Tag Archives: campervan travel

Trusting the Locals

Journey Date

Two-nighter – Late September 2011

Destination

South West Cornwall

The saying goes that too much work can make Jack a dull boy – and it’s no different for Jill…  Having worked hard on my writing projects (as well as catching up on long-overdue household jobs) over the past months, a break in the camper was well overdue for Jack & Jill (ie Steve & me), so we booked a pitch down in West Cornwall for a few nights and headed off.

There was no let-up in the rain as we made our way down west, but rather than drive straight to our site, we decided to do a spot of sight-seeing instead.  After all, our blog readers don’t want to hear about two campervanners huddling inside their van doing nothing all afternoon, do they?  They want to read about a couple of adventuring souls unafraid of battling with the elements and getting soaked to the bone!

JURASSIC PARK & NOAH’S ARK…?

The remit for our break away was to make the most of our soon-to-expire National Trust membership, and a visit to Trengwainton Gardens near Penzance was first on our list.

Covering 25 acres, the Gardens were filled with magnolias, an amazing variety of rhododendrons, banana plants and ferns; and some sections would certainly have made a good background in a Jurassic Park-type film.

At this time of year, we’d missed seeing the place in its full glory.  Still, there was a large, walled kitchen garden to draw the interest.  For some reason, this was built to the dimensions of Noah’s Ark and, given the relentless rain, it looked like we might just need some kind of ark to see us through the afternoon.

One highlight of the kitchen garden was a stunning array of lettuces (looking enviably pristine and snail-free) plus several varieties of squash.  It was heartening to see that a few veggie beds had been cultivated by local school children, despite the fact that everything was now going to seed.

After a few hours wandering about the gardens, we were drenched, and headed off to St Buryan, just a few miles away.  Our site was the same one we stayed on for our Coast & Carn blog back in May.  A pitch in a farmer’s field, it had basic amenities and was away from the hustle & bustle.

A HILL LIKE NO OTHER

The next morning, we awoke to a completely different weather picture of glorious sunshine, which dried all our clothes before we headed off to the coast on another adventure.  Our destination was the Levant Mine & Beam Engine site not far from St Just, but on the way, we made an impromptu stop for a walk up what appeared to be ‘just another hill’.

In fact, it turned out to be the most westerly hill in Britain, with a Bronze Age summit cairn of a sort only found in Scilly and West Cornwall.  Over the centuries, it has had many uses: a site for burials, a hermitage and chapel (hence the hill’s name, Chapel Carn Brea), a beacon for fishermen, and a military observation post.  Pretty amazing!

IN ORE OF THE PAST

Levant Mine and Beam Engine is not only owned by the National Trust but is also a World Heritage Site; and an informative film sets the scene before you wander about the site.  Along this coast, whole networks of old mines exist; and you not only get to look down a few mine shafts but there are still remains of buildings and other installations along the coastline which once played a part in the mining process in one way or another – from getting the people down into the mines, to extracting water (many mines went far out to sea) to bringing ores ‘up top’ and finally to processing them.

Unfortunately, I missed out on seeing the beam engine (used to bring up ore) in operation; and the engine house itself was so chock-a-block with tourists, that I couldn’t see who was doing the talk inside.  The speaker, however, turned out to be the only surviving member of the original ‘Greasy Gang’ who restored the engine after 60 years sitting idle (the engine, that is, not the Greasy Gang).

Walking along the stunning coastline, with the aged buildings looking out to sea in their retirement years, I couldn’t help thinking about the vast differences between past and present…

For those working outdoors in the mining era, days would have been long and hard; and, having lived in this area years ago, I know the coast can have more than its fair share of dreary, wet and windswept days.  Working in the mines meant a long working day, let alone possible dangers such as flooding, arsenic poisoning and pit collapse.

As a tourist visiting Levant today, I had the luxury of basking in the beautiful weather; and the only toiling I did was to lift my camera to take pictures.

