Category: Travels

Britain May June 2021

Tibby and I travelled 3,000 miles around England, Wales and Scotland in 34 days in May and June 2021. We travelled via the Mendip Hills, Brecon Beacons, Snowdonia, Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District up the west coast of Scotland from Dunoon to past Ullapool and then back via Speyside, St Andrews, the Galloway Forest and Sandringham in Norfolk.

The detailed map can be viewed at:

We hired a six berth, seven-metre-long Fiat Ducato motor home from Just Go.

Covid-19 was a feature of our trip. It was difficult to travel abroad so a trip in the UK made sense. Restaurants, tourist places and camp sites were open but with reduced access or special rules, especially in the first fortnight. Most museums were restricting numbers and required prebooking and then some facilities within some museums were closed. An increased number of people were vacationing domestically in the UK so we had difficulty, at times, getting spaces in caravan parks, and so, we stayed more nights in hotels than we might have planned.

This was a wonderful holiday. Many of the places we visited, we had not visited before or had not seen in the detail that we now did.  The weather was not kind to us. We had a lot of rain which certainly impacted us on some days. We enjoyed travelling in the motorhome and lived very well in it. We stayed with our friend, Ronelle, in York for two nights, stayed ten nights in six hotels and stayed 21 nights in fourteen campsites.

Day 1 – Day 3 London via the Mendip Hills to Brecon, Wales – 194 miles

Tibby and I hired a six-berth motorhome from JustGo, took it home to Hampstead and packed it. We left London on Thursday 6th May 2021, collected our bikes from my store in Guildford and headed down the M4 to Bath in the rain. We wasted 90 minutes trying to find a replacement windscreen wiper, because the cap on ours had disappeared and the rubber of the wiper started to escape from the frame. General car parts dealers did not have the wiper. There seemed to be a real shortage of Fiat dealers and the one we contacted had to order the wiper from Italy! So, we passed the monkey back to JustGo who also discovered that it was difficult to find the wiper in West England, so they agreed to courier a replacement from their stocks, for next day delivery to our campsite. We stayed at Bath Chew Valley Caravan Park which is a great park and had a BBQ on a lovely fresh evening.

They had an onsite woodland walk which I enjoyed in the morning.

We circled the lovely Mendip Hills passing through the pretty Cheddar Village near the Cheddar Gorge. Unfortunately, much of Cheddar Village was closed. We picked up cycle helmets and cycle locks in Bristol, crossed the Severn River into Wales and checked into the Brecon Beacons Caravan Club Site, which is great, except that all the communal facilities were closed. It then rained for 36 hours, keeping us confined to our motorhome. Our replacement wiper did not arrive.

Day 4 – Circular route in the Brecon Beacons and then to Chester – 204 miles

The British Army Infantry does a lot of training in the Brecon Beacons Mountain range. Our son, David, has spent months training in these hills and is very fond of them. He suggested a 73-mile circular route Brecon – Sennybridge (site of the main Army camp) – Llandovery – Llangadog – Ystradgynlais – Sennybridge – Brecon. This was a beautiful route with magnificent mountain views. We had a sandwich for lunch in Brecon and then headed to Chester. Much of the route was along the Wye River which was full and flowing strongly. The countryside was green. Plenty of lambs were frolicking. The cows were very fat. Life was exceptionally good.

We checked into the Netherwood Touring Site which is an acre of grass behind someone’s house. Basic but close to Chester.

Day 5 – Chester

We were last in Chester 34 years ago. We were looking forward to our return and were not disappointed. We walked from our campsite for three miles along the beautiful and interesting Shropshire Union Canal Main Line to the centre of town.

There our guide, Lyn, told us that the city was established as a fort with walls by the Romans in AD79 and occupied by them until about AD400. Somewhat later the Saxons strengthened the fort against raiding Danes. Following the Norman Conquest in 1066, Chester became a centre of the defence against Welsh raiders and a launch point for raids on Ireland. The first Chester Cathedral was begun in 1075 and a Benedictine monastery was dedicated in 1092. For many years Chester was the second busiest port (after Bristol) on the west coast, but over time the harbour silted up and in the early 1800s could not accommodate the larger ships then being built. In the Georgian era, Chester became again a centre of affluence, a town with elegant terraces where the landed aristocracy lived. This trend continued into the Industrial Revolution, when the city was populated with the upper classes fleeing to a safe distance from the industrial sprawls of Manchester and Liverpool. We circled the cathedral which is a mix of additions and replacements over a thousand years. We walked on the city wall and wandered along streets that were laid out by the Romans. On several streets there are walkways at first floor level, called Rows, with additional shops, which, 200 years ago, permitted shoppers in fancy clothes to avoid the sewage and horse manure at street level. These days it is a delight to walk at both levels.

Late afternoon we received a call from the courier trying to deliver our windscreen wiper to us in Brecon!

Day 6 – Snowdonia – 160 miles

We had a slow start and then headed west to the Bodnant Welsh Food Centre near Conwy Town, where we bought ingredients for our lunch which we had in our motorhome (the COVID rules prevent us eating indoors until coming Monday and the rain stopped us from sitting outside). We headed up the valley of the River Conwy into Snowdonia National Park. We followed a small road to Nebo and then climbed over the mountains, on a beautiful road, to Ffestiniog. I love small roads on big mountains with grand views. This route had them all. We continued south to Dolgellau and then reluctantly took the fast road back to Chester.

Day 7 – Bollington – 105 miles

We drove to Bollington to meet up with my cousin, Denise, who was widowed last year. She took us on a tour of her beautiful house which had been a project of love for her and her husband, Terry, for nearly a decade. We had lunch alongside the Macclesfield Canal and later walked along it for a while. It was a joy to spend quality time with her.

We got back to the campsite to find that a windscreen wiper had been delivered. Unfortunately, it was for the passenger side, rather than the driver side, which is four inches longer.

Day 8 – To Leeds – 100 miles

We popped into to see our daughter, Juls, in the flat she has recently moved to in Didsbury, Manchester. She has set herself up beautifully in her flat. She likes being in Manchester because it is so close to many hiking routes. After we left her, we had lunch on the patio at Albert, Didsbury which was a delight. We then crossed the northern part of the Peak District on the highest motorway in the UK, to a campsite eight miles north of Leeds, called Moor Lodge Holiday Park.

There I met Rod Brown, the delightful seventy-year-old owner of the Caravan Park. He explained that in 1986 he was working for his father who owned a chain of cake shops (and a chain of florists, but that is a different story). Rod’s future father-in-law owned the Moor Lodge Holiday Park and wanted to sell it. He persuaded Rod to buy the park for £250,000 plus £60,000 for an adjacent house. Rod’s bank manager advised that he should not give up his day job as the outlook for the caravan park did not warrant the expense. Rod’s wife-to-be was hugely disappointed at the purchase because she had grown up on the park and expected to escape to Rod’s pleasant house in the village. They married but fifteen years later she left him for more attractive pastures. Rod’s father-in-law had insisted that the house be part of the deal because he had been trying to sell it, without success. There was a view that buyers were disappointed in the small size of the garden. Within months the farm manager of the adjacent farm died, forcing the owner to sell it. Rod tried to buy eleven acres of the farm directly, but the owner insisted that it go to auction as separate lot. Rod’s bank manager advised that the going price for agricultural land was £2,000 per acres so he should be able to purchase the eleven acres for £22,000. In the event Rod found himself in competition with the next-door golf club. Their agreed limit was £65,000 so Rod was horrified to be successful in buying the land for £66,000. Fortunately, his bank manager provided the necessary loan. Rod was then in a hurry to sell the house. He fixed it up, added five acres from his recent purchase and put it on the market. A woman offered to buy it for £140,000 but needed to sell her own house. Rod agreed to the deal on the understanding that if another buyer materialised who could proceed on the purchase, he was free to do so. The SOLD board went up. A week later a man arrived as the office opened, determined to buy the house, eventually offering £250,000 which he paid that day. Rod and his bank manager were delighted as bank loans could be paid off, with money left to develop the park. A year later he agreed with his father to leave the cake business and go full time on the park.

The buyer of the house sold the house, after the property crash of 1988, for £150,000. It has been sold several times since, recently exchanging hands for £1.1 million. If I recall correctly, we bought a house in Belsize Park, London in 1986 for £286,000, spent £60,000 on renovations, sold it for £400,000 in 1994 and today it is worth £4.5 million!

Rod has retired and the park is now run by his son. It has sixty fixed caravans which vary from basic models at £30,000 to mini homes for £180,000. The owners are principally from Leeds who like a nearby getaway, but some owners live abroad. Rod told me that research has shown that owners of fixed caravans use them most when living within ninety minutes of their location. Owners are obliged to sell, replace and buy through the park, with sellers paying a 15% commission. The five or six sales per year are an important source of income plus the site rental income. They spent £500,000 on a wood pellet fired electricity generating plant, received a government rebate of £150,000, save £18,000 pa of electricity costs and receive a similar amount for electricity fed back into the grid. Rod took me for a tour of the log yard, the shredding and drying plant and the generator.

He diverted from our chat to help his daughter-in-law, who runs a party business, load fifty balloons and other decorations into a van, intended for the first birthday of a first born of a client. It was acknowledged that the child would be indifferent to the decorations, but the parents would be happy.

As an aside he mentioned that in the eighties a South African who visited one of his father’s florists told him that the chinkerinchee bulbs for sale came from his farm in South Africa. The South African invited Rod’s father to visit South Africa. Rod’s father published a message on the UK Interflora system asking if others would like to visit South Africa. He was overwhelmed when sixty people signed up. He solved the organisational burden by offering the opportunity to the holiday company, Kuoni, who organised the trip for the sixty people and gave Rod’s parents a free trip.

Rod said that his divorce was so expensive that he is determined not to marry again. He had an eight-year relationship with a woman and helped raise her sons, but when he was sixty and still refused to marry her, she left him. He now has, what he considers to be the perfect relationship, with a sixty-year-old woman who lives with her aged mother but spends four nights a week with him, leaving him time to socialise with his friends. He is such a likeable person that it is no surprise that he has lots of friends. I loved Rod’s enthusiasm, entrepreneurial approach and happiness with his stage of life.

Days 9 and 10 – To York – 124 miles

We needed to buy meat for a planned BBQ at the home of our friend, Ronelle Smith, in York. We followed Rod’s recommendation to the family butcher, R.P. Setchfield, in the village of East Keswick where we stocked up with Barnsley chops, Cumberland sausages, pork pies and two goose eggs. COVID restrictions still only permitted eating outside restaurants, so we followed Rod’s next suggestion and had a tasty lunch in a tepee at Wood Hall Hotel in Linton.

We parked our motorhome on the lane behind Ronelle’s house (and later received a parking penalty for parking on very faint double yellow lines). The next two days were spent relaxing, chatting, laughing over old photographs and advising (whether he wanted it is not clear) her son, Tom on matters of life. We ate plenty including a BBQ, scrambled goose eggs for breakfast and a lovely meal in a tepee, on a very wet Saturday afternoon, at the Tickled Trout in Bilton in Ainsty.

Day 11 – To Richmond, Yorkshire – 50 miles

The day started with blue skies but as we left Ronelle at 12h30 the heavens opened, and it rained all the way to Richmond. We took the route through Ripon, Masham, Leyburn, Catterick along the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. This was a pretty route despite the rain. We checked into the Brompton on Swale Caravan Park and camped on the banks of the River Swale.

Day 12 – Richmond to Lake Windermere in the Lake District – 76 miles

The town of Richemont, in Normandy was the origin of the place name Richmond. It is the most duplicated UK place name, with at least 56 occurrences worldwide. (There are 30 Richmonds in the USA, 7 in Canada, 6 in Australia, two in each of Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa and the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames). Richmond was founded in 1071 (currently celebrating their 950th anniversary) by Breton Alan Rufus on lands granted to him by William the Conqueror and the Norman style Richmond Castle was completed in 1086. The earldom of Richmond was intermittently held by the Dukes of Brittany until the 14th century and became crown lands from 1485. The prosperity of the medieval town and centre of the Swale Dale wool industry greatly increased in the late 17th and 18th centuries with the burgeoning lead mining industry in nearby Arkengarthdale. It is from this period that the town’s Georgian architecture originates. A permanent military presence was established in the town with the completion of Richmond Barracks in 1877. As a gateway town to the Yorkshire Dales, tourism is important to the local economy, but the single largest influence is the nearby Catterick Garrison army base, which is rapidly becoming the largest population centre in Richmondshire.

