Chris and Clyde had long dreamed of a life on the open road. This came to fruition in Oct 17 after purchasing a suitable long term touring 'van and Chris retiring from work.
We worked hard preparing to leave our home as we had decided to rent it out for a few years. We booked a ferry from Portsmouth to Caen but otherwise we had no plan except to head for warmer climes to kick start our adventure.
The plan is simply to amble around Europe (that includes the UK), and Scandinavia, for a few years exploring as the fancy takes us. Previous travelling experience has been unplanned and reactionary and we see no reason to change our modus operandii. We have studied full timers’ blogs and listened to the wisdom of more experienced folk but, ultimately, we will have to follow our own path. That is part of the fun after all!!
This blog is for our family and friends to enjoy as well as providing a record for us. It is not intended to look professional or contain fancy links to all sorts of things. No doubt it will evolve as we go along. The posts will be sporadic as we will be relying on free Wifi. Please be patient!
Due to my ineptitude, I have had to repost 4 posts from last year. I had created pages for these, but found that my followers could not find them. I had to copy them and turn them into posts. They are, therefore, out of date order. I hope this is not too confusing.
We are currently on a campsite in Southbourne, near Chichester, keeping as safe as possible. The virus is still very much here, and life is not back to normal. These are strange times.
By the third week in July we had the van back, complete with new floor, and we were ready to get our lives back. After a visit to Wantage, we treated ourselves to a break in Cheltenham. The most convenient place to stay was Cheltenham Racecourse, where the Caravan and Motorhome Club run a campsite. We had a pitch on the rails with sweeping views across the countryside. It was very exposed when the temperature reached 37.5 degrees!
We had one excursion into Cheltenham itself and simply enjoyed walking through the parks and the main streets. Of especial note is The Promenade and Montpelier. These are tree lined and historic areas great for shopping and eating. It has a very refined atmosphere! We also explored the Suffolks and Tivoli which are also full of independent shops and eateries.
Whilst we awaited the arrival of Marcus and Chantelle’s baby, we visited relatives and pottered about between Bedford and Havant with odd excursions to Gosport. Suzanne and the children came to spend a day on Hayling Island and baby Chilestone arrived the next day. All very exciting.
Other than some time spent on a dodgy campsite on Hayling Island, a nicer time on a CL at Nutbourne, and a short stay at Pevensey, we enjoyed a few days at Canterbury. I went to university at Canterbury in the 1970s and it was a treat to go back for a visit. It was full of tourists and no students as it was still the holidays. We did not fork out a fortune to visit the cathedral but enjoyed exploring the city and in particular, the Westgate Gardens. It was a surprise to me to see punts on the river. I definitely didn’t see anything like that when I was a student. We also visited my old college which has changed a bit but still has the same church in the centre.
After the blast of nostalgia for me, we returned to Havant for a last few cuddles with Elijah and prepared ourselves for our trip to France and Germany.
We had a vague plan to drive down the Romantische Strasse in Germany, but having already sidetracked ourselves, we thought a stopover in Belgium would be rather lovely. Not expecting to spend any time in Belgium, we did not have a road atlas other than the rather sketchy Europe map. It made things very interesting and I discovered that our new campervan sat nav is not fully functioning. Luckily, I had brought the old Garmin along, and it was pressed back into service.
I rather fancied a visit to Namur and a look at the ACSI camping book came up with a reasonably priced touring park near Namur. Thanks to said sketchy road atlas, this proved to be misleading and we ended up much further south. However, the little village of Mouzaive on the river Semois was a lovely spot for a couple of nights of peace and quiet.
Undoubtedly, the region of Wallonia is beautiful and worthy of a longer stay than we had. There is plenty to explore if you like walking and cycling. Our stay was brief but relaxing and we will return to visit Namur another time.
Our journey into Germany was now via Luxembourg. We have visited before so did not stop, but we enjoyed the scenery along the way. As we climbed out of the Semois valley, we enjoyed some stunning views. We stopped at Rochehaut in the Bouillon region to enjoy the views down over the Semois valley.
This area, which is in the Duchy of Luxembourg, is a land of forests criss-crossed by footpaths, with an ancient feel to it. No walking for us, so we pressed on through Luxembourg to Germany.
At last we managed to escape the UK for a bit of European travel whilst we awaited a date for Clyde’s knee operation. We booked a ferry for 26 August and a return for 4 October, which gave us 6 weeks to wander about France, Belgium and Germany.
First destination was Arras, as we had decided to do a bit of war grave visiting. Arras is on the circuit and described as very attractive, so we stopped on the aire for a couple of nights. It was a reasonable stroll into the town and was indeed quite attractive. There are two main large squares and several smaller ones. The cathedral was a disappointment but the squares were lovely and the Town Hall was very impressive. We were hoping to be impressed by the interior of the Town Hall but, we were denied entry as we were too late and had not joined a tour. Just our luck!
Le Touret War Memorial
This was a great moment as Clyde’s Grandfather was killed in the First World War, in France. His sister had tracked down his memorial to a cemetery in Le Touret, and we were on a mission to find it. This part of France is littered with war graves and memorials to men from countries all over the world. It is truly sobering to see the scale of death and destruction. So many young lives were lost and families affected forever. Clyde’s father was born after the death of his father, and therefore started life, as thousands of other children did, in a grieving family.
The memorial is situated in beautiful, peaceful French countryside. It is a glorious memorial building and Joseph Campouser is named on one of the many tablets. He is also one of thousands with no grave.
We were so pleased to have had the opportunity to visit this place. Clyde is the first member of his family to ever visit this memorial to his Grandfather and he was very moved by the experience.
