This last weekend we jumped in Dotty for a little pre-trip test – yay! It was great being back in the van, our wee home away from home. She was not the happiest van after 9 months out in the elements, however the dudes who I bought her from picked her up, got her running, aired and cleaned and repaired and made sure she was ready for another tour before we got here. So glad to have that support!
So, first things first – we bought some food. Then we headed to the coast, as Kate needed to get her feet in the English surf. Pulling out the old touring maps, we headed for Kilve beach, not far away and on the Bristol Channel. Turns out it was a pretty rocky affair, with really neat rock formations getting worn down in the sea. It’s a fossil hunter spot, and we tried to find something in sheets of shale (unsuccessfully).
Though the car park was perfect for wild camping, it was prohibited – so we rolled on, stopping in at Cleeve Abbey. The Abbey was spared complete destruction by part of it being used as a manor house and then farm sheds – so there’s way more to the place than many Abbeys we have been to! It was great to prowl around historic buildings again – our UK tour on again.
After Cleeve, we decided it was time to relax and enjoy the van. We were close to great free camp spots on North Hill (Minehead) that I visited with friends on my first trip – so I thought it’d be fun to reminisce up there and enjoy it with Kate too. So off we go, and it was lovely – just like last time.
To celebrate the trip, Kate made us an extremely delicious meal – with presentation skills too!
Lucky me! For you foodies, Kate’s doing a food blog now, of her cooking with minimal stuff in the van. It’s called Two Hobs and a Grill – check it out!
After dinner Kate attempted to teach me Cribbage (just Numberwang to me) and we played Checkers. We aren’t going to use the laptop while we’re free camping any more – it kills the battery and it’s not what it’s about. Computerless, I went for a walk up the hill, scaring a deer, finding a war observation post and enjoying a lovely sunset before heading back since cows were coming my way.
In the van, we settled in for our first sleep, looking forward to the sunrise.
Around 12 we were awoken by voices outside the van, of indeterminable distance. Young men, loud shouts, then blood curdling screams. Lots of laughter in between – clearly idiots being idiots. We weren’t sure they were hassling us or not – so kept quiet. However, one then shouted ‘RAPE!’ in a threatening way, another said ‘Let’s set them on fire’ and then there was a huge crash and shout as someone jumped into the door of the van. I’m a flight sort of guy when threatened – I learnt Kate’s more a fighter, instantly shouting ‘Oh piss off you stupid idiots!’ or something to that effect. And we heard no more. Quickly dressing and peeking through the curtains, we saw headlights of a car come on and continue up the hill – I guess to have their beers/meth up at the viewpoints. We figured they’d be going home eventually and would love to terrorise us again on the return, and we were both flooded with adrenaline – we decided to leave.
Dotty doesn’t do quick starts, so it was an awkward moment sitting there with the choke on, trying to find the headlights again – but after a nice stall we managed to get down the hill and in to a wee layby by the A38 I’d seen on our way in to town. Not fun! I couldn’t sleep after that, worried that they’d find our new spot and do it again there – I was constantly peeking outside, seeing if there were any threats. Not a great start to our new trip, sociopathic bastards! What makes people think that’s fun?
So that’s the first time we’ve been hassled while wild camping (aside from that time the truckers kept honking their horns all night in Wales, sore they didn’t get a park in the layby). So weird to be the first time we do it on our second adventure, but all seasoned campers seem to have a story like this – hopefully this is our only one! If there’s a next time, when we free camp from now on we’re going to perform the old security measures I used to do when I was alone and my imagination ran wild:
- Park facing out of the park for a quick getaway
- Leave the van in a drivable state before going to bed (things away etc)
- Take note of where we are precisely, written down if complex so we can be specific if we ring the Police
- Always have a few backup camping spots marked around the area, just in case we need to go.
We both eventually got a little sleep, and in the morning after breakfast we headed to Dunster Castle. As a plus to the evening’s surprise, the castle was now only 2 minutes down the road! I had already been to the castle (see this post) but Kate hadn’t, and we enjoyed exploring new bits. There’s a crypt and ghost stories and more – it’s a really well managed NT property, a real gem.
Though it was gorgeous weather when we left the car, the heavens opened up while we toured about the castle’s nooks and crannies. We hustled to the van, pootled through Dunster Village and drove the A396 to Knightshayes Court. The A396 is a lovely drive, winding alongside a waterway, adorable towns, forests, and meadows; it’s got everything.
It turns out, I’d already been to Knightshayes Court. I didn’t recognise that until we got on the driveway! Oh well. We had a great Sunday pork roast in the cafe and spent time in the garden before heading in to the house.
We watched the video of the origins of the place, which removed a lot of the shine from the experience. The video explained that the original Mr Heathcoat was a self-made engineering genius, developing a lace machine which ended up with him being the largest lace manufacturer in Europe. He didn’t build this place though – nor did his son – his grandson did. His grandson liked fox hunting and being a twat and MP, and he built the mansion to legitimate his ‘position in society’ – what a dick. After learning this, the opulence of the place was imbued with some class irritation from me, but never mind – it’s a gem for the people now! Kate encouraged a kid to play the piano in one of the rooms, that was neat. We had a wee walk before the rain unfortunately returned, and I just needed a beer. So here we are, back at home.
Test tour result: Successful (provided your definition of success can include almost nothing new, no sleep and being threatened with rape and burning to death).