What do you keep in your campervan store cupboard?

2013 sept worksop devon owners group meet (17)
Cooking up a feast

We use our blue campervan all year around and so there is always food in the cupboard and dried ingredients in the storage containers.  If we had to [in that end of the world scenario] we could probably survive for a few weeks on just what is in the ‘van!  Fortunately, we use the ‘van enough that these tins and jars are rotated regularly enough.  What this means is that when we decide to head off on a trip all we need to pop in the Blue Bus’ kitchen cupboards is the fresh food from the fridge and bread bin.  Having these staple items to hand help us to build quick and delicious meals while we are on the road with the addition of a few fresh ingredients.  We can also use them to make a hearty meal if we haven’t had time to shop and want something quick after a long day.

What do you always have in your campervan food cupboard?

Our store cupboard staples:

  • Tins of chickpeas [great for hummus or stews and curries]
  • Small cartons of tomato passata or small tins of tomatoes for stews and sauces
  • Tins of those delicious large Greek beans in tomato sauce
  • Tins of artichoke hearts, sweetcorn, green beans and Spanish peppers [useful if we can’t get fresh vegetables or don’t have time to shop]
  • Jars of pesto [great for a quick meal when the day doesn’t go according to plan]
  • Delicious puy lentils in tins or packets and dried red lentils [they cook so quickly]
  • Jars of black and green olives to nibble or lift a dish of scratch ingredients
  • Peanut butter for sandwiches or stews
  • Marmite [wouldn’t go anywhere without it]
  • Jam and honey
  • Olive oil and balsamic vinegar
  • Herbs, spices and bouillon
  • Pasta, basmati rice, risotto rice and couscous
  • Biscuits, crackers and nuts
  • Bread mix for pitta bread or rolls [cheating I know but easier in the campervan]
  • Soya milk
  • A packet of ground coffee, tea bags, instant coffee & Barleycup
  • A few bottles of red wine and beer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to make the most of a few winter days on the peaceful part of the Lancashire coast

Boats on the marina at Glasson Dock
Boats at Glasson Dock

All we could hear was the honking of geese from the nearby fields, the occasional cry of a curlew and the breath of the wind at Near Moss Farm Touring Caravan Park.  We had hoped for a couple of days of peace and quiet and this site certainly delivered.

Near Moss Farm is on The Fylde, the west Lancashire coastal plain between the Ribble and Lune estuaries.  The Fylde is best known for the seaside resorts of Blackpool, Lytham and Fleetwood but the northern coast is more farming than funfairs and is a different world to the bright lights of the towns.

Near Moss Farm is a Certified Location for Caravan Club members and a touring park; parts of the site are exclusively for adults.  The pitches are all hard-standing and this tidy and well-kept site has a heated sanitary block.  You will get a warm welcome from the friendly owners who also manage a fishing lake and three self-catering cottages.

The Fylde is pancake-flat with big skies and long views; this makes it perfect for cycling, so long as the prevailing westerly wind is behind you.  A relaxing round trip of about 16 miles takes you from Near Moss Farm along sleepy lanes to the charming village of Knott End-on-Sea and back.  In summer a small ferry crosses the Wyre estuary from Knott End-on-Sea to the delights of Fleetwood.

We were here in winter and so it was not ideal cycling weather.  Instead we walked along the nearby coastal dykes looking over the salt marshes criss-crossed with channels,.  The Irish Sea was to one side and farmland on the other and we spotted egrets, handsome shelducks, as well as swans and geese.

We also drove the short distance to Glasson Dock on the Lune estuary, still a working harbour and marina that was built as a port for Lancaster.  Both the marina and Conder Green car parks have height barriers but there is plenty of road parking in and around the village, including on Tithe Barn Hill with views over the estuary.   Once you have explored the lock and swing bridge, admired the boats in the marina and found the Port of Lancaster Smokehouse you might want to stretch your legs.  We followed National Cycle Route Six, a popular and flat off-road route to Lancaster, and enjoyed more bird spotting along the river Lune.