The castle was a centre of power and defence against the Scots, in the days when the border with Scotland was closer. It was also a grand home for many centuries. It fell into ruin but was partly brought back to use by the UK military late in the 19th century until after the First World War. Today it is a shadow of its former self but still sits high above the town.

In the afternoon we crossed the Yorkshire Dales National Park with the road between Bainbridge and Ingleton presenting the most amazing views.

Since we left London, we have had intermittent rain every day, with heavy showers for an hour and beautiful blue skies an hour later. When we were at the castle this morning it was sunny. It rained heavily on parts of our drive and the early evening was once again lovely blue skies. We camped near Lake Windermere at the Park Cliffe Caravan Site.

Day 13 – To Keswick – 60 miles

We took the long road to Keswick via Newby Bridge, Torver, Coniston, Ambleside and Grasmere. There were small lanes, trees, lakes, sheep and endless beauty as well as a view of Scafell Pike, the tallest mountain in England. The villages were full of character and hikers.

We met up with our daughter, Juls, and had a late lunch at Brysons in Keswick. Juls is walking the Cumbria Way and had just finished her second of five days. The Cumbria Way is a 70-mile-long hiking trail with the majority of the route inside the boundaries of the Lake District National Park. Linking the two historic Cumbrian towns of Carlisle and Ulverston, it passes Caldbeck, Skiddaw Forest, Derwent Water, Borrowdale, Langdale and Coniston Water. Juls had just completed the 14-mile section from Caldbeck to Keswick and said that walking it alone she had felt it to be very remote.

After lunch we visited Castlerigg Stone Circle, a Neolithic stone circle thought to have been constructed about 3000 BC. Castlerigg is about 30 metres in diameter, and comprises 38 stones, which vary in height between 1 metre and 2.3 metres. It is a dramatic setting overlooking the Thirlmere Valley with the mountains of High Seat and Helvellyn as a backdrop.

We made our way to St John’s in the Vale Church, located in a low pass between High Rigg on the southern side and Low Rigg to the north. The present building dates from 1845, with the earliest reference to a church at the site being 1554. Juls left us here to hike to the barn where she was spending the night.

We checked into Castlerigg Hall Farm Campsite and, on a beautiful sunny evening, had a magnificent view of Derwentwater as we ate our lamb chump chops and Toulouse sausages off our BBQ.

Day 14 – To Glasgow – 138 miles

We had an easy run up to Glasgow but stopped off at Gretna Green, which is the first village in Scotland, over the border from England. The 1754 Marriage Act prevented couples under the age of 21 marrying in England or Wales without their parents’ consent. As it was still legal in Scotland to marry without such consent, couples began crossing the border into Scotland, and marrying at Gretna Green.

Scottish law allowed for “irregular marriages”, meaning that if a declaration was made before two witnesses, almost anybody had the authority to conduct the marriage ceremony. The blacksmiths in Gretna became known as “anvil priests”, culminating with Richard Rennison, who performed 5,147 ceremonies. The local blacksmith and his anvil became lasting symbols of Gretna Green weddings.

Gretna’s two blacksmiths’ shops and countless inns hosted tens of thousands of weddings.

Today there are several wedding venues in and around Gretna Green, from former churches to purpose-built chapels. We stopped off at the Famous Blacksmiths Shop which is now not only a wedding venue but a shopping complex and a restaurant with a large car and coach park. We talked to one of the wedding organisers who told us that they are doing a wedding every half hour for nine hours a day and are fully booked until September.

We checked into the Glasgow Marriott for three nights. We were expecting a smart hotel and were disappointed to find a rundown hotel made more dispiriting by the fact that current COVID rules permit indoor eating in restaurants, but no alcohol may be served, and the last food serving must be before 20h00.

Day 15 – Glasgow

We walked the length of Argyle Road in the rain, dropped off laundry at Majestic Laundrette and then visited the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. We learnt about Glasgow Style in the museum which is more fully described on the website  as follows: ‘The design style known as the Glasgow Style ran from the early 1890s to around 1914. While largely local to the city of Glasgow, it had an extensive and far-reaching impact in its time and today continues to enjoy world-wide interest and appeal. 

The Glasgow Style was not a formal movement as such. Its designers did not have a shared ideology.  Their common ground was Glasgow and the Glasgow School of Art, with little known or documented on their beliefs or motivations. Influences and design characteristics were largely shared with other prominent design styles of the time – the Aesthetic and the Arts and Crafts Movements and European Art Nouveau. Mediums most common to the Glasgow Style are metal, wood, ceramics, glass, stained glass, illustration, textiles, and interiors. There were over 70 other designers operating in the Style.’ Most of the designers were female.

The website says further ‘Charles Rennie Mackintosh is the designer most associated with the Glasgow Style. Born in Glasgow, the son of a police superintendent, he studied part-time at the Glasgow School of Art from 1883 until 1894. As an apprentice architect, he befriended Herbert McNair with whom he worked and studied and fell under the radar of Fra’ Newberry who introduced the two friends to the Macdonald sisters, recognising similarities in their work.

Mackintosh completed numerous commissions in the city, including interior schemes for Miss Cranston’s Tea Rooms and designed the Glasgow School of Art in Renfrew Street, a controversial building at the time.  He married Margaret Macdonald and in 1914, they left Glasgow, from then on living in various places in England and in France. As tastes and styles changed, Mackintosh was unable or unwilling to adapt. He struggled to earn a living and gained few commissions, eventually electing only to paint. He died in 1928 in London aged 60, his funeral attended by six people. Margaret passed away five years later. In a period of ten years from the peak of his success, he had disappeared into relative obscurity, where he was to remain until around the 1970s.’

Mackintosh’s designs gained in popularity in the last fifty years. His House for an Art Lover was built in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park in 1996, and the University of Glasgow (which owns most of his watercolour work) rebuilt the interior of a terraced house Mackintosh had designed and furnished it with his and Margaret’s work (it is part of the university’s Hunterian Museum). The Glasgow School of Art building (now “The Mackintosh Building”) is cited by architectural critics as among the finest buildings in the UK. It suffered fires in 2014 and 2018 with the latter resulting in the complete destruction of the building. The Glasgow School of Art has committed to rebuild the building in the identical style. The revival of public interest has led to the refurbishment and opening of more buildings to the public, such as the Willow Tea Rooms in Glasgow and 78 Derngate in Northampton. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City held a major retrospective exhibition of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s works in 1996.

We had an early dinner reservation at 17h45 (to beat the curfew) at Ubiquitous Chip. The restaurant has been a landmark in Glasgow since 1971 and is in a building that used to be stables. We sat next to a fishpond and ate wonderful Scottish sourced food.

Day 16 – Glasgow

We did a ninety-minute walk in Central Glasgow with our guide, Katarina, telling us about the city. We started in George Square, walked along George Street and High Street to the Cathedral and the gates of the Necropolis and then returned down High Street and Ingram Street to the junction of Queen Street. We saw interesting old buildings, lots of street art and heard about history, folklore and the experiences of Katarina growing up in Glasgow. Glasgow City Council has adopted St Mungo and images of his four miracles related to a tree, bird, bell and fish as emblems which are on the City Crest and on other council buildings including bus stops.

At 17h15 we had another early dinner, this time at Bo & Birdy at The Blythswood. I was delighted with my Keralan Prawn Curry.

Day 17 – To Lochgilphead – 112 miles

We tried to get into King George V Dock to take a photo of the three ships of the Azamara Fleet which have been docked there for the last fourteen months during the COVID pandemic. They are our favourite cruise line. We have done four cruises with them, had two cancelled because of COVID and have two more booked. We were refused entry to the docks so had to live with a glimpse through the trees. This photo was provided by one of the crew.

We like the Azamara ships because their passenger numbers are a maximum of 700 on each ship. They normally each carry a crew of 400. The three ships of the line have been in the King George V Dock since the beginning of the COVID crisis in March 2020. There are currently 193 staff on one ship in the dock providing a minimum support to all three ships. They are working their normal contracts of three or six months but must stay on the ship all the time and may not leave the dock. Replacement crew members quarantine in cabins for two weeks. Crew numbers are being increased over the next month to allow all three ships to go to dry dock in Cadiz for hull repaints before commencing cruising in September. We are looking forward to cruising on Azamara Quest in January from Miami, through the Panama Canal to Lima.

We headed west past Greenock and caught the twenty-minute ferry from Gourock to Dunoon. A few miles north we turned on to the B836 which was a lovely road to Craigendive. We turned off the A886 near Ballochandrain on an unnumbered, single car width tar road over the mountain to Otter Ferry. What an absolute delight of a road! Very wild with magnificent views. We then followed the coastal road all the way up, round and down the other side of Loch Fyne.

We walked around the delightful village of Inveraray and were enticed, by the BBQ aroma, to have an early dinner in the pub garden of the George Hotel.

The weather was the driest and bluest that we had seen for weeks and after dinner we continued south and found a pitch at the Lochgilphead Caravan Park. Today’s driving was a delight with lovely weather and huge views.

Day 18 – To Creagan Station – 56 miles

During the night the wind howled, and rain poured. We woke to a forecast of rain all day. May is traditionally a drier month than April but this year April was relatively balmy and dry, and May has had record rains and lower than normal temperatures. We are cosy in our motorhome as we have a good amount of space for two people and have heating when stationary. Driving through lovely scenery is also relatively comfortable but exploring towns and villages on foot when it is raining is unattractive. The drive up the coast to Oban was delightful. However, we did not do justice to the delights of Oban. We arrived just before midday in the rain and took shelter in the EE-USK (Gaelic for fish) Restaurant on the pier. One member of our party had three Kir Royale Champagne Cocktails and modest food. The driver had Lobster Thermidor which was fully appreciated. We watched the harbour traffic which were mainly ferries and realised why Oban is known as the gateway to the isles. A Google search reveals that ferries run from Oban to nine destinations including Castlebay, Coll, Colonsay, Craignure, Kennacraig, Lismore, Lochboisdale, Port Askaig and Tiree.

The rain had not diminished after lunch, so we skipped a city tour, drove just a few miles north, checked into the Creagan Station Caravan Park and allowed the drinker of three champagne cocktails to have an afternoon nap. We were camped on the shore of Loch Creran but did not fully appreciate the beauty of our location.

Day 19 – To Mallaig – 95 miles

We woke to steady rain and the forecast showed rain all day. We had a slow start and then drove up to Ballachulish. Tibby’s maternal ancestors moved from Ballachulish, probably in the mid eighteenth century to the Edinburgh/Glasgow area. This link has resulted in a strong Scottish theme in the family. Tibby’s grandfather was a pipe major in the Transvaal Highlanders and as a teenager I became used to him playing the pipes at all birthdays and on New Year’s Eve. This created a love of bagpipe music which has caused us to attend many Edinburgh Tattoos. Tibby’s great grandfather had the surname of Martin which made him part of the Cameron Clan.

Slate from the quarries in the Ballachulish area was used to provide the roofing slate for much of Edinburgh and Glasgow’s skyline. In 1955 the quarries closed. We hoped to do more research on the ground, but both the museum and the Scottish National Trust information centre were closed.

We passed through Fort William in the rain and passed the Caledonian Canal. In about 1996 we hired a river boat and sailed from Inverness to Fort William on the Caledonian Canal with our children.

We stopped at the Glenfinnan Viaduct which is a railway viaduct on the West Highland Line located at the top of Loch Shiel. It appeared in four of the Harry Potter films which causes huge numbers of visitors today. The real achievement is to see a steam train pass over the viaduct. During the summer there are two Jacobite steam trains on that route each day. One passed over the viaduct while we were there. Everyone else was fully informed and in position. I had to photograph the train from a less advantageous position.

