Friday, 31 May 2013

The West Country - the end of the earth and back

Day 27 to 30 - Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and Dorset

I had no idea what to do in Somerset but I'd heard of the Cheddar Gorge so I set the sat nav with no idea what to expect. Leaving Gloucestershire after watching the Severn Bore for a second time in the morning, with much snapping of overhanging branches as the surge made it's way along the far bank, I drove down past Gloucester, under the Clifton Bridge and on to Cheddar. I descended through wooded valleys into Cheddar, parked up, had a pub lunch with plenty of cheese and wondered what all the fuss was about.

I organised a camp site at a handy pub in the village of Rodney Stoke nearby (1988 total miles). (Rodney Stoke Arms I think it was but you'll find it if you want to. Nice little camp site with a friendly pub and restaurant on your doorstep.) After setting up I headed back to Cheddar to find this gorge I'd heard of. I can honestly say I was gobsm... No sorry, I can't use that word, I was stunned.

You can't see it from the village but turn right at the roundabout outside the pub and go through the tourist traps and you find yourself in this gorge. There is no other word for it. What is amazing is the transformation from the village landscape to the gorge. You might think it would be further but it's right there, yards from the pub.

I drove up through the gorge and back down again hopping from car park to car park to save me walking back up the steep hill (it is steep), around a series of tight switchbacks up increasingly steep inclines with cliffs towering apparently hundreds of feet above. This is a bucket list location, if you haven't been and you like dramatic landscapes give it ago. I had a friend years ago who moved to the lake district to have access to climbing. I have no idea why he didn't move to Somerset.

The next day I drove down to Devon, across Exmoor, which I was a bit surprised to discover is mostly in Somerset. It was mostly pissing with rain across Exmoor so I didn't really stop other than to buy some great muffins at the general stores in Exford, the self styled heart of Exmoor. Exmoor is surprisingly unspoilt by the tourist industry with no apparent tourist influence at Exford despite it's claims about being the heart of Exmoor. It took me most of the day to get across Exmoor, stopping to take pictures and the like, so I drove onto to Barnstaple, arriving late afternoon to find a camp site (actually at Croyde Bay 2090 miles) full of surfers and overpriced chips. I met a great bunch of guys with Khyam G4 tents in orange with the Land Rover logo, obviously serious surfers and outdoor types.

Cornwall was a more successful day. I was on the impressively named Atlantic Highway travelling down the north coast of Cornwall when I spotted the signs for Tintagel Castle. Tintagel Castle is astonishing. That is astonishibg if you didn't have to build it or carry anything up there to live in it. Just delivering the drinking water must have been a pain in the arse and if they had a well then delivering the food would make the same point. I bet it was great if you were in charge, a pain if you worked there.

After Tintagel I checked out the Witchcraft museum at Boscastle and then motored on down to Land's End where I just had time to take some pictures of the sun setting over the lighthouse (see the Instagram pictures) before finding the last camp site in England (2248 miles).

Dorset meant heading back. Just getting through Cornwall and Devon took all day. Eventually I ended up at a tiny little harbour just near Bridport called West Bay. I watched the tide come in for a couple of hours in the rain as I listened to the radio and I bought the biggest portion of cod and chips I've ever had Honestly the cod must have been a foot or more long. There were a number of fish and chip stalls along the harbour and I went to the second from the right as you face the amusement parlour. If you are in the area I recommend it (2441 miles).

Here are the photos on Instagram

Day 31

Monday, 27 May 2013

A day of rest followed by...

