It was with a heavy heart that we left Turkey and crossed the border into Bulgaria. We had had an amazing three months exploring Turkey and hope to return some day but new adventures lay ahead as we began our slow journey back to the UK.
The border crossing was fairly straightforward and it’s worth noting that you have to pay €6 (in Euro) to have the van disinfected as you enter Bulgaria.
Tolls in Bulgaria took a little thought as we are over 3.5T so couldn’t buy a simple vignette and had to use a pay as you go app. We used the Bulgarian Tollpass app which allowed us to input that day’s route and pay the appropriate toll. The tolls were often just pennies and over a four week period, it cost a total of around £10.40.
We had very little idea of what to expect in Bulgaria and had a route which would cover the most popular tourist spots plus see some of the quieter countryside. The weather was variable and in the mountains there was still plenty of snow.
The old town of Plovdiv was worth seeing and we spent a few days in Sofia, as our daughter flew out at the last minute for a visit. June was treated to an afternoon in a hotel spa (bliss!) and we wandered around the city admiring the buildings and many churches including the Aleksander Nevski Cathedral.
We visited several other churches and monasteries in the region including the Rila Monastery which was quite simply stunning. We stayed in the car park right outside the gate so were able to visit early the next morning, having the place almost to ourselves.
We met Oxsana and Brad, aka Frenchy Le van, who we had previously spent some time with in Turkey. Oxsana introduced us to the tradition of “Baba Marta” or “Granny March” which marks the beginning of spring on 1st March and is when Bulgarians exchange red and white tassels and bracelets which are then tied to the branches of trees.
Bulgaria has a number of natural thermal springs and we visited a couple, going from one extreme to another! The first was at Repite where there are a number of shallow outdoor pools used by locals (a paid, more landscaped area was also available) and then we visited Thermal Camping Velingrad, a campsite with properly built pools filled with naturally heated water.
Kamping Kromidoro: BGN40 p/n (approx £18) which was BGN16 for the van, BGN8 per person and BGN8 for hook up. A small eco-campsite run by a very friendly English couple who kindly opened up the site despite being closed for the winter. Washing machine available at BGN10 per wash – includes powder. Lots of communal space and BBQ area. Free wifi. Lots of walking around surrounding vineyards and fields. The road through the local village is full of potholes but if driven slowly, it’s definitely worth weaving your way around them!
Thermal Camping Velingrad: BGN90.20 (yes, about £40) p/n including EHU. Fully serviced pitches, free wifi, washing machine and tumble dryer. The site has its own thermal pool complex including indoor and outdoor pools, two saunas and a steam room – dressing gowns provided free of charge. BBQ area, bar and restaurant area. Although the per night cost is expensive, taken the facilities in account, it is worth it and if you can arrive on a Sunday or Monday, you can get 4 nights for the price of 3.
Other overnight spots:
Plovdiv Stadium: a large car park next to the sports centre just outside of the town centre. Fairly quiet once everyone had left but the trains across the road ran all night. No facilities.
Devin: the car park at the entrance to the Devinska River Gorge and next to a thermal pool complex. There was a port-a-loo in the carpark but no other facilities. There is a hike into the gorge and up the valley side to a waterfall.
Rupite thermal pools: a large open grassed area close to the pools – some are free and others you pay to enter. There is a walk to some ancient Roman ruins which are still being excavated. There are a couple of port-a-loos in a small car park. Only noise was from a building site close by.
Vitosha, near Sofia: a slightly sloping car park at the base of Mt Vitosha and next to the Dragalevski Monastery. Water is available at the monastery but only for filling small water bottles. No other facilities.
Vasil Levski National Stadium: BGN20 p/n and there didn’t seem to be a limit on how long you could stay. No facilities. Parking is on the road around the stadium – we were asked to get as close to the back as possible and did manage to find a long space although slightly sloping. The stadium is in almost constant use but mostly quiet and we backed on to a large park. Great spot for walking into the city and good value given the location.
Rila Lakes: BGN10 p/n and parking just below the lower cable car station. A large gravel car park. No facilities but cafes nearby (limited opening off-season). Lots of walking and it’s worth taking the cable car up to the lakes (although all covered in snow when we visited). The cable car was BGN25 each for a return ticket – it’s possible to walk down when the snow has melted.
Rila Monastery: small car park outside the monastery costing BGN10 per day and if staying overnight, you have to pay for two days. A must visit if in Bulgaria, the monastery is free to enter and by staying overnight you can wander in before any coaches arrive. Water available but not via a threaded tap. The bakery is also worth a visit for a freshly cooked “mekitsa”, a fried bread/donut pastry and utterly delicious!
As usual, I’m writing this post a few days after we were in this region and if some of the names seem familiar, it is because this is the region that was struck by the horrendous earthquake in the early hours of Monday 6 February. As of now the recovery process is still ongoing but it is being hampered by the weather which turned cold and snowy just before the disaster struck.
The people of this region have been some of the most friendly and hospitable people we have ever met and our thoughts go out to them all.
We left the cold of Cappadocia to head back to the coast at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Our first stop was Tarsus, the birthplace of St Paul, although we have to confess that our primary reason for visiting was the free washing machines at the municipal motorhome aire! With the washing drying we wandered into town and followed a tourist walking route which took us past most of the main historic attractions – well worth a few hours of our day.
After Tarsus we drove around lakes close to Yumurtalik but couldn’t find a park up there so we headed to a car park near Yumurtalik Beach. As we were sitting outside the van having a coffee, we were approached by a family who were having a picnic nearby and who asked if they could look inside. No problem, we said, and after all three generations had stuck their heads through the door, we suddenly had an invite back to the grandparent’s house for coffee, so we packed up the van and followed them the 30km or so to Ceyhan. Having settled down for a cup of tea, we were then offered dinner, a shower and a bed for the night! Not wanting to offend anyone, and knowing the Turks are incredibly hospitable, we ate the delicious soup and the kibbeh but very politely turned down the bath and bed.
The family would have been in the region impacted by the earthquake and we just hope Yusuf and the rest of the family are ok.
From here we drove further south along the Mediterranean, spending a couple of nights beside the beach at Arsuz, catching up on admin and housework.
We visited the Titus Tunnel near Samandag, a flood prevention tunnel built by the Romans in the first century and whilst there had a great homemade flatbread stuffed with cheese and spinach – that was worth the entry fee alone!
We reached our southernmost point a few kilometres south of here, about 12km north of the Syrian border, when the track became impassable so we turned north again towards Antakya (also known as Hatay).
Sadly the city carpark was unable to accommodate us so after a few twists and turns through the busy narrow streets we found a campsite out of town. This meant we missed exploring the town and all that it had to offer.
Our bellies were looking forward to our next stop at Gaziantep, known for its baklava and other foodie treats! The town is in the centre of the pistachio growing region and given our habit of stopping occasionally for coffee, we had to try the local pistachio coffee. Well, what a revelation – we really liked it!
We wandered around the old bazaar area where we had all our kitchen knives sharpened in a small workshop and had our first kebab of the day.
The Gaziantep Zeugma Mosaic Museum is definitely worth a visit. The mosaics were unearthed at the Roman site of Belkis-Zeugma and moved when the Birecik Dam flooded the area. The size and detail of the mosaics is phenomenal.
We had taken a taxi from the campsite with another English couple, Rich and Sarah, aka tracey_van_ness on Instagram, and met up with them again later in the day for an early dinner at Kebap ve Baklava (worth a visit and don’t be put off by the queue as it moves really quickly). We don’t eat out much as a rule as we’re on a budget but we knew we’d blow that in Gaziantep! We had different kebabs so we could share and of course had to finish with a couple of pieces of pistachio baklava.
We were now beginning our journey east and spent a couple of nights near Halfeti on the banks of the Euphrates. The old town of Halfeti (Eski Halfeti) was partially submerged following the construction of the Birecik Dam. It’s now a destination for boat tours to view the Rumkale fortress on the opposite bank and the flooded village of Savas, where the minaret of the submerged mosque stands above the water.
We had hoped to visit the famous statues at Nemrut Dagi but knew there was a good chance we wouldn’t get there and indeed, at a height of 5,500ft we found the snowbound and very much closed approach road.
We spent three nights in Mardin but had only one day when we left the van – can’t be helped travelling in this region during the winter! We did have one glorious day when the sun came out so we could explore the old town and look across the plains to Syria.
Our final stop of this leg was the Mor Gabriel Monastery where we spent a couple of nights in their very snowy car park! The monastery is the oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox monastery in the world having been founded in 397AD and is located near Midyat. Although still home to practising monks and nuns it is possible to take a guided tour of the monastery.
The snow of the last couple of days was a gentle introduction to what was to come next!
Tarsus Municipal Campsite, Tarsus: Free, including EHU and limited use of a washing machine. Small individual pitches for 10 vans and any overflow was accommodated in the car park – it’s worth arriving early to secure a pitch. The maximum stay is initially 3 nights and return visits are limited. The washing machine is under lock and key and used under the supervision of the site manager but it’s free so can’t complain! Great restaurant next door and others within short walking distance. The city of Tarsus is about 2km away, a flat, easy walk.
Esenbahçe Kamp Alani, near Hatay: tl150 p/n (£6.50) including EHU. Small, rural, riverside campsite. All grass pitches. All the usual facilities but we only stayed overnight (only because we were on our way to somewhere else) so can’t comment on them.