As we were so close to Ypres in Belgium, we decided to pay a visit and attend the daily ceremony at the Menin Gate. We stayed on a campsite nearby, the one on the edge of town was full, and we drove to Ypres town late afternoon and parked just along from the gate. The town is not very big but has a pleasant town square and attractive buildings including the old town hall.
We walked up the steps of the Menin Gate and looked at the thousands of names engraved on the walls. More than 54000 Commonwealth servicemen were killed in the Ypres Salient during the First World War who have no known grave. The Menin Gate was unveiled by Lord Plumer in a ceremony on 24 July 1927 that was attended by veterans and relatives of the missing.
In his speech, Lord Plumer declared:”Now it can be said of each one in whose honour we are assembled here today:’He is not missing, he is here’.” At the end of the service, buglers sounded the “Last Post”, a tradition that continues today.
On the day we visited, there was a male voice choir singing as well as the Last Post played by 3 buglers. It was a haunting sound echoing around the walls.
After a few days of driving around the old war grave sites and experiencing the way that these men are remembered in foreign fields, we continued our journey through Belgium.
This is our first visit to Germany since we moved back to the UK in Feb 2010 and we were very excited to be back. Our plan was to drive along the Romantische Strasse as we had completed some of it in our MX5 many years ago and thought it would be different to be able to park up in the campervan in some of the most scenic places. Rather than dash to the start of the Romantische Strasse, we decided to spend some time on the Mosel, and headed for Bernkastel-Kues. As we drove over the bridge at Zeltingen, en route, I spotted a stellplatze right by the river. We quickly changed our plan and swung in to grab a riverside pitch.
It was a beautiful sunny day and the river was looking gorgeous. Zeltingen is a typical wine producing town, picturesque and with a backdrop of vineyards. We enjoyed two nights here and found it hard to tear ourselves away. We even treated ourselves to a meal out in a restaurant overlooking the river. Not something we do very often!
Feeling that we should get moving, we moved a whole 4.5 kilometers along the road to a touring site within walking distance of Bernkastel-Kues. Although it was not quite as scenic we still managed a riverside pitch and stayed for 2 nights, just long enough for a quick visit to the town.
We have been here before but it was still rather lovely . It is one of the more touristy towns and there were a few Oriental visitors getting in the way as they posed themselves in front of the various attractions. However, it was nice to see a bit of bustling activity. There are the usual half timbered buildings which are quirky and pretty, and you can walk through to the vineyard covered hills beyond. The river is busy here with river cruise boats and day trip boats coming and going.
This is a very picturesque and much photographed Mosel town. There are others just as lovely.
Our next stop was Senheim near Cochem. The plan here was to stay on a campsite where we could get the washing done and hung out to dry whilst bussing into Cochem. The campsite we chose is a Dutch run site and therefore, very orderly. It was also very full with mostly Dutch people. Not a problem, at least we got one of a few remaining pitches and a river view between some caravans. The weather let us down here and we didn’t go into Cochem. We did manage to dodge the showers and walk into the village for a look around. Not much here apart from a winery offering tasting tours, and a few eateries. The walk along the river was pleasant enough and the view across to the neighbouring village was pretty in the evening.
It was time to move on again, otherwise we were never going to get to the Romantische Strasse. We drove along the Mosel through some gorgeous villages where the stellplatz were bustling, and we were very tempted to stop for a while. However, we felt we must stick to our plan and promised ourselves a return visit. We headed across country, over the hills and finally arrived at Wurzburg which is at the start of the Romantische Strasse.
Once again we struck lucky with our spot on the stellplatz. We arrived to find it was full and had just parked in a normal car parking place when, to our delight, someone decided to leave. We quickly spun our seats round and shifted onto a river front spot. We also had electricity so we were able to charge all our devices and save on our gas. This becomes more exciting, the more we live off grid!
Now we were settled, we walked along the river and over the Alte Main Brucke, into the heart of the city. By now it was early evening and folk were enjoying glasses of local wine as they strolled across the bridge. It was a lovely atmosphere on a beautiful late summers evening. We also enjoyed watching the cruise boats passing through the lock under the bridge and very close to our van on the stellplatz.
There is a lot to see in Wurzburg including the Residenz, which is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. We needed a full day to visit The Residenz, so we had a day following the walking tour guide around Wurzburg and a day dedicated to The Residenz. The Fortress Marienberg which is on the hill overlooking Wurzburg had to be added to our future list.
Here are a few of the best bits that we saw on our walk round. We were staying close enough to be able to go back to the van for a couple of hours before heading back into town to enjoy the evening atmosphere.
The visit to the Residenz and the Court Garden was our aim for the next day. It was a 30 minute walk through the town and we arrived just in time for a guided tour in English. No photos were allowed inside the building so we bought a postcard! It was rather relaxing just listening to the guide and marvelling at the ostentatious decor. The mirror room was the most amazing sight. Much of the building has undergone restoration since a devastating fire in 1945 which has cost a fortune and I am sure is helped by the contributions of visitors. The staircase is also a wondrous sight. It is an unsupported vaulted roof which was decorated by Venetian Giovanni Battista Tiepolo in 1752/3. The ceiling fresco represents the four continents and is one of the largest frescoes ever created.
We had to satisfy our photographic desire by taking pictures of the outside. It is a big place and the grounds are not extensive so we managed to find a bench on which to eat our sandwiches.
We had a cup of very expensive coffee in the restaurant and made our way back to the aire. Altogether a very pleasant couple of days. In the tourist office we had picked up a guide to the Romantic Road. It has a map and brief details of all the participating places. We did not realise that there are 29 destinations along the route! We decided quite quickly that we would need to be selective.