Day 25 and 26 - Herefordshire and Gloucestershire

After Shropshire and the industrial museums at Ironbridge and Colebrookdale, which resulted in some nice photos at least, Herefordshire was a day off. I'd arranged to visit a friend who lives in The county and since he lives in a converted 12th century chapel it seemed silly to insist on camping when I could stay in such a momentous building (1841 total miles). The view of my tent photo was the shot of the church with the truck outside under the ancient yew tree. Instead of taking a photo of the view from my tent I took a shot of the view from my bed which needs to be seen. (See the Instagram link for photos,.)Gloucestershire

From Hereford I had the idea of looking for the Severn Bore. I found the Severn Bore Inn on the net and headed down there on off chance (1889 miles). I had a splendid carvery lunch with (nearly) more meat than I could eat, but I made the effort. The landlord told me that I could camp on the riverbank and that there would, indeed, be a bore that night and again in the morning. Now bear in mind that the timetables on the net for the Severn Bore seem to show about four days a month that seem to be around the time of the full moon. I'd been in Shropshire on the night of the full moon and Herefordshire the night after so to see the bore on the next day was pretty lucky. However, there was more to Gloucestershire than that.

While setting up my tent there was a couple of blokes who had climbed down the bank and out of sight. I went over and instead of the couple of canoes as I expected to see they had a high powered twin engined semi rigid speedboat. Realising that they hadn't untied the rope I offered to untie it for them to save them climbing back up the ladder, in response they offered me a ride.

It was only when I was out on the river with them, after we took off standing the boat on it's stern, that it began to occur to me that these guys were not completely sober. I hadn't noticed that there was a pint of scumpy on top of the dashboard (is it called a dashboard on a boat?) and I hadn't realised that the fact that they'd forgotten to cast off the rope might have been a warning signal.

Within five minutes I was in the driving seat being told that you have to stand it on the stern, gunning both engines, to get the boat 'on the plane' which I understood to mean planing over the water. (This was later disputed by someone else in the pub after I got back.)

Driving the boat was fun until I started to think about the fact that I hadn't planned to go on a boat trip, I was just untying a rope after all, and all my possessions, car keys, wallet, computer, phone, etc., were in my car back at the pub with the windows and tailgate open, the tent was barely pegged down in an exposed position on the river bank and I wasn't confident the guys would be in any hurry to take me back.

Asking about how we turn around was the point at which one of them reached over (I may have been driving but I can't quite remember) and started doing doughnuts at what felt like 45 degrees. Fortunately one of them got an inkling of just how terrified I was and he persuaded his mate to take it easy and we cruised back more at narrowboat speed than power boat speed.

The adventure ended, after a photo was taken of me at the controls but it'll be on his camera, with them realising that the water was now too low for me to get back to the ladder so I had to climb up the muddy bank.

The Severn Bore, that night and the next morning, was interesting but not exciting by comparison. I'm glad I saw the Severn Bore as it was probably a 1 in 10 chance of it happening on the day, but better to plan it and go on a four star day rather than a two star day as I did. Still the sight of the tidal surge snapping overhanging branches was quite impressive.

Instagram Photos

Day 27

Friday, 24 May 2013

Northamptonshire and across the south midlands to Shropshire

Day 21 to 24 - Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire

After the news from the tyre people in Leicestershire I decided that I really must get the brakes sorted. So my first priority was to find a brake centre on my way to Northampton so it was a stroke of luck that practically the first place I saw as I drove into Market Harborough was the Tanvic Tyre and Service Centre on the Leicester Road. So taking my life, or rather my wallet in my hands I pulled in. I was also on the look out for a coffee and somewhere to write up my notes so handing them the keys it was handy to get a coffee for 20p and sit down at a table to get some work done. So imagine my surprise when, after quoting a figure I can't remember (but over the 50 or 60 quid range), the guy comes through with my brake pads showing them to be not even half worn out. I think they suggested that they had at least 2/3 of their life left. Now bear in mind that I walked in and asked them directly to replace the front brake pads because I believed they were worn out (as I had been told by the Leicester tyre guy), so they could have just changed them and charged me. I would have been none the wiser. But no, they told me they were fine, checked that I didn't want them changed anyway, had a look at my rear brakes for good measure and told me that they were okay too (but I might be due new disks soon) and they only charged me the 25 quid or so for to set the tracking.

So let me say this clearly, this is Tanvic Tyre and Service Centre, Leicester Road, Market Harborough (Tel: 01858 469934).  One good turn deserves another and their good turn is due to them. They're good guys and you can trust them.

