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.

 

 

 

Asparagus cooking in a campervan

As a child I’d never even heard of asparagus let alone tried it.  Something as exotic as asparagus never reached a small Staffordshire village in the 1970s!  It took owning a campervan to encounter this wonderful vegetable.  Back in 2007 we took our new Devon Sundowner across Germany and to Poland.  It was late May and early June and driving through Germany we couldn’t miss the fields of asparagus and the roadside asparagus stalls.

Trying a new food can be daunting but I like to give things a go.  At a farmer’s market in Hamelin I found a stall selling asparagus and decided to take the plunge. Not really  knowing what was the right amount to buy and not knowing how to ask for half a kilo let alone a quarter in German, I came away with a kilo of green asparagus!  We lived like kings, eating asparagus for three nights running and I quickly learnt different ways to cook it, adding it to risotto, flash-frying it in butter and roasting it.  My love affair with this vegetable had begun.  In Germany that year we tried white asparagus as well as green, which is grown beneath the soil.

Nowadays I can’t wait for May when the short asparagus season begins.  Our first asparagus-based meal this year was a simple pasta dish. The asparagus was flash-fried in olive oil with garlic and black pepper in my RidgeMonkey grill pan and served with cooked pasta, sprinkled with some grated hard Italian cheese.  We had a bottle of tasty Scottish beer to wash it down. What a Spring-time treat!

1,000 Nights in Our Campervan Journals

Our campervan journals
Our Campervan journals

Does everyone keep a journal in their campervan?  We started doing this early on in our campervan career and I am often glad we have a simple record of our camping life.  We didn’t keep a journal for our first ‘van; we were newbies and it didn’t cross our mind … but once we got in the swing of being campervan owners we wanted a record of where we had stayed.  I grabbed a spare exercise book [no expensive notebooks for two frugal travellers] drew in some columns and started our first journal.

In each journal I write the date, the name of the campsite and place, the overnight cost, the number of nights we are staying and a brief description and review of the site.  I also use the journal to note things that we often forget such as when we last emptied the loo!  These journals started when we bought our Devon Sundowner in 2007 and have continued ever since.

We are now on our third campervan journal.   The notebooks all live in the ‘van and we refer to them regularly.  We often arrive on a site we have been on before and wonder how long ago it was since we were last there [it is usually longer than we think].  At other times we might want to remind ourselves what we thought of a particular site while planning a trip to help us consider if it is worth returning to.  Sometimes we just browse the journals for some misty-eyed reminiscing.

Although there is no journal from our holidays in our T4 we do know how many nights we spent in it thanks to photographs and diary jottings.  On the front of the journals I keep a tally of the number of nights we have been away during the year and in a particular campervan as well as a total of our nights under a tin roof.  Last summer we passed the milestone of 1,000 nights sleeping in a campervan in the eleven years we have been practising this van life.

We passed this 1,000 night’s milestone while we were camping in northern Italy.  We were staying near Arsiè and although neither of us were getting flashes of déjà-vu I was looking through the journals because we were both pretty sure we had stayed nearby back in 2009.  Flicking through the book to check where we had stayed we found we had been on the same site!   We were flabbergasted!  Where had the large sweet-smelling walnut tree we are sure we camped under gone?  Where was the green gently-sloping field down to the lake?  Either our combined memories were seriously faulty or they had re-developed the site beyond all recognition.  We would certainly never have known we had been there before without the journals.

These notebooks are packed with happy and vivid memories that I don’t want to let go of.  If you don’t keep a campervan journal then I suggest you start now.

Any flying is good flying in Eastbourne?

Eastbourne

‘Any flying is good flying,’ the paraglider pilot told me when we both stopped to talk about his sport.  He had landed below Beachy Head and was wrestling with ballooning fabric to fold away his kit, a task that looked trickier than packing away a tent or an awning.  Jumping off Beachy Head, even with a paraglider strapped to your back looked terrifying to me as I peered cautiously over the 550-foot high chalk cliffs.

It was the hottest February day on record and really a perfect day for my first visit to Beachy Head.  We had walked up the cliffs from Eastbourne, a town that turned out to be much nicer than I had been led to believe.  On the seafront we had chosen All Decked Out cafe, after walking by a couple of seafront cafes that only provided disposable cups; nothing spoils a mug of coffee as much as that plastic taste!  The friendly owner at All Decked Out not only had china cups but good coffee and delicious cakes and we sat enjoying these with a sea view over the shingle beach from their outdoor terrace.  It was an idyllic start to a splendid day and hard to believe it was February.

