The Heat Wave of 2018

I’ve not known a summer like this since I’ve lived here… so that’s almost 20 years in case anyone is counting!  The weather is warm (sometimes hot) and very dry.  The hose pipe bans have started and there are fires on the moorland – and on Bidston Hill too.  It’s been great weather for camping and walking though so I thought I’d give a little update of a couple of the things we got up to for the past few weeks.

We went for a  walk with Denis a couple of weeks back starting in Wilmslow.  There were lots of shady paths and it wasn’t one of the hottest days we’ve had which made it great for Stella.  Although 15 miles turned into 18, I still enjoyed it (but don’t tell Denis I did…it’s fun to tease him about this mileage increase!) One of the first stops along the route was Quarry Bank Mill and the Styal Estate.  Then we walked alongside the boundary of Manchester Airport and watched a few planes taking off.  We had a stop at the Merlin pub for lunch – that was a nice place and given that it was Father’s Day seemed to be a popular place for lunch.   There were also two ice cream stops and the last leg of the route was alongside a river which Stella was most pleased about.

We also had a camping trip to Abersoch on the Llyn Peninsula in Wales with Nicola and Cathy and their families.  Nicola has a caravan that they keep there and we joined them to experience the delights of this little corner of Britain.  I do love the lovely coast line and turquoise colour of the water – it always feels to me like being abroad.  Paul and I took Friday off and travelled down in the morning stopping at Aberdaron.   This is a lovely little village with a nice beach, a great bakery and some lovely little shops including an ice cream shop!  After ice cream for me and a pie at the bakery for Paul, we headed to the beach for a little walk and play.  Stella loved running in and out of the surf playing ball.

We headed to the campsite where we found ourselves on a farm in a camping field to ourselves.  Stella was in heaven.  Even more so when the rest of the party joined us – more friends to play ball with.  On Saturday we went for a coastal walk – estimated distance 8 miles, actual distance 15).  There was ice cream, a pub stop and 3 beaches along the way.  We all felt we’d earned the sunny BBQ that night – lovely to sit chatting and still being warm outside.

We got up early the next day to come away so we were home in time for England’s second World Cup football game.  I came away with a couple of extra horse fly bites and sun burns on the back of both legs where I’d missed with the sunscreen but we both really enjoyed the weekend, the company of the others, the food, the walk and the weather.     The van does get a little toasty when the sun hits full power but it’s a small price to pay.  Our next van adventure is not too far away in a couple of weeks… it would be great if it was warm and dry but fingers crossed for temperatures in the low 20s rather than the high 20s!


The hottest May Day on record!

It is always a happy coincidence when some amazing weather and a planned camping trip coincide as was the case this past weekend…

We started our adventure on Friday enjoying a leisurely drive up to Cumbria.  We stopped at Broughton in Furness for a visit to the butchers, green grocer and the bakery too.  Oreo brownie’s – oh my!  Our first two nights were at the National Trust Campsite in Wasdale.  The adjacent car park is the main starting point for the quickest route up Scafell Pike and it was interesting to see it busy all times of the day… This is the season for people doing the 3 peaks challenge where they climb Ben Nevis, Scafell and Snowdon in a 24 hour window so when I say all times of the day, I do mean that.

On Saturday morning we walked from the campsite up Lingmell and then along a very famous walking route called the corridor route to Sty Head Tarn.  There was a lot of low cloud when we started but it cleared as the day progressed leaving behind some fabulous views.  From the tarn we heading up towards Kirkfell.  Going up was okay but the very steep, stony descent from Kirk Fell pretty much finished us all off.  Mine and Paul’s legs felt like jelly and Stella was not impressed either!  We stopped at Wasdale Head Inn for a well deserved cold drink in the beer garden by the river and then visited our wedding church before heading back to the campsite- it’s been a few years since we’ve been in so it was lovely to be back.

On Sunday we had a rather tortuous journey out of the valley as the good weather had prompted everyone (it seemed) to head into Wasdale for the day.  The single lane road with passing places just wasn’t really coping with the volume of traffic.  Once we’d escaped the grid lock, we made a beeline for Muncaster Castle for their Cumberland Sausage, Food & Drink Festival.  Again the fantastic weather brought the crowds but it’s a big place so it was easy to find quiet places.  It was nice to wander first around the bluebell woods – they looked amazing – and then around the food festival.

We camped up for the next couple of nights at Ravenglass this time – one of my all time favourite campsites.  We got settled and enjoyed the warmth of the evening sun.  We even put the sun canopy out to provide some shade it was that warm – we usually use it to give us a dry space to get in and out of the van when it’s raining!

On Monday we ended up abandoning our walk plans – Stella was still suffering with grazed, tender paws from Saturday’s walk and was tippy-toeing around the site avoiding the stones as much as possible.  Although we were both disappointed, it wasn’t fair on the little doggie who was obviously not very comfortable on her feet.  We enjoyed the sun, had a little wander into Ravenglass and a lovely lunch at the Pennington Hotel instead.

We hit the road home Tuesday morning – with a stop for some Cumberland sausage in Waberthwaite of course! – both having really enjoyed the weekend.

Here are a few of my favourite shots.

Hardened campers…?

We had our inaugural camping trip of the year this past weekend when we went to Gibraltar Farm in Silverdale, Lancashire. The Telegraph rated this website as one of the top 20 best coastal campsites so I thought it was worth a shot.

We were a little afraid when we saw the weather forecast for sub-zero temperatures and snow but didn’t think about changing our plans… We’ve camped when it’s been cold before and the van is warm and cosy. We travelled up the M6 on Friday morning via a shopping stop at Carnforth and a walk at Warton Crag.  Warton Crag is a limestone hill which is part of the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  It was the site of an Iron Age hill fort and there were lots of paths around to keep us entertained for a  few hours.

We were really pleased when we arrived at our campsite and found a pitch with an amazing view looking across the sheep fields out to the sea. We settled in and got the heater and electric blanket going.  We did note that the other occupied camping units on the site seemed to provide quite a few more home comforts compared to Frank so we patted ourselves on the back for being hardened campers.

We had a lovely walk the next day along the Silverdale coast.  On the way back we ended up walking through Eaves Wood and found the Pepperpot. The Pepperpot was built in 1887 to commemorate the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria and the views were quite something from its perch on the ridge. The weather was cold and windy but despite a few snow showers, it was quite dry and the cold ground meant it wasn’t very muddy.  However, the temperature was even lower on night two… Stella’s water bowl froze over as did condensation in the front of the van.  Our little heater was just completely overwhelmed by the sub-zero temperatures.  We got in our sleeping bags at 6pm just to stay warm  and it was at that point that I made the executive decision to book a hotel for the next and last night of our weekend!  So much for hardened campers, right…?!

So on Sunday we got ourselves packed up and went for another walk heading north this time to Arnside. Arnside is a lovely little village with some nice shops and seemed to be very popular with groups of walkers.  Despite the temperatures, I still had an ice cream along the prom although I think the few people we passed might have thought I was a little crazy.

Once we got back to the van we headed south to Morecambe and the Midland Hotel. What a treat this was for us – it would have been a treat anyways because it was such a lovely hotel but because we’d been so cold the previous two nights it was like a little piece of heaven.  With the exception of the fancy restaurant, the whole hotel is dog friendly.  It has a great art deco style and an amazing central staircase.  Our room had a huge bathroom and comfortable furniture and was lovely and warm!  I can’t go on enough about how nice this hotel was.  Our stay there also gave me a chance to do a little reconnaissance for a wedding I’m photographing there in July.  It’s going to be great and there are some great places for photos!  We had our evening meal in the bar and breakfast the following morning was great too.  After a little walk along the prom we headed back to the Birkenbub.

And most importantly – the reason for this adventure was to celebrate our anniversary. We always try and go away for our wedding anniversary and most of these trips away have been camping – with a few cottages thrown in for good measure/warmth.  (Next year might be a cottage!) Happy Anniversary to Paul – 8 years married and he still loves me (so I tell him) and still makes me laugh. J

Our own private island

We celebrated Paul’s birthday this year with a lovely little trip to the Cotswolds. We set off on Friday morning heading for Cirencester and arrived at lunch time – perfect timing to sample the delights of the food market that was occupying the town square. After food, we had a wander around the streets and through the park. Cirencester is charming and well worth a visit – an afternoon well spent.

From Cirencester we headed south just a few miles to South Cerney and our cottage, Filly island. We were greeted by the cottage owner, Mouse, who was filled with lots of great advice about what to do and where to eat while we stayed. There was also a lovely hamper full of goodies for us to indulge in during our stay including a fresh loaf of gorgeous buttery bread. Filly Island used to be the barn where the cart was stored but it is now a stylish cottage for 2 (actually 2+1 – in the form of our furry baby Stella of course)! It suited us well for the 3 nights we spent there (although note to self for next time – 3 nights was too short!)… It was filled with quirky, unique touches such as the kitchen cupboards which were converted from the old barn door, the tennis racket converted to a mirror/key rack and the bath tub found in a bush and lovingly restored. I particularly liked the markings on the bedroom door recording the name and heights of the doggy visitors – Stella’s name was added to the collection. It was great to have this space to cosy up into each evening – the fire made it super snug.

On Saturday we drove to nearby Kemble and took the train from there to Stroud. The farmer’s market in Stroud was really good – lots of choice spread around the town centre. It was a shame the weather was not playing but some of the market was undercover so those bits got more of our attention! After stocking up at the market, we walked back in the direction of the car – 14 miles mostly along canal footpaths and disused canal footpaths. It was very muddy underfoot in places and rained on and off throughout the day. So the tartiflette pie that we’d bought at the farmer’s market warmed us up and was a really nice treat dinner. This was washed down by birthday cake… made by the fair hands of Emma’s Cupcakery. I really love this lady’s creative cakes.

