This is my original blog – all my blogs  since I started in 2009 - are here including those from The Ale Archive – all the beers I’ve sampled at home and on our travels since 2012.
 
Since 2012 most of our travel has involved a caravan. I now have a specific caravanning blog called (Get Your) Legs Down which not only documents all our trips but includes product reviews, site listings, storage locations, mobile service engineers and much more. It too is on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The Tour pt 17 - Are we there yet?

No, we’re not there yet, though the end is getting mercifully near for those who feel obliged to read this rubbish. We are on our penultimate stop of the trip - at Much Wenlock in Shropshire having met up with our friends Graham & Robert who will be travelling with us down to Cambridge at the weekend. So, here we go with the usual catch up and I’ll try not to mention the weather. Much.

Wednesday afternoon.Having bombarded you with the previous episode of drivel in the morning we headed out in the afternoon to Betws-y-coed to have a look at the waterfalls.

They were certainly pretty without being jaw droppingly spectacular. The admission fee to see something that was natural irked me a bit but they had certainly created a lovely setting. A great place to sit and chill or read - unless you are being attacked from all sides by malicious pollen intent on making your life a misery that is.

Thursday. Rain. Now there’s a surprise. Shopping first in the morning, then a drive west and south to Trawsfynydd (yeah, I couldn’t pronounce it either). Trev’s cousins and Aunty were due at their log cabin down there at some point and we hoped to meet up. There was no sign of them on our arrival so we  continued south and out to the coast via Barmouth. There was some lovely beaches along this stretch of coastline that only needed some lovely weather to be fully enjoyed. Oh well. We done a complete circle but with no sign of aforementioned rellies on our return to the cabin, adjourned to the nearest pub for some refreshment. After  a half hour or so we tried again but there was still no sign of them, and with no way of contacting them we headed home to Patsy.

Friday. Rain. Repetitive isn’t it? It was windy as well. We done pretty much nothing all day, apart from wait for the weather to break so we could take the awning down and pack it away. Every time there was a lull in the maelstrom and we went outside to begin demolition the rain and wind returned with increasing ferocity. It was early evening before  the awning was safely dismantled and packed away, though still damp.

Saturday and time to move on, and a small step closer to home. Much Wenlock was the destination and the fifty-five miles or so passed easily, successfully locating what was Wales’ only pot hole on an otherwise excellent road network on the way. The site was easy to find, located on the edge of this quaint little town and we were soon sited. Graham and Robert had already arrived, making the much longer journey from London so they were on tea duty which was gratefully received.

The rain had gone, at least for a while but the wind made putting up the awning difficult. On the first attempt it nearly took off taking Patsy with it. We adjourned for a cuppa prompting a immediate cessation of the gusting wind. It returned of course on the second attempt half an hour or so later, but with pegs and mallet in hand we were ready for it. The rain didn’t return until later when the four of us had come back from the pub, but for some strange reason, hardly noticed it!

Sunday. Amazingly it managed to stay dry all day. Some friends had driven down for the day so the six of us spent most of the day drinking coffee and chatting, apart from the lunchtime period when the liquid was changed for something else as we graced one of the local hostelries with our custom, followed by a stroll around the town. The evening entertainment was nothing less than predictable as England went out, yet again, on penalties.

Monday. Dry and actually quite warm too. The flipside of this was that the pollen levels had soared and hay fever was doing it’s best to make my life a misery despite the ingress of  various pills, drops and sprays. Trev went off to visit aforementioned cousins and Aunty while I went food shopping with the others. Dinner that night was at our place and the bbq cooked some lovely gammon steaks. I just interfered by turning them over once in a while. We even managed to eat outside - a an extreme rarity on this trip. The gas cylinder, in use since we started this caravanning lark back in March decided to remind us of it’s presence by running out half way through. Changeover was easy though and considering how much it had been used, had lasted remarkably well.

Sightseeing resumed on Tuesday with a train ride from Telford in to Birmingham. The train ride was only forty minutes or so, taking us in to the heart of ‘Brum’ at New Street. The famous Bull Ring was right around the corner and considering it was raining that was our first port of call. Browsing and lunching completed, we braved the wet, muggy elements again at least as far as the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, which provided an interesting (and free) diversion for an hour or so whilst the skies cleared. A boat ride on the canal was next, before debriefing (not literally)  and thirst quenching late afternoon. A good day out all though of course, being Britain the weather could have been kinder.

