On 22nd August we were headed south (our favoured direction) once again. This time headed from Titisee (chortle.!) and towards Austria. We were drawn towards Garmisch-Partenkirchen because we knew this was ski country and we like to visit hills… This was close to the Austrian border and within the Bavarian Alps. As expected the views were fantastic throughout the whole trip and we managed to park up on a site recommended – as usual – on one of our Apps. SearchforSites, Park4night or Campercontact. The site at Garmisch was excellent, partly because it was free (!) but it was welcoming and apparently safe in the car park of a Skischule at the bottom of a ski lift. (Getting to be a habit). So much so that we stayed over a second night. This was ideally placed, close to a railway station, the town centre and with incredible views 360º around us. You really cannot get this kind of view from many paid campsites and it was an absolute dream. We were joined overnight by another dozen other vans which added to the comfort feeling. Mind you.. they have the irritating habit of parking right next to you when there is a huge empty car park. ‘Just bugger off will you!’
What with the dark sky, warm evenings and hot days this was pretty special. We walked into the busy Garmisch-Partenkirchen town centre on the first evening for a look round and a little beer and a Heidi Spritzer (?). Very nice too. Next day we took a long hike through the forests into the Alps for a 20km walk. This was well overdue exercise as we have spent a lot of time on the road. There was the added bonus of a ‘cafe’ after just 3 km giving us amazing views across the mountain ranges whilst we had morning coffee. And…. on our return we had a rather forgettable lunch salad thing with the same glorious views and we were brave enough to take on a beer as we had only a downward trek back to Ruby. Excellent.
The surprising thing we have found once we are getting further south is that most countries do not take card payment, contactless or otherwise. ‘Cash only’ is on lots of the signs and comments by staff. It appears that the banks still charge them loads down here for bank transactions so cash is King. Surprising.
Also surprisingly there are very few Brits in motorhomes or camper vans in any of our sites or on the road… Where are they all ?
In addition to using technology we also speak to people……(yup) to find ideas and guidance. Often using sign language. Regularly our plans change to fit the recommendation of fellow travellers. Valuable and current information is very useful and having the chat is part of the enjoyment really. A couple in this Skischule car park were Italian and provided top info. Part of which was ‘Do Not Go into Sviterland’ – ‘They will weigh you, and won’t let you go until you deposit any weight over the 3.5 tonnes’ – Michelle thought the answer was obvious- ‘Well…we can firstly empty out our water tanks and if that’s not enough hand Glenn two suitcases and invite him to walk to the railway station….!’ ‘What’..!
But anyway we now had to look to getting easy passage into Austria. Turns out that we not only needed a ‘Vignette’ (Basically a way of paying tolls for the whole country- but putting another damn sticker on the screen! ) at €9.60 (£8.27) but we also looked like we needed a Green Zone tag to drive along some of the main roads. After considerable time in research it appeared that this was only needed for large trucks. Though we were not at all sure. So the best thing to do….. just ignore it and crack on..! It seems to have been alright as we haven’t been stopped… We often wondered how the previous generations managed to travel through Europe without technology to help with maps and campsites. However we now need to think and plan for Vignettes and Green Zones for every town and country.
The views into Austria across the Alps were once again bloody amazing. The temptation to stop at the inviting Lake Constance was huge but there are so many wonderful places to see, visit, stop at that we do sometimes just need to keep moving and slip quietly by.
One such place that we couldn’t ignore however was Kitzbuhel. We had no real plans to stop here but I always had an image in mind about the kind of Austrian Tyrol I wanted to visit and as we arrived at Kitzbuhel we just had to throw out the anchor and pull over into the Schwarzsee Camp site. It was just on the outskirts and in the valley surrounded by cracking mountains in all directions. It was a hive of activity and we worried it would be fully booked. But as always seems to be the case, there are pitches to be had. Mostly no-one can book online which increases the chances of finding space. Trouble is this place cost a blood-curdling €54 per night (£47)..! Ouch. However on the good side there was a big pitch, with grass, a lake nearby, Kitzbuhel nearby, bus stop outside, a gym and sauna, an indoor swimming pool, excellent showers and toilet AND a very friendly, funny, site manager called Christian. Takes away a little of the pain. £££
Kitzbuhel itself is rather posh. Lots of Porsches with personalised plates, upmarket hotels and bars and many large areas of the Schwarzsee Lake hidden behind fences and gates. As you would expect at a ski resort of fame.
This is now the 14th August, the weather is a very nice 25º and with blue skies. There have been many weeks when the forecast was for thunderstorms and heavy rain. Well each day arrives with some cloud but nice and hot. Occasionally there are distant thunderstorms rumbling but lovely weather throughout.
So we had to do a trip to the top of the highest mountain, The Kitzbuheler Horn at 2000m high (6560ft). And no, we did not walk up this one. We cycled the 30 mins to the ski lift and took two rides up to the top which was breathtaking both physically and visibly. This was followed by dinner at the wonderful Gipfelhaus restaurant with views across the biggest mountains in the Alps. Surprisingly some with snow still on top in late August. This was a real highlight on our journey. Sitting atop the world in amazing conditions and amazing views. Wow.. We then slowly ambled down some 40 minutes to another ski lift for two more gentle rides back into Kitzbuhel. And.. a swim in the pool at the campsite.
We spent a couple of nights at this campsite despite the cost before then heading back south with Slovenia in mind. However we needed yet another Vignette for Slovenia at €15 from an MOT centre. We also took the opportunity of visiting another classy posh restaurant… McD’s…. Always love the occasional treat..!
So the 26th Aug and we needed another overnight stop before Slovenia so with the help of the CamperContact App found the terrific Schlaferhof Farm near Villach and the Slovenian border. Now we all know what to expect from a farm. Grass – yes, cows – yes, farmers – yes.. but this farm was on the hillside overlooking a big grassy valley with mountains across the other side and a river below. AND it only cost €14 for the night AND they added electric AND the lady farmer was friendly with information about the local cultures and relationships between neighbouring Hungary/Slovenia/Italy. It was a really relaxing evening as we sat outside in 18º stargazing and looking across the valley. Sooooo nice. And fresh milk with breakfast.
