The Paddock, A Perfect Small Campsite on Rutland Water’s South Shore

A bank holiday fell during our four week tour around England in April and May and we needed somewhere where we wouldn’t get in the way of the working population who wanted to relax and enjoy the long weekend and where we could find a hint of tranquility. An adult-only, no facilities campsite on the south shores of Rutland Water fitted the bill perfectly.

The Paddock is run by a friendly family who keep the site exceptionally neat and tidy. The grass is cut short on the pitches and these are marked out clearly and are spacious. The owners welcome all visitors and provide brochures about the local area. They also own a country pub in the nearby village of North Luffenham that is about three miles away. The campsite has a view over Rutland Water but the owners have even built a raised viewing platform so that the view is even better!

For us this campsite ticked two boxes. Just a short walk away is a Wildlife Trust nature reserve which has a hide overlooking an osprey nest used by a breeding pair of ospreys. The second attraction is the round Rutland Water cycle route which passes the campsite gates.

On our first day we walked down to the nature reserve and paid £5 each as concessions to enter [adult admission is £6]. It isn’t far to walk along the paths to the osprey hides and there are four hides in total. In the third hide a Wildlife Trust warden gave us plenty of interesting background about the ospreys and Rutland Water. It was a treat to have great views of the two ospreys; they were close enough to see with the naked eye and clear in the binoculars. When we arrived the male was sitting on the eggs on the huge nest that sits on a platform in the water and the female was on a nearby post. Boats are kept out of this corner of Rutland Water and this helps keep the ospreys safe. This isn’t the only osprey nest on Rutland Water but it is the easiest to see. The Wildlife Trust have cameras on the ospreys and you can watch them online. While we were there the two birds swapped positions and I watched on the TV screen in the hide to get a look at the eggs as they made the change over.

Of course ospreys are hard to beat but we also saw gadwall and teal and sedge warblers were noisily calling around the third hide.  Swallows and our first swifts of the year were here too and at the campsite white throats hung around the hedges.

There is another nature reserve beyond Manton at Egleton. This larger reserve has lagoons and meadows and lots of hides. Your day ticket will get you into this reserve too.

In the afternoon we walked to the oddly named village of Wing across the fields and up and down the valley. In this picturesque village we found the turf maze before walking onto Manton and beyond to a field where there was once a medieval village.  There is little to see today, except for a handsome private house that has been renovated but we could make out the furrows and ridges in the ground.  Back at Manton we had two halves of Osprey beer [of course] sitting outside The Horse and Jockey before heading back.

It was a glorious sunny morning when we cycled the 17 miles anti-clockwise around Rutland Water. You can make your ride about six miles further by cycling to the end of the peninsular and back. This cycle ride is mostly on easy to follow shared-use paths that, on such a fine day, were busy with walkers and other cyclists of all ages and abilities.  The first undulating section to the stunning Normanton Church, over the dam and to Barnsdale, where the woods were carpeted with sweet smelling bluebells, was particular popular. There are plenty of cafes to stop at for drinks and food and Oakham isn’t far off the route on the northern shore if you want more choice. On the north side of Rutland Water the cycle way is near to the road in places and is less popular with other walkers. As we came into the village of Manton and neared the end of our ride, grey clouds descended and we were lucky to get back without getting drenched.

Rutland Water was the perfect spot for a quiet bank holiday for us and The Paddock was a lovely base that allowed us to make the most of what the area has to offer.

More Walks Around Morecambe

In Lock Down One we explored our local area and discovered a bonanza of fantastic walks around Morecambe. Lock Down Two was mostly spent watching our new kitchen being installed so we didn’t go far. In the cold winter months of Lock Down Three we once again set off on some local walks. I crave new places and sights and so, as well as the familiar, we searched out new places to walk, finding variety and interest as we mixed up the coast with woodland and canal walking. Here is a flavour of what we found.

On the Fringe of Morecambe Bay from Carnforth to Morecambe

This walk has been on my list of things to do for some time and a sunny and frosty day in February was the ideal opportunity. We took the bus to Carnforth, walking back along the coastal path. This is a level walk, the navigation fairly straightforward and is about seven miles.

From Carnforth you are soon out on the salt marshes at the River Keer estuary. I enjoy this green coastal landscape and it was fun on a sunny morning to meander around the pools and channels. Across Morecambe Bay we could see Cumbria and the Lake District and behind us was Warton Crag. This is a wild landscape that feels cut off and we didn’t meet many people until we were near Red Bank Farm and the parking area there. After Red Bank Farm, if you follow the rocky shore you can climb up to the white stone memorial to the 21 [at least] cockle pickers who died in Morecambe Bay on 5 February 2004. If the tide is high, or you find walking along the rocky shore tricky, then the path over the fields of sheep from Red Bank is lovely and you can see the memorial over the fence.

