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.

 

 

 

Camping Le Fonti & Climbing Monte Ventasso in Reggio nell’Emilia, Italy

The SS63 across the Appenines from Tuscany in to Emilia Romagna is a fantastic drive.  The road winds around the mountains with different and more amazing views at every corner.  We were heading towards Modena but were enjoying the area enormously and in the mild spring weather we opted to stay at Camping Le Fonti near Cervarezza Terme (Busana) for a few days and enjoy some mountain serenity and walking.

Camping Le Fonti is open all year round and has plenty of shade under chestnut and beech trees for the heat of summer.  In spring it is quieter and the site offers an ACSI discount and pitches on the higher parts of the site out of the trees and with panoramic views over the surrounding countryside.  From our lofty pitch we could see the distinctive crags of the flat-topped Pietra di Bismantova a few kilometres away, dramatic in the evening sunset.

This is a large and rambling hillside site at 1,000 metres above sea level and in season it has everything for family camping with a restaurant, shop, organised activities and indoor pool.  We don’t really need these things and were grateful to get fresh bread every morning, heated facilities in the chilly evenings and good hot showers.

The campsite is family-run and when we arrived mama was on reception.  Although she spoke limited English we received a friendly welcome and managed to order bread [that her husband delivered in the morning] and get hold of a sketch map for the walk up Monte Ventasso, a steep-sided 1,727 metre high mountain that is clearly a popular walk from the campsite.

Monte Ventasso proved to be a fantastic full-day outing.  The way-marked path initially climbs steadily through beautiful sun-dappled beech woods dotted with wood anemone, primroses and wild crocuses.  If you don’t want to walk to the summit you could just go as far as the chapel and refuge at St Maria Maddalena and picnic here enjoying the marvellous views over the Secchia valley.  Alternatively, in hot weather you could take the woodland paths to Lago Calamone, a pretty glacial lake below the mountain that is perfect for summer bathing.

We had lunch at the refuge below the rocky crags of the east flanks of Monti Ventasso before carrying on.  The steep, narrow and rocky path up the east ridge was exposed in places but brings you to the wide and grassy ridge to the summit.  We passed a curious wooden hinged figure on the way and met our first other walkers of the day, a German couple who were also on the campsite.

The summit is marked by a cross and we had views of the distinctive Pietra di Bismantova and a wide flat valley.  Lago Calamone was immediately below us and in the further distance were higher snowy mountains.  We took the direct route down that was steep and difficult.  We reached the picturesque Lago Calamone and sat watching a group of young men enthusiastically playing football on the shore.  We climbed upwards  across scree slopes of large boulders and below the craggy face of Monti Ventasso to join our previous path, returning the same way, stopping for a rest and chocolate bars at the view point.  We returned to our campervan tired but happy after walking about ten miles and climbing about 742 m of ascent.

Directions: From the A1 take the exit for Reggio Nell ‘Emilia and follow the SS63 to Cervarezza Terme. The campsite is signposted beyond Castelnovo ne Monfi.

 

 

Campervan Owners & Rules: Do you do as you are Told?

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Really!

I am generally happy to follow rules and regulations but just occasionally I find a latent streak that has a tendency to kick against authority and doesn’t really like being told what to do. Is this recalcitrance why I love the freedom of owning a campervan? I certainly grasp the sense of the freedom of the open road with both hands when we are on holiday; I like to think I can go where I want and do what I please, so long as it doesn’t annoy anyone else of course. I am also one of those people who gets fidgety after more than a couple of hours being told where to go on a guided tour.

One of my regular bugbears is when I am told what to do by, what I consider to be, an unnecessary sign. It is those signs that state the obvious, such as danger deep water, keep away from the cliff edge or fire is hot that irritate me and make me want to dive in and try the forbidden activity.

Before we joined the free-living motorhoming movement we stayed in plenty of self-catering cottages. One particular Scottish house, while lovely, did come with a profusion of notices pinned to the walls telling us to do this and not do that; I could have wasted most of my precious holiday just reading them, never mind carrying them out. There were notices telling me not to clean the stainless steel with scourers; to leave muddy boots in the utility room; and to stack the plates neatly in the cupboards. Surely all of these things really go without saying! Is anyone that thoughtless? But the notice that really tipped me over the edge was the one in the bathroom stating that visitors should clean the bathroom daily! Every day! Really! On holiday! This notice was in my eye-line every time I had a wash or cleaned my teeth and every day I felt criticised for disobeying it but I was also determined not to carry it out. At the end of the holiday, feeling as if I had got away with something, I left the bathroom as clean as I would like to find it. Fortunately, there was no sign forbidding playing indoor golf and we were able to indulge in this sport up and down the large staircase and hall on a wet evening.

