Thursday 31 December 2015

Another Year Closer

It's New Year's Eve and we're parked up at Fairbourne in Wales, overlooking a stormy sea, with rain lashing the windscreen and the dark clouds rolling in….and it's just started to thunder and lightning!  We'll be heading off to the campsite at Graig Wen shortly for three nights.  So with some peace and solitude, with the seagulls battling the winds overhead, it seems a good time to reflect on the year.

2015 seems to have flown by.  It only feels a short while since I was writing about 2014 and all that happened; certainly this year has been much better.  We finally took ownership of our camper van - El Nido - in April, after a long struggle.  The first converter made a real mess of it and, we found out later, had ripped off many of his 'customers'.  I reported him to Trading Standards, who prosecuted him.  He initially pleaded Not Guilty but, with overwhelming evidence, he changed his mind and pleaded guilty to all six charges in court on 1 October.  This meant I didn't need to attend and give evidence, but in some ways I would have liked my day in court.  He's also being prosecuted by the police for various other offences and that trial starts in less than two weeks, on completion of which 'our' charges will be taken into consideration when sentencing.  Hopefully he'll get what he deserves.

But we've put all that behind us now and we were really pleased with the conversion completed by A&E Services in Anderton.  We took delivery of the van on 16 April and the next day drove down to the Peterborough Showground for the National Motorhome Show, but more importantly, the annual gathering of the Myrtle's Mates Massed Meet Up - a group of like-minded motor homers from around the country.  We always have fun when we meet up with them but, by God, it was cold in the marquee this year!  We followed this up with another MMMMU at the Malvern Motorhome Show in August, when the weather was much kinder.  We're already booked in for Peterborough in April 2016 and look forward to more laughter with a few drinks and a BBQ.

So once we had 'El Nido' we were able to start to live the dream.  Considering we've only had him for 8 months, we've covered a lot of ground and enjoyed lots of weekends away.  One of the earlier ones was a return to the Llyn Peninsular over Cathy's birthday, including another overnight stop at our favourite spot - Porth Iago.  Our big trip this year was to France again, starting in late June for two weeks.  We visited some of Normandy, including 'Skipper's Bar' - a small, family-run bar we found about 15 years ago that serves the best Moules Frites.  The little children we met when we first visited after they recently opened the bar were now teenagers and helping their mum and dad.  We stopped off in Brittany before heading down to Ile d'Oleron, where we spent five lovely days in hot, sunny weather.  On the way north we also witnessed Stage 7 of the Tour de France, which was on my birthday - what a day that was!  We also spent a week in Yorkshire, staying in Swaledale and the areas around Malham and Gordale Scar.  The late August bank holiday was a bit of a wash out, but the weather improved and we enjoyed some lovely walks in sunshine later that week.  We also had a few good weekends away, particularly at the end of this year when the weather has been rough - stormy and very wet - but it's been a good test for the van.  We've had a few niggly problems, but A&E soon sorted that out and, with a recently fitted new awning, the van's looking good and ready for the years to come.

So 2015 has passed quickly and, as we get ready to move into 2016 at midnight tonight, we're planning our major trips for next year.  Our fortnight in Europe will hopefully cover four countries - France, Belgium, Germany (along the Mosel Valley) and Luxembourg. For our week trip, we're thinking of returning to Northumberland, where we spent our first ever motorhome trip. We like the vastness and solitude of the place - lovely in any weather.  And no doubt we'll have a few weekend trips away to break up our working weeks.  The year 2016 will also bring us another year closer to our dream of giving up work and spending the winters in the sunshine of southern Spain and Portugal.  We continue to plan for this and save all we can to reach the financial independence we'll need to make it happen, whenever it happens......

We'll no doubt have our usual quiet New Year's Eve and wake early tomorrow for what we hope will be a better day weather-wise, so we can get out for a walk.  Whatever you're doing today, tonight and next year, we wish you a very happy, healthy and successful New Year.  

