We had quite some miles to cover but were by now on far faster roads. The boring ones. At least they were not narrow, not until we were closing in on our night stop, a CL at a pub close to Ingleton. The day started out reasonably fair but by the time that we reached the camp site, it was pouring with rain. Our host appeared somewhat grumpy to see us and said had he known how large we were he would not have accepted us. Mr Snail pointed out that he had been absolutely specific when booking.
The site was full and clearly with "regulars". Due to the grumpiness we did not feel any need to go and have a civilised pint. The site was pricey, considering the basic nature so we did not feel bad about not eating or drinking in the pub. It had been a long day and we just wished to sleep.
No photos, it was far too wet.
Saturday, April 2nd
We had an early start as we were meeting up with the extended Snail family in Ingleton, so that they might admire Hank. We parked in the car park at Country Harvest (which would make a cracking good Britstop) to await the arrival of the Pocklington contingent, who were less than five minutes behind us. A miracle of planning and organisation. A hearty breakfast ensued before they went onward (I think, to the Lakes) and we went homeward.
Our destination was a lay-by at Beattock, back in Scotland at last. This is a place well known to us as we often stopped there to exercise the dogs when travelling between Wanlockhead and Moffat when we lived up in the Southern Uplands. It was still very wet when we parked up and there were large puddles to be avoided.
In the course of the evening we changed our plans, which originally had us going up Glencoe and using a Britstop at Loch Leven, with a good seafood dinner thrown into the mix. We elected instead to dash up North and spend three nights resting up at Glenmore, using the dining out money to pay campsite fees instead.
I did get a photograph in the morning of Hank on location. The rain had all but stopped by then. It did not stay stopped for long.
Sunday, April 3rd
Sunday is always a good day to pass through the Central Belt. I admit it, we planned it that way. We wanted to cover a lot of miles. We fuelled up at Abington which was where Teddy chose to travel on the dash instead of hanging around my neck as usual. He hardly moved all of the time that we were travelling.
We ate a hearty but late breakfast which by this time we were more than ready for.
Then we legged it up the A9 to Glenmore Forest.
I took a series of snapshots of our progress-with-cat.
We had stayed at Glenmore before and knew the pitches to be large enough. We had no worries. However, when we got there not only was the site very full but also some pitches were out of action due to recent heavy rain and flooding. The wardens were very helpful however and found us a gravel pitch where we would not sink into the mire. It meant parking sideways on but it was fortunately very handy for walking out into the wood and onto the beach.
Nell was beside herself with joy - she knew exactly where she was! We all of us enjoy Glenmore. Even when it is full of holidaying families. Even in the rain.
We had boots with us and waterproofs. Nothing was going to stop us from enjoying our break from travel.
We walked around out to Loch Morlich beach as soon as we were settled.
On Monday we walked around Loch Morlich in some rather soggy weather.
One of the reasons that we wanted to spend a few days at Glenmore was due to the possibility of overwintering there on a seasonal pitch. It was quite cold up there and we were finding Hank nowhere near as snug as Brunhilde had been. Mr Snail volunteered to catch the bus into Aviemore and go shopping for a little fan heater as that would provide not just warmth but some good practical research into how we might manage living there without car to zip around in.
He was there and back in no time at all. We were soon warmed up. I made use of the laundry whilst he was gone.
On Tuesday we tried on of the marked walks that we had not used before and took a stroll up to the Green Loch (Loch Uaine), still in rather damp weather. There was a quantity of mist about but only sufficient to make the views enchanting and not enough to make us feel miserable or in any danger of being lost.
There were plenty of other walkers about and it was difficult to feel the usual sense of peace when ambling in the forest as families on cycles hurtled past..
It was worth the hike to the loch and we would have liked to go further, at least as far as the bothy but the pace of the last three weeks was getting to us by then.
We saved the walk extension for next time. Glenmore remains our favourite site and we shall return time and again.
It was worth the long drive up to Glenmore in a single day in order to have a 3 night stay and a proper break. We felt all the better for it, though by Wednesday I think we were all pretty happy to be thinking about home.
