It just so happens that Ty Rhos is only about half a mile from the West Wales Coastal Path, so as Thursday dawned bright and dry it would have been weak and unmilitary not to make the best of our lovely location and take a quick stroll along the coastline. I use the word ‘stroll’ advisedly as setting one foot in front of the other is still a bit of a struggle for me, not least when the path involves conquering the odd contour. Nevertheless we/I managed a mile or so of the cliff-top path which afforded some magnificent views and convinced us that we need to return here to walk more of the coastal path once I’m a little bit further along the way to full recovery.
The drive from mid-Wales down to the Black Mountains was enjoyable; the roads were relatively empty, the scenery was attractive and the sun shone. For the past week we’ve been telling ourselves that we’ve been fortunate with the weather during this trip, but perhaps we’ve had it all wrong and this part of the world isn’t quite as monsoon-prone as we’ve always thought? Naw! The forecasts can’t all be wrong and if/when Atlantic weather comes rolling in towards the UK there’s little doubt that it’s going to drop its lot on this part of Wales first. No matter, as I’ve said before timing is everything and if you can time your visits to avoid the equatorial rainstorms then you’ll be rewarded.
Our final stopover on this adventure was at Pencelli Castle which sits in the River Usk Valley just outside Brecon. The castle is long gone but the campsite that sits in its place is very pleasant and we were once again fortunate with the weather. A short walk along the towpath of the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal in the company of all manner of wildlife was followed by the inaugural ‘firing’ of the portable barbeque that the kids bought for my birthday. Burgers and kebabs have never tasted so good – but we decided not to eat the wildlife!
Having settled the ‘van’ onto the very well-manicured and equally expensive Islawrffordd Campsite for a couple of nights we decided yesterday to ‘let the train take the strain’ and bought a brace of ranger tickets allowing us to explore the coastal railway line that follows the edge of Cardigan Bay, skirting the coastline and stopping at numerous small towns and even smaller villages along the way. The grey landscape and buildings seemed largely to be unaffected by the equally grey weather – perhaps on a bright sunny day it would have been a more uplifting experience, but I doubt it. Not that the place is depressing or dull – just a little bit, well, grey.
We journeyed north past Harlech as far as Pwllheli, did a quick tour of the town, took in a few charity shops, had a coffee and slab of bara brith cake and then hopped back on the train which chugged (I’m old enough to remember the days when trains puffed rather than chugged) its way south, past our starting point of Tal-y-bont, through Barmouth and on to Tywin, which sits on the coast below Cader Idris. There’s not a great deal to do in Tywin, so we took in a couple more charity shops and scoffed a brace of sandwiches from the local Co-op on the promenade whilst looking out for bottle-nosed dolphins – which had obviously decided to stay home for the day. Yes, I know it doesn’t sound very exciting, but we enjoyed our day.
Today was Denise’s birthday, so obviously the wind dropped, the sun shone and the temperature started to rise. Having decided to advance our itinerary by a day we drove south to Aberystwyth which came as a pleasant surprise. Quite why the Victorians decided to establish a place of higher learning in the middle of nowhere I’m not at all sure, but no doubt generations of university students have been extremely grateful for their decision to do so because it’s lovely. Or at least it is when the sun’s shining and there’s ice cream to be eaten.
The surprise of the day was Aberaeron. It seems that at some time in the 1970s one of the residents decided to paint her house a bright shade of something and the idea caught on. Now virtually all the houses in this well-preserved town are painted in bright and contrasting colours and the effect is wonderful. Perhaps because they haven’t allowed the thing to become gaudy or ‘over the top’ the colour scheme just seems to work extremely well and it’s quite uplifting that so many in the community have joined in to make something that obviously gives pleasure to residents and visitors alike.
Tonight we’re staying at Ty Rhos, a small campsite just outside New Quay, which is a pretty and as yet unspoiled harbour village just a little further down the coast. A nice birthday meal in the village followed by a short walk along the harbour breakwater convincing ourselves that we could see bottle-nosed dolphins a good half mile out to sea made for a very pleasant end to a very pleasant day.
There’s no doubt about it, life in the ‘van’ is infinitely more comfortable than camping. No tent to erect, no beds to make, hot and cold running water on demand and, most important of all, a large fridge to keep all that nice wine and beer properly chilled. I’m not at all sure how we’re going to cope if we have to revert to spending nights under canvas with the ‘Tufty Club’. Still, life is full of compromises – so perhaps we’ll just have to get used to occupying our ivory tower and be content to feel superior when necessary.
