About Me

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Hi! I'm Eunice and I live in Bolton, Lancashire, with my two dogs Sophie and Sugar and an assortment of cats - well it used to be Sophie and Sugar, now it's Sophie and Poppie. I first began camping back in 1997 when my then partner took me to Anglesey for my birthday weekend. We slept in the back of the car - a hatchback - using the cushions off the settee at home as a mattress, and cooked and brewed up on a single burner camping stove. The site was good, the views were great, the weather fantastic and I was completely hooked. Following that weekend we got a two-man tent and some proper accessories and returned to Anglesey two weeks later, then over time we progressed to a three-man tent followed by an old trailer tent, then a new trailer tent, a campervan and finally a caravan. When my partner decided that the grass was greener on the other side of the street - literally - in April 2009 and I suddenly found myself alone after fifteen years, I decided there was no way I was going to give up camping and caravanning if I could cope on my own. This blog is the story of my travels, trials and tribulations since becoming a solo camper - I hope you like it

Saturday October 1st 2011 - Almost camping but not quite

The sun was shining from an almost cloudless blue sky and it was unbelievably warm as I left home at 9.30 that morning for Riverside campsite a few miles from Skipton. I was joining the UKCS 'single parents and solo campers' meet but unfortunately family commitments meant that I couldn't camp for the full weekend so I was going just for the day instead. The site was only just over an hour's drive from home so allowing for traffic my plan was to be there by 11am at the latest, however I hadn't allowed for an invisible gremlin throwing a spanner in the works.

With the window open and a cd to sing along to the drive was very pleasant and took me through some lovely countryside, though part of the route was a bit winding in places. I was about four miles from my destination when the invisible gremlin struck - approaching a roundabout at the bottom of a long steady incline my brakes didn't want to work. Holy Moley!! Fortunately there was nothing immediately in front of me but if I got into the traffic on that roundabout then the dogs, the van and I would more than likely be history. My foot was almost to the floor when the brakes finally worked and I came to a stop just before the roundabout - phew! We had just escaped being seriously mangled! Now being neither technically nor mechanically minded when it comes to cars I hadn't a clue what had happened or why, but I couldn't continue my journey if the brakes weren't working properly. However, I couldn't stay where I was either so I put the hazard lights on and drove slowly round the roundabout to my exit, hoping to find somewhere to park up safely. About a quarter of a mile down the road I came to a long wide lay-by so I pulled in there and phoned the AA, then to give the dogs some fresh air I walked them up and down the nearby grass verge while I waited for someone to come to my rescue.

It was about fifty minutes later when the AA guy arrived and after I explained what happened he checked things over then told me there was nothing wrong with the brakes! I looked at him in disbelief - there was definitely something wrong with them when I was coming down that hill! Just to make sure he double-checked things again and when I tried the brake pedal it was perfect - now that one I just didn't understand. He assured me that everything was okay and said the most likely explanation was that the brake drums had overheated, but while I'd been parked up waiting for him they'd cooled down sufficiently for the brakes to work properly again. He asked where I was headed and it turned out he knew where the camp site was - the village was only another three miles along that road - so he said he would follow me to where I had to turn off to make sure I was okay. And he was as good as his word, he stayed behind me all the way to where I turned right then with a wave and flash of his lights he was gone. What a lovely man - and both he and the person who took my call had been extremely helpful; much better than the RAC, but my experience of their services is another story altogether!

So nearly two hours after my intended arrival time I finally turned into the narrow lane leading to Riverside camp site - the site itself was down a slope off the lane and as I turned into the entrance there was a wonderful view of the countryside beyond. I had just parked on the hardstanding near the entrance when one of the UKCS members came over to introduce himself and suggest that I park in the big space between two tents - after that it wasn't long before I was chatting to several different members and making friends with various dogs. One of the members had made a water slide out of a couple of tarpaulins pegged firmly on the grass and various kids were having a great time on it, getting extremely wet in the process - if only I'd known, I would have taken a change of clothes and joined in! After making myself a brew and a snack I spent the afternoon chatting to various members and sitting in the sun with the dogs on their bed at the side of the van.

It was 6pm when I decided it was time to be setting off for home as I didn't want to be too late back, so after taking the dogs for a walk through the site and along the lane I settled them back in the van and said my goodbyes to most of the campers - it was a shame that I hadn't been able to stay for the full weekend as the weather was great and the company had been good but a few hours there had been better than nothing at all. Riverside was a lovely site in a lovely location, and as I drove back up the lane I promised myself that I would return on my own for a full weekend in the not-too-distant future. I didn't know if I would be able to manage it before winter or if I would have to wait till the following spring, but I would most certainly be back.

