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

Sunday April 22nd 2012 - Abergele or Anglesey?

It suddenly occurred to me this morning that even though it's only two weeks since my Easter camping trip it's only another two weeks to the next bank holiday - I didn't realise it was so close and I didn't have anything booked. Better get something sorted out pdq!

I'd been so impressed with the Manorafon site at Easter that I decided I would make a return sooner rather than later and the next bank holiday would be ideal, however when I rang and spoke to the owner she told me she was fully booked for that weekend. I expected that really, though I must confess to feeling a bit disappointed - it was my own fault for leaving it until now though, if I'd thought about it sooner I could have booked when I was there before. She did take my number though and said if she gets a cancellation before then she will give me a ring. So not really being in the mood to make lots of phone calls trying to find somewhere else I decided I would just revisit my favourite site on Anglesey as I know I'll get a pitch there with no problem. And if it so happens that the owner of Manorafon informs me of a cancellation, even at the very last minute, then changing destination will be no problem as both places are reached from the A55. So - Abergele or Anglesey? I won't really know until I get there!

Tuesday April 10th 2012 - A long walk before home time

After waking briefly three times during the previous night, and hearing it belting down with rain each time, I woke that morning to blue sky and bright sunshine. My first thought was that there was bound to be some water lodged somewhere round the awning, probably on top of the connecting flap and the mudwalls outside, but when I got up and went out to have a look I was surprised to find there was none at all - not a drop of water anywhere, the awning was bone dry all over. That was brilliant - as long as it didn't decide to rain again I would thankfully be packing away a dry awning rather than a wet one.

I wasn't in too much of a rush to leave though so after a dog walk up the lane to the golf course and back I breakfasted at leisure then had a chat to the other group members who were on the point of leaving before I started the packing up process. With the van fully loaded and ready for off I still had some time to spare so I decided to have a walk up to the castle and back - after asking one of the site owners if it was okay to leave my van on the pitch until I got back (which it was) I clipped the leads on the dogs and set off. However, when I got to the castle I had a spur-of-the-moment change of plan and decided to find the path in the woods which went up to the top of the hill and do the circular walk back to the camp site, which I'd been told would take an hour and twenty minutes - it was only 1pm so I could do the walk and still drive home with time to spare before work. But as it turned out, that was big mistake number one.

I'd walked quite a distance through the woods before I found the path - I don't know how I'd missed it before - and as per instructions kept following it as it zig-zagged its way upwards. However, after the third bend it seemed to go on for ever, taking me further and further in the wrong direction; not knowing just how far it would take me, and seeing a minor path leading up through the trees, I decided to follow that instead - it was going uphill so it had to come out somewhere, but that was big mistake number two. I hadn't gone far when the trees thinned out and I could see a field so I was obviously going the right way, but when I got there I found it was fenced off with barbed wire and there was no way in. Luckily the fence wasn't high and there was plenty of 'give' in the top strand so I was able to drop the dogs over the top then lift the wire up enough to be able to duck through, but on the other side of the fence came big mistake number three.

Assuming that I should go back in the direction of the camp site that's the way I went - across the first field, through a gate, across the second field and through another gate, then across a third field where I came to a full stop. The field ended and I was faced with another barbed wire fence and more woods, with not a cat in hell's chance of going any further. By this time I was beginning to wish I'd never started this expedition but I'd gone too far to go back so the only thing I could do was follow the fence line up the field. At the top of the field I came to a stone wall with a gate set in one corner, and when I went through the gate I saw it - in the distance, and back in the direction I'd just come from, was a farmhouse and outbuildings. At last, signs of civilisation - and where there was a farm there must be a lane, so I headed back that way. If I'd walked straight up the hill when I climbed through the fence instead of going across it I would probably have got to that farmhouse ages ago!

