Wednesday, 30 October 2013
We knew we were heading in the right direction (North) when we came across a large angel and arrived in Northumberland. The drive was spectacular and Big Al thought he was on a scalextric track with hairpin bends and hidden dips and sudden reduction from long straights to single cart tracks - all the better for playing chicken ! Arrived in Bellingham and walked on a long wall built by some guy called Hadrian apparently to keep the Scotts out. Too many gaps to be effective but apparently some guy called Salmond is going to try and build it from the other side. After a long walk it was time to get back in the saddle and we cycled 26 miles around Kielder Lake (the largest man made lake in Europe). Lots of thought evoking sculptures dotted around as a test to make sure you went all around and didn't cheat. The red squirrels were all in hiding - no change there. We went to Bellingham's annual show - a bit like a mini Bath & West. Best bit was when the falconry expert sent off his 1st bird. It failed to return so he sent of his 2nd to keep the show going. It failed to return. Suddenly both birds came in from opposite directions and crashed into each other at 30 feet. Feathers flying everywhere and the loud speaker announced "show is over". We move on to Berwick Upon Tweed along more scalextric track and went to Lindisfarne on Holy Island. Had to plan the drive along the causeway so that Big Al did not get his toes wet. Very quiet and managed to spot a couple of seals not playing hide and seek. Drove to Seahouses and took a boat out to the Farne Islands and got close up to lots of seals and birds - felt just like Attenborough. Decided some culture was necessary so took the Lowrie trail to see how many paintings we could spot. It was a lot easier than hunting wildlife. Continuing the culture theme we drove the castles and coastline route and clocked up far more castles than I can recall. Northumberland was obviously a very busy place in the dark ages with every tribe seeking to invade without a thought or any immigration policy. Weather was good so we took lots of bike rides and on one ride we accidentally crossed the border into Scotland along a back road so we had to celebrate - I had haggis and gravy and Maggs had fish and chips. After 12 weeks of alternative lifestyle we were ready to take Big Al over the border and into Scotland. The moment we did the weather changed and we couldn't read the "Welcome to Scotland" sign due to the heavy mist. We camped just outside Edinburgh and took the park and ride in - just in case there any silly car park barriers as I believe escaping from car parks is still a capital offence in Scotland. We did the usual touristy things including having a whiskey on board the Royal Yacht Britannia. Maggs smuggled the glass into her handbag and now I do not know if the lipstick is hers or Queenies. As weather was changing we decided to head North and stopped at Pitlochry to see the salmon jumping up the series of damns. No salmon today. We camped at Nairn and Maggs saw a couple of red squirrels and we both saw 3 golden eagles. Our wildlife spotting luck had arrived. We had a quick look at Inverness and then pushed North to John O'Groats and arrived on a rubbish campsite. The usual ferry to the Orkneys stopped the day we arrived and the commercial ferry wanted a fortune so we battled through the hurricane and went West along the top road then turned down the West coast to Poolewe where we saw some more seals and camped on a lovely site overlooking loch Ewe. More adventures driving took us along a very narrow track to a place called Cove which surprisingly was a cove. The road suddenly ran out and Mavis announced "Turn around when possible" so we did and went to Isle of Skye. Fantastic mountains and lochs all around but extremely wet and windy as as there was no tv / phone / internet it was soon time to move on again especially as our little beach tent had been overwhelmed by the storms and now resembled a body bag. As our wildlife spotting had improved we went to Loch Ness and took a boat out equipped with sonar. We saw lots of shadows and ripples which, with all the whiskey drinking that goes on up here, probably accounts for 100% of the sightings. As Nessie was not coming out to play we headed for Aviemore and took Big AL up as far as we could go in 2nd gear. We left him having a rest at the mountain railway and went to the top where we had to hire a guide (compulsory)if you wanted to get out and go walkies in the snow to the summit. Well worth it at 3609 foot. On the way down we actually saw Scandinavian deer. A quick trip into Aviemore to get supplies and new poles for the tent and another Big Al escape from the car park and we were on the whiskey trail heading for Aberdeen. After a couple of distilleries (Glenfarclass and Glenfiddich) we went for the park and ride to take us into