The wild coast, the barren moors, the long empty beaches.
The welcoming pubs, the not so welcoming pubs.
The people you know and settle straight into conversation with, no need for introductions, no need to bridge the gap, even if you haven’t seen them in months.
Familiar routes that you follow without a map, or Google’s well meaning interruptions.
And most of all, mum.
It has been so good to see them all.
The ache of love was strong when it was time to leave.
St Just did its best to retain me. Heavy cloud lay like a fog blanket across our little town in the west. Progress out was slow. Lost holiday makers stalled at junctions unsure which way would return them to the paradise of golden sand and blue skies that they remembered from yesterday.
Strong winds buffeted the van making me grateful for being alone. A tall van is not a good place to be when it’s windy, but it’s worse with a scared passenger. And any passenger would be scared.
Saturday night on Carn Galva had Polly and I on edge.
Rain lashed us for 12 hours, driven on the wind that rocked the van and left us feeling seasick.
At 2 am I concluded that sleep was a silly idea that wouldn’t be coming my way anytime soon.
I turned on the lights to read.
Then I stared in disbelief at the ceiling. It was damp.
Deep dread settled in as I contemplated the potential difficulties of a leak.
It would have to penetrate the insulation and then the plywood lining before I’d see it at all. It could be anywhere. It could be everywhere.
In the morning I messaged Batteries and Solar, the Plymouth based company who had fitted the new Heki rooflights and solar panel. I was grateful to get a quick and reassuring response on a Sunday, booking me in for the next afternoon.
They have now removed the rooflights and resealed them. They’re confident. I hope the confidence is founded. It’ll be some time before I experience such rain again (I hope), so fingers crossed that we’re watertight again.
Steel wheels and MPG.
Another change to ArchieVan was to refit his old steel wheels.
They don’t look anywhere near as sexy as his alloys, but the cost of new rubber for the wide low profile wheels, and the fact that the steels have a good 10,000 miles left in their tyres, made it an easy decision.
I’m convinced the ride is better with the steels. I hoped the mpg would be too.
Obsessive checking of mpg annoys me, but on Monday heading up the M5 I was worried. I was down at 28 to the gallon. That would make a huge cost difference over the months to come.
I hoped it was the weight of my heavy heart bringing the efficiency down, as I knew that weight would lift with time. Rather than anything metaphysical, it was more likely to be down to the headwind that we were battling, but no matter how moderately I drove I couldn’t get it back up to 30. Wardrobe like aerodynamics are not great in a gale.
An overnight in Birmingham with Anna and Yea Baby Jay. A Brummie curry. Chats. Laughs. Beer and lateness.
Today is so very different. Trundling along the M42, dragged along by the lorries, I’ve seen over 40mpg on the screen for the first time ever. That, and the sunshine, has helped my disposition no end.
More fast cars.
Friends in St Just were preparing to join the London Extinction Rebellion climate protests when I saw them at the weekend.
How ironic to subsequently talk to another mate who’d just bought a Lamborghini engined Audi S8 that has the fuel consumption of a medium sized aircraft.
Later I arrived at another friend’s to see that his current stable included this incredible Range Rover SVR.
Our drive to the pub was one of my most dramatic ever. This beast has an unlimited top speed of over 180 mpg (I don’t think I can even see that fast), and its progress to whatever speed we obtained on the A46 thrust me back into my seat and stretched my grin from ear to ear. Its acceleration may not quite match the Aston Martin of a previous Sunday drive, but to do it at such a height made it feel even more insane. I wouldn’t want the SVR, but I’m delighted that I have a friend who’ll take me out in his.
Friends visited, friends missed, friends who’ve travelled.
This short month back in Britain has been a great reminder (if we needed it) of the value of friends and family.
There are so many people we haven’t been able to visit, but we’ve had a blast with those we’ve seen, and we’re especially grateful to those who travelled to see us.
We’d timed our departure from England around a special event in Wales.
With a few days to go before the next tunnel crossing we headed out to the small slate village of Maentwrog to old friends Emma and Darren.
They’re in the later stages of building a mansion on a hill with some of the best views imaginable. This trip wasn’t to celebrate the completion of the house (that’ll be later in the year), this was for Dazman’s 50thbirthday at Plas Tan-y-Bwlch, the country pile where they were married 11 years ago.
The sun shone for their wedding and it shone again for the party, but the pristine green of the surroundings shows that it hasn’t shone much in between. If you don’t know North Wales then I urge you to visit. The dramatic beauty is breath taking, and so is the propensity for rain!
The extended spring.
Travelling north through Britain allowed us to extend the excitement of spring.
As I left Cornwall the last of the daffodils had given up for another year, replaced by swathes of wild garlic and bluebells.
Here in Wales the show gardens of the Plas are a riot of 100 year old rhododendrons, magnolia and a thousand other flowers I can’t identify.
Under the trees late daffodils hang on to see their spring replacements established. Primroses still mingle their delicate scent with the stronger blues and whites of bluebells and garlic. Cowslips nod gently in the breeze.
An hour in the garden is an experience for every sense. The calm is shattered by regular speeding motorbikes, but apart from them there are the delightful toots of the mountain railway, the twittering of birds in the woods and the baaing of the new born lambs. The lamb song is reaching a crescendo right now as they’ve heard the farmer’s quadbike approaching with their daily feed.
Although I have always loved the scenery of this compact mountainous country I have generally felt uncomfortable in Wales. Yesterday we decided that we must put that discomfort aside and tour the country in the van next year. April or May could well be best.
The term fine dining is as abused and over used as many a superlative, but in this case the dining was fine indeed. We met friends and business advisers Chris and Laura for dinner at the magnificent Llangoed Hall Hotel for dinner.
Our suited young maître d’ met us at the car and looked after us through a refined yet unstuffy evening of excellent food and wine. It’s a shame we didn’t arrive in the van to test his reaction, ArchieVan would have stood out among the Astons and Bentleys in the car park.
The Llangoed is superb, but not over priced. I’d recommend it to anyone for an off peak stay with dinner.
Our tour through the Welsh borders eventually came to an end as we swung onto the wet M4 among the thousands of other travellers. The memory of its rolling green hills will stay with us for a long time and I hope we’ll be back next year.
Last night on earth (well, English earth).
With my sister in Castle Cary we ate well, caught up on the washing, and the news. We bought copious quantities of tea after missing in last year. We walked the lovely Somerset countryside, then we headed for the coast.
If you drive along the M4 you could be left believing England to be a dreary place. If instead you drive the A303 in late April you’ll know that it’s nothing of the sort. Somerset’s pretty towns, Salisbury Plain, Stonehenge, fresh greens popping from the hedgerows and fields, the rolling South Downs and occasional glimpses of the sea leave me full of love for this country we call home.
For our last night in England Minty chose an excellent spot in the car park of The White Hart, Netherfield above Battle. Good beer, good food, and a view down to the distant coast that Turner immortalised in oils.
Next up – the Channel Tunnel, back to European time and driving on the right.
Our month in the UK has been better than we could have imagined, more expensive too, but the van is fit to roll again, better than before. There were many more people we wanted to see, so many things that we wanted to do, but they’ll all be there when we get back again (we hope).