Southport: A no-sweat campervan trip

Southport and Formby (Nov 2019)
The woods at Formby

I wonder if every campervan or motorhome owner has at least one no-sweat place.  These are camping trips to somewhere familiar and where no planning or research is needed.  You don’t have to think about what you will do when you get there, you just have a day or two free, you need a break and after a short drive you can park up the campervan, motorhome or caravan and immediately relax.  We have a number of these places and Southport is one of them that we often visit in the winter months.

There are a couple of options for parking your campervan when staying in Southport.  The Caravan and Motorhome Club Site tends to be our preferred option as we seek peace and quiet.  Since it’s refurbishment some years ago this site has plenty of space and two sanitary blocks and is only a few minutes walk from the town.  The other option is the car park next to Pleasureland funfair.  This level hard-standing area is free or £3 for a hook-up and a good budget option but it can be crowded and noisy.

Southport has a long promenade and walking along here is my top favourite thing to do and we will usually get out to do this as soon as our arrival brew is finished.  The sands are vast at Southport and the sea can seem a long way away and looking to the west you get a sense of space that is stunning.  We will usually take in the 1,000 metre long pier too if it is open and stand above the sands.  In winter we will look out for waders along the shoreline or we might wait for one of Southport’s spectacular sunsets.  The end of the Marine Lake is a good place to take an about turn and follow the inland shore of the lake, occasionally stopping to watch the ducks and swans and taking a wander through King’s Gardens.

Our next stop will be the town centre.  A stroll under the wrought-iron canopies of Lord Street is a real Southport experience.  We are not big on shopping but if you are then there is plenty here to look around.  We usually look for a cafe and last time we visited we warmed up in Remedy, an independent cafe.  The cafe is situated in a mock-Victorian glass house in the gardens in front of the Town Hall.  It is a cosy and relaxing cafe where on a winter’s afternoon you can snuggle up with a hot chocolate spiced up with your choice of alcohol and read a newspaper or choose a board game.  We people watched and had a spirited couple of games of dominoes.

On our next walk we will take in Victoria Park, a large green space near to the campsite and follow the Queen’s Jubilee Nature Trail, an interesting area of old sand dunes and bushes.

Trips to Southport are generally on the spur of the moment.  Most recently we were so stressed by our house moving we packed and went on a whim.  We never plan to be there for a particular event but there is often something going on in Southport.  Our visits have coincided with firework displays, the Christmas lights switch on and in the summer months we have visited the popular flower show.  Southport also has attractions such as Pleasureland, the British Lawnmower Museum and a Model Railway Village.

When we have taken our bicycles to Southport we have followed the cycle route south down the coast and into the woodland around Formby.  The cycle path is noisy along the busy main road but once you are among the trees it is blissful.  The sandy paths meander up and down the old dunes, through tall pine trees.  When we don’t have the bikes we park the ‘van in one of the spacious National Trust car parks [we are not members and so have to pay the £7.50] and take a walk through this wonderful area.

If you have never been to Formby before I almost envy you that first sight of the long sweep of beach, backed by sand dunes and coastal pinewoods.  The scenery and the wildlife here is very special and it is the perfect place for a walk or just to sit.  In spring you might spot a great crested newt in one of the ponds among the dunes and in the summer there are plenty of butterflies.  Many people come to Formby because this is a stronghold of red squirrels and these are here all year round but recently it has become more difficult to see them.  Squirrel pox is a highly infectious disease that has been found among this threatened group of red squirrels and the National Trust are discouraging visitors from feeding the squirrels as this brings them together and helps the infection spread.  But stay a while and you might be lucky and spot one of these beautiful animals.

The National Trust provide a map showing different trails of various lengths around Formby and there are toilets and usually a refreshment van near the main car park.  The beach is always a magnet for visitors and you rarely have it to yourself but there is enough room for everyone.  If you seek solitude then follow one of the less trodden paths and you will soon discover your own Formby.

