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.

Are England’s Campsites Full?

In this almost-normal summer of 2021, most people are staying in the UK, ‘staycation’ has come to mean going on holiday in your own country and the media is packed with stories about overflowing car parks at beauty spots and there being no room at the inn. So if you haven’t booked a pitch for August, can you still find anywhere to park your campervan in England?

We returned from our Scotland and Ireland trip in July with nothing planned for the months ahead. Reading the media reports about the burden on our tourism infrastructure, even with few tourists arriving from other countries, I became concerned. It also seemed as if everyone had taken up camping and pop-up sites were appearing to take the strain. Had we made a massive mistake by not booking anywhere for July and August months ago? In this mayhem what were the chances of finding a free pitch anywhere within 200 miles of home. I had nightmares about being confined to Morecambe again, not because of Lock Down Four this time but because of my own lack of organisation.

I should have remembered that you can’t believe everything you read or hear in the media!

What I find strange in this new Covid-19 world, where social distancing has become socially acceptable, is that the small campsites for five units that come under the umbrella of the Caravan and Motorhome Club, the mysteriously named Certificated Locations [CLs], are not full to bulging. I thought, being small and usually in the countryside, these sites would be many people’s first choice. Of course, they have their fans but during July we have stayed on a couple of these and both were booked just a few days before we set off and both had availability.

Even though the school holidays had arrived, we had three nights at a lovely CL, Pool Bank, near Otley in the hot weather [top photograph]. The site was full but that wasn’t surprising given the exceptional sunny weather.

Buoyed by this success and keen to have a few days of hill walking I rang a favourite CL in the Lake District, Upper Hawthwaite Farm [middle picture]. I tentatively asked if they had a couple of nights free over the next two weeks. We could be flexible and were willing to consider any dates. I had taken in all the media reports about the Lake District being over-crowded this summer and was surprised when I was told they had space on any night. We not only got a pitch last minute, when we arrived there were still two pitches free!

CLs do take a bit of an effort to book. You often need to ring to book, pay in cash when you arrive and many have no facilities. I welcome the website and app that is now offering online booking for a selection of CLs. This is the future and I hope that this will eventually include most of them and make booking easier. But for 2021, booking a CL can take a bit more time but they are certainly worth the effort.

There are rumours that there have been more no-shows at campsites this year and reports that some people have double booked campsites, deciding at the last minute which to go to. This seems a lot of effort to me, it’s time consuming enough deciding on one site, never mind two! Talking to one campsite owner for a September booking, they explained they weren’t taking deposits but asked that I ring and let them know if we were unable to come along. I replied, ‘Of course, I would always do that.’ She then explained that just that weekend [one of the hot ones] they had four units who were booked and had not turned up. They were upset as, due to the good weather, they could have filled those pitches many times over and had turned people away. Is this why we are seeing free pitches at campsites?

After my success with CLs, I then booked a couple of nights on The Larches, an adult-only campsite in the north Lakes. This isn’t the cheapest campsite but it is a well-run and friendly site that was ideally placed for a couple of hills we wanted to walk up. Amazingly they had space for us even though they are limiting numbers due to Covid-19. This year they are giving every unit a treat with their own private shower room in the facilities block.

I don’t know if adult-only sites are more or less popular in the school holidays. We only look for them at this time of year and I expected to struggle to find availability but have been pleasantly surprised. It seems only fair to me that we stay out of the way of families who can only take their holidays when the schools are out and not compete with them for pitches on sites that welcome children. This is a bit like the rule that states you shouldn’t go shopping in the supermarket during lunchtime when you are no longer working! Or is it just me that thinks it is only fair to give those workers who are dashing to the supermarket in their short lunch break a bit of space?

Our final night in the Lake District was a free overnight spot. Again, with so many people out and about in their campervans we wondered if we would find a space. As you can guess we had no problems.

After now booking another campsite for mid-August I am thinking that the claims that England’s campsites are full doesn’t seem to stack up in the north of England. I wonder if it is different at the seaside or in the south of England.

Scotland: 5 Overnight Spots & 5 CAMC, 3 C&CC &amp & 3 Independent Campsites

Okay, this isn’t my snappiest blog post title:) I just hope it does what it says on the tin. If you’re looking for some short and honest reviews of some of Scotland’s campsites and ideas for places to pull in for the night. We planned our three week tour around Scotland with some blind optimism early in the year, not knowing if we would even be able to travel beyond Lancashire and as far as Scotland at the time. This is mostly why we used five Caravan and Motorhome Club [CAMC] sites [online booking, no deposit and able to amend bookings, thank you].

