Halcyon Days Revisited

It was on the way home from this year’s HUBB UK meeting at Baskerville Hall (inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous Sherlock Holmes adventure) that we dropped into the Nagshead RSPB reserve.

We sat patiently in the pond side hide, camera trained on a log at the water’s edge. In-between torrential downpours, Rosana finally got her photo.

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The Longest Day

There’s something special about waking up to the sound of the sea gently lapping at the shore. Sliding open the door, the salty air outside mingles with the smell of coffee brewing on the van’s stove. We eat our breakfast while enjoying the view across the water, seagulls circling overhead hoping we’ll leave them something. The weather had been kind and remained calm overnight, Hook Head maintaining it’s serene beauty in the morning sunshine.

Our time in Ireland was coming to an end, we had one more night left followed by an early morning crossing. We decided to head back to Wexford and stay at the same campsite we’d used on the first night, it was near the ferry terminal and we felt we really ought to have a shower before getting on a boat full of people.

We stopped at the town of New Ross to visit the Dunbrody, one of the ‘Famine Ships’, also known as ‘Coffin Ships’, that plied the Atlantic emigration routes in the nineteenth century. It’s not the original ship, that was wrecked in 1875 and this replica was built in 2001. Along with the ship there’s a museum that gives a hint at the harsh realities of life for those on board and the problems the population were facing that led to emigration on such a large scale.

Dunbrody

Cap'n Rosana

A final stop along the way to pick up some fresh County Wexford strawberries to keep us going on the journey home before reaching the campsite and a much needed shower. An early morning ferry returned us to Fishguard and we were blessed with another calm crossing, much to Rosana’s relief. It was the summer solstice and since it was such a beautiful day we decided to extend our trip another day and headed up to the lighthouse at Strumble Point where we found a peaceful spot for the night that gave us a perfect view west over the ocean. There were a couple of other vans there and as sunset approached a number of locals arrived to enjoy the moment as well.

Strumble Head

Strumble Head

As the sun set on the longest day, it also set on another Betty Bus adventure. We’d come to Ireland and found a beautiful country full of colour, interest and friendly people. Our short trip only just scratched the surface, hopefully we’ll be able to return one day to experience more.

Around Ireland with a Fridge

We rolled into the wildcamping spot at around half past ten in the evening, a little carpark in a cove near Fishguard on the west coast of Wales. There were a few other vans overnighting there, but plenty of space for all of us and it didn’t feel crowded.

Wildcamped at Fishguard

The final part of the engine rebuild had been completed at lunchtime the previous day, the last leak found and fixed and in an almost symbolic gesture of completion, the engine undertray that had been leaning against the back of the van for almost three months was bolted back on. As a consequence of not knowing if we’d be back on the road or not we were heading out on a trip that was even more unplanned that last year’s trip to Germany, where our intended destination flooded and the fridge started going wrong on day one. But the van had driven the long ribbon of tarmac of the M4 across England and Wales without missing a beat, we had our ferry bookings and we had a couple of days worth of water on board, it was time to get back to having adventures. We were going to Ireland.

Our basic plan, if we were to call it that, involved catching the two thirty ferry to Rosslare and a quick drive up to Wexford where we had a campsite booked for the night. After that we figured we would continue to head west for the Ring of Kerry on the other side of Ireland and then work our way back to Rosslare where we were booked on the nine o’clock ferry on the longest day of the year. That gave us two weeks of exploring.

It was fantastic to be sleeping in the van again and we got a good night’s rest. After a short wander around the coastal path that led away from our camping spot we set off towards the ferry terminal, stopping along the way to pick up some food for dinner from the local shops. Everything was running on time and we were soon onboard the ferry.

At least she has a friend

The Irish sea has a reputation for being a bit rough. Rosana doesn’t like boats at the best of times and was therefore not looking forward to the three and a half hour crossing. Dan loves boats and will bore anyone willing to listen with stories of crossing monstrous seas to get to Shetland, cramped conditions on salvage vessels in the tropics and fighting sea monsters off the coast of Belgium, so was quite looking forward to the trip. With a wind speed of around force three on the beaufort scale, the crossing was uneventful and the giant ferry hardly noticed the sea state as we crossed the seemingly still green water, losing sight of Wales before finally spotting our destination in the distance.

