In September my Nan will turn 90. As an advance birthday treat we took her away for a short break to Dorset. A trip in Bertie would have been great but Nan would have had difficulty accessing the over cab bed, so instead we booked a cottage and based ourselves near Wool.
We left Bertie in storage and for transport we hired a car using our Tesco clubcard vouchers. We had a wonderful three days enjoying outings in the area. Here are a few photos of the places we visited.
On our first night back in Taunton we stayed on a local campsite. Tanpit’s Farm is our favourite campsite near Taunton. It’s in a great location on the canal, allowing us to easily get into town and is a great price at £10 without electric. We also like the setting in an orchard between apple trees festooned with mistletoe; rabbits, geese and peacocks all roam around the area. Fresh eggs are on sale and, of course, they sell cider.
A night in the campsite allowed us to sort out Bertie ready for a couple of weeks in storage while we stayed at our official home in Taunton. All available bags were put to use to transfer clothes and others essentials from Bertie, who has been our home for the last year, into the brick-and-mortar house. In a couple of weeks we’ll be doing the same in reverse and hopefully it will still all fit.
Once all had been unloaded we dropped Bertie off and cycled back to the house, wondering how it was going to feel to have so much space to knock about in. It didn’t take us long to adapt, but we’re very sure now that we won’t need a big house when we get back from our travels.
We spent our first few days catching up with the family that live in Taunton, doing lots of washing and complaining about how hot it was. We came back to the UK in summer because we expected it to be cooler than the continent. But we seem to have arrived in the middle of a heatwave!
It took a bit of google action to discover that the song ‘Nel blu dipinto di blu’ was that song. We had been prompted into a google search after seeing a statue of Domenico Modugno, Polignano a Mare’s most famous son, standing with arms outstretched on the promenade. After hearing it once it became a bit of an ear worm and we caught ourselves singing ‘Volare ooh oh, Cantare oh-oh-oh-oh’ while wandering round town. We weren’t the only ones.
Polignano had been a good choice of venue for a short break, we had a lovely little apartment just outside the old town, with a sunny and safe terrace and bedrooms with vaulted stone ceilings like little caves. The town doesn’t have any distinctive tourist attractions, but it does have a pretty little old town that is almost entirely given over to tourism and a very attractive cove of a beach that must be hell in high season. The majority of the seafront is a low cliff ten or so meters above sea level where they hold Red Bull cliff diving competitions. We only saw a couple of lads taking the plunge while we were there, the water was cold and deep and the air temperature not yet warm enough to entice sane people in for more than a paddle.
It’s the type of place that is busy throughout the year, so restaurants and gelataria were open for business. There were people of all nationalities, including quite a few British families, enjoying their Easter holidays here. We spent time on the beach, paddling in the cool sea, climbing onto the cliffs to get sight of the fish swimming below us and clambering over the clifftop limestone spotting lizards. We ate pizza and pasta, creamy soft burrata and lots of ice cream (Bella Blu was our favourite place for gelato). We drank the non-regional but very easy drinking Lambrusco. We wandered out in the early evening to spot bats flitting around the lampposts and fisherman setting out with bright lights for catching squid. Between times we relaxed in the apartment, talking, reading, and listening to the kids playing ‘the shopping game’.
Not far from Polignano we found a great beach near the Abbazio di San Vito where there were shallow rockpools hewn from the rocks just right for little ones to explore, turning over every available rock to look for fish, crabs and shrimp. Locals were buying plates of freshly opened sea urchins from a table set up outside the abbey but we didn’t find any underfoot.
A bit further away we visited Alberobello to see the Trulli houses; constructed from limestone these dry stone walled, single roomed and conical roofed buildings looked like something from a fairytale. We ran the gauntlet of cheap tat and slightly more upmarket ‘gourmet’ gifts for sale along the streets of this intensely tourist town, but with children in tow we couldn’t avoid it completely and two not-irritating-at-all whistles were purchased. Uncle Paul used his grumpy face to successfully forbid any playing of whistles in the car.
All too soon we had to take everyone back to the airport. The car was dropped off and help was obtained from tourist information to phone Parcheggio Il Pinguino and get picked up and returned to Bertie.
That night we were back in Bertie again and normal service resumed. You might have heard us humming ‘Volare ooh oh, Cantare oh-oh-oh-oh’ one more time.
We were very, very excited because today was the day my sister and her two bambini were due to arrive to join us for a short break.
