Third Time Lucky- A Norfolk Jaunt

Third Time Lucky- A Norfolk Jaunt

To say a place is cursed is a bold statement. That is how it felt. To us, Cromer was cursed.

It all started in August 2018. We had planned a UK road trip in our van. Samantha, Winston and I would visit Norfolk, Kent, Dorset and South Wales in a circular drive around the southern part of the UK. This had to be cancelled and a scaled down version, (but no means less enjoyable,) was undertaken around the Welsh coastline. Winston’s illness, and frankly near death experience, made the Summer of 2018 very stressful.

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Fast forward to October 2018 and we had another North Norfolk adventure planned. We were all set to go, when our oven at home decided to die on us. Unfortunately, sometimes, adult life steps in and ruins any bids for freedom you may have conjured up!

Winter followed and we were itching for a break away from the aforementioned adulthood. Where else would we go? By this point we had a large itch that we had to scratch when it came to Cromer and the north Norfolk coastline. The Airbnb was booked. We’d researched the beaches, trails and coffee shops. Would anything stop us this time? We weren’t taking any chances…

Norfolk’s Endless Sands

Norfolk’s Endless Sands

The universe, (I’ve started blaming the universe for such events), still had some challenges lined up for us before we were allowed to go to Norfolk. Our Jeep needed some paintwork doing after someone, (me), drove it into a small, (large), invisible, (a multi-story car park), wall. Our van restoration was also costing us a lot more money than first planned and even on the way to Cromer it seemed the British Army itself wanted us to stay away. There was a convoy of armoured military vehicles driving at 20mph for miles. We, of course, got stuck behind them! All of these things happened but we made it to Cromer unscathed. We checked into our apartment and immediately began to explore the local area. Was Cromer going to be worth the wait? We’d already discussed what we had wanted to see and do. We wanted a chilled few days exploring and unwinding. This is what we had planned…

  • Cromer Beachcombing

    Weybourne Woods

  • North Norfolk Steam Railway

  • Happisburgh Lighthouse

  • Wells Next The Sea

Here is what we found:

The town of Cromer is much like many British seaside towns. A busy high street, narrow side streets with victorian buildings which are wider on the third floor than on the first. Leaning in towards you like overpowering guardians watching you walk towards to beach. Cromer differs from some seaside towns in the fact it appears to be build on a cliff top so therefore steep steps, and a later made ramp, are required to make your way down to the promenade and the typical, if not, ornate pier. The prom has various cafes, shops and amusements spread along its concrete walled defences. The beach itself is a stretch of stoney, pebble littered shoreline interspersed with dilapidated tide breakers. Patches of golden sand are occasionally visible when the rocks have been shifted by a tempestuous northerly swell. 

The beaten sea defenses

The beaten sea defenses

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We beachcombed along the rocky ground. Climbing over the wooden fences and breakers like a giant abandoned castle. We found driftwood, smoothed pebbles and sea glass like jewels. Norfolk flint was everywhere. Eroded into various shapes, many with holes bored right through them to create eye like shapes across the surface of the beach. We made our way past rows of cute beach huts in many different colours and stages of decomposition. I couldn't help but love the wonky and rotten ones a little more than the perfect striped candy cane holiday cabins. I could imagine an artist sculpting a masterpiece in there or a reclusive poet with his words flowing out, like the ink from his pen, onto a jotter for no one to read. 



Cromer’s famous beach huts

Cromer’s famous beach huts

The cliffs towered above us, looking fragile and crumbling onto the beach. We found a steep path winding up the cliff, cut into the sandy ground by others footfall, leading to Warren Wood. A tiny country park with dispersed broadleaf trees and wiry, stubborn, and thorny, gorse. Their yellow flowers not hoodwinking me to forget their sharp lances. We explored the parkland and marvelled at its endless coastal panoramas. The church spire, of the Norman church near our bed for the night, was just visible above the trees to remind us of the undulating and contouring landscape around Cromer. After a while we found a lighthouse within the park. A small and somewhat stunted building of brilliant white paint. Its glass domed top was reflecting the sunshine down towards our feet. The path around the park continued past large beach houses and rooftop gardens until it reached the bustle of its tourist lined streets again. We had ventured no more than three miles from the bustling town and found a tranquil, lonely spot but not at all troglodytic. The contrast of the two places was more obvious than I could of imagined!

Cromer Lighthouse

Cromer Lighthouse

Stretching across 206 acres is Weybourne Woods. A mixture of broadleaf and pine trees which nudges up to Sherringham Park. We came across the area of woodland when we alighted the steam train from Sherringham to Holt.

Walking up through the Hundred Acre Wood

Walking up through the Hundred Acre Wood

Firstly we made our way into the Hundred Acre Wood and quickly climbed up to a ridge line surrounded by Oak, Ash and Beech. After we emerged from the trees we found ourselves with two options. We could follow the road back to the train to continue our journey to Holt, or, we could climb the stile in front of us and venture into an inviting avenue of tall green Scotch Pines. I am at an ever changing viewpoint with pinetums. The UK should be awash with Oak, Beech, Holly and Elder. Yew trees should grow from a lush green forest floor amongst ferns and grasses. All of which would support a strong wildlife community. A pine forest is a dark, moody and stark place.

Forest road through the pines

Forest road through the pines

The dry forest floor

The dry forest floor

The air is devoid of brute creation and sometimes it is so silent you can hear a pine cone fall onto the bed of cushioned needles on the floor. The busy treetops, metres above your head, block a lot of the natural light and therefore the earths canvas is brown and dead. Even though all of this is true the air holds something rather special, a certain magic. The air is close and dense making you feel a part of the forest. It is as if the soul of the forest is entering your skin. Your mind runs wild. Maybe the life in pine forest is just not visible. It could be behind every tree trunk, over every root and around the next corner. Visible behind the first few rows of trees were our idea of woodland heaven. In-between the pines were the most perfect A-Frame cabins gathered in a horseshoe pattern. We stood and dreamed about living in the woods and becoming nomads.

Cabin Goals

Cabin Goals

We followed a simple path through the forest until it looped back to where the steam train was waiting to carry us along to our next destination.

The Black Prince pulled us through the countryside in style.

The Black Prince pulled us through the countryside in style.