A MOUNT OF MONKS & MYTHS

The following day was another sunny delight and we were all set to go home – but not before visiting the third and final National Trust property on our list.

Still home to the St Aubyn family, St Michael’s Mount is set opposite the village of Marazion near Penzance, and is an iconic rocky island reachable via causeway at low tide, and boat at high tide.  Subtropical gardens frill the island at its base and a steep, cobbled incline leads to a medieval church and castle at the summit.

Somewhere along the line, I had got it into my head that the island was once used by pilgrim monks as a stop-off point before heading to the ‘partner island’ of Mont St Michel across the Channel and beyond.  However, the over-riding impression was that the Mount had been used over the years as a battlement – evidenced by the castle’s paintings of soldiers in various eras, numerous weapons on display, and a remaining army defence ‘pillbox’ in the lower grounds.

MAKE NO BONES ABOUT IT!

Now, although it turns out that the Mount was indeed a major pilgrimage destination in the Middle Ages, all manner of myth seems to surround the Mount, so you do have to be careful what you believe…  For example, there’s the legend of Jack the Giant Killer, who is said to have slain a giant living on the island.  Apparently his bones were found in the 14th Century, but conveniently, I saw none on our visit!

After descending from the stunning views and wind sweeping the summit, we had lunch and made our way home.  We might have had only a few days away, but we’d thoroughly enjoyed our break and made good use of our National Trust membership.

CONCLUSIONS & TIPS

  • It might seem obvious to say it, but take a trip away even if it’s only for a day or two.  Being out of your everyday environment can be most revitalising.
  • Plan ahead with meals.  I made up some nutritious, tasty grub before we went away (soup & pasta sauce) and put it in tubs so we didn’t have to do much food preparation in the evening.  That way, we could make the most of the day and chill out a bit when we were tired later on.
  • Take extra wet-weather gear.  If it’s rainy one day, you can be wearing a dry mac the next day while the other one dries.  Window racks or similar (plus pegs) are also invaluable for drying clothes on!
  • If it’s in your line of interest join an organisation like the National Trust or English Heritage.  Planning your trips around their destinations will give your trips direction and interest.  Since we’d visited most of the NT properties in our area, we decided not to renew our membership, but even if you join for a year, you’re supporting a good cause whilst getting good value for money.

 

COMING SOON…

Look out for another Steve’s Cycle Shorts which will be in the virtual post soon.  But, answer me this: how can it be that Steve’s doing another one of his Cycle Shorts when he hasn’t even been doing any cycling while we’ve been away?  Solve the enigma in our next blog spot.

This year, we packed in most of our travelling in the early season, to spend some quality time at home over the busy summer.  But we may just manage to fit in a few more trips before the weather closes in on us and we ‘shut up shop’ on our campervan capering for a while.

In the meantime, we have another mini adventure about The Land of Arthurian Legend which will be posted soon.  So stayed tuned if you don’t want to miss it…

 

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 Cornwall, Our Campervan Capers

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

Guess the Destination

Journey Date

5-Nighter – Late March 2011

Destination

You get to guess where (clues coming up)

I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to titles for this, my first ‘proper’ blog entry for Campervan Capers.  So here are a few to choose from – see if you can guess the destination:

 Wight on Time / Wight Goods / The Wight Stuff / Travelling Wight / Into Wight / I Love Wight

(“And there’s more,” as Frank Carson would say.)

Have you worked out yet where our destination was?  For those who guessed Blackpool, guess again!  It was, of course, the Isle of Wight.

A CURIOUS START

Glorious sunshine and newly-emerging cherry blossoms lined the way to our destination, as did a pub curiously named the Tippling Philosopher and an unfortunate amount of fellow creatures bumped off by passing cars.

Stopping off in a lay‑by for lunch, a sign reading “Highways Agency – Please take your litter home” was surrounded by rubbish, with more scattered for the full length of the hedge.

 A FERRY CALM CROSSING

This was our first visit to the Isle and the ferry crossing from Southampton coincided with the full moon rising.  There was talk on the boat of it being 14% larger than usual and the closest it has been to the earth in 20 or so years.  The moon began to rise just before we docked, and it certainly had a wonderful, orange glow about it.

