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Travelling Down South

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It’s been a few months now since I started my UK road trip and I’ve finally reached the point where I no longer care how greasy my hair is.

The shower in the caravan packed in a few weeks ago and my misguided attempts at fixing it only led to the startling discover that I have absolutely no DIY skills whatsoever. After coming to terms with my lack of masculine skills, I decided to put my hygiene concerns to one side and focus instead on enjoying a life free of such pedestrian concerns as ‘showers’ and ‘cleanliness’.

After an enjoyable month or so in Wales, I set my GPS for England and left the land of mountains and fantastic fry ups for genteel countryside and…more fantastic fry ups. Never before had I felt so in tune with my inner Englishman. Gifted with what felt like all the time in the world, I would spend my mornings sipping tea and reading the news, for one week I adopted a pipe smoking habit, but quit when I found that the combined pungency of my body odour and tobacco was conjuring up torrid memories of my grandfather.

England had never been as accessible and enjoyable as this summer, here are a few highlights of those times:

A Night Out In Brighton

During my stay in Wales I’d despaired at the state of the Victorian seaside towns, left there to ruin over decades of dwindling tourism. Brighton was a reminder that such places are not confined to Wales, but given the right encouragement, they can become more than the sum of their parts. Unlike so many of those drab, borderline derelict towns that I’d passed through in Wales, Brighton has managed to establish an identity all of its own. Supported by the affluent professionals of London, it has become a fun, if rather exorbitant, exaggeration of what it once was. I spent my night there flitting between pubs and bars, meeting up with old friends and spending too much money.

Seaside Tranquillity in St. Ives

As pleasant as Brighton was, it left me a little rattled and dark under the eyes. I’d not spent that much time in an urban setting for some time and found it a little too hectic for my liking. I longed for the peace and isolation that I tasted in Wales, and set my sights on Cornwall for my next destination. I’d come to savour the long summer days that I spent on the road, waking in the early hours to get on the way to my next destination and leaving whatever caravan site I was staying before the sun had risen.

I arrived in St. Ives happy to have reached my destination and eager to get a taste for Cornish culture, which I soon found in a nearby pub. My evening was spent discussing politics with a bunch of locals and was surprised to find myself in agreement with nearly every man there (there were not many women in attendance that evening). The next morning was a special one, as I wasn’t alone. I’d been joined by a stinking hangover and the dim recollection of being carried back to my caravan – thankfully the spray of the sea was not far away and I gratefully indulged in a cold dip to blow away the cobwebs after, before returning to the pub to find a hair of the dog.

Welsh Touring Highlights

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‘Touring’ sounds likes such an old fashioned term, but it’s one that I’m using nonetheless.

For the last year or so I’ve been touring around the UK in what can only be described as the world’s shabbiest caravan.

It’s been a surprisingly thrilling 12 months, with each day throwing up more challenges than you could wave my only hammer at (which was coincidentally one of the central sources of my problems). You’re probably wondering why I made the decision to leave my perfectly comfortable job and set out on a long road trip across the UK in my grandfather’s caravan from the 70s. I could have escaped to the other side of the world to some sunny beach and drowned myself in cocktails, but instead I decided on taking an ancient caravan on it’s last journey on a road trip that my grandfather has always dreamed of taking.

My year long journey was full of strange and interesting stories, so I thought I’d present them slowly through a number of posts divided by each country of the UK that I visited. First up is Wales, a country that I’d not visited before and one that managed to somehow managed fall in love with over the 2 months that I spent driving through it. These are my highlights for my journey through Wales:

Camping for the night in Snowdonia

Although I spent most of my nights huddled for warmth under a mass of blankets when I passed through Scotland, by the time I reached Wales I was the nights were getting temperate enough for me to consider cracking the tent out. Whilst the caravan had a perfectly decent sponge mattress to relax on, there were nights during my trip that I yearned for a night’s sleep outside of the confines of the caravan. The tent was almost as old as the caravan, but it was made of a solid enough design and was just the trick for enjoying my first night under the stars in Wales.