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The North Norfolk Steam Railway is a heritage steam railway between the towns of Sherringham and Holt. It passes through preserved woodland, country parks, next to windmills and nestles itself amongst the busy Norfolk wildlife. A mixture a steam and classic diesel trains transport you on the short, but fun, five mile track.



Overlookingthe erosion sites at Happisburgh.

Overlookingthe erosion sites at Happisburgh.

The next day we headed east along the coast. There is no quick way to negotiate the Norfolk lanes. All roads lead inland before heading back towards the North Sea to each individual coastal town. Our destination was the village of Happisburgh. A site of huge importance archaeologically and environmentally. In May 2013 a set of human footprints were dated back to the early Pleistocene era, (over 800,000 years ago). These are the oldest known hominid footprints outside of Africa. The village is subject to coastal erosion and homes are frequently lost into the sea. Numerous groynes have been erected but so far the sea continues to consume the land. The cliff edges are a crumbling mess. The soft sandy edges can often be seen falling into the sea. The coast path weaves around the saw tooth frame of our country.

Nothing much left of this groyne.

Nothing much left of this groyne.

Standing only a few hundred metres, (maybe less now), from the cliff edge is the Happisburgh lighthouse. A perfect red and white striped obelisk that was somewhat of a alien in a sandy field. The privately operated lighthouse will eventually be lost into the blue with the rest of the village. This makes everything feel very fragile and reminding me that you have to respect the natural world. We are nothing more than passengers on a great adventure. We have experiences we can enjoy and mountains we can conquer. All the time we have to remember to fear what the laws of macrocosm can do.

Happisburgh Lighthouse

Happisburgh Lighthouse

Jagged cliff edges in Happisburgh

Jagged cliff edges in Happisburgh

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We only had one day left in Norfolk before we headed back to work. We’d seen so much during our mini adventure. The historic railways and lighthouses, the eerie and enchanting woods and we enjoyed the undisturbed act of beachcombing. Our minds were completely refreshed from the tranquil locations we had visited and sights we’d seen. We still had time for one final sojourn. A crescendo to bring the holiday to a fitting climax. 

Heading west along the coastline from Cromer we pointed towards Wells Next The Sea. A assiduous seaside village with tonnes on offer.

Woodland trails in Wells.

Woodland trails in Wells.

The village is a harbour port dating back to 1859 when land was reclaimed to form a mile long sea wall. We drove along the wall and parked at the end amongst many other visitors. For the first time on our Norfolk travels we felt as if we were with droves of tourists and holiday makers. The large gravel car park, filled with families and their relentless supplies of buggies, buckets and ball-games irritated me. I am not a fan of following the sprawl of other families to the same holiday destinations at the same time. We had avoided crowds up to this point and I was starting to think we had made a mistake in coming.

The Brine Pools

The Brine Pools

More of those perfect huts!

More of those perfect huts!

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We had heard exciting claims about the beach and surrounding woods so we scanned around for a sign. A sign to lead us away to a more peaceful part of Wells Next The Sea. The northern edge of the gravel car park was lined with tall, almost grey, dense pine trees. We headed towards them and we quickly found a path into them. The ground was so soft underfoot with a mixture of needles and sand providing a cushioned bed to walk upon. The path quickly took the reins as our minds got soothed amongst the trees. Before we knew it the path took us over an embankment and down onto golden sands. The bright sunshine, that had up to this point been hidden from us by the close-knit treetops, was energising. Our paced quickened as if we were rushing towards the sea. A attempted quick dash towards the North Sea would be foolhardy to say the least as it was barely visible to us. The vast sand was only broken up by brine pools waiting for the ocean to come back and become accustomed with them once again. The limitless sands were home to Lapwings, Oystercatchers and Marsh Harriers. All taking to the skies as families and dogs made their way towards them. The crowds that were at the car park had vanished and as I looked along the shining beach I wondered where they had gone. Only the more intrepid children had dragged their families this far along the beach.

Into the woods…

Into the woods…

We marvelled at the colourful beach huts. Again, like in Cromer, I imagined a life in one of them and what those tranquil four walls could conjure in my mind. Upon reaching the end, of what must of been 100 beach huts, we arced back towards the trees. Walking amidst the soaring pines, which make up a part of the Holkham Nature Reserve, our spirits calmed yet again. The excitement that beaches and the ocean always brings us traded placed with a serene and comfortable outlook. As I have mentioned before, in much of my writing, there is just something magical about trees. Scots Pine shared the bolstered floor with Corsican and the fitting Maritime Pine. Some trees had fallen in the storms over the last few years and therefore the woodland was full of glades and clearings which let streams of warm glowing sunshine in. We perched on a fallen Scots Pine to eat some lunch and survey the area. Grey Squirrels busied themselves above us in the sprung evergreen branches. Blackbirds and Chaffinches amongst other ground feeding birds collected seeds, and probably picnic scraps. A few other people walked near us but all kept to themselves. Happy with their own little bit of woodland, their special haven. Once nature had given them what they came for they left it as they found it.

My first impression of Wells Next The Sea was unjust. We ventured only a few hundred metres from the bustle of British tourism to find a peaceful oasis of pure nature. 

Walking through the dunes

Walking through the dunes

It took us three attempts to visit the Norfolk coast but it was worth the wait. I certainly found tranquility in Norfolk.

There is no such thing as bad weather!

There is no such thing as bad weather!

It was cold and wet beyond belief and most people were wrapped up indoors and making the most of modern comforts, like central heating and showers. We weren’t. We decided that what we needed was a trip to the Lake District in our van. We packed all our blankets, jumpers, coats, boots and thermals into the small storage compartments in the back of our van and made sure we had plenty of gas and heating supplies for the next week. We packed numerous dog coats and blankets too for Winston the Pug. Our plan was simple. We were not going to let the weather stop our fun! 

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As we slowly, (our van only does slowly), made our way up north on the dreaded M6 motorway, being overtook by haulage lorries and being buffeted by strong sidewinds, my optimism started to drain. The weather was awful. The wipers barely coped with the spray from the traffic and the snow was building up on the embankments the further north we traveled. There was no turning back now though. Whether it was due to stubbornness or resilience we continued the journey north and after 5 hours on the road we arrived at our destination. 

