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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Location: Caerfai Bay, St Davids, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK
A short drive along this magnificent Pembrokeshire coast brought us to our new home for the next three nights, high up on the cliffs overlooking the calm waters of St.Brides Bay. By lunch time a bag of washing is done and hung out, an egg and bacon brunch (well it was Sunday) laid down to fortify us for a hike along the coast (walk link).
Do we turn left or right? This was the toughest decision of the day. Left won out and we headed east along our first chunky section of the Pembrokeshire Coast path. At 299km long, this is another tremendous asset that has been hard fought for over the years by community groups negotiating with hundreds of landowners to get a continuous path for all to enjoy. This path also connects with the 1,400 kilometre Welsh Coast Path. Could you ever run out of walking destinations in the UK?
As we headed out along the cliff top, it became immediately evident that nature is clearly still in charge here, with massive land slips, deeply eroded bays, and plants and trees shaped by the wind.
We watched a seal in the clear water far below us hunting for lunch, its shining spotty white belly briefly exposed when coming up for air before resuming the chase. Mrs A then spotted a bird rare to the UK, with only around 300 breeding pairs, a member of the crow family called a chough. So excited, she emitted a (unusual for her) squeal of delight!
At our turn round point we looked out over an unusual topography, and with a bit of help from Dr Google, realised we were looking at the highly eroded remains of an Iron Age fort (so around 2-2,500 years old). You cannot escape from the deep history that is everywhere around you in this country. Even at the westerly edge of the British Isles, the waves of invasions, rebellions, migrations, assimilations, and recurring nationalism, are evident all around us. We can feel this is going to be a rewarding foray into a country we both know so little about.
Well, with the sun going down behind the off shore islands, it was time to retrace our steps along the cliff top and settle in for another night of splendid social isolation in Truffy.
Our second day here was less energetic, with drizzly rain and very poor visibility. It was a short walk up the road from the campsite to the UK’s smallest city, St Davids. A quick look at the cathedral for Catherine, where the bones of the patron saint of Wales (yes…St David) are buried (walk link).
We felt a little cheated at the lack of opportunity to turn right along the cliff after yesterday’s poor weather, so seeing a better forecast, and seeing such a glorious dawn, we headed out early (for us) in the other direction.
It became obvious after an hour‘s walking that this was a stretch of path that was something special, with dizzyingly stunning views. So I called the campsite and booked us in for another night. This is the joy of travelling off peak – the flexibility to be spontaneous when everything doesn’t have to be booked weeks in advance.
We just didn’t want to stop walking. Looking at the map, we saw we would be heading out along a peninsula that would bring us quite close back to St Davids, so we agreed to keep going and take a chance we could get a bus or taxi into the village (oops, city).
It was glorious weather, Pembrokeshire was showing off her early autumn glory. The bracken was turning a more golden brown, the heather flowers were largely gone, the remaining blackberries plump and almost over ripe, but especially with no lunch or breakfast with us, absolutely delicious. A small apple each was all we had with us, but what a spot to sink our teeth into them.
After a few hours we had only seen a couple of other walkers, then a couple told us there were seals around in the next bay. Their plaintive calls echoed around the cliffs, mums calling to their pups and vice versa.
We watched them for ages, spellbound as they occasionally seemed to look up at us on the cliffs above them. “What are they staring at?” framed in a bubble over their flickering whiskers.
What a perfect day. We walked, we talked, we laughed, and we gazed in wonderment. What more can you ask?
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.
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 limestone bridge with eight arches spans a weir between two of the lakes, also heritage listed.
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.
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.
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.
My last visit to the Brecon Beacons was as a 14 year old Boy Scout, being dropped off from an old Land Rover with two weeks‘ worth of dehydrated rations in the middle of a rain storm. The sheets of ice cold water being chucked at us continued for the next ten miserable days of thick fog, wet feet and chafed legs from the cheap, heavy ex-army surplus gear that I was wearing.
