Sunday, 12 September 2010

Are you mad?

Lovely Looe

This morning we swam in an unheated outdoor pool in England - in September!  Yes it was a trifle parky but it certainly woke us up and got the blood pumping!  It wasn't meant to be unheated but the boiler had blown.  I'm not surprised, it must be hard work trying to keep an outdoor pool heated in this country, even in the summer.  Unfortunately the showers were some distance from the pool so we both had to sprint across the entire campsite dripping wet and freezing cold, clad only in a swimsuits and a towel.  I think we scared a few of the natives along the way and I'm not sure it's the sort of thing that's usually encouraged on a CC site, but it was good fun and we were helpless with giggles by the time we reached the sanctity of the shower block.

After we'd thawed out with a hot shower and a few hot cups of tea it was time to sort out the Crazy Golf once and for all.  I have to report that out of 5 more games Steve won 4, although my honour remains in tact as I scored the lowest overall round on one of my wins.  His scores are always so much more consistent than mine - he regularly went round in 21 - 25 whilst I ranged from 19 - 29, I'm sure that says something deep and meaningful about us if only I could be bothered to figure out what that was.

Statue of Nelson, the one eyed seal
All that was left to do then was to pack up and head home.  Yes, over 200 miles for 2 nights is a long way and a bit of a daft thing to do, but it was fantastic fun!  We're planning several more adventure between now and Christmas, we're definitely NOT fairweather campers; a quick scan back over the blog pages reminds us how many fabulous things we've seen and done already this year and our plan to eventually tour the entire coast of the UK is still firmly on the cards.  But for now we're parked up, back in the house and trawling the internet for inspiration about where to go next.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Would you Adam and Eve it?

Eden Project - simply stunning.

Driving over 200 miles for 2 nights away just to see the Eden Project may seem like a bonkers plan but it was definitely worth it.  Lured by the fact that there is a £4 per person discount for anyone who cycles or walks we parked up in a layby in nearby St Blazey and pedaled a mile or so to get there.  I'm sure they'd prefer you to cycle from further away but it was 18 miles from Looe and none of them were flat.  Interestingly they don't check when you buy your ticket, we said we'd cycled and they believed us - mind you we were dressed the part and my right leg was, as usual, covered in oil from my chain.

Daisies! (Big 'uns!)
Naively I thought the Eden Project was going to be rather like Kew Gardens except bigger and hillier, but I was very wrong.  The two indoor biomes are vast, the Rain Forest one especially so.  Wherever you looked there was information about the plants and their relevance to the world.  At one point we passed a small shrub which had pretty enough blue flowers but nothing out of the ordinary which, it turns out, produces a drug which has helped save thousands of lives treating childhood leukemia.

View from Rain Forest Walk
They've recently opened the Rain Forest Walk, a climb up 80 or so steps along a gently swaying gantry to a platform suspended high in the roof over the rainforest.  We took advantage of the £3 per person special opening offer (normal price will be £5)  and headed up. If we thought it was hot in the biome in general we were in for a shock up there.  Hot air has a nasty habit of rising and it was making no exceptions for us.  Up in the platform it was just over 36C, bad enough for us palid sun shy Brits but when coupled with the stifling humidity of the rainforest it was almost unbearable.  The only relief came from the fact that the platform was directly under the open windows in the roof which provided the occasional very welcome cooler breeze.   The experience was fantastic but not for the feint hearted.  The tough climb in a hot and very humid atmosphere meant we all arrived at the platform dripping with sweat.  The walkways and platform are made from industrial metal mesh so you can look down past your feet to the canopy of the rainforest and floor of the biome far below.  We got some fabulous shots and the guide was really friendly and helpful but none of us stayed longer than 15 mins. Your timed entry ticket allows you up to 30 mins provided you can stand the heat and humidity.

The Core
We then tackled the Core, the Theatre and the outdoor biome.  In each area great care and thought has gone into informing, educating and engaging people of all ages.  Outside plants are grouped - food plants, medicines, magical/ folklore etc.  There was no way we could see and read absolutely everything in a day.  Luckily if you're a UK taxpayer and giftaid your entry fee you get a pass for free entry for a year.  Brilliant idea!  We really want to come back in the spring and see how different things look at a different time of year.

