Catherine loves painting and photography as well as the great outdoors. Cycling, kayaking, pack-rafting and hiking are favourite activities as well as scuba diving when the location permits. A self confessed geek, she’s the reason details are included in our stories!
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.
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:
Do not turn on your engine
Call a specialist to drain the tank – Google ‘Wrong Fuel’ – there are plenty of companies willing to take your money!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
We called into Curgurrel Farm Shop on our way back and picked up some freshly cooked and dressed local crab for dinner – delicious!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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’.
We had a look around before returning to the station to catch our train home.
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.
When bad weather is given a name, you know it’s not going to be a fleeting visit, and this has been the case with Storm Ellen. Ellen is a combination of two storms – a tropical storm that originated off the east coast of the USA which met up with another storm coming from Greenland. Is this just weather or the impact of climate change? Nevertheless, the resultant high winds and rain have been what we have been ‘enjoying’ here the past week.
We moved inland from Bude to a farm near Holsworthy, a small market town just across the border into Devon. It is very rural, with few major roads, predominantly a network of tiny narrow lanes, winding around and over the rolling hills, joining up little villages and farms. It makes for ideal walking and cycling territory, and with a break in the rain we went for an explore.
Holsworthy holds a small market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, so we drove in to check it out. It really was small, but we found a lady selling a whole stall of vegan cakes. Being dairy-free, this was very exciting for me (I rarely can consume cake!), and we selected a chocolate orange cake which was divine, and ideal for an afternoon of sheltering from the rain with a cup of tea.
Mark did a little research and found a vineyard about an hour’s cycle away which offered tours and tasting. The wine industry in the UK is growing rapidly and some of the more established vineyards are achieving a great reputation, though to date, British wine accounts for only 1% of consumption here. Its another sign of the changing climate, with the South of France often reaching summer temperatures in the mid to late 30s, and parts of the UK now much more similar to temperatures of France of the past.
We didn’t get very far, with a thorn wedging itself into my rear bike tire, and after 5km I was off my bike and pushing it back to camp. Perhaps it was for the best. Once back, the weather changed , with blustery showers accompanied by strong gusts of wind. We rebooked the wine tasting for next weekend, when hopefully the weather will be more favourable.
Friday morning we drove off to Exeter, about an hour’s journey south-east. My breathing had been doing really well, but slowly starting to decline, so I had an appointment to have some steroid injections at Charing Cross Hospital in London. I farewelled Mark, donned my face covering and settled onto the train to Paddington.
All went well at the hospital, with a successful procedure and my trachea looking really good apparently, and soon I was off to stay the night with friends in Twickenham. I first met Jacky face to face back in 2017, but we had been friends for a couple of years before that, having met online through the support group I run for patients with idiopathic subglottic stenosis. She and her husband Austin were amazing hosts, taking me out in Twickenham to an Italian restaurant, followed by a stroll along the River Thames.
Before I caught the train back to Exeter, we enjoyed a Saturday morning explore along the riverside, opening my eyes to a new side of Twickenham, which I previously only knew for hosting rugby matches. Lovely parks, historic houses, art galleries, barges and birds on the river, it was really interesting and very unexpected.
We’ve been in the UK for six months now, and in all that time had not managed to go for a pub Sunday lunch. Linda, one of the owners of the campsite we’re staying on (Headon Farm), had recommended lunch at The Black River Inn in the village of Black Torrington, so we booked ourselves in.
It was a 40 minute cycle across country to Black Torrington, following some of Route 3, a cycle network along quiet lanes and cycle paths between Land’s End and Bristol. We were grateful for our motors on the rolling hills, particularly on the way home.
A brilliant dining experience, well deserved of their great reputation. They even served Wicked Wolf ale, the beer sold by our old neighbour in West Bagborough.
The coming week is going to take on a different pace, with my sister Helen coming camping with her family, and friends from Honiton also joining us for a couple of nights. We’re really looking forward to it – whatever the weather, we’ll brave it together!
