Taking the 'car' out of car-a-'vanning'

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April 10th 2009
Published: April 26th 2009
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Tintern AbbeyTintern AbbeyTintern Abbey

Wye River Valley
"I want to be having lunch in the Wye Valley in Wales tomorrow" were Al's last words before going to sleep the night before our planned road trip. Everything was organised, our hire car booking was checked and all that we needed to do was go and pick it up, stick the bags in the back and get going... in theory.

The reality turned out to be extremely different. We arrived at the car company to pick up our rented car only to find that the company had gone into administration a month earlier and had failed to tell us or make our internet booking invalid. The car company next door told us they could get us an Astra for £500 for the week or we could have....a van. The Easter weekend is a popular time to get out on driving holidays which pushes the prices up exponentially. Vans aren't that popular and turned out to be a much cheaper option. So after having taken the 45 minute trip on the #37 Bus three times and checking all our other options we eventually set out for the Wye Valley in Wales in a spiffy white van and ended up having Tesco pastries for lunch!

The plan had been a leisurely drive through the Wye Valley up to Shropshire where we were staying with cousins of Lara's, it was however a quick drive through with one quick stop to check out Tintern Abbey before getting lost in the back roads in Shropshire. Shropshire is a lovely county full of English country charm which generally gets overlooked as a destination. We stayed in a tiny village (5 houses) right in the middle of the countryside and thoroughly enjoyed it. Al was extremely jealous of their garden and dog, and the pheasant that had made itself at home down the bottom of the garden. We're looking forward to going back to Shropshire in June when Lara's cousin will be getting married. After saying goodbye to the cousins and their crazy dog Taz, we drove towards the market town of Shrewsbury.

From Shrewsbury we crossed the border for the second time in two days into Wales. And the first thing we noticed was an enormous aqueduct taking canal boats over the valley below. We stopped for a closer look and walked across admiring the view. We continued heading west, through LLangollen (pronounced Clangothen) taking a detour through the Horseshoe Pass before ending up in 'the gateway to Snowdonia' Betws-y-Coed. We managed to get a room for the night in a little B&B in the centre of town. We wandered around the centre and had lunch before walking to the Conwy Falls. We walked around the town a little more before it got dark and admiring the town's stone bridge.

The following morning we continued our drive through Snowdonia, which is truly spectacular! The sky was dark and brooding during our drive through the National Park and we decided that we would save the 7hr walk up Snowdonia another time and make our way towards the coast.

From Snowdonia we drove to Caernarfon where we visited the castle and the walled city, before heading along the coast to Conwy to see another castle and to walk around the town walls. It was a blustery day with scattered showers although we managed to see most of the sights without getting too wet. We had lunch in the resort town of Llandudno before driving to the northern town of Chester.

Chester is famous for its city walls which are the most complete in the UK and the 'Rows'. We found a little hotel within walking distance from the centre and walked into the town to look at the Rows. The Rows are unique to Chester's central shopping area and they are the walkways built on the first floor of all the shops and the purpose of them is yet unknown. We strolled through the centre of Chester, looking at the Rows, stopping for a cream tea and visiting the cathedral.

We had dinner in a lovely French bistro before retiring for the evening. The following morning we walked the length of the city walls, passing the river and the castle before heading north on the highway to Cumbria and the lovely Lake District. We drove straight in to Windemere, the central lake which was heaving with tourists as the long weekend was now in full swing and the weather had cleared and was completely amazing. Lara is lucky enough to have more family here and they were kind enough to put us up for a few days and give us some tips on destinations that would be quieter during the busy weekend.

We spent the few days in the Lake District walking. We took walks in the local countryside as well as further into the Lake District and Lara's family were even kind enough to take them out looking for badgers at twilight. Our second foray as badger spotters was extremely successful and we saw quite a few badgers. One came right up to us and just looked at us before darting back to its burrow. It repeated the action four more times before it was getting to dark to see much and we decided to head back. It was definitely our closest encounter with British wildlife and was very exciting!

After a delightful weekend of sunshine and walking we had to start heading south again. We decided to do this by driving through the Yorkshire Dales before heading south, which would hopefully mean that we would avoid most of the traffic and get to see another beautiful park of the UK. The Yorkshire Dales are another destination definitely worth a visit and we loved the winding lanes (which our van managed without too many dramas), rugged hills and the lush valleys. We stopped in few of the little towns

North Wales
to have a look around and ended up calling our parents from a graveyard to wish them a happy Easter!

We drove down the motorway all the way to Oxford where we stayed with Lara's great aunt and uncle, having a lovely dinner with them and their neighbours before we continued back to London.

This trip has made us remember how much there is to the UK beyond London and we've seen a lot of landscape that we'd like to explore in greater detail. We've missed being in the countryside and we've missed having a car and being able to go wherever we like. And although the van was a bit of an eyesore and not the best drive ever it was a lovely holiday! We'll definitely try and explore more of the UK, especially over the summer months when it all comes alive!

Additional photos below
Photos: 36, Displayed: 26


The spiffy van!The spiffy van!
The spiffy van!

In Snowdonia National Park
Conwy CastleConwy Castle
Conwy Castle

North Wales
Al outside the smallest house in the UKAl outside the smallest house in the UK
Al outside the smallest house in the UK

You can normally pay 50p to have a look inside....can't imagine there would be much to se though!
The RowsThe Rows
The Rows

In Chester, North West England

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