Lovely as this seemingly permanent wet, dreary and stormy weather is, I can't help casting my mind back to sunnier times. Specifically last summer's family holiday, when the sun shone all the time, and I relaxed on the beach or on the verandah with a cocktail in my hand...ahhhhh!
Except it was the UK and the sun didn't shine and I didn't go to the beach, or drink any cocktails but it was a brilliant holiday, never-the-less, especially when viewed from the following February. We specialise in low budget holidays and last summer was no exception.
The first step of the Shoestring summer 2013 family holiday was to upgrade our accommodation; we bought a bigger two bedroomed tent on eBay for £45. Great price and a great tent, but it really had seen better days. (When daylight is visible through the fabric you know you're in trouble).
We should have addressed this minor detail with the seller but didn't get round to it in time, and anyway the problem was easily overcome by stretching a gigantic tarpaulin over the entire tent. This kept us dry and we survived (although the rain hammering down onto it at night was hardly the kind of soothing pitter patter that is conducive to sleep).
Cycling was the main aim of the holiday, in particular a section of the Taff Trail in Wales. After scrutinising the maps closely we decided not to cycle the trail in a linear route but to base ourselves at a Youth Hostel, Dan-y-Wenalt, near the Tal-y-Bont reservoir, where there is a small orchard for campers. I recommend camping at a Youth Hostel; if bijou campsites with few tent neighbours are your thing then you'd love it.
There is no self-catering kitchen at this hostel, but we had our own camping stove and supplies, and treated ourselves to a reasonably priced meal at the Hostel café one evening.
Another advantage of camping at a Youth Hostel is that in addition to being cheaper than staying inside the hostel itself, you are able to use all the hostel facilities. When it rained in the evenings and we were simply too overcome with the beauty of Wales in the rain, viewed from a leaky tent, we were able to loll around in the lounge playing board games, reading and chatting with other hostellers.
Dan-y-Wenalt lies right beside the Taff trail, so we cycled north to Brecon one day, and south towards Merthyr Tydfil another, returning to our tent each evening. The walking is also superb in this area and we hiked as well as biked.
For the second half of our week's holiday, we headed to another Youth Hostel, Llanddeusant. Staffed entirely by volunteers, this really is in the middle of nowhere. No hostel café here - it's DIY food and fun all the way.
The day we arrived coincided with the day that sheep are brought down from the hills; it was gratifying to see my kids (who sometimes have to be prised apart from their digital gadgets) awed by the spectacle of hundreds of sheep trooping past the Youth Hostel.
Here we were able to camp right outside the Youth Hostel, and were the sole happy campers, apart from one evening when a group of Duke of Edinburgh's Awarders pitched up next to us.
Although we hadn't planned to do any cycling in this area, the lure of the deserted lanes was just too appealing and a few miles down the open road we found another off-road cycle trail around the Usk Reservoir.
This area is definitely off the beaten track, tourist-wise, but there is a daily influx of people arriving to see the Red Kites being fed at 3pm in Llanddeusant village, and it would have been churlish not to join them. After an hour long wait whilst the Red Kites circled tantalisingly above the feeding station, they finally swooped down and made off with the meat. These reintroduced-to-Wales birds are abundant in this area and we saw and heard several soaring and whistling above us whilst we were out and about, but to see them really close up was something we won't forget.
We've never been the types to start planning our summer holiday in the depths of winter so I've no idea where this summer will take us. As long as it doesn't involve too much rain, I'll be happy.
How about you? Are you planning your holiday already, or are you more lastminute.com, or is it a staycation for you this year? Any other tips for low budget holidays?