2022 and back to Plan A

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.

We managed one of our favourite walks while at Chloe’s

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!

Great to have breakfast at Denham Airfield with friends

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.

Copse Side Farm

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!

Such a beautiful area

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!

One of June’s favourites….Chesil Beach

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!

Mud? What mud?

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.

Dorset Springs

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.

West Farm CL, near Verwood

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.

Beautiful walks near Verwood

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.

Campsites used

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.

The not so long slog home – 7 to 17 Dec

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.

Quite a stunning spomenik

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.

Lonjsko polje

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.

One of the many spomeniks we saw.

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.

Jasenovac

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…..

Zagreb

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.

While the Christmas Markets were disappointing the hot chocolate certainly wasn’t

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.

Hot springs at Smarjeske Toplice

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.

Beautiful views from the campsite at Dol pri Ljubljani

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.

Not a bad view from the restaurant

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….

Lunch stop in the Alps

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…..

Campsites used

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.

Bosnia 2 – 29 Nov to 6 Dec

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.

The Bunker Entrance

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.

Facility D-0

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.

One of the Ops Rooms

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.

Handmade Burek

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.#

Oaza Camp

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.

The Post Office Sarajevo

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.

Eco Farm, near Zepce

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).

mysterious large stone balls near Zavidovici

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 Hostel

Jajce is famous for its fortress and waterfalls and the rain eased enough for us to go for a quick walk to the falls.

Jajce

As we left Jajce, we visited the falls at Lake Plivsko and some old small watermills.

Water Mills

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.

Campsite Bukovica

Considering we hadn’t originally planned to Bosnia, we are really keen to go back. Just need to find the time….!!!

Campsites/parking used:

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.

Bosnia 1 – 24 to 28 November

We decided fairly last minute that as our insurance covered us we would visit Bosnia so came into the country having done no research and with no preconceived ideas. And having toured through a lot of the western part of the country, we are so glad that we did make it here!

We entered Bosnia though one of the main border crossings at Metkovic, at the eastern end of the Neretva Delta, the large area of agricultural land we had driven through in Croatia. It was an easy border crossing in that we had the necessary documents – passports, van registration and COVID vaccination details (first time we’d been asked for them!) and we were soon able to continue our drive along the stunning Neretva River.

Kravica Waterfalls

On our way to our first campsite we stopped at the Kravica Waterfalls. We don’t know if the man in the ticket booth overcharged us having seen us arrive in the van, but we hadn’t got our head around the exchange rate at that point so paid the KM40 (approx £17) without questioning it. On reflection this was very expensive for what was there but in the summer, there are accessible man made beaches (I use the term loosely!), a decked bar area, restaurants and boat trips and you can spend the day there and swim in the river which makes the entrance fee more reasonable.

Kravica Waterfalls

There is a second waterfall about 1km downstream from the main falls. It is walkable unless there has been a lot of rain (there had!) in which case the river banks are waterlogged and slippy. We speak from experience as Bob had to grab June by the belt to stop her sliding face down in the mud into the river!

Autocamp Green Park

Our first campsite was Autocamp Green Park on the banks of the Neretva in Zitomislic. The high running river meant that the only parking was the main car park and being out of season, the bar, restaurant and other facilities were shut, but we had EHU, water and WiFi so needed nothing else. The site also has a few rooms (we were offered the use of a toilet and shower in one) and more building was going on. We were also able to use a washing machine (€3 per use) although it seemed to be the owner’s personal machine as it was in their bathroom! We had great fun with the owners who spoke little English muddling through in a mix of GCE German and holiday Italian but thankfully they had a couple of English speaking younger workers who were able to help out.

Autocamp Green Park

Before we arrived we had received warnings from the UK FCO of flooding in Bosnia and it continued to rain throughout most of our time here! Luckily we are fairy hardy souls and did our best not to let that stop us getting out and about.

Autocamp Green Park

The next stop was a few miles away at Autocamp Blagaj, a 15 minute taxi ride from Mostar. With not having a local SIM and with the MiFi having been fried in Croatia navigating between places became a bit hit and miss if we’d not saved the details offline. We weren’t 100% sure of where we were staying which wasn’t helped by having muddled the name of one campsite with the location of another park up in the sat nav! As we were trying to work out the details a car pulled up in front of us and man jumped out into the pouring rain to ask if we were looking for his campsite. In hindsight we realise he was trying to be helpful but we were wary of being taken to somewhere we hadn’t booked and so brushed him off. Having got to the park up and with the owner given us his WiFi password, we soon realised that we were in the wrong place so snuck out very quickly! We finally worked out where we should be, and yes it was the campsite of the man who had tried to help us earlier. As we would find out over the next few days, Alen was a genuinely friendly guy and he was so generous during our stay.

Our Welcome Feist at Autocamp Blagaj

The rain continued but managed to hold of during our visit to Mostar for which we took a return taxi from the campsite for KM30 (£13). Like most people of our age most of our memories of the region come from the division of the former Yugoslavia and the war of the early to mid 1990s. Parts of Mostar have been totally rebuilt including the famous Stari Most, the Old Bridge, although at this time of year there was little sign of the divers who, for the right price, will dive from the bridge into the Neretva some distance below!

Stari Most

We had a wander through the streets of the Old Town (very similar to the souks in Morocco and bazaars in Turkey, ie tourist trap and heaving during the summer!) and walked a little further afield in the city. It’s a real mix of old and new, lots of bullet hole riddled buildings and rather strangely, a statue of Bruce Lee in one of the parks. It’s definitely a place worth visiting.

A short distance from the campsite (not quite walking though) is the Tejika Blagaj, or the Dervish House. Parts of the site have been dated back to the late 1400s and the first written history is from 1664. Its location at the base of steep cliffs plus at times due to neglect, has meant that the buildings have ben destroyed and reconstructed several times with the last building in 2012.

Tejika Blagaj

The site is now a pilgrimage destination to celebrate the birth of the prophet Mohammad and one of the most visited for followers of Sufism.

Tejika Blagaj

Entrance fee to the complex was KM5 each (a little over £2) but it can been seen easily from a number of restaurants just across the river or a path that runs behind the restaurants down to the base of the cliff. It would seem that in the summer there are a number of souvenir stalls on the road at the entrance to the site but we were lucky to miss those!

Sites used:

Autocamp Green Park, Zitomislic: €15 per night. Winter hard standing, grass in summer. EHU, water, grey and WC dumping.

Autocamp Blagaj, Blagaj, near Mostar: €15 per night (possibly because it was winter but that reduces for stays of 3 nights or longer). Hard standing pitches with EHU and water, grey and black disposal. Shower and toilet block and washing machine. Bar and restaurant which seemed to be open.

South Dalmatian coast – 15 to 24 Nov

After a couple of strenuous days sightseeing we moved on to a remote cliff side campsite near Omis at the recommendation of @john.n.kellie, another couple of van dwellers who were spending time in Croatia and who we would catch up with in person a few days later.

Autocamp Sirena

Although Omis is only a few kilometres from Split along the coast, we took the long winding road via the Cetina Gorge and over the Dubci Pass to come back around to the campsite.

Cetina Gorge

Autocamp Sirena is a terraced campsite between the main road and the sea. We opted for one of the lower terraces (with just two other vans there we had plenty of choice!) and parked up facing the sea. That didn’t last long as once the wind picked up, as it does frequently along the coast, we were being rocked all over the place. A quick 90 degree turn to get the nose into the wind helped and we managed a decent night’s sleep.

Not a bad view to wake to

Throughout the the campsite there is access to the sea, via either small pebbly beaches or the rocks. Bob couldn’t be persuaded but June went in for a quick dip and it wasn’t so bad.

June having a dip

The campsite has a small shop and will provide bread and croissants of a morning if preordered. We also ate in the restaurant where we were treated to the hospitality of Milan and the food cooked by his wife. We (not just us I should add!) were left with six numbered bottles of schnapps like alcohol and a dice in case we couldn’t decide which one to have next!

So much choice

Having been quite controlled with the free alcohol so hangovers averted, we moved on to Dubrovnik, one of our last stops in this part of Croatia. Our campsite was Autocamp Matkovica in Srebreno, south of and just a short bus ride from Dubrovnik. Hard to tell exactly how many pitches there were but most of the site was hard standing and all have EHU. Showers and toilets available plus use of a washing machine (paid for). Whilst here we met up with @landylifeoverland again as well putting spending a couple of afternoons with John and Kellie who are spending a couple years touring Europe from Australia.

Autocamp Matkovica

The owner gave us a local map and pointed out where the bus stops were and well as giving us the bus timetable. The bus was kn18 each one way and the drivers all seem to speak some English which helped.

Stunning Dubrovnik

We really enjoyed our day in Dubrovnik where we walked around the impressive city walls (not cheap at kn200, £22, each but we thought worth doing), wandered through the alleys and streets of the Old City and took the cable car up to Mount Srd for panoramic views over the city. The cable car was kn170, £19, each but again we thought it had to be done. There is a restaurant at the top and the Homeland War Musuem dedicated to the Croatian War of Independence.

Looking down onto Dubrovnik

Within walking distance from the campsite is Kupari, a favoured beach resort of the former socialist Yugoslav government and army which has now been left to fall into disrepair. The resort consists of several hotels – the colonial looking Grand Hotel and then a few concrete monstrosities, and you are free to wander around what remains there. Maybe not a good idea to go to far into the buildings!

Kupari
Kupari

A little further round the coast is an old villa that belonged to Tito, the former ruler of Yugoslavia. It is sill guarded and you can’t get to it but you can see the ruins of a house he had built for his wife and walk on the rocks from which the elite would have accessed the sea via concrete stepping stones.

A short distance in the opposite direction along the coast is the picturesque fishing village of Mlini. A lot of history here with old mills for olive pressing, a raging stream running through the village (well it had been raining – a lot!) and a couple of churches. If you’re thinking of visiting Dubrovnik, this would be a great place to stay and take the bus into the city.

Mlini

We ended up having two stays in Autocamp Matkovica, albeit the second unplanned! After our first four days we headed about as far south as we could go to stay on a disused former airbase which is now a popular place for vans to overnight. It’s a large site and our plan was to spend the night on the old helipad after watching an amazing sunset. The site also has great views over Montenegro where we had hoped to visit but sadly our insurance won’t cover on this trip. We were that close that the phones kept trying to pick up Montenegro networks but we soon stopped that as it was not covered by our UK packages!

A beautiful setting

After a quiet evening we settled down for the night, knowing that rain was forecast and that it could potentially get a little windy. At this point we were contemplating spending the following day really exploring the base and possibly spending a second night there.

The best view from any helipad that Bobs ever been on.
Watching the sunset

We awoke the following morning to very grey skies, more rain and the continued rumbling of thunder somewhere offshore which had been going on for a few hours. As we were sitting having our breakfast, there was suddenly the loudest clap of thunder and a simultaneous flash of lightning followed by the sound of things hitting the van. We had been parked just a couple of metres from a lightning strike which destroyed a wall and it was pieces of brick and mud that we could hear hitting us.

At first we hadn’t seen the damage to the rear quarter.

In addition to the “blast” damage we also realised there were some electrical issues with the van so we decided to head back to the previous campsite to take stock.

Bit of battle damage

Having seen some photos of the damage to the wall (thanks to @vanstgramage who were staying in the area and went to the helipad after we had left. They were over a km away and heard the strike and a local bar owner compared the destruction to a bomb blast ) we got away quite lightly!

The ruins of a wall that was complete before the strike.

The dents that have potentially pierced the shell of the van are now taped over with clear gaffer tape, a travelling essential, and after changing a few blown fuses we are left with just our electronic key fobs not working properly so the van is booked in with Mercedes when we get back to the UK. Our mifi was also a victim but we don’t know yet if it’s the internal dongle or the external aerial. Having originally thought we had no insurance cover (policy document specifically states that), it turns out we are covered but have a huge excess so once we’re home we’ll get quotes and try to decide if the cost of claiming,including future premium increases, is worth it.

Such a stunning sunset the night before the strike

After a day of running around we were both feeling a little flat the following day so decided to spend one last day at the campsite before moving on to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We’ve really enjoyed what we’ve seen of Croatia so far. We may explore a little more when we start heading back towards home as we have to cross through the northern part of the country. That will depend on how long we spend in Bosnia and Herzegovina and any changes to the COVID situation. At time of writing Europe is starting to impose restrictions again so we’ll just keep an eye on the news and FCO updates.

Croatia – Senj to Pag 1 to 8 Nov

On leaving the Istrian peninsula we began to zigzag across the country heading in a general southerly direction. We had no particular plan, just a few places we thought we’d like to see, and a loose timeframe of about five or six weeks before we had to start heading north again.

Our first stop was the small coastal town of Senj and an overnight stop in a car park. As we walked around the town, which like many Croatian towns has an old part which is all narrow alleyways, and a fortress, we could see the sky turning greyer and darker.

Senj

We had parked in the main car park and as we were staying the night, we had headed to the far end by the harbour wall to be out of peoples way. Those grey skies we had seen earlier were the edge of an incoming storm and we were rudely awakened in the early hours by the waves coming over the wall and crashing down on to the van roof!

Overnight parking on the harbour side

We then headed inland on our way to Plitvice Lakes National Park, one of the leading tourist spots in Croatia. Once over the coastal mountain range, we found ourselves on a wide open, agricultural plain and spent the night in Otocac. Another strange night in that we were parked in an unused motorhome aire – it had EHU posts, toilets, showers, barriers (one side was permanently raised) and a little office complete with a computer and screen, but nothing was connected. Still, we were able to empty the grey tank and the WC.

Camping Otocac

As recommended on their website, we booked the Plitvice tickets online but at this time of the year that’s probably unnecessary – tickets are limited and you get a timed entry but there was no more than a handful of cars in the car park when we visited. Our tickets cost kn80 each (about £9) but in the peak season, admission is kn250 or £28, plus parking of another kn80 for a motorhome. The entrance fee does include use of the boats and busses within the park and multiple day tickets are available – there are extensive hiking trails in the wider area.

Plitvice

After entering the park (a reasonable walk from car park 2 and all uphill on the way back), we chose the lakeside walking path which took us down to the lower lakes and main waterfalls ending up at Veliki Slap which literally translates as “Big Waterfall” although as there hadn’t been too much rain at that point, it wasn’t so big!

Veliki Slap

We had originally planned to follow the longest walking path which is about 18km but with the shorter days, the park closes earlier so instead we took one of the boats back across the main lake which gave great views of the surrounding hillsides and the glorious autumn colours. From pier 2 we were able to explore some of the upper lakes via the wooden boardwalks and we could see close up the travertine formations that had created the lakes and the waterfalls in the crystal clear water.

There were boardwalks all around the park.

There was limited local camping and the campsites that were open were very expensive but we managed to find a place via Park4Night. It was basically someone’s back garden in which they let a couple of vans park. Entrance is via a steep driveway, the owner is really friendly and the site is only 10 mins from the park entrance and has stunning views across the valley. We also met for the first, but not the last time on this trip, @landylifeoverland who we knew via Instagram, and spent a couple of hours chatting about van life.

Bit steep access but did us brilliantly

Throughout the countries that made up the former Yugoslavia there are plenty of reminders of the period of socialist rule and the subsequent war that saw the break up of the country in the early 1990s. Close to Plitvice is Zeljava Airfield, a now disused airfield from the Cold War where the hangars were inside the mountain.

An old DC3

There are miles of tunnels through the mountains running in to Bosnia and Herzegovina (there is a continual police presence as the tunnels are used by immigrants trying to cross the border in to the EU) and the border between the two countries also crosses one of the runways. An eerie but interesting place to visit!

The entrance to the hanger inside the mountain

We moved on from Plitvice back out to the coast and on to the Pag peninsula. Big commercial all-singing campsites are not our style but with limited choice we opted for Camping Village Simumi, a huge complex of touring pitches, static caravans and holiday lodges. Thankfully the campsite offered a special winter rate – summer rates for the beachside pitch we had went as high as EUR80 per night, but we pretty much had the place to ourselves on a fully serviced pitch and with free use of the washing machines as a bonus!

Not a bad pitch. One we’d keep away from in the summer though

We passed our time here walking along the coast and swimming. One of the onsite restaurants was still open but we didn’t use it and there was quite a bit of work going on – luckily we were there for the weekend and were only woken by workmen once when they started just before 7am on Monday morning.

Yes, we did swim.

Sites used:

Senj harbour car park: kn40 (approx £4.50). All tarmac and no facilities

Camping Otocac: free when we stayed. Small aire like site but currently disused. Full EHU and facilities looked to be in place but all switched off.

Apartmani San Poljanak 5A, near Plitvice: kn70 p/n. Steep sloping grass parking. No facilities other than rubbish disposal and fresh water.

Camping Village Simuni, Pag: kn142 p/n (about £16.50) for beachside pitch in November with EHU and water. Huge site with various price bands based on proximity to beach. All the facilities you would expect of a site this size catering for families. 6 beaches and something like 500 pitches (mix of touring, seasonal and lodges).

Croatia – Istria, 28 to 31 Oct

A little later than we originally anticipated having been waylaid in Italy, we finally crossed into Croatia today. The country had been on our list for a while but since the implementation of Brexit it has become a destination for Brits managing their Schengen allowance because although Croatia is an EU country (yippee – UK phone package works here!) it is outside the Schengen area so doesn’t count towards the 90 day limit. At the moment it is necessary to get your passport physically stamped for proof of entry in/out of Schengen so we opted to enter via one of the main crossings near to the coast.

Beautiful Sunsets Camping Lighthouse

With passports stamped and no further questions asked we headed to our first Croatian campsite for a few days of relaxing by the beach, getting the washing done and planning where we were going to go over the next six weeks or so. One of the major issues facing us was finding campsites that were open – the coast is strewn with beachside sites but most are closed. The Lighthouse Campsite was a little gem and busy because we arrived on a Thursday to stay the weekend. Despite the site being full, it didn’t feel overcrowded as even the small pitches had plenty of space, and for the washing to dry too! The facilities were clean and modern (free rapid dishwasher if you’re fed up with dong the dishes!) and the staff very helpful and friendly. Other than a few chores, we spent our time walking along the coast and admiring the sunsets. We may have had #justttheone at local beach bar Levante to admire the view – would have been rude not to!

#JustTheOne

We headed south down the coast road through towns which I imagine in the summer are overrun with tourists. Our first stop was Porec for a wander around the old town to visit the Basilica of Euphrasius, which being a Sunday was closed! We were still able to see some of the buildings which date from the sixth century.

There is a large car park about 15 minutes walk from the port in Porec which has a section for motorhomes. The barrier was up when we arrived (still the bank holiday) but it is possible to stay overnight there although there are no facilities.

Basilica of Euphrasius

With so much closed we moved on to our next stop, Pula. With no campsites open, we looked at Park4night for any motorhome parking spots and having checked out a couple of them we opted for a large car park between the station and the port, where several other vans were already parked up – safety in numbers! There were several reviews saying that people had been fined if they didn’t have the right parking ticket and the options to pay were either by coin at the machine or via an app. Not having any local coin we downloaded the app and completed a test payment but it wouldn’t let us buy a 24 hour ticket. OK, we thought, it’s Sunday so maybe it’s free so we set our alarm for 7am the next morning when parking restrictions appeared to come into force. But….we still couldn’t buy a ticket for that day and it would only give us an option for the next day. Then we twigged – it was All Saints Day, a bank holiday in most of Europe and we didn’t need to pay at all or so we hoped!

Amphitheatre at Pula

Our reason for visiting Pula was to go to the amphitheatre, a remarkably intact Roman construction built in the first century BC. We arrived as they opened at 9am and had the place to ourselves! Entry fee was kn70 per person, approx £8.

The museum under the arena provides some history of wine making and olive oil production in the region, two industries still ongoing today.

Sites used

Lighthouse Campsite, Savudrija: kn177 p/n (approx £20). Hardstanding with EHU. Showers and toilets available plus laundry at additional cost.

Pula: Large car park next to harbour and close to the Arena, no facilities

Slovenia, a hidden gem – 23 to 27 Oct

Both of us had been to Slovenia previously when part of Yugoslavia, so some years and what seems several lifetimes ago, and we crossed the border with Italy with no issue.

The Beautiful Lake Bled

Our initial plan had been to stop at Kranjska Gora, a ski resort close to the Italian and Austrian borders but we changed our mind on arrival as the motorhome parking was along a service road and we were reluctant to potentially pay €20 for parking along a road with no services. We therefore headed into the Julian Alps and before we realised it, we were climbing up the Vrsic Pass, the highest mountain pass in the eastern Julian Alps which tops out at 1,611m or 5,285 ft and consists of 50 of the tightest, shortest hairpin bends we have ever driven!

50th Hairpin…

Many of the campsites we tried were already closed for the season but we found Kamp Korita, close to the village of Soca open. With just one other van there it was bliss! Having read a recent travel article on the area, the Soca Valley and the wider Triglav National Park, was on our list to explore and the campsite has direct access on the walking path that starts where the Soca River rises and passes through stunning valleys and gorges.

Kamp Korita

We walked the section from the campsite to where the river passes out of the Great Soca Gorge which just a couple of metres wide at this point. The water is the most amazing colour, crystal clear and has carved hollows in the rocks where it swirls around. The river is also renowned for trout and the fish can easily be seen with the naked eye.

The Soca Gorge
The water was so clear
The Soca Gorge

We drove out of Soca and followed the river along through the towns of Bovec and Tolmin before turning back in to the southern side of the National Park heading towards Lake Bohinj. On our way we stopped at the Boka Waterfall, one of Slovenia’s highest waterfalls but on the day of our visit, quite dry – maybe best visited once the winter snow melts!

