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Black Pudding Gaiters

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A night at Llyn Rhys Campsite, Llandegla

Camping, for me, is done in a tent which can be stuffed  in a rucksack and pitched in a field or woods with basic (if any!) facilities.  This time I was to be camping in the Vango Woburn 500.
There’s always room for comfort.
Well no, that’s not entirely true. There’s not much room for anything when you drive an Abarth 124!
First mission was to find a way of getting a tent, sleeping bag, mat, Jetboil, change of clothes and walking boots in the car. The solution was a Boot-Bag.

This is a large waterproof bag that sits on the boot lid and securely held in place with webbing straps.
I had the ‘original’ which gave me  50 litres of space or, put another way, it easily took the tent.
On first use, I was apprehensiveBoot-bag on Abarth 124 Spider about putting too much in there, however, I could have stuffed a few extra things in there without any trouble.
The other stuff went in to my large rucksack.
My day sack was also loaded in to the boot. I’d be using it to hold a couple of drinks, waterproofs etc for the two walks I had planned.
In retrospect, perhaps just the smaller rucksack may have been better with everything else stuffed around the  boot and Boot-Bag.
I had no seating (the floor would have to do) and no food (I hoped there would be a table free in the pub) but I had my accommodation and a bed for the night.

The Boot-Bag was slightly lopsided but seemed secure enough as I pulled off my drive and carefully made my way to the motorway, getting used to only using wing mirrors as there was zero visibility out of the back.   As I gained more confidence in the Boot-Bag, I increased the speed, it remained stable and I arrived at the camp with everything intact.
I had booked my spot at Llyn Rhys Campsite on their website.  £8 per person per night (as of July 2018) which included use of the showers. Kids cost just £3.
I was met by the friendly owner and given a choice of places to pitch, anywhere I wanted as long as I left 6 meters between my tent and others. I wanted to be as far away from others as possible , that wouldn’t be a problem!
The site was fairly quiet. I’d arrived a week before the school summer holiday started, I suspect it can get a lot busier.  I drove my car down the track in to the large field I pitched up on the side of the field, close to the stream. I didn’t want to venture too far from the track in my rear wheel drive car!

The tent had been pitched in the garden a coupe of times, the first time, just after getting the tent home, resulted in part of a fibreglass pole snapping. After an email to Vango another pole was posted out to me.
Needless to say, Vango don’t send out poles every time one beaks, however, I argued that they should last at least one pitching and, fair enough, they agreed.
Out in the real world, the tent went up relatively quickly, although the little hooks to attached the ground sheet were a bit awkward to fit.
I think Vango say it will take 15 minutes to pitch. Seems a little optimistic to me but perhaps with more practice.

The tent is described as 5 person, I wouldn’t like to fit more than three in there. The Cotswold Outdoors promotional video describes it as a good tent for couples and young families, which seems more accurate.
There’s lots of room in the bright, airy living area. Plenty of space for a couple of chairs. Shame there wasn’t the room in the car!
Comparing it with many of the other tents on site, it did look dinky!
Vango Woburn 500 tentWith the tent up it was time to head out on a walk.
Leaving the campsite, I  headed up to the road junction next to the Crown Hotel Pub. Continuing virtually straight ahead on the A5104, the path started just after the junction to the right. This path was quite well signposted  until I reached a farmers field. Whatever had been growing here had been recently dug up and the route across the field to the road wasn’t clearly defined.
At the road I took a left, before rejoining the same field higher up. There were no signs here either and at the end, it was almost impassable. A large, over grown, prickly hedge hid a fence with no easy way to climb.  If it wasn’t for the large footpath sign at the other side of the hedge, I would not have realised this was the route.

The next path I wanted should have been straight over the road according to the Ordnance Survey map and my GPS but there was nothing obvious so I decided to follow the road back in to the village.
The village has a great little community run shop and cafe, at the front was all the supplies you need for camping, pasties, scotch eggs, wine, jam etc and at the back is the cafe. I just had a cafetiere of coffee but the food looked good.
Offas Dyke sign in LlandeglaHappily caffeined up, I left the cafe for the second loop on this walk. After the poorly maintained paths on the first loop, I decided to take the Offa’s Dyke section at the end  knowing it would be the easiest part of the route to navigate.
I needn’t have worried. This walk was also well signed and I followed it up to the narrow road. From there it’s an easy walk back along the Offa’s Dyke to the village.
Both loops of the walks are available in on one GPX file, downloadable from Viewranger.

Back in the tent, I got changed ready for dinner. It is nice being able to stand up in any part of the tent, something you don’t get with the backpacking one and two person tents!
The Crown Hotel is a short walk from the campsite and serves real ales, wines and has a good whisky collection along with the usual stuff and the food is fantastic!!
I started with the spicy chicken wings. Main course was a perfectly rare steak with chips  and peas. Their monster of a  mixed grill looked and smelt great and, if you’ve got a sweet tooth, they’ve a good choice of deserts and local ice cream.

Suitably fed and watered, I walked back to the tent where I took down the divider to make one large bedroom,  got in to my sleeping bag and settled down for a reasonable nights sleep.
The Vango has a slightly darker bedroom, while not a black out, it did a reasonable job at keeping the morning light out.
Next morning the tent was moisture free, the vents under the main window had done their job. I opened the ‘curtains’ sat in the porch, fired up the jet boil and made a coffee.  The tent is really bright and airy with plenty of large windows. A very pleasant place to be.
Packing up was easy and (amazingly!) everything fitted in and on the car.  The first rule of any camping, ‘leave no trace’!

Breakfast was taken at One Planet Adventure, just up the road. Already the car park was filling up. I paid my £4.50 and  made my way to the overflow car park.
The breakfasts at their cafe are good and the slices of toast are huge!!

I was one of the odd ones, I wasn’t cycling, instead I took the longest of their walking trails, the well marked ,7 mile Moorland trail.
Moorland Trail route One Planet Adventure Llandegla

A pleasant walk through woodland and offering great views.

So, in conclusion…..I love to be miles from anyone and anywhere with a small backpacking tent. This was quite different but still a great trip although I must admit the very un-British sunny, warm weather helped make this such a pleasurable camp!
I’m looking forward to getting out in the Vango again soon….but maybe after a trip in the smaller tent 🙂

Flat out in an Abarth 124 Spider

Ok, so the idea of this blog is to post about all things outdoorsy, however, one needs to get to the hills in the first place!

My car ownership has been rather limited. I learnt to drive in the family Fiat Strada then, after passing my driving test, I bought myself a Fiat Uno i.e. Start  A cracking first car . I also occasionally borrowed parent’s Fiat Punto Mk 1
….see a  theme here?!

After a year, I traded my Uno in for a Mk 2 Punto.  I then continued through the Fiat Punto range owning pretty much every iteration, each time getting a slightly more powerful engine before purchasing the  Punto Evo 1.4 MultiAir Turbo.
A highly enjoyable car to drive but then along came Abarth who opened (and promptly closed) a dealership close to my home.

I’d never seen an Abarth up close.  I’d read about them and had seen photos of these sexier, souped up versions of Fiat cars. They were the next ‘step up’ from Fiat and they’d introduced a version of the Punto just at the time I was about to trade in…it was a no-brainer!

Abarth Punto and 500s
My Abarth Punto on the right of the picture at Silverstone

In the Abarth, the drive around winding country lanes became as enjoyable as the walk I was driving to.  I can unleash my inner ‘girl racer’ from traffic lights yet it is  refined on long motorway journeys.
Without doubt, this is the best car I’ve ever owned but sadly Abarth pulled the model. Fiat and Abarth both concentrating on the popular 500 family

….then they threw a curve ball….

Original Abarth 124
Original Abarth 124

The original Fiat 124 Spider  was released in the late 60’s with the Abarth version introduced in 1972.
Several years on, the Spider is making a return, with both Fiat and Abarth updating this iconic car.

The Fiat version is a very nice looking car with plenty of bells and whistles.
Abarth, however,  take a good car and make it better with (slightly) more power, Brembo brakes and superior handling  thanks to the  mechanical limited-slip differential and Bilstein shocks.
It also look gorgeous!

New Abarth 124 Spider
The Abarth comes in two body styles; solid colour and, my favourite, the heritage pack which adds a contrasting matte black bonnet and boot. It has a real ‘Marmite’ response. People love it or hate it.  Personally, I think it looks great with a definite nod back to the original styling.

