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.

Monday, 30 June 2014

A Celtic Carry On – Part 1

Forgive me if this blog isn’t down to the usual standard, but I must tell you; I’m feeling a little queer. Oh stop it, no seriously (yeah right). I’m not feeling at all well as just a few moments ago I became another statistic in the ever increasing crime perpetrated by those charged with transporting us from A to B in whatever form. To be precise; daylight robbery.  Yeah, I’m on an Irish Ferry with the Portly Partner, a.k.a Trev on our way from Pembroke to Rosslare to begin our Irish tour. And I’ve just bought two baguettes - sorry, paninis. Now I’m sure you understand. Obviously the continental twist to the name makes ‘em dearer. To be fair, they were quite tasty, although we could have eaten a couple each – and the gold plating proved a bit indigestible. Still, we do have our own coffee, and I mentally stuck two fingers up as I poured it.

Still, Paninigate aside it’s been good so far. We’ve just had a couple of nights at Llwynifam Farm caravan park in Llangennech, South Wales. Another private site that comes under the Tranquil Parks umbrella, and deservedly so too because on top of all the other good points, it was very peaceful.

The trip started, as usual with us heading over to the storage compound early on Saturday morning to pick up our caravan; Patsy. You may have already suspected this if you’d looked at the forecast for the weekend, because, as regular Nonsense! readers will know, whenever we go caravanning it usually starts raining.

To be fair however, the rain was kind enough to hold off – until we got to the compound and started hitching up when the heavens opened. We’re getting pretty quick at this now though and just before 8am we were on the road.

The journey itself – A24, M25 and M4 – was uneventful, which is exactly what you want when towing.  We stopped twice to swap driving duties, and with the rain coming and going were arriving at the site around 1.30pm to be greeted by Cathrin who showed us to our pitch.

And what a pitch too, although in fact all pitches here – just 25 – are blessed with great views over the southern valleys of Carmarthenshire.  I had forgotten too, that I’d booked a serviced pitch, so there was to be no refilling of the water barrel.

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In fact another surprise awaited us too – in the form of dome local beers from fellow caravanner and Twitterer Paul, who lives locally. We had hoped to meet up but Paul had headed off to Cornwall with his family the day before. Rumours that, on hearing we we’re going to be in town he brought forward his holiday are just that. Anyway, it was a nice gesture Paul, and thank you again. They’ve gone down very well indeed.IMAG2261

After a short nap, we availed ourselves of the excellent facilities the site had to offer. The showers are clean and very spacious. Proper personalised hand towels are provided and the loo roll is the softest we have EVER had on a site. A pleasant change from the usual sandpaper found in club sites.

Paul had also provided some pointers on what to see and do and, just as importantly shops and which pubs to use – and which ones to avoid too.Later we had a very nice meal at The Bridge Saturday night, although the only real ale on offer was not, sadly a local Welsh beer but the increasingly popular Doom Bar from Cornwall.

With provisions procured from the Co-Op we retired to Patsy for the usual cheese and biscuits and the pleasure, that only a Englishman could understand, of seeing Uruguay knocked out of the World Cup. Tee hee!

Sunday was to be the only day we had to explore the area and was keen to see as much as possible as we bypassed this area – for no other reason than time – on our last visit to South Wales at the start of our British Isles Tour two and a bit years ago.  So, reasonably early and under a rather foreboding looking sky we stoked up Rosie and headed back along the M4, to Swansea and along the coast road around Swansea Bay to the Mumbles.  Rather a long way around? Well, yes, until I tell you that we had planned to do the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea but weren't paying attention to the road signs and just happened on the coast road instead.

The road is separated from the beach by a promenade and occasionally by grass and trees too.  We eventually came across  a parking area – and this being a tourist destination of course you have to pay. I had change – a load of Euro’s were in the pockets of my rucksack ready for Ireland but we didn’t have enough GBP to feed the parking meter.  A plan was hatched to procure some scoff from the Co-Op across the road when we realised that you could park outside said Co-Op for an hour completely gratis, and despite the best efforts of a couple of old gits who’d selfishly spaced their cars out, we squeezed Rosie's bulk in behind them.

The view across the bay – with Swansea to the left and the Mumbles pier out to the right would be truly delightful on a clear bight day, but was slightly less so in the morning gloom, However even as we traversed a portion of the promenade – along with the Sunday morning keep fit crowd, the skies thankfully began to clear.

