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Archive for the ‘Campervan’ Category

 

Poppit Sands 2_thumb[2][7]

On our last full day at the first campsite, we decided to visit Caws Cenarth Cheese, a dairy farm which has been producing award winning cheeses since 1987. This was when the introduction of quotas by the EU meant they had a surplus of milk to dispose of so they decided to upscale their cheese production to make use of it. The farmer’s wife had previously made it for the family’s use on her kitchen table. We had been passing their signs for days and so we set off up and down the tiny welsh lanes to find them.

The blurb in their leaflets promised an opportunity to watch the cheese being manufactured but unfortunately we arrived too late to see anything. They had a small museum exploring the history of cheese making in the area and displays about the process of making the different cheeses. My particular favourite was a video of cheeses being dipped in wax – it was strangely satisfying.

Across the yard from the ‘viewing area’ was a small shop. There was a tiny room with wooden  seats and a TV where we were invited to watch a video of a TV programme about the farm, which included a visit from Prince Charles. It was an actual VHS so not the best quality, and was really just repeating what we’d learned previously. I suspect it is a means to reduce the queues at the counter where we were invited to try a selection of their cheeses. They were all excellent and we came away with a selection, although I had to persuade Mr Stoatie to leave behind a huge piece of Stilton which had been marked down because the veining hadn’t spread evenly. It was a bargain but would have completely filled the van’s fridge!

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As a postscript to this story, we were discussing our selection of cheeses later and I expressed regret that I hadn’t brought a particular variety. Never mind I said, I’ll buy a truckle at a shop, they’re bound to sell it locally, and it doesn’t matter if it’s more expensive as it’s just the one. Imagine my reaction when I find it’s considerably cheaper! You’d think that buying at source would be better for your wallet, I must admit I felt a little cheated.

The lady in the cheese shop had recommended taking the dogs for a walk on Poppit Sands so we headed there next. After having paid quite a bit to park we headed for the beach, I was a little disappointed as it was heaving with folk, and rather flat and dreary, although an area of rocks did save it somewhat. Looking back I’m not sure why I had such a downer on it, maybe it was simply because it wasn’t Uig!

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The next day we packed up the van and set off to a campsite on the outskirts of St David’s. The drive was really pretty, we skirted round the Presili Hills and then drove along the coast. Preseli was on my to do list, but Mr Stoatie’s thigh just wasn’t up to it unfortunately.

The campsite was ideally located a ten minute walk from the town in one direction and the coast in the other. The campsite itself had seen better days and the toilet and washing up facilities were in dire need of refurbishment but the pitches were mown and the place was very tidy. We were kept amused by the antics of the resident robin who was so friendly he ended up perching on Mr Stoatie. We always keep a supply of bird feed in the van btw!

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I woke up in the night and had to get up and go out to star gaze because there above us was the Milky Way, hurrah! Nothing like it to lift the spirits.

Once we were up in the morning I proceeded to haul everything out of the fridge as we’d been experiencing a whiff of rotten eggs on and off during the night and I thought maybe something had gone off. When nothing was discovered decaying in there, I proceeded to remove the entire contents of the van in an effort to track it down. It wasn’t until I got to the cupboard at the back that the source of the smell was discovered. The leisure battery had shorted! Mr Stoatie disconnected it and we left everything out and the cupboards open until the stink dispersed.

In the afternoon we had a wander into St David’s for a mooch around and treated ourselves to fish and chips for dinner. Charlie kept us and a couple on a neighbouring bench amused, by sliding down the grassy slope above the Cathedral on his stomach over and over again. I think he was an otter in a previous life!

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The next night was pretty windy, we were planning on heading out to do some exploring in the morning, but when we came to put the lid down we discovered that one of the bolts had sheared off the hinge and it was impossible to close. Fortunately the bolts are pretty standard and we thought that the tiny old fashioned ironmongers in St David’s had saved the day by providing a replacement. However trying to fit it proved to be impossible, Mr Stoatie couldn’t reach the hinge easily as we had no ladders, and I couldn’t bring the roof down low enough for him to work either. It had to be held down at an angle which was about six inches above the reach of my extended arms. I ended up swinging off the handles like a gymnast on the rings and was in so much discomfort it was clearly not going to happen. It was also still blowing a gale which didn’t help. In the end we managed to get the lid closed by adjusting the direction of the van to streamline the roof with the wind. It still stood a little proud and we ended up gaffer taping it down. Oh the shame!

