Some folk Suffolk

Continuing the exploration of the British Isles, this year for our anniversary I took my lovely wife to the equally lovely Hadleigh in Suffolk. To get there we travelled south from Northamptonshire, anti-clockwise around the M25 and across the bottom of Essex towards Clacton-by-Sea before heading north towards Walton-on-the-Naze before heading Northwest to Hadleigh. We also visited Ipswich and Felixstowe.

Clacton-by-Sea out of season is, as should be expected, quiet. A typical British seaside resort town with formal gardens, a pier, amusements and former guest houses and hotels along the promenade and a once grand, now deteriorating due to lack of investment, town inland. The pier was undergoing refurbishment so access was only permitted into the large newly regenerated pier amusement hall but one can see how the area once was very popular with seaside visitors from London who now gentrify places like Southwold to the north or further afield like Cornwall.

Being by the seaside is enough to make anyone hungry and the urge to binge on Fish and Chips at the seaside is akin to the urge to binge on chocolate at Easter. Sadly, with it being out of season and not being Yorkshire, most of the good fish and chip restaurants were either closed for the winter or just in hiding. So after failing to find a recommended fish and chip restaurant in Frinton-on-Sea, we headed futher up the coast towards Walton-on-the-Naze. We stopped at Yates’ Fish and Chips in Walton-on-the-Naze who do a splendid fish and chip dinner (I highly reccomend them)

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Medium Cod and Chips @ Yates’ Walton-on-the-Naze

Walton is a polar opposite to Clacton. Yes, like Clacton, it is run down but there is less of a seaside feel to the place despite having the finest collection of beach huts and the second longest pier I’ve ever seen.

Again, being out of season meant that few people were around and the fairground rides that were in operation on the pier played their hauntingly merry jingles to the ghosts of former holiday makers and anyone who would listen. Aside from this, the pier was eerie. The sea was uncannily still, the light unusual for the time of year. The afternoon sun making vivid colours of blue, orange and purple in the cloud base and far away the echos of shipping and road traffic almost inperceptable.

Hadleigh is a gem of an English town. It is a former coaching, market and strip town, as in it is laid along a long High Street and, at some point in its history, provided a welcome overnight stop off for horse-drawn coaches bound for other destinations like Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds or Lavenham or much further afield. Moreover, it provided an ideal location for a market place for Lavenham wool merchants, Ipswich traders and other travelling mendicants to vend their wares.

Indeed, casual reference sources claim that Hadleigh once was home to well over twenty inns, evidence of which is clear from the architecture and names of houses along the High Street. Furthermore, the wealth generated from the coaching inns, the market and the local industry is clear from the surviving buildings in the area, a selection of which you can view below.

 

 

Of course, Hadleigh is a small town and despite having a great selection of eateries, there is little to entertain for a sustained period of a long weekend, so we also explored a few local places too.

Ipswich was the first. Taking advantage of the park and ride we soon found ourselves on the bustling streets of Ipswich. A delightful port town in which the keen eye can distinguish the signs of a seafaring history. From the locations where there would have been huge warehouses along the harbour side, to the numerous hidden churches and chapels and buildings that scream wealthy merchants lived here, Ipswich is a lovely place.

After stopping at Casablanca, a Morroccan restaurant, for a splendid lunch and headed  to Felixstowe for our third seaside fix of the weekend.

Felixstowe is not, in my mind, one of the first places that come to mind when someone says “Seaside” to me, however if you said “container port” I’d probably think immediately of Felixstowe. However, the suffolk tourist board are obviously trying to do a service to Felixstowe and get people to disregard the militaristic and logistical past and re-embrace the seaside there once more.

First point of call was the former fort at Landguard Point. Former MOD land  littered with the remains of concrete gun placements, bunkers and radar points. From there one can watch the huge container ships enter and depart the neighbouring port of Felixstowe. For a logistics nerd its kind of interesting watching the huge cranes pick up a container like one might pick up a matchbox and drop it on a precarious looking stack of containers on board a ship.  For a history nerd, it is equally interesting seeing how much value the port held for Britain through history and why it was so well protected from Napoleon and Hitler.

The seaside though, not what I had in mind. Much flatter than Clacton and, obviously as a result, much more weather beaten, the seafront at Felixstowe is more akin to Rhyl than Scarborough on the Seaside scale. The buildings and seafront goings on set further back from the beach than at Clacton and the pier looking a little more practical than its cousin at Walton-on-the-Naze.

Sunday came and we began our return journey, stopping at Lavenham along the way. Lavenham was once a bustling town of wool merchants but later reduced to village status as fortunes leaked elsewhere. But that is not to say wealth did not leave Lavenham.  Evidence of a market place, a guildhall and coaching inns show that before bus loads of tourists were the norm, the village was very prosperous throughout the following centuries. Indeed, it appears that many of the old wooden framed houses are now holiday lets aimed at those foreign tourists who think all villages across the whole of the UK look like Lavenham.

Finally our route home took us through Bury St Edmunds. Redevelopment has given the town a Milton Keynes feel but once past the modern eyesore of the Debenhams district, one can find the more picturesque and traditional sights.

