Norfolk seen from a Campervan

It isn’t surprising that I like guidebooks. On our trip around Suffolk and Norfolk we had the pleasure of being accompanied by a pair of tattered 1940s Penguin guides. These dated companions steered us through East Anglia, pointing out the must-see sights of 80 years ago. So much has changed since the post-war period I felt like a time traveller but when we pulled up at Burgh Castle I was also confused as this featured in our Suffolk guidebook but is now in Norfolk.

Whichever county it is in, the scale of the Roman ruins at Burgh Castle are the big story. The rough stone walls and round corner tower soar to over 4m high and I wondered why this building hasn’t been on my wish list for some years. It was only chance that I had chosen it from the out-of-date guidebook. And it is free to visit! I have paid £££s to visit Roman ruins that are pretty much just an ankle-height floor plan in stone, Burgh Castle has scale and presence.

After wandering around the large site I walked down to the banks of the nearby River Yare. The East Anglian coastline has changed in the last 2,000 years and the ruins would originally have guarded a ‘Great Estuary’ that flowed over the rooftops of Great Yarmouth. In those days ships would have docked below the castle.

According to our 1940s guide Great Yarmouth, ‘is sometimes called the Venice of East Anglia.’ I don’t know if anyone still makes that particular comparison! The short stretch of town walls are a reminder of an older Great Yarmouth but I was more interested in the modern Banksy painted on a brick gable end. The artist has cleverly positioned a couple so that they appear to be dancing on the roof of an adjacent bus shelter while an accordion player sits casually on the corner. Later we walked along the prom and gave ourselves a sugar rush with donuts and ice-cream.

We have visited some of the Norfolk coast before but the Norfolk Broads were new territory. From the Caravan and Motorhome Club site we caught the bus to Wroxham and Hoveton on a drizzly day. These two villages merge around a bridge over the River Bure that funnels the never-ending stream of trafic. Cars were less in your face in the 1940s but the local institution, Roys, was already here. Known as the biggest village shop, there are actually many shops; a Roys department store; a food hall; a garden centre and a DIY shop; this isn’t quite a one-shop village but they give it a good try.

Despite the abundant motorcars, the villages are dedicated to boating. This is the place to hire boats, visit boat yards and do other boating things. On the bus we fell into conversation with a man who described himself as a ‘water gypsy.’ No one else would talk to him so he told us he had received no schooling from nine years old, his mum had studied psychology at Hull University and he described his life on the move from 24-hour mooring to 24-hour mooring.

From the campsite we walked along a grassy dike that meandered through reed beds, the chugging of boats on the River Ant in the distance.  A marsh harrier flew by, a fish dropped from the talons of a herring gull and was lost in the reeds and a flock of teal rose from a pool in a shudder of wing beats and circled overhead.  Approaching a windmill, cormorants perched along the wooden sails, their wings spread out to catch the weak September sun. 

I was keen to experience the watery nature of the broads and we were booked on the morning electric boat trip from Toad Hole Cottage. Waiting for our guide we sat drinking coffee on a bench, lazily watching a sailor polishing the already gleaming wood on a handsome wooden wherry.

It turned out we were the only people who wanted to explore the Broads in a quiet electric boat that morning and we had the luxury of spreading out on the small craft. After a short distance on the main river we turned left into a channel where the reeds leaned in against the boat.  As the thrum of the river boats melted away I found myself in the backwater world of Swallows and Amazons.

Later we had our lunch in a hide, thrilled to see a kingfisher fly back and forth.  We explored How Hill House’s verdant and dripping secret garden before taking the paths to the village of Ludham and joining the river again by the ruins of St Benet’s Abbey.

In Cromer I led Anthony along the beach to find another Banksy on the sea wall. ‘Luxury Rentals Only,’ a comment on our broken housing market, is out in all weathers and fading. I liked Cromer with its prom and pier, its beach dotted with colourful pebbles and tall breakwaters crossed by metal steps dripping with black seaweed. Our 1940s guidebook ignores the pier but was right about the ‘excellent beach.’ 

Another showery September day was ideal for taking the train to Norwich. Here we visited the cathedral and I walked round and round the font that is made from two polished copper bowls. These were given to the Cathedral when the Rowntree Mackintosh Norwich chocolate factory closed in 1994.  Colourful modern stained glass gave a vibrant glow to otherwise gloomy corners of the cathedral and the cloisters radiated peace and light.  We did wander some of Norwich’s pretty streets but, as the rain got heavier, we lost the desire to explore and probably didn’t do it justice.

Sitting outside at the Priory Maze café near Sheringham the waitress moved between the tables gathering up all the sachets of mayonnaise.  ‘The rooks take them away and eat the contents,’ she told us, leaving the salad cream which apparently is less appealing to these connoisseur rooks! From the campsite we had hiked to the top of Norfolk (if there is a hill we will find it). Cromer Ridge is just inland and reaches the dizzy heights of 102m so it wasn’t a tough ascent!  Our route passed a village green with a pebble-built house before climbing through woodland where we stepped carefully over tree roots.  We descended through heathland and skirted the fields of a horse sanctuary before reaching Priory Maze and Gardens.

Copper beech and hornbeam have been planted using the layout of the ruined priory as the basis for the maze.  We began in a disciplined way, alternating who chose which direction to turn to find a way to the centre. Very soon we were lost and our choices became random and haphazard and it was only luck that eventually led us to the central viewing platform.

The maze and gardens were fun but couldn’t beat the walk along the beach from Sheringham to East Runton. The soft sandy cliffs that are basically a giant sandcastle erode easily and attempts have been made to protect these from the sea. The futile remains of wooden revetments littered the beach and we wound our way around vertical posts and under buttresses of grey weathered wood studded with rust-red nails.

I had been looking forward to Blakeney Point and it was a memorable day but not for the reasons I was expecting. Our Penguin guide noted that this four-mile long shingle ridge backed with salt marshes was given to the National Trust in 1912. We parked at Cley Beach and turning to make coffee in the back of the ‘van I was floored by a hot pain that shot from my spine to the back of my legs. I assumed it would wear off and, after drinks, carefully put on my waterproofs.

