It was a long and at times worrying journey to Spain on the ferry with Brittany Ferries. The rough sea and weather we faced was enough to turn even seasoned veterans green. We know that because we met them! This was all part of our journey to get to Galgos Del Sol to start our volunteering time.
The 24 hour crossing from Portsmouth to Santander was delayed by two hours because of the weather. Where we were supposed to leave at 5 pm it was actually gone 7 before we set off along the English channel towards Spain, via the Bay of Biscay.
When we arrived at the ferry terminal, excited to reach Spain, drove to a booth that took our reservation details and registration number. They gave us our boarding passes and a ticket to put on display in the windshield. From there we were ushered down to a multi laned waiting area. We were able to get out, stretch our legs and have some lunch before we would board.
Only we could decided to get a ferry to Spain during a Tornado warning! We knew that if Brittany Ferries felt it was too rough to sail that it would be cancelled, however we hoped that we could sail. From the outset we knew it wasn’t going to be a pleasant crossing. We have heard too many stories of rough crossings in the Bay of Biscay, or the Bay of certain death as one lorry driver told us!
Map the route
Although we had an idea of the journey we were taking (we had looked into toll roads etc) we took this time to look over the large European map that we had with us and carefully studied the roads we would be using. They all seemed to be main roads and hopefully wouldn’t lead us down narrow lanes!
It was only the day before that we had heard of a van conversion missing a sign for a narrow road. They needed a police escort to get them unstuck and out of the town! We don’t want this to happen to us so it is best to look at a map and not trust the sat nav as she forgets we are larger than a car!
Boarding the ferry to Spain
When prompted, we drove Chewy onto the ferry easily and followed instructions to get her parked. We were able to see her from the decks which gave us great comfort to know we could see her. The ferry was a large one called Cap Finistere. She sails this route on rotation with her other trips from Portsmouth to Bilbao.
After boarding the upper decks where passengers would travel, we were welcomed aboard by the Brittany Ferries crew. All were very helpful in showing passengers around the boat to their cabins. We were located on Deck 7, the same deck as the main bar and restaurant, spa and shops.
A lovely twin room with a TV and an en suite bathroom and shower waited for us as well as a bowl of fruit, complimentary cocktails and sweets in the room. The decor was basic but adequate. A European plug socket was available. It would have been great if we had thought to bring an adaptor but that is a learning curve!
Getting our bearings
Once we had put our overnight bags in the room, we decided to have a look around the ship. We started at the top (deck 10) where we found a play area for children one side and a dog exercise area on the other. A cafe shielded by perspex panels was also situated up here and a set of stairs down to level 9.
From here we could see Chewy from the back of the boat and took a while to watch the view as we sailed into the channel in darkness. The bulk of the cabins were on decks 8 and 9 and the boat was easy to navigate once you had your bearings!
On deck 7, we found a nice bar at the back of the boat with cosy, informal seating areas and tables. Lovely mood lighting and entertainment greeted us there. Getting ourselves a drink, we relaxed here for the evening with live music, bingo and a music quiz. It was much more than we expected as the website said the ferry to Spain was a no frills journey. We were very surprised by the standard of luxury we had.
There was also a fine dining restaurant, an informal cafe, duty free, clothing store and a shop on board. Lounge areas with TVs were located all around the ship so there was plenty of choice and space for everyone.
By that time we were getting tired as it was about 10pm and we had been up since 6am and driven over 400 miles to Portsmouth. We headed off to see if we could get any sleep as the sea just got rougher and rougher.
The weather was awful. The waves were crashing against the boat and we were swaying from side to side. Having taken our sea sickness tablets a few hours ago we were glad of the drowsy side effects. Feeling a bit dopey, we decided to see if we could sleep through it. It felt at times like we were going up in a lift and then being dropped as the boat crested over the massive waves and landed again. It kept us awake worrying about how the van was. Had she fallen over or bounced overboard as they hadn’t strapped the vans down.
A Rough Night on the ferry to Spain
There was nothing we could do about it. We couldn’t get up and check as they doors would have been locked to the deck for safety reasons. We were also just too drowsy from the tablets. If the boat had started to sink I don’t think we would have been able to do anything about it! It was a very long night of rocking and swaying. It took a long time for us to settle into a proper sleep. Around 10am when we finally woke up the next morning and a quick look on google showed our ferry heading towards Spain, in the Bay of Biscay.
It took us ages to get over the effects of the travel sickness tablets, but I managed to stagger to the bar and order tea and coffee for us to get us going. Although the sea was still choppy it was much better than last night where the waves had been battering our window on deck 7!
We took a walk around the boat and went outside to get some fresh air. A lot of people were grey or green as they all felt sick from the storm. All hanging on to the railings and looking like they had seen better days! Chewy was where she was supposed to be and all looked a bit better in the light of day,
By late afternoon we had almost reached Santander and excitement was brewing about the next stage of our trip. We packed our belongings up and headed for the lounge to relax and wait for instructions. We were delayed coming into the port so pulled up at dusk as the sun was setting.
Santander port is beautiful. With lighthouses welcoming you to the Spanish mainland and a bustling port town with hotels, bars and restaurants all lit up, it look breathtaking against the colours of the Spanish sunset.
It wasn’t long before we were docked and advised we were able to access the garage area to prepare for disembarking via passport control. We were so happy to be getting off of that boat and swore never to do it again!
The crew on board were incredibly helpful and went out of their way to ensure all passengers were happy. Nothing was too much trouble for them and even though they were tired and also feeling the strain of the storm, they delivered an exceptional service.
Would we use Brittany Ferries again? Yes – but on a calmer sea for sure!
About Cap Finistere
The boat was made in 2001, originally being used by a Greek company and transferred to Brittany Ferries in 2010. She is 204 meters long and has a crew of 86.
There are 265 cabins. Enough room for 500 vehicles. Free WiFi in public areas. A cinema, spa, shop, restaurant, multiple cafes and a bar (on 2 decks).