Next morning we set off for Slovenia. A place we knew nothing about, other than they use €’s.. The language was a complete mystery as were the people and the cultures but all seemed OK and safe on arrival over the uncontrolled border. The road was quite exciting… the original motorway was extremely busy as this was basically the last weekend before all the kids go back to school. We were stuck (for once) in heavy stationary traffic with another option calling us.. ‘Go this way’ the signs said. Satnav agreed, but other signs said ‘no caravans’ – ‘no towing vehicles’ – ‘Wurzenpass 1000m climb’ – and then ominously ‘3.5 tonne weight limit’ ( in some foreign language.!). So obviously we took this route.! No other vehicles did, they all sat in traffic on the motorway.. but we thought ‘We have just done the tightest, windiest, narrowest parts of the NC500 in Scotland- We Ruby can do this’..! Well, actually it turns out we can. Dead easy. Well apart from some very, very steep second-gear climbs, it was not bad at all. And far more exciting.
So a short while later we had a failed visit to Jasna Lake in Slovenia. This lake had the misfortune of having no water in it..! This heatwave has been slightly problematic for some tourist areas..clearly. We therefore headed off to Bled. A lake that is mentioned as a ‘must-see’ location on any tourist routes. Our expectations were pretty low as a result of visualising loads of tourists and tat. Add to this a car park campsite demanding €40 per night (though there was electric and water etc) and we were not too excited but hopeful. Well.. what a wonderful surprise. It was bloody marvellous. A real winner and yet another highlight already. Probably with the nicest, cleanest, turquoisest (not a word is it?), warm lake we have ever swum in. And there was free access in one area where wooden jetty’s made entry/exit easy into this crystal clear lake.
So over the two days there we walked round the lake (7km), ate and drinked at the Devils Bar, ate the famous Bled cream cake, visited the castle on the hill and looked in awe at the church on the island in the centre of the lake. What a wonderful place. We were surprised that there were lots of Brits and English speakers in this area. Surprised because we still were not seeing ANY Brit motorhomes or camper vans. Anywhere on our travels beyond the Black Forest. It seems that most folk are staying in hotels and AirBnB’s etc plus many youths at hostels. We had a very pleasant chat with groups of backpackers whilst basking by the lake.
We decided, whilst laying on the warm jetty between swims, that we would never leave this place. Ever. Twas perfick. But clearly we did.
In addition…the cost of fuel in Slovenia was €1.64 (£1.39) rather than €2.04 (£1.74) in Germany and probably £1.80 in the UK at the moment.
29th August and we headed over to the Slovenian capital Ljubljana. We were aware of a car park which was very close to the city centre and an easy walk in to the centre. However the car park was not as good as we have encountered previously and was scruffy and smelly. However it was only €12 inc elec for 24 hours so it was worth a go. We were not entirely comfortable but it was safe and quiet despite there being another ten or so motorhomes overnight. There was a very handy Mercator supermarket next door. We decided on arrival to pop into Ljubljana after dinner to do a recce prior to a full visit next day. Well it was good, nice enough with some fine buildings, a castle (as ever) and a river. It was quite a lively fun place despite this being a Monday evening so we had a pint alongside the river at an outdoor restaurant. We did decide however at this stage that there was probably not enough to excite us in Ljubljana the next day so we would head off to the next country instead. Croatia.
Did you know….
The Alps are the highest at 4809m – 15800ft and the most extensive mountain range system that lies entirely in Europe, stretching approximately 750 mi (1,210 km) across seven Alpine countries (from west to east): France, Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia.
The Alpine arch generally extends from Nice on the western Mediterranean to Trieste on the Adriatic and Vienna to the east.
Mont Blanc spans the French–Italian border, and at 4,809 m (15,778 ft) is the highest mountain in the Alps. The Alpine region area contains 128 peaks higher than 4,000 m (13,000 ft).
Unusually for us we are doing yet another blog in short order. We are doing so much that it would be a huge undertaking to cover everything in one. We know you guys already get tired and burnt out reading these blogs (!)so smaller chunks would be wise for a while.
When last we spoke we were in Luxembourg and headed…. somewhere south with no particular plan in mind as ever. Note – the fuel in Luxembourg was £1.44p per litre… compared with current UK cost of £1.88 or so.
13th August and we arrived at a car park immediately alongside the Rhein at Drusenheim. Still in France but only just. We could look across the river directly into Germany. This is kinda just west of the Black Forest. Now this car park was free and we were made welcome by the signage alongside. ‘Motorhomes can stay overnight’ or the equivalent French version. ‘Except for Sundays when you have to be gone by 6am’ – Bugger. This was a Saturday night so perhaps a bit of planning would have been handy..! Never mind, we have been known to ignore signs before so all should be good. 6am is far too early. Especially when you read on….
The site was quite busy but mostly with older folk watching the ships go past and the ferry shuttling back and forth from Germany into France. It would surely get quieter as the evening drew on. Our research did suggest this would be the case and we would sleep soundly. However……this was a Saturday night as mentioned. In the middle of the summer holidays so there was a loud karaoke event over on the German side. Crap singing of course, but very very loud. Bearing in mind the Rhine is a rather wide river it was still painful. However again…. there was a clown on our French side of the Rhine who wanted to drown out the rubbish karaoke with his own woofers and tweeters in his white van. Just ten metres away from us. We happened to have picked the busiest, noisiest time of year to stay here. The competition was not only intense but it was also prolonged. ‘White Van man’ gave up by midnight, but Karaoke Deutschland kept on until 2am…! So, there was absolutely no chance of us leaving by 6am. The funny part was that ‘White Van Man had parked up directly behind three old folks on a bench looking across the river. I mean like 2 metres away. Well, bless them, they just sat there and ignored him, for about 3 hours, determined not to move. ‘I have been through the war and I am not going to be moved by a knob like him’, I could sense them saying. (They probably just turned their hearing aids off).
Anyway at 4.50am the local cockerel decided that we had suffered enough sleep and wanted to confirm our poor choice of campsite. ! Thankfully we managed to survive until well after 9am before moving off into Germany.