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We are members of the Caravan and Motorhome Club for times just like this. Wild camping is brilliant and you can end up in some amazing locations, but when the weather is against you and you’re already battling the gods, (or so it seemed), you need a stable base to build your adventures from. We stayed at the Meathop Fell club site. Nestled in amongst tall trees in the south of the Lake District National Park, it was a perfect location to explore the southern lakes. Windermere and Coniston Water were close by, as was Grizedale Forest.

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We set the van up ready for our week in one of the most beautiful places on Earth; The English Lakes.

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Our first 2 days consisted of rain and more rain. We entertained ourselves as much as we could, playing games, cooking tasty one stove meals and exploring the local area. After a few days we started to go a little mad and had to leave the local area so we started to make some plans.

Grizedale Forest is a large forest in between Windermere and Coniston Water. It is managed by the Forestry Commission and therefore has many of the activities that other Forestry Commission sites have throughout the U.K. Mountain Biking, Rope Courses and other visitor attractions are subtly built into the trees. There are also many hiking trails and that’s what we planned to explore. We aimed to get to the highest part of the forest and hopefully grab a view of both lakes to the east and west. We arrived in the rain and got prepared for our hike. Waterproof trousers and hiking boots were on. Winston had 2 coats on and was ready for an adventure, or at ready to be dragged on one anyway! Jumpers and hats were donned and we put snacks and drinks in our backpacks. Our Peoples Poncho’s were on and we set off to find our viewpoint. 

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The paths were like rivers! I am not just saying they were wet. They had a constant flow of 2 inch water flowing down them. We “paddled” our way up through the winding paths. We soon became part of the forest. The trees enveloped us and our course, and rather than showing us the way to go it felt like the forest was a big playground for us to explore as we wanted. When you are in a wild space during extreme weather you can’t fight it. You have to allow it to do whatever it wants to do. Today the forest wanted us to get wet. The drops falling off the trees hit us on our Poncho hoods like walnuts falling from the trees. Our faces were showered with a cold misty breeze every time the wind managed to get through the canopy above us. We didn’t mind though. We kept walking happy to be part of nature and experiencing the forest on a day like this. 

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The People’s Ponchos were keeping us dry. In fact when we stopped for lunch and pulled my poncho up to reveal my backpack the backpack was dry and therefore, more importantly, my cake was dry! 

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When we reached the summit of our woodland walk we were met with cloud. The two lakes of Windermere and Coniston Water could not be seen! Rather than feeling disappointed we just looked at the rolling clouds and mist rising from the tree tops. We sat atop some rocks and enjoyed the view. Our walk back down took us through pine trees and then something quite extraordinary happened. The forest thanked us! The clouds departed and blue skies were revealed. The sun burnt through the tree canopies and started to dry the forest floor. The birds came out of their storm hideouts and ventured forth for their dinner. We removed various layers of clothing until we were hiking in short sleeved  t-shirts! The challenges laid before us in the morning had not only been beautiful and insistent they had rewarded us with a glorious ending to our hike. 

We headed back to the campsite for some warm grub and ale knowing that we had been treated by nature to a delightful display of weather and all it can offer us. It taught me a lesson. Never let bad weather get in your way. Never let the rain stop you doing something. It’s only water and you will dry out! Put having fun first. Let your happiness be your priority and acknowledge that you’ve got to make the most of every moment. We continued using our van throughout the year whatever the weather. We travelled around the U.K. and Europe in it not worrying about the weather. All we worried about was having fun!

Don’t overthink your decisions. Your instincts can serve you well.

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Good Life Experience 2018

Good Life Experience 2018

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I’m not a fan of festivals normally. They consist of mud, drunks, foul smells and normally trouble. I’m the kind of person who tries to stay as far away from a festival as possible. Some groups of people would call that boring but what they don’t understand is that I am not averse to fun.

If I could only have 5 things in my life they’d be,

  1. The Great Outdoors

  2. Family and Friends (Dogs too!)

  3. Music

  4. Amazing Food

  5. New Experiences

I think that sounds pretty fun!

The Good Life Experience is a festival set in a field in a British summer, but it is all of the list above and has none of the aforementioned unfavourable qualities. Here is what we found at this years festival…

Camping in the orchards

Camping in the orchards

Location

The festival is set in rural Flintshire a stones throw from the Welsh/English border. A stones throw it may be but it feels very Welsh. Held on the fields belonging to the Harwarden Farm Shop and in the shadow of Hawarden Castle, it’s a stunning and beautiful place. The land belongs to the Gladstone family who own and run the Pedlars store and the farm shop. Due to the freedom land-ownership allows the festival is very relaxed. The campers and glamping tents are located on the billiard table, smooth Cricket Pitch. The vendors camping, where we parked our van, is amongst the Apple and Pear trees and next to Pumpkin fields. You wouldn’t get that at many festivals. The Broughton Brook winds its way past the fields and into the Fish Pond lake where you could go wild swimming and boating. There were ample trees all around the site making you feel you were truly isolated, but in a festival; lost in the woods with a thousand of your new best friends!

Pumpkins aplenty

Pumpkins aplenty

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Feel

The festival opens on Friday afternoon and quickly fills with all manner of people. The weekend is inclusive to all. Families, Partiers, Travellers, Friends, there really is something for everyone. We saw such a diverse amount of people; Cuban men with massive cigars, traditionally dressed Rajasthani men, barefoot surfers and even a Wizard! It really doesn’t exclude anyone! You’d imagine a weekend experience that includes so many individuals may feel jumbled and disjointed. How can so many people be interested in the same things? Well that’s the amazing thing about this festival. Where ever you came from, whatever your background, beliefs, feelings about bloody Brexit, (and yes it came up in conversation a lot!), we all had one thing in common. We came to have a relaxed, great time and experience new things.

Ferris and Sylvester in The Ale House.

Ferris and Sylvester in The Ale House.

