Thursday, 21 August 2014

Happy Campers!

"Was there a club house?" my soon-to-be sister-in-law asked of our recent stay at a campsite in Pembrokeshire.

Our summer holiday this year needed to be dirt cheap. And the first rule of dirt cheap camping is to avoid sites with lots of facilities. Which we did. So no - no club houses.

We're huge fans of the Cool Camping books and website. They've never let us down when it comes to locating amazing campsites in stunning locations, and this year was no exception. Their recommendations often include small sites and the more quirky. (All our own judgement here - I'm not being paid or sponsored to mention them).

After rejecting a couple of Cool campsites further west into Pembrokeshire on the grounds of cost, we decided upon Skrinkle Bay Campsite. 

Photo swiped from Cool Camping's picture of the campsite
- that's not our tent.

Near the village of Manorbier, a few miles west of Tenby, it's a cliff top site, with spectacular views of the coastline and the ocean. And all this comes at a price of £8 per night for a small tent, or £10 for a large tent, regardless of the number of occupants. Although camp fires are allowed, the other facilities are few and far between: three loos, a 'cool' shower (appropriately enough for a Cool Camping campsite!) and a water tap. Definitely no club house. And absolutely no wi-fi. At the tail end of Hurricane Bertha, not many campers either. Fantastic! All the more room for the kids to fly the kite and play football.

Church Doors beach with the little Shoestrings
frolicking in the waves if you look very closely

And for much of the time we had the nearest beach, Church Doors (which is a few minutes walk down the cliff) all to ourselves.

The 'Church Doors' rock formation - wow!
At high tide you can swim through the doors

It was our first visit to this area of Wales and we loved it. There are beautiful beaches (as well as Church Doors and Skrinkle Haven, we visited Tenby, and on the way home, Pendine Sands) and coastal walks along the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. This kept us fully entertained for most of our visit.

For a slight variation on the theme of beaches we visited Caldey Island. I would like to think that the kids will remember all the things we learned about the Cistercian (Trappist) monastery (which owns the island) and the fascinating history, however I suspect that the highlight was the return boat trip at low tide, which featured a ride on an amphibious vehicle for part of the journey.

The Italinate Cistercian monastery on
Caldey built in the early 20th century
The joy of camping, especially shoestring camping, is that it's always a reminder of how little we really need to be happy. Agreed, the beautiful landscape and the relaxed, holiday mindset all help, but in the short term no-one missed hot water, fancy food or the internet. Seeing how the Cistercian monks on Caldey live a simple life of vegetarian food, study, prayer and work in the community, only served to emphasise the value of a simple life. It's continually a challenge, but we came back inspired to keep everyday life at home simple whenever we can.

Other top tips for a successful dirt cheap camping holiday
  • Keep travel costs down - don't venture too far from home. (We're lucky - for us the Severn bridge is not far; as soon as we're over it we're in a different country and it feels as if we are miles away from home!)
  • Acquire camping stuff second-hand. A lot of our gear is second-hand, including our tent (see a picture of our leaky tent here in last year's camping blog post!). And now is a good time to look for stuff in the sales, ready for next year.
  • Borrow stuff. Most people's camping kit sits around doing nothing for most of the time. This year we borrowed a top box for the car from our neighbours. And when we were at the campsite someone left their camping chairs by the bin when they left the site so we borrowed those too!
  • Our trip was from early Monday to late Friday, so although it felt like nearly a whole week it was actually only four nights. A tenner each for nearly a week's accommodation! Not bad!
  • Keep the catering simple - we had a hearty camping breakfast, a light lunch of sandwiches or rolls and usually pasta in the evening. 
  • Apart from the Caldey Island trip, by picking a location with lots of natural interest, we didn't need to pay for any other days out.
  • Ignore the weather forecast - we nearly bottled out of the whole trip when we looked at the weather forecast for our week, but it turned out to be one of the driest (although also the blusteriest) holidays we have had.
  • Good old fashioned games are lots of fun. Battle ships was the game of this holiday.
  • You're never too old for a bucket and spade. Nearly-14-year-old Daughter begged us for a bucket and spade in Tenby, which provided, perhaps not hours, but many minutes of fun!
  • Don't be completely miserly - make sure to budget for the odd ice cream, milkshake or cup of coffee!
Any other tips for frugal camping? Have you been camping this summer - any great locations to share?

