Summer Road Trip in the Unmentionable Year 20-

A snapshot of our experiences in England and Wales

2 September, 2020

Although this summer was supposed to involve gallivanting around Europe doing contikis, riding vespas and sunbathing on beautiful beaches, we settled for a two-week road trip around England and Wales. With our summer wardrobes (mistakenly) packed, borrowed camping gear and hand sanitiser at the ready, we were set to escape and hit the great outdoors along with a handful of mandatory tourist destinations.

📷 Trip snapshots:

WOW moments
Predictable things
Flops & Wasps
Food - What’s hot and what’s rot
Roofs over our heads (and slugs under our feet)

🤩 WOW moments

More than fit for a king
The sight of the banqueting room in the Royal Pavilion in Brighton was my definition of jaw dropping. Pictures just don’t encapsulate the grandeur of this room. Your eyes are first drawn to the centrepiece chandelier then upwards towards the gilded dragon and the plantain leaves radiating out from the dome ceiling. Decorative features line the walls from floor to ceiling and as your eyes sweep across the table, you imagine the sight of a banquet in full swing. With a lavish menu of no less than forty entrees, eight soups, eight roasts, twelve great rounds, and thirty-two desserts and savoury entremets, I can see why the Prince Regent died in 1830 of ‘fat on the heart’. I have no doubt that a dining experience here would be one to remember.

No need to train (but train if you want)
This would’ve done our friend the Prince Regent some good.
So on another note, the views from Mt Snowdon in Snowdonia across the surrounding landscape were spectacular. Cast back to my memory of seeing the Emerald Lakes during the Tongariro Crossing, I was captured by the beauty of the jagged rock cliffs contrasted with the spongy bright green grass coating the remaining hill faces. We needn’t have worried that we were lacking in fitness, as the hike up was definitely doable with any average level of fitness. Still, if a three-hour walk up doesn’t appeal, never fear, there’s a train that you can catch to the top. Just hope that the mountain doesn’t cloud over when it’s your turn in the queue to take a selfie at the summit!

Future Knights of Middle England
This was definitely one of our highlights. Despite not being “up to the usual standard” of riders, we managed to sign ourselves up for a private two-and-a-half hour jousting lesson with The Knights of Middle England. With low expectations of what we’d actually be able to do, we were both thrilled to succeed in an array of tasks (all while riding) from tilting (capturing two small rings on the end of the lance), to tent-pegging (using a ‘sword’ aka pointy stick to spike and pick up sandbags off the ground), to charging (well, okay ‘trotting’) at a quintain (metal mannequin) and then a real knight in shining armour while brandishing our lances. I’ll admit we didn’t quite master trotting - our instructor said “We’ll save that for another day” but we’d both be keen as a bean to go back and try out the other jousting skills like lemon sticking (riding and slicing a lemon in half with a sword) and mounted archery.

Some quick-fire WOWs:

  • An absolutely incredible street performance by MorfMusic in Bath. He plays the guitar on its side and uses it like a drum - check him out!

  • Tintagel Castle, home to the legendary stories of King Arthur is a spectacular place to visit. With the castle remains sitting gloriously upon the hills by the sea, a huge connecting bridge and Merlin’s Cave below, you can see why it has inspired many great stories and pieces of art.

  • Spotting seals off the coast near Lizard Point while drinking mochas from our thermos and eating peanut butter on tiger loaf.

  • Venturing along the walls of Conwy simultaneously fearing that we would slip on the narrow stairs and imagining that we were Sly Cooper and could leap across the rooftops by jumping then hitting the circle button.

  • Discovering a fancy schmancy Tesco in Dorchester which even had a water fountain feature.

  • Catching a stunning sunset on our drive past Harlech Castle.

  • More of a ‘what-the?’ moment: Wondering how this car would make it through the crowd and up the narrow street in Port Isaac. SPOILER ALERT: It made it.

🔮 Predictable things

Some big stones in a circle surrounded by (not) a henge
One of the most predictable tourist picks: to venture out to visit a circle of stones from the Neolithic period that sits within a man-made ditch (which technically isn’t a ‘henge’ since its ditch is outside its bank) and is surrounded by an air of wonder and questions of ‘why’ and ‘how’. Instead of viewing it from behind the usual cordoned off area, we bought Stone Circle Experience tickets with our English Heritage member discounts. These allowed us to walk amongst the stones and gain access before the site was open to the rest of the public. Despite pulling up in the tour bus and thinking "Well, that’s a pile of rocks", getting up close certainly made us realise how incredible the feat of constructing this was. It's hard to believe that people 4,500 years ago managed to not only transport those stones 60-240 kilometres but also craft stone joints, slot and stack them together and align them with the position of the sun. We say: Worth the visit.

