Sunday 20 July 2014

A week on the Llyn Peninsular

With our van still not ready and, having moved our holidays several times because of the constant delays, we decided we needed a break. We've had no time off for 9 months so were very much ready for a change of scenery. We wanted to go somewhere quiet and peaceful, by the sea but close enough to home to return if our van were to be finished and ready to collect (fat chance!). So we decided on the Llyn Peninsula in North West Wales.

Sunday 13 July 2014
We decided to stay on the same site for the first two nights to enjoy a bit of relaxation without the need to drive, so I booked us in to the Aberafon Camping Site, in Gyrn Goch, nestled between Gyrn Goch mountain and the beach. I found this site in a great little book from Vicarious Books titled 'Sea View Camping Wales'. This site had several different fields and our pitch overlooked the sea, beach and mountains. We'd packed the van the night before, so after breakfast we packed our food and drove down to the unit, filling up with fresh water before heading off.  On the way down we stopped at the Welsh Food Centre at Bodnant for sour-dough bread and wine.

We arrived at the site in the early afternoon and, after setting up, went for a walk along the pebbly beach, walking down to the jetty and small harbour at the end. Returning, it was time for a G&T and a sit in the sunshine. I lit the BBQ and cooked us lamb chops and chorizo sausage, with salad and wine. A bit tired and confused (those G&Ts were a bit strong!) Cathy had an early night while I sat and watched the sunset.

G&T time!

Monday 14 July 2014
The weather was wet and windy today, with the tops of the mountains hidden in low cloud, so we spent most of the day inside the van reading and snoozing.  We did manage a short walk later in the afternoon, but the rain soon drove us in.  Dinner tonight was cooked in 'Oska' - the rest of the chorizo skinned and chopped up, with tinned tomatoes, garlic, peppers and some croutons made with the last of the sour-dough bread.

Tuesday 15 July 2014
We woke to lovely blue skies - time to move on.  I looked through our 'Secret Beaches Wales' book and we decided on Porth Dinllaen. Packed up and fluids emptied and topped up, we drove the few miles to our next stop - the beauty of this area is that nowhere is very far away.  The roads are mainly quiet country lanes, which can be challenging in a large motorhome, but there are plenty of passing places and nobody seems to be in a hurry. We arrived at the car park to find it's owned and run by the National Trust, so free to us members (thanks to Nicola & Chris).  

There was plenty of room so we parked by the cliff, packed our swimming stuff and walked down the 60 steps to the beach.  The tide was in but there was still room to walk along this sandy beach.  We headed towards the small waterside hamlet of Porth Dinllaen in the distance.  With blue sky, hot sun and calm, clear waters, we could easily have been in the Med.  We reached the cluster of holiday cottages, fishermen's sheds and the Ty Coch Inn and walked beyond that, along the coastal path, towards the lifeboat station.  It was a rocky headland but there were plenty of places to get to the water - great swimming spots!  We picked ours and Cathy was first into the sea - the delight on her face to finally be swimming in the sea again was great to see.  I was next - initially chilly I was soon fine and enjoying the feeling of salt water on my skin again.  After about 15 minutes we headed back to the rocky shore to dry off before walking back to the Ty Coch Inn for lunch.  This is a great little pub and we managed to bag a table overlooking the beach. I ordered us a beer and grabbed a menu.  It was mainly sandwiches, paninis and jacket potatoes, but looking around the portions were generous. Cathy had a welsh black beef sandwich and I had chicken, ham and mayo. It was lovely sat barefoot, eating our lunch and watching families play on the beach.  We headed back along the beach and stopped off for a sunbathe.  I went back to the van to get our chairs and some fruit while Cathy went for another swim. Back at the van, I booked us in to a CL (max 5 pitches) at Llangwnadi. We enjoyed the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the beach before heading off to the CL.  On arrival we were met by two oldsters who insisted we pitch over in the far corner, but as there was no electric hook up, I ignored them and pitched in a spot between the other vans and next to the EHU.  They were a very funny couple, having been to this CL for the past 25 years (so perhaps they thought they owned it!?). We walked down to the owner's main campsite and house to pay for the pitch and explained about the old couple - the owner said we were fine where we are (phew!).  Back at the CL the old chap was touching up the paintwork on a caravan and explained someone else tows it there while they followed in the campervan - so basically they were taking up two pitches - no wonder they were keen to push us into the corner.  Still, I made the peace by showing him our Secret Beaches book and wrote the details on some paper for him. Dinner tonight was BBQ again (if the oldsters allowed us to light it!).  I made a marinade of marmalade, peanut butter, garlic, salt, pepper, chilli flakes and olive oil for the pork steaks, which we had with couscous and salad and wine.  Then it was chilling and reading time before bed (by this time we had no phone signal so no chance of interruption).


First swim of the year

Refreshments at Ty Coch Inn after a hard day on the beach

In the pitch that the oldies didn't want us to use
Wednesday 16 July 2014
We woke early and walked down the lane to a large and empty beach.  The tide was out and we had the place to ourselves.  Back at the van, breakfasted and showered, we emptied/filled fluids and headed off, no doubt to the relief of the oldsters still inside their caravan! Our next stop was to a small cove used by fishermen, which I saw in the NT handbook - Porth Meudwy.  The car park was free and empty as by now it was raining quite heavily.  We stopped in the van for some lunch and waited for the weather to improve. It wasn't long before the sun was out so we walked down the track used by the fishermen to the small cove.  There were about 4 fishing boats and one had just been brought in at the top of the tide.  We the followed the coastal path up and over the cliffs, with great views and made our way down to Aberdaron to walk along the beach.  Although quite windy it was warm and sunny, so we enjoyed the sound of the surf as the tide receded.  Reversing our route, we had a quick brew at the van before deciding where to stay tonight.  I picked a campsite called Mynydd Mawr at the very end of the Peninsular, overlooking Bardsey Island.  This was a small site comprising two fields, one slightly sloping and one flat.  Nobody was around so we picked a pitch and hooked up.  I planned to pay at the onsite cafe in the morning but, as I was preparing dinner, the owner turned up for a chat and payment.  The sky was blue and sun strong, but it was quite windy. After eating and washing up we took a walk along the headland, then climbed the westerly headland to look at the setting sun and towards Ireland.  The owner said on a clear day you can see Wicklow, but with the sea haze and low sun, we didn't spot it.  Back at the van we sat in the cab seats with a beer to chill and watch the sun drop before heading off to bed.  We also watched four old amigos playing ball. They were staying in a small caravan and tent and had clearly been on the lash for most of the day.  We tried to guess who they were - ex-hippies, blue-chip CEOs escaping the cut and thrust of business life, or maybe just four old mates escaping from their wives for a few days!

A large heart!

Thursday 17 July 2014
We both slept well and the morning was sunny and already hot at 0800. We sat outside with a brew hoping that the café was going to open so we could get a cooked breakfast. Sadly it didn't (weekends only?) so instead I made us a bacon and egg sandwich, before wandering over to the washing up shack. We topped up fresh water at the pitch then drove down to empty the loo and grey water, before heading off.

Our plan was to park at the National Trust car park again and walk to some coves called Borth Wen. This meant crossing a golf course using the public footpath, but the golf club had decided to remove the path markers which made it very difficult to find, so we ended up following the coastal path right around the headland to end up at Porth Dinllaen again. We walked along the path, past where we swam on Tuesday, to the small sandy beach next to the Lifeboat Station.  This was a lovely quiet spot with calm waters and we both enjoyed a swim.  At least it was peaceful until a group of about 100 school children descended on the beach, surrounding us with noise, chattering Welsh and much digging of holes!  They took turns to visit the lifeboat station and within an hour peace returned. Sun tanned and dried, we walked back to Ty Coch Inn for a beer before making our way back to the car park via the beach.

I had phoned the van converter in the morning to get an update - he was supposed to call me yesterday but of course didn't - this is usual. He said the van might be ready tomorrow and he'd call me later to confirm - again as usual he failed to do this.  So on our return I rang him again, only to be told the cushions & curtains aren't ready, blaming the lady doing this for the delay (no mention of the 6 months he's delayed things so far!). When I told him we would not take delivery (or pay him) until everything was completed, he pretty much said in that case he would sell the van and refund our money. A job that should have taken just 6 weeks has now taken longer than 6 months and still no end in sight. Now we just want to get the van from him and, needless, to say, we will never recommend anyone to use him.