It has pet friendly accommodation and kennels on board for those taking their dogs. There is also a heated outdoor swimming pool in summer months using sea water! If you are going to get the ferry to Spain, it is a lovely boat to travel on!
We are often asked lots of questions about why we travel and how we do it.
We were approached by CareerBreakKate, a blogger who runs a website dedicated to travel and career break inspiration. Taking a career break to travel the world transformed her life and she wants to inspire you to do the same.
We were honoured and over the moon that she reached out to us after hearing about our story. Kate’s website offers lots of helpful hints and tips about sabbaticals, career breaks, TEFL (teaching English abroad) and volunteering abroad as well as anything else you need to know. She also covers her travels and adds reviews of her experiences.
We decided to take part because a lot of people want to know why we do what we do. What drove us to both quitting jobs we loved and move into a van. Kate asked us questions that a lot of people ask us so it seemed only natural to do the interview with her.
We would love to share that interview with you now and if you are thinking about taking a career break or sabbatical, have a read through her site for some information.
If you have any questions for us please leave them in the comments and we will answer them! Don’t forget you can tweet us @vanlifediaryfacebook or email us email@example.com
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Anglesey is well known for its stunning beaches. After a day on the sand, why not go to the other extreme. Try a high speed boat trip down the Menai Strait! Rib Ride offer several different types of boat trip depending on your thrill seeking level. Their newest boats are capable of doing 73 miles an hour on the water!
When we booked the ticket they did say that parking could be problematic. They recommended getting there about 30 mins before your trip. Having seen the parking situation I would recommend getting there much earlier – especially if you are in a larger vehicle. We had the VW at the time so not too bad however the Iveco would be much harder to park.
We met up with Matt, our captain for the Velocity boat trip. He took us through a very extensive health and safety briefing and ensured that we were all harnessed up correctly. There was plenty of room on the jetty for all of us to get into our harnesses. The captain ensured that the boat was balanced as we made our way onto the seating area.
The boats are incredible and resemble a roller-coaster and that’s exactly what the ride is, without the rails. You must hold on to the handles at all times through this ride as sudden turns or waves could hit you hard. It does require a certain level of physical fitness.
White Knuckle Rollercoaster
The adrenaline is flowing as you power through the water past all the little sail boats! Zoom under the two bridges from the mainland and back again and feeling the G force on your face. Try and remember to breathe! This ride gives you a thrill for sure but also give you a great view. Not only of the wild life but the tiny beach houses situated at the waters edge. You can’t see these from the road, they are well sheltered. A little bit of envy perhaps at these gorgeous properties and their views!
Our captain was lucky that there were not many boats on the strait that day so he could show us how the boat handled. With loops and quick turns he put her through her paces! It was a real treat to feel the wind on our faces and pass the small boats as if they were motionless.
Our Rib Ride captain was very knowledgeable about the boat and the water he was taking us on. He stopped when he needed to around other boats and ensuring our safety at all times. The team were great fun and tried to take footage of us on the trip. This is because you do need to have both hands on the handle bars and it would have been far too dangerous to use a camera. There would be a good chance that you would knock your captain out as the device would fly straight at his head. Unfortunately, on our trip the camera failed so we don’t have any pictures to share with you. I guess we will have to go and do it again…
Great value for money and other trips available
This boat trip is not very expensive for what it is, £35 each when we experienced it and a really fun mini adventure. Only negative comment is that it doesn’t last long enough! 30 minutes sail time is all you get on the Velocity ride but there are other boat trips available at a slower speed.
Rib Ride also offer rides out to see the seals and puffins, as well as castles and islands. A 2nd office in Hollyhead also offers trips out to South Stack, Gogarth and the Skerries.
A campervan meetup is an event organised by someone usually from a group. It is where like minded campervan loving people get together and have fun. We had not been to a meet up before last night. Not because we didn’t want to but because we were usually working and couldn’t get the time off. Now we are free to travel we finally managed to get to one and what an experience!!!
Between Louise and I we are members of a several campervan groups on facebook. One of which (Women with Campervans) is a group for women and we find it very helpful. It is full of people of different ages, interests and reasons for loving to travel in a campervan. They posted that they were arranging a meet up at a pub (Tuckers Grave Inn, Radstock), in Somerset. Unsure if we were going to make it due to technical difficulties we decided to wait until the last minute.
Will we make it?
After a lovely day in Cheddar Gorge we drove 20 miles to meet this group of women and listen to their stories. We pulled up at around 6 ish and found a field with lots of camper vans in it. Its our first time parking Chewy on grass. Opting to stay at the top end of the field rather than get stuck in mud at the other end! (you can park on the gravel car park if you don’t want to risk the field). Happy smiling faces greeted us as we exited the vehicle and went to introduce ourselves. There were lots of different groups here for the meet up and the pub hosts events regularly. £5 for the pitch – no facilities apart from a portaloo.
we drove 20 miles to meet this group of women and listen to their stories. We pulled up at around 6 ish and found a field with lots of camper vans in it. Its our first time parking Chewy on grass. Opting to stay at the top end of the field rather than get stuck in mud at the other end! (you can park on the gravel car park if you don’t want to risk the field). Happy smiling faces greeted us as we exited the vehicle and went to introduce ourselves. There were lots of different groups here for the meet up and the pub hosts events regularly. £5 for the pitch – no facilities apart from a portaloo.
The Gathering begun!
We were not the largest van on the site – beaten by an old bus who did risk it to the end of the field. What a beauty! Wood burner stove, fixed bed and plenty of kitchen space she really did look homely. I would expect that that one doesn’t bend going around corners either! There were motorhomes, van conversions and tents. All were welcome here at the campervan meetup and it was quite evident that people would want to come and look around each others van.
We quickly retired to have a tidy up and open the cider, made the bed and shoved things in boxes. Once we were settled we hosted a few people who wanted to have a look inside our van. We then got invited to see theirs. Van lovers are very proud of their vans and at a meet like this rather than looking at pictures of their kids, you will find them swapping pictures of their vans and where they have been. It is so beautiful to see how many of them have customised their vans to suit their own needs. From storage space to kitchens, everyone is unique.
A friendly atmosphere in a calm setting
Everyone was so friendly, sharing drinks and stories. People just pulling their chairs up to tables and forming a group together, not shying away on their own. Even the way they were parked, almost in a terrace house formation – there was no 6 meter rule if you didn’t want it! Some pulled right up close to each other. I instantly felt like I had found a family. A gathering of people who just get it, you know? These people love to do what we are doing, whether its for a weekend, a week or full time.
We have met so many wonderful people, men and women, young and old, some with a travelling cat, some with dogs. Some single and some couples. It really doesn’t matter – they just want to hear about your travels and swap tips!
At 8pm the pub had arranged for live entertainment and a BBQ for us. They had a massive barn at the back of the pub and this housed a stage on a trailer, hay bales for seats, picnic benches outside and a massive fire pit to keep us warm. There were loads of people, I assume some of them locals as well as the campers.
2 bands played last night and this went on until around midnight. Everyone was drinking, dancing and talking, swapping stories about van life. Our favourite was a story about a lady who had a toilet on one side of the van and her kitchen on the other. She used to lean back on the toilet door as she was cooking and prepping food. Having recently revamped the van she had swapped the door for a curtain. Safe to say she had a slight mishap when prepping food and ended up stumbling backwards into the toilet cubical, landing on the washing up pile! How she didn’t end up with a spoon up her ass remains a mystery!
Tuckers Grave Inn
Tuckers Grave is thought to be Somersets smallest pub. With a Skittle ally and a beer garden its local charm shines through. Being in somerset it was no surprise that the main drinks were Cider! A great range of Cider to try so I tried 3 last night. The BBQ was lovely with burgers, sausages and pheasant pitta pockets on the menu.
The staff are so friendly and the cozy pub with its log fires and eggs for sale makes it an experience you won’t forget. It’s not uncommon here for you leave with a whole bunch of new friends and I hope that is the case for us. This bunch of individual souls, each on their own journey but with such care and compassion for others really gives me hope that maybe we can turn this world around. There is no ego here, no pretence. just people coming together.
Louise was worried that after we left ‘society’ to live as nomads, we would find it hard to reconnect with the world if we dipped back in to the ‘matrix’. If we can meet up with others in this environment I think we will be just fine!
The gathering continues
As I write this some of the group have left, the rest of us are planning on staying another night. Louise made a lentil soup and fresh bread which we shared with some of the women. We have been invited to join them tonight in the skittle ally for an open fire and games night. I am already thinking about how much I will miss this group and want to see these people again.
Meeting new people makes me anxious and I don’t mind telling you that I was really nervous to come here. If this weekend has taught me anything it’s to stop worrying what others think of you and just be yourself. If you are genuine and true to yourself, this bunch will love you. It’s been a fantastic 24 hours and I cant wait to see what this evening brings.
If you haven’t already been to a campervan meetup I would thoroughly recommend it. It was so much fun.
Although we only have last nights experience to go on I have been told that it was quite typical for a campervan meetup so get on those groups and join up – check events and see whats near you.
To all of the people we have met this weekend, and to all others we may meet in the future, Cheers!
North Wales is a hotbed of activities. From Castles and Caves to Mountains and Lakes. There is no end to the adventure here. North Wales has something to suit every taste and fitness level. Check individual websites for access information if you have particular needs or requirements. Here are our list of places to check out when you visit North Wales but there are so many more! Pop yours in the comments if you have experienced North Wales.
I have compiled a list of things to do and experience. I have done 10 of them myself, 2 are on my bucket list so feel free to ask me any questions!
Llyn Tegid (Lake Bala) is a 6km long lake on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. It is paradise. Surrounded by hills and mountains the lake provides a sanctuary to its visitors. There is a watersports hire shop where you can rent various vessels for an hour or two or up to half and full day rentals. A cash deposit is required to hire the equipment.
With such a large body of water you never feel enclosed. It is a much better way to see the wildlife than by car! You can even pull your kayak up onto the shore, and investigate places you can’t get to by foot! If you are looking for more of a thrill seeking adventure, the white water rafting centre is a short drive away! (Or just grab an ice cream, relax on the shore and maybe dip a toe in every now and then!)
Bala town houses a few pubs, takeaways and gift shops. Lovely for a stroll around!
RAF aircraft can often be seen doing their exercises here. They call it the MACH loop. CLICK HERE for flight information!
If you are looking for a nice gentle walk and a bit of shopping, head to Corris Craft Centre. On the A487 between Dogellau and Machynlleth, you will find a series of honeycombed buildings housing all sorts of crafted items. Candles, soaps, chocolates, pottery, glassware, forest furniture and wooden toys to name a few! Many of the craft studios also encourage you to have a go. Why not indulge your creative side and design your own pottery, dip your own candles or make your own chocolate.
Set in beautiful surroundings with a café that serves spectacular food (their Welsh Rarebit still hasn’t been beaten!) you will be able to watch the world go by in luxury! Dogs are welcome in most of the craft shops and surrounding areas.
There are caving adventures here too, depending on your thrill seeking limitiations!
A cave tour where you will find out about the local legends of King Arthur! Crowned Best Visitor Attraction in Mid Wales 2018 in the National Tourism Awards for Wales. Equipped with a hard hat you’re greeted by a mysterious hooded boatman. He takes you by underground boat and through a magical waterfall; your gateway to the Dark Ages and to the life and times of King Arthur. Continue on foot for a guided tour around the caverns and learn about Dragons and Giants that lived here a very long time ago! Perfect for hot days as the caves stay a cool 8 degrees so take suitable clothing and footwear. The cave system is full of passage ways and large chambers. Not one to be missed! The kids will love this one! (Dogs not allowed in the caves, sorry!)
