Monday, 17 February 2014

The Welsh Tour is booked

Yesterday was, for once, a dry and sunny day with no wind. I could have driven off to some beach in West Sussex - to West Wittering, say - for a stroll, but instead I tackled two pressing tasks.

One was to fix a slipped roof tile. I'd already pushed one back into position on the side of my house (it was accessible from the top of a step-ladder). Now I'd spotted another, equally 'repairable', at the rear of the house. I don't like getting up on ladders, even a relatively low step ladder, but it had to be faced, and I was rewarded with success for the second time. These tiles are thick, heavy, concrete ones, original to the house. They are fifty years old, roughened with weathering, but that does mean that short of another bad gale they will stay put by weight and friction alone. They remain effective at protecting the house from rain and snow, but one day they will need replacement at God knows what cost. But that day is not yet. I'm thinking that if I refrain from too many ambitious holidays I can build up a New Roof Fund over the next ten years. Mind you, it will be in competition with a New Front Drive Fund, and a New Kitchen Fund. And you can't afford it all. Sigh.

The other task, which took me two hours, was to book the various destinations on my Welsh Tour this summer. This Tour will begin soon after the wedding at the end of May.

The task was actually not difficult. All but the last place I'm staying at could be booked online at the Caravan Club website. Which saved an awful lot of phoning, and I could backtrack, and ponder what to do, if I couldn't get all the dates I wanted. I was doing the booking now, four months ahead, to have a fighting chance of getting in where I wanted to go. Even so, one or two club sites were already full for some of the dates I had in mind, and I had to either shorten my stay (which had a knock-on effect on the itinerary) or chose an alternative site to be on. But I eventually got fixed up without too much trouble. Seven Club sites in a row, like a string of beads on a necklace. Then a favourite farm site on the way home. 25 nights for £313, or an average of £12.50 a night. Plus drinks for Fiona, of course.

So another big event planned and sorted well in advance. The site costs won't change, except to give me a discount here and there, if a special deal not yet published saves me a little money. No last-minute panic, no last-minute booking disappointments.

It struck me how different this approach was from how it used to be when M--- and I went caravanning together. She was inclined to pooh-pooh the need to book well in advance, which occasionally led to consternation when we couldn't find a place to go. She didn't mind taking a chance on finding a pitch at some farm at a couple of hours' notice, something I've never been happy to do. And she imposed all kinds of restrictions on what sort of site it could be. Generally, club sites were to be avoided, mainly on grounds of cost (in the early 2000s, Club sites were markedly more expensive than farms), but also on other grounds, such as their not having a scenic view, or not being peaceful enough.

So we stuck to farms in the main, and I will admit we found some delightful places to stay - but also experienced the odd disaster. But then there were two of us. One was a support for the other, and any mishaps and problems could be shared, and made light of. And two were better than one, if it came to any complaint.

Solo caravanning, as I do it now, is quite another thing. I have no backup, except whatever the site owner and fellow caravanners might provide. I am also physically older and not nearly so strong. It matters a great deal nowadays to stay where help is always on hand, where there is an organisation to give sympathy and comfort, and to act as a safety net. That's chiefly why I stay so much at Club sites, where the set-up is standardised, and the facilities predictably good. I don't care so much about having a scenic view, or just the silence of the lambs in the adjoining field.

Mind you, there are many Club sites that do have amazing views or backdrops. Inevitably these are going to be in Scotland, Wales or the West Country. For instance, the Camping & Caravanning Club Site at Rosemarkie in the north of Scotland, right by the beach:

Or the Caravan Club site at Morvich, in the West Highlands of Scotland, not far from Kyle of Lochalsh:

But M--- had a point about farm sites. Here's one from the beginning of our caravanning in 2002. It's Newton Farm, on the coast near Gatehouse of Fleet in south-west Scotland:

We had a huge field to ourselves, the other caravanners electing to pitch next to the beach:

And of course, M---'s delight was the view out of the front window of the caravan:

She always tried to orient the caravan to get the best view, wherever we went. Which sometimes meant faffing around, as we shifted from this position to that on the site, or tugged our beast this way or that to face the view, or the sunrise, or the sunset, or whatever M--- wanted to see from the front or side windows during our stay. This was her prerogative. I was just the 'man' and it was my job to make it happen without demur. Sometimes I didn't mind very much, and appreciated what she was trying to achieve. She knew her business, where views were concerned. But as the years went by, I objected more, especially if it was only a one-night stay, and we had travelled two hundred miles to get there, and were tired from travelling, and chiefly needed to get set up before energy and good humour were entirely spent.

It was however hard to argue with a view like this one, on Chapel Farm at Edmonton in Cornwall. As you can see, we had a grandstand view of the Camel estuary, with Padstow in the distance:

And - as so often is the case on farm sites - the farmer had work to do, which for us, sipping a nice cup of tea, and flicking through magazines, was simply visual entertainment:

None of the sites on my Welsh Tour are actually on the coast. They would be more expensive if they were, but apart from that, I don't want to risk a battering from wind and wave if the weather is foul. And for the same reason, none of my chosen sites are near a big river, with the risk of a flood. But the beautiful Welsh coast won't be far off. The mountains, too. Expect some nice shots.

The Tour then is from this moment fixed in concrete so far as dates and locations are concerned, and all other activities and appointments will have to be fitted in around it. The route is a big anticlockwise loop that goes from home in Sussex to the Cotswolds (Moreton-in-Marsh), nudges the Welsh Border in Shropshire (Much Wenlock), gets a taste of the North West (Chester), then runs along the North Wales coast to Anglesey (Benllech), down south again into the mountains of Snowdonia (Ffestiniog), south west along the Cardigan Bay coast to near Aberaeron (Oakford), south east now to Newport in Gwent (Tredegar House Country Park), and finally back home again via Coombe Bissett near Salisbury in Wiltshire. All of North Wales will be territory I haven't visited since the 1970s. I'm very much looking forward to seeing it again.


  1. I have been to Wales several times, it rained, hope you have better luck.

    This time of year i am usually reading books about people's travels to remind me that in the not too distant future i too can be on the road again. Sadly with the library cutbacks travel writing has been severely reduced, mixed up in their minds with guide books which are poor value by going out of date...

    Nice to dream...

  2. I have only been to North Wales and Anglesey, never to the South or mid-Wales. I've not been to Wales since the late sixties. I've been to Chester quite a few times in the last 15 years. The weather hopefully should be fine at the end of May but who knows these days?

    Shirley Anne x


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