Chirk Aqueduct and Tunnel

A short 2 night break in our campervan saw us in Chirk, just over the border of Wales and not far from Wrexham. The campsite is surrounded by trees, is adjacent to the grounds of the National Trust Chirk Castle estate, and a short and pleasant woodland walk from the Chirk Aqueduct.

The aqueduct spans the valley between Wales and England, with green fields, grazing sheep and the RivP1080886er Ceiriog way below. It carries the Llangollen canal with the railway line, supported on arches, beside it. A stroll across the towpath, taking in the scenery and any passing canal boats along the way,  takes you into England.

Keep walking and you’ll reach a canalside pub; turn back and you’ll re-enter Wales, and on the other side of the aqueduct there is the Chirk Tunnel, it’s dark mouth waiting to swallow the narrowboats into its murky depths.

The tow path continues into the tunnel. It’s possible to walk its 420 metres/460 yards length, but a torch is required along with a fair bit of care as the path is narrow. There is a rail but in these days of social distancing it would be a bit daft to try it. And there is supposed to be a ghost somewhere in there too…..

No, we didn’t do it but we have done walked it with children, and most recently with granddaughter who surprised herself with her bravery. It’s not actually that scary as the tunnel is straight so the end is always in view. Boats have to pace themselves and have a light on while they’re chugging through, so there is sometimes a queue waiting to go enter.

And then, when they emerge from the tunnel on the Welsh side, passengers might catch the enticing aroma of chocolate, drifting from the chocolate factory, hidden behind the trees and on the edge of the town.

The Dee Estuary

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On  recent visit to the Wirral, staying there for a couple of nights in our campervan, we enjoyed walking on the Dee Estuary beaches. Tide out, plenty of space for our dog to run, sniff and explore, and a few birds about too, it was all very pleasant. Across the water from the Wirral side are lower Welsh hills and small towns, such a Flint.

The estuary leaves the boats moored there high and dry, then buoyed up again as the tide comes in. Low tide reveals rocks, mud, pools and the remains of maybe piers? Maybe breakwaters? Maybe the back bone of a buried dinosaur?

The sound of oystercatchers peep-peeping is unmistakable, but I need binoculars to find them as they potter about feeding on the beach. The warbling cry of a nearby curlew draws my attention as it obligingly stands still for a photo.

 

RSPB Deeside is located further up along the coast on the English side, and it’s a good place for birds, as is Parkgate, with its grassy, silted up seashore, promenade and ice cream parlours. Hen Harriers, Marsh Harriers, Short-eared owls, Merlins and Kestrels can be seen here, but patience is required, especially in winter months when it can get very cold taking part in one of the regular Raptor Watch events.

P1080832At the mouth of the estuary is Hilbre Island, which you can get to across the sands at low tide. A tide table is essential for this activity!  Further round the coast on the English side, is Liverpool, and nearby is Crosby Beach with the cast iron bodies of artist Antony Gormley forever looking out to sea, continually being covered then revealed by the rising and ebbing tides.

Lost in the NEC

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Yesterday we went to the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham to the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show, just for a look round and an update on what’s new. Not with any significant purchase in mind. You just have to keep up with what’s currently around.

Our van is just over 7 years old, it’s our 3rd van, and has started to show a few signs of age, with the odd  (and sometimes rather expensive) thing going wrong which needs replacing. So a visit and a day looking at new vans and sussing out the state of the art promised a good day out.

No, we didn’t decide to buy a new van, but we got plenty of ideas on what we might and might not like. It was interesting to note that our tastes and preferences have changed very little over the past 7 or so years, and the van we chose then to be our palace on wheels is still top of the pops for us in so many ways.

When we’d seen enough and had enough van viewing, it was time to head home and make our way back to car park N3, somewhere outside in the vast NEC estate. We’d walked from the car park to the exhibition centre and had more or less followed the flow of the crowd, also going in the same direction. But late on in the afternoon, when the crowds started to thin out, there were not too many people around aiming for car park N3. We got lost.

We looked in vain for signage and directions to the car parks, we followed directions which took us to nowhere we recognised, and we asked for directions from several different members of NEC staff, the press office staff, the bureau de change staff and various stewards on how to get back to car park N3. They were all helpful. Most of them didn’t have a clue and sent us off on wild goose chases. We ended up at the station, then at the airport, then at the main entrance, which was not the one we’d entered by. We looked at a plan of the entire NEC complex and tried to use that to navigate by. We tried to gain access to the Skywalk we needed to cross, but the access doors were locked. It was beginning to feel like us getting Lost in Cumbria all over again. I almost started humming Hotel California – “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave….”

