Well … now we are wondering why did we wait so long to get to Devon?
Despite its name, Devon Conversions are based in County Durham in the north of England, a long way from the south-west. We often meet people in other countries who smile and tell us how much they have enjoyed holidays in the beautiful county of Devon in South West England and we have to apologise for never having been there, until now.
We spent a few days exploring Somerset and North Devon and found some stunning coastlines and picturesque villages. We particularly enjoyed the Hartland Peninsular which was perfect for us. The spectacular rocky coastal scenery provided great walking country, Clovelly took us back in time and the clotted cream ice-cream was excellent. The sunshine in the photograph hides the stiff breeze that kept the temperatures down but in the sheltered corners it was warm enough to walk without a fleece jacket.
Devon is well known for its narrow lanes with tall hedges and I certainly held my breath plenty of times as we met oncoming traffic as we toured around what count for main roads in this part of the country. We are very familiar with single track roads in Scotland but this was different; in Scotland you generally have an open view over the moorland and the passing places are always regular and marked. Breathing in on the narrow sections didn’t help one bit for the ‘van to squeeze through the narrow gaps but it was something I just couldn’t help doing.
Since we have been home I’ve been telling everyone how stunningly beautiful north Devon is but then lots of people already know this, it is just the two of us that have taken so long to discover one of the delights of our little country.
I constantly pinch myself, unable to believe that it is really true … do we really own our very own campervan? Owning a campervan was my dream from the age of 13 until I was 45 years old, when we bought our first ever ‘van and the joy of being part of the campervan community still hasn’t diminished and I hope it never will.
We have owned our Devon Tempest on a medium wheelbase Renault Master for just over twelve months now and driven over 9,000 miles. This is our second Devon conversion [and third ‘van] as for us Devon offer just what we need; good solid vans at a reasonable price and being a small converter they are able to include some modifications to the standard specification when buying from new.
Having owned firstly a short wheelbase Volkswagen and then a long wheelbase VW Devon Sundowner, at 5.5m long the Renault is as big as we want to go. The extra length gave us a sofa, a [small] bathroom and means we no longer have to swivel the front seats to have somewhere comfy to sit. Having lived for twelve months in our Sundowner we know we can live happily together in a small space and we enjoy having a ‘van that can [mostly] fit in a standard car park space.
We learnt a lot from owning our Sundowner and we specified the following modifications to our Tempest, which Devon Conversions were able to incorporate:
The ‘van has good lighting with spotlights and roof lights but we added a strip LED in the kitchen which has proved very useful for being able to see what we are cooking.
We have two 240v sockets in the kitchen [for kettle and hotplate] and two in the lounge [for charging phone, camera, laptop, tablet, MP3 player] both very useful when we are on hook-up and a 12v socket in the wine cupboard for when we are off grid [see below].
We have a re-fillable LPG canister which allows us to cook and heat the van and hot water when we don’t have a hook-up.
We don’t have a TV [we watch downloaded programmes on the laptop in the ‘van] but the TV cupboard makes a great wine cupboard with the addition of a couple of shelves that are great for jars and tins.
We didn’t want the open shelf for cups and plates and Devon were able to change this to a more useful cupboard.
We had shelves put in the wardrobe as these give more flexibility, provide more space and [being exceptionally scruffy] we never have a need to hang clothes up.
Modifications we have added ourselves:
Hooks for coats on the back wall and for jackets behind the driver’s seat
Hooks on the bathroom door for towels
Nets inside the ‘wardrobe’ door for the campsite log book and the ‘van quiz book
The Renault has not given us any bother [I can’t help touching wood as I type this] after the traumatic day when we collected the ‘van. Because it had only travelled seven miles and all of these miles had been shunting around the factory and the dealer’s forecourt, we got a warning light relating to the diesel particulate filter within a mile or two of setting off. We spoke to the Renault garage and then had to call roadside assistance out. The RAC thought it was amusing that our ‘van was the lowest mileage they had ever had called in but as we waited by the M61 in the February gloom and rush-hour traffic looking at our gleaming van we just wanted to cry. Fortunately, the story has a happy ending and once the RAC had arrived and revved the engine aggressively for some time the particles burnt off and all has been well since.
I can’t pretend that owning a campervan is a frugal choice but it is much more than that and does allow us to travel widely and cheaply. How I tend to look at it is this; living in our urban flat and owning the ‘van go hand-in-hand and only make sense to us together and the cost of these two places we choose to live in is equivalent to the average house price in Greater Manchester.
I am not complaining, last weekend was text book spring and April weather; one minute it was sunny, the next a shower flew across, obliterating the view and bringing the temperature down.
We were in north Staffordshire, near the Derbyshire / Cheshire border and walking in some of the loveliest countryside in England, over The Roaches. if you’ve not been to this lovely area, then I highly recommend it.
In the sunshine, the climbers were out on the gritstone crags, those who prefer bouldering were spotted with their colourful crash-mats strapped to their backs, the dog walkers, young families and photographers were all enjoying this beautiful natural playground.
