124 Nights in a Campervan in 2022

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.

Here’s to a 2023 of more happy camping.

[Not] The End of Wainwright Bagging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Netherlands in a Campervan

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.

Touring Around South & West Wales in a Campervan

We spent a couple of weeks in Wales in our campervan, exploring historical castles, walking along the narrow paths that follow the cliffs of the Pembrokeshire coast and kicking sand across long beaches. We ate buttery Welsh Cakes, indulgent ice-creams, crumbly Caerphilly cheese and delicious artisan chocolates and discovered corners of Wales we hadn’t found before.

The list of four Welsh campsites we stayed at are at the bottom of this post after more information about the four areas we explored.

Llanarthne & The National Botanic Garden of Wales

It was the National Botanic Garden of Wales that took us to this lush and peaceful part of Wales east of Carmarthen along the River Towy valley. We chose Glantowy Farm for its closeness to The National Botanic Garden of Wales which was just short of three miles away and chose to walk to the gardens but cycling is another option. Even if you drive, wear some comfy shoes as you can easily spend a whole day looking around this amazing site, there is so much to see! There are formal gardens, a vegetable garden, a terraced garden full of herbs, a large glasshouse and sculptures as well as lakes to walk around and an arboretum.

On our way back to the campsite we diverted to Paxton’s Tower that we had noticed on the hill. This folly, built to commemorate Nelson, is open so that you can climb up to the first floor and enjoy the panoramic views over the valley. On a clear day it is well-worth the effort.

Manorbier, Tenby & Pembroke

The Pembrokeshire coastline is spectacular and the attractive village of Manorbier has a number of campsites. This location worked well for us because we could combine coastal walking with buses and trains to reach Tenby, in one direction, and Pembroke in the other. We walked to Tenby and caught the bus back and we purchased return train tickets to Pembroke to visit the castle.

Manorbier has a castle too [open Spring, Summer and early Autumn only], one small cafe that can get busy at lunch time and a cosy and quirky pub.

Tenby is a busy seaside resort with handsome colourful buildings, the remains of the town’s walls, fabulous beaches and plenty of shops. We visited the three-storey National Trust’s Tudor Merchant’s House that sits down a narrow alleyway near the harbour. Packed with replica furniture and history, this charming house successfully took me back to 1500. Tenby also has a museum and art gallery and you can visit the Napoleonic Fort on St Catherine’s Island that is tidal [open March to December].

My top tip for Pembroke Castle is to join one of the free guided tours, they are not only fun but also informative and ensure you will get so much more from your visit. Open most or all of the year, this is a large castle with buildings stretching back to the Normans and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. Hungry after scrambling around the castle we ate at Food at Williams on the main street and had an attractive and tasty vegetarian meal.

St Davids

This small city sits near the end of a peninsula and is surrounded by farmland and a multitude of campsites. The peninsula’s coastline is a stunning wiggly combination of cliffs and bays. The city has pubs, cafes and a few shops and tucked away below these are the magnificent St Davids Cathedral and the ruins of The Bishop’s Palace.

We were mostly here for the coastal walking and from our campsite we walked south from the life boat station along Ramsey Sound. It was September and the grey seals had their pups. In almost every inaccessible cove we spotted a female and a fluffy white pup. In the other direction we walked beyond the beautiful Whitesands Bay to St Davids Head. The waves were rolling at Whitesands Bay and plenty of surfers were out enjoying the sea.

Devil’s Bridge near Aberystwyth

A tourist hotspot with a campsite that is a peaceful haven ticks boxes for lots of people. Devil’s Bridge attracts the tourist for its waterfall walks that you can pay to walk around. The longer waterfall walk is packed with gushing water but is not for those who can’t manage stairs! There are over 600 steps up and down to different viewpoints over the waterfalls.

As well as the waterfalls walk there is a steam railway that puffs between Devil’s Bridge and Aberystwyth. We might have used this but in 2021 you could only get on the trains in Aberystwyth as a Covid-19 precaution. Instead we had hot chocolate and toasted teacakes from the railway cafe, bought delicious handmade chocolates from Sarah Bunton‘s shop there and walked through the quiet hilly countryside above Devil’s Bridge passing old burial grounds and tiny churches. Social distancing was no problem on these lanes.

