Herself is working the BH weekend so we are unable to get away until Monday. Plan A was the CC at Bromyard site just on the wrong side of Offa's Dyke. The site was the right side of £20 per night but some less than complimentary reviews published on line had sewn seeds of doubt.
Plan B was the CC site at Stover. Again on the right side of £20 and in a lovely location. All was booked and research had started into walks in the area. Then Herself fesses up that she's not told Creaky that we are going away and was in fear of copping some severe ear ache for going away again without her!
Plan C was then hatched, encountering a little difficulty securing a pitch as it is school holidays, and a pitch booked at the CC Pandy site - the wrong side of my £20 per night comfort zone by some distance, but Herself is now happier as Creaky and Grumbles can visit. With a week before our departure Herself is informed that no further changes in plan will be entertained (unless of course she insists on them, and from my point of view it's far easier to incur the wrath of the CC for contravening the 72hr rule than have conjugal rights removed by Herself!).
Monday 30 May
I'm wide awake by 6am, But the van is loaded up and we can't arrive before noon, so as everyone else snores I am chomping at the bit. I've time to kill, lots of time. Kettle is boiled and some bread is burnt enough to spread some marmalade over it and breakfast is taken out on the decking in the early morning sunshine.
Next up is an early morning dip in the hot tub, I did have the good grace not to turn on the air jets though - seems strange being in there sipping a mug of tea instead of guzzling lager or bow.
Herself pops over to see Creaky and Grumbles while I play chicken with the bank holiday traffic to get the van out of it's cwtch and hooked up to Vera.
By 10.30am Herself has returned and we're on the road and climbing up onto the M4 at J48. We get as far as Neef and take the A465 up onto the Heads of The Valleys road. Vera takes the Glynneath Bank in her stride and we plough onto the newly completed dual carriageway section (courtesy of objective 1 funding from our euro mates). This road is notorious, and as such has a series of average speed cameras along it's length. I'm impressed to see a biker stick to the limit for a full 5 miles ......... even more impressive was to watch him complete mile after mile on one wheel while he pulled a wheelie to relieve the boredom. I fully expect to see a flower shrine at the side of the tarmac dedicated to him pretty soon.
We reach the highest point of the Heads of the Valleys and I breath a sigh of relief, you see, Vera's not been too well of late, she's been missing a few beats since we went to Gogonia at Easter, and lately her engine management light has been coming on when I've worked her a little. This has resulted in me chasing sensors around the engine bay at £100 a pop! She's been running tidy for just over a week now and today was her first real test.
We get within a few miles of site and we're early, so pull up in a lay-by to kill 10 mins or so. We're pulling into the site gates at 12.10pm and come to a halt behind someone also checking in. Herself goes in to sort out the business and I wait in Vera as we're blocking the entrance exit. The CC is quite explicit about arrival and departure times on this site and the chalk board outside reception also reminds guests that they have to depart today by noon to allow for new arrivals.
Which is why I refused to move to allow a late departee through, no matter how much he tutted and nagged. My answer was simply "You should have been gone 15 mins ago!"
We settle on a pitch backing onto the river and Herself pops back to get a barrier card while I level the van. On her return she's fuming and proceeds to explain to me how the wardens were having an argument on the telephone with a guest who was supposed to be leaving today, but had gone out for the day and would not be returning until 5.30pm!!!! Some people!!!!
Setting up was pleasant in the sunshine and no sooner than I've hammered in the last peg I spy some familiar faces. the jungle drums have been beating and news of our arrival had travelled to nearby Abergavenny. We have visitors in the shape of my auntie and uncle as well as my cousin and his Mrs.
We settle down in the chairs outside and any thoughts of a cuppa were dispersed with as soon as Herself offered my uncle a G&T. We spend a lovely couple of hours catching up before the ansome bugger gets itchy feet and suggests they leave us to it. Strangely, the timing of this also coincides with my running out of afore mentioned G&T.
Herself is starving and suggests walking over to the nearby pub for a bite to eat. A very good idea I thought, so after a short diversion along the river bank with the dogs we head on over to sample their wares. Only they don't start serving food for another 2 1/2 hours!!
I throw a few pints of wife beater down my neck, while Herself savours some of Thatcher's finest before we retreat to site to fire up the Weber.
Not a tin of baked beans and sausages in sight.
Tuesday 31 May
I wake at 8.30am in a bit of a reflective mood, but happy to be here, I always feel a little like that when I spend some time with one of my Dad's brothers, and it hasn't got any easier in the 32 years since he passed. But today is also a significant one. It's three years to the day that my cousin lost his own battle, and also passed at an age far too young. We were brought up as brothers and it chokes a little. The sun is shining through the sky light so time to press on.
I throw a few rashers in the pan for breakfast and we stuff a packed lunch into our day sacks. With the dogs thrown into Vera's boot we head off out for the day, with the sketchiest of plans. Abergavenny sits in a bowl surrounded by hills or mountains - depending on who you speak to.
We bypass the town and go through Llanfoist before climbing towards Blaenavon. We park up at Foxhunter car park and head off to walk along the Blorenge mountain top, after stopping briefly to look at the memorial.
It's blowing a hoolie up here but we continue with our heads down into the wind until we get to the end of the ridge and take in the views of Abergavenny below us.
We turn around and retrace our steps, a little easier now with the wind on our backs, we stop to talk to an old fella who is adamant that he's just been blown off his feet, but I see no mud or cuts so reserve judgement.
We are on the lookout for shelter to stop for lunch and hunker down behind some rocks with a view over Newport and the Bristol Channel towards the West Country.
What a spot!
Back at the car park we are getting some serious attitude of a sheep who is giving us some serious eye ball.
We stop for ice creams (5) at Keepers Pond before taking the mountain track down past Llanelly onto the A465. We travel what what seems like miles and miles over a very uneven and boulder strewn track, and we've not seen another car since our ice cream pit stop. I say to Herself that I need to attend to a call of nature and pull over into an entrance to a field.
I've long since lost the button on my trousers so they are sewn closed, as is the fly, so my only option is to drop my pants and trousers while nature takes its course. I'm stood to the rear of Vera and am in full flow without a care in the world. herself is trying to warn me though, but as I've switched off my hearing aid I didn't hear the Vauxhall Insignia carrying two elderly passengers approaching.
They thoughtfully slow down to see if anything is wrong and as they near they get a full on view of my bare buttocks in all their glory. I'm still letting nature take its course and am unable to stem the flow so there is nothing else for it but to give them a cheery wave and a hello as they crawl past with mouths open aghast!
Herself is less than impressed and the remainder of our decent back to civilisation is in silence.
It's still quite early in the day and I hatch a plan to go to Llanthony Prior after calling at the Skirrid Inn for a pint. The pub was closed so we ploughed on for what seemed like miles and miles. We arrive at the Priory, see signs for the Hotel and I'm overjoyed to note that car parking is free. We lead the dogs and head off ......... until Herself spots a sign ...... NO DOGS ALLOWED!!
Having had those chips well and truly urinated on we return to the car and follow the lanes in no particular direction. We start climbing and follow the line of the Wales England Border. Travelling along Gospel Pass (the highest road pass in Wales) the scenery is breathtaking and we enjoy the mountainous terrain of Lord Hereford's Knob (it's the name of a mountain before any of you over sensitive types take offence and report me to the powers that be) and Hay Bluff, before dropping down into an absolutely rammed Hay on Wye.
We are both now hungry and thirsty, but do you think that we can find a pub open on the way back to site? Not on your life.
Back on site the Weber is again pressed into action and we dine on chicken, salad and Jersey potatoes. We settle down for the evening until I get a text from Roids announcing that TF and him are to pay us an extended visit tomorrow. This set alarm bells ringing as Roids likes his food, we have very little in and the only supermarket in Abergavenny is a Waitrose.
A quick Google reveals there is a Tesco in Hereford that is open until midnight, so Herself and I set off on a late shopping expedition.
