Tuesday 21 September 2021

Short West Coast Tour of North & Mid Wales

Tuesday 7 September 2021

We'd planned a short trip away in the van during September and it tied in nicely with two stages of the Tour of Britain passing through Wales. Stage 4 was from Aberaeron to the Great Orme in Llandudno, so I took a look at the route to find somewhere easy to park up and not too busy.  The Harlech Leisure Centre allows motorhomes and campervans to park overnight in their car park for an £8 fee.  There's no facilities, but it's well situated just back from the main road, under the castle and only a short walk from the long, sandy beach.  So this set the start of our short four day trip along the West Coast of North and Mid-Wales.

It was a really hot day as we set off from home, with the forecast showing a couple of days of exceptionally hot, humid and sunny weather.  Harlech's only about 45 miles from home - so about 1.5 hours in the van.  We arrived at the Leisure Centre and parked up with a few other vans.  I popped into Reception to pay; they were very welcoming and friendly and said we only had to pay the night fee of £8 and that would see us through until after the Tour had passed through tomorrow.  We packed our beach stuff and walked about 15 minutes to the dunes and beach. It such a hot and sunny day so it was quite busy, but the beach is huge so there was plenty of space.  One side has summer dog restrictions, so we turned left from the dunes and found a spot to drop our bag and take Salty for a paddle.  We both enjoyed a sea swim and dried off before heading back to the van.  There was plenty of space in the car park, so we followed the lead of other vans and got our seats out to sit in the shade - it was 34ÂșC inside the van!  The rest of the evening was spent sat outside reading and, when I took Salty for a walk at 10.30pm, the air was still very warm.  It felt just like a warm summer's evening on an aire abroad.

It felt like we were on a French aire!

Wednesday 8 September 2021

Despite being quite close the main road, it was quiet at night and we slept well.  We took a morning walk back to the beach to avoid the heat of the day.  Cathy settled into her chair in the shade and I wandered over the rail track and road to grab a coffee from the cafe and wait for the Tour.  I knew I had about an hour's wait, but it was a good atmosphere and I got chatting to some of the locals who'd come out to watch.  The excitement mounted as the Tour and Police motorbikes started to come through, followed by a couple of the Tour safety cars.  There was a breakaway of about 5 riders who were a few minutes ahead of the rest and I took some photos as they passed through, then put my camera away so I could cheer on the Peloton as they came hurtling through.  One of the Deceuninck-Quick-Step riders through his musette (feed-bag) down at my feet as he cycled past, so I happily gained a souvenir!  The Tour of Britain isn't quite the same as the Tour de France and is missing the Caravan that passes through in advance, but it was still a great atmosphere and, with such a hot, sunny day, it did feel like being in France!

Our park-up for tonight was an area next to the sea near the village of Borth in Ceredigion, called Ynyslas Borth.  It costs £10 to stay for the night and, again, there aren't any facilities, but it's a nice quiet spot, popular with all types of motorhomes and campervans.  There was someone collecting the money and the height barrier is closed at 8pm.  The weather was starting to change and it was cloudy, but it still felt warm.  We took a walk along the pebble beach and had a pre-supper drink overlooking the sea, using the sea wall as an impromptu bar.  Again, it was a lovely quiet park-up and we fell asleep listening to the waves breaking.

Here come's the breakaway - Allez, Allez, Allez!!

A souvenir of the Tour - I'm easily pleased!

Parkup at Ynyslas Borth

Apero time at our pop-up beach bar!

Thursday 9 September 2021

We had a lazy morning with another walk before driving the short distance to Aberystwyth, just a few miles south.  Before we left home I'd emailed the town's rugby club, who run something similar to an aire in their car park. For £10, we had a safe parking spot (with the gates locked) and access to a loo emptying point and fresh water.  I had paid in advance online and they had sent me the code for the gate lock, so we were able to let ourselves in and park up.  The walk into town was through a small park and it was busy around the shops, bars and restaurants.  We took Salty with us and had a wander along the promenade (the north beach is off-limits to dogs in the summer) before heading back to the van for lunch.  Later we left Salty in the van and walked back in to wander around a bit more.  By now the rain had started and became heavy, so we darted into a pub to shelter!  We haven't been in a pub for quite a long time (a few years maybe) and so I was a bit surprised at the cost for two drinks!  On the way back we ordered some food from Mama Fay's - a small Caribbean restaurant - and took it back to the van.  The curried goat and rice and peas were delicious.  The jerk chicken was succulent and tasty but could have been spicier, but we enjoyed it.  Aberystwyth is worth a visit if you need to stop somewhere to empty the loo and top up with fresh water.  However, we felt the town was a bit tired, sadly the same as many of the UK coastal towns that have suffered in recent economic times.

