Escape to that Wales

22nd April 2021

Hi, this time I am writing this blog whilst sitting in my deckchair alongside Michelle and Ruby in the middle of North Wales. It is sunny and warm. At last. A family has just walked past smiling “You’ve got this right. You working from home?”! 

We have now been out of our enforced Lockdown restrictions for 7 days and loving the change of pace. As mentioned previously we did enjoy the time at Slimbridge. What’s not to like? A large campsite with no neighbours ,with the choice of 150 or so different pitches to park on. The toilet block was not ideal but then again we are currently having to use our own on-board toilet and shower. But hey, its great to be back on the road with stories to tell…

First we need to share the joys of the last few days in Slimbridge. The rather funny one was with me on my bike…. We decided to ride along to Frampton-on-Severn along the canal and ride around the horseshoe part of the River Severn. After some time I was struggling to maintain speed. “Tell you what Michelle, I am so impressed with you. You are now so fast on your bike”- “I can hardly keep up and you just keep powering on through” says I through heavy puffing and panting. “Oh, I didn’t think I was doing too bad to be fair, feeling pretty comfortable” She says. 

As time went on my thighs burned, my energy depleted and no amount of gear changes helped. -I am definitely struggling, is it my age catching up with me?- I think. I then started to consider  (whilst pedalling like hell..!) doing extra exercise to ensure I could catch up with the lively younger Michelle. Anyway… when we got back to the campsite I noticed the smell of burning rubber and found my rear wheel rim to be bloody hot. It turns out that I had ridden most of the way with my back brakes stuck on..! My rear mudguard attaches to the seat stem, and very slowly my seat had dropped down over the previous weeks and was now causing the mudguard to push down firmly onto my rear brake cable, putting the brakes on. Thank God. I am not as ancient as I thought I was. I could go back to lounging around eating bacon sarnies rather than upgrading a fitness programme.!

Michelle is still really fast on her bike but at least I can comfortably stay in touch now….. 

So.. OUR campsite was open to the rest of the world on 12th April after Lockdown. We were keen to get back on the road but wanted to avoid the mayhem of roads jammed with campers and caravans, plus we were interested in watching loads of new neighbours arrive on OUR pitches. We therefore decided to stop two more days before leaving. There was indeed a herd of campers, motorhomes and caravans arriving from lunchtime onwards and we enjoyed the classic entertainment of watching everyone setting up. Struggling with reversing, awnings and deckchairs we managed to critique (!) some of their endeavours. We were slightly dismayed that no-one asked for our advice. !

Drone image of populated campsite

Next morning whilst taking a long walk around the site, inspecting the newcomers layouts (being nosy!), I was startled by a female calling “Glenn, hi, What are you doing here?” and I see that our neighbours were Rachel and Dan that we have known for many years. “Christ. I can’t believe it, we were sat watching you guys set up yesterday and didn’t realise”. “Where are you living now?” asks Rachel, “there” says I, pointing at Ruby. “No….where are you actually living?” she says. “There, says I again“- “Oh my word” (or similar!)- says Rachel in shock. It had been some time since we had seen them but I had worked closely with Rachel for many years and knew Dan through her, before all drifting away. Incredible. We were a good 60 miles and two counties away from their home and the first people we met up with were old mates. Well… gotta have a drink (socially distanced-sitting out in the sun) to chew the fat about the old days and mutual friends. What a great surprise. 

Our next job was to say a cheery goodbye to two of the terrific site owners, drop our Mini off at Michelle’s auntie/uncles for safe keeping and there we were. Free at last. Wahoooooooo. !

Ironbridge

The first place we stopped over night was Bedlam…. Literally. Bedlam Furnaces is a place just outside our first destination of Ironbridge, near Telford in Shropshire. Michelle had used her skills on the Search for Sites app and found a Wild Camping site in a gravel car park alongside the road just 200 metres from the amazing, historic, beautiful town of Ironbridge on the River Severn. For the purposes of this – and future- blogs Wild Camping is the term we use for Free Camping but it sounds more impressive.! There is often nothing Wild about it (though do keep reading!). 

Ironbridge was a great start. Yes, a gravel car park does not sound great however, when you think about it, most campsite pitches have hard standing on gravel, for which you pay loads of money. I am from Yorkshire so Free is good. There is, of course, no water, no showers, no toilets and no big patches of lush grass to look at.. However at the moment Covid restrictions mean that  we even have to use our own toilet and shower on a campsite AND they still charge £25+ per night ..!  Cheek. 

