Category Archives: Devon

CAMPERVAN CAPERS 2 – Launch Celebration!

AFTER the recent launch of Campervan Capers, I’m happy to be able to announce the release of a free sequel, CAMPERVAN CAPERS 2.

As many of you will know by now, the book is an adaptation of the Campervan Capers blog entries from 2011, which I wanted to publish for free in a handy eBook format.

Now, I know the word ‘eBook’ will send shivers down the spine of a few folk who still haven’t got an eReader (ironically, you can count me in!), so it might come as a surprise to know that my publisher, Smashwords, offers all my work in formats not only for eReaders – like the Kindle & iPad – but also in formats for home printing – eg PDF – and reading on your computer screen.

Why release the Campervan Capers blog entries in book format? you may be wondering.  Well, although the blog is free to read for anyone with a computer or other internet-enabled device, publishing as an eBook will open our travel stories up to a-whole-nother audience.  In fact, since the publication date, only a few days ago, I’m amazed to see that the new book has already been downloaded 32 times!

For those who are new to this blog, it’s worth mentioning here that there’s also an original Campervan Capers book and, as with the blog/sequel, the stories follow me & my partner, Steve, as we embark on various mini adventures in our campervan.  My aim is to write in a style which is both light-hearted and practical, so as to entertain as well as pass on tips we’ve picked up along the way.

Now, I hope you’ll all forgive me for publishing Campervan Capers 2 slightly later than anticipated – my excuse being that I’ve been putting together more photos of our travels on Flickr and short videos for the Campervan Capers books on my new YouTube channel.

WHAT TO DO NEXT?

Well, why not visit my Smashwords Author page direct, where all my published works are listed.  Some, like Campervan Capers 2 and The Welsh Leek Conspiracy (adapted from the original Campervan Capers book), are free.  And you can sample 20-30% of the rest for free, too.

Alternatively, you can go to my Foley’s Forum website, where there’s information on all my books as well as a whole load of other free-to-view stuff such as short stories, articles, poetry & photography.


SUMMER SALE!

Did you read the recent blog about the Smashwords Summer Sale?  If not, just click the link to find out how to get discounts on all my books for the entire month of July!


COMING UP (SOON?)…

Steve’s still doing a fair bit of cycle training at this time of year, but I haven’t given up hope of pinning him down at some point to write something for the next Steve’s Cycle Shorts.  Once I do that, you can rest assured you’ll be reading about our latest trip up north in ‘Old Bessie’ (as Steve calls our campervan)…

In the meantime, if you missed the last Tour of Flanders blog, along with a ‘words & pictures’ video treat, then why not click the link to check it out?

As ever, I remind readers that, if you’d like to be kept informed of the latest news & offers, why not subscribe to the blog to automatically receive an email whenever new posts appear – thus saving you the hassle of checking for updates?

Hope you enjoy reading!

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Underground, Overground

Journey Date

3-Nighter – Early June 2011

Destination

Exeter– Beer – Buckfastleigh

 …WOMBLING FREE

“Great!  A blog about the Wombles!” I hear you cry.  Well, with such a title, you’d be forgiven for thinking so…  But I’m afraid this blog is “wombling free”.  However, although there is no mention of furry litter-pickers, we will be going underground on our travels – as well as overground.  [Apologies to readers who are too young to know what I’m on about!]

COSTLY CASTLE

Having set off in good time, we took a detour off the A30 and had lunch at Spinster’s Rock and visited nearby Castle Drogo.  This National Trust property is an early 1900s structure designed by the famous Lutyens.  Drewe, the original owner, wanted to recreate the look of a castle, but unfortunately rejected advice to have a pitched roof which would drain off rainwater.  Years on, this has become a bit of an expensive problem to fix, so if you know anyone who has a spare £11.5 million…?

Despite its rather austere exterior, Castle Drogo is rather homely inside.  Drewe seemed ahead of his time with a few nifty gadgets about the place, including candlesticks that were ingeniously rigged up to work on electricity; and his daughter’s dolls’ house, which had working lights and running water – no thirsty dolls there!

