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!).

13-18 October: Walking in the footsteps of my parents

Author: Mr A

Location: Houghton & Swavesey, Cambridgeshire, Kettering, Northamptonshire and finally Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, UK

It‘s been a brilliant couple of weeks of catching up with family and friends. Purely by chance we ended up staying at a fabulous National Trust campsite in the area my mother grew up in, and Catherine and I ended up retracing the last day out that I had with my parents (map of our route).

Great campsite at Houghton Mill. a National trust property
My mums home growing up – the riverside town of Godmanchester
The River Great Ouse
I remember her telling me she used to swim in this river as a teenager
We even found the same pub we went to that day
A gnome outside the hotel
Cheers! Remembering Clem and Jill 💕
The Old Bridge at Godmanchester

From there we visited one of Catherine’s cousins I hadn’t met before, Elizabeth (plus her husband, Jason and son Michael) living in the small village of Swavesey just down the road. What a talented, lovely bunch her family are and I feel all the richer for spending time getting to know them. Another unintended benefit of not being able to travel to Europe!

From there we went and had a nose around the small village of Old Weston, where my research into family trees on Ancestry.com had told me my great, great grandfather had lived. It’s a spooky feeling looking at some of the same buildings they would have passed in their daily lives.

The Church of St Swithin in Old Weston where my ‘Turner’ ancestors almost certainly attended

Then on to the “ancestral seat” of my family, the small town of Raunds. I found my grandmother‘s grave, the one I had never met as she died before I was born, and where my mother’s ashes were scattered.

The salubriously named road where so many of my relatives lived – Rotton actually is from the word for Royal in old English
More mentions of ancestors at the nearby church
One of my ancestors memorialised after he died in the First World War
”You are my sunshine”

A somewhat emotionally wearing day, but was capped off my a visit to my old friends in Kettering in Northamptonshire, and my home town growing up. We had our usual night out of superb curry and beer, and the only photos from the evening I am not allowing Catherine to post! Yup…I fell asleep in a chair in their lounge clutching a glass of red…again!

From there it was on to the city of Milton Keynes, and a weekend I had been so looking forward to with my daughters and grandkids. It sure didn’t disappoint. Dinners and lunches out and in their lovely homes, visits to animal farms and walks in the wood. Reconnecting with a family I‘ve seen so little of over the years – blissful.

A fab night out with daughters Zoe and Hayley
Well I had to keep daughter number two company with a desert!

One of the delights for me has been watching Catherine helping Hayley experiment with her cooking, and a chicken vindaloo at her fab pad was proof of both of their talents.

The newest edition to Halyey’s family – the very cuddly Belle

Milton Keynes has certainly matured since my time living there in the 80’s.

The Grand Union Canal in mirror-like perfection
What an avenue of autumnal delight, a few minutes walk from the city centre
A seagull soars over the barges
Perfect colour palette

We are Wagamama fans – but two days on the trot? Why not.

Then it was a trip out to the Green Dragon Eco Farm with Zoe and her son Jacob, a bird show and animal feeding all part of this great day out.

I thought they were coming over!
Lynx used to be native to the UK but have been extinct here since the 1300s
Just love a bird show – now now…..this one’s a buzzard….
A gorgeous barn owl
Jacob is such a lovely lad – quick to smile and a pleasure to be with
A moment captured to treasure with Zoe and Jacob

Then Sunday was a walk in the woods with Hayley and her two boys, Luke and James. Much fun was had chasing each other around.

Some were keener than other top be captured by Catherines lens. -or was it my aftershave?
Intrepid explorers off for a stomp

I couldn’t have hoped for a better time – I can just wish, and plan, for more times like this.

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!

7-10 October: The Peak District here we come…

Author: Mr A

Location: Tittesworth Resevoir, & The Winking Man, Staffordshire, Mam Tor, Buxton and Castleton, Derbyshire, UK

The impromptu days are often the best, and our dash up to the Peak District from Shropshire was a great example of that. We drove past a large reservoir and decided it looked like a top location for a spot of lunch and a bit of a leg stretch. The weather brightened up, the forest was giving off that freshly rained on perfume. and we just had to keep walking (8.5km circuit – map).

