After the relaxing sun of Corfu in October, and a month at home in November, travel was on the cards again for the last month of the year, December:
First stop, Derbyshire, a whole family visit to our son and granddaughter included; torrential rain in Glossop, merriment in more water in Manchester and then the mystical beauty of mist dangling over the hills of the Peak District…but no snow.
Art wherever you go.
With the young ones kitted out in snow boots and warm coats we were ready for the fun that wonderful white stuff brings, after all, it was December. Instead, the heavens delivered rain, so hard and fast, towns in England were flooded and people’s lives in disarray once again, all just before a time of merriment should begin. With a collective, fighting and caring spirit people find in adversity, those suffering endure, but our weather it is no longer the comedy of English BBQ’s cooking under umbrellas, its hurtful and life altering. I am thankful for Greta Thunberg’s voice; we all have a responsibility to act now and insist our governments do too.
Growing up with regular visits to relatives in Germany I was fortunate: Summer was spent bathed in the warmth at the beach huts and jumping in and out of the waves at Travemunde beach, North Germany.
Travemunde Beach in the summer with those brilliant beach huts that have hidden draws and storage
. Now the huts are cool enough to sit in and have a coffee.
Winters were spent in the beautiful crispness of deep snow with my Omi (grandmother) who lived in the centre of the delicious marzipan town of Lubeck, about an hour from Hamburg. The weather was predictable; Once an adult, I wished every year, like a lot of us do in England, for snow over Christmas. Many people place a bet for just that one snow flake on Christmas day that most years, eludes us.
We all know about and have experienced our changing climate and whilst one side of my brain is busy working on what we should do for our planet; recycle efficiently; eat differently; use less water and fuel in every way, the other side is romantic. It longs for my childhood days, when weather and food made sense, it was all seasonal. I dearly wish its return for my grandchildren, so although that’s a tall order, Rock on Greta!
A beautiful icy, winters day at the beach, loving the light.
Properties, up north!
There was another reason to visit Derbyshire, recently our son encouraged me back into a world I had left behind, the property market. He is keen to secure a future for his family, one in which he is financially free, meaning by the time he is pushing forty he is not reliant on a salary dictating his life’s outcome.
Impressed by his vision and having been brought back to the truth of our financial retirement forecast that I had been pleasantly ignoring in my new creative life, I decided to partner him in this endeavour.
Once the rest of the family had departed back home Nathan and I spent every day of the following week researching the property market. (in between meal, bath and bed time with 2 yr old Primrose) We investigated different areas for their price; rental viability; proximity to amenities and travel networks as well as the expected capital growth or instant return on investment. It was fun, not just using another side of my brain again, but spending quality time alone with my son, now a grown man, with his own drive, morals and values shining brightly. (Typical mother thing to say I know!)
By the end of the week we were happy to be able to say we had found a great deal and better still, secured the property. We celebrated with a cup of tea and an afternoon nap! Yes sleep! Getting up with Prim’s sun clock at six a.m. most days and working like we did had taken its toll but what a great week. The first of more to come in 2020.
What about your art I hear you cry? I have discovered that to generate an income from Art is a matter of patience and growth. Whilst a creative life is my love and ambition, Nathan rekindled my passion for property, which tapped right into the fear element, of finance and retirement! The thing is, I don’t want to stop being inspired by unusual animals, people and places and to do so requires funds for my love of travelling. So along side my Art business we will allocate time throughout the year to source and secure deals for ourselves and others interested in investing.
Manchester Christmas Markets
Art in unexpected places, Manchester
Back home was all prep for a big family Christmas, one where father Christmas attends to give out the presents and listen to the dulcet tones of the adults, meant to be the children, singing Christmas carols for him. Our Christmas has enjoyed a new lease of life with the advent of our little people. The magic and wonder return and beg to be celebrated and so we did. Paul has been married before and in the last couple of years we have had the pleasure of getting to know his adult children and their families. Sad that they have missed out on what our children experienced growing up we now recreate Christmas Eve as we always did. We are very grateful not just to have our memories but now to make these very special new ones.
OK he is a little big now but he gets the gist of it!
Food was more challenging this year as I really didn’t want to actively purchase and cook Turkey and Ham for our traditional German/English style buffet. Our daughters partner kindly sourced organically farmed produce and also cooked it, so the immediate dilemma was averted. However, the small changes in me and my life means more is inevitable, so next year we have already booked fourteen of us all into a beautiful Kentish pub for our sit-down meal together. We will still be back in time for Santa!
