A long overdue visit to glorious Wharfedale

2016 Sept Wharfedale Grassington (21).JPG
The river Wharfe near Grassington

Well …  Mr BOTRA and I do know that life is rushing by us at an alarming rate but we really couldn’t believe it had been two years since we had visited the gorgeous Wharfedale in the Yorkshire Dales.  What were we thinking of?  Why had we neglected this beautiful valley for so long?  Had other beautiful parts of the UK been distracting us?  [The answer is yes to the last question].

We made up for it this last weekend and were rewarded for our return with beautiful weather for a couple of days that was perfect for walking trips.

On day one we followed a favourite walk from the campsite near Grassington, following grassy paths over Malham Moor and stopping to admire the wide open views.  We crossed the lovely Wharfe at Conistone and here decided to head for Kettlewell and pick up the bus back down the dale.  This took us to the wonderful dry limestone valley known as Conistone Dib.  The path winds upwards through a rocky gorge that would once have been a lively stream and we enjoyed climbing up the steps of old waterfalls and along the gravel stream bed.  Along the way we met a group of National Park volunteers clearing stone cairns and we stopped to chat.  As we walked away we were both thinking the same thing … how lovely it will be to have the time to volunteer in this beautiful area.

The next day was still sunny and we walked from Grassington along the river Wharfe to the pretty village of Burnsall.  Thanks to rain a couple of days before the river was full and this made crossing by the stepping stones at Linton and Burnsall entertaining for everyone who was watching.  We watched dad wading across, the river up to his thighs; he held the hand of his young daughter who was then able to jump across the stones.  Later we marvelled at the daring of a walker who ran across so fast his feet hardly touched the stones.  We returned through the valley-side village of Hebden and as we came through Grassington Park Estate Meadows we promised ourselves we would visit next July to see the flowering meadows in their full glory.

Saving money on the lovely island of Anglesey

The beautiful Llanddwyn Island on the Isle of Anglesey

Spending a few days visiting some of the wonderful nature reserves and wildlife sites on the Isle of Anglesey proved to be a very frugal holiday.  With no admission fees to pay, our only costs were small amounts for parking, leaving enough to buy the occasional [okay daily] ice-cream.

Anglesey has designated its 125 miles of coastline as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and rightly so, as the coastline is beautiful and varied.  We stood in the fresh breeze on the top of Holyhead Mountain and walked around the expanse of Red Wharf Bay, spotting egrets, curlew and oyster catchers feeding on the rich feeding grounds.  On the way to Amlwch, with its fascinating [and free] museum about the geology of Anglesey, we visited the old copper mine at Parys Mountain [again no charge] and were stunned by the vibrant purple and orange colours and the huge open cast mine.  We walked around Rhoscolyn Head to find the perfect white sea arch; this is just as impressive as Durdle Door but is kept a secret, as on a sunny day we had this idyllic spot to ourselves.  I have struggled to decide which photograph to use from this trip as there are so many but opted for this view of Llanddwyn Island, a tidal island accessed from Newborough Forest [we were just sorry we didn’t spot a red squirrel but with such an expanse of trees the squirrels were no doubt having fun out of sight].

Anglesey also has international recognition for its important geological heritage as it is one of the 120 areas that are part of the UNESCO Global Geoparks network.  Travelling across Anglesey is a journey across twelve Geological periods and 100 rock types.  The colour and variety of the rocks on Anglesey are there for every visitor to discover and of course this rocky diversity results in a range of different plants too.

We stayed on a small Caravan Club Certified Location [CL] site for £13 a night called Tyddyn Osgar in the village of Brynteg.  Mr BOTRA and I don’t understand the pricing policy of these small sites and it seems to be completely arbitrary with some charging over £15 a night for nothing more than a hook-up.  This one provided a friendly welcome, one of the best campsite showers we have ever found, well-cut grass, wide-open views across to the Snowdonia mountains, a pub nearby, great cycling from the site and an offer of a lift for linear walks if we needed it … all hard to beat and ensured our trip didn’t eat in to the savings.