Offers a unique opportunity to explore the virtually untouched, abandoned workings of an old Welsh Slate Mine with one of Wales’ top Mine Explorers. The mine closed back in the 1970’s but was hand dug in the Victorian era. As you travel, with your hard hats and dim lights, you are taken back in time through stories of the people who lived and worked here. This one is a little more physical but worth the trip to explore the old mines! There are three trips you can take here, a taster session of just an hour, a 2 hour trip or a half day excursion. See the tools and machinery left behind as well as personal items and discover what it felt like to be a miner!
There are other mines and caves in North Wales including one where you can zipline and trampoline – however I have not tried this one out yet! do let me know if you have been and what it was like!
Situated on the Dwyryd Estuary, this village had been constructed in the theme of a Mediterranean Piazza. A punchbowl landscape filled with pastel coloured buildings, water features and architecture like no other. You will easily forget that you are in North Wales!
Recieving over 200,000 visitors per year, this tourist attraction has something to suit all family members. Marvel at the exotic plants that grow in the areas micro-climate, investigate the 70 acres of woodland, play in the water fountain or upgrade your kitchenware in the Portmeirion Pottery shop.
Guided tours are available at selected times during the season and these point out all the features you may otherwise miss. Perhaps best known for being the backdrop to The Prisoner TV show, starring Patrick McGoohan, this village has also had a multitude of media filmed here, including a 4 part Dr Who series in 1976, some shots for the 2002 final episode of Cold Feet and Siouxie and the Banshees ‘The Passenger’.
All the family will fall in love with Portmeirion and its beauty!
The zoo is a fantastic way to enjoy a day out with the family. The location is a little hilly so please bear this in mind, but nice paths and well signposted to different areas. The zoo houses animals from snow leopards, tigers and bears, to owls, meerkats and snakes. Although the zoo itself looks a little run down in places I found that the keepers had put a lot of effort into ensuring the areas were enriched for its inhabitants. The bear enclosure for me showed the most amount of effort on my visit with so much for them to investigate.
It is only through us visiting such zoos that they will have the funds to keep improving the facilities and participate in zoological programmes to keep these animals alive and breeding. Your entrance fee will help towards this but you can also get involved in other fundraising programmes or become a keeper for a day and have an amazing experience that you will not forget.
The Zoo also has interactive shows where you can watch flying displays from their birds, Chimp encounters, Sealion playtime and Penguin playtime, do try and catch some of these if you can!
The Safari restaurant overlooks the Tiger enclosure and serves hot and cold food and the Penguin Café overlooks the Penguin enclosure, so you have a couple of choices for food (although you can take a packed lunch). There is also a gift shop and an adventure land for the children to burn off some energy.
Featuring Alice in Wonderland, The Great Orme, A Tram and a Long Pier!
Llandudno is a beautiful seaside town. Georgian houses line the front, many now hotels and b+b’s offering spectacular views of the curved bay. This really is what every seaside town should be striving for. There is a large promenade, suitable for heavy volumes of foot traffic and push chairs, and a shingle beach leading out into the Irish Sea. Llandudno is home to the longest pier in Wales, which houses amusement arcades including one with a ZOLTAR machine. (If you have ever watched the film “BIG” you will either be enthralled or scared of it). You will also find a variety of shops, food stalls (including seafood and cheese as well as donuts and burgers) and kids games to keep all the family happy. The pier is also dog friendly.
Punch and Judy have some fame here as the longest running show. 150 years ago the Codman family started the show here and it is still going today! This is located on the seafront just before the pier. Regular shows in peak season will have the kids yelling “that’s the way to do it” for days to come!
Alice In Wonderland
As you travel through Llandudno you may notice some carved statues that look like the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts and a Cheshire cat to name a few! It turns out that the real Alice, inspiration for the Alice in Wonderland books by Lewis Carol, had a holiday home here in Llandudno. In homage to her the town has created a guided walk, great to do with a dog, with wonderland themed statues in locations around town! You can buy the maps from the tourist information centre.
A massive limestone headland on the coast, is well worth the effort of reaching the top. Fear not – you don’t have to walk! You can either take a cable pulled tram or a cable car up to the summit. There is a nature reserve up here where you can walk around the Orme in peace. Dogs are welcome here and there are lots of sniffs to wear them out. The Captains Table café/restaurant serves food and drinks for when you want to rest or take it easy. For the kids there is a playground and there is also a gift shop by the tram station.
Llandudno is a great base to visit North Wales from and is a super seaside location! You can read a more in depth review of Llandudno here!
6) Visit the Lakes
With so many Lakes to see when you visit North Wales, I would be here all day just naming them. From Bala you can take the road to Portmeirion and explore two other stunning lakes en route. The one displayed above does have a car park across the road where you could park up for the night. Whether you are looking for active water sports, bird watching or a place of quiet meditation, you will find a lake close by to achieve that.
We have seen amazing sunrises and sunsets by Welsh Lakes. The colours all reflect in the still, clean waters. The great thing about sunbathing by a lake rather than a beach is that you do not have to move every half hour because of the tide! Pop your picnic hamper down and know that you can sit here and watch the sun move slowly across the sky! Maybe even wait for the starts to come out.
7) Castles! Conwy, Harlech and Caernarfon…
Visit North Wales and its castles. Wales has such a rich history and its castles are a great reflection of both its Wealth and military strategy as well as being used as Places for royalty. Each castle is stunning in its own right and taking some time to learn about its specific qualities and place in history will open up a world of wonder. With so many castles and heritage sites to visit you will be in awe.
Conwy Castle is a spectacular site to visit. We had driven through the area on a previous North Wales adventure but been unable to find parking later in the day. Driving in to the walled town you are instantly blown away by the sheer magnitude of the Castle. She is amongst the finest surviving medieval fortifications in Britain and was a heavily fortified castle. The curtain walls surround the town and protect her inhabitants.
Most of these walls are still walkable today and you can find yourself climbing the old stairs to walk along the top of them like the soldiers did, and protect the castle from any incoming threats! With its 8 massive towers and inner chambers, this site was of great importance in Welsh history. The castle also had control of the port just below the Kings chambers and was a perfect location to defend itself from land and sea.
