I try not to take arty photographs because snobbery. Anyone can point a camera, hold it correctly, frame the view and press the button. They can even apply filters if they want. Its not exactly difficult like smooth shadework, mixing oil colours or sculpting from clay. But every so often I see something that shows Run Down Britain and out comes the David Bailey in me.
Here we are in Swaffam in Norfolk in 2017. I took this to convert into an amusing post-ironic-postcard to send to an arty friend of mine. It is clear that the vans have not moved in many years. I wonder what the drivers were thinking as they parked them up for the last time.
Apart from when Mrs Gnomepants V1.0 and I visited in the early noughties, and when Mrs Gnomepants v2.0 and I went swimming there in 2016, the last time I was in Alton Towers was when I was 14. So what poetry it was to take my 14 year old niece there as an Uncley Treat.
Of course, when I was 14, my fun Aunt had passed away a couple of years previously and my remaining grandparents were too frail to attempt the trip, let alone the standing around waiting for young me to get off the rides. Instead I had to wait for the school to take me which, tradition dictated, they did with all the other boys as an end of academic year treat right through secondary school, although during following years they offered other trips such as climbing mountains or some such.
So it seemed right that I took my niece to the Earl of Staffordshire’s pile where upon I took great delight at having her walk well over 9 miles in a day without actually realising. Hah! Alton Towers, for those not in the know, is the UK’s premier rollercoaster theme park. Or at least that’s what it claims to be. Set in the gardens and grounds of the ruins of a former stately home, some enterprising cove set about building elaborate nests of twisted metal upon which people can sit and experience accelleration and exhileration at high speed with the associated pull and tug of gravity on their leathery chops.
One such ride is Oblivion which teeters on the brink of an iron precipice before plummeting its screaming riders into a pit of darkness. There was no way I was going on that.
Another such ride was Nemisis which Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 claimed was “Nice and smooth” which must be the alt-fact definition of “OMG I’m going to die” as I found out. As for Smiler, well I’m quite attached to my legs so I didn’t fancy going on that and I also didn’t fancy whiplash so I avoided Rita too. However, I did manage Hex, Thirteen and Grand Canyon Rapids so I think I got my £30’s worth. Especially as I was also tricked by Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 to go on Enterprise which by all accounts was just a tumble drier simulator.
Of course Alton Towers is not just death roulette machines, its acres and acres of picturesque landscaped gardens. Some of the ruins belay the once grand manse that was Alton Towers. Summer houses and decayed greenhouses now overgrown with vegetation while here and there are hidden speakers piping irritating music into area where irritating music shouldn’t be. The cable cars over the area do give you a better, plinky-plonky-less experience.
If you’ve ever played the PC classic Rollercoaster Tycoon or early nineties Bullfrog classic Theme Park then, like me, you’d probably have spent the day imagining people walking round with think bubbles saying things like “£2.75 is too expensive for a bottle of pop” or “I feel sick” while sporting green pukey smileys above their heads. Or looking skyward in the hope of spying a pair of pincers dropping in a new ride or even imagining that the popcorn tasted good because the themepark management AI decided that it could do with an equal mix of salt and sugar.
In all though it was a most enjoyable day out. I can’t wait to do it again when my nephew is a little taller/older, but probably by that time the rides will all be different again.
The hangers at Cardington were built to house the great airships which would have revolutionised air travel. However, airships were filled with explosive hydrogen gas and several airships exploded resulting in airships as a form of mass transport being akin to walking down the motorway.
The sheds, I believe, are currently on the English Heritage At Risk register. This doesn’t mean that they are inappropriate towards children, but more that they are at risk of falling down. I also understand that one of the airsheds is currently home to HAV1, a project aiming to redevelop and restart airship transport using modern materials and science.
I’ve often seen the airsheds from the road connecting the M1 to Bedford but today I got really close. It is, of course, illegal and very difficult to take photographs while driving, so instead I tried to imitate the quality of doing so from a stationary car. Honest.
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.
Many years back I created a website on the now defunct Geocities service. The site was intended to be a gazetteer of inns, pubs and hotels that were reputed to be haunted and used pre-researched information from a book called Haunted Inns by Marc Alexander. This was during the early years of the internet and my little corner of the web attracted plenty of attention. I would often receive emails from journalists, people interested in visiting the inns and those fascinated by the bizarre and supernatural. I was even featured in newsletters and once on BBC local radio.
As time passed I was amazed by the increasing volume of visitors to the site and took it upon myself to register the domain hauntedinns.co.uk. On the back of that, I developed the site further, but by the time I was finally satisfied with the design and the content, interest was waning and I found my time taken up with working more than driving round the country looking at pubs. Times and money got difficult and the registration of the site lapsed; regretfully I archived the site and forgot all about it.
Since then I have moved to the sunny West Midlands. I have the funds to journey too and fro, back and forth across the country. Occasionally I will find myself in a strange town, my brow furrowed with uncertainty as distant memories stir. “Wasn’t there a haunted inn here?” I’ll ask myself. The answer only arising when I return home and I am able to check Alexander’s book.
