This is a story that I hope will make you smile or [if you’re an old romantic like me] might even bring a lump to your throat. Buy the September 2022 edition of Campervan Magazine [in the shops now or subscribe] and you can read about how we revisited our budget honeymoon-in-a-tent destination in our campervan and compare how the Isle of Skye was then [it was the 1980s when we got married] and now.
Big weddings were less of a thing in the 1980s but even so there was little that was conventional about our honeymoon. The article begins …
To be honest I can’t remember how the conversation went but somehow I was persuaded to spend our honeymoon camping in a tent on the Isle of Skye along with 14 other people!
Campervan Mag September 2022
Back in the 1980s we had just purchased our first house, had little spare cash and we travelled to Skye on the cheap. We packed the tent and scrounged a lift in our friend’s olive-coloured Vauxhall and along with those 14 other people, we camped at Glenbrittle Campsite for a week. It possibly isn’t the start to married life I would recommend but we’re still together 38 years later!
In 2022 we returned to Skye in our relatively luxurious campervan, the Blue Bus. Crossing the bridge to Skye I thought wistfully about the ferry journey we had made back then.
The Fairy Pools, a series of clear waterfalls and pools from Coire na Crieche, are along the road through Glen Brittle. We must have passed them every time we went away from the campsite but back in the 1980s we didn’t give these a thought, they were just another of Skye’s picturesque corners. Driving by in the 21st century it is clear the falls have become a tourist hot-spot. I had read about this but hadn’t realised the scale of their attraction until I saw the mind boggling size of the car park.
Not surprisingly the cost of camping has increased somewhat in the last 38 years. Glenbrittle Campsite is not the cheapest and as I wrote in the article, we paid, ‘£32 for one night and calculated we could have enjoyed a three-week-long honeymoon for that much in the 1980s and still had change for beer!’
What never changes is the jaw-dropping landscape and revisiting our romantic walk up to Coire Lagan [in the top photograph] was as impressive as I remembered. We followed our youthful newlywed footsteps to this wonderful place and remembered how awestruck we were when we escaped the group and first came here. Sometimes it is a mistake to return to somewhere with special memories but it can be a positive thing too.
If you can’t get hold of a copy of Campervan Mag, you can read the full September 2022 article from this page of my blog.
In May and June 2022 we spent seven weeks touring Germany and The Netherlands. We caught the DFDS ferry from Newcastle to Ijmuiden and explored at a slow pace, staying at 21 different places during our trip for up to four nights. We made good use of our ACSI low season discount card.
This is a large grassy site surrounded by trees. It is mostly level but some pitches can be slightly uneven. The facilities are cleaned regularly & the five minute showers are roomy & hot. The free wifi is good and the site is peaceful. The check-in process seemed a bit long winded & the automatic barrier wouldn’t recognise our number plate. We stayed here on the way there and back & walked through the forest to the nearby village. It was about £25/night in May and a couple of £s more in June.
An extremely peaceful & green site with marked pitches. We had a view over a pond from our pitch and there was lots of birdsong here. No bread is available & the facilities are dated but clean with hot showers & indoor wash up sinks. There are walks and cycle routes from the site. The ACSI price includes 4 kw/day of electric which was enough for us in summer and the site is around £15 / night with an ACSI card.
This is a level & nicely laid out parking area with clear pitches. On arrival you need to book in at the sports centre. There is some road noise but trees do screen it. The facilities are 2 toilets & 2 showers for each sex and these are clean with hot showers. A pitch costs about £12.50 a night.
This large site is by a lake with a number of camping fields, no defined pitches & a long cable might be needed. There is some road noise. The facilities are clean but the showers a bit hit & miss for temperature. No bread was available when we visited. There is good cycling from the site & the railway station for Magdeburg is about 2kms away. The site cost around £20 a night in May.
This is another large campsite where long electric leads are needed. We received a friendly welcome in German & bread was available daily. The facilities are clean with hot continuous & adjustable showers but just 1 hook to hang your clothes & the shower heads are at chest height (we got used to this)! The cycling and walking from the site are fantastic. It cost around £17 a night in May.
Situated on a small lake and on the Elbe Radweg (so plenty of cycling options) this is a grassy & fairly level site with facilities reached by a flight of steps. If you can’t manage the steps there are a few hard-standing pitches on the same level as the toilets. No English was spoken at reception. The facilities are clean & modern & the showers hot, adjustable & roomy. The site is by a small town with a convent church, a supermarket and bakery and cost about £20 a night.
This green & tranquil site with marked out pitches was a big hit with us. English was spoken at the friendly reception, bread was available & the facilities were clean with hot adjustable showers. The site is on the Elbe Radweg and just 4kms from beautiful Meissen This was the most expensive campsite we stayed at, costing about £27.50 a night but still our favourite.
This large site is by a small lake and has mostly marked out pitches. The showers were cramped with poor lighting, were €1 for four minutes & were hot. The rural site has plenty of walking and cycling options. We paid around £22 / night which includes approx £3 for 3.5kw of metered electric.
There is a stellplatz at Wörlitz with EHU but that gets busy & is around €15 so we opted to have our own space on the large level car park for €5 for 24 hours. There are toilets from 07.00 until 19.00 and the car park was quiet and is very near to the beautiful park.
We stayed here for a night during a holiday weekend and so didn’t see it at its best & had a small cramped pitch. The campsite is by the Elbe and there are some lovely pitches with views. The showers are €1 each & are hot but you don’t have much room. The electric is metered & the owners are friendly but don’t speak much English. To get hot water at the washing up sinks you have to pay 50c. The site has a small bar and is about 2kms from the centre of the town in an industrial area. This cost around £21.50 / night.