‘Surfing’ for the first time in a quarry

My trip to Wales was full of many firsts including my first ever surfing experience. Surf Snowdonia is an attraction that is certainly worth visiting if you’re someone like me who has never dared step on a surfboard before. In a massive ex-quarry the smarty-pants that pioneered this award-winning attraction have installed an artificial surfing lake which comes complete with it’s own wave system. They offer a wide range of packages that are suitable for complete novices (like me) and more experienced surfers who are keen to take on a new challenge.

Eating a Full Welsh Breakfast

It turns out a Full Welsh breakfast was not too different from a Full English albeit for the addition of Cockles and Laverbread. I have to admit that I started somewhat when I saw the big lump of fried oatmeal and seaweed on my plate next to the familiar ingredients, however I was starving so I quickly dove into the meal without thinking too much about it. Although I can’t say that my life has been changed by these strange additions, this meal nonetheless marked one of the best meals I had in Wales.

Click through here for a complete guide on where to stay in Snowdonia.

Train to Liverpool: Stale Sandwiches and Motoring Law

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A lot of disparaging things are said against the British rail system…

‘It’s always late’, ‘it’s too expensive’ and ‘it smells’ are the chief complaints.

Still – if you choose to drive instead then you run the chance of bumping into a whole new range of risks and dilemmas. Despite remaining a belligerent supporter of the public transport system here for some time, I’ve always been a driver at heart, preferring the freedom of exploring the UK on the roads rather than staying stuck on the (admittedly unpredictable) rails of the national train service.

Having spent the last few years travelling around the UK on the weekends, driving through country roads and rocketing down motorways, it would appear that I’ve broken a few laws along the way. I’d always wondered how I could speed so carelessly and never be caught in the act; it turns out that I’d not quite got away with all my indiscretions. My car had been registered in Ireland for some years and I’d neglected to change the details, so every camera that I sped past would record my little crime and a fine would dutifully be sent to my old home in Ireland (a flat that had been empty for some time).

It took a sharp knock on the door and a rather embarrassing conversation with a police officer to pick apart my shady driving history. It turns out that I’d been quite the ‘wanted man’ for some time now, having evaded the law so cleverly, investigators had felt that I must have been some kind of master criminal. The ‘arresting officer’ appeared a little crestfallen when he discovered that their mysterious driver turned out to be a well-spoken travel blogger with particularly poor attention to his life admin.

By the end of this conversation, I’d been clued in as to what I’d done and was summarily told to not get behind the wheel of a vehicle until I’d untangled the legal quandary that I’d found myself in.

Unfortunately, in order to clear my name (because I was definitely not losing my license because of my poor life admin skills), I had to make a trip to Liverpool, which meant getting on a train.

I’d been given the number of a motoring lawyer who, I was told, would be able to get me off the charges and potentially save me a lot of money. So, I swallowed my pride, gritted my teeth and jumped on the first train I could get taking me up North.

In response to my opening statements, I thought it would be prudent to run through my own chief complaints regarding the British rail system as it is today:

It really is too expensive.

The cost of rail tickets have been steadily rising for years now, causing head-scratching on a national level: after all, if train tickets are at the highest they’ve ever been shouldn’t that mean that we should be riding in the best trains available?

Heck, no! It feels cheap.

Unfortunately, despite the significant hike in ticket prices there doesn’t seem to have been any improvements in the actual service. Many of these trains have been lamely struggling along for a while now, with some of them dating as far back as the 70s: not cool. But at least they’re on time, right?

Nope! They’re still late and getting later…

If anything, punctuality on the train lines has decreased over the last years rather than improved, which is worrying when you consider how advanced and punctual other rail systems around the world have got – I can’t help but feel we’re falling behind somewhat.

I made it to Liverpool after a rather tiring 6 hour train journey and met with my lawyer, who informed me that I’d soon be back on the road, which I was relieved to hear.

The train back home was certainly not a trip that I was looking forward to embarking on.

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