Initially I wasn’t going to put this post on here and I thought long and hard before I did but then thought ”what the hell, I’ll put it on anyway”. The last week has been one of the most awful weeks of my life and one I hope no-one reading this ever has to go through. Why? Because last Wednesday night, soon after 10pm, my van was stolen from right outside my house and I actually saw it being driven away but could do nothing to stop it. It had been locked and the key was in my pocket so whoever stole it had obviously broken into it.
I reported it to the police straight away but from their initial response, ie they ‘won’t actively be looking for it’, I’m not very hopeful that I’ll get it back. It’s not only the van that’s been stolen though – it was packed up with all my camping gear ready for my holiday in North Wales in early September, plus I had various personal items in there which were of great sentimental value to me though worthless to anyone else. Some of these were rosettes which my previous little dog Sugar had won at various shows – sadly she died of kidney failure the week before Christmas 2014 so those rosettes were very precious to me and can never be replaced.
Needless to say, my forthcoming holiday plans have been cancelled, as have any plans of going out somewhere over the bank holiday weekend or in the foreseeable future, and getting to work is now proving difficult in some cases as two of the places aren’t on direct bus routes so it means I have a fair amount of walking to do. At the moment I just feel that not only has the van been stolen but half my life has gone too – yes, all my camping gear can be replaced, albeit slowly and at great expense (the van not so easy) but nothing will erase the gut-wrenching, stomach-churning feeling of having everything ripped out from under me and actually seeing it disappearing.
I wish I could feel angry at the low-life(s) who did this but strangely I don’t as other emotions are keeping any anger at bay. I feel I was targeted – out of all the cars parked in the street why mine? – but more than that I feel shocked, sad and upset to the point of frequently bursting into tears, and just so incredibly numb. I’m back at work this week after taking two days off last week but I’m not really working, I’m just going through the motions ; my world has been turned upside down and I feel like I’m just existing, not living.
My gut feeling is that the van is still somewhere in my local area but just in case it’s gone further afield I would really appreciate anyone in the UK reading this to keep an eye out for it and contact the police if it’s seen – with the eagle on the front and the patterns along each side it’s very distinctive and not easy to miss. My lovely blogging friend Jayne has also posted it on her own blog and asked her readers to share so who knows, the power of the internet might just bring a result.
After my well earned coffee and cake break at the Allonby Tea Rooms my quest continued round the corner on the main road where the Ship Hotel is situated. A Grade ll listed building, the Ship was originally a 17th century coaching inn with stabling for horses and was popular with those travelling on the old coaching route to London. In 1857 Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins stayed overnight at the Ship while touring northern Cumberland, and though Dickens didn’t think much of the village itself (describing it as ‘a dreary little place’) he did like the Ship and described it as ‘a capital little homely inn looking out upon the sea….a clean nice place in a rough wild country’.
A few yards along from the Ship a stone built bridge carries the road diagonally across Allonby Beck. In former times the beck was much wider and shallower than it is now and was crossed at road level by an old cast iron bridge which was unfortunately destroyed in 1904. A traction engine, hauling a steam-driven fairground ride, started to cross the bridge but never made it to the other side ; the bridge cracked under the weight and the whole lot ended up in the beck which was swollen after a period of heavy rain. Following that incident a new stone bridge was built in 1905 and it’s still in use today.
On a corner near the seaward end of the bridge and overlooking the play park is The Codfather fish and chip shop. It doesn’t feature on my list of properties to find and I don’t have a photo of it but I mention it because I find it a little odd. To find the next property in the brochure I had to look near the post office but search as I might I couldn’t find a post office anywhere ; eventually I asked a local and was told that the post office counter, such as it is, is only open on Thursdays between 10 and 11am and is actually in The Codfather – how bizarre! I know in these times of companies and businesses downsizing and making cutbacks a post office can often be found within a supermarket but this is the first time I’ve ever heard of one in a fish and chip shop!
