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!

50 Campervan Nights in Germany & the Netherlands: Is Everything More Expensive in 2022?

On social media sites I have read posts from fellow campers who have experienced price rises on their trips to mainland Europe this year. Everyone’s holiday experience is different but I was prompted to compare our spending during our 50 days travelling around Germany and the Netherlands in May and June against previous trips. As I say, everyone spends their money in their own way and so comparisons are hard but we are fairly consistent in what we buy. As usual on this trip we stayed on campsites and stellplatz, making as much use of our ACSI card as we could; we consciously didn’t drive as far as we might have done in the past and we are two wine-drinking vegetarians who mostly cycle and walk all day. We have a budget for our trips but, apart from the diesel, didn’t actively cut back on our holiday spending as we were so excited to be back in mainland Europe! Below is the detail of what we spent and my thoughts on increases.

Diesel €429 / £369

Of course, diesel prices have increased over the last few years but we only drove around 2,000 km while we were away on this trip [we could have travelled that far in Scotland]. We were never in a rush and this slow travel approach kept our diesel costs down. Also, our Renault Master likes being in mainland Europe and gave us its best mpg ever at around 39 mpg!

Supermarkets €664 / £571

The cost of food in Germany and the Netherlands varied compared to the UK for individual items but overall we spent about the same as we would have had we been at home. We are both vegetarian and have a weakness for delicious German veggie frankfurters, garlicy vegetable spreads and German beer so stocked up on these. We do take teabags with us!

Including the two dozen bottles of beer and half-a-dozen bottles of German wine we returned home with, our supermarket spending was the equivalent of €13.28 / day and 20% of our spending. Looking back at previous trips comparison is complicated. Last time we were in Europe was 2020 in France and we spent an average of €18.87 / day but we did return home with around two dozen bottles of wine. In 2018 in Spain we averaged €12.05 / day and also came home with a similar amount of wine. From these figures I would say that food and drink has increased a little but no more than in the UK.

Cafes, ice-creams and eating out €616 / £530

Wow! That is a lot of treats but it is one of those things I am loathe to give up. Stopping for coffee or beer and cake at a German cafe or bar is a fun part of our holiday experience and it looks like we did this loads. If we were trying to save money we could definitely have cut down on this. This amount is about 30% more than we would spend at home but this has nothing to do with it being more expensive than the UK. We just couldn’t resist the lure of a cafe and it soon mounts up. We had some lunches out, lots of ice-creams, some beers, plenty of coffees with cake but didn’t have an evening meal that wasn’t cooked in our campervan and this is something we would normally do. Given this, the €12.32 / day we spent is quite a staggering amount and appears to represent increased cost in Germany and the Netherlands as we have never spent anything like this amount in the past.

Overnights €1,137 / £997

It is a couple of years since we have travelled in mainland Europe and we certainly noticed how the cost of campsites has increased, as it has in the UK. Even making as much use as we could of our ACSI card this was a big chunk of our holiday spending, averaging about £20 / night and 32% of our spending. Even the stellplatz we used were around €15 a night and others could save lots of money if you sought out free stellplatz with no EHU and used your own facilities.

We use campsites for a number of reasons and the first one is that I love being on campsites! I enjoy meeting people, nipping out to collect the morning bread rolls for breakfast and I am happy going out cycling or walking for the day feeling confident that the Blue Bus is safe. That said, we do like to find a quiet and isolated pitch! What has changed me is Covid-19. We appear to have been extremely lucky and neither of us have suffered from Covid-19 but we could have caught it while we were away and quickly become too poorly to travel. Being ill in the ‘van isn’t a lot of fun and with no solar panel my anxiety levels would have been sky high without at least having EHU if we had to isolate in the ‘van for a week!

In 2020 in France we averaged €17.61 / night during August. The cost has probably gone up there too but German campsites have always been more expensive than France.

It would be hard to average £20 / night using campsites in the UK in 2022 and the reasonable cost of overnights is a big plus for travelling in the EU.

Trains, buses and ferries €210 / £180

We just missed the bargain €9 a month rail travel tickets in Germany as by the time these were available we had no plans to catch more trains. C’est la vie! The trains got us into cities, we crossed the Elbe on numerous ferries and used the Edam to Amsterdam bus service. We rarely had to pay for parking and train fares were generally cheaper than the UK.

Entrance fees €113 / £97

We were exploring so we paid to go into a few places as we travelled around. Prices for castles and museums were similar or less than in the UK.

Miscellaneous €143 / £122

This covers occasional wi-fi, washing machines and a few gifts for folk back home. Wi-fi availability in German was patchy, some campsites provided it, some didn’t, sometimes it was excellent and sometimes it was only just better than dial-up!

