Touring the charming Southern Belgium (Wallonia) & The Ardennes in a Campervan

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.

Bouillon Castle

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.

Verviers

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!

Spa

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!

Campsite Name
Comments
Camping de Chenefleur, Tintigny A nicely laid out green site by the river with few hard-standing pitches.  The facilities are very clean and the showers are good & hot.  There is a quiet neat village nearby.
Ardennen Camping Bertrix, Bertrix A terraced site with pool, bar & restaurant & lots of permanent caravans.  The facilities are kept clean & the showers are good & hot.
Camping Eau Zone, Hotton 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.
Camping de l’Eau Rouge, Stavelot 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.
Camping Parc des Sources, Spa 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.

Two Cardiff Campsites Reviewed

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.

Things to do from Pennine View Park Campsite in Kirkby Stephen

An attractive Cumbrian market town with a campsite on its outskirts and beautiful scenery to walk through. Kirkby Stephen in the east of Cumbria and on the other side of the M6 from the Lake District has all this and more. Pennine View Park is a first-class campsite that is ideally situated for visiting the town and for a holiday where you explore the local area while your ‘van never leaves the site. In the evening, if you don’t want to cook in your ‘van, there is a choice of places to eat, including an Indian restaurant that is our number one choice.

Here are some ideas for things to do from Kirkby Stephen. I’ve not given step-by-step instructions for most of the walks so you will need a map.

1. Exploring Kirkby Stephen riverside and town – two or three hours

This is our first afternoon walk to settle into being in Kirkby Stephen again. If you don’t know your way around, this sketch map is a useful guide for the walk. Use the exit at the ‘bottom end’ of Pennine View Parkturn, left and you are already by the River Eden. This is a fascinating stretch of river, known as the ‘Devil’s Mustard Mill,’ a collapsed cave system with bowl-shaped pools and fast flowing runnels. Turn left on the road for a short stretch and then pick up the riverside footpath that has some stones with poems engraved on them, now faded but occasionally legible. Cross the river and take a trail hidden in the trees to the path towards Kirkby Stephen. You will pass a couple of attractive stone barns and eventually reach Frank’s Bridge. Stop and enjoy the views here or maybe paddle in the often shallow river underneath the 17th century bridge which was used to bring coffins from outlying villages into the town. Eventually you will climb the winding roads into Kirkby Stephen where there are cafes and pubs around the market square for refreshment. I like to step inside the red sandstone church to find the Loki Stone; an eighth century myth-laden stone tablet.  The stone is carved with an image of the Norse god of mischief, Loki, showing him bound in chains.  Found discarded in the churchyard, the heritage of the stone is unknown. You can retrace your steps to the campsite or walk through the town, either on the main road or turning off at the traffic lights onto the quieter road, taking a moment to admire the Temperance Hall on Victoria Square. Kirkby Stephen has plenty of pubs but this 19th century hall and a Temperance Hotel was there for those who had taken  ‘the pledge’.

2. Smardale Gill National Nature Reserve – circular walk of around 15km

With an impressive viaduct for the former railway line at its heart, this is a stunning reserve that is a delightful place in summer for wild flowers and butterflies. We took the footpaths by Kirkby Stephen’s cattle market and behind the school, popping out on the lane to Waitby. Turning left, you immediately cross a bridge over a closed railway line. Ignore this one and just a few metres further on you will be able to climb down to the path that follows the disused track that swings round to Smardale. This is level and easy walking. You pass the small car park and the hall and then walk underneath the Settle to Carlisle line that is still in use. You are now in the wooded valley with the beck below you. Crossing the viaduct the views open out and continuing along the railway track you come to a quarry and two huge old lime kilns. We left the railway line on a footpath to the left after a ruined house and descended the hillside to the pack horse bridge. Joining the popular Coast to Coast route walk over Smardale Fell, stopping to take in the wide open views. The path goes back under the railway line to a lane and across the fields to Kirkby Stephen.

3. Pendragon Castle – circular walk of around 12km

There is a legend that Pendragon Castle was built by Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur and that the Romans had a fort here. Archaeologists have found no evidence for this and, unfortunately, the castle is probably a 12th century Norman building. Today it is a romantic ruin that gives shelter to the sheep and is a peaceful spot for a picnic. We walked to Pendragon Castle from Pennine View Park, turning right from the ‘bottom end’ exit of the campsite and following part of ‘A Pennine Journey‘ long distance trail. This is the route that Alfred Wainwright followed in 1938 from Settle to Hadrian’s Wall. It should be an easy route to follow but we did manage to get lost! At regular intervals you will see the trains on the Settle to Carlisle line go by. After our picnic at the castle, we walked a short way down the road and at Southwaite picked up footpaths along the fellside to the village of Nateby, which has a pub if you need refreshments. From Nateby it is a short walk down the lane to the campsite.

4. Nine Standards Rigg – approx 16.5km circular walk

Nine stone cairns, some around three metres tall, give Nine Standards Rigg its name. Their origin is a mystery so you can make up your own stories but they have been standing sometime as they were marked on 18th century maps. The climb up the hill through the lovely village of Hartley is a classic Kirkby Stephen walk and well worth the effort to see the stones and the view across the Yorkshire Dales and the Pennines. You can follow these directions here.

