Sunday, 29 July 2012


This weekend brings us to Llanrwst, and another temporary holiday site run by South Lancs DA. This one wasn’t cancelled. The weather was fine. No dramas on the roads, so limited story material, but I’ll just tell you about the walk we did on the Saturday which, it has to be said, was pretty spectacular.
We started by getting the train to Betws-y-Coed, from where we walked upstream alongside Afon Llugwy as far as the Miner’s Bridge, a steeply angled footbridge. We’ve crossed it before but today its name took on more significance later in our walk. This time we didn’t cross the bridge but angled straight up the hill to the right instead. 
Crossing the road we headed along a path through the forest that climbs steadily for about half a mile before twisting up through a rocky stream bed and emerging into meadowland reminiscent of Switzerland. There are fine views of Moel Siabod and of the Carneddau, all framed by pines and oaks set amongst meadows filled with wild flowers. It really is very special up here.

Gantry over the old mine shaft at Cyffty Lead Mine
The paths don’t quite match those on our map, but then it’s an old map, full of holes and frayed edges, maybe it’s time to treat myself to a new one. We headed for a group of cottages which the map calls Hafotypencraig, then took a path across the fields to an old mine working. This was a fascinating place, because up here, miles from anywhere, someone has taken the trouble to excavate the old mine buildings, fence them, and provide captivating information boards about it all. There is a gantry that bridges the main shaft and allows you to look down into the hole beneath your feet. It is a lead mine called Cyffty, and it dates back to the 1850’s. It is idyllic now. Perhaps not so much back in the day.
Artist's impression of Cyffty Mine in its Heyday (Chris Hull - taken from information board at the mine site)

We followed the road, now, heading for Llyn Geirionydd, then followed a path uphill past more mine workings, and on cresting the brow of the hill the view of the lake below was fabulous. We followed the path down the hill, diagonally, through deep ferns, then spent a few minutes sitting beside the lake.

Eglwys Sant Rhychwyn
The rest of the walk was simply a return to Llanrwst, with nothing much to offer, except then we came upon an old church, hardly signposted at all, which turned out to be 1000 years old and still in use. 

Eglwys Sant Rhychwyn was built in the eleventh century and is known locally as Llywelyn’s Old Church because Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd, worshipped here in the twelfth century. Pushing open the ancient twisted door and stepping inside it seemed it hadn’t changed at all in all the intervening years. There is a rack on the wall, a coffin bier, for carrying coffins around the hillsides. The stone font is the original font and still in the same place.
 I am not an old church person and I am seldom turned on much by history, but this felt old, and there was a real atmosphere about the place – a sense of deep tranquillity. It was quite wonderful.

We hit the road again, a steep downhill section for a long way, the kind of descent that makes your toes hurt as they are pushed harder and harder into the front of your shoes. 

Fairy Dell - undisclosed location somewhere in Wales
So we went off on another tangent and followed a footpath down through the woods. A stepped path down beside a woodland stream, an idyllic stream, the kind of setting where fairies might live. And of course, being manx, I believe in fairies and I know fairy dells. And if ever there was a fairy dell this would be it.

Did we see any fairies? That would be telling.

But I’m not saying where it was, either. 


Staying at a temporary DA site in Llanrwst this weekend. Good lay lines. No rain so far. Planning a day walking in the mountains.
It was a good day. No disasters so not much of a tale. But the walk was most excellent, there was history, scenery; lakes mountains and bogs, one of the best walks we've done for a long time. So as soon as I get my laptop in range of a decent wifi signal (I'm a bit slow typing on a phone) then I will post route details and photos.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Site Closed

One of the big events of our summer this year is the National Feast of Lanterns, the Camping and Caravanning Club’s annual rally. We’ve not been to it for a few years because the early September date always clashes with Mad-Week at the day job, when time off is banned. So when we saw that this year’s event is in the middle weekend of our summer holidays in August we couldn’t wait to get the cheque in the post. The NFOL usually has about 2000 vans and tents, there are marquees, trade stalls, arena events, and every night there is a cracking live show. It really is a brilliant weekend.

