Road Tripping the A49

I’m sure there are more glamorous roads to take a road trip along and there are definitely more famous ones, but I’m also sure I’m not going to be the first person to trip the A49.

Where? What?

In the UK roads are labelled with the letters M, A and B with a number following the letter. Unless they’re really tiny in which case they may have a name, but they don’t have a label.  Continue reading “Road Tripping the A49”

I’ve got a hole in my walk

I had hoped to walk to Cornwall, but things didn’t go quite to plan.

I had hoped to walk to Cornwall

The final, last, right in the bottom corner, county in England. Ok, I wasn’t going to walk all the way from here, but I was going to walk from North Devon along the coastal path and was quite excited at the thought of walking across that county border. 

But things don’t always go to plan

I did walk in North Devon and I did walk in Cornwall, but I didn’t actually walk across the border. Over the last couple of years I’ve walked from Minehead in Somerset to Westward Ho! (yes, the exclamation mark is part of the spelling) in Devon along the South West Coast Path and this year I planned to walk from where I’d left off in Westward Ho! to Crackington Haven in Cornwall. When I crossed the border from Somerset to Devon, it was nice to know I’d got to my second county, but not really a big deal. Maybe because I’d not walked end to end of the Somerset coast and because Devon isn’t in the end, sticky out, bottom bit of the country. Walking to Cornwall, however, did seem like a big deal and yet that actual border crossing is the only bit of the walk I didn’t get to do. So I now have a gap in my walk which I’ll have to fill next year before I carry on from Crackington Haven.

So why the gap? 

Well, the sub-title for this post could be ‘My Van Doesn’t Like Bank Holidays‘. I’d planned to drive down to Devon on the Friday night so I could go to Lundy Island on the Saturday morning, but was way too tired and so just went to bed instead. I drove down on Saturday afternoon, arriving in Crackington Haven just before the sun went down. Because of the dearth of buses on a Sunday in this part of the world, the only bit of my walk I was able to do on a Sunday was the last bit. I wanted to check out the parking situation and find the bus stop before the following morning so wound my way down narrow, bendy lanes. It looked really pretty in the nice evening light and I took the first couple of photos of my trip. However, just before I’d arrived I’d taken a wrong turn and had to do a three point turn. As I turned into the reverse part of the three point there was a horrible metallic scraping noise. If I’d been near railings I’d have assumed I’d scraped the side of my van down them. But there was nothing like that nearby and nothing underneath the van either. Once I straightened up and drove off I realised I had a problem with my steering. It was very, very stiff. I took bends and turns really slowly, putting all my weight into making the steering wheel move and worrying that it might seize up completely on me and I wouldn’t get round the bend and would crash into the side instead. I’ve never hoped to be round the bend so much before!

I parked up for the night 

In a layby on the main road above Crackington Haven that was set back from road, and the next morning slowly drove back down to park for the day. I caught the bus to Bude and walked back. I then had to drive to the campsite in Stoke near Hartland where I was planning to base myself for the rest of the week. I had no idea what was wrong. I’d checked everything I could think of checking, which with my limited mechanical knowledge, is not a lot, but couldn’t spot anything obviously wrong. I spoke to the farmer at the campsite about my problem and he recommended a local garage. Of course being bank holiday weekend there was nothing I could do till Tuesday.

On Monday

The weather forecast proved accurate and it was horrendous with rain and wind. I’d already decided not to walk on Monday as I didn’t think it would be particularly safe on the coast and anyway, it was a bank holiday and so there were no buses. Instead I’d planned to get out and about in the van and be a tourist. As I didn’t want to risk driving anywhere I spent the day in the van catching up on reading.

Tuesday morning 

Dawned bright and beautiful and so I drove the couple of miles to Hartland and found the garage. I had to leave the van with them for a few hours and so wandered off to Hartland Abbey for a poke around. The gardens were lovely, as was the house – it had started out as an abbey but over the years had been turned into a stately home. The people were also lovely and various members of the staff reassured me that the garage I’d taken my van to was the best around and told me if I was going to break down I was lucky it had happened here. The ladies in the café let me use their phone to ring the garage when I couldn’t get any mobile reception and the lady who collects tickets gave me a lift back to the garage at the end of the day.