Lake Bohinj

Lake Bohinj was still quite busy when we arrived so we drove to the western edge of the lake and walking along the southern shoreline for a short distance. Camping directly by the lake or in the town was expensive (can’t imagine what the summer prices are!) so we actually overnighted at a small village a few minutes away. Another very quiet pitch even if we were joined by a large overlanding vehicle and with views over the surrounding countryside.

Lake Bohinj
Not a bad view to wake up to

With our days in Schengen starting to clock up we decided on just one more stop in Slovenia at Lake Bled but we’d take a roundabout route to get there. The road took us over an unnamed pass where we drove more small, tight hairpins right in amongst the autumnal forests to reach the Vintgar Gorge on the way to Bled. Whilst most places we have visited are free, there is a fee to visit Vintgar (€10 each plus another €10 for parking the motorhome) but in our opinion it was worth it. It’s a circular walk through the gorge along a wooden boardwalk and you exit via one of two routes along the top of the gorge, so whilst the walk through the gorge is flat, it’s quite an uphill climb out of it! Again the water is crystal clear, in various shades of blue and green with bridges taking you over the river at the base of the high, tree covered sides of the gorge.

Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge

Our final stop was in Bled where we spent a couple of nights at the city centre stellplatz. It’s at the back of a building site (no noise issues though when we were there), close to a couple of supermarkets and an easy walk to the edge of the lake where you can pick up the path that encircles the lake. We were blessed with great weather and were able to see the lake at its finest but without the crowds 😊

Lake Bled
Lake Bled

There is still so much of Slovenia that we didn’t see so we will be back!


Sites used:
Kamp Korita Peter Della Blanca, near Soca: €24 p/n including EHU. Hard standing. Showers and toilets on site plus a small restaurant during season


PZA Srednja Vas motorhome park, near Bohinj: €10 but price varies. One EHU post but water and WC disposal available.


Bled Stellplatz, Bled: €20 per 24 hours. Hard standing and depending on ticket bought, limited EHU and water available. WC disposal.

Europe bound – 10 to 22 Oct 2021

Woo hoo! After six months on the road in the UK, we boarded the 07.20 Eurotunnel service to Calais and set our wheels down on foreign soil for the first time in a year. The crossing was very easy and although we had all the paperwork we could have been asked for (COVID certificates and French Passenger Locator Forms), the only change to previous crossings was that our passports were stamped by French immigration. We had abided as far as possible with the requirement for no meat or dairy but with living full time in the van, and as June likes cooking, we have an extensive store cupboard. So the fridge was empty but we took a risk with the stock cubes and seeds in the spice rack (never knew they would be on the banned lists but stock cubes are a meat by-product and theoretically mustard seeds can be planted); thankfully no inspection but we would have dumped them all if need be.

EuroTunnel

The plan is to head quickly through France, Italy and Slovenia (soon derailed when we reached Italy!) to minimise the days in the Schengen Area thereby ensuring there would be no impact on next year’s travel plans. I’m sure most people are aware but for those who are not, since the beginning of 2021 when the glorious Brexit was implemented, UK passport holders, like all other non-EU citizens, are now limited to a maximum of 90 days in any 180 in the Schengen Area. This means that whilst long term travelling in Europe is not impossible, it does now require some planning to bounce in and out of the Schengen and non-Schengen countries. Hence the ultimate destination of Croatia which whilst in the EU is not in Schengen. Confused? You will be…… (really wish they’d put Soap on one of the streaming services. Sorry for the obscure reference to a 70’s TV program but if you’re of a certain age you’d understand!).

The first day in France was spent on the peage trying to cover as many miles as possible plus a supermarket stop to refill the fridge and cupboards. Although the tolls add up (€80.70 for this leg and a total of €128.30 in France and Italy on the way out), we think it’s worth paying as the peage roads are usually the most direct and we’ve never, as yet, been caught in traffic other than once after an accident – not us I should add! Beaune apparently is a great place to stop and on a wine route but this was just a quick overnight for us in the city aire.

Aire at Beaune

Our next night would be close to Lyon as we had to find somewhere for a PCR test to enable us to get into Italy. If we had spent a couple of weeks in France this wouldn’t have been necessary but as we’d only left the UK the previous day, it was a requirement for us to enter Italy despite us both being double jabbed. Clinics offering PCR testing are widespread in France and although free to residents, we had to pay €44 each but the test was quick and the results were emailed to us within six hours. When we arrived at the campsite, the staff were really helpful in calling the clinic on our behalf to ensure we could get a test same day as well as sending us off in the right direction!

Camping Barolles

We only overnighted at Camping Barolles, but we would use it again – friendly, helpful staff, a small shop of essentials, fresh bread deliveries and a small bar plus all the usual facilities. Pitches were all of a reasonable size.

We’ve kept a close eye on the ever-changing requirements for travelling post-COVID and would suggest that if you are thinking of travelling you sign up to the respective country destination page on the FCO pages of the UK Government site. We’ve set up email alerts so we’ll be notified of any changes for the countries we are potentially visiting. Another good app is “Re-open EU” where you can input your originating and destination countries and it will tell you the latest requirements. We are amazed at the number of people whose first port of call for any travel information is social media!

Alpe d’Huez

From Lyon we headed towards the Alps where just off our route June spotted the road to Alpe d’Huez, one of the iconic Tour de France climbs. Well it had to be done and 20+ hairpin bends later we were at top! All we can say is “chapeau” to anyone who cycles up there. We had thought about staying here but it was still early afternoon and being in between seasons, nothing was open (a frequent occurrence on our travels) so we decided to drive back down again and cross the border into Italy. We only had a 48 hour window from having the negative PCR test to reach Italy so we would have gone the next morning anyway.

Armed with our test results we reached the border where they didn’t even give us a second look, let alone ask for any documentation! A bit miffed as it seemed that we had wasted €88 but best to be on the safe side and have everything in order.

The free Aire ay Sestriere

Like Alpe d’Huez, the ski resort at Sestriere was mostly closed and a lot of building was going on in preparation for the forthcoming season, but the sosta was open so we overnighted there. Not the most glamorous of places but we were just sleeping there and we had a beautiful view out of the window to the valley the following morning.

After three countries in as many days we were looking forward to a couple of days catching up with ourselves in the Italian lakes and found a free sosta on Lago d’Idro, a small lake to the west of Lake Garda. The sosta is at the northern end of the lake near the town of Baitoni and was a great find as there was so much to do and see. We walked around part of the lake and the valley sides, sat watching the kite-surfers and found hides in the small nature reserve from where to watch the local birdlife. The field next to the car park is a landing site for paragliders and morning and evening we had parachutes overhead on their way to landing.

Lago d’Idro,

Away from the lake, there are multiple footpaths up into the mountains where there are many monuments and dedications to those who fought in World War 1 – the area is full of history as it had been part of the border between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian empire.

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Note the steel cable to hold on to as there was a drop off of about a couple of hundred feet.

We had originally planned just a couple of nights but after four nights we pulled ourselves away and moved a little further north to the village of Castelfondo. After a steep uphill climb through the narrow streets of the village, we spent a couple of nights in the sosta there from where we have stunning views over the valley which eventually runs through to Lake Garda. The area is very agricultural and the main crop seemed to be Delicious Apples – both red and golden. We really didn’t know that Italy grew so many apples!

The Sosta at Castelfondo

Our main destination in Italy was the Dolomites where we wanted to do the one walk we had been unable to do on our 2018 trip. We also completed a couple of the mountain passes that we had only done from one side previously as the summits had been closed due to snow. Firstly though we needed to replenish food supplies so went to the city of Bolzano. We don’t know what it is with the South-Tyrol region of Italy but none of the supermarkets has a decent sized carpark so after trying a few shops, we headed straight out of the city and it took another couple of days before we found a place to shop. That was at Euro Spin just south of Cortina if interested!

Free Sosta near Val Gardena

We had one night near Val Gardena in another ski resort car park and then the next in the Valle di Cadore, at a free sosta before going to Misurina to be able to do the walk around Tre Cime which was on Bob’s to do list. We used the sosta at Misurina but had been unable to get the water we needed as the tap was broken (still had to pay €20 for the night!) but fortunately there was a tap in the town which we could use. Having to use this tap led to chance meeting with a fellow motorhomer who had been on the road for two years, leaving from his home country of China! He and his friend were travelling and cycling and had visited a number of countries on our wish list although for some of them his passport made visiting a lot easier than ours.

Nice car park before Tre Cime

We were up at the crack of dawn the following morning to head up to the car park at the base of the famous Tre Cime peaks. Throughout the summer there is a toll to use the road but the ability to pay and park for up to a day and a half meaning you could spend the night there. We had just missed the cut-off for that so whilst we didn’t have to pay the toll, the car park ticket was only valid from 8am until 2am the following morning so if you wanted to spend the night, you had to buy a two day ticket at the cost of €45 PER DAY!

What a view … The Tre Cime walk

We opted for the one-day ticket but it was worth every penny. There are various walks around the formation, all clearly marked and we opted for one just short of seven miles taking us in a wide loop around the base of the peaks. The weather was on our side and we ran out of superlatives – it was all we’d hoped for.

Tre Cime

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When we initially planned this trip, we’d thought maybe a week to get to this point…. Well having left home almost two weeks ago and having cut France to two overnight stays, we really had to move on to our next stop – Slovenia, but that’s for the next post!

Sites used:
Charles de Gaulle Aire Park, Beaune: €6.90 for 24 hours, €4.20 for access to WC emptying point. EHU and water available at additional costs. Large car park close to town.

Camping Barolles, Saint Genis Laval, France: €20.94 p/n plus EHU at additional cost. Small tiered, hard standing. Bus service from outside into Lyon.

Sestriere ski resort motorhome car park: barrier was open when we stayed so probably charges in summer/ski season. Some EHU points, water and dumping facilities.

Lago D’Idro motorhome park, near Baitoni, Italy: free parking. Water and dumping facilities a short walk away.

Castelfondo motorhome park, Italy: €15 p/n. Water and EHU on each pitch. Service point available for dumping grey and black water.

Val Gadena: barrier was open when we stayed but charges applicable in season. No facilities. Sloping car park.

Valle de Cadore sosta: free. Water and dumping facilities.

Misurina camper sosta, Italy: €20 p/n. Water and dumping facilities (water not working when we visited).

Lago d’Antorno, Italy: free. A rutted, muddy area where motorhomes pitch up for an overnight stay.

Norfolk and back x 2 – 24 Sept to 9 Oct

This is why we’ll never make travel blogging a job – we get so carried away with what we’re doing we forget to update it!  Sitting down last night, we thought our last blog couldn’t have uploaded properly but then when we looked at the PC, we realised we hadn’t actually written anything 😊

Here we go with a couple of weeks of bouncing back and forth between Norfolk and home – not the best thing to have to do when there’s a fuel shortage! However, it couldn’t be avoided and luckily we were never in the position of almost running out of diesel.

We had a couple of days at Swans Harbour Campsite, Barford just to the west of Norwich so we could pop and see Amy in her new house. Not our favourite campsite! It seems that about half the pitches are permanent residents and the whole place felt very tired and worn down.  We also had a neighbour who came home between 2/3am the three nights we were there and proceeded to shout at his girlfriend each time.  However, the local farm shop was a great find and we had a visit from an old school friend of June’s who happened to be in the area.