In comparison the Camping & Caravanning Club [C&CC] require either full payment or deposit so we didn’t book Moffat and Glenmore C&CC sites quite so early. We booked these in advance when travel looked more certain, aware that we might be risking our deposit. We didn’t book Glencoe C&CC site until the day before we arrived and while we were on the road.

Apart from the location and the view, CAMC sites are generally of a similar standard. The C&CC sites do vary more. We are members of both clubs and do like to use their sites, but I do also like the unpredictable nature and therefore excitement of arriving at an independent site, not knowing what to expect. And a good overnight spot in a small car park or lay-by that we have to ourselves can be the most relaxing night of all.

Of the non-club sites we stayed on during this trip, Spey Bay Golf Club is worth a mention. A golf club and a campsite isn’t something I had come across before but it worked extremely well. The clean toilets and showers were shared with the golfers who were mostly out on the greens playing golf so they were always quiet. Quite a few pitches were taken up with seasonal caravans so it could be that the site gets busier at the weekends and school holidays. A laundry and wash up area was all that was missing in terms of facilities. A few keen golfers arrived quite early in the morning so be warned you might not get the lie in you wanted if you are near to the car park and in the summer a few play late into the evening. If there was an event being held in the club house you might have a disturbed evening too.

Spey Bay is on the mouth of the River Spey and has sea views and a stunning and dynamic shingle beach that is perfect for a bit of beach combing. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society Dolphin Centre is here too, they have a gift shop, organise tours of the large historic ice houses left over from the salmon fishing station and run a fantastic cafe with delicious cakes. Otherwise, there are no shops, pubs or restaurants and it is a peaceful spot.

We chose the campsite as we have a friend who lives in Fochabers, a charming small town which is an easy four plus miles walk through woodland along the Speyside Way. The beautifully restored Gordon Castle Walled Garden in Fochabers is certainly worth a visit if you are in the area for the fascinating flower, vegetable and fruit gardens and has a good cafe. If you don’t have friends to visit then there are plenty of other activities. Walk about five miles to the east along the coast and you get to the small fishing town of Buckie. You can pick up a bus to Fochabers from here and make a round trip of it. The National Cycle Route One crosses the viaduct near Spey Bay over the River Spey to Garmouth and you could follow this to Elgin and visit the ruined cathedral.

One small note with these comments – I like very hot showers! My partner usually finds the showers hot enough.

