19-24 October: Feeling autumnal in the south-east of England

Author: Mrs A

Location: Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire, Hastings, East Sussex and London.

After a lovely morning out with Hayley and the boys, we said goodbye to them and drove a short way south to my cousin’s house in the village of Little Gaddesden. It’s getting to the point now that we are constantly saying goodbye, not knowing whether we will be stopped from seeing family because of Australia’s restrictions on people leaving the country, or by local lockdowns. It is heart wrenching either way.

A lovely relaxed evening with Karen and Iain ensued, a delicious Sunday roast and some fine wine consumed. Monday morning dawned bright and sunny, so Karen, Mark and I set off on a walk (map of our route).

Setting off along a lane

Little Gaddesden is surrounded by the beautiful countryside of the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), most notably the Ashridge Estate, the location of Ashridge House, a magnificent mansion built in the 1800s on the site of an old priory built in the 1300s.

We followed a Roman road (known locally as ‘spooky lane’ with several reports of ghosts and witchcraft links) which was sunk by the third Earl of Bridgewater some time in the 1600s to allow his wife to travel in a carriage down the road hidden from the peasants. The green brick walls covered by winding tree roots and ivy certainly looked mysterious.

The Devil’s Bridge

Footpaths wind their way through the countryside in every direction, the vibrant colours of autumn catching our eyes. We walked across fields and down lanes, our ramble finding it’s half way point conveniently at a gastro pub in the lovely old village of Frithsden.

The Alford Arms was doing a roaring trade on this Monday lunchtime
Karen and Catherine – more than four decades of friendship

After a delicious lunch, we looped back around via a restored ancient woodland and the Ashridge Estate, spotting a couple of shy does in the bushes near Karen’s house. They were members of a large herd of fallow deer living wild around here, descendants of deer originally introduced during the 13th century for hunting and venison.

The intrepid walkers
Cousins – still the same two little girls who used to play together on family occasions growing up
Looking out towards Ashridge, hidden behind the trees
Beautifully disguised in the woodland copse, this pair of does certainly spotted us long before we spied them

Tuesday morning saw us once again saying our farewells as we pointed Truffy’s nose further south to East Sussex to spend some time with my mum.

We had a relaxing few days there, making the most of a sunny afternoon for a stroll around St Leonards.

Mr A enjoying the sunshine in a sheltered nook, where my grandparents used to picnic too. He had just had his eye pressures checked and all is healthy – great news!
A picnic lunch on the seafront
Ladybirds were out in force on this sunny afternoon
St Leonards Gardens, originally part of a farm in the 1700s
Mum and Barry have a rest and enjoy the view
The sunlight in the leaves lights up the park
North Lodge Pay Gate was built in the early 1800s ,when St Leonards on Sea was being developed around a burgeoning tourism industry

On Friday morning Mark and I caught a train up to London. Mark went off to have a look around the outdoor shops while I caught a tube across to Hammersmith to have some more injections in my neck, always a joy!

London was eerily quiet, being in Tier 2 of the alert levels (high), many people were staying away from the public transport and working from home.

One minute until the next train and I am the only person on the platform

Charing Cross Hospital (not anywhere near Charing Cross Station, interestingly enough!) also had few people around as I found my way to the ENT outpatient clinic, had my temperature checked (35.8°C) and waited for the team to be ready to see me. The procedure went as planned, with some great news – there is no sign at all of any scarring in my trachea – I am 100% open! That’s the first time that has happened since 2016.

Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith sits alongside a quiet haven in London, the Margravine Cemetery a peaceful green space
The fearless grey squirrels rule the roost in the cemetery
Pretending to be a tree trunk

It was hard to celebrate however, as my vocal cord was temporarily frozen by the local anaesthetic and I had no voice, but I made my way back across London to reunite with Mark and head back to Hastings.

Fish and chips from the local chippy concluded our time in Hastings, and after lunch the next day (voice back working, to Mark’s chagrin!), we farewelled mum for a few days and travelled a short way across country to Brighton… It is the start of an exciting week – my sister’s getting married (Covid-19 style!).

10-13 October: Starting to head south

Author: Mrs A

Location: Harby, Nottinghamshire UK

We checked out of Castleton and drove through showery weather to our friends John and Catriona in the village of Harby, just south of Lincoln. We arrived mid afternoon and after cups of tea and stories told, ambled over to their village pub for a pre-dinner drink.

It’s been a while since we last sat across a table with friends, and although those Zoom sessions are wonderful, nothing beats the connection of an in-person conversation, the more spontaneous banter and laughter that comes with it. We had a fun night with fine wine and delicious food, concluding with dancing around the lounge as all evenings should!

The following morning we went out to RSPB Langford Lowfields (map) for a stroll. The area is common of the Nottinghamshire landscape, with a former sand and gravel pit turned into wetlands. Although much of the work has been done relatively recently, the location has already attracted a wide variety of birds.

A lot of happy water birds make this their home
Catriona makes her way over the boardwalk that takes you through the reed beds
More than 50 years of friendship between these two
The locals are pretty chilled out

The reserve sits alongside the River Trent and a roaring weir. You definitely would not have wanted to fall into this, with its whirlpools and churning waters. It is known as the Devil’s Caldron and claimed the lives of 10 soldiers in 1975 who unwittingly went over this weir during a night exercise. Cromwell Weir is now roped off in response to this, preventing any further tragedies.

