Me & my campervan: Back on the Road Again

Camping Indigo Vallouise
Camping in the Ecrins National Park in France

I thought I was one of those people that plans for the unexpected, always thinking about the worst that could happen but even I never imagined there would be a life I would have to live where we couldn’t take our campervan away on a camping holiday.  I had thought ill health might stop us travelling, or money, or a breakdown or maybe a ferry strike would keep us in the UK but not being able to stay overnight anywhere for over three months!  That scenario was never on my radar until March 2020.

We were at home, where else, when the confirmation that campsites could open on 4 July 2020 was announced.  Like all these political proclamations, everyone had expected it for days but to get the news was a relief … you would think.  After the initial elation, I found that new anxieties floated to the surface.  My head fretted that something would go wrong.  Covid 19 certainly hasn’t gone away and is here for a long time if not forever.  This means that any number of things could happen that could lead to a loss of freedom once again if we aren’t managing it sensibly.  Covid 19 cases could increase again and even if there is no evidence that camping is the culprit, someone could decide it has to stop.  I worried that this could even happen before 4 July arrived.  I wanted to get out camping that night, not have to wait eleven long days!

Many people are still wary about going away from home and I understand this but I almost feel that if we don’t go straight away we may stay at home and never travel again.  Travelling is an important part of me and I dislike being confined to home, but even I have felt my expectations falling and my horizons lowering over the months at home and I am aware that there is a hint of apprehension about getting on the road again.

This week I have been checking the cupboards in the ‘van, filling them with what we need and anticipating being away camping again with a combination of joy and a bit of a tear in my eye.  On the eve of the 4th July, I feel a mixture of trembling excitement and sick anxiety and it feels important to work through this.  I need to crack on and get out into the big world again.

All being well, we will be camping, along with plenty of other people, on July 4th and I expect we will get back into the swing of it and after a week or so feel like we have never been away.  I don’t think I will ever take the freedom to travel for granted again.  We are starting slowly, camping not far from home and mostly on sites with no facilities.

I know we are lucky to have some amazing places nearby, to be alive and healthy, to have each other and to own a campervan.  I will be so happy to be back out in our Blue Bus and once again smiling to myself when I wake up as I remember I am in our campervan.  I can’t wait to have days when I have no idea what will happen and where we will end up.  Tomorrow I will be back on the road again!

Thirlmere, the Lake District: Walking in a quieter side of the National Park

2020 June Thirlmere
Thirlmere

During coronavirus [what I am referring to as DC] and once we were able to travel to places other than the supermarket, we have sought out some of the quieter areas of the Lake District, as these are easily accessible from our home for the day.  Until it was taken away from me I hadn’t realised just how important being able to get away camping and hiking was to my wellbeing.  While working friends still had a pattern to their week that wasn’t dissimilar to that BC [Before coronavirus], without the commute, I lost the month we planned in Scotland and the two months travelling around Hungary and Germany, walking around Morecambe, while enjoyable, couldn’t replace these activities.  When we were allowed out for the day I was out like a wild animal from a cage.

The hills to the west of Thirlmere, a reservoir between Grasmere and Keswick, are notorious for being boggy and are not everyone’s first choice of mountain.  The dry DC spring, open car parks and our search for social distance made these perfect places to walk.  We never had the hills completely to ourselves but it was easy to keep our distance from the one or two people we met.

2020 May Ullscarf Thirlmere (2)
Harrop Tarn is straight out an Alpine postcard

Harrop Tarn, Castle Crag and Ullscarf

The short walk up to Harrop Tarn from the Dob Gill car park on the narrow road along the west side of Thirlmere is worth doing for its own sake.  This picturesque tarn, surrounded by crags and pine trees, has an Alpine feel about it that will make you want to sit and enjoy.  Of course, we were here so that my partner could tick off some Wainwright fells so after a brief stop we carried on uphill.  On the way to Castle Crag we had stunning views along the length of Thirlmere and we then wandered between small lumps of land trying to work out which was the highest and therefore the summit of Castle Crag.  At least the dry spring meant that we could easily cross the ground which is often sodden.  Ullscarf is also only a pimple of a hill but it is a great viewpoint on a clear day; we could see most of the central fells in a panorama before us.  We returned by the lovely Harrop Tarn again and down a steep woodland path to the car park.

2020 May Ullscarf Thirlmere (12)
These are generally boggy hills

Armboth Fell, High Tove and Raven Crag

The road along the west side of Thirlmere is narrow and although quiet you will meet other cars.  We decided not to drive to the Armboth car park in our campervan and instead parked below Raven Crag at the northern end of Thirlmere and walked along the road.  From Armboth car park we took a rough path through the woods and by the stream, picking up a track.  Hidden among the trees near the track is Armboth Hall’s charming summerhouse, now a bothy.  The construction of the dam at Thirlmere to provide water to Manchester meant the flooding of two villages, Wythburn and Armboth and Armboth Hall is now under water.

Once on the open fell it was an easy walk up to the rocky outcrop of Armboth Fell, skirting around the wetter areas that had reappeared after recent rain.  At High Tove we once again had 360 degree views of surrounding fells.  You could decide two are sufficient summits for the day and head back down to the car park but we opted to carry on to Raven Crag and headed for the treeline.  We skirted around the area marked on the OS map as The Pewits, notorious as a boggy section of the Lake District fells and followed the ups and downs of the conifer plantation until we picked up a path into the trees to Raven Crag.  Confusingly there is also another Castle Crag here.  The path up to the viewpoint on Raven Crag is in good condition with steps and work is being carried out on the steep path down to Thirlmere.

You might have been avoiding these hills to the west of Thirlmere as they certainly don’t look exciting on the map but these central hills have panoramic views and give the few walkers who head there a special sense of isolation.

If I have learnt anything in DC it is that just being out hiking in the fells can never be taken for granted in the future and that every hill has something to offer and appreciate.

Kinlochewe: Our last camping trip before lock down

20.03.2020 Kinlochewe and Lochs Clair and Coulin (23)
Beautiful Loch Clair

Will life become divided into BC [Before coronavirus} and AC [After coronavirus]?  And I think I need a category DC (During coronavirus] as this pandemic is likely to be with us for a year or two.  Looking back on camping trips we made before lock down they have a happy-go-lucky almost dreamlike quality that I don’t see returning for some time.  We took stopping at a cafe, visiting a museum and, of course, camping, not exactly for granted but certainly something we had the freedom to do when we wanted.  All this changed in the UK on 23 March 2020 and although things have begun to re-open, as I spend DC standing on a 2 metre line to queue and video calling friends I can’t say the experience is like it was in BC.

Our last BC camping trip was to Torridon in Scotland.  We set off in March expecting to be touring this wonderful country for a month and hiking through some of its glorious countryside.  Even though our trip was cut short by the virus, we had a wonderful few days before we had to return all the way home.

We have stayed in Torridon, on the west coast of Scotland, before but the last time we were there together on a walking holiday the UK was at war with Argentina over the Falklands Islands.  We were looking forward to a much delayed revisit.