Campsite nameComments
Moffat Caravan & Camping Club (C&CC) siteA large & level site, 5 minutes walk from the lovely Moffat town centre & my favourite Cafe Ariete.  Friendly staff, clean modern facilities, showers push button & just about hot enough for me, wash up outdoors with a roof.  We both had a phone signal.  Good value at under £20/night. There are options for walks around Moffat and at the weekends we could buy wood-fired pizza from a stall at the gate.
Maragowan CAMC, KillinA linear site along the river with open views to the hills and a short walk from the centre of Killin.  There is some road noise but if you can get one of the riverside pitches you’ll love it.  We spent hours watching the wildlife on the river from our pitch. The facilities are old but functional & the showers are hot. In spring the signposted walk by Loch Tay and the River Dochart to the falls is idyllic and there is good mountain walking nearby.
Victoria Bridge near Bridge of OrchyThis is a small car park with a slope that is popular with vans and tents for overnighting but still peaceful.
Glencoe C&CC siteA large site with a mix of open views & trees, hard standing pitches are a good size & level.  The water from the taps in the laundry & wash up is scalding hot but only warm in the showers. We only spent one night here but there are walking and cycling options if you are here longer.
Morvich CAMC site, Glen ShielWe received a particularly friendly welcome at this pleasant site surrounded by mountains.  We were very surprised to get a phone signal for EE and 3 in such a remote spot.  Good hot showers, peaceful and great mountain and forest walking directly from the site.
Blackwater Falls car park near GarveFairly level car park with toilets.  After heavy rain we couldn’t hear the main road above the roar of the waterfall.  There is a 2 mile riverside walk, a phone signal and most likely other vans.
Broomfield Holiday Park, UllapoolThis large site has unbeatable loch views and is in the heart of Ullapool.  The facilities are not brilliant but were closed due to Covid-19 on this visit.  We managed to get a front pitch but needed 2 electric cables joined together for the hook up. We drove out for hill walking but in the evening walked to The Ceilidh Place for a wonderful and delicious meal.
Sands Caravan & Camping Site, GairlochA large rambling and popular site by a lovely beach and among the sand dunes with only a few marked pitches. EHU pitches are scattered about although some of the best pitches don’t have hook up. The facilities are clean & good with hot showers.  No 3 or EE signal.
Kinlochewe CAMC siteFantastic mountain views from many of the pitches which are all level and hard standing.  We had an EE signal but nothing from 3 and the wi-fi is still only available from around the wash up / laundry area – it would be good if the CAMC could upgrade this sometime soon.  Great walking directly from the site and the village has a shop and hotel.
A832 layby on Loch a’ChuillinnThere are a few lay-bys on this road that are screened from the traffic. The one we used was level and had a loch view. Two other vans joined us when we were there and we had a 3 and EE signal.
Spey Bay Golf Club campsiteA small level site by the club house and car park.  Clean facilities with good hot showers, no wash up or laundry.  Both 3 and EE had a signal.  Good walking along the coast and the River Spey.
Dalchum Bridge car park, Glen Road, NewtonmoreA fairly level car park with open views down the glen that is popular with vans and tents. An overnight here meant we could be sure of a parking place to walk up the hill the next morning.
Glenmore C&CC (Camping in the Forest), AviemoreA busy and large site with two facilities blocks.  There are grass and hard standing pitches of varying sizes and pitches come with and without EHU.  The showers are hot & push button. You can walk around the lake or in Rothiemurchus Forest and up mountains. There are buses towards Aviemore.
Strathclyde Country Park CAMC site, GlasgowThis is a well kept and tidy site with colourful trees and bushes.  Its only drawback is being so close to the M74 and a dual carriageway and so the traffic noise is constant.  We did take a walk in the country park but that is also noisy. It did make a comfortable and good stopover.
New England Bay CAMC site, Port LoganRight by the beach and with sea views, this is a grassy site that is strung out with bushes and trees dividing different areas.  There are two facilities blocks of the usual standard.  An EE signal here but nothing from 3 (again).  Good coastal walking from the site and the Logan Botanic Gardens are well worth a visit.
Kirroughtree Forest Park Visitor Centre, Newton Stewart, ScotlandA slightly sloping large car park surrounded by trees but with some views to the hills.  The payment of £6 can only be made in cash when the visitor centre is closed. There are forest trails to stretch your legs on or cycle along and no shortage of midges when we visited.

A Collection of Caravan & Motorhome Club Campsites in Central England (plus a few others)

As soon as campsites opened again we were off, touring around central England, getting as far south as Cambridge, as far east as the banks of the River Humber and mooching around the edges of Greater Manchester and the Peak District hills. I had booked some of these pitches back in January when we didn’t know the date we would be able to travel again and the Caravan and Motorhome Club (CAMC) offers the easiest and most flexible booking system, with no deposit and the ability to amend bookings online. From the 12 April until mid-May toilet blocks were open but not the showers on CAMC sites. Here is where we stayed, what we thought of each site and some ideas for activities.

Campsite nameComments
Burrs Country Park CAMC site, BuryWe like the open aspect of this site and it has both rural walks from the country park and is a 30 minute walk into Bury giving access to Greater Manchester’s tram network. Bury’s market is legendary in the north-west of England and worth visiting. We cycled along the canal from Bury to Radcliffe and were amazed how quickly we left the urban sprawl and found quiet corners. From Radcliffe we picked up the old railway line to Clifton which was effortless and enjoyable cycling.
Crowden Camping & Caravanning Club siteThis grassy site with some sloping pitches is just off the busy Woodhead Pass road and so there is some road noise.  Neither EE or 3 offered a phone or data signal here.  No facilities were open. We walked on the Pennine Way to Black Hill across open moorland and were amazed to meet a young couple walking the long distance route with a tent and a baby! We hope they made it.
Castleton CAMC siteNot far from the lovely town of Castleton, the site has some trees and some road noise.  Both EE and 3 had a data signal. The hill walking is hard to beat from here with the Mam Tor ridge and dramatic Cave Dale and we visited [for the first time] Peveril Castle on this trip.
Buxton CAMC siteThis site is in a quarry and a pleasant 30 minute walk into the handsome town of Buxton through woodland.  We received a friendly welcome and were delighted with the delicious bread and cakes in the shop.  No EE signal but 4G 3 signal. We put together circular walks from the campsite to Goyt Valley and Three Shires Head and used buses for a linear walk through some Derbyshire Dales from Taddington. With a map there is no end to your options here.
Clumber Park CAMC siteA large site with 2 facility blocks, some grass pitches as well as hard standing, surrounded by trees & shady, popular with families, no heating in the showers and toilets in April & no data signal for either of our phones. Clumber Park has a vast network of footpaths and cycle paths that link you to Cresswell Crags and as far as Sherwood Forest.
Carsington Water CAMC siteA wooded site with mostly hard-standing pitches, that are in general fairly level.  A popular site and £5 a night cheaper than some CAMC sites.  Very poor 3 and EE signals. Cycling or walking on the well-made paths around the reservoir is easy and pleasant.
The Paddock, Edith Weston, Rutland WaterSmall adult-only campsite on a level grassy field with no facilities.  Views over Rutland Water and a tidy and quiet site with a helpful and friendly owner. I wrote a review of this site on this blog post.
Cambridge Cherry Hinton CAMC siteA small CAMC site with pitches separated into small areas by trees.  The site had a bit of a neglected air when we were there, unusual for a CAMC site.  There are regular buses into Cambridge which is packed with sights to see.
Roxton CL, Barrow upon HumberGrassy level area, enclosed by hedges & trees to the side of the owner’s house that is kept tidy.  No facilities.  Near the River Humber & good walks along the river and by nature reserves.  We received a warm welcome and £13/night is a fair price. There are more details on this blog post.