Tittesworth Reservoir near Leek in Staffordshire
A cool start soon warms up as the sun emerges
A perfect autumnal walk
Some more signs of early autumn
A stream weaving its way through a woodland copse

Half way round and we came across a couple, one using a wheelchair, who were struggling up a steep bit of path. So we gave them a bit of a hand, and we ended up chatting and walking the rest of the way with these two absolutely delightful people. At 91 years of age, Derek was determined to get round a walk that the majority of the folk there that day clearly hadn’t attempted, ably assisted by the super strong and fit Rosie. Now I admit to never having tried to push a wheelchair up a hill, and when I did, I was even more admiring of Rosie’s prowess behind the chair!

Here they come – always smiling and ever determined
Crossing the dam wall – a peaceful outlook
Dam(n), this is a lovely walk
Looking up towards Derbyshire
The Roaches – rocks popular with climbers on the horizon
Climbing of a different kind – Rosie helps Derek up the steps while I bring the wheelchair
Finally a flat path!
Wetlands – great for a spot of birdwatching

They were such great company, and it really made our day to share theirs. We gave our farewells, and headed off to a pub we were going to park at for the night, intriguingly called The Winking Man (spelled carefully).

We were just looking at the drinks menu when I noticed one of the barmaids having an animated conversation on the phone, and glancing over our way and smiling. Odd I thought..what have I done now? it was Rosie and Derek. They had remembered the name of the pub we were going to and were ringing to buy us a bottle of wine to thank us for the help that afternoon. What a kind thought and action. In these difficult times, such gestures mean even more to us. Sometimes we do feel disconnected from community and friends. A moment like this reminds us the potential for friendship is all around us.

Thank you so much Rosie and Derek – we thought of you as we enjoyed this malbec
A foggy start to our journey up into the Peak District the following morning

The next day, with finally a rain free forecast, we headed over to do one of the Peak District’s classic walks, the circuit around Man Tor (map). I must have done this in the Scouts, we were up in that area regularly, but it was all fresh to me this time. The incredible views across a landscape so deeply green it looked unreal. Despite the cold northerly wind there were a few people about, but as usual once away from the car park the numbers really thinned out.

The cloud starts to lift, shining sun on the surrounding hills
We didn’t spend long up on top of Mam Tor
Just enough time to admire the patchwork of fields below us
The cairn on top of the Tor makes a good tripod since it is too cold and windy to use Catherine’s
Skipping off to lower ground (and slightly warmer temperatures out of the icy wind)
There has been a lot of rain here, and we’re grateful we’ve stumbled upon a dry morning for our hike
The shades of green are all encompassing
Heading down into the valley
A pair of old stone gate posts
We follow an old broken road which collapsed in a landslide. We hope nobody was driving on it at the time. It had potholes almost as big as those in Nottinghamshire roads
So much walking to be done in this area

The blemish on the day came when Catherine noticed her two week old Salomon boots were already starting to come apart at the joins, so a few phone calls later and we were off to Buxton to post them back to the retailer. Now, some towns just create a poor first impression, and then get worse. So this was Buxton. From a car park machine that made us pay a premium rate for a day (in coins) when we needed an hour, to the complete disinterest in enticing us to buy anything in the shops we visited. We tried to find somewhere that looked appealing for lunch, gave up and left and made our way over to our campsite just outside Castleton.

Breathing a sigh of relief as we leave Buxton and drive through roads that look like this

What a drive over it was, as the unfenced road wound down through the hills. Not a quiet road though. This is definitely an area to explore off peak. Even now its super busy, our campsite completely full. I can’t imagine what school holidays were like trying to get around. No wonder there seemed a higher proportion than usual of irate drivers.

The next day (Friday) was another wet one, so we decided we would just stay local. I volunteered to head into the local bakery to equip us for a bacon and egg brekky – I’m all altruism. Hot out of the oven I was sold a crusty “white bap” (how many words are there in the English language for a loaf? Even Google didn’t know that) – what a lovely start to the day.

It kept getting better, when we wandered into dinky Casterton and found four outdoor shops! A beanie and warm gloves were purchased for me. Things are cooling down here pretty rapidly, evidenced by the fact that we had several freezing hailstorms batter us. We did see though see many walking signposts through the village, a hiking mecca’s this place and somewhere we really want to come back to.

Castleton is still pretty in the rain
It’s all starting to look quite autumnal

But for today the only thing to do was to retire to one of the six pubs we noticed in the space of a few hundred metres! We got chatting to the folk on the next table, as you do in an English pub. We have so missed that. Europe was wonderful last year, but without the local language it was hard to engage.

We emerge from The Castle to bright sunshine but with the next heavy cloud forever looming

With heavy downpours predicted, and Catherine devoid of walking boots after having to return hers, we headed back to Truffy and some lazy time with music and books. Perfect..but not quite purrrrfect ….without Miss Tassie to warm our laps 🙁

This has been an all too brief dalliance with the Peak District – “We’ll BeBack”

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.

1-4 October: Storm Alex pays us a visit…

Author: Mr A

Location: Cliff top near New Quay, mid Wales coast, Ceredigion, UK

We had picked this next camp site because of its location right next to the “Wales Coast Path:”, another long distance path with 1,600km available to put one foot in front of the other and contemplate the natural world in all its glory. Unfortunately that evening Storm Alex paid Europe a visit, and despite Brexit, thought he would cross the Channel and give the Brits a bit of what for.

Not much chance of catching any viruses on this camp site!

Well we had a rocking and rolling night, even with our hydraulic legs down and trying to anchor us, our location on the edge of a cliff in the direct path of the winds gave us a troubled night, then day, then night, then another day. For two and a half days we were confined to the 2 square metres of Truffy floor, as gusts of over 80kph blasted across our very desolate looking field. So my fellow inmate and I sucked it up and did our time in an area about the size of a third world prison cell. A good reminder of what having our freedom to roam really means.

A Friday sheltering from the rain…much tea drunk…
Our view obscured by raindrops
Our nearest neighbours look a little nervous as we emerge from Truffy!

Its now over three years since we took to the road, and became what the UK tax office defines as “vehicle dwellers’, that is people who for whatever reason primarily live in a caravan, motorhome or the back seat of their car. We have been back into our house for two 6 weeks spells, done a couple of house sits, and rented for a few months in lockdown, but we have no “home” we can access in situations like this when the weather turns rough, or lockdowns happen. Its something we have learnt to deal with, and it has changed our view, I think, of what “home” actually is. I came across this quote from a songwriter I have just started listening to, Amanda Shires. She said “Home is being content with yourself wherever you are”. I put her song “You Are My Home” on my September playlist (click here or search Spotify for ‘Mr A’s September favs’), a bit of a fun thing I started doing in lockdown to share with friends every month what we have been listening to on Spotify. As she sings in one verse:

“You are my home,

Wherever you go

Anywhere that you stand,

Is my piece of land,

You are my home.”

Amanda Shires, You are my home

And that sums it up. Wherever Catherine is, that‘s my home (it‘s just missing our beautiful Burmese Miss Tassie!).

The very lucky Mrs A

Thankfully the storm finally passed and we were able to venture out along the cliff top walk into the small sea side town of New Quay (not to be confused with the much bigger and glitzier Newquay in Cornwall). No one could accuse this one of being glitzy.

Looking north towards Aberaeron where the coastline gets a lot more lumpy
A few boats strewn on the beach behind the harbour wall. None have gone out lately due to the storm
We wonder whether there has been a special deal on paint agreed in this small town with its brightly coloured homes
Climbing up the highstreet

The setting was stunning, with the Welsh hills framing a perfectly curved bay, but the town itself was pretty down at heel, so after a very ordinary Sunday roast (looked like a school dinner) we smartly moved on back to camp and walked a little way down the coast in the other direction.