Walking by Hest Bank you might spot the big house that featured in The Bay series two on ITV before you reach the car park and Jo ‘n’ Lees By the Sea cafe, a good refreshment stop. You are now on the Morecambe Promenade and for us it is an easy walk back home.

The Sea, a Park, a Canal & Woodland all in a Few Miles

This walk is only a few hours but in that short time packs in plenty of variety with a walk along Morecambe Bay, a wander through Happy Mount Park, a stroll along the canal and even a turn around the woodland off Barley Cop Lane. We walk it in either direction to add a bit of variety to those hard-to-tell-apart lock down days.

Is there ever a better name for a park than Happy Mount? From home, we will walk to the sea and the Promenade and walk around Morecambe Bay to Happy Mount Park on the edge of town. As we follow our noses through the park, which is usually busy with families on a fine day, we pass the cafe on our right, the train on our left, the Japanese Garden on our right and into the play area. From here you can find a route through the hedge onto the woodland path, turn left and skirt around the golf course then go firstly over the railway line and then underneath [it can be muddy here]. You are now on a track that crosses the canal.

Join the canal towpath and walk towards Lancaster. This is an idyllic rural stretch of the canal and we have spotted a kingfisher here but, even if you are not that lucky, you will certainly see some ducks. Leaving the canal at Folly Lane we walk by the farm, around the fields and under the Bay Gateway turning right onto Barley Cop Lane. If we have time we will take a turn around the earthy woodland at the junction, particularly now the paths have been resurfaced. Then we head home through Torrisholme.

Looking for Seals along Heysham Harbour Wall & South Jetty

Although we have walked to Heysham Head and Half Moon Bay many times, we had never explored the other side of the port, near the two Heysham nuclear power stations. We walked along Money Close Lane from the junction to the port, turning right into the car park and then left onto the gravel path through the Heysham Nature Reserve that skirts around the two nuclear power stations. This is a grassy area with trees and ponds that is popular with local dog walkers. We crossed a lane and picked up paths towards the sea, emerging between the power stations and the Ocean Edge Holiday Park. This holiday park certainly is on the edge of the Irish Sea and has unrivalled sea views but its publicity doesn’t mention the EDF nuclear power stations that hum gently alongside the park.

We had timed our arrival here for around an hour before high tide as we were hoping one of the seals that are occasionally spotted in the sea here would be around. The sea hadn’t quite covered the rocks below us and oystercatchers and redshanks perched among the surf and a group of wigeon dabbled in the shallow water. Turning to the right, ahead of us was an impressive wide concrete sea wall leading to the mouth of Heysham Harbour. The wall makes a dramatic sight under a blue sky with the power station to one side and the sea to the other. We set off walking the over half a mile along the wall to the squat lighthouse and the wooden remains of the South Jetty.

At the lighthouse we sat and had our flask of coffee looking out, unsuccessfully, for seals. We could see the ships in the harbour and we watched cormorants and gulls on the top level of the wooden frame of the old South Jetty. On the lower levels were a group of tiny knot and we watched with fascination as the sea level rose and the small birds had to flutter up to higher struts. In the distance we spotted the bulk of a ship from the Isle of Man which powered across the sea and was soon dominating our view as it came through the narrow harbour entrance.

The only option is to walk back the same way, no hardship as this is such an unusual and exhilerating spot, with or without seals.

Around the History of Sunderland Point

It was a frosty day when we took the bus to Middleton and walked down Carr Lane to the coast and the sandy Potts’ Corner car park. This is really the obvious starting point for car drivers planning a walk around Sunderland Point and we had merely added 1.5 miles by taking the bus.

Where you can walk will constantly depend on the tides around Sunderland Point so take care, don’t put yourself in danger and check the tide times. The tide was on the ebb while we were walking and we could follow the shore of salt marsh and pebbles, strewn with trees and branches. Eventually you will pass the turning onto The Lane that would take you straight to the village. Carry on by the coast and just beyond here is what is known as Sambo’s Grave, a poignant reminder of Lancashire’s part in the slave trade. The grave is a memorial to a young man from Africa who is thought to have arrived as a slave in 1736. Becoming ill he died and was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1795 a local schoolteacher raised money to erect a memorial to the young man. Before carrying on, stop and pay your respects, read the elegy and admire the painted stones and maybe even flowers that decorate the memorial.