The old and the new from our summer campervan trips

2016 August Great Langdale weekend (22).JPG
Little Langdale in Cumbria

The summer of 2016 might not be memorable in England for being wall-to-wall sunshine and yet we have managed to be lucky enough to have some excellent weekends away.  Although we have visited our much loved Lake District a couple of times, it has been a memorable summer for exploring some new areas [yes even in our small country we can still find places to discover].  Our trips to the Howgill Fells and Knaresborough were very pleasurable and we explored some beautiful places and enjoyed some good walking.

I was reminded how beautiful Great Langdale is in the Lake District on our August trip.  Time flies so quickly and I am often amazed how many years it is since we have visited favourite places.  As we drove in to the lovely glaciated valley and got our first glimpse of the distinctive hills bathed in the evening sunshine, the steep-sided hills seemed to give me a big comforting hug.  After a pint of Old Peculier in the Old Dungeon Ghyll, listening to the chatter of other walkers talking about routes and studying maps for the next day I was even happier.  The sound of the stream lulled me to sleep that first night.

The Howgills trip was one of discovery and I think it will become a favourite as the walking is good and the area is less popular than its neighbours.  In North Yorkshire, we walked about 20 kilometres in to the lovely town of Knaresborough and back.  This wasn’t mountain walking but it was beautiful through the Nidd Gorge and we enjoyed spotting the blue-green of the kingfishers flying fast over the river.  There is also more to discover on the moors between Knaresborough and Skipton and so I hope we will be back [although as I said above, years might fly before this actually happens].  It hasn’t all been walking and we also spent some time in the fascinating and packed Nidderdale Museum in Pateley Bridge.  Run by volunteers, there is something for everyone in this lovely local collection.


Finding some perfect parking spots

2011 July on Rees Jeffreys Road Fund car park at Rhaedr y cwm above Llan Festiniog
Rees Jeffreys Road Fund car park above Llan Festiniog

My introduction to William Rees Jeffreys was quite by accident one sunny Sunday a few years ago.  Travelling home after a weekend camping in Dolgellau and keen to extend the carefree holiday feeling as long as possible, my partner and I took the B4391 over the hills from Llan Festiniog.  Spotting a car park with extensive views, we couldn’t resist stopping for a brew and a stroll down the lane to pick bilberries and sit by the babbling brook.  The splendidly positioned car park had a plaque and I learnt that it was funded by the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund.

Like many brief encounters, I didn’t give Rees Jeffreys another thought until twelve months later I had another chance meeting with this enigmatic fellow.  Once again on the lookout for a good place to pull in for a drink, we turned off the M6 at Tebay and followed the road towards Kendal.  Spotting a lay-by with a view towards the Howgill Fells we pulled in and realised we were parking next to a familiar plaque.  The kettle went on and I climbed out to read that here was another car park funded by the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund.  Over my cup of tea I starting wondering what the story was behind this man, why he felt the need to pay for car parks as far apart as Wales and Cumbria and why he deserved a plaque.

Back home, an internet search revealed some information about William Rees Jeffreys; born in 1872, before Karl Benz had patented his internal combustion engine for a Motorwagen in 1886, William Rees Jeffreys was a keen cyclist and was initially motivated in his campaigning to improve roads for cyclist.  As cars became more widespread, William Rees Jeffreys held positions with the Road Board (the precursor of the Department of Transport), the RAC, the Roads Improvement Association and the Institute of Automobile Engineers.  From 1919 he was a leading light in the classification and numbering of the roads in Britain to aid the assignment of the money from the Road Fund and to help drivers navigate; the final list was completed in 1926.  Following his death in 1954 his estate provided the endowment for the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund; this gives financial support every year for education and research related to road transport and also for physical road transport projects, hence all the lovely road side parking areas.

As frugal campervan owners we always need car parks and lay-bys and those next to roads often suit our purpose of a rest stop on a long drive.  These halts give us a chance to have a hot drink at little cost and stretch our legs without going out of our way and here was an organisation providing just the facilities the motorhoming community needs; I’ve not found a WRJ funded car park yet that has a height barrier.

