Friday, 12 November 2010

Longleat – part 2

From the point of view of convenience for returning to Longleat on Sunday, Longleat campsite was not so convenient.  To walk back to the estate would have taken about 5 minutes.  You can see the car park from the entrance to the campsite.  To get there in the van however, was a long and circuitous drive through country lanes which took nearly 20 minutes!

Nevertheless we eventually arrived back at the Longleat estate and proceeded to enjoy the indoor activities.  These included the mirror maze, Animal Adventure, Old Joe's Mine, a simulator ride, the State Chariot and Longleat House.  In fact the weather was mostly dry despite the horrendous rain of the previous night but we were happy to continue with the indoor activities.

The mirror maze was fun.  It was actually quite tricky to find King Arthur's sword Excalibur.  I don't think I would have spotted it if my clever son Richard had not sussed out how to find it.

The simulator was okay – not the most interesting I have been on.

We almost didn't bother with Old Joe's Mine because it looked like some gimmicky tourist thing.  We were so glad we did.  The 'mine' is where they keep a colony of bats and is a low light area.  It was fantastic being among the bats and having them flying around you.  We could get up really close to them whenever they settled.  The young keeper in there was most knowledgeable about the bats and we stayed talking to him and asking questions for quite some time.  This turned out to be one of the highlights of the day.  The photo is a little fuzzy because you are not allowed to use a flash in there and the bats generally didn't stay still for very long.

On the Saturday we had sampled 'safari burgers' for lunch and they were a great disappointment.  Expensive and not very good.  On Sunday we discovered the Cellars Café and this was fantastic.  Great food, reasonable prices and a pleasant setting.  Highly recommended.

The tour of Longleat House was also wonderful.  It is a beautifully maintained and decorated house.  We were quite unprepared for the extent of its splendours – artwork, furniture, the ceilings are amazing, costume exhibits, books, silverware.  I was totally engrossed.  Unfortunately we were not able to view Lord Bath's murals which was a shame.

We finished our weekend with Animal Adventure.  This is an area with small animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs and more exotic animals such as porcupines.  It is aimed at younger children I would say.  There is also a butterfly area – although they were quite difficult to find. 

There was the opportunity to hold a snake and a tarantula.  I would have quite liked to have held the snake but there was a queue to do this and I was really tired by then and couldn't face standing around.  Dan and I went to find somewhere to sit, but Richard and 'ö-Dzin waited and did get close up and friendly with the snake and the spider.  Thank you to Richard for the photographs on today's posting.

Longleat is a great attraction.  The passport ticket is expensive but you get a lot for your money.  I don't think it would be worth it for one day, but if you can spread your visit over two days then I would say it is reasonable value.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Longleat – part 1

In October we had a family weekend at Longleat.  We had been promising to take our sons to this famous safari park for many years and at last we achieved it this year.

The weather was overcast and threatening rain when we arrived at Longleat around 10 am on the Saturday.  We decided to begin with all the outdoor activities while it was still dry and save the more indoor areas of the estate for the Sunday in case the weather had turned wet.  So we began with the drive through the wildlife park.  First up was an area where you can leave your car and see the animals wandering quite close by.  It felt a little like having been dropped into Jurassic Park – the giraffes are so extraordinary and feel deeply ancient.  They were grazing with zebras, huge camels, ostrich and several others species.
Next up were the monkeys, but this section was closed to cars so we could only see them through the fence as we slowly drove past.  Then we saw the rhino, and a large herd of deer.  We were able to park here and hand feed them.  This was a lovely experience.  They are so timid and took the food so gently.
We carried on into the section of the safari drive where you have to keep your windows closed.  We saw lionesses—but sadly no lions—and tigers and wolves.  This tiger definitely knew how beautiful he was and that it was his duty to lie in a position where he could be fully admired.
All too soon the safari was over and we were back at the main car park.  We had lunch and in the afternoon took in the hedge maze, the boat trip to see seals and hippos and the train ride.  There were some really fun sculptures of giant ants to be seen from the train ride.
It was great feeding the seals from the boat.  They were so fast and full of personality.
As it was nearing closing time at Longleat we headed for the Caravan Club campsite.  Last year we joined the Camping and Caravanning Club, but this year we are trying out the Caravan Club.  This was our first visit to one of their sites.  It was clean and had excellent facilities.  We would recommend it.  The pitches are sizeable, but it was the first time we have had to pitch the awning on a hard standing.  It was difficult to peg it down.  The weather was definitely heading towards a rainstorm by now and we were concerned that we were going to have a problem.  The van only sleeps two so at least two had to sleep in the awning.
We had a pleasant evening but then the rain arrived and it was pretty torrential.  The van leaked a little from the passenger side sliding door, the awning did not provide a useful connection to the van, and rain got in over the groundsheets in the awning so that everything got wet.  We survived neverthless!  We have decided that we have to get a different awning.  This one is too big for the Peugeot – the tunnel opening is wider than the length of the van and there is no metal strip on the van for attaching it.  Khyam have been very helpful and suggest that we get an awning with a smaller tunnel that can be attached using magnet clamps or a sucker system.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Surya Eco Yoga Camp

In July I attended the Surya Eco Yoga Camp, near Falmouth in Cornwall as a workshop leader.  It was the first time that I had really lived in the van and am even more delighted with it now than I was before.  It was most comfortable for living in for a week and is so easy and comfortable to drive that I find I do not get so tired on long journeys.

I think it would be impossible for two adults to live in just the van for any length of time—it is too small—but for one it was fine.  I left the one side of the van made up as a bed for the whole week so that I didn't have to keep fiddling with the seats.  The hob is most efficient and I enjoyed cooking meals.  The only thing that was not working was the fridge.  It would not work on the gas, only on electric, and I had no electric hookup of course at the eco camp with compost toilets and everything 'back to the land'.  Today however, I had the fridge looked at and it turns out that the only problem with it was an incorrect hose connection, so it should be fine from now on.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Heading South

The teaching session in Whitley Bay on Saturday 17th was from 10 till 5.  We decided to head straight off after the session and try and get about a third of the journey home to Cardiff covered that evening so that there would not be so much to do on the Sunday.  Before we set out I had tried to find a campsite around the Harrogate region to stay at Saturday night, but every one I looked at was fully booked for that night.  We had noticed however, on the journey up, that it was possible to pay to park overnight at a motorway services.  For some reason this had never occurred to us before as an option.  So we decided to just drive and see where we ended up.  We ended up at Tamworth services on the M42.
There are several advantages to stopping over at a motorway services: you can just stop when you are ready to; you do not have to worry about finding the campsite before it gets dark; the car park is always lit so it is easy to find your way around; facilities are guaranteed; and breakfast is easy to come by.  I was so glad we hadn't booked one near Harrogate in the end, as the roads were so clear and easy on Saturday night that we ended driving much farther than we had intended.

We found a quiet corner to tuck ourselves away and had a good night at Tamworth services.  There was not too much traffic in and out over night, so we were able to get a good night's sleep, and the curtains in the van are good enough to make it dark for sleeping.  There were shower facilities available as well as toilets and wash hand basins at this services, so we were well set up.  It cost £8 to park overnight – cheaper than most campsites.  I think we will always do this on a long journey in future as it means we do not have to decide how far we will travel in a day or an evening in advance.  Not all services are as good as this one, but if you do not like the place you can just drive on to the next one.  Campsites are generally nicer than motorway service car parks, but motorway services do provide a convenient stop-over on a long journey

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Heading North

This weekend was the weekend of the great expedition up north to Whitley Bay.  We taught a day workshop on Saturday 17th on the subject of meditation.

We decided to set out Thursday evening and try and complete about a third of the journey that evening so that we had all day Friday to cover the rest of the distance.  Last year we joined the Camping and Caravanning Club, but this year we decided to give the Caravan Club a try.  Their sites seem to offer electric hook-up more usually.  So Thursday evening found us at Atherstone Stables campsite, a Caravan Club certified site.  Entry is with a code via an electronic gate.  The site is basic but adequate: a couple of fields of level ground with gravel pitches and electric hook-up points.  The main building is a row of stables with one toilet and one shower.

It was starting to get dark as we arrived, but we settled in easily and found our way around.  The weather was stormy and wet.  We discovered that there was a problem with the electrics in the van—probably a dead leisure battery—but we had sufficient battery-operated lighting with us to manage for this trip.  We decided to pull the pop-top roof down for the night because the wind was so strong and the rain quite severe.

The website link for this campsite didn't work when I tried it, so I am not adding it to the blog.  The site is off the A5 southeast of Tamworth.

After a reasonable night we set off to complete the journey and drove for an hour before stopping at Bolsover for breakfast.

This is a lovely little town just off the A632 near Chesterfield, northeast of junction 29 on the M1.  It sports an impressive castle but we decided not to visit it this time as we did not want to stop for too long.

We settled for a walk around the town and a good breakfast bun at Sarah's café.  The food was good and set us up for the last stretch of driving.

We arrived in Whitley Bay around 4pm.  The weather was quite bright and mild, so we enjoyed a stroll along one of the beaches.  Whitley Bay is in North Tyneside, in Tyne and Wear, east of the A19 after the Tyen tunnel.  It is bigger than we expected, and not quite the scenic seaside jewel we had envisioned, but the people we met on the beach walking their dogs were friendly and the beach and headland area overlooked by St George's Church is well maintained.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Overnight stop

On 25th June I went to the USA for a week to take part in a Buddhist retreat in upstate New York.  I was delighted to be able to fly from Bristol Airport and not have to cope with the vastness of Heathrow, as I was travelling alone.

I had to be at the airport for check-in at around 7.30am, so we decided to drive over the evening before and have a relaxing evening in the van and a slightly less early start next morning.  We did not fancy dashing down the M4 at 6am, worrying whether we were going to get caught in traffic.

We found Brook Lodge Farm campsite most pleasant and convenient.  It is literally 5 minutes drive from Bristol Airport and yet a haven of peace, tranquility and beautiful surroundings.  The shower and washroom facilities were clean and well appointed, and there was a separate washing up area with hot water supplied from solar panels.  The proprietors of Brook Lodge are interested in environmental issues and hence it is a site that is run with the ecology in mind.  They have been awarded a bronze standard by Green Tourism.   This organisation assesses businesses wishing to join the scheme "against a rigorous set of criteria, covering a range of areas, like energy and water efficiency, waste management, biodiversity and more."

This was really our first real stopover on a campsite since we have owned the van – the first part of this summer has been rather busy.  We are most satisfied with the comfort Pema the Peugeot offers.  The seats are easy to organise into beds, the van feels roomy with the lid popped up, and it was convenient cooking a meal on the hob.

Our next trip is to Whitley Bay near Newcastle upon Tyne and we are going to have a stopover on the way up and on the way back.  We are looking forward to this.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Birthday delights

The van was finally returned to us on Friday.  Yesterday we did a lot of DIY shop trips to pick up all sorts of things we have not been able to collect without a van, such as pea shingle for the ground preparation for the summerhouse, boarding to floor the loft eves and storage boxes.

Today was my birthday.  Having been grounded for five weeks I really felt the need to get out into the hills and experience an expanse of sky and landscape.  Llangynidr is one of my favourite near-to-home views.  It is only 35 miles from Cardiff.  We parked at the highest point and headed off across the hills to take in the view.  It was windy and exhilarating and most definitely satisified my need for expansiveness.

Pema the Peugeot is lovely to drive - as this was our first real expedition since we had bought the van.  It is great to have a larger engine that pulls better on the hills.  Both Bertie the Talbot Express and Sky the Corsa were rather sluggish on hills.

After our walk we drove down into Brecon via Talybont-on-Usk.  The canal is very pretty here and the towpath is pleasant for walking.  Brecon was a little disappointing as hardly anything was open and there was a dearth of tearooms.
This part of Wales does seem to have very few places other than pubs for snacks and light meals - and in my opinion a pub does not hit the spot in quite the same way as a tearoom.  The atmosphere of a pub is quite different to a tearoom and does not appeal to me so much.
Eventually in Brecon we came across a gallery called Ardent Gallery in the High Street that served drinks and cake.  This was most pleasant with a delightful young lady running the place, although the pictures were rather expensive.

We then headed back to Cardiff via Briwnant Riding Stables to see our horses.  It had been a fun ride today, which we had decided not to join this time, as we have had so little opportunity to ride recently.  Then I picked up my mother and it was home for a delightful dinner prepared by my son which had been slow cooking all day, followed by cake made by my 93 year old mother.  I am now sipping sparkling wine and thinking what a most pleasant birthday it has been.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

No transport

There has not been anything to blog about the new van because it has been in the garage for nearly three weeks.  Sigh...  I have only driven it about 5 times.  Pema the Peugeot began to become increasingly difficult to start with confused displays coming up on the dashboard.  Eventually it was diagnosed that the ECU was water contaminated and the cradle in which it rested was totally corroded – both would have to be replaced.

This is both good news and bad news – bad, because we've only just bought the van and it is frustrating to not have a functional vehicle, having part-exchanged a totally reliable car for it; good, because it is in the warranty period.  Knight Motorcaravans have authorised the repair and will be paying for it.

So is delight possible without transport?  In fact it has been quite an enjoyable few weeks.  The weather has been bright and sunny and I have been enjoying walking and cycling more than usual.  It has been lovely to notice and appreciate things I would not have seen in a car – such as the tulips in front gardens, magnolia blossom; and also enjoying haphazard meetings with people while out on foot.  It has also been frustrating of course, and there have been a number of commitments I have had to let go.  There is also the extra expense of taxis.

First Auto Engineers have promised that the parts will arrive this week – assuming there is no more volcanic ash in the sky, we don't suffer a Welsh earthquake, or a giant cockroach doesn't appear from a crack in the universe and consume the suppliers of Peugeot parts.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Bye-bye Bertie... hello Pema!

The news from the Caravan Hospital was not good.  Poor Bertie... all his appliances were too old to repair and all of them had something wrong with them.  You may notice the past tense of that sentence, because we did decide that we had to give up on Bertie the bus.  The final straw that prompted the decision was the need to have a lot of welding done to sills and wheel arches to get him through the MOT.  We lack the time or the skills to take him on as a project, so we had to let him go.

So now on to the good news.  Bertie had a good engine and from this aspect he passed the MOT without any problem, which meant that he was saleable.  We had a lot of fun in Bertie so we knew we wanted to replace him rather than give up on the idea of owning a motorhome.  On a recommendation from a friend, we contacted Knight Motorcaravans in Kidderminster and they agreed to take Bertie in part exchange without an MOT.  So on Saturday 6th March we drove up to Kidderminster in our car and had a look at their stock of motorcaravans.  The vehicle that we initially went up to look at was an S reg Mercedes Vito.  The idea was that this vehicle would be compact enough to replace both Bertie and the car.  However I felt rather uncertain about replacing my beloved and totally reliable Corsa, with an unknown vehicle five years its senior and with four times the mileage on the clock.

We took our time and had a really good look around their selection of motorcaravans.  The place is quite small, but they pack in a lot of vehicles which range in size, shape and price.  Eventually our interest settled on the vehicle that we have now bought.  It is a Peugeot Expert conversion, registered in 2003 on a 52 number plate - so pretty much the same age as our Corsa.   It has a small kitchen at the back, an elevating roof, two passenger seats with seatbelts, two swivelling front seats, and a table.  Knight Motorcaravans also agreed to take our Corsa in part exchange at a price we were happy with.  Having agreed our terms we left, with delivery arranged for a week later after the Peugeot had received a caravan and vehicle service and been MOT'd.

On Monday, two gentlemen arrived in the Peugeot Expert and drove away with Bertie the Bus (on trade plates) and Sky, the sky-blue Corsa.  I am still mourning the Corsa a little - it was such a lovely little car.  I know it is silly to get sentimental about vehicles, but I do believe that even supposedly inanimate objects respond to being cared for.  Unfortunately I have been ill all week, so I have not had the chance to bond with the van - which 'ö-Dzin has named Pema the Peugeot.  I have driven it once and it is nice to drive and surprisingly lively, being used to a 1 ltr Corsa and an ancient bus.  I must remember... I really MUST remember... that Pema the Peugeot is a sophisticated beast and drinks diesel, not petrol.

So our transport of delight continues with a new vehicle providing the transport, and our delights are quite possibly going to be more frequent.

Saturday, 6 February 2010


We had a great drive out to the Caravan Hospital.  It was about an half hour drive and was the best drive I've had in Bertie so far.  I don't know whether the loud backfire he erupted the other day cleared something out, but the engine was pulling the best ever.  There was no pinking or sluggishness.  We sailed up the hill out of Culverhouse Cross in 4th gear with no problem at all.  Previously he would have struggled and stuttered and I'd have had to go down the gears.

There was quite a queue at the Caravan Hospital and we had to wait a while.  I think Bertie looks pretty good for a veteran, waiting in the queue.

As well as sorting out the little problems mentioned in the last post, we are hoping that they will be able to put on a replacement strip above the sliding door so that we have something on which to clip the awning.  This would be really good, because up till now we have been having to throw the guy ropes over him to secure them, and that is a little inconvenient if you want to head off and leave the awning standing.  I'll let you know how that goes...

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Caravan hospital

Bertie is going to hospital on Saturday – no nothing serious!  He is going to the Caravan Hospital to have all his interior fittings serviced.  This will assure us that the electrics and the gas pipes are in good condition.  We'll also have a few other minor defects mended, such as the leaky tap and the fridge that only works from the mains.

We decided to tax Bertie for the whole year, so we have been taking him out for little trips every other week over the winter to keep the batteries charged and everything lubricated.  We have been most impressed at how easy it has been to start him every time.  It must be a good Peugeot engine under the bonnet – it is a shame they have no interest in supporting his longevity.  They were totally disinterested when I contacted them.  Bertie started at the fourth attempt even after standing covered in snow for two weeks.  It does smell pretty damp inside though, but I don't know what we can do about that.

I feel that he is struggling a bit with unleaded petrol and am looking into a petrol additive.  We are experiencing what my Dad used to call 'pinking' and even the occasional backfire.  It will be his longest run for a while out to the Caravan hospital at St Hilary, so it will be interesting to see how he performs.