Through three more fields - the hillside must have been an absolute patchwork of them - and I arrived at a farm track with horses in paddocks on either side. Walking up the track was a girl leading two horses so I thought I'd ask her where the lane was which would take me back to the camp site, but any hope of conversation soon went out of the window; I couldn't believe it - the first person I'd seen since I left the camp site and she was deaf! She must have been able to lip read though as when I said 'Abergele' she pointed down the track and to the left, and sure enough at the end of the track was the lane I was looking for. Thank heavens for that, now it wouldn't take long to get back to the site. But I hadn't reckoned on how far I'd actually walked and how far beyond the camp site I'd ended up - the lane went on for ever, and though it was going downhill all the time it seemed as though I would never get back to Manorafon. Now under normal circumstances I would have enjoyed that last part of the walk as the sun was shining and I was in some lovely countryside, but having left the van on my pitch I was worried that it could be stopping someone else from camping there - I'd been out far longer than I'd intended to be and I just wanted to get back there. Eventually though I could see some house roofs over the tops of the hedges and not long afterwards I emerged from the lane onto the small housing estate behind the camp site. Unfortunately though there was no way into the site from there so I had to walk right down to the main road then back up the track to the site entrance.

It was 3.15 when I arrived back at the van; I'd been out for well over two hours and at that time I would be pushing it to get back home in time for work at 5pm, but without breaking any speed limits I would try my best. Everything went well until I got to the outskirts of Manchester then I hit the early evening rush hour - definitely not my idea of fun, I was just glad I didn't have to do that every day. However, I got through it eventually and finally arrived back in Bolton, but I didn't have time to take the dogs home so I just drove straight to work - and I was only five minutes late. The dogs had slept all the way through the drive back - the poor little things must have been absolutely shattered from that walk - and they didn't even raise their heads when I parked the van; I wouldn't be at work for long so I knew they would be okay. Needless to say, when I finally got home and it came to taking them for their bedtime walk later on none of us wanted to go far!

Lying in bed a while later my mind went back over the last few days; okay, so the weather could have been better, but although I hadn't been able to take as many photos as I would have liked I'd still done a bit of exploring and I'd also spent some time in the company of a great bunch of people, so all in all I'd had a good weekend. And the camp site itself? - it was a lovely place in a lovely location and I certainly intend to stay there again in the not-too-distant future.

Monday April 9th 2012 - Staying local

Another grey and cloudy morning arrived; there had been a fair bit of rain overnight and when I ventured out to take the dogs for their first walk of the day it was still drizzling so I didn't go far. It rained on and off for most of the morning and it certainly wasn't nice enough to go anywhere, but by lunchtime it had stopped and was starting to get brighter with odd patches of blue sky showing through the clouds, so I decided to take the dogs for a walk up to the castle and back. 

The castle is a sprawling place set up on a grassy incline at one side of the lane, and with its many towers and turrets looks like something from a fairy tale - it's quite easy to imagine Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella living in there. Unfortunately, while it looks to be fairly complete from the outside it's actually a derelict and dangerous ruin and is inaccessible to the public - a shame really, I'd love to be able to explore the place. I don't know who owns it but if I ever win the lottery to the tune of several million pounds I'll buy it and have it restored - it would make a great country house hotel and would be brilliant for weddings.

It was after I'd got back to the awning and was chatting to some of the others that Scooby told me that there's a path through the woods which goes up above the back of the castle and it's possible to get some good photos from up there. I didn't really feel like going all the way back again so I decided to leave that one for another time - the camp site was such a lovely place that I would certainly make a point of returning before long, so I could seek out that photo opportunity then.

I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the awning then later on decided to make a quick trip along the road to Tesco - I could have walked as it's only a few minutes away from the site but I put the dogs in the van and drove there so I could go down to the beach afterwards. After a brisk walk along the promenade from the car park to just beyond the station and back I returned to the site and made a brew and something to eat then prepared to settle in for the evening. It was just after 9pm when a really high wind and a deluge of rain arrived from nowhere and battered the awning for about twenty minutes, then stopped just as quickly as it started - and my new awning took everything that was thrown at it. Its first time out and it had been well and truly christened!

By the time I took the dogs for their bedtime walk just after 11pm it was fine with a sky so clear you could count every star, but not long after I'd gone to bed the rain returned with a vengeance. Lying there listening to it hammering on the roof of the van I just hoped that it wouldn't be like that the following day - I had to go home, and I wasn't really looking forward to the prospect of packing up in a downpour.