But we were also a little apprehensive because we had a few things to sort out before picking them up from the airport at 9pm that evening. Would all the logistics fall into place?
The plan was that we would stay over in Polignano a Mare the night before arrival. Then we could pick up the keys for the apartment we would be sharing in the morning.
Parking proved a little tricky. The car park we had identified as being suitable for an overnight stop was indeed large and empty and still free. However there were signs everywhere saying that parking was forbidden from 7am – 2pm on the 8th. We didn’t want to get up that early! We learnt later that the local driving school was holding some sort of scooter lessons/tests in the car park. Another Italian motorhome had parked up anyway and the scooters worked around it. Oh to feel confident enough to ignore the signs.
So, after visiting two other unsuitable carparks in Polignano a Mare (one too expensive and the other with signs forbidding motorhomes), we spent the night of the 7th inland in a free sosta in Castellana Grotte instead. We parked with four shiny brand new lorries on the edge of an industrial area. It was one of those utilitarian sostas, nothing pretty (in fact the facilities were less than pretty), but useful for visiting the caves that make the town famous – not that we were going there.
We didn’t have to pick the keys up until 11am so we easily made it back to Polignano a Mare, parked as close as we could get to the apartment and popped to pick up the keys. It was Sunday and the town was busy with people enjoying the beautiful spring weather that had arrived.
From this point onwards the plan went pretty smoothly. We managed to do a couple of loads of washing, taking advantage of the washing machine in the apartment and the sunny terrace for drying. We did a supermarket shop to stock up with the basics and packed a couple of rucksacks and a holdall of clothes and things to leave in the apartment. Two rucksacks and a hold all may seem overkill for a four night break away from Bertie, but Paul does like to be prepared for every eventuality! Compare it to my sister who arrived with one carry-on case and one rucksack for the three of them.
It was the sort of day you spend on tenterhooks waiting for something to happen. We couldn’t settle or relax and kept running over our plans for the rest of the day, which just gave me more things to worry about. It was a relief when the time came to head off to the outskirts of Bari where we would be leaving Bertie in secure parking. Parking Il Pinguino was the only secure airport parking we had found that specifically mentioned motorhomes, so we were parking Bertie here and hiring a car for my sister’s visit. The staff at Parcheggio Il Pinguino didn’t speak much English, we only speak a few words of Italian (we had booked up via email using google translate to aid us), but we managed to get Bertie parked and the shuttle to the airport without too much difficulty, after all – why else would we be there? At the airport we picked up the keys for our hire car for the next few days (yes, a compact car was big enough, no need to have worried) and finally settled in to wait for their arrival.
It had been a long day of waiting, but everything had worked out and finally we saw them coming through the arrivals door. We were all set for a few days of family fun.
After Ronda we made our way down to the coast to meet up with Aaron and his fiancée Katie who were joining us for a few pre-Christmas days in the sun. They had booked an apartment near Fuengirola in one of the sprawling white developments that characterise much of the Costa del Sol.
We spent the night before they arrived parked down at the Playa del Castillo, taking a quick walk into Fuengirola to depress ourselves in the shadows cast by the seafront tower blocks. The parking was definitely more pleasant than the town.
It was very odd moving ourselves into the spacious apartment, we’ve become so used to our little space and the way in which have organised it to work for us. The apartment felt very poorly designed and the space unproductive. We did enjoy the sofa though and a chance to sprawl.
We spent a lot of the time with Katie and Aaron doing holiday things, going out for meals, sitting in bars and cafes by the beach and generally catching up. However we did venture further afield on one of the days to visit the Caminito del Rey, the trail that runs the length of the El Chorro gorge, with it’s two sections of aerial walkways hanging halfway up the wall of the gorge.
We cant provide any insights into getting to the walk by Motorhome as Aaron drove us in his hire car, and so much has been written about this walk that I don’t intend to describe it again except to say that it is spectacular and well worth doing.
So any pointers from us? Remember to ask if any of the party have a fear of heights (Katie hadn’t realised what she was letting herself in for), read this page when planning your visit so that you get to the arrival point at the time you have booked, don’t take walking poles or anything else that you cant fit into a rucksack (we saw one gentleman having his poles taken from him as they don’t allow them on the walk – they did offer to take them to the end point though) and leave your vanity at home – hairnets and hardhats are compulsory.
