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.

Our Scotland Campervan Tour: 2 Weeks & A Daily Cuckoo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back on the Road Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roll on some more mini adventures!

Walks from Stonehaven Caravan & Motorhome Club Campsite

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

The seafront to the harbour

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

Dunnottar Castle & woodland

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapel of St Mary and St Nathalan

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

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

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

2020 & Camping Trips shoe-horned into 6 months [almost] of Freedom to Travel

2020 can’t really count as a full year in terms of camping! Thanks to Covid-19 and the various restrictions, we only had 173 nights [24 weeks and five days] when we were able to take our campervan, the Blue Bus, away for the night. Despite the lock downs, quarantine and tiers from March to the end of 2020 we managed to get away for 79 nights during the year in our campervan. Here in Lancashire our year looked like this:

  • Lock Down One 23/3/20 – 3/7/20 – 103 nights
  • Quarantine after our trip to France – 14 nights
  • Lancashire in Tier Three and national Lock Down Two 17/10/20 – 31/12/20 – 76 nights
  • A total of 193 nights when either campsites were closed or we were not allowed to use them.

Not everyone uses their campervan as much as we normally do. Of course, there are some owners who full-time or are hardly at home but for us 79 nights away is considerably less than we expected to be sleeping in our campervan in 2020 [we haven’t even used up the teabag stash we bought in February when we were getting ready for being away for over three months]. Our 2020 nights in the campervan is almost half the number of nights we were away in 2017 and in 2018. A ‘van is an expensive piece of kit and we don’t like to waste it. Since retirement we have used our Blue Bus over 100 nights in each year, including the year we moved house. When we were restricted by work we would usually be away for around 70+ nights, so 2020 felt a bit like being taken back in time.

Those 79 nights away were spent in 41 different campsites and overnight stops. We still don’t stay anywhere long! We have now spent 608 nights in our current Blue Bus and 1,325 nights in total in a campervan over the 15 years we have owned a ‘van.

With restrictions and constraints on our travel, the trips we did manage to make were all the more memorable and valued. I don’t think I will ever take the freedom to travel in our campervan for granted again. Out of those 79 nights, 16 were made in those carefree days BC days [Before Coronavirus]. In that time we had some short local holidays and got away to Wiltshire and Gloucestershire and Scotland. Of course, if I had known what was coming we would have been away more but, like many, I thought I had the year planned out. We were the last people to leave a Scottish campsite when Lock Down One began and that long drive through a shocked and anxious UK was a strange day.

After campsites re-opened on the 4th July [hurrah!] and then the VAT reduction was bought in, we took a number of fantastic trips. Staying local, camping in the Lake District was pure pleasure, Cheshire’s Delamere Forest delightful and the Yorkshire Dales always a favourite. We are lucky in the north-west of England to have so many beautiful places nearby.

More than usual in 2020, we spent our time walking and cycling, rarely visiting attractions. On a few occasions we met up with friends for socially distanced camping and hiking. This was the year when these social [and socially distanced] occasions with friends were rare and particularly precious times.

Mistakenly we thought things might be settling down and we headed further afield. We spent a fabulous few weeks on a circuit of Brittany through August [not a time of year we would normally have chosen but needs must] and found that France is even wonderful in the school holidays and that Brittany has some amazing and attractive corners on the coast and inland.

After France and staying home for quarantine we fitted in a trip to Scotland, discovering new places and re-discovering old haunts as we toured around the east coast and more Lake District and Yorkshire Dales trips. We knew that our days of being able to travel were numbered and that we would soon be confined to home again.

There were times within those restricted weeks when we could travel but not stay overnight. We took every opportunity to drive for up to an hour from home for a day trip and stretch our legs on some hills, rather than Morecambe’s Promenade. The Blue Bus came into its own on those trips too as we are self-sufficient and don’t need to use any other facilities..

At the moment none of us can go anywhere and planning feels too risky so I have no idea what 2021 has in store for us. I hope we will get to use our Blue Bus soon to create some more special memories.