Location: Houghton & Swavesey, Cambridgeshire, Kettering, Northamptonshire and finally Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, UK
It‘s been a brilliant couple of weeks of catching up with family and friends. Purely by chance we ended up staying at a fabulous National Trust campsite in the area my mother grew up in, and Catherine and I ended up retracing the last day out that I had with my parents (map of our route).
From there we visited one of Catherine’s cousins I hadn’t met before, Elizabeth (plus her husband, Jason and son Michael) living in the small village of Swavesey just down the road. What a talented, lovely bunch her family are and I feel all the richer for spending time getting to know them. Another unintended benefit of not being able to travel to Europe!
From there we went and had a nose around the small village of Old Weston, where my research into family trees on Ancestry.com had told me my great, great grandfather had lived. It’s a spooky feeling looking at some of the same buildings they would have passed in their daily lives.
Then on to the “ancestral seat” of my family, the small town of Raunds. I found my grandmother‘s grave, the one I had never met as she died before I was born, and where my mother’s ashes were scattered.
A somewhat emotionally wearing day, but was capped off my a visit to my old friends in Kettering in Northamptonshire, and my home town growing up. We had our usual night out of superb curry and beer, and the only photos from the evening I am not allowing Catherine to post! Yup…I fell asleep in a chair in their lounge clutching a glass of red…again!
From there it was on to the city of Milton Keynes, and a weekend I had been so looking forward to with my daughters and grandkids. It sure didn’t disappoint. Dinners and lunches out and in their lovely homes, visits to animal farms and walks in the wood. Reconnecting with a family I‘ve seen so little of over the years – blissful.
One of the delights for me has been watching Catherine helping Hayley experiment with her cooking, and a chicken vindaloo at her fab pad was proof of both of their talents.
Milton Keynes has certainly matured since my time living there in the 80’s.
We are Wagamama fans – but two days on the trot? Why not.
Then it was a trip out to the Green Dragon Eco Farm with Zoe and her son Jacob, a bird show and animal feeding all part of this great day out.
Then Sunday was a walk in the woods with Hayley and her two boys, Luke and James. Much fun was had chasing each other around.
I couldn’t have hoped for a better time – I can just wish, and plan, for more times like this.
Location: Tittesworth Resevoir, & The Winking Man, Staffordshire, Mam Tor, Buxton and Castleton, Derbyshire, UK
The impromptu days are often the best, and our dash up to the Peak District from Shropshire was a great example of that. We drove past a large reservoir and decided it looked like a top location for a spot of lunch and a bit of a leg stretch. The weather brightened up, the forest was giving off that freshly rained on perfume. and we just had to keep walking (8.5km circuit – map).
Half way round and we came across a couple, one using a wheelchair, who were struggling up a steep bit of path. So we gave them a bit of a hand, and we ended up chatting and walking the rest of the way with these two absolutely delightful people. At 91 years of age, Derek was determined to get round a walk that the majority of the folk there that day clearly hadn’t attempted, ably assisted by the super strong and fit Rosie. Now I admit to never having tried to push a wheelchair up a hill, and when I did, I was even more admiring of Rosie’s prowess behind the chair!
They were such great company, and it really made our day to share theirs. We gave our farewells, and headed off to a pub we were going to park at for the night, intriguingly called The Winking Man (spelled carefully).
We were just looking at the drinks menu when I noticed one of the barmaids having an animated conversation on the phone, and glancing over our way and smiling. Odd I thought..what have I done now? it was Rosie and Derek. They had remembered the name of the pub we were going to and were ringing to buy us a bottle of wine to thank us for the help that afternoon. What a kind thought and action. In these difficult times, such gestures mean even more to us. Sometimes we do feel disconnected from community and friends. A moment like this reminds us the potential for friendship is all around us.
The next day, with finally a rain free forecast, we headed over to do one of the Peak District’s classic walks, the circuit around Man Tor (map). I must have done this in the Scouts, we were up in that area regularly, but it was all fresh to me this time. The incredible views across a landscape so deeply green it looked unreal. Despite the cold northerly wind there were a few people about, but as usual once away from the car park the numbers really thinned out.
The blemish on the day came when Catherine noticed her two week old Salomon boots were already starting to come apart at the joins, so a few phone calls later and we were off to Buxton to post them back to the retailer. Now, some towns just create a poor first impression, and then get worse. So this was Buxton. From a car park machine that made us pay a premium rate for a day (in coins) when we needed an hour, to the complete disinterest in enticing us to buy anything in the shops we visited. We tried to find somewhere that looked appealing for lunch, gave up and left and made our way over to our campsite just outside Castleton.