Tell me your own no-sweat campervan trips.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frugal Flitting: Trying to save money while moving house

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Moving house is a pretty expensive undertaking, as well as being one of the most stressful experiences you can put yourself through.  For the frugal, moving house isn’t something to undertake lightly as it will eat up a chunk of money.  If the reason for yearning to relocate can be fixed by building a garage or a shed, fitting a new kitchen or changing the layout of your rooms then it is always worth considering that first.  But once you’ve decided that moving home is the only way to go how do you do this within a budget?

We made the decision to move from our Salford flat to somewhere more tranquil earlier this year; only closing all the roads would make Salford quieter, so finding a new place to live became the only option.  Moving house wasn’t something we had budgeted for when we retired in 2017, we thought we would be in Salford until the end of our days but being comfortable where we live is important and fortunately we had the flexibility within our finances to spend the money we needed to.

We had always built in some contingency to our early retirement planning but mostly we were only able to afford a move because we had continued to live frugally in our retirement and because we had earnings from my travel writing.  With two years experience of our spending in our retired life, we gave the savings we had left a good hard look, made a spreadsheet and planned what we could afford to spend on moving house.  Our Morecambe home cost a tad more than our Salford flat and on top of this the process of moving home cost us £4,761.  There isn’t much slack in our savings now [we can’t move again!] but we have retained that contingency fund and feel comfortable.

Below is where we managed to shave a bit off the cost of moving house.

Solicitors – £1,711

We are members of Unison and this gives us a discount with BBH Legal Services Ltd.  There are cheaper conveyancing solicitors out there but cheap does not always mean the most efficient and helpful.  During the process of selling our flat our chain was held up on more than one occasion due to the incompetence of a solicitors that offered a cheap online service and had clearly taken on more work than he could manage.  Having a proficient solicitor is important in keeping the stress levels down during a move and in our experience BBH were always available and realistic and gave an excellent service at a reasonable cost.

Packing – £53

We saved money by doing the packing ourselves and also saved 75p per box by buying used cardboard boxes from a Manchester storage company.  We don’t have lots of delicate trinkets but we have china plates, bowls and mugs.  It turned out that large rolls of plastic bubble wrap were not necessary to protect these precious items.  We bought 100 sheets of tissue paper from the storage company for £4 which was plenty and nothing got broken between Salford and Morecambe.  After we had moved we advertised the boxes as being available online.  Someone asked for them almost immediately and gave us wine and chocolates when we delivered the now third-hand boxes!

Removal firm – £662

Last time we moved house we hired a van and moved ourselves but this move was further and would have needed two trips as we now owned two sofas [so much for minimalism] so we decided to pay for the professionals.  We shopped around for a good removal firm, asked for recommendations on local Facebook groups and eventually choosing a small firm in Morecambe.  They were not only excellent, compared to Manchester-based companies, they were about £300 cheaper.  They were also around £500 cheaper than the one large national firm we received a quote from.  Every member of the company, from arranging a quote, to setting the date and moving our furniture, were friendly and efficient.  Buying local and outside metropolitan areas can be cost saving.

Estate Agent – £2,040

Last time we moved house we didn’t use an estate agent but sold it ourselves, just paying a small fee to have the house advertised on the relevant websites.  We did this because of the local market and we put a lot of work in ourselves leafleting locally and showing people around.  Our flat was a different place to sell and we knew this time we needed the help of an estate agent.  We considered three estate agents and did hire the most expensive of those three because they were local and we felt they knew the development we lived in best and would sell it to prospective buyers.  We hoped this would lead to a successful quick sale of our flat.  We saved £200 by refusing the premium listing cost they offered for better photographs and a highlighted listing online.  The flat sold in just a few weeks but how much that was down to how we presented it [we worked hard to ensure it looked its best] and how much to the Estate Agent’s work is a bit of an unknown.  Maybe it was team work!

Energy Performance Certificate – £45

We had to have one of these completed for our flat and we shopped around ourselves, rather than paying for one through the Estate Agent, saving ourselves £30.

Stamp Duty – £250

This is a fixed cost that relates to the price of the property you are buying.

I am sure we could have done this cheaper … have you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel and Change of Place Impart new Vigour to the Mind

France 2018 Lavender

‘Travel and change of place impart new vigour to the mind,’ is an often cited and apparently thoughtful quote from  Seneca, a wealthy and powerful Roman Stoic philosopher and writer.  Many travellers use this quote as, although it was written 2,000 years ago, these words still holds some truth today.  Many of us feel that taking a break from the everyday comfortable routine can be refreshing, give me a chance to see things with new eyes and look beyond the familiar daily grind, encountering vivid ideas that can lead me to innovation and change.  Seeing new sights can be mind expanding and renews our get-up-and-go and connects us to Seneca the philosopher.

Wanting to understand what Seneca was saying, I searched for the specific reference or context of this quote but hit a brick wall, only finding others who state this is wrongly attributed to Seneca but no information about who the quote is from.  Also the more I read about Stoicism the less sense these words meant in relation to its teachings.

Stoicism teaches the four cardinal virtues for a good life, wisdom, temperance, justice and courage.  As a Stoic, Seneca argued that passionate anger or grief should be moderated and he would approve of the classic stiff upper lip.  Stoicism teaches that happiness is found in acceptance and by not allowing our desire for pleasure and our fear of pain to control actions.  Seneca thought it was important for everyone to consider their own mortality and face up to dying, not to encourage a pessimistic attitude but to reinforce how lucky we are to be alive and live for today.  Studying Stoicism can lead to reflection and philanthropy and can help us understand our place in the world and encourage us to treat others fairly and justly.  As a Stoic Seneca recognised his own short-comings compared to his own role models and was always willing to learn.

Stoicism in many ways fits well with today’s minimalist movement.  A Stoic admires frugality and sees no shame in being seen wearing old clothes, driving a battered car or living in a run down house … image is nothing and boasting about a luxury holiday or posting glamorous photographs on social media would be a far cry from Stoicism.

There seems some tension between this often quoted phrase of Seneca’s and the principles of Stoicism.  Some argue that Seneca would support the sentiment of the quote while considering that it is the intent of the travel and the disposition of the traveller that are important.  He wrote, ‘Where you arrive does not matter so much as what sort of person you are when you arrive here.’

Travel to find peace of mind is not promoted by Stoicism as this inner harmony needs to be achieved from within and moving to a new place won’t make you happy, ‘You must change the mind, not the venue,’  Seneca wrote.  Stoicism argues that travel in itself cannot lead to self-improvement.  Yet, travel that combines frugality with learning could fit into the Stoic’s way of life.

Taking a break from work can give your mind a chance to wander into new areas and that is when some bright spark of an idea can pop in but I find that even getting out for a walk can give the same result, never mind a full-blown holiday.  As Tim Harford argues in this FT article, you don’t need a long holiday to give your brain chance to relax and re-boot.  A weekend away works just as well and the benefits of a longer break wear off just as quickly as a short one.  Such news is all a bit distressing for someone who loves long holidays and I personally find that the benefits of a long holiday lie deeper and of course, all this is different when you are not returning to work.  It is true that when we were working folk we would get away on a Friday night for a weekend and face Monday morning much refreshed.

Whether or not this quote is actually something Seneca wrote, Stoicism suggests that happiness can be found through our acceptance of how things are and imparting new vigour to the mind certainly doesn’t have to be found by investing in an expensive holiday or retreat.  If a few days camping is out of the question we can all get a similar feeling of new vigour from seeing your own locality with fresh eyes.  You might take a different route to work or explore a local park you’ve never visited before or even read a different genre of novel or watch a new TV programme.  Constant learning and removing yourself from your comfort zone can impart new vigour to your mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving on: Leaving Super Salford for Marvellous Morecambe

We have been a trifle busy just lately.  After eleven years of living in a flat in Salford we decided it was time, as they say, to move on.  Salford has been good to us and in many ways we will miss living in a vibrant and dynamic city and being a part of Greater Manchester.  Leaving our many friendly and helpful neighbours and our lovely tai chi class [a nicer bunch of people you would struggle to meet] was a hard but positive decision.

