We were lucky! February was a fairly dry month in 2023 and this helped us make the most of our week on the North Yorkshire coast in our campervan. Without wind and rain to hide from we were able to spend our days being relaxed, exploring the coastal towns and villages and walking on the coastal paths.
We reached the coast after breaking our journey in Knaresborough. The sun was shining so we took the opportunity to walk through the woodland by the River Nidd into the town and strolled along Knaresborough’s riverside under the soaring arches of the railway bridge. We had drinks in The Blind Jack, an atmospheric pub with wooden floors soaked with years of beer and jolly lanterns strung around the ceiling. It was still February but walking back at sundown blackbirds sang loudly from the trees heralding spring was in sight and really only just around the corner.
Robin Hood’s Bay
Reaching the North Yorkshire coast, we stopped at Crook Nest car park north of Scarborough and followed the cliff path. Waves whispered below us, the yellow gorse was flowering and Scarborough Castle was visible in the distance. We returned on the Cinder Track cycle route, an old railway line that links Whitby with Scarborough.
Middlewood Farm Holiday Park isn’t a perfect campsite for facilities but it is well located for exploring the coast around Robin Hood’s Bay. There is a regular bus service and we used this one day to get to Whitby and walk back. On another day we put together a circular walk to Ravenscar.
The coastal path from Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay is around 11kms that begins with a lung-busting climb up the steep steps to the abbey. After taking in the views over the town and harbour while I got my breath back we took the easy-to-follow undulating path along the cliffs. Oystercatchers searched for food on the shore below us and fulmars huddled on ledges. The path meandered around the white buildings of Whitby High Lighthouse that have an uninterupted sea view.
Robin Hood’s Bay is an attractive jumble of houses that tumble down facing slopes. Strolling between the huddle of buildings you reach the sea. On the way you pass a number of pubs and cafes and we were drawn into The Laurel Inn by the promise of Old Peculier. We stumbled into a cosy room that could have been a set for a 1950s film. The room was heavy with coal smoke; a family were playing card games opposite the corner bar and Johnny B Goode played on the music system.
Like all visitors to Robin Hood’s Bay we wandered through the narrow streets, peeking into quiet corners and dead ends finding picturesque cottages on every junction. We did some window shopping and had morning coffee leaning on sunny railings looking over the beach and the North Sea.
More undulating coastal walking along the Cleveland Way took us to Ravenscar. The descent to Boggle Hole and back up the steps to the clifftops was particularly arduous. No matter how far we walked, the picturesque red roofs of Robin Hood’s Bay were always visible behind us. In front was the prominent headland of Ravenscar. Climbing up to the headland we walked around the castellated gardens of Raven Hall Hotel and, thanks to a more observant couple, watched the large group of seals hauled up on the rocks below. In the hotel we ordered tea and their homemade shortbread biscuits. These were heart-shaped for Valentine’s Day! The Cinder Track made for an easy walk back to the campsite.
Moving on, we drove south to Bridlington, diverting inland to Burton Agnes Hall for a favourite February treat, carpets of snowdrops. The woodland garden here has waves of small white flowers with their glossy-green leaves. At Bempton Cliffs RSPB reserve we walked to the viewing platforms and watched guillemots, gannets and fulmars getting their crowded nests ready and claiming territory. This sign of spring was both riotous and joyful.
Once again the bus was helpful with linear coastal walking. From the Caravan and Motorhome Club’s Bridlington site we caught the bus to North Landing and walked around Flamborough Head back to the ‘van for about 13kms. Ahead of the sunshine, a faint mist cloaked the lighthouse and the fog horn moaned. Steep sections of the path were sticky with mud and our boots were soon messy but the nesting birds on the cliffs and seals on the shore made this a fabulous walk. Standing above one remote cove we listened to the melancholic seal songs echoing around the rocks.
We had chosen a pitch on the edge of the campsite. This means a longer walk to the facilities but has other rewards. From the Blue Bus bird hide we spotted deer making their way through the woodland and long tailed tits on the trees.
On a windy [but still dry] day seafront paths took us into the seaside resort of Bridlington. Living in Morecambe we compare every seaside resort to our home town. Like many of the north of England’s seaside towns, Bridlington doesn’t ooze wealth but we found lively and attractive corners. After coffee in the faded opulence of The Pavillion we caught the train to Filey, another resort where the buildings tell stories of former fortunes. Filey Brigg, a rocky and narrow sandstone promontory on the edge of the town was bracing in the breeze but gave us our last views along the wonderful North Yorkshire coast until next time.
The pictures below show public art in Bridlington, a guillemott at Bempton Cliffs and Robin Hood’s Bay.
It isn’t surprising that I like guidebooks. On our trip around Suffolk and Norfolk we had the pleasure of being accompanied by a pair of tattered 1940s Penguin guides. These dated companions steered us through East Anglia, pointing out the must-see sights of 80 years ago. So much has changed since the post-war period I felt like a time traveller but when we pulled up at Burgh Castle I was also confused as this featured in our Suffolk guidebook but is now in Norfolk.
Whichever county it is in, the scale of the Roman ruins at Burgh Castle are the big story. The rough stone walls and round corner tower soar to over 4m high and I wondered why this building hasn’t been on my wish list for some years. It was only chance that I had chosen it from the out-of-date guidebook. And it is free to visit! I have paid £££s to visit Roman ruins that are pretty much just an ankle-height floor plan in stone, Burgh Castle has scale and presence.
After wandering around the large site I walked down to the banks of the nearby River Yare. The East Anglian coastline has changed in the last 2,000 years and the ruins would originally have guarded a ‘Great Estuary’ that flowed over the rooftops of Great Yarmouth. In those days ships would have docked below the castle.
According to our 1940s guide Great Yarmouth, ‘is sometimes called the Venice of East Anglia.’ I don’t know if anyone still makes that particular comparison! The short stretch of town walls are a reminder of an older Great Yarmouth but I was more interested in the modern Banksy painted on a brick gable end. The artist has cleverly positioned a couple so that they appear to be dancing on the roof of an adjacent bus shelter while an accordion player sits casually on the corner. Later we walked along the prom and gave ourselves a sugar rush with donuts and ice-cream.
We have visited some of the Norfolk coast before but the Norfolk Broads were new territory. From the Caravan and Motorhome Club site we caught the bus to Wroxham and Hoveton on a drizzly day. These two villages merge around a bridge over the River Bure that funnels the never-ending stream of trafic. Cars were less in your face in the 1940s but the local institution, Roys, was already here. Known as the biggest village shop, there are actually many shops; a Roys department store; a food hall; a garden centre and a DIY shop; this isn’t quite a one-shop village but they give it a good try.
Despite the abundant motorcars, the villages are dedicated to boating. This is the place to hire boats, visit boat yards and do other boating things. On the bus we fell into conversation with a man who described himself as a ‘water gypsy.’ No one else would talk to him so he told us he had received no schooling from nine years old, his mum had studied psychology at Hull University and he described his life on the move from 24-hour mooring to 24-hour mooring.
From the campsite we walked along a grassy dike that meandered through reed beds, the chugging of boats on the River Ant in the distance. A marsh harrier flew by, a fish dropped from the talons of a herring gull and was lost in the reeds and a flock of teal rose from a pool in a shudder of wing beats and circled overhead. Approaching a windmill, cormorants perched along the wooden sails, their wings spread out to catch the weak September sun.