Another stunning castle built by the same master builder (James of St George) who built Conwy. Harlech has seen its fair share of battles and sieges. The song ‘Men of Harlech’ is said to describe a battle that took place here. A handful of men held out from a besieging army of thousands. They clearly did not think about visitor parking when designing the castle all those hundreds of years ago! However there are a few parking spots by the castle and a larger car park just around the corner in the village.
The new floating bridge, seen in the picture, gives you a real sense of what it would have been like to walk on a drawbridge. You are free to explore the grounds and climb the towers. The views from the top on a good day extend to Mount Snowdon and beyond! Great to get yours and the kids imaginations flowing as you learn about the castles history and imagine what it would have looked like when it was in its prime.
You cant really see her from your approach but when you do, she appears like a queen stood on the estuary, prideful and majestic. Caernarfon is a fortified town with magnificant walls around the perimeter. Cobbled streets and wonky buildings galore! We ‘wild camped’ the other side of the estuary and the castle was stunning from our back doors!
There is currently an extensive exhibition about the Welsh Fusiliers, including their part in the first and second world wars. You can see uniforms, medals, weapons and other artefacts used by the soldiers. For the children, they can fly their own dragon on a holographic screen! This castle has very high walls that overlook the town and again you are able to walk around up here. The railings are very so be cautious if you are unsteady on your feet.
Local to the castle there are great spots on the estuary to go crab fishing! You could take a boat ride along the Menai Strait, sit in the Anglesea pub listening to live music, or walk to the harbour and see the yachts. You can see Anglesey from here and explore the walled town including automated water jet fountains in the main square.
All of these Castles, as well as many others all across Wales, are part of Cadw – Welsh Government’s historic environment service. We purchased the CADW passes. This gives us free entry into Welsh CADW sites and half price entry to English and Scottish this year. On renewal we should then get free access into all 3!
With so many castles in North Wales to visit, you will have plenty of exploring to do. There are also plenty of castles in mid and south Wales to visit too!
8) Anglesey Beaches
Lligwy Beach, near Molefire, is a sandy beach backed by dunes. Anglesey is knows for having super beaches full with wildlife. The sand dunes are fun for the little ones to play in and there was a café when we went. I found it a but tricky getting to in the camper as the roads were narrow.
There were lots of children here playing in the water and it seemed quite safe but they do not have a lifeguard station here. Always be sensible near water and look out for anyone in trouble. The car park we found said there were parking charges and to pay in the café. If you are looking for a day to be lazy and relax on the beach then I would suggest Anglesey.
After a day on the beach, why not go to the other extreme and try a high speed boat ride down the Menai Strait! Rib ride offer several different speed boats and trip but their newest boats are capable of doing 73 miles an hour on the water! The adrenaline is flowing as you power through the water past all the little sail boats! Zoom under the two bridges from the mainland and back again and feeling the G force on your face as you try and remember to breathe!
This trip is not very expensive for what it is, and a really fun mini adventure. Only negative comment is that it doesn’t last long enough! Matt was our captain and was very knowledgeable about the boat and the water he was taking us on. He stopped when he needed to around other boats and ensuring our safety at all times. I guess we will have to go and do it again… sucks!
This is where the River Conwy meets its three tributaries flowing from the West, the Llugwy, the Lledr and the Machno. In the centre of the town you are treated to a mini rapid where you can sit and hear the water roaring past you with force. Not far away the tourist attraction of Swallow Falls will give you a camera worth snap of waterfalls.
Much of Betws-y-Coed was built in Victorian times and a popular attraction in North Wales in the Victorian era. It is the principal village of the Snowdonia National Park. Betws-y-Coed is a walkers paradise with several walks suitable for a variety of fitness levels throughout the mountain range. Just over the bridge a notice board with the walks and paths highlighted on it. Do check these before you set off so that you know what colour to follow. A few of them are very steep to start with! There are also a lot of outdoor shops catering to the adventurer. You can pick up a bargain on a backpack and save a few quid on walking boots.
We loved our breakfast!
If you prefer to stay at a reasonable altitude there are plenty of craft shops and cafes to eat in. The Alpine café served us breakfast (below). We found them to be such a good café that we went back later in the day. They have a wide range of veggie and vegan items, as well as extensive cake menus, home made fruit smoothies and to top it off – all palm oil free!
There is a motorhome parking area at the back of the car park at the end of the train station. We parked up here and only had to pay £2.50 up to midnight and then we were free until the morning. The train station also houses a mini steam train for the kids (although my dad would have loved it… if you have time, why not jump on a train to the beautiful countryside around the area from another perspective!
11) Climb Snowdon
This is one of the few that I still haven’t done. My friends have walked it (Thanks Zena and Tabs for the picture) and I am planning to do this next time I visit. Zena loves to travel – here is her insta) I aim to get fit so that I can really enjoy it. Mount Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales and England. It’s one of our most famous and recognizable landmarks. With 6 different walking paths and a train service, the summit seems within reach for everyone. The train from Llanberis to the summit of Mount Snowdon, in a Victorian style carriage, is a major tourist attraction. We advise you to book your tickets in advance. Since 1896 people have begun their exploration here and climbed the 1086 ft journey in the comfort of the train rather than walk up!
If you are walking, please make sure you read up about the mountain and the routes you can take. There is a visitor centre at the summit and their website states that you can see as far as Ireland on a really clear day! Visit the “the highest re-fuelling station in England and Wales” and have a drink in the summit Café.
On the A5 between Betws-y-Coed and Llangollen, a 6,700 acre in hand organic farm is the geographical core of the Rhug estate. The estate houses many animals including cows, sheep, pigs, turkeys, chickens and geese. It is the Bison, however, that give this location its unique selling point. A large restaurant serves novelties such as Bison Burgers, cream teas and full main meals to impress anyone! (check out this menu!!!) and their café serves more bbq orientated meals for a quick bite.
The shop houses almost 3000 products from its own range and those of other local suppliers and small businesses. These items include meat, deli, beverages and gifts.