A cracking self service farm shop
Holly Farm Cottage

We then headed up towards the coast, spending one evening with Bob’s cousin in Stanhope, staying at Holly Farm Cottage CL, an immaculately kept grass field behind the owner’s house and next to the village pub (sadly not open Monday or Tuesday nights at time of writing).  That was followed by a night in Burnham Market, AKA Chelsea on Sea due to the number of rich bankers owning second homes in the village! Fallowfield CL is just on the edge of the village and whilst the CL was full, we were able to park in the adjacent rally field. We did manage one short walk from here, spending an afternoon wandering around the various Burnham villages.

After a quick trip home, we moved just a couple of miles up the road to Burnham Deepdale to spend the weekend with fellow motorhomes, Jason and Katie plus Elsa of course! Deepdale Camping has something for everyone whether in a motorhome, caravan or tent and also has a hostel on site.  Local shop and café just outside the site and there was a mobile pizza van there on the Friday and Saturday night we were there. 

A tad windy on the beach

The plan was to walk a little and lounge around the vans but the weather intervened and we got rather wet and windswept on the one day we did get out!  The weather did let up in the evening which allowed us to get to the pub for dinner and watch the sun set over the marshes. Rainy days do though give us the chance to catch up on admin and laundry (very cheap washers and dryers here!).

Rained a little

The next stop was Wells-Next-The-Sea, a picturesque village with a harbour full of boats. Mill Farm seemed to have a couple of camping areas and we were in the CL with views across the fields to the marshes.  We were able to follow the coast path through the marshes to Stiffkey where we sat on the white sand for a coffee watching the bird life and whilst stopping for our last coffee break of the day, an old work colleague of June’s walked past with her husband and dog!

Beautiful Wells-next-the-Sea

The area is known for its seal population and a number of local companies do boat tours.  On Katie and Jason’s recommendation we went with Beans Boats (£20 per person for a 60-90 minute trip) but sadly the trip wasn’t so successful in that there were no seals basking on the sand banks as the weather kept them in the water – who knew that seals don’t like the rain!

Our last night in Norfolk was a free overnight stay in the car park at the Water’s Edge Restaurant, Woods End where we had dinner with an old boss of Bob’s – this was a real sociable couple of weeks!

The view from Water’s Edge Restaurant

We’ve loved the short time that we’ve spent in Norfolk and will be back.

After a couple more days back close to home clearing admin and doing the washing, it is time to move on much further afield and 180 days from the day we were released in April, for the last night of this post were sat in a field (Page Farm CL – great for easy access to the Eurotunnel terminal but would also be a good base to explore the local area) near to Folkestone ready for the 7.20am Eurotunnel train to Calais tomorrow.

Our plan is a quick dash through France, stopping long enough to get a PCR test for Italy where we heading to the Dolomites to visit a couple of places we missed when last there. On then to the Julian Alps in Slovenia before spending 7 weeks or so in Croatia and Bosnia.

Let the Schengen Shuffle begin!

Sites used:

Swans Harbour Caravan Park, Barford, Norfolk: £16 per night.  EHU, water and dumping facilities.  Showers and toilets also available but we didn’t use them. Mixed pitches.

Holly Tree Cottage CL, Stanhoe, Norfolk : £15 per night.  EHU, water and dumping facilities.  All grass.

Fallowfield CS, Burnham Market, Norfolk: £13 per night.  No EHU (available on main field) but water and dumping facilities.  All grass.

Deepdale Campsite, Burnham Deepdale: £21.33 per night. No EHU (available on pitches) but water and dumping facilities. Mixed pitches.

Mill Farm CL, Wells-next-the-Sea: £20 per night. EHU, water and dumping facilities.  All grass.

Page Farm CL, Postling, Kent: £15 per night. EHU, water and dumping facilities.  All grass.

Derbyshire Peak District via Tring and Cropredy – 10 Sept to 22 Sept

All home stuff and admin done we couldn’t wait to get back in the van and hit the road again. We knew we would have to make a couple more trips home so decided not to go too far although too far for us though is probably someone else’s epic trip!

Balmers Campsite. Van sporting the new Angles Morts stickers ready for France

First stop then was Balmers at Tring, a site that has popped up a few times already and there’s nothing new to add about it. It’s close to home so ideal for making sure we had everything (trips home involve moving bags of “stuff” in either direction be it washing, bits we don’t need or new things we think we need) and we had made plans to walk this weekend with a friend from home. Despite the campsite being just off the Ridgeway footpath and Tring Park being across the road, we’ve never walked here so with a good weather forecast it was time to put that right.

Tring Park

Tring Park is a former Rothschild estate and an area of woodland and open grassland. Lots of footpaths cross the park and connect to other paths to explore the area beyond. There is also the Walter’s Wanders trail through the park which insights in the life of Walter Rothschild and the history of the park. The trail begins at the Natural History Museum at Tring and Walter bequeathed his zoological collection (one of the largest private collections ever assembled) to the public in 1892.

A bit random and for only the reason of having dinner with friends, we next headed towards Cropredy. The campsite was Bridge Meadow which, as the name suggests, is located next to the bridge over the Oxford Canal and on a large field between the canal and the River Cherwell. Given it’s a low lying field between two bodies of water, the ground was a little soft but we were directed to the best places to park and provided with mats to stop any sinking. The weather was still good when we arrived so we followed the Cropredy Circular Walk along the canal and cross country to pass a couple of hours.

Cropredy

The rain came in the following morning so a van day and a good day for visits – Bob’s old colleague Dave came by for coffee and then it was off to Waddy and Jo’s for dinner.

The hills were calling and we were desperate to get the boots on again so we made our way to the Derbyshire Peak district. Our first campsite was Heatherhill Farm, a new CL in the village of Bamford. It was a small field with a mix of motorhomes, caravans and tents (as well a permanent “glamping” tent) which might get a little overcrowded in the summer but the owner was keen for feedback to improve the site. The facilities are basic but clean and the campsite has easy access to public transport including the Hope Valley Sheffield to Manchester rail line.

We took the train into Sheffield to meet Chloe who was in town that week with the touring version of Heathers the Musical and after one false start in Liverpool, we finally got to see the show this time.

From the campsite we were able to pick up the footpath to the Ladybower Reservoir. After changing our route several times we extended the walk to also take us around the Derwent Reservoir and the Derwent Dam which would be familiar to anyone who has seen the film “The Dam Busters”. The site was used by pilots of the RAF 617 Squadron to practice low level flying to prepare for the dam busting raids on the Ruhr Valley dams in World War 2.

As well as the reservoirs we also had a cracking walk to Win Hill having come up to the ridge via Hope Cross. With the glorious weather we had stunning views across the Peak District in all directions.

View from Win Hill

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We moved a few miles along the Hope Valley to the village of Edale and Newfold Farm campsite, a large mixed campsite for vans and tents. Glamping options were also available in a neighbouring field.

However before stopping at the campsite we paid a visit to Chatsworth House, the seat of the Duke of Devonshire and has a 105 acre garden both of which are open to the public and the estate hosts various events throughout the year. Various ticket combinations are available but we paid £14 each for garden access only deciding to leave the house for another day. The gardens alone were worth a visit!

Chatsworth House

One of our criteria for picking a campsite is easy access to a footpath and from Newfold we were able to go cross country and up the ridge to Hollins Cross. From there we followed the well trodden footpath to Mam Tor, down a small gap in the ridge and then back up again to the much less busy Lord’s Seat for another lunch with a view!

View from Mam Tor

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Sites used:
Balmers CL, Tring: £7 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass.


Bridge Meadow CL, Cropredy : £10 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass.


Heatherhill Farm CL, Bamford, Derbyshire: £20 per night. EHU, toilet but no shower, water, and dumping facilities. All grass.


Newfold Farm Campsite, Eda
le, Derbyshire: £22 per night plus £4 for EHU. Hard standing and grass pitches

Home again via Liverpool, Norwich and Basingstoke!

After a wonderful six weeks exploring Wales (but still so much to see so we’ll be back!) it was time to catch up with children which is not so easy when they are spread across the country 😊.

Ferry across The Mersey

First stop was Liverpool to see Chloe and the latest production she is touring with (Heathers The Musical for anyone interested). Hidden Corner was a quiet, well looked after site close to Maghull North station, a short train ride in to Liverpool. As this was also around June’s birthday, Amy took a train from London to join us and for one night we had an AirBnB in the city. There was a slight hiccup with the show we’d booked being cancelled due to positive COVID tests so although we couldn’t see Chloe at work, it did mean that we got more time to spend with her. We spent a couple of days on the tourist trail taking in the sights via a bus tour and on foot – more exhausting than hiking Welsh mountains!

As previously mentioned, one good thing about travelling round the UK is being able to catch up with friends and here we met up with Helen, former customer turned friend of June’s, who drove us out to the coast to see the Anthony Gormley’s “Another Place” statues on the sand before meeting up with her family for dinner.

The overnight stop at Oaklands Farm was on our way to Mercedes for a couple of quick jobs to be done on the van. It’s a shame we couldn’t have stayed longer as it was an immaculate site surrounded by rolling countryside so it’s on the list to go back to.

Cromer

Our next proper stop was near to Cromer, north Norfolk. Bramble Park was a small, but again well looked after site within walking distance of the beach at Cromer and Felbrigg Hall, a National Trust property. Our reason for coming here was to move Amy from her university accommodation and put her stuff into storage ahead of moving into a shared house the following month. Luckily we managed to get everything, and she had a lot of stuff, moved the few miles in one go in the small van we’d hired which allowed time for lunch and shopping.

Felbrigg Hall

We had something a little different planned for the weekend – the Van Life Eats Big Picnic festival being held at Dummer Down Farm near Basingstoke, so we spent one night at Popham Airfield to make sure we were there as early as possible when the gates opened. The CL is a field close the hangars and runway so a great place to watch small planes and microlights.

Chef Benji at Van Life Eats Big Picnic

The festival was a weekend devoted to van living (although mostly in campervans and conversions rather than motorhomes) and food so right up our street! We had also arranged to meet up with several other van owners that we had previously only known through Instagram. It was a great weekend putting faces to names and chatting about van life, gadgets and future plans whilst sitting around the fire pit. We didn’t get to too many of the talks nor did we see any of the live bands but we did go foraging and to a couple of cookery demonstrations.

We had intended to stay on the south coast, moving on to the Portsmouth area to have some work done on the van which is required to keep the warranty valid but the garage called to cancel as they had a number of staff off sick. We therefore spent just the one night in Winchester before heading home and spending a couple of nights at Wyatts Covert before putting the van into storage for a week.

Wyatts Covert is another great site for plane lovers as it’s across the road from Denham Airfield but the planes only tend to fly during daylight hours so it’s quiet at night. We had planned to walk to Denham Country Park but sadly the HS2 works had closed a number of footpaths leaving the only access to be via walking along the main A412 which has no pavements so we gave that a miss.

