Greece was never really in our detailed plan as we were just passing through on our way to Turkey. With this in mind, we only had a couple of places marked on the map but they certainly didn’t disappoint.
Like a lot of Brits, our vision of Greece is beaches, blue and white houses and Mamma Mia, not the snow capped mountains that greeted us!
We explored some of the Vikos-Aoos Geopark in the Northern Pindos mountains, walking a small part of the “Hunters of the Ice Age” path through the Voidomatis Valley and then a drive up to view the Vikos Gorge from the viewpoint at Beloi.
After a laundry day in Ioannina we moved on to Meteora, a spectacular landscape where Byzantine monasteries sit on top of large pillar like rock structures. There are three main roads which take you past all the monasteries (you need to check opening days as they all differ) and we drove them all in both directions and in very different weather conditions.
Our plan had been to then head straight to Alexandroupli, close to the Turkish border but after a couple of hours of motorway driving we noticed a large mountain ahead which turned out to be Mount Olympus, in Greek mythology, the home of the gods. A quick search on Park4night gave us an overnight parking spot next to an old monastery, so up the mountain we headed!
Greece does have a network of toll roads linking the main cities and for travelling across country they were worth using. No vignette was needed and we spent a total of £41 on tolls at manned booths using a no fee credit card.
No issues with the border crossings in and out of the country.
In our short time here, we had no issues getting around in the van although a lot of supermarket carparks are covered so we had to look for the larger shops, and overnight spots were easy to find (albeit we’re pout of season). We’re looking forward to returning one day and exploring more of the country!
Vía Natura Voidomatis Rafting Centre: Currently free but donation requested. The campsite here is under construction but there is access to the showers and toilets in the rafting centre, clean water and WC emptying. Grass pitches. Easy access to hiking in the Vikos-Aoos Geopark.
Camping Vrachos Kastraki, near Meteora: EUR25 p/n (cheaper for cash). EHU available. Tightly packed, mixed pitches. Typical holiday park with swimming pool (not open when we visited).
Other overnight spots:
Beloi viewpoint car park, Vikos Gorge: No facilities. Small uneven parking area – mud and grass. Short walk to the viewpoint.
Pamvotida Lake, Ioannina: Free lakeside parking on grass. No services. Opposite side of lake to the town which has a good choice of launderettes.
Meteora: Free parking spot just off of the main road close to the monasteries. Small grassy area with a view over the valley. Quiet despite being next to the road.
Old Dionysos Monastery car park, Mount Olympus national park: Free, flat and quiet! The old monastery is currently under renovation but there are walking routes from the car park.
Alexandroupoli: free beach side parking, handy for the Turkish border and the last Lidl shop. As usual, lots of rubbish around.
If you have already seen our Facebook posts you will know how much we loved Albania, even to the extent that we had to extend our Albanian motor insurance!
We really enjoyed the challenge of, for the first time in a long time, travelling through somewhere new and very different to what we are used to. The language was completely beyond us; we do usually try to have a few words for wherever we go, and we didn’t really get beyond hello – përshëndetje for those interested, but English was widely spoken and the people we met were generous, welcoming and friendly.
Albania is a country of so many contrasts; on the road there is every type of vehicle from horse drawn carts to high end Mercedes and Porsches, houses range from small shacks to modern square concrete blocks, and you can buy from roadside family run stalls selling their own produce, or in large supermarkets. The mountain scenery is beautiful, if you can ignore the rubbish and stray animals, and there is history everywhere dating from the Illyrians to the Ancient Greeks to the recent Communist era.
Driving needs to be experienced to be believed and the rule of the road seems to be just find a gap and go for it! Our advice for driving through Tirana, especially on a Sunday, is avoid it if you can . Our UK insurance didn’t cover Albania so we had to buy a third party policy at the border which cost €49 for 15 days (the only period seemingly available) and we were able to buy another at a Western Union office once it became apparent we’d be staying longer than 15 days.
We didn’t struggle to find campsites and whilst they were often basic, they were clean and had everything we needed. Wifi is usually available but flakey at times. We bought a local Vodafone SIM which could be topped up as needed – 100GB of data in total (yes we use a lot!) cost about £40. We were also able to use some of our Montenegro bundle under a West Balkans arrangement.
In a lot of places both Euro and LEK are accepted and with the exceptions of petrol stations and large supermarkets, payments are in cash. It’s still worth asking, especially before they start pumping fuel, as we did pull into a couple of petrol stations where they didn’t take a card. We found that Credins Bank didn’t charge for cash withdrawals at their ATMs and as we have Monzo Bank accounts plus Revolut cards, our transactions were fee free and good rates were used.
Travelling out of season often means we don’t see places at their best due to ongoing renovations and repairs. There was lots of work going on and maybe this was an indication of an increasing tourist trade – places that were hard to get to a couple of years ago are now accessible via newly tarmacked roads or walkways.
We loved our time here and if a visit is on your radar, we’d certainly recommend it.
Windmill Campsite Shkodra: LEK1,200 p/n (approx £9) inc EHU. Usual site amenities available including washing machines, wifi plus a restaurant and bar. Mostly grass and muddy after rain. It’s a small campsite which also has small lodges available. Access to the site is through small residential streets and past a few scrap car yards. There is a tight turn off the small street on to the site which also has overhead signage. Like many sites, the dogs wander around and there are chickens in a cage. Within walking distance of the city centre.
Camping Kruje: €13p/n including EHU. Usual facilities available including wifi and washing machine at €3.50 a wash. All grass amongst fruit and olive trees. Family run and very friendly staff owners. A 20 minute or so uphill walk to Kruje centre.
Camping Dajti, Tirana: €14p/n plus €2 for EHU. Usual facilities available including wifi. Another grass site, family run and surrounded by olive and fruit trees. Chickens and ducks run free and occasionally the owner walked a couple of cows through! The access road is steep with a couple of short hairpin bends but we made it in our 6.7m van without a problem. They can arrange a taxi into Tirana for €15 return. A very relaxed few days.
Riverside Camping, Berat: €15 p/n including EHU and 1 use of the washing machine (extra washes are charged). Great campsite within walking distance of the centre. Hard standing pitches which are probably quite tight in the summer but there is still a shaded garden area with tables and chairs. Usual facilities including wifi plus access to a small kitchen if needed. Really friendly owners who can’t do enough for you and who bought us mandarins every day straight from their trees. The site is on a main road but noise wasn’t an issue.
Family Camping, Gjirokastra: €20 p/n including EHU. Clean modern toilet/shower block, washing machine available and wifi included. Site has a nice looking restaurant and bar which is probably quite busy in summer. Parking area is almost aire like with not a lot of space between vans but not an issue in November. The owner will arrange a car to the castle and old town for €5 each way – worth it at least to go into town as the castle is at the top of a steep hill!
Other overnight spots:
Buni i Bajraktarit Restaurant: €5 p/n. Restaurant car park on the SH21 road to Theth with stunning views over the Accursed Mountains. In addition to the restaurant they are building lodges and you can use the toilet block.
Bënje Thermal Pools, near Përmet: Free overnight parking in car park near the pools. Last couple of hundred metres is off-road and very bumpy.
Syri i kaltë (Blue Eye Spring) car park: Free overnight parking when we visited in November but possibly not in the summer. Large flat open car park which is quiet at night. Resident stray dogs but they are not a problem and twice a day a farmer walks by with his cows, sheep, goats and even a couple of boars!
Butrint Car Park: Free overnight car park at the entrance to Butrint Archeological site and a small chain ferry across a small stretch of water. The ferry operates day and night as needed (cars just turn up and beep their horn if the ferry is on the other bank) so is noisy but other than that the car park is flat and has great views out to Corfu.
We entered Montenegro with no expectations and very little knowledge of the country other than we’d been told that it was quite beautiful in places. Well, we can definitely confirm this!
The border crossing at Karacsovići was smooth and we were duly stamped out of the EU again. We were directed to the insurance office where we paid €28 for one month for the van.
Montenegro is not covered under any of our SIM packages but data is readily available and we paid €15 for a tourist SIM which gives us 500gb of data for 30 days. The coverage is excellent and we were only without signal for one night but considering we were over 6,000ft up in the mountains, that’s not surprising. The UK could learn a lesson or two here!
Much of Montenegro can be seen via the Panoramic Road network:
We drove a lot of Road 1, bits of 2 and 3, and the complete circuit of 4. We have had no issues with getting places in the van including winding mountain roads where opinions on whether motorhomes were capable of being driven along them, were split. The main problem with driving is the locals who are “adventurous” with their manoeuvres to say the least!
The northern coast area is very much like typical European resorts with lots of hotels, beach bars and long esplanades. The small town of Kotor is on the cruise ship route and we can imagine that the tiny streets of the Old Town would be a tad busy when a ship was in port. We picked the right day to visit as when we woke up the following morning there were three ships anchored in the bay!
To see the real beauty of Montenegro head away from the coast and up into the Durmitor National Park and Tara Canyon areas. The scenery is simply stunning but there is a lot of construction of hotels and holiday villages going on – the tourist trade is really opening up. Much of it, at least on the surface, appears to be in keeping with the surroundings but only time will tell if there’s too much development.
We finished our time in Montenegro at the largest vineyard in Europe, the Sipcanik Wine Cellar where we booked a tour with wine tasting. Nothing unusual in that we hear you say but what makes it different is that the cellar is in the hangars built into the hillside on an old Yugoslav airbase.
We absolutely loved our time in Montenegro and if you’re looking for somewhere a little different, still developing but not completely untouched then we’d highly recommend a visit. If we could, we would have just parked up out of the way and stayed longer but we knew we had to move on. Albania next which is going to be something very different.
Autocamp Mlinski Potok, Žabljak: €19 p/n including EHU. All grass pitches. Toilet and shower block plus communal kitchen and inside space. An easy walk into town, to the Black Lake and other hikes. Don’t be put off by the reviews saying the site is inaccessible due the steep approach road – it’s not difficult at all.
The site is undergoing renovation at the moment before the winter sets in so wasn’t at its best, however we received the warmest of welcomes from the owner, Jelena, who kept apologising for all the mess.
Camp Eko Oaza, Tear of Europe: €14 p/n without EHU (is available). Spotless shower and toilet block (brilliant showers!) and the owner’s washing machine is available on request for €2.50 a wash. The site is all grass and situated on the hillside above the Tara River. You can walk down to a small beach area by the river – it’s about 500m each way and the path is steep in places.
Again, a bit of building work going on but the family were friendly and welcoming and spoke good English. As we left the mother gave us some cake for the trip.