On Sunday the weather was much nicer so we took another wander… this time from the cottage to the nearby Cotswold Water Park . There are more than 150 lakes created by the mining of limestone. The lakes filled in naturally after work on the mines stopped in the early 1970s. It was still pretty muddy under foot (and under paw for that matter) but the camera saw a little more action on day two.

On Monday morning we said good-bye to South Cerney and Filly Island and set off for Bibury – a Cotswold village recommended to us by Mouse – to see Arlington Row. This is a row of cottages originally built in 1380 by the monks to store wool. The building was converted into cottages for weavers in the seventeenth century. I guess it’s one of the most photographed Cotswold scenes and is depicted on the inside cover of all United Kingdom passports. Cool, hey?

From Bibury we started our journey north. We had a lovely stop in Ludlow for a wander around the town and market before finishing off the last leg of the journey home. So it was another successful birthday pilgrimage to explore a part of the world we’ve not visited and, most importantly, spend some quality time together – just the three of us.

The land of fire and ice

On the way back from our snowy and wintery Christmas in Canada, we stopped for a few days in Iceland to explore a small corner of this fascinating country. My camera was in action every day trying to get a few pictures that captured the nature of this surreal place. No – we didn’t see the northern lights but with so much else to see, I couldn’t be disappointed.

We rented a car while we were there which was a really good thing to do. It gave us the freedom to explore further afield to our own schedule but for the first couple of days of the trip we just hung out in the city of Reykjavik exploring the harbour, streets, cathedral and essentially trying to get over the jet lag.  It was difficult with such a short flight and such a significant time difference but we were pretty much there after a couple of days. Our apartment was great – it was very modern, well equipped, had lovely views across the harbour and lots of space for us to spread out in. It was also just a short walk to the centre of the city too.

My favourite trip was the day we drove around the Golden Circle. This is a very popular tourist driving route for people like us who’d hired cars and also for people who book on coach tours as well. The popularity slightly affected our enjoyment of the spectacles but not too much really. The first stop of the tour was a volcanic crater lake called Kerid. It was neat to see dawn breaking over the frozen lake at the centre of the volcano’s depression.

From there we moved on to the most spectacular waterfall of the trip which was called Gullfoss. The water just seemed to come from every direction falling dramatically into a ravine. The views around the area were pretty amazing too. Some of the paths in the area which would be readily accessible in the summer were closed off as they had turned to ice with the spray of the water. I wasn’t taking any chances on icy paths next to deep ravines either – despite my Canadian winter boots!

The highlight of the tour for me was the next stop at Geysir. I’d never seen a geothermal area before and I was a little awe struck by it. There were warnings that the temperature of the surface water was between 80-100C and there were spouts of steam coming out from everywhere. It was such a beautiful day which made for what I think are some spectacular pictures with the steam in the foreground and the snowy mountains in the background. The main geyser seemed to be erupting in about 5 minute intervals to the delight of the crowds of people waiting for it. I joined them and stood with my camera ready to go and managed to catch it in action.

After this, we found a lake containing geothermal springs called Laugarvatn. It was very picturesque and has become a popular spot for swimming.  There is a spa with geothermal baths there too.

The final stop of the Golden Circle was the national park of Þingvellir. I’m quite sure you could spend days there wandering around the trails and exploring the general vastness of the place. We got there as the sun was going down and used the hour or so we had at dusk to take a little wander and find the park’s church. The park was also very busy at the main viewing points and car park but I can imagine once you got away from the popular spots you could quickly find yourself on your own.

We had another day out to a place called Vik which was about a 2 and a half hour drive from the city. Because of the short days, it was dark for most of the drive in the morning. We arrived at Reynisfjara beach just before sunrise to the see the basalt columns, sea stacks and black sand beach. We walked down the beach and wondered what Stella would have thought of the black sand and crashing waves. There were lots of warnings about “deadly sneaker waves” (their words not mine) – unexpected waves that would come in and sweep you off your feet when you were least expecting it. These waves are the result of the fact that Iceland is situated on a plateau and the waves reach the shore from depth without being visible to you on the beach. If you google it you’ll find news stories of drownings and videos of the sneaker waves so not something to be scoffed at.

On the way back home, we found another place (off the beach away from those waves!) to view the cliffs from, a lighthouse and a couple of waterfalls (Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss). Getting fuel for the car was interesting as not all information was provided in English and the stations were unattended… Thanks to a helpful local we got there in the end.

The last day of the holiday we headed to the Reykjames peninsula where the airport is. This area has an active volcano system under it and there were large lava fields, hot springs and very little vegetation. We saw some cool cliffs which apparently are the home to lots of birds (including puffins!) in the summer, a geothermal water inlet that was used for teaching children to swim, a lighthouse, more geothermal areas including one used for power generation and a bridge that spans between the two continents of Eurasia and North America.

I really do recommend a visit to Iceland – although Reykjavik is a great city to wander – hire a car and explore the island as well. It is a fascinating, surreal and otherworldly place. But a lesson learned from us is that if you’re are desperate to see the northern lights, book on a tour.  These guys are able to coordinate and communicate where the lights are playing on any given night and your chance of seeing them increases significantly compared to trying to find them yourself!