So, just about up to date. Laundry duty this morning but little else planned for the day. It’s dry and warm though cloudy, so the sunbathing will have to wait a little longer.

Oh well, not much longer to go now. Cambridge beckons on Sunday for a fortnight then it’s back to what hopefully will be, sunny Saltdean. Hmm.

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Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Tour pt 16 - Letting the train take the strain

Good morning. Well it was when I started this. Morning that is. Having lulled us in to believing that maybe, just maybe, summer is on the way the last couple of days, the rain has returned. Again. Anyway, we are in Denbighshire, near Corwen on a lovely little, but sadly nearly empty site and are here until the weekend when we cross the border back to England for our penultimate stop of the trip.

Right, catch up time. We had two full days in Anglesey and If I was to sum them up by saying we drove around and it rained it wouldn’t be too far from the truth. It certainly won’t go down as the most enjoyable stop of the trip, largely because of the weather but anyway, here goes.

Thursday, and at least a dry start. We called first at the lovely neat town of Beaumaris before  crossing the Menai bridge and paused for photo’s, at the beautiful Menai Strait below. Next up was Caernafon, wedged between the Strait and the Snowdonian mountains it is the castle that is the draw here and of note because of it is where Charlie boy was invested as Prince of Wales in 1969. The largely nationalist locals where apparently not entirely enthralled by the prospect of having big ears foisted upon them and tried to blow up his train. Or so the story goes.

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We continued south, skirting the Snowdonia national park and calling at Portmadog for a cuppa. It is here that two of Wales’ narrow gauge railways converge at a charming little station by the harbour. We stopped for a snack and a cuppa and watched a few trains come and go. We took a slightly different route back; through part of the national park and following roughly one of the little railway lines. The road was narrower and twistier but the scenery was stunning. At least it was when the windscreen wipers had cleared the water off the screen for long enough to see it.

A friend had recommended a pub by the newer of the two bridges crossing the strait back to Anglesey. We called in for a pint on the way back and  it was one of the nicest, and certainly cheapest pints we’ve had. Cheers for that Kev!

Friday. We didn’t have to wait for the rain to start today, but undeterred we headed out again, this time to Bangor, right on the corner of North Wales. Now I’m sure the weather didn’t help but it wasn’t the most memorable of stops. Pretty depressing in fact. In desperation and driving rain we went to Holyhead on the tip of Anglesey and the gateway, at least by ferry, to Ireland. Well, if Bangor was depressing, Holyhead was suicidal. There was lots of boarded up shops and the whole area had a feeling of decay about it. Possibly part of the reason for this lay a little further back along the A55 in the shape of a massive retail park. Town planners give the go ahead for these massive out of town retail parks then wonder why town centres suffer. Muppets.

A little light relief came later on, thankfully. Anglesey is home to that town with the absurdly long place name that only those blessed with an acrobatic Welsh tongue have any hope of pronouncing  properly. Even in the wind and rain, there was no shortage of tourists like us taking pictures. So, here it is, something long to try and wrap your tounge around: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Thank gawd for ‘copy and paste’!

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Saturday and time to leave, and course it was raining. Lots. There was no way that the car would have hauled Patsy off the sodden grass so we positioned the car with the front wheels on the tarmac road and motor moved Patsy towards the car, keeping the weight off the jockey wheel to stop it burying itself in the quagmire. It went surprisingly well. We got hitched up, completed the pre flight checks then went to have a hot shower and defrost.

After our ‘welcome’ on arrival at the site I wasn’t exactly expecting hugs and kisses as I went to hand our key in on departure and I wasn’t disappointed. A ‘good morning’ and a ring of the bell above the door announced my arrival in reception but the warden, who had been joined by an accomplice were clearly engrossed in a print out in front of them. I waited patiently for a couple of minutes thinking at least one of them would acknowledge my presence but clearly the aforementioned print out was more important. I placed the keys on the counter in front of them  and left.

It was only 55 miles to the next site but felt like 150. The weather was truly appalling and I’m glad Trev was driving. The rain fell heavily and water gushed down mountainsides, over walls and on to the road. Several places had already flooded. The worst journey of the trip so far, but we arrived unscathed and received the far more usual pleasant welcome. The site was about the smallest we have been on - just 35 or so pitches, but one of the nicest. The rain eased as we set up for the week. How thoughtful of it.

