Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Composting Loos and Collective Aluminium

Part of my decision to go full-timing was to do with spending an increased amount of time with my family. Rather inconveniently, they live in East Kent. That's fine if you're heading to the continent, otherwise it's on the road to nowhere. Rather than lug the Airstream all the way over to Kent from Cornwall then all the way back to Dorset for my next bash, I docked at Crossways Caravan Club Site in Moreton, between Weymouth and Bournemouth.

Crossways is memorable for three reasons:

First off, it's not like any other Caravan Club Site I've been on. It's more like a Forest Holidays site with its intimate pitching areas dotted around pretty woodland. Trees definitely come first here, and tourers second.

Secondly, it's the only Caravan Club site to feature composting loos. Brilliant. Crapper's water closets make sense in dense, urban surroundings, but out in the countryside the composting loo makes so much sense, it makes you wonder why most people and places persist with the WC. And no, there is no odour whatsoever.

Finally, Crossways is slap-bang next to Moreton railway station. Therefore it was handy to jump on a train and head back to Kent for a night. Far easier to reach are Weymouth, Bournemouth, and Southampton. Certainly a boon for motor caravanners and anyone else who prefers not to drive once set up.

Parental and fraternal obligations met, it was time to unwind for a weekend with the UK Airstreamers at a site in Dorset. I say UK Airstreamers, but it was delightful to welcome a couple from Belgium, too.

Rain has cancelled many events in 2012, and it even threatened to cancel this one. We couldn't get onto the field that was earmarked for us, but luckily the site had enough pitches to squeeze us all in. We weren't all together, but at least it meant that the weekend could go ahead. And what a splendid, chilled, aluminiumy weekend it was.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Undulating Cornwall

Mid-April saw the Airstream packed up and on the road for our first proper assignment of 2012… a trip to Cornwall. Lucky or what?

Except, do you remember the weather in April? It was shortly after drought was declared in the South and that's when it started raining. And so it rained incessantly. For about six months.

Just off the M5 in Somerset, Cadeside Caravan Club site made the ideal stopover en route after doing some filming for Milenco with the lovely people at Reading Caravans. Cadeside is a facility-free site with just 16 pitches, and makes a lovely place to unhitch and unwind on a long journey.

Dougal was impressed with the dog walk too:

Dougal's Dog Blog - Cadeside

Next day we drove past flooded fields and rivers bursting their banks to Looe Caravan Club Site. Off peak it was very, very quiet, but judging by the swimming pool and the plethora of grass pitches that are no doubt heaving in the summer, this is clearly a superb 'summer-holiday' site.

Looe itself is a sweet little town. I liked it. But I'm glad that we were there off-peak when we could just walk into cafes and restaurants and be served without having to book or brave crowds. It's worth noting that Looe boasts plenty of dog-friendly establishments, my two favourites being Daisy's Cafe (SUPERB ginger scones) and the chilled out and a little bit trendy Courtyard. I wouldn't hesitate to return to both.

Such dog-friendliness makes it even more puzzling that Looe beach carries a year-round dog ban. Hey-ho.

Next port of call, on the Roseland peninsula, was Merrose Farm Caravan Club Site. Another great full-feature site, with a great doggy field. I met some lovely people there.

Merrose Farm is a great base for walking and for dog-friendly beaches, both of which we enjoyed. The nearby church at St Just is well worth a visit.

But it was here that the rot set in.

OK, first off I need to explain that when you've found somewhere that stirs your soul and creates an intense feeling of belonging, in my case the Outer Hebrides, it's hard for other places to ignite that fire and stir the same kind of magic. But for me personally, it's not just the scenery and facilities that stir 'that certain something', it's the people. I think it's to do with two things: Being sensitive, and being a solo traveller. I'm VERY sensitive to being made to feel welcome, as I so heartily feel in Scotland. And I'm also very sensitive to being made to feel unwelcome, as I'm afraid to say I was in parts of Cornwall. St Mawes, just to the south of Merrose Farm, was the first place this happened.

First off was a bumper sticker on the back of a local's van:
'If it's called the Tourist Season, why can't we shoot them?'

Yes, very funny, ha bloody ha. Maybe the driver of this van is too stupid to realise that Cornwall can no longer survive on pasties and tin mining.