In the heart of Bury St Edmunds lies the ruins of a priory.  The scale of the priory ruins just show how wealthy the church had become before Henry VIII had his hissy fit and formed his own. Moreover,  it appears that there are houses built into the walls of the ruins and indeed, to me at least, the walls themselves look quite old, almost Roman in places.

Its when you see history like this juxtaposed against the history of other places you begin to form a different appreciation of events. Over Christmas, Mrs Gnomepants and I went to  Cartegena in Columbia where we visited the Inquisition Palace and learned about what was going on elsewhere in the world just before good old Henry threw his toys out of his pram.  In both the New and Old World, Inquisitors were torturing those who didn’t agree with Papal policy. I’d not really connected the dots before but now think that maybe our jolly polyamorous monarch had other reasons for forming his own church than those taught to us by historians.

The Age of the Swan

Deep in darkest Dorset is the delightful coastal town of Swanage where, like most British seaside towns, time has stood still. During my tour of seaside towns I’ve noticed this is common place. For example, Douglas and the Isle of Man are trapped in a Scarfolkesque late 50s early-60s time bubble, Scarborough in a weird pre/post-mining eighteen/nineteen eighties decay, Skegness screams nineties revival, while Margate and Torquay languish in a struggling time recession of post-industrial Britain 1986.

IMG_2944.JPGSwanage however sits in a semi forgotten hauntological time zone where grandparents who, having retired to the seaside, now live. Independent shops,  discrete amusement arcades and a well kept promenade with formal gardens show that Swanage is the Utopia of seaside towns. Even the pier, currently undergoing refurbishment, lacks the usual British Pier atmosphere of kiss-me-quick hats, the aroma of fresh doughnuts and the sound of wailing kids.

IMG_3016.JPGGetting to Swanage is probably best when approached from the east. Catching the chain ferry from the Sandbanks area of the conurbation of Poole-cum-Bournemouth, is like catching a ferry to some foreign country only without the need for border or passport checks. Indeed, once you arrive in Studland, even the landscape looks alien making you feel like you’ve gone abroad for the bargain price of £4.50. Then when the weirdly independent town of Swanage comes into view, the feeling of being in some weird off shore British island like Jersey, the Isle of Man or White is stronger. Moreover, possibly the biggest difference to other typical British seaside towns is the regularly audible and familiar toot and chuff of a steam engine for Swanage is home to the Swanage steam railway. Unlike Douglas in the Isle of Man, steam is not the main form of public transport to neighbouring areas in Swanage, it is, however, the easiest way to get to the eerie Corfe Castle.

IMG_2991.JPGThe crumbling edifice of Corfe Castle looms out of the sea mist and inspires thoughts of knights, kings, princes and dirty peasants. Some say it inspired Enid Blyton’s Kirrin Castle in her Famous Five books, but you really could say that about any of the castles in the area indeed, it is clear to see why the area attracts coach loads of tourists and often the tiny streets of Corfe Castle village are riven with ambling shufflers gawping at every nook and cranny, some unable to comprehend the age of the place when compared to their own country’s history.

IMG_2954.JPGFurther into Dorset one can also visit, by contrast, the town of Weymouth with its award winning beach. However, step beyond the hustle and bustle of the Blackpoolesque promenade and enter the ramshackle and tatty environs of the town, one can clearly see how lack of investment in seaside towns has become detrimental to the social community and infrastructure at large. Empty high street shops, lumbering shufflers and decaying buildings. Tattoo and massage parlours, the miasma of cooking takeaways and openly smoked cannabis, the sight of drugged up beggars and opportunist criminals highlights the betray and decay of a society through lack of investment promised by successive local government officials who no doubt only visit the area when official business requires their presence.

IMG_2947.JPGHowever all is not entirely gloomy. The Bill of Portland where Portland stone is still quarried is nearby, where it too attracts coaches of tourists with its lighthouse and scenery. As a young boy I would look longingly at my wall hung A0 map of the UK while listening to BBC Radio 4’s Shipping Forecast and try to imagine how sweater wearing bearded seaworn gentlemen would be struggling against the elements while putting on their Sou’westers and galoshes. The reality is dramatic but features no stereotypical fishermen these days.

Another location worth a visit and one that also the young Stegzy would dream about visiting is Chesil Beach; a unique natural heritage site where one can observe for ones self the effects of coastal erosion on stones. As well as an expanse of stones stretching out towards West Bay and Exmoor, there is a fantastic visitors centre which hopefully will inspire other young people to enhance their knowledge about the natural coastal forces and nature.

Back at Swanage as the sea mist rolls inland and the occasional eerie toot of steam train is heard, the contrast of investment in coastal areas is plain to see. From the modernist style of the cinema/theatre the Mowlem, to the well kept promenade with discrete amusment arcades. It seems the regions tourist board relys heavily on the natural wonders of the Isle of Purbeck, and why not! A visit to the nearby Durlston Country Park and Anvil Head will no doubt summon thoughts of misplaced childhood adventures, perhaps exploring the long closed Tilly Whim Caves or scrambling over the rocks to Anvil Head Lighthouse.

In all Swanage is very genteel. A relaxing locale for those more interested in nature and natural beauty over rowdy bars and vomit soaked pavements. I’d definately go back.