So we were devastated to get the email this week advising that the record-breaking wet British summer had claimed another victim. The NFOL is cancelled. We are disappointed; I can’t imagine how the teams of volunteer organisers must feel, some of whom have invested three years of their lives into this thing. It is very sad.

But we shrugged our shoulders, hitched up the van, and headed out into Britain’s wet wilderness for some caravan therapy. (Actually we had to change the battery before we left because it seems to be knackered. And the caravan side-lights didn’t work, but we didn’t need them, we’d be there before dark. But was this an Omen?)

We headed for a temporary DA site at Lyme View Marina. We’ve been before, good location, with a fine walk over the moors to the National Trust’s Lyme Park. You’d think finding it would be easy, but we made the mistake of trusting the SatNav. When she takes you the wrong way in a car you pull into a side road and do a three-point turn. No problem, it’s just annoying. Try it with a caravan on a single-track, with passing places, reversing into a farm gate. Wild.

It didn’t help that there were none of the usual direction arrows fixed to lamp-posts. The DA’s are normally very good about this. We should have suspected something. But we found a road to the marina ourselves, one that we recognised from last time, and we wound our way up the hill, over the canal bridge and into the boat yard that leads to the site. At the end of the boatyard, taped to a chained and locked gate, was a damp sheet of A4 with the words “Site Shut” in dribbly felt tip. So now we had our second lesson in extreme caravan manoeuvring. Boatyards are magical places, with anchors and chains and other vicious chandlery scattered at random, ready to gouge and tear into the tender flesh of caravan walls. It took us quarter of an hour to get out.

So, where to go now? Not back home, please; the rain had stopped and the chances of the first dry weekend of the summer were high. There were other sites we knew. Each number we called was answered by a machine, ‘at the tone please leave a message.’ We didn’t want to leave a message, we wanted permission to pitch, and before it went dark. Because the side lights still didn’t work and it was already 7:40 pm.
Third time lucky, the Caravan Club site at Buxton - Grin Low – could take us. Just a few pitches since it’s the first day of the school holidays. But we had to get there in twenty minutes. The SatNav said we could do it, but we know that our SatNav is calibrated for Lambourghini’s driven by suicidal maniacs, and we had the Pennines to cross. But we made it. Just. And even though all the cupboards had emptied all over the caravan floor by the time we got there, we felt our luck was changing. Even better, just as we pulled onto the site, the side lights on the caravan started working again.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

North Wales Coast

We’ve brought the caravan to Abergeli, a temporary site we’ve wanted to try for a few years. The main attractions are proximity to home (only 40 mins) and the access to the North Wales coast.

It has occurred to me that I have, at different times, walked most of the north coast of Wales. It was never something I deliberately set out to do, it just worked out that way. We have done the walk from Colwyn Bay to Llandudno many times, it’s one of our favourites. We’ve also picked off Caernarvon to Bangor, and from the other side, Llanfairfechan to Bangor; Penmaenmawr to Conway and Conway to Llandudno. So apart from the short stretch from Llanfarfechan to Penmaenmawr we’ve done everything West of Colwyn Bay. So staying at Abergeli gave us the chance to chalk up another three or four miles eastwards.

The camp site is close to Gwyrch Castle. There’s no public access to the castle, which is a pity because from a distance it looks like a wonderful place. It is in the hands of a preservation trust right now so hopefully they can do something with it. I can’t help thinking the National Trust should get involved, it would be a terrific draw for them, given a bit of investment.

Our walk took us, about a mile, down to the coast. I didn’t expect much, to be honest, and to begin with the walk was indeed pretty dull. But it soon became varied and interesting and Sarah was amazed at the wealth of wild flowers we saw, especially the sea holly (pictured), swathes valerium, and hundreds of pyramid orchids. She was in her element and had her sketch book on the go every time we stopped.