Rhug is committed to an organic approach to farming. This means that the farm benefits from organic pastures that the animals are free to graze on, and they live their life free from unnecessary drugs. They are reared with minimal stress and a high quality of life. This is overseen by the estates governing body.
I hope that you have found something to cater to your tastes in this list. I could probably write one of these every week and still not get to the end of all the things North Wales has to offer. It really does have something for everyone!! Please do comment below and share other places you have been to or if you visit one of these places after reading my post, do come back and let me know if you enjoyed it.
Evesham is filled with fruit orchards and rolling hills galore. I fell into the same traps as many and forgot to investigate my local area, opting to travel long distances for the next adventure – but not this weekend! We had a blast without spending a lot on fuel or hours of driving.
Evesham is a Market town with an Abbey, Armoury and history steeped in legends. The abbey was, in a roundabout way, responsible for the name of Evesham. It seems that, Eoves, a herdsman of the Bishop of Worcester, had a vision of the Virgin Mary at this spot. Evesham Abbey, and consequently the town that grew around it, immortalised Eoves name.
The Vale of Evesham prides itself on its varied exports. Evesham Asparagus Festival is held annually to celebrate the harvest. The Round of Gras pub is the centre of the festivities, holding an annual asparagus auction (the village asparagus festival lasts a full week). They hold carvery’s as well at certain times and their food is delicious. We tucked into a lunch of freshly made baguettes and jacket potatoes with a couple of pints of lager shandy.
The other exports around the area include Apples, Plums (The Pershore Plum Festival is also a great one to visit!) and vegetables.
Sadly the town centres retail catalogue has shrunk, as it has in many local towns now. Projects are underway to restore footfall in the town and I would certainly say it is still worth a visit. The changing architecture, the park by the river, the history… all amounts to a wonderful trip out. (If you like your history you may even find links to the Knights Templar here if you do a bit of research! I don’t want to give away all of her secrets!)
For dinner we ventured into Evesham town and had a meal out at the ‘Casa’ Italian restaurant. Stylish and tasteful décor greeted us as we entered into the Bar area with dark beams and cosy lighting. It set the tone for a relaxing and enjoyable meal. We sat by the front window gracing us with a view overlooking the Abbey. They have a large conservatory at the rear of the venue with ample seating so you do not feel as though you are being packed in to get more tables, but spaced out where the emphasis is on the enjoyment factor. Their large menu caters for everyone in the family, offering vegetarian food, authentic pasta dishes and fish dishes.
Just 3 miles from Evesham you will find the text book definition of a Cotswold Village. With its wide high street and shops built with traditional Cotswold Stone, you can’t help but fall a little bit in love regardless of your age.
Places to eat in Broadway
There are an abundance of places to eat and drink to suit any budget.
Russell’s – Fish and Chip shop
We know the best chip shop is Russell’s in Broadway. Tucked down a side road you will find a rare gem. The design of the interior combines life jackets, sea fearing paraphernalia and candles on the tables with posh nosh! In the summer it is lovely to sit and eat outside under umbrella’s with the dog after a long walk.
Their menu is surprisingly large with the take-away option of beer battered cod/haddock, breaded or grilled plaice, scampi, chicken goujons or fish cakes as well as vegetarian pies, battered halloumi and a catch of the day. Customers can buy an alcoholic beverage in the licensed restaurant. The Take-away meal is presented to you in a lovely box with plenty of chips, including a serving of tartar sauce and a slice of lemon.
The Broadway Hotel
With a choice of spots to settle including a relaxed lounge, a bar area with an open fire (both dog friendly) or a formal serviced restaurant. You can relax here any day of the week and enjoy fine wines, excellent food and a friendly atmosphere. The decor changes through-out the hotel with the Broadway Hunt featuring largely in the local artwork upon the walls.
Stocked high with different local foods, treats and gifts. There is a cafe in there serving all manner of home cooked food with many vegan and gluten free options. They work with producers and suppliers from around the world who focus on the quality, integrity and provenance of their produce.
The Market Pantry
This small cafe sits about 20 people at a time. Vegetarian vegan and gluten free options, this British cafe serves meals ranging from £5-£9. Open 7 days a week and serving locally sourced, quality food, fresh seasonal and natural ingredients. Breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea or simply a coffee and a homemade cake.
There are so many other places to try, your taste buds will definitely be tickled in Broadway.
A walk around Broadway Village is a good way to walk off all of the food! It’s traditional Cotswold stone buildings pack in the charm with style and grace. Other shops include Kitchenware, Art gallery, old fashioned sweet shop and fashion items.
Broadway Tower and The Cotswold Way
Broadway Tower is a unique Capability Brown Folly tower. Its one of England’s outstanding view points, at 1024 feet above sea level, you can see over a 62 mile radius and as many as 16 counties from the roof viewing platform. William Morris also spent time here being inspired by the arts and crafts scene in the area.
Refreshments are available at the Morris and Brown cafe which is open all year round. It serves hot drinks and full meals or just a slice of cake if you prefer. Sit by the log fire and relax or browse their shop.
You can tour the tower with 50 acres of woods and parkland offering scenic walks and cycle routes. Spend time watching a heard of Deer housed there or go down and investigate the nuclear bunker between March and October.
The Tower just happens to be on the Cotswold Way, a 1000 mile footpath from Chipping Campden to Bath offering panoramic views of the Cotswolds. We have walked from Chipping Campden to Broadway so far and hope to walk other parts in the future. You don’t have to walk the whole thing and the paths are well sign posted.
Evesham Country Park / The Valley
Offering ample car parking. You can go for a riverside walk, do a spot of shopping, or grab a coffee with a friend. For the kids over the summer they have a ‘beach’ with sandpits for the children to play in. There are inflatable slides, carousel, swings and food and drink available.
A steam train runs from the car park, around the orchard, to a wooden castle built for the children. You can stop here and walk back or pick some apples and plums while you wait for the train to return. It is not an exceptionally long ride, but for £1.20 adult fare it is a good way to keep the family quite for 10 minutes!
