The River Elbe in Germany

This year we explored the River Elbe from Dresden in the south-east of Germany to Cuxhaven in the north. Following this long river in our campervan turned out to be a fantastic way to be both focused and relaxed on a trip. We explored so many attractive towns and cities and spent days cycling and walking through glorious nature reserves. The Elbe took us to parts of Germany we might not otherwise have reached and broadened my knowledge about this fascinating country.

I first travelled along the banks of the River Elbe in 1992. We arrived on the overnight train from Köln, changing in Dresden for a train to Prague. While our six-year old son charmed the other passengers in our compartment, shyly accepting sweets and drinks, I was enchanted by the river. The railway line follows the Elbe through the rugged narrow gorge of the Sächsische Schweiz, it was magical and I knew I would return. Roll forward a few years and our summer holiday began with a ferry from Harwich to Hamburg. This time I was on [rather than alongside] the River Elbe and I stood on deck as we chugged along the wide river into the massive port of Hamburg. This has to be up there as one of the best ferry trips I have ever taken, it is a shame it no longer exists.

The River Elbe is 1,094 km long. It rises in the Czechia mountains that border Poland, winds through Czechia until it eventually settles on heading north and crossing the border into Germany. After Dresden and Meissen, the Elbe flows across the North German plain towards the North Sea. The cities of Wittenberg, Dessau and Magdeburg sit on the Elbe before you reach Hamburg. And yet, it is the pasture and marshes of the Elbe’s floodplain that characterise the river through much of its German journey.

For the most part the Elbe was either in the DDR [German Democratic Republic or East Germany] or formed the border between the DDR and West Germany from the end of the Second World War until 1989. The legacy of this is lush riverbanks of wildflower meadows, farmland and wetland wildlife reserves with dykes to try and stop flooding. These dykes are often well away from the river, giving it space to flood naturally while still [hopefully] protecting villages.

When I learnt that the Elbe [like many / most German rivers] has a cycle path alongside it, I bought the guidebooks and started planning. In 2020 [BC – Before Covid-19] I had a pile of guides and maps and notes galore from my research for a trip from the source of the Elbe to Cuxhaven and the North Sea. Of course, that didn’t happen and in this AC [After Covid-19] world and taking into account the high cost of diesel following the Russian invasion and war in Ukraine the trip became something simpler. We concentrated on the section of the Elbe from Dresden to Cuxhaven, saving a considerable amount in diesel.

We used the Bikeline Elbe Cycle Route Part One and Two guidebooks in English. Cicerone now produce an Elbe Cycle Path guide that I am sure is excellent. I also got hold of useful brochures from this website. In many places the cycle route runs on both sides of the river and this, and the many ferries [see the end of the post for more on ferries], made circular day rides easy to plan. We travelled up and down the Elbe for about four weeks, often only driving about 50 km between campsites. You could do the trip more quickly!

Maybe it was because we weren’t in a rush, or the flat landscape or the rural areas with less urban stop-start driving but our campervan gave us the best mileage per litre of diesel we have ever got from it [the equivalent of about 39mpg]. Maybe with about 65,000 miles on the clock our Renault Master is just run in! Either way, we only filled up four times in our whole seven-week trip and one of those was just to take advantage of slightly cheaper diesel!

The cycling was really the highlight of the Elbe and I would recommend the river to anyone who enjoys pedaling through flat green countryside, stopping in pretty towns and villages for a beer or an ice-cream. Below are brief overviews about some of the wonderful places we visited as inspiration for anyone considering a trip to Germany as well as a section about the Elbe ferries at the end. This previous post has the list of campsites we used.

Dresden

This city has changed since 1992 when the Frauenkirche was still a pile of rubble and the pedestrianised Prager Strasse a wide Soviet showpiece boulevard. Don’t miss the transformed Prager Strasse and a walk around the roof-top terrace of the late Baroque Zwinger Palace.

Meissen

Meissen is delightful and I should never have left visiting it for so long. The view of the town from the Elbe is spectacular, the streets are attractive and if you like up-market window shopping or sipping a glass of local wine in a pretty square then this is the place for you!

Mühlberg & surroundings

This sleepy little town surprised me. Mühlberg has a magnificent convent church, a pink town hall and other inviting corners along its cobbled streets. Our campsite pitch was idyllic and from Mühlberg we cycled up and down stream through a rural area that was packed with wildlife.

Torgau

Celebrated as the place where American and Russian forces met at the end of the Second World War this is an exceptionally attractive town with a striking castle and a big square that is perfect for people watching. The only thing that spoilt our visit was the heartbreaking sight of magnificent brown bears that are kept in the enclosed moat.

Wittenberg

Internationally known for its association with the Protestant reformation, Wittenberg is lovely enough to visit whether the activities of Martin Luther in 1517 interest you or not. The main streets, lined with open water channels that were once part of the Medieval water system, take you to a handsome square and the town has a ring of parks.

Wörlitz Park

On a sunny day a visit to the fairytale gardens of Wörlitz Park are hard to beat. Rowing boats slide under elegant wooden bridges, a flat-bottomed ferry crosses the lake from a kneeling Venus statue. Across lawns you catch glimpses of follies and peacocks potter around the Gothic House. I am not sure if it is real!

Oranienbaum

In the 17th century the Princess of Orange-Nassau chose to put her summer palace near to Wörlitz and insisted the village name be changed to Oranienbaum.  Orange trees line the garden walks and the palace faces a square with a metal orange tree sculpture.  Beyond this House of Orange symbolism there is an Chinese garden with a pagoda and a charming tea house. 

Dessau

The Bauhaus art school was a radical movement that combined art, crafts and technology in 1920s Germany. The Bauhaus Building in Dessau is an icon of modern architecture and the innovative Master’s Houses, that can also be visited, are inspiring. I was thrilled to be there.

Magdeburg

The city of Magdeburg is lively and energetic with many fine sights. For me the most inspiring was the last building the architect Hundertwasser designed, Die Grüne Zitadelle. Taking a tour around this amazing unsymmetrical structure with lush garden roofs is an opportunity to see a different future for city housing.

Around Jerichow

North of Magdeburg we spent a few days cycling through the woodland and flower-rich wetland meadows between Jerichow and Burg. Jerichow has a large and impressive brick-built monastery and the town of Burg retains some of its medieval fortified walls.

Tangermünde

We only spent a morning in Tangermünde but could easily have stayed longer. This historic town on the banks of the Elbe was at its height in the 15th century when it was a member of the Hanseatic League. Numerous brick Gothic buildings tell the story of the town’s wealth, along with the almost entirely preserved city walls and fortified gates. I want to return and stay in one of the town’s pretty timber-framed houses on its cobbled streets.

Havelberg & Werben

We cycled to the quaint town of Werben from Havelberg [on the River Havel where it joins the Elbe], taking the ferry across the Elbe. Werben celebrates its storks and has plenty of them. I felt privileged to get the chance to look down on tiny chicks in a stork’s nest from Werben’s gatehouse and tower.