What a drive over it was, as the unfenced road wound down through the hills. Not a quiet road though. This is definitely an area to explore off peak. Even now its super busy, our campsite completely full. I can’t imagine what school holidays were like trying to get around. No wonder there seemed a higher proportion than usual of irate drivers.
The next day (Friday) was another wet one, so we decided we would just stay local. I volunteered to head into the local bakery to equip us for a bacon and egg brekky – I’m all altruism. Hot out of the oven I was sold a crusty “white bap” (how many words are there in the English language for a loaf? Even Google didn’t know that) – what a lovely start to the day.
It kept getting better, when we wandered into dinky Casterton and found four outdoor shops! A beanie and warm gloves were purchased for me. Things are cooling down here pretty rapidly, evidenced by the fact that we had several freezing hailstorms batter us. We did see though see many walking signposts through the village, a hiking mecca’s this place and somewhere we really want to come back to.
But for today the only thing to do was to retire to one of the six pubs we noticed in the space of a few hundred metres! We got chatting to the folk on the next table, as you do in an English pub. We have so missed that. Europe was wonderful last year, but without the local language it was hard to engage.
With heavy downpours predicted, and Catherine devoid of walking boots after having to return hers, we headed back to Truffy and some lazy time with music and books. Perfect..but not quite purrrrfect ….without Miss Tassie to warm our laps 🙁
This has been an all too brief dalliance with the Peak District – “We’ll BeBack”
Location: Cliff top near New Quay, mid Wales coast, Ceredigion, UK
We had picked this next camp site because of its location right next to the “Wales Coast Path:”, another long distance path with 1,600km available to put one foot in front of the other and contemplate the natural world in all its glory. Unfortunately that evening Storm Alex paid Europe a visit, and despite Brexit, thought he would cross the Channel and give the Brits a bit of what for.
Well we had a rocking and rolling night, even with our hydraulic legs down and trying to anchor us, our location on the edge of a cliff in the direct path of the winds gave us a troubled night, then day, then night, then another day. For two and a half days we were confined to the 2 square metres of Truffy floor, as gusts of over 80kph blasted across our very desolate looking field. So my fellow inmate and I sucked it up and did our time in an area about the size of a third world prison cell. A good reminder of what having our freedom to roam really means.
Its now over three years since we took to the road, and became what the UK tax office defines as “vehicle dwellers’, that is people who for whatever reason primarily live in a caravan, motorhome or the back seat of their car. We have been back into our house for two 6 weeks spells, done a couple of house sits, and rented for a few months in lockdown, but we have no “home” we can access in situations like this when the weather turns rough, or lockdowns happen. Its something we have learnt to deal with, and it has changed our view, I think, of what “home” actually is. I came across this quote from a songwriter I have just started listening to, Amanda Shires. She said “Home is being content with yourself wherever you are”. I put her song “You Are My Home” on my September playlist (click here or search Spotify for ‘Mr A’s September favs’), a bit of a fun thing I started doing in lockdown to share with friends every month what we have been listening to on Spotify. As she sings in one verse:
“You are my home,
Wherever you go
Anywhere that you stand,
Is my piece of land,
You are my home.”
Amanda Shires, You are my home
And that sums it up. Wherever Catherine is, that‘s my home (it‘s just missing our beautiful Burmese Miss Tassie!).
Thankfully the storm finally passed and we were able to venture out along the cliff top walk into the small sea side town of New Quay (not to be confused with the much bigger and glitzier Newquay in Cornwall). No one could accuse this one of being glitzy.
The setting was stunning, with the Welsh hills framing a perfectly curved bay, but the town itself was pretty down at heel, so after a very ordinary Sunday roast (looked like a school dinner) we smartly moved on back to camp and walked a little way down the coast in the other direction.
A lookout gave us 180 degree views, but the dolphins we had booked sadly didn’t show. A kestrel did though, hanging upside down intently watching for a late afternoon snack, perhaps hungry after several days of what we would think would be impossible flying conditions, even for these masters of aeronautical acrobatics.
Its such a relief to finally stretch our legs after the enforced confinement, and the Welsh Coast Path is clearly something we need to explore further!
Location: Caerfai Bay, St Davids, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK
A short drive along this magnificent Pembrokeshire coast brought us to our new home for the next three nights, high up on the cliffs overlooking the calm waters of St.Brides Bay. By lunch time a bag of washing is done and hung out, an egg and bacon brunch (well it was Sunday) laid down to fortify us for a hike along the coast (walk link).