The squally wind and the deep pebbles along the ridge made walking agony and I shuffled down the slope to meander on the sand by the crashing waves, where the going was a little easier. At the old Watch House or Halfway House we scrambled back to the shingle bank to look over the salt marshes and the remote building. Exhausted, I sat down and as we ate our picnic lunch we made the decision to head back. Walking was easier with a tailwind.  We collected a few bits of litter and admired some of the multitude of shells.  Seals popped their heads above the waves and a group of Brent geese flapped low over the sea. 

Dosed up on ibuprofen I could manage to walk around Wells-next-the-Sea for the next couple of days. The sun returned and watching it set from the beach was as idyllic as I could have hoped. Waking up to the joyful honking of geese as they flew over our campervan was special too. Our 1940s guide doesn’t mention the beach huts that are now a Wells-next-the-Sea icon and also doesn’t firmly place the town on the coast, it is just called Wells.

Striding out to Holkham Hall it seemed that I was okay walking upright. I just needed to avoid bending, easier said than done in a small campervan!    Our guidebook told us that visitors were welcomed at Holkham Hall 80 years ago and they still are. We took paths and tracks around the house and through the estate and ate our lunch on a bench overlooking Well’s harbour.  Our guide told us that in 1940s Wells ‘… you will find no piers or funfairs …’ but ’if you are in search of ‘local colour’ drop in at the Shipwrights’ Arms one evening.’  Unfortunately, this pub is now closed so we sought out local colour in the many quaint corners.

Opening the blinds on our final day in Norfolk it was a pleasure to see blue sky. We arrived at Titchwell RSPB reserve as the staff were holding an outdoor team meeting and we spent a fabulous hour walking by the pools to the dunes and the sandy beach.  The blue sea met the blue sky on the horizon and the space felt phenomenal. 

By the time we reached Castle Rising the weather had changed to misty and chilly autumnal weather.  The castle has a circular ditch or moat to cross to the gatehouse and a well-preserved stone keep. We climbed up to the different floors finding details that have survived the centuries. 

After sitting for even an hour in the ‘van I would unravel myself from the seat in a shambles of bent and staggering bones. This acute pain lasted just a short time and once everything had loosened up I could stand and walk normally. I was grateful we weren’t making the long journey back to Lancashire in one run and had Derbyshire friends to stay with on the way.

The Suffolk half of our trip is in a previous post.

Footnote on the pain I was experiencing. This became sciatic pain in my right leg. I had lots of physio through October and November 2022 and eventually visited my GP and started taking amitriptyline which meant I could sleep peacefully all night. By January 2023 I was more or less pain free.

Where we stayed

We used two Caravan and Motorhome Club Sites, Norfolk Broads and Seacroft near Cromer. We liked the former, it was a well-run site with a bus service into Norwich and a walk along the River Ant and to St Benet’s Abbey from the site. Seacroft is an excellent location for Cromer and Sheringham but is in need of an upgrade.

We also stayed at Pinewoods at Wells-next-the-Sea, an expensive site with a fantastic location. For the money I would have liked heating in the facilities at the end of September but our pitch in the reeds was heavenly.

Do you need £34,000/year to retire in 2023?

A recent article in the i newspaper [link at the end] tells readers a couple will need £34,000 a year to have a moderate retirement. The piece refers to former pensions minister Steve Webb and includes tips for making the most of your money. It suggest three levels of retirement income that you could aim to save for; basic; moderate and comfortable. Our budget of £27,000 a year fell somewhere between basic and moderate!

As I have written before, I thnk that everyone has different spending habits and priorities and no one person’s retirement will be the same as another but here was an article confidently prescribing the income you need for retirement. I wondered how they could be so precise.

The article states:

A moderate retirement – which gives you two weeks’ holiday in Europe and a long weekend every year, as well as money to maintain your home and £800 to spend annually on clothes – costs around £23,000 if you are single, and £34,000 if you are a couple (these figures assume you have paid off your mortgage). 

By Jessie Hewitson i News Money and Business Editor
March 4, 2023

Frustatingly, the article doesn’t give much detail about how a retirees money would be spent so it is hard to understand the working out. Regular blog readers will know that we have quite a lot more holidays than the two weeks and long weekend the piece allow for. Even with only £27,000/year to play with we are usually away for over three months each year! The article suggests we are doing the impossible.

The clothing allowance of £800 per year is mentioned and it is implied that this amount is per person, budgeting £1,600 for a retired couple to spend on clothes. For the last couple of years we have spent between £600 and £700 on clothes for the two of us, quite a significant saving. Maybe with a full breakdown I would be able to see where else we spend less than this average moderate retired couple.

For a while my mind wandered as I tried to imagine how one person would spend £800 on clothes. I found my imagination just isn’t that good and I sought help from the John Lewis website. Some browsing revealed that you could spend £100 on a pair of jeans, not much more than I would spend on a pair of hiking trousers. These jeans [like my hiking trousers] would no doubt last years so doesn’t really explain the £800 per person. Ramping things up, I began looking at winter coats, sorting them by the highest price. Apparently you can spend over £1,000 on a coat! That is expensive but surely for that price it would last a lifetime! All this pointless browsing just proves that everyone’s retirement is different. There will be people who enjoy buying and wearing expensive clothes but I am not one of them.

Our clothing policy is that things are replaced when they wear out. If something doesn’t get worn during a year it goes to the charity shop with the exception of my back-of-a-drawer guilt clothing. I admit I own a couple of items that I never [or hardly ever] wear. I still have the frock I wore at my graduation in 1995 even though I haven’t worn it for years. I was so proud of my achievement when I wore my cap and gown [and this dress] at the graduation ceremony. I earned my degree at the age of 35 and the dress is still tied in with those memories and I haven’t been able to give it away.

Anyway, I have digressed. Back to retirement. Given that the article budgets so much for clothing it would be good to scrutinise other spending lines to see if they stand up to scrutiny. Without the detail I can only guess that the holidays are more luxurious than ours, more expensive supermarkets are used for shopping and maybe decorators and new curtains are allowed for rather than DIY and second hand.