Tuesday August 29th 2011 - Murphy's Law at work

I woke that morning to a very warm van, and when I looked out of the window it was to see sunshine and an almost cloudless blue sky - Murphy's Law had decreed that after two very grey days the Anglesey sunshine would return on the day I had to go home. Typical! To make the most of it I decided to delay breakfast and take the dogs down to the beach while it was still relatively quiet, and as soon as I picked up the leads they were ready to go. It was a very pleasant walk through the site and along the cliff path to the bay; the tide was out so once I got past the 'no dogs allowed' part of the beach there was a huge expanse of sand for Sophie and Sugar to run about on. By the time I'd reached the next caravan site, which is on a low lying private headland jutting out onto the beach, I was more than ready for breakfast so I turned and retraced my route back to the awning. It was a beautiful morning, one of those you wish would last for ever, but unfortunately I couldn't prolong my break - it was just a shame that the previous two days hadn't been the same.

With breakfast over I sat for a while in the sun outside the awning watching the comings and goings of other campers but eventually I had to face facts - I needed to start packing up. I took my time about it though and it was almost 1pm by the time I'd finally got the awning down and back in its bag. Having taken the dogs on the beach earlier on there was no need to go down there before I left for home as I would normally do so a walk round the site was all that was needed before I settled them in the back of the van, then after a quick check round for any stray tent pegs I was ready for going. I didn't know if I would be back again before the site closed at the end of September - it would be nice if I could manage one more weekend but if I couldn't then I had next year to look forward to, and with the guidance of my new book I would be able to find many more places to photograph.

Monday August 28th 2011 - Another grey day

I woke that morning to the sound of light rain on the tent, so far from it being the sunny day I'd hoped for it was damp and very grey. There was no point rushing to go out so I put Sophie and Sugar on their line outside the tent while I made toast and a brew, then went back to bed with a couple of camping magazines to read. When I finally got up properly it had stopped raining so I took the dogs for a walk round the site while I thought about what I was going to do for the rest of the day. Quite a lot of campers were already packing up and leaving and in view of the grey weather I did briefly consider doing the same, but the thought of being stuck in endless queues of traffic didn't exactly fill me with joy so I decided to stick to my original plan to stay until the following day.

Stuck for somewhere to go I decided to drive down to the Marquis of Anglesey monument near Llanfair PG - someone I had been chatting to on a previous weekend had told me that there are really good views from the top if you don't mind tackling the 115 steps to get up there. The column itself is built on a rock surrounded by woodland and from the car park just off the main road it made a good dog walk to get to it, but when I reached the garden at the base of it I found there was a charge to go in. It wasn't that much, but in view of the very grey day and low clouds there was no point paying to go to the top when I wouldn't see much so I turned and retraced my steps back to the car park - I could make a proper visit another time when the weather was clear and sunny.

From there I drove down through Menai Bridge town and along the coast road to Beaumaris where I managed to find a free parking space in a corner behind the main street, then leaving the dogs in the van I went to indulge in coffee and cake in the Castle Bakery cafe. On my way back to the van I had a brief look in the shops along the main street, and it was in one of those shops that I found it - one of the best, and most interesting (to me at least) books I've seen in a long while. Written by an Anglesey photographer it was all about photographing various locations on the island - some of them off the beaten track - and included directions to them, best camera settings, best light conditions, and a whole host of other information probably only of interest to an amateur photographer. Flicking through the book I realised that far from having seen everything on the island, as I'd first thought,  there were many places I hadn't yet seen or been to. The price of the book hardly broke the bank at only £6.99 and I was so impressed with it that I bought it straight away - I would enjoy reading it over a brew later on.

From Beaumaris I headed back towards Benllech but when I reached Pentraeth I swung off the main road and drove down to the beach - there were no dog restrictions there so Sophie and Sugar would be able to have a good run off the lead. The tide was out and the flat expanse of sand stretched as far as I could see - I walked out for quite a distance before I turned round and headed back to the car park. With the dogs towelled down to get rid of the sand they'd managed to collect I put them back in the van and went a little way back up the lane to take a few photos. Just beyond the parking area was a tidal creek with a hump-backed stone bridge across and on a sandbank in the creek was a yacht, moored to the bank on each side by long ropes. In the distance, although not really that far away, was Red Wharf Bay with its white cottages and boats beached on the sand waiting for the tide to return - on a sunny day with blue sky it would have been a lovely view.

