Category Archives: Travel

Peak Campervanning

At the end of November, I popped up to the Derbyshire Peak District for a weekend, and posted some photos here. At the time, I mentioned that I had taken some video footage too, and I finally got around to editing it into something watchable, at least by those who enjoy amateur travelogues. ūüôā

(Direct YouTube link)

It’s good to be back

We’re spending a week around Christmas in a cottage in the Lake District.

It’s very wet, very windy, and as beautiful as ever.

Peak-walking

One Friday night, in the dark, towards the end of November, I set off from home in the direction of the Derbyshire Peak District. Three hours later, I parked my campervan in the car-park of a friendly pub, and settled down for a night of testing its heating system against the outside temperatures, which had dropped well below zero!

But the following morning dawned bright and clear, and I could see the edge of Ladybower Reservoir.

With the sun still only on the hilltops, I headed up the frosty path behind the pub, looking forward to emerging into the brightness above.

Before too long, I was looking down at sunlit fields of happy sheep…

and the reservoir I had left behind.

Once up on the top of Derwent Edge, the path was easy and, though the air temperature was low, there was almost no wind, which made for delightful walking conditions.  I met many other travellers who were enjoying it as much as I was.

Places that might have been very muddy were now frozen, and the places that might have been untraversable bog…

were crossed by well-maintained paths, winding into the distance.

It really is a very pretty area…

…with lots of fun and varied rock formations en route.

But it’s not without its perils. ¬†Many an unwary traveller has become prey to the giant prehistoric lizard who hides behind one of the ridges and creeps up on them from behind after they have passed by.

Despite this, I was having such a good time that I got a bit carried away, and what had been intended as a short morning stroll got extended for mile after mile after mile.

Though the weather was lovely, the areas in shadow were still frozen, and I was impressed at the dedication of the couple who had given up this quantity of their bodily warmth, long before I appeared on the scene, to record their affection on a thick slab of stone!

By this point I had done about eight miles and was starting to be more aware of the fact that I had set off without even a biscuit (since I had expected to be back for lunch!)

So I was glad when I reached the path theat would take me back to the reservoirs below: a gully cutting down through the Howden Moors.

The sun was getting lower, and much of this area was in shadow. Icicles dripped beside me…

…and in places I was rather conscious of the perilous drops to my right, as I, a tired, lone traveller, contemplating the likely time of sunset and remembering the temperatures of the night before, negotiated a path that I think was primarily used by the local sheep. ¬†The slimmer individuals amongst the local sheep, too…

So it was with some relief that I made it down to more sheltered, level ground again in the last vestiges of the sunshine.

However… it was still 3 or 4 miles back to the van, so I set off in the gathering gloom along the side of the reservoir, passing the impressive Derwent Dam where the Dambuster squadron used to practice.

Just beyond the dam, I joined a lovely woodland path, broad and well-maintained, which was good because by that point I was dependent entirely on moonlight to avoid any obstructions!  The trees were just slightly darker patches of black to my left and right.  But I managed to avoid walking into them, or tripping over their roots, and so it was that I arrived, footsore but happy, back at the van, whence I had set off for a short morning walk after a small bowl of cereal 15.3 miles earlier!  

A lovely area for walking and highly recommended, though I do suggest you also take a biscuit or two!

 

More information about the rest of the trip should be coming before too long on the campervan section of my YouTube channel.

The effects of a pub lunch?

Spotted in the skies above Derbyshire a couple of weeks ago. First thing in the morning, perhaps after a good strong coffee…

Later in the day, in those same skies…

Phew, Bob – that was a bit close!…

Ottery St Mary

We were passing Ottery St Mary, Devon, on our travels, and were pleased to see a sign to a pottery. Yes, there’s a pottery in Ottery. I started to consider its likely back-story…

There once was a lady from Ottery
St Mary, devoted to pottery.
If she saw a vase,
Wherever she was,
She’d say, “In my collection that’s gotta be!”

Well… you don’t expect anything too deep while I’m on holiday, I hope?