Gaziantep Karavan Park, Gaziantep: tl150 p/n including EHU. Free use of washing machines and DRYERS – yes, tumble dryers, although it did feel like you had to fight with local caravan owners who had bought their week’s washing from home with them! A fairly new, 24hr guarded, large, tiered site with hard standing pitches next to a lake. Reception building with a communal seating area and terrace. Pitches available for long term rent and lots of caravans seem to be long term. Taxi point just outside the front gate and it cost us tl150 to get to the centre of Gaziantep.
Mardin Karavan Camping, Mardin: tl150 p/n including EHU. A small car park run by a really friendly and helpful family – we drank lots of tea with them! A great location for access to the old town of Mardin and it has all the facilities you need, albeit it’s not a pretty site. Some noise as you are right next to a mosque and the owner’s dog barks at anything and everything passing the front gate day and night.
Other overnight stops:
Buyuk Ataturk Park, Ceyhan: Free overnight spot in the car park. A few cars around in the evening but once they had gone, it was quiet enough.
Arsuz: Free parking on grass close to the beach (no swimming allowed though at this point). Some noise from the construction site behind the parking area but quiet at night. A great place to rest for a couple of days. Short walk into town.
Siverek Picnic Area, Siverek: Free parking overlooking a dammed lake on the Euphrates. Large parking area. Toilets at the entrance. Very quiet night.
Halfeti: Free parking on a track alongside the Euphrates river. They are working on the track so some lorry noise during the day. Short walk to a few shops.
Mor Gabriel Monastery: Free parking in the outer carpark. We arrived during a snow storm and staff from the monastery came out to see if we needed anything. Great views across the countryside.
This small area needs its own post – we spent longer in the Cappadocia region than anywhere else so far on our travels!
Moving towards the east, we first stopped in the Ihlara Valley and began at the north of the valley at Selime Castle, the largest cave complex in the region. The valley was a favourite retreat of Byzantine monks and many of the buildings carved into the rock are monasteries and churches.
We spent a couple of hours here exploring the churches and other buildings before driving a little further south to a small hot spring we had read about. We have visited a few hot springs and this was definitely the hottest but also the smallest! Shame about all the rubbish lying around though.
We then parked at the visitor centre near the town of Ihlara and from where we took the 350+ steps down to the valley floor to walk along the valley and explore the churches here. There are a dozen or so churches built into the valley walls and some still have amazing frescoes dating from as early as the 9th century. The total walk was about 10km.
If timed correctly you can probably explore the whole valley in one day and pay only one fee of tl90 but we took our time so paid for two days.
Goreme is the main town of the Cappadocia’s tourist industry and much of the town is geared towards tourists (several Chinese, Korean and Indian restaurants are just one example of this!). Although we stayed on a campsite for a couple of nights, we much preferred being parked up overlooking the valleys from where we could watch the hot air balloons, one of Cappadocia’s biggest tourist draws, and view the strange rock formations. The balloons only fly when the weather allows and we saw them twice in six days.
Whilst here we visited the Goreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site of a Byzantine monastic settlement built into the rock. There seemed to be a few churches closed when we visited but it was still worth going and also buying the extra ticket to visit the Dark Church which has the most breathtaking frescoes. The church gets its name from the lack of windows which has gone a long way to preserve the frescoes and their strong colours.
There are some fantastic hikes in Rose Valley and we covered a lot of it, from the peak of Aktepe Hill and down a few hundred metres onto the valley floor.
The Columned Church (Kolonlu Kilise) is well worth hunting out.
Between Ihlara and Goreme we visited Derinkuyu, one of several underground cities in the area.
If on a quick visit to the area it is possible to cover a lot with the Cappadocia Pass which gives access to seven locations for 400tl (just over £17) and is valid for 72 hours. We decided to take our time and paid for each place we visited (3 out of the 7 but we had to pay twice for Ilhara Valley) which cost us a total of tl480 (around £20.50).
We’re not usually ones for big tourist centres but Cappadocia was a must, although we were grateful that it wasn’t overly busy. Saying that on our last morning we think they hit the maximum permitted number of balloons flying, which is 100, and some of those baskets carry 28 passengers!
It has been quite cold here (we’ve been in thermals for the past two weeks!) so time to head south again for some warmth.
Panorama Camping: tl450 (£19.50) per night including EHU. Tiered, hard standing campsite, close to the town. Small pitches but plenty of room out of season – upper terrace has the views and lower terrace the best wifi signal! Swimming pool and washing machine were out of service when we visited. Friendly, helpful owner who is very responsive on WhatsApp.
Other overnight spots:
Ilhara Valley Tourist Facility car park: was free when we visited. There was building work going on close to the main car park so we used the overflow area. There are toilets but they were closed when we visited.
Love Valley viewpoint: no pay point on the track we used. Parking is a free for all along the western ridge overlooking Love Valley and which has great views of the balloons, some of which land in this area. Access is via bumpy tracks which could be muddy if there’s any prolonged period of rain. Restaurants and toilets nearby.
Rose Valley viewpoint: tl50 for a motorhome to access the valley (only pay to enter and not a daily fee). Bumpy mud tracks again off the main access road. Great views of the balloons taking off and plenty of local hiking. Restaurants and toilets nearby.
We left the coast and headed inland after a disappointing trip to Decathlon in Antalya with our shopping list barely touched – probably not a bad thing!
On the map, along the route we were following, were a number of caravanserais (also kervansaray, han or hanı), basically lodgings built for travellers on the Silk Road and where they could resupply themselves and their animals. The caravanserais were built 30-40km apart which would have equated to about a day’s travel
The buildings are in various states of repair and some now house museums, shops and cafes. The largest caravanserai in Anatolia is Sultanhani which was built in 1229 and reconstructed after a fire in 1278. The covered lodging area is now a carpet museum (not as boring as it sounds!).
Of course we came we had to visit some ruins; the Roman city of Sagalassos which are found at an altitude of 1500m in the Taurus Mountains. The site is one of the Mediterranean’s largest archaeological projects with lots of ongoing excavations. Something we were not expecting was to be handed the keys to the Neon Library which houses a 4th century mosaic. We thought this was one of the most stunning sites we have visited so far.
The Turkish Lake District is found in the mountains of western Anatolia. We had already visited Lake Salda so this time we stayed on the edge of Lake Egirdir, admiring the sunsets.
We also spent a night close to Lake Tuz, one of the world’s largest salt lakes. It’s often pink but only when it is warm and dry, and is slowly drying up as the water feeding it is diverted for towns or agricultural use.
In between the two lakes we spent a night in Konya. As it was a Saturday this meant we were able to catch the weekly sema, the Mevlevi worship ceremony of the whirling dervishes. You can turn up at the Mevlana Culture Centre about 30 minutes before the show and entry was tl50 (£2.15) each and the ceremony lasts about an hour. If you can time a visit to catch the mesmerising ceremony than we’d highly recommend it.
The nearby Mevlana and Panoramic Museums are also worth visiting. The former houses the tomb of Celaleddin Rumi, later known as Mevlana and who bought the whirling dervishes to the world. It is an old lodge of the whirling dervishes and one of the biggest pilgrimage centres in Turkey, attracting over 1.5 million visitors a year.
Kervansaray Camping, Sultanhani: tl250 p/n including EHU. Small grassy campsite just across the road from Sultanhani Caravanserai. Probably quite cramped in the summer and wifi only really worked in the central building. Washing machine but it was out of order when we visited but the owner took my washing and returned it the following morning (I suspect his wife or mum did it for us!). Very friendly and helpful staff.
Other overnight stops:
Susuz Kervansaray: free parking to the rear of the building. The site is covered in litter and the local children were running around the van but they soon got bored when we ignored them. Bumpy, rock strewn ground but fine for an overnight stay. There was an old toilet block there but there was no water connected.
Egirdir: free parking on the peninsula. We parked on an the site of an old cafe which was flat and quiet. One of the other car parks had a couple of hole in the ground style toilets so we were able to empty the toilet cassette. No other facilities but water is plentiful from roadside public water fountains (we have a filter system on the van so are not unduly worried about where we get water).
Konya: large free car park behind the Panorama Museum and next to the Hilton Hotel. No services and a little noisy – it was Saturday night and locals have a habit of parking next to the van and playing loud music.
Lake Tuz: a track off the main road took us down towards the lake but not too close as the ground became very soft and muddy. Parked next to a farmer’s field so no services but spectacular views!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 😊
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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!
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!
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!
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.
All home stuff and admin done we couldn’t wait to get back in the van and hit the road again. We knew we would have to make a couple more trips home so decided not to go too far although too far for us though is probably someone else’s epic trip!
First stop then was Balmers at Tring, a site that has popped up a few times already and there’s nothing new to add about it. It’s close to home so ideal for making sure we had everything (trips home involve moving bags of “stuff” in either direction be it washing, bits we don’t need or new things we think we need) and we had made plans to walk this weekend with a friend from home. Despite the campsite being just off the Ridgeway footpath and Tring Park being across the road, we’ve never walked here so with a good weather forecast it was time to put that right.
Tring Park is a former Rothschild estate and an area of woodland and open grassland. Lots of footpaths cross the park and connect to other paths to explore the area beyond. There is also the Walter’s Wanders trail through the park which insights in the life of Walter Rothschild and the history of the park. The trail begins at the Natural History Museum at Tring and Walter bequeathed his zoological collection (one of the largest private collections ever assembled) to the public in 1892.
A bit random and for only the reason of having dinner with friends, we next headed towards Cropredy. The campsite was Bridge Meadow which, as the name suggests, is located next to the bridge over the Oxford Canal and on a large field between the canal and the River Cherwell. Given it’s a low lying field between two bodies of water, the ground was a little soft but we were directed to the best places to park and provided with mats to stop any sinking. The weather was still good when we arrived so we followed the Cropredy Circular Walk along the canal and cross country to pass a couple of hours.