So we had no leisure battery, and a roof which would  have to stay down until repaired, possibly after the holiday, which probably wouldn’t have bothered us under normal circumstances but added to this was the fact that Mr Stoatie’s thigh had been progressively getting worse and worse over the course of the week. He was OK during the day providing there was limited walking with plenty of rest stops, but during the night when he relaxed he was in agony and had to constantly shift position. If you’ve ever shared a bed in a camper you’ll know that if one of you wants to turn over the other one has to too, which means that you never really get an unbroken nights sleep. This was ten times worse, (especially with the added moaning!) and both of us were beginning to feel the effects of sleep deprivation. After a night to think it over we decided to pack up the next day and head for home, at least we’d have a week to recover before work. You’ll get an idea of how bad Mr Stoatie was when I tell you that I had to drive the ScoobyVan all the way back! It was a disappointing end to a long awaited holiday.

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Pentre Ifan 1

This is the second part of our trip to West Wales last September.

Whilst camping in Carmarthenshire we managed a trip to two local cromlechs, this, the larger of the two is Pentre Ifan and is supposedly high enough for a man on horseback to stand under. As it’s just eight foot I think they may have meant a man on a pony.

Pentre Ifan

The monument is on a hillside with an amazing outlook over Fishguard Bay – a tomb with a view! It was constructed around 4000 years ago and is the remains of a long barrow. There would originally have been a mound of earth over 120’ long laid on the top and which would have extended around the entrance to form a courtyard a little like Belas Knap. The huge capstone, which looks delicately balanced on the tips of the surrounding stones has been estimated to weigh 16 tons.

There is a connection with Druids, as according to W.Y. Evans Wentz, writing in The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries

"The region, the little valley on whose side stands the Pentre Ifan cromlech, the finest in Britain, is believed to have been a favourite place with the ancient Drulds. And in the oak groves (Ty Canol Wood) that still exist there, tradition says there was once a flourishing school for neophytes, and that the cromlech instead of being a place for internments or sacrifices was in those days completely enclosed, forming like other cromlechs a darkened chamber in which novices when initiated were placed for a certain number of days….the interior (of Pentre Ifan) being called the womb or court of Ceridwen. "

Of course it could have been re-used by the Druids for this purpose, it would have been ancient and probably disused even then.

In June 1884 it was named as Wale’s first scheduled Ancient Monument.

Another fascinating thing about it is that it’s a focus for fairy sightings. One of which described them as being as small as little children, dressed in clothes like soldiers’ clothes, and with red caps.

Waldo Williams, one of the greatest Welsh Language poets of the last century was born in Preseli, which is just up the road from Pentre Ifan. He was predominantly a folk poet (Bardd Gwladd) and his verse celebrated the locality and the people who lived there. The following poem was inspired by the monument.

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Remembering (Cofio)

 

Before the sun has left the sky, one minute

One dear minute, before the journeying night,

To call to mind the things that are forgotten,

Now in the dust of ages lost from sight.

 

Like foam of a wave on a lonely seacoast breaking,

Like the wind’s song where there’s no ear to mind,

I know they’re calling, calling to us vainly –

Old unremembered things of humankind.

 

Exploit and skill of early generations,

From tiny cottages or mighty hall,

Fine tales that centuries ago were scattered,

The gods that nobody knows now at all.

 

Little words of old fugitive languages

That were spritely on the lips of men,

And pretty to the ear in the prattle of children –

But no one’s tongue will call on them again.

 

Oh,  generations on the earth unnumbered.

Their divine dreams, fragile divinity –

Is only silence left to the heart’s affections

That once rejoiced and grieved as much as we?

 

Often when I’m alone and it’s near nightfall,

I yearn to acknowledge you and know each one.

Is there no way fond memory can keep you?

Forgotten ancient things of the family of man?

