The second half of our Bulgaria trip involved more monasteries, huge concrete monuments, fortresses, the coast and a peaceful nature park.
From Velingrad we headed to the Shipka Pass and the UFO-shaped Buzludzha Monument perched high above the pass and built as a communist assembly hall. Our tip for driving to the monument is to access it from the south and not take the road by the Freedom Monument to avoid over 5 miles of potholed road! We spent a couple of nights in the car park at the base of the Buzludzha Monument, one of which was very windy to say the least.
We headed back to the Black Sea coast, starting right at the most southerly point on the border with Turkey. In the area of Resovo we were stopped a few times at police checks and also had a subtle visit from the border police whilst we were parked up – they didn’t question us but walked around the van a few times. We also stopped at Varna to find a beachside thermal pool which was an experience – definitely a meeting place for locals.
The Tsarevets Fortress in Veliko Tarnovo is worth every penny of the entrance fee (less than £5 each). It’s a large area to explore and on a good day, it would be a good place to take a picnic and enjoy the views. The unconsecrated church in the Patriarch’s Complex is home to some modern frescoes which are very different to those we had seen so far on historical monasteries. After leaving the fortress we had a wander around the picturesque old town which was full of craft and antique shops.
If you’re looking to escape everything then visit Shumen and the Rusenski Lom Nature Park. Shumen is home to the Founders of the Bulgarian State Memorial, a huge brutal concrete structure high on a hill overlooking the town of Shumen and surrounded by forests which were great for walking. Rusenski Lom is an area of rock churches and steep gorges and again great for walking.
On the whole motorhoming in Bulgaria was easy and there was plenty of parking available. Water wasn’t as easy to find as it was in Turkey as a lot of roadside springs didn’t have tap fittings or were dry so we had to resort to buying bottled water again. Fuel was still relatively cheap at around £1.30 a litre and LPG everywhere, costing just over 50p a litre.
All in all a good place to visit and even more of a reason to visit soon is because Bulgaria, whilst in the EU is still not part of the Schengen area so a stay here helps to offset the 90 day limit and enables a longer visit to continental Europe.
Burgas Camperstop: BGN30 (£13.50) for 24 hours. Price includes EHU, fresh water tap, showers, WC emptying and fast WiFi. Flat parking on the dockside inside the marina gate. Very quiet overnight.
Other overnight parking:
Troyan Monastery: Parking is BGN3 (approx £1.35) and we were allowed to stay overnight. A large hard standing car park for the monastery. No facilities.
Buzludzha Monument: several hard standing parking spots around the monument. Need to check weather (especially wind direction!) and park accordingly. No facilities but stunning views for miles. May not be accessible during heavy snow.
Veliko Tarnavo: a free P4N spot by the State Art Gallery. No real flat spots and no facilities but relatively quiet (apart from the local busker who was there in the afternoon!). We drove to a paid car park to visit the Tsarevets Fortress – it’s a hilly town strung along the steep sides of a river.
Resovo: A couple of nights parked up by a closed beach bar at the most south-eastern point of the EU. Relatively flat and quiet, overlooking the narrow river border with Turkey. No facilities.
Varna: Free parking at the northern end of the town, next to the beach. Flat with no facilities and a short walk into the main beach area with bars and a thermal pool. Parking is next to a road which is busy during the day but was quiet overnight.
Shumen: Free parking in a large car park close to the Shumen Fortress and a restaurant. Flat and no facilities but great for exploring the local area with lots of marked walks in the surrounding forest.
Rusenski Lom Nature Park: One of our quietest park-ups in the nature park close to some rock churches. Flat and no facilities although maybe some cafes during the summer. Great place to walk and then to sit and listen to birdsong.
Ruse: Free parking between a railway track and the River Danube about 20 mins walk from the city centre. The trains run back and forth to the docks but don’t run overnight so a surprisingly quiet stop. No facilities. Close to the Romanian border crossing.
We spent just short of our permitted 90 days exploring Türkiye from December 2022 to February 2023, driving around the Asian side in an anti-clockwise direction. We thought it might be useful to some people to put together a few details of our experiences.
We covered 4,883 miles in total but with fuel at less than £1 a litre it didn’t make such a huge dent in the budget! We also managed to do almost the whole trip without using a toll road, only using one to go around Istanbul and where we had no choice. We didn’t have the HGS tag which allows easy access through the tolls so selected the cash lane and took a ticket but when it came to the pay station the gates were open and there was nowhere to pay. We fully expected to be charged as we left the country but nothing was outstanding against our registration so it seems we were lucky!
We did very little city driving which we know from Istanbul can be a little chaotic, and whilst we did see some adventurous manoeuvres, the pace seemed a lot slower so never dangerous. The larger roads were in reasonable condition and in the snow in the far east of the country, they were cleared regularly. Off the main roads, the surfaces were a little hit and miss and sometimes nothing more than dirt tracks.
Don’t underestimate the size of the country – it’s huge and there’s still so much for us to go back and see.
Police checkpoints are common and we were mostly waved through. When we were stopped the officers were polite and courteous, asked us a couple of questions and sent us on our way. Along the Syrian, Iranian and Aremian borders the checks were slightly more (and understandably) intimidating with plenty of machine guns, tanks and barbed wire on display but again we were politely asked for our passports and our destination before being allowed to move on.
Costs – a summary of roughly what we spent on the main items
Van insurance payable at the border €140 for 3 months
Food, including eating out – £1,225
Diesel – £820
Campsites – £230 (most expensive on the SW coast which is the main tourist area)
LPG – £32
Entry fees – £167.50. We didn’t buy any of the available museum passes as although they represent good value for visiting the museums and archeological sites, they are time limited so didn’t work for us as we travel slowly.
Campsites – we had to occasionally venture on to a campsite to use a washing machine (no self service laundries to be found!) and empty the toilet cassette. We’re not precious about campsites – they just need to be functional rather than look good and offer facilities we won’t use! Prices ranged from free, on a municipal site in Tarsus, to tl450 (approx £20) per night in some of the more popular areas. We also stayed on a campsite for a few nights over the New Year holiday to be able to enjoy the celebrations.
Availability of essentials
We had no issues finding fuel, lpg, food and water. We filter all our onboard water as it leaves the tank, plus a pre-tank filter if needed, so we’re happy to fill from roadside water taps along with locals. The only time we had an issue with this was during a snowstorm and we physically couldn’t get to the taps or they were frozen!
The local markets were great for fresh produce but it’s worth getting store cards for Carrefour and Migros to get cheaper prices.
Safe to say we had it all! We spent Christmas and New Year on the south-west coast and were on the beach a lot of the time, swimming and paddle boarding in temperatures of over 20°C. However, when we headed to the eastern regions we had driving snow and roadside drifts higher than the van. In one place we experienced a daytime temperature of -11°C, admittedly we were at about 8,000ft in altitude, but had regular overnight temperatures of -5°C.
We had seen and heard lots of stories about stray cats and dogs. Yes, there are a lot of dogs running around and we noticed cats in towns and at tourist sites, but we have to say they all looked well fed and healthy. We saw locals pulling up in their cars and leaving food out for the animals and a number of dogs were tagged to show they had been neutered. A couple of places we visited even had machines dispensing food either for cash or when you deposited items for recycling. We can only speak for what we saw and appreciate this may not be everyone’s experience.
Quite simply some of the most hospitable and welcoming people we have ever met. Turkish hospitality is renowned and we were frequently given tea wherever we went. We even left a fuel station with a cup of tea and a bag of fresh eggs! At no point did we feel unsafe or in any danger.
If for any reason our plans for the rest of the year fall through then we will be heading straight back to Türkiye!
All home stuff and admin done we couldn’t wait to get back in the van and hit the road again. We knew we would have to make a couple more trips home so decided not to go too far although too far for us though is probably someone else’s epic trip!
First stop then was Balmers at Tring, a site that has popped up a few times already and there’s nothing new to add about it. It’s close to home so ideal for making sure we had everything (trips home involve moving bags of “stuff” in either direction be it washing, bits we don’t need or new things we think we need) and we had made plans to walk this weekend with a friend from home. Despite the campsite being just off the Ridgeway footpath and Tring Park being across the road, we’ve never walked here so with a good weather forecast it was time to put that right.
Tring Park is a former Rothschild estate and an area of woodland and open grassland. Lots of footpaths cross the park and connect to other paths to explore the area beyond. There is also the Walter’s Wanders trail through the park which insights in the life of Walter Rothschild and the history of the park. The trail begins at the Natural History Museum at Tring and Walter bequeathed his zoological collection (one of the largest private collections ever assembled) to the public in 1892.
A bit random and for only the reason of having dinner with friends, we next headed towards Cropredy. The campsite was Bridge Meadow which, as the name suggests, is located next to the bridge over the Oxford Canal and on a large field between the canal and the River Cherwell. Given it’s a low lying field between two bodies of water, the ground was a little soft but we were directed to the best places to park and provided with mats to stop any sinking. The weather was still good when we arrived so we followed the Cropredy Circular Walk along the canal and cross country to pass a couple of hours.
The rain came in the following morning so a van day and a good day for visits – Bob’s old colleague Dave came by for coffee and then it was off to Waddy and Jo’s for dinner.
The hills were calling and we were desperate to get the boots on again so we made our way to the Derbyshire Peak district. Our first campsite was Heatherhill Farm, a new CL in the village of Bamford. It was a small field with a mix of motorhomes, caravans and tents (as well a permanent “glamping” tent) which might get a little overcrowded in the summer but the owner was keen for feedback to improve the site. The facilities are basic but clean and the campsite has easy access to public transport including the Hope Valley Sheffield to Manchester rail line.
We took the train into Sheffield to meet Chloe who was in town that week with the touring version of Heathers the Musical and after one false start in Liverpool, we finally got to see the show this time.
From the campsite we were able to pick up the footpath to the Ladybower Reservoir. After changing our route several times we extended the walk to also take us around the Derwent Reservoir and the Derwent Dam which would be familiar to anyone who has seen the film “The Dam Busters”. The site was used by pilots of the RAF 617 Squadron to practice low level flying to prepare for the dam busting raids on the Ruhr Valley dams in World War 2.
As well as the reservoirs we also had a cracking walk to Win Hill having come up to the ridge via Hope Cross. With the glorious weather we had stunning views across the Peak District in all directions.
We moved a few miles along the Hope Valley to the village of Edale and Newfold Farm campsite, a large mixed campsite for vans and tents. Glamping options were also available in a neighbouring field.
However before stopping at the campsite we paid a visit to Chatsworth House, the seat of the Duke of Devonshire and has a 105 acre garden both of which are open to the public and the estate hosts various events throughout the year. Various ticket combinations are available but we paid £14 each for garden access only deciding to leave the house for another day. The gardens alone were worth a visit!
One of our criteria for picking a campsite is easy access to a footpath and from Newfold we were able to go cross country and up the ridge to Hollins Cross. From there we followed the well trodden footpath to Mam Tor, down a small gap in the ridge and then back up again to the much less busy Lord’s Seat for another lunch with a view!