Bad Mergentheim is the former town of residence of the Grand and German Masters of the order of Teutonic Knights. It has a castle of the Teutonic Order with a chapel and museum. From our parking place near the stellplatz across the park from the town, we walked through the castle grounds and gateway into the town. The market place is home to some fine half-timbered houses and Baroque palaces. The town has a reputation for its spa and wellness focus.
We did not think there was enough here to keep us overnight, so we did not stay on the stellplatz. We moved on to our next stop at Rothenburg ready to immerse ourselves in a feast of Medieval delight.
ROTHENBURG ob der TAUBER
We had a tricky time getting round the old town and onto the right road for the stellplatz. The sat nav wanted to direct us through the narrow archways and through the pretty cobbled streets. Eventually, instinct paid off and we arrived safely. The stellplatz was extremely busy but we managed to find a spot for the night. In the morning, there was the usual movement and we dashed into a newly vacant spot with a grass verge and electric. It is not essential for us to have electric but, it is a bonus if we can keep things charged, such as the camera battery and the phones.
Once settled on the first evening, we walked into the town through one of the town gates in the wall. From here you can access the town wall via the Spital Bastion or walk up one of the most photographed streets in Germany, Spitalgasse. Rothenburg is a really beautiful Medieval town with an interesting history. It became a commercial centre in the 12th century, due to its position, and in 1274 it was elevated to a Free Imperial City by King Rudolph of Habsburg. In 1618-48, it was a victim of the 30 years war then was only saved from invasion by the Meistertrunk (Master draught). In 1945 40% of the buildings were destroyed in a bombing attack by allied forces. Financial support from around the world enabled the destroyed areas to be restored.
Our first day was spent in the town and the Burggarten. There were plenty of visitors giving the place a buzz, mostly American for a change. The Christmas shops were in full swing and doing a roaring trade. There are so many attractive buildings, it is an absorbing place to visit. The only slight disappointment was the glockenspiel. The two figures that appear when the doors open do not come out. I think we were spoiled by the really exciting one in Goslar.
At 8pm every day, there is a night watchman tour of the city. I attended the tour on our first full day there, with a neighbour from the stellplatz, whilst Clyde and her husband sat in the market square with a beer. It helped to get a feeling for the history of the place and I revisited some of the parts the next day in daylight.
On our second day, we did the walk around as much of the walls as we could access. There are 7 towers still accessible and one of them is open for you to climb up and view the town from the top.
Altogether, Rothenburg is a truly worthwhile stop on the Romantische Strasse and one we would not have wanted to miss.
On our way to our next stop at Dinkelsbuhl, we paused at Feuchtwangen and Schillingsfurst, as they are on the Romantic Road list. Both small places, the view from the Schloss at Feuchtwangen was best bit for us, as we did not visit the schloss itself. There was a great atmosphere in Schillingsfurst as it was a family fun run day. The local band were there playing good old German music to cheer things along. We stood and applauded the runners for a while before moving on.
We decided on a campsite at Dinkelsbuhl so I could get some washing done. I booked in advance for once and when we arrived, I discovered I had booked a site near Munich with the same name!! Last time I do that, as I lost my £4.50 deposit!
It was a 20 minute walk into the town, which is more compact than Rothenburg but also Medieval with lots of unspoiled buildings. The streets are wider which gives it a different feel. We had a wander round and then enjoyed an iced coffee overlooking the main street.
Dinkelsbuhl had a different atmosphere from Rothenburg. It was not nearly as busy or touristy and was a lovely relaxing place to enjoy for a few hours.
This was another short stay for us as it was not very exciting. We managed to squeeze onto the free stellplatz, where we bumped into some people who had been at Rothenburg. We had a walk into the town, were slightly disappointed by the glockenspiel at 1630, visited the cathedral and back to the van via a riverside cafe for coffee. The weather was not so bright which probably coloured our view!
NEUBERG AN DER DANAU
By now, we fancied a change from the Romantic Road and made for the Danube. We stopped at Neuberg with the idea of strolling by the Danube and visiting the Schloss. We were happy with the stellplatz, as it was on the banks of the river and had a great view of the schloss.
Sadly, this was another of those places that look better from the outside. We paid to go in the schloss and were disappointed by the lack of anything decorative within. The courtyard had interesting painted walls which were unlike anything we had seen before.
There is a compact old town with some attractive buildings but, when we were there, it was deserted. The lack of people made it feel unattractive and we were not inclined to linger.
The best part of this visit for us was the view of the schloss across the river, and the stellplatz where we relaxed in the sun.
Back on task, we went to Augsburg. It was a 30 minute walk into the centre from the stellplatz which we did twice. It was not good for Clyde’s knee so we limited the walking around Augsburg and focussed on the central parts. This is a university town and has a lively feel to it. The central square was busy and on our second visit, there was a peaceful, but musical, demonstration taking place in recognition of the world climate justice protest.
Augsburg has an interesting history and we visited the Fugger and Welser museum to see how the two families had contributed to the development of the city through their trading and banking activities. The grand Maximilianstrasse has some lovely buildings and I also visited the Fuggerei. This was the 1st social housing complex in the world, set up by the Fuggers in 1521. It is still operating today and is a most interesting place to visit. I am not sure what the residents feel about living in a museum with people walking past their windows having a good look and taking photos!
Inside the Rathaus is the renovated Golden Saal. It is used for grand occasions and weddings. It is certainly an impressive sight. We paid to go in and have a look. Not to be missed!
It was time to move on. There is a lot of the Romantische Strasse to cover!
Augsburgh exhausted, we looked at our Romantische Strasse leaflet again and plumped for a visit to somewhere more countrified. Rottenbuch seemed to fit the bill so we decided to spend a couple of days on the ACSI site there, get the washing done, and explore the local area.