I needed a new steering pump which had to be ordered 

As well as being expensive this meant I also couldn’t use my van on Wednesday as it had to go back to the garage to have the pump fitted. So on Wednesday I wandered off to Docton Mill. This mill has been turned into a lovely private home with extensive and gorgeous gardens. The gardens are open to the public and there’s a bit of an exhibition on the mill, a turning water-wheel, and a café which won an award for having the best cream teas in 2007. It didn’t say why they hadn’t won it again since so, in the interests of research, I tried one. It was delicious. If there is a better place that’s been scooping the award for the last six years, I’d love to know about it.

On Thursday 

I could finally get out walking again. I walked into Hartland and caught the bus to Clovelly. This touristy, but delightful little village hewn into the rock face, I explored last year. So this year I started my walk straight away and walked back to Hartland Quay and then up the lane to the campsite. It was exhausting but wonderful.

Friday morning

I parked in Clovelly and caught a couple of buses to get me to Westward Ho! to do what should have really been the first part of my walk. For some reason I wasn’t expecting the walk back to Clovelly to be that challenging but was I wrong. I had planned to do the only missing bit of my walk on Saturday before driving home, but as this would be the most challenging and longest walk of the trip (over 15 miles of hills, plus almost 3 miles to get from Hartland village to Hartland Quay to even start the walk), I decided this would be too much for me to do after two already full-on days of walking (my knees had swelled that much from all the descents that they seemed to have developed 3 kneecaps each) and the need to do a long drive home straight afterwards.


So I went to Lundy Island instead 

I picked my van up at Clovelly and drove to Ilfracombe where I found a lovely parking bay in Hele overlooking the rocky coastline to spend the night. I hadn’t booked but it was no problem to get on the ferry and I had lovely sunny boat ride and a walk round the island. I’m pleased I finally got to Lundy, but it is disappointing to have this glaring gap in my walk. 

Ah well, there’s always next year, and I did get to see a couple of places I might not have seen otherwise. 

Silver weekend #1

Is it possible to have a great weekend even though a zillion things go wrong? Apparently the answer is yes, as I found out this weekend.

Is it possible to have a great weekend even though a zillion things go wrong? Apparently the answer is yes, as I found out this weekend.

Way back about a year ago, when school first mooted the idea of an enrichment programme every Friday afternoon to give our students, many of whom are from a disadvantaged background, a bit of, well, enrichment in their lives I jumped at the idea of getting involved with a Duke of Edinburgh Award group. We had over 80 students interested, as well as several members of staff. It was a logistical nightmare, but bit by bit, we got everyone registered, sorted out activities, arranged funding, got parental permission slips signed and gathered relevant medical information. I tried to organise a series of archery lessons for one group of students, but we ended up going climbing instead. They did this over 6 months and all got their level 1 and 2 NICAS awards.

School then decided that the whole idea of enrichment was way too expensive (I suppose I can see their point) and pulled it. Of course, Duke of Edinburgh is not just a one term only activity and some of these kids had made a serious commitment to see it through. They were getting a lot out of it and were devastated at the thought of not being able to continue. The lightweights dropped out and we were left with a (hard) core of 40+ students who really wanted to carry on.

Enrichment was pulled at the February half term which is halfway through the school year. During the first half of the year we’d concentrated on activities which would count towards the skill, physical and volunteering sections of the award. We’d planned from February onwards to run a series of first aid courses, and then focus on expedition skills e.g. navigation, camping skills, route planning, and so on. We also planned to get some Friday afternoon walks in to give them some actual walking experience. A couple of Saturday or Sunday walks out in the Peaks wouldn’t have gone a amiss either. As we no longer had Friday afternoons for enrichment, staff and students were all assigned other lessons. This meant anything to do with the Duke of Edinburgh had to take place after school during the week. This is usually how it would be run anyway, but as we hadn’t planned it this way, it threw everything into disarray and we didn’t get half of what we wanted to do done.

We split our students up into 2 rather uneven groups. The silver students are the older ones who had completed their bronze awards over the last year or two and had wanted to continue. There are only 8 of them. The other 30 odd of them are bronze award candidates who signed up when they had to choose an enrichment activity last year. We also have a few younger students (you have to be 14 or about to turn 14 to do the Duke of Edinburgh) who wanted to get involved. We thought it would be great for them to have a taster so they’d know what to expect when they’re a bit older and come to do the real thing, and so created a special school award that runs along the same lines but is a little easier.

This weekend was the first of our expedition weekends. We decided to take the silver group out first as we have to fit the practice and assessed weekends around their GCSEs. Also as it was our first expedition, having a smaller group of experienced students made a lot of sense.

So what are all the things that went wrong? Apart from us not being nearly prepared enough in the first place?

1) It snowed when we were supposed to recce the route and we weren’t able to rearrange it, so we were heading out on un-recced routes. Not ideal, but we didn’t anticipate any major problems.

2) We found out that we needed a BELA person at all times (BELA stands for basic expedition leader’s award) and not many staff have this particular qualification. I’m starting the course for it in September and my colleague, who has done most of the work for this expedition, won’t be doing her course until next month. So we had to go all out with our powers of persuasion, to powerfully persuade enough relevant people to ‘volunteer’ so we’d be covered all weekend. Job done. We had the people.

3) Two days before the expedition one of our BELA people dropped out. We flung a panic-stricken net far and wide to try to recruit anybody, ANYBODY, who could replace the missing person. Friends of friends of friends, passing acquaintances, anyone we thought might just happen to have a BELA qualification. No luck. Being bank holiday weekend, most outdoorsy, BELAy type people already had plans to be outdoors.

4) Two days before the expedition, but a bit later, another one of our BELA people was in hospital having surgery. We really didn’t want to cancel the expedition as, it being the GCSE season, we wouldn’t be able to rearrange it and our students would completely miss out. Cue massive hair-pulling, hand-wringing, head banging against wall session.

5) One day before the expedition our one remaining BELA person changed her time with us to cover both Friday and Saturday, and the hospitalised member said he’d be out and fit enough to cover Sunday. Big PHEWs all round.

6) On the day of the expedition, both my colleague and I were given covers to do during our free lessons. We were hoping to get away straight after period 3 at the start of lunch. As we’d lost our frees all the last minute getting together of gear and paperwork, getting ourselves changed, loading the minibus and Landrover, etc, just didn’t happen. So we ended up an hour late leaving.

7) Just before we left, my colleague thought she’d better double-check we really were insured to drive the Landrover which had been lent to us by the local authority Duke of Edinburgh people. Er, no. We’re not. As our school is an Academy, we are no longer covered by anything to do with the local authority. We couldn’t put all the luggage in the minibus with the students as there are safety requirements we have to abide by like not blocking the aisle or burying the students under mounds of backpacks. Isn’t it lucky I bought a van last year? So we transferred all the bags from the Landrover into my van.

8) I then had to go and get fuel which made me later at the rendezvous point than the minibus and so they’d all had to sit around waiting for me.

9) It was getting so late by this time that we decided to start the day’s walk 2 hours in and so drove to a layby where we could park my van and myself, my BELA colleague and the students started walking. The other two staff members took the minibus to the campsite.

10) Once we arrived at the campsite I had to get a lift back to my van to collect it. We were going to pick up a takeaway on the way back (for the staff; the students have to be self-sufficient and carry and cook all their own food). It took us quite a long time to get back to the van and we were finally on the way to Bakewell to get our takeaway when we got a tired and despondent phone call from our students. Their tents were up, they were unpacked, they were tired and hungry and ready to cook. But the meths for their camp stoves was on my van (as a safety precaution the fuel is the one thing we carry for them and just give them the amount they need when they are cooking). So we had to turn around and head back to the campsite so they could have a very late, but well-earned dinner.

11) The next day, started off rainy, but by the time we set off walking it had brightened up. I didn’t start the walk as we decided to take my van to the next campsite and leave it there and get us checked in at the same time. This would mean the students could go straight to our allocated sites and pitch their tents when they arrived rather than hanging about waiting for us to get them checked in. As we arrived there was a big notice at the front of the campsite saying no arrivals before 1pm. Then another notice saying ‘do not enter this campsite before the 1pm check-in’. So we entered and went to check in. We left the minibus part-way up the track and I drove down to the reception area to park up and deal with checking in and paying. The young guy behind reception was quite happy to get us checked in and for me to leave my van, despite the 1pm rule.

12) So far, so good. He opened his bookings book, checked his computer and … no sign of our booking. Thank goodness we’d come early. He was able to create a new booking for us and showed us where we could pitch our tents later on when we all officially arrived.