Sites used: Balmers CL, Tring: £7 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass. Bridge Meadow CL, Cropredy : £10 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass. Heatherhill Farm CL, Bamford, Derbyshire: £20 per night. EHU, toilet but no shower, water, and dumping facilities. All grass. Newfold Farm Campsite, Edale, Derbyshire: £22 per night plus £4 for EHU. Hard standing and grass pitches
We’re continuing up the coast to the town of Porthmadog and the first really busy seaside resort we’ve found to be busy. Tyddyn Llwyn is located a 20 minute walk from the town centre (all uphill on the way back!) where there are plenty of shops and restaurants plus a station for the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways which runs restored steam engines.
We walked alongside the rail tracks before turning off to Portmeirion which was about a 12 mile roundtrip in all. Portmeirion is a Mediterranean inspired village designed by Welsh architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis and is built on the slopes overlooking the large sandy estuary of the rivers Glaslyn and Dwyryd. Well worth a visit and they look to be building a decent motorhome facility to allow overnight parking.
From Porthmadog it was on to the island of Anglesey in what is perceived to be typical Welsh weather, ie wind and rain! On our way on to the island we stopped at Hooton’s Farm Shop and Butchery and bought some local produce (sausages, lamb and yet more Welsh cakes!). It’s only a small shop but had more choice than the previous large shop we had stopped in.
The campsite is situated almost at the end of the runway for RAF Valley, a training airport for the RAF jet pilots amongst others. We were treated to regular flypasts from Texan and Hawk aircraft, including a couple of Red Arrows. The flights seemed to be within normal “office hours” so weren’t particularly bothersome.
The weather kept us in the van for most of the time we were there but that wasn’t really an issue as it’s a good opportunity to catch up on admin and do some cleaning.
Due to sites being busy, we’re jumping around a bit for these weeks. We had originally planned to stay near Dolgellau for a little low level walking but a throwaway comment from Bob led us to change our plans. “I’ve always fancied climbing Cadair Idris” he said…. “Let’s do it then” she said, having no idea as to what she was getting into! So, three nights were booked at Dol Einon and weather forecasts checked for the best day to go up. We scoped out the track a little when we arrived because the route we were looking at wasn’t marked on the OS map but a few walkers we spoke to said the path was definitely there.
The least wet day was selected and an early start saw us on our way before 8am. All we can say is that it was wet and windy and basically three miles of walking/scrambling uphill, a mile or two of flattish walking around the ridge and then another two/three miles of walking/scrambling downhill. At no point did we see the summit despite reaching it and to this day we don’t know what it looks like!
For location, you can’t beat the campsite which is next to the Dol Idris car park/visitor centre and at the entrance to the Minffordd Path for the Cadair Idris loop. We will have to go back in the hope that we actually see the mountain top!
This was to be a week of mountains as our next stop was Beddgelert in the shadow of Snowdon at the campsite in the Beddgelert Forest. Although expensive (but we have to allow for it being peak summer holidays and we had chosen the flexible booking option) it’s a good site with everything you need. It has one of the lines of the Welsh Highland Railway running behind it so the steam trains came through a couple of times a day (there was a station just behind the site but the trains didn’t stop there). The Snowdon Sherpa bus stops at the front of the campsite providing easy and cheap (£3 per adult return) access to the mountain without having to worry about parking the van in one of the carparks. The 7km long Beddgelert/Rhyd Ddu footpath also passes the campsite to enable walking to either point avoiding the road. We did walk both directions on the path, walking one day into the town of Beddgelert and then back from Rhyd Ddu after Snowdon.
Beddgelert is a picturesque village on the banks of the river Glaslyn nestled among the mountains of the Snowdonia National Park and named after a dog-related legend! There is a grave in the town said to contain the remains of Gelert, the faithful dog of Llywelyn, Prince of North Wales during the 13th century. Llywelyn killed his dog by mistake, thinking the dog had killed his son but he hadn’t. On discovering his son safe and well, he buried the dog and called the spot Beddgelert. The grave is marked by some old stones (and newish engraved ones telling the tale) and trees, all of which are now fenced off.
We had been watching the weather to decide the best day to climb Snowdon but again we were denied any view from the summit by the low cloud! We took the Sherpa Bus from right outside the campsite to the base of the Rhyd Ddu path – it is a fairly short distance by bus but 5km or so to walk the footpath which we didn’t really want to do before the upward walk. The lower slopes are fairly easy with a little bit of scrambling over rocks in places and it wasn’t raining nor too windy. As the path gets higher there is more scrambling and it is quite exposed in places along a ridge but still very doable.
The visibility reduced as we got closer to the top and as we climbed the last few steps to the summit (after queuing!) it was no more than 30 metres and the temperature was just above 0C – a couple more layers of clothing were on by that point but it was astonishing to see the number of people who obviously hadn’t checked the weather and were totally unprepared for the cold.
The walk up took around three hours and after some refreshments, we headed back down via the same route. The weather had begun to clear so we were able to see the stunning scenery we had missed on the way up, as well as finally being able to the actual summit! After the climb up the walk back down always feels a long slog and having found another footpath (we didn’t want to hang around for a couple of hours for the bus), we were able to cross country back to the campsite. The total walk was almost 10 miles and it was safe to say, we were both pleasantly exhausted by the time we got home!
An old school trip was the reason for the next stop. June had vague memories of a visit to Llandudno and had wanted to see the Great Orme again. We found a café, the Rest and Be Thankful, on the road that goes around the edge of the peninsula where we could stay overnight – amazing views but boy, was it windy and after a couple of tries, we got the van into the best position to avoid being battered all night!
A nice surprise for the next morning was an unexpected meet up with an old friend and her daughter (June’s god-daughter). Lovely to see Julie and Lydia after so long!
Our penultimate Welsh stay was a free overnight car park at the Rhug Estate Farm Shop where we picked up a couple of bits including, yes, more Welsh cakes. We had parked as far away from the road as possible to reduce the noise not knowing we’d have the farm dogs barking until long past our bedtime, but the parking is free with no obligation to buy anything so we really can’t complain.
The last stop was the Plas Newydd CL, a short drive from the town of Llangollen over the stunning Horseshoe Pass, well when you can see the scenery that is! We were met at the gate of the CL by Alison, the owner, who gave us a packet of leaflets with details of the surrounding towns and sites to see. The CL is quiet and immaculately maintained with the grass pitches rotated to rest the grass between visitors, water and electric to all pitches plus a shower and toilet block.
The only downside was the sloping pitch, which is only an issue for longer vans and becomes most apparent when you try to bake a cake, and that there was no way to drain the grey tank directly from the van – we observed the request not to drain directly on to the pitch or the hedge behind us. Neither of these would stop us from visiting again though.
We visited the Pontcysyllte Viaduct on the day we arrived and despite it being a Sunday, the car park was almost empty so plenty of space for the van (cost £3). After a short walk from the car park we were on the canal towpath which heads across the viaduct over the Dee valley. There are railings on the footpath side but nothing on the otherside but the drop down to the river. An amazing piece of engineering and even more so, given its age!
The weather is beginning to feel almost autumnal and for the first day in months, trousers have replaced shorts! This has also led to a few more van days but that does mean we can keep on top of admin, housework and start making plans for the rest of the year.
We spent one day in Llangollen, parking in the Pavillion car park, just a short walk along the canal from the town centre. One of the leaflets we had been given showed a walk around the town so we decided to follow that route. We passed the Llangollen-Corwen Heritage Railway station which runs through the Dee valley (that’s the Welsh River Dee!) as we entered the town and finally came to Plas Newydd, the former home of the Ladies of Llangollen, two Irish aristocrats who escaped the expectations of society to set up home together and welcome visitors including William Wordsworth and the Duke of Wellington to their home. It’s quite a story and somewhere different to visit.
We also followed the canal to the Horseshoe Falls, following the horse-drawn canal boats to the weir and pumping station where water is drawn from the River Dee to feed the Shropshire Union Canal.
Having found more to do than expected in the area and not having visited any of the bars or restaurants in Llangollen, of which there are plenty, we would go back.
Tyddn Llywn Holiday Park, Porthmadog: £34 per night. All pitches are hard-standing and fully serviced. The park has a shop, restaurant (closed for remainder of 2021 season) and laundry facilities.
Bodfan Farm, Rhosneigr, Anglesey: £10 per person per night. No EHU (available on other pitches at additional cost) and at time of visit, only self-contained units were permitted due to COVID. Water and dumping facilities available. Large grass field, some of which is sloping.
Dol Einion CS, Tal-y-llyn, near Cadair Idris: £10 per person per night. No EHU (available on other pitches at additional cost). Toilets and showers (coin operated) available. Grass field with some hardstanding areas.
Beddgelert Campsite: £166.97 in total for 4 nights but at different rates (3 nights booked with flexible cancellation option). Pitch with EHU. Full campsite services available including laundry, shop, restaurant and bike hire.
Rest and Be Thankful, Great Orme, Llandudno: £10 per night. Café car park so no facilities. Need to arrive before café closes to register.
Rhug Estate Farm Shop, near Corwen: Free. Large car park attached to farm shop and café. Need to arrive before the shop closes to register.
Plas Newydd CL, Bryneglwys: £17 per night. Water and EHU to each pitch. Service block with showers and toilets and for grey and black water disposal. Grass, slightly sloping pitches.
Let the adventure begin! No commitments for a few weeks so we can truly start life on the road. The only downside is that it’s the beginning of the summer holidays and there’s still limited overseas travel so we’re having to book further ahead than we’d like.
Never let it be said that it always rains in Wales! For two weeks, we had the most glorious weather to the extent that the thoughts for walking more of the coastal path were exchanged for walking to the nearest beach for a swim and a swim without wetsuits at that! The beaches were quiet and the water so clear you could think you were in the Med.
During the days we spotted, from a distance, dolphins and seals, and being to the west we watched the most amazing sunsets most nights.
We did do a little walking along the coast path from Cilfforch. Firstly it was north into Aberaeron, a small town with lots of restaurants around the harbour, and then along the River Aeron valley to the National Trust property at Llanerchaeron, an 18th century farming estate with a house designed by John Nash who is responsible for many of London’s grand buildings including Buckingham Palace.
The following day we walked south into New Quay, another small village built around a harbour. Another beautiful day meant that the beach was packed so we had a quick stroll along the harbour wall (from which we could see dolphins out in Cardigan Bay), grabbed a crab sandwich in a quiet café at the top of the hill and made our way back.
A change of scenery next as we headed inland to Aberffrwd, via Aberystwyth, and a complete contrast to the busy seaside villages. The CL is in the River Rheidol valley close to a reservoir and backing on to the river. This was a really well run little site and we sat outside the van watching the kites circling above and the steam trains of the Vale of Rheidol Railway as they passed along the opposite side of valley. We came here to walk to the waterfalls at Devil’s Bridge where the river plunges into a deep, wooded gorge, and the three bridges which span the river. We paid to enter the falls to be able to view them and the bridges better via the Waterfall and Nature trail, a circular walk of about an hour via steep paths and steps. A shorter 10 minute walk to view the river and the bridges is available at the Punchbowl across the main road. Our full 12 mile walk took us out across fields, up through some steep woods and over the railway line and we returned via the riverside to see other small falls.