Walking around Sunderland Point, where the River Lune flows into the Irish Sea, is to be somewhere that feels as remote as it is possible to be on the Lancashire coast. Walking at sea level, the view across the river to Glasson Dock stretches away into the distance and you will catch any breeze on your back. My sense of isolation disappeared as we reached the handsome Georgian houses of Sunderland but this is no usual village. The road to this sleepy village of around 30 houses is cut off twice a day by the high tide. It was once a busy place for ships to unload or wait for the tide into the port of Lancaster.

From the village we followed the dike to the road and walked to Overton where the bus terminates. If you are heading back to Potts’ Corner car park there are plenty of footpaths that will take you there.

Combining the Lancaster Canal & the River Lune

Eager for a walk that took us somewhere new on a sunny day, we set off on our usual route to the Lancaster Canal and headed into Lancaster, over the Lune aqueduct. So far so normal. On this occasion we carried on through Lancaster and into a lovely wooded section of canal around Aldcliffe. We walked as far as Stodday where we picked up surprisingly busy lanes around the sewage works that took us to the footpath and cycle way from Lancaster to Conder Green that follows the River Lune.

We stopped at a picnic bench for our lunch and then, as we weren’t cycling, took the riverside path along the dike, rather than the lane and cycle route, so that we could enjoy the views over the River Lune and across to the pub at Snatchems. Apparently there used to be a ferry across the river to the pub and as we walked we wished that still existed. Skirting the wetland pools we emerged into the new housing along the quay road. We crossed the River Lune by Carlisle Bridge that carries the west coast train line and has a pedestrian walkway that takes you high above the river.

From here the cycle and pedestrian path back to Morecambe is an easy walk home. For us this walk is about 12 miles.

Morecambe Prom Updated

Morecambe is dotted with paintings on walls and sculptures of birds. A new addition to the Morecambe art scene has recently made walking along the seafront in Morecambe even more interesting. Local artists have been painting panels to cover the plain blue panels that surround an area of waste ground next to the supermarkets.

The photograph above shows the first four colourful painted panels. There are now more and I find it is worth checking on every visit to the sea as another may have been added since we were last there.

Well done to all the people who are putting in considerable time and effort to brighten up this part of Morecambe.

Back on the Road Again

Once again I am out enjoying the excitement of the open road with new and unexpected things around every corner. It has been a long time coming. Being out in the fresh air all day and walking with family and friends, sharing jokes and memories. These simple things have been my cure for the lock down blues.

I stood watching a moorhen with five tiny chicks pottering around a small inlet into a pond and wanted to weep with the joy of the moment. Nearby a Canada goose sat still and calm on a nest watched over by their alert mate. These and other experiences have re-wired my brain and woken up my senses, both dulled by lock down repeats.

We didn’t go far for our first few nights away once we were allowed. Burrs Country Park Caravan and Motorhome Club site in Greater Manchester is well placed to allow us to meet up with some people we’ve missed. A 30 minute walk into Bury and we were soon sitting outside Katsouris wonderful cafe eating tasty Greek food and catching up with an old friend from Salford as if the last 12 months hadn’t even happened. Later, our son and daughter-in-law drove up to Burrs Country Park and we walked through the countryside with them and enjoyed coffee and cake from the cafe as if everything was normal. Inside my heart was singing.

With a day to ourselves we cycled along the number six National Cycle Route to Salford and Clifton Country Park. The sun kept on shining and this surprisingly green and rural route turned up a reed warbler nibbling seed heads on the banks of the old canal, roe deer hiding in tall reeds, their erect pointed ears giving them away and a friendly cafe in Radcliffe that served us a delicious white chocolate and cranberry iced bun under a blue sky.

Moving on to Crowden we packed sandwiches and a flask and walked some of the Pennine Way. The weather was perfect and it was this and two other walkers who were the talk of the trail. We had wondered if anyone was walking this Long Distance Footpath at the moment and along came a young couple with a tiny baby who were spending their joint parenting leave backpacking the whole route. We admired their energy and wished them well.

After a week being back in the big wide world we had our first pint of draft beer in a sunny pub garden in Castleton. My drinking partner proclaimed that his pint of Chieftain IPA from Ireland was the best he’d ever had but that might be more to do with the months without a proper beer!

Roll on some more mini adventures!