Holidays

While going through and updating old posts, I came across this one. I thought it apt seeing as I am off on my jollies soon.

Please enjoy this entry from 2008

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So there I am lapping up Council-by-Sea thinking to myself just how did the British seaside get into such an appalling state of grotesqueness. When it struck me. In the 70’s/80’s when package holidays to Magaluf and Torremolinos cost about ten shillings, those that previously lapped it up in the likes of Butlins and Pontins legged it to these sunnier climes.

Thus the rot started. Less people spending money at the seaside means less money for the attractions. Old people retire to these once bustling resorts, too old and poor to maintain the once grand 4 storey Victorian and Edwardian terraces, the area looks shabby. Because the place looks shabby nobody wants to go and eventually you end up with the likes of Llandudno or Rhos-On-Sea or New Brighton. A sad state of affairs.

So like I said, I’m musing on this and it struck me like a bag of wasps. How come, during this lull, nobody ever thought of rebranding the seaside? I mean like strolling down the promenade being assaulted with the sickly stench of fish and chips, doughnuts and last nights vomit is not everybody’s cup of tea really now is it? I mean yeah I wax lyrical about the joy one can experience by rolling up ones trousers to the knees, donning a knotted hankerchief on ones head while sitting in a red and white striped deckchair on Blackpool seafront in the piss cold rain. I know poncing about on the dodgems makes some people think they’re James Dean or some other teen icon. But really, those days have passed. What is needed is a careful bit of rebranding. Instead of Council-on-Sea, maybe there should be Gated-Community-Le-Mer. Instead of the Sun readers flocking in their hordes to resorts like Skegness and Scarborough, try and attract those nice Guardian readers instead. Something which should have been done during the lull in trade in the 80’s. The reinvention of the British Seaside.

Of course the wife said I was being daft because the concept of rebranding is only a recent thing. I disagreed though, saying that the reason resorts didn’t rebrand was purely because of those in control of the local council. Nobody, especially a British person, likes change. As local councils are full of old fuddyduddies the likelihood of change in such circumstances is virtually nil. Indeed some councils went through the good old “whoops what a shame the lido caught fire so now we have to pull it down and build luxury apartments on it” strategy but this too is self defeating, like who would want to live in a seaside town where there isn’t anything to do? Not me!

So in my new rebranded seaside gone are the old and in with the new.

The pier – totally refurbished, instead of tack and rock shops – designer boutiques

Tatty victorian terraces and guest houses – replaced by luxurious, totally serviced apartments with self contained gyms, spas and creches

Icecream – Icecream, as you know is fattening and not everybody can eat it. Instead, healthy frozen fruit juices, sorbets and fruit on a stick.

Amusement arcades – These tend to attract the wrong sort of people so they’ll be bulldozed. Of course the penny cascade things can stay as they’re harmless enough but the noisy modern arcade games can go. Instead of arcades, however, a change to small, members only casinos.

Fish and Chips – Everybody knows, fish and chips are really bad for you. They make you fat and can cause heart disease. Instead stylish culinary delights in the form of swanky but affordable seafood restuarants. A whole new dining experience. Similar to those you might see in resorts on the continent. Where passers-by have to wrestle with the waiters attempting to lure them in with promises of a good meal.

Kiss-Me-Quick hats – In this day and age of paedophiles, rapists and shifty men with greasy hair and sweat stained tshirts such things should not be encouraged. Instead Kiss me and you’ll receive an assault charge hats. Designed, of course, by Gucci or maybe even Gok Wan.

Donkey rides – Riding donkeys, as every decent person knows, is exploitative and cruel so such a recreation would not be available in Gated-Community-le-Mer. Besides which it is much healthier to walk places.

Y List Celebrities from yesteryear in end of pier shows – Sadly it comes to every performer that they will spend their remaining working life on an end of pier show before disappearing into obscurity. Ant and Dec are heading that way as is Simon Cowell. So why prolong their agony (and indeed the risk of being rediscovered) and banish such crap. Besides, the type of show that goes on at the end of the pier normally involves some blue humour, weak family jokes and some bloke pulling knotted hankies out of a hat. Bollocks. Nobody wants to see that anymore. So instead, Broadway shows; Profound political or philosophical plays; lively debates and maybe some nice music from whichever artist is trendy to have in ones collection these days.

Screaming kids – the seaside, as every parent knows, is not a safe place for children. What with sand allergies, the risk of jellyfish stings, sea monsters and even people taking pictures of their own family which might capture your kids image too trapping their soul forever in some 2 dimensional vortex like in Superman II or that episode of Sapphire and Steel. Indeed while freedom of expression is healthy for a child, the seaside is not the place for them. Far too many dangers. Instead the rotting chalets and beach huts can be converted into soundproof, paedophile safe, allergy free, hermetic containers for children. Simply place the child in and leave until such time as you need to return. Of course you could just not bring the little shit in the first place.

Old People – Old people don’t belong at the seaside. In Gated-Community-la-Mer, old people will be restricted to certain “oodyarememberwen” zones. Safe. Warm. Miles away.