Dömitz

The town of Dömitz has large star-shaped 17th century fort. The elbow-shaped defensive entrance tunnel proved useful for shelter in a hail storm. We watched the hail bounce off the cobbles while staying dry. From the fort’s remaining bastions there are views of the Elbe and the new road bridge. When the sun returned Dömitz was also the place to try DDR softeis [ice-cream].

Hitzacker

The picturesque island town of Hitzacker has a long history of tourism and it is still a popular place to visit with a car park big enough for motorhomes and an overnight parking area too. The small touristy town of timber-framed houses has plenty of places to eat and some interesting independent shops.

Around Lauenburg

We stayed a few nights on a campsite between Bleckede and Lauenburg and enjoyed some glorious days of cycling. In a country full of attractive towns, Lauenburg, strung along the bank of the Elbe, stands out for being particularly delightful. The countryside is green and dotted with handsome farmhouses and tidy villages. We were lucky enough to watch a barge being carried up the massive boat lift at Scharnebeck too.

Hamburg

The Elbe is a busy shipping waterway by the time it reaches Hamburg, which might be my favourite German city [although there is lots of competition]. I find the huge container port fascinating, the city’s energy addictive and the number of beautiful historic sights captivating. We arrived by ferry from Finkenwerder and walked through the Old Elbe Tunnel under the river. If you’ve never been, put Hamburg on your list!

Stade

Across the Elbe from Hamburg is an area called the Altes Land. This large fruit-growing area is both wealthy and scenic. We cycled around the numerous orchards and spent a day in the town of Stade, pottering around the historic centre and visiting the open air museum learning about the symbolism of the decorative features on local buildings.

Cuxhaven

Cuxhaven is the end of the road for the River Elbe. Here the wide river is busy with shipping as it flows into the North Sea. Cuxhaven is a fishing town and seaside resort. Along the coast the sandy beaches are vast and you can hire a strandkorb, a covered seat for two, for protection from the wind.

Bridges and ferries

All of the Elbe ferries we used carried bikes and passengers, even the small ones, while larger ferries carried a few cars too. We paid between €3 and €5 to cross the river, the price seeming to have nothing to do with the width of the river!

Many Elbe bridges were destroyed during the Second World War by retreating German troops. With no need or desire to re-establish those connections across the Iron Curtain during the Cold War there are still a relative small number of bridges across the Elbe. Another factor is that the Elbe regularly floods and bridges need to be long enough to span the floodplain and have an elevation that can cope with high water. This makes them expensive to build!

At Neu Darchau, which found itself in West Germany after the Second World War, we came across a campaign to stop a new bridge across the Elbe. On the opposite bank is Darchau, which was in the DDR. The re-connection of the two villages when Tanja, the local ferry made the first trip in 1989, is remembered and celebrated.  At the ferry slipway we read about the ferry, admired the lovingly-made model Tanja, and learnt why these small communities see no need for a proposed massive bridge across this green section of the Middle Elbe Reserve.

Tried & Tested: 21 German & Netherlands Campsites

In May and June 2022 we spent seven weeks touring Germany and The Netherlands. We caught the DFDS ferry from Newcastle to Ijmuiden and explored at a slow pace, staying at 21 different places during our trip for up to four nights. We made good use of our ACSI low season discount card.

