Bends, Hills And Nervous Breakdowns
Last Sunday we stayed overnight at the Hereford Camping and Caravan Club site. I can see the appeal of staying on campsites regularly. Life is so much easier than wild camping. For a start, you know that you aren’t going to hear a knock on the door late at night asking you to move on. You also don’t need to conserve your water or electricity or carefully monitor your toilet cassette capacity.
On Monday we did the usual waste out, water in housekeeping ready for a couple of days off grid, then showered at the site to minimise the use of our tiny water tank. Without a goal other than to head south west, we headed back towards the M5 at Gloucester where we stopped at a Sainsbury store and then drove slowly down to Bridgewater and then rather nervously joined the sometimes impossibly narrow and hilly A39.
As dusk was fast approaching, we looked for somewhere to stop for the night. Unlike on a narrowboat when you simply pull over onto the side of the watery road to moor for the night, pulling over at a layby on a main road isn’t going to result in a very restful night.
Ideally we wanted somewhere with a sea view. I turned off the A39 at East Quontoxhead, squeezed the Hymer along a narrow track between high hedges, successfully negotiated a buttock-clenchingly tight turn into a church car park between two thick stone walls, spotted the “Definitely No Camping Overnight Under Any Circumstances” sign, inched between the stone walls again and then stopped a couple of passing hikers to ask for advice.
They told us there was a decent sized and very quiet car park with a sea view in the nearby hamlet of Kilve, or Clive and Cynthia preferred to call it. We forced our way through the narrow hedgerows back onto the main road then turned down another scarily narrow stone wall lined lane and within minutes returned to the same spot beside East Quontoxhead’s church and duckpond.
While we blocked the road as we examined our road atlas, a local homeowner strode purposefully towards us. I wound down my window expecting an ear bashing for obstructing the lane outside his house. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Bob was an ex motorhome owner who wanted to offer me a spot for the night in front of his cottage. He helped us reverse onto his plot, asked if we wanted to use his water supply, and then left us to our own devices for the night.
Our roadside pitch was far more tranquil than the previous night on an official campsite. No traffic passed between dusk and dawn. It was a perfect spot to rest for the night.
The following morning I hiked a mile down a quiet footpath to a deserted rocky cove where I sat for an hour listening to the waves crashing on the shore.
After thanking Bob with a well deserved bottle of wine, we drove along the scenic A39 to Porlock, paying four pounds to use the toll road rather than face embarrassment and a burned out clutch on Porlock Hill’s hairpin bends and 25% gradient.
I stopped in the main car park at Lynton thanks to three thoughtfully provided motorhome parking bays, walked on the beach for half an hour, devoured a piping hot Cornish pasty and a not-so-hot cup of coffee and then, with misplaced confidence, set off on the steep and winding A39.
The A39 west of Lynton became even narrower and steeper. I lost traction on two uphill hairpin bends then met a lorry leading a procession of cars down the narrow and steep road. He pulled hard over onto the cliff face to allow me to crawl past by driving onto a muddy verge. The slope and the mud was too much for the Hymer so I slipped backwards. The lorry swapped sides so that I could crawl past him slowly with the clutch slipping and acrid smoke pouring into the cab. I passed the lorry with inches to spare but had to stop at the next layby to let the clutch cool down. The rest of the journey to Barnstaple was a nightmare of steep hairpin bends and thick clutch smoke.
We stopped in Barnstaple long enough to buy some homeopathic flu remedies for Cynthia then drove on to Clovelly on a much tamer A39.
We parked in the Clovelly visitor centre just before they closed at 5pm. Access to the village is through the visitor centre. A member of staff unlocked a gate before she left for the night to allow paying visitors to leave and, fortunately for me, to allow non paying visitors access to the village.
I walked down into the village on cobblestone’s so steep that the local business owners use donkey pulled sledges to resupply. The donkeys had been put to bed for the night, but a worn sledge leaned against nearly every building.
We stayed in the car park overnight, buffeted by strong winds and torrential rain, then moved rather hastily mid morning when a steady stream of visitors began to hem us in.
Our next stop was Broad Park in Bideford. After carefully choosing a Camping and Caravanning Club campsite which didn’t mention either steep or tight in their directions, we ended up with a campsite which had both.
The site is a small holding with hardstanding just large enough to accommodate five motorhomes providing non of them need to maneuver. Fortunately we had the site to ourselves so, once we managed to negotiate the site’s steep entrance, positioning ourselves wasn’t a problem.
The owners, Peter and Debbie, couldn’t have been more helpful. They gave me a tour of the site which, after proudly showing off their ex Glastonbury gents and ladies portaloos, mainly included introducing me to their animals. The four alpacas stared but didn’t spit, the pigmy goats stared, didn’t spit either, but butted ferociously. The Shetland ponies were altogether more polite, but our favourites were the hens. They laid six eggs which we took with us the following morning.
On Wednesday we moved on to Hartland Quay. After scraping the Hymer’s steps in Stoke squeezing through an impossibly narrow gap between a stone wall and a row of parked cars, we paid £2 to park on a rough section of Tarmac rather than risk the steep and tortuous descent to the main car park next to the Hartland Quay Hotel. I left Cynthia staring wistfully at the Atlantic from her bedside window and walked down a short section of the West Coast Path to the hotel. If awards were given for the most unappealing ham sandwiches in the land, the Hartland Quay Hotel would be shortlisted. Fortunately I was there for the view, not the food.