How much income you need in retirement is a common and legitimate question and despite my critique, the article does contain some useful advice for anyone planning their retirement so please read it. What it doesn’t say is that the only way to know how much YOU will need in retirement is to monitor your own spending, rather than relying on someone else’s estimate. Once you have a handle on how much you spend and what you buy, you can begin to estimate what you need. It might be £34,000 or it might be less or more. Only you will know if your own retirement essential is watching a new film at the cinema every week, gym membership, drinking a glass of high-quality wine every evening or maybe all or none of these things. Mapping out your spending and planning accordingly will help you have the retirement you want. You certainly don’t have to spend £800 a year on new clothes but if that is your priority then budget for it.

You can read the article here.

Suffolk in a Campervan: Beaches, Byways & some Striking Buildings

Shingle beaches that stretch to the horizon, coastal villages packed with cottages and ancient flint churches were what drew me to Suffolk. This was our first visit to this county and I was delighted to find all these things and more on our autumn trip. We rolled into Suffolk at Bury St Edmunds in our Blue Bus and stayed firstly near Ipswich before following the coast eastward.


In the couple of weeks we were in Suffolk we walked miles along shingle beaches deep with pebbles and soon learnt how tiring wading through this is. We also found sandy beaches that were made for buckets and spades. In Orford we took the boat to Orford Ness and were spell-bound by the combination of post-war military structures and hardy plants. You couldn’t miss the power of nature. Between Minsmere and Dunwich seal pups sat in the surf as we meandered between the clumps of sea kale that breaks up the shingle and climbed up to the heath-covered cliffs.

In Southwold we kicked along the soft sand below rows of colourful beach huts, each one individually decorated, and stood under the pier watching the tide crashing against the complicated lattice of pier struts. Later we sampled a glass of Adnams, the local beer, in a pub off the seafront.


While Thorpeness seems hardly real with its holiday villas that are straight from Disney, the weatherboard houses of Aldeburgh felt real and charming. The brick and stone Martello Tower is solid and dense in comparison to the village. This is now a Landmark Trust property you can rent and what a treat it would be to stay there. If you’re interested in unusual places to stay in, the famous House in the Clouds old watertower in Thorpeness is also available as a holiday rent.

At Aldeburgh we gazed across the sea, guessing there was nothing between us and the Netherlands.  From the edge of the village, the dyke path took us on a lovely green route around Aldeburgh passing productive allotments. Leaving the houses we picked up a path through a nature reserve where trees arched above the sandy path, sunshine dappled through the foliage and blackberries glistened by the path and we picked ripe ones as we walked.   

Lavenham is hard to beat in the charming village awards. Over 300 buildings are listed in this well-preserved medieval village that was once a wealthy wool town and walking the narrow streets and lanes to the market place is like undertaking a crash course in timber-framed building designs.

Towns & Cities

We were initiated into the sights of Suffolk in Bury St Edmunds and it was the perfect introduction to the county for two Suffolk newbies. We began in the park of this small town, wandering around the abbey ruins to the monumental and richly-decorated stone gatehouse. Later we visited the cathedral, spent a fascinating hour or so in the Moyse’s Hall Museum and finished off our trip in a sunny square with coffee and cake.

From our campsite near Ipwich we visited Ipwich and Felixstowe. The bus to Felixstowe took the slow road and we sat on the top deck until the end of the line at Landguard Fort.  You can visit the fort but we were keen to walk and after watching the huge cranes picking up the containers and placing them on the ship like a giant tetras game we set off along the seafront.  The sea defences were easy to follow back to Felixstowe with views to the pier and more ships out at sea.

In Ipswich we began with the waterfront, a marina surrounded by old warehouses, the Custom’s House and some shiny new buildings.  We had coffee and watched students learning filming techniques with the boats as a backdrop. We wandered through the city centre, passing all the shops you would expect, to Christchurch Park, a large green space with grass, woodland and a pond. Christchurch Mansion is a free museum with a collection of paintings from local artists Constable and Gainsborough.

In Lowestoft we found our way around a sprawling Bird’s Eye factory, no doubt pumping out boxes and boxes of fish fingers, to find England’s most easterly point.  I expected a bit more of an attraction here but the orientation circle in the concrete promenade was informative. Checking out the distances we realised we were closer to mainland Europe than we were to Lancashire! Walking along the promenade we could see a lower prom had been washed away by the sea, so I guess Europe is getting further away. Inland we climbed one of Lowestoft’s scores, narrow steep alleys, to the High Street, an old shopping street with some historic buildings and quirky shops

Sitting by the River Waveney between Beccles and Lowestoft a kingfisher flew low over the water and minutes later a swan landed perfectly in front of us and harrumphed occasionally and gently until its partner negotiated an equally skilful landing and they slipped away together.  A buzzard emerged from the trees opposite, circled the field and flew away as a group of geese passed overhead.  Beside us were bushes decorated with bright-green hop fruits that look too exotic to be British. We had caught the bus to Beccles and after coffee and cake in a cosy but wildly expensive café we followed the Angles Path along the Waveney, a watery highway busy with boats but few other walkers.  The weather was quiet, with no wind and the cloud hung in the sky like a billowing duvet. In the wet meadows alongside the river we spotted plenty of Chinese water deer with their teddy bear ears and strange hare-like run.  

Churches & Abbeys

I had read about Blythburgh Church but that didn’t prepare me for the loveliness of this medieval church.  The exterior flint has been worked and arranged to look like chequer-board tiling.  Inside the wonky tiled floor held stories from thousands of feet and I stepped up to the high medieval font.  We had come to see the painted angels on the wooden ceiling who peered down on mortals in the nave, their magnificent wings outstretched.  While I admired the carved wooden pew ends, Anthony found an information panel about JF Kennedy’s brother, Joe, who died in a Second World War plane explosion nearby. 

Leiston Abbey, a ruined abbey not far from Sizewell, today suffers from metal-fence-itis. Ugly temporary fencing circled every part of the ruins that presumably are unsafe.  Nevertheless, beyond the fencing we could appreciate the structures, the 14th century arches and windows and the cloisters that retained their sense of peaceful space.

In Pakefield on the edge of Lowestoft, we walked around All Saints and St Margaret’s Church on the seafront. Technically two churches built next to each other, you will notice the tower is attached to one half of the M-shaped roof. These churches were once some distance inland but coastal erosion has led to the loss of many houses here as the sea has nibbled at the land. In the Second World War the buildings took a direct hit and were rebuilt.

