A long overdue visit to glorious Wharfedale

2016 Sept Wharfedale Grassington (21).JPG
The river Wharfe near Grassington

Well …  Mr BOTRA and I do know that life is rushing by us at an alarming rate but we really couldn’t believe it had been two years since we had visited the gorgeous Wharfedale in the Yorkshire Dales.  What were we thinking of?  Why had we neglected this beautiful valley for so long?  Had other beautiful parts of the UK been distracting us?  [The answer is yes to the last question].

We made up for it this last weekend and were rewarded for our return with beautiful weather for a couple of days that was perfect for walking trips.

On day one we followed a favourite walk from the campsite near Grassington, following grassy paths over Malham Moor and stopping to admire the wide open views.  We crossed the lovely Wharfe at Conistone and here decided to head for Kettlewell and pick up the bus back down the dale.  This took us to the wonderful dry limestone valley known as Conistone Dib.  The path winds upwards through a rocky gorge that would once have been a lively stream and we enjoyed climbing up the steps of old waterfalls and along the gravel stream bed.  Along the way we met a group of National Park volunteers clearing stone cairns and we stopped to chat.  As we walked away we were both thinking the same thing … how lovely it will be to have the time to volunteer in this beautiful area.

The next day was still sunny and we walked from Grassington along the river Wharfe to the pretty village of Burnsall.  Thanks to rain a couple of days before the river was full and this made crossing by the stepping stones at Linton and Burnsall entertaining for everyone who was watching.  We watched dad wading across, the river up to his thighs; he held the hand of his young daughter who was then able to jump across the stones.  Later we marvelled at the daring of a walker who ran across so fast his feet hardly touched the stones.  We returned through the valley-side village of Hebden and as we came through Grassington Park Estate Meadows we promised ourselves we would visit next July to see the flowering meadows in their full glory.

Following our hearts: does owning a campervan make financial sense?

Our Devon Tempest campervan

This article in the Observer newspaper last week got Mr BOTRA and I thinking about whether owning our campervan saves or costs us money.  It shows how important owning the ‘van is to us that we have never given this much thought before.  As someone who has spreadsheets to plot our spending and savings to every penny, this seems like a huge omission and just goes to show that when it comes down to it our hearts rule over our heads.  We own the ‘van because we love the lifestyle, rather than to save money and even while we have been saving to retire we have never thought of not owning a campervan.

To investigate further I opened up all the spreadsheets and looked at the costs for our previous ‘van over eight camping seasons from 2007 to 2014

Insurance, services, road tax, MOT, tracker & club membership cost around £1,200 each year.  Before we had a campervan we didn’t own a car but we did spend money on hiring cars every month.

Over the years the ‘van didn’t need a lot of maintenance [it was a VW] but it did travel 70,000 miles and we had to buy the following, a new exhaust, tyres, new covers for the front seats, two replacement windows.  The cost of these averages out at £161 a year.

Our regular camping holiday in Europe for over three weeks, and including a ferry, costs around £1,350 each year [note, I haven’t counted food bought in supermarkets in this total as we would eat if we were at home].

In those years we spent an average of 25 other nights camping in the UK [from 18 to 48 nights].  These nights were mostly on campsites with some wild camping and cost an average of £17.63 / night, giving an average of £581 each year.

I haven’t calculated diesel costs in this rough and ready estimate, as we would still want to go to places …yes, I do know the ‘van is not as economical as a car but neither have I accounted for car hire and taxis in my calculations.  It is all getting complicated and I hope these things just cancel each other out.

Motorhomes don’t depreciate in the same way as cars.  When we traded in the ‘van we only lost £8,500 on the price we had paid for it, this works out at £1,062 per year.

Total cost each year has been £4,354 per year for an average of 52 nights holiday each year.

It is hard to estimate what we would have spent on holidays if we hadn’t had the ‘van but based on what we used to do I can estimate a figure.  We used to have a three week organised cycling holiday using hotels in mainland Europe [£3,000], a week in Scotland [£700], a short break in Germany [£700] and a UK short break [£400].

This gives a grand total of £4,800 on around 37 nights of holiday.

So owning the ‘van saves us £446 / year and we get 15 nights more holiday a year.  But hang on … Interest rates were considerably higher between 2007 and 2014 [5.5% in 2007].  If we had invested the £32,000 we had spent on the ‘van we could have received at least £2,000 a year in interest and would be quids in; however, with today’s low interest rates the sums add up very differently, as the article suggests.  Do we regret buying the ‘van when we did – absolutely not!

