Touring Around South & West Wales in a Campervan

We spent a couple of weeks in Wales in our campervan, exploring historical castles, walking along the narrow paths that follow the cliffs of the Pembrokeshire coast and kicking sand across long beaches. We ate buttery Welsh Cakes, indulgent ice-creams, crumbly Caerphilly cheese and delicious artisan chocolates and discovered corners of Wales we hadn’t found before.

The list of four Welsh campsites we stayed at are at the bottom of this post after more information about the four areas we explored.

Llanarthne & The National Botanic Garden of Wales

It was the National Botanic Garden of Wales that took us to this lush and peaceful part of Wales east of Carmarthen along the River Towy valley. We chose Glantowy Farm for its closeness to The National Botanic Garden of Wales which was just short of three miles away and chose to walk to the gardens but cycling is another option. Even if you drive, wear some comfy shoes as you can easily spend a whole day looking around this amazing site, there is so much to see! There are formal gardens, a vegetable garden, a terraced garden full of herbs, a large glasshouse and sculptures as well as lakes to walk around and an arboretum.

On our way back to the campsite we diverted to Paxton’s Tower that we had noticed on the hill. This folly, built to commemorate Nelson, is open so that you can climb up to the first floor and enjoy the panoramic views over the valley. On a clear day it is well-worth the effort.

Manorbier, Tenby & Pembroke

The Pembrokeshire coastline is spectacular and the attractive village of Manorbier has a number of campsites. This location worked well for us because we could combine coastal walking with buses and trains to reach Tenby, in one direction, and Pembroke in the other. We walked to Tenby and caught the bus back and we purchased return train tickets to Pembroke to visit the castle.

Manorbier has a castle too [open Spring, Summer and early Autumn only], one small cafe that can get busy at lunch time and a cosy and quirky pub.

Tenby is a busy seaside resort with handsome colourful buildings, the remains of the town’s walls, fabulous beaches and plenty of shops. We visited the three-storey National Trust’s Tudor Merchant’s House that sits down a narrow alleyway near the harbour. Packed with replica furniture and history, this charming house successfully took me back to 1500. Tenby also has a museum and art gallery and you can visit the Napoleonic Fort on St Catherine’s Island that is tidal [open March to December].

My top tip for Pembroke Castle is to join one of the free guided tours, they are not only fun but also informative and ensure you will get so much more from your visit. Open most or all of the year, this is a large castle with buildings stretching back to the Normans and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. Hungry after scrambling around the castle we ate at Food at Williams on the main street and had an attractive and tasty vegetarian meal.

St Davids

This small city sits near the end of a peninsula and is surrounded by farmland and a multitude of campsites. The peninsula’s coastline is a stunning wiggly combination of cliffs and bays. The city has pubs, cafes and a few shops and tucked away below these are the magnificent St Davids Cathedral and the ruins of The Bishop’s Palace.

We were mostly here for the coastal walking and from our campsite we walked south from the life boat station along Ramsey Sound. It was September and the grey seals had their pups. In almost every inaccessible cove we spotted a female and a fluffy white pup. In the other direction we walked beyond the beautiful Whitesands Bay to St Davids Head. The waves were rolling at Whitesands Bay and plenty of surfers were out enjoying the sea.

Devil’s Bridge near Aberystwyth

A tourist hotspot with a campsite that is a peaceful haven ticks boxes for lots of people. Devil’s Bridge attracts the tourist for its waterfall walks that you can pay to walk around. The longer waterfall walk is packed with gushing water but is not for those who can’t manage stairs! There are over 600 steps up and down to different viewpoints over the waterfalls.

As well as the waterfalls walk there is a steam railway that puffs between Devil’s Bridge and Aberystwyth. We might have used this but in 2021 you could only get on the trains in Aberystwyth as a Covid-19 precaution. Instead we had hot chocolate and toasted teacakes from the railway cafe, bought delicious handmade chocolates from Sarah Bunton‘s shop there and walked through the quiet hilly countryside above Devil’s Bridge passing old burial grounds and tiny churches. Social distancing was no problem on these lanes.

Campsite nameComments
Glantowy Farm CL, Llanarthne near CarmarthenI enjoyed the peaceful location & open aspect of this Caravan & Motorhome Club Certified Location.  It has 2 toilets, 1 shower & sinks and the shower is good and hot.  There is room for 6 units and 1 shepherd’s hut.  There is a pub nearby in the village with limited opening.
Park Farm Holiday Park, ManorbierThis grassy site is on a hill and the pitches are not marked out, not huge & some are sloped.  The showers are in individual bathrooms with separate toilets.  The water in the showers is just warm, the wash up outdoors & there is a long walk to the laundry.  The reception is very friendly.
Rhosson Ganol Caravan Park, St David’sWe never met a member of staff on this grassy campsite and that felt strange and impersonal.  Our pitch wasn’t overly spacious but had sea views & was fairly level.  The shower block is modern but suffered from just warm water temperature that wasn’t adjustable & insufficient hooks.  The sanitary block is also quite a long walk from the pitches down a track that became muddy after the rain!
Woodlands Caravan Park, Devil’s Bridge, near AberystwythThis campsite is part of the ACSI card scheme & if you have this is exceptional good value out of season.  We had a large hard-standing pitch on this peaceful woodland site that is dotted with quirky sculptures.  The facilities are modern & clean & the showers are roomy, although the water was only just warm.

Touring the charming Southern Belgium (Wallonia) & The Ardennes in a Campervan

For many years we would drive down the ramp from the Hull to Zeebrugge ferry first thing in the morning, full of a buffet breakfast we were determined to get our money’s worth from and too busy concentrating on driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and not getting lost in the Belgian road system to pay too much attention to the country we were driving through. We were usually heading for France or Germany or maybe somewhere further, keen to cover some kilometres south and our feet would rarely hit Belgian soil. It was clearly time to change this and a few years ago, returning from the wonderful Écrins National Park in France, we spent a week exploring southern Belgium, the French speaking part of the country otherwise known as Wallonia.

It turned out that there was much more to Belgium than motorways and we found quiet roads that wound alongside lazy rivers, through woodland and between charming villages. We also found good cafes and restaurants and, of course, excellent beer.