Camping is not without rules and while I might think that most of these rules could be taken for granted there are clearly campers who need to be reminded how to co-habit a green space considerately. And yet some campsites have gone overboard with the laminator and drawing pins. In the sanitary facilities I have seen notices about what the toilet brush should be used for; notices telling campers what to put [and not put] in the toilet are prevalent; reminders about leaving the shower clean for the next person crop up pretty often too; and most frustrating of all are those signs that tell me that the water from the hot tap will be hot, well I sincerely hope so!

We have stayed on campsites in France and Spain that have complex written rules regarding the use of washing lines. From these precise instructions I can only assume that some inconsiderate previous campers have happily hung their washing to dry from a young sapling that splintered under the weight of laundry and others have left their smalls flapping on a line they have strung across a dozen pitches.  Perhaps it only takes one thoughtless camper for these notices to become inevitable.

I do understand that not everyone is the upstanding and trustworthy motorhome owner that I obviously am. But I ask readers, do all these signs really make any difference to the ill-mannered behaviour of the small minority?  If you were going to leave your litter on your pitch, rather than in a bin, would you also be the sort of person to pay attention to a sign telling you to be tidy?

There are useful signs that tell me when reception is open or when not to use the sanitary block due to cleaning. Even a free spirit like me is keen to distinguish the ladies and gents facilities so that I don’t get embarrassed in the wrong room … but don’t get me started on those trendy places that use ambiguous images on their sanitary facilities; these have me dithering and uncertain, waiting in a corridor for someone else to exit so that I can work out where I am supposed to go.

My favourite and most useful notice is the one seen on Italian campsites that tells everyone which sink is exclusively for cleaning fish; invaluable if you don’t want fish-smelling laundry!

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Amusing sign outside a Spanish bar – ‘We don’t have wifi but there is beer that makes communication easier.’

A Campervan Trip to the North-East: Hexham, Whitley Bay & County Durham

2019 August North East trip (19)
St Mary’s lighthouse at Whitley Bay

The Hexham Racecourse campsite is on the top of a hill and has wide open views over the racecourse to green hills and woodland.  This lofty position does mean it catches even the merest hint of a breeze.  The walk into Hexham is an easy 1.5 km but the return is back up the hill and a trifle more demanding.  The peace and openness of this relaxed campsite suited us very well and the facilities are modern and clean.

Hexham is a quiet little town but certainly worth a walk around to see the abbey and the old gaol and there are plenty of cafes to sit in and watch the world go by.  We walked down to the town in the early evening and pottered through the streets and the park.

On a wet day we took a longer walk from the campsite through luxuriant woodland where raindrops dripped long after a downpour had stopped.  The long ribbon of West Dipton Wood follows the brook along a narrow valley to the charming Dipton Mill Inn.  We followed tracks and lanes to the hamlet of Juniper where we picked up a path over the dramatically named Devil’s Water into Dipton Wood, a large area of woodland and heather that is varied and delightful.  We didn’t meet another walker until we were on the paths and lanes that took us into the Tyne Valley and Corbridge where the sun started to peep out.  We treated ourselves to pancakes with ice-cream in the Emporium Ice-cream Parlour before catching a train back to Hexham and tackling the hill up to the campsite.

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The view from Hexham Racecourse campsite

Our next stop was the Caravan and Motorhome Club site by Whitley Bay.  On the way we returned to Corbridge to visit the fascinating site of the Roman town that has been excavated.  The Whitley Bay campsite is arranged so that pretty much everyone has some sort of sea view, looking across to the picturesque St Mary’s Lighthouse that can be reached by a short causeway between high tides.  We walked along the coast to the centre of Whitley Bay and joined the queue for a Di Meo’s Ice Cream, spoilt for choice by their range of delicious flavours.  There were plenty of people enjoying being on the beach and I decided it was warm enough to have a paddle in the sea as we walked back.