Walks from Kinlochewe

You couldn’t ask for better weather the day we followed the tracks and paths around Loch Clair and Loch Coulin.  With blue sky and snow still lying on the mountains, the views over the lochs to the distinctive peaks of Liathach and Beinn Eighe took my breath away.  The walk is mostly flat and easy to follow for 9 km / 5.5 miles.  More details on the Walk Highlands website.

From the Kinlochewe campsite we walked to Loch Maree and along Gleann Bianasdail.  This is the approach to Slioch, the craggy high mountain by the loch, but on a cloudy day we stayed low, walking about 16 km / 10 miles.  The walk along the river to the loch is a pleasant and easy 10 km return and takes you by the old cemetery and through beautiful gnarled trees covered in lichen.  The footbridge over the roaring waterfall might be where some would turn back but we continued up Gleann Bianasdail.  Keep a look out for the wild goats that scamper up the steep hillsides here and are delightful to see, we also spotted some red deer.  The views back to Loch Maree as you climb higher are worth the longer walk and the river gorge has some vibrant green Scots pine trees huddled along its banks.

Walking there and back the same way when the views are so varied and awe-inspiring is no hardship and I have no hesitation in recommending the 13 km / 8 mile return trip to Loch Grobaig, a tiny loch in the trough between the mountains of Liathach and Beinn Eighe.  Starting at the small car park above Torridon House, the path follows the river, through woodland that soon opens out to moorland and a stony and occasionally boggy path.  Beinn Alligin looms to your left, the snowy slopes of Beinn Eighe pop up ahead and to your right are the steep slopes and crenellated ridge of Liathach.  Following the river, a dipper bobbed along the rushing water between the rocks.  As we gained height we looked back for the views of Upper Loch Torridon.  We had Loch Grobaig to ourselves and as we ate our lunch I felt embraced by isolation and magnificence.

In the evening sunshine we stopped to recreate photographs we had taken all those years ago at the viewpoint above Upper Loch Torridon.  Our trip was cut short but the memories remain.  As I type we can’t return to Scotland yet but we hope it will be sooner than 30+ years [maybe even DC] when we are back there again.

22.03.2020 Over Loch Torridon and campsite (2)
The view across Upper Loch Torridon

We stayed at two campsites

Ardtower Caravan Park is a top-notch independent campsite with views over the Moray Firth from the higher hard-standing pitches.  We have stayed a couple of times and the owners are always friendly and welcoming.

Kinlochewe Caravan and Motorhome Club Site is a beautifully positioned site at the foot of Beinn Eighe and in the small village.  At night the skies are dark and during the daytime the views and local walking are amazing.

The ups and downs of inheriting a garden

17.06.2016 Hotton (5)

When we moved to Morecambe last November we inherited a garden, having been without one for many years.  Although it is lovely to have some outdoor space, unfortunately, the garden that came with our house isn’t a perfect mature garden that requires little input from us.  In November, the garden was mostly sleeping and what we seemed to have was lots of empty beds waiting to be filled, a rough selection of uneven paving slabs and pitted and cracked concrete paths and a few over-grown shrubs fighting each other for space alongside self-seeded buddleia bushes and brambles.  We tried to remember what it was like in the summer when we had viewed the house but the detail escaped us, we would have to wait and see.

The garden had missed the tender loving care of an owner.  Before our occupation our bungalow has been tenanted for eight years by different families.  Tenants often know their time in a property might be short and don’t always invest in the garden and in the case of our bungalow neither they nor the landlords were gardeners and they both neglected the outdoor space.

We played a waiting game over the winter, just getting out on fine days and keeping the garden tidy but avoiding disturbing anything that might be interesting as every plant is precious.  Some of the over-grown bushes benefited from being pruned in those dormant months.  As we worked in the garden we began to spot signs that this was once a loved garden; someone had carefully chosen these shrubs and designed the flower beds and digging we would sometimes find an old label for plants that had once been purchased and planted here.

As spring began to appear we started gently dividing some of the tangled shrubs and we noticed green shoots appearing.  Working in the front garden, neighbours would stop and introduce themselves and many of them would tell us stories about the garden.  ‘I helped the couple who lived here until eight years ago, we planted over a thousand bulbs in this garden,’ the chap who lives a couple of door away told us one sunny afternoon as we tidied up the beds.  That explained the profusion of spring flowering bulbs that had begun to emerge as the days lengthened, we enjoyed bluebells and tulips for months.  I like the earthy link with a couple we will never know and it is fantastic that their love of gardening still peeps through.  As the year progressed we looked forward to seeing what else would pop up [the middle picture shows some of the plants we have inherited].

Working in the garden reminded me that every house I have ever lived in has had a garden that needed considerable amounts of work and care.  Is the country full of neglected gardens or have I been unlucky?

Over the last three months the garden hasn’t just revealed spring and summer bulbs.  We have a honeysuckle that has climbed over the roof of the garage, apparently the only gardening the previous tenants did was to try and keep this honeysuckle in check.  In the front garden a rose bush I pruned in the winter has been producing glorious yellow sweet-smelling blooms since April, working down-wind of this rose bush is pure joy.  Those previous gardeners clearly loved roses and we have three or four bushes in the front garden.  I imagine the elderly couple planning the garden and picking their favourites for scent and colour.

Along with the valued plants, a healthy crop of horsetails have pushed their soft feathery fir-tree like shoots up in every inch of the back garden.  We knew we were buying a horsetail-crowded garden, this was the one thing we could remember from our viewings!  We thought we had the energy to tackle them but they are robust and vigorous plants and as I pull them out and dig them up I both admire their strength and hate them.  Getting them under control may take the rest of our lives!

We are following a long line of retirees to Morecambe and there is plenty of evidence that the previous owners had some mobility problems, with handrails and additional steps.  As we were moving the additional flagstone that someone had added to the steps into our sunken back garden, to give our feet more room, our next-door neighbour leaned over the fence and reminisced about helping the guy put that in place.  Apparently, he was already very elderly when he decided that he needed some extra help on these steps and he was spotted struggling from his car with this long flagstone.

On the garage wall are two colourful metal butterflies which our neighbour said once decorated the front of the house.  Someone adorned the back wall with three squirrel figures that are forever climbing upwards.  Clearing some of the brambles I found a stone tortoise and a stone hedgehog, remnants of when the garden was a different place.  Garden ornaments are not generally our thing but these fragments feel part of the space and they have stayed.

We have a rear wall that has clearly grown almost organically, the brickwork a mixture of styles and brick-laying competence.  In front of this are a couple of sprawling privet bushes.  ‘Ray would trim that privet to symmetrical perfection,’ we were told.  I don’t go in for much symmetry in the garden and after years of neglect the privet bushes needed more hacking then trimming.  I would emerge from among them, twigs and spiders stuck in my hair!

‘This garden has had more attention during this lock down than it has over the last eight years,’ our immediate neighbour remarked the other day.  My laugh is despondency-tinged when he says this.  He knows that we didn’t plan to spend this spring working on the garden and that we had months of campervan trips planned.  But there is no doubt I have been glad to have something physical and tiring to do when we couldn’t go far and I haven’t had the mind-set to write or edit photographs.  I don’t turn to gardening willingly but having our own outdoors has helped me get through lock down.

The most useful thing the previous gardeners left us was a system of water butts.  This survived the tenants and landlord and were just ignored behind the garage.  With such a dry spring we have been so glad to be able to capture what water there is.

We have planted a tree, a couple of bushes of our own, some herbs and patched up the paths but we are trying to avoid letting the garden suck up all our money and disrupt the finances.  I have a forlorn dream that all the work we have done this spring will mean we can just potter doing a bit of light pruning in future years.  We’ll see!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grado, northern Italy: A great choice for easy cycling

Grado (1)
Wildlife-rich wetlands of Friuli-Venezia Giulia near Grado

At the moment, with coronavirus restrictions, I can only dream about campervan trips.  When we are able to travel again, Italy will be on my list of places to revisit as I always enjoy finding some of that stunning country’s lesser known sights.  Tucked away in the north-east of Italy, near the Slovenian border, is the Friuli-Venezia Giulia area, a lovely part of Italy that we only found thanks to our lack of planning.

Our campervan trips to mainland Europe are only ever sketched in, with little detailed planning.  We were therefore excited to have the opportunity to explore somewhere new as we drove over the Slovenian border into Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia.  Invaluable in this exploration was a guidebook we had picked up in Slovenia by chance that showed the wealth of natural protected areas in this corner of Italy; it seemed like our sort of place and we decided to stay for a while.  From the guide I learnt that Friuli-Venezia Giulia has it’s own Fruilian language and is packed with landscape variety, from wildlife-rich flat coastal wetlands on the Adriatic to the splendour of the foothills of the mountainous Dolomites and also has plenty of history.

We chose Belvedere Pineta Camping Village as it gave us good access to the excellent network of dedicated bicycle paths around Grado.  This is a large and rambling site that was quiet in late May.  Set among the trees, insects can be a problem but this does mean that there is plenty of bird life.  We would eat breakfast entertained by jays, a nuthatch, magpies and blackbirds and in the evenings scops owls made their sonar-like calls overhead and fire flies lit up the bushes.  One morning we watched a hare lolloping around the empty pitches at the furthest edges of the site.

Before reaching the campsite we used the guide to find the Doberdo Lakes Nature Reserve where lakes have formed in depressions [poljes] of the limestone / karst.  We had some trouble reaching the lake as the road was closed due to road works; however the diversion took us to a parking spot on the northern edge from where we walked through the woodland to the jungle-like reedy edges of the lake.  The best views over the pretty lakes were from a high crag that we hiked up to and where there is climbing and a climbers hut at Castelliere Gradina.  We also stumbled upon World War One defensive tunnels cut into the rocks.

Cycling north from the campsite there is an excellent traffic-free cycle lane alongside the main road for the 6.5 km to Aquileia.  We returned this way but got to the ancient Roman city of Aquileia on a longer route following quiet winding lanes [11.5 km] after turning left from the campsite entrance.  This took us through large flat fields of crops and vines and alongside drainage ditches and canals.  We stopped often to take in the agricultural scenery and see the ducks and geese on the water.  Aquileia is popular with visitors and has information boards to describe the sights.  We walked along the Roman harbour remains where the now silted-up river made it difficult to make much sense of what you could see.  For a small fee you can visit Aquileia Cathedral which has some stunning early mosaics.

Grado (4)
Boats in the harbour of the smart resort of Grado

Cycling to Grado through this low-lying landscape is an easy 7.5 km from our campsite on dedicated paths and it is popular with all abilities and ages.  The short distance look us a while only because we stopped so often to admire the views across the lagoon and see the wildlife; we were particularly excited to spot a pair of African sacred ibis.  The town of Grado is on an island in the Adriatic and we were cycling over a five-kilometre long bridge that crosses the dramatic and panoramic waterscape of the lagoon.  Grado is a classy resort with a harbour full of boats and a well-kept promenade dotted with sculptures.  We wandered through the town’s attractive historical centre and found its cluster of ancient churches that use re-cycled Roman columns and have sixth century mosaics.  The Basilica di Santa Eufemia has a pulpit resting on old Roman columns and is covered by a brightly coloured Venetian canopy.  The octagonal baptistery is 5th century, as is the Santa Marie delle Grazie that again has re-used Roman columns and capitals in its interior.

You could cycle to the Valle Cavanata Regional Nature Reserve from Belevedere Pineta Camping Village [it is just over 30 km round trip] as there are dedicated cycle routes all the way.  Alternatively you could stay at one of the many campsites to the east of Grado and be nearer.  We opted to drive to the Valle Cavanata visitor centre on the Grado lagoon so that we could cycle around the nature reserve.  At the visitor centre we were given a free map showing cycle routes that allowed us to explore the area at our own pace.  This reserve is a paradise for casual bird watching and near to the centre we stopped to watch the flamingos and egrets.  Cycling out towards the Adriatic coast on sandy tracks we met flocks of bee eaters.  At the coast we cycled along the top of the dyke with views across the sea until we reached Caneo.  Here small fishing boats were moored in tree-lined creeks and we watched two coypu swimming along the Isonzo / Soča river at the estuary.  We returned a different way along the minor roads by canals and drainage ditches and by fields of cereals and fruit trees.  The area is well organised for cycling and popular with German and Dutch visitors.  On the way back to the campsite we stopped at one of the many roadside stalls to buy fresh strawberries, asparagus and red onions that are grown here.

It was only from a recommendation by a couple we got chatting to on the campsite that we heard of the small town of Palmanova, about 25 km north of our campsite.  We drove to the town that sits inside a 16th century Venetian nine-point star-shaped fort and was only completed in the Napoleonic era.  We found parking for the Blue Bus outside the walls and entered the town through the Udine Gate, one of three gateways, after taking a look at the aqueduct system.  A short walk along the main street and we were soon in the huge central square, the Piazza Grande, the scale of which feels out of proportion for the town.  Reconstructions of military and water management equipment from the past sit in the square and six roads radiate from this large piazza, each grandly flanked by two statues.  Palmanova was built as an experimental utopian community as well as a defensive fortress city against the Ottomans; however, for some reason this charming town had little appeal and in the 17th century people were paid to encourage them to live there.

We moved on to Riserva Naturale Regionale Del Lago di Cornino.  This small lago provided a perfect short halt, with parking above the lake that is an almost unbelievable vivid clear turquoise and sits prettily among trees and high crags.  After lunch looking over the view we sauntered around the circular lake footpath.  Peering through the trees over the water, we fortunately spotted an adder hanging ominously from a branch over the water before we alarmed it.  Overhead numerous griffon vultures, reintroduced to the area, circled slowly.  No doubt if we’d been a victim of the adder they would have made a tasty meal of us!

Grado 6
Lago di Cornino is brilliant turquoise

While no one can travel it can be enjoyable to be reminded of past holidays: A postcard de-cluttering lock down project

Postcards (2)
Our postcards

If you have some extra time at home during lock down, you might have used some of this time to spring clean or de-clutter.  Being able to combine some small steps to having less stuff with sharing something with friends is a win-win.  I certainly have plenty of friends I am missing meeting up with during the pandemic and some of them are struggling with their own isolation or have helped me get through my anxiety in some way.  Clearing out and distributing old postcards to some old friends turned out to be a really positive lock down project.

Despite being an enthusiastic de-clutterer, having down-sized to a small flat, sold everything to go travelling and recently moved house, a cardboard box full of postcards, all sent by friends from their holidays over 40-plus years still remained as clutter / treasure in our small home.  There is something about letters and even postcards, perhaps because they are handwritten communication, that makes them special and I had looked at the box every time we moved, thought about discarding its contents and on each occasion gave the collection another chance.

These days we don’t receive many postcards, there are just a couple of friends who hang on to this tradition that I remember as quite a holiday chore back in the day.  I would sit in a cafe or at the campsite with a pile of colourful postcards in front of me, trying to think of something new, interesting and appropriate to say about our current destination to our address list.  These days a WhatsApp message, text or blog post reaches everyone more reliably but through the 1980s until well into the 21st century we received plenty of postcards from the UK and more exotic locations as friends found their wings and travelled.

We would display our friends postcards for a month or so on the mantelpiece and then pack them away in a box that originally held a couple of bottles of Christmas-gift wine.  I rarely looked at them over the years but when I did there was plenty of joy, the years rolled back and I was hearing again memories of friend’s holiday stories they had shared with us.  Many of the postcards reflect the varied characters of our friends; some are informative, giving us a detailed itinerary and telling us about the must-do sights in their chosen destination; others are funny and even surreal, bearing little relationship to their actual trip.  A few poetic friends sent us pithy and yet evocative word portraits of their destination.  Some postcards were written neatly and others arrived on our doormat covered in uneven rows of spidery handwriting that took hours to decipher.

Early in lock down I took the box out of its resting place in the highest cupboard in our low bungalow and began the process of sorting them into piles, one for each of the different senders.  I was somewhat surprised how many postcards some friends had sent us over the years; from just one very good and old friend I counted 52 postcards!  These were sent from across the world, from Australia and Japan to Iceland and North America.

A Zoom conversation with another friend put the idea into my head of sending these postcards back to their original sender.  What better thing to do while none of us can take a holiday or travel than to remind friends of trips they took in the past.  I hoped that by sharing these saved postcards I could rekindle some happy memories as well as make space in our limited storage cupboards.

After reading them one last time, the pile of each friend’s postcards were carefully packaged, along with a new postcard from ourselves explaining why we were returning them.  I didn’t want anyone to receive their parcel and think we had decided to enigmatically end our friendship with a dramatic return of our correspondence!  Or worse, they might assume that we had died and this was a tidying up of affairs.

Up to now, our friends have been thrilled to receive their package of holiday memories.  Many were amazed, thinking they knew us so well, that these postcards had survived our many moves and clear outs.

I have just one small pile of nine postcards left that I need to send to one more friend.  One reminds me of his family trip to Ireland and I notice another isn’t even addressed, so I think he handed it over in person when he returned!  This latter postcard is a photograph of some typical caves in southern Spain, which he thought would be great to live in and save on window cleaning bills!  Another is a night scene of Porto in Portugal and I can hear his voice when I read, ‘I have a full glass of port in front of me now and it’s very nice.’

Have we kept any?  Of course!  In the box were a few postcards that we sent to each other before we were married and a couple of precious ones from our son and daughter-in-law.  These hold a few special personal memories, but are not enough to merit using the box, this has been repurposed …

All in all, through the darkness of lock down, this project has been a small particle of joy.

Postcards 1
Sorting out the postcards

 

Walking & cycling around Morecambe

2019 Dec Morecambe book shop and bay (5)
The view across the bay from Morecambe Promenade

Under lock down we have stayed at home, getting out most days to walk or cycle the paths, streets and tracks we can reach from our humble Morecambe abode.  One of the positive things about this dreadful period of isolation has been the chance to explore what is available from our doorstep and we have found diverse and beautiful areas in this marvellous corner of Lancashire.

If you aren’t lucky enough to live in Morecambe, I hope these walking and cycling ideas will whet your appetite to visit Morecambe when you can.

Morecambe’s Magnificent Promenade

I have to start with Morecambe’s Promenade.  The views across Morecambe Bay from the prom are panoramic, with the mountains of the Lake District a tantalising backdrop to the expanse of the tidal sands; it is said it takes the water from 40 Niagara Falls to fill the bay on a spring tide and looking out to the Irish Sea that is easy to believe.  Morecambe’s promenade is a mixed-use 8 km (5 mile) flat cycle or walking route with a good surface.  This is an accessible place to take your daily exercise and with the wildlife, tides and weather there is always something new to see.  From Heysham in the south curving around to Hest Bank in the north-east you are separated from the traffic on the elevated promenade and, depending on the tides, you can also step onto the sandy and pebbly shore for a truly sea-level view.  We pretty much always see oystercatchers and hear their familiar piercing calls as they wing along the shore, we might see a curlew or a redshank and black headed or herring gulls.  It is usually clear enough to pick out the familiar bumps of the Langdale Fells in the Lake District.  In different times we will stop for hot chocolate in a cafe or [for a treat] in the magnificent restored 1930s Midland Hotel.  Ice-cream at Bruccianis, another charming remnant of Morecambe’s Art Deco past, is one more pleasure we are missing at the moment, although we have been delighted to see that some of the ice-cream stalls have re-opened.

2019 Nov Morecambe Bay (2)
Morecambe Promenade

Seeking out Statues

Looking to add variety to our daily walk and give us a theme to explore, I took us on a tour of some of Morecambe Bay’s statues.  Starting at the Midland Hotel and The Stone Jetty you are surrounded by some of the TERN project stone sculptures of elegant coastal birds.  Not much further along the Promenade toward Hest Bank, don’t miss the cheery statue to local lad Eric Morecambe.  Born John Eric Bartholomew in 1926, he formed a comedy double-act with Ernie Wise and his statue is an outstanding addition to Morecambe’s attractions, it has even recently been adorned with a face mask!  Almost everyone has their picture taken in the iconic pose and sings, ‘Bring Me Sunshine!’

Continuing towards Hest Bank, leave the promenade at the side of Morecambe Town Hall and slip through a gateway to find a hidden fading cemetery opened in 1874 and attached to the parish church.  You are in what was the old fishing village of Poulton-le-Sands and among the tree-lined graves are two personality-packed fisher-folk sculptures carved from elm trees by Tim Burgess.