On the way back from the Caminito we stopped at the Castillo del la Mota because we were intrigued by it. We’re still not sure what it is; a folly, a water tower or a house? Whatever it was intended to be, it doesn’t look like it was ever finished and the construction quality was poor. We climbed to the top to see the views.
On the way south we took a small detour around the bottom of the M25 to allow us to visit friends and family who live in South London. We booked into a campsite in Surrey for the duration but didn’t end up spending much time there, Bertie must have felt abandoned, the Low Emissions Zone is not very inviting to motorhomes of a certain age.
Aaron and Kate also made their way down to London to see us before we left the UK, hopefully they will be able to use some of their leave to come and visit us while we’re away.
We had a great day with Mark and Carrie, visiting them on their home turf for the first time (they usually come to Devon) and spent the Sunday with my sister’s family enjoying a roast dinner – masterminded by Aaron – and plenty of time with our niece and nephew.
It feels very strange when we tell people we will now be away from the UK for eight or nine months, although we’ve been on the road for five months so far it has included time spent back in Devon and visiting people around the country. Once we’re on the continent that will not be possible and although we’ll be in touch regularly I know we’ll miss friends and family.
Aaron’s Graduation was a punctuation mark in our journey, the event that would free us up to travel overseas. But it wasn’t really a full stop, more of a semi colon as we had a few more people to see before we left.
Given we were in Lincolnshire for Aaron, it made sense to continue our journey down the eastern side of the UK and see the members of my family who were in the general direction of the Channel Tunnel – our chosen crossing to France mostly due to the fact that Tesco Clubcard vouchers could be used to pay for the crossing.
My Godmother, Auntie Margaret, lives in Norfolk, which was certainly on the way for us. She is Mum’s best friend from their school days and timing had worked out perfectly, it was my Birthday and Mum and Dad just happened to be visiting. Divine providence or Mum’s planning (the two are pretty much the same thing)?
We made our way down to Thetford forest, with a very frustrating stop off in Ely that came to nothing as parking seems was at a premium on a Saturday, and spent a night in the car park at Two Mile Bottom. Who knows what was going on that night, we closed our blinds and speculated, we have no idea whether our imaginations dreamt up anything close to reality.
We spent the next two nights at the Caravan and Motorhome Club site in Thetford Forest, a very reasonably priced club site as it doesn’t have any toilets, showers etc, just water and waste disposal and the facilities in one’s motorhome or caravan. It gave us a base to meet up with Mum, Dad and Auntie Margaret for a walk, a hefty birthday lunch at the Elveden Inn and then a birthday cream tea provided by Auntie Margaret. I was too stuffed to drink my birthday prosecco which has been saved for another day.
Around all of this we gave Bertie a wash, inside and out, which left Paul aching from the continual stretch and squat of washing Bertie’s outsides. I was less achy, so when we went for a mountain biking session on the morning after my birthday Paul only managed the blue circuit but I felt the need to do the red circuit as well. Luckily there is not a mountain in sight in Thetford Forest so the red mountain biking route didn’t involve staring down an endless set of steep slopes which took away a lot of the fear factor for me. Paul’s achy legs also meant we stumped up for the parking at High Lodge in Thetford Forest – at £8 for a few hours parking it’s certainly the most expensive we’ve paid, but we have taken advantage of the Forestry Commission free car parks often enough that we didn’t feel too upset at the cost.
We had toyed with lots of different options for the next couple of days but decided to stick to Suffolk, so our overnight stop after mountain biking was at Westleton Heath near the Suffolk coast.
Our son Aaron was due to graduate as an RAF officer on 5th October so we had booked a campsite for a few days to use as a base. Wagtail Country Park is just outside Grantham in Lincolnshire, it feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere but in reality is scant minutes from the A1. Paul’s parents and Aaron’s Mum’s family were staying at a hotel in Grantham so we were all within a short distance of each other.
As well as the graduation day itself, full of pomp and ceremony, our time was spent catching up with Paul’s parents and spending time with Aaron and his fiancé Kate who is also in the RAF.
A selection of graduation photographs; proud grandparents, parents and the parade
We were incredibly proud of Aaron for making it through his training, showing great determination and perseverance to get to this stage. His training doesn’t end here, he now moves onto RAF Boulmer where he starts his job specific training as an Aerospace Battle Manager.
