Friday, 16 July 2021

A great view in Scotland

Friday 16 July 2021

Nido's parked up in the Upper Cheviot parking area just over the border in Scotland, with a fantastic view over the Cheviot hills.  This park up is one of many in a trial being run by Forestry and Lands Scotland.  They allow motorhomes and camper vans to park up overnight for one night only (no return within 24 hours).  Some of the parking areas charge but this one doesn't.  It's a great initiative so long as everyone follows the simple rules and details can be found on the Forestry and Lands website.

We left The Twice Brewed Inn yesterday and drove for about an hour to Kielder Water, the largest man-made lake in Europe.  On the way we stopped in Haltwhistle to do some food shopping in what must be the smallest Sainsburys in England! It was a beautiful, still, sunny day with clear blue skies.  The roads were extremely quiet and with the abundant greenery, trees and the blue lake, we could easily have been in France or Germany.  We parked up at the Tower Knowe visitor centre.  The first car park is by the toilets, shops and restaurant, but we took the left fork to the overflow car park, which only had one other van parked.  It's £5 for the day and the ticket is valid in all of the official car parks around the lake.  Cathy made a picnic and we followed the path along the lake, soon finding a route to the water side, where we sat on some stones to enjoy our food and allow Salty to cool off in the water.  Swimming is banned, which is a shame as it looked quite safe; if it was France there would be a dedicated 'beach' area for swimming, separated off from any water traffic.  We continued along the main path around the lake, before turning off down a side track to again reach the lake, passing some sad looking, abandoned chalets that I think were part of the Outdoor Education Centre.  The main path is also used by cyclists and sometimes runs alongside the road that follows the lake perimeter, so at times we lost complete sight of the lake, which was a shame.

We moved on to our overnight stop, which was a CL at Haining Head Farm, near Bellingham. It's a working farm and there were sheep, lots of birds (including noisy guinea fowl and pea hens!) and a few wild children living on the farm!  It had good views over the hills and some passing traffic on the road, which reduced into the evening.  There were two caravans on site and I think the owners were either shepherds or sheep shearers, as they had their working dogs with them and were away during the day, returning later in their work clothes.  We had a quiet evening and ate outside in the warm sunshine.

Tower Knowe Visitor Centre - overflow car park

Heading over the border into Scotland this morning, we first stopped at
Hell's Hole, Wauchope Forest.  This is another of the free Forestry and Land stopovers.  We parked up in the shade and had a cup of tea, before taking Salty for a walk around the forest trail, which included a cooling swim in a stream for him.  A short distance away we turned off and drove up a steep and winding track to reach this current stopover.  The drive up was relatively easy for us in a 6m campervan, but anything too long might struggle with the hairpin bends.  But the views up here are amazing and its very quiet and peaceful.  When we parked up I could see a Forestry and Land van parked up and later the Warden came over to have a chat.  He was very helpful and welcoming, explaining all about the trial to allow motorhomes to park in their car parks and how the Scottish Government were encouraging such schemes.  He gently explained the simple rules (no fires, no litter etc), then wished us a pleasant stay.  This is an excellent scheme and we felt very welcome.  I hope the trial becomes a permanent feature and we can return to use many of the others around Scotland.

We had lunch on arrival here, so supper was 'tapa' of potatas bravas and sausage, with a San Miguel.  Well, when in Spanish!  The views and peaceful quiet here are amazing and I highly recommend anyone to try them out and send them a positive review if you enjoyed it (QR code on their sign on each site).

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Twice Brewed by Hadrian's Wall

Wednesday 14 July 2021

Nido's parked up with four other vans in an area reserved exclusively for motorhomes and campervans at The Twice Brewed Inn, within view of Hadrian's Wall and close to Vindolanda Roman Fort.  This pub allows overnight stops for a fee, although some of this is reimbursed if you eat here.  I called them yesterday and bagged the last parking spot and also a table for 6.30pm.  

Yesterday we drove from Worston up to Alston, in the North Pennines.  On the way up we stopped off  at Hartside Summit (1903 ft) for lunch.  Onwards, we arrived at our overnight stop, which was the Nook Farm Shop and Cafe just north of Alston. They charge £5 to stay (no facilities although the shop toilets are available when it's open) and have space for about five vans; two were already parked up when we arrived.  The shop is also the parking area for visiting Epiacum Roman Fort.  It's a short stomp up the hill and needs a bit of imagination to envisage what it would have looked like. The views from the fort were all around and even Salty enjoyed the vista and sense of history!