Below are some ideas for fun and interesting things to do, places to visit and discover and delicious things to eat on your own tour of Belgium. The list of campsites we stayed at are at the bottom, as usual and I have added an imperfect map there too.

Orval Abbey and beer

We quickly settled into a gentle pace on the rural lanes of southern Belgium, admiring tidy village after tidy village, enjoying the varied woodland and spotting pretty cottages with neatly stacked log piles.  We were heading for Orval Abbey near the French border; a popular visitor attraction and an immaculate combination of a modern and a ruined abbey set in beautiful gardens.  There have been monks here since the 11th century but after the French revolution the abbey buildings were destroyed and it took over a hundred years before the funds to build a new abbey were secured.

The abbey is open all year and visitors can explore the ruins, the museum and see across the neat gardens to the new abbey that is free of visitors and tranquil.

Belgium’s beer is rightly internationally known and there are six abbey-based Trappist breweries, of which Orval is one.  We visited the small museum about the brewery and read about the legend of the abbey’s name. It is said that a visitor to the abbey lost her wedding ring in the spring and while she sat weeping a trout popped up from the water with the lost ring. She apparently exclaimed this was the Val d’Or (golden valley) and this became Orval and the beer’s logo still shows the trout clasping a ring.  Keen to try some of Belgium’s hundreds of beers we left the abbey shop with samples of this and the local cheese.

Bouillon Castle

After a night on the banks of the pretty River Semois we followed the valley to Bouillon. This lovely riverside town has plenty of interesting shops, including an excellent ice-cream shop, and is dominated by a dramatically situated castle.  We climbed the steep hill to the fortified castle, crossing an astonishing three drawbridges to reach the interior. Inside there is a 16th century tower which gives breathtaking views of the town and the river below that bends around the castle and ramparts. The castle is full of tunnels, walkways and rooms chipped out of the rock it sits on, making full use of the natural features. Most exciting for me was the 90-metre long tunnel under the courtyard, used for getting messages safely across the castle in a siege. 

Bouillon Castle is open most of the year and if you don’t want to walk up the hill, there is parking nearer to the castle entrance.

Small Quirky Things

Belgian’s seem to have an eye for the decorative and interesting and as you tour around the country it is worth looking out for the cute, bizarre and downright strange. This might be a wall display of vintage watering cans; a decorative window grille of a pipe-smoking cowhand with milk churns followed by a bull; a large arrangement of garden gnomes; ornamental china hens on a doorstep or a somewhat alarming life-size female figure that sat knitting at a garden table in one Belgian village!

I would also recommend you try at least one cafe in a small village. These are often quiet during the day and bustling in the evening. They are usually cosy, welcoming, sometimes entertaining and will serve excellent coffee and / or Belgian beer.

Bertrix and Herbeumont

It was a damp day when we cycled from our campsite near Bertrix along wooded lanes to the River Semois.  In the delightful hamlet of Cugnon we stopped to see the Pont de Claie, an undulating wooden bridge on trestle table legs that is considered picturesque but resembles a rickety puzzle that would be a health and safety nightmare.

We continued on our bikes to Herbeumont and climbed up to the castle and looked down from the walls over the winding Semois below. The ruins are free to visit and we had them to ourselves and spent some time clambering around. After warming up over hot chocolate in the deserted village cafe where we were joined by the owner’s cat, we picked up the old railway line to cycle back to Bertrix, trying but failing to beat an approaching storm. We sheltered in a long dark tunnel for a while but eventually had to brave the shower.

It was our wedding anniversary while we were here and later, in better weather, we walked the two kilometres into the town of Bertrix. On the way, we were delighted to spot a hare cautiously watching us from a field, its ears standing proud of the grass.  We ate at what claimed to be the best pizzeria in Luxembourg Province and made a small impact on their list of Belgian beers.

Redu, the book village

Visiting bookshops in Belgium might seem dumb, as we are not fluent in French or Flemish but some of the many book shops in Redu have English books and we came away with a couple of new things to read. Yet another tidy Belgian village, Redu, the book village was sleepy when we visited during the week. The village is twinned with Hay-on-Wye in England that is known for its literary festival.

Museum of Country Life at Fourneau Saint-Michel

It wasn’t just the sunshine that made this outdoor museum of rural Walloon life so delightful, with over 60 historic and traditional buildings arranged along a beautiful valley, walking through the museum is like strolling between traditional hamlets, meadows and woodland. Each of the buildings, that have been moved brick-by-brick or re-created in the museum, was more amazing than the last. I liked the picturesque cottages, the bakery, the workshops full of old tools and the attractive white-washed church and the school. Care has been taken with the buildings and each is furnished with everything you would expect to find there to take visitors back in time.

If you only do one thing in rural Belgium, then do this, it is as good as visiting a dozen pretty villages. The museum is popular but there is so much space and everyone spreads out.

Parc des Topiaires, Durbuy

The Parc des Topiaires in Durbuy on the meandering Ourthe valley is an attraction that shouts quirky. The park is home to an amusing and astounding display of topiary figures. There are animals, including a life-size elephant, a row of ducks and horses jumping over fences and a larger-than-life woman waving, kayakers and so much more.  When you have finished giggling your way around the park or been inspired to go home and try your hand at sculpting the hedge, the small and pretty town of Durbuy has cobbled streets full of places for visitors to eat and shop.

Verviers

The city of Verviers in the Liège Province celebrates water, acknowledging its once thriving wool and textile industry. These industries relied on water and were wiped out by international competition. Walking between 18 of Verviers fountains on a quiet Sunday morning, we learnt the story of the town and its industries. Between the fountains we admired many of the city’s grand and ornate buildings.

Verviers is also home to the Tarte au Riz, a rich and creamy rice pudding in a pastry case that is deliciously sweet. You can buy slices of this in local boulangeries.

