So finally nearly 6 months after acquiring our camper van Josh and I headed out on the road on our first adventure. The wild highlands of Scotland beckon but for a first trip maybe a bit ambitious for our 30 year old van so we chose the next best thing and headed for Snowdonia. The van stocked with supplies and packed full of camera gear we headed off on Easter Monday the plan being that folks would be returning from their Easter weekend break leaving things a little quieter for our visit.
After waving farewell to the girls we set off with the prospect of a 6 hour drive ahead (you don’t get anywhere fast in a van). Having navigated the M25 safely all seemed to be going well until about 70 miles up the M40 just outside Bicester the van started to judder, something wasn’t right so I pulled over onto the hard shoulder. I checked the wheels and looked underneath but couldn’t find anything obviously amiss so got back in and cautiously drove up the hard shoulder. We didn’t get very far before the van took on a mind of its own and I rapidly lost the fight to regain control ploughing up the verge and stopping a whisky short of the emergency barriers. Hmmm…definitely not good I thought !
After a further inspection I still couldn’t see anything though too be honest I wasn’t entirely sure I knew what I was looking for and consulting my trusty manual just resulted in more head scratching. Eventually I resigned myself to the fact that we were going nowhere and broke the news to Josh that our adventure had come to an abrupt end – was this the inevitable consequence of owning a 30 year old van I wondered.
Just under an hour later our breakdown assistance arrived in the form of a burly chap, full of wisdom “great these things…until they break down”.
Downhearted we watched as he began to winch the van onto the tow truck only to be interrupted by an exclamation of “Ahh, there’s your problem”. Winching the van forward revealed the otherwise hidden state of the front nearside tyre and the source of our troubles.
Not good but clearly something which could be fixed relatively easily…I was soon to learn that all things are indeed relative in the joys of camper van ownership !
Problem diagnosed and with spirits restored we accepted the advice of our recovery man to take us to a place of “safety” where we could park up until the next day, get the tyres replaced and continue on our way (rather than returning home to restart our journey).
I realised we were only 20 miles away from one of Joshua’s wildlife photography friends (Owen) who has a farm nr Milton Keynes. So after changing the spare I safely navigated us the 20 odd miles across country but sadly failed to navigate through the farm gates aquiring a slight dent down the side….still at least we were able to spend the night at the farm rather than on a slip road next to a 24 hr service cafe.
Anyhow after a hearty farmers breakfast (cheers Owen) I set about ringing round garages…only to encounter the next challenge…folks don’t stock 30 year old camper van tyres off the shelf and they would have to be ordered. Thankfully we’re in the age of same day delivery so by 4pm we had a new set of tyres fitted for the princeley sum of £250. Even that didn’t go without incident, seems the rear wheel nuts had been well and truly over torqued requiring the “gentle” persuasion of a sledgehammer to get them off…knackering the wheel nuts in the process.
Anyhow at approx 5pm we were finally back on the road towards Birmingham on through Shrewsbury and finally into Wales down through Welshpool to our destination Dolgellau arriving about 8:30pm in the darkness having been delayed in a mountain pass watching a landrover go up in flames (don’t ask…just glad it wasn’t a camper van !). Having lost the GPS it then took us another 45 minutes and countless circuits of the town before we, ok Josh, eventually discovered the back road which took us to our campsite along several miles of winding mountain road. At this point it was virtually pitch black and when we eventually turned off the road down a country track barely wide enough for the van I was skeptical as to whether we were actually in the right place. Suddenly the vague silouette of what looked like a caravan appeared as we drove through a gate into a field full of sheep. We parked up next to what I could now see was a small motorhome and proceeded to get out out of the van gla to have finally arrived somewhere even if we didn’t know where…then before my feet had even touched the ground an indignant voice called out of the darkness “You’re not parking there are you…right in the way of my view ?”. I have to say that after the events of the last few days there were a few choice words on the tip of my tongue. I couldn’t see anyone but remaining calm got back in the van and drive a final 50 yards across the field, bemused sheep eyeing us warily.
We could only just make out our surroundings in the darkness but actually the real beauty was above us …I don’t think I’ve seen so many stars. So whilst I set about getting our beds ready for the night Josh set himself up from some timelapse starscapes.