Utterly exhausted we headed for Polperro  for a fish and chip supper on the seafront.  I've never been before and I know this will upset many people, but I didn't really like the place.  Firstly there is no choice but to park in one large carpark on the edge of town which, despite being vast, has zero provision for Motorhomes and informs you in large unfriendly letters on the Pay and Display machine that large vehicles must pay double.  How come Dorset has this all figured out but nowhere else does?  Polperro is pretty with its tiny winding streets but I found it rather claustrophobic and also rather irritating having to constantly dive into doorways or gardens to avoid being run over.  Nevertheless we found the obligatory chippie down on the harbour and enjoyed a lovely al fresco dinner on a gorgeous secluded bench near the top of the cliffs.  As we ate I wondered how many people at that precise moment were paying hundreds of pounds for posh dinners that didn't have half the view of our little bench. You can keep your haute cuisine and fine dining, a fish supper and a nice quiet bench by the sea will do me fine, thank you.

Tomorrow we have to head home again but not before we've taken a dip in the pool and played at least one more game of crazy golf.  Then we plan to pootle back taking in some sights along the way.  The whole world seems to be in such a rush these days and there's nothing I enjoy more than bucking the trend.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Just when you thought it was safe...

Question: what do you do when, having been away for over five weeks, you've finally got on top of all the washing and admin at home?  Answer:  you decide that the Eden Project looks fun and drive over 200 miles for 2 nights away.

Eden Project - Looking fun!
Yes, less than one week since our epic jaunt you find us parked up at the other end of the country at the CC site in Looe.  It's a bit of a homage for me because, as a child, when I heard that people had time off in lieu, this was genuinely where I thought they came.  It appears that we chose the wrong tome to come though as Cornwall appears to be closed at the weekend.  We checked bus times to the Eden Project for tomorrow on the handy leaflet from the tourist info place, but they all appear to run M-F only. I could be wrong of course as bus timetables with their many codes generally confuse me and this particular one is choc full of them: XX, SSH, WW, XXX, LOL and TTFN.  I may have made the last couple up.

The result of all these codes being that the first bus we tried to catch down into Looe didn't turn up - but it will at that exact time tomorrow.  Unless there's an R in the month.  I think. To fill in the time before the next possible bus sighting we took in a couple of rounds on the on-site Crazy Golf.  Not a bad little course and only £1 for the clubs which you can use as much as you like till 6pm. We only had time for two games but as honours are currently even at one game all I'm sure there will be more to come.

We eventually trundled down into Looe, a very pretty if somewhat steep sided fishing village with a gorgeous sandy beach.  We noticed the contrast with the Lake District right away, up there the mountains are huge but generally outside the towns, the large glacial valleys allowing plenty of room for towns to be built on the pleasingly flat areas between the high peaks.  As many of the glaciers never made it this far south (probably held up around Bristol, that M4/M5 interchange can be hell) the valleys down here have only had to deal with very pretty, though comparatively puny, little rivers resulting in steep narrow valleys everywhere.  Thus your average town in Devon and Cornwall requires you to have the skill and dexterity of a mountain goat if you want to escape to explore the interesting stuff around the edges.

One refreshing thing about Looe is that it seems to still be an active little fishing town with a busy and purpose built dockside and a harbour full of genuine fishing boats as opposed to those just running tourist trips.  We had a very pleasant few hours wandering around the town before catching the last bus back to the campsite.  Well I think it was the last bus.  They could still be running now for all I know.  I'm planning to call Bletchly Park in the morning to see if they can help me with the timetable for tomorrows trip to the Eden Project.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Great North Fun - The Finale!

