We were not entirely sure that the full days parking that we had paid for with the hotel at Prestatyn included us being able to stop overnight, and taking the policy of it is usually more productive to seek forgiveness than approval, we decided that we would undertake what we have come to refer to as ‘stealth camping’. Sam the van, to all outward appearances is not a camper van, indeed the DVLA have refused to re-categorise her as such when we made the necessary application in the hope of accessing camper van specific insurance. This means that as we have not had any windows cut into the sides, she passes for a normal work type van when parked up, unless you look closely and clock the fridge vents and solar panels on the roof. Stealth camping entails giving no further clue that there are occupants within the van by not having the step to the door, disposing of our grey (waste) water via handy drains rather than having the waste water receptacle outside of the van and closing the blind between the cab and body of the van so we are completely private. We are set up to be completely off-grid also, so although we can hook up to an electric source if available, this is not essential as we have two leisure batteries, two solar panels and an inverter, also a 3-way fridge which runs very effectively on gas, and of course we cook on gas also, so can live very comfortably within, with no outward appearance of being a ‘camper’.
We passed a pleasant evening, watching a film snuggled up in bed and on this night no cats fought over occupied territory to disturb our slumber. We woke early to the pitter-patter of rain on the ceiling, this had been forecast so we had planned to use today as a driving day and once we had completed our morning routines and readied the van, we set off towards our intended destination of the Peak District. After an initial false start as the sat-nav decided that the quickest route for us to get to the north wales expressway was up a steep narrow hill; we demurred, knowing it was not going to work out well, and turned and found our own way to the main road.
We had decided to travel from North Wales to the Peak District rather than maintain our course which is loosely keeping to the coast as there are two major conurbations, Liverpool and Manchester just around the corner from North Wales, which we thought would be a little busy to negotiate and offer few pleasant cycling opportunities. We were in no hurry, indeed there is no hurrying in Sam, she is not built for speed, and having booked ourselves into a Brit-Stop for the evening we did not need to arrive too early so decided to make stops along the way. Our first detour was to a country park in Congleton where we had a pleasant meander around the lake and explored the woodland trails before having lunch in our private corner of the leafy car park whilst consulting the onward route for other points of interest. We spotted the impressively named Thor’s Cave, and knew we had to visit.
We made our way to the identified parking spot for Thor’s Cave along ever narrowing roads passing through a village which must have been rather fed up with people asking the way to the cave, such was the abundance of hand painted signs with arrows pointing the way to Thor’s Cave. When we arrived at the parking lot, it appeared to be permitted to park overnight as there were a couple of other vans who had spent the last couple of nights there. We considered the options of remaining there or moving on to the booked spot whilst we trekked up to the cave. The initial part of the route is along a flat section of cycleway before making the steep ascent that went on and on and on. The steps up had been hewn out of the rock and on closer inspection clearly contained hundreds of fossils.
Mr V being an past outdoorsman, is a bit of a mountain goat and as usual was far ahead of me, dubious that the cave would be at all impressive, and turning to me said ‘this had better not be one of those disappointing caves that is nothing more than a small hollow’. When we finally reached the cave, it absolutely did not disappoint!
We spent some time exploring once we had navigated the steep entranceway that had been worn smooth with the number of feet that had trodden the path before us. We had the place almost to ourselves, other than a couple of ‘beautiful people’ with their designer dog, who were clearly taking ‘Insta’ pics in the impressive backdrop. We tentatively made our way down the slippery slope (well, I was tentative, Mr V hoppity-skipped in his usual mountain goat fashion) and made the further climb to the top of the outcrop which gave spectacular views across the landscape from the dizzying height.
It seemed that we had timed our excursion right; as we were descending there were a considerable number of people puffing their way up. Back to the van we put the kettle on to decide the pros and cons of cancelling our place at the Brit-Stop and remaining parked up here for the night or sticking to our original plan. Though it was lovely, we were intending to cycle the Tissington Trail the next day and our planned parking spot was only a stone’s throw away from that. We decided therefore that on balance we should move on. The fact that the other two vans had built a fire and were already playing music cemented our decision.
Hairy as the roads into the parking lot had been, those coming out had us really sweating! The first indication was the tight hairpin bend with a steep double chevron incline that we seriously did not think we were going to make. We then had far too many miles on roads that only just allowed for one vehicle and did not even have the luxury of passing places. They clearly were not well used as the grass was growing in the middle, and we thanked our lucky stars and were seriously relieved that we did not meet anyone else coming the other way.
We arrived at our stopover, treating ourselves to drinks and chips before settling in for the night. We wanted to get an early start as it was intended to have a full day with the ride in the morning and then working our way further north in the afternoon.
The Tissington Trail runs along the route of a disused railway track so no steep hills. However, being in the Peak District, height has to be achieved, but this is done at a 1 in 59 gradient. This meant that the outward journey, though not onerous, was continuous work for our legs. The scenery was lovely and we were fairly sheltered until we reached the top, where we were rather chilled by the strong wind that buffeted us.
We stopped at Parsley Hay for coffee and had an interesting chat with a guy called Ian who was walking the Pennine Bridleway and had walked the Camino a few years ago – all 500 miles in a month. He told us about the spectacular Chee Dale that was a few miles up the track, which we set off intent on seeing. However, we discovered that our cycle trail and his walking trail diverged, and as we have learned to our peril, it is not wise to take Twolula too far off road or cycle tracks as she does not perform well off-road, so we did a small loop along the gravel track and doubled back to the Trail.
Where the outward journey had been a continuous peddle against the albeit low gradient, the journey back we mused, must be what it is like to have an electric motor on the bike. The sections where nature had not fully reclaimed the cuttings hewn into the hillside, reminded us of the human endeavour that had gone into building the railway, and that it was actually not that long ago that coal fed heavy machinery had shaped the surrounding countryside speeding along billowing steam and dust. Now though, nature has worked wonders and softened everything, offering dappled shade on a sunny day. Today though was not sunny and there was still a chill in the air by the time we got back to the van where we warmed ourselves up with a steaming coffee before hitting the road again.
Working our way back to the coast, we find ourselves in Morecombe and shall tomorrow explore it’s delights on two wheels.