Quarter of the way through the year and plans for Pods adventures are going according to plan. From Scotland to Wales, England and Ireland we seem to have the UK pretty well covered this year. Even to the extent of a few ‘off grid’ trips which are to some extent still in the planning stages but will eventually open Pod up to us being totally self sufficient and giving us a whole new travel experience.
All that said, it is baby steps, as over the next few months to a variety of degrees we hope to integrate some of our ‘self sufficiency’ into our trips away. We don’t just want to rock up in Scotland for example and not have thought daily living and other tasks out.
So, first step was to lighten the load and simplify any accoutrements that we take along on our trips, our next jaunt was to Lady Margaret’s Park, Chirk and was the perfect opportunity to experiment. Minimalism was about to take over so the awning would be the first thing to be removed and be replaced with a tarp, also the portapotty removed as it took up valuable easily accessible storage, on this occasion we’d use the sites facilities, even for those emergency midnight trips if necessary. The table and clothes airer would also be coming out, along with the upright bin which was to be replaced with a weather proof, air tight container that could be stored under Pod if necessary. We even rethought our use of large, bulky towels and replaced them with microfibre ones in the hope they would live up to their promise of drying us adequately but ultimately dry quickly for the following days use. These were essentially all the items we kept in the awning.
Replacing the awning with the tarp would be the main challenge, as the awning offered so much living space plus kept us warm and dry when the weather turned for the worst, but come what may, rain, wind, snow (still live in hope on that one) we would deal with and cope with the limitation of being in a small confined space to live, cook and sleep. Hopefully any issues would be minor and if anything else be easily resolved, but if not resolving it would be a challenge we would revel in, as always.
The tarp is one we bought for 30.00 off ebay and was initially bought as a porch extension for the awning and for use as emergency cover when out kayaking. With a little sewing magic and trial and error concerning addition straps and loops we, and we say the royal ‘we’ on this one, we sewed awning bead and spare webbing on at various points under and along the tarp. Once done, the tarp along with two poles from the awning and spare guy lines were packed away inside Pod. It’s on YouTube for those who wish to see it in action.. along with Mr.B. https://youtu.be/vEHEtLjYdb8
The day of departure arrived and Pod looked empty, but Poddington along with a homemade Pod decorative keepsake came too, have to have some home comforts don’t you? Mr.B checked Pods tyre pressure and we soon had the car hooked up and were on our way to Chirk.
Arrived a few minutes after 12 and once booked in we were given a sheet with the available pitches. Didn’t take us long as we took a left just after the office and found ourselves in a lovely circular wooded area. If we’d carried on down the road we would have come to a more open area.
Only two vans on this section so we pretty much had the pick of pitches, we chose one that allowed the sunset to go down behind the trees and hopefully we’d get to enjoy it later when we settled down in our big comfy chairs under the tarp
Once Pods legs were down and she was levelled off the kettle was on. We couldn’t believe the weather, the sun was out, no clouds, windless, all we could hear were the birds in the trees and see rabbits and squirrels running around not far from Pod, perfect. Only thing left to do once the TV and water supply were connected along with the bed being made up with the slats and food stowed away was to get the foot stools out and relax with a huge mug of tea and a few Jaffa Cakes. Who’d have thought 1 hour earlier we’d been trundling down the motorway along with all those going about the hustle and bustle of their daily business.
Mid afternoon and it was time for a bit of exploring. Pod was locked up and we walked out the main gate and up the road which took us into Chirk. Along the walk we both noticed a very heady smell of someone baking a very rich chocolate cake, this soon identified itself as the old Cadbury chocolate factory, still producing cocoa and hot chocolate but now rebranded under Kraft/Mondelez. We continued along to the village but slowed somewhat to take in as much of the delicious smell as we could, so much so we were nearly hyperventilating by the time we reached the main road.
And this point The Hand pub was across the road from the junction, we decided to walk on a little to see what else was on offer and we discovered the usual array of shops and a local butchers which sold a good selection of meats. Eventually we turned and walked back towards the pub. It didn’t look particularly inviting from the outside but we thought we’d go in and have a look, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Pleasantly surprised is the least we can say, lovely big red leather chesterfields were arranged around two lounge areas, along with comfy looking high back chairs and large soft cushions scattered around.
We settled ourselves into a large sofa and as our bottoms sank into the chair they kept on going.. they were so soft the chair almost enveloped us, probably in an attempt to keep us there, believe us though, they didn’t have to try too hard. Two pints of guest ales were ordered, Darwin’s Origin and Shropshire Gold, both for under a fiver.
