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.

 

 

 

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.