Wednesday 1 June
We wake and it's a little gloomy outside with some wet stuff falling from the sky. Breakfast alfresco is out of the question so bacon rolls and mugs of tea are quaffed whilst looking out into the gloom from the comfort of the awning.
By the time we've clear up and packed our day sacks it's cleared up a little, still cloud cover but the wet stuff has stopped. I point Vera's nose south along the A465 and we head for the Wharf at Goytre, from which after paying the extortionate sum of £1 to park we set of on a ramble along the tow path heading north for just over 2 miles before stopping for lunch and retracing our tracks.
It was an interesting walk, not only is the scenery stunning, but there are many wood carvings to look at along the way.
We've now got a thirst on us, so after a brief visit to Crickhowell for some boot laces we stop off at The Lamb and Flag, taking an outside table to relax , take in the view, and enjoy a beer before returning to site to wait for Roids and TF.
They've come straight from work so are hungry, the Weber is pressed into action and I cremate some Chinese chicken thighs and some steak for a late supper before we settle down with a few drinks until late in the evening.
Thursday 2 June
I'm woken from my slumber at 7am with my phone screaming at me. It's coupons, and I immediately know something is up. Turns out that last night she had a gas leak. Luckily Mr & Mrs Starbucks are lodging at ASN5 this week and were able to help out. The emergency gas fitters has come out, confirmed the leak and promptly shut off the supply, unable to carry out any repairs necessary as it was more than their jobs were worth.
I made some phone calls and in little time at all arrangements had been made for a local boy (GasSafe) to call on coupons to fix the leak. With all this done I turned back over and snored for another hour or so.
We wake Roids and TF for breakfast and pack bags for a day out. Symmonds Yat is the lucky place today and we all pile into Vera just before midday.
First off we head off up to Symmonds Yat Rock and get lugged for £3.50 so that we can park up Vera between some trees before setting off up the path to the view point ........ wow, what a view!
Next we want to get down to river level, I know being this far up we would have to go down some slopes, and we spot a sign directing us to the river, which is supposed to be 500m away. what the sign didn't say was that the river was 500m away ....straight down!!
Undeterred we set off, with Herself's knackered knees feeling every uneven step. I'm going to pay for this later, I know I am. About half way down we come across a fallen tree which people have turned into a wish tree by hammering coins through the bark into the trunk.
Whilst Roids is busy hammering a 10p piece into the wood and TF is wishing away I spot a few 50p pieces and £1 coins in among the shrapnel. The West Walian in me roared to the surface and in an instant my Leatherman has been whipped out and I'm bust trying to extract the more valuable coinage.
Herself manages to overcome the pain in her Knackered knees to clamber over to me and give me a clout. I nearly had a £1 coin worked loose too!
We get down to river level passing rather ill looking people who were just 1/4 way into the massive climb back up to their cars, and the place reeks of money, there is some seriously nice property down here.
We walk along the bank a bit before waiting in line for the hand ferry that crosses the river at this point. We stump up the £1.20 each (dogs are free) before we entertain the crowds sat outside the adjacent pub boarding the said ferry, with Tali and Gwawr having to be physically dragged on.
With that spectacle over with, the young lad, who we can assume will be winning no body building competitions in the near future, takes a look at our collective bulk taking a huge slug from his can of Monster, takes a huge deep breath and sets about hauling us to the other side.
Disembarking was as much fun as embarking, and we had an audience this side too! It's baking hot as we wander the lanes that take up up stream, but is a pleasant walk as we observe the river cruises and canoeists battle it out for river supremacy. The heat is taking it's toll, and like a mirage in the desert out of the haze appears The Old Ferrie Inn. No questions are asked and we all simultaneously turn right and head for their riverside beer garden.
As we sit and enjoy people fooling around on the river we devour our lunch and drinks in an idyllic setting. I am a little troubled though by the thought of the 500m climb back to Vera. Herself's knees won't take all those steps, neither will Cerys' heart ...... not to mention my calves bursting with all the lactic acid, so I am secretly relieved when Herself says that there is no way we will get the dogs back on the ferry again. I know for consulting my Garmin that the nearest river crossing is 3 miles away, so we cheat and call a taxi to take me back up to the top to retrieve Vera.