Other than that Northamptonshire seems to have been pretty uneventful. It was a day of getting the Truck ready for the rest of the trip, being about 1500 miles in and about half way through. That night I camped at Billig Aquadrome (1580 total miles), merely because I'd seen the signs from the M1 all those times and I wondered what all the fuss was about. Honestly, it's a trailer park with a caravan and camp site attached with some amusements. (The go karting looked as though it might be fun but then again it always is.) There's a lot of water, lakes and the like and consequently quite a few ducks and geese with the resulting amount of goose poo.

My day in Warwickshire was a proper tourist day. I've got a thing for late mediaeval history and the first thing I found was the Lord Lycester Hospital, built in the 14th and 15th century and well worth a visit. It's all half timbered fantasticness and I can't do it justice in words so check out the pictures on the Instagram link or find them in my instagram folder on my Facebook account, you know I always welcome new friends.

That night I camped in a farmers field (1648 miles) on the Warwickshire/Worcestershire border, a nice little spot for anybody that likes the feel of a hideaway camp but still with all the facilities of a normal site. Oh, that's right, no pot washing, but who cares about pot washing?

The day in Worcestershire was the day they started talking about severe weather warnings so I looked for something to do indoors. Finding it hard to resist a cathedral I spent a good three hours in Worcester Cathedral and the cafe, glad to be out of the weather. Interestingly the 'meet and greet' guy who welcomed me was only the second person to immediately spot that I'm doing this trip with the intention of writing a book. (The editing and spell checking will be better I promise.)

I booked into a little caravan site just outside Malvern (1699 miles), not because I planned to and way too far south for my liking, but they did manage to find me a sheltered spot from the severe weather that was forecast. However, it did mean I got to see the Mountains of Malvern as they will be known henceforth. Such dramatic change in landscape I've never seen and I'm hoping to go back to walk them at some time. I did manage to spill wine on my battery pack which was not a good thing. I'm managing without it and unsure if it's dry yet but it's still full of amps so I'm not sure I want to test it.

Shropshire left me one option, Ironbridge which led to a photofest so check instagram as I suggested for the cathedral pics and others. I did meet a nice lady with a single pentagram earring in the chemist (where they keep the cash machine but this is the heart of the industrial rervoilution wo who am I to judge) who deserves a mention.

I'm currently camped up on the Shropshire/Staffordshire border (1776 miles), a bit further north than I'd planned but without the battery pack I have to have a camp site with electrics so here I am. Still my tent faces south and I'm told there is a brilliant full moon out there so I'm going to see if I can get some pics.

Instagram photos

Day 25

Monday, 20 May 2013

The Peak District and Sherwood can be relied upon, the National Space Centre cannot

Day 17 to 20 - Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire

After leaving Cheshire I headed into the Peak District. One thing I knew about Staffordshire was that that it forms part of the Peak District so I thought go for the impressive landscapes if nothing else. So my criteria was somewhere where the map shows a camp site in that part of Staffordshire that is within the Peak District National Park. After an exciting drive across the high moors (something I thought you had to go to Yorkshire for) I found a nice little camp site on a smallholding called Heathy Roods Farm (1374 total miles). I had the place to myself and, while it was a bit exposed the Khyam Igloo was well up to it, the place was really quite nicely equipped with a country farmhouse whitewashed and quarry tile feel. Heathy Roods farm was just outside a village called Butterton where the pub was absolutely thronging with people and served a wicked lasagne. (No horses were harmed in the writing of this blog.)

In the morning I moved on to Dovedale in Derbyshire as I'd always planned meeting up with some friends, which was a bit of a rest from the daily moving and hunting down of sites and the like. I left Heathy Roods farm at about lunch time and arrived in Dovedale at about 2pm (1384 miles). Having the rest of the day to sit around, drink Old Speckled Hen and Captain Morgan (thank you Eric) sort of put a break in the middle of the trip. We had a great night, many songs were sung and a few were murdered; songs that is.