Our fabulous 66km ride out to Okehampton and back left us curious to tour more of this stunning area, in particular to explore Dartmoor National Park. It is the largest area of open space in the south of England, and has been shaped by centuries of human activity.
First though, we got some unexpected news. I had emailed an old work colleague from Australia, who, I recalled in the depths of my memories, had moved to Devon from Sydney several years ago. We weren’t sure where in Devon she was living, but given we are here until the end of the month, we thought it might be possible for us to pay her a visit and learn more about her new life on this side of the world. Her response was just as surprised as ours – she had moved to none other than Tavistock!
We jumped on our bikes and cycled over to her house via the Tavistock Viaduct. The viaduct is pretty much all that remains from the old railway which ran through here and closed in the 1960s – now turned into a short 2km walking and cycleway through a cool leafy reserve and offering fabulous views over the town.
We joined Mary for cold drinks in the garden and proceeded to ask her lots of questions. It was a lovely afternoon and helped us understand more about the decisions behind a big and brave move back around the world after more than 20 years living in Australia.
Thunder storms rumbled around us but we remained dry, with the rain fortunately holding off until we were back holed up in Truffy.
Mary had given us some advice on where to start a walk, and despite continuing wet weather forecast, we were keen to get out on the moors. We drove a short way out of Tavistock and parked up behind a pub, The Dartmoor Inn. We decided to book in for lunch after our walk.
First though, we had to work up that appetite. A lane beside the pub led us directly onto Dartmoor, a completely different scenery to the bright green fields and farmland we have been used to. We decided to take a walk up to Widgery’s Cross up on Brat tor. This was erected in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, and is the tallest of all the crosses on Dartmoor, made from slabs of granite. A tor is the name given to peaks topped with rock, most frequently granite. Dartmoor National Park has more than 160 tors.
As we climbed up the hill, the ‘Devon sunshine’ descended around us, with swirling cloud obscuring the views and settling thick around us. We clambered up the rocky tor, and sat at the base of the cross enjoying a cup of tea.
At just over 5.5km (Strava link), this was not a long walk, but a great taster of what’s potentially on offer for us on Dartmoor. We are certainly hungry to see more in the future.
Our lunch at the Dartmoor Inn was a wonderful surprise. The new owners have only been there 12 months, but in that time spent several thousand pounds renovating the interior and bringing the menu up to date. We opted for two entrees each – crab salad and scallops for myself and a roasted tomato soup for Mark, followed by scallops as well. Absolutely delicious and accompanied by some fabulous wine options – just one glass for myself and half a beer for Mr A.
Head chef and co-owner Jay Barker-Jones popped out to chat as we finished our meal – explaining his food philosophy and dreams for the pub. We wished them every success – the food quality is definitely in line with Jay’s training in Michelin starred restaurants around the UK. We would say this meal has been the most outstanding of our visit to the UK so far.
Bonus fact for travelling folks like us – they welcome motorhomes to come and park up for the night, as long as they’re dining there that evening. If you’re travelling this way, I would definitely take up that offer and enjoy more than just one glass of wine!
Leaving our campsite in Dorset, it was just a hop skip and a jump into Devon, the adjoining county. Our next destination was a campground near Tavistock in Devon, just north of Plymouth.
We first became aware of The Old Rectory, Camping and Caravan Park when we were desperately looking for a place to live, just before Easter. The nephew of Declan (the campground owner), knows someone we know, as he contacted us via Facebook and suggested we park up here. As it turned out we were able to find and rent Honeysuckle Cottage in West Bagborough instead, and the rest is history.
Still, we had taken note of this location, surrounded by interesting hikes and cycleways, and nestled a short way from the tors and moors of Dartmoor, and had decided to book in for two weeks. What a great decision!
The weather has been variable since we arrived, with temperatures similar to winter in Australia (daytimes at 16-18 degrees) with a good dose of rain and drizzle ranging to a hot and humid late 20s the past couple of days.