Campsite nameComments
Germany
Wilsumer Berge, WilsumThis is a large grassy site surrounded by trees.  It is mostly level but some pitches can be slightly uneven.  The facilities are cleaned regularly & the five minute showers are roomy & hot.  The free wifi is good and the site is peaceful.  The check-in process seemed a bit long winded & the automatic barrier wouldn’t recognise our number plate.  We stayed here on the way there and back & walked through the forest to the nearby village.  It was about £25/night in May and a couple of £s more in June.
Camping Bambi, Bosingfeld, ExtertalAn extremely peaceful & green site with marked pitches.  We had a view over a pond from our pitch and there was lots of birdsong here.  No bread is available & the facilities are dated but clean with hot showers & indoor wash up sinks.  There are walks and cycle routes from the site.  The ACSI price includes 4 kw/day of electric which was enough for us in summer and the site is around £15 / night with an ACSI card.
Wohnmobilpark Stadtbad Okeraue, WolfenbüttelThis is a level & nicely laid out parking area with clear pitches.  On arrival you need to book in at the sports centre.  There is some road noise but trees do screen it.  The facilities are 2 toilets & 2 showers for each sex and these are clean with hot showers.  A pitch costs about £12.50 a night.
Campingplatz Barleber See near MagdeburgThis large site is by a lake with a number of camping fields, no defined pitches & a long cable might be needed.  There is some road noise.  The facilities are clean but the showers a bit hit & miss for temperature.  No bread was available when we visited.  There is good cycling from the site & the railway station for Magdeburg is about 2kms away.  The site cost around £20 a night in May.
Heide-Camp Schlaitz near BitterfeldThis is another large campsite where long electric leads are needed.  We received a friendly welcome in German & bread was available daily.  The facilities are clean with hot continuous & adjustable showers but just 1 hook to hang your clothes & the shower heads are at chest height (we got used to this)!  The cycling and walking from the site are fantastic.  It cost around £17 a night in May.
Rast-und Campingplatz Marina MühlbergSituated on a small lake and on the Elbe Radweg (so plenty of cycling options) this is a grassy & fairly level site with facilities reached by a flight of steps.  If you can’t manage the steps there are a few hard-standing pitches on the same level as the toilets.  No English was spoken at reception.  The facilities are clean & modern & the showers hot, adjustable & roomy.  The site is by a small town with a convent church, a supermarket and bakery and cost about £20 a night.
Campingplatz Rehbocktal, MeissenThis green & tranquil site with marked out pitches was a big hit with us.  English was spoken at the friendly reception, bread was available & the facilities were clean with hot adjustable showers.  The site is on the Elbe Radweg and just 4kms from beautiful Meissen  This was the most expensive campsite we stayed at, costing about £27.50 a night but still our favourite.
Camping Am Grossen Lausiger Teich, PretzschThis large site is by a small lake and has mostly marked out pitches.  The showers were cramped with poor lighting, were €1 for four minutes & were hot.  The rural site has plenty of walking and cycling options.  We paid around £22 / night which includes approx £3 for 3.5kw of metered electric.  
Wörlitz Park car parkThere is a stellplatz at Wörlitz with EHU but that gets busy & is around €15 so we opted to have our own space on the large level car park for €5 for 24 hours.  There are toilets from 07.00 until 19.00 and the car park was quiet and is very near to the beautiful park.
Campingplatz Magdeburg, SchönebeckWe stayed here for a night during a holiday weekend and so didn’t see it at its best & had a small cramped pitch.  The campsite is by the Elbe and there are some lovely pitches with views.  The showers are €1 each & are hot but you don’t have much room.  The electric is metered & the owners are friendly but don’t speak much English.  To get hot water at the washing up sinks you have to pay 50c.  The site has a small bar and is about 2kms from the centre of the town in an industrial area.  This cost around £21.50 / night.
La Porte Wohnmobilstellplatze BertingenThis newly developed 50 place camping area is in trees & by a hotel.  The site has new modern facilities & self-service touch-screen check in (available in English).  The check-in machine gives you a card that is used to access all the facilities (EHU, toilet emptying, water, showers) & updates to show what you have spent.  We had some difficulties figuring out how to use this for the showers but eventually got there and had excellent hot showers.  We saved money by switching the shower off while we lathered up & this way could shower for around 30c.  The automatic system went wrong somewhere & didn’t charge us for extras & so it was good value at just the basic €15 / night!
Campinginsel HavelbergWhile reception is lovely, the rest of this site is slightly rundown.  It is near to the town with reasonable sized pitches that are marked.  The facilities are also scruffy but we appreciated the good hot showers that are adjustable, continuous & spacious & have a sink.  The site is near the river & has a small cafe at reception where bread is available.  With the tourist tax we paid almost £27 a night.
Wasser-Wander-Zentrum DömitzA small & pleasantly arranged site with some marked pitches that slope a little, 4 bathrooms & additional toilets.  The showers are temperature adjustable, hot & clean.  The site is near to the large fort & by the town.  With showers & metered electric this cost around £22/night.
Camping Elbeling, BleckedeA prettily laid out rural and grassy site that is Dutch run, this is a well organised campsite with morning bread & a restaurant.  The facilities are kept clean but the showers were only just warm enough for me & cost 50c for 2 mins, so if you have long hair you need lots of 50c pieces!  It is on Elbe cycle path and there is plenty of good cycling.  With an ACSI card this was about £19/night.
Freizeit-Camp-Nordheide, Garlstorf (west of Luneburg)A large woodland campsite that is geared up for transit overnights.  It has a large sanitary block that is dated but functional with good hot continuous showers.  Toilet paper is on a large roll outside the cubicles.  With an ACSI card this site cost around £15.50 / night.
Camping Nesshof, GuderhandviertelThis rustic and green farmhouse site has bushes & trees around the narrow, somewhat cramped pitches.  The showers are dated but very hot & adjustable.  Bread is available & the site sells local apple juice & a few other food items.  The site is just 5kms from the train station for Hamburg & on the Elbe Radweg so there is plenty of good cycling in the area.  Around £21/night.
Beckman Camping, Nordholz near CuxhavenAn ACSI discount card site with marked pitches, clean & modern facilities & indoor wash up.  It is by an airport & planes took off during the daytime.  Fresh bread is available at the snack bar.  The push button showers were only just warm but the facilities were clean.  The site was around £17/night.
Campingplatz am Königssee, ZetelA busy site by a lake, the reasonable-sized pitches are grassy & some were marked with hedges.  Tokens give a four minute shower which were good & hot in clean & modern facilities.  Reception was friendly although no English was spoken.  No bread was on sale & there are no nearby shops.  Excellent cycling in the area.  The site was around £17 / night.
Campsite nameComments
Netherlands
Camping ‘t Oppertje, LelystadThe pitches are laid out in small groups on this campsite with central facilities that are clean, with roomy showers for five minutes that are just warm enough.  There are trees and bushes and lots of sparrows & geese on the site.  Free wifi that is fast is provided.  Fantastic cycling from the site around the nature reserve & into Lelystad.  With an ACSI card this cost about £20/night.
Camping de Kolibrie near AlkmaarA large rural site with unmarked pitches mostly arranged around the edge of fields.  The free wifi was good.  The facilities are clean & it cost 50c for a four minute shower in a roomy cubicle but the water was only just warm enough.  Bread is available at reception every day.  There is good cycling in the area including to Alkmaar and the coast.  With an ACSI card this cost under £19/night.
Camping Strandbad, EdamThis is a large popular and crowded site on the Markermeer.  Tokens provided timed showers that were variable, the block near reception was better & cleaner with hotter water.  There is access to the beach & the site has a bar & restaurant.  Edam is a delightful town & is about 15 minutes walk away.  Regular buses to Amsterdam leave from the bus station  This site cost around £20/night with an ACSI card.

Packing Europe into our Campervan

Taking a photograph of our breakfast table for the #warcoffee community on Twitter [check out Yaroslava Antipina @strategywoman to get a feel for life in Kyiv during the war] I realised how many gorgeous and useful things we have in our campervan that are regular reminders of our happy travels around Europe. Of course, we drive a French Renault van but the European theme doesn’t stop there, we have picked up things we like and need in many different countries.

Our rustic wooden bread bowl in the photograph is used for our continental breakfasts and came from Slovakia, back when it was part of Czechoslovakia. We took a backpacking railway trip to the Tatras in 1992 and managed to squeeze this beautiful bowl into the rucksack, along with a bottle of Czech beer! It is perfect for breakfast and dinner bread.

Our honey of the day might be from Shropshire [we always pick up local honey when we are travelling] but the wooden honey spoon was bought in the idyllic Italian village of Sorano in southern Tuscany. We were visiting a friend who lived there at the time and she showed us the sights and took us into the town for a meal. Browsing around a shop packed full of wooden chopping boards and spoons I admired this honey spoon and she generously insisted on buying it for me. I am so glad I didn’t point out anything more expensive in the shop and feel sad that we have lost touch but I think of her everyday when I use the spoon.

When it comes to slicing those large crusty continental loaves we use a steak knife from a village shop in Slovenia. A bread knife isn’t something we have room for and the steak knife does the job. The glass plates with blue swirls are from one of those interesting French hypermarkets that I could browse around for hours and the jolly teacosy with the stylish red radish pattern is from Denmark. We slum it with teabags when we are camping but still use a teapot. Our camping teapot is from Blomus, a German company who make quality stuff that we grabbed as a second-hand bargain on Ebay. The handle folds down making it perfect for stowing in one of the cupboards in the campervan.

While my mug with the blue flowers is another Italian find from the beautiful Malcesine on Lake Garda and gives me pleasure everyday, Anthony’s mug is from the Serra da Estrela in Portugal. We enjoyed our time in this stunning mountainous area of Portugal so much it is lovely to have a reminder of it on a daily basis wherever we are. The tray our teapot sits on has a map of Salford that includes our former home. This was a thoughtful retirement gift from a friend so we could show people where we lived.

Our evening hot drink mugs [yes we have mugs for different drinks!] are Morecambe mugs, so we never forget where home is now! Mine has a picture of the Midland Hotel and Anthony’s has Morecambe in big colourful letters and Eric Morecambe’s iconic specs.

These are all small treasures that are both useful, hold precious memories and make me feel blessed. None of them cost us an arm and a leg but all of them are cherished.

A Dozen Scottish Campsites Tried & Tested 2022

In March and April this year we travelled around Scotland for four glorious weeks. For anyone I have to convince that Scotland is an amazing place to visit, I will just say that it snowed, it was sunny and occasionally it was wet and windy. If that doesn’t persuade you to go to Scotland, on this trip we saw golden eagles, red squirrels, seals, otters, siskins, red deer, dolphins, red kites and so much more wildlife. We climbed some mountains and walked some stunning miles of coastline.