Fairgrounds – Fairgrounds attract the unwashed. Bulldozing them (or accidentally on purpose setting them on fire (the fairgrounds that is, not the unwashed)) would solve this problem. In their place, delightful formal gardens to promenade around. Of course the gardens would have to cater for those with allergies so any flower within would, of course, be artificial.

See even with just a few paragraphs I have turned an atypical British Seaside resort into a place where YOU would want to go. Yes YOU because that is what market research has shown and as we all know nobody can argue with market research.

If I go….I’ll send you a postcard email.


Abridged version

Seasides -> Bulldoze them.

Holiday Part 2: The Isle of Man(anan)

I could regale you with tales of yore when I stayed at Port St Mary Station in 1983. I could relate tales of adventures, visits to the seaside, fine dining, light snacking and large breakfasts.

 

But I won’t.

 

Instead I present a pictorial representation of our holiday on the Isle of Man.

 

Behold

 

A Holiday on the Isle of Man from stegzy gnomepants on Vimeo.

The Walk (Part 3) –Wales Coastal Path 2013

After having carefully planned my working week to coincide with a visit to the North West to make it easier to travel to Wales, I set off from Liverpool on Thursday morning bound for Pistyll near Caernarfon to begin the third phase of the walk around the coast of Wales.

At this pace, I suspect I will have completed the walk some time in my late 80s. Probably on a mobility shopper.

Regular readers will recall that last year we ended our walk at Porth Towyn having set off from Porth Oer. Because we were starting further up the coast, it made sense to change our usual campsite to a new….untested one.

This year’s campsite was at the amusingly named Penisarlon Camping Farm near Pistyll.

The camp site was very clean and peaceful with fantastic views across towards Nefyn (our goal for the Friday) to the South west and towards Nant Gwrtheyrn  to the North East with St George’s Channel to the north.

Looking towards Nefyn
Penisarlon Farm looking towards Nefyn
Looking towards Nant Gwrtheyrn
Looking towards Nant Gwrtheyrn

However as we had arrived earlier than expected we decided that, though too late to start our walk properly, we could start a bit of next year’s planned walk.

This took us towards Nant Gwrtheyrn, though we did not reach there until later in the weekend. Instead we were treated to a lovely bog blocking our path, sheep, second homes and a quaint little church, St Buenos.

Lit by candles in the winter
St Buenos Church near Pistyll

On the Friday, we awoke to a lovely rainbow across the bay. Little or no rain during the night but plenty of snoring from me.

Up above the sea and houses
Up above the sea and houses Rainbow flying high!

This year we began where we left off and made our way across the once more sunny cliffs and dips leading towards Porth Dinllaen.  Glorious views. Glorious weather.

Nick at the start
Nick at the start

Four hours of walking later we crossed Nefyn Golf course and reached Porth Dinllaen.

During the previous night we had espied a strange structure out in the bay. It looked like a drilling platform and part of me was concerned that the greedy oil people had set their eyes on a protected area of outstanding natural beauty.

Platform
Is it an oil rig? Is it a fracking point? No! It’s a slipway submarine construction diving platform

Fortunately, this was not the case. The platform was actually for the construction of a new RNLI Lifeboat launch slipway. So it wasn’t too bad.

enjoy a pint
Coch! It says Coch!!

The construction site had an interesting staircase winding its way down the cliff side allowing access to the official coastal path bringing us out at the lovely Ty Coch Inn where we ended our second day’s walk with a delicious and rewarding pint before heading back to the campsite.

After a rather sleepless night for Nick (my snoring again!) who ended up sleeping in his car, it was agreed that completing the short trail up to the campsite would be sufficient for this years walk.

Before that we needed sustenance in the form of a hearty breakfast. On the inbound trip, I espied a brown sign directing the visitor to a place called Nant Gwrtheyrn which had a cafe.

Nant Gwrtheyrn is an old village built for quarry workers in the 1800s. If you were to follow the link above you will be able to read the history.  The landscape there is a bizarre mix of post industrial archaeology and nature. There’s a church there, a cafe and a collection of stone cottages available for rent by holiday makers.

Nant Gwrtheyren
The start next year

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However, the cafe didn’t open for breakfast so we scuttled back to Nefyn and the continuation of our walk.

The short trail continuation took us from where we left off the day before and along a winding cliff top pathway. Again, plenty of luxury cliff top homes for the wealthy and privileged. Glorious views.

It’s places like this that make you realise that no matter how hard the average Jo works, they will never attain a picturesque view (like that in the panoramic picture below) without luck, windfall or skulduggery.

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The path turned in land and took us through the village where we had earlier eaten our hearty breakfast before heading up a very steep looking hill.

Eventually the path turned into something resembling Borneo. Overgrown gorse bushes, brambles and scratchy things took their toll on our bare shins, bitey creepies made a meal on our blood, and burny heaty hot sun scorched our flesh from on high. Yet, after three hours of walking, we reached the campsite and the starting point for our continuing adventure next year.

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Welsh Coastal Path – 2012

Welsh Coastal Path – 2011

Holiday 2012: Part 2–Day 4 Wall of Corn

 

Launceston CastleFollowing the mad tour of the east coast of Devon we decided to take a trip inland. Our guide books told us of the wonders of Cornwall and our brief trip across the Taymar on Tuesday showed us that Cornwall was closer than we thought.