Our first night’s stay was a little shy of Exeter.  Another basic Caravan Club CL site, it was quiet, took in views over Dartmoor, and was frequented by woodpeckers as well as blackbirds playing tug-of-war with the worms after the evening rain.

HALLOW THERE!

Next day, we went on one of Exeter’s free Red Coat tours entitled Churches, Cemeteries & the Catacomb.  (Warning to very squeamish readers: skip down to ‘a happier place’ further on in the blog.)

Intermittent rain accompanied us on the tour and, although I’m no historian, some of the info did actually sink in.  For example, the Romans originally occupied the area; and where Exeter Cathedral now stands there used to be an almighty burial site, with bodies laid to rest with their feet facing east – towards Jerusalem.

SLIGHTLY OVERSUBSCRIBED

Personally, I found the catacombs more interesting than the churches.  And, it seems, I’m not alone.  The first ever Red Coat tour to the catacombs had thousands of folk lining up for it.  Unfortunately, the tour guide is only supposed to take a maximum of fifteen tourists!

SLIGHTLY UNDERSUBSCRIBED

Grave-robbing was once rife (doctors needed fresh bodies to examine for medical purposes) and it was hoped the catacombs, consecrated in 1837, would be immune to this problem and thereby attract many ‘clients’.  However, the fees were considered too high and only fifteen bodies ever ended up being interred there.

Still, one body was stolen from there and the authorities got it back by letting it be known that it was diseased with cholera.  The robbers returned the body and, hoping to lessen their punishment, said they’d looked after it really well – even going to the trouble of cleaning its teeth…  Hmm!

‘A HAPPIER PLACE’

By morning, the rainy uncertainty of the previous day had cleared, leaving only fluffy cotton-clouds and hopeful blue skies.  Bit of a shame, though, as our itinerary meant that we’d be underground for most of the day!

ALCOHOL-FREE

We headed off to do a tour of the Beer Quarry Caves near Seaton.  Now, in this case, ‘Beer’ is a place not an alcoholic beverage.  The caves were prized for their creamy-coloured, chalk rock which is soft to work when first quarried and later hardens off; and they were worked by the Romans, Saxons and Normans (but not at the same time!)

Lowly-paid quarry-folk worked long, hard hours beneath the light of tallow-fat candles which they had to buy themselves.  As well as being used for local buildings, the renowned Beer stone has gone to build churches as far afield as Westminster Abbey, where Prince William just got hitched, and America.

LEAKY PASSAGES

If Beer Caves were some of the largest underground spaces we’ve ever visited, surely Exeter’s Underground Passages must be on the list of the smallest.

The medieval passages were created by digging a ditch, lining it with cut stone, covering it with a large stone to create a roof and backfilling with soil.  They were then lined with lead pipes(!) and this allowed clean water to be channelled into town for use by two main parties: Exeter residents and the clergy.  Water for the locals came from the river and helped prevent further cholera outbreaks; and water from Sidwell’s Well was fed directly to the cathedral, so they could have holy water on tap!

Pipe leaks were frequent and tallow-soaked cloths were used to repair them.  However, the rats took a fancy to the cloths (or was it the tallow? – or both?) and workers had to continually check on repairs.

During the Blitz, about 300 people used the passages as shelters; and I can only imagine how horribly claustrophobic it must have been.

A ROSIE BY ANY OTHER NAME

The glorious evening sunset had transformed into heavy rain by morning and it was obvious that Steve wouldn’t be doing his planned cycle racing, all such events being cancelled in bad weather.

We usually stay on the same site near Buckfastleigh when Steve does his time trials; and if you read our last blog, you might remember the site owner’s dog who we decided to name ‘Bostik’ because of her ‘friendly’ nature.  Well, it turns out she’s called ‘Rosie’ – and, despite the weather, she was still eager to come and hover round the van.  We wondered how long she would hang about, given the bucketing rain and lack of attention.