DFDS Newcastle to IJmuiden ferry return fare for two and a campervan with all meals £705.

When we first stopped working the nine-to-five jobs in 2017 we budgeted to travel across to mainland Europe twice a year. This was when the ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge cost about £500. This 40% increase in the cost of the ferry means that in 2022 we decided to only travel by ferry once during the year as our savings, while resilient enough, are feeling a stretch as everything increases in price

The cost of the DFDS ferry seems reasonable compared to the cost of our Brittany Ferries Portsmouth to St Malo trip in 2020, which cost £864 in high season!

Total cost of our 50-day trip – £3,551 / £71 per day

At £71 / day you can’t call our Germany and Netherlands trip a cheap holiday. Our August Brittany trip in 2020 cost us £84 / day but this was partly due to the ferry and wine stocks. A more similar length trip of 50 nights in Spain in 2018 cost us about £500 less. On this trip we spent £3,084 [approximately £60 / day] and given that the Portsmouth to Bilbao ferry was around £200 more than our DFDS ferry that seems like good value.

Inflation is here and doesn’t look like it is going away in the short term but the enjoyment we get from travelling around mainland Europe makes the cost worthwhile and I know we are lucky to be able to afford it.

The Netherlands in a Campervan

We had never visited the Netherlands before this year. We had not even had a cheeky cheap-flight weekend to Amsterdam before 2022. Of course, we meet Dutch people in France, Spain, Italy etc. They are keen campers, often speak excellent English and like to chat, but this was our first chance to see them on their home turf.

Part of the reason why we have previously skipped the Netherlands was about ferries. We have been loyal customers of the Hull to Zeebrugge ferry run by P&O. This service ceased in 2020 and after the appalling way P&O treated their staff earlier this year we don’t plan to use them again. For the first time we travelled with DFDS from Newcastle to IJmuiden [the IJ isn’t a typo and it is pronounced eye] an overnight ferry that takes you within a few kilometres of Amsterdam. From IJmuiden it is an easy drive into Germany and after some weeks pottering around eastern Germany we opted to head back towards IJmuiden and spend the final week of our time away exploring a little corner of the Netherlands north of Amsterdam.

I hastily learnt a few words of Dutch before we reached our first campsite but I only ever had to use these to be polite. The receptionists at each campsite spoke English, as did the assistants in supermarkets, waiting staff in cafes and pretty much everyone else. Their competence in a second language humbled me every day! It certainly does no harm to learn how to say hello, please, thank you and sorry but I was relieved I never had to get my tongue around all those Dutch double vowels and say much more.

The Netherlands is home to ACSI and each of the campsites we stayed at was part of the ACSI card scheme and offered a discount in the low season and they were all good value.  We were there towards the end of June and there were some campsites that had moved onto high season but still plenty of choice of places to stay. Each campsite was also well organised, handing us leaflets about the local area and, most importantly for us, had local cycling maps.

To say the cycling in the Netherlands was blissful is really an understatement. For this English cyclist I felt I must have entered a parallel universe where cyclists, pedestrians and car drivers all moved around in transport harmony. Most cycle lanes were segregated from cars but were often shared with pedestrians. Occasionally on a country lane we had to share a road with car drivers but the mass of cyclists ensured the cars had to drive carefully. At junctions, cycle route signposts used a numbering system that was mostly easy to follow and I was impressed by the superb way the Dutch ensured smooth cycling.

I expected the Netherlands to be crowded as there are over 17 million of them packed into a smallish country but the areas that we travelled in were often rural and green and we were pleasantly surprised by all the wildlife we saw. Hares lolloped around fields, geese were everywhere and sitting on our pitch at the campsite at Lelystad on the shores of the Markermeer, a vast freshwater lake that was once the sea, we were entertained by a flock of sparrows who flew bravely in for crumbs, some even sitting cutely in the Blue Bus’ doorway. 

Cycling around the Oostvaardersplassen, a large nature reserve by Lelystad, we followed the dyke around the Markermeer, joined by terns flying and diving overhead.  On the pools and reeds of the Oostvaardersplassen a marsh harrier caught our eye and as we were accompanied by a cuckoo call. Taking the well-signposted cycle paths inland, I was excited to see a grass snake slithering off the path just in front of my bike and disappearing among the giant hogweed plants. To top the day off, we pulled into the visitor centre and sat on a bench watching a stunning pair of sea eagles circling overhead, catching the sun as they tilted their wings. 

