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.