Sunday April 8th 2012 - A walk through the woods

I woke quite early that morning to a grey sky dotted with even greyer clouds and raindrops on the van windows. If the weather wasn't brilliant then there was no rush to go out, so as Sunday is often my 'breakfast in bed' day I decided to take the dogs for a short walk down the lane then make my breakfast and allow myself the luxury of going back to bed with it. It was 11am when I finally got up properly, and though the sky was still grey at least the drizzly rain of earlier on had stopped. After chatting to various members of the group I spent some time pottering about round the awning while I thought about somewhere to go and finally decided to take a walk through the woods beyond the castle. A couple of the group members had told me that if I followed the path and kept going up I would come out on top of the hillside where I could cross the fields and pick up the lane which came back down and emerged behind the camp site, so that's what I thought I would do - except it didn't work out like that.

With the dogs running off the lead I walked up the lane past the castle and continued on along the path where the woodland started. At one point I caught up with Diane and her dog Bruno and Billy with his kids but I didn't stay with them as they were walking a lot slower than me and they weren't going as far. It was just after that where I went wrong, although I didn't realise it at the time. I continued to follow the path I was on and walked for quite a distance, and although it did go uphill in several places I didn't seem to be getting anywhere near the top - there was certainly no sign of any fields anywhere. I did however find a couple of caves set back in the side of the hill so scrambling up through the undergrowth I went to take a look. They were both fairly big caves and seemed to go quite a way back, but without a torch I wasn't being daft enough to venture any further than the entrance - I never knew what might drop on my head from a dizzy height! - so I just took a couple of photos and made my way back down to the path.

I'd gone quite a distance further on when the path levelled out and started going downwards with the woodland becoming less dense, and I knew then that somehow I'd missed my intended route and there was no way I would reach the top of the hill by continuing. Going back to find the right path wasn't an option by then though as I had come too far, so I abandoned my original plan and continued onwards - I had to come out somewhere eventually. Rounding a bend I came across a big gap in the trees with a great view of the fields, the coastline and the hills beyond - it was worth taking a photo but it would have looked so much better on a sunny day.

A bit further on the path went downwards again and through the trees I could see the A547 just below me, which I knew would take me back to the camp site, however I ended up with a second change of plan. Not far from the end of the path I met another dog walker going the other way, and as dog walkers often do we stopped to exchange pleasantries. She was a local lady and when mentioned where I had come from and was going back to she suggested that instead of walking back along the road I crossed over it and took the lane leading past a static caravan site, which would take me under the A55 and bring me out at the entrance to another site where there was a nice bistro/coffee bar, and I could then walk back along the beach. That sounded like a really good idea and after having walked so far I was more than ready for a coffee so I thanked her for her suggestion and putting the dogs on the lead I made my way down to the road.

The lane down to the beach wasn't all that long and as I emerged from the underpass under the A55 I was quite pleasantly surprised. The caravan site was appropriately called The Beach and in front of me was a wide parking area with an island in the middle which was set with shrubs and various plants - on a sunny day it would have looked very attractive. Beyond the parking area was the promenade and beach and to my left was the site reception, the Beachcomber Bar and Tides cafe/bistro which also looked very pleasant.

Tying the dogs to a railing just outside the door I went inside to see what was on offer - looking at the menu I did think about treating myself to a proper meal but then my eye was caught by some delicious-looking carrot cake so I opted for a piece of that with a milky coffee instead, and after placing my order I went back outside to sit at a table near the dogs. The cake, when it arrived, was served with whipped cream and it was every bit as good as it looked; the coffee was pretty good too, and having turned into something of a 'coffee and cake connoisseur' over the last couple of years I was quite impressed. It was while I was finishing my coffee that I noticed the way the dogs were sitting - it's not often I can get a photo of them both looking in the same direction at the same time but this time they were so I grabbed the opportunity and got several shots of the two of them. I also got some of Sophie on her own, she's more photogenic than Sugar and photos of her always come out well, though on the first one she looked like she'd been abandoned - she only needed a little bowl and a card saying 'homeless and hungry' and someone would have given her a home!