So Ironbridge was great, – wonderful fish and chip shop, nice and busy and great views across the river. This is a small village with historic housing, south facing across the river. Built in support of the Iron industry and they had built a pretty tidy iron bridge across the river which is the centre piece of the village and it is supported by the usual tourist shops and cafe’s but is actually a great visit. We grabbed a couple of cans of Carling (other brands are available) and sat on the step alongside the bridge people and car watching. Proper bars are not yet fully available at the time of writing so ‘Street Drinking’ is not as bad as it sounds. The village and camping was good so we readily decided to stay another night- alongside another chap in his self-converted camper van who told of his travels. “I went to Crete for the winter.. and got locked down.. for five months”- Ouch. He manages to get locked down in Crete whilst we get Gloucestershire. ! It appears that the island had very little Covid but they prevented most movement which included them allowing him to stay. Not too shabby. Ever so slightly jealous. We told him of our plans to visit Portugal and he readily passed over some handy advice for the future. 

Now the highlight of Ironbridge was when we took Derek the Drone out to take aerial photos of the historic, picturesque Iron-Bridge. No problem. Go into the quiet car park on the far side (as we are aware there is a lot of interest in drones and don’t want the distractions. Take off and fly over the bridge with sun behind, to take some images from a great height and location. Bearing in mind that this is my fourth drone and I have had them for over seven years. I have taken my full ‘pilots licence’, used drones commercially with estate agents and understand all the regulations. I am cautious and compliant…. Well… Mrs Angry comes storming over to us in the car park from the houses below -“Is that your drone?” – Tempted to deny it as she was so angry but it is quite difficult when holding onto the controller. “Yes, why”- “ Well get it down now, you are not allowed to fly over my house.” – “You are not permitted to fly over an English Heritage site” — “I am calling them now”- wow, calm down lady, breathe. “I am not breaking any laws, I am within the regulations and I am not over your house I am over the river”- So she turns purple and rants “ Right I am calling them now”- “Who are you calling?” says I. She wiggles her phone at me, muttering and stomps off shouting “I am fed up with you invading my privacy”- Oooh. Not very happy then. Over the years I have had many angry people complain about the drones and privacy. Not sure exactly what they think I am doing. Hovering near her house looking into her windows….! – It appears that her house is one of the ones alongside the river which is overlooked by hundreds of people who stand on the river bank taking photos of the bridge…and presumably invading her privacy…!  Very irritating for us to put up with (as we finished the shoot), but how we laughed as we wandered off. No sign of the English Heritage Security Services thank goodness…..

Moving on.

Panorama Walk

Michelle, as ever, identified a memorable location for our next stopover. We had the details of a lay-by alongside a mountain at Llangollen, Denbighshire in North Wales. The lay-by is at Trevor Quarry which is along the Panorama Walk, which runs along the ridge of the mountain. It looked terrific and was always looking to be a challenging journey at the final push to get up there. We Michelle had used the feedback reviews from the Search for Sites app to find the place and explain the difficulties of driving there. Comments such as ‘Well my motorhome is 8 metres long and we made it ok’ gave us the authority to carry on- really! . ( Ruby is 7.4m plus two bikes on the bike of 0.3 metres wide each!)  We were a bit nervous as we approached the small lane up the steep incline to the lay-by. Aware of the tight chicane near the top. We stopped in the pub car park before ascending, to check on the first corner which was already tight and needed us to pull the wing mirrors in just to get started. There was a young lass at the pub, getting it ready to re-open. “Whats the road like up there?”- “It’s fine, you will get that up there, no problem, tractors do it with big trailers on. You will be perfectly fine”- “As long as you don’t meet anything coming the other way” !! Well.. must be time to give it a go and pray for the lack of traffic. It did turn out fine, and the really tight hairpin at the top was manageable with a five point turn and the smell of a hot clutch. – Just hold that thought. We have to come down yet….

Well the lay-by was pretty full of cars owned by walkers, cyclists, rock climbers, runners and somewhat unusually five guys with radio controlled off-road cars taking on the long climbs across the rubble. (Bizarre). We had to wait a while-causing a minor blockage-whilst vehicles moved away and left us room to park the oversized Ruby. We soon settled in and at no point felt like we were in the way. Other vehicles came and went, all with chatty and friendly occupants willing to chat. I had the cheek to ask one of the blokes on snazzy electric mountain bikes “they must be quite expensive”- “About eight grand” says he. Gulp.! Mind you it had all the bells and whistles- actually no… bells are not a thing on bikes anymore are they? It had all the whistles then. They shot off up the gravel, rock strewn mountain pathway leaving us choking on gravel dust as they wheel span away. 

We lived here. Comfy as you like… Imagine the views breakfast, dinner and supper..

As for us… we went for a walk in the evening, a long (too) hilly mountain ride the next day and a long walk up to the spectacular Castell Dina Brân – a prominent Iron Age hill fort. This gives a view of 360º of nothing but mountains and the village of Llangollen below.