Return to the coast and maybe linger and watch the fishing boats before continuing towards Happy Mount Park.  At the end of the Promenade sits the colourful and dramatic Venus and Cupid statue, created by a local artist Shane Johnstone in 2005 in memory of his partner.  The two multi-coloured mosaic figures for me exquisitely symbolise love, loss and human connections and offers some sense of comfort during a pandemic.

Taking the road to Jo ‘n’ Lees cafe, looking out for oystercatchers that often sit on the rocks near here, walkers can follow the curve of the pebbly coast to Hest Bank.  One of the seven metal sculptures of a wader by Ulverston-based artist Chris Bramall is on the grassy area above the beach here, celebrating Morecambe Bay’s importance for wintering birds.  You have walked about 4.5 km by now [just under three miles] and you have to walk back but if you’ve got the time and energy it is worth carrying on along the shore or over the fields to Red Bank Farm to see the poignant and brilliant white Praying Shell sculpture that looks over the sands and is a memorial to the 23 cockle pickers [this is the reported number but it is hard to be sure] who died in 2004 after being left to the tides by abusive gang masters.  I will always stop here, remember and pay my respects.

 

Cruising beside the Lancaster Canal

The Lancaster Canal runs 66 km [41 miles] from Preston to Kendal and is a haven for tranquillity and wildlife.  We can reach it easily from Folly Lane that runs beside the new road into Morecambe, The Bay Gateway.  The canal was built to transport coal from Lancashire and limestone from Cumbria, the Glasson branch giving the opportunity of cargo transfers from the barges to seagoing vessels.  We begin on a section of the canal between Lancaster and Hest Bank that flows peacefully through lush fields, with views back to Torrisholme Barrow on the edge of Morecambe; we often have these first few miles to ourselves.

2020 March Canal cycle ride (1)
The Lancaster Canal at Carnforth

As you reach the outskirts of Hest Bank, gardens spill down to the canal side and views open out across Morecambe Bay to the Lake District fells.  On the banks of the canal look out for wild flowers and there are always mallards, coots and swans on the water.  In the spring sunshine we usually spot a string of tiny fluffy ducklings following mum.

You can return the same way but we like to make this a circular walk and the options are varied to suit the time we have.  Follow The Crescent and Station Road in Hest Bank and you are soon on the path along the shore [see statues walk above] that will take you back to Morecambe [a 12 km / 8 miles round trip from the centre of Morecambe].  We like to carry on to Bolton-le-Sands to enjoy the views and calmness of the canal for as long as possible and head down to the coast via Mill Lane.  This route gives us a chance to come by the memorial statue to the cockle pickers [see statues walk] and stroll along the lovely pebbly bay near there and adds about 5.5 km / 3.5 miles, making something like a 17.5 km / 11.5 mile walk.

April 2020 Canal and Coast walk (5)
Looking towards Red Bank from near Hest Bank

Historic Heysham

The coast draws us on our walks and reaching it we can choose to turn either right or left.  Up to now the walks have turned to the right, but turning left at the Midland Hotel it is about 5 km / 3 miles mostly along the Promenade to Half Moon Bay at Heysham.  This takes you to a different side of Morecambe, away from the bustle of the 20th century resort.  Reaching the end of the Promenade at Heysham you will see St Peter’s Church above the bay.  Follow the winding village lanes to explore its lovely graveyard and enjoy the views.  Take the time to go inside the church and you will find a carved Norse hog-back stone which would originally have been a grave cover.  Adjacent to the church is Glebe Gardens, a charming community garden that is a colourful place to linger.

Eventually you will want to climb the steps onto Heysham Barrows and Heysham Head.  Here are perched the ruins of St Patrick’s Chapel and the rock cut graves dating back to the 8th century.  We like to follow the coast around the hidden sandy cove lined with fragrant yellow gorse bushes and enjoy the views to Arnside Knott before continuing on to Half Moon Bay.  Heysham Port, where freight and Isle of Man ferries sail in and out, is now in sight and provides an active scene with the two bulky nuclear powers stations as a backdrop.  Construction on Heysham 1 began in 1970 and it came into operation in 1983, followed by Heysham 2.  At Half Moon Bay you will find Anna Gillespie’s SHIP, a sculpture that features two men sitting on the bow and stern of a ship looking in opposite directions.  The views along the coast are so good that returning the same way is no hardship.

Marvellous Morecambe

The seaside resort of Morecambe grew in the late 1800s from a collection of villages.  A harbour and a railway, linking the coast with Yorkshire, arrived by 1850 and the town expanded to absorb Poulton-le-Sands, Bare and Torrisholme.  The name of Morecambe was officially adopted by the town from 1889, after the bay it overlooks.  Despite many 1960s housing estates, there are a surprising number of snickets, alleys or ginnels around Morecambe and I enjoy exploring these and the streets of our home town and finding glimpses of the past.

Opposite the handsome 1930s Midland Hotel, built to look like an elegant ocean liner, is The Platform, today an unusual music and theatre venue, this was built in 1907 as a railway station for Morecambe Promenade.  Look to your left and you will spot the splendour of Morecambe Winter Gardens, a grand Victorian landmark building in red brick that is currently being renovated.

Follow the entertaining bird-themed walkway alongside The Festival Market, a cornucopia of stalls in pre-lock-down days that I hope will return, and set off along Victoria Street.  Keep your eyes peeled above and behind you for murals of fishing boats, motorcycles and celebrities.

Take a left back to the sea front and turn right, passing buildings constructed to entertain and house the abundance of visitors that came to Morecambe in its heyday; you will certainly see signs of cinemas and boarding houses.  The 1905 Clock Tower is another landmark and further on the Pier Hotel and the Old Pier Bookshop, a warren of a shop stuffed with second-hand books, both give you a clue as to what once stretched out to sea here.  Morecambe’s Pier, like many, suffered from fires and was demolished in 1992.

Take Clarence Street by the bookshop and admire the tall, bay-windowed buildings and look for old fishing cottages, you might decide to check out an alleyway.  Make sure you turn back near The Bull to see the large fisherman mural on the gable of one of the houses.  Left onto Poulton Road takes you by Queen Victoria Hospital and at the Police Station turn left into Church Street to wander around the Parish Church and through the old cemetery, noting the pretty cobble-stone wall.

Double-back briefly and take the narrow inviting lane opposite the school, crossing Thornton Road onto a snicket called Stuart Avenue that runs between playing fields.  Turn right onto Grasmere Road and you will eventually wind your way through tidy  bungalows to Bare Lane Railway Station.  Although now part of Morecambe, Bare still retains a village feel and on early 20th century maps is clearly shown as a separate village.  Even on our 1940s map, Bare is a one-road settlement clearly distinct from the resort.

Cross the railway line, turn left into Fairhope Avenue and right onto Low Lane.  You are now well away from the old fishing villages and are walking through a tidy housing estate of mainly bungalows that attract retirees.  In this flat landscape you will notice a rise to your left with trees.  Turn left down Fulwood Drive and look for the narrow path on your right that will take you onto the hill that is topped with Torrisholme Barrow, a round barrow from 2400-1500 BC.  Alternatively, continue along Low Lane and take the snicket into the trees and make your way behind the houses and uphill on informal paths to the barrow.  There is a triangulation pillar on the hill but only scant evidence of a barrow.  What Torrisholme Barrow has is views that surely make this a perfect spot for burials.  Some say this hill was an old moot or meeting hill and at Easter you will often find a cross placed here.  On a clear day, as well as seeing your route through Morecambe, you will gaze across the bay to the Lake District and Barrow-in-Furness.  Turn around and over the row of hawthorn hedging you will spot the line of the Lancaster Canal and beyond that the bulk of the Bowland Fells.  The elaborate and domed Ashton Memorial perched above Lancaster is another local landmark.

Torrisholme is one more village that is now incorporated into Morecambe.  The triangular green of Torrisholme Square remains and is surrounded by smart stone houses, some dating back to the 17th century.  Head down Torrisholme Barrow to your left and climb over the stile in the corner of the field onto Slyne Road, turning right.  Left onto Russell Drive will take you to the main road to Lancaster, turn right and cross the road to take the snicket enigmatically called The Way that cuts behind the houses.  Over the main road you will find a road [McDonalds to your right] which leads to a path following parallel with the Bay Gateway for walkers and cyclists.  This reaches the old railway line that is now a multi-use route.  Turn right towards Morecambe and you are soon back at The Midland Hotel.

This interesting circuit is about 10 km / 6 miles with options to make it shorter if you wish.

Perfect cycling along the River Lune to Caton

You can walk this route but 30 km [almost 20 miles] could be a long day and it is much easier on a bicycle.  The lovely traffic-free path is also perfect for cycling.  The popular old railway line runs from near Morecambe Railway Station to the historic city of Lancaster (5.4 km / 3.4 miles).  In spring you cycle under green birch trees, alongside drainage ditches and eventually reach the banks of the River Lune.  Look ahead and you will spot Lancaster Castle on the hilltop and the splendour of the 18th century waterfront below.  On the way you pass the cycle route to the fishing village at Sunderland Point (6.8 km / 4.2 miles) where you can stop and watch the wading birds on the tidal marshes.

In Lancaster the old railway line is well signed, continuing along the River Lune for a further 10 km (6.2 miles), although at the moment work on the canal aqueduct means that cyclists and walkers have to follow Caton Road for a short distance.  Cycling by the river you get occasional glimpses of the water through the trees.  Crossing a road, you might want to detour a short distance to look at Halton Bridge, a narrow bridge built from the remains of Lancaster’s old wrought iron Greyhound Bridge in 1913.  At only 6 feet wide, many a vehicle has lost some paint on the bridge’s bollards!

The best views of the River Lune are where the track crosses the river twice at the horse-shoe bend of the Crook O’Lune and pretty much everyone stops to take in the scenery at this much-loved local beauty spot.  You can find a grassy spot to picnic here, looking across the picturesque river to distant hills or follow a short circuit of the river bank.

April 2020 River Lune and Caton Moor walk (1)
The River Lune near the Crook O’Lune

We prefer to carry on to Caton and maybe cycle up the steep hill to Caton Moor to sit below the wind turbines and take in the wide views over Lancashire.  Alternatively we might leave the bikes in Caton and add a 13 km / 8 mile walk to our cycle ride.  Climbing up the quiet lane to Caton Moor, we will take the lovely track back down the hillside through the gorse bushes and bluebells and along the woodland edge to Claughton.  The Claughton Aerial Ropeway crosses high over the track.  Built in 1924, the ropeway carries shale from the quarry high on the moor down to the brick works.  Cross straight over the A683 in Claugton and leave the track for a footpath that takes you to a particularly picturesque stretch of the River Lune.  I could sit here watching the sand martins wheeling over the river for hours.  The grassy paths take you back to the cycle route and  Caton.

 

The River Lune to Glasson Dock

From Morecambe take the railway line / cycle track once again to Lancaster [see above].  In Lancaster a tarmac and later gravel track along the quayside and river takes cyclists and walkers to the hamlet of Conder Green and on to Glasson Dock (9.3 km / 8 miles one-way).  This is a quiet and peaceful route with occasional views across the river that is nevertheless popular with walkers and cyclists.  Today the pleasant village of Glasson has a marina packed with colourful boats, connected to a still busy harbour by a lock.  The harbour at Glasson originally opened in 1787 as Lancaster became un-navigable for ships and goods came through Glasson and were distributed via the Lancaster Canal.  If you’re lucky the village shop will be open and have some local Wallings ice-cream in stock.

Trying to co-operate with the inevitable as my travel plans shatter

16.06.2016 Herbeumont and Cugnon cycle ride (5)
A Belgian sign

 

I am sure most of us had plans for the spring that involved something more exciting than staying at home; everyone’s plans for celebrations, days out, weekends away and long holidays have all turned to dust.  So much upbeat anticipation of exciting places to visit and people to meet has vanished in a storm of viral infection.  As soon as lock down came into force the internet brimmed with advice on how to stay positive during a pandemic and I am working on staying in the present and co-operating with the inevitable, a wonderful saying that a loyal reader gifted me.  My mostly outward calm hides my inner turmoil where I feel trapped and the waves of anxiety that this will never end wash over me, as sure as the sea fills Morecambe Bay twice a day.

‘Set a routine,’ is the mantra of many self-help gurus.  My partner is good at this but I have never been one for regularity.  I like to think of myself as spontaneous and living in the moment, although you might see me as hopelessly restless.  If it is a sunny day I want to make the most of it, on the off-chance that it is my last, and I am the one who is always ready to drop any other plans and go camping or walking.

In an effort to endure this lock down stoically and with fortitude, I have tried to add some structure to my day to see if the gurus are right.  The daily strength exercises and tai chi are helpful, our morning coffee and daily outdoor exercise are all positive and there is some sense of adventure in going to the supermarket to see what they do and don’t have on the shelves.  I find I can fit these things into my day randomly, mixing them up to give me some sense of impulsiveness.  Our daily exercise from home can be hiking to the sea or the countryside, sometimes we take an evening walk along the sands to see the sunset over the bay, other days we take a morning cycle ride along the river Lune or the canal, taking best advantage of the tide or the weather.  We have a variety of supermarkets nearby and we can choose which one to patronise.  And still the days merge and seem almost the same and the happiest days for me are when we ditch the routine and do something different!

Like many in the campervan community we had plans for 2020.  Each trip we make it our campervan requires some planning and days of research for the travel articles I expect to write after each trip.  In January this year I, foolishly it now turns out, had the first six months pretty much mapped out and it was going to be a busy time.  I had at least eight trips and corresponding travel articles planned and I was working hard, doing the preparatory research as the virus began to lurk.