Everyone looks for different things in a campsite. My priorities are a level pitch, a hot shower and peace and quiet. This is the list of where we stayed with comments:

Campsite nameComments
Tantallon Caravan and Camping Park, North BerwickThis sloping site has amazing views over the Firth of the Forth and Bass Rock.  The showers and bathrooms are a high standard and the showers have hot water but there was no heating in March.  The wash up area is covered but outdoors.  The site is a short walk into North Berwick, an upmarket town and the Scottish Seabird Centre, which has plenty of fun, interactive and interesting displays.  The walk back is uphill through the golf course.
Silverburn Park Campsite, LevenThis campsite has four level campervan pitches and is in peaceful setting in a park.  The sea and a sandy beach are just across the golf course.   You receive a friendly welcome and the facilities are good and clean.  It is about a half an hour walk into Leven and shops and a supermarket and a bit further to the charming coastal village of Lower Largo.  I have written a full review on the blog.  
Stonehaven Queen Elizabeth Park CAMC SiteThis is a favourite campsite of ours that is close to the beach and the harbour and near the centre of Stonehaven.  It wasn’t too busy on this visit.  The site is level and the facilities are excellent.
Fraserburgh Caravan ParkThis is a small level independent site that is right by the sea and if you are lucky to get one of the pitches overlooking the waves and the beach you will be happy!  Our welcome was friendly and the facilities are kept spotlessly clean.  The showers are good and hot and the only thing that let it down was the lack of heating.  It is a short walk to the busy fishing harbour, the small town and the Scottish Lighthouse Museum.  The latter is certainly worth a visit as it includes a chance to climb up an old lighthouse.  The walk along the sandy beach and dunes is fabulous too.
East Beach car park, LossiemouthThis level tarmac car park has toilets available nearby in the daytime.  It was quiet when we stayed here and there was just one other campervan there.  The town is pleasant and there are places to eat and drink nearby.  There is an honesty box in the toilets to pay what you can for using the facilities.
Rosemarkie Camping and Caravanning Club SiteThe position of this campsite is hard to beat, sitting on the coast of Chanonry Point.  We received a friendly welcome and got a sea view pitch!  The grass is a bit lumpy but we managed to get the campervan level.  The facilities were heated, the wash up is indoors but the showers are not the best and probably need an upgrade.  We saw dolphins from the point, went to the nearby coffee shop and walked up the Fairy Glen.
Dingwall C&CC SiteWe really liked this campsite.  The wardens are friendly, it isn’t too busy and the site is level and arranged in small cul de sacs.  The railway line runs next to the site and the first train might wake you.  The facilities were fine and had heating some of the time.  The town is very close with supermarkets and other shops, including a warren of a charity shop that is like an Aladdin’s Cave.  The short walk along the canal is great for stretching your legs. 
Camping Skye, BroadfordThis terraced slightly sloping site has open views, friendly and helpful people on reception & a modern facilities block.  There was heating in the facilities, hot showers and an indoor wash up area.  A ten minutes walk takes you to Broadford which has a supermarket, other shops and pizza place.
Skye C&CC site, EdinbaneThis gently sloping site sits on the loch side.  It has new owners this year and they were friendly and welcoming.  The facilities are fine but lack heating in wintery weather.  The lovely view over the loch from the indoor wash up area was very much appreciated.  The site also has some yurts and huts and there are cattle and hens around.  About 15 minutes walk away down the hill in Edinbane there is a pub and a posh (expensive) restaurant.  Otherwise, you have to drive from here or take the occasional bus to Dunvegan and Portree.
Glenbrittle CampsiteThis is a large site with a facilities block at one end.  The site is on the bay & has spectacular mountain views.  The facilities are small but they squeeze in six showers and the room was warm, mostly from others showering and the walls dripped with condensation.  The showers themselves were only lukewarm.  The wash up is under cover.  There is a small shop and cafe onsite, useful as the site is eight miles along a single-track road.  This is an expensive campsite if you want EHU and has no phone signal or wi-fi but it does have excellent access to the mountains.
Merkadale CL near CarbostThis Certified Location for five vans is a gravel site alongside the Carbost Road.  It has free wi-fi and a functional facilities block with two toilets & one electric shower which was hot.  The pub, cafe and distillery in Carbost are about 15 minutes walk away.
Morvich CAMC SiteThis Caravan and Motorhome Club Site is a special place.  You receive a friendly welcome, it is peaceful, has good facilities and the wardens run a small shop for basics as there is nothing nearby.  You can climb mountains or walk in the forest directly from the site.  The Chocolates of Glenshiel shop and cafe nearby are worth a visit on your way there and if you drive towards Kyle, make sure you stop at Manuela’s Wee Bakery in Ardelve for some of their delicious bread and cakes.

Silverburn Park Campsite, near Leven in Fife, Scotland

If you crave a small campsite that isn’t wall-to-wall caravans and motorhomes as far as the eye can see then Silverburn Park Campsite near Leven might be just the place for you. This small campsite is certainly a special place and with just four campervan pitches and it’s enviable location near to a long sandy beach it ticks so many boxes.

Everyone receives a friendly welcome at Silverburn Park and the calming and peaceful atmosphere envelopes you straight away. The member of staff we met was helpful and kind and the biscuit-coloured cat with a deep purr made us feel accepted. I was also very politely told how to pronounce Leven correctly, the e is long, like Leeven.

Silverburn Park has a story that you will want to explore if you visit and it is certainly much more than a campsite. The park is the former estate of the Russell family who planted many unusual trees in the park and you can take a stroll to see these. Gifted to Leven Town Council in the 1970s, the park has long been a popular place to visit for local people. In 2019 Fife Employment Access Trust (FEAT) took over the management of Silverburn Park and began to develop the site. They worked hard and a cafe and a campsite were opened the following year. FEAT, a mental health organisation that supports people back into work, now have plans to repurpose the old flax mill at Silverburn as a visitor centre and community hub. You can read more about their plans on their website.

The campervan pitches are hard standing surrounded by grass in a fenced area. The campsite has bathrooms with a toilet, sink and shower and a heated towel rail and there are dishwashing sinks. These facilities are a short walk from the campervan pitches and by the tent area. With the campervan pitches there are bins, fresh water and chemical toilet disposal. FEAT’s plans include adding more facilities and a camper’s kitchen with indoor washing up in the very near future. If you don’t have a campervan or tent, the site has three pods.

Cooking that evening, I could see Bass Rock out of the ‘van window across the golf course and gannets that were diving for fish in the sea. With the site to ourselves it was peaceful and this felt as close to wild camping as you can get on a campsite. 

During the daytime there are other visitors, workers and volunteers in the garden, on the allotment and in the workshop and cafe but we never felt crowded, it wasn’t noisy and everyone was friendly. In the evenings and early mornings the campers have Silverburn Park to themselves. Using the map I was given [see below] I explored the walled garden on a sunny morning when no one was around; a real treat and I spent ages watching the antics of the birds on the many feeders.