When we moved to Salford, a city packed with modern, shiny high-rise blocks of flats, we chose an unusual 1930s development of flats with three floors arranged around large courtyard gardens and open shared areas.  Thanks to the design of the flats, we got to know more neighbours than we have anywhere else we have lived.  The site is secure and we have never worried about the leaving our flat on our long holidays and the gated parking for our campervan has been appreciated.  The large garden is a sheltered and sunny place to sit on a warm day with none of the worries of having to actually do any gardening yourself, it was a happy and liberating place to live.

A short walk from home was Salford Quays and a stroll around the water was a regular favourite way to spend some time.  This is where we could encounter nature; the trees changing colour through the year, Canada geese and black-headed gulls and sometimes coots and pied wagtails and different weather transforming the river and canal from sparkling blue to slate grey.  In addition there is always something new to see; someone might be filming around Media City, we could encounter groups queuing for a popular TV show or stumble upon one of the many special events such as the Makers Markets or Lightwaves.

We were surrounded by plenty of other favourite places; Weaste Cemetery, Peel Park and Buile Hill Park, Chapel Street and the River Irwell.  There are so many things to like about Salford, check out my Surprising Salford page for the full list.

If Salford is so perfect why are you moving on?  A search for quiet is the simple answer.  Although there had been other nudges, it was after spending two months in Scotland earlier this year that we both returned to our urban flat and struggled to adjust to the bustle of the city.  The 1930s flats were solidly built with thick external and internal walls and there is rarely any noise that gets through from neighbours to either side of us.  What my acute hearing did pick up was from the flat upstairs.  The guy was always respectful and well-behaved but I began to get tired of knowing when he was home, when he went to bed, when he decided to listen to music, when he had visitors and even when he visited the bathroom!  In addition, in the 1970s it was decided to build the M602 through Salford and the roar of the traffic on this short adjacent motorway was a continuous presence.

That said, we would have stayed in Salford if someone had built / was building small affordable bungalows and not just tall blocks of flats or if we had won on the Premium Bonds and had been able to afford the half a million or so for a penthouse flat overlooking Salford Quays.  With none of those options available, we checked our budget and began the search for a bungalow [we like living on one-floor] that wasn’t off the beaten track but offered some tranquillity, alongside some culture, and had natural areas within easy walking distance.

Having lived in Lancashire for many years, it is not surprising that we soon decided on the seaside resort of Morecambe where we follow in the footsteps of a long line of retiring Lancastrians.  Morecambe has plenty of bungalows to accommodate retirees and along with Lancaster has a thriving art and cultural scene and has that magnificent view across the sands of Morecambe Bay to the Lake District.

Our move to Morecambe isn’t so much a downsize as a new era.  We have gained a garden [again] and a kitchen that seems vast after living with one where I could stand in the centre and stretch out and reach everything!  But, having got used to our huge bedroom in the flat our new bedroom can best be described as cosy and our 1960s bungalow needs a long list of improvements to bring it up–to-date … but now when there are footsteps overhead it is just a herring gull landing on the roof.

 

 

 

 

The last glorious day of summer in Langdale, the Lake District

It was early October in the north-west of England and our weather expectations were low … but the isobars were working in our favour and there was one day in a blustery and showery week when the sun shone, the sunglasses were dusted off and the short trousers had one last airing … and on this splendid day we were lucky enough to be in the Lake District!

We were staying at the National Trust Great Langdale campsite.  This campsite has some shortcomings; it isn’t the place for you if you are looking for somewhere with luxurious heated facilities [despite the sunshine it was chilly in the evenings and mornings]; or a site with spacious campervan pitches [the pitches work best for smaller campervans] or even if you want somewhere cheap and cheerful [it costs £25/night in September/October but varies between £21 and £30 for two adults with EHU].  What this campsite does offer is stunning views of the wonderful Langdale Valley, peace and quiet, the Old Dungeon Ghyll just five minutes away [where you can get a pint of Old Peculier, my favourite beer] and access to superb walking.

We enjoyed one of those days when the hills are so magnificent you don’t want to stop hiking and we were having so much fun we ended up following a route somewhat longer than we originally planned.  It was so glorious on the hills we just kept adding another hill and the sun had left the valley by the time we descended back to our cosy Blue Bus.

We climbed upwards from the valley and emerged from the crags above Langdale onto Loft Crag, a superb viewpoint.  The panorama down the steep hillside into the valley and across to the summit of Bow Fell were magnificent and further away we spotted Great Gable among the multitude of fells.  We moved on to Pike of Stickle, skipping Harrison Stickle that we have climbed before and took in Thunacar Knott before deliberating over our lunch about where to head for next.  High Raise was beckoning and we set off across the slightly boggy land dotted with small tarns to this hill with views into Borrowdale and across Derwent Water to Skiddaw.  Sergeant Man is easily recognisable from almost any direction except from High Raise it seems but we hiked on and navigated to this little peak.

Our final objective became Blea Rigg, a Wainwright neither of us had knowingly climbed before and the top of which isn’t really clear on the map or the ground.  We had searched for Blea Rigg on an earlier occasion this year during a walk from Grasmere to Silver How and failed to find it.  This time, in the continuing sunshine, we climbed up every pimple and nobble between Sergeant Man and Silver How, examining Wainwright’s drawings on each one, determined to be sure we had stood on top of Blea Rigg.  Comparing my photographs with those of others on the internet later we are confident we did get there!

We descended on sheep tracks below the crags, eventually joining Stickle Ghyll and the well-made path into Langdale.  We had walked about 15 km but most importantly had experienced a truly memorable Lake District day.

 

 

 

Living on a Northern Terraced Street in Preston

1987 matthew and c august on larkhill st
1987 on a Preston street, wrapped up for the rain

1986 seems like another era; I had big hair, we owned a British Leyland Metro, Spitting Image was still on TV and we moved to Preston in Lancashire.  Along with fashions, the pattern of the communities in our cities have also altered many times since those days.  As a young couple with a tiny baby and two cats, living away from our home town and our respective families, we moved into a 19th century brick-built terraced house in a row of similar terraced houses.  This was our stomping ground for two years before we became upwardly mobile and moved to a more spacious semi-detached house.

These Lancashire terraced streets are still there and continue to provide great housing for families.  Our small terrace had two downstairs rooms and upstairs a double bedroom, two single bedrooms and a small bathroom.  Along the side of the house was a narrow alley that went underneath our upstairs rooms and that we shared with our neighbour.  This gave us access to the back yard and garden and was where we stored ladders and bikes.

In the 1980s we weren’t on our journey to financial independence, our priority was keeping our heads above water.  We were a single-income family with a mortgage on a house that had cost us £15,000 [you now need almost this much for a deposit on these properties].  Our terraced row of houses felt crowded but comfortable.  Along with our neighbours, none of us were wealthy; here was the wonderful diversity of what might be called the working classes, all struggling to make ends meet.  Although our family income came from a ‘professional’ job at the university, this is where we could afford to live.

To one side lived a couple with one child.  He had worked as a jockey, riding horses, as a young man but was now a butcher, both fascinating worlds I knew little about.  She was an outgoing hairdresser, working in a city centre salon.  On her day off she styled the hair of the neighbours in their homes, including me, giving us mates rates.  While we lived next door their marriage broke down and she began working evenings in a Preston nightclub for extra income as a pole dancer, another world I knew little about.

To our other side lived a couple with two children, a family living on the single income of his manual job.  It was this mum that was usually the parent that would offer to sit on the front step and watch her own children play in the street during the early evening, along with those of neighbours.  If the weather was fine I would often join her for a while with the baby and sitting on our respective steps we would talk generally about family news, the best schools and favourite TV programmes.  It was on these steps that I was informed that the best local primary school was the Roman Catholic school; I mentioned that we were atheists but she didn’t really grasp why that would mean this school wasn’t suitable for our little one.

During the daytime the street was a place for women and young children, all the men were at work and my early lessons in bringing up a child came from these women.  The street was lived in by families that were white-British but we were on the edges of more diverse areas of Preston and nearby there were shops that sold exotic fruit and vegetables that I enjoyed exploring.  At the end of the street, in the 20th century social housing, was a Muslim woman with children.  She was divorced, somewhat unusual in her community, and this single status sadly led to bullying by people who shared her religion; she needed a friend and sometimes I listened.