As you are probably aware, we were heading south at this point in order to attend Aaron’s passing out/graduation day at RAF Cranwell. As well as a parade and other day time activities, Aaron was very keen for us to attend the graduation ball and I just didn’t have anything to wear.
The only dress I had that was suitable for an even do oft his nature was 15 years old – the dress I had worn to my sister’s wedding. Not only was it old, but it also had a stain on it that even the dry cleaner couldn’t get out – time for a new dress. Paul was ok, he had his dinner jacket and the only item we hadn’t been able to find was his bow tie – an easy purchase to make.
You might think that the opportunity for a bit of shopping would be a delight, the problem is that shopping is one of our least favourite activities. When I do enjoy shopping, it’s rarely in Paul’s company and involves a relaxing day of window shopping without the pressure of a compulsory purchase, maybe with lunch and a glass of wine thrown in. But here we were, heading for Gateshead shopping centre without a shopping friend in sight. Plus Paul had a bad neck and back and was in one of the grumpiest moods I have seen for a long time.
As a result we shopped in record time (do I hear cynical comments about Paul’s supposed sore neck?), we had some things we needed, some things we didn’t need and some things hadn’t been found, but with no desire to prolong the activity we decided to make do. I did at least have a dress that wouldn’t embarrass me.
Once we escaped from Gateshead we made tracks for Gouthwaite Reservoir, a stop over that would allow us to visit Fountains Abbey the next day. We looked forward to going to bed, putting the day behind us and enjoying a peaceful day at Fountains Abbey.
After Croyde we had a brief interlude near Looe with friends. We stayed at possibly the best value campsite I’ve encountered so far – West Weyland – it was school summer holidays but even so a pitch for two people with electric was less than £15, and without electric less than a tenner. You don’t find may campsites that cheap in Cornwall.
And then we were back on the road to North Devon, poor planning on our part as we re-traced our steps along the winding A roads. This time we were spending a few days with Mum and Dad who were staying in their caravan. Our journey was relatively uneventful, but Mum and Dad got stuck in traffic chaos caused by a tragic accident on the North Devon link road.
Our campsite on the Hartland Peninsular was the spacious Stoke Barton Farm and luckily we were nestled behind a hedge as the wind was still blowing – I don’t think it will stop until the school holidays are over. Despite the cover of the hedge we still had to adjust the straps that hold the Kayak on the roof which were thrumming in the wind and using Bertie as a giant sound box.
Mum has covered our days on the Hartland peninsular on her blog which I don’t intend to duplicate, so why not take a look at http://gingergrandma.co.uk/. Below are a few photos for you.
After our Chagstock weekend we had already planned to spend the rest of the week in Croyd with my sister and her family. Fortunately we had booked the campsite in Croyd while we were still working – at £30 a night it would never have made the cut in our new frugal lifestyle. As promised it was a short walk to the beach and the festival trolley came into it’s own as beach transport for tired children.
I’d forgotten how nice Croyd is when you’re away from the massive holiday park. And in fact even the holiday park seems remarkably gentrified since I was last in the area. We wandered through it at one point and took advantage of their well maintained play area.
We had a good Monday and Tuesday, windy it may have been, but the sun came out and at times we even felt warm.
We went in the sea in just bathing suits, no wetsuits for us, and then realised that wetsuits also serve a practical purpose – swimming costumes get pulled around in the surf and need frequent adjustment (extraction even). We went rock pooling and met ‘the enemies’ as well as crabs, shrimps and fish. Good times.
On Wednesday the weather started to deteriorate, but we had my other sister, Vicki, visiting to celebrate her Birthday. Her husband (another Paul) drove her and her two boys all around Devon that day and they ended their day with a visit to Croyd, a birthday BBQ and cake, of course.
Unfortunately Kate’s partner, Hannah, couldn’t make it down to Croyd until the Thursday. Thursday morning was spent in great anticipation and the weather forecast promised that the bad weather would break for the afternoon and give us some sun for a beach afternoon. They lied; we had about half an hour of sunshine before the heavens opened again. Aaron also joined us for the day on Thursday and was of great assistance pulling the kids back up to the campsite in the festival trolley while we battled with body boards against the wind. We retired to Bertie for food and drink to cheer us up.
The week was due to get worse, the forecast was for 40mph westerly winds and as the campsite faced west with no barrier between the sea and our vans…the decision to return home before it got worse was a good one. Poor Hannah only got the one night of holiday, but as she pointed out, it was 21 degrees and sunny in London.