Long before Harry Potter there has been a memorial to Bonnie Prince Charlie. In 1745, eight months before the Battle of Culloden, 1,200 Highlanders gathered in Glenfinnan to pledge their allegiance to Prince Charles Edward Stuart. After raising the royal standard and sharing a brandy, they set off on a campaign to regain the British throne for a Stuart king. Their campaign failed. The monument commemorates that event.

We followed the spectacular road to Mallaig.

In Mallaig we tried to get a ferry to Skye. The normal ferry is being repaired so a smaller ferry is plying the route. The ferry company is not taking bookings until the normal ferry is back. We could not get on the 18h10 ferry to Skye but were told that that we should be able to get on to the 07h40 ferry in the morning. We found three caravan parks that were full and settled on a farmer’s field for the night.

Day 20 – To Glenbrittle on Skye – 88 miles

We were up early to ensure that we got a place on the 07h40 ferry to Armadale on Skye. The crossing took forty minutes and we saw nothing because we were confined to our vehicles.

There then started a magical experience. Skye is an absolute delight. We took the road from Broadford to Elgol around Loch Slapin. It is a single-track tarmac road with frequent passing places. Each twist in the road opened a new vista of mountains, rivers, lochs and other islands. There was light rain initially with later patches of blue sky. One travelled slowly, partly to be safe, partly to appreciate the surroundings and partly because one had to stop in a passing place every two minutes to allow oncoming traffic to pass. The mountains are quite magnificent. In the words of The Rough Guide to Scotland ‘As the Inuit have dozens of words for snow, so a hill is rarely just a hill in Scotland. Depending on where you are, what it is shaped like and how high it is, a hill might be a ben, a mount, a law, a pen, a brae or even a pap (and that is without talking about the Gaelic beinn, cnoc, creag, meal, sgurr or stob). Even more confusing are ‘Munros’. These are Scottish hills over 3,000 feet high, defined by a list first drawn up by one Sir Hugh Munro in 1891. You ‘bag’ a Munro walking to the top of it, and once you have bagged all 284 you can call yourself a Munroist. If you meet Sir Hugh’s challenge, you can then start on the ‘Corbetts’ (hills 2,500ft – 2,999ft) and ‘Donalds’ (hills 2,000ft – 2,499ft).’ There are 12 Munros on Skye all of which are in the Cuillin Range, and which are acknowledged as the hardest Munros to climb. Even the smaller mountains are still impressive. The main road down the spine of Skye through Broadford and Portree is a normal two-lane road but when we turned off to Carbost it became a single track again. At Carbost I had a disappointing visit to Talisker Distillery. All tours were fully booked and the only way to have a tasting was to go on a tour. Their single malts were priced at £42, and I had earlier seen them in a Co-op supermarket for £26. I wanted a positive experience and left deflated. My mood picked up as we took the road to Glenbrittle and once again were surrounded by beautiful mountains and lochs.

The campsite at Glenbrittle is huge with 120 pitches and positioned between the Munros of Sgurr nan Eag and Sgurr Alasdair in the Cuillin Mountains and the sea. There were over 100 occupied pitches on the site with a combination of tents, small vans, caravans and motorhomes. We have been struck by how very many motorhomes are on the roads in Skye. We were not able to get an electrical supply but felt that would be fine because the second battery would provide power for lights, the fridge and the water pump and the gas bottle would provide gas for cooking and heating. We quickly discovered how reliant we are for power to charge phones, iPads, Apple Watch and earphones.

Day 21 – To Kyle of Lochalsh – 120 miles

We picked up freshly baked bread and croissants from the campsite shop and then did a tour of the north of the island passing through Dunvegan and then on to the Trotternish Peninsula, passing through Flasader, Uig, Staffin and Portree. Skye has curious names for areas which include Trotternish, Waternish, Duirinish, Uiginish and Minginish. The drive presented yet more beautiful mountains, lochs and fields as well as the spectacular rock formations on the cliffs of Quiraing. There are lots of hiking opportunities and we saw many cars parked at the base of mountains as people did day hikes. We visited the pretty harbour of Portree and further down the road saw the ferry returning from the nearby Isle of Raasay. Skye is one of the one hundred islands making up the Hebrides Archipelago off the west coast of Scotland of which 36 are inhabited. The inhabited islands (albeit with low numbers) near Skye include Raasay, Canna, Rum, Eigg, Muck, Soay and Scalpay. We bought single malt Talisker from the Co-op for £26.

We crossed the 700 metre Skye Bridge which has connected the island to the mainland since 1995.

During the day we called all campsites on Skye and nearby on the mainland and found that they were all fully booked, some well into June. With a long weekend ahead, we booked the next five nights at hotels with the first night at the Kyle Hotel in Kyle of Lochalsh which is on the mainland immediately after the Skye Bridge.

Day 22 – To Ullapool – 143 miles

We woke to a blue sky and had the best weather during the day that we have had so far on the trip. We headed north on a beautiful road and turned off the A896 at Tornapress to drive the eleven miles over the Applecross Pass to the village of Applecross.  There are very explicit warnings not to travel this route with a motorhome. Tibby was not impressed that I ignored the warnings. I had been driven over the pass eighteen months before when Juls and I had been hiking with a group in the area. I was right to prevail. This must be one of the most spectacular roads in the UK. It was originally a droveway, a track used to move livestock from one place to another. Its Gaelic name is Bealach na Bà, (pronounced byee-alluch nuh bah), which means “pass of the cattle”. It was the only access in and out of Applecross until 1975. It has the steepest ascent of any road in the United Kingdom, starting from sea level and rising to 2,054 feet (626 meters). It is a single-track road with passing places. There are a few hairpin bends, but they could accommodate our 8-metre-long motorhome. The challenge would have been if a motorhome came from the other direction in a place where it would have been difficult to reverse to a passing place. About six motorhomes came from the other direction but fortunately we met in places where we could pass each other.

This road is on the North Coast 500 which is a 516-mile scenic route around the north coast of Scotland, starting and ending at Inverness Castle. The route is also known as the NC500 and was launched in 2015, linking many features in the north Highlands of Scotland in one touring route. The marketing of this route has brought a lot of tourists to this part of Scotland, including to this pass, which was busy with cars, motorbikes and motorhomes.

From Applecross there is a spectacular coastal scenery on the 25-mile road to Shieldaig and then spectacular mountain scenery on the route along and past Loch Torridon.

We arrived in Ullapool to find a lot of people quaffing drinks on the sea wall in the glorious sunshine. We booked into the Ferry Boat Inn for two nights. It was a delight to later join the drinkers and then wander around this lovely town. Ullapool has a latitude of 57⁰N and three weeks before the longest day of the year, sunset was at 22h03 and sunrise was at 04h30. We saw the ferry depart on its’ 2h30 crossing to Stornaway on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides and agreed that on a future trip we should go there.

Day 23 – North of Ullapool – 102 miles

We did a day trip from Ullapool hugging the coast through Achiltibuie, Lochinver, Drumbeg and Kylesku. Almost all the coastal route was on a single-track road, close to the sea, around headlands, over mountains with new amazing views opening up every few minutes. This route was an absolute delight especially on a beautiful blue day like today.

Day 24 – To Aberlour, Speyside – 124 miles

We took the A835 to Inverness and went directly to the battlefield site at Culloden Moor.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart had landed in Scotland in July 1845 at Glenfinnan to recover control of Scotland for his father, James Francis Edward Stuart. Charles and his army of Jacobites had quick successes as he gained control of Edinburgh and Carlisle. The Government (principally but not entirely English) army was focused on the war with France and recalled 12,000 troops from France to deal with the Jacobite uprising. The armies met at Culloden Moor on 16 April 1746. The Jacobites had tried to surprise the Government Army by moving overnight but the going was difficult, and they were well short of the Government Army at daybreak. Charles’ advisors tried to persuade him to withdraw to a better battlefield where they would have the advantage but, with a string of success under his belt, Charles elected to meet the opponents at Culloden. His troops were exhausted by the overnight hike. The Government troops were the best fighting force that Charles had encountered and were very disciplined in their attack. The battle was over in under an hour with 1,500 killed and wounded on the Jacobite side and 300 on the Government side. The commander of the Government Army, the Duke of Cumberland, was determined to rout the Jacobites so there followed a ruthless pursuit of Jacobites with many Highlanders killed in subsequent weeks, even if they had not been at Culloden. Charles’s flight is commemorated in “The Skye Boat Song”. He hid in the moors of Scotland, always barely ahead of the government forces and left the country aboard the French frigate L’Heureux, arriving in France in September. The museum and battlefield are very well organised, and the story of the battle is well illustrated. Both Tibby’s paternal and maternal ancestors were either at, or represented at, Culloden but on opposing sides. About 50% of Scots still yearn to escape the United Kingdom and their dreams for an independent Scotland may still come true.

On the Culloden Battlefield I met a woman from Bath, England. She told me that though she had Scottish ancestry this was her first visit to this museum. She told me further that this trip to Scotland was a pilgrimage to Loch Torridon (which we had passed two day’s previously). Her son had died two years before and Loch Torridon was his favourite place in the world. This lady had not been to Loch Torridon and was going to stay there with family and friends. I hope that she found peace.

We then travelled to Aberlour on the River Spey and checked into The Dowans Hotel for three nights.

Day 25 – Balmoral – 100 miles

On another sunny day we took the A939 and the B9008 up to an elevation of 2,090ft past the Lecht Ski Centre over bare, rounded mountains of the Cairngorm Range, with spectacular views.

The road dropped down to the Dee River and brought us to Balmoral Castle. The 50,000-acre estate is open to the public between April and July, before the Royal Family arrive in August. The leasehold of the property was bought by the Royal Family in 1848 and the freehold was acquired four years later. Having paid an entrance fee, the public has free access to the grounds including some walks to a high elevation. An audio guide led us on a route past the deer larder, vegetable gardens, conservatory, the garden cottage and the sunken garden which also allowed us to see the castle from all angles. Although it is described as a castle, it is really a large house with decorative turrets. We then visited the ballroom, the largest room in the house which has a display of items from elsewhere in the house. The audio guide also invites one to listen to pieces explaining other aspects of the property including the original purchase, extension, maintenance, gardens and deer maintenance. On the latter subject it was explained that the carrying capacity of the estate is 2,000 deer and that hunting of deer happens to keep the numbers below that figure.  This is an estate which is maintained to a high standard with an outlook that extends to future generations. I saw some of the largest trees that I have seen in the UK with some of them planted more than a hundred years ago. This is a special property which was a joy to visit. I understand why the Royal Family is so happy to spend several months each year on the estate. I note from the website that it is possible to rent holiday cottages on the estate which must be very pleasant.

We took the longer route back via Glenkindle, Elrick and Dufftown which took us on small roads through fertile farmlands back to The Dowans Hotel.

After dinner we had a whisky tasting. We were in the middle of the whisky area called Speyside which extends on both sides of the last fifty miles of the Spey River before it joins the sea at the Moray Firth. About 50 percent of Scotland’s whisky is made here in the approximately 50 distilleries located in this region. The distilleries use the water that runs continually from the mountains in streams and springs that feed the Spey. Our hotel has a whisky room (as do most good hotels in the area) which displays 600 bottles of whisky. We asked to taste Speyside whiskies that we did not know and thus tasted the six set out below, which we tasted in the order set out. I have recorded after each, the distance from our hotel to the distillery and the cost (per 70cl bottle) at the online site, MasterOfMalt:

Aultmore 12-year-old (16 miles) (£46)

Craigellachie 17-year-old (3 miles) (£95)

Glen Allachie 15-year-old (1 mile) (£57)

Glenfarclas 15-year-old (5 miles) (£49)

Aberlour A’Bunadh 68th batch (1 mile) (£80)

Ben Riach 21-year-old (12 miles) (£107)

They all had 46% alcohol content except Aberlour A’Bunadh which is at 61.5%.