Why must all good things come to an end?  Who decided that?  I'd like a pretty stern word with whoever it was.  Party pooper.  So here I sit back in my dining room having spent the day catching up on emails, post, lots of washing and clearing out Delores ready for next time.  This is not a return to work, it is simply a break inbetween trips.  If I manage to master the technology I'll even add a few pics today.  Oh and here's a small quiz for you.  The Lake District is so called because of it's many, many lakes, and yet only one of them has the name 'lake' in its title - all the others are meres, waters, tarns or reservoirs.  So which is the only one with 'lake' in its name?

And so as promised some reflections on the previous 5 weeks or so.  First of all the awards!

New England Bay.  Love at first "site".
Best Proper Campsite:  CC New England Bay - clear and easy winner.  Mindbogglingly fabulous location, lovely pitches, nice loos and showers and lovely wardens.  Oh and the fish and chip van.  And the fresh fish man.  I could go on and on and on.  I absolutely loved it here.  Honourable mentions go to Berwick CC site and Grange CC site next to Derwent.  Both were lovely sites were great in their own way, Berwick had great views and Grange had wonderfully secluded pitches.

Best CL/CS:  Another easy winner this - Moat Vale CS near Gretna.  It was quirky, fun and friendly.  There was hardstanding, a nice loo and shower and the owners were delightful.  I bought home grown lamb and veg and the prices were incredibly reasonable.  Honourable mentions go to Howslack Farm CL near Moffat and Annstead Farm CS near Seahouses - both lovely sites, tucked away and with pristine facilities.

Moat Vale CS nr Gretna
Best Road:  A tie between the A686 Haydon to Alston and the B6277 from Alston to High Force falls in Teesdale.  Wonderful roads to drive though dramatic scenery.  Not too tough on Delores and lots of passing opportunities to let people whiz past.

Best Mountain:  Helvellyn - by a gnats whisker from Great Gable.  The only reasons Helvellyn wins is because it's so perfectly geologically wonderful and we climbed it.  Great Gable is next on my list though - it's a great slab of a mountain just asking to be climbed.

Best Lake/ Loch:  I'm going to go for Coniston Water as although it suffered from the scourge of tourism it's actually a gorgeous place with lots of really interesting history.  Ullswater is very pretty but perhaps too predictably so in a George Clooney kind of a way so I'm plumping for something with a little more substance.  Close second is Loch Skeen at the top of Grey Mares Tail falls - big climb but well worth it, gorgeous loch and stunning views.

Coniston Water
There are so many fantastic places we've seen that it's hard to pick out a few but hopefully the rest of the blog has given you some flavour of them.  As for things we've learned along the way...

1.  If you're taking a cat then also take a vacuum cleaner, the litter gets everywhere!
2.  Don't pull the freezer door too hard or the hinge may snap...
3.  Always take your waterproof, I don't care if it's 30C and clear skies, that's just there to fool you.  You'll thank me for that one day.
4.  You won't need as many clothes or as much food as you think you will.  There's loads of stuff I haven't worn - but that could be down to the lack of summer.
5.  Just do it.  Don't make excuses.  Life is too short and we now have a full summer of wonderful memories and plan to add a whole lot more over the coming years.

So that's it, all done and no more blogging till the next trip adventure.  Hope I didn't bore you too much.  Tomorrow I'm back to work and believe me you don't want to hear all about that!  Did you get the answer to my little quiz question?  It's Bassenthwaite Lake.  Next time you're on Who Wants to be a Millionnaire and that question comes up I'll be expecting my cut of the winnings.  Just enough to see us on a few more nice long hols will do me...

Friday, 3 September 2010

Great North Fun Day 37

The end of the adventure.

Well it had to happen - the final full day.  Tomorrow we sadly travel home but for today there was much more fun to be had in Blackpool.  Owing to Blackpool being the least bicycle friendly place we've visited on our travels we drove to the sea front.  It's clear they're planning to launch a cycle hire scheme here very soon but they really need to sort out some cycle paths/ routes first.  Yesterday we spotted some unrestricted parking south of the Pleasure Beach where a number of motorhomes seemed to be overnighting so we figured we were safe enough there.