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Brancepeth Church modern stained glass window

We ended our trip near to Durham.  We walked to Causey Arch, the world’s oldest surviving single-arch railway bridge and along the old railway line into the village of Lanchester.  The Lanchester Valley railway was built to carry iron ore and coal to the Consett steelworks and was opened in 1862.  Trains ran here for just over one hundred years and today it is a level and popular walking and cycle path.  In Lanchester we found the charming Kaffeehaus Amadeus, a small and delicious slice of Austria in County Durham.

Before we headed home a friend took us on a short walk to see Brancepeth, an unexpected picture-postcard village with a castle and St Brandon’s Church, which had exceptional 17th-century features but was destroyed by fire in 1998.  The church was restored and is now a light and airy space with a stunning modern stained glass window depicting colourful flowers.

Courgette & Green Bean Stew with Lemon & Olives: Enjoying Outdoor Campervan Cooking with a Summer Stew

06.21.2019 Clapham and Appletreewick (14)

The sun is shining, there is hardly any breeze. It is too hot to slave over the campervan hob.  On these evenings I always move outside to cook.  We don’t travel with a BBQ but have a portable electric hob that can be used outdoors.  In the Yorkshire Dales recently, it was exactly one of those evenings. We were camping at Howgill Lodge campsite which has one of the best views this side of Scotland and I jumped at the chance to sit at one of the many picnic benches the campsite provides and chop my veg.

This fresh summer stew can be made in one pot and uses vegetables that are in season.  We had a beer to help us along while we cooked.

To conjure up a summer vegetable stew for four, I chopped up:

  • One red onion finely
  • 500 gm new potatoes, cubed
  • One courgette into cubes
  • One pack of green beans (200 – 300 gms) trimmed and cut into approximately 4 cm lengths
  • Garlic
  • Small bunch of fresh parsley
  • Small bunch of fresh dill
  • 100 gm of pitted green olives [my favourites are Sainsbury’s pitted queen olives] cut in half

I also had:

  • 500 gm of good tomato passata [you can use tinned tomatoes]
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

In a large saucepan, I heated the olive oil gently and added the onion, cooking until soft. I added the garlic, pinch of salt, black pepper and paprika and stirred and then the potatoes and courgettes, coated them in the oil and cooked for one minute before adding the tomatoes and a little water [about 125 ml].  Put the lid on, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes or so, you can sit back and relax for a while until the potatoes are softening.

Checking in with the cooking again, add the cut beans to the pot and simmer for a further 10 minutes until the beans are tender.  Stir in the dill and parsley, olives and lemon juice.  Taste and adjust the seasoning to suit you.

This is a delicious and hearty meal served with some crusty bread and either a simple green salad or a Greek salad with feta cheese.

Scotland 2019 trip: 41 overnights on campsite & free camping spots reviewed

2019 Scotland
We were lucky to catch this stunning view of Ben Nevis from near Linnhe Lochside Holidays at Corpach

 