After our first night in the van I awoke the next morning to discover just where we’d arrived. Pulling open our stylish new van curtains revealed a stunning backdrop of Cadair Idris and Tyrrau Ma…Wow…this is why I put my faith in a 30 year old camper van I thought !
An early morning exploratory stroll followed by a conciliatory chat with the owners of the neighboring motor home revealed we were actually in the wrong campsite – Owen Tyddyn Farm site our intended destination was the next field along the lane instead we’d pitched up on “Thomas Farm” which we soon discovered was owned by the lovely Iola.
I wondered up to the farm house to apologize for turning up unannounced and before I knew it was sat in Iola’s kitchen enjoying a mug of tea and slice of cake and not the last occasion I might add. Imagine your favorite grandma and that’s Iola. I cheekily asked if we could charge our camera batteries…no problem she said. When I told here about Josh she insisted I go and get him and keenly listened to him talk about his passion for wildlife photography. She was great company and nothing was too much trouble and refused to accept more than a token gesture for our stay even though I knew it should be more. I’ll certainly be planning on a return visit to see Iola and for anyone looking for a campsite close to Cadair Idris I would wholeheartedly recommend you pay a visit to Thomas Farm you won’t get a more welcoming host than and Iola – I’ve included contact details at the bottom of the post.
Cadair is a looming hulk of sheer rock, formidable from a distance and I’m sure even more terrifying to those who accept the challenge of climbing her buttressed flanks.
We chose the easier route and headed up the west side along the Pony Path though once we’d reached the initial ridge the route to the summit became a stubborn scramble over boulders and scree – not something I recommend if your carrying 25kg of equipment on a day touching 20c. An hour and half slog later having defied Cadair to reach her summit our efforts were rewarded with awesome views over the twin cauldrons of Llyn Y Gader and Llyn Cau.
As much as I’d have loved to have stayed longer the whole point of our camper van venture was to be able to go where we pleased so after our second night we collected up our things waved good bye to Iola and headed off to our next location, Nancol Waterfall about 15 miles drive up round the west coast just past Barmouth. We chose the scenic route across country past llynnau_cregennen and over the wooden tool bridge to Barmouth.
Nacol Waterfall is a a short drive up the coast to Llanbedr and then about 3 miles inland along a progressively narrowing lane. Nestled alongside the river Nancol in a small hollow surrounded by ancient woodland it is a truly idyllic location. A very popular campsite I’m sure but I understand they deliberately keep campers down so as not to overcrowd and actually as hoped I think we had missed the Easter weekend rush so it wasn’t busy at all so we were able to chose a spot right next to the river just down stream from the waterfall.
It really is a beautiful location and anyone who enjoys nature will love Nancol, you really do get that sense of being somewhere magical. The gorge through which the river runs down from the hills above is steeped in gnarled oaks that seem to reach upwards and towards you at the same time, twisted limbs and arthritic fingers outstretched.
My favorite image of the trip was taken as we stood on top of a small granite plateau looking across the gorge with the final rays of a setting sun piercing the tree lined ridge opposite. There is almost something otherworldly about the scene, the foreground trees skeletal and translucent in the sunlight whilst those on the ridge Ent like guardians. Facing almost directly towards the sun it wasn’t an easy shot to capture and proved quite a struggle to avoid the inevitable sun flairs using a wide angle lens. Yes its chaotic, lacks composition and is probably a little surreal to be “liked” by anyone other than the photographer…but then I suppose that’s the essence of what excited me…and I don’t care what anyone else thinks !
Josh again used the opportunity of our “Dark Skies” and experimented with some more time lapse and long exposures like this great pic of the van illuminated by our campfire under a canopy of stars …I love it because it conjures up the atmosphere of our first camper van adventure !
With just the glowing embers of our fire and the rest of the campers asleep we headed back up the gorge in the darkness as I also wanted to take experiment with some long exposure of the gnarled trees. This shot was taken at about 2 minutes just enough to capture the trees in silhouette with a backdrop of stars, needless to say I was stood in the pitch black when I took the picture.