We had snow and sunshine on our visit and in the good weather we walked across the golf course onto the sweep of beach that stretches for miles. We turned left and walked a couple of miles along the sand with plenty of interesting shells and pebbles to the pretty coastal village of Lower Largo. Bass Rock continued to shimmer in the distance. As well as the gannets there were waders on the shore and cormorants on the rocks that jutted into the sea. In Lower Largo we had good coffee and cake in The Aurrie, a converted chapel and found the Robinson Crusoe statue high on the wall of a house.  Lower Largo was the birthplace of Alexander Selkirk, the castaway who inspired Daniel Defoe’s novel.  Lower Largo is perfect for a wander, particularly to find the collection of colourful and entertaining gates and sculptures with maritime themes.

Heading in the other direction we came to Leven and its small promenade and shops and a supermarket. We returned on a path through golf courses that wound among bright yellow gorse bushes with views across the Firth of the Forth.  We were soon back at Silverburn Park and, after passing a large pond and a deserted house, we followed a woodland trail around the walled garden back to our campervan.

I need to add a special thank you to Em from Vans for the Memories on YouTube and Twitter for the recommendation and inspiration for our visit to Silverburn Park.

I had taken a break from blogging while Russia was invading and bombing Ukraine. I am still unable to process this aggressive act but, unfortunately, the war is going on much longer than I hoped it would and, although in the light of what people are going through in Ukraine, my travels are insignificant I found myself really wanting to share this campsite with everyone. I’m not sure what this says about me and it probably makes me look indecisive and weak. Rest assured, I have not forgotten Ukraine and every day I continue to do what I can to support individuals living through the war.

A Privileged Traveller

It was about 16 years ago, in the days when I worked in a small office for a local charity. One of my two colleagues was a woman originally from Ukraine. She was always fun to be with, sent me New Year text messages long after I had left the charity and at lunch times we laughed together and talked about her home country over a shared jar of gherkins. This connection prompted me to read my first Andrey Kurkov novel, Death and the Penguin. This is the Ukrainian novelist’s best-known book and I was immediately hooked by his surreal, dark humour about life in post-Soviet Ukraine. Since those days I have gradually read every single one of Kurkov’s novels and although these are fiction, with each book I connected more and more with Ukraine and followed the ups and downs of this eastern European country. When it was published in English, I also read his Ukraine Diaries, which covers his observations of the pro-European protests of 2013 and the impeachment of Yanukovcyh in Kyiv as well as Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the separatist uprisings in eastern Ukraine.

When we travelled around Hungary and Slovakia a few years ago I wondered if we should venture into Ukraine. I navigated our Blue Bus to the border and we took a walk and gazed across the lush Slovakian countryside to Ukraine but decided time and logistics were against us. I wondering when or if I would get there. The photograph at the top of this blog post is one of our campervan on that Slovakian road and my mind has wandered back to that place regularly since the 24 February 2022 as I imagine how much busier it is today as Ukrainians flee the war in their country and seek safety in Slovakia and other neighbouring countries.

The last Andrey Kurkov book I read was Grey Bees. If you get chance, get hold of this most recent of his novels and take yourself to Ukraine. My own mind often spends time with this country I have never visited. I listened to the news of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 with horror, shocked that there were few consequences for Russia, and I followed the news of the fighting in eastern Ukraine. Grey Bees takes readers on a road trip with an elderly man and his bees, driving from an almost deserted village in the Grey Zone, the no-man’s-land between loyalist and separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, to Crimea. It is a mythical novel, well observed and full of humour, humanity, hope and, of course, sadness.

As readers know, I enjoy travel and exploring new places. Being on the road is where I am happiest but I know that this happiness comes from a position of security. My privilege is boundless, not only is no one forcing me to leave my home, I always choose to leave, but I also know my home will most probably still be there when we return. I am certainly privileged in owning two homes, although only one of them has wheels! Watching the current destruction of Ukraine by Russia is heartbreaking. I can only bear witness as I have no words to add to the voices of the people of Ukraine who are speaking out against the invasion, fighting for their country and sharing their day-to-day experiences in war time. My Twitter feed is populated by tweets from Ukraine and cats, and occasionally Ukrainian cats! I want to stand side-by-side with the people of Ukraine and help them all I can but, beyond making donations, I feel helpless. I am proud of the swift reaction by Ukraine’s neighbours to give shelter to the refugees. I have so many friends and family who would not be here if the UK had not given refugees shelter in the past, including my own partner whose dad escaped from Poland after the Nazi invasion. I am deeply ashamed of the lack of care the UK has for Ukrainian refugees at the moment and I hope we find our kindness muscle very soon.

I am counting my blessings, feeling grateful for all the privileges I enjoy and I may be quiet on the blog for a little while as I have nothing to add. Slava Ukraini!

Hello Blog Readers!

Hello blog readers! I am so glad you have come along for the ride. I am certainly not a serious blogger; my blog posts are published irregularly and my subject matter is all over the place. I am happy if just a couple of people read my blog posts and I am amazed when it is often many more. My blog has had some ups and downs during the Covid-19 pandemic but once people were getting out and about again and starting to plan, 2021 was a pretty good year for attracting readers.

I would probably get more blog readers if I wasn’t a tad lazy. During 2021 I only publishing 36 blog posts, not even one a week! This was mainly because we were either in lockdown and there was nothing new to write about, or we were travelling and I didn’t have time to post or I was writing a travel article for a magazine and also didn’t have time to post! The posts I did write varied from recipes and what was going on at home to traveller tales as we toured all four nations of the UK in 2021, spending time in Scotland and England and making our first visit to Northern Ireland and returning to Wales after a gap of a few years. In 2021 we even spent a short time abroad when we crossed the border into Ireland!

I’ve been blogging since 2009 and, although I cringe when I read those early blog posts, I can see it was useful writing practice for becoming a campervan travel writer. I currently write two different blogs, this one and my memorial benches blog, but posting to both these blog has to take a back seat when I am working on a paid article.

My blog is put together via WordPress and this platform generates all sorts of data for those who are interested. On a wet day in January I checked the stats for 2021 and was interested to see that the post that received the most attention was one I wrote back in 2019 about our trip to the amazing Shetland Islands. Making a return trip to Shetland niggles in my mind regularly, so I am not surprised that other campervan and motorhome owners are planning trips to those northerly islands.

Next up in the rankings [down from number one in 2020] is a post from a few years ago about cooking with an essential piece of kit in our campervan, our RidgeMonkey grill. I am pleased to see that this wonderful cooking pan is gaining popularity and seeing plenty of sales, I wouldn’t be without mine.

Two travel writing posts have remained in the top five since I wrote them. One focusing on my thoughts on the quote, ‘Normality is a paved road; It’s comfortable to walk but no flowers grow‘ feels particularly relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic and I looked at this post again last year and added to it. During lockdown I couldn’t wait to leave the mundanity of normality behind! The second is titled, ‘One’s Destination is Never a Place but always a new way of seeing things.’ This is a Henry Miller quote and in the post I considered how travel keeps my wonderment muscle supple. Since I wrote this piece two years ago I have had to exercise those muscles closer to home and I have learnt that, although I don’t have to travel far to be filled with wonder, I continue to have a need to keep filling my life with new experiences.