Our first impression of Tavistock was of a grand, good looking town, with its central square centred around its Pannier Markets. These were purpose built in the 1850s by the 7th Duke of Bedford using money made from the local copper and asbestos mining operations. The river was re-routed to allow for this building and the square (Bedford Square). There are still markets held here every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
The sunshine of our first day was not set to last, so on Tuesday morning we decided we would cycle into town and have a good look around. Our campsite, The Old Rectory is just out of town, but we managed to ride in with only a short distance travelled on roads.
Diverting down a narrow farm track, we soon arrived at the Tavistock Canal. This picturesque area is now primarily a footpath (bikes tolerated with care), but has an interesting history dating back to 1817. It links to the River Tamar and Morwellham Quay, and was used to transport goods for shipping. These days it’s home primarily to waterfowl, but the excellent craft involved in building this watercourse is still holding strong.
We had a good explore around town on our bikes, the rain holding off enough for us to enjoy a picnic of Cornish Pasties (a vegan one for me – one of the benefits of this latest food trend is dairy-free goodies!) and a hot chocolate.
Wednesday dawned grey, but the rain continued to hold off, so we donned our walking boots and decided to hike to see the aforementioned Morwellham Quay (Strava link). Our campground is located in the hamlet of Gulworthy, on the edge of a huge network of mountain biking and hiking tracks known as the Tamar Trails. The trail network is open for all to use, with maps around detailing which are for walkers only versus shared with bikes.
This whole area is part of the Cornish and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site – protected along with the likes of the Taj Mahal and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The Tamar Valley was home to numerous successful copper mines in the 19th and 20th centuries.
We made it down to Morwellham Quay, the site of what used to be a busy bustling port – shipping copper to Swansea to be smelted, and receiving other goods such as coal from Wales. Today it’s a museum, with carefully restored mining artefacts and (when there is no Covid), theatre and exhibits depicting life for the mine workers and their families.
Mark had read that the pub, The Ship Inn, had just reopened its doors to the public, and spotting empty benches and an open door, checked to see whether they were serving yet. It was 11.30am, but yes indeed, two half pints of a locally brewed beer were soon drawn and we enjoyed those sitting outside on the cobbled streets.
It was very quiet on this afternoon, just a few people camping in the nearby field, and none of the usual attractions open. We explored what we could around the quay, all very interesting and somewhat hard to imagine with the river not looking deep enough to cater to much more than small pleasure boats, much less the huge ships required to transport goods.
The following day was wet and drizzly, our location high up on the edge of Dartmoor meaning we were surrounded by cloud and fog. We caught a bus into Tavistock to have a look around the Pannier Markets and shops. It’s such a shame the experience has been tainted by this virus. Masks have to be adorned, the market stalls have been halved to allow for social distancing, and people are somewhat on edge. I think the whole experience of not being able to see peoples’ faces has tainted perceptions. A visage hidden behind a mask can look threatening and unfriendly and sadly that is how we were treated in a few of the stores. We didn’t spend long in town, stopping only for lunch in a cafe and returning to Truffy earlier than anticipated.
Friday morning we woke early for us (before 7am!) as fine weather was promised and we had an exciting day planned.
We cycled to the next village of Gunnislake and caught the train from there into Plymouth.
Face coverings are required on trains, and I didn’t much fancy wearing a hot mask for the best part of an hour. I experimented with my scarf, which worked quite nicely.
Neither of us can remember ever visiting Plymouth before and were both impressed on arrival. It was a short cycle from the train station down to the front, adorned with magnificent hotels with incredible views.
We explored around the Barbican area, a buzzing harbourside suburb
We had an explore around the foreshore, enjoying the authenticity of the port buildings and fish markets, not simply providing sights for tourists. When the storm hit, we ducked into a pub to find lunch.
Sated, we set off on our way back to Tavistock. We rode along National Cycle Route 27, following a section known as Drake‘s Trail, named after Sir Frances Drake, the famous Elizabethan seafarer. The track is a 33km (21 mile) route which winds through riverside fauna, forest and through part of Dartmoor National Park.