Lock Down Loneliness

As we all emerge from Lock Down Three, we will be keen to focus on looking forward to the new world and the ‘new normal’ as it is called. I am the sort of person that looks to the future, rather than the past and I certainly don’t want to think back to the dark days between January and March this year. I have come through all the lock downs and tiers physically healthy but mentally mangled. Lock downs never got any easier and I found Lock Down Three particularly tough and lonely.

Readers might live in a friendly street where your neighbours smiled across the road as they clapped on a Thursday night in Lock Down One and continue to check in regularly via a Street WhatsApp Group. I imagine this is the sort of street that, in Before Coronavirus days, held a communal street party. I don’t know where these streets are but in all the places I have lived [just seven streets in five places so a limited sample] I have never experienced anywhere like this and mostly hear about them in the media and soap operas. Do they really exist in the real world?

Thursday nights at 20.00 during Lock Down One were quiet here on our Morecambe road. No one shamed us into going into our front garden to clap for the NHS. We were therefore taken by surprise when a Zoom call with two friends in a wealthy part of Greater Manchester had to be cut short so that they could join in the clapping. They risked being socially shunned by the neighbourhood if they didn’t show their faces!

Wherever we have lived we have always got to know our neighbours but we had only lived in our Morecambe home for four months when we were confined to its four walls. We had met some people at tai chi classes and were on chatting terms with the residents either side of our house but there was still some way to go to feeling a part of the community. Although the sunny weather during Lock Down One meant we did meet a couple more neighbours from across the street while we were out in the front garden I certainly wouldn’t say that it was a chance to settle into a community. Most people around us are retired and the majority of our neighbours are single households so we are surrounded by a generation who are terrified of catching Covid-19 and who kept themselves to themselves. Any chances to get to know them were fleeting and superficial. The only positive in the first lock down was spending time with our immediate next door neighbour. We saw him pretty much everyday and with all the time in the world we enjoyed long chats over the fence.

Lock Down Three has been a totally different scenario. Even our chatty neighbour was curled up on his sofa in the dark winter months of January and February and we have hardly seen anyone. Thank goodness in January our tai chi teacher eventually got to grips with Zoom and for the last three months our weeks have revolved around his entertaining Wednesday classes.

When we moved to Morecambe we thought we would meet people in our new town by joining some clubs or groups, attending some events and seeking out like-minded folk. The steps we had made towards this before Lock Down One kicked in were small. It isn’t that I want to be part of a community WhatsApp group but Covid-19 has certainly made settling into a new town more difficult.

We know we are lucky to have each other, lock downs have been very lonely for single people. But life has been so different for everyone. For the most part, and for the first time in our lives, geography has determined our social life. Most, but not all of our good friends are in the north west of England but as lock downs and tiers came and went we were constantly cancelling plans. In Lock Down Three we couldn’t even see two long-standing and close friends who live locally. In normal times we would meet as a foursome for a walk but the rules only allowed two people, not two households, to even take a stroll in the open air.

Lock Downs have been lonely experiences for me and they must have been miserable for others. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post I always look forward, rather than back. This can be positive and also a cause of anxiety. Even as we take the small steps to a restriction-free life, in a corner of my mind is a dread that another lock down will come out of the blue! And so, I am seizing the day and can’t wait to be back on the road again on Monday 12 April.

One Step at a Time out of Lock Down Three

As Lock Down Three restrictions eased on Monday 29 March 2021, our priorities were to meet our son and daughter-in-law and visit the Lake District. I was impatient to see them but made myself wait until Tuesday 30th and a better weather forecast for the four of us to meet up and hike up some of the 214 Wainwrights. The day’s three Wainwrights were ones we had climbed before but both our son and daughter-in-law have taken up Wainwright Bagging and the walk included two new fells for them to tick off. I didn’t care where we were, I was just so happy to be with them both again. I was grateful that they were prepared to spend their first day back in the hills waiting for me as I huffed and puffed up the slopes and gingerly straggled behind on the steep rocky descents. We walked up Heron Pike, Great Rigg and Fairfield, chasing the low cloud that magically rose before us as we ascended, making it a glorious and unforgettable walk. There was a lot to catch up on and we talked about all manner of nonsense, about hydrogen cars, shared friends, Line of Duty [of course], plans for the rest of the year and recommended books and I couldn’t stop smiling the whole day!

Being able to meet our son and daughter-in-law and take a walk with them, catching up, laughing at familiar jokes, sharing memories and making new ones, sitting by a tarn having a picnic lunch together and trying to name the surrounding mountains are all things we used to take for granted. It has been a long three months since we have been able to do these simple things. For three dark months it has been just the two of us walking locally and so I was keen to make the most of the next step forward from Lock Down Three and start to feel as if I was living again.