The next day I moved on to Nottinghamshire where, I'm afraid, I did do the obvious thing and I went to Sherwood Forest and looked at the tacky exhibition, failed to buy a fridge magnet and saw the big oak tree. I had a go on the archery and found it much more difficult than the composite bow I tried once before. That night I stayed in, perhaps the five starest of camp sites I've seen so far (1442), very high spec with mature planting around the pitches whereas some sites can be a bit open.

That brought me to today when I arrived in Leicestershire, had a fine ploughmans in Melton Mowbray with the proper pork pie and stilton, went to the National Space Centre only to find it closed so I bought some tyres for the truck instead. Tomorrow I will go to Northamptonshire and get new break pads as such is the nature of motor touring when you've clocked up 1534 miles with the other half of the country still to go.

All the pictures are here

Day 21

Friday, 17 May 2013

Around the north in eight days

Day 12 to16 - Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmorland, Lancashire and Cheshire

Well actually it was a few less than eight days going around the north but it's been nearly a week since I last posted a blog so you'll have to excuse the poetic license.

After the blustery night in Whitby I headed up into Northumbria with some trepidation. I really had no idea of where I was going so I looked in the guide books and selected Bamburgh Castle which is quite a long way north, nearly as far as Holy Isle, however it was well worth the trip (953 total miles).

Bamburgh Castle is a massive pile on top of another massive pile of rock on the north sea coast. It seems to be, because I arrived too late to make it worth paying to get in, a collection of developments from the medieval period up to the Napoleonic era.

The next day I moved onto to Cumberland, as it used to be known before all the counties were renamed. I tried a camp site down on the shores of Derwent Water but it was just a bit too wet. They gave me a choice of locations. The first had a magnificent view over the water with the shore just ten or so metres away but on ground that was just too wet and with the wind blowing straight across the water at me. The second was on drier ground with a bit more shelter but a less magnificent view. Both sites would have involved a considerable trek of hundreds of yards to the car. After about ten minutes I went somewhere else and found another camp site (1113 miles), unbelievably, on a hill top which was still exposed but drier. Necessity led me to face my tent into a dry stone wall for shelter and use the truck as a wind break again. However, I met up with a couple of great guys and we managed to organise cars and tents such that we had the best cover possible under the circumstances. IT did also serve to give me some confidence in the stability of the Khyam Igloo against strong winds, not that it was ever in any doubt.

Westmorland was different in that I had trouble finding it. Of course the places are still there but the county no longer exists so finding a place to camp that was definitely in the boundaries of the old county was problematic. I ended having to visit the main library at Kendle but eventually found a really nice caravan and camp site with five star facilities (1174 miles).

The Lancashire day started with a downpoor, probably the remains of the sever weather that hit the south of England that week, not that I knew about it apart from word of mouth up here.

Most of the Lancashire day was spent trying to get to the Blackpool branch of my bank to get my new bank card which turned into a comedy of errors but you'll have to buy the book to read about that. I did manage to dry my tent out in my mates garden which was handy and in the evening we demolished half a bottle of Grouse. Half a bottle wasn't really enough but a full bottle would have been too much. Why don't they sell three quarter bottles? (1238 miles.)

Finally, well so far at least, I arrived in Cheshire, after battling through the towns because of my desire to avoid motorways, and had a look at Beeston Castle which is next door to Peckforten castle that we visited a few years ago. Beeston castle is the original the century castle that probably inspired Peckforten Castle built by a local land owner. Like Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland, Beeston Castle is built on a massive pile of rocky outcrop, only the outcrop is much higher. Unlike Bamburgh Castle Beestone Castle is an utter. ruin and it is even suggested that it was never actually finished.

Thursday ended with the usual hunt for a camp site and driving away from Beestone Castle to get a shot of it on its prominence from a distance I stumbled upon a pub, as you do, which turned out to have a camp site (1315 miles) so I spent the evening there lookig out at the Peckforten and Beeston Castles while eating my fish and chips with my pint.