The inside of the Spider is far nicer than my Punto, things have progressed a lot in the last 4 years. Thee dashboard is swathed in alcantara and  a decent amount of equipment provided as standard including climate control, touch screen sat nav/entertainment and heated seats. Parking and rain sensors are available in an optional viability pack at an additional £1250.
It’s  reassuringly nice to see an analogue rev counter and speedometer behind the steering wheel and,  just in front of the gear stick, is the shiny ‘Sport Mode’ button. Much better looking than the plastic switch on the Punto.  This firms up the ride a little more and makes the throttle more responsive. I doubt you’d ever want to take it out of Sport mode!

Underneath the bonnet is the 1.4 Multiair engine with a Garrett turbo, very similar to what is in my current Abarth Punto.  It throws out 170hp but it’s the torque you notice, there is tonnes of the stuff.
The lump upfront gets  you from 0 to 62 mph in 6.8-seconds. Abarth claim around 44mpg but my experience in the Punto would suggest closer to 33 – 35 mpg.

Abarth 124 spider twinair engine

Boot space is minimal. My one worry with this car is it’s practicality, however, once the engine started I soon forgot about that, the sound is amazing! I would have happily have placed an order for the car simply on the noise made from the Record Monza exhaust!

But, the real test was out on the track. I put on my Abarth branded crash helmet and made my way out to the cars.  The 124s were at the front, behind them were the new 595s and behind those the completely bonkers 695 Biposto….more about that in a bit!

124 Abarth Spider
I was asked to choose between manual or automatic. Despite being my first time in a left hand drive car I decided to try out the 6 speed manual and got in to one of the red and black cars.
I was mentally going through these ‘wrong way round’ controls as my instructor introduced me to the Silverstone track, arguably the most iconic track in England ….wow!!
We made our way back to the pits then it was my turn. I had 20 minutes to take this awesome vehicle around the international circuit.
“It’s your test drive”, I was told “go as fast or slow as you like”
Needless to say, I planted my right foot!

The 124 responded beautifully. I only need to use third and fourth gears which were easy to engage using the short throw shifter.
It responded quickly to both braking and acceleration and was very happy around corners with just a little bit of understreer on the more extreme corners. The 124 is responsive to small steering inputs and extremely confidence inspiring. It will be interesting to see how the stiff suspension handles  bumpy, holey British roads  but at Silverstone it works brilliantly.

Although based on Mazda this is a true  Italian.  The powertrain, Record Monza exhaust,  the design and all the tweaks which makes the car so fun to drive is handled by Officine Abarth. Each car is tested and certified by an Abarth technician and moreover, it just feels like a nippy little Italian sports car should feel.

My laps were over far too quickly but my track experience wasn’t.
After a short break, I was back out for another 20 minutes of so in the 595. If I have to be honest, I admire what Abarth have done with what is a very popular Fiat model but, personally, I’m not a huge fan of the styling although it seems I’m alone in that!
Abarth have managed to squeeze 180 hp out of this little engine and it was a blast around the track. Like the 124, this car also has mechanical limited-slip differential and Brembo brakes.
Almost £10,000 cheaper than the 124, this is a great alternative and is still good fun to dive but there is no doubt which of the two I’d prefer.

The last car I tried was the 695 Biposto albeit as a passenger.
A stripped down car which is at the other end of the pricing scale at almost £33,ooo. Gone are the rear seats,door inserts, air conditioning and radio  instead you get something which feels like a proper little track car, full of the classic Abarth insanity!
I occasionally glanced over at the G-meter on the dashboard, it is remarkable what this pocket rocket is capable of although it’s definitely not something you’d purchase for your trip to the shops.

As I left, I was handed a gift, a black envelope containing four beautiful drawings of the 124. These will look very nice on my wall.

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Al in all, an unforgettable day an a car I am very tempted to purchase.
I hate to say too many good things about any Abarth cars as I love the exclusivity of the Abarth, waving to other owners  and arranging meet ups….so no, don’t buy this car! (-:

A good, if slightly long, video review of the Fiat, Abarth and original 124 is available on the Autogefühl YouTube channel

 

 

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