Denham Airfield

A few days ago we had put the van on a weighbridge and discovered we had an issue meaning we had to drop 190kg quickly – we knew we’d be close to one of the axle limits (total gross weight is fine) but were shocked to find we were so much overweight. On the way from Norfolk to Hampshire we stopped at home to unload some big items, eg the unused bikes and collapsible ladder, and changed our policy of travelling with a full water tank to lose most of the weight. We also tried to redistribute what weight we could to the front of the van and we used the time at Denham to have another sort out of “stuff” to see what else we could leave behind. We knew these first few months would be a learning process but this had been quite an eye opener as we had always been conscious of what we were carrying. We look at other vans and see what people unload from their garages and wonder if they have any idea of their weight!

And then a week in a proper house and back in our old bed which now is nowhere near as comfortable as our bed in the van! It felt strange being in the house as is the short time we have been gone, Chloe has, rightly, stamped her mark and rearranged things. We did a few things around the house and tidied the garden a little. It was great though to catch up with friends although at the end of the week we were both itching to get back in the van – it did feel like coming home when we picked it up from storage and headed to a nearby campsite.

Balmers Campsite near Tring

Sites used:
Hidden Corner CS, near Liverpool: £16 per night. EHU, water and dumping facilities, showers (coin operated) and toilets. All grass.

Oaklands Farm CL, near Peterborough: £15 per night. EHU, water and dumping facilities. Hard standing pitches, some sloping.

Bramble Park CL, near Cromer, Norfolk: £16 per night. EHU, water and dumping facilities, shower and toilet available. All grass.

Popham Airfield CL, near Basingstoke, Hampshire: £10 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass.

Morn Hill CMC, Winchester, Hampshire: £21.96 per night. EHU, water and dumping facilities. Hard standing pitches. Laundry rooms.

Wyatts Covert CC, Denham, Bucks: £30 per night. EHU, water and dumping facilities. Hard standing pitches. Laundry room.

North Wales and Anglesey – 2nd to 18th August

Porthmadog


We’re continuing up the coast to the town of Porthmadog and the first really busy seaside resort we’ve found to be busy. Tyddyn Llwyn is located a 20 minute walk from the town centre (all uphill on the way back!) where there are plenty of shops and restaurants plus a station for the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways which runs restored steam engines.

We walked alongside the rail tracks before turning off to Portmeirion which was about a 12 mile roundtrip in all. Portmeirion is a Mediterranean inspired village designed by Welsh architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis and is built on the slopes overlooking the large sandy estuary of the rivers Glaslyn and Dwyryd. Well worth a visit and they look to be building a decent motorhome facility to allow overnight parking.

Portmeirion

From Porthmadog it was on to the island of Anglesey in what is perceived to be typical Welsh weather, ie wind and rain! On our way on to the island we stopped at Hooton’s Farm Shop and Butchery and bought some local produce (sausages, lamb and yet more Welsh cakes!). It’s only a small shop but had more choice than the previous large shop we had stopped in.

The campsite is situated almost at the end of the runway for RAF Valley, a training airport for the RAF jet pilots amongst others. We were treated to regular flypasts from Texan and Hawk aircraft, including a couple of Red Arrows. The flights seemed to be within normal “office hours” so weren’t particularly bothersome.

The weather kept us in the van for most of the time we were there but that wasn’t really an issue as it’s a good opportunity to catch up on admin and do some cleaning.

Due to sites being busy, we’re jumping around a bit for these weeks. We had originally planned to stay near Dolgellau for a little low level walking but a throwaway comment from Bob led us to change our plans. “I’ve always fancied climbing Cadair Idris” he said…. “Let’s do it then” she said, having no idea as to what she was getting into! So, three nights were booked at Dol Einon and weather forecasts checked for the best day to go up. We scoped out the track a little when we arrived because the route we were looking at wasn’t marked on the OS map but a few walkers we spoke to said the path was definitely there.

Cadair Idris albeit in the cloud

The least wet day was selected and an early start saw us on our way before 8am. All we can say is that it was wet and windy and basically three miles of walking/scrambling uphill, a mile or two of flattish walking around the ridge and then another two/three miles of walking/scrambling downhill. At no point did we see the summit despite reaching it and to this day we don’t know what it looks like!

The vis was like this most of the hike.

For location, you can’t beat the campsite which is next to the Dol Idris car park/visitor centre and at the entrance to the Minffordd Path for the Cadair Idris loop. We will have to go back in the hope that we actually see the mountain top!

Dol Einon campsite

This was to be a week of mountains as our next stop was Beddgelert in the shadow of Snowdon at the campsite in the Beddgelert Forest. Although expensive (but we have to allow for it being peak summer holidays and we had chosen the flexible booking option) it’s a good site with everything you need. It has one of the lines of the Welsh Highland Railway running behind it so the steam trains came through a couple of times a day (there was a station just behind the site but the trains didn’t stop there). The Snowdon Sherpa bus stops at the front of the campsite providing easy and cheap (£3 per adult return) access to the mountain without having to worry about parking the van in one of the carparks. The 7km long Beddgelert/Rhyd Ddu footpath also passes the campsite to enable walking to either point avoiding the road. We did walk both directions on the path, walking one day into the town of Beddgelert and then back from Rhyd Ddu after Snowdon.

Beddgelert

Beddgelert is a picturesque village on the banks of the river Glaslyn nestled among the mountains of the Snowdonia National Park and named after a dog-related legend! There is a grave in the town said to contain the remains of Gelert, the faithful dog of Llywelyn, Prince of North Wales during the 13th century. Llywelyn killed his dog by mistake, thinking the dog had killed his son but he hadn’t. On discovering his son safe and well, he buried the dog and called the spot Beddgelert. The grave is marked by some old stones (and newish engraved ones telling the tale) and trees, all of which are now fenced off.

Gelert’s story

We had been watching the weather to decide the best day to climb Snowdon but again we were denied any view from the summit by the low cloud! We took the Sherpa Bus from right outside the campsite to the base of the Rhyd Ddu path – it is a fairly short distance by bus but 5km or so to walk the footpath which we didn’t really want to do before the upward walk. The lower slopes are fairly easy with a little bit of scrambling over rocks in places and it wasn’t raining nor too windy. As the path gets higher there is more scrambling and it is quite exposed in places along a ridge but still very doable.

The visibility reduced as we got closer to the top and as we climbed the last few steps to the summit (after queuing!) it was no more than 30 metres and the temperature was just above 0C – a couple more layers of clothing were on by that point but it was astonishing to see the number of people who obviously hadn’t checked the weather and were totally unprepared for the cold.

Snowdon Summit

The walk up took around three hours and after some refreshments, we headed back down via the same route. The weather had begun to clear so we were able to see the stunning scenery we had missed on the way up, as well as finally being able to the actual summit! After the climb up the walk back down always feels a long slog and having found another footpath (we didn’t want to hang around for a couple of hours for the bus), we were able to cross country back to the campsite. The total walk was almost 10 miles and it was safe to say, we were both pleasantly exhausted by the time we got home!

The Rhyd Ddu Path

An old school trip was the reason for the next stop. June had vague memories of a visit to Llandudno and had wanted to see the Great Orme again. We found a café, the Rest and Be Thankful, on the road that goes around the edge of the peninsula where we could stay overnight – amazing views but boy, was it windy and after a couple of tries, we got the van into the best position to avoid being battered all night!

A cracking, if be windy, park up at Rest and Be Thankful

A nice surprise for the next morning was an unexpected meet up with an old friend and her daughter (June’s god-daughter). Lovely to see Julie and Lydia after so long!

Our penultimate Welsh stay was a free overnight car park at the Rhug Estate Farm Shop where we picked up a couple of bits including, yes, more Welsh cakes. We had parked as far away from the road as possible to reduce the noise not knowing we’d have the farm dogs barking until long past our bedtime, but the parking is free with no obligation to buy anything so we really can’t complain.

The last stop was the Plas Newydd CL, a short drive from the town of Llangollen over the stunning Horseshoe Pass, well when you can see the scenery that is! We were met at the gate of the CL by Alison, the owner, who gave us a packet of leaflets with details of the surrounding towns and sites to see. The CL is quiet and immaculately maintained with the grass pitches rotated to rest the grass between visitors, water and electric to all pitches plus a shower and toilet block.

The only downside was the sloping pitch, which is only an issue for longer vans and becomes most apparent when you try to bake a cake, and that there was no way to drain the grey tank directly from the van – we observed the request not to drain directly on to the pitch or the hedge behind us. Neither of these would stop us from visiting again though.

Pontcysyllte Viaduct

We visited the Pontcysyllte Viaduct on the day we arrived and despite it being a Sunday, the car park was almost empty so plenty of space for the van (cost £3). After a short walk from the car park we were on the canal towpath which heads across the viaduct over the Dee valley. There are railings on the footpath side but nothing on the otherside but the drop down to the river. An amazing piece of engineering and even more so, given its age!

The weather is beginning to feel almost autumnal and for the first day in months, trousers have replaced shorts! This has also led to a few more van days but that does mean we can keep on top of admin, housework and start making plans for the rest of the year.

We spent one day in Llangollen, parking in the Pavillion car park, just a short walk along the canal from the town centre. One of the leaflets we had been given showed a walk around the town so we decided to follow that route. We passed the Llangollen-Corwen Heritage Railway station which runs through the Dee valley (that’s the Welsh River Dee!) as we entered the town and finally came to Plas Newydd, the former home of the Ladies of Llangollen, two Irish aristocrats who escaped the expectations of society to set up home together and welcome visitors including William Wordsworth and the Duke of Wellington to their home. It’s quite a story and somewhere different to visit.

Plas Newydd

We also followed the canal to the Horseshoe Falls, following the horse-drawn canal boats to the weir and pumping station where water is drawn from the River Dee to feed the Shropshire Union Canal.

Horseshoe Falls

Having found more to do than expected in the area and not having visited any of the bars or restaurants in Llangollen, of which there are plenty, we would go back.

Sites used:

Tyddn Llywn Holiday Park, Porthmadog: £34 per night. All pitches are hard-standing and fully serviced. The park has a shop, restaurant (closed for remainder of 2021 season) and laundry facilities.

Bodfan Farm, Rhosneigr, Anglesey: £10 per person per night. No EHU (available on other pitches at additional cost) and at time of visit, only self-contained units were permitted due to COVID. Water and dumping facilities available. Large grass field, some of which is sloping.

Dol Einion CS, Tal-y-llyn, near Cadair Idris: £10 per person per night. No EHU (available on other pitches at additional cost). Toilets and showers (coin operated) available. Grass field with some hardstanding areas.

Beddgelert Campsite: £166.97 in total for 4 nights but at different rates (3 nights booked with flexible cancellation option). Pitch with EHU. Full campsite services available including laundry, shop, restaurant and bike hire.

Rest and Be Thankful, Great Orme, Llandudno: £10 per night. Café car park so no facilities. Need to arrive before café closes to register.

Rhug Estate Farm Shop, near Corwen: Free. Large car park attached to farm shop and café. Need to arrive before the shop closes to register.