Never having the patience to wait for spring or summer, we go away in our campervan all year and I have never been more glad that we were away camping in January, February and early March on different trips.  From early-March we were planning to be in Scotland for a full month; this was a trip we were both happily anticipating.  As it turned out we were in Scotland for a shorter time before we had to return home.  I am pleased we got there at all but still can’t bear to even glance at, never mind edit, the photographs from that trip; they remind me too much of what I am missing.

Last week I had to ring the ferry company to cancel our ferry to Europe in early May.  A small and fairly simple action that was distressing because it put me face-to-face with the reality that we wouldn’t be travelling around mainland Europe this spring, never mind summer and probably autumn.  My brain had been protecting me by compartmentalising; one half optimistic and ill-advised, thinking this was all a bad dream, while the pessimistic section is over-actively creating apocalyptic scenarios!  This simple administrative call shattered my fragile equilibrium.

The pile of guidebooks, phrase books and maps I had purchased and sorted for our springtime European trip sat on the living room floor taunting me for four weeks.  I would look over at them hearing my pessimistic brain area banging on about how much money I had wasted and that they needed putting away but in the background my optimistic brain put its hands over its ears and sang, ‘Don’t worry about a thing
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.’  It wasn’t until lock down was extended that I caved in and packed them all onto the book shelves where they still mock me quietly when I dare to glance across.

There are more bookings to cancel / postpone but small steps and one day at a time is what the internet recommends!

Planning
My pile of guide books, maps & phrase books

 

 

 

 

 

The Culture of Vanlife book review

A book just about campervans!  You can imagine just how much that appealed to me.  I was lucky enough to be chosen as a winner of The Rolling Home book, ‘The Culture of Vanlife’ in a Twitter competition.  If you’re thinking of buying this for yourself or think that it might make a great present for the campervan lover in your life, here’s my review.

Firstly I wanted a bit of background about The Rolling Home.  In 2016 they published a photographic book and today they are producing regular journals which are a platform for campervan owners from around the world to share their passion for living in a van through a collection of stories, illustrations, interviews and technical advice.  The Rolling Home story involves Calum Creasey, Lauren Smith and a 1996 VW Transporter.  They have been travelling on and off since 2010, creating their dream van on a low budget with an eye for style and finding their own community.  You can read more about them on their website.

The Culture of Vanlife is a delightful book to flick through.  It is packed with beautiful drawings and photographs that make you want to start travelling.  With an eye for an evocative image, you could just gaze at the photographs and cartoons in this hefty book and be happy.

But how do the words stack up?  Once you start reading you find a collection of essays and chapters by different writers that aim to explore the culture of vanlife through the ideas and people that make it.  On the first page they sum up their way of thinking about living in a campervan, seeing them as, ‘Catalysts for happiness.’

There is plenty of variety here.  The first chapter discusses the perils of social media against the urge to be nomadic and appreciate the present.  I was interested in Mattias Wieles’ chapter about vanlife and minimalism.  Mattias and his girlfriend travelled for a year in a yellow van packed with everything they owned.

‘We sold everything, threw out all financial burdens, cut all redundancies out of our lives.  All our possessions fitted in our little van now; ties had been cut, jobs left behind, subscriptions to magazines and the gym cancelled.  We said goodbye and felt free as never before.’

Mattias writes that a shift in how they viewed their trip happened when they left Europe and adapted to having limited opportunities to buy food and fill up with water and they found a simpler life.  He sums up perfectly how living in a campervan eliminates anything unnecessary from your life until there is no hiding from who you really are.  With no fancy job, the latest smart phone or new clothes to shield you, vulnerability can materialise.  Mattias writes honestly about how the road changes you and that in this simpler world there is just the earth and the people you love.

There is, of course, a chapter on the vans, although no mention of the vehicles I have owned, a VW T4 and T5 or a Renault Master … enough said!  Let’s move onto interior design, where readers can see there is no right way to do it and everyone has a different idea of a perfect campervan.  If you are a self-builder you will enjoy the case studies.  There is something for everyone here, a 4×4 Merc, a VW T25, a small Japanese van, some technical info, a van with a wood burning stove and one with a roof-top bed.

Chapter Three is about vanlife people and readers are invited to meet the ‘van dwellers.’  ‘The Adrenaline Junky’ fills her camper with kit for activities.  ‘The Digital Nomad’ is a working recluse who is always online.  ‘The Hipsters’ live in a Mercedes Sprinter and have a herb garden on the dash.  ‘The Eco Warrior’ has a recycled Transit van and ‘The New-Age Hippies’ have a converted horsebox which they share with their rescue dogs.  ‘The Golden Oldies’ have a coach built ‘van and travel around Europe spending the children’s inheritance.  These are just for fun; I don’t recognise myself in any of these vanlife profiles and there is still no mention of a Renault Master!

The real strength of The Culture of Vanlife is in the personal stories it tells.  Matt and Steph talk honestly about full-time vanlife as a young couple who spend six months a year on the road

‘For us, van living created a very intimate and close relationship.  Disagreements are dealt with immediately and we usually end up laughing about it an hour later!  As a result we have become excellent at communicating and knowing how the other feels, sometimes even without speaking.’

The thoughts on solo van travel might touch you; the van owners who make music and busk on their travels might inspire you; or reading about the family in a converted bus might encourage you to reconsider your life’s trajectory.

‘In Norse mythology, Valhalla is the great hall that warriors go to after falling in battle … there is a lesser-known land, Vanhalla.  Some say it is a fictional place, where camper vans and their inhabitants go to when they no longer travel.’

I hope I won’t be ending up in Vanhalla soon but this fantastic idea introduces a list of favourite places to travel, from Europe to South America, India and Canada.  There are stories from New Zealand and rugged British Columbia.  You will find plenty here to inspire your own trip.

This is a book that asks questions and tries to get beyond the hashtag campervan lifestyle on social media.  The book reflects on the tension between the simplicity of vanlife that so many people seek and digital connections that allow remote campervan fans to reach out to others.  The authors find both real communities and those in cyberspace and consider their value.

Yes, this is a book that will look beautiful on your coffee table and any campervan owner could buy it to browse and learn from.  If you are looking for a gift, I would suggest you buy it for that reflective and discerning friend who is yearning for a campervan.  If they sit down and read some of these stories they will either buy a ‘van and set off on their own journey the next day or realise the lifestyle isn’t for them.  Either way they will thank you for the present.

If you want to know more about The Rolling Home you can sign up for their newsletter here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An abundance of days out from Devizes Camping & Caravanning Club Site in Wiltshire

Wiltshire 3
Delightful topiary in Bradford-on-Avon

We didn’t know in February that in less than a month the country would be locked down but with the hindsight we now have I am so pleased we got away for a ten-day campervan holiday while coronavirus made its way across the world to the UK.  We toured around Wiltshire for most of that time and for five nights stopped at the Camping and Carvanning Club site at Devizes.  Our average stay on a campsite is less than two nights, so five nights is a chunk of time for us to settle anywhere but in February open campsites were not easy to find and the Devizes site turned out to be a great base with lots of options.

