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

Thursday April 30th 2015 - Z is for Zoo

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

Over the years that I've been a solo camper I've visited several zoos while on my camping travels; a couple of these have been very well set out and very interesting and I've been very impressed. 

Africa Alive at Kessingland in Norfolk is dedicated completely to animals from Africa, and one of the best areas of the zoo is Lemur Encounters, a huge open enclosure where the public can walk among the many ring-tailed lemurs which live there. There's no extra charge to go in and you can stay as long as you like while the lemurs leap in and out of the trees and play around you. My time spent in there was undoubtedly the highlight of my visit to that particular zoo.

Banham Zoo, again in Norfolk, is the sister zoo to Africa Alive but has a more diverse range of animals. One of the nicest exhibits is the Province of the Snow Cat which houses the zoo's breeding pair of snow leopards and features rock faces and a meandering alpine stream. The highlight of my visit to that particular zoo was the 'meerkat feeding experience' where I accompanied a keeper into the meerkat enclosure to feed the little animals and spend some time with them; they were fascinating, comical and very cute little creatures, it was brilliant having them swarming all over me and some of them even allowed me to stroke them.

Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens, a few miles from Yarmouth, is based in the 250-year old landscaped gardens of Thrigby Hall and is reputedly renowned for its collection of Asian mammals, birds and reptiles. Although I enjoyed my visit there I didn't think it was as interesting as Africa Alive and Banham; while I would return to those two zoos I wouldn't be in a hurry to go back to Thrigby Hall.

Amazona Zoo on the outskirts of Cromer is home to over 200 animals and birds from tropical South America. Attractions include daily 'feed the animal' events, a spider house with five varieties of tarantula, and a guinea pig village. While I found it better than Thrigby Hall it still wasn't as good as Africa alive and Banham.

The Welsh Mountain Zoo, set high in the hills above Colwyn Bay in North Wales, is also a botanical garden with numerous flower beds, rose gardens, herbaceous borders, woodland walks, and collections of hardy and tropical plants, some of which are rare and endangered. The flora were as much of an attraction to me as the fauna and it's a place I will certainly go back to in the near future. 

Well, this post concludes the A - Z Challenge; thank you to all those who took the trouble to stop by, read and comment on my ramblings, I hope I haven't bored you too much. And now I've finished the challenge maybe I can finally find the time to write about my Easter camping trip!

Wednesday April 29th 2015 - Y is for Yarmouth

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

The official name for this town is Great Yarmouth but by locals (and me) it's referred to as just Yarmouth; located on the coast 20 miles east of Norwich and at the mouth of the River Yare it's the gateway from the Norfolk Broads into the North Sea. It's also the nearest big town to where I camp at California. For centuries it was a major fishing port but the fishing industry suffered a steep decline in the second half of the 20th century and has now almost disappeared. It also has literary connections in that Charles Dickens stayed at the Royal Hotel while writing David Copperfield (the town featured as a key location in the book) and Anna Sewell, the author of Black Beauty, was born in a 17th century house close to the town centre.

The town centre itself has most of the well-known high street retailers located in and around the modern Market Gates shopping centre; there's also a couple of narrow arcades with quaint independent shops and tea rooms, and a market place which is one of the largest in England. Running from the main high street right down to the promenade is Regent Road, a pedestrianised street lined on both sides with gift shops, clothes shops, cafes, and all the other types of shop you find at a large seaside resort.

Yarmouth's seafront, known as 'the Golden Mile' attracts millions of visitors each year to its sandy beaches, indoor and outdoor attractions and amusement arcades. There are two piers, the Britannia Pier and Wellington Pier; the Britannia Pier is home to the Britannia Theatre, one of the few end-of-pier theatres left in England, and during the summer months it features shows by well-known personalities. The Wellington Pier is home to a large family entertainment centre which features a ten pin bowling alley with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the beach. In addition to the two piers, tourist attractions on Marine Parade include a roller skating venue, Pirates Cove adventure golf, a putting green, Sea Life Centre, model village and fairground, to name but a few.

On the outskirts of the town is a riding stables where groups are taken out for hacks around the local area, Yarmouth racecourse which includes a caravan site, and a greyhound racing stadium where banger and stock car races are held every Wednesday evening. There's also a heliport which serves as a base for the helicopters which fly supplies to and from the natural gas rigs out in the North Sea - when I'm camping at California helicopters flying over the site are a regular thing.

There's far more to Yarmouth than I could ever hope to write on here; suffice to say that if reading this sparks an interest then why not Google it, find out more, and experience it for yourself if you can? 

Tuesday April 28th 2015 - X is for Xtra special places

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

Okay, so I cheated a bit with this one but there are absolutely no places in this country beginning with 'X', however some of the ones I've been to while camping have, for whatever reason, been (e)xtra special.

The first camp site I went to in 2010 after passing my driving test - just 40 minutes from home, at the end of a private lane, surrounded by trees on three sides with open fields and a river close by. The only sounds were the birds in the trees, the resident ducks quacking and the sheep bleating - even though it was close to a village it was a really peaceful and quiet place. 

California in Norfolk - where I had my first proper holiday as an adult when my son was just eight years old. We stayed in a self-catering chalet and loved the area so much we went back twice a year every year until my son was 20. Now I camp each year on the cliff top field just up the lane from the chalet site - I go to sleep at night and wake each morning to the sound of the waves breaking on the beach and seagulls overhead. 

Anglesey - where my love of camping was born in 1997. The camp site was only very basic but the location was good and the views were fabulous. I fell in love with the site and the island and camping there became a regular thing - in fact I've camped and travelled round there so many times over the years that the island has almost become my second home. I've no doubt that there are better sites on Anglesey but the one where I camp is the one I'll always return to.

The camp site on the coast in the Scottish Highlands - away from civilisation, backed by hills, where a small river meets the sea and right next to a gorgeous beach with views to die for. It's where I heard a cuckoo for the first time in about fifteen years; the peacefulness was almost tangible and the location was like being on a remote tropical island. It was such a special place that when I left I felt as if I was leaving a little piece of my heart behind.

The little North Wales site I stayed at just recently over Easter - in the Berwyn Mountains, at the end of a farm track almost in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by trees, with nothing but the sound of birdsong, the occasional hoot of a pheasant and the nearby river and waterfall - peace and tranquility guaranteed, and a special little place I'll definitely go back to.

These are just some of the places which are significant to me; there are a few more, and no doubt as my camping life continues and the years pass my list of (e)xtra special places will grow with time.

Monday April 27th 2015 - W is for Whitby

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

The seaside town and fishing port of Whitby is situated at the mouth of the River Esk on the North Yorkshire coast. A swing bridge, built in 1908 and with a 75ft span, separates the inner and outer harbours and also the old town from it's newer side. On the 'new' side are modern shops, harbourside cafes, amusements and donkey rides on the beach, while the old town has a maze of cobbled streets and alleyways with quaint little shops and cafes. The outer harbour is sheltered by the east and west piers, each with a lighthouse and beacon - the west lighthouse, at 84ft, is the taller of the two and for a small fee it's possible to climb the spiral staircase inside to the viewing platform near the top.

The Whitby skyline is dominated by the ruins of St. Hilda's Abbey high up on the east cliff, and nearby is St. Mary's church, whose graveyard gave Bram Stoker the inspiration to write his famous book Dracula. The abbey itself has a long association with Dracula and towards the end of May an annual Goth weekend is held in the grounds. From the churchyard 199 steps lead down the hill to the streets of the old town - going down is okay but going up is quite a strenuous climb. 

As well as Bram Stoker, Whitby has produced several other famous people, among them Captain James Cook, the 18th century explorer and voyager; his ship the Endeavor was built in Whitby and he sailed from there on his voyage to Australia and New Zealand. A statue of him stands on the west cliff near the Royal Hotel, and nearby is a whalebone arch which commemorates Whitby's links with the one-time whaling industry.

The town is surrounded on its landward sides by the moorland of the North York Moors National Park; from the station close to the marina a steam train service runs inland to Pickering, passing through the village of Goathland, otherwise known as Aidensfield in the long-running Heartbeat tv series. Whitby itself is part of the 'Fossil Coast' which stretches 35 miles from Staithes in the north down to Flamborough Head, and fossil hunting on the beaches is popular with many visitors.

There's a wealth of hotels, B & Bs, guesthouses and camp sites in Whitby and the surrounding area, and with the popular seaside resorts of Scarborough, Filey and Bridlington to the south, and the pretty little fishing villages of Robin Hood's Bay and Runswick bay only a few miles away, it makes a great place for both long and short stays. Photos of Whitby can be found in my post from Monday April 25th 2011.

Saturday April 25th 2015 - V is for Valley

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

Valley is a village on Anglesey just over three miles from Holyhead and situated by the crossroads where the A5, A5025 and the B4545 meet. Not far from the crossroads is the Stanley Embankment, designed by Thomas Telford and constructed in 1822/3; it's 1,170 metres long and connects Anglesey to Holy Island via the A5 and the North Wales Coast railway line. During the embankment's construction a dip was formed in the flat land on the Anglesey side and a workers' hamlet was built around it; over the years this has grown into the medium-sized village it is today, and even though the dip in the land has long since gone the village is still known as Valley.

Some distance from the village is RAF Valley, a Royal Air Force station which provides pilots with fast-jet training and search-and-rescue helicopter training. The base also acts as a civilian airport providing a twice daily passenger service to Cardiff airport in South Wales.

At the crossroads in the village itself are a number of shops and businesses - a barbers, petrol station, bathroom and kitchen showroom, newsagents, take-away, the Valley Hotel and Stermat, the garden, hardware and homecare centre. It's one of those stores which sells everything other than food and clothes, and even if you don't want anything when you go in there you'll more than likely find something you didn't realise you wanted until you saw it. It's one of my favourite stores, and a stay on Anglesey just wouldn't be complete without a visit to Stermat at Valley.

Friday April 24th 2015 - U is for Upper Street

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

Upper Street in Norfolk isn't actually a street as the name suggests, it's a small hamlet of houses and also a section of the A1062 rural main road which links Hoveton and Potter Heigham and runs past the outskirts of Horning village in the Norfolk Broads area. Following the country lanes from Upper Street down to the Ferry Marina will take you into Horning itself, where the one road through the village is called, unsurprisingly, Lower Street.

During my travels around Norfolk and north Suffolk over the last few years I've walked along or driven down many lanes, avenues, streets and roads with names which obviously haven't needed much thought or logic. The Avenue is a fairly common one and Back Lane is exactly that. Then there's The Green where there isn't one, and not far from the site where I camp at California there's The Promenade and The Esplanade, though neither of them are adjacent to the sea. Beach Road is another common one, I think every coastal town and village in Norfolk has one which obviously leads to a beach. There's also an Upper Street and Lower Street in Suffolk - I haven't been to either of them yet but there's always time!

I've often wondered who was originally responsible for giving these various places such simple names; whoever they were they mustn't have had much imagination - or maybe they just took the easy way out.

Thursday April 23rd 2015 - T is for Thorpeness

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

Voted the 'Weirdest Village in England' by Bizarre magazine in 2003, Thorpeness lies two miles north of Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast. Originally a small fishing hamlet in the late 19th century, the village and many miles of land surrounding it were bought in 1910 by Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie, a Scottish barrister. Though most of the land was used for farming Ogilvie developed Thorpeness into a private fantasy village to which he invited his friends and colleagues and their families during the summer months. Many of the holiday homes were built in his favourite Jacobean and Tudor Revival styles, and a notable feature of the village is a set of almshouses built in the 1920s.

At the heart of Thorpeness is The Meare, an artificially created shallow boating lake covering 3 acres. One of Ogilvie's personal friends was J M Barrie, the author of Peter Pan; several small streams at various points off the lake have landings marked with a Peter Pan theme, and the tiny islands contain locations found in the book, such as Wendy's home and the Pirates Lair and many others where kids are encouraged to play - there's even a crocodile on one of the islands. A variety of non-motorised boats can be hired by the hour and many of these are the original ones from when the lake was first created. The highlight of the summer season is the Thorpeness Regatta at the end of August; boat races are held during the day and at night decorated boats are paraded round the lake, followed by a huge firework display. 

Overlooking the lake is the village green complete with a small duck pond, a timber-clad building which houses a cafe and small gift shop, and a pony and carriage which takes visitors on a leisurely tour of the village. Also overlooking the lake is a 1930s Art Deco hotel and restaurant. Across the road from the green is a large pay-and-display car park and on the far side of that is the long stretch of shingle beach which is bordered by a variety of private houses, bungalows and holiday homes. Also on the shore is Dune House, a beach house of Scandinavian design where the roof reflects the sea and sky while the ground floor is completely surrounded by glass; walk a quarter of a mile north along the beach and you'll find a terraced row of seven quirky and brightly-painted 3-storey houses set in the shallow dunes. In the village itself is the Dolphin Inn and a country club with golf course, tennis courts and swimming pool.

Thorpeness is full of quirky buildings and the best just has to be the House in the Clouds. Originally built as a water tower in the early 1920s the huge water tank at the top was visible above the surrounding trees so Ogilvie had it disguised as a weatherboarded house to look more in keeping with the rest of the village. The water tower was eventually made redundant in the late 1970s, the tank was removed and the building fully converted into a 5-storey house with a huge games room at the top; it's now used as very expensive holiday accommodation, and seen from various parts of the village the top part of the house really does look like it's in the clouds.

So - weird, quirky, unusual, unique; Thorpeness isn't a big place but however you want to describe it it's definitely worth visiting more than once. Photos of the village can be found in my posts from September 4th 2013 and September 6th 2012.

Wednesday April 22nd 2015 - S is for Sheringham

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

Sheringham, on the north Norfolk coast, is a seaside town which has, over many years, grown up around its original old fishing village. Centred on a traditional high street the town itself has a wide range of privately owned shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants, a good selection of specialist shops and a Tesco supermarket, and a popular twice-weekly market is held on the car park next to the railway station. An annual crab and lobster festival is held in May and a colourful carnival is held at the beginning of August. The town is also the home of the North Norfolk Railway, known as The Poppy Line, which operates steam train rides inland to the town of Holt.

Sheringham promenade, with its rows of colourful beach huts and fishing boats pulled up on the slipway, is a pleasant place to take a stroll, and there's a small cafe and refreshment hut where you can get drinks, snacks and ice cream. Towards the eastern end of the promenade is a museum with a viewing gallery set high above the building, giving fantastic views over the town, sea and countryside. To the west of the slipway steps and winding slopes lead from the promenade up the cliff to gardens at the top, where there are lawned areas, a play area, fishpond, rockeries with an ornamental stream running through, an abundance of colourful flower beds and plenty of places where you can sit and watch the world go by.

In Upper Sheringham, just outside the main town, you find Sheringham Park which is managed by the National Trust and has a visitors centre, shop and cafe. There are miles of scenic countryside paths to explore, and gazebos and observation towers with far-reaching views over the coast. The park can be enjoyed at any time of year but visit in late spring and you'll see the fabulously colourful rhododendrons and azaleas in full bloom. Best of all, dogs are allowed and in certain parts of the park they can even be let off the lead.

There's much more to Sheringham than I can possibly write here; it's a lovely place without the commercial feel of much larger seaside resorts, and for anyone holidaying in the Norfolk area it's well worth paying a visit. Photos of Sheringham can be found in my post from Friday September 12th 2014.

Tuesday April 21st 2015 - R is for Reedham

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

The village of Reedham in Norfolk is situated on the north bank of the River Yare, 12 miles east of Norwich and just over 7 miles south west of Great Yarmouth. Although not a big village it's quite spread out but for visitors the best part of it is Reedham Quay where Broads cruisers and other boats can moor up; backed by lawned areas with tubs full of brightly coloured flowers, and lined with pretty cottages, a tea room, shop and the Lord Nelson pub, it's a very pleasant place to spend an hour or two.

At the east end of the quay is The Ship pub and restaurant; with an abundance of flowers and ivy covering most of the front wall of the building and a pleasant garden bordering the river it's a great place to have a meal and a drink while watching the various cruisers going past. Not far from The Ship is the swing bridge which carries the Norwich to Lowestoft railway line over the river; dated from 1902/3 it's operated from a nearby signal box on the line, and in a typical year it can be opened as many as 1,300 times to allow yachts and other tall-masted leisure craft to sail through.

Just over half a mile from the west end of the quay and out of the village itself is Reedham Ferry, the only vehicle chain ferry in the Norfolk Broads area; it also forms the only crossing point of the river on the 20-mile stretch between Norwich and Great Yarmouth. The previous ferry was hand wound until early 1950 when it became motorised; the current ferry was built in 1984 and can, at a pinch, take three cars but normally only takes two. The chains are pulled up from the river bed when it's moving so anyone passing by boat should stop and wait for the ferry to reach the bank; it's not a long wait either, as the crossing takes less than four minutes from one side to the other. On the village side of the river, just by the ferry landing stage, is the Reedham Ferry Inn with a caravan and camping site to one side and a large patio area up on the riverbank where you can watch the river traffic while you dine and drink.

On the outskirts of the village is Pettitts Animal Adventure Park, a fascinating combination of domestic and exotic animals and birds, animals to feed and pet, rides and play areas and live entertainment aimed more at younger children. As you would expect, dogs aren't allowed in and unfortunately the only parking area is in a nearby large unsheltered field, so it wouldn't be wise for anyone with a dog to go there on a very warm day unless there was someone willing to stay outside with the dog.

So there you have it, Reedham in brief, and whether you get there by car or by boat it's definitely worth spending some time there on a sunny summer's day. Photos of the Reedham area can be found in my post from September 8th 2012.