Music

Two of the organisers of the weekend are Cerys Matthews, (from Catatonia and BBC 6 Music fame), and Steve Abbot, (music producer). So it is safe to say that music plays a massive part during the weekend. Anyone who has listened to Cerys’ show on 6 Music knows her indiscriminate and varied music tastes, and it is much the same here. We had rock and roll bands such as, Touts and Boy Azooga, indie bands like Ferris and Sylvester and Halo Maud. The Go! Team headlined on the Saturday night with the amazing Diabel Cissokho sharing the stage with them. Trevor Nelson played an unbelievable DJ set on Friday night before passing the headphones to Norman Jay MBE for a set on Saturday night. There were 4 main stages/tents for music. The Main Stage, The Ale House which had a more cosy feel, The Caught By The River tent, which had new independent artists on and the Kansas Smitty’s tent. The Kansas Smitty House Band were back again at the festival for a second year. They are the band at the Kansas Smitty jazz and cocktail bar in London. They bring their jazz infused music and tasty cocktails to the festival and it proves very popular.

The Gyspy Jam

The Gyspy Jam

The Kansas Smitty’s House Band

The Kansas Smitty’s House Band

The standard of music is so, so good. I lost count of the amount of times my jaw dropped and marvelled at the talented people on the stages. The Kansas Smitty Gypsy Jam, where musicians from France and the USA jammed on stage, was incredible. No script, no plan just pure music and passion. The schedule was well planned too which many artists not clashing and you often saw other musicians in the crowds watched their peers on stage!

The Go! Team were loud, bold and super edgy. They physically filled the stage and their noise filled the entire festival site. The next day everyone was talking about them! Trevor Nelson’s set on the Friday night was class and it was amazing to see such an iconic artist at work! Even better because of the size of the festival it felt super close and personal. Totally brilliant!

The Go! Team on the main stage.

The Go! Team on the main stage.

All of the bands and artists were brilliant but one group of men stole the show for me. The Rajasthan Brass Band. The beautifully dressed, super talented group of guys playing a mix of traditional music and pop covers really got the festival kicked off on Saturday morning. Then on Sunday they marched around the festival fields playing Mamma Mia as loud as they could. By the end they had quite a crowd following them around!

What a sight! The Rajasthan Brass Band

What a sight! The Rajasthan Brass Band

Prepping the BBQ for the cook-off!

Prepping the BBQ for the cook-off!

Speakers

The Good Life Experience is about so much more than just music. Unlike other festivals, when the music stops there is plenty more to do. There are some fantastically interesting and compelling people at the festival to engage with in the many venues. The Academy and Speakers Corner had some talks from business owners, authors, artists and creative entrepreneurs, all of which you’d find inspiration from to take home. The Campfire cooking stage is where you’d go and make yourself hungry, watching some brilliant chefs, bakers and general foodies cook some delectable treats up. Tom Herbert was there cooking up beer bread and smoked trout, Roger Phillips once again took people out foraging for mushrooms and cooked up a feast afterwards, Tom Hunt made chocolate truffles, and The Ethicurean BBQ’d little gems and made a salad with roasted roots, fennel and squash. Set in the middle of the festival site the smells waft around the fields and draw crowds in throughout the weekend.

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Over the course of the weekend you could go and listen to some really captivating speakers. We enjoyed listening to Peter Fiennes and Ruth Pavey in conversation about British woodlands and forests. It gave me a huge desire to get planting some trees. Ben Fogle was there for a 3rd visit. This time he drew in the crowds to talk about his recent Everest assent. It sounded terrifying and amazing at the same time, but safe to say I have no desire to follow in his footsteps!

There was a lot of talks and sessions around the use/ over-use of plastics in our lives. The event organisers do a great job each year to make many of the topics current and relevant. Staying ahead of the game and creating an intelligent and provocative atmosphere. Otter surfboards talked about their company and our friend Mark Musgrave from The Level Collective spoke about small batch businesses and the making of his products on a shoestring.

Roger Phillips told us the mushrooms to eat

Roger Phillips told us the mushrooms to eat

and which not to!

and which not to!

Market Place

Every festival has a range of stalls and shops selling you their wares. It is normally stuff you don’t want, don’t need or at such an inflated price you can’t afford. This is were this festival is different again. The stalls and shops present, sometimes combined with workshops and demonstrations. Axe and Paddle Bushcraft, The Level Collective, Toucan Tango, Golden Bear Belts, Moors Wood, Welsh Lavender and Netherton Foundry all shared tents or grass space with some other amazing traders. All experts in what they do and full of enthusiasm for not only the festival, but being a part of something special. Of course they want to sell you their products but many also sell their time. We glazed a Raku pot and tried our hand at playing the Ukulele. One was successful and one required more practice- you can decide which!

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The Result

As I have explained early on, the festival is a massive cooking pot of talent and a celebration of The Great Outdoors. The eclectic mix of individuals gives the show a unique feel. Just reading about this festival can never truly convey the magic of it, this comes with visiting the event. Which you must! With so much to offer and show you it is yearning to be your new favourite festival. So let it!

Lets face it. Where else can you listen to American Jazz, Ben Fogle and sit around a campfire eating freshly foraged mushrooms after you’ve made a bow and arrow and wild swam in a lake?

There is nowhere else quite like it.

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Summer of Seventy Five

Summer of Seventy Five

We've been wanting to feature another article focusing on the subject of vanlife for a while now. Ever since we spoke to Savannah King a few months ago we've been hunting for another super exciting person to chat to. We came across a really beautiful Instagram account and just had to find out more about the people behind the photos and what adventure they had been on. Here is what we found out....

Meet Amber, Keenan, Coco and Indigo.

Meet Amber, Keenan, Coco and Indigo.

Hi Guys. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Who are we speaking to?

Hey, thanks for getting to know us! I’m Amber, a photographer, and the one behind our Instagram account @summerofseventyfive, where we share our travels. We’re a part-time adventuring family in Australia, seeking out the greener grass, and doing our best to strike a balance between work and play.

Who travels with you in your van?

There’s four of us, myself along with my husband Keenan, and our daughters Coco (12) and Indigo (11). There’s also the occasional stow-away mouse, but they don’t stay long and don’t take up much space so we don’t count them!

When you have Australia's weather you can eat out everyday!

When you have Australia's weather you can eat out everyday!

What van do you have and what do you love about it?