I was keen to experience the watery nature of the broads and we were booked on the morning electric boat trip from Toad Hole Cottage. Waiting for our guide we sat drinking coffee on a bench, lazily watching a sailor polishing the already gleaming wood on a handsome wooden wherry.
It turned out we were the only people who wanted to explore the Broads in a quiet electric boat that morning and we had the luxury of spreading out on the small craft. After a short distance on the main river we turned left into a channel where the reeds leaned in against the boat. As the thrum of the river boats melted away I found myself in the backwater world of Swallows and Amazons.
Later we had our lunch in a hide, thrilled to see a kingfisher fly back and forth. We explored How Hill House’s verdant and dripping secret garden before taking the paths to the village of Ludham and joining the river again by the ruins of St Benet’s Abbey.
In Cromer I led Anthony along the beach to find another Banksy on the sea wall. ‘Luxury Rentals Only,’ a comment on our broken housing market, is out in all weathers and fading. I liked Cromer with its prom and pier, its beach dotted with colourful pebbles and tall breakwaters crossed by metal steps dripping with black seaweed. Our 1940s guidebook ignores the pier but was right about the ‘excellent beach.’
Another showery September day was ideal for taking the train to Norwich. Here we visited the cathedral and I walked round and round the font that is made from two polished copper bowls. These were given to the Cathedral when the Rowntree Mackintosh Norwich chocolate factory closed in 1994. Colourful modern stained glass gave a vibrant glow to otherwise gloomy corners of the cathedral and the cloisters radiated peace and light. We did wander some of Norwich’s pretty streets but, as the rain got heavier, we lost the desire to explore and probably didn’t do it justice.
Sitting outside at the Priory Maze café near Sheringham the waitress moved between the tables gathering up all the sachets of mayonnaise. ‘The rooks take them away and eat the contents,’ she told us, leaving the salad cream which apparently is less appealing to these connoisseur rooks! From the campsite we had hiked to the top of Norfolk (if there is a hill we will find it). Cromer Ridge is just inland and reaches the dizzy heights of 102m so it wasn’t a tough ascent! Our route passed a village green with a pebble-built house before climbing through woodland where we stepped carefully over tree roots. We descended through heathland and skirted the fields of a horse sanctuary before reaching Priory Maze and Gardens.
Copper beech and hornbeam have been planted using the layout of the ruined priory as the basis for the maze. We began in a disciplined way, alternating who chose which direction to turn to find a way to the centre. Very soon we were lost and our choices became random and haphazard and it was only luck that eventually led us to the central viewing platform.
The maze and gardens were fun but couldn’t beat the walk along the beach from Sheringham to East Runton. The soft sandy cliffs that are basically a giant sandcastle erode easily and attempts have been made to protect these from the sea. The futile remains of wooden revetments littered the beach and we wound our way around vertical posts and under buttresses of grey weathered wood studded with rust-red nails.
I had been looking forward to Blakeney Point and it was a memorable day but not for the reasons I was expecting. Our Penguin guide noted that this four-mile long shingle ridge backed with salt marshes was given to the National Trust in 1912. We parked at Cley Beach and turning to make coffee in the back of the ‘van I was floored by a hot pain that shot from my spine to the back of my legs. I assumed it would wear off and, after drinks, carefully put on my waterproofs.
The squally wind and the deep pebbles along the ridge made walking agony and I shuffled down the slope to meander on the sand by the crashing waves, where the going was a little easier. At the old Watch House or Halfway House we scrambled back to the shingle bank to look over the salt marshes and the remote building. Exhausted, I sat down and as we ate our picnic lunch we made the decision to head back. Walking was easier with a tailwind. We collected a few bits of litter and admired some of the multitude of shells. Seals popped their heads above the waves and a group of Brent geese flapped low over the sea.
Dosed up on ibuprofen I could manage to walk around Wells-next-the-Sea for the next couple of days. The sun returned and watching it set from the beach was as idyllic as I could have hoped. Waking up to the joyful honking of geese as they flew over our campervan was special too. Our 1940s guide doesn’t mention the beach huts that are now a Wells-next-the-Sea icon and also doesn’t firmly place the town on the coast, it is just called Wells.
Striding out to Holkham Hall it seemed that I was okay walking upright. I just needed to avoid bending, easier said than done in a small campervan! Our guidebook told us that visitors were welcomed at Holkham Hall 80 years ago and they still are. We took paths and tracks around the house and through the estate and ate our lunch on a bench overlooking Well’s harbour. Our guide told us that in 1940s Wells ‘… you will find no piers or funfairs …’ but ’if you are in search of ‘local colour’ drop in at the Shipwrights’ Arms one evening.’ Unfortunately, this pub is now closed so we sought out local colour in the many quaint corners.
Opening the blinds on our final day in Norfolk it was a pleasure to see blue sky. We arrived at Titchwell RSPB reserve as the staff were holding an outdoor team meeting and we spent a fabulous hour walking by the pools to the dunes and the sandy beach. The blue sea met the blue sky on the horizon and the space felt phenomenal.
By the time we reached Castle Rising the weather had changed to misty and chilly autumnal weather. The castle has a circular ditch or moat to cross to the gatehouse and a well-preserved stone keep. We climbed up to the different floors finding details that have survived the centuries.
After sitting for even an hour in the ‘van I would unravel myself from the seat in a shambles of bent and staggering bones. This acute pain lasted just a short time and once everything had loosened up I could stand and walk normally. I was grateful we weren’t making the long journey back to Lancashire in one run and had Derbyshire friends to stay with on the way.
Footnote on the pain I was experiencing. This became sciatic pain in my right leg. I had lots of physio through October and November 2022 and eventually visited my GP and started taking amitriptyline which meant I could sleep peacefully all night. By January 2023 I was more or less pain free.
Where we stayed
We used two Caravan and Motorhome Club Sites, Norfolk Broads and Seacroft near Cromer. We liked the former, it was a well-run site with a bus service into Norwich and a walk along the River Ant and to St Benet’s Abbey from the site. Seacroft is an excellent location for Cromer and Sheringham but is in need of an upgrade.
We also stayed at Pinewoods at Wells-next-the-Sea, an expensive site with a fantastic location. For the money I would have liked heating in the facilities at the end of September but our pitch in the reeds was heavenly.
Shingle beaches that stretch to the horizon, coastal villages packed with cottages and ancient flint churches were what drew me to Suffolk. This was our first visit to this county and I was delighted to find all these things and more on our autumn trip. We rolled into Suffolk at Bury St Edmunds in our Blue Bus and stayed firstly near Ipswich before following the coast eastward.
In the couple of weeks we were in Suffolk we walked miles along shingle beaches deep with pebbles and soon learnt how tiring wading through this is. We also found sandy beaches that were made for buckets and spades. In Orford we took the boat to Orford Ness and were spell-bound by the combination of post-war military structures and hardy plants. You couldn’t miss the power of nature. Between Minsmere and Dunwich seal pups sat in the surf as we meandered between the clumps of sea kale that breaks up the shingle and climbed up to the heath-covered cliffs.