Translated by Tony Conran

Carreg Coetan 1

The second cromlech was closer to the coast, near the River Nyfer’s (Nevern) mouth, in a small field by a housing estate in Newport. It was tiny in comparison to Pentre Ifan and you had to hunch up to get under the cap stone. It reminded me of a toadstool, I absolutely loved it, there was such an amazing and friendly energy to it.

Both these cromlechs are aligned with the nearby hill of Carn Ingli (‘Hill of Angels’) which is part of the sacred landscape, although  it is difficult to envisage Carreg Coetan’s position in respect of the others, enclosed as it is with hedges and houses. Carn Ingli would have been a great place to visit as it has a large number of interesting monuments -  neolithic tombs, standing stones and an Iron Age Hillfort.  It apparently takes it’s modern name from the antics of a local Christian saint, St. Brynach, a great friend of St. David,  who used to climb the hill to converse with angels.

Carreg Coetan 2

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Drefach Felindre

In early September we set off for our main camping trip of the year, two weeks in West Wales. Needless to say we’d been looking forward to this for months! About three days before the trip Mr Stoatie fell off his bike, literally. He didn’t get knocked off and he didn’t run into something, he just came to a junction, couldn’t get his foot out of the clip and fell over sideways. Unfortunately he caught his thigh between the frame and the floor and ended up with an interesting collection of bruises but he was feeling well enough to drive down to Ceridigion where we’d booked four nights at a campsite at Drefach Felindre.

The drive down, once we’d got off the motorway at Wrexham was really scenic, especially the road along the river valley into Aberystwyth. This was a very inviting route, popular with motorcyclists, which Mr Stoatie attacked with gusto despite the van not really responding with the aplomb of a rally car. I had visions of arriving at the campsite with one of Jane’s heads.

I was excited to see a couple of red kites on the way down, but as we drove past Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest we were amazed to see tens of kites circling over the visitor centre. Apparently they feed them once a day and it seems we’d passed by just at the right time! It was an absolutely incredible and uplifting sight.

We stayed at Pant Y Meillion (Hollow of Clover) campsite. This is a small Camping and Caravanning Club site on level ground, with a fantastic view over the surrounding countryside. The owners have a selection of shetland ponies, donkeys and pigs which were lovely. We had the site entirely to ourselves which was great and (disregarding our wild camping) was a first for us. There was a very new shower and washing up area, and, incredibly, fast and free wifi. The only drawback was the length of the grass, I spent the entire time in shorts and (damp) sandals because with the dew, and the little rain we had, jeans and boots would have been permanently wet through.

We set up the pop up tent to store most of the van contents which makes it much easier to pack up and go out for the day. When we bought the tent we had envisioned using it as an awning – putting it up with one entrance against the van, but experience has taught us that it’s really more trouble than it’s worth like that. The van door catches on the tent, there is an annoying gap between the van and the tent which lets in rain, there is the hassle of precision parking and the dogs jump in and out tangling their leads both on the tent and it’s contents. I also miss being able to  look at the view, so now we tend to pitch it to one side.

Charlie managed to find the only pile of fox poo on the field within an hour of arriving and had to be washed, which was a bit of a performance when you only have a washing up bowl. Needless to say he was watched very carefully after that!

We had a day in Camarthen but didn’t get the camera out, so I can’t show you any photos.  The next day we went to Castell Henllys which is a reconstruction of an Iron Age Hill Fort, with the buildings erected over original foundations. This was the location for the BBC series “Surviving the Iron Age” which was aired in 2001. This was memorable for me as the producers decided to include a Druid as they ‘’thought it was important to have a druid as they were fundamental to Iron Age societies.” They chose ‘a very nice 27-year-old called Chris Parks’ who is a member of OBOD! There is an interview with Chris on the According to Whim Blog here

Castell Henllys 1

Taking the sensory experience path along the river (rather than the road) up to the fort you pass this wonderful carving, and the spring, which is guarded by the figure below and various other skulls, faces and sculptures. There are a few clooties tied to the tree over the spring itself.

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Castell Henllys 3

The cookhouse was my favourite building, there was seating all round the fire and it was lovely to sit and watch the flames whilst getting gently smoked.

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There were two other round houses, a smaller family house and the larger great house. We walked into the great house to find a group of Iron Age ladies sat round the fire waiting for a school party to arrive. One was arranging car hire on a mobile phone which was a bit disorientating!