Driving to Morecambe before we headed home we took a breezy walk along the sea front that put colour in my cheeks.  Coffee in the magnificent grade two listed Art Deco Midland Hotel made this a pretty much a perfect walk.  Built in 1933 I first visited the Midland Hotel in the 1990s; in those days this gorgeous hotel was memorable for its faded glamour.  Today it is fully restored and once again a stunning bit of luxury.

Our Epic Fail: Shared with MMM readers

20190206_142844.jpg
Humiliating myself before the motorhoming community

Generally when we are camping with friends we are considered the organised ones.  It is our ‘van everyone comes to for a spare mug, local maps, paracetamol for a headache or blister plasters after a walk.  However, this last month this (unwarranted) reputation has taken a massive knock.

We were camping for three nights near the Leicestershire market town of Melton Mowbray with the Devon Conversions Owners Club and had packed the ‘van with warm clothes and food before leaving Salford.  It was splendid to meet old and new friends and our first night was convivial.

All was well with the world until we came to make the beds that evening.  I opened the cupboard to extract the duvets and seeing an empty space experienced that bottom-of-the-stomach sick feeling.  In winter, between camping trips our duvets and sleeping bags are stored in the flat to stop them getting damp and they were still there!  All we had with us were sheets and pillow cases.

We felt foolish and embarrassed as we searched the ‘van for suitable alternatives for the night.  Covered with sheets, our emergency blankets and coats and with the heating on we were fortunately warm enough but missed snuggling under a thick duvet.

We could have kept our discomfort to ourselves but weren’t looking forward to two more nights under makeshift bedding so the next morning I sought help from the reception staff at Eye Kettleby Lakes, where we were staying.

Campsite staff must have a long list of ludicrous questions they have been asked over the years but I like to think my request will become notorious for camping ineptitude.  To be fair to the excellent staff, when I hung my head in shame, explained the situation and asked if they had a duvet we could borrow for a couple of nights they were professional and didn’t even titter at my school boy error.

They provided duvets with freshly laundered covers and refused any payment for their trouble; we were so grateful (and lucky) to be on a campsite with first-rate customer service.  We bought the staff a thank you box of chocolates and will attempt to move on and rebuild our reputations.

Published in MMM March 2019 edition.

 

My post-campervan holiday list

20181227_122238.jpg

Is it just us or does every campervan owner return from a long trip away in their ‘van with a long list of things that need replacing, fixing, taking out of the ‘van or buying.  For me, this to-do list comes into being a few weeks in to the trip.  I will have a bright idea or break something, find a sheet of scrap paper, usually the back of a campsite receipt or map, and a pen [these are on the list too, we always have a stack of them in the ‘van] and scribble down whatever it is I don’t want to forget.  The list will get shoved under my pile of t-shirts and as the weeks go by other things will come up and I will grab a pen and add it to the list.

Some of the things on the list are mundane replacements, things we must remember to buy when we are back in the UK.  Another packet of Kwells seasickness tablets is a good example of this sort of thing; this could easily get forgotten in the excitement of being home and only be noticed when I next start to feel queasy on a pitching and rolling ship.

Others things on the list are expensive purchases that are more challenging for two frugal folk to deal with.  These things will sit on the list for a while [at least one month] for due consideration before the money is spent.  New cycling shorts are this sort of thing.  We tend to do more and longer cycle rides in the warmth of southern Europe and this can highlight the shortcomings of the gear we have.  New cycling shorts clearly seemed important at the time to make it on to the list but at the moment we are minded to think that the old ones will do another year.

Replacement MP3 speakers could be on the ‘due consideration’ list as these also cost money, except that I find dropping off to sleep to a podcast on the MP3 player helps me deal with the constant ringing in my ears that comes with tinnitus.  The speakers that I have found suit me best have done many years regular use but they are no longer reliable and another set is urgently needed.