The first afternoon there, we walked into the village. It is not very big but there are some lovely walks in the area. The village is mostly comprised of the Klosterhof and is extremely charming. We stepped through the creaky door of the rather plain looking church and our eyes popped out. What a stunning interior! This was definitely the highlight of the village.
Next day, we went to visit Schloss Linderhof, which is a 30 minute drive away through very pretty countryside. The schloss grounds are extensive but only a relatively small area is devoted to formal gardens. The schloss is very small and was built by King Ludwig 11. It was the only palace that was finished in his lifetime and he actually lived there for part of the time. He was a strange character who did not like people much and preferred his own company so he had small rooms for receiving guests as large gatherings were not his thing. The rooms that ae available for visiting, by guided tour only, are sumptious Roccoco afairs. The mirrored room is astonishing but as you are not permitted to take photos in the Palace, I have no evidence to share here. We enjoyed the flora fountain in the front courtyard but the cascade is undergoing renovation so it was closed off. The views from the top of the staircase in front of the palace are also very pleasing.
On the way home we stopped for a cup of tea by a lake which was very busy with locals enjoying a swim and boating activities. Back at the campsite, my washing was dry. Just as well as it rained all the next day. We used the time to do some planning and decided to extend our stay in Europe by two weeks.
As we were initially planning to drive down to Monaco in France, we thought a stay by the Bodensee would make a convenient stopping place. The weather had not improved much when we set off but we stuck to the plan and stopped overnight on the stellplatz outside the campsite at Lindau. It was not the best part of the lake but was fine for one night. Next day we made it to the border town of Freiburg.
FREIBURG We found the stellplatz in Freiburg quite easily and were welcomed by the friendly Manager, who spoke excellent English. His wife provided us with a map and information about the city. It was a bit of a step into the centre but having the map was a bonus as we probably would have gone wrong along the way, as we did in Augsburg. A determined English lady from a van near us also gave us detailed instructions, which actually confused us a bit! I remembered having been to Freiburg several years ago but I did not recognise it until we finally found the Altstadt. We must have stayed on a different stellplatz last time and approached from a different direction. It is a very bustling city full of students. We were helped by a lovely young man who saw we were lost in the back streets. He was pleased to practice his English with us. We only had a short time to spend here and the weather was inclement, but the old parts were well worth a visit.
After a couple of hours enjoying Freiburg we were ready to head back to the van and prepare for our trip across the border into France.
Looking back at my diary for May reminded me of some small pleasures. We had to attend an emergency eye appointment for Clyde at QA hospital in Portsmouth. This involved borrowing our daughters’ car (carefully sanitised), and we had the treat of speaking to the children from the end of their drive. Self shoulder hugs all round and blown kisses from 10 feet away.
The next day saw us creeping quietly from the house at 0600 complete with flask of coffee and enough sandwiches for breakfast and lunch. We had an eerie trip along the unusually quiet motorways and arrived in record time. We had time to park at the car park on Portsdown Hill where we enjoyed the view across to the harbour and Spinnaker Tower, glistening in the glorious sunlight. We had a small cup of coffee as there were no facilities open! I dropped Clyde off at the front of the hospital and went in search of somewhere to park. It was not easy as most of the car parking is now reserved for staff. I finally found a small space at the back of the site and awaited his return. When he emerged blinded by the eye drops, he could not see me and I had to resort to old lady style cooees! Back up the hill to enjoy our lunch sandwiches and have another small drop of coffee. No toilet trip for me, Clyde was lucky as he had found one in the hospital. I managed the drive back to Bedford before desperation set in. It is not easy travelling during lockdown.
It was now the 75th anniversary of VE day and we had a socially distanced street celebration. This involved sitting in the front gardens with our own picnics. However, we managed to chat to the neighbours, listen to music and enjoy the ambience.
15 May was the first time I had seen my best friend since before lockdown. The rules were now relaxed enough to be allowed to meet one other person outside at a distance of 2 metres. We met at the Country Park in Bedford and brought our own cup of tea and chocolate biscuits. We then had a walk around the lake in the sunshine. Odd to be together but apart.
It was such a lovely treat to see Gill and catch up with our news face to face, albeit at a distance.
There are a few empty pages in my diary for May, which reflects how my world seems to have shrunk. My highlights are my daily walks, now up to between 6 and 8 km per day, video calls with the children and grandchildren, and working on crochet projects. Thank goodness for the sunny weather enabling us to get out in the garden for some of our meals and reading our books. We are so lucky to have been able to move in with Clyde’s sister until we can get back on a campsite. We are also very grateful that so far, our family have remained well.
By the last week in May the lockdown had been relaxed further and we were able to meet some of the family in a local park with each household observing the 2 metre distance rule. We had also managed to find a buyer for the campervan as we had decided to look for something a bit more spacious. It was very sad to see it go as it has been our home since we started full time travelling in October 2017. Now we can proceed with the purchase of a replacement. More on that coming up.
We have now been in Bedford for 3 weeks and there are shocking death rates being reported daily across the UK. So far we have remained well, and the neighbours here are all pulling together to keep each other safe and provided for. Social distancing has been adhered to locally, apart from a few non compliers.
We are missing the children and grandchildren masses, but so far our family has remained well. We have been touched by the sorrow for so many families as the virus sweeps across the country taking so many lives.
I have managed to Nordic walk an average of 5 km per day for my daily exercise allocation. It seems a good idea to use this time to improve our fitness and diet, whilst dreaming of the open road. I am managing the fitness, not so good on diet thus far. Last week I made bread pudding to use up leftover rolls, as we are really focussing on limited excursions to the food shops and reducing waste. It was welcomed by Clyde and by Shane next door. However, after a disappointing scales experience, we have decided that in the weeks ahead, we will not have puddings or cake except on odd occasions.