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There were mercifully, no traffic wardens lurking as we returned to the car somewhat outside of the one hour limit and rejoined the coast road, pausing briefly above the pier before rounding the tip and past the lighthouse at Mumbles Head, then heading west out in to the Gower Peninsular.

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At the western tip is Rhossili bay – and the sight that greats you when you’ve arrived – and paid to park obviously, is stunning. A wide expanse of golden sand that slopes away gradually  to eventually give way to the sea.

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Overlooking the bay from the southern end is the cliffs, the walk on which take you to out towards worms head that is accessible only at low tide. With the sky now largely clear and a gentle breeze taking the edge off it really was beautiful – and  a great spot for a picnic – had we brought one. This is a stunning part of of South Wales and the Gower in particular and is well worth  a visit if you’re down this way. I hope the photo’s do it justice.

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We had vague notions of returning to Swansea and the museum but decided instead to head back to the site, returning this time through some of Swansea’s western suburbs.

The bbq was fired up and I cremated some burgers and sausages. Thankfully there was some beer left to take away the taste but in truth they were rather nice. The  occasional evening sun gave me the chance to get some photo’s of the site, whilst cheese and biscuits and a bottle of Merlot – a gift from a parent of one of the kids on my bus – brought an end to a great day.

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Monday – today – and with the ferry not due to depart until 2.45pm there was no silly o’clock alarm call to be up and ready. At least there wouldn't have been had I remembered to turn it off. Still, there is immense relief in being woken up, then realising you can just lay in bed for another few hours – and that we did having dispensed appropriate obscenities.

Pembroke Docks are only 60 or so miles from the site, but we left in plenty of time anyway and again the journey was straightforward with Trev doing the honours. Rosie managed 28 mpg on this leg of the trip – just a little more than the journey along the M4 but considerably less than the 58mpg she managed solo on a recent trip up to Cambridge to see HRH.

So, there you go, up to date again. The ferry is spacious and looks clean and tidy, though the rumble of the engines are ever present. We got an excellent deal that expires at the end of June, which is why we didn’t have longer in Wales. Do yourself a favour though if you are heading to Ireland this way. There is a large Tesco’s to the left as you approach the docks, and the car park looks big enough to accommodate a caravan or two. If you don’t fancy being asked to stand and deliver by the canteen staff on the ferry then stop here for your lunch provisions. The money you save can go towards some ‘research’ once you get to the Emerald Isle. Cheers!

Monday, 16 June 2014

Richards Wrecks – Number Eight

Yep, finally got my backside in to gear again and  memories of my motley motors continues.

With the Ford Courier van (Number Seven) now doing all the grunt we decided to go for something a bit tastier and after scouring seemingly all of Brighton & Hove's second hand car dealers, we ended up with this:

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A 1998 Mercedes-Benz CLK 230 K Sport Auto.  2.3 litre twin cam and supercharged, this was quick and the noise when the supercharger was in full swing was divine – which was just as well as it helped distract attention from the petrol gauge. Frugal she wasn’t – around 24 mpg around town and 35 mpg on our once frequent runs up to Cambridge to pick up HRH, otherwise known as Trev’s Mum. But we didn’t buy it to save money and the annual mileage we clocked up was so low she was more like an expensive ornament.

A ‘premium’ brand Mercedes may be but this particular one wasn’t without it’s problems. Steering wasn’t heavy but felt a little uninvolved  and vague.  The paintwork didn’t seem particularly durable, suffering from a number of stone chips and rust around the wheel arches, although this may have been due to spending it’s life on the coast with all that nice salty sea air that corrodes anything on sight. The alarm packed up and so did the reversing lights. However, she had over 103,000 miles on the clock by the time we traded her in after around 5 years and the engine still sounded beautiful. It was still a lovely car to drive – there’s a nice decadent feeling about driving a nice powerful petrol powered automatic. Unbelievably my first real wheel drive car too.

Butcombe - Bitter

WP_20140530_013What they say: The West Country’s favourite beer derives from pure Mendip Spring Water…notably bitter, clean tasting, refreshingly dry and distinctive.

It’s one of my favourites too - I’ve had it before but for some reason it hasn’t made it to the blog before - overdoing the ‘research’ perhaps…. anyway, it was good to sample again, this time at the Blue Raddle in Dorchester. 4.2% A.B.V.

Branscombe Vale - Branoc

WP_20140530_012What they say: Nose is light caramel and fruits. Flavour is of light malts, some fruits. Slightly bitter finish.

Another offering at the Blue Raddle in Dorset, a pub that really excels in it’s ever changing real ale offerings. In excellent condition but a little too much of a fruity twang for my taste buds but great for the warm weather, should it linger. 3.8% A.B.V

Dartmoor - Dartmoor IPA

WP_20140530_009What they say: A highly drinkable, light golden coloured beer with a unique blend of English hops that combine to create a superb spicy apple and citrus fruit flavour, finished off with a crisp, refreshing aftertaste and subtle hop aroma.

Our last night in Dorset saw us meet with friends for a meal at the Blue Raddle in Dorchester, a haven for real ale fans. This was the first cab off the rank and perfectly drinkable although I found it just a  little lacking in taste - either that or my taste buds were ravaged from a hard weeks er, research!

Palmers - Best Bitter

WP_20140528_003What they say: A full-drinking, malty ale with a delicious hop character. A traditional IPA from the heart of West Dorset.

Stable mate to the lovely Copper Ale and again, very drinkable although when given the choice I went back to the Copper Ale only because it was a bit lighter alcohol wise. 4.2& A.B.V.

Found at the The Three Horseshoes in Powerstock. Well kept and reasonably priced - for the south anyway!

Palmers - Copper Ale

WP_20140527_001What they say: Beautifully balanced, copper-coloured session ale, good citrus fruit with a hoppy aroma. Full-flavoured and brewed with Maris Otter malt and whole leaf First Gold aroma hops.

The 2nd half of our half-term escape saw us in West Dorset and the Palmers brewery in based in Bridport just down the road from our campsite.

I really liked this and was able to ‘research’ it more than once. I didn’t find it too hoppy and at 3.7% A.B.V. kinder to the liver too, without compromising on flavour.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Box Steam - Tunnel Vision

WP_20140526_005What they say: Clean tasting amber ale

Another offering from this Wiltshire based brewery and it was good to get hold of something local as ‘research’ expeditions whilst on site in Orcheston had yielded little that we hadn’t tried before.

A lovey pint, well 500ml this, very tasty and at 4.2% A.B.V full bodied enough without being too potent.

Box Steam - Derail Ale

WP_20140525_005What they say: A hoppy India Pale Ale

It IS hoppy but the full bodied flavour of this beer does reign in those pesky hops somewhat. Pleasant enough but at 5.2% A.B.V. not one to slosh back, like er, I did! Found in the Co-op in Shrewton near our campsite when staying in Orcheston, Wiltshire.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Flack Manor - Flack Catcher

WP_20140526_003What they say: A clean distinctive rich golden ale with initial sweetness, smoothly spiced with a crisp bitter finish leading to an old fashioned zesty linger.

On the bar - and I mean ON the bar at a Wetherspoons in Andover as it was drawn straight from the barrel. Very tasty but could have been a little colder - and it’s not often you'll here me say that about an ale! 4.4% A.B.V.

Salisbury - Sarum IPA

WP_20140525_002What they say: Our India Pale Ale is a gutsy celebration of a great British brewing tradition - well hopped and strong in flavour, yet refreshingly moreish.

Our recent trip to Wiltshire yielded little in the way of new beers to try - 6X was seemingly everywhere, although there’s nothing wrong with that.

Brewed just down the road in Salisbury but sadly not in tip-top condition. Not bad though. 4.3% A.B.V.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Whitsun Wanderings - part 2 - Dorset

The second half of the Whitsun half-term holiday saw us move from Orcheston in Wiltshire and down to Bingham Grange caravan site near Bridport in Dorset. So, how did we get on?

With Bingham Grange only being 60 or so miles away from Orcheston there was no silly o’clock start and it was gone 10am when we set off and the route out of the village was mercifully free of impatient Audi drivers  - no offence David! Having previously picked out a  route that would take us back around Salisbury and south, heading west at Ringwood, we changed our minds and headed west on the A303, turning off and heading south further west.

Trev was doing the honours and all went well until we hit the town of Crewkerne. Some deft clutch and brake work was required as traffic snarled up in the hill approaching. There seemed no obvious reason – no  road works, accident or refuse trucks – and it wasn’t rush hour so it may have been just ‘how it is’. Bear this in mind if you’re heading this way. It looked a pleasant enough town though and a good stopping off point for a cuppa and a bite to eat.