On our first day we visited Ramshaw Rocks, on the quieter side of The Roaches, where you can find the Winking Man, an interesting face-shaped rock that protrudes from the crags and entertains children on the drive past on the A53, as if you watch carefully the eye appears to wink. We parked in the lay-by and had a brew in the ‘van and set off in the fine weather without waterproofs (clearly a mistake in April). As we reached the top the wind whipped up and a hail shower turned the ground white and my hands blue, the hills around us disappeared and I was back in winter.
The next day we walked along The Roaches ridge to Roach End and back behind the rocks. This time we packed the waterproofs (having learnt our lesson the day before) and the sky was blue and the sun shone all day; this was definitely spring. What I hadn’t taken with me on this walk was any money and so we had to walk past the ice cream van at Roach End without treating ourselves, so a frugal walk.
While storms blew in the south we travelled around Scotland in the sunshine, feeling blessed and happy with the world.
We travelled first to St Andrews, a charming stone built town with plenty to see and do, including a ruined castle and cathedral and two bays. Our campsite overlooked East Sands, the smaller beach. West Sands is near the famous golf course and is a wide stretch of sand where motorhome parking is possible overnight.
We travelled further north to the area around Nairn. Here you can either explore the charming fishing villages along the coast or travel inland for the hills and we did both, although the weather was always better on the coast and we craved the blue sky and sunshine. We were so taken with some of these small coastal villages we started to plan moving to this part of Scotland when we retire … we shall see.
We spent a night on the coast between Aberdeenshire and Peterhead at the Port Erroll Nightstop near Cruden Bay. This harbour has space for five ‘vans, no hook up but there are toilets and asks for a donation of £10 a night. The harbour is slightly removed from the village of Cruden Bay and the harbour is a peaceful and beautiful spot. We were the only ‘van there on a sunny evening and we parked with the huge ‘van door facing the sea and watched oyster catchers and herring gulls as we sat with a brew. Later there was a deep red sunset to watch while we ate.
From Port Erroll we walked along the coast to see the striking ruins of Slains Castle high on the cliffs and the dramatic collapsed cave and sea arch at the Bullers of Buchan. Here the cliffs were alive with hundreds of pairs of kittiwakes, as well as fulmars, guillemotts and razorbills. Both these sights have car parks that are suitable for motorhomes.
I don’t know how this happened, but somehow I was born at the wrong latitude. I have no doubt I was designed to live in a Mediterranean climate, with mild winters and hot summers but instead I was born in the northern half of England, where the summers are mild and the winters damp … how did that happen?
As a lover of sunshine and warmth, I rejoice in the start of spring; this is the season that announces that the long days of summer are on their way. On country walks during March I exclaim with the excitement of a child at every sign of spring; new born lambs, daffodils, birds nesting and buds on the trees all give me pleasure. By the time the blossom is out I am beside myself with the anticipation of the forthcoming warmth of a summer’s day.
In our shared garden in Salford, the daffodils are flowering, the pink blossom is starting to show on the trees and yet, this morning I still couldn’t easily spread the butter on to our breakfast toast and for a moment I forgot I have no influence on the seasons and the weather and I moaned, ‘I just want butter I can spread!’
Although it hasn’t been a very cold winter here in the North-West of England, it has felt like a long slog through autumn and winter. It has been unusually wet and stormy, with floods even here in Salford. I know I am impatient for warmer weather but the truth is I am impatient for retirement so that we can take the ‘van south early in the year and follow the spring back north, feeling the warmth of the sun on my bare arms every day … and being more concerned about keeping the butter cool than how to spread it.
I am not perfect … sometimes it is very difficult for me to remember to enjoy the moment and be grateful for all the good things in my life … normal service will be resumed very soon.
When we are camping in the ‘van it is breakfast that is my favourite meal of the day. I particularly love breakfasts when the weather is fine enough to sit outside and I have been known to sit wrapped up in jackets and a hat just so that I can eat my breakfast outdoors and watch the campsite wake up around me.
I think I love eating breakfast on our camping trips because it heralds the start of another day with all sorts of possibilities and adventures spread out before me. We often don’t know where the day will take us and what our view will be the next morning but for the first hour of the day my priority is sustenance while I excitedly anticipate another day on holiday.
When it is just the two of us we might toast crumpets and eat these with lashings of butter and marmalade, or warm up rolls to dribble honey over or fry soft potato cakes. When we are on holiday in mainland Europe we will buy fresh local bread and savour this with blackcurrant jam and mugs of tea maybe accompanied by a bowl of creamy yoghurt.
When we are camping with friends our breakfasts become more elaborate and we will share the cooking, producing vegetarian sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, potato cakes, fresh bread and beans to create a feast that is the vegetarian English breakfast. These breakfasts set me up for the day and are always co-operative and jolly times, our small camping table heaving under the weight of so many dishes.
I am sure you all have your favourite breakfast when you are camping; is muesli or a bacon butty your breakfast of preference?
It is spring and Mr BOTRA and I find our thoughts turning to Scotland.