Aberdeen. However more stupid height barriers so we drove into Aberdeen and squeezed Big Al into a little car park. Aberdeen was very grey due to the weather and the fact that it is built entirely out of granite. A leaflet suggested we should head for Stonehaven and seek out a famous eatery for a world famous delicacy. It was closed on arrival but the anticipation was too good to miss so I went for a haircut to kill time until it opened. Two hours later the deep fried Mars bar was mine. Yuk !! Exiting Aberdeen we came across Balmoral but no sign of a haggis or a Royal so we motored on. Mavis wanted some more fun so she took us up the mountain to the Glenshee ski resort. Big Al puffed up in 1st gear but no time to rest as the trip down was just like a black run. We go back later to collect the gold medal. Having got the taste for heights we headed for Ben Nevis and left Big Al having a rest while we hiked up. We made it half way in good time but would have needed another 3 hours to summit and get back safely in daylight so turned around when possible and headed back down. We moved on to Oban on a lovely site overlooking Loch Linnhee and took the ferry to Mull. More fantastic scenery but more wind and rain. On our way out of Oban we visited Cruachen Power Station which is actually inside a hollowed out mountain. A bit James Bondish but very interesting and very simple use of nature to generate electricity. I will explain the workings to anyone interested on our return ! We are now back in Big Al listening to the rain as get ready to go and see Glasgow. TTFN B & M
Sunday, 15 September 2013
So we exited Skeggy (Maggs said about time)and travelled on to York without incident and arrived on a nice campsite 7 miles out of York. Oddly though we had to drive 10 miles to the park and ride which was still 7 miles from the city. We still experienced some prejudice against Big Al. The park and ride was under redevelopment and detoured us to a temporary park and ride only to find that the barrier was set at 6.6 (Big Al being a healthy 9.0) so we drove into York only to find further restrictions until we crept into the train station car park. We did the tourist things and visited many of the special attractions (too many to list) but most memorable being the climb of 272 steps up York Minster (the view was well worth it) even though there were no passing bays to overtake the slower unfit foreign tourists. Information overload from the guides when we descended so we made our way to the York Chocolate Story where we got too make our own chocolate lollipops. Maggs' culinary experience clearly overshadowed my gluttony skills as her lolly came out looking and tasting great. I however simply added every extra I could cram onto the surface not realising that a chocolate lolly with polo mints and wine gums and liquorice allsorts wasn't going to make it to the next round. On a rare wet day we took refuge at a lovely spa /indoor water park with Jacuzzi (alas no "Jack" - to be found) so I amused myself riding the 3 water flumes while Maggs clocked up 50 lengths before a good sauna and steam room experience. No need for a shower for a few days after all that hydro therapy. On a rare tv indulgence we caught a glimpse of "3 in a bed" which was filmed in Knaresborough which we discovered was nearby. It looked good so we asked Mavis to take us there. We visited Mother Shipton's cave and a petrifying waterfall / well renowned for its properties of turning anything immersed to stone. Maggs suggested it was time I took another shower but I did not have my scrunchie with me. We also visited Brimham Rocks which is a fascinating rock formation. Anyone can climb all over the rocks which must be a real nightmare for health and safety bods. Also heard about a cycle route in Pickering but when we got there we realised it was an advanced BMX track - far to tough for us so we had to sheepishly dismount and exit on foot and go in search of a pub. We took a ride down a long country lane (through a swarm of horrible itchy black flies) and after 5 miles came across a lovely village only to find that the pub had been closed down weeks ago. So a very dry ride back to Pickering through the flies again. We also took a drive across the moors to Whitby (famous for the original setting in Bram Stokers' Dracula)but did not see any vampires. However I am wondering if the plague of black flies has anything to do with my sudden allergy to garlic, silver crosses, daylight and no refection in the shaving mirror and my craving for blue steak ! After this time on the road we have observed some familiar characteristic of fellow campers :- Over use of spirit levels and yellow blocks to align to the horizon Turning awnings into a "Grand Design" feature The dress code for the early morning visit to the toilet / shower consisting of crocks / dressingown and the obligatory swinging of a supermarket carrier bag The alfresco cooking of bacon whilst wearing only shorts(women included) to the annoyance of health and safety bods The male of the species being sent out to fetch and carry the water, empty the toilet cassette and make infantile continual adjustments to the guide ropes and anything mechanical whilst the female of the species barks the orders with her duster in her hands I am sure there will be more observations as we continue our trip up North. TTFN Barry and Maggs