The rain came in the following morning so a van day and a good day for visits – Bob’s old colleague Dave came by for coffee and then it was off to Waddy and Jo’s for dinner.
The hills were calling and we were desperate to get the boots on again so we made our way to the Derbyshire Peak district. Our first campsite was Heatherhill Farm, a new CL in the village of Bamford. It was a small field with a mix of motorhomes, caravans and tents (as well a permanent “glamping” tent) which might get a little overcrowded in the summer but the owner was keen for feedback to improve the site. The facilities are basic but clean and the campsite has easy access to public transport including the Hope Valley Sheffield to Manchester rail line.
We took the train into Sheffield to meet Chloe who was in town that week with the touring version of Heathers the Musical and after one false start in Liverpool, we finally got to see the show this time.
From the campsite we were able to pick up the footpath to the Ladybower Reservoir. After changing our route several times we extended the walk to also take us around the Derwent Reservoir and the Derwent Dam which would be familiar to anyone who has seen the film “The Dam Busters”. The site was used by pilots of the RAF 617 Squadron to practice low level flying to prepare for the dam busting raids on the Ruhr Valley dams in World War 2.
As well as the reservoirs we also had a cracking walk to Win Hill having come up to the ridge via Hope Cross. With the glorious weather we had stunning views across the Peak District in all directions.
We moved a few miles along the Hope Valley to the village of Edale and Newfold Farm campsite, a large mixed campsite for vans and tents. Glamping options were also available in a neighbouring field.
However before stopping at the campsite we paid a visit to Chatsworth House, the seat of the Duke of Devonshire and has a 105 acre garden both of which are open to the public and the estate hosts various events throughout the year. Various ticket combinations are available but we paid £14 each for garden access only deciding to leave the house for another day. The gardens alone were worth a visit!
One of our criteria for picking a campsite is easy access to a footpath and from Newfold we were able to go cross country and up the ridge to Hollins Cross. From there we followed the well trodden footpath to Mam Tor, down a small gap in the ridge and then back up again to the much less busy Lord’s Seat for another lunch with a view!
Sites used: Balmers CL, Tring: £7 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass. Bridge Meadow CL, Cropredy : £10 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass. Heatherhill Farm CL, Bamford, Derbyshire: £20 per night. EHU, toilet but no shower, water, and dumping facilities. All grass. Newfold Farm Campsite, Edale, Derbyshire: £22 per night plus £4 for EHU. Hard standing and grass pitches
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 😊.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We’re continuing up the coast to the town of Porthmadog and the first really busy seaside resort we’ve found to be busy. Tyddyn Llwyn is located a 20 minute walk from the town centre (all uphill on the way back!) where there are plenty of shops and restaurants plus a station for the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways which runs restored steam engines.
We walked alongside the rail tracks before turning off to Portmeirion which was about a 12 mile roundtrip in all. Portmeirion is a Mediterranean inspired village designed by Welsh architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis and is built on the slopes overlooking the large sandy estuary of the rivers Glaslyn and Dwyryd. Well worth a visit and they look to be building a decent motorhome facility to allow overnight parking.
From Porthmadog it was on to the island of Anglesey in what is perceived to be typical Welsh weather, ie wind and rain! On our way on to the island we stopped at Hooton’s Farm Shop and Butchery and bought some local produce (sausages, lamb and yet more Welsh cakes!). It’s only a small shop but had more choice than the previous large shop we had stopped in.
The campsite is situated almost at the end of the runway for RAF Valley, a training airport for the RAF jet pilots amongst others. We were treated to regular flypasts from Texan and Hawk aircraft, including a couple of Red Arrows. The flights seemed to be within normal “office hours” so weren’t particularly bothersome.
The weather kept us in the van for most of the time we were there but that wasn’t really an issue as it’s a good opportunity to catch up on admin and do some cleaning.
Due to sites being busy, we’re jumping around a bit for these weeks. We had originally planned to stay near Dolgellau for a little low level walking but a throwaway comment from Bob led us to change our plans. “I’ve always fancied climbing Cadair Idris” he said…. “Let’s do it then” she said, having no idea as to what she was getting into! So, three nights were booked at Dol Einon and weather forecasts checked for the best day to go up. We scoped out the track a little when we arrived because the route we were looking at wasn’t marked on the OS map but a few walkers we spoke to said the path was definitely there.
The least wet day was selected and an early start saw us on our way before 8am. All we can say is that it was wet and windy and basically three miles of walking/scrambling uphill, a mile or two of flattish walking around the ridge and then another two/three miles of walking/scrambling downhill. At no point did we see the summit despite reaching it and to this day we don’t know what it looks like!
For location, you can’t beat the campsite which is next to the Dol Idris car park/visitor centre and at the entrance to the Minffordd Path for the Cadair Idris loop. We will have to go back in the hope that we actually see the mountain top!
This was to be a week of mountains as our next stop was Beddgelert in the shadow of Snowdon at the campsite in the Beddgelert Forest. Although expensive (but we have to allow for it being peak summer holidays and we had chosen the flexible booking option) it’s a good site with everything you need. It has one of the lines of the Welsh Highland Railway running behind it so the steam trains came through a couple of times a day (there was a station just behind the site but the trains didn’t stop there). The Snowdon Sherpa bus stops at the front of the campsite providing easy and cheap (£3 per adult return) access to the mountain without having to worry about parking the van in one of the carparks. The 7km long Beddgelert/Rhyd Ddu footpath also passes the campsite to enable walking to either point avoiding the road. We did walk both directions on the path, walking one day into the town of Beddgelert and then back from Rhyd Ddu after Snowdon.
Beddgelert is a picturesque village on the banks of the river Glaslyn nestled among the mountains of the Snowdonia National Park and named after a dog-related legend! There is a grave in the town said to contain the remains of Gelert, the faithful dog of Llywelyn, Prince of North Wales during the 13th century. Llywelyn killed his dog by mistake, thinking the dog had killed his son but he hadn’t. On discovering his son safe and well, he buried the dog and called the spot Beddgelert. The grave is marked by some old stones (and newish engraved ones telling the tale) and trees, all of which are now fenced off.
We had been watching the weather to decide the best day to climb Snowdon but again we were denied any view from the summit by the low cloud! We took the Sherpa Bus from right outside the campsite to the base of the Rhyd Ddu path – it is a fairly short distance by bus but 5km or so to walk the footpath which we didn’t really want to do before the upward walk. The lower slopes are fairly easy with a little bit of scrambling over rocks in places and it wasn’t raining nor too windy. As the path gets higher there is more scrambling and it is quite exposed in places along a ridge but still very doable.
The visibility reduced as we got closer to the top and as we climbed the last few steps to the summit (after queuing!) it was no more than 30 metres and the temperature was just above 0C – a couple more layers of clothing were on by that point but it was astonishing to see the number of people who obviously hadn’t checked the weather and were totally unprepared for the cold.
The walk up took around three hours and after some refreshments, we headed back down via the same route. The weather had begun to clear so we were able to see the stunning scenery we had missed on the way up, as well as finally being able to the actual summit! After the climb up the walk back down always feels a long slog and having found another footpath (we didn’t want to hang around for a couple of hours for the bus), we were able to cross country back to the campsite. The total walk was almost 10 miles and it was safe to say, we were both pleasantly exhausted by the time we got home!
An old school trip was the reason for the next stop. June had vague memories of a visit to Llandudno and had wanted to see the Great Orme again. We found a café, the Rest and Be Thankful, on the road that goes around the edge of the peninsula where we could stay overnight – amazing views but boy, was it windy and after a couple of tries, we got the van into the best position to avoid being battered all night!
A nice surprise for the next morning was an unexpected meet up with an old friend and her daughter (June’s god-daughter). Lovely to see Julie and Lydia after so long!
Our penultimate Welsh stay was a free overnight car park at the Rhug Estate Farm Shop where we picked up a couple of bits including, yes, more Welsh cakes. We had parked as far away from the road as possible to reduce the noise not knowing we’d have the farm dogs barking until long past our bedtime, but the parking is free with no obligation to buy anything so we really can’t complain.
The last stop was the Plas Newydd CL, a short drive from the town of Llangollen over the stunning Horseshoe Pass, well when you can see the scenery that is! We were met at the gate of the CL by Alison, the owner, who gave us a packet of leaflets with details of the surrounding towns and sites to see. The CL is quiet and immaculately maintained with the grass pitches rotated to rest the grass between visitors, water and electric to all pitches plus a shower and toilet block.
The only downside was the sloping pitch, which is only an issue for longer vans and becomes most apparent when you try to bake a cake, and that there was no way to drain the grey tank directly from the van – we observed the request not to drain directly on to the pitch or the hedge behind us. Neither of these would stop us from visiting again though.
We visited the Pontcysyllte Viaduct on the day we arrived and despite it being a Sunday, the car park was almost empty so plenty of space for the van (cost £3). After a short walk from the car park we were on the canal towpath which heads across the viaduct over the Dee valley. There are railings on the footpath side but nothing on the otherside but the drop down to the river. An amazing piece of engineering and even more so, given its age!
The weather is beginning to feel almost autumnal and for the first day in months, trousers have replaced shorts! This has also led to a few more van days but that does mean we can keep on top of admin, housework and start making plans for the rest of the year.
