Planning a Trip

I’m unemployed and have been for 10 months now and I’m kind of enjoying it. It’s affording me the opportunity to travel if I so wish, and travel I have, just not as much as I envisaged this time a year ago.

The main reason for that is money, although I was given a redundancy payment, I know it won’t last forever, so I have been careful with it. The quicker it dwindles, the quicker I have to find a job. By my reckoning if I want to have ‘money for a rainy day’ I need to be looking for work from September onwards.

So before I rejoin the rat race, it’s time to plan another jaunt.

Last year I went camping for a few weeks through Somerset, Devon & Cornwall. I ended up at Sennen near to Land’s End for a few days. As is the thing to do at Land’s End I had my photo taken at the sign.DSC_0357Which prompted two things:
1. I got a haircut!
2. I resolved that I would journey to John O’Groats within a year.

Well that year will be up in a few months so the trip I’m planning is to drive to Scotland, taking in a few places along the way. I’ve been thinking about this trip on and off for a few months now. I thought about taking the sleeper train from London to Fort William and hiring a car but that seemed like an easy option. For a long time my plan was to drive from my home in Wales to Scotland but after a brief conversation with an old friend I’m now leaning towards doing the whole end-to-end trip instead, but over two weeks to spread out the miles, as I will be alone.

I only have a rough plan at the moment, and it is very rough but here it is. The trip will take place in early June.

Day 1 – Drive from Brecon to Falmouth
Day 2 – Stay in Falmouth. I visited last year for a few hours and I didn’t get to see Pendennis Castle or have a good look around, it’s a lovely place and only an hour from Land’s End. Rick Stein has a posh chippy there too.
Day 3 – Drive from Falmouth to Land’s End. Get my photo at the sign. Drive from Land’s End to Burnham-on-Sea and stay overnight at my Sisters home. I’ve not asked her yet..so if she’s reading this..erm Hi!
Day 4 – Drive Burnham-on-Sea to Kendal
Day 5 – Kendal to Keswick to Lockerbie to Fort William. The stop in Keswick is to see the Pencil Museum as featured in the British film ‘Sightseers’. Lockerbie is to see the memorial for the plane bombing victims, I saw the American memorial Cairn in Arlington Cemetery when I was in Washington D.C. last year.
Day 6 – Fort William to Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness.
Day 7 – Relax after all those miles! Maybe a trip on the Loch & the Culloden battlefield is close by.
Day 8 – Drumnadrochit to John O’Groats. Get a picture with the sign.
Day 9 – John O’Groats to Drumnadrochit

From there it gets a bit sketchy! I’ve been told to cross into England via Carter Bar and I would like to see Hadrian’s Wall, Thirsk (James Herriot), Harrogate (Where I was born), Crich Tramway Museum (Sightseers) & that may be more than enough, perhaps too much for one trip.

That’s where I’m at currently. I will continue to plan and assess and plan and tinker and plan some more through the next few weeks before I make a final decision as to what I’m going to do.

If you have any bright ideas let me know!

A New City and a New Sport

We traveled from New York to Washington D.C. by regional Amtrak train. It would be the first and last WiFi on a train that we would experience in the USA. When we go onto the larger cross country trains, we were disappointed that there was no WiFi connection at all…the internet is very addictive!
The train took us passed some cities that I’m only familiar with from film and TV; Philadelphia and Baltimore. Fans of The Wire were a little excited as we pulled into Baltimore Station.As we left the city, we passed streets and houses that were straight out of the TV programme.

The journey took just under four hours and we arrived to be taken straight on a tour of the city. Our driver/guide was excellent and he took us to the main sights; Capitol Building, White House, Jefferson, FDR, Dr King & Lincoln Memorials. At the time we did wonder why he had taken us to them as they seemed close to our hotel but in reality they were a bit of a walk.

The weather was hotter in Washington D.C. than it was in New York but without the humidity.

Me at the Jefferson Memorial with the Washington Monument behind.The Jefferson MemorialThomas Jefferson……who could do with a dust.The White HouseDr. Martin Luther KingOne of the group wondered whether it was a little ironic that he had been carved in white granite.

FDRHis very famous quotation.A busy Lincoln Memorial – I resolved to come back again when it was quieter.

As there was WiFi on the train, I was able to prepare on the journey and look up some things to do in the evening. Prior to the trip I’d hoped to get to a few sporting events, but I was usually a day or so early or late in most cases.

In New York I contemplated going to the New York Giants opening NFL game but it would have cost me over $300, so I was hoping to make a sporting event in Washington D.C. As luck would have it the baseball team was playing that evening.

The Washington Nationals play in Major League Baseball (MLB) and at the time of writing are leading the standings. When I went to the game they had won five on the trot, a streak that would end with my visit.

I’d never seen a baseball game but it was something new and also something to do! We got to the hotel just after 5:30pm and the game was due to start at 7:00pm. So I grabbed my bags from the coach, dropped them in my room and headed to the bus.

Washington D.C. has a very good bus service called the ‘Circulator’ which has several routes across the city for only $1 a trip. I first went to the wrong stop before being directed by a couple of friendly youths to a stop across the other side of Union Station, I knew when I was at the right stop because there were several people wearing red shirts; the colour the Nationals wear. Coincidentally I was wearing a red t-shirt, I’d just grabbed the first clean one in my case.

On the bus I struck up a conversation with a woman who had lived in several places across the US but had made Washington D.C. her home. As went through the various suburbs She gave me a guided tour and potted history of her adopted city.

I was traveling to the game without a ticket but I’d read on the internet that it would be possible to get one at the box office. On the way to the stadium there were a few touts selling tickets, which made me wonder if I would be able to get a ticket after all, but those fears were unfounded as there was a long line at the box office. This being my first game I spent a bit more and got a mid price ticket for $68, which gave me a seat in the lower tier and in front of 1st base.

The bus was a little late due to roadworks in the city, so I missed the opening pitch. I think the roadworks must have delayed a lot of people, because there must have been at least a thousand still trying to get in.

I had a great view of the game and stadium.The big news that evening was that Washington Nationals lead pitcher Stephen Strasburg would be pitching his last innings at home. It turned out to be his last innings of the season, as he was ‘shut down’ the following day by Nationals manager Davey Johnson.

I of course, had no idea who Strasburg was. I was told at the bus stop that he had had arm surgery and the team were limiting the time he spent on the pitchers mound. When I got to the stadium I expected to see an aging player, instead I found out that Strasburg is a 24 year old who was the number one draft pick in 2009.

Strasburg pitching

My seat was one in from the end of a row, the guy sat to my right looked a bit fierce, so I sat in silence taking it all in. After a couple of innings it wasn’t going well for Strasburg & the Nationals, and my neighbour exclaimed “they just ain’t hitting it tonight!”, I replied “I’ve no idea, this is my first ever game”, and for the next three hours Mark was my guide to the sport of rounders…sorry baseball. We spoke about the US, the UK, various sports and all points in between.

The experience in the stadium is very different to that of a UK football stadium. In the UK there is lots of chanting and songs, here there was the occasional handclap and quick snippets of pop songs played over the sound system, that were sung by the crowd. The most intriguing of which was A-Ha’s Take on Me, which the crowd continued to sing even when it was turned off.

I’ve seen many films which have baseball as a theme, so I was familiar with most aspects of the game and some of the terminology. A phrase I had heard before was ‘the seventh inning stretch’ however I didn’t actually know what it was.

At the seventh inning I found out. It turns out it’s not a technical game related term but rather an opportunity for the fans to stand up and have a stretch, as they’ve been sat down for so long. Hence ‘Seventh inning stretch’. It’s at this time that the crowd all sing ‘Take me out to the ballgame’ which I joined in with.