All the pictures are here

Day 17

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Out of the flat lands and across the moors

Day 10 and 11 - Yorkshire and County Durham

Friday saw me leave Lincolnshire for Yorkshire. I've always wanted to cross the Humber Bridge and I was quite happy to pay the 1.50 it costs to get into what for the the sake of my trip counts as Yorkshire.
Bear in mind I'm touring the 39 historic counties, not the ceremonial counties invented by those Johnny-cum-lately Victorians or the nonsense counties that include all the metropolitan counties, boroughs and the god forsaken unitary authorities. I refuse to camp in Greater Manchester or whatever the others are. However, I will happily visit Cheshire, of which Manchester used to be a part. Anyway, rant over.

So I crossed the Humber into Yorkshire and managed to get some great pictures of the bridge. If you want to see the pictures check out my Twitter feed or, easier, go to my Facebook profile. I'm not fussy, I accept anybody who friends me or just visit if you don't have an account (or would rather not be seen to be associated with me), it's all set to public so anybody can see the posts.

On from the Humber I headed for Whitby (742 total miles), by way of Scarborough but I only got out of the car to buy a dreadful coffee so I can't speak for the place. Whitby, however, was delightful. I mooched around the famous Abbey and even visited the house that held the infamous Whitby Conclave of 1981 though few have really heard of it. (Apparently Bram Stoker actually lived next door with all the Gothic turrets and the like rather than in number 55 as we were told years ago.)

Saturday saw me rise from Whitby and head for Durham, from where I write this. On the way I crossed the river Tees by the famous Transporter Bridge that I thought closed down years ago so I was delighted. Again see Twitter of Facebook for pictures of the brilliant contraption.

Later I arrived in Durham (811 miles), set up camp and went out to dinner in Durham City which is glorious, pictures on Facebook, Twitter, yada, yada, ya... Finally the day was topped by a splendid dinner the a fine Italian restaurant Capriccio where I managed to avoid all the cliches and the chicken was better than I've had in a long, long time.

And so to bed with a fleece liner in the sleeping bag I think as it's going to be cold tonight.

Day 12

Thursday, 9 May 2013

East Anglia to Lincolnshire via the smallest county

Day 8 and 9 - Rutland and Lincolnshire

I left Happisburg yesterday morning (what day was that?), probably my favouriute site so far, despite the fact that the camp site is slowly falling off a cliff. There was a pub just behind the site and the combination of the wine I had in the tent and the two pints of Broadside meant I slept well and looked and felt my best in the morning.

On to Rutland (513 miles total) the next day meant a 100+ mile drive with the ambition of camping overlooking Rutland Water, which is a magnificent site. Unfortunately the only place I could find was a farm camp site with noisy animals. At this stage those manicured commercial holiday parks have a lot to recommend them. It was quite exposed and the weather was changing but I managed to tuck my tent behind a hedge and put the truck in the way of the wind in the other direction. It did mean that he photo of the view from my tent this morning was less than scenic. Still I feel I owe no loyalty to Rutland so what the hell. Norfolk treated me well so it got a good recommendation in the photo.

This morning it was on to Lincolnshire and I'm now in Louth (629 miles). I have no idea why. Most of Lincolnshire is very flat and tonight it's going to be windy so I'll not be considering the aesthetics again when I position the tent and the Truck. Fortunately I have a barn in my favour but believe me, there's not an obstacle for bloody miles.

Some people who are reading this aren't on Facebook where the pictures are being pasted so here's the link to my Instagram profile where all the pictures go before they arrive on Facebook. (There will be no pictures of my food!)

Day 10

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Norfolk and chance

Day 5 to 7 - Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk

I've not posted for a few days as I've just been so busy.

Cambridgeshire (216 miles total), I think that was the day before yesterday gave me a chance to visit Ely Cathedral was was a nice break from the whole process of just heading from one camp site to another. The evening saw me arrive in Isleham which was just within Cambridgeshire so it just counted for my stop for that night. This was what was described as an eco camp so it was all recycled everything and the complete opposite to the manicured finish of the Holiday Park in Huntingdon. Still that's what you have to go for if you want electrical hookups.