Now this bit was fun. The ferry is a foot/cycle/car/motorhome ferry which is absolutely free and runs all day and every day. The tricky bit is that the max weight is 3.5 tonnes. Well we are 3.5 tonnes… and a bit. (Quite a big bit probably). And added to that the ramp down to it was steep and the ramp off the other side was also steep. There was a serious risk of grounding. I had watched other motorhomes on both sides and was a bit nervous. The short 2 minute journey was exciting and we were slightly anxious however we were right to be so. We did in fact hit the ground with the rear end of Ruby as we leapt across onto German soil. Just a little bang. No damage but enough to scare us. Sorry Ruby..
We were also surprised to learn from a local chap that the Rhine level was so low due to the current serious drought that the number of barges going up and down was massively reduced. Many of the larger, more interesting ones, had to be parked up awaiting the autumn rains.
Well after speaking to the same local chap we decided to stop over in Mummelsee in the Black Forest for a break after a long and strenuous 50 minutes driving (!) we stopped for brunch. Cup of coffee and a Bratwurst. Something we have always remembered fondly from the days we lived in Germany. Not quite as good as our memory recalls but a nice snack anyway. Mummelsee is a beautiful tourist lake with classic Black Forest tourist stuff. A good start.
14th August and we arrived at Camping Alisehof in Schapback, deep in the Black Forest. It was about time we had some elec hookup and a washing machine available. Down to my last pair of pants..! We stayed just the two nights but really loved the place. The toilets/shower facilities are immaculate quality and cleanliness and they even supply passes for the local buses and discounts at the nearby Bear and Wolf. There is a neat little shop and bar, a kitchen providing pizza and Flammkuchen (google it..) and there are proper play areas for the kids. Cost of €34 per night inc elec (£30 ish) was well worth while. Especially when you pop into the local village and see the beautiful classic Bavarian houses and shops all of which is also immaculately tidy.
The pitches on site were a little scruffy and dusty- again likely due to the prolonged heatwave. Twas indeed very hot but this was the turning point before we were met by some very cloudy days and some stormy weather. We took the opportunity to walk the 8km forest trail to the Bear and Wolf Park. It was good to get some exercise in after a while of travelling on the road. We accidentally got into the Bear Park for free as the back gate from the forest walk was left wide open so we just snook in…! Thankfully this was into the public area, not the bear enclosure. ! Mainly this is a retirement park for bears that have been collected from around the world that have suffered in circuses, ‘dancing bear’ shows and ‘selfie photo bear cubs’ from tourist spots. We did therefore contribute despite free entry.
Really enjoyed the Alisehof campsite and were glad to re-charge our batteries (literally).
On 16th we reverted to type and parked overnight in a terrific tarmac lay-by near Schliffkopf. This was still in the Black Forest alongside what is sweetly called the Black Forest High Street that seems to pretty much run right through the middle. A wide road of good quality. It did get nice quiet overnight with the added bonus of a view away into the distant mountains. We managed a 8km walk through another forest track to the ski centre at Ruhestein. Unsurprisingly no snow but a cafe alongside the slopes for a coffee stop. This was also our first view of those classic Bavarian cows with bells round their necks.
So continuing to move on we arrived the next day at a car park by the lake in Kork. Just on the German side of the Rhine close to Strasbourg. On arrival in heavy rain the place looked tatty, soul-less and rather exposed but as ever we parked up, had lunch, the sun came out, cars arrived, everyone jumped into the lake, so we did too. Ended up really enjoying the place. Had several warm swims in the quarry formed lake and were joined by 3-4 other camper vans for another cosy (free) night. Win win.
The next morning however and we had plans. We had been told about the glories of Strasbourg so had to arrange a site within easy reach. We therefore pitched up on the 18th at the Kehl ‘Am Wasserturm’ overnight site. It was never meant to be anything other than a secure place to stay with the location being key. It was in actual fact pretty rubbish as a site. €12 with no services other than a toilet and grey waste disposal. Fresh water was an extra €1. Parking was pretty cramped and very busy. However it was just a 15 minute walk to the Kehl Rathaus (townhall) where we caught the tram straight into the centre of Strasbourg. €3.60 each return for the half hour journey in a modern clean efficient tram. Over the Rhein (again) and back into France where Strasbourg lives…..
The old town of Strasbourg (Petite France) is basically an area including three small islands with buildings that haven’t changed in hundreds of years. Beautiful classic houses and shops with the rivers passing through the middle. Reminded us a bit of Amsterdam. Lots of great photos opportunities despite the fact there was a lot of cloud around. I always had in mind that Strasbourg was just a modern city with strong links with European Union Organisations. Well, thanks to a conversation with a fellow traveller this was a good option to visit.
We then popped into the slightly more modern Primark (!) in the shopping centre to make some cheap clothing purchases.
And .. to buy a replacement camping chair for my pretty rubbish recent failure of Hi-Gear kit..
The next day we had a productive morning. By 10am we had found a TUV (MOT) station to obtain a sticker for the German Green Zone. Michelle discovered at the 11th hour that if we drove through Frieburg we would need a sticker for Ruby otherwise big fines will follow. There were limited other routes plus the Green Zone sticker lasts for ever (apparently) and covers increasing numbers of towns and cities (including Switzerland as it turns out). The Zone sticker cost €17.50 and simply requires the TUV office to check our V5 UK registration document for Ruby. This fitted neatly below the French equivalent on the windscreen. I hate stickers on my windows..!
Secondly Michelle had discovered a self-wash car wash big enough for Ruby, plus it had a gantry alongside to enable us to give Ruby’s roof a damn good scrub with a power brush. Totally necessary. Cost of €10 enabled us to do a great job on the roof and a pretty average job of Ruby’s sides..!
So at the time of writing – 21st August- we have pulled up onto a paid site at Titisee (chortle..). A small town and lake, still in the Black Forest. We had to pay a massive €41 Euros per night but the site is directly alongside the large lake with terraced pitches, all with views across the lake. You cannot book in advance but with 220 spaces there was plenty of options. Damnit. We always struggle with options. We consider everything…where does the sun rise? Set? Which way is the prevailing wind? Where are the noisy Germans? (Everywhere!). Are there midges or mosies? Anyway we managed to fail once again. But hey, we had great views across the lake. The site does, once again, have brilliant, modern, clean toilet and shower blocks AND you can use a SUP – Stand Up Paddleboard for free every day… AND a courtesy car for free every day for an hour to pop to the shops…. ! Well I never…! We made use of the SUP two days and managed to not drown as there is no training and no previous experience. Bloody hard work but pretty satisfying on this large calm lake.