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Blowing a hooley in Lancashire

It's been about six weeks since we went away in El Nido and we were ready for a break.  It was our 32nd wedding anniversary on Thursday, so we thought a short trip away would be a good way to celebrate.....

Friday 27 November 2015
We drove up to Nido's storage home, stored and provisioned him up, topped up the fresh water tank and hit the road.  Our first stop was a Britstop (#619), a pub in rural Lancashire, about 45  minutes drive away.  We arrived at about 2.30pm and parked up at the end of the car park with plenty of room around us.  We popped in to let the landlady know we were there and had a drink to chill out and start our weekend.  After a snooze in the van we went back to the pub later to have a bite to eat.  The staff were friendly and the food was filling, wholesome pub grub.  By now the weather was turning - high winds and rain - but luckily our commute from van to pub was short!

Saturday 28 November 2015
The next morning we woke at about 0830 and had a lazy breakfast; we've perfected making toast in a dry frying pan on the gas hob.  With everything stowed, we drove out of the village and on to the M6 heading north.  Our next stop was an 'Aire' on the seafront at Lytham St Annes.  This is an experiment by Fylde Council and it seems to be working out.  When we arrived three vans were already parked up in the seven spaces reserved for motorhomes, tucked behind the Toby Carvery on the seafront.  It costs £5 per night (or £8 for a day/night ticket) and you can stay for a maximum of three nights.  I reversed us into a space at the end, overlooking the cinema car park and we had a brew while watching the sea boil in front of us; the tide was in and with the increasingly strong wind blowing onshore, the seas were quite high.  I had planned to walk to a fish and chip shop, but with the strong winds and torrential rain I'd have been soaked very quickly (people walking around the corner into the car park were almost being blown over).  So we drove to a nearby pub car park with the chippy just across the road.  With our fish, chips and mushy peas back in the van, I drove us back to the aire and we enjoyed them sat in the van, with a bottle of cava!  It was clear the weather wasn't going to improve any time soon, in fact it was worsening, so we spent the afternoon in the van reading and watching the storm rather than going out for our planned walk along the beach or prom.  With the cinema adjacent we'd already decided to go and see 'The Lady in the Van', which seemed appropriate!  The tickets were only £3.50 each.  The cinema felt a bit like a portacabin inside, with small, flea-pit seating and screens.  Thankfully it was warm inside so we soon settled down, enjoying the film while listening to the howling wind outside and the rain beating against the flat roof!  Back in the van, it was rocking in the gusts, but luckily had sprung no leaks, nor lost any attachments or skylights! So we settled down for a game of Scrabble before crashing out with a good book.

Wet and windy view towards the beach

Fish, chips, mushy peas......and Cava!

Nido parked up on the Aire
Sunday 29 November 2015
It was very stormy in the night and we woke several times to torrential rain and very strong gusts of wind straight off the sea, but Nido did us proud, keeping us safe and toasty warm. After breakfast we wrapped ourselves up, hats, scarves and gloves on, hoods up (and wellies on for C) and braved the storm.  Luckily, we'd hit a weather window with no rain, although the winds were still storm force.  The tide was out so luckily we were able to walk along the beach, crunching across deep lines of mussel and very large razor clam shells. Turning into the wind with arms outstretched, we were able to lean right into it - great fun! We were out for about 45 minutes and really enjoyed being out in the extreme weather after a long period of enforced van time.  Faces glowing and hair a mess (Cathy's not mine!) we made a brew and had some lunch before braving the weather to drive down a very wet and blustery motorway.

Back home, Cathy sorted out the inside of the van, while I added some cleaning fluid to the grey and fresh water tanks, emptied and cleaned the loo cassette and washed the sea salt from the outside of the van.  I then emptied all the water tanks and Truma holding tank in case we didn't get to use the van through the winter, although we plan to get away over New Year if the weather's not icy.  Nido is heading off to A&E in the morning to have the awning replaced, then he'll be back into storage for our New Year trip.  A short but enjoyable trip.

A brief spell of sunshine during our walk

Leaning into the storm-force winds!