Our Close County Neighbours

Last week I described some of the features of Dorset’s iconic landscapes and seascapes and it’s easy to see why visitors to our lovely county flock here, not only in the summer but throughout the year.

Our neighbouring county to the west, Devon is also a popular tourist destination and we’d booked a few nights just over our county border, in tiny Axmouth, where we’ve stayed before. The site is in the heart of the village, facing the River Axe as it becomes an estuary flowing out to sea at the small town of Seaton. It’s easy to walk into Seaton from the campsite, by walking along the river and across a bridge. A new, road bridge has replaced a much older one, notable for being the first one constructed of concrete!

The site is much busier than it was the first time we came. It is in a wonderful position- not only having interesting views but also near to the two village pubs and bus stops. Across the other side of the River Axe we can see the cute, Seaton trams trundling backwards and forwards around the ‘Axmouth Loop’. I’m a sucker for a tram at any time, but these are restored, vintage vehicles, dinky, colourful and fun.

We head into Seaton and to the tram station. It’s a large, imposing building for such a small tram network! But of course it houses the ticket office, gift shop and is a station. A tram is about to leave, luckily an ‘open-top’, which gives a good view of the estuary mud flats and Seaton marshes. So we clamber up the narrow, winding steps and bag seats on top; soon we’re off, rumbling along a track that winds out of Seaton, past the old tram shed and along the river, where the tide is out and there are flocks of waders congregated on the muddy shores.

An occasional tram passes on the other side, sometimes waiting on a siding. There is one station along the way, in a wooded section, then we roll along to Colyton, where the track ends. The station here capitalises with [another] gift shop and a cafe. After a short turn around the gift shop there’s little to do except wait for the return tram to Seaton, which we do, rattling back the way we came.

We’ve booked to have dinner at the pub which adjoins our site, which is a result! Next day we take advantage of the bus service and go off to Lyme Regis, famous for ‘The Cobb’ and featured in John Fauld’s well known novel, The French Lieutenant’s Woman [also a film]. The Cobb is merely a part of the sea wall surrounding the harbour, but from the end there is a fine view of Lyme Bay. It’s a quaint, characterful town and although it’s crammed with visitors on this sunny afternoon I get a pang of nostalgia as it’s here we stayed 25 years or so ago when Husband and I first got together, taking a room and ‘The Red Lion’ in the High Street and striding out for one of our first SW Coast Path walks.

It’s heartening to see that The Red Lion still exists! For some reason our room’s en suite bathroom had a mysterious, bogus door. Stepping out of the bath, I wrapped a towel around myself and, curious to see where the door led, I opened it, just as people were walking along the corridor it accessed. I wonder who was more surprised?

Later, after dinner I remember we gatecrashed a disco being held by a group called The Buffaloes’, distinguished by hefty chains around their necks, but not by their dancing, as we were the only revellers gyrating on the dance floor. Some of them must have been passing our bathroom when, towel-clad, I opened the door. If they recognised me with my clothes on they gave no sign…

But we aren’t staying in the hotel this time, so it’s back to the bus stop and home to our lovely van-

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Exploring Unst

We set out from our base at Gardiesfauld, to explore the tiny island of Unst, which lies at the northern end of the Shetland Islands. Typical of the islands, Unst has no motorways, no dual carriageways or major roads. Most routes are single track, with passing places [if you’re lucky!]. Having said this, traffic is sparse. Just short drive away from our site is Muness Castle, small but relatively intact, sitting in an imposing position above the sea. We can walk around the structure and it’s quiet, with only one other couple stopping to look.

Like the other islands, Unst is littered with abandoned, ruined, stone cottages and in a nearby cove these buildings are everywhere, although the sole inhabitants of the bay now are Shetland ponies, skittish when we approach. Contemporary homes on Shetland are less glamorous; low, pebble-dashed houses, presumably easier to insulate against unforgiving winter weather.

There is also, scattered around the landscape much evidence of early settlements, with many remains of Viking long houses and burial mounds.

On a trip up to the north of Unst- the north of the north- at Baltisound, we happen upon Bobby’s Bus Shelter, a place of pilgrimage for tourists. Situated on a corner, it is embellished with all manner of creature comforts- a chair with a cushion, a TV [not real] bookshelves complete with books. There is even a ‘bus shelter visitors book’. Outside, a house-shaped box contains eggs and home-baked items for sale. A customer to the box informs me the bus shelter is customised each year. Inside the box there is a plethora of delicious baked items, from cheese scones to lemon drizzle cake. I choose a pack of cinnamon muffins for us, although finding the correst cash for payment is tricky. Tucked inside with the bakes is a cash box, open, with the notes and coins that customers have left. I’m humbled by the honesty of the customers and the trust of the baker. The muffins are delicious!

Baltisound also seems to be home to Unst’s one and only bar, although it’s an unprepossessing building. Beyond Baltisound we happen upon a replica Viking ship and a replica long house, immaculate and beautiful…and deserted! We have it all to ourselves.

Then we are up at the very tip of Unst and it feels remote, although there are a few homes. From the beach, we wind up a narrow track and around a bend to a car park at Hermaness Nature Reserve, above a rocky semi-island with a couple of houses that must be holiday homes. There are skuas nesting here and I spot what I think is a Lapland bunting.

Here on the islands I feel I’ve been transported back to a previous era, to a time when communities were small, people knew each other. The shops are community shops, packed from floor to ceiling with essentials. The pace of life is slow, the outdoors a precious resource for work and leisure. Each village has a community hall, essential for socialising. No other part of the UK I’ve visited is like this now, like the UK of my childhood, the 50s.

Our time on lovely Unst is up, but we’ve much more to see yet as we return to Shetland itself…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Orkney

Our ferry from Thurso to Orkney passes the island of Hoy, where the stunning stack of rock known as The Old Man of Hoy stands out from the cliff, looking surprisingly lifelike. Then we’re rounding the edge of the island and into the harbour at Stromness. The small harbour town fringes the circle of the bay and rises up the hillside behind, grey stone houses in a tangle of streets and steps.

Our site for the first night sits out on the entrance to the harbour. It’s a small site but in a great position. As each day winds down here, in midsummer the nights never get truly dark and it’s magical to see the daylit sky at 11pm or wake at 3am to light and birdsong. The weather is warm and bright and the sunsets beautiful.

Stromness’ narrow streets are paved with original slabs and while they aren’t pedestrianised, vehicles are few and far between. There is a collection of independent shops; no chain stores, no ‘Specsavers’ or ‘H&M’, rather some fusion second hand/handicraft stores and a few charity shops plus ‘The Rope Shop’.

We move on to Kirkwall, Orkney’s metropolis and administrative centre, where our site is in a convenient, central location.

Next day we are off to explore our area and to stumble upon plenty of interesting sights and places to visit. We lunch overlooking an island with a footpath causeway, flooded at high tide, a popular spot. There is a ruined palace, [The Earl’s Palace] at the tiny village, Birsay. We drive around the coast for more spectacular views in unbroken sunshine- not something we’d been expecting here. At home there is torrential rain and unseasonal low temperatures and it’s hard not to feel smug.

We make our way to the Ring of Brodgar, an ancient neolithic/ bronze age site. It’s a huge ring of standing stones, impressive as it stands on the hillside in splendid isolation. We’re lucky to be wandering around unimpeded by fellow sightseers, although there are a couple of ranger volunteers, desperate to impart their gems of knowledge.

Next day we set off for an exploration of the southern islands, Burray and South Ronaldsay, connected by road causeways. First to Mull Head, a nature reserve where a short path leads to The Gloup. A seacave collapsed and created a deep, rocky tunnel through which the sea can be glimpsed, a stunning sight. The sheer rock walls look man-made, pockets of thrift clinging and a meadow pippet strutting about, unconcerned by onlookers. On the cliff edge, fulmars are nesting and I watch while a male bird comes in to land and greet his partner with a series of cackles.

We drive down across a road causeway to look at the Italian Chapel, a tiny, exquisite church constructed from a Nissen Hut during the second world war by Italian Prisoners. It is beautifully maintained. As we inspect the painted ceiling and lanterns made from bully beef tins I try to imagine how it must have been for the Italians incarcerated here on Orkney. How different the winter must have seemed, the landscape and the culture!

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

A Fine Week for Devon

We reserved a table outside at The Ship Inn at Cockswood for 6.00pm, hoping that the sun would last long enough for us to be comfortable. In the event, although we’d selected a table that would catch the last rays, the wrought iron chairs, surrounding trees and an invading cloud thwarted any hopes of warmth. It was a good meal, but I envied those who’d had the forethought to bring cosy blankets to wrap up in. A chilly edge to the wind persisted.

Half way through our week exploring the Ex estuary we moved to the other side of the river, to a site called Prattshayes, joining a handful of vans and caravans in a field next to a small stream, presumably once a farm but now a holiday complex consisting of camp site and rental cottages. Less than half a mile up the lane lies the village of Littleham, a large community with two pubs. We wandered up in evening sunshine and had a beer in the garden of The Clinton Arms, although the menu wasn’t tempting.

Cycle fanatic van neighbours, older but clearly more sprightly, recommended a route along an old railway track to Budleigh Salterton, which we decided to tackle next day.

The first climb came up through Littleham village, then after some confusion about where the cycle path began we rode up…and up…

The path curved up through woods, occasional gaps giving glimpses of wonderful views over the Devon countryside and farmland. While it was never steep the gradient was relentless. I vowed not to get off and push as I had on the way to Dawlish and was relieved to make it to the top without walking and even with one or two gears left! Then it was the blessed downhill slope and a hopeless muddle of attempts to find the cycle path in the back streets of Budleigh.

At last we plunged down into the tiny town and to the pebbly beach, where a kiosk was doing brisk business in ice creams and coffees. Feeling that an ice cream might be deserved by now we indulged, then walked the bikes along the prom until we were back in town.

We followed up for our final day with a walk up and along the coast path via ‘Sandy Bay’ holiday park, memorable in that in must surely be the most vast array of chalets the world has to offer, [unless you, reader, know better?]. Once we’d crossed it, though, the coastal views were wonderful and we could loop back along the lanes and a footpath to our site without retracing our steps.

That was it for south Devon- until the next time- and somewhere I’ve never been…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

A Tiny Taste of Freedom

We are in Devon, south west England, just for a week. I’ve paused my antipodean travelogue for this diversion, mostly because any kind of change of scene is a novelty in these restricted times.

The 20/21 winter was long, difficult and gloomy, with its deluge of grim news and statistics pouring out day after day. It prompted a longing for at least some spring weather and lighter evenings. Nobody wants to wish their life away, least of all those of us with fewer years ahead, nevertheless I longed for spring. Now here it is; and with it a small loosening of the bonds that tied us.

We are re-aquainting ourselves with our campervan, which we have used for odd days out but not for an overnight stay since last summer. The weather is fine, with a cold-edged wind as we prepare and pack and I know for sure I’ll have forgotten items or will have packed entirely unsuitable clothing.

We sweep down and across our home county of Dorset following a route we’ve travelled many times but that always provides magnificent views of the Jurassic Coast and charming villages along the way.

We’ve had to begin reserving, planning and booking- a strategy we’re unused to employing as we usually travel on a ‘where shall we go today?’ basis, once, famously turning right at Bordeaux instead of left for the Med due to a forecast of snow, and landing up in the beautiful sunshine of Portugal instead.

Our first destination is in the village of Starcross, between Exeter and Dawlish, a farm site in a valley with a stream and a pond, beautifully laid out. We have a pitch overlooking the hens’ enclosure. It is warm enough to have coffee or lunch outside and I become fascinated by hen society; the way they move en masse from one area to another or individuals make sudden bursts of running for no apparent reason. When I approach the fence they all gravitate to me, presumably in hopes of food although I prefer to imagine it’s in greeting.

Having set up, we walk into Cockswood, a few minutes away, to sit in the outside area of The Ship pub for a drink and to reserve a table to have dinner next evening. There is just enough warmth in the sun for it to be comfortable.

We swing easily into van routine, sleeping well and waking to tea before morning chores; emptying and water-filling. There’s plenty of time to read, write or potter [Husband’s preferred activity] then after lunch we set off for our first, amoebic cycle of the year, towards Dawlish. I’ve got over my first cycle wobbles by the time we reach Dawlish Warren, a funfair and tourist spot which is seething with revellers, although my thighs are aching, but when we turn up towards Dawlish itself the hill proves too much and I have to alight and push. I’m alarmed! Is this the end for me and cycling?

Next day we stride out along the footpath towards Exeter, past Powderham Castle and the church then along the river bank towards the canal. we stop for a rest at the loch, where the pub is doing great business, most tables being occupied. We turn back and sink onto a bench, footweary by the coffee kiosk in Starcross for reviving tea and cake.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

The Travelling Sofa of 2020

We must not complain. It’s been my silent mantra this year. Be glad we are safe, well and adequately fed, live in a lovely home in a pleasant place. Nevertheless this has been the first year for almost thirty years we haven’t crossed the water to Europe and set off, meandering with no fixed plans and half an eye on the weather forecast.

We have, in fact holidayed during 2020. Way back in February, in what seems like a century ago we took the plunge and went off on our pre-booked, long-haul, winter sun trip to Thailand, to Koh Samui. We deliberated, yes, worried, yes, took advice, yes-and then went, carrying face masks, hand gel and all the paraphernalia we have subsequently become accustomed to. It was tricky; hot, suffocating queueing in Bankok airport wearing masks, but now I look back and am so glad we braved it. Our ten days was wonderful, with no virus on Koh Samui, everything relaxed and easy.

In the summer we were able to get away to UK destinations in our camper van, starting with a cautious outing locally, down the coast to Osmington near Weymouth. We became more confident and travelled to Suffolk for a couple of weeks, looking at a part of the UK we are unfamiliar with. Later on we stayed in Cornwall, the sites busy but safe so that the trip felt almost ‘normal’. All these trips are documented on Anecdotage in previous posts.

We have not planned any travel for 2021. Unlike many, I’m not expecting a miraculous transformation of our viral fortunes just because it’s a new year. We are consistently [and annoyingly] reminded that ‘the virus doesn’t recognise Christmas’ so why should it then recognise that the date has changed?

Instead I’ve daydreamed, ogled at and imagined all the places I’d still love to go, as yet unvisited or fond favourites we’ve returned to many times. Here then, in no particular order is my list.

New to us

* Canada. We went to Canada for a few hours, once, walking across the border at Niagara from the USA. Perhaps we’ve watched too many snowy landscaped serial killer thrillers [including the excellent ‘Cardinal’] during lockdown, but I feel myself drawn to those vast frozen expanses and opportunities to see bears and whales. A rail trip through the Rockies would make a wonderful addition to a visit, too!

*Likewise, Iceland. Without the polar bears and whales but with hot springs and a chance to see the Northern Lights, perhaps. Scandinavia has been another source of serial killer TV entertainment this year, with Iceland’s own, bleak contributions.

*Santorini. I’ve visited many of Greece’s gorgeous islands, but have still to set foot on Santorini, with its towering cliffs and nearby volcano. I believe it does suffer from heavy tourist footfall but this does not prevent me dreaming about standing and taking in those views with a stunning sunset.

*St Petersburg. I may be basing my desire to see St Petersburg on screenings of films like Dr Zivago, but portrayals of this iconic city look impossibly romantic.

*Rorke’s Drift. I’d like to visit this site, famous for a battle during the Zulu wars, for personal reasons. An uncle on my mother’s side of our family won the VC at the battle, for defending the place [which was a hospital and stores]. He is depicted in the film, ‘Zulu’. I’ve little interest in safari holidays, but this is a part of Africa that tempts me. I’d also be excited to go to the Victoria Falls, of course!

*In due course, the USA may become visitable again, now that a sensible choice of president has been made. I’d love to see southern states and also to explore more of the East Coast.

Old Favourites

*The Italian Lakes. In 2019 we made a late summer trip to Lakes Lugano, Como, Iseo, Garda and Maggiore. Every lake was sheer magic, each with its own character and features. Each lake was a wrench to leave-until we arrived at the next. The lakes are like a siren call, with their beguiling sunsets and abundance of art. Let me at them!

*Croatia. A stunning, unbeatable coastline and islands. And Dubrovnik is one of my favourite European cities. Then there is Plitvice-a world heritage lake site with astonishing waterfalls, an unforgettable experience.

*Romania. Strictly speaking it isn’t an old favourite, as we whisked through on our return from the Greek mainland, but the brief glimpses we got made me long to go back and explore properly. Transylvania next time!

*South West France. We’ve spent more holiday time here than anywhere else, so much that there is nowhere from Bordeaux to the Spanish border we havent been! But it is beautiful and feels like home each time we go.

There are countless more places-places I only visit on my travelling sofa. I can’t complain. Until we are set free again I’ll continue to sofa-travel-and maybe you, reader can achieve some sofa-trips of your own? Have a Happy New Year in whatever way you are able!

Autumn Getaway 2

When I am kept from sleep by a dull ache in my hips and knees I wonder why I’m so enthusiastic about walking the Cornish coast path and then I remember that a time is coming when I won’t be able to.

We move on from Batallack, near St Just, to a site with wonderful, dramatic views at Trethevy, near Tintagel. Tintagel always sounds as if it should be a settlement for an elven community and it transpires that there are Cornish influences in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It’s breezy but dry, as once installed, we set off to walk into Tintagel, short in distance and long in time. The descents and climbs begin quickly with a sharp drop from our camp site into a deep ravine and across a footbridge then up the other side with steps and slopes until we reach a gentle, upward field.

We reach the top of the field where a glimpse of a turret suggests Tintagel Castle but is, in fact a grand hotel, then we round the rocky headland and drop down again, this time for a view of the footbridge across to the castle, now a ruin and accessible only by reserving tickets from ‘English Heritage’. Foiled again, by our ineptitude in booking ahead!

We aren’t devastated. It’s another steep walk up to the village [on the road this time] passed by shuttle runs of land rovers taking sightseers down to the castle and back and those of us who walk it feel smug, if not achey, from gaining the top under our own steam.

We’ve a couple of hours to kill in Tintagel village, which we fritter by having tea then meandering in and out of gift shops and picking up a few things, which helps the local economy in these straightened times.

For once, we’ve been prepared and booked a table for dinner at the excellent ‘Olde Malthouse Inn’, a lovely old stone building in Fore Street. The meal is delicious enough to merit being Husband’s birthday dinner, even though there is still a couple of days until this milestone is reached. There is a relaxed ambience and we are not too out of place in our muddy walking gear. But we are saved from braving the soaring and plummeting coast path home by an elderly, jovial taxi driver who proudly declares he’s never set foot on the coast path.

Next day it’s our last walk, in the opposite direction to Boscastle, famously devastated by floods in 2004. The walk is mostly undulating but punctuated by steep steps in places. We climb to the coastguard lookout in a white tower, where it feels like the top of the world, then down into Boscastle’s tiny harbour, now restored and lined with tourist shops.

Further up there are cafes, pubs and a smattering of shops. It only remains to find the bus stop for our return to the site, where a visiting fish and chip van is the main attraction of the day!

Goodbye Cornwall, for now. But we’ll be back!

Autumn Getaway

I’ve returned from time-travelling travel to present day travel for this week’s post.

It occurs to me that we, [that is to say, Husband and myself] have not got the hang of this Covid thing at all. Yes-we are practised in the art of mask-wearing. Yes-we wash our hands lots. Yes-we keep our distance [not from each other, you understand]. Yes-we don’t throw big parties. But we haven’t got to grips with planning ahead, reserving, booking and being organised.

We have come west to Cornwall, via Dartmoor in Devon, where we stayed at a pub campsite and took advantage of the hearty meals on offer. Our departure was delayed due to Biblical quantities of rain which penetrated our house roof [again]. But that is another story. The rain has turned from relentless deluge into squally, intermittent showers punctuated with gusts of wind, a marginal improvement, although I wouldn’t volunteer to swap places with the occupants of the two tents on the site.

We head off in the morning, making for St Just, beyond Penzance, which is towards Cornwall’s ‘toe’ and on the Atlantic coast. But we aren’t in a hurry and having picked up home-made pasties in a farm shop we attempt to park in Launceston without success then find a picnic area where we can stop, make coffee [a distinct improvement on the kiosk Nescafe from yesterday] and continue on our way. After a blustery drive we stop for a break and spot a castle perched on a hill, poking up behind a field. It is, of course, St Michael’s Mount, twin of French Normandy’s Mont St Michel.

It’s years since I visited St Michael’s Mount. We decide to take a detour. When we reach Marazion, the tiny town that faces the mount, the car parks are choc-a-bloc and having been denied access to the National Trust park we have no choice but to pay a steep £8 to park in the ‘alternative’ one.

Then we battle our way across the cobbled causeway towards the Mount, sandblasted and peppered with rain, but when we get to the threshold there are NT staff in masks checking tickets and there is nothing for it but to turn back. We fight our way back across the causeway, mercifully still not breached by the waves and have a stroll up through Marazion, which, though pretty enough is upstaged by St Michael’s Mount sprouting from the broad beach in a dramatic fashion.

We return to the car park where we feel smug making a cup of tea to utilise our £8 fee.

We head off to our pre-booked site at Batallack, near St Just and a few strides from the coast path. The owner is amenable, the site pleasant, with a smattering of occupants.

Next day is cloudy but dry as we set off to walk along the coast path towards Pendeen, where we can get a bus back to the site. As soon as we reach the path the scenery is rugged, rocky cliffs falling steeply down the sea and peppered with the remains of chimneys and wheelhouses from all the old tin mines, all of which have been at least partially restored. The path dips and rises, providing some stiff climbs and descents. In one cove the rocky cliffs are striped with green where arsenic has leeched from the old mines.

After a couple of hours a dank October drizzle sets in, soaking us as we climb steeply up towards the road to Pendeen. We reach the village, legs aching, and scan the main road for a bus stop. The map app on Husband’s phone has disappeared so having spotted a car park sign I make the assumption this is the village centre and we make for it, nipping into the village pub to confirm we’re en route. Sure enough there is not only a bus stop but a shelter! and a few minutes later the double decker ‘coastal breezer’ comes around the corner to take us back to our site. Bliss!

The Power and the Story

A chance meeting with neighbours on our site at Felixstowe, who’d recommended a site to us, had sent us scuttling back to the coast at Sizewell. Sizewell was an old fishing village once. Now it is better known for accommodating a notorious nuclear power station, Sizewell ‘A’, now decommissioned and encased in 3 metres of concrete. Sizewell ‘B’ sits next door to this huge, grey, man-made monolith and is sky-blue with a white dome, like a space-age cathedral. On arrival to Sizewell I experienced an irrational frisson of trepidation, perhaps brought on by a recent viewing of the hit series, ‘Chernobyl’.

Sizewell ‘C’ is now on the agenda, unpopular with many, judging by the signs dotted around the surrounding villages.

An extensive wind farm, Greater Gabbard was just about visible on the horizon out to sea. Once we were installed at our site and settled outside the bar, [which overlooks the wild beach], I eavesdropped on a neighbouring conversation in which a woman expressed vitriolic hatred for the wind farm, barely visible even on this clear, sunny evening. To her near left the twin power stations rose up menacingly, compounding the irony of her invective.

But despite the power monsters in their varied forms, this is a wonderfully wild and unspoilt piece of coastline, rich in wildlife. There are extensive marshes, forests and beach habitats. At the entrance to the beach car park a jaunty cafe, ‘Sizewell ‘T”, was doing a roaring trade in chips and ice creams.

It is a popular spot for locals and the touring section of our site was busy with a steady stream of visitors, although the shower blocks are closed.

We strode out along the beach, the weather clear and balmy and then down into Thorpeness, a cute, coastal village, thronged with visitors on this sunny afternoon. The village boasts a ‘mere’. Here was the original ‘Wendy’s House’ of J M Barry fame, also an immaculate windmill and the famous ‘house in the clouds’, which can be rented for holiday stays.