This has been an opportunity for me to explore parts of Bedford I was previously unfamiliar with. The Spring weather has taken the sting out of the tail of this period of isolation. The blossom on the trees and the Spring bulbs, have been beautiful in the sunshine.
The natural beauty of Spring is there for all to enjoy. This year it was enhanced by the sounds of birdsong that are so often drowned out by traffic noise. This is the silver lining.
It is difficult to know where to start. As we dashed back to UK, the Corona Virus was already wreaking havoc in China and starting to be reported in Europe. By the time we had completed the medical appointments and moved on to visit Suzanne and family in Wantage, then Sarah and family in Great Barford, the virus was starting to change lives.
Almost as though we had got an inkling of things to come, I had decided it was time to visit my eldest brother in Bury St Edmunds. For a number of reasons, we have not seen each other for 15 years, and it was a lovely reunion. I also managed a coffee and cake session with my best mate Gill, which will have to keep us going for a while now. Thank goodness for phones, internet and social media!
We spent a few days in Great Barford, which meant we could do a bit of normal grandparent stuff with Molly and Jessica. A trip to Wimpole Hall, National Trust, was the last family outing before we left again.
Images courtesy of Jessica (age 11)
By Monday morning we had decided that we should remove ourselves into isolation, as Clyde is 79. We chose a Caravan and Motorhome Club site at Malvern and booked in for a week initially. We have been here before and so we knew that it is near the village of Hanley Swan and the small town of Great Malvern. The countryside is beautiful, and it was very deserted and peaceful on the campsite.
All was well, but we started to feel that we should perhaps move ourselves a bit closer to family and friends. We became concerned that if we should become unwell, we would have no support if we remained isolated here. There was also an increasing issue with people heading off to their holiday homes and caravan sites, rather than staying at home. This movement would put immense pressure on some areas and therefore, the Government initiated a further stage of the developing social isolation policy to reduce the spread of the virus. On the Sunday morning of our stay, the warden came to advise us that all campsites would be closing with immediate effect. We asked whether there was any leeway at all for those of us who live full time in our vans. He contacted his head office and came back to say they had agreed to let us stay long enough to make alternative arrangements. It was a big relief, as I had just hung out the washing!!
Joking aside, we are very fortunate to have Clyde’s sister in a house that is big enough for us to move in with her for a while. On the Monday morning we drove down to Gosport to collect Clyde’s prescription, then we drove up to Bedford to become cuckoos in Jean’s nest. We were just in time before more stringent restrictions on movement came into force. Any unnecessary travel was disallowed so we might have struggled to get to our destination.
We had to stay near to Portsmouth for the various medical appointments regarding Clyde’s ruptured Achilles Tendon, and his deteriorating eyesight. To that end we booked onto Chichester Camping and Caravan Club site at Southbourne. It is a lovely village between Emsworth and Chichester, with a fabulous farm shop, handy Co-op, and a regular bus service to Chichester and Portsmouth. I was surprised to discover a village called Prinstead, attached to Southbourne next to Chichester harbour. It is a lovely place to walk along the waterside and there are some pretty houses along the way too.
Once all the appointments were over and we had 6 weeks to wait for Clyde to see the consultant again, and have his leg scanned (currently in a boot), we moved on to family in Bedfordshire. Little did we realise how our lives were to change as the Coronavirus took hold across the world!!
Here we were, once again, travelling through France in Feb. Unlike last time, in 2018, we did not have snow, but we did have plenty of wind and rain. We needed to break the journey from Spain to UK into sensible driving distances and so we allowed ourselves 5 days. Most campsites were still closed but there are plenty of aires in France, some of which even have electric points. We were able to get drinking water in most places and there were facilities for emptying waste water and the toilet.
We really loved it here last time we visited, so decided to head there again. The drive from Burgos took nearly 5 hours, but we felt that we had bitten off a good chunk of the journey. It didn’t seem that way after another couple of days on the road! We were last here in Oct 17 and it was buzzing with activity due to the excellent surfing beaches. This time, it was much colder and extremely rough with some heavy rain late in the day. In the morning the bread van arrived bringing delicious French bread to cheer us on our way.
Nersac is in the Charente Department in South Western France, eight kilometers from Angouleme. The village is very pleasant with a very old church, a chateau that needs Dick and Angel’s attention, and an excellent patisserie. The aire is located behind the Marie’s building and provides free electricity. Campers are requested not to use the electric for running their heating. We were joined by an English couple who were on their way south; lucky them!
We had a stroll around the village between showers and enjoyed the view across the parkland, visited the church, and bought fabulous pastries to have with a reviving cup of Earl Grey tea.
We were here when the schoolchildren started coming home from school and then reappeared with musical instruments, heading for the music school in the village centre. Several of them bid us a cheery bonjour as they passed. We had a peaceful night, apart from the bonging of the church bells until 11pm and again from 0600!!
This village was a bit remote and there were roadworks in the village centre with a diversion alongside a canal. It was a bit confusing, but we found the aire which was surprisingly busy. The village is in a market gardening region near to Tours and looked as though it would be nice to wander round. However, the storm that was due to arrive around now, had started to make itself felt and we stayed in the warmth of the van. The aire is located on the outskirts of the village and is a short walk into the centre.
The weather was a bit better today, although breezy and a bit cold. By the time we got to Nonancourt, it was sunny and after a bit of lunch we went exploring. I enjoyed the architecture of this place and once again, the aire was situated alongside the Mairie and the riverside park.
This is a place with a history that starts back in 1112. There are some delightful buildings and a lovely riverside park. Unfortunately, we could not walk along the river as it was far too wet and muddy.
