Archive | June, 2013

Turbulent Tent

24 Jun

Gower Caravan View

Monday

It looks like the wind has finally died down. Being positioned on a cliff top overlooking the sea meant we felt the full force of the gales sweeping the country over the weekend. The overwhelming difference about living in a caravan compared with living on a boat is that despite windspeeds of over 50mph we never felt worried for our safety. That is not to say we got much sleep, though.

The main culprit was the tent next door. I’m not the greatest fan of camping at the best of times but it beats me why on earth anyone thought it a good idea to sleep in what is effectively a plastic bag this weekend. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the tent pegs were being uprooted and the whole structure seemed to be disintegrating. It flapped and cavorted, straining at its leashes all Friday night.

Saturday dawned and the owner cheerfully informed us that, yes, the guide rope had snapped before disappearing to the pub to watch the rugby, leaving the tent to its own devices. We became convinced that at anytime it would simply lift off the ground and we’d get a tent pole through the window. Perhaps understandably, its occupants didn’t return until evening. The rain had finally stopped and the kids were unleashed.

I have every sympathy with youngsters that have been cooped up all day and have finally got the chance to run around a bit. It’s just that it was our caravan they chose to run around and it seemed like there was at least 40 of ‘em. As the light faded out came the torches and shining them into our windows became endlessly fascinating. It was long after our bedtime before they were tired. And even longer after before the parents quietened down, collapsing in what I can only assume was a drunken stupor as the noise the tent itself was making would have prevented sleep for anyone not similarly anaesthetised. Like us. For some reason I can now see the attraction of adult only sites.

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Birthday Bubbly and Blisters

18 Jun

Tuesday

It was my birthday at the weekend. Not a significant one, you understand, but the first in the UK for a while. The last one, as Seren Môr was lifted into the sea at Plymouth, was also the day we became live-aboards with the whole Mediterranean adventure in front of us. Today is exactly a month since we made the caravan our home with who knows what ahead of us.

Neil decreed I could do exactly as I wanted for ‘my day’. Don’t tell him but that is usually what happens most days. However, it seemed like a good opportunity to treat ourselves to lots of indulgent eats and drinks. Oh and no route marches up big hills! A stroll into Swanage and a little look around the shops to see if something expensive could be found that I couldn’t live without (no luck there – it’s not a big place) seemed like a good way to spend the morning.

I knew exactly what I wanted to do for lunch. I wanted a cream tea in a National Trust tea shop. Studland Bay is a stunning spot owned by the Trust and only a few minutes away in the car. It also has a tea shop. And what about taking a bottle of cava to have first? I know how to do indulgent. Neil spotted an empty bench, hidden away behind a hedge and overlooking the bay – it was made for us. The sun shone, the boats bobbed and the bubbles sparkled. Bliss.

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We didn’t get the cream tea, though. A slight misjudgement on our part. Turns out the cafe by the beach is not actually a National Trust tea shop. Chips with everything was more the order of the day. I’d just have to make up for the oversight at dinner! Naturally a siesta was needed during the afternoon.

Dinner was all planned. We’d done our research and booked one of the top rated restaurants in town. It was hidden away in the back streets with a menu that changes regularly and I’d spotted the dessert display when we booked! So, spruced up and sporting a pair of heels for the first time since joining the caravan sisterhood we ambled into Swanage again, had pre-dinner drinks in a beach front bar and sauntered along the promenade to the restaurant. Superb meal. No question. Wine? New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, of course. Dessert? A strawberry Pavlova for Neil and the most divine chocolate and raspberry roulade for me more than made up for the lack of a cream tea at lunchtime.

With waistbands bulging at the seams, we waddled to the taxi rank. Would you believe it? Saturday night and there wasn’t a blessed taxi to be had for neither love nor money. We’d walked the couple of miles between the campsite and the town three times that day and not really thought much of it. However the prospect of an uphill trek following a blow out meal was a different issue. And I was in heels. All I will say is that I have walked the streets of Dorset in my bare feet and the blisters were an unexpected present. Sore they may be. Torture actually. But at least they mean no more route marches until properly healed. Bonus. 

Out and About

14 Jun

ImageWild horses in the Brecon Beacons.

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The climb up to Cheddar Gorge was probably our most strenuous walk yet.

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Sea pinks cover the cliffs near Swanage.

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Rhododendrons and azaleas in the rain at Kingston Lacy.

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This pig snuffling around under an oak tree in the woods at Kingston Lacy gave came as a bit of surprise. I was quite pleased there was a fence between us. He didn’t seem at all bothered.

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A common site in the Med, this Dutch registered ‘Feeling’ yacht came as an even bigger surprise moored up river at the small inland town of Wareham. It wouldn’t be going any further, though. The bridge was much too low.

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Us on the seafront at Swanage. 

Whatever the Weather

12 Jun

ImageWednesday

We’d chosen the wrong pitch in Cheddar. With unbroken sun forecast for the week we’d thought a hard standing pitch under the trees would give us welcome dappled shade. As it turned out it was generally full shade and the biting northerly wind that accompanied the sunshine meant it was simply too cold to sit comfortably outside the caravan. The concrete base layer of the pitch meant we couldn’t even put our new wind break up. So as those around us dozed in the sun and barbequed their dinners we were still inside.