We have an original 1975 VW Kombi Campmobile, it’s a fabulous shade of retro orange, and has all the details straight from the 70’s. It sleeps the four of us cosy but comfortable, the kids sleep up in the poptop roof bunk and our bed folds out from the back seat. While there’s not too many bells and whistles, it’s the modest simplicity that we love. She’s made for adventure, and has taken us on some incredible journeys. We’ve named her Summer, after the feelings it evokes of an everlasting summer roadtrip, like cruising the coast with the windows down and the tunes up, wind in the hair, parked beachside, a picnic in the sand, the tailgate open and a gentle sea breeze rustling the vintage floral curtains. This is what she means to us, it’s about more time spent doing the things that are important to us like making memories with our family, and living a full adventurous life beyond four walls.

The canopy protects them from the sun

The canopy protects them from the sun

Do older vans have more character than newer ones?

Of for sure! We love that about older vans. They have a certain charm, and it’s in everything from the big old bus-like steering wheel, to the retro cabinetry, the lack of air-conditioning, and the distinct smell of petrol and oil.  It’s in the way the window wipers squeak as they go back and forth, and the unique clicking sound of the door latches. And not forgetting the old hand pump tap! There’s character in the engine too, and the (sometimes strange) noises it makes. And there’s definitely character in their reliability (or should I say unreliability). There’s a sort of challenging excitement that comes with travelling in an old van. We usually make it to where we want to go, but sometimes it just takes a little longer.

This is a view we're used to at Bearded Outdoors.

This is a view we're used to at Bearded Outdoors.

The accessories make a kombi what it is

The accessories make a kombi what it is

Vanlife must have its negativities? What are they?

There is always pros and cons to anything, and vanlife is no different. Like any regular day, there will always be ups and downs. To be honest though, for us, the negatives are always outweighed by the positives, so we focus on those. Because we have chosen this lifestyle part-time, I think it minimises some of the negatives that we might have found with full-time vanlife, such as being away from friends and family, or working from the road. We feel like we have the best of both worlds. Rather than working while travelling, we work when we’re at home and save for the next trip, and this allows us to feel totally immersed in the experience of being together and the places we find ourselves. If I had to say one negative, it would be the challenge that comes from having mechanical problems when your vehicle is also your home. This can be a real test, but like anything, it’s all a state of mind, and there is always a positive to take from these situations too.

Making every surface useable. Roof racks are a great addition to any van.

Making every surface useable. Roof racks are a great addition to any van.

What made you make the decision to use a van to travel around?

Travel in any form brings a sense of adventure and freedom, but for us there just something special about going on a roadtrip that amplifies that feeling. Being in Australia, we have such a vast wilderness at our doorstep and seeing it by road is the most intimate way of exploring it. It puts you right there in the landscape, exposed and vulnerable. It’s something we had dreamed of experiencing for a long time.

Where have you been in the van?

We started with short trips, like weekends away close to home on the south coast of New South Wales. Our first longer trip was when we spent a month travelling around Tasmania, which was to be the decider on weather or not we could do an extended trip around Australia. We thought if we could live like this for one month, we knew we could do it for 6 months. So that’s what came next, our 25,000km lap around Australia! We took an anti-clockwise route from Sydney, and over 6 months, we visited all the states apart from Queensland, which will be another trip all of its own. Australia is one big piece of land, and it’s one amazing adventure exploring it!

Finding that perfect parking spot!

Finding that perfect parking spot!

Views for miles and miles.

Views for miles and miles.

Name your favourite three places to spend the night…

Generally we love being by the sea, and falling asleep to the sound of the ocean is hard to beat. Although from our travels, we found that we love the desert and the mountains just as much. We’ve spent some of the most incredible nights in the desert, miles from anyone or anything. Out there the sky is so full of stars, it left us speechless. We would find ourselves laying in bed looking out in absolute wonder, and reflecting on our tiny place in this big world. It’s something that has to be experienced to truly understand.

You appear to always be under the sun? Does the hot weather cause any issues?

One of the most beautiful things about Australia is it’s endless blue skies! Would you believe that in almost 6 months on our trip around Australia, we only had 4 days of rain! Being in a kombi which has an aircooled engine, we have to consider the seasons, and plan our travels around them. We knew we needed to avoid being in the tropics in the Summer months, so we travelled there in winter.  At one stage of the trip as we headed north, we experienced a heat wave early in the season which we weren’t prepared for. Temperatures went from below 0o C to 40oC over a one week period. During the day we were on the move, and got relief with the windows down, we just took it slow in the kombi and give it plenty of rest stops to cool down. The hot nights were a challenge though, with no flyscreens or air conditioning, we were literally in a hot tin can. We bought a 12volt fan and made a flyscreen for the rear tailgate after that!

What challenges have you encountered when trying to live as a family in the van?

Living as a family in the van is really not so different to living as a family anywhere else, apart from the limited space.  Many people would see the space as almost impossible, but we see it as an opportunity to be close. Some of our best moments together are squeezed around the tiny kombi table playing board games. Sure there’s times when we need a break from each other, that’s no different to any normal day, and we get that escape by going for a walk, reading a book, or heading out with the camera. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle of normal life, so for us, time away in the van is reconnection. The limited space does have its challenges though, we have definitely had to develop a bit of a synchronised routine, like this leg here, that arm there, it’s quite funny when four of us are getting ready for bed!

This Kombi is the perfect family vehicle.

This Kombi is the perfect family vehicle.

Does the Australian wildlife play its part?

It sure does, and we encountered our share of it. One night we made our camp off the track in the desert near Uluru.  We pulled into camp after dark, there was nobody else around, although there was a pack of wild Dingos that started prowling around our van as we set up. That same night we had a bush mouse climb aboard and start rummaging through our pantry. Needless to say we didn’t get a lot of sleep that night! The wildlife and birdlife is truly incredible and so abundant. We could tell you stories about spiders, snakes, reef sharks, humpback whales, crocodiles, turtles, camels, emus, echidnas and of coarse kangaroos! All the encounters we had were friendly ones, and the Dingo’s were harmless, although we weren’t going to try and pat them!

When on the road you make friends of all shapes and sizes.

When on the road you make friends of all shapes and sizes.

Surely you miss something when you're away? What is it?

We don’t miss much to be honest! Sure though we do miss our family and friends, but really it’s only a few comforts that we go without that we look forward to when we get home. A daily hot shower is the one thing that comes to mind! Even so, there’s something raw and invigorating about getting back to nature and bathing in the sea, a creek or waterhole, and we could go for weeks without a proper hot shower and still feel great with a saltwater bath. We do have a portable 12volt cold shower system, but when water is at a premium, we use that when we can.