Here’s and example of the 7th inning stretch

Something else that happens at Nationals games, although I’m not sure how often, is the Presidential Race. Where four people dressed as Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln & Roosevelt race, for what reason I am unsure!

By the power of youtube, here is the very race that I saw

My view of the finishMark had to leave at the end of the 9th inning, the game was tied and about to go into extra innings.The Americans do like a winner! From how I saw it the Nationals had a great opportunity to win the game. They had the bases loaded and just needed a great hit to get all their guys home and win, but it just wasn’t to be.

On the way out I bought a cheap Washington Nationals Cap (which I’m yet to wear) and I had a new team to follow.

Baby of the Group

On the morning of the third day in New York I met up with the rest of the tour. I’d already worked out that I would be the youngest in the group. The type and cost of the trips provided by Great Rail Journeys, mean that they are more likely to be taken up by those who have retired and have plenty of time on their hands.

As it turned out I was the youngest by about 15 years. The oldest people on the trip are touching 80. The age difference was no barrier though, and I was accepted into the group straight away. Within five minutes of meeting the full group, I’d even found a few from Wales.

As this was the first day of the tour proper we went on a coach tour of New York. Hitting some of the major hotspots and going through some areas I’d not ventured to; for example Harlem.

We stopped in the north part of Central Park, as I had explored most of the central and south parts this was good, as I got to see the parts that would have takeken me a little while to walk to.

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As the tour was going to take the whole morning, we stopped for a coffee break at Grand Central Terminal. My photos don’t do it justice at all!

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The early part of the afternoon was the highlight. A circle line tour on the river, taking us past the Statue of Liberty, which is smaller than I thought it would be but that didn’t distract from the impressive sight. Of course the tour also afforded some great views of the city.

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The last picture above is Pier 54, this where the Titanic survivors disembarked after being rescued by RMS Carpathia.

It being the first day for the rest of the group, after the tour the majority went back towards the hotel, as I had already acclimatised and was familiar with the city, I went exploring further.

For a long time back home I’ve been reading a website called scoutingny.com. It’s written by a location scout, who updates the site with various curious things he finds around New York. One of these was in Times Square.

Off one of the streets are four figures that you wouldn’t notice unless you knew the were there. In fact I’d walked passed them several times before checking the website.

They are ; Mary Pickford, Marilyn Miller, Ethel Barrymore & Rosa Ponselle.

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Here’s the original story.

They have been revealed as the building has changed ownership.

Also in Times Square is the Naked Cowboy. I’d been through Times Square several times but I’d not seen him about. On this occasion he was making his way up and down the square. As he passed me, I waved my camera at him and he posed.

I would be in the square later that day and there was another Naked Cowboy doing the rounds, so I assume there is a rota.

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From Times Square I caught the subway down south and walked to the 9/11 Exhibition centre and across the road to St. Paul’s Chapel, which was undamaged on that day, despite being very close to the ground zero site.

In the Churchyard stands a bell, called the Bell of Hope. It was given by St Mary-Le-Bow in London.

If you look closely at the left of the picture you can see a crane, that crane is on the Ground Zero site, which shows just how close the Chapel is the site.

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Some more from the Chapel.

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George Washington used this church whilst he was living in the New York area.

As I mentioned before I light candles where I can for my Mum, and I did so here. Like so many of us, She watched the drama of that day unfold on the TV news coverage. I was at work so only had the slowest of Internet connections to try and find out what had happened. I got home minutes after the South Tower fell and I still remember the look on her face when she told me what had happened.

As Jimmy Cricket used to say “There’s more” but it’ll have to wait for another day.

14th July – Lanhydrock, Exeter & the long drive home

The last day! And one that would see me driving back to my Sisters house. A journey of about 170 miles, the longest drive I’ve undertaken in one day, and all whilst very tired.

I planned to break up the journey with a couple of stops; firstly near Bodmin at a National Trust property called Lanhydrock. The second stop was in Exeter to pick up some clothes I ordered when I was sat in my tent!