With my coffee finished I unhitched the two of them from the rail and crossed the parking area onto the promenade. The tide had only recently gone out leaving the sand very wet, and as I didn't want the dogs to get too dirty I kept off the beach itself and stayed on the promenade for the walk back. There was nothing particularly exciting about the promenade, it was just a long stretch of concrete with the beach wall on one side and the railway line on the other, with another large static caravan site sprawled out further along, but it made a pleasant enough walk and the dogs were able to run off the lead until I got to the road which took me over the railway line and back into Abergele itself. From the top of that road it was only another few minutes to the camp site and once I got back to the awning I decided to spend some time relaxing before I did anything else.

It was much later on when I heard voices and the crackling of wood burning and poking my head through the awning door I could see that Dragon had got another camp fire going so I decided to go across and join the gang. Now normally the minute I pick up my jacket the dogs are up and waiting to go out but this time they didn't even raise their heads from their bed - they must have been really tired out from their long walk earlier on. I spent a very pleasant hour or so in the company of the others but then the long walk began to take its toll on me and I was more than ready for my bed, so saying goodnight I went back to the awning and clipped the leads on the dogs for their pre-bedtime walk. I only went down to the end of the lane and back, that was far enough, then settling them back on their bed I turned off the light and retreated to my own where it wasn't long before I was asleep.

Saturday April 7th 2012 - Llanrwst and Betws-y-Coed

I woke that morning to a grey sky and light rain though it had stopped by the time I took the dogs for their first walk. Undecided what to do and where to go if the weather was going to be damp I wasn't in too much of a rush to go out, so I spent most of the morning pottering about round the awning and talking to others in the group. It was lunchtime when I finally decided to make a move, and wanting to go in search of a camping shop as I needed some extra guy lines I decided to drive over to Betws-y-Coed, stopping at Llanrwst on the way. Dragon had told me the previous night about a little tea shop which was by the river in Llanrwst and which did lovely cakes, so I thought it was worth checking out.

The A548 from Abergele to Llanrwst started just down the road in the town, though once away from Abergele itself it was more of a B road than an A road in many parts and I have to admit that for once in my life I didn't particularly enjoy the drive. There were many twists and turns, bad bends and steep inclines going down (sometimes a bend and an incline all in one) and my mind went back to the day last October when my brakes had almost given up the ghost going down a long incline near Skipton - if the same thing happened on that road then I could be in trouble, though thankfully it didn't and I reached Llanrwst safely. Crossing the narrow stone bridge over the river I saw the tea shop on the other side, and pulling into the rough-surfaced car park I found a space, parked up and went to see what delights it had to offer. It was only a very small place but obviously very popular as all the tables were occupied and there was a queue of half a dozen people waiting, however there was a 'take-away' counter round the back and some tables set out on the grass so after studying the menu I ordered my coffee and cake, but as it was a bit too chilly to sit outside I took them back to the van. And I have to say that the chocolate cake with fresh cream was absolutely delicious.

By the time I'd taken my tray back to the counter the sky had started to clear and the sun was appearing in fits and starts, so releasing the dogs from the van I went for a short walk along the riverside to take some photos. With half a dozen shots in the camera I returned to the van and with the dogs back on their bed I set off to drive the four miles to Betws-y-Coed.

I had been to Betws-y-Coed three times before, the last time only a month previously while on a day out with my son and daughter-in-law, but always being with someone else I'd never really been able to look round properly so this time I would have the chance. It's a very popular place and being the Easter weekend it was very busy, so it took three circuits of the car park before I was able to find a space. Leaving the dogs in the van for once, as I would be going in and out of shops and couldn't keep tying them and untying them every couple of minutes, I paid my car park fee and got a ticket then set off to find some guy lines. And that's where I was destined to be disappointed - I walked all the way up the main road on one side and back on the other, going into every shop there was, and though most of them sold outdoor gear and accessories it was all walking stuff. Not one single shop had any camping gear even though there are two campsites in the village and other sites not far away, and even the large tent display, which just happened to be in the nearby park, didn't have any accessories - how absolutely useless! The afternoon wasn't a total waste of time though as I found a nice little spot by the river and got some lovely photos.