A litter misunderstanding

While we are out walking we pick up the obvious litter, plastic bottles,  chocolate bar wrappers and cans. We never pick up cigarette ends,  although it is said they make up a huge portion of the country’s litter. We also never pick up those small plastic bags that are tied in a knot and are full of dog faeces,  although we see them almost everywhere. We do pick up items of clothing that earlier walkers have dropped or left behind. I wrote about our lost property box a few years ago that now has multiple odd gloves in it waiting for a match. Some of these gloves are in use; for example my winter cycling gloves were both found. They don’t match but being black it’s hard for anyone to tell as I flash by. Neither of us will never need to buy a hat again.

While we were in Ullapool on our recent Scotland trip we had a litter misunderstanding. We took a walk up the hill above the town. The path is surrounded by sweet smelling gorse and rewards your effort with a panoramic view over the prettily positioned Ullapool and Loch Broom; I am always happy here. Near the start of the path we found an almost full roll of unused dog poo bags on a bench.  We looked around,  there was no dog or person in sight. It wasn’t clear how long they had been there but in our experience people rarely come back for small items and they become litter so we stuffed then in the side pocket of the rucksack.

On the top of the hill we were enjoying the amazing view when a couple with a dog joined us.  We both had the same thought at the same moment,  maybe they could use our find. Smiling kindly at the dog-owning couple we said hello and then asked,  ‘Do you use dog poo bags?’ They immediately became defensive, no doubt expecting us to launch into a tirade about dog fouling [I can do this] and clearly feared that we would soon be accusing them of fouling the paths of Scotland. We had to hurriedly explain that we had found some bags,  had no need of them and wondered if they could use them.  They immediately looked relieved and, once the misunderstanding was cleared up we laughed and chatted amiably. They went on their way with our find of the day and will put it to the appropriate use.

Sometimes litter finds are so bizarre I make up stories about the people who have dropped the litter and why.  On a walk near Port Logan in Galloway we started counting the cans of Red Bull we saw flattened and scattered down an otherwise gorgeous grassy lane lined with wild flowers and between fields of sheep.  When we reached 20 cans we gave up counting! The track was clearly used by a farmer and I imagined him to be over-worked and sleep deprived during lambing and getting through in a haze of energy drinks. I can’t even guess why he didn’t have the energy to take the cans back to the farm! Of course the Red Bull cans could be from a regular local walker too but we saw no other hikers the day we were there.

In Morecambe we pick up an empty half bottle of cheap vodka from a ginnel near our local Co-op most times we are out, sometimes even two. We pop them in our recycling bin and the bin men must think we have quite a habit! We assume this is young people drinking outdoors at night but have never knowingly met the drinkers. I really hope they’re not drinking alone.

It seems there will always be litter for us to pick up, some of it useful and some of it just rubbish. I’m waiting eagerly for the deposit scheme on plastic bottles to start and then I can get rich from my pickings!

Friends Reunion: Scotland Campervan Tour 2021 Part Two

I mostly close my eyes and ears to the news while we are on the road but the Friends reunion did catch my eye. When we travel we carry every episode from every series of Friends with us on a flash drive and have watched them over and over. I know they are corny and sentimental but each time I am swept along and involved in the lives of those six close friends, laughing and crying at their ups and downs. I really hope that any update sees the characters staying friends. I love my own few close friends, each one is precious and a gift. I missed being able to meet up with them during lock downs so the second part of our Scotland trip was particularly special for the reunions.