The first leg went fine and I reached Lanhydrock house with no problems. I’d only decided to visit the evening before, I was looking for places to break up the journey and this place was in one of the many tourist leaflets I had picked up.

The current  estate dates from the 17th century, however the house as it stands was mostly rebuilt after a massive fire in 1881.

This is one of the better houses I’ve wandered around, lots to look at and lots of different rooms. Including the dressing/bedroom of one of the sons of the family. He was killed in the First World War not long after deploying. In his room are his cases that were sent back to the family after his death. At the time they were stored in an attic and were only discovered many decades later. They are on show exactly as they had been packed.

The Gate HouseFront of the House.The gardens are very nice too.If you are down this way the house is well worth a visit.

Back on the road, I headed for Exeter. I mentioned that I may visit the city before I left on my trip, and was warned by my Brother-in-law that the one way system was horrendous.

Well he wasn’t wrong! The traffic in the city was nearly at gridlock, and it took me 30 minutes and 3 different car parks before I was finally able to find a space.

I was only nipping into the centre to pick up my order, but I’d failed to realise just how big Exeter is. The shopping area is huge, and I had to find some wifi (thank you Apple Store) to actually find the shop I was looking for.

I saw the Cathedral very briefly and would like to visit again but I think I’ll let the train take the strain.

As I was approaching the city I was getting low on fuel, so my priority on leaving was to get fueled up. Which was harder than I expected. It took me a while to even get near the motorway, and although I knew there was a service station before getting onto the motorway, I just could never get into the right lane to get me in there!

On my third attempt I somehow missed both the turning for the services and the motorway and headed back into Exeter! I doubled back on myself and headed for the motorway, as I knew there was another services about 15 miles down, my only worry was that my fuel gage read 20 miles left!

I made slowish progress along the road, driving at 60 when I had to but dropping my speed down to 50 when the traffic cleared in an effort to save fuel; the sight of a service sign has never been so welcome!!!

The final third of the journey should have been straightforward; drive on the motorway for an hour and then I’d be in Burnham….It was a very long hour. The previous 12 days of sleeping in a tent, driving everyday, visiting somewhere everyday and not eating as well as I normally do, all started to catch up with me.

I’d only been on the motorway about 10 minutes when my concentration lapsed and I veered over into the next lane, coming very close to a caravan. That woke me up a bit but not for long enough.

In my last few months at work, I wasn’t that occupied and in the afternoon if I sat still for long enough, my brain would feel like it was going into shutdown/sleep mode, concentration would go and my eyes would slowly lose focus before closing and I would nod off.

That happened twice on the journey home – very scary. Thankfully nothing serious happened, and I was able to make it back to Burnham without incident.

My camping trip was over.

I’m writing this over a month later so I can reflect on the trip. I really enjoyed it, the weather wasn’t great but it didn’t stop me from doing anything I’d planned to do.

I coped quite well being on my own, I spoke to more people than I expected to, and being in a tent for 12 days wasn’t so bad. Although I’m in no hurry to repeat the experience. Perhaps next time I will go for a shorter length of time, or I’d get a bigger tent, campervan or motorhome. It’s quite easy to get cabin fever in a small tent.

13th July – Lizard Point, Mousehole, Lamorna, Land’s End, Sennen Cove & Minack!

My last full day in Cornwall was a busy one.

I started early and headed over to Lizard Point to stand at the most southerly point in mainland Britain. Once parked it’s a short walk to the Point.

Unlike Land’s End which I would get to later in the day, this place is very understated. There is a small shop, a cafe and oddly, a man selling clocks.

This is the view from Lizard Point and is about as far south as it’s safe to stand.

In this picture you can see a small jut of the cliff where I’m presuming people used to stand, it’s not possible to get to it safely anymore, there is a very prickly bush and a couple of very large rocks in the way. The way the wind was whipping across me, I was more than happy to be on a larger section of the point rather than that rather exposed bit.

I had a cup of tea in the cafe, which has one of the best views…that I didn’t take a picture of!

There’s not a great deal to here unless you want to walk along the coast, as I didn’t I made for my next destination; Mousehole.

Another small fishing village but a pretty one. The harbour was decorated for the Jubilee.

This is one of those Cornish towns who name isn’t pronounced as it’s written; Mousehole = Mowzle.

I didn’t hang around as I had other places to get to!

When I was at St. Michael’s Mount I had a chat with the lady on the till and she said that the best cream tea was at Lamorna. Which just happened to be on the way back from Mousehole.

It took me a while to find it as the cream tea is served in the Pottery, and I was looking for a town or villiage, I ended up at Lamorna Cove and was directed back by the helpful staff, who tried to persuade me to try their cream tea instead.

Lamorna Pottery does indeed serve a very good cream tea, and it was the best of the three that I had during my trip.

Heading back towards Land’s End I went looking for The Merry Maidens, my satnav even had them listed as an attraction but when I arrived at the destination, I was none the wiser. Something for next time.

I popped into the Minack Theatre to see if I could have a look around but there was a performance on, so that wasn’t possible, there was another performance that evening so I bought myself a ticket, and went onto Land’s End.

I came to Land’s End on a family holiday many years ago, I was going to scan a couple of pictures but my Sister saw them, and on the occasion of that holiday She was badly dressed and in a dark mood, so She asked if I would refrain from adding them to the blog, and being a good brother….I will oblige.

Land’s End is now promoted as an attraction, my general impression was that it was very tacky. The attractions aren’t that good, the price to gain entry to them all is about £10, cheaper on the day I went as one wasn’t working.

The sea rescue ‘sim’ just rattles you about on some very hard seats, very dull. The Merlin adventure is okay, obviously not aimed at adults but I was trying to think how the Young People at the Youth Club would react, and I don’t think they would have been entertained.

As every visitor does, I headed for the sign and to get a photo. I had my camera with me and once I had my official photo taken I asked if they would take one with mine. When I left my job amongst other good stuff I was given a Welsh Dragon, and I took it with me on the trip (as I will when I go across the US) and..well see for yourselves.The windswept hair also prompted a drastic haircut on my return home.There were two very noticeable changes, at least as far as memory served; The bridge behind the sign is no longer there, and the farm has had an overhaul. Where the farm is now there used to be a model village.

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Bridge?Whilst I was on my way out of the complex I saw a cyclist with a few charity banners/balloons and some members of his family, as I passed him I asked him if he had ridden down from John O’Groats, which he had, good on him.

Despite camping at Sennen, I’d not actually been into the town (other than to have a meal a the First & Last pub) or Sennen Cove. So as it was my last day I thought I better had.

Sennen itself is quite small, I’d driven through it several times on the way to other places, or when I got lost on the first day. The beach however was quite large (once again on this trip I didn’t set foot on the beach), with a few shops and restaurants off it.

In the evening the theatre beckoned. The Minack is an open air theatre, built into the cliff face. Which means you have a great view of not only the stage, but the sea and horizon.

I was supposed to be sitting on a grass seat, but as I was on my own I was told to follow an usher and ended up on a stone seat (much better) and in the section reserved for ‘Friends of the Minack’.

The patrons are packed in, and the seating has a certain angle, where if you stood up a bit too quickly you may find yourself tumbling towards the stage.The play was ‘The Hypochondriac’ by Moliere adapted by Roger McGough. It was very funny and well acted, I’d come all the way to Cornwall, turned up to see a play and the players were from Newport!! They were the Newport Playgoers Society.

If you are ever down near Land’s End, it’s worth popping into to the Minack, when there isn’t a show on it’s possible to go down and have a look at the stage, and of course you could always take in a play. It being outdoors though, you may want to wrap up. This was the only occasion other than wearing my waterproofs in Penzance that I actually put trousers on. I’d not taken that many layers with me, I was still deluding myself that because it was July it WAS summer; but by the end of the performance I was wearing everything I’d taken with me and was considering asking the lady next to me for her spare blanket!!