Family, food artistry and Architecture, whats not to like?
I think history becomes more important as we age, our own history as well as that of the world around us. With just a handful of relatives left in Germany now. we try and see them every couple of years. New Year is always fun because we can catch the tail end of the Christmas markets, plus they do crazy things with fireworks on New Year Eve.
Cars dodge boxes of fireworks placed in the road for everyone’s enjoyment. Neighbours stand outside their front doors either watching the display that creates so much smoke at times I imagine that’s what a war zone looks like. Or they are taking part by setting them down just feet away in the road. Whilst the sky is being colourfully lit, cars cleverly miss the ignited boxes of explosives dancing the spectacular! as well as the chap walking down the street nonchalantly setting bangers off as he goes! The price of Fireworks are comparable to England so, not cheap, but this show right on our doorstep goes on for hours.
Lubeck Christmas Market
Presentation is everything.
English is a second language for many and my relatives are no exception. I was the third child so by the time I came along trying to frame a sentence in German, older members of my family were asking me to say it slowly in English! However, my understanding is not bad and by the time we leave my brain is working the sentences out in German but then they answer in English! Every time we return, I’m certain I will become fluent for the next visit, it’s such a good skill. One day I will surprise them…
Walking; games and laughter are the order of the day every day, oh of course along with schnapps Glühwein, all other alcohol plus too much food and Marzipan. (Dry January started a little late this year) I could wax lyrical about the warmth and love found in Germany but I feel it is just as important to talk about Marzipan… not just any Marzipan. (I am so sorry if you have a nut allergy because this is a food not to be missed)
So much history and Art in Marzipan from the ingredients to the designs.
My Mums home town has a rich trading history, William Wallace was quick to write to Lubeck after a successful battle to say that Scotland was open to trade with Germany, but without digressing further, Lubeck is now well known for Niederegger Marzipan.
Lubeck’s Holstentor, is now a Museum, formally a City Gate marking the western boundary of the old centre. Built in 1464 it is one of two remaining medieval fortification gates around the city. Other Holsten gates date back much further as there was at one point no less than four Holsten gates to pass through! With the others destroyed, this one survived and was restored with pride and adopted by many German companies in their trademarks including Niederegger Marzipan. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987 and in my heart forever.
Founded by Johann Georg Niederegger in 1700’s, his Marzipan was held in such high regard and value it was at times. worth more than gold. It was given to Kings and Czars as gifts and as a result has long been world renown. However, it took until the nineteenth century before the likes of you and I were able to enjoy its delicate delights.
The original Marzipan factory is still prolific in its inventiveness. When small, I loved to receive small animals and fruit perfectly carved out of marzipan, with an attention to detail that’s mesmerising. These treats are still available in the Niederegger store in the heart of the town, just opposite the town hall. Take your time visiting as there is much to discover in this sweet world. The ground floor will test your healthy living resolve, (almonds are good for you!) with its array of delectables you could spend a fortune on gifts and memorabilia, all made out of marzipan of course.
Fruit and The Holstentor made out of Marzipan.
On the first floor is the café that always transports me to the splendour of an old-fashioned hotel like The Ritz in London. The waitress service, the décor, and rich smells of coffee and beautiful gateau’s makes me feel so decadent I can’t stop smiling when I’m there and secretly want to swing my legs under the chair, you know, that kind of happy.
The second floor takes you on a free journey of discovery: A visitor’s museum, that charts the oriental origins and secret recipes brought back by the crusaders to the Hanseatic City of Lubeck. So much made out of marzipan, including the twelve life size marzipan figures! It is worth a visit.
Have I made you hungry yet? Or are you thinking, that you have tried marzipan and wasn’t keen? I urge you to dispense with all other versions and try this the ultimate Niederegger Marzipan, It can now be found in large stores here. If you visit Lubeck and venture into this tasty universe, I would recommend the famous and very delicious, marzipan nut cake, I can taste it now as I write this, so pleased its along way away from me!
Armed with German Mustard, Marzipan and magic memories the one-and-a-half-hour flight home from Hamburg shot by.
I just love to photograph architecture, but struggle to paint buildings or straight lines!
You can always rely on a church for stunning artworks.
Lovely Luneberg, about an hour away from Lubeck.
