Norfolk seen from a Campervan

It isn’t surprising that I like guidebooks. On our trip around Suffolk and Norfolk we had the pleasure of being accompanied by a pair of tattered 1940s Penguin guides. These dated companions steered us through East Anglia, pointing out the must-see sights of 80 years ago. So much has changed since the post-war period I felt like a time traveller but when we pulled up at Burgh Castle I was also confused as this featured in our Suffolk guidebook but is now in Norfolk.

Whichever county it is in, the scale of the Roman ruins at Burgh Castle are the big story. The rough stone walls and round corner tower soar to over 4m high and I wondered why this building hasn’t been on my wish list for some years. It was only chance that I had chosen it from the out-of-date guidebook. And it is free to visit! I have paid £££s to visit Roman ruins that are pretty much just an ankle-height floor plan in stone, Burgh Castle has scale and presence.

After wandering around the large site I walked down to the banks of the nearby River Yare. The East Anglian coastline has changed in the last 2,000 years and the ruins would originally have guarded a ‘Great Estuary’ that flowed over the rooftops of Great Yarmouth. In those days ships would have docked below the castle.

According to our 1940s guide Great Yarmouth, ‘is sometimes called the Venice of East Anglia.’ I don’t know if anyone still makes that particular comparison! The short stretch of town walls are a reminder of an older Great Yarmouth but I was more interested in the modern Banksy painted on a brick gable end. The artist has cleverly positioned a couple so that they appear to be dancing on the roof of an adjacent bus shelter while an accordion player sits casually on the corner. Later we walked along the prom and gave ourselves a sugar rush with donuts and ice-cream.

We have visited some of the Norfolk coast before but the Norfolk Broads were new territory. From the Caravan and Motorhome Club site we caught the bus to Wroxham and Hoveton on a drizzly day. These two villages merge around a bridge over the River Bure that funnels the never-ending stream of trafic. Cars were less in your face in the 1940s but the local institution, Roys, was already here. Known as the biggest village shop, there are actually many shops; a Roys department store; a food hall; a garden centre and a DIY shop; this isn’t quite a one-shop village but they give it a good try.

Despite the abundant motorcars, the villages are dedicated to boating. This is the place to hire boats, visit boat yards and do other boating things. On the bus we fell into conversation with a man who described himself as a ‘water gypsy.’ No one else would talk to him so he told us he had received no schooling from nine years old, his mum had studied psychology at Hull University and he described his life on the move from 24-hour mooring to 24-hour mooring.

From the campsite we walked along a grassy dike that meandered through reed beds, the chugging of boats on the River Ant in the distance.  A marsh harrier flew by, a fish dropped from the talons of a herring gull and was lost in the reeds and a flock of teal rose from a pool in a shudder of wing beats and circled overhead.  Approaching a windmill, cormorants perched along the wooden sails, their wings spread out to catch the weak September sun. 

I was keen to experience the watery nature of the broads and we were booked on the morning electric boat trip from Toad Hole Cottage. Waiting for our guide we sat drinking coffee on a bench, lazily watching a sailor polishing the already gleaming wood on a handsome wooden wherry.

It turned out we were the only people who wanted to explore the Broads in a quiet electric boat that morning and we had the luxury of spreading out on the small craft. After a short distance on the main river we turned left into a channel where the reeds leaned in against the boat.  As the thrum of the river boats melted away I found myself in the backwater world of Swallows and Amazons.

Later we had our lunch in a hide, thrilled to see a kingfisher fly back and forth.  We explored How Hill House’s verdant and dripping secret garden before taking the paths to the village of Ludham and joining the river again by the ruins of St Benet’s Abbey.

In Cromer I led Anthony along the beach to find another Banksy on the sea wall. ‘Luxury Rentals Only,’ a comment on our broken housing market, is out in all weathers and fading. I liked Cromer with its prom and pier, its beach dotted with colourful pebbles and tall breakwaters crossed by metal steps dripping with black seaweed. Our 1940s guidebook ignores the pier but was right about the ‘excellent beach.’ 