Few pints later we looked out of the window and could see darkness descending, it was time to get back to Pod and get dinner under way. Our walk back was slightly slower and as we entered the site and turned towards Pod dusk had surrounded us. Pod looked tiny without the awning but still very impressive. Quick flick of the LED light switch under the tarp and Pod looked great, the light didn’t escape to pollute the night sky, its downward light only emanated along the floor giving it a very euphorial look, if that’s possible with an object. Maybe it was those beers..
Dinner was done and we ate under the tarp, there wasn’t a breath of wind and all around was so still. There was a slight nip in the air but an extra layer soon sorted that out, we stayed there for quite some time planning our next day and until that nip became a chill.
Showers beckoned and we got to use our microfibre towels for the first time, they were brilliant and worked much better than the shower cubicle chosen by one of us. Trouble with that is once you’ve set your stall out you don’t want to go shower hunting so you just make the best of a bad choice. They block is clean and generally well kept so all was good in the end.
Chairs and footstools were stored under Pod and the airtight bin was secured with a clipped strap, didn’t want to find its contents visited by any of the wild locals and it strewn across the site, that wouldn’t have gone down well. Our magical towels were secured with their clips and hung over the straps we had sewn under the awning, it alllooked pretty tidy, we’re not overly fussy, just like to keep things ship shape.
Hot water bottle had been done before showers and it was nice to climb into bed and find that warm spot. The thermal wrap was up so no matter what happened outside, we were snug under the duvet and in for a good nights sleep.
Woke to the sunlight peeping through the small gap in the blind, if we hadn’t done that there wouldn’t have been any light penetrating and a very long lie-in would have been had. Pod is just too cozy sometimes. Breakfast was eaten alfresco, slightly cloudy but again windless, perfect for us. Wish we’d just record all this visually as words sometimes are hard to find to express the bliss of the moment without it sounding corny.
Chirk Castle was on the cards for today and as it’s a National Trust property entry for us would hopefully be free. Picnic lunch was prepared and packed and we set off on foot towards the entrance to the grounds. The entrance, for those on foot is just outside the site and is the exit for those who visit the castle in cars.
For those that take this path, beware ! Because for those in cars we seemed to be invisible and if we hadn’t moved out of the way smartish one or both of us would have had a longer stay than planned and the view from inside any hospital isn’t what we’d planned on. But take this out of the equation the walk up to the castle was past the gate house and some incredibly detailed gates then along a narrow tree lined road, mostly peaceful as there wasn’t a soul to be seen. After about a mile we reached the castle and continued past it to the office to register our arrival.
Once done, tickets in hand we took the path up to the castle entrance and entered wondering what we would discover inside. Firstly, we entered a large courtyard entirely lined by the castle walls, the flag of Wales fluttered away in the far corner and a seating area near the café spilled out into the another corner.
Up the steps we went and into history we walked, the rooms were decked out in memorabilia through the ages and as you walked up the main staircase we got the feel of those who had walked before us and had lived in this wonderful castle.
From room to room we wondered and as always the ceiling drew our attention, the detail of which we will never see again.
The library was smaller than most establishments of this kind but the enthusiasm held by the guide from within was wonderful. The love of the books he had under his care poured from him and we were held there under his spell whilst he told the story of some of those held on the shelves around us. His wish, as well as ours was that he would get the display cases he had requested and some of those books would be opened and their contents shared to all.
From here we walked up the tower and then down the winding stone steps to the dungeon, brilliant experience. Then off to the café for a cream tea which went down very well.
The gardens were next on the list and whilst there we visited the laundry, a great piece of history and made us thankful for our electronic devices we have today. Our walk then took us to Hawks House, a beautiful thatched structure set at the back of the formal garden. We’d quite happily have lived in that, never mind the castle, this is where we sat to eat our picnic and much to our enjoyment we were joined by a robin and a field mouse. The robin we could deal with but the mouse had us holding our breath, not daring to move whilst it spent a short time hunting around for scraps the robin had left.
The evening was spent sat outside catching up with news and chatting to those who ventured past. That nip was still in the air but dinner was eaten outside in the fading light of the day. It was great as we were the only ones mad enough it seems, to sit outside, everyone else was closed up in their little boxes, missing the outdoors and all the wildlife that was mooching about the site. Grant you, we had so far been blessed with the weather and should it take a turn for the worse, the tarp would be no place of refuge, we would be in Pod and all the hatches battened down, but whilst dry and calm we couldn’t hide in Pod.
Our last full day arrived and the sun was again making an appearance, today we planned on discovering the canal and aqueduct which also ran along side the railway, no picnic lunch though, we were going to seek out a pub somewhere along the way and have a bite to eat, we’d done a little research and found The Boathouse, we just had to figure how to get to it.