The rugby club 'aire'

Aberystwyth pier

Friday 10 September 2021

Our final overnight stop was a pub parkup - the Bryn Arms in the village of Gellilydan, directly opposite the CMC Coed-y-Llwyn Club Site and just north of Llyn Trawsfynydd.  They allow motorhomes and campervans to park up in their car park if you buy a meal in the pub.  Although the pub's dog-friendly, we're not convinced Salty is pub-friendly, so we left him in the van!  We enjoyed a good meal in the pub and had a quiet night's sleep.  

Saturday 11 September 2021

The plan today was to find somewhere to stop for breakfast and lunch on the way home, which was only about an hour away.  We'd have liked to have parked up by Llyn Trawsfynydd, but all their car park have height barriers, so instead I drove us to Dinas Dinlle, a free parking area by a long pebbly beach and next to Caernarfon Airport, where the Coastguard helicopter is based.  We chilled out there for the rest of the day, before heading home. 

This was a short trip, really just to get away for a few days and enjoy the hot weather, but also to allow me a pro-cycling tour 'fix' as we weren't able to travel to France in June to watch the Tour. We've pretty much covered this area of Wales now, so our next trips will probably be a bit further afield in the UK, although planning for a longer trip to France next year is in progress..... 

Dinas Dinlle

A view across to Ynys Llanddwyn close to home


Tuesday 17 August 2021

Valais Caravan Park, Colebatch, Shropshire

We've spent a few nights at the Valais Caravan Park CL in the hamlet of Colebatch, about a mile from the small market town of Bishop's Castle in Shropshire.  It's close to the Welsh border and we came here because we wanted to get away from the normal tourist hotspots and enjoy some peace and quiet - we certainly found it!

The CL has only been running for about eighteen months, but it already has some excellent reviews online. The owners - Bruce and Anne - are very welcoming and they have created one of the best CLs we've stayed on.  It's in a lovely spot with excellent views all round and, although close to the A488, we've heard nothing except sheep, horses, birds and the occasional passing tractor.  The CL has the usual five pitches, but each is very spacious, more than double the size of most we've stayed on.  Each pitch has electric hook-up and there's a well-maintained and very clean loo dump, bins and fresh water point area at one end of the CL.  All the pitches are grass, but they're well drained and level.

There are sheep and goats in enclosures on the site, with chickens, ducks and quail by the owner's house. Eggs are for sale at the entrance and, when the goats produce enough milk, Anne makes her own goat's cheese. Unfortunately we hit a dry patch so none was available, but it'll give us an excuse to return and try it!  But we did buy some duck eggs which were very tasty.

The area is agricultural, with rolling green hills, woodlands and fields of sheep and arable crops.  It's a great place to walk and the footpaths are well signposted and marked, although a few of the stiles were a bit wobbly! Bruce and Anne provided lots of local walk leaflets, as well as places to eat in the local area. There are plenty of great walks and places to visit in the area, but we chose to stay put and walk from the site.  

We arrived on Sunday and were met by Bruce, who provided the leaflets and talked a bit more about the area, which was really helpful.  We were soon pitched up and after a cup of tea, took a walk to the local market town of Bishop's Castle, via part of the Shropshire Way.  It's only about a mile or so (20 minutes) and the town is lovely; lots of independent shops and six pubs, including two that have their own brewery.  There's also plenty of other options for eating - cafe's and restaurants.  It looks like they have a great community going, with plenty of music and other events throughout the year.  Back at the van I cooked some burgers and made a salad and the weather was kind enough to sit outside.

The next day we took on one of the walks in the leaflets; about six miles of fields, quiet lanes and forest tracks.  It was really peaceful and we enjoyed the distant views across the hills.  The rest of the day we chilled out by the van, reading and just listening to the birds and wildlife.  Dinner was a chicken curry I'd made some time ago and we brought with us.  

Today I cycled around some of the local towns and villages, about 20 miles.  The roads were fairly quiet and the traffic gave me plenty of room.  Turning off the main routes, the lanes became much more hilly and I was soon puffing!  I stopped off in Bishop's Castle to buy some wine for tonight; I reckon I could carry up to three bottles in the pockets of my cycling top!  Back at the van, Cathy had cleaned and tidied up and was sat outside with Salty enjoying the sunshine, although it's been a bit windier today. We repeated Sunday's walk into Bishop's Castle, before returning to sit outside the van with a brew.  Tonight's dinner was bit of an experiment!  I recently bought a Ridge Monkey to use on the gas hob and I've cooked a few things in it, but mainly simple toasties or part-baked baguettes and crumpets.  I'd seen someone make a pie on YouTube, so I'd brought some pastry and a tin of stewing steak and combined this with some grated cheese to make a steak and cheese pie.  It turned out well, although I could have done with more pastry to seal in all the ingredients. But it ate well!