5. Podgill and Merrygill Viaducts – two hours for a circular walk

From Pennine View Park you can pick up the section of old railway line over two impressive viaducts, Podgill and Merrygill. The downloadable map will help you find your way but start from the ‘bottom end’ exit from the campsite and turn left. From Stenkrith Park you can use the sketch map, crossing the Millennium Bridge to access the disused railway line. This track will take you over the two impressive viaducts to the village of Hartley. You can either retrace your steps to enjoy the views all over again or take the paths from Hartley to Kirkby Stephen and return through the town or by the river.

6. The Settle to Carlisle railway line

Kirkby Stephen’s railway station is less than a mile from Pennine View Park, which itself is situated in an old railway yard. You can catch a train on the Settle to Carlisle line just one stop to the north, to Appleby, an interesting Cumbrian market town also on the River Eden or you can go all the way to Carlisle to see its castle and visit the excellent Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery. Heading south you could take the train to Dent station that is high above the village of stone houses and cobbled streets. A walk of about 15km would take you to Dent village and back to the station. Alternatively you could alight at Ribblehead Viaduct to see this awesome piece of engineering and walk back to Dent Station, mostly following the line.

There are bus services from Kirkby Stephen too but nothing you can describe as daily! This will give you some ideas of the options.

I am pretty sure I haven’t covered everything you can do from Pennine View Park and Kirkby Stephen but I hope this gives you some ideas about the possibilities from this friendly and well-run campsite.

A Campervan Trip to Donegal in the Republic of Ireland

Travelling to Donegal in Ireland this year was wonderful. It was abroad and we could pay for things in Euros and travel in kilometres but everyone spoke English and we drove on the same side of the road. We explored this north-western corner of Ireland and it turned out to be fascinating, beautiful and remote enough to put off lots of other visitors.

Inishowen is the peninsula in the north of County Donegal and the city of Donegal is to the south of the county. With so many inlets and peninsulas Donegal has a long coastline of over 1,100km. Donegal has so much to offer with over 100 beaches, many of them spectacular; Ireland’s largest fishing port; Malin Head, mainland Ireland’s most northerly point; Glenveagh National Park and the impressive Slieve League cliffs. I don’t know why we thought a week was long enough! This is the west coast and the weather varied from blue skies to cold torrential rain.

The area gave a warm welcome to all visitors, including campervans and here are some of my highlights:

Malin Head on a sunny day was heavenly. We walked to Hell’s Hole, stopping regularly to look at the colourful wild flowers by the path. We met two other tourists; he was clambering to the cliff edge to pose for a photograph. I stood next to his partner, holding my breath as I watched him edge nearer to a sheer drop.  While I was relieved when he was back on more secure ground, his partner took the danger in her stride!

Doagh Beach and Trawbrega Bay with views across to Five Finger Strand, rocks to clamber over and sand dunes is the perfect spot for a bit of idle beach combing.

Doagh Famine Village museum should not be missed. In a street of thatched cottages we listened to stories about the life of our guide’s family, who lived here from the 19th century to the 1980s. This museum is personal, unequaled and extraordinary and I have no words to do it justice. Visit and hear the people’s histories.

The aire in Buncrana on Lough Swilly is next to a garden dedicated to the writer of the hymn Amazing Grace, John Newton.  A sailor and slave trader, Newton’s ship found safe haven in Buncrana after a terrible storm and he gratefully stepped ashore a changed man, becoming a clergyman, an abolitionist and a writer of many hymns.  We walked in his footsteps through the lively town and around its bay and harbour.  

We parked in the large car park for Glenveagh National Park that is at the end of Lough Veagh. There are walks and shuttle buses but we decided to hire bikes for the easy cycle ride by the shores of Lough Veagh to Glenveagh Castle, a castellated mansion with colourful gardens. Even on a busy day, we had the track beyond the castle to the end of Lough Veagh to ourselves.

The rocky and barren landscape of The Rosses, peppered with lakes and rivers is a special landscape that is well worth exploring. Stay at Sleepy Hollows, spot the pyramid of Errigal looming across this undulating landscape, read the Irish place names and visit Leo’s Tavern, the home of Clannad and Enya.

The cliffs of Slieve League fall steeply into the Atlantic. We drove on the narrow roads to the last car park before the gated road and walked the short distance up the hill to the viewpoint across to the dramatic cliffs.

I found the industrial scale of the fishing industry and the rows of colourful fishing boats in Killybegs fascinating. Killybegs is a lively working town and has some great cafes and places to eat and an interesting local museum.

We spent a week touring Donegal in June but could have spent longer. We stayed on campsites, one aire and a privately owned camperstop.

Campsite NameComments
Buncrana Aire, Republic of IrelandThis is a small car park by a road & garden.  It is limited to 7 vans but 9 packed in on the Friday night we were there. Just 5 minutes walk into the town & a petrol station with a shop nearby.
Sleepy Hollows campsite, nr CrollyA lovely small site with some good sized hard-standing pitches.  The facilities are quite open to the elements and consist of 2 showers with hot water but low water pressure, 3 toilets & a kitchen.  In summer they light a campfire.  This is a peaceful spot, although there is a pub a short walk away and there is a riverside walk from the site.  There may be midges.
Killybegs Holiday ParkA terraced site in an old quarry with all gravel terraces and little greenery.  The views over the sea are unrivaled.  No facilities were open, we had EHU and water on the pitch.  It was quiet in June and we had a whole terrace to ourselves!  It is a short but hilly walk into Killybegs where there are cafes and pubs.  There is a small private cove below the campsite.
Spierstown Camper Parking near DonegalA small hard-standing site for a few vans.  We received a friendly welcome and the bathroom, toilet and kitchen are kept very clean and, as we were the only van, it felt like home.  There is a washing machine too.  There is traffic noise from the main road but this is a great stopover site for visiting Donegal.

Touring Northern Ireland in a Campervan: Top Tips

It was fantastic to visit Northern Ireland and, for us, a new part of the UK. We spent two weeks touring around the country, from the stunning Antrim coast to the Mourne Mountains. We explored Derry and Belfast and were enchanted by the Fermanagh Lakeland. Two weeks was good but it isn’t really long enough to see everything in Northern Ireland; there were parts we didn’t reach and places we didn’t spend enough time in.

We sailed to Northern Ireland with P&O from Cairnryan to Larne. At £351 return for our campervan for a trip that is around 41 miles one way this has to be the most expensive mile-for-mile ferry crossing we have ever taken [about £4.28 a mile]! It is surprising the ferries are not subsidised by the Northern Ireland Government to encourage tourists in the way the Scottish Government have used the Road Equivalent Tariff. Once I got thinking about this I had to compare the costs. Uig to Tarbert on Harris is about 30 miles and would cost around £46 one way [£1.53 per mile] making it is easy to see why motorhomers make the choices they do. Our favourite way to reach mainland Europe, Hull to Zeebrugge, is also with P&O [they only sail to Rotterdam now]. That sailing is overnight and includes a cabin. It usually costs us about £250 on way for the approximately 320 mile trip. You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out that this is less than a £1 a mile [actually 78p]!

My first top tip is bite the bullet and cough up for the ferry as Northern Ireland is well worth visiting but take a picnic for onboard! The journey to Northern Ireland only takes two hours and on the ship there are places to sit inside and outside, although the amount of outside seating varies depending on which ship you are on and our return ship had much more. We made the mistake of deciding to eat lunch onboard on our outward journey. You might think the high cost of the ferry would subsidise the cost of the food but apparently not. There was little choice for two vegetarians and the two cheese toasties we had were an expensive snack.

Top Tips for a Campervan Trip in Northern Ireland

Height Barriers – There are more car parks with height barriers and so inaccessible for a high-top campervan along the Antrim coast than I really like to see. The most annoying for us was the large National Trust car park for Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. We did eventually find parking in nearby Ballintoy and when I spoke to the National Trust parking wardens at Carrick-a-Rede they said there is a telephone number at the entrance for you to ring and they will come and open the height barrier.

Wild camping – When we asked the knowledgeable people of Facebook quite a number of them suggested we were best not to wild camp in Northern Ireland and so we booked campsites. The popularity of wild camping is why there are so many height barriers on car parks along the Antrim coast but there are parking spots where people do overnight such as the lovely seaside village of Cushendun. In some popular walking areas farms have car parks where you can overnight. We spotted one good example of this in the Mourne Mountains near Carrick Little, it was a gorgeous peaceful place with mountain and sea views.

Campsites – These varied from the excellent Ballyness campsite to Kilbroney Park that we couldn’t wait to leave [see below for more details]. We travelled in June and most of the campsites were full [with the exception of the one in Belfast] and booking ahead was worthwhile.

School holidays – You can’t really call 2021 normal so this may not happen in other years. Although we were travelling outside of school holidays in England and Northern Ireland, the holidays in Ireland can start in June and by the end of our trip the campsites were busy with Irish families.

Commemoration of the Revolution of 1688 – Although the Orange Order walks and parades often pass without incident, some advised us to avoid the period around 11 and 12 July when there are bonfires and marching bands in the streets.

Places to visit – some highlights

There is more to the Antrim coast than Giant’s Causeway, although that is spectacular. Take the time to walk along some cliffs, visit a castle and stroll along one of the many beaches. The harbour at Ballycastle is pretty and the short but steep walk to Kinbane Castle is stunning.

Derry / Londonderry’s 17th century city walls are just 1.5 km long but they are packed with history and interest. We took the scenic train journey from Castlerock, rather than drive into the city.

Portstewart is a perfect seaside resort. It has a prom for strolling, a walk around a craggy headland, an interesting sculpture alongside a tiny harbour and, most importantly of all, Morelli’s that sells delicious Italian ice-cream.