Southwold‘s parish church was another church we took the time to visit. This church is fascinating for its Jack. This is a wooden statue dressed in armour, and holds a sword and an axe, which can be used to ring the bell at the start of a service. The Jack has been in the church since the 15th century and it is thought it was originally made to strike the hour for a clock and was repurposed.


Off the main roads, Suffolk seemed to be characterised by narrow lanes, plenty of them going nowhere but to a small coastal village. We took the Blue Bus to the end of the road at Orford and caught the National Trust boat to Orford Ness (see above). Driving to the RSPB reserve at Minsmere the lanes became narrow and then even narrower as we got closer to the sea. The lanes wound around fields and woodland until I had no idea which way was north and whether we were heading in the right direction or not. The only thing you can do is trust the RSPB signs! After our walk we had to follow the same byways in the opposite direction.

Sizewell was an exception. We immediately noticed what a good road it was to Sizewell, presumably for the traffic to the nuclear power station.

Where we stayed

We stayed at some Caravan and Motorhome Club sites on the way down [Grafham Water] for one night and at White House Beach which was handy for Lowestoft. These were both the usual standard.

For Ipswich we stayed at Little Sage Hill, Copenhagen Cottage Caravan and Camping Club Certified Site. I reviewed this site here.

Beach View Holiday Park at Sizewell is a large independent site that was okay for a couple of night and was well situated for walks to Thorpeness and Aldeburgh.

Campsite Review: Little Sage Hill, Copenhagen Cottage Caravan & Camping Club CS near Ipswich

We have used quite a few of the small campsites affiliated to the Camping and Caravanning Club and called Certified Sites [CS]. Over the years we have found these sites do vary hugely in standards and facilities. While the unexpected can be delightful it can be best to read the reviews for a CS carefully to see if it is a site for you. This one on the edge of Ipswich worked very well for us and gave us a lovely rural retreat with reasonable facilities.

The campsite, as the name suggests, is on a hill. The landscape is large fields of cereals which look a tad dreary after harvest, although there is a planning application in for solar panels which will brighten things up. At the top of the hill is a wooded idyll that contrasts with the sterile agricultural surroundings. The owners have created a vibrant oasis of wildlife that is peaceful and we watched all sorts of birds, butterflies and insects from our pitch.

The campsite is grassy and isn’t open all year but it appears to be well drained. Pitches are not marked out, although there are some nooks that are the perfect size for one campervan and other spaces that are obvious rows. Fortunately it wasn’t too busy when we were there in mid-September so we could spread out. As well as being surrounded by trees and bushes there are shrubberies dotted around that screen other campers, giving a sense of privacy.

After opening the gate using the lock code we had been sent before arrival, we took some time choosing a pitch as there were no instructions. Later we found the path through the trees behind the facilities that took us to the owner’s house to pay. The owners are friendly and, if you don’t find them at home you will most likely see them later as they regularly wander around the pitches in the early evening to check everyone is happy.

The facilities are in what I [mistakenly] called sheds! I was corrected and told they are beach huts! One of these ‘beach huts’ has a sink for washing up that was a tad lacking in elbow room. Another has a toilet and sink. The largest [and most beach-hut-like] of the huts is equipped with an electric shower [this was okay], toilet and sink and was brighter and airier. Showers were an additional £1 and this is left in an honesty box. These facilities were mostly sufficient when we were there along with only three or four other units, although we did have to queue to shower and wash up at least once. If it was busier, particularly with guests in tents, these facilities would be pressed into more action and it could get crowded. Everything worked fine although, as the September days became cooler we would have welcomed some heating in the shower room.

The fourth shed is an information hut and when we visited there was honey from the owners bees on sale.

Walk down the gravel track and turn left along the lane, cross the main road [B1113] and you are in the village of Bramford. This 10 minute walk takes you to a bus stop from where there is an irregular week day bus service into Ipswich that we used both days we were here. Bramford also has a pub that provides meals and a village shop.

Ipswich is well worth visiting. It has a fabulous waterfront, plenty of shops and Christchurch Mansion, a beautiful Tudor house that is an interesting museum and art gallery. We ate a delicious lunch in Hullabaloo Vegan Cafe, a comfy and friendly establishment on St Peter’s Street, between the marina and the city centre.

If you like cycling on country lanes, a regional cycle route, number 48, follows the lane by the campsite and is part of a 48 mile route around Suffolk.

124 Nights in a Campervan in 2022

The Blue Bus, our Renault Master Devon Tempest campervan, is now eight years old and has travelled almost 70,000 miles. In 2022, with no lock downs and Covid-19 restrictions, we enjoyed 124 nights in our campervan in 60 different places, stretching from Meissen in south-east Germany to the Isle of Skye off the west coast of Scotland.

We spent at least one night in the ‘van in every month of 2022, from a chilly weekend with friends in the Ribble Valley in January to a night parked on a Manchester residential street on New Year’s Eve. Using our campervan all year keeps it aired and means that I always have a camping trip to look forward to.

Looking through our log book of our nights away we paid between nothing for an overnight when we free camped to £38 a night at Pinewoods at Wells-next-the-Sea. Spending a night off-grid for free is a big plus to owning a campervan and we have parked up and had some enviable views to ourselves. Pinewoods is a beautifully positioned campsite within walking distance of Wells-next-the-Sea that came highly recommended and was a bit of a one-off treat during our Suffolk and Norfolk trip.

As we all know, campsite overnight costs have increased in 2022 and we mostly paid between £20 and £25 a night, even on Certified Locations [Caravan and Motorhome Club] and Certified Sites [Camping and Caravanning Club]. Due to our age we receive a discount on Camping and Caravanning Club sites and these often work out cheaper for us than Caravan and Motorhome Club sites. For the most part we are lucky enough to have enough money to be able to choose on location rather than cost. We have also found that, when it comes to campsites, the overnight charge seems to have little to do with the standard of the facilities!

During our trip to Germany and the Netherlands in May and June we made good use of our ACSI discount card, although, as we were sticking to the River Elbe, we also used sites not part of this scheme. ACSI discount sites were a maximum of €21 a night, including EHU, in 2022. I noticed when our new ACSI book arrived before Christmas that you can now pay as much as €23 a night. Germany also has a couple of public holidays in May and school holidays and some sites were full price [and very busy] during this period. German campsites generally have high standards but there are always exceptions and we found one or two of them!

