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.

IMG_7429_1

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 Bore

We can hear it coming from some distance off. The roar of water is at distinct odds to the calm surface of the river gently flowing before us. It looks like any other river, albeit a bit muddy. A few kayakers paddle lazily in the early morning mist. But it is the presence of the surfers and paddle boarders that alerts us to the fact that something extraordinary is about to happen.

We were camped in the carpark of the White Hart public house at Broadoak on the banks of the River Severn, along with a large number of other members of the Wild Camping forum. It was good to be back camping in the van again, the winter had been exceptionally wet and windy and much to long. Far from being a subtle wild camp though, we arrived to find a scene more reminiscent of a continental aire with vans lined up neatly against the protective flood wall. We’d all come to watch one of the largest Severn Bores of the year.

A tidal bore is a wave that forms as the leading edge of an incoming tide that travels up a river against the natural direction of the river’s current. There are around sixty rivers around the world where a bore occurs. The Severn Bore, one of eight in the UK, is one of the largest. It only occurs on certain spring tides and because we can accurately predict the flow of water around the UK we knew that we’d get bores graded from three stars on Saturday morning, increasing in intensity to four stars through Sunday. Monday morning would see the largest bore, complete with warnings from the environment agency about flooding…

We had arrived on Friday evening and made our way to the pub to meet the others. We didn’t know anyone but they were easy enough to find and a friendly bunch. The alarm clock woke us from our dreams far too early on Saturday morning and somehow we summoned the will power to leave the warm comfort of our ice covered van. Bleary eyed, wrapped in our warmest clothes and clasping cups of hot tea we made our way to the pub’s veranda to witness the bore.

The river looks benign, like a large muddy puddle, but you can hear the rush of water and hoots and hollers of the wave riders. As we watch downstream we start to see the wall of water, maybe a metre or so high, hurtling towards us, dotted with with a few surfers, paddle boarders and kayakers, their enthusiastic shouts adding to the noise. Not everyone manages to stay on the wave, there are a few more being carried along with the current behind them. There’s even a man running down the opposite bank with his board, desperate to get back ahead of the wave.



As the wave passes our group of early morning risers and uninterested dogs the river is already noticeably higher and turbulent water follows in it’s wake. The surfers and stragglers have now been replaced with all sorts of debris. Branches, barrels and even mostly complete trees race up the river at speed and all the time the river is rising. It’s not for nearly two hours that the river will stop rising and when it does finally start to flow back towards the sea it’s worryingly close to the top of the flood defences.


As the river has been rising so has the sun and it’s slowly becoming a beautiful, if chilly, day. Nearby is the the Forest of Dean, which is crisscrossed with walking and cycling trails. Our plan to ride some of the mountain bike trails had been scuppered by a broken wheel so we’d packed our walking boots instead and headed for Beechenhurst Lodge where a number of walking trails started.

We followed the sculpture trail first, which is a nice walk but proved beyond all doubt that neither of us understands art at all. After a brief stop back at the van for sandwiches and a nice cup of tea we hit another trail for a couple of hours before returning to the pub’s makeshift campsite.






Another evening in the pub with a quick break to nip outside to listen to the evening’s bore rush past in the dark. We were entertained by a couple of members of the group who were pretty handy on the guitar. The bar was busy so I think the pub did well out of the meeting. The food was good too, nice big chunky chips!

Sunday’s bore was a little later in the morning, the sun was actually over the horizon, but the alarm clock still felt far too early. This was the biggest bore we’d see as we had to be back at work on Monday morning. A lot more surfers today, one waving as he went past and then promptly falling off. The weather was not so nice though, misty, a cold wind was blowing and then the rain came. The forecast said worse to come so we discussed what to do as the river rose quickly behind us, peaking just below the top of the wall.


One of the people we’d been chatting to in the pub had recommended a local mine works, so we headed there. It’s part cave, part mine, so lots of interesting rock formations both natural and man made, plus all the industry left behind when the mine shut.




As we sat in the tea shop afterwards the weather started to improve a little, inviting us back into the forest for one last muddy wander amongst the trees before heading home.

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.