But where to go were either of us hadn’t been before? Our first thought was “Oooh where does FJ Warren live? She’s Cornish. But the thought of a another long drive was not appealing. Instead we peeked at the maps and guidebooks and settled on Launceston.

Launceston Castle

According to the guidebooks, Launceston was the ancient Cornish capital. It had a castle, a steam train and other interesting things like cider farms on route. So it seemed like the natural choice. So once more across the Taymar we went noting for the second time that week that people are charged to leave Cornwall and not go in.

Launceston is…boring. Tatty around the edges. Pretty. But boring. After a brief 10 minute walk it appeared we had done Launceston. So we tootled up to the castle to have mooch there. But at £7 each to go and look around some crumbling ruins we thought £14 would be better spent on cake or fun. So way ahead of planned schedule we buggered off back to the car and went to see where else we could get to.

The Bodmin Moor of my childhood was not the Bodmin Moor of my middle age. Either there has been a new road built across the moor in the 30 or so years since my last visit or my dad took us across Bodmin Moor along some weird unmarked B road. So much so, by the time we had reached Bodmin I was like “Oh, we’re here already”.

Bodmin Steam Railway @ Bodmin GeneralBodmin was interesting. Well what we saw through the car windows. But with only shops and more money wanting to be spent we thought another stop mooching round a provincial town was not on the cards. So when the only place to park for free was up a side street alongside Bodmin General, part of the Bodmin Steam Railway, we thought “But a steam train ride might be fun!”

So that’s what we did. We bought 2 tickets to Boscarne and boarded the chuffing chuffer.

It was fun!

IMG_0550Badger enjoyed it too!

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When we returned we stopped for a cream tea.

Full of cake and after a bit of geocaching, we hopped back into the car and headed toward Polperro via Lostwithiel. Lostwithiel is described as the Medieval Capital of Cornwall. Again, it was quaint, children were playing in the river and shops seemed open.

One thing we had noticed during our time in the Southwest was that everyone seemed to be so miserable. Shop keepers and ice cream van men were no exception. I can only imagine that the misery was down to the lack of boobs on display. Cornwall needs more boobs. Or cake. Or maybe just a tickle.

PolperroAnyway, before misery got a grip, we headed off again, this time to Polperro. My nan and granddad visited Polperro when they were alive. I remember leafing through their photograph album at the pretty houses and narrow streets. Indeed it was. Narrow, quaint, overpriced and packed with tourists. Having been fleeced £4 for parking we wandered into the village to try and find somewhere to eat. We were a bit early and all the restaurants seemed to do nice fish dishes. Sadly none were open until half an hour after our parking expired and I didn’t feel like paying a further £4-£8 just to stuff my face. Our minds were made up by the time we had reached the quayside that we would head off to Looe and see if there was any other nice places to eat instead.

But before we could turn round and make our way back, a woman offered us a boat ride along the coast. How could we refuse?

So that’s what we did.

looeOn our return we made our way back through the tourists to the car and drove off to Looe. Looe reminded me of Skegness without the wind amusement arcades or Victoriana. It was heaving with tourists of the lower orders. Police men, our first since leaving the midlands, were talking to shouty drunk youths. Haggard teen mothers were dragging their screeching urchins. Young girls with more tattoos and piercings than a freak show jostled with loud shouty short haired scallies for chips from the harbour chippy. But our guidebooks insisted that there was good eating to be had somewhere in Looe.

And yes. They were right. We stopped for dinner at the Smuggler’s Cot in Looe where I had the biggest Lemon Sole (and bones) I’ve ever seen. It was delicious! Meanwhile Zoe struggled with her mammoth 20oz D cut rump steak. She assured me that was delicious too.

Holiday 2012: Part 2–Devon & Cornwall

 

On the Monday we got up, packed, grabbed our bags and headed down the M5 towards Plymouth.

I didn’t really know what to expect with Plymouth. It has been on my list of “Places to Visit” since I was about 8 or 9. Mostly because of the Smeaton Tower on Plymouth Hoe and my love of lighthouses. But more of that later.

We had booked a five night stay at the Elfordleigh Golf and Country Club in Plymouth which, looking at the website, seemed to tick all our boxes. Those being:- Spa, Pool, Comfortable, Quiet and Affordable. So after a three or four hour drive we arrived in the vicinity of the Hotel. At first we thought we had been given the wrong directions or something. Reason being that the sat-nav had us going through what appeared to be a residential estate of the social kind. But within a few minutes the estate gave way to rural lanes, farms and country manses before we arrived at the bright pink rendered gateway of the Elfordleigh Golf and Country Club.

View from the window

The room was lovely and cosy with two windows and a small canopy over the bed. The bathroom long. The shower powerful and hot.

View from window

As usual we perused the room literature, no, not the Gideon Bible; the leaflets hotels like to leave with the bar and restaurant menus and suggestions of places to visit. In this case they had left a magazine detailing the local eateries. Having settled on possible contenders for dinner we headed out to Plymouth’s Barbican district for a bit of an explore and a look around.

