Category Archives: Travel

Climate change

We’re on holiday this week, renting a cottage in a ridiculously pretty village in the Cotswolds (Bisley, near Stroud). After spending almost all of the last year and a half in East Anglia, it’s lovely to get back to a place with some proper hills!

For the first half of the week, we had temperatures more reminiscent of southern Italy, and sought out shady spots in which to enjoy a cool glass of rosé.

This mediterranean feeling was enhanced by the fact that many of the local shops close at 2pm. (They just don’t reopen after the siesta!).

We relished the woodland stretches of our walks…

Hawkley wood

…as well as the breezes that can best be found on top of high Roman forts.

On an excursion to the Severn Estuary, we lunched at a seafood cafe while watching boats bobbing on the sparkling water of the marina, and then enjoyed a very refreshing G&T sorbet at the end of the beautifully-restored Clevedon Pier.

And then yesterday the weather changed, and we had some downpours of which East Anglia is not normally capable, and gently-falling mists at other times. We still managed to greatly enjoy a visit to Sudeley Castle. Recommended in any weather, and if you go, don’t miss the Pheasantry.

We’re definitely back in England now, though… and that’s also rather nice.

This is also the first longish trip in years where I haven’t had my laptop with me. My new iPad with its attached keyboard is exceedingly capable and I can basically do everything I want with it… but some things involve a bit more friction. (Though I imagine most of that is just a matter of habit.) So I haven’t been processing many of the images from my decent camera, for example; most of the pictures here are just snaps taken with my phone.

Well, except this one. My selfie stick isn’t quite this long. This requires a camera with propellors.

Clevedon Pier

The sound of bubbles

Late last summer we were in Cornwall and spent a delightful day on the Helford river in a boat we rented for the purpose. It had a motor, which was very convenient, but having driven an electric car for the last 6 years, I was very conscious again of just how much noise a combustion engine makes, especially when it’s in the form of an outboard sitting right behind you. Since that day, I’ve been desirous of an electric-powered boat.

Well, today we were able to try out a couple of recent purchases. Our new vessel, Tiddler, is an inflatable that comes somewhere between a RIB tender and an inflatable kayak — and we paired it with an ePropulsion electric outboard, which is a marvellous thing that can be put in the back of the car without any risk of petrol spills. In fact we can just about get the boat, the pump, the engine, the battery and the oars in the boot of our saloon car without needing to fold the seats down.

It took some research to find a combination that would do that, but I was keen to try because it turns out that Teslas are ridiculously dependent on their very low drag coefficient for their range, and doing reckless things like putting something on a roof-rack or towing it behind has quite an impact, so keeping things inside is a good idea if you can.

Anyway, we had a rather idyllic but high-tech day, zooming from our house to the little harbour just over an hour away, along a highway that took us almost all the way, so the car did the vast majority of the driving. Then pottering around the estuary mostly in sunshine and mostly in silence, mooring near a famous waterside pub that we knew to serve excellent fish and chips, and then heading back home the same way. This simultaneously proved two things to my satisfaction: firstly, that most forms of transport can be improved with the addition of a good battery, and secondly, that despite all this technology there’s still nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.

Marsh-wiggles

On the North Norfolk coast, you get these fabulous beaches.

Wonderful places to walk, though you may have to cover some distance at low tide if you actually want to see the sea! You can see how we had to fight our way through the crowds yesterday to find a space to launch the drone!

Between this beach and the car park, however, are salt marshes, which are also fascinating, and I’ve photographed them before, and more than once, from ground level. But the patterns and the scale start to become apparent when you can get a bit higher up.

That’s the path we took to walk out to the beach — the car park is where the brown meets the green — and it’s the path we should have taken to walk back.

(I’ve uploaded full-resolution photos too, so if you click on the pictures, you should be able to see rather more details, if your browser lets you zoom in. Can you see the bridge?)

We tried to find an alternative route back, an approach which had worked in the past here. But the marshes are always changing; you can think you’re almost at your destination, only to come suddenly upon a deep muddy trench that will give you no choice but to backtrack and lose the gains you’d made in the last 20 minutes.

It’s like a maze, but with more leaping. Don’t try it if the sun is going down!

There are some lovely spots where the marsh meets the beach.

But it’s the wiggly lines that I like the most.

You can perhaps see the same bridge in this picture: about three-quarters of the way up, in the middle. There used to be a couple more bridges over some of the tributaries, but I haven’t seen them on recent visits.

So I do wonder how the owners of those little boats get to them! At the moment, at least, what they’re sitting on is not nice dry sand, even if you can find your way there.

It’s a lovely and unusual spot.

Now, the real question is… who saw the title above and thought of Puddleglum?