It was a great day out, and we left Plymouth keen to visit again. It is such an interesting city – with islands, forts, and a lot of history to explore. It’s on our list for a longer trip in the future.
A hot day dawned on Saturday so we had a chilled out day. Next month I have been invited to present at an online conference (for the Patient Centred Outcomes Research Institute – PCORI) about conducting research via the rare disease support group I run, so worked on my biography and presentation, while we caught up with the washing before the next rain arrives.
Location: Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire, Braintree, Essex, St Leonards-on-sea, and Rye Harbour, East Sussex, Lancing, West Sussex, Portsmouth, Hampshire
A whirlwind of emotion accompanies our travels as we finally have in person visits with family around the country. Following a busy three days in Milton Keynes with Mark’s daughters and grandchildren, we continued our journeys around England, gradually travelling south over a ten day period.
Sunday night was spent with my cousin Karen and her family in Little Gaddesden where we were treated to a magnificent roast dinner and delicious wine, as always very generous with their time and company, with many laughs enjoyed.
It was just a flying visit, and by lunchtime the following day we were back on the road, driving to Essex and our friends Mel and Barny.
We were privileged to be the first guests in their nearly finished new home set in picturesque countryside, plenty of bird life and a rail trail at the end of the road. Their young working cocker puppy, Bertie kept us all on our toes with his endless energy and demand for tummy tickles and despite having spent the weekend moving in, Mel and Barny somehow found the energy to whip up a delicious salad and BBQ steak dinner. A great evening was spent with them and was over all too soon.
After leaving Essex, our next stop was Sussex, off to see my mum for a couple of nights. The weather continued to be absolutely glorious, the sun shining and showing off Hastings’ sea front in its best light, the sea like a mill pond lapping on the pebble beaches.
The following day Mr A decided to take himself off on an ebike ride adventure, while I joined mum and her husband Barry on a trip to nearby Rye Harbour. Rye Harbour is a little peaceful village situated near the mouth of the River Rother, a short drive from Hastings. Seals are often seen fishing in the estuary here, and there are numerous working fishing boats that moor alongside the jetties.
On the other side of the river is popular sandy beach, Camber Sands, which on this warm, summer’s day was packed with visitors, despite the ongoing Covid-19 distancing restrictions. In contrast, our walk around the nature reserve was politely distanced and peaceful.
The walk followed the coast, the pebble and shingle beaches lined with old weathered wooden groynes, designed to help protect the land and marshes behind the beaches from erosion from the sea.
It was a lovely afternoon out, clocking 8km (Strava link) and plenty of fresh air. That evening, Mum treated us to a delicious Indian meal at Flavours of India in Hastings. It‘s our second visit there and the food has been consistently excellent.
We farewelled mum the following morning, and drove to Brighton. It was a very exciting day for me – finally I was going to the hairdressers! I spent a warm afternoon wearing a mask and disposable plastic cape – not the usual luxury experience, but such a relief to get a good cut after all this time.
With somewhat shorter and neater hair, I called in to see my sister Helen briefly, before catching a train along the coast to the village of Lancing where Mr A had parked Truffy at a campground.
The following morning, Mr A and I jumped on our bikes and went for an explore. Lancing is a coastal village just 20 minutes on the train from Brighton. It has a cycleway which follows the coast for some miles which is easily accessible from the campsite.
We returned back to camp in time for my sister Helen to arrive with a car full of camping gear and children. Niece and nephew Isabel and Elliot soon found the playpark while Helen, Mark and I were joined by another camper to erect her tent in the increasingly strong winds. Perfect kite flying weather!
The following day was somewhat of a wash out with the strong winds continuing but now accompanied by driving rain. Helen’s fiancé Stuart came to join us for lunch, after which they decided to abandon camping and go home for the rest of the afternoon and evening, leaving us to shelter in Truffy and watch Netflix!