Hillers Garden Centre
Hillers Garden Centre, Alcester, Warwickshire. Part of the Ragley Hall Estate, it has operated on one form or another on this site since the 1920’s. They have changed from a fruit farm to a pick your own and now a farm shop and garden centre. The shop sells produce either grown on site or sourced from a 10 mile radius. Farmers then invoice the farm shop what they need to make a living.
Honeyed ham, Ragley beef and pork are all roasted in their own kitchen for sale on the deli counter, along with a range of homemade salads, continental meats, pâtés and locally made cold pies.
Make your selection from the self serve olive and antipasti bar and stock up on all your groceries from the wide selection of specialised and everyday food. Bread is freshly baked throughout the day and they also have a selection of rolls and breads from local baker Lawrence’s.
The garden centre has well established flower beds and a rose garden. There is also a bird hide where you can see some of the 40 species of birds spotted. Fallow deer have also been known to feed here. There are avid bird watchers with camera lenses bigger than their heads, sitting next to children. For the children (and adults apparently) there is also a miniature railway – and the trains ARE small. It only lasts a few minutes but costs just 90p a ride. You can only fit two people in a carriage sitting opposite each other.
There are tea rooms here to enjoy your afternoon after walking around the garden centre. Staff members waited on you and come to your table to take your order. The tea rooms were dog friendly and we saw several well behaved pooches resting their paws in the shade.
There are many other places to explore nearby including Snowshill Lavender, Chipping Campden and Bourton on the Water. Stratford Upon Avon, although not in the Cotswolds, is only half an hour by car from Evesham – as is Cheltenham. Why not plan a stop to stay over and visit either the Cheltenham or Stratford races? Birmingham is also in close reach for a bustling nightlife or larger retail experience.
The Cotswolds are full of attractions and travel between the towns is easy with good public transport links. You can find accommodation to suit your budget and tastes.
I was lucky enough to have grown up on the outskirts of South London. My grandmother had moved to Holbury, just outside the New Forest and the best thing about visiting was a trip to see the horses! We returned years later to see what the New Forest was offering and were not disappointed!
For this trip we stayed at Hollands Wood Campsite (through campingintheforest.co.uk). The site is advertised as a perfect retreat for mind and body. Celebrity broadcaster and environmental campaigner David Bellamy described it as a paradise park. It is situated in 22 hectares of oak woodland and although the facilities are limited to toilets, showers and 600 grass only pitches, (they don’t have any electric hook ups or wifi) it sounded like a beautiful spot to explore from. The ‘limited’ facilities did mean the cost was very reasonable if you were willing to unplug from the grid.
The wonderful thing about this site is the lack of a hard perimeter. The horses and cattle are able to enter and free roam the site. Opening the doors the next morning we could already see the wildlife from the comfort of our bed. We had our breakfast and watched in awe as a heard of cows silently made their way through the trees. They came through camp – leaving one member behind who went frantically charging through a few minutes later calling for the herd.
Brockenhurst Village is within walking distance of the campsite and is one of the villages without cattle grids. It is not uncommon to see the horses and cows walking through the village nonchalantly. It has two fords which are a draw for the animals on hot days looking for a drink of cool water. There are a parade of shops and a couple of places to stop for a bite to eat. We stopped at The Buttery near the car park and enjoyed a cool drink and a bit of shade. In my head I thought the village would be bigger but it was a quaint and peaceful location. There is also a large pay and display car park with plenty of spaces.
Hythe is a town on the Solent famous for being home to the world’s oldest operating pier train. It is an excellent location to see the large cruise ships as they dock at Southampton. I remember watching the QE2 manoeuvre herself on more than one occasion as a child and feeling so very small in her shadow!
Hythe had a market on during the time we visited, selling fruits, vegetables, clothing, pet supplies and household items. The town has plenty of shops to look around. We found a Costa, grabbed a hot chocolate and headed to the estuary. The tide was out but it was still lovely to sit in the sunshine and watch the birds. We saw a type of seagull here that looked very different to the ones we usually encounter. I was not sure what they were called but they had white bodies and black faces. Google came to our rescue and told us that they were indeed called black faced seagulls… Who knew!
The Happy Cheese Pub
Taking a drive to Ashurst on the A35 we discovered a popular local pub called The Happy Cheese. It’s on your right hand side as you go over the railway bridge. The pub was so popular that we struggled to find somewhere to park as their car park is not very large however there were other options available to us which we took up.
The pub is well presented with fresh paint on the building. The outside area housed benches with umbrellas in both a grassed and patio locations for you to choose from. The inside was very ‘country pub’ looking with dark beams and low lighting which I found enhanced the character. The food was beautifully cooked and the staff were very friendly and efficient.
Most famously known for being the home of the National Motor Museum and its Palace House, Beaulieu is a stunning village best seen in glorious sunshine. Although it is a very popular destination for tourists, its parking is rather lacking. Be sure to get there early for a space!
There are a few shops in the village and a pub. The Beaulieu River is home to lots of wildlife and can be a twitcher’s paradise with some rare birds seen here.
A great couple of hours out here, and not far from Beaulieu. The New Forest’s charming hamlet was once famous for its shipbuilding. It has a clear navigable route to sea and a great source of timber! The rows of cottages are now turned into museums and tourist attractions to learn about the shipbuilding industry and how people lived. In the summer time they often have people in costume too. Boat rides are available at extra cost along the water.
Lyndhurst is known as the ‘capital’ of the New Forest and has been visited by many members of royalty since William the Conqueror established it as a royal hunting ground. The graveyard of St Michael and All Angels’ Church is the resting place of one of the New Forest’s famous residents, Alice Pleasance Liddell. Alice was the little girl who inspired Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’. Alice also had a holiday home in Llandudno and you can read about her influence on this seaside town here!
Lyndhurst’s bustling town is full of shops, restaurants and local charm. From here you can rent a bicycle, go for a walk into the forest or simple wander around the quaint little independent shops and grab a bargain!
I had not been horse riding before but Louise has. Louise had spoken about how she missed it and when I was looking for things to do I realised we could hire horses and go on a hack! The stables are very experienced and went through all the health and safety information followed by a quick lesson on how to control your horse.
