the TRUE FRUSTRATION CHAMPION. That night, the last night, we set up the brazier and lit the fire. At this point it threatened to rain but held off long enough for us to use all the wood, and have a good time. We drank long into the night, threatening to finish off the Budweiser, but a couple of crates eluded us. As the fire burned out, some commotion started off down the hill; a Rover 25 or MG ZR was speeding away from the wardens in a 4×4. He eventually stopped and the wardens got him, and pulled him out of the car quite violently as it seems he didn’t want to leave. Then a group of girls caught up on foot and started screaming at the wardens, and then the police turned up and escorted away the driver! It was strange that suddenly everyone was “going for a walk” in the vicinity to catch the happenings!
After another awesome sleep in the brilliant tent it was quitting time, and we had to go home. We had booked another night but nobody could get the time off the next day apart from me; and I wasn’t taking down the tents alone!
I never liked taking down tents. On the dozens of occasions I’ve done it before it seems so depressing, everything must be put away and loads of effort expended just so you can go home and back to the droll of work.
Thankfully there were now four of us and not two like there were putting them up (sorry Verity, holding the guidelines is not putting up a tent!), so it was quicker than it could have been. The worst parts were cleaning the pots and pans, and wiping grease off the cooker.
Eventually we got everything in the cars so went down to the facilities to play some pool. Turns out that if Ash can’t play pool once every three days then through the most mystic and arcane magics he is only able to continually complain about how he hasn’t and must play pool. We also had some chips, and then got on the road home.
The journey home is always a tiring one.
Camping is awesome. Never mind that you have to drive to the shower and that there’s no electricity, the experience is still an awesome one. That is why this weekend we’re doing it all again.
For the full set of photos of this awesome weekend. please click here to browse or use the photo tab above..
Posted on July 5th, 2011 No comments
Last Tuesday I returned from two weeks in Mexico. It was a lot cooler than other places due to a constant wind, and the temperature was always between 20-35C, so this was much better than inland places, such as one day we spent at Chichen Itza!
All in all it was a great holiday, and a good two weeks; excepting the horrible blisters from sunburn despite the P20 and the rain on the weekends and on takeoff!
You can see the photos on the tab above or in a set here.
Posted on September 5th, 2010 No comments
Between the 16th and 22nd of August, I went camping with the parents to Beddgelert Forest campsite, obviously near Beddgelert, in the forest. My dad and me share the same week for our birthdays so this was a good opportunity to do something we hadn’t done properly since I was a kid. It was pretty fun, and we busted out the old frame tent to do it. It’s been camping with us so many times it’s starting to get on a bit, but I still prefer the old things because they usually have a heavy canvas skin and are very rigid. This makes them more sturdy and a lot less prone to “flapping” in the wind like modern tunnel tents of a comparable size do.
We went in separate cars to maximise the number of things we could take; of course, the old inflatables, sleeping bags, camping oven, stands, folding picnic table etc. We also took the two dogs with us; I don’t think they’d been before this so it was a new experience for them, always being outside!
A major problem straight off was the inflatable beds. They’d not been used since the early 00’s, and as a result were leaky. They’re the really old almost standardised design of red on one side and blue on the other, thick tough canvas type. So after a night of troublesome sleeping, I headed down to Beddgelert and bought a folding camp bed. Much more efficient way of sleeping, as it cannot be deflated! Of course, this was extremely comfortable and apart from the odd creak when I repositioned myself, was sturdy too. Very good for a £15 knock down price!
Our pitch was tricky to find originally. A flat area turned out to be extremely muddy; to the extent my car sank into it and I had to plunge my arm into it up to by elbow to remove a stone. After doing this I was able to move the car out of the pit it had churned up in frantically trying to rock it out. Eventually we found a smallish spot at the very top end of the campsite; right next to a station on the Welsh Highland Railway. It was surrounded by trees so there was a lot of space for BBQing it up. It was also opposite a small stream which gave us something to listen to while nodding off.
Main problems were the midges. Hundreds of thousands of them and they are attracted to light. We tried a scented candle so they’d get stuck in the wax and die, but there were just too many! The weather was not as helpful. It mostly rained. Especially when taking down the tent, so it had to be hung on the bannister in the house afterward to prevent it from rotting. Shame about the weather, but still it was a really nice experience.
Posted on August 22nd, 2010 No comments
Five years ago, on this very day, at this very minute in time, 11:36 AM, a blog was born!
I had this before Facebook (then called “The Facebook” and only open to uni students with valid uni email addresses) was public!! Blogs were still cool then.