The sun returned on Sunday morning and our fair-weather campers returned to take down their tent and join us for breakfast. They made up for wimping out of Saturday night‘s camping by providing the most delicious bacon from their local butcher, contributing to a brilliant full English breakfast.
After our brunch feast we felt the need for some exercise and so rode out to the nearby Widewater Lagoon, a nature reserve along Lancing seafront that attracts a variety of bird life, including osprey on occasion. It used to be part of the estuary of the River Adur many centuries ago. It has been artificially maintained with a shingle bank separating it from the sea, and a pipeline designed to replenish the water from the English Channel during the summertime.
The strong winds continued, much to the delight of the many wind and kite surfers along the coast. It was hard work cycling into the wind, especially for the children – Isabel struggling along on her scooter and Elliot by bike. We ducked off down to a beach to shelter and hunt for shells and sea-glass with the children. Helen treated us all to ice creams before we farewelled one another and returned to our respective homes for a break from the wind.
Leaving Lancing on Monday morning, Mark and I made a stop in the village of Arundel to pick up some goodies for a BBQ and have a brief look around. Truffy enjoyed his regal parking location outside the castle.
From Arundel, we drove to see our friends Nick and Laura at their home just outside Chichester. For a short time back in March we thought we might be living in their house during lockdown, but they ended up managing to fly back from Australia and of course we found our cottage in West Bagborough. They booked a lovely country restaurant for lunch, the Crab and Lobster, and we enjoyed sharing lockdown stories over a delicious seafood feast.
It was a short hop from there to our next location, the Churchillion Pub in Portsmouth which allows motorhome stopovers as long as you stop in for a drink and/or dinner.
We were collected by my brother-in-law John, who whisked us a short way to their house for a glass of wine and a catch up. It was the first time meeting our new niece, Iris, who was born just before Christmas. Mark introduced nephews Edward and William to his ‘Robot Tag’ game which is guaranteed to reduce little boys to shrieks and giggles as they attempt to escape the tickle monster.
Our night behind the pub was not as peaceful as we had hoped, with two incidents of car alarms going off and seemingly a motorcycle race roaring past us for several hours. We decided to move to the street outside my sister Elle and John’s’s house the following night.
Before that, however, more adventures were ahead. One of Mark’s old school friends, Andrew, lives just a stones throw away, and drove over with his mountain bike so we could ride around the coast of Portsmouth together (Strava link).
We had a great day out, picnicking in some rose gardens, and finishing up back at the pub mid afternoon. Farewelling Andrew, we drove down and parked up by Elle and John’s house.
We had a fun evening with them, a delicious BBQ and flowing gin and wine.
The past few weeks have provided exactly what we have been missing – the simple things, breaking bread with friends and family, laughing until you cry and your sides hurt. They say you cannot choose your family, but fortunately we have been blessed with family (and friends we consider as family) who are likeminded and enjoy a laugh as much as us – the perfect tonic!
Location: West Bagborough, East Quantoxhead, Mendip Hills, Somerset, UK
It was hard not to feel a little sad and apprehensive at our impending departure from West Bagborough, and the weather didn’t help either, with its chilly breeze and drizzly rain. With a little sunshine forecast for Monday afternoon we forced ourselves out of the house and down to East Quantoxhead for a walk.
We just love the scenery down there, and we had the whole area to ourselves. The wind was rather chilly, but when the sun came out and you were in a briefly sheltered spot you could have imagined it was summer!
The beaches here might not have the squeaky fine white sands of Australian shores, but they are far more interesting. The tide goes out a long way here, revealing fossil filled rock pools, petrified forests, attracting herons and other fish-loving birds. The pink and mauve striped sedimentary rocks look like magnificent sculptures.
Our week was then largely spent making preparations to head on the road – getting Truffy packed up (it is amazing how everything somehow fits back in to him!), and returning the cottage to its former state, ready for the next holidaymakers to arrive.