In Southwold we kicked along the soft sand below rows of colourful beach huts, each one individually decorated, and stood under the pier watching the tide crashing against the complicated lattice of pier struts. Later we sampled a glass of Adnams, the local beer, in a pub off the seafront.
While Thorpeness seems hardly real with its holiday villas that are straight from Disney, the weatherboard houses of Aldeburgh felt real and charming. The brick and stone Martello Tower is solid and dense in comparison to the village. This is now a Landmark Trust property you can rent and what a treat it would be to stay there. If you’re interested in unusual places to stay in, the famous House in the Clouds old watertower in Thorpeness is also available as a holiday rent.
At Aldeburgh we gazed across the sea, guessing there was nothing between us and the Netherlands. From the edge of the village, the dyke path took us on a lovely green route around Aldeburgh passing productive allotments. Leaving the houses we picked up a path through a nature reserve where trees arched above the sandy path, sunshine dappled through the foliage and blackberries glistened by the path and we picked ripe ones as we walked.
Lavenham is hard to beat in the charming village awards. Over 300 buildings are listed in this well-preserved medieval village that was once a wealthy wool town and walking the narrow streets and lanes to the market place is like undertaking a crash course in timber-framed building designs.
Towns & Cities
We were initiated into the sights of Suffolk in Bury St Edmunds and it was the perfect introduction to the county for two Suffolk newbies. We began in the park of this small town, wandering around the abbey ruins to the monumental and richly-decorated stone gatehouse. Later we visited the cathedral, spent a fascinating hour or so in the Moyse’s Hall Museum and finished off our trip in a sunny square with coffee and cake.
From our campsite near Ipwich we visited Ipwich and Felixstowe. The bus to Felixstowe took the slow road and we sat on the top deck until the end of the line at Landguard Fort. You can visit the fort but we were keen to walk and after watching the huge cranes picking up the containers and placing them on the ship like a giant tetras game we set off along the seafront. The sea defences were easy to follow back to Felixstowe with views to the pier and more ships out at sea.
In Ipswich we began with the waterfront, a marina surrounded by old warehouses, the Custom’s House and some shiny new buildings. We had coffee and watched students learning filming techniques with the boats as a backdrop. We wandered through the city centre, passing all the shops you would expect, to Christchurch Park, a large green space with grass, woodland and a pond. Christchurch Mansion is a free museum with a collection of paintings from local artists Constable and Gainsborough.
In Lowestoft we found our way around a sprawling Bird’s Eye factory, no doubt pumping out boxes and boxes of fish fingers, to find England’s most easterly point. I expected a bit more of an attraction here but the orientation circle in the concrete promenade was informative. Checking out the distances we realised we were closer to mainland Europe than we were to Lancashire! Walking along the promenade we could see a lower prom had been washed away by the sea, so I guess Europe is getting further away. Inland we climbed one of Lowestoft’s scores, narrow steep alleys, to the High Street, an old shopping street with some historic buildings and quirky shops
Sitting by the River Waveney between Beccles and Lowestoft a kingfisher flew low over the water and minutes later a swan landed perfectly in front of us and harrumphed occasionally and gently until its partner negotiated an equally skilful landing and they slipped away together. A buzzard emerged from the trees opposite, circled the field and flew away as a group of geese passed overhead. Beside us were bushes decorated with bright-green hop fruits that look too exotic to be British. We had caught the bus to Beccles and after coffee and cake in a cosy but wildly expensive café we followed the Angles Path along the Waveney, a watery highway busy with boats but few other walkers. The weather was quiet, with no wind and the cloud hung in the sky like a billowing duvet. In the wet meadows alongside the river we spotted plenty of Chinese water deer with their teddy bear ears and strange hare-like run.
Churches & Abbeys
I had read about Blythburgh Church but that didn’t prepare me for the loveliness of this medieval church. The exterior flint has been worked and arranged to look like chequer-board tiling. Inside the wonky tiled floor held stories from thousands of feet and I stepped up to the high medieval font. We had come to see the painted angels on the wooden ceiling who peered down on mortals in the nave, their magnificent wings outstretched. While I admired the carved wooden pew ends, Anthony found an information panel about JF Kennedy’s brother, Joe, who died in a Second World War plane explosion nearby.
Leiston Abbey, a ruined abbey not far from Sizewell, today suffers from metal-fence-itis. Ugly temporary fencing circled every part of the ruins that presumably are unsafe. Nevertheless, beyond the fencing we could appreciate the structures, the 14th century arches and windows and the cloisters that retained their sense of peaceful space.
In Pakefield on the edge of Lowestoft, we walked around All Saints and St Margaret’s Church on the seafront. Technically two churches built next to each other, you will notice the tower is attached to one half of the M-shaped roof. These churches were once some distance inland but coastal erosion has led to the loss of many houses here as the sea has nibbled at the land. In the Second World War the buildings took a direct hit and were rebuilt.
Southwold‘s parish church was another church we took the time to visit. This church is fascinating for its Jack. This is a wooden statue dressed in armour, and holds a sword and an axe, which can be used to ring the bell at the start of a service. The Jack has been in the church since the 15th century and it is thought it was originally made to strike the hour for a clock and was repurposed.
Off the main roads, Suffolk seemed to be characterised by narrow lanes, plenty of them going nowhere but to a small coastal village. We took the Blue Bus to the end of the road at Orford and caught the National Trust boat to Orford Ness (see above). Driving to the RSPB reserve at Minsmere the lanes became narrow and then even narrower as we got closer to the sea. The lanes wound around fields and woodland until I had no idea which way was north and whether we were heading in the right direction or not. The only thing you can do is trust the RSPB signs! After our walk we had to follow the same byways in the opposite direction.
Sizewell was an exception. We immediately noticed what a good road it was to Sizewell, presumably for the traffic to the nuclear power station.
Where we stayed
We stayed at some Caravan and Motorhome Club sites on the way down [Grafham Water] for one night and at White House Beach which was handy for Lowestoft. These were both the usual standard.
For Ipswich we stayed at Little Sage Hill, Copenhagen Cottage Caravan and Camping Club Certified Site. I reviewed this site here.
Beach View Holiday Park at Sizewell is a large independent site that was okay for a couple of night and was well situated for walks to Thorpeness and Aldeburgh.
The Blue Bus, our Renault Master Devon Tempest campervan, is now eight years old and has travelled almost 70,000 miles. In 2022, with no lock downs and Covid-19 restrictions, we enjoyed 124 nights in our campervan in 60 different places, stretching from Meissen in south-east Germany to the Isle of Skye off the west coast of Scotland.
We spent at least one night in the ‘van in every month of 2022, from a chilly weekend with friends in the Ribble Valley in January to a night parked on a Manchester residential street on New Year’s Eve. Using our campervan all year keeps it aired and means that I always have a camping trip to look forward to.
Looking through our log book of our nights away we paid between nothing for an overnight when we free camped to £38 a night at Pinewoods at Wells-next-the-Sea. Spending a night off-grid for free is a big plus to owning a campervan and we have parked up and had some enviable views to ourselves. Pinewoods is a beautifully positioned campsite within walking distance of Wells-next-the-Sea that came highly recommended and was a bit of a one-off treat during our Suffolk and Norfolk trip.
As we all know, campsite overnight costs have increased in 2022 and we mostly paid between £20 and £25 a night, even on Certified Locations [Caravan and Motorhome Club] and Certified Sites [Camping and Caravanning Club]. Due to our age we receive a discount on Camping and Caravanning Club sites and these often work out cheaper for us than Caravan and Motorhome Club sites. For the most part we are lucky enough to have enough money to be able to choose on location rather than cost. We have also found that, when it comes to campsites, the overnight charge seems to have little to do with the standard of the facilities!
During our trip to Germany and the Netherlands in May and June we made good use of our ACSI discount card, although, as we were sticking to the River Elbe, we also used sites not part of this scheme. ACSI discount sites were a maximum of €21 a night, including EHU, in 2022. I noticed when our new ACSI book arrived before Christmas that you can now pay as much as €23 a night. Germany also has a couple of public holidays in May and school holidays and some sites were full price [and very busy] during this period. German campsites generally have high standards but there are always exceptions and we found one or two of them!
We stayed on plenty of idyllic campsites while we were in Germany but our favourite was Campingplatz Rehbocktal near to the gorgeous city of Meissen. This small site tucked into a valley with a babbling brook running through it is immaculately kept, friendly and just a short distance away from Meissen. I didn’t really want to leave this delightful spot and it was well worth the £27.50 a night [the most expensive campsite we stayed at in Germany].
It is hard to pick a favourite UK campsite from 2022 but if I was pushed, Silverburn Park near Leven has to be up there and not just because we had a light covering of snow when we were there and also had the small site to ourselves. The friendly welcome, the open views across the beach and the Firth of the Forth, the campsite cat and the birds in the walled garden all made it perfect. Add to this the knowledge that you are supporting a charity and happiness is off the scale.
One of us in our house [and its not me] has completed his Wainwright fells! Although we have been walking up Lake District hills together since the 1980s, he didn’t start determinedly ticking off his 214 Lake District Wainwrights until 1998. It was one of those significant birthdays that inspired him to begin and the team [in the photograph above] climbed the Old Man of Coniston to celebrate his 40th birthday, marking the beginning of his Wainwright journey.
The Old Man of Coniston was a strange hill to choose in some way as it was one we had already climbed together twice over the previous 15 years. It was, of course, because of the name and now it is our most climbed Wainwright as we go back every ten years on my partner’s significant birthdays and follow one of the many routes up this much-loved mountain. His birthday is at the end of winter and although we were lucky to have fine weather when he was 40, the photograph of the small select group of us on the summit when he was 50 shows a different side of the mountain. Only our son and daughter-in-law and our toughest friends wanted to climb the Old Man on a cold damp day and looking at the photographs you can hardly make out any of us for the low cloud and layers of waterproofs! For his 60th we decided to be sociable and moved his birthday hill walk to June and we were rewarded with a fine sunny day with a bevy of friends.
Unless you are a very organised Wainwright Bagger, as you get to the end of your Wainwright list you will have random hills dotted around the Lake District to walk up [or maybe this is just us]. Our visits to the Lake District became dominated by walks up these outlying fells and others that we had somehow missed on previous trips. Our climbs up, down and around the Wainwrights have perhaps sometimes missed the obvious and most efficient routes and I can often be heard saying, ‘Why didn’t we walk up this hill when we were there,’ as I point to the next pimple along the ridge. This habit of almost climbing the Wainwrights one at a time will be why we have also walked up and down Fairfield more times than I can count. As well as being a fine hill, Fairfield [above Ambleside] is often on the way to another summit. Keen Wainwright Baggers will complete the handful of fells around Fairfield in one long and tiring day. We go up and down again and again! Fortunately, it doesn’t matter how many times we visit I will never tire of the Lake District fells.
Those energetic hill walkers will probably climb two fells, Hopegill Head and Whiteside above Crummock Water during the same day as they are bagging Grasmoor and maybe some other surrounding hills. For whatever reason we hadn’t done this. It might be laziness but no matter, it just means that we had another glorious day walking in this area that was particularly special after several days of heavy rain.
We have set off up the small hill called Outerside above Braithwaite previously. On that day, a couple of winters ago the slight breeze in the valley became a gale force wind that made standing up almost impossible as we ascended and we were forced onto a low-level walk instead. Our second attempt at Outerside was on a sunny autumnal day and we enjoyed a relative easy day on the hills which was appreciated after the steep slopes of Hopegill Head and Whiteside the day before. Outerside was his 208th [out of 214] Wainwright.
On the same trip we also climbed up Haystacks from Buttermere for a second or third time. Haystacks is one of those fells I imagine we will climb again and again now his Wainwright list is complete and doesn’t dictate where we go as, even on a wet day, I was pleased to revisit this wonderful craggy hill.
Two years ago we set off up Froswick, an odd hill on a ridge that was still unticked. It was winter and Froswick had other ideas and in deep snow and strong winds we had to turn back. We finally ascended this fine hill in January this year. It was still cold, I was still wearing as many layers as a human can but the wind stayed away and we had a glorious day out [see the photograph at the end of this post].
His big finish was a fantastic hillwalking day on two neighbouring fells in western Ennerdale, Great Bourne and Starling Dodd. Starling Dodd was Wainwright’s last fell for the final volume of the Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells. He descended it in September 1965 with mixed emotions. That this was my partners final Wainwright on his list wasn’t planned but it felt so right. It was a clear and breezy day but there was no fanfare on Starling Dodd just big smiles. We had views across the Lake District and we reminisced about some of our favourite days on the hills. We hugged each other, took photos and texted our son. Walking back through the woodland by Ennerdale the sun came out and made the day even more perfect.
It seems our Wainwright Bagging days won’t quite be over after that final hill-top Wainwright-completion-bash. Since retirement we have climbed the Wainwrights together but before 2017 there were quite a few of the fells that I dodged, either because I had work commitments or just couldn’t be bothered to detour to. These 20 Wainwrights have now become a list and apparently our Lake District hillwalking will continue to be at least in part dictated by Alfred Wainwright until they have all been completed! Onward and upward as they say!
Earwigging we call it and I am always doing it. It is nothing to do with creepy crawlies, instead it is our word for harmless overhearing of other people’s conversations. On buses and trains and walking in the countryside and urban areas I sometimes listen in, a harmless vice that gives me pleasure. I enjoy the snippets of people’s lives that I hear and the insight into other worlds this can gift me.
Passing groups on a footpath when we are taking a countryside walk I will pick up only a sentence or two of a whole conversation. Two people approach deep in conversation and I overhear one exclaim to their friend, ‘ … And then to cap it all I found out he had forgotten to buy the toothpaste …’ From those few words I continue on my way making up a whole story in my head about what else had been forgotten, why he forgot to buy the toothpaste and why it mattered quite so much.
On public transport earwigging is different. Here some people speak loudly and clearly even though they are sitting together, they share longer conversations and I find myself getting sucked into their story. I often take a book to read on a train but if a real-life story is being unfolded on a nearby seat I discard my novel for something more interesting! People also speak loudly on their mobile phones on public transport and I get caught up in their half of the conversation and imagine the person they are talking to, where they are and what they are saying.