Monday April 20th 2015 - Q is for Quiet and peaceful

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

Having the relative freedom to be able juggle my work hours and go camping at any time of the year and on any weekend I choose means that I can, if I wish, avoid the busiest and most popular times of the year when the school holidays kick in, and camp when it's much quieter. Although I do camp on bank holiday weekends when I know it will be busy I try to balance this out by camping early or late in the season and choosing sites which I know will be fairly quiet.

My regular site on Anglesey gets very busy to the point of being absolutely manic during late July and August, especially on the bank holiday weekend (think Glastonbury festival) but even then I can usually find a fairly quiet corner to pitch my tent. The two large camping fields at the Elvaston Steam Rally in July are very busy but I don't camp with the masses - I drive right across to the top end of the third field and pitch my tent in a corner well away from everyone else. That doesn't mean I'm anti-social - far from it - but with a very busy work life and a home close to a main road any peace and quiet I can get is very welcome.

Most of the sites I've stayed at so far, while always having that important quiet element, have still in some way had some form of background noise in the distance but there are four where peace and quiet are guaranteed - the site I stayed at on my very first solo camping weekend (no noise except sheep, hens, and birds in the trees), the camping field at the California site (nothing but the sound of the sea and seagulls),
the coastal site in the Scottish Highlands (sheep, birds, and gentle waves) and the one in the hills of North Wales where I recently stayed for the first time over Easter. With no tv signal, a very intermittent phone signal, and just the sound of the nearby river and waterfall and the birds in the trees it truly was quiet and peaceful - and at only two hours drive from home it's now at the top of my list of weekend escapes.

Saturday April 18th 2012 - P is for Portmeirion

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

''I am not a number, I am a free man'' - those were the words spoken by Number 6, the main character played by Patrick McGoohan in the late 1960s cult tv series The Prisoner, which was filmed at Portmeirion on the North Wales coast. Known only as 'The Village' throughout the 17-episode series, its inhabitants were all brainwashed nameless prisoners, identified only by numbers and controlled by the mysterious Number 2 - it was only Number 6 who had the desire and determination to escape. Portmeirion itself was only identified as the filming location in the credits at the end of the very last episode.

Set within 70 acres of mixed woodland on a private peninsula on the southern shores of Snowdonia, Portmeirion was designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis over a 50-year period from 1925. The Italian-style village, which pays tribute to the Mediterranean architecture which Williams-Ellis loved, is made up of around fifty buildings, most of which are used as hotel and self-catering accommodation for tourists. There are also shops, a tea room, cafe, ice cream parlour and a restaurant, and the building used as Number 6's home in the tv series is now a Prisoner-themed souvenir shop; many of the village locations used in the series are virtually unchanged to this day.

Down on the shore the bay is overlooked by the Hotel Portmeirion and the heated outdoor swimming pool, and along the promenade the Amis Reunis, a stone boat, is built into the quayside. Many years ago the original Amis Reunis was docked at the quayside but was shipwrecked following a very stormy night, and after failing to bring her back for repair Williams-Ellis decided to build a stone replica. From the promenade a coastal walk passes a few quiet sandy coves and a replica lighthouse then meanders up into the surrounding woodlands.

The Central Piazza is the main hub of the village, with the original tennis courts having been converted to the present-day gardens. Here you'll find, among other features, the Bristol Colonnade, the Gothic Pavilion, a statue of Hercules, a pond with a fountain and the lawn which played home to a giant game of chess in Episode 9 of The Prisoner. Visit during the spring and summer months and there'll be flowers everywhere; in ornamental tubs and pots, in flowerbeds and alongside the lawns, and with hydrangeas in full bloom the whole area is a riot of colour - backed by the brightly-painted walls of the surrounding houses and cottages the Central Piazza is a very pretty place to spend some time. 

Situated just outside the small coastal town of Porthmadog, Portmeirion is easy enough to get to, and though vehicles aren't allowed in the village itself there's a large pleasant car park just outside the entrance. For anyone holidaying in that area of North Wales a visit to this unique and slightly surreal village is definitely to be recommended; photos of Portmeirion can be found in my post from July 11th 2011.

Friday April 17th 2015 - O is for Oulton Broad

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

Oulton Broad is both a suburb of Lowestoft and a large expanse of water which is part of the Norfolk Broads system, although it lies just over the county border in Suffolk. Oulton village was once completely separate from Lowestoft but land, property and road development over the years has merged the village with the larger town and there is now no discernible boundary between the two. The village has restaurants, cafes, pubs, take-aways, the Wherry Hotel and just one main shopping street, and is served by two railway stations, one on the Lowestoft to Ipswich line and the other on the Lowestoft to Norwich line.

Oulton Broad itself is the most southern area of water in the Broads system; to the west it's linked by Oulton Dyke to the River Waveney and to the east is linked by a lock to Lake Lothing which passes through the centre of Lowestoft and opens into the North Sea, forming part of Lowestoft port.  A busy tourist and sporting centre, Oulton Broad is used as a base for boat hire and for a variety of water sports including yachting and powerboat racing. It's one of the few broads with adjacent residential properties, and the north side with its large detached waterside houses is one of the most expensive residential areas in the Lowestoft area.

On the eastern edge of the broad is Nicholas Everitt Park with its waterside flower-bedecked pedestrian boulevard where you can wander or sit and enjoy the picturesque views across the water. Also in the park are large grassy picnic areas, crazy golf, play area, trampolines, a small boating lake, bowling green, tennis courts, cafes, a bandstand and museum, and if you like decent coffee and home made cake then the Park Cafe is a good place to get it. Fishing enthusiasts are well catered for as bank fishing is possible at numerous spots around the broad and day boats can be hired to get out into deeper water and beyond; fish species include bream, tench, pike, rudd and carp and there are several tackle and bait shops in the area.

So whether you want to explore the area or just sit in the park and enjoy the view, on a sunny summer day Oulton Broad is certainly a very pleasant place to be. Photos of Oulton Broad can be found in my post from August 18th 2011.