Covid Conveniences

During the lockdown last year, when things began to open up a bit and we could go for outings to Norfolk beaches and other somewhat distant spots, there was always, lurking in the background, a rather practical matter to be considered: what happens if you need to go to the loo when you get there? With cafes, pubs, shopping centres and many other public locations closed, this could be an issue if you were visiting a remote location. A day trip and picnic was a delightful Covid-safe affair, but one didn’t want it to be overshadowed by such… shall we say… immediate concerns.

Well, back then, we had no problems, because we owned a small campervan, which included the necessary facilities. Now, however, we’re in the same situation but without such a vehicle, and need to consider such things more carefully.

Supermarkets are often a good spot to visit when on a long journey: plentiful, open for long hours, and trivial to find and insert into your route with just a couple of taps on Google Maps. On long drives through France in pre-lockdown times, there were many big stores at which I made small purchases! (It is worth noting, though, that this strategy will let you down, at least in the UK, if you have chosen Christmas Day or Easter Sunday for your outing, as we recently discovered!)

I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was obsessed with this subject, but I was a Cub Scout once, so I like to Be Prepared, and we blokes can often underestimate the challenges faced by the ladies. There are also many people, of course, for whom medical or other conditions make this a more serious issue. A useful, but not widely-known, resource in the UK is The Great British Public Toilet Map. Or perhaps it is widely-known, but not widely discussed in polite company!

As an aside, one of the jobs of art, occasionally, is to ask challenging questions of polite company, and it’s hard not to be intrigued by Monica Bonvicini’s installations in London and Basel some years ago, entitled “Don’t Miss A Sec”, which must be the ultimate use of one-way mirrors.

But I digress. This is an issue that has followed us through the ages; is there any hope of relief in the future? Well, looking back at past Status-Q posts from a couple of years ago, I remembered that an acquaintance and I had spotted a real business opportunity. I wonder if anyone will get around to commercialising it before the next pandemic…

Not Just Bikes

A friend of mine, who hails from Ontario originally, has lived in many cities around the world. I haven’t seen him for some years, so I didn’t know that he had moved to Amsterdam, but I also didn’t know that he’s started a YouTube channel about why, having lived in London, Toronto, Taipei, San Francisco and numerous other places, they liked Amsterdam the best, and asking the question what makes a city great?

It’s called Not Just Bikes, and I think he does a really nice job, which explains why he has also amassed a significant following.

Here’s a short example:

And another:

Recommended.

A Wee Campervan Caper – Travels with Tilly

Christmas breakfast on the edge of the Cairngorms, 2019

Hello Everybody, and Happy New Year! I’ve been doing something very foolish in 2020, and now I’ve stopped.

Let me explain…

This time last year, over the Christmas and New Year period, Rose was visiting her family in the States, so after dropping her at Heathrow, I turned our little campervan around, and headed north, accompanied by my cocker spaniel. The only thing I knew at the time was that we were spending the first night in the Lakes, and that we were probably heading for Scotland. The rest would be decided en route, mostly based on the weather forecast. I’m not sure if the Dark Sky app is often used as a route planner…

Anyway, I recorded quite a large chunk of our journey with my GoPro, and came back with a ridiculous amount of video footage, some of which had technical issues to overcome, and I discovered I had a mammoth editing task on my hands. I feared it could be well into the spring before I was able to share any of it. And then we had a spring unlike any other. So then I hoped that lockdown would give me more time to work on projects like this, but actually 2020 has been really quite a busy year for me, and it was only once we got back towards Christmas again that I was actually able to devote any time to it.

“At least”, I said to myself, “I have to finish it before the end of the year.” And I did! I clicked ‘upload’ on the final episodes just before midnight last night. 🙂

Now, let’s be clear here: You’ll note I say ‘episodes’ above. There are, in fact, nine of them, and that’s after I’d edited out enough material for at least four more! This is perhaps the most extreme let-me-bore-you-with-my-holiday-snaps variant one can come up with, and I don’t expect the average Status-Q reader to be interested in watching one, let alone nine of these little narratives.

An AirBnB for New Year’s Eve, December 2019
The van is visible in the bottom right. Click for a larger version.

Amazingly, though, there are people who will enjoy my holiday snaps! Some are watching already.

Those longing for the open road amidst Covid restrictions, or those planning their next motorhome trip in more normal times, do like to get ideas for their next adventure, or relive the memories of journeys past, and road trip videos are very popular on YouTube. I’ve watched a lot of them, and some were partly responsible for me buying the van in the first place.

That’s before you get into the experiences, hints and tips of the full-time motorhomers: try searching YouTube for ‘van life’ if you want to enter another world.

But, even though producing this has, in some ways, been a burden that I wanted to get off my shoulders for a whole year, it’s also been a joy. Rewatching my holiday several times over means that some of the best bits are burned into my memory; there are sites, sounds and places that I would otherwise have forgotten in a month, and that I’ll now remember for ever.

And, in the unlikely event that you want to experience any of it too, there’s a YouTube playlist, and the journey begins here:

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’…

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser