We still had a few mundane activities to take care of, a trip to the dentist for both of us (no work required – phew), a trip to the optician for me and a much needed trip to the Chiropractor for Paul who has been suffering with his back and shoulders since our skiing trip (where the majority of the injury was gained by falling over on the way to the shower block). Needless to say these appointments were spread out over a number of days because it was impossible to line them up and get them over and done with.
Bertie had new wipers, a fuel filter change and a bit of a dig around to find out what was causing the fan to make a strange noise – turns out we had a leaf stuck in the fan, that was a nice easy one.
As a welcome counterpoint to the humdrum, this week’s special occasion was Carrie’s 40th birthday. A fabulous night out was had by all, starting with bowling and ending in a club. How did that happen? – I repeatedly tell people I have no inclination to ever go in a club again. I blame it on the under 40s – you know who you are – in the group who haven’t yet reached the point where hangovers last for 48 hours, we felt rather jaded on the Sunday and almost back to normal on the Monday.
What else happened over this time? We had a lovely evening cycling to Budleigh Salterton beach where I felt very smug because I also went for a run while Paul fished for our supper. (this was obviously before our night out!) He caught enough mackerel to make dinner for us and the Eynon family the following evening too.
We also had a BBQ lunch and visit to A la Ronde with Kayleigh. A la Ronde is a national trust property in Exmouth, a 16 sided house built by cousins Mary and Jane Parminter. It’s an interesting house with amazing views and a gallery lined with intricate designs made from shells and other natural materials. It’s so delicate that it can only be viewed from afar or by camera.
For our final weekend in Northumberland we moved again, this time to a newly opened Temporary Holiday Site in Alnwick. This THS was quite different to the one at Beadnell, it was located at the Alnwick Rugby Club so was quite close to town and was much quieter than the one at Beadnell. I may have put my foot in it by mentioning that we’d come from Beadnell as the warden was quite uppity with us, she muttered that Beadnell THS crammed people far too close together, but we actually ended up closer to our neighbours here. Anyway, despite my faux pas, we liked it here. We had the use of the rugby club changing rooms for showers and toilets, the ladies were spotlessly clean but Paul said that the gents were a little more run down, probably an indication of the proportion of male to female rugby players. It was also possible to get electric hook up if needed.
We had a day out at Cragside, a National Trust property about 10 miles away. The bus to Cragside left from the main road near the rugby club, it doesn’t run very frequently but had services that allowed us to get there at 11 and leave at 4 which was plenty of time. The bus driver asked us what time we were planning to come back so he could look out for us, the staff on duty at the entrance to Cragside told us that the bus had occasionally missed people who were waiting at the stop and one kind gentleman said that if we missed the bus back he could give us a lift to Alnwick, but we didn’t have any issues in the end. The bus was incredibly quiet with only one other passenger on each journey. You can see why services get reduced.
Cragside was a great day out, a really interesting house and grounds. The house was built by Victorian engineer and industrialist William Armstrong, who was later given the title of Baron Armstrong. It was the first home to be lit by hydro electricity and William Armstrong was a true ‘early adopter’ installing an hydraulic lift, dumb waiter, dishwasher and other electrically operated gizmos as well as the famed lighting. Around the grounds you can see the way in which he harnessed the water to power the house and later added steam engines to supplement the power. I thought the house externally was a rather ugly Victorian mock Tudor manse, but inside there was a wealth of over the top Victorian details, massive marble inglenook fireplaces and substantial amounts of arts and crafts wood panelling, tiling and stained glass. It was all rather ostentatious, but this was offset by the interesting ‘downstairs’ rooms and the engineering details. I loved it.
We spent plenty of time with Aaron and Katie over the weekend, including a visit to RAF Boulmer for Family Day. This gave us the opportunity to see how they live on base; it’s very like student accommodation with a room each, shared bathrooms but no kitchen to speak of (the expectation is that they eat in the mess). They cant wait to get into a house and I cant blame them. Sadly we had to say goodbye on the Sunday evening, but we’ll be seeing them soon when they come down for Nans 90th birthday celebrations.
We managed to drive back down to Taunton in one hit on the Monday, it was a long day but we took it easy with plenty of stops and eight hours later we were back.
I have always been a fan of public transport. I didn’t learn to drive until I was in my late twenties, and that was more out of necessity for work rather than any desire to actually do any driving. Unlike many people I didn’t equate the ability to drive with any form of freedom, after all you cant read books while driving and that is a serious impediment to my liberty! I suppose it also helps that I always lived in towns within easy walking distance of amenities, had I lived in a village in the middle of nowhere things may have been different. Certainly Paul has a completely different perspective.
On our travels so far we haven’t used as much public transport as we expected, we’ve moved the motorhome to be close to the attractions we want to visit and the trailheads for walks and bike rides. It’s just part and parcel of the way we have travelled, moving every one or two days. It’s also a sign of how well the countries we have visited are set up for motorhomes, the parking areas seem to be in the right places. Now we’re in the UK we are finding ourselves spending more time in one place and a static Bertie means that we need to find a way to get out and about.
By this point we were in the Temporary Holiday Site at Annstead Farm near Beadnell. We took the plunge and moved from the campsite at £22 a night (without electric) to this THS at £8 a night. The THS was as busy as the campsite, but the wardens explained that they try not to turn anyone away; their overflow field and the ability to squeeze some of the generously sized pitches give them room to manoeuvre and still stay within the rules (minimum of 6m from the neighbouring unit). By the time we left on Friday we had been rearranged to provide a pitch for another motorhome between us and our neighbour. They started with over 100 spaces, who knows how many units were on site by the end.
From here we were able to walk the coast path in either direction and make use of the excellent X18 bus that runs along the coast between Newcastle and Berwick-upon-Tweed. The bus comes with a bit of tourist commentary, and kept us entertained as it pointed out key sights along the route.
On our walks we visited Long Nanny, the location of a breeding colony of Little and Artic Terns. The beach is closed off and a community of volunteers and naturalists live on-site during the breeding season. Sadly this year hasn’t been a good one for the Little Terns whose nests were almost wiped out by a storm earlier in the year. We spent a little while talking to one of the rangers who explained how they raise the nests off the ground to try and protect them from high tides and storms. While the parents are away, each nest is painstakingly removed from the ground, boxes full of sand and shingle are then placed over the nest site and the nest is reconstructed on top. By the time the parent birds return it all looks the same as when they left – just a foot higher. All the time we are talking the more successful arctic terns are noisily wheeling around overhead, readying themselves for their migration.
Dunstanburgh Castle sits on an outcrop of rock looking out over the surrounding farmland and sea. It’s one of those evocative ruined castles, sufficiently intact to clamber about in the towers or the remains of the bailey walls. We used our NT membership to visit for free and ate our lunch while watching children running around with wooden swords playing at being knights. You could tell that the school holidays had started. There are plenty of other castles around but we chose to view Bamburgh Castle and Alnwick Castle from the outside rather than pay the entry fees. I’m sure we’ll be up this way again.
Craster was the furthest south that we managed to walk in one hit, famous for it’s kippers, the smell of smoke and fish wafts through the village. It’s much nicer than it sounds. We visit a number of other pretty villages on our explorations, Embleton Newton-by-the-Sea, Seahouses, Beadnell and Bamburgh are all attractive places, but Craster is our favourite and we can sit and watch the harbour for hours.
We ended the week being treated to a slap up meal by Aaron and Katie, we indulge our love of seafood with a couple of massive seafood platters at The Old Boathouse in Amble. It’s a wonderful meal and food wins this contest – we have to take home the smoked salmon for lunch the next day.
It has been seven months since we last saw our son Aaron, when he came out to visit us in Spain just before Christmas. Since then he has got engaged to his girlfriend Katie and they have both been living at RAF Boulmer in Northumberland. Paul and I are both rather excited to be going up for a visit, it’s a stunning part of the country, but one that we only skirted while we were on the UK part of our travels last year.