13) My colleague drove me out on the minibus to meet up with the walkers so I could walk with them for the rest of the day. For the final part of the walk we decided to let them walk on their own as this is what they will have to do the entire time on their assessed expedition. We drove round to a point where we knew they would have to cross the road and waited to see them. We waited and then waited a bit longer. It really shouldn’t take them this long. We finally spotted them walking along the road. They’d missed the turnoff for the footpath and so walked the long way round by the road. Minus a few points for missing the footpath, but full points for figuring out exactly where they were and working out an alternative route to get them where they needed to be.

14) That evening I came to put my stove on for only the second time ever. It’s a super-trendy stove bought for me as a present last year by my brother. As it was the end of the camping season when I got it, apart from checking it was working okay, this trip is the first time it’s been used. When I boiled water in the morning it was fine. It has an ignition switch that just needs pressing when the gas is on and it ignites automatically. No need for matches or a lighter. Great idea. I came to put it on in the evening and the ignition wouldn’t work. It just wouldn’t press in at all. Closer inspection showed the plastic switch had melted. So it was back to using a lighter. I’m not at all impressed as it was quite an expensive stove. I can feel a strongly worded email coming on. The area near the switch does get quite hot which is probably the problem. My brother has used one of these stoves for a long time and never had a problem with the ignition so this is probably just a faulty one. Hopefully Primus will do the decent thing and replace it for me.

15) Our students came to put their stoves on to cook their evening meal and asked for the meths. The meths had gone home with the teacher who’d been picked up by her husband an hour of two earlier. We broke the rules (it’s only a practice after all) and once the replacement teacher arrived, took them all into Bakewell so they could go to the chip shop.

16) By Sunday, our third day, the students were suffering. The lack of training was having an effect. We cut the route and part way through let them leave their backpacks in the minibus so they could finish it. This is something we won’t be able to do on the assessed expedition, so is a bit of a worry.

17) We climbed up to Monsal Head and met the minibus. The last part of the walk was along the Monsal Trail into Bakewell. We decided I’d get taken back to the campsite in the minibus to pick up my van and we’d meet the students at one of the disused train stations along the route to check they were still ok to finish the walk. They were fine and seemed a lot more cheerful now they were near the end. I came to reverse my van out of its parking space so I could drive to Bakewell, but nothing happened. After an awful lot of trying I finally got it to reverse. I then had a bit of a hair-raising drive into Bakewell in which, for some of the time, I was driving in neutral down a hill because I couldn’t get it to go into any gear. I followed the minibus into the car park in Bakewell and my gears went completely on me.

18) I had all the students’ backpacks and other miscellaneous camping gear in my van and so we really needed to get it back to school. Especially as it’s a bank holiday and so it will be Tuesday before I see them again and if my van is in the garage being fixed it could be even later than that before I can get their stuff to them. I called Greenflag and they said someone should be with me within the hour. We needed to get the students back so we unloaded the van and they took everything they thought they’d need into the minibus with them. It was probably too much to be strictly legal but not as piled high as it could have been.

19) The Greenflag man arrived at the car park well within the hour but then took about another half hour to get to me. It’s a massive car park and was chocca with stationery vehicles (and I don’t mean the parked ones) trying to get out. Bakewell is busy at the best of times, so on a bank holiday and with a funfair just up the road it was a nightmare.

20) The Greenflag man was very nice and soon figured out the problem. He wasn’t able to do a proper repair as it needs a part, but he said he would try to do a ‘bodge job’ (his words) so I could get home safely. If he had to tow me it would have cost around 100 quid. Cable ties came to the rescue and he spent over an hour securely tying numerous of them onto my dodgy gear linkage to hold it in place so I could drive again. As I drove home the gears actually felt better than they had done before, so thank you very, very much Warren for your bodge job. He’s also told me the part should only cost about £15 and take about an hour’s labour to fix. As I had visions of £100 towing fee plus a new gear box, you can imagine how relieved I was to hear this.

21) Once home, a lot later than expected, I had to empty the van into my house. I can’t leave anything in it overnight as one of the problems of living in a dodgy area is car thieves will break into a car if there’s a much as an old carrier bag left in it. My living room now contains, amongst other things, enough tents to start my own branch of Go Outdoors, several packets of teabags, some random socks and two guitars.