There was a lovely little cafe/bistro nestling in a caravan park near Llanddulas along the way, and it was just in the right place for a rest and a cup of tea. The path continues along the coast until it drops onto the end of Colwyn Bay promenade and from then on becomes our often repeated walk along the bay, stopping off for lunch in the Forte cafe in Rhos-on-sea, before continuing on, over the Little Orme and down into Llandudno. It’s about 12 miles in all, and the great beauty of this route is that we were able to jump on a number 12 bus in Llandudno (after coffee in Waterstones) which brought us back to a stop right outside the castle gates, near our camp site.

An excellent day. Tomorrow I have my eye set on heading east, to Rhyl, because right now the game is on. The whole North Coast is within reach.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Hay Festival

I always worry a little about going away from home for a few days. But I take precautions: I double lock the house, I have a good alarm system and I set timed security lights.

I noticed my house keys were missing from my fancy snap-lock key ring. Ah, well, they'll be in the caravan somewhere. Then I got a call from my father-in-law. He'd been passing the house and noticed my bunch of keys lying on the driveway in front of the house. OMG! I lock the place up, make it secure, then leave the bloody keys outside for any passing brigands to collect, take away, then return later with his Luton van and colleagues to help with the heavy stuff. I think I need a new key-ring system.

It rained in Hay yesterday. When it rains here it doesn't do it by halves. Hay rain is serious, committed, professional rain. It rained all day and the ill-prepared, most of us, got very wet. Did I care? Well, not much. We had some good sessions at the festival site, especially Susan Greenfield, the neuroscientist, who, in just under an hour, managed to rewire my brain into buying her book. I swore, before I came, that I had more than enough books – at least forty must-read-next titles on my shelves. What I don't need right now is another one. But I am no match for a neuroscientist. Not only did I buy her book but I got it signed. An excellent read it is proving to be, too. I am most interested in her take on computers and IT and social media and how they will change our very identities. For good or ill? I'll finish writing the blog before I read that bit.

Today, Monday, was dry and at times, sunny. A lovely day. Two excellent talks at the festival, a fine meal at The Granary, and... well, I bought some more books at the Hay Cinema Book Shop. I am weak, I know, but I found a David A Hardy book of science fiction art, 'Visions of Space', for only six quid, and it is just fabulous. It's from the era of SF illustration that I most love, elegant cigar-shaped moon ships and Chesley Bonestell wheeled space stations. Wonderful stuff.

Saturday, 2 June 2012


We're in Hay-on-Wye for our seventh visit to the annual literary festival. Things didn't start so well for us. We arrived in the evening, had a late tea, then set the bed up for an early night, and found that the locker where we store all the bedding was full of water. The duvet and pillows and pretty-much everything else was soaked. We salvaged what we could and spent the night with just one, single-sized, paper-thin blanket and a cotton sheet to protect us from the harsh mid-Wales June climate.

So this morning I set about tackling the problem. It was, of course, the water heater – the cause of so much woe in recent weeks. I thought I'd fixed it. It worked fine in Cheshire. I left Sarah to wring-out the bedding and drape it around the inside of the car, out of the rain, while I completely dismantled the water heater and scattered bits of it all around the field.

Turns out the 'O' ring, which connects the main tank to the wall fitting, had a kink in it. I smoothed it out, refitted the unit to the wall, connected up the pipes and switched everything on.
"I can smell gas!" shouted Sarah.
I sniffed around the gas fitting but could smell nothing.
"There's gas in the caravan!"
Nonsense. The gas fittings were outside by the... ah. I'd forgotten to reconnect the pipe to the unit inside the van.
So we opened all the windows and let the rain in while we ventilated the caravan. And I reconnected the gas pipe.

But everything seems okay now. Water heater is re-assembled. No leaks. No gas. Bedding is steaming away nicely inside the car.

All ready for our first event in the How-the-Light-gets-in philosophy tent, a discussion about time's arrow. This is what I'm here for. A bit of brain food. Escape from the real world.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Jodrell Bank

We’re back in the box at last. Water heater problems seem to be fixed and the sun is shining. We’re staying at a site in Cheshire, near Brereton Heath Country Park, and today, Saturday, is our wedding Anniversary. 33years. We’ve come for a day out at the new discovery centre at Jodrell Bank. (actually, we were not allowed mobile phones at Jodrell Bank, for obvious reasons, so it was Sunday before I found enough bandwidth to post this blog)

Here’s a photo, taken inside the rather excellent cafe, of clocks showing time around the universe. 
There’s Mars time where each minute is about 61 Earth seconds, and there’s Venus time where barely four seconds elapsed while we were having our cuppa – and the clock goes backwards, retrograde, just like Venus itself. Also there’s Jupiter time with the second hand racing around, and Black Hole time where it has stopped completely.

