Tag Archives: Beach

Full Time Van Life – one month in!

We have been on the road for a month now and wanted to share our personal journey with you. You will have read posts (hopefully!) of places we have been, but we haven’t really spoken about our personal experiences. Here is our post on the first month of full time van life.

The #Vanlife movement is really popular right now. We have been very open about our reasons when people ask us. (Vanlifediary will be doing a post on the questions people ask us soon!) We had planned extensively for our change to van life however nothing can really prepare you until you are living it. No matter how many times you read that you don’t need to pack too much for full time van life, you still will. This is because as far as you are concerned you have already downsized considerably. The truth is we still brought far more than we needed.

During the run up to us leaving I was still working a full time job where I lived on site. I would get home in the evening and be too tired to think about packing. Even though I was excited to change my life I just couldn’t find the motivation to pack for it. I know now that I was too emotionally attached to my ‘stuff’. The act of holding it in my hand and having flashbacks of the memories connected to it and deciding if I throw it, keep it or sell it were too hard. What I wanted was someone to do that for me.

Too Much Stuff for full time van life!

The day we left to start full time van life Louise greeted me in the car park. We had a very emotional send of from our work colleagues. The van packed to bursting point with (and not limited too):

2 Bikes (inside the van as no bike rack at that time). 3 Duvets, 8 pillows, 6 Blankets. 4 Bottles of shampoo (when we don’t have a shower), 6 Toothbrushes, 2 Full size and 4 mini toothpastes, 5 Bottles of sun cream. 4 Massive Tupperware’s full of rice. 15 Pairs of shoes, of which every day so far we have worn walking boots… AND all of our wardrobe – because you never know!

full cupboard

We thinned out more of our stuff over the next week as it was just too cluttered. Why did we bring 5 tool boxes, 4 wash-bags, 3 woolly hats (each), 2 extension leads and a partridge in a pear tree? No matter how much stuff you get rid of, you will still have too much!

Road less travelled

With the van down to a reasonable amount of crap, we could concentrate on our adventures. The first week was living with the STUFF so we didn’t get far. From Evesham, to Illmington Village, to Malvern and Hereford, our first week was so exciting. It was all new and felt like a holiday. We used a few websites such as searchforsites and pitchup.com for free locations where possible but cheep sites when we needed. Reasons like to empty the toilet cassette and have a shower. We try to free camp whenever possible but sometimes you just need a good shower and top up the electric.

Speaking of electric… When we set off we didn’t have an inverter in the van. We realised quite quickly that we had overlooked this in our rush to get going. TJ auto electrics in Evesham booked us in for the following week and we doubled back to ‘home’. We knew Tim and trusted him to fit the gear for us. We made all the mechanics jealous as we sat in the sun and they worked on the van! After all, it’s ‘home’ so couldn’t leave it to collect later! Inverter fitted we set off again and headed to Wales.

TJ Electricals

“Ones destination is never a place, just a new way of seeing things”

We stopped in Hay-on-Wye on the way. Totally blown away by it’s architecture and little roads filled with antique shops and independent businesses. The castle hid itself to us until we were nearly ready to go. It was covered in tarpaulin having some refurbishment work done. Saying that we did find a small hole in the castle wall and found a beautiful honesty bookshop, 2 massive bookcases piled high along the walls with a wooden shack roof fitted to protect them. Plants were growing on the floor and wound the books.

We have stayed in some amazing places but our next stop, Tallybont-on-Usk, is so far my favourite location. Just being able to fully relax and unwind, an impromptu 5 hour hike and frog mating frenzy made this an incredible location. We finally started to relax and realise that we were not on holiday. This is our life for the foreseeable future.

Talybont On USk

Dare to live the life you have always wanted!

The best part about being on the road is being able to decided if you want to move, or stay put. I could quite easily have grown roots in Talybont. It’s connection to Tolkein just added so much more and really inspired the imagination.