Do we turn left or right? This was the toughest decision of the day. Left won out and we headed east along our first chunky section of the Pembrokeshire Coast path. At 299km long, this is another tremendous asset that has been hard fought for over the years by community groups negotiating with hundreds of landowners to get a continuous path for all to enjoy. This path also connects with the 1,400 kilometre Welsh Coast Path. Could you ever run out of walking destinations in the UK?
As we headed out along the cliff top, it became immediately evident that nature is clearly still in charge here, with massive land slips, deeply eroded bays, and plants and trees shaped by the wind.
We watched a seal in the clear water far below us hunting for lunch, its shining spotty white belly briefly exposed when coming up for air before resuming the chase. Mrs A then spotted a bird rare to the UK, with only around 300 breeding pairs, a member of the crow family called a chough. So excited, she emitted a (unusual for her) squeal of delight!
At our turn round point we looked out over an unusual topography, and with a bit of help from Dr Google, realised we were looking at the highly eroded remains of an Iron Age fort (so around 2-2,500 years old). You cannot escape from the deep history that is everywhere around you in this country. Even at the westerly edge of the British Isles, the waves of invasions, rebellions, migrations, assimilations, and recurring nationalism, are evident all around us. We can feel this is going to be a rewarding foray into a country we both know so little about.
Well, with the sun going down behind the off shore islands, it was time to retrace our steps along the cliff top and settle in for another night of splendid social isolation in Truffy.
Our second day here was less energetic, with drizzly rain and very poor visibility. It was a short walk up the road from the campsite to the UK’s smallest city, St Davids. A quick look at the cathedral for Catherine, where the bones of the patron saint of Wales (yes…St David) are buried (walk link).
We felt a little cheated at the lack of opportunity to turn right along the cliff after yesterday’s poor weather, so seeing a better forecast, and seeing such a glorious dawn, we headed out early (for us) in the other direction.
It became obvious after an hour‘s walking that this was a stretch of path that was something special, with dizzyingly stunning views. So I called the campsite and booked us in for another night. This is the joy of travelling off peak – the flexibility to be spontaneous when everything doesn’t have to be booked weeks in advance.
We just didn’t want to stop walking. Looking at the map, we saw we would be heading out along a peninsula that would bring us quite close back to St Davids, so we agreed to keep going and take a chance we could get a bus or taxi into the village (oops, city).
It was glorious weather, Pembrokeshire was showing off her early autumn glory. The bracken was turning a more golden brown, the heather flowers were largely gone, the remaining blackberries plump and almost over ripe, but especially with no lunch or breakfast with us, absolutely delicious. A small apple each was all we had with us, but what a spot to sink our teeth into them.
After a few hours we had only seen a couple of other walkers, then a couple told us there were seals around in the next bay. Their plaintive calls echoed around the cliffs, mums calling to their pups and vice versa.
We watched them for ages, spellbound as they occasionally seemed to look up at us on the cliffs above them. “What are they staring at?” framed in a bubble over their flickering whiskers.
What a perfect day. We walked, we talked, we laughed, and we gazed in wonderment. What more can you ask?
My last visit to the Brecon Beacons was as a 14 year old Boy Scout, being dropped off from an old Land Rover with two weeks‘ worth of dehydrated rations in the middle of a rain storm. The sheets of ice cold water being chucked at us continued for the next ten miserable days of thick fog, wet feet and chafed legs from the cheap, heavy ex-army surplus gear that I was wearing.
Well, some things haven’t changed. The weather is still unpredictable, making it uncertain how long it would rain for that day. But we donned our light, comfy, expensive Gortex jackets (who says money doesn’t matter?) and headed along the Brecon Canal, handily adjacent to our campsite, into the not-so-bustling Brecon town centre.
We immediately injected what looked like some much needed cash into the local economy, (so many empty shops for let) and bought Catherine some new fancy dancy (read expensive) walking boots, and me some very comfy (not chafing!) walking trousers. Well, we don’t have much else to spend money on at the moment. We eat in, we drink in, we only wear walking clothes and PJ’s. We can’t fit another thing into our dinky motorhome, so there is no point shopping for anything else!
Walking has become our path to health and happiness. I’m still researching the science, but all we know is we feel better than we EVER have before (touching wood). More on this in a blog to come.
So the canal was our focus for the next day as well. There was no point in going up onto the tops with zero visibility. It seemed lots of other people had the same idea! It was a busier walk (Strava) than on the coast paths of the south-west in Cornwall. Interesting..
The Monmouthshire and Brecon canal, to give it its correct name, and to be even more optically correct in Welsh Camlas Sir Fynwy a Brycheiniog, winds for a very picturesque 56km of its navigable length, through the south Wales countryside.