WET WASH-OUT = DRY SIT-IN

As we sat there in the warmth of the van drinking our tea, we reflected on Steve’s washout of a day race-wise.  There’s one thing about having a campervan, we thought: you can pretty much do what you like.  We had nowhere else to be and no‑one else to please…  So we made another cuppa, chilled out as we watched the rain pouring down, and slowly made our way home in time to cook up a lovely roast meal.

TIPS & CONCLUSIONS

  • Watch out for height restrictions on town car parks.  The Exeter Park & Ride we went to had no parking for motorhomes.  In the end, we drove into town and chanced upon an appropriate car park.  Contacting the Tourist Information Centre before travelling might have been wiser.
  • Make sure you have plenty of change to pay for your parking ticket beforehand.
  • To avoid disappointment, book tours in advance if you have your heart set on them.  The Exeter Underground Passages were fully booked up with school tours on the Friday, but we managed to secure a place the following day.

As you have probably guessed, there won’t be a Steve’s Cycle Shorts entry for this trip, so fans will have to wait till another time, I’m afraid.

‘WATCH THIS SPACE’…

Having done quite a few trips lately, it’s time for us to go over our diaries again and plan the next batch of mini campervan adventures.  So it’s just a case of ‘watch this space’ or, if you haven’t yet subscribed to the blog, why not let the blog come to you by popping your email address in the box to the right of the blog and click on “I’m keen!  Sign me up!”  It’ll then be emailed to you by a digital postal worker.

In the meantime…

As we haven’t any immediate trips planned, there’ll be a bit of a gap till the next blog.  So if any readers are interested in me posting a collection of photographs from previous trips, let me know.  Otherwise, I’ll see you again whenever our next travel tale is posted…

 

You can also read about our adventures in my book Campervan Capers. Available at all major outlets online. Click here for more info.

CAMPERVAN CAPERS

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Steve’s Cycle Shorts 2 – Not Floating My Bike

Buckfastleigh – Evening Race

14th May 2011

When keen cyclists like myself look out the window and see it’s a floater, they can’t help sighing, “If only I were racing tonight, I’d have a good chance of improving my Personal Best.”  And, as there have been a few floaters lately, I’ve been rather obsessing over them…

Now, just in case there are any alarmed non-cyclists reading this, I’d better explain that ‘floaters’ aren’t as bad as they sound.  They are, in fact, those calm conditions in which you’re most likely to increase your PB because there’s no wind to hinder you as you hurtle along at a pace that would make your granny giddy.

Having heard me moan on about missing out on all the floaters lately, my poor Cycling Widow of a partner looked up the forecast on the internet to see what the conditions would be for my time trial on Saturday evening.

“Look,” said Alannah, “do you really want me to tell you what it says?”  Her rationale was that, if I knew it was going to be windy, I’d worry my cycling socks off all week about the possibility of doing a bad time… and if the forecast predicted a floater, and it ended up being windy, I’d be disappointed.  “You’re right, don’t tell me anything,” I conceded.

“SLOW”…? Forget that, sunshine! It’s full speed ahead tonight!

So it was that we headed off to Buckfastleigh for the race.  It was lovely and sunny when we parked up and all seemed pretty calm.  But out on the A38, it was a different story, with the wind against me on the return leg.

For any cyclists who don’t know the course and are thinking of trying it, the Cycling Time Trials Council call it S4/10 and it’s a fast out-and-back course, unless you get held up at the turn coming back.

All in all, my body felt stronger than normal and seemed to make up for the wind’s countering effects; and my time wasn’t bad at 24:30.

Although I’m not normally forecast-obsessed, I can’t help thinking about it when it comes to cycling.  But, as my wise soigneur (who’s typing this!) reminded me, the conditions aren’t everything.  In any case, you can’t change the weather, so it’s important to work on the things you can change instead.