From Aberffrwd we moved back to the coast to another cliff top site at Cae Du Farm. Definitely more a tent/campervan site than motorhome but that wasn’t a problem, and with the cheapest washing machine we’ve come across so far! We arrived early enough in the day to snatch a pitch close to the cliff edge (cliffs not so high here) and were able to spot a couple of seals, and on our last night here, another beautiful sunset from the beach.
The coastal path isn’t actually along the coast at this point so we walked a little inland to walk back out to the coast at Tywyn, a town which seems to be dominated by static caravan sites. We did find a few out of the way parking spaces along the route which we might use in the future, especially come the winter when a lot of sites are closed. We had lunch on the platform of the Talyllyn Railway, the World’s First preserved railway (apparently) running since 1865 with the original locomotives and stock.
The big hills now beckon!
Innage Farm CL, near Chepstow: £8 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass.
Pitton Cross Campsite, near Rhossili: £24 per night. No EHU (but available on other pitches), mixed grass and hardstanding. Full facilities including laundry.
Dale Hill Farm Campsite: £15 per night. No EHU. Coin operated showers. All grass and park anywhere on the sloping field.
Rhosson Ganol, near St David’s: £24 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass, some sloping. Showers, toilets and laundry short walk across the road (all fairly new!).
Cilfforch Farm CL, near Aberaeron: £10 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. Great recycling including food waste. Mostly flat grass (kept short by the resident sheep!) with some hardstanding on old paved areas and sloping down to the clifftop.
Aberffrwd Farm CL: £10 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. Mostly flat well kept grass.
Cae Du Farm Campsite: £25 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. Long thin (low) cliff top site with free for all parking – need to find the flat spots!
We thought this would be a good opportunity to take stock of how our new life is going – what’s good, what’s not so good, things we like, things we don’t like etc!
It feels like it has taken a while to get into the swing of things as various appointments have meant frequent visits back to home. Not that we’re complaining and the reasons were important – vaccinations and medical, plus the bonus of seeing family and friends, just not how we expected life to be. We have also had to plan more than we wanted to work around COVID restrictions and the effect of people not being able to go abroad – campsites in popular spots booked and a backlash against inconsiderate motorhomers who are swarming all over the country.
The above aside, we have fallen into a new routine quite easily. Mornings tend to be leisurely starting with coffee in bed. The alarm is almost forgotten and is only switched on if we need to be off a pitch early (not so much of a problem on the small certified sites or locations) or have a long walk planned. Days are spent either walking along one the many footpaths we are discovering or have an admin/housework day, as yes it still has to be done. Luckily, we’re happy in our own company as we are together all day every day and we quite like being away from lots of people – we do sometimes wonder if we’re turning into grumpy old people!
Apart from when meeting friends, most meals are home cooked and having time to prepare meals is meaning we’re cutting our food waste considerably. We still want to find more markets or farm shops in which to buy groceries although using supermarkets has had the advantage of us also being able to do some laundry at the same time as well as relatively easy parking. We can do the small stuff on the road using a lidded box in the shower whilst we’re moving but that doesn’t work for the towels and bedding! We’ve used the Revolution outside laundry facilities on several occasions when we’ve been shopping at Morrison’s as the ones we’ve noticed at fuel stations didn’t have parking suitable for a 6.7m motorhome. We may, once or twice, have visited family or friends and cheekily asked to use their washing machine 😊
When ordering the van, it was kitted out with full timing in mind – as many solar panels on the roof as would fit, three leisure batteries, inverter and fully equipped kitchen. The large fridge/freezer has meant that we can also cut the number of supermarket visits which, in current times, has been a relief as well as allowing us to be more remote. All are working well to date and we are really living almost as we would at home, just in a smaller space.
We still watch the TV of an evening, either via the inbuilt aerial or our Firestick. We got a great deal on an unlimited data SIM last year through Superdrug so no problem with data usage. It will be interesting to see if they make any changes for European usage as it is currently unlimited there too but with the other UK providers now updating their packages post-Brexit, will our plan go the same way?
Every so often we’re emptying out the garage to check that we still need everything we’re carrying. Our first couple of visits home were accompanied by bags of stuff we realised we’d never use and we continue to refine the essential kit list. Clothes still need sorting and are split between what we currently wear and don’t, with the winter jumpers, thermals, gloves etc currently packed in vacuum bags in the garage.
There was never going to be a perfect time to embark on this lifestyle but this was the best time for us. Despite the earlier comment of liking our own company, we do miss family and friends but the internet has made keeping in touch so much easier. We just have to put a little more thought into meeting up. Financially, putting it off for a couple more years would certainly have been better but the almost stress free life far outweighs any financial gain. However, as pensions kick in over the next few years and we’re able to get out of the relatively expensive UK (even more so at the moment as places try to recoup the losses due to COVID and it being the school holidays!) that situation will ease. We were doing pretty well with running at just under an average of £15 per night for camping but the holidays will inflate that considerably. But, even though COVID has delayed our original plan to go to Canada and the continued turmoil around international travel the UK is proving to be a worthy alternative. We are finding amazing locations with the freedom to visit in our own time and at our own pace.
Back to the van – we love it! There’s not much we’d really change other than swap the LPG heating for a diesel heating system just because diesel is easier to source, and then a couple of smaller tweaks; we should have insisted on a Fantastic Fan rather than a Hymer one and also have requested external power points but these two are fairly minor niggles rather than problems. The big plusses are the garage (lots of room but have to watch the weight!), big fridge and plenty of solar panels to charge the extra batteries – we added on the power pack when buying the van which gave us a third battery with an inverter. Extra 240V and USB sockets were also added to allow us along with a MiFi aerial to keep us connected to the outside world. We would recommend the Froli Star bed system which goes under the mattress as we both agree that the bed in the van is even more comfortable than the one at home!
Our main difficulty so far has only become apparent in the past ten days or so when we’ve tried to book sites for the next few weeks (we’re heading to Snowdon and North Wales). We probably should have realised earlier but “staycations” are meaning campsites are fully booked and even our preferred small CLs and CSs are busy in the more popular areas. Not that we don’t want people to have fun but our patience on some of the larger sites runs a little thin at times with inconsiderate people, unruly children and constantly yapping dogs disturbing the peace day and night – yes grumpy old people again!
We tend to use Search4Sites as our main search engine and have picked up on recommendations through various FaceBook groups and friends. Using off grid park ups doesn’t feel good at the moment as there is a lot of media noise about inconsiderate campers leaving rubbish and worse in and around laybys and car parks. We know this is only a small minority but to a lot of people all those in campervans/motorhomes are the same. When travelling between sites we’ve come to the conclusion that we need to work on route planning together. As a left-hand drive vehicle, sitting in the passenger seat can feel a little exposed to the oncoming traffic in small country lanes. We’ve noticed that those driving company vehicles/lorries are not so keen on slowing down around bends although our only coming together was with a small car and neither of us was doing more than creeping forward! We’ve never been one for following Tom Tom blindly but it has made a couple of odd route choices recently so now we cross check routes against a good old-fashioned paper map!
Despite there also being lots of social media posts on the lack of LPG refilling sites, we have not had a problem as yet. We use the app MyLPG.EU.
And that’s it! Certainly, no regrets and all being well, we’ll be off to foreign lands soon 😊
After being in the city and then following the flat towpath, it was time to get back to some hills so off to the Malverns we went.
We were staying in the huge camping fields of the Deer Park in the grounds of Eastnor Castle. The facilities are minimal with just several freshwater taps spread across several camping fields with a couple of toilet emptying points. With few other vans there it was so quiet and peaceful – our nearest neighbour was at least 50m away from us!
Our long walk for this week was to be in to the Malverns and see how far along the ridge we could get taking into account the usual #clewleysstopforcoffee. We didn’t quite follow our original route having missed a path (which on our return we realised why – someone had stepped aside to let us pass and had stood at the start of the path) and ended up following another path which led us through shoulder high stinging nettles.
Refreshed after coffee and cake we walked up to the top of the ridge for some amazing views of the surrounding countryside.
The return journey went more to plan and after another coffee we walked up to the British Camp Hill Fort, a huge hillfort thought to date maybe from the Bronze Age, 3,500 years ago, and which was subsequently inhabited by the Romans.
We also paid a visit to Ledbury, a pretty town with a number of timber framed buildings.
From here we headed back to Wiltshire to meet motorhoming friends for the weekend. Kilma Farm was another farmer’s field but electric is available if wanted. Very friendly and helpful owners.
Unfortunately the balloon festival at Bowood House was cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic but it was great to sit around and catch up with old friends. We did manage one short walk to the local pub and managed to avoid the rain enough to sit outside for lunch.
The organised route planning has not really kicked in yet for various reasons so we’re jumping around a bit; it’s back up to Hay-on-Wye on the England/Wales border and not a million miles from the Malverns stop.
We’d seen the Dark Orchard CL recommended by several people via the CL group on Facebook and it certainly lived up to our expectations. A well looked after site with a friendly welcome from Linda and her dad, and ideally located for a five minute walk into the town or a walk as long as you want into the Black Mountains.
This was our first mountain walk in a long time with a route planned up Hay Bluff along to Twmpa and back home. The first part all went to plan and we again avoided the rain which we could see moving through the valley.
After the second climb up to Twmpa (almost 3,000ft of ascent in total today) and our usual pork pie and mustard lunch, our luck ran out and it was on with the waterproofs as we made our way down back towards the Wye valley.
The downpour didn’t last too long but by this point the paths showing on our OS map either didn’t exist on the ground, were overgrown or just horrendous walking! After 16.5 miles, a few fly bites and scrambling through muddy hillsides, we made it back both very tired in time to watch England play the Euro semi-finals and devour a well earned fish and chip dinner.
Thursday is market day in Hay so we had a wander around the various stalls. With our cupboards fully stocked we didn’t buy anything but there was a good choice of produce in addition to the local shops.
Something new for the afternoon – wild swimming! A short walk from the town along the river is a small area called The Warren which has a stony beach and easy access to the river. Armed with our new chairs and flasks of coffee, we found our spot and waded into the river. Refreshing is probably a good description! I think this was probably a gentle introduction to wild swimming as the water wasn’t as cold as expected (well by June anyway!) although the strong current made swimming quite difficult. Definitely didn’t put us off doing again though.
On the way home we popped into Hereford to see the Knife Angel, a 27ft, 3.5 ton sculpture of an angel made from 100,000 confiscated knives from police forces across the UK.
The sculpture was outside Hereford Cathedral (also worth a visit) and has been touring the UK to raise awareness of knife crime and all forms of violence and aggression.
It was home again for a weekend to see friends for dinner (thanks Miller and Carter, Rickmansworth for allowing us to overnight in their carpark after eating there) and a day at home to see the girls and use the washing machine. We don’t just visit people to use their washing machine, we promise!
Next week the adventure truly begins…..
Eastnor Castle Campsite, Herefordshire: £12 p/n. No EHU, water and toilet emptying facilities, no rubbish/recycling bins. All grass and not level. Kilma Farm CS, near Chippenham, Wiltshire: £15 p/n. EHU (able to pitch without for £10 p/n), water and dumping facilities. Currently no rubbish/recycling (June 2021). All grass Dark Orchard CL, Hay-on-Wye: £12 p/n
Back towards home and London for a week to see family, visit the dentist (again) and meet former work friends. We tried, new to us, Home Cottage Farm CL in Iver as it was convenient for home and seeing June’s mum. We originally missed the entry to the site as it’s via a, currently closed, pick-your-own farm and the site is nothing more than a small field at the end of a narrow track through the farm but it was a great find! Despite the closeness to major roads (M25 and M40) it was very peaceful and the wildlife abundant – whilst we had family over for lunch three large deer wondered out of the woods and across the adjacent field and this was after watching a woodpecker feed as we had our breakfast and a small fox cub playing in the long grass.
The original purpose for this week was to catch up with old work colleagues and a slight change of plans had us heading into central London twice for drinks and dinner. It was strange to be back in town which is still under the influence of COVID with so many places still closed and too many looking permanently shut. We had previously been frequent visitors to Borough Market and despite it being a Saturday, it was so easy to move around but again some stalls had not yet reopened. We wandered around town for a while and finally managed to buy the lightweight chairs we’d been looking for. We wanted something to fold small to take out walking with us and found exactly what we wanted.
Mid-week we moved from Iver to the CMC site at Abbeywood, SE London. We would highly recommend this site when visiting London as the train station is less than 10 minutes walk away with trains directly into London Bridge and Charing Cross. There are various pitches available for motorhomes, campervans and caravans, a tent field and various pods/lodges plus two washing machines, all situated in well kept grounds with friendly and helpful staff. Lesnes Abbey and woods are a short walk from the site and well worth a visit.
Up until COVID we had both worked in central London and had enjoyed the buzz of the city but neither of us is keen to rush back again after this visit. It was great to see friends and we will always make time to do that but we think we’ve taken to the quiet life more than we thought. Time to escape again!
After leaving London we kept the link with the city by heading upstream along the Thames into Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire where we could explore more of the Thames Path
Our first stop was Newbridge Farm CL near Witney. The site is nothing more than a farmer’s field but located within easy reach of the Thames Path and a couple of pubs. We met Sharon, a friend and former colleague of Bob’s and cycling buddy to us both at the Maybush. Although we didn’t eat there due to a miscommunication, the food had been recommended to us. The campsite backs on to the A415 and was a little noisy at times but that aside, it was excellent value for money.
Our walk from here was upstream to the nature reserve at Chimney Meadows where we found a great little bird hide from which we were able to look over the fields and the river. A lot of the path here is overgrown and we were frequently walking through grass up to our waists – not good for the hayfever! We tried to take a slight detour on the way back which involved crossing a ford which we knew could be deep at times but we thought as it was June we might be OK…. When we got there the depth was showing over 60cm deep and not being prepared for a swim we decided to walk back the way we came!
We moved a little further upriver to Friars Court in Radcot. They have two camping areas and we were on the island CL which gave us a riverside pitch (room for all five vans to be riverside) from where we could watch the people and wildlife on the river. This was a fantastically relaxing place to stay and was also very convenient for Ye Olde Swan pub where this time we met Andy, a friend of Bob’s and his wife Debbie, to while away a few hours over a drink or two. Another hayfever inducing walk along the path heading towards Lechlade where we stopped to have our lunch at St John’s lock watching as boats went through the lock. There were several geocaches along the path but the battle with the nettles proved too much and we had to register a few as “did not find”.
Our final Thames stop was the Bridgehouse Campsite in Lechlade which is located by the bridge over the Thames just minutes walk from the high street. It was also close to Cotswold Canoe Hire from where we were renting a couple of canoes for a day’s paddling further upstream with Bob’s son Tom and June’s daughter, Chloe. And quelle surprise, it was just across the road from a pub where they conveniently opened for breakfast so that got the day off to a good start!
We paddled a total of about 14km with the return being far easier as we were going with the flow of the river. This part of the river is mostly unnavigable for anything larger than a canoe which meant we didn’t have to deal with any boats….thankfully given our skill level! We finished the day with a BBQ and two of the largest steaks we could find.
Unexpectedly one of June’s school friends was staying locally so we spent a couple of hours one afternoon with Caroline and Ashley. We hadn’t managed a reunion at home for sometime but being on the road is really helping us to catch up with family and friends across the country.
Home Cottage Farm CL, Iver, Bucks: £10 p/n. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass. Abbey Wood, CMC Site, SE London: £27.60 p/n. EHU, water and disposal points. Laundry. Various pitches (we had hard standing). Newbridge Farm CL, Witney, Oxfordshire: £6 p/n. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass. Friars Court CL, Radcot, Oxfordshire: £10 p/n. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass. Bridgehouse Campsite, Lechlade, Gloucestershire: £22 p/n. EHU, water and disposal facilities. No laundry (as at end of June 2021, not all entries for this campsite appeared to have been updated with this information).
As we left Norwich to head back towards home for a second jab appointment, the weather began to change and it was rather wet as we arrived in Tring.
Balmers is a site we have used often to escape for a weekend from home especially when we’ve been to Chilfest, an 80s music festival. As we stepped out of the van on arrival the ground beneath us squelched a little but we got the mats under the tyres and had no issues moving off the next day to get to Watford for Bob’s jab. Also managed to get June’s done at the same time as they had just opened up to walk-ins for anyone eligible for a first or second jab and it was eight weeks to the day since June’s first jab so she just scraped in!
Turned out to be a busy weekend with friends visiting on the Saturday for a BBQ and then meeting family for lunch on Sunday. The BBQ didn’t quite go to plan as the weather intervened and we all ended up sitting outside under the awning wrapped in blankets!
Despite leaving our mark on the field in the form of track marks we got to the paved driveway relatively easily and made our way to Dorset and What A View, a CL that certainly lived up to its name overlooking the rolling Dorset countryside. But boy was the ground wet! We pulled on to our pitch and were going to reposition the van but became stuck in the mud. Luckily we weren’t planning to move for a couple of days and our caravanning neighbour offered to pull us out with his 4 x 4 when we did need to move.
We spent a couple of days walking locally, one of them with a friend who took us to the Iron Age hill fort at Hambledon Hill and the Roman hill fort at Hod Hill before a leisurely lunch in a local pub.
With the sun finally making an appearance and having repositioned ourselves on our pitch we were able to leave without any further incident and headed towards the coast for the first of two seaside weeks.
Our destination was the CS at Manor Farm in the village of Burton Bradstock. Being the first school holiday after lockdown restrictions had been lifted, a bank holiday and good weather forecast, it was understandably busy and we were lucky to get in although on the overspill area, along with several other vans. We didn’t mind this as we had hardstanding and EHU and didn’t plan to be around the site too much.
From here we had easy access to the South West coastal path as well as a nice walk into the local town of Bridport (Saturday is market day). The village is all old stone buildings, as were many of the villages we passed en route, and has a village shop/post office for supplies. It also seemed well served for bus routes to explore further along the coast without the need to move the van.
We wandered into West Quay on the sunny bank holiday Monday which was maybe not the best idea but crab sandwiches were calling!
We decided to move on a day earlier and found a pitch at Stover CMC site located next to Stover Country Park. On the way though we popped into Abbotsbury Swannery. It really is a fabulous place to visit with, as you would expect, lots of swans and dozens of cygnets.
Stover is a great little site for a short stay – well maintained and spacious but no toilets or showers (not just closed due to COVID – they don’t exist!) but that’s not a problem with a self-contained motorhome. The rain had come back for a couple of days but we escaped for a few hours to walk around the lake in the country park and took a path out of the park to find a war memorial to the Canadian lumberjacks who had been resident in the area during the first world war.
The next stop was a long awaited (eight years as it turned out!) catch-up with friends as we moved towards the north coast. A lovely relaxed time enjoying their hospitality, meeting their menagerie of rescued animals and the evening sun.
Another weekend and another HOG (Hymer Owners Group) event, this time on the large campsite of Easewell Farm, near Woolacombe in North Devon. We have been spoiled at the two events we have been to with fully serviced pitches and washing machines! It’s great to meet the people you “chat” to on Facebook on all things Hymer as well as motorhoming in general, and spend a couple of evenings with a glass or two of wine sitting around swapping stories.
Although we had been to this area last year we still did two spectacular coastal walks; across country and down into a wooded valley into the village of Lee and then along the coast to Mortehoe, spotting seals on the way, and secondly, the coastal path through Woolacombe out to the headland at Baggy Point. After almost 23 miles of walking in total and over 2,500 feet of ascent, the fish and chips after the second walk were well earned!
With an empty dirty washing bag and a severely depleted food/drink cupboard, we had our longest day driving so far since staring full-timing, as our next stop was The Paddock CS, an adults only site on the south shore of Rutland Water. We needed to have the van engine serviced and had tickets to the Peterborough Motorhome Show so did both from Rutland Water, using the Intercounty Truck and Van Mercedes dealership near Peterborough for the servicing.
Having spent a lot on time in the van, we needed to get out walking and spent the best part of a day walking around the reservoir. Those 16.5 miles obviously included the obligatory #clewleysstopforcoffee and as a bonus, a #justtheone almost at the end although for one heart-stopping moment we thought the pub was closed – thankfully not!
We have a couple more days here with hopefully a warmer visit from friends this afternoon and a visit to the nearby osprey centre tomorrow before another week of meeting family and friends back in London.
Sites used: Balmers CL, Wigginton, near Tring: £7 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass. What A View CL, Sturminster Newton, Dorset: £12 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass. Manor Farm CS, Burton Bradstock, Dorset: £18 per night. EHU, water and dumping. Mixed pitches Stover Camping & Caravanning Club, Devon: £22.50 per night. EHU, water and dumping but no toilets or showers on site. Mostly hard standing. Easewell Farm Campsite, near Woolacombe, Devon: special HOG meeting rate. Large family holiday park with various pitch types available. The Paddock CS, Rutland Water: £15 per night. No EHU but it is available (extra £5 per night), water and dumping facilities. All grass.
We continued our stay in the South Downs National Park (formerly two adjoining Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) moving from Small Dole to Kingston, near Lewes a little further to the east. The campsite is nothing more than a field behind a row of houses but a great location for accessing the South Downs Way.
We managed two full days of walking 10 plus miles each time, following various paths, crossing the Greenwich Meridien on several occasions and clocking up a few thousand feet of ascent.
The photos and my words cannot really do the area justice! We were lucky with the weather as our walking days seemed to be the drier ones, but the South Downs are a stunning place to go walking.
We also walked from the campsite into the town of Lewes where every house seemed to have a plaque with a historical reference attached. Sadly as this was the final week of lockdown restrictions, many places were still closed but it was still worth the visit.
From Kingston we moved a few miles east again to the village of Alfriston. We have been here several times before and, obviously (!) like the area. The village also gives easy access to the South Downs Way although beware, any walk on the ridge will begin with a long climb out of the valley!
There are three separate camping areas but all reached via the same access road and next to each other; firstly The Stables CL where we stayed, then a camping field for C&CC members and finally a general camping field. The CL is well maintained and provides EHU as well as water and dumping facilities. We were warned by the owner the CL was next to the camping field but we were not disturbed by any noise from there.
We continued the pattern of walking every other day and repeated a walk we had done previously (over 10 years ago when preparing for the Inca Trail) along the South Downs Way to Eastbourne, Beachy Head, the Seven Sisters and home along the Cuckmere Valley. Our longest walk for sometime at a fraction under 20 miles / 32 km (we just couldn’t find the extra yards/metres to round the numbers up!) and we were pleasantly exhausted when we got home back to the van. Our last walk of this distance has been at home on the towpath of the Grand Union Canal so none of the 2,000ft of ascent we did today.
The following day was our 10th wedding anniversary so a day of relaxing around the van and then for a change, dinner in a local restaurant, Deans Place. As we were still under lockdown rules, the menu was limited and we had to sit outside but apart from an issue with the main course, which was handled well, we had a great evening. Even better was the short walk back to the campsite!
We did a couple more walks along the South Downs Way, the second of which bought us into the Cuckmere Valley on the opposite side to the Seven Sisters and gave us great views of the chalk cliff faces.
If you want something flatter, then the Cuckmere Valley is also a great place to walk, starting at the rocky beach and then moving inland through small lakes and waterways to pasture lands. The Seven Sisters Country Park in the valley offers parking, a restaurant and a visitor centre and circular walks start just across the road from the Visitors Centre. Lots of birds and wildflowers to spot.
The Litlington Tea Rooms were recommended to us and as they were just a short walk from the campsite, it would have been wrong not to have paid them a visit. We managed to get out in the only gap in the rain and enjoyed a cream tea (although in our case, coffee replaced the tea but at no extra cost) in leafy surroundings.
We had an amazing two weeks exploring the eastern side of the South Downs and walked over 100 miles in total! It’s a beautiful area to visit and if the weather is on your side, you can’t have a bad day.
From one extreme to another, we left the rolling fields of Sussex for a quick visit to see our daughter in Norwich where she is coming to the end of her first year at Norwich University of The Arts. Being a student we knew we wouldn’t see her until after lunch so we had the morning to explore a little of the city. We didn’t go into the Castle as there was a wedding going on and we decided to keep out of the way, but the cathedral is worth a visit as is the area around it where there are many historic buildings to see as well as a riverside walk.
An afternoon’s shopping was the order of the day with Amy’s birthday coming up – that was more exhausting than hiking miles across the country! We had a great dinner at Jorges, a Portuguese restaurant in the city. If you’re looking for something different to eat then I would head there for good food and friendly, helpful staff. It’s quite small so making a reservation is advisable.
We stayed at the Norwich Camping and Caravan Club site which is located about a 25 minute walk outside the city centre (uphill from the campsite but fortunately downhill after dinner!). We didn’t have hook up although it was available on a number of pitches and didn’t use the facilities so cannot comment on them other than there was a reasonably priced washing machine and tumble dryer. We had one of the central pitches which felt a little cramped with motorhomes, caravans and tents seemingly haphazardly placed, but we were only there for two nights and the site was ideally placed for getting into the City, which also contributes to the price. Access to water and the grey dump was also awkward so as we didn’t really need either, we left the site without using either.
Sites used: Newholme CL: £8 per night, no EHU and all grass. Water and dumping facilities. Note re campsite access – it’s only from the south of the village as there is a width restriction if coming the other way. The Stables CL, Alfriston: £15 per night, EHU, water and dumping facilities. All grass pitches
Norwich CMC site: £20.65 per night, no EHU (but available). Water and dumping facilities available. Laundry.
It hasn’t taken us too long to get into a routine and so far, neither of us is missing being in a house. In fact, we spent one night back at home in between dental appointments last week and it felt a little strange!
We didn’t move too far in the first couple of weeks; from Marlborough to Bishops Canning and then on to Calne for a weekend with other members of the Hymer Owners Group. We popped into Devizes for the local market which is how we hope to be able to do more shopping going forward but as there’s no single list of markets, it’s all a bit hit and miss at the moment.
The site at Bishops Canning was another CL but no EHU. It sits right alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal so plenty of (flat!) walking and we went as far as the Caen Locks. The wildlife along the canal was a little disappointing in that we didn’t see much unlike the Grand Union at home which is abundant with water birds including the occasional kingfisher despite all the human activity.
A first for us was a weekend meet with the Hymer Owners Group. It was great to finally be able to put some names to faces of some of the contributors to the Facebook group and we’ll catch up with them again in June. The location was a large campsite catering for all camping types but we had our own little paddock so plenty of stopping to chat with the other owners. Another location with plenty of walking but we have found that several of the footpaths we have wanted to use were either poorly maintained or in a couple of instances, blocked off. Maybe we’ve just been spoiled in Hertfordshire but it was frustrating having to reroute walks when we were planning of the latest OS maps. However, we did get to the Cherhill Monument which gave us amazing views over the Wiltshire countryside and we bagged a series of Geocaches as we walked back to the campsite along an old Roman road.
We also walked to Bowood House but as the house was closed (COVID again) it didn’t seem worth paying the entrance fee for just the garden. We’re back here again for the balloon festival in July so maybe we’ll look again then.
Our touring life was briefly interrupted with a quick trip home for dental appointments and a haircut! Unfortunately, the appointments were on different days so we had to stay in the house for one night (one advantage of renting the house to family – we always have a bed!) but made the most of it by clearing all the boxes to the charity shop, taking back what we decided we didn’t need in the van and, oh, a meal out to celebrate Bob’s birthday!
We stayed closer to home for a couple of nights on a CS we have used a couple of times before, Hill Farm in Wendover. Whilst here we were able to catch up with family and have a wander through Wendover Woods where it’s bluebell season (a common thread of all the places we’ve stayed recently).
We have a few weeks before we need to be home again (Bob’s second COVID jab this time) so we drove down to West Sussex. A supermarket stop was due and we found a Morrison’s in Littlehampton. Turns out it was a good find in that as well as food and fuel, it also sold LPG (needed for heating and cooking) as well as having an outside laundry! Launderettes seems to be harder and harder to find and we had seen supermarkets with washers and dryers outside in France and Spain but this was the first time we’d found one in England. We can manage small amounts of washing on the road but need machines for bedding and towels. Little finds like this with everything in one place, make us very happy!
Farmhouse Campsite is a couple of fields just outside the village of Small Dole. The large field was full of caravans and tents when we arrived so we were directed to a smaller field with two other vans and a couple of caravans. We had some initial concerns but it hasn’t really been noisy at all.
We picked the site because of its location for walking so yesterday we went across the fields to Devil’s Dyke and then along the South Downs Way, picking up a few more Geocaches. We were lucky with the weather (the forecast was for showers most of the day) and managed to avoid one downpour by finding a pop-up coffee stop in a barn and run by a local cycling club. We couldn’t have timed it better!
Some more walking to come this week and we’re pleased to report that the footpaths are all well marked and easy to follow. Although touring the UK wasn’t our initial plan, we are loving exploring our own backyard.
Bishops Canning CL: £13 per night, no EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass.
Blackland Lakes Campsite: group price for the weekend. Multiple pitch types
Hill Farm CS, Wendover: £20 per night, EHU, water and dumping facilities (showers and toilets also available but closed this visit due to COVID). 4 out of 5 pitches hard-standing.
Farmhouse Campsite: Small Dole: £17 per night, EHU, water and dumping facilities. All grass
Monday April 12th 2021 will stick in people’s minds for many reasons being it was the day many of the tighter COVID restrictions were lifted. For some it would be the first post lockdown pint, for others the first haircut in months, for many the long awaited visit to see family or friends (still only the Rule of Six though), and for a few, queueing at your favourite non-essential shop….the list goes on. For us it only meant one thing, the move to the motorhome to begin our life on the road.
After weeks of trying to whittle down the contents of the house to what we would be taking with us and the stuff we wanted to keep for when we do finally return to a house, after a couple of trips to load up the van, we were ready to go.
Our first night was not too far from home to give us the opportunity to make sure we had everything although we couldn’t get on to the campsite next to the storage facility to we had to go a few miles down the road to Hertford. It was just as well we did this as the celebratory steak we were having for dinner was still in the house fridge! We were always going back home the following day to fill the van with gas from the local boatyard so celebrations were simply put on hold for 24 hours!
Monday 19th April Can’t believe the first week has gone already! After leaving Hertford and travelling via home and June’s mums (first face to face meeting since July 2020) we headed down the M4 to Marlborough and the Savernake Forest. We’re staying on a great CL on a working farm a couple of miles south of Marlborough with views across the fields. It’s so quiet and peaceful here!
The forest itself is well worth a visit. It is an area of ancient woodland (first reference to the woodland here was in AD934) which has passed down from father to son (or daughter, on four occasions) in an unbroken line of hereditary “forest wardens”. In 31 generations, it has never once been bought or sold in a thousand years, and today it is the only ancient forest in Britain still in private hands, although managed by Forestry England.
The forest contains a number of ancient oaks including “Big Belly Oak”, one of Fifty Great British Trees named and honoured as part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations. It has a girth of 11 metres (36 ft) and is 1000–1100 years old. In 2001 it was in danger of splitting in two, a fate that had already overtaken the similarly aged Duke’s Vaunt. To prevent this, the tree was fitted with a metal corset.
Once away from the main road the only noise is birdsong and we spent some time one morning just watching woodpeckers flying in and out of the trees.
From the back of the farm there are multiple footpaths heading across country so we made our way to Martinsell Hill (the third highest point in Wiltshire at 289m/948 ft above sea level and the site of an Iron Age Hillfort) where there was only one thing we could do when we came to Pork Pie corner!
We were also able to access the Kennet and Avon Canal but despite our constantly scanning the banks, no kingfishers came out to play. We’ve had a great week here and will definitely come back!
It’s now February 2021 and COVID continues to dominate our lives as we’re in Lockdown 3. Since returning from our trip in November, we have been in quarantine twice, which is as many times as we’ve managed to get to the van in the same time. We have been fortunate not to have had the virus and the year of being thrown together all day, every day without driving each other mad certainly bodes well for living in the van!
One big change for 2021 is that we have now both stopped working which was the original plan to allow us to ship the van to Canada and begin our life on the road. We decided whilst in Spain that this probably wasn’t going to happen this year and currently the travel plan for this year is still very much up in the air. The trip back to northern Norway at the end of January, which was booked pre-COVID, was obviously cancelled and with no sign yet as to when we can even move out of the local area, there is currently nothing booked, something unheard of in this house!
But….although there are no bookings and not even any maps on the wall, we have ideas and are still hoping to get to Nordkapp for the midnight sun and then down to Morocco for the Autumn/Winter. As well as dealing with COVID and ensuring we are close to home when we get the call for our vaccinations, the joy that is Brexit is limiting our time in Europe (90 days maximum in any 180) so we, probably like many UK motorhomers, will be touring closer to home. Not that that’s a problem as there’s so much of our beautiful country to see and we’ll need to incorporate a few things to be done on the van enroute. We’ll also be able to visit friends and family who we don’t get to see very often!
Being at home has given us the time to have a good sort out and clear all the accumulated clutter before moving full time to the motorhome. We are still surrounded by boxes waiting for the charity shops to re-open but have been able to add to the travel fund with a few online sales. June’s eldest daughter has now firmly taken residence in the house (along with numerous more boxes!) as she will be living here whilst we travel.
Not having the inconvenience of work and not being able to go too far has meant that we have explored the local area and found so many footpaths that we didn’t know existed. We really have come to appreciate where we live. Although we are keen walkers, we still like a challenge to keep us motivated so signed up to Walk 1000 Miles in 2021 and despite losing 10 days to January’s quarantine we are ahead of schedule. The walking is needed to keep the weight gain from home cooking at bay!
Given that we’ll be full timing in the van next year we had decided to have a big holiday this year where we stayed in brick buildings and had access to a fairly constant supply of hot water, so back in the carefree days of 2019, we settled on a month’s tour of India covering as much of the country as possible. Comfy business class flights were booked courtesy of points and everything was looking good. Then came the virus from China that would bring the World to a standstill….
Fast forward to Summer 2020 and with India close to the top of the list of countries hardest hit by the virus, the tour was cancelled so we had to decide on how we were going to spend our month off (Bob had saved and booked the leave, June’s contract extension negotiation had included the leave so we weren’t not going to do something). The thoughts went something like this:
Another long-haul destination on an Exodus tour – maybe Namibia, Botswana? Nope
Croatia – too many borders opening and closing between home and there to negotiate
UK – Wales, Scotland, Northumbria
Germany – regions starting prohibiting travel
Sweden – then Denmark closed its borders to the UK and the plan was to drive through Denmark
UK again – actually booked campsites in north and south Wales and the Lakes (including a meeting with the company who are going to do the van carpets) for the first week.
Then the UK started to suffer its second wave with areas being tiered according to infection rates. North and South Wales were one of the first areas to tighten activities (and as I type this, they are now on the second day of 17 of total lockdown) followed by the area of Scotland covering Glasgow and Edinburgh and much of the northern part of England. We knew we would have a good time wherever we could travel in the UK but the idea of going to Europe was beginning to grow. We’d be in our own bubble in the motorhome and our preference is to be in remote, mountain regions so the chances of catching COVID would be no different to at home (possibly less with no contact with children working in pubs or at university) providing we took all the necessary caution with wearing masks and carrying copious amounts of sanitiser. A new thermometer was even purchased to monitor our temperatures so we could head home at the first sign of any problems.
With the start of our leave imminent, we took the plunge and booked our Eurotunnel ticket just three days before we left and had a very loose plan of travelling through France and around the edge of Spain and Portugal. I don’t think either of us believed we were going anywhere until we actually drove on to the train at Ashford but that we did just as Spain announced restrictions in several regions, including most of those along the French border and the north coast. Still, we’d got to France and after that we didn’t really mind where we went – a month in France wouldn’t be the worst thing!
First stop was the Aire de Baie de Somme, our usual stopover when heading south through France. Great little stop on the motorway but we arrived to find most of the parking area closed – was this a sign of things to come? Looked like they were just doing some renovations so we had to park close to the main building but managed to have a decent night’s sleep.
With the news about Spain we had decided that a slow meander around the north and west coast before heading to the Pyrenees and the Alps might be a good idea as we’ve previously just passed through France on our way somewhere else. With that in mind we took a slow drive along the coast to Honfleur taking in some beautiful scenery and unexpected fun driving.
Tonight’s stop was the aire at Honfleur, a huge car riverside car park close to the centre of the town and usually overflowing with motorhomes. We arrived about 4pm and secured a waterside pitch and although the aire got busier it was still relatively quiet. Cost for 24 hours was €11.
Whilst we are avoiding busy places, we took the short walk into town for dinner. A number of restaurants were closed and those which were open were operating a reduced capacity. It was such a good evening though that we decided to sit outside overlooking the harbour to enjoy a seafood feast!
Before going to dinner, we checked the Spanish travel websites and the map and worked out that we could go back to the original plan (well a slightly amended version of the original version of this trip – I think this is going to become a common theme!) and go to Spain but take a different route avoiding the travel restrictions in the north.
With the change in plans today was a driving day, heading south. The weather was grey with occasional showers but throughout a strong wind – Bob said he felt like he’s had a full workout by the time we got to our overnight stop. Tonight, we’re in another riverside aire at Bruère-Allichamps, a reasonable size aire with hard and grass parking plus hook up. Cost for the night was €9.79 plus €5 for the Camping-Car Park card which we can recharge as needed and use at other CCP aires.
Tonight’s destination is the town of Millau but despite it being almost all motorway we get to drive through the Massif Central and across the Millau Viaduct, a stunning piece of engineering. A first today with June finally getting behind the wheel of this van and taking a short turn at driving.
We arrived in Millauearly enough to go for a short walk along the river and around the old town. We’re in another CCP aire, two minutes walk from the river which costs €11.01 for a night. After two nights parked under trees we have come to the conclusion that that’s not a good idea when it’s raining as they drip constantly all night!
From Millau we were moving on to Carcassonne to visit the old medieval fortified city. The route given by the sat-nav was again motorway all the way but we’re always keen to explore the slightly more adventurous roads and the 2-3 hour journey became a full day of winding roads and glorious autumnal forests which gradually became vineyards as we came down from the mountains.
There is an aire located next to the Cite Campsite which is about 15 minutes walk from the old city along the River Aude and costs €15 plus 22c per person per night. We were staying here for two nights to have the time to visit the city and catch up on some general house keeping.
As of today, due to the entire Basque region going into total lockdown and much of the rest of Spain under curfew we decide that we are going to spend the entire trip in France.
After the rain stopped, we had a bright and sunny morning exploring Carcassonne including paying to visit the Chateau Comtal and the city ramparts (€9.50 each for an unguided tour). It was well worth the entrance fee and pre-booking a timeslot was a good idea as we didn’t have to queue. Whilst it is sad to see so many places closed due to COVID-19 (did manage a #clewleysstopforcoffee of course) it does mean that everywhere is relatively quiet – the city is probably heaving during summer.
Our biggest expenditure today was on a detailed map book of France….
Fast forward three hours and we’re going to Spain tomorrow!!! Initially we’re aiming just across the border to Santa Pau in the Parc Natural de la Zona Volcanica de la Garrotxa before coming back to France via Andorra. The Catalonia region is still open to travel through and is the only area where you can cross the border.
Left France and crossed the border into Spain as if it was business as usual and have camped for the night in a free aire in the village of Santa Pau.
Somewhere previously it was mentioned that our plans were nothing if not flexible and we awoke this morning to the news that France may now be going into lockdown with effect from tomorrow night. The President is speaking later today so we’ll wait to see what he has to say but in the meantime we’re planning a route around Spain…..
28th October – continued!
Three hours later and another change of plan as most of Spain has gone into lockdown with no inter-regional travel allowed and France has confirmed the same. It seems we are stuck in Catalonia unless we want to head back to Calais and wait around for the next available crossing. Given it is half term and a lot of people will make the immediate decision to return home, we have no idea when that crossing would be available and at what cost.
Our other option is to stay in this area and maybe find a campsite to wait out at least the next week to see what happens next. This coming weekend is a holiday weekend in Spain so many of the travel restrictions are in place to stop people travelling for this. Thankfully we have plenty of wifi (before we came away Superdrug were doing an unbelievable offer of £20 a month with unlimited data which can be used in Europe so we have been hammering that) so it’s on to the internet to find a campsite and with the help of Google Translate, Bob fired out a few emails. Off to sleep tonight not knowing what tomorrow would bring!
Awoke to a couple of emails with one campsite able to take a week’s booking so after re-stocking the cupboard with food and drink for a week we head up into the Pyrenees to Camping Rèpos del Pedraforca.
What a little gem this place is! We’ve booked for an initial week and can stay longer if we want. We’re in the lower part of the campsite which is mostly caravans and cabins but have hook up and easy access to water. The shower block is just a few metres away and has a washing machine and drier – will be able to leave here all clean and fresh smelling!
The campsite is really quiet at the moment (the weekend may be a different story), the weather is glorious and the scenery breath-taking.
After days seemingly stuck in the van driving, today we were able to relax and explore a little of the Parc Natural del Cadi-Moixeró with a shortish (11km) return walk to the ruins of the Monastery of Sant Sebastià del Sull. It may have been a short walk by our standards but it was all downhill from the campsite to the Río de Saldes which meant the return was all uphill….
Words cannot express the beauty of the area and the trees in their autumnal colours just added to it. Spain is so much more than the Costas and the beaches.
We spent a short time at the site of the ruins just taking in the silence of everything except the river running just below us and watching the eagles soaring high above the valley.
June had to test the water and can confirm it was cold!
A quick stroll to the local Dolmen de Molers, a megalithic burial chamber dating from the Metal Ages (1800-1400 BC). Excavations had yielded a number of archaeological finds which are now in a museum and the site remains the most important prehistoric monument in the Bergueda region.
Up earlyish today for a walk to the Mirador de Gresolet with views over the Saldes valley and the surrounding mountains. Again, it wasn’t going to be too far distance wise but it wasn’t going to be flat with a total ascent of almost 700m in the first 7km.
Luckily the big height gains occurred as short, sharp climbs and a lot of the walk was in the forest and protected from the sun (we have had a very hot few days). The effort though was worth it for a lunch with a view!
Contrary to the previous walk, it was mostly downhill on the way back.
An easy day after yesterday’s walk but surprisingly neither of us ached too much! One advantage of the restricted travel is that we’re getting a taste of really living in the van rather than holidaying in it and have had plenty of time to organise (and reorganise) everything we currently deem “essential”. It’s a slow process but we are getting there.
Van days are also needed to keep on top of the chores (cleaning and washing still needs to be done) but are also cooking days – homemade bread is becoming the norm, and it’s the opportunity to be inventive with whatever we have to keep to a minimum what gets thrown away!
Weather has closed in a bit today so we headed down the mountain in search of the nearest LPG station which was in Puig-reig, about a 45km drive away. With the help of the app called myLPG.euThis also gave the chance to stop in Berga again to pick up a few fresh items from the supermarket.
It has been good to see that mask wearing is the norm here and even in the street, almost everyone complies with the law, far more than the number back home.
On the way back we stopped for lunch by the side of the Pantá de la Baells (more lake than bog – the literal translation of “pantá”!) with a view over the Baells dam.
4th – 7th November
The weather is a bit all over the place at the moment (probably to be expected given it is November!) one day being wet and the next being sunny and clear again, so we did a couple of shorter walks to explore more of the area and had a couple of van days getting on with the admin that life in general throws out. As more Spanish provinces seem to be tightening their COVID rules and locking down even more, we decided to stay another week at the campsite. At €18 a day for everything we need and with a stunning view, there seems little reason to move.
One of these days did throw up a record of which we should not be proud – the lowest ever daily total of steps recorded by the Fitbit! On Saturday 7th November, June managed the incredible total of just 471 steps…. It was very wet outside and in a van less than 7m long, there are only so many steps you can do!
However we are pleased that the above was an exception and we have done our best to take as many of the footpaths from the campsite as possible around the eastern side of the Pedraforca Massif. The mountain itself was created after the collision of two tectonic plates and subsequent folding of the rocks to leave two limestone peaks (the Pollegons) and inbetween, the fork (the Enforcadura) where the softer rocks have eroded away to form large scree slopes on either side of the mountain. This has given the mountain its unique profile which features on the local, regional flag.
There are a number of Romanesque churches found in small villages and there are the remains of a medieval castle just outside Saldes.
Today we got off our backside to walk to the aforementioned castle and church on the mountain above Saldes. Although none of our walks here have been that long, they have not been flat and after today’s one we certainly qualified for our mountain goat badges!
The walk to the castle involved descending part way down the valley from the campsite and then heading up hill again, into, through and beyond Saldes, zig-zagging upwards for a total of almost 200m.
After bagging our first geocache in the area (not for lack of trying with others!) we then started back down to the valley floor through the forested hillsides. Much of the track seemed to be following a dried up steam bed – a little slippery and steep in places and by the time we got to the bottom the knees were screaming!
We took a few minutes to have a snack by the river which was running faster and deeper after the previous day’s rain – when we’d been up at the castle, which was over 300m above the valley floor, the only noise was the river.
Van day just pottering and cooking. We didn’t know if we’d get bored with these quieter days but so far we’re both adjusting well to not doing much and even more so being that we are in exceptional times at the moment and can’t move freely around. Once we’re out on the road fulltime we don’t think we would ordinarily spend as long in one place.
After spending almost two weeks looking at Pedraforca and walking most of the eastern edges, it seemed right that we had to get a little closer at least once so today the plan was to drive to Gosol, about 10km from the campsite, to see how far we could get up the western side where the peaks are supposedly more accessible…. After an earlyish start we found the car park in Gosol which was very quiet (we reckon the town would be heaving in the summer) and began the long, slow climb.
The first part of the walk is uphill along a farm track and is very boring – boring to the point that we both thought if the rest of the walk is going to be like this then we’re not going to enjoy it! After about 1km (and a gain of 148m) we entered the forest and our mood changed very quickly. The path continued uphill but became more challenging as we were climbing over rocks and tree roots of the pine woods on the flanks of the Serra de la Tossa. After 2.3km and 475m of climb we reached the Pla de la Serra, a flat grassy plateau with breath-taking views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. A good place for a #clewleysstopforcoffee!
We carried on walking for another 700m to a height of almost 2,000m which gave us a total climb of 586m. Having looked at the scree slopes we decided that this was the point at which we turn around and do the whole walk in reverse. It is possible to get to the top of Pollego Superior but this involved crossing the loose scree and then scrambling over boulders – not something we fancied. Turned out to be a good call as the weather closed in a little as we finished our descent and if we had been up at the peak, we’d have got a little wet!
The walk back down definitely qualified us for our advanced mountain goat badges and thankfully we had walking poles with us today as they came into their own with the steep (over 40% gradient in places) and slippery path. We stopped again at the Pla de la Serra just to take it all in, and whilst not in religious way, be thankful for what we have and are able to do.
After lunch we walked around the town a little but being siesta time (plus COVID) everything was closed.
It did seem like it would be a good place to visit with a couple of restaurants and bars around the edge of a small square. The town also has a connection with Picasso and there is small museum dedicated to him. We walked up through the steep streets to visit the church and castle ruins from where we could over the plain to where we had walked earlier.
Our last full day on the campsite so it was housework day. With not knowing where we’d be staying from now until we got home on 21st November, it was a day to get all the washing wash done and tanks filled and emptied as necessary.
Although this area had not been part of our original trip, we were so lucky to have found the campsite and it was the perfect place for us to stay for two weeks, especially as the alternative was to head straight back to the UK. It’s not somewhere we would stay in the summer but would be great for families with lots to do on site, but we saw few people whilst we were there and with the weather being so good, we were able to get out and explore the wider area on foot.
Moving day and having checked the travel restrictions, we’re heading to Andorra. Looking at the map, it should be a fairly straight route but that’s not our style so there was a slight detour towards the Tossa Pelada, a peak of 2,379m and a perfect place for a #clewleysstopforcoffee. It was then a journey back down to the village of Tuixen, along a few windy roads to the town of La Seu d’Urgell and on to the border with Andorra.
The border crossing was surprisingly easy and we parked at our glamorous overnight spot of the lower carpark of the River Commercial Centre car park in Sant Julia de Loria. Not as picturesque as the last two weeks but we needed food and at least there was a loud, fast moving river next to us which covered the traffic noise.
Time to get out of the town and make our way back into the mountains. Lots of driving today (mostly just for the sake of it!) following the marked roads to the west of the main road which runs through Andorra. It’s funny in that you can always tell the towns and villages that have hosted a major cycle race (both the Tour de France and the Vuelta de Espana regularly visit the Pyrenees) as despite the terrain and gradients and the harsh winters, the tarmac is immaculate!
First stop was the top of the valley above Pal where the road literally runs out when you reach the Spanish border
From there we visited another ski resort, Arinsal and then the road out of Ordino where there is another ski resort (Ordino Arcalis) at the head of the valley. There is no snow around at the moment and very few people around so the large car parks in the skiing areas make for great overnight spots and we had two undisturbed nights here.
Another unplanned stay but worth the visit as there is plenty of good walking from the car park and with no light pollution, an amazing view of the night sky.
We followed one of the footpaths which should have taken us around the lakes that have formed in the bowl below the Pic de Tristagne however we were only able to go halfway as the path disappeared under a rockfall. Instead we took the lower path around the edge of the lakes back to the van, which was still a stunning walk.
In need of facilities we slowly inched back down the valley to an aire in the town of Massana. It’s nothing more than a roadside carpark but we’re able to empty and refill before moving to the mountains in the east of Andorra. The aire also has wifi access which we were grateful for as Andorra is not covered in any of the data packages we have and for the past two days we’ve relied on a (closed) café whose wifi became available during their usual opening hours!
Not our best night as it was noisy, there was a lot of light from outside and the wifi wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be! We did realise afterwards that we could have paid for a short stay in the car park and used the facilities before moving straight on – something to remember for next time.
Moan over and it was back to the mountains, this time to the car park of the Granelvalira ski resort in Gau-Roig. Unfortunately, weight restrictions meant we couldn’t take the winding road over the mountain but it was only a short journey and still very picturesque.
Again, we had the whole carpark to ourselves with the exception of a few workmen preparing the ski facilities for the upcoming season (although it would appear that it’s the local equivalent of a supermarket car park and there was an abundance of learner drivers practising manoeuvres!), and again we were able to connect to the wifi of a closed information office.
Last hike of the trip which like all the others wasn’t flat! This one followed a ski lift up the mountain and then back down another ski run after a short distance of picking our way downhill through a boulder field to a lake – good place for coffee and cake.
With very little light pollution, it was a good place to watch the Leonid Meteor shower and we managed to capture some footage on the GoPro.
18th -21st November
Time to start the journey home. We planned to stop tonight in the motorhome car park in El Pas de la Casa, a large “shopping resort” on the French border and only a very short distance from where we were. As Andorra is duty free (diesel was 77p a litre as opposed to around £1.12 at home) we thought we’d do a bit of shopping first but decided just to use the facilities in the car park (free for 30 mins) so the tanks were full/empty for the trip to Calais. This would also mean that we could have a slightly more relaxed drive and not have to cover 1,000km in two days and nor would we be staying in motorway aires.
A slight detour as we left Andorra led us back to almost where we started and meant that we had to use a tunnel at a cost – the plan was to avoid toll roads on the way home as we had the extra time. We managed to stick to that plan right until we got to Boulogne where we joined the motorway a junction too early so had to pay one final toll in France (one to pay for the Dart Crossing in the UK). Still we managed to save around €100 in relation to the journey down through France.
The road home took us via aires in Cahors, a quiet 3-van site riverside and surprisingly quiet for being town centre, Theillay, a small piece of ground on a bend on a road between some farm storage and a cemetery (very quiet!) and finally Berck, about an hour from Calais, in a large beachside motorhome carpark that was very windy!
The drive had been quieter than we anticipated as the French were obeying their lockdown rules and although we saw a few vehicles in supermarket car parks, most of the traffic on the road was lorries. As required, we had printed copies of the attestation document for each day of the journey and a screenshot on the phone of the French translation of “we are travelling to our home in the UK” but despite seeing plenty of Gendarme, we were not stopped. We’d also lodged our contact details with the UK Gov website as once back in the UK, we’d have to go into quarantine for 14 days.
We were up sharp on the Saturday to prep the van to drive back to the UK and directly to the storage site where it would probably stay for a couple of months. The last day’s driving was uneventful although the UK roads were far busier than France, despite the UK also being in lockdown and only “essential” travel allowed.
We’ve been home since yesterday afternoon; bags are unpacked and the washing machine has been going non-stop all morning. We had an amazing month away despite the challenges of COVID which, initially, made us constantly have to revise our plans. We could have just given up after the first week when France and then Spain, region by region, closed their borders but a bit of luck and some random emails led us to the campsite in Saldes which proved to be an ideal place to spend a couple of weeks. We found a beautiful area of Spain to explore which was not on our original route and it added to our thought that northern Spain is such an under-rated region. We will certainly be back.
We did weigh up the situation with staying remote in Spain and Andorra vs coming home and saw no advantage to returning to the UK until our scheduled date. The only concession we made was to do a few big supermarket shops rather than multiple visits to village shops or markets which was nothing different to what we’d do at home. In fact, it felt safer in Spain as we saw few people not wearing masks even as they walked in the street and we were actually stopped for not using hand sanitiser as we entered a supermarket (we had used our own a couple of minutes earlier when taking a trolley).
Amazon has been hit hard today with things we found missing from the van which we will need when we move in to it next year to travel full time. Maps for planning the next trip were also in the basket as we start working on Plan B for 2021, just in case COVID continues to rumble on and postpone the big Canada and Pan American Highway trip.
Whatever happens in 2021, whether it’s driven by COVID or Brexit (that’s another story!), we will be travelling – there’s still so much of this world to see!
Can we just state that at the moment we are still working! It might not look like it with all this time away and we are definitely in wind down mode to the end of the year when we both stop in anticipation of going full time, but for the time being we are fitting the travelling around work.
The van was a year old in August and as part of the warranty, it needed a check and the underneath to be sealed. As we hadn’t bought the van locally to home, we knew this would entail a trip to Norfolk and after having sorted the youngest’s move date to university (coincidentally also to Norfolk for the Norwich University of the Arts) we decided to make the trip a week and split it over two locations.
First stop was a CL at Eastwood Whelpton boat yard located in the Norfolk Broads in the village of Upton. A quiet little spot with minimal facilities but with the solar panels and extra leisure batteries we can easily do a few days without hook up. If you’re into boating and sailing it’s a good base but we’re not so we stuck to walking through the multiple paths across the Broads. A large area of the wetlands here was purchased by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and managed back to its previous marsh state. There is now lots of arable farming (the marshes had previously been drained) and the area is home to some of Norfolk’s rarest wildlife.