Yesterday was Suffolk (277 miles) which was a bit rubbish actually as I couldn't find anywhere to get a good signal other than a small village so after sitting in a car park trying to write for an hour or so I drove down to a camp site far to far south just because it looked remote from/main roads (the Huntingdon experience was clearly still affecting me). That was Henry's lake which had electrics and water but was a bit sterile, but I think they cater for the fishing market for which the lake is probably/their USP. Still their loos and showers were brilliant and a real bonus after the eco camp. (Buy the book for the full story.)

Today is Norfolk (357 miles) so getting a signal being one of the big issues with nice remote sites I headed to Thetford, found a pub and a guy recommended I head for Happisburugh where I am now. I just took a chance on finding somewhere to camp as there was a caravan park on the map so I just drove here on spec. Chance has led me to the most spectacular camp site I've had so far. I did think about camping close to the edge of the cliff but with the stories or erosion there was a chance I'd end up at the bottom by the morning. I'm now about 200 to 300 yards from the cliff edge though the cliff might be a few feet closer by the morning.

Sunday, 5 May 2013


Day 4 - 183 miles total

Good morning all, just a quick post this morning as I think I have to be off the camp site by 12.00. Currently in Huntingdon, heading for Cambridgeshire today. All electrics fully charged, okay so it's not wild camping but with the stuff I'm carrying what can you do? At least the travelogue is getting written, I'm writing about two pages of A4 a day, say 1000 words a day, times 40 days, that should be a nice short book of 40,000 words.

The sun is shining and that's really all that matters.

Day 5

Friday, 3 May 2013


Day 3 - Bedfordshire

Today has been a day of arrival. I've arrived in a part of the country that is relatively unfamiliar to me, which has been the plan all along. (Does that mean leaving rather than arrival?)

After popping home (on the way past Hertfordshire) which travelling from Buckingham,shire to Bedfordshire, I managed to charge all my devices, collect the few things I'd forgotten, and most of all, catch up on the writing that I was way behind on. I'd not written up May Morning and it was in danger of escaping me.

By the time I left home I was up to date and, having arrived at tonight's camp site, I even have an improvised desk in my tent on the tool box that carry all my gear in. I can type at almost full speed and, assuming I can find camp sites with power (at least often enough to charge my mobile power pack) then I can set up a routine of typing up the day's events in the evening. The only minus is that I got a great welcome this evening from the camp site owners who invited me over this evening and it sounded like they had quite a party with a fire and all. Meanwhile I was ensconsed in my tent writing. Sill it's become clear this is not a holiday so I had to do it. Their music went off and the lights went out just as I had finished writing for the night. Next time I'll join in.

Day 4

Thursday, 2 May 2013

SIx weeks and so little time

Day 2 - Buckinghamshire - 96 total miles

Today has been a day of realisations: realisation that I can keep the devices charged if I have the right connectors to plug into caravan hookups, realisations how how expensive that cable is and that the cheaper one might have done the job but I couldn't take the chance, realisation that I'm going to put my tent up and take it down every day for the next six weeks and that is a major use of my time, realisation that I really don't need to find anything to do in each county as I've now realised just how long it takes to write up each day's activities. However, the biggest realisation is just how much writing I have to do in the next six weeks and that I just need to get on with it.

Gotta go!

Day 3

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

May Morning

Day 1 - Oxfordshire - 43 miles

The day started at 6am listening to the choristers in Magdalen Tower in Oxford followed by many Morris Dancers, a brass band playing old blues music and the excellent Hurly Burly Early in the Morning band on Broadstreet.

After that the day turned into one of remembering that which has been forgotten (chopping board, solar charger, can holder on a stick [don't ask], and other things that I can't remember), discovering just how much battery the tablet uses [and consequently how little time it is going to last] and discovering just how bad the Oxford traffic is if you decide to do a run to Halfords in the afternoon.

However, after leaving the yurt at just after lunch time and spending a stressful afternoon chasing down cigarette lighter extensions for the car, I have arrived at Common Leys Farm, I'm fed and typing up my notes for the day. (A routine might be beginning to develop.) However, it's getting a bit chilly so I might just turn in and complete it tomorrow.
Day 2