From Morvich we travelled further north to Ullapool where we had a date with two old friends [we have known one of them since our murky school days!] They were staying in a self-catering cottage in the town. We managed to get a front row seat at the Ullapool campsite and the temptation is to sit looking over the loch and watch the boats, the wildlife and the stunning sunsets. Instead we scrubbed up, shook out some half-decent cleanish clothes and turned up at their cottage with a chilled bottle of prosecco. We were all heading for a night out in a restaurant, something that used to be almost routine for the four of us but that we hadn’t done together for over 15 months and I was giddy with excitement [Friends fans can imagine what Phoebe would be like].

The prosecco bubbles fitted the mood perfectly and we were on a high as we walked the short distance to The Ceilidh Place. We first discovered this Ullapool institution in the early 1980s, it is marvellous that it is still going strong and it was perfect for our reunion as three of us had been there on that first visit. The Ceilidh Place is a cafe, restaurant, bookshop, arts venue and accommodation. Three delicious courses and lots of laughing later I waddled back to the ‘van in time for the last vivid colours of a west coast of Scotland sunset. This was one of those memorable evenings.

I can walk up mountains but as soon as I hit the steep sections I slow down and plod, breathing heavily. My partner meanwhile is more machine than human and doesn’t seem to notice the gradient. Consequently I spend a lot of time walking on my own, watching him disappearing into the distance. It was, therefore, more than joyful to have two wonderful days walking on some of the hills around Ullapool with our friends. Their pace matches mine when the contour lines get closer together and in between gasping for breath we chatted and laughed, catching up on news and making more memories.

Unexpected and spontaneous socialising is fun too. When a fellow MMM and Campervan Mag writer and Twitter friend said she was also in Ullapool I jumped at the chance for a face-to-face meet up. Felicity and her partner Andrew arrived with a generous bottle of red and, once we’d found the spare glasses at the back of a cupboard. we settled down to get to know each other better.

Next stop was Gairloch and Sands campsite on our slow journey south. This large rambling site has pitches among the sand dunes and looking over the bay; you are free to choose the spot that suits. We practiced tai chi on the soft and warm sand under a blue sky and paddled through the gentle waves. In Gairloch we had great tasting coffee and delicious cakes from Mountain Coffee, a cafe with a cool vibe. Browsing their bookshop a couple of books caught my eye, one for me and one as a gift. Gairloch’s museum is worth a visit too.

Kinlochewe will always be a special place. Firstly because the scenery is superb and secondly because it was the last place we stayed in before Lock Down One. Returning to this highland village was emotional and a pleasure and to be there on hot sunny days was a bonus. We thought we might take the Blue Bus out for the day but instead found walks from the site, climbing the Pony Path up to Meall a’ Ghiubhais through a landscape of grey rocks and lochans and paddling in the river in the sheltered glen at the Heights of Kinlochewe.

At Spey Bay we had another reunion and a pre-arranged meet on a pretty section of the Speyside Way. Our friend lives in Fochabers, just a few miles along the River Spey from Spey Bay where we were camping. Together we pottered through the woodland and by the river for hours with no sign of a red squirrel. Later that evening he sent a photo of one he had seen just minutes after we left him! The next morning an osprey circled over the van, much to the consternation of the common gulls nesting nearby, so we didn’t feel too hard done by.

In the good weather the hills were popular but not crowded. We climbed a Munro above Newtonmore and had a lovely day on Meall a’ Bhuachaille above Glenmore. We spent a day walking through the varied woodland of Rothiemuchus Forest but still didn’t see a red squirrel. We were gradually heading south and our time in Scotland was nearing an end. Our last nights in Scotland were spent cooled by a fresh breeze at New England Bay near Stranraer in Galloway. Being back on the road, exploring new and familiar places and reconnecting with old friends and making new ones has helped me make small steps on the way to recovering from those lock downs.

Our Scotland Campervan Tour: 2 Weeks & A Daily Cuckoo

Cuckoos are probably the easiest bird to identify by their call but I’ve never seen one in the feather and a sighting has been on my wish list for a few years. My bird-watching partner doesn’t hear too well and they have to be close before he can catch the gentle sound of a cuckoo’s call, even with his hearing aids in. I tell him when one is around but it is sad that he often misses this distinctive sound of spring.