Interesting as the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund website  was, it lacked a list of the road side rest areas the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund had supported and I wanted to know more.  An email to the Secretary quickly led to the arrival of a list in the post a few days later which showed 68 funded rest stops; these spread from Wester Ross in Scotland to Cornwall in the south-west.  With the list, I was now able to plan holiday routes to include a Rees Jeffreys Road Fund road side rest areas.

My next opportunity to use the list was on a Spring trip to Pembrokeshire.  The delight of a following a quest is that you never know exactly where it will take you and we found ourselves in some idyllic spots just because they were Rees Jeffreys Road Fund rest stops.  Our first find was a small parking area on the B4582 near Cardigan, alongside the Crugiau Cemmaes bronze age barrow, which has stunning views over the Welsh countryside.  At Wood near Newgale we enjoyed further views over Newgale Sands and St Brides Bay from the dramatically situated sloping car park.

Our final stop on this trip showed up the limitations of the list; with no grid references or even road numbers, even with the help of online maps and street view, there were some rest stops that were very difficult, if not impossible, to locate [you will notice my list is annotated with notes].  I think we found the road side rest stop at Pont Marteg on the A470 north of Rhayader in the stunning river Wye or Afon Gwy valley.  The red kites circling above I stretched my legs, searching for the now familiar Rees Jeffreys Road Fund plaque; I never found it and so wasn’t completely sure we were in the right place.

The Rees Jeffreys Road Fund uses the interest earned on their investments each year to fund research projects and educational bursaries as well as road side rests and are happy to consider applications from any source, so if you think your local beauty spot needs a small car park let your council know about this opportunity.

Having visited Rees Jeffrey Road Fund rest stops in England and Wales, I got the opportunity to seek one out in Scotland.  Just north of Glasgow, the car park at Queen’s View between Mingavie and Drymen was funded by my old friend WRJ.  This car park enables the locals and visitors to park up and enjoy some fresh air and exercise; a quick five minute pounding of the legs will take you to the view point where it is said Queen Victoria stopped to take in the view of Loch Lomond, the more energetic can spend two or three hours walking up to the crags of the strangely named hill, the Whangie.  The car park was busy on a bank holiday weekend and needed a good litter pick to make it a really pleasant place to rest.


Most recently we visited the rest stop at Iron Gate car park, perfect for the wonderful walk up Moel Famau in Flintshire.  Mr BOTRA and I have ticked off only a few of the WRJ road side rests but the list travels with us in the glove compartment of the van and I have no doubt that my acquaintance with William Rees Jeffreys will be maintained and I will continue to be grateful for his generosity to motorhomers and other road users.

Heading to the hills on the hottest day of the year [so far]

Looking up to Cautley Spout in the Howgills

Perhaps to make up for the wet weekend in the Lakes just 10-days before, we were lucky enough to be camping in the beautiful Howgills for the ‘hottest day of the year’.  With temperatures of 30°C forecast in the valleys we obviously headed for the hills to catch any breeze.  The Howgills are to the east of the Lake District fells and are grassy rounded hills of grit stone and  slates.  We had a splendid day, walking up Cautley Spout, a high tumbling waterfall, to The Calf, the highest point of the fells at 676 metres above sea level.

While, no doubt, parts of the Lake District were busy with visitors on such a lovely day, the Howgills are always quieter and we only met a couple of other groups walking during the day.  Once we were off the main route and the gravel path of the Dales High Way we had the place to ourselves and could enjoy the airy views over Cautley Crag without interruption.

Over the few days we were there we explored all corners of this rural area; we ate delicious chocolates from Kennedys in Orton, to the north of the fells, had fun trying our hand at weaving at the historic Fairfield Mill near Sedbergh [Mr BOTRA thought he could definitely enjoy doing more of this] and found orchids and butterflies in the beautiful Smardale Gill nature reserve.

Of course, it was just luck that we were on holiday on such a lovely day; we can’t wait until next year when we’ll be free and easy and able to set off camping as soon as we spot a good weather forecast.



A wet weekend in the Lake District gave us chance to face our fears


Rannerdale near Buttermere in the Lake District

It takes really bad weather to keep us ‘van bound on a camping trip.  We have good waterproof gear and our map reading skills can deal with low cloud and showers.  But the recent weekend was as bad as it gets in the Lake District.  Of course, we did get out for a walk on both days but Saturday was that atrocious combination of high winds and heavy rain that makes walking more of a chore than an enjoyable past time.  We walked from the campsite for about an hour and a half and then filled the site drying room with our dripping gear.