First stop on our Welsh itinerary was Powis Castle and gardens which proved to be a very worthwhile stopover. In the care of the National Trust since 1957 the castle has been in continuous occupation since the 13th century and was formerly the home of the Herbert family whose alumni, we learned, included Clive of India. The house/castle is fascinating (made even more so through the efforts of the many enthusiastic NT volunteers who were on hand to answer our questions) and certainly worth a visit …… but the gardens are simply sensational!
Timing, of course, is everything and I think that we probably judged our visit to perfection. Just about everything was in bloom and, although we didn’t actually see any gardening staff at work, there must have been dozens of hard working horticulturists running ahead of us just making sure that everything was perfectly prepared for our visit. Highly recommended and perhaps even worth a return visit at some time in the future.
Our second night’s stopover was at Tal-y-bont, just north of Barmouth on Cardigan Bay. With more holiday homes to the acre than it’s possible to calculate without using an abacus this type of location probably wouldn’t be our first choice in high season, but outside the school holidays there’s nothing more raucous about most of these sites than the sound of pensioners gently snoring their way through Coronation Street or Eastenders. It seems that quiet and comfortable has got to be the way forward.
Having thoroughly enjoyed last year’s TSSC trip to Spa we decided that for 2016 we’d ‘double up’ and join in with the Club’s planned trips to both Laon and Le Mans. As we once again planned to camp it was an easy decision to take the Stag, which has enough room to squeeze in essentials such as camp-beds, extra blankets and a comprehensive toolkit.
The attractive provincial French city of Laon sits on one of Picardie’s rocky outcrops just to the north west of Reims, and as the drive from Calais passes through the Somme region we decided that after the Laon events we’d stop off for an extra night in Albert to visit a couple of the July 1916 battlefields.
In company with six other intrepid members of Gloucester TSSC we crossed from Dover early on the Thursday morning and then enjoyed an excellent and fairly uneventful drive through rural France, ending up in the central square at Arras with around five hundred other classics just in time for lunch.
Arriving at our camp site just outside Laon in the late afternoonfate intervened. Having stopped the car for a few minutes to help move a tent I jumped back in again to find that the power steering had packed in. Disaster! The wheel wouldn’t turn at all in one direction and would only move jerkily (a word I never knew existed) in the other. Doom and gloom descended as I made arrangements for the car to be recovered (likely to take weeks), cancelled our stay in Albert and contemplated the prospect of once again attending a classic event without a classic car. Fortunately at that moment a fellow traveller (thanks Matt) made the sensible suggestion to see whether the car would steer with the power steering disconnected. It would – albeit you quickly develop arms like Schwarzenegger.
The rest, as they say, is historique. Saturday involved a 100+km ‘topless’ route through the local countryside, whilst on Sunday everyone congregated in the centre of Laon to show off their cars before tearing through the cobbled streets at high speed whilst the local gendarmerie conveniently looked the other way. Overall a lovely weekend in great company with more than a thousand classic cars as a bonus. Next stop Le Mans – what can possibly go wrong …….?
As Saturday dawned bright and moderately warm we decided to drop the top on the Z3 and drive down to Calne to take a look at the Atwell Wilson Motor Museum which sits on the outskirts of the town. With probably no more than half a dozen other visitors in the building it wasn’t exactly crowded, and it was nice to be able to get up close and personal with some of the exhibits. They have an ‘eclectic’ range of vehicles on display , ranging from the 1920s through to the eighties and most are in pretty good condition.
The only Triumph car on display was a Dolomite Sprint, which was apparently on loan from the Heritage Collection at Canley, though there was a nice little Standard from the late 20’s and a 1920 Triumph 550 motorcycle – which by all accounts was the model that gave Triumph their first success before they went into car manufacturing.
On our way home we stopped at Avebury to get a meal in the pub and then walk round the Stone Circle. Fascinating place (the Circle, not the pub) and much more accessible than Stonehenge – well worth a visit.
We realised last week that the display of 890,000 ceramic poppies currently filling the moat of the Tower of London will be removed after Armistice Day , so rather belatedly we decided to ‘pop’ up to town to take in the spectacle. Having met up with Jennie at Victoria we trooped off down to Monument tube and then walked the last few hundred meters to the Tower in a vain attempt to avoid the worst of the crowds. Some hope! The crowds were ten deep most of the way around the moat and moving around was a bit of a nightmare, but at least everyone was good natured and eventually we found a decent viewpoint. Definitely a worthwhile expedition.