We spent one day in Llangollen, parking in the Pavillion car park, just a short walk along the canal from the town centre. One of the leaflets we had been given showed a walk around the town so we decided to follow that route. We passed the Llangollen-Corwen Heritage Railway station which runs through the Dee valley (that’s the Welsh River Dee!) as we entered the town and finally came to Plas Newydd, the former home of the Ladies of Llangollen, two Irish aristocrats who escaped the expectations of society to set up home together and welcome visitors including William Wordsworth and the Duke of Wellington to their home. It’s quite a story and somewhere different to visit.
We also followed the canal to the Horseshoe Falls, following the horse-drawn canal boats to the weir and pumping station where water is drawn from the River Dee to feed the Shropshire Union Canal.
Having found more to do than expected in the area and not having visited any of the bars or restaurants in Llangollen, of which there are plenty, we would go back.
Tyddn Llywn Holiday Park, Porthmadog: £34 per night. All pitches are hard-standing and fully serviced. The park has a shop, restaurant (closed for remainder of 2021 season) and laundry facilities.
Bodfan Farm, Rhosneigr, Anglesey: £10 per person per night. No EHU (available on other pitches at additional cost) and at time of visit, only self-contained units were permitted due to COVID. Water and dumping facilities available. Large grass field, some of which is sloping.
Dol Einion CS, Tal-y-llyn, near Cadair Idris: £10 per person per night. No EHU (available on other pitches at additional cost). Toilets and showers (coin operated) available. Grass field with some hardstanding areas.
Beddgelert Campsite: £166.97 in total for 4 nights but at different rates (3 nights booked with flexible cancellation option). Pitch with EHU. Full campsite services available including laundry, shop, restaurant and bike hire.
Rest and Be Thankful, Great Orme, Llandudno: £10 per night. Café car park so no facilities. Need to arrive before café closes to register.
Rhug Estate Farm Shop, near Corwen: Free. Large car park attached to farm shop and café. Need to arrive before the shop closes to register.
Plas Newydd CL, Bryneglwys: £17 per night. Water and EHU to each pitch. Service block with showers and toilets and for grey and black water disposal. Grass, slightly sloping pitches.
Back towards home and London for a week to see family, visit the dentist (again) and meet former work friends. We tried, new to us, Home Cottage Farm CL in Iver as it was convenient for home and seeing June’s mum. We originally missed the entry to the site as it’s via a, currently closed, pick-your-own farm and the site is nothing more than a small field at the end of a narrow track through the farm but it was a great find! Despite the closeness to major roads (M25 and M40) it was very peaceful and the wildlife abundant – whilst we had family over for lunch three large deer wondered out of the woods and across the adjacent field and this was after watching a woodpecker feed as we had our breakfast and a small fox cub playing in the long grass.
The original purpose for this week was to catch up with old work colleagues and a slight change of plans had us heading into central London twice for drinks and dinner. It was strange to be back in town which is still under the influence of COVID with so many places still closed and too many looking permanently shut. We had previously been frequent visitors to Borough Market and despite it being a Saturday, it was so easy to move around but again some stalls had not yet reopened. We wandered around town for a while and finally managed to buy the lightweight chairs we’d been looking for. We wanted something to fold small to take out walking with us and found exactly what we wanted.
Mid-week we moved from Iver to the CMC site at Abbeywood, SE London. We would highly recommend this site when visiting London as the train station is less than 10 minutes walk away with trains directly into London Bridge and Charing Cross. There are various pitches available for motorhomes, campervans and caravans, a tent field and various pods/lodges plus two washing machines, all situated in well kept grounds with friendly and helpful staff. Lesnes Abbey and woods are a short walk from the site and well worth a visit.
Up until COVID we had both worked in central London and had enjoyed the buzz of the city but neither of us is keen to rush back again after this visit. It was great to see friends and we will always make time to do that but we think we’ve taken to the quiet life more than we thought. Time to escape again!
After leaving London we kept the link with the city by heading upstream along the Thames into Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire where we could explore more of the Thames Path
Our first stop was Newbridge Farm CL near Witney. The site is nothing more than a farmer’s field but located within easy reach of the Thames Path and a couple of pubs. We met Sharon, a friend and former colleague of Bob’s and cycling buddy to us both at the Maybush. Although we didn’t eat there due to a miscommunication, the food had been recommended to us. The campsite backs on to the A415 and was a little noisy at times but that aside, it was excellent value for money.
Our walk from here was upstream to the nature reserve at Chimney Meadows where we found a great little bird hide from which we were able to look over the fields and the river. A lot of the path here is overgrown and we were frequently walking through grass up to our waists – not good for the hayfever! We tried to take a slight detour on the way back which involved crossing a ford which we knew could be deep at times but we thought as it was June we might be OK…. When we got there the depth was showing over 60cm deep and not being prepared for a swim we decided to walk back the way we came!
We moved a little further upriver to Friars Court in Radcot. They have two camping areas and we were on the island CL which gave us a riverside pitch (room for all five vans to be riverside) from where we could watch the people and wildlife on the river. This was a fantastically relaxing place to stay and was also very convenient for Ye Olde Swan pub where this time we met Andy, a friend of Bob’s and his wife Debbie, to while away a few hours over a drink or two. Another hayfever inducing walk along the path heading towards Lechlade where we stopped to have our lunch at St John’s lock watching as boats went through the lock. There were several geocaches along the path but the battle with the nettles proved too much and we had to register a few as “did not find”.
Our final Thames stop was the Bridgehouse Campsite in Lechlade which is located by the bridge over the Thames just minutes walk from the high street. It was also close to Cotswold Canoe Hire from where we were renting a couple of canoes for a day’s paddling further upstream with Bob’s son Tom and June’s daughter, Chloe. And quelle surprise, it was just across the road from a pub where they conveniently opened for breakfast so that got the day off to a good start!
We paddled a total of about 14km with the return being far easier as we were going with the flow of the river. This part of the river is mostly unnavigable for anything larger than a canoe which meant we didn’t have to deal with any boats….thankfully given our skill level! We finished the day with a BBQ and two of the largest steaks we could find.
Unexpectedly one of June’s school friends was staying locally so we spent a couple of hours one afternoon with Caroline and Ashley. We hadn’t managed a reunion at home for sometime but being on the road is really helping us to catch up with family and friends across the country.
Home Cottage Farm CL, Iver, Bucks: £10 p/n. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass. Abbey Wood, CMC Site, SE London: £27.60 p/n. EHU, water and disposal points. Laundry. Various pitches (we had hard standing). Newbridge Farm CL, Witney, Oxfordshire: £6 p/n. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass. Friars Court CL, Radcot, Oxfordshire: £10 p/n. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass. Bridgehouse Campsite, Lechlade, Gloucestershire: £22 p/n. EHU, water and disposal facilities. No laundry (as at end of June 2021, not all entries for this campsite appeared to have been updated with this information).
As we left Norwich to head back towards home for a second jab appointment, the weather began to change and it was rather wet as we arrived in Tring.
Balmers is a site we have used often to escape for a weekend from home especially when we’ve been to Chilfest, an 80s music festival. As we stepped out of the van on arrival the ground beneath us squelched a little but we got the mats under the tyres and had no issues moving off the next day to get to Watford for Bob’s jab. Also managed to get June’s done at the same time as they had just opened up to walk-ins for anyone eligible for a first or second jab and it was eight weeks to the day since June’s first jab so she just scraped in!
Turned out to be a busy weekend with friends visiting on the Saturday for a BBQ and then meeting family for lunch on Sunday. The BBQ didn’t quite go to plan as the weather intervened and we all ended up sitting outside under the awning wrapped in blankets!
Despite leaving our mark on the field in the form of track marks we got to the paved driveway relatively easily and made our way to Dorset and What A View, a CL that certainly lived up to its name overlooking the rolling Dorset countryside. But boy was the ground wet! We pulled on to our pitch and were going to reposition the van but became stuck in the mud. Luckily we weren’t planning to move for a couple of days and our caravanning neighbour offered to pull us out with his 4 x 4 when we did need to move.
We spent a couple of days walking locally, one of them with a friend who took us to the Iron Age hill fort at Hambledon Hill and the Roman hill fort at Hod Hill before a leisurely lunch in a local pub.
With the sun finally making an appearance and having repositioned ourselves on our pitch we were able to leave without any further incident and headed towards the coast for the first of two seaside weeks.
Our destination was the CS at Manor Farm in the village of Burton Bradstock. Being the first school holiday after lockdown restrictions had been lifted, a bank holiday and good weather forecast, it was understandably busy and we were lucky to get in although on the overspill area, along with several other vans. We didn’t mind this as we had hardstanding and EHU and didn’t plan to be around the site too much.
From here we had easy access to the South West coastal path as well as a nice walk into the local town of Bridport (Saturday is market day). The village is all old stone buildings, as were many of the villages we passed en route, and has a village shop/post office for supplies. It also seemed well served for bus routes to explore further along the coast without the need to move the van.
We wandered into West Quay on the sunny bank holiday Monday which was maybe not the best idea but crab sandwiches were calling!
We decided to move on a day earlier and found a pitch at Stover CMC site located next to Stover Country Park. On the way though we popped into Abbotsbury Swannery. It really is a fabulous place to visit with, as you would expect, lots of swans and dozens of cygnets.
Stover is a great little site for a short stay – well maintained and spacious but no toilets or showers (not just closed due to COVID – they don’t exist!) but that’s not a problem with a self-contained motorhome. The rain had come back for a couple of days but we escaped for a few hours to walk around the lake in the country park and took a path out of the park to find a war memorial to the Canadian lumberjacks who had been resident in the area during the first world war.
