Category Archives: Travel

Whitby, Flamborough and Hull (Again)

As it happens Pickering is the start point (or end point, depending upon whether you’re coming or going) of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, so it would have been downright rude to have visited this wonderful part of the country without taking a trip to Whitby (and back) on a steam train.  One of the (few) good things about the pandemic has been that certain attractions that would normally be crammed with fellow holidaymakers have actually been fairly quiet – so we were able to enjoy our trip down memory lane in relative space and comfort. 
Unfortunately we weren’t able to say the same about Whitby which was heaving with crowds of visitors, not one of whom seemed to have heard about social distancing or mask wearing.  No wonder we’re in the realms of a third (or is it fourth) wave of infections.  Still, mustn’t grumble….. that’s the spirit.  A quick trip around the abbey (not a vampire to be seen) followed by fish and chips sat on the quayside rounded off the visit before we slowly chugged our way back to Pickering and our little ‘home from home on wheels’.
Next stop on our blitzkrieg tour of Yorkshire was Flamborough Head – scene of Thomas Robinson Ewbank’s (my 4 x Gt Grandfather) minor maritime triumph when, in 1805, as skipper of the Sarah and Elizabeth (a Hull based whaler), he saw off a dastardly attack on local shipping by a French privateer.  Of course I was surprised and disappointed that there was no plaque to commemorate the event, but this was slightly mollified by being able to watch the resident puffins, gannets and razorbills that inhabit the impressive cliffs in large numbers.

Extract from ‘The Hull Packet’ of 29th July 1805

Whilst in the neighbourhood we took the opportunity to visit the lovely house and gardens at Burton Agnes.  The walled garden was spectacular, combining fabulous planting with a huge range of fruits and vegetables – and once again the absence of crowds made the visit a real pleasure.

As someone who has a long term interest in his family history, it would have been unthinkable to visit the East Riding without making just a fleeting visit to Hull to dig up (metaphorically, of course) the relatives.  I already knew that Spring Bank Cemetery, where a number of my forebears are allegedly resting, was reputed to be in a bit of a state, but the reality still came as a bit of a shock.  It’s a massive space in the centre of the city but sadly it clearly hasn’t been maintained at all since it was last used in the early seventies.  With trees and bushes covering pretty much the entire area virtually all of the grave stones are broken or have fallen over – in fact this would have been a much better place than Whitby for Bram Stoker to have made Dracula’s home.  By some miracle we stumbled over the last resting place of Thomas Steel and Harriet Ewbank but I don’t doubt that in a year or two’s time that too will have been lost to nature.  Shame on Hull City Council (or whoever’s responsible) for allowing a graveyard to fall into such a state.  Rant over.

Oh, we do like to be beside the Seaside ………

In point of fact we didn’t start our latest ‘adventure’ at the seaside – that comes a little further down the page.  This time the start point of our ‘vanathon’ has brought us to ‘God’s country’, home of the Yorkshire Pudding, Yorkshire Tea (I’ve never really understood that one) and Matthewson’s Classic Car Auctions. 

Now, as everyone knows, I’m a man of iron will and the proven ability to resist any temptation – except when it comes to car buying.  So before visiting the hallowed home of ‘Bangers and Cash’ I had to make a binding promise to myself to keep my bidding arm firmly by my side.  As it turned out I needn’t have bothered as all the bidding for their July auction was online and anyway there was virtually nothing on offer to lead me into temptation ….that’s if you discount a brace of well-constructed Batmobiles and around three hundred other likely candidates for the Ewbank stable.  In any event it was an interesting visit and we managed to get away with no purchases – not even a mug featuring that great truism “There’s Dad’s Way, and then there’s Dad’s Way”.

I’m sure there must be an unwritten law somewhere that you can’t visit East Yorkshire without visiting the seaside.  That said, even with the new E-bike I think that I’d have found cycling from Pickering to Scarborough a bit of a test – and just how Denise would have kept up without the benefit of electrical assistance is anybody’s guess.  Fortunately, we were able to take the bus from just outside our campsite via Malton all the way to Scarborough and enjoy seeing this part of the lovely Yorkshire Wolds from the upper deck.  Once in the town, a walk along the beach to see the donkeys was followed by a quick paddle in the briny and we were lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins playing in the bay. 

The promenade itself has lost much of its Victorian splendour, and I’m not sure that my grandmother and father, who lived here for a while in the 20s and 30s would recognise much, but once you get away from the seafront the town still has lots of charm and the castle that overlooks the town and dominates the coastline is well worth a visit.  

So What Happened Next?

The trouble with keeping an ‘occasional’ blog is not knowing what to include and how often it should be updated; I have a tendency to miss some notable experiences or events completely, and then to spend too much time (too many words) describing things that I’ll look back on later and wonder ‘why on earth did I write about that?’.

Anyway, having failed at the time to capture the remainder of our latest trip ‘ooop north’ I thought that I’d better do a quick catch-up before we set off again on our travels.

