Monday, 19 September 2016

France or Pembroke??

15th September 2016 
Decisions!! We were undecided where to go for a holiday this year, now the children have gone back to school and the holiday areas are quieter. We thought France then looking at the cost - £350 to get the van over there + road rescue+ personal insurance+ extra van insurance, along with the hassle of early ferries and 4 hours twiddling thumbs across the water, we decided to visit an area of Britain we had not been to before, Pembroke. This would work well coinciding with a visit to share Twin grandson’s birthday at the beginning of September.
So it was 3 nights first of all at ‘Briarsfield’ at Cheltenham, a site we seem to have spent most of the summer on, surprisingly relatively quiet this time. We had the Friday visiting Cheltenham, lunch out etc.( I did manage a 7 mile run whilst here]

Saturday was Twins Birthday, so party lunch and lots of present to unwrap, which the granddaughter enjoyed as much as the twins!!! Our Daughter came up as well so it was a nice family lunch, shame our eldest son couldn’t make it, although he was in the area earlier in the week whilst Bramble the dog took part in dog agility down the road.

Sunday saw us driving over the welsh countryside through Monmouth, Abergavenny, the heads of the valleys road [Much construction work to improve it] to Merthyr Tydfil, Neath on to the M4 to Carmarthen before heading down towards Tenby and our destination Freshwater East and its Caravan Club campsite,
The campsite was in a great position just a couple of hundred yards from a spectacular Beach, with a beautiful curved bay. Our first test on parking up was to put up our new drive away awning; I had put it up once at home to try it out. It was simple to put up with the poles already in place, just needed extending and then fitting the flysheet over the top and connecting to the van. We were soon sat in the sunshine with tea and biscuits in a good position, a grassy pitch.
The awning gave us more space, and somewhere to sit other than in the van, somewhere to store the chairs, rain jackets etc. After an evening meal of sausage casserole we had a stroll down to the beach, the tide was out and there were lots of people around, I assume from a nearby chalet park, but busy to say the children were back at school. It now turned chilly with a mist rolling in from the sea, making it quite damp.

Day 1 [Monday] we headed for Tenby, despite the weather being very foggy and damp, but very warm. Parking was easy, unusual for the van, as we were on the edge of Tenby near the park and ride. Cheap too!!
It was a good 20 minute walk to the front. There was a low cloud over the cliffs, the views over and around Tenby were wonderful. We walked round lifeboat stations [new and old] and then onto the town and managed to find a nice café for our coffee. We sat a while, phoned our Grandaughter after her first day at school, all went well!!!!
Lunch was back at the van, with homemade rolls…… after several hours around the town looking at the sites we headed back to Freshwater and camp. The weather was changeable, wet, windy and sunny!!!  The awning was a little flappy and noisy in the increasing wind, not a good sign, especially as gales were forecast later in the week. We did end up taking it down the next day as high winds were forecast for the next night. I didn’t want to damage the van if it broke loose.

                                            A Misty Tenby

Day 2 we spent walking over to Stackpole Quay, which according to local signposts was 2.9 miles away. Weather was good, hot at times in the sunshine. The views as we walked along the coast were stunning, the path right on the edge. We had taken a packed lunch, which we ate at the quay before testing the tea in the National Trust café!!!
The quay is very strange, a lovely spot once used to export limestone from a local quarry at the ‘big house’ to support the estate. Well worth a visit.
It was hot walking back and the hills we came down seemed steeper on the way back up so were glad when we got back to the camp, kicking off shoes and putting the kettle on. The site was full again, a sign of all the older people on holiday now children are back at school. The toilets were the usual CC standard, spotless!

           Stackpole Quay
Freshwater water bay
 Path to Stackpole
 Tenby in the sun
 Tenby in the sun
 New Awning

Day 3. I was up before it got light with the intention of running along the cliffs in the direction of Stackpole Quay, not sure I would go all the way. It was still getting light as I left Mrs IanB asleep in the van. The campsite was deserted I ran down the lane to the bay before heading up onto the cliffs and around the first Headland Trewent Point. It was wet underfoot as autumn dew was now coating the grass. The views across the deserted bay were stunning, the weather looked promising as I ran along the cliff edge, it’s a rolling route, the downs being a little slippery with the mud, so extra care needed. Occasionally I was covered in spider’s webs! That had carefully been constructed overnight; I expect to catch their breakfast!!! Don’t know what they made of some oaf, crashing through them at 6:30 in the morning, The sun was now starting to show through, but a chilling breeze kept me cool as I reached each little rise on the route I soon got to Greenala Point a lovely hill fort that was quite steep, it was a strange feeling when I stood there for a drink, taking in the atmosphere, all those years ago people lived there! I was the only person around, but was only 6:30 am!  I could see Stackpole Quay but decided it was time to turn round and return the way I had come, down the slippery descent and back along the roller coaster route. When I got to Trewent Point the sun was out and the views were even more beautiful, the curve of the bay and the surf rolling in. Back to the van, still few people are around, dog walkers mainly 5 miles covered so I was pleased with that. A nice shower and a breakfast in the sunshine before sorting the van to move on once more.
 We were to depart to St Davids further down the Pembroke coast, but after packing up the weather was beautiful, we decided to head back to Tenby to see it in a better light, we weren’t disappointed, it was beautiful, beaches, cliffs and the town free of traffic after 11 am. Tenby is a place we will visit again I am sure.
We then pointed the Van towards St Davids the smallest city in the UK, we didn’t realise how small it was. Haverford West came and went, although there were great views over the River Cleddau as we crossed the toll bridge and we soon got to our next site CC site near Whitesands Bay, little winding narrow lanes to get there after St Davids.
We pitched up on a very open site, also a very busy site again, apparently full for the next few days. I was pleased we got there early to give some choice, although there was no shelter, from the wind. Reviews of the site had said it was an exposed site! We put up the awning with some difficulty in the winds. The kettle was soon on and we were able to sit in the sunshine, even in the stiff breeze. We were also some distance from the toilet block.

Day 4, a bright sunny day dawned, even though again there was a stiff breeze. We walked the several miles into St Davids, passing the splendid ruined Bishops Palace on the way in an then the Cathedral, not quite as exotic as Exeter or Durham etc., but lovely in its own right. There were no stained glass windows, and it was very basic in comparison to others. WE peeped round the door to look in, it did say a donation for up keep would be welcome, but inside the door it asked for £2 each and there was a person to greet you, not quite our cup of tea. Never the less a lovely place, lots of other visitors around, well cared for, I thought the Bishops palace ruin more impressive!!
We walked into St Davids, a ‘one street and square city’ but a lovely place, we had taken a flask of coffee so sat on the square in the sunshine  and enjoyed the atmosphere, a small craft market was also there.
After a walk around the ‘city’ which didn’t take too long we were starting to feel a hungry. After looking around we decided to give the ‘Bishops’ pub a go, nice menu and several veggie options, the atmosphere was good a mix of tourists and locals, we ordered Welsh Rarebit with a salad plus of course our side bowl of chips! It was delicious, and plenty of it, washed down with a pint of bitter shandy. A satisfying lunch, it was quite bright when we stepped out into the sunshine as it was a typical low ceiling, beamed village pub, quite dark inside. We were soon re tracing our steps back past the Bishops ruin and the cathedral and into the lanes leading back to the campsite, a good couple of miles each way.
The evening weather forecast was for gales and heavy rain and the wind had already started to pick up as we got back to the van, so I decided to take down the awning as it was already flapping around where it joined the van, I think I have discovered that it’s a very nice awning in good weather, but when the wind rises it’s not the best, even with extra pegging, [I will do a separate review of the awning later]
It was a rough night with heavy rain and winds, I saw several people adjusting awnings to cope with conditions, the wind was even making the van rock at times, I was a little worried about being parked on the field, and getting stuck, however, this was unfounded as the drainage seemed particularly good and a good under soil, perhaps after the dry summer.
 Whitesands Bay near St Davids
 St Davids Cathedral
 Rainbow over the campsite St Davids

Day 5 The weather overnight had eased by morning but it was forecast to be a damp and windy day. We decided it was a driving about day, so we planned to visit Haverford West with its castle etc.  The drive over was easy, parking was a little more difficult, especially with the van, but we managed to park below the castle. We walked up, but it was a disappointing visit, everywhere looked run down and needed some TLC. The town was a nice little town with a splendid new shopping centre next to the river; sadly this was also a little run down. The main street looked as though it had been quite prosperous at one time. We struggled to find anywhere to eat so settled on sandwiches back at the van later. We left Haverford and went on to Little Haven, another sweeping bay, we parked and walked out on the beach, again a few hardy surfers and dog walkers around, but a beautiful spot once again. We finally made our sandwich whilst in the car park overlooking the bay.
The drive back was uneventful, passing Newgale Sands once more, very similar to Little Haven with its broad sweeping bay of sands. The campsite adjacent to the road was now a small lake, so glad I wasn’t camping there. It was also raining again!!

Day 6 The weather eased, the next day and it was another walk day. We planned to take coffee round to St Davids Head which was about 2 miles away round the coast. We walked down the road to Whitesands Bay; surfers were already queuing up for the right wave to come along. We stood for a while and watched. It was then a steady climb up and around the coast with spectacular views of Ramsey Island etc. We even managed to spot a family of seals on a secluded beach, the two babies lounging on the rocks whilst, mum and dad kept a watch from the sea. occasionally coming out of the water to check on their off spring.
St Davids Head is a lovely spot, fantastic views around the bay, even better with the weather being nice after the storm. Coffee and snacks were eaten in the shelter of the rocks as small groups of people came and went from the point, Mrs IanB even got her sketch pad out to record our visit.
We walked slowly back to the camp for a leisurely late lunch and spent the afternoon reading and enjoying the sunshine.