On our second arrival at the main entrance, we asked the security guards for help. One of them vaguely waved directions at us, the other came up with the goods and finally, at long last, we managed to get out of the building and on our way to car park N3.

It had taken us over an HOUR to get out of the NEC and back to our car. As we thanked the security guard who’d come up with the right solution, another stressed out couple were approaching him to ask for directions.

If I ever go to the NEC again I’ll consider taking a large ball of wool to tie to the door I enter by, and keep it with me in my hand to help me get out of the place!

Lost in Cumbria

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It was summer and we’d gone away to Cumbria for a weekend break in our campervan, We were staying on a  site new to us, having read about it and heard good reports. In a park-like setting, with views of the sea, nearby access to the beach and village, and plenty of walks to be had, it sounded ideal.

The weather was good – quite hot as I recall – and we decided to explore the nature reserve area, adjacent to and part of the campsite. Following rocky paths, we climbed through a wooded wilderness, clambered over mossy rocks and stones and took care to avoid the cowpats and the insects which went with them. We couldn’t see any cows, but there was a faint whiff in the air so we guessed they were around. The cowpats were enough evidence.

Enjoying the walk, we explored the area for about an hour but realised quite soon that we weren’t getting anywhere and were going round and round in circles. We were following the same paths over and over again and we started to recognise the same cowpat, which we passed several times.

No matter, it was warm and sunny, we were glad of some shade and we spotted a shy roe deer and several butterflies – painted ladies, wood whites, even a dark green fritillary and a cinnabar moth. We began to wonder if we were a bit lost, passing that cowpat once again, but at that stage we weren’t really worried, knowing it wouldn’t be dark for a long time.

Repeating the same circuit yet again by following the now all-too-familar paths as we tried to find our way out, we both started to get a bit edgy. The dog gamely kept up but did give us a few looks which said “Why are we going down this path again?” It was getting cooler by this time and we were getting tetchy with each other too. Were we really lost? Nobody knew where we were, there was no phone signal and the Google map of the area included the nature reserve, but not the paths. It just showed up as a green space on the map.

Going round the circuit once again, we climbed up one of the rocky paths and found our way blocked by a large bovine. We reined the dog in on his lead, but he’d seen the cow and made an executive decision. He diverted from the blocked path and took off in a downward direction along another path we’d clearly missed, but had been searching for.

With some relief – it was cooling rapidly, and we praised the dog – we reached the gate at the entrance to the reserve. It was the same gate we’d entered through, with a “Please close the gate” sign, but there was no info board with a map of the place.

How good it was, though, to see civilisation again, in the form of the children’s play area in the campsite, and some mown lawns, people, and best of all, to get back to our van and put our feet up!

Another Place

P1080293We took off in our campervan at the weekend, encouraged by the forecast of sunny crisp weather, and headed for the Merseyside and Sefton coast. We’ve been to Crosby beach, near Liverpool, countless times before to walk and enjoy sculptor Antony Gormley’s “Another Place” – his 100 statues of his naked body which stand on the beach, and stretch out into the sea.

They’ve been there for some time now and many are rusting as most are covered at high tide. Those standing higher up the beach are often clad in various garments which people have put on them – Liverpudlians have a great sense of humour so one or two Antony’s could be dressed in anything ranging from hippie gear to part of an NHS worker’s uniform. Some might have a traffic cone as a hat.

We parked by the prom, with clear views of the sea and passing ships en route to the port of Liverpool, ate lunch in the ‘van warming up the home made soup we’d brought with us, then walked along the coastal footpath towards Formby. The frost had gone, but there was a chill, brisk wind. Invigorating, enjoyable stuff, with sea views all the way. When we started to return, the sun was beginning to dip towards the horizon. By the time we were back at the ‘van the tide was in and most of Antony’s statues were either covered, or just head and shoulders above the waves.

One nearby was strikingly silhouetted against the rolling, bronzed waves illuminated by the low sun. Something about that image reminded me of what my dad used to say: “Always face the sun and the shadows will fall behind you”.

Then we continued our journey to Southport, where we stayed overnight, cosy and warm in our ‘van in spite of the sub-zero temperature outside.