We stayed on plenty of idyllic campsites while we were in Germany but our favourite was Campingplatz Rehbocktal near to the gorgeous city of Meissen. This small site tucked into a valley with a babbling brook running through it is immaculately kept, friendly and just a short distance away from Meissen. I didn’t really want to leave this delightful spot and it was well worth the £27.50 a night [the most expensive campsite we stayed at in Germany].

It is hard to pick a favourite UK campsite from 2022 but if I was pushed, Silverburn Park near Leven has to be up there and not just because we had a light covering of snow when we were there and also had the small site to ourselves. The friendly welcome, the open views across the beach and the Firth of the Forth, the campsite cat and the birds in the walled garden all made it perfect. Add to this the knowledge that you are supporting a charity and happiness is off the scale.

Here’s to a 2023 of more happy camping.

2022 Spending Reviewed: Some Frugal Fails & Some New Ways of Being

The cost of living has been on everyone’s minds in 2022 so how did we cope in a year where inflation raced ahead into double figures, while interest on savings lagged behind? Did we make any changes to our lives that show up in our spending? Once again I have divulged the expenditure of a couple living in the northwest of England in all its peculiarity and shortcomings.

During 2022 we still only had my small NHS pension, my irregular travel writer income, interest and Premium Bond winnings [no we didn’t win big!] to pad out our savings. This income contributes about 40% of our spending and it is our dwindling savings that provide the majority of our funds through the year. We are beyond excited that in 2023 one of Anthony’s work-related pensions kicks in [over 20 years of service] as we gradually come to the end of our savings.

When we retired in 2017 we aimed to live on less than £27,000 a year for the foreseeable future, and despite high inflation we have spent under that figure for five of the last six years but it was a close run thing in 2022. Today the average household in the UK spends just over £30,000 a year [even if you take out mortgage / rent costs] and if we were both earning minimum wage for a 37 hour week and paying tax we would have an income of almost £33,000, so we were not budgetting for anything like the lap of luxury.

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 2022 we also eventually managed to renovate our tired bathroom, splashing out £10,000 on a new super-modern bathroom and flooring for our hallway. I am hopeful I will never have to re-fit a bathroom again [I’ve no idea how anyone manages this without a campervan to fall back on] and I hope this one will see me out!

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

Essentials – total £8,941 [33% of total spending] [2021 £8,730 / 38%]

Food – £4,074 [2021 £4,142] – I have watched this figure carefully throughout the year and I am surprised it is less than 2021! The evidence suggests that the price of food has increased and there was a point where a pack of butter seemed to increase by the day and yet the spreadsheet doesn’t lie. I can’t explain this and my waistline would suggest we haven’t starved. We continue being vegetarian and using Lidl for most of our shopping, with top ups at the Co-op, Sainsburys and Tesco. We were in Germany and the Netherlands for two months of the year but food seemed a similar price there and we have averaged £339 / month spending in supermarkets [including alcohol] in 2022.

Utilities, insurance & service charges for a 2-bed 57.2 sq mtrs [615.7 sq feet] bungalow – £4,031 [2021 £3,854] – Considering the rising cost of everything, this budget line hasn’t risen too much either. Like most other people we have received the government help on our energy bills. We can’t do much about our Council Tax and TV License but did get a better deal on our home broadband. We have always saved energy and water for our pockets and the environment, using grey water to flush the loo, switching the shower off while we lather up and only washing clothes at 30C.

Our health – £836 [2021 £734] – Most of this spending in 2022 is on physiotherapy after my ongoing bout of sciatic pain. The NHS waiting list for physiotherapy is generally so long we just get on with this ourselves to prevent problems becoming chronic. This is certainly a frugal fail as after paying £55 a session for two months I found out our GP practice has two NHS physiotherapists with waiting lists of only a few weeks!

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) – £4,719 [18% of total spending] [2021 £3,170 / 14%]

Household spending [everything from glue, newspapers and books to bird food, gardening stuff and parts for the bikes] – £4,076 [ 2021 £2,506] This is much higher than 2021 so was 2022 the year of stuff? There were a number of replacements; new curtains for the living room; a couple of new electronic gadgets as thngs broke and a massive frugal fail – the decision in January to buy our first tumble drier! Doing this just as energy prices were rising was pretty stupid and [of course] we hardly dare use it now. Our local library has helped us be more frugal when it comes to reading. Once I had discovered the online reservation service [75p per item] and gained my reward card [6th book free] I was hooked. Other books come from friends, charity and second-hand book shops.

Clothes & accessories – £643 [2021 £664] – We try and follow a one-in-one-out policy with clothes as even good quality kit eventually wear out and almost half of this £643 went on footwear. After putting up with wet feet time and time again on our hill walks we splashed out on a new pair of boots for me and had to replace other shoes. A massive frugal fail occured on our trip to Scotland in March. We set off in glorious and warm spring weather and forgot to pack our thick padded coats! Of course, you guessed it, a week in and the Scottish weather was Arctic and every charity shop had sold all its stock of warm and showerproof outerwear. We had no choice but to buy a coat each and were just grateful that we caught the sales. The only bonus to spending an unnecessary £130 is that we now keep these two spare coats in the campervan, so we’ll never be caught out again!

Experiences – £11,805 [46% of total spending] [2021 £9,517 / 31%]

Holidays [still our favourite spending line] – £4,096 [20210 £3,634] – We eventually got our holiday with friends in a big Scottish house in 2022, having waited two years and a pandemic to get together. We spent about four months of the year sleeping in our campervan in the UK and Germany and the Netherlands and so paid for lots of campsites and ferries but to save money we only took one trip across to mainland Europe instead of the two each year we planned when we retired.

Restaurants & cafes – £2,311 [2021 £2,225] – This number tell a story of someone who, although they love their family and friends dearly, has lost the need to socialise so much since being locked down. Our spending on eating out [everything from takeaway chips from our local chip shop to a posh meal out with friends] hasn’t recovered since BC[Before Covid-19]. In 2019 we spent just over £2,400 in this line of our budget, revealing how our life has changed and I don’t know if going out will ever return to BC levels. That said, we ate so much cake and ice-cream in Germany I’m honestly amazed this figure isn’t double!