We like our single malt whisky but are not experts and have difficulty discerning buttery tastes from vanilla, honey, citrus and other tastes. We liked Aultmore, were less keen on Craigellachie, and then increasingly liked each one thereafter with the best being Ben Riach. If we tasted them in inverse order would our preferences have been the same or did, we enjoy them the more we had?

We slept well.

Day 26 – Speyside – 64 miles

We did admin in the hotel in the morning and after lunch I went exploring Speyside. I decided that a good way to get a feel for the area would be to visit some of the distilleries of the whiskies we had tasted last night. It did not take me long to stop off at Glen Allachie, Aberlour and Craigellachie as they are all close to the Dowans Hotel in Aberlour. As I had expected all the distilleries were closed to visitors. Many never open on Mondays. The others were closed either because they had not yet reopened after the latest COVID lockdown or because it was a bank holiday. I stopped off at the Speyside Cooperage, but they are only opening to visitors, after COVID, on 28th June 2021. Whisky distilleries use barrels that have previously contained bourbon, sherry or port. The Speyside Cooperage repairs 150,000 barrels used by the distilleries each year. Their website has interesting footage and can be found at .

I drove up to Benriach Distillery and then on to Elgin. The scenery was pleasant rolling hills with fertile farming land, getting flatter closer to the sea. I went to Garmouth, in search of the mouth of the Spey River, but was told that a better view was available at Spey Bay on the other side of the river, so I went there.

At Spey Bay the wide river compressed to a small mouth at the sea. I was distracted by a couple who were waiting for an Osprey to return to the mouth of the river, having been there a few minutes earlier. With binoculars we could see the bird out at sea, but it seemed to be in no hurry to come closer to land, so I left them and continued my explorations.

I found Aultmore Distillery in the village of the same name, near Keith, and then took a gentle drive back to the hotel. I did not get to Glenfarclas Distillery so the photo below is from their website.

We had a disappointing dinner at the Copper Dog at Craigellachie Hotel.

Day 27 – To St Andrews – 140 miles

There was a report in the newspaper that this May was the wettest May in Wales since records began 160 years ago. When we were there, we knew it was bad!

We drove to Aberdeen, found a carwash for the motorhome and shopped for provisions. We parked on a street close to the centre and my mood darkened as it took me fifteen minutes to download and register for the required parking app. We then found Debenhams, John Lewis, BHS and lots of smaller shops shut down. After a slightly miserable lunch we fled Aberdeen, not having explored it properly. An easy ride on good roads brought us to St Andrews where we checked into Cairnsmill Caravan Park. It was a pleasant evening, so dinner was cooked on the BBQ.

Day 28 – To Tranent – 92 miles

Our guide to St Andrews, Ella, a student at the university, started her tour at the Martyr’s’ Monument, which remembers four aspiring protestants who were burnt at the stake during the Scottish Reformation in the sixteenth century. Golf has been played in St Andrews for 600 years. St Andrews Links has seven public courses with the oldest, The Old Course, teeing off near the Martyr’s’ Monument. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club House is located here as well. We also learnt about the university which was established 700 years ago. There are 18 academic schools organised into four faculties. The university occupies historic and modern buildings located throughout the town. In term time, over one-third of the town’s population are either staff members or students at the university. Over 145 nationalities are represented with 45% of its intake from countries outside the UK. We wandered through courtyards of university buildings. Ella told us about the 950 year checkered history of the castle, which has been in ruins since 1656. We also explored the spectacular ruins of the cathedral. It was the largest church to have been built in Scotland, was in use for four hundred years but fell into disuse and ruin after Catholic mass was outlawed during the 16th-century Scottish Reformation. This is an ancient city, with huge ruins near the centre but is thriving with the university, golf and tourism. It is a delightful place to spend time.

After lunch we drove along the coast to Crail which is a quaint seaside village.

We then crossed the Queensferry Crossing Bridge over the Firth of Forth, avoided Edinburgh on the bypass road and checked into the Drummohr Camping & Glamping Site in Musselburgh, about ten miles east of Edinburgh.

Day 29 – To Ballantrae, west coast, south of Glasgow – 160 miles

We made our way to the nearby village of Tranent to see the statue, in the town square, of Jackie Crookston. In Tranent, in August 1797, she led the opposition to conscription of local young men into the British Army. On 29 August 1797 the militia who had been sent to collect the conscripts, turned their guns on the protestors and killed eleven, including Crookston, then aged 31.

Her daughter, Alison Ross, who was five when her mother died, is an ancestor of Tibby, with four further generations separating them. As an adult Alison married William Martin. Martin is the maiden surname of Tibby’s mother.

We made our way to the nearby village of Gladsmuir, where Alison was born, and searched the church graveyard for the surnames of Crookston, Ross and Martin and found a headstone of Ann Boyd, who died in 1871 and was the wife of Samuel Martin. We have no way of knowing if William Martin and Samuel Martin were related, although Gladsmuir is such a small community that it must be likely.

Our journey continued to the town of Dalry, 25 miles southwest of Glasgow, where Alison died in 1863, where our search of the church graveyard failed to find her grave.

We think, but are not certain, that the family were miners for many generations. Alison’s parish death record identifies her father, husband of Jackie Crookston, as having been a miner. Ballachulish, Tranent, Gladsmuir and Dalry were all centres of mining. Tibby’s great grandfather, Gavin Martin, was born in 1869 in Glasgow. The Witwatersrand Gold Rush began in 1886 when gold was discovered and the high number of foreigners in the area was a major factor in the start of the Second Boer War in 1899. It is quite conceivable that Gavin went to Johannesburg to participate in the gold rush. Tibby’s grandfather, Robin, was a metallurgical chemist on mines for most of his working life.

We continued south, along the coast to Ballantrae and checked into Glenapp Castle for a night of luxury.

Day 30 – To Glentrool, on the edge of the Galloway Forest – 70 miles

Before we left Glenapp Castle we learnt about Ailsa Craig, a 240-acre island, ten miles off the coast and visible from the hotel. The island was a haven for Catholics during the Scottish Reformation in the 16th century, but is today a bird sanctuary, providing a home for 73,000 gannets and puffins.

In the sport of Curling the 19kg item thrown across the ice is called a curling stone. Most curling stones in use in the world were made from Blue Hone granite from Ailsa Craig Island and it is one of only two sources for all stones in the sport, the other being the Trefor Granite Quarry in Wales. Kays of Scotland has been making curling stones since 1851 and has the exclusive rights to the Ailsa Craig granite. Harvesting of the granite may only take place in October and November when the birds are not breeding.

We followed the coastal road, past Stranraer, and on to Portpartick, which is a pretty seaside fishing village. We then drove between the greenest fields filled with healthy looking cows and sheep to Wigtown, which has the title of “Scotland’s National Book Town” with a high concentration of second-hand book shops and an annual book festival. We wandered between shops and had lunch in a bookstore. We were directed to McIntyre’s which has a signboard advertising ‘Butcher-Baker-Candlestick maker’. Our needs were met by the butcher who provided us with meat for the next few nights.

A mile from Wigtown is to be found the village of Bladnoch on the Bladnoch River. There we investigated the 204-year-old Bladnoch Distillery which is the furthest south of all Scottish distilleries. We tasted three whiskies which had been matured in different barrels. We liked the Bladnoch Samsara whisky the best, which had been matured in red wine and bourbon casks. A bottle was added to our whisky collection.

Sixteen miles north, on the edge of the Galloway Forest, we checked into the Glentrool Camping and Caravan Site.

We had heard about midges in Scottish summers but tonight was the first time we encountered them sufficiently to make us uncomfortable. Midges are just big enough to be seen by the naked eye. Female midges need an abdomen full of blood to lay their eggs and perpetuate the species. They lay eggs in the summer so that is when they plague humans. While midges get human blood when they can, most of the blood they feed on comes from cattle, sheep and deer, so they can often be found in largest number close to locations where such creatures can be found. Without the midge, Scotland would not be the same. Midges are one of the reasons for the relatively low population of the Scottish Highlands and help keep the wildernesses wild. They help to keep large areas freer of human interference than they may otherwise have been. The Forestry Authority have estimated that of the 65 working days each summer, as much as 20% can be lost due to midge attacks preventing workers from doing their jobs. They are, however, a food source for several important wild creatures, such as bats. Sheltered locations with high rainfall and high humidity tend to be where you will find the highest concentrations of biting midges. The camp manager told us that this night was the first serious invasion of midges this summer and that he had sold out his stock of midge spray. Some campers were prepared and were wearing face nets. I nipped in and out of our motorhome, overseeing our BBQ. However, every time I opened the door a few midges got in and bothered us inside.

Day 31 – Galloway Forest

The 300 square mile Galloway Forest Park is the largest forest in the UK. The Park has Dark Sky Park status because the lack of light pollution permits views of good night skies. We did the three-mile return walk from the campsite, via Glentrool village, to the Glentrool Visitor Centre. Walkers and cyclists were leaving and returning to the centre after long distance forays further into the forest. We were happy with a very fresh sandwich lunch next to the Water of Minnoch and an easy walk back along the forest park. Some hardworking person had decorated hundreds of stones with attractive small characters and sayings which were positioned on the path edges.

We were not bothered by midges on our walk, possibly because there was a breeze. They were back in the evening.

We have now stayed in a large cross section of caravan parks. They vary in size from as small as ten pitches to up to 140 pitches. Some prefer motorhomes and caravans with their own facilities while others are open to tents as well. They typically charge between £20 and £30 per night for two adults and a motorhome. Most include an electrical supply whereas others charge between £5 and £10 extra per night for electricity. Some provide WIFI, sometimes free. There is facility at all of them to discharge shower water and toilet contents and fill up with water. Dish washing facilities are normally included and some have washing machines and tumble dryers available for a fee. Travelling in times of COVID has resulted in different responses from caravan parks with most closing off every alternate wash basin but some using it as an excuse to completely close their ablution facilities and require campers to use the facilities in their motorhomes.

Day 32 – To Leeds – 221 miles

Tibby woke to find a hundred midges on the ceiling above her and on the pillow next to her. They had clearly got into the van when I had gone out to the BBQ in the evening. Both of us scratched all day.

The day was beautifully blue and mild so for the first time this trip I donned shorts and a polo shirt.

We did an easy five hour run via the A66 through the Pennine Mountain Range to Leeds, where we returned to Moor Lodge Holiday Park, where we had camped 24 nights before.

Day 33 – To Sandringham – 142 miles

We had planned to visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield, but it was raining so we skipped it. We then had an easy drive down to Sandringham where we checked into the Sandringham Estate Camping and Motorhome Park.

On arrival at the caravan park, we noticed a sign saying that the Flying Fryer would be on site at 18h30 serving fish, chips and related food. At 18h30 there was a queue of twenty, so I returned an hour later to find that I was the 31st and last person served. Mr Fryer told me that he sold at this park three nights a week and at the other nearby caravan park three nights a week. In non-COVID times he also sold at retirement homes, sporting and outside events. He said that his overheads were a lot lower than a shop and he liked the flexibility of a mobile shop. By my rough calculation he had turnover of about £500 for just over an hour’s frying which seemed to be a good income. He cautioned me that for every hour he fried he needed to spend 90 minutes cleaning the van. I can confirm that his fish and chips were very tasty.

We ate outside. While we have had several BBQs the only nights that have been warm enough and not raining, to permit eating outside, were the first night of the trip and this, the last night.

Day 34 – To home in London – 213 miles

We visited Sandringham House and Gardens. The Royal Family bought 8,000 acres in 1862 and later increased the estate to 20,000 acres. The estate today includes seven villages (containing 300 properties), the 600-acre Sandringham Royal Park (open all year to the public at no cost) and the 60-acre House and Gardens (open to the public, for a fee, from March to October). The house was principally intended for use by the then Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria only visited twice. The house was demolished, rebuilt and extended. Today the Royal Family stay for about two months from mid-December, celebrating Christmas here every year. The Queen stays on past the anniversary of the death of her father, King George VI, (and her accession to the crown) in the house, on 6 February 1952. This is a private home of the Queen, and no Royal events occur here. The estate also includes Anmer Hall, the country house of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge; Park House, the birthplace of Diana, Princess of Wales and Wood Farm, where the Duke of Edinburgh lived much of his time, following his retirement from official duties. An informative audio guide highlighted the important elements of the main rooms on the ground floor including the saloon, drawing room, dining room and ballroom. The decorations are essentially Edwardian with collections of gifts to the Royals from earlier years. There was no bling! The total accommodation is modest by Royal standards. The dining table can seat a maximum of twenty-two which is just about the size of close family. No photos are permitted inside and so, the photos of the interior below are from public records. The gardens are beautifully landscaped and maintained with lovely views around each corner.