Once I’d located the ‘post office’ it was easy enough to find the next two properties. The Grapes was one of two pubs situated only a few yards apart and a narrow lane running at the side of The Grapes once led to the fish yards owned by a local family. Now a private house with a modern front door and windows, structurally it still looks the same as it was many years ago although strangely there’s only a brief mention of it in the brochure. The 3-storey Solway Hotel stood on the corner of the block; there were two versions of it and in more recent times the second one was known for a while as The Ocean Liner. It was a highly successful establishment providing good food and entertainment, and Country & Western nights were popular with acts like Boxcar Willie bringing in the crowds. Following a fire in the 1990s it was demolished and a modern 2-storey house built in its place but with an identical roof line to that of the hotel.
Back on the main road, across from The Codfather and set back off the road itself, is Pig In The Bath antiques/junk shop in what was once Allonby Mill. The present mill building dates from the 19th century and stands on the site of a much earlier building which may have been a corn mill. Between Pig In The Bath and the road bridge a footbridge runs over the beck to a small square of cottages and the one on the left was once The Queen’s Head Inn which, in the mid 1800s, became Allonby’s first and only Temperance Hotel. Tucked away down a very narrow passage behind this property is tiny Cruck Cottage, named after the building method used in its construction ; a timber frame of oak ‘crucks’ or trunks provided the main foundation for the structure then it was in-filled with laths and a mixture of animal dung and straw. Cottages like these were known as ‘clay dabbin’ cottages.
Set back in the square, and at the beginning of Garden Lane, is Glen Cottage, a nicely renovated holiday let which still retains some of its original features including wood beams and an inglenook fireplace. It was once the home of well known Cumbrian artist Percy Kelly who lived there for ten years. The initials AK – PK – 1958 can still be seen engraved on the lintel in the bedroom, with AK being his first wife Audrey and 1958 being the year they moved in ; it was while living in Allonby that he produced some of his best watercolours of the region.
Percy moved out of Glen Cottage in 1968 after Audrey discovered that he was secretly cross-dressing ; she continued to live there and after they divorced he eventually remarried, moving to Kendal, then Wales, and finally Norfolk. His second wife left him in 1983 after twelve years together, and while taking HRT, convinced he was becoming a woman, Percy changed his name by deed poll to Roberta Penelope. After spending his life steadfastly refusing to sell much of his work he died in 1993 in obscurity and poverty, though his cottage was later to be found crammed with his work. More information about Glen Cottage and Percy Kelly can be found here on the cottage’s website.
Garden Lane was once part of the main thoroughfare through the village and continued further than it does now ; it’s cut off by the beck which runs through the back of the village but when the beck was wider it had a shallow ford and Garden Lane was linked to Brewery Lane. The present narrower channel was dug by POWs during WW2 and being deeper it effectively separated both lanes. One of the properties in Garden Lane had large ovens in the cellar which could be accessed from outside, and as many homes didn’t have ovens at the time villagers would take their tattie pots to be cooked at the house in Garden Lane, earning it the name of Tattie Pot Lonning (Lane). The garage at Rainford House in Garden Lane was originally a clay dabbin cottage though at some time it was extended upwards by adding a stone-built gable. In recent years the present owner has restored the clay structure with antique bricks but a piece of the original clay and gravel has been ‘framed’ on the garage’s side wall.
Back on the main road, heading south and next door to the Baywatch Hotel, is Twentyman’s ice cream shop and general store. Twentyman’s had originally been boat breakers but when that trade died out the family saw an opportunity to provide ice creams and refreshments to passing visitors. The business was founded in 1920 and over the years has become famous throughout north Cumbria for its ice cream, made on the premises from a secret family recipe, although the modern property of today bears little resemblance to that of 1920.
The penultimate building on my list, the church vicarage, was built in 1872 to replace a smaller vicarage which was situated in what is now the church graveyard. When Allonby parish merged with nearby Crosscanonby the vicarage was sold and in the 1950s it became a holiday home for children with disabilities, with actor and comedian Richard Hearne, famous for his ‘Mr Pastry’ character, being a fund raiser for the venture. Since then the building has been a hotel and a private home before becoming what it is now, West Winds Tea Rooms.
Christ Church is the last building on the main road through Allonby heading south. The original chapel was built in 1743 but a hundred years later it was deemed to be too small for the growing congregation ; it was rebuilt in 1845 then enlarged in 1849 and again in 1885. The low roofed part of the building on the north side was once a school for about 100 children, it was built in 1741 before the original chapel and eventually became the Church school.
With Christ Church being the last on my list I finally had everything in the brochure found, photographed and ticked off. It had been a long, varied and interesting (sometimes mildly frustrating) day and with the late afternoon sun turning into an early evening sun and casting shadows where I didn’t want them it was time to return to the van and head back to the camp site. I’d completed my quest and the three of us had walked and wandered far enough so a good couple of hours of chill out time was more than justified.
**A lot of the information on Allonby and the post title came from ‘Allonby – Past and Present’, a very interesting and informative booklet which gave me the inspiration to seek out all these places and find out more about them. It’s produced by the Allonby History Group, which meets at the village hall every last Wednesday of the month, and can be found in various outlets in the village and other places throughout the county.
Tomorrow morning sees the start of my 10-day holiday in north west Cumbria, camping at the same site I stayed at over Easter. Since late Monday afternoon the weather here has been abysmal with rain for most of every day so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that once I get up there things will change ; while I can’t expect to get the same continuously wonderful weather as I got at Easter I’m still hoping that most of the days will see some sunshine as there are so many places I want to see and explore.
The van has been packed up since Easter but it’s not as simple as just putting in a few last minute items and the dogs and setting off – my wonderful son has seen to that! After his night shift tonight Michael has four days off so he recently decided he would spend those four days over in Ireland ; with a relatively last minute booking his choice of flights was limited to early morning or late evening so to maximise his time there he chose the morning one, flying at 8am. And guess who he asked to take him to the airport?! So on the very morning I’m driving myself up to north west Cumbria I’m going in the opposite direction first!
Michael would normally finish his shift at 6am but he’s managed to wangle a 5.30 finish which will be better ; there shouldn’t be much traffic on the roads so early on a Sunday so unless there’s an absolute major motorway hold up I should be able to get him there in plenty of time. As it happens my pitch at the camp site won’t be available until 1pm so once I’ve dropped him at the airport I can have a good couple of hours chill out back here before I set off for Cumbria – and thinking about it, it seems weird that he will be on the coach to Roscrea before I even leave here, and he’ll be at the family home before I get to the camp site. Time and distance can seem so strange sometimes.
At the camp site I’m booked on the same pitch I had at Easter so with good weather I should hopefully get more or less the same views as those above. I’ve been looking forward to this holiday for a while so with any luck I should be able to do lots of exploring and I’ll come back with a ridiculous amount of photos, many of which will no doubt end up on this and my other blog – so I’ll ‘see’ you all when I get back.
Last weekend it was my birthday – Sunday to be exact – and as Michael was originally to be off work that day we had planned on having a day out somewhere and maybe stopping off at a car boot sale, but unfortunately it didn’t quite work out like that. When he got his shift rota for the week he was down to work that day and because of some stupid football match on Saturday no-one would swap shifts with him as they all wanted to go to the pub, watch it on tv and no doubt drink enough beer to render themselves unfit for work the following day. After working a 12-hour night shift on Friday Saturday was supposed to be his sleeping day but he said if I woke him at lunch time we could go out then instead of Sunday and he would catch up on his sleep later on.
So that’s what we did and we had a drive out to St. Annes as I wanted to go back to Ashton Gardens to take some more photos now the trees are in full leaf, except the weather was so dismally dull and grey that the photos I did take aren’t worth bothering with – most of them will be deleted and certainly none of them will make it into a blog post. After a meal in our usual café we just came straight back home, but because our trip out was something we would normally do on a Sunday I had the confusing feeling that it was Sunday, although to be honest I felt like I’d only gone out for the sake of going out.
On Sunday itself, to make up for missing a proper day out with Michael, I planned on taking myself and the dogs out somewhere, however the weather wasn’t the best so with a cash gift from Michael I decided to go in search of a new folding camp bed, something I’ve been wanting to get for quite a while. The Blackburn branch of Go Outdoors is an easy drive away and not far from there is Witton Country Park so I could kill two birds with one stone – a look round Go Outdoors first then a dog walk round the country park afterwards.
I found the camp bed I wanted in the store but the one on display was the only one they had and there was a slight fault with the mechanism so they wouldn’t sell it to me, however the very helpful assistant phoned the Preston store to see if they had any – they had, so they put one aside for me to collect later on. Unfortunately when I came out of the Blackburn store it was raining hard – a walk round the country park was out of the question so I just drove straight over to the Preston store and picked up the camp bed from there. With the on/off rain and no umbrella there was no point going anywhere else so I just came straight back home and the dogs never got their walk after all.
Michael arrived home from work at 5.30pm that day and we went to our usual eaterie, the Black Dog at Belmont, for a proper birthday meal. I don’t usually have a dessert but this time I did – salted caramel and vanilla ice creams with fresh cream, chocolate sauce and crushed Maltesers ; it was divine. Back at home I spent the rest of the evening reading a book which I’d recently got as a birthday present to myself. It had been an odd sort of day – well an odd sort of weekend really – but that was then, and I’m now looking forward to a nice long camping holiday coming up in a couple of weeks time.
Just as in June circumstances beyond my control decided to wreck my recently planned 10-day holiday away so instead of going to Norfolk as I normally do at this time of year, a change of destination and departure day saw me heading off on Thursday morning last week for another few days on Anglesey. I stopped off en route to visit my blogging friend Eileen and just as I was leaving there it started to rain – and that set the tone for the next couple of days. It was still raining when I finally reached the camp site, it was windy too, and with no chance of putting the tent up I spent the rest of that day and all the following day living in the van. It did turn out really nice later on Friday afternoon though so I took advantage of it and took the dogs down on the beach, and with not many people around it was vastly different to when I’d been there in June.
I woke early on Saturday morning and found that the wind had gone, there wasn’t even the whisper of a breeze, so I took advantage of it and got the tent up while the going was good – I was really only using it to store most of my stuff as I’d already decided to continue sleeping in the van. The day was really grey and cloudy but after spending most of the previous two days cooped up in the van I was still determined to go out somewhere, and after having the van cleaned as part of a charity car wash at the local fire station I went over to Llanberis on the mainland to explore round an old castle which I’d found out about in June. The only part of it still standing was the tower and it was possible to climb the steps inside it but being extremely steep and narrow they are definitely not for anyone with claustrophobia or vertigo.
Also while in Llanberis I looked round a lovely old church and the Snowdon Mountain Railway station – and with the high prices charged for a ride to the top of the mountain I certainly won’t bother going up there. On the way back from Llanberis I called to see my cousin Dave in Llanrug then with the weather improving I stopped off at Port Dinorwic, where I was lucky enough to see a heron ‘posing’ on the end of a seaweed-covered breakwater.
Sunday started off cloudy but came nicer as the morning went on and by lunch time it was lovely so I took myself off to explore a part of Parys mountain I hadn’t previously seen. From there I went to Llanbadrig church, which I’d missed while on my quest to find Porth Wen brick works in June and where I learned some interesting history, and my final stop – via a cheeseburger from Pete’s Burger Bar at Penrhos – was Soldier’s Point and the marina at Holyhead.
Monday was just like the previous day, starting off cloudy but coming nicer as the morning went on, and this time I went to explore a corner of the island I’ve never really been to – a stretch of the coast towards the south side of the island alongside part of the Menai Strait. From there I went to the outskirts of Newborough to find the Giant’s Stepping Stones then into Newborough itself and through the forest to Llanddwyn Island – by then the weather was getting better and better and the views across to Snowdonia and the Llyn peninsula were beautifully clear. There was a BBC film crew making a documentary about life on the island at the beginning of the last century and though I couldn’t go near the old cottages I was able to wander round the rest of the island and I got some beautiful photos.
Tuesday was coming home day and the morning was partly sunny/partly cloudy and also very windy – taking the tent down wasn’t too much of a hassle but I had to fight with the groundsheet before I finally bundled it up and got it into the van. I left the site at 10.45 am, much earlier than I would normally leave but with it being so windy there was no point staying any longer, however over on the mainland the weather got better and it turned into a gloriously sunny day so I stopped off for an hour or so in Conwy. As a long-time follower of the Quest tv programme Salvage Hunters, just for curiosity I went to look in Drew Pritchard’s shop, and though there were a couple of things I liked most of the items were grossly overpriced and horrible – it beats me why anyone would want some of the things that were on display.
