Sleek, silver and sexy! The Airstream caravan where we spent the weekend in Anglesey was certainly turning heads, as we arrived at the White Lodge Caravan Park – park owner Christine told me “We’ve already had lots of people asking if they can rent your Airstream.” We were there to explore Anglesey and try out the Airstream in its temporary home, before it heads to the Motorhome and Caravan Show at the NEC Birmingham, where it will be on show 17-22 October 2017.
Arriving at White Lodge Caravan Park in Anglesey
After our late arrival from Bristol, we woke up on Saturday morning to see more of White Lodge Caravan Park from our Airstream window, as we enjoyed a cup of freshly brewed breakfast coffee and some other Anglesey goodies that has been left for us. As we chatted to owners Chris and Kevin, we learned they had taken over the caravan park 8 years ago, as a much smaller caravan site with a café attached. It had always been their dream as caravan enthusiasts to own their own site, but at first Kevin continued working in Liverpool while Chris ran the site and café, baking cakes and greeting customers. As Kevin took early retirement last year, they have been able to build up the site, which now has 31 pitches and are even expanding the site into a neighbouring field.
The caravan site is open all year round and comprises one main field with views over the hedge toward the Menai Straits and Snowdonia. In September when we visited, there were plenty of families enjoying a game of football, kids playing on the climbing frames or cycling up and down on their bikes. The small shop sells some camping basics, as well as lots of local produce, such as the Anglesea Apple Juice, Halen Môn sea salt, Wild Horse beer, Poblado locally roasted coffee and cheese from the local farmers. The Caravan Park also has the big advantage of a superb restaurant on site, The Marram Grass, which has been taken over by Chris and Kevin’s sons, with Ellis Barrie as head chef.
If you go: White Lodge Caravan Park, Newborough, Isle of Anglesey, LL61 6RS. For bookings and information contact: Christine Barrie Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Settling into our Yukon Airstream Caravan
Our Airstream’s curvy silver lines certainly stood out from the other caravans in the park. There’s something iconic about this caravan that was created in the 1930s and now has a huge following on both sides of the Atlantic. You only need to do a quick Instagram search to find vintage vans that are being refitted in all sorts of wierd and wonderful designs.
The curvy lines of our van continued in the extremely stylish interior which was fitted out in Manhatten Impala, with black stitched suedette sofas and scatter cushions, white Corian worksurfaces and kitchen cabinets with dark wood effect panelling. Our Yukon model had seating space for 3 people around a square table, a full size refrigerator and freezer, compact bathroom with shower, sink and loo and a double bed mattress at the far end.
If you have a secret yearning for the Airstream lifestyle, you may like to know that our caravan will be on show at the Motorhome and Caravan show in Birmingham NEC 17-22 October 2017 along with 700 motorhomes and caravans from different manufacturers. The show attracts around 100,000 visitors each year and makes a great day out, with entertainment in the LIVE theatre and presentations from celebrities, adventurers and travel experts.
If you head for the stand of UK Airstream distributor SwiftGroup you’ll see the Airstream range, including some brand new products like our Yukon Airstream that will be inveiled at the show. You can also meet chef Ellis Barrie from The Marram Grass, who will be doing some cookery demonstrations in the Airstream. Advance ticket prices start at £8.50 with children under 16 free.
A walk through the sand dunes at Newborough Warren
After we’d explored our Airstream Caravan, we drove the car a little way down the road, for a walk through the sand dunes at Newborough Warren. In medieval times there was a small farming community living among these dunes but after it was buried in a storm, the Marram grass was planted to help stabilise the dunes. Now the area is a National Nature Reserve of Wales and ponies and sheep are allowed to graze here to keep the grass from overwhelming the smaller native plants.
We followed the purple footprints of the Dune trail, picking our way through the long grass, tangled with yellow daisies, clover and brambles underfoot. The path wound through the dunes and each time we reached the crest, hoping to spot the beach, another one would come into sight.
Our way was blocked by a group of wild ponies who were grazing in the dunes. They looked at us rather distainfully as I tried to take a photo, like a grumpy child who does not want to smile for the camera and wishes it could be left alone.
Finally we crossed the last dune to see the marshes spreading out towards the Menai straits, a narrow strip of water dividing the island of Anglesey from the North Wales coastline. The path now followed the edge of the dunes, the sky wide and open as we reached Llanddwyn beach. We couldn’t find the marked trail but picked our way back through the dunes and along the edge of the forest until we found the path back to our car again.
Back at the Airstream we relaxed for a while, enjoying the stylish interiors – it almost felt as if we were in a boutique hotel room rather than a caravan, with all the home comforts that we could wish for and a grandstand view of the kids doing cartwheels around the caravan site.
Dinner at The Marram Grass
We were really looking forward to our dinner at The Marram Grass, which is run by Ellis and Liam Barrie, making it a real family package with the caravan site. Chef Ellis Barrie has been getting lots of media attention since he appeared this summer on The Great British Menu BBC TV series and the restaurant was packed all through the summer. After leaving school to work in some top Liverpool restaurants, Ellis was travelling around Australia when his parents Kevin and Chris bought the caravan site and he returned to take over the small café with his brothers.
They started by serving breakfasts, using top quality ingredients from Anglesey and built up a following with caravaners and locals, such as local fisherman Shaun who would bring his team in for breakfast. When they added some of Shaun’s mussels and other Anglesey produce to the menu, they were able to extend the opening to lunchtime and in the evening too as demand grew.
Ellis is a great supporter of local Anglesey producers, telling me ” We try to get everything as close to the restaurant as possible, we grow our own veg and pigs across the road. If it’s not our own it’s from Alywn down the road with his veg patch, or Nigel with his goat’s cheese or Menai with his blue cheese or Steve with the sea bass and the mackerel. They are all small family run businesses, there’s not one of us who’s driving a Ferrari yet, but we’re all on the same journey to promote the island and share a passion for the best produce.”
The dishes that we tasted that evening were ambitious and complex with layers of flavour, even if the pork, apples, sea bream, potatoes and other ingredients are from just down the road. The food we ate may be edging to fine dining, but the interiors are still a stylish version of the shed that the brothers originally took over, with lots of reclaimed wood, mismatched vintage furniture and the bottles behind the bar arranged on old wine boxes.
We asked for cocktail suggestions and I really enjoyed the cucumber gin and tonic, served with some plump oysters from the Menai straits – there’s a small Oyster bar menu with six variations of raw and cooked oysters. The Vietnamese style oysters with chilli, ginger and soy were very tasty, but we agreed that the Natural oysters with just a few pickled shallots and lemon on top were even better. I followed with the Roast Anglesey Sea Bass with layers of potatoes and courgettes and a creamy mussel sauce poured theatrically around it at the table.
Guy went for the pork, which had started life just across the road. The layered cubes of pork belly and shoulder were arranged with apple slices and creamy apple sauce, with a chilli and ginger jus – all quite mouthwatering. My fabulous desert was a play on sweet and salty – with white chocolate mousse and apple sorbet mixed with caramelised walnuts, poached apple pieces and nuggets of blue cheese.
Clearly things have come a long, long way since the Barrie brothers were serving bacon and eggs for the guests staying on site in their caravans. I also popped across the road to see the vegetable garden that provides much of the produce for the restaurant. Next to the vegetable beds, the chickens and pigs were ranging freely around their enclosures and clearly leading happy lives, blissfully unaware of their destiny on The Marram Grass menu.
If you go: You can find out more on the The Marram Grass website. If you plan to visit, it’s best to book in advance, since the restaurant has become very popular. The evening menu we ordered from – Starters £6.50-9.50, Mains £17.50-30, Sides £3.50-5 Deserts £8.50-10
If you’d like to see Chef Ellis Barrie cooking up a storm in the Airstream caravan, you’ll find him at the Motorhome and Caravan show at the Birmingham NEC 17-22 October, where he will be demonstrating some of his dishes. Head for the SwiftGroup stand, who are the UK Airstream distributor and will be showing the Airstream range at the show. Advance ticket prices start at £8.50 with children under 16 free.
A tour at Halen Môn Anglesey Salt
The next morning, we decided to investigate the Halen Môn sea salt factory, which was one of the local products stocked in the caravan park shop and is used at The Marram Grass café. The impressive new factory and visitor centre building was completed last year and we joined one of the three daily tours to learn how the sea salt is made. The company was started by Alison and David Lea-Wilson who began the small scale production of sea salt 17 years ago, with water piped straight from the Menai Straits.
Our tour started with a short video, with Alison and David telling us their story and we could see some of the products such as crisps, biscuits and chocolates that use the Anglesey sea-salt. Apparently Barrack Obama’s favourite chocolates are sprinkled with the Halen Môn sea salt and Heston Blumenthal uses it in his restaurants.
Though the windows into the production area, we could see the salt crystals forming in tanks of brine, then being scooped out with shovels into drying trays. Finally the salt crystals are washed again in brine, which sounds counter-intuitive but helps to remove any unwanted minerals.
At the end of the tour we sat down to taste different types of salt, comparing cheap table salt, rock salt and the Halen Môn sea salt in natural, smoky and spiced flavours. After tasting all the salts side by side there was no doubt in our mind that the Halen Môn was far superior in texture and taste, making it our salt of choice from now on, so of course we bought a bag to take home in the gift shop.
If you go: Visit the Halen Môn Website – their shop is open 7 days a week 10am -5pm (except for the Christmas / New Year period) and there are 3 tours per day at 11am, 1pm and 3pm Adults £6.
The Giant’s stepping stones at Dwyran
Another ‘secret’ find near the caravan park, was the stepping stone bridge near the village of Dwyran, that Chris had told me about. The stones were visited last year by Julia Bradbury when she came to Anglesey to film her TV series of “Best walks with a view”. I followed the lane from the main road down to the small Afon Braint tidal river, which runs off the Menai Straits and sure enough I found the stepping stones, which are part of the Anglesey coastal walk.
They are known locally as the Giant’s stepping stones or Rhuddgaer Stepping Stones but I couldn’t find any information on when or how these enormous limestone blocks came to be here. I must have caught the river at low tide, as the blocks stood dry above the water so I was able to hop across easily enough without fear of slipping.
Walking the Isle of Llanddwyn
Later that afternoon we drove down to Lladdwyn beach where we had ended our sand dunes walk the day before, and just caught the end of the Sand Man triathlon, with lots of fit but exhausted looking runners who had completed a sea swim, cycle ride and run through Newborough forest. We walked along the beach, which was now at low tide, with an expanse of rippling sand and and water reflecting the clouds and sky. The isle of Llanddwyn or Ynys Llanddwyn is cut off at low tide, but we had all afternoon to walk there before the tide would turn.
The path through the grass covered dunes led us first to the ruined chapel of St Dwynwen, which before the reformation was a popular pilgrimage spot, but is now a ruined shell. The story goes that Dwynwen was a princess who was in love with Prince Maelon, but her father betrothed her to another suitor. When he heard of this, Maelon flew into a rage and was punished by being turned to a block of ice, while poor Dwynwen fled in sorrow. She prayed that Maelon would be unfrozen and that she be allowed to remain unmarried and to help people who are unlucky in love. With her prayers granted, Dwynwen founded the church on Ynys Llandwyn, where she went to live as a nun. Now she is considered the patron saint of lovers and the Welsh equivalent of St Valentine’s day is celebrated on 25 January, her feast day.
At the tip of the island, we reached the lighthouse of Twr Mawr, which was used to guide ships through the treacherous Menai Straits from the mid 1800s. The lighthouse is no longer in use, but there’s a great view from its terrace across the straits towards North Wales and the mountains of Snowdonia. There’s a row of low, whitewashed pilot’s cottages nearby, which used to house the pilots who would row out to meet the ships and guide them safely through the straits. The pilots would also man the island’s lifeboat if a ship ran aground and the cannon in front of the cottages would be fired to summon help from the mainland. The end cottage is kept open as a small museum, with information about life on the island in the past and a couple of rooms furnished to show how the pilots lived.
The House and Garden of Plas Newydd
Our final visit during our Airstream adventure in Anglesey, was to Plas Newydd, a grand house which is now managed by the National Trust and was home to the Marquesses of Anglesey. The house has an imposing position right in front of the Menai Straits and one can imagine how it was a good spot to see the ships and pleasure steamers passing through the channel on their way to Liverpool.
The current house dates back to the 16th century, although the Paget family who owned it kept their main residence at Beaudesert in Staffordshire. It was not until the 6th Marquess on Anglesey inherited the title in 1905 that Plas Newydd became the main residence after Beaudesert was sold. The house was modernised by Henry Paget, the 7th Marquess and I enjoyed the pink and frothy bedroom of his wife Shirley and his study, which at his wish was left was left untouched in an organised mess, when he died.
The highlight of Plas Newydd is the mural in the dining room, painted by Rex Whistler, who became a friend of the family in the 1930s, and was commissioned by the 6th Marquess, Charles Paget. The painting is an imaginary landscape, with building styles drawn from all over Europe and places the family had connections with, such as the Italian hilltop town they had visited and the ship where they had spend their honeymoon. During his many visits, Rex Whistler fell in love with the family’s eldest daughter, Caroline, but although he asked her to marry him five times she always turned him down.
The painting is full of references to this unrequited love; the painter himself sweeping up fallen rose petals, the heart in the folds of the ship’s sail and the two trees entwined, one of which is dying, while Caroline’s image appears in several parts of the painting. The painting was still unfinished when Rex Whistler became a tank commander in the Second World War, but he painted in his cigarette, still alight on the pavement, saying he would be back to finish it. Sadly it was not to be, as he was killed at the beginning of the war, leaving us wondering whether Lady Caroline would have relented and married him, had he lived.
If you go: Visit the Plas Newydd Website for more information on opening times. Adults £11 for house and garden entry.
How to have your own Airstream adventure
If our weekend in Anglesey has given you an appetite for your own airstream adventure, you may like to visit the Motorhome and Caravan show at the Birmingham NEC 17-22 October where the Airstreams will be on show. Look out for the stand of SwiftGroup who will be showing the Airstream range and unveiling brand new products at the show. Chef Ellis Barrie from The Marram Grass Cafe will also be there, demonstrating some of his dishes in the Airstream caravan and proving that there’s more to campsite food than burnt bangers. Advance ticket prices start at £8.50 with children under 16 free.
For more information on holidays in Anglesey, check out the Visit Anglesey Website.
Thanks to Swift Group and the Motorhome and Caravan Show for hosting my stay in the Airstream at White Lodge Caravan Park