So final day done, all there was left to do was drive all the way back to Burnham-on-Sea…without falling asleep at the wheel.

10th July – St. Austell (Briefly, again), Falmouth & Sennen

Before heading down to the Land’s End area, I pitched up for one night at Tregurrian, just north of Newquay.

This was a much busier site that the others I had been on. There were a lot of families here, which is probably due to its proximity to Newquay.

In the morning I packed up and headed towards my final destination at Sennen Cove. To get there I decided to take in a few other places on the way.

The first of these was St. Austell. A place that I thought was by the sea, but once I’d parked up I realised that wasn’t the case.

So I decided to have a wander around the shops and find a coffee, which I found at the Eden Place Café.

A wonderful place, very relaxed and a great coffee. They are on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/edenprojectcafe

Refreshed I pressed onto the next destination which was Falmouth.

I liked Falmouth, what I didn’t like was getting to it, as there were lots of double roundabouts, something I’d not experienced before, and I’ll admit I don’t like them. I was never quite sure if I was okay to go or if I was about to get ploughed into.

On the way I saw signs for ‘Park & Float’ which intrigued me, so I went and parked at the Marina and had a look. It does what it says on the sign; you park and take a boat across the harbour. It cost £12, which is much more than I would normally pay of course, but where else can you get on a boat for £12?

I was a little queasy on the journey across and once back on terra firma I made for the nearest café for a drink and a sit down!

What I liked about Falmouth was that it caters for both the tourists and the residents. There are all the expected tourist shops; ice-cream, clothes, nick-knack’s etc but at the other end of the street are all the regular shops you would find on a normal high street.

I must have been engaged with what was around me as I only took six photos the whole time I was there.

Here’s some boats in the harbour Another showing the Maritime Museum (the tower and sloped roof) Lastly a Passmore Edwards Free Library Passmore Edwards was a proper Dude!  I first read about him when I spotted one of his buildings in London, that was a library too although it wasn’t being used as such, this one in Falmouth is still a library.

You can see a bench to the left of the bus stop, I stood there and took a photo whilst having a look at the building. A pensioner sat on the bench remarked ‘It’s a lovely building’ he didn’t know who Passmore Edwards was, so I told him the little bits I remembered and about the one I’d seen the one in London.

The main attraction in Falmouth is the National Maritime Museum, opened in 2003 it contains all sorts of boats from the ages. I’m not into sailing or anything but it was very interesting.

Time was getting on and I still had an hours drive to the next and final campsite at Sennen Cove.

Once again the SatNav got me lost (yes I’m still persisting with that excuse), this time only a 1/4 of a mile from the site. I was supposed to be on the A30 but with my SatNavs penchant for B Roads I ended up on the B3306 and at one point even drove past the site entrance but their were no signs facing that way!

To make matters worse I got to Land’s End a few days early and had to turn around in the car park before finally reaching the site, 40 minutes later than I could have been there!

The two site admins were brilliant, if you’ve been reading this from the start you’ll know I’m a novice camper, and although my tent had been water tight so far, one of the site admins laughed at how I’d put up the tent.

As I was on my own, he came around to check I was okay and then he saw the tent and asked if I’d finished putting it up and I thought I had…turns out that once I had pegged the tent out, I should have gone back around all the pegs and pulled them out a bit more for the proper tension. When he’d finished it looked like it did in the picture on the web! Lesson learned!

I’ve started so I’ll finish…

I didn’t quite finish my Cornwall trip write ups, so now I’m back from a trip to France, I think I should get it done before I head off to the States!

So coming up…

Land’s End
A trip to the theatre
St Ives
A seagull attack
Penzance and a gloomy looking St Michaels Mount
Driving tired

Once that’s done I’ll add a little bit about France.