It is now a week since we limped home from our trip to Wales and slowly my stress levels are returning to where they were before we left. Nothing to do with that ‘cooped up full time with all the family’ thing, that leads to arguments and disagreements all round. No, it’s all to do with cars and weather.
Our departure south was delayed by car troubles and in the end we had only nine nights on holiday as against the 17 or 18 of recent years. So there was never really much chance of winding down fully. The start of the break was graced with good weather and the shorts, sandals and sunscreens of continental campsites got some use. Then the weather changed. The tent stood up bravely to a couple of really stormy nights and some torrents of rain. One broken guy rope, from chafing tightly against a peg, and a little water ingress through the additional ventilation designed for warm weather camping, was all the damage suffered. We did have a couple of largely sleepless nights though, with tent poles arching scarily low to the ground, ropes creaking, and a cliff to the pounding waves below just yards away. The Urchins slept through it all.
Stressful though that was it was nothing compared to the levels created by a certain unreliable motor car. Having wasted days and hundreds of pounds before departure, I felt some trouble under the brake pedal on the busiest stretch of the motorway before our overnight stop. We limped on down across the scenic hills and valleys of Wales the next morning and arrived at our site to pitch camp in warm and still weather.
Finally managing to get a garage to look at the car on the Monday I learned that the problem was not the wheel bearings I had feared but track rod ends and a socket thing. Being a Chrysler American built car, suitable parts are not to be found, with Chrysler being the only source, the factory taking 3 to 4 days to supply, and whole sections being needed, rather than just individual parts. So it was the Friday afternoon before we were back on the road, the credit card taking a large hit.
In between times we had to restrict our Welsh discoveries to the very local area, but still managed a delightful steam train to Devil’s Bridge, the joys of watching the red kites being fed, a trip to an animal sanctuary where The Urchins had the delights of a ten foot boa constrictor across their shoulders – at that stage I had opted to valiantly head through the rain to recover jackets from the car. The sands at Ynyslas provided a delightful walk in very warm but windy weather, after a session painting ceramics, where the lovely Zana had put us on to Jamie, the mechanic in Bow Street – ‘big scary man with a big scary dog’. Zana too was not without her technical problems, the kiln breaking down and it being the end of the week before she too was up and running and able to let us have the fired goods.
And so there was plenty reading time, especially during those long sleepless nights, though concentration was an issue. I had some delightful books as it turned out and hugely enjoyed Magsie Hamilton Little’s Dancing with Darkness. The by-line had it neatly summarised – Life, Death and Hope in Afghanistan – utterly captivating. From the middle east to darkest Africa and a cleverly engrossing tale from Warwick Cairns, mingling his meetings with Wilfred Thesiger with the great man’s travels in the lands of the Danakil, and Cairns’ own wanderings to Thesiger’s home in Africa. In Praise of Savagery is well worth a read, and not just for Thesiger fans. I followed that up with Ox Travels, a compilation of chapters from all your favourite travel writers including Thubron, Wheeler, Stewart and many more, and several who will become favourites in the years ahead.
Having had the car repaired we had one last day to see a bit of the countryside before the journey home. We headed for Hay-on-Wye, booktown, via Brecon where we should have been based for our first week. Brecon was a delightful place to picnic, the ducks in the canal getting the final scraps, but Hay deserved at least half a day of my time, having finally got close to the town. I was not to be disappointed, and managed to pick up a few good quality first editions for the shelves, from Robyn Davidson, Martin Buckley, Fran Sandham, Toby Green and a couple of others. More from them as and when they get to the bedside table.
And so to home. Thankfully we awoke to a dry and still day, and thus were spared the trauma of packing a wet tent in the wind. Having packed much of the gear the previous evening, we had camp broken and were on our way within an hour or two of breaking fast. Amazingly the tent and all its accoutrements fitted back in the bag. And so we headed east and north.
Our trip to Hay had given the car a good run the previous day, some 150 miles or so, and I knew that all was still not well. The wheel bearings were still coming under suspicion. Worse was to follow on the motoroway though, with the car fully warmed up. We began to lose power, especially on uphill stretches, when revs could not be tempted to rise much above 2,000, and speed fell down to 60, and on one steeper hill to a mere 45, which is when artics begin to look a bit threatening in the rear view mirror. On home territory at last we stopped for essentials, not just bread and milk, but What Car? magazine. The Jeep had to go.
Keen to begin some online research into motor cars, the stress levels boiled over on finding out that our wifi facilities had disappeared during our absence. That took a couple of days, and no little help from The Eldest to resolve. Now, a full week later, we are further down the road, having identified suitable cars, driven fruitlessly around showrooms to find that demand exceeds supply, there is no prospect of discount, and months of waiting. The Kuga was eliminated on space grounds, the Sportage on availability which problem seemed to be afflciting the ix35, a product of the same factory. But there was some good fortune around the corner and a telephone call today should secure an immediately available Hyundai ix35, and more importantly allow us to pass on the worries of the Jeep Patriot.
Hyundai was the last decent car we ran, before those dark days of Fiat Multiplas which preceeded the Jeep. Chrysler of course are now part of the Fiat empire and their doors will never be darkened by me again. Hyundai should bring some reliability, backed by a five year warranty, even if we are having to change much sooner than planned, thus keeping real pressure on finances.
As to camping I think we need to look again at holidaying on these isles, and commit to the costs of a trip to the continent. But if we can do it with our own wheels, and take our own accommodation, then it could all work out. The Netherlands is looking attractive, with some of those continental campsite facilities we have come to enjoy, and a network of cycling paths on the level an added attraction, now that The Urchins are beginning to enjoy the bikes without the accompaniment of stabilisers. So how do we add four bikes, one a recumbent, to the luggage load which already fills the boot and the roofbox? With internet facilities back up, time to look into Dutch camping, cycle carriers, and even trailers.