Eating Philps pasties opposite St Michael’s Mount
So we crossed the causeway at low tide, visited the castle gardens, got rained on and then headed back across to the mainland to join the queue to enjoy a couple of Philps pasties. We sat down opposite St Michael's Mount in sight of three other parties with the same idea - each to simply be replaced, in turn, with another group of pasty eaters. The castle on St Michael’s Mount was closed due to high winds on the day of our visit which was a shame because we reckon that would’ve rounded out the experience much more.

Going downtown to Downton
Visiting Highclere Castle, home to the Downton Abbey tv series had been on my bucket list for a long time so pulling up and seeing the picture equivalent of ‘word-for-word’ was very exciting. An unprompted tune resonated in my head as the first shot of the opening credits lay before my eyes. This was Downton alright. The castle is privately owned by the Carnarvon family so unfortunately no pictures were allowed inside but the rooms looked very much the same as they do in the series. Overall, I’d say that the idea of going there turned out to be more exciting than actually exploring the inside and grounds. Maybe a cup of tea or a sunny day would’ve contributed to the general ambiance of our experience.

Roaming the Roman Baths and Bath
Another classic tourist destination. Seeing the Roman Baths was as expected with lots of information to read and listen to in the audio guide. Not half bad. The real highlight of the day was a Bath walking tour with Fred who drew our attention to hidden features like shrapnel damage from the Bath Blitz, sealed off windows to avoid the Window Tax and an example of where cesspools used to be left to be cleared out by tradesmen in the middle of the night. In the usual stereotypical fashion, as soon as we said we were from NZ, our 2011 Rugby World Cup knowledge was put to the test. Luckily I managed to pull through on that for the team this time. Topping off the day was a great view over the city from the Alexandra Park lookout.

More in short:

  • Climbed up Glastonbury Tor. Saw some sheep and some slugs. Walked back down. Went to dinner. Done.

  • A super fast pit-stop in Stratford-Upon-Avon to pose with the jester statue and sight Shakespeare’s birthplace so Simon could qualify as having been there, done that too.

  • (Almost) Land’s End i.e. drove basically all the way there but didn’t want to pay £6 for parking so went in and out and settled for a quick selfie.

  • Got a shot (no needles involved) next to Doc Martin’s Surgery.

  • Stood next to Britain’s smallest house but couldn’t go in because it had closed 36 minutes earlier. I suppose it was quite small.

🐝 Flops & Wasps

Warwick Castle no match for the wind
It was almost comical how much of a flop this turned out to be. First we were informed that due to high winds, the Towers and Ramparts had to be closed off, then after getting settled in our socially-distanced allocated grass square for the Falconer’s Quest show, heard that the performance was cancelled. Upon attempt to get up close to the trebuchet nearby *Empire Earth fangirl approaching*, we got stuck behind a gate and sign saying that the small bridge across the river was closed. Disheartened as it was one of the main things I was excited about, we slowly trekked up the hill to go and explore other parts of the grounds, only to be told in quick succession that the path to Pageant Field, the conservatory and the peacock garden were closed. Ushered back to the central courtyard, we wondered what else we could actually do. The gift shop! After queuing for a couple of minutes, we caught wind of the news that it too was about to close. So with nothing left to do, we meandered over to the exit. Fortunately, the staff informed us that because of the high winds and their rainy day guarantee, that we would be allowed to revisit for free within the next 60 days. We’re pretty keen to take them up on that, there’s just that darn £6 parking cost…

I’ll go anywhere with you
From our first lunch, two hours into our trip, until the afternoon ice-cream on our last day, Simon was tormented by pesky little wasps. I have to say that he did not handle it well and got far too frazzled every time. I’ll give it to him though that the wasps were very persistent and legitimately did not leave him alone. There was one wasp that took a nibble of Simon’s leftover burger patty then toppled over backwards flailing everywhere. It took that wasp at least another ten minutes before it attempted another food steal.

Bite-sized flops:

  • Failed attempt at racing sticks at Poohsticks bridge. A chance to step into our childhoods was thwarted by Mother Nature as Simon’s stick sank instantly and mine travelled one metre under the bridge and was never seen again. No winner today Pooh Bear.

