Archive for July, 2011

At one with Nature

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

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:

THURSDAY

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.

FRIDAY

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.

SATURDAY

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.

SUNDAY

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!

 

MONDAY

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!

Yet more Camping!

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

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!

 

FRIDAY

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.

SATURDAY

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.

SUNDAY

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!

MONDAY

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.

 

Footnote:

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..

Returned from Mexico!

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

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.