Not content with one day of walking in company, the next we met two long-standing friends. My aching legs, after the steep descent from Fairfield, were happy to have an easier walk around the gorgeous Silverdale coast and through Eaves Wood. I was pleased to find that my ability to chatter hadn’t been lost in lock down and I barely drew breath for the whole four hours. The day wasn’t without incident and will, no doubt, become part of our collective memory, ‘Do you remember when we all nearly drowned?’ It was a high spring tide and we sat in the sunshine having our picnic lunch, looking across the sea from a low rock in The Cove near Silverdale. We were chatting as we looked over the expanse of Morecambe Bay to Grange over Sands and remarked on the speed of the incoming tide. Looking around we suddenly realised that our route back to the shore was cut off by water! While those with longer legs could traverse the cliff to return to dry land, I took off my shoes and socks, rolled up my trousers and laughing had my first paddle of the year through knee-high water! It was such a warm and sunny day my feet dried naturally as we finished our lunch sprawled out on the pebbly shore.

The sun kept shining and the Lake District fells and more Wainwright Fells were calling. The next day we drove back up the M6 and set off walking by ourselves over Hartsop Dodd and Gray Crag. After two sociable days I felt energised and on much better form that I had been for three months. It felt good to be walking with just my partner in life and hiking. It stayed dry but we had to shelter from the bitingly cold wind when we stopped for lunch and we were wearing many more layers than we had the day before. Back at the Blue Bus we enjoyed a mug of tea and a slice of cake before driving home.

Our final walk of the week was along Morecambe’s stunning promenade to Heysham with two inland Lancashire friends who had been missing the sea. The sun shone once again and the nattering never stopped. A particular delight on our walk was Glebe Garden, next to St Peter’s Church. The garden was packed with colour and buzzing with insects and butterflies in the sunshine.

We have more walking with friends days planned over the coming week during our countdown to returning to camping. I have taken a few big steps out of the mind-numbing Lock Down Three rut I was in and it is starting to feel a bit like normal!

Morecambe: More Than A One Horse Town

We hadn’t lived in Morecambe many days before we noticed the horses. There are always horses around town, in the fields, occasionally cutting the grass on the play area and often on the roads. Just five minutes walk from our home are stables with horses and ponies of all shapes and sizes. I treat the large horses with the respect they deserve but I like to stop and pet the little ones when they are outdoors. Horses have become so much of our Morecambe scene that we hardly give a second glance these days when we notice a horse grazing by the roadside or see someone with a pony and sulky, a lightweight two-wheeled single-seat cart, go galloping by but just occasionally Morecambe’s horses gift me with a story worth telling.

Firstly some background. Morecambe is home to one of the UK’s largest settled Irish Traveller Communities and they own many of the horses. This community are British with Irish ancestry and are distinct to Roma and Gypsy communities. Together they are referred to as the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller [GRT] community and judgement of and prejudice against this group of people is widespread. The recent shameful story about Pontins holding a list of names to exclude travellers staying at their holiday parks is an example of how endemic prejudice of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community is.

I don’t know much about horses but from what I can see many of the horses in Morecambe are neither sleek race horses or large and strong shire horses; they mostly seem to be Gypsy Vanner or Irish Cobb horses. These originated in Ireland and were bred by Irish Travellers as robust and reliable horses with a good temperament suitable for pulling wagons. When ridden it is generally bareback.

The Cumbrian market town of Appleby-in-Westmorland is less than an hour’s drive from Morecambe and it is here that the annual Appleby Horse Fair is held, generally in early June each year. Living in Lancashire, you generally know when this big event is coming up as you spot members of the GRT community on the road making their way there. Said to be the largest gathering of its kind in Europe, around 10,000 people meet at Appleby-in-Westmorland to trade horses, wear their best clothes and see friends. They are joined by around 30,000 visitors keen to witness the traditions and culture. Horses are prepared for trading by being bathed in the River Eden and groomed. The fair also has stalls selling clothing and horse-related goods. The flashing lane runs through the fair and is the perfect spot for spectators to watch the horses being put through their paces as the horses are ‘flashed’ or shown off by sellers to potential buyers.