For our last full day in the Lakes we were fortunate to enjoy a sunny day for our boat trip down Windermere, which provided great views of some of the lovely, and no doubt extremely expensive, houses lining its eastern shore. SS Tern on Lake WindermereLeaving Cumbria we drove the sixty or so miles south to visit Cleve and Claire Forty in their new (to them) home on the West Pennine Moors above Bolton – an area of open moorland and numerous reservoirs that neither of us had previously explored.  It was good to catch up with old friends, enjoy their generous hospitality and to hear their exciting plans for their new home – good luck with that!

Denise, Cleve, Claire and Wanda the dog

A rather attractive old ruin (the building!) on the hillside facing Cleve and Claire’s new pad.

One of the reasons for visiting Lancashire (which as most Yorkshiremen know is unfortunately on the wrong side of the Pennines) was to become better acquainted with the area surrounding Ormskirk where many of my mother’s ancestors hailed from.  We managed to pick a nice little campsite just outside Burscough about half a mile from the Leeds/Liverpool Canal, which is vastly more attractive than the name suggests.  The towpath provided an excellent cycle path to some of the surrounding villages so once again we were able to spend several ‘happy’ hours wandering through local churchyards visiting long dead relatives!   

The Lake District

I suppose the clue’s in the name.  If you visit a place that’s renowned for its lakes, rivers and lush green scenery you can probably expect to get the odd drop of rain from time to time – so for the last few days leading up to this trip we’ve been watching the weather forecast and hoping that the recent run of dreadful weather (apparently the wettest May on record) would come to an end.  It was a bit of an inauspicious start as we motored our way up the M5/M6 between torrential downpours interspersed with short periods of brilliant sunshine, but our arrival in Hawkshead coincided with a break in the clouds and we were able to sit outside a local pub and enjoy a pint.  As it was the first time we’d been able to do so for about 18 months it tasted especially good.

Hawkshead sits (or ‘nestles’ as they say in the guidebooks) midway between Windermere and Coniston Water and is an especially pretty little village with what appears to have one of the highest concentrations of pubs in the land.  Its other claim to fame is the little known (unless, of course, you happen to live or work here) fact that it’s where William Wordsworth went to school – there, now you know it too!

Yesterday (Tuesday) morning we met James and Esther Brown and their children for a quick coffee before they had to high-tail it back home at the end of their short holiday break – by coincidence they happened to be visiting the area for a few days so the opportunity for a quick catch up was too good to miss.  In the afternoon we risked the elements and walked about five miles up to Outgate and around Blelham Tarn which provided some nice views of the surrounding countryside and across to the mountains in the northern lakes.

This morning started with the usual and predictable downpour, but once the skies cleared we managed a walk in the other direction through Hawkshead and up towards Esthwaite Water which, after a bit of a climb, took us through a large area of Forestry Commission land before providing us with some more nice views and great scenery.  This afternoon was an opportunity for some R&R followed by the usual French and Spanish lessons courtesy of DuoLingo – are we creatures of habit, or what?

Off we go – again…

Our (my) close encounter with a Portuguese wall during our 2019 travels left the van with a few wounds that needing tending.  Unfortunately these dragged on while spares were sourced from Germany and ultimately meant that we didn’t get to use it again last year.  Then the arrival of the pandemic in early Spring and subsequent lockdown kept us at home for the early summer before the return of the family from Germany meant that we were happy to stay home until August had come and gone.

Come September, however, and  it was time to get back out on the road and see whether the British weather would hold out long enough for a few short trips away.  

A three day trip to North Wales provided us with an opportunity to make a flying visit to the family in Bramhall before  we  headed out to Aberafon on the Llyn Peninsular for a couple of nights.  The first evening was an interesting experience with 50+ mph winds and driving rain, but the following day brought some welcome sunshine and we enjoyed a nice walk to the tiny harbour at Trefor.

The view from Aberafon campsite
The view from Aberafon campsite

Trefor HarbourThe next day we headed back along the coast, stopping briefly to do a bit of family history research at Rhuddlan and taking in Carmarthen and Conwy along the way.  An overnight stop at Ruthin on the edge of the Clwydian range of hills took us into an area that we hadn’t previously visited and ended a short but enjoyable break away from home.

For our second trip we’d planned to visit the Devon coast but it seemed that everybody had the same idea and we struggled to find a decent campsite close by the sea that had space, so we eventually settled on a three day stay at the Dart Valley Country Park on the southern edge of the Dartmoor National Park near Buckfast Abbey.   On the way we stopped briefly for an icecream at the lovely little seaside town of Teignmouth which looks as though it will be worth a longer visit some time in the future.  One spectacle we hadn’t expected to see was the plethora (fleet?) of cruise liners at anchor out in the bay – one has to wonder when anyone will want to be cooped up on-board ship in close proximity to thousands of others? Not for me, thanks.

Yesterday we cycled the few miles across to Buckfast Abbey which is a lovely site and a remarkable achievement for the community of Benedictine monks who spent thirty odd years building it.

Dragonfly at The Dart Valley Country Park
You’re never far away from nature in the ‘van’

Buckfast Abbey

So long Europe – its been good to know you ….

