|25/10/2014||Filled under Cornwall, England east coast, family, weather|
If ever I were asked for a list of my favourite places then Newton Bay is one that would be very close to the top. It is part of Northumberland’s North Sea coastline and is a place given natural shelter by a rocky reef, where the sand is soft, the sea is invariably cold and the light has a special quality about it.
Some years ago, with our young children on board and just as the daylight was fading (so rather later in the day than we might have liked) we can recall piloting our sailing boat into Newton Bay, following closely behind a friend in his shallow draft cruiser. Although we bumped our keel on the rocks which give the bay such fine protection from the North Sea swell, no harm was done and we were soon anchored safely. In those days there was rarely a sailing trip we made that was without some incident, some excitement, which raised the blood pressure for a short while. This being the early days of our family sailing we were learning steeply, each trip taught us a new lesson, this one being “Never assume it is safe to follow another boat”. Our keel was made of iron and suffered little from its encounter and the wound we made in the weed-covered rock no doubt also healed over quickly. Maybe we inadvertently dislodged a crab or two, for which I belatedly apologise, but the day was one of many memorable ones on board our tiny boat, ‘Noggin the Nog’.
Today the beach at Newton is just as it was then; there are the dunes which hide a small haven for wildlife, there is the same small collection of houses and there is the pub, closed to us then with our small children in tow and closed again as we revisit the place, it being mid morning. The ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle also still stand on their rock overlooking the sea, little changed in the thirty years since our last visit nor indeed since being abandoned back in the 16th Century, by which time the Scottish border was considered to be stable enough, England no longer feeling under threat from those north of the border. Today the position is reversed, of course.
We visit this familiar place not specifically on a jaunt down memory lane, however. It is simply that having travelled so widely around the coast of Britain we inevitably find ourselves revisiting old haunts, our exploring genes ensuring that we rarely pass by without broadening our experience inventory.
So it is that we find ourselves taking a selfie on the very highest point of St Abbs Head, which also juts out into the North Sea and overlooks the mouth of the Forth of Firth a place past which we sailed on more than a few occasions. We have crossed the border into Scotland now but the wind that we lean into blows mild air from the south giving the impression it has crossed a much warmer sea than the one stretched out before us. We are perched up here on the edge of Winter but the season itself has yet to arrive. There is, however, a battle going on in the sky above us, one that followed us south a week ago and which still rages as we make our way homewards. Back then we would be driving through torrential rain with the sun in our eyes then five minutes later on the dry road would be overshadowed by black rainbow-spewing clouds.
As we head west the rain lashes horizontally across the road, our campervan staggers to the gusts, while I pull at the steering wheel to keep us moving in a straight line. We are en route home now heading for our nearest branch of B&Q where we have a mission to accomplish. It is a little over one hundred miles by road from where we live to this, our closest DIY superstore, so I have saved up a little list of things I need for my latest project, adding some wooden decking around Ducky’s carport (something we now affectionately call the ‘Bus Shelter’). Our mobile home now becomes a builder’s van as we load up with large pieces of wood, bags of cement and a few other bits that were not on the list. Once loaded, the extra weight on board means the gusty wind can barely affect us but the rain falls in great floods as we negotiate the final turns in the long and winding road back to Carradale.
In a little over a week we have completed a 1700 mile trip around Britain, visiting a sample of our scattered family and friends along the way. In Bristol we bumped into a rare coloured gorilla and met up with our youngest, Ben, just back from an American tour with his band, Frogbelly and Symphony, and still somewhat jet-lagged. Having recently moved into this city, Ben has set himself the challenge of creating a new music scene there where none currently exists, so watch out Bristolians! Down in Cornwall we dropped in on my sole surviving aunt, Jessie, who we would love to take back home with us but fear this might not sit well with the rest of her family. Instead, we gave her a gift of some Edinburgh rock and as much of our company as she could stand. In Worthing our eldest, Tony, took us for a walk along the shore to his favourite beach, a place where the flint pebbles look like old dinosaur bones, then in Yeovil, Kate’s brother, Peter, offered us a comfy bed for a few nights while his wife, Liz, fed us in style.
Back home now the season has definitely changed as brown leaves are stripped from the trees by the wind. Our stove is alight, ready for its first full winter trial, and if we run out of logs then we’ll just start on the furniture.
|01/09/2014||Filled under Cornwall, sailing, weather|
I normally try to avoid including ‘sea and sky’ pictures here but for once I am making an exception since this was taken just last week from the heaving deck of the yacht Senitoa as she turned north towards Scotland. The scene could be almost anywhere in the world but for the presence of the lighthouse, which is known as ‘Longships’, and stands on a rock a mile west of Lands End, the extreme south-west point of the British mainland.