Campsite name How many nights Comments Cost
Glendaruel Caravan & Camping Park, Argyll 1 Pleasant & peaceful site, clean facilities, warm showers, slightly sloping pitches.  Woodland walks and red squirrels near out pitch. £20.00
Ettrick Bay, Isle of Bute 1 Grassy parking area with sea views, just oystercatchers calling, two other vans in another nearby car park £0.00
Roseland Caravan Park, Rothesay 1 High above Rothesay, open views & sunny site, very sloped pitches, clean facilities, showers £1 for 5 mins, hot water, wash-up open but covered £28.00
Ettrick Bay, Isle of Bute 1 Another van behind us this time £0.00
Glendaruel Caravan & Camping Park 1 Second visit £22.00
Big Jessie’s Tea Room, Gigha Ferry Terminal 1 Friendly family, great views over the sea & level pitch.  Vans can use ferry car park.  Ferries from 08.00 to 18.00 £0.00
Machrihanish Holiday Park, Kintyre 2 Grassy spacious & friendly site with wide-open views, 2 hours free wifi, separate bathrooms, lovely & clean with heating, showers fine, near to village with hotel. £19.50
Carradale Bay Caravan Site, Kintyre 1 Grassy site by a lovely bay, views to Arran, key for facilities which are clean but dated, no heating but showers continuous & hot, wash-up open with roof. £24.00
Lochgilphead Caravan Park 2 Level site by the town, hard-standing pitches, facilities dowdy but showers hot, adjustable & continuous, no heating in evening, wash-up under cover, industrial scale laundry. £23.00
North Ledaig Caravan Park, Connel 1 Large well-organised site, popular, sea views from all pitches, facilities heated & clean, modern showers were fairly warm, wash-up outside, £24.00
Glen Orchy car park by the waterfall 1 Peaceful, level car park that we had to ourselves. £0.00
Glencoe Mountain Resort 2 4 level gravel pitches alongside the car park with EHU, toilets & shower £1, site £15 without showers, dish wash indoor, cafe open until 20.30, showers continuous, hot & adjustable.  You can free camp in the sloping car park. £17.00
Invercoe Caravan Site, Glencoe 2 Open site with views across the loch & the Pap of Glencoe behind, facilities clean & showers hot, dish wash inside. £27.00
Glen Nevis Caravan & Camping Park 2 Large, well organised site with shop, restaurant & bar nearby, facilities old & new, indoor dish wash, showers warm enough. £26.50
Linnhe Lochside Holidays, Corpach 2 Terraced site on the loch with shop & bakery, about 1 km beyond Corpach, nice views, good hot showers & heated facilities that are clean but dated, ACSI £17.50
Loch Fleet car park, Skelbo 1 Loch view, fairly level, quiet road, car park has bins, watched seals & eider ducks, one other van. £0.00
Wick Caravan & Camping Site 1 Lovely open grassy site with patches of trees by the river & 10 mins walk from Wick, facilities dated but clean, showers small but hot, adjustable & continuous. £21.00
Birsay Outdoor Centre & Campsite, Orkney 1 Level grassy pitch & the sound of oystercatchers, facilities okay, showers warm but not hot, still only one wash-up sink. £20.20
Broch of Gurness car park 1 Sloping car park but level enough at the bottom overlooking the sea, nice to look around the broch in the evening, one other ‘van. £0.00
Orkney Caravan Park, Kirkwall 1 Busy site with hard-standing near to Kirkwall, excellent clean individual bathrooms with good hot showers, wash-up inside. £24.85
Braewick Cafe & Caravan Park, Shetland 1 Sloping site above a beach, busy at the weekends, clean modern facilities & warm, good hot showers, one kitchen sink. £18.00
Burravoe Pier Trust Caravan & Campsite, Yell, Shetland 3 Sloping site with small facilities block by the pier on the edge of Burravoe with fantastic sea views, 1 shower that is roomy & hot, 2 toilets & heating.  This is a favourite site. £10.00
Braewick Cafe & Caravan Park, Shetland 1 Met the friendly owner this time, radiators were on & great facilities. £18.00
Delting Boating Club, Brae, Shetland 2 Facilities warm, just 1 shower cubicle, hot showers, gravel & fairly level, some road noise & a little crowded, near to village with shops & chippy £15.00
Cunningsburgh Touring Park, South Mainland, Shetland 1 Tarmac car park by marina with hook up, clean facilities building, 2 toilets, 2 showers, £1 was enough for us to share a shower, good hot showers, 2 indoor sinks for wash up. £16.00
Grutness Pier, Sumburgh, Shetland 1 Level parking area by Fair Isle ferry terminal, windy night toilets, quiet. £0.00
Sumburgh Head Hotel, Shetland 1 Level area with a view of Sumburgh Head in car park, can use toilets in hotel, hook up and quiet. £5.00
Sandsayre Pier, Sandwick, Shetland 1 Near houses, car park by the pier, fairly level & quiet night. £0.00
North Roe & Lochend Hall, North Roe, Shetland 1 Car park for hall with hook up, chemical toilet, grey water disposal & water, peaceful & wonderful open views. £10.00
Braewick Cafe & Caravan Park, Shetland 1 Third time here, windy! £18.00
South Nesting Public Hall & Caravan Park, Shetland 1 Sloping area with hook up, one bathroom, peaceful, bathroom clean & fantastic hot shower. £16.00
Skeld Caravan Park, Shetland 2 Level gravel marina site, showers £1 for 11 minutes so shared, no heating, one kitchen sink, clean facilities & friendly volunteers. £19.00
South Nesting Public Hall & Caravan Park, Shetland 1 Second visit £16.00
Ardtower Caravan Park, Westhill, Inverness 2 ACSI site on the hill near Culloden, with good views, clean facilities with radio, warm showers, good sized pitches, friendly. £17.82
Rothiemurchus Camp & Caravan Park, Coylumbridge 1 In the forest, friendly welcome, clean facilities all at one end of site, showers only warm but continuous, lovely position & red squirrels. £28.00
Allt Mor car park, Glenmore 1 Wooded car park with individual bays separated by trees, 4 other vans here, fairly level, peaceful. £2.00
Glenmore Caravan & Camping Site, Aviemore 1 Large site with grass & hard standing pitches, large toilet blocks, some heating, showers warm but short burst on push button. £21.81
The Helix & Kelpies car park, Falkirk 1 Car park on the edge of the Helix Park, toilet open until 22.00, popular overnight halt, cars stopped arriving and leaving by 23.00, some road noise. £5.00
Crofton Hall CL, Cumbria 1 Immaculate site with 4 showers & 2 toilets in the courtyard, a short walk away, large pitches, showers hot & continuous. £17.50
Howgill Lodge, Appletreewick 3 Informal site with fantastic views, good hot showers & friendly welcome, a favourite campsite. £22.00
Wharfedale Caravan & Motorhome Club Site, Grassington 2 Large level site, excellent facilities, one block in the centre, friendly wardens. £26.70

