It took eight weeks to fix our campervan after the Greek tragedy and what a long eight weeks they were. For two of those weeks the ‘van was making its way back from Greece, another two weeks were spent sitting around while firstly the body shop did the estimate, then the insurance company assessed the damage and then we waited for parts. The repair took three weeks and the final week was spent in daily anticipation that the ‘van would be fixed only to be informed sometime mid-afternoon that there was another problem. One day it was the airbag, another a mechanic put too much weight on the oil filler and broke it off, another day the ABS fault was lighting up. Every day we were packed and ready to roll but each day the new fault required more parts and another wait on tenterhooks.
We were so pleased to get our blue Renault back and we went straight from the body shop to a campsite. We would have camped in any weather but as it turned out we were blessed with glorious and sunny weather and the Cheshire countryside proved to be perfect for a few days cycling. But first we spent a sunny afternoon cleaning the accumulation of Greek and garage dust from the van interior. I emptied every cupboard reminding myself what goodies we had left in there, having a little weep when I found the tins of giant Greek beans in tomato sauce and the bottles of dark Greek olive oil. Despite the mixed emotions, somehow this process healed the weeks of separation and made the ‘van feel like ours again.
In Cheshire we discovered The Whitegate Way, a 10 km cycle route on an old railway line and we cycled around Delamere Forest. We relaxed and took life easy feeling that our life was back on track again.
We followed this with a weekend camping with friends on the Staffordshire / Cheshire border and then more sociable camping in Derbyshire. We didn’t travel far and we didn’t need to, we were just content to have our campervan back where it belongs.
It is now over nine weeks since ‘the incident’ and without a campervan we have been forced to try other accommodation ideas for our holidays. What this period of exile from our ‘van has done is not only reinforce our love of the campervan lifestyle it has also made me realise how much having a van is a part of me and without it the knowledge that something is missing from my life pervades everything. None of the options we have tried, youth hostels, self-catering cottage, tent and hotel, compared to the sense of freedom we get from travelling in the ‘van. These different holidays had to be booked and organised beforehand and none of them were as relaxing as being in our own campervan. Below is the types of accommodation we have tried and how I found them.
Youth Hostels – We used to do lots of youth hosteling with the YHA and I worked at Buttermere youth hostel for a summer season in the 1990s, so we gave this budget option a try for our first break. Youth Hostels have the big advantage of having a kitchen so we could have home-cooking and remain frugal. The YHA website allows you to book a series of hostels and at between £29 and £39 a night for a room for two this is a good budget option. The kitchens can get busy at meal times but they are sociable places; as we had found in the past, youth hostels are great places to meet and chat to other people. The downside of this is that you can’t find your own space and when I wanted some peace and quiet to sit comfortably chilling and reading my book there wasn’t anywhere to go. Although we had sole use of a room the bunk beds meant that they were not great for lazing around. Youth hostels are also often closed during the day time.
Self-catering cottage – This is much less of a budget option, although you can save a lot on eating out as home-cooking is still an option. We paid £370 for a luxurious cottage for five nights on the edge of the Lake District. We had our own space, could come and go as we pleased and had everything we needed to hand. This was a relaxing and enjoyable holiday that came closest to being as good as the campervan.
Camping in a tent – The weather was warm so we set off with a borrowed tent to camp in the Peak District for a couple of nights. I love being on campsites and so this holiday ticked the box for relaxing on the site watching the world go by. I was less keen on having to run to the toilets first thing in the morning and we were ill prepared with no relaxing chairs or a table. With better equipment and in good weather this is a pleasant option, costs the same as staying on a site in the ‘van and we could cook our meals, although the equipment we had was limited … but in the rain it would be dismal.
Hotel – We paid £90 for a night bed and breakfast in a comfortable hotel in the Yorkshire Dales. Of course, we have stayed in hotels before and generally agree that they are okay for a night or so but after that we yearn for home cooking. In the evening we ate at the local Indian restaurant for £40 for the two of us. For me this makes hotels feel like an expensive option that doesn’t suit us for long holidays.
While we are off the road I have been missing being in our campervan so much and this got me thinking about what it is about travelling in the ‘van that I love so much. I get a big thrill from exploring new and beautiful places and learning about cultures and history as we go but what I have realised is that our van life is more than exotic foreign travel, being out and about in the ‘van is just comforting and relaxing in itself. Our campervan [and its previous versions] is ingrained with so many happy memories, as soon as I climb up the step in to the cab I feel enveloped in cosiness and where we take it doesn’t necessarily matter. Just at the moment I am really missing that feeling of well being.
I am always telling people how lucky we are to be living in Greater Manchester because we have so much beautiful countryside within easy reach. Only an hour or so in any direction and we are in stunning places and we tend to alternate our weekends between Yorkshire, the Peak District and North Wales or Cheshire. But this winter we took camping near to home to the extreme and didn’t even leave Greater Manchester. Life had been more hectic than usual and our ‘van had looked sulkily at us each time we left to catch the tram for yet another social occasion or cultural event. The Renault was itching to have a run out and we were missing camping so we chose to squeeze a night in at the Caravan Club’s Burrs Country Park site just 30 minutes from home. We arrived in the dark, which is always disconcerting and so had little idea what our surroundings were like until the next morning. With an extension agreed with the wardens beyond the usual 12.00 leaving time we set off for a walk to nearby Ramsbottom along the river Irwell path; a river that also flows within spitting distance of our home. Our walk was accompanied by cheerful toots of the steam trains on the East Lancashire Railway. Ramsbottom turned out to be another world from Salford, this foodie heaven was full of cosy independent cafes and delis and we sat outside the church in the unseasonably warm weather savouring a perfect bag of chips each; they were that faultless combination of crisp outside and soft and fluffy inside. The artisan market was in full swing in the cobbled market place but we decided to shun shopping for the steep walk up the hill to the landmark Peel Tower on the moors, built to commemorate Robert Peel who was born in nearby Bury. Here we savoured the fresh air and wide views before descending back to the Irwell valley down the steep old cobbled road. Leaving the campsite in the mid-afternoon, just half-an-hour later we were back among the urban neon of Salford Quays.
Our van life is always about glamorous places but I love it!
Finding an unexpected gem is one of the lovely things about travelling and it can happen even near to home. The Gladstone Library in Hawarden just over the Welsh border beyond Chester was one of those moments. We were walking through the beautiful Hawarden countryside, watching early butterflies on the verges and stopping to examine the first signs of Spring. In the village we sought out a tea shop for refreshments and found much more. The grand stone 19th century building in the photograph is The Gladstone Library. This building holds over 150,000 items in its library and has a reading room where many writers have toiled. The magnificent building also runs a variety of residential events and courses; you can learn languages or brush up on your local history or theology. Alongside this, anyone can pop in and enjoy the atmosphere and comfort of the building as visitors to the tea room, and sitting in the elegant dining room with excellent afternoon tea and a view over the well-tended gardens is hard to beat.
It became a weekend of memorable cafe stops, as the one we found the next day made a good attempt to rival the Gladstone Library. Having stayed near to Llanrwst we walked in more sunshine to Grey Mares Tale waterfall and through the woodland and old mine workings emerging over the hill to a panoramic view of the Snowdonia hills across the trees. We stopped for a picnic lunch at Llyn Geirionydd, watching red kites soar across the blue sky. At the remote Llyn Grafnant you wouldn’t expect to find any facilities but here we stumbled upon another fantastic Welsh cafe on the banks of the lake. The cafe was being run by two people who sparred in an amiable fashion over the cakes and teapots in the converted Welsh stone barn, entertaining us as we chose which cakes to try. We sat on a bench in the garden with home-made cake on china plates, lazily watching kayaks on the lake and making friends with the ginger tom cat that stopped by, it was blissful.
It seems that even places just an hour or so from home are still waiting to be explored. It is just as well we are retired and have the chance to find more hidden gems.
Very soon we won’t be constrained by the weekend for our camping trips, we will be able to take off as soon as the sun peeps through and come home when it is damp and cold. And yet, we do appreciate the variety of weather and seasons we get in the UK and perhaps we will still purposefully take some rainy trips out in the campervan. We are just back from a few days in Silverdale and Arnside, one of England’s most beautiful areas whatever the weather. The Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has everything for a perfect holiday; atmospheric woodland, quiet bays, good tea shops, lots of wildlife and good campsites. We climbed up Arnside Knott, which is criss-crossed with footpaths and looked down on the river Kent and a moody and magnificent Morecambe Bay from the top. After a cafe stop in Arnside we explored the chasm of Middlebarrow Quarry, a huge disused quarry, and walked through the lovely Eaves Wood back to the campsite.
Returning to the ‘van we put our feet up with a brew and read the paper, leaving the big sliding door open as it had stopped raining and the weather was fairly mild. We were joined by this gorgeous ginger tom with kitten soft fur and deep amber eyes. He came in cautiously at first but after exploring all the corners of the’van curled up on my lap and purred loudly. In the ‘van with a brew, the paper and a purring cat – I was in heaven!
