Trapped in a Lock Down Beverage Routine

These days of Lock Down Three are passing by in a blur, each one much the same as the last until suddenly it is Friday and bin day! I stumble into wakefulness every morning remembering I am still in the same place and I yearn for the thrill of lying in our campervan thinking about where we are and where we are going next and opening the blinds to check the weather. But even in our Blue Bus we have a routine and my day always begins with a mug of tea. This first cup of tea, a mixture of Assam and Earl Grey, is the best of the day and is usually followed by a second over breakfast.

In non-lockdown times, after those two beverages, my day in drinking could go anywhere, depending on where we are and what we were doing. But after 12 months of mostly being stuck at home I have become someone I never thought I would, I am stuck in a routine [or rut] that, on closer inspection, revolves around drinks.

At home the morning trundles on and we brew coffee at around 10.30 [or, to mix things up, visit Morecambe’s wonderful Stone Jetty Cafe at the weekend], have a glass of water with lunch and sup a post-lunch digestive of peppermint and licorice tea from Teapigs. By about 17.00 we are ready for our day’s last mug of tea and a lockdown routine has become enjoying this with a piece of homemade cake. Later we’ll share a bottle of beer, have a glass of wine, a gin and tonic OR a small glass of Spanish Vermut, unless it is a no-alcohol day [about twice a week] when we have to make do with water. Our last drink of the day is in the evening when I have a soothing Barleycup and my less-susceptible-to-caffeine partner has another coffee. We fit local walks, gardening, reading and TV viewing around all this liquid refreshment.

Will breaking out of this routine when we can travel again be a shock to my hydration system? For a day in the hills or cycling we mostly carry just water, taking plenty of it for regular drinks stops. If it is cold I find it comforting to stick a flask with a hot drink in the rucksack for one of our pauses. If we’re in a town or village, part of the joy of travelling is also discovering something new and different; maybe a decadent hot chocolate in a cafe or a lunchtime local beer sitting outside a bar. Relaxing outside the campervan with a mug of tea or a glass of good red wine can’t be beaten and, more than once, a fellow camper has strolled over and shared a favourite liqueur with us.

I don’t like getting a peek of myself becoming this creature of habit, she isn’t a familiar figure and she doesn’t sit comfortably alongside me. But, it seems, this is what I have become in these Covid-19 times. Niggling in the back of my mind is an anxiety that I might never rediscover my previous spontaneous personality. Will I suffer withdrawal symptoms if I don’t have my morning coffee or afternoon peppermint tea? I don’t think this foreboding about the future is mine alone. I sense that we all feel we have changed in the last 12 months and many of us are not sure how we will occupy the new world. Some of our transformations might be for the good but some of us may emerge more apprehensive and guarded.

Morecambe: More Than A One Horse Town

We hadn’t lived in Morecambe many days before we noticed the horses. There are always horses around town, in the fields, occasionally cutting the grass on the play area and often on the roads. Just five minutes walk from our home are stables with horses and ponies of all shapes and sizes. I treat the large horses with the respect they deserve but I like to stop and pet the little ones when they are outdoors. Horses have become so much of our Morecambe scene that we hardly give a second glance these days when we notice a horse grazing by the roadside or see someone with a pony and sulky, a lightweight two-wheeled single-seat cart, go galloping by but just occasionally Morecambe’s horses gift me with a story worth telling.

Firstly some background. Morecambe is home to one of the UK’s largest settled Irish Traveller Communities and they own many of the horses. This community are British with Irish ancestry and are distinct to Roma and Gypsy communities. Together they are referred to as the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller [GRT] community and judgement of and prejudice against this group of people is widespread. The recent shameful story about Pontins holding a list of names to exclude travellers staying at their holiday parks is an example of how endemic prejudice of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community is.

I don’t know much about horses but from what I can see many of the horses in Morecambe are neither sleek race horses or large and strong shire horses; they mostly seem to be Gypsy Vanner or Irish Cobb horses. These originated in Ireland and were bred by Irish Travellers as robust and reliable horses with a good temperament suitable for pulling wagons. When ridden it is generally bareback.

The Cumbrian market town of Appleby-in-Westmorland is less than an hour’s drive from Morecambe and it is here that the annual Appleby Horse Fair is held, generally in early June each year. Living in Lancashire, you generally know when this big event is coming up as you spot members of the GRT community on the road making their way there. Said to be the largest gathering of its kind in Europe, around 10,000 people meet at Appleby-in-Westmorland to trade horses, wear their best clothes and see friends. They are joined by around 30,000 visitors keen to witness the traditions and culture. Horses are prepared for trading by being bathed in the River Eden and groomed. The fair also has stalls selling clothing and horse-related goods. The flashing lane runs through the fair and is the perfect spot for spectators to watch the horses being put through their paces as the horses are ‘flashed’ or shown off by sellers to potential buyers.

We recently had a slightly too close an encounter with just one of Morecambe’s horses. We were walking towards the canal on one of our lock down days out. It was a cold day and as we strode out along a quiet lane we saw three guys ahead. They were wrapped up against the frost and standing with their arms folded, watching a fourth man riding a horse bare back and with no riding hat. The man and horse galloped towards us and we moved onto the grass verge to give what was clearly a lively horse plenty of space as it went by. Carrying on, the demeanor of the three spectators made us aware that the horse and rider had turned around and were returning behind us. The three were shouting encouragingly and I wondered if this was a practice for the flashing lane at Appleby Horse Fair or Morecambe’s own version. Again, not wishing to spook the horse, we calmly moved to the side of the lane. The man and horse passed within a horse hair’s breadth and this time it was clear to even two people who have never ridden more than a seaside donkey that the rider was not completely in control. Just clearing us, the horse bucked and succeeded in throwing the rider onto the road. Not a man to give in, the rider clung onto the reins and we could only watch, horrified as he was dragged along the tarmac. Amazingly, he hung on and eventually calmed the horse enough so that the shaken and battered rider could leap back on, no mean feat with no stirrups. ‘Is it the rider or the horse?’ we asked as we walked by the three onlookers. ‘We’re trying to decide,’ one of them replied smiling in a knowing way, ‘But we think its a bit of both!’

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.

Ten years of Travel Writing & Reading With A Writer’s Eyes

I was so excited when, way back in 2011, my name topped my first article published in MMM. Although it has happened many times since, the thrill of seeing my name in print still remains. Having sharpened my pen working as a volunteer on a community newspaper in Preston and writing my own travel blog, I dipped my toes into paid writing. That first article was a short light-hearted piece about campsite showers. It was the following year that I had a full article published about our campervan and my first travel article was published in 2013. From this slow start I gradually became a regular contributor for MMM and more recently for Campervan Magazine and occasionally other publications.

As well as contributing, I also subscribe to MMM and Campervan Magazine and I continue to read them cover to cover every month. I read with interest what is new in the campervan and motorhome world and I am constantly inspired by the wonderful trips other travel writers make in their ‘vans. If someone else’s trip sounds like just the sort of thing we would do I will scan and keep a copy of the article for future reference before the magazine goes into the recycling box.

Although digital copies are available, I spend so much of my time looking at screens editing photographs, writing and reading some of the excellent blogs out there, I prefer to get a hard copy that I work my way through over a mug of tea. I might curl up in a chair in the afternoon and read MMM or Campervan Mag but I most often read them during our leisurely retirees breakfast time.

For me, writing and reading go hand-in-hand. This isn’t so that I can copy other writers although I do find that reading good travel writing sparks ideas in my head. I will make connections about places and themes to write about next; I might get ideas for how I can structure an article or construct sentences differently in the future; and I learn how I can improve my writing to interest or inform readers better. Every writer has their own voice that shines through the pages and I can only be myself as I write but that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful to see how someone else does it.

Reading good travel writing inspires me to be a better writer but bad writing can help me recognise where I might make mistakes too. As Anne Lamott pointed out:

One reads with a deeper appreciation and concentration, knowing now how hard writing is, especially how hard it is to make it look effortless. You begin to read with a writer’s eyes. You focus in a new way. You study how someone portrays his or her version of things in a way that is new and bold and original.

Writing is never effortless. Typing just 2,000 words that are coherent, absorbing and represent an authentic experience for a travel article takes considerable time and effort and I don’t always meet the standards I set for myself. I am in awe of anyone who has the ability to write enough words for a whole travel book and I am grateful that many wonderful authors have the imagination to write novels. Although I think I still have something new to say, I am clear about and happy to accept my limitations and I don’t intend to put myself under the pressure of writing anything longer.

Travel writing is more than having an engaging style and good grammar, it also has to take readers to a place and give a flavour of the destination. I enjoy telling stories from places we visit, sharing nuggets of history that interest me and I include a variety of activities so that each article and blog post is relevant to different readers. We would happily spend an entire holiday walking and cycling but I try to be inclusive and varied. The starting point of each of my travel articles is a trip of our own, I pay my own way and the priority is that we have a good time! So no matter how much readers might like to vicariously experience sky-diving or deep water swimming through one of my travel articles I won’t be giving those things a go just for the sake of good copy!

If I make mistakes, I am sorry but few people are perfect. If my writing looks effortless then I have done a good job. And always, thank you to everyone for reading!

Bringing Staffordshire to Lancashire

In normal BC [Before Coronavirus] times we would make regular trips to Leek in Staffordshire, partly to visit family but also to stock up on the culinary delight that is as essential to anyone brought up in north Staffordshire as fresh air. This is, of course, the Staffordshire oatcake.

In Leek there is still a small shop that is mostly oatcakes. These oatcakes are soft but substantial, they are full of the taste of oats and are perfect rolled around some melted cheese for a warming lunch. Oatcakes freeze well and we will always come back from a trip to Leek with enough oatcakes to fill our small freezer. You can occasionally buy something called Staffordshire oatcakes in the supermarket but these lacey and flimsy things are just a hopeless substitute for the real thing.

Of course, in these days of Lock Down Three, a trip to Leek for oatcakes in no way counts as an essential trip, whatever my stomach might think! My dad kindly suggested posting me some but that seemed an extravagance for such an inexpensive but bulky and weighty item. The only option was to bring Staffordshire to Lancashire and make our own.

I did make Staffordshire oatcakes many years ago and we both remembered something tasty but thick and chewy. This time I used our heavy cast iron frying pan that fries pretty much everything beautifully and worked hard to get a batter that was just the right consistency to spread around the pan.

Ingredients for 5 or 6 oatcakes (depending on how thin you get them)

150g oats – whizzed in a nut grinder or food processor for a short while until they are finer

150g flour – use either white or white and wholemeal mixed

7g dried yeast

1 teaspoon sugar and salt to taste

300ml milk (I used soya milk)

300 ml water (boiled and cooled)

Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix together. Add the cold milk to warm water, you want a temperature that it isn’t too hot to put your fingers in. Whisk the milk and water into the dry ingredients. The batter should be fairly runny. Cover the bowl and leave this in a warm place to bubble up for about an hour.

After an hour or so the batter will be frothy and before cooking you should give it a stir. I added a little more water at this point so that it was a thick pouring consistency (like thin porridge). In a good thick-bottomed frying pan, melt a knob of butter or margarine and swirl this around to cover the pan. I use a soup ladle to measure out the oatcake batter and about two ladles worked well for one oatcake. Ladle the mixture into the frying pan and, if it doesn’t spread out itself, carefully spread it around the pan with a knife [I use a long baking palette knife] so that your oatcake isn’t too thick. You will notice the mixture that is in contact with the pan will cook quickly but you have time to move the runny / uncooked mixture sitting on the top to the edges. After two to three minutes, turn the oatcake over to cook the other side (you can check it is cooked by peeking).

Once both sides are cooked, place the oatcake to one side and cook the next until all your batter is used up.

We like to enjoy our oatcakes with cheese. If you are going to eat your oatcakes as soon as you have cooked them [and who can blame you] simply put your favourite cheese [grated or sliced] along the centre third of each oatcake, roll it up and keep them warm in the oven until you have cooked them all.

If you are working with cold oatcakes, then you can warm them in the oven or under the grill. Add the cheese as above and for the oven roll them up, place on a baking sheet and warm for about 20 minutes until the cheese has melted. Under the grill, leave the oatcakes open and grill them for about five minutes and then roll up and eat. A dollop of your favourite brown or tomato sauce on the side compliments this simple dish and you can spice it up by adding tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, gherkins or pickle [or all of these and more] to the cheese.

Some people eat oatcakes with a full English cooked breakfast and others eat them with sweet fillings but this latter combo has never been tried in our house or in any of our families houses!

Walking & cycling in Brittany

In 2020 we spent three weeks touring around beautiful Brittany. We walked for many kilometres, particularly on the GR34 coastal path and enjoyed some pleasurable cycling on quiet lanes. We found stunning cliffs, sweeps of white sand and plenty of quiet corners to just sit and enjoy the scenery. Brittany proved to be a fantastic region of France for a varied activity-based holiday.

The list of campsites we stayed at is on a separate blog post. In this longer than usual post I have shared information about the wonderful walks and cycle rides we enjoyed to inspire your own trip to Brittany. Apologies if I have missed a typo in all these words!

Walks & Cycle Rides

  1. A stroll around bays and rocky headlands of Île-Grande, near Trebeurden
  2. Walking among pink granite boulders from Tourony on the GR34
  3. Finding solitude on foot and by bike on the Pays Pagan in Finistère
  4. A walk through history along the cliffs at Pointe de St Mathieu
  5. Walking around the ancient stones and the harbour at Camaret-sur-Mer
  6. Picture postcard Locronan and the Bois de Nevet walks
  7. Above the rocks & crashing waves at the Pointe du Van
  8. Cycling on the Cap Sizun to botanical gardens and Menez Dregan
  9. Coast and wetland walks around Beg Meil in southern Brittany
  10. Rolling along the Nantes-Brest Canal on two wheels
  11. Spectacular coastal walking from Saint Coulomb near St Malo
  12. A circuit of the walls of Saint-Malo

We started our journey on the northern coast of Brittany, heading west and then gradually making our way south around the coast to Beg Meil, south of Quimper. We returned north, driving through inland Brittany to the north coast.

1. A circuit of Île-Grande, near Trebeurden

A perfect evening stroll from Camping L’Esperance near Trebeurden is across the rocky and sandy bay towards Ile Grande.  If you have longer, then the circuit of Ile Grande [around 8 km] is a perfect and satisfying walk.

It was a warm August day when we set off but a sea mist was still rolling along the coast. Crossing the road from the campsite, we headed across the sands. The route you take here will depend on the tides and how much you enjoy paddling. Ile Grande, as the name suggests, is an island but you can often skirt around the sea and cross to the island without using the bridge. On the island we turned right, following the path through a varied landscape. At times we were surrounded by tall bushes, at other times we were on sandy paths just above the coast, walking around deep bays and out onto rocky peninsulas. There were butterflies and wild flowers, sculptures and information boards. The bay by the sailing club was busy with paddle board and wind surfing lessons in full swing.

More than half the way around, the League for the Protection of Birds have a centre near the Pointe de Toul-Ar-Staon that you can visit. By the island’s campsite there is an excellent restaurant We only stopped for drinks here but you could have lunch and it is worth booking as it is popular. We ate our picnic lunch in the sunshine on a sheltered bay full of boats before skirting the salt marshes around the final large sheltered cove. 

After our circuit we walked into the sleepy village and followed signs uphill to an allée couverte, a late Neolithic burial site. This good example in the centre of the island has two large slabs resting on rows of upright stones. Local legend tells of dwarfs who lived here but they didn’t make an appearance on our visit and we carried on up to the outcrop of rocks that gave us a 360 degree view of the island.

2. On the GR34 Sentier des Douaniers from Tourony Port, Tregastel

The Sentier des Douaniers or GR34 is apparently France’s favourite Grande Randonnée (GR) or long-distance footpath and I soon came to realise why. The path hugs the Brittany shore for around 2,000 km (1,243 miles) from Mont-Saint-Michel to the port of Saint-Nazaire on the River Loire.  Known as le Sentier des Douaniers, the path was created in the 18th century to help customs officers apprehend smugglers and it winds around many promontories, inlets and bays. It was our companion on many of our Brittany walks. 

From Camping Tourony we walked around the sheltered and picturesque port and along a popular section of the GR34 around the Côte de Granit Rose, named after the areas distinctive and attractive pink granite boulders. We stopped to watch the boats sailing in and out of the harbour and admire the rocky islets, including one with a neo-gothic castle.   The path wound through shady pine trees and large boulders to Plage St Guirec, a bustling sandy beach with shops and restaurants. 

The next section of the GR34 is simply stunning. In the sunshine, the sea was blue, each bay seemed prettier than the last and the stacks of pink granite boulders added drama to the views. We passed the Phare de Men Ruz, also built of the local granite, that dates from 1948 and is still in use. The footpaths are well marked and visitors are managed so that the colourful heather, gorse and wild flowers can flourish.

This is a lovely enough route to make retracing your steps no hardship, or, like us, you can cut inland back to St Guirec on a path that follows the boundary of the Le Ranolien campsite. We ate excellent ice-creams from Histoires de Glaces on the beach before retracing our steps to Tourony.

In the evening we walked to Tourony beach, a perfect spot for some evening tranquility. We climbed over the massive pink boulders and pottered along the soft sand in the evening calm.

3. Finding solitude walking and cycling around the Pays Pagan near Guisseny

There was so much to like about Camping Vougot, I am surprised we managed to tear ourselves away. We had driven west into Finistère and found quiet roads, deserted beaches and wide views, just what we like. To top this off, the helpful campsite owners gave us information about local walks and cycle routes.

On our first day we followed Cycle Route Two, an easy 23 km circuit from the campsite. This used quiet roads and tracks, through fields of cauliflowers and cabbages.  The landscape is dotted with farms and holiday homes and small campsites for two or three caravans. This is the Pays Pagan, a perilous stretch of coastline where sharp needles of rock lurk just under the water making navigation difficult for boats even on a clear day and when the sea mist rolls in many ships have been lost here. Legends tell stories of wreckers, who lured ships onto the rocks and looted their cargo and that is easy to believe in this remote area although it isn’t clear how reliable the legends are.

The GR34 comes this way, following the rugged bays. On the northern coast we watched surfers waiting for the waves on long sandy beaches. Near Kerlouarn we sat on a rocky headland between a large sandy bay, Plage Roc ‘h ar gonc, and a small sheltered cove and had our lunch. A memorial to a Canadian boat torpedoed in 1944 was nearby.  Our return went inland via a pretty church, Sainte Egarec, surrounded by pink hydrangeas and with a well reached by steps and looked over by a saint’s statue. 

From the campsite, the walk around Etang du Curnic, a local wetland and nature reserve is a pleasant way to spend an hour or so. We spotted coots, swans and a heron on the water and a shy water rail dipped in and out of the tall reeds. In the evenings we would walk the ten minutes to the beach to watch the sun drift into the sea. The waves gently lap against the shore and sanderlings, turnstones and ringed plover feed at the water’s edge.  As we walked back to the dunes, sand hoppers softly flitted around our feet.

The Circuit de Milin Ar Raden, is a 10 km walk from the campsite that is a perfect mixture of countryside and coast.  You could, if you wanted, split this up into two walks.  We began by walking along the lanes between the fields of horses and plots for caravans near the campsite and then climbed the steep green hillside beyond the coast.  We followed sunken paths through dense hedges and bracken and stopped to see La Fontaine Sainte Claire before descending by a gurgling stream where an old mill was hidden in the trees. Taking the paths around the Etang du Curnic we followed the tall dyke enjoying the views of the beach to our right and the ponds to our left. We were back on the GR34, following the coast around a rocky headland and onto the long stretch of white sand at Plage du Vougo. At the end of the beach a track bought us back to the campsite.

4. A walk through history along the cliffs at Pointe de St Mathieu

We drove through the quiet countryside of Finistère to Pointe de St Mathieu that overlooks the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic and the entrance to the port of Brest. This is a popular destination but there is plenty of parking.

The star attraction here is the juxtaposition of the grey stones of a ruined abbey with a tall slender bright red and white lighthouse.  Wandering around the ruined abbey is free and you can pay to climb the lighthouse. I stood in the shade of the old church among the stone columns, looking up at the towering lighthouse. On foot we explored the dark craggy coastline. Signs tells the story of numerous ships and submarines lost off this coast and old gun lookouts remain from war time. Gannets and cormorants flew along the blue sea and sailing boats found a safe course between the rocks and in the distance we spotted the Brittany Ferry to Spain.  Beyond the abbey is the National Memorial to Sailors.

On our return we stopped at Fort de Bertheaume, that sits on an island now accessible by a bridge but in the 17th century it was reached by an aerial gondola.  The site was fortified by Vauban in the 17th century and is strategically important as it guards the entrance to the port at Brest. Fort de Bertheaume was used by Nazi soldiers in the Second World War and the area wasn’t cleared of the mines until the 1990s, when it was opened to the public.  If the bridge is too tame, you can recreate the original access to the fort by taking the zip wire and via ferrata across to the island for the fantastic views out to sea and across the harbour.

5. Walking from the ancient stones to the historic harbour at Camaret-sur-Mer on the Crozon Peninsular

We headed south to the Crozon peninsular, parking above Camaret-sur-Mer near the Alignements de Lagatjar. The 60 stones here are arranged in rows at right angles to each other and the grassy site is a perfect place for a picnic.

It is only a short walk from the stones into the bustling resort of Camaret-sur-Mer but there is plenty to see and you’ll want to take your time.  Before you head for the town, begin with a walk out to the cliffs and the atmospheric ruins of the Manoir Saint-Pol Roux. Home of the poet Saint-Pol Roux this baroque turreted mansion overlooking the sea was occupied by the German army in the Second World War and bombed by Allied Forces.

In the town we began by exploring the back streets. These old lanes are lined with picturesque cottages adorned with colourful flowers in window boxes and bougainvillea plants trailing overhead. At the harbour we admired the boats and the pretty cafes and restaurants.  Camaret-sur-Mer’s historic sites are on the harbour wall. Here there is a row of large wrecks in a boat graveyard and a pretty church that has model ships hanging from the ceiling. At the end is the highlight, the deep pink Vauban Tower. This 17th century polygonal defensive tower with a moat, looks over the entrance into the harbour at Brest, facing Fort de Bertheaume.

6. Picture postcard Locronan and the Bois de Nevet walks

Locronan is a gorgeous and picturesque inland village that knows it.  It’s cobbled streets, lined with charming grey stone cottages lead through intimate squares to the stunning Place de L’Eglise.  The village has been used as a film location many times and is packed with tourist shops. We were staying at the campsite on the edge of the town and on our first day followed the town walk from the map the campsite had given us.

It is certainly worth walking up the hill from the Place de L’Eglise for the views over the town. On this route you can follow pretty paths around the manor house and back into Locronan. Walking downhill from the town centre we found the attractively-situated Chapelle Notre Dame Bonne Nouvelle with a fountain outside. I slipped inside this simple chapel to see the striking modern stained glass. We followed a sunken lane back to the bustle of the town, bought ice-creams to eat in the square and then delicious Breton cassis cakes from the traditional bakery to eat later with a mug of tea back at the van.

Our visit coincided with one of the regular evening artisan markets that go on until late at night. We returned in the evening to stroll around the stalls of baskets, local food, jewellery and toys and enjoy the music and entertainment.

The campsite had also given us a map for a 10 km walk and the next day we set off to more or less follow this. We detoured to see the Chapelle Ar Zonj and the nearby viewpoint across the countryside to the coast. The little chapel has an interesting stone staircase by the gate.

We easily picked up the lane on the 10 km walk from the viewpoint but got slightly lost beyond here. But carrying on along the lane we found the path that goes around the campsite. We walked along shady sunken tracks between stone walls and hedges and quiet lanes towards Bois de Nevet.  In the forest we picked up delightful paths through the lush woodland.  After lunch near the forest HQ we followed a path around the forest edge, finding a pretty pond, but missing our way and resorted to Google to get back onto the road to Kerbléon. From here the route was on lanes by industrial units and farms, gradually coming back round to Locronan. If we ever return, I think this walk would be improved by spending longer exploring the beauty of the Bois de Nevet and returning to Locronan from there, missing out the lanes and industrial areas.

7. Above the rocks & crashing waves at the Pointe du Van

On the Cap-Sizun peninsular, Pointe du Van and Pointe du Raz point like craggy fingers out to sea. We parked at the large parking area on Pointe du Van and walked around the headland, beginning with the stone chapel where we had views across the sea to Pointe du Raz and its lighthouse. It was breezy on this exposed bit of coast where rocks jut out into a blue sea full of white frothing waves. The paths wind among abundantly growing sweet fragrant heather. Before heading back to the ‘van we carried on a little further to two windmills, one built from stone and wood and the other just stone and both with restored sails. The whole walk is about 4 km.

You could walk down to the Baie des Trépassés [Bay of the Dead] that huddles between the Pointe du Van and Pointe du Raz. We opted to drive and walked along the wide sands to explore the rock pools under the cliffs. This bay is popular with surfers and the tide was coming in, creating rolling waves.  The surfing looked both fun and terrifying. 

8. Cycling on the Cap Sizun to botanical gardens and Menez Dregan

A campsite with a cycle route running by it ticks boxes for us and so we stayed a few nights at Camping Plage Kersiny. Once again we had a lovely beach nearby for watching the sunset, this time a rocky bay where curlews and black headed gulls fed among the thick seaweed on the rocks, dodging the spray from the waves.

It is only about a 16 km round trip from our campsite to Audierne and the lovely Parc Botanique Ar Paeron but give yourself plenty of time as there is lots to see on the way. At first we were following quiet residential roads where we stopped to look at the view along the coast. The cycle route signs took us to the sheltered river mouth and harbour where the scene across the river to the charming white buildings of Audierne was lovely. We sat having our picnic while we watched people messing about on boats.  The bridge across the river is slightly further inland and crossing this we walked the bikes along Audierne’s flower-lined promenade that was busy with cafes and shops.

Beyond the bustle of the town we went to the end of the harbour wall and the lighthouse, looking across a sandy beach. We continued cycling along the craggy coast until we spotted signs for the Parc Botanique Ar Paeron and decided to investigate. The lane climbs steeply up the hillside and after cycling down a track we propped the bikes up outside a small hut / entrance.  We paid €4.50 each and were given a map and sent off to explore this peaceful botanical gardens.  The planting is relaxed and the gardens have a charming natural feel, although many plants are labelled with their names and continents.  There were some beautiful and unusual species in flower and bees hummed amongst the beds and butterflies flitted from one colourful bloom to another. This garden is a perfect haven from the coast. We cycled back the same way.

Cycle in the opposite direction from the campsite and you will reach Menez Dregan in Plouhinec around 4 km along the coast.  We left the coastal cycle route and picked up a mountain bike route which turned out to be a great choice, taking us off the roads and onto a green lane, a stone wall to one side and views down to the rocky coast and beaches on the other. Fragrant bushes lined the route and it was idyllic.  We rejoined the road in time for Plage de Guendrez, a large sandy beach that is popular with surfers and swimmers.

Menez Dregan sits on the headland above this beach. This archaeological treasure trove is a large and complex stone necropolis from the Neolithic period.  Built in many phases the site has several dolmens.  Below the burial mound a Palaeolithic cave in what is now a sea cliff is being excavated.  This cave was home to humans when this area was about 5 km from the sea and the cave looked out over grassland. 

9. Coast and wetland walks around Beg Meil in southern Brittany

Our campsite at Beg Meil was close to the small town with bars and restaurants. It was also perfect for some walking. With the huge expanse of Kemil Beach just a meandering ten minutes walk away, you will probably head there first, reaching the sea at the western end of the 4 km stretch of Kemil Beach. Looking along the sands you would be forgiven for thinking you have arrived on a tropical island. The sand is white and pine trees line the bay, under a blue sky this is paradise.

Turn left and walk through the trees to the next bay, Plage de Kermyl. Here rocks edge the sands and more woodland, rocks and sandy bays follow. We walked around the coast to Pointe de Beg Meil, passing large stone houses that have enviable coastal outlooks. At times the footpath resembles a maze, with hedges on either side of us and limited access points to the sands. At the Plage des Oiseaux we descended stone steps through the weathered granite boulders to the sands. On this peaceful beach we sat listening to the lapping of the waves and watched stand up paddle boarders who gently followed the coastline. Further out a fishing boat was working and black headed gulls searched for food. I looked across the sea to the town of Concarneau and searched the sands for pretty shells.  At the stone jetty in Beg Meil we turned inland and walked through the shops and cafes back to the campsite.

We enjoyed a fantastic longer walk of about 10 km when we turned right at Kemil Beach, heading for Mousterlin. On the outward route we walked inland picking up some of the many and popular paths that wind around the wetlands, woodland and streams.  In this lush landscape of dark pine trees and grassland it is hard to believe you are just a few hundred metres from the sea. We spotted egrets on the wetlands and a coypu in one of the pools.  At Mousterlin we stopped for drinks at the cafe overlooking the beach before walking back along the 4 km stretch of Kemil Beach. Low dunes border the sands and I paddled through the surf, watching the swimmers and kite surfers and wind surfers who were taking advantage of a breeze.

10. Rolling along the Nantes-Brest Canal on two wheels

The small village of Le Roc-Saint-André near Ploërmel has a campsite that is right on the Nantes to Brest Canal. This makes it perfect for some easy off-road cycling. The picturesque town of Josselin with its castle is around 35 km round trip or an easier ride is to Malestroit, around 18 km there and back.

Either way the cycling is idyllic on a wide level path. The canal runs through countryside and is lined with trees.  Each lock is colourful with baskets of flowers and watched over by a lock keeper.  Boats gently putter by on the canal and the boating people wave as they pass.  Watching herons, swans and ducks will detain you.

We were lucky to arrive at Malestroit, a pretty little town, on market day. We stopped for coffee and then wandered around the stalls that sold everything from boxes of disposable masks to fruit and vegetables.  There were food stalls with paella and couscous dishes too.  The market is in a square surrounded by attractive timber-framed houses, many with ornate carvings in wood or stone.

The sunshine disappeared and the wind began to whip the stall canopies in the air; we realised it was time to head back, racing along the canal trying to beat the rain. We were about five minutes away from the shelter of the ‘van when the shower began.

11. Spectacular coastal walking from Saint Coulomb near St Malo

Camping des Chevrets was the perfect place for two hikers, there was so many options for walking we were spoilt for choice. Being on the coast you could obviously turn either left or right and we walked inland too.

You don’t have to undertake a long walk from Camping des Chevrets. For a short outing head down to the beach which is the perfect place to watch the sunset or the paragliders that skim above the trees. If you’re tempting to walk a little further then l’île Besnard, not an island but a rocky peninsular now attached to the mainland by a sandy spit of land will occupy an hour or so.  It was breezy and showering as we climbed the cliffs and walked to the headland in an anti-clockwise direction. Overlooking Rothéneuf Bay and harbour the walk became more sheltered and by the time we climbed down to a beach and salt marsh it was summer once again. Rock samphire grows in abundance here as well as purple rock sea lavender. On the salt marsh there were little egrets, oystercatchers, sanderlings, ringed plover and turnstone. 

Another short walk is around Pointe du Meinga, another headland, this time to the right of the beach.  The stony and rocky path around the point is undulating and at times narrow and precipitous, the vegetation giving a clue to the prevailing winds. On the windy side gorse and heather and hardy white sea campion dominate.  On the sheltered side there is bracken, pine trees and tall hedgerows. A path crosses the headland back to the beach and the campsite if you don’t want to retrace your steps.

Our first longer walk [about 14 km] from Camping des Chevrets was to the strange Rochers Sculptes beyond Rothéneuf. At low tide you can walk across the sands, crossing a river over an old concrete walkway covered in seaweed and walking under the cliffs topped with pine trees.  Rothéneuf has a harbour full of boats and plenty of big houses and the waves are channelled through the narrow gap between the mainland and l’île Besnard beyond the harbour. From Rothéneuf we picked up a path above the sea cliffs, occasionally sheltered by high hedges, to a tiny chapel.  Below was a tiny bay reached by steep steps and rocks with a handrail to make it possible and here we sheltered from the wind. It wasn’t much further to Les Rochers Sculptes. These sculputres of figures, faces and animals were created by a priest at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The priest had a stroke and unable to carry on working spent 15 years carving these sculptures from the granite on a sloping finger of rock. Some sculptures are intertwined and complex, others are simple stand alone heads. The paths between them are narrow and uneven and I was constantly aware of the sea below.  We walked further along the coast to Plage du Val, a small sandy bay between rocky headlands overlooked by attractive grey stone houses before heading back.  On our return the tide was high and we could only walk so far along the beach at Rothéneuf before taking the GR34 high tide variant. This part of the walk had a different atmosphere through pine trees on soft ground and we crossed a small and overgrown dam before scrambling between hedges and brambles on a narrow path back to the bay below the campsite.

Setting off inland we followed quiet roads, green lanes and paths to the village of Saint Coulomb, often following a local MTB route.  We reached the Etangs Ste Suzanne, a large fishing lake surrounded by woodland and divided by a road bridge. We sat on a picnic bench here and watched the great crested grebes.  In the fields were corn and cabbages and the hedgerows were full of ripe blackberries. Saint Coulomb, which took its name from the monk who landed here in the 6th century, is a tidy village with a few shops and a cafe. Around the village are a number of historical manor houses or malouinières built by wealthy shipowners from Saint-Malo.

Our final walk from Camping des Chevrets was the best and the longest at 16 km. The sun was shining and we were following the GR34 along the coast towards Cancale and Pointe du Grouin.  Once we had left the campsite we were away from the roads and saw few people for the morning. Occasionally we noticed someone sunbathing in one of the sandy coves we walked by. In between the bays we were walking above craggy cliffs and lichen-covered rocks with views across the sea or through sharply fragrant pine woodland.  In sheltered corners we were surrounded by bracken and wild flowers and hordes of butterflies, including peacocks and red admirals.  At Plage du Verger there were more people, not surprising as this large beach has an island with an 18th century fort at one end.  You could walk back from here [about 19 km round trip] or catch the bus back to the campsite. We opted to carry on to Pointe du Grouin, a further 6.5 km, on a path that was steep in places but had fantastic views back to Plage du Verger and across to the headland. Pointe du Grouin is a honeypot destination with gift shops and cafes, an orientation table and big views. We caught the bus back to the campsite and treated ourselves to ice-creams and beer at the beachside cafe.

12. A circuit of the walls of Saint-Malo

Our last walk in Brittany was around the old walls of Saint-Malo. We parked our campervan on some on-street parking on Avenue Louis Martin that has ticket machines. This was about 1 km from the old walled town. The ramparts of Saint-Malo are a magnificent walk of 1.75 km, with views out to blue sea dotted with rocky islets and forts. Reaching the harbour we walked along the harbour wall and could see our Brittany Ferries ship waiting for our evening sailing. The compact and crowded city inside the walls has buildings of three or four storeys above narrow cobbled streets. We had our last holiday crepes in a shady square and toasted the beauty of Brittany and its fantastic walking and cycling.

Cruising Through January in Neutral

We all know that January 2021 has been the longest January in history thanks to Lock Down Three. New Year’s Eve and the carefree days when we could meet friends for a stroll in the fresh air seem to be part of another life.

In an effort to put some variety into the mundane existence that is Lock Down Three in Lancashire we have been volunteering at our local vaccination centre. The irony in our act of generosity is obvious. If we hadn’t been in Lock Down Three, we would have been walking in the fells and staying in our campervan on quiet campsites and car parks. We would have been mostly outdoors and hardly seeing anyone and certainly wouldn’t be spending over eight hours a day indoors and close to lots of people. As it is, to get through the tedium of a lock-down January we have put ourselves at the most risk we can, helping the 800 or so people a day through Morecambe’s busy vaccination centre. Despite the masks and sanitising gel this has to be the most risky thing we have done since March last year!

I don’t miss the dreariness of going to work but I do catch a glimpse of myself feeling a touch of envy when I hear about my working friends having Zoom meetings, struggling to meet deadlines and generally having a purpose to their day. For me, every day is pretty much the same. My first thought every morning is, ‘What day is it today,’ as I try and hold on to the structure of the week and immediately reveal my worry that I could easily miscalculate. And some days are so long, by the afternoon I find myself wondering, ‘Is it really still Tuesday!’ Our weekly high-risk mixing and talking with people who are attending their vaccination appointment is the stimulus and diversion I need to get me through the lock-down tedium.

Without our sessions at the vaccination centre there would be little in our diaries and nothing novel. Other than this volunteering, the rhythm of each day is pretty much the same and the days are hard to distinguish from each other. It could be Tuesday or Sunday as I lose myself in a good book, bake a cake, tackle a complicated jigsaw and relax with a good TV drama. The dynamism of Morecambe Bay stops me becoming completely numb, it is different every time we walk to the coast.

I have George The Stourbridge Junction Station Cat to thank for the inspiration for this blog post title. A recent post suggested:

‘If you absolutely can’t stay positive, don’t go negative, just cruise neutral for a while until you can get back up.’

George The Stourbridge Junction Cat on Twitter

Cruising in neutral describes how January has felt. I don’t like wasting the limited time I have on this earth and want to get the most out of life while I can but this is just impossible at the moment. Over the last ten months I have got frustrated about being kept indoors and had rollercoaster ups and downs. To keep myself on some sort of even keel, I have ditched the discontent, taken myself out of gear and stuck myself in neutral. These feel like precious days that are being wasted but at least I am getting through them. I have no expectations about when I will be able to meet up with my friends again; I am planning no holidays or trips in our Blue Bus; I am looking no further forward than enjoying my next morning’s coffee and I am just staggering through one day at a time into an indistinct future.

If Lock Down Three is tough for you too, I hope you are getting the support you need or at least finding your own way to cope and I send some love your way.

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.

2020 Spending Reviewed & The Covid-19 Factor Means Nothing is Normal

It is that time of the year again when I share how much money we have spent in the last 12 months, revealing our spending habits in all their profligacy. I divulge our expenditure for interest and accountability, as we aim to stay within a budget. Our spending is peculiar to us but any comments are gladly received.

Our budget remains at £27,000 a year for the fourth year running. This is now below the average UK household spending. The headline is that despite the strange year we have had our outgoings for 2020 came within budget [hurrah], although the headline doesn’t tell the whole story. As I said last year, our annual spending seems to go up and down like a rollercoaster, with alternating frugal years and expensive years. Sometimes it is our campervan that costs us a lot of money but 2020 was a year of home-making and healthcare.

It is just over twelve months since we moved to our Morecambe bungalow. The home improvements that are included in our 2020 spending are all things we would expect to carry out more than once in our [expected] remaining lifetime. These purchases include a new bedroom carpet to replace the grotty brown carpet from the 1980s that came with the bungalow and could tell a tale or two; new furniture to replace some that was second-hand 36 years ago, a new sofa bed [as we thought we would have visitors!] as well as smaller items like paint, varnish and brushes. More expensive home improvements which we consider one-off items are kept separate. So, on top of the budgeted expenditure in the usual categories, in 2020 we spent £13,300 on new windows and doors, resurfacing the drive and a new kitchen.

Not unsurprisingly our 2020 spending reflects the Covid-19 factor. The breakdown shows that we had less opportunities for experiences and spent more of our money on food in supermarkets and local shops.

Essentials – total £9,833 [38% of total spending] [2019 £7,721 / 35%]

Food – £4,703 [2019 £3,491] – In my experience food prices have increased in 2020 as we haven’t eaten anything different or developed an expensive taste in anything. We will have spent more as we have eaten mostly at home [sitting eating around a friend’s dining table is a distant memory]. We continue to use discount supermarkets for the majority of our shopping and generally cook from scratch.

Utilities, insurance & service charges for a 2-bed 57.2 sq mtrs [615.7 sq feet] bungalow – £4,463 [2019 £3,974] – The various lock downs and restrictive tiers mean who have been home more than ever and so using more gas and electric. Council tax and heating for the bungalow are both more expensive than the flat, but we no longer have service charges to pay. The improvements we have made to bring our bungalow into the 21st century will help save money on utilities.

Our health [including tai chi classes] – £667 [2019 £256] – There has been very little spending on tai chi classes in 2020 and this is mostly some expensive dental work and new specs.

In theory this is the minimum we need to survive a year, although it would be a strange year when we didn’t need / buy some stuff.

Stuff (electronics, newspapers and other kit) – £7,175 [27% of total spending] [2019 £3,151 / 14%]

Household spending [everything from glue, newspapers and books to hiring a sander, plants for the garden and parts for the bikes] – £6,189 [ 2019 £2,300] – Wow! We have clearly had too much time for DIY and nest building this year! In 2019 we were moving house and the only DIY we did was freshening up the paint for the sale of our flat. This is a big category, with furniture, carpet, cushions and pictures on the walls all thrown into it. I am uncomfortable buying stuff and we try and source antiques / junk / second-hand items when this is practical. Bargain purchases this year included an Edwardian What Not [yes really] for a kitchen wall to contrast with the shiny white units for £30, second-hand lined curtains for the large living room window for £25 and some second-hand cushion covers for £5.

Clothes & accessories – £986 [2019 £851] – I have never gone down the route of a clothes buying ban, preferring to stick to buying what I need, as something wears out. Pretty much all the clothes we bought in 2020 were hard-wearing hill walking kit and probably not most people’s idea of clothes shopping. I needed new boots, we bought new waterproof trousers, a fleece, wellies and some comfy walking shoes; these were all replacement items. Where we could we bought second-hand items, for example a men’s winter coat on Ebay was just £24. Even when you buy quality items they don’t last forever but our walking gear gets plenty of wear; my previous boots had walked a lot of miles over six years.

Experiences – £8,226 [31% of total spending] [2019 £10,952 / 48%]

Holidays [our favourite spending line] – £2,834 [2019 £3,601] – The reason for this reduction in our holiday spending in 2020 is obvious and it isn’t because I have lost my wanderlust! In the north-west of England we have had travel restrictions for over six months of the year. We did get away a few times in the first three months of the year before the three months of lock down. We spent July taking trips to the Lake District, got to France in August and [after quarantine] thankfully managed to travel to Scotland in October. We have also paid for a holiday in a self-catering house in Scotland that has been moved to 2021 [fingers crossed].

Restaurants & cafes – £1,309 [2019 £2,418] – Despite using local cafes and restaurants when we can this year and having more takeaways than we would normally do to support local businesses this is much lower than normal. It is not particularly the food I miss, what I have really miss is seeing friends. In a normal year there are two old friends we would meet about eight times a year for drinks and a meal at a cost of about £500. Chatting over Zoom, although cheaper, hasn’t been the same. Interestingly, the reduction in our eating out spending is more or less off-set by the increase in our food spending.

Running the campervan [servicing & insurance etc] – £2,093 [2019 £1,931] – Last year I wondered if our six year old Renault Master was saving up some expensive repairs for 2020. It hasn’t done too badly but needed some essentials like tyres and brakes replacing as well as the usual servicing, insurance and road tax.

Diesel for the above ‘van – £1,227 [2019 £1,500 ] – We certainly haven’t put the miles across Europe on the campervan we would normally do.

Tickets for concerts, football & attractions – £403 [2019 £941] – Well what do you expect as for much of the year nothing was open. Live music is just a distant memory and the last football match we went to was a Morecambe FC match last Christmas. We have supported some arts events by buying tickets for online events and visited some RSPB reserves when we could.

Public transport costs – £360 [2019 £561] – Again, the pandemic effect has kept us at home much of the time.

Giving – £937 [4% of total spending] [2019 £654 / 3%]

Gifts & donations – £937 [2019 £654] – Another discretionary spending line that we try and keep under control but in 2020 we felt a need to be more generous. Many charities needed additional funding as events and places were closed and during the first lock down we sent cheering-up parcels to friends, as well as the usual birthday and Christmas gifts.

TOTAL SPENDING FOR 2020 – £26,171 – Despite all the home-making we have done in 2020, we have stayed within our £27,000 budget. Hurrah!

Over my four years of retirement we have spent an average of £25,351 a year.

Our expenditure doesn’t all come from our savings. As well as my side hustle travel writing income [reduced in 2020 due to Covid-19], in 2020 my small NHS pension began. This is based on my many years of part-time and full-time NHS work and is the equivalent to 12 years NHS service. These both help to reduce what we take from the ever-diminishing savings pot. For me, saving for early retirement was never just about giving up work, it was also about us having the financial resilience to survive whatever ups and downs life threw at us.

Jägermeister & our Campervan: A Story of Christmas Generosity & Love

There are essentials food [?] items we always carry in our campervan; some bottles of red wine, Scottish oatcakes, Bahlsen Pick Ups, a jar of good pesto and pasta and in the fridge there is always a green square bottle of Jägermeister. This tradition began many years ago after a tour of Eastern Europe. As we travelled through different countries we bought and tasted local herbal liqueurs. The first was a homemade firewater a campsite owner generously shared while we watched the Champions League final in southern Germany. From there we moved through mysterious explosive Hungarian beverages and onto the medicinal yet ambrosial Becherovka from Karlovy Vary.

With practice, we acquired a taste for these liqueurs that remind me of having a spoonful of Venos cough medicine in childhood but with an added kick. As Jägermeister is the most easily available liqueur in the UK, it has become a permanent part of our campervan kit. Today we have even added two dark green Jägermeister shot glasses to our ritual.

Jägermeister have been producing their herbal liqueur since 1878. The result of a family vinegar business branching out, this unique drink made from 56 botanicals and with an ABV of 35% is created in Wolfenbüttel in Germany and in the UK is now widely available thanks to Jägerbombs where Jägermeister is added to an energy drink.

It was seven years ago that I discovered that Melchior produced Jägermeister chocolates while browsing the internet for gifts. They were expensive but we were lucky to receive a box as a Christmas present. They were so rich and scrumptious we have included them on our present list to our son ever since but never had them again.

A strange choice for two vegetarians?

Jägermeister comes in a distinctive dark green bottle that is designed to be sturdy enough to survive being dropped and can fit in a large pocket of a hunting jacket. Jägermeister means master of the hunt, so the drink is an interesting choice for two vegetarians who are anti-hunting. The story goes that the logo comes from the legend of Saint Hubertus. Hubertus was a hunter but one night had a vision of a stag with a glowing cross between its antlers. This vision had a big effect on Hubertus and he became an advocate for a greater respect for nature and the story was chosen as the Jägermeister logo. I like to hang onto the respect for nature aspect of the legend and the almost unbreakable bottle is also perfect for a bumpy ride in a Blue Bus.

We have another connection with Jägermeister. My father-in-law was in the British Army and was stationed in Wolfenbüttel in Lower Saxony in Germany for some years and my partner lived there. We have visited the lovely town since and retain an emotional connection with Wolfenbüttel and its famous distillery.

The Christmas Spirit

Unbeknown to us, Melchior stopped making the boxes of Jägermeister chocolates some years ago. In ignorance, we continued to put it on our wish list. This year our son and daughter-in-law generously rose to the challenge of our Christmas gift list and decided to make their own. The internet is full of Jägermeister truffle recipes and so, with no experience of chocolate making, they piled in with the optimism of youth and created some simply gorgeous chocolates that were all the more mouthwatering because they were made with love for two demanding parents!

However much longer I live on this planet, I don’t think I will be able to say thank you enough times to them for indulging my taste buds and making my heart sing and my waistline bulge with this very special gift.