By now we were ready for something to eat so drove to find fish and chips in Abersoch. We spent quite a lot of time (and several circuits of the one-way system) trying to find some motorhome friendly parking and eventually parked in an official but unattended car park (no trailers or motorhomes allowed). Having found the chippy, we took our supper and sat on a warm, sandy beach to eat them, eyed up by a couple of shifty looking shite hawks (aka seagulls!). On our way back to the van we bought a few groceries.  I don't think we'll be visiting Abersoch again - pretentious, tacky and over-priced.  We'll stick to the quiet areas.  Back at the van we decided to try wild camping tonight at the car park by Porth Meudwy we found yesterday. But as tomorrow's the weekend, I thought I'd better book us in to a site for Friday & Saturday as they seem to fill up quite quickly.  I rang a couple of sites - no answer - how the frig can you run a campsite and then never answer the phone!  I eventually got through to a site on a farm about 1/2 mile from Aberdaron and booked us in for two nights - at least I think I did - couldn't understand a word the lady said!  We headed off to our wild camping spot and arrived at about 1900.  There were a few cars here so we tried to look like we had just arrived for a quick brew and a walk - until Cathy got the chairs and table out! I had a lovely shower to get rid of the salt and sand, as did Cathy (after me that is - there's no room to share a shower in a motorhome!) and we sat outside with a brew and reading. There's only one car left here now and then perhaps we'll have the place to ourselves.  Let's see if we survive our first night wild camping in the UK!

Nice wild camping spot

We had the place all to ourselves

Friday 18 July 2014
Well, we survived out first night wild camping in the UK. Once the final car left we had the place to ourselves, the only sounds were chicks shouting to be fed nearby, plus a field of cows having a good moan. We sat in the cab seats reading until about 2200, then read in bed for a while.  Sometime in the night a thunderstorm came in, with lots of thunder, lightning and very heavy rain. We woke to cloudy skies but it was still very muggy. Breakfast was a bacon and egg butty, then we drove off to our next stop from the Secret Beaches book - Porth Iago.

We drove down a narrow farm track and paid the £3 to park all day at the ticket machine outside the farmhouse. We weren't really prepared for what we found.  We drove past a small campsite and into a grass car par, on the cliff edge overlooking Porth Iago. The view was stunning - clear out to sea and the beautiful, white sand of the cove with the tide out.  We walked down and had a wander around - it's only a small cove but we had it all to ourselves. On the way down I saw a sign for overnight parking for £8, so we decided there and then to stay here overnight. This is the sort of camping we had in mind when we thought of getting our own van - sat in warm sunshine with a fantastic view and a small beach with great swimming. We had a walk south along the coastal path towards Whistling Sands - it was away in the distance so we turned back towards the car park (my left ankle's been playing up so I can't walk far at the moment). Back at the van I drove on to the levelling ramps and set the heating and fridge to gas while Cathy got the kettle on.  We sat outside with our brew in a really warm breeze, watching the tide come in to the cove.  Shortly after we had a lunch of chorizo, garlic salami, hummus, red pepper & goat's cheese tapenade and krackawheat. Then it was time to hit the beach.

The tide was on its way in, but the soft white sand was above the high tide mark, so we set ourselves up and went for a swim.  It was chillier but still refreshing and after a good swim we walked up and down the beach, shuffling our feet to make the sand squeak - we don't need Sky TV to be happy!   We spent the afternoon sunbathing, snoozing, swimming and chatting about all sorts of subjects from quantum physics to Spanish tapas!  About 1700 we walked up the cliff path to the van for showers and sat outside overlooking the cove with a beer. It was blowing a hooley so eventually we moved into the van, where I cooked grilled welsh lamb steaks, patatas  bravas with a spicy red pepper sauce & mayonnaise and a salad.  We had a couple of glasses of red wine then saved the rest for later.  Washed up and cleared away, we dressed warmly and walked to the end of the headland with a picnic blanket and the rest of the wine to watch the sunset.  By now the wind had dropped and we sat on the grass watching the sun set and chatting. We saw various sea birds heading off to roost, plus either a dolphin or porpoise surfacing. As the sunset we finished our wine then sat until almost dark, before walking back to the van. Now safely and warmly tucked up, it's so quiet my ears are ringing from the silence.  After a lovely, relaxing day with sun, sea and good food, I'm sure we'll sleep well tonight.