The taxi arrives in no time, and myself and Roids risk our lives as we jump in and buckle up. The car is a Skoda with 200,000 miles on the clock. Every warning light that can light up is shining so bright you had to squint just to look at the speedo. It also becomes apparent that the clutch is also knackered as soon as drive tries to pull away!
We survived, and lived to tell the tale to Herself and TF and we loaded everything up into Vera. I'd promised Herself a visit to the slots, and she reminds me of this as we cruise the lanes. Luckily we'd not passed the place and I swing a hard right into the car park of the Symmonds Yat Amusement Park.
We park up under a tree after feeding yet more coins into yet another parking meter and head on in. What a god forsaken hole! You know those films where they feature an abandoned theme park in America? Well that's how this place is, only it's not abandoned, it's still open for business.
We fail to find any of the advertised attractions and dive into the dive of an arcade. Herself loses herself on the 2p falls while Roids takes the opportunity to thrash both TF and me at pool, even though he didn't notice that there were more red balls than yellow balls in either of the games.
It takes us an age to get back to site as an accident has closed the Hereford Rd. this is an inconvenience in more ways than one. Not only are we delayed and find an alternative way home, but we can also not get anywhere near the Tesco (Herself has run out of Prossecco) and the only supermarket between us and home is Waitrose in Abergavenny!
I try not to dwell too much on how much herself spent in there in just 10 mins as it upsets me somewhat.
Back on site we have a simple meal of Hot dogs off the Weber before settling down for the evening with a deck of cards.
Friday 3 June
Bright sunshine as we wake again today, and after taking the dogs along the river for their early morning walk we breakfast alfresco before heading off out for the day.
Caravanning or camping is something you either get or you don't get, and at this moment in time I wouldn't swap you breakfast for anywhere else in the world in any 5 start hotel. Bacon rolls and steaming tea taken outside with the grass under your feet and the sun warming your chops cannot be beaten.
It's going to be hot today, so a walk is planned that will afford some shade. We jump into the cars and head off out, first parking one up at Gilwern then all piling into Vera and starting our walk at Llangattock, near Crickhowell.
It's a superb walk along the canal tow path, loads of people about and quite a few boats on the water, all are happy to chat and a very pleasant time is had indeed. Again the views are stunning and I'll let the pictures do the talking. And no, I've not gone all squidgy on you. I am not hugging that massive tree and I am not about to start wearing cords and eating lentils. I am merely taking a close look for coins hammered into the bark.
We've no munch with us today and after a rather brisk 5 1/2 miles we have a bit of an appetite, so after Roids gives me a lift to fetch Vera we adjourn once again to The Lamb and Flag for food and drinks. I put pint glass to my lips and I can tell you it took some considerable self control to stop half way and not guzzle the entire pint of well chilled nectar in one go.
As we are sat there a load of customised and bespoke cars pull up. herself does not quite get my excitement and hurls lovely phrases like "anorak" in my general direction as I get up to take a few pics.
Refreshed, we set off to do some visiting in Abergavenny before returning to site. Roids and TF pack their bags and head for home while Herself and I have a bit of a tidy up before chilling in out chairs in the late evening sun, watching the occupants of the site go about their business.
Time is getting on, and we're starting to get a bit peckish. Neither of us fancy cooking so I open up my ipad looking for recommendations for a Chinese takeaway in Abergavenny. Herself then asks me if I am stupid. I know the answer to this question but find it a bit harsh none the less. She wants to know why I am seeking out the opinion of random strangers on the Internet when I have relative living in these parts?
She has a point, and a few texts later has us pulling up outside the rather down trodden Sing Lee in Abergavenny. Appearances can be deceptive though so we head on in trying to ignore the rather poor 3 hygiene rating displayed at the door. I have to say the food was good though, washed down with a shard bottle of Prosecco.
Saturday 4 June
We wake to overcast skies. Today is a bonus day though, we were to be returning home but decided on Thursday to extend our stay until tomorrow.