This newly developed 50 place camping area is in trees & by a hotel. The site has new modern facilities & self-service touch-screen check in (available in English). The check-in machine gives you a card that is used to access all the facilities (EHU, toilet emptying, water, showers) & updates to show what you have spent. We had some difficulties figuring out how to use this for the showers but eventually got there and had excellent hot showers. We saved money by switching the shower off while we lathered up & this way could shower for around 30c. The automatic system went wrong somewhere & didn’t charge us for extras & so it was good value at just the basic €15 / night!
While reception is lovely, the rest of this site is slightly rundown. It is near to the town with reasonable sized pitches that are marked. The facilities are also scruffy but we appreciated the good hot showers that are adjustable, continuous & spacious & have a sink. The site is near the river & has a small cafe at reception where bread is available. With the tourist tax we paid almost £27 a night.
A small & pleasantly arranged site with some marked pitches that slope a little, 4 bathrooms & additional toilets. The showers are temperature adjustable, hot & clean. The site is near to the large fort & by the town. With showers & metered electric this cost around £22/night.
A prettily laid out rural and grassy site that is Dutch run, this is a well organised campsite with morning bread & a restaurant. The facilities are kept clean but the showers were only just warm enough for me & cost 50c for 2 mins, so if you have long hair you need lots of 50c pieces! It is on Elbe cycle path and there is plenty of good cycling. With an ACSI card this was about £19/night.
A large woodland campsite that is geared up for transit overnights. It has a large sanitary block that is dated but functional with good hot continuous showers. Toilet paper is on a large roll outside the cubicles. With an ACSI card this site cost around £15.50 / night.
This rustic and green farmhouse site has bushes & trees around the narrow, somewhat cramped pitches. The showers are dated but very hot & adjustable. Bread is available & the site sells local apple juice & a few other food items. The site is just 5kms from the train station for Hamburg & on the Elbe Radweg so there is plenty of good cycling in the area. Around £21/night.
An ACSI discount card site with marked pitches, clean & modern facilities & indoor wash up. It is by an airport & planes took off during the daytime. Fresh bread is available at the snack bar. The push button showers were only just warm but the facilities were clean. The site was around £17/night.
A busy site by a lake, the reasonable-sized pitches are grassy & some were marked with hedges. Tokens give a four minute shower which were good & hot in clean & modern facilities. Reception was friendly although no English was spoken. No bread was on sale & there are no nearby shops. Excellent cycling in the area. The site was around £17 / night.
The pitches are laid out in small groups on this campsite with central facilities that are clean, with roomy showers for five minutes that are just warm enough. There are trees and bushes and lots of sparrows & geese on the site. Free wifi that is fast is provided. Fantastic cycling from the site around the nature reserve & into Lelystad. With an ACSI card this cost about £20/night.
A large rural site with unmarked pitches mostly arranged around the edge of fields. The free wifi was good. The facilities are clean & it cost 50c for a four minute shower in a roomy cubicle but the water was only just warm enough. Bread is available at reception every day. There is good cycling in the area including to Alkmaar and the coast. With an ACSI card this cost under £19/night.
This is a large popular and crowded site on the Markermeer. Tokens provided timed showers that were variable, the block near reception was better & cleaner with hotter water. There is access to the beach & the site has a bar & restaurant. Edam is a delightful town & is about 15 minutes walk away. Regular buses to Amsterdam leave from the bus station This site cost around £20/night with an ACSI card.
Taking a photograph of our breakfast table for the #warcoffee community on Twitter [check out Yaroslava Antipina @strategywoman to get a feel for life in Kyiv during the war] I realised how many gorgeous and useful things we have in our campervan that are regular reminders of our happy travels around Europe. Of course, we drive a French Renault van but the European theme doesn’t stop there, we have picked up things we like and need in many different countries.
Our rustic wooden bread bowl in the photograph is used for our continental breakfasts and came from Slovakia, back when it was part of Czechoslovakia. We took a backpacking railway trip to the Tatras in 1992 and managed to squeeze this beautiful bowl into the rucksack, along with a bottle of Czech beer! It is perfect for breakfast and dinner bread.
Our honey of the day might be from Shropshire [we always pick up local honey when we are travelling] but the wooden honey spoon was bought in the idyllic Italian village of Sorano in southern Tuscany. We were visiting a friend who lived there at the time and she showed us the sights and took us into the town for a meal. Browsing around a shop packed full of wooden chopping boards and spoons I admired this honey spoon and she generously insisted on buying it for me. I am so glad I didn’t point out anything more expensive in the shop and feel sad that we have lost touch but I think of her everyday when I use the spoon.
When it comes to slicing those large crusty continental loaves we use a steak knife from a village shop in Slovenia. A bread knife isn’t something we have room for and the steak knife does the job. The glass plates with blue swirls are from one of those interesting French hypermarkets that I could browse around for hours and the jolly teacosy with the stylish red radish pattern is from Denmark. We slum it with teabags when we are camping but still use a teapot. Our camping teapot is from Blomus, a German company who make quality stuff that we grabbed as a second-hand bargain on Ebay. The handle folds down making it perfect for stowing in one of the cupboards in the campervan.
While my mug with the blue flowers is another Italian find from the beautiful Malcesine on Lake Garda and gives me pleasure everyday, Anthony’s mug is from the Serra da Estrela in Portugal. We enjoyed our time in this stunning mountainous area of Portugal so much it is lovely to have a reminder of it on a daily basis wherever we are. The tray our teapot sits on has a map of Salford that includes our former home. This was a thoughtful retirement gift from a friend so we could show people where we lived.
Our evening hot drink mugs [yes we have mugs for different drinks!] are Morecambe mugs, so we never forget where home is now! Mine has a picture of the Midland Hotel and Anthony’s has Morecambe in big colourful letters and Eric Morecambe’s iconic specs.
These are all small treasures that are both useful, hold precious memories and make me feel blessed. None of them cost us an arm and a leg but all of them are cherished.
In March and April this year we travelled around Scotland for four glorious weeks. For anyone I have to convince that Scotland is an amazing place to visit, I will just say that it snowed, it was sunny and occasionally it was wet and windy. If that doesn’t persuade you to go to Scotland, on this trip we saw golden eagles, red squirrels, seals, otters, siskins, red deer, dolphins, red kites and so much more wildlife. We climbed some mountains and walked some stunning miles of coastline.
Everyone looks for different things in a campsite. My priorities are a level pitch, a hot shower and peace and quiet. This is the list of where we stayed with comments:
This sloping site has amazing views over the Firth of the Forth and Bass Rock. The showers and bathrooms are a high standard and the showers have hot water but there was no heating in March. The wash up area is covered but outdoors. The site is a short walk into North Berwick, an upmarket town and the Scottish Seabird Centre, which has plenty of fun, interactive and interesting displays. The walk back is uphill through the golf course.
This campsite has four level campervan pitches and is in peaceful setting in a park. The sea and a sandy beach are just across the golf course. You receive a friendly welcome and the facilities are good and clean. It is about a half an hour walk into Leven and shops and a supermarket and a bit further to the charming coastal village of Lower Largo. I have written a full review on the blog.
This is a small level independent site that is right by the sea and if you are lucky to get one of the pitches overlooking the waves and the beach you will be happy! Our welcome was friendly and the facilities are kept spotlessly clean. The showers are good and hot and the only thing that let it down was the lack of heating. It is a short walk to the busy fishing harbour, the small town and the Scottish Lighthouse Museum. The latter is certainly worth a visit as it includes a chance to climb up an old lighthouse. The walk along the sandy beach and dunes is fabulous too.
East Beach car park, Lossiemouth
This level tarmac car park has toilets available nearby in the daytime. It was quiet when we stayed here and there was just one other campervan there. The town is pleasant and there are places to eat and drink nearby. There is an honesty box in the toilets to pay what you can for using the facilities.
The position of this campsite is hard to beat, sitting on the coast of Chanonry Point. We received a friendly welcome and got a sea view pitch! The grass is a bit lumpy but we managed to get the campervan level. The facilities were heated, the wash up is indoors but the showers are not the best and probably need an upgrade. We saw dolphins from the point, went to the nearby coffee shop and walked up the Fairy Glen.
We really liked this campsite. The wardens are friendly, it isn’t too busy and the site is level and arranged in small cul de sacs. The railway line runs next to the site and the first train might wake you. The facilities were fine and had heating some of the time. The town is very close with supermarkets and other shops, including a warren of a charity shop that is like an Aladdin’s Cave. The short walk along the canal is great for stretching your legs.
This terraced slightly sloping site has open views, friendly and helpful people on reception & a modern facilities block. There was heating in the facilities, hot showers and an indoor wash up area. A ten minutes walk takes you to Broadford which has a supermarket, other shops and pizza place.
This gently sloping site sits on the loch side. It has new owners this year and they were friendly and welcoming. The facilities are fine but lack heating in wintery weather. The lovely view over the loch from the indoor wash up area was very much appreciated. The site also has some yurts and huts and there are cattle and hens around. About 15 minutes walk away down the hill in Edinbane there is a pub and a posh (expensive) restaurant. Otherwise, you have to drive from here or take the occasional bus to Dunvegan and Portree.
This is a large site with a facilities block at one end. The site is on the bay & has spectacular mountain views. The facilities are small but they squeeze in six showers and the room was warm, mostly from others showering and the walls dripped with condensation. The showers themselves were only lukewarm. The wash up is under cover. There is a small shop and cafe onsite, useful as the site is eight miles along a single-track road. This is an expensive campsite if you want EHU and has no phone signal or wi-fi but it does have excellent access to the mountains.
This Certified Location for five vans is a gravel site alongside the Carbost Road. It has free wi-fi and a functional facilities block with two toilets & one electric shower which was hot. The pub, cafe and distillery in Carbost are about 15 minutes walk away.
This Caravan and Motorhome Club Site is a special place. You receive a friendly welcome, it is peaceful, has good facilities and the wardens run a small shop for basics as there is nothing nearby. You can climb mountains or walk in the forest directly from the site. The Chocolates of Glenshiel shop and cafe nearby are worth a visit on your way there and if you drive towards Kyle, make sure you stop at Manuela’s Wee Bakery in Ardelve for some of their delicious bread and cakes.
If you crave a small campsite that isn’t wall-to-wall caravans and motorhomes as far as the eye can see then Silverburn Park Campsite near Leven might be just the place for you. This small campsite is certainly a special place and with just four campervan pitches and it’s enviable location near to a long sandy beach it ticks so many boxes.
Everyone receives a friendly welcome at Silverburn Park and the calming and peaceful atmosphere envelopes you straight away. The member of staff we met was helpful and kind and the biscuit-coloured cat with a deep purr made us feel accepted. I was also very politely told how to pronounce Leven correctly, the e is long, like Leeven.
Silverburn Park has a story that you will want to explore if you visit and it is certainly much more than a campsite. The park is the former estate of the Russell family who planted many unusual trees in the park and you can take a stroll to see these. Gifted to Leven Town Council in the 1970s, the park has long been a popular place to visit for local people. In 2019 Fife Employment Access Trust (FEAT) took over the management of Silverburn Park and began to develop the site. They worked hard and a cafe and a campsite were opened the following year. FEAT, a mental health organisation that supports people back into work, now have plans to repurpose the old flax mill at Silverburn as a visitor centre and community hub. You can read more about their plans on their website.