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There were a couple of buildings that had been semi demolished and one of the guides said that the remaining ones were also at the end of their life and would be replaced soon too. I find it hard to believe that people would need to completely rebuild every twenty years or so, I think if you lived in them constantly you would do DIY as and when it was needed. I’m sure that the wattle and daub that look like it had dropped off a good few months ago would have been replaced and not left to get worse for instance.

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Although the buildings were a bit tired, Castell Henllys itself was really atmospheric, with a very strong sense of Spirit of Place.

On the way out we had a quick lunch in the cafe which I can recommend!

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Campsite

It’s disappointing that we’ve made it to (almost) the end of July and only managed two camping trips so far this year. Too much DIY and work are to blame. However on Saturday we did finally get away again for a few days and headed down to visit Mr Stoatie’s Nana in Royston.

We were looking forward to having a couple of dry days, as it’s been raining cats and dogs here in the Northwest for a few months now. Sure enough as soon as we crossed the Pennines the weather improved and it was lovely to sit outside the van, drinking something alcoholic, barefoot and in a t shirt! The site was one we hadn’t been to before – it was small, just ten pitches and was quite full. We had to stop on the camping field the first night and make do without power which was fine although the weather was getting hotter by the hour and I was rather worried about the milk spoiling, I need a regular supply of hot milky tea!

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The site was level grass pitches on the top of a chalky hill, set beside a field of oats. Most of the countryside around is arable, barely any livestock at all. The hill is the highest point in Cambridgeshire at over 450 feet. The view was fantastic, almost a full 180 degrees from the Southwest to the Northeast.  I was hoping that the skies would be dark enough to star gaze but unfortunately as well as having an almost full moon there was a lot of light pollution on the horizon, so no sight of the Milky Way for me!

One of Great Chishill’s claim to fame is an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. On 10 September 1983 Ben Palmer, a local farmer, and Owen North, the local baker, produced loaves from wheat in the field to bread on the board in 40 minutes 44 seconds. It seems fitting to mention it now that Lughanasdh is just round the corner!

The next day we had a few hours with Nana – not too long as she is in her mid nineties and easily tired – did a little food shopping, then retired to the site. Gosh it was hot! Fortunately our next pitch had EHU (electric hook up) so there were cold drinks. It also had a little more shade which made the heat a bit more bearable.

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On one of my trips to the loo I noticed a large hawk like bird on top of one of the farm buildings. I went back to the van to grab the camera and take a few pictures, fortunately I managed to find a post to balance it on so I could use the zoom. When we got back we were able to identify it as a juvenile Peregrine falcon. If you look closely you can see it has been ringed and also fitted with a radio transmitter. It is the first Peregrine I have been able to definitely identify so I was really happy. Such a beautiful bird.

Juvenile peregrine falcon

The following day I became a cycling widow, as Mr Stoatie took off on a training ride. He’s doing the Prudential 100 again this year, which is in two weeks time. It was ridiculously hot and humid, the dogs and I chased the shade round the van all day while he was gone. He was out for over eight hours in thirty degree heat -  rather him than me! I entertained myself reading books and consulting the tarot.

The morning we left I noticed three blobs appear in the wheat on the hill in the distance. I grabbed the binoculars and three deer came into view so I was happy again. We just don’t have wild deer here in our part of the Northwest, unless one gets out of the local National Trust estate, so it’s a treat to see them.

After having fried all the time we were away, we were quite happy to head back north and were looking forward to grey skies and cooler air. We scanned the horizon looking for clouds but instead were baked all the way back. I got sunburnt through the van window and all of us were fit for nothing when we finally staggered into the house, which was of course, hot and stuffy having been shut up for a few days. Tilly disappeared to the bottom of the garden and stayed there until it was time for bed!

 

medalThis year Mr Stoatie is riding the Prudential 100 to raise money for Kidney Research, which is a cause close to our hearts, as he was the recipient of a live donor transplant from his Dad nine years ago this month. I normally don’t post a lot of personal stuff, but if you would like to make a small donation we’d be very grateful, his just giving page is here.