We ventured into the village a couple of times and along the way bought plums and apples from outside a house – a large bag of each for a grand total of £1! There is a community run pub, the White Horse, and adjoining community shop, both of which we used and would recommend.
After the bank holiday it was a quick trip to Becks to get the van work done and get a couple of spares which we might need for future travels (not sure of the availability of Hymer spares in the depths of Alaska!). Sadly, we couldn’t get the carpets sorted (three lots from Germany and none of them fitted!) but no problem with the refund so we can go and get some made to measure. One of the reasons we went to Becks was their reputation for aftercare and customer service and although we’ve not had any major issues with the van, they have been helpful when needed.
Van all sorted, we headed off the following day to Rutland Water where we’re staying at The Paddock campsite, although only the CL field and without any hook up. It’s a very tidy, adults only site with easy access to the reservoir and our plan was for a bit more walking and, for the first time in almost two years, getting on our bikes! The nearby village has a well stocked shop (the Edith Weston Village Store) although you have to watch the opening hours as we missed it one day – not sure if it’s because it is run by volunteers or due to COVID that the hours are limited.
Having explored on foot a little of the path which runs around the reservoir, the bikes were prepped for the following day.
The cycleway/footpath is a mix of paved road and some rougher off-road patches and on the whole was gently undulating although there were a couple of short steep sections where we have to admit to getting off and walking! The total distance was about 37km and considering how long it had been since our last ride, we felt remarkably good at the end.
Certainly a site that we would go back to and even more so given the short time it took us to drive home – we hadn’t realised how easy a drive it was!
After spending a night at the campsite next to where we store the van, it was back down the A303 again for another re-arranged weekend and this time with two fellow motorhome owning couples and former colleagues of Bob. After a really hot spell the weather forecast was not so good and we set off in torrential rain but luckily it brightened up as we got further from home. The early start also paid off and although it was slow in places, we kept moving all the way.
Our destination was Damage Barton Campsite near Woolacombe. Not our usual type of campsite (seaside during school holidays) but a great location and somewhere our friends knew well. The site is close to the South West Coastal path so the days would be spent walking and the then the evenings reminiscing over a beer or two!
Damage BartonHaving all arrived around the same time it was off to Lee to stretch the legs, trying to avoid the rain but that wasn’t overly successful. It definitely got the legs going though, as did all the walks this weekend, as the coastal path is known for its ups and downs! At least with the motorhome we are able to come home to central heating and a hot shower. Got our first complaint that night from the miserable couple opposite who complained we were making too much noise – it was 10.30 on a Saturday night and all we were doing was talking!
Up the following day for a walk across the headland to Woolacombe Bay and a pasty on the beach for lunch! The sun had come out and it was a glorious day with the rain only resuming when we were just five minutes away from the van on our way back. Luckily only a shower this time so BBQs were out that night resulting in complaint number two! This time it was only 6.30 and our conversation was again the target of our neighbour’s grumbling despite all the children running around and other people being outside their vans. Some people just like to moan! What was funny though is when he came over to ask “which one of you is the ex-cop?”. We didn’t have the heart to tell them that only one out of the six of us wasn’t but as our number plate includes “999” you would have thought that he might have had some clue as to who one was!
The final day’s walking was out to the Bull Point Lighthouse and then to Morte Point along the rugged coastline. We had forgotten how spectacular the area is.
The weather returned to that forecasted that evening with the wind getting up and the rain coming back in again – just as June was queueing at the fish and chip van which visits the site every Monday. Timing wasn’t so good as everyone seemed to have gone for their dinners at the same time but on the upside, we knew that it was freshly cooked!
Despite out initial reservations it was a great campsite and although far larger than we’d usually go for, it was well spaced and overall, pretty quiet. It’s affiliated to both the CCC and MCC so has to keep to certain standards and to thrown in the COVID need for social distancing and cleanliness, it was doing a really good job!
This was originally scheduled for May but luckily, we were able to rearrange for this weekend and by this time more of the COVID-19 restrictions had been lifted.
Bob had arranged this weekend as a surprise so June had no idea where they were going other than in a westerly direction! Turned out to be Combe Saint Nicholas near Chard in Somerset and the accommodation was “The Pod”.
Another weekend with nothing much planned and as it was the weather was so good all we did do was enjoy the weather and the beautiful surroundings. The only disturbance to the peace and quiet came when Bob decided to play with his drone and had to rescue it from the field behind us which was reached by walking through a stream and some trees. He says it was the wind that took it away and nothing to do with his flying skills…..
The Pod was completely self-contained with everything we needed for the weekend plus a jacuzzi on the deck (all included in the price). All we had for company were the ducks, Flopsy and Gizmo the sheep and George, the automatic lawn mower that came out of its house a few times a day!
It was a perfect weekend finished off with sitting in the jacuzzi on Saturday night with a glass of good red wine doing a bit of stargazing.
How excited are we? Lockdown restrictions are being eased so we’re off for the first proper long weekend of the year having cancelled too many previously planned trips. And our choice destination? We’re going a whole 23 miles from home to Hill Farm Campsite near Wendover. This was a new place for us as we had received no replies from our usual local hideaways but given all the uncertainty and requirements to be COVID safe it wasn’t surprising. Turned out to be a good choice and probably now our preferred local campsite!
The plan for the weekend was some walking, some relaxing and spending some time trying to bed the new van in. With no travel since a quick weekend visit to Preston in January to have air suspension fitted on the rear, we haven’t had much of a chance to get things organised as it’s going to take a while for everything to find its home.
And that’s exactly what we did do! Wendover Woods is Forestry England land which has received significant investment in recent years and now boasts a huge café with a large outside area overlooking the countryside. Of course this was the perfect excuse for a #clewleysstopforcoffee! Apart from the café, there are plenty of well signed walking trails for all ages and abilities (the Woods contain the highest point in the Chilterns at 876ft so potential for lots having to walk uphill!), a bridle path around the edge and a couple of areas designated for off road biking. The campsite is adjacent to the woods with easy access across a field.
As well as walking within the Woods, we also took a longer walk to Coombe Hill where there is a memorial to the Boer War. This area was once part of the Chequers Estate (the UK PM’s country retreat) and from the top there are stunning views across The Vale of Aylesbury and Buckinghamshire. Coombe Hill is in the northern Chilterns and forms part of the Ridgeway National Trail which starts near by at Ivinghoe Beacon and runs south west for 87 miles to Overton Hill near Avebury in Wiltshire.
This walk involved dropping down from the highest point in the Woods, crossing through the gap in the Chilterns in which Wendover sits and then climbing up to the monument and of course reversing it to come back – a total of over 1200ft in ascent. The coffee and cake on the way back at Rumsey’s Chocolaterie was certainly deserved! Wendover is, indecently, Bob’s maternal home and his mums family can be traced as living there since the 1700s.
Back to the campsite. It is a small, well maintained, family run Camping and Caravan Club CS for five motorhomes/caravans and then a separate field for tents. There are three individual shower/toilet rooms, all immaculately clean, and washing up facilities. The lack of light pollution means that it is also well positioned for watching the night sky and we were lucky enough to catch Comet Neowise as it passed over. We really enjoyed staying and will be going back (already booked for September).
The mission to see the Northern Lights continues and we find ourselves back in Iceland for a long weekend with our good friends Sarah and Colin. Having covered the Reykjavik area and the south coast during our last trip, this time we were heading north of the capital to a lodge on a hillside not too far from the town of Borganes.
The recent weather had been quite stormy (and that’s stormy by Icelandic standards!) with the airport being closed at one point but we arrived safely. First stop was for the essential supplies:
Having picked up the rental car, a 4 x 4 was essential, it was a relatively calm drive from the airport to Borganes for lunch and a trip to the supermarket to stock up on food. Iceland is very expensive so the plan was to eat at home as much as possible and keep the eating out to lunchtime only.
Although the weather was calm, there had been recent snowfall and arriving at the property we couldn’t get right to the top of the driveway to unload the car!
We’d picked a remote house this time to stay away from the city lights in the hope of getting the best view should the Lights come out to play. The house had stunning views across the Borgarfjörður and we’d get to see them, or not as the case may be, in all weather conditions. The hot tub was also on the to do list.
An early start the following morning to get to Þingvellir National Park so as we could go snorkelling, yes snorkelling, in the water of the Silfra fissure, one of the cracks in the rift valley between the European and American tectonic plates. This was one of Bob’s bucket list items and with a big birthday coming up, it seemed a good time to do this. The weather was closing in again with another storm on its way and when we arrived we were told that all tours were being moved up to the morning so people could get out of the park before the storm hit. Didn’t sound good!
We were told to wear full thermals and thick socks which we did and were provided with a dry suit, gloves, mask, snorkel and fins. The water temperature was 2ºC but because they were trying to squeeze everyone into the morning session, we had to wait for a couple of hours before getting in the water and that was bloody freezing! Getting into the water was an actual relief and the only area of skin exposed, the face, soon goes numb.
The experience was amazing and we would highly recommend it. The water is so clear
After a quick lunch in Reykjavik we hightailed it back to the house to sit out the storm – we had intended to go snowmobiling on a glacier the following day but that had been cancelled. With nothing much else to do that day it seemed a good thing to drink red wine and watch out of the window.
The weather had cleared the following morning so it was in the car and off to explore a bit more of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula on the west coast. We stopped at an amazing cafe near Arnarstapi for a warming homemade meat soup and coffee. It was like sitting in someone’s front room from years gone by.
We also walked along some of the wild coastline between Stepi and Hellnar.
From there it was on to Vatnshellir where there is a 8,000 year old lava tube which lies underground. You can only go underground with a guide and whilst this wouldn’t be the only reason to visit the area, if you’re in the area it’s something different to do.
We continued driving round the perimeter of the peninsula passing Kirkjufell which would be well known to fans of Game of Thrones (not us!).
Tonight was hot tub night. Bob braved the cold (something like -8ºC with the windchill!) to fill the tub. Hot water is in plentiful supply throughout Iceland as it comes from geothermal sources in the ground. All that was needed after that was to open the Prosecco. Cheers!
For our last full day we went north towards Hvitserkur, a sea stack which according to legend was a troll caught by the sunrise while attempting to destroy the monastery at Þingeyrar. Great fun getting down to the beach as well!
Driving back we had a little problem with one of the roads being closed by a landslide so Bob had to reverse back to be able to turn around. Doesn’t sound so bad but then I should add that the road had an 18% slope, was mountainside and just one vehicle wide…. A few nervous moments but it takes a lot to faze Bob!
We had to return to the airport late the following afternoon so on the way back we headed to the mighty Gullfoss which even when partially frozen is still a breathtaking sight.
GullfossOne last detour took us to Kerið, a 6,500 year old explosion crater.
Another amazing trip to this fascinating country and we still want to come back again but probably the next trip will be a summer one and maybe a Route 1 road trip around the island. As for the Northern Lights….well they continued to evade us, or did they? When we got home we found this on one of the cameras:
Not seen by the naked eye but definitely there! But we now have the perfect excuse for next year’s trip. Norway or Finland here we come.