  • Too much of a good thing: We thought we were hungry but we were definitely defeated by two large milkshakes and two 15” sourdough pizzas from Dough & Brew in Warwick. We regretted going big on the drinks and wished that we didn’t order two pizzas with meat and instead opted for something simpler topped with basil or spinach. Lesson learnt. The food and service was fantastic though and we highly recommend the restaurant to anyone in the area!

  • Both of us packing the same Auckland Trail Running Series jumper for our Bath walking tour. Being matchy-matchy on an eight person socially-distanced tour where we were always standing in a circle was a big no-no. I mean, if you ask Simon, no time is ever acceptable to wear matching jumpers. I suppose one of us will have to pass on the next trail running series.

  • Old Sarum. It was just wet.

  • Kids, don't try this at home.

  • Holding up ‘32’ instead of ‘23’ in a photo during the self-guided Centenary Walk in Cardiff with 41 numbered attraction stops. Not to mention there was a big rubbish container blocking the Bute Building.

  • Spotting some pay-by-honesty-box jam on the side of the road after seeing a 50p sign, counting up our pennies which totalled exactly 50p, then finding out that this was only enough for a courgette and that the jams were £3.50. Bother.

  • Getting scared off a hill in Cheddar Gorge by goats. They were actually terrifying. And we bolted. This brave face is purely for show.

🍲 Food - What’s hot and what’s rot

What’s hot:

  • An iced black mocha from Black Mocha in Brighton. Divine.

  • Kendal Mint Cake, famously carried on the first successful summit of Mt Everest, and now by us on our *ahem* challenging hike up Mt Snowdon.

  • Pic's peanut butter. Bread is optional.

  • Eat Out to Help Out 50% discount - the only reason we ate out on Mondays-Wednesdays. This made eating at cafes and restaurants a viable option and instead of eating out twice in a year, we ended up eating out 14 times over the month of August. Our favourites were: The Old Bicycle Shop in Cambridge, Thai Dragon in Wells, Giraffe in Birmingham and the Bugle Inn in Twyford. I guess we’re sorted for the next 7 years now. We also rated the order to table apps as some of them made ordering food very straight forward and were great for limiting contact in the current situation (and a perk for us social introverts).

  • The Wicked Kitchen Pesto Pasta & Chicken Salad Bowl from Tesco. Delish!

  • Apple crumble made from apples fresh off the campsite apple trees.

  • Reheated pizza and chips. Fried in a pan, delectably oily and crispy. One-upped the originals.

  • Lots of fresh vegetables to cleanse the palate after salty, greasy and sugary road trip snacks. My surprising favourite this trip was the humble lettuce.

  • Best camping breakfast: Baked beans on toast. A winner every time.

  • Best camping dinner: Pasta and sauce. Simple and hearty.

What's rot:

  • Watermelon after being left in the car. Sticky juices dripped everywhere and smelt like vinegar for the rest of the trip.

  • All the packaging waste at the dine at Coffi Co in Cardiff. All we needed was a plate and glass so why two boxes and a plastic cup and lid each?

🏕️ Roofs over our heads & slugs under our feet

Best campsite facilities: Teneriffe Farm Campsite in Cornwall. A five litre hand sanitiser dispenser, clean washing up area and hot showers even better than ours at home.

Best campsite to explore: Dinas Camping, Glamping and Caravan Park in Snowdonia. Cross a stream to explore the woods then rock climb and bush bash to reach a spectacular hilltop which gets painted in gold in the evening and morning sunlight.

Most photogenic slug: Those glasses really suited him.

Best non-campsite: Out of a grand total of two options, way say: Premier Inn in Cambridge at £29 for our one night. Solid cheap accommodation and free, easy parking.

Our best fire: Our first night of the trip at Fontmills Farm Campsite. An example of a time when "just do it" was the perfect advice because there was some level of rain almost every other night on the trip.

Worst weather: Yellow weather warning for high winds while camping in Cornwall. A true test of the tent guy ropes and our ability to sleep through noise but both proved strong.

Our best tent set up: Whitesands Camping in Pembrokeshire. We created our best additional tarp shelter over our side tent entrance and used the rock wall on the field perimeter and a stick to give us extra height. Very useful for cooking in the intermittent rain and who could argue with that view?

Fastest pack-up: Oakhill Camping and Caravanning. Half an hour to get ready, make coffees, pack down the tent and head off for a day of activity!

So there it is. Not a half-bad trip. Half a month away from the city. Some half tans on the neck and face. Some half-price meals. Some half-eaten pizza. And some half plus a half great times! 😊