We had some farewell drinks and fish and chips with our friends down at Quantock Camping, their site now bustling with visitors enjoying the luxury of personal toilet blocks, and also were invited for some wine and nibbles with our landlady, Jennifer.
Suddenly Friday morning was upon us, and we packed off our final bits and pieces, and hit the road.
Our first stop was the village of Cheddar in Cheddar Gorge. This is located in the southern Mendip Hills, and riddled with limestone caves. In the early 1900s a complete human skeleton was found in one of the caves here which was carbon dated as being about 9,000 years old.
This is also, of course, the location which first made Cheddar cheese – with documented evidence of its particular recipe going back to the 12th century. Apparently the caves in the gorge are the perfect temperature and humidity for maturing the cheese.
On our visit however, the caves and the museums showing the evidence of first humans were closed due to Covid-19, so we donned our hiking boots and took to the hills instead (Strava link).
The climb up from the valley floor was rather steep, but once up on top we were rewarded with magnificent views, easily able to see the Quantock Hills and all the way down to Minehead.
We climbed along the top of the cliffs, enjoying the fabulous views and fresh air. Up on the cliff walls, delicately picking their way along the greenery, are a number of Soay Sheep. They are brown in colour (and rarely, patched with ginger!) and live here accepted as a feral flock. The sheep are native to islands off the coast of Scotland, and were released here in the early 90s, these days appreciated as lawn mowers, keeping the undergrowth in control.
Originally we intended to make a circuit around the other side of the gorge, but the primary access point, Jacob’s Ladder, was closed for repairs. Instead we wound our way back to the village down the road.
Back in the village, a few of the local shops had recently opened to visitors – most importantly, the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company. They still mature some of their cheddars in the caves, and Mr A could not resist a tasting.
Our destination for the night was the village of Priddy. Unlike the massive distances we are used to travelling in Australia, this is just 54km (33.5 miles) from our former cottage in West Bagborough – practically a day trip! We settled ourselves in for a peaceful night.
Saturday morning saw us pulling back on our walking boots and following a trail I had plotted on a new app I am using, Komoot. It’s a free app that allows you to plan and follow walking trails – I marked a 15km (9.5 miles) circuit (Strava link) from our camp to the village of Wookey Hole and back via Ebbor Gorge.
In contrast to our Quantock Hills walks, the fields here were lined with stone walls, often with steps leading us up and over. The stone slabs were frequently shining from centuries of hands and feet.
Crossing fields with wonderful views we eventually began heading downhill into the village of Wookey Hole. The village centres around the Wookey Hole Caves, in which tools have been found dating back to the Palaeolithic times – around 45,000 years ago. As a child, I visited this area as part of a school trip – my memories limited to the Witch of Wookey Hole – a stalagmite that looks vaguely like a human who has been turned to stone.
Despite the caves being open, the thought of being trapped with crowds of people underground was not too appealing, so we headed to the local pub in search of lunch.
After half a pint and a sandwich in the pub garden we had to muster up the energy to head back to camp, knowing there would be a steep uphill. Our route took us to Ebbor Gorge Nature Reserve.
The limestone gorge is very lush, with moss covered walls dripping with water. Like Cheddar Gorge, this is also popular with climbers and we passed a few as we hiked up.
Upon reaching the top we found ourselves a quiet patch of field for a well deserved rest and drink of water.
After two days hiking with rather steep climbs, we decided to do a somewhat tamer walk on Sunday (Strava link).
Like the Quantock Hills, the Mendip Hills were a hotbed of activity back during the Bronze Age (and way before). Not far from our campsite are a series of Bronze Age burial mounds, known as barrows. These were created between 2200 and 1100 BCE, and originally were to be found all over the UK. Many were destroyed as towns built up, but a few survived.
The Priddy Nine Barrows are now protected, set in farmland. Having been here for between 3 and 4,000 years, it is not surprising to read they have been raided in the past, with a reverend during the 1800s making notes about his finds, which included amber and blue beads, cups, an arrowhead or spear and of course bones.