Wednesday, 6th April
The run up to Dornoch, and thereafter to the ferry, is by now routine. I had some doubts about whether we would be able to access the usual spot in our stupidly large van but the access proved to be wider than I remembered it to be and we manage to snug in. Hank is honestly a little large for the car park at the beach but with careful parking it is just about doable.
Nell's joy at being in Glenmore was nothing compared to her sheer ecstasy at being back at Dornoch. I think this must be her most favourite place after home.
It was Ceridwen's first time, as well as Hank's.
We had two other vans for overnight company.
Thursday, 7th April and home on Friday
The run up to the ferry was uneventful. We filled up with both petrol and LPG at Skeach Services, realising only later (when we learned that the vehicle is actually taller than we were told when we bought it) that we must have had only centimetres clearance between the AC unit and the canopy.
Hank made light work of Berriedale Braes. It was a breeze compared to the times we have done it in Brunhilde... or the Land Rover.
We were impressed.
It was a good run and we were at Sibster Forest, just outside Thurso, by lunchtime. Nell had a lovely walk and we had a good lunch and rested until it was time to go for the evening ferry.
Hank does not fit in the lines at the ferry queue and so we were directed to park up with the lorries at the quayside.
It was a good crossing and once we were back on Orkney we made our way to Brodgar for the night. We had the place to ourselves.
The lines at the North Isles ferry are also too narrow for Hank and so we had to park him out of the way again when we went for the morning ferry home to Sanday.
It was quite a tight fit on the boat.
Backing Hank in through the gate and up the track proved to be nowhere near as difficult as either of us had anticipated. He went through at the second time of asking. Here he is, installed at home.
After our tight squeeze and our failure to reach Rhyd, we were back to debating whether or not to keep Hank. The weight of opinion was for returning to retrieve Brunhilde but that would mean that our final week would involve a lot of very long days. We continued to discuss what to do throughout the day and well into the evening.
I was very jumpy about routes and did some checking. Just as well that I did - there was an arch in the walls at Conwy that we could not pass through without removing our mirrors. We took a detour! I was glad that we were prepared and did not suffer another surprise like yesterday's.
It was a beautiful sunny day and really quite warm. We stopped at Caernarfon to stock up the larder.
We parked easily in the "Buses only" car park behind Tesco. There was plenty of room and we happily stumped up the £3 bus parking fee.
We treated Nell to a good long walk on the footpath beside the Menai Strait.
Then took our detour to a destination that we were very excited about. A Britstop outside Conwy, the Groes Inn is an historic pub with a good reputation for food. It was time for us to scrub up and to have a really good meal.
It was to be the highlight of our trip.
We parked by the Petanque square and considered digging out our Boules later in the evening.
We popped in to the bar say that we had arrived, to book a table for dinner and had a swift afternoon pint whilst we were about it. I liked the Inn. It was rather posh (for us) but not at all stuffy or fussy and the young hospitality team were very friendly and helpful.
We could not waste the glorious weather and asked about footpaths for dog walking. There were none! We had to walk along narrow lanes with high hedges and no verge. Not ideal.
After showering and getting changed, I checked out the Inn's Facebook page in the hope of finding a menu. What I found was a post made that very day, saying that they had vacancies for kitchen staff. Perhaps I should have paused to think on that.
Dinner was to put it politely, a disappointment. Mr Snail's starter of black pudding, bacon and poached egg was excellent indeed, freshly made, beautifully presented and quite delicious. I did not fare quite so well with my grilled aubergine and feta salad. We had picked the same main course, slow-cooked Belly Pork, and as soon as it came to the table I could tell at a glance that the meal was not hot - it was dull, congealed and giving off no steam. I was correct; it was not at all hot and I had to return mine to the kitchen, where it was nuked and re-plated rather less attractively. Tasty enough but the skin was entirely wet and gelatinous, making the whole dish somewhat revolting.
Not to go into too much detail, the service was patchy. The arrival of the wine was very late and the veg were brought to the table some time after the meat plate.
Dessert was massively disappointing, all the more so because we had lashed out on a bottle of our favourite dessert wine, Elysium. Both of our chosen desserts were very tired-looking, as though they had been plated up on Sunday and left out uncovered. Executed initially well enough, they would have been good if fresh, but they tasted as dull as they looked.