Campsite Medjurecje Rajo Radovic, Medjurecje: €15 p/n without EHU. Showers and toilets available and we were offered electric but didn’t see any plug in points. Grass pitches on a small farm.
We didn’t originally plan to stay in but when we couldn’t get onto the site we were originally heading for and after a hairy drive along a very single track road we came here and had a wonderful couple of days. Very hospitable owners and we were invited over for rakija and coffee once we had parked – a few shots later and we headed back to the van, both with a headache! We politely declined the rakija the following day but were still given coffee, biscuits and half a large freshly baked loaf of bread. The owners spoke no English, just the odd word of German but we managed to all make ourselves understood. From the site we walked down to the Mrtvica River and followed the footpath to Kapija Želja, a beautiful little place alongside the river.
Other overnight parking:
Bex d.o.o. Campground, Kotor: €20 p/n. This is a former campground which is now nothing more than a car park and you are paying for the location – it’s a 400m walk to Kotor Old Town and you parked beachside.
Ostrog Monastery: Free. We parked in the large gravel car park just below the entrance monastery for two nights. It was very quiet, the toilets were open and there was a water tap we could use to top up the tank. Probably not possible in the summer. We were joined for one night by a Swiss/American couple and spent a couple of hours talking travel and drinking schnapps with an amazing view.
Mratinje, Lake Piva: Free. We parked on the flattened ruins of something (maybe an old power plant or harbour area for moving stuff along the lake?) at the northern end of Lake Piva. No facilities but surrounded by mountains and overlooking the blue/green waters of the lake.
Durmitor National Park: We paid the €3 each park entry fee the following morning but were not asked for a camping fee which we believe is another $3. Parked just off Road 1 on a gravelled area from where a few hikes were available. Just about flat enough to sleep! There was a group of wild horses nearby who came down to a small pond to drink and splash around.
Kapayna Army Base, Korita: Free. A ruined army base just off Road 4 giving views of Korita and the Albanian Alps. We were that close to the border our phones switched between Albanian and Montenegrin providers.
Sipcanik Wine Cellar, near Tuzi: having paid for the wine tour and tasting, they kindly allowed us to stay near the gatehouse. They are toying with offering accommodation in the future and we did ask if they wanted to add them to any motorhome parking apps but again, they are just looking into it at the moment.
Following our visit last year we were really looking forward to returning to Bosnia and spending more time visiting the countryside, away from the major cities of Sarajevo and Mostar.
We crossed from Croatia near Granični without any problem and our first stop was to buy van insurance. It’s a pain that UK insurance companies are inconsistent with their country coverage so this year we only had third party local insurance. The insurance building is on the right just after the border crossing and we paid KM79 (approx £35) for a month. We had a data SIM left from our last visit but also bought two more 10GB cards at a cost of KM10 (about £4.50) each.
The weather was glorious for the whole time we were in Bosnia and the autumn colours were stunning.
Una National Park runs close to the Croatian border and along the River Una there are fortresses and waterfalls.
From there we headed towards Sarajevo to take the track out to Lukomir, the most remote village in the country. It’s a long 16km gravel road to get to the village but it’s a beautiful drive and the views over the Rakitnica Canyon at the end are breathtaking. The village itself is a small collection of ramshackle buildings, some of which are being refurbished to accommodate the growing tourist trade.
We took an interesting route back which in some places was no more than a quad bike track – thankfully the crockery survived in tact!
By accident we also found the ski jump centre from the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics.
We spent three nights back at Autocamp Blagaj near Mostar, one of the friendliest and most hospitable sites we have ever visited. It was great to actually use the site this time (it rained incessantly last year) so had coffee by the river watching the kingfishers and eat in the very reasonably priced restaurant. Allen and his family are incredibly generous with homemade cake, fresh fruit and drinks.
After a few days of being spoiled, we moved towards the Montenegro border and the Dinaric Alps. Another adventurous drive along a gravel road, brought us to the base of Mt Maglić, the highest peak in Bosnia Herzegovina at 2,388m (we camped at about 1,700m) and where we spent a couple of nights in the car park.
It was great to also be able to do our first decent hike of the trip to Lake Trnovačko, a stunning heart shaped lake which is actually in Montenegro – passports were needed!
After another straightforward border crossing we spent a couple of days in Croatia to have a bit of a sort out before continuing south and into new countries.
One of the joys of travel is embracing local cultures and we hate to impose our standards on foreign countries but there were two things that drove us mad in Bosnia:
Litter – rubbish and fly tipping everywhere but lots of bins too.
Smoking – we were chatting to a young couple and she said that Bosnians consider smoking is just a part of life and everyone smokes, everywhere. As we were filling with petrol and LPG a couple of days ago, a woman walked right past the van with a lit cigarette 若. I guess we’ve just got used to no smoking in the UK.
These aside, we love the country and tomorrow, after a couple of nights back in Croatia, we move on to Montenegro.
Camp Buk, Una National Park: €18 p/n including EHU. Grass pitches, some riverside, toilet and shower block (a little “rustic”). Restaurant open during high season.
Autocamp Blagaj, Blagaj: Prices vary – we paid €12.50, possibly a special rate as returning visitors! Gravel/grass pitches with EHU. Plenty of water points, two toilet/shower blocks and washing machine. Bar and restaurant on site.
Camping Kate, Mlini, Croatia: kn139 p/n including EHU. Shower and toilet blocks, multiple water points, washing machines. Pitches are numbered but not marked and parking is a little haphazard!
Other overnight stops:
Grabovača Cave Park: free overnight parking in the visitor centre car park having paid the park/cave tour fee. Toilets and fresh water available.
Visoko: car park on the edge of the town. No facilities and lots of rubbish but quiet enough for a night.
Lukomir: free parking behind the “On Top of the World” (“Na krovu svijeta”) restaurant having had a meal there. Grass/mud parking after 16km of gravel road to get to the village.
Lake Bileća: overnight parking in a closed roadside bar overlooking the lake. Quiet and fine for one night.
Prijevor: free camping in the car park at the base of Mt Maglic. Uneven area at the end of a long gravel road. No facilities.
The journey from the UK to Croatia was uneventful taking us through France, Switzerland, Italy and Slovenia. The most exciting part was spending a night at the top of the Stelvio Pass with stunning views down the pass into northern Italy.
Our original plan was to spend a couple of days just over the Croatian border, south of Trieste before moving straight on to Bosnia but having seen that the CRO Race (a pro-cycling event formerly known as The Tour of Croatia) would be in the region in a few days, we decided to hang around and explore a little more.
The Slovenia/Croatia border crossing was quick and easy (no questions, no searches) and we got the necessary stamp showing we’d exited the Schengen zone – oh, the continued joy of Brexit!
We had stayed close to Savidrija previously, albeit a different campsite, and didn’t really do much although we swam and the paddle board did come out briefly before the wind got up.
When we visited Croatia last year we bypassed Rovinj, so this time we made the effort to find a nearby campsite and spent a day wandering around the old town. You can really see the Italian influence here and could quite easily be exploring the backstreets of Venice.
We left Rovinj and moved inland. Istria is a region of vineyards, olive groves and hilltop villages reached by steep winding roads. Our first stop was Grožnjan, also known as the “Town of Artists” as a number of the old buildings have been turned into studios and galleries.
From Grožnjan we moved to Hum, which by the 2011 census was the smallest city in the world! The “city” is really just two main streets surrounded by walls built on top of a hill and the first mention of it in any documents was in 1102.
The few shops very much cater for tourists selling local products including olive oil, wine, brandy and gin, a bottle of which may just have found its way into the van – we do like to do our bit for the local economy!
Possert Fort was a little hidden gem and very much off the regular tourist trail. We were able to park right by the ruins and with no distractions (we saw no-one else all day) we were able to catch up on admin in beautiful surroundings.
Our last stop in Istria was just outside the old town Labin which was hosting the finish to a stage of the CRO Race. We walked from the campsite to find ourselves a good spot from which to watch the cyclists as they completed a couple of circuits and then crossed the hilltop finish line.
We decided to break up the drive to Bosnia Herzegovina with a night on the coast at the harbour town of Senj but we ended up staying 3 nights for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Gregg and Dawn who we had been talking to via Instagram (@gregg.butler.121) and who had visited the countries we are heading for, mentioned they were on their way to Senj so we decided to wait for them and ended up having a great couple of days relaxing and talking all things travel related. Whilst parked up, Bob had noticed a chip and small crack in the windscreen so after a couple of calls to our insurance company, arrangements were in place for the Croatian equivalent of Autoglass to come to us to replace the glass.
As often happens when we meet other travellers, plans change so we stopped again on our way to Bosnia – this time at the recommendation of Gregg and Dawn. Grabovača Cave Park is near the town of Perušić and is a small area of protected limestone landscape. We don’t know if it’s a year round arrangement but when paying for our park entrance we were advised that we’d be welcome to stay two or three nights in the car park with water and electric available if we wanted! With a cave to visit, some walks in the park and a total cost of less than £13, it would be rude not to!
If you can drag yourself away from the stunning coastline, there is plenty to see inland and these sites are often quieter. But now we really are moving on to Bosnia.
Autocamp Tramontana, Savudrija: €20 p/n. Small campsite on the edge of the sea. Lots of seasonal pitches but we parked on the lower grass tier giving easy access to the sea. Didn’t use EHU but it’s available. Easy walk into town where there are a couple of bars.
Camping Porton Biondi, Rovinj: kn257.29 (approx £30.50) p/n including EHU. Tiered gravel pitches stretching up the hillside. Large car campsite with all facilities including onsite bakery open in the mornings.
Camping Romantik, Labin: kn165 p/n (approx £20) without EHU. A really well kept little campsite with grass pitches surrounded by fruit trees and vines. Immaculately clean showers and toilets. Washing machine available on request (kn 37.50, £4.40) and site has a small swimming pool. The old town is within walking distance although mostly uphill from the campsite!
Other overnight parking:
Hum car park: kn25 (£3) to visit the village and we were allowed to stay overnight. Large tarmac car park.
Possert Castle: free. Grass area in front of ruined castle. Approach is via a steep, narrow road.
Senj harbour: kn70 (£8) for a day ticket which enables an overnight stay. Large car park with some longer spaces out by the harbour wall where there is a water tap but we’re not sure if it’s always available. Easy walk into town for restaurants and shops.
Grabovača Cave Park: we paid kn55 (£6.50) each for a guided tour of one of the caves and for that they allowed us to park for a couple of nights (could have stayed another night if we’d wanted). The car park had toilets and access to water and electric, although we used neither.