The couple of days we planned however had dodgy weather with some sun, lots of cloud and some heavy heavy rain. So we opted to stay for a third night in order to capture the much better weather today.
So tomorrow we are headed off slightly east towards deeper cuckoo clock land so will speak later.
Did you know..
The Black Forest is a large scenic area in Southwestern Germany, in the state of Baden – Wurttemberg. It is full of trees, mountains, valleys and lakes just waiting to be explored. The vast and alluring nature park stretches from the town of Baden-Baden to the Swiss border, and from the Rhine almost as far as Lake Constance
Roughly oblong in shape, with a length of 160 kilometres (100 miles) and breadth of up to 50 km (30 mi),it has an area of about 6,009 km2 (2,320 sq mi).
Historically, the area was known for forestry and the mining of ore deposits, but tourism has now become the primary industry, accounting for around 300,000 jobs.
When we last spoke we had given up early on Scotland. And as expected the weather improved up there after we left…. slightly. However we loved the travelling and the experience of Scottish Highlands. Maybe again one day.
In short June and July went like this:- We dropped down to Yorkshire and visited my Dad for a few days before leaving Ruby and jetting off with Jet2 from Leeds to Crete. We spent a lazy ten days by the pool in a resort in Hersonissos in 30º + of heat and blue skies. Have to admit to being cretins in Crete by which I mean we barely left the resort or the (7) pools. With being All Inclusive we wanted for nothing in this ideal resort and despite popping down to the coast, walking round a bit and looking at the local shops/bars, we ignored the beauty and culture of this wonderful Greek island. Still…we got our pale skins tanned nicely..!
Late June into July we had an appointment with our American family over in the UK for a holiday and met up for a few wonderful days in York wandering round in The Shambles and the City Walls and having a right laugh. We later met up with the bigger family at a gathering nearby on 2nd July. There were 35 or so of us who spent a great afternoon hosted by my Dad at a the Hollicarrs Cafe catching up.
The rest of July basically we were working… ouch.. It was graduation time for the nations colleges and we took the opportunity to earn some funds for our next big trip. A very busy 15 long days taking photos in Bristol and Bath was a great way to pass a heatwave but we do enjoy the work and the chance to catch up with fellow photography staff.
And we managed to see all the UK grandkids over the weekends when they joined us on the campsite. Win win. This is the bit of travelling that we have missed. We have not seen enough of the grandkids (or their parents I have to add!) over the 18 months of our travels and have missed important parts of their development that we will not get back. This has caused us to rethink our future planning a bit.
So ‘what about Dubrovnik’ I hear you say… Well, we had been discussing our great European adventure and sorting out the places we wanted to drive to. We had to look at the places we could drive through without visas and without paying stupid amounts on our insurance, both personal and motoring insurance. So we opted for a target destination of Dubrovnik in the south of Croatia. We may make it there but we may change our plans on the way through. (Or our plans may get changed for us..! Who knows). But we booked our Eurotunnel tickets to travel over to Calais on 9th August and return on 5th November. The excitement starts here…
So in preparation we had to organise a few bits including lounging round on a beach in order to enjoy the good weather rather than working. With our local knowledge we knew that access to decent beaches from the Bristol area was limited to the Swansea area of South Wales or down to the south coast. So on 29th July we jumped into Ruby and headed down to Devon for five days in the sun. Our area of choice was Branscombe and we opted for the Combe View campsite for a couple of days. The weather as great, hot and sunny and the site had dry short grass with terrific views. There was a 2km steep walk down to the beach but as we were desperately in need of some decent exercise we took this on with relish. Down to the perfect pebble beach and several swims in the sea each day. The big downfall however was the condition of the toilets and showers on site. We were paying £21 per night, which is still quite a lot for a grass pitch with no electric but the toilets were pretty horrific. Just basically wooden huts from the 1980’s. But still, we are hardened campers and had adjustable expectations AND we have our own shower and toilet. However the toilets on the site were so dirty and ‘stained’ that I asked the owner ‘What time do the toilets get cleaned?‘. Anyway this led to a gentle difference of opinion of the cleanliness and he explained ‘ I would describe the facilities as rustic‘- To which in my rather agitated state now responded with ‘ Well I would describe them as tragic!‘ – Surprisingly he did not like this and told me so. We did manage to not get thrown off site early but we were keen to look elsewhere for the next three nights.
Thankfully we came across a brilliant site just a couple of miles away. The Branscombe Airfield and Camping site. Wow. £23 per night with very nice, clean, non-rustic facilities, a shop, friendly staff AND an airfield.! Right alongside us just 30 metres from our pitch was a narrow, short, grass runway. A few light aircraft were kept in a hangar alongside and we had the joy of a brightly coloured bi-plane taking off and landing several times during our stay which kept us entertained. We again took a walk down to the same beach and yet more steep hills to walk along. More swimming in the sea, more bathing in the sun and more evenings sitting outside Ruby watching other campers and stargazing. We had the added enjoyment of watching the English women winning the European cup. Bliss..
So the date of our European tour was approaching. We spent two nights visiting Michelle’s parents and then headed off for a few days exploring bits of Kent prior to our Eurotunnel booking. Excitement building. It seemed strange to note that we had only to make sure we had a passport and our Check-In details. No Covid stuff. No PCR checks, no confirmation codes about vaccinations, no stuffing cotton buds up our noses. It was worryingly easy to book and plan. ‘What are we missing?’- ‘What else do we need to do?’- Well nothing, it turns out. How easy is this…
First though we had to check out parts of Kent. Just for the hell of it. We identified a perfect free camping spot in the coach park of the Spitfire and Hurricane Museum at Minster. Just alongside the former RAF Manston airfield and a few miles from both Ramsgate and Margate. Both of which we visited on our bikes despite rather dodgy busy roads. The museum kindly allows the occasional motorhome/camper to stay overnight for free. With the expectation that you visit the museum… – which is also free..! But, of course, there is a cafe on site which we used daily for coffee or breakfast and we helped out by watering the plants. So yes, we stayed overnight and then another night, and as it was not busy and they were friendly and welcoming, we stayed a third night. Bloody lovely. The road noise was a little intrusive but it felt wrong to complain…! So as I say, we cycled to both Margate and Ramsgate and as there was another heatwave we had to sample both beaches. Ramsgate was the winner here.