There has been a lighthouse here since 1791 but the first one to be built placed the light only twenty four metres above the sea and (a sobering thought) as a result its beam was often obscured by the waves that crashed over it. So in 1875 the present tower was built, bringing the light up another eleven metres in height. Until 1988 there might have been a lighthouse keeper or two watching us as we bounced over the lumpy seas but today, like all Britain’s lighthouses, things run automatically with only occasional human intervention when maintenance is required so we slip past largely unnoticed but for the occasional gannet.
A month ago a message I received from Spencer, a yachtie friend, to help him collect his recently purchased boat from Gosport in Hampshire and deliver it to Campbeltown Loch, has led to my peering out of the pilothouse window at this far flung corner of Britain. But it has taken more than a week of sailing to get here, far longer than we might have hoped, largely due to the influence of tropical storm Bertha after its remains crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Until its arrival we were all basking under a scorching heat wave, welcoming each wisp of breeze and every puff of cloud. But no sooner have Spencer, his daughter Claire, and I set off on Senitoa than the wind arrives by the bucketful, always blowing from just where we want to go, as if it is trying to prevent us from leaving. Just once or twice we do manage to raise the sails so that Senitoa can behave like the sailing boat she is but in the main we have to rely upon the seventy-five horsepower diesel engine to push us along, which is disappointing to us sailors.
The most southerly point on the British mainland is known as The Lizard, for reasons associated with the fact that it lies in Cornwall, a place which has its own language. As we motor past on our journey, the boat bumping and thumping into every lumpy piece of water, we have a brief visit from a large black mammal, which dives less than a boat length from our bow, just missing a nasty collision. I like to think that a Minke whale is the master of its environment and knows exactly what it is doing, perhaps is just being curious, but it gives us a treat and a scare both at the same time as its smooth black back rolls away just beneath our boat. And where are the photos I hear you ask? You have to be joking! There is barely time to catch breath, let alone get a camera out.
Miles further on and much closer to home we meet yet another batch of strong winds and take shelter in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin’s yachting playground. So keen are the locals to race their yachts that they dry-launch them from the quayside by crane with their sails already set so they can get to the start line for an evening club race. Surely this is yachting at its most intense, and is a million miles away from the leisurely pastime Kate and I used to engage in. Two hours later these same sailors are hanging off the bar in the yacht club exchanging yarns, no doubt, of how they missed that crucial tack on the finish line. We are, of course, on the doorstep of the capital city of Ireland so must expect to encounter a different pace of life, the rushing about, the money spent in pursuit of a few hours of pleasure after a day at the office. Perhaps we should be missing this.
Inevitably, I have barely returned home from the passage on Senitoa when a wind arrives from the south east, one that might have blown us home in half the time. Still, at least there was a big engine pushing us along, something the chap caught staring at Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower never had.
|21/09/2013||Filled under Cornwall, England, family|
Not for the first time on our trip around Britain we find ourselves visiting a house built hundreds of years ago from materials which would be scorned by modern builders. Cob, a mixture of earth and straw, was once a common building material in the South West of England and in the home of our son Ben and his partner Naomi we find this material packed inside its immensely thick stone walls. We seem to be in the middle of nowhere once again and cannot quite understand how it is that so many of our friends and family live so deeply into single track road country. Drivers on these roads can face the most unlikely situations. Today we are held up by sheep escaped from a field, yesterday we paused to avoid an otter and tomorrow we may be stuck behind a hedgehog, none of which hazards are strongly featured in the Highway Code.
From the moment of our arrival at Ben’s home some secret plans are being hatched relating to giving Kate something she has privately yearned for for years but never been crazy enough to buy – a harp. Several days later we find ourselves with Ben and Naomi driving around Devon and into Cornwall once more. The real purpose behind this day has been kept secret from Kate but by late morning we find ourselves trundling down yet more single track roads to reach the home of Naomi’s former harp tutor. This time we are at the end of a road that crosses several fields, leading to a place so remote it is unknown to any GPS navigation system. The house has a massively beamed banqueting hall, complete with minstrel’s gallery, built on one end and we are invited inside to a room full of musical instruments, mostly harps of various sizes and shapes. Very soon the true purpose for our visit here is revealed to Kate, who is temporarily over-whelmed, but eventually she recovers enough to choose one, money changes hands, and she walks away with one under her arm (so to speak). After this little deception Kate’s secret desires are fulfilled and our large vehicle, with its harp-sized space inside, is now replete.
Since Naomi is already a talented harpist our next stop is at my aunt Jessie’s home, our second visit in only a week, for a short recital. Jessie sits open-mouthed listening to the beautiful sounds coming from the instrument. Kate can now barely wait for the opportunity to be on her own with her harp, to wrap her arms around this creation in maple, to delicately pluck its strings and maybe find a tune of her own lurking within.