On moving to Swanage this week, then, we were pleased to be allocated a sunny position. The only trouble was the slope. Not only did we have to put one of the wheels on a ramp but the rear corner steadies had to be propped up on bricks and stones that were lying around from previous tenants. The incline also made it interesting when we tried to eat outside on the slanting table – not a real challenge after mastering eating curry at anchor in the swell of the Spanish coast, though!

Our first couple of days here were glorious. Having set up our windbreak not only as shelter but also to mark our territory, as it were, and to provide a bit of privacy, it wasn’t long before we were basking in our new Aldi reclining chairs. You’ve guessed it, though. It also wasn’t long before we were too hot and back inside for some shade! I guess this is where an awning comes in but for these all-too-rare days it still doesn’t seem worth it. Perhaps when we head for warmer climes.

As you might expect the British summer now appears to have ended. The rain is once again pelting down and the heating is on. Ah well, time for a siesta.

Wells

7 Jun

ImageFriday

The main reason for coming to Cheddar, apart from being a good stop off when heading south, was to see Wells. We had unsuccessfully tried to book a B&B there for a weekend over the winter and so this seemed like an opportunity not to be missed. It was everything and more than we’d read about.

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Now we’ve seen a few cathedrals over the last few years including Santiago de Compostela and Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, superb in their own right, of course. But we’d become a bit weary of all the gaudy, gilded imagery of Europe. Wells, with its soaring arches and columns, its intricate medieval carvings as fresh today as when the sculptor put chisel to stone and its broad stained-glass windows refreshes the soul.

 I could wax lyrical but I won’t. Go and see it for yourself. 

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Cheese and Donkeys

6 Jun

Thursday

 We’re now in Cheddar, home of the cheese and the Gorge. It’s a lovely campsite with the Gorge in easy walking distance through the village. That is if you want to go to there in the first place. I can see why it has become popular but therein lays the problem.

 All these people visiting the caves need somewhere to park and, of course, there’s money to be made out of them. The result is every inch of space through the gorge is either road, car park or some building to make the tourists part with their cash. The Nation Trust has bought one side of the surrounding hills but it feels like something of a losing battle as plans are drawn up to build a cable car ride on the other side.

 So after an aborted attempt to walk in the hills we headed for nearby Weston-Super-Mare and the sea. In many ways Weston is your typical British seaside town: sweeping bay, wide golden sands, donkeys on the beach, rock and candy floss, buckets and spades, fish and chips. On a sunny day in June it was understandably busy.

 The beach seemed quite empty, though, and the donkeys weren’t getting many takers. The kids were all in the numerous amusement arcades. I suppose the British climate dictates that a seaside town needs to have more than a beach if it is to survive and Weston has the problem that its beach turns into mud flats when the tide goes out.

 Visitors were making the most of the sun in other ways, though. The bars and restaurants had put tables outside achieving a flavour of the resorts in Spain and Greece if not the cafe culture. Pensioners were promenading and eating ice cream on the pier and the Wurzels are booked to play at the Winter Gardens during the upcoming cider festival. A quintessential British essence remains. Neil did describe it as “a downmarket Benidorm” but I think that is a bit harsh. I much prefer Benidorm. Image

Awnings

1 Jun

Very early on, when we were still contemplating whether to buy a caravan, having an awning was a given. It was obvious, wasn’t it? Why wouldn’t you want to double the size of your living space? After all, the cockpit of Seren Môr complete with bimini (sunshade) and sides as required was the most used ‘room’ on the boat. A week after taking possession of the caravan and we were not so sure.

We had yet to put up the full awning that came with the caravan. It was either too windy, too wet or not worth it as we would be moving on soon. I’ve been assured the process is frustrating and time consuming, not to mention marriage-destroying, until you know what you are doing. In the meantime we sat outside on sunny days and were very comfortable inside when the weather was not so good. So I asked the question on Caravan Chat: Do we need an awning? It was labelled a ‘hot’ thread as it became clear that opinion was pretty divided.

Some wouldn’t be without their full awning. I could certainly see how it would be essential for those with children – space for them to play and somewhere to store their bikes etc – and really useful for those with dogs. But as we’re travelling with neither this didn’t really apply to us. The arguments that most struck home were made by gumdrop: “If you have a fixed bed or like to leave the bed made up then an awning is useful ….keep (the) caravan private, and entertain holiday friends in the awning” and by mw3230 “for a longer stay in the sun a full sized awning would be preferable to accommodate table and chairs for eating out and recliners for relaxing”

Most of the comments, by far, were in favour of a porch awning rather than a full one: “A porch awning is super handy and very quick to put up.  Just means that you have somewhere to leave wet stuff or to dry towels during the day without the van getting too damp” from newbievanner and “somewhere to keep muddy boots and wet coats also stops the cold wind blowing into the van when the door is opened nice to sit in when the wind is on the cool side” from Sorento man were typical. Some had changed from a full to a porch awning or only used the full one on longer stays.

The newer, lighter-weight, porch awnings were obviously very popular and there is one in particular we are eyeing up (the new neighbours have got one). It does come at a price, however, and annoyingly has lots of ‘extras’ that are really essentials which bumps the price up even more.

So we’ve made a decision. We’re taking the awning back to the in-laws’ garage. As IainM1970 said “We haven’t used an awning in about ten years … a very liberating decision!” We don’t have to go that far but it is liberating. And we can still change our mind next season.