Hautes Fagnes-Eifel Nature Park

A world away from the woodland, villages and towns of southern Belgium, this elevated plateau of protected moorland is close to the German border above Verviers. We parked at Baraque Michel and found a useful map on an information board that showed the waymarked walks we could follow, as access is restricted in this nature park. From the tiny chapel the gravel paths and wooden walkways meander through a landscape of low trees, small pools, bilberry bushes and cotton grass.  On a wet day this could be a moody and misty place but we enjoyed fine spring weather. The skies are big here and the views wide and open, changing as the path twists and turns around features. This is a landscape that slows you down and I was soon happily bending down at one of the ponds, watching water boatmen on the water.

On this high moorland is Signal de Botrange and at 694 metres above sea level this is Belgium’s highest point. The resourceful Belgians decided they wanted to get just that bit higher and built a six-metre-high stone staircase to a platform so that visitors can stand at 700 metres and for a moment be the highest person in Belgium!

Spa

Famous for its mineral springs and grand prix circuit, in the elegant and charming town of Spa we sampled yet another Belgian beer opposite the Vespa rental shop. The staff in this smart outlet were washing half-a-dozen sparkling red scooters and they gleamed in the sunshine.  After our beers we wandered among the stylish shopping streets, eventually reaching The Parc de Sept Heures. After sauntering around the structures and monuments in the park without any aim we sat eating finger-licking takeaway frites from a stall while watching a pétanque tournament that was clearly more serious than any game.

We merely wandered around Spa for an afternoon but you can make more of your trip here and learn about the history of the area, visiting museums that celebrate varied subjects including laundry, the town and horses.

Beer and cubes of cheese with celery salt

I adore Belgian beer, although please stop me if I ever try and drink more than two bottles as they tend to be strong! The first time we were handed a small plate of cubes of semi-soft cheese and a tub of celery salt with our beer we were perplexed. However, once we got used to it, this accompaniment made perfect sense. At Orval they produced both beer and cheese and these are two foods associated with local producers that were once the staple of workers. In Germany and Austria we have sat in Alpine farms with a beer and some delicious homemade bread and cheese and the ploughman’s lunch is a staple of British pubs. Perhaps Belgium’s cubes of cheese are just their version of these traditions and the cheese and celery salt also make you thirsty so you will drink more beer!

Campsite Name
Comments
Camping de Chenefleur, Tintigny A nicely laid out green site by the river with few hard-standing pitches.  The facilities are very clean and the showers are good & hot.  There is a quiet neat village nearby.
Ardennen Camping Bertrix, Bertrix A terraced site with pool, bar & restaurant & lots of permanent caravans.  The facilities are kept clean & the showers are good & hot.
Camping Eau Zone, Hotton A grassy flat site by the river with well-draining ground, despite some heavy rain before we arrived.  They used a complicated pre-pay system for showers when we visited but had good, hot showers.  Lovely small town nearby.
Camping de l’Eau Rouge, Stavelot After heavy rain the grass was too wet for our campervan but we were able to park at the end of a site road.  The site has lots of trees & views to fields.  The facilities block was clean with under-floor heating & hot water.  The site has a small bar too.
Camping Parc des Sources, Spa We received a friendly welcome at this popular campsite that is about 1.5km from the town.  It has a few hard-standing pitches & grass & hedges between pitches.  The facilities were clean & the showers hot.

Two Cardiff Campsites Reviewed

Visiting the capital of Wales couldn’t be easier in a campervan, motorhome or caravan as there is a campsite within the city boundaries that is near the centre. On our recent visit to Cardiff, we were able to stay in this central campsite for two nights and then, due to a festival at Cardiff Bay, we moved to a Caravan and Motorhome Club [CAMC] Certified Location (CL) on the edge of the city. How did these compare?

Cardiff Caravan and Camping Park

For easy access to the city centre, this campsite can’t be beaten. Surrounded by trees you might think you are in the countryside but leave the site and within about 20 minutes of gentle walking you are in the heart of Cardiff. Here there is no shortage of things to do including visiting Cardiff Castle, taking a boat trip around Cardiff Bay and mooching through the amazing National Museum. There are also plenty of shops and a wide choice of places to eat. Walk in the other direction from the campsite, away from the river and across Cathedral Road, and you are in the Pontcanna and Canton areas of Cardiff where there are plenty of trendy cafes and bars and Chapter Arts Centre for delicious food, cinema and cultural events. At £30 a night with electric hook up [rising to £40 on bank holidays and special event days], this isn’t the cheapest night on a campsite you will ever have but it does give you that city centre location. So far so good.

Unfortunately, despite the high cost, the campsite is in need of some renovation. Generally, the site has a tired and shabby air about it, not all of which you could put down to the end of season fatigue. The two facilities blocks are functional but are in desperate need of a refurbishment to bring them near visitor’s expectations for the price. On our visit, only one block had hot water and a musty smell lingered in both areas. I know that times are hard but I hope they plan to upgrade these facilities in the not too distant future.

Located on the campsite is Pedal Power where you can hire various types of bicycles.

The site was full when we visited in mid-week September, so early booking is recommended. You can find more information and how to book the campsite here.

South Lodge CL, St Nicholas west of Cardiff

This Caravan and Motorhome Club Certified Location for five units is in a rural setting with views over the countryside towards Cardiff. Despite its rural location it is close to the A48 and a junction with the M4. This means it is easy to access but also that there is some traffic noise [in fact more than in the city centre campsite]. It is also just a 15 minute walk, along the A48, from a large supermarket and retail park and on the way you pass an Indian restaurant.

Just five minutes walk away from this site on the A48 you can pick up a half hourly bus into Cardiff city centre, making this perhaps a cheaper and more restful option for seeing Cardiff, if the traffic rumble doesn’t bother you.

Away from the main road the lanes and footpaths around the River Ely valley are quiet. We walked to the fascinating St Fagan’s National Museum of History from here [about an hour’s walk]. Since 1948 different buildings from across Wales have been carefully taken down and re-erected in the parkland here, including a farm, a school, shops and cottages. Other campers went out for their morning run around these undulating lanes and they would make pleasant cycling too.

If you are a Gavin and Stacey fan then the nearby St Peter’s Church in Peterston-super-Ely was the location for Neil the baby’s christening and Dave and Nessa’s non-wedding.

The CL has no facilities except level hard standing pitches, water and waste disposal but is only £14 a night [rising to £15 a night in 2022].