Epiacum was built in the AD 120s at about the same as Hadrian's Wall.  It's suspected the Romans built the fort to control mining of the lead-rich mineral veins of the North Pennines.  Around 500 soldiers were stationed there and a bustling civilian settlement grew up around the fort.  

The shop closed at 5pm and, apart from passing traffic, we had a quiet evening sat outside in the sunshine.  Taking Salty for his final walk of the evening, there were curlews and lapwings flying low over the moor.

Lunch at Hartside Summit

After breakfast we drove the short distance to Vindolanda Roman Fort.  We visited here in 2012 - on our first ever motorhome trip - and a lot of excavation has been completed since then.  We left Salty in the van and paid the £8.50 per person admission charge.  The site has grown a lot since we last visited and archaeologists were excavating new areas.  They and volunteer guides were very generous with their time, talking about the history of Vindolanda and what's been found over the years.  Although this time we didn't visit the indoor museum, which is on a different site, it would be well worth a visit to view some of the thousands of items dug up over the years.

The Twice Brewed Inn was only a few minutes drive away.  I parked up next to a motorhome and popped in to let them know we'd arrived and that we'd be in at 6.30pm to eat. I was given a parking permit along with the entry code for onsite showers and toilets in a self-contained unit just behind the parking area.  They are really trying to embrace and encourage van life and it's great to see.  We walked across the road and up a lane to join the footpath that runs alongside Hadrian's Wall.  To the east, the wall runs across the top of steep cliff escarpments towards Housesteads, said to be the most complete and best preserved Roman Fort in the UK.  The temperature had increased markedly during the day and the sun was out, so we took the western path, with gentle climbs up to a Trig Point overlooking the moors and looking down towards the pub.  Sections of Hadrian's Wall have survived and we stood and marvelled at their construction.  We'd taken a flask of tea with us and sat with a cuppa, enjoying the view.  It was a bit hot for Salty (who's wearing a thick black coat!) and he had to stop a few times to 'sploot' in the long, cool grass on the way down.  The blue bucket was therefore deployed for its 102nd use, acting as a cooling pool and he looked crossly at us once soaked and disappeared into the darkness of the van cabin footwell to sulk!

Showered and changed, we left Salty in the van and wandered over to the pub. Although it's dog-friendly, Salty is a rescue Patterdale Terrier and we're not sure if he's pub-friendly!  So the easiest option was to leave him in peace in the van. It's the first time we've eaten out since visiting our daughter and S-I-L in America in 2019, so we were a bit nervous, but it was well organised and felt safe.  Although the menu was standard 'pub grub' the food was very good.  They also have their own Brew House so we tried some different ales - all very tasty - and bought a box of three to take back to our neighbour, who's keeping our greenhouse watered.  As we were staying over in the van they knocked £5 off the bill, so another good reason to stay here.

Hadrian's Wall

Nido parked up at The Twice Brewed Inn

Back at the van, Salty was fine and pleased to see us.  The breeze has got up, cooling everything down pleasantly and we're sat in the van with the door open, listening to a lively game of metal quoits being played in the pub garden - the North East England version of French Petanque.

Monday, 12 July 2021

Worston, near Pendle Hill

Sunday 11 July 2021 
Nido's nestled in a very quiet and scenic meadow between Clitheroe and Pendle Hill. We're on the CL at Angram Green, a site we visited almost 6 years ago to the day. It was such a lovely, peaceful stop last time, we vowed to return one day. As it's on the way to Northumberland, it provided an ideal stopover for a couple of nights. Last time we stayed we had it all to ourselves, but today there's another campervan and two caravans, although the field is large enough to give us all plenty of room and private space. There's no EHU to connect to, so we can all pitch where we fancy. 

This is the longest trip we've made since we spent a month in France in 2019. Our other trips since then have been only for a couple of nights, with the exception of 6 nights in Pembrokeshire. It's taken some thought to get back into the swing of a slightly longer trip. For just a few nights away, I'd either cook or take all the food we needed, noting we'd normally stay on one site for the whole time, usually in some remote location. But this trip. we'll be travelling around, so they'll be opportunity to buy food as we go, hopefully making use of roadside fruit and veg stalls plus small, independent shops to support the local community. 