Supermarket shopping by bike: a win-win

Ortlieb panniers can carry a lot of stuff

Isn’t it great when something turns out better than you thought.  Since working from home the only thing I have really missed is the exercise I got walking to work.  Although I make sure I move around a lot during the day, my work is mostly sitting at a laptop and so by the end of the working day I am itching to get moving.

To make sure this idea to take exercise happens I thought I would try stopping the supermarket ‘big’ shop in the ‘van or using home delivery and instead get out on the bike two or three times a week to get all our shopping.

Previously, I have always done a bicycle shopping trip once a week mainly for fresh fruit and vegetables.  In addition about once a month we would do what we call round here a ‘big’ shop to get store cupboard essentials and cleaning materials. We are lucky to have five supermarkets within easy cycling distance of home [no farmers market nearby unfortunately as we don’t live in that sort of an area] and I vary which one I visit to add variety to my trips.

I honestly expected this method of shopping to be more expensive, as I am visiting the shops more; however, the spreadsheet doesn’t lie and I am pleased to say I have found the opposite, it has actually saved us money.  It helps that I do plan meals, make a list and stick to it as I hate to waste food and I mostly use the cheaper supermarkets.  Also, I am limited to how much I can fit in to my [very roomy] Ortlieb pannier which stops some impulse buys.

So … the figures.  For the first four months of 2016 our supermarket shopping [all our food and household items] average was £248 per month. For the last two months, since working at home and shopping by bicycle the average monthly spend in the supermarkets has been £212 per month, a saving of £36 each month.   In May and June we were mostly on holiday, so different rules apply and these months are not featured.

We are saving money and I get out on my bike – a win-win, as they say.


Tents & rucksacks are now part of our past

1995 July wild camping near Sgurr a Chaorachain
Wild camping in Scotland

It has been an emotional recently in the BOTRA household, with lots of reminiscing and a few tears.  All because Mr BOTRA and I have faced the truth that we are [probably] never going to sleep under canvas or take a backpacking trip again.

I don’t think we are the only motorhomers who started our camping holidays with a tent, although we might be the only ones who, when we got married, didn’t own a fridge or a washing machine but did both bring a Vango Force 10 tent to the marital home.  Given our lack of white goods and possession of two tents, an extravagant purchase early in our marriage was a lightweight Saunders Spacepacker.  This beautiful and practical tent served us well over the years as we backpacked all over Europe, firstly just the two of us and later fitting our son into its womb-like interior.  Although the Spacepacker was sold on eBay years ago (another emotional time) as part of our money saving project to buy a brand new campervan, we had hung on to the larger tent and the possibility of camping.  In reality, since we bought our first campervan in 2005, the tent has only been used by friends and relatives.

During a recent clear out of the stuff among the dust under our bed, I pulled out the tent and our two large Karrimor rucksacks and dared to suggest it was time to offer them out to the world via eBay.

Mr BOTRA, the sentimental one, became misty-eyed, remembering all the places he had carried his rucksack and a trip down memory lane, accompanied by photographs took up the afternoon.  I was the practical one, reminding him how much we enjoy the comfort and freedom of the ‘van and pointing out how else we could use the valuable storage space in our small flat.

Amazingly there is a market for old camping gear, thanks to the British passion for festivals where inexpensive gear makes common sense.  So the old, but still waterproof, tent was collected by a local man who was optimistic enough to think that a British festival might not be as muddy as we knew it would be, and our old trusty rucksacks were bought by two similar music-loving individuals.  Our savings got a small boost and the tent and rucksacks were recycled and given a new life.


Saving money on the lovely island of Anglesey

The beautiful Llanddwyn Island on the Isle of Anglesey

Spending a few days visiting some of the wonderful nature reserves and wildlife sites on the Isle of Anglesey proved to be a very frugal holiday.  With no admission fees to pay, our only costs were small amounts for parking, leaving enough to buy the occasional [okay daily] ice-cream.

Anglesey has designated its 125 miles of coastline as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and rightly so, as the coastline is beautiful and varied.  We stood in the fresh breeze on the top of Holyhead Mountain and walked around the expanse of Red Wharf Bay, spotting egrets, curlew and oyster catchers feeding on the rich feeding grounds.  On the way to Amlwch, with its fascinating [and free] museum about the geology of Anglesey, we visited the old copper mine at Parys Mountain [again no charge] and were stunned by the vibrant purple and orange colours and the huge open cast mine.  We walked around Rhoscolyn Head to find the perfect white sea arch; this is just as impressive as Durdle Door but is kept a secret, as on a sunny day we had this idyllic spot to ourselves.  I have struggled to decide which photograph to use from this trip as there are so many but opted for this view of Llanddwyn Island, a tidal island accessed from Newborough Forest [we were just sorry we didn’t spot a red squirrel but with such an expanse of trees the squirrels were no doubt having fun out of sight].