We also visited St Mary Magdalene Church, which is just outside the gate of the Gardens. Although anyone can attend services at the church, it is very much a church of the Royal Family with many Royal memorials. The Royal Family attends the Christmas Day service each year. An obligatory photo in UK newspapers on the day after Christmas is of the Royal Family leaving the church after the Christmas Service. The church can seat about 150. I asked if anyone could attend the Christmas Day service and was told that the public must apply to attend, and only regular attendees will get a seat.

And so, our trip came to an end on Tuesday 8th June 2021. We drove via Peterborough to fill up with LPG, then dropped our unused cycles in my Guildford store and arrived home in Hampstead to find that we could not park near our home because broadband cable was being laid.


This was a wonderful trip. We saw many parts of Britain that he had not seen before or not in the same detail. We saw spectacular scenery, especially on the west coast of Scotland, had some interesting city tours and enjoyed the taste of whisky. We had a lot of rain which undoubtedly limited how much we walked, cycled or ate outdoors. The motorhome gave us lots of flexibility and was very comfortable. Tibby and I travelled well together.


Our home and means of transport, as we did our road trip through Britain, was a motorhome that we hired from Just Go. It was a six-berth vehicle which was 7m (23ft) long, 2.35m (7.7ft) wide and 3.2m (10.5ft) high. It had a fixed bed over the cab, another at the back and potentially a third when the dining table was converted. It had separate toilet and shower compartments and had a three-plate gas hob, oven and grill, small fridge and a kitchen sink. It had a 100-litre water tank and a 10-litre hot water tank. It was a 2021 model so everything was new with conventional wall electrical sockets, USB sockets and blue tooth connection to the dashboard entertainment system. We also had a small TV and DVD player. We had a ‘leisure’ battery which was topped up when we drove, when we connected to an electrical hook up and from a solar panel on the roof. We also had a large gas bottle for the hob and gas boiler. The vehicle was well insulated and had heating. The underlying vehicle was a diesel Fiat Ducato with automatic transmission. We had a cycle carrier on the back holding our two bicycles. There was a relatively large storage compartment where we stored our tables, chairs, portable Weber BBQ and stocks of wine.

It was neither as big nor as luxurious as American RVs that we have hired. We lived very well in it with just the two of us. It might work as a six berth with small children but would be impossible with six adults.

All campsites we have used have electrical hook ups at each pitch and places to fill up with water, dispose of the toilet tank contents and dispose of the shower and sink water. Most campsites have ablution blocks, dishwashing sinks and washing machines. Covid-19 restrictions have meant that in some campsites alternate facilities in the ablution blocks have been closed off and washing machines have not been available. We did our laundry by using service washes at city laundrettes.

We could park up overnight in public places that are not campsites and saw others do it. We did not do it. One eventually needs to return, after a few days, to a campsite for water and disposal of the toilet tank contents.

The vehicle was big to drive especially on narrow country roads with overhanging branches. One must approach all blind bends on such roads with extreme caution. The biggest challenge was to find parking. Many town centre parking areas have height restrictions and even when we can enter, we use up two thirds of the space of four conventional parking spaces. A few times we have parked and been fearful that we would return to find damage from a passing car or a ticket for not parking within the parking space. If we could not find a convenient parking space, we parked further away and then walked.

Unlike all our other trips we decided not to plan every day of our holiday before we left. That had given us the freedom to stay longer or move on more quickly. However, it had meant, travelling in a busy season, when many people were on holiday in the UK rather than abroad, that many campsites and some tourist sites had been booked up.

We have a history of using similar vehicles. Our first was a VW Combi panel van with only a bed in the back which we used mainly in Namibia in 1975. In 1978 we toured Europe for four months in an old VW Combi that had been converted well. My first company car was a fully equipped VW camper van with pop top roof, which we did not use as much as we would have liked but did a three-week trip in Ireland. We did two trips in RVs with our children: one in the Rockies from Calgary to Jasper and back and one from San Francisco to LA via Yosemite and Kings Canyon. And of course, we travelled in a Bedford truck, with twenty others, in 1979, from London to Kathmandu.

This vehicle was the biggest expense of the trip with a hire cost including a second driver and cycle rack of £5,522.

England Aug Sep 2020

Tibby and I travelled 1,750 miles around England in 32 days in August and September 2020. We travelled up the east coast of England, almost to the border with Scotland, followed the course of Hadrian’s Wall and returned to London via the Lake District and the Peak District.

We hired a six berth, seven-metre-long Fiat Ducato motorhome from Just Go.

Unlike all our other trips we decided not to plan every day of our holiday before we left. That had given us the freedom to stay longer or move on more quickly. However, it had meant, travelling in the peak season, that many campsites, boats on the Broads and some tourist sites had been booked up. The latter have also been affected by Covid-19 which had resulted in visitor numbers being rationed.

Covid-19 was a feature of our trip. It was difficult to travel abroad so a trip in the UK made sense. Restaurants, tourist places and camp sites were open but with reduced access or special rules. Most museums were restricting numbers and required prebooking and then some facilities within some museums were closed. Soon after we returned, areas that we had visited, including Newcastle, Tyneside and Northumberland were placed under limited lockdown because of the virus.

This was a wonderful holiday. While we have previously explored a lot of England, on this trip we visited many places that were new to us or renewed acquaintance with places that we had not visited for many years. The countryside was beautiful. The weather was kind to us. We enjoyed travelling in the motorhome and lived very well in it.

The many highlights included the towns of Cambridge, York and Lavenham, Ely and Lincoln Cathedrals, Alnwick Castle, Chesters and Homesteads Forts on Hadrian’s Wall and nearby Corbridge, Holy Island, the boat trips on the Norfolk Broads and Windermere and the walks to and near Robin Hood’s Bay and Wells-Next-The Sea. Restaurants 21 in Newcastle and Fodder in Harrogate were the best, albeit very different.

We stayed with our friend, Ronelle, in York for three nights, stayed five nights in three hotels and stayed 23 nights in ten campsites.

Day 1 – London to Comberton, Cambridgeshire – 67 miles

We picked up the motor home the day before and brought it home to pack. Packing took far longer than we expected as we tried to make sure that nothing was forgotten. We left London on 12th August 2020 in a sweltering heat and crawled out of London on the north circular. We stopped at a Tesco supermarket and bought a Coke Zero for £1.20 and six pieces of chicken thighs for £1.80. How can chicken be produced for this price? Unsurprisingly the chicken was disappointing when we barbecued it that night. We arrived at Highfield Farm Touring Park near Comberton and set up the motor home and followed that with a BBQ of the aforementioned chicken on our new Weber Q1200 gas barbecue.

Day 2 – Day in Cambridge – went in by bus

There was rain overnight which ended the heatwave but resulted in an overcast day. We spent the day in Cambridge. Melissa guided us (£35 for two) around the city explaining the 800 year relationship between town and gown, the way the 33 colleges are part of the fabric of both the university and the city and telling us stories about buildings, people and customs. We could not enter any of the historic buildings, because of restrictions arising from Covid-19, but we marvelled at the absolute beauty of the city.

Day 3 – Ely – 51 miles

Incredibly heavy rain overnight. We were snug in our motor home. Etheldreda the daughter of Anna, king of East Anglia founded a monastery at Ely, north of modern-day Cambridge, in 673. Work on the present Cathedral began in the 11th century and the monastic church became a cathedral in 1109. Tibby and I visited the cathedral today (£25 combined tickets for two) and marvelled at its beauty. We love stained glass and so also visited the Stained Glass Museum on an upper gallery of the cathedral. What a delight!

Day 4 – Imperial War Museum, Duxford, Cambridgeshire – 21 miles

Duxford Airfield, eight miles south of Cambridge, was built in 1918 for the Royal Airforce and was used by them until 1961 except for a period from 1943 to 1945 when it was an US Airforce base. During the Battle of Britain in 1940 an average of sixty Spitfires and Hurricanes were dispersed around Duxford and RAF Fowlmere every day. Douglas Bader was based at Duxford for most of the Battle of Britain. The Imperial War Museum acquired the airfield in 1977 and it is today a branch of the museum principally focused on war airplanes and is the largest aviation museum in the UK.  Duxford houses the museum’s large exhibits, including nearly 200 aircraft, military vehicles, artillery and minor naval vessels in seven main exhibition buildings.  Major air shows are held at the airfield regularly. Tibby and I visited the museum today (£32 for two). This is a perfect place for plane geeks but can be overwhelming for the less informed visitor. The displays include Spitfires, a Hawker Siddeley Harrier, a Panavia Tornado, a Eurofighter Typhoon DA4, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber, a SR-71 Blackbird, a Consolidated B-24 Liberator and an Avro 698 Vulcan B2. Duxford Aviation Society preserves and maintains the Civil Aviation Collection. Especially notable aircraft in the collection include a de Havilland Comet which made the first eastbound jet-powered trans-Atlantic passenger flight on 4 October 1958, and Concorde G-AXDN 101, a pre-production aircraft which achieved the highest speed of any Concorde, making a westwards trans-Atlantic flight in two hours, 56 minutes. The aircraft are squeezed into the hangers making it difficult to get a photo of any single aircraft. This was an interesting day and we left knowing a lot more.

Day 5 – Lavenham, Kentwell Hall and Saxmundham, Suffolk – 112 miles

We took part in a walk for the South African Breast Health Foundation. We were thrilled to support Tibby’s niece, Jenna, who was key in organising this event. We walked for all breast cancer sufferers but particularly for Tibby’s sister, Paddy, my sister Liz, our dearest friend, Ronelle and of course, for Jenna. And deep down, we walked for Tibby’s sister, Gale, who died in 2014 from liver cancer. I achieved over 30,000 steps; and then rising somewhat later in the morning… Tibby did over 16,000.

Lavenham is a village in Suffolk. Lavenham prospered from the wool trade in the 15th and 16th centuries, with the town’s blue broadcloth being an export of note. By the late 15th century, the town was among the richest in the British Isles, paying more in taxation than considerably larger towns such as York and Lincoln. The town’s prosperity at this time can be seen in the lavishly constructed wool church of St Peter and St Paul, which stands on a hill at the top end of the main high street. The church, completed in 1525, is excessively large for the size of the village and with a tower standing 141 ft (43 m) high it lays claim to being the highest village church tower in Britain. During the 16th century Lavenham’s industry was badly affected by Dutch refugees settled in Colchester, who produced cloth that was cheaper and lighter than Lavenham’s, and also more fashionable. Cheaper imports from Europe also aided the settlement’s decline, and by 1600 it had lost its reputation as a major trading town. This sudden and dramatic change to the town’s fortune is the principal reason for so many medieval and Tudor buildings remaining unmodified in Lavenham, as subsequent generations of citizens did not have the wealth required to rebuild in the latest styles. Tibby and I visited the village today and marvelled at the beautiful buildings. (With acknowledgement to Wikipedia.)

Kentwell Hall is a stately home in Long Melford, Suffolk. Most of the current building facade dates from the mid-16th century, but the origins of Kentwell are much earlier, with references in the Domesday Book of 1086. We visited Kentwell Hall later in the day. We could not view the inside of the house but enjoyed the gardens and were enchanted by the Tudor characters playing music, weaving baskets and portraying other professions from that time.

Day 6 – Aldeburgh, Suffolk – 17 miles

We drove along the coast from Thorpeness to Aldeburgh and then walked the length of the Aldeburgh High Street, deviating to buy splendid rib eye steak from the butcher. We took our bicycles off the motorhome and cycled to the Martello Tower, which is a Landmark Trust, and then cycled through town. We returned to Marsh Farm Campsite, barbecued our rib eye steaks and then walked around the campsite lakes as the sun set.