I hope December/New Year was special in some way for you too, it would be lovely to hear, meanwhile what to do about 2020, let’s talk about that next time…
Since being home; I have travelled to Doncaster twice; Derbyshire; Bedfordshire and Rhodes in the space of a couple of months! They all have merits, so where to start… With house clearance tales!
Coming home and finishing commissions and artwork bought on route through Social Media, was harder than I thought. Aside from the beautiful interruptions during the day, shaped like grandchildren whizzing around. It’s the fact that my artwork and supplies are back to being all over the house. My studio is still occupied, so my house has no chance at Feng Shui!
Once our children had both bought their own houses and moved out, I spent the best part of a year clearing rooms, in our overstuffed house full of years of memories and mementos. In the back of a kitchen cupboard, I found the likes of four new fondue sets and one used one, obviously tried out and forgotten about, way back when. We didn’t need any of them so into the charity bag they went, along with all other kitchen equipment never used, but was a good idea, or present at the time. I had Rubbish, Charity and Children bags, along with bras going to Africa and specs to somewhere else.
Apart from the life size coffin Paul made filled with all the Halloween axes; masks; chopped off hands and anything else gruesome you can imagine. The most difficult to offload was, and still is, the children’s stuff. It’s not the sentimental value, it’s the fact that they don’t want to have it cluttering up their house or loft but don’t want us to give it all away either. They believe it lives in our home and truthfully, I failed in my mission and a lot of it still does!
I supply a church raffle every month with a selection of raffle prizes, you know the wine bottle holder from Berlin, a birthday gift obviously meant for someone else! I make continuous donations to the charity shops and friends’ wardrobes for, I’m ashamed to say, clothes bought still with tags on, that don’t fit! This process is ongoing and what started off being cathartic, has become an obsession that is never ending. Financially it makes sense to sell everything, but the time it takes to photograph, upload, answer questions, wrap and post is a job in itself. A task that would, one; delay me from clearing, and two; delay me from creating! Catch 22, time and money, I know so many of you feel my pain; just clearing, then cleaning, one cupboard can take up a perfectly good afternoon, that was destined for a more interesting event.
I attended The Carlton Show in Bedfordshire with my art; the gallery in a Shed in Buxton, where my art is on show; the Art fair in Doncaster; oh, and popped to Rhodes for a cheeky week of sun with my Bestie!
As far as the Art goes it’s a slow process of putting yourself out there. I know I could be at a different event every month but its not that simple with Art. You need to find your market, your people, the ones that get you and so want your creations on their walls because they resonate with them. So, it’s a mission that is both enjoyable and frustrating.
(I learnt a lot from this exhibition. its so tempting to take everything you do so that there is something there for everyone right? wrong! it confuses the visitor, so I will stick to displaying one type of work in future)
I did have a new experience: I sold a piece of work to someone who was rude and uninterested in the process of that creation, or the where and why behind it. I wanted to tell her where in this beautiful country we were, how I caught a moment in time, where the sun rose and made the rocks reveal the glory of their geology, in the different coloured minerals built up over the centuries. How the rugged shapes against their shadows in the sea informed the composition I chose, but she cut me dead and complained about having to frame it. My lasting feeling was that I would rather not sell to the likes of that person. Art is so personal, I wanted my work back!
(Just an example, look at that texture, nature is incredible.)
I felt so indulgent taking myself off for some end of year sunshine with my oldest friend but honestly, although I loved every minute of our adventure, travelling for months at a time is tiring. I couldn’t wait to lay on those sun beds with a holiday book, unrelated to learning; my goals or personal development! We stayed at Mitsis hotel and Spa in Rodos village, five star all inclusive. It was friendly; clean; big without feeling so; lots to do if you wished, even had its own amphitheatre where we listened to three tenors from South Africa! All inclusive was good however not if Vegetarian or Vegan, so I ate a lot of potatoes, great for swimwear!
(This is the way we like to start our holidays at the airport)
(Chatting at the bar during the day and chatting watching the sun set of a night, just chatting…)
I have known my friend for about 45 years, and guess what? we did very little laying on the sun beds reading; we talked, and talked bit more and a bit more. An uninterrupted luxury that was so easy for us both. I appreciate men don’t converse in the same way with us or each other, but feel they are poorer for it. It can be cathartic, enlightening, revealing and counselling for those taking part. I know I am fortunate and am grateful for the love and respect we share. All to often this is not the case as you go through life. At my age the hope is your friends are there because you have chosen them to be. Developing intellectually and emotionally during your life, you start to recognise those around you that quite literally drain your energy, or their words or actions don’t seem to be in alignment with your values. In order to preserve your well-being you need to walk a path without them. You honestly feel better for it.