A remarkable post that remains popular is one from my long-running Surprising Salford series. This is a post about the astonishing and amusing Gnome Island. This island of gnomes [what else] in Salford Quays received little attention from the public until the new tram line to the Trafford Centre opened and suddenly it was much easier to see the gnomes from the stop near Old Trafford and, if you search for Gnome Island in Salford my blog is one of the few resources that pops up. I am glad Gnome Island hasn’t been cleared away by the corporate giants around Salford Quays and that its creator remains, as far as I know, a mystery. If you’re in Manchester or Salford go and take a look.

The pages where visitors can download articles I have had published in MMM and Campervan Mag are also always popular too and the lists just keep getting longer. The top download for 2021 was my fun piece I wrote from our campervan’s point of view about a trip to Wharfedale meeting the Blue Bus’ siblings [other Devon Conversions vans] and fellow campervans. This was published in Campervan Mag during 2021. Writing this piece was a blast and maybe this comes through in the words and is why people enjoy reading it. The second most popular download was the RidgeMonkey article in Campervan Mag. After that it is my reports on our Devon Tempest in MMM and Campervan Mag that attract most readers who, presumably, are researching what campervan to buy.

I am hoping that 2022 takes me, my partner and our Blue Bus to some fabulous places in the UK and across the Channel. I have no goal for the number of posts I will write on my blogs but I hope you keep reading about the things that inspire me and enjoy joining me back on the road.

Seven Lessons that made me a Saver not an Investor

As the last of our savings accounts with an interest rate over 1% matures and the cost of living in the UK keeps on rising, I have been checking out our financial position. We are all a product of our past experiences in some way and for me various life lessons put me on a purposeful and cautious journey to financial independence and early retirement [FIRE]. This journey did not involve taking risks with money; secure savings, rather than investment, was our mantra as we worked towards a goal. The FIRE community is packed with people that gainfully invest their money but my own seven life lessons led me to saving in building societies, Individual Savings Accounts and other yawningly dull and dependable accounts.

Lesson One: A broken washing machine

In my early twenties I lived on my own in a rented house, only ever one pay day away from destitution. Life improved when we got married in so many ways, including financially, but still for the first three years we muddled along with below average income and nothing in the savings pot. Then the second-hand washing machine we had inherited from a relative died. Annoying at the best of times, this felt catastrophic while we still had a child in nappies. Even in the 1980s we were environmentally conscious and we used washable and reusable cloth terry squares for our baby and dried these on the line [no tumble drier]. Washing nappies by hand was tough and it was an anxious few weeks until we managed to borrow the £250 we needed to buy a new washing machine.

Not wanting to be in that situation again the washing machine savings fund came into being. We did without and built up and kept £300 in a savings account for the next twenty years or so [long after we were washing nappies] as a security blanket.

Lesson Two: Campervans are fun!

Back in 2005 we made the life-changing purchase of our first blue campervan. Nothing was ever the same again and by the following year we knew we wanted to have a campervan gap year. Saving for this went way beyond the washing machine fund; this was big!

By 2005 we were both earning UK average salaries, our mortgage was small, our son was grown and would soon be finishing university and borrowing to buy a second-hand campervan became possible. This loan was paid off when I received redundancy pay the following year and we extended the mortgage for campervan number two. I took on multiple jobs and we became extreme savers with a clear goal to have a gap year. In the first of many spreadsheets, I began tracking our spending and savings from earnings and Ebay sales as we de-cluttered.

Lesson Three: A grown-up gap year

Having squirrelled away as much money as we thought we needed, we waved farewell to England in the spring of 2009. Our year travelling in our second blue campervan was fantastic and another huge life-changing event. We returned to Salford in 2010 having learned that early retirement was the only way we could have the freedom to travel we yearned for. We came up with a plan, secured new jobs and embarked on an even bigger saving journey with steely determination and an even more elaborate spreadsheet. Our single goal was to retire as soon as we could afford to.

Lesson Four: Banks are not always secure

We have avoided the ‘big banks’ since becoming aware of their role in debt and poverty in the global south in the 1980s. Despite the fashion for demutualisation of building societies a few remain and these are where we put our money. Although the failure of Northern Rock in 2008 only affected us lightly it did result in a ramping up of my cautiousness. Building societies are not squeaky clean but we are more comfortable with their structure and ethos. From 2010 until 2017 our ever-growing savings pots were recorded on those increasingly complex spreadsheets as we sought out the best interest rates in building societies, the government savings bank NS&I and the Co-operative Bank, spreading our cash around to limit the risk. We had a long-term plan and could tie-up money for many years and this allowed us to take advantage of reasonable interest rates.

Lesson Five: The cost of living increases

To anyone who was around in the 1970s and 80s, inflation is nothing new. With almost five years of retirement behind us the savings pots are decreasing. Now that inflation in the UK is officially over 5% and rising and our money earning little interest, we are losing value big time. I like to think savers should be able to expect their savings to ‘earn’ at least as much as inflation, staying steady rather than taking steps backwards but I have had to tweak the spreadsheet and budget to reflect these losses.

Fortunately for us this loss isn’t catastrophic as we have spent under our budget for four of the five years since we finished work. We hope that this surplus, along with my ad-hoc travel writing earnings over these years [never included in the budget] have left us with enough wiggle room to cope with an increasingly uncertain future but it does depend how bad it gets.

Lesson Six: Everyone deserves a home

Investing in housing has been popular in the UK and seen as a safe way of increasing the value of your money. Once we had sufficient funds to cover our spending for the years until our pensions paid out we could have used our savings to purchase one or two houses and become landlords, using the rent as our income. Getting our own buy-to-let might have been a wise investment decision but being a landlord is not who we are. Everyone deserves a house that feels like home and yet in my working life with homeless and vulnerable people I have learnt that many people don’t have that security. The UK’s enthusiasm for housing as an investment has inflated prices, excluded first-time buyers from the housing market and skewed the type of new properties built. I am grateful for the riches I have and count my blessings that I have a home, I am not greedy for more.

We have also never maximised the profit on our housing by pushing ourselves to have a big and bigger mortgage. We purchased our first home when we married in the mid-1980s for £13,500. The purchase was completed the day before our wedding day and with the energy of youth we married in the morning and moved across the country in the afternoon, waving to our two dozen guests from a hired Luton van full of our sticks of furniture! The small terraced house was affordable [our household income was around £6,000/year], comfortable and occasionally a headache but it was never an investment.

Moving north, we stayed in our Lancashire semi-detached house for over 20 years. To ‘maximise’ our ‘investment’ we could have taken advantage of our higher incomes and moved to a more expensive property as we reached our 40s. Our home was in the cheap-end of town but we liked where we lived and the mortgage was affordable, allowing us to enjoy a good quality of life. We still benefitted from the exorbitant rise in house prices when we sold it but by not actively playing the housing-market game and staying in a ‘cheap’ house we are now locked into the lower end of the housing market.

Lesson Seven: Sell, sell, sell

In the 1980s the Conservative government sold and privatised companies that I thought I already owned. We didn’t buy any of these get-rich-quick shares for utility companies but watching the scramble for a fast buck we added company shares into the best-avoided category.