Thursday April 16th 2015 - N is for Newborough forest and beach

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

Newborough Forest is on the southernmost corner of Anglesey, and at 2,000 acres is one of the largest publicly accessible forests in Wales and one of the most important red squirrel conservation sites in the UK. A large area of saltmarsh and mudflats borders the forest to the north west and provides wintering grounds for various wading birds and wildfowl, while to the east of the forest is Newborough Warren, a large sand dune system which harbours many rare and interesting plants and is home to a population of great crested newts.

There's a network of footpaths across the warren and through the forest to the beach, and the forest itself has many cycling and horse riding trails. There's also a Trim Trail, a designated walking/jogging route through the forest with eleven exercise equipment stations along the way. There are three car parks on the outer fringes of the forest and warren and a fourth down by the beach - access to that one is via a toll road which runs through the forest and has a £3 charge, though it's well worth it if you want to avoid the very long walk.

The beach itself is huge, stretching from Abermenai Point on the Menai straits in the east, past the sand dunes of the warren and the forest right round to Llanddwyn Island; on a clear day the views of the Snowdonia hills on the mainland are fantastic. You can walk off the beach straight onto Llanddwyn Island, though at times of high tide it actually does become an island so a visit there shouldn't be undertaken without knowing the tide times. 

On the island itself you'll find the ruins of St. Dwynwen's Church, a row of boat pilots' cottages - two which are restored and house a wildlife exhibition - an old lifeboat station and two lighthouses. The newer of these was built in 1845 and modelled on the Anglesey windmills, though it has been out of service for quite some time; the older lighthouse returned to service after a modern light was placed on top. The cliffs around the island support a wide variety of nesting seabirds, and a flock of Soay sheep and several wild ponies can be seen grazing near the chapel ruins. 

With several lovely sandy coves and superb views of the Snowdonia hills, on a sunny summer's day Llanddwyn Island has a beautiful and somewhat magical quality, and the photo opportunities make it well worth the mile long walk from the car park to get there. You can see some photos of the beach and Llanddwyn Island in my post from June 5th 2014.

Wednesday April 15th 2015 - M is for Menai Bridge

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

Designed by Scottish engineer Thomas Telford, the Menai (pronounced Men-eye) suspension bridge connects the island of Anglesey to mainland North Wales at the narrowest point of the treacherous and fast-flowing Menai Straits. Construction started in 1819 and ended in early 1826, with the bridge being officially opened on January 30th that year. With a limestone tower on each side of the straits, and held up by sixteen huge wrought iron chain cables, the 579ft long deck was suspended high enough to give 100ft of clear space below it to allow tall-masted ships to sail underneath, and at that time it was the biggest suspension bridge in the world. 

With the steady increase in traffic flow over the years the bridge has undergone several improvements in its time, including strengthening and road resurfacing, and in 2005 it underwent its first major re-painting in 65 years. The Anglesey Coastal Path passes below the bridge and on a clear sunny day, if you walk across the bridge on the pedestrian walkway you can really appreciate the views and get some great photos.

The old town of Menai Bridge on Anglesey lies alongside the straits, with newer properties and developments covering the hillside behind. The high street offers a variety of different shops and services and just out of the town centre, not far from the bridge, is a Waitrose supermarket with a Shell petrol station just down the road. Close to the bridge and down a hill is the Belgian Promenade which runs along a sheltered corner of the straits and has a causeway linking it to Church Island with its ancient church of St. Tysilio - walk up to the top of the cemetery and you get some great views of the straits and the bridge.

Head out of town towards Beaumaris and you'll find Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens - when the rhododendrons and azaleas are in full bloom the terraces and pathways are a riot of beautiful colour. For those who like fishing Llyn Y Gors fishing lakes can be found in the countryside above and just out of the town; with seven lakes, a small 12-pitch caravan and camp site and a handful of self-catering holiday cottages it makes a great place for a chill-out break.

So there you have it - a brief insight into Menai Bridge, and if you ever go there do take a walk across the bridge itself; it's worth it. Photos taken of the area and from the bridge itself can be found in my post from July 9th 2011.

Tuesday April 14th 2015 - L is for Llangollen

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

The small North Wales town of Llangollen is situated on the A5 by the river Dee and on the edge of the Berwyn mountains, and has a wealth of shops, cafes, bars, restaurants and places to stay. Just out of the town centre is Plas Newydd country house which was home to the Ladies of Llangollen during the late 18th/early 19th century, and which still has many of the Gothic features they introduced; the gardens surrounding the house are well worth visiting, especially in summer.

From the railway station by the river you can take the 9 mile ride by steam train to Corwen; the return fare isn't cheap but the scenery along the route is lovely. A few minutes walk from Llangollen station is the canal, where you can take a very peaceful and leisurely 45-minute horse-drawn boat trip or a 2-hour narrow boat trip, or you can walk west along the towpath to Horseshoe Falls where water is channelled from the river to form the start of the canal itself. A short drive east is the 126ft high, 1007ft long Pontcysyllte Aquaduct which takes the canal over the River Dee; there's a towpath and railing on one side of the aquaduct but nothing on the other side, so going across in a boat gives you the sensation of gliding along in mid air - definitely not to be recommended if you don't like heights. 

On an isolated hill high above Llangollen are the remains of Castell Dinas Bran (Crow Castle). On a clear day the views from there of the town, the Dee Valley and the surrounding mountains are stunning, but it's a long, very steep and strenuous walk to get to the top and not for the faint hearted; well worth it though when you do finally get there. A couple of miles outside the town is Valle Crucis Abbey, the remains of the last Cistercian monastery to be built in Wales; the site is also home to the only remaining Welsh monastic fishpond, although it was remodelled in the 18th century as a reflecting pool.

With Chirk Castle, Bala and its lake, Betws-y-Coed and Swallow Falls all within a reasonable driving distance, and coastal resorts not much further, the Llangollen area makes a good place to stay and I don't think anyone who visits will leave feeling disappointed. Photos of Llangollen and the surrounding area can be seen in my posts from Easter 2014.

Monday April 13th 2015 - K is for Knoydart

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

Knoydart is a peninsula situated between Loch Nevis and Loch Hourn on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands. Cut off from the UK mainland road network, access can only be made on foot or by boat from Mallaig. The rugged and remote landscape is one of the area's primary attractions and is very popular with many hill walkers, and a small little-known part of the coast was used in the film Ring Of Bright Water.

The main settlement area of Knoydart is the village of Inverie where the pier is located for boat access to and from the peninsula, and a variety of holiday properties can be found along the bay. In the village itself you'll find community shops, a post office, primary school, pottery and tea room, and The Old Forge pub, which is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as being the remotest pub in mainland Britain.

The land and sea around Knoydart provides a habitat for a great variety of wildlife; red deer, foxes, badgers, mountain hares, goats and three types of bat all have their homes on Knoydart. Buzzards can be spotted in woodland areas and Golden Eagles can be seen in the skies during the mating season. Otters can often be seen playing around the shores of the bay, and a day trip on a boat during spring and summer will give you sightings of large pods of dolphins. Porpoises, minke whales and basking sharks can be seen at certain times of the year, and there are also occasional sightings of the more elusive fin whales and killer whales. 

Knoydart isn't the easiest of places to get to, but for anyone who enjoys peace and quiet, isolation and stunning views it's certainly worth the effort.

Saturday April 11th 2015 - J is for Just wandering

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

One of the things I like about solo camping is the freedom to go where I like when I like, without having to consider the thoughts and opinions of someone else. Although I usually start each day with a definite destination in mind that's as far as any real planning goes - once I leave the tent I could end up anywhere between the camp site and the place I'm actually heading for. Many times I've been driving along a road to somewhere, seen a sign for a place I've never heard of or which sounds intriguing, and made a spur of the moment decision to veer off my route and follow the sign - and I've rarely been disappointed with what I've found.

When I do finally get to my chosen destination I'll find somewhere to park the van then just wander about looking for photo opportunities. My random wanderings have taken me down side streets, alleyways, lanes and footpaths, and I've discovered and photographed places I wouldn't otherwise have known about. In fact only a few days ago I was wandering round a harbour in North Wales when I saw a lane; I didn't know how far it went but I decided to walk along and see what was at the end of it. The lane eventually turned into a footpath which took me through a small hamlet of houses, and at the far side was a lovely sandy bay with colourful cottages and a stream running across the beach. I didn't find out until later what the little place was called but I got several good photos which I wouldn't otherwise have got, so it just shows that rather than having a definite plan or route in mind it often pays to go just wandering.

Friday April 10th 2015 - I is for In the footsteps of a photographer

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

I've stayed on Anglesey so many times since 1997 that a couple of years ago I'd got to the point where I thought I'd been everywhere and seen everything on the island, and I was seriously considering not camping there again for a year or two. That was until I bought a book - 'How to Photograph Anglesey' - and realised that there were many places that not only had I not seen, I wasn't even aware of. 

Written by a photographer who lives on the island, the book gives the locations of various places worth photographing, directions to get there, details of the best camera settings to use, best time of day and best position for each shot. It's such an interesting and informative book that I decided that I would follow in the author's footsteps and try to get my own identical shots of each location.

So I've continued to camp on Anglesey, and that book has taken me through fields, up mountains, along various lanes, paths and tracks. I've seen, and been to, several places I didn't previously know existed and got my own near enough identical photos of each place - and following in the footsteps of the photographer has given me some of the best shots I've ever taken on that island.


Thursday April 9th 2015 - H is for Happisburgh

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

Happisburgh - pronounced Haze-bruh - is a small village on the Norfolk coast, which, over the centuries and like Dunwich further south, has lost much land and many properties to erosion and the sea. On January 31st 1953 a north-west wind of over 110 miles an hour whipped up an exceptionally high evening tide which surged down the coast, smashing sea defences and flooding low-lying areas; a bungalow at Happisburgh which, at teatime that day had been 15ft from the cliff, was hanging over the cliff edge by the following morning. In 1958/9 steel and timber sea defences were built but in spite of those several high tides over the years since then have claimed more land and properties, in fact I've seen for myself the amount of land that's been lost since I first went there in the mid 1990s. In the last couple of years though new defences consisting of large boulders have been put in place, which will hopefully lessen the effect of high tides and slow down the rate of erosion.

The present-day village itself is quite an attractive little place and is home to the oldest working lighthouse in East Anglia, which is also the only independently run lighthouse in Great Britain. Built in 1790 the tower is 85ft tall and painted white with three red bands; the lantern is 134ft above sea level and gives out three white flashes repeated every 30 seconds, with a range of 18 miles. Saved as a working light by the local community, it is maintained and operated entirely by voluntary contributions, and is open to visitors on a certain number of days each year.

Also in the village is the 15th century St. Mary's church with its landmark tower which is 110ft high and 180ft above sea level. Open on regular days throughout the year, access to the top is by a steep and narrow 95-step spiral stone staircase which goes about two thirds of the way up, followed by a 38-step metal spiral. From the roof on a clear day it's possible to see 30 churches, 2 lighthouses, 7 water towers, 5 corn mills, 5 drainage mills, 2 wind farms, RAF radar station at Trimingham, Bacton gas terminal, the reefs at Sea Palling and the spire of Norwich Cathedral over 16 miles away. The climb up the tower is certainly a good test of heart and lung capacity but the views from the top are definitely worth it!

Wednesday April 8th 2015 - G is for Gwrych Castle

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

Gwrych Castle is a Grade 1 listed building set on a wooded hillside within a 4,000 acre estate on the outskirts of Abergele, North Wales. It was built between 1819 and 1825 on the instruction of the grandfather of the then Countess of Dundonald and had a total of 128 rooms, 19 towers and a 52-step marble staircase, with the whole of the front facade being more than 200 yards long. From 1894 until 1924 it was the home of the Dundonald family, then when the Countess died she left the castle in her will to King George 5th and the then Prince of Wales, but the gift was refused and the castle passed to the Venerable Order of Saint John. In 1928 the 12th Earl of Dundonald bought the castle back for £78,000 but had to sell the contents to meet the cost.

During World War 2 the government used the castle to house  200 Jewish refugees, then in 1946 it was sold on, leaving the Dundonald family and passing through several owners. It was open to the public for twenty years until 1985 and played host to many different events, including medieval re-enactments and banquets. In 1989 it was bought by an American businessman for £750,000 but his plans to renovate the building weren't carried out and it was extensively looted and vandalised, although in 1996 it was used as a backdrop in the film Prince Valiant, which starred Joanna Lumley and Edward Fox. In 1998 the castle was extensively damaged by the collapse of various ceilings and floors and was later further damaged by fire, reducing it to a derelict and dangerous ruin.

The castle was sold on again in early 2007, being bought by a hotel and property chain with plans to convert it into a 5-Star hotel, but the company was placed into administration; since then new developers have obtained fresh planning permission to convert the castle into a luxury hotel with 75 bedrooms and associated facilities. In 2014 the Gwrych Castle Trust, working in conjunction with the castle's current owners, started a 3-year project to renovate and restore the buildings surrounding the main castle and convert the old Melon House and conservatory into a visitor centre.

Within the castle estate is the 18-hole Abergele golf course and next door to it is the camp site where I stay. On a sunny day a traffic-free walk with the dogs up to the castle and back is a very pleasant way to pass some time and hopefully in the not-too-distant future I'll be able to see the castle restored to all its former glory.

Tuesday April 7th 2015 - F is for F.A.I.T.H

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

F.A.I.T.H is a small animal rescue centre situated on the outskirts of Hickling village in Norfolk. The charity had its beginnings in January 1994 after five dogs were found abandoned on the local marshes; with large vet bills to pay an appeal for help was published in a local newspaper, and from that article came several calls to help other dogs and cats. And so the rescue centre was born - the acronym F.A.I.T.H means For Animals In Trouble there's Hope.

The centre helps many different dogs for many different reasons - stray dogs, Death Row dogs, dogs with behaviour problems, dogs whose owners can no longer keep them when circumstances change, and those whose owners have sadly passed away. There's a non-destruction policy in place and no animal is ever put to sleep unless it's on the advice of a vet to end pain or suffering, and if a dog's behaviour makes it impossible to re-home satisfactorily then it remains at the centre for the rest of its life.

Although each dog has its own individual kennel with a small outdoor space they all have access to a large enclosed communal area where they can socialise and play together. There's also a communal cat house with home-from-home comforts including sofas, chairs and shelves with hidey holes, and a large enclosed run with a water feature, climbing frame and toys. Visitors are allowed in the cat house (but they must remember to keep the doors closed) and whenever I go to the centre I like to spend some time in there with the residents.

Dogs and cats aren't the only residents at the centre; there are pigs, sheep, goats, ponies, rabbits, ducks and chickens and a very pleasant hour can be spent wandering round and seeing them all. The centre is open from 11am to 3pm every day except Thursdays, and for me a visit to Norfolk will always include a visit to F.A.I.T.H

Monday April 6th 2015 - E is for Elvaston Castle

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

Elvaston Castle Country Park in Derbyshire is a picturesque estate featuring more than 200 acres of formal gardens, parkland and woodlands. At the heart of the estate is Elvaston Castle itself, a large country house designed in the early 1800s and based on the original house dating back to 1633. It was home to the Stanhope family for many years, then during World War 2 it was used as a teacher training college until 1947, after which it stayed mostly empty for the next twenty years. It was sold to the local county council in 1968 and in 1970 the estate was opened to the public as one of the first country parks in England. Unfortunately the building itself has been in a state of steady decline and disrepair, and due to its condition has been closed to the public since 1990.

Leading up to the castle is The Ride, a long, wide tree-lined grassy avenue where families can picnic or play ball games, and at one side of the building is a large formal garden with well-trimmed box hedges and trees cut into different shapes. At the other side is a large picturesque lake which you can walk all the way round, and there's a tea room in the rear courtyard. Buildings in the estate grounds include stables, kennels, several cottages, gatelodges, a Moorish temple, an ice house and a boathouse, and at the end of one of the tree-lined avenues are the ornate Golden Gates.

Every year, on the first full weekend in July, a large steam rally is held in part of the castle grounds, with a couple of fields across the lane making a temporary camp site. With old fashioned steam-driven fairground rides, vintage tractors and steam engines, stalls of every description and various demonstrations and displays in the main ring the rally has something for everyone. The highlight for me though just has to be the dancing diggers - five huge JCBs and their drivers, performing precision manoeuvres to music and tilting themselves over at alarming angles. Definitely a demonstration not to be missed! Some photos of Elvaston Castle and grounds can be found in my post from July 11th 2011.

Saturday April 4th 2015 - D is for Dunwich

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

Many centuries ago Dunwich in Suffolk was a large and thriving port town and the capital of the Kingdom of East Anglia, and at its peak had eight churches, two monasteries and even a mint. In the late 13th century three fierce storms and tide surges within a 12-month period destroyed the harbour and washed many properties into the sea; another big storm in 1347 swept about 400 houses into the sea, and by the late 14th century most of the town had been destroyed. Since then, continuing coastal erosion over the centuries, which is still advancing, has contributed to the loss of much of the land and many more buildings including all the churches, and the present-day Dunwich is now just a small coastal village backed by a vast heath and with a large shingle beach. A popular local legend says that at certain tides church bells can still be heard from beneath the waves.

In the village is the Ship Inn, a pub/restaurant with accommodation, and next door to it a small museum which charts the story of the city-town-village through the centuries up to the present day. Just out of the village is Dunwich Greyfriars, a ruined Franciscan priory; at one time this had a large graveyard on the nearby clifftop but constant erosion has ensured that most, if not all, of the graves and their contents have fallen onto the beach and been washed out to see. Take a walk along the beach just below Greyfriars and you may find various bones in the sand at the bottom of the cliff - in fact several years ago I personally found a human skull sticking out of the cliff just a few feet up off the beach.

There is a large free car park next to the shingle beach, and a cafe which serves good fish and chips. Dogs are allowed on the beach and there's a nice coastal path walk which runs for about three miles to the nearby village of Walberswick. Dunwich Heath is home to rabbits and deer (watch out for the adders!) and several species of birds, and from July to September the whole area is a patchwork of yellow gorse and pink and purple heather - well worth a photo or two.

Friday April 3rd 2015 - C is for California

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge

California in Norfolk is a small area where countryside meets coast about five miles north of Great Yarmouth. It owes its name to the discovery of some 16th Century gold coins on the beach by locals in 1848, at a time when the California gold rush in America had caught the attention of the world. I've been holidaying there since 1982 and it's one of my favourite places to camp.

The village, if you can call it that, consists of a handful of old fishermen's cottages on the clifftop, about three dozen chalet bungalows, a pub/restaurant, a small shop and a take-away. What would have been agricultural land many years ago has been turned into three large holiday sites with static caravans, chalets, amusements, shops and swimming pools, though in spite of these the area is still quiet. The camping field where I stay is right on the clifftop and is surrounded by fields and heathland, with a great beach just down below the cliff. Just up the road from the holiday sites is the larger area of Scratby which has gift shops, bistros, a small baker's shop, a general store and garden centre.

California is well-placed for access to other parts of Norfolk, especially the Broads, and the popular boating centre of Potter Heigham is only seven miles away. Local attractions within a short drive are too numerous to mention, but I'm sure that anyone who chooses to take a holiday at California won't be disappointed as there's lots to see and do nearby - after all, if I've been going there for over thirty years it must be okay!

** I'm away for a much-needed break now so any comments and replies to this and the next three posts will be published when I get back - have a lovely Easter everyone!

Thursday April 2nd 2015 - B is for Bolton Abbey

This post is part of the A - Z Challenge.

Bolton Abbey lies on the banks of the River Wharfe within a country estate of almost 30,000 acres in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. Its name derives from the ruins of the 12th Century monastery, now generally known as Bolton Priory, and the estate includes 8 miles of river, 84 farms, four Grade 1 listed buildings and various tea rooms, gift shops, cafes and refreshment kiosks. Bolton Abbey Hall, which was originally the gatehouse to the priory, was converted into a house by the Cavendish family who also own Chatsworth House estate in Derbyshire and Lismore Castle in Waterford, Southern Ireland. The estate is also home to the ruined Barden Tower which was once a hunting lodge and which overlooks the 16th Century Priest's House, which is now a very popular restaurant.

There are three car parks within the estate and the per-vehicle admission charge covers all three car parks so you can drive from one to another without incurring any extra charge. At the riverside across from the priory is a sandy beach and nearby are large stepping stones from one side of the river to the other - it can be quite a challenge going all the way across without getting your feet wet. In summer the riverside is a very popular place for picnics and barbecues, and the river itself has lots of shallow parts ideal for paddling. Kids both young and old can often be seen sailing down one particular section in or on various inflatables - in fact I did that myself several years ago, in a fluorescent pink inflatable armchair. It was brilliant fun!

The riverside paths are great for dog walking, and a visit to Bolton Abbey shouldn't be undertaken without a camera as there are many opportunities to get some lovely photos - you can see some of mine in my post from October 27th 2012.

Wednesday April 1st 2015 - A is for Anglesey

Welcome to my first post in this year's A - Z Challenge - fingers crossed I manage to get right through to the end of the challenge, and I hope you enjoy reading this and all subsequent posts.

Anglesey, the island which started my love of camping back in 1997, lies just off the north west coast of Wales and is connected to the mainland by the Britannia bridge and the Menai bridge. Low lying and very green, with 'mountains' spaced evenly over the north, the island covers an area of 276 square miles and almost three quarters of its inhabitants speak Welsh. It consists mainly of villages with just a few small towns, one of which has the longest official place name in Europe - Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantisiliogogogoch - and the port of Holyhead where Stena Line and Irish Ferries make regular crossings to Dublin and Dun Laoghaire in Southern Ireland.

The entire coastline of Anglesey is designated an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the 125 mile Anglesey Coastal Path, with its official start and end point at St. Cybi's church in Holyhead, follows 95% of the coast. The path passes through farmland, heath, woodland, salt marsh, dunes, cliffs and foreshore and caters primarily for walkers, although cyclists and horse riders can also use certain sections. The route is divided into twelve sections, and anyone who completes the full 125 miles is rewarded with a badge and a certificate recognising this achievement.

Inland Anglesey is home to a few natural lakes and two large man-made reservoirs which supply water to the island, though rivers are few and small. Wildlife on and around the island includes seals and porpoises which can be seen at various points around the coast, and two colonies of red squirrels. Ellins Tower near South Stack lighthouse is managed by the RSPB and provides a good vantage point for watching breeding colonies of sea birds on the nearby cliffs - binoculars and telescopes are provided.

There are many wide sandy beaches and smaller coves around the island which are ideal for families with kids, and sailing, wind surfing and jet skiing are popular water sports. There are too many attractions and places of interest to mention them all but they include a go-kart circuit, Anglesey Sea Zoo, Beaumaris Castle, model village and gardens, Marquess of Anglesey Column, Pili Palas butterfly and bird house, Amlwch Copper Kingdom, Plas Newydd country house, Anglesey Riding Centre and RibRide boat trips. Places to stay range from small B & Bs to larger hotels, and camping and caravan sites are plentiful across the whole of the island.

So there you have it - a brief guide to Anglesey, and if anyone wants to know why I love it so much then why not check back through the blog archives and look at the photos. Who knows - this post may even have inspired some readers to go there in the near future and experience this lovely island for themselves.