The next stop was a long awaited (eight years as it turned out!) catch-up with friends as we moved towards the north coast. A lovely relaxed time enjoying their hospitality, meeting their menagerie of rescued animals and the evening sun.
Another weekend and another HOG (Hymer Owners Group) event, this time on the large campsite of Easewell Farm, near Woolacombe in North Devon. We have been spoiled at the two events we have been to with fully serviced pitches and washing machines! It’s great to meet the people you “chat” to on Facebook on all things Hymer as well as motorhoming in general, and spend a couple of evenings with a glass or two of wine sitting around swapping stories.
Although we had been to this area last year we still did two spectacular coastal walks; across country and down into a wooded valley into the village of Lee and then along the coast to Mortehoe, spotting seals on the way, and secondly, the coastal path through Woolacombe out to the headland at Baggy Point. After almost 23 miles of walking in total and over 2,500 feet of ascent, the fish and chips after the second walk were well earned!
With an empty dirty washing bag and a severely depleted food/drink cupboard, we had our longest day driving so far since staring full-timing, as our next stop was The Paddock CS, an adults only site on the south shore of Rutland Water. We needed to have the van engine serviced and had tickets to the Peterborough Motorhome Show so did both from Rutland Water, using the Intercounty Truck and Van Mercedes dealership near Peterborough for the servicing.
Having spent a lot on time in the van, we needed to get out walking and spent the best part of a day walking around the reservoir. Those 16.5 miles obviously included the obligatory #clewleysstopforcoffee and as a bonus, a #justtheone almost at the end although for one heart-stopping moment we thought the pub was closed – thankfully not!
We have a couple more days here with hopefully a warmer visit from friends this afternoon and a visit to the nearby osprey centre tomorrow before another week of meeting family and friends back in London.
Sites used: Balmers CL, Wigginton, near Tring: £7 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass. What A View CL, Sturminster Newton, Dorset: £12 per night. No EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass. Manor Farm CS, Burton Bradstock, Dorset: £18 per night. EHU, water and dumping. Mixed pitches Stover Camping & Caravanning Club, Devon: £22.50 per night. EHU, water and dumping but no toilets or showers on site. Mostly hard standing. Easewell Farm Campsite, near Woolacombe, Devon: special HOG meeting rate. Large family holiday park with various pitch types available. The Paddock CS, Rutland Water: £15 per night. No EHU but it is available (extra £5 per night), water and dumping facilities. All grass.
We continued our stay in the South Downs National Park (formerly two adjoining Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) moving from Small Dole to Kingston, near Lewes a little further to the east. The campsite is nothing more than a field behind a row of houses but a great location for accessing the South Downs Way.
We managed two full days of walking 10 plus miles each time, following various paths, crossing the Greenwich Meridien on several occasions and clocking up a few thousand feet of ascent.
The photos and my words cannot really do the area justice! We were lucky with the weather as our walking days seemed to be the drier ones, but the South Downs are a stunning place to go walking.
We also walked from the campsite into the town of Lewes where every house seemed to have a plaque with a historical reference attached. Sadly as this was the final week of lockdown restrictions, many places were still closed but it was still worth the visit.
From Kingston we moved a few miles east again to the village of Alfriston. We have been here several times before and, obviously (!) like the area. The village also gives easy access to the South Downs Way although beware, any walk on the ridge will begin with a long climb out of the valley!
There are three separate camping areas but all reached via the same access road and next to each other; firstly The Stables CL where we stayed, then a camping field for C&CC members and finally a general camping field. The CL is well maintained and provides EHU as well as water and dumping facilities. We were warned by the owner the CL was next to the camping field but we were not disturbed by any noise from there.
We continued the pattern of walking every other day and repeated a walk we had done previously (over 10 years ago when preparing for the Inca Trail) along the South Downs Way to Eastbourne, Beachy Head, the Seven Sisters and home along the Cuckmere Valley. Our longest walk for sometime at a fraction under 20 miles / 32 km (we just couldn’t find the extra yards/metres to round the numbers up!) and we were pleasantly exhausted when we got home back to the van. Our last walk of this distance has been at home on the towpath of the Grand Union Canal so none of the 2,000ft of ascent we did today.
The following day was our 10th wedding anniversary so a day of relaxing around the van and then for a change, dinner in a local restaurant, Deans Place. As we were still under lockdown rules, the menu was limited and we had to sit outside but apart from an issue with the main course, which was handled well, we had a great evening. Even better was the short walk back to the campsite!
We did a couple more walks along the South Downs Way, the second of which bought us into the Cuckmere Valley on the opposite side to the Seven Sisters and gave us great views of the chalk cliff faces.
If you want something flatter, then the Cuckmere Valley is also a great place to walk, starting at the rocky beach and then moving inland through small lakes and waterways to pasture lands. The Seven Sisters Country Park in the valley offers parking, a restaurant and a visitor centre and circular walks start just across the road from the Visitors Centre. Lots of birds and wildflowers to spot.
The Litlington Tea Rooms were recommended to us and as they were just a short walk from the campsite, it would have been wrong not to have paid them a visit. We managed to get out in the only gap in the rain and enjoyed a cream tea (although in our case, coffee replaced the tea but at no extra cost) in leafy surroundings.
We had an amazing two weeks exploring the eastern side of the South Downs and walked over 100 miles in total! It’s a beautiful area to visit and if the weather is on your side, you can’t have a bad day.
From one extreme to another, we left the rolling fields of Sussex for a quick visit to see our daughter in Norwich where she is coming to the end of her first year at Norwich University of The Arts. Being a student we knew we wouldn’t see her until after lunch so we had the morning to explore a little of the city. We didn’t go into the Castle as there was a wedding going on and we decided to keep out of the way, but the cathedral is worth a visit as is the area around it where there are many historic buildings to see as well as a riverside walk.
An afternoon’s shopping was the order of the day with Amy’s birthday coming up – that was more exhausting than hiking miles across the country! We had a great dinner at Jorges, a Portuguese restaurant in the city. If you’re looking for something different to eat then I would head there for good food and friendly, helpful staff. It’s quite small so making a reservation is advisable.
We stayed at the Norwich Camping and Caravan Club site which is located about a 25 minute walk outside the city centre (uphill from the campsite but fortunately downhill after dinner!). We didn’t have hook up although it was available on a number of pitches and didn’t use the facilities so cannot comment on them other than there was a reasonably priced washing machine and tumble dryer. We had one of the central pitches which felt a little cramped with motorhomes, caravans and tents seemingly haphazardly placed, but we were only there for two nights and the site was ideally placed for getting into the City, which also contributes to the price. Access to water and the grey dump was also awkward so as we didn’t really need either, we left the site without using either.
Sites used: Newholme CL: £8 per night, no EHU and all grass. Water and dumping facilities. Note re campsite access – it’s only from the south of the village as there is a width restriction if coming the other way. The Stables CL, Alfriston: £15 per night, EHU, water and dumping facilities. All grass pitches
Norwich CMC site: £20.65 per night, no EHU (but available). Water and dumping facilities available. Laundry.
It hasn’t taken us too long to get into a routine and so far, neither of us is missing being in a house. In fact, we spent one night back at home in between dental appointments last week and it felt a little strange!
We didn’t move too far in the first couple of weeks; from Marlborough to Bishops Canning and then on to Calne for a weekend with other members of the Hymer Owners Group. We popped into Devizes for the local market which is how we hope to be able to do more shopping going forward but as there’s no single list of markets, it’s all a bit hit and miss at the moment.
The site at Bishops Canning was another CL but no EHU. It sits right alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal so plenty of (flat!) walking and we went as far as the Caen Locks. The wildlife along the canal was a little disappointing in that we didn’t see much unlike the Grand Union at home which is abundant with water birds including the occasional kingfisher despite all the human activity.
A first for us was a weekend meet with the Hymer Owners Group. It was great to finally be able to put some names to faces of some of the contributors to the Facebook group and we’ll catch up with them again in June. The location was a large campsite catering for all camping types but we had our own little paddock so plenty of stopping to chat with the other owners. Another location with plenty of walking but we have found that several of the footpaths we have wanted to use were either poorly maintained or in a couple of instances, blocked off. Maybe we’ve just been spoiled in Hertfordshire but it was frustrating having to reroute walks when we were planning of the latest OS maps. However, we did get to the Cherhill Monument which gave us amazing views over the Wiltshire countryside and we bagged a series of Geocaches as we walked back to the campsite along an old Roman road.
We also walked to Bowood House but as the house was closed (COVID again) it didn’t seem worth paying the entrance fee for just the garden. We’re back here again for the balloon festival in July so maybe we’ll look again then.
Our touring life was briefly interrupted with a quick trip home for dental appointments and a haircut! Unfortunately, the appointments were on different days so we had to stay in the house for one night (one advantage of renting the house to family – we always have a bed!) but made the most of it by clearing all the boxes to the charity shop, taking back what we decided we didn’t need in the van and, oh, a meal out to celebrate Bob’s birthday!
We stayed closer to home for a couple of nights on a CS we have used a couple of times before, Hill Farm in Wendover. Whilst here we were able to catch up with family and have a wander through Wendover Woods where it’s bluebell season (a common thread of all the places we’ve stayed recently).
We have a few weeks before we need to be home again (Bob’s second COVID jab this time) so we drove down to West Sussex. A supermarket stop was due and we found a Morrison’s in Littlehampton. Turns out it was a good find in that as well as food and fuel, it also sold LPG (needed for heating and cooking) as well as having an outside laundry! Launderettes seems to be harder and harder to find and we had seen supermarkets with washers and dryers outside in France and Spain but this was the first time we’d found one in England. We can manage small amounts of washing on the road but need machines for bedding and towels. Little finds like this with everything in one place, make us very happy!
Farmhouse Campsite is a couple of fields just outside the village of Small Dole. The large field was full of caravans and tents when we arrived so we were directed to a smaller field with two other vans and a couple of caravans. We had some initial concerns but it hasn’t really been noisy at all.
We picked the site because of its location for walking so yesterday we went across the fields to Devil’s Dyke and then along the South Downs Way, picking up a few more Geocaches. We were lucky with the weather (the forecast was for showers most of the day) and managed to avoid one downpour by finding a pop-up coffee stop in a barn and run by a local cycling club. We couldn’t have timed it better!
Some more walking to come this week and we’re pleased to report that the footpaths are all well marked and easy to follow. Although touring the UK wasn’t our initial plan, we are loving exploring our own backyard.
Bishops Canning CL: £13 per night, no EHU but water and dumping facilities. All grass.
Blackland Lakes Campsite: group price for the weekend. Multiple pitch types
Hill Farm CS, Wendover: £20 per night, EHU, water and dumping facilities (showers and toilets also available but closed this visit due to COVID). 4 out of 5 pitches hard-standing.
Farmhouse Campsite: Small Dole: £17 per night, EHU, water and dumping facilities. All grass
Monday April 12th 2021 will stick in people’s minds for many reasons being it was the day many of the tighter COVID restrictions were lifted. For some it would be the first post lockdown pint, for others the first haircut in months, for many the long awaited visit to see family or friends (still only the Rule of Six though), and for a few, queueing at your favourite non-essential shop….the list goes on. For us it only meant one thing, the move to the motorhome to begin our life on the road.
After weeks of trying to whittle down the contents of the house to what we would be taking with us and the stuff we wanted to keep for when we do finally return to a house, after a couple of trips to load up the van, we were ready to go.
Our first night was not too far from home to give us the opportunity to make sure we had everything although we couldn’t get on to the campsite next to the storage facility to we had to go a few miles down the road to Hertford. It was just as well we did this as the celebratory steak we were having for dinner was still in the house fridge! We were always going back home the following day to fill the van with gas from the local boatyard so celebrations were simply put on hold for 24 hours!
Monday 19th April Can’t believe the first week has gone already! After leaving Hertford and travelling via home and June’s mums (first face to face meeting since July 2020) we headed down the M4 to Marlborough and the Savernake Forest. We’re staying on a great CL on a working farm a couple of miles south of Marlborough with views across the fields. It’s so quiet and peaceful here!
The forest itself is well worth a visit. It is an area of ancient woodland (first reference to the woodland here was in AD934) which has passed down from father to son (or daughter, on four occasions) in an unbroken line of hereditary “forest wardens”. In 31 generations, it has never once been bought or sold in a thousand years, and today it is the only ancient forest in Britain still in private hands, although managed by Forestry England.
The forest contains a number of ancient oaks including “Big Belly Oak”, one of Fifty Great British Trees named and honoured as part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations. It has a girth of 11 metres (36 ft) and is 1000–1100 years old. In 2001 it was in danger of splitting in two, a fate that had already overtaken the similarly aged Duke’s Vaunt. To prevent this, the tree was fitted with a metal corset.
Once away from the main road the only noise is birdsong and we spent some time one morning just watching woodpeckers flying in and out of the trees.
From the back of the farm there are multiple footpaths heading across country so we made our way to Martinsell Hill (the third highest point in Wiltshire at 289m/948 ft above sea level and the site of an Iron Age Hillfort) where there was only one thing we could do when we came to Pork Pie corner!
We were also able to access the Kennet and Avon Canal but despite our constantly scanning the banks, no kingfishers came out to play. We’ve had a great week here and will definitely come back!
It’s now February 2021 and COVID continues to dominate our lives as we’re in Lockdown 3. Since returning from our trip in November, we have been in quarantine twice, which is as many times as we’ve managed to get to the van in the same time. We have been fortunate not to have had the virus and the year of being thrown together all day, every day without driving each other mad certainly bodes well for living in the van!
One big change for 2021 is that we have now both stopped working which was the original plan to allow us to ship the van to Canada and begin our life on the road. We decided whilst in Spain that this probably wasn’t going to happen this year and currently the travel plan for this year is still very much up in the air. The trip back to northern Norway at the end of January, which was booked pre-COVID, was obviously cancelled and with no sign yet as to when we can even move out of the local area, there is currently nothing booked, something unheard of in this house!
But….although there are no bookings and not even any maps on the wall, we have ideas and are still hoping to get to Nordkapp for the midnight sun and then down to Morocco for the Autumn/Winter. As well as dealing with COVID and ensuring we are close to home when we get the call for our vaccinations, the joy that is Brexit is limiting our time in Europe (90 days maximum in any 180) so we, probably like many UK motorhomers, will be touring closer to home. Not that that’s a problem as there’s so much of our beautiful country to see and we’ll need to incorporate a few things to be done on the van enroute. We’ll also be able to visit friends and family who we don’t get to see very often!
Being at home has given us the time to have a good sort out and clear all the accumulated clutter before moving full time to the motorhome. We are still surrounded by boxes waiting for the charity shops to re-open but have been able to add to the travel fund with a few online sales. June’s eldest daughter has now firmly taken residence in the house (along with numerous more boxes!) as she will be living here whilst we travel.
Not having the inconvenience of work and not being able to go too far has meant that we have explored the local area and found so many footpaths that we didn’t know existed. We really have come to appreciate where we live. Although we are keen walkers, we still like a challenge to keep us motivated so signed up to Walk 1000 Miles in 2021 and despite losing 10 days to January’s quarantine we are ahead of schedule. The walking is needed to keep the weight gain from home cooking at bay!
Given that we’ll be full timing in the van next year we had decided to have a big holiday this year where we stayed in brick buildings and had access to a fairly constant supply of hot water, so back in the carefree days of 2019, we settled on a month’s tour of India covering as much of the country as possible. Comfy business class flights were booked courtesy of points and everything was looking good. Then came the virus from China that would bring the World to a standstill….
Fast forward to Summer 2020 and with India close to the top of the list of countries hardest hit by the virus, the tour was cancelled so we had to decide on how we were going to spend our month off (Bob had saved and booked the leave, June’s contract extension negotiation had included the leave so we weren’t not going to do something). The thoughts went something like this:
Another long-haul destination on an Exodus tour – maybe Namibia, Botswana? Nope
Croatia – too many borders opening and closing between home and there to negotiate
UK – Wales, Scotland, Northumbria
Germany – regions starting prohibiting travel
Sweden – then Denmark closed its borders to the UK and the plan was to drive through Denmark
UK again – actually booked campsites in north and south Wales and the Lakes (including a meeting with the company who are going to do the van carpets) for the first week.
Then the UK started to suffer its second wave with areas being tiered according to infection rates. North and South Wales were one of the first areas to tighten activities (and as I type this, they are now on the second day of 17 of total lockdown) followed by the area of Scotland covering Glasgow and Edinburgh and much of the northern part of England. We knew we would have a good time wherever we could travel in the UK but the idea of going to Europe was beginning to grow. We’d be in our own bubble in the motorhome and our preference is to be in remote, mountain regions so the chances of catching COVID would be no different to at home (possibly less with no contact with children working in pubs or at university) providing we took all the necessary caution with wearing masks and carrying copious amounts of sanitiser. A new thermometer was even purchased to monitor our temperatures so we could head home at the first sign of any problems.
With the start of our leave imminent, we took the plunge and booked our Eurotunnel ticket just three days before we left and had a very loose plan of travelling through France and around the edge of Spain and Portugal. I don’t think either of us believed we were going anywhere until we actually drove on to the train at Ashford but that we did just as Spain announced restrictions in several regions, including most of those along the French border and the north coast. Still, we’d got to France and after that we didn’t really mind where we went – a month in France wouldn’t be the worst thing!
First stop was the Aire de Baie de Somme, our usual stopover when heading south through France. Great little stop on the motorway but we arrived to find most of the parking area closed – was this a sign of things to come? Looked like they were just doing some renovations so we had to park close to the main building but managed to have a decent night’s sleep.
With the news about Spain we had decided that a slow meander around the north and west coast before heading to the Pyrenees and the Alps might be a good idea as we’ve previously just passed through France on our way somewhere else. With that in mind we took a slow drive along the coast to Honfleur taking in some beautiful scenery and unexpected fun driving.
Tonight’s stop was the aire at Honfleur, a huge car riverside car park close to the centre of the town and usually overflowing with motorhomes. We arrived about 4pm and secured a waterside pitch and although the aire got busier it was still relatively quiet. Cost for 24 hours was €11.
Whilst we are avoiding busy places, we took the short walk into town for dinner. A number of restaurants were closed and those which were open were operating a reduced capacity. It was such a good evening though that we decided to sit outside overlooking the harbour to enjoy a seafood feast!
Before going to dinner, we checked the Spanish travel websites and the map and worked out that we could go back to the original plan (well a slightly amended version of the original version of this trip – I think this is going to become a common theme!) and go to Spain but take a different route avoiding the travel restrictions in the north.
With the change in plans today was a driving day, heading south. The weather was grey with occasional showers but throughout a strong wind – Bob said he felt like he’s had a full workout by the time we got to our overnight stop. Tonight, we’re in another riverside aire at Bruère-Allichamps, a reasonable size aire with hard and grass parking plus hook up. Cost for the night was €9.79 plus €5 for the Camping-Car Park card which we can recharge as needed and use at other CCP aires.