The reversing sensors on our Blue Bus started mis-firing part way through our holiday.  Annoyingly, they starting beeping as soon as reverse was engaged even if there was nothing behind the ‘van for many metres.  The Renault came with reversing sensors and we thought we would hardly use them, having managed without before.  But there is really no view out of the back window of the Renault and so these have proved to be a useful bit of kit.  At £170 to replace we will take a deep breath before we go ahead.

Some of the things on the list don’t need us to spend any money – hurrah!  We have carried a hairdryer in the campervan since we had it but realised on our last trip that we had never actually used it!  I have no idea why it took three years to realise that we both have short hair that dries quickly, particularly in the sun.  The hairdryer was taking up space we could use more efficiently and has now gone to the charity shop.

It has taken us sometime to get round to this but we have now put our music on a flash drive that plugs in to a USB on the radio of our Renault.  We had expected to be able to use the MP3 player through the van’s radio but this turned out to be impossible, perhaps due to the age of our MP3 player.  Then we had a flash [pun intended] of inspiration and tried a portable drive.  This works well and takes up much less room than the pile of CDs we had before.  Now we can rock to our whole music collection as we drive!

The temporary mirror inserts went on the wish list after the expensive Spanish mirror jousting incident.  We bought one each for the right and left mirrors on Ebay and hope these will be enough to get us home if the same happens again.  If these work, they will enable us to put off buying a replacement wing mirror until we can do this online from home and we can then fit it ourselves much more cheaply.

Living in the north of England with our wonderful soft water we didn’t realise kettle descaler was even a thing until we travelled abroad.  The mineral-rich hard water in most European countries might be good for our bones but certainly clogs up the kettle and the ‘van’s water pump, as we discovered to our cost last year.  In a two month long trip we will descale the kettle one or two times to keep it working efficiently and always keep some in the ‘van.

The list from each holiday is always different and partly tells the story of some of the things that have happened on our trip and the places we have been.  What does your post-holiday to-do list look like?

 

 

 

 

Barton Swing Bridge: #surprisingsalford #38

barton swing bridge small

Walk west beyond Eccles, heading along the Manchester Ship Canal towards Irlam and at Barton you come across the Barton Swing Bridge that carries the Bridgewater Canal over the Ship Canal.  The Bridgewater Canal came from the Worsley coal mines and in to Manchester.  The original aqueduct built in 1761 was an ambitious construction carrying the canal 38 feet above the Ship Canal.

To enable larger and taller vessels to use the Manchester Ship Canal this aqueduct was demolished and replaced by a swing aqueduct that was completed in 1893.  The channel of water can be sealed at each end forming what is in effect a tank that is 235 feet long and 18 feet wide and swung on a central pivot that allows ships to pass either side of it.  This is an engineering wonder and apparently the only swing aqueduct in the world.  The Swing Bridge is adjacent to the Barton Road Swing Bridge and the two bridges share the same control tower.

Barton Swing Bridge was designed by the engineer Edward Leader Williams who was also involved in the building the Manchester Ship Canal and the Anderton Boat Lift in Cheshire.  Rarely used today, the Barton Swing Bridge continues to be in working order and has protection as a listed building.  This bridge is just another surprising feature you find when you walk around Salford.

 

 

Is owning a campervan as carefree as we all make out? Does life really begin on the edge of your comfort zone?

 

09.21.2018 bilbao small
The spider looms next to the Guggenheim in Bilbao

You don’t speak the language and your much loved campervan is unhappy and slightly broken … a nightmare or just another day in a campervan travellers life?  Putting my trust in people and a system I don’t understand has happened to me so often I am starting to expect it but never find it easy; this is way out of my comfort zone.  People say, ‘Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.’  It seems to me this is where my adventurous spirit could shrivel and die, even when everything turns out fine in the end.

I am as guilty as anyone of writing about our campervan trips as carefree and relaxed but, as canny readers will know, this is only part of the truth.  I always say I love the campervan life because we have the freedom to choose where we will be, if we don’t like somewhere we move on and we take our home with you, no strange beds, just a different view every morning.  I am not lying when I tell you this and when things are going well it is truly an idyllic life.