We walked along the tidy sea front to Holywell, passing the Martello Tower on the way.  Called The Wish Tower  we learnt that this is number 73 of 74 Martello Towers on the south coast built in the early 1800s to defend the country against Napoleon.  We also read information boards about the devastation of the bombing of Eastbourne during the Second World War.  From Holywell we were soon in the countryside and the South Downs National Park.  Climbing and contouring around the cliffs through yellow flowering gorse bushes and holm oak trees on paths through the cropped grass we met the happy paraglider.   Every time we stopped to rest I could enjoy the stunning views back to Eastbourne with its shining white pier in the brilliant blue sea.

We found the sobering memorial to Bomber Command that reminded us how dangerous it was to be part of the crew in a plane during the Second World War.  The memorial, unveiled in 2012, is dedicated to the 55,573 airmen who lost their lives.

At Beachy Head we could see west to Seven Sisters and the red and white striped lighthouse was far below us.  The ideal spot to take your photograph on the edge of the cliffs was eroded, this is such a popular spot.  We were not only lucky with the weather, we also had a close encounter with a peregrine while we had our picnic lunch.

Heading inland on the footpath towards East Dean, with views to Birling Gap.  We turned right too soon, having misread the map, and so lengthened our walk by a mile or so as we had to retrace our steps.  No one else had chosen this route and we were accompanied only by sheep in the green fields; this wasn’t the crowded south of England that I had imagined.

Back in All Decked Out the friendly member of staff remembered us as she served us ice-cream and we chatted about how good the walking is from the heart of Eastbourne.  What a memorable day!

 

How to make the most of a few winter days on the peaceful part of the Lancashire coast

Boats on the marina at Glasson Dock
Boats at Glasson Dock

All we could hear was the honking of geese from the nearby fields, the occasional cry of a curlew and the breath of the wind at Near Moss Farm Touring Caravan Park.  We had hoped for a couple of days of peace and quiet and this site certainly delivered.

Near Moss Farm is on The Fylde, the west Lancashire coastal plain between the Ribble and Lune estuaries.  The Fylde is best known for the seaside resorts of Blackpool, Lytham and Fleetwood but the northern coast is more farming than funfairs and is a different world to the bright lights of the towns.

Near Moss Farm is a Certified Location for Caravan Club members and a touring park; parts of the site are exclusively for adults.  The pitches are all hard-standing and this tidy and well-kept site has a heated sanitary block.  You will get a warm welcome from the friendly owners who also manage a fishing lake and three self-catering cottages.

The Fylde is pancake-flat with big skies and long views; this makes it perfect for cycling, so long as the prevailing westerly wind is behind you.  A relaxing round trip of about 16 miles takes you from Near Moss Farm along sleepy lanes to the charming village of Knott End-on-Sea and back.  In summer a small ferry crosses the Wyre estuary from Knott End-on-Sea to the delights of Fleetwood.

We were here in winter and so it was not ideal cycling weather.  Instead we walked along the nearby coastal dykes looking over the salt marshes criss-crossed with channels,.  The Irish Sea was to one side and farmland on the other and we spotted egrets, handsome shelducks, as well as swans and geese.

We also drove the short distance to Glasson Dock on the Lune estuary, still a working harbour and marina that was built as a port for Lancaster.  Both the marina and Conder Green car parks have height barriers but there is plenty of road parking in and around the village, including on Tithe Barn Hill with views over the estuary.   Once you have explored the lock and swing bridge, admired the boats in the marina and found the Port of Lancaster Smokehouse you might want to stretch your legs.  We followed National Cycle Route Six, a popular and flat off-road route to Lancaster, and enjoyed more bird spotting along the river Lune.

Driving to Morecambe before we headed home we took a breezy walk along the sea front that put colour in my cheeks.  Coffee in the magnificent grade two listed Art Deco Midland Hotel made this a pretty much a perfect walk.  Built in 1933 I first visited the Midland Hotel in the 1990s; in those days this gorgeous hotel was memorable for its faded glamour.  Today it is fully restored and once again a stunning bit of luxury.

Our Epic Fail: Shared with MMM readers

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Humiliating myself before the motorhoming community

Generally when we are camping with friends we are considered the organised ones.  It is our ‘van everyone comes to for a spare mug, local maps, paracetamol for a headache or blister plasters after a walk.  However, this last month this (unwarranted) reputation has taken a massive knock.

We were camping for three nights near the Leicestershire market town of Melton Mowbray with the Devon Conversions Owners Club and had packed the ‘van with warm clothes and food before leaving Salford.  It was splendid to meet old and new friends and our first night was convivial.

All was well with the world until we came to make the beds that evening.  I opened the cupboard to extract the duvets and seeing an empty space experienced that bottom-of-the-stomach sick feeling.  In winter, between camping trips our duvets and sleeping bags are stored in the flat to stop them getting damp and they were still there!  All we had with us were sheets and pillow cases.