What a view!

Handbrake on and in first gear - just in case!
You can just see the van to the right of the clifftop

Tea break with a view

Time to swim and chill

More sun-downers!

Sun-downer selfie

Party Island (at least that's what we called it)

Even more sun-downers

Snoozing off the sun-downers

Saturday 19 July 2014
We both slept really well in the peace and quiet of Porth Iago and awoke to a grey but warm morning.  After a cuppa in bed we dressed and walked the other way along the coastal path towards the other cove mentioned.  The sea was like a mill pond and a couple of fishing boats were out checking their lobster pots. We walked along the narrow path, trying but failing to avoid the sheep poo!   The other cove was narrower than Iago and pebbly - nowhere near as nice - so we didn't bother to go down but instead turned around, ready for our breakfast.  As we sat outside a couple came with two large kayaks and lowered them down the steep dune cliff on a rope - clearly they'd done this before. 

We washed up, secured, waved to the family in the little van that had spent a couple of nights on the cliff top and headed off. On the way out we stopped at the farmhouse to pay the £8 overnight fee. The farmer was a typical strange sort - didn't say anything, didn't make eye contact, just went into the house and came back with the change for my £10, handed it over without speaking and walked back the the shed. Another guy (his twin brother?) turned up in a land rover and stared at us until we drove off - strange pair.
We drove to the NT car park as it's the only place we've had a phone signal.  There was a voicemail to call Paul the van converter, so I sent him a text.  Finally, our van is ready (apart from cushions, seat covers & curtains - we'll get them later) so I arranged to pick it up on Friday morning, which should give us time to get it ready to head down south for the annual camp out with Jane, Ron & gang. 

By now it was tipping down with rain, so I picked a campsite out of the Seaviews book - Dwyros Camping & Caravan site.  I dialled the coordinates into the satnav and drove off. On arrival the owner showed me a pitch - not ideal as it was in the middle of the field, but with hook up and water, for one night it'll do. Cathy hooked us up and filled fresh water while I emptied the loo.  This is quite a large site and we seem to have landed amongst the crocs & onesies brigade - lot's of noise, kids on bikes (and adults in cars) driving over the hookup cable - we won't be back here!  But settled in, Cathy did some packing while I downloaded last night's photos.  We had some lunch and chilled out - it was quiet now and hopefully the cloud and mist will lift later so we can take a walk into Aberdaron, which is about half a mile away.

Finally the weather improved and we walked down the coastal path, then up again and we ended up opposite the campsite!  We walked down into the village to find a spar shop, bakery, fish & chip shop, cafés and pubs, plus another free NT car park!  We had a couple of drinks in the pub overlooking the beach and ended up chatting to the Mr T on holiday.  
Back at the van I cooked pasta carbonara with a bottle of white wine. Now the rain has stopped and the views have improved, so we're sat reading. But we won't be sad to leave this campsite. 

Sunday 20 July 2014
We didn't sleep well.  The Chavvy TCP neighbours were talking loudly and playing music until 0230, then we were awake and up by 0630 for breakfast, dump waste, pack and leave - we were glad to get away and will avoid large campsites in the future.  Our drive back was fine and after 2-3 hours cleaning the van, we locked it away and returned home to unpack and sort out.

We really enjoyed the Llyn Peninsular and will definitely go back.  It's like a little slice of Cornwall on our doorstep, only we can't understand what the locals are saying!  Hopefully next weekend we pick up our own van and head down to the south coast to meet up with our great friends, Jane & Ron, plus others for our annual camp out. 

Friday 11 July 2014

Tour de France en Yorkshire!

My cycling buddy - Ray - and I have been planning for some time to follow the Tour when it came to Yorkshire.  The original plan was to take our campervan up for the 4 nights, however with it delayed again (long story) the contingency plan came into effect - camping out in a tent. Luckily Ray had access to one so it didn't cost us any more.  Way back in October last year I booked us a pitch at the Velofest, based in Kilnsey.  Included in the price was our pitch, toilets, hot showers and access to the main arena for food, drink and live music in the evening.  So over the coming months we planned our trip and I was packed and ready a full week before. Here's our story.....