On the way to Devizes we drove up to the high car park near The White Horse of Westbury.  It was a windy day and our walk to see the horse carved out of the chalk, although now covered in concrete, and around Bratton Camp blew away the cobwebs after a long drive.  On the northern edge of Salisbury Plain, the views from the 17th century Westbury White Horse stretch for miles.

We walked, took the bus and also drove from the campsite.  Here are the places we visited.

Taking the bus from the campsite

Leaving the Blue Bus at the campsite, we used the local buses to visit a couple of attractions.

Opposite The Three Magpies pub, at the entrance to the campsite you can pick up a bus to Devizes.  Alternatively, a short walk over the canal bridge and along the quiet lane takes you to Seend.  Here you can catch the number 49 bus to Trowbridge in one direction and to Avebury and even Swindon in the other.

Bradford-on-Avon – Taking the 49 to Trowbridge, we picked up a train to Bradford-on-Avon on a day of bright sunshine and showers.  Visiting this pretty town sitting on a steep hillside by the River Avon was perhaps the highlight of our time in Wiltshire.  With stone buildings that are warm and elegant and charming cobbled streets, Bradford-on-Avon has plenty of old weaver’s cottages from its time as a cloth-making town.  Overlooking the Town Bridge, which has an old lock-up perched on it with a weather vane known as the Bradford gudgeon, we found Il Ponte Italian restaurant, a great choice for coffee and lunch.

Wiltshire
The long flight of Caen Hill Locks

Away from the town centre we explored the enchanting and strangely proportioned Saxon Church of St Laurence with narrow arched doorways and windows and crossed the river to reach the 14th century Title Barn.  With sunlight filtering through the slit windows of this monumental building I gazed up at the impressive timber roof, the stories from the past echoing among the beams.

We climbed steep lanes and steps to the highest buildings in the town that have views across the Avon valley to Salisbury Plain and The White Horse.  At the end of one lane, perched on the hillside we found the splendidly situated medieval chapel of St Mary Tory.  Tory here means hill [tor] and we looked over the town from what was once a pilgrimage site between Glastonbury and Malmesbury.  The chapel was restored in the 19th century and more recently the east window was replaced with modern colourful stained glass.

Avebury – Using the bus in the opposite direction we spent a day walking seven miles around the many Neolithic sites of Avebury.  After walking around the huge circular bank and ditch with impressive standing stones, we walked to West Kennet Long Barrow, passing the mystery that is Silbury Hill on the way.  This long barrow is my favourite site out of the many at Avebury and on a fine sunny day the views from West Kennet Long Barrow were worth the exertion.  A burial site for many individuals, along with pottery, beads and a Neolithic dagger, large sarsen stones hide the entrance to the barrow’s 42-foot-long passage which has two side chambers and another at the end.  We returned to Avebury by East Kennett and the Sanctuary, another baffling site that you can be creative imagining what it was used for.

Walking from the campsite

The Kennet and Avon Canal runs alongside the Devizes campsite and an easy and enjoyable walk of about two miles each way will take you to Caen Hill Locks, 29 locks rising 237 feet.  It is an exhausting trip for boat owners, taking the best part of a day to travel up or down this row of locks and you are bound to spot one or two as you walk.

Carry on a mile or so more and you reach Devizes.  We were there on market day which always adds an extra bustle to a town.  We admired the outdoor stalls and then walked through the indoor market which has a wide array of goods from cakes and cards to wooden crafts.  Chatting to one stall holder he recommended Times Square for the best coffee in this agreeable town.  On market day it seemed that everyone had decided to enjoy a break in this friendly cafe but it is big enough to accommodate everyone and the stall holder was right, it was good coffee.

We visited The Wiltshire Museum to see its exceptional collection from the many ancient sites in the county.  If you are confused about the timeline of Wiltshire’s history then this is the place to help you get it straight in your head.  If you don’t want to immerse yourself in local history then the tour of the Victorian Wadworth Brewery might be more your glass of ale.  After walking back along the canal [or you can take the bus] a visit to the Three Magpies pub next to the campsite for a glass of Wadworth was a great way to round off the day .

Walk in the opposite direction and you reach The Barge Inn after just over a mile.

Days out in our campervan from the campsite

As well as walking and taking the bus, we took our campervan out for a couple of days.

Stonehenge – We last visited Stonehenge in our first campervan in 2006.  The stones are the same but the organisation of the site has changed massively since then.  Today the visitor’s centre is one mile away from the circle and one of the roads alongside the stones has been closed.  We purchased timed tickets in advance and arrived at the large car park [with dedicated motorhome parking] with a comfortable amount of time to visit the exhibition before taking the free shuttle as far as Fargo Plantation.  This enabled us to approach Stonehenge across the green pasture land, skylarks singing above us and the stones in the distance.  Of course, the scene isn’t as it was in the Neolithic era but it is more peaceful than it was.

In 2006 we paid extra to be able to walk among the stones as the sun set, a truly magical experience.  Today, the stones are surrounded by a low fence and with controlled visitor numbers everyone has space to walk around the stones and get an uninterrupted view from different angles and in different light.  There is no doubt that Stonehenge is a popular place to visit and given the limitations, English Heritage are doing a good job at enabling everyone to enjoy and understand the structure.  For me, Stonehenge remains a special place and I look forward to coming back when the A303 is out of sight.

Wiltshire 4
The huge stones at Stonehenge

Marlborough & Savernake Forest – If you want somewhere to stretch your legs, enjoy a spell of window shopping followed by some people watching in a cosy cafe then Marlborough, with the second widest high street in the UK, will fit the bill.

Nearby is Savernake Forest, an expanse of woodland with a network of footpaths, deer and a remarkable collection of ancient oak trees, each with a name.  In the mixed woodland, with so many paths, we were soon disorientated and only knew where we were when we stumbled upon the sign for one of these gnarled oak trees.  We found The Saddle, The Cathedral and Old Paunch; these trees already have character but knowing their names made me consider the features of each tree and admire the ridged bark and dripping moss.

Lacock Abbey & village – Owned and managed by the National Trust, Lacock Abbey is a 13th century abbey that was converted to a family home in the 16th century.  If you recognise the building and the village this is probably because you have seen it on a film or TV programme.  Downton Abbey, Cranford, Harry Potter and others have all been filmed here.  The car park isn’t huge but it does have some large spaces for motorhomes.

The house has plenty of personal touches that retain an intimacy in the rambling building and there are knowledgeable guides in most room.  William Henry Fox Talbot lived here and in 1835 captured the first photographic negative of one of Lacock Abbey’s oriel windows.  You can see this image and others in the small museum by the entrance that tells the interesting story of photography.

Wiltshire 2
The courtyard at Lacock Abbey is charming

Devizes Camping and Caravan Club site is an open and green site with friendly and helpful wardens.  The facilities would welcome an update but are totally satisfactory.

I realise that none of us can travel anywhere just at the moment due to coronavirus but I hope this post and these ideas might contribute to your planning for future trips while we can only dream.  Happy future travels!