Aldeburgh is supposedly a simple cycle away from our site, though the path morphed from flat tarmac to rutted, sandy track in no time. Again, the town was busy with tourists, too many for the High Street pavements to cope with. It’s a pleasant seafront with fish smokeries and a broad, green swathe on which stands the ‘Moot House’, a half-timbered building housing what must be a tiny museum.

It took longer to queue for the checkouts at Aldeburgh’s High Street co-op than to explore its two or three streets. Provisions were running low and Sizewell is short on grocery stores [there are none].

Next day, with the promise of rain on our last day we cycled again, this time to Dunwich. The route was hilly, a surprise for the knees. Dunwich is a minute village, one street of cottages dominated by a pub/hotel, but with a cafe and kiosk near the beach. There is also a ruined abbey and a museum of sorts. Taking what Husband termed a ‘short cut’ back to our site at Beach view, we found ourselves in the National Trust reserve. ‘Strictly no Admittance without Tickets’ stated the sign as Husband rode through, oblivious. A second turning before the entrance booth took us along a heather lined track. ‘No Horses, no Bikes!!’ proclaimed the sign, which Husband peddled past, heedless. After several wrong turnings we arrived at a ‘kissing gate’ and were obliged to manhandle the bikes through it by up-ending them.

Our last day at Sizewell dawned humid and drizzly. After lunch we walked, taking in the beach and a dripping forest, sweltering in rainwear; and returning to our site for tea and cake.

Unknown Territory in our Back Yard

Four years of my childhood were spent in north Norfolk, in the environs of ‘The Wash’, a flat, featureless, agricultural landscape devoid of trees or anything of interest. You would only consider holidaying there if you were an obsessive ‘twitcher’. The Wash has a large population of water and shore-loving birds.

Other than this area, I know little of the area of the UK known as East Anglia, the part that sticks into the North Sea like a rounded carbuncle and boasts the largest container port in the UK, Felixstowe, in Suffolk. The town is also a seaside resort of the traditional British kind, with an abundance of fish and chip shops, ice cream vendors and gaudy amusement arcades. If you look along down along the handsome promenade from the north end, towards the pier you will see the pier head and rows of tall, port pylons rising above it. It makes for an interesting view.

Looking for hitherto unexplored parts of our island we stop at a site here, near enough to hear the cranes grinding and clanging at night as they reach down for each container and hoist it up high on to the impossible stack of the ship that is to transport them somewhere.

Next day we cycle through the nature reserve on a stony track dotted with clumps of hardy sea cabbage and when we reach the end the giant ship with its towering cargo is almost within touching distance, rearing up behind a shingle beach scattered with bathers and sunbathers.

Away from here, back at the seafront, the prom and gardens are pristine monuments to tourism, without a trace of irony. After a cycle northwards up the coast we take a ferry ride across the Orwell estuary, a staggering £12 return for a 2 minute voyage! But the last ferry returns at 5pm and we’ve scarcely half an hour’s cycling. When we get back the cafes and kiosks have closed.

On a patch of grass by the prom we can sit in the sunshine with a beer and watch the container ships queuing to get into port. Later we dine at the Steak and Lobster Restaurant, taking advantage of the cut-price, early weekday deal the government has provided, though we need no motivation!

The UK weather unleashes its predictable inclemency and a whole day is spent confined to van, writing. Valuable but not physically tiring enough to allow sleep.

Unable to reserve nearby sites we are forced outwards to Hertfordshire, to spend 3 nights outside the county town, which is ok, since neither of us has visited before. A late afternoon stroll around the town in the sunshine is enough to see the place-a pseudo castle, one or two historic buildings and a welter of pubs besides the usual high street carrying the usual stores.

But it does have a creditable cycle path along the Herford canal, continuing along the River Lea, and with a dry-ish day we spend a few hours cycling the tow path, past more narrow boats and barges than I’ve seen on one stretch, ever. The water is busy with river revellers, shouting, splashing, occupying locks, attempting to open/close locks, or [for those whose boats are their homes] pottering on their rooftop gardens and undertaking repairs.

Later, in a quiet, more picturesque part of town we find ‘The Barge’, a beautiful old pub by the canal offering splendid food in a lovely setting.

Then it’s time to move back East…