Running the campervan [servicing & insurance etc] – £2,058 [2021 £1,280] – After a cheap year in 2021 it was inevitable we would have to spend more on the Blue Bus in 2022. The biggest expenditure was front tyres that were replaced in the autumn as they were getting to the end of their life. As the spare tyre was five years old we swapped it for one of the removed front tyres that still had some tread and a couple of years of life left in it.

Diesel for the above ‘van – £1,905 [2021 £1,261 ] – It is not surprising this budget line has increased in 2022 as the cost of diesel rocketed. Paying more than £100 to fill up its huge tank is no longer a novelty! When we are at home and on campsites we generally travel on foot, by bicycle or by public transport and our campervan can easily sit for a week or two without going anywhere. We also deliberately reduced our mileage on our trip to Europe, staying in Germany and not following the Elbe into Czechia as we had originally planned.

Tickets for concerts, football & attractions – £744 [2021 £589] – This is another area of spending that hasn’t recovered in the AC [After Covid-19] world. In 2019 we spent £200 more on going out than we did in 2022 and in 2018 we spent even more! Nevertheless we are getting back into the swing of enjoying some experiences. Gigs in 2022 included The Pretty Reckless in Manchester and we had a nostalgic trip to see Preston North End play football with a friend [we were regulars when we lived in Preston]. I sat next to a couple who had been attending PNE matches for over seven decades, what dedication! We have also visited some wonderful places, a highlight being Eilean Bàn early in the year. This island sitting under the bridge between the Isle of Skye and Kyle of Lochalsh is a haven for nature and has a delightful museum to Gavin Maxwell who lived here at one time.

Public transport costs – £691 [2021 £528] – Bus and train fares have increased. On our regular trips to Manchester to see friends we always choose to let the train take the strain but the West Coast Mainline now resembles a lottery more than a service. Three train companies run this route, Northern, TransPennine and Avanti and all of them [but particularly the latter two] have failed to provide a full timetable throughout the year even before strikes began. We now expect cancelled trains on the reduced timetable and plan accordingly after a couple of frustrating and uncomfortable journeys.

Giving – £940 [4% of total spending] [2021 £1,352 / 6%]

Gifts & donations – £940 [2021 £1,352] – In 2022 we have supported Morecambe’s Food Bank, charities campaigning against climate change and Ukraine. Whereas our donations to charities have increased, our gift giving has been more frugal. What isn’t included in this figure is the regular item I pop into the Food Bank bin in the supermarket. This is a small part of our grocery total and we find it is a way of giving without noticing the financial cost.

TOTAL SPENDING FOR 2022 – £26,405

Considering inflation and some big frugal fails I am happy with this figure. The area I would like to reduce in 2023 is the £4,700+ we spent on stuff. Even though where possible we bought second hand, much of this spending has a negative impact on our planet.

Over my six years of retirement we have spent an average of £24,715 a year. Thanks to my travel writing income over these years we have enough flexibility to be able to have a budget of more than £27,000 in 2023 and beyond without being forced to go back to the nine-to-five.

We now have only three years until we are both receiving our state pensions and no longer rely on our savings.

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 even thrive through whatever 2023 brings us.

Let me know in the comments below how your budget matched your spending in 2022.

Travel-Wise & Open-Hearted

‘We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again – to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.’ 

Pico Iyer

The above quote from travel writer Pico Iyer eloquently expresses some of my thoughts on why I enjoy travelling. Everytime we head off in our campervan I feel happy knowing I am setting off on a trip that will give me many chances to open my heart to new places and people and most certainly fall in love over and over again.

Travelling to new and familiar places I uncover different ways of living and new perspectives. Travel keeps alive my fascination and interest in people, history and nature as I see places, observe interactions and learn languages. These things encourage me to make connections and enjoy our differences.

For me being away from home is always a liberating experience. My brain is stimulated by seeing the everyday differently as well as seeing new sights and learning new stories. In my own four walls I am safe but I also become tethered to a schedule and travel injects the unexpected. The sights, smells and tastes of a different place open up new possibilities for my own life and stimulate creativity and interest. I don’t witness a shining light of revelation but by witnessing other people and observing that there is more than one way to be, I gradually understand humanity just a little bit better.

I am not suggesting that coming home is unpleasant. I like where I live and returning to Lancashire I will spend a few days adjusting and thinking through everything I have seen. This is my travel-wise state and it often results in tiny shifts in my life as I follow up on something I have questioned or learnt while I was away. I might remember how much better I feel from being outdoors all day and try and include being outside more in my day; I might increase the amount of language learning I do after being embarrassed with how little I know; or I might research further a period in history I had learnt about on our trip. I try and cling onto the open-heartedness of travelling as long as I can as I move around my local area and I resist getting back into habits. Eventually I will become comfortable in the workaday again and I know it is time to get back on the road.

Travel might feel like an indulgence but it has value. It is an annoying cliche but we often think of life as a journey and it is the travelling in my life that gives me the resources to make my way along that journey as the best person I can be until my big trip on this planet ends.

‘Travelling through the world produces a marvellous clarity in the judgement of men. We are all of us confined and enclosed within ourselves and see no farther than the end of our nose. This great world is a mirror where we must see ourselves in order to know ourselves. There are so many different tempers, so many different points of view, judgements, opinions, laws and customs to teach us to judge wisely on our own, and to teach our judgement to recognize its imperfection and natural weakness.’  

Michel de Montaigne

Night-time Walks with Pain

The clock on the oven says 3.34 as I walk carefully heel-toe, heel-toe off the wooden floor boards of our kitchen and onto the vinyl tiles of the hallway. I pass our bedroom, where my partner fortunately sleeps soundly and step onto the thick carpet of our spare room / study. There is no traffic on our dark and quiet road but I can see lights in the house across the way. The neighbour here has oxygen cylinders delivered and receives daily visits from the District Nurse and I remind myself that whatever pain I am in at this unsociable hour, there are others much worse off.