On the way from Conwy I called to see Eileen again but unfortunately missed her this time as she was out somewhere, so I continued homeward and arrived back at 3.30pm – and since then I’ve really known that the holiday was over. Less than a couple of hours after getting home I had a call from the PA at my evening job, she had mistakenly thought I was back at work that day so wondered why I hadn’t turned up. At my morning job yesterday no-one had done anything in my absence so I had lots to catch up on, then later on I went out to the animal hospital to collect Aphra’s ashes for my friend Janet, though she’s asked me to keep them until she feels more able to deal with things.
We also have workmen in the empty house next door, yesterday they were rewiring the whole place and the drilling and banging were horrendous – Michael is currently working 12-hour night shifts but couldn’t get any proper rest because of the noise, and it was so loud at one point that we couldn’t hear each other speaking even though we were only three feet away from each other. After the previous few days peace and quiet on a relatively empty camp site that sort of noise is the last thing I want to hear – fortunately they seem to have been fairly quiet today but any more noise like yesterday will have me wishing I could go straight back to Anglesey!
*Larger versions of these photos and more will eventually be part of a full update on my camping blog, including some interesting history and facts about a few places I’ve seen while away – now all I have to do is get round to writing everything up!
On Tuesday evening this week I arrived back home after a short almost-six-days holiday on Anglesey. I’d actually booked seven days off work and with two weekends I should have had eleven days starting on the first Saturday of the month, but circumstances beyond my control kept me at home for the first few days. I finally set off for Anglesey late last Thursday morning, with the recent good weather staying with me all the way from home, and once at the site, which was very quiet, I was able to set up camp in near enough the same place as last year. Having had no opportunity to open out and dry my new tent, which had been packed away very damp at Easter, I was dreading what I might find so I’d packed my spare green one ‘just in case’ and set up the van to sleep in but I needn’t have worried – although quite a bit of moisture had got trapped between the plastic windows and the blinds the rest of the tent was fine and surprisingly there wasn’t a mark on it anywhere. After a quick wipe over the moisture on the windows soon disappeared in the hot sunshine and the tent served me well over the next few days.
Day 2 arrived sunny and warm again so I decided to have my ‘big day out’ off the island and set off late morning for Llanberis, just over 18 miles away on the mainland. Ages ago a cafe in Llanberis had been recommended to me as a good place to get a meal so I decided to try it and I wasn’t disappointed – I opted for a cheese and onion toastie and it came absolutely oozing with filling and with a salad garnish, and Sophie and Poppie even got a treat of a sausage each. Unfortunately not long afterwards the sky clouded over and the sun played a good game of hide-and-seek but it didn’t spoil the afternoon too much and I still walked right along the lake side to the slate museum and back. When I got back to Anglesey I found the sun and blue sky were just as bright as when I left so with hindsight maybe I should have stayed on the island.
Day 3 was another hot and sunny one and after starting off at the car boot sale just outside the village I made a return visit to Portobello beach in Dulas Bay, which I first went to last year. This time though I went when the tide was going out and almost at its lowest so there was no danger of getting cut off on the riverside like I did before. From the beach I drove into Llangefni and parked up at Asda then took the dogs for a walk through The Dingle nature reserve and up to Cefni reservoir and back, and it was when I was approaching Asda from the entrance to The Dingle that I noticed an old windmill with a strange top, on a rocky outcrop above and just beyond the store. Of all the times I’ve been to Llangefni I’ve never noticed that before so I just had to find it and photograph it.
Day 4 started off at the big car boot sale on the Anglesey show ground then from there I went over to Rhosneigr in search of Sausage Castle. Not actually a castle but a large house with castellated walls – real name Surf Point Villa – it was built next to the beach in the early 1900s by Charles Palethorpe, a member of the famous pork butchery family, and soon became known as Sausage Castle. A short walk along the beach soon found it and from there I continued along the sand to where the Afon Crigyll flowed out across the beach.