All aboard whos going aboard

The ferry, the Stena Europe, was well appointed with restaurant and coffee shop and felt quite spacious. There was plenty of space outside too if you wanted to take in the sea air. For those that wanted to stay inside, they showed a film in the coffee shop, although we couldn’t hear it, so gave up on that.

Rosana's favourite bit of any ship - the lifeboats

The verdict: Rosana thought it was a bit rough, Dan thought he’d been on rougher train journeys.

Disembarking was quick and efficient and we made our way to the campsite for our first night in Ireland. Our first impressions were that the roads were bumpy and the campsites expensive. Feeling quite tired by now we cooked a quick dinner of vegetable rice and steak using our new toy. Over at Landcruising Adventure they were extolling the virtues of pressure cookers. They use much less water and because cooking time is much shorter and at lower heat setting, use less cooking fuel (meths in our case). It seemed obvious, so we got a small one to try out and while it may not be as cool as Coen and Karin-Marijke’s ‘dragon’, it was very successful. A simple meal, from start to table in around 15 minutes.


 Betty’s Recipe of the Day

Vegetable Rice:

Add a handful of spinach leaves and grate a carrot into the rice. Cook in a pressure cooker (4 minutes once pressure is reached).

Steak:

Cook to your liking in a hot pan (4 minutes per side for medium rare on our alcohol stove).

Leave to rest, then slice into 1cm strips.

Serve with a leafy side salad


While loading the van with water for the next few days travelling we chatted with David, an Irish T4 owner that was also staying at the campsite. We chatted about vans, his being a similar age but different engine and conversion to ours and about campsites and possible wild camp locations along the south coast. We wished each other safe journeys, his back home after a weekend away, ours only just beginning.

We looked at the map and had a flick through the guide book. It wasn’t a hard decision, our first destination was to be Hook Head and possibly the oldest working lighthouse in the world.

The Really Wild Show

The weekend started like they all should.  Early.  Thursday evening to be exact.

But first of all it’s admission time.

We abandoned her.  Yes, we abandoned our beloved home from home on four wheels.

We left her all alone in a car park overlooking Ivinghoe Beacon and the Vale of Aylesbury. Well, not quite alone, there were a bunch of other cars in the car park for company along with some wallabies and something that looked like a cross between a rabbit and a deer.  We callously picked up our overnight bags, locked her doors and headed off to our luxury camping pod, nestled between the reindeer and the rhinos.  We may have mumbled some kind of apology as we wandered off.

Rosana had booked us an overnight stay at Whipsnade Zoo, but we’d be glamping in nordic pine rather than enjoying Betty Bus’s Germanic charms.

The deal goes something like this.  Rock up at the zoo around the time everyone else is being chucked out.  A small group of you then get the zoo all to yourselves for the evening, guided by a couple of enthusiastic keepers, enjoying a nice meal along the way.  We’d expected a zoo to be pretty noisy overnight, but no, it’s actually very quiet.  The next day, before the zoo opens and after we’ve been fed our breakfast we go and feed some of the animals.  Then we’re released to enjoy the rest of the day at the zoo just before it reopens to everyone else.  Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?

It was a fantastic experience.

We eventually felt guilty enough to rescue poor Betty Bus and take her for a drive around the zoo.

With the day at the zoo almost over we had a decision to make – what should we do with the rest of the weekend?   Clearly we had some making up to do to our poor abandoned van, so a road trip was a given, but where to go?   It’s this time of year that grey seals give birth to their pups, little balls of white fluff.  Pembrokeshire has a large grey seal population, so we headed west.