We started off with a stroll along the prom and a game of crazy golf which Steve obviously won.  Then we went in search of the elusive beer and chips.  I call them elusive because although it sounds simple enough, most pubs won't serve them because chips only count as a side order.  Sure enough the first pub failed as it refused to serve any food outside despite having lots of seating outside and being on the prom.  Thank goodness for the Toby Duck just along the road which came to our rescue.  Mind you sitting on the prom meant sitting right next to a busy 'A' road and washing down lungfuls of car fumes with each glug of beer.

Back in the Pleasure Beach we revisited most of the rides from yesterday plus a few others for good measure.  Top marks to the guy in charge of the dodgems who bucked the 'surly' trend and was happy, friendly and chatty with everyone. Having watched many of the staff there today I can't say I altogether blame them for their lack of smiles.  The public generally ignore them completely, no pleases or thank yous and leaving litter, or in one case throwing litter, around the ride.

We nipped back to Delores to check on Monty and I have to say he's behaved impeccably throughout the trip.  We've not been able to let him out nearly as much as we'd hoped but he's been brilliant.  To be honest I'm worried about taking him home now as there's a large black cat that lives nearby and beats up all the other local cats including Monty.  At the moment it's nice to see him without any battle scars.

Robbie Williams was somewhere in town performing & switching on the lights but as I've never been a massive Robbie fan and as pressing a large light-switch doesn't rate high on my "oooohhhh how did they do that" scale, we opted to give it a miss and grab some food.  As most people seemed to be distracted by the whole "famous guy pressing a button" routine the restaurants were refreshingly empty.

Once the lights were on we aimed for the prom with the intention of visiting an arcade before catching a tram back along the length of the lights.  Fat chance!  The arcade part worked out well but owing to the fact that a large number of people couldn't figure out that walking on the tracks in front of several hundred tons of moving metal wasn't a great plan for longevity, the trams weren't running properly.  In fact in our direction they weren't running at all so after 25 mins we gave up and walked back down to Delores.

The lights were pretty enough but are definitely suffering from too much corporate sponsorship. The section designed by Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen was a refreshing flashback to how things used to be.  The vintage trams also looked fabulous as they made their way very slowly through the crowds.  Other than that it was mainly flashing lights advertising burger bars, tv shows and jewellers.  Not that most people bothered with the lights south of the Pleasure Beach which is a shame because a) that's where the best display was, complete with music and fountains and b) that's where they were collecting funds towards the lights to hopefully reduce the dependance on corporate sponsorship and advertising and get back to how they used to be.

Very sadly tomorrow sees us head for home so it's unlikely I'll be around - too busy sobbing into my steering wheel the whole way back - but on Sunday I plan to do the Summer Tour Awards 2010, picking out the best sites and things we've done along the way. For any motorhomers reading this I'll also be jotting down the things we've learned along the way in case you're thinking of trying something similar. But until then I bid you farewell, my steering wheel and a box of hankies await me.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Great North Fun Day 36

Big Wheel
It seems strange that a few short weeks ago we were seeking out wild camping spots in the remote parts of Glen Trool to see the stars in the most un light polluted area of the UK, and now we're in Blackpool waiting for the illuminations to start on Friday.

I haven't been to Blackpool since I was a kid and it's every bit as tacky as I remember - perhaps more so - but that's a good thing.  I'm a great believer in doing something properly so if you're going to be a tacky seaside resort then go for it. And Blackpool "goes for it" in style.  From the novelty shops selling strange and unusual shell ornaments to the multitudinous rock shops and the arcades along the Golden Mile eager to relieve you of your hard earned cash.  Blackpool is indeed major league tacky and I love it!