We pack everything for trips to Scotland. The shorts are mixed in with long trousers and t-shirts squeeze in with jumpers. It’s just as well really as May in Scotland can give you three seasons in one day! There is little certainty about what weather will greet us each morning with temperatures ranging from freezing to balmy. Campers need to come to Scotland prepared.

In the before Covid-19 world we would usually travel to Europe in May and June but with that off the agenda Scotland is our next favourite destination. Travelling through a UK that is now trying to find a way to live with Covid-19 [as we realise that a world without Covid-19 isn’t an option in the short and medium term] is interesting. So along with our three season clothing we packed reusable masks and hand sanitiser. Below are some highlights from our first couple of weeks touring this wonderful country.

Moffat is normally just a quick halt on our way further north for us. We visit our favourite cafe, Cafe Ariete and buy some delicious pancakes from the bakery. On this trip we decided to take things slowly and spend a couple of days here and it turns out there is more to the town, although we did visit the cafe and bakery! We had a great walk up a hill for views over the town, explored it’s pretty streets and treated ourselves to excellent takeaway wood-fired oven pizza from a business handily placed by the campsite.

The walk along the old railway line and onto the shores of Loch Tay from Killin is full of surprises. From the bright-pink blossom in the cemetery to the ruined castle; the evidence of beavers in the wetlands to the banks of bluebells under the trees and the open views to the mountains across Loch Tay, there is so much to enjoy. I blushed with embarrassment when the Killin campsite warden recognised me [and the Blue Bus] as an MMM writer. We had a riverside pitch and sat by the ‘van watching a pair of oystercatchers on a nest and sandpipers flying by. While we were here we took the ‘van out to the Ben Lawers car park. Ben Lawers is a great walk but my walking partner wanted to bag a couple of brutal big Munros nearby. The highlight of the day for me happened back at the car park, not because all the exhausting walking was over, but because a cuckoo flew in front of us and obligingly sat on a signpost waiting to be identified. Although I had heard cuckoos every day on this trip, this was the first time ever I had seen one!

Glencoe was as stunning as it always is and the weather was fine enough for a walk. The only other person on Beinn Odhar was a charming and chatty man from Scotland’s central belt. He had worked for a travel firm for over 20 years and, after six months of furlough due to Covid-19, had been made redundant. The country is packed with tales of people who have unexpectedly become job seekers in the last 12 months and the plight of each one breaks a tiny chip off my heart.

In Fort William we hit the shops before heading up to Morvich. It is many years since we’d last been on the shores of Loch Duich. We had driven up to the area in an old Vauxhall Viva that got us north but couldn’t quite make the trip home and we came back in an AA breakdown lorry with the Viva riding in shame on the back. Fortunately the Blue Bus is made of tougher stuff than an old Vauxhall!

In nearby Ardelve we found Manuela’s Wee Bakery, a treasure trove of bread, cakes and other goodies. If I lived near here I would quickly get very fat! Manuela’s has a cafe too and a garden with a collection of human-size wooden houses straight out of a fairystory. Make sure you visit when you’re in the area.

From the campsite we climbed A’ Glas Bheinn, a steep craggy mountain above Morvich which gave us views across to Skye. On another day we drove to Letterfearn and walked by the Loch, stopping often to admire the view to Eilean Donan Castle. In the woodland we walked through bluebells and marsh marigolds to a ruined broch. The stones were mostly still in place to a height above the door, including the heavy triangular lintel. Inside we climbed between the walls up the steps for a higher vantage point across the loch.

On this trip we have stayed on club sites, independent sites and overnight car parks. The campsites all had a different take on Covid-19 restrictions. Some promoted common sense, some haven’t opened their facilities at all and the Caravan and Motorhome Club continue with their band system. Every day on their sites I meet a baffled camper outside the toilets wondering what to do with a band! It is certainly a great conversation starter and maybe the club has a secret mission to bring us all together via friendship bands.

Roxton CL, a Small Campsite on the Banks of the River Humber

We only had two nights at Roxton but quickly settled into this peaceful and welcoming Caravan and Motorhome Club Certified Location. It was such a stunning spot and idyllic site it was really too good to keep to myself. Near to the small town of Barton-upon-Humber and by the hamlet of Barrow Haven, this campsite offers fantastic walking and wildlife.

We were warmly welcomed by the couple that own and run Roxton and they were around if we needed them but were never intrusive. This lovely site is in a large enclosed garden and is a credit to them with level and tidy grass and squirrels and birds in the trees. There is a caravan storage area that is accessed through the campsite but the comings and goings were minimal and never disturbed us. We couldn’t believe we were lucky enough to have this wonderful site to ourselves.