A few days after my return from Rhodes my annual CP girls’ trip was upon us: these women I have also grown to love, over the past twenty years. We are a diverse group of professions; our age range is split over ten years with me being the oldest at 55. However, we know that even if we don’t get together too much during the year, our annual trip, usually to Centre Parcs, will contain a mix of hilarious to heartfelt stories. Comical antics and games along with age and time related conversations that help whatever stage of life you are at.
(We have been going to Centre Parcs for about ten years, we have interrupted it with city-breaks to Bath; Barcelona and Portugal for big birthdays. Next year we are celebrating in Croatia but I know we will be back again)
I find women allow each other to get deep and meaningfully into a subject, are thoughtful and often holistic in their approach to a topic, which is what I love about their company. I have to say, this is a complete contradiction to my early years where I couldn’t think of anything worse than spending all this time in female company! I always had more male friends; finding their no-nonsense straightforwardness a sanctuary from the gossip and bitching that I found when mixing with girls. Its so nice getting older.
(Bedfordshire, cant beat spending time with these two)
I think I am allowed to say the C word now we are in November? So, with Christmas looming ever nearer, I am frantically trying to get art work completed as well as looking at other opportunities to earn money, otherwise how can we travel? more about that next time. We do have one more trip to end the year on, to Germany for New Year, can’t wait to tell you all about that, as well as thinking about new year desires… In the meantime, I hope you are surrounded with positive friendships that serve to love encourage and empower you.
A new Idea;
Bespoke; renovated; hand painted; personalised; children’s desk/furniture
On arrival at our next stop we kept looking upwards towards the vastness of the huge sky . We heard a loud call and were treated to the antics and sounds of a pair of Buzzards as well as Red Kites claiming ownership of their blue world. Catching the thermal airwaves (with their broad wings of nearly two metres) just coasting effortlessly, they were conserving energy whilst searching for prey, wonderful to watch. Once set up we could still hear the eerie call of the buzzards and all I could think about was Western Movies! It is mid-August and we are hooked up at Pantmawr Farm
; this site is in a picturesque valley with a quiet stream for children the splash around in, as well as having horses to ride. With the odd sheep and livery stables at the top of the hill too, it is a beautiful setting.
A couple more nights here and we will move on inland where another little love fix awaits us, with a visit from our daughter Summer and her two little boys, we cant wait.
The changeable weather delivered enough sun for me to paint outside with watercolour. Too much heat for acrylics, but I have learnt to adapt and quite literally, go with the flow! When the weather is bad, I take over the inside of the Beast, table sink etc. and paint there. Poor Paul is hemmed in!
Good news and opportunities have been following my art travels on this trip; After sending examples of my work, I was accepted into the Doncaster Art Fair, happening at the end of September: A gallery in Buxton Derbyshire started a dialogue with me after framing one of my prints for their customer. Now the gallery has a couple of original artworks and a number of prints being shown in, The Gallery in a Shed. I will be visiting next month, apparently you can enjoy a lovely coffee and cake as well as wonderful artwork there. In addition, a few paintings sold as soon as I put them on Social Media so I am moving in the right direction. Think I might have celebrated with a Cider, but once home, the big canvases will come back out and the champagne will be put on ice, hopefully popped soon!
As we wound our way through the valleys of Wales, although we had achieved a lot in our time there, we hadn’t managed to explore the Pembrokeshire coastline or been able to catch up with friends in the area. So apart from the inviting curves of the land; walks into the forests unknown; waterfalls that can take you off to meditate a land of plenty, there are many other reasons to revisit Wales.
The New Forest
Knowing we would be seeing Theo; I found another Farm to stay at: Paddock View (Camping & Caravan Club) just off of the A31 in the New Forest. Google said it would take just over four hours to get there but we have learnt to add a couple of hours when in the motorhome and we were right to, we left just before 6am and arrived at noon. Good roads and the sun shone, plus we were on our way to see our babies, so all was good in the world.
