Upgraded Earl, Steam trains and naturists!

So Earl has been to the plastic surgeons, and thanks to the guys at Skyline Roofs, he is now in possession of a rather good looking colour coded pop top roof, complete with roof bed, roof bars and a 160W solar panel. The fit and finish is superb and the we are so impressed with the product.

Now to take advantage of it, cue a road trip down the M3 and heading for Swanage. As is the case in the UK for this time of year, a lot of campsites don’t take bookings or won’t take anything less than 3 nights, bit of a pain when you only have a weekend free.

Not so the new people at Harman Cross Campsite, a quick phonemail and it was a case of “We’ll fit you in”. There wasn’t much need for ‘fitting’, their rules, camp where you like, don’t infringe on others and sit back and relax and listen to sound of steam! Did I mention they have their own station complete with a steam train running between Swanage and Wareham, what more could you ask for.

I could have asked for a few less downpours, as it was they were full on tropical deluges, but sanctuary was found in ‘The Cabin’ a beach bar at the Northern end of the bay, prosecco, cider or hot chocolate the choice is yours.

Back to the campsite by train (diesel not steam at this time) and the wood burning stove made an appearance again as did the Gin & Tonic and that was us for the night, with the roof up I can stand up, it feels more airy and the solar panel had spent all day charging the leisure battery to power the fridge.

With the sun burning down on Sunday morning and following the obligatory sausage bap, we parked up at Studland bay, it was busy, not Costa del Sol busy, but pretty packed, walking the length of the beach, our bible was brought to an abrupt halt at the sign stating “Beware Naturist beyond this point”, and yes they were, standing, strolling and and generally letting it all hang out. About turn and head back down the beach and thats where we stayed for the rest of the day.

The only downside, the three and half hours to get the 85 miles home.

Next stop Derbyshire with a meet up with Eugene the motor home.

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In the shadow of Yr Wyddfa.

Mid afternoon on the 23rd June, Earl set off to Snowdonia with different crew members. With the fridge and cupboards fully stocked, and Fern and ‘The Treeman’ in the passenger seats we did battle with the Friday traffic hell that is the M40, M42, M6 until we were finally heading for mountains.

After the glorious weather Britain had been basking in for the last couple of weeks, the sight of the mist and rain on the windscreen as we passed through Betws-y-Coed certainly wasn’t welcome.

Arriving at Llyn Gwynant Campsite, we were into proper English, or should that be Welsh rain. Luckily ‘The Treeman’ has a blow-up tent so we managed to get that up quickly, and bed inflated before ‘Mrs Treeman’  arrived for her first camping trip. All through the rain, Fern however slept soundly in the car seat warm and dry in Earl.

Being well practiced, post the Scotland road trip, it didn’t take long to get Earl all set, and wasn’t long before the beer and prosecco were consumed within the dry surroundings of the awning.

I won’t mention the midges, other than they have now moved into top place of the annoying little b*%tards list replacing the wasps. We were savaged.

Saturday saw the obligatory cooked breakfast on the ever useful CADAC, then off to Blaenau Ffestiniog for ‘Mr & Mrs Treeman’ to do some Zip Lining, followed by a lovely afternoon walking the shores of Llyn Padarn and having an ice cream in Llanberis.

Back at camp, the pioneer stove made an appearance and did a sterling job of heating the awning and making enough smoke to keep the midges at bay. Wood supplied courtesy of the ‘Treeman’ of course, infant virtually every little enclave on the sight had a campfire burning away.

Sunday morning breakfast on the CADAC again, then de-camp and we headed for ‘Surf Snowdonia’ the only inland surfing experience in the country. The set up they have is really good and on the far side they have camping pods and electric hook up for camper vans. Nothing makes you realise how unfit you have become, like an hours surfing.

Heading back to Hampshire, with a stop off for a brew, a doughnut and a chinwag with friends in Telford. Thats another episode complete in Earls adventures and ‘Mrs Treeman’ said she’d go camping again.

 

Minions

If you’re in the campervan/motorhome circles, then you might have heard of BritStops. It’s a system where companies, mostly Public Houses, but also a lot of Farm shops and Vinyards amongst others, allow you to wild camp in their car parks with the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ that you’ll purchase some of their produce. Very handy if you’re travelling somewhere and just need an overnighter.

We did just that, with Ian & Emma’s wedding to attend in Falmouth, and not being to set off until after work on the Friday, we needed a place en route. Cue the BritStops book and FB Group. An e-mail to Lifton Farm Shop and Restaurant, just off the A30 in Devon, secured us a space in the car park for the night even though we were arriving after 10pm.

What greeted us the following morning, truly had to be seen to be believed, we had been watched over all night by a crowd of Minions and a couple of highland cows. But that’s not all, the smell of fresh bread being baked, ensured that nobody could resist the Hearty Farmers Breakfast that was being served. Two breakfasts, tea and coffee, and thats our ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ complete. Next stop Falmouth, but we’re B&Bing not camping, just hope the seagulls leave Earl alone.

Supporting the Duke.

Having barely enough time to give earl a once over, his services were called on again. This time he was acting as support vehicle for Slough & Eton C of E Business and Enterprise College. Their students were participating in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. Whilst the students were cooking on single gas stoves. Earl and his gadgets was providing comfort food for the hard working staff. Uuni pizza oven for the evening, with DIY wood fired pizzas, Portable frontier stove, doing a sterling job of keeping the kettle warm and everybody’s feet warm too, and still the best gadget, the CADAC Carry Chef 2 bacon rolls all round in the morning.

Once the staff were fully fed, Earl then swallowed all the staff tents going back to his humble panel van beginnings.DofE Support

B&B with G&G

Firstly, for those that do read or follow, I must apologise, what with a new job and some priority decorating needing doing, the blog had to take a back seat.

So lets go back to April and after our last night in the wilds of the Cairngorms, it was time to go and see the family in Aberdeen and first on the list was Granny & Granda (G&G) and some home cooking and giving the rock’n’roll bed a rest (B&B).

We’d promised them a trip out in the van, so making sure there was cake in the cupboard, we set off for the old fishing village of Whitehills, on the Moray Firth, where G&G grew up.

Only 1 or 2 boats still fish there, although the harbour has been redeveloped as a marina.

The Galley restaurant right on the harbour can be highly recommended and really is advisable to book.

Earl also made an appearance on the Aberdeen seafront, before starting the long drive south, with an overnight pitstop in Leeds before the final run back to Hampshire and the dreaded return to work.

Adventure Capital

We had spent the night at the Dunnet Bay, caravan and motorhome site, which is the new name for the caravan club, again very regimented, and not cheap, but as the warden downloaded some important documents and printed them out for me I can’t complain too much.

First stop of the day was the Dunnet Distillery, home of Rock Rose Gin, and some more purchases for the Gin shelf back in Hampshire.

The East coast doesn’t have the same appeal as the West coast, and so the miles just rolled on and soon enough the sights of oil rigs, drilling platforms and jack up barges filled the skyline towering out of the Cromarty Firth, we detoured into the Black Isle for a spot of lunch looking out to sea at Cromarty.

Back on the road, we side stepped Inverness and headed straight to Aviemore and the Cairngorms National Park. More supplies were sourced from the Cairngorms Brewery before coffee and cake in Aviemore. It would seem that the town is a magnet for campervans, not just VW’s but every manner of vans, custom builds, hippie wagons, and full-on adventure trucks with kayaks and mountain bikes strapped to the outside and no doubt North Face and Rab jackets on the inside.

As it was to be our last night on the road, we found a nice secluded spot to camp in one of the Forestry Commission picnic sites, tucked in amongst the pines trees with the wildlife for company……and the other 6 campervans who were also attracted to this spot.

The owls could be heard all night and other things that went bump in the night against the van, presumably red deer.

Up at the Cairngorm basecamp, we were the first travellers up the funicular railway for a brew at the top and the outside thermometer reading a balmy zero degrees, we didn’t stay long.

Last stop was Braemar and a lovely drive through the national park to get there, hardly seeing another car, with the exception of the Porsche 911 owners club doing a photo shoot at the Lecht Ski area, when they check through their prints they might see that a grey T5 photobombed them.

Onwards to Aberdeen, and some home cooking and proper beds with some time with the family before heading home.

The last great wilderness.

Monday 10th April.

 

Our timing couldn’t have been better. Today was to be the first day that the Cape Wrath ‘ferry’ was to run this year. The only way to get to Cape Wrath is by the ferry or a long walk in from the West coast. It is without doubt the last great wilderness of Britain, 108 square miles of moorland and dramatic cliffs where the North and West coast of Scotland meet, there’s no land mass north of here until you reach the artic. Nobody lives here, only the sheep and the deer. The Royal Navy use it for shore bombardment, The RAF launch thousand pounders into the peat and the Army give it a good battering with artillery and mortars.

‘John the Ferryman’ takes you across the Kyle of Durness in his boat, and he’s been doing it for the last 33 years, ask him what he does in the winter, and he’ll tell you he’s a “Converter…..” In Cape Wrath speak that means he converts Guinness into urine.

Stuart is your guide (he also does the fencing, a bit of game keeping, road maintenance and quite a dab hand at salmon fishing by all accounts), and gives a well informed commentary for the 90 min trundle in the minibus up to the Cape, never getting out of third gear due to the road conditions.