Just a few minutes walk from the campsite is Barrow Haven nature reserve managed by Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. The reserve is mostly disused flooded clay pits that now have reed beds and an abundance of wildlife. Walk between the pools to the banks of the River Humber and the Humber Bridge stretches across the wide river to your left. The sunset across these pools with the Humber Bridge as a backdrop is a beautiful sight.

We walked along the Humber towards Barton-upon-Humber. The sky was blue and in the sunshine the Humber Bridge dominated our view. The River Humber was to our right and numerous flooded clay pits to our left. There was lots of bird song, particularly reed warblers and the world felt spacious under the big skies.  There are also occasional remnants of the industry here and a still working red-clay tile manufacturer. There used to be many more.

In Barton upon Humber there is a visitor’s centre, an old tile works and The Ropewalk arts centre. Due to Covid-19 restrictions none of these were open on our visit, surely an excuse to return! We found somewhere for coffee in the twn and then continued along the Humber by Far Ings National Nature Reserve another area of pools. We turned inland back to Barton upon Humber and picked up a footpath across fields towards Barrow Haven.

As we reached the lane to the campsite, the weather was looking more unsettled but was still dry so we decided to by-pass the campsite and carry on to Barrow Haven and The Haven Inn for a swift half. We had obviously pushed our luck as a short shower caught us as we hurried back along the Humber path.

That evening was a spectacular sunset and we walked back out to the River Humber. This time we were certain that the low fog horn sound we could hear from the reeds was a bittern. The first time we had ever heard one! The bittern and the deep orange sun setting behind the Humber Bridge were a magical end to our stay.

The Paddock, A Perfect Small Campsite on Rutland Water’s South Shore

A bank holiday fell during our four week tour around England in April and May and we needed somewhere where we wouldn’t get in the way of the working population who wanted to relax and enjoy the long weekend and where we could find a hint of tranquility. An adult-only, no facilities campsite on the south shores of Rutland Water fitted the bill perfectly.

The Paddock is run by a friendly family who keep the site exceptionally neat and tidy. The grass is cut short on the pitches and these are marked out clearly and are spacious. The owners welcome all visitors and provide brochures about the local area. They also own a country pub in the nearby village of North Luffenham that is about three miles away. The campsite has a view over Rutland Water but the owners have even built a raised viewing platform so that the view is even better!

For us this campsite ticked two boxes. Just a short walk away is a Wildlife Trust nature reserve which has a hide overlooking an osprey nest used by a breeding pair of ospreys. The second attraction is the round Rutland Water cycle route which passes the campsite gates.

On our first day we walked down to the nature reserve and paid £5 each as concessions to enter [adult admission is £6]. It isn’t far to walk along the paths to the osprey hides and there are four hides in total. In the third hide a Wildlife Trust warden gave us plenty of interesting background about the ospreys and Rutland Water. It was a treat to have great views of the two ospreys; they were close enough to see with the naked eye and clear in the binoculars. When we arrived the male was sitting on the eggs on the huge nest that sits on a platform in the water and the female was on a nearby post. Boats are kept out of this corner of Rutland Water and this helps keep the ospreys safe. This isn’t the only osprey nest on Rutland Water but it is the easiest to see. The Wildlife Trust have cameras on the ospreys and you can watch them online. While we were there the two birds swapped positions and I watched on the TV screen in the hide to get a look at the eggs as they made the change over.

Of course ospreys are hard to beat but we also saw gadwall and teal and sedge warblers were noisily calling around the third hide.  Swallows and our first swifts of the year were here too and at the campsite white throats hung around the hedges.

There is another nature reserve beyond Manton at Egleton. This larger reserve has lagoons and meadows and lots of hides. Your day ticket will get you into this reserve too.

In the afternoon we walked to the oddly named village of Wing across the fields and up and down the valley. In this picturesque village we found the turf maze before walking onto Manton and beyond to a field where there was once a medieval village.  There is little to see today, except for a handsome private house that has been renovated but we could make out the furrows and ridges in the ground.  Back at Manton we had two halves of Osprey beer [of course] sitting outside The Horse and Jockey before heading back.