 

2019 Scotland (2)
Camping at Big Jessie’s Tea Room

Top tips for a campervan trip to Kintyre, Scotland

Kintyre
The causeway to Davaar Island

The long finger of the Kintyre Peninsula, on the west coast of Scotland feels almost like an island as the sea is never far away and when you arrive you feel truly off the beaten track.  This scenic and historic area is well worth exploring for a few days.  With quiet roads and different views around every corner it is perfect for a campervan trip.

We took the ferry to Tarbert and arriving by boat in this pretty port felt like the best way to start our tour.  We explored the town that has a pleasant buoyant atmosphere, climbing up to the castle and visited the Loch Fyne Gallery overlooking the quay.  Here among the quirky and beautiful items I found perfect gifts for friends.

Not far from Tarbert, walk through the ornate gateway to find the impressive ruins of Skipness Castle.  Built in the 13th century you can still climb a staircase for the view out to sea and to the tiny chapel at Skipness Point.

Not to missed is Big Jessie’s Tearoom.  Park up and enjoy a friendly welcome and homemade cake or lunch or breakfast with a good cup of tea and a sea view.  Campervans and motorhomes are welcome to stay overnight in the field next to the ferry car park.  You can use the ferry car park too but this can get busy.

Gigha, a community-owned island off the coast of Kintyre, is the perfect size for cycling, being around 10 km long and also happens to be a stunning and friendly place to visit.  We took our bikes on the ferry and cycled the one road from top to bottom.  The spring colour of rhododendrons and camellias and the woodland and walled garden at Achamore Gardens are dazzling.  Like us, you will probably have the bays on the northern tip of Gigha to yourself and enjoy good food, coffee and cakes along with a view at The Boathouse.

After exploring Campbeltown, check the tide times and walk out to the tidal Davaar Island.  It is safe to walk along the causeway three hours either side of low tide and you will have so much fun you need to give yourself plenty of time to get back.  The walk across the stony causeway with the sea on either side has a marvellous airy feel with fantastic views.  On the island scramble around the cliffs on the south side to find the hidden cave painting of the Crucifixion.  This was painted in 1887 by a local artist, Archibald MacKinnon.

On the fresh Atlantic coast of Kintyre is Machrihanish Bay, a beautiful sweep of sand that is three miles long.  The sky is big here and watching the sun set into the sea here is a real treat.  Find a comfy rock to sit on and take in the views of the Paps of Jura and Islay on the horizon and you will hopefully spot seals and maybe an otter.

Follow the narrow and winding road on the east coast and you come to the tiny hamlet of Saddell.  Here you can stroll around the atmospheric Saddell Bay with Saddell Castle, a 16th century tower house that is available to rent through the Landmark Trust.  Inland we found the remains of the Abbey and remarkable medieval grave slabs with effigies of the people buried there.

The Kintyre Way weaves for 161 km around this wonderful and varied peninsular.  We walked a short and easy to follow section of this trail from Carradale to Cnoc nan Gabhar for wide views over Carradale Bay and beyond to Arran.

Overnights

Big Jessie’s Tea Room, Gigha Ferry Terminal – free overnight if you don’t count the homemade cake

Machrihanish Holiday Park a great value campsite that feels spacious and has wide open views and great separate bathrooms, near to a village with a pub.

Carradale Bay Caravan Site –  a popular site on a lovely bay.