Thursday 3 July 2014
I left work at midday and Ray arrived just after 2pm.  After a cuppa and a catch up, we loaded up his car with all our stuff, strapped the bike rack to the back of the car and tied our bikes on. Then we were off!  The journey was mainly up the M6 before branching off and heading towards the Dales.  We arrived at the campsite at about 4.30pm parked up and grabbed the tent to find a decent pitch.  A lot of people had arrived already, so it took a while to find a spot, but once done we soon put the tent up. Once this was done, we went off to get our Velofest wristbands. The next hour or so was spent fetching kit and bikes from the car, putting up the windbreak, blowing up air beds and getting our little camp set up. The bikes were stored safely in the tent porch and I got the kettle on and the seats out for a cup of tea - time to chill!

Later we headed off to look around the main arena.  We wandered around to check out the food and drink stalls - Ray finally decided on fish & chips and I had a chicken balti.  We also grabbed a coffee.  The arena had two giant screens set up to allow everyone to watch each stage and that evening they were showing the Team Presentations, so we watched the end of that.  By this time it was getting late (for us!) so we headed back to the tent to read our cycling mags for a while, before crashing out for the night.  It was a bit grey and drizzly overnight and we both (being men of a certain age) had to get dressed and walk to the loos a couple of time in the night.  It's clear they had underestimated how many portaloos they needed and how soon they would fill up - it was pretty grim, enough said on that score!

Loading up ready to leave

Settling the bikes into their temporary home

Team Presentation on the big screens
Must be beer o'clock!

Chilling with a cuppa!

Friday 4 July 2014
We woke on Friday to sunny weather with a bit of a southerly breeze.  Neither of us slept that well, mainly due to the noise, floodlights and having to get up to the loo a couple of times in the night!  After a cuppa we walked over to get a bacon roll and coffee for breakfast. Our plan today was to get out on our bikes and explore some of Stage 1.   Bikes checked over, water bottles filled and changed, we headed out of the campsite and turned right opposite the Tennants Arms.

We were now on a section of Stage 1 - tomorrow the riders would be cycling on these roads. The route was fairly gentle - a few undulating climbs but nothing too strenuous to start with and the scenery was outstanding - green fields, dry-stone walls and sheep - lots and lots of sheep! There were loads of cyclists on the route of all ages, shapes and sizes.  After about 3 miles we dropped down into the village of Kettlewell, an extremely pretty spot with a small stone bridge over the River Wharfe and a lovely country pub.  The road is narrow and windy here so the the riders tomorrow could be quite bunched; no doubt it will be a popular and busy viewing point.  We continued onwards, soon passing the small hamlet of Buckden.  On our right a local church hall was offering bacon butties, sausages in baps and hot drinks, shouting from the gate to come on in - we said we would on the way back.

By this time we were seeing parking signs for the Cote de Cray - this is one of the first climbs on Stage 4 and is a Cat 4 climb.  This was quite a long climb that started gradually, but then got steeper nearer the top as the road twisted and turned.  It certainly got us both puffing and at the top it was windy and rainy.  After catching our breath, a drink we turned around and headed down, Ray burning rubber as his tyres gripped the road as he hurtled down, me burning rubber as I squeezed my brakes as hard as I could!  At the bottom we stopped as promised for a sausage bap and a cup of tea at the church hall before starting our return trip.  On the way we came across a field of sheep dyed yellow - lots of people in cars, on bikes and on foot were stopping to take photos.  

Back at the site we had a good hot shower and by this time it was threatening rain, so we sat in the tent reading as the rain started.  A break in the rain allowed us to walk out and get something to eat before heading back to the tent.  By this time it was raining heavily so it was an early night for us.

Top of Cote de Cray

Cooling off!
Baa Baa Yellow Sheep, have you any wool

The sun setting over Kilnsey Crag

End of a great day

Saturday 5 July 2014 - Stage 1: Leeds to Harrogate
It rained very heavily all night, stopping at about 6am.  Although our sleeping areas were dry, quite a lot of rain had entered the sitting area so some time was spend bailing out, mopping up and trying to get stuff dried, but at least the bikes were safe.  After breakfast we got ourselves ready and headed out to find a good spot to watch the Tour.