The old RAF Manston site immediately next to the museum has now been taken over as a processing facility by UK Immigration. There are coach-loads of immigrants being brought in every day,-presumably from the Kent coast-where they are processed and identified for up to five days. They are then shipped off somewhere else in the country for whatever is the next stage. Incredible amount of staff and equipment moving in and out all day and into the evening here. Interestingly RAF Manston is where Michelle’s Grampy (Spitfire Engineer) was stationed during WW2. Also where Trina attended her RAF Fire Vehicle servicing course back in the day. Who knew…!
So… now to the really exciting part. 9th August and our start into Europe. Eurotunnel booking confirmation in-hand. Passport in the other. And one of the easiest of transfers over to Calais. We have done this trip several times now and always impressed with the speed and simplicity of it. (Not like the last week in July according to the news). It really is a breeze. We were offered, and took, an earlier train after stocking up on Duty Free stuff first. Passports checked by GB Passport control then by French Passport control 100 metres later.! Gas bottles checked to ensure they were switched off for safety reasons then off we jolly well go. Total cost of £350 return in peak time in a 7.4 metre motorhome. 35 minutes later we were driving on the right. Simples.
We have not got big plans as ever but – as the title suggests- we would like to get to Dubrovnik in Croatia. Meanwhile we just headed south towards Luxembourg and beyond. On SearchforSites we discovered a free location near a town called Bernissart in Belgium. It was a grass car park alongside a wide, clean canal with the occasional speedboat and water skier passing by. Very quiet later in the evening. Rather dark and a delight to be Wild Camping again. Sleep was a little laboured as we always take a little while to get back into the chilled zone and switch off the ‘caveman/woman’ state of alert, but we really enjoyed it. Peaceful and interesting, we just sat watching the sun go down and the moon come up. Great start.
Next morning up and back on the road with the hope of getting into Luxembourg. We really struggled to get a site near the city of Luxembourg but eventually located a campsite at Remich in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Wow, what a find. It is right alongside the Moselle River looking over to Germany on the opposite bank. The site was basic for €15 per night. By basic I mean, no toilets, no showers, just a pitch with full electric and a supply of water etc. Clean enough and safe. I guess the idea is for it to be maintenance free hence no toilet cleaning etc. We did struggle to get in as the pay machine was messing around. Meanwhile a queue of motorhomes behind us started blocking the main road. – The only two British ones in the area. ! Well unlucky. ‘That was bad planning’ says I to the stressed out Brit lady blocking the road, while Mich coaxed the payment machine into action.
Now the joy of Remich and.. the whole of Luxembourg is that ALL PUBLIC TRANSPORT IS FREE…! Yes. Can’t believe it. Not only is it free, it is clean, modern, efficient and friendly. Just jumped on the bus near the camp site and 30 mins later moved across onto a free tram and 20 minutes later we were in the centre of Luxembourg City. And what a great place. I have never considered this to be a place to visit, nor even really to drive through. But it is a little gem of a place. Top quality. Immaculately clean and efficient and with tons of history round the City walls. A most impressive day was spent before the joy of a free trip home. Gotta go and visit this place. Bloody marvellous. Luxembourg is quite pricey including the town of Remich. But well worth a few days visiting.
And today we went for a short cruise up the Moselle (not free but just €10 each (£8.46)).
After three nights it is time to move on tomorrow. Just heading south to the Black Forest. Maybe Baden-Baden. Maybe Not-Not…!
Did you know….
Manston RAF base in Kent started life in World War One as a Royal Naval Air Station. in September 1939, No 3 Squadron flew in equipped with Hawker Hurricanes. Blenheims were also stationed at Manston in December 1939. Manston, being one of the nearest airfields, played a major part in supporting troops during the Dunkirk evacuation in May 1940.
During the Battle of Britain, many squadrons used Manston as a forward air base only as it was too vulnerable to be used to permanently base active squadrons.
The Luftwaffe first attacked Manston on August 12th. Spitfires and Hurricanes did start to reuse Manston but only as a forward base before returning to their home base after completing patrols.
After the Battle of Britain, planes based at Manston took part in raids on German shipping in the English Channel. The runways at Manston were also extended to allow for damaged bombers returning from raids in Europe to make emergency landings.
Many fighters based at Manston gave air cover for ground troops during the ill-fated Dieppe landings. While the landings at Dieppe led to many casualties, the success in the air meant that Manston fighters accounted for forty Luftwaffe aeroplanes at a loss of nine Spitfires.
In February 1944, Manston became part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force (2nd TAF).
As with other fighter bases, Manston played its part in the D-Day landings of June 6th 1944. Typhoons from Manston proved a formidable enemy to the German army when it tried to move tanks and other vehicles to the front. Aeroplanes from Manston also took part in ‘divers’ patrols – attacking and destroying V1 rockets being fired at London.
By the time war in Europe ended, Manston was credited with 234 German planes destroyed, 123 German ships sunk and 161 V1’s shot down.
And, of course, they trained RAF Technicians to service fire vehicles later..!
So… this blog records our visit to Scotland basically for the month of May. It was intended to take six weeks but the weather broke us and caused us to retreat early after less than four weeks. !
We have always loved the idea of going on the famous NC500 (North Coast 500miles) around the Highlands and Islands at the top bit of Scotland. We considered that we needed to beat the midges and we wanted a good chance of some decent weather so it was either May or September. May seemed ideal for our plans as we could hopefully just nip through before the dreaded (female) midges could launch an attack. Little did we know that the little bleeders didn’t stand a chance as the weather would not let them emerge.
So anyhow it all started well. We left the family events in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Yorkshire on 8th May and headed North. We parked up at the Metal Bridge Inn at Gretna Green just a few km short of the border. This was the start of some very welcoming Scottish sites equivalent to French Aires. This is a completely free, gravel, flat, ‘Britstop’ motorhome parking area alongside the pub. The only expectation is that you eat, drink or otherwise spend a few quid in the pub. Makes sense as there are enough pitches for 15 or more vans. There are no formal agreements, just good old fashioned good will. So in reality this one night cost us £27..! But we had some right nice food and a pudding and a drink included. This worked well and as we could sit outside Ruby in our camping chairs late into the evening this started our trip well.