Back at the camp site I connected the awning back to the van, put the kettle on for a brew and prepared to settle in for the rest of the day and evening as there was nowhere else I wanted to go to in such grey weather. The hours until bedtime were spent on my laptop and reading my new book - which was so interesting and useful that I wished I'd found it months ago - then after taking the dogs for their late night walk round the site and settling them on their beds I retreated to my own bed in the van for my final sleep of the weekend.

Sunday August 27th 2011 - A memory and direction test

I suppose hoping that the previously lovely sunny weather would last right through the bank holiday weekend was expecting a bit too much - when I woke that morning it was to a very grey sky, and when I took the dogs for their first walk there was a touch of rain in the air. I still hadn't made any plans for the day so I decided to drive over to the big car boot sale on the showground then take it from there; if it cleared up later and the sun came out I could think of somewhere else to go then.

After having a very leisurely breakfast and spending quite some time pottering about round the awning it was 11am before I was ready to go out; the sky was still grey but the threatened rain hadn't so far arrived so with a bit of luck it might hold off. When I got over to the showground I found that due to another event taking place there the car boot sale had been relocated to a smaller field next door and there weren't as many stalls as usual, though maybe some of the regular stall holders had looked at the iffy sky earlier on and decided to give it a miss. I was still on a quest for a dog cage for my friend - not to put my friend in, for her to put a dog in! - and though I saw a few hamster cages and bird cages there was nothing suitable for a small dog, so other than getting some dog chews from a pet stall I didn't spend any money.

Back at the van I gave the dogs a drink and a chew each, which they ate in seconds, then took them for a walk round the bottom end of the field while I thought where to go next, and for the want of something better to do I decided to set myself a personal challenge to test my memory and sense of direction. A few weeks previously, when I had met up with Louise who lived in Holyhead, I had gone to her house only by following her from Penrhos coastal park - the route had taken several turns and I had been so intent on not losing sight of her that I hadn't taken much notice of any street names, so with no actual directions would I be able to find a house in a road I didn't know the name of when I didn't know where I was going anyway?? I would put my memory to the test, and if I ended up getting lost it didn't really matter, I would just give up and go on to somewhere else.

From the car boot sale I headed straight up the main road and on the outskirts of Holyhead came to a roundabout - I remembered taking a right turn soon after the roundabout followed by a left, but which left? The first one was a cul-de-sac but the next one looked vaguely familiar so I took that in the hope I was right and drove on with no clear idea of where I was going, however when I came to a T junction my instinct told me to turn right. A bit further along I passed a very pleasant grassy area with a few bungalows across the far side which looked familiar, and round the next bend I could see up ahead the white gable end wall of a pub, or possibly hotel, which also looked vaguely familiar. Instinct kicked in again then and three more turns led me to a small car park set back off the road, and there in the row opposite was Louise's house. I don't know how but I'd actually done it - in an unfamiliar place, and without knowing the names of any roads or streets, I'd found where I was looking for without getting lost. It was no use calling at the house though as I knew Louise was also away camping so in a way the whole exercise was totally pointless, but at least my memory, sense of direction and subconscious observational skills had risen to the challenge, so if I were ever to visit Louise again in the future I knew I would be able to get there without her help.

Turning the van round in the car park and reversing my route I headed back to the main road and not long afterwards pulled into the car park at Penrhos coastal park. I was beginning to feel a bit peckish so a cheeseburger from Pete's Burger Bar would go down nicely. When I went across to place my order I was quite surprised to see that he'd printed out the blog page where I'd written about the cheeseburgers and stuck it in the side window of the van - a testament to the quality of his burgers and maybe a bit of publicity for my blog as well. Needless to say my cheeseburger was just as good as always and along with the coffee was so filling that I wouldn't need anything else to eat for several hours. Sitting in the van and looking at the view I noticed, to the far left across the bay, what appeared to be a small cove with a row of bungalows above it; intrigued, I had a look at the map book to see if I could figure out where it was, and with the general direction in mind I set off to find it.