At last we were nearing the end of our journey home. We had an e.mail from DFDS advising that our ferry crossing on Sunday was cancelled due to the impending effects of storm Dennis. After much discussion we decided to see whether we could get a crossing on the tunnel instead. The difference in price was £8, so we looked for an aire away from the port, and the immigrants, and found one on a farm.
We arrived in a gale on Saturday, which was Clyde’s birthday, and headed round to the back of a large barn. It looked very modern and robust and provided some much needed shelter. To make his day complete, Clyde battled with the slightly primitive toilet emptying facilities, almost being blown away in the process! It was a far cry from last year’s birthday spent in Madrid. It was a very wild night and in the morning we were very concerned that we might not make it the few kilometers to Calais. However, we managed to keep on the road, which was very quiet, and arrived in time for the earlier crossing. It was certainly a lot faster and calmer travelling through the tunnel and we will probably use it again.
Back in the UK we drove through heavy rain and wind from Folkestone to Gosport and went straight to the minor injuries unit for his leg to be looked at. A ruptured Achilles Tendon was diagnosed and we headed to our usual car park to consider our next move. We were blissfully unaware of the excitement looming once we got into the medical system for Clyde’s leg and eye issues!!
For this trip we stopped on a campsite that had a bus stop outside the gate. It only took 10 minutes to get into the city and cost 1.20 euros each. The campsite was very shady and had obviously enjoyed the same wet weather as the rest of Spain. We were advised to pitch in the middle and still struggled to get free of the mud when we left.
Burgos has to be back on our list as we had terrible weather whilst we were there. It was cold and wet and after a visit to the cathedral, we could not face wandering around the town in the cold for the 4 hours until the next bus. I have put some pictures of the cathedral on here, and a few of the grand buildings around it, but there is definitely more on offer and that will get on the blog next time around.
It is said that Burgos cathedral is one of the most beautiful in Spain. We did not get that impression although the colours in the stained glass are rather wonderful. There are also some lovely carvings and statues. The cupolas are also quite unusual and very attractive.
Squares and streets around cathedral
Interior of Cathedral
As you can see, there was plenty to enjoy in and around the Cathedral, this is just a small selection. Interestingly, Clyde was allowed to have the concessionary discount here.
This was a fleeting visit to Burgos, on our long trek north towards home. However, it was a pleasure not to be missed and definitely to be repeated another time.
Merida was on our list for a visit so that was our next stop. Because we are cutting our trip short, we have put the white towns, Ronda and Cordoba back on the list.
Although the weather is not so good now, we have to stop somewhere and Merida is a convenient place. There is an aire near the centre so, although it is not very attractive, we settled for a night there. Merida is a town with lots of Roman ruins that are scattered around the less than attractive centre. We had a little exploration, saw the aqueduct, the Circo and then the Roman Theatre and Amphitheatre. Well, I saw the theatre and amphitheatre as we could not have a concessionary rate for Clyde(we were denied it as we are not in the EU) and he was not really all that keen to see yet another Roman ruin. I paid 12 euros to go in and he sat outside in the sun.
I had been unimpressed with the ruins seen up to this point but, the theatre was worth a look. All Roman theatres were built in the same way and served the same purpose of educating the citizens and for political meetings. I had not seen one with the amphitheatre on the same site before. The photos say it all really:
The Spanish have a curious way of preserving their old ruins. We have seen numerous examples of repair to historic ruins, rather than preservation. That aside, we think that Merida would be worth another visit as we did not see everything. Maybe one day……
Bornos was a surprise as we had certainly never heard of it. We came upon it by accident really, as the aire we had intended to stay on at Arcos de Frontera was not as expected. I went back onto Search for Sites, and found a parking place near a lake, not far away. We had an exciting tour around and through Bornos trying to find the place, and eventually found our way to the small promenade instead. It was deserted apart from some workmen on a small building site, so we decided to stay there for the night. The lake, which is actually a reservoir, was lovely and I had a walk into the little town, which was unexpectedly pretty. It is in the Sierra de Cadiz, on the Pueblo Blanco route and has the usual white buildings as well as the Palacio de Los Ribera, which has attractive gardens.
We had a really peaceful night and recharged our batteries ready for gobbling up some more miles northwards. We got out of Bornos a little more easily than we got in by not using the SatNav!!
Having been off grid for a few days, I wanted to have a couple of days on a campsite so that I could do some washing and get all our equipment charged up. The best plan seemed to be a site at Cabopino with a bus stop nearby for catching the bus into Marbella. We arrived early afternoon and bagged the last pitch. It was obviously a popular place, although it was not really our preferred type of campsite. That notwithstanding, we settled onto our pitch and I headed off to the laundry. I met an English couple who advised me how to get to the little marina and the seafront which was handy, as we would not have found it.
It was a bit of a tricky walk to the marina, which was a poor effort after Almerimar. We did find a nice bar which had the rugby on, and there were lots of Ex-Pats there enjoying the match over a glass of beer/wine/gin……We joined them and rested our legs ready for the uphill walk back to the site. It was too much of a walk for Clyde really, so next day, I left him at home and went for a nice walk along the boardwalk through the nature reserve along the sand dunes. It was a much nicer experience than the marina. The dunes are protected and the wildlife is evidence of the success. It makes a very pleasant place to spend time as there are picnic areas as well as the beach which is accessible via boardwalk extensions.
Having got the washing dry and ironed, it was time to move on again. We were very reluctant to move away from the sun but the campsite was too shady, so we agreed that a day or two at the marina at La Linea, near Gibraltar would be rather lovely. We arrived there in glorious sunshine and I had planned to walk into Gib for a spot of shopping next day. Sadly, the bad weather arrived in the early evening, planes were cancelled and we had ships foghorns sounding all evening. Next morning we awoke to a damp, foggy day and decided to call it quits. It was time to start heading north on the long trek home.