We had a great couple of months in the UK catching up with family and friends taking us from Hertfordshire to Oxfordshire and then down to the West Country to Wiltshire, Devon and Somerset.
In addition we the van had new tyres at Costco Watford, was MOTd at Intercounty Mercedes Milton Keynes and warranty work done at Southdown Motorhomes in Portsmouth. Throw in medical and dental appointments, it was a pretty busy time!
With the sudden death of the Queen at the beginning of September we delayed our departure for a few days and like a lot of people, were glued to the TV watching all the events as they happened. We decided we would book our Channel crossing for the day after the funeral so we could watch that day’s services with uninterrupted wifi.
When home we have a couple of go to CLs we use with our favourites being Balmers near Tring and Home Farm, Iver. Both are basic grass fields with no EHU but have clean water and dump facilities, and work out real value for money at £8 and £13 per night respectively (Home Farm also offers a weekly rate of £85).
Other sites used during this visit:
Friars Court Island CL, Radcot: £12.50 p/n, grass field, no EHU but clean water and dump facilities. Great riverside location and pub nearby.
Newbridge Campsite, near Witney: £6 p/n, grass field, no EHU but clean water and dump facilities. Close to the river and a couple of puts
Stroud Farm, Maidenhead: £6 p/n, grass field, no EHU but clean water and dump facilities. Close to Heathrow so expect aircraft noise!
Kingstones Farm, near Marlborough, Wiltshire: £12 p/n (£15 with EHU). Two hard standing pitches and large grass area. Clean water and dump facilities. Easy bus access to Marlborough and plenty of walking from the site to the Savernake Forest and the Kennet and Avon Canal.
Pitt’s Farm, near Wells, Somerset: £12 p/n. Grass pitches with EHU. Clean water and dump facilities. Wells and Glastonbury easily accessible with a vehicle.
We also overnighted at The Drove to visit Stonehenge and Port Solent car park, close to Southdown Motorhomes where the van was having some work done. Both of these are free and at Port Solent you are asked to call the port office to let them know you’re staying the night.
We’ve had quite a few questions from people planning to do a similar trip so we thought we’d put together a post on what worked for us and some things we wish we’d known before we went. The points might be a bit random but we’re writing them down as we think of them and please note that this is what worked for us – it may not suit others.
We took the tunnel from Dover to Calais and drove from there through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and finally into Denmark where we took the ferry from Hirtshals to Kristiansand. This was roughly 911 miles plus a ferry costing £255.
In hindsight we would have looked more into the ferry from the Netherlands to Norway which we initially dismissed due to cost but we may have saved money and time once we took into account the extra driving through Germany and Denmark.
Ferries and tolls
We had a BroBizz tag which enabled us to use ferries and pay tolls automatically with a discount and we linked our Halifax Clarity credit card to the account so there were no additional charges in the UK. However, if we’d done more research, it would have been beneficial to also have had the AutoPASS tag which would have halved the price of our Lofoten ferry, for which we paid £180. One thing to note is that both tags are delivered to your home address so need to be ordered ahead of travel and there is a cost to them – BroBizz was about £25 for a vehicle over 3.5t.
Coming home, after driving across the Oresund Bridge, we decided to take the ferry from Rodby in Denmark to Puttgarden in Germany. Although the BroBizz box gave us discount on the Oresund Bridge (still paid £108.41) we did notice a combined ticket available through the ferry company for the bridge and the ferry which may have worked out cheaper.
For most ferries you simply arrive at the terminal and drive straight on. All charging is by number plate recognition and if you don’t have a tag then you are invoiced via mail.
In total we paid £545.76 for ferry crossings (excluding Eurotunnel) and £248.96 for tolls and small local ferries.
Driving in Norway
Firstly don’t underestimate the size of the country and be prepared to be flexible on planning a route. The most direct route from Kristiansand in the south to Nordkapp is almost 1,500 miles and actually takes you through Sweden – we drove approximately 5,000 miles in Norway and Sweden, plus a quick dip into Finland over 10 weeks. Weather is also a factor to take into account as we were still finding snow restrictions in June. We had wanted to drive Trollstigen but the road was still closed for repairs (there are lots of roadworks once the snow has melted).
Roads are mostly single carriageway, including the main north-south E6, but we encountered few hold-ups other than for roadworks and were even able to overnight in roadside rest areas as at night traffic is minimal. Off the main routes, the roads did feel narrow but people seem to drive slower and be patient so we had no issues.
As a side point, alcohol limits for driving are lower in Scandinavia than in the UK and we were stopped and breathalysed one morning having been pulled over as part of a routine road check. The police were friendly and we were waved straight on after a negative result.
One of the best regions we’ve visited for motorhomes. Norway has lots of free parking in beautiful places and easy to find sanitation points for emptying tanks and cassettes and taking on clean water. We only paid once to take on water and that was about £1.70.
We had to look a bit harder in Sweden for service points but found water in petrol stations and chemical toilet disposal places in a lot of motorway rest areas. Again lots of free parking and often with BBQ pits with wood provided and dry toilets.
Throw the spectacular scenery in with the above and you can see why these countries are popular motorhome destinations. There are LOTS of vans on the road and the numbers were increasing daily as we headed into summer.
Definitely most expensive in Norway and the price fluctuated regularly. The most we paid in Norway was £2.31 a litre but we also paid under £2.
Easily available in Norway, less so in Sweden and not at all in Finland. We only needed the dish adapter for our Gaslow system
Food and drink
Lots of supermarkets and prices on the whole are more expensive than the UK but not massively so. In Norway and Sweden, most alcohol is sold though government stores – Vinmonopolet in Norway and and Systembolaget in Sweden, although you can buy some beers in the supermarkets.
Eating out is very expensive so we didn’t do it!
Denmark, Norway and Sweden still retain their own currencies but cash is rarely needed. Cards are taken pretty much everywhere and in a couple of places we saw signs specifically saying that cash wasn’t accepted.
We use the Halifax Clarity Card and have Monzo Bank accounts so pay no conversion charges on the UK side of any transaction and whenever offered the choice of paying in GBP or local currency on a card managing ALWAYS take the currency option.
Plenty of opportunities for bird watching and whale/dolphin spotting without doing an organised trip and once north of Trondheim we regularly found reindeer munching the vegetation on the side of the road but the real point of listing wildlife is the bloody mosquitoes! If travelling in late spring and summer, invest in a mosquito head net if you want to be able to sit outside of an evening and consider buying a Thermocell anti-mosquito device as they are cheaper in the UK.
If anyone has any further questions then please ask!
Suitably refreshed after our week in the AirBnB, we left the spectacular Norwegian scenery and headed into northern Sweden passing through the mining town of Kiruna before meeting up with friends at the coast.
We tend to visit places based on personal recommendations or look for the less touristy places. We had been told about Storforsen where the rapids are one of the most voluminous in Europe and then visited nearby Laver, a deserted mining town which we found on Atlas Obscura, a great source of weird and wonderful places!
Like Norway, Sweden provides great free camping spots often with BBQ pits and firewood provided but be warned of the mosquitoes! We have never seen so many nor been bitten so much despite having visited the Amazon and Africa!
We used two campsites whilst in Sweden mainly because we needed to do laundry with the free WiFi being a bonus! Överhörnäs Camping is a lakeside campsite just off the E4 close to the west coast. It’s a mixture of cabins and touring pitches with a small RV car park which has three pitches. We used the latter and it was SEK240 (just under £20) a night without EHU. The site has a free washing machine but no drier, and is very clean and well organised by friendly, helpful staff.
Much of the region is long straight roads through forests and lakes but the High Coast area is well worth a visit and we stopped in Skuleskogen National Park for a couple of nights so we could get out for a decent hike.
Our route was taking us southwards along the coast with our original plan to spend a couple of nights in Stockholm. But, as we often do, we changed our mind and decided we’d save Stockholm for a future long weekend, taking a more inland route towards the south coast, via more forests and lakes.
We spent two nights on the island of Öland, a fascinating place to visit and just across the bridge at Kalmar. We managed to find a reasonably priced campsite, Ventlinge Ställplats, in the south of the island within the UNESCO World Heritage area which is full of hiking and cycling trails, Iron Age forts and ancient farms. The campsite is a large grass field which accommodates about 20 vans plus a small tent area. We paid SEK160 (around £13) a night without EHU and there is a washing machine for SEK40 a wash, but no drier. The owner was very helpful and provided lots of tourist information on the local area.
After a couple of nights on the very busy south coast, including a visit to the most southerly point at Smygehamn and an obligatory visit to Ikea in Malmo, we crossed via the Oresund Bridge into Denmark to truly start our journey home although we still had over 1,000km to go!
We spent one night near Gedser, at the southernmost point of Denmark (spot the theme here!) where we encountered a bit of a storm. For about half an hour the van was being shaken by the wind but the heavy rain did go some way to washing off a lot of the dust and dirt we’d acquired “off-roading” in Sweden.
In another route change we decided to take the 45 minute ferry from Rodby in Denmark to Puttgarden in Germany, rather than drive through Denmark and save a few miles on the van. The two nights in Germany were uneventful and the driving pretty boring as it was all motorway. Hamburg was a nightmare to drive round and through, as it was on the way up, so we shall do our best to avoid there in the future!
We had factored in a couple of nights in the Netherlands to break the drive but free parking was difficult to find along the coast so we ended up on a mini-campsite on a farm near Veere which was definitely more our thing than the big all-singing all-dancing sites aimed at families (and significantly cheaper). Ben Trovato camping was €27.50 per night including EHU and tourist tax and parking is on a grass field. It was a bit tight getting in and we were squeezed between two long term residents of the site but it didn’t feel overcrowded, unlike some of the Southern European sites. We were able to walk from the site into the town and it really was worth the visit.
Having a late crossing through the tunnel meant that we could get all the washing done at a couple of Revolution laundry places, using the big machines to get the winter quilt washed. It proved quite expensive in the end but worth not having the hassle when we got home. We cheekily turned up at Eurotunnel 4.5 hours early and managed to get a train almost 2 hours earlier than our booking which meant we at least got to drive the short distance to Canterbury P & R car park in the daylight.
Having been as far north and as Far East as we could go in Norway the only direction we could go in now was south and begin our long journey home.
From Grense Jakobselv we headed into Finland as we had a few days to spare before meeting friends in Norway for a week’s holiday (yes, we still need a holiday from time to time!). With the need to do laundry in mind we picked Camping Uruniemi on Lake Inari and selected a lakeside pitch, €22 p/n without EHU. The contrast with Norway could not have been more apparent as we drove long straight roads surrounded by lakes and forests – beautiful in its own way but not the mountains we’d left behind. And with all the water comes the mosquitoes!
