Ready For The Off…

So, today is the official opening of the Olympics, and therefore, as the next couple of weeks will undoubtedly be wall to wall crass radio and TV coverage, we’re off as far away from London as we can get without leaving Britain.

Our camping expeditions take a bit of organising, so we probably won’t actually hit the road until tomorrow or Sunday, but once I get into packing mode, I’m a woman possessed – nothing stands in my way! Once I’ve finished writing this, I’m switching off (well, perhaps just a little more browsing – and maybe even booking a camp site or two) – but basically, this is where the holiday starts.

Of course, this being England, our camping holiday appears to have been timed with precision to coincide with the end of the heat wave.

Yesterday, when number one daughter and I were walking the dog in near sub Saharan temperatures, we met this little fellow.

Can you make him out? I think it’s a slow-worm, but if not, please tell me what you think it is.

He was struggling in the hot sunshine the wriggle across a sandy path, into the shade. He got there without the dog being interested.

It’s not so hot today, which is better for me – I like to be warm, but too hot and I wilt.

Happy summer everyone. I’ll be back in a few weeks.

Having A Good Time?

I’m trying hard, but this weather is really getting to me now…

The Tissington Trail at Parsley Hay – it really was that dark and that wet.

Being British, we went camping in the Peak District last week – it wasn’t actually raining when we set off, but it wasn’t long before the dark clouds rolled in and that was pretty much the story from then on.

The lovely man in the Buxton Tandoori (do go there if you’re in the area – excellent take-away), told us that a gale was on its way – we laughed – nervously, then told him we were camping – he looked embarrassed – but it turned out, he was quite right.

The girls managed to fit in their tandem ride on the Tissington Trail, although it has taken me until now to get their clothes clean of the mud they accumulated on the journey. The dog and I leapfrogged them to the car parks – but the dog soon decided it was too wet for him and he’d rather sleep in the car than walk in the pouring rain.

So you won’t be surprised to know that we came home earlier than planned. We simply didn’t have anything dry left to wear, oh and the girls discovered Lake Superior under their part of the tent.

Since we got home, it has continued to pour. The stream near the house has broken its banks and the path to the canal is flooded.

That’s June for you.

I really pity the poor people coming to the UK for the Olympics. Knowing the way things work around here, it will now be wet until about the third week in August (although as the children go back to school during the first week of September, I’d put off your holiday here until at least the second week of September if you want a chance at better weather).

Do I sound like a miserable old grump? Well, that’s what I feel like.

So, here is my only attempt at cheering things up a bit…

as happy as a pig in nettles…

This little chap had a good chat with us while we were on our mini-holiday. (Pigs always make me feel happier)

I’ll leave you with the immortal words of Edward Monkton

The Pig of Happiness

May his JOYFUL SMILE remind us how much there is to be happy about –

Good thought, I’ll hold on to that.

Chilling Out in Sutherland

I know that spending three weeks, touring the north of England and Scotland in two small tents, isn’t everyone’s idea of a great holiday, but it happens to be mine (well in the absence of funds to do it in five-star hotels anyway). Which is why, after exploring Ardnamurchan for a few days, we set off further north, eventually ending up at one of Scotland’s more remote campsites, at Achmelvich, on the west coast of Sutherland.

Looking west from Achmelvich

The thing about Sutherland is this. If you could rely on good weather, there really is no more beautiful place on earth. Even in bad weather, it’s still the most beautiful place on earth in my book, but sadly, when the only thing separating you from the bad weather is a flimsy sheet of nylon tenting, you do tend to temper your ardour – just a jot.

But, if the sun shines and the wind drops, it’s easy to imagine yourself somewhere in the Caribbean (OK, to be entirely honest, and in fairness to the Caribbean, I’ve never been there, and am not likely to go either, but this is how I imagine it).

We were lucky – in just over a week, we did have some nice days – yippeee!

Of course, if the wind drops, there is also quite a significant chance that the midges will seize the opportunity to feast on your blood, but who’d let a little thing like that bother them?

Stac Polly

Anyway, while we were there, we made good use of the time. We walked up Stac Polly – it really isn’t difficult, but you get amazing views and it’s one of those walks that gives you a lot of fun for the effort. It was especially nice to be under-flown by a couple of RAF jets, in just the same place that we had the same experience, ten years ago.

The view from the end of Sail Gharbh, Quinag.

We also walked up Quinag – my all time favourite Scottish mountain – for reasons that are very precious to me. Again, not a difficult walk, but if you do it, don’t turn round at the trig point on Sail Gharbh, carry on to the end, where it drops away – naturally you need to be careful, but you’re rewarded with magnificent views of the bridge at Kylesku.

We were grateful to the campsite for having it’s very own little fish and chip shop open on a couple of the days we were there. But after one particularly rainy day, we were forced to head off, further afield in search of food (it was FAR TOO WINDY AND WET to get our little camping stove out).

We took the incredibly scenic road around the coast to Drumbeg, where, at the Drumbeg Hotel, we were treated royally by the landlord, his wife and their dog. What a splendid evening. Great food, good beer, excellent chat and a pool table for the daughters to thrash their father on. On the journey back to Achmelvich, we were again treated to close up encounters with a couple of big deer.