It was not all bad, my request to have my chocolate tart served with a scoop of their cinnamon ice cream on the side instead of whipped cream was cheerfully met and the ice cream was delicious indeed.
We passed on the coffee as they could only offer Nespresso and not real coffee - so we went back to the van and fired up the Espresso pot.What kind of upmarket establishment fails to serve freshly ground coffee!
After supping a whole bottle of Elysium between us on top of sherry and the main course wine, I was no longer hankering for a game of Petanque.
We discussed the meal and how underwhelming it had been despite how well the menu read and the Inn's reputation. I concluded, given the earlier post regarding kitchen staff, that they were suffering a kitchen staffing crisis and had been fire-fighting. Everything added up to the suggestion that they were short of chefs and that the chef staff that they did have on hand were addressing just those dishes that had to have immediate attention - such as Mr Snail's Black Pudding and Poached Egg, which was faultless. Everything else looked as though it had been plated up in advance to be dealt with by lesser-skilled hands.
Overall we decided not to damn the restaurant out of hand and would give it a second chance some other time. It still left a foul taste in the mouth as we had pushed the boat out after looking forward to this for weeks and had spent a great deal of money on a less than distinguished meal. The high point of our break turned out to be quite a slump. At least the view from Hank's window was a good one.
It was decision time, the crunch point. Would we go get Brunhilde back or would we hang on to Hank and go straight home. In the end we elected to retain Hank for a while longer, perhaps up to two years. It was really the idea of the extra mileage and very long days that it would take to get home again if we returned now to Cheltenham. Tomorrow we would be leaving Wales and returning to Yorkshire but we were still not in love with Hank.
Saturday simply teemed with rain. We set off for Wales after consulting the Caravan Club handbook, Internet being hard to come by in the Forest of Dean. We wandered around outside until we had a phone signal and were able to book a pitch at the Brecon Beacons site.
The rain did not let up and so we settled onto our pitch as quickly as possible. The site seemed huge to us and is quite the largest site we have sampled to date. Very clean and orderly, with good beech hedges separating the ranks. The very well stocked shop was closed due to staff illness, impeding Mr Snail's search for a waste water trolley thing but the friendly wardens managed to supply me with the detergent that I lacked for my laundry and I was able then to have my first brush with coin-in-the-slot washing. I dashed back and forth between RV and laundry in the rain, feeling thoroughly miserable about the whole process. Mr Snail and Nell, who had gone to try the dog walk, were slightly more enthusiastic but not much.
The only photo opp that presented itself was our new mascot, Ceridwen. Note the rain beyond the window.
I doubt that we would return to the Brecon Beacons site. There is nothing wrong with it but it offered little to charm and entice.
We were heading to Salem, to The Angel Inn, our first Britstop. A very friendly stop it was too. Very nice people and a characterful pub.
The Angel takes up to five vans and normally offers EHU but they had an exciting evening with the local Fire Brigade in attendance on the previous night and were unable to offer us a power supply. We did not mind as we planned to partake of their Sunday Lunch and had no need of the electricity.
There was a bear in the pub.
I did not allow this fact to prevent me from addressing myself to the home-grown lamb. Nor the beer.
After a whopping meal, we walked it off. There were no suitable footpaths and we were restricted to the narrow lanes so it was not ideal for Nell.
There were daffs everywhere. Not difficult to tell that we were in Welsh Wales.
We returned to the van and had a good night's sleep.
Easter Monday was a mistake. We should have cancelled the day and stayed in bed. That said, there were some pleasant moments and the day actually turned out well at the end.
We were heading for another Britstop and eagerly anticipating it as it was an ice-cream farm. Mr Snail is partial to an ice-cream farm. To fill in the day we were going first to Camarthen in search of a waste carrier and then to the coast. On Sunday Mr Snail had phoned a Caravan and Motorhome dealer in town and ascertained that they would be open on Monday. We aimed to be there for what was listed as their opening time of 10 am.
