Monday, 20 July 2015

A Rare Summer in the UK

Perhaps the most striking feature for us after the many weeks in Australia's red centre was the vibrant green of the British countryside in June.

The van had stored well in Carmarthenshire although a small hole in the exhaust had enlarged so a couple of new sections were fitted by ATS in Brecon which should give me a Europe wide warranty for impending travels.

Just before we left for Oz in April a rear spring had failed so having sourced from T4sRUS new heavy duty springs and some new rear shocks - worth doing as the originals had covered 310,000 miles - I jacked the van up in a friend's shed near Brecon to undertake the work.

What should have taken an hour per side soon began to unravel as the top bolt was seized in to the upper shock bush and despite much effort would not budge. Thus the only option was to carefully burn out the rubber to give some play, cut away the shock absorber and then cut through the steel bush without damaging the bolt - all tricky given the limited access and awkward angle.

Anyway eventually the bolt came out and that side was soon re- assembled, however similar issues on the near side were compounded by the bolt head shearing off - not something easily replaced in Brecon on a Saturday morning. Jan and Ian kindly lent me their Kangoo to pop up and see Mum and source a new pair of bolts from the helpful staff at TPS Shrewsbury on the Monday morning.
So the van now sits higher and firmer than it has for years and combined with the front suspension work done after Morocco should pass the Autumn MOT but I am aware that with such high mileage other issues may arise and I need to consider my options.

Having looked at alternatives earlier in the Spring I am taken by the Wild Ax Solaris - see  which offers the flexibility I need and a few more creature comforts. However with an 8 month waiting list this in itself throws up other considerations.

I spent some time in the Cambrian mountains before and after celebrating Sarah's birthday in Pembrokeshire - one of our bothies had been visited by a group of off roaders who as well as leaving rubbish, trampling the ground and damaging fixtures and fittings had also abandonned a Suzuki jeep having failed to extract it from a bog using MBA tools - Natural Resource Wales are currently looking at the substantial costs and logistical issues of removing the vehicle as it is many miles from tarmac and hundreds of yards of rocky challenging track from even the forestry road.

Whilst on a return visit a group of off road motorbikes turned up and whilst the exchanges were polite and friendly enough I was grateful to have had the Go Pro quietly recording the event being in a minority of one.
A scramble along the Afon Pysgotwr gorge near Rhandirmyn was an unexpected adventure - a return some time to tackle the river as a canyonning trip would be good fun.

A weekend near Priddy was a great opportunity to catch up with friends, enjoy a good walk past the huge TV mast and return via Wells with a pleasant evening in the Hunters Inn where little has changed over my thirty of years of patronage - although the pub grub does now offer a veggie option I stayed with the traditionally excellent chilli. An amusing anecdote arose from showing friends some photos outside as when starting the computer a few days later I noticed a number of damaged pixels on my screen. Having arranged for a collection and repair under warranty, Mum whilst looking at the problem, accidentally touched the screen and the defect disappeared - it turns out that tiny droplets of tree sap were the cause of the issue and a humble return call was made to John Lewis!

A good party in Brecon was followed by a trip north to see Penny in Sheffield where we enjoyed our usual energetic week, the highlight of which for me was a day on her family's narrow boat heading along the Aire and Calder Navigation from Castleford to Leeds. The comfortable and sophisticated 58' boat is powered by a diesel engine that also tops up a large battery array. These power (via inverters) a fully equipped kitchen with oven, fridge/freezer, a washer/drier, entertainment systems and all the mod cons of a normal home. Hot water to a full size shower and central heating is also available from the diesel systems as the vessel is gas free - something that appeals to me in a camper van. In fact I was so taken by the notion of life afloat that it may well be an option for me in a decade or so when perhaps the travel bug has been truly swatted.

After mooring in the centre of Leeds we enjoyed a good meal out before Penny and I caught the train back to Castleford where the parking attendant who lives by the car park was waiting for our safe return on his front door step - amusingly his ticket booth is on wheels and he rolls it back and forth from his garden every day!

The following day we visited Elsecar Industrial village and the impressive Wentworth Woodhouse estate near Barnsley followed on the Thursday by a decent bike ride around the cycleways of Rotherham where the former industrialised mining areas are greening up rapidly. During this ride I was persuaded to embark on a coast to coast ride from Morecambe to Bridlington in late August which should be good fun.

Over the weekend I stopped near Cromford to meet up with friends who also travel full time - we first met in Wolfsburg a few years ago and share a similar approach to life on the road whilst adopting markedly different methods.
Thus I was royally fed and entertained in their comfortable coachbuilt van located on a small site above Dethick. A new scooter gives them easy access for getting out and about which otherwise sits in Pete's man cave - a nice IW box trailer that gives them oodles of storage. A walk on Saturday included a visit to an excellent local butchers in Holloway for a home made pie followed by paths and lanes above Cromford - some of which were a bit of an ordeal thanks to head high vegetation. However a descent from the top along the High Peak trail gave us the opportunity for ice creams in the sun at High Peak Junction before a steep walk back up to the field.

In Shropshire all is well - Mum has been in her new home for exactly a year and seems very happily settled. Now that all the houses are completed and the roads surfaced it is a very lovely place to be and no doubt the last few Wintles properties will soon be sold.

So looking ahead August and September are busy after which I may run the van down to Portugal before heading to South America so that I can continue south for the winter just before New Year.
Reports will continue via the blog and you can track me at this link or enjoy the photos here.