It’s a long old drive from Devon to the North East, especially in a machine as sedate as Bertie, so we gave ourselves permission to stop en-route. We ended up stopping on the edge of the North York Moors in the town of Helmsley, it’s one of those rare examples of a town that has designated motorhome parking, albeit with no facilities. We divert off of the A1 and follow the A170 eastwards, wondering if we should follow the diversion for caravans and HGVs. By the time we made a decision we were already climbing the steep switchback of Sutton Bank, at one point a 25% climb. Bertie made it, but was close to pushing the car in front up the hill as we tried to maintain momentum. Paul was not happy with the car in front who decided to take the hill in 1st gear at about 5mph, there was a lot of muttering coming from the driver’s seat. If we had stopped there is little chance we would have managed to start again, except by rolling backwards down the hill. We made a note to take the diversion if we came this way in future.
Helmsley in an attractive Yorkshire market town with a ruined castle and market square and many stone buildings glowing a warm gold in the glorious sunshine. We stretch our legs with a walk around the town and surrounding footpaths. It has the sort of shopping that is great for passing the time, more tourist oriented than practical, but we do manage to pick up some bits for our tea in the local co-op. Our night passed incredibly peacefully in the car park and we wake feeling more refreshed than we have for some time.
The following morning we stopped for fuel and shopping before moving onto Beadnell Bay where we had our initial three nights booked in at the Caravan and Camping Club site. It’s a busy site with a long queue of caravans and motorhomes waiting for the 1pm opening time. We booked our first few nights here because of a slight, and unfounded, nervousness about getting a space on the nearby Temporary Holiday Site (THS). It is a pretty bog standard campsite which has the benefit of a good position just across the road from a long dune-backed beach and a short distance away from Beadnell to the south and Seahouses to the north. There is also a food stand which does reasonably priced breakfasts and fish and chip suppers, we didn’t manage to sample any ourselves but looked with yearning at the huge and crispy portions of battered fish.
However we don’t go hungry as Aaron and Katie both love to eat. Being young and fit they can afford to and we spend the next few days feeling permanently stuffed as we tried to keep up with them. We wore off some of the calories with walks to see the countryside and coast that Northumberland have to offer. We visit Beadnell and Seahouses, where the number of fish and chip restaurants beggars belief and where we see dolphins frolicking just outside the harbour. We walk around the island of Lindesfarne with the eerie keening of the seal colony a constant background noise, and we venture into Alnwick (which I have to constantly remind myself is pronounced Annick) to see a small parade, part of the RAF 100 celebrations. After our trip to Alnwick, Aaron and Katie give us a lesson in Sushi making and we get carried away making maki rolls of various flavours.
A long time ago, in a land far far away (well, Spain) we had a bit of an issue with our steering. When adjusting our tracking the mechanic managed to break the adjustment arm and ended up welding it in place.
As we had just shelled out for new front tyres we didn’t want to be driving long distances without checking our tracking again, plus we wanted to get the temporary weld upgraded to a proper fix, so we booked Bertie into our usual garage to get it sorted out. We dropped Bertie off at the garage and Paul’s parents picked us up and took us back to Tedburn St Mary where we would spend the next couple of nights.
Frustratingly it was two days later that the garage told us they couldn’t fit Bertie on the ramps, something that should have been evident as soon as they saw the vehicle. With a long drive to Northumberland planned we were not best pleased and set about looking for an alternative garage who could fit us in at short notice and at least adjust the tracking, even if they couldn’t fully fix the steering before our trip up north.
Paul’s Dad to the rescue, he mentioned a garage down the road from their house who serviced farm machinery and commercial vehicles, they were bound to be able to fit us on their ramps. Could they fit us in to do the work?
In the end they nudged the tracking towards acceptable, but couldn’t fit us in until August. So after bidding Paul’s parents farewell we set off towards Northumberland, hoping that we weren’t doing too much damage to the tyres on the way.
When we first got Bertie we joined both of the main clubs in the UK – The Caravan and Motorhome Club (CMC) and the Camping and Caravanning Club (CCC). We were working, so the cost of joining was not an issue, and we really believed we would get good use from them. However it just wasn’t the case, we wild camped (i.e. spent the night outside of a designated campsite), and camped in privately owned campsites but only spent about two weeks in club sites, a couple of bigger sites and a couple or three certified sites. Although the clubs do offer discounts on other things useful for travel abroad (insurance, ferry travel etc) we found they couldn’t match what we were already getting, so as soon as we could we cancelled our memberships.