Friday, 8 August 2014

We're all going on a summer holiday...

We're gearing up for our annual camping trip.

We're really last minute here this year and there have been all sorts of debates about where to go. Do we combine camping with visiting family in Devon, Norfolk or the North East? Do we go somewhere completely new to us? Do we go somewhere we've been before that we know we'll like? 

With these discussions going on at home, I've been observing the habits of our friends and neighbours. I haven't got any data to back up my hypothesis but from my observations I'd say that for summer 2014 most people round here are either visiting family or going somewhere they've been before. And we're just as unadventurous!

There are various family visits east and west over the summer but for the camping trip it's Wales. Again! Albeit a different, new-to-us, part of Wales. Pembrokeshire.

And of course I'm using my own camping checklist again to help make the prepararions easier!

How about you? Do you go back to the same place again and again? Visit family? Staycation?

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Summer Holiday Frugal Fun!

Random summer holiday frugal fun so far, in no particular order:

  • Picnics. We've been back to our favourite local river picnicking spot with a bunch of friends, and everyone from the 2 year old to the over 50s, as well as the teenagers in between, enjoyed themselves.
  • Parks. Whilst we were in London we visited two fantastic free parks: Bunny Park in Hanwell, Ealing (which has a small free zoo (except they call it an animal centre) and an amazing maze as well as play equipment and extensive green space), and Dukes Meadow in Chiswick which has a wooden adventure play ground suitable for both younger and older kids. It also has a water play area (which sadly wasn't working when we were there).
  • Decluttering. I've attacked a very neglected pile of paperwork. Not owning a shredder, I tried out a means of disposing of personal paperwork suggested by a friend. It involved soaking bank statements etc in a washing up bowl, mushing them up, drying them in the sun, and then recycling the whole lot. My methodology was queried by some but it was surprisingly quick and easy, and much more pleasant on a hot day as well as lower in carbon emissions, than burning it. Fortunately Husband is so used to my strange ways that he didn't bat an eyelid at discovering a ton of squodged pay slips sunbathing in the garden.

  • Reading. We all love a good read in the holidays. Inspired by our visit to the big smoke, one child is reading A bear called Paddington by Michael Bond and the other has his nose in Bob, No ordinary cat by James Bowen (the children's version of A Street Cat named Bob). I've finished Talking to Zeus and am about to move on to Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman. Husband doesn't do fiction but is happy with his newly arrived CTC Cycling magazine.
  • Guests. Friends from up country coming to stay with us for the night en route to their holiday destination. There's nothing like a houseful of boys fuelled with pizza and icecream performing magic tricks and gymnastics, sharing their loom band expertise, playing the guitar, fiddling and twiddling on their technological gadgets, and doing all this seemingly simultaneously.
  • Haircuts. Son and I have let Husband loose on us with his clippers; a number 8 seems to do both of us just fine! (Who needs a Cleopatra fringe anyway?!) Thanks to fellow bloggers Lovely Grey and Simple Suffolk Smallholder for convincing me that clippers are the frugal way forward when it comes to short hair cuts for ladies as well as gents...
A rare appearance on the blog 
by me complete with clippered hair.

If there's one thing I want to give my kids, it's the learning that real happiness comes from their relationships with others - time spent with the people that are precious to them and the people around them, not from desiring and owning lots of stuff and looking beautiful and having expensive haircuts and living a virtual life through Facebook, Instagram, or the like (blogs included!). I may never be able to persuade Daughter to let Husband clipper her long flaxen locks but in all other respects I think I'm just about winning in my mission this holiday...