We have just returned from a splendid three weeks exploring Suffolk [a new to us county] and Norfolk in our campervan. We used public transport to reach places beyond the campsites, we walked miles and sat in lots of cafes and I have returned with a few earwigged conversations from that trip.
It was a wet and windy day and we decided to take the train into Norwich to see the sights of this lovely city. The train was surprisingly quiet but a few seats behind us a young woman was chatting on her phone to someone. At first I was watching the Norfolk countryside and not really listening to her conversation until I heard her say, ‘OMG, you’ll never guess what’s happened.’ Immediately, I was all ears! She elaborated further to her friend, explaining that while she had been on the phone she had received a message from the bass player of her band and he had resigned. This was clearly unexpected news and inconvenient as they had a gig coming up in the next few days. I was disappointed when she got up to leave the train stopping me hearing more about how the band would cope without a crucial bassist.
On the same train there were two guards, which seemed a bit over-the-top for so few passengers but appeared to have something to do with re-training. After they had checked tickets, the two guards had plenty of time to sit and chat between stations and chose seats near us. They talked solely about trains! After one had put forward his personal plans for the Felixstowe line they began riffing and bouncing across the aisle all the problems that can delay a train and whose responsibility it was to sort it and pay compensation to passengers. Their list became darker as they delved deeper. ‘Leaves on the line, that’s Network Rail,’ one said, ‘And cows is them too,’ replied the other, until their list ended somberly with suicides and they sat in silence remembering.
In a Norwich cafe we sat at a table next to two women who were having a much needed catch up. One was describing in detail the stomach aches she had been experiencing for some months. ‘I thought it was a milk allergy,’ she explained but apparently substituting soya, oat and coconut milk made no difference. After excluding other things from her diet and trying various medications her doctor suggested she change her teabags, ‘As you know I drink gallons of tea,’ she confided to her friend. I was amazed to hear that the teabag change did the trick and she was cured.
In another cafe in Ipswich I gained an insight into the working life of a hazardous waste collector. While he waited for his takeaway coffee he described the irresponsible behaviour of some businesses to the cafe worker. He shared stories and photographs of unsecurely wrapped, unlabelled and unidentified materials that businesses leave, expecting him to remove them out of their way. I could only hope he was handsomely paid for his diligent work.
Other fleeting conversations are equally surprising but less about earwigging. We were sitting at the outside tables at a cafe attached to a garden in north Norfolk when the waitress appeared and began removing all the sachets of mayonnaise from the box on our table and all the other tables. ‘The rooks take these and eat the contents,’ she told us. It seems Norfolk has clever gourmet rooks with a preference for mayonnaise as she was confident that they would leave the salad cream alone.
I get words muddled up all the time and sometimes these muddled words are more fun than the real word. While washing up at a Suffolk campsite I was telling a fellow camper that we had walked the Angles Way [named after the post-Roman Germanic settlers in East Anglia] from Beccles to Lowestoft along the Waveney River. She told me how much she liked Beccles and that there were some good walks there. ‘I don’t know the Angles Way,’ she told me, ‘but we have followed the Angels Path.’ Now that sounds like a much more heavenly route!
Judge me if you wish for my earwigging but I suggest if you see me on a bus or when you are out for a walk just be careful about what you say!
We had never visited the Netherlands before this year. We had not even had a cheeky cheap-flight weekend to Amsterdam before 2022. Of course, we meet Dutch people in France, Spain, Italy etc. They are keen campers, often speak excellent English and like to chat, but this was our first chance to see them on their home turf.
Part of the reason why we have previously skipped the Netherlands was about ferries. We have been loyal customers of the Hull to Zeebrugge ferry run by P&O. This service ceased in 2020 and after the appalling way P&O treated their staff earlier this year we don’t plan to use them again. For the first time we travelled with DFDS from Newcastle to IJmuiden [the IJ isn’t a typo and it is pronounced eye] an overnight ferry that takes you within a few kilometres of Amsterdam. From IJmuiden it is an easy drive into Germany and after some weeks pottering around eastern Germany we opted to head back towards IJmuiden and spend the final week of our time away exploring a little corner of the Netherlands north of Amsterdam.
I hastily learnt a few words of Dutch before we reached our first campsite but I only ever had to use these to be polite. The receptionists at each campsite spoke English, as did the assistants in supermarkets, waiting staff in cafes and pretty much everyone else. Their competence in a second language humbled me every day! It certainly does no harm to learn how to say hello, please, thank you and sorry but I was relieved I never had to get my tongue around all those Dutch double vowels and say much more.
The Netherlands is home to ACSI and each of the campsites we stayed at was part of the ACSI card scheme and offered a discount in the low season and they were all good value. We were there towards the end of June and there were some campsites that had moved onto high season but still plenty of choice of places to stay. Each campsite was also well organised, handing us leaflets about the local area and, most importantly for us, had local cycling maps.
To say the cycling in the Netherlands was blissful is really an understatement. For this English cyclist I felt I must have entered a parallel universe where cyclists, pedestrians and car drivers all moved around in transport harmony. Most cycle lanes were segregated from cars but were often shared with pedestrians. Occasionally on a country lane we had to share a road with car drivers but the mass of cyclists ensured the cars had to drive carefully. At junctions, cycle route signposts used a numbering system that was mostly easy to follow and I was impressed by the superb way the Dutch ensured smooth cycling.
I expected the Netherlands to be crowded as there are over 17 million of them packed into a smallish country but the areas that we travelled in were often rural and green and we were pleasantly surprised by all the wildlife we saw. Hares lolloped around fields, geese were everywhere and sitting on our pitch at the campsite at Lelystad on the shores of the Markermeer, a vast freshwater lake that was once the sea, we were entertained by a flock of sparrows who flew bravely in for crumbs, some even sitting cutely in the Blue Bus’ doorway.
Cycling around the Oostvaardersplassen, a large nature reserve by Lelystad, we followed the dyke around the Markermeer, joined by terns flying and diving overhead. On the pools and reeds of the Oostvaardersplassen a marsh harrier caught our eye and as we were accompanied by a cuckoo call. Taking the well-signposted cycle paths inland, I was excited to see a grass snake slithering off the path just in front of my bike and disappearing among the giant hogweed plants. To top the day off, we pulled into the visitor centre and sat on a bench watching a stunning pair of sea eagles circling overhead, catching the sun as they tilted their wings.
We were once again on the Markermeer when we camped by the elegant town of Edam, this time on the opposite shore. Here there was plenty of bird life too. Geese called as they flew overhead, oystercatchers screeched along the shore and swallows swooped around the ‘van. We both really took to Edam, it is a charming town that was perfect for wandering around and stopping for a relaxing beer. It has pretty canals, wooden bridges, smart houses and, of course, cheese shops and seemed a charming [but expensive] place to live in.
I enjoy a chunk of well-matured gouda but wasn’t prepared for the Dutch enthusiasm for cheese. We were inducted into this passion at Alkmaar’s cheese market. This is held on Fridays and has a lively and festive atmosphere, with the baffling traditions explained in Dutch, German and English. The most exciting part of the event is watching the cheese bearers, wearing colourful straw hats and white trousers and shirts, vigorously carrying large round cheese around the square on wooden barrows and others tossing them onto a wooden cart. The Dutch visitors loved it and couples enthusiastically queued up to be weighed on the large cheese weighing scales and have their photograph taken. I felt we had arrived at a truly special and buzzing occasion and yet this happens every Friday!
Parking a campervan in the Netherlands was fairly straightforward. We didn’t meet any of those dreaded height barriers and only had to pay to park in Alkmaar and at Zaanse Schans, where the windmill photograph at the top of the page was taken. Zaanse Schans is a large and fascinating open-air museum with enough windmills to satisfy everyone, many of them still working. The museum sits along the banks of a river and also has cheese making demonstations and delightful wooden houses. It is only about 25 km from IJmuiden so perfect for your last day in the Netherlands before the ferry, if you are travelling back to Newcastle like us. It cost us €11 to park for the day and entrance to the museum is then free, although you do have to pay if you want to look around some of the windmills. They had a dedicated space for motorhomes and campervans and we had plenty of room to park. If you arrived here by bicycle you would save on the parking charge.
We used the DFDS Newcastle to IJmuiden ferry, an overnight service that suited us well as Newcastle is only a few hours from home. IJmuiden is just north-west of Amsterdam. The ferry is comfortable and with evening buffet and breakfast it cost us about £700 return in 2022. It arrives in IJmuiden in the morning giving us all day to drive to our first campsite. We found the roads across the north of the Netherlands to be excellent with no tolls and no traffic jams. I enjoyed exploring the Netherlands so much I am sure we will be back to visit other parts of the country in the future.
We spent a couple of weeks in Wales in our campervan, exploring historical castles, walking along the narrow paths that follow the cliffs of the Pembrokeshire coast and kicking sand across long beaches. We ate buttery Welsh Cakes, indulgent ice-creams, crumbly Caerphilly cheese and delicious artisan chocolates and discovered corners of Wales we hadn’t found before.
The list of four Welsh campsites we stayed at are at the bottom of this post after more information about the four areas we explored.
Llanarthne & The National Botanic Garden of Wales
It was the National Botanic Garden of Wales that took us to this lush and peaceful part of Wales east of Carmarthen along the River Towy valley. We chose Glantowy Farm for its closeness to The National Botanic Garden of Wales which was just short of three miles away and chose to walk to the gardens but cycling is another option. Even if you drive, wear some comfy shoes as you can easily spend a whole day looking around this amazing site, there is so much to see! There are formal gardens, a vegetable garden, a terraced garden full of herbs, a large glasshouse and sculptures as well as lakes to walk around and an arboretum.
On our way back to the campsite we diverted to Paxton’s Tower that we had noticed on the hill. This folly, built to commemorate Nelson, is open so that you can climb up to the first floor and enjoy the panoramic views over the valley. On a clear day it is well-worth the effort.
Manorbier, Tenby & Pembroke
The Pembrokeshire coastline is spectacular and the attractive village of Manorbier has a number of campsites. This location worked well for us because we could combine coastal walking with buses and trains to reach Tenby, in one direction, and Pembroke in the other. We walked to Tenby and caught the bus back and we purchased return train tickets to Pembroke to visit the castle.
Manorbier has a castle too [open Spring, Summer and early Autumn only], one small cafe that can get busy at lunch time and a cosy and quirky pub.
Tenby is a busy seaside resort with handsome colourful buildings, the remains of the town’s walls, fabulous beaches and plenty of shops. We visited the three-storey National Trust’s Tudor Merchant’s House that sits down a narrow alleyway near the harbour. Packed with replica furniture and history, this charming house successfully took me back to 1500. Tenby also has a museum and art gallery and you can visit the Napoleonic Fort on St Catherine’s Island that is tidal [open March to December].
My top tip for Pembroke Castle is to join one of the free guided tours, they are not only fun but also informative and ensure you will get so much more from your visit. Open most or all of the year, this is a large castle with buildings stretching back to the Normans and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. Hungry after scrambling around the castle we ate at Food at Williams on the main street and had an attractive and tasty vegetarian meal.
This small city sits near the end of a peninsula and is surrounded by farmland and a multitude of campsites. The peninsula’s coastline is a stunning wiggly combination of cliffs and bays. The city has pubs, cafes and a few shops and tucked away below these are the magnificent St Davids Cathedral and the ruins of The Bishop’s Palace.
We were mostly here for the coastal walking and from our campsite we walked south from the life boat station along Ramsey Sound. It was September and the grey seals had their pups. In almost every inaccessible cove we spotted a female and a fluffy white pup. In the other direction we walked beyond the beautiful Whitesands Bay to St Davids Head. The waves were rolling at Whitesands Bay and plenty of surfers were out enjoying the sea.
Devil’s Bridge near Aberystwyth
A tourist hotspot with a campsite that is a peaceful haven ticks boxes for lots of people. Devil’s Bridge attracts the tourist for its waterfall walks that you can pay to walk around. The longer waterfall walk is packed with gushing water but is not for those who can’t manage stairs! There are over 600 steps up and down to different viewpoints over the waterfalls.
As well as the waterfalls walk there is a steam railway that puffs between Devil’s Bridge and Aberystwyth. We might have used this but in 2021 you could only get on the trains in Aberystwyth as a Covid-19 precaution. Instead we had hot chocolate and toasted teacakes from the railway cafe, bought delicious handmade chocolates from Sarah Bunton‘s shop there and walked through the quiet hilly countryside above Devil’s Bridge passing old burial grounds and tiny churches. Social distancing was no problem on these lanes.
Glantowy Farm CL, Llanarthne near Carmarthen
I enjoyed the peaceful location & open aspect of this Caravan & Motorhome Club Certified Location. It has 2 toilets, 1 shower & sinks and the shower is good and hot. There is room for 6 units and 1 shepherd’s hut. There is a pub nearby in the village with limited opening.
Park Farm Holiday Park, Manorbier
This grassy site is on a hill and the pitches are not marked out, not huge & some are sloped. The showers are in individual bathrooms with separate toilets. The water in the showers is just warm, the wash up outdoors & there is a long walk to the laundry. The reception is very friendly.
Rhosson Ganol Caravan Park, St David’s
We never met a member of staff on this grassy campsite and that felt strange and impersonal. Our pitch wasn’t overly spacious but had sea views & was fairly level. The shower block is modern but suffered from just warm water temperature that wasn’t adjustable & insufficient hooks. The sanitary block is also quite a long walk from the pitches down a track that became muddy after the rain!
Woodlands Caravan Park, Devil’s Bridge, near Aberystwyth
This campsite is part of the ACSI card scheme & if you have this is exceptional good value out of season. We had a large hard-standing pitch on this peaceful woodland site that is dotted with quirky sculptures. The facilities are modern & clean & the showers are roomy, although the water was only just warm.
For many years we would drive down the ramp from the Hull to Zeebrugge ferry first thing in the morning, full of a buffet breakfast we were determined to get our money’s worth from and too busy concentrating on driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and not getting lost in the Belgian road system to pay too much attention to the country we were driving through. We were usually heading for France or Germany or maybe somewhere further, keen to cover some kilometres south and our feet would rarely hit Belgian soil. It was clearly time to change this and a few years ago, returning from the wonderful Écrins National Park in France, we spent a week exploring southern Belgium, the French speaking part of the country otherwise known as Wallonia.