The campervan pitches are hard standing surrounded by grass in a fenced area. The campsite has bathrooms with a toilet, sink and shower and a heated towel rail and there are dishwashing sinks. These facilities are a short walk from the campervan pitches and by the tent area. With the campervan pitches there are bins, fresh water and chemical toilet disposal. FEAT’s plans include adding more facilities and a camper’s kitchen with indoor washing up in the very near future. If you don’t have a campervan or tent, the site has three pods.
Cooking that evening, I could see Bass Rock out of the ‘van window across the golf course and gannets that were diving for fish in the sea. With the site to ourselves it was peaceful and this felt as close to wild camping as you can get on a campsite.
During the daytime there are other visitors, workers and volunteers in the garden, on the allotment and in the workshop and cafe but we never felt crowded, it wasn’t noisy and everyone was friendly. In the evenings and early mornings the campers have Silverburn Park to themselves. Using the map I was given [see below] I explored the walled garden on a sunny morning when no one was around; a real treat and I spent ages watching the antics of the birds on the many feeders.
We had snow and sunshine on our visit and in the good weather we walked across the golf course onto the sweep of beach that stretches for miles. We turned left and walked a couple of miles along the sand with plenty of interesting shells and pebbles to the pretty coastal village of Lower Largo. Bass Rock continued to shimmer in the distance. As well as the gannets there were waders on the shore and cormorants on the rocks that jutted into the sea. In Lower Largo we had good coffee and cake in The Aurrie, a converted chapel and found the Robinson Crusoe statue high on the wall of a house. Lower Largo was the birthplace of Alexander Selkirk, the castaway who inspired Daniel Defoe’s novel. Lower Largo is perfect for a wander, particularly to find the collection of colourful and entertaining gates and sculptures with maritime themes.
Heading in the other direction we came to Leven and its small promenade and shops and a supermarket. We returned on a path through golf courses that wound among bright yellow gorse bushes with views across the Firth of the Forth. We were soon back at Silverburn Park and, after passing a large pond and a deserted house, we followed a woodland trail around the walled garden back to our campervan.
I need to add a special thank you to Em from Vans for the Memories on YouTube and Twitter for the recommendation and inspiration for our visit to Silverburn Park.
I had taken a break from blogging while Russia was invading and bombing Ukraine. I am still unable to process this aggressive act but, unfortunately, the war is going on much longer than I hoped it would and, although in the light of what people are going through in Ukraine, my travels are insignificant I found myself really wanting to share this campsite with everyone. I’m not sure what this says about me and it probably makes me look indecisive and weak. Rest assured, I have not forgotten Ukraine and every day I continue to do what I can to support individuals living through the war.
Camping in our campervan, known affectionately as the Blue Bus, is a year-round hobby. Our ‘van is where I am most happy and I need regular nights away to keep my contentment equilibrium in balance. We also spent a lot of money buying our ‘van and it feels like a waste to only use it from Spring to Autumn.
It is frustrating that so many campsites close in the colder months of the year. I appreciate that campsite owners might need some downtime so that they can go on holiday themselves or carry out maintenance but there should be a rota! It is also clear that there are campsites that just don’t have the facilities for cold and wet weather camping because they either have grass pitches or facility blocks with no heating [although this doesn’t stop some opening]. In winter we will happily use a warm shower block but a Certified Location with no facilities is often a good place to stay as this means we have no expectations of getting a roomy hot shower and we just use our onboard facilities.
We drain the water out of our campervan as soon as the weather gets near to chilly, usually in November. We don’t fill the underfloor tank again until spring, unless we are on a site with no facilities, or we plan to be away for more than three or four days and the weather forecast suggests it won’t be below freezing. Our Truma boiler dumps the water when it detects temperatures below 3C when the campervan isn’t in use and, as I live my life constantly thinking of ways to save water, just throwing away litres of this precious liquid really goes against the grain. For our short winter camping trips, when we are using onsite facilities, we use water from a portable 10l container. This holds enough for drinks, cooking and washing for one day. If we don’t have on-site showers and are just away for a couple of nights we will boil the kettle and crank the heating up for a full wash at the sink.
Head to Toe Warmth
It is easy to keep warm in our campervan, although its insulation isn’t brilliant. In the winter we put extra carpets on our ‘van’s vinyl floor, as this makes a massive difference to how warm it feels. We have cosy Heat Holder slipper socks to wear inside our Blue Bus that keep our toes toasty. Our Truma heater works on gas, electric or both and this keeps the ‘van as hot as you could want it. For extra hygge, we have some soft woollen blankets and even a small hot water bottle. In October we change to our thicker 10.5 tog duvets and we will use these until March. Along with the blankets and silk sleeping bag liners as back up, this is usually enough for even the coldest night when we are chipping ice off the inside of the ‘van windows. Just occasionally we have used sleeping bags plus duvets! At night, if it is very cold we will keep the heating on low through the night and along with snuggly pyjamas might wear a hat to protect every bit of us from the cold!
In winter, more than summer, it is important to have outdoor gear that will keep you warm and dry. We like to get out and stretch our legs and explore while we are away and this is more fun if you are not going to return to your campervan or motorhome soaking wet and cold. Many people can dry their wet outer layer in their bathroom, if they have a heating vent. Our bathroom doesn’t have heating but what we do find useful for drying wet weather gear is a row of four plastic hooks that fits between the two shelves above the passenger and driver seat [where a rear view mirror would be if we had one]. Waterproofs can hang here between the cab seats and drip onto the cab floor and gradually dry. This is the sort of thing I mean. If we need it, we also carry a low wattage fan heater to dry our kit.
Boots or wellingtons can get wet and / or muddy in winter and be a pain to store in a small campervan. Our solution is large zipped bags. We have a large wellington bag that fits two pairs and a ski boot bag that fits both our walking boots in. This means the muddy footwear can be shoved in the bag, zipped away, stored on the front seats and forgotten about until the next day or when we get home. If we have any newspaper, we will roll it up inside the boots to soak up the moisture. If possible we would prefer to allow the boots to dry out if they have got soggy during the day but we tend to prioritise the clothing and leave the boots to dry slowly overnight, so they aren’t cluttering up the space in the ‘van during the evening.
Long Winter Evenings
It is dark in winter as well as cold and the evenings can feel long. We either like to be within walking distance of a pub with a roaring fire or we make sure we have plenty of books, games and things to watch to entertain us during the evening. Dominoes is a favourite game and we always travel with a quiz book. Another favourite thing we share is that while the evening meal is being prepared and cooked the non-cook will read out loud, usually from a non-fiction book we are both interested in. We don’t have a TV in our campervan but we always take a laptop with downloaded programmes to keep us entertained. We are currently re-watching all the Parks and Recreation series and laughing at the jokes all over again!
Along with a glass of red wine, on cold winter evenings we often treat ourselves to a warming tipple and an essential in our campervan is Jägermeister. This German digestif is packed with herbs and spices that mean it must be good for you and it certainly reaches the parts other drinks can’t!
Winter camping is a different experience than the summer and I certainly anticipate the warmth and lighter evenings impatiently. Even so, the winter brings its own special moments. A night of gentle snow falling on the van roof is precious, frost on the windows makes pretty patterns and sitting inside the Blue Bus watching deer pottering around a quiet campsite is unforgettable. At these times I remember that it is fun to be out all year.
In comparison to 2020, 2021 was a triumph! Okay, 2020 isn’t hard to beat but 2021 was certainly less of a disappointing camping year than 2020, mostly because we were only [although using the word only here isn’t right] in lockdown for 14 weeks from 1 January until 12 April. Those 14 weeks rolled slowly by in a blur of hot drinks, local walks and jigsaws. The day we could go camping again was momentous and on the first day of freedom we rolled into Burrs Country Park Caravan and Motorhome Club [CAMC] Site with plenty of other people who clearly were raring to get out and about.
In 2020, here in Lancashire we had less than 25 weeks when we were allowed to go camping. With the luxury of around 38 weeks to play with in 2021 we managed to fit in 118 marvellous nights away in the Blue Bus. Let’s hope in 2022 we have all 52 weeks to go out and play in!
Those 118 nights were in 59 different places and I didn’t need a calculator to figure that this is a very round average of two nights in each place. We always keep moving and the longest we stayed anywhere in 2021 were the five nights we spent at Buxton CAMC site. This was unusual and we mostly stayed two or three nights before moving on.
We travelled up and down the country for these 118 overnights but did have a tendency to travel up! Turning left onto the M6 and heading north is our default. We spent a month in Scotland in May and June and we took the ferry across to Ireland for three weeks in the summer, exploring Northern Ireland and County Donegal in Ireland. Our time in Donegal was our only trip abroad in 2021, so we had no chance to stock up on wine but we did spend some of our stash of Euros! Our trip around the peaceful lanes and stunning coastline of Donegal was a particularly memorable highlight of the year.
We did head south a few times, touring the Peak District for three weeks in the spring and spending a few nights in the handsome city of Cambridge. In the autumn we toured around Pembrokeshire and explored one of my favourite cities, Cardiff re-visiting old haunts and meeting up with old friends.
2021 had plenty of happy sociable times. We met up with friends with campervans on campsites, attended a Devon Owners meet in the autumn, met up with editors from MMM and Campervan Mag [one planned and one accidental] and we spent a lovely evening over a bottle of red with a fellow travel writer for those two magazines when we both found ourselves in Ullapool. In two of those instances it was the immediacy of Twitter that got us together, so social media isn’t all bad.
Those 118 overnights range from a lay-by in Scotland to a campsite with a heated indoor swimming pool, from simple Certified Locations and campsites where the facilities remained closed to sites that have sanitary blocks with underfloor heating. They also spanned the price ranges, from nothing to a staggering £40.50 a night [due to the pool and it was a birthday weekend]. I like the variety of places our campervans takes us to, from peaceful spots to being among rows of other ‘vans on a club site. We have had huge pitches, such as at The Paddock overlooking Rutland Water where our nearest neighours were not even in shouting distance and we could bird watch from our pitch and we have stayed on pub car parks hemmed in by cars and both sides. At Barrow upon Humber we had the idyllic small site to ourselves whereas at the popular Tollymore Forest Park near Newcastle in Northern Ireland we were almost bumper to bumper with vans packed with families enjoying the sunshine.
The graph below shows the ups and downs of our campervan years. Not surprisingly the most nights we spent in our campervan was 2009, when we were living in the ‘van full time from April and into 2010. Work got in the way of our camping trips until 2017 when the number of overnights took a leap following our retirement. 2017 was only disrupted by the Blue Bus being off the road for over two months after the Greek tragedy. Everything went fairly smoothly in 2018 [apart from the power steering giving up the ghost in northern Spain] and we made the most of our freedom to travel with 155 nights away in the ‘van. In 2019 moving house disrupted our flow and then Covid-19 messed up everyone’s lives. If in 2019 we had known what was on the horizon the following year we would probably have travelled more but we thought there were certainties and the trips we wanted to do could wait until the following year! If I have learnt one thing from Covid-19 it is to never put anything off again.
Happy travelling in 2022 everyone!
The number of overnights in our three campervans by year
We spent a couple of weeks in Wales in our campervan, exploring historical castles, walking along the narrow paths that follow the cliffs of the Pembrokeshire coast and kicking sand across long beaches. We ate buttery Welsh Cakes, indulgent ice-creams, crumbly Caerphilly cheese and delicious artisan chocolates and discovered corners of Wales we hadn’t found before.
The list of four Welsh campsites we stayed at are at the bottom of this post after more information about the four areas we explored.
Llanarthne & The National Botanic Garden of Wales
It was the National Botanic Garden of Wales that took us to this lush and peaceful part of Wales east of Carmarthen along the River Towy valley. We chose Glantowy Farm for its closeness to The National Botanic Garden of Wales which was just short of three miles away and chose to walk to the gardens but cycling is another option. Even if you drive, wear some comfy shoes as you can easily spend a whole day looking around this amazing site, there is so much to see! There are formal gardens, a vegetable garden, a terraced garden full of herbs, a large glasshouse and sculptures as well as lakes to walk around and an arboretum.
On our way back to the campsite we diverted to Paxton’s Tower that we had noticed on the hill. This folly, built to commemorate Nelson, is open so that you can climb up to the first floor and enjoy the panoramic views over the valley. On a clear day it is well-worth the effort.
Manorbier, Tenby & Pembroke
The Pembrokeshire coastline is spectacular and the attractive village of Manorbier has a number of campsites. This location worked well for us because we could combine coastal walking with buses and trains to reach Tenby, in one direction, and Pembroke in the other. We walked to Tenby and caught the bus back and we purchased return train tickets to Pembroke to visit the castle.
Manorbier has a castle too [open Spring, Summer and early Autumn only], one small cafe that can get busy at lunch time and a cosy and quirky pub.
Tenby is a busy seaside resort with handsome colourful buildings, the remains of the town’s walls, fabulous beaches and plenty of shops. We visited the three-storey National Trust’s Tudor Merchant’s House that sits down a narrow alleyway near the harbour. Packed with replica furniture and history, this charming house successfully took me back to 1500. Tenby also has a museum and art gallery and you can visit the Napoleonic Fort on St Catherine’s Island that is tidal [open March to December].
My top tip for Pembroke Castle is to join one of the free guided tours, they are not only fun but also informative and ensure you will get so much more from your visit. Open most or all of the year, this is a large castle with buildings stretching back to the Normans and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. Hungry after scrambling around the castle we ate at Food at Williams on the main street and had an attractive and tasty vegetarian meal.
This small city sits near the end of a peninsula and is surrounded by farmland and a multitude of campsites. The peninsula’s coastline is a stunning wiggly combination of cliffs and bays. The city has pubs, cafes and a few shops and tucked away below these are the magnificent St Davids Cathedral and the ruins of The Bishop’s Palace.
We were mostly here for the coastal walking and from our campsite we walked south from the life boat station along Ramsey Sound. It was September and the grey seals had their pups. In almost every inaccessible cove we spotted a female and a fluffy white pup. In the other direction we walked beyond the beautiful Whitesands Bay to St Davids Head. The waves were rolling at Whitesands Bay and plenty of surfers were out enjoying the sea.
Devil’s Bridge near Aberystwyth
A tourist hotspot with a campsite that is a peaceful haven ticks boxes for lots of people. Devil’s Bridge attracts the tourist for its waterfall walks that you can pay to walk around. The longer waterfall walk is packed with gushing water but is not for those who can’t manage stairs! There are over 600 steps up and down to different viewpoints over the waterfalls.
As well as the waterfalls walk there is a steam railway that puffs between Devil’s Bridge and Aberystwyth. We might have used this but in 2021 you could only get on the trains in Aberystwyth as a Covid-19 precaution. Instead we had hot chocolate and toasted teacakes from the railway cafe, bought delicious handmade chocolates from Sarah Bunton‘s shop there and walked through the quiet hilly countryside above Devil’s Bridge passing old burial grounds and tiny churches. Social distancing was no problem on these lanes.
Glantowy Farm CL, Llanarthne near Carmarthen
I enjoyed the peaceful location & open aspect of this Caravan & Motorhome Club Certified Location. It has 2 toilets, 1 shower & sinks and the shower is good and hot. There is room for 6 units and 1 shepherd’s hut. There is a pub nearby in the village with limited opening.
Park Farm Holiday Park, Manorbier
This grassy site is on a hill and the pitches are not marked out, not huge & some are sloped. The showers are in individual bathrooms with separate toilets. The water in the showers is just warm, the wash up outdoors & there is a long walk to the laundry. The reception is very friendly.
Rhosson Ganol Caravan Park, St David’s
We never met a member of staff on this grassy campsite and that felt strange and impersonal. Our pitch wasn’t overly spacious but had sea views & was fairly level. The shower block is modern but suffered from just warm water temperature that wasn’t adjustable & insufficient hooks. The sanitary block is also quite a long walk from the pitches down a track that became muddy after the rain!
Woodlands Caravan Park, Devil’s Bridge, near Aberystwyth
This campsite is part of the ACSI card scheme & if you have this is exceptional good value out of season. We had a large hard-standing pitch on this peaceful woodland site that is dotted with quirky sculptures. The facilities are modern & clean & the showers are roomy, although the water was only just warm.
For many years we would drive down the ramp from the Hull to Zeebrugge ferry first thing in the morning, full of a buffet breakfast we were determined to get our money’s worth from and too busy concentrating on driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and not getting lost in the Belgian road system to pay too much attention to the country we were driving through. We were usually heading for France or Germany or maybe somewhere further, keen to cover some kilometres south and our feet would rarely hit Belgian soil. It was clearly time to change this and a few years ago, returning from the wonderful Écrins National Park in France, we spent a week exploring southern Belgium, the French speaking part of the country otherwise known as Wallonia.
It turned out that there was much more to Belgium than motorways and we found quiet roads that wound alongside lazy rivers, through woodland and between charming villages. We also found good cafes and restaurants and, of course, excellent beer.
Below are some ideas for fun and interesting things to do, places to visit and discover and delicious things to eat on your own tour of Belgium. The list of campsites we stayed at are at the bottom, as usual and I have added an imperfect map there too.
Orval Abbey and beer
We quickly settled into a gentle pace on the rural lanes of southern Belgium, admiring tidy village after tidy village, enjoying the varied woodland and spotting pretty cottages with neatly stacked log piles. We were heading for Orval Abbey near the French border; a popular visitor attraction and an immaculate combination of a modern and a ruined abbey set in beautiful gardens. There have been monks here since the 11th century but after the French revolution the abbey buildings were destroyed and it took over a hundred years before the funds to build a new abbey were secured.
The abbey is open all year and visitors can explore the ruins, the museum and see across the neat gardens to the new abbey that is free of visitors and tranquil.
Belgium’s beer is rightly internationally known and there are six abbey-based Trappist breweries, of which Orval is one. We visited the small museum about the brewery and read about the legend of the abbey’s name. It is said that a visitor to the abbey lost her wedding ring in the spring and while she sat weeping a trout popped up from the water with the lost ring. She apparently exclaimed this was the Val d’Or (golden valley) and this became Orval and the beer’s logo still shows the trout clasping a ring. Keen to try some of Belgium’s hundreds of beers we left the abbey shop with samples of this and the local cheese.
After a night on the banks of the pretty River Semois we followed the valley to Bouillon. This lovely riverside town has plenty of interesting shops, including an excellent ice-cream shop, and is dominated by a dramatically situated castle. We climbed the steep hill to the fortified castle, crossing an astonishing three drawbridges to reach the interior. Inside there is a 16th century tower which gives breathtaking views of the town and the river below that bends around the castle and ramparts. The castle is full of tunnels, walkways and rooms chipped out of the rock it sits on, making full use of the natural features. Most exciting for me was the 90-metre long tunnel under the courtyard, used for getting messages safely across the castle in a siege.
Bouillon Castle is open most of the year and if you don’t want to walk up the hill, there is parking nearer to the castle entrance.
Small Quirky Things
Belgian’s seem to have an eye for the decorative and interesting and as you tour around the country it is worth looking out for the cute, bizarre and downright strange. This might be a wall display of vintage watering cans; a decorative window grille of a pipe-smoking cowhand with milk churns followed by a bull; a large arrangement of garden gnomes; ornamental china hens on a doorstep or a somewhat alarming life-size female figure that sat knitting at a garden table in one Belgian village!
I would also recommend you try at least one cafe in a small village. These are often quiet during the day and bustling in the evening. They are usually cosy, welcoming, sometimes entertaining and will serve excellent coffee and / or Belgian beer.
Bertrix and Herbeumont
It was a damp day when we cycled from our campsite near Bertrix along wooded lanes to the River Semois. In the delightful hamlet of Cugnon we stopped to see the Pont de Claie, an undulating wooden bridge on trestle table legs that is considered picturesque but resembles a rickety puzzle that would be a health and safety nightmare.
We continued on our bikes to Herbeumont and climbed up to the castle and looked down from the walls over the winding Semois below. The ruins are free to visit and we had them to ourselves and spent some time clambering around. After warming up over hot chocolate in the deserted village cafe where we were joined by the owner’s cat, we picked up the old railway line to cycle back to Bertrix, trying but failing to beat an approaching storm. We sheltered in a long dark tunnel for a while but eventually had to brave the shower.
It was our wedding anniversary while we were here and later, in better weather, we walked the two kilometres into the town of Bertrix. On the way, we were delighted to spot a hare cautiously watching us from a field, its ears standing proud of the grass. We ate at what claimed to be the best pizzeria in Luxembourg Province and made a small impact on their list of Belgian beers.
Redu, the book village
Visiting bookshops in Belgium might seem dumb, as we are not fluent in French or Flemish but some of the many book shops in Redu have English books and we came away with a couple of new things to read. Yet another tidy Belgian village, Redu, the book village was sleepy when we visited during the week. The village is twinned with Hay-on-Wye in England that is known for its literary festival.
Museum of Country Life at Fourneau Saint-Michel
It wasn’t just the sunshine that made this outdoor museum of rural Walloon life so delightful, with over 60 historic and traditional buildings arranged along a beautiful valley, walking through the museum is like strolling between traditional hamlets, meadows and woodland. Each of the buildings, that have been moved brick-by-brick or re-created in the museum, was more amazing than the last. I liked the picturesque cottages, the bakery, the workshops full of old tools and the attractive white-washed church and the school. Care has been taken with the buildings and each is furnished with everything you would expect to find there to take visitors back in time.
If you only do one thing in rural Belgium, then do this, it is as good as visiting a dozen pretty villages. The museum is popular but there is so much space and everyone spreads out.
Parc des Topiaires, Durbuy
The Parc des Topiaires in Durbuy on the meandering Ourthe valley is an attraction that shouts quirky. The park is home to an amusing and astounding display of topiary figures. There are animals, including a life-size elephant, a row of ducks and horses jumping over fences and a larger-than-life woman waving, kayakers and so much more. When you have finished giggling your way around the park or been inspired to go home and try your hand at sculpting the hedge, the small and pretty town of Durbuy has cobbled streets full of places for visitors to eat and shop.
The city of Verviers in the Liège Province celebrates water, acknowledging its once thriving wool and textile industry. These industries relied on water and were wiped out by international competition. Walking between 18 of Verviers fountains on a quiet Sunday morning, we learnt the story of the town and its industries. Between the fountains we admired many of the city’s grand and ornate buildings.
Verviers is also home to the Tarte au Riz, a rich and creamy rice pudding in a pastry case that is deliciously sweet. You can buy slices of this in local boulangeries.
Hautes Fagnes-Eifel Nature Park
A world away from the woodland, villages and towns of southern Belgium, this elevated plateau of protected moorland is close to the German border above Verviers. We parked at Baraque Michel and found a useful map on an information board that showed the waymarked walks we could follow, as access is restricted in this nature park. From the tiny chapel the gravel paths and wooden walkways meander through a landscape of low trees, small pools, bilberry bushes and cotton grass. On a wet day this could be a moody and misty place but we enjoyed fine spring weather. The skies are big here and the views wide and open, changing as the path twists and turns around features. This is a landscape that slows you down and I was soon happily bending down at one of the ponds, watching water boatmen on the water.
On this high moorland is Signal de Botrange and at 694 metres above sea level this is Belgium’s highest point. The resourceful Belgians decided they wanted to get just that bit higher and built a six-metre-high stone staircase to a platform so that visitors can stand at 700 metres and for a moment be the highest person in Belgium!
Famous for its mineral springs and grand prix circuit, in the elegant and charming town of Spa we sampled yet another Belgian beer opposite the Vespa rental shop. The staff in this smart outlet were washing half-a-dozen sparkling red scooters and they gleamed in the sunshine. After our beers we wandered among the stylish shopping streets, eventually reaching The Parc de Sept Heures. After sauntering around the structures and monuments in the park without any aim we sat eating finger-licking takeaway frites from a stall while watching a pétanque tournament that was clearly more serious than any game.
We merely wandered around Spa for an afternoon but you can make more of your trip here and learn about the history of the area, visiting museums that celebrate varied subjects including laundry, the town and horses.
Beer and cubes of cheese with celery salt
I adore Belgian beer, although please stop me if I ever try and drink more than two bottles as they tend to be strong! The first time we were handed a small plate of cubes of semi-soft cheese and a tub of celery salt with our beer we were perplexed. However, once we got used to it, this accompaniment made perfect sense. At Orval they produced both beer and cheese and these are two foods associated with local producers that were once the staple of workers. In Germany and Austria we have sat in Alpine farms with a beer and some delicious homemade bread and cheese and the ploughman’s lunch is a staple of British pubs. Perhaps Belgium’s cubes of cheese are just their version of these traditions and the cheese and celery salt also make you thirsty so you will drink more beer!
A grassy flat site by the river with well-draining ground, despite some heavy rain before we arrived. They used a complicated pre-pay system for showers when we visited but had good, hot showers. Lovely small town nearby.
After heavy rain the grass was too wet for our campervan but we were able to park at the end of a site road. The site has lots of trees & views to fields. The facilities block was clean with under-floor heating & hot water. The site has a small bar too.
We received a friendly welcome at this popular campsite that is about 1.5km from the town. It has a few hard-standing pitches & grass & hedges between pitches. The facilities were clean & the showers hot.
Visiting the capital of Wales couldn’t be easier in a campervan, motorhome or caravan as there is a campsite within the city boundaries that is near the centre. On our recent visit to Cardiff, we were able to stay in this central campsite for two nights and then, due to a festival at Cardiff Bay, we moved to a Caravan and Motorhome Club [CAMC] Certified Location (CL) on the edge of the city. How did these compare?
Cardiff Caravan and Camping Park
For easy access to the city centre, this campsite can’t be beaten. Surrounded by trees you might think you are in the countryside but leave the site and within about 20 minutes of gentle walking you are in the heart of Cardiff. Here there is no shortage of things to do including visiting Cardiff Castle, taking a boat trip around Cardiff Bay and mooching through the amazing National Museum. There are also plenty of shops and a wide choice of places to eat. Walk in the other direction from the campsite, away from the river and across Cathedral Road, and you are in the Pontcanna and Canton areas of Cardiff where there are plenty of trendy cafes and bars and Chapter Arts Centre for delicious food, cinema and cultural events. At £30 a night with electric hook up [rising to £40 on bank holidays and special event days], this isn’t the cheapest night on a campsite you will ever have but it does give you that city centre location. So far so good.
Unfortunately, despite the high cost, the campsite is in need of some renovation. Generally, the site has a tired and shabby air about it, not all of which you could put down to the end of season fatigue. The two facilities blocks are functional but are in desperate need of a refurbishment to bring them near visitor’s expectations for the price. On our visit, only one block had hot water and a musty smell lingered in both areas. I know that times are hard but I hope they plan to upgrade these facilities in the not too distant future.
Located on the campsite is Pedal Power where you can hire various types of bicycles.
The site was full when we visited in mid-week September, so early booking is recommended. You can find more information and how to book the campsite here.
South Lodge CL, St Nicholas west of Cardiff
This Caravan and Motorhome Club Certified Location for five units is in a rural setting with views over the countryside towards Cardiff. Despite its rural location it is close to the A48 and a junction with the M4. This means it is easy to access but also that there is some traffic noise [in fact more than in the city centre campsite]. It is also just a 15 minute walk, along the A48, from a large supermarket and retail park and on the way you pass an Indian restaurant.
Just five minutes walk away from this site on the A48 you can pick up a half hourly bus into Cardiff city centre, making this perhaps a cheaper and more restful option for seeing Cardiff, if the traffic rumble doesn’t bother you.
Away from the main road the lanes and footpaths around the River Ely valley are quiet. We walked to the fascinating St Fagan’s National Museum of History from here [about an hour’s walk]. Since 1948 different buildings from across Wales have been carefully taken down and re-erected in the parkland here, including a farm, a school, shops and cottages. Other campers went out for their morning run around these undulating lanes and they would make pleasant cycling too.
If you are a Gavin and Stacey fan then the nearby St Peter’s Church in Peterston-super-Ely was the location for Neil the baby’s christening and Dave and Nessa’s non-wedding.
The CL has no facilities except level hard standing pitches, water and waste disposal but is only £14 a night [rising to £15 a night in 2022].
Both campsites are open all year, so what are you waiting for? Cardiff is a lively and attractive city to visit any time of year.