Tonight’s destination is the town of Millau but despite it being almost all motorway we get to drive through the Massif Central and across the Millau Viaduct, a stunning piece of engineering. A first today with June finally getting behind the wheel of this van and taking a short turn at driving.
We arrived in Millauearly enough to go for a short walk along the river and around the old town. We’re in another CCP aire, two minutes walk from the river which costs €11.01 for a night. After two nights parked under trees we have come to the conclusion that that’s not a good idea when it’s raining as they drip constantly all night!
From Millau we were moving on to Carcassonne to visit the old medieval fortified city. The route given by the sat-nav was again motorway all the way but we’re always keen to explore the slightly more adventurous roads and the 2-3 hour journey became a full day of winding roads and glorious autumnal forests which gradually became vineyards as we came down from the mountains.
There is an aire located next to the Cite Campsite which is about 15 minutes walk from the old city along the River Aude and costs €15 plus 22c per person per night. We were staying here for two nights to have the time to visit the city and catch up on some general house keeping.
As of today, due to the entire Basque region going into total lockdown and much of the rest of Spain under curfew we decide that we are going to spend the entire trip in France.
After the rain stopped, we had a bright and sunny morning exploring Carcassonne including paying to visit the Chateau Comtal and the city ramparts (€9.50 each for an unguided tour). It was well worth the entrance fee and pre-booking a timeslot was a good idea as we didn’t have to queue. Whilst it is sad to see so many places closed due to COVID-19 (did manage a #clewleysstopforcoffee of course) it does mean that everywhere is relatively quiet – the city is probably heaving during summer.
Our biggest expenditure today was on a detailed map book of France….
Fast forward three hours and we’re going to Spain tomorrow!!! Initially we’re aiming just across the border to Santa Pau in the Parc Natural de la Zona Volcanica de la Garrotxa before coming back to France via Andorra. The Catalonia region is still open to travel through and is the only area where you can cross the border.
Left France and crossed the border into Spain as if it was business as usual and have camped for the night in a free aire in the village of Santa Pau.
Somewhere previously it was mentioned that our plans were nothing if not flexible and we awoke this morning to the news that France may now be going into lockdown with effect from tomorrow night. The President is speaking later today so we’ll wait to see what he has to say but in the meantime we’re planning a route around Spain…..
28th October – continued!
Three hours later and another change of plan as most of Spain has gone into lockdown with no inter-regional travel allowed and France has confirmed the same. It seems we are stuck in Catalonia unless we want to head back to Calais and wait around for the next available crossing. Given it is half term and a lot of people will make the immediate decision to return home, we have no idea when that crossing would be available and at what cost.
Our other option is to stay in this area and maybe find a campsite to wait out at least the next week to see what happens next. This coming weekend is a holiday weekend in Spain so many of the travel restrictions are in place to stop people travelling for this. Thankfully we have plenty of wifi (before we came away Superdrug were doing an unbelievable offer of £20 a month with unlimited data which can be used in Europe so we have been hammering that) so it’s on to the internet to find a campsite and with the help of Google Translate, Bob fired out a few emails. Off to sleep tonight not knowing what tomorrow would bring!
Awoke to a couple of emails with one campsite able to take a week’s booking so after re-stocking the cupboard with food and drink for a week we head up into the Pyrenees to Camping Rèpos del Pedraforca.
What a little gem this place is! We’ve booked for an initial week and can stay longer if we want. We’re in the lower part of the campsite which is mostly caravans and cabins but have hook up and easy access to water. The shower block is just a few metres away and has a washing machine and drier – will be able to leave here all clean and fresh smelling!
The campsite is really quiet at the moment (the weekend may be a different story), the weather is glorious and the scenery breath-taking.
After days seemingly stuck in the van driving, today we were able to relax and explore a little of the Parc Natural del Cadi-Moixeró with a shortish (11km) return walk to the ruins of the Monastery of Sant Sebastià del Sull. It may have been a short walk by our standards but it was all downhill from the campsite to the Río de Saldes which meant the return was all uphill….
Words cannot express the beauty of the area and the trees in their autumnal colours just added to it. Spain is so much more than the Costas and the beaches.
We spent a short time at the site of the ruins just taking in the silence of everything except the river running just below us and watching the eagles soaring high above the valley.
June had to test the water and can confirm it was cold!
A quick stroll to the local Dolmen de Molers, a megalithic burial chamber dating from the Metal Ages (1800-1400 BC). Excavations had yielded a number of archaeological finds which are now in a museum and the site remains the most important prehistoric monument in the Bergueda region.
Up earlyish today for a walk to the Mirador de Gresolet with views over the Saldes valley and the surrounding mountains. Again, it wasn’t going to be too far distance wise but it wasn’t going to be flat with a total ascent of almost 700m in the first 7km.
Luckily the big height gains occurred as short, sharp climbs and a lot of the walk was in the forest and protected from the sun (we have had a very hot few days). The effort though was worth it for a lunch with a view!
Contrary to the previous walk, it was mostly downhill on the way back.
An easy day after yesterday’s walk but surprisingly neither of us ached too much! One advantage of the restricted travel is that we’re getting a taste of really living in the van rather than holidaying in it and have had plenty of time to organise (and reorganise) everything we currently deem “essential”. It’s a slow process but we are getting there.
Van days are also needed to keep on top of the chores (cleaning and washing still needs to be done) but are also cooking days – homemade bread is becoming the norm, and it’s the opportunity to be inventive with whatever we have to keep to a minimum what gets thrown away!
Weather has closed in a bit today so we headed down the mountain in search of the nearest LPG station which was in Puig-reig, about a 45km drive away. With the help of the app called myLPG.euThis also gave the chance to stop in Berga again to pick up a few fresh items from the supermarket.
It has been good to see that mask wearing is the norm here and even in the street, almost everyone complies with the law, far more than the number back home.
On the way back we stopped for lunch by the side of the Pantá de la Baells (more lake than bog – the literal translation of “pantá”!) with a view over the Baells dam.
4th – 7th November
The weather is a bit all over the place at the moment (probably to be expected given it is November!) one day being wet and the next being sunny and clear again, so we did a couple of shorter walks to explore more of the area and had a couple of van days getting on with the admin that life in general throws out. As more Spanish provinces seem to be tightening their COVID rules and locking down even more, we decided to stay another week at the campsite. At €18 a day for everything we need and with a stunning view, there seems little reason to move.
One of these days did throw up a record of which we should not be proud – the lowest ever daily total of steps recorded by the Fitbit! On Saturday 7th November, June managed the incredible total of just 471 steps…. It was very wet outside and in a van less than 7m long, there are only so many steps you can do!
However we are pleased that the above was an exception and we have done our best to take as many of the footpaths from the campsite as possible around the eastern side of the Pedraforca Massif. The mountain itself was created after the collision of two tectonic plates and subsequent folding of the rocks to leave two limestone peaks (the Pollegons) and inbetween, the fork (the Enforcadura) where the softer rocks have eroded away to form large scree slopes on either side of the mountain. This has given the mountain its unique profile which features on the local, regional flag.
There are a number of Romanesque churches found in small villages and there are the remains of a medieval castle just outside Saldes.
Today we got off our backside to walk to the aforementioned castle and church on the mountain above Saldes. Although none of our walks here have been that long, they have not been flat and after today’s one we certainly qualified for our mountain goat badges!
The walk to the castle involved descending part way down the valley from the campsite and then heading up hill again, into, through and beyond Saldes, zig-zagging upwards for a total of almost 200m.
After bagging our first geocache in the area (not for lack of trying with others!) we then started back down to the valley floor through the forested hillsides. Much of the track seemed to be following a dried up steam bed – a little slippery and steep in places and by the time we got to the bottom the knees were screaming!
We took a few minutes to have a snack by the river which was running faster and deeper after the previous day’s rain – when we’d been up at the castle, which was over 300m above the valley floor, the only noise was the river.
Van day just pottering and cooking. We didn’t know if we’d get bored with these quieter days but so far we’re both adjusting well to not doing much and even more so being that we are in exceptional times at the moment and can’t move freely around. Once we’re out on the road fulltime we don’t think we would ordinarily spend as long in one place.
After spending almost two weeks looking at Pedraforca and walking most of the eastern edges, it seemed right that we had to get a little closer at least once so today the plan was to drive to Gosol, about 10km from the campsite, to see how far we could get up the western side where the peaks are supposedly more accessible…. After an earlyish start we found the car park in Gosol which was very quiet (we reckon the town would be heaving in the summer) and began the long, slow climb.
The first part of the walk is uphill along a farm track and is very boring – boring to the point that we both thought if the rest of the walk is going to be like this then we’re not going to enjoy it! After about 1km (and a gain of 148m) we entered the forest and our mood changed very quickly. The path continued uphill but became more challenging as we were climbing over rocks and tree roots of the pine woods on the flanks of the Serra de la Tossa. After 2.3km and 475m of climb we reached the Pla de la Serra, a flat grassy plateau with breath-taking views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. A good place for a #clewleysstopforcoffee!
We carried on walking for another 700m to a height of almost 2,000m which gave us a total climb of 586m. Having looked at the scree slopes we decided that this was the point at which we turn around and do the whole walk in reverse. It is possible to get to the top of Pollego Superior but this involved crossing the loose scree and then scrambling over boulders – not something we fancied. Turned out to be a good call as the weather closed in a little as we finished our descent and if we had been up at the peak, we’d have got a little wet!