Another showery September day was ideal for taking the train to Norwich. Here we visited the cathedral and I walked round and round the font that is made from two polished copper bowls. These were given to the Cathedral when the Rowntree Mackintosh Norwich chocolate factory closed in 1994.  Colourful modern stained glass gave a vibrant glow to otherwise gloomy corners of the cathedral and the cloisters radiated peace and light.  We did wander some of Norwich’s pretty streets but, as the rain got heavier, we lost the desire to explore and probably didn’t do it justice.

Sitting outside at the Priory Maze café near Sheringham the waitress moved between the tables gathering up all the sachets of mayonnaise.  ‘The rooks take them away and eat the contents,’ she told us, leaving the salad cream which apparently is less appealing to these connoisseur rooks! From the campsite we had hiked to the top of Norfolk (if there is a hill we will find it). Cromer Ridge is just inland and reaches the dizzy heights of 102m so it wasn’t a tough ascent!  Our route passed a village green with a pebble-built house before climbing through woodland where we stepped carefully over tree roots.  We descended through heathland and skirted the fields of a horse sanctuary before reaching Priory Maze and Gardens.

Copper beech and hornbeam have been planted using the layout of the ruined priory as the basis for the maze.  We began in a disciplined way, alternating who chose which direction to turn to find a way to the centre. Very soon we were lost and our choices became random and haphazard and it was only luck that eventually led us to the central viewing platform.

The maze and gardens were fun but couldn’t beat the walk along the beach from Sheringham to East Runton. The soft sandy cliffs that are basically a giant sandcastle erode easily and attempts have been made to protect these from the sea. The futile remains of wooden revetments littered the beach and we wound our way around vertical posts and under buttresses of grey weathered wood studded with rust-red nails.

I had been looking forward to Blakeney Point and it was a memorable day but not for the reasons I was expecting. Our Penguin guide noted that this four-mile long shingle ridge backed with salt marshes was given to the National Trust in 1912. We parked at Cley Beach and turning to make coffee in the back of the ‘van I was floored by a hot pain that shot from my spine to the back of my legs. I assumed it would wear off and, after drinks, carefully put on my waterproofs.

The squally wind and the deep pebbles along the ridge made walking agony and I shuffled down the slope to meander on the sand by the crashing waves, where the going was a little easier. At the old Watch House or Halfway House we scrambled back to the shingle bank to look over the salt marshes and the remote building. Exhausted, I sat down and as we ate our picnic lunch we made the decision to head back. Walking was easier with a tailwind.  We collected a few bits of litter and admired some of the multitude of shells.  Seals popped their heads above the waves and a group of Brent geese flapped low over the sea. 

Dosed up on ibuprofen I could manage to walk around Wells-next-the-Sea for the next couple of days. The sun returned and watching it set from the beach was as idyllic as I could have hoped. Waking up to the joyful honking of geese as they flew over our campervan was special too. Our 1940s guide doesn’t mention the beach huts that are now a Wells-next-the-Sea icon and also doesn’t firmly place the town on the coast, it is just called Wells.

Striding out to Holkham Hall it seemed that I was okay walking upright. I just needed to avoid bending, easier said than done in a small campervan!    Our guidebook told us that visitors were welcomed at Holkham Hall 80 years ago and they still are. We took paths and tracks around the house and through the estate and ate our lunch on a bench overlooking Well’s harbour.  Our guide told us that in 1940s Wells ‘… you will find no piers or funfairs …’ but ’if you are in search of ‘local colour’ drop in at the Shipwrights’ Arms one evening.’  Unfortunately, this pub is now closed so we sought out local colour in the many quaint corners.

Opening the blinds on our final day in Norfolk it was a pleasure to see blue sky. We arrived at Titchwell RSPB reserve as the staff were holding an outdoor team meeting and we spent a fabulous hour walking by the pools to the dunes and the sandy beach.  The blue sea met the blue sky on the horizon and the space felt phenomenal. 

By the time we reached Castle Rising the weather had changed to misty and chilly autumnal weather.  The castle has a circular ditch or moat to cross to the gatehouse and a well-preserved stone keep. We climbed up to the different floors finding details that have survived the centuries. 

After sitting for even an hour in the ‘van I would unravel myself from the seat in a shambles of bent and staggering bones. This acute pain lasted just a short time and once everything had loosened up I could stand and walk normally. I was grateful we weren’t making the long journey back to Lancashire in one run and had Derbyshire friends to stay with on the way.

The Suffolk half of our trip is in a previous post.

Footnote on the pain I was experiencing. This became sciatic pain in my right leg. I had lots of physio through October and November 2022 and eventually visited my GP and started taking amitriptyline which meant I could sleep peacefully all night. By January 2023 I was more or less pain free.

Where we stayed

We used two Caravan and Motorhome Club Sites, Norfolk Broads and Seacroft near Cromer. We liked the former, it was a well-run site with a bus service into Norwich and a walk along the River Ant and to St Benet’s Abbey from the site. Seacroft is an excellent location for Cromer and Sheringham but is in need of an upgrade.

We also stayed at Pinewoods at Wells-next-the-Sea, an expensive site with a fantastic location. For the money I would have liked heating in the facilities at the end of September but our pitch in the reeds was heavenly.

Suffolk in a Campervan: Beaches, Byways & some Striking Buildings

Shingle beaches that stretch to the horizon, coastal villages packed with cottages and ancient flint churches were what drew me to Suffolk. This was our first visit to this county and I was delighted to find all these things and more on our autumn trip. We rolled into Suffolk at Bury St Edmunds in our Blue Bus and stayed firstly near Ipswich before following the coast eastward.


In the couple of weeks we were in Suffolk we walked miles along shingle beaches deep with pebbles and soon learnt how tiring wading through this is. We also found sandy beaches that were made for buckets and spades. In Orford we took the boat to Orford Ness and were spell-bound by the combination of post-war military structures and hardy plants. You couldn’t miss the power of nature. Between Minsmere and Dunwich seal pups sat in the surf as we meandered between the clumps of sea kale that breaks up the shingle and climbed up to the heath-covered cliffs.

In Southwold we kicked along the soft sand below rows of colourful beach huts, each one individually decorated, and stood under the pier watching the tide crashing against the complicated lattice of pier struts. Later we sampled a glass of Adnams, the local beer, in a pub off the seafront.


While Thorpeness seems hardly real with its holiday villas that are straight from Disney, the weatherboard houses of Aldeburgh felt real and charming. The brick and stone Martello Tower is solid and dense in comparison to the village. This is now a Landmark Trust property you can rent and what a treat it would be to stay there. If you’re interested in unusual places to stay in, the famous House in the Clouds old watertower in Thorpeness is also available as a holiday rent.

At Aldeburgh we gazed across the sea, guessing there was nothing between us and the Netherlands.  From the edge of the village, the dyke path took us on a lovely green route around Aldeburgh passing productive allotments. Leaving the houses we picked up a path through a nature reserve where trees arched above the sandy path, sunshine dappled through the foliage and blackberries glistened by the path and we picked ripe ones as we walked.   

Lavenham is hard to beat in the charming village awards. Over 300 buildings are listed in this well-preserved medieval village that was once a wealthy wool town and walking the narrow streets and lanes to the market place is like undertaking a crash course in timber-framed building designs.

Towns & Cities

We were initiated into the sights of Suffolk in Bury St Edmunds and it was the perfect introduction to the county for two Suffolk newbies. We began in the park of this small town, wandering around the abbey ruins to the monumental and richly-decorated stone gatehouse. Later we visited the cathedral, spent a fascinating hour or so in the Moyse’s Hall Museum and finished off our trip in a sunny square with coffee and cake.

From our campsite near Ipwich we visited Ipwich and Felixstowe. The bus to Felixstowe took the slow road and we sat on the top deck until the end of the line at Landguard Fort.  You can visit the fort but we were keen to walk and after watching the huge cranes picking up the containers and placing them on the ship like a giant tetras game we set off along the seafront.  The sea defences were easy to follow back to Felixstowe with views to the pier and more ships out at sea.

In Ipswich we began with the waterfront, a marina surrounded by old warehouses, the Custom’s House and some shiny new buildings.  We had coffee and watched students learning filming techniques with the boats as a backdrop. We wandered through the city centre, passing all the shops you would expect, to Christchurch Park, a large green space with grass, woodland and a pond. Christchurch Mansion is a free museum with a collection of paintings from local artists Constable and Gainsborough.

In Lowestoft we found our way around a sprawling Bird’s Eye factory, no doubt pumping out boxes and boxes of fish fingers, to find England’s most easterly point.  I expected a bit more of an attraction here but the orientation circle in the concrete promenade was informative. Checking out the distances we realised we were closer to mainland Europe than we were to Lancashire! Walking along the promenade we could see a lower prom had been washed away by the sea, so I guess Europe is getting further away. Inland we climbed one of Lowestoft’s scores, narrow steep alleys, to the High Street, an old shopping street with some historic buildings and quirky shops

Sitting by the River Waveney between Beccles and Lowestoft a kingfisher flew low over the water and minutes later a swan landed perfectly in front of us and harrumphed occasionally and gently until its partner negotiated an equally skilful landing and they slipped away together.  A buzzard emerged from the trees opposite, circled the field and flew away as a group of geese passed overhead.  Beside us were bushes decorated with bright-green hop fruits that look too exotic to be British. We had caught the bus to Beccles and after coffee and cake in a cosy but wildly expensive café we followed the Angles Path along the Waveney, a watery highway busy with boats but few other walkers.  The weather was quiet, with no wind and the cloud hung in the sky like a billowing duvet. In the wet meadows alongside the river we spotted plenty of Chinese water deer with their teddy bear ears and strange hare-like run.  

Churches & Abbeys

I had read about Blythburgh Church but that didn’t prepare me for the loveliness of this medieval church.  The exterior flint has been worked and arranged to look like chequer-board tiling.  Inside the wonky tiled floor held stories from thousands of feet and I stepped up to the high medieval font.  We had come to see the painted angels on the wooden ceiling who peered down on mortals in the nave, their magnificent wings outstretched.  While I admired the carved wooden pew ends, Anthony found an information panel about JF Kennedy’s brother, Joe, who died in a Second World War plane explosion nearby. 

Leiston Abbey, a ruined abbey not far from Sizewell, today suffers from metal-fence-itis. Ugly temporary fencing circled every part of the ruins that presumably are unsafe.  Nevertheless, beyond the fencing we could appreciate the structures, the 14th century arches and windows and the cloisters that retained their sense of peaceful space.

In Pakefield on the edge of Lowestoft, we walked around All Saints and St Margaret’s Church on the seafront. Technically two churches built next to each other, you will notice the tower is attached to one half of the M-shaped roof. These churches were once some distance inland but coastal erosion has led to the loss of many houses here as the sea has nibbled at the land. In the Second World War the buildings took a direct hit and were rebuilt.

Southwold‘s parish church was another church we took the time to visit. This church is fascinating for its Jack. This is a wooden statue dressed in armour, and holds a sword and an axe, which can be used to ring the bell at the start of a service. The Jack has been in the church since the 15th century and it is thought it was originally made to strike the hour for a clock and was repurposed.


Off the main roads, Suffolk seemed to be characterised by narrow lanes, plenty of them going nowhere but to a small coastal village. We took the Blue Bus to the end of the road at Orford and caught the National Trust boat to Orford Ness (see above). Driving to the RSPB reserve at Minsmere the lanes became narrow and then even narrower as we got closer to the sea. The lanes wound around fields and woodland until I had no idea which way was north and whether we were heading in the right direction or not. The only thing you can do is trust the RSPB signs! After our walk we had to follow the same byways in the opposite direction.

Sizewell was an exception. We immediately noticed what a good road it was to Sizewell, presumably for the traffic to the nuclear power station.

Where we stayed

We stayed at some Caravan and Motorhome Club sites on the way down [Grafham Water] for one night and at White House Beach which was handy for Lowestoft. These were both the usual standard.

For Ipswich we stayed at Little Sage Hill, Copenhagen Cottage Caravan and Camping Club Certified Site. I reviewed this site here.

Beach View Holiday Park at Sizewell is a large independent site that was okay for a couple of night and was well situated for walks to Thorpeness and Aldeburgh.

Campsite Review: Little Sage Hill, Copenhagen Cottage Caravan & Camping Club CS near Ipswich

We have used quite a few of the small campsites affiliated to the Camping and Caravanning Club and called Certified Sites [CS]. Over the years we have found these sites do vary hugely in standards and facilities. While the unexpected can be delightful it can be best to read the reviews for a CS carefully to see if it is a site for you. This one on the edge of Ipswich worked very well for us and gave us a lovely rural retreat with reasonable facilities.

The campsite, as the name suggests, is on a hill. The landscape is large fields of cereals which look a tad dreary after harvest, although there is a planning application in for solar panels which will brighten things up. At the top of the hill is a wooded idyll that contrasts with the sterile agricultural surroundings. The owners have created a vibrant oasis of wildlife that is peaceful and we watched all sorts of birds, butterflies and insects from our pitch.

The campsite is grassy and isn’t open all year but it appears to be well drained. Pitches are not marked out, although there are some nooks that are the perfect size for one campervan and other spaces that are obvious rows. Fortunately it wasn’t too busy when we were there in mid-September so we could spread out. As well as being surrounded by trees and bushes there are shrubberies dotted around that screen other campers, giving a sense of privacy.

After opening the gate using the lock code we had been sent before arrival, we took some time choosing a pitch as there were no instructions. Later we found the path through the trees behind the facilities that took us to the owner’s house to pay. The owners are friendly and, if you don’t find them at home you will most likely see them later as they regularly wander around the pitches in the early evening to check everyone is happy.

The facilities are in what I [mistakenly] called sheds! I was corrected and told they are beach huts! One of these ‘beach huts’ has a sink for washing up that was a tad lacking in elbow room. Another has a toilet and sink. The largest [and most beach-hut-like] of the huts is equipped with an electric shower [this was okay], toilet and sink and was brighter and airier. Showers were an additional £1 and this is left in an honesty box. These facilities were mostly sufficient when we were there along with only three or four other units, although we did have to queue to shower and wash up at least once. If it was busier, particularly with guests in tents, these facilities would be pressed into more action and it could get crowded. Everything worked fine although, as the September days became cooler we would have welcomed some heating in the shower room.

The fourth shed is an information hut and when we visited there was honey from the owners bees on sale.

Walk down the gravel track and turn left along the lane, cross the main road [B1113] and you are in the village of Bramford. This 10 minute walk takes you to a bus stop from where there is an irregular week day bus service into Ipswich that we used both days we were here. Bramford also has a pub that provides meals and a village shop.

Ipswich is well worth visiting. It has a fabulous waterfront, plenty of shops and Christchurch Mansion, a beautiful Tudor house that is an interesting museum and art gallery. We ate a delicious lunch in Hullabaloo Vegan Cafe, a comfy and friendly establishment on St Peter’s Street, between the marina and the city centre.

If you like cycling on country lanes, a regional cycle route, number 48, follows the lane by the campsite and is part of a 48 mile route around Suffolk.

[Not] The End of Wainwright Bagging

One of us in our house [and its not me] has completed his Wainwright fells! Although we have been walking up Lake District hills together since the 1980s, he didn’t start determinedly ticking off his 214 Lake District Wainwrights until 1998. It was one of those significant birthdays that inspired him to begin and the team [in the photograph above] climbed the Old Man of Coniston to celebrate his 40th birthday, marking the beginning of his Wainwright journey.

The Old Man of Coniston was a strange hill to choose in some way as it was one we had already climbed together twice over the previous 15 years. It was, of course, because of the name and now it is our most climbed Wainwright as we go back every ten years on my partner’s significant birthdays and follow one of the many routes up this much-loved mountain. His birthday is at the end of winter and although we were lucky to have fine weather when he was 40, the photograph of the small select group of us on the summit when he was 50 shows a different side of the mountain. Only our son and daughter-in-law and our toughest friends wanted to climb the Old Man on a cold damp day and looking at the photographs you can hardly make out any of us for the low cloud and layers of waterproofs! For his 60th we decided to be sociable and moved his birthday hill walk to June and we were rewarded with a fine sunny day with a bevy of friends.

Unless you are a very organised Wainwright Bagger, as you get to the end of your Wainwright list you will have random hills dotted around the Lake District to walk up [or maybe this is just us]. Our visits to the Lake District became dominated by walks up these outlying fells and others that we had somehow missed on previous trips. Our climbs up, down and around the Wainwrights have perhaps sometimes missed the obvious and most efficient routes and I can often be heard saying, ‘Why didn’t we walk up this hill when we were there,’ as I point to the next pimple along the ridge. This habit of almost climbing the Wainwrights one at a time will be why we have also walked up and down Fairfield more times than I can count. As well as being a fine hill, Fairfield [above Ambleside] is often on the way to another summit. Keen Wainwright Baggers will complete the handful of fells around Fairfield in one long and tiring day. We go up and down again and again! Fortunately, it doesn’t matter how many times we visit I will never tire of the Lake District fells.

Those energetic hill walkers will probably climb two fells, Hopegill Head and Whiteside above Crummock Water during the same day as they are bagging Grasmoor and maybe some other surrounding hills. For whatever reason we hadn’t done this. It might be laziness but no matter, it just means that we had another glorious day walking in this area that was particularly special after several days of heavy rain.

We have set off up the small hill called Outerside above Braithwaite previously. On that day, a couple of winters ago the slight breeze in the valley became a gale force wind that made standing up almost impossible as we ascended and we were forced onto a low-level walk instead. Our second attempt at Outerside was on a sunny autumnal day and we enjoyed a relative easy day on the hills which was appreciated after the steep slopes of Hopegill Head and Whiteside the day before. Outerside was his 208th [out of 214] Wainwright.

On the same trip we also climbed up Haystacks from Buttermere for a second or third time. Haystacks is one of those fells I imagine we will climb again and again now his Wainwright list is complete and doesn’t dictate where we go as, even on a wet day, I was pleased to revisit this wonderful craggy hill.

Two years ago we set off up Froswick, an odd hill on a ridge that was still unticked. It was winter and Froswick had other ideas and in deep snow and strong winds we had to turn back. We finally ascended this fine hill in January this year. It was still cold, I was still wearing as many layers as a human can but the wind stayed away and we had a glorious day out [see the photograph at the end of this post].

His big finish was a fantastic hillwalking day on two neighbouring fells in western Ennerdale, Great Bourne and Starling Dodd.  Starling Dodd was Wainwright’s last fell for the final volume of the Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells. He descended it in September 1965 with mixed emotions. That this was my partners final Wainwright on his list wasn’t planned but it felt so right. It was a clear and breezy day but there was no fanfare on Starling Dodd just big smiles. We had views across the Lake District and we reminisced about some of our favourite days on the hills. We hugged each other, took photos and texted our son. Walking back through the woodland by Ennerdale the sun came out and made the day even more perfect.

It seems our Wainwright Bagging days won’t quite be over after that final hill-top Wainwright-completion-bash. Since retirement we have climbed the Wainwrights together but before 2017 there were quite a few of the fells that I dodged, either because I had work commitments or just couldn’t be bothered to detour to. These 20 Wainwrights have now become a list and apparently our Lake District hillwalking will continue to be at least in part dictated by Alfred Wainwright until they have all been completed! Onward and upward as they say!

Listening in

Earwigging we call it and I am always doing it. It is nothing to do with creepy crawlies, instead it is our word for harmless overhearing of other people’s conversations. On buses and trains and walking in the countryside and urban areas I sometimes listen in, a harmless vice that gives me pleasure. I enjoy the snippets of people’s lives that I hear and the insight into other worlds this can gift me.

Passing groups on a footpath when we are taking a countryside walk I will pick up only a sentence or two of a whole conversation. Two people approach deep in conversation and I overhear one exclaim to their friend, ‘ … And then to cap it all I found out he had forgotten to buy the toothpaste …’ From those few words I continue on my way making up a whole story in my head about what else had been forgotten, why he forgot to buy the toothpaste and why it mattered quite so much.

On public transport earwigging is different. Here some people speak loudly and clearly even though they are sitting together, they share longer conversations and I find myself getting sucked into their story. I often take a book to read on a train but if a real-life story is being unfolded on a nearby seat I discard my novel for something more interesting! People also speak loudly on their mobile phones on public transport and I get caught up in their half of the conversation and imagine the person they are talking to, where they are and what they are saying.

We have just returned from a splendid three weeks exploring Suffolk [a new to us county] and Norfolk in our campervan. We used public transport to reach places beyond the campsites, we walked miles and sat in lots of cafes and I have returned with a few earwigged conversations from that trip.

It was a wet and windy day and we decided to take the train into Norwich to see the sights of this lovely city. The train was surprisingly quiet but a few seats behind us a young woman was chatting on her phone to someone. At first I was watching the Norfolk countryside and not really listening to her conversation until I heard her say, ‘OMG, you’ll never guess what’s happened.’ Immediately, I was all ears! She elaborated further to her friend, explaining that while she had been on the phone she had received a message from the bass player of her band and he had resigned. This was clearly unexpected news and inconvenient as they had a gig coming up in the next few days. I was disappointed when she got up to leave the train stopping me hearing more about how the band would cope without a crucial bassist.

On the same train there were two guards, which seemed a bit over-the-top for so few passengers but appeared to have something to do with re-training. After they had checked tickets, the two guards had plenty of time to sit and chat between stations and chose seats near us. They talked solely about trains! After one had put forward his personal plans for the Felixstowe line they began riffing and bouncing across the aisle all the problems that can delay a train and whose responsibility it was to sort it and pay compensation to passengers. Their list became darker as they delved deeper. ‘Leaves on the line, that’s Network Rail,’ one said, ‘And cows is them too,’ replied the other, until their list ended somberly with suicides and they sat in silence remembering.

In a Norwich cafe we sat at a table next to two women who were having a much needed catch up. One was describing in detail the stomach aches she had been experiencing for some months. ‘I thought it was a milk allergy,’ she explained but apparently substituting soya, oat and coconut milk made no difference. After excluding other things from her diet and trying various medications her doctor suggested she change her teabags, ‘As you know I drink gallons of tea,’ she confided to her friend. I was amazed to hear that the teabag change did the trick and she was cured.

In another cafe in Ipswich I gained an insight into the working life of a hazardous waste collector. While he waited for his takeaway coffee he described the irresponsible behaviour of some businesses to the cafe worker. He shared stories and photographs of unsecurely wrapped, unlabelled and unidentified materials that businesses leave, expecting him to remove them out of their way. I could only hope he was handsomely paid for his diligent work.

Other fleeting conversations are equally surprising but less about earwigging. We were sitting at the outside tables at a cafe attached to a garden in north Norfolk when the waitress appeared and began removing all the sachets of mayonnaise from the box on our table and all the other tables. ‘The rooks take these and eat the contents,’ she told us.  It seems Norfolk has clever gourmet rooks with a preference for mayonnaise as she was confident that they would leave the salad cream alone. 

I get words muddled up all the time and sometimes these muddled words are more fun than the real word. While washing up at a Suffolk campsite I was telling a fellow camper that we had walked the Angles Way [named after the post-Roman Germanic settlers in East Anglia] from Beccles to Lowestoft along the Waveney River. She told me how much she liked Beccles and that there were some good walks there. ‘I don’t know the Angles Way,’ she told me, ‘but we have followed the Angels Path.’ Now that sounds like a much more heavenly route!

Judge me if you wish for my earwigging but I suggest if you see me on a bus or when you are out for a walk just be careful about what you say!

A Romantic Return to the Isle of Skye

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.

Camping 1980s style

A Dozen Scottish Campsites Tried & Tested 2022

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:

Campsite nameComments
Tantallon Caravan and Camping Park, North BerwickThis 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.
Silverburn Park Campsite, LevenThis 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.  
Stonehaven Queen Elizabeth Park CAMC SiteThis is a favourite campsite of ours that is close to the beach and the harbour and near the centre of Stonehaven.  It wasn’t too busy on this visit.  The site is level and the facilities are excellent.
Fraserburgh Caravan ParkThis 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, LossiemouthThis 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.
Rosemarkie Camping and Caravanning Club SiteThe 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.
Dingwall C&CC SiteWe 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. 
Camping Skye, BroadfordThis 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.
Skye C&CC site, EdinbaneThis 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.
Glenbrittle CampsiteThis 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.
Merkadale CL near CarbostThis 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.
Morvich CAMC SiteThis 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.

Silverburn Park Campsite, near Leven in Fife, Scotland

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.

Using our Campervan in Winter: Tips for Keeping Cosy

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.

Water Matters

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!

Drying Gear

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 Treats

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.

Touring Around South & West Wales in a Campervan

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.

St Davids

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.

Campsite nameComments
Glantowy Farm CL, Llanarthne near CarmarthenI 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, ManorbierThis 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’sWe 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 AberystwythThis 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.