I like to think that the pleasing name comes from there being a lot of otters around, so making the area particularly ottery, but in fact the town lies on the River Otter. Confusingly, there’s also a River Ottery in Cornwall, but I can’t discover that either waterway is particularly known for its otters… in fact, the River Otter, according to Wikipedia, is unusual in having the UK’s only known breeding population of beavers.

They probably settled there just to confuse people.

The Thames, they are a changing

Like many people, I’m familiar with the vast River Thames that flows under the big bridge at Dartford, and the grubbily majestic Thames that passes the Houses of Parliament. ¬†I’ve even been fortunate enough to enjoy the rather spiffing Thames that flowed past us when we visited the Stewards’ Enclosure at Henley Regatta.

But until a couple of weekends ago, I hadn’t experienced the delightfully bucolic upper Thames, which winds past herds of cows, under weeping willows, and passes through locks manned by lock-keepers who still live in cottages on the waterside, surrounded by their beautiful gardens.

That, I think, is my favourite Thames. And I would have made a better video of it if I hadn’t been so taken up with enjoying and navigating it!

(Direct Link to video)

Back again… for the anniversary

Status-Q, in its current form, is 22 years old today. I haven’t posted for a week or so because I’ve been terribly energetic on some Swiss ski slopes.

My legs wearing ski boots, reclining on a deck chair, with snowy swiss mountains in the distance.

On the slopes of Mount Doom

2007 05 13 21 22 51 bw

We’ve just been re-watching Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it was just as splendid as ever.

It reminded me of my second visit to New Zealand, in 2007, and the day I spent walking the Tongariro Crossing; a dramatic volcanic landscape where many of the scenes in The Return of the King were filmed.

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It’s fun showing it in gritty monochrome, but in fact some of its drama comes from the occasional bright colours amidst a landscape of Martian barreness.

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There are vast structures through which you can imagine rivers of heat must have poured.

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And some of the rocks look almost like man-made art installations.

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This other-worldly landscape emerges from placid surrounding plains, so you can look out and see what life is like back on Earth.

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It’s a fascinating place, and makes for a most unusual one-day hike. ¬†Recommended, if you get the chance to visit.

 

On our mantlepiece, we have a small golf-ball-sized piece of volcanic lava that I brought home to Rose after my trip. ¬†“Here you are, darling; I’ve brought you a bit of Mount Doom!” ¬†

I always had a talent for romantic gestures.

2007 05 13 23 43 23

Catching up

We’re just back from a few splendid days staying in a cottage on the Pembrokeshire coast in Wales, followed by a weekend of sailing on the River Crouch in East Anglia, with stops in the Wye Valley and the Cotswolds in between. Fitting these into the same week-and-a-half involves rather large changes in longitude combined with almost zero change in latitude!

Wales is a country whose great beauty is occasionally visible through the downpours. I always love visiting, but when it rains, it really rains… and this is from someone whose childhood holidays were often spent in the Lake District: somewhere that is seldom described as arid! But we alternated the suncream and the umbrellas, and only occasionally got drenched.

We saw lovely harbours, both man-made and natural:

Fishguard

We visited seals and lighthouses; castles, cliffs, and cottages; superchargers and woollen mills, and we had some very good food. We saw ancient woods:

We saw the cathedral in St Davids, hidden so deeply in a valley that you can be in the same small town and hardly know it’s there. but it’s a wonderful and unusual place.

And then we rushed back across the country to go sailing in our little dinghy with friends from the Tideway Owners’ Association.

Now, exhausted but happy, we’ve come back to normal working life to recover…

Word Play

This is a really useful site, which I’ve somehow missed before now:

Are you wandering through an art gallery, and become fearful that your new date will laugh at you if you mispronounce trompe-l’oeil? Never fear! Just pop to the loo with your phone for a moment, and Forvo will let you find and listen to a number of native French speakers saying exactly that phrase. You can then return confident and ready to impress!