 Sunrise near St Davids Head
 Climb up to Carn Llidi
View of Ramsey Island from Carn Llidi

The campsite from Carn Llidi

Day 7, I was up early again, this time it really was still dark, the temperature was also down on previous days, with the wind eased from the previous night but still breezy. I set off for a run round the coast, needing my head torch at first to avoid tripping over. I headed out past the golf course before descending down a lovely single pathway to Whitesands Bay; I had beaten the surfers today as it was only just light as I set off up the track to St Davids Head once again. There was no one around, the skies were getting lighter and there was promise of a good sunrise. I ran past the secluded beach with the seals, still there! And out to the point. This time I headed up on to the ridge and ran more westward before descending to the coast path again and climbing up to the peak of Carn Llidi  at 181 metres. It was tough climb and route finding through the heather at times difficult. I was also aware this was Adder country! I hope they were still all asleep! The top few metres were a scramble, now fully light with a lovely sunrise and clear blue skies I summited to find a young couple there, who had walked up from the Youth Hostel, it was barely 6:45 but they were keen to see the sunrise as I was. We exchanged chat before Ms ‘young couple’ decided she was getting cold, so they headed of down the rocky ridge, leaving me to enjoy the really stunning 360 degree panorama in brilliant sunshine, the campsite below now looked very small. I enjoyed my few minutes up there and as always reluctant to leave the summit after all the effort. I scrambled down through rocks and heather to pick up the coast path again and ran down and back the way I had come through Whitesands, this time there were several surfers out, even though the surf was quite flat given the stormy day the day before. I ran up the hill from the coast and back to the van, there were still few people about and I looked up at the peak I had just run up and felt very self-satisfied I had made the effort 6.5 miles run and several hundred feet climbed before breakfast. Mrs IanB had overslept, and I opened the van door to find her still asleep. A shower and breakfast followed before it was time to pack up camp and move on once more. We both agreed it was a good move to take down the awning it the nasty weather.
It doesn’t take long to pack up the van, by the time you have put the seat back, stowed the kettle and mugs all we have to do is un plug and coil the lead, then we are away. There was some sadness at going from here as it had real potential to explore, quite a remote place but! I was told by the ‘young couple’ it’s very busy in school holidays with lots n lots of children, so perhaps we had seen it at its best.
Abergavenny was our next site some 112 miles away; I opted for going round the Brecon Beacons this time able to follow the A40 all the way. A lovely drive, with changeable weather conditions, bright and sunny, very dark black clouds[ but no rain] after several hours and a van lunch once more we arrived at the CC site at Pandy, a smallish site, as were  quite early we had a good choice of pitches this time, including hard standing which we opted for. The campsite once again was full for the next couple of days. We had a nice pitch, not too far from the toilet block this time, I put up the awning, which is very easy, but glad I had the hard pegs as pegging into hard standing plays havoc with soft pegs!
We were right next to a railway line and the trains seemed quite regular, but they didn’t bother us, even through the night, there was something comforting knowing that railways are still used and still used for freight which we saw.

Day 8, was a trip around the area in the van, I didn’t have any local 1:50000 maps and there were no maps or walks in the information room, so we decided the best use of time would be to visit Hay on Wye which was only 20 miles away. Driving away from the awning was easy, and I was surprised how easy it was to reattach when I returned as long as I realigned with it.
Hay on Wye parking was easy, Hay is well known for its second hand book shops. We found it a pleasant large village with some wonderful old buildings, quite historical, including the cheese market in the middle, for me the second hand book shops were not inviting, all smelling of second-hand books, there were also a few shops with ‘retro clothing’ it was a very touristy place, well worth a visit, though I expect its very busy in summer time. After several hours and a coffee later, as well as purchasing some nice rolls for lunch in the van later we departed and set off for Abergavenny. We stopped on the way, below the Black Mountains for some lunch. Abergavenny was a surprise; a very clean well looked after town [unlike Haverford] with free parking!!!!! Close to the town centre. We were able to visit the castle and museum free! A lovely little place, the town looked in good shape with lots of top high street shops, few vacant premises.  We enjoyed Abergavenny, and felt welcome as a visitor. Over all the welsh places we had been to car parking charges seemed reasonable compared with those around us in the South West. After several hours and a little prsezzy shopping for grandchildren we set of for the few miles back to Pandy and the campsite.
The evening we walked up the lane from the site and ended up helping a farmer herd sheep along the road and into a field, ably assisted by his two sheep dogs, our job was to stop escapees up another road nearby.

Day 9 was our final day and decided on packing up to call at Monmouth on the way home, the weather forecast was grim for later in the day! Monmouth was disappointing just another small town, we were surprised as there seemed little history and the town really consisted of a main wide street with little or no character. Abergavenny seemed better to us.
We drove back down the Wye valley, winding its way back down to Chepstow and the Severn Bridge. We stopped and had lunch in the van at the Severn Bridge services, just as the thunderstorm hit!! It was a wet drive home down the M5 from there, with occasional claps of thunder and heavy rain. Later it was reported that across the country there had been floods and lightning strikes, we were lucky!

It had been a good holiday, in an area we had not visited before. Nearly 20 miles run and lots of walking.The van was brilliant as ever, couldn’t have wanted better sites and the new Awning was a success despite the issues with its performance in the wind.

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