On our last night in Devon the whole of the county lies spread out in the late afternoon sun, the pink afterglow heralding a cool night which holds no fears for us tucked up snug inside Ducky. In the morning we finally leave the West Country heading to the south-east corner of England where more adventures await us.
|18/09/2013||Filled under caravanning, Cornwall, England, family|
Our primary reason for driving seven hundred miles through all weathers to reach Cornwall is to visit Jessie, my sole remaining aunt, who at 92 years of age is my family’s supreme matriarch. The remote cottage she inhabits is far older than she is but it has been extensively adapted and is able to provide for her every need, right down to the semi-tame pheasant who conveniently comes to her back door and takes away any stale bread she has lying about.
The driveway of Jessie’s home, however, was not really built with campervans in mind and at first sight it appears that the gateposts are simply too close together to allow us to pull in clear of the narrow lane. With careful manoeuvring we soon realise that we can fit Ducky’s stylishly designed hind quarters through the gate with an inch to spare either side although a scraping noise tells me that in doing so our roof is making contact with an evil hedge built from coarse Cornish vegetation. With Jessie’s permission I begin to cut back the offending wildlife with pruners and shears in order to permit passage for our high-sided vehicle but I soon find myself under attack from some of the sharpest and most virulent flora on this planet. It is the hawthorn that does me most damage, fighting back with every spike, until my hands and arms are bleeding and scarred and I have thorns sticking out of me here, there and everywhere. But I win in the end, if success is determined by the damage I inflict on the hedge, and we are able to pull our van off the road far enough to allow us to spend a night there.
The lane outside her house is barely wide enough for our van to squeeze along although strangely Jessie refers to it as the ‘main road’, which makes us wonder what the minor roads are like nearby. Everywhere the trees are flush with chirping birds which Jessie has taken it upon herself to feed from her garden. At one time or other the majority of Cornwall’s garden bird population appears just outside her kitchen window and the antics of these creatures provide endless entertainment whilst washing up or cooking, such that her only complaint in life is that there is never enough time in the day to sit and watch them. Her advanced age and a good memory for detail allows her to look back to a time when the world did not operate in quite the same way as it does today, a viewpoint that is inevitably different from most of those around her. She is interested in everything and seems to welcome the opportunity to sit and talk, keeping us up till midnight when the tawny owl sings out from her birdsong clock. Sadly we take to the roads later the next day, leaving her to her birds. If she can remember my instructions on how to operate her computer she may be able to read about herself here; the Internet is one of the few things that arrived a little too late in her life for her to cope with easily.
Several days later we find ourselves on a visit to Dorset’s West Bay with Peter, one of Kate’s widely scattered siblings, and his wife Liz. This is a favourite haunt for them and we all need the fresh air after eating a substantial Bangladeshi meal with them the previous evening. In the interim Ducky has been fitted with a comfortable new front passenger seat, ordered some months ago and stored beneath the stairs in Peter and Liz’s home in Yeovil. We dump the old, rather modified, front passenger dual seat which cramped the spine of anyone sitting on it for any length of time and Kate now luxuriates in a stately posture next to me while I negotiate yet more narrow lanes down to the coast. Dorset lanes are not simply narrow, they are deep too, chasms formed by tall banks which are a serious challenge to drive along. I try to keep as far over to the left as I can without our nearside wing mirror ploughing a furrow through the hedgerow but don’t always succeed.
We like West Bay so much that we decide to stay for a night in the enormous caravan park which dominates most of the town. We check in then are directed to pitch #100 which is high up on the hillside, affording a view towards the pale East Cliff and Portland Bill beyond. Some 185 million years ago the sand was being deposited here in multi-thousand year cycles over immense periods of time, forming the layered structure that is visible today. The jury still seems to be out on what caused the whole process to repeat so often, forming the successive layers, or how they came to be separated by harder bands of calcified rock, but the view from the sea is striking, especially when the sun casts shadows on the cliff. This being the Jurassic coast it is impossible to escape the geology here; it just jumps up and bites you.
The camp site is impressive. For only a small fee we take in the view, dine in our own home, we skip the evening Country and Western show as we felt our costumes might not be up to it but sleep in total peace then get up and have an early morning swim in a warm indoor pool before heading off the next day.
Britain is about to be hit by the first equinoctial gale of the season so a quick visit to Lyme Regis to brave the wind blasting across the Cobb seems appropriate before we retire to Yeovil where Peter and Liz have the kettle on the moment we come in the door.
|11/09/2013||Filled under caravanning, Cornwall, England|
We are probably unusual, amongst road users, in that today is the first time we have driven about using a GPS navigation system in our own vehicle. For many years we sailed with such a system on board our boat but to date our driving needs never seemed to justify getting one. Scotland doesn’t really have enough roads to make it worthwhile and we so rarely made journeys by road elsewhere. There is one major difference between land based and nautical GPS navigation devices: there is no voice giving directions on a nautical ‘chart-plotter’. After all, what would it say? “Turn left after the next wave crest”, perhaps, or “Take the third exit from the whirlpool”? So given this, our first experience of driving under the direction of a GPS has been quite a novel and entertaining one.
