A Garden for Campervan Trips & Tai Chi

When you are away for campervan trips that can last two or three months, having a garden is problematic. We like having our own space but it has to work for us. The two most important things are:

1. The garden can cope with neglect for long periods of time while we are away in the campervan.

2. The garden has a fairly level and large enough space for two people to practice tai chi.

However, much I might want to turn our garden into a green and colourful wild flower meadow full of insects and birds, I come back to these priorities. If only practicing tai chi in the road outside was an option! Unfortunately, I know this would not only get the neighbours talking, it would soon get us either run down or abused by passing motorists!

The compromise in terms of plants in our small sunken back garden [probably slightly bigger than we would like] is to grow hardy trees, shrubs and bushes that are drought tolerant. This is a win-win as even when we are at home we can minimise our water usage and the three water butts we have are usually sufficient to get us through any dry spell. These plants surround a sunny paved area that we use as our tai chi practice space.

We will never master tai chi but we have been practicing for many years now, with different teachers. On a good day we will practice both shibashi and some of the tai chi forms we are learning. On a lazy and wet day we will at least try and practice the shibashi or a short form.

Shibashi combines movements and breathing from tai chi in a set of 18 repeated exercises that flow into each other. Shibashi means 18 moves and doing them is calming, energising and excellent for someone who sits at a laptop writing for many hours!

The first tai chi form we learnt was the Sun Style 98 form and I feel connected to this form because it was my introduction to tai chi and it takes me back to the welcoming and friendly Salford class we found. The form has 98 different moves but only takes about seven minutes to complete. Sun style is one of the least popular tai chi styles but I like its fluid movements, the follow steps, the clearly defined transference of weight and the ‘pause’ between movements with opening and closing of hands. It feels beneficial to try and keep the moves of this form in my head and this sums up what I like about tai chi; it occupies both my physical body and my brain and remembering the moves of the form leaves no space in my head for trivia or anxieties.

We have also been learning a more popular tai chi style, Yang. A lock down project was to learn the moves in Yang 40. We haven’t quite finished it, so what we do at the moment is Yang 31! All tai chi forms are related and have similar moves but also have differences and it feels good to experience these variations.

When we have time we also practice some of the other tai chi forms we have learnt so that we don’t completely forget them. We can manage Yang 10, a short form that is compact and we can even push the furniture back in our living room and practice this one there if the weather is poor. We also mostly remember some of Dr Paul Lam’s forms from his Tai Chi for Health Institute that we learnt in Salford.

Some of the garden was already flagged when we moved in but it had obstacles that got in the way of our tai chi and disturbed the flow as we stepped over them! This summer we have moved the hurdles, re-laid some of the wonky flags and moved the gravel areas to the edges. We have re-used the flags and gravel that were already there so we could save money and not to add to the environmental cost of quarrying and production. We added the metal sun plaque on the wall to give me a glimpse of the sun, even on gloomy winter days.

A Campervan Trip to Donegal in the Republic of Ireland

Travelling to Donegal in Ireland this year was wonderful. It was abroad and we could pay for things in Euros and travel in kilometres but everyone spoke English and we drove on the same side of the road. We explored this north-western corner of Ireland and it turned out to be fascinating, beautiful and remote enough to put off lots of other visitors.

Inishowen is the peninsula in the north of County Donegal and the city of Donegal is to the south of the county. With so many inlets and peninsulas Donegal has a long coastline of over 1,100km. Donegal has so much to offer with over 100 beaches, many of them spectacular; Ireland’s largest fishing port; Malin Head, mainland Ireland’s most northerly point; Glenveagh National Park and the impressive Slieve League cliffs. I don’t know why we thought a week was long enough! This is the west coast and the weather varied from blue skies to cold torrential rain.

The area gave a warm welcome to all visitors, including campervans and here are some of my highlights:

Malin Head on a sunny day was heavenly. We walked to Hell’s Hole, stopping regularly to look at the colourful wild flowers by the path. We met two other tourists; he was clambering to the cliff edge to pose for a photograph. I stood next to his partner, holding my breath as I watched him edge nearer to a sheer drop.  While I was relieved when he was back on more secure ground, his partner took the danger in her stride!

Doagh Beach and Trawbrega Bay with views across to Five Finger Strand, rocks to clamber over and sand dunes is the perfect spot for a bit of idle beach combing.

Doagh Famine Village museum should not be missed. In a street of thatched cottages we listened to stories about the life of our guide’s family, who lived here from the 19th century to the 1980s. This museum is personal, unequaled and extraordinary and I have no words to do it justice. Visit and hear the people’s histories.

The aire in Buncrana on Lough Swilly is next to a garden dedicated to the writer of the hymn Amazing Grace, John Newton.  A sailor and slave trader, Newton’s ship found safe haven in Buncrana after a terrible storm and he gratefully stepped ashore a changed man, becoming a clergyman, an abolitionist and a writer of many hymns.  We walked in his footsteps through the lively town and around its bay and harbour.  

We parked in the large car park for Glenveagh National Park that is at the end of Lough Veagh. There are walks and shuttle buses but we decided to hire bikes for the easy cycle ride by the shores of Lough Veagh to Glenveagh Castle, a castellated mansion with colourful gardens. Even on a busy day, we had the track beyond the castle to the end of Lough Veagh to ourselves.

The rocky and barren landscape of The Rosses, peppered with lakes and rivers is a special landscape that is well worth exploring. Stay at Sleepy Hollows, spot the pyramid of Errigal looming across this undulating landscape, read the Irish place names and visit Leo’s Tavern, the home of Clannad and Enya.