As I skirt the corner of the hallway and onto the striped and sligthly textured living room carpet I calculate how many of these nighttime walks I have done since I mysteriously did something to my lower back near the end of September when we were in Norfolk. The discomfort in my back developed into cramp-like pains down the back of my right leg that spasmed from the top of the thigh to my ankle. Within a few days this pain was waking me up at night.

I walk back along the hallway into the kitchen making sure every step counts. It is now 3.36, two minutes to complete one circuit of our small house and it only takes that long if I carefully take in all the corners. Sometimes I skip a section and then the oven clock has only moved on one minute since my last kitchen visit! There are not many times when I wish we lived in a bigger house but these night-time walks would be more interesting in a mansion and when we are away in our campervan I am basically walking on the spot!

I watch a neighbouring black and white cat saunter across our back garden before walking back down the hallway for another tour. I have found it takes at least ten minutes for the acute pain down the back of my leg to ease to something more bearable. Although the urge to go back to bed is strong, I make myself walk around for about twenty minutes before I return to my duvet. I hope my body will reward my self-restraint by allowing me a further three or four hours sleep but sometimes life isn’t like that and I am up again two hours later.

I have said before that to keep to our budget we always have some thinking time before we spend money. This might be a couple of days, a week or a month, depending on how many £s we plan to spend, but this rule goes out of the window when it comes to needing physiotherapy. You can get physiotherapy on the NHS but by the time you’ve reached the top of the waiting list your symptoms will either have gone away [a win I guess] or have become chronic and take longer to sort out. Keeping active is important to most people and I know we are lucky to have enough flexibility in our budget to spend the £55 per session for physio and for me, being able to choose what we spend our money on is an important aspect of financial independence.

The physiotherapist found an issue with my lower back and deduced that this had led to over-use of my piriformis muscle. This muscle in your hips is close to the sciatic nerve that runs down the back of the leg and if it becomes inflammed it can compress the sciatic nerve and cause pain.

For the last six weeks standing up is the only time I have a chance of being pain free and I now have breakfast standing up, I work standing up and occasionally watch television standing up. I try not to feel sorry for myself and don’t want to put my life on hold so, despite the pain, I have continued to walk and cycle. I am sure being upright during the day so much is good for me but I sometimes long to slob out for a while. I dream of curling up in an armchair with a book or kicking off my shoes, putting my feet up and watching a favourite programme. Instead, when I do sit down it is a brief moment with my back straight and supported.

But it is a full night’s sleep that I miss most. I pretty much always fall asleep easily but within a week of the initial injury I began waking in the dead of night with super-cramp down my right leg. There are plenty of suggestions for relief on the internet and I have absorbed these and shifted position and tried pillows in all the right places but frustratingly the only thing that helps a little is a heat mat [like a small electric blanket]. As every toss and turn is agony I am resigned to lying still and hoping I get at least four hours shut-eye before my brain can take no more pain and nudges me awake. No stretches or bed-based exercises give me relief and I know that walking is the only thing to do. Getting up takes effort and there are times when the pain is so intense for the first minute or so of moving around that the blood rushes from my head and I am at risk of fainting. I can’t put my head between my legs [I can hardly do up my shoe laces!] so I end up on the floor until it passes.

Some miracle manipulation by the physio that was worth every penny gave me a break from the night-time pain session for a couple of weeks in October but this has now worn off. This last week I can once again be seen, an exhausted and pathetic figure huddled in my fleecy dressing gown slowly making my way around our small house.

The frugal part of my brain had jumped at the chance to save money when, at my last appointment, the physio suggested I was doing so well I didn’t need to return for three weeks. Of course, this is a decision I am now regretting and my next session cannot come soon enough! Fingers crossed this is a temporary set back and I will soon be once again having long and sweet dreams until dawn.

[Not] The End of Wainwright Bagging

One of us in our house [and its not me] has completed his Wainwright fells! Although we have been walking up Lake District hills together since the 1980s, he didn’t start determinedly ticking off his 214 Lake District Wainwrights until 1998. It was one of those significant birthdays that inspired him to begin and the team [in the photograph above] climbed the Old Man of Coniston to celebrate his 40th birthday, marking the beginning of his Wainwright journey.

The Old Man of Coniston was a strange hill to choose in some way as it was one we had already climbed together twice over the previous 15 years. It was, of course, because of the name and now it is our most climbed Wainwright as we go back every ten years on my partner’s significant birthdays and follow one of the many routes up this much-loved mountain. His birthday is at the end of winter and although we were lucky to have fine weather when he was 40, the photograph of the small select group of us on the summit when he was 50 shows a different side of the mountain. Only our son and daughter-in-law and our toughest friends wanted to climb the Old Man on a cold damp day and looking at the photographs you can hardly make out any of us for the low cloud and layers of waterproofs! For his 60th we decided to be sociable and moved his birthday hill walk to June and we were rewarded with a fine sunny day with a bevy of friends.

Unless you are a very organised Wainwright Bagger, as you get to the end of your Wainwright list you will have random hills dotted around the Lake District to walk up [or maybe this is just us]. Our visits to the Lake District became dominated by walks up these outlying fells and others that we had somehow missed on previous trips. Our climbs up, down and around the Wainwrights have perhaps sometimes missed the obvious and most efficient routes and I can often be heard saying, ‘Why didn’t we walk up this hill when we were there,’ as I point to the next pimple along the ridge. This habit of almost climbing the Wainwrights one at a time will be why we have also walked up and down Fairfield more times than I can count. As well as being a fine hill, Fairfield [above Ambleside] is often on the way to another summit. Keen Wainwright Baggers will complete the handful of fells around Fairfield in one long and tiring day. We go up and down again and again! Fortunately, it doesn’t matter how many times we visit I will never tire of the Lake District fells.

Those energetic hill walkers will probably climb two fells, Hopegill Head and Whiteside above Crummock Water during the same day as they are bagging Grasmoor and maybe some other surrounding hills. For whatever reason we hadn’t done this. It might be laziness but no matter, it just means that we had another glorious day walking in this area that was particularly special after several days of heavy rain.