We spent most of today at the Pleasure Beach getting hurled around and soaked on the various rides.  What the Pleasure Beach has that none of the other major theme parks do is history.  In amongst the modern giant rides like The Big One, Valhalla and Infusion you can still find The Grand National, The Big Dipper, The Steeplechase and many other of the old wooden rides.  Some of them are real rickety old bone shakers but that's part of their charm.  Each of the older rides has a plaque describing it's history with some rides dating back to 1904.  Even the more modern classics are fun - I defy anyone who lived through the era of Jim'll Fix It to board The Revolution without thinking of boy scouts eating their packed lunch.
Blackpool beach and Tower

"The Big One" could also describe the entrance fee which at £30 per person can easily give you more of a fright than the Ghost Train, but we had a full day in there so maybe not so bad when you compare it to similarly priced theatre tickets.  The queues were refreshingly short (probably due to the entry fee) and  we didn't wait longer than 20 mins for any of the rides.  Unfortunately the real weak point is the people who work there.  Where Disneyland has permanently happy staff the Pleasure Beach has staff who have modelled themselves on the three missing Dwarves - Surly, Miserable and Stroppy.  You could see them laughing and joking amongst themselves but as soon as it came to dealing with the public the smiles vanished instantly.  One exception was the guy manning the Sky Rocket ride who actually seemed happy to be there.

Once we'd ridden everything at least once and I'd scoffed the obligatory candy floss (an absolute must for me on any trip to a funfair) we wandered down to the beach for a stroll and a paddle in the sunset.  Even though Blackpool is jammed with people the beach is big enough to provide a bit of an escape from the sheer lunacy of it all.

Tomorrow is the big switch on, Robbie Williams apparently, not that we'll be anywhere near enough to tell.  We plan to head back to the Pleasure Beach to cheer up the staff (we got 2 day passes), then hopefully up the Tower before walking along the illuminations.  It's our last full day so may as well go out with a bang!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Great North Fun Day 35

Today was a trip along memory lane, well it was for Steve with many of the days conversations starting "When I were a lad...". For me it was a lovely introduction to the area around Grange-over-Sands on the northern edge of Morcombe Bay.  Grange is an old Edwardian town refreshingly free of the usual high street names and having gorgeous views out over the bay.  It also boasts "Britains Best Butcher" and a stunning bakery. We took a lovely stroll along the prom with it's well maintained and interesting gardens down to the sadly disused outdoor swimming pool.  After that we headed over to Kents Bank and had a wonderful lunch of Huntsmans Pie (from the butcher) and fresh coleslaw (from the bakery - long story) before moving on to Alithwaite and Steve's first school.  The whole area was green and lovely with many gorgeous views down over the bay, as a girl bought up in the city I was very envious of the environment Steve had around him as a child.  Thing is I don't think you appreciate stuff like that at the time and it's only when you look back you realise how lucky you were.

Ken'ts Bank Station
After all the wonderful reminiscing it was time to head towards Blackpool with one minor detour to the Ribblehead Viaduct along the way.  I have an inexplicable interest in large bridges and tunnels and am fascinated by the stories behind them.  This one didn't dissapoint and looked stunning amongst the Penine landscape.  We don't build bridges like that anymore, these days the focus on keeping costs down means we end up with endless ugly concrete constructions.  Imagine how architecture of the past would have suffered if they'd had the same mentality back then. "Don't bother faffing with the ceiling Michelangelo, a pot of emulsion will be quicker and cheaper."

Inside White Scar Caves
On the way back from Ribblehead we passed the White Scar Caves so nipped in to take a look.  An 80 minute tour cost £7.95 and although interesting and very 'cavey' was not that spectacular - but the guides were happy to answer all the questions we had.  Mine centred on the construction of the walkways through the caves which must have been a real challenge to build. Hmmmm...maybe I was Brunel in a previous life?

All done with Yorkshire we headed out of the countryside and into Blackpool. Today's CL has apparently won awards from the CC. The site is absolutely immaculate, has pristine toilets and a shower and the owners are incredibly friendly and helpful.  Whilst I can't really fault the site I much prefer something a little more quirky and isolated.  To be honest the site is so immaculate I'm almost scared to step outside Delores in case I mess anything up.  I'm also surprised that the site has regularly been described as "peaceful and tranquil" when it's next to Blackpool Airport and within barking distance of a kennels.  Maybe after so many weeks away from big towns I just need a period of readjustment.

Over the next few days we'll change pace completely and immerse ourselves in the tacky tourist culture of the Vegas of the North.  The big question is whether I'll brave The Big One.  I may just settle for a candy floss and a ride on the Ghost Train instead!