We decided to choose the voice of ‘Kate’, despite not knowing this particular lady, but to see how we got on with her. This left ‘Thomas’ hidden somewhere in the software so we have to hope he is not offended. I am pleased to say that despite them sharing the same name, the crisp voice of the GPS’s ‘Kate’ bears no resemblance to the soft tones of my wife, which means I am perfectly at liberty to swear and shout at the machine without any risk of malice or confusion. The swearing is, without doubt, an essential part of the operation of the system and we have both been very impressed with how stoic ‘Kate’ has been in the face of my tirades. One might have expected her to trip up on her words, at the very least, but no, she smoothly glides between advising me to prepare for a junction half a mile ahead to cautioning me about how I am exceeding the speed limit. On the first occasion she comes out with this one she completely upsets my junction-approaching-preparedness as I launch a stream of invective in her direction explaining how despite my excessive speed I have vehicles flying past me on both sides travelling at twice my speed. Surprisingly she really doesn’t seem to care. She keeps quiet about my speed for a while, making me think she has taken on board my well presented comments regarding the behaviour of my fellow drivers, then just as I approach a de-restricted sign where I can legitimately speed up she once again slips in another little warning in the same perfectly clear tones. What am I to think! ‘Kate’, who we now call K2 to avoid any confusion, clearly has the self control of a saint as well as the sense of direction of a homing pigeon. She is almost too good to be true. I will admit, however, that to date the whole GPS road navigation experience has been a pleasant one since it is relaxing to think that someone else is taking care of our navigation needs. It means that we can forget completely about where we are at present or where we need to go, confident that we will always get to where we are supposed to be. But on arrival if you ask us to tell you which route we took to get there you would get only blank looks.
K2 leads us unerringly from our front door to our chosen camping ground near Penrith on the edge of the English Lake District, despite the torrential rain and the limited visibility. At ‘Riverside’ we sneak in between the dripping trees and listen to the rain hammering a tattoo on our roof whilst feeling quite snug and cosy inside Ducky. Each campsite we stay has its quirks, this is to be expected, but the Shower-Shed is not something we have come across before. It stands uninvitingly side by side with the Toilet-Shed, both of which look just like… well sheds. But first impressions aside, step inside and you are in another world entirely. I could be mistaken but it seems that these shed interiors are actually larger then the sheds themselves, both perfectly appointed and clean with everything one would want from a toilet or a shower. What simply cannot be avoided is the sense of stepping inside a shed, which of course you are, when you go in, and the expectation that you will find a lawn mower or a roll of garden twine inside.
In the morning we drive off before any other campers are about, towards Coventry and our next stopover. Closer to a large city we come across campsite security for the first time, something we find a little unsettling, but at least they accept the Scottish currency we offer in payment – which is just as well since this is all we have with us. Our chosen site is almost empty, unless you count the rabbits in the horse’s field, the squirrels (grey), the magpies, the two green woodpeckers searching for ants and the owls hooting at night. Arriving in the afternoon sunshine we are able to deploy our folding camp chairs for the first time and I am pleased to say that they seem to work pretty well, which finally justifies us lugging them around with us. When we camped on Skye it was either too midgy or too windy or too wet to sit out but here a wall of oak trees shelters us from the wind and the sun peeks through the clouds to keep us warm.
Coventry has something we have sorely missed ever since buying Ducky, a Camping Accessory Shop, the sort of place that has every little nick-nack we could ever possibly dream of needing and tons of stuff we never will. Scotland is not over-blessed with shops like this, places where you can just wander around picking things up and poking about, so stepping inside we feel rather like children in a sweetie shop. We simply have to accessorise, it is impossible for us to leave empty-handed, but we try to act with as much restraint as we can. One little gadget we do come away with gives us the ability to deploy our internal table outside the van, to form a set with the chairs, a combination we just have to try out at our next campsite a day’s drive away on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon. We are almost beginning to feel like proper campers now.
Hitting the motorways early we catch the rain, enough to make the driving rather scary as we strain to keep the road in sight through a world of spray. Once again K2 does her job with no complaints but she does fail to point out that the last quarter mile of road is barely wide enough for our van to pass along. Fortunately by this time the sun is out so we forgive her.
Like the last one, this campsite is again very quiet, unless you count the dragonfly who comes to hang about in the sun with us for a while. And then there are the geese, the ducks, the chickens, the Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, a pair of Dartmoor ponies and the brown bear, although he turns out to be a plastic statue so he doesn’t make a lot of noise.