Wye Travel

A trip from home to Hereford – the long way

 

We were meeting a group of friends for a long weekend in Hereford, but had a few extra days to explore. A month or so earlier we’d travelled to South Wales on the A40, so we decided to travel to North Wales and then head back South to Hereford. It turned out that a theme of our trip was rivers, canals and lakes and we found ourselves alongside the Wye a number of times. And why not?

Bury to Trevor (near Llangollen)

Bury to Trevor

Forget about getting your kicks on Route 66.

I like to drive b-dum b-dum
The A5 b-dum b-dum

OK, it doesn’t scan well, and doesn’t quite have the same romantic appeal. Having recently travelled to South Wales mostly on the A40, when I noticed that the A5 stretched all the way to North Wales I couldn’t resist the challenge of following that route rather than whatever Garmin thought was sensible. The fact that much of the A5 was built by the Romans as Watling Street made it all the more appealing. Considering it’s been around for couple of thousand years, the road surface is pretty good.

So was the plan a good one? In truth probably not – we normally avoid the endless dreary and decaying Midlands suburbia on the motorway. I had hoped that we might discover hidden charms in the area but they were few and far between. We finally found a pleasant canal-side lunch spot at Sutton Wharf near Bosworth, but it was a late lunch.

Once we cleared the Midlands the A5 became less crowded and more scenic, and our overnight location at Trevor, beside a canal and looking across the Dee valley, was delightful. The Sun pub was very hospitable, the natives were friendly and the food and drink were good.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – don’t look down

A creation of Thomas Telford, this is the longest and oldest in the country and highest in the world. It’s certainly one of the classic constructions and as it was only a couple of miles from our overnight stop it had to be done – we enjoyed a peaceful walk along the canal and eventually found ourselves at Trevor Basin, to one side of which the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct takes the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee. It’s a magnificent piece of engineering, but even as an engineer the most pressing feeling I had as we walked across was how narrow was the path alongside the cast iron trough that carries the waterway.

Swallow Falls

Trevor to Swallow Falls

Having walked the walk along the canal we decided to move on to Betws-y-Coed – more specifically the Swallow Falls Hotel, which is hotel, pub, campsite and Youth Hostel. As a motorhome, we could park overnight and took advantage of the location to visit the Swallow Falls, just over the road from the hotel. They’re pretty, and there’s something compelling about the sheer energy of a waterfall – I guess it’s a lot more energetic when the weather’s not as good.

Swallow Falls

We had dinner and a couple of pints at the hotel – slightly caught out by the fact that they stopped taking food orders at 8pm, so we missed out on dessert. I now understand the significance of the barman coming round and collecting the menus – he could have said!

Swallow Falls to Rhayader

Swallow Falls to Rhayader

When you’re driving a motorhome in Wales (or Scotland or Cornwall) and the GPS tells you to take a B-road you think twice. When the start of that road advises that it’s not suitable for HGVs or coaches, your feeling of insecurity just grows. However, in the case of the B4518 we hit lucky. Not only was it reasonably wide and well maintained – it was also a glorious road taking us o’er hill and dale through verdant pastureland, with the highlight lunch stop at a viewpoint over Llyn Clywedog, an artificial lake used to control the River Severn. The wet weather meant that we had decided to travel rather than explore locally, so we had plenty of time to stop off for a walk at the nearby Caban Coch reservoir in the Elan Valley before heading to our camp site. The Elan Valley holds memories for us of a holiday we took before we were married – except today the weather was decidedly autumnal. Nice that the Elan Valley is still not over developed – just walks and bike trails from car-parks that are still free.

Caban Coch reservoir

Wyeside Campsite

Just a few minutes walk from the centre of Rhayader this is a new acquisition by the CCC. It used to be council run, and has seen little development or investment. The upside of this is simple quiet camping on grass right beside the River Wye, within cycle or energetic walking distance of the Elan Valley. Sadly we’re only here for one night. Definitely worth another visit in the future.

Wyeside Campsite

Rhayader to Hereford

Rhayader to Hereford

Just a short 47 mile drive through green and rolling countryside to our rendezvous with friends in Hereford. The destination was the Hereford Rowing Club, which runs a substantial campsite, open to the public, on the bank of the Wye.