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No sightseeing Sunday, but it was largely dry so we got the awning up and Patsy and even the car got a much needed wash. Plenty of departures from the site today and there are now only five vans here. It’s a shame because it is a lovely spot but perhaps slightly out of the way, although given the the fact that all caravanners by necessity have a means of transport with them it shouldn't be a factor.

Monday, and back on the tourist trail, this time to the summit of Snowdon via the pricey but thoroughly enjoyable mountain railway. It takes an hour or so on the little narrow gauge rack and pinion railway built by the Victorians. Nowadays diesel engines share the load with their steam counterparts but it’s a great trip nonetheless. We were in fact planning to do this whilst in Anglesey but it was all booked up. Just as well given what the weather would have been like. The views from the summit are of course stunning, looking out on some of the most beautiful scenery in Britain. We paused for coffee and a toastie in one of the many cafes at the village below before heading back. The drive to and from was without doubt one of the prettiest we have done and the most enjoyable, suicidal tailgating Celts notwithstanding. Something else worth a mention too are the roads. Whilst some are narrow by necessity they are well maintained - Scotland take note. This may however be due in part to local councils charging for parking at every opportunity. In one place, even to stop for a couple of photo’s was going to cost us - ‘you pull in, you pay’ should be the motto. They need to watch that they don’t overdo this and put people off coming.

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Tuesday. another train today, but this time on a more conventional one, from Betws-y-Coed up to Llandudno to meet up with friends. The journey was pleasant going through yet more stunning countryside and picture postcard village though I do feel that after nine weeks I’m beginning too grow immune to all this. We were however pleasantly surprised by Llandudno - as smart and as tidy as Eastbourne but with a younger clientele. We stopped first for coffee and bacon butties at our favourite restaurant, (er, Greggs), then checked out Llandudno’s little pier. At the end of the pier some fishermen were checking out their tackle too.

Next on the tourist trail was the tram that takes you from the edge of the town centre up through winding little streets to the nature reserve up at Great Orme. You get a great view of the town and surrounding area and it is a great place to stop for a picnic. If you don’t have Hayfever that is. We are moving in to that time of year when the various pollens combine forces to try and make my life a misery. A collection of drops. sprays and puffers, combined with living on the coast usually keeps things at bay, but I was a little caught out up here.

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Medicinal refreshment was clearly nearby and an excuse, sorry, opportunity presented itself as we met up with friends for drinks. Chris (a.k.a Mad Aunty) and Brian made Llanddudno their home some fourteen years ago and still love it. We had a good catch up and went back to their place for coffee before heading back to the train and home. All in all a great day out.

Well, as I finished up now, the rain has gone and the sun is out. Long may it last, though if the weathermen are right, I doubt it! This afternoon, all being well we are going in to Betws-y-Coed to check out the waterfalls.

On Saturday we move to Much Wenlock to meet up with  friends who will be joining us in their vans too.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Tour pt 15 - Sweet and sour

Well, time is marching on. We are now over two months in to our trip with just over a month to go.  We are now back in Wales; in Anglesey for a few days before heading back south and east. We’ve had more fun with the barbeque, a couple of great days out and a less than friendly welcome at our current site. So, here goes with the usual catch up.

Having had a quick drive around the outskirts of Chester Sunday afternoon and a couple of less than memorable pints, we decided to forgo pub grub and head back and play with our new toy. Burgers and spuds were procured along some Sauv Blanc to wash it down with. I cooked again and having now used a barbeque precisely twice in my lifetime, am now clearly an expert. Well, the burgers were good - nearly as good as the wine in fact. As far as I can remember anyway.

Monday, and a later than planned start due in no small part to foolishly opening the second bottle last night. However, with the barbeque once again pressed in to service - at this rate it will be worn out before we get home - a couple of bacon sarnies later we felt much better. Nothing like a bit of salt and grease to liven you up after a night on the grog.

Destination: Liverpool. I’ve never been before though Trev had many many years ago. Home of course of the Beatles, sharp wit and accents you could cut yourself on. We got the bus from the Cheshire Oaks Outlet Centre just across the road and travelled up past Ellesmere Port, going under the Mersey at Birkenhead.

The hop-on/hop-off bus tour was the only choice really as it required the least physical and mental exertion. We’ve done a number of these tours and not just on this trip and, in some of the smaller cities, they struggle to find interesting things to show you and tell you about. Not on this one. First up was ‘Paddy’s Wigwam’ as the locals call it, more correctly known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the er (checks leaflet) King or Liverpool's main Catholic Cathedral. As you will see it’s certainly not an ancient monument but quite impressive nonetheless. Apparently over half of the country's Catholics come under the diocese of Liverpool. 