You may well ask, why the New Forest from Wales when our plan was to travel the coastline? We had come to the conclusion that we didn’t want to fight our way around the tight roads of Devon and Cornwall in The Beast especially being the height of the summer, so when our daughter said she would come and join us we opted for somewhere that wasn’t going to be an arduous journey for her with two little ones in the car.
We have been to the New Forest before but enjoyed it differently this time. Perhaps seeing it through the eyes of a three-year-old helps. We woke up to the sounds of Sheep, Alpacas and Pigs in the fields around us, when Theo woke up, he looked out of the window to check the animals were awake, because then he could be too! A short trip in the car found us surrounded by Donkeys and Ponies. Horses, Cows and Pigs also joined us on our journey through the beautiful Forest sprinkled with old pubs full of stories and atmosphere.
It was William the Conqueror who set aside the New Forest over 900 years ago and it is said, he would probably recognise much of it today. Probably not the red phone boxes with all the books inside! This area is now a National Park that harbours not only an array of animals but a diversity of rare plants and wildlife. By grazing freely, the animals are the architects of the land, alongside the people managing it and commoners, as they are known, who actually own the roaming livestock.
Change of direction
We had planned to explore for another month but as we all know life throws us curve balls occasionally, which means the norm can change and we adapt again. We had news that someone close to us was seriously ill in hospital, so we made arrangements to go home. Our priorities changed, things that are important or urgent have far less potency when you realise time is limited. We were brought back to the bare bones of humanity; LOVE.
Sitting in the field with the Alpaca’s on a beautiful bright sunny day, Paul and I grieved for what was to come and became thankful for this person’s indelible print on our lives. Through our sadness we are finding joy in the memories she left us with. Seeing others suffer the pain of such a loss is hard, as I’m sure some of you have experienced. Adults/ parents are pre conditioned to ease the pain of those around you, especially our young. However, bereavement is a personal journey, so, we support where we can and offer our love in abundance.
I have a list of artwork to be completed now home, but also a new painting to begin: Lions were our friends favourite animal, so with her brave spirit in mind, I will create my first lion artwork dedicated to her memory and explore how I can raise funds through the sale of the original and prints in order to donate to the cancer charity. I’ll keep you posted.
Our travels haven’t stopped, they are merely paused. Our experiences and events along the way have endorsed our resolve, to continue on this path whenever we can, to live the life we have, differently from our well-trodden history. Filled with days of new experiences; wonder; and a cacophony of emotions that regularly surprise and remind us, of how lucky we are.
With Love until next month…
A massive low returning home? No actually quite the opposite. Within a day, I was delighting in the benefit of getting back to a routine of swimming every morning. I found that I started my day with a sense of achievement and determination that is not in the same abundance when I don’t exercise. Seeing family and friends was obviously a pleasure, but nothing compares right now to the love and friendship developing with our grandchildren. Coming home via Peak District we had a week with our cutie Primrose who is still happy whenever we talk to her. Theo is three, a little older, whilst initially excited about our travels he soon stopped interacting with us when face timing because he couldn’t understand our prolonged absence. We sent little gifts to involve him but the hurt was evident. It was after two weeks of being home, seeing him daily, Theo and I were playing on our own, at one point he just stopped, got up, hugged me and told me he missed me. We cuddled and went back to the, animals in the castle game, we had concocted. The well-being and love from this tiny interaction was momentous, I was so glad we went with our instincts and came home earlier than planned. Life experience over the last few years has taught me to listen to my intuition, I’m sure I always thought I did, but the difference is, I now implement a well-being first mentality. It isn’t always easy, old habits are hard to break, but the rewards are always there and nothing in life beats smiling more, as Theo would tell you if he stopped for long enough!
Another smiler; I had planned to work this morning but I prioritised well being first: If you also love the tracks on The Greatest Showman you will understand why I broke into the regular morning play routine and put the CD on for a dance with 20 month old Primrose, she is with us now, until Saturday, so we all, that’s Oma Opa, Mum Dad and Prim started the day giving it all we’ve got on the dance floor of our lounge carpet, woohoo!
With fun and love in abundance, the planned two weeks at home became more like eight weeks; we waited for baby Hugh to arrive, family came to stay, including our other grandchildren so the house and garden had a party atmosphere. We caught up with everyone and fitted some work in to help fund the next leg of our journey. It felt like a whirlwind and then Hugh made his appearance, bouncing in at 8lb 11 oz and we all got to spend time with our newest family member.