At the end we were exploring was the Brecon basin, lovingly restored by volunteers and government grants, as they increasingly realise the potential of this once neglected asset.
We stopped to talk to a couple of guys who had hired their narrow boat for a few days and were lucky to find a hire company with any availability. I had looked during the summer at a number of canals and had seen how busy they were right though autumn It’s so good to see how the UK has stepped back from the brink of letting the waterways be demolished in the 1960s, and thanks to community initiatives has restored much of the network.
The next day brought more rain, but we were determined to not be put off getting out and about. We moved to the western end of the Brecon Beacons National Park and a pub car park in the tiny settlement of Trap. I think the pub made up for 50% of the houses there in fact. We had noticed on one of the apps we use the pub had welcomed over nighters in self contained motorhomes. The only down side that we discovered when calling the owner on the way there, she hadn’t reopened after lockdown! Ah well…another night in then!
Waterproofs were donned and a walk up to nearby Carreg Cennen Castle planned and executed (Strava) at a brisk pace to warm us up.
We were accosted at the little cafe at the entrance to the castle grounds, and accosted felt like the right word to use. A very brusque lady said, “So are you going to the castle or walking round it? If it‘s the castle, then you need tickets”, looking very grumpy that we seemed to have disturbed her day. No other information was offered, so I started to say we were out for a walk, and she turned her back and stalked off. In these strange times I guess we need to make allowances for people being jittery, but given her cafe was empty, and there were two staff doing nothing, I would imagine whoever owns the place is feeling the pinch and would have wanted her to offer more details as inducement.
We are trying to carry on injecting our little contributions into any business that welcomes us on our travels, but a small percentage seem to be staffed by people who seem determined to drive customers away. I do acknowledge that many have no choice about where they work, and having contact with the general public right now is a risky business. This was in such stark contrast to the shop we bought our outdoor gear from (Gibb Outdoors in Brecon), where we were welcomed into the store by friendly staff, who were knowledgeable about their product, and that took no increase in risk on their part, and were rewarded with £350 of our money.
So we spent our quiet night at the back of the pub, while I anxiously ruminated about how we would be getting back up the rather steep (for little town-tyres Truffy) slope back to the road, but with plenty of right foot he romped up and we were not Trapped in Trap…I just had to say it 🙂
Location: West Bagborough, Quantock Hills, Somerset
During lockdown, the tiny village of West Bagborough in Somerset had become our home, our safe little bubble. The world went crazy around us, but we just strapped on our boots and headed for the hills. While there we had got to know the owners of the local campsite, Quantock Camping.
We decided to pay them a visit on our journey between Cornwall and Wales. We arrived after lunch and got Truffy settled on to a lovely grassy pitch. Catherine cooked up one of her fab spaghetti bolognaises for us all, and the conversation and laughter flowed, with the odd bottle of wine to lubricate us. Their Great Dane, Genevieve, tended to dominate the skyline somewhat, and the odd cat or chicken made its appearance, all the usual stuff at their place! So lovely to be back among these people who welcomed us into their lives when we so needed to feel part of somewhere safe.
On Saturday morning, with some fresh eggs inside us, we once again strapped on our walking boots and headed up into the Quantock Hills, walking straight from the campsite (Strava). After leaving the village, within minutes we were enveloped in the sights and smells of the countryside we have come to love so much.
Autumn is just starting to make its presence felt, with a few leaves turning a bright gold, and some giving up to the inevitable and scattering themselves on the welcoming ground. We chose a route that would take us back to a hidden valley we had only walked through once, dissected by a perfect little bubbling stream. The last time we were here in the full bloom of early summer, now it looked and smelled so different.
We pressed on to the next little village, only passing a couple of other walkers on the way. Tea was supped from our flasks sitting on a bench in the churchyard. I have rarely felt so content in my life as I did at that moment. We wanted for nothing. The sun was warming our faces, a fresh Somerset-grown apple to munch on, and we headed back over the hills for a fish and chip supper with our hosts. What a perfect day.
The next day we joined our friends and their dogs (Strava) on a walk through ancient birch forest. There is hardly a sentence said between us without a laugh while the dogs romp around, Genevieve crashing though small trees like they’re not there. We got a little lost, a crumpled map was produced, ignored and good humoured debates raged about directions, But it doesn’t matter, we are all just loving being enveloped in this stunning countryside where there’s a new view around every corner, and another bed of nettles to keep you honest.