The walk back down definitely qualified us for our advanced mountain goat badges and thankfully we had walking poles with us today as they came into their own with the steep (over 40% gradient in places) and slippery path. We stopped again at the Pla de la Serra just to take it all in, and whilst not in religious way, be thankful for what we have and are able to do.
After lunch we walked around the town a little but being siesta time (plus COVID) everything was closed.
It did seem like it would be a good place to visit with a couple of restaurants and bars around the edge of a small square. The town also has a connection with Picasso and there is small museum dedicated to him. We walked up through the steep streets to visit the church and castle ruins from where we could over the plain to where we had walked earlier.
Our last full day on the campsite so it was housework day. With not knowing where we’d be staying from now until we got home on 21st November, it was a day to get all the washing wash done and tanks filled and emptied as necessary.
Although this area had not been part of our original trip, we were so lucky to have found the campsite and it was the perfect place for us to stay for two weeks, especially as the alternative was to head straight back to the UK. It’s not somewhere we would stay in the summer but would be great for families with lots to do on site, but we saw few people whilst we were there and with the weather being so good, we were able to get out and explore the wider area on foot.
Moving day and having checked the travel restrictions, we’re heading to Andorra. Looking at the map, it should be a fairly straight route but that’s not our style so there was a slight detour towards the Tossa Pelada, a peak of 2,379m and a perfect place for a #clewleysstopforcoffee. It was then a journey back down to the village of Tuixen, along a few windy roads to the town of La Seu d’Urgell and on to the border with Andorra.
The border crossing was surprisingly easy and we parked at our glamorous overnight spot of the lower carpark of the River Commercial Centre car park in Sant Julia de Loria. Not as picturesque as the last two weeks but we needed food and at least there was a loud, fast moving river next to us which covered the traffic noise.
Time to get out of the town and make our way back into the mountains. Lots of driving today (mostly just for the sake of it!) following the marked roads to the west of the main road which runs through Andorra. It’s funny in that you can always tell the towns and villages that have hosted a major cycle race (both the Tour de France and the Vuelta de Espana regularly visit the Pyrenees) as despite the terrain and gradients and the harsh winters, the tarmac is immaculate!
First stop was the top of the valley above Pal where the road literally runs out when you reach the Spanish border
From there we visited another ski resort, Arinsal and then the road out of Ordino where there is another ski resort (Ordino Arcalis) at the head of the valley. There is no snow around at the moment and very few people around so the large car parks in the skiing areas make for great overnight spots and we had two undisturbed nights here.
Another unplanned stay but worth the visit as there is plenty of good walking from the car park and with no light pollution, an amazing view of the night sky.
We followed one of the footpaths which should have taken us around the lakes that have formed in the bowl below the Pic de Tristagne however we were only able to go halfway as the path disappeared under a rockfall. Instead we took the lower path around the edge of the lakes back to the van, which was still a stunning walk.
In need of facilities we slowly inched back down the valley to an aire in the town of Massana. It’s nothing more than a roadside carpark but we’re able to empty and refill before moving to the mountains in the east of Andorra. The aire also has wifi access which we were grateful for as Andorra is not covered in any of the data packages we have and for the past two days we’ve relied on a (closed) café whose wifi became available during their usual opening hours!
Not our best night as it was noisy, there was a lot of light from outside and the wifi wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be! We did realise afterwards that we could have paid for a short stay in the car park and used the facilities before moving straight on – something to remember for next time.
Moan over and it was back to the mountains, this time to the car park of the Granelvalira ski resort in Gau-Roig. Unfortunately, weight restrictions meant we couldn’t take the winding road over the mountain but it was only a short journey and still very picturesque.
Again, we had the whole carpark to ourselves with the exception of a few workmen preparing the ski facilities for the upcoming season (although it would appear that it’s the local equivalent of a supermarket car park and there was an abundance of learner drivers practising manoeuvres!), and again we were able to connect to the wifi of a closed information office.
Last hike of the trip which like all the others wasn’t flat! This one followed a ski lift up the mountain and then back down another ski run after a short distance of picking our way downhill through a boulder field to a lake – good place for coffee and cake.
With very little light pollution, it was a good place to watch the Leonid Meteor shower and we managed to capture some footage on the GoPro.
18th -21st November
Time to start the journey home. We planned to stop tonight in the motorhome car park in El Pas de la Casa, a large “shopping resort” on the French border and only a very short distance from where we were. As Andorra is duty free (diesel was 77p a litre as opposed to around £1.12 at home) we thought we’d do a bit of shopping first but decided just to use the facilities in the car park (free for 30 mins) so the tanks were full/empty for the trip to Calais. This would also mean that we could have a slightly more relaxed drive and not have to cover 1,000km in two days and nor would we be staying in motorway aires.
A slight detour as we left Andorra led us back to almost where we started and meant that we had to use a tunnel at a cost – the plan was to avoid toll roads on the way home as we had the extra time. We managed to stick to that plan right until we got to Boulogne where we joined the motorway a junction too early so had to pay one final toll in France (one to pay for the Dart Crossing in the UK). Still we managed to save around €100 in relation to the journey down through France.
The road home took us via aires in Cahors, a quiet 3-van site riverside and surprisingly quiet for being town centre, Theillay, a small piece of ground on a bend on a road between some farm storage and a cemetery (very quiet!) and finally Berck, about an hour from Calais, in a large beachside motorhome carpark that was very windy!
The drive had been quieter than we anticipated as the French were obeying their lockdown rules and although we saw a few vehicles in supermarket car parks, most of the traffic on the road was lorries. As required, we had printed copies of the attestation document for each day of the journey and a screenshot on the phone of the French translation of “we are travelling to our home in the UK” but despite seeing plenty of Gendarme, we were not stopped. We’d also lodged our contact details with the UK Gov website as once back in the UK, we’d have to go into quarantine for 14 days.
We were up sharp on the Saturday to prep the van to drive back to the UK and directly to the storage site where it would probably stay for a couple of months. The last day’s driving was uneventful although the UK roads were far busier than France, despite the UK also being in lockdown and only “essential” travel allowed.
We’ve been home since yesterday afternoon; bags are unpacked and the washing machine has been going non-stop all morning. We had an amazing month away despite the challenges of COVID which, initially, made us constantly have to revise our plans. We could have just given up after the first week when France and then Spain, region by region, closed their borders but a bit of luck and some random emails led us to the campsite in Saldes which proved to be an ideal place to spend a couple of weeks. We found a beautiful area of Spain to explore which was not on our original route and it added to our thought that northern Spain is such an under-rated region. We will certainly be back.
We did weigh up the situation with staying remote in Spain and Andorra vs coming home and saw no advantage to returning to the UK until our scheduled date. The only concession we made was to do a few big supermarket shops rather than multiple visits to village shops or markets which was nothing different to what we’d do at home. In fact, it felt safer in Spain as we saw few people not wearing masks even as they walked in the street and we were actually stopped for not using hand sanitiser as we entered a supermarket (we had used our own a couple of minutes earlier when taking a trolley).
Amazon has been hit hard today with things we found missing from the van which we will need when we move in to it next year to travel full time. Maps for planning the next trip were also in the basket as we start working on Plan B for 2021, just in case COVID continues to rumble on and postpone the big Canada and Pan American Highway trip.
Whatever happens in 2021, whether it’s driven by COVID or Brexit (that’s another story!), we will be travelling – there’s still so much of this world to see!
After spending a night at the campsite next to where we store the van, it was back down the A303 again for another re-arranged weekend and this time with two fellow motorhome owning couples and former colleagues of Bob. After a really hot spell the weather forecast was not so good and we set off in torrential rain but luckily it brightened up as we got further from home. The early start also paid off and although it was slow in places, we kept moving all the way.
Our destination was Damage Barton Campsite near Woolacombe. Not our usual type of campsite (seaside during school holidays) but a great location and somewhere our friends knew well. The site is close to the South West Coastal path so the days would be spent walking and the then the evenings reminiscing over a beer or two!
Damage BartonHaving all arrived around the same time it was off to Lee to stretch the legs, trying to avoid the rain but that wasn’t overly successful. It definitely got the legs going though, as did all the walks this weekend, as the coastal path is known for its ups and downs! At least with the motorhome we are able to come home to central heating and a hot shower. Got our first complaint that night from the miserable couple opposite who complained we were making too much noise – it was 10.30 on a Saturday night and all we were doing was talking!
Up the following day for a walk across the headland to Woolacombe Bay and a pasty on the beach for lunch! The sun had come out and it was a glorious day with the rain only resuming when we were just five minutes away from the van on our way back. Luckily only a shower this time so BBQs were out that night resulting in complaint number two! This time it was only 6.30 and our conversation was again the target of our neighbour’s grumbling despite all the children running around and other people being outside their vans. Some people just like to moan! What was funny though is when he came over to ask “which one of you is the ex-cop?”. We didn’t have the heart to tell them that only one out of the six of us wasn’t but as our number plate includes “999” you would have thought that he might have had some clue as to who one was!
The final day’s walking was out to the Bull Point Lighthouse and then to Morte Point along the rugged coastline. We had forgotten how spectacular the area is.
The weather returned to that forecasted that evening with the wind getting up and the rain coming back in again – just as June was queueing at the fish and chip van which visits the site every Monday. Timing wasn’t so good as everyone seemed to have gone for their dinners at the same time but on the upside, we knew that it was freshly cooked!
Despite out initial reservations it was a great campsite and although far larger than we’d usually go for, it was well spaced and overall, pretty quiet. It’s affiliated to both the CCC and MCC so has to keep to certain standards and to thrown in the COVID need for social distancing and cleanliness, it was doing a really good job!