The view of the sea from our panoramic bedroom windows was beguiling so we stayed for a while, and then a little while longer and then, noticing the car park attendant had left for the day, we stayed the night.
We’ve had our fair share of wind and rain over the last week. Thursday night was no exception. I still don’t know how much punishment the motorhome can take but at times during the night, with the wind gusting to 50mph, I wondered if we would blow over.
On Friday night stayed at Trewiston Farm five miles south west of Port Isaac where the Martin Clunes comedy drama Doc Martin is filmed. After a wet and windy night we drove into Wadebridge to do some shopping at their Tesco store. Cynthia still couldn’t shift her flu so she wanted fresh thyme to make a herbal infusion. I couldn’t shift my hunger so I wanted a whole cooked chicken and a two feet long baguette to make a pig of myself at lunchtime.
Cynthia is a big Doc Martin fan. So am I, but I’m not going to admit it in public. She wanted to visit Port Quin to see Doyden Castle where Mrs Tishell held Doc Martin’s son hostage in the series five finale. Cynthia also has fond memories of this rugged area of coast after her one hundred mile hike from Perranporth to Barnstable on the West Coast Path in 2003.
Port Quin is off the beaten track, reached by a single track road so narrow that both sides of the Hymer scraped the hedgerows as we inched along the road. We stopped twice to straighten wing mirrors knocked askew by jutting branches.
I could just about handle the increasingly narrow lane but as we reached the National Trust access to Doyden Castle, a sign warned us of a 25% gradient down to Port Quin where we hoped to park before walking to the castle. The icing on the cake, a local dog walker warned us, was a very tight and narrow hairpin bend towards the hill bottom. I didn’t want to get the Hymer stuck so I looked for somewhere to turn.
The motorhome’s gearbox doesn’t like reversing uphill so the least painful solution seemed to be to negotiate the narrow track up to the National Trust cottages close to the castle, then try to turn in their small car park.
After scraping through undergrowth for two hundred metres we reached the car park to find it full and nowhere to turn anything longer than a mini. But I tried. Oh, how I tried!
After half an hour trying every maneuver possible, and then knocking on all the cottage doors to ask the residents to move their cars, I bowed to the inevitable, reversed back out of the National Trust grounds, collecting twigs and scratches as I forced the undergrowth aside, and then laboured uphill for a hundred metres before swinging carefully into a stone walled field gateway.
A little more experience gained and a little less paintwork on the Hymer.
I wasn’t really keen to explore any more of the coast around Port Quin but when Cynthia suggested visiting nearby Port Isaac I grudgingly, fearfully and almost tearfully agreed. I wasn’t sure how much more punishment the gearbox or my heart could stand.
Port Isaac was a delight. There’s a large new car park just off the main road before you descend into the village. We parked there to eat a very late lunch; warm chicken baguettes followed by scones smothered in clotted cream and jam.
Cynthia, still weak as a kitten, stayed indoors while I walked down to the harbour, found and photographed Doc Martin’s house and then sat quietly with a drink on the steps of a harbour-side pub watching a tractor pulling a dingy out of the water.
Back at Trewiston Farm I needed a shower. After sixteen days on the road, we still haven’t used the Hymer’s ridiculous shower. I love everything about our new home apart from the bathroom. It’s a wet room. You have to step through the shower tray to get to the toilet. If you want a shower, you have to swivel the toilet bowl out of the way, remove anything from the bathroom you don’t want soaking, shower, and then wipe the bathroom down before replacing all of your dry items. Life is much easier if we use campsite showers.
At 500 acres and with 350 dairy cows as well as cereal crops, Trewiston Farm is more farm than campsite. We’ve been here two nights. On our first evening, a tractor hauling liquid manure to a nearby field buzzed up and down the track next to our pitch continuously until 9pm. Last night was more peaceful, but there was still plenty of farm traffic.
There are dozens of static caravans and as many touring caravans which appear to be in storage. There’s a substantial and new looking men’s shower block and another for the ladies. The men’s new shower block was closed to allow recent tiling to dry, so I was told to use a spotlessly clean but dated nearby communal shower and toilet block.
After fifty six years on the planet I’ve used a shower or two. They’re all pretty much the same. A wall mounted shower head and a hook or two on the back of the shower door to hang your clothes. The cubicle I chose didn’t appear any different from all the showers I’ve used in the past so I hung my clothes up neatly, placed my shoes as far away from the shower head as possible, positioned myself under the shower head and pressed a button to turn the water on.
What I hadn’t noticed was that this particular showerhead, fixed immovably in place, appeared to be designed to wash the clothes on the back of the door rather than the person standing under the shower head. I left the shower cubicle much wetter and probably not as clean as my clothes. It’s a small price to pay to be on the move all of the time.
This morning we returned to the car park overlooking Port Isaac. A gale force wind blew through the night and all today. We didn’t care though. One of the biggest differences between living on a narrowboat and living in a motorhome is the heating cost.
The motorhome is very well insulated and, because it’s not sitting in two feet of freezing water, is much easier to keep warm than a steel boat. We sat in comfort wearing tee shirts and jeans in the unheated Hymer while walkers on a nearby path wrapped in hats, thick winter coats and gloves bent double against the gale. Our refillable gas system is costing us just £10 a week for all our heating and our cooking compared to nearly three times that cost on the boat. I think we’ll stay on the road for another week.