When I reflect on my performances, I often come back to one main question: “Am I enjoying myself?”  In all our competing and striving to do better (than ourselves if no‑one else), it’s always important to enjoy the journey and to remember that there’s more to life than floaters.

Coming soon…

Follow our campervan to the next destination in the forthcoming blog, enigmatically entitled Underground, Overground.

If you’re already a subscriber to the blog, many thanks for your support and hope you’re continuing to enjoy reading our mini adventures.  The following bit is for non-subscribers…

If you fancy reading our travel tales on a regular basis but can’t be bothered to type in the web address every time, then why not make life that bit easier on yourself and become a subscriber.  All you need to do is pop your email address in the box on the right of the blog screen and click on the ‘I’m keen!  Sign me up!’ box.  How simple is that!?  And you can even unsubscribe at any time should you fall out of love with the blog…  However, we hope you’ll enjoy reading it and won’t have to resort to such drastic measures!

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Pirates of the English Riviera

Journey Date

Mid May 2011

Destination

TORQUAY & Outskirts of DARTMOOR

A LUCKY DAY

Fortunately, our day of departure, Friday 13th, passed without any noticeable bad luck or malevolent goings‑on.  Arriving ahead of schedule in Torquay, we headed out of town and took the opportunity to go walking.  We parked overlooking a slope frilled with trees and a view over a mini island called Thatcher Rock not far out to sea.

Our route followed part of the South West Coast Path which goes right round the headland, and this would normally be a quiet neighbourhood, contrasting with Torquay’s town centre.  However, like most places these days, there were new constructions going up next to where we’d parked, so the air was occasionally punctuated by a chattering digger.

After our walk, we headed out of Torquay, taking the road towards our site, and were overtaken by a cyclist in regulation hi‑viz vest.  Stammering through the afternoon traffic, we were surprised when the same cyclist overtook us again a mile later, even though he had had to negotiate a hill in the meantime.  So much for motor vehicles having the edge!

‘STABLE’ FACILITIES?

Eventually, we found our countryside site at Ipplepen.  Again, we were on another one of the Caravan Club’s CL sites – a field which we would be sharing with two other motorhomers.  Almost at once, one of our new neighbours came over and gave us the site low-down.  As well as the usual water & toilet disposal facilities, this time we had a WC, albeit a rather rickety, ‘countryside basics’ one.  Made from what looked like an old horse trailer, using it was quite an adventure in itself, given that it didn’t feel that solid when the wind blew.

Again, no electricity at this site – just a pure, unadulterated countryside retreat.  There were not as many swallows here, but it was lovely and peaceful, with distant views over Dartmoor.  And, as the farm had livery stables, we again had horses in the neighbouring fields, which were covered in buttercups and daisies (the fields, not the horses!)  One horse in particular seemed to have a bad case of teething trouble, what with his penchant for nibbling vigorously on the wooden fences – so much so that the fence-line had even broken away in places!

FORGET THE TREADMILL!

The next day, only a few miles away, we were plumped firmly back into the hustle & bustle of Torquay, trying to navigate our way round its one-way system to find a particular parking spot close to the quay.  In the end, we took pot luck and parked up in the nearest Pay & Display we could find.  Judging by the time it took us to walk into town, I’m guessing we’d managed to locate the furthest possible parking spot from where we wanted to go.  Never mind!  At least we’d get some exercise – and we still had to look forward to the nice, long uphill walk to get back there at the end of the day as well.

PIRATES OF THE ENGLISH RIVIERA

Making our way to Princess Pier, we’d hoped to do a ‘Geo-Tour’ with Greenway Ferries.  At the ticket office, we were greeted with a story about the tour guide having a bad back, and were kindly offered a return trip to Brixham at a reduced rate instead, so we took the offer, even though our parking ticket wouldn’t allow us the time to stop off at Brixham for a shufty round.