Most years since before many of you were born (1981 was our first joint trip) we have enjoyed a trip to Scotland at this time of year. On these numerous trips we have stayed in tents, in luxurious castles and occasionally in damp, cold and decidedly scruffy houses. Some years we have also visited Scotland in summer, autumn and / or winter but it is the spring holiday that has been consistent.
So for me Scotland is primarily a land of yellow gorse bushes, blossom on the trees, wood anemones flowering in birch woodland and patches of snow on the hills. On these springtime trips we are always sure we will get weather, it is just hard to predict exactly what and we tend to pack for every season. We have had days when we have worn shorts [although not too many of these] and days of heavy snowfall. We have chipped ice off the tent and watched the rain scurry across a bay, followed by a rainbow.
We now mix and match with a wonderful combination of the campervan and staying with friends in a large house. We get the perfect mixture of freedom to do our own thing and peace and quiet and time with old friends enjoying good food, excellent company and the chance to share a dram in a lovely Scottish country house.
Self-catering in a large house [there can be up to 17 of us] works out cheaper than self-catering as a couple and in Scotland no-cost camping in the ‘van is possible and this keeps the holiday within our annual holiday budget.
Wherever we park our campervan is our home, it is self-contained and we carry everything we need to be comfortable. At present, with work restrictions, we generally spend about 70 nights a year in our motorhome. To do this while continuing to save for our retirement we are always looking at ways to save so when the new Brit Stops guide arrived recently we started planning free nights away in the ‘van.
The Brit Stops scheme is a simple system [always the best ones]. Farm shops, pubs and food producers agree to host one or more motorhomes to park at their venue for a night for no charge. For the cost of £30 for the guide, a motorhomer has a list of 640 places where they can park up for free. This is modelled on the French Passion scheme that is popular across France.
Using Brit Stops we get to stay in some beautiful places and sometimes discover a new local food or drink. We might stay at a farm shops and buy some cheese, or a café and relax over their breakfast the next morning or we might enjoy a pint of local beer in a country pub. Brit Stops also allow us to be spontaneous as we don’t have to book a pitch many months before. No sooner have we spotted a forecast for a spell of fine weather for the weekend and we can be on our way (although some Brit Stops do like motorhomers to ring ahead).
The beauty of Brit Stops for us is that we get the opportunity to buy good quality local food created with care by a small business which beats the mass-produced offerings in the supermarket any day. Camp sites can be quite expensive in the UK and the Brit Stop guide can help us save money on our holidays (meaning we can take more]. In any year, once we have stayed two nights on a Brit Stops the guide has paid for itself, so we feel good, and we can support local businesses with some of the money we have saved, so we feel even better.
The number of places to stay has grown dramatically since Brit Stop started in 2011. It took us a few years [and the ownership of a slightly bigger van] until we got the Brit Stop bug in 2015. This happened when we were staying on a Caravan Club Certified Location that charged £15 for just a hook up on an uneven field where they hadn’t even bothered to cut the grass. Down the road was a Brit Stop where ‘vans could park for free with views overlooking the canal; no competition, as they say.
We opted to see the year out in County Durham and Cleveland in the north-east of England. We followed the river Tees from the wild open country of the Pennines to its estuary into the North Sea. Thanks to the heavy rain we had experienced in the north of England over Christmas, High Force and Low Force were stunning and on a sunny afternoon there were plenty of people around to marvel at the spectacle. After admiring the falls, we found a quieter spot for contemplation at Summerhill Force and Gibson’s Cave, just a few minutes’ walk from the Bowlees car park.
At this time of year we like to tour around in the ‘van and stretch our legs, making the most of the seven hours or so of daylight. We followed the river through the historic town of Barnard Castle, exploring the impressive castle, admiring the view over the river and searching out some of the many blue plaques here before moving onto Darlington. This once thriving engineering town still had a lively buzz about it in the winter drizzle. We visited the Head of Steam Railway Museum and looked in wonder at the amazing Locomotion No. 1, the first passenger steam train.
From Darlington the Tees flows through industrial and urban areas but we still found plenty that is beautiful and certainly interesting.
The Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough is a stunning piece of engineering from 100 years ago. The ‘bridge’ carries cars and pedestrians over the Tees in a cradle that is wound on cables across the river. Nearby, ducks, geese and hordes of lapwings entertained us while we explored the National Nature Reserve on the north side of the river and at the excellent Saltholme RSPB reserve.
We finished our trip on the fantastic stretch of sand at Saltburn-by-the-Sea. From the attractive and recently restored pier we watched the hardy surfers and wandered around the pretty streets of the town window shopping.
We stayed at:
The Crown at Mickleton in Teesdale – this is a small Caravan Club CL with a bathroom and all hard-standing. It was £20/night.
White Water Park Caravan Club Site in Stockton-On-Tees is about 20 minutes walk from Stockton town centre and 30 minutes walk to Thornaby railway station for trains to Darlington, Bishop Aukland and Saltburn and Redcar. We paid just short of £25/night.