Tales from a Welsh holiday, land of sunshine and rain

Welsh holiday

South Stack

I woke up with a start this morning, thinking the alarm was going off. When I opened my eyes I was surprised to find I was still in the caravan on my Welsh holiday and I didnt have to get up for work. Excellent!

Back to Aberdovey

Welsh holiday

The guillemots through the telescope

We shall make the most of the last day of our Welsh holiday and have a walk along the coast at Aberdovey. We have been there 4 or 5 times but never actually walked the coastal path. Generally, we head to Aberdovey when the sun is out and tend to hang around on the beach but today a mix of sunshine and showers is forecast.

Then we will drive into Machynlleth and buy something nice for dinner and food for the journey back to Essex tomorrow. I love it here and I am always sad to leave. How lucky we have been with the weather! Only one day of rain and one rather dull day. The rest of the time has been full on sunshine, although it rained a river in the night!

South Stack, Anglesey

It was a beautiful morning when we headed out to the RSBP South Stack reserve at Holyhead yesterday.  Our Airbnb hosts left our breakfast on the table with a note to help ourselves. What a strange experience that was! I am sure if I was renting a room for the night I would get up and give my guests breakfast!

We didn’t linger. The fridge was completely filthy, we couldn’t find any juice and the only milk was the bottle we had bought the night before. We couldn’t get the toilet to flush either…We made some tea and toast and were on our way by 9.30. At least the shower was hot and the bathroom was clean.

South Stack was absolutely stunning. The cacophony of noise from the birds nesting on the cliffs was so loud. It was a bird city! We spotted some very rare choughs and thousands of guillemots. We probably also saw puffins but couldn’t be sure as we had no binoculars with us. If we ever return we will take them for sure.

Didn’t we have a lovely time…

…the day we went to Bangor! Mr Shoestring was curious about the long pier from the mainland that we could see when we were at Beaumaris the previous day. It seemed to be at Bangor so next we hopped over there – well, we drove again back across the Menai Bridge.

Welsh holiday

Bangor pier

Bangor is apparently the UK’s smallest city and it certainly didn’t feel like one. It had some nice little shops and a very large cathedral. We had a quick look around, and some very good fish and chips before talking a windy walk along the pier to the tea rooms. There were fantastic views across the estuary back to Anglesey.

I even managed to pick up some more charity shop bargains. I have two carrier bags full but think Mr S may have run out of patience so no more charity shop browsing today 😀.

Our Welsh holiday has been another good one. I wish we could stay another week! My next blog post will doubtless tell a tale of too much laundry and giant courgettes!

Cheap accommodation on Anglesey and the perils of Air B&B 

cheap accommodation on AngleseyWe have left our lovely caravan to spend the night in some cheap accommodation on Anglesey. It was a long drive up and we wanted to get the best of our time here so it seemed a good idea.

Beautiful Plas Cadnant

Anglesey certainly has some gems. We had a wonderful visit to Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens
followed by a trip to Beaumaris. Today we were blessed with beautiful sunny weather. What a gorgeous day! We even saw a red squirrel!

cheap accommodation on Anglesey


The gardens were gorgeous. They are in a gentle valley which creates a warmer micro climate than is usual for Wales, and the planting is stunning. The walled part of the garden is quite formal with triangular trees and deep flower beds on each side. The second half of the garden is more naturalistic, consisting of wild woods with dappled shady areas and  lots of little water falls. There were many places to sit and hear the relaxing sounds of trickling water – totally magical.

Cheap and cheerful

We found cheap accommodation on Anglesey and are staying overnight at a house on the island courtesy of Air B&B. This is the first time we have tried it and it is certainly  a very frugal sort of accommodation. Only £43 for the two of us.

However, it is a bit like a student house! The landlady is very sweet but the house smells of her two dogs and the mattress sags so badly in the middle so we have had to put some pillows down the centre so we don’t end up squashed together.

She has very kindly left us teabags and a kettle and told us to help ourselves to milk from the fridge. However, the fridge stinks and the milk was lumpy so we had to buy a bottle when we went out to dinner. Still, it is very cheap and only for one night 😀. Thank heavens!