I am clearly risk averse but in the 1980s I learnt that these investments were considered a route to wealth. We have saved to secure sufficient funds to be able to walk away from the straight-jacket of nine-to-five working and travel. Although I understand that by many people’s standards we are rich, I have never aspired to be wealthy and our money is diminishing rather than growing, as we work towards leaving this world with little or nothing.

Being comfortable with your own financial decisions

I guess if you want to free yourself from the necessity of employment in your 30s and 40s, you need firstly a high income and secondly you need to invest and achieve interest rates higher than inflation. Everyone makes their own choices, based on their life experiences and my own life lessons have left me valuing my good fortune and hesitant to squander that good fortune through risky behaviour. Fairness underpins everything we do and I hope I don’t lose sight of how lucky we are to have enough money to make choices about how we spend it.

Our wedding day self-drive removal van

Using our Campervan in Winter: Tips for Keeping Cosy

Camping in our campervan, known affectionately as the Blue Bus, is a year-round hobby. Our ‘van is where I am most happy and I need regular nights away to keep my contentment equilibrium in balance. We also spent a lot of money buying our ‘van and it feels like a waste to only use it from Spring to Autumn.

It is frustrating that so many campsites close in the colder months of the year. I appreciate that campsite owners might need some downtime so that they can go on holiday themselves or carry out maintenance but there should be a rota! It is also clear that there are campsites that just don’t have the facilities for cold and wet weather camping because they either have grass pitches or facility blocks with no heating [although this doesn’t stop some opening]. In winter we will happily use a warm shower block but a Certified Location with no facilities is often a good place to stay as this means we have no expectations of getting a roomy hot shower and we just use our onboard facilities.

Water Matters

We drain the water out of our campervan as soon as the weather gets near to chilly, usually in November. We don’t fill the underfloor tank again until spring, unless we are on a site with no facilities, or we plan to be away for more than three or four days and the weather forecast suggests it won’t be below freezing. Our Truma boiler dumps the water when it detects temperatures below 3C when the campervan isn’t in use and, as I live my life constantly thinking of ways to save water, just throwing away litres of this precious liquid really goes against the grain. For our short winter camping trips, when we are using onsite facilities, we use water from a portable 10l container. This holds enough for drinks, cooking and washing for one day. If we don’t have on-site showers and are just away for a couple of nights we will boil the kettle and crank the heating up for a full wash at the sink.

Head to Toe Warmth

It is easy to keep warm in our campervan, although its insulation isn’t brilliant. In the winter we put extra carpets on our ‘van’s vinyl floor, as this makes a massive difference to how warm it feels. We have cosy Heat Holder slipper socks to wear inside our Blue Bus that keep our toes toasty. Our Truma heater works on gas, electric or both and this keeps the ‘van as hot as you could want it. For extra hygge, we have some soft woollen blankets and even a small hot water bottle. In October we change to our thicker 10.5 tog duvets and we will use these until March. Along with the blankets and silk sleeping bag liners as back up, this is usually enough for even the coldest night when we are chipping ice off the inside of the ‘van windows. Just occasionally we have used sleeping bags plus duvets! At night, if it is very cold we will keep the heating on low through the night and along with snuggly pyjamas might wear a hat to protect every bit of us from the cold!

Drying Gear

In winter, more than summer, it is important to have outdoor gear that will keep you warm and dry. We like to get out and stretch our legs and explore while we are away and this is more fun if you are not going to return to your campervan or motorhome soaking wet and cold. Many people can dry their wet outer layer in their bathroom, if they have a heating vent. Our bathroom doesn’t have heating but what we do find useful for drying wet weather gear is a row of four plastic hooks that fits between the two shelves above the passenger and driver seat [where a rear view mirror would be if we had one]. Waterproofs can hang here between the cab seats and drip onto the cab floor and gradually dry. This is the sort of thing I mean. If we need it, we also carry a low wattage fan heater to dry our kit.

Boots or wellingtons can get wet and / or muddy in winter and be a pain to store in a small campervan. Our solution is large zipped bags. We have a large wellington bag that fits two pairs and a ski boot bag that fits both our walking boots in. This means the muddy footwear can be shoved in the bag, zipped away, stored on the front seats and forgotten about until the next day or when we get home. If we have any newspaper, we will roll it up inside the boots to soak up the moisture. If possible we would prefer to allow the boots to dry out if they have got soggy during the day but we tend to prioritise the clothing and leave the boots to dry slowly overnight, so they aren’t cluttering up the space in the ‘van during the evening.

Long Winter Evenings

It is dark in winter as well as cold and the evenings can feel long. We either like to be within walking distance of a pub with a roaring fire or we make sure we have plenty of books, games and things to watch to entertain us during the evening. Dominoes is a favourite game and we always travel with a quiz book. Another favourite thing we share is that while the evening meal is being prepared and cooked the non-cook will read out loud, usually from a non-fiction book we are both interested in. We don’t have a TV in our campervan but we always take a laptop with downloaded programmes to keep us entertained. We are currently re-watching all the Parks and Recreation series and laughing at the jokes all over again!

Along with a glass of red wine, on cold winter evenings we often treat ourselves to a warming tipple and an essential in our campervan is Jägermeister. This German digestif is packed with herbs and spices that mean it must be good for you and it certainly reaches the parts other drinks can’t!

Winter Treats

Winter camping is a different experience than the summer and I certainly anticipate the warmth and lighter evenings impatiently. Even so, the winter brings its own special moments. A night of gentle snow falling on the van roof is precious, frost on the windows makes pretty patterns and sitting inside the Blue Bus watching deer pottering around a quiet campsite is unforgettable. At these times I remember that it is fun to be out all year.

2021 Spending Reviewed: Despite Rising Costs we Have Stayed Below Budget

It is the start of another year and time to share how much money we have spent in the last 12 months, revealing our spending habits in all of their immoderation. I divulge our expenditure for interest and accountability, as we aim to stay within the budget we set when we retired in 2017. Our spending is peculiar to us and comparisons are not always helpful but it does show you don’t need gold-plated pensions to have a good time. Any comments and observations are gladly received.

In 2017 we aimed to live on less than £27,000 a year for the foreseeable future and despite high inflation we spent under that figure for the fifth year running. In 2017, as new retirees, it was a generous amount for us that was around the average UK household spending but was less than we had spent while we were working. Although we had been tracking our spending for years, we didn’t really know how our retirement spending would pan out and, of course, as two vegetarians with no mortgage and a campervan there is nothing average about us! In 2020 we almost spent £27,000 but then there was nothing normal about 2020. In 2021 life was still strange but I am pleased that we have spent a comfortable £4,000+ below our budget. Our annual spending has tended to be a rollercoaster, with expensive years followed by frugal years and this trend, although it makes little sense, has continued.