Tonight is our last night here and we'll be off home tomorrow, hopefully stopping off somewhere en-route for lunch.  I've bookmarked a couple of other CLs close to the Montgomery Canal, so might go past those to check them out, ready for a future trip.  This was a short trip away, but it was really relaxing and it's definitely an area we'll return to......if only to sample Anne's goat's cheese!

The rain's coming in...

A very colourful Bishop's Castle

Return route from BC

Very spacious pitches

I'm saying nothing!

Great views

Thirsty and covered in grass seeds



Stage 1 - not looking too appetising

Stage 2 - it's a wrap

Stage 3 - coming along

Mae'n blasus iawn! (It's very tasty!)

Wednesday 11 August 2021


Sunday 18 July 2021

Our intention had been to spend several more days exploring the Northumberland coast, but we decided to change our plans due to the circumstances below.  So this and the last post have been published some time after the event....mainly because I forgot to do them!

We left the THS at Coldstream having enjoyed a quiet day and evening with the Edinburgh DA Group, all very welcoming.  We were aiming to visit Lindisfarne (or Holy Island) today, but had to wait for the tide to recede to expose the causeway road, as this is the only way to cross and is completed flooded at high tide.  Various websites gave the safe crossing times for today so, as we were early, we found a pull over just outside Waren Mill on the coast and had an early lunch.  The layby is on the coastal road and, being a Sunday, was very busy.  The noise was freaking Salty out a bit, so he stayed in the van, although we kept the side door open to enjoy the view, including Lindisfarne castle in the distance, which looked a little like Mont St Michel from this range.  

It took half an hour to drive to the causeway and by the time we reached the large car park on the island, it was already starting to fill up.  Overnight stops are not allowed unless staying in one of the hotels or guest houses, so all were day visitors like us.  It was quite busy and the walk down towards the main village in the direction of the Abbey and Castle is quite narrow, so social distancing was difficult, but we walked on the other side of the road which surprisingly nobody else did!  We've visited here before, during our first ever motorhome trip in 2012.  On that occasion it was quite misty - and our camera was on the blink so some of the photos we took were a bit blurred - but today was warm and sunny.  We didn't bother visiting the ruined Abbey again, but just walked around some of the coastal path to take in the views.  By the end the crowds were getting to us a bit, so we returned to the van for a cuppa before heading off to what was supposed to be a four night stay...

I'd tried to book a CL or campsite in this area in advance of this trip, but all were fully booked.  One CL owner mentioned he was setting up a pop-up campsite - a bit like a THS - for £10 per night.  This included fresh water and waste dump and would allow us to be based in one place for a few nights to explore the coast before moving further inland and finding a couple of pub stops on the way home.  However, a few days before he'd emailed to say the pop-up site wouldn't be ready as they'd not had time to mow it!  He offered another pitching spot on the same farm as his CL.  It was in a field with views over Lindisfarne and we could use the CL facilities.  This sounded fine and he provided directions which took us down to dead-end to a row of cottages.  But on arrival it was clear the 'pitch' was of no use.  The field was extremely uneven and covered in fresh cow pats.  Moreover, it backed on to a holiday cottage and we would have blocked the view for the people who no doubt had spent a lot of money to hire the place; we weren't comfortable with doing that.  So I emailed him to say it was unsuitable and we looked around for somewhere else to stay.  There was a pop-up campsite nearby but they wanted £20 per night, with very limited facilities.  I checked out a couple of the nearby pub stops but they weren't really suitable.  So we had a decision to make.  Should we try to keep finding a place for tonight and the rest of the week, or do we cut the trip short and head home?  It was getting quite late in the afternoon by then and the disappointment of the 'pitch' had sort of taken the wind out of our sails.  So we made the decision to drive home.  This was over 300 miles though and would take several hours.  We took a bit of break, had something to eat and hit the road, reaching home at about half past midnight.

This wasn't an ideal end to our trip, but finding places to stay at short notice in the UK, even pub stops or overnight car parks, isn't easy any more.  We enjoy this type of spontaneous travel in mainland Europe, where Aires/Stellplatz are plentiful, but it's much less enjoyable in the UK, is quite stressful and something we prefer to avoid.  Having said all that, we enjoyed our time away and look forward to seeing more of Scotland in particular.  For now, I think the rest of our trips this year will be shorts stops not too far from home.  We can't wait for the time when we can return to France and enjoy travelling in a country that embraces Van Life.

Nice lunch view

Is that Mont St Michel?  If only!

Lindisfarne Castle

These boats, now used for storage, were sometimes dwellings too

This road on Lindisfarne reminded me of Normandy or Brittany