Standing in awe of the Devil’s Caldron

We ambled down to an area of the wetlands not usually open to visitors, finding a huge tree trunk. The story accompanying it was quite impressive. We were surprised the tree trunk is not better protected.

4,000 years of history in a tree trunk
Nobody told this large German wasp, busy chewing the wood to build a nest
More wetlands full of swans and various duck varieties
A kestrel hovers over the grasses hunting for a mouse or shrew for lunch….

Catriona went back home to get tucked into an afternoon of tennis on the TV, while John, Mark and I went to nearby Doddington Hall to buy goodies for lunch.

We had another delicious meal whipped up by Catriona on Sunday night before saying goodbye to our friends on Monday morning.

It was so fortunate we got to enjoy our time there while we did – on Tuesday a three tier system of protective Covid-19 measures was put in place across the UK, and by Wednesday their region was put into tier two, forbidding the meeting of non-household members indoors. This virus continues to throw spanners in the works of our ever fluid plans, but so far we seem to be just a day or so ahead of it! Phew!

5-6 October: We abandon Wales and head back to England

Author: Mrs A

Location: Aberaeron, Wales and Stiperstones, Shropshire, UK

Determined to try and hike more of the Wales Coast Path, we left New Quay and drove a short way up the coast to just north of Aberaeron, a small holiday town. The worst of Storm Alex seemed to have now passed, and we thought it would be good to see a new area. Unfortunately the weather continued to rage against us, and as we pulled up at a coastal car park, the wind was howling and the rain driving hard at an angle straight off the sea.

Our view of the beach and coast walk…not looking too tempting!

We warmed up some soup on the stove and watched as determined dog walkers braved the elements, leaning into the wind with their hounds, only to return sodden shortly later, and bundle themselves and their wet mutts into cars and drive off. It didnt look appealing.

We studied the weather forecast for the coming week, the radar showing a slow moving front of rain hanging over the whole of Wales for the foreseeable future. We could see a lot more indoor time ahead if we didn’t change our plans.

So we looked at the map. At the western edge of England, bordering Wales, was a little known (to us) county of Shropshire. In many ways, all we knew of Shropshire was what it is not: not quite Wales, not quite the North, no cities, no motorways, no coastline. This landlocked county seemed to be quite the antidote to a wet and windy Welsh clifftop, and an ideal spot to regroup and plan our next week.

My eyes were immediately drawn to one area – the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). An area full of walks and views (if the weather is good). I found a pub with good reviews that allowed motorhomes to park overnight, located in a tiny village. We pointed Truffy’s nose east and hit the road.

Weaving our way down some picturesque green tunnels in the rain

Before long, we pulled into the carpark of The Stiperstones Inn in the village of Stiperstones. We popped our heads into the lounge bar, and were greeted by a welcoming masked smiling face, a roaring log fire and a menu listing several interesting dairy-free meals. Perfect! We booked in for dinner, seated by the flames, enjoying our first decent meal out in a long time.

Originally two cottages and a blacksmith, this was converted to a pub in the mid 1800s
A roaring fire and a glass of malbec just what we needed on this cold wet day

Stiperstones is named after rock formation on top of the hill that overlooks the village. The nature reserve is covered in silvery grey quartzite rocks, shattered into distinctive jagged tors and surrounded by a jumble of rocks that were broken up by continuous freezing and thawing during the last ice age. Chatting with Sophie, our lovely barmaid, she told us where best to start the hike up.

“Walk down to the dingles, and take the right dingle all the way up.” We were intrigued!

Our barmaid was quite tickled by our amusement with the use of dingle. I had to Google it: a deep, narrow cleft between hills; shady dell. A little used but valid term.

So after a peaceful night’s sleep in the pub car park, we walked down the road to find the dingles. Not to be confused with dangles.

The two dingles – we’re careful to take the right one
Climbing up – after all the rain the footpath looks more like a stream
We’re pleased we had hill training in the Quantocks
The cloud breaks revealing some lovely autumnal golden browns and oranges in the leaves and bracken below
Colours that remind us of Scotland as the sun highlights hills in the distance
The cloud starts to descend, and brief views disappear
Up on top of the hills it is several degrees colder, and as the cloud drops and the wind picks up we quickly add on clothes
Sheltering behind a rock known as the Devil’s Chair in the driving rain for a cup of tea
Mr A is disappearing alongside the Devil’s Chair

You’d have thought we were the only people up there, but no, there were other nutters braving the wild and unpredictable weather. The first people were a group of geography students with their teacher, learning about the geology of the area on a field trip. Then we came across two more couples walking dogs through the deluge of sideways rain, wind and fog. In all cases, each party laughed at the predicament in which we found ourselves. Mad dogs and English folk.

Strangely, we loved the erratic elements. The fog swirling around, obscuring the views, before suddenly clearing to reveal a far off hillside or field highlighted by a break in the cloud, bright sunshine making the greens almost fluorescent in the surrounding gloom. And it is all about wearing the right clothes. We layered ourselves up in fleeces, waterproof trousers and coats, hats…and changed as necessary to suit the conditions.