Well, some things haven’t changed. The weather is still unpredictable, making it uncertain how long it would rain for that day. But we donned our light, comfy, expensive Gortex jackets (who says money doesn’t matter?) and headed along the Brecon Canal, handily adjacent to our campsite, into the not-so-bustling Brecon town centre.
We immediately injected what looked like some much needed cash into the local economy, (so many empty shops for let) and bought Catherine some new fancy dancy (read expensive) walking boots, and me some very comfy (not chafing!) walking trousers. Well, we don’t have much else to spend money on at the moment. We eat in, we drink in, we only wear walking clothes and PJ’s. We can’t fit another thing into our dinky motorhome, so there is no point shopping for anything else!
Walking has become our path to health and happiness. I’m still researching the science, but all we know is we feel better than we EVER have before (touching wood). More on this in a blog to come.
So the canal was our focus for the next day as well. There was no point in going up onto the tops with zero visibility. It seemed lots of other people had the same idea! It was a busier walk (Strava) than on the coast paths of the south-west in Cornwall. Interesting..
The Monmouthshire and Brecon canal, to give it its correct name, and to be even more optically correct in Welsh Camlas Sir Fynwy a Brycheiniog, winds for a very picturesque 56km of its navigable length, through the south Wales countryside.
At the end we were exploring was the Brecon basin, lovingly restored by volunteers and government grants, as they increasingly realise the potential of this once neglected asset.
We stopped to talk to a couple of guys who had hired their narrow boat for a few days and were lucky to find a hire company with any availability. I had looked during the summer at a number of canals and had seen how busy they were right though autumn It’s so good to see how the UK has stepped back from the brink of letting the waterways be demolished in the 1960s, and thanks to community initiatives has restored much of the network.
The next day brought more rain, but we were determined to not be put off getting out and about. We moved to the western end of the Brecon Beacons National Park and a pub car park in the tiny settlement of Trap. I think the pub made up for 50% of the houses there in fact. We had noticed on one of the apps we use the pub had welcomed over nighters in self contained motorhomes. The only down side that we discovered when calling the owner on the way there, she hadn’t reopened after lockdown! Ah well…another night in then!
Waterproofs were donned and a walk up to nearby Carreg Cennen Castle planned and executed (Strava) at a brisk pace to warm us up.
We were accosted at the little cafe at the entrance to the castle grounds, and accosted felt like the right word to use. A very brusque lady said, “So are you going to the castle or walking round it? If it‘s the castle, then you need tickets”, looking very grumpy that we seemed to have disturbed her day. No other information was offered, so I started to say we were out for a walk, and she turned her back and stalked off. In these strange times I guess we need to make allowances for people being jittery, but given her cafe was empty, and there were two staff doing nothing, I would imagine whoever owns the place is feeling the pinch and would have wanted her to offer more details as inducement.
We are trying to carry on injecting our little contributions into any business that welcomes us on our travels, but a small percentage seem to be staffed by people who seem determined to drive customers away. I do acknowledge that many have no choice about where they work, and having contact with the general public right now is a risky business. This was in such stark contrast to the shop we bought our outdoor gear from (Gibb Outdoors in Brecon), where we were welcomed into the store by friendly staff, who were knowledgeable about their product, and that took no increase in risk on their part, and were rewarded with £350 of our money.
So we spent our quiet night at the back of the pub, while I anxiously ruminated about how we would be getting back up the rather steep (for little town-tyres Truffy) slope back to the road, but with plenty of right foot he romped up and we were not Trapped in Trap…I just had to say it 🙂
Location: Castle Clytha (nr Llanarth), Coed y Bwnydd (an Iron Age fort) and Mynydd Llangorse (a hill), Monmouthshire, Wales
We left Somerset in bright sunshine and turned Truffy’s nose north-west, aiming for a bridge over the River Severn. After so much time looking at the Bristol Channel, it was great to be able to see higher up the river and cross over the great body of water. As we passed into Wales, we left the blue skies and drove into fog…fortunately soon lifting as we reached our destination.
We pulled into a quiet National Trust carpark beside the River Usk. The river starts high up in the Brecon Beacons, before flowing through Wales to emerge at Newport into the River Severn, opposite Western-super-Mare. We had decided to make our first day’s journey relatively short in order to make the most of the blue sky day. (Strava).