Almerimar marina is a very popular spot and it is necessary to arrive at the marina late morning to jump into spots vacated by people who are moving on. It can be quite a cut throat process at times! On this occasion, we found a spot by the lighthouse and got talking to someone who had a better place overlooking the boats. They were moving on next day and came to let us know when they were about to move off. We were ready for me to run with our chairs and bag it immediately. You can’t believe you would ever behave in such a strange way! It was well worth the effort as we sat with our door slid back and surveyed our lovely view.
The marina is really the jewel in the crown at Almerimar. The seafront stretches in both directions and has lovely sandy beaches which must be ideal for families. There are plenty of small shops, bars and restaurants around the marina to provide interest too.
The sun and lovely view were so alluring that we stayed longer than originally planned. However, we had heard from the hospital with an appointment for Clyde’s replacement knee operation which spurred us into action. We had thought it might be nice to visit Marbella for a change, so we found another grateful recipient of our fab pitch, and moved on once more.
We are on the marina at Almerimar for a couple of days. We stayed here two years ago and decided we would like to revisit. There was a crowd of campers lined up along the marina edge, like paparazzi, marvelling at this amazing sky.
It was now the middle of January and we were still lazing in the sun! It was time to move again but not too far, so we decided on Puerto de Mazarron. Just along the coast is a small village called Bolnuevo and we rather fancied staying there and catching a bus into Puerto de Mazarron. We had a choice of an ACSI site or a free camping spot on a large car park at the end of the village. We plumped for the campsite and were glad we had when the weather took a dramatic turn a few days later.
Bolnuevo does not have a lot to offer but does have a small SPAR shop that stocks absolutely everything, and quite a few bars and restaurants. The promenade is nicely paved and runs along behind the high street and a row of old fishermans cottages.
The sandy beach is very wide and would be a lovely place to bring children.
At the end of the bay there is a rocky area that leads to more coves and the naturist beaches.
There are plenty of nice walks around this area. In the opposite direction you can walk across the beach towards Puerto de Mazarron. It would be quite a long walk, but definitely doable.
I was not expecting to come across the Erosions at the end of the prom. It was a huge surprise as we had not researched the village at all. They are at the base of some mountains and at the back of the free motorhome parking area. These are natural limestone sculptures also called Gredas De Bolnuevo, known as the “Enchanted Landscape”.
The other notable place to visit is the Torre de Los Caballos. This is one of a series of towers that were built along the coast to provide protection from the Barbary pirates in the 16th century. The tower in Bolnuevo is now attached to the chapel. There is a tale about the intervention of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception on the occasion of an invasion on 17 Nov 1585. The village was saved from the invasion due to the intervention. This event is commemorated every 17 November with a pilgrimage to Mazarron bearing the image of the Virgin. There is a statue of the Virgin on the top of the tower.
Having said there is not much here, it is surprising how much this little village has to offer.
The evening sunset on the Saturday was a harbinger of the terrible weather to come when storm Gloria hit the eastern side of Spain. We were treated to three days of heavy rain, strong winds and a drop in temperatures. There were floods and storm damage all along the coast. In Alicante and Valencia provinces the snow fell and caused chaos.
Oh, I nearly forgot to mention Puerto De Mazarron! We took the bus on our third day in Bolnuevo. The best part is the marina with it’s bustling bars and variety of fishing boats and private small yachts. We were sidetracked from our exploration by getting chatting to a nice couple who were enjoying a peaceful drink. We soon put paid to that and joined them for a coffee and a natter. Before we knew it we needed to get going to catch our bus back. We intended to return but with the change in the weather, we had to abandon the idea. Oh well, there is always next year.
We arrived at Alicante in the early evening and were collected by Royal Parking who took us to pick up the van. All well so far. We then drove the 6 km to the aire at Santa Pola, where we had paid for the night in advance, and advised the patron of our late arrival. He was so not expecting us! He said we should have arrived by 11am and he had given our pitch to someone else. What a great end to a long day travelling – not! However, I managed to remind him of our previous arrangement and the fact I had paid in advance, and he found us a spot and some electric. He then thought we were staying for a few days, even though I had advised him it was for one night only. Something got lost in our Spanglish conversation I think. The next day we parted on good terms, so all was well.
I have come to realise that it is possible to be lulled into thinking that people speak our language more fluently than is the case. Like me speaking German or French, it is possible to hold a basic conversation, but anything more complex can become confused. It gives me hope, as I always feel bad that I have misunderstood people speaking to me in their own language. Having said that, I am definitely incapable of understanding Dutch or the Scandinavian languages.
As a precaution against having nowhere to stay, before we left Spain for Christmas, I had booked a few days on a campsite in Pinoso. We arrived at El Tranquillo after lunch and were welcomed by the British owners. The site has lovely views of the countryside around and we also had some nice sunny weather. As it is in the mountains, it was a tad chilly at night, but certainly lived up to it’s name. We saw the New Year in here, and a lively evening was spent in the little restaurant on site.
The next stop was to be at Marjal, Guardemar and I had also booked the site there, knowing that they were likely to get full around 3 Kings time. We arrived there to find they had tried to phone me earlier to advise there had been a mix up and they did not have a pitch available. They had therefore, booked us into their other site at Crevillent, twenty minutes drive away. We had driven past there on our way to Guardemar! We were very disappointed but decided to make the most of it and duly presented ourselves at Marjal, Costa Blanca. It is a much larger site and not our usual haunt at all. Again, the weather was lovely and the facilities were splendid, so we made the most of it and relaxed in the sun. Whilst there, we had a day out to El Huerto del Cura in Elche.