Passing through Scotland, and want to ask the way to Culzean or Glen Garioch without the locals sniggering at you?

It will do translations too. If you need to call for a helicopter to lift you off a German mountain, Forvo will both tell you the word, and how to say it.

The great thing about this is that it isn’t an automated voice; these are real people speaking, and you can often compare the same word being spoken by people from different regions. If you’re already familiar with it, you can vote on who pronounces it best, and if you think everybody has got it wrong, you can contribute a recording yourself.

Bellísimo! (as they say in Mexico)

Charging sideways: Towing Electric part II

I wrote a couple of months ago about my early experiences of towing with an electric car. A couple of quick updates, now that I’ve done a bit more towing of my little boat…

  • The general towing experience is excellent. The power and smooth acceleration, combined with a fairly heavy towing vehicle, make for a good ride.

  • Even the car’s reversing camera, which I had assumed would prove useless, turns out to be very handy with a small boat: you can check for any wildly flapping straps, reverse with more confidence, make sure you’ve left enough room going around a corner, and the towing ball itself is visible when trying to position yourself close to the trailer.

  • Since purchasing a good cover, and once I remembered that in the UK you’re not allowed to tow above 60mph, the aerodynamics aren’t too bad and I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the efficiency. I tend to average about 320 Wh/mile while towing, which translates to just over 3.1 miles/kWh, or to put it another way, my Tesla Model 3 LR gets a range of over 230 miles. (Since this is at least 4 hours of driving, and more than 3 times the distance my first EV would go when not towing, I’m very happy!)

  • In addition to my load being fairly light and streamlined, I’m guessing that I benefit significantly from the fact that this is an unbraked trailer. In the UK, any load that weighs more than 750kg is required to have its own brakes: as you slow down and the trailer compresses a spring on the towing hitch, these brakes are applied. If, however, you can get away without needing this on an EV, then the momentum of the trailer is converted back into battery charge by the regenerative braking system of the car as you slow down, rather than being lost as heat. My first experiences of towing with an EV involved a significantly heavier, more ancient, less streamlined and generally much clunkier braked trailer, and the effects on my range were much more dramatic. Your mileage, as the saying goes may vary!

  • In the future, I imagine, heavier trailers will come with dynamos/motors attached to the wheels, so they can do their own regenerative braking. These might be more basic than would be needed to provide significant motive power while driving at speed, but they could perhaps double up as the remote-controlled motor-movers employed on caravans to allow easy final positioning at your destination once you’ve disconnected from your car. I sense a real future business opportunity here, by the way. Anyone fancy collaborating on a start-up?

More about charging

Since, given the right charger, my car (and many other modern ones) can charge really very fast, the fact that I have to stop every three or four hours to do so is hardly a major concern!

However, as I’ve pointed out in the past, the design of most charging stations in the UK is hardly optimised for those who are towing!

The Gridserve Electric Forecourt at Braintree is one pleasing exception, but in general, EV owners will often need to unhitch their load before charging. This is not a problem for a light trailer like mine with a jockey wheel, but it’s another reason those motor-movers might come in handy!

So far, I’ve only needed to charge away from home three times while towing, and on two of those occasions, I’ve managed to get away without unhitching, either by visiting remote superchargers at off-peak periods…

… or by blatantly abusing the facilities when there aren’t any other people needing to get to them, as I did on Friday!

That arrow on the road does indicate how you’re meant to park, doesn’t it?

Forecourt futures?

If only they all looked like this…

A few years ago, I was involved in a big brainstorming session with some senior staff from BP. We had gathered, from both sides of the Atlantic, to consider some of the implications of technology changes on their business, and one of the topics discussed was the future of the retail forecourt: the petrol station, as most of us know it today. There was one thing we were all pretty much agreed on about its future: that it hadn’t got one.

The problem is that electric cars give you a very different refuelling experience from cars burning dinosaur juice. The bad news is that it takes longer, as we all know. Even when I’m charging my Tesla at speeds that would have astonished me when I first started driving EVs, I’m still generally there for 20-30 minutes, rather than the five minutes I would have spent filling up with petrol.