We just made it to a pub for last orders. A beer never tastes as good as when its drunk after a walk like that. Shared with friends in a sunny garden, and brewed just up the road on Exmoor.
Sadly we said our goodbyes, but knowing we have a safe refuge we can head back to if things go pear shaped makes all the difference to our confidence as we head off to Wales. Well, it’s only 90 minutes down the road!
I had been researching rail trails we could ride in the South West (and there’s many to choose from, bless you Devon, Cornwall and Somerset councils), and up comes one called The Camel Trail near Bodmin. I immediately had visions of cycling along past lines of dromedaries munching scones and jam. But no….the trail gets its name from the river it runs beside. In Cornish the river is called “Dowr Kimmel”, meaning crooked river. Kimmel became camel.
Now that begs a series of questions born out of the ignorance I had for this delightful part of the world. I only have vague memories gleaned from long childhood car trips from the Midlands on an annual pilgrimage to find a patch of sand to sit on, with thousands of other hanky-on-the-head wearing, beetroot-coloured Brits.
So firstly, Cornwall does have its own language, derived mainly from over the water in Brittany, France. Cornish is even taught in some schools, all as part of a national cultural revival. Dig a bit further and apparently a person from Cornwall from 2010 onwards was able to identify themselves, should they wish, as seperate ethnic minority. There was even a movement to devolve Cornwall from the rest of the “United” Kingdom, an affiliation that you wouldn’t currently describe as a happy, close-knit family. Perhaps we are all reacting against globalisation and seeking to retain, or recoup, our cultural uniqueness?
I digress, as is my prerogative, being old…so back to the cycling. The Camel Trail runs traffic free for nearly 30 wonderfully wooded kilometres through rural Cornwall. It is extremely well used, even before the lockdown fuelled surge in bike riding here, the trail was contributing over £3 million to the local economy. Judging by how packed the tea shops along the trail were, this must have sky rocketed. So a good investment by the council. New South Wales (Australia) state government take note,: build it and cyclists will come. The UK has 8,400km of traffic free paths and the South West of England is punching above its weight in having so many of them.
Our first day along the trail took us to the small fishing port of Padstow, home of celebrity chef Rick Stein‘s original seafood restaurant in the 1970’s.
Some say the town should be renamed Steinstow, given old Rick now has a deli, gift shop, fishmonger, cafe, bistro, cooking school…and chippy. The crowds were too much for us, and we rode on out of town with no real plan, and doesn’t that sometimes work out the best? We cycled down some gravel tracks and I chatted to a local who suggested a route to a lookout. Check out these views!
We loitered and punctuated the gobsmacked silence with the odd “wow”. What a seascape.
Things did go downhill, literally, as we rode into the small settlement of Trevone at the bottom of the valley, then also when we tried to have lunch. Couldn’t have been further from Steinworld. This is what the only cafe in town produced for a tuna melt, without cheese. White bread and….tuna. I had emphasised she could have mayo, but no there was no tomato, or lettuce or onion…nothing.
And this is so England. In one town the most amazing world class food, and 4km away a village packed with tourists that serves food even British Rail would be ashamed of. Always keeps you guessing does Blighty – whether its the weather (did that sound right?) that is stormy and wintery in August and now in September positively tropical. Or the people, who are on the most part the most courteous, friendly, do anything for you types, then you mention the B word (Brexit..to be clear…not Beyoncé) and they go all mad crazy!
The following day we rode up to the start of the trail (Strava link) and followed it to the small town of Bodmin, and underwhelmed, left quickly, and looped back round to camp. The day before, Catherine got sunstroke, today we wore long sleeved sweat shirts and wind-proofs. and felt disappointed we forgot our gloves!
I think Autumn will suddenly spring upon us (that didn’t sound right either…but I’m leaving it in) and another season will delight us with its changing colours and smells. England…oh England …the land that keeps you guessing…and dressing….
A birthday always gets me musing. Another year, what has been accomplished? What has it taught me? What will I do differently this next year? Given the current challenges that face the world and impact us , those are particularly difficult questions to answer this year. We are not in as much control to shape our lives as we wish, given the constraints of travel and risk to health. Throw in financial uncertainty, and you have a real mix to try and navigate a path.
Compared to so many, we are living a wonderful life, we are still travelling around, albeit not where we planned to, but still enjoying exploring the great outdoors in England. So many places we are finding that are still away from the crowds.
Falmouth is our first big town for a while, and it remind us of that when we can’t even book a table at any of the nice restaurants there for a celebratory dinner. But we are living with a really big risk. If we get the virus we have no home to run to and recover. Our tiny motorhome is not somewhere you want to be seriously ill in., and what campsite would accept us anyway? What rental property would have us?
Its a risk that we understood we were taking when we got on the plane to Europe last March – but then we thought it would be over in weeks, not years. Now it looks like a second wave is hittingt the UK. It is a threat that seems very real, espcially if there is even the sign of a sore throat or cough. Are we putting ourselves uneceassrily at risk? Should we have come home on the repatriation flights? Our decision not to was based on the better access to specialist medical resources here that Catherine would need, plus an unwillingness to give up our plans. Being treated for COVID-19 when you already have an impaired airway requires understanding of her specific disease. Here in England (in fact especially where we are in the south-west) there are multiple senior doctors who know her and would understand how best to care for her. In Australia there’s only a couple.
So in the middle of these musings, our flights back to Australia were cancelled. We had not been following the situation closely, naively thinking that as we had tickets booked months ago, our airline would be obliged to find us an alternative option to fulfil their contract. Apparently not. There are currently between 20-30,000 Australians who want to return, and only a few airlines who are still flying to Sydney. Plus the Australian government had said in the early stages of the pandemic, get back quick or settle in for the long haul where you are. So they are now severely restricting the numbers of incoming international passengers they will process. Sydney is 300-350 a day, Brisbane and Adelaide 75 a day each, not sure on Darwin and Perth, but it means at this rate it will be a long long wait. Meanwhile, the airlines are bumping people off economy and just selling business and first class tickets. Bless them…I guess they have to make money to survive.
So what this year will bring? It‘s hard to tell. We only know we want to get back to Australia to see our friends and fur child, check on our assets (car and caravan still stored and all our house contents). When and how are unknown. And what about next year? When we store our beloved little home on wheels here, when we will be able to return? We have no idea. Should we just move back into our property when the current tenant’s lease is up in December, give up our travel dreams for a year? We don’t know…it depends on so many variables connected to the pandemic and therefore out of our control.
Meanwhile the historic port city of Falmouth shows us her beautiful side. On my birthday we took a cab into town. Even that felt a bit weird…then a couple of outdoor drinks and an Indian. That will do us. Some lovely digital catch ups with people the next morning then on with the walking boots once again.
We wander around the harbour foreshore on a blue sky day, watch the boats come and go, sit and have a lovely lunch by the beach, its like a mini Sydney!
No harbour town visit is complete without a boat trip, so off we scuttled over on a little ferry to the little village of St Mawes, famous for the artillery fort built by Henry the VIII to keep those pesky French Catholics at bay.
On the way across we got a good view of “The World”, largest luxury yacht in the world. If you have US$10 million in assets you can buy in to have a cabin ranging from a few million up to US$15 million and then you have your “maintenance fees” of…around $900,000 a year! I’d love to have a look around the wine cellar, with 12,000 bottles of wine in their collection…mmm. And now…moored up – for the first time in 18 years, it has stopped moving. So many firsts in this new world we live in.
So you can see by the blue skies in Cornwall at the moment, there is no shortage of vitamin D in our systems to fight off that virus, fingers crossed.
A burger for dinner, sat on a bench by the harbour and we are done with Falmouth. A little too busy with tourists for us, too many crowds to distance from, and many of them don’t seem to bother. Was this the best birthday I’ve had? No, but under the circumstances pretty damm good. What was missing was physically being around some friends and family, to feel connected with them. But thats how it is, and with Catherine by my side, not much else matters other than our health.
Locations: Dartmoor, Devon and Pentewan, Cornwall UK
A couple of weeks ago we had “discovered” (i.e. a new to us) a gastro pub, The Dartmoor Inn, which was… you guessed it, right there on the moor‘s doorstep. We had lunch there last time, this visit we were splurging for dinner. With my birthday coming up on Wednesday, we had tried to book up some restaurants in the town we will be at then, but each one was either closed or booked out. Its ‘Staycation UK’ time still. So “Carpe Diem” I said, quoting a Roman poet with the somewhat ridiculous name of Horace. Let’s seize the day.
We arrived to find the car park full of vintage Bentleys, and a modern Aston presiding over them. Truffy looked positively clunky, but we didn’t care. None of those cars would be providing a home for the night like ours does. We had sought permission from the Inn to stay overnight in the car park, a very small stagger in mind to bed. But before dinner we had too earn our supper, and marched up one of the highest tors (read small hill) on Dartmoor called Great Links (Strava link).
With thankfully not a golf course in sight, and at 582m above sea level, we were treated to a pretty special view. We have come to love this largest area of open space in the southern part of England. It has a Scottish Highland feel to it, and so easy to get away from the other ’walkers’ who barely stray from the car parks. We came across one young lady on the trail as we walked our final kilometre back to Truffy. She was stood in the middle of the path with her phone on speaker while she shouted into it: “IT IS SO QUIET AND PEACEFUL UP HERE”. I groaned at the irony lost on this millennial .
Dinner was a sumptuous affair. Catherine had tender scallops, for me it was the wood pigeon. I tried to withhold the thought of it flying around, cooing in the treetops, unsuspecting of its coming fate. I picked a wine from Saint Emilion, one of our favourite terroirs in France. This was a classic of the area with a blend of Merlot, Cab Franc and Cab Sav. Simply delicious with my main of slow roasted shoulder of beef. Maybe a little powerful for Catherine’s fish dish but hey…I was claiming birthday voting rights.
Saturday dawned for us a little groggily, a pre-dinner drink and a whole bottle of wine between us more than our usual quota these days! We decided to clear our heads and hike up to a church we had noticed up on a hill, anticipating another magnificent view, which indeed we were rewarded with.
Brentor Church sits presiding over the rolling country, and is a favourite (very short) walk it would seem, so we moved on.
So next it was off to our home for the new two nights down in the south-east corner of Cornwall in a small coastal settlement called Pentewan.
This was not our usual type of campground, it was a massive holiday park. Feeling a little underwhelmed we donned our walking boots and pottered down to the beach. Wow! Its so rewarding to have low expectations! What a gorgeous stretch of coast we had landed at.
Off we trotted up the ever present South West Coast Path (well, if you’re in the south west of England between Poole in Dorset and Minehead in Somerset!). What a feast for the eyes, and the belly with all the plump blackberries we were scoffing on the way. Even the locals were friendly here, having a chat with one out gardening. A pleasant change from Rude in Bude.
On the way back we had a poke around the old harbour that once had been bustling with ships carting away the china clay mined locally. Now all silted up, it did provide a lovely backdrop to the pub perched on its edge. Oh that was a beer well earned on the steep paths (Strava link).
Sunday dawned with the rainy showers that have been ever present since the dry spring, but we donned our cycle gear and headed off anyway. We had noticed a rail trail (the Pentewan Valley Trail), our favourite traffic free riding option, and had an explore inland initially, then up and down some country lanes and just followed our noses. once again with no expectatations we were delighted to emerge in the small port of Charlestown (Strava link). Another wow moment. I just love old harbours like this, and these old ships, the stories they could tell. It seems the port and its ships has been a favourite movie set for classics like Poldark. Catherine, with her movie star looks, blended in perfectly.
Returning to camp, the day was not done yet. After madly getting some washing done in our little on-board twin tub washing machine and hung out, it was once again on with the walking boots, and off up the coast path, this time in the opposite direction towards the small port of Mevagissey (Strava link).
Two ports in one day…lucky boy. The walk there was definitely in our ‘Top 10 Global Afternoon Wanders‘ (no we don’t have that list but if we did…). This is world class scenery though, and when we were more than a 5 minute stretch from car parks, not too crowded.
Walking into the village though, and the proximity of their cars, the crowds returned, but not enough to spoil the views of this quintessential Cornish fishing port. An ice cream savoured to fortify us for the return walk, we were off once again along this magnificent coastal scenery.
We are reminded this will be the third season in which we have seen and enjoyed a section of the South-West Coast Path. What a wonderful asset to the country this piece of infrastructure is. All praise to the many individual campaigners, as well as local and national councils who have fought off developers and landowners that sought to restrict walkers’ access to this fabulous coastline.
Last week was Storm Ellen, this week was Storm Francis’s turn to bugger things up. We had it all planned. Catherine’s sister and family were coming to camp with us for the week, and their childhood friend Karen and her family also joining us for a couple of days.
Well, Helen and family lasted one night before their tent was shredded by gale force winds, and holiday spirits drowned by rain squalls lashing; the field turned into a mud pit. Karen and her family sensibly decided to abort completely.
We just felt so sorry for them. This has been a super tough year for all of these folk for many reasons. They were so looking forward to a chance to get escape to somewhere different and hang out with each other. But nothing could be done. Their tent just buckled under the wind. It was pitched well, it just couldn’t stand up to the 52mph gusts that were buffeting us on Monday night. This was only the third night of use for this brand new tent. Poor show Outwell, and we’ve told them so, even posted a number of pictures on their Facebook site showing the broken poles. Not even an acknowledgment. It did make us realise how so much more robust, and good value, our Australian camping equipment is.