Both campsites are open all year, so what are you waiting for? Cardiff is a lively and attractive city to visit any time of year.

Things to do from Pennine View Park Campsite in Kirkby Stephen

An attractive Cumbrian market town with a campsite on its outskirts and beautiful scenery to walk through. Kirkby Stephen in the east of Cumbria and on the other side of the M6 from the Lake District has all this and more. Pennine View Park is a first-class campsite that is ideally situated for visiting the town and for a holiday where you explore the local area while your ‘van never leaves the site. In the evening, if you don’t want to cook in your ‘van, there is a choice of places to eat, including an Indian restaurant that is our number one choice.

Here are some ideas for things to do from Kirkby Stephen. I’ve not given step-by-step instructions for most of the walks so you will need a map.

1. Exploring Kirkby Stephen riverside and town – two or three hours

This is our first afternoon walk to settle into being in Kirkby Stephen again. If you don’t know your way around, this sketch map is a useful guide for the walk. Use the exit at the ‘bottom end’ of Pennine View Parkturn, left and you are already by the River Eden. This is a fascinating stretch of river, known as the ‘Devil’s Mustard Mill,’ a collapsed cave system with bowl-shaped pools and fast flowing runnels. Turn left on the road for a short stretch and then pick up the riverside footpath that has some stones with poems engraved on them, now faded but occasionally legible. Cross the river and take a trail hidden in the trees to the path towards Kirkby Stephen. You will pass a couple of attractive stone barns and eventually reach Frank’s Bridge. Stop and enjoy the views here or maybe paddle in the often shallow river underneath the 17th century bridge which was used to bring coffins from outlying villages into the town. Eventually you will climb the winding roads into Kirkby Stephen where there are cafes and pubs around the market square for refreshment. I like to step inside the red sandstone church to find the Loki Stone; an eighth century myth-laden stone tablet.  The stone is carved with an image of the Norse god of mischief, Loki, showing him bound in chains.  Found discarded in the churchyard, the heritage of the stone is unknown. You can retrace your steps to the campsite or walk through the town, either on the main road or turning off at the traffic lights onto the quieter road, taking a moment to admire the Temperance Hall on Victoria Square. Kirkby Stephen has plenty of pubs but this 19th century hall and a Temperance Hotel was there for those who had taken  ‘the pledge’.

2. Smardale Gill National Nature Reserve – circular walk of around 15km

With an impressive viaduct for the former railway line at its heart, this is a stunning reserve that is a delightful place in summer for wild flowers and butterflies. We took the footpaths by Kirkby Stephen’s cattle market and behind the school, popping out on the lane to Waitby. Turning left, you immediately cross a bridge over a closed railway line. Ignore this one and just a few metres further on you will be able to climb down to the path that follows the disused track that swings round to Smardale. This is level and easy walking. You pass the small car park and the hall and then walk underneath the Settle to Carlisle line that is still in use. You are now in the wooded valley with the beck below you. Crossing the viaduct the views open out and continuing along the railway track you come to a quarry and two huge old lime kilns. We left the railway line on a footpath to the left after a ruined house and descended the hillside to the pack horse bridge. Joining the popular Coast to Coast route walk over Smardale Fell, stopping to take in the wide open views. The path goes back under the railway line to a lane and across the fields to Kirkby Stephen.

3. Pendragon Castle – circular walk of around 12km

There is a legend that Pendragon Castle was built by Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur and that the Romans had a fort here. Archaeologists have found no evidence for this and, unfortunately, the castle is probably a 12th century Norman building. Today it is a romantic ruin that gives shelter to the sheep and is a peaceful spot for a picnic. We walked to Pendragon Castle from Pennine View Park, turning right from the ‘bottom end’ exit of the campsite and following part of ‘A Pennine Journey‘ long distance trail. This is the route that Alfred Wainwright followed in 1938 from Settle to Hadrian’s Wall. It should be an easy route to follow but we did manage to get lost! At regular intervals you will see the trains on the Settle to Carlisle line go by. After our picnic at the castle, we walked a short way down the road and at Southwaite picked up footpaths along the fellside to the village of Nateby, which has a pub if you need refreshments. From Nateby it is a short walk down the lane to the campsite.

4. Nine Standards Rigg – approx 16.5km circular walk

Nine stone cairns, some around three metres tall, give Nine Standards Rigg its name. Their origin is a mystery so you can make up your own stories but they have been standing sometime as they were marked on 18th century maps. The climb up the hill through the lovely village of Hartley is a classic Kirkby Stephen walk and well worth the effort to see the stones and the view across the Yorkshire Dales and the Pennines. You can follow these directions here.

5. Podgill and Merrygill Viaducts – two hours for a circular walk

From Pennine View Park you can pick up the section of old railway line over two impressive viaducts, Podgill and Merrygill. The downloadable map will help you find your way but start from the ‘bottom end’ exit from the campsite and turn left. From Stenkrith Park you can use the sketch map, crossing the Millennium Bridge to access the disused railway line. This track will take you over the two impressive viaducts to the village of Hartley. You can either retrace your steps to enjoy the views all over again or take the paths from Hartley to Kirkby Stephen and return through the town or by the river.

6. The Settle to Carlisle railway line

Kirkby Stephen’s railway station is less than a mile from Pennine View Park, which itself is situated in an old railway yard. You can catch a train on the Settle to Carlisle line just one stop to the north, to Appleby, an interesting Cumbrian market town also on the River Eden or you can go all the way to Carlisle to see its castle and visit the excellent Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery. Heading south you could take the train to Dent station that is high above the village of stone houses and cobbled streets. A walk of about 15km would take you to Dent village and back to the station. Alternatively you could alight at Ribblehead Viaduct to see this awesome piece of engineering and walk back to Dent Station, mostly following the line.

There are bus services from Kirkby Stephen too but nothing you can describe as daily! This will give you some ideas of the options.

I am pretty sure I haven’t covered everything you can do from Pennine View Park and Kirkby Stephen but I hope this gives you some ideas about the possibilities from this friendly and well-run campsite.