We felt foolish and embarrassed as we searched the ‘van for suitable alternatives for the night.  Covered with sheets, our emergency blankets and coats and with the heating on we were fortunately warm enough but missed snuggling under a thick duvet.

We could have kept our discomfort to ourselves but weren’t looking forward to two more nights under makeshift bedding so the next morning I sought help from the reception staff at Eye Kettleby Lakes, where we were staying.

Campsite staff must have a long list of ludicrous questions they have been asked over the years but I like to think my request will become notorious for camping ineptitude.  To be fair to the excellent staff, when I hung my head in shame, explained the situation and asked if they had a duvet we could borrow for a couple of nights they were professional and didn’t even titter at my school boy error.

They provided duvets with freshly laundered covers and refused any payment for their trouble; we were so grateful (and lucky) to be on a campsite with first-rate customer service.  We bought the staff a thank you box of chocolates and will attempt to move on and rebuild our reputations.

Published in MMM March 2019 edition.

 

My post-campervan holiday list

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Is it just us or does every campervan owner return from a long trip away in their ‘van with a long list of things that need replacing, fixing, taking out of the ‘van or buying.  For me, this to-do list comes into being a few weeks in to the trip.  I will have a bright idea or break something, find a sheet of scrap paper, usually the back of a campsite receipt or map, and a pen [these are on the list too, we always have a stack of them in the ‘van] and scribble down whatever it is I don’t want to forget.  The list will get shoved under my pile of t-shirts and as the weeks go by other things will come up and I will grab a pen and add it to the list.

Some of the things on the list are mundane replacements, things we must remember to buy when we are back in the UK.  Another packet of Kwells seasickness tablets is a good example of this sort of thing; this could easily get forgotten in the excitement of being home and only be noticed when I next start to feel queasy on a pitching and rolling ship.

Others things on the list are expensive purchases that are more challenging for two frugal folk to deal with.  These things will sit on the list for a while [at least one month] for due consideration before the money is spent.  New cycling shorts are this sort of thing.  We tend to do more and longer cycle rides in the warmth of southern Europe and this can highlight the shortcomings of the gear we have.  New cycling shorts clearly seemed important at the time to make it on to the list but at the moment we are minded to think that the old ones will do another year.

Replacement MP3 speakers could be on the ‘due consideration’ list as these also cost money, except that I find dropping off to sleep to a podcast on the MP3 player helps me deal with the constant ringing in my ears that comes with tinnitus.  The speakers that I have found suit me best have done many years regular use but they are no longer reliable and another set is urgently needed.

The reversing sensors on our Blue Bus started mis-firing part way through our holiday.  Annoyingly, they starting beeping as soon as reverse was engaged even if there was nothing behind the ‘van for many metres.  The Renault came with reversing sensors and we thought we would hardly use them, having managed without before.  But there is really no view out of the back window of the Renault and so these have proved to be a useful bit of kit.  At £170 to replace we will take a deep breath before we go ahead.

Some of the things on the list don’t need us to spend any money – hurrah!  We have carried a hairdryer in the campervan since we had it but realised on our last trip that we had never actually used it!  I have no idea why it took three years to realise that we both have short hair that dries quickly, particularly in the sun.  The hairdryer was taking up space we could use more efficiently and has now gone to the charity shop.

It has taken us sometime to get round to this but we have now put our music on a flash drive that plugs in to a USB on the radio of our Renault.  We had expected to be able to use the MP3 player through the van’s radio but this turned out to be impossible, perhaps due to the age of our MP3 player.  Then we had a flash [pun intended] of inspiration and tried a portable drive.  This works well and takes up much less room than the pile of CDs we had before.  Now we can rock to our whole music collection as we drive!

The temporary mirror inserts went on the wish list after the expensive Spanish mirror jousting incident.  We bought one each for the right and left mirrors on Ebay and hope these will be enough to get us home if the same happens again.  If these work, they will enable us to put off buying a replacement wing mirror until we can do this online from home and we can then fit it ourselves much more cheaply.

Living in the north of England with our wonderful soft water we didn’t realise kettle descaler was even a thing until we travelled abroad.  The mineral-rich hard water in most European countries might be good for our bones but certainly clogs up the kettle and the ‘van’s water pump, as we discovered to our cost last year.  In a two month long trip we will descale the kettle one or two times to keep it working efficiently and always keep some in the ‘van.

The list from each holiday is always different and partly tells the story of some of the things that have happened on our trip and the places we have been.  What does your post-holiday to-do list look like?