We set off on foot again and within a few minutes we’d crossed the bridge and were on the footpath down to the canal. Within a few steps we were already walking towards Chirk Tunnel, 421m long and very dark. In we went, during our research we’d read that some take torches in but we decided to go for the scary option in stead and just clutch onto the handrail that runs all the way through.
Off in the distance we saw lights bobbing towards us thinking it was a small group walking through, no, as these lights got within 10m of us whilst being blinded we discovered it was one man with three torches, one on his head and one in each hand. Once he’d passed us and our eyes adjusted to the darkness we were very grateful for the rail, it looked like it had been there a long time and we did wonder how anyone would have managed had it not been there. We’re sure that pre health and safety they found a way.
The light at the end of the tunnel grew bigger.. sorry, but when else would we get the chance to say it.. and we came out in a wider section of the canal, as the tunnel is a one way system it was the ideal place for those to queue and wait their turn. Sharing this space was a barge fully kitted out as a sweet shop, a brilliant idea with the option to go where ever needed. Ice creams were bought and we continued on towards the aqueduct.
The water flowed along the aqueduct and again barges queued to use it, whilst above on a higher bridge trains whizzed by. An amazing piece of engineering as between entering the tunnel and exiting the railway had switched to the opposite side of the canal.. or had the canal switched to the other side of the railway?
We continued on up the canal, moving from Wales to England, passing picturesque cottages and barges floating by but we eventually decided to turn back and try and find this pub. Once again we were in the tunnel and soon out the other end, we walked on along the wide well worn footpath which was lined with tall bare trees and we eventually spied it across the other side of the canal.
Another tunnel loomed ahead and we were again immersed in darkness, not as long as the first though, Whitehouse Tunnel at 174m. Once through we climbed a footpath up to the bridge and crossed over. A short walk along one of the lanes brought us to the pub.
Once in you see the bar first and beyond that there’s a pool table and seating area, round the far side are the doors out onto the decking area which gives a great view down to the marina and the canal.
Lunch was ordered along with two guest ales, Tekau 10 and Station Bitter. During a conversation with the manger turns out the Tekau is brewed in Oswestry 6 miles away and the brewery is owned by a New Zealander, the 10 refers to its anniversary and the name is taken from the Maori Haka.
Food arrived and it was delicious, roasted peppers, feta cheese for one and a steak pie in a very buttery sweet pastry for the other. Good value and portions were great too. We could have stayed and enjoyed a few more drinks and the view but we needed to get back before dark, we decided not to take the canal back and as there were no street lights along the lanes we didn’t want any mishaps.
Back at Pod we relaxed under the tarp and a light drizzle decided to surround us, the position we had the tarp in was just right, big enough for two chairs and two footstools. We could have eaten under the tarp but we decided to test Pod out for when the tarp wouldn’t be possible and we didn’t have the awning with us. This meant cooking, eating and spending the rest of the evening behind Pods door. New experience for us as we have always had the awning.
Chairs were put away under Pod and the door was closed as we said goodbye to the outside world. Now, Mr.B is in charge of washing the dishes and LB is the cook, works for us so far so why mess with it. On offer this evening was quorn chilli and rice, as long as Mr.B stayed out of the way, ie: on the bed it would work out fine and it did, only issue was the bin. We would need a small receptacle for whilst encased in Pod during bad weather as it would be totally impractical to keep opening the door to use the bin if the weather was playing Mary-hell outside. Issue identified and easily enough to solve. Dinner was eaten once a suitable position was found so no issues there as a huge throw was on the bed to protect the duvet and could easily be removed and shaken out at a suitable point in the evening.
I know we could make the seats up and put the table in place but that’s not us, we like the camper van feel to Pod, our breaks away are little adventures and we like the feel of it being different, not for everyone, we know.
We’d survived being confined in Pod and before we knew it the time came for showers and bed, our last day had come to an end as the following day meant home.
Glorious sunshine greeted us as we opened Pods door and once breakfast was out of the way it didn’t take long to pack Pod up. The LED light was packed away in its own little case along with the TV in its new padded holder. No awning to take down and pack and no table to dismantle, the tarp was down and in its little bag within minutes. Ideal for those one or two nights stops we had planned.
We’d had an absolutely fabulous time at Lady Margaret’s and the weather couldn’t have been any better for our trial run ‘tarping’. Using the tarp had reminded us why we had Pod in the first place. Yes, the awning has its uses and purpose in bad weather but as it only has one poorly positioned window you can feel very cut off from the outside and isn’t that the point of caravanning, glamping or podding ? To be outside, in the elements, seeing and experiencing the outdoors, a step up from camping.
As we set off home we felt more at ease with the off grid trips we have planned, there’ll be no TV or facilities to use and we know there will be other issues along the way but its an adventure, the unknown and we like a challenge.