My route took me north along the A5025 and after passing the first village I turned off down a winding country lane which eventually ended at the entrance to a very large caravan and camping site - I hadn't expected that one! A barrier across the entrance stopped me from driving through so I parked behind another couple of cars on the nearby grass verge and with the dogs on the lead set off to explore. The first part of the site was given over to a couple of rows of static vans, many of which had small fenced-off garden areas and gates, and which looked more like small bungalows than static caravans. Beyond there was a slipway down onto the nearby beach; it seemed to be a very popular site for water sports as there were dinghies, boat trailers, jet skis and 4 x 4 vehicles all over the place, with a couple of old tractors thrown in for good measure and people constantly coming and going. Walking round the outer part of the site I passed touring caravans and a tent area and finally came to the cove I had seen from across the bay, and what I had first thought were bungalows were actually more static caravans. The cove itself was very rocky and I didn't think it was as nice as it looked from across the water but at least I'd satisfied my curiosity and the dogs had had a good walk.

Heading back to the van I stopped by the beach for a few minutes to watch what was going on; there were dinghies and jet skis out on the water, boats being towed back to the site, people walking dogs and a couple of sand yachts with bright sails scooting along the beach. The sun was trying to put in a very feeble appearance but failing miserably, and though I don't normally like taking photos with grey sky I snapped half a dozen. The site itself, although it looked quite nice, seemed to be much too big and too busy for me so I doubt I would ever want to stay there, but maybe on a nice sunny day in the future I'll go back and take another look.

Back at the van I gave Sophie and Sugar a drink then set off back to Benllech, and even though it was such a grey day it was a pleasant, if somewhat fairly long, drive along the coast road. Parking up on my pitch I connected the awning back to the van and apart from taking the dogs for their last walk later that evening I didn't go out again. It had been a funny old day somehow and the grey weather hadn't helped; the trouble was I'd got so used to seeing Anglesey in brilliant sunshine that it just didn't seem the same when it was grey, so hopefully the following day would be much better.

Saturday August 26th 2011 - Port Lynas

After a pleasant drive back to Anglesey the previous evening I had arrived at the camp site at 10pm to find the awning was exactly as I had left it two days previously. It was great being able to just drive straight onto my pitch and park up, and with the awning connected to the van I'd spent some time relaxing with a brew before taking Sophie and Sugar for their late night walk before bedtime. When I woke that morning I was pleased to find that the sun was shining and the sky was blue with only a few small fluffy clouds here and there - a great day for taking photos, and if it was like that for the rest of the weekend I would be well happy.

Taking the dogs for their first walk round the site I could see that there had been quite an influx of campers over the last couple of days, and such was the popularity of the place there was a steady stream of vehicles arriving at the entrance. My idea of getting there early in the week had obviously been a good one - there's no way I would have got the pitch I was on if I'd only arrived that morning. The 4 x 4 owner and his friend were packing up to leave so I went over to thank them again for their help with the van and for keeping an eye on my awning, then as I wasn't in any great rush to go out I spent most of the morning pottering about round the awning and chatting to another couple of campers.

It was gone lunchtime when I finally left the site and headed north to Amlwch - I had decided earlier on that I would only go to one place and that would be Port Lynas to get some shots of the lighthouse, which I hadn't managed to do the last time I went there. The winding country lane from Amlwch didn't seem to be as long as before and I was soon pulling into the grassy car park at the top of the road leading down to the little bay. With the dogs on the lead I walked down the hill and turned right at the bottom, and once I'd got a few yards along the traffic-free lane I was able to let them run free and explore. It was quite a distance round the bay and out along the headland to the lighthouse but with birds singing in the hedgerows and odd butterflies flitting here and there in the sunshine it was very pleasant.

When I finally reached the lighthouse I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. The lane ended in an arched stone entrance with a tower at each side and white-painted castellated walls running to left and right. Through the archway was a courtyard with a cottage on either side - appropriately named West Cottage and East Cottage - and what appeared to be a house at the far end, with the lighthouse itself behind it. This was all obviously private so I could go no further, but there was a footpath running along the outside of the wall - part of the Anglesey Coastal Path - so I took that to see where it would lead. The castellated wall continued all the way round, and with the top of the lighthouse tower being the same design it reminded me very much of a fortress.