9th May and we entered Scotland and we took on the miles to scoot through the metropolis of Glasgow and hit the Highlands eventually finding our planned SearchforSites wild camping spot close to Glencoe on a tarmaced, flat car park with potential views of Loch Achtriochtan and the Glencoe Mountains. This was immediately very, very, wet, with continuous heavy rain and joined by fearsome wind. Thankfully we were backed up to a large bank with trees to reduce the impact but still a night of limited sleep.
Slightly drier the next morning we headed further north again. We had plans to get to the Isle of Skye as a base for several days. Therefore the next few days we drifted further north parking wild alongside the wonderfully named Loch Lochy then alongside Loch Beag where we managed to get out for a long walk without getting completely soaked. We noticed by this point the amount of foreign visitors to the area. We had not yet joined the NC500 but certainly our neighbours were now driving vans registered in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden and a huge quantity from the Netherlands. Trouble is that many of the drivers and passengers thought it great when they wave to other motorhome occupants. Bearing in mind that about 30% of the vehicles on the road were motorhomes this was very tiresome. And Weird! Many of the other visitors seemed to be Americans and Japanese families in hire cars. Brits were outnumbered throughout the Highlands surprisingly.
12th May and we decided to hook up to some electric at a campsite at Morvich on the coast for a couple of nights. This was still wet and windy but we had only been around for a few days so there was time for the weather to improve. We managed another lengthy walk and dodged the rain though the wind was however pretty intense.
This was our first sight of our many of the red deer roaming the hills, munros and mountains in this beautiful country. There is something pretty special about seeing the deer who just seem to stand and stare at you from afar. Close enough to get a good view but thankfully fully wild in the remote hillsides. This paid site was good at £29 per night – which to be honest is still quite pricey- but we could fully charge all our kit and have a larger shower experience. And importantly use our Nespresso Coffee machine for a while…! The heavily overcast skies had made our solar panels struggle to charge up all that we wanted and access to the laundry room is always welcome. We did wake up on the Saturday morning to some bright sunshine and blue sky. We all loved it. All chats around the site included ‘Brilliant- love this weather’ and ‘what a great change, hope it stays here’. It gave us all some energy as we moved on to the excitement of the Isle of Skye. This was the main place we had plans for. It always seemed to be The place to visit and with the Skye bridge linking it to the mainland had the added bonus of being able to travel in Ruby without a ferry. To be honest the island was much bigger than I thought it would be. The main roads are terrific, wide and straight and everywhere is immaculate. The improved weather was a bonus and made this visit one of our favourite parts of the trip. So the next three nights we moved away from the main roads and onto the tiny coast roads which are bumpy, narrow and hilly with passing places. This was starting what turned out to be hundreds of miles of this kind of road. Move forward a few hundred metres, tuck into a passing place, repeat… quite fun really and surprisingly successful… most of the time..!
The views had already been impressive on our way into the Highlands but now Skye was an absolute dream. Without doubt some of the most awesome views anywhere on the planet. Strangely enough I was slightly disappointed by the bridge over onto the island. Previously I had expected something far more dramatic and spectacular however in reality it’s just ‘quite good’.
Once on the island it was incredible with the rocks, the flat plains, the plentiful beaches, turquoise sea and the beautiful white farm houses and cottages scattered randomly around. It is a wonder we made any progress at all having to stop regularly to soak up the view in addition to using ‘passing places’..
Mile after mile we passed plenty of spots to park up for the night. Most of them with a direct view out to sea. It was however quite windy so we chose a cosy spot against a hillside for the night in a place called Hungladder. After a short while a Scottish Rangers van pulled up alongside us. ‘You are not in trouble. It’s alright’ says the smiling Ranger. He was purely there to hand out leaflets and give guidance in order to ensure campers are kind to the environment. ‘We are delighted with the generosity of Scotland in making us feel so welcome’ we said. To which he replied ‘The only problem is that we are victims of our own success, there are now so many wild campers that we struggle to provide enough facilities’..!
Next day we visited and climbed the Quiraing. This is a rocky hillside with dramatic outcrops alongside a mountainous ridge. This location was used for many movies over the decades and made for a terrific long walk/climb for several hours. We even had sufficient good weather to have a nice relaxing picnic at the top with views all around the island.
So in short… The Isle of Skye is well worth a visit. Easy access, good roads up to the coast then calm, bumpy, relaxed single roads around the coast whilst admiring the terrific scenery. Still no dolphins, whales or seals though….we had downloaded a Whale Track app which shows you the best spots over recent weeks for individual species but they all forgot to look at the app…! None in sight.
16th May and we had the opportunity to fully enjoy the Scottish hospitality for motorhomes. Strome Viewpoint, just east of Skye looks across Loch Carron. This tarmaced lay-by is specifically marked out for motorhomes/camper vans to stop for one night only. There are no facilities other than rubbish bins but the important part is the fact you are made welcome and feel secure. No hassles from passers by and no concerns about being moved on. And a great view directly out of the window across the loch and valley. There are occasional coaches arriving and offloading dozens of tourists with cameras to take a quick snap and jump back onto the coach and move onto the next spot. We then moved further north and our first contact with the NC500 route on the A896. We had no plans to do the entire route but wanted to get a good taste for it.
Probably the most ‘exciting’ road we drove on the North Coast 500 came at an early stage. Day 1. We just blindly followed the NC500 signs on a loop along the coast towards Applecross having not bothered (foolishly…!) to get a map, speak to fellow campers or research online. After all what can go wrong.! Bloody hell…was this road dodgy or what..! Surprisingly there were no signs advising large vehicles not to take this on. Nothing to even suggest that this could be challenging. Well… as you know, we have tried many daunting roads but the approach to the mountain at Bealach Na Ba involved narrow single file roads with steep switchbacks zigzagging up the hillside. Tricky enough when alone but when you add motorbikes, cycles, cars, vans in both directions and walkers this becomes a real challenge. Then at the narrowest, steepest, windiest part a large bakery truck appeared travelling down the hill…! With a row of vehicles behind it. WTF…!. How were we going to deal with this.! We were so close to the edge of the cliff that Michelle had to get out to guide us through, while a passenger in another car watched the truck tiptoe down the gravel edge. It was nerve wracking. The view from here must have been great but …. we were a bit too busy to turn around. Certainly a route that I would not want to meet again. Fun as it was. The view from the top was pretty impressive when we parked in the car park area letting Ruby’s clutch cool down and our heart rate to drop.