The Falls of Kirkaig

The other place that you have to know about if you’re in the area and it turns wet, is the Achin’s bookshop at Inverkirkaig. Not only is this an excellent bookshop, the perfect place to top up your supply of holiday reading, it also has plenty of desirable gifty items – you know the sort, the stuff you wish you could justify buying for yourself, but above all, it has a very acceptable cafe, serving freshly made meals and good coffee. Might not sound like much, but if you’re camping and it’s been wet for days, the simple pleasure of sitting on a chair in a warm cafe, while someone else does the cooking, is almost spiritual.

If you’re really lucky, as we were, the rain will stop while you’re eating, and later, you’ll be able to take the walk along from the bookshop, to see the famous Falls of Kirkaig.

They are truly spectacular, but the final approach is not for the fainthearted – which included me this time. I sat myself firmly down on a nice solid rock and waited until the intrepid husband and daughters got back.

The beach at Achmelvich

When the sun came out, we stayed at the campsite, as the beach is just a minute’s walk away. This of course is why it’s such a perfect place when the weather is kind. There’s no reason to go anywhere else. Although we had a wonderful holiday and did a lot of sight-seeing, it wasn’t until we got to the beach at Achmelvich, that I really chilled out. I found a rock that sloped at the ideal angle and drifted off into a wave lapped reverie.

I just love that place.





Exploring Hadrian’s Wall

It’s confession time. Although I’ve been a history geek for as long as I can remember, I’d never been to Hadrian’s Wall until last month. We’d decided to head up to Scotland for a couple of weeks camping and thought it would get us off nicely if we started with a few days exploring Hadrian’s Wall.

Not being much of a Roman history aficionado, I’d rather assumed that exploring the Wall would be a bit like searching in fields for the odd piece of stone or curious shaped ditches. Also, having left our holiday plans to THE VERY LAST MOMENT – are we the only ones? – I hadn’t had time to do any research.

Incredible views from Housesteads

So imagine my surprise on day one of our expedition, to arrive at Housesteads Roman Fort and discover – A MASSIVE ROMAN FORT. Sorry, I’ll stop with the capitals now, but you’ll understand that I was really very surprised. It wasn’t at all what I’d had in mind.

My previous experience of Roman ruins hadn’t prepared me for the sheer scale of the remains. And having walked up the hill to the Fort itself, from the Visitor Centre, I was

Under floor heating Roman style

even more amazed to find that you can still see great sections of the Wall.

We spent ages there. There’s so much still intact, it fires up your imagination – and the landscape in that part of the Wall is truly dramatic.

Eventually pulling ourselves away, we went on to Chesters Roman Fort. Having learned all about fort layouts at Housesteads, we were beginning to get the hang of it by the time we started exploring Chesters.

Riverside Chesters

This one has a different character. More bucolic. A little more manicured? But still fascinating, with a quirky museum and a grand river on site. It also has a cafe, which did good ice-creams, although I doubt they were Italian.

Spent the evening sheltering from the rain in The Black Bull in Haltwhistle. A cosy pub, with excellent beer and 277 horse brasses on the walls and beams (well that’s what the daughters counted – might not be entirely accurate). We had steamed sponge pudding and custard – who could ask for more.

The weather decided to celebrate our arrival in the area by showing us just how bad it could be. The tents stayed up – miracle, but we were pretty constantly worried about them. The gale force winds were accompanied by a lot of rain which meant that day two was spent almost entirely dressed in full waterproofs.

Nevertheless, we visited Birdoswald Fort – we were getting very good at working out the various buildings by now – it was very wet underfoot, makes you wonder what the poor Roman soldiers made of the place. Different again from the character of the other forts, it felt a bit dour to me, but in that weather even Disney would have had a difficult job. It does have a good exhibition which helps you get your bearings.

As the weather was so atrocious, the husband suggested we go to the Roman Army Museum, which is indoors to get out of the rain. We bought tickets which also give you entry to Vindolanda – a few miles further along the road.

I had been fairly unenthusiastic about the Roman Army Museum, but once we got inside, I was very pleasantly surprised. It’s been put together with lots of thought, and is a very good way to help children of all ages, understand more about the Wall and the people who lived in the area. I’d certainly recommend it to anyone visiting the Wall because it’s a very visual way to get your bearings.

A reconstructed wooden tower at Vindolanda

Eventually we went on to Vindolanda, which was also fantastic. The excavations are interesting, but the museum is fantastic, and of course you get to read the Vindolanda tablets. I fell in love with a little piece of Roman glass with a Gladiator on it.

After two full days immersed in Roman history, we felt very much better informed than we had been at the beginning of the week. We didn’t have time to get to know the rest of the area, it’s definitely a place I’d like to go back to. Hadrian’s Wall could probably keep you entertained for weeks – it would be wonderful to walk the length, but I’d hope for much better weather, and my heart goes out to the few brave souls we saw who were doing just that.