So far all was going well. As we were near to Louise’s brother we decided to stop with them for a couple of nights. To take advantage of a free hot shower and spend some time with them. We were not sure how long it would be until we were back in that area. Having mentioned to Louise’s brother that the van seemed a little sluggish, he recommended a mechanic near where he worked. We made an appointment and told Lous’s brother we may need to stay a few more days!

Breakdowns

Miss Chewy spent the day being tickled by the mechanic. He thought it would be a good idea to change the oil, the fuel filter and the air filter as we were unsure when they had been done last. There wasn’t an air filter in place so all the muck from the road had been sucked into the engine. We poured Redex into her and we thought a good swill around the tank should clear some gunk out and get her healthy again. She hadn’t been used very much in the 3 months we had her. She had been between mechanics and electricians!

We also took advantage of a recommended welder to do a few bits that came up as an advisory on the last mot and got them sorted out. Chewy was being loved! In return we believed that she would look after us! Since then we had further issues with her turbo going and needing repair. This took about a week to fix and some angry tweets to Iveco. #sorrynotsorry. Luckily we could stay with family again but we did camp outside of Iveco in Avonmouth on one occasion! Touch wood she seems to have settled down except for a warning light telling us the warning light isn’t working. £150+ vat diagnostic fee for that one was averted! Oh and the sliding door got jammed so we had to climb over the seats to get in or out.

emma climbing over seats

Somerset Sunsets, sat navs and crabs!

We have travelled through Somerset and met a fantastic bunch of people at Tuckers Grave Inn, many of whom were also on their own personal journey to heal and reconnect with themselves. We have ventured as far as the Norfolk Coast had had Cromer Crab, slept on marsh land with lapwings and marsh harriers surrounding us and now camping in a secluded woods not far from the coast.

Cromer Crab, Cromer Beach

The sat nav has been a help and a hindrance. It tried to take us down a rather narrow one way road in Malvern which caused chaos to the traffic behind us. It narrowed quickly and didn’t have much in the way of a pavement, just a tall, probably listed building. In the kerb was a ditch/gutter which changed the tilt on the van to where the top of the van was almost touching the building. Having cars up your rear end wanting you to go faster really isn’t helpful at that moment. Occasionally we have had to take a detour due to her size or the sat nav having a nap at the most inconsiderate moment but largely we are unscathed!

Wonderlust

Some have asked if we are over our wonderlust yet – are you kidding? We haven’t even seen the start of it yet! Apart from van repairs most of our money has been in fuel as we have done a fair amount of back and forth to see family. We are hoping now that we can limit the amount of miles we do each day and just casually travel. There is still so much to see! Full time van life is an amazing experience.

We are trying to cook as cheaply as possible but not compromise on healthy fresh food. Today for lunch Louise cooked us a water chestnut and potato curry with a red thai curry mix we brought from Aldi. The whole meal cost approx £2.20 for 2 people, including the 80g of rice each. We are measuring our portions as we don’t want left overs (because we don’t have any spare tupperware – I am a horrible person and made Louise leave it all behind).

Transition

For us, choosing the first day of spring to leave for full time van life was a good choice. As we are waking up to our new lives, nature is waking up too. The sky, the buds on the trees, the fragrances and textures, the colours and sounds of nature… all things that we would have taken for granted when we didn’t have the time to look closer.

Not having a TV means we can ditch the soaps, news and propaganda, we listen to the animals and watch our barometer for the weather. This means we don’t fall into a nasty trap of talking politics with people! We did wonder if we would become lonely and not speak to people but actually we have had proper conversations with more people than I can count! Not mundane conversations, but conversations about healing, nature, environments and positivity.

This has been the best month of my life. A freedom to explore not only the land, but ourselves

What will next bring? All we know so far is a touch of cat sitting and a family holiday where we have to be still for a week… eek… that will be strange!

Emma and Louise VanLifeDiary

Llandudno

Llandudno and Orme

Visit Llandudno! Situated on the coast of North Wales, Llandudno is a location full of promise and mystery. It incorporates both tourist attractions, stunning welsh countryside and wildlife. For this specific visit we decided to stay in a hotel and found a Travelodge. This is the only branded hotel in the town centre with a Premier Inn about 5 minutes out of town however there are so many B+B’s and independent hotels to choose from.

