I am not complaining, last weekend was text book spring and April weather; one minute it was sunny, the next a shower flew across, obliterating the view and bringing the temperature down.
We were in north Staffordshire, near the Derbyshire / Cheshire border and walking in some of the loveliest countryside in England, over The Roaches. if you’ve not been to this lovely area, then I highly recommend it.
In the sunshine, the climbers were out on the gritstone crags, those who prefer bouldering were spotted with their colourful crash-mats strapped to their backs, the dog walkers, young families and photographers were all enjoying this beautiful natural playground.
On our first day we visited Ramshaw Rocks, on the quieter side of The Roaches, where you can find the Winking Man, an interesting face-shaped rock that protrudes from the crags and entertains children on the drive past on the A53, as if you watch carefully the eye appears to wink. We parked in the lay-by and had a brew in the ‘van and set off in the fine weather without waterproofs (clearly a mistake in April). As we reached the top the wind whipped up and a hail shower turned the ground white and my hands blue, the hills around us disappeared and I was back in winter.
The next day we walked along The Roaches ridge to Roach End and back behind the rocks. This time we packed the waterproofs (having learnt our lesson the day before) and the sky was blue and the sun shone all day; this was definitely spring. What I hadn’t taken with me on this walk was any money and so we had to walk past the ice cream van at Roach End without treating ourselves, so a frugal walk.
While storms blew in the south we travelled around Scotland in the sunshine, feeling blessed and happy with the world.
We travelled first to St Andrews, a charming stone built town with plenty to see and do, including a ruined castle and cathedral and two bays. Our campsite overlooked East Sands, the smaller beach. West Sands is near the famous golf course and is a wide stretch of sand where motorhome parking is possible overnight.
We travelled further north to the area around Nairn. Here you can either explore the charming fishing villages along the coast or travel inland for the hills and we did both, although the weather was always better on the coast and we craved the blue sky and sunshine. We were so taken with some of these small coastal villages we started to plan moving to this part of Scotland when we retire … we shall see.
We spent a night on the coast between Aberdeenshire and Peterhead at the Port Erroll Nightstop near Cruden Bay. This harbour has space for five ‘vans, no hook up but there are toilets and asks for a donation of £10 a night. The harbour is slightly removed from the village of Cruden Bay and the harbour is a peaceful and beautiful spot. We were the only ‘van there on a sunny evening and we parked with the huge ‘van door facing the sea and watched oyster catchers and herring gulls as we sat with a brew. Later there was a deep red sunset to watch while we ate.
From Port Erroll we walked along the coast to see the striking ruins of Slains Castle high on the cliffs and the dramatic collapsed cave and sea arch at the Bullers of Buchan. Here the cliffs were alive with hundreds of pairs of kittiwakes, as well as fulmars, guillemotts and razorbills. Both these sights have car parks that are suitable for motorhomes.
Wherever we park our campervan is our home, it is self-contained and we carry everything we need to be comfortable. At present, with work restrictions, we generally spend about 70 nights a year in our motorhome. To do this while continuing to save for our retirement we are always looking at ways to save so when the new Brit Stops guide arrived recently we started planning free nights away in the ‘van.
The Brit Stops scheme is a simple system [always the best ones]. Farm shops, pubs and food producers agree to host one or more motorhomes to park at their venue for a night for no charge. For the cost of £30 for the guide, a motorhomer has a list of 640 places where they can park up for free. This is modelled on the French Passion scheme that is popular across France.
Using Brit Stops we get to stay in some beautiful places and sometimes discover a new local food or drink. We might stay at a farm shops and buy some cheese, or a café and relax over their breakfast the next morning or we might enjoy a pint of local beer in a country pub. Brit Stops also allow us to be spontaneous as we don’t have to book a pitch many months before. No sooner have we spotted a forecast for a spell of fine weather for the weekend and we can be on our way (although some Brit Stops do like motorhomers to ring ahead).
The beauty of Brit Stops for us is that we get the opportunity to buy good quality local food created with care by a small business which beats the mass-produced offerings in the supermarket any day. Camp sites can be quite expensive in the UK and the Brit Stop guide can help us save money on our holidays (meaning we can take more]. In any year, once we have stayed two nights on a Brit Stops the guide has paid for itself, so we feel good, and we can support local businesses with some of the money we have saved, so we feel even better.
The number of places to stay has grown dramatically since Brit Stop started in 2011. It took us a few years [and the ownership of a slightly bigger van] until we got the Brit Stop bug in 2015. This happened when we were staying on a Caravan Club Certified Location that charged £15 for just a hook up on an uneven field where they hadn’t even bothered to cut the grass. Down the road was a Brit Stop where ‘vans could park for free with views overlooking the canal; no competition, as they say.
We opted to see the year out in County Durham and Cleveland in the north-east of England. We followed the river Tees from the wild open country of the Pennines to the North Sea. After the heavy rain we had experienced in the north of England over Christmas, High Force and Low Force were spectacular and on a sunny afternoon there were plenty of people around to marvel at the spectacle. We found a quieter spot for contemplation at Summerhill Force and Gibson’s Cave, although just a few minutes’ walk from the Bowlees car park.
At this time of year we like to tour around in the van and make the most of the seven hours or so of daylight. We followed the river through the lovely town of Barnard Castle, spending some time exploring the castle and the blue plaque trail and moved on to Darlington. This once thriving engineering town still had a lovely buzz about it in the December drizzle. We visited the Head of Steam Railway Museum and looked in wonder at the amazing Locomotion No. 1, the first passenger steam train.
From Darlington the Tees flows through industrial and urban areas but we still found plenty that is beautiful.
The Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough is a stunning piece of engineering from 100 years ago. The ‘bridge’ carries cars and pedestrians over the Tees in a cradle that is wound on cables across the river. Ducks, geese and hordes of lapwings entertained us while we explored the National Nature Reserve on the north side of the river and at the excellent Saltholme RSPB reserve.
We finished our trip on the fantastic stretch of sand at Saltburn-by-the-Sea. From the attractive and recently restored pier we watched the hardy surfers and we wandered around the pretty streets window shopping.
We stayed at:
The Crown at Mickleton in Teesdale – this is a small Caravan Club CL with a bathroom and all hard-standing. It was £20/night.
White Water Park Caravan Club Site in Stockton-On-Tees is about 20 minutes walk from Stockton town centre and 30 minutes walk to Thornaby railway station for trains to Darlington, Bishop Aukland and Saltburn and Redcar. We paid just short of £25/night.
We also had one night free camping to help the budget.