John (a different John) runs the Ozone cafe situated next to the Cape Wrath lighthouse, and sells good strong tea, and slabs of cake, and boasts that he accepts all currencies.

After another 90 min trundle across the moor and a more relaxed low water crossing of the Kyle, we’re heading East again for a campsite at Dunnet Bay.

Tomorrow we have an appointment at the Rock Rose distillery.

Here comes the rain!

We knew the rain was coming, so an early start and pack up as didn’t want a wet awning.

Crossing the Kylesku bridge and the obligatory photo opportunity, there, in the bridge car park is a Memorial dedicated to the men of the submarine squadron who operated the midget submarines and many of them were taken by the deep.

Still heading North, the rain came and with it the mist, we hardly passed another car and the houses and farmsteads were becoming few and far between, very much a case of  the last wilderness in Britain and not a place to get lost or stray from the road.

Arriving in Durness and it’s quite a little town, seeking shelter from the rain we took refuge in Cocoa Mountain, a nice little coffee shop located in the craft village, great coffee and good food, with a claimed ‘Best Hot Chocolate in the country’.

With the rain now being whipped by the wind, it was a case of either get to the campsite and stay in the van all day or drive on and return to the campsite later that evening.

Setting the compass to East we headed to John o’ Groats to get the mandatory photo, running along the north coast with fantastic beaches that wouldn’t look out of place in North Cornwall complete with surfers, but guessing they’re all wearing 5mm suits or just plain crazy.

At John o’ Groats, the place was swarming with NC500 motorhomes, coats and hats donned for the photo, at least it’s free compared to the matching signpost at Lands End and it’s masked bandits charging for everything.

Back in the van with the heater on full, back West again with a stop off at Dunnet Head as the most northerly point in mainland Britain, we were hoping to see the puffins, but with the wind being so strong the cliffs were out of the question.

Back to Sango Sands campsite for the night (can recommend the steak pie at the Sango Sands Oasis), we got buffeted all night by the wind from the west, so feel sorry for the big white boxes that were right on the cliff top pitches and more sorry for those brave souls in tents especially when the marble sized hail stones came down at 4am.

Off for an Ice Cream

Leaving Applecross we headed around the more accessible peninsula, passing the MoD buildings at Sand and the Rona noise range, but no submarines doing trials today.

Picking up the North Coast 500 route with a few others we headed down through Glen Torridon with it’s spectacular views and a known nesting site of Golden Eagles but again not a sight just a few buzzards on the thermals.

Following the shoreline of Loch Maree and into Gairloch for a spot of lunch looking over the golden sandy bay there, it would seem that every shop now sells NC500 t-shirts.

Next stop was Loch Ewe and the first time I’ve seen it from the shore as opposed to looking at the shore whilst visiting the NATO fuelling jetty. There’s a few memorials dotted around Poolewe as this was the setting off point for the WW2 Atlantic convoys and Russian convoys, it makes interesting reading as Loch Ewe was one of the most heavily defended places in the UK at the time with a heavy RN presence.

With the dark brooding mass that is An Teallach prominent for the rest of the drive along Little Loch Broom

One of those brown signs says “Falls” we stop to have a look and come across the Corrieshalloch Gorge, a deep gorge complete with a wobbly suspension bridge (stop bouncing!!) and a viewing platform, you can see from the lack of water flowing down the falls how little snow fall there has been this year.

Our destination can be seen as we descend into Ullapool, the sun’s out, the bikers are out and the Ice Cream shop is open and doing a roaring trade, just around the corner is Ardmair Point campsite and again we’ve got a waterside pitch looking out across Loch Canaird with only the Islands of Lewis and Harris blocking the path to Newfoundland.

Through the pass to Applecross.

Today was a day of hidden gems, firstly the village of Lochcarron, right on the Loch side, with little coffee shops, cafes, an ice cream parlour, I’m sure that come the summer, the place will be packed but right now, it’s great.

There has been much wrote about ‘Bealach na Ba’ or ‘The pass of the cattle’ which leads you to Applecross, the neigh sayers, telling you not to attempt it, that you have to be a confident driver, in reality, yes there are some steep drops and a few hairpins, but ‘The Italian Job’ this isn’t. Earl did it with ease, and we were greeted with a fantastic view from the top, looking back across to Skye and the Cullins.

We’d booked ahead, for a pitch at the ‘Visit Applecross’ campsite, and were lucky to take the last electric hook up and hard standing. Only the day before the farmer had to tow out a motorhome which had got stuck on a grass pitch.

Applecross village has a new bar/cafe called the Junction, and has the best chocolate orange cake I’ve ever tasted. The other gem is the walled garden, which the community has started to reclaim from the undergrowth and now has a bistro with locally grown produce. We’re definitely coming back here to sample the menu.