Crom Estate near to Enniskillen was another memorable outing. This estate and nature reserve, owned by the National Trust, has a ruined castle, a quaint boat house and summer house and idyllic walks along the shores of Upper Lough Erne.

Our love of hiking was inevitably going to take us to the Mourne Mountains, south of Belfast. These hills have a comprehensive network of footpaths that are well used and it is worth getting to a car park early if you have a specific walk in mind. The highest peak is Slieve Donard at 853m but there are valley and hilltop walks for most abilities. You can download a walkers guide here.

The Crown Liquor Saloon in Belfast was another highlight of our trip. The bar is a unique masterpiece in pub architecture that has to be seen to be appreciated. I’m sure, like us, you will be amazed by the mirrors, tiles and carvings. It is worth booking one of the private snugs for the full experience.

Here is the list of campsites we stayed at in Northern Ireland.

Campsite nameComments
Cushendun Holiday Park, Northern IrelandThe site only had ten touring pitches, all hard-standing and in a small area with the rest of the site made up of statics.  The site is by the village & sea. Showers are £1 each and the site is popular with families.
Ballyness Caravan Park, BushmillsA lovely tidy site with pitches off-set and in small areas. Reception was friendly & helpful and the facilities were good and clean with roomy showers that were warm. The site had a large indoor wash up area.  We had good phone signals for EE & Three Mobile.
91 Bishops Road CL, CastlerockA hillside & grassy CL with some hard-standing and a friendly & helpful owner (he offered us a lift to Castlerock) & water by each pitch.  No facilities but fantastic sea views over Downhill Demesne [see top pic].  EE and Three both had a good 4G signal.
Riverside Farm Marina & Caravan Park, Enniskillen, Northern IrelandA small site by the river run by a friendly owner the site has a few statics.  The pitches are not huge and are mostly hard-standing with grass available in dry weather.  The three showers are £1 for 4 minutes and are good and hot. There is one indoor sink for wash up in a kitchen that also has a microwave.
Dungannon Park, DungannonIn a park on the edge of Dungannon, good sized hedged pitches with grass & hard-standing.  Clean facilities, hot showers and only one wash up sink.
Kilbroney Caravan Park, RostrevorBusy & popular site on a hillside with many sloping pitches and we struggled to get the van level.  The facilities are kept clean and the showers are warm but no adjustment for the temperature and push buttons.  There was a nighttime security person. We both had a good phone signal.
Tollymore Forest Park, NewcastlePleasantly situated site with space between pitches that are hard-standing and surrounded by grass.  There were lots of families here in the good weather and with no reception staff, just occasionally drive-by wardens it can have a wayward air, depending on your neighbours.  The facilities are very dated & scruffy but the showers were excellent, hot, adjustable and continuous. The campsite is in a woodland country park with lovely riverside walks that you can follow into Newcastle.
Dundonald Caravan Park, BelfastThis site was eerily quiet, only our campervan, one caravan and one tent were on this small site which has secure gates and security staff.  There is traffic noise but you are surrounded by trees and this is a great spot for catching a bus into Belfast.  The facilities are clean and roomy with hot showers & there is a kitchen.  The bus stop into Belfast is 10 mins walk away and there is a cinema nearby.

Are England’s Campsites Full?

In this almost-normal summer of 2021, most people are staying in the UK, ‘staycation’ has come to mean going on holiday in your own country and the media is packed with stories about overflowing car parks at beauty spots and there being no room at the inn. So if you haven’t booked a pitch for August, can you still find anywhere to park your campervan in England?

We returned from our Scotland and Ireland trip in July with nothing planned for the months ahead. Reading the media reports about the burden on our tourism infrastructure, even with few tourists arriving from other countries, I became concerned. It also seemed as if everyone had taken up camping and pop-up sites were appearing to take the strain. Had we made a massive mistake by not booking anywhere for July and August months ago? In this mayhem what were the chances of finding a free pitch anywhere within 200 miles of home. I had nightmares about being confined to Morecambe again, not because of Lock Down Four this time but because of my own lack of organisation.

I should have remembered that you can’t believe everything you read or hear in the media!

What I find strange in this new Covid-19 world, where social distancing has become socially acceptable, is that the small campsites for five units that come under the umbrella of the Caravan and Motorhome Club, the mysteriously named Certificated Locations [CLs], are not full to bulging. I thought, being small and usually in the countryside, these sites would be many people’s first choice. Of course, they have their fans but during July we have stayed on a couple of these and both were booked just a few days before we set off and both had availability.

Even though the school holidays had arrived, we had three nights at a lovely CL, Pool Bank, near Otley in the hot weather [top photograph]. The site was full but that wasn’t surprising given the exceptional sunny weather.

Buoyed by this success and keen to have a few days of hill walking I rang a favourite CL in the Lake District, Upper Hawthwaite Farm [middle picture]. I tentatively asked if they had a couple of nights free over the next two weeks. We could be flexible and were willing to consider any dates. I had taken in all the media reports about the Lake District being over-crowded this summer and was surprised when I was told they had space on any night. We not only got a pitch last minute, when we arrived there were still two pitches free!