Cheap accommodation on Anglesey We had a delicious meal out as a treat. Both of us had fish. Mr S had sea bass on a seafood biriani and I had a beautifully cooked piece of plaice. Followed by the hugest puddings ever! We went to Sullivan’s restaurant and we would recommend it.  The staff were lovely and the food was simple but delicious. Massive portions too if you are feeling hungry!

Cheap accommodation on Anglesey We had a walk along the beach at Rhosneigr after dinner. The sunset was amazing. What a great day. Worth sleeping on a lumpy mattress.

Anyone else familiar with this fabulous part of Wales? Have you tried Air B&B or found cheap accommodation on Anglesey – or anywhere else for that matter?

Think you can’t afford to go on holiday? Ideas for frugal holidays

Mr Shoestring and I work hard all year. We scrimp and save and live a frugal lifestyle to make sure bills are paid and no debts accrued. One thing we insist on, however, is at least one vacation a year.  We know we can go on our frugal holidays!

Building it into our budget

Building a holiday fund into our budget is important to us. We don’t run a fancy car, have lots of nights in the pub or wear designer clothing. Because of this, for the last few years we have managed two holidays every year. It depends what your priorities are and this is what we like to do.

A Welsh idyll

However, we still can’t afford a luxury 5 star hotel in the Maldives. We have our holidays but they have to be within our means. For several years we have spent a week in Wales at an organic smallholding, staying very cheaply in an old but comfy caravan. We mostly self cater (always treating ourselves to some superb Welsh lamb and other local produce) and have a great week walking, wild swimming and perusing the interesting towns and villages nearby. This costs us around £350 for the week, including accommodation, food and transport.  You can see our gorgeous Welsh home from home here.

We generally also have a holiday abroad and have found all inclusive works well.  However this is more expensive. So if the all inclusive package holiday doesn’t suit your budget, what other frugal holidays are there?

My cheapest holiday

Years ago,  I hitch hiked through France and into Spain with my then boyfriend. We stayed in the most basic campsites en route and occasionally pitched the tent in a random field. We once slept behind a pile of rocks on a motorway as we were dropped too late to find another lift. I wouldn’t recommend that! This holiday cost barely anything, but would I let my daughters do it? NO WAY! I mention it just to prove you can have some kind of break away on the tightest of budgets. Instead of hitching, I would get them to explore Interrailing. This seems still to be a great way of travelling in Europe. There is an interesting article about the pros and cons of Interrail here.

House swapping

I have done house swaps several times in France and in Spain. The big advantage is that your (usually comfortable and well-equipped) accommodation is free. In addition, someone is looking after your house as well. However, you do still need to get there. We drove to France and Spain. The latter was a long journey with relatively young children and we did need to stop over at a cheap hotel on the way, which obviously added to the cost. However, there is no reason you can’t house swap in your own country, especially if you live somewhere generally popular with tourists. I used a now defunct house swap organisation aimed at teachers, but there are many, many on the internet these days. This is a good option for families.

A disadvantage of house swapping is the amount of work that goes into getting your house ready. You need everything to be very clean and tidy, and your house needs to be in good decorative order.

Sun £9.50 holidays

Each January the Sun newspaper runs its £9.50 holiday promotion. You collect 10 tokens from the papers and can book a 3 or 4 night holiday for 4 people for (in theory anyway) £9.50. In fact. as this article from Money Saving Expert explains, they generally cost more than this, but are still very good value and worth investigating.

WOOFing

In case you think I have gone barking mad (geddit?), this means Working On Organic Farms. If you are in good physical and mental health, you can volunteer to work on farms throughout the world in exchange for your bed and board. You do need to pay a subscription to the host country’s WOOF organisation and your own travel costs. However, this can be a great cultural experience and you are likely to make many friends from around the world. Tom and Liza, who own our lovely Welsh smallholding, take in WOOFers every once in a while.