When planning this trip, my initial thought was to just head off and rely on the opportunity to wildcamp, use pub stops or book into CLs at the last minute. But over the past weeks, reading about other's trips and checking various forums, it became obvious there would be little opportunity for impromptu stopovers. All of the club main sites I checked were fully booked for several weeks. Even some of the CLs I called were booked solid through to the middle of September. So this trip - as is now the norm in the UK - needed some research, planning and advance bookings. This CL was therefore booked in advance, plus one close to Hadrian's Wall and a pop-up campsite not too far from the Northumberland coast. Aside from that, I've planned a couple of stops found on the Search for Sites website, including a free parking spot courtesy of Scottish Forestry, pub stops and a couple of C&CC Temporary Holiday Sites. This should give us a mix of certainty and flexibility on where we end up staying. It's not the same as just turning up at a French aire, but it does mean we don't have to worry too much about upsetting people by wild camping at a time when campervans and motorhomes are being ostracised for all sorts of reasons. 

The journey here was relatively painless - mainly motorway - and we arrived at 1pm. We decompressed with a cup of tea sat outside under cloudy but warm skies. Salty was a bit stressed by the journey, although we'd moved his safety line to allow him to lie on our bed for the trip, which seemed to help. But a walk of a couple of miles through fields and quiet lanes, with new smells and sights calmed him down and he's now snoozing next to me, having eaten his tea, plus some of ours! 

All's quiet now - a very still evening with only the birdsong and lambs breaking the silence. 

Monday 12 July 2021 

It's a still afternoon, raining steadily but it's warm. I'm sat outside under the awning, watching the rain and listening to a blackbird in the large tree next to us, competing with the sounds (and lovely garlicky smells) of Cathy cooking dinner behind me in the van. After a good walk and lunch, Salty is snoozing on the driving seat. I have a glass of Portuguese red wine from the Doura region. I'm enjoying my day! 

I'm a bit set in my ways. Normally, if it's raining I wouldn't chance putting the awning out and would close the door and stay in the van. But I decided to try it, mainly to see if it stopped the rain coming into the van with the side door open...and it does! So I'm enjoying the al-fresco experience and we'll do it again. 

It rained throughout the night but the site here is flat and drains well, so I'm not worried about getting away tomorrow. The other campervan left as we were having breakfast, so it's us and a couple of caravans now. I chatted to the couple in the smaller caravan yesterday - an old but well loved caravan about the size of an Eriba. They come here about three times a year as they love the peace and quiet. Normally, they'd be in France from May for a couple of months but there's no chance of that right now. Like us, they're not a fan of the Club main sites, preferring these small, tucked-away CLs. They have a basic, open awning up and lots of fairy lights and seem very content with their lot; I reckon they have it right. 

The last time we stayed here we completed a 10 mile walk. Six years on, we're not so fit so I planned one half of the loop for today, taking us along the foot of Pendle Hill, back towards the village of Downham (where we walked yesterday), along the base of Worsaw Hill and down to Worston village before walking back up the lane to the campsite. We lucked out with the weather; thankfully the rain held off, although it was a bit misty over the hills. Salty enjoyed the new smells and took the opportunity for a paddle and a drink when we came across streams. Back at base, we sat under the awning with a pot of tea and coffee, reading or catching up with what everyone else is doing today. I watched a couple of YouTube videos from The Urban Motorhome and Camper-Vibe. 

The rain's getting heavier, but we can still sit outside in the shelter of the awning and dinner is almost done, so that's it for today. We move on tomorrow, heading to the North Pennines.

Misty on Pendle Hill


Tuesday, 25 May 2021

A few days in Pembrokeshire

Friday 21 May 2021

Nido's parked up at the Llandigige Fawr CL in Pembrokeshire. It's a nice quiet spot, with the pitches spread out in an L-shape around a wildflower meadow.  We have electric and it's reasonably level, although we could have used the levellers to even it up a bit.

We left home yesterday in decreasingly deteriorating weather, with heavy rain and winds gusting 60mph. We've stayed at the Forge CL near Machynlleth before, in August 2017.  It was also a bit wet underfoot that time and we had to park on the tarmac track rather than a grass pitch, to avoid getting stuck.  This time we parked parallel to the track and, this morning, the water was covering the grass, but we were on the level and able to pull away safely. Forge is a lovely little campsite, deep in the countryside, surrounded by steep hills, forest and a fast flowing river alongside.  The owner feeds the red kites at 3pm every afternoon and they normally start circling an hour before, then swoop down to grab the meat scraps he gets from the local butchers. We watched it the last time we stayed here and it was an amazing sight (video below).  We were too late this time and the owner said they're nesting at the moment, so numbers are down a bit on normal.  The rain didn't give up, so the evening was spent in the van, with Salty and I venturing out (I'm so glad I packed my wellies!) was his walks.  Overnight the winds seemed to peak and at one point I thought we'd lose a skylight, but all was still secure and watertight in the morning.