CLs do take a bit of an effort to book. You often need to ring to book, pay in cash when you arrive and many have no facilities. I welcome the website and app that is now offering online booking for a selection of CLs. This is the future and I hope that this will eventually include most of them and make booking easier. But for 2021, booking a CL can take a bit more time but they are certainly worth the effort.

There are rumours that there have been more no-shows at campsites this year and reports that some people have double booked campsites, deciding at the last minute which to go to. This seems a lot of effort to me, it’s time consuming enough deciding on one site, never mind two! Talking to one campsite owner for a September booking, they explained they weren’t taking deposits but asked that I ring and let them know if we were unable to come along. I replied, ‘Of course, I would always do that.’ She then explained that just that weekend [one of the hot ones] they had four units who were booked and had not turned up. They were upset as, due to the good weather, they could have filled those pitches many times over and had turned people away. Is this why we are seeing free pitches at campsites?

After my success with CLs, I then booked a couple of nights on The Larches, an adult-only campsite in the north Lakes. This isn’t the cheapest campsite but it is a well-run and friendly site that was ideally placed for a couple of hills we wanted to walk up. Amazingly they had space for us even though they are limiting numbers due to Covid-19. This year they are giving every unit a treat with their own private shower room in the facilities block.

I don’t know if adult-only sites are more or less popular in the school holidays. We only look for them at this time of year and I expected to struggle to find availability but have been pleasantly surprised. It seems only fair to me that we stay out of the way of families who can only take their holidays when the schools are out and not compete with them for pitches on sites that welcome children. This is a bit like the rule that states you shouldn’t go shopping in the supermarket during lunchtime when you are no longer working! Or is it just me that thinks it is only fair to give those workers who are dashing to the supermarket in their short lunch break a bit of space?

Our final night in the Lake District was a free overnight spot. Again, with so many people out and about in their campervans we wondered if we would find a space. As you can guess we had no problems.

After now booking another campsite for mid-August I am thinking that the claims that England’s campsites are full doesn’t seem to stack up in the north of England. I wonder if it is different at the seaside or in the south of England.

Scotland: 5 Overnight Spots & 5 CAMC, 3 C&CC &amp & 3 Independent Campsites

Okay, this isn’t my snappiest blog post title:) I just hope it does what it says on the tin. If you’re looking for some short and honest reviews of some of Scotland’s campsites and ideas for places to pull in for the night. We planned our three week tour around Scotland with some blind optimism early in the year, not knowing if we would even be able to travel beyond Lancashire and as far as Scotland at the time. This is mostly why we used five Caravan and Motorhome Club [CAMC] sites [online booking, no deposit and able to amend bookings, thank you].

In comparison the Camping & Caravanning Club [C&CC] require either full payment or deposit so we didn’t book Moffat and Glenmore C&CC sites quite so early. We booked these in advance when travel looked more certain, aware that we might be risking our deposit. We didn’t book Glencoe C&CC site until the day before we arrived and while we were on the road.

Apart from the location and the view, CAMC sites are generally of a similar standard. The C&CC sites do vary more. We are members of both clubs and do like to use their sites, but I do also like the unpredictable nature and therefore excitement of arriving at an independent site, not knowing what to expect. And a good overnight spot in a small car park or lay-by that we have to ourselves can be the most relaxing night of all.

Of the non-club sites we stayed on during this trip, Spey Bay Golf Club is worth a mention. A golf club and a campsite isn’t something I had come across before but it worked extremely well. The clean toilets and showers were shared with the golfers who were mostly out on the greens playing golf so they were always quiet. Quite a few pitches were taken up with seasonal caravans so it could be that the site gets busier at the weekends and school holidays. A laundry and wash up area was all that was missing in terms of facilities. A few keen golfers arrived quite early in the morning so be warned you might not get the lie in you wanted if you are near to the car park and in the summer a few play late into the evening. If there was an event being held in the club house you might have a disturbed evening too.

Spey Bay is on the mouth of the River Spey and has sea views and a stunning and dynamic shingle beach that is perfect for a bit of beach combing. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society Dolphin Centre is here too, they have a gift shop, organise tours of the large historic ice houses left over from the salmon fishing station and run a fantastic cafe with delicious cakes. Otherwise, there are no shops, pubs or restaurants and it is a peaceful spot.

We chose the campsite as we have a friend who lives in Fochabers, a charming small town which is an easy four plus miles walk through woodland along the Speyside Way. The beautifully restored Gordon Castle Walled Garden in Fochabers is certainly worth a visit if you are in the area for the fascinating flower, vegetable and fruit gardens and has a good cafe. If you don’t have friends to visit then there are plenty of other activities. Walk about five miles to the east along the coast and you get to the small fishing town of Buckie. You can pick up a bus to Fochabers from here and make a round trip of it. The National Cycle Route One crosses the viaduct near Spey Bay over the River Spey to Garmouth and you could follow this to Elgin and visit the ruined cathedral.

One small note with these comments – I like very hot showers! My partner usually finds the showers hot enough.