Spending time reading and playing cards in the ‘van did give us chance to talk over some things in depth; we talked about work and no longer working and we shared our worst fears for our forthcoming retirement.  What was interesting is that for two people who have been planning this retirement for at least the last six years [and actually for the last 30-years] our anxieties are very different.

My worries are all about our health.  I fret that one of us will either not even live long enough to enjoy our retirement or only survive for a year or two in to retirement before dying.  My alternative nightmare has one of us becoming too ill or infirm to take part in all the walking and cycling we want to spend our long retirement doing.  I am optimistic [or naive] about our finances, sure that the sums are robust and that we’ll deal with any problems as they arise.

Mr BOTRA’s worries are mostly related to money; he is the more cautious one of the team.  He is concerned that we haven’t budgeted correctly and we will run out of money before all our pensions kick in [not until 2026] and he worries that by finishing work he is closing off options to earn a few thousand extra that could be kept in the bank in case we want to move house, buy a new campervan or have some other emergency [of course we have a small contingency fund].  Having worked full-time for all his working life [apart from our gap year] he also has concerns about how his days will be filled without work, although he has no shortage of interests and ideas for things he wants to do.

While Mr BOTRA assures me that we will probably live a long and healthy retirement, I equally reassure him that he will soon wonder where he fitted in the time to go to work and that the spreadsheet doesn’t lie.  These reassurances are important but equally important is to recognise and face the fears of your partner honestly so that you can work as a team to put things in place and [hopefully] stop these fears becoming reality.


Do you all come from Devon?

The ruined St Mary’s Church in Colston Bassett in Nottinghamshire

With nine Devon Conversions ‘vans grouped together on the campsite near Nottingham it wasn’t unreasonable for a perplexed fellow camper to ask, ‘do you all come from Devon?’

We had gathered for the spring Devon Owner’s Group rally and once again had lots of laughs, met old friends and made some new ones, learnt plenty of useful tips and came away with new ideas for places to visit.

We were camped near the village of Cotgrave near Nottingham and Mr BOTRA and I caught a taxi to the pretty village of Colston Bassett with a plan to buy some delicious and creamy Blue Stilton cheese from the dairy there and then follow the lanes and the old canal back to the campsite (approximately 13 kms).

The taxi driver was a chatty character and told us he had been 20-years a miner at the Cotgrave pit before it closed and came from a family of ten generations of mineworkers.  This took me back to the 1980s when we lived in the East Midlands and were surrounded by the hardship of the mineworkers and their families as they endured the long strike.

Colston Bassett, as well as having a dairy that makes fantastic creamy and tangy Stilton, also has an atmospheric ruined church on the edge of the village that was worth exploring.  All the villages around here had charming names and we found a second cheese shop in Cropwell Bishop and opted to buy their tasty Beauvale soft blue cheese.

The Grantham Canal is no longer navigable and is now mostly a greenway of shrubs and plants and proved to be a haven for wildlife and we enjoyed watching a Willow Warbler flitting among the long grasses.  As the canal reaches Cotgrave we walked through the lovely country park, landscaped on some of the land that was the mine.

The weather forecast had been for showers and so we had packed the waterproofs but we never needed them and we felt lucky as the day stayed warm and pleasant day for walking.


… and one week later it is warm enough for shorts

2016 May Shrewsbury (28).JPG

Last weekend we had the heating on, fleeces and hats during the daytime and were wrapped up at night in pyjamas, silk sleeping bag liners, duvets and blankets.  One week later, here we are at last in shorts and able to sit outside the ‘van.  We have moved from Please make it warmer! to putting the thermals and thick socks to the back of the drawer in just a few days.

As we set off walking in the rolling Shropshire countryside Mr BOTRA and I both felt lighter and we were.  We were carrying just the camera and binoculars, no need for waterproofs and those extra layers.  In the ‘van making the beds was easier and now we could eat outdoors, there were no crumbs in the van after eating.