Our journey down to Llandigige Fawr was a wet one; the winds didn't seem as gusty, although still blowing hard.  It's a bit showery now, but not really worth the risk of a walk and ending up with soaking wet kit again.  One of the downsides of being in a small van in this weather is drying out coats and towels.  We use the bathroom as a drying room sometimes - heating on and skylight cracked open - and stuff dries quite quickly. 

I had a mammoth meal cooking session before we left home, making up four meals and freezing two of them to bring with us.  I enjoy cooking in the van, but I prefer it when the van door's open or the BBQ is going outside.  Last night we had fried chicken and salad.  Today it's Thai green curry with naan...with a bottle of beer of course! 

We had no phone signal at Forge, so switched our phones off to save battery.  When we arrived here, I had a DM on Twitter from the Campervan Magazine to say I (actually Salty!) had been picked as this month's competition winner - an Outdoor Revolution sleeping bag!  This is the second prize we've won in this magazine; the first was a big box of dog treats and toys.  I've won a few competitions over the years, the most expensive being a Tracker system and Dashcam for the van.  I don't go hunting for them, but if I seem them pop up in my timeline, I'll usually have a go, even if we don't need the item they're offering as a prize.....someone will be grateful for it.

So a bit of a lazy afternoon and evening, waiting for the weather to improve.  We have a plan to drive down to Abereiddi Beach tomorrow and park up for the day, with a coastal walk if weather allows.  Tonight we'll perhaps watch some TV on the laptop, downloaded on on a hard-drive - movie night!

Saturday 22 May 2021

Nido's spent the day with a great view of the sea at Abereiddi Beach.  We drove here first thing - all of 2 minutes - and were one of the first parked up.  It's £4 for the day and we had the pick of the best spots.  Breakfast was a bacon butty and a cup of tea watching the waves.

We took the coastal path heading north and within a few hundred metres were at the blue lagoon.  This is in fact an old slate quarry, flooded by the sea after a dam was smashed by fishermen looking for a safe haven to shelter their boats from the winter storms. It's now a mecca for wild swimmers and coasteering groups brave enough to plunge into its cold, sapphire waters.  A stag group were the first ones to take to the sea, the groom easily identified by the pink tutu he was wearing on top of his wet suit!  The path took us along the steep cliff edges and we took the steep, metal steps down to Traeth Llyfn.  It's only accessible at low water, the large sandy beach interspersed with rocks and pools.  We were the only ones down there, so Salty had plenty of zoom time off the lead.

Back on the coastal path, we walked for another half and hour to the old harbour village of Porthgain. It grew up around a brickworks, with many of the old buildings still in place.  The village was starting to open to visitors again after what must have been a long lockdown.  We sat at a picnic bench for our lunch before reversing our route back to Abereiddi Beach.  The rest of the afternoon was spent 'sun-pooling' in the van, side door open, watching people enjoy what turned out to be a sunny but fresh day.  The sunshine was welcome after two days of gales and heavy rain, although more is forecast tomorrow.  We really chilled in the van and it reminded us of what we should be doing in retirement.  Salty was tired after his zooming and clifftop walks and spent the afternoon snoozing on the van floor.

Back at the campsite, after showers I warmed up the vegetable chilli I made at home and boiled some rice.  I 'found' a bottle of red wine in the cupboard which was enjoyed as the  sun slowly dropped into the sea.  This has been a good day.