This Travelodge is one of the chains newest hotels and is only a few minute’s walk to the beach. Car parking is available on the roads central reservation or on side streets which could get busy.

Visit Llandudno

After easily finding the hotel and a parking space we decided to check out the beach. Llandudno is a horse shoe shaped bay with large Victorian hotels standing shoulder to shoulder along the seafront. There is a large promenade, suitable for heavy volumes of foot traffic and push chairs, and a shingle beach leading out into the Irish Sea. Llandudno is home to the longest pier in Wales, which houses amusement arcades including one with a ZOLTAR machine. (If you have ever watched the film “BIG” you will either be enthralled or scared of it). You will also find a variety of shops, food stalls (including seafood and cheese as well as donuts and burgers) and kids games to keep all the family happy.

Visit Llandudno Pier – It has been lengthened since its original construction. Originally it started half way up with it’s entrance by what is now the Grand Hotel. An additional section brought it further inland alongside the edge of the bay. The pier is dog friendly, something that is rare to find, and they can enjoy the warm smell of donuts too! Llandudno is what we imagine a typical ‘British’ seaside town to be. Clean, friendly, colourful, charming and happy. Even though many British seaside towns are showing their age and some poverty, this doesn’t seem to have reached Llandudno. It looked fresh and vibrant with an air of Victorian charm.

Llandudno Pier

Mostyn Street is located just behind the promenade and is the main street for shopping here when you visit Llandudno. Well known high street shops can be found here as well as independents covering gifts, antiques and clothing. There is a small retail park just 5 minutes away with more high street names.

There are an abundance of restaurants, coffee shops and take-away’s. From fish and chip shops to full seated restaurants. The town library and small shopping arcade feature tourist information centres.

Llandudno is the birthplace of Punch and Judy. To celebrate this there are shows on the promenade multiple times a day during peak season. A great opportunity to get the kids to sit down for a while! Another treat for the kids is to let them have a go at crabbing. Buckets and reels are available to purchase from several shops.

Alice, Alice? Who the hell is Alice?

Alice in wonderland statue

As you travel through Llandudno you may notice some carved statues that look like the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts and a Cheshire cat to name a few! It turns out that the real Alice, inspiration for the Alice in Wonderland books by Lewis Carol, had a holiday home here in Llandudno. Alice used to visit Llandudno frequently and in homage to her the town has created a guided walk. It’s great to do with a dog, with wonderland themed statues in locations around town! You can buy the maps from the tourist information centre.

We also talk about Alice in our New Forest post!

Hunger Strikes!

There are plenty of places to eat when you visit Llandudno and Harvey’s, a New York bar and grill, hit the spot! It has a lovely atmosphere and is a great place to relax. The food was amazing and the service was first class. There are plenty of cafe’s, restaurants and bars around, almost every side road featuring a food outlet.

Nothing beats being on the pier or the prom with a bag of chips but do be warned… the seagulls will likely mug you for the food, they don’t have manners!

Great Orme

view from Great Orme

Two tourist attractions can take you to the top of the Great Orme. A cable car or a tram. The cable car is weather dependant and doesn’t run in windy conditions. As we had a dog at the time we opted for the Tram ride (dogs travel for free – even the big ones!) Trams were running every 10 minutes but you may have to queue in peak times. It is worth the wait if you like stunning views. The tram stops halfway up the hill where you can get off and explore the copper mines – stick a pin in that… I’ll come back to it.

You could also continue to the next tram and head up to the top of the Orme. Here you will be able to see for miles and miles on a cloudless day, in every direction. There is a nature reserve up here where you can walk around the Orme in peace. Dogs are welcome here  there are lots of sniffs to wear them out. The Captains Table café/restaurant serves food and drinks for when you want to rest or take it easy. For the kids there is a playground and there is also a gift shop by the tram station.

Copper Mines.