After a brief excursion to Hatton Garden and lunch with Jennie and Nathan we filled a couple of hours before our return journey with a trip to the Tate to take in the Turner Gallery – not entirely unconnected with having seen ‘Mr Turner’ (great film!) at the cinema the evening before. Fabulous seascapes and wonderful light but I have to admit to thinking that his figure painting was a bit rough!
Meanwhile work on the Triumph continues apace. Yesterday afternoon we roped in friends and neighbours to help lift the body off the chassis in anticipation of taking it down to the bodyshop in Gloucester later this week. The chassis itself looks to be in really good condition and I can now get on with the task of sorting out the suspension and steering before I get the re-sprayed body back sometime before Christmas.
I don’t think that cars get jealous, but given the recent arrival of the GT6 it would have been perfectly natural for Bertie to ‘get the hump’ just a little. So when we found out about a classic car event taking place at Sudeley Castle on Sunday we decided that this would be an excellent opportunity to give him an outing. Fortunately we were blessed with a lovely early autumn day and I’m pleased to say that Bertie behaved himself impeccably, making the 35 mile round trip without complaint, though parts of the long and steady climbs up Cleve Hill and Seven Springs had to be tackled in third gear.
No prizes won but we were the oldest of the 180 cars taking part – and its no dishonour to lose out to a 1933 Bentley!
Sudeley is lovely. The one time home and the final resting place of Katherine Parr, the gardens are very attractive and the house/castle houses a nice little museum which is certainly worth a visit.
I don’t think that you could consider either of us to be regular festival goers. Denise had never been to one before, and the last time that I let my hair down (metaphorically) at a ‘pop’ festival was on the Isle of Wight in 1969 – at this rate I shall be 107 just in time for my third festival attendance. Though I have to say that we enjoyed Cropredy so much that we may just shorten that cycle by a few years.
For those who don’t know (and why should you?) Fairport Convention have run annual gatherings in the Oxfordshire village of Cropredy for the past four decades, with growing attendances which this year topped 20,000 for most of the three days. Not being entirely familiar with the style and flavour of other such events (unfortunately I simply can’t remember anything about the Isle of Wight – such was the devastating effect of too much cider!) we can’t really make comparisons, but suffice to say that this was a really chilled experience in the company of lots of like-minded Saga members – in some cases accompanied by their children, grandchildren and pets.
The weather was reasonably kind and the site, which straddles the Oxford Canal, is lovely – lots of scope for walks and for getting away from the music if and when it all gets just a touch too much. The music ……….. oh yes, that was pretty good too. An interesting mix of folk and prog rock and quite a few things in-between – really nothing that we could take exception to, and quite a few acts that we’d probably be happy to see again – if only we could remember what they were ………… well, with cider being sold in four pint milk cartons, what do you expect?
After an almost unbroken two-month long spell of good weather it was probably inevitable that for the few days we chose to go camping in Scotland the clouds would gather and we’d have a few spots of rain to remind us that British weather really can’t be trusted. Although ‘north of the border’ probably wouldn’t have been our first choice for a few days away, I have to admit that our destination, Kirkcudbright, on the northern shore of the Solway Firth, turned out to be a beautiful and interesting little spot that was well worth the journey.
The occasion for the visit was an opportunity to celebrate Jennie’s birthday in company with her and Nathan and to have an opportunity to get to know Steve, Ann, Jan and Gordon – the prospective ‘outlaws’. As it turned out, the weather threatened rather more than it delivered and we were able to get out and about and see something of what the area has to offer. Kirkcudbright has an interesting history, not least as the destination of choice for many of Scotland’s early and mid-twentieth century painters – notably the so called ‘Glasgow Girls’; the town celebrates this connection with a series of exhibitions and a huge number of small galleries where their work can be seen and bought. Fascinating stuff and a couple of hours very well spent on Saturday afternoon prior to the ‘crabbing’ grudge match in which Gordon, more or less ably assisted by Denise, produced an outstanding performance to catch no less than 48 crabs in the space of around an hour! Jacques Cousteau could have done no better.
Sunday was an equally relaxed affair involving an afternoon visit to a local wildlife park followed by an evening beach barbeque accompanied by a little singing and guitar playing. (note to self … next time learn some songs before you go!)
A quick round of ‘pitch and putt’ on Monday morning gave Jennie yet another opportunity to demonstrate her competitive spirit before we had to say our fond farewells to our fellow campers and set off for home. Altogether a very pleasant long weekend in good company and in a lovely part of Scotland – who knows, next time we go we may have to take our passports!
….holiday blogs, motoring obsessions and a general account of life in the Ewbank household…..