Plas Newydd CL, Bryneglwys: £17 per night. Water and EHU to each pitch. Service block with showers and toilets and for grey and black water disposal. Grass, slightly sloping pitches.

South and West Wales

12 July to 2 August 2021

Let the adventure begin! No commitments for a few weeks so we can truly start life on the road. The only downside is that it’s the beginning of the summer holidays and there’s still limited overseas travel so we’re having to book further ahead than we’d like.

Tintern Abbey

Never let it be said that it always rains in Wales! For two weeks, we had the most glorious weather to the extent that the thoughts for walking more of the coastal path were exchanged for walking to the nearest beach for a swim and a swim without wetsuits at that! The beaches were quiet and the water so clear you could think you were in the Med.

Worms Head.

During the days we spotted, from a distance, dolphins and seals, and being to the west we watched the most amazing sunsets most nights.

Aberaeron

We did do a little walking along the coast path from Cilfforch. Firstly it was north into Aberaeron, a small town with lots of restaurants around the harbour, and then along the River Aeron valley to the National Trust property at Llanerchaeron, an 18th century farming estate with a house designed by John Nash who is responsible for many of London’s grand buildings including Buckingham Palace.

Llanerchaeron

The following day we walked south into New Quay, another small village built around a harbour. Another beautiful day meant that the beach was packed so we had a quick stroll along the harbour wall (from which we could see dolphins out in Cardigan Bay), grabbed a crab sandwich in a quiet café at the top of the hill and made our way back.

Rheidol Railway

A change of scenery next as we headed inland to Aberffrwd, via Aberystwyth, and a complete contrast to the busy seaside villages. The CL is in the River Rheidol valley close to a reservoir and backing on to the river. This was a really well run little site and we sat outside the van watching the kites circling above and the steam trains of the Vale of Rheidol Railway as they passed along the opposite side of valley. We came here to walk to the waterfalls at Devil’s Bridge where the river plunges into a deep, wooded gorge, and the three bridges which span the river. We paid to enter the falls to be able to view them and the bridges better via the Waterfall and Nature trail, a circular walk of about an hour via steep paths and steps. A shorter 10 minute walk to view the river and the bridges is available at the Punchbowl across the main road. Our full 12 mile walk took us out across fields, up through some steep woods and over the railway line and we returned via the riverside to see other small falls.

Waterfalls at Devil’s Bridge

From Aberffrwd we moved back to the coast to another cliff top site at Cae Du Farm. Definitely more a tent/campervan site than motorhome but that wasn’t a problem, and with the cheapest washing machine we’ve come across so far! We arrived early enough in the day to snatch a pitch close to the cliff edge (cliffs not so high here) and were able to spot a couple of seals, and on our last night here, another beautiful sunset from the beach.

Cae Du Farm

The coastal path isn’t actually along the coast at this point so we walked a little inland to walk back out to the coast at Tywyn, a town which seems to be dominated by static caravan sites. We did find a few out of the way parking spaces along the route which we might use in the future, especially come the winter when a lot of sites are closed. We had lunch on the platform of the Talyllyn Railway, the World’s First preserved railway (apparently) running since 1865 with the original locomotives and stock.

The big hills now beckon!

Sites used:

Innage Farm CL, near Chepstow: £8 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass.

Pitton Cross Campsite, near Rhossili: £24 per night. No EHU (but available on other pitches), mixed grass and hardstanding. Full facilities including laundry.

Dale Hill Farm Campsite: £15 per night. No EHU. Coin operated showers. All grass and park anywhere on the sloping field.

Rhosson Ganol, near St David’s: £24 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass, some sloping. Showers, toilets and laundry short walk across the road (all fairly new!).

Cilfforch Farm CL, near Aberaeron: £10 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. Great recycling including food waste. Mostly flat grass (kept short by the resident sheep!) with some hardstanding on old paved areas and sloping down to the clifftop.

Aberffrwd Farm CL: £10 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. Mostly flat well kept grass.

Cae Du Farm Campsite: £25 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. Long thin (low) cliff top site with free for all parking – need to find the flat spots!

100 days on the road – some thoughts

We thought this would be a good opportunity to take stock of how our new life is going – what’s good, what’s not so good, things we like, things we don’t like etc!

A quiet CL near Witney, Oxfordshire

It feels like it has taken a while to get into the swing of things as various appointments have meant frequent visits back to home. Not that we’re complaining and the reasons were important – vaccinations and medical, plus the bonus of seeing family and friends, just not how we expected life to be. We have also had to plan more than we wanted to work around COVID restrictions and the effect of people not being able to go abroad – campsites in popular spots booked and a backlash against inconsiderate motorhomers who are swarming all over the country.

The above aside, we have fallen into a new routine quite easily. Mornings tend to be leisurely starting with coffee in bed. The alarm is almost forgotten and is only switched on if we need to be off a pitch early (not so much of a problem on the small certified sites or locations) or have a long walk planned. Days are spent either walking along one the many footpaths we are discovering or have an admin/housework day, as yes it still has to be done. Luckily, we’re happy in our own company as we are together all day every day and we quite like being away from lots of people – we do sometimes wonder if we’re turning into grumpy old people!

Apart from when meeting friends, most meals are home cooked and having time to prepare meals is meaning we’re cutting our food waste considerably. We still want to find more markets or farm shops in which to buy groceries although using supermarkets has had the advantage of us also being able to do some laundry at the same time as well as relatively easy parking. We can do the small stuff on the road using a lidded box in the shower whilst we’re moving but that doesn’t work for the towels and bedding! We’ve used the Revolution outside laundry facilities on several occasions when we’ve been shopping at Morrison’s as the ones we’ve noticed at fuel stations didn’t have parking suitable for a 6.7m motorhome. We may, once or twice, have visited family or friends and cheekily asked to use their washing machine 😊

When ordering the van, it was kitted out with full timing in mind – as many solar panels on the roof as would fit, three leisure batteries, inverter and fully equipped kitchen. The large fridge/freezer has meant that we can also cut the number of supermarket visits which, in current times, has been a relief as well as allowing us to be more remote. All are working well to date and we are really living almost as we would at home, just in a smaller space.

Catching up with friends on the first week

We still watch the TV of an evening, either via the inbuilt aerial or our Firestick. We got a great deal on an unlimited data SIM last year through Superdrug so no problem with data usage. It will be interesting to see if they make any changes for European usage as it is currently unlimited there too but with the other UK providers now updating their packages post-Brexit, will our plan go the same way?

Every so often we’re emptying out the garage to check that we still need everything we’re carrying. Our first couple of visits home were accompanied by bags of stuff we realised we’d never use and we continue to refine the essential kit list. Clothes still need sorting and are split between what we currently wear and don’t, with the winter jumpers, thermals, gloves etc currently packed in vacuum bags in the garage.

The beautiful Severn Sisters in Sussex

There was never going to be a perfect time to embark on this lifestyle but this was the best time for us. Despite the earlier comment of liking our own company, we do miss family and friends but the internet has made keeping in touch so much easier. We just have to put a little more thought into meeting up. Financially, putting it off for a couple more years would certainly have been better but the almost stress free life far outweighs any financial gain. However, as pensions kick in over the next few years and we’re able to get out of the relatively expensive UK (even more so at the moment as places try to recoup the losses due to COVID and it being the school holidays!) that situation will ease. We were doing pretty well with running at just under an average of £15 per night for camping but the holidays will inflate that considerably. But, even though COVID has delayed our original plan to go to Canada and the continued turmoil around international travel the UK is proving to be a worthy alternative. We are finding amazing locations with the freedom to visit in our own time and at our own pace.

Back to the van – we love it! There’s not much we’d really change other than swap the LPG heating for a diesel heating system just because diesel is easier to source, and then a couple of smaller tweaks; we should have insisted on a Fantastic Fan rather than a Hymer one and also have requested external power points but these two are fairly minor niggles rather than problems. The big plusses are the garage (lots of room but have to watch the weight!), big fridge and plenty of solar panels to charge the extra batteries – we added on the power pack when buying the van which gave us a third battery with an inverter. Extra 240V and USB sockets were also added to allow us along with a MiFi aerial to keep us connected to the outside world. We would recommend the Froli Star bed system which goes under the mattress as we both agree that the bed in the van is even more comfortable than the one at home!

Norwich Cathedral

Our main difficulty so far has only become apparent in the past ten days or so when we’ve tried to book sites for the next few weeks (we’re heading to Snowdon and North Wales). We probably should have realised earlier but “staycations” are meaning campsites are fully booked and even our preferred small CLs and CSs are busy in the more popular areas. Not that we don’t want people to have fun but our patience on some of the larger sites runs a little thin at times with inconsiderate people, unruly children and constantly yapping dogs disturbing the peace day and night – yes grumpy old people again!

Sunset over West Wales

We tend to use Search4Sites as our main search engine and have picked up on recommendations through various FaceBook groups and friends. Using off grid park ups doesn’t feel good at the moment as there is a lot of media noise about inconsiderate campers leaving rubbish and worse in and around laybys and car parks. We know this is only a small minority but to a lot of people all those in campervans/motorhomes are the same. When travelling between sites we’ve come to the conclusion that we need to work on route planning together. As a left-hand drive vehicle, sitting in the passenger seat can feel a little exposed to the oncoming traffic in small country lanes. We’ve noticed that those driving company vehicles/lorries are not so keen on slowing down around bends although our only coming together was with a small car and neither of us was doing more than creeping forward! We’ve never been one for following Tom Tom blindly but it has made a couple of odd route choices recently so now we cross check routes against a good old-fashioned paper map!

Home cooking on the road and at its best.

Despite there also being lots of social media posts on the lack of LPG refilling sites, we have not had a problem as yet. We use the app MyLPG.EU.

And that’s it! Certainly, no regrets and all being well, we’ll be off to foreign lands soon 😊

Back to the hills

28 June to 9 July 2021

After being in the city and then following the flat towpath, it was time to get back to some hills so off to the Malverns we went.

Eastnor Castle

We were staying in the huge camping fields of the Deer Park in the grounds of Eastnor Castle. The facilities are minimal with just several freshwater taps spread across several camping fields with a couple of toilet emptying points. With few other vans there it was so quiet and peaceful – our nearest neighbour was at least 50m away from us!

Our long walk for this week was to be in to the Malverns and see how far along the ridge we could get taking into account the usual #clewleysstopforcoffee. We didn’t quite follow our original route having missed a path (which on our return we realised why – someone had stepped aside to let us pass and had stood at the start of the path) and ended up following another path which led us through shoulder high stinging nettles.

Refreshed after coffee and cake we walked up to the top of the ridge for some amazing views of the surrounding countryside.

The Malverns Ridge

The return journey went more to plan and after another coffee we walked up to the British Camp Hill Fort, a huge hillfort thought to date maybe from the Bronze Age, 3,500 years ago, and which was subsequently inhabited by the Romans.

We also paid a visit to Ledbury, a pretty town with a number of timber framed buildings.