To the right of the lighthouse the rough land sloped steeply down towards a small rocky cove where a strange-looking wooden jetty, supported by tall wooden towers, was built out into the sea.  I don't know what purpose it served, if any, but it looked rather incongruous sticking out there like that and I felt that it somewhat spoiled what was otherwise a nice area. When I had walked all the way round the lighthouse buildings and there was nothing more to see I set off back down the lane - on my way up I had noticed a path on the right heading off across the fields so decided to see what was along there. I could see nothing much at first as the path was bordered by bushes and very tall dense grass but eventually it became less and opened out onto a large expanse of sloping headland with the path running across it. There was no point going too far down as I would only have to come back up again so instead I sat on a large flat stone at the side of the path while the dogs played about in the grass for a while - with no-one else around and no sound other than the calling of various birds and the sea as it washed onto the rocks down below it was a really peaceful spot.

Eventually though it was time to move on and with the dogs following behind I made my way back up the hill to the lane and continued on to the little bay. At one point there was a large gap in the bushes bordering the lane and a good view over the bay so I stopped for a while to watch what was happening on the beach below. There were several people down there and a couple of 4 x 4 vehicles with boat trailers attached; the tide was on the way out and one of the vehicles was in the process of bringing a boat in from the water. I snapped a couple of photos, put the dogs back on the lead, then headed up the road to the car park.

Back at the van I did briefly consider going on to somewhere else and even consulted the map book to see if I could get some ideas but nothing immediately came to mind so I stuck with my original plan of 'only one place' and set off back to the camp site. I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the sun and trying to decide where to go the following day. Having been to Anglesey so many times I must have seen, or driven round, more or less every square inch of the island, so I was now getting stuck for ideas. And it crossed my mind that as much as I loved Anglesey maybe after all these years it was time to seek pastures new and camp somewhere else at weekends - that was something which needed a lot of serious thought.

Wednesday August 23rd 2011 - It could only happen to me!

I woke that morning to bright Anglesey sunshine and a completely dried out awning; it was probably too much to hope that it would stay like that right through to the following Tuesday but I could live in hope. After taking the dogs for their first walk round the site I set about sorting out all the stuff I had piled in the corner the night before and within half an hour my awning looked like home again. Then it was time for a brew and some breakfast, and if I got a move on there would be time to go out for a couple of hours before I had to leave for home. With the breakfast things tidied away I put the dogs in the back of the van and disconnected the awning ready for off; and that's when everything went well and truly pear-shaped. The van wouldn't start, and though I turned the key a few times nothing happened; the battery was as dead as the proverbial dodo. Then I realised why - leaving the lights on while I put the awning up the night before had obviously flattened it, although at the time I hadn't realised that would happen.

I was just about to phone the AA when I remembered seeing a big 4 x 4 vehicle parked next to a tent at the other end of the field, and as I had some heavy duty jump leads in the back of the van I went along to ask if anyone could help. The 4 x 4's owner was quite happy to drive down and assist, and after a lot of engine revving on his part the van finally burst into life, though he did suggest leaving it running for a while before I went anywhere. He had just driven back to his own pitch when my second problem occurred - I couldn't get into the van! Now I didn't know if I'd done this myself or the 4 x 4 guy had done it, but somehow the switch for the central locking had accidentally been pressed and all the doors were now firmly locked. And where was the key? - in the van! This time I definitely needed to call the AA but where was my phone and my membership card with the AA phone number? - also in the van! There was only one thing for it - walk up to reception and ask the warden to let me use the office phone to find the number and make my call.

As I walked up the end of the field I saw the 4 x 4 guy outside his tent and although I felt a bit daft I stopped to tell him what had happened and where I was going - and I was glad I did. He said before I rang the AA he would try to get into the van for me, and though I couldn't for the life of me think how he would do it he was as good as his word - and the antics which followed were like something in a tv sitcom. His first idea was to slide something between the door edge and the bodywork to try to catch on the lock but there was hardly any gap so that didn't work, but then he noticed that the side windows were open. Now for safety and security they only open a couple of inches before locking in position, but that couple of inches proved to be invaluable. He disappeared back to his tent and when he came back again he was accompanied by his friend, his young son, and an assortment of tools.