After just two nights at the lake we decided to move on back towards Norway and with our first choice of park-up not the best, we continued on to the coast and back to one of our favourite places near Talvik. It was here that we saw orcas a couple of weeks ago and this time we were treated to a humpback whale, caught completely by chance on camera as we tried to photograph the dolphins playing in the fjord!
We continued south along the coast finding yet more stunning places to stay. We always knew Norway would be beautiful but it has surpassed all our expectations.
Before we moved into the van we always had a week away with friends and wanted to continue this. COVID ruined our plans for a couple of years but we finally managed to arrange it so Sarah and Colin could meet us in northern Norway. Our last trip together had been to this area but in February so very different conditions. We had booked a house via Airbnb on a fjord for a week of relaxation and exploration of the Lyngen area – well worth a visit and away from the main tourist route.
We did one walk to the Blue Lake a few kilometres from the house. It wasn’t a long walk but not the easiest as most of it was over a boulder field. The lake at the end certainly lived up to its name.
This was a great week spent with our closest friends and we can highly recommend the place we stayed in. We also picked one of the hottest weeks to be there but swimming in the fjord was a great way to cool off and in the evenings we sat on the deck with a glass of wine/beer watching the dolphins and again, the midnight sun.
After a week there it was back on the road and next stop, Sweden.
We left the campsite near Trondheim and hit the E6 north towards the Arctic Circle. We’d bought forward all our plans by a couple of days and changed our mind on using the coastal road, as a bridge further north on the E6 had been damaged essentially cutting off the north unless you took a 600km+ diversion via Sweden and Finland. We’d been told it would be a quick fix given the importance of the road (it runs all the way through the country from the Swedish border in the south to the Russian border in the far north east) but we had still had lots to do and see before meeting friends at the end of the month so didn’t want to risk any delay.
Most of this part of the trip was staying on free spots found on Park4night but we did use a couple of paid parking areas on the Lofotens (more on those later!). As we mentioned before motorhoming here is so easy with plenty of places to stop overnight and accessible, free service points.
We slowly moved from the rivers and mountains of central Norway to the flat snow covered plateau at the Arctic Circle, encountering our first roadside reindeer of the trip!
The Arctic Circle visitors centre is mostly a souvenir shop and cafe but there are a couple of war memorials on the edge of the car park. You can stay there overnight and we were close enough to be able to use the Wi-Fi so took the opportunity to update apps and back up the phones 狼.
Our next stop was Bodo to take the ferry to the Lofotens. On the way we visited the Saltstraumen, one of the world’s strongest tidal-current maelstroms. The area has huge tidal variations and four times a day large amounts of water are pushed through a narrow gap to produce the eddy. This was not something to go out of your way too see but we were in the area and had timed it right for a high tide so thought why not.
We took the 3 hour 15 min ferry from Bodo to Moskenes. We were slightly delayed in leaving due to weather but as there had been a gale warning earlier in the day, we were thankful for a calmer crossing. If you have a ferry pass you can get the crossing for almost half price (full price was approx £175) but the toll/ferry tag we had didn’t cover this ferry and you can’t get the pass once in country as it’s sent to your home address.
The Lofoten Islands are quite simply stunning! Sharp, high peaks against fjords and the sea, hidden beaches and an abundance of the typical Norwegian fishing villages as seen in guidebooks.
On arrival we drove the short distance to the village of A, the starting point of the E10 which runs the length of the islands back to the mainland just north of Narvik. The Gammelgarden Bakery is well worth a visit for its cinnamon buns which are baked in a vintage oven.
We followed the E10 through the two islands of Moskenesoya and Flakstadoya, spending two nights near Fredang, from where we hiked up the headland to see the beach at Ryten. The “campsite” is nothing more than a grass field but has toilets and a shower, is close to the beach and the hiking path. The cost was NOK100 per night (about £8) which was the same price for day parking.
We took a detour off the E10 to the village of Laukvik where we stayed in the village aire. It’s a large quayside concrete car park but EHU is available and it has a building with showers, toilets and free, yes free, laundry facilities. It was NOK200 per night or NOK250 with EHU and one of the locals comes round to collect the money (cash or card). There’s a great little cafe in the village and a coffee roasting business, although the latter was closed when we visited and it was here that we got our first glimpse of the midnight sun. The lack of darkness is playing a little havoc with our internal clocks and we find ourselves going to bed later than usual but the blinds do a pretty good job at keeping the van dark.
Our last night on the Lofotens was in a remote park up near Fauskevag, south of Harstad, where we really got to see the midnight sun.
From here it was back on to the E6 on our way to Nordkapp. We found another amazing park up near Talvik where June got to dip in the sea, and yes we are still above the Arctic Circle.
The next stop was the most northerly point of Norway that you can drive to at Nordkapp. The E69 is a long windy road that takes from Olderfjord to Nordkapp, via coastal cliffs, open plateaus, deep tunnels (the Nordkapptunnel reaches a depth of 212m below sea level) and sees a never ending flow of motorhomes, motorcycles and a surprising number of people on good old fashioned pushbikes!
At the end of the road is the visitor centre where parking is free but you are supposed to pay NOK310 (£25) each to enter, even just to go to the cafe and souvenir shop. We had the misfortune to arrive at the same time as coach loads of visitors from a cruise ship that we had passed moored in the nearby town of Honningsvag. On the upside this meant we could sneak into the centre with the masses unnoticed, grab our sticker and use the Wi-Fi unnoticed! The coaches just kept coming with the last one leaving around midnight but the place was empty in the morning meaning we could take our photos uninterrupted.
We took a slight detour on the way back via Hammerfest just because June liked the name! We found it difficult to park in the centre due to roadworks and the fact that the cruise ship was now here, so no visit to the Isbjornklubben, aka the Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society where you can become a lifetime member for a small fee. For an additional fee you can enjoy the dubious experience of being “knighted” with the penis bone of a walrus! Apparently it’s all very tongue in cheek. We did manage to park briefly by the Struve Geodetic Arc, one of a series of points stretching from here to the Black Sea in Hungary built as part of an experiment in the early 19th century to measure the shape and size of the Earth and determine the flattening of the planet at the poles.
These few days were mostly driving and from Hammerfest we headed across the north eastern region of Norway, as far as we could go to the Russian border. We spent a couple of nights at Grense Jakobselv on the Barents Sea, well worth the 50km of bumping down a road which in some places was tarmac but other places gravel and potholes. This was just another site we found on Park4night and there were a few other vans there, plus on both nights two different cyclists with tents. The site has toilets, a hut and fire pit with a ready supply of chopped wood and we spent the evenings chatting and drinking round the fire. We didn’t always understand each other – we were a mix of German, French and us Brits, but we understood enough. The Norwegian army patrol the area regularly but despite the guns, were very friendly and chatty. Sadly we didn’t get to see whales which are often seen in the area but we had seen some dolphins on our way here.
That’s the end of this part of the trip as we are now in Finland for a few days. We are making our way back to Norway to meet friends for a week’s holiday in a house on a fjord near Tromso and from there we start making our way back to the UK via a few weeks in Sweden.
After leaving southern Norway, we headed north and west into the western fjords surrounding Bergen. We followed Route 13 for most of the way with a couple of side trips.
This has to be one of the most picturesque roads we have ever driven (well until we got to routes 7 and 55…!) taken us alongside fjords, over fjords on ferries, through tunnels under and roads over mountains. To top the physical scenery, the area around Sorfjorden is known for apple production and the trees were in full spring bloom.
May 17th is a national holiday celebrating Constitution Day with most houses flying the Norwegian and we passed through several towns/villages having parades with people in national dress. We were able to stop for one parade and it was great to see what seemed like the whole village taking part.
One of the diversions we took off 13 was to the Folgefonna glacier. After a walk through the forest and a scramble over rocks (using ropes in places) we made it to the viewpoint at the base of the glacier. For the more adventurous it is possible to hire a guide and continue to the glacier but getting to the viewpoint was enough for us!
Waterfalls are everywhere and not just little pretty streams – with spring arriving the snow is melting and the force of the water in the falls and rivers is phenomenal.
Another road worth a mention is the 7 which we followed on to the Hardangervidda Plateau, Europe’s largest mountain plateau and snow covered when we were there, where we visited Voringsfossen and stayed at the Sysenvatn Dam.
We paid a brief visit to Bergen, Norway’s second largest city, taking the tram from our glamorous car park next to an ice hockey rink – NOK300 for 24 hours parking but services and EHU available. The tram was NOK40 per person each way direct into the centre. The city centre was fairly quiet despite several cruise ships being in port but after a walk around the old town and harbour we headed out to the next equally glamorous overnight spot in an IKEA car park!
We continued north on the 13 and took another detour to the town of Fjaerland (or Mundal) which is known as Norway’s book town. We parked up on the old fjord side quay surrounded by places selling books; old cow sheds, a telephone box, a former toll booth and some conventional shops! Fjaerland is a small one street town but we found a quirky coffee shop (of course!),there are walks from the town, an outdoor activities centre and you can even rent the town sauna which floats on the fjord.
Our next overnight stay was just outside Lom which we reached after driving another stunning road, the 55. On our way to Lom we had lunch at the highest point, 4,700ft above sea level, surrounded by banks of snow which were higher than the van in places!
Lom has a beautiful stave church, built from wood and originally dating back to 1200.
We were then hoping to visit Geirangerfjord and drive along the hairpin bends of Trollstigen but the roads hadn’t yet reopened after the winter so we headed towards the coast to see a couple of places in the hope that the situation would change.
We headed to the inner Nordfjord and Melkevoll Campsite in Jostedalsbreen National Park at the foot of the Briksdalsbreen Glacier. After a couple of rainy days we took the footpath up to the glacier which is a walking geology lesson, so right up our street! We were also lucky to pick one of the bright, sunny days to walk and spent a while sitting by the lake at the base of the glacier.
Melkevoll Campsite is a mixture of open pitches and lodges surrounded by mountains and waterfalls. The cost was NOK280 p/n with no EHU and laundry an additional NOK20 per wash/dry. Machines are coin operated and reception will give you the change. The site also has a sauna and a small plunge pool in the river, if you’re brave enough!
A chance conversation in a car park a few days ago, took us to the island of Maloy to see Norway’s “most photographed stone”! Definitely an interesting piece of geology but we have to confess to being slightly underwhelmed…….