Just around the corner were an elderly couple, long-time residents of the area.  On warm afternoons he liked to bring a dining chair outside his tiny two-up-two-down terraced house and sit and chat to anyone who came by.  I walked by his house to the local shops and into town, always carrying our baby in a papoose, and would stop for a while.  He told me funny and interesting stories of his days as an engineer building bridges on the M6.  Life seemed to be slower in those days in this corner of Preston and people had time to talk.

Another family across the road had a son who was difficult to manage, he was often aggressive and sometimes violent.  He was removed from home and sent to the local children’s home that was unfortunately just 100 metres away.  He continued to return home and scream loudly outside his family home and once he broke a window while everyone along our street cowered indoors, no one trying to help.  In these narrow streets there is nowhere to hide and the family’s shame was a burden they carried, knowing the next day that everyone was talking about them.

On the corner of the road was the vicarage.  The vicar and his friendly wife had four children and were considered the middle-class residents of the street.  Quizzing me about how many more children we would have, I told her, ‘One is enough.’  She failed to persuade me that a big family was the way to go.  Their house was an enormous rambling property surrounded by a garden and easily swallowed their large family and the numerous visitors they happily entertained.

I have said before I have a literal mind and so when I learnt there was a Mums and Toddler Group nearby [these would now be called a play group or parent and toddler group] I understood the term precisely and didn’t attend until our son was actually toddling at 11 months old.  I laughed when I was told I didn’t have to wait until he could walk!   The group was held twice a week in a draughty and dismal church hall with a selection of old toys for the children to play with and tea and biscuits for the mums / parents.  In this unpromising environment, there was no sense of competitive parenting and everyone was supportive and helpful and I learnt more child-rearing skills.  It was here that I met parents who shared my love of reading, cooking good food, an interest in environmentalism and fellow atheists who recommended the local county primary school.  I made some firm friends here and the plan to move a short distance away to a bigger house began.

The narrow terraced streets are still there and probably still lived in by hard-working families.  The vicar no longer lives at the end of the road and the extensive garden is now a car park, the social housing has been improved.  The corner shop has gone, along with the telephone box where we would ring distant family and friends as we didn’t have a home phone.  Traffic has increased everywhere and I doubt if I walked here on a sunny evening I would still see parents sitting on the steps watching their children playing in the street but then again …

 

 

 

 

Exploring Northern Hungary in a Campervan

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The view over the Danube from Visegrad Castle

Some years ago we travelled to Hungary, equipped with a guide book, a couple of maps and a postcard with useful phrases in Hungary’s difficult language, such as, ‘Can we camp here?’  This was kindly written by my Hungarian friend who sympathised with how difficult Hungarian is for English people to learn.  ‘It will be hot,’ my cold-loving Hungarian friend had assured me; she often told me how unbearably hot a Hungarian summer is and so we took shorts and t-shirts.  As it turned out it was a particularly wet late May and early June and our most worn clothing was our waterproofs!

All the same we had an amazing time exploring this interesting country, although due to time constraints [and work] we only saw a small chunk, we did explore areas less often the haunt of sun-loving travellers.  We toured around the north of the country, driving into Hungary from Austria and leaving via Slovakia.  Our first stop was the charming town of Kőszeg that is full of beauty and surrounded by hills and trees; in the rain we had it to ourselves.  Known as the ‘Jewel Box of Hungary,’ with cobbled streets and colourful buildings it is certainly worth stopping here to explore the lovely square and the castle.

Our first Hungarian campsite was near the large thermal spa at Buk.  The receptionist didn’t speak English but did speak German and so we muddled along and I didn’t need the postcard of useful phrases.  Taking an evening walk through the many baths and tourist shops we were amazed how popular taking to the water here is.

Driving through fields and vineyards towards the Danube, we stopped at the lovely town of Tata that has a ruined castle picturesquely set by a lake.  An event was being held and local people, young and old, were dressed as ancient Magyars and practising with bows and arrows.   Here we had our first Hungarian soft ice-cream on a cornet, the ice-cream dipped into melted chocolate creating a crisp chocolate layer to bite through to the sweet ice-cream.

