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 www.theglasgowstyle.co.uk 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 https://www.speysidecooperage.co.uk/visitor-attraction.php .
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.