Category Archives: Travel

I promise to pay the car park attendant on demand…

Do you remember how, in the old days, before you went on holiday, one of the important tasks you had to do before departure was to get some cash in the local currency? Well, even in this modern era, there are still some places where you need to do that. Cornwall, for example.

We’ve been taken by surprise, as visitors here, by the number of car parks which require payment, and where that payment can only be made with cash. Usually in coins, with no change given, so you really want the exact amount. Now, as someone who hasn’t really used cash for years, this was a minor inconvenience the first two or three times. But I’ve now realised that it’s basically the same everywhere: the Queen’s currency is still vital here; it’s a complex kind of car-parking token. Every single car park has required cash; I think we’ve been to four or five here, and one in Devon on the way down. Today, as a gesture to the 21st century, the car park had two machines. One took cards! Hurrah! It was out of order.

Now this isn’t because we’re in some remote backwater where they’ve never heard of digital transactions. Pretty much everything else, since we’ve left home, has been paid for sans contact using my Apple Watch (which is how I’ve paid for most things in the last five years). And, in fact, in Covid-world, most shops are not taking cash at all, so it’s even harder to go and buy a Kit-Kat to get some change. That’s assuming you can find an ATM from which to get some notes in the first place; they’re not exactly plentiful here.

Since there are a lot of visitors to this part of the world, car park attendants have to spend a lot of their time explaining to people that, no, I know it’s astonishing, but you do actually need cash if you want to park here. No, sorry, there isn’t an ATM here, but there’s one in the next town… Yes, that one you drove past 20 minutes ago on the narrow winding road with occasional passing places.

To be fair, twice in recent days they have come up with alternative solutions for me. “Which is your car? OK, well, give me the change you’ve got now, and if you manage to get any more in the village, you can pay me the rest when you get back.” or “If you call this number, that’s our central office, and they can take a card payment.” Very good of them, but it’s daft that they have to do it.

Today, at Porthcurno, I did call the central office. “No, I’m sorry, we can’t actually take payments over the phone. And we can’t install card machines because they need a phone connection, and there’s no phone coverage there.”

“But you can hear me OK?”

The same excuse was given me in Mousehole. (Yes, that’s a real place name, and a charming place, too, if you can find anywhere to park.) “The phone coverage is too patchy”, said the man by the machine, “so they can’t install machines that take cards.” This is clearly ridiculous; all of the cafes nearby offered free wifi. Is it really the case that card-payment car-park machines can only be connected over mobile networks? And besides, is a live connection back to base really required for a £2 contactless purchase? Or is this, I wondered, just a scheme to provide employment for locals as they go around emptying the cash from the machines?

Anyway, today, I eventually managed to get some cash at the Post Office, and then buy some stamps (another blast from the past) so that I had some coins to pay the patiently-waiting car-park man. Not sure what I’ll do with the remainder: I won’t have any use for them at home.

And then it struck me. Of course! That’s the reason! It’s a ploy to make people get coins which they won’t use at home, so they have to spend them in the local area before they go, thus boosting the local economy. Brilliant!

I expect there’s a Duty Free on the A30 somewhere near Exeter where I can buy some cider before departure. Now it all makes sense.

Excuse me… were you invited to this party?

sheep

Today we’re heading for Cornwall. Normally, that would be a major undertaking, but fortunately, we can see it from where we’re staying.

It’s just over there:

Cornwall

Looks nice, doesn’t it?

Air Power

We’re staying in a throughly delightful B&B in Devon, on a working farm. This is the view from the front door:

Sheep peacefully grazing

Rose was greeted by the welcoming committee in the car park.

We drove down here in our little electric car. We’ve had it now for nearly five years, and have clocked up 30,000 miles, which I realise means we’ve put about eight megawatt-hours through its battery! That sounds like quite a lot, so I should point out that it represents total fuel costs to us of about £20 per month, and in our case that fuel was almost entirely from renewable sources; mostly hydroelectric, with a bit of solar and wind. So for the last five years, we’ve been driving around powered by sun, wind and rain.

One thing that helps with the efficiency is keeping your tyres pumped up to the correct pressure. I carefully did that a couple of days ago before setting off. But I couldn’t help noticing this morning that our very genial host, Rob, was doing the same, but he has a rather more powerful tyre pump than I have!

How to confuse foreigners

Small village. One straight road. Two names.

We Brits seem to think this is normal. This is partly why I got confused trying to find a restaurant the first time I went to California, but for the opposite reason.

I was on the right street, at about the right number… but I was in the wrong city.

Social distancing in Norfolk

Yesterday, we took the day off and went to the North Norfolk coast. Maintaining social distancing wasn’t too hard. And Tilly got lots of exercise.

That old pipeline that runs out along across one of our favourite beaches has clearly seen some action in the past:

Rose said this looks like two friends embracing across a fence:

And at times, sections of the pipe emerge like a sea monster from the deep:

Here you might be walking on fresh samphire…

or crunching on cockle shells.

It was great to return to a place we’ve visited often and always enjoy.

(I posted a rather different photo from here on a previous visit.)


Now, you may well be asking, how did you manage this, when almost everything is closed? This particular beach is about an hour and three-quarters’ drive from Cambridge, and that poses some challenges when it comes to… ahem… the need for a comfort break.

Well, the answer is that we’re fortunate enough to have a small campervan.

