I’m currently sitting in the back of the Mazda Bongo in a very wet Bowness-on-Windermere in the Lake District, the last time I was here was in the early 80s with the RAF putting on a display with C vrt tanks and the weather was glorious.
I’ve been on a little road trip in the camper van over the last couple of weeks which has had its ups and downs but mostly ups so far, I started off by heading over to Wales with a stop off in the Midlands on the way, where my parents originated from and stayed the day and overnight in the area walking around Castle ring and Genlteshaw common then having a meal in the local pub and sleeping in the camper nearby.
The next morning after cooking breakfast, I started off for North Wales, a place I have visited many times but not for a few years now. I arrived at the Watkin path car park at the foot of Mt Snowdon around 12.30 and decided to start on my way up straight away. I had been up Snowdon a few times previously but always by different routes, it was pretty straight forward and took around 1 3/4 hours to the top, I was surprised to see so many people at the summit who had obviously come up by different routes as I hadn’t seen many on the way up, after a brief break at the top I made my way down again and cooked tea on the van, it was a great end to the day with the sun setting over Snowdon.
I had a very comfortable night in the camper in the car park and after breakfast made my way over to Tryfan which I intended to climb today, this would be my second attempt at Tryfan, my previous attempt by a different route was abandoned about 2/3 of the way up when I was unsure of the route when climbing was required and I decided to play safe and turn back. This time I had planned to take the northern ridge route which was more difficult but I thought would be easier to follow once I had to start climbing, I passed a few people on the way up managing to stick pretty much to the route and knew I was on track when I passed the cannon around 2/3 of the way up, I was still surprised by the amount of hands on climbing involved after that point to get to the summit but didn’t want to be turned back by Tryfan a second time, so I persisted after having doubts a couple of times when confronted by what looked to me like tough dangerous climbs ( I’m sure some others wouldn’t see them as difficult) I was pleased to get to the summit and met a group of climbers from Liverpool who had come up the same route.
I had wondered on the way up why I hadn’t seen anyone coming down this route and realised at the top it would be too risky to come down some of the upper climbs without ropes especially on your own. So I was happy to find my way down the other side ( the route that had previously defeated me ) with only I bit of scrambling involved but no climbing and made my way back down to the car park.
After some lunch at the cafe I decided on the spur of the moment to start making my way up to the Lake District as I wanted to climb Scarfell pike next, I set off from Tryfan but unfortunately in traffic on the M52 the van overheated and lost most of it’s coolant, it was the same problem I had whilst down in Cornwall but I thought I may of sorted it by bleeding the system. I made it to some services on the M6 to assess the situation and saw that there was a garage that specialised in Mazda Bongos about 50 miles away and decided to try and make it there. I managed to get there and lucky for me there was a large car park off the road where I could spend to night.
The next day workers started arriving around 7 and had a look at the van, diagnosing the cylinder head as the engine problem but also able to sort the steering rack and front discs which I already knew needed doing and gave me the good news that there was no rust underneath ( a common problem with imported Bongos. I decided it was worth spending the money on getting it fixed and agreed a price and was given a lift to the train station as it was going to take a couple of days to do the work. It was fortunate that I was near the only place in the UK that hold stock of Bongo parts ( Bongo spares highly recommended)
It was only around 3 hours home by train via Manchester and my first real experience of having to wear a mask whilst using public transport but it was pretty good and much quicker than I expected, I was picked up from Milton Keynes central and home by lunchtime for fish and chips.
I received a call later in the day to say the vans cylinder head was done and everything looked ok and they would pressure test it in the morning. The next day I got a call to say all the work was completed and I arranged to go back up by train on the Friday and pick it up and then continue on up to Scarfell pike.
I got a lift back to Milton Keynes the next day and was picked up at the other end by someone from Bongo spares, by around 3 I was back on the road, although it was only about 120 miles to Scarfell pike it took around 5 hours because of accidents on the M6 and steep narrow roads in the Lake District, it certainly tested the Bongo getting there and it performed admirably. I arrived near Wasdale head around 7 and parked up then found my way to the Wasdale Inn for an excellent meal before retiring back to the camper for the night.
There had already been a few days of rain in the area and everything was very wet with a lot of water coming down off the hills, the rain continued overnight and although dry and comfortable in the van decided to give it a go as the forecast for Sunday and Monday was even worse. With a few other hardy souls going up as well I started up from the car park and all went well until I got to the section that required crossing the river, when I had previously done Scarfell this was just a matter of a few stepping stones, this was entirely different with the stones now under at least a foot of fast moving water, a few people with trekking poles and proper walking boots of which I had neither managed to wade across but as I had already got one pair of trainers soaked just walking to the Inn on the previous night decided it wasn’t worth it a turned back to the car park admitting defeat today.
I did think about staying and trying again but after speaking to staff at the National Trust campsite about a pitch and being told the weather on Sunday was forecast to be worse and then Monday a “ wash out “ I decided to move on towards Keswick knowing that I could climb a few hills there even if it was raining. It was only around an hours drive over to Keswick in the afternoon and I was able to familiarise myself with the area again as it had been a few years since I was here but love the area for it hills and lakes. I found somewhere to park overnight near the lake with a few other vans and motor homes ( all the sites seem to be fully booked ) I did find my way up to Castlerigg stone circle whilst trying to remember where I picked up the route to Skidaw on a previous trip. I remembered it when I walked back into town, so planned that for tomorrow.
It was a nice quiet night in the van and it’s not always easy to get up when the weather isn’t great as it’s been on this trip so far. It was grey and drizzling when I set off from Keswick after breakfast in the van but the rain stopped and it dried up making it quite pleasant walking weather till around half way when I started to get up into the cloud so the waterproof jacket went back on, towards the top the wind really picked up and visibility dropped to maybe 25 yards which was just about enough to be able to pick out the route ahead. There was one other guy at the top when I got there that I had seen coming up and we had overtaken each other a few times, we sheltered behind some rocks to get out of the wind for a break, he was probably around my age maybe a little older and we spoke a little about the outdoors and strange times with the virus, he said he had moved over here from Durham a few years back because he loves the hills so much and now didn’t have to travel so far to get here. We got talking about various things and my time at Catterick in the Durham area, he mentioned that his Dad was in the Navy during the war and aboard the destroyer Ajax at the battle of the river plate and that there was a town in Canada that was named after it and some of the streets there named after some of the servicemen, he had been part of a group of descendants of Ajax servicemen that visited a few years back and loved the Canadian people who hosted them and showed them around, he was surprised but pleased when I told him that I grew up in Canada but only really knew Ajax because I’d driven though it a few times.
I really enjoyed my trip up Skidaw and because of the weather it felt like a bit of a challenge and after nearly going wrong soon after leaving the top in the mist but realising quickly and getting back on track within 30 mins the wind was gone and the sun was out giving fantastic views back over Keswick. As soon as I arrived back in Keswick I headed for the first pub doing food and had a excellent leisurely hot meal which felt well deserved. I stayed overnight in the same place this time with even more vans and motor homes enjoying a little evening sunshine.
The next day was the Monday that was predicted to be the “ washout “ so I decided to leave Keswick after breakfast and make the relatively short trip to Bowness-on-Windermere, which brings me to now sitting in the camper typing this, the forecast was right and it has pretty much rained heavily all day so far and has only just let up so I may venture out in search of a decent meal as I know there are lots of nice places here if my memory serves me correctly.
Just a few thoughts on Van life before I go. Plus’s 1 Being outside close to nature. 2. being able decide on the spur of the moment your next destination 3. Food always seems to taste better when cooked outdoors 4. Meeting like minded people who love the outdoors.
Minuses and it’s possible I can solve these as I learn the tricks and the corona virus restrictions have made some of these more difficult. 1 lack of showers ( so runs are difficult) 2. Access to laundry 3. Have to plan access to toilets ( made more difficult by current restrictions) but that’s pretty much it and no one has told me that I smell yet ( I have got a solar shower but not tried it yet ).
For me the positives out weigh the negatives at the moment and providing all is well with the van and travel allows it would be nice to go south though Europe during the winter.
Well thats all for now.
I’ll try to add a few photos to the blogs
Until next time. Take care