The cliffs of Slieve League fall steeply into the Atlantic. We drove on the narrow roads to the last car park before the gated road and walked the short distance up the hill to the viewpoint across to the dramatic cliffs.

I found the industrial scale of the fishing industry and the rows of colourful fishing boats in Killybegs fascinating. Killybegs is a lively working town and has some great cafes and places to eat and an interesting local museum.

We spent a week touring Donegal in June but could have spent longer. We stayed on campsites, one aire and a privately owned camperstop.

Campsite NameComments
Buncrana Aire, Republic of IrelandThis is a small car park by a road & garden.  It is limited to 7 vans but 9 packed in on the Friday night we were there. Just 5 minutes walk into the town & a petrol station with a shop nearby.
Sleepy Hollows campsite, nr CrollyA lovely small site with some good sized hard-standing pitches.  The facilities are quite open to the elements and consist of 2 showers with hot water but low water pressure, 3 toilets & a kitchen.  In summer they light a campfire.  This is a peaceful spot, although there is a pub a short walk away and there is a riverside walk from the site.  There may be midges.
Killybegs Holiday ParkA terraced site in an old quarry with all gravel terraces and little greenery.  The views over the sea are unrivaled.  No facilities were open, we had EHU and water on the pitch.  It was quiet in June and we had a whole terrace to ourselves!  It is a short but hilly walk into Killybegs where there are cafes and pubs.  There is a small private cove below the campsite.
Spierstown Camper Parking near DonegalA small hard-standing site for a few vans.  We received a friendly welcome and the bathroom, toilet and kitchen are kept very clean and, as we were the only van, it felt like home.  There is a washing machine too.  There is traffic noise from the main road but this is a great stopover site for visiting Donegal.

Touring Northern Ireland in a Campervan: Top Tips

It was fantastic to visit Northern Ireland and, for us, a new part of the UK. We spent two weeks touring around the country, from the stunning Antrim coast to the Mourne Mountains. We explored Derry and Belfast and were enchanted by the Fermanagh Lakeland. Two weeks was good but it isn’t really long enough to see everything in Northern Ireland; there were parts we didn’t reach and places we didn’t spend enough time in.

We sailed to Northern Ireland with P&O from Cairnryan to Larne. At £351 return for our campervan for a trip that is around 41 miles one way this has to be the most expensive mile-for-mile ferry crossing we have ever taken [about £4.28 a mile]! It is surprising the ferries are not subsidised by the Northern Ireland Government to encourage tourists in the way the Scottish Government have used the Road Equivalent Tariff. Once I got thinking about this I had to compare the costs. Uig to Tarbert on Harris is about 30 miles and would cost around £46 one way [£1.53 per mile] making it is easy to see why motorhomers make the choices they do. Our favourite way to reach mainland Europe, Hull to Zeebrugge, is also with P&O [they only sail to Rotterdam now]. That sailing is overnight and includes a cabin. It usually costs us about £250 on way for the approximately 320 mile trip. You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out that this is less than a £1 a mile [actually 78p]!

My first top tip is bite the bullet and cough up for the ferry as Northern Ireland is well worth visiting but take a picnic for onboard! The journey to Northern Ireland only takes two hours and on the ship there are places to sit inside and outside, although the amount of outside seating varies depending on which ship you are on and our return ship had much more. We made the mistake of deciding to eat lunch onboard on our outward journey. You might think the high cost of the ferry would subsidise the cost of the food but apparently not. There was little choice for two vegetarians and the two cheese toasties we had were an expensive snack.

Top Tips for a Campervan Trip in Northern Ireland

Height Barriers – There are more car parks with height barriers and so inaccessible for a high-top campervan along the Antrim coast than I really like to see. The most annoying for us was the large National Trust car park for Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. We did eventually find parking in nearby Ballintoy and when I spoke to the National Trust parking wardens at Carrick-a-Rede they said there is a telephone number at the entrance for you to ring and they will come and open the height barrier.

Wild camping – When we asked the knowledgeable people of Facebook quite a number of them suggested we were best not to wild camp in Northern Ireland and so we booked campsites. The popularity of wild camping is why there are so many height barriers on car parks along the Antrim coast but there are parking spots where people do overnight such as the lovely seaside village of Cushendun. In some popular walking areas farms have car parks where you can overnight. We spotted one good example of this in the Mourne Mountains near Carrick Little, it was a gorgeous peaceful place with mountain and sea views.

Campsites – These varied from the excellent Ballyness campsite to Kilbroney Park that we couldn’t wait to leave [see below for more details]. We travelled in June and most of the campsites were full [with the exception of the one in Belfast] and booking ahead was worthwhile.

School holidays – You can’t really call 2021 normal so this may not happen in other years. Although we were travelling outside of school holidays in England and Northern Ireland, the holidays in Ireland can start in June and by the end of our trip the campsites were busy with Irish families.

Commemoration of the Revolution of 1688 – Although the Orange Order walks and parades often pass without incident, some advised us to avoid the period around 11 and 12 July when there are bonfires and marching bands in the streets.

Places to visit – some highlights

There is more to the Antrim coast than Giant’s Causeway, although that is spectacular. Take the time to walk along some cliffs, visit a castle and stroll along one of the many beaches. The harbour at Ballycastle is pretty and the short but steep walk to Kinbane Castle is stunning.

Derry / Londonderry’s 17th century city walls are just 1.5 km long but they are packed with history and interest. We took the scenic train journey from Castlerock, rather than drive into the city.

Portstewart is a perfect seaside resort. It has a prom for strolling, a walk around a craggy headland, an interesting sculpture alongside a tiny harbour and, most importantly of all, Morelli’s that sells delicious Italian ice-cream.

Crom Estate near to Enniskillen was another memorable outing. This estate and nature reserve, owned by the National Trust, has a ruined castle, a quaint boat house and summer house and idyllic walks along the shores of Upper Lough Erne.

Our love of hiking was inevitably going to take us to the Mourne Mountains, south of Belfast. These hills have a comprehensive network of footpaths that are well used and it is worth getting to a car park early if you have a specific walk in mind. The highest peak is Slieve Donard at 853m but there are valley and hilltop walks for most abilities. You can download a walkers guide here.

The Crown Liquor Saloon in Belfast was another highlight of our trip. The bar is a unique masterpiece in pub architecture that has to be seen to be appreciated. I’m sure, like us, you will be amazed by the mirrors, tiles and carvings. It is worth booking one of the private snugs for the full experience.

Here is the list of campsites we stayed at in Northern Ireland.

Campsite nameComments
Cushendun Holiday Park, Northern IrelandThe site only had ten touring pitches, all hard-standing and in a small area with the rest of the site made up of statics.  The site is by the village & sea. Showers are £1 each and the site is popular with families.
Ballyness Caravan Park, BushmillsA lovely tidy site with pitches off-set and in small areas. Reception was friendly & helpful and the facilities were good and clean with roomy showers that were warm. The site had a large indoor wash up area.  We had good phone signals for EE & Three Mobile.
91 Bishops Road CL, CastlerockA hillside & grassy CL with some hard-standing and a friendly & helpful owner (he offered us a lift to Castlerock) & water by each pitch.  No facilities but fantastic sea views over Downhill Demesne [see top pic].  EE and Three both had a good 4G signal.
Riverside Farm Marina & Caravan Park, Enniskillen, Northern IrelandA small site by the river run by a friendly owner the site has a few statics.  The pitches are not huge and are mostly hard-standing with grass available in dry weather.  The three showers are £1 for 4 minutes and are good and hot. There is one indoor sink for wash up in a kitchen that also has a microwave.
Dungannon Park, DungannonIn a park on the edge of Dungannon, good sized hedged pitches with grass & hard-standing.  Clean facilities, hot showers and only one wash up sink.
Kilbroney Caravan Park, RostrevorBusy & popular site on a hillside with many sloping pitches and we struggled to get the van level.  The facilities are kept clean and the showers are warm but no adjustment for the temperature and push buttons.  There was a nighttime security person. We both had a good phone signal.
Tollymore Forest Park, NewcastlePleasantly situated site with space between pitches that are hard-standing and surrounded by grass.  There were lots of families here in the good weather and with no reception staff, just occasionally drive-by wardens it can have a wayward air, depending on your neighbours.  The facilities are very dated & scruffy but the showers were excellent, hot, adjustable and continuous. The campsite is in a woodland country park with lovely riverside walks that you can follow into Newcastle.
Dundonald Caravan Park, BelfastThis site was eerily quiet, only our campervan, one caravan and one tent were on this small site which has secure gates and security staff.  There is traffic noise but you are surrounded by trees and this is a great spot for catching a bus into Belfast.  The facilities are clean and roomy with hot showers & there is a kitchen.  The bus stop into Belfast is 10 mins walk away and there is a cinema nearby.

Comfortable & Quick-Drying Women’s Underwear for a Campervanning Hiker

My search for good quality, comfortable and quick drying underwear for hiking and cycling when we are away in our campervan should have ended long ago. Over ten years ago when we set off on our twelve month tour of Europe in our ‘van I purchased six pairs of Lowe Alpine Dry Flo pants that did the job perfectly. They were comfortable to wear even in temperatures over 30C, they dried overnight when I hand washed them and they out-lasted the year we spent away and are still going strong. When we returned home these were the only underwear I wanted to wear and I got online to buy some more for everyday use. Imagine how devastated I was to find that Lowe Alpine had stopped making them. They reappeared a few years ago in the same perfect shape but different [and less sturdy] fabric and I stocked up on four more pairs but they have now once again disappeared from the shops. I should have stashed away a lifetime’s supply!

With my 13-year old Lowe Alpine underwear starting to show signs of age I once again began a search for good underwear. After hours online and at some expense, I purchased four different brands of underwear to try. I have tested these smalls in the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District fells and hand washed them and dried them overnight. Below are my reviews of these four pairs of knickers that I chose from the many available. Please note, I have not received any of this underwear as a gift from a retailer [I wish] and my reviews are honest but do relate to my shape [I am a women’s size 12] and the activities I enjoy when I wear them.

In our campervan we usually wash our underwear out each evening and maybe socks, unless we are only away for a couple of nights. On longer trips we will hand wash t-shirts too, only using a washing machine when we need to wash towels and sheets. If it is sunny this washing can hang outside but unfortunately we don’t always get fine weather and we end up with knickers dripping over the sink. This isn’t something you ever see on those Instagram images of campervan life but it is our real vanlife! Having quick drying undies is as important as comfort for me.

The underwear tested:

  • Runderwear Women’s Running Hot Pants
  • Ortovox Women’s Hot Pants
  • Athlecia Women’s Mucht Seamless Hot Pants
  • Microfibre Boxers Ladies High Waist Shorts

Lowe Alpine Dry Flo – the original and the best. These are still keeping me comfortable after thirteen years! I am gutted that Lowe Alpine have stopped making them.

Runderwear Women’s Running Hot Pants, around £18. These are designed for runners and have a boxer-style fit. I find the seamless design is comfortable to wear and chafe free on long hikes. In many ways these are closest to my much-loved Lowe Alpine underwear. I haven’t tried them in extremely hot weather yet but my guess is they will perform well. The waistband is elasticated and feels substantial and I thought this might affect their quick drying properties but after handwashing they dried overnight in our ‘van.

Ortovox Women’s Hot Pants with Merino wool, an extravagant £30+ worth of knicker. These are a good generous pair of pants, they feel soft and are like wearing what I imagine gossamer to feel like. I like to wear and buy natural fibres and the breathability of merino wool is refreshing to wear. They claim to be durable for years of use but only time will tell how robust they will be, they feel so delicate. I have had merino wool t-shirts that have lasted decades and others that haven’t done so well. They are a tad loose around the legs and I don’t think they would be great under lycra cycling shorts. They wash well and dry overnight too.

Athlecia Women’s Mucht Seamless Hot Pants. At £25 for a pack of two, these are good value. The lightweight synthetic fibre fabric feels cool to wear and they are seam-free but the cut isn’t generous. These would suit you if you want more discrete underwear that isn’t high waisted and might be better on someone with a flatter stomach. I find I am constantly having to readjust this underwear around the crotch, not an attractive look! They wash easily and dry quickly but are not comfortable enough for hiking.

Microfibre Boxers Ladies High Waist Shorts. For everyday use at home, when quick drying isn’t the most important thing, I find these are comfortable pants. They are seamless and at just £3.75 a pair extremely good value and last for years. They are fine for short walks. The big downside is that they don’t dry quickly enough for hand washing and drying in our campervan. I wear these when we are at home and would suit you if you use the laundry facilities when you are away or take all your washing home.

What are your experiences of good hiking underwear and quick drying smalls? Maybe there is a pair of amazing pants out there that I have missed. If so, do let me know in the comments below.

Lost & Found on Cockup: Going the Extra Mile to Take our Litter Home after Walking up Bakestall

We continue to find hats, scarves, single gloves, walking poles and reusable water bottles on our walks in the Lake District and beyond. Stuff that people have dropped or put down and forgotten to pick up, or kit that has fallen out of their rucksack. On a recent trip up Bakestall behind Skiddaw we found out ourselves how easy it is to leave gear behind on the fells.

We took the long way up Bakestall, not just because we enjoy walking all day [we do] but because parking the Blue Bus isn’t always easy. It is only 5.4m long and 2.2m wide so can fit in a normal parking space and along a narrow lane but that isn’t the only consideration. Sometimes we decide to choose easier to reach but less popular parking and have a longer walk rather than negotiate a narrow lane only to find all the parking spots are taken [in the Lake District this can happen by 09.00]!

Bakestall isn’t often walked on its own, unless you are bagging your Wainwrights and didn’t go up it while you were walking up one of the nearby fells. This is why we were heading up this little hill at just 673m high and tucked away behind Skiddaw. If you are walking up it, own a car and are prepared to get up early you would park in the small parking area on the narrow lane that runs underneath the fell. On a fine August day we rightly guessed that this would be busy and so parked our campervan in a large lay-by just south of the Ravenstone Hotel on the A591, not a parking area for any obvious hill and so much quieter.

From here we walked steeply up the wooded hillside and out onto the open fell, descending down to the bridge over Chapel Beck and the minor road from the A591, picking up the track up Dash Beck a short distance along this road. From
Whitewater Dash falls we climbed up Bakestall and stopped to chat to a friendly walking group who were continuing onto Skiddaw. We took a good grassy route downhill, onto the steep slopes of Cockup and followed a path that skirted above the intake wall to rejoin our outgoing route by the ridge from Ullock Pike.

This was mostly a good path with stretches through bracken and short tricky sections in and out of gullies. It was going smoothly until we had a small cock up on Cockup. On one section of footpath through bracken, I was in front and just avoided tripping up on a stone hidden by undergrowth. Before I could warn my walking partner he tripped up and flew headlong into the grass and bracken. Ready to grab the first aid kit, I was relieved to find that nothing was broken or even cut. Neither of us could believe we had got away without damaging anything after such a dramatic fall.

Back at the ‘van we realised we hadn’t quite got away with it. Our favourite and most-used water bottle must have flown out of the outside rucksack pocket as my partner lost his footing on the fellside. We were gutted and it seemed ironic that two people who are always picking up lost items should themselves mislay something that will become litter on the hills. It seemed too far to go back so we tried to accept the loss but all evening it kept niggling!

The next day we had a fairly easy hike up Mungrisdale Common. It was mid-afternoon when we returned to the ‘van and we both knew what we were going to do. We drove the Blue Bus along the narrow lane to the bottom of Bakestall, thinking there was more likelihood of a parking space at that time of day. We were lucky, there was one space free that was Blue Bus size. Walking back along the road, we picked up the exceptionally steep path to the intake wall and followed our route through the bracken and gullies, all the time scouring the ground for the offending stone. Luck continued to be on our side and even in thick bracken, we spotted the trip hazard / stone and lying among the undergrowth was our precious water bottle. It only took us about an hour and 500m of climbing to find it! Never say we don’t take our litter home with us!

Rice & Beans with Avocado Salsa

Although I love a chip barm as much as the next person, some of my favourite meals are ones that ooze fresh vegetables. These are meals that taste fantastic and help you feel that you are bursting with vitamins! This rice and beans with avocado salsa is one of those dishes. There are many ways to cook rice and beans and I enjoy most of them. Almost twenty years ago I worked with the Caribbean community in Preston and would often visit the weekly lunch club. The fantastic cooks were all horrified that I didn’t eat meat but I was more than happy with a plateful of rice and beans, some vegetables or salad and a couple of the wonderful fried dumplings they made. The avocado salsa makes this a distinctive dish to the one I was served up then. It is colourful and tasty and still takes me back to those noisy and sociable lunches.

Ingredients for the rice and beans for two

  • Small can of cooked beans [around 200 g] – you can use black eye beans, cannellini beans, chickpeas or whatever your favourite is
  • 2 large fresh tomatoes [or 6-8 small tomatoes], chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • Around 125 g of brown rice [in our campervan I would use a pouch of quick cook / pre-cooked brown rice]
  • Some cooked green beans [these could be left overs, tinned [handy in the campervan], frozen or cooked just for this]
  • Tabasco sauce [optional]

Ingredients for the avocado salsa

  • 1 avocado
  • Lemon or lime juice
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped or chopped spring onions
  • 1 chilli [according to your taste] deseeded and finely chopped
  • Fresh coriander, chopped
  • Sour cream or thick Greek yoghurt [optional]

You will need a large pan or wok, a chopping board and a sharp knife.

I tend to treat recipes as guidelines, rather than a hard and fast rule so don’t worry if there is something you don’t have in the cupboard or fridge. The dish works fine without fresh coriander for example and you could use another favourite vegetable instead of the green beans.

At home I would start by cooking the brown rice separately or use some leftover brown rice. Using leftover rice is safe so long as you follow these guidelines. At home I would also cook fresh green beans now.

In a wok or large pan, cook the onions until softened, add the tomatoes after five minutes and the crushed garlic and cook for a further five minutes or so.

In our campervan, as brown rice takes a while to cook, I would add one pouch of pre-cooked / quick cook brown rice to the pan after the garlic along with water and cook as the instructions suggest. If the green beans need cooking I would add these now too, making this a one-pot dish.

The rice and beans are now mostly an assembly job. Add the rice [if you haven’t already] the tinned beans and the green beans [if you haven’t already] to the onion and tomato mixture. Stir it well and season with pepper and salt to your taste. I usually stir in some Tabasco sauce at this point, remembering my Caribbean Lunch Club days. If you are not ready to eat this now, make sure you keep it warm.

While this is cooking, make the salsa. This is simple! Peel the avocado and chop it finely and add the finely chopped onion, chilli and fresh coriander. Stir everything together with the juice of 1/2 a lemon or one lime.

Serve the rice and beans with the salsa on the top and I like to add a dollop of thick Greek yoghurt. Enjoy!

Are England’s Campsites Full?

In this almost-normal summer of 2021, most people are staying in the UK, ‘staycation’ has come to mean going on holiday in your own country and the media is packed with stories about overflowing car parks at beauty spots and there being no room at the inn. So if you haven’t booked a pitch for August, can you still find anywhere to park your campervan in England?

We returned from our Scotland and Ireland trip in July with nothing planned for the months ahead. Reading the media reports about the burden on our tourism infrastructure, even with few tourists arriving from other countries, I became concerned. It also seemed as if everyone had taken up camping and pop-up sites were appearing to take the strain. Had we made a massive mistake by not booking anywhere for July and August months ago? In this mayhem what were the chances of finding a free pitch anywhere within 200 miles of home. I had nightmares about being confined to Morecambe again, not because of Lock Down Four this time but because of my own lack of organisation.

I should have remembered that you can’t believe everything you read or hear in the media!

What I find strange in this new Covid-19 world, where social distancing has become socially acceptable, is that the small campsites for five units that come under the umbrella of the Caravan and Motorhome Club, the mysteriously named Certificated Locations [CLs], are not full to bulging. I thought, being small and usually in the countryside, these sites would be many people’s first choice. Of course, they have their fans but during July we have stayed on a couple of these and both were booked just a few days before we set off and both had availability.

Even though the school holidays had arrived, we had three nights at a lovely CL, Pool Bank, near Otley in the hot weather [top photograph]. The site was full but that wasn’t surprising given the exceptional sunny weather.

Buoyed by this success and keen to have a few days of hill walking I rang a favourite CL in the Lake District, Upper Hawthwaite Farm [middle picture]. I tentatively asked if they had a couple of nights free over the next two weeks. We could be flexible and were willing to consider any dates. I had taken in all the media reports about the Lake District being over-crowded this summer and was surprised when I was told they had space on any night. We not only got a pitch last minute, when we arrived there were still two pitches free!

CLs do take a bit of an effort to book. You often need to ring to book, pay in cash when you arrive and many have no facilities. I welcome the website and app that is now offering online booking for a selection of CLs. This is the future and I hope that this will eventually include most of them and make booking easier. But for 2021, booking a CL can take a bit more time but they are certainly worth the effort.

There are rumours that there have been more no-shows at campsites this year and reports that some people have double booked campsites, deciding at the last minute which to go to. This seems a lot of effort to me, it’s time consuming enough deciding on one site, never mind two! Talking to one campsite owner for a September booking, they explained they weren’t taking deposits but asked that I ring and let them know if we were unable to come along. I replied, ‘Of course, I would always do that.’ She then explained that just that weekend [one of the hot ones] they had four units who were booked and had not turned up. They were upset as, due to the good weather, they could have filled those pitches many times over and had turned people away. Is this why we are seeing free pitches at campsites?

After my success with CLs, I then booked a couple of nights on The Larches, an adult-only campsite in the north Lakes. This isn’t the cheapest campsite but it is a well-run and friendly site that was ideally placed for a couple of hills we wanted to walk up. Amazingly they had space for us even though they are limiting numbers due to Covid-19. This year they are giving every unit a treat with their own private shower room in the facilities block.

I don’t know if adult-only sites are more or less popular in the school holidays. We only look for them at this time of year and I expected to struggle to find availability but have been pleasantly surprised. It seems only fair to me that we stay out of the way of families who can only take their holidays when the schools are out and not compete with them for pitches on sites that welcome children. This is a bit like the rule that states you shouldn’t go shopping in the supermarket during lunchtime when you are no longer working! Or is it just me that thinks it is only fair to give those workers who are dashing to the supermarket in their short lunch break a bit of space?

Our final night in the Lake District was a free overnight spot. Again, with so many people out and about in their campervans we wondered if we would find a space. As you can guess we had no problems.

After now booking another campsite for mid-August I am thinking that the claims that England’s campsites are full doesn’t seem to stack up in the north of England. I wonder if it is different at the seaside or in the south of England.

Scotland: Stunning Gardens to Visit

We have a tiny sunken garden at home and I am very much a reluctant gardener who will do what needs doing and little more. This doesn’t stop me enjoying visiting gardens much bigger than ours, partly to just enjoy the beauty of the flowers and the design and also for ideas for plants that might survive my semi-neglect. Scotland might not spring to mind when you think of gardens but it has plenty of inspirational ones that you can visit. Some gardens are attached to a big house or castle but being outdoor types we often stick to the garden and grounds, rather than go into the house.

This isn’t a comprehensive list but is a selection of some of my favourites. Discover Scottish Gardens will give you more ideas. The corresponding photograph to each garden is mentioned in the brackets after its name.

Logan Botanic Garden near Stranraer (top of page)

On the south-west tip of Scotland, Logan Botanic Garden is a paradise warmed by the gulf stream. On our visit we started in the walled garden that has tree ferns and palms, ponds and a rock garden. From here we wandered up to the terrace for a view over the gardens and then explored the woodland area. This is cool and shaded with trees from across the world. Finally we peeped into the conservatory for those plants that need more protection. These gardens have an excellent cafe too and plenty of parking.

Gordon Castle Walled Garden (top right)

This beautiful walled kitchen garden at Gordon Castle is a real gem. Near the River Spey and Fochabers, the garden has been restored to its former glory and is now both a productive and a glorious place to be. Flowers grow with the fruit and vegetables and the produce is used in their own beauty range and gins and is freshly picked and becomes an ingredient in dishes in their popular cafe. This is a fabulous place to include on a walk around the River Spey.

Attadale Gardens, Strathcarron (top left)

At Attadale on Scotland’s amazing west coast you get both fantastic gardens and a sculpture park rolled into one. We received a warm welcome when we arrived on a drizzly day, were handed an umbrella incase the rain got heavier, given a squirt of midge repellent as it was that sort of day and handed a map. The sculpture collection is dotted around the gardens and gave a structure to our walk. The sculptures vary and there is something for every taste and not every sculpture was one that we would have wanted to live with in our own plot! We explored the woodland areas with bluebells, the old rhododendrons and were particularly enchanted with the Japanese Garden. If you want refreshments there is usually a DIY cafe where you can help yourself and pop money in the honesty box.

Brodick Castle, Arran (middle right)

Brodick Castle is hard to miss on the island of Arran. If you travel on the ferry into Brodick you will spot the baronial castle on the hillside. The castle has both formal gardens and woodland trails. The formal gardens have the handsome castle as a backdrop and views to the sea. For me it was the woods that were the highlight, not because of the trees, although these are amazing. We made straight for the hide and sat quietly watching the chaffinches on the feeders, waiting for a red squirrel. Our patience was rewarded when two appeared, scampering quickly out of the trees and onto the squirrel feeder.  The feeder is a clever design with a glass jar resting on its side and filled with nuts so that we could watch the squirrels picking a nut and nibbling it before scampering away.  A few minutes later a third squirrel scurried over the logs and leapt up to the feeder only to find that a chaffinch had pottered along to eat the nuts. I’m not sure who was more surprised.  The chaffinch flew up and its wings struck the sides of the jar and the squirrel leapt backwards!

Ascog Hall Garden & Fernery, Bute (bottom left)

The blue poppies are what I remember about this garden on the Isle of Bute. We were there in early May, just the right time to see these stunning flowers at their best. Ascog Hall Gardens is a small and charming garden with enchanting qualities. It is divided into different areas and is dotted with some fun sculptures and water features. The sunken Victorian fernery is a green, warm and moist place with a fern they think is 1,000 years old. The gardens have not been able to open during Covid-19 in 2021 so check before you make a special journey. The parking area is small and we parked our campervan on Balmory Road that runs beside the garden.

Achamore Gardens, Gigha (bottom middle)

Delightful gardens to visit in spring, it was the woodland walks with rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias that I particularly enjoyed at Achamore on the Isle of Gigha. Just wandering with no destination in mind along the winding paths, stopping to admire the flowers is a perfect way to spend an hour or so. The gardens were created in the 1940s and have many unusual varieties that flourish in the warm micro-climate here. The walled garden is a perfect sheltered area when the sea breeze is blowing. We had taken the ferry over to Gigha from Kintyre and cycled to Achamore but it is only about 1.5 miles to walk.