We recently had a slightly too close an encounter with just one of Morecambe’s horses. We were walking towards the canal on one of our lock down days out. It was a cold day and as we strode out along a quiet lane we saw three guys ahead. They were wrapped up against the frost and standing with their arms folded, watching a fourth man riding a horse bare back and with no riding hat. The man and horse galloped towards us and we moved onto the grass verge to give what was clearly a lively horse plenty of space as it went by. Carrying on, the demeanor of the three spectators made us aware that the horse and rider had turned around and were returning behind us. The three were shouting encouragingly and I wondered if this was a practice for the flashing lane at Appleby Horse Fair or Morecambe’s own version. Again, not wishing to spook the horse, we calmly moved to the side of the lane. The man and horse passed within a horse hair’s breadth and this time it was clear to even two people who have never ridden more than a seaside donkey that the rider was not completely in control. Just clearing us, the horse bucked and succeeded in throwing the rider onto the road. Not a man to give in, the rider clung onto the reins and we could only watch, horrified as he was dragged along the tarmac. Amazingly, he hung on and eventually calmed the horse enough so that the shaken and battered rider could leap back on, no mean feat with no stirrups. ‘Is it the rider or the horse?’ we asked as we walked by the three onlookers. ‘We’re trying to decide,’ one of them replied smiling in a knowing way, ‘But we think its a bit of both!’

Walks from Stonehaven Caravan & Motorhome Club Campsite

The town of Stonehaven on the east coast of Scotland is a perfect place for a few days away. It has an open and pleasant Caravan and Motorhome Club site that is just ten minutes walk from the centre of the small town and even nearer to the sea. This great location makes it a popular campsite to stay at and it had been on our wish list for some time. We eventually got to stay here between 2020 lock downs and found some great walks from the site.

The seafront to the harbour

This is a level short walk of around two miles that is perfect for the evening you arrive. Following the promenade around the bay, the path crosses a bridge and continues with the beach and the sea to one side and the houses of Stonehaven to the other. The path becomes a boardwalk as you get nearer to the old town and the harbour. Take your time looking at the different interesting metal sculptures along the boardwalk. These quirky sculptures of a lighthouse, boats and an aeroplane have fish crewing the boats and a seahorse looking out from the parapet of the lighthouse. Finally you will reach the picturesque harbour which is a lovely place to potter around, maybe stopping for a drink in a pub or cafe or just looking at the boats.

Dunnottar Castle & woodland

This is a stunning 5.5 mile [around 9 km] walk with plenty of places where you will want to linger.

From the campsite walk along the seafront to the old harbour [see above] and pick up the signed path behind the houses that climbs steeply above the town. At the top you will want to stop, admire the view and take photographs of the view over the harbour and the town. Continue along the well-used undulating path along the cliffs. The impressive war memorial built in 1923 to remember all those who lost their lives in the First World War is your next point of interest. It is worth leaving the main path and walking up to the memorial for more panoramic views.

The cliffs are stunning along this stretch of coast and you will soon have Dunnottar Castle in sight. This spectacularly-sited ruin has cliffs on three sides and is reached by a series of steps. There is an entrance charge for the castle, should you wish to visit. Alternatively, it is worth making the effort to walk down the steps to the pretty bay below the castle and watch the surf or have a picnic.

From Dunnottar Castle the walk crosses the road and passes a large wooden hut with a number above the door and an old radio station. The hut remains from the Second World War admiralty radio station. After the war the radio station was used to monitor radio calls from ships and in the 1950s the polygonal concrete building, reminiscent of an airport control tower, was built. By the 1970s much of the radio station’s work revolved around the oil drilling platforms, handling radio link calls. On the 6 July 1988 the staff at Stonehaven picked up the distress call from the Piper Alpha oil platform following an explosion. 226 people were on the platform at the time and 165 of these died in the disaster, plus two men from the Sandhaven, a supply vessel involved in the rescue. As satellite and mobile technology improved, the radio station was no longer needed and it was closed in 2000.

Reaching the A957, we turned left to the car park and walked into Dunnottar Woods but you might find a different path into the woodland. However, you get there take your time wandering through the trees and following the stream and you could find some wooden sculptures, a cluster of fairy doors and in the autumn some real mushrooms.

You emerge from the woodland back into Stonehaven. Follow your nose and you will be back at the seafront and a choice of ice-cream shops.

Chapel of St Mary and St Nathalan

If you turn left out of the campsite there is a pleasant walk of not more than 1.5 miles. You soon leave Stonehaven and are beyond the houses. The narrow path quickly climbs from shore level through the bushes and grass to the top of the cliffs. If you follow this narrow and sometimes overgrown path you will eventually cross a bridge and reach the ruined chapel of St Mary and St Nathalan surrounded by an old graveyard.