So that was that. We were back on our own. The wind subsided to a fresh breeze, and it stopped raining briefly, so we jumped on our bikes and rode into the local town of Holsworthy for a pub lunch. It was the last day of the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme the UK government has been running to help the pub and restaurant industry by providing £10 a head subsidy at participating restaurants a few days each week in August. We’ve not managed to use it before, so was nice to get a cheap feed.
The riding around here, as I’ve said before, is just magnificent. Several long distance cycle routes come through the area, often following old railways lines, and we headed out a short way on one towards Bude. We joined for a while two touring cyclists who were heading from land End to John O’Groats,. They worked for Sustrans, the national cycle body that has been the driver behind so much of the program of work that has transformed cycling in the UK. I envied them the ride.
With another forecast of rain, wind and more rain, we decided to drive over to the picturesque village of Clovelly, backdrop to so many films, including one of our favourites, The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society. You have to park outside the village entrance, and then pay a small fee for entry before you are able to walk down the pedestrianised high street (we like that!) that descends precipitously 120 metres to the little harbour.
It’s while in the fisherman’s museum that we learn the link to Sydney’s expensive eastern suburb of Clovelly A Plymouth born pastoralist with links to this village of Clovelly in Devon sailed to Australia in the early 1800s. His name was Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur. He purchased a house in Watson’s bay which he named Clovelly after this village. Later, when Sydney’s Council was trying to name the suburb, they considered Eastbourne, but picked Clovelly instead, influenced by the name of his house.
With the rain lashing down it was a slippery walk on the cobbles, but the views were just tremendous. The sense of history once again was palpable. Its easy to see why a number of famous writers and artists have taken their inspiration from living here.
The weather certainly wasn’t suiting the feline population, with several practically knocking on windows and doors to be let in out of the cold and wet. We however braved it down to the harbour, and sheltered while we sipped our hot tea and contemplated what life would have been like heading out on a fishing boat. In 1838 twelve boats set out and only one returned, a storm hitting them and taking twenty six lives that day. We however, fortified by a Devon pasty, and educated by the shop owner about the difference between a Devon and a Cornish one (its all in the pastry folding apparently) and we headed back to Truffy somewhat bedraggled.
After another day of rain…we finally saw a window in the forecast, fortuitously for when we had booked a wine tasting. Yes…English wine….So off we went on the bikes, the winery (Torview Wines) conveniently being located on the same cycle route we had headed out on previously, when we visited Black Torrington and the delicious pub lunch last weekend.. Happy to repeat that stunning ride, off we pedalled with a freezing north wind causing us to wrap up warm. And yes… it is August.
Tim and his wife are the owners of the winery, and the only employees. Run as a family business they feel they can better control the inputs and outputs. We really enjoyed our visit here. Tim really did a great job of giving an overview of viticulture in this neck of the woods. They acquired the property from one of the many farmers whose cattle had been hit by foot and mouth.
Tim has been involved in the wine industry all his life, and felt he wanted to do things a little differently in his winery, based on what he felt would work best. For instance, the weeds are allowed to grow between the vines. The nettles were thigh high and it didn’t make for a pretty picture, but Tim is adamant it helps the wine because you are not running up and down the soil with vehicles compacting and damaging it, and the added stress on the vines ensures they produce fewer leaves and more fruit. With two pairs of barn owls living on the property, the longer grass also provides them with ample hunting ground.
He also has a novel way of sourcing his pickers for the harvest. He approached several local charities and offered to donate £30 a day for any volunteers they could find him. What a neat idea.
We tasted a number of his wines, with three main varieties, two we had never tried before. In this climate they need to be pretty robust! Climate change is having its impact here like everywhere else. Earlier springs for instance, which becomes an issue when there is a frost, which led to some varieties being decimated this year. Interestingly this is another business that sees its market as being almost exclusively local, with stock for instance going to bed and breakfasts for their welcome packs, and regional farmers markets. We left understanding a lot more than the zero knowledge we had. That counts as a good day.
This is our last day of the nearly a fortnight we have spent at Headon Farm. We have been made so welcome by the owners, Linda and Richard. They epitomise what we’d love every campsite owner to be like. Everything is so well kept and clean, and local knowledge always forthcoming. I wish we could store our Truffy here, they have a gold standard facility, and know they would be such good carers, but having to get back to Heathrow. with all of our luggage…tricky.
For the people who drive here in cars and come back year after year, what a fantastic base to explore Devon and Cornwall. The weather hasn’t been kind, but we can’t control that. We have still enjoyed our time here, just wish we could have shared more of it with friends and family as we planned. It wasn’t to be.