Plymouth’s Barbican district is a proper touristy area. Think Albert Dock in Liverpool only not as enclosed and lots more interesting buildings. There are many nice looking bars and restaurants there. So many, we had difficulty deciding which restaurant was going to be our definitive choice of the evening.

We settled on Rocky’s Grill for our first night. I had the 16oz T Bone Steak, Zoe had the mammoth mixed grill. Following dinner we went for a walk around the Royal Citadel towards the Hoe and did a small bit of Geocaching on the way. Unfortunately, Zoe’s food may have been closer to dairy products than she had hoped and so we cut our walk short and headed back to the hotel.


Smeaton’s Tower


Plymouth Wheel and Memorial

Coming soon-> Day 2: Rain Rain Go Away

Holiday 2012–Part 1: A Walk in the Rain

Rain. It comes and washes away the summer dreams like a proper spoil sport.

My calculations that the time between Wimbledon and the Olympics yet before the school holidays would be a gloriously sunny time were completely out. Beyond out.

And so it came to pass that on Saturday 14th July I loaded up the car for the next leg of my annual Welsh Costal Walk with Nick. With the car laden I began the four hour journey to the north west of Wales via Betws-y-Coed.

Omens and foresight should have shown me that the weekend was to be a tricky one. When I was about an hour into my journey to my first port of call, a text arrived from my colleague to announce he was running late and would be setting off shortly. Fine, I thought, this will give me a chance to mooch about the camping shops in Betws-y-Coed and therein maybe purchase some gas canisters for the camping stove.

On my arrival the rains began. Fair enough, I thought, this is Betws-y-Coed which is renown for rain as the clouds empty their load onto the Snowdonian foot hills so a bit of precipitation is bound to occur in these here parts.

Two hours, a very expensive bacon sandwich (£4.50 for two bits of soggy bacon between cheap slices of bread) and a cup of tea (£1.50 for an egg cup with a splash of milky brown liquid) and several Radio 4 programmes later, Nick arrived and negotiations began for further travel to Porthmadoc where we could buy provisions for the break and some beer. Before following Mr Sat Nav’s directions to Aberdaron and the campsite.

A few days before departure I had placed a reservation as usual at Mynnedd Mawr Campsite only to be told “Just turn up”. So we did. And managed to get one of the last good spots for the tent. The majority of the campsite seemed to be taken up by two very large 10 men trailer tents pitched slap bang in the middle of the site. The thoughtful owners (two Jewish couples in their late fifties/early sixties) had blocked out the lovely view so I didn’t have to look at it. That was very kind of them.

523909_391448184254980_1169956727_nThe following day, glorious sunshine blessed our walk which commenced from the end of the last walk (Porth Oer) up the coast toward Porth Tywyn. A good 15 miles of coastal path. The weeks of torrential rain over the previous weeks had made the going quite boggy and our initial steps seemed thwarted but following a brief detour along the beach we were back on the trail in no time.

 

Glorious views were beheld. Glorious weather too.

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Looking North

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Nick enjoying a well earned break

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There are many mysterious places along that stretch of coast. For example these stairs cut into the hill side and seemingly inaccessible static caravans.

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Or you would be trudging along and have to follow the path through a field of cows…

It’s such a lovely piece of coast line. But the weather there can be unpredictable. By 3pm the clouds were already gathering and the wind had picked up. On our return to the tent it was decided that it was too cold to sit outside drinking beer and that we should retire to the interior of the tent, therein to play dominoes.

I was winning, 10 rounds up, the wind brought with it rain and clouds to further darken the skies. By morning the tent had nearly taken off had it not been laden with the previous evening and early morning rain. The outlook seemed bleak. Further bad weather due.

Rain stopped play. We decamped and returned to our respective homes.

 

Coming soon – Holiday 2012: Part 2 Devon and Cornwall.

There and Back Again and There and back again–Pt2.

So following arrival at Nicks in Crosby nr Liverpool at 1am in the morning I managed to squeeze out a couple of hours sleep. My head raced with the reality that I would be in Wales later that day. Think I was more excited than Nick.

IMAG0249Several hours later we were on the road in separate cars heading to Aberdaron. Traffic wasn’t that bad and the weather looked promising. Stopped off at the traditional staging posts (Tesco in Caernarfon and Snowdonia Camping Stores in Dinas) arriving at the campsite shortly before 1pm.

Lunch was at the Ty Newydd – I had scampi, Nick had a burger and plans and itinerary hatched.

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After a brief tour of the village, the beach and the church, a warm up walk on top of Mynnedd Rhiw and a visit to the top of Braich-y-Pwll to see the view followed.

 

 

Tuesday arrived and so commenced the walk. Turning left along the head land we followed the coastal path towards Aberdaron soaking up the views before us and testing our map reading skills to the full.

2011 - 1Now, I’ve been coming to the area for many years and I knew that walking the Coastal Path would provide me with new and exciting sights; I wasn’t wrong. Places I had gazed at longingly on Ordnance Survey maps were taking shape in reality: Porth Felen, Pen-Y-Cil, Bychestyn, Parwyd, Hen Borth. Glorious views, glorious weather. Strange remains of an industrial past. 