Watching the world go by at Abereiddi Beach

Blue Lagood

Entrance marker to Porthgain harbour (sheltering from the wind)

The old fishermen's hut and the new electric car - Porthgain

'Snake's Wedding'

Traeth Llyfn

Just chillin'

Just watchin'

Just brewin'
Sunday 23 May 2021

Nido's parked up outside the entrance to Longhouse CL in Mathry. Yes, you read that right, outside! With more heavy rain today, we hit the road and headed towards Fishguard, mainly to find somewhere flat and solid to ride out the worst of the storm.  There's a free parking area in Fishguard, behind a garage (which sells LPG by the way) where motorhomes and lorries wait to catch the ferry to Ireland.  We stayed there a while then moved to another small parking area higher up and overlooking the ferry port.  Tea and cake was had (it being Cathy's birthday) then we drove off to visit the beach at Newgale.  Unfortunately the sea view is hidden by a high bank of stones, so we turned around and drove to our next stop, a CL not far from Strumble Lighthouse.  This CL mentions it's on a slight slope but open all year round.  But on arrival, I only managed to get about 20m in before the tyres lost their grip in the mud and foot long grass.  It took 15 minutes of backwards and forwards to gain enough traction to return to the tarmac entrance.  I called the owner, explained the problem and said we'd therefore be unable to stay.  He sort of 'shrugged his shoulders' over the phone (or so I imagine) and we returned to the safety of the Fishguard parking area to work out a plan.

The number of motorhomes and campervans are increasing and, in some cases, we've outnumbered caravans on Camping and Motorhome Club (CAMC) CLs.  The problem with motorhomes is they weigh a lot more.  Some CLs are good and have gravelled or tarmac tracks and pitches.  But many are still just sloping fields of long grass, entirely unsuitable for the thriving numbers of motorhomes looking for somewhere to stay. Perhaps the CAMC need to review some of the CLs' suitability for motorhomes and maybe suggest the owners create hardstanding for one or two.  This would also help extend their season.

I had a reserved list of CLs from my research at home, so rang this one to see if they had any space. The owner said yes, but explained that their field was also soft and we might struggle.  But he offered parking just outside the CL entrance, on much firmer ground, but still with access to the electric hook up over the fence.  Half an hour later I was knocking on the farmhouse door.  The owner was very helpful, suggesting I take a look before deciding.  The area was flat and dry enough (although we are on a bit of a wonk!). But it has a great view of the sea and the neolithic burial chamber called Careg Sampson, with the coastal path running alongside, down to the sea.

The rain finally stopped and we took a walk along the clifftop coastal path, with sapphire sea, caves, arches and jagged rocks. The path runs quite close to the cliff edge in parts and I'm not great with heights!  But we made it back safely and enjoyed watching the sky clear (and the sun appear for a short while) whilst having our meal - and a bottle of Cava to celebrate Cathy's birthday.  Tomorrow we'll take a walk in the opposite direction, first stopping off at the tiny harbour of Abercastell, which we could see from the path.

Careg Sampson - burial chamber next to the CL

Salty protecting me from the sheer cliff face

Monday 24 May 2021

We woke to some sunshine this morning at Marthy so risked a walk with Salty to run off some of his steam and get some fresh air.  On the loop back up the lane the heavens opened and we spent a few hours in the van drying off and steaming!

But later in the afternoon the skies cleared and we headed out again, walking back down the steep coastal path to Abercastell harbour, then back up the other side and along the cliff tops.  About an hour in we turned left, away from the coast and up a footpath, to join a rarely used road track, returning to Abercastell and back up to the CL.  By now the weather had greatly improved and we all sat outside the van on our little grass area by the entrance to the CL.  It was like camping on a village green!  It's right next to the coastal path and we waved and said hello to a few walkers passing by, as well chatting to campers as they returned to the CL.  It was hard for them to miss us to be honest!  The owner came over too and Cathy had a long conversation completely in Welsh - I'm very proud of her!  After some time sat out with a panad and a book, we eventually moved back into the van as the breeze cooled, although the sun was still shining.  Dinner tonight was omelettes and salad; Salty had his first taste of omelette and approved!

Once cleared away we had tea and cake whilst watching a couple of YouTube videos from Camper Vibe and John & Mandy.  The sun's setting over the sea and it's very quiet here.  Time to take the doggo for his final walk of the night.  A relaxing - if sometimes soggy - day.


Our lovely, little pitch just outside the CL entrance

Tuesday 25 May 2021

Our plan was to make our way slowly north and stop at a pub near Machynlleth for a meal and to stay overnight in their car park.  After leaving the CL this morning and, as we drove up, we decided instead to get some fish and chips around lunch time then head home.  We stopped off at New Quay and bought some lovely fish and chips from the Lime Crab on the seafront, taking them back to the car park to eat in the van.

After that it was a couple of hours to get home to unload, clean the van and empty the loo.... that's Van Life!