That same conversation also led us to the island of Runde, known as a good bird watching location. We hiked up to the island’s north shore and across the plateau to find the puffins which nest on the cliff side at this time of year. We sat for a while watching the puffins coming and going but also spottted gannets, razorbills, skuas and white tailed eagles.
We stopped briefly in Alesund for a wander around the town. It was a Sunday so most places were closed but we did find a fish and chip kiosk open and the familiar smell drew us in!
One of the most well known roads in Norway is the Atlantic Highway, a stretch of road linking several small islands north of Alesund. We did miss part of it but drove the 8km section from Vevang which you see in the photographs. There are several pull offs along the road big enough for motorhomes where you can stop to take photographs and one of them has an information centre, a cafe, toilets and a small walk way around one side of the island.
Our final stop in this region was another campsite just south of Trondheim as again it was raining. We stayed a couple of nights at Hogkjolen Fjellcamp (NOK155 p/n no EHU) which has a lot of fixed pitches and some areas for tourers. First impressions were of a site that needed some tidying up but they were deceptive! We camped down by the trees and the services were clean and tidy. Great hosts too, which is how we’ve found all the campsites so far.
After a mad rush through five countries we made it to Norway, the main destination for this trip. We took the ferry from Hirtshals in northern Denmark to Kristiansand on a bright day and parked up for the night just to the west of the city.
Day one’s task was to find a replacement tyre as Bob had noticed a noise coming from one of the front tyres as we were speeding through Germany. After trying several places we were pointed in the direction of a tyre specialist near Stavanger where we ended up having to buy two to keep a pair on the front. Not cheap but we decided to bite the bullet and get them done so the issue of not having a spare wouldn’t be a constant niggle at the back of our minds.
The dash from Kristiansand to Stavanger meant we didn’t see much of the south coast but as we’re discovering there is SO much to see in Norway, if we’d spent more time here then we would have had to cut back somewhere else.
Before leaving the UK we had ordered a BroBizz tag which would allow tolls and ferry costs to be charged direct to our UK credit card (have Halifax Clarity Card so no conversion fees). In hindsight we should perhaps have also ordered a Norway ferry pass/tag which would have cut the cost of the ferries in the north of the country and to the Lofoten Islands. Unfortunately this couldn’t be done on the road as the tag is delivered to your home address. Without a tag, tolls and ferry charges are invoiced to your home address – everything is done via ANPR.
As a general comment, motorhoming in Norway is a breeze! There are lots of free parking spaces in amazing locations (where you can’t park is clearly marked) and there are roadside standalone service points everywhere – we are using Park4Night as our source for both. Park ups have been clean and no-one seems to abuse the facilities or overstay. All probably why we are seeing hundreds of vans on the road!
After a night on top of Randerburg “Mountain” (we were about 100ft above sea level!), we left Stavanger via the 14.4km long Ryfylketunnelen under the sea/fjord to spend a couple of free nights in a car park on the edge of Lysefjord near Oanes. The weather is very unpredictable and when the weather forecast has been for a few days of rain we have headed for campsites to catch up on laundry and use their wifi.
Since the UK phone companies are all reverting to capping EU roaming allowances or charging for usage we are trying to be mindful of our data usage as we typically use huge amounts of data. We have looked into getting a local SIM but they have proved to be expensive and topping up would be difficult outside Norway (thinking ahead to Finland and Sweden). So we’re hoping that we can eke out our UK allowances until friends come out at the end of June and bring us a few new SIM cards!
Wathne Camping is a mix of lodges and camping with a couple of pitches on a small beach next to a fjord but after parking there for the afternoon watching the water rise, we retreated to a grass pitch in the centre of the site. As luck would have it, a raised waterside pitch with a deck became available the following morning so we snuck back down there again! The cost here was NOK300 (approx £25) per night including EHU with laundry facilities at NOK35 (£3) per wash/dry and operated on an honesty system – you tell reception how many times you used each machine.
Having caught up with ourselves, and with the rain stopping briefly, we managed one of the walks on the list of must things to do in Norway – the hike up to Preikestolen or Pulpit Walk. This also coincided with our wedding anniversary and we couldn’t have had a better day!
After leaving Scotland the next two weeks were filled with seeing friends and van work.
Our first stop was a weekend with the Hymer Owners Club at a campsite near Clitheroe, Lancashire. We’ve been to a couple of these previously and they generally involve sitting around with like minded folk over a glass or two of beer/wine or anything else that takes your fancy, talking all things motorhome and travel related. On this weekend we were also able to meet a couple we’d been chatting to via social media (hello Tom and Nicky!). Luckily the campsite had indoor space for the use of people in tents but as the evenings were cold and there were few tents out, a few of us gathered there out of the wind!
The town of Clitheroe is about a mile away and easily walkable. There were also walks along the river but we used this weekend to sort the van out and catch up with admin after a couple of months on the road.
From there it was only a short drive to Liverpool to catch up with Helen, Myles and the family who kindly all moved their cars off the front garden to allow us off-street parking. It was good to finally be able to put faces to all the names after so many years of hearing all about the children. Looking forward to a weekend together when they finally get their van!
Next was a stop for extra locks to be fitted to the cab doors. Some might question the extra security we have on the van but our opinion is that we want a thief to walk on and look for an easier target. After doing some research we used Midlands Van Security, a mobile lock service who came out to Criss Farm campsite near Burton-on-Trent to do the work. Arron did a good, clean job and we’d definitely recommend him.
The campsite had a large camping field next to a CL and we were on one of the hard standing pitches in the large field.
After a brief overnight stop at Oaklands Farm CL near Peterborough (a really well kept campsite but we seem to use it only when passing through or the van is in for work at a nearby Mercedes garage) we made it to Norwich to see youngest daughter Amy for dinner. We stayed at the Bell Pub in Marlingford again as they allow overnight stays and the car park is fairly quiet.
Our next night was also another pub stop, this time the Miller and Carter steakhouse close to home for a boozy night out with friends (nothing new when out with the Woods and the Smyths!). It was home to collect all the stuff we’d ordered knowing we’d be passing through and drop off more unwanted/unused items we had with us – even after a year on the road we’re still fine tuning what we carry.
When close to home we tend to use the C&MC site, Wyatts Covert in Denham. It’s handy for popping to the house but with the recent increase in prices in clubsites we will be limiting our nights there. It’s a typical club site with good facilities but at over £33 a night for this stay, it’s becoming expensive.
Last proper stop on this leg was at Cornish Farm Campsite after a dash down the M4 and M5 motorways and courtesy of VanBitz for the biggest upgrade we’ll do to the van. After much discussion we decided to replace our AGM leisure batteries with lithium ones sooner rather than later which will allow us to be completely off grid power wise. It wasn’t a cheap option but with different and often unstable voltages in the Americas, we no longer have to worry about hooking up and potentially destroying the van’s electrics! We’ve used VanBitz several times previously and continue to recommend their great service.
For the technically minded we now have 2 x 150Ah of lithium batteries (previously 3 x 95Ah AGMs), 240W of solar and a Battery Master allowing charging from the alternator once the engine battery is full.
With a Eurotunnel crossing booked for early the next morning we hightailed it back up the motorways and the round the M25 and Down the M20 for an over stop at a Canterbury Park and Ride, about 25 mins from the tunnel entrance and with motorhome emptying/filling services.
Edisford Bridge Farm, Clitheroe: £23 p/n (special meet rate). Hard standing pitches with EHU. Mixed campsite with full facilities.
Cross Farm Campsite, Burton-on-Trent: £15 p/n on main campsite. Large sloping field with a couple of hard standing pitches. Toilet, shower and laundry building.
Oaklands Farm CL, near Peterborough: £17 p/n. Immaculate pitches on a tiered site.
The Bell, Marlingford: Free (£10 if not eating). Pub car park, no facilities
Miller & Carter, Rickmansworth: Free if eating in restaurant. Quiet car park and can back on to a stream.
Wyatts Covert, Denham: £33.65 p/n. Standard C&MC site with all facilities.
Cornish Farm, Taunton: Free as a customer of VanBitz. Small site with hard standing pitches with EHU. Toilet, shower and laundry block.
Canterbury, Old Dover Road P & R: £8 p/n. Large carpark with area sectioned off for motorhomes. Clean water and dumping facilities but no EHU. Overnight cost includes bus fare to Canterbury centre for up to 7 people.
From Skye it was back to the mainland and first stop Fort William where we did our bit for the local economy with a couple of trips to outdoor shops! We had thought about going up Ben Nevis but with the forecast saying that winter equipment, ie crampons and ice axes, should be carried we decided against that and instead walked from the campsite along Glen Nevis.
This was another stunning walk to the Steall Waterfall and included on the return, a rather nervous crossing of the river via a cable bridge! Anything to not go back up the valley side again
We’re being spoilt for choice on places to visit and after a couple of nights on a campsite, it was back to wild camping, well as wild as you can get in a fully kitted out motorhome!
Today’s drive was along Glencoe and Glen Etive, both of which featured heavily in the film Skyfall although the house used as James Bond’s childhood home was actually purpose built in Surrey! After several miles along a single track road you come to the end next to the northern edge of Loch Etive where there’s a small spot where you can park overnight.
Forestry and Land Scotland has reopened its scheme for self-contained motorhomes and camper vans allowing overnight parking as part of its Stay the Night initiative. Vans are allowed to stay one night in certain locations – some charge, others not (we used Littlemill near Inverness) Hopefully the scheme won’t be abused and more places will open up.
And then came the Cairngorms, a simply stunning area to visit for walking and just submersing yourself in nature. We had a couple of snowy nights in the ski centre car park where we hit the cafe a couple of times and went for a short walk but were defeated by the weather when a snowstorm blew through. We had originally planned to take the funicular railway up Cairn Gorm mountain but it’s currently undergoing refurbishment. We made the suggested parking donation (which they say is optional if you use the cafe or buy something in the shop) but it looks like barriers are going across the car park for proper paid parking.
A lot of the southern area of the Cairngorms makes much of its historical royal connections beginning with Queen Victoria. We visited Ballater, Balmoral and Braemar and found some great walks around the River Dee and up into the mountains where there was still plenty of snow on the ground.
Our last two stays in the mountains were at the Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve from where we followed the well marked path to Corrie Ardair, and then in a small car park at Kinloch Rannoch parked right alongside the loch. There are just so many beautiful free sites in Scotland and hopefully campers in every form will respect and preserve them. We made use of the service point in Kingussie – £5 to empty black and grey tanks and top up with fresh water.
The time then came for us to start heading south. We stopped overnight at the Kelpies near Falkirk as for some reason we had missed them on our previous trip. The car park was busy (school holidays and bank holiday weekend) when we arrived so we diverted to the Falkirk Wheel where it is also possible to stay overnight for £15 (or £3.50 for day parking). After a while of watching the wheel, a fascinating piece of engineering, the car parks began to clear so we headed back to the Kelpies.
Our final destination on this trip was Edinburgh for a little sight-seeing and catching up with friends. The campsite is a little out of town but the buses are reliable despite the sheer amount of roadworks currently underway in the city! The city centre was quite busy so we decided to wander up Arthur’s Seat to view it from a distance – we have definitely come to prefer being away from crowds! Lovely though to catch up with old friends over coffee and dinner and meet Felicity and Ben’s gorgeous baby, Milo.
Glen Nevis Caravan & Camping Park, Fort William: £31 p/n – hard standing pitch with EHU. Large, modern campsite with all expected amenities a short drive out of Fort William close to the Ben Nevis path.
Glen Etive: Free. Small car park next to Loch Etive at the end of a long single track road. No facilities.
Littlemill Forest, near Inverness: Free. Forestry and Land Scotland car park allowing overnight parking for self-contained motorhomes. A couple of short walks from the carpark.
Culloden Moor Caravan and Motorhome Club Campsite: £28.20 p/n – hard standing pitch with EHU. Typical C&MC site with full amenities. Near to historical sites.
Cairngorm Ski Centre car park: Suggested £2 donation for parking but looks like pay barriers are going in. Bumpy uneven car park but spectacular views and walking including the Cairn Gorm mountain. Funicular railway being refurbished at the time of writing (April 2022). Visitor facilities include cafe and 24 hour toilets.
Ballater Caravan Park: £25 p/n – hard standing pitch with EHU. Independent campsite with all facilities. Free wifi! Easy walk into the town centre and several well signposted walks along the River Dee and around the local area.
Loch Muick visitor centre car park: £10 for 24 hours. No facilities (toilets were closed when we visited). Motorhomes is are asked to use the upper car park which is uneven. Great base for walking around the loch or up to Lochnagar.
Balmoral Castle coach park: £10 for 24 hours. No facilities but local visitor centre has toilets and a water tap (albeit not for parking and filling by hoses given its location). Quieter than expected despite being next to the main road. Easy walk to the castle and the wider Balmoral estate.
Braemar Caravan Park: £30.50 p/n – hard standing pitch with EHU. Independent site with great facilities and really friendly staff – the drying room was a great addition. Easy walk into town for cafes and shops.
Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve: Free but donation requested. Short walk to toilets in an information building but no other facilities. Great walking.
Kinloch Rannoch: small loch side car park just out of the village – free. No facilities other than rubbish bins. Wardens came visiting to remind us to be considerate and preserve the beauty of the location. Stunning views along Loch Rannoch.
Helix Park (the Kelpies), Falkirk: £7.50 overnight parking at in the car park near the play area. Toilets available by the Kelpies.
Edinburgh Caravan and Motorhome Club site: £38.80 p/n – hard standing pitch with EHU. Typical C&MC club site with full facilities and located on the River Forth. Easy bus ride into the city centre
We were both very excited to see the Welcome to Scotland sign and as soon as we crossed the border we headed west to follow part of the South West Coastal 300 route. Scotland now has a few established driving routes including the NC500, the SWCoastal 300 and the Heart 200 and there’s plenty of information available online. The country is also better set-up than England and Wales for motorhomers with plenty of stopovers available outside campsites and some have services for which a small charge is asked.
For the first part of this trip we followed the coastline from Dumfries to the Isle of Skye and then took a ferry to the outer Hebrides. Our overnight spots have mostly been car parks, some paid and some not and some with slightly better views than others! There are lots of little three or four van community maintained park ups where you are asked for a donation, usually between £5 and £10, to help with the upkeep. Some have water or toilets or are just in a perfect location and we hope that all campers do donate as suggested. We’ve also found clean water and toilet disposal points at leisure centres, ferry ports and even a local tip, so have never had any worries with filling and emptying the tanks.
We are lucky to be able to visit out of season as a lot of the roads are single track and in the summer are very busy, although travelling at this time of year means that a lot of places have not yet reopened after winter. Not needing to rely on electric hook-up also meant we could camp at remote spots or beachside where we’ve often been the only van.
Transport between the islands is via CalMac ferries. There were a lot of issues in the past couple of years for locals with visitors and motorhomes using the ferries so they have recently updated their pricing and standby policies. Motorhomes are now charged the same as commercial vans of the same length and are no longer able to use standby tickets. We had planned our trip to take advantage of the winter timetable but due to technical followed by weather delays on the Berneray to Leverburgh trip we nudged into the more expensive summer fares. CalMac no longer do hopper tickets so all legs are bought as single trips but this apparently doesn’t affect the total cost and changing bookings was really easy with very friendly staff on the customer service phone line. Our total ferry costs for Skye-North Uist-Harris-North Uist-Skye were just short of £240.
We started this trip by following the SW Coastal 300 route from Dumfries, along the coast of the Solway Firth and Irish Sea to Stranraer, from where we dropped down to the southernmost point of mainland Scotland on the Mull of Galloway. This was mostly following main roads but there was still plenty to see.
After a night overlooking the River Clyde at Greenock to the west of Glasgow, we went back to quieter places, parking up on Loch Lomond, Southend overlooking the Mull of Kyntyre and the southern end of Loch Etive. Whilst on Kyntyre we took a diversion to Skipness on a recommendation – found a great smokehouse and came out with salmon, kippers and wild garlic pesto. All very delicious! From there it was out to Skye for our first stop there.
We spent six days exploring Lewis and Harris which are two islands that appear as one on the map and are the most northerly of the Outer Hebrides. Southern Harris is very mountainous whereas north Lewis is flatter open moorland. There was so much to see on these islands: golden eagles on North Harris, ancient history at the Calanais Standing Stones and more recent history at Na Gearrannan, both on western Lewis. June did her most northerly dip in a beautiful little cove near the Butt of Harris.
Uist takes in eight islands from Berneray in the north to Eriskay in the south and all are linked by one main road. We spent most of our time at the northern end of the chain, mostly chilling out parked up next to the most amazing white beaches and marvelling at the sunsets! The circular walk around Berneray is worth doing, taking in beaches, heather clad hillsides, the old harbour and the seals. We did one walk on South Uist from East Kilbride to a hill overlooking Loch Boisdale – it wasn’t too far but exhausting trying to walk through deep heather and peat bogs!
We had two separate stays on Skye on our way to and from the Outer Hebrides. For our first stay we used Uig Campsite as we had washing to do and from there we explored some of the north west of the island in the van. We did some of the walk along The Quiraing, where a landslide has left a series of sheer cliffs and rock features. We noticed that since our last visit here, there is now a large carpark and a parking fee of £3 or £6 depending on length of stay (no overnight parking).
On our return we visited Gill and Ian, old colleagues of Bob’s and now more known for their art. We ended up spending three nights in their “Hide” overlooking Loch Snizort – the views were amazing both day and night when the clear skies showed the stars and the Milky Way.
We had a couple of nights of faint auroras which were nothing more than a glow on the horizon to the naked eye but captured by Gill on camera in all their glory (check out Gill Williams Photography on Facebook and Instagram for more awesome images). Ian paints and sculpts and prior to going to Skye we had both seen on Instagram (Ian.williams83) one of his Iceland inspired bowls and were glad to see them in his gallery, so purchased an early wedding anniversary gift to ourselves!
We had a day walking with Gill and she took us out to the headland at Loch Brittle when there is evidence of Viking dry docks and we found an ancient chambered cairn.
Whilst having a quick lunch we spotted a sea otter, which we swiftly named Colman due to the pork pie and mustard conversation happening at the time, on its lunch break. We are gradually ticking off the wildlife list! The weather was a bit crazy this day and whilst we walked in glorious sunshine, snow came in on the north of the island. It was hard to leave the following day after being totally spoilt for a few days, but armed with details of new places to explore it was back to the mainland to continue touring this beautiful country.
Castle Corner, Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfries: £10 online donation. Parking is a clearing in the forest on a nature reserve. No EHU but drinking water tap and black disposal
Kirkcudbright Swimming Pool Aire: £10 donation for EHU (or £4 just for services) clean water, grey and black disposal. Easy walk to town centre.
Mull of Galloway: remote beachside parking down steep uneven access road. £5 to park. No services.
Battery Park, Greenock: Free. Leisure centre car park no services. Riverside.
Tarbet Pier, Loch Lomond: Free car park overlooking the loch but £5 donation requested for use of motorhome service point. Local cafe.
Southend, Mull of Kyntyre: Free car park, across road from beach. No facilities.
Glasdrum Wood National Nature Reserve, Appin: Free, no services. Overlooking Loch Etive and access to woodland walks.
Uig Campsite, Skye: £21 p/n. Hard standing pitches with EHU (grass and tent pitches also available). All services available plus laundry. Great for access to ferry.
Balnarald Bay, near Houghharry, North Uist: £10 donation. Grass beachside pitches. Water available at nearby house.
Kilbride Campsite, South Uist: £22 p/n. Hard standing pitches with EHU (grass and tent pitches available plus on-site hostel). Full services available including laundry and kitchen. Across road from beach and cafe on-site.
Clachan Sands Camping, North Uist: £10 donation. Parking on grass, beachside. Water tap available.
East Beach, Berneray: grass parking in the dunes. The area is divided but hard to see where! One side charges £10 and the other is free. No facilities.
Luskentyre North Beach Carpark, Harris: £7 donation. Small beachside carpark (but no real view). Clean water and toilets available.
Huisinis, North Harris: £10 to park overnight plus £3 to use black water disposal point. Hard standing car park next to a building with toilets and showers and a large room containing local information. Beachside and access to walking paths. Access is via a long single track road but worth it!
Bosta Beach, Breaclete, Lewis: £5 donation. Hard standing car park with toilets, behind dunes.
Port Stoth, Butt of Lewis: Free. Two concrete pitches overlooking small cove a short walk from the lighthouse. No facilities but we stopped at nearby Lional Sports Centre where for £4 you can fill up with clean water and dump black.
Rhenigidale, North Harris: Free. Hillside car park overlooking a sea loch. Picnic seating. No facilities.
Finsbay, Harris: Free. Hard standing car park with small picnic area. No facilities ( black water disposal available at Tarbert tip for £3). Overlook the village and loch – good for watching seals.
Baleshare Beach: Free. Hard standing and grass beachside parking. No facilities but amazing sunsets!