What essentials do you have on the road? What would you advise people to have.

For us, it’s about minimalism when we travel in the kombi. We only have space for the essentials, so we need to be very considered with what we pack, it’s a great way to redefine needs vs wants. It has sort of become a little challenge for us to see just how much we can go without.  At one stage we actually went right through the van to have a big clean out of the things we weren’t using and posted them back to our home address. One essential is the 12volt portable shower, that’s a must! There’s lots of things we pack for ‘just in case’ situations but never end up needing, like certain spare parts for the van. We installed an inverter and a two deep cycle batteries inside the van which have been invaluable, it allows us to be completely off grid and fully self-sufficient for power. Space saving items that can have a double use are great, and good warm bedding is so important, as is anything that makes the van feel cosy and comfortable. Even the small details like our fruit bowl that sits on the side cabinetry has a purpose, and makes it feel homely too. It stays in place when we’re driving with a non-slip mat underneath. There’s always a way to come up with hacks to make things work for how you want them to, it just takes being a little resourceful at times.

You have to pack the essentials. (Snorkels, rugby balls and board games are optional extras!)

You have to pack the essentials. (Snorkels, rugby balls and board games are optional extras!)

What have you learnt about yourself whilst being in the van?

Great question! It’s actually been one thing that we didn’t anticipate, but there has been so much personal growth for all of us individually, and also together as a family. Travelling this way really strips you back to the core of who you are, there is nothing to hide behind, and no way of distracting yourself. Some things have been confronting to learn about ourselves, and others have been welcomed lessons, but we’ve risen to the challenges. I think collectively we’re all much stronger from the experience. Most importantly though, we’ve learned that there is so much life to live, and our time on this precious earth is short, so we’re living much more consciously, living in the now!

If you had to change your vehicle what would you get?

Hmmm we could say something like a family-sized motorhome, or a big old school bus, but truth is if we couldn’t have a kombi, we would skip ahead to the 80’s and go for VW T3 (or Vanagon), a Syncro 4x4 would be nice!

A view fit for a king!

A view fit for a king!

Dream camping location?

Oh we know that place, it’s a remote beach on the Western Australia coast that feels like our own private island, we’re camped right by the watersedge with waves lapping at the door. The sand is white and the sea is the most amazing colour of turquoise you could imagine. There’s not another soul in sight, the only sound being that of the gentle breeze and the occasional sea eagle soaring above. By day we would swim and siesta, and by night we would stargaze by the open fire. There were many beaches just like this dotted along the coast, but we especially loved a spot on the Coral Coast, where we spent 4 days camped just like this. And the best part, camping like this is often free!

Golden sands and clear waters. Perfection.

Golden sands and clear waters. Perfection.

How do you feel about the growing popularity of the Vanlife culture?

We’re so inspired to see people from all corners getting out there, but particularly other families. I think people in general are seeking ways to break away and get back to grass roots experiences, and vanlife is the perfect way of doing that. It’s an interesting thing though, it’s like the modern day hippie movement, although it’s really not a new idea, people have been vanlifeing in some form since the invention of the wheel. As a child I was vanlifeing with my family around Australia, and plenty of people took their kombis on roadtrips back in the 70’s! I think the popularity of the hashtag has just redefined it and brought it into the current day.

What are your favourite tunes to listen to when driving?

Being nostalgists at heart, we like to stay true to theme in our kombi and listen to classics from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. We still have the original cassette player in the dash, with an awesome cassette collection too, but sadly it doesn’t work anymore, so we’ve adopted Spotify. You can follow our roadtripping playlist on Spotify @summerofseventyfive. We love the chilled vibe of the old classics, and in the kombi it makes us feel like we’ve stepped back in time. Our girls know the lyrics to some of the greats like Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens and when a favourite song comes on, we’ll all bust out our best vocals! It’s moments like these that are etched in our minds and we’ll look back on in years to come as treasured memories.

The road is your friend. Begin your journey!

The road is your friend. Begin your journey!

Huge thanks to Amber and her family for taking the time to speak to us and providing us with amazing photographs and an insight into their fantastic lives. To see what they are up to now follow @summerofseventyfive on Instagram now! 

All photos © Amber Cree.

Welsh Adventure

Welsh Adventure

Our main summer holidays were approaching fast and we had so much on our minds. We had a sick dog, limited money because his vets bills were racking up quickly and we also had the strong desire to escape from the stresses of our day jobs. We had originally planned to road-trip around the South and East of England and Wales but due to fuel cost and more campsite fees involved in that trip we started looking for alternative options.

North Wales

My parents have a house on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park. A stones-throw from mountains, beaches and vast open countryside. We decided to take refuge there for a week and use it as a base camp for exploring the area before heading South. It was free accommodation and in the most incredible location. Maybe this was a sign our luck was turning?

We started our journey on the Tuesday as we had another vets appointment on the Monday! We drove on busy A roads but managed to avoid the M6 motorway and aimed for lunch in Llandudno, a busy Victorian seaside resort on the North Coast of Wales. We headed here to sample the delights at Providero. This crowdfunded company has been on my radar for quite a while, and after seeing countless posts on their social media, I finally managed to grab a cup of Heartland coffi and a tasty vegan friendly salad bowl. The staff were welcoming and we even took the hound in with us. Always a win!

After lunch was had a walk along the prom, (prom, prom), and watched the boats out to sea before getting back on the road.

Llandudno's popular beach.

Llandudno's popular beach.

Llandudno's waters.

Llandudno's waters.

We carried on down the North Welsh coast until we got to Caernarfon and then headed inland to reach the small cluster of houses in a vale of oaks, Bwlch Derwin. This would be our base for the next week. On arrival we parked the van in my Dad's workshop as I had a feeling something wasn't right with it.

Sometimes I love this van. Sometimes it really tests me!

Sometimes I love this van. Sometimes it really tests me!

I was correct. The van was wearing its tyres unevenly, and even though I had the tracking fixed before I left, the tyres had been destroyed with two journeys to Devon earlier in the month. We spent the next day trying to fix the van. My dad and I found that the camber was out by quite a bit and would cause the tyres to wear very quickly. Thankfully we made the adjustments required and, (as if we needed one), had an excuse to go on a long test drive to make sure the new tyres we had also fitted were wearing ok.