The boat apparently passed by the same coastline as the Geo‑Tour, which would normally give you a commentary on the caves & geology of the area.  As we chugged along, passing numerous yachts (surprisingly, several had capsized), we could see caves, both big and small, gouged into the orangey-brown cliffs at odd intervals.  In the absence of the official commentary, we had to make up our own, which went something along the lines of The Pirates of the Caribbean, with fictitious smugglers dropping loot off into the caves shouting a hearty pirate’s ‘A‑haaaarrr!’

ANIMAL FRIENDLY

By the time we arrived at our site, the day was still young; and we had enough time to chill out after our walk back to the car park, as well as get some grub down our necks, before setting off for Buckfastleigh, where Steve had an evening cycle race lined up (more on that in the forthcoming Steve’s Cycle Shorts blog entry).

Although we’ve stayed at this site before, we always manage to forget how friendly the site owner’s dog is.  If it spots you leaving your van, you’ve had it!  Put it this way: I don’t know what its name is, but I think we should call it ‘Bostik’…  Not sure I’ve ever seen a dog so desperate for a friend – although we did come across a farm dog once that played with the sheep the whole time we were there.

HEADING FOR THE START

Normally when we come to this area, Steve races in the morning rather than at night, which doesn’t leave us much daytime to go exploring.  So it was nice to have the time on this occasion to be able to make a trip the next day to Start Point Lighthouse, some miles south of Torquay.

There were only a few of us on the lighthouse tour at this time of year and it turned out that many lighthouses such as this one were not initially painted white, but were just the original stone.

Start Point helps protect ships from the Skerries, a long crop of rocks beneath the waves that surround the headland.  Of course, many ships have floundered on the coastline there over the years; and, in days gone by, certain structures along the coast – trees or buildings, for example – would have been used as navigational markers.  It was therefore decreed in law that these had to be kept in place.

Although cottages were built at a later date for the lighthouse workers, they originally lived inside the lighthouse and reared pigs on site for consumption.  Our tour guide also showed us a picture of the original lighthouse which managed to drop off the cliff edge into the ocean.

Despite the glorious sunshine, it was rather a blustery day.  Breathing in the heady scent of bluebells on the headland, I made my way back to the car park and took a long, last look at the stunning views along the coast before jumping in the van and heading for home.

TIPS & CONCLUSIONS

  • If you’re travelling along country roads, it’s always best to over-estimate your journey time when making plans.  Winding about narrow lanes and giving way to, or backing up for, oncoming traffic will slow you down to a certain extent.
  • Although we manage quite well in our smaller camper, think twice about navigating country lanes if you are in a larger motorhome or towing a caravan.  It isn’t always that easy to tell from a map how wide the roads are; and if you meet another large vehicle coming the other way, one of you has to draw the short straw and reverse to a suitable passing place.
  • Price of fuel in rural locations can be quite high.  If your engine guzzles the fuel like ours does, think ahead and plan where your next top‑up point is.  We’ve sometimes looked these up online (e.g. Bing/Google Maps) before going away and we usually use supermarkets where it’s cheaper, tying it in with a food shop when necessary.

Coming soon…

We’ll soon be posting another blog for all you Steve’s Cycle Shorts fans, so if you haven’t subscribed yet, just pop your email address in the box to the right and it will automatically be sent to you.

In Steve’s next entry, he’s obsessing about floaters…  So whether you’re a cycling nut or not, I think you’ll enjoy tuning in and finding out what on earth it’s all about!

Bye for now and ‘Happy Campervanning’, folks!

PS – Lost & Found

The pixie/pisky keyring (pictured) was found on a park bench when we took our walk in Torquay’s ‘hinterland’.  Despite the fact that he has been lost, he appears pretty chipper – either that, or he’s had botox and can’t make any other facial expressions.  If you want to know which bench I found him on, please get in touch.

 
You can also read about our adventures in my book Campervan Capers. Available at all major outlets online. Click here for more info.

CAMPERVAN CAPERS

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Filed under Devon, Our Campervan Capers