There was a bit of a hiccup when we missed our turning at one point and had to drive seven miles in order to come back at ourselves and return to our route. When we arrived at the dealers, there was nowhere to park or manoeuvre Hank to get him out again. There was a kerfuffle requiring other vehicles to back out and then we parked across the road on a small industrial site and outside ATS. I amused myself by taking photos of a ruinous ivy-covered building.
The Caravan dealer was not yet open. We hung around for a while but nobody came, other than some other potential customers. We hung. We waited. We kicked our heels. After an hour we went shopping at a nearby store, where we picked up some new bedding and other bits and pieces for the van. When we returned the dealer was still not open. Eventually, when they did open around midday, they did not have in stock what we needed.
Told you we should have stopped in bed.
At least the sun was shining. With the idea of ice cream in our heads we set off once more towards our evening sop.
The roads were narrow and awkward and the traffic was heavy, it being Easter Monday (what were we thinking of!) but eventually we reached Pendine - where we found that the car park we had identified as suitable for us was not only largely under water after the recent heavy rain but also carried signs that forbade us entry.
We were tired, we were fretful and we needed to stop for a while, so we ignored the signs and chose the parking space that would impact others the least. We parked in the puddle, with our rear end in the shrubbery and then we took Nell onto the sands... with some trepidation.
It was almost like being at home, apart from the people. There were people! On the beach! Nell was amazed and puzzled but delighted to find that there were balls simply everywhere. She pulled and she tugged and she was perfectly certain that all balls were there for the taking. It was hard work.
When we left in the afternoon, the traffic was heavier even than before. The roads however were no wider nor less twisty. We got into a kerfuffle in Laugharne on a corner of a very narrow road with oncoming cars drivers disinclined to accommodate us. I was in charge of checking our proximity to the stupid woman on our right and was peering bumperwards when there was a horrible scraping sound, very loud, very ominous. The next thing I heard was a stream of profanity from Mr Snail. Eventually we were able to extricate ourselves.
I was sure that we had scraped that car. I was wondering how much damage we had done to our very new, very expensive paintwork.
Luckily we had missed the vehicle. In concentrating so hard to avoid the oncoming vehicles, Mr Snail had made contact with the house on his left. You know the kind of property that fronts straight onto the road, with no forecourt or garden... He had forgotten to allow the extra inches for the awning mounted on Hank's left hand side and tore a strip from the awning material, which was flying like a flag as we drove away down the road.
We had to stop as soon as possible, send Mr Snail up onto the roof and cut free the offending piece.
Now, you might have thought that our day could only get better thereafter.
It did not.
We found the ice-cream farm quite easily but as we approached it on a narrow B-road we realised that the access was impossible, with a sharp right in need of a several point turn to get in. There was a traffic queue behind us and oncoming vehicles too. Mr Snail decided to drive on and turn round to come back at it from a better angle.
We drove and we drove and we drove, finding nowhere to turn around. We drove through Narberth, another nightmare of twisty narrow streets and one-way traffic flow. The road that we planned to take had a motorhome parked on it, leaving insufficient room to pass and so we had to take another option instead and ended up not knowing where we were going.
Further driving around ensued... until I spotted a sign for a caravan site and we turned in on spec. Luckily it had just opened for the season. Mr Snail went to see if they had room for us and was told no, they had nowhere for a vehicle of that size. I tearfully told our tale of woe and how tired and desperate were were and the lovely lady owner took pity on us and found us a place to park for the night - it even had a hookup.
My gratitude to the lovely folks at Wood Office will be eternal.
The site by the way was very good indeed. Very neat and squeaky clean. largely given over to statics and seasonal pitches but with room for tourers. There was nothing fancy about the site - no potted geraniums or fancifications, just neatly kept grass and gravel. The toilet block although new harked back to earlier days perhaps - there was a sharp breeze coming under the shower cubicle door, I know that much, but cleanliness could not be faulted and the water was both hot and plentiful.
We were glad of our bed that night. Not that we slept well. No, we spent hours wondering if we should take Hank back to the dealer and swap back to our friendly Brunhilde. The upshot? Mr Snail said he thought we should do just so. I breathed an enormous sigh of relief.