Crathes Castle, Banchory (bottom right)

The castle isn’t the only star of the show at Crathes and it was too lovely an autumnal day to be inside the building and so, as usual, we explored the gardens and grounds. The views of the pink turreted castle from the lawns are worth seeing. I have a weakness for walled gardens and the one at Crathes is wonderful, divided into section with pools and fountains and themed planted areas. We were too late in the year for the glorious herbaceous borders but there was still plenty to enjoy. Crathes has a network of waymarked trails and we stretched our legs on the 6.5 km red trail around the estate. This took us through woodland that was packed with autumn colours. The estate has red squirrels but the only one we saw was a wooden carved one!

Scotland: 5 Overnight Spots & 5 CAMC, 3 C&CC &amp & 3 Independent Campsites

Okay, this isn’t my snappiest blog post title:) I just hope it does what it says on the tin. If you’re looking for some short and honest reviews of some of Scotland’s campsites and ideas for places to pull in for the night. We planned our three week tour around Scotland with some blind optimism early in the year, not knowing if we would even be able to travel beyond Lancashire and as far as Scotland at the time. This is mostly why we used five Caravan and Motorhome Club [CAMC] sites [online booking, no deposit and able to amend bookings, thank you].

In comparison the Camping & Caravanning Club [C&CC] require either full payment or deposit so we didn’t book Moffat and Glenmore C&CC sites quite so early. We booked these in advance when travel looked more certain, aware that we might be risking our deposit. We didn’t book Glencoe C&CC site until the day before we arrived and while we were on the road.

Apart from the location and the view, CAMC sites are generally of a similar standard. The C&CC sites do vary more. We are members of both clubs and do like to use their sites, but I do also like the unpredictable nature and therefore excitement of arriving at an independent site, not knowing what to expect. And a good overnight spot in a small car park or lay-by that we have to ourselves can be the most relaxing night of all.

Of the non-club sites we stayed on during this trip, Spey Bay Golf Club is worth a mention. A golf club and a campsite isn’t something I had come across before but it worked extremely well. The clean toilets and showers were shared with the golfers who were mostly out on the greens playing golf so they were always quiet. Quite a few pitches were taken up with seasonal caravans so it could be that the site gets busier at the weekends and school holidays. A laundry and wash up area was all that was missing in terms of facilities. A few keen golfers arrived quite early in the morning so be warned you might not get the lie in you wanted if you are near to the car park and in the summer a few play late into the evening. If there was an event being held in the club house you might have a disturbed evening too.

Spey Bay is on the mouth of the River Spey and has sea views and a stunning and dynamic shingle beach that is perfect for a bit of beach combing. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society Dolphin Centre is here too, they have a gift shop, organise tours of the large historic ice houses left over from the salmon fishing station and run a fantastic cafe with delicious cakes. Otherwise, there are no shops, pubs or restaurants and it is a peaceful spot.

We chose the campsite as we have a friend who lives in Fochabers, a charming small town which is an easy four plus miles walk through woodland along the Speyside Way. The beautifully restored Gordon Castle Walled Garden in Fochabers is certainly worth a visit if you are in the area for the fascinating flower, vegetable and fruit gardens and has a good cafe. If you don’t have friends to visit then there are plenty of other activities. Walk about five miles to the east along the coast and you get to the small fishing town of Buckie. You can pick up a bus to Fochabers from here and make a round trip of it. The National Cycle Route One crosses the viaduct near Spey Bay over the River Spey to Garmouth and you could follow this to Elgin and visit the ruined cathedral.

One small note with these comments – I like very hot showers! My partner usually finds the showers hot enough.

Campsite nameComments
Moffat Caravan & Camping Club (C&CC) siteA large & level site, 5 minutes walk from the lovely Moffat town centre & my favourite Cafe Ariete.  Friendly staff, clean modern facilities, showers push button & just about hot enough for me, wash up outdoors with a roof.  We both had a phone signal.  Good value at under £20/night. There are options for walks around Moffat and at the weekends we could buy wood-fired pizza from a stall at the gate.
Maragowan CAMC, KillinA linear site along the river with open views to the hills and a short walk from the centre of Killin.  There is some road noise but if you can get one of the riverside pitches you’ll love it.  We spent hours watching the wildlife on the river from our pitch. The facilities are old but functional & the showers are hot. In spring the signposted walk by Loch Tay and the River Dochart to the falls is idyllic and there is good mountain walking nearby.
Victoria Bridge near Bridge of OrchyThis is a small car park with a slope that is popular with vans and tents for overnighting but still peaceful.
Glencoe C&CC siteA large site with a mix of open views & trees, hard standing pitches are a good size & level.  The water from the taps in the laundry & wash up is scalding hot but only warm in the showers. We only spent one night here but there are walking and cycling options if you are here longer.
Morvich CAMC site, Glen ShielWe received a particularly friendly welcome at this pleasant site surrounded by mountains.  We were very surprised to get a phone signal for EE and 3 in such a remote spot.  Good hot showers, peaceful and great mountain and forest walking directly from the site.
Blackwater Falls car park near GarveFairly level car park with toilets.  After heavy rain we couldn’t hear the main road above the roar of the waterfall.  There is a 2 mile riverside walk, a phone signal and most likely other vans.
Broomfield Holiday Park, UllapoolThis large site has unbeatable loch views and is in the heart of Ullapool.  The facilities are not brilliant but were closed due to Covid-19 on this visit.  We managed to get a front pitch but needed 2 electric cables joined together for the hook up. We drove out for hill walking but in the evening walked to The Ceilidh Place for a wonderful and delicious meal.
Sands Caravan & Camping Site, GairlochA large rambling and popular site by a lovely beach and among the sand dunes with only a few marked pitches. EHU pitches are scattered about although some of the best pitches don’t have hook up. The facilities are clean & good with hot showers.  No 3 or EE signal.
Kinlochewe CAMC siteFantastic mountain views from many of the pitches which are all level and hard standing.  We had an EE signal but nothing from 3 and the wi-fi is still only available from around the wash up / laundry area – it would be good if the CAMC could upgrade this sometime soon.  Great walking directly from the site and the village has a shop and hotel.
A832 layby on Loch a’ChuillinnThere are a few lay-bys on this road that are screened from the traffic. The one we used was level and had a loch view. Two other vans joined us when we were there and we had a 3 and EE signal.
Spey Bay Golf Club campsiteA small level site by the club house and car park.  Clean facilities with good hot showers, no wash up or laundry.  Both 3 and EE had a signal.  Good walking along the coast and the River Spey.
Dalchum Bridge car park, Glen Road, NewtonmoreA fairly level car park with open views down the glen that is popular with vans and tents. An overnight here meant we could be sure of a parking place to walk up the hill the next morning.
Glenmore C&CC (Camping in the Forest), AviemoreA busy and large site with two facilities blocks.  There are grass and hard standing pitches of varying sizes and pitches come with and without EHU.  The showers are hot & push button. You can walk around the lake or in Rothiemurchus Forest and up mountains. There are buses towards Aviemore.
Strathclyde Country Park CAMC site, GlasgowThis is a well kept and tidy site with colourful trees and bushes.  Its only drawback is being so close to the M74 and a dual carriageway and so the traffic noise is constant.  We did take a walk in the country park but that is also noisy. It did make a comfortable and good stopover.
New England Bay CAMC site, Port LoganRight by the beach and with sea views, this is a grassy site that is strung out with bushes and trees dividing different areas.  There are two facilities blocks of the usual standard.  An EE signal here but nothing from 3 (again).  Good coastal walking from the site and the Logan Botanic Gardens are well worth a visit.
Kirroughtree Forest Park Visitor Centre, Newton Stewart, ScotlandA slightly sloping large car park surrounded by trees but with some views to the hills.  The payment of £6 can only be made in cash when the visitor centre is closed. There are forest trails to stretch your legs on or cycle along and no shortage of midges when we visited.