Returning to the van I clipped the leads on the dogs and took them for a walk round the grassy area at the far end of the car park, then once they were settled back in the van I set off for the return drive to the camp site. Going back over the A548 somehow didn't seem to be as bad as before, I think mainly because the steep downhill parts were now uphill, and with the sun shining brightly and a cd to sing along to it was really quite pleasant. Back at the site I reversed the van onto my pitch, connected the awning, then set about making a brew and something to eat. Some of the group members were planning to have a barbecue later on but I didn't want to wait so long before having something to eat so I decided not to join them, and when I heard the sound of light rain on the top of the awning I was glad I wasn't outside. I spent the evening until bedtime reading and watching a bit of tv, then after a final short walk down the lane and back I settled the dogs in their bed and retreated to mine, with fingers metaphorically crossed for good weather the following day.

Friday April 6th 2012 - Rhos-on-Sea and Colwyn Bay

I woke that morning to blue sky and bright sunshine, perfect for a day out, so I decided I would head off down to Llandudno and spend the day down there. However, by the time I'd taken the dogs for a walk and had some breakfast followed by a chat with various group members the sky had started to cloud over, and as I disconnected the awning ready to leave it had gone positively grey. From a photography point of view there was no point going to Llandudno if the sun wasn't shining but I didn't want to spend all day on the camp site either, so with a quick change of plan I set off for Rhos-on-Sea instead. I remembered going there with my parents when I was about seven years old, and unless it had changed drastically in the intervening years there wasn't really a lot there to photograph so it didn't matter too much if the sky was grey. And if it turned out to be more interesting than I expected I could always make a return visit another time in better weather.

I'd driven quite a distance down the A55 when the traffic began to slow down and I thought I may be heading for a bank holiday traffic jam, but as the road started to go downhill at that point I soon saw why. Only three days previously, during some very rough weather, a large cargo ship had run aground on rocks close to the shore and drivers were slowing down to look as they went past. I don't know why as there was nothing to see - only the tops of the masts were visible from the road. The traffic did keep moving though and once away from that area it wasn't long before I saw the sign for Rhos-on-Sea, so turning off the A55 and following the signs for the beach I soon found myself turning onto the promenade about halfway along its length. There were plenty of parking spaces along the roadside so I pulled into a convenient one and looked round for a ticket machine, but as there didn't seem to be one and none of the other cars had tickets on them it looked like it was free - that would do for me! So with Sophie and Sugar on their leads I locked the van, crossed over onto the seaward side, and set off to see what I could find.

I have to admit to being quite pleasantly surprised as there seemed to be a bit more there than my vague childhood memories had led me to believe. Behind where I'd parked the van a steep grass bank topped with a line of trees rose up from the promenade to the road above, and on the seaward side were several stone-built shelters set at intervals and a couple of kiosks selling drinks and snacks. Past the grass bank was a long row of hotels and guest houses and finally I came to a pub and what I assume passed as being the 'town centre' - a couple of rows of cafes and gift shops with a couple of side roads containing shops of a more general nature and a post office. Across from there was a beach and small harbour with a couple of dozen boats bobbing about on the water, and beyond there was a nice-looking pub/restaurant set back off the road in its own garden, a bistro and a grassy children's play area with swings, slides and various climbing frames.

From there onwards there seemed to be nothing more than private houses and guest houses with the promenade heading off in the direction of Llandudno, but even though it was a very grey afternoon and not terribly warm it was still quite pleasant walking briskly along with the dogs so I decided to go as far as the next bend in the road before turning round and heading back - and I was so glad I did as I came across the sweetest little chapel I've ever seen. Nestling in its own little garden on the lower part of the promenade it was built of stone, must have been no more than 7ft high at its apex, and had just one tiny window set in one wall. A board by the railings told me this was St. Trillo's chapel, built on the site of an ancient spring - the well can still be seen under the altar - and seating only six people it's thought to be the smallest chapel in the British Isles. Communion services are still held there regularly and in fact there had been a service earlier on that day.

After spending several minutes in the calm of this lovely little place I unhitched the dogs from the railings where I'd left them and set off back in the direction of the van. It was getting near to coffee and cake time so finding a cafe was next on the list but as it was a bit too chilly to sit outside with the dogs I took them back to the van first. I had passed a nice-looking large cafe on a corner which seemed to be a popular place so I went in there, but when I looked at the menu and saw the prices I went straight back out again. The coffee was fairly reasonable at £2.20 but £4.60 for a slice of cake (and they weren't big slices) was ridiculous - I only wanted one slice, not the whole cake! So I walked back along the promenade until I came to a no-frills type of place round a corner, and for much less than the price of the cake at the first place I had a decent sized piece of apple pie with cream and a mug of really good milky coffee. Back at the van I pondered for a few minutes on where to go next, but as the weather showed no sign of brightening up I decided to make my way back to the camp site and on my way see if I could find the ship on the rocks at Colwyn Bay.