What better way to make sure the van is fully fixed than driving to the end of the Llyn Peninsula. Down twisting narrow lanes, through tiny Welsh villages, to the top of hills and the bottom of valleys and along curving coastal roads overlooking the Irish Sea. We followed maps and instructions given to us from a Drive It Day event from a local car club.

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The furthest point of the drive was the tiny seaside village of Aberdaron. On arrival to the village we headed even further down to the tip of the peninsula to the village of Uwchmyndd and its old lighthouse station. We climbed the cliff road. A concrete road built into the rock, twisting and turning up to the flat top of cliffs. 

The mist rolled over the windscreen and we crawled along the cliff tops. The sea was on each side of us. It felt like we were at the edge of earth itself. 

We parked up and went to check out the view. On the tip of the landmass was Bardsey Island. Its rocky cliffs pushing out of the sea and looking like a defensive structure. Maybe the only thing protecting us from endless water and ocean. This place was unique. There was nothing to see except nature itself. Unadulterated natural forms and it made your mind clear itself of the crap it is normally full of! The mist continued to gather on top of the cliffs and in a matter of seconds visibility went from thousands of metres to zero and back to thousands again!

Do you know of a better parking spot?

Do you know of a better parking spot?

Bardsey Island and a local.

Bardsey Island and a local.

Endless Views!

Endless Views!

After we had sat, eaten lunch and marvelled at the view 100 times, we headed back through Aberdaron and headed towards Abersoch. We love Abersoch. Such a mixture of contemporary beach lifestyle, old fashioned harbour work and seaside commercialism enabling and balancing the community rather than swamping it. We parked up and wandered towards the harbour and the few shops located around the beach and sea front. The beach is away to the south and with Winston's recent surgery and ocular issues we decided to keep him away from sand. So we picked the harbour and walked to explore the cliffs and watch the boats. The tide was out and the boats were stranded, leaning on the sandbanks. Lame and without purpose until the sea returned to reinvigorate them. Whenever in Abersoch we like to grab a coffee at Kin & Co. A great independent skate and surf shop with a superb coffee shop too. 

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Abersoch's Harbour

Abersoch's Harbour

We returned back to Bwlch Derwin to plan future adventures. 

My parents own a Volkswagen T5 Autosleeper van and we were all keen to get theirs and our vans together on the road at the same time. We started planning a joint adventure for the next day. We looked at routes around Snowdonia, further down the coast but we agreed to cross the Menai Straight and head over to the Isle of Anglesey. 

The next day we crossed the Britannia Bridge and headed towards LLanfairpwllgwngull and then followed the signs to Beaumaris. Being a formal royal town it hosts a great castle and some amazing buildings. We wandered around the old lands and onto the pier to look back across to the mainland. 

Crossing the Britannia Bridge

Crossing the Britannia Bridge

Blue skies over Beaumaris.

Blue skies over Beaumaris.

Looking down from the jetty in Beaumaris.

Looking down from the jetty in Beaumaris.

From Beaumaris we headed towards Penmon Point. A short journey up the coast we drove through the grounds of Penmon Priory and past St Seiriol's well towards our destination. At the priory a gentleman stopped our convoy and we paid a toll fee to continue up the hill towards the sea. Immediately after paying our fee the road became bumpy and rough. I was starting to wonder where I had led my parents! However, after a few hundred metres we were greeted with a brilliant view. The Trwyn Du Lighthouse standing proud out of the sea with Puffin Island behind it. The 22m high tower was built in 1838 and marks the northern point of the Menai Straight. Its bell tolled under its solar panels which were fitted in 1996 to allow it to run off grid. Originally the tower had a unique feature of a toilet on the ground floor which emptied directly into the sea. This was adapted shortly afterwards after a few lighthouse keepers had a nasty shock during rough seas!

The Trwyn Du lighthouse

The Trwyn Du lighthouse

Puffin Island

Puffin Island

Samantha climbing the cliffs around Penmon Point

Samantha climbing the cliffs around Penmon Point

From here we headed West towards Niwbwrch, (Newborough), Forest. We parked up and explored the trails and forest roads. Looking for the infamous red squirrels which live on the island.

Parking up in the forest

Parking up in the forest

Following the forest trails

Following the forest trails

After a few days relaxing around Bwlch Derwin we picked a place on the map and heading off for a walk in the mountains. Ffestiniog is a village in the heart of Snowdonia with its roots in slate mining. We went searching for roots which date back much, much further. The Cynfall Waterfalls and Devil's Pulpit are local to that area and harken back to a time when pagenism and witchcraft was often practiced in the Welsh hills. 

Walking through farmlands towards the rushing Cynfall waters

Walking through farmlands towards the rushing Cynfall waters

After leaving the village we could soon hear the waters on the falls. The path climbed down to the river basin and into a dark, humid valley where we found the falls.

The Cynfall Falls

The Cynfall Falls

After the falls we followed the path along the river and back round to the village. We battled large ferns and close air. It was prehistoric and felt as if a Stegosaurus would be spotted at any point. 

Ferns as tall as a Sammy!

Ferns as tall as a Sammy!

The humid paths

The humid paths

and the cutting river.

and the cutting river.

This day marked the end of our North Wales adventure. The next day we were heading south to Pembrokeshire.

Winston was feeling better and was ready for the next leg of his adventure. 

Winston was feeling better and was ready for the next leg of his adventure. 

South Wales

I was born in North Wales so I have a very close emotional relationship with Snowdonia and the Llyn Peninsula but my families heritage is actually from South Wales. I was really looking forward to exploring some of Pembrokeshire and The Gower. 

The roads between the North and South of wales are limited. There are no motorways or even any dual carriageways. We followed our maps and left the sat nav in the glovebox. The road took us along the west coast and for much of the way we had dramatic views. Firstly we carved our way though the deep filled pine forests of Coed-y-Brenin. The road cut through the trees like a parting in freshly waxed hair. Once we had skirted around Dolgellau, Cadair Idris and Machynlleth we headed back towards the sea and followed the coast all the way down to Pembrokeshire. 