I get a picture message early on from Ronnie. He's been on the road since 5.30am and is attending a The French car Show 2016 at the Castle Combe Racing Circuit in Wiltshire, where he is showing his pride and joy for the very first time.
That car uses more polish than petrol, and that is some statement when we're talking about a Clio Sport 200 C cup.
We have a lazy morning lounging about the van before thinking about a late breakfast. that's as far as it got because we have nothing suitable in the fridge or cupboards to have. After scraping a few days worth of growth from my chops and a quick shower we head off out for the day with no particular plan as to what to do.
I vaguely recall seeing some signs for a vineyard and cider farm on our return from Symmonds Yat a few days back, so try and retrace our steps through the twisting B roads and lanes.
First stop is the White Castle Vineyard. The sign outside promises tasting as well as tours. The bloke behind the counter is nice enough but is having none of our attempts to convince him to let us taste a few of their wines.
To sample you have to buy, but in fairnesstheyare charging just £3.50 a glass so we purchase a white and a rose to try while sat out on their decking that overlooks the vines on the hillside. Very nice they were too.
Now I still don't quite know this happened, but I let my guard down. I'd left Herself in the shop to pay for the glasses while I took a seat, and while we were discussing the merits of both wines It has slipped my mind that she had not given me my wallet back. Herself announces that she's off to powder her nose and I sit there soaking up the ambiance of the place.
She returns clutching two wrapped bottles of very expensive wine, more than double what she pays for a bottle in our local Co-op back home! I vow to have words in private later on.
We hit the road again and in no time spot the signs for a cider farm. We follow the single track roads through the orchards and signs tell us that the apple trees are contracted to Bulmers and the berry bushes to Ribena. we enter the scruffy working yard and are welcomed by a cross eyed young lady before we can ring the bell.
To cut a long story short, after some extensive sampling we come away with a gallon of rough dry scrumpy and a crate of their sparkling medium dry. Despite being an inbred Herefordshire lass with a few too many digits on each hand she appeared to be struggling to do the maths and took my word for what the grand total should be (good job I'm honest).
Back in the car we drive through Skenfrith and decide to skip stopping for their village fate, instead carrying on through the lanes before we come across a large village green in Garway. While letting to dogs let off some steam Herself suggests that lunch may be nice, I tried to resist, I did honestly, but could hold out when my arm was twisted. The dogs were walked through the pub into the rather nice beer terrace of the Garway Moon Inn. Herself has fishcakes and I indulged in Moules et Frites.
I've never had them before so have nothing to compare them against, but they tasted superb.
We attempt to walk off lunch. but were too full to manage more than one lap of the village green. It's very close and threatening to rain so we decide to head back to site so that we can drop the awning while still dry.
En-route we pass a Gypsy camp set up at the side of the A465 just a few miles from our site, these are proper gypsies though, horse drawn caravans and all sat round a fire with pots hanging over cooking up a meal. Not a burning fridge in sight.
We get back to our caravan and are held up briefly by some new arrivals attempting to position their caravan on the pitch. It appears that their new Kia is a little underpowered as the lady is physically pulling at the back of the caravan while the driver reverses!
We drop the awning and pack everything away before settling down for an hour or so of personal contemplation in our recliners. I wake with a wet chest, and with lunch now having been slept off our thoughts turn to supper and a spin into Abergavenny is again required.
Waitrose comes to the rescue and we dine on their finest microwavable produce.
The rest of the evening is spent in the van with windows wide open. It's close, very close and the thunder storm has yet to arrive!
Sunday 5 June
The storms never arrived, and it was quite a sticky night in the van, even with open windows. We surface at 8.45am and with very little to do in order to break camp we are hitched up and handing over our barrier card before 10am.
Before long we are climbing steadily out of Abergavenny and up to the highest point of The Heads of the Valleys road at 410m above sea level. It's one steady climb and Vera growls her way straight to the top without breaking into a sweat. I'm starting to regain my confidence in her again.
The journey home is uneventful and the roads are quiet.
We've had a lovely week in Abergavenny, a place I feel at home in, due to it being my Dad's home town, though I've never actually lived there.
Until next time.