Keeping away from the A55 I drove from Rhos-on-Sea and through Old Colwyn until I found a sign for the beach and following that eventually led me to one end of the promenade, fortunately the end where I wanted to be. Yet again the parking was free and though there weren't many spaces I managed to find a vacant one, so with the dogs back on their leads and the van locked up I set off in search of the ship. The promenade itself ended where I left the van but there was a cycle path heading in the right direction so I followed that until I could go no further - my route was barred by numerous strands of plastic tape stretched between various barriers and fence posts. The blue and white tape was emblazoned with the words POLICE CRIME SCENE - now I wouldn't have thought that a ship washed onto the rocks by heavy seas would be classed as a crime scene, so maybe that was the only tape they had at the time. In the no-go area beyond the tape were various machines and other items of heavy plant and several officials in high-vis jackets, but beyond the no-go area on the cliff edge I could see half a dozen people with cameras so there was obviously a way to get round there. To my left was a steep high grassy outcrop with a fence running across it about halfway up and with several people already up there it looked like that was the way to do it, so ducking under the tape I set off up the hill. When I got down the other side I knew the scramble had been worth it when I was rewarded with a great view of the MV Carrier beached in an upright position parallel to the shore.

After taking a couple of photos and spending a few minutes watching the salvage crew doing whatever it was they were doing I went back over the hill and made my way back to the van, and it was as I was driving through the outskirts of Old Colwyn on the main road which would take me back to the camp site that I saw a couple of guys in a lay-by with huge cameras on tripods pointing over a stone wall and down the coast. This was obviously another vantage point to see the ship so I pulled up and went to have a look, but unfortunately as I'm less than 5ft tall the wall was too high for me to see over. Not being one to give up easily though when I'm in search of a photo I took note of where the guys' cameras were pointing and went to look for another vantage point.  My quest took me through a small housing estate but eventually I came to a cul-de-sac and could go no further; however I noticed a 'no man's land' of grass leading between the garages of two bungalows and with the traffic noise on the A55 sounding fairly close I went along to take a look, and bingo! I emerged on the hillside almost immediately above the ship. My view was partially obscured by the branches of various shrubs and bushes but I was still able to take a reasonable photo so my quest hadn't been in vain.

With my mission accomplished I returned to the van and set off again back to the camp site, and once on my pitch I reconnected the awning to the van straight away as I had no intention of going out again. After a brief chat with some of the goup members I made myself a brew and something to eat and spent the early evening watching a bit of tv. It was just after 9pm when the light and the tv went off, and poking my head out through the awning door I could see that the whole site was in darkness so it wasn't just me. By then the other members had got a camp fire going in a fire pit a couple of pitches further along so I went across to join them. One member, Dragon, had packed his van with lots of offcuts of timber specially for the occasion, another member (who shall remain nameless) had provided some bits from an old bed, and a lot of hilarity ensued when comments were made about notches on the bedpost! It was well after 11pm when I took my leave of the group and went to take Sophie and Sugar for their pre-bedtime walk, and with the electricity supply back on again (it had resumed while I was over at the camp fire) I made my final brew of the day, settled the dogs in their beds and retreated to my own in the van, where I lay for a while thinking over my day. Although the weather hadn't been particularly brilliant I'd still enjoyed myself - I'd had coffee and cake, found a tiny chapel and photographed a shipwreck, and joining the others round the camp fire had just rounded the day off nicely.