Camping

Camping as a family is probably the cheapest holiday option of all. However, it can be expensive to buy all of the gear to start with. You will need a large tent, inflatable mattresses, sleeping bags, lights, a gas cooker, and utensils like kettle, pots, pans, plates, cups, etc. as a minimum. I would also go for a fold up table, a wind break and some comfy chairs. A friend insisted on camp beds, a fridge and a loo as well! If you are going to go away regularly you will soon recoup the costs as generally campsites are so much cheaper than other forms of accommodation.

If you are camping in the UK you all need a decent set of waterproofs! You are at the mercy of the weather. We had some fabulous camping holidays when the kids were young. However, If I am being honest, we also baled out of two. One because of continuous, heavy rain and the other because the winds were so bad our tent almost got blown away!

We bought our tent in the sale at the end of the summer and managed to pick up some other bits second hand. We even managed to pick up some gear on Freecycle. Overall, camping is a great frugal holiday choice for families.

Hostels

Years ago, I belonged to the Youth Hostels Association. YHAs were always an excellent frugal option for accommodation. It was basic and you had to do some jobs to stay in them, such as clean the loos or sweep the stairs. They appear to have moved on apace and now the YHA prices are for private rooms similar to hotels, with much of their accommodation upgraded. However, they still have some more traditional dormitory hostel accommodation. Their Brighton hostel is advertising rooms from £11.85 a night.

I had a look at hostels more generally as an option for frugal holidays. Some of the foreign language students have used them to stay in places such as London and Cambridge. They are super basic but cheap. You share a room with a lot of strangers, not all the same sex. Sometimes they aren’t as clean as you might ideally like! However, if I was young and travelling on a budget I would definitely do my research and give some of them a try. You can stay in a dorm at a backpackers hostel in Birmingham, with free breakfast, from £13 a night.  More information  on frugal holidays in the UK and abroad can be found at Hostel World.

Become a house sitter

This is one I would love to try! Offer to look after someone’s house and pets for free and you can stay in their house for nothing. Trusted House Sitters can put you in touch with those who would like their pets and accommodation looked after. There are opportunities worldwide. According to the promo video, it is possible to families, couples or solo travellers to do this. You do have to pay your own travel costs, however, and obviously love animals.

So – my ideas for frugal holidays in a nutshell. What are yours? Have you ever house swapped or what is your experience of camping?

No battle at Hastings

HastingsThanks so much for all your recommendations yesterday on places to visit in and around Rye. I wish we had longer so that we could have done more. It has been lovely and we were blessed with two beautiful sunny days.

We had a huge breakfast in the hotel this morning – muesli, fruit and a full English. We knew we wouldn’t need any lunch! We made do with punnet of strawberries then a sandwich in the way home at tea time.

HastingsWe drove to Camber Sands first. I was expecting it to be really pretty and scenic but, aside from the glorious sandy beach, it was disappointing. It seemed to consist of lots of tatty chalets and static caravans.

Hastings

Hastings Pier yarn bombing

Beautiful Hastings Pier

We moved onto Hastings, which was lovely. The new pier was wonderful and, even better, it had been yarn bombed! I always love a good yarn bombing 😀. We then walked into the old town and up to the castle, where we sat and munched our strawberries, looking out to sea. Glorious!

Hastings

We yarn bombed each other!

What a lovely town and a superb break. I am confused now as it feels like it should be Sunday evening instead of Thursday. Still, I only have one day to work and it’s the weekend!

We’ve got a ticket to Rye!

RyeIs there anywhere cuter in Sussex than beautiful Rye?

The point of living a frugal lifestyle to me, being  very careful with our money most of the time,  is to be able to afford the odd treat. We would love to travel more than time or money allows, but we do get out and about as often as we can.

RyeToday is my birthday and Mr S treated me to a night in a beautiful hotel near Rye to celebrate. It’s not an area we know at all but it was recommended by my brother and his wife and we found an excellent deal online. Rye certainly seems very quaint and picturesque – full of cobble stones (hard to walk on!), pretty little shops and antiques warehouses. 