After another quick stop at home for a routine medical appointment, we then started a week or so of van related work but with the promise of a weekend in the Peaks at the end before popping home again.
First stop was Tyrepal at Banbury to get the tyre pressure monitoring system sorted. Turned out that a replacement monitor we had received recently was faulty so we were given a new one immediately and the system was backing fully working. As that was a quick job, it was straight on to our overnight stop at Burton Hill Farm CL. We were surrounded by some beautiful countryside but as we were there just the one night, we didn’t have a chance to see much of the campsite let alone explore any further.
The next job was in Shropshire where, after a lot of shall we / shan’t we, we were having a Planar diesel heater fitted by Autoterm. We have warm air heating which runs off LPG or electric so we’re not at all cold but the diesel heater gives us another option if we need to watch the LPG usage and are not hooked up to electric. There are a couple of options for diesel heater fitting and we went for the middle cost wise (it was £925). Yes there are certainly much cheaper heaters available but we wanted to ensure it was fitted correctly and that the reliability was there. We’re very happy with the results and are putting the heater to daily use in Scotland!
Ahead of having the heater installed, we sat out storm Eunice in Roden Nurseries CL, attached to a garden nursery. The owners were very friendly and even came out to check we were OK during the storm. It was very wet but we seemed to avoid the worst of the winds (unlike the house where we lost six roof tiles!) and the relentless rain led to a couple of nights of interrupted sleep. At times like these we have no excuse not to do the “housework” and there’s usually plenty of cooking going on.
What we had planned to be the third and final work stop was a little further north to finally get some carpets fitted. We had checked in advance with the campsite (Stoney Leach Nursery) that we could have the work done on-site and that wasn’t an issue for them. For various reasons we’ve tried multiple times to get these done but we finally arranged a date with Carpets for Caravans and are really pleased with their work. Something else to help with the warmth too.
There’s a little walking from the campsite which was really quiet and peaceful despite it being busy.
Having had all the work done, or so we thought, we moved across country to the Hope Valley in the Peak District and to a campsite we first stayed in last year. Newfold Farm is located in a stunning area with some great walking – Bob went up to Mam Tor with his son Tom one day and with the weather being so glorious we also took a 5 mile “stroll” the following day along part of the Penine Way to Crowden Brook. We’d use again given it’s location.
Another reason for visiting here was to meet up with Paula (an old school friend of June’s) and David who bought their motorhome last year. It was a bit cold to sit outside so we squeezed into each other’s vans for a couple of nights of reminiscing and putting the world to rights over a bottle or two of wine!
We were both itching to get back on the road properly and start our tour of Scotland but another medical appointment (and thankfully almost probably the last for the foreseeable – getting old sucks!) and a warning light on the dashboard sent us back home again. On the plus side, we were able to get all the washing done despite more rain, catch up with a post-COVID Chloe and have dinner with friends.
We managed to get an appointment with Inter County Mercedes in Milton Keynes so after an overnight stay in a car park near Tongwell Lake, it was straight in to the garage where they were quickly able to diagnose and fix the problem. It transpired that when Hymer removed the standard Mercedes front seats to replace with their own they had placed the cable for the seatbelt sensor in such a place that over time it would be crushed and eventually severed. After replacing the seat belt sockets and rerouting the cable we were on our way and we’ll take the issue up with Hymer directly.
Tonight’s stop would be Tebay Services on the M6 and tomorrow – Scotland!
Burton Hill Farm CL, Southam, Warwickshire: £16 p/n. Hard standing pitches with EHU. Other services Roden Nurseries CL
Roden Nurseries CL, near Telford, Shropshire: £17 p/n. Hard standing pitches with EHU and water. Use of outside toilets of adjacent garden centre and motorhome washing facilities available.
The Elms CL, Whittington, Shropshire: £10 p/n. Hard standing pitches with EHU. Clean water and dumping facilities close by.
Stoney Leach Nursery, Wrightington, near Wigan: £15 p/n. Hard standing pitches with EHU. Clean water and dumping facilities close by.
Newfold Farm, Edale, Peak District: £25 p/n. Hard standing pitches with EHU. Clean water and dumping facilities close by.
Tongwell Lake, Milton Keynes: Free. Public car park on a business estate.
Tebay Services, M6: £18 overnight but given £3 voucher to spend in shops. No facilities in car park. Services also have a campsite but it was closed at the time of our visit.
Having taken the option to get our inbound COVID test at a drive through centre on the way home (thankfully both negative still!) we were clear to go about preparing for Christmas almost as soon as we got back home. It wasn’t quite the rush we anticipated as like for a lot of people, the holidays were pretty quiet although it was good to see the family and friends that we did.
After almost three weeks of feeling strange in our own house (home is now most definitely the motorhome and the house is Chloe’s home), we got the call from the Mercedes garage to say that the issue with the central locking and remote key system caused by the lightning strike was now resolved. Luckily Chloe was home so we had use of her car so the following day it was up the A1 to collect the van and back again to check in to the local campsite. We both sat in the van that evening with a big smile on our faces and had our first decent night’s sleep in weeks!
After a couple more days of catching up with people we headed down to Hayling Island for a couple of nights to get some warranty work done on the van. With the dealer we bought the van from having stopped trading, we’ve been lucky to find another dealer (Southdown Motorhomes) willing to take on the warranty work. Great service from them! We stayed at Stoke Farm, a fairly new CL, with the remaining grass pitches currently being made hard standing. All have EHU and and own water. Sadly we didn’t get much chance to explore the area but this would make a good base.
Whilst getting that sorted we were made aware by a few drivers that our reversing lights were permanently on so it was a quick dash the following day to the Mercedes garage recommended by Southdown – Marshalls Andover who kindly squeezed us in and ran the diagnostics. The problem had actually righted itself that morning although we had another scare on the way to the garage when the van wouldn’t start at all. But whatever had caused these glitches had disappeared so we found a CL near Salisbury and headed there for a couple of nights with the aim of getting a decent walk in.
We spent two nights at Copse Side Farm where we were met by the owner. Sad to say we did’t get her name but she was so chatty, telling us about caravanning around Australia many years ago and giving us the history of the area around us. Camping is in a long thin field with a view to the hills of Cranborne Chase and there is a footpath directly from the campsite out on to the hills. We managed one very muddy walk out on a glorious winter day!
Whilst here we noticed that the alarm indicator lights weren’t working so it was on to VanBitz who told us to bring the van in. This entailed a trip down to Taunton which we would do the following week. In the meantime we decided to visit Portland in Dorset and spent two restful nights in a free car park overlooking Chesil Beach. The weather continued to be sunny (but cold!) so we drove down to Portland Bill for a stroll along the coast there. On our way to Somerset, we spent a few hours in Lyme Regis having a wander along the harbour wall and the sea front. Probably because it was a Saturday but the harbour side takeaways had really long queues so we decided to treat ourselves to a sit down lunch in the pub. Has to be done from time to time!
Although VanBitz is located next to a campsite as our appointment wasn’t until 10am we decided to stay near Somerton in Somerset on Millway Farm CL. From there we were able to walk out to a very muddy Combe Hill (the mud goes with the time of the year!) and the surrounding woods. The CL is on a working farm and there is a small farm shop selling produce as well as homemade jams and chutneys – can recommend the apple and blackberry jam!
After three LEDs were replaced at VanBitz it was back to Dorset. With all the running around to get the van sorted we really hadn’t settled back in to van life so after one night at Dorset Springs, an immaculate CL with pitches located around a lake, we decided that our next stop would be for at least three nights to give ourselves some breathing space.
Upon arriving at West Farm CL, near Verwood, we extended our original three nights to six. This is another well kept CL with great facilities – by this time we needed to look for a laundry and as well as a washing machine and tumble dryer, they also have a drying room with racks and hangars so we’ve managed to get everything done. There is also plenty of walking from the site and the New Forest is just a short drive away.
It may sound strange to non-van dwellers but sometimes you really do just need to stop and park up somewhere for a few days! The UK is not very well set up for motorhomes and vans so it’s a constant search for places to park, places to empty and fill water tanks and empty the loo. Campsites can be expensive and whilst we are lucky to have a monthly income, we still have a budget. We’re not whinging though and wouldn’t change this lifestyle for anything.
And finally, our plans for 2022. Plan A was for us to have shipped the van to Canada in April 2021 but we all know what COVID did to global travel plans that year! We therefore moved Plan A to September 2022 when, all being well, international travel will have fully resumed and we can head across the Atlantic to start our US, Canada and PanAmerican adventure which had always been our dream for van life.
In the meantime, we will continue to tour the UK, including six or seven weeks in Scotland and then use a full 90 day Schengen block in Norway and Sweden starting in May.
Stoke Farm, Hayling Island: £18 per night. Water and EHU on each pitch. Two hard standing pitches but planning to make the other 3 the same.
Copse Side Farm near Salisbury: £15 per night. EHU and fresh water. Black and grey water disposal. A long thin site with one, maybe two hard standing pitches. Bins available
New Ground Car Park: Free. No services other than rubbish bins.
Millway Farm Somerset: £12 per night. EHU on each pitch and all hard standing. Water along with black and grey water disposal.
Dorset Springs: £20 per night. EHU on each pitch and all hard standing. Water along with black and grey water disposal.
West Farm near Verwood. £19 per night. Two hard standings with EHU on all pitches. Water along with black and grey disposal.
Despite bringing the return train forward a few days, we still had plenty of time to get back to Calais with days built in to allow for any delays (some of the mountain passes were already closed due to snowfall). Our route was through the same countries as the way down, so back through Croatia, Slovenia, Italy and France, COVID restrictions allowing, and with the hope of catching at least one Christmas market.
We had our first onboard inspection as we crossed the border from Bosnia to Croatia but they were only interested in alcohol and tobacco, and we didn’t much of the former and certainly none of the latter.
Much of the tourist focus for Croatia is along the coast – 4 of the 5 sections of our guide book are about the coastal regions, but the inland northern area is worth visiting if you like more remote countryside.
Our journey through Croatia (and Slovenia) was mostly along the banks of the Sava River through the flat wetlands of the Lonjsko polje, an area of wooden houses, open fields and storks.
We also visited several spomeniks (monuments) which had been built during the by the former Republic of Yugoslavia. These were mostly dedicated to local soldiers who resisted the invading forces of World War 2 but also included the Jasenovac Memorial and Museum, built of the site of a former concentration camp.
The camp housed mostly Serbs, Roma and Jews plus Croats who were opposed to the Ustasha (the government of the Independent State of Croatia established by Nazi Germany). The camp grew to be the third largest in Europe and the inmates were put to hard labour in the brickworks.