It turned out that there was much more to Belgium than motorways and we found quiet roads that wound alongside lazy rivers, through woodland and between charming villages. We also found good cafes and restaurants and, of course, excellent beer.
Below are some ideas for fun and interesting things to do, places to visit and discover and delicious things to eat on your own tour of Belgium. The list of campsites we stayed at are at the bottom, as usual and I have added an imperfect map there too.
Orval Abbey and beer
We quickly settled into a gentle pace on the rural lanes of southern Belgium, admiring tidy village after tidy village, enjoying the varied woodland and spotting pretty cottages with neatly stacked log piles. We were heading for Orval Abbey near the French border; a popular visitor attraction and an immaculate combination of a modern and a ruined abbey set in beautiful gardens. There have been monks here since the 11th century but after the French revolution the abbey buildings were destroyed and it took over a hundred years before the funds to build a new abbey were secured.
The abbey is open all year and visitors can explore the ruins, the museum and see across the neat gardens to the new abbey that is free of visitors and tranquil.
Belgium’s beer is rightly internationally known and there are six abbey-based Trappist breweries, of which Orval is one. We visited the small museum about the brewery and read about the legend of the abbey’s name. It is said that a visitor to the abbey lost her wedding ring in the spring and while she sat weeping a trout popped up from the water with the lost ring. She apparently exclaimed this was the Val d’Or (golden valley) and this became Orval and the beer’s logo still shows the trout clasping a ring. Keen to try some of Belgium’s hundreds of beers we left the abbey shop with samples of this and the local cheese.
After a night on the banks of the pretty River Semois we followed the valley to Bouillon. This lovely riverside town has plenty of interesting shops, including an excellent ice-cream shop, and is dominated by a dramatically situated castle. We climbed the steep hill to the fortified castle, crossing an astonishing three drawbridges to reach the interior. Inside there is a 16th century tower which gives breathtaking views of the town and the river below that bends around the castle and ramparts. The castle is full of tunnels, walkways and rooms chipped out of the rock it sits on, making full use of the natural features. Most exciting for me was the 90-metre long tunnel under the courtyard, used for getting messages safely across the castle in a siege.
Bouillon Castle is open most of the year and if you don’t want to walk up the hill, there is parking nearer to the castle entrance.
Small Quirky Things
Belgian’s seem to have an eye for the decorative and interesting and as you tour around the country it is worth looking out for the cute, bizarre and downright strange. This might be a wall display of vintage watering cans; a decorative window grille of a pipe-smoking cowhand with milk churns followed by a bull; a large arrangement of garden gnomes; ornamental china hens on a doorstep or a somewhat alarming life-size female figure that sat knitting at a garden table in one Belgian village!
I would also recommend you try at least one cafe in a small village. These are often quiet during the day and bustling in the evening. They are usually cosy, welcoming, sometimes entertaining and will serve excellent coffee and / or Belgian beer.
Bertrix and Herbeumont
It was a damp day when we cycled from our campsite near Bertrix along wooded lanes to the River Semois. In the delightful hamlet of Cugnon we stopped to see the Pont de Claie, an undulating wooden bridge on trestle table legs that is considered picturesque but resembles a rickety puzzle that would be a health and safety nightmare.
We continued on our bikes to Herbeumont and climbed up to the castle and looked down from the walls over the winding Semois below. The ruins are free to visit and we had them to ourselves and spent some time clambering around. After warming up over hot chocolate in the deserted village cafe where we were joined by the owner’s cat, we picked up the old railway line to cycle back to Bertrix, trying but failing to beat an approaching storm. We sheltered in a long dark tunnel for a while but eventually had to brave the shower.
It was our wedding anniversary while we were here and later, in better weather, we walked the two kilometres into the town of Bertrix. On the way, we were delighted to spot a hare cautiously watching us from a field, its ears standing proud of the grass. We ate at what claimed to be the best pizzeria in Luxembourg Province and made a small impact on their list of Belgian beers.
Redu, the book village
Visiting bookshops in Belgium might seem dumb, as we are not fluent in French or Flemish but some of the many book shops in Redu have English books and we came away with a couple of new things to read. Yet another tidy Belgian village, Redu, the book village was sleepy when we visited during the week. The village is twinned with Hay-on-Wye in England that is known for its literary festival.
Museum of Country Life at Fourneau Saint-Michel
It wasn’t just the sunshine that made this outdoor museum of rural Walloon life so delightful, with over 60 historic and traditional buildings arranged along a beautiful valley, walking through the museum is like strolling between traditional hamlets, meadows and woodland. Each of the buildings, that have been moved brick-by-brick or re-created in the museum, was more amazing than the last. I liked the picturesque cottages, the bakery, the workshops full of old tools and the attractive white-washed church and the school. Care has been taken with the buildings and each is furnished with everything you would expect to find there to take visitors back in time.
If you only do one thing in rural Belgium, then do this, it is as good as visiting a dozen pretty villages. The museum is popular but there is so much space and everyone spreads out.
Parc des Topiaires, Durbuy
The Parc des Topiaires in Durbuy on the meandering Ourthe valley is an attraction that shouts quirky. The park is home to an amusing and astounding display of topiary figures. There are animals, including a life-size elephant, a row of ducks and horses jumping over fences and a larger-than-life woman waving, kayakers and so much more. When you have finished giggling your way around the park or been inspired to go home and try your hand at sculpting the hedge, the small and pretty town of Durbuy has cobbled streets full of places for visitors to eat and shop.
The city of Verviers in the Liège Province celebrates water, acknowledging its once thriving wool and textile industry. These industries relied on water and were wiped out by international competition. Walking between 18 of Verviers fountains on a quiet Sunday morning, we learnt the story of the town and its industries. Between the fountains we admired many of the city’s grand and ornate buildings.
Verviers is also home to the Tarte au Riz, a rich and creamy rice pudding in a pastry case that is deliciously sweet. You can buy slices of this in local boulangeries.
Hautes Fagnes-Eifel Nature Park
A world away from the woodland, villages and towns of southern Belgium, this elevated plateau of protected moorland is close to the German border above Verviers. We parked at Baraque Michel and found a useful map on an information board that showed the waymarked walks we could follow, as access is restricted in this nature park. From the tiny chapel the gravel paths and wooden walkways meander through a landscape of low trees, small pools, bilberry bushes and cotton grass. On a wet day this could be a moody and misty place but we enjoyed fine spring weather. The skies are big here and the views wide and open, changing as the path twists and turns around features. This is a landscape that slows you down and I was soon happily bending down at one of the ponds, watching water boatmen on the water.
On this high moorland is Signal de Botrange and at 694 metres above sea level this is Belgium’s highest point. The resourceful Belgians decided they wanted to get just that bit higher and built a six-metre-high stone staircase to a platform so that visitors can stand at 700 metres and for a moment be the highest person in Belgium!
Famous for its mineral springs and grand prix circuit, in the elegant and charming town of Spa we sampled yet another Belgian beer opposite the Vespa rental shop. The staff in this smart outlet were washing half-a-dozen sparkling red scooters and they gleamed in the sunshine. After our beers we wandered among the stylish shopping streets, eventually reaching The Parc de Sept Heures. After sauntering around the structures and monuments in the park without any aim we sat eating finger-licking takeaway frites from a stall while watching a pétanque tournament that was clearly more serious than any game.