The site itself was easy to find and there were thankfully no single track lanes to traverse, the site entrance being on the A3066. The entrance was wide and easy enough to spot – but a brown tourist camping sign wouldn’t have gone amiss. Soon after midday we trundled down the road, parked up inn the allotted area and headed to reception. DSC_0014

Now, the brave band of souls who have shown considerable resilience read a few of my caravanning blogs will know that we do tend to turn up early at sites and have on occasion been made aware of the wardens displeasure at a pre-midday (or whatever it is) arrival. However we really excelled ourselves this time turning up a whole 24 hours early! Some numpty – er, me – got the dates wrong when booking, but thankfully it wasn’t a problem. The friendly and helpful warden found us a place and we were soon being shown to our pitch.

So, what’s the site like? Well it’s privately owned, adults only and comes under the Tranquil Parks umbrella – the same as The Old Oaks in Somerset which is one of our favourites. It is well kept – extremely well kept – and is divided into three distinct areas. At the front of the park – behind the reception and facilities block are little cul-de-sacs with hard standing  pitches, some separated by trees and shrubs. Standard and fully serviced pitches are available, although size does vary (how true, ahem!) so those with bigger ‘vans will not have as much choice. All will accommodate at least an  awning to the side. To me this was the prettiest part of the site and a delightful place to spend your holiday.

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Further down is the more conventional part of the site - two and a bit  rows of large hard standing pitches, the top row being fully serviced, the rest with electrical hook up. This is where we were situated and judging by the size and set up of some of the ‘vans here, seasonal pitches are very popular. Some pitches were partially separated by low lying shrubs and afforded a degree of privacy.

Again, the pitches will accommodate a caravan, with an awning to the side and your car will fit on the front, so plenty of room. The shingle is quite fine though seems quite deep and the jockey wheel found it a little hard going when the motor mover was doing it’s stuff. We didn’t bother with awning so I couldn’t tell you how hard the hard standing was - but plenty of people had. The pitch sloped lengthways but that was easily corrected and thankfully no ramp was required.

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Beyond this was the tent area and this was delightfully laid out too - clearly a lot of thought - and work - has gone in to the design and construction of this site.  Again, open or more secluded pitches are available and some have electric hook up too. The site totals 111 pitches but didn’t feel too big. A point worth noting is that the electrical hook ups are rated at 10A, rather than the 16A you may be used to on many club sites. Not a drama in the summer but you may need to consider this in the winter when the heating's on.

Beyond the tent area is some woodland  and paths from either side of the park take you down there. Dogs must be on a lead when on site but can run free once in the paths once through the gates.

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All the facilities are contained in the block which houses the reception and shop - which appears to sell just about everything. There are three arrangements for your er, convenience. The are the usual male and female shower/washbasin/toilet blocks that you’ll find on most sites. In addition there are unisex ensuite cubicles at the front and two larger luxurious ensuite units at the back. These have stone slabbed floors, a large showering area and are stunning. Sadly whenever I went near one with the camera they were occupied - but I can tell you they were lovely to use.

There’s a laundry room with washing up facilities - but we never went anywhere near that - and an information room and above the whole lot is a bar restaurant called Buzzards. More of that later.

Back at the ‘van, TV reception was excellent - and we didn't have to raise the aerial or twiddle it. Mobile reception - at least for our networks - Virgin & Three wasn’t great and mobile internet was barely usable. Voice calls were just about ok. Wi-Fi is available and starts at an eye watering five quid for a day - to a more reasonable tenner for a weeks access. Signal strength was adequate where we were and it rarely dropped out.

Anyway, enough of that for now – back to the trip.

So, having already noted that the bar opened at six pm - and it was still some way off that - we headed out for a look around and a bit of  ‘research’. We came across one pub that was just opening up, but was in the process of being redecorated and we only stopped for the one. Back towards the site, the signpost at a crossroads indicated a couple of watering holes not too far away. We decided to investigate.