The Copper Mine was something that we came back to do a few days later and decided to drive to. It took about 45 minutes to go around the attraction which was full of fascinating information. The Orme Mines are thought to date back 4000 years – 2000 years before the Romans invaded. Over the past 28 years mining engineers, cavers and archaeologists have been slowly uncovering more tunnels and large areas of the surface landscape. This has revealed what is now thought to be the largest prehistoric mine, so far discovered in the world making this site very special.

There are 9 levels that have been uncovered so far and evidence of fires which were used to crack the rocks can also be seen. Unfortunately, not much of the site is open to the public yet but when speaking to a member of staff they said that they may open more in the future.

Excavations can only take place in the winter so that they can open it to the public during the summer season. It is very narrow inside and if you suffer from claustrophobia you may find it a bit much. The mine has been dug out using hand held tools, so the miners wouldn’t dig out more space than they needed to follow the copper veins.

Anglesey

Thursday saw us take the van out for a spin. You can easily spend a week in Llandudno and not needed to take a car out. Everything we needed was available in Llandudno. We drove west to Anglesey and found this to be a beautiful place to visit with a rich wildlife. Lligwy Beach in Moelfre is a wide sandy beach with low sand dunes giving an open airy feel. Dolphins and Puffins can spotted here – Keep your eyes peeled to see the local wildlife.

Thanks to the SATNAV we headed down a tight single track lane to the beach, and had to pass a lorry coming the other way. Minor damage was caused to the van in the shape of bramble scratches but nothing too major. The beach was worth it as there was plenty of space, golden sand and beautiful scenery. There was a little café where we purchased hot chocolates and hot bacon baps for lunch. Sunshine and blue skies accompanied us which I believe are a rarity in Anglesey.

Around Llandudno

Although there are plenty of attractions to keep you occupied when you visit Llandudno, you may wish to visit other local places. Here are a couple of ideas!

Conwy Castle. A stunning castle and part of CADW. We have passes to CADW sites and really recommend them. It’s a good idea to get here early as parking can be troublesome in peak season. The castle is a 13th centuary medieval fortification and was build for Edward 1st.

Colwyn bay, just on the other side of Llandudno. Free parking on the road side and a promenade with coffee shops, ice cream parlours and a Celtic hat shop to name a few!

Llandudno itself has two beaches. The main tourist one on the north face and then a west beach, which is quieter and dog friendly. It does not have the abundance of shops or tourist attractions but instead is a quiet beach, with lots of benches on the path way, for you to enjoy a quiet stroll. Being west facing you may also find the best sunsets on this side of Llandudno with views of the Ormes to treasure for ever.

There are still many parts of Llandudno that we did not get to fully experience in our 4 days here. We definitely want to visit Llandudno again!

Other activities we didn’t get to try include:

New Forest, Hampshire

I was lucky enough to have grown up on the outskirts of South London. My grandmother had moved to Holbury, just outside the New Forest and the best thing about visiting was a trip to see the horses! We returned years later to see what the New Forest was offering and were not disappointed!

Shetland Pony in the New Forest

For this trip we stayed at Hollands Wood Campsite (through campingintheforest.co.uk). The site is advertised as a perfect retreat for mind and body. Celebrity broadcaster and environmental campaigner David Bellamy described it as a paradise park. It is situated in 22 hectares of oak woodland and although the facilities are limited to toilets, showers and 600 grass only pitches, (they don’t have any electric hook ups or wifi) it sounded like a beautiful spot to explore from. The ‘limited’ facilities did mean the cost was very reasonable if you were willing to unplug from the grid.

The wonderful thing about this site is the lack of a hard perimeter. The horses and cattle are able to enter and free roam the site. Opening the doors the next morning we could already see the wildlife from the comfort of our bed. We had our breakfast and watched in awe as a heard of cows silently made their way through the trees. They came through camp – leaving one member behind who went frantically charging through a few minutes later calling for the herd.

Brockenhurst

Brockenhurst Village is within walking distance of the campsite and is one of the villages without cattle grids. It is not uncommon to see the horses and cows walking through the village nonchalantly. It has two fords which are a draw for the animals on hot days looking for a drink of cool water. There are a parade of shops and a couple of places to stop for a bite to eat. We stopped at The Buttery near the car park and enjoyed a cool drink and a bit of shade. In my head I thought the village would be bigger but it was a quaint and peaceful location. There is also a large pay and display car park with plenty of spaces.