Rye
RyeWe had the most delicious meal at Webbe’s Fish Café in Rye. It wasn’t cheap but it wasn’t crazily expensive either and the food was excellent. I rarely eat out – I resent paying big bucks for mediocre food, and prefer to eat at home, but today our meal was perfect.

Rye
RyeThe hotel has a spa, so we came back about six to have a swim, jacuzzi, steam room and sauna – well, we thought we would get our money’s worth! You often get excellent value with a mid week break and our luxury hotel cost about the same as a cheap B&B.

RyeWe recommend a visit to Rye if you are in the area. You can find more information here. Tomorrow we are going to look at Camber Sands and Hastings – a whistle stop tour! Let’s hope the sun shines 😀.

St Albans: A frugal day out

St AlbansWe had an impromptu day out yesterday to St Albans in Hertfordshire. Darling daughter 3 needed a lift to South Mimms services on the M25 to meet her friend so that they could drive together to Sheffield. They have gone to see an old school mate at university.

http://enjoystalbans.com/Since we drove an hour to get there we thought we might as well make a day of it and head another 20 minutes into St Albans. It is a very interesting place, a Roman town like Colchester, where we live.

St AlbansIt has a fabulous cathedral and a fantastic street market – absolutely huge! Honestly, it went on forever and sold practically everything. I wish we had a good market. Ours is better than it used to be, but is still pretty mediocre.

St AlbansAs I am still on a no spend month I didn’t buy anything and just browsed. I also avoided the charity shops – far too much temptation. St AlbansWe did pack some coffee and a picnic, but after walking round for a few hours we were starving and gave into some Pakistani street food – chicken tikka in a wrap. It was really filling and delicious so it did for dinner.

We had a quick walk around Verulamium Park, but the weather wasn’t great so we didn’t see it at its best. I imagine it is rather lovely in the summer.

St AlbansThe cathedral itself was stunning with some wonderful stained glass windows and ornate wooden and stone carvings everywhere. Well worth a visit if you are ever in the area.

So, a pretty cheap day out in St Albans. All it cost was the petrol, £4 to park, a donation to the cathedral and £6 each for dinner. I’m glad we went. I love moseying around new places. Anyone else got any interesting trips planned?

Ilfracombe: Glorious sunshine in Devon 


Ilfracombe

IlfracombeWhat a difference a day makes

The weather has been getting better and better here in Devon and today it is glorious – sunshine and blue skies. We could be in the Mediterranean. We have come back to Ilfracombe as it was rather grey and wet when we came on Monday. What a difference!

IlfracombeI am writing this on the sand at Tunnels Beaches, a private Victorian beach in Ilfracombe accessed by a series of hand carved tunnels. There are two tidal swimming pools, but the sea is too cold for me to do more than paddle. It is very quaint and interesting, especially the etiquette guides on the way in which made us giggle.

We have been packing up picnics and flasks and mainly eating at home. Tonight, however, we will push the boat out and have a restaurant meal. We walked past a little place called Starters, a kind of English version of a tapas bar. The food smelled so delicious we immediately booked a table. Let’s hope it tastes as good. There are few things that annoy me more than a poor restaurant meal when I have stretched my budget to eat out as a treat.

Ilfracombe

IlfracombeIlfracombe charity shops

We had another quick look around the town centre – it is a lovely little place full of independent shops. We even found a couple more charity shops. I have found two pairs of almost new flat pumps for work for £2 each, an M&S cardigan in immaculate condition (£5 but I reckon it would have cost £25 new) and a lovely black dress, again M&S, for £3.50. The girls have also found a few bargains 😀. I think we are a funny bunch as we head straight for the charity shops wherever we go!

I love Ilfracombe and hope to come back here. This is a beautiful Devon town and I recommend it. You can find more information about the area here.

I hope the weather is fine where you are. I shall pop on again tomorrow.

Devon: Beach walks and charity shops

We are in North Devon! I wish I could say we are bathed in sunshine but that’s not quite the picture. It drizzled most of the day yesterday. We made the best if it and donned our raincoats to visit the historic pannier market in Barnstaple. It was rather disappointing. I suppose they don’t have the most interesting stalls there in a Monday morning and there was little of interest to any of us. We cheered ourselves up with a delicious cream tea with local clotted cream and then drove up to Ilfracombe.