The traffic slowed, then came to a halt.  It was the the M4 on a Friday evening after all.  Flashing blue lights whizzed past.  Eventually we started moving again, but it was clear we weren’t going to hit the west coast tonight.  A quick change of plan saw us heading for the Brecon Beacons.  After chatting with a few people at the Adventure Overland Show we’d been inspired to try some wild camping.  Proper wild camping, not service stations like we often use of long journeys.  We knew of a few places that might be suitable and we rolled into one of them at around 10pm in absolute pitch blackness.  The quality of an old T4’s headlights and reversing lights made parking fun, but we settled under the shadow of Pen Y Fan and a sky of countless stars.

Saturday dawned with beautiful blue skies so we plotted a route we hadn’t done before and headed into the hills.

Fantastic views in all directions, but we still had a decision to make.  Stay in the hills for another day of walking, or head to the coast and try and find some seal pups?  We decided on the seals, so headed west, spending another night wild camped, this time in a little cove by the sea.

We’d found some information on boat trips around Skomer Island that would be good for seal spotting.  While we could see the little bundles of fur from the cliff tops on the mainland, the boat trip got us much closer to the seals.

A perfect long weekend of wildlife and wild camping.

A Game of Chance

chance  [chans, chahns] noun

  1. the absence of any cause of events that can be predicted, understood, or controlled: often personified or treated as a positive agency: Chance governs all.
  2. luck or fortune: a game of chance.
  3. a possibility or probability of anything happening: a fifty-percent chance of success.
  4. an opportune or favorable time; opportunity: Now is your chance.

Another Thursday, another fantastic weather forecast for the weekend.

It’s one of the joys of campervan ownership, being able to just go at the drop of the hat.  Keep the van ready to roll, just add those last minute essentials and off you head, into the sunset.

The biggest problem is where to go?  It’s a problem in a good way though, with so many interesting and different alternatives within easy reach, it might as well be a roll of the dice to decide.  A name out of a hat.  A game of chance.

A friend at work has a picture of the most gorgeous beach on his monitor.  Some time ago I asked about it.  It’s near his native Swansea, a place called Three Cliffs Bay, on the Gower Peninsular.  That image had been filed away in my head for future reference, for a weekend where the sun was shining and the sea was warm.  For a weekend much like the one the weather forecast was predicting.  The dice had been rolled, although they may well have been loaded in this game.  We finished up at work on Friday night and headed west.

We arrived early at Oxwich Bay and parked up alongside the beach and next to another Westfalia California.  Well, you have to, don’t you?  It would be rude not to.  On an 03 plate, it was one of the last Westfalia Californias, the other end of the T4 production timeline to ours, one of the earliest.  We said hello to Patrick and Tash and discovered they were having problems with their pop top roof, one of the gas struts had been forced off by an errant child’s toy when the roof had been lowered that morning.  With some bodging, tinkering and a little brute force we managed to get the roof back together.

Patrick asked where we were staying.  Not sure, we replied.  We spent last night in a service station and we’ll look for a campsite later.

The campsite gamble is another fun game of chance that can be played, although the odds are stacked heavily against you during the school holidays.  Just head off somewhere, find a campsite near where you end up.  There were several marked on the map and a few more in our books.

He recommended a little farm site just up the road that they were staying at and left us with the phone number.  It turned out to be a fantastic spot to camp and despite the gorgeous weather, only two of us there, the two Californias in a field overlooking a small valley.

That’s another nice thing about campervans.  Chance encounters where people talk to each other, share information, help out with problems where they can.

We spent the day walking the beach, paddling in the sea and flying kites in the light breeze.  Hermit crabs scrabbled around in the ebbing sea as Rosana tried to collect uninhabited shells.   A light mist gave the beach an eerie feel early on, but the hot sun soon burnt that off.  As the tide turned we headed back towards the van and the ice cream kiosk.

For Sunday we headed for Three Cliffs Bay, the photo that had inspired the weekend.  We walked in through the dunes to be greeted by the most unusual of sights, cows sunning themselves on the sandy beach.  There’s something you don’t see everyday.  More paddling in the sea was followed by a walk up to the clifftops and then along to the remains of a castle.

A fantastic weekend, we met some lovely people and stayed on a great little campsite.

Lady luck had dealt us a winning hand.