But there are anxieties and I do share them on the blog.  The Greek Tragedy shook my confidence massively and demonstrated so clearly how quickly a relaxed and enjoyable trip can abruptly end.  My obsession with checking we are in gear when we are parked even on the flat has not gone away and can be irritating for Mr BOTRA.  If I don’t check and double-check I am unsettled and return to the ‘van expecting it to have once again rolled in to a wall or worse.

You probably all know those signs of anxiety; I get that sense of dread, the sickness low in the bottom of my stomach, feeling on edge, irritable with the people I love and unable to concentrate.  This is the worried me and no amount of deep breathing will quell the anxiety when I think a crisis is around the corner.  But I do relax while we are away and it is while I am travelling in that carefree manner I enjoy that I am hit the hardest when something goes wrong.  Picture the scene … The sun feels warm on my arms, I am smiling and unaware that a problem is on the horizon, then wham!  From left field something we hadn’t even thought of happens to our campervan and everything changes.

With modern ‘vans it seems there are so many things that can go wrong, more than I could list or dream of.  In September we had only driven 30 km from the port in Bilbao in Spain and our Blue Bus started beeping and flashing red lights in alarm.  The power steering had failed!  Who knew this could happen!  Fortunately we were in a car park, rather than on an autovia and after Mr BOTRA wrestled the 3.5 tonnes of our van into a safe and shady place we rang our breakdown.  Once again we were trying to deal with a complex technical problem on our campervan in a foreign language, with a phrase book that was written before power steering was invented!  We had little idea what was going on and were totally in the hands of the garage.  Déjà vu!  This has happened now in Greece and in Italy as well as Spain, never in France or Germany where our grasp of the language is so much better!

Although we deal with the phone calls, the breakdown lorry driver, the rearranging of our plans, each of these incidents doesn’t make me grow in confidence, each one gradually chips away at my courage and my certainty of the freedom of the road.  I can no longer fool myself that all will be well.  For weeks after an incident the sense of dread about what will happen next invades my brain regularly.  What will be the next problem to come along, slap me across the face and say, ‘You didn’t see that one coming did you?’

Given all this anxiety, the temptation might be to only travel in the UK but I’m not a quitter and certainly not quite ready to give up my passport just yet.  The benefits of continuing on the edge of my comfort zone are visiting exciting and beautiful places.  I work hard at keeping those dark worries in check by planning and preparing for [almost] everything and paying for the best insurance money can buy.  Fingers crossed 2019 will bring some incident free trips!

 

 

 

John Cooper Clarke: #surprisingsalford #37

John Cooper Clarke
The distinctive figure of John Cooper Clarke under the railway bridge

Walking through the railway bridge from Salford I stopped and smiled when I spotted this graffiti of the unmistakable image of John Cooper Clarke.  Born in Salford in 1949 and often referred to as ‘the bard of Salford,’ on stage he introduces himself as ‘Johnny Clarke, the name behind the hairstyle’.

John Cooper Clarke emerged in the 1970s as a performance poet and has retained his distinctive look, although today he lives in the south of England.  His work is funny and clever, showing a joy for language in his poetry that is delightful.  You can find his poems here but in the meantime below is a favourite:

I Wrote The Songs

I wrote the songs that nearly made
The bottom line of the hit parade
Almost anthems, shoulda been hits
Songs like… Puttin’ on the Ritz
Some enchanted afternoon
Twenty-four hours to Levenshulme
Dancin’ in the daylight, singin’ in the smog
You ain’t nothin’ but a hedgehog
So close and yet so far
Do you remember they way we are
I’d like to get you on a speedboat to china
From an idea by George Steiner
Ain’t no blag – uncle’s got a brand new jag
Ain’t no slouch – mama’s got a brand new couch
She ain’t heavy, she’s my sister
Not to leave out twist and whisper
Brand new leapordskin pillbox glove
Baby you and me we got a greasy kind of love