Hythe

Hythe is a town on the Solent famous for being home to the world’s oldest operating pier train. It is an excellent location to see the large cruise ships as they dock at Southampton. I remember watching the QE2 manoeuvre herself on more than one occasion as a child and feeling so very small in her shadow!

Hythe had a market on during the time we visited, selling fruits, vegetables, clothing, pet supplies and household items. The town has plenty of shops to look around. We found a Costa, grabbed a hot chocolate and headed to the estuary. The tide was out but it was still lovely to sit in the sunshine and watch the birds. We saw a type of seagull here that looked very different to the ones we usually encounter. I was not sure what they were called but they had white bodies and black faces. Google came to our rescue and told us that they were indeed called black faced seagulls… Who knew!

New Forest Sunrise
Sunrise in the New Forest

The Happy Cheese Pub

Taking a drive to Ashurst on the A35 we discovered a popular local pub called The Happy Cheese. It’s on your right hand side as you go over the railway bridge. The pub was so popular that we struggled to find somewhere to park as their car park is not very large however there were other options available to us which we took up.

The pub is well presented with fresh paint on the building. The outside area housed benches with umbrellas in both a grassed and patio locations for you to choose from. The inside was very ‘country pub’ looking with dark beams and low lighting which I found enhanced the character. The food was beautifully cooked and the staff were very friendly and efficient.

Beaulieu

Most famously known for being the home of the National Motor Museum and its Palace House, Beaulieu is a stunning village best seen in glorious sunshine. Although it is a very popular destination for tourists, its parking is rather lacking. Be sure to get there early for a space!

There are a few shops in the village and a pub. The Beaulieu River is home to lots of wildlife and can be a twitcher’s paradise with some rare birds seen here.

Bucklers Hard

A great couple of hours out here, and not far from Beaulieu. The New Forest’s charming hamlet was once famous for its shipbuilding. It has a clear navigable route to sea and a great source of timber! The rows of cottages are now turned into museums and tourist attractions to learn about the shipbuilding industry and how people lived. In the summer time they often have people in costume too. Boat rides are available at extra cost along the water.

Lyndhurst

Lyndhurst is known as the ‘capital’ of the New Forest and has been visited by many members of royalty since William the Conqueror established it as a royal hunting ground.  The graveyard of St Michael and All Angels’ Church is the resting place of one of the New Forest’s famous residents, Alice Pleasance Liddell. Alice was the little girl who inspired Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’. Alice also had a holiday home in Llandudno and you can read about her influence on this seaside town here!

Lyndhurst’s bustling town is full of shops, restaurants and local charm. From here you can rent a bicycle, go for a walk into the forest or simple wander around the quaint little independent shops and grab a bargain!

Horse Riding

Horse riding new forest
Emma and Louise Horse riding

I had not been horse riding before but Louise has. Louise had spoken about how she missed it and when I was looking for things to do I realised we could hire horses and go on a hack! The stables are very experienced and went through all the health and safety information followed by a quick lesson on how to control your horse.

These horses are very well trained and know the drill. They are used to novices riding them and were very patient. We were a group of 6 with 2 professionals to lead us around the forest tracks and even though I was terrified at the start, I can tell you that there is no better way to see the forest than on horse back!

New Forest has Beaches???

Yes. The New Forest is an amazing destination as it has everything! Forest, heather, wide open spaces, rivers and a coast line with sand dunes and nature reserves! Head to the southern edge of the forest to be greeted with loads of options. Check the New Forest website for a list of possible sunbathing spots!

A unique destination with so much to offer

We loved the New Forest and there is still so much left to explore. Being in close proximity to the horses and cows was an amazing experience.

You can pay for the privilege of going to a zoo and having an ‘experience’ with the animals but nothing quite feels as real as a herd choosing to walk close to you. For me it was a very honest experience which reminded me about acceptance and serenity. I will not forget that.