Anglesey also has international recognition for its important geological heritage as it is one of the 120 areas that are part of the UNESCO Global Geoparks network.  Travelling across Anglesey is a journey across twelve Geological periods and 100 rock types.  The colour and variety of the rocks on Anglesey are there for every visitor to discover and of course this rocky diversity results in a range of different plants too.

We stayed on a small Caravan Club Certified Location [CL] site for £13 a night called Tyddyn Osgar in the village of Brynteg.  Mr BOTRA and I don’t understand the pricing policy of these small sites and it seems to be completely arbitrary with some charging over £15 a night for nothing more than a hook-up.  This one provided a friendly welcome, one of the best campsite showers we have ever found, well-cut grass, wide-open views across to the Snowdonia mountains, a pub nearby, great cycling from the site and an offer of a lift for linear walks if we needed it … all hard to beat and ensured our trip didn’t eat in to the savings.

Thursday night tai chi


The beautiful coast of the Isle of Anglesey

For the past two years the two of us have attended a Thursday evening tai chi class at a local community centre.  We had the good fortune to find an excellent class that was just 10 minutes walk away and cost us an affordable £6 a month each.  Our experienced tutor was motivated by wanting to give something back to the community rather than making a living and so only charged to cover his costs.  However, running the class, as well as continuing a full-time job and balancing the demands of his family eventually became too much and the end of our tai chi class arrived last week.  I was very sad as I thanked our tutor and hugged our class mates.

As well as having an inspiring tutor, the class was made up of a wonderful group of Salfordians.  These were mostly retired individuals and all benefited hugely from attending the class; tai chi is particularly good for mobility and emotional well-being.  A core of the group have been attending for ten-years and know more about tai chi than I will ever learn.  Tai chi doesn’t promote competitiveness and everyone shared what they knew and supported each other and everyone was always encouraging at my poor efforts.

Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that involves some static postures and continuous controlled movements that are designed to improve physical and mental well-being.  For those interested the class we attended was Sun-style tai chi, developed by Sun Lu-tang just over 100-years ago and is the youngest tai chi style.  Sun-style tai chi has less kicking and punching than other tai chi styles and has a strong emphasis on breathing, mental focus and posture.

I have learnt a lot attending the class over the last two years but I am well aware there is plenty more to learn.  Mr BOTRA has made the time to self-study and learn the long form or series of movements and this means we can practice at home or on holiday.  But for me the discipline and support of a class is the best way for me to develop and so we are in search of a new tai chi class.

There is the possibility that a new tai chi instructor may take over the class at the same community centre.  If this happens, the new tutor will be running the class as part of their business and this means the cost will increase to £14 each a month.  I don’t begrudge someone making a living from teaching but this increase will have a not insignificant impact on our budget and Mr BOTRA and I have talked this over.  If this comes about our plan is to attend two or three times a month, as it is so convenient, and then practice at home in between; this will make the class affordable but also ensure we maintain our skills.


The old and the new from our summer campervan trips

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Little Langdale in Cumbria

The summer of 2016 might not be memorable in England for being wall-to-wall sunshine and yet we have managed to be lucky enough to have some excellent weekends away.  Although we have visited our much loved Lake District a couple of times, it has been a memorable summer for exploring some new areas [yes even in our small country we can still find places to discover].  Our trips to the Howgill Fells and Knaresborough were very pleasurable and we explored some beautiful places and enjoyed some good walking.

I was reminded how beautiful Great Langdale is in the Lake District on our August trip.  Time flies so quickly and I am often amazed how many years it is since we have visited favourite places.  As we drove in to the lovely glaciated valley and got our first glimpse of the distinctive hills bathed in the evening sunshine, the steep-sided hills seemed to give me a big comforting hug.  After a pint of Old Peculier in the Old Dungeon Ghyll, listening to the chatter of other walkers talking about routes and studying maps for the next day I was even happier.  The sound of the stream lulled me to sleep that first night.

The Howgills trip was one of discovery and I think it will become a favourite as the walking is good and the area is less popular than its neighbours.  In North Yorkshire, we walked about 20 kilometres in to the lovely town of Knaresborough and back.  This wasn’t mountain walking but it was beautiful through the Nidd Gorge and we enjoyed spotting the blue-green of the kingfishers flying fast over the river.  There is also more to discover on the moors between Knaresborough and Skipton and so I hope we will be back [although as I said above, years might fly before this actually happens].  It hasn’t all been walking and we also spent some time in the fascinating and packed Nidderdale Museum in Pateley Bridge.  Run by volunteers, there is something for everyone in this lovely local collection.