We found our way to the St David's Lleithyr Meadow Caravan and Motorhome Club Site. We have been using the club sites for years now. Always in a prime location and also impeccably clean and organised.  

The campsite spoilt us with cracking sunsets, clear starry skies and amazing views. 

The campsite spoilt us with cracking sunsets, clear starry skies and amazing views. 

We were located on the most Western point of Pembrokeshire, a few miles outside the city of St David's. On arrival to the campsite we got told about a local shuttle bus service that takes you around the local area for £3 each a day. A hop on/ hop off service. After a lot of driving in the last few days we decided to use this. Our first stop was the old city of St Davids. The city dates back to the year 500AD and it is Britain's smallest city and is famous for its Catholic pilgrimages over hundreds of years. The city is full of character. With the cathedral being the focal point to the shops and cafes line the roads around it. 

 

St David's Cathedral

St David's Cathedral

After we had explored St David's we got back on the bus and headed towards St Justinian's. A tiny cove with the remains of a chapel and the most beautiful lifeboat station. We walked along the coastal path in search for a natural archway in the cliffs which we spotted on the Ordnance Survey map. 

St David's Lifeboat Station

St David's Lifeboat Station

I love how Ordnance Survey maps open your mind to new possibilities. 

I love how Ordnance Survey maps open your mind to new possibilities. 

We followed the coastal path south as it curved around each cove and cliff edge. The wild flowers bloomed and the wildlife could be heard in the thick hedgerows and grasses. Beetles walked along the path and birds flew ahead in the summer sunshine. We continued along the path until we reached the natural arch. As we walked around the archway it changed shaped. Transforming from an oval to a circular gap in the rock face until yet again just a slit was visible with a shaft of light punching its way though the hard stone.

Nature can really surprise you sometimes!

Nature can really surprise you sometimes!

The next day we spent at our local beach. It was only 20 minutes walk away, but when you own a van you have to take it the the beach. Call it our St David's Pilgrimage! The local beach was called Whitesands. It was a sandy beach which has surf when there is a North-Westerly front. Luckily that is exactly what mother nature blessed us with. The swell was even and crisp if not a little small. We used surf and bodyboards. I got my Dick Pearce board in the waves and made the most of the dry and sunny Welsh weather.

Whitesands Bay

Whitesands Bay

During the day we walked along the coast and watched the Sparrowhawks fly overhead. Walked amongst the wild flowers and sat and watched the tide change. We stayed down at the beach all day. Watching the sun go down over St David's Head over to the north. 

The Welsh coastpath is a great stretch of trails available to everyone.

The Welsh coastpath is a great stretch of trails available to everyone.

Wild flowers aplenty

Wild flowers aplenty

At low tide Wales reveals more of itself. Enabling you to cross onto the coastal islands.

At low tide Wales reveals more of itself. Enabling you to cross onto the coastal islands.

Our Pembrokeshire adventure was over and it was time to drive to The Gower. It wasn't a long journey and we arrived at Pitton Cross, an independent campsite with some great facilities and brilliant views.

Pitton Cross

Pitton Cross

After we'd set up we took a walk from the campsite. The site had way-marked a route through their own farmland to a hidden cove on the south of the Gower Peninsula called Ramsgrove Cove. We walked across their fields and down towards the sea, Crossing the coast path we continued down the steps into a pebble beach with steep cliff sides. The gulls flocked above us and we could hear the waves crashing against the rock. The beach was littered with driftwood and smooth pebbles. It was unfortunately littered with plastic and rubbish in place which was heartbreaking to see, and shattered the illusion that the place was our own. We explored the rock pools and followed the cliffs around the the East where we sat and looked across to North Devon, across the Bristol Channel. We returned to the campsite for dinner. At night the stars and the milky way could be seen. The night sky was so visible including Mars. We felt so lucky. 

The gulls flocked around Ramsgrove Cove.

The gulls flocked around Ramsgrove Cove.

Enjoying the view across the Devon on a driftwood bench.

Enjoying the view across the Devon on a driftwood bench.

The next day we woke up determined to make the most of the good weather. It looked like this could be the last day with decent weather for a while so it couldn't be wasted. We took the van to Rhossili. A small village in an area of outstanding natural beauty. We parked up in the National Trust car park over looking Rhossili Beach. Its waves queuing up to roll onto the 3 mile stretch of golden sand. From on top of the cliffs you could see Tenby to the North-West, Lundy to the South West and the North Devon cliffs to the South. 

Overlooking Rhossili Beach

Overlooking Rhossili Beach

We walked along the cliff edge away from Rhossili village and towards the old coastguard station on the end of the headland. There, at the end, reaching out into the sea was the Worms Head. Named "Wurm" by the Vikings which meant Dragon. The land marks the Southern tip of the Gower Peninsula. Due to tide times we never got to cross to walk upon the Dragon. We watched it from afar, lying in slumber upon its Welsh gold no doubt! 

The tide has caught many people out over the years and the Lifeguard hut nearby announces the incoming tide with a siren call to stop people getting stranded on the Worm's Head.

  

The Worm's Head

The Worm's Head

Rhossili's dramatic and brutal cliffs

Rhossili's dramatic and brutal cliffs

The Gower's limestone cliffs. Forever being shaped by the ocean.

The Gower's limestone cliffs. Forever being shaped by the ocean.

Following our lunch back at the van we headed down the endless steps and onto the beach. Surfboard under my arm I pushed against the on-shore winds and braved the rough ocean. The sea was brutal and strong but I've always wanted to surf this swell. Objective achieved with only a couple of strained muscles. 

We had a quick stop off in Port Eynon. I had to go to a place with my name in it! A pint in the pub and a walk along the beach there before heading back up to the campsite. 

This whole trip had one aim. To relax us. To restore some balance in our lives. We covered many miles and traveled the coastline of Wales but we left feeling stronger, healthier and more tanned! There wasn't the swarms of tourists you meet in Devon and Cornwall, which was perfect for us, but I hear that the Welsh tourism board are concerned for the future. More and more people are staying away from Wales. Maybe it is the ever-growing strength in the Welsh language that is deterring folks or maybe the South West has appealed more during the summer heatwave of 2018. We will be returning and doing all the bits we skipped passed this time. Our Welsh bucket list is overflowing!

Thank you Wales!