His friend, who I had spoken to earlier, was tall and thin with very thin arms and long thin fingers, and would have made a good substitute for a corner pole at Wembley stadium - and it was those thin arms and long fingers which gained access to my van. Somehow, with only those couple of inches to work in, he managed to dismantle the catch on the centre window and with a bit of jiggery pokery was able to swing the whole window downwards. Then it was the lad's turn to help - his dad picked him up and posted him through the window onto the bed where he reached over and took the key from the ignition, handing it through the window to me before letting himself out of the van by the side door. With the doors now unlocked and the key firmly in my possession the job of replacing the window began, and before long the catch was back in place, the window was secure, and it looked like nothing had ever been moved. When they were sure that everything was okay the two guys took themselves and their tools back to their own tent, refusing any form of payment for their help - I didn't even know their names but they certainly turned out to be knights in shining armour.

After all the excitement of the last hour or so I didn't really have much time to go anywhere proper before I set off for home and I didn't really feel like it by then anyway, so I put the dogs on their line outside the awning and spent some time sitting in the sun reading my book. When it got towards lunchtime I made myself a brew, then with the guy lines double pegged and the back of the awning made as secure as I could get it I put the dogs back in the van and drove away from my pitch. I knew I was taking a risk leaving everything in the awning but after having previously left my tent there for three weeks I felt confident that things would be okay while I was away - I would only be gone for one whole day and two nights anyway, I would be back on Friday evening. After stopping at reception to pay my site fees and get a new barrier pass for the weekend I drove down to the promenade - the dogs had been so good in the van while all the 'breaking and entering' had been going on and they deserved a walk along the beach. It was 1.30pm by the time I drove away from the promenade and all being well I would get home ahead of the late afternoon rush hour.

It doesn't matter how many times I drive along the A55 coast road to and from Anglesey I always enjoy it, especially in the sunshine, and with one of my favourite cds playing it was a very pleasant journey back towards home. The traffic was starting to build up as I got to the outskirts of Manchester but it was nothing major and there were no delays so I arrived home with more than half an hour to spare before I had to go to work. As I got into bed that night I thought back over my day; the morning most certainly hadn't gone to plan, but if everything ran like clockwork all the time life would probably get pretty boring after a while - and there's nothing like being over a hundred miles from home and getting locked out of your van with the engine still running to shake things up a bit!

Tuesday August 22nd 2011 - A very long drive

I woke that morning to the sound of rain on the van roof, and when I looked through the window I saw it was that fine but heavy stuff that wets you in minutes - great, just what I didn't want when I had to pack everything up. I lay for a while debating with myself whether to revert to my original plan and stay until the following day in the hope that it would be fine then, but there was no guarantee and if it wasn't I would still have to leave anyway. It looked like I would be packing up in the wet, so after a short dog walk round the site and a breakfast of cereal, tea and toast I made a start. Transferring everything from the awning into the van meant that I stayed dry for a while; I left the tv aerial until last so it was only when I went out to dismantle it and wind up the co-ax cable that I started getting wet, and by the time I'd taken the awning down I was beginning to look like something the cat had dragged in. The dogs were okay though, they were nice and dry in the back of the van!

Packing the awning away wet didn't really matter for once though as it was being put up again that evening. My original plan had been to drive home from California on Wednesday then go down to Anglesey early Saturday morning for the bank holiday weekend, but because there were only two days between, and to save myself any unnecessary driving, I had decided to leave California a day early and drive straight to Anglesey where I would put up the awning, spend one night then leave it on site as I had done previously with my tent, returning on Friday evening after work. Sounds complicated but there was a method in my madness - the Anglesey site would be very busy over the coming weekend so by going a few days early I had a better chance of getting a decent pitch with a hook-up point.

I had researched my route with the aid of RAC Routeplanner and my map book and written the directions on a post-it note which I stuck to the dash for reference - Routeplanner had given my journey time as being just slightly over seven hours so I figured out that if I left California at midday I would be at the Anglesey site in plenty of time to put up the awning in the daylight. However, things didn't quite work out like that. My first delay came just as I got back from walking the dogs prior to setting off - the couple I'd been chatting to earlier in the week came to ask me if I would like a brew before I left, and seeing how wet I was offered me the use of their daughter's hairdryer. It seemed churlish to refuse and I was ready for another coffee anyway so I joined them in their awning, but though I was grateful for their hospitality it meant that it was almost 1pm by the time I finally left the site. The rain lasted until I was out of Norfolk and heading through Cambridgeshire then it brightened up and eventually the sun put in an appearance, making things much more pleasant. The drive itself was a bit tedious at times though, especially on one particular road which seemed to be nothing but a series of many roundabouts all within a few hundred yards of each other, and at one point I began to wish I'd never started it. I did have a few short breaks though to walk the dogs and stretch my own legs and those breaks, along with a supply of cds to sing along to, made the long trek across country much more bearable.