It was a glorious sunny morning when we cycled the 17 miles anti-clockwise around Rutland Water. You can make your ride about six miles further by cycling to the end of the peninsular and back. This cycle ride is mostly on easy to follow shared-use paths that, on such a fine day, were busy with walkers and other cyclists of all ages and abilities.  The first undulating section to the stunning Normanton Church, over the dam and to Barnsdale, where the woods were carpeted with sweet smelling bluebells, was particular popular. There are plenty of cafes to stop at for drinks and food and Oakham isn’t far off the route on the northern shore if you want more choice. On the north side of Rutland Water the cycle way is near to the road in places and is less popular with other walkers. As we came into the village of Manton and neared the end of our ride, grey clouds descended and we were lucky to get back without getting drenched.

Rutland Water was the perfect spot for a quiet bank holiday for us and The Paddock was a lovely base that allowed us to make the most of what the area has to offer.

Using our Campervan’s Smallest Room

There are lots of choices when you buy a campervan and an important one is size and whether you need a bathroom or not. When we bought Blue Bus Three we had the experience of living with our two previous ‘vans and a bathroom had sneaked onto our priority list. While Blue Bus One had been a simple traditional VW conversion and merely had a porta potti in a cupboard, Blue Bus Two had felt luxurious with a screened-off flushing toilet at the back. The layout of our middle campervan had worked really well for us but we wanted to try going the whole way and buying a campervan with a small room that would be dedicated to our ablutions.

We only have a campervan [no car] and so also never wanted our ‘van to be too large. The Devon Tempest is still under 5.5m and, although we think it is enormous, is fairly petit by today’s standards but the converters have managed to fit in a whole bathroom. We made our choice but always in the back of our minds we wondered if we would actually use the bathroom or would it just become a neat storeroom that we hardly used for its real purpose.

From the start, the toilet and sink have had plenty of use and the privacy in the bathroom makes this a usable and fairly comfortable space. It was the shower that we never made full use of, the number of times we had used it before 2020 and coronavirus could be counted on two hands and we had occasionally discussed if it was worth having. On our camping trips we usually wild camp or free camp for just one night between campsites and on those nights we would manage with a spit-wash at the sink. The shower was a great fallback if a site had no facilities or the showers were cold or unsanitary. Then along came Covid-19 and all manner of restrictions on campsites and suddenly carrying a shower around with us didn’t seem so stupid. Last summer we used the shower more than ever and we have just returned from a four-week tour where showers were closed on every campsite we stayed on. How has that been?

I think the bathroom in the Tempest is better than many, particularly because of the ‘proper’ sink [not a fold up one] that is set in a worktop. This is always there, it feels substantial and is effortless to use. The only problem it has given us is the tiny plug; this kept popping out of the plug hole just when you had filled it with water! We shaved slivers off the plastic plug and this has helped and when we don’t want a shower, having an all-over flannel wash at the sink is easy.

Having a shower takes a bit more planning than a wash but it is such a refreshing feeling after a full rinse within the warmth and comfort of your own ‘van and so it is worth doing right. The first step is make sure we have heated up the hot water. We find it is best if we put this on an hour or so before we shower, any later and we get a tepid shower which is so disappointing. We have experimented with heating the water to 40C and 60C [the only two options on our ‘van] and find that 40C works best for us. We are keen to use as little water as possible and 40C is the perfect temperature with the hot tap fully on. This means there is no need to waste water while we adjust the tap to add cold water to get a acceptable temperature.

Once the water is heated up and the campervan heating on if it is cold, the next thing to do is remove anything from the bathroom that could suffer if it got wet. We take out the towels that hang on the back of the bathroom door and the toilet roll. Our bathroom did come with a shower curtain but we both loath these clingy things and don’t use it. This does mean the bathroom leaks slightly during our showers so we move any mats in front of the door.

Then it comes to the showering. The main objective for a campervan shower is to get clean while using as little water as possible. We don’t want to be filling the tank all the time, or emptying the waste tank and it is only fair to leave enough hot water for the second person in the shower. And so, with the shower on we get wet all over, then switch off the shower. After soaping up with a flannel we can quickly rinse off. This way we keep our shower usage as low as between two and three litres of water each [on hair washing night we use more].

My top tip when you are having a shower is don’t drop anything! In a small ‘van the bathroom is never going to be spacious and it’s best to take care never to drop your flannel or the soap as bending down to pick anything up in such a small space is nigh on impossible even for a short, reasonably trim person.

Because we don’t use much water on a campsite we can capture it in a bucket under the waste tap, rather than filling the waste tank. This is much easier to dispose of cleanly on site.

After we have both showered we wipe the whole shower room down with a J-cloth to dry it thoroughly and then keep the door open to let it air for an hour or so. Using our campervan shower means that both of us and our bathroom are always clean!