This weekend I was in the delightful Roman town of Cirencester and once again I was certain that there was a pub in the area which appeared in Alexander’s book. After a bit of exploring I saw and photographed it, no longer for my website, more for my own records some examples of which you can see on this post. But it was upon return to Leamington Spa that I was struck by an idea.
Back in the day, Google was just a word you would use to misspell goggle. Map services in the early days of the web were a bit poo and Google’s Maps sounded more like a children’s book than a service that would be used every day to snoop on and stalk people and places. Of course, these days, Google Maps is a very powerful tool especially when used with the Street View function. Of course it is not the same as visiting the place personally but with the ability to locate the pub and mark it on a personal digital map that can be shared and even accessed on a mobile device, I think I will finally be able to tick a few more off the list.
On creating the points on the map I became more aware that over the past few years more and more village pubs have sadly closed, been demolished or even changed names. Out of the entire book of about 35 inns, 10 have closed or appear to have been wiped from the map in some way or other. Sad days. But at least I’ve managed to visit a few of them before they disappeared forever, their memories confined to pages of books, grainy photographs and blog posts….
I had intended this trip to be one of solitude. Solitude is overrated.
Zoe left at lunch time and shortly after I went for a 3 mile walk on the top of Mynnedd Rhiw.
As you can tell from the pictures the weather had turned in sympathy to my mood. Grey and miserable. The rain fell. And fell. And fell. And fell.
The wind. Blew. Blew. Gusted. Bellowed. Huffed. Puffed.
Wales missed Zoe as much as I did.
Cold. Damp. No radio. Not the holiday I had envisaged. I cooked burgers in the living area of the tent looking through the small window overlooking rain sodden fields watching the peaceful surroundings turn into a violent maelstrom.
Campaggeddon postponed for the post rain period.
“Thundery downpours” – said Thomas Shaffenacker on the car radio.
Stuff this. Time to call it a day and head to Zoe’s.
Failure to find Chinese food the night before, lack of reception, difficulty in finding a small portable radio and realising that few places take cards in these parts brings home how remote this place can be.
Warnings of weather changes ahead start to foster concern in my mind. The likelihood being that my holiday may be cut short by bad weather. This is not a bad thing. This holiday is already costing me more than I had anticipated.
Today it was more of the same
– visit to Porth Ysgo
– Visit to Pwllheli (Carvery Lunch)
– Geocaching taking in –
– – visit to Porth Oer
– – Visit to Porth Colomon
– – Visit to Rhiw
– Dining out at Aberdaron on a beach side veranda (Mixed Grill)
Went to sleep to the sounds of dogs barking and woke to the sounds of a murder of crows attacking, what I later discovered was, binbags.
5am – Nobody about. Dense fog across the land. How is it that the most beautiful place in the world can hide itself under a blanket of cloud? How can I possibly show off the picturesque vistas to a Llyn virgin when visibility is so low?
By 10am I was bored having walked as far as I dare without worrying that my imminent visitor would be unable to find me. The fog had lifted and the clouds were breaking overhead. I thought walking to the end of the lane to meet zoefruitcake would be a nice surprise.
The surprise, however, was for me. My parents. They too had chosen to visit the area this weekend and had just visited the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty by my campsite and had run into me less than half a mile into my walk to the end of the lane. They invited me to join them on their day out but I declined, explaining about my imminent visitors arrival.
No sooner had their car rounded the bend on the crest of the hill and vanished out of sight but the familiar red of Zoe’s Smart car appeared.
As regular readers will know; I can’t do anything right. Zoe’s car is a 2 seater with no boot. I’d forgotten about that. So after saying hello and providing unneeded directions to the camp-site, I retraced my steps back along the road past Pen Bryn Bach to my base for the week.
As the day progressed I became wary of how boring it might be for someone not sharing the “Love of the Llyn” – sitting in the passenger side being driven through rolling countryside to remote destinations. None-the-less, the days itinerary included:-
Aberdaron has changed. You wouldn’t know to look at it. It is a timeless place after all: narrow streets, humpty back bridge, quaint buildings and people hoping to squeeze every penny they can out of the passing visitor.
It has changed though. Something in the air. Intangible. Maybe it is just me. Things seem further away than they did and the people here…they’re different somehow.
I had half an inkling that zoefruitcake would join me earlier than she suggested. Kind of like a surprise. But after struggling with the six-man tent I thought I’d check my phone for messages.
Now in the past, I’ve been with Orange, Virgin and O2. All had fairly good reception at this location. I am now with T Mobile. Checking my phone I discovered that T-Mobile coverage was non-existent in this part of Wales. Even travelling up the nearest mountains failed to produce even one bar of reception. Not to worry.
Still, I have a good pitch in Mr Jones’ campsite at Mynnedd Mawr. Far from the amenities, far from the road and cattle grid, but with a beautiful view.
As I sit and write, mist and clouds roll in from the Irish Sea and Cardigan Bay, shrouding Bardsey in a cloak of cloud.
The temperature drops, but the light is still strong at 10pm. A foreshadow to midsummer and the crowds that come in search of holiday nirvana. In a month, this very field will be full, the eleven tents here will seem like a back yard sleep over in comparisson, Campageddon will come to North Wales.