Another way to help if you’re short of funds, would be to consider joining the Organ Donor Register

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Blackhouses 1

Our last full day on Lewis started off at The Blackhouse Village at Gearrannan. These were the last group of blackhouses to be inhabited in the Western Isles. They’re actually only about 150 years old, but represent a style of house used for centuries. Until 1952, when electricity arrived, most of the lighting was by oil lamp, piped water wasn’t installed until the 1960s. In the early 1970s many villagers moved into a group of council houses built a few hundred yards further up the road, and then in 1974 the last few people remaining moved out. Local people set up a trust in 1989 in order to restore the old houses.

Four of the nine houses are used as self catering cottages. One has been adapted to display pictures and video telling the history of the village and another has been preserved as a home circa 1955. There is also a cafe (scrummy black pudding baps) and a gift shop. The museum housed a loom used to weave the famous Harris tweed and explained a little of it’s history. I would have loved to have bought one of the beautiful bags we saw on our travels – especially the ones made from the modern pink and purple tweeds, but they were eye wateringly expensive. I could have picked up little tweed fridge magnet/bookmark thingamajig but I’d rather have something useful so I didn’t bother – maybe one day!

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When we arrived there was a coach party going round the houses. As at Calanais we were firmly on the tourist trail!

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The houses sit above a perfect little bay with just the right pebble to sand ratio for a rock lover like myself!

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I’m not sure how easy it would be to sail out of the bay, there was an interesting whirlpool of sorts churning away on one side.

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Looking back up to the houses from the beach.

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There were eagle whirling over the village, I heard one of the coach party call them buzzards, I didn’t feel brave enough to put them right! But what a shame they missed them!

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Replacing the thatch.

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One of those places that I would love to have lived, maybe not back in the past though, it would have been a tough life.

Broch 1

Just a little further along the coast is Dun Carloway, which is the remains of a broch thought to have been built between 100BC – 200AD. It was inhabited (in worsening states of disrepair) until the 1860s, losing a lot of it’s stones which were robbed out and reused in local buildings. In 1882 it became one of the first officially protected monuments in Scotland.

Broch 4

Brochs were built more as a status symbol than a defensible stronghold  – although they were used for this occasionally. It could house an extended family, and their animals. We had to crawl into the broch under a stone lintel. I’m not sure whether this was due to the floor having been raised over time or whether it was part of the original design. The walls are double skinned with a passage way and stairs running all round them. I managed to smack my head on the bottom of one of the steps, which was rather painful after doing the same the day before.

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The broch would have had quite a few different floor levels, accessed though these doorways from the passage in the walls. It would have been capped by a conical roof.

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Views over Loch Roag.

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Local legend says that cattle raiders holed up in the broch in the 1500s after having stolen stock from Uig. One of the pursuers climbed up the outside of the broch using two daggers, and set a fire with heather to drive them out.

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The following day it was time to leave the Islands, we took the ferry back to Ullapool from Stornoway, with the intention of making a leisurely journey south over the next couple of days. We waved to the folks in a bright orange converted German VW ambulance as we both queued up to board the ship, we kept bumping into each other on our travels.

Stornoway 1

We had slightly misjudged our timings and didn’t quite have enough time left to visit all of Lewis which was a shame, but at least it means we have a good reason to return!

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Last camp 1

We made a stop at a campsite on the Black Water.

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One of the guys on the site was fishing in the evening and caught a huge pike. His wife ran across to take a photo and then it was released back into the river. Unfortunately he didn’t fancy putting his fingers near it’s mouth and it went back in with the hook still attached.

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That’s the end of the holiday snaps. The next day we did our usual volte face and decided to go straight home instead of dawdling back and prolonging the agony. It was a fantastic trip and I would go back tomorrow if I could!

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Ceann Hulavig 5

This circle is Ceann Hulavig, also known as Calanais IV, which is located at Garynahine. It’s about two miles southeast of the main circle, from which it’s separated by an inlet of the sea . This was my favourite circle of the complex, a little out of the way, which meant it was quiet, perfect views all around, good conditions underfoot and a lovely atmosphere. After the hustle and bustle at Calanais itself it was good to find a site where you could sense the liminal so strongly. There was a wonderful sense of being out of time.