Campsite nameComments
Glantowy Farm CL, Llanarthne near CarmarthenI enjoyed the peaceful location & open aspect of this Caravan & Motorhome Club Certified Location.  It has 2 toilets, 1 shower & sinks and the shower is good and hot.  There is room for 6 units and 1 shepherd’s hut.  There is a pub nearby in the village with limited opening.
Park Farm Holiday Park, ManorbierThis grassy site is on a hill and the pitches are not marked out, not huge & some are sloped.  The showers are in individual bathrooms with separate toilets.  The water in the showers is just warm, the wash up outdoors & there is a long walk to the laundry.  The reception is very friendly.
Rhosson Ganol Caravan Park, St David’sWe never met a member of staff on this grassy campsite and that felt strange and impersonal.  Our pitch wasn’t overly spacious but had sea views & was fairly level.  The shower block is modern but suffered from just warm water temperature that wasn’t adjustable & insufficient hooks.  The sanitary block is also quite a long walk from the pitches down a track that became muddy after the rain!
Woodlands Caravan Park, Devil’s Bridge, near AberystwythThis campsite is part of the ACSI card scheme & if you have this is exceptional good value out of season.  We had a large hard-standing pitch on this peaceful woodland site that is dotted with quirky sculptures.  The facilities are modern & clean & the showers are roomy, although the water was only just warm.

Touring the charming Southern Belgium (Wallonia) & The Ardennes in a Campervan

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.

Bouillon Castle

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.

Verviers

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!

Spa

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!

Campsite Name
Comments
Camping de Chenefleur, Tintigny A nicely laid out green site by the river with few hard-standing pitches.  The facilities are very clean and the showers are good & hot.  There is a quiet neat village nearby.
Ardennen Camping Bertrix, Bertrix A terraced site with pool, bar & restaurant & lots of permanent caravans.  The facilities are kept clean & the showers are good & hot.
Camping Eau Zone, Hotton 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.
Camping de l’Eau Rouge, Stavelot 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.
Camping Parc des Sources, Spa 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.

Things to do from Pennine View Park Campsite in Kirkby Stephen

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.

Scotland: 5 Overnight Spots & 5 CAMC, 3 C&CC &amp & 3 Independent Campsites

Okay, this isn’t my snappiest blog post title:) I just hope it does what it says on the tin. If you’re looking for some short and honest reviews of some of Scotland’s campsites and ideas for places to pull in for the night. We planned our three week tour around Scotland with some blind optimism early in the year, not knowing if we would even be able to travel beyond Lancashire and as far as Scotland at the time. This is mostly why we used five Caravan and Motorhome Club [CAMC] sites [online booking, no deposit and able to amend bookings, thank you].

In comparison the Camping & Caravanning Club [C&CC] require either full payment or deposit so we didn’t book Moffat and Glenmore C&CC sites quite so early. We booked these in advance when travel looked more certain, aware that we might be risking our deposit. We didn’t book Glencoe C&CC site until the day before we arrived and while we were on the road.

Apart from the location and the view, CAMC sites are generally of a similar standard. The C&CC sites do vary more. We are members of both clubs and do like to use their sites, but I do also like the unpredictable nature and therefore excitement of arriving at an independent site, not knowing what to expect. And a good overnight spot in a small car park or lay-by that we have to ourselves can be the most relaxing night of all.

Of the non-club sites we stayed on during this trip, Spey Bay Golf Club is worth a mention. A golf club and a campsite isn’t something I had come across before but it worked extremely well. The clean toilets and showers were shared with the golfers who were mostly out on the greens playing golf so they were always quiet. Quite a few pitches were taken up with seasonal caravans so it could be that the site gets busier at the weekends and school holidays. A laundry and wash up area was all that was missing in terms of facilities. A few keen golfers arrived quite early in the morning so be warned you might not get the lie in you wanted if you are near to the car park and in the summer a few play late into the evening. If there was an event being held in the club house you might have a disturbed evening too.

Spey Bay is on the mouth of the River Spey and has sea views and a stunning and dynamic shingle beach that is perfect for a bit of beach combing. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society Dolphin Centre is here too, they have a gift shop, organise tours of the large historic ice houses left over from the salmon fishing station and run a fantastic cafe with delicious cakes. Otherwise, there are no shops, pubs or restaurants and it is a peaceful spot.