WHAT A SITE!

The sunny weather was to continue for the duration of our stay at The Orchards, near Yarmouth on the S.W. coast.  And, waking up on the first morning, we were greeted by a quiet stillness that was broken only by a host of birds singing the dawn chorus.

With only ‘two handfuls’ of motorhomes on the site, it was delightfully peaceful.  And to think – within a few weeks, the Easter holidays would see the place packed to the brim.

Having stayed on one or two Caravan Club sites such as these (we are Club members), we’ve always found them impeccable; and they are a real home from home when you’re away, providing washroom and laundry facilities, etc.  This site even had two swimming pools, although only a brave or mad soul would dive into the outdoor pool at this time of year (Steve did consider it!)

DEFLATED FROM THE START

Steve’s a real cycling fanatic, so not only did he have a training schedule for our time away, but he was hoping to share a few gentler cycle rides with me.

However, on the first morning, as Steve went to take his bike off the rack, he noticed the tyre on my mountain bike had gone down.  Convinced the valve was completely stuffed, it looked like any chance of seeing the sights by bike, as well as getting in a nice bit of exercise, was doomed from the start.

SNAP HAPPY

While I was away, I had a photography project to work on, which meant not only getting out and taking lots of photos, but going through them all on the computer when on site to do the necessary editing.  So while Steve was out on his bike, there I was, cocooned inside on a lovely sunny day with the curtains drawn (so I could actually see what was on the screen).

Since I was snap-happy for the whole holiday, you can just imagine that, by the time I emerged from the campervan to partake of a much-needed cup of tea in the sun, I looked like a mole emerging from its hole, with my legs rapidly turning to jelly, looking anaemic from lack of sun and exercise.

To be honest, the weather was so wonderful, especially given the time of year, we could just as easily have sat on site in our deckchairs every day, soaking in the sunshine and watching the goldfinches, blackbirds and wood pigeons pecking between the gravel on the neighbouring pitches.  But, as I had a blog to write and photographs to take, we thought we’d better get out and do some sight-seeing!

 HIGHLIGHTS

Alum Bay on the south west coast is the parking point for the Needles and site of the Old & NewBatteries (owned by the National Trust), and we were happy to discover that the usual parking fees are waived from November till late March.  The views along the road from the car park to the Needles were breathtaking – and made all the more serene by a warm sun and the calmest of breezes.

With plenty to see and read, we learnt that the Battery was once a military installation used in the Cold War for rocket testing; and there is a long, thin underground tunnel you can go through which leads to a searchlight emplacement.

The Needles are a set of rocks jutting from the sea as if tapering away from the stunning white cliffs.  Strange how such a beautiful area could ever be considered for military activities.

Alum Bay itself is also worth a visit.  We took the monstrous amount of steps down to the beach and met a woman whose husband worked on the Lifeboats.  He’d called her to say he needed his camera, so they were meeting at the shoreline.  The woman told us that, because the tides were the lowest they’d been in years (all related to the moon being closer to the earth), a ship had got stuck on one of the sandbanks out at sea, and the Lifeboats had been called in as backup.

With Steve’s level of fitness, he had no trouble climbing back up the steps – but I’d certainly had my quota of exercise for the day.

The shops and eateries at Alum Bay reminded me a little of the ‘complex’ I’d seen years before at Land’s End, decked with the usual purveyors of trinkets and must-have souvenirs.

The ‘Lifeboat wife’ told us about some caves off Freshwater Bay which were now accessible due to the extra-low tides, so we popped on down.  Several others had obviously heard about the caves; and children and adults alike picked their way across the seaweed-strewn rocks in search of them.  I only went so far before leaving Steve (with his grippier footwear) to make his way round the final corner – to, no doubt, the best cave of the lot.  (Steve actually fell over on the rocks at one point, as you’ll hear in a forthcoming blog.)