Mr A had found a great sounding walk on the National Trust site which would take us along the river, up to an ancient Iron Age Fort and back via a 17th century castle in a mere 12km (7.5 miles). If you’ve seen our Strava link, you will have seen we must have taken a few wrong turns, as it was 15.6km (about 10 miles) for us!
After passing a group of girls swimming and sunbathing on the river bank, we barely saw another person all day as we wound our way on our circuit walk.
As we hiked up, the views began to open up, giving us our first glimpses of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Fabulous clear views of Sugar Loaf open up in front of us – this is South Wales’ highest mountain (596 metres), and a popular day walk. Its popularity is what turned us off walking up this one, we do prefer to avoid the crowds, even when there isn’t a nasty virus around!
The walk description had been written at a time when there were no crops in the fields, so often it was a bit of a challenge finding the pathway through.
High up on a hill we emerged into Coed y Bwnydd, an Iron Age fort. This is a scheduled ancient monument that was gifted to the National Trust in the 1940s by a grieving Captain in memory of his friend killed in World War II. To the untrained eye, it is a simple woodland, but the more you look, you begin to spot the earthworks that signify the involvement of humans here more than 2,000 years ago.
Clytha Castle was a folly built in 1790 and is now available for holiday stays.
We stayed the night in the quiet car park, then the following morning we drove a short way to Llangors, where we parked up at an activity centre (predominantly training army cadets to climb and survive in the wilderness). Our plan was to climb Mynydd Llangorse, a 515 metre hill overlooking Lake Llangors and the Brecon Beacons.
Again, this walk was not on the tourist trail, and yet able to provide spectacular views (Strava) in isolated serenity. Away from the carpark, we saw one other person, just as we concluded our hike.
We could see the weather starting to change as we enjoyed the last of the sunshine for a couple of days. After climbing back down, we drove off to our next camp, just outside the small town of Brecon.
Location: West Bagborough, Quantock Hills, Somerset
During lockdown, the tiny village of West Bagborough in Somerset had become our home, our safe little bubble. The world went crazy around us, but we just strapped on our boots and headed for the hills. While there we had got to know the owners of the local campsite, Quantock Camping.
We decided to pay them a visit on our journey between Cornwall and Wales. We arrived after lunch and got Truffy settled on to a lovely grassy pitch. Catherine cooked up one of her fab spaghetti bolognaises for us all, and the conversation and laughter flowed, with the odd bottle of wine to lubricate us. Their Great Dane, Genevieve, tended to dominate the skyline somewhat, and the odd cat or chicken made its appearance, all the usual stuff at their place! So lovely to be back among these people who welcomed us into their lives when we so needed to feel part of somewhere safe.
On Saturday morning, with some fresh eggs inside us, we once again strapped on our walking boots and headed up into the Quantock Hills, walking straight from the campsite (Strava). After leaving the village, within minutes we were enveloped in the sights and smells of the countryside we have come to love so much.
Autumn is just starting to make its presence felt, with a few leaves turning a bright gold, and some giving up to the inevitable and scattering themselves on the welcoming ground. We chose a route that would take us back to a hidden valley we had only walked through once, dissected by a perfect little bubbling stream. The last time we were here in the full bloom of early summer, now it looked and smelled so different.
We pressed on to the next little village, only passing a couple of other walkers on the way. Tea was supped from our flasks sitting on a bench in the churchyard. I have rarely felt so content in my life as I did at that moment. We wanted for nothing. The sun was warming our faces, a fresh Somerset-grown apple to munch on, and we headed back over the hills for a fish and chip supper with our hosts. What a perfect day.
The next day we joined our friends and their dogs (Strava) on a walk through ancient birch forest. There is hardly a sentence said between us without a laugh while the dogs romp around, Genevieve crashing though small trees like they’re not there. We got a little lost, a crumpled map was produced, ignored and good humoured debates raged about directions, But it doesn’t matter, we are all just loving being enveloped in this stunning countryside where there’s a new view around every corner, and another bed of nettles to keep you honest.
We just made it to a pub for last orders. A beer never tastes as good as when its drunk after a walk like that. Shared with friends in a sunny garden, and brewed just up the road on Exmoor.
Sadly we said our goodbyes, but knowing we have a safe refuge we can head back to if things go pear shaped makes all the difference to our confidence as we head off to Wales. Well, it’s only 90 minutes down the road!
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.
I had been researching rail trails we could ride in the South West (and there’s many to choose from, bless you Devon, Cornwall and Somerset councils), and up comes one called The Camel Trail near Bodmin. I immediately had visions of cycling along past lines of dromedaries munching scones and jam. But no….the trail gets its name from the river it runs beside. In Cornish the river is called “Dowr Kimmel”, meaning crooked river. Kimmel became camel.
Now that begs a series of questions born out of the ignorance I had for this delightful part of the world. I only have vague memories gleaned from long childhood car trips from the Midlands on an annual pilgrimage to find a patch of sand to sit on, with thousands of other hanky-on-the-head wearing, beetroot-coloured Brits.
So firstly, Cornwall does have its own language, derived mainly from over the water in Brittany, France. Cornish is even taught in some schools, all as part of a national cultural revival. Dig a bit further and apparently a person from Cornwall from 2010 onwards was able to identify themselves, should they wish, as seperate ethnic minority. There was even a movement to devolve Cornwall from the rest of the “United” Kingdom, an affiliation that you wouldn’t currently describe as a happy, close-knit family. Perhaps we are all reacting against globalisation and seeking to retain, or recoup, our cultural uniqueness?
I digress, as is my prerogative, being old…so back to the cycling. The Camel Trail runs traffic free for nearly 30 wonderfully wooded kilometres through rural Cornwall. It is extremely well used, even before the lockdown fuelled surge in bike riding here, the trail was contributing over £3 million to the local economy. Judging by how packed the tea shops along the trail were, this must have sky rocketed. So a good investment by the council. New South Wales (Australia) state government take note,: build it and cyclists will come. The UK has 8,400km of traffic free paths and the South West of England is punching above its weight in having so many of them.
Our first day along the trail took us to the small fishing port of Padstow, home of celebrity chef Rick Stein‘s original seafood restaurant in the 1970’s.
Some say the town should be renamed Steinstow, given old Rick now has a deli, gift shop, fishmonger, cafe, bistro, cooking school…and chippy. The crowds were too much for us, and we rode on out of town with no real plan, and doesn’t that sometimes work out the best? We cycled down some gravel tracks and I chatted to a local who suggested a route to a lookout. Check out these views!
We loitered and punctuated the gobsmacked silence with the odd “wow”. What a seascape.
Things did go downhill, literally, as we rode into the small settlement of Trevone at the bottom of the valley, then also when we tried to have lunch. Couldn’t have been further from Steinworld. This is what the only cafe in town produced for a tuna melt, without cheese. White bread and….tuna. I had emphasised she could have mayo, but no there was no tomato, or lettuce or onion…nothing.
And this is so England. In one town the most amazing world class food, and 4km away a village packed with tourists that serves food even British Rail would be ashamed of. Always keeps you guessing does Blighty – whether its the weather (did that sound right?) that is stormy and wintery in August and now in September positively tropical. Or the people, who are on the most part the most courteous, friendly, do anything for you types, then you mention the B word (Brexit..to be clear…not Beyoncé) and they go all mad crazy!
The following day we rode up to the start of the trail (Strava link) and followed it to the small town of Bodmin, and underwhelmed, left quickly, and looped back round to camp. The day before, Catherine got sunstroke, today we wore long sleeved sweat shirts and wind-proofs. and felt disappointed we forgot our gloves!
I think Autumn will suddenly spring upon us (that didn’t sound right either…but I’m leaving it in) and another season will delight us with its changing colours and smells. England…oh England …the land that keeps you guessing…and dressing….
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.