The statue Verity in Ilfracombe

We particularly wanted to see Damian Hurst’s statue, Verity. Even in the gloom it looked magnificent on the harbour but is rather disturbing – a huge naked and pregnant woman, holding her sword proudly above her head but with the scales of justice behind her. Most disconcertingly, the skin and muscles on one side are stripped back to reveal her skull and the baby curled up in her womb.

Opinion is apparently divided in Devon but we liked her. We liked Ilfracombe altogether actually and will go back on a nicer day. We had a walk through the town centre in the rain dodging from charity shop to charity shop and picked up a few bargains on the way. This is typical of us – the girls love a bargain just as we do!Devon - Ilfracombe

It has been quite bright today and this evening the sun has been shining here in Devon. We spent the day at Croyde Bay just up the road from our little wooden chalet. It was lovely. We had a good hike up to Baggy Point and a picnic on the beach, then drove to Braunton and hit the charity shops again. More bargains!

DevonThe chalet itself is perfect, on a very quiet and well maintained site. It is cosy but large enough for the four of us for the week and much better than a tent on those rainy days! I love not having to get up early for work, taking each day as it comes and spending a bit of time with the family. Tomorrow the plan is to visit RHS Rosemoor. We are members so will only have to pay for the girls to get in. We are hoping for a little more sun but will plan for all eventualities, as ever!

The Countess of Warwick’s Country Show, Essex

A great day out at the Countess of Warwick’s Country ShowCountess of Warwick's Country Show

We had a fantastic day out at the Countess of Warwick’s Country Show at Little Easton in west Essex. What an absolute gem of a place and a really excellent traditional show set in the beautiful Essex countryside. There was a great live band, vintage cars and tractors, livestock, dog shows, more food than you could eat in a life time and a horticultural show – I am a sucker for these! I love the displays of veg, cakes and jams proudly displaying their winning rosettes!

Countess of Warwick's Country Show
Countess of Warwick's Country Show


Countess of Warwick's Country ShowIt was just what we needed – a respite from the past week’s DIY efforts to get us into the next working week. The band at Countess of Warwick’s Country Show played for hours, giving us an excuse to sit in the sunshine and drink Prosecco!

Countess of Warwick's Country ShowThe Countess of Warwick’s Country Show is an annual event held over the August bank holiday. If you get the opportunity to go, do! It is a fabulous day out for the whole family. We will be there next year!

Beautiful north Wales

North WalesForgive the lack of blog time recently. I had a busy work week and then a mad rush to get us ready to come away on holiday to stunning North Wales.

North WalesWe are back in Wales. I love this beautiful country. I am sitting looking at Caernarfon Castle as I type this on my phone and we are about to head off to Anglesey Island. It is a rather grey day today but the rain has held off so far. Yesterday we had a glorious sunny day and drive up the stunning coastline to another castle at Harlech.

North WalesLow impact life in North Wales

Our base is once again at a  permaculture small holding near Machynlleth, the fourth time we have stayed – it is starting to feel like a second home. Our accommodation for the week is in a caravan next to a stream with ducks and some ponies for company. It is amazing value at £180 for a week and our hosts Tom and Liza couldn’t be friendlier. They also have a tiny campsite with a covered kitchen and compost toilet which is even cheaper. Check it out here.

There is a freezing pond too and Mr S loves to take the plunge. Not me – I am a wimp and prefer yoga on the veranda.

North WalesPeace and relaxation

It is just the peace and relaxation we need at the moment as life is so busy at home. I will breathe in the green and the quiet and take it back with me. Wish I could bottle it. Will blog again when I find some Wi-Fi but in truth it is lovely to have a break from technology too.