Ledbury

From here we headed back to Wiltshire to meet motorhoming friends for the weekend. Kilma Farm was another farmer’s field but electric is available if wanted. Very friendly and helpful owners.

Unfortunately the balloon festival at Bowood House was cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic but it was great to sit around and catch up with old friends. We did manage one short walk to the local pub and managed to avoid the rain enough to sit outside for lunch.

The organised route planning has not really kicked in yet for various reasons so we’re jumping around a bit; it’s back up to Hay-on-Wye on the England/Wales border and not a million miles from the Malverns stop.

We’d seen the Dark Orchard CL recommended by several people via the CL group on Facebook and it certainly lived up to our expectations. A well looked after site with a friendly welcome from Linda and her dad, and ideally located for a five minute walk into the town or a walk as long as you want into the Black Mountains.

Dark Orchard

This was our first mountain walk in a long time with a route planned up Hay Bluff along to Twmpa and back home. The first part all went to plan and we again avoided the rain which we could see moving through the valley.

The Trig Point at Hay Bluff

After the second climb up to Twmpa (almost 3,000ft of ascent in total today) and our usual pork pie and mustard lunch, our luck ran out and it was on with the waterproofs as we made our way down back towards the Wye valley.

The downpour didn’t last too long but by this point the paths showing on our OS map either didn’t exist on the ground, were overgrown or just horrendous walking! After 16.5 miles, a few fly bites and scrambling through muddy hillsides, we made it back both very tired in time to watch England play the Euro semi-finals and devour a well earned fish and chip dinner.

The rain didn’t last long…

Thursday is market day in Hay so we had a wander around the various stalls. With our cupboards fully stocked we didn’t buy anything but there was a good choice of produce in addition to the local shops.

Richard Booth Book Shop

Something new for the afternoon – wild swimming! A short walk from the town along the river is a small area called The Warren which has a stony beach and easy access to the river. Armed with our new chairs and flasks of coffee, we found our spot and waded into the river. Refreshing is probably a good description! I think this was probably a gentle introduction to wild swimming as the water wasn’t as cold as expected (well by June anyway!) although the strong current made swimming quite difficult. Definitely didn’t put us off doing again though.

On the way home we popped into Hereford to see the Knife Angel, a 27ft, 3.5 ton sculpture of an angel made from 100,000 confiscated knives from police forces across the UK.

Knife Angel

The sculpture was outside Hereford Cathedral (also worth a visit) and has been touring the UK to raise awareness of knife crime and all forms of violence and aggression.

Hereford Cathedral

It was home again for a weekend to see friends for dinner (thanks Miller and Carter, Rickmansworth for allowing us to overnight in their carpark after eating there) and a day at home to see the girls and use the washing machine. We don’t just visit people to use their washing machine, we promise!

Next week the adventure truly begins…..

Eastnor Castle Campsite, Herefordshire: £12 p/n. No EHU, water and toilet emptying facilities, no rubbish/recycling bins. All grass and not level.

Kilma Farm CS, near Chippenham, Wiltshire: £15 p/n. EHU (able to pitch without for £10 p/n), water and dumping facilities. Currently no rubbish/recycling (June 2021). All grass


Dark Orchard CL, Hay-on-Wye: £12 p/n

Here, there and everywhere

15 June to 28 June 2021

Back towards home and London for a week to see family, visit the dentist (again) and meet former work friends. We tried, new to us, Home Cottage Farm CL in Iver as it was convenient for home and seeing June’s mum. We originally missed the entry to the site as it’s via a, currently closed, pick-your-own farm and the site is nothing more than a small field at the end of a narrow track through the farm but it was a great find! Despite the closeness to major roads (M25 and M40) it was very peaceful and the wildlife abundant – whilst we had family over for lunch three large deer wondered out of the woods and across the adjacent field and this was after watching a woodpecker feed as we had our breakfast and a small fox cub playing in the long grass.

Home Cottage Farm, Iver

The original purpose for this week was to catch up with old work colleagues and a slight change of plans had us heading into central London twice for drinks and dinner. It was strange to be back in town which is still under the influence of COVID with so many places still closed and too many looking permanently shut. We had previously been frequent visitors to Borough Market and despite it being a Saturday, it was so easy to move around but again some stalls had not yet reopened. We wandered around town for a while and finally managed to buy the lightweight chairs we’d been looking for. We wanted something to fold small to take out walking with us and found exactly what we wanted.

Borough Market

Mid-week we moved from Iver to the CMC site at Abbeywood, SE London. We would highly recommend this site when visiting London as the train station is less than 10 minutes walk away with trains directly into London Bridge and Charing Cross. There are various pitches available for motorhomes, campervans and caravans, a tent field and various pods/lodges plus two washing machines, all situated in well kept grounds with friendly and helpful staff. Lesnes Abbey and woods are a short walk from the site and well worth a visit.

Lesnes Abbey

Up until COVID we had both worked in central London and had enjoyed the buzz of the city but neither of us is keen to rush back again after this visit. It was great to see friends and we will always make time to do that but we think we’ve taken to the quiet life more than we thought. Time to escape again!

After leaving London we kept the link with the city by heading upstream along the Thames into Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire where we could explore more of the Thames Path

Our first stop was Newbridge Farm CL near Witney. The site is nothing more than a farmer’s field but located within easy reach of the Thames Path and a couple of pubs. We met Sharon, a friend and former colleague of Bob’s and cycling buddy to us both at the Maybush. Although we didn’t eat there due to a miscommunication, the food had been recommended to us. The campsite backs on to the A415 and was a little noisy at times but that aside, it was excellent value for money.

Newbridge Farm

Our walk from here was upstream to the nature reserve at Chimney Meadows where we found a great little bird hide from which we were able to look over the fields and the river. A lot of the path here is overgrown and we were frequently walking through grass up to our waists – not good for the hayfever! We tried to take a slight detour on the way back which involved crossing a ford which we knew could be deep at times but we thought as it was June we might be OK…. When we got there the depth was showing over 60cm deep and not being prepared for a swim we decided to walk back the way we came!

Chimney Meadows

We moved a little further upriver to Friars Court in Radcot. They have two camping areas and we were on the island CL which gave us a riverside pitch (room for all five vans to be riverside) from where we could watch the people and wildlife on the river. This was a fantastically relaxing place to stay and was also very convenient for Ye Olde Swan pub where this time we met Andy, a friend of Bob’s and his wife Debbie, to while away a few hours over a drink or two.
Another hayfever inducing walk along the path heading towards Lechlade where we stopped to have our lunch at St John’s lock watching as boats went through the lock. There were several geocaches along the path but the battle with the nettles proved too much and we had to register a few as “did not find”.

Friars Court, Radcot.

Our final Thames stop was the Bridgehouse Campsite in Lechlade which is located by the bridge over the Thames just minutes walk from the high street. It was also close to Cotswold Canoe Hire from where we were renting a couple of canoes for a day’s paddling further upstream with Bob’s son Tom and June’s daughter, Chloe. And quelle surprise, it was just across the road from a pub where they conveniently opened for breakfast so that got the day off to a good start!

We paddled a total of about 14km with the return being far easier as we were going with the flow of the river. This part of the river is mostly unnavigable for anything larger than a canoe which meant we didn’t have to deal with any boats….thankfully given our skill level! We finished the day with a BBQ and two of the largest steaks we could find.

Unexpectedly one of June’s school friends was staying locally so we spent a couple of hours one afternoon with Caroline and Ashley. We hadn’t managed a reunion at home for sometime but being on the road is really helping us to catch up with family and friends across the country.

Sites used:

Home Cottage Farm CL, Iver, Bucks: £10 p/n. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass.

Abbey Wood, CMC Site, SE London: £27.60 p/n. EHU, water and disposal points. Laundry. Various pitches (we had hard standing).


Newbridge Farm CL, Witney, Oxfordshire: £6 p/n. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass.


Friars Court CL, Radcot, Oxfordshire: £10 p/n. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass.


Bridgehouse Campsite, Lechlade, Gloucestershire: £22 p/n. EHU, water and disposal facilities. No laundry (as at end of June 2021, not all entries for this campsite appeared to have been updated with this information).

The sun finally came out!

As we left Norwich to head back towards home for a second jab appointment, the weather began to change and it was rather wet as we arrived in Tring.

Balmers is a site we have used often to escape for a weekend from home especially when we’ve been to Chilfest, an 80s music festival. As we stepped out of the van on arrival the ground beneath us squelched a little but we got the mats under the tyres and had no issues moving off the next day to get to Watford for Bob’s jab. Also managed to get June’s done at the same time as they had just opened up to walk-ins for anyone eligible for a first or second jab and it was eight weeks to the day since June’s first jab so she just scraped in!

Balmers Campsite

Turned out to be a busy weekend with friends visiting on the Saturday for a BBQ and then meeting family for lunch on Sunday. The BBQ didn’t quite go to plan as the weather intervened and we all ended up sitting outside under the awning wrapped in blankets!

Despite leaving our mark on the field in the form of track marks we got to the paved driveway relatively easily and made our way to Dorset and What A View, a CL that certainly lived up to its name overlooking the rolling Dorset countryside. But boy was the ground wet! We pulled on to our pitch and were going to reposition the van but became stuck in the mud. Luckily we weren’t planning to move for a couple of days and our caravanning neighbour offered to pull us out with his 4 x 4 when we did need to move.

We spent a couple of days walking locally, one of them with a friend who took us to the Iron Age hill fort at Hambledon Hill and the Roman hill fort at Hod Hill before a leisurely lunch in a local pub.

With the sun finally making an appearance and having repositioned ourselves on our pitch we were able to leave without any further incident and headed towards the coast for the first of two seaside weeks.

Our destination was the CS at Manor Farm in the village of Burton Bradstock. Being the first school holiday after lockdown restrictions had been lifted, a bank holiday and good weather forecast, it was understandably busy and we were lucky to get in although on the overspill area, along with several other vans. We didn’t mind this as we had hardstanding and EHU and didn’t plan to be around the site too much.

From here we had easy access to the South West coastal path as well as a nice walk into the local town of Bridport (Saturday is market day). The village is all old stone buildings, as were many of the villages we passed en route, and has a village shop/post office for supplies. It also seemed well served for bus routes to explore further along the coast without the need to move the van.

We wandered into West Quay on the sunny bank holiday Monday which was maybe not the best idea but crab sandwiches were calling!

We decided to move on a day earlier and found a pitch at Stover CMC site located next to Stover Country Park. On the way though we popped into Abbotsbury Swannery. It really is a fabulous place to visit with, as you would expect, lots of swans and dozens of cygnets.

Abbotsbury Swannery 

Stover is a great little site for a short stay – well maintained and spacious but no toilets or showers (not just closed due to COVID – they don’t exist!) but that’s not a problem with a self-contained motorhome. The rain had come back for a couple of days but we escaped for a few hours to walk around the lake in the country park and took a path out of the park to find a war memorial to the Canadian lumberjacks who had been resident in the area during the first world war.

The next stop was a long awaited (eight years as it turned out!) catch-up with friends as we moved towards the north coast. A lovely relaxed time enjoying their hospitality, meeting their menagerie of rescued animals and the evening sun.