Summer spent no time relaxing after the birth and was up and out quickly, including us, creating new experiences for Theo with his new little brother, energy is in abundance in that household! The diary started filling up with commitments so we finished up our work and hit the trail again this time heading for a little weekend break in Liverpool first, almost where we left off, we were so glad we did…
Having met some lovely Liverpudlians on a cruise once, but never having been to Liverpool, they were our only reference: Lively, funny and kind hearted, which is exactly what we found the city to be. Walking through the different quarters you get a real sense of what Liverpool is made up of and how the City is moving forward with its modern architecture, creative drive and friendly people.
We stayed in Maghull on an old farm, just a twenty-minute train ride into Liverpool Central. (lots of old farms allow Motorhomes and Caravans to park up as they have the space, or are still a working farm, in need of an extra revenue stream) The return fair and travel pass for all trains, busses and the ferry, was an unbelievable £6. We travelled in everyday and made the most of this bargain.
Naturally we got our steps in, seeing the sites, but also enjoyed a ferry ride, across the Mersey, I can hear you singing… where we got off to visit a wartime U Boat that had been salvaged so well it is now a tourist attraction. If you like history its well worth a visit.
The Ferry speaker system gives you a running commentary on the buildings you pass and their history and the U boat visit was another cheapy, so a thrifty enjoyable day. We couldn’t visit without drinking and listening to live music in the famous Cavern Club area where the Beatles and Cilla black made their name. As well as enjoying a comedy club night with many comedians giving us a broad view of the lovely scouse sense of humour. If you haven’t visited Liverpool, we would recommend you do.
Birchbank Farm: Chester
We hopped from there over to another farm, this time in Chester, where we had the privilege of a visit from our son and granddaughter. Of course, that’s why I choose the farm, with the old farm dog and family of cows on site making the visit memorable. It also gave me lovely views for morning watercolour practise and meditation, ignoring the odd “Mooo” when the farmer was late with the grass!
Breaking away from cows’ milk, at home I use Oatley milk for tea, whilst travelling it’s been more difficult to find. Talking to the farmer I found out that although his cows graze on grass as families, the larger cow herds on farms surrounding him, don’t see the grass at all, it is brought to them by machinery which we both felt sad about. It raises questions for me about the, sustainable dairy, debate?
Back to being tourists, we visited Chester Zoo which lived up to the great reviews and the following day the Aquarium, another brilliant day out. Primrose had already fixed the shark song into our heads with every interaction but now she has seen them, her favourite word is “Shark”, repeated many times like you do when you are nearly two!
Dinas Farm Bangor
Nathan and Primrose left, and we moved on into North Wales where we were only a half hour bike ride to Zip World. Fun for everyone awaits at various Zip World venues, with trampoline adventures in giant underground caves, tree walks and Zip wires both under and over ground. We opted for the one sold as the fastest Zip line in the world and longest in Europe. We had tried to do this a couple of years ago but the weather wasn’t on our side then. On this day, it was Paul’s birthday and the sun shone, we biked our way there through the spectacular slate quarry’s of Penrhyn, revelling in the atmosphere of the old mines. My phone battery had run out so I was desperately taking mental pictures committing the beautiful ruggedness to memory for my palette knife that was calling.
As for the Zip line adventure, we enjoyed it but realised we had experienced much scarier escapades. I don’t want to take anything away from the day for those of you thinking of taking this ride, it’s even great to watch from the café.
The town of Bangor we had visited before, it is still full of charity shops and supermarket chains, and this year, wasps, lots of them! The scenic Betws-y-Coed is not far by car if you are in the area and well worth the visit.
Dinas Farm, was right on the edge of River Ogwen,
where the changeable weather continued. Beautiful sunshine warranting shorts, turning to torrential rain needing waterproof clothing from head to foot. The rain and floods of neighbouring counties had swelled the river so it rushed past at a deafening pace. In addition, the rain pummelled the roof of the Beast so much, it often took some time to get any sleep!
After this farm we had a few nights wild parking, including in a pub car park. There are many pubs that allow you overnight parking for free, naturally expecting your patronage which usually includes a Sunday Roast for Paul!
Barmouth Seaside Resort: Gwynedd NW Wales
The rain did stop us from visiting some waterfalls and walks around Snowden but it could have been so much worse as it was for some this year, with landslides and floods. So, we counted ourselves lucky and made our way to Aberystwyth with a laundry stop on the way. (Farms don’t have washing machines at the camper’s disposal).
