Camping in the British Summer – not all is ‘tickety-boo’

It had been many years since my last camping trip. It involved hours of trying to set up a tent, many tangled tent poles, food out of tins, lots of mosquitoes, campsite fires, lots of laughter and a whole in the ground as a toilet (it was in France). It wasn’t altogether terrible but something I’ve been less inclined to do the older I get.
But when two friends from Germany approached me and said they would do a tour around “my island”, intending to stay in Wales for a while and if I’d liked to join them for a weekend, I jumped at the opportunity. Because this would be “first class camping” – they own a motorhome.

myn y don

Myn-Y-Don Caravan Park

So one Friday after work they picked me up and we made our way to a beautiful caravan park right underneath Harlech Castle (And the poshest one I’ve ever been to, too. No holes in grounds on this one, I can tell you.) The sun was shining, although being a British summer it was not really warm, we had a formidable corner plot, the views were stunning and our neighbours were quite pleasant too. I learned how to fill up the fresh water tank, connect the electricity, dump grey water and most important of all, how to operate the steps at the door because otherwise it is a really long way down or up. And you quickly get accustomed to the motorhome swaying from side to side like a boat every time somebody enters it or turns around in their sleep at night. But that was fine.

We set up our table and chairs, started a BBQ and with a glass of wine (or two) had a lovely evening.

The next morning we started to have “little episodes” (“Episödchen” for you German speaking readers). That’s what we called the short rain showers that were occurring. So we stayed put until the sun came out and then made our way to Harlech Castle. The castle is a medieval fortification and sits atop a rock. The sea originally came right up to the bottom of the rock but now the shoreline is a short walk away. It was built by Edward I during his invasion of Wales in the late 13th century. It is an impressive sight to behold.

Unfortunately for us, our “little episode” had a come back and turned into quite a substantial one. To make things even worse it was accompanied by quite strong winds. We tried to hide within the walls but gave up after a while and returned to our motorhome. Obviously, half way down the hill, it stopped raining and the sun greeted us with all its might. After some drying off, a cuppa and a short nap (we’re not getting any younger) we went for a pleasant walk along the beach. The views and the light were spectacular and you could see for miles.

But that was all the summer we were getting. During the night it started raining in earnest accompanied by an unrelenting wind. My friends weren’t too impressed, given the fact that the whole previous week hadn’t been too glorious. So they did the one thing you can easily do with a motorhome – they rebooked their ferry, packed up, checked out, dropped me off at home, did some washing at my place and departed for France. They were enjoying ‘proper’ summer sunshine 24 hours later.

This was my adventure with ‘camping’ in Britain. Not sure I will repeat this anytime soon unless it is in the comfort of a motorhome or caravan.

The one thing I can recommend though is Harlech and the Myn-Y-Don caravan park. Having been in Harlech for the last time 10 years ago, I was relieved to see that the village hasn’t lost its charme and the castle entrance and visitor centre are much improved. The castle setting is one of the finest in North Wales and the beautiful village of Portmeirion and the busy beaches of Barmouth are not far away.

Hidden gems of the Llŷn Peninsula – Plas yn Rhiw and Pernarth Fawr

You have to be a bit determined to get here. Tucked away on the southern coast of the Llyn Peninsula and after a couple of miles on narrow lanes, you reach one of Wales’ prettiest manor houses – Plas yn Rhiw. The 17th century Tudor/Georgian style manor house and terraced garden overlook the beach of Porth Neigwl, Cardigan Bay and Llŷn Peninsula in Gwynned, northwestern Wales. The history of the estate goes back even further to neolithic times and today is under the care of the National Trust .

Now, when you hear manor house you might think of stately homes with columns at the front, lion flanked stairs leading up to an impressive entrance and big windows through which you can see rich paintings and chandeliers. A Welsh manor house in a location like this is somewhat smaller and more solid build but what it might lack in size and grandeur it sure gains in atmosphere and charm. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take any photographs inside but let me show you around the grounds.

The 17th century house was built for a descended from a ninth-century King of Powys and from there passed through the family until 1874, when it was bought and occupied by a series of tenants.
After being abandoned it was finally acquired by the Keating Sisters in 1939 who restored the building and recreated the garden. Big supporters of the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales, they donated the surrounding land of the estate to the National Trust in 1946 and Yn the rest of the property in 1952.

After indulging in a cream tea we headed back home (I was travelling with my parents) when my dad said: “Oh, what’s this with a star on the map, shall we stop there?” (See, that’s one of the perks about travelling old-style with a map instead of a naviagation system, you notice things you otherwise wouldn’t.) It was Penarth Fawr, a medivial hall house with thick stone walls, high ceiling and beautiful timberwork. Today it is under the care of Cadw and was definitely worth our little detour.

 

Ness Botanic Gardens

Usually, late March wouldn’t be my preferred time of year to visit a botanic garden but it was a glorious spring day (and Mother’s Day on top of that) so I made my way to Ness Botanic Gardens.

The brainchild of Liverpool cotton merchant Arthur Kilpin Bulley, he began to create a garden in 1898 and thus laid the foundations for one of the major botanic gardens in Britain. He sponsored expeditions to the Far East, believing that Himalayan and Chinese mountain plants could be established in Britain. After his death in 1942, his daughter presented the Gardens to the University of Liverpool. Apart from some fascinating plants, it features different habitats like a Rock Garden, Water Gardens, The Spinney, Wildflower Meadow, Azalea Walk, Herbacious Lawn and much more.

But without further ado – let the garden do the talking…

Waun Y Llyn, Hope Mountain

The ‘mountains’ in Wales might not be the highest ones ever but they sure offer spectacular views. And Hope Mountain in Flintshire is no exception.

I started my circular walk in Coed Talon, trying to include some local industrial history along the way. From the Railway Inn, I followed the disused railway line towards Llanfynydd. What is now a quiet and peaceful wildlife corridor including Wood Pit, a wetland nature reserve, was once part of the Mold-Brymbo railway line and a very noisy and bustling place. The area was heavily mined and trucks transporting coal, oil and stone from the nearby works and mines used the tracks. A far cry from the sound of birds chirping away and woodpeckers that greet you now.

hope mountain railway

If it looks manmade, it probably is. The disused railway line.

A far cry from the sound of birds chirping away and woodpeckers that greet you now.

After leaving the old railway line it was uphill to the top and Waun Y Llyn Country Park.

Waun Y Llyn has always drawn people up here. The panoramic views over Snowdonia, Liverpool and far beyond are amazing especially on a sunny day like this.

People used to take a bracing walk up here from the fashionable spa in Caergwrle 100 years ago. Though it would have been less peaceful up here back then.

 

hope mountain stone stile

Love this kind of stile: hole on the left for dogs, steps on right for humans

 

In the 19th and early 20th century, the hard silica sandstone of Waun Y Llyn was quarried and taken down the hillside by tramway to Coed Talon where it was ground into silica powder, used in glass making. Millstone grit was also quarried from the mountain and used for buildings and millstones for mills int the Alyn Valley below.

 

hope mountain winding top

Remains of the stone base of the top winding house.

hope mountain winding house

Winding house at the bottom

 

Of views and greens in London

I think there are two ways of really getting a feel for a city: walking its streets and public parks and viewing it from above. But being my parents’ daughter I am not one to spend a lot of money on these things if I can get them for free instead (so sorry, no pictures of a helicopter ride). Fortunately, walking is free but then only half the fun in the rain on a cold January day.

So instead I headed inside for some luscious greens at one of London’s best kept secrets – the Conservatory at the Barbican. This hidden tropical gem actually the second biggest Conservatory in the city and features over 2,000 species of tropical plants and trees and even some exotic fish. The conservatory was built as an “add on” to disguise the theatre’s fly tower (where sets are stored) and manages to incorporate the structure in clever ways. There are bridges and balconies to explore and some of the plants you might even recognise from your own home, though they are enormous in here. Who would have thought there is such a fine green oasis hiding amidst this brutalist concrete structures. Entry is free but the conservatory is only open on certain dates so check their website in advance.

 

One of my other favourite indoor green spaces is the Sky Garden at the top of 20 Fenchurch Street (locally also known as the “Walkie-Talkie“). And best of all, it combines a garden with spectacular views (depending on the weather obviously). The Sky Garden features three storeys of exquisite public gardens including an open air terrace. 155 meters up, the Sky Garden begins at level 35 and gives you a 360-degree view of London. Entry is free but spaces are limited and you have to book in advance!

Last but not least on my list of best views has to be one of its latest additions – the new Switch House at the Tate Modern. The top floor features an open viewing terrace and though it might “only” be 10 levels up, it certainly gives you good 360-degree views of the London skyline. Access is free but you might have to queue for the lift during busy times.

And I even managed to fit in a short walk along the banks of the River Thames.