A birthday always gets me musing. Another year, what has been accomplished? What has it taught me? What will I do differently this next year? Given the current challenges that face the world and impact us , those are particularly difficult questions to answer this year. We are not in as much control to shape our lives as we wish, given the constraints of travel and risk to health. Throw in financial uncertainty, and you have a real mix to try and navigate a path.
Compared to so many, we are living a wonderful life, we are still travelling around, albeit not where we planned to, but still enjoying exploring the great outdoors in England. So many places we are finding that are still away from the crowds.
Falmouth is our first big town for a while, and it remind us of that when we can’t even book a table at any of the nice restaurants there for a celebratory dinner. But we are living with a really big risk. If we get the virus we have no home to run to and recover. Our tiny motorhome is not somewhere you want to be seriously ill in., and what campsite would accept us anyway? What rental property would have us?
Its a risk that we understood we were taking when we got on the plane to Europe last March – but then we thought it would be over in weeks, not years. Now it looks like a second wave is hittingt the UK. It is a threat that seems very real, espcially if there is even the sign of a sore throat or cough. Are we putting ourselves uneceassrily at risk? Should we have come home on the repatriation flights? Our decision not to was based on the better access to specialist medical resources here that Catherine would need, plus an unwillingness to give up our plans. Being treated for COVID-19 when you already have an impaired airway requires understanding of her specific disease. Here in England (in fact especially where we are in the south-west) there are multiple senior doctors who know her and would understand how best to care for her. In Australia there’s only a couple.
So in the middle of these musings, our flights back to Australia were cancelled. We had not been following the situation closely, naively thinking that as we had tickets booked months ago, our airline would be obliged to find us an alternative option to fulfil their contract. Apparently not. There are currently between 20-30,000 Australians who want to return, and only a few airlines who are still flying to Sydney. Plus the Australian government had said in the early stages of the pandemic, get back quick or settle in for the long haul where you are. So they are now severely restricting the numbers of incoming international passengers they will process. Sydney is 300-350 a day, Brisbane and Adelaide 75 a day each, not sure on Darwin and Perth, but it means at this rate it will be a long long wait. Meanwhile, the airlines are bumping people off economy and just selling business and first class tickets. Bless them…I guess they have to make money to survive.
So what this year will bring? It‘s hard to tell. We only know we want to get back to Australia to see our friends and fur child, check on our assets (car and caravan still stored and all our house contents). When and how are unknown. And what about next year? When we store our beloved little home on wheels here, when we will be able to return? We have no idea. Should we just move back into our property when the current tenant’s lease is up in December, give up our travel dreams for a year? We don’t know…it depends on so many variables connected to the pandemic and therefore out of our control.
Meanwhile the historic port city of Falmouth shows us her beautiful side. On my birthday we took a cab into town. Even that felt a bit weird…then a couple of outdoor drinks and an Indian. That will do us. Some lovely digital catch ups with people the next morning then on with the walking boots once again.
We wander around the harbour foreshore on a blue sky day, watch the boats come and go, sit and have a lovely lunch by the beach, its like a mini Sydney!
No harbour town visit is complete without a boat trip, so off we scuttled over on a little ferry to the little village of St Mawes, famous for the artillery fort built by Henry the VIII to keep those pesky French Catholics at bay.
On the way across we got a good view of “The World”, largest luxury yacht in the world. If you have US$10 million in assets you can buy in to have a cabin ranging from a few million up to US$15 million and then you have your “maintenance fees” of…around $900,000 a year! I’d love to have a look around the wine cellar, with 12,000 bottles of wine in their collection…mmm. And now…moored up – for the first time in 18 years, it has stopped moving. So many firsts in this new world we live in.
So you can see by the blue skies in Cornwall at the moment, there is no shortage of vitamin D in our systems to fight off that virus, fingers crossed.
A burger for dinner, sat on a bench by the harbour and we are done with Falmouth. A little too busy with tourists for us, too many crowds to distance from, and many of them don’t seem to bother. Was this the best birthday I’ve had? No, but under the circumstances pretty damm good. What was missing was physically being around some friends and family, to feel connected with them. But thats how it is, and with Catherine by my side, not much else matters other than our health.