Thankfully this route improved slightly down the other side. The loop round this part of the coast took 3 hours over a distance of just 36 miles..!
Our next exciting moment was just a day later at a place called Kylesku bridge. We had decided to put some miles in and headed some distance north, stopping for a nice fish and chip lunch in Ullapool. Also managed to fill up our LPG gas at the last pump before the remote northern roads.
So after a busy driving day we arrive at the scenic Kylesku bridge with surprisingly good weather and once again a terrific view across the valley with the bridge alongside. We had the added bonus of a dozen red deer wandering round just 50 metres behind us on the hillside. They just seemed to be watching us as we and other travellers gathered in the car park. Seemed an idyllic place to spend the night and we confirmed with a passing police sergeant that we were most welcome. As it got dark we were joined by two other motorhomes setting up for the night. Large tarmac car park, right alongside the deep valley, great weather. Can only go downhill from there.. Well at about midnight it started to windy, by 1am it got very windy and by 1.30 it was howling right into the side of Ruby and rocking her from side to side. It was then joined by heavy pounding rain coming sideways. It was very scary. We know that motorhomes do not just blow over in the wind but we really felt that Ruby’s right hand wheels were coming off the deck. It was too horrific to consider driving away down unknown roads in the pitch black but we decided to at least turn round and put the back of Ruby into the wind to ease the fear somewhat. We managed to ‘hang on’ without sleep in this position until 4.30 am when it got light so we felt confident enough to ‘escape.’ As we turned out of the car park I then noticed the warning sign on the road for ‘strong side winds’ – Well no sh*t…!
Within about 5 miles from the valley we parked up in a sheltered car park with hardly any wind and slept soundly until 8am. Phew.. We didn’t die… ! Just..
So moving on we battled through more yucky weather. Several times thinking ’Shall we give up and head back into England’ then after some consideration… ‘well it can’t stay horrible completely for two months– we just gotta be patient’- Really…! So we kept on and did, of course, enjoy the scenery and the trip and the driving. Loved it really. But sure, we would have loved it a whole lot more with some warm sunshine and/or reduced wind.
So by the 19th May we were up at the top end. Durness close to Cape Wrath. The furthest point north on the west coast. We decided to stay a few nights on the Sango campsite right on the coast against some beautiful beaches. A few days parked up would allow the good weather to arrive…surely. Well in actual fact this Thursday turned out to be quite sunny. Still cool and breezy but one of the better days. This gave us the chance to show our toughness by going into the North Atlantic for a swim..! Well it was bloody cold, we were the only crazy fools out there in the sea but we cracked on. Took Bobby our faithful skimming rubber ball in with us to keep us entertained and spent a good 20 minutes or so swimming, chucking the ball and trying to look warm for all the folks in their motorhomes overlooking us on the campsite..! Then immediately over to the hot, powerful modern shower block for 20 minutes to warm up. This was our one and only wild swim during the trip but we did enjoy it. The following day we got bloody soaking wet again with heavy rain damit. We did go for a walk which started out warm and sunny and trudged along through Banakeil Beach and onto the military firing range. The beach has incredible sand dunes that have drifted into unusual patterns and shapes which are then grazed on by sheep. Bizarre looking area and most interesting. The beaches round here are probably some of the best anywhere in the world. Just needs some beach weather to go with it. So yes we got the soaking on the way back to the camp site. Proper dripping, miserable, cold, yukky wet..
Another 20 minute warm up in the shower.. We were most impressed with the site.- despite the wind and rain (not the fault of the site owners I feel..!). £20 per night with electric and brilliant showers, great views and solid pitches. Very busy with multi types of campers and from multi countries of origin. The other reason we stayed for several days was so we could settle down and watch Leeds United on TV. Very last minute of the very last game of the season and with the help of other teams we just managed to hang onto the Premier League. God was that stressful…!
After a couple of other stops along the north coast – still on single track roadways with passing places – we ended up at the famous John O’Groats. An important milestone in anyones Scottish highlands trip. It felt good to have arrived there and we walked over to the fingerpost for photos and to look out to sea. A wonderful moment. Even the sun came out and the wind dropped…. a little..we even witnessed a beautiful sunset. It is strange to witness that at this distance north in late May the sun does not set until well after 10.30pm so it is still light at midnight. And by 4am it is getting light again. ! Takes some getting used to.
We had always been keen on going onto the Orkney Islands so had booked a ferry/coach trip from John O’Groats the next day. As we had no plans for where to stay we simply parked up in the newly resurfaced John O’Groats car park on site. No motorhome restrictions, no charge, no problem other than being a bit of a slope. So good that we spent two nights there. Once again Scotland welcomes the travelling gypsy travellers.
Our Orkney trip on 25th started with a ferry from JOG (John O’Groats) over to Burwick and then spent most of the day travelling round the islands of Orkney that were accessible by road. This was pretty decent weather really and was only windy and cold without any rain (Wahey). Really enjoyable, very informative and somewhat surprising. Who knew that the islands were so important through history and particularly during the WW2. Scapa Flow, Italian Chapel, Churchill Causeway and more…. very nice. Thank you Rob the coach driver. £69 each. Good value.
Well now we had to head back south, nowhere else to go. And as the weather was now failing once again we decided to make a little more haste in our retreat. A nice free night at the Falls of Shin Forest and a night in a motorhome friendly car park in Inverness was the point in which we eventually left the NC500. The remainder of the route would run down alongside Loch Ness and the Caledonian Canal and back to the west coast to complete the loop., but we turned left instead and headed towards the east coast. We had covered a good 70% of the route and the most scenic, challenging, exciting parts. Very well worth doing.
Inverness turns out to be a good spot. Back into some civilisation, proper shops, cafes and shopping centres. Not all of this is a good thing..! We did also see a couple of large otters swimming and playing in the middle of the Caledonian Canal. Brilliant.