Then there’s Jodrell Bank Time, powered by Hydrogen atoms and accurate to 100 billionth of a second – so it seemed appropriate to take a photograph of the exact moment in time(to within 100 billionth of a second) when the anniversary of our 33rd year of marriage came up.
 And we toasted it with a nice cup of tea. The clock says 10 o’clock, by the way. We got married at 11 o’clock, but you have to account for British Summer Time.

[I should do a similar thing in October when my 39th anniversary of working in the day-job comes up, but then I’d have to that one in Black Hole time.]

Anyway, fantstic view of the Lovell telescope from the cafe,  jaw-dropping no matter how many times I look at it.
Incidentally, the discovery centre is brilliant and we would come back to Jodrell again just for the cafe, because lunch was awesome. I had a Cheshire Cheese and Rhubarb Chutney Bruschetta with salad. I ate too much, and to prove it here’s a picture of me attempting to eclipse the 76m Lovell Telescope with my stomach.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Bank Holiday Blues

It’s Bank Holiday Monday. The sun is shining. The flowers are blooming. So why am I here? Why not caravanning?
Why am I not travelling in a box?
It comes down to this. I don’t like cold showers.
At the end of last season I noticed water pouring out from under the van. A connection into the water heater had cracked. When I fiddled with it, it disintegrated. That was a week before we went away for our last outing of 2011. I by-passed the heater and we managed with cold water only, in October! It was great, felt like real camping. But we’re never going to do it again.
Winter came. The clocks went back. The caravan went under cover. I ordered the missing part (which came a week later) and then forgot all about it.
Until last week.
So, Bank Holiday weekend I’m doing a job I should have done four months ago.
Here’s a potted guide:
Carver Water Heater on the path ready for action
Thread full of gunk, needed careful cleaning
Saturday. I removed the (already disconnected) heater unit from the caravan. Had a dog of a job clearing out the remains of the old connector, picking bits of plastic crap out of the thread with a bent nail, and I got as far as the part where I didn’t have a spanner big enough. So we headed off to B&Q, bought the spanner, looked round the kitchens, went for a coffee, wasted the day.
Here's my nice new adjustable spanner,
 before it got coated in dollops of silicon sealant
Sunday. Got everything connected. Slow and methodical. Carefully applied silicon sealant around the hole in the caravan wall, then offered the new unit up. Nice clean job. Screwed everything back in place. Now it could rain if it wanted because all the pipe work would be done inside the van. But inside the van I noticed the pipes didn’t match the ones I’d attached to the nozzles.

 Note: for future reference the non-return valve connector is for the cold inlet, not the hot outlet. I’d put the nozzles on the wrong way round. So I unscrewed everything, getting silicon sealant all over me and the boiler and my tools and the neighbour’s cat. Then it started to rain, so I taped up the hole with a plastic bag and went into the house to sulk.
Monday. Relocated the nozzles in the proper holes. Repeated all the Sunday morning steps, somewhat less carefully than before, and coated myself in yet more silicon sealant.
Hose connected. Nice neat job.
 Pity it's connected to the wrong side!

 Connecting the pipes was a fiddle, because I had cut some of them away (last year) so each pipe was an inch shorter than it used to be. The key to the job was to join the pipes with the boiler in place but not attached to the caravan. This gave me a bit of room to manoeuvre.
Last step was to fill the system with water, test that the heater worked and, with the system under pressure check for leaks. Amazing! Everything dry and clean. I did a little jig of delight and dug out the sites books. If it stops raining and if the temperatures climb above the current arctic lows we’ll give the van a weekend outing in the next couple of weeks.
But for now, Bank holiday over, back to work.