The chapel has an enviable position overlooking the sea and beyond its walls is the golf course. Cowie Castle once sat on the clifftop nearby but little can be seen of it.

After exploring the chapel and reading some of the fascinating gravestones, you can return back to the campsite the same way or stay high on the path above the cliffs and emerge onto the main road that runs above the campsite. Follow the road downhill until just before the campsite and turn onto the steep path that takes you to Amy Row, a pretty road back to the campsite.

Bringing Staffordshire to Lancashire

In normal BC [Before Coronavirus] times we would make regular trips to Leek in Staffordshire, partly to visit family but also to stock up on the culinary delight that is as essential to anyone brought up in north Staffordshire as fresh air. This is, of course, the Staffordshire oatcake.

In Leek there is still a small shop that is mostly oatcakes. These oatcakes are soft but substantial, they are full of the taste of oats and are perfect rolled around some melted cheese for a warming lunch. Oatcakes freeze well and we will always come back from a trip to Leek with enough oatcakes to fill our small freezer. You can occasionally buy something called Staffordshire oatcakes in the supermarket but these lacey and flimsy things are just a hopeless substitute for the real thing.

Of course, in these days of Lock Down Three, a trip to Leek for oatcakes in no way counts as an essential trip, whatever my stomach might think! My dad kindly suggested posting me some but that seemed an extravagance for such an inexpensive but bulky and weighty item. The only option was to bring Staffordshire to Lancashire and make our own.

I did make Staffordshire oatcakes many years ago and we both remembered something tasty but thick and chewy. This time I used our heavy cast iron frying pan that fries pretty much everything beautifully and worked hard to get a batter that was just the right consistency to spread around the pan.

Ingredients for 5 or 6 oatcakes (depending on how thin you get them)

150g oats – whizzed in a nut grinder or food processor for a short while until they are finer

150g flour – use either white or white and wholemeal mixed

7g dried yeast

1 teaspoon sugar and salt to taste

300ml milk (I used soya milk)

300 ml water (boiled and cooled)

Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix together. Add the cold milk to warm water, you want a temperature that it isn’t too hot to put your fingers in. Whisk the milk and water into the dry ingredients. The batter should be fairly runny. Cover the bowl and leave this in a warm place to bubble up for about an hour.

After an hour or so the batter will be frothy and before cooking you should give it a stir. I added a little more water at this point so that it was a thick pouring consistency (like thin porridge). In a good thick-bottomed frying pan, melt a knob of butter or margarine and swirl this around to cover the pan. I use a soup ladle to measure out the oatcake batter and about two ladles worked well for one oatcake. Ladle the mixture into the frying pan and, if it doesn’t spread out itself, carefully spread it around the pan with a knife [I use a long baking palette knife] so that your oatcake isn’t too thick. You will notice the mixture that is in contact with the pan will cook quickly but you have time to move the runny / uncooked mixture sitting on the top to the edges. After two to three minutes, turn the oatcake over to cook the other side (you can check it is cooked by peeking).

Once both sides are cooked, place the oatcake to one side and cook the next until all your batter is used up.

We like to enjoy our oatcakes with cheese. If you are going to eat your oatcakes as soon as you have cooked them [and who can blame you] simply put your favourite cheese [grated or sliced] along the centre third of each oatcake, roll it up and keep them warm in the oven until you have cooked them all.

If you are working with cold oatcakes, then you can warm them in the oven or under the grill. Add the cheese as above and for the oven roll them up, place on a baking sheet and warm for about 20 minutes until the cheese has melted. Under the grill, leave the oatcakes open and grill them for about five minutes and then roll up and eat. A dollop of your favourite brown or tomato sauce on the side compliments this simple dish and you can spice it up by adding tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, gherkins or pickle [or all of these and more] to the cheese.

Some people eat oatcakes with a full English cooked breakfast and others eat them with sweet fillings but this latter combo has never been tried in our house or in any of our families houses!

A Campervan Fire!

I am barely conscious before my first cup of tea at the best of times but on a recent camping trip to the Lake District I had to wake up pretty fast.  Anthony was still slumbering while I brewed our cuppa.  Deciding to warm up some breakfast rolls I pulled out the pots and pans that live inside our campervan’s oven and lit the gas to warm it up. I’m sure we’re not alone with this dual use of our campervan oven, it is both storage space and cooking apparatus.