There is still a lot of Scotland to see on the east side so we drove along the east coast past Lossiemouth and Kinloss before landing up on the seafront in Aberdeen. Now this was a surprise. As far as I previously thought Aberdeen was just a scruffy place where the oil rig workers operated from… well… it is in fact a most impressive beautiful city with some incredible historic architecture alongside modern, lively developments. Really clean and safe with many places to visit. We spent the night parked on the sea front esplanade for free amongst other campers and feeling most welcome again. We managed to park on a more remote area away from other motorhomes and with views across the sea at pods of a dozen or so dolphins. ! Wow.. just a hundred metres out to sea they were playing and leaping from the water. A magical sight.
Next morning we did have the irritation at 4.30 am of a generator starting up just 30 metres from Ruby. Noooo…. Turns out this was the reason for the this being such a remote spot. Everyone else knew not to park here. ! One of the seafront coffee outlets had an early start and obviously every morning starts up the geny to start getting breakfasts ready. Bugga. Time to move on. Drive forward along the esplanade 200 metres, back into bed… zzzzzzz
I do remember the walk into Aberdeen City Centre though. There are several scruffy looking tenement buildings on the way to the magnificent buildings in the city. As I looked across I saw a tenement occupant of the highest Scottish heritage emptying his nose over his balcony and onto the balconies below…nice. He then saw me watching and pushed his middle finger proudly into the air giving me the ‘bird’ in a warm Aberdeen welcome…! Thankfully the rest of the city was rather better..
29th May and we turned up at Ballater in the Cairngorms. Yet another very special place. The nice lady in the Tourist Information place called it ‘the Scottish version of Camberwick Green’– Very clean and truly well loved. Whilst enjoying a cup of coffee in the central cafe we watched a bloke that obviously worked in the local garage (judging by his oil soaked overalls), stop at the kerbside and pick up a couple of small bits of paper and put them in the bin. Apparently the kids are taught from an early age to pick up at least 3 bits of litter every day when out and about. Bloody lovely idea. A small town but with lots going on. Our site alongside the river was excellent and had everything we needed. Sufficient to stay over for 3 nights. The weather was slightly improved Scottish wet and windy, sufficient to have a walk into the hills one day and the next we decided to cycle the 8 miles or so into Balmoral. Well what a wonderful thing that was… HM Queen Liz was in residence at the Castle resting up just two days before her Platinum Jubilee. Well that added to the excitement as we hoped to see her standing at the window waving to us gawping in from the posh gardens. None of it though. She was tucked away somewhere quiet. It was good to be there at such an important time in her life. We even enjoyed one of her venison burgers from a ‘hairy coo’ from her estate. The weather was much improved and we failed to get proper wet on our long cycle back to the campsite.
So while the Queen was heading down to that London for the big celebrations we moved onto Glenshee and parked up at the Glenshee Ski Centre. We had been advised that there was space for motorhome parking and electric hook up available. The area was in the main car park directly at the bottom of the ski slope. And despite the wet, cold Scottish weather there wasn’t any snow…! There were however still many walks up the surrounding hills (munro’s) alongside the ski runs. Lots of hills, lots of deer and minimal rain. Win win.
There was no one of officialdom within the Ski centre so we stayed for two nights, free, with wonderful views across the valleys. Only disturbed by screeching Oyster Catchers (black and white birds with bright red beaks).
2nd June was the first day of the ski lift opening for the summer visitors so we were the first batch to use it. We took this lazy route up the munro and then walked several miles across the peaks with a picnic. The whole thing was great. Nice and relaxing area with plenty of people and car watching. Still though… difficult to escape from the fact that this was now into June. Temperature had not yet reached 15º at the peak and blue sky was in short supply. Add to this a constant appearance of wind and we were getting downhearted. ‘Scotland cannot possibly stay so gloomy for so long’ – ‘Surely’…!
3rd June was spent leaving Scotland – a few weeks earlier than planned – and stayed overnight in the car park of the Belford Farm shop and cafe in Northumberland. This was a ‘Britstop’ venue which permitted free motorhome parking with an agreement that some purchases were made in the shop/cafe. No problem. Nice breakfast. This place is close to Bamburgh and our favourite castle. This time we were able to visit the inside which made the place even more spectacular. If you ever visit any castle in the country then Bamburgh Castle has to be the top of your list. What a beauty…
4th June we spent two nights at a previously used free site in Warkworth then heading further south we visited Cayton Bay in East Yorkshire parked on the old Filey Road before arriving for a pre-booked four nights at the Royal Bridlington Yacht Club in East Yorkshire. This is a ‘pop-up’ temporary site in a field along the beach about 2 miles along the coast from the Bridlington town centre. It had only the basic amenities without electric though still cost £15 per night. However it’s location is ideal alongside the beach and an easy walk/cycle/road-train ride into town. The major problem was immediately obvious. We were right next to a very large wind farm…! So guess what..? Yup, four days of being blown around and rocked back and forth on the site. We did manage to enjoy the town and one day we cycled along four miles to Sewerby then walked the rest of the way to Flamborough Head for lunch below the lighthouse. Very nice indeed. Didn’t get wet. Nice and sunny. Just damned windy. Oh and we did get to watch ‘Top Gun – Maverick’ at the cinema. Top film..
So…as you may gather..as sun seekers and worshippers, the trip to Scotland was hard to take. We absolutely loved the country, the roads, the people, the views, the experience and the walking/driving/riding but WE NEED SUN…
So we immediately booked a lastminute.com to Hersonison in Crete. Ten days in the hot sun of Greece was entirely necessary.
But that is another story……
Did you know… There is a huge daylight difference between the north of Scotland and the south of England through the year with big increases in Scotland in Summer and several hours less in winter. Almost a case of the midnight sun in the summer. It really does seem like the sun never goes down. Below are sunrise and sunset figures but, of course, it is still light for a considerable time after the sun drops and before the sun arrives..
Mid summer- 21st Jun daylight is
John O’Groats 04.02 – 22.25
London 04.43- 21.21
An incredible extra 1hr 45 mins between sunrise and sunset
Mid Winter – 21st Dec
John O’Groats 09.01- 15.18
London 08.03- 15.53
An equally incredible 1hr and 33 mins less daylight