The search for a Launderette found us in Barmouth.
As if the weather knew we had lots of washing to dry, the sun also met us there. What an absolute delight this town is with an array of independent shops, art gallery in the old church hall and coffee shops and pubs galore. You are torn between time spent on the golden sands of the expansive and interesting beach and sand dunes and the quaintness of the towns charm. We didn’t have time for other local attractions recommended to us, but this is one place we would be happy to revisit. We made more arty friends and ate in The Last Post pub, food was lovely lots of veggie or vegan options. Sad that we couldn’t stay for the music the following night.
We looked forward to meeting friends in Aberystwyth as well as discovering the delights of Ceredigan Bay which didn’t disappoint. What appears to be a small town does stretch out pleasingly around the old Castle and Harbour. Education, History and Victorian charm is in abundance here. The beach is a contradiction: at the harbour, the beach is made up of tactile smooth stones that look like they belong down the centre of your back for a massage. Thousands of beautiful smooth curved grey stones as far as you can see.
Followed around the bay, by rugged slate jutting out of the sand like a scene out of a Terminator or End of world, type film. Harsh unforgiving, ready to rip and tear whatever visits, in the water to dense to see through.
Continuing the walk around the castle and sea front, brings you to the screeches of children playing on the dark grey beach made up of fine stones and dark sand.
It reminded me of the beautiful surprise we found in Scotland, with the beach made up purely of cockle shells.
However, you could be like us, and looking for things to do in the rain: The town museum has been created out of a beautiful Edwardian theatre, where you could shut your eyes and feel the drama unfold on the stage the audience was so close to.
A steam train ride takes you on a scenic trip, up the side of step hills! to the water falls at Devils Bridge. The pub food is lovely by the way, as is the tea and cake of the station coffee shop! Best get walking…!
Lastly the Victorian Obscura lens at the top of a steep tram type ride was an interesting visit in any weather, designed for Victorian entertainment, it looked to me like early voyeurism! It cleverly magnifies with mirrors the live scenes on the beach and surrounding area of 1000 miles or more. We were lucky, the sun appeared and worked hard all afternoon to set the scene of modern-day beach fun 2019 style.
We have known our visiting friends for almost twenty years and found much to celebrate: a recent successful heart op, two birthdays and many holiday memories. It reminded us that life is sweet and our treasures are all around us.
Heading south, to see what else is in store…?
We hit an Emotional Wall, we were doing so well and then bam, we knew we couldn’t enjoy another landmark without seeing our family. The journey we have been on has been emotionally very happy go lucky, we didn’t expect the wall. We had set a date to return home for a pit stop, in time for our daughter’s due date for baby number two, so knew we would stop off to see our son and his family in the Peak District on the way. As soon as we did, the trip was paused. We were no longer the 50 plus explorers, we were Oma and Opa!
Hey I’m jumping ahead; we were still in Cumbria last time we spoke!
So, day six of wild parking and we really couldn’t put a light on without the living quarters battery beeping. We can’t let it get too low, so after more calls we found a site right at the south end of the lakes, Meathop. We only stayed one night, nothing outstanding about the site or location and the signal was really poor. We left to explore at least one of the lakes before we moved out of Cumbria into Lancashire. Lake Windermere was the closest and naturally busy. We drove into many car parks, but with the Beast so long couldn’t park until the afternoon. At least we got to enjoy the water and town with its ruggedly tactile stone-built houses, walls and meandering shops, along with a plethora of delicious eating establishments! Don’t worry we did our 10,000 steps that day!
A picturesque car park was our wild park for the night, before heading off to Lancashire. Can you believe we again heard the roar of cars bursting into the car park at midnight! but this time they didn’t come near us and practised their doughnuts, sliding and wheel spins, making dramatic patterns in the ground, (art everywhere!) fun to watch.
Into Lancashire…Having been at a magic convention in Blackpool recently and not wanting to get tied up in any big towns like Liverpool we opted to bypass the coast, travelling inwards to the lovely town of Glossop in Derbyshire about an hour from Manchester. We found a Camping and Caravanning club site that had just a couple of nights left in Hayfield. A great site for doing the Kinder Scout High Peak walk and only fifteen minutes away from our son, Nathan. So, we settled in and then gate-crashed Nathan Emily and our little flower, Primrose. (It was cheaper in the long run to join the Camping and Caravanning club as they have as many sites as the Caravan and Motorhome Club which we already subscribe to! (A bit like the English Heritage and National trust!)