But woe! I lost my hat. My time worn hat. The hat I have owned for over 8 years. Gone. No more. Even though later in the evening a brief walk back to possible places it may have been left produced no fruits meaning that I had to wear my ill fitting Hard Rock Cafe cap until such time as a proper hat could be purchased…

Further ruminations of holidays past

(An edited version of a post previously made on Livejournal in 2007. Now with pictures taken recently)

Recently I have been thinking about the sodden holidays we used to spend in my Uncle Nat’s cottage.

Uncle Nat sold the caravan in favour of a ramshackle husk of a cottage half way up a soggy Welsh mountain. This meant that instead of ending our holiday journey at Porthmadog we would travel the extra 20 or so miles to a remote and (then) little known area of North Wales called Rhiw.

The Cottage

My dad is very handy, DIYwise. So it came as no surprise that Nat would require his assistance when fixing up the cottage. My first journey to the cottage was on a rainy night in March with just me, my dad and Uncle Nat. My dad had a Ford Orion at this time which was a lot more comfortable than the yellow Escort of old but Nat had a lovely comfortable Volvo estate . Initially (and probably because we didn’t know any better) the route would take the same direction of the way to Porthmadog only continuing along the A497 through Criccieth, Pwllheli and Llanbedrog then a quick dash down the B4413 through Myntho and turning down the unclassified road behind the church in Botwnnog until reaching the telegraph pole with the crab on it and turning once again this time up a steep hill to the telephone box and post box which used to stand (until someone drove into them at high speed) at the bottom of the mountain driveway. The first night travelling was straight after school/work and as a result we were both very hungry by the time we got to Criccieth. So we stopped off at a fish and chip shop set back from the road and thus a new family tradition was born, Sausage, chips and Onion Gravy.

Sausage, chips and onion gravy you may think tastes the same the whole world over. It does not. I have travelled far (well at least to the tip of Cornwall and the craggy highlands of Scotland) yet no where have I ever tasted sausage chips and onion gravy as delicious as at that chippy. I defy anyone to tell me otherwise but unless you too have dined there then your opinion on such matters is moot. But since then I have tried to stop there when Aberdaron bound as a homage to the days of travelling to the cottage. Of course, traditions are meant to be forgotten and a further tradition would evolve which I will relate a bit further into this post.

Anyway, on arriving at the telephone and post box at the bottom of the drive it was clear that this would not be a caravan holiday. Far from it. For a start it was pitch black dark. Darker than dark itself. Had someone switched off the dark it would still not have been anywhere near as dark as it was that first night. The drive way was nought but a mud track and taking the Volvo up the mountain side would probably have tested the skills of even the most hardened rally driver. Even the Royal Engineers would have stood round scratching their head for a while trying to work out how to get the blasted car up the hill. My dad tried with the Orion on a future visit but was thwarted by gravity and lack of traction. Fortunately everything was not lost. With the cottage came a Land Rover (old style) so we would unload the bags into the back of the Land Rover and ascend the mountain through the pitch black using the power of 4 wheel drive. Mynnedd Rhiw really lived up to it’s Welsh name. (Mynnedd = mountain Rhiw = Steep).

Arriving at the cottage the coal fire was stoked into life to dry our sodden boots and clothes and I was introduced to the crockloft bedroom. A ladder in the living room led up to a door midway up the wall behind which was the bedroom consisting of two single beds and a very slanty “mind your head” roof in which a single frame window allowed the pitch darkness of outside to leak in. Hot drinks were consumed and the boys own adventure began with bedtime and the promise of mystery come the daylight.

Daylight battled with darkness and at 6am finally won the war. Fingers of light thumped through the little window like a hammer and woke me up. Accompanying the light came the faint sound of far off tractors and the not so far off sound of sheep bleating. I scurried down the ladder into the living room and switched on the old black and white portable TV so that I might watch some breakfast TV (either Wac-a-Day or something with Roland Rat). My disappointment at the black and white picture was soon joined by confusion as the people on the TV were talking in Welsh. I realised this was S4C (a channel my Nan used to watch regularly) but the confusion was brought about by the lack of any other channels. So remote was our location that TV signals refused to come there. Looking out of the window all I could see was grey. Grey and green. Through the grey was the black outline of the Land Rover and the occasional white blob. Closer inspection revealed these white blobs were sheep. The fog was bad but through the fog came the occasional blast of solar energy so it wasnt that bad.

After breakfast and a warming cup of tea I was allowed to go out into the mist (but not far) and explore what I could find. The neighbouring cottage had a swimming pool and the back field had a view of the slope down into the valley disappearing into the fog. Despite the outlook it was very exciting and on my return to Liverpool I told everyone and anyone that would listen about the cottage and how fantastic it was. My dad gave me a police issue whistle with the instruction that should I get lost in the fog or stuck in somewhere up the mountain then I was to blow as hard as I could on the whistle so that the Mountain Rescue could find me. I still carry that whistle on my keys. Just in case I get caught on the moors or somewhere remote.