Camping Adventures In Scotland

Well, we actually did it – after talking about it for a couple of years, we finally packed up the car with the two small tents, an assorted collection of waterproof clothes and beachwear and of course the unsuspecting daughters, and drove north to Scotland.

Two small tents and paraphernalia after three weeks on the road.

It had been ten years to the date since our last family holiday in the Highlands, and the fact that last time we hired a cottage and this time we camped, tells you something about giving up work to have children – but it was a terrific success and a fabulous time was had by all (even by two girls who’ve been to Disneyland Florida).

We were away for three weeks, so you can imagine we covered a lot of ground – quite a lot on foot – so I’m not going to write about it all in one go – instead I’ve decided to write up some of the highlights over the next few weeks. This, I hope, has the advantage of not boring the undergarments off you, whilst also giving me the pleasure of reliving some of the best moments of the summer, as the nights draw in and the days grow colder.

But just in case you’re wondering:

We made our first stop in Northumberland, to visit Hadrian’s Wall – we are now officially Roman experts. We also know the exact number of horse brasses in the Black Bull pub in Haltwhistle.

We travelled to Ardnamurchan and camped in probably the best campsite in the world – well, perhaps a teeny-weeny exaggeration, but it would take some beating.

We got stuck in a traffic jam on Skye, saw the Harry Potter viaduct and evicted a small lizard from a tent.

We climbed three peaks (not on consecutive days, thank you very much, we’re not entirely mad), visited sands that sing and sang to seals.

We visited castles, a priory, and a garden full of poisonous plants (very inspiring!).

I hope you can contain your excitement.

So, now it’s back to the daily grind, but with our spirits well and truly raised. Hope your summer was good for you too. Happy Autumn, or as I prefer it, Happy New Year.



Get ready for bucket and spade time…

You know what time of year it is, when every weekend there’s a school fete, a church fete or a village fete, and when you need a rain coat over your t-shirt…yes you’re right, it’s very nearly bucket and spade time, or as you might know it, ‘The Summer Holidays’

I love this time of year – despite the weather doing its utmost to dampen our spirits. I love the way the children start to relax. Homework is either a thing of the past, or regarded with such derision that it doesn’t get done. The usual routine is changed as the children go off on school trips or have special activity days.

The school sports days are in full swing – as are the parents, manically trying to be in two places at once – have you ever had children at more than one school?

The end of term assemblies will soon be happening and then it’s the long holiday to look forward to. I’m getting a warm and fluffy feeling, just imagining six weeks without having to get up with the 6.00am alarm, make packed lunches and breakfasts, iron school uniform and shunt various children, bags, kit and musical instruments off to school.

Now there’s just one thing I’ve got to do – decide where and when we’re going on holiday. We’re not big planners, so we’ll probably wait until there’s a dry spell forecast and then take off with the tents.

We’ve considered Scotland – the West coast is my favourite place on the planet (OK, I haven’t been everywhere to compare it, but I’m a girl who knows her own heart), the only thing to worry about is the midges and the rain. Well, not quite decided on that one yet.

Photo by Michelle Meiklejohn


Climbing Snowdon

In August 2007, we went camping near Harlech for two weeks. We thought that while we were there, we’d walk up Snowdon with the daughters, who by then were old enough and strong enough to manage the ascent. Well we really should have known better – we may have had plans, but the weather in Wales certainly wasn’t going to let a little thing like that get in its way. For a fortnight we watched from our hillock as the clouds grew thicker and dropped lower and lower every day. By the end of the first week, it had begun to rain almost all the time.

When it was time to go home, the camp site owner gave us a discount for being brave enough to tough it out until the end of our holiday. But we didn’t get up the mountain. In fact we never actually saw the top of Snowdon, so dense, low and persistent was the cloud that covered it.

So last weekend, nearly four years later, for some unimportant reason, we decided that we’d have another go. We grabbed our camping kit and our walking boots and headed off to deepest North Wales – full of optimism. And guess what? We did it!

I just can’t believe how lucky we were. We arrived at our campsite outside Beddgelert on Friday afternoon, in glorious sunshine – and for the first time in my memory, it stayed sunny for four consecutive days.

On Saturday we set off up the path from Rhyd-Ddu. The daughters were a bit daunted when we hadn’t reached the summit after half an hour, but they’re built of strong stuff, so on they went.

It was very windy, but the sun never once slipped behind a cloud, so we had the most glorious walk. Naturally, this being Wales, the summit cafe wasn’t open, nevertheless, we were well prepared with food and drink, so after a few pictures and a sit down to admire the views we felt we’d done well. Fortunately we have bladders of steel, so no problem there.

There were LOADS of other people there – I suspect most had walked up the Llanberis path.

Prize for the most bonkers people we met must go to the mountain bikers – just thinking about it makes me feel ill even now, but you’ve got to admire their spirit. Personally I’d be worried about the state of their lower anatomy – but I guess that’s their business!

So an excellent day for us, and for a great many other people too. I don’t think you get too many chances to experience something like that in that kind of weather. And best of all, the daughters loved it. It’s given them the most tremendous feeling of personal achievement and they want to go on now to walk up more hills and mountains – roll on the Lake District!

Scenery from the Rhyd-Ddu path