We chose the campsite as we have a friend who lives in Fochabers, a charming small town which is an easy four plus miles walk through woodland along the Speyside Way. The beautifully restored Gordon Castle Walled Garden in Fochabers is certainly worth a visit if you are in the area for the fascinating flower, vegetable and fruit gardens and has a good cafe. If you don’t have friends to visit then there are plenty of other activities. Walk about five miles to the east along the coast and you get to the small fishing town of Buckie. You can pick up a bus to Fochabers from here and make a round trip of it. The National Cycle Route One crosses the viaduct near Spey Bay over the River Spey to Garmouth and you could follow this to Elgin and visit the ruined cathedral.

One small note with these comments – I like very hot showers! My partner usually finds the showers hot enough.

Campsite nameComments
Moffat Caravan & Camping Club (C&CC) siteA large & level site, 5 minutes walk from the lovely Moffat town centre & my favourite Cafe Ariete.  Friendly staff, clean modern facilities, showers push button & just about hot enough for me, wash up outdoors with a roof.  We both had a phone signal.  Good value at under £20/night. There are options for walks around Moffat and at the weekends we could buy wood-fired pizza from a stall at the gate.
Maragowan CAMC, KillinA linear site along the river with open views to the hills and a short walk from the centre of Killin.  There is some road noise but if you can get one of the riverside pitches you’ll love it.  We spent hours watching the wildlife on the river from our pitch. The facilities are old but functional & the showers are hot. In spring the signposted walk by Loch Tay and the River Dochart to the falls is idyllic and there is good mountain walking nearby.
Victoria Bridge near Bridge of OrchyThis is a small car park with a slope that is popular with vans and tents for overnighting but still peaceful.
Glencoe C&CC siteA large site with a mix of open views & trees, hard standing pitches are a good size & level.  The water from the taps in the laundry & wash up is scalding hot but only warm in the showers. We only spent one night here but there are walking and cycling options if you are here longer.
Morvich CAMC site, Glen ShielWe received a particularly friendly welcome at this pleasant site surrounded by mountains.  We were very surprised to get a phone signal for EE and 3 in such a remote spot.  Good hot showers, peaceful and great mountain and forest walking directly from the site.
Blackwater Falls car park near GarveFairly level car park with toilets.  After heavy rain we couldn’t hear the main road above the roar of the waterfall.  There is a 2 mile riverside walk, a phone signal and most likely other vans.
Broomfield Holiday Park, UllapoolThis large site has unbeatable loch views and is in the heart of Ullapool.  The facilities are not brilliant but were closed due to Covid-19 on this visit.  We managed to get a front pitch but needed 2 electric cables joined together for the hook up. We drove out for hill walking but in the evening walked to The Ceilidh Place for a wonderful and delicious meal.
Sands Caravan & Camping Site, GairlochA large rambling and popular site by a lovely beach and among the sand dunes with only a few marked pitches. EHU pitches are scattered about although some of the best pitches don’t have hook up. The facilities are clean & good with hot showers.  No 3 or EE signal.
Kinlochewe CAMC siteFantastic mountain views from many of the pitches which are all level and hard standing.  We had an EE signal but nothing from 3 and the wi-fi is still only available from around the wash up / laundry area – it would be good if the CAMC could upgrade this sometime soon.  Great walking directly from the site and the village has a shop and hotel.
A832 layby on Loch a’ChuillinnThere are a few lay-bys on this road that are screened from the traffic. The one we used was level and had a loch view. Two other vans joined us when we were there and we had a 3 and EE signal.
Spey Bay Golf Club campsiteA small level site by the club house and car park.  Clean facilities with good hot showers, no wash up or laundry.  Both 3 and EE had a signal.  Good walking along the coast and the River Spey.
Dalchum Bridge car park, Glen Road, NewtonmoreA fairly level car park with open views down the glen that is popular with vans and tents. An overnight here meant we could be sure of a parking place to walk up the hill the next morning.
Glenmore C&CC (Camping in the Forest), AviemoreA busy and large site with two facilities blocks.  There are grass and hard standing pitches of varying sizes and pitches come with and without EHU.  The showers are hot & push button. You can walk around the lake or in Rothiemurchus Forest and up mountains. There are buses towards Aviemore.
Strathclyde Country Park CAMC site, GlasgowThis is a well kept and tidy site with colourful trees and bushes.  Its only drawback is being so close to the M74 and a dual carriageway and so the traffic noise is constant.  We did take a walk in the country park but that is also noisy. It did make a comfortable and good stopover.
New England Bay CAMC site, Port LoganRight by the beach and with sea views, this is a grassy site that is strung out with bushes and trees dividing different areas.  There are two facilities blocks of the usual standard.  An EE signal here but nothing from 3 (again).  Good coastal walking from the site and the Logan Botanic Gardens are well worth a visit.
Kirroughtree Forest Park Visitor Centre, Newton Stewart, ScotlandA slightly sloping large car park surrounded by trees but with some views to the hills.  The payment of £6 can only be made in cash when the visitor centre is closed. There are forest trails to stretch your legs on or cycle along and no shortage of midges when we visited.