But the good news is that you don’t have to stand there while it’s happening, shivering, breathing in those lovely fumes, and wondering if your shoes will reek of diesel for the rest of the day. Instead, you can be inside the car watching the latest episode of your favourite show, or having a drink at the nearby cafe, or taking the dog for a walk. One of our favourite superchargers is in a multi-storey car park near Bristol, where you can just plug in and stroll over to John Lewis to purchase pillowcases, or whatever takes your fancy.

(As an aside, I think this is very healthy: on long drives, it’s important to take a proper break every so often, not just for your own wellbeing, but for the safety of those you may be approaching at speed later in the journey. EVs almost enforce that.)

Now, you could beef up the shopping/dining experience at some petrol stations, but it’s not really enough. The problem for those who have invested large amounts in forecourt real estate is that these stations are generally the wrong size for charging points — you need bigger parking areas and bigger retail areas — and many of them are not where you’d actually want to spend much time: on noisy town-centre roundabouts or on the edge of a busy bypass. Add to that the fact that they aren’t necessarily in good locations for a high-power connection to the electricity grid, and you’d think it probably makes sense to start selling them off. Oh, except you’ve spent a few decades storing and spilling toxic liquids there, so that’s a bit tricky too.

After the gas has gone…

We discussed other possible uses for the sites, which, despite some problems, do have the merit of being close to good road links, and often close to towns.

One idea was that they might become last-hop delivery hubs. Instead of fuel tankers rolling in during the night to top up the tanks, it would be big Amazon trucks coming to offload their parcels. Then a fleet of smaller electric vans would zip out from there during the day, doing the deliveries.

Someone else pointed out that there’s another service to which people often need quick and easy access while travelling: the loo! Yes, petrol stations are ideally placed for public conveniences, but up to now, that part of any visit has not always been very inspiring! Apparently one gas station chain in the States made their toilets a feature, advertising that they had the nicest bathrooms in the business! I thought this was very smart: there’s not much else to distinguish one station from another, so this was a cunning way to make your visit one of choice (as well as necessity!) Could you, we wondered, actually dispense with the petrol station, and instead draw people to your roadside retail experience through the quality and cleanliness of the adjacent WC? I like that idea, though it might require some clever marketing!

I suggested that they might want to develop a brand and business that wasn’t tied to particular premises in the same way. In the past, petrol stations were expensive and difficult to install, and they added retail experiences onto them to try to increase the profitability of each visit. But in the future, what people would want was not a Costa Coffee shop next to their refuelling point, but a refuelling stop next to their Costa Coffee. And that was much more viable than it ever had been in the past. Who was going to make it really easy for a supermarket, restaurant, shopping mall or pub to turn their existing car park into a charging centre? This, I thought, was an opportunity.

(Interestingly, almost on that exact day, it also became public that BP were buying the Polar/Chargemaster charging network, which was a smart way to get a good foothold in the charging world in the UK.)

Happy memories

Anyway, just to finish this on a personal note, and to show they’re not all bad, I do have a favourite petrol station, of all the ones I’ve visited in my life.

It stood right on the side of a Norwegian fjord, not far from a cottage where I stayed with my parents and grandparents on holiday sometime in the mid-1980s. You filled up your tank in a gentle sea breeze, surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery I’ve ever seen, and then strolled into the shop to pay. This was also the local grocery shop for that side of the fjord. (For the post office, bank, and the other shop, we would just go into to the cottage’s boathouse, get into the dinghy and chug across to the other side of the water.) Anyway, I remember that the two or three fuel pumps had unusually long hoses, because they were also sometimes used to fill up the boats which could pull in just as easily as cars.

And in the spaces between the pumps? Flower boxes.

Yes, that was a really lovely spot to fill up, and it would also make an amazing charging station. Perhaps, knowing Norway, I’ll be able to go back someday in my current car and fill up again…

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser