Do you all come from Devon?

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The ruined St Mary’s Church in Colston Bassett in Nottinghamshire

With nine Devon Conversions ‘vans grouped together on the campsite near Nottingham it wasn’t unreasonable for a perplexed fellow camper to ask, ‘do you all come from Devon?’

We had gathered for the spring Devon Owner’s Group rally and once again had lots of laughs, met old friends and made some new ones, learnt plenty of useful tips and came away with new ideas for places to visit.

We were camped near the village of Cotgrave near Nottingham and Mr BOTRA and I caught a taxi to the pretty village of Colston Bassett with a plan to buy some delicious and creamy Blue Stilton cheese from the dairy there and then follow the lanes and the old canal back to the campsite (approximately 13 kms).

The taxi driver was a chatty character and told us he had been 20-years a miner at the Cotgrave pit before it closed and came from a family of ten generations of mineworkers.  This took me back to the 1980s when we lived in the East Midlands and were surrounded by the hardship of the mineworkers and their families as they endured the long strike.

Colston Bassett, as well as having a dairy that makes fantastic creamy and tangy Stilton, also has an atmospheric ruined church on the edge of the village that was worth exploring.  All the villages around here had charming names and we found a second cheese shop in Cropwell Bishop and opted to buy their tasty Beauvale soft blue cheese.

The Grantham Canal is no longer navigable and is now mostly a greenway of shrubs and plants and proved to be a haven for wildlife and we enjoyed watching a Willow Warbler flitting among the long grasses.  As the canal reaches Cotgrave we walked through the lovely country park, landscaped on some of the land that was the mine.

The weather forecast had been for showers and so we had packed the waterproofs but we never needed them and we felt lucky as the day stayed warm and pleasant day for walking.

 

… and one week later it is warm enough for shorts

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Last weekend we had the heating on, fleeces and hats during the daytime and were wrapped up at night in pyjamas, silk sleeping bag liners, duvets and blankets.  One week later, here we are at last in shorts and able to sit outside the ‘van.  We have moved from Please make it warmer! to putting the thermals and thick socks to the back of the drawer in just a few days.

As we set off walking in the rolling Shropshire countryside Mr BOTRA and I both felt lighter and we were.  We were carrying just the camera and binoculars, no need for waterproofs and those extra layers.  In the ‘van making the beds was easier and now we could eat outdoors, there were no crumbs in the van after eating.

We had a glorious weekend near Shrewsbury; walking up and around Lyth Hill, where we were congratulating ourselves for our excellent navigation skills and Shropshire Council for their excellent signage and then [you guessed it] we got lost.  We found our way back to our route and then got lost again due to poor signage through a farmyard [we suspect the farmer was trying to deter walkers and had removed the helpful yellow arrows].

On the Sunday we visited the beautiful ruin of Haughmond Abbey, a tranquil and scenic spot and then moved on to Hawkstone Park Follies.  If you have never been to this fantastical wonderland of grottos, narrow bridges, tall monuments and stunning woodland, all set on a sandstone ridge, then you should try and get here soon.  I last visited in the late 1970s, when it was neglected and over-grown and not operated as a visitor attraction at all.  Then we felt like we were the first people to discover it as we fought our way through rhododendron bushes and along narrow paths.  Today, the paths are well marked and with your entrance fee to see the 200-year old park you get a map.  Despite this taming of the landscape, the walks are both fun and demanding and there are still uneven paths, steep steps and dark caves and gullies to explore.  We particularly liked ‘The Cleft’, a rocky gash in the hillside that is dark, damp and mossy and the rain water has eroded circular patterns in the sandstone.

It was cheering to see so many people having so much fun in the outdoors.  What a difference the sun makes!

 

I used to be a gardener

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We used to have a garden

I was planting geraniums in our window boxes yesterday and thinking about gardening.

Before we downsized to a small flat in the city, we lived in a semi-detached house and had a reasonably large garden.  The garden had apple trees, a beautiful silver birch and a rowan tree, a pond that was always full of frogs and a pretty wooden greenhouse.  The garden had been neglected when we bought the house and in the 20+ years we were there we tended it and made it a very special place.

I did get a lot of pleasure from the garden.  We had good soil and the garden faced south and was sheltered and warm.  In the summer the garden buzzed with bees, butterflies flitted through and we had plenty of birds visiting the bird table and bird bath and nesting.

However, the garden took up lots of my and Mr BOTRA’s time.  Looking after the garden competed with our desire to be away in the ‘van as much as possible.  The garden needed regular tending, particularly in the spring and summer when we most wanted to be away … so the time to move on had arrived.

Now, we live in the city and have a couple of pots by our front door and some window boxes.  We chose our flat because it is in a development that was built in a time when land was cheaper and benefit from having large sheltered central gardens that the management company employ gardeners to maintain.

Sometimes friends ask if I miss having a garden.  But why would I when I now have a garden that someone else cares for and the great outdoors to enjoy in the ‘van.  Camping in the ‘van provides opportunities for the fresh air and tranquillity we crave and takes us to natural surroundings.  The beauty of natural landscapes is that they can be different every day, we can choose coastline or mountains, moorland or woodland and we don’t have to spend time maintaining it.

Owning a flat and campervan work well together for us, helping us to be both financial independent and happy.

 

Lucky litter pick

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Mr BOTRA and I can’t help ourselves.  Whenever we are out walking in the beautiful British countryside, if we spot any litter we have to pick it up and stuff it in the outside pocket of the rucksack.  We just like to leave places looking better than when we arrived.

On a recent walk / litter pick, along with the usual cans and bottles, McDonalds packaging and plastic, we found a £5 note!  We felt doubly blessed as litter picking always makes us feel good anyway.

I don’t just litter pick in the countryside.  Although here in Salford the Council provide some street cleaning, this doesn’t in anyway keep up with the amount of litter on the streets.  On my journey to and from work I often arrive with an armful of rubbish, mostly sweet wrappers and plastic bottles and I always pick up glass bottles as these are so lethal when they break, particularly for the tyres of bicycles.  This doesn’t really take up any of my time but helps to keep our environment looking just that little bit better.

Another good find on a litter picking sessions some time ago was a fluffy [after it had been washed] chocolate brown hand towel that we still use in our bathroom.  This probably was less litter and more lost but after seeing it for a few days it was morphing in to litter and I could only assume the original owner had no idea where they had lost it.

I would really like to live in a world where this litter picking wasn’t necessary but until then I carry on in the hope that for all those people who see me and think I am one crazy woman, just one or two will spot me and next time think twice about throwing litter down … until then I never know what I might find.

 

Taking our Devon Conversion van to Devon

The Devon coast near Hartland Quay
The Devon coast near Hartland Quay

Well … now we are wondering why did we wait so long to get to Devon?

Despite its name, Devon Conversions are based in County Durham in the north of England, a long way from the south-west.  We often meet people in other countries who smile and tell us how much they have enjoyed holidays in the beautiful county of Devon in South West England and we have to apologise for never having been there, until now.

We spent a few days exploring Somerset and North Devon and found some stunning coastlines and picturesque villages.  We particularly enjoyed the Hartland Peninsular which was perfect for us.  The spectacular rocky coastal scenery provided great walking country, Clovelly took us back in time and the clotted cream ice-cream was excellent.  The sunshine in the photograph hides the stiff breeze that kept the temperatures down but in the sheltered corners it was warm enough to walk without a fleece jacket.

Devon is well known for its narrow lanes with tall hedges and I certainly held my breath plenty of times as we met oncoming traffic as we toured around what count for main roads in this part of the country.  We are very familiar with single track roads in Scotland but this was different; in Scotland you generally have an open view over the moorland and the passing places are always regular and marked.  Breathing in on the narrow sections didn’t help one bit for the ‘van to squeeze through the narrow gaps but it was something I just couldn’t help doing.

Since we have been home I’ve been telling everyone how stunningly beautiful north Devon is but then lots of people already know this, it is just the two of us that have taken so long to discover one of the delights of our little country.

 

Our Devon Tempest

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I constantly pinch myself, unable to believe that it is really true … do we really own our very own campervan?  Owning a campervan was my dream from the age of 13 until I was 45 years old, when we bought our first ever ‘van and the joy of being part of the campervan community still hasn’t diminished and I hope it never will.

We have owned our Devon Tempest on a medium wheelbase Renault Master for just over twelve months now and driven over 9,000 miles.  This is our second Devon conversion [and third ‘van] as for us Devon offer just what we need; good solid vans at a reasonable price and being a small converter they are able to include some modifications to the standard specification when buying from new.

Having owned firstly a short wheelbase Volkswagen and then a long wheelbase VW Devon Sundowner, at 5.5m long the Renault is as big as we want to go.  The extra length gave us a sofa, a [small] bathroom and means we no longer have to swivel the front seats to have somewhere comfy to sit.  Having lived for twelve months in our Sundowner we know we can live happily together in a small space and we enjoy having a ‘van that can [mostly] fit in a standard car park space.

We learnt a lot from owning our Sundowner and we specified the following modifications to our Tempest, which Devon Conversions were able to incorporate:

  • The ‘van has good lighting with spotlights and roof lights but we added a strip LED in the kitchen which has proved very useful for being able to see what we are cooking.
  • We have two 240v sockets in the kitchen [for kettle and hotplate] and two in the lounge [for charging phone, camera, laptop, tablet, MP3 player] both very useful when we are on hook-up and a 12v socket in the wine cupboard for when we are off grid [see below].
  • We have a re-fillable LPG canister which allows us to cook and heat the van and hot water when we don’t have a hook-up.
  • We don’t have a TV [we watch downloaded programmes on the laptop in the ‘van] but the TV cupboard makes a great wine cupboard with the addition of a couple of shelves that are great for jars and tins.
  • We didn’t want the open shelf for cups and plates and Devon were able to change this to a more useful cupboard.
  • We had shelves put in the wardrobe as these give more flexibility, provide more space and [being exceptionally scruffy] we never have a need to hang clothes up.

Modifications we have added ourselves:

  • Hooks for coats on the back wall and for jackets behind the driver’s seat
  • Hooks on the bathroom door for towels
  • Nets inside the ‘wardrobe’ door for the campsite log book and the ‘van quiz book

The Renault has not given us any bother [I can’t help touching wood as I type this] after the traumatic day when we collected the ‘van.  Because it had only travelled seven miles and all of these miles had been shunting around the factory and the dealer’s forecourt, we got a warning light relating to the diesel particulate filter within a mile or two of setting off.  We spoke to the Renault garage and then had to call roadside assistance out.  The RAC thought it was amusing that our ‘van was the lowest mileage they had ever had called in but as we waited by the M61 in the February gloom and rush-hour traffic looking at our gleaming van we just wanted to cry.  Fortunately, the story has a happy ending and once the RAC had arrived and revved the engine aggressively for some time the particles burnt off and all has been well since.

I can’t pretend that owning a campervan is a frugal choice but it is much more than that and does allow us to travel widely and cheaply.  How I tend to look at it is this; living in our urban flat and owning the ‘van go hand-in-hand and only make sense to us together and the cost of these two places we choose to live in is equivalent to the average house price in Greater Manchester.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A weekend of two seasons

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Tittesworth Reservoir from The Roaches

I am not complaining, last weekend was text book spring and April weather; one minute it was sunny, the next a shower flew across, obliterating the view and bringing the temperature down.

We were in north Staffordshire, near the Derbyshire / Cheshire border and walking in some of the loveliest countryside in England, over The Roaches.  if you’ve not been to this lovely area, then I highly recommend it.

In the sunshine, the climbers were out on the gritstone crags, those who prefer bouldering were spotted with their colourful crash-mats strapped to their backs, the dog walkers, young families and  photographers were all enjoying this beautiful natural playground.

On our first day we visited Ramshaw Rocks, on the quieter side of The Roaches, where you can find the Winking Man, an interesting face-shaped rock that protrudes from the crags and entertains children on the drive past on the A53, as if you watch carefully the eye appears to wink.  We parked in the lay-by and had a brew in the ‘van and set off in the fine weather without waterproofs (clearly a mistake in April).  As we reached the top the wind whipped up and a hail shower turned the ground white and my hands blue, the hills around us disappeared and I was back in winter.

The next day we walked along The Roaches ridge to Roach End and back behind the rocks.  This time we packed the waterproofs (having learnt our lesson the day before) and the sky was blue and the sun shone all day; this was definitely spring.  What I hadn’t taken with me on this walk was any money and so we had to walk past the ice cream van at Roach End without treating ourselves, so a frugal walk.

Spring sunshine in Scotland

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While storms blew in the south we travelled around Scotland in the sunshine, feeling blessed and happy with the world.

We travelled first to St Andrews, a charming stone built town with plenty to see and do, including a ruined castle and cathedral and two bays.  Our campsite overlooked East Sands, the smaller beach.  West Sands is near the famous golf course and is a wide stretch of sand where motorhome parking is possible overnight.

We travelled further north to the area around Nairn.  Here you can either explore the charming fishing villages along the coast or travel inland for the hills and we did both, although the weather was always better on the coast and we craved the blue sky and sunshine.  We were so taken with some of these small coastal villages we started to plan moving to this part of Scotland when we retire … we shall see.

We spent a night on the coast between Aberdeenshire and Peterhead at the Port Erroll Nightstop near Cruden Bay.  This harbour has space for five ‘vans, no hook up but there are toilets and asks for a donation of £10 a night.  The harbour is slightly removed from the village of Cruden Bay and the harbour is a peaceful and beautiful spot.  We were the only ‘van there on a sunny evening and we parked with the huge ‘van door facing the sea and watched oyster catchers and herring gulls as we sat with a brew.  Later there was a deep red sunset to watch while we ate.

From Port Erroll we walked along the coast to see the striking ruins of Slains Castle high on the cliffs and the dramatic collapsed cave and sea arch at the Bullers of Buchan.  Here the cliffs were alive with hundreds of pairs of kittiwakes, as well as fulmars, guillemotts and razorbills.  Both these sights have car parks that are suitable for motorhomes.

Our camping breakfasts

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Shared vegetarian breakfasts are a real treat

When we are camping in the ‘van it is breakfast that is my favourite meal of the day.  I particularly love breakfasts when the weather is fine enough to sit outside and I have been known to sit wrapped up in jackets and a hat just so that I can eat my breakfast outdoors and watch the campsite wake up around me.

I think I love eating breakfast on our camping trips because it heralds the start of another day with all sorts of possibilities and adventures spread out before me.  We often don’t know where the day will take us and what our view will be the next morning but for the first hour of the day my priority is sustenance while I excitedly anticipate another day on holiday.

When it is just the two of us we might toast crumpets and eat these with lashings of butter and marmalade, or warm up rolls to dribble honey over or fry soft potato cakes.  When we are on holiday in mainland Europe we will buy fresh local bread and savour this with blackcurrant jam and mugs of tea maybe accompanied by a bowl of creamy yoghurt.

When we are camping with friends our breakfasts become more elaborate and we will share the cooking, producing vegetarian sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, potato cakes, fresh bread and beans to create a feast that is the vegetarian English breakfast.  These breakfasts set me up for the day and are always co-operative and jolly times, our small camping table heaving under the weight of so many dishes.

I am sure you all have your favourite breakfast when you are camping; is muesli or a bacon butty your breakfast of preference?

 

 

Our annual expedition to Scotland

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The view from Ben Vrackie near Pitlochry

It is spring and Mr BOTRA and I find our thoughts turning to Scotland.

Most years since before many of you were born (1981 was our first joint trip) we have enjoyed a trip to Scotland at this time of year.  On these numerous trips we have stayed in tents, in luxurious castles and occasionally in damp, cold and decidedly scruffy houses.  Some years we have also visited Scotland in summer, autumn and / or winter but it is the spring holiday that has been consistent.

So for me Scotland is primarily a land of yellow gorse bushes, blossom on the trees, wood anemones flowering in birch woodland and patches of snow on the hills.  On these springtime trips we are always sure we will get weather, it is just hard to predict exactly what and we tend to pack for every season.  We have had days when we have worn shorts [although not too many of these] and days of heavy snowfall.  We have chipped ice off the tent and watched the rain scurry across a bay, followed by a rainbow.

We now mix and match with a wonderful combination of the campervan and staying with friends in a large house.  We get the perfect mixture of freedom to do our own thing and peace and quiet and time with old friends enjoying good food, excellent company and the chance to share a dram in a lovely Scottish country house.

Self-catering in a large house [there can be up to 17 of us] works out cheaper than self-catering as a couple and in Scotland no-cost camping in the ‘van is possible and this keeps the holiday within our annual holiday budget.