The road had been closed to vehicles since 6am so we know it would be fun cycling up the road.  We again turned right and cycled out along the route for about 3 miles, stopping at a metal gate set back from but right next to the route.  Then it was a waiting game; luckily the weather was good, if not a bit breezy so we were glad of our jackets.  During this time many thousands of spectators cycled past us, some in fancy dress.  The first of the British and French motorcycle cops came through, as well as tour cars and vans.  Another 'Fareham Wheeler' came along, recognised Ray's top and stopped for a chat.  About 1130 the caravan came through, travelling at speed - those sat on the top looked pretty chilly!  A couple of hours later we sensed the riders were getting closer as we could see helicopters coming up the valley. Finally the first riders came over the brow of the hill and down towards us, a breakaway of 3 riders, followed a few minutes later by the peleton, with all the usual motorbike outriders and team cars.  After clapping and cheering them through quiet returned, so we jumped on our bikes and headed back to the Velofest site.  A quick change and we headed off to grab some food and drink, while watching the Stage on the giant screens.  The hog road baguettes went down well with a pint of lager, closely followed by a pasty (I managed to persuade Ray to have one - more of that later).  We witnessed Cav crash in the closing sprint and joined in the collective groan.  It was hot and sunny and we had sunburned heads. We then went back, got changed and headed out on our bikes again to ride off the food and drink.  Turning right and heading up the route, we decided to climb Cote de Cray again.  By this time Ray was feeling the effects of his pasty and, as we approached the top of the climb, he decided the pasty and him should part company!  At the top it was sunnier than yesterday so we stayed a while longer, before turning around and heading down again. We passed the site and carried on down the road, turning off towards Grassington before reversing our route and heading back.

Back at the site, after a hot shower and a brew, we headed over the road to the Tennants Arms, for a couple of pints of welcome bitter, while watching the (very middle-aged) DJ throwing some shapes at the outside disco!  Even the adults and children waiting at the bus stop opposite were dancing and they eventually gave up waiting for the bus and crossed over to join the party. We returned to the site to get some food.  It was a clear and still night and by this time getting very chilly.  We sat at a table having our food then returned to the tent for a hot drink.  We actually managed to stay up until about 11.30pm tonight, but by then it felt really cold and it took a while for me to warm up in my sleeping bag.  But eventually quiet returned to the site, apart from the odd 'pub singer' in his tent, and peace returned.

Fareham Wheelers x 2

View from our spot

Where's the peloton?

Sat in the hot sun watching Stage 1

He'll regret that beer later!

Checking texts on his 'modern' phone!

Sunday 6 July 2014 - Stage 2: York to Sheffield
We had a bit of a lie in this morning (until 8am) as we had a bit more time to get down to a spot to watch Stage 2.  We'd decided earlier that we weren't going to stay overnight tonight but instead head back to Cheshire.  So we dismantled and packed what we could and took it to the car, but left the tent up so we could change. This time we turned left and rode down, turning off near Grassington then heading towards the village of Burnsall and then on to Bolton Abbey. This was only about 12 miles but was very hilly so we certainly felt every mile.  Arriving at Bolton Abbey it was already very busy so we locked up the bikes and found a spot by the A59, at the bottom of a hill and right next to a traffic island - could be interesting.  The caravan had already passed through so we only had to wait about an hour for the riders.  This time there was a breakaway of 7 riders who came through a few minutes ahead of the peloton. This time they were riding much faster and the noise from the crowd improved the atmosphere.  It took us a while to get away from here but eventually we were back in the hilly countryside.  We stopped off at a tea shop in Burnsall for a coffee and flapjack before heading back to the site.

We dismantled the tent and secured the bikes back onto the rack before heading off for a cool shower.  We walked to the arena to get some cold drinks for the journey home and stood to watch the remainder of Stage 2 on the big screens before jumping in the car and starting our journey home.

We had a great weekend watching the tour both in real life and on the giant screens, riding some of the route ourselves and relaxing.  It was good to have my cycling wing-man with me again - we ride well together and the banter and laughter carried on all weekend.  Hopefully next year we can go and see some of the Tour in France in our campervan.

Stopping at Burnsall

Coffee and flapjack time