On return to the UK we decided to take a more considered approach to joining a club. Originally we had just thought that we wouldn’t bother, but a recent post on facebook had alerted us to the existence of Temporary Holiday Sites (THS) run by volunteers in the CCC. These sites are usually cheap and don’t always have facilities (other than water and waste disposal), a bit like a temporary aire. With our eyes opened we looked at the various clubs again, paying more attention to information about rallys rather than the main campsites.
This time in the UK we weren’t going to be touring extensively, we wanted to spend most of our time in three places; home in Taunton, visiting our old haunts in Exmouth and visiting our son in Northumberland. Our experience is that it is quite easy to ‘wild camp’ in the UK if you want to spend one or possibly two nights in a parking spot and aren’t heading for an exact destination, but because we wanted to spend long periods in specific places we were intending to use campsites for the majority of the time.
We had a look at the places we wanted to be and the overnight options in those places and decided that the Camping and Caravanning Club would be our best bet. It offers a very nice certified site in Exmouth and we were able to find out (through their Out and About section) that there were two THS in Northumberland in the summer. In Taunton we’ll have Bertie in storage some of the time, but when we need a campsite we’ll use Tanpit’s Farm which is a great value private site.
As we were being scientific about the process we looked at the numbers – last year it cost us an average of £18.36 per night to stay on campsites in the UK. We expected to stay at least 10 nights on THS at £8 a night and 13 nights in the Exmouth CS at £13 a night, plus the £39 membership fee. That works out as an average of £12.52 per night, definitely worth it. The additional benefits of easy search engines and apps for THS and sites, plus facebook communities are the icing on the cake.
After our time in Taunton we picked up Bertie from storage and took the short drive to Exmouth, settling ourselves on a good value campsite with fantastic views across Lympstone and the Exe estuary. Exmouth was our home for 17 years and we were excited to be going back to see our friends in the town.
In between all of the social activity we took the opportunity of the long dry spell to remove and re-seal our roof light. The leak from our roof has been a constant irritation since we got the van, but every time we’ve been somewhere appropriate to fix it the weather has been too wet. We have learned to park with our nose pointing slightly downhill so that water runs off of us rather than into us, but even so we sometimes find ourselves caught out. Usually the resulting drips end up in one of my trainers. Only one, and if I’m lucky I realise what’s happened before I put it on. Mostly I end up with a wet foot.
After a quick chat to get permission from the campsite owner (who happened to work in the electrical industry so had plenty in common with Paul, including knowing a lot of the same people) Paul set to work.
Removing the REMIstar roof light was a lot easier than envisaged. The internal trim came off easily once the screws were removed and the electrics were disconnected. The main part of the unit was held on with two large screws and angle brackets and despite concerns that we might need brute force to prise it off, it lifted out with no problems, leaving sealant on the roof but none on the unit itself.
I was getting ready to go out for lunch so played no part in the process apart from making encouraging noises every time Paul showed me something. It was definitely a one-man job, I’m sure I would have just been in the way.
When the unit had been lifted off it was easy to see why we had a leak, the sealant was not one continuous line but must have been ‘blobbed’ on and there were three largish gaps along the front edge of the rooflight. Although it was highly frustrating to see the shoddy workmanship, it was pretty pleasing to find an obvious problem that would be easy to resolve. We were pleased that we couldn’t see any evidence of water ingress between the layers of material in the roof, the recent dry weather had done it’s job.
The hard work for Paul was cleaning the roof of all the old sealant so that he could re-seal with confidence. Some gentle scraping with a super sharp scraper and a bit of final cleaning left that section of roof brighter and whiter than the rest.
We re-sealed with Skiaflex 221 as recommended by our local motorhome repair shop; it remains permanently elastic so allows for the movement of the roof, something that is particularly important to us as we keep the kayak on the roof and getting it off and on definitely creates a bit of flex. If you read up on-line there is a lot of disagreement as to the best sealant to use, but there are two things everyone agrees on; don’t use a setting adhesive and don’t use silicone.
The prolonged spell of hot dry weather meant that we didn’t see the results until two weeks later. Happily we can report that the we had no water ingress during the thunderstorms that hit the country last weekend.