Pin Mill: A bracing Mother’s Day walk in Suffolk

Pin MillWe had a lovely walk out yesterday by the coast. It was very cold in the wind but we wrapped up warm. The girls were making us dinner, so we left them to it and drove up to Pin Mill near Ipswich. It’s a lovely little place with a great pub – the Butt and Oyster – an array of bohemian looking houseboats and some lovely walk through National Trust land with some spectacular views of the River Orwell.

Pin MillWe took a flask and a picnic (frugal as usual) and had a good walk in the winter sunshine. The water was an amazing colour – a kind of glacial blue-green. We treated ourselves to a couple of drinks in the pub after. Well, it would have been rude not to!

Pin MillYou can’t help but dream when you see a cosy looking house boat with piles of logs stacked neatly outside, but I bet they are actually quite cold and damp potentially, and very exposed to the elements. They also command ridiculous prices that I guess only rich Londoners looking for a second home can afford – we found one that had sold for £345,000 last year!

On the other hand, this amazing hippy bus was advertised on Facebook recently for £6500 – hugely under-priced in my view and the seller went viral and was overwhelmed with the response she had. I hope she got a bit more for it. It is a work of art!hippy bus

One day I will get my camper van and the time to go wandering in it. I doubt it will be so pretty, but as long as it gets me from A to B and is comfortable I will be happy.

We came back to a gorgeous dinner cooked by the girls: roasted vegetables on a butterbean mash, paella and a huge fruit salad with chocolate mousse. Bang goes the diet! Everybody needs a day off and it was Mother’s Day.

Back to eating sensibly this week.

Anybody else dreaming of escape on a hippy bus or an idyll on a houseboat on the river?

Tower of London: A River of Red in an Ocean of People!

Tower of LondonWe had a trip at the weekend to the Tower of London. It was a great experience!

I will never ever be a person who enjoys city life. I don’t mind a visit to a beautiful and interesting city: Barcelona and Amsterdam are two of my favourite places. But generally, I don’t like the noise or the traffic, I don’t enjoy crowds, I am not a fan of the hustle and bustle and I can’t wait to get home. If I had to live or work in a large city I think I would struggle. I find Colchester stressful enough in the rush hour, and it’s hardly a metropolis!

Tower of LondonHaving said that, I did want to visit my daughter and see her new student house share in the East End, and I really wanted to see the poppies at the Tower of London.

LondonWith four of us going, driving was by far our cheapest option. The roads weren’t too clogged up being a Sunday, but it was busy enough. We managed to park near her house, had a very reasonable roast at the local Wetherspoons (£6.95 each including a drink), then set off on the underground to Tower Hill. It was packed! Every one had the same idea it seems. The poppies really are stunning; they are very beautiful and rather moving, so if you are able to get there before Armistice Day on 11th November, you really should.

imageI don’t know who had the idea to make a porcelain poppy for every man who fell in the First World War, and then plant them in a stunning display around the Tower of London, but it was a great one.

So I was glad to get home, but even happier to have been :-).

Woodbridge: A Message from the Suffolk Tourist Board

I am an Essex girl, but live very close to the Suffolk border and absolutely love to venture into some of the beautiful market towns: Woodbridge, Bury St Edmunds, Saxmundham, Lavenham, Clare, Long Melford – I could go on! They are all lovely interesting little towns and well worth a drive out if you aren’t too far away.

A trip to Woodbridge

Yesterday, we decided to take a trip to Woodbridge. What a beautiful place. It is sited on the River Deben, close the Anglo Saxon burial site at Sutton Hoo. You can walk past all the little boats along the quay to see the tide mill, which is the last working tide mill in the UK. There are lots of nice shops and cafes, including some great (but pricey) charity shops. We went in them all!

Woodbridge

Woodbridge

Woodbridge

WoodbridgeSt Mary’s church is worth walking to – it is a lovely building and there is often something going on inside it. The cottages that overlook it must have one of the best views in town. We had a peep in the estate agents window, but you don’t get much for your money if you want a character cottage in Woodbridge. That will have to wait for my lottery win I think.

Mr S was also rather impressed with Woodbridge town hall, which is a super old building in the centre of town. We took some good pics. Enjoy – and if you are ever in Suffolk, take a detour!