These horses are very well trained and know the drill. They are used to novices riding them and were very patient. We were a group of 6 with 2 professionals to lead us around the forest tracks and even though I was terrified at the start, I can tell you that there is no better way to see the forest than on horse back!
New Forest has Beaches???
Yes. The New Forest is an amazing destination as it has everything! Forest, heather, wide open spaces, rivers and a coast line with sand dunes and nature reserves! Head to the southern edge of the forest to be greeted with loads of options. Check the New Forest website for a list of possible sunbathing spots!
A unique destination with so much to offer
We loved the New Forest and there is still so much left to explore. Being in close proximity to the horses and cows was an amazing experience.
You can pay for the privilege of going to a zoo and having an ‘experience’ with the animals but nothing quite feels as real as a herd choosing to walk close to you. For me it was a very honest experience which reminded me about acceptance and serenity. I will not forget that.
Earlier in the post I described the campsite as ‘limited’ however after my experience there, it is the most unlimited location I have ever been to. It really opened my mind and heart.
The new forest has something for everyone, so whether you want to chill out and relax like us or spend your days with more of an adrenaline rush, there is something here for you!
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Make your dream a reality. It is something many of us put off. I was just like most of you. Living in a house, working and paying into a pension and I liked cosy evenings on the sofa under a duvet. I had debts a few years prior but managed to get back on my feet. My hobbies include music, walking and hanging out with my friends.
My generation were raised on this notion that we all need to watch the news, have a 9-5 job, pop out a few kids, work some more and then retire.
For many years I had just accepted this model was the one we all had to live by. I understood my place in the world was to work and pay tax, food shop on a Saturday and do laundry on a Sunday. Gap years were something I heard of but didn’t get the chance to do. I grew up hearing the stories of strangers who went abroad and gained valuable life experience.
In my 20’s a friend of mine decided to travel to Australia for a year (or two as it turned out) and this was the first person I had a connection to that jumped ship. My BFF Becky decided that in a year she wants to emigrate to New Zealand. I suddenly felt as though it might be possible. Real people that I knew, that were like me, were doing something adventurous. Maybe I could do this too?
Work / life balance
My job was hard work and I found it to be both challenging and rewarding. I worked for an animal charity for 13 years and I have a great sense of achievement and pride for the job that I did. Starting at the bottom I worked my way up through some really hard grafting and I got promoted to assistant manager. As a result I was provided on site accommodation. That sounded really appealing! An extra half hour in bed, no commute, it had a garden.
In reality living on site is a ball ache! I got called out at 2am because the alarms are going off. I couldn’t leave site in the evenings 3-4 days a week or walk my dog except around the grounds.
What is your dream?
In 2014 we purchased a VW panel van and converted it into a campervan, this would mean that we were able to go on cheaper holidays and more often as we could camp – getting me off site more and keeping costs down.
It took a little while to get the van how we wanted it. With added units, insulation, carpeted walls and a really comfortable futon that we pulled out to sleep on, she was fit for use. After several trips in the van we really got into the swing of it. We started to take less and less with us and only brought essentials. As space was limited we began to cut out the bulk of clothes, shoes and ‘luxury items’ as we just were not using them.
As soon as we were pitched up I could feel my shoulders drop a few inches. There is nothing like being able to wake up and hear the birds, smell the earth and be surrounded by nature. I quickly realised this is what I NEED to be doing more of. For my own health and wellbeing I needed to get back to a simpler life. We wasted money on ‘things’ that we didn’t need, and when I looked around my house I just saw pointless clutter. I can’t take any of this with me when I die, decorations serve no purpose and it’s just collecting dust. In the van I only had what I needed, it’s simple.
The problem I encountered was that I wanted it more and more. My dream to live full time in a van only got stronger. I spoke to my friends who said “make your dream a reality”.
And we did.
You can make your dream a reality too, whether it’s buying a house, a big wedding or buying a van. It can take hard work but you can do it. Put simple steps in place to start saving money (you can save money travelling too!). Find a way to break it down into achievable steps and make a start today.
For us, travelling in a van means that we can wake up every day with a different view. Although we have only travelled in the UK so far, I have never been happier. I have a dream where I get to travel around the world. Thinking about our future it is clear to me that, unlike our elder generations, we will not have the opportunity to travel when we retire.
Why not? For the most part, people my age can expect to hit retirement age at 65+ and then it is likely that we will need to continue working as the price of living increases quicker than pay is rising. I will possibly be looking at working until I am 70-80. There is no way that I will be able to get into a van and travel the world then!!! This way we can explore the world while young enough to still get a job if we decide to settle down and pay back into our pensions.
The way I see it I only have one choice, do it now, while I am young. The technological revolution means that we are now able to reassess our working lives and can do things a different way around.
With the boom in working from ‘home’ and digital nomad enterprises increasing all the time it has never been a better time to travel and work. Setting up several online blogs or businesses can afford you the freedom to travel and still earn money. As long as you have an internet connection you can work on the road. Most towns have a coffee shop with free wifi or a library to log into. Many companies are also selling devices that enable you to take the internet with you. Mobile phone companies are making it easier to access the web from a phone or tablet too. This makes it easier when making your dream a reality!
How did we do it?
Our plan was a 2 year plan. Save money like crazy, Sell some of our clutter, build our web presence and start earning income. With 6 months to go, sell the VW and buy a bigger van, convert it, take a deep breath, leap.
In reality a lot of unexpected things happened. I split up with Ami and started a new relationship with Louise. Louise was working which brought in another wage and once I had introduced her to camping she fell in love with it. She wanted to help make our dream a reality! We actually moved the leaving date forward a year as there was a second income.
Now, Make your dream a reality.
You could do it too. If you have the feeling that you have been trying to fit into a mould that doesn’t fit, let me ask you this. What is it that YOU want to do? What is stopping YOU? Lastly, what would have to happen for you to make that change? Making your dream a reality is very possible.
Full time #VanLife travellers sharing tips and adventures