Going off the main roads, we took a turn one morning off to the village of Gurnard on the N.W. coast.  What a curious delight it was, with various cabin-type dwellings all crowded up near the waterfront, as well as lots of new properties being built.  The view out to sea was hazy but, on a clear day, you can see England!

From there, we popped round to Cowes.  The town is split in twain by the estuary and you can travel between Cowes and East Cowes via ferry on foot (apparently free) or car.  Chatting with a local, I got the impression that the place gets saturated with visitors at regatta time.

The afternoon was spent in Ryde on the N.E. coast.  Walking along the beach, a dog wanting attention clambered up my legs with his wet paws.  His owner apologised…

…But what he didn’t know was that I’d already managed to chuck tea on them, spray a sachet of vinegar over them and blob yoghurt onto them…  So sandy paws were the least of my worries.  And, miraculously, the trousers looked completely oblivious to it all by the end of the holiday.

Bembridge Windmill, another National Trust property, was also on our visit list and was a working mill until about a century ago.  Thin, steep ladders allow for access to the various levels within the windmill; and with the audio spiel, information boards and miniature model, you couldn’t help but be intrigued.  A stop-off for a brew at Yaverland on the east coast nicely rounded off the day’s touring.

 SUMMARY

 THE BEST-LAID PLANS

Before leaving, I had two pleasurable aims in mind for the holiday: (1) to actually get round to reading my book; and (2) to go out for a few bike rides.  Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out as I’d hoped, but what is it they say about the best-laid plans?  And, despite it being a bit of a working holiday, what with my photography project due in the day after our return, we still had a very enjoyable time.

NITTY GRITTY

Looking on our credit card statement when we got back, we were shocked at our fuel expenditure – although, as Steve said, we did over 600 miles all told.  But we were still paying over a third more than we would have a year or two ago.  Although we really enjoyed our holiday, the way forward is probably to do more frequent trips, closer to home.

An advert in the Caravan Club’s monthly magazine put us onto this holiday deal which included the Red Funnel return ferry from Southampton to the Isle of Wight as well as your five nights on site.  It turned out that you don’t have to be a Club member; but in any case, the cost was very reasonable and everything could be booked all in one hit, so we took it.  You can book it all over the internet to avoid phoning the 0844 number – I tried researching the charges to this number and it’s all a bit shrouded in mystery, so that might be something to watch for if you prefer booking over the phone.  Overall, though, highly recommended in our view.

 TIPS

Allow more time than you think you’ll need to get to your destination, especially if you have a ferry to catch.  Although we thought we’d left in plenty of time, we made it to the ferry with little time to spare – and the road directions to the port weren’t the most helpful.  One of our site neighbours had had a similar situation, arriving late for his ferry, but was fortunately let on to the next one.  Had this happened in the peak season, I’m not so sure the ferry company could have been so obliging, however.

If you think you’ll be doing a reasonable amount of travelling and certain attractions appeal to you, such as the National Trust or English Heritage, it’s worth considering a subscription, even if you just try them out for a year.  A few visits to some of their sites will often justify the annual fee and it’s often cheaper paying by direct debit.

PS

Just to let you know…   All the work I did for my photography project wasn’t in vain, and I’m pleased to say that I’ve since received my award certificate for all the hard work I’ve put in during the holiday and the academic year (YIPPEE!)  A selection of the photos I took are scattered about the blog.

Coming soon…

STEVE’S CYCLE SHORTS

Most of our trips away are combined with Steve’s ‘gruelling’ training schedule, so we’ve decided to add in a regular ‘sub‑blog’ (if there is such a thing) called Steve’s Cycle Shorts, which will no doubt appeal to fellow cyclists generally or to those thinking of going cycling in the areas we’ve holidayed.

Steve’s Cycle Shorts will be posted soon…  So if you haven’t already done so, why not sign up to be notified of new posts (see sidebar on right).

Stopping off for a Cuppa at Alum Bay

 

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 Isle of Wight, Our Campervan Capers