Hereford Rowing Club

Their main business might be rowing, but the campsite at the Hereford Rowing Club is bigger than some dedicated campsites. Pitching is on grass, and it has all the facilities you might expect. The location is a few minutes from the town centre, but also provides quick access to a peaceful riverside walk and extensive parks, paths and cycleways.

A Walk around Hereford

Our group had arranged a guided tour around the city. Whilst there is some ugly modern development, the historic areas offer lots of history, secret delights and charm.  A lovely place.

Hereford River and Cathedral

Waterworks Museum and Hereford Society of Model Engineers

At Broomy Hill, just a gentle and green walk along the river from the city centre, there’s a veritable playground for those who love engineering (I worked hard to find another way of describing boy’s toys).  We were fortunate that the weekend of our stay coincided with a steam day at The Waterworks Museum and a public running day at the Hereford Society of Model Engineers, and absolutely beautiful weather.

The Waterworks Museum (http://www.waterworksmuseum.org.uk) was running an incredible number of working engines, variously powered by steam, gas and oil, including the oldest triple expansion steam engine working in Britain which is enormous, and for a Meccano kid like me, simply gorgeous. The lucky guys tending these engines were very happy to talk about them – a great visit.

Hereford Waterworks Museum

And then, right next door at the Hereford Society of Model Engineers (https://hsme.co.uk/) there is nearly a mile of track and a great range of engines (steam, petrol and electric), offering rides, sounds and smells. The site also features a pond for model boats – boy’s toys indeed.

Hereford to Coleford

Hereford to Coleford

We had two days remaining, and decided to try the Camping in the Forest Bracelands campsite at Christchurch, near Coleford in the Forest of Dean. Years ago (long before the days of GPS) I was careless in route planning and found myself towing a caravan through Symonds Yat – I got away with it, but it’s the sort of mistake you should only make once in your life, so I took great care to ensure that I forced the GPS to avoid such folly. A waypoint at Monmouth did the trick.

Bracelands Campsite

I had initially booked just a single night in case we didn’t like the campsite. We needn’t have worried. It was very spacious and we picked a pleasant horizontal spot on the grass (with no defined pitches). The facilities were fine, and there was a proper motorhome service point, all for a surprisingly low fee. Very civilised.

Bracelands Campsite

Cycle trails

One reason for visiting the Forest of Dean was to fit in some off-road cycling, and the area delivered. My initial exploration soon found a short trail to Symonds Yat Rock – mostly forest track, and a nice enough ride to an impressive viewpoint. As I set off on the return journey I had a chat with an activity leader to find the best way to get to the Cannop Cycle Centre. It turns out that connecting the trails with an off-road route is not easy, and I settled  for getting there by road, with a bit of help from Google Maps and some hassle from uncouth car drivers.

Cannop Cycle Centre

Having established the route to the trails, on the next day I once again set off to the Cycle centre to ride the Verderer’s Trail, 7 miles of fun off-road riding, cunningly finishing with an exhilarating decent.

Time to go home

Coleford to Home

After a week and a half of enjoyable travelling in glorious weather, it was time to go home. This was a simple direct journey with the familiar problem of UK motorhome travel – decent places for a picnic lunch, without a height barrier.

See more

To see many more pictures (good, bad and indifferent) from this trip visit my Flickr album at:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/21184532@N00/albums/72157698131683034

Drifting around the Broads

Round trip GPS data: 292 miles, average speed 30.3 mph, maximum 115 mph!

 

It was February. It felt as though winter had been forever. Doing nothing, going nowhere – it’s not my favourite season. So I was delighted that we could get a week off babysitting duties and the weather forecast looked friendly – time to enjoy some of the delights right on our doorstep. Time for a drift around the Broads.

Day 1 – Bury to Rumburgh

Bury to Rumburgh – 41.3 miles. Click to enlarge

We set off around teatime with the aim of getting parked up at a comfortable pub for dinner – and just over an hour later we were installed at the Buck in Rumburgh. There’s nothing much to see at Rumburgh, but the Buck was warm and hospitable. After dinner we retired to the motorhome, pulled the blinds, put the heating on low and went to bed. Zzzzzzzz!

The Buck at Rumburgh

 

Day 2 – Rumburgh to Hickling

Rumburgh to Hickling – 60 miles. Click to enlarge

Very much a day near the Broads – and we occasionally saw them. We visited Horsey Windpump (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/horsey-windpump) and dropped in on the (closed for winter) Museum of the Broads. Our final destination for the day was the iconic  Pleasureboat Inn. Most of the day was in Broadland but we wandered northwards along the coast for a while. At this time of the year travelling with a motorhome, this piece of coast didn’t offer any compelling stop off points.

Horsey Windpump

Horsey Windpump. Click to enlarge

The odd thing about the Broads is that when you’re there in a boat they seem enormous and become your whole world but you really have to work at finding Broadland by road. We found a deserted, somewhat bleak but very scenic National Trust landmark (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/horsey-windpump). In the summer this would be heaving with boats and boaters.

Horsey Mere. Click to enlarge

Museum of the Broads

Museum of the Broads. Click to enlarge

We followed a signpost for the Museum of the Broads (http://www.museumofthebroads.org.uk/). It’s tucked away in a corner of Stalham. We were able to park the motorhome just outside, perhaps because the museum was closed. We had an illicit look around, and saw some of the collection of quirky boats.

What is this for? Click to enlarge

The Pleasureboat Inn

In the summer this is a real honey-pot location. In February it was pretty desolate and not exactly buzzing. The pub was undergoing renovation, so food wasn’t being served, and the bar was virtually deserted. But the broad-side location was all you could hope for.

Pleasureboat Inn, Hickling Broad. Click to enlarge

Day 3 – Hickling to Woodbastwick

Hickling to Woodbastwick – 52 miles. Click to enlarge

In our meandering style we travelled around 50 miles,  visiting Felbrigg Hall before doubling back to very close to the day’s starting point. This was Valentine’s day, and we were taking a bit of a risk in looking for a good dinner at a pub without a booking, but we hit lucky with the Fur and Feather.

Felbrigg Hall and Park

This National Trust property (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/felbrigg-hall-gardens-and-estate) offered a pleasant walk and views of the Hall.

Felbrigg Hall walled garden. Click to enlarge
Felbrigg Hall. Click to enlarge
Felbrigg Hall Park. Click to enlarge

The Fur and Feather

The Fur and Feather (http://thefurandfeather.co.uk/) proved to be the ideal location for an overnight stop on Valentine’s Day. The pub is co-located with Woodfordes Brewery. It’s a lovely building with a great atmosphere, and the staff are welcoming and friendly. They served an excellent meal and we went back to the

Day 4 – Woodbastwick to Sandringham

Woodbastwick to Sandringham – 53 miles. Click to enlarge

After a series of off-grid one-night stands at pubs it was time to visit a real campsite to carry out housekeeping activities – emptying and filling various tanks in the motorhome as appropriate. We can survive around three of four days between fill-ups, depending on how often we wash! We visited the National Trust Blickling Hall en route.

Blickling Hall

Blicking Hall. Click to enlarge

Another day, another wonderful National Trust Property. Our dog was more interested in parks than houses, so seeing the inside of the house will have to wait for another day – the park is magnificent.

Blicking Hall park. Click to enlarge

Sandringham Camping and Caravanning Club Site

We have visited this site over many years and it remains a favourite. Although it was early in the season we were blessed with warm and dry weather and our two night stay allowed for woodland walks and a really enjoyable jog along the estate roads (I had two half marathons to run the next month, so it was a great opportunity to get some miles in).

On pitch at Sandringham campsite. Click to enlarge

Day 6 – Sandringham to to Gedney Drove End

Sandringham to Gedney Drove End – 45 miles. Click to enlarge

If you look at the map of the area around The Wash it all looks pretty empty, so I was fascinated to take a look to see what was actually there. A look in the Britstops guide offered the Rising Sun in Gedney Drove End as an opportunity to explore that blank map.

Gedney Drove End

The Rising Sun at Gedney Drove End. Click to enlarge

The name suggests something akin to the end of the world, and it was certainly something like that. The Rising Sun was a good old-fashioned pub with characterful and friendly locals – we almost had the feeling that they don’t often get people from the outside world and they’re curious to hear what it’s like.