We had a glorious weekend near Shrewsbury; walking up and around Lyth Hill, where we were congratulating ourselves for our excellent navigation skills and Shropshire Council for their excellent signage and then [you guessed it] we got lost.  We found our way back to our route and then got lost again due to poor signage through a farmyard [we suspect the farmer was trying to deter walkers and had removed the helpful yellow arrows].

On the Sunday we visited the beautiful ruin of Haughmond Abbey, a tranquil and scenic spot and then moved on to Hawkstone Park Follies.  If you have never been to this fantastical wonderland of grottos, narrow bridges, tall monuments and stunning woodland, all set on a sandstone ridge, then you should try and get here soon.  I last visited in the late 1970s, when it was neglected and over-grown and not operated as a visitor attraction at all.  Then we felt like we were the first people to discover it as we fought our way through rhododendron bushes and along narrow paths.  Today, the paths are well marked and with your entrance fee to see the 200-year old park you get a map.  Despite this taming of the landscape, the walks are both fun and demanding and there are still uneven paths, steep steps and dark caves and gullies to explore.  We particularly liked ‘The Cleft’, a rocky gash in the hillside that is dark, damp and mossy and the rain water has eroded circular patterns in the sandstone.

It was cheering to see so many people having so much fun in the outdoors.  What a difference the sun makes!


Taking our Devon Conversion van to Devon

The Devon coast near Hartland Quay
The Devon coast near Hartland Quay

Well … now we are wondering why did we wait so long to get to Devon?

Despite its name, Devon Conversions are based in County Durham in the north of England, a long way from the south-west.  We often meet people in other countries who smile and tell us how much they have enjoyed holidays in the beautiful county of Devon in South West England and we have to apologise for never having been there, until now.

We spent a few days exploring Somerset and North Devon and found some stunning coastlines and picturesque villages.  We particularly enjoyed the Hartland Peninsular which was perfect for us.  The spectacular rocky coastal scenery provided great walking country, Clovelly took us back in time and the clotted cream ice-cream was excellent.  The sunshine in the photograph hides the stiff breeze that kept the temperatures down but in the sheltered corners it was warm enough to walk without a fleece jacket.

Devon is well known for its narrow lanes with tall hedges and I certainly held my breath plenty of times as we met oncoming traffic as we toured around what count for main roads in this part of the country.  We are very familiar with single track roads in Scotland but this was different; in Scotland you generally have an open view over the moorland and the passing places are always regular and marked.  Breathing in on the narrow sections didn’t help one bit for the ‘van to squeeze through the narrow gaps but it was something I just couldn’t help doing.

Since we have been home I’ve been telling everyone how stunningly beautiful north Devon is but then lots of people already know this, it is just the two of us that have taken so long to discover one of the delights of our little country.


A weekend of two seasons

Tittesworth Reservoir from The Roaches

I am not complaining, last weekend was text book spring and April weather; one minute it was sunny, the next a shower flew across, obliterating the view and bringing the temperature down.

We were in north Staffordshire, near the Derbyshire / Cheshire border and walking in some of the loveliest countryside in England, over The Roaches.  if you’ve not been to this lovely area, then I highly recommend it.

In the sunshine, the climbers were out on the gritstone crags, those who prefer bouldering were spotted with their colourful crash-mats strapped to their backs, the dog walkers, young families and  photographers were all enjoying this beautiful natural playground.

On our first day we visited Ramshaw Rocks, on the quieter side of The Roaches, where you can find the Winking Man, an interesting face-shaped rock that protrudes from the crags and entertains children on the drive past on the A53, as if you watch carefully the eye appears to wink.  We parked in the lay-by and had a brew in the ‘van and set off in the fine weather without waterproofs (clearly a mistake in April).  As we reached the top the wind whipped up and a hail shower turned the ground white and my hands blue, the hills around us disappeared and I was back in winter.

The next day we walked along The Roaches ridge to Roach End and back behind the rocks.  This time we packed the waterproofs (having learnt our lesson the day before) and the sky was blue and the sun shone all day; this was definitely spring.  What I hadn’t taken with me on this walk was any money and so we had to walk past the ice cream van at Roach End without treating ourselves, so a frugal walk.