Category Archives: Travels in the Van

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

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!

It’s not Sideria its Cider!

Tuesday’s weather was a touch disappointing with frequent rain showers and not much sunshine – as a result we stayed close to the van for much of the day, though we did manage to take an afternoon walk into Las Arenas which, in common with most small Spanish towns at that time of day, was shut. Where the Spanish go in the afternoon must be one of the world’s great mysteries – surely they can’t all be taking siestas?

In the evening we strolled down to a local bar for a quick local sideria.  The local custom seems to be that cider is poured in such a way as to create a head of froth, which we assume must improve the taste somehow.  In some restaurants waiters hold the bottle aloft and make a show of tipping the bottle from a great height, taking pride in their ability to catch the stream of liquid without spilling a drop.  As we were in an especially classy establishment, however, our hostess went one better and provided us with a two foot tall wooden model of a waiter which, on the push of a button, squirted the contents of our bottle of cider across the table, filling our glasses with unerring accuracy.  You just can’t beat style!

This morning we drove the 6km up to Poncebos and took the funicular up to the tiny hamlet of Bulnes which sits high in the mountains at the foot of the 2,519m Naranjo de Bulnes, one of the highest peaks in the Picos.  The funicular is a remarkable bit of engineering as it runs entirely inside the mountain for some 2,200m, lifting visitors and provisions some 450m up to Bulnes .  The hamlet looks as though it hasn’t changed much in the last few hundred years – apart, that is, from the bars and Coca Cola adverts.  Unfortunately the clouds refused to allow us a clear view of the mountains which was a tad frustrating after forking out for what I suspect must be Spain’s most expensive 16 minute return railway journey.

 

Schadenfreude!

We stayed a couple of nights at Playa Penarronda and would probably have stayed for longer if the weather had held out, but as the forecast for Sunday was wet we decided that it was better to be motoring than to be sat cooped-up in the van all day. This time we opted to follow the motorway, partly because the weather was rubbish for sightseeing but mainly because there’s no toll on that particular stretch and it’s really the only decent road along that bit of Costa Verde coastline.  Around Aviles we started to run into areas of heavy industry, which came as a bit of a surprise after the very rural areas we’d been travelling through, but the coast around the Cabo de Peñas is mercifully unspoiled and the views from around the lighthouse there are to die for.
On Sunday evening we sat in on a concert for local kids in the church at San Jorge de Hevas, which was a relatively short route-march from our campsite at Bañugues.  Not quite the equivalent of ‘Spain’s Got Talent’ but probably all the more enjoyable for that.

Yesterday (Monday) we carried on heading east, cutting inland towards the Picos de Europa which rise to more than 2600m and provide an impressive backdrop to the coastal strip.  We had lunch at Cangas de Onis, with its impressive Roman bridge, before eventually finding last night’s campsite at Las Arenas.  Unfortunately the weather today is pants – the only minor consolation being that we’re in a relatively (despite my recent modifications) weathertight van whilst some of our fellow campsite residents are under canvas.  This is my new definition of schadenfreude.

Back in ‘Ze Washing Machine’

Santiago de Compostela was unfortunately a bit of a washout.  We knew from early in the day that the weather for our visit was going to be ‘poor’, but that turned out to be a bit of an understatement.  Virtually from the moment we arrived the clouds opened and as we walked through the heart of the city and approached the cathedral the rain literally cascaded down the streets and poured off the rooftops.  Timing, as they say, is everything and our other disappointment came as we entered the cathedral expecting to experience its glorious baroque interior only to find that we’d timed our visit to coincide with a major refurbishment which effectively screened off virtually everything of interest.  Now, if we were disappointed just imagine how you’d feel if you arrived in Santiago soaked to the skin and very footsore from your several hundred mile pilgrimage only to find that the builders were in! Still, that’s faith for you.

The view from ‘ze washing machine’

After a spot of essential drying-out we drove the 60 or so miles to Lugo which boasts the most complete and impressive Roman city wall in Spain.  Built in the 3rd Century AD, at 15-20m high and nearly 3km long it provides an excellent footpath around the heart of the city though, as our Rough Guide pointed out, unfortunately the views of, and from the wall are a bit disappointing.

This morning (Friday), after a brief exploration of Lugo and a perambulation around its walls, we drove up to Spain’s northern coast and were fortunate to find a lovely little campsite at Playa Penarronda which is just to the east of Ribadeo.  Once again we’re camped/parked within yards of the beach and able to enjoy the fabulous scenery and impressive breakers as they storm their way up the beach.

Sanxenxo

We’d originally considered staying an extra day near Cangas but as the weather forecast wasn’t brilliant we decided to make best use of the day and move a little further up the coast.  We included a brief visit to Pontevedra, where one of Columbus’s ships is supposed to have sailed from, and where some people think he may have originated. The old part of town is pleasant with some interesting lanes and buildings, and once again we found ourselves on a Camino with the ‘Way’ marked by brass scallop shells set into the pavements, though this time there were fewer pilgrims in evidence.

We exhausted our first gas bottle quite early in the holiday and have been a bit nervous about running out of gas altogether as there’s apparently no way to refill our Calor bottles in Spain or Portugal; so for the last few stops we’ve tended to look for sites that provide electricity so that we don’t have to run the fridge on our remaining gas.  Fortunately the tiny site we’ve found at Pragueira near Sanxenxo has electricity – no toilets, showers or anything else, but it does at least provide electricity.  Our van is parked about 10 metres from the beach with absolutely stunning views of the surrounding coastline and the Isla de Ons which dominates the entrance to the Ria de Pontevedra. Whilst the days are still mainly sunny the westerly wind has had a bit of a bite to it for the last couple of days and the temperature has dropped to the mid to high teens – in fact, just like any English summer.  Hopefully we’ll get a bit more warmth shortly, though frankly we’re more than happy with what we’ve got.


This morning we took a walk along the beach looking into the hundreds of the rock pools created as the tide receded, then sat on the beach while Denise produced a nice little watercolour of the bay and the hills opposite.