A Garden for Campervan Trips & Tai Chi

When you are away for campervan trips that can last two or three months, having a garden is problematic. We like having our own space but it has to work for us. The two most important things are:

1. The garden can cope with neglect for long periods of time while we are away in the campervan.

2. The garden has a fairly level and large enough space for two people to practice tai chi.

However, much I might want to turn our garden into a green and colourful wild flower meadow full of insects and birds, I come back to these priorities. If only practicing tai chi in the road outside was an option! Unfortunately, I know this would not only get the neighbours talking, it would soon get us either run down or abused by passing motorists!

The compromise in terms of plants in our small sunken back garden [probably slightly bigger than we would like] is to grow hardy trees, shrubs and bushes that are drought tolerant. This is a win-win as even when we are at home we can minimise our water usage and the three water butts we have are usually sufficient to get us through any dry spell. These plants surround a sunny paved area that we use as our tai chi practice space.

We will never master tai chi but we have been practicing for many years now, with different teachers. On a good day we will practice both shibashi and some of the tai chi forms we are learning. On a lazy and wet day we will at least try and practice the shibashi or a short form.

Shibashi combines movements and breathing from tai chi in a set of 18 repeated exercises that flow into each other. Shibashi means 18 moves and doing them is calming, energising and excellent for someone who sits at a laptop writing for many hours!

The first tai chi form we learnt was the Sun Style 98 form and I feel connected to this form because it was my introduction to tai chi and it takes me back to the welcoming and friendly Salford class we found. The form has 98 different moves but only takes about seven minutes to complete. Sun style is one of the least popular tai chi styles but I like its fluid movements, the follow steps, the clearly defined transference of weight and the ‘pause’ between movements with opening and closing of hands. It feels beneficial to try and keep the moves of this form in my head and this sums up what I like about tai chi; it occupies both my physical body and my brain and remembering the moves of the form leaves no space in my head for trivia or anxieties.

We have also been learning a more popular tai chi style, Yang. A lock down project was to learn the moves in Yang 40. We haven’t quite finished it, so what we do at the moment is Yang 31! All tai chi forms are related and have similar moves but also have differences and it feels good to experience these variations.

When we have time we also practice some of the other tai chi forms we have learnt so that we don’t completely forget them. We can manage Yang 10, a short form that is compact and we can even push the furniture back in our living room and practice this one there if the weather is poor. We also mostly remember some of Dr Paul Lam’s forms from his Tai Chi for Health Institute that we learnt in Salford.

Some of the garden was already flagged when we moved in but it had obstacles that got in the way of our tai chi and disturbed the flow as we stepped over them! This summer we have moved the hurdles, re-laid some of the wonky flags and moved the gravel areas to the edges. We have re-used the flags and gravel that were already there so we could save money and not to add to the environmental cost of quarrying and production. We added the metal sun plaque on the wall to give me a glimpse of the sun, even on gloomy winter days.

A Campervan Trip to Donegal in the Republic of Ireland

Travelling to Donegal in Ireland this year was wonderful. It was abroad and we could pay for things in Euros and travel in kilometres but everyone spoke English and we drove on the same side of the road. We explored this north-western corner of Ireland and it turned out to be fascinating, beautiful and remote enough to put off lots of other visitors.

Inishowen is the peninsula in the north of County Donegal and the city of Donegal is to the south of the county. With so many inlets and peninsulas Donegal has a long coastline of over 1,100km. Donegal has so much to offer with over 100 beaches, many of them spectacular; Ireland’s largest fishing port; Malin Head, mainland Ireland’s most northerly point; Glenveagh National Park and the impressive Slieve League cliffs. I don’t know why we thought a week was long enough! This is the west coast and the weather varied from blue skies to cold torrential rain.

The area gave a warm welcome to all visitors, including campervans and here are some of my highlights:

Malin Head on a sunny day was heavenly. We walked to Hell’s Hole, stopping regularly to look at the colourful wild flowers by the path. We met two other tourists; he was clambering to the cliff edge to pose for a photograph. I stood next to his partner, holding my breath as I watched him edge nearer to a sheer drop.  While I was relieved when he was back on more secure ground, his partner took the danger in her stride!

Doagh Beach and Trawbrega Bay with views across to Five Finger Strand, rocks to clamber over and sand dunes is the perfect spot for a bit of idle beach combing.

Doagh Famine Village museum should not be missed. In a street of thatched cottages we listened to stories about the life of our guide’s family, who lived here from the 19th century to the 1980s. This museum is personal, unequaled and extraordinary and I have no words to do it justice. Visit and hear the people’s histories.

The aire in Buncrana on Lough Swilly is next to a garden dedicated to the writer of the hymn Amazing Grace, John Newton.  A sailor and slave trader, Newton’s ship found safe haven in Buncrana after a terrible storm and he gratefully stepped ashore a changed man, becoming a clergyman, an abolitionist and a writer of many hymns.  We walked in his footsteps through the lively town and around its bay and harbour.  

We parked in the large car park for Glenveagh National Park that is at the end of Lough Veagh. There are walks and shuttle buses but we decided to hire bikes for the easy cycle ride by the shores of Lough Veagh to Glenveagh Castle, a castellated mansion with colourful gardens. Even on a busy day, we had the track beyond the castle to the end of Lough Veagh to ourselves.

The rocky and barren landscape of The Rosses, peppered with lakes and rivers is a special landscape that is well worth exploring. Stay at Sleepy Hollows, spot the pyramid of Errigal looming across this undulating landscape, read the Irish place names and visit Leo’s Tavern, the home of Clannad and Enya.

The cliffs of Slieve League fall steeply into the Atlantic. We drove on the narrow roads to the last car park before the gated road and walked the short distance up the hill to the viewpoint across to the dramatic cliffs.

I found the industrial scale of the fishing industry and the rows of colourful fishing boats in Killybegs fascinating. Killybegs is a lively working town and has some great cafes and places to eat and an interesting local museum.

We spent a week touring Donegal in June but could have spent longer. We stayed on campsites, one aire and a privately owned camperstop.

