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.
As we drove away from Borth, continuing along the road in the direction that we had arrived the day before, it became clear that there were better wild parking opportunities up ahead that we had missed out on. They do however involve proximity to golfers and we are both naturally reserved about golf balls, so perhaps we were better at the side of the road after all.
Mr Snail had factored into our plans a stop in Dolgellau, where we could pick up some supplies. He had been there before and knew that there was a car park we could fit into and it was on the edge of town, saving us driving through the centre.
Unfortunately his memory was not sufficient to enable solo navigation and he turned the GPS on, which of course sent us right through the middle of the town on a twisty turny one-way route of very narrow streets. Extremely narrow ones, we squeaked our mirrors through without disaster but it was very necessary to keep an eye on the height of any pedestrians in our vicinity.
We were quite early and there was plenty of space when we arrived. It was a beautifully sunny and crisp day, the schools were still on holiday and families were rolling up in cars with bike racks on all the time that we were there. The car park was filling rapidly.
I liked Dolgellau.
A bakery supplied us with bread rolls and four amazingly large cakes, a trip to the butcher furnished bacon, burgers, sausages and free-range eggs, and the wholefood shop had local cheeses (we bought four.) We wandered around in search of a supermarket type shop for some basics but found none, though we followed a sign for the Co-op, we never found it.
By the time that we were ready to leave the car park was full enough to challenge our manoeuvres. It was a case of sitting and waiting until the right car moved to allow us space. Next time we'll pass through the car park and head for the lorry park beyond.
The Dolgellau album:
We were going to wild overnight in a forest car park at Rhyd. We turned off the A487 at the Oakeley Arms and onto the B4410. I noticed the sign that said that buses are prohibited after 1 mile, Mr Snail did not. I wondered if we were going against the spirit of the thing... what constitutes a "bus" ?
We progressed. It was a narrow road with two-way traffic that was surprisingly (to us) busy. We met a narrower section. There were cars coming down, cars behind, and a very unforgiving-looking stone wall on both sides of the road. (It was somewhere about here, if I remember correctly). It was extremely tight but fortunately the driver of the car squeezing by us clearly had experience and knew exactly how to tackle it. She and I communicated by sign language and everyone came off unscathed. Phew. Another disaster averted.
I swear that I held my breath all the way down that road and did not exhale until it was clear that we were not going to be playing a game of sardines (or chicken!) with any oncoming traffic.
Back on the A road, we found a lay-by and considered parking there overnight. It was less than ideal but there was a footpath on the other side of the road where we might walk the dog. We did however consult the map and found that just a short way down the road was a large lay-by set back from the road with a large verge between and adjacent to a National Trust woodland with several footpaths through it. Ideal!
The weather was good, the dog was eager... we made the most of it and chose the longest route, with the option of an additional leg to a viewpoint. It was quite a climb and as we neared the top we heard a train whistle - we were approaching the line and as I aimed my camera, a steam train went by. The photo came out all blurry as I did not even have time to focus.
We sat at the viewpoint, drinking the view in and thirstily demolishing our bottle of water.
As we apprached the final leg of the walk we heard the train whistling, coming back from the other direction, or so we thought. We decided to walk up to the line and to wait for the train and try to grab some photos.
We had a very long wait.
We crossed the line and waited and waited. Nell was becoming fractious.
Every now and again we would think that we heard the engine again but nothing transpired and we decided that it was a trick of the geography of the line and we had actually heard the sound of the whistle carrying back and up the valley from Porthmadog.
We decided to walk on up the hill, past the little lake and to see if we might get a view of where we originally intended to park. It was when we were surveying the lake that we hear it again. A definite whistle. The train was coming back! And so we legged it back down the hill, certain that we would miss the train rushing by. We didn't. We arrived back at the crossing, out of breath, but without sign of the train. We waited and waited and waited... it was surely coming, the whistle got louder and then fainter. Eventually, of course, it did come puffing by.
I was rewarded for our infinite patience (aka idiocy) by a couple of good shots.
And then we went "home"...
...to a well-earned beer and a less than restful night. We were frequently disturbed by cars driving past at high speed in the night and sounding their horns at us. This fact alone prevents us from recommending this spot to other motorhome campers - the natives in Wales are less than friendly!
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.