We merely wandered around Spa for an afternoon but you can make more of your trip here and learn about the history of the area, visiting museums that celebrate varied subjects including laundry, the town and horses.
Beer and cubes of cheese with celery salt
I adore Belgian beer, although please stop me if I ever try and drink more than two bottles as they tend to be strong! The first time we were handed a small plate of cubes of semi-soft cheese and a tub of celery salt with our beer we were perplexed. However, once we got used to it, this accompaniment made perfect sense. At Orval they produced both beer and cheese and these are two foods associated with local producers that were once the staple of workers. In Germany and Austria we have sat in Alpine farms with a beer and some delicious homemade bread and cheese and the ploughman’s lunch is a staple of British pubs. Perhaps Belgium’s cubes of cheese are just their version of these traditions and the cheese and celery salt also make you thirsty so you will drink more beer!
A grassy flat site by the river with well-draining ground, despite some heavy rain before we arrived. They used a complicated pre-pay system for showers when we visited but had good, hot showers. Lovely small town nearby.
After heavy rain the grass was too wet for our campervan but we were able to park at the end of a site road. The site has lots of trees & views to fields. The facilities block was clean with under-floor heating & hot water. The site has a small bar too.
We received a friendly welcome at this popular campsite that is about 1.5km from the town. It has a few hard-standing pitches & grass & hedges between pitches. The facilities were clean & the showers hot.
An attractive Cumbrian market town with a campsite on its outskirts and beautiful scenery to walk through. Kirkby Stephen in the east of Cumbria and on the other side of the M6 from the Lake District has all this and more. Pennine View Park is a first-class campsite that is ideally situated for visiting the town and for a holiday where you explore the local area while your ‘van never leaves the site. In the evening, if you don’t want to cook in your ‘van, there is a choice of places to eat, including an Indian restaurant that is our number one choice.
Here are some ideas for things to do from Kirkby Stephen. I’ve not given step-by-step instructions for most of the walks so you will need a map.
1. Exploring Kirkby Stephen riverside and town – two or three hours
This is our first afternoon walk to settle into being in Kirkby Stephen again. If you don’t know your way around, this sketch map is a useful guide for the walk. Use the exit at the ‘bottom end’ of Pennine View Parkturn, left and you are already by the River Eden. This is a fascinating stretch of river, known as the ‘Devil’s Mustard Mill,’ a collapsed cave system with bowl-shaped pools and fast flowing runnels. Turn left on the road for a short stretch and then pick up the riverside footpath that has some stones with poems engraved on them, now faded but occasionally legible. Cross the river and take a trail hidden in the trees to the path towards Kirkby Stephen. You will pass a couple of attractive stone barns and eventually reach Frank’s Bridge. Stop and enjoy the views here or maybe paddle in the often shallow river underneath the 17th century bridge which was used to bring coffins from outlying villages into the town. Eventually you will climb the winding roads into Kirkby Stephen where there are cafes and pubs around the market square for refreshment. I like to step inside the red sandstone church to find the Loki Stone; an eighth century myth-laden stone tablet. The stone is carved with an image of the Norse god of mischief, Loki, showing him bound in chains. Found discarded in the churchyard, the heritage of the stone is unknown. You can retrace your steps to the campsite or walk through the town, either on the main road or turning off at the traffic lights onto the quieter road, taking a moment to admire the Temperance Hall on Victoria Square. Kirkby Stephen has plenty of pubs but this 19th century hall and a Temperance Hotel was there for those who had taken ‘the pledge’.
2. Smardale Gill National Nature Reserve – circular walk of around 15km
With an impressive viaduct for the former railway line at its heart, this is a stunning reserve that is a delightful place in summer for wild flowers and butterflies. We took the footpaths by Kirkby Stephen’s cattle market and behind the school, popping out on the lane to Waitby. Turning left, you immediately cross a bridge over a closed railway line. Ignore this one and just a few metres further on you will be able to climb down to the path that follows the disused track that swings round to Smardale. This is level and easy walking. You pass the small car park and the hall and then walk underneath the Settle to Carlisle line that is still in use. You are now in the wooded valley with the beck below you. Crossing the viaduct the views open out and continuing along the railway track you come to a quarry and two huge old lime kilns. We left the railway line on a footpath to the left after a ruined house and descended the hillside to the pack horse bridge. Joining the popular Coast to Coast route walk over Smardale Fell, stopping to take in the wide open views. The path goes back under the railway line to a lane and across the fields to Kirkby Stephen.
3. Pendragon Castle – circular walk of around 12km
There is a legend that Pendragon Castle was built by Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur and that the Romans had a fort here. Archaeologists have found no evidence for this and, unfortunately, the castle is probably a 12th century Norman building. Today it is a romantic ruin that gives shelter to the sheep and is a peaceful spot for a picnic. We walked to Pendragon Castle from Pennine View Park, turning right from the ‘bottom end’ exit of the campsite and following part of ‘A Pennine Journey‘ long distance trail. This is the route that Alfred Wainwright followed in 1938 from Settle to Hadrian’s Wall. It should be an easy route to follow but we did manage to get lost! At regular intervals you will see the trains on the Settle to Carlisle line go by. After our picnic at the castle, we walked a short way down the road and at Southwaite picked up footpaths along the fellside to the village of Nateby, which has a pub if you need refreshments. From Nateby it is a short walk down the lane to the campsite.
4. Nine Standards Rigg – approx 16.5km circular walk
Nine stone cairns, some around three metres tall, give Nine Standards Rigg its name. Their origin is a mystery so you can make up your own stories but they have been standing sometime as they were marked on 18th century maps. The climb up the hill through the lovely village of Hartley is a classic Kirkby Stephen walk and well worth the effort to see the stones and the view across the Yorkshire Dales and the Pennines. You can follow these directions here.
5. Podgill and Merrygill Viaducts – two hours for a circular walk
From Pennine View Park you can pick up the section of old railway line over two impressive viaducts, Podgill and Merrygill. The downloadable map will help you find your way but start from the ‘bottom end’ exit from the campsite and turn left. From Stenkrith Park you can use the sketch map, crossing the Millennium Bridge to access the disused railway line. This track will take you over the two impressive viaducts to the village of Hartley. You can either retrace your steps to enjoy the views all over again or take the paths from Hartley to Kirkby Stephen and return through the town or by the river.
6. The Settle to Carlisle railway line
Kirkby Stephen’s railway station is less than a mile from Pennine View Park, which itself is situated in an old railway yard. You can catch a train on the Settle to Carlisle line just one stop to the north, to Appleby, an interesting Cumbrian market town also on the River Eden or you can go all the way to Carlisle to see its castle and visit the excellent Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery. Heading south you could take the train to Dent station that is high above the village of stone houses and cobbled streets. A walk of about 15km would take you to Dent village and back to the station. Alternatively you could alight at Ribblehead Viaduct to see this awesome piece of engineering and walk back to Dent Station, mostly following the line.
There are bus services from Kirkby Stephen too but nothing you can describe as daily! This will give you some ideas of the options.
I am pretty sure I haven’t covered everything you can do from Pennine View Park and Kirkby Stephen but I hope this gives you some ideas about the possibilities from this friendly and well-run campsite.