The path along the top is quite slippery, strewn with large rocks, shiny and wet in the rain
As we reach Stiperstones, the sun emerges quickly from behind a cloud and lights it up as though it’s highlighting a feature for us
The sun moved on to highlighting the hills in the distance – bright flashes of green and yellow before they disappear into the cloud again
We were apparently walking on the Shropshire Way

We gradually climbed back down off the hills, opting to take quiet lanes on our return walk to the pub. A great taster of the area.

We admit being very tempted by returning to the pub for lunch beside that roaring fire, but we decided to pack up and move on to our campsite for the night.. There our little Aldi fan heater was put to work drying everything off before another peaceful evening.

30 September -1 October: Pootling around Porthgain

Author: Mrs A

Location: Porthgain, Pembrokeshire, UK

It was a very short drive to our next location, the tiny village of Porthgain on the west coast. I had read on one of our travel apps, about a motorhome parking spot with power and water available opposite the pub, and as we pulled in, we were relieved to find that nobody had nabbed it before us.

Porthgain hasn’t changed a great deal over the years, having had its heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with a huge slate sawmill and exporting cut slate from the harbour on steam ships. Later the factory changed to creating slate bricks, and then stone for road surfacing. These days people visit predominantly to access the coast path, and they are well serviced (for such a small place) with a fish restaurant (with great reviews), art gallery, ice cream shop (closed. for the winter) and a pub, The Sloop Inn.

Large brick structures dominate the harbour, and are the first thing you see as you enter. These are known as hoppers, and were used to store crushed stone before shipping. They are now protected against change as important historical buildings (Scheduled National Monument).

The brick hoppers are covered in ivy and barred against entry

We had a look around the harbour and art gallery, which sells paintings and prints from local and Welsh artists, and booked into the pub for dinner. It’s been a while between dinners out, and quite exciting to have someone else do the cooking and cleaning up for us!

Look carefully on the right hand side of the central shed, and you will see Truffy tucked in beside an old fishing hut
A photo of the harbour from the early 1900s when it was a busy port shipping out slate
The Sloop Inn, established in 1743. An example of a slate brick wall as you enter.
Scampi and chips for me – reminding me of childhood New Year’s Eve dinners with my cousins! Mark had a roast lamb from the proprietor’s farm

We had a delicious meal, and throughout the evening managed to chug our way through a whole bottle of wine – unheard of for us these days! As with most establishments, the only place we were allowed to not wear a mask was at the table – any movement around the pub was discouraged, and then only while masked up. We got the feeling that not all of the waiting staff were used to serving customers at the table.

Some of the houses are brightly coloured here

The following morning was clear and bright so we decided to take advantage and head off on a hike along the cliff tops before we moved on to our next location. The sun is rising around 7.30am so by the time we got walking at 8.15am the sun was not too high and the light just delightful.

Looking south towards the stone pillar marking the entrance to the harbour
We head north, where another marker glows in the morning light

There is a huge amount of human history along this coast, with incredible views. We passed a standing stone, and concluded our walk at the Llwynog Arian Stone Circle, where we sat on a fallen stone and enjoyed a cup of tea, admiring the views. The stone circle had only 11 stones, rather than the usual 12. I assumed some vandals had rolled one off the cliff, but legend has it that a Welsh giant (Owain of Trefin) had tossed the 12th stone to the nearby headland, and that was the solitary standing stone we had come across.

A cairn built by hikers…we added our stones
Almost an island – this was once the headland, and is now a refuge for seals and seabirds
Another piece of spectacular coastline
The path winds along the clifftop with incredible views at every turn
Wishing we didn’t have to stop
A very special coastline on a day like this
Is this the stone the giant tossed?

Reluctantly we turned around and headed back to Truffy. We needed to buy more food supplies and had booked onto a camp site up the coast for the night.

Heading back

We spotted more seals, including some bright white pups left high and dry by the retreating tide. They looked so helpless lying there amongst the seaweed and rock, watched over by curious seagulls, their mothers calling out from the water below.

We could see for miles on this clear day
The last of the yellow gorse flowers are blooming on the headland
Back in Porthgain Harbour to wash our boots off on the beach

It was a short visit, but very special. Porthgain was a friendly little village with an authentic feel, touched with history. We drove off with the cloud steadily increasing during the afternoon. Another wet and wild storm is approaching the British Isles, so we feel pleased we made the most of the good weather while we could.

26-27 September: The beautiful scenery of Stackpole Estate

Author: Mrs A

Location: St Petrox and Stackpole Estate, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK

We arrived at our campsite behind an old Norman church in the village of St Petrox just after lunch. We’d chosen the location because of its proximity to Stackpole Estate, a large National Trust owned area of outstanding beauty. Finally the rain had moved on to England, leaving us with patches of blue in the sky and calmer weather.

As we set off to walk down there we realised there was no safe route to it – and walking on narrow, windy roads with traffic seemingly in a big hurry did not appeal. We turned off down a quieter lane and resolved to visit the estate the next day. Our afternoon’s stroll took us around four little villages, each with an old church, with at least part dating back to the 13th century.

Our first glimpse of the Pembrokeshire coast in the distance across the fields
Arriving at St Twynnells, the next village – this church dates from 1259
A colourful patchwork of hedgerow lined fields. Up on the hill, a tower
St Petrox in our sights on the horizon as we loop around

We have been predominantly using our own on board facilities for showering, and this Friday night was no different. I decided to wash my hair, and was literally covered from head to toe in bubbles when the water stopped. Not a single drip emerged from the shower. I tried the tap. Nothing. The water pump had broken. Mark dashed over to the campground showers to check they were functioning, and warm (our campsite was quite ‘rustic’ to say the least). I then made a semi streak, dripping wet and shivering to rinse off. One of the least glamorous moments of our travels…and thank goodness we were camping somewhere with showers – that is not always the case!

The following morning, Mr A rang a mobile caravan repairer who said he would come sometime during the day, with half an hour’s notice. He arrived early afternoon, and within 20 minutes we had a new pump and he was off.

The sun was shining, so we quickly packed up Truffy and drove the short way over to Stackpole National Trust Estate and parked up there.

The strangely named Stackpole was named after the earliest confirmed ’owner’ of the estate, Elidyr de Stackpole in 1188, but history of human use goes back much further than this. The estate has literally millenia of history, with the oldest human evidence being a standing stone erected as a meeting place for people more than 5,000 years ago. The whole estate, now run by the National Trust, has a very special feel about it. The multitude of environments, from lakes and woodlands, to sand dunes, cliffs and beaches, are home to all manner of bird and animal life, and even on this fairly busy Saturday afternoon we spotted herons, moorhens, and a bright turquoise kingfisher on one of the lakes.

Residents of Stackpole Court (a house that was dismantled in the 1960s) had worked extensively on landscaping the grounds, with the spring-fed lakes and woodland walks dating back to 1777. They are now heritage listed and have been maintained by the Trust since the 1970s, and incredibly beautiful.

A ‘wet-edge’ pond creates a mirror-like reflection
A perfect woodland walkway beside the lakes
Four cygnets taking time for grooming at the water’s edge

A limestone bridge with eight arches spans a weir between two of the lakes, also heritage listed.

The eight-arch bridge linked Stackpole Court with Stackpole Quay and farm

Winding our way around the lakes and over bridges, we eventually emerged on Broadhaven South Beach.

In contrast to the carefully designed and sculptured woodland and lakes, this was beautifully natural and wild, untouched headlands lined with steep rocky cliffs and caves, soft white sand beach bordered by windswept dunes. A short way out in the bay sits the aptly named Church Rock.

A first view of the beach and rock
Plenty of space on this beach
What a stunning location – especially on this glorious day
We find a sunny, sheltered spot for a sit down with a cup of tea
A beautiful bay

We followed the Pembrokeshire Coast Path up along the cliffs, before moving inland to Stackpole Warren, an area of sand dunes, and also the location of the standing stone. There have been found fossilised hoof prints and plough markings dating back to the Bronze age.

The steep cliffs leading to Stackpole Head

It’s definitely an area we could have spent more time exploring, but we had a bit of a weather deadline. We knew we had a four or five day window of fine conditions ahead of us in which to enjoy more of the Pembrokeshire coastline before colder, wetter and windier autumn weather would hit Wales. We packed up and moved on the following morning.

21-22 September: Truffy’s first foray into Wales

Author: Mrs A

Location: Castle Clytha (nr Llanarth), Coed y Bwnydd (an Iron Age fort) and Mynydd Llangorse (a hill), Monmouthshire, Wales

We left Somerset in bright sunshine and turned Truffy’s nose north-west, aiming for a bridge over the River Severn. After so much time looking at the Bristol Channel, it was great to be able to see higher up the river and cross over the great body of water. As we passed into Wales, we left the blue skies and drove into fog…fortunately soon lifting as we reached our destination.

Welcome to Wales…and a man opening a beach umbrella…

We pulled into a quiet National Trust carpark beside the River Usk. The river starts high up in the Brecon Beacons, before flowing through Wales to emerge at Newport into the River Severn, opposite Western-super-Mare. We had decided to make our first day’s journey relatively short in order to make the most of the blue sky day. (Strava).

Mr A had found a great sounding walk on the National Trust site which would take us along the river, up to an ancient Iron Age Fort and back via a 17th century castle in a mere 12km (7.5 miles). If you’ve seen our Strava link, you will have seen we must have taken a few wrong turns, as it was 15.6km (about 10 miles) for us!

The River Usk is still and picturesque – home to herons, swans, cormorants and a multitude of ducks
Mirror-like reflections on this still autumn morning
Very quiet!

After passing a group of girls swimming and sunbathing on the river bank, we barely saw another person all day as we wound our way on our circuit walk.

The last of the riverside walking before we begin to climb up into the hills

As we hiked up, the views began to open up, giving us our first glimpses of the Brecon Beacons National Park.

Many sheep here, looking very healthy, grazing on the lush grass
We pass through the village of Bettws Newydd

Fabulous clear views of Sugar Loaf open up in front of us – this is South Wales’ highest mountain (596 metres), and a popular day walk. Its popularity is what turned us off walking up this one, we do prefer to avoid the crowds, even when there isn’t a nasty virus around!

Views across the mountains – Sugar Loaf is the pointed one on the right

The walk description had been written at a time when there were no crops in the fields, so often it was a bit of a challenge finding the pathway through.

Thigh deep in leaves…

High up on a hill we emerged into Coed y Bwnydd, an Iron Age fort. This is a scheduled ancient monument that was gifted to the National Trust in the 1940s by a grieving Captain in memory of his friend killed in World War II. To the untrained eye, it is a simple woodland, but the more you look, you begin to spot the earthworks that signify the involvement of humans here more than 2,000 years ago.

Imagining this as a bustling fort, commanding views for miles around
Stood up high on the banks of the earthworks, you can almost imagine the feet that walked here and moulded this earth thousands of years ago…today the quiet woodland is home to a multitude of birds, insects and flora
A delicate wild pansy flowing in the woodland
Beautiful views are framed by trees and gateways wherever we go
More jungle to hike through – corn swamping Mr A
A welcome sign pointing to Clytha Castle – reassuring us we are still following the right path

Clytha Castle was a folly built in 1790 and is now available for holiday stays.

Clytha Park Estate
Looking back at the castle nestle up in the hills

We stayed the night in the quiet car park, then the following morning we drove a short way to Llangors, where we parked up at an activity centre (predominantly training army cadets to climb and survive in the wilderness). Our plan was to climb Mynydd Llangorse, a 515 metre hill overlooking Lake Llangors and the Brecon Beacons.

Again, this walk was not on the tourist trail, and yet able to provide spectacular views (Strava) in isolated serenity. Away from the carpark, we saw one other person, just as we concluded our hike.

The walk climbs up immediately from the car park, offering great views
Lake Llangors is a great focus below us
Old shepherds huts dot the landscape
It’s a steep climb up but nice and flat once up there
Dragons on the trig point confirm we are in Wales
A steep climb up means a steep climb down…
We can see Truffy from here – looking tiny by himself in the carpark below us

We could see the weather starting to change as we enjoyed the last of the sunshine for a couple of days. After climbing back down, we drove off to our next camp, just outside the small town of Brecon.

16-17 September: Exploring the land of King Arthur

Author: Mrs A

Location: Tintagel & Boscastle, Cornwall, UK

All was going so well. We were packing up camp like we so regularly do, me tidying and locking things away inside, while Mark was busy on the outside, putting away the eye mask and filling up with water as we were planning to park at a pub that night, with no facilities. He called out for me to check how full the tank was. “50%” I called back….Mark looked at me quizzically, “But it’s overflowing…..” It was at this point his face dropped, as he realised what was happening. He’d mistakenly inserted the water hose into the diesel tank.

The two flaps look quite similar…except one says ‘Diesel’ and one has a picture of a tap and water….

All the colour drained out of Mark’s face, and I quickly jumped on to the Hymer Owner’s Group on Facebook to see what was recommended – I correctly assumed that this mistake had been made by others. The advice was as follows:

  1. Do not turn on your engine
  2. Call a specialist to drain the tank – Google ‘Wrong Fuel’ – there are plenty of companies willing to take your money!
  3. Replace your fuel filter – especially where water is involved – the filter is made of cardboard!

Mark made the call which was answered by a very sympathetic lady who for the price of a kidney would immediately send out someone to help. We had to agree, and within two hours our tank-cleaner was busily draining us of water and diesel, and popped in a few litres to get us to a fuel station to fill up.

Getting the last drops of water out of the system

Thankfully all the water had been pumped out and Truffy ran like clockwork. A few hours late and slightly less money in the bank, we headed off on our way towards our next destination, Tintagel.

As we approached Tintagel we could see a grey haze on the horizon. From my childhood living on the Sussex coast I could recognise it as sea fog. I remember playing in the sunshine in the garden and mum suggesting we catch the bus down to the beach…only to arrive in thick fog and temperatures several degrees lower than those we left.

Our first glimmers of fog on the horizon as we drive towards Tintagel

Arriving in Tintagel, indeed it was. Fog so thick you could hardly see across the road and chilly temperatures that encouraged us to ditch the shorts and pop on long trousers. It didn’t matter to us though, we were meeting my friend Kelly (she also has subglottic stenosis) and her husband Patrick.

We enjoyed a lovely pub lunch, Mr A allowing a pint of beer to help him calm down after the stresses of the morning, before having a walk around the village. Kelly kindly treated us to a Cornish cream tea – scones, cream, jam and black tea to enjoy back at Truffy. Fabulous!

Cream tea and fog!

We stayed overnight in the car park, waking up early to the sound of wind. When there’s wind, that means there cannot be fog…and indeed, we had a perfect morning!

Truffy and his overnight friends

We were eager to see Tintagel in the sunshine, knowing we had to leave by lunchtime to drive up to Somerset to have a new fuel filter fitted in the morning. We were off out exploring by 7.30am – mug of tea in hand, beating most of the tourists (Strava link).

The village of Tintagel dates back to possibly the year 700, at which point there may have just been a castle there on the cliff, but there are also many clues to previous lives nearby with Bronze Age barrows and Iron Age hill forts in the district. There are many legends relating to King Arthur and the wizard Merlin, including one that suggests King Arthur was conceived in Tintagel. Of course that means there are a handful of magic crystal shops and other tourist traps to avoid.

In the main street is the Tintagel Post Office which dates to the 14th century.

This stone building with its old sagging roof is Grade I listed and owned by the National Trust

As we walked down the street we saw a familiar sign, pointing us to the South West Coast Path and Tintagel Castle. We followed a trail to the cliff tops.

The light is so pure on this sunny morning
We reach a lookout near the castle ruins
Tintagel Castle (in the background on the right) is in a similar state of repair as Hastings Castle
The view out to sea from within the castle walls
There were some people snorkelling down below in this bay…brrr…..
A bridge takes visitors over to what is now an island, but when the castle was built was land. We were too early to visit

We decided to follow the coast path south for a few kilometres, the views along the coast continuing to be spectacular on this sparkling morning.

A stunning vista awaits us
The rugged North Cornwall coastline
Secluded little bays and enticing caves
Coastal erosion had left this sea stack

We looped back to the village across the fields, calling into the bakery Kelly had taken us to. There we purchased a proper (and incredibly delicious) Cornish Pasty to share for lunch. Delicious!

A curious calf looks out from behind mum as we walk through her field
One Cornish Pasty (traditional) coming up

After our very tasty brunch we moved on a short way up the coast to the small settlement of Boscastle. Boscastle was in the news back in 2004 for a devastating flood which swept through the village. Due to the high sided and narrow valley, coupled with extremely heavy rain, flood waters were funnelled though the town, sweeping aside and destroying everything in their path. There is little evidence of it now, other than a couple of signs telling the story.

We had an explore through the predominantly one street village, centred around the river which leads to a tiny port. Fishing and pleasure boats were tied up on the sandy harbour bottom at low tide.

An old church is now a tea room
Fishing boats at low tide
A very picturesque harbour mouth
Colours of Boscastle
A dangerous harbour to enter if you don’t understand where the hazards lie
Apple bobbing? A few windfalls floating down the stream into harbour

Leaving Boscastle we headed north, one of our biggest drives in a long while, a couple of hours up to Bridgewater in Somerset. We camped up in a little village on the outskirts for the night in anticipation of an early start at the mechanic’s in the morning.

11-13 September: Sun glorious sun…

Author: Mrs A

Location: Porthleven and Fraddon Cornwall, UK

Porthleven on the south coast, and Fraddon on the west

Leaving Falmouth we drove a short way around the coast to a near empty field just outside the village of Porthleven. It was Friday afternoon when we arrived, the sky grey and uninspiring, and the past few days of hiking and travelling had worn us down. We needed an afternoon off – we enjoyed a chance to stop and read and just relax.

So when we awoke on Saturday morning with sunshine and clear skies, we were excited to pull on our boots and get exploring (Strava link).

It was a brief walk down into town from our camp, which was fairly bustling on this hot weekend. It did not take long to escape the crowds though, as once again we made our way towards the South-west Coast Path.

The village is built up around the harbour as a centrepoint
Plenty of boats heading out fishing, and children (in wetsuits) jumping off the wall into the water
The boats are small here
Mr A checking out the canon

Porthleven is the most southerly port in the UK, originally developed as a safe haven for shipwrecked sailors when such events were common on this rocky coastline. It appears to be popular with tourists with a lot of holiday homes overlooking the coast, but most of the visitors seemed to be milling around the pubs and cafes surrounding the harbour.

We think we might be developing a combination of phonophobia (fear of loud noises, such as cars) and enochlophobia (fear of crowds) as we can literally feel our anxiety levels rise when surrounded by people and vehicles. It is such a relief to take a few steps and head back to nature, where the sounds of the waves, chirping birds and crying seagulls are the only interruptions to the peace.

The walk out of town …and breathe…
Some impressive houses sit on top of the cliffs, magnificent views out to sea…you’d just want to hope no more collapses happen if you owned one of these…
A ship wrecked just off this beach in the 1685 apparently was carrying treasure of pearls and diamonds…it is still lying on the ocean bed. with treasures found by divers as recently as 2018
Loe Bar Beach – squeaky fine sand reminiscent of Australian beaches…other than the water temperatures (17°C)
In the distance at the end of the beach you can see Bar Lodge, a fancy holiday house owned by the National Trust. The lagoon on the right of the beach used to open up to the sea, but now has drains for when it floods.
No pearls to be found as we walk along the water’s edge today….

Returning to town we had a look around the cafes and restaurants, with one fish and chip shop advertising local oysters. If you’ve followed our posts for a while, you’ll know we love a good oyster….but not at £3.50 each ($7!)…we moved on. Any thoughts of eating out were soon quashed, with most restaurants charging in the region of £25 ($50) for a main. We continued back to camp.

The views are free at least

Back in our field, we settled down to admire the view with a gin and tonic. Moments later the owners of a nearby Hymer motorhome popped over to invite us to join them for drinks with their friends which we gladly accepted. A lovely hour was spent exchanging stories over a few wines….experiences like that are priceless and part of what we most enjoy about travelling – the chance to meet new and interesting people, share experiences and learn new tips. Sadly in these Covid times, this type of mingling (we were suitably distanced and there were only six of us in total) has been quite infrequent, people more inclined to keep themselves in their own bubbles. We greatly appreciated the chance to socialise with people other than each other!

Sunday morning was also bright and sunny and we had planned to make our first foray on to the west coast of Cornwall, with an overnight stay just north of St Ives. Unfortunately the combination of blue skies and a 26°C day meant that every single person with a surf or boogie board within a three hour radius had the same idea. It was literally heaving. We felt so uncomfortable. We knew it wasn’t for us, and felt that anywhere by the coast would be the same. We pointed Truffy’s nose inland.

We ended up finding a friendly pub in the quiet village of Fraddon to let us stay the night. Fraddon overlooks the coastal town of Newquay, up in the hills.

Truffy had the whole area to himself

We had a relaxed afternoon catching up on some more reading (we are both now absorbed by The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, which covers a couple’s experiences hiking the whole of the South West Coast Path – all 630 miles of it (1,114km)). An evening in the pub enjoying a Sunday roast topped off our weekend.

Mr A took advantage of the proximity to pints of beer on tap to complete the experience
A fine sunset viewing spot

7-8 September: More South-West Coast Path beckons us

Author: Mrs A

Location: Trewithian, Cornwall, UK

Leaving Pentewan we supposedly only had a 30 minute drive to our next campsite on a farm a few miles outside St Mawes. Unfortunately Google Maps lost GPS signal on the way and we ended up driving one way down a tiny lane, branches brushing the roof of Truffy, not knowing whether we could turn around anywhere at the bottom. Fortunately we popped out at the tiny little village of Portholland. With one general store, a post office and 40 residents, we got a few shocked looks as we appeared, turned around and returned back up the road. A tense journey!

Our unexpected white knuckle drive to the tiny village of Portholland…we didn’t stay long!

Luckily there were no further mishaps with the navigation and we arrived safely on our farm. Our location for the next two nights was purely for the walking – other than a farm shop a short walk away, there was little else on our doorstep other than another stage of the south-west coast track. Suits us perfectly!

After setting up camp and a little lunch we headed off, following quiet lanes and spotting footpath signs until we could see the sea. Our next decision was whether to turn left or right. We chose right and followed a track across the cliff tops (Strava link).

Another deserted Cornish beach…
Even on this cloudy day the water looks turquoise
Where are all the people?
Mr & Mrs A

The thing we love about hiking is that there are so few other people about, the fresh air is abundant, and sights so interesting. We picked our way down to quiet sandy bays, maybe one other person visiting, the oyster catchers and seagulls ever present with their calls.

After about an hour’s walking, we emerged at a tiny fishing village, Portscatho. Although it is clear there are several holiday homes here, it didn’t feel touristy at all. It is still an active fishing port, and has been for more than three hundred years, with pilchards the primary catch.

Portscatho Harbour – quite rocky, with little boats waiting for the tide to turn

We had a look around before making our way back. We’d spotted what appeared to be a helicopter making a rescue from a boat while walking over. According to the coastguard station volunteer we chatted to, it was the Royal Navy folks from nearby Falmouth conducting training.

They’re a long way out to sea! The helicopter whipping up the water looks a little like smoke

We called into Curgurrel Farm Shop on our way back and picked up some freshly cooked and dressed local crab for dinner – delicious!

A little copper butterfly

The following day dawned bright and sunny, so we pulled on those hiking boots again and made our way back to the coast path, this time heading east (Strava link).

Patches of shade briefly dot the path

We left earlier in the day and carried our lunch this time. The weather was spectacular – blue skies and sparkling waters beside us the whole walk. We enjoyed many blackberries from the plentiful bushes alongside the path, and collected some to take back with us as well.

Picnic lunch beside a quiet beach…again…and yes, that black dot in the water is someone swimming (17°C! Brrr). Off in the distance is Nare Head, our halfway point destination for today.
Me and my trusty tripod…
A rugged and unspoilt coastline

It was a long, hilly (and warm) walk, with Nare Head our intended destination, rewarding us with incredible views and a soaring osprey circling over us. We even braved paddling our feet in the water on the sandy Carne Beach on our way back.

On the top of Nare Head watching the osprey
The next land mass from here is France, way off out of sight
Mr A picking his way back along the cliff top
The fresh water makes your feet feel like new!

We now can hardly believe we almost decided to give visiting Cornwall a miss, anticipating it would be really busy, The absence of any crowds has been an absolute delight – avoiding the main holiday destinations has definitely helped. We can tell by the fully booked caravan sites around the likes of Newquay and St Ives that those areas would tell a different story, but by sticking to the little, less touristy spots, we have been enriched with a far quieter experience.

30 August – 3 September: Being unfaithful to Tassie

Author: Mrs A

Location: Castle Drogo, Dartmoor, Honiton, Devon, UK

In addition to the change in weather over the past couple of weeks, we are beginning to see signs of autumn everywhere. The flowers we were admiring a few months ago are now beginning to go to seed, their leaves decaying. Trees and bushes which once sported blossom, are now carrying fruit and nuts, with every hike rewarding us with fresh blackberries. We continue to appreciate the change in seasons.

Farewelling Holsworthy on Sunday morning we drove down some tiny lanes in Dartmoor National Park to Drogo Castle. After all the stormy weather it was a relief to see the blue skies again as we wound our way down single track roads, hoping we would not come across another vehicle. We parked in the coach parking space at Castle Drogo – a National Trust volunteer advising us that yes, not only coaches come here but buses too! Not today though, so we had a nice big parking space to settle in.

Castle Drogo was apparently the last castle to be built in England – in the early 1900s. It is more of a manor house with castle features than a ‘real’ castle designed to keep out invaders. We were not here to visit the castle or its gardens however, rather to hike the Teign Gorge Walk, a circular hike (Strava link) through various vegetation down to the Teign River and back. This area is apparently one of the most famous walks on Dartmoor, but despite this accolade, it was not too busy on this sunny Sunday morning.

Spectacular views over Dartmoor, Castle Drogo on the right, peeping out from behind the trees
Up on Sharp Tor, overlooking the gorge
Unlike Australia and New Zealand, gorges like this are not common in the UK and cut a striking sight
The Hunter’s Path, winding along the upper edge of the gorge

I think we appreciated everything all the more because of the glorious weather – everything looked clean and fresh after the rain, the insects buzzing around, newly hatched butterflies flitting around the heather.

The heather is starting to turn to brown
Climbing down in to the cool of the gorge through the beech forest
The Teign River at the base of the gorge – quiet and babbling, it is a popular fishing location
A pub on the banks of the river – there was quite a queue waiting to go in to here
A giant gate dwarfs Mr A – to keep the dinosaurs out perhaps?
Interesting rocks along the pathway
Moss and lichen covers the rocky walls of the gorge

As we drove out of the area towards the main road to Exeter, we fortunately didn’t come across many vehicles, and those we did were easily able to reverse neatly into one of the passing spaces found alongside the lanes…apart from this one lady. It literally took her 10 minutes to reverse back three metres – she kept reversing into the hedge, driving forwards angrily and repeating the same manoeuvre. Just torture to watch. I bet she was relieved when we finally drove past her and went on our way. Top tip – if you cannot reverse confidently, then do not visit Devon. According to a recent study, Devon has more than 16 metres of road per head of population measuring in excess of 8,000 miles (nearly 12,900km) – and very few of those roads are major arteries. You can expect to have to reverse at some point!

….back into the hedge she goes….

Our next location was the small town of Honiton, about 18 miles north of Exeter. This was to be our home for the next five nights as we had agreed to cat-sit a rather handsome 16 year old called Wooster for our friends Karen and Dan. They were off to Wales for five days of fun with their twin boys before they went back to school.

Wooster blending into a sheepskin rug…

What an absolute delight Wooster was! In case you hadn’t noticed, we are somewhat cat lovers, and dearly miss our feline fur child, Tassie, who is being cared for by her foster parents in Sydney, Australia. Wooster adopted us immediately, happy to allow us to groom him, and welcomed a warm lap to sleep on. He even took to sleeping part of the night between us…we felt very privileged. In return, we kept him fed and watered, plus gave him his daily asthma inhaler and medication.

Glorious sunset over Honiton

On Tuesday morning we walked into Honiton for an explore. It was market day and the high street was bustling. The market wasn’t as impressive as we’d hoped, but we picked up a couple of bargains as we wondered around. Unlike many towns, Honiton has not pedestrianised its main street, meaning huge lorries disrupt the peace as they rumble through the centre. It’s in dire need of a bypass but had a nice feel otherwise.

Honiton’s centre – we even found our friend’s neighbourhood wine from the Adelaide Hills being sold in the local wine shop (Lobethal Road)

On Wednesday we decided to explore the nearby city of Exeter. We donned our face coverings for the short train ride, Mr A proudly wearing his very scary Darth Vader variety! Exeter is a university city, and that general vibe could be felt right away. Unlike Honiton, it has gone down the pedestrianised route, with a one way system on the streets to protect people from Covid-19…that everyone was ignoring. Oh well, they tried!

A mixture of the old and new in Exeter’s architecture

After a delicious lunch at a street-food market, we started to explore around the shops. but the constant hand sanitising and mask wearing got a little tiresome. Several of the store attendants were clearly feeling a little tense at having to deal with the general public and snapped and barked rules at us as we entered. It really took the shine off shopping, and despite being very bored with our current limited wardrobes, we left with nothing new.

Feeling a little dejected, we followed signs down to the Quay. This is a historical area which used to serve a multitude of ships which travelled up the river to this port. These days it is full of interesting craft shops, cafes and bars – we could imagine it being bustling during ‘peace-time’.

Exeter cathedral and quayside

We had a look around before returning to the station to catch our train home.

Wooster in one of his favourite sunny spots

In addition to appreciating some furry company, our house and cat-sit was a great chance to enjoy four days with space, a long shower and a washing machine. As much as we enjoy staying in Truffy, it is good to sometimes move around and recharge our batteries. Having had little drying weather recently, our washing mountain was quite substantial, so finally we feel on top of things.

We left Wooster with a few new catnip mice, a massage brush and heavy hearts. We’ll miss his vocal chats and loud purrs as we move on our way to new adventures.

Goodbye Wooster