Lots of groundwater after the torrential downpours, the fields are saturated
The Wales Coast Path/Ceredigion Coast Path
A little dunnock sits on a branch surveying the world, probably having had to shelter for the past couple of days
Looking south down the coast. You can see the path winding its way over the cliff tops and valleys
The bright yellow gorse still flowering here, in stark contrast to the dark skies
Hungry birds hunting, again probably had a couple of days without food, unable to fly in the gusty winds
Shades of blue as we look to the silvery horizon

A lookout gave us 180 degree views, but the dolphins we had booked sadly didn’t show. A kestrel did though, hanging upside down intently watching for a late afternoon snack, perhaps hungry after several days of what we would think would be impossible flying conditions, even for these masters of aeronautical acrobatics.

Its such a relief to finally stretch our legs after the enforced confinement, and the Welsh Coast Path is clearly something we need to explore further!

Finally we get to see a sunset

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.

28-30 September: Pembrokeshire coast path – walks from Caerfai Bay

Author: Mr A

Location: Caerfai Bay, St Davids, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK

A short drive along this magnificent Pembrokeshire coast brought us to our new home for the next three nights, high up on the cliffs overlooking the calm waters of St.Brides Bay. By lunch time a bag of washing is done and hung out, an egg and bacon brunch (well it was Sunday) laid down to fortify us for a hike along the coast (walk link).

Not a bad view for a couple of nights
Looking left (east) from camp

Do we turn left or right? This was the toughest decision of the day. Left won out and we headed east along our first chunky section of the Pembrokeshire Coast path. At 299km long, this is another tremendous asset that has been hard fought for over the years by community groups negotiating with hundreds of landowners to get a continuous path for all to enjoy. This path also connects with the 1,400 kilometre Welsh Coast Path. Could you ever run out of walking destinations in the UK?

As we headed out along the cliff top, it became immediately evident that nature is clearly still in charge here, with massive land slips, deeply eroded bays, and plants and trees shaped by the wind.

The sediments are visible on this rugged coastline
People were swimming in this little bay, without wetsuits! The water is at its warmest right now, at 15°C
Looking out over the Celtic Sea

We watched a seal in the clear water far below us hunting for lunch, its shining spotty white belly briefly exposed when coming up for air before resuming the chase. Mrs A then spotted a bird rare to the UK, with only around 300 breeding pairs, a member of the crow family called a chough. So excited, she emitted a (unusual for her) squeal of delight!

Seal spotting on the clifftop
A pair of choughs – distinctive red beaks and legs – they particularly like insects and their larvae, so here were hunting down the crane flies that were hatching out on this warm afternoon

At our turn round point we looked out over an unusual topography, and with a bit of help from Dr Google, realised we were looking at the highly eroded remains of an Iron Age fort (so around 2-2,500 years old). You cannot escape from the deep history that is everywhere around you in this country. Even at the westerly edge of the British Isles, the waves of invasions, rebellions, migrations, assimilations, and recurring nationalism, are evident all around us. We can feel this is going to be a rewarding foray into a country we both know so little about.

Porth y Rhaw Iron Age Fort
Many lightly salted blackberries were enjoyed…and the last of the wild roses blooming amongst the brambles

Well, with the sun going down behind the off shore islands, it was time to retrace our steps along the cliff top and settle in for another night of splendid social isolation in Truffy.

Delicate shades of peach and primrose flush the sky as the sun sets

Our second day here was less energetic, with drizzly rain and very poor visibility. It was a short walk up the road from the campsite to the UK’s smallest city, St Davids. A quick look at the cathedral for Catherine, where the bones of the patron saint of Wales (yes…St David) are buried (walk link).