Thursday, 15 August 2013
We stayed in Woolacombe for 17 gloriously sunny days (no need for fake bake) and were invaded by visitors who obviously missed us already or who were just trying to gatecrash our sunshine Steve, Roz, Jess, Elly, Kev, Sarah, John, Jan, Martin and Sue. Far too many to sit in our van. Just how Martin managed to leave his underpants behind will stay a closely garded secret but he was obviously trying to oudo Kevin who had previously managed to leave his shirt behind. We had fun on the beach but alas no tsunamis to help us bodyboard. Great fun gatecrashing Kev, Sarah, John and Jan's posh hotel. We took a trip to Lundy Island and saw lots of twittering going on but we did not see any seals or dolphins. Took long cliff top walk from Lee to Woolacombe (because we can) and thought we saw a couple walking 2 sheep but when we got closer it was 2 enormous white dogs and this was before we reached the pub - must have been sunstroke. But all good things must come to an end and it was time to move on to Wareham. However the visitors found us again and we were checked out by Mike and Spencer (showing off their new motot bikes) followed by Jake, Caroline, Dawson and Miley (who came to give Maggs a much needed grandchildren fix). Then Kevin and Sarah popped in following Jen's graduation and last but not least Steve, Roz, Jess and Elly came again. We had so many visitors to check in that reception must have thought we were running a crack house but the only substances being abused was our supply of tea and coffee. We visited Swaneage carnival (actually a couple of tractors and a milkfloat) but the Red Arrows show afterwards was truly spectacular and saved the day. We then moved on to Little Baddow and stayed with posh friends Brian and Marleen in their posh house (a brief break from the van). Maggs and Marleen conspired and suddenly we were special guests at their dancing lesson in their village hall. I did not expect to see my dancing shoes again so soon. We then played pitch pitch pitch and put put put (well that's how I play) and afterwards took in the view where Constable knocked off a couple of watercolours but they were too big to fit in the van. As we were saying goodbye Marleen named the van " Big Al" (standing for alternative lifestyle). Our next destination was Cromer but on way Big Al got trapped in a height restricted barrier car park while we were in a pub. Some petty officiado must have seen Big Al resting quietly in the corner and slipped the barrier across. Well we couldn't have that so following some nifty reversing and pavement mounting Big All slid in front of the shops and around the barrier into freedom to the amazement of a few shoppers. Cromer was lovely and so was the crab we were enjoying the first evening in a local restaurant we walked / hiked to across fields. We were so enjoying the meal and the company of a couple we met (Steve and Sue) that we had not noticed the sun had gone down and it was dark. As usual we were unprepared for the return journey across the fields as we did not have a torch and Steve and Sue kindly drove us back to site and stayed for a drink or 3. We also met our new campsite neighbour Lloyd and had fun helping him manouver his caravan into an almost impossible position next to our pitch. We continued our fitness regime and climbed 172 steps of Cromer church tower. Unfortunately the Cromer crab was seeking revenge on Maggs and she had to break her record of the 100 yards dash to the loo several times - all successfully I hasten to add. We later took a ride to Norwich and took a boat trip out on the Broads. Cromer was really nice. Next stop was Skegness. I am sure it is nice but the kiss-me-quick hats and candy floss was not really our scene. Reg (Steve's dad) happened to be in Skeggy so we met up for a drink. We cycled out to Gibraltar Point (another Twitter destination)and took in the quiet unspoilt landscape. However I must confess the lure of the funfair got to me when I saw a "human catapult" ride which shot victims over 100 feet in the air at the speed of 100 mph in 1.5 seconds. They called it a reverse bungi. Maggs refused to parcipate and the ride would only take 2 (no singles) so I desperately tried to pursuade lots of "macho men" to go on with me but to no avail. Suddenly a young girl said "yes" leaving her chicken boyfriend behind and we were away. Awsome. Not much more to say about Skeggy so will sign off now.