We took several other trips to the cottage over the following years. Alternating the route through Porthmadog with a much quicker route along the A55 and the craggy North Wales coast. As the A55 route did not take us through Criccieth we would struggle to find a chip shop of equal quality. Instead it would take us past a Little Chef roadside cafe. For years I had wanted to stop at a Little Chef and our first stop was at the one just outside Conway near where the road goes through the tunnels in the mountain side. To celebrate my dad and I would always have the Early Starter Full English and to be a little bit different, a plate of maple syrup pancakes. This sustenance would put us in good stead for the continuation of the journey and heighten our spirits. Of course my Mum did not approve of greasy spoon cafes and so whenever she was with us we would be unable to dine in such salubrious surrounds, opting for sandwiches and juice at a road side table.

On future visits we were joined by Uncle Nat, Aunty Mary and their son Christopher (who, having spent a good deal of time there himself was able to show me where all the secret hidey places where and all the exciting nooks and crannies), my mum, my school chum Dominic Smith, my childhood friend Paul Midgely and my middle brother Chris. Furthermore my mum and dad would head off there for holidays with their friends Freda & Jim and Bill & Lil. So popular was the little cottage that we spent as many holidays as we could there. The cost took the form of renovations with my Dad doing what he enjoys the most – DIY.

On my third or fourth visit it became clear that the fog was low lying cloud. A trip into the nearest town, Aberdaron, revealed that while the mountain was shrouded in fog the rest of the world was enjoying glorious sunshine. That part of the Llyn Peninsula enjoys a micro climate of outstanding weather were when the rest of the UK is having piss poor weather and wearing cagools and wooly jumpers the Llyn would be walking round in shorts and tshirts enjoying the sun and the crystal clear waters of the sea. Indeed, this discovery lead to exploration of the locality by car and there upon we discovered some delightful parts of the world. Aberdaron with its tiny cafe and spectacular beach; Nefyn and Porthdinllaen with its golf course and pub on the beach; the various unspoilt beaches dotted about the coastline and Braich-y-Pwll over looking Bardsey Sound and the remote and holy Bardsey Island.

Braich-y-Pwll still to this day holds very fond memories for me. I try to take as many of my friends there as are willing to share the spectacular views, the peace and serenity of the locale. It is there that my father and I descended the unstable cliff top steps to St Mary’s Well, a natural fresh water well in the treacherous cliffside. In the well other brave tourists had cast coins of all denominations. Now to get to this well you have to be really careful. I get petrified when I go down there and I refuse to let Mrs Gnomepants go there knowing how unsure footed she is. One slip could result in certain death on the sharp and bastard rocks at the bottom of the cliff or failing that drowning in the nasty currents, swells and eddies of Bardsey Sound. Regardless, people to this day brave the journey and still, to my knowledge, cast coins into the well. On discovering the contents of this well, I am ashamed to say, my father and I fished about as best we could to raise £4 from its ice cold depths. There was still a substantial amount of coinage left there. I do not think anyone actually empties the thing as there were old pennies, shillings and farthings lurking at the bottom of the pool. Never the less we took our £4 and spent it in the cafe resturant down the lane.

Pen Bryn Bach is a fantastic restaurant. Owned by Roger, it specialises in locally caught fish. Years after the events I relate here I went there with Mrs Gnomepants and sampled their seafood mornay which is, as you know, my favourite meal ever! They used to do cream teas at lunch time but this practice seems to have ceased. But at the time of the great Well raid they did cream teas and the scones and cream were the best I have ever tasted!

Just as things were getting to be a habit, my Aunt Mary decided the prospect of having a stroke or diabetic event on top of a remote Welsh mountain was too scary for thoughts so, persuading Uncle Nat, the cottage was sold. It lay empty and nearly became derelict once more for almost 10 years after until about 1999 when somebody bought it and installed a tarmac road up to the cottage (the Land Rover having rusted away long ago). They also took down the wire fence my dad had placed around the cottage to keep the sheep out with a horrid wooden thing. They demolished the kitchen and built a new two storey thing and basically ruined the place fitting Velux windows into the crockloft and them nasty faux cast iron carriage lights on the gate posts.

Still, however, the area has a special place in my heart. I have begun my own traditions and discovered my own special places that I like to visit time after time. I try to visit when we can even if it is only for a day out from Anglesey. I hope that when I have children they too will hold the area in equal regard. I hope they too will be able to dine in Pen Bryn Bach and on Sausages Chips and Onion Gravy at the Chippy in Criccieth. But our family holidays became less of a family thing and I had nearly a ten year break from going away with my folks. Indeed, I had a break from going on holiday. It wasnt until 1998 when Mrs Gnomepants took me to Scarborough that a regular holiday period would once again arise. The following year I treated Mrs Gnomepants to the Solar Eclipse from the top of Braich-y-Pwll which inspired us to hire a cottage of our own there with Philip from Brighton and Stef from Cardiff in the summer of 2000 and again many times later breaking tradition briefly due to me going to university.

I rekindled my love for the area in 2010 when for the first time I went on my own. My fond memories clouding my judgement when it came to the weather as, following a couple of delightfully clement days, it turned nearly causing my tent to take off and glide towards the sea. I was there once more only this week, this time with old friend Nick. Nick hadn’t been to the area before and I hope that he ended up falling for the area as much as I already have. In fact, I challenge anyone to spend a week there and not fall in love with the place.

Thankyou for reading once more.