A Collection of Caravan & Motorhome Club Campsites in Central England (plus a few others)

As soon as campsites opened again we were off, touring around central England, getting as far south as Cambridge, as far east as the banks of the River Humber and mooching around the edges of Greater Manchester and the Peak District hills. I had booked some of these pitches back in January when we didn’t know the date we would be able to travel again and the Caravan and Motorhome Club (CAMC) offers the easiest and most flexible booking system, with no deposit and the ability to amend bookings online. From the 12 April until mid-May toilet blocks were open but not the showers on CAMC sites. Here is where we stayed, what we thought of each site and some ideas for activities.

Campsite nameComments
Burrs Country Park CAMC site, BuryWe like the open aspect of this site and it has both rural walks from the country park and is a 30 minute walk into Bury giving access to Greater Manchester’s tram network. Bury’s market is legendary in the north-west of England and worth visiting. We cycled along the canal from Bury to Radcliffe and were amazed how quickly we left the urban sprawl and found quiet corners. From Radcliffe we picked up the old railway line to Clifton which was effortless and enjoyable cycling.
Crowden Camping & Caravanning Club siteThis grassy site with some sloping pitches is just off the busy Woodhead Pass road and so there is some road noise.  Neither EE or 3 offered a phone or data signal here.  No facilities were open. We walked on the Pennine Way to Black Hill across open moorland and were amazed to meet a young couple walking the long distance route with a tent and a baby! We hope they made it.
Castleton CAMC siteNot far from the lovely town of Castleton, the site has some trees and some road noise.  Both EE and 3 had a data signal. The hill walking is hard to beat from here with the Mam Tor ridge and dramatic Cave Dale and we visited [for the first time] Peveril Castle on this trip.
Buxton CAMC siteThis site is in a quarry and a pleasant 30 minute walk into the handsome town of Buxton through woodland.  We received a friendly welcome and were delighted with the delicious bread and cakes in the shop.  No EE signal but 4G 3 signal. We put together circular walks from the campsite to Goyt Valley and Three Shires Head and used buses for a linear walk through some Derbyshire Dales from Taddington. With a map there is no end to your options here.
Clumber Park CAMC siteA large site with 2 facility blocks, some grass pitches as well as hard standing, surrounded by trees & shady, popular with families, no heating in the showers and toilets in April & no data signal for either of our phones. Clumber Park has a vast network of footpaths and cycle paths that link you to Cresswell Crags and as far as Sherwood Forest.
Carsington Water CAMC siteA wooded site with mostly hard-standing pitches, that are in general fairly level.  A popular site and £5 a night cheaper than some CAMC sites.  Very poor 3 and EE signals. Cycling or walking on the well-made paths around the reservoir is easy and pleasant.
The Paddock, Edith Weston, Rutland WaterSmall adult-only campsite on a level grassy field with no facilities.  Views over Rutland Water and a tidy and quiet site with a helpful and friendly owner. I wrote a review of this site on this blog post.
Cambridge Cherry Hinton CAMC siteA small CAMC site with pitches separated into small areas by trees.  The site had a bit of a neglected air when we were there, unusual for a CAMC site.  There are regular buses into Cambridge which is packed with sights to see.
Roxton CL, Barrow upon HumberGrassy level area, enclosed by hedges & trees to the side of the owner’s house that is kept tidy.  No facilities.  Near the River Humber & good walks along the river and by nature reserves.  We received a warm welcome and £13/night is a fair price. There are more details on this blog post.