My second delay came as I drove along the A5 through north Wales, with about forty five minutes of my journey still to go. Rounding one of the many bends in the road I was flagged down by a policeman standing in the middle of the road a few yards ahead - when I pulled up and wound my window down he told me that a wagon had overturned and shed its load just round the next bend, blocking the road, so until it was cleared I was going nowhere. Unfortunately at that point there was no alternative route so I just had to wait it out, but at least I was able to walk the dogs up and down the nearby grass verge. Eventually though the road was cleared and I was able to drive on but I had been delayed by another hour, meaning that by the time I finally reached the camp site it was 9.30pm and dark. After getting a barrier pass from the warden I drove through the site to look for a pitch - I didn't dare hope that I would be able to get in the same 'cul-de-sac' I'd been pitched in three weeks previously but it wouldn't do any harm to look, and when I got to that part of the site I was quite surprised to see that there was a large vacant spot right there. It was more to the right of where I'd previously been pitched but there was plenty of room for the van and awning and there was a hook-up point available so the decision was made there and then and I didn't need to look any further. And so it was that I notched up another 'first' in my solo camping life - the first time I'd pitched the awning at night.

Parking the van so it was facing away from other campers I left the lights on so that I could see what I was doing, and though it took me slightly longer than normal to put the awning up I got there eventually, connected up the hook-up cable then moved the van round so I could connect the awning to it. By the time I'd finished all that the long drive and the hour delay had taken their toll and I felt absolutely shattered - I didn't really feel like unloading all the stuff from the van but if I wanted somewhere to sleep I had no choice as most of it was on the bed. The only things I really needed though were the means to make a brew and feed the dogs, so I set out my small table with the essentials and piled the rest of the stuff in one corner - I could set it all out properly the following morning. The next job was to feed Sophie and Sugar and take them for a walk, and though they would normally sleep in the awning just for once I put them back in the van to sleep behind me - I could sort out their beds along with the rest of the stuff in the morning. Then with a very much-needed brew and a magazine I finally collapsed into bed, but it wasn't long before the tiredness overtook me completely - there was certainly no need to count sheep that night!

Monday August 21st 2011 - Amazona Zoo and Cromer

Although my original intention had been to stay at California until Wednesday I'd had a change of plan and would be leaving on Tuesday instead; Monday was to be my final full day, and as it was lovely and sunny again I was making the most of it with a visit to Cromer and the nearby Amazona Zoo. This was the 'sister' park to Thrigby Hall and as it's name suggests the wildlife there all came from South America and the Amazon region.

Lunchtime saw me following the 'zoo' signs through the outskirts of Cromer and I finally arrived at the zoo car park. It was a very nice car park, the size of a field and well laid out with several long parking areas separated by well mown grass verges - in fact as car parks go it was one of the nicest I've ever parked in. After taking the dogs for a walk round and giving them a drink I put their fan on, pulled the curtains and set off for the zoo entrance. The pay kiosk was next to the gift shop at the top of a wooden walkway leading from the entrance itself and just outside it was a small covered area with ink pads and stamps, so I knew I would be okay to go out to check on the dogs then go back in again. Across from there was a cafe overlooking a lake and a path signposted 'wildfowl walk' so I headed off in that direction. The path meandered across a bridge and past one side of the lake and a very pleasant picnic area before crossing a second bridge to the flamingo lagoon, where a couple of dozen flamingoes with pinky-orange feathers stood about preening themselves or dipping their heads under the water looking for food.

From there the path took me past the birds of prey and round by the tapir enclosure, where a couple of peculiar-looking grey long-snouted creatures lounged close up to the wall, and in the shrubbery at the base of the bird enclosure I came across the Long Legged Something-or-other (the correct name of which escapes me), a small bird with fluffy grey and white feathers and incredibly long spindly orange legs. It didn't seem bothered by my presence and just sat there calmly while I took a couple of photos of it - and if it was a bird of prey it didn't look to be a very fierce one.

Next came the otters, who wouldn't stay in one place long enough for me to take any decent photos, and the coatis who were playing in the trees - from there I missed out the monkeys and the parrots and went instead to the Amazona Hall, a large indoor rainforest area similar to the one at Thrigby Hall, with a walkway meandering past pools of piranha fish and above the crocodiles. The crocs were all lounging about looking dopey and one even looked like it was smiling, though its mate, who had his head resting on the other one's back, was giving me a really evil look. I remembered a song from years ago - ''Never Smile At A Crocodile'' - and looking at those two I could understand why.