Around the monument, the ground has been landscaped to leave small mounds where different parts of the camp were and in the museum, from the ceiling hang multiple glass panels bearing the names of the captives known to have died there.
We were the only visitors that morning and they opened the museum just for us. It’s only small and free to enter but so moving. There are rumours again of more unrest in the region within the various ethnic groups – do we never learn…..
By contrast we also visited Zagreb to go the Christmas markets but have to say we were very disappointed. We appreciate that times are still uncertain especially with the latest COVID variant, but there were no more than a couple of dozen non-food stalls spread across multiple sites in the city. On the upside we did have our first mulled wine of the season. Great campsite though at Camp Zagreb which is located out of the city but by a lake. Lots of facilities and activities during the armed months and a great little pizza restaurant on-site. We walked to the next town to take the train into Zagreb but in the summer, the site runs a shuttle bus.
The crossing from Croatia to Slovenia took two attempts having initially tried a what we now know to have been a checkpoint for EU nationals only! Non-EU nationals have to cross via the larger border points which fortunately in this instance was just a few kilometres away. We had opted for the smaller crossing because it wasn’t on a motorway – we needed a vignette to use motorways but didn’t have one plus and to be honest, we prefer non-motorway driving.
On our way to our next camping place we stopped by some hot springs at Smarjeske Toplice which were not so hot, but there is something to be said about taking a dip in warm water with snow on the forest floor all around. We don’t know if it’s because only slightly insane people would visit during winter but it was quite a descent down the hill from the only car park we could find to the springs. There was also no-one around to collect money for parking.
We found a great motorhome park up in Dol pri Ljubljani with stunning views over the snow covered countryside. The park up has immaculate facilities including a washing machine and offers undercover, hard standing and grass pitches. We has originally planned to stay for one night but extended it to two. On our second day we walked through the village and up the snow covered hill for a hot chocolate at the restaurant at the top.
The next couple of days became driving ones. We left Slovenia on a Sunday and decided this would be a good day to drive as far as possible across Italy, beyond Milan if we could. The plan worked and after spending a night in a sosta in Magenta, we hit no traffic on the Monday morning thereby having an easy run into France. We did take the motorway through Italy just to make ground but it did come at a cost of €66.
After a stunning drive through the Alps, we hit the motorway again with an eye-watering total of €115.50 to get to Lake Annecy for an overnight stop in, thankfully, a free aire. By coincidence the aire was just in front of a hotel we had used a few years ago. Having got this far in two days, we stayed to the back roads and used a couple more Aires before reaching Calais the day before our train departure. Tried to visit the Christmas market here too but nothing seemed to be open….
On our way to Calais we also had to arrange for COVID tests no more than two days before our crossing to be allowed back to the UK (assuming they were negative of course!). We have found France to be so much better organised than the UK for testing and the cost is fixed so we were easily able to locate a pharmacy on our route who for €50 did two lateral flow tests and provided certificates within 30 minutes.
With our documentation all uploaded to the Eurotunnel site we were granted permission to travel so on Friday 17th we came back to the UK for three weeks of living in a house over the holidays and whilst work was carried out on the van to sort out the electrical problems caused by the lightening strike.
In hindsight the decision to come back a few days early was a good one as France closed its borders to UK travellers the day we came home (longest queues we’d ever seen at Eurotunnel to get out of the UK before the midnight deadline!). Whilst we were allowed to be travelling home, by leaving sooner we took away any potential grief caused by a UK plated vehicle travelling through France. We’d already been stopped once in France by customs for a drug search and although they were perfectly friendly and polite, we didn’t want a repeat of that.
Out on the road again in January for a few months in the UK. We have plans for, fingers crossed, Scandinavia in May for three months, and then back to Plan A for Canada and the US in September…..
Campground Zelen-GAJ, Lonja: KN100 (£11.10) for one night after some haggling! Due to being out of season no facilities available other than bins. Mostly grass pitches.
Camp Zagreb: KN211 p/n (ACSI rate). Hard standing pitches with EHU and multiple water points. Restaurant and spa on site.
Camperstop and Storage Facility, Dol pri Ljubljani: €15 per night. Various parking areas including undercover. EHU and access to a new kitchen area including a washing machine.
Area Sosta, Magenta, Italy: free car park next to a large caravan/motorhome/camping shop. Little road noise but free water fill up, black and grey water disposal.
Parking Camping Car, Annecy: free car park. Water point but not working/turned off for winter.
Aire at Bruyeres et Montberault, near Laon: free car park, no facilities.
Aire at Montreuil: free parking. €2 to fill water and empty WC.
Calais Aire: €10 per night to park in secure hard standing area. Free facilities outside gates – water filling, grey and WC disposal.
Having decided to bring our return crossing home by a few days due to the ever-changing COVID situation (a new strain is prompting some countries to lock down again) this week marked the start of our journey northwards and ultimately, home to the UK. This meant we had to cut short out time here but we plan on returning.
We left Mostar and headed out to the countryside, continuing to follow the Neretva River. We took a slight detour at Konjic to visit Tito’s Bunker, an underground bunker built to house the president and senior officials in the event of a nuclear war.
Facility D-0 was built in complete secrecy over a period of 26 years between 1953 and 1979 at a cost of 4.6 billion US Dollars ($10 billion equivalent today). It was to be the place to which Tito, President of the former Yugoslavia, his government and senior military officials would retreat in the event of a nuclear war. The site which is built into the mountainside behind three cottages, was fully self contained, had fresh water and air circulation systems and was filled with six months worth of food for the few hundred chosen individuals. The furnishings were the height of 70s luxury and the systems were state of the art for their time.
When Yugoslavia fell, a couple of soldiers disobeyed the order to destroy the place and it is a now a perfectly preserved memorial to what might have been and many of the rooms are now being used as a art gallery. We were both fascinated with the place and would recommend a visit. The cost to visit was KM20 each (approx £8.50) and you have to take the guided tour but its worth it. Tours leave at set times so check the website (titosbunker.com) if visiting.
As we left Konjic and headed towards our next stop we noticed that the cars coming towards us were starting to show signs of snow fall. “I hope we’re not heading into a snow storm” said June and as we got higher, that’s exactly what happened and we arrived at Rama Lake. It certainly made for a fun drive!
We stayed at House Franjusic, a property consisting of a few holiday lets that also allows camping in its garden/car park. We arrived as the snow was falling quite heavily so just plugged in, sussed out the WiFi and shut the door for the night.
We awoke the next morning to glorious blue skies and a beautiful snowy landscape. A knock on the door and we were invited into the house for a coffee which turned into a full blown breakfast. We were also told by the delightful Anje to comeback at 12 noon for lunch! Unfortunately power cuts delayed that, for which Anje was most apologetic but it was hardly her fault, but the handmade burek was well worth the wait. Conversation was interesting as she spoke only Croatian and Russian but we managed to chat a little (O Level German has proved handy on this trip but not in this case!). The house is one of a few strung out properties on a peninsular jutting out into the lake and had some great walking although we couldn’t do too much on this visit. Because of the snow we only made it the short distance to the local monastery but there are walks through the nearby forests.
It was then back to the city for a visit to Sarajevo, another place that immediately bought the war to mind. The roads had been cleared of snow and there was little on the ground by the time we reached Sarajevo. Our campsite was Oaza Camp, which was a little out of the centre and close to the airport (thankfully relatively quiet but we think it would be very noisy in the summer or even more normal times. The campsite was a typical resort type with mixed camping and holiday flats/chalets. The shower/toilet blocks were shut but water was available and we were offered the use of a room to shower if we wanted. Not our favourite campsite but it served a purpose.#
Reception was able to organise a taxi for us the following day into the city (around KM20/25) and we were dropped near the old market. Today the snow had turned to rain so we didn’t stay too long in the city but we did do a free walking tour we found online and grabbed a spot of lunch. From comments we’ve had since, we don’t think we saw Sarajevo at its best and if we were to go back again, we’d also look for another campsite.
After Sarajevo we reverted to type with an out of the way stop at a new small campsite on an organic farm close to Zepce. Because of the snow and rain we didn’t make it on to the actual grass camping area for fear of not getting out again but were able to park at the entrance and still get hook up. The Bosnian hospitality continued as we were treated to cake when we arrived and the owners were quite apologetic that due to the weather and time of year they couldn’t offer us more. This was a new type of campsite opening in Bosnia and we’d highly recommend finding these more remote places.
We only spent one night on the farm and then continued to head north following the River Vrbas to Jajce. Another stunning drive passing along valleys, over mountain passes and through ancient fortified towns (definitely need to go back to Travnik).
Another little detour took us to the mysterious large stone balls near Zavidovici. There are a few odd theories on how these were formed other than the standard geological theory of water!
We stayed at the riverside campsite next to the Jajce Hostel which is quite basic but fully functional. You are also able to use the hostel’s laundry (€2 per wash and dry) and showers.
Jajce is famous for its fortress and waterfalls and the rain eased enough for us to go for a quick walk to the falls.
As we left Jajce, we visited the falls at Lake Plivsko and some old small watermills.
Our final stop in Bosnia was near the Kozara National Park as we decided to go on a Spomenik (monument) hunt. There are number of huge (and we mean enormous) monuments spread across the former Yugoslavia built in memory of partisans who fought against the invading German and Italian forces in WW2.
Kozara was another beautiful place to visit – there are so many places we want to go back to in Bosnia. We have been blown away by the stunning scenery and the kindness and hospitality of the locals. New campsites are opening and for this last night we stayed at another new site which is still being built. Danijel, the owner, greeted us on arrival with a huge bag of apples from the family orchard and shared his plans for the site which is located on the edge of a forested area next to a stream. The focus is on the environment and he has so far built a communal kitchen and dining area with plans to build shower and toilet facilities next.
Considering we hadn’t originally planned to Bosnia, we are really keen to go back. Just need to find the time….!!!
House Franjusic, near Ripci: KM20/€10 per night. Grass and hard standing, EHU and water.
Oaza Camp, Sarajevo: KM41.80 ACSI rate (standard KM45/€22.50) per night. EHU, water and full emptying facilities. Showers, toilets, restaurant (open all year) and laundry (in season).
Eco Farm, near Zepce: KM30/€15 per night. Grass pitches. EHU and water.
Jajce Hostel, Jajce: KM24/€12 per night. Mostly hard standing and some grass. Laundry.
Campsite Bukovica, Gorni Podgradci: KM20/€10 per night. Grass. No facilities at time of writing.