St Davids Cathedral – a surprise in such a small village – at first you don’t see it, then passing under an arch suddenly it appears, huge, in the valley below you!
A magnificent oak ceiling in the great nave has carvings of castles and paired dolphins – no religious symbolism at all. The cathedral was founded by St David (then a monk) in the middle of the sixth century. It is one of the oldest episcopal sees in Britain.
Carved stone arches
Another lovely ceiling
A lovely poem about St Davids (Dewi is Welsh for David) by Welsh Poet, Siôn Aled Owen
Despite the gloomy day, a glow at sunset suggests there might be a better day ahead
Sunrise promises exciting things too
The sky is on fire

We felt a little cheated at the lack of opportunity to turn right along the cliff after yesterday’s poor weather, so seeing a better forecast, and seeing such a glorious dawn, we headed out early (for us) in the other direction.

There are still showers out at sea, but the skies remain clear for us
We start off wrapped up warm, but are soon stripping off the layers
A cheerful robin sings us a beautiful tune as we pass by
More eroded rock sculptures await us at every turn

It became obvious after an hour‘s walking that this was a stretch of path that was something special, with dizzyingly stunning views. So I called the campsite and booked us in for another night. This is the joy of travelling off peak – the flexibility to be spontaneous when everything doesn’t have to be booked weeks in advance.

Just love the rock sculptures and colours as we enter Porthclais Harbour
Porthclais Harbour – the colours here are delicious!
A ridiculously picturesque coastline
Always take a moment to stop, breathe and enjoy where you are
Sometimes the path ahead got a little crowded, but generally all were quite good at distancing…

We just didn’t want to stop walking. Looking at the map, we saw we would be heading out along a peninsula that would bring us quite close back to St Davids, so we agreed to keep going and take a chance we could get a bus or taxi into the village (oops, city).

It was glorious weather, Pembrokeshire was showing off her early autumn glory. The bracken was turning a more golden brown, the heather flowers were largely gone, the remaining blackberries plump and almost over ripe, but especially with no lunch or breakfast with us, absolutely delicious. A small apple each was all we had with us, but what a spot to sink our teeth into them.

Where else would you sit and enjoy tea and fruit?

After a few hours we had only seen a couple of other walkers, then a couple told us there were seals around in the next bay. Their plaintive calls echoed around the cliffs, mums calling to their pups and vice versa.

Playful adult seals
Look carefully and you will see a white seal pup stranded up on a rock, patiently awaiting the return of its parents for a feed
Around the corner, another seal mum is able to feed her pup as she left it accessible on the beach

We watched them for ages, spellbound as they occasionally seemed to look up at us on the cliffs above them. “What are they staring at?” framed in a bubble over their flickering whiskers.

Our destination, Whitesands Beach, overlooked by Carn Llidi…we decided we needed to conclude our hike by climbing this…
We look back at the coastline we have followed over the past few hours
Feeling quite pleased with ourselves – our longest day-walk yet and we still have energy to spare
Click on the map to access the walk in Strava

What a perfect day. We walked, we talked, we laughed, and we gazed in wonderment. What more can you ask?

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.

22-25 September: Staying low in the Brecon Beacons

Author: Mr A

Location: Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales, UK

My last visit to the Brecon Beacons was as a 14 year old Boy Scout, being dropped off from an old Land Rover with two weeks‘ worth of dehydrated rations in the middle of a rain storm. The sheets of ice cold water being chucked at us continued for the next ten miserable days of thick fog, wet feet and chafed legs from the cheap, heavy ex-army surplus gear that I was wearing.

Well, some things haven’t changed. The weather is still unpredictable, making it uncertain how long it would rain for that day. But we donned our light, comfy, expensive Gortex jackets (who says money doesn’t matter?) and headed along the Brecon Canal, handily adjacent to our campsite, into the not-so-bustling Brecon town centre.

Gloomy skies withholding their burden as we walk along the tow path
Many of these narrow boats are permanent homes

We immediately injected what looked like some much needed cash into the local economy, (so many empty shops for let) and bought Catherine some new fancy dancy (read expensive) walking boots, and me some very comfy (not chafing!) walking trousers. Well, we don’t have much else to spend money on at the moment. We eat in, we drink in, we only wear walking clothes and PJ’s. We can’t fit another thing into our dinky motorhome, so there is no point shopping for anything else!