Campsite NameComments
Buncrana Aire, Republic of IrelandThis is a small car park by a road & garden.  It is limited to 7 vans but 9 packed in on the Friday night we were there. Just 5 minutes walk into the town & a petrol station with a shop nearby.
Sleepy Hollows campsite, nr CrollyA lovely small site with some good sized hard-standing pitches.  The facilities are quite open to the elements and consist of 2 showers with hot water but low water pressure, 3 toilets & a kitchen.  In summer they light a campfire.  This is a peaceful spot, although there is a pub a short walk away and there is a riverside walk from the site.  There may be midges.
Killybegs Holiday ParkA terraced site in an old quarry with all gravel terraces and little greenery.  The views over the sea are unrivaled.  No facilities were open, we had EHU and water on the pitch.  It was quiet in June and we had a whole terrace to ourselves!  It is a short but hilly walk into Killybegs where there are cafes and pubs.  There is a small private cove below the campsite.
Spierstown Camper Parking near DonegalA small hard-standing site for a few vans.  We received a friendly welcome and the bathroom, toilet and kitchen are kept very clean and, as we were the only van, it felt like home.  There is a washing machine too.  There is traffic noise from the main road but this is a great stopover site for visiting Donegal.

Touring Northern Ireland in a Campervan: Top Tips

It was fantastic to visit Northern Ireland and, for us, a new part of the UK. We spent two weeks touring around the country, from the stunning Antrim coast to the Mourne Mountains. We explored Derry and Belfast and were enchanted by the Fermanagh Lakeland. Two weeks was good but it isn’t really long enough to see everything in Northern Ireland; there were parts we didn’t reach and places we didn’t spend enough time in.

We sailed to Northern Ireland with P&O from Cairnryan to Larne. At £351 return for our campervan for a trip that is around 41 miles one way this has to be the most expensive mile-for-mile ferry crossing we have ever taken [about £4.28 a mile]! It is surprising the ferries are not subsidised by the Northern Ireland Government to encourage tourists in the way the Scottish Government have used the Road Equivalent Tariff. Once I got thinking about this I had to compare the costs. Uig to Tarbert on Harris is about 30 miles and would cost around £46 one way [£1.53 per mile] making it is easy to see why motorhomers make the choices they do. Our favourite way to reach mainland Europe, Hull to Zeebrugge, is also with P&O [they only sail to Rotterdam now]. That sailing is overnight and includes a cabin. It usually costs us about £250 on way for the approximately 320 mile trip. You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out that this is less than a £1 a mile [actually 78p]!

My first top tip is bite the bullet and cough up for the ferry as Northern Ireland is well worth visiting but take a picnic for onboard! The journey to Northern Ireland only takes two hours and on the ship there are places to sit inside and outside, although the amount of outside seating varies depending on which ship you are on and our return ship had much more. We made the mistake of deciding to eat lunch onboard on our outward journey. You might think the high cost of the ferry would subsidise the cost of the food but apparently not. There was little choice for two vegetarians and the two cheese toasties we had were an expensive snack.

Top Tips for a Campervan Trip in Northern Ireland

Height Barriers – There are more car parks with height barriers and so inaccessible for a high-top campervan along the Antrim coast than I really like to see. The most annoying for us was the large National Trust car park for Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. We did eventually find parking in nearby Ballintoy and when I spoke to the National Trust parking wardens at Carrick-a-Rede they said there is a telephone number at the entrance for you to ring and they will come and open the height barrier.

Wild camping – When we asked the knowledgeable people of Facebook quite a number of them suggested we were best not to wild camp in Northern Ireland and so we booked campsites. The popularity of wild camping is why there are so many height barriers on car parks along the Antrim coast but there are parking spots where people do overnight such as the lovely seaside village of Cushendun. In some popular walking areas farms have car parks where you can overnight. We spotted one good example of this in the Mourne Mountains near Carrick Little, it was a gorgeous peaceful place with mountain and sea views.

Campsites – These varied from the excellent Ballyness campsite to Kilbroney Park that we couldn’t wait to leave [see below for more details]. We travelled in June and most of the campsites were full [with the exception of the one in Belfast] and booking ahead was worthwhile.

School holidays – You can’t really call 2021 normal so this may not happen in other years. Although we were travelling outside of school holidays in England and Northern Ireland, the holidays in Ireland can start in June and by the end of our trip the campsites were busy with Irish families.

Commemoration of the Revolution of 1688 – Although the Orange Order walks and parades often pass without incident, some advised us to avoid the period around 11 and 12 July when there are bonfires and marching bands in the streets.

Places to visit – some highlights

There is more to the Antrim coast than Giant’s Causeway, although that is spectacular. Take the time to walk along some cliffs, visit a castle and stroll along one of the many beaches. The harbour at Ballycastle is pretty and the short but steep walk to Kinbane Castle is stunning.

Derry / Londonderry’s 17th century city walls are just 1.5 km long but they are packed with history and interest. We took the scenic train journey from Castlerock, rather than drive into the city.

Portstewart is a perfect seaside resort. It has a prom for strolling, a walk around a craggy headland, an interesting sculpture alongside a tiny harbour and, most importantly of all, Morelli’s that sells delicious Italian ice-cream.

Crom Estate near to Enniskillen was another memorable outing. This estate and nature reserve, owned by the National Trust, has a ruined castle, a quaint boat house and summer house and idyllic walks along the shores of Upper Lough Erne.

Our love of hiking was inevitably going to take us to the Mourne Mountains, south of Belfast. These hills have a comprehensive network of footpaths that are well used and it is worth getting to a car park early if you have a specific walk in mind. The highest peak is Slieve Donard at 853m but there are valley and hilltop walks for most abilities. You can download a walkers guide here.

The Crown Liquor Saloon in Belfast was another highlight of our trip. The bar is a unique masterpiece in pub architecture that has to be seen to be appreciated. I’m sure, like us, you will be amazed by the mirrors, tiles and carvings. It is worth booking one of the private snugs for the full experience.

Here is the list of campsites we stayed at in Northern Ireland.