Day 7 – To the Creek – 79 miles

Our friends, Ronelle and Bryan, spent many holidays at the holiday cottage (which they called the ‘creek’)of an aunt of Ronelle’s on the River Orwell near Shotley, south of Ipswich. We had heard so much of their love of the area that we were inspired to drive down there, see the neighbourhood and eat fish at The Butt and Oyster in Pinmill. We understood why they enjoyed it so much.

Day 8 – Via Southwold to Caister-On-Sea – 70 Miles

We visited the Suffolk coastal town of Southwold. It was a wet and windy day, so Southwold did not look its best. We enjoyed the pier, the esplanade with 300 beach huts, the cliff overlooking the sea and the High Street. The beach huts are seldom sold but one was on the market recently with an asking figure of £145,000!

We bought an unusual pendant of a hoopoe for Tibby. We both went to the same primary school in Bryanston in South Africa. Hoopoes were often seen in the neighbourhood and were the subject of our school badge.

At the centre of the town is Tibby’s Green and nearby is Tibby’s Way. There is also a Tibby’s Triangle and a Tibby’s View. We know that any Tibby will be an important person but do not know why the Southwold Tibby was important.

An important resident of Southwold was George Orwell, the author of Animal Farm and 1984. When he was an adult and trying to make his way as a writer he stayed for many years with his family in Southwold. His name was actually Eric Blair. He took his surname as a writer, from the River Orwell that flows through Suffolk.

I met Gary Doy, who is a fisherman based in Southwold. He told that he had been a fisherman all his life. As a youngster there would be three fishermen on a fishing boat. Now he operates his boat, Crofter, by himself. Most of the actions on his boat result from him giving instructions on his computer. He gets up at 03h00 each morning in the summer and goes out on Crofter until about 11h00. He then sleeps for two hours and in the afternoon sells his fish from a stall in his garden for three hours. His boat cost him £150,000 with a further £20,000 for other equipment including his computerised equipment. He told me that he barely makes a living after expenses. He tries to catch more expensive fish like sole and lobster, but he needs his son to come out with him once a week when they raise the lobster pots. His son has little interest in becoming a fisherman. Gary expects to sell his boat in a few years’ time when he retires. He will need to sell the boat with his fishing licence because he believes that the boat has no value without the licence. He is hopeful that the UK leaving the EU will result in British fisherman, like him, getting bigger allowances, as he says that the British fishermen are currently only entitled to 10% of the catch in the English Channel. He told me that the Dutch fish with huge trawlers and are entitled to, and take, most of the catch. I am not sure that the Dutch will withdraw easily. They have a long relationship with Southwold. On 28th May 1672, the Dutch navy fought a battle with the English navy based In Southwold. 3,800 men died. Both sides claimed victory. I suspect that when the trade relationship with the EU is finalised, including the fishing arrangements, both the British and the Dutch will claim that they are the losers.

Checked in to Caister on Sea Holiday Park north of Great Yarmouth

Day 9 – Great Yarmouth – 27 miles

Today was principally an admin day booking accommodation, seeking a day boat for tomorrow and dropping our laundry off. We drove through Great Yarmouth but could not get enthused to walk around.

Day 10 – Norfolk Broads – 20 miles by road, more by boat

The Norfolk Broads comprise 120 miles of navigable waterways located between the sea and the city of Norwich in the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, England. They include seven rivers and 63 broads (or lakes) but only thirteen broads are navigable. While the rivers have always been in place the broads were largely created by the flooding of medieval peat excavations. The Broads are tidal, especially the waterways close to the sea. The areas either side of the waterways are now a National Park. The Broads are a popular place for boating holidays with 10,000 boats licensed, including a huge boat rental industry, offering boats with cabins for weekly hire.

We spent the day on the Broads today. That is not as simple as it sounds when one has not booked in advance at the height of the holiday season and when Britons who cannot travel to some of their favourite places abroad, are holidaying in the UK. I called twenty-two boatyards yesterday to be told by all of them that they were booked up until into September. One boatyard, Herbert Woods,  however, advised that they offered five boats each day on a first come first served basis, and that normally it was sufficient to join the queue 30 minutes before the office opened, to get one of these boats. We arrived an hour before the office opened and were fourth in the queue and got our boat for the day. Herbert Woods is a big boatyard. One of their staff members told me that Friday is a changeover day for hire boats and that today they had fifty boats returning from hire, being cleaned and then going out again. To achieve that, all boats have staggered return and departure times during the day. Nonetheless it seems like quite a logistical challenge,

Yesterday the Broads were as calm as a mill pond. Today there was a warning of high winds. We exited the boatyard and promptly did a pirouette with the boat. Having regained control, we left the boatyard village of Potter Heigham on the River Thurne heading towards its confluence with the River Bure. There is a top speed limit of 6mph which is reduced to 4mph through villages. Tibby was expecting a boat with a cabin and a toilet. Instead we got a thirty-year-old, twenty-foot boat with incredibly uncomfortable seats and a top speed of 5mph. So, we had plenty of time to enjoy all the activity on the banks. Most of the time one is in the countryside with reed banks. The housing in the villages is, unsurprisingly, concentrated along the riverbank with the houses varying from basic buildings (but bigger than Southwold beach huts) to huge beautiful houses with boathouses that are small houses in themselves. The local estate agent, Waterside, is advertising everything from a two-bedroom waterside bungalow with a 33ft long mooring in Potter Heigham for £250,00 to a seven-bedroom house with 2.2 acres and a 50ft long boathouse on Oulton Broad for £1.65 million. Mooring plots vary from £20,000 to £175,000 (the latter with a day cabin).

We passed by the ruins of St Benets Abbey which had its heyday a thousand years ago. A windmill was later built in the ruins of the Abbey. We wanted to have an early lunch in Ranworth but as there were no available mooring places, we pushed on to Horning for lunch at a riverside establishment. We had managed to moor ourselves with little difficulty but some of the larger hire boats were somewhat challenged to moor in the wind, with plenty of miscommunication between captain and crew. Horning is a pretty village, elongated along the river with some beautiful houses and a few interesting shops.

On the way back the cap of our captain blew off her head, so the crew turned the boat to recover it. We were so focused on the floating cap that we allowed the wind to push us into shallow water where we grounded. Lucky Bob did not have to worry for too long because the second boat to approach us was a police boat of the Norfolk Constabulary. The first thing they did was to ground themselves. They had a pole to push themselves free. They then tied up alongside our small boat, and with their superior power, pulled us free. With us tied alongside they progressed up the river for about a mile to where the river widened. With their blue light flashing other river traffic kept their distance. This was the first time we reached the speed of 6mph. We were released from police custody, our propeller seemed to be unaffected from its grounding, so we waved goodbye to our new friends and headed for Potter Heigham and the end of our Broads’ adventure.

Our visit to the Broads reminded us of a few days we spent on the Broads in 1984. Ian, a yachtsman friend of ours, invited us to join him and another university friend of Tibby’s, Elizabeth, in hiring a traditional sailing barge. Sailing on the rivers is a challenge but we had Captain Ian.

Day 11 – Via Happisburgh to Wells-Next-The Sea – 41 miles

As we drove through Norfolk it struck me that there were a lot of churches. The county is flat, and again and again one could be next to a church and see another in the distance. Norfolk has the largest concentration of medieval churches in the world. Almost a thousand of them were built and today some 635 are still standing. Many of them were financed by the wealth associated with the wool industry and there was a lot of rivalry between individual parishes, and even individual merchants in the same village, as to who could build the biggest church.

Besides the sheer number of churches, another feature of several of the churches that we saw in Norfolk and Suffolk, was that they had military graves in their churchyards, which are cared for by the Commonwealth Graves Commission. Researching it further I found that there are 428 CGC grave locations in Norfolk and 333 in Suffolk, most of them in church graveyards. The ones that we saw were principally graves of navy personnel, where the name of their ship is included on their gravestone.

We headed north along the Norfolk coast. Happisburgh (pronounced “Haze-bruh”) is a small pretty village on the north-east corner of Norfolk, with a population of 1,400 people in about 600 houses. It has an interesting lighthouse, a lovely church but an unhappy edge. Although now a coastal village, Happisburgh was once some distance from the sea, parted from the coast by the parish of Whimpwell, long since eroded away. Historic records indicate that over 250 m of land were lost between 1600 and 1850.  The receding cliff line, prior to the construction of a rock embankment, claimed at least one house per year plus significant quantities of agricultural land.

Day 12 Wells-Next-The Sea to Barney – 20 miles

We spent the day in and near Wells-Next-The-Sea, a small village of 2,000 residents, on the north Norfolk Coast. The town has been a seaport since before the fourteenth century when it supplied grain to London and subsequently to the miners of the north east in return for which Wells was supplied with coal. It has been a fishing port for over 600 years. In 1337 it is recorded as having had thirteen fishing boats. The town boasted up to twelve maltings, having in 1750 contributed a third of the exports of malt from the country, mostly to Holland. These activities have now largely disappeared, and tourism is now the major activity.

Early in the morning I did a twelve kilometre walk along the 2km dyke to the deserted beach with 200 beach huts and then through the forest to the quiet Holkham Hall Estate before returning to Wells. Tibby and I walked through the town to the Quay area and watched young boys catch crabs. We then mounted our bicycles and repeated the trip I had done earlier, although now the beach and forest track and Holkham Hall Estate were busy with people on holiday. A jazz band was playing on the lawn at Holkham Hall. It was easy to be happy on holiday in such a lovely place.

Day 13 – Holt – 17 miles

We spent a few hours in Holt which is a pretty village with up market shops and coffee shops. Pleasant.

Day 14 – Via Burnham Market to the Lincolnshire Wolds – 99 miles

We woke to rain beating on the roof of the motorhome. The rain eased a little allowing us to explore pretty Burnham Market, a single street village with twenty up market shops and delis. We had hoped to visit the Royal Estate at Sandringham, but it was booked out for weeks ahead. We stopped for a short while in Kings Lyn for an audio man to explain our radio configuration to us and then headed over very flat country to the very slightly hilly Lincolnshire Wolds. The wind of Storm Francis was howling as we arrived at our campsite and we joined others to help a woman and her three children, whose tent was in danger of blowing away. We rocked all night with high winds.

Day 15 – Via Lincoln to Harrogate – 118 miles

We visited Lincoln Cathedral in the town of Lincoln, Lincolnshire. The county is flat, and the cathedral was built on the only high ground for miles around, so it is visible from a far distance. Work commenced on the cathedral in 1072 and over the years it was damaged by a fire, earthquake, storm and bad workmanship. There were additions or major repairs every century resulting in the huge magnificent building we see today, which, in terms of floor area, is the fourth largest cathedral in the country.

The Cathedral is the custodian of art from nearly a thousand years including stained glass windows, statues, wooden trusses, murals, a tower clock and more recently, fifteen wooden sculptures.

High on a pillar in the Cathedral is an engraving of an imp, turned to stone by an angel for misbehaviour according to legend. A local jeweller, James Usher, gained the rights to make copies of the imp. He gave a silver imp tie clip to the Prince of Wales in about 1905, who later attributed a fortunate happening to his ‘Lucky Lincoln Imp’. That comment caused high society to order huge numbers of the Imp jewellery making James Usher a rich man. He left his wealth and his collection of fine clocks, watches, porcelain and paintings to the City of Lincoln to establish an art museum.

Two reproductions of the Imp are found in Lincoln College, Oxford. The title of the college’s undergraduate newspaper is ‘The Lincoln Imp’ and it is also the mascot of the college boat club, an image of which is used to decorate the oars and jerseys of the men’s 1st VIII.

Lincoln City Football Club are nicknamed ‘The Imps’. An image of the Lincoln Imp appears on their crest, and ‘Poacher the Imp’ serves as club mascot. The Lincoln Imp also lends its name to the Gibraltar club Lincoln Red Imps F.C., and Lincoln Hockey Club share the nickname and crest design of their footballing counterparts. The Lincoln Imp is the badge of No. LXI Squadron RAF.

In 1953 Duncan Grant was commissioned to decorate Lincoln Cathedral’s Russell Chantry with a set of murals depicting St Blaise, the patron saint of wool workers. The mural unveiled in 1959 remained private for several years, possibly because Duncan Grant chose to put a little too much of his own life onto the walls, being reopened for public view after restoration in 1990. The murals were painted at a time in British art history when mural painting was far more likely to occur on secular or municipal buildings and it is partly this that makes Grant’s chapel murals a rarity.

The Stations of the Cross refers to a series of images depicting Jesus on the day of his crucifixion and accompanying prayers. The stations grew out of imitations of Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem which is believed to be the actual path Jesus walked to Mount Calvary. The object of the stations is to help the Christian faithful to make a spiritual pilgrimage through contemplation of the Passion of Christ.

William Fairbank has created fifteen wooden sculptures which tell the story of the traditional account of Jesus death, depicting each stage, or station, along the road to the place of crucifixion. The images are formed within the natural and carved shapes and colours of different timbers. The Forest Stations are on semi-permanent display within the Nave of the Cathedral.

I spoke to Jean who had just finished arranging the sunflowers. She told me that the normal congregation was about one hundred and that they were delighted that the Cathedral had reopened after lockdown and that they could now worship in the building again.

We then had an easy drive to Harrogate.

Day 16 – Day in Harrogate – 12 miles

We were camped at the caravan park at the Harrogate Showgrounds. Next to the caravan park and also owned by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, is a deli and café called Fodder, which produces wonderful food. We started with breakfast there.

We dropped laundry at a laundrette and then walked from there into Harrogate, spending money at the Orvis store on the way. The town became known as ‘The English Spa’ in the Georgian era, after its waters were discovered in the 16th century. In the 17th and 18th centuries its ‘chalybeate’ waters (containing iron) were a popular health treatment, and the influx of wealthy but sickly visitors contributed significantly to the wealth of the town. We were charmed by the many pretty buildings, which derive from recent centuries, rather than older periods.

Day 17 – Rain all day in Harrogate – stayed put

It rained all day, so we read, planned the trip ahead and did admin, only popping out for lunch at Fodder.

Day 18 – Brimham Rocks and York – 46 miles

After breakfast at Fodder we collected our laundry. On a drizzling Saturday afternoon, we visited Brimham Rocks, eight miles north west of Harrogate, North Yorkshire, on Brimham Moor in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The site is known for its water- and weather-eroded rocks, which were formed over 325 million years ago and have assumed fantastic shapes. There are nineteen groups of rocks with names like Noonstone, Great Cannon, Smartie Tube, Idol Rock and Dancing Bear. This is a delightful collection but what was even more delightful, despite the weather, were the sounds of happy children exploring, calling and having lots of fun.

We then drove to York to stay three nights with our friend Ronelle. We parked our motorhome in the lane behind her house. It was a great joy to spend time with Ronelle. This was the first time that I had returned to her house since her wonderful husband, Bryan, died last year. At the time I wrote the following:

‘Bryan Smith 25th February 1950 – 14th July 2019

Our beloved friend Bryan Smith died on Sunday after three years of illness.

A great joy in life is to become friends with people and then stay as active friends all your life. Tibby Carr Stodel and I have been blessed with such a friendship with Bryan Smith and Ronelle Smith. We met Bryan and Ronelle in 1985 at a dinner in a flat across the road from where we now live in Hampstead, London. From that first meeting grew a wonderful, deep and caring relationship despite the fact that we seldom lived in the same town at the same time. On bank holiday Monday 28th May 1990, the weather was glorious, and we had a wonderful day at their first house in Muswell Hill having a BBQ and enjoying being together. We had many other similar days together, but that day was notable because our son, David, was born the next day.

Their two sons, Sam and Tom, were slightly older and the same age respectively, as our children and so we moved through the different stages at similar times. The first of the photographs is when they visited us in Holland in about 1991 and the second and third photos were taken when we spent a week together at a Landmark Trust building, Field House in Minchinhampton in about 1992. In later years we stayed together at other Landmark Trust properties, including Sackville House in East Grinstead and The Old Parsonage at Iffley, Oxford with Nick Pillar, Bryan’s friend since school, and Sarah, and in December 2017 at Beamsley Hospital near Skipton, North Yorkshire. We sang our hearts out at a few tribute concerts at Wisley Gardens near Guildford. We have celebrated big birthdays together with a notable gathering being at Ackergill Tower in the far north of Scotland in August 2013. We have spent time with each other and our larger families in Cape Town. They showed us York and Yorkshire. In 2017 and 2018 we were on holiday together in Padstow in Cornwall. Spending time with Bryan and Ronelle has always been a joy.

We met Bryan after he had been a rock star, but we will always associate any memory of him with music. He always had a guitar handy and was happy to spend hours strumming to himself. The early success that Tom is having with his music has been a great joy to Bryan.

Bryan and I did not agree on a number of subjects including religion, politics and food but that never got in the way of us being close friends and enjoying wonderful times together. Bryan could be outspoken and outraged on subjects that he felt strongly about, but he also had a gentleness about him that I envied.

Bryan’s rock and the centre of his life was Ronelle. She encouraged his dreams, loved his music and laughed at his jokes. He loved having the beautiful Ronelle on his arm. The two of them supported each other through some very difficult life experiences and devoted huge energies in supporting his father in the last years of his life. They prepared two wonderful sons for life in the world. Ronelle has cared for Bryan throughout his period of illness despite her own health difficulties. Later this month on 28th July they would have been married for forty years. Our love, concern and care overflow for Ronelle at this very difficult time.

Bryan was a yoga instructor and followed the principles of Buddhism which brought him an inner peace. He believed in reincarnation and I hope that he is happy where he is now.

Bryan was a beautiful person, in every sense of the word beautiful. He was very special to us. We will miss him hugely and our lives will be immensely poorer without him.’

Day 19 – Cycled in York

This was a relaxed day with Ronelle including a cycle ride through York.

Day 20 – Cycled in York

I rose early and on a bank holiday Monday explored a quiet York. The city was founded by the Romans as Eboracum in 71 AD. It became the capital of the Roman province of Britannia Inferior, and later of the kingdoms of Deira, Northumbria and Jórvík. In the Middle Ages, York grew as a major wool trading centre and became the capital of the northern ecclesiastical province of the Church of England, a role it has retained. In the 19th century, York became a major hub of the railway network and a confectionery manufacturing centre, a status it maintained well into the 20th century. The buildings and walls of the city tell the story of its history.

Later we cycled to a pub lunch.

Day 21 – Scarborough and Whitby – 73 miles

We planned to leave at 10h00 but eventually left at 14h30 as a flat battery delayed us. The motorhome people sent the RAC to assist but they took so long that we eventually organised a local mechanic to jump start us. We liked the view from the cliffs over Scarborough although the town was less pretty.

Our campsite was a few miles outside Whitby.

Day 22 – Walked from Whitby to Robin Hoods Bay – driving 17 miles

We walked 10km (6.5 miles) from Whitby Abbey to Robin Hood’s Bay on the England Coast Path within the North York Moors National Park. It was a beautiful sunny September Day and the walk, and the world were wonderful. After the walk we explored Robin Hoods Bay and had fish and chips for lunch.

We caught the bus to Whitby and walked through the town, crossed the River Esk and enjoyed Church Street before ascending the 199 steps to collect our vehicle from the Abbey car park.

Day 23 – Great Ayton and Seahouses – 136 miles

We visited Wendy and Simon Wakefield, in Great Ayton, North Yorkshire. We have known each other since Tibby, and Wendy were at university together. We talked about children and careers and children and life plans and children. Great Ayton was also the place where Captain Cook grew up. There is a museum, a replica of the monument at Point Hicks, Australia where land was first sighted on his voyage and a memorial of his parents’ house which was transported to Australia.

After a delightful lunch we travelled easily along motorways and good roads through the Tyne Tunnel to Seahouses on the north Northumberland Coast.

Day 24 – Alnwick – 61 miles

We explored the coast down to Amble and then visited Alnwick Castle (pronounced ‘Anick’). The first parts of the castle were erected in about 1096 to guard a crossing of the River Aln. The Castle was purchased by ancestors of the current Duke of Northumberland in 1309 and has been in the family since. Northumberland is far from the rulers in London and so there was little to stop local feuds nor to stop plundering Picts crossing the Scottish border, thirty miles away. It was, therefore, important to have a castle to protect one’s freedom and assets. Over the last nine hundred years the Castle was extended and changed several times. As the violence of neighbours decreased, the family changed the nature of the Castle, after 1750, to become their northern home. We did a tour of the state rooms (where the family move to from London in the winter) and marvelled at the beauty of the craftmanship and magnificence of the art on display. Photography is not permitted inside so the interior photos below were taken from publicly available sources. The Castle has featured in 41 movies and TV shows including Black Adder, Harry Potter and Downton Abbey. It was a great joy to visit such a beautiful building which has been cared for so well.

Day 25 – Holy Island and Newcastle – 85 miles

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is a tidal island off the northeast coast of England. The island measures 3 miles by 1.5 miles and comprises approximately 1,000 acres at high tide. The nearest point of the island is about one mile from the mainland of England. It is accessible, most times, at low tide, by crossing sand and mudflats which are covered with water at high tides. These sand and mud flats carry an ancient pilgrims’ path, and in more recent times, a modern one-mile long causeway. Lindisfarne is surrounded by the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, which protects the island’s sand dunes and the adjacent intertidal habitats.

The monastery of Lindisfarne was founded in 634 by Irish monk Saint Aidan, who had been sent from Iona off the west coast of Scotland at the request of King Oswald. Lindisfarne became the base for Christian evangelism in the North of England. Northumbria’s patron saint, Saint Cuthbert, was a monk and later abbot of the monastery. At some point in the early 8th century, the famous illuminated manuscript known as the Lindisfarne Gospels, an illustrated Latin copy of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, was made, probably at Lindisfarne and the artist was possibly Eadfrith, who later became Bishop of Lindisfarne. It is also speculated that a team of illuminators and calligraphers (monks of Lindisfarne Priory) worked on the text.

The monks of Lindisfarne fled the island in 875 as Danish forces approached. The monastery was re-established, in its current position, in 1093 and lasted until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in 1536.

Lindisfarne Castle was built in 1550 and stones from the priory were used as building material. It is small by usual standards and was more of a fort. The castle sits on the highest point of the island. It was transformed into a residence in 1901 and is now a museum, run by The National Trust, but not open in Covid times.

Tibby and I arrived at the start of the causeway at 08h55 which was the earliest safe time to cross. There is a visitor car park at the edge of the village, and one walks thereafter. It was a lovely blue, but windy, day and we had wonderful views of the abbey, church and castle from different locations. There are about 150 inhabitants and about sixty tourist beds. We had tried to stay overnight but all tourist accommodation had been booked several weeks before. Overnight stays in motor homes and tents are not permitted. Nonetheless, it was a special experience, followed by lunch at The Ship Inn and stocking up of mead before ensuring that we departed ahead of the incoming tide. We did not want to add to the list of vehicles caught by the tide when their owners ignore the safe crossing times.

Having got to within eight miles of the border with Scotland, we turned south on the A1 to Newcastle where we checked into the Hotel du Vin for two nights. Fortunately, they had a driveway where they allowed us to park our vehicle.

Day 26 -Newcastle by bus

I rose early and walked along the Tyne River through the heart of Newcastle and marvelled at the buildings and bridges. I was also intrigued by a memorial to the First World War.

We had decided that we would follow Hadrian’s Wall and spent the next four days exploring and following the route of the Wall.

Hadrian’s Wall was the north-west frontier of the Roman empire for nearly 300 years. It was built by the Roman Army on the orders of the Emperor Hadrian following his visit to Britain in AD 122, ‘to separate the barbarians from the Romans’. At 73 miles long, it crossed northern Britain from Wallsend, Newcastle in the east to Bowness-on-Solway, near Carlisle, on the coast in the west.