Friends Reunion: Scotland Campervan Tour 2021 Part Two

I mostly close my eyes and ears to the news while we are on the road but the Friends reunion did catch my eye. When we travel we carry every episode from every series of Friends with us on a flash drive and have watched them over and over. I know they are corny and sentimental but each time I am swept along and involved in the lives of those six close friends, laughing and crying at their ups and downs. I really hope that any update sees the characters staying friends. I love my own few close friends, each one is precious and a gift. I missed being able to meet up with them during lock downs so the second part of our Scotland trip was particularly special for the reunions.

From Morvich we travelled further north to Ullapool where we had a date with two old friends [we have known one of them since our murky school days!] They were staying in a self-catering cottage in the town. We managed to get a front row seat at the Ullapool campsite and the temptation is to sit looking over the loch and watch the boats, the wildlife and the stunning sunsets. Instead we scrubbed up, shook out some half-decent cleanish clothes and turned up at their cottage with a chilled bottle of prosecco. We were all heading for a night out in a restaurant, something that used to be almost routine for the four of us but that we hadn’t done together for over 15 months and I was giddy with excitement [Friends fans can imagine what Phoebe would be like].

The prosecco bubbles fitted the mood perfectly and we were on a high as we walked the short distance to The Ceilidh Place. We first discovered this Ullapool institution in the early 1980s, it is marvellous that it is still going strong and it was perfect for our reunion as three of us had been there on that first visit. The Ceilidh Place is a cafe, restaurant, bookshop, arts venue and accommodation. Three delicious courses and lots of laughing later I waddled back to the ‘van in time for the last vivid colours of a west coast of Scotland sunset. This was one of those memorable evenings.

I can walk up mountains but as soon as I hit the steep sections I slow down and plod, breathing heavily. My partner meanwhile is more machine than human and doesn’t seem to notice the gradient. Consequently I spend a lot of time walking on my own, watching him disappearing into the distance. It was, therefore, more than joyful to have two wonderful days walking on some of the hills around Ullapool with our friends. Their pace matches mine when the contour lines get closer together and in between gasping for breath we chatted and laughed, catching up on news and making more memories.

Unexpected and spontaneous socialising is fun too. When a fellow MMM and Campervan Mag writer and Twitter friend said she was also in Ullapool I jumped at the chance for a face-to-face meet up. Felicity and her partner Andrew arrived with a generous bottle of red and, once we’d found the spare glasses at the back of a cupboard. we settled down to get to know each other better.

Next stop was Gairloch and Sands campsite on our slow journey south. This large rambling site has pitches among the sand dunes and looking over the bay; you are free to choose the spot that suits. We practiced tai chi on the soft and warm sand under a blue sky and paddled through the gentle waves. In Gairloch we had great tasting coffee and delicious cakes from Mountain Coffee, a cafe with a cool vibe. Browsing their bookshop a couple of books caught my eye, one for me and one as a gift. Gairloch’s museum is worth a visit too.

Kinlochewe will always be a special place. Firstly because the scenery is superb and secondly because it was the last place we stayed in before Lock Down One. Returning to this highland village was emotional and a pleasure and to be there on hot sunny days was a bonus. We thought we might take the Blue Bus out for the day but instead found walks from the site, climbing the Pony Path up to Meall a’ Ghiubhais through a landscape of grey rocks and lochans and paddling in the river in the sheltered glen at the Heights of Kinlochewe.

At Spey Bay we had another reunion and a pre-arranged meet on a pretty section of the Speyside Way. Our friend lives in Fochabers, just a few miles along the River Spey from Spey Bay where we were camping. Together we pottered through the woodland and by the river for hours with no sign of a red squirrel. Later that evening he sent a photo of one he had seen just minutes after we left him! The next morning an osprey circled over the van, much to the consternation of the common gulls nesting nearby, so we didn’t feel too hard done by.

In the good weather the hills were popular but not crowded. We climbed a Munro above Newtonmore and had a lovely day on Meall a’ Bhuachaille above Glenmore. We spent a day walking through the varied woodland of Rothiemuchus Forest but still didn’t see a red squirrel. We were gradually heading south and our time in Scotland was nearing an end. Our last nights in Scotland were spent cooled by a fresh breeze at New England Bay near Stranraer in Galloway. Being back on the road, exploring new and familiar places and reconnecting with old friends and making new ones has helped me make small steps on the way to recovering from those lock downs.