Castell Dina Brân

We stayed in this lay-by for two nights and were reluctant to leave as we both loved it so much. We could see across the valley below us out of the front windscreen and were constantly in awe of our neighbours. A group of 20 somethings spent two nights in a small tent further up at the top of the quarry having a party. Bearing in mind this was -2º  overnight and our heating was in overdrive. They were the kind of fun loving kids, partying as an eventual group of 12 or so who just kept sending someone down to the car for more beer, wine and eventually water and sunscreen. They were very friendly and kind enough to camp in an area we could see from Ruby (with binoculars) to make sure they were behaving (!).

We slept so well here and were so relaxed and with no concerns. However, we had decided to leave on Sunday afternoon, we walked down into the lovely town of Llangollen in the morning, had a bacon/sausage/egg roll then returned to Ruby. To find…… the whole area was rammed full with outdoor folk. The worlds supply of outdoor pursuitists had arrived with their cars. They were walking, cycling running, riding and driving on our bit of road that we would need to get down the mountain. Added to which a large transit van had acquired a very flat tyre just 50 meters along the narrow track from our lay-by. Cars could just squeeze past but 2.4m wide Ruby had no chance. After some deliberation we were ready to go, we were packed up, the transit van had dragged his vehicle clear and we were off. NOW the fun starts…

We have always said from the start that we would not want to spend much time on property sites, nor stick to normal conventions. We wanted to ‘wild camp’ often, hit the smaller roads and generally abuse Ruby on our travels. We wanted a Battle Bus and were not afraid of a few battle scars. Well this was our first one. Remember this tight chicane on the narrow steep mountain road.? Well we had to get down this. We had done the research and it was the only permissible way. We squeezed past the walkers and cyclist as they leapt out of the way onto the grass and approached THE bend. Dead easy, can do it in one turn rather than five as we have studied it closely on foot. Trouble is we missed the big dip on the inside of the bend and as the rear wheel dropped in, the rear corner of Ruby’s bodywork crashed into the tarmac and ripped the corner panel right off. – And we were making a video at the time so the verbal account is recorded…!  Ooops. Had to reverse back to clear the hole and made it the second time. Michelle popped back, picked up the damaged panel, and jumped back in before driving away, watched by the gathered adventurers…. ! And to make matters worse, there was a chap pedalling slowly up the hill towards us, hardly able to breath, but still managed to utter the words “There was a better way straight on..…”- Bugger. 

Sorry-3 minute video of descent..and damage. !
Review the damage at ground level..

Well we were now battle scarred and are in the process of buying the new tube of sealant and adhesive to (hopefully) effect a repair, thanks to those nice Bailey Motorhome folk. Moving on. ..

Bala Lake

With our slightly less good-looking Ruby we now had a proper campsite booked. We are able to manage about four days before running out of water, we needed to replenish this as we did not encounter other options. Our cassette toilet lasts probably three days (dependent on what we have been eating… )- enough said…

Anyway, I waffle on, again. We drove about another 40 miles to Bala Lake campsite which is in the historic county of Merionethshire, still in Wales. The site was almost empty being a Sunday afternoon during Covid despite hearing stories of ‘all campsites are completely full’ from many quarters. This site at £25 is a little steep for non-weekend, no access to showers/toilets/laundry (due to Covid restrictions)so basically we got hook-up electric and some water for this price. Still it was a necessity and it gave my ever wonderful Michelle the chance to wash mountains of clothing and bed linen in the lake ( no that’s not true, I made that bit up. ! It was actually by hand- in a basin and hung out on our bugger-to-set-up clothes line/triangle thing (not sure what its called …)

This site is huge with lots of flat open grassland with ready access directly onto Lake Bala by private (gravel) beach. If you are a water loving babe- into paddle boarding, wind surfing, canoeing etc then this is for you. Spend all day and walk back to your unit for hot coffee and supper. As we have no surfboard, no canoe and no SUP (and it was bloody freezing water) we skipped that bit. There is however the ability to hire some in the town of Bala a couple of miles away but we cowardly thought we would wait till Summer to hit the water of any lake. !

I did not consider the we would get much chance to use our bikes in these hilly areas but once again we grabbed them from the rear rack and headed off around Bala Lake. “What is the ride like into Bala” I ask of …. The site owner “ Do you like hills?” She says. “Not really, but we can cope with small ones”- “ You will be fine then” she says, “ giving us a circuitous route “there is a biggish one towards the end otherwise you will be fine”- Well let me just say.. never trust a campsite owner to tell the truth about the local area. Both of us had exploding, throbbing, worn out legs and permanent lung damage BEFORE we even got near the ‘biggish hill’. Ouch…! 

But we did have some fast jets powering along the lake a few times. Love it. – (Though probably important to keep Derek down a bit lower!)

Did you know… Bala Lake has it’s own Loch Ness monster …. called Teggie- and is said to resemble a crocodile or plesiosaur. Teggie sightings have been reported since the 1890s. Look closely at the image above and you may see it….!

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