‘And in the Red Corner’ was another house of God, this time in the superlative laden Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. It is (takes virtual deep breath) Britain's largest church,  the worlds largest Anglican cathedral, has the worlds third largest bell - which has the worlds highest and heaviest peal - and the organ, with it’s 9765 pipes is the worlds largest operational one. And all this was designed by the man who gave us Southwark Power Station and the dear old red telephone box - one Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. Phew!

We got off and the redeveloped Albert Dock area, now home to drinkeries, eateries, Tate Liverpool and the Maritime Museum which was our destination. Some excellent displays and exhibitions including one detailing gay life at sea - interesting and honest though I’m sure it didn’t tell the whole story. As interesting  and more important was the whole floor given over to the slave trade of which Liverpool played such a central role. Informative and very disturbing. A must if you come to Liverpool.

We paused to take in the magnificent view of the ‘Three Graces’ - that is the Liver, Cunard and former Port of Liverpool buildings. Perched on top of the Liver building, but securely anchored down are two mythical liver birds. Legend has it that if these birds topple, then Liverpool will sink in to the Mersey, hence the sturdy securing rods. I reckon it’s to stop ‘em getting nicked…

No tour of Liverpool would be complete without a mention or ten of The Beatles. The bus took us past Matthew Street, home of the original Cavern Club. That is no more, although there is a young pretender in it’s place. This whole pedestrianised area is awash with pubs, clubs and musical instrument shops and is a popular draw for nocturnal revellers.

The visit was completed with, what else but a ferry across the Mersey - or should that be fairies across the Mersey?

Tuesday, and Chester, and what a delightful city. We done a hop-on/hop-off bus again, breaking the journey for a short trip up the river Dee. Absolutely delightful. Having completed a circuit we hoped off and commenced a walk around the city wall. I jokingly suggested to Trev that we should do it and he surprised me by agreeing. It was about two miles all the way around and a great way to see the city. Trevor course, foolishly wore trainers, while I was much more sensibly dressed in my trusty winkelpickers so It was in a state of only mild agony that I suggested some er, refreshment at a local hostelry.

The Albion on the corner of an Edwardian terrace is, well a pub. The blackboards outside proudly proclaim that it is ‘family hostile’. No kids, music, gaming machines , music or chips are some of the other things listed. It sounded good and it was. The beer was good and the sarnies better. we loved it. Later, back at the ‘van, the barbeque was pressed in to service yet again for our last supper. All in all, a great couple of days.

Wednesday, and time to leave dear old England again for a sojourn in to north Wales. We had chosen a site on Anglesey for three nights before heading back in to Corwen at the weekend. We had hoped to stay in Betws-y-Coed but all the sites we tried were either fully booked (this was back in May) or prohibitively expensive.

‘You are assured of a warm welcome’ the Caravan Club Handbook promises and that has certainly been the case. Up to now. We were early as per usual, but instead of being met with a smile and the usual cheery mock admonishment for arriving before midday we were ‘greeted’ by a sour faced woman who was clearly going for ‘Sales Prevention Officer’ of the year. We’ve never been made to feel more unwelcome on a caravan site before and had it not been for a financial penalty I would have turned tail and walked out. Whether it was the simple fact that we had arrived early and interrupted her routine, whether she was having a bad day or was always like this, or whether a surreptitious glance in our direction confirmed her worst fears that she was dealing with a couple of poofs we shall never know. I suspect the latter,  but regardless, there was no need to make us feel so unwelcome. Still, there it is.

The site is actually quite nice. We had a grass pitch. ‘Your choice is limited because you’re too early’ was one of the wardens pithy comments,on booking in, however we noted that just one pitch was vacated between our arrival and the magical midday. The van took a bit of levelling. ‘Oh you’ve chosen that pitch have you, mind you don’t damage the newly seeded grass’ was another barbed comment when Trev went to tell her which pitch we had chosen. Thankfully that should be the last of any contact we have with this sour old woman.

With lunch and siesta complete we went out for a short drive, going up the north eastern coast and calling in at some pretty little places including Amlwch, once the export centre for the copper trade. A couple of pints at the local before firing up the barbeque again for bacon sarnies and settling down in front of the telly brought an end to an interesting day.

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