On the River Danube we found the slightly down-at-heel campsite run by the Hotel Honti in Visegrad and settled in for a day or two.  Exploring the town on a Sunday morning we came across a procession along a colourful flower-strewn path to the church.  Another walk took us up the hillside to the stunningly-positioned castle.  There are ferries on the wide river here, including to Budapest.

Mátra Kemping Sástó was a newly refurbished campsite at the time of our visit and had the best facilities we encountered in Hungary.  The large well-organised site on the hillside above Gyöngyös has bungalows, a hotel as well as camping pitches.

The Mátra mountain range has Hungary’s highest peak Kékestető (1014 m).  From the campsite we walked through beautiful beech woodland on well-marked paths, stopping at a roadside stall for sweet tea with lemon before heading up the steep section.  You can drive to the top of Kékestető and the tree-covered summit gives you no view to reward your effort unless you climb the look-out tower.  We returned on a different footpath which gave us wide open views down to the plain below and was a wonderful walk, even though we missed the path back to the campsite and ended up in the lower village and had to walk back up the hillside.

We had a beautiful drive around the northern valley of the Mátra to the city of Eger the next day, through attractive villages and vineyards where the grapes for Egri Bikavér (Bull’s Blood of Eger) are grown.  After stocking up in the supermarket and buying our favourite calorie-laden lángos [deep fried flat bread smothered in garlic] for lunch we explored Eger.  This city is packed with stunning buildings, narrow streets and pretty courtyards.  Most interesting was the one minaret that remains of the ten built here in the Ottoman era.  This and the Baroque mansions, the wide plaza and the castle make the city an interesting mixture of styles.  Hungary understands how to create a welcoming cafe and there are plenty in Eger; despite the lángos we found space for good cake with coffee.

Nearby is the Bükk National Park and here we sought out the Beehive Stones near Szomolya.  The rural roads were so heavily potholed we had to weave along the road and we almost gave up but we were glad we persisted and found somewhere to park.  Szomolya has a cherry festival in July and is another wine-growing area.  On our walk we passed many cave houses, some of which are now used as wineries.  The Beehive Stones are a feature of this area and are unusual stones of tufa rock with oblong recesses or niches cut into them.  Although there are various theories, it is thought these may have been for keeping bees, hence the name.

We had hoped to camp at Thermal Spa Bogács that evening but after the unseasonable weather the grassy field was sodden and in heavy rain we moved on to the campsite at Mezokovesd that has since closed.

Heading further east, we meandered towards Tokaj, following the River Tisza.  Tokaj is the home of delicious, golden and sweet wine that is valued far and wide.  The town is attractive, surrounded by hillsides covered in vineyards, nesting storks on the rooftops and old buildings.  There are no shortage of independent producers and shops selling the wine and there are plenty of opportunities for wine tours.

Our final night was spent on the edge of Sárospatak; any further east and we would be in Ukraine.  Once again the campsite had a hostel for school groups, as well as the camping pitches.  The next day we crossed the border into Slovakia and began our return west.  We enjoyed exploring some of the natural areas and off-the-beaten-tracks parts of Hungary but realise that we had only dipped our toes into this wonderful country.

Travel Cook Eat have an informative post about travelling in a motorhome in Hungary.

Campsites we stayed at:

Romantik Camping, Buk The facilities were faded but the showers were very hot and roomy and all water hot, no marked pitches, near to large spa resort.
Kek Duna Camping, Hotel Honti Panzio, Visegrad A small site behind a snack bar and next to hotel, grassy with some trees.  There was a five minute wait for hot water, showers clean, toilets dated.
Matra Kemping Sasto, Matrafured Newly refurbished site, with marked grassy pitches in trees, new facilities with hot water, by a small lake and walking
Zsory Camping kft, Mezokovesd Marked pitches in a spa complex, shabby reception and facilities but hot water and very good showers.  This campsite has now closed.
Camping Tengerszem, Sarospatak Grassy, marked pitches, some trees, facilities shabby and water only lukewarm