Walking has become our path to health and happiness. I’m still researching the science, but all we know is we feel better than we EVER have before (touching wood). More on this in a blog to come.

So the canal was our focus for the next day as well. There was no point in going up onto the tops with zero visibility. It seemed lots of other people had the same idea! It was a busier walk (Strava) than on the coast paths of the south-west in Cornwall. Interesting..

Walking over a viaduct over a river
Looking down at the River Usk from the viaduct

The Monmouthshire and Brecon canal, to give it its correct name, and to be even more optically correct in Welsh Camlas Sir Fynwy a Brycheiniog, winds for a very picturesque 56km of its navigable length, through the south Wales countryside.

At the end we were exploring was the Brecon basin, lovingly restored by volunteers and government grants, as they increasingly realise the potential of this once neglected asset.

Canals have a particular sense of tranquility about them
A slow chug along the waterway – these guys couldn’t believe they had just been handed a boat to use without any prior experience! They appeared to be doing fine…

We stopped to talk to a couple of guys who had hired their narrow boat for a few days and were lucky to find a hire company with any availability. I had looked during the summer at a number of canals and had seen how busy they were right though autumn It’s so good to see how the UK has stepped back from the brink of letting the waterways be demolished in the 1960s, and thanks to community initiatives has restored much of the network.

Lots of local narrow boats, registered up the road

The next day brought more rain, but we were determined to not be put off getting out and about. We moved to the western end of the Brecon Beacons National Park and a pub car park in the tiny settlement of Trap. I think the pub made up for 50% of the houses there in fact. We had noticed on one of the apps we use the pub had welcomed over nighters in self contained motorhomes. The only down side that we discovered when calling the owner on the way there, she hadn’t reopened after lockdown! Ah well…another night in then!

Waterproofs were donned and a walk up to nearby Carreg Cennen Castle planned and executed (Strava) at a brisk pace to warm us up.

Carreg Cennen dates to around 1150, but there was likely an Iron Age hill fort here before that

We were accosted at the little cafe at the entrance to the castle grounds, and accosted felt like the right word to use. A very brusque lady said, “So are you going to the castle or walking round it? If it‘s the castle, then you need tickets”, looking very grumpy that we seemed to have disturbed her day. No other information was offered, so I started to say we were out for a walk, and she turned her back and stalked off. In these strange times I guess we need to make allowances for people being jittery, but given her cafe was empty, and there were two staff doing nothing, I would imagine whoever owns the place is feeling the pinch and would have wanted her to offer more details as inducement.

Entering the castle grounds and walking past the cafe

We are trying to carry on injecting our little contributions into any business that welcomes us on our travels, but a small percentage seem to be staffed by people who seem determined to drive customers away. I do acknowledge that many have no choice about where they work, and having contact with the general public right now is a risky business. This was in such stark contrast to the shop we bought our outdoor gear from (Gibb Outdoors in Brecon), where we were welcomed into the store by friendly staff, who were knowledgeable about their product, and that took no increase in risk on their part, and were rewarded with £350 of our money.

Even the sheep are looking a bit grumpy on this wet afternoon
The scenery is still wonderful, despite the rain – an ancient oak woodland on the left and ash on the right
A well maintained pathway
Shades of grey on our view as the rain continues falling
We stick to the lanes, the footpaths becoming a little muddy
Trap with one ‘p’ on the signpost for the Welsh spelling, two p’s (English spelling) on the map!
Returning to our (closed) pub

So we spent our quiet night at the back of the pub, while I anxiously ruminated about how we would be getting back up the rather steep (for little town-tyres Truffy) slope back to the road, but with plenty of right foot he romped up and we were not Trapped in Trap…I just had to say it 🙂

Only the owls hooting in the woodland behind us disrupted our sleep here