Thursday April 5th 2012 - First camp of the year - Manorafon Farm

My first camp of the year had finally arrived and 8am that morning saw me leaving home for Manorafon Farm in Abergele, North Wales, to join the 'camping for nutters' group for a long weekend. The weather forecast for the weekend hadn't been very encouraging but the sun was shining from a bright blue sky as I headed down the motorway so I did rather hope that it would stay like that for the next five days. The journey down to Abergele was very pleasant and trouble free in spite of the rush hour traffic round the Manchester outskirts and I arrived at the site at 9.30am, much earlier than I expected. After booking in at reception I went to find my pitch; it looked like I was the first of the group to arrive, and before setting up camp I took a few minutes to take stock of my surroundings. The site itself is part of the Gwrych Castle estate and to my left I could see the old castle sprawling against a background of trees, while in the distance in front of me was a view of the sea - it seemed to be a very pleasant place in a nice rural setting and my first impressions were very favourable - I was looking forward to exploring later on.

This weekend wasn't just the first camp of the year but also the first outing for my brand new awning, and once I'd parked the van where I wanted it to be I set about building my new 'home'. Last year, on my last camp of the season, I had decided that even though my old awning still functioned well it had suffered too much wear and tear and was looking past its best so it was time to get a new one - and I'd been lucky enough to find one on the internet identical to the old one and at a price much lower than normal so I'd treated myself, and as the seller was only in the Manchester area I'd gone to collect it, thereby saving myself £15 postage. As I'd had no opportunity since then to put it up and check it I'd also packed the old one in case there was anything wrong but I needn't have worried, everything was as it should be, and looking at it attached to the van I had to admit that it looked so much smarter and cleaner than the old one so I was well pleased.

I'd finished setting everything out inside the awning and was putting my solar lights by the guy ropes when I noticed a convoy of three vehicles by the entrance, signifying the arrival of some more of the group; once they'd decided where they were pitching I went over to say hello then left them to sort themselves out while I took the dogs for a walk and explored the site and the immediate area. Just by the site entrance was a small paddock with some of the most adorable tiny baby pigmy goats, and across the lane in a small wooded enclosure were a couple of large pigs which came grunting up to the fence when they saw me. Walking up the lane past the site I came to a large and very pleasant looking golf course, and though I could have gone further on to the castle I decided to leave that for another time and return to the awning for a much needed brew.

It was a while later when I realised that I hadn't packed the dogs' tie-out cable, and as I hadn't got anything which would make a reasonable substitute I decided to go in search of a pet shop then drive down to the beach, so with the two hounds in the back of the van I set off to explore Abergele. The town itself is only a few minutes walk from the camp site entrance, with a Tesco supermarket at the beginning of the main street, so I parked there and set off along the row of shops, but although I walked right to the end and back I couldn't find a pet shop. However there was a charity shop in aid of abandoned animals so I called in there and the nice elderly man in charge told me where to find a large pet and farm store just a few minutes drive away. It was easy enough to find, and with a new tie-out cable duly purchased I drove back through the town and followed the signs for the beach.

Never having been to Abergele before I didn't know what the promenade and beach would be like, so I was pleasantly surprised when I got there. Compared to some places it was nothing to write home about but it was nice enough and seemed to provide most things that visitors to a small seaside town would want. There were two car parks along the main promenade, both of which were free, a small cafe at each end, a couple of take-away kiosks, beach shop, a kiosk selling fishing bait, two amusement arcades, crazy golf and childrens go-karts, and an area where a bouncy castle would be later in the season. At the southern end was a large static caravan site, and as I walked along northwards I passed a grassy children's play area and the railway station, and in the distance I could see Rhyl. Just past the station the main promenade narrowed into a cycle path and footpath so I turned off there and went down onto the beach, walking back along the sand to where I'd left the van. The tide had gone out leaving behind several large pools on the sand - I threw a few stones for the dogs and though Sugar was quite happy to swim across to retrieve one there was no way Sophie was attempting it. With our little game eventually over we went back to the van and after towelling the dogs down I paid a brief visit to the nearest cafe for coffee and cake before setting off on the short drive back to the camp site.

Back on my pitch I reversed the van into place, connected up the awning, fastened the dogs' new cable to the ground anchor which I'd previously pegged down, then spent a while chatting to other group members before retreating to the awning to make a brew and a sandwich. I went back out again later for another chat but once the sun went down it turned rather chilly so I spent most of the evening in the awning watching tv until I could hardly keep my eyes open. Then with the dogs fed and a brief bedtime walk along the lane by the site I settled them into their bed and retreated to mine in the van. I did have some vague thoughts for the following day floating through my mind but sleep finally overtook me before I could form any definite plans.