A Collection of Caravan & Motorhome Club Campsites in Central England (plus a few others)

As soon as campsites opened again we were off, touring around central England, getting as far south as Cambridge, as far east as the banks of the River Humber and mooching around the edges of Greater Manchester and the Peak District hills. I had booked some of these pitches back in January when we didn’t know the date we would be able to travel again and the Caravan and Motorhome Club (CAMC) offers the easiest and most flexible booking system, with no deposit and the ability to amend bookings online. From the 12 April until mid-May toilet blocks were open but not the showers on CAMC sites. Here is where we stayed, what we thought of each site and some ideas for activities.

Campsite nameComments
Burrs Country Park CAMC site, BuryWe like the open aspect of this site and it has both rural walks from the country park and is a 30 minute walk into Bury giving access to Greater Manchester’s tram network. Bury’s market is legendary in the north-west of England and worth visiting. We cycled along the canal from Bury to Radcliffe and were amazed how quickly we left the urban sprawl and found quiet corners. From Radcliffe we picked up the old railway line to Clifton which was effortless and enjoyable cycling.
Crowden Camping & Caravanning Club siteThis grassy site with some sloping pitches is just off the busy Woodhead Pass road and so there is some road noise.  Neither EE or 3 offered a phone or data signal here.  No facilities were open. We walked on the Pennine Way to Black Hill across open moorland and were amazed to meet a young couple walking the long distance route with a tent and a baby! We hope they made it.
Castleton CAMC siteNot far from the lovely town of Castleton, the site has some trees and some road noise.  Both EE and 3 had a data signal. The hill walking is hard to beat from here with the Mam Tor ridge and dramatic Cave Dale and we visited [for the first time] Peveril Castle on this trip.
Buxton CAMC siteThis site is in a quarry and a pleasant 30 minute walk into the handsome town of Buxton through woodland.  We received a friendly welcome and were delighted with the delicious bread and cakes in the shop.  No EE signal but 4G 3 signal. We put together circular walks from the campsite to Goyt Valley and Three Shires Head and used buses for a linear walk through some Derbyshire Dales from Taddington. With a map there is no end to your options here.
Clumber Park CAMC siteA large site with 2 facility blocks, some grass pitches as well as hard standing, surrounded by trees & shady, popular with families, no heating in the showers and toilets in April & no data signal for either of our phones. Clumber Park has a vast network of footpaths and cycle paths that link you to Cresswell Crags and as far as Sherwood Forest.
Carsington Water CAMC siteA wooded site with mostly hard-standing pitches, that are in general fairly level.  A popular site and £5 a night cheaper than some CAMC sites.  Very poor 3 and EE signals. Cycling or walking on the well-made paths around the reservoir is easy and pleasant.
The Paddock, Edith Weston, Rutland WaterSmall adult-only campsite on a level grassy field with no facilities.  Views over Rutland Water and a tidy and quiet site with a helpful and friendly owner. I wrote a review of this site on this blog post.
Cambridge Cherry Hinton CAMC siteA small CAMC site with pitches separated into small areas by trees.  The site had a bit of a neglected air when we were there, unusual for a CAMC site.  There are regular buses into Cambridge which is packed with sights to see.
Roxton CL, Barrow upon HumberGrassy level area, enclosed by hedges & trees to the side of the owner’s house that is kept tidy.  No facilities.  Near the River Humber & good walks along the river and by nature reserves.  We received a warm welcome and £13/night is a fair price. There are more details on this blog post.