So was it a successful weekend? I think so, as despite all the obstacles and problems we overcame them and still managed to enjoy ourselves and fit in plenty of laughter. I’m looking forward to the next three expedition weekends and to doing my BELA. Once I’ve done that, I’ll feel a lot more confident to start working towards my actual walking group leader’s qualification.

Driving on the wrong side of the road

I want to drive on the wrong side of the road.

I’ve thought of another challenge to add to my list: drive confidently on the wrong side of the road. Up until now I’ve not had a vehicle I would have been willing to trust on a journey to the continent, but now I have my van I really should give it a go. 

I know from cycling in the Netherlands that going straight isn’t too much of a problem; the real issues arise when I have to go round corners or change lanes. But particularly going round corners. I automatically go back on to what to me is the right side of the road. I think the first time I do this I have to have someone with me as an extra pair of eyes. Hm, now where am I going to find a volunteer for this job?

Van Insurance

Insuring a van is really not easy (unless you’re self-employed that is).

It was such a lovely day today and I’ve wasted most of it sitting indoors at my desk in my study which doesn’t get any sun during the day. Why? Because I had to insure my van. I’ve got a week’s free insurance with it but that’ll only last till Wednesday. I thought it would be easy to switch my insurance from my car to the van, but no. Endsleigh doesn’t insure vans. So they’ve cancelled my policy and are sending me a refund for the remainder. This meant I had to find another insurance company. I’ve rang so many and done lots of searches online.

Specialist van insurance companies don’t want to insure me because I don’t have my own business. Campervan insurance companies don’t want to insure me because it’s not a proper campervan. Car insurance companies don’t want to insure me because it’s not a car. The few quotes I did manage to get were astronomical. Finally after hours of searching I found a broker who has insured me through Aviva. Whilst I was on the phone I ran my details through the quote section of Aviva’s website but the quote was several hundred pounds higher than the price the broker was getting for me. So I’ve gone with the broker.

I’m a bit miffed though that so many companies seem to think you should only own a van if you have your own business. Have these people no imagination?!

Van Owner

I’ve brought my van home.

Well I have my van. I picked it up last night after school and took it for a short drive. It’s very different to driving my car. The brakes are so keen I ricochet forwards even when I barely touch them – thank goodness for seat belts! On the other hand, I have to use a lot more gas to get going and pick speed up. This is probably due to me not being used to driving with diesel. I don’t have to go very far though for me to start getting used to it so I’m sure I’ll be feeling at home driving it in no time.

The interior sides and floor have been hardboarded over and there’s also a piece of board completely blocking off the cab. This makes the cab feel a bit claustrophobic and shortens the length of the available space in the back. So my first job this weekend is to take that piece out. I want to be able to climb into the back from the front when it’s chucking it down so that’s another reason for it to go.

I feel quite excited about my new project but at the same time it was quite a wrench letting my old car go. It’s served me well over the last six or seven years and I have some great memories of trips and holidays made in it. I really hope my van turns out to be as good and I get lots more great memories from it.

Just call me Mma Ramotswe …

I’m now the owner of a little white van.

… because I have got a little white van.

My mechanic checked it out yesterday and I took it for a test drive today. All went well and I’m due to collect it on Wednesday. I’m already getting excited thinking about what I’m going to do to convert it. It’ll get its first camping outing at half term in June. I’m planning to use my tent but I’ll try to sleep in the van at least one night to get a feel for it.

Not sure if I’ll keep it white though – I might respray it orange.

Oh, and if you don’t know who Mma Ramotswe is read this.

White Van (Wo)Man

I’ve almost bought a van.

Today I went to look at vans/cars. I either want a car that has a bit of extra height and that has easily removable seats so it can be used for sleeping in, or a van that I can do a semi-conversion on and turn it into a campervan. My other criteria are that it should be orange and have cup holders, but I realise that might be expecting a bit much.

The first place I looked didn’t have anything to suit.  The second place didn’t have anything either, but one of their partner showrooms did. They actually found a couple of options for me and I’ve decided to go with the second which is a white Berlingo van. It’s only five years old and has really low mileage. At the moment it’s in Doncaster so I haven’t seen it myself yet, but they’re going to get it driven down here this week and then I can test drive it and get my mechanic to check it over. All being well, by next weekend I’ll have my van. So quite a productive Sunday really. And we were finished in time to go for a nice pub lunch.