Sitting enjoying my brew a few minutes later my comatose brain registered a burning smell. Getting up and opening the oven I was horrified to see actual flames!  As I turned off the oven and the gas, I realised I must have left the cloth we use to silence appliance-related rattles inside the oven when I had lit it. With flames still curling around the cloth I had to take action and fortunately adrenalin kicked in, over-riding the need for caffeine.

We have a fire extinguisher in our ‘van, but I realised that squirting this into the oven, although effective, would also be messy. We also carry an old but serviceable fire blanket that was discarded by a previous employer as being out of date.  Guessing this would be more effective for the small fire I had before me I tried to grab the fire blanket from its hook between the kitchen unit and the van’s back door.  Annoyingly it was stuck and I had to grab the ‘van keys and open the back door to free it, a commotion that abruptly woke my sleeping partner [interestingly the burning smell hadn’t woken him].  Trying to stay calm, I pulled the blanket out of its packing, not something I had ever done before, and stuffed it inside the oven, smothering the flames.

After waiting a minute or two and with no sign of further flames, I used the fire blanket to carefully remove the still smouldering cloth and I rolled it up into the fire blanket.  We put the bundle outside on our gravel pitch, well enough away from ours or anyone else’s ‘van. Recovering from the shock with another mug of tea, we discussed where else we could store the fire blanket so that it is more easily accessible should there ever be a next time.

The simple fire blanket stopped a stupid mistake becoming a disaster, although our Blue Bus reeked of the burning fires of hell for a few days.

If you are wondering, you may have read a shorter version of this escapade in a recent MMM.

A Year Without Gluhwein

For over a decade, visiting the incredible Manchester Christmas Market has been an autumnal household tradition. Before we lived in Greater Manchester we would take the train into Manchester for a special day out. Once we lived in Salford, we would walk across the Irwell and potter around the market a number of times, usually starting with the opening day. The Christmas Market was always my number one choice to meet friends and soak up some festive atmosphere.

A mug of gluhwein isn’t cheap, so we will save some money this year but I will miss standing in the cold, people milling around me, my gloved hands wrapped around a mug of steaming hot gluhwein. The warming spicy wine is something that tastes best drunk outside surrounded by Christmas, it just doesn’t taste the same drunk at home. Part of the fun of drinking my gluhwein is having Rudolph, the festive singing reindeer, belting out Christmas songs above my head and Manchester’s Gothic town hall looking magnificent across the square.

On a weekday morning I would be one of the first visitors to the Christmas Market, taking the chance to browse the stalls and maybe even buy something. But mostly Manchester’s Christmas Market is about the food and drink. For a mid-morning snack I might buy a bag of warm, spicy nuts to nibble before finding a seat and treating myself to an alcoholic hot chocolate from the French stall on charming King Street. It is the next best thing to being in Paris.

In the afternoons, before the after-work rush, we will arrange to meet friends for gluhwein. After years of research I have found that the gluhwein varies across the many stalls and our favourite has become the drink from what we call the Rudolph stall. This stall always has prime position in Albert Square, provides malted milk biscuits to soak up your gluhwein and has the singing reindeer head above the counter. Their gluhwein isn’t too sweet and sickly, it tastes of alcohol and provides the much-anticipated inner glow. While I am happy with straight gluhwein, my partner likes to add rum to his gluhwein for that extra kick!

Before all the building work began we would often meet friends in the Alpine hut complex on Brazennose Street, for some reason always a quiet corner of the market even in the evenings. The crowds flock to Albert Square for the lights and conviviality and by contrast, Brazennose Street always had seats and even shelter, useful if rain was threatening. It was also quiet enough to facilitate talking without shouting. Unfortunately, this cosy spot served gluhwein so sweet it was like sipping hot Vimto, rather than anything alcoholic. This always fooled my brain into thinking it was harmless and I would find myself getting up for more refills than I should!

As the evening progressed all that gluhwein would make me hungry and I would head for the Bavarian käsespätzle stall in Albert Square. The glum owner was never happy to be in Manchester; while we waited for a new batch of käsespätzle to be cooked he would often complain about the high cost of his stall, the poor facilities and how much he missed home. He returned year after year so the trip must have made financial sense and eating a plateful of his delicious German version of macaroni cheese transported me right back to Germany where this dish is often the only vegetarian option on a menu.

It has been decided to cancel the Christmas Market in Manchester this year due to coronavirus. Certainly social distancing is all but impossible on a busy evening on the market. It is just another part of my life and year that has been taken away and I will really miss it. I will just have to keep watching and re-watching the beautiful Lego version in the video below.