We were able to explore the world of Gedney, and while at times the sea is too close for comfort, as evidenced by the massive sea defences, while we were there it was very distant – outside of the sea wall was salt marsh.

Later in the day I was able to jog along the sea wall and see the extensive bombing range used by UK and other air forces. Fortunately all was quiet for my jog.

A view across the ploughed fields to some of the bombing range facilities at Gedney Drove End. Click to enlarge

Day 6 – Gedney Drove End to Home

Gedney Drove End to home – 63 miles. Click to enlarge

And that was it – time to go home.

See more

To see all our photos from the trip, visit the Flickr album at:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/21184532@N00/albums/72157694827473292

Slow travel and St Justinian’s

 

Since recently finding myself accidentally retired I’ve been trying to cultivate a more leisurely approach to my leisure. No longer do I have to dash from my workplace to the driving seat of the motor-home, do a marathon dash to a site somewhere lovely to enjoy a few days of blissful relaxation before dashing back home in time for the next week as a wage slave. So, when I looked at the route from East Anglia to St Justinian’s it could have been all day on the road, or we could practise the art of slow travel, and enjoy the journey. Which was it to be?

Days 1 and 2: Bury St Edmunds to Oxford Camping and Caravanning Club site – it’s a little tired and the railway’s rather close, but what a location, especially when you have a bus pass! We have found that staying somewhere for two nights puts us in a mood to enjoy a location, rather than simply being in transit. So we enjoyed walking by the river, walking in the Parks (cricket – but cripes, aren’t they women?), a wander round my old college, and a night at the theatre.

Keble College, Oxford

Day 3: Continue westwards – no particular target. Over lunch at the National Trust Westbury Court Garden we took at look at the Britstops guide and selected a shortlist of candidate overnight stops in the Forest of Dean. We had a chance meeting with some amazingly observant friends, as I was lying under the van fixing our entrance step, which had gone on strike and was noisily protesting. Step silenced, we set off towards our targets, and after a couple of rejections we found the Royal Oak near Lydney – a good friendly old-fashioned pub with unpretentious food and good beer.

The Royal Oak

Day 4: Onward and westward. As the journey progressed we homed in on the CCC site at Rhandirmwyn (Welsh is an unfamiliar language, and I believe “Rhandirmwyn”  is pronounced something like “randy women”). No problems in finding a pitch without a booking, and an opportunity to properly fix our recalcitrant step.

Rhandirmwyn Camping Club site

Day 5: Finally heading to St Justinian’s, via the magnificent Llyn Brianne reservoir.

Llyn Brianne Reservoir

Days 6 to 8: A great get-together with friends in fantastic weather, with walks to Whitesands and Porthclais and cycling to Solva, Newgale and St David’s (including an unsuccessful attempt to ride across a ford near the Cathedral). We’d never been to this part of Wales, and the meet was a great introduction to a beautiful part of the world.

St Justinian’s – two lifeboat stations, a bunch of boats and sea mist

 

 

St David’s – looks as though it needs a little repair

Day 9: Fond farewells, and on our way back home – slowly. Britstops listed harbour-side camping at Burry Port, another place I’d never heard of. It was all a bit wild-west free camping, Continental style, in a remarkably pleasant area offering walks and cycle routes.

Burry Port

 

Day 10: Weather too nice to be wasted motoring, so we walked and I took a cycle ride, mostly off-road, into Pembrey Forest – after all, this was slow travel. Eventually we dragged ourselves away from the sea, heading for a Britstops pub location. It turned out that the pub was closed that day. We were welcome to stay, but decided that parking in a sloping pub car-park without the benefit of the pub itself didn’t make a lot of sense, so I consulted the app Park4Night. Just down the road was a car-park for the Eagle’s Nest viewpoint in the Wye Valley. Overnight we shared the peaceful wild camping spot with four vans – a whole bunch of alternative lifestyle people.

Day 11: A quick excursion up to the Eagle’s Nest for a fantastic view of the Wye and the Severn, and then set off for home.

View of the Wye and distant Severn from the Eagle’s Nest

Slow travel at its best. Feel free to browse our pictures on Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/21184532@N00/albums/72157696469885454