Thursday, 11 July 2013
Fast forward 9 days and we have left Tiverton having asked Mavis (you remember her AKA the satnag lady) to take us to Woolacombe via Arlington Court National Trust. We had a great day exploring the gardens and the special carriage museum although the high spot for Maggs was copping a view of the sheep shearers in action. On way out we asked Mavis to take us on to Woolacombe but it seems Mavis was intending to have some fun and took us up some very narrow cart tracks. Our van (yet to be named)was obviously out of place judging by the startled looks of people in their gardens cussing and shaking their heads as we travelled by. If the blackberries were in season we could have picked from both sides of the cab as we continued to play Mavis' game of Chicken Run country style. When we arrived on site we had to pluck the hedgerow from the wing mirrors but it was all worth it when we pitched up with a glorious sea view. The only down side is we are precisley 305 steps from the shower block.* We are learning to "live the van" adjusting to new inner space and the upside is we have a magnificent "garden" to watch the sunset over the bay - because we can. The bikes are getting a lot of use again. Last week is was on the canal towpath. Now we are transcending hills and valleys and making use of all 21 gears and a lot of lubrication cream. We are still amateurs as "older people" ask us if we are "ok" as they whizz past us going up the hills - it wont be long before we are them! At the moment it still feels as if we are on holiday as we are only in to our second week. The good weather and the novelty of freedom from work is our new pay day. We are getting savvy with our flasks and packed lunch enjoying the freedom - because we can. However a sudden jolt back to our old ways as family and friends are checking up on us this weekend (hope they bring some red cross parcels) which means that Maggs will be sprucing up the van (with no name) and I expect I will have to get the mower out and cut a few fields to keep it tidy. *Just found another downside with all this damn grass to cut. Chop chop for now Barry and Maggs
Tuesday, 2 July 2013
TURN AROUND WHEN POSSIBLE Ten weeks ago we were living a very different lifestyle. Both working in very good jobs and home owners (having spent three years renovating our "chalet" bungalow)with two cats and a mortgage. Skip ten weeks and we find ourselves in our campervan on day three of our big adventure on a wet Tuesday afternoon starting this blog. Our lifestyle change was triggered by sudden redundancy which when revalued opened up a brand new road to heaven or hell depending on Mavis aka the lady in the sat nag. So we packed up the bungalow with the help of friends and family who came to our rescue when we ran out of storeage space. Some did well with TV / BBQ / pictures etc while others had the dubious life size Indonesian warriors which we hope will not end up as firewood on a cold winter evening. Max and Watson (our two cats)decided to live next door - well they did spend most of their time dining out there on succulent freshly cooked chicken dishes when they tired of Whiskers Tin Dins. We are adjusting to our "new standard of living" and although the alarm clock no longer rings (we did not bring it as we have no bed side cabinets to put it on)the noise of selfish early morning campers on the move never fails to wake us. As the pressure of time sheets and targets are out the window we are enjoying new freedoms - because we can. So stay tuned and watch this space. Final thought for today - although our new life style is meant to be pressure free Maggs has already found the local village hall is holding a ballroom dance lesson this evening and has already booked us in. Cha cha cha for now.