We have set off up the small hill called Outerside above Braithwaite previously. On that day, a couple of winters ago the slight breeze in the valley became a gale force wind that made standing up almost impossible as we ascended and we were forced onto a low-level walk instead. Our second attempt at Outerside was on a sunny autumnal day and we enjoyed a relative easy day on the hills which was appreciated after the steep slopes of Hopegill Head and Whiteside the day before. Outerside was his 208th [out of 214] Wainwright.

On the same trip we also climbed up Haystacks from Buttermere for a second or third time. Haystacks is one of those fells I imagine we will climb again and again now his Wainwright list is complete and doesn’t dictate where we go as, even on a wet day, I was pleased to revisit this wonderful craggy hill.

Two years ago we set off up Froswick, an odd hill on a ridge that was still unticked. It was winter and Froswick had other ideas and in deep snow and strong winds we had to turn back. We finally ascended this fine hill in January this year. It was still cold, I was still wearing as many layers as a human can but the wind stayed away and we had a glorious day out [see the photograph at the end of this post].

His big finish was a fantastic hillwalking day on two neighbouring fells in western Ennerdale, Great Bourne and Starling Dodd.  Starling Dodd was Wainwright’s last fell for the final volume of the Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells. He descended it in September 1965 with mixed emotions. That this was my partners final Wainwright on his list wasn’t planned but it felt so right. It was a clear and breezy day but there was no fanfare on Starling Dodd just big smiles. We had views across the Lake District and we reminisced about some of our favourite days on the hills. We hugged each other, took photos and texted our son. Walking back through the woodland by Ennerdale the sun came out and made the day even more perfect.

It seems our Wainwright Bagging days won’t quite be over after that final hill-top Wainwright-completion-bash. Since retirement we have climbed the Wainwrights together but before 2017 there were quite a few of the fells that I dodged, either because I had work commitments or just couldn’t be bothered to detour to. These 20 Wainwrights have now become a list and apparently our Lake District hillwalking will continue to be at least in part dictated by Alfred Wainwright until they have all been completed! Onward and upward as they say!

Listening in

Earwigging we call it and I am always doing it. It is nothing to do with creepy crawlies, instead it is our word for harmless overhearing of other people’s conversations. On buses and trains and walking in the countryside and urban areas I sometimes listen in, a harmless vice that gives me pleasure. I enjoy the snippets of people’s lives that I hear and the insight into other worlds this can gift me.

Passing groups on a footpath when we are taking a countryside walk I will pick up only a sentence or two of a whole conversation. Two people approach deep in conversation and I overhear one exclaim to their friend, ‘ … And then to cap it all I found out he had forgotten to buy the toothpaste …’ From those few words I continue on my way making up a whole story in my head about what else had been forgotten, why he forgot to buy the toothpaste and why it mattered quite so much.

On public transport earwigging is different. Here some people speak loudly and clearly even though they are sitting together, they share longer conversations and I find myself getting sucked into their story. I often take a book to read on a train but if a real-life story is being unfolded on a nearby seat I discard my novel for something more interesting! People also speak loudly on their mobile phones on public transport and I get caught up in their half of the conversation and imagine the person they are talking to, where they are and what they are saying.

We have just returned from a splendid three weeks exploring Suffolk [a new to us county] and Norfolk in our campervan. We used public transport to reach places beyond the campsites, we walked miles and sat in lots of cafes and I have returned with a few earwigged conversations from that trip.

It was a wet and windy day and we decided to take the train into Norwich to see the sights of this lovely city. The train was surprisingly quiet but a few seats behind us a young woman was chatting on her phone to someone. At first I was watching the Norfolk countryside and not really listening to her conversation until I heard her say, ‘OMG, you’ll never guess what’s happened.’ Immediately, I was all ears! She elaborated further to her friend, explaining that while she had been on the phone she had received a message from the bass player of her band and he had resigned. This was clearly unexpected news and inconvenient as they had a gig coming up in the next few days. I was disappointed when she got up to leave the train stopping me hearing more about how the band would cope without a crucial bassist.

On the same train there were two guards, which seemed a bit over-the-top for so few passengers but appeared to have something to do with re-training. After they had checked tickets, the two guards had plenty of time to sit and chat between stations and chose seats near us. They talked solely about trains! After one had put forward his personal plans for the Felixstowe line they began riffing and bouncing across the aisle all the problems that can delay a train and whose responsibility it was to sort it and pay compensation to passengers. Their list became darker as they delved deeper. ‘Leaves on the line, that’s Network Rail,’ one said, ‘And cows is them too,’ replied the other, until their list ended somberly with suicides and they sat in silence remembering.

In a Norwich cafe we sat at a table next to two women who were having a much needed catch up. One was describing in detail the stomach aches she had been experiencing for some months. ‘I thought it was a milk allergy,’ she explained but apparently substituting soya, oat and coconut milk made no difference. After excluding other things from her diet and trying various medications her doctor suggested she change her teabags, ‘As you know I drink gallons of tea,’ she confided to her friend. I was amazed to hear that the teabag change did the trick and she was cured.

In another cafe in Ipswich I gained an insight into the working life of a hazardous waste collector. While he waited for his takeaway coffee he described the irresponsible behaviour of some businesses to the cafe worker. He shared stories and photographs of unsecurely wrapped, unlabelled and unidentified materials that businesses leave, expecting him to remove them out of their way. I could only hope he was handsomely paid for his diligent work.

Other fleeting conversations are equally surprising but less about earwigging. We were sitting at the outside tables at a cafe attached to a garden in north Norfolk when the waitress appeared and began removing all the sachets of mayonnaise from the box on our table and all the other tables. ‘The rooks take these and eat the contents,’ she told us.  It seems Norfolk has clever gourmet rooks with a preference for mayonnaise as she was confident that they would leave the salad cream alone. 

I get words muddled up all the time and sometimes these muddled words are more fun than the real word. While washing up at a Suffolk campsite I was telling a fellow camper that we had walked the Angles Way [named after the post-Roman Germanic settlers in East Anglia] from Beccles to Lowestoft along the Waveney River. She told me how much she liked Beccles and that there were some good walks there. ‘I don’t know the Angles Way,’ she told me, ‘but we have followed the Angels Path.’ Now that sounds like a much more heavenly route!

Judge me if you wish for my earwigging but I suggest if you see me on a bus or when you are out for a walk just be careful about what you say!