Campsite nameComments
Moffat Caravan & Camping Club (C&CC) siteA large & level site, 5 minutes walk from the lovely Moffat town centre & my favourite Cafe Ariete.  Friendly staff, clean modern facilities, showers push button & just about hot enough for me, wash up outdoors with a roof.  We both had a phone signal.  Good value at under £20/night. There are options for walks around Moffat and at the weekends we could buy wood-fired pizza from a stall at the gate.
Maragowan CAMC, KillinA linear site along the river with open views to the hills and a short walk from the centre of Killin.  There is some road noise but if you can get one of the riverside pitches you’ll love it.  We spent hours watching the wildlife on the river from our pitch. The facilities are old but functional & the showers are hot. In spring the signposted walk by Loch Tay and the River Dochart to the falls is idyllic and there is good mountain walking nearby.
Victoria Bridge near Bridge of OrchyThis is a small car park with a slope that is popular with vans and tents for overnighting but still peaceful.
Glencoe C&CC siteA large site with a mix of open views & trees, hard standing pitches are a good size & level.  The water from the taps in the laundry & wash up is scalding hot but only warm in the showers. We only spent one night here but there are walking and cycling options if you are here longer.
Morvich CAMC site, Glen ShielWe received a particularly friendly welcome at this pleasant site surrounded by mountains.  We were very surprised to get a phone signal for EE and 3 in such a remote spot.  Good hot showers, peaceful and great mountain and forest walking directly from the site.
Blackwater Falls car park near GarveFairly level car park with toilets.  After heavy rain we couldn’t hear the main road above the roar of the waterfall.  There is a 2 mile riverside walk, a phone signal and most likely other vans.
Broomfield Holiday Park, UllapoolThis large site has unbeatable loch views and is in the heart of Ullapool.  The facilities are not brilliant but were closed due to Covid-19 on this visit.  We managed to get a front pitch but needed 2 electric cables joined together for the hook up. We drove out for hill walking but in the evening walked to The Ceilidh Place for a wonderful and delicious meal.
Sands Caravan & Camping Site, GairlochA large rambling and popular site by a lovely beach and among the sand dunes with only a few marked pitches. EHU pitches are scattered about although some of the best pitches don’t have hook up. The facilities are clean & good with hot showers.  No 3 or EE signal.
Kinlochewe CAMC siteFantastic mountain views from many of the pitches which are all level and hard standing.  We had an EE signal but nothing from 3 and the wi-fi is still only available from around the wash up / laundry area – it would be good if the CAMC could upgrade this sometime soon.  Great walking directly from the site and the village has a shop and hotel.
A832 layby on Loch a’ChuillinnThere are a few lay-bys on this road that are screened from the traffic. The one we used was level and had a loch view. Two other vans joined us when we were there and we had a 3 and EE signal.
Spey Bay Golf Club campsiteA small level site by the club house and car park.  Clean facilities with good hot showers, no wash up or laundry.  Both 3 and EE had a signal.  Good walking along the coast and the River Spey.
Dalchum Bridge car park, Glen Road, NewtonmoreA fairly level car park with open views down the glen that is popular with vans and tents. An overnight here meant we could be sure of a parking place to walk up the hill the next morning.
Glenmore C&CC (Camping in the Forest), AviemoreA busy and large site with two facilities blocks.  There are grass and hard standing pitches of varying sizes and pitches come with and without EHU.  The showers are hot & push button. You can walk around the lake or in Rothiemurchus Forest and up mountains. There are buses towards Aviemore.
Strathclyde Country Park CAMC site, GlasgowThis is a well kept and tidy site with colourful trees and bushes.  Its only drawback is being so close to the M74 and a dual carriageway and so the traffic noise is constant.  We did take a walk in the country park but that is also noisy. It did make a comfortable and good stopover.
New England Bay CAMC site, Port LoganRight by the beach and with sea views, this is a grassy site that is strung out with bushes and trees dividing different areas.  There are two facilities blocks of the usual standard.  An EE signal here but nothing from 3 (again).  Good coastal walking from the site and the Logan Botanic Gardens are well worth a visit.
Kirroughtree Forest Park Visitor Centre, Newton Stewart, ScotlandA slightly sloping large car park surrounded by trees but with some views to the hills.  The payment of £6 can only be made in cash when the visitor centre is closed. There are forest trails to stretch your legs on or cycle along and no shortage of midges when we visited.

A Collection of Caravan & Motorhome Club Campsites in Central England (plus a few others)

As soon as campsites opened again we were off, touring around central England, getting as far south as Cambridge, as far east as the banks of the River Humber and mooching around the edges of Greater Manchester and the Peak District hills. I had booked some of these pitches back in January when we didn’t know the date we would be able to travel again and the Caravan and Motorhome Club (CAMC) offers the easiest and most flexible booking system, with no deposit and the ability to amend bookings online. From the 12 April until mid-May toilet blocks were open but not the showers on CAMC sites. Here is where we stayed, what we thought of each site and some ideas for activities.

Campsite nameComments
Burrs Country Park CAMC site, BuryWe like the open aspect of this site and it has both rural walks from the country park and is a 30 minute walk into Bury giving access to Greater Manchester’s tram network. Bury’s market is legendary in the north-west of England and worth visiting. We cycled along the canal from Bury to Radcliffe and were amazed how quickly we left the urban sprawl and found quiet corners. From Radcliffe we picked up the old railway line to Clifton which was effortless and enjoyable cycling.
Crowden Camping & Caravanning Club siteThis grassy site with some sloping pitches is just off the busy Woodhead Pass road and so there is some road noise.  Neither EE or 3 offered a phone or data signal here.  No facilities were open. We walked on the Pennine Way to Black Hill across open moorland and were amazed to meet a young couple walking the long distance route with a tent and a baby! We hope they made it.
Castleton CAMC siteNot far from the lovely town of Castleton, the site has some trees and some road noise.  Both EE and 3 had a data signal. The hill walking is hard to beat from here with the Mam Tor ridge and dramatic Cave Dale and we visited [for the first time] Peveril Castle on this trip.
Buxton CAMC siteThis site is in a quarry and a pleasant 30 minute walk into the handsome town of Buxton through woodland.  We received a friendly welcome and were delighted with the delicious bread and cakes in the shop.  No EE signal but 4G 3 signal. We put together circular walks from the campsite to Goyt Valley and Three Shires Head and used buses for a linear walk through some Derbyshire Dales from Taddington. With a map there is no end to your options here.
Clumber Park CAMC siteA large site with 2 facility blocks, some grass pitches as well as hard standing, surrounded by trees & shady, popular with families, no heating in the showers and toilets in April & no data signal for either of our phones. Clumber Park has a vast network of footpaths and cycle paths that link you to Cresswell Crags and as far as Sherwood Forest.
Carsington Water CAMC siteA wooded site with mostly hard-standing pitches, that are in general fairly level.  A popular site and £5 a night cheaper than some CAMC sites.  Very poor 3 and EE signals. Cycling or walking on the well-made paths around the reservoir is easy and pleasant.
The Paddock, Edith Weston, Rutland WaterSmall adult-only campsite on a level grassy field with no facilities.  Views over Rutland Water and a tidy and quiet site with a helpful and friendly owner. I wrote a review of this site on this blog post.
Cambridge Cherry Hinton CAMC siteA small CAMC site with pitches separated into small areas by trees.  The site had a bit of a neglected air when we were there, unusual for a CAMC site.  There are regular buses into Cambridge which is packed with sights to see.
Roxton CL, Barrow upon HumberGrassy level area, enclosed by hedges & trees to the side of the owner’s house that is kept tidy.  No facilities.  Near the River Humber & good walks along the river and by nature reserves.  We received a warm welcome and £13/night is a fair price. There are more details on this blog post.

A litter misunderstanding

While we are out walking we pick up the obvious litter, plastic bottles,  chocolate bar wrappers and cans. We never pick up cigarette ends,  although it is said they make up a huge portion of the country’s litter. We also never pick up those small plastic bags that are tied in a knot and are full of dog faeces,  although we see them almost everywhere. We do pick up items of clothing that earlier walkers have dropped or left behind. I wrote about our lost property box a few years ago that now has multiple odd gloves in it waiting for a match. Some of these gloves are in use; for example my winter cycling gloves were both found. They don’t match but being black it’s hard for anyone to tell as I flash by. Neither of us will never need to buy a hat again.

While we were in Ullapool on our recent Scotland trip we had a litter misunderstanding. We took a walk up the hill above the town. The path is surrounded by sweet smelling gorse and rewards your effort with a panoramic view over the prettily positioned Ullapool and Loch Broom; I am always happy here. Near the start of the path we found an almost full roll of unused dog poo bags on a bench.  We looked around,  there was no dog or person in sight. It wasn’t clear how long they had been there but in our experience people rarely come back for small items and they become litter so we stuffed then in the side pocket of the rucksack.

On the top of the hill we were enjoying the amazing view when a couple with a dog joined us.  We both had the same thought at the same moment,  maybe they could use our find. Smiling kindly at the dog-owning couple we said hello and then asked,  ‘Do you use dog poo bags?’ They immediately became defensive, no doubt expecting us to launch into a tirade about dog fouling [I can do this] and clearly feared that we would soon be accusing them of fouling the paths of Scotland. We had to hurriedly explain that we had found some bags,  had no need of them and wondered if they could use them.  They immediately looked relieved and, once the misunderstanding was cleared up we laughed and chatted amiably. They went on their way with our find of the day and will put it to the appropriate use.

Sometimes litter finds are so bizarre I make up stories about the people who have dropped the litter and why.  On a walk near Port Logan in Galloway we started counting the cans of Red Bull we saw flattened and scattered down an otherwise gorgeous grassy lane lined with wild flowers and between fields of sheep.  When we reached 20 cans we gave up counting! The track was clearly used by a farmer and I imagined him to be over-worked and sleep deprived during lambing and getting through in a haze of energy drinks. I can’t even guess why he didn’t have the energy to take the cans back to the farm! Of course the Red Bull cans could be from a regular local walker too but we saw no other hikers the day we were there.

In Morecambe we pick up an empty half bottle of cheap vodka from a ginnel near our local Co-op most times we are out, sometimes even two. We pop them in our recycling bin and the bin men must think we have quite a habit! We assume this is young people drinking outdoors at night but have never knowingly met the drinkers. I really hope they’re not drinking alone.

It seems there will always be litter for us to pick up, some of it useful and some of it just rubbish. I’m waiting eagerly for the deposit scheme on plastic bottles to start and then I can get rich from my pickings!

Friends Reunion: Scotland Campervan Tour 2021 Part Two

I mostly close my eyes and ears to the news while we are on the road but the Friends reunion did catch my eye. When we travel we carry every episode from every series of Friends with us on a flash drive and have watched them over and over. I know they are corny and sentimental but each time I am swept along and involved in the lives of those six close friends, laughing and crying at their ups and downs. I really hope that any update sees the characters staying friends. I love my own few close friends, each one is precious and a gift. I missed being able to meet up with them during lock downs so the second part of our Scotland trip was particularly special for the reunions.

From Morvich we travelled further north to Ullapool where we had a date with two old friends [we have known one of them since our murky school days!] They were staying in a self-catering cottage in the town. We managed to get a front row seat at the Ullapool campsite and the temptation is to sit looking over the loch and watch the boats, the wildlife and the stunning sunsets. Instead we scrubbed up, shook out some half-decent cleanish clothes and turned up at their cottage with a chilled bottle of prosecco. We were all heading for a night out in a restaurant, something that used to be almost routine for the four of us but that we hadn’t done together for over 15 months and I was giddy with excitement [Friends fans can imagine what Phoebe would be like].

The prosecco bubbles fitted the mood perfectly and we were on a high as we walked the short distance to The Ceilidh Place. We first discovered this Ullapool institution in the early 1980s, it is marvellous that it is still going strong and it was perfect for our reunion as three of us had been there on that first visit. The Ceilidh Place is a cafe, restaurant, bookshop, arts venue and accommodation. Three delicious courses and lots of laughing later I waddled back to the ‘van in time for the last vivid colours of a west coast of Scotland sunset. This was one of those memorable evenings.

I can walk up mountains but as soon as I hit the steep sections I slow down and plod, breathing heavily. My partner meanwhile is more machine than human and doesn’t seem to notice the gradient. Consequently I spend a lot of time walking on my own, watching him disappearing into the distance. It was, therefore, more than joyful to have two wonderful days walking on some of the hills around Ullapool with our friends. Their pace matches mine when the contour lines get closer together and in between gasping for breath we chatted and laughed, catching up on news and making more memories.

Unexpected and spontaneous socialising is fun too. When a fellow MMM and Campervan Mag writer and Twitter friend said she was also in Ullapool I jumped at the chance for a face-to-face meet up. Felicity and her partner Andrew arrived with a generous bottle of red and, once we’d found the spare glasses at the back of a cupboard. we settled down to get to know each other better.

Next stop was Gairloch and Sands campsite on our slow journey south. This large rambling site has pitches among the sand dunes and looking over the bay; you are free to choose the spot that suits. We practiced tai chi on the soft and warm sand under a blue sky and paddled through the gentle waves. In Gairloch we had great tasting coffee and delicious cakes from Mountain Coffee, a cafe with a cool vibe. Browsing their bookshop a couple of books caught my eye, one for me and one as a gift. Gairloch’s museum is worth a visit too.

Kinlochewe will always be a special place. Firstly because the scenery is superb and secondly because it was the last place we stayed in before Lock Down One. Returning to this highland village was emotional and a pleasure and to be there on hot sunny days was a bonus. We thought we might take the Blue Bus out for the day but instead found walks from the site, climbing the Pony Path up to Meall a’ Ghiubhais through a landscape of grey rocks and lochans and paddling in the river in the sheltered glen at the Heights of Kinlochewe.

At Spey Bay we had another reunion and a pre-arranged meet on a pretty section of the Speyside Way. Our friend lives in Fochabers, just a few miles along the River Spey from Spey Bay where we were camping. Together we pottered through the woodland and by the river for hours with no sign of a red squirrel. Later that evening he sent a photo of one he had seen just minutes after we left him! The next morning an osprey circled over the van, much to the consternation of the common gulls nesting nearby, so we didn’t feel too hard done by.

In the good weather the hills were popular but not crowded. We climbed a Munro above Newtonmore and had a lovely day on Meall a’ Bhuachaille above Glenmore. We spent a day walking through the varied woodland of Rothiemuchus Forest but still didn’t see a red squirrel. We were gradually heading south and our time in Scotland was nearing an end. Our last nights in Scotland were spent cooled by a fresh breeze at New England Bay near Stranraer in Galloway. Being back on the road, exploring new and familiar places and reconnecting with old friends and making new ones has helped me make small steps on the way to recovering from those lock downs.