Ceann Hulavig 1

There are five stones still standing, it’s thought that there may have been thirteen originally, which would have formed an oval 13.3 by 9.5 metres. It’s been suggested that the 13 stones here and at Calanais itself may represent the thirteen lunar months of the year.

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The stones are between 2 to 2.7 metres high.

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Another one of those stones with a pointy bit!

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In the centre of the circle is the remains of a small cairn

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A view across to the South, there’s another cairn and circle in this direction.

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Calanais photo

From our recent trip to Glastonbury we go back .. back … (imagine harp music and rolling mist) …  back …to our journey to the Hebrides last year. I’ve promised Mr Stoatie to finish off recording the trip and I reckon there will be just a couple more posts after this. If I leave it any longer we’ll be celebrating the first anniversary!

The wonderful image above I borrowed from here. Our photos were taken mid morning and aren’t quite so atmospheric! Calanais sits on a ridge of land which means that not only is it visible from all around but you get fantastic uninterrupted views to most of the horizon from the monument too.

There were several phases of development. In 3500BC the land was under cultivation by early farmers, then between 2900BC and 2600BC the central ring of thirteen gneiss stones was erected around the huge central monolith (4.8m high!). About 2600BC a small burial chamber was placed in the centre, it’s possible the stone rows were added in this period too. Around 2000BC a cairn was raised over the chamber and cremated bones and pottery buried in it. From 1500BC – 1000BC this chamber was emptied and the land was ploughed once again. From 800BC  peat began to form – by 1857, when it was removed, it had reached 1.5m up the stones.

The site was excavated by archaeologists in 1980-81, and one fallen stone re-erected. At the southern end of the monument there is a rock outcrop from which you can get a good view of the entire monument, which resembles a Celtic cross with the four avenues  of stones meeting at the edge of the central ring. These avenues are aligned with the four cardinal directions.

To illustrate I’ve borrowed an aerial photo from this article by Philip Graham of the RCAHMS, which was published for the Day of Archaeology project. (Pop over to his page, it has an interesting drawing of the stones made in 1866 which shows exactly how far up the stones the peat went, you can tell by the staining!)

There are various theories why Calanais was built, the site certainly has many astronomical alignments which would have been the centre of ceremonies and/or celebrations. The southern line of stones, and the large monolith are on a bearing of 180.1 degrees, true north-south. This means the pole star is framed by the avenue to the north and the avenue to the south marked the point the sun and moon reach their highest in the sky.  The eastern and western avenues point to the sunrise and sunset on the equinoxes.

To the south you can see a range of hills on Harris, which are known as ‘the old woman of the moors’ – they form the outline of a woman lying on her back. Every 18.6 years when the moon reaches it’s southernmost point it is seen to both rise and set behind these hills.

The stones have been tentatively identified by Aubrey Burl as the Temple of the Hyperboreans, which was mentioned by the Greek philosopher Diodorus Siculus, writing in the 1st century BC. He remarked that the God Apollo was said to visit the Hyperboreans – a race living on a faraway northern island, about the size of Sicily – once very nineteen years. He also mentioned that the moon was said to skim very close to the earth there too.

It takes 19 years (or 6939 days) for the Moon to return to the same spot in the sky at same phase, this is very significant for us Druids of course, as nineteen years is said to be the length of time the ancient druids spent in training. This Metonic Cycle is the basis of many ancient calendars.

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Looking southwards up the avenue.

Calanais 3

There were pointy bits on several of these stones (and on stones at the smaller circles) Were they pointing something out perhaps? Or maybe you could lash something like a flag or stick to them? Who knows!

Calanais 4

Flowers and feathers at the central stone.

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The central circle.

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I thought Mr Stoatie did a marvellous job with the photos, it almost looks as if we were alone. Actually the stones were very busy! The visitor centre is a short walk away and we had to wait a little to get a parking spot. There were also several coach parties which came as a shock, as we’d been used to far fewer people on the other Islands and certainly no buses!

The picture below shows what is was like really. It did take an edge off the experience having so many other folk around (this was taken after one bus had left) but how wonderful for everyone, including someone with a disability walker, to be able to get up close and personal with these amazing stones.

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