As in previous years, expensive home improvements that we consider one-off are kept separate and not part of the headline figure. On top of the budgeted expenditure in the usual categories [see below], in 2021 we also spent £2,780 on new garage doors and a living room carpet. Even if this was included we would still have spent under £27,000, so I feel we have done pretty well. Our home improvements spending would have been more and we would have replaced our faded bathroom by now but have you tried getting a bathroom fitter recently?

Here is how our budget breaks down into my different categories:

Essentials – total £8,730 [38% of total spending] [2020 £9,833 / 38%]

Food – £4,142 [2020 £4,703] – We all know that prices have gone up in 2021 so I have closely monitored this spending line through the year and I am surprised it is lower than 2020. We continue to use discount supermarkets for the majority of our shopping and generally cook from scratch. The figures don’t lie and our supermarket spending seems to be inversely related to how much we spend in cafes and restaurants. In 2020 we hardly ate out at all and so food prepared at home was a bigger chunk of our costs. In 2021 we have spent more eating out so I suppose we could expect to spend less in our local supermarkets.

Utilities, insurance & service charges for a 2-bed 57.2 sq mtrs [615.7 sq feet] bungalow – £3,854 [2020 £4,463] – I am also pleasantly surprised that we spent less on our bills in 2021 than 2020 but there is an explanation that isn’t totally about being frugal. We now have two full years in the bungalow to compare our spending on this essentials category. In 2020 some bills were initially more as providers got used to the amount we would use, not realising how frugal we are! For example, our water bills started off at over £30 a month and have now settled down to £18 a month, a better reflection of what we use. We also paid more in Council Tax in 2020 as we had a few months when we didn’t pay anything in 2019 after moving. The January to April lockdown meant that we were home all the time, not something we would expect to do in a normal year. As soon as we were able we were away from mid-April to the end of June and so using no water or energy at home. We did manage to trim some of our bills in 2021 finding better deals for our mobile phones and our boiler servicing contract. In addition we complained to our previous boiler servicing company [British Gas] and received compensation after some shoddy service.

Our health [including tai chi classes] – £734 [2020 £667] – In lockdown we paid for some online tai chi classes to support our teacher and keep us healthy. In person classes re-started in September and we have attended when we can. Most of this money has been spent on new prescription specs and dental check ups.

The money we spend on the essentials above are, in theory, the minimum we need to survive, if nothing goes wrong or wears out and we didn’t own a campervan and never went anywhere!

Stuff (electronics, books, newspapers and other kit) – £3,170 [14% of total spending] [2020 £7,175 / 27%]

Household spending [everything from glue, newspapers and books to bird food, gardening stuff and parts for the bikes] – £2,506 [ 2020£6,189] 2020 was the year of DIY! 2021 has been more about getting out and about. When we do buy furniture we continue to try and buy second-hand and in 2021 we have sourced some fabulous items that will last the rest of our lifetimes. It is hard to call the G-Plan large chest of drawers a bargain at just under £200 but they are beautifully made and the drawers glide in place. A second-hand wine rack and a small cupboard were other good buys from our local GB Antiques emporium. We search out second-hand books in charity shops and the warren-like Pier Bookshop in Morecambe and, even better, when we can we borrow books from our local library for free!

Clothes & accessories – £664 [2020 £986] – Again, I am pleased we haven’t spent more in this category. There have been a couple of essential purchases. My partner wore his hiking boots up lots of hills but eventually the sole lost contact with the body of the boot. Some glue kept them together during our holiday in Ireland but we did have to purchase more this summer. We both also needed new walking shoes and after mine caused massive blisters and bruising on my feet I complained to the manufacturer. They sent me replacement shoes but I am not convinced they were faulty and think it is a design issue and I haven’t dared to wear them yet. In the meantime I had purchased a pair of Vivo Barefoot walking shoes. I love their shoes but hadn’t tried their more substantial styles before and I am really pleased with them. This palaver does mean I bought two pairs of walking shoes in 2021! More frugally, while we were in Ilkley this summer I spent some time in the excellent charity shops in this well-heeled town and purchased some good quality second hand items I needed, including a soft and floaty summery frock for a few quid that is perfect for the four or five days a year it is warm enough to wear such a thing.

Experiences – £9,517 [31% of total spending] [2020 £8,336 / 31%]

Holidays [our favourite spending line] – £3,634 [2020 £2,834] – As well as plenty of nights on campsites, other holidays are in this category. Having had so many plans disrupted in 2020, we were determined to make the most of spending time with friends in 2021 and have had a couple of lovely weekends in hotels in the Lake District. In 2019 we paid for a self-catering cottage holiday with friends in Scotland for 2020. This was obviously postponed to 2021 and, due to another lockdown, has now been postponed to 2022. Is this a record for the longest wait for a holiday?

Restaurants & cafes – £2,225 [2020 £1,309] – After a woeful 2020, our 2021 spending in this category is nearer to our 2019 spending, although we haven’t got back to the regular meet ups and meals with friends in Manchester. We did manage a sociable night at Manchester’s Christmas Market and paying a small fortune for a mug of warming gluwein felt like a massive treat!

Running the campervan [servicing & insurance etc] – £1,280 [2020 £2,093] – It has been a cheap year for the van. No doubt the Blue Bus is saving up for some expensive new parts it wants in 2022!

Diesel for the above ‘van – £1,261 [2020 £1,227 ] – We travelled to northern Scotland and across Northern Ireland to Donegal but certainly haven’t put the miles across Europe on the campervan we would normally do.

Tickets for concerts, football & attractions – £589 [2020 £403] – By the autumn of 2021 we felt ready to attend events and gigs again. We attended a Manchester Literary Festival events and saw Chantel McGregor and Turbowolf live. I have missed live music and it was so amazing to immerse myself in it again for an evening. We have been to see Morecambe FC a couple of times too, where you win some and lose some. In the spring many venues weren’t open but by the time we travelled to Wales in September we could visit a bevy of castles.

Public transport costs – £528 [2020 £360] – Most of this is the cost of going to and from Manchester by train.

Giving – £1,352 [6% of total spending] [2020 £937 / 4%]

Gifts & donations – £1,351 [2020 £937] – Another discretionary spending line that we enjoy spending but try and keep under control. In terms of donations, we have given to some favourite local and national charities throughout the year. Our gift giving has been more extravagant in 2021 due to so many disappointments in 2020. The most expensive gift was treating our son and daughter-in-law to a weekend away in a Lake District hotel. The downside for them was that we came too! Time with them is very precious and worth every penny.

TOTAL SPENDING FOR 2021 – £22,769 – I am very pleased we have kept the spending low this year and still enjoyed ourselves and will indulge in a small pat on the back!

Over my five years of retirement we have spent an average of £24,744 a year.

We are gradually spending our savings but our expenditure doesn’t all come from the money we have squirreled away. As well as my side hustle travel writing income, in 2020 my small NHS pension began. This is based on my many years of part-time and full-time NHS work and is the equivalent to 12 years NHS service. These both help to reduce what we take from the ever-diminishing savings pot. Although retiring early was fantastic, for me, saving was never just about being able to give up work before we were in our mid-60s, it was also about us having the financial resilience to survive whatever ups and downs life threw at us. Let’s hope we continue to stay afloat and thrive.