El Huerto del Cura – National Artistic Garden
We were surprised to find that this garden is in the centre of Elche. We have been to Elche before and visited many of the gardens, but had missed this one. We parked down the road after a circuit of the area produced no car park. At the entrance to the garden there is a series of history boards in Spanish and English. It was an interesting start to our visit.
In Elche “Huerto” means a small or medium plot of land on which palm trees are grown. Each huerto is named after the owner or someone connected with it. This garden is named after local chaplain Jose Castano Sanchez, owner until 1918. The garden has had many famous visitors over the years and throughout the garden, some of the palms are dedicated to them and have labels with names and dates on them.
The most famous tree here is the Imperial Palm which has eight arms. It owes its name to Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who visited the garden in 1894. The palm would usually have children growing from it’s base, but this specimen has them growing from 2m above the ground making a huge vegetable candelabra and is unique.
The garden is not large but has a large number of different palms and succulents as well as a small lake with a variety of waterbirds
We were fortunate to have a sunny day for our visit as it would be quite gloomy on a dull day. It was also very quiet when we visited and we were able to admire the trees and succulents without struggling around crowds. It was a peaceful place to eat our sandwiches and we were joined by a white peacock, who was happy to share our crisps!
We did not visit the Mar Menor last year so I had a look on Search for Sites and found a new campsite right by the beach. It had rave reviews and was cheap, so we were sold. We left the enormous site at Crevillent and drove to Los Alcazares. The campsite is beside an old airfield which is now used by the Spanish version of the Red Arrows. It had it’s noisy times but was mostly very peaceful. The site is not complete yet but the first shower block is open and the restaurant provides a lunchtime delivery service. There is a rather scruffy beach and a boardwalk through a natural area to the promenade that goes all the way along to Los Alcazares. We spent a week here as the sun was shining brightly and it had good facilities and friendly staff. There was a good mix of nationalities which is always appealing.
The Mar Menor is actually a coastal saltwater lagoon separated from the Mediterranean Sea by La Manga (the sleeve), a sandbar 22 km long. It has ecolological importance and is preserved as a natural park.
This was a lovely spot to spend a few days with walks for me and relaxing sun for Clyde. However, once again, we decided to move on and headed to Puerto de Mazarron.
In mid November we started our journey through France to Spain. At this time of year, the French campsites are mostly closed, so we set a course via the most likely looking aires. Although the weather was generally a bit chilly, we did not encounter too much rain. We stopped at two small villages on the first two nights after leaving Dieppe; Fresnaye and L’Hommaize. The aire at Fresnaye was on the edge of a natural park and there was plenty of wildlife about. We had a lovely walk through the forest to enjoy the autumn colours.
Darkness comes early at this time of year and with it any warmth disappears. We were soon tucked up in the van with the heating on.
Our next stop was Cahors on the banks of the river Lot. We were fortunate to find one of the three riverside parking spaces free and from there we had a pleasant stroll across the bridge into the town.
It was another slightly damp, chilly day, so our exploration of the town was brief. It would definitely be worth a visit at a better time of year.
Our next stopover was the medieval town of Foix. We called in at Tourist Information for a map and followed the medieval route up to the chateau, which was closed! At least we stretched our legs a bit. Our plan was then to travel through the Pyrenees to Vilanova il Geltru, but the weather was terrible so we changed our route and went via the port of St Cyprien.
The journey to St Cyprien was mostly undertaken in the rain, but was still very scenic along the D117. By the time we got to St Cyprien and parked on the aire, it was sunny and 10 degrees. A great improvement. It would also make our journey to Vilanova a lot shorter. St Cyprien is a lovely little port and marina with a promenade overlooking the Cote Vermeille.
Although the aire was very full, it was quiet and we rested well, ready to arrive in Spain next day.
A three hour drive through beautiful scenery took us to Vilanova Park campsite.
Now in Spain, we had to lose the French and get the Spanish head back on. Not so easy as there were quite a few Brits to chat to. Our reason for revisiting Vilanova was to get the bus to Barcelona and visit the Sagrada Familia. We had visited more than ten years ago and now wanted to see it without the interior scaffolding. We were not disappointed. It is stunning! The light pours in through the coloured windows and colours the pillars and floors. The scale of the building and the way it is constructed to provide huge open spaces is just amazing. Here are a few pictures to give an idea. We really were bowled over by its splendour.
The pictures really do say it all. We were shell shocked after that assault on our senses and walked slowly back to catch our bus, stopping only to eat our lunch on a handy bench.
We were intending to spend most of December in Albir as we had last year. Our best route took us via Peniscola for a few nights, where we stopped, as the weather was very stormy, then on to Oliva. The trip there was quite unexciting but the campsite was near a nice beach and it was a reasonable walk into the town. Not quite so exotic here but we followed the old town route and looked at the buildings.
After a few days we were ready to head for our old favourite, Cap Blanch at Albir. We were lucky to get a pitch as it is very popular, especially in December. This is our place for relaxing and chilling out. We were joined by some people we met last year, which was very nice. It is starting to feel like a second home! Although we have been before, we managed to do some different things such as the trip to the Jalon Valley, wine growing region for some wine tasting and a great market. I had some nice brisk walks along the front and early morning excursions up the path to the lighthouse. We also had some really stormy weather with the waves washing over the sea wall and across the road. It was most unusual.
After a three week stay, we moved to a camper park near Royal Parking ready for our flight home for Christmas. It was a bit of a shock to the system, but necessary to be nearer to Alicante. I paid for the night and for another night on 28th December, when we would return to Alicante from home. Seems simple but………..