After photographing the crocs and wandering through the reptile section I thought I'd better check on the dogs; they were fast asleep when I got back to the van but I let them out for a few minutes anyway and gave them another drink before going back into the zoo. Following the path from the Amazona Hall I had passed an enclosure with some peculiar-looking animals in it so I went back to take a look - they turned out to be capybara, and looked rather like overgrown shaggy-coated guinea pigs. They evidently liked sitting in water and mud as most of them were wet and dirty - I thought they were rather cute though, especially the smaller ones.

Finally I reached the big cat enclosures and the first ones I looked at were the margays - I don't know how many were supposed to be in there but I could only see one, it was lying washing itself right by the viewing window. Unfortunately taking photos of it wasn't easy due to the light reflection on the glass but I managed to get a couple of reasonable shots then moved onto the pumas. Again I could only see one, it was sitting close to the wire with its back towards me and though I waited for several minutes it just didn't want to turn round, so after taking a couple of shots I moved on to the jaguars. These were very much in evidence, lying a few yards apart in the grass close to the fence and I got several good shots - I just wish the wire hadn't been in the way.

By the time I'd finished photographing the jaguars I was ready for a drink; I'd seen all I wanted to see anyway, so I headed back to the entrance, calling in at the cafe on my way. If I was hoping for coffee and cake I was destined to be disappointed as there was very little in the way of cake, so I had a KitKat with my coffee instead. It was very pleasant sitting in the sun on the verandah overlooking the lake but with two dogs waiting for me I didn't linger too long. Back at the van I let them out, gave them a drink and took them for a walk round the car park perimiter before moving on to my second stop, Cromer itself.

Just like last year I had to park on the huge grassy car park right at the top end of the promenade as all the roadside spaces were occupied - but unlike last year, when the cliff top gardens had been very bare and devoid of flowers, Cromer was now positively blooming. There were flowers and plants everywhere; in the rockeries, in the borders and the flower beds on the putting green - the place was full of colour and it made such a difference.

Going down the slope from the end of the gardens I walked along past the pier and the slipway with the fishing boats at the bottom and through some more cliff top gardens - I was heading for the lighthouse which I didn't manage to get to last year. It was quite a steep uphill walk but eventually I reached a large area of heath where the tarmac path gave way to several gravel paths leading in different directions, and ahead of me was the lighthouse. The land levelled out at the top of the hill and the heath gave way to the well-mown smooth grass of the golf course, with the lighthouse and its adjoining house set back off a concrete driveway. There was nothing really special about it but it had been worth the walk as I was able to let the dogs run off the lead while walking through the heath, so after snapping a couple of photos I turned and retraced my steps back down the hill towards the promenade.

The gardens at the bottom of the hill looked quite attractive with their lawns and flowerbeds and it was while I was wandering round there that I came across one of the most bright and vivid flower borders I've ever seen. Several feet wide it was set in the angle of the path, the hedge and a brick-built storage shed, and was a riot of vibrant colour - it looked like someone had gone mad with a paintbox and dabbed spots of colour all over a canvas.

Heading back along the promenade towards the van I stopped a couple of times to take some more photos but I didn't linger - it was 5.30pm by then, my coffee and KitKat at the zoo had worn off, and I had quite a distance to drive back to the camp site. I could have had something to eat in one of Cromer's many cafes but being my last full day I had decided to treat myself to ham, egg and chips at the cafe on the chalet site at California, so it was time to hit the road.

Once I was through the centre of Cromer the drive back to California was easy enough and my meal at the Sands Cafe was very enjoyable. After a quick dog walk round the site's entertainment block I headed off out again, this time to Eileen and Ron's cottage at Clippesby; I didn't want to leave California without seeing them again and I knew I wouldn't have time the following morning. I spent well over an hour with them before it was time to say my goodbyes for this year, and I left with the promise to keep in touch and send a card at Christmas. Back at the camp site I connected the awning to the van and fed the dogs, and although it wasn't late I took them for their final walk of the day. I had a very long drive ahead of me the following day - my longest yet - so I wanted to make sure I was rested and refreshed enough to tackle it; a late night at this stage just wasn't an option so for once it was early to bed for all three of us.