Campsite nameComments
Cushendun Holiday Park, Northern IrelandThe site only had ten touring pitches, all hard-standing and in a small area with the rest of the site made up of statics.  The site is by the village & sea. Showers are £1 each and the site is popular with families.
Ballyness Caravan Park, BushmillsA lovely tidy site with pitches off-set and in small areas. Reception was friendly & helpful and the facilities were good and clean with roomy showers that were warm. The site had a large indoor wash up area.  We had good phone signals for EE & Three Mobile.
91 Bishops Road CL, CastlerockA hillside & grassy CL with some hard-standing and a friendly & helpful owner (he offered us a lift to Castlerock) & water by each pitch.  No facilities but fantastic sea views over Downhill Demesne [see top pic].  EE and Three both had a good 4G signal.
Riverside Farm Marina & Caravan Park, Enniskillen, Northern IrelandA small site by the river run by a friendly owner the site has a few statics.  The pitches are not huge and are mostly hard-standing with grass available in dry weather.  The three showers are £1 for 4 minutes and are good and hot. There is one indoor sink for wash up in a kitchen that also has a microwave.
Dungannon Park, DungannonIn a park on the edge of Dungannon, good sized hedged pitches with grass & hard-standing.  Clean facilities, hot showers and only one wash up sink.
Kilbroney Caravan Park, RostrevorBusy & popular site on a hillside with many sloping pitches and we struggled to get the van level.  The facilities are kept clean and the showers are warm but no adjustment for the temperature and push buttons.  There was a nighttime security person. We both had a good phone signal.
Tollymore Forest Park, NewcastlePleasantly situated site with space between pitches that are hard-standing and surrounded by grass.  There were lots of families here in the good weather and with no reception staff, just occasionally drive-by wardens it can have a wayward air, depending on your neighbours.  The facilities are very dated & scruffy but the showers were excellent, hot, adjustable and continuous. The campsite is in a woodland country park with lovely riverside walks that you can follow into Newcastle.
Dundonald Caravan Park, BelfastThis site was eerily quiet, only our campervan, one caravan and one tent were on this small site which has secure gates and security staff.  There is traffic noise but you are surrounded by trees and this is a great spot for catching a bus into Belfast.  The facilities are clean and roomy with hot showers & there is a kitchen.  The bus stop into Belfast is 10 mins walk away and there is a cinema nearby.

Comfortable & Quick-Drying Women’s Underwear for a Campervanning Hiker

My search for good quality, comfortable and quick drying underwear for hiking and cycling when we are away in our campervan should have ended long ago. Over ten years ago when we set off on our twelve month tour of Europe in our ‘van I purchased six pairs of Lowe Alpine Dry Flo pants that did the job perfectly. They were comfortable to wear even in temperatures over 30C, they dried overnight when I hand washed them and they out-lasted the year we spent away and are still going strong. When we returned home these were the only underwear I wanted to wear and I got online to buy some more for everyday use. Imagine how devastated I was to find that Lowe Alpine had stopped making them. They reappeared a few years ago in the same perfect shape but different [and less sturdy] fabric and I stocked up on four more pairs but they have now once again disappeared from the shops. I should have stashed away a lifetime’s supply!

With my 13-year old Lowe Alpine underwear starting to show signs of age I once again began a search for good underwear. After hours online and at some expense, I purchased four different brands of underwear to try. I have tested these smalls in the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District fells and hand washed them and dried them overnight. Below are my reviews of these four pairs of knickers that I chose from the many available. Please note, I have not received any of this underwear as a gift from a retailer [I wish] and my reviews are honest but do relate to my shape [I am a women’s size 12] and the activities I enjoy when I wear them.

In our campervan we usually wash our underwear out each evening and maybe socks, unless we are only away for a couple of nights. On longer trips we will hand wash t-shirts too, only using a washing machine when we need to wash towels and sheets. If it is sunny this washing can hang outside but unfortunately we don’t always get fine weather and we end up with knickers dripping over the sink. This isn’t something you ever see on those Instagram images of campervan life but it is our real vanlife! Having quick drying undies is as important as comfort for me.

The underwear tested:

  • Runderwear Women’s Running Hot Pants
  • Ortovox Women’s Hot Pants
  • Athlecia Women’s Mucht Seamless Hot Pants
  • Microfibre Boxers Ladies High Waist Shorts

Lowe Alpine Dry Flo – the original and the best. These are still keeping me comfortable after thirteen years! I am gutted that Lowe Alpine have stopped making them.

Runderwear Women’s Running Hot Pants, around £18. These are designed for runners and have a boxer-style fit. I find the seamless design is comfortable to wear and chafe free on long hikes. In many ways these are closest to my much-loved Lowe Alpine underwear. I haven’t tried them in extremely hot weather yet but my guess is they will perform well. The waistband is elasticated and feels substantial and I thought this might affect their quick drying properties but after handwashing they dried overnight in our ‘van.

Ortovox Women’s Hot Pants with Merino wool, an extravagant £30+ worth of knicker. These are a good generous pair of pants, they feel soft and are like wearing what I imagine gossamer to feel like. I like to wear and buy natural fibres and the breathability of merino wool is refreshing to wear. They claim to be durable for years of use but only time will tell how robust they will be, they feel so delicate. I have had merino wool t-shirts that have lasted decades and others that haven’t done so well. They are a tad loose around the legs and I don’t think they would be great under lycra cycling shorts. They wash well and dry overnight too.

Athlecia Women’s Mucht Seamless Hot Pants. At £25 for a pack of two, these are good value. The lightweight synthetic fibre fabric feels cool to wear and they are seam-free but the cut isn’t generous. These would suit you if you want more discrete underwear that isn’t high waisted and might be better on someone with a flatter stomach. I find I am constantly having to readjust this underwear around the crotch, not an attractive look! They wash easily and dry quickly but are not comfortable enough for hiking.

Microfibre Boxers Ladies High Waist Shorts. For everyday use at home, when quick drying isn’t the most important thing, I find these are comfortable pants. They are seamless and at just £3.75 a pair extremely good value and last for years. They are fine for short walks. The big downside is that they don’t dry quickly enough for hand washing and drying in our campervan. I wear these when we are at home and would suit you if you use the laundry facilities when you are away or take all your washing home.

What are your experiences of good hiking underwear and quick drying smalls? Maybe there is a pair of amazing pants out there that I have missed. If so, do let me know in the comments below.