We’ve just returned from spending a few lovely days with the ‘Ewbanks of Nurnberg’  on what seems quite likely to have been our last trip to the Continent as true members of the European Community.  In years to come I’m quite sure that we’ll look back on this time and wonder to ourselves just how we (as a country) could have been so very stupid and short-sighted.  Still, nothing especially new there …. as a nation we seem to be experts at the stupid and short-sighted.

Germany is remarkable.  Whilst we should of course be wary of spending too much time looking back over our shoulders, you do have to wonder how over the past 70 years they’ve pulled themselves up by their collective bootstraps to become a rich and confident nation whilst Britain has become a faded, bitter and introspective laughing stock.  Still, mustn’t grumble eh?  That’s the spirit ….

It was great to be able to spend some time with the family and to see the twins getting stronger whilst Gretel develops into a bright and lively (to say nothing of determined) young lady.  No doubt they’ll all have a few more challenges along the way but at least Richard and Collette have a chance now to look up and see some light at the end of the tunnel – without wondering whether its a train approaching.

Nurnberg looked at its very best amongst the Christkindel celebrations and it was good to see large numbers of visitors enjoying Europe at its best.  Not like …… still, better not start that again.

Wild Horses Couldn’t Drag them Away!

Our recent visit to the family in Nurnberg just happened to coincide with the Christkindlesmarkt which is both a bad thing and a good thing. On the one hand the city is full and so accommodation is at a premium, and on the other hand it’s a perfect excuse for drinking gluhwein and eating bratwurst!

Our  apartment was in the city centre, which isn’t really the sort of place you’d expect to find riding stables, but these two intrepid riders managed to catch a quick ride on a passing pony!

The Taming of the Screw/Nut/Bolt ……….

With autumn well and truly under way, and with the prospect of several months of short, cold and potentially miserable winter days looming, we made a spur of the moment decision to visit the Italian city of Padua where, by spookey coincidence, one of Europe’s largest classic car shows just happened to be taking place.

Padua, as many will know, was the setting for several of Shakespeare’s plays, including The Taming of the Shrew in which the ‘hero’ makes a bit of a hash of persuading the ‘heroine’ of his good intentions.  Fortunately Denise needs no persuasion when it comes to holiday trips and even the prospect of a day spent watching me drool over exotic Italians (cars, that is) didn’t put her off the idea of a short winter break.

Our original plan to say in the heart of the city went awry when our AirBnB hosts cancelled our booking a couple of days before our departure.  Our second booking was more successful but  resulted in our accomodation being several miles off the beaten track; fortunately the local bus services were frequent and reliable – not at all what we’re used to!

Padua is an ancient university town with plenty of impressive buildings (unsuprisingly many of which are churches) and plenty to see and do.  As well as enjoying some lovely weather we managed to fit in a visit to the City’s botanic gardens, a viewing of some Giotto frescos and a trip out of town to Villa Pisano.The Auto d’Epoca show was enormous – at least as big as the Classic Car Show at the NEC and with some stunning vehicles both for sale and on show.  Inevitably most of the cars were Italian, but we did manage to find a few Triumphs among the Ferraris, Maseratis and numerous Fiats, Lancias and Alfas of all shapes and sizes.

Gaudi and the Whale

On Tuesday we got an email from Brittany Ferries explaining that due to mechanical problems with the ferry our return destination had been changed to Plymouth instead of Portsmouth.  This turned out to be a bit of a mixed blessing as, given that we’d already just about done everything and been everywhere that we’d planned, it gave us the opportunity to bring forward our return by a few days. So, unexpectedly we found ourselves on the last couple of days of our holiday.

Leaving the Picos we headed north towards the narrow coastal plain and the small town of Comillas which boasts the ‘Capricho’, one of the few houses outside Catalonia to have been designed by Antoni Gaudi, some of whose work we’d seen when visiting Barcelona a number of years ago.  We spent a pleasant hour or so wandering around the villa which, as well as being architecturally unique (and not a bit whacky), contains some beautifully made art nouveau furniture – fantastic to look at, but wholly impractical to live with.
We stayed that night at a camperstop just to the south of Santander near Cabárceno on the edge of the Nature Park, which turned out to be a large naturalised space reclaimed from a former open cast mine.   According to the website:  “The natural park is home to a hundred animal species from five continents living in semi-free conditions, which are distributed in large enclosures where one or more species coexist.   Except for food provided to them, the rest of the animal’s activities are marked by their almost total freedom. Almost all of them trigger fights and mating season struggles for control of females.”   Sounds just like parts of the Cotswolds!

On Thursday morning the weather had improved a little, which made for a pleasant and fairly simple two-hour drive along the coast to Bilbao’s port from where we’d started our holiday some four weeks earlier.  This time we’d been given a four birth cabin which meant that Denise didn’t have to sleep on the upper bunk with her nose pressed against the ceiling.  Once again the Bay of Biscay was almost a flat calm and to her immense excitement, and making a perfect end to the holiday, Denise was convinced that she saw a whale – I knew that buying her that glass on wine was a mistake!