Another weekend and another HOG (Hymer Owners Group) event, this time on the large campsite of Easewell Farm, near Woolacombe in North Devon. We have been spoiled at the two events we have been to with fully serviced pitches and washing machines! It’s great to meet the people you “chat” to on Facebook on all things Hymer as well as motorhoming in general, and spend a couple of evenings with a glass or two of wine sitting around swapping stories.

Although we had been to this area last year we still did two spectacular coastal walks; across country and down into a wooded valley into the village of Lee and then along the coast to Mortehoe, spotting seals on the way, and secondly, the coastal path through Woolacombe out to the headland at Baggy Point. After almost 23 miles of walking in total and over 2,500 feet of ascent, the fish and chips after the second walk were well earned!

With an empty dirty washing bag and a severely depleted food/drink cupboard, we had our longest day driving so far since staring full-timing, as our next stop was The Paddock CS, an adults only site on the south shore of Rutland Water. We needed to have the van engine serviced and had tickets to the Peterborough Motorhome Show so did both from Rutland Water, using the Intercounty Truck and Van Mercedes dealership near Peterborough for the servicing.

Having spent a lot on time in the van, we needed to get out walking and spent the best part of a day walking around the reservoir. Those 16.5 miles obviously included the obligatory #clewleysstopforcoffee and as a bonus, a #justtheone almost at the end although for one heart-stopping moment we thought the pub was closed – thankfully not!

We have a couple more days here with hopefully a warmer visit from friends this afternoon and a visit to the nearby osprey centre tomorrow before another week of meeting family and friends back in London.

Sites used:
Balmers CL, Wigginton, near Tring: £7 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass.

What A View CL, Sturminster Newton, Dorset: £12 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass.


Manor Farm CS, Burton Bradstock, Dorset: £18 per night. EHU, water and dumping. Mixed pitches


Stover Camping & Caravanning Club, Devon: £22.50 per night. EHU, water and dumping but no toilets or showers on site. Mostly hard standing.


Easewell Farm Campsite, near Woolacombe, Devon: special HOG meeting rate. Large family holiday park with various pitch types available.


The Paddock CS, Rutland Water: £15 per night. No EHU but it is available (extra £5 per night), water and dumping facilities. All grass.

Walking in the South Downs

We continued our stay in the South Downs National Park (formerly two adjoining Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) moving from Small Dole to Kingston, near Lewes a little further to the east. The campsite is nothing more than a field behind a row of houses but a great location for accessing the South Downs Way.

We managed two full days of walking 10 plus miles each time, following various paths, crossing the Greenwich Meridien on several occasions and clocking up a few thousand feet of ascent.

Where East meets West

The photos and my words cannot really do the area justice! We were lucky with the weather as our walking days seemed to be the drier ones, but the South Downs are a stunning place to go walking.

We also walked from the campsite into the town of Lewes where every house seemed to have a plaque with a historical reference attached. Sadly as this was the final week of lockdown restrictions, many places were still closed but it was still worth the visit.

Lewes

From Kingston we moved a few miles east again to the village of Alfriston. We have been here several times before and, obviously (!) like the area. The village also gives easy access to the South Downs Way although beware, any walk on the ridge will begin with a long climb out of the valley!

There are three separate camping areas but all reached via the same access road and next to each other; firstly The Stables CL where we stayed, then a camping field for C&CC members and finally a general camping field. The CL is well maintained and provides EHU as well as water and dumping facilities. We were warned by the owner the CL was next to the camping field but we were not disturbed by any noise from there.

Beachy Head

We continued the pattern of walking every other day and repeated a walk we had done previously (over 10 years ago when preparing for the Inca Trail) along the South Downs Way to Eastbourne, Beachy Head, the Seven Sisters and home along the Cuckmere Valley. Our longest walk for sometime at a fraction under 20 miles / 32 km (we just couldn’t find the extra yards/metres to round the numbers up!) and we were pleasantly exhausted when we got home back to the van. Our last walk of this distance has been at home on the towpath of the Grand Union Canal so none of the 2,000ft of ascent we did today.

The following day was our 10th wedding anniversary so a day of relaxing around the van and then for a change, dinner in a local restaurant, Deans Place. As we were still under lockdown rules, the menu was limited and we had to sit outside but apart from an issue with the main course, which was handled well, we had a great evening. Even better was the short walk back to the campsite!

We did a couple more walks along the South Downs Way, the second of which bought us into the Cuckmere Valley on the opposite side to the Seven Sisters and gave us great views of the chalk cliff faces.

If you want something flatter, then the Cuckmere Valley is also a great place to walk, starting at the rocky beach and then moving inland through small lakes and waterways to pasture lands. The Seven Sisters Country Park in the valley offers parking, a restaurant and a visitor centre and circular walks start just across the road from the Visitors Centre. Lots of birds and wildflowers to spot.

The Litlington Tea Rooms were recommended to us and as they were just a short walk from the campsite, it would have been wrong not to have paid them a visit. We managed to get out in the only gap in the rain and enjoyed a cream tea (although in our case, coffee replaced the tea but at no extra cost) in leafy surroundings.

We had an amazing two weeks exploring the eastern side of the South Downs and walked over 100 miles in total! It’s a beautiful area to visit and if the weather is on your side, you can’t have a bad day.

From one extreme to another, we left the rolling fields of Sussex for a quick visit to see our daughter in Norwich where she is coming to the end of her first year at Norwich University of The Arts. Being a student we knew we wouldn’t see her until after lunch so we had the morning to explore a little of the city. We didn’t go into the Castle as there was a wedding going on and we decided to keep out of the way, but the cathedral is worth a visit as is the area around it where there are many historic buildings to see as well as a riverside walk.

An afternoon’s shopping was the order of the day with Amy’s birthday coming up – that was more exhausting than hiking miles across the country! We had a great dinner at Jorges, a Portuguese restaurant in the city. If you’re looking for something different to eat then I would head there for good food and friendly, helpful staff. It’s quite small so making a reservation is advisable.

We stayed at the Norwich Camping and Caravan Club site which is located about a 25 minute walk outside the city centre (uphill from the campsite but fortunately downhill after dinner!). We didn’t have hook up although it was available on a number of pitches and didn’t use the facilities so cannot comment on them other than there was a reasonably priced washing machine and tumble dryer. We had one of the central pitches which felt a little cramped with motorhomes, caravans and tents seemingly haphazardly placed, but we were only there for two nights and the site was ideally placed for getting into the City, which also contributes to the price. Access to water and the grey dump was also awkward so as we didn’t really need either, we left the site without using either.

Sites used:
Newholme CL: £8 per night, no EHU and all grass. Water and dumping facilities. Note re campsite access – it’s only from the south of the village as there is a width restriction if coming the other way.


The Stables CL, Alfriston: £15 per night, EHU, water and dumping facilities. All grass pitches

Norwich CMC site: £20.65 per night, no EHU (but available). Water and dumping facilities available. Laundry.

Settling in to van life

It hasn’t taken us too long to get into a routine and so far, neither of us is missing being in a house.  In fact, we spent one night back at home in between dental appointments last week and it felt a little strange!

We didn’t move too far in the first couple of weeks; from Marlborough to Bishops Canning and then on to Calne for a weekend with other members of the Hymer Owners Group.  We popped into Devizes for the local market which is how we hope to be able to do more shopping going forward but as there’s no single list of markets, it’s all a bit hit and miss at the moment.

Caen Locks

The site at Bishops Canning was another CL but no EHU.  It sits right alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal so plenty of (flat!) walking and we went as far as the Caen Locks.  The wildlife along the canal was a little disappointing in that we didn’t see much unlike the Grand Union at home which is abundant with water birds including the occasional kingfisher despite all the human activity.

Hymer Owners Group Meeting

A first for us was a weekend meet with the Hymer Owners Group.  It was great to finally be able to put some names to faces of some of the contributors to the Facebook group and we’ll catch up with them again in June.  The location was a large campsite catering for all camping types but we had our own little paddock so plenty of stopping to chat with the other owners.  Another location with plenty of walking but we have found that several of the footpaths we have wanted to use were either poorly maintained or in a couple of instances, blocked off.  Maybe we’ve just been spoiled in Hertfordshire but it was frustrating having to reroute walks when we were planning of the latest OS maps.  However, we did get to the Cherhill Monument which gave us amazing views over the Wiltshire countryside and we bagged a series of Geocaches as we walked back to the campsite along an old Roman road.

Cherhill Monument

We also walked to Bowood House but as the house was closed (COVID again) it didn’t seem worth paying the entrance fee for just the garden.  We’re back here again for the balloon festival in July so maybe we’ll look again then.

Bowood House

Our touring life was briefly interrupted with a quick trip home for dental appointments and a haircut!  Unfortunately, the appointments were on different days so we had to stay in the house for one night (one advantage of renting the house to family – we always have a bed!) but made the most of it by clearing all the boxes to the charity shop, taking back what we decided we didn’t need in the van and, oh, a meal out to celebrate Bob’s birthday!

We stayed closer to home for a couple of nights on a CS we have used a couple of times before, Hill Farm in Wendover.  Whilst here we were able to catch up with family and have a wander through Wendover Woods where it’s bluebell season (a common thread of all the places we’ve stayed recently).

Hill Farm in Wendover

We have a few weeks before we need to be home again (Bob’s second COVID jab this time) so we drove down to West Sussex.  A supermarket stop was due and we found a Morrison’s in Littlehampton.  Turns out it was a good find in that as well as food and fuel, it also sold LPG (needed for heating and cooking) as well as having an outside laundry!  Launderettes seems to be harder and harder to find and we had seen supermarkets with washers and dryers outside in France and Spain but this was the first time we’d found one in England.  We can manage small amounts of washing on the road but need machines for bedding and towels.  Little finds like this with everything in one place, make us very happy!

Farmhouse Campsite is a couple of fields just outside the village of Small Dole.  The large field was full of caravans and tents when we arrived so we were directed to a smaller field with two other vans and a couple of caravans.  We had some initial concerns but it hasn’t really been noisy at all.

We picked the site because of its location for walking so yesterday we went across the fields to Devil’s Dyke and then along the South Downs Way, picking up a few more Geocaches.  We were lucky with the weather (the forecast was for showers most of the day) and managed to avoid one downpour by finding a pop-up coffee stop in a barn and run by a local cycling club.  We couldn’t have timed it better!

Some more walking to come this week and we’re pleased to report that the footpaths are all well marked and easy to follow.  Although touring the UK wasn’t our initial plan, we are loving exploring our own backyard.

Sites used:

Bishops Canning CL: £13 per night, no EHU but water and dumping facilities.  All grass.

Blackland Lakes Campsite: group price for the weekend.  Multiple pitch types

Hill Farm CS, Wendover: £20 per night, EHU, water and dumping facilities (showers and toilets also available but closed this visit due to COVID).  4 out of 5 pitches hard-standing.

Farmhouse Campsite: Small Dole: £17 per night, EHU, water and dumping facilities.  All grass