Walking along the wide expanse of Fraisthorpe Sands was easy as we headed north towards Bridlington. I meandered along the beach doing a spot of beach combing, finding beautiful stones and shells, watching the oyster catchers feeding on the shoreline and a flock of sanderlings flying in formation. A group of three horses were ridden through the waves and wind surfers were enjoying the surf. We explored the old look-outs that had slipped on to the beach as the soft clay erodes. A beach is never dull. After hot chocolate in Bridlington we returned, now walking in to the wind and I was bent over to avoid the wind in my eyes. I found a discarded plastic bag in the surf and filled it with plastic bottles and other litter as we got closer to the ‘van.
Earlier in the day we had stopped at the village of Rudston to see the stunning tall Neolithic monolith in the churchyard and the graves to Winifred Holtby and the MacDonalds of Sleat. We had camped in an idyllic small site south east of York, no facilities or electric but a view of a small lake. We had watched a group of tufted ducks diving and moving purposefully as we had breakfast.
From Bridlington we walked to Flamborough Head, the path hugging the line of the cliffs. Showers rushed in as we reached the lighthouse and we sheltered in the cafe before going down to the sea. The white cliffs were shining and stunning after the rain and we watched two seals bobbing n the bay. Following the cliff path to North Landing we spotted elegant gannets flying in formation over the surf and guillemots, fulmars and kittiwakes lined up on the cliffs. Another shower came in and we were lucky to just catch the hourly bus back to our campsite.
After an evening of rain, clear skies came and we woke to sunshine. We drove to Pickering and Cawthorne Roman Camp. The ditches and banks of this vast site on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors are impressive. From here we followed paths through woodland, fields and moors on a nine mile walk, much of our route on the Tabular Hills Walk, an intriguing name that comes from their distinctive table-top shape.
Our trip had taken us through swathes of snowdrops and bright daffodils just starting to flower but it was a mammal that made me really feel like it was spring. It was the first day of March while we were away and that morning we spotted our first brown hare of the year gracefully lolloping around the field we were camped in. These fast-moving and beautiful animals came to the UK with the Romans and are always joyful to watch. For me the March hare always feels like a real herald of springtime.
Almost anyone living near Leek on the edge of the Peak District in North Staffordshire will have been bought up to enjoy Staffordshire Oatcakes for lunch and breakfast. Leek oatcakes are not the paper-thin oaty imposters you can buy in the supermarket, these phonies give only a hint of the deliciousness of the oatcake. The ones to buy and savour are the thick and fluffy oatcakes that you must travel to Leek to find at the simply named ‘Oatcake Shop‘ on the edge of the town. We generally return from this area with a dozen for the freezer to satisfy our cravings until our next visit. Oatcakes are a local delicacy that existed before the UK had ever discovered the wrap and they are perfect hot or cold and rolled or folded with all sorts of fillings, although our favourite remains grilled cheese.
Leek is a small market town surrounded by hills and the Roaches, an outcrop of gritstone crags that rise from the heather moorland above the town. If you don’t get to the Oatcake Shop in time to buy your oatcakes you can always call in to The Roaches Tea Room to enjoy an oatcake lunch there while taking in the splendid view over Tittesworth Reservoir.
We had a great and restorative weekend in this area. On Saturday we walked along the disused railway line between Rudyard and Leek and I reminisced about the days when this walk was my commute to work. On Sunday we walked from Flash to Three Shires Head where Staffordshire meets Cheshire and Derbyshire. Flash claims to be the highest village in Great Britain and as children we learnt that it is where the term ‘flash money’ came from. At the remote Three Shires Head criminals could easily jump from one county to another to escape arrest and this may have led to it being an ideal spot for illegal activities, one of which may have been counterfeit coins. Three Shires Head is one of my favourite spots but on this Sunday it was noisy with the sound of scrambling bikes and the air was heavy with the smell of two-stroke oil that took me back to my motorcycling days. I am always impressed with the skillful handling of motocross riders but the pretty and generally peaceful spot of Three Shires Head is not an appropriate place to practice this sport.
We stayed at Goatfell Farm, a Caravan Club Certified Location at Bottomhouse near Leek for £13. This lovely and welcoming site sits in an open field and we had a glorious sunset across the fields in the evening and we tried a bit of star gazing in the clear night away from the city streetlights.