Lost & Found on Cockup: Going the Extra Mile to Take our Litter Home after Walking up Bakestall

We continue to find hats, scarves, single gloves, walking poles and reusable water bottles on our walks in the Lake District and beyond. Stuff that people have dropped or put down and forgotten to pick up, or kit that has fallen out of their rucksack. On a recent trip up Bakestall behind Skiddaw we found out ourselves how easy it is to leave gear behind on the fells.

We took the long way up Bakestall, not just because we enjoy walking all day [we do] but because parking the Blue Bus isn’t always easy. It is only 5.4m long and 2.2m wide so can fit in a normal parking space and along a narrow lane but that isn’t the only consideration. Sometimes we decide to choose easier to reach but less popular parking and have a longer walk rather than negotiate a narrow lane only to find all the parking spots are taken [in the Lake District this can happen by 09.00]!

Bakestall isn’t often walked on its own, unless you are bagging your Wainwrights and didn’t go up it while you were walking up one of the nearby fells. This is why we were heading up this little hill at just 673m high and tucked away behind Skiddaw. If you are walking up it, own a car and are prepared to get up early you would park in the small parking area on the narrow lane that runs underneath the fell. On a fine August day we rightly guessed that this would be busy and so parked our campervan in a large lay-by just south of the Ravenstone Hotel on the A591, not a parking area for any obvious hill and so much quieter.

From here we walked steeply up the wooded hillside and out onto the open fell, descending down to the bridge over Chapel Beck and the minor road from the A591, picking up the track up Dash Beck a short distance along this road. From
Whitewater Dash falls we climbed up Bakestall and stopped to chat to a friendly walking group who were continuing onto Skiddaw. We took a good grassy route downhill, onto the steep slopes of Cockup and followed a path that skirted above the intake wall to rejoin our outgoing route by the ridge from Ullock Pike.

This was mostly a good path with stretches through bracken and short tricky sections in and out of gullies. It was going smoothly until we had a small cock up on Cockup. On one section of footpath through bracken, I was in front and just avoided tripping up on a stone hidden by undergrowth. Before I could warn my walking partner he tripped up and flew headlong into the grass and bracken. Ready to grab the first aid kit, I was relieved to find that nothing was broken or even cut. Neither of us could believe we had got away without damaging anything after such a dramatic fall.

Back at the ‘van we realised we hadn’t quite got away with it. Our favourite and most-used water bottle must have flown out of the outside rucksack pocket as my partner lost his footing on the fellside. We were gutted and it seemed ironic that two people who are always picking up lost items should themselves mislay something that will become litter on the hills. It seemed too far to go back so we tried to accept the loss but all evening it kept niggling!

The next day we had a fairly easy hike up Mungrisdale Common. It was mid-afternoon when we returned to the ‘van and we both knew what we were going to do. We drove the Blue Bus along the narrow lane to the bottom of Bakestall, thinking there was more likelihood of a parking space at that time of day. We were lucky, there was one space free that was Blue Bus size. Walking back along the road, we picked up the exceptionally steep path to the intake wall and followed our route through the bracken and gullies, all the time scouring the ground for the offending stone. Luck continued to be on our side and even in thick bracken, we spotted the trip hazard / stone and lying among the undergrowth was our precious water bottle. It only took us about an hour and 500m of climbing to find it! Never say we don’t take our litter home with us!

Rice & Beans with Avocado Salsa

Although I love a chip barm as much as the next person, some of my favourite meals are ones that ooze fresh vegetables. These are meals that taste fantastic and help you feel that you are bursting with vitamins! This rice and beans with avocado salsa is one of those dishes. There are many ways to cook rice and beans and I enjoy most of them. Almost twenty years ago I worked with the Caribbean community in Preston and would often visit the weekly lunch club. The fantastic cooks were all horrified that I didn’t eat meat but I was more than happy with a plateful of rice and beans, some vegetables or salad and a couple of the wonderful fried dumplings they made. The avocado salsa makes this a distinctive dish to the one I was served up then. It is colourful and tasty and still takes me back to those noisy and sociable lunches.

Ingredients for the rice and beans for two

  • Small can of cooked beans [around 200 g] – you can use black eye beans, cannellini beans, chickpeas or whatever your favourite is
  • 2 large fresh tomatoes [or 6-8 small tomatoes], chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • Around 125 g of brown rice [in our campervan I would use a pouch of quick cook / pre-cooked brown rice]
  • Some cooked green beans [these could be left overs, tinned [handy in the campervan], frozen or cooked just for this]
  • Tabasco sauce [optional]

Ingredients for the avocado salsa

  • 1 avocado
  • Lemon or lime juice
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped or chopped spring onions
  • 1 chilli [according to your taste] deseeded and finely chopped
  • Fresh coriander, chopped
  • Sour cream or thick Greek yoghurt [optional]

You will need a large pan or wok, a chopping board and a sharp knife.

I tend to treat recipes as guidelines, rather than a hard and fast rule so don’t worry if there is something you don’t have in the cupboard or fridge. The dish works fine without fresh coriander for example and you could use another favourite vegetable instead of the green beans.

At home I would start by cooking the brown rice separately or use some leftover brown rice. Using leftover rice is safe so long as you follow these guidelines. At home I would also cook fresh green beans now.

In a wok or large pan, cook the onions until softened, add the tomatoes after five minutes and the crushed garlic and cook for a further five minutes or so.

In our campervan, as brown rice takes a while to cook, I would add one pouch of pre-cooked / quick cook brown rice to the pan after the garlic along with water and cook as the instructions suggest. If the green beans need cooking I would add these now too, making this a one-pot dish.

The rice and beans are now mostly an assembly job. Add the rice [if you haven’t already] the tinned beans and the green beans [if you haven’t already] to the onion and tomato mixture. Stir it well and season with pepper and salt to your taste. I usually stir in some Tabasco sauce at this point, remembering my Caribbean Lunch Club days. If you are not ready to eat this now, make sure you keep it warm.

While this is cooking, make the salsa. This is simple! Peel the avocado and chop it finely and add the finely chopped onion, chilli and fresh coriander. Stir everything together with the juice of 1/2 a lemon or one lime.

Serve the rice and beans with the salsa on the top and I like to add a dollop of thick Greek yoghurt. Enjoy!