Well, we drove for what seemed like a week, through some extremely narrow high banked winding roads and I think the car barely made it out of second gear. We eventually came across the first pub. Which was shut. Backing up we followed the signs for the second one and after another millennia found it - yes it was open - but not until six pm. Christ! We headed back to the site having achieved nothing more than wasting an hour or so of time and a gallon or so of diesel. Ouch.WP_20140527_002

It was nearly six by the time we got back and we weren't the only ones queuing for the bar. It opened promptly and we all went in. It was nicely laid out with the bar at the end - and the kitchen behind - and tables laid out for casual or more formal dining. i.e cutlery and white table cloths. There was no real ale but six taps offer the choice of two ciders, two lagers and two bitters. Impressive. The menu offered WP_20140527_003traditional pub grub with light bites and vegetarian and fish options on the regular menus as well as daily specials catering for all palates. The food itself was excellent - lasagne for me and a burger for Trev. It was ‘home’ made and tasted it. Portions were good and well presented too. All in all, very enjoyable. It’s a great addition to the site, particularly when you are not within walking distance of anywhere else. You can pre-order and take away you food - and plenty of people were doing this, but there were plenty enjoying the ambience too. Both grub and grog was fairly priced and this is to be commended and I’m sure contributes to it’s success. I would love to see more sites - particularly remote ones - offering something similar. It opens five or six nights a week depending on the season and Sunday lunchtimes too, when booking is recommended. We were to visit again before the week was out.

Wednesday saw a long lie in and an eventual visit to West Bay and Bridport. We’d passed through both - briefly - on our visit to Dorset in December 2012 and was glad of the chance to have a longer look - particularly at West Bay.

A harbour area with plenty of the usual sea side amenities awaits you as you arrive and a lovely very fine single beach is easily accessible with cliffs rising either side, both of which have well used walking tracks. The one to the west provides excellent views to Lyme Regis on a nice  day - apparently. Sadly it was largely grey and overcast so we didn’t bother to climb up and find out. That’s the only reason. Honest.

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The cliffs to the east will be recognisable to fans of the popular ITV drama; Broadchurch. The scenes where the body was found at the start were filmed here. They provide an impressive and dramatic back drop. We lingered for a while, taking coffee and a snack in a cafe overlooking the harbour before a brief traverse of Bridport’s high street on the way back to the site.WP_20140528_001

Buzzards, the site bar & restaurant didn’t open Wednesday night so in the evening we set off again in to the undergrowth emerging several weeks later in to the village of Powerstock, and more importantly the car park of the Three Horseshoes. The view from the car park was lovely and we could have enjoyed the same view from the beer garden had the weather allowed. But, being Britain, it didn’t. The beer was good, reasonably priced compared to what we’re used to - although to a northerner probably extortionate - and the food was excellent although probably at the top end of what you’d expect to pay in a boozer.

Thursday saw us up early and heading cross county to Swanage. This is one of our favourite places with a lovely beach, promenade, pier and town. We’d been before back in our previous trip to Dorset, in December 2012 but had planned to meet up with friends for lunch who were staying in Bournemouth.

Well, we had a lovely day, great weather and great company and a tasty lunch to boot. A ‘must-do’ for the next visit is a trip on the Swanage steam railway to Corfe Castle. Had I had my camera with me we may have been tempted  as I bet the countryside and views are lovely.

We arrived back at the site just before six pm, the time the on site bar; Buzzards opened. What a coincidence. Chilli for me this time and bangers and mash for the Portly Partner, both of which, were again excellent.

Friday saw another lie in then a slow day of tidying up, packing up and doing a few odd little jobs around the van. In the evening we headed in to Dorchester to meet up with some more friends - yes, we have more than a couple - there’s some tolerant people around - for a meal. We first met Samantha & Andy at Twittercamp in March and were looking forward to hooking up again. We were early of course, and while the temptation was to dive in to the nearest pub and get stuck in we erred on the boring side of sensible and went in search of a cuppa.

It’s fair to say, options were limited at 7pm on a Friday night in Dorchester with Costa seemingly the only - and frankly unappealing option. However we eventually came across a vintage an antiques shop with tea rooms above going by the name of Reloved. Although they’re were expecting a party for an evening meal they were happy to accommodate us and I’m glad they did - what a fabulous place. The tea - served in bone china was lovely and the cakes looked divine too. I had to call on all my reserves of will power – needed only when refusing a pint – to resist.WP_20140530_018

The dining venue of choice of our friends was a pub called The Blue Raddle, a few minutes walk away. And what a choice too. Again, the grog and grub were good and the chat flowed. A great choice of real ale and some real tasty traditional pub grub. Thank you again both of you for a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

And that, really is that. Another one done. A couple of great sites, completely different to one another but both very enjoyable. In terms of getting out and about sightseeing it certainly wasn’t our best, but on the plus side it was great to catch up with friends for a chat. Well, Trev chatted while we listened. Some of the time anyway!

There’s just four weeks now to the end of term and the start of the summer holidays – for us anyway – one of the benefits of working at a private school. Ireland beckons. Until then….