We were once again on the Markermeer when we camped by the elegant town of Edam, this time on the opposite shore. Here there was plenty of bird life too. Geese called as they flew overhead, oystercatchers screeched along the shore and swallows swooped around the ‘van. We both really took to Edam, it is a charming town that was perfect for wandering around and stopping for a relaxing beer. It has pretty canals, wooden bridges, smart houses and, of course, cheese shops and seemed a charming [but expensive] place to live in.

I enjoy a chunk of well-matured gouda but wasn’t prepared for the Dutch enthusiasm for cheese. We were inducted into this passion at Alkmaar’s cheese market. This is held on Fridays and has a lively and festive atmosphere, with the baffling traditions explained in Dutch, German and English. The most exciting part of the event is watching the cheese bearers, wearing colourful straw hats and white trousers and shirts, vigorously carrying large round cheese around the square on wooden barrows and others tossing them onto a wooden cart. The Dutch visitors loved it and couples enthusiastically queued up to be weighed on the large cheese weighing scales and have their photograph taken. I felt we had arrived at a truly special and buzzing occasion and yet this happens every Friday!

Parking a campervan in the Netherlands was fairly straightforward. We didn’t meet any of those dreaded height barriers and only had to pay to park in Alkmaar and at Zaanse Schans, where the windmill photograph at the top of the page was taken. Zaanse Schans is a large and fascinating open-air museum with enough windmills to satisfy everyone, many of them still working. The museum sits along the banks of a river and also has cheese making demonstations and delightful wooden houses. It is only about 25 km from IJmuiden so perfect for your last day in the Netherlands before the ferry, if you are travelling back to Newcastle like us. It cost us €11 to park for the day and entrance to the museum is then free, although you do have to pay if you want to look around some of the windmills. They had a dedicated space for motorhomes and campervans and we had plenty of room to park. If you arrived here by bicycle you would save on the parking charge.

We used the DFDS Newcastle to IJmuiden ferry, an overnight service that suited us well as Newcastle is only a few hours from home. IJmuiden is just north-west of Amsterdam. The ferry is comfortable and with evening buffet and breakfast it cost us about £700 return in 2022. It arrives in IJmuiden in the morning giving us all day to drive to our first campsite. We found the roads across the north of the Netherlands to be excellent with no tolls and no traffic jams. I enjoyed exploring the Netherlands so much I am sure we will be back to visit other parts of the country in the future.

A Romantic Return to the Isle of Skye

This is a story that I hope will make you smile or [if you’re an old romantic like me] might even bring a lump to your throat. Buy the September 2022 edition of Campervan Magazine [in the shops now or subscribe] and you can read about how we revisited our budget honeymoon-in-a-tent destination in our campervan and compare how the Isle of Skye was then [it was the 1980s when we got married] and now.

Big weddings were less of a thing in the 1980s but even so there was little that was conventional about our honeymoon. The article begins …

To be honest I can’t remember how the conversation went but somehow I was persuaded to spend our honeymoon camping in a tent on the Isle of Skye along with 14 other people!

Campervan Mag September 2022

Back in the 1980s we had just purchased our first house, had little spare cash and we travelled to Skye on the cheap. We packed the tent and scrounged a lift in our friend’s olive-coloured Vauxhall and along with those 14 other people, we camped at Glenbrittle Campsite for a week. It possibly isn’t the start to married life I would recommend but we’re still together 38 years later!

In 2022 we returned to Skye in our relatively luxurious campervan, the Blue Bus. Crossing the bridge to Skye I thought wistfully about the ferry journey we had made back then.

The Fairy Pools, a series of clear waterfalls and pools from Coire na Crieche, are along the road through Glen Brittle. We must have passed them every time we went away from the campsite but back in the 1980s we didn’t give these a thought, they were just another of Skye’s picturesque corners. Driving by in the 21st century it is clear the falls have become a tourist hot-spot. I had read about this but hadn’t realised the scale of their attraction until I saw the mind boggling size of the car park.

Not surprisingly the cost of camping has increased somewhat in the last 38 years. Glenbrittle Campsite is not the cheapest and as I wrote in the article, we paid, ‘£32 for one night and calculated we could have enjoyed a three-week-long honeymoon for that much in the 1980s and still had change for beer!’

What never changes is the jaw-dropping landscape and revisiting our romantic walk up to Coire Lagan [in the top photograph] was as impressive as I remembered. We followed our youthful newlywed footsteps to this wonderful place and remembered how awestruck we were when we escaped the group and first came here. Sometimes it is a mistake to return to somewhere with special memories but it can be a positive thing too.

If you can’t get hold of a copy of Campervan Mag, you can read the full September 2022 article from this page of my blog.

Camping 1980s style