Second off was something quite trivial. But it irked me. It was the price of a jacket potato with beans and cheese, my favourite cafe dish. At the dog-friendly pub in St Mawes it wasn't the £3.60 I pay in the Greasy Spoon cafe at St Pancras in central London. It wasn't the £5.40 I'd expect to pay in nice surroundings in a touristy place.

It was £7.60.

Take a look at the Airstream that I enjoy and the £600 leather jacket that I wear on the motorbike, and you'll appreciate that I don't mind in the slightest paying top dollar for top quality. Like most people, what I object to is being ripped off. And when I feel I'm being ripped off, I stop enjoying myself. And so it was, I headed off on a downer about Cornwall.

Saving the day, or at least this section of the trip, was the wonderful city of Falmouth. I wasn't expecting great things, but what I discovered was a chilled-out, laid-back, but most importantly unpretentious little city. And we found a lovely dog-friendly pub called Five Degrees West which offered good-value and imaginative veggie food (and plenty of good stuff for non-veggies), lovely smooth surroundings, and terrific, friendly service. Well worth sniffing out. My visit to Falmouth coincided with the Farmer's market so I had to buy some gorgeous things including some local Cornish Yarg cheese… yum!

Falmouth lifted me from the temporary downer that St Mawes inflicted, but my journey to St Agnes on the North Coast sent me straight back down again.

Granted, the Caravan Club Site at St Agnes Beacon is a lovely one. Right up my boulevard with no facilities and stupendous views. Like this one:

But on the drive there I was run off the road by an aggressive old dear driving down the middle of the road and gave two fingers… not to me, but to the Airstream. Stationary and in a state of shock (I wasn't exaggerating when I say 'run off the road') it seemed clear to me that this crotchety old bag had something against caravans.

Half a mile later, after the road had become single-track, I came nose-to-nose with a car coming in the opposite direction. Who wouldn't reverse. Then a second car drew up behind him. Then a third. Then a fourth. Then a fifth. By now, there were too many cars to even fit into a passing bay. There was only one thing for it.

I had to reverse the Airstream about 400 yards down a single track road on my own with no assistance.

If you can't reverse your caravan because you think you'll never need to, think again. Best book yourself on a Club towing course asap. You never know when this will happen to you.

I know that I really need to shut up and get a life, but in about 5 miles of driving on Cornish single-track roads, this rubbish happened. I must have done well over 1000 miles on Scottish single-track roads and have never needed reverse once, not even solo.

As much as I tried very hard to enjoy St Agnes, I didn't. Oh, I enjoyed the walks along the South West Coastal Path and meeting some lovely Club members on the site. But from my bitter and twisted perspective, the village seemed to be overrun with second-home owning, unfriendly, pretentious luvvies who brought their patronising London ways with them to this beautiful little village. Service in the surf bar was nothing better than perfunctory which may have suited the loaded city-types glugging expensive wine and boasting loudly on the terrace, but it didn't suit this quiet little caravanner and his dog.

Final port of call for me was Valley Truckle Caravan Club Site. Just when I thought things couldn't get any worse… they didn't! Phew!

OK, we'll ignore Bodmin Jail which purports to be Dog Friendly, yet we were greeted by a huge 'No Dogs' sign at the entrance to the bar. We left.

No, we'll concentrate on Boscastle.


Boscastle seems to have escaped the blight of evil second-homies and retains an air of genuine Cornish friendliness. The lovely, lovely and friendly wardens at Valley Truckle recommended the Cobweb pub in Boscastle, and we gave it a go. Dogs welcome.

But a live band was playing that evening, so a lot of tables had been cleared. We had nowhere to sit. So I wouldn't be able to eat.

At this point, most places we'd visited would have said 'Hey ho, see ya later.'

But not the Cobweb in lovely lovely Boscastle, with a friendly, Cornish landlord with a no-nonsense 'can-do' attitude. He blooming well made sure that I had somewhere to sit and was made to feel welcome. Top marks.

Or maybe top marks should be reserved for Sails Cafe in the village where Dougal wasn't just made to feel welcome, the waitress offered him a treat after serving me my meal.

A pretty and unspoilt port, a lovely walk up the valley, and 'non rip-off' parking fees, Boscastle is a place that finely deserves success and prosperity. It's a place I will gladly return to and scatter a little more of my tourist pound.

So Cornwall returned a mixed bag. Some bits were great, others not so great. St Mawes and St Agnes are written off in my book, but Looe and Boscastle demand repeat visits. And, given the sharp undulations of my experiential ups and downs, it's a county that demands further exploration. Sometime.