We can’t use it for any overnight stays at present, but it does make a jolly good vehicle for day trips. It has a fridge, a table, a stove, fresh water…

And it also has a loo. Sort of. Even in a van this size. Now, we don’t often use the loo, because we usually stay on sites that have such facilities, and, well, frankly, a loo that you have to pull out of a cupboard before use isn’t that much of a ‘convenience’. Sometimes we leave it behind, because the cupboard space is more useful, and when we have used it in the past, it generally goes in a little loo tent we pitch beside the van.

Having said, that, these facilities have come a long way since the more primitive equivalents I remember from my youth. Ours is one of these, in case you’re interested, and it’s remarkably civilised. All the necessary seals are good, modern chemicals do a good job, it incorporates a loo roll holder and even, would you believe, an electric flush! There are some places I never expected to install AA batteries… but it works well. We probably wouldn’t have chosen quite such a luxurious one, but it came with the van.

Anyway, the point is that this does, pretty much single-handedly, enable day trips during lockdown. “Would you like to take the dog for a short walk, dear? I’m just going to draw the curtains…”


Anyway, back to the beaches. The Norfolk beaches we visit are never crowded, but the car parks can be, so we made sure we arrived early. By the time we departed, a couple of hours later, somebody was grateful for our space.

We had lunch in a different car park, at Blakeney. There was still plenty of space here.

We managed to get a takeaway coffee and cake from a favourite spot in Holt which does an awfully good job of both, and then headed for a rather different beach at Weybourne in the afternoon.

Here, you’re walking on pebbles, which is not quite so easy, but they’re beautiful none the less.

We always bring some of the more colourful pebbles or shells back from our seaside trips, and they end up decorating the bird-bath in the garden.

Talking of birds, there were lots of happy ones bobbing about.

And there are suitably picturesque scenes to be snapped even from the car park.

The standard way to get one of these boats over a pebbly beach into the sea, by the way, is to attach a small accessory.

It’s basically a big chunk of ferric oxide with a diesel engine.

Anyway, all in all, a very pleasant day, and, being aware of the hardship many others are going through at present, I was enormously lucky to be able to enjoy it in such a versatile vehicle with my two favourite companions.

Wet Feet

Ardroil Beach

Ardroil Sands, Uig, Isle of Lewis, on New Year’s Eve.

This beach is generally thought to be the location where, in 1831, the Lewis Chessmen were found.

And yes, I did get my feet wet. And yes, it was worth it.

Update: My mother says this must be the best-selling sequel to ‘A Bridge Too Far’…

A remote dawn

Around Christmas and New Year, I was in Scotland in my campervan. I took lots of video footage. Far too much, in fact, so I’ve been gradually working my way through it, on and off, for several months. This evening, I came across this rather pleasing scene. It’s just a still frame captured from video, and on a GoPro too, so the quality’s not great, but I hope you enjoy the view!

This is a dawn dog-walk at Uig on the Isle of Lewis, on New Year’s Eve. Not only was I up at dawn, I had already breakfasted and was setting off for a hike! However, this sounds a bit less impressive when I point out that sunrise in mid-winter up there is after 9am.

The small black blur on the right-hand side, which you may be able to see if you click for a larger version, is Tilly romping in the heather.

We’re still standing

The Callanish (or Calanais) Standing Stones, on the Isle of Lewis. New Year’s Day 2020.

AirBnB faces some challenges

I’ve only stayed twice in AirBnB rooms.

The first time was in Sausalito, California, many years ago, when AirBnB was still a fairly new phenomenon. (I tried out another new service called “Uber” on the same evening.) Because I was only staying one night, the room was a bit pricey, but it was otherwise fine and still a lot cheaper than a hotel just across the water in San Francisco.

The second time was a few weeks ago, when I stayed for a few days over the New Year with a delightful family on the Isle of Lewis. A really lovely spot.

So my experience with the service, however limited, has been good, and I have many friends and family members who use it a great deal more than I do.

But it’s not the same for everyone, and James Temperton’s interesting article in Wired exposes the fact that some rather dubious people have found the success of AirBnB to be an irresistable temptation…

Thanks to John Naughton for the link.

None shall pass

None shall pass

Children of the Stones

I visited the stone circle at Callanish this morning. Wonderful spot.

Callanish Stone Circle

Not a peaceful spot today, though: the photo doesn’t show you the 40mph winds whipping across the island!

Here’s an alternative view.

This put me in mind of the splendid 1976 TV drama Children of the Stones, filmed in Avebury, Wiltshire, which also has some dramatic standing stones, encircling half the village. One of the themes of the plot is the rumour that the stones sometimes turn into people and come back to life. I love the Avebury stones, but these ones looked more as if they might do that, given a little encouragement.

I didn’t watch Children of the Stones in 1976, which is probably just as well, since it has been described as “the scariest programme ever made for children”. It’s fun to watch as an adult, though, and is a great example of how you can tell a compelling story with a very low budget and some spooky music! Also, for people of my vintage, it has the added interest of featuring Gareth Thomas, better known as Blake, from Blake’s Seven.

More information on Wikipedia about the TV series, and about the Callanish Stones.

The Old Man and the Sea

I have a feeling this fine vessel could tell a few tales of adventure!

I’m on the Isle of Lewis, where, in order to take a good photo, you can almost wind down the window and click in a random direction.

You do, currently, have only six-and-a-half hours between sunrise and sunset in which to do it, though!

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser