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.

Lost & Found on Cockup: Going the Extra Mile to Take our Litter Home after Walking up Bakestall

We continue to find hats, scarves, single gloves, walking poles and reusable water bottles on our walks in the Lake District and beyond. Stuff that people have dropped or put down and forgotten to pick up, or kit that has fallen out of their rucksack. On a recent trip up Bakestall behind Skiddaw we found out ourselves how easy it is to leave gear behind on the fells.

We took the long way up Bakestall, not just because we enjoy walking all day [we do] but because parking the Blue Bus isn’t always easy. It is only 5.4m long and 2.2m wide so can fit in a normal parking space and along a narrow lane but that isn’t the only consideration. Sometimes we decide to choose easier to reach but less popular parking and have a longer walk rather than negotiate a narrow lane only to find all the parking spots are taken [in the Lake District this can happen by 09.00]!

Bakestall isn’t often walked on its own, unless you are bagging your Wainwrights and didn’t go up it while you were walking up one of the nearby fells. This is why we were heading up this little hill at just 673m high and tucked away behind Skiddaw. If you are walking up it, own a car and are prepared to get up early you would park in the small parking area on the narrow lane that runs underneath the fell. On a fine August day we rightly guessed that this would be busy and so parked our campervan in a large lay-by just south of the Ravenstone Hotel on the A591, not a parking area for any obvious hill and so much quieter.

From here we walked steeply up the wooded hillside and out onto the open fell, descending down to the bridge over Chapel Beck and the minor road from the A591, picking up the track up Dash Beck a short distance along this road. From
Whitewater Dash falls we climbed up Bakestall and stopped to chat to a friendly walking group who were continuing onto Skiddaw. We took a good grassy route downhill, onto the steep slopes of Cockup and followed a path that skirted above the intake wall to rejoin our outgoing route by the ridge from Ullock Pike.

This was mostly a good path with stretches through bracken and short tricky sections in and out of gullies. It was going smoothly until we had a small cock up on Cockup. On one section of footpath through bracken, I was in front and just avoided tripping up on a stone hidden by undergrowth. Before I could warn my walking partner he tripped up and flew headlong into the grass and bracken. Ready to grab the first aid kit, I was relieved to find that nothing was broken or even cut. Neither of us could believe we had got away without damaging anything after such a dramatic fall.

Back at the ‘van we realised we hadn’t quite got away with it. Our favourite and most-used water bottle must have flown out of the outside rucksack pocket as my partner lost his footing on the fellside. We were gutted and it seemed ironic that two people who are always picking up lost items should themselves mislay something that will become litter on the hills. It seemed too far to go back so we tried to accept the loss but all evening it kept niggling!

The next day we had a fairly easy hike up Mungrisdale Common. It was mid-afternoon when we returned to the ‘van and we both knew what we were going to do. We drove the Blue Bus along the narrow lane to the bottom of Bakestall, thinking there was more likelihood of a parking space at that time of day. We were lucky, there was one space free that was Blue Bus size. Walking back along the road, we picked up the exceptionally steep path to the intake wall and followed our route through the bracken and gullies, all the time scouring the ground for the offending stone. Luck continued to be on our side and even in thick bracken, we spotted the trip hazard / stone and lying among the undergrowth was our precious water bottle. It only took us about an hour and 500m of climbing to find it! Never say we don’t take our litter home with us!

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: Stunning Gardens to Visit

We have a tiny sunken garden at home and I am very much a reluctant gardener who will do what needs doing and little more. This doesn’t stop me enjoying visiting gardens much bigger than ours, partly to just enjoy the beauty of the flowers and the design and also for ideas for plants that might survive my semi-neglect. Scotland might not spring to mind when you think of gardens but it has plenty of inspirational ones that you can visit. Some gardens are attached to a big house or castle but being outdoor types we often stick to the garden and grounds, rather than go into the house.

This isn’t a comprehensive list but is a selection of some of my favourites. Discover Scottish Gardens will give you more ideas. The corresponding photograph to each garden is mentioned in the brackets after its name.

Logan Botanic Garden near Stranraer (top of page)

On the south-west tip of Scotland, Logan Botanic Garden is a paradise warmed by the gulf stream. On our visit we started in the walled garden that has tree ferns and palms, ponds and a rock garden. From here we wandered up to the terrace for a view over the gardens and then explored the woodland area. This is cool and shaded with trees from across the world. Finally we peeped into the conservatory for those plants that need more protection. These gardens have an excellent cafe too and plenty of parking.

Gordon Castle Walled Garden (top right)

This beautiful walled kitchen garden at Gordon Castle is a real gem. Near the River Spey and Fochabers, the garden has been restored to its former glory and is now both a productive and a glorious place to be. Flowers grow with the fruit and vegetables and the produce is used in their own beauty range and gins and is freshly picked and becomes an ingredient in dishes in their popular cafe. This is a fabulous place to include on a walk around the River Spey.

Attadale Gardens, Strathcarron (top left)

At Attadale on Scotland’s amazing west coast you get both fantastic gardens and a sculpture park rolled into one. We received a warm welcome when we arrived on a drizzly day, were handed an umbrella incase the rain got heavier, given a squirt of midge repellent as it was that sort of day and handed a map. The sculpture collection is dotted around the gardens and gave a structure to our walk. The sculptures vary and there is something for every taste and not every sculpture was one that we would have wanted to live with in our own plot! We explored the woodland areas with bluebells, the old rhododendrons and were particularly enchanted with the Japanese Garden. If you want refreshments there is usually a DIY cafe where you can help yourself and pop money in the honesty box.

Brodick Castle, Arran (middle right)

Brodick Castle is hard to miss on the island of Arran. If you travel on the ferry into Brodick you will spot the baronial castle on the hillside. The castle has both formal gardens and woodland trails. The formal gardens have the handsome castle as a backdrop and views to the sea. For me it was the woods that were the highlight, not because of the trees, although these are amazing. We made straight for the hide and sat quietly watching the chaffinches on the feeders, waiting for a red squirrel. Our patience was rewarded when two appeared, scampering quickly out of the trees and onto the squirrel feeder.  The feeder is a clever design with a glass jar resting on its side and filled with nuts so that we could watch the squirrels picking a nut and nibbling it before scampering away.  A few minutes later a third squirrel scurried over the logs and leapt up to the feeder only to find that a chaffinch had pottered along to eat the nuts. I’m not sure who was more surprised.  The chaffinch flew up and its wings struck the sides of the jar and the squirrel leapt backwards!

Ascog Hall Garden & Fernery, Bute (bottom left)

The blue poppies are what I remember about this garden on the Isle of Bute. We were there in early May, just the right time to see these stunning flowers at their best. Ascog Hall Gardens is a small and charming garden with enchanting qualities. It is divided into different areas and is dotted with some fun sculptures and water features. The sunken Victorian fernery is a green, warm and moist place with a fern they think is 1,000 years old. The gardens have not been able to open during Covid-19 in 2021 so check before you make a special journey. The parking area is small and we parked our campervan on Balmory Road that runs beside the garden.

Achamore Gardens, Gigha (bottom middle)

Delightful gardens to visit in spring, it was the woodland walks with rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias that I particularly enjoyed at Achamore on the Isle of Gigha. Just wandering with no destination in mind along the winding paths, stopping to admire the flowers is a perfect way to spend an hour or so. The gardens were created in the 1940s and have many unusual varieties that flourish in the warm micro-climate here. The walled garden is a perfect sheltered area when the sea breeze is blowing. We had taken the ferry over to Gigha from Kintyre and cycled to Achamore but it is only about 1.5 miles to walk.

Crathes Castle, Banchory (bottom right)

The castle isn’t the only star of the show at Crathes and it was too lovely an autumnal day to be inside the building and so, as usual, we explored the gardens and grounds. The views of the pink turreted castle from the lawns are worth seeing. I have a weakness for walled gardens and the one at Crathes is wonderful, divided into section with pools and fountains and themed planted areas. We were too late in the year for the glorious herbaceous borders but there was still plenty to enjoy. Crathes has a network of waymarked trails and we stretched our legs on the 6.5 km red trail around the estate. This took us through woodland that was packed with autumn colours. The estate has red squirrels but the only one we saw was a wooden carved one!

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.

Our Scotland Campervan Tour: 2 Weeks & A Daily Cuckoo

Cuckoos are probably the easiest bird to identify by their call but I’ve never seen one in the feather and a sighting has been on my wish list for a few years. My bird-watching partner doesn’t hear too well and they have to be close before he can catch the gentle sound of a cuckoo’s call, even with his hearing aids in. I tell him when one is around but it is sad that he often misses this distinctive sound of spring.

We pack everything for trips to Scotland. The shorts are mixed in with long trousers and t-shirts squeeze in with jumpers. It’s just as well really as May in Scotland can give you three seasons in one day! There is little certainty about what weather will greet us each morning with temperatures ranging from freezing to balmy. Campers need to come to Scotland prepared.

In the before Covid-19 world we would usually travel to Europe in May and June but with that off the agenda Scotland is our next favourite destination. Travelling through a UK that is now trying to find a way to live with Covid-19 [as we realise that a world without Covid-19 isn’t an option in the short and medium term] is interesting. So along with our three season clothing we packed reusable masks and hand sanitiser. Below are some highlights from our first couple of weeks touring this wonderful country.

Moffat is normally just a quick halt on our way further north for us. We visit our favourite cafe, Cafe Ariete and buy some delicious pancakes from the bakery. On this trip we decided to take things slowly and spend a couple of days here and it turns out there is more to the town, although we did visit the cafe and bakery! We had a great walk up a hill for views over the town, explored it’s pretty streets and treated ourselves to excellent takeaway wood-fired oven pizza from a business handily placed by the campsite.

The walk along the old railway line and onto the shores of Loch Tay from Killin is full of surprises. From the bright-pink blossom in the cemetery to the ruined castle; the evidence of beavers in the wetlands to the banks of bluebells under the trees and the open views to the mountains across Loch Tay, there is so much to enjoy. I blushed with embarrassment when the Killin campsite warden recognised me [and the Blue Bus] as an MMM writer. We had a riverside pitch and sat by the ‘van watching a pair of oystercatchers on a nest and sandpipers flying by. While we were here we took the ‘van out to the Ben Lawers car park. Ben Lawers is a great walk but my walking partner wanted to bag a couple of brutal big Munros nearby. The highlight of the day for me happened back at the car park, not because all the exhausting walking was over, but because a cuckoo flew in front of us and obligingly sat on a signpost waiting to be identified. Although I had heard cuckoos every day on this trip, this was the first time ever I had seen one!

Glencoe was as stunning as it always is and the weather was fine enough for a walk. The only other person on Beinn Odhar was a charming and chatty man from Scotland’s central belt. He had worked for a travel firm for over 20 years and, after six months of furlough due to Covid-19, had been made redundant. The country is packed with tales of people who have unexpectedly become job seekers in the last 12 months and the plight of each one breaks a tiny chip off my heart.

In Fort William we hit the shops before heading up to Morvich. It is many years since we’d last been on the shores of Loch Duich. We had driven up to the area in an old Vauxhall Viva that got us north but couldn’t quite make the trip home and we came back in an AA breakdown lorry with the Viva riding in shame on the back. Fortunately the Blue Bus is made of tougher stuff than an old Vauxhall!

In nearby Ardelve we found Manuela’s Wee Bakery, a treasure trove of bread, cakes and other goodies. If I lived near here I would quickly get very fat! Manuela’s has a cafe too and a garden with a collection of human-size wooden houses straight out of a fairystory. Make sure you visit when you’re in the area.

From the campsite we climbed A’ Glas Bheinn, a steep craggy mountain above Morvich which gave us views across to Skye. On another day we drove to Letterfearn and walked by the Loch, stopping often to admire the view to Eilean Donan Castle. In the woodland we walked through bluebells and marsh marigolds to a ruined broch. The stones were mostly still in place to a height above the door, including the heavy triangular lintel. Inside we climbed between the walls up the steps for a higher vantage point across the loch.

On this trip we have stayed on club sites, independent sites and overnight car parks. The campsites all had a different take on Covid-19 restrictions. Some promoted common sense, some haven’t opened their facilities at all and the Caravan and Motorhome Club continue with their band system. Every day on their sites I meet a baffled camper outside the toilets wondering what to do with a band! It is certainly a great conversation starter and maybe the club has a secret mission to bring us all together via friendship bands.

Roxton CL, a Small Campsite on the Banks of the River Humber

We only had two nights at Roxton but quickly settled into this peaceful and welcoming Caravan and Motorhome Club Certified Location. It was such a stunning spot and idyllic site it was really too good to keep to myself. Near to the small town of Barton-upon-Humber and by the hamlet of Barrow Haven, this campsite offers fantastic walking and wildlife.

We were warmly welcomed by the couple that own and run Roxton and they were around if we needed them but were never intrusive. This lovely site is in a large enclosed garden and is a credit to them with level and tidy grass and squirrels and birds in the trees. There is a caravan storage area that is accessed through the campsite but the comings and goings were minimal and never disturbed us. We couldn’t believe we were lucky enough to have this wonderful site to ourselves.

Just a few minutes walk from the campsite is Barrow Haven nature reserve managed by Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. The reserve is mostly disused flooded clay pits that now have reed beds and an abundance of wildlife. Walk between the pools to the banks of the River Humber and the Humber Bridge stretches across the wide river to your left. The sunset across these pools with the Humber Bridge as a backdrop is a beautiful sight.

We walked along the Humber towards Barton-upon-Humber. The sky was blue and in the sunshine the Humber Bridge dominated our view. The River Humber was to our right and numerous flooded clay pits to our left. There was lots of bird song, particularly reed warblers and the world felt spacious under the big skies.  There are also occasional remnants of the industry here and a still working red-clay tile manufacturer. There used to be many more.

In Barton upon Humber there is a visitor’s centre, an old tile works and The Ropewalk arts centre. Due to Covid-19 restrictions none of these were open on our visit, surely an excuse to return! We found somewhere for coffee in the twn and then continued along the Humber by Far Ings National Nature Reserve another area of pools. We turned inland back to Barton upon Humber and picked up a footpath across fields towards Barrow Haven.

As we reached the lane to the campsite, the weather was looking more unsettled but was still dry so we decided to by-pass the campsite and carry on to Barrow Haven and The Haven Inn for a swift half. We had obviously pushed our luck as a short shower caught us as we hurried back along the Humber path.

That evening was a spectacular sunset and we walked back out to the River Humber. This time we were certain that the low fog horn sound we could hear from the reeds was a bittern. The first time we had ever heard one! The bittern and the deep orange sun setting behind the Humber Bridge were a magical end to our stay.