The wall took six years to build. The first 30-mile eastern section was in turf 6 metres wide. The remainder was stone built with a maximum height of about 4.6 metres and a width of 3 metres. The wall had fourteen forts. At least fifteen thousand infantrymen were working on the construction at one time.

The wall was guarded by about 7,000 infantry and cavalry men, supported by camp followers. Over time settlements developed where complete families lived. The wall was actively manned to the end of Roman Britain, in the early 5th century. In the following 1,300 years, Hadrian’s Wall became a quarry for the stone to build castles and churches, farms and houses along its line, until the conservation movement in the 18th and 19th centuries put a stop to that. That means that most of the wall is no longer in place. However, significant excavation and conservation work has occurred and in several places there are sufficient walls in place to allow artistic representations to show how the forts and wall looked.

Most of the time life on the Wall was peaceful but there were several periods when the wall was attacked by the tribes from the north.

We started our exploration by visiting the Great North Museum just north of the Newcastle City centre. This had a hall devoted to the subject, but it seemed a bit old fashioned in its displays and lacked an overall explanation of the history and purpose of the Wall.

That night we had the best meal in a restaurant of the whole trip at a restaurant called 21.

Day 27 – Segedunum, Corbridge and Slalely – 39 miles

We started following the Wall by visiting the museum at Segedunum in the appropriately called suburb of Wallsend. This was the beginning of the Wall and had a fort. An hotel had been built on the site of the fort and later demolished so basic foundations are all that remain. The museum was interesting.

We then crossed Newcastle to Corbridge. Corbridge existed as a Roman town before the wall was built and, in its position a few miles south of the wall, was an important staging post. A lot of the foundations of the town are still in place. The museum had an audio guide which brought things to life.

We booked into Slaley Hall for two nights for a stay of bad service and poor food.

Day 28 – Hadrian’s Wall – 64 miles

This was the crucial and most interesting day of our investigation of Hadrian’s Wall. We started at Chesters Roman Fort and the Clayton Museum. John Clayton was a lawyer and town clerk of Newcastle and inherited and lived at Chesters mansion in the 19th century. He became intrigued with remains of Chesters Roman Fort in his garden and started doing excavations which revealed a huge amount more of the fort. Over 47 years he bought five farms containing other sections of the Wall and carried out archaeological excavations. He was the man largely responsible for saving significant portions of Hadrian’s Wall. The small museum houses a huge amount of Roman stone carvings. English Heritage have done a magnificent job of creating digital reconstructions of the site, allowing visitors to understand how the Roman cavalry soldiers and their horses lived together at the seven-acre fort. The site includes the best-preserved military bath house in Britain.

We then travelled 8 miles to Housesteads Roman Wall which is more remote and requires a half mile walk from the road to the site. Being more remote it is one of the best-preserved forts on the Wall, helped by the fact that it was one of the farms purchased by John Clayton. It retains the foundations of its curtain walls and its double gateways as well as most of its interior core of original Hadrianic buildings – and it boasts the best-preserved Roman latrines in Britain. Here we saw the best example of the actual wall extending from the fort. It has a very neat finish which apparently arose from Clayton’s liking of order which extended to removing parts of the wall so that the top was a smooth finish.

We spoke to one of the museum staff who said that there were plenty of domestic tourists but that they were used to coach loads of foreign tourists who were completely missing. We noticed that, during the summer, there is a bus service running from Hexham Bus Station to Haltwhistle Rail Station stopping at all the main sites of Hadrian’s Wall in this area. It is appropriately numbered as the AD122 service. Hadrian gave his instruction to build the wall in AD122.

We finished the day at The Roman Army Museum which was comprehensive and well done but covered a lot of ground that we had seen at other museums.

Day 29 – Bowness-on-Solway and Windermere

The Wall ended in the west at Bowness-on-Solway. There is little that remains of the Wall in this area, but it completed our pilgrimage to visit the village. As we arrived a youngster with a pack also arrived, but he was finishing the walk after six days.

After lunch we headed south to the Lake District through Cockermouth and Keswick to Windermere, enjoying the beautiful views.

Day 30 – Windermere by boat and Hawkshead – 38 miles

As a child I was fascinated with the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ series of twelve books by Arthur Ransome. The books told of the outdoor adventures and play of two families of children. These involve sailing, camping, fishing, exploration and piracy. The activities took place mainly in the Lake District of England, with the first book taking place in 1929. The lake in the books is a fictionalised version of Windermere. To me the locations in the books were magical.

We have visited the Lake District before but enjoyed returning to it and spending a day on Windermere. We hopped on the MV Teal, a steamer built in 1936, at the southerly tip of the lake, at Lakeside, hopped off at Bowness for lunch and shopping and then continued, on a sister boat, to Ambleside at the northerly tip. Windermere is 10.5 miles long. Lots of people were messing about in boats. There were some beautiful lakeside houses and a surprising amount of new building. We picked up wonderful meat at F.W. Garside Traditional Butcher, later explored the less developed western side of the lake up to Hawkshead and finished the day crossing the lake, from west to east, on the ferry.

The Lake District National Park extends 32 miles from east to west and 40 miles from north to south, with areas such as the Lake District Peninsulas to the south lying outside the National Park. There are 23 lakes or tarns (small mountain lakes). All the land in England higher than 3,000 feet above sea level lies within the National Park, including Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. Woodland covers 12 percent of the Park. 40,000 people live within the boundaries of the National Park and nineteen million visit each year.

The Lake District is intimately associated with English literature of the 18th and 19th centuries. William Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”, inspired by the sight of daffodils on the shores of Ullswater, remains one of the most famous in the English language. Out of his long life of eighty years, sixty were spent amid its lakes and mountains. Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey became known as the Lake Poets. Beatrix Potter, the author of ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ and 22 other children’s books lived most of her adult life in the Lake District, close to Hawkshead, on the western side of Windermere. She became passionate about land conservation and preservation of, not just places of extraordinary beauty but also those heads of valleys and low grazing lands that would be irreparably ruined by development. She was also an authority on the traditional Lakeland crafts, period furniture and stonework. She used her wealth, as an author, to acquire several farms in the area and restored and preserved the farms that she bought or managed. She was interested in preserving Herdwick sheep and the way of life of fell farming. When she died in 1943, she left 4,000 acres in the area to the National Trust which is still managed by the Trust today.

The Lake District has some of the best walking trails in the country, lots of boating and fishing opportunities and marvellous views everywhere. We should have stayed longer.

Day 31 – Peak District – 146 miles

It was an easy drive to Glossop where we entered the Peak District.

The Peak District is at the southern end of the Pennines and much of the area is upland above 1,000 feet. Its high point is Kinder Scout at 2,087 ft. Despite its name, the landscape generally lacks sharp peaks, and is characterised mostly by rounded hills, plateaus, valleys, limestone gorges and gritstone escarpments. The area, mostly rural, is surrounded by conurbations and large urban areas including Manchester, Huddersfield, Sheffield, Derby and Stoke-on-Trent. It is estimated that 20 million people live within one hour’s journey of the Peak District.

We enjoyed the views as we drove to Buxton and beyond to Ashbourne.

Day 32 – London – 156 miles

And finally, we headed home to London on Saturday 12th September 2020.


Our home and means of transport, as we did our road trip through England, was a motorhome that we hired from Just Go. It was a six-berth vehicle which was 7m (23ft) long, 2.35m (7.7ft) wide and 3.2m (10.5ft) high. It had a fixed bed over the cab, another at the back and potentially a third when the dining table was converted. It had separate toilet and shower compartments and had a three-plate gas hob, oven and grill, small fridge and a kitchen sink. It had a 100-litre water tank and a 10-litre hot water tank. It was a 2020 model so everything was new with conventional wall electrical sockets, USB sockets and blue tooth connection to the dashboard entertainment system. We also have a small TV and DVD player. We had a ‘leisure’ battery which was topped up when we drove, when we connected to an electrical hook up and from a solar panel on the roof. We also had a large gas bottle for the hob and gas boiler. The vehicle was well insulated and had heating. The underlying vehicle was a diesel Fiat Ducato with automatic transmission. We had a cycle carrier on the back holding our two bicycles. There was a relatively large storage compartment where we stored our tables, chairs, portable Weber BBQ and stocks of wine.

It was neither as big nor as luxurious as American RVs that we have hired. We lived very well in it with just the two of us. It might work as a six berth with small children but would be impossible with six adults.

All campsites we have used have electrical hook ups at each pitch and places to fill up with water, dispose of the toilet tank contents and dispose of the shower and sink water. Most campsites have ablution blocks, dishwashing sinks and washing machines. Covid-19 restrictions have meant that in some campsites alternate facilities in the ablution blocks have been closed off and washing machines have not been available. We did our laundry by using service washes at city laundrettes.

The campsites varied from ten to ninety pitches with most allowing plenty of space and a minority maximising the space so that we could hear the next-door parent admonishing their child.

We could park up overnight in public places that are not campsites and saw others do it. We did not do it. One eventually needs to return, after a few days, to a campsite for water and disposal of the toilet tank contents.

The vehicle was big to drive especially on narrow country roads with overhanging branches. One had to approach all blind bends on such roads with extreme caution. The biggest challenge was to find parking. Many town centre parking areas have height restrictions and even when we could enter, we used up two thirds of the space of four conventional parking spaces. A few times we had parked and been fearful that we would return to find damage from a passing car or a ticket for not parking within the parking space, but that did not happen. If we could not find a convenient parking space we parked further away and then walked, cycled or used a bus.

We have a history of using similar vehicles. Our first was a VW Combi panel van with only a bed in the back which we used mainly in Namibia in 1975. In 1978 we toured Europe for four months in an old VW Combi that had been converted well. My first company car was a fully equipped VW camper van with pop top roof, which we did not use as much as we would have liked but did a three-week trip in Ireland. We did two trips in RVs with our children: one in the Rockies from Calgary to Jasper and back and one from San Francisco to LA via Yosemite and Kings Canyon. And of course, we travelled in a Bedford truck, with twenty others, in 1979, from London to Kathmandu.

This vehicle was the biggest expense of the trip with a hire cost including a second driver and cycle rack of £5,838.


Highfield Farm Touring Park, near Comberton, Cambridgeshire – £28 per night for four nights – Big, green, lots of hedges, well organised, clean ablutions. In retrospect this was one of our best campsites. 9/10.

Marsh Farm Caravan Site, Saxmundham, Suffolk – £23 per night for three nights – Big, green, lovely lakes, no ablutions, miserable manager. The campsite with the best view. 8/10

Caister on Sea Holiday Park, Caister on Sea, Norfolk – £72 per night for three nights – A holiday park with a huge amount of accommodation on the beach. Good facilities but too busy 6/10

Crown Hotel, Wells-Next-The-Sea, Norfolk – £175 per night for a cosy room and breakfast – Our first escape from our motorhome 9/10

The Old Brick Kilns, Barney, Norfolk – £26 per night for two nights – Very busy, crowded and small pitches. Had to drive to see anything. 7/10

Three Horseshoes Campsite, Goulceby, Lincolnshire – £39 per night for one night – A field with basic facilities – 5/10

Harrogate Caravan Park at the Harrogate Showground – £25 per night for three nights – Excellent facilities including Wi-Fi. Two miles from the centre. 9/10

Lady Cross Plantation near Whitby, North Yorkshire – £31 per night for two nights – Nice rural park but one must drive to get anywhere. 7/10

Springhill Farm, Seahouses, Northumberland – Relatively basic 6/10

Hotel du Vin, Newcastle upon Tyne – £119 per room per night for two nights – a disappointing stay with poor service

Slaley Hall, Slaley, Northumberland – £182 per night in a superior king room plus breakfast per night for two nights – an even more disappointing stay with terrible service and poor-quality food

Park Cliffe, Windermere, Cumbria – £70 per night for two nights – good facilities on an attractive site in a great location 8/10

Ashbourne Camping and Caravanning Club Site, Nr. Ashbourne, Derbyshire – £39 per night – very busy, crowded site with unhelpful staff 5/10