Earlier in the post I described the campsite as ‘limited’ however after my experience there, it is the most unlimited location I have ever been to. It really opened my mind and heart.

The new forest has something for everyone, so whether you want to chill out and relax like us or spend your days with more of an adrenaline rush, there is something here for you!

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Fistral Beach, Cornwall

fistral beach vanlife
woman surfer vanlifediary

Cornwall’s Fistral beach is one of the best spots in the UK for surfing. The 750 metre long beach is backed by sand dunes, and sits half a mile west of Newquay. Boasting golden sand and plenty of things to do this hot spot will keep you returning for years to come. Fistral beach is enclosed by two headlands and creates a perfect, west facing, beach front with consistent world class waves. This has lead the beach to become a haven for surfers and water sport enthusiasts.

Whats about?

Fistral holds several major events here throughout the year including Boardmasters surf and music festival, Slyde Handboards UK Bodysurfing Championships 2017, the Quicksilver Skins, the UK Pro Surf Tour and the BUSA Championships.

There are two car parks close by, one off of Tower Road with a short walk through the golf course. The 2nd is off of Headland Road which will take you to the car park for the entertainment complex situated here. The complex comprises of a large surf school, retail shops such as FatFace, Ann’s Cottage surf shop. The Seashore Beach Shop caters for all of your bucket and spade needs. There are also several eateries such as Rick Steins fish restaurant, The Stable (a pizza, pie and ale restaurant).

Fistral Beach Bar

My personal favourite, Fistral Beach Bar and Kitchen which serves food from breakfast through until dinner. Having eaten both breakfast and dinner here for my birthday I can wholeheartedly recommend this place to eat. Their nachos and pizza were devoured by us rather quickly. You can also drink and socialise after a hard day surfing or topping up your tan. Genuinely dog friendly, one of the staff came around when we were eating breakfast with a sausage for the dogs. On our return they let him in to the bar in the evening where he not so discretely curled up on the sofa. They have large flat screen TV’s situated around the venue showing videos of surfing, jet-ski competitions and local events. Their wooden decor providing a friendly and warm atmosphere in which to relax.

Surf School

The surf school itself features a large selection of equipment and provides lessons for all of the family catering in body boarding, surfing and stand up paddle boarding. They are able to tailor make sessions for all levels of experience and if you haven’t had a go before. Trained experts teach you how to be safe with the equipment and maximise enjoyment.

There are lots of different surf schools along the beaches around Cornwall. I can honestly say that even if you do it once for the experience, it is a real adrenaline rush. At an affordable price it is worth spending a few hours having a go! It’s a great taster session and help you figure out if it is something you would like to continue without spending a lot of money before you know if you like it. I am not suggesting, that like me, you get an idea into your head and run before you can walk. I say this because of course I wanted to buy a surf board and just do it on my own but I settled for the wet suit which I will also wear when kayaking so that was an investment. It was! Stop judging me!

Coastguard Patrols

A coastguard  patrols the beach throughout the summer and some busier winter weekends. They have clearly marked out flagged zones for surfing and body boarding which they make sure people keep to. This ensures the safety of other people in the sea and helps them to keep an eye on everyone. Whilst surfing and body boarding are the main sports here we also witnessed some kite boarding happening. They make it look so easy but I am assured that it is not!

Relax and Unwind

For the less adventurous the beach is a lovely sun trap and there is plenty of room to spread out. There are some rock pools at the western end of the beach to go crabbing or searching for critters in. Fistral a unique selling point – in that it is dog friendly all year round so you can take your dogs for lovely walks.

You can also take a lovely coastal walk from Fistral Beach to Crantock. It is a moderate 4.5 mile walk including sandy footpaths, quiet roads and pavements. It can be a little steep in places but it links pastures with coastlines showing off superb Cornish shoreline. There is also a peaceful saltmarsh, home to wading birds and salt-loving plants. Be sure to check the tides before you leave though.

Another of the attractions that you can take home with you is the fact that there is a live video feed streamed from the beach HERE where you can come home after your holiday and pine over how much you want to go back to Cornwall.