We continued our walk passing more barrows, the warm afternoon sun just perfect. Its the kind of weather where you could walk forever.
We wound our way over styles and walls, making our way back towards the main village of Priddy. The landscape is quite interesting here, often looking like it has been carved out by a raging river or moist marshland, but without the liquid which shaped it – changes likely caused by sinkholes and underground streams.
This whole area has an incredible history, The Romans were active here with evidence of diggings for lead. Being on top of limestone, there are also many caves, with maps showing a whole 16km network winding under the village.
Given the pubs are now open, we found ourselves wandering through the village to our local – the Queen Victoria. They had rigged up fencing to ensure people only enter through one location, where we had to use alcohol hand gel and share a name and phone number before proceeding. Once in, we were allocated a red-tableclothed bench to sit at and our orders were taken. Half a cider each and a packet of ready salted crisps were then delivered to a blue-tableclothed table, and we had to collect them ourselves. Payment was by contactless card at arms distance. All very Covid-safe, but not quite the pub experience of old!
We stuck to the one drink before wandering back to camp for the evening.
It has been a brilliant commencement to our travels, which we began with great trepidation. So far we have found that people are mostly being sensible about distancing and staying healthy. We have quite a few people and places to visit in the coming days and weeks and now feel a little less nervous about our upcoming adventures.
Location: Watchet, West Bagborough, Dulverton, Somerset & Putsborough, Devon, UK
June continued its mixed weather with two days of solid rain. forecast. We took advantage of the final dry day for a little while and drove down to Watchet to walk some of the coast walk, intending to go to a town intriguingly called Blue Anchor.
It was an overcast day so there were few people about, and we saw nobody on the walk, which followed the cliff top with lovely views.
We walked as far as we could along the coast before reaching a coastguard barrier – not far beyond this the cliff had collapsed into the sea, apparently happening in early March. The diversion inland didn’t really appeal with the impending storms, so we made it a short walk and returned to Watchet – just 6.5km. Blue Anchor remains a mystery for now!
With extra time up our sleeves, we decide to drive over to Dunster again, to have a better look at the town. Mr A was also hoping the Rohan outdoor gear shop was open, now that clothes stores had been given permission to serve customers again, but unfortunately this store remained closed.
Tuesday’s downpour arrived as scheduled. Fortunately I was busy helping with a medical research project which took up a lot of my time, and Mr A delved deeper into investigating his family tree, unearthing new names and histories on his mother’s side.
During a break in the wet weather we had an impromptu visit from two of the friends we have made here, Karen and Jane Ayre who run the caravan park down the road. During lockdown they have been training a young pony, Vinnie, which will eventually be sold to a family for a young child to learn to ride. He’s quite small and very gentle, and even Mr A (who has a fear of horses) was brave enough to give him a stroke.
After a couple of days of enforced rest we were itching to get out and about again. So on Friday decided to jump in Truffy and head back over to Exmoor and the small town of Dulverton.
Mr A navigated the narrow lanes brilliantly, barely flinching as we squeezed between old stone houses and parked cars as we found our way to a parking spot beside the eighteenth century Marsh Bridge on the outskirts of town.
We set off on a circuit walk (Strava link), following the River Barle into town.
The showers dissipated totally by the weekend, allowing us to get out for a muddy walk locally on Saturday. Again, the colours seemed all the more vibrant for being freshly watered.
We were just walking up through the village on our way home, when we noticed a couple of our neighbours having socially-isolated drinks on their front lawn. We were invited over to join them, and soon our plans for making curry and relaxing with Netflix were out the window.
My cousin Ian and his family, Caroline, Emilia and Leo, drove down from Almondsbury for the afternoon on Sunday. We were so excited to see them – not only the first family we’ve seen since mid March, but the first time I have seen them in six years! I am sure we all looked older, but especially this children – I have not met Leo before, and Emilia was a baby in a high chair last time!
Thankfully the rain held off so we enjoyed Father’s Day cake and tea in the courtyard before a short stroll around the village and surrounds.
It was a fun afternoon, but as we waved them farewell, we took note to ensure we don’t have sore heads next time we encounter excited children!
On Monday we took our bikes exploring around some of the local villages and lanes – there are some incredible buildings around here. One of them, multi-million pound Denzel House has just been sold to a London-based electronics importer apparently – as we rode past ogling, we saw several people working on improvements to the grounds.
The overall ride was lovely, and we took in the whitewashed village of Stogumber which sounds to me like something you’d chop up and serve in salad. Apparently the name is derived from Stoke (meaning dairy farm in old English) and the surname Gunner (presumably the owner of the dairy?).
It was while we were our riding that we heard the welcome news from Boris announcing that from 4 July campsites could open (as well as pubs, hairdressers, other holiday accomodation and so on – as long as they are ‘Covid-secure’). I say welcome, but it comes with mixed feelings. The opening up means returning to the stress of finding a place to stay, potentially mingling with other people, and leaving our new friends in this haven within the Quantock Hills. I for one have a little bit of nervousness about what the coming weeks will bring.
So this week the chaos began, the mad dash to try and find campsites with space for us in locations we would be interested in visiting. I would liken it to trying to find tickets to see The Rolling Stones, with everyone selling out almost immediately and if you’re lucky you get the last two on offer. Although unlike getting tickets to one band, we have to go through it again and again booking up the coming few weeks.
We gave ourselves a break on Tuesday afternoon to head back to the western Quantocks, and parked Truffy up by Crowcombe Gate, taking our second walk in this area.
The heath and bracken looked healthy and lush after the rain, and most of the soil well drained. We admired the views we have seen from many angles over the past three months, never tiring of that magical feeling this area brings.
Wednesday promised to be a hot day, with temperatures climbing up in to the early 30s. We decided that cycling would be the coolest activity (other than swimming in our pool, and who wants to spend the day doing that?!), so we found a cycleway by the coast so we might enjoy some sea breezes and perhaps a dip in the water.
We drove to Barnstaple in Devon and parked up. Our intention was to ride the Tarka Trail in the other direction, towards Woolacombe. Off we set on off-road cycle lanes, which soon turned into country lanes (Strava link).
The path’s signage was a bit misleading, and soon we had to ask for directions from a couple of other cyclists. We soon realised that the Tarka Trail was no longer following old rail tracks, but now had become the Sustrans route 27 cycleway, which shared narrow country lanes with cars. We found ourselves pulling off regularly to let vehicles past, but people were friendly and grateful, not aggressive towards us.
As always, we were pleased for our electric motors, with some decent gradient hills along our ride, especially in the heat.
Our destination for the day was Putsborough, the quieter and less commercialised end of Woolacombe Beach. The coast walk comes along here, and by the looks of it would be spectacular and ever so quiet.
The car park and sole café was doing good business, but once you were on the beach people were well spread apart with plenty of social distancing (quite unlike the newspaper headlines for that day!).
I left Mr A on a bench with the bikes and went for a stroll across the sands and a paddle in the water. It is a perfect beach for children with warm rock pools and soft sand of the ideal consistency for sandcastles. The water wasn’t that cold considering we are in the UK (though I didn’t go in for a swim – the water is between 15-19°C!).
The ride back to Barnstaple was equally lovely, with plenty of water drunk.
Fish and chips from our favourite chippy in Taunton (Sea Bass Fish and Chips) were our reward for our efforts, enjoyed in Truffy at the side of the road. Perfect!
And so on Thursday we decided to make a concerted effort to get all of our bookings locked in for the next few weeks. Priority had to be seeing family, as it seems crazy we haven’t even seen Mark’s daughters and the grandchildren since October last year.
After a lot of phone calls, messages and waiting for websites to work, we have confirmed the following locations which will take us up to September. Phew!
We know this has missed out a few people, but we don’t leave the UK until early November, so hopefully will have an opportunity after the summer craziness!