Thursday, 22 August 2013

Brixham with Notts DA

Brixham has to be one of our favourite DA holiday sites. We are up on the hill just ten minutes above Brixham harbour. This is the view on the walk down into town. In the other direction we are five minutes' walk from the coast path that takes us out onto Berry Head. Loop round and keep walking and we're back in Brixham. 

This site has air that supercharges the lungs, and laylines that make you want to lie down in the field and sleep, with or without a caravan. Sadly it's our last night night, for all good things must end. The site is about to close, but we know we will be back. Thank you Notts. DA, it has been, once again, a real treat.


Thursday, 15 August 2013

Best Tea Shop?

This is the view from our table at the Old Battery National Trust tea room on the Isle of Wight. They even provide binoculars so you can watch the birds on The Needles while munching your cream teas. Could this be the best table with the best view from a tea room anywhere?  I can't think of one better, but I'm open to nominations.


Saturday, 6 July 2013


It's shaping up to be a pretty good summer. We're in the middle of our third consecutive weekend away in the caravan.

Last weekend we went to Abergele, in North Wales, and although we started out by slimeing around in a mudbath reminiscent of Glastonbury, it dried out by the Saturday morning and over the weekend we walked a good chunk of the Welsh Coast path, about 15 miles in total, which was the furthest Sarah has been able to manage since breaking her foot.

This weekend brings us to Llangollen, which has always been a much loved destination, but in the past we've always camped at the DA site on the north side of the river, and we've explored that part of the Vale of Llangollen at great length. This year, though, we're with Snowdonia DA at Pengwern Hall Farm, tucked away in a hidden valley south of the town. I have a long list of walks I'd like to try, up onto the ridge behind the site in the Berwyn mountains, but here's a thing I thought I'd never say again: It's too hot! Yup, summer has arrived after a seven-year absence. (Not really an absence, but when we've been away in the sunshine in recent years it's always been a bit of a fluke.)  No, this is the first summer that properly merits the name, and what good timing too, with a new caravan to try.

Anyway, it is hot, too hot to go up mountains, so we headed into Llangollen and like flies to a lamp we found ourselves, once again, in the excellent used bookshop in the middle of town. I don't need more books. Really, I do not need them. I must have fifty or more on the to-read list. So I only bought two, a Bob Shaw that I could not ignore (because I thought I'd read everything by the great man) This was a collection of short stories and it was a snip a £1.25. I also bought a biography of Helen Sharman, Britain's first cosmonaut, and it is written by Christopher Priest, so come on, I couldn't let that one go either, could I?
Anyway, Sarah appeased my conscience by picking up a rare Japanese book of botanical art, and she's hopping up and down with delight about that one.

At the moment we're in the gardens of Plas Newydd, home of the two ladies of Llangollen. The gardens are free to explore. We'll pay for the house tour on a day when the sun is less of an attraction. The gardens are wonderfully restful and only a ten minute walk from the caravan, so I guess we'll be making multiple visits.

Had an email with some exciting writing news this morning, which I can't talk about because it's only potential news at this stage, but I can at least think about it and dream, and think about long plane journeys. And you can't beat a restful sunny garden for a place to sit and think and plan. So I'll do some more of it right now.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Back in an Alpine

Nearly 20 years ago we started caravanning in an old Sprite Alpine. She was a wonderful little ‘van, she had personality, and we took her all over Europe. The day I left her behind, in a scrap yard behind Birkenhead Docks, I felt I had abandoned her, that I was a wicked and unfeeling person. But she had to go. She was forty years old and her chassis was so tired and bent we had to manipulate the corner steadies to straighten her out enough just to open and close the door.

We bought on old Avondale, and she was okay, but suffered from damp. She did the trick for 10 years but the damp was always going to win. She was a comfortable ‘van but I have to confess I always missed the little Alpine and her quirky eccentricities.

But now she’s back, or at least her daughter is back. We have a new caravan and she’s an Alpine. Swift have been making Sprite Alpines for a few years. We knew we’d have one, one day, as soon as we stepped inside a display model at the Manchester Caravan Show in 2011. So we saved. Then in February we headed back to the Caravan Show and added a Sprite Alpine 2 to our family. And you know what? She’s wonderful. She’s called Sally. Sally Swift.

First outing for Sally was at Lady Margaret’s Park, near Chirk. Just one night, for a try-out, in early March, then a couple of nights at a CS near Winsford. It snowed both times but we were toasty warm. I haven’t blogged about any of the places we visited because we didn’t really visit, we just stayed in the van and made tea and toast (because the grill works) and cooked meals (because the cooker works) and had showers (because the water system works). And mostly we just sat around in our T-shirts looking out at the snow outside and swapping big melon-shaped grins.

This weekend, though, we’ve been out for real. We have been staying at a lovely Camping Club CS called Ty Mawr near Ellesmere. The site is right on the banks of the Shropshire Union canal, and the walking round and about is excellent, although we haven’t done too much walking since Sarah broke her foot doing “keep-fit”. It’s a good spot for crutches, though; not too many hills.

We’re only an hour-and-a-half from home, but we passed through a place called Whittington on the way. Whittington has a castle, and neither of us had ever heard of it before. It’s not a big castle but it is so picturesque. It has a moat and ducks, and so we came back to visit the next day, and they had a medieval re-enactment group doing violent stuff with swords on the lawn. And here’s the thing, it is owned, not by English Heritage or the National Trust, but by the community of Whittington – the only arrangement of its type in the country as far as they know. And the pride they have in their castle really shows. It is beautifully cared for and maintained, and the only charge is £1.00 for the car park. I would have helped out some more by patronising the tea shop and eating cake, but the tea shop was full. Next time, then.

But this leads me on to a growing feeling I have for small shops. The little market towns are being squeezed out by the big chains. It is desperately sad to see. All the character and interest is being lost. So many times I have paid for two hours in the car park only to find that two minutes would suffice, because there’s nothing left to see; all the shops are shuttered up and closed. Those that remain seem to be on borrowed time. So I’ve started a personal campaign of buying from indie shops rather than chains if possible, especially when on holiday. This is particularly so of tea and coffee shops. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fond of your Costas and your Starbucks et al, but if a little indie shop takes my fancy, (and they have to work hard for it, no plastic table cloths, tomato shaped sauce bottles or commercial radio blasting from a tinny transistor on the counter) if it looks inviting, then I’ll go there in preference. We came upon a little coffee shop in Oswestry, called Wednesdays. It had opened that very day. Nice shop, lots of comfortable seating, very friendly customer-focussed staff, gave us a special opening day half price offer. I hope they do well. Take this as a big plug. Wednesdays, Castle Court, Bailey Street. It’s up a little alley round the back of Wilko’s.

The problem with the chain shops is that when they go bust they all go bust, and they take their neighbours with them. It doesn’t have to be a reflection on the town or village they are in, these shops could be doing well in particular areas, often at the expense of the little indie shops that find it hard to compete. But then when they do crash they leave a big hole that can take the rest of the town with them. Woolworths are a good example. You can spot the smouldering crater in most small-town high streets that used to be filled by Woolworths. They’re quite distinctive, they’re usually re-occupied by thrift shops, and you can see the collateral damage that has been caused by their passing. It’s just my theory, but I don’t think you can blame the internet for everything. Big chains are just as much a cause. When you visit a town these days you are hard pressed to notice any difference between it and your own home town, wherever that may be. All the shops are the same. It is depressing. So go on, next time you’re somewhere new, find a non-chain shop and buy something. Help keep them afloat.

 Eek! I’m moaning a lot, aren’t I? I shouldn’t. I should just look out of Sally’s window at the rolling Shropshire countryside and the canal boats chugging past, and listen to the sound of zero traffic and... there, I’m smiling again.