Don your walking boots, we are stepping our way to health in one of England’s beauty spots, Derbyshire.
Tideswell, with its Cathedral of the Peaks and brilliant coffee shop along with Perveril Castle and the caves in Castleton and Art and much more in Buxton, are all worth a visit. And are what we managed to fit in whilst there. Should you visit, I’m sure you will do as we have done, left with a list of places to return to another day.
Tideswell, the largest village in the Peak District is a haven of holiday cottages with beautiful walks that keeps you trigger happy on your smart phone or camera, catching the rugged symmetry of the stone buildings nestled into the sharp slopes of the cobbles in the countryside is addictive. Traditionally baked Tor and Derby cakes are popular but we thought the best place to visit was High Nellys Café. With a hint of Swedish influence, the breakfast we had was a delightful feast of savoury and sweet treats. I did feel rather piggish but I could have ordered so much more on the menu!
Warm Banana and Pecan bread.
St John the Baptist Church, also known as the Cathedral of the Peaks is a must if you like churches. Building began in 1320 and has been added to for so many years there is much to see and read.
This view looks like it could be a Constable painting.
Castleton in the White Peak, lying in the lee of Mam Tor locally known as Shivering Mountain is picturesque with great pubs, coffee shops and an abundance or jewellers selling the beautiful semi-precious blue stone know as Blue John. This can also be found in the fairy-tale looking caves and caverns filled with stalactite and stalagmites. The Great Ridge Walk and Perveril Castle ruin, (English Heritage) tests your ham strings but are worth the views.
The Art exhibition we found in Buxton along with the galleries inspired me to play with mixed media when I can, Ill let you know how it goes…
To break up the journey to Kent we visited friends, had a wonderful evening and arrived home about lunch time to surprise our unsuspecting loved ones. Our grandsons delight was articulated by immediately showing us the worms and snails he had placed along the wall, it was good to be home!
It seems that Scotland captured our hearts and imagination, so much so we found it difficult to leave. The planned two weeks have stretched into seven, and now its time to move on but let me tell you about the last few places we enjoyed before returning to English soil.
Continuing down the West coast we arrived at Ayr, the weather was so hot we couldn’t resist having a day at the beach like everyone else. A very long, lovely sandy wide beach with miles of shallow water ideal for little ones. Not great for parking motor homes strangely. For us it was a day off from everything, we sunbathed, ate ice creams and read books as if we were on holiday!
Over the past couple of weeks, there have been less arty places, less impromptu parking places and the site we stayed at in Ayr was business-like. We were missing the Highlands.
Next stop Girvan, a great wild parking spot on the seafront overlooking a huge mound in the sea called Ailsa Craig (meaning Fairy Rock). It’s also known as Paddy’s milestone as it’s just a hop over from Belfast Ireland, to Glasgow Scotland.
Ailsa Craig (land for sale…)
It is owned by the Scottish peer Archibald Angus Charles Kennedy the 8th Marquis of Ailsa and is thought by geologists to be a “plug” left behind from an extinct volcano. Made up of blue hone granite it has been quarried to make curling stones. Skipper Roddy Leitch talks of a rich history of Sea monsters; smugglers; prisoners; dragons; cannibals; folklore and legend. It even has the remains of a castle built 1400’s and an abandoned lighthouse. More recently believed to be where Winston Churchill plotted the D day landings. It is now home to seals and thousands of birds providing a sanctuary for Gannets and Puffins. Did you know, Gannets are the largest sea bird, their wingspan can reach 6.6ft!
One of the great things about the Beast is her lovely panoramic windows. Literally facing out to sea, I loved watching the weather surround this current bun shaped land, morning noon and night, each one a snap shot, I found it mesmerising. Its up for sale too, but a little too much for our pocket, Donald Trump was said to be interested, apparently the locals had an idea to club together to prevent his ownership.
Mull of Galloway (Maol nan Gall)
Mull of Galloway is Scotland’s most southerly point and an unspoilt paradise, so we took a peek. It was a drive that saw the Rhododendrons light up our journey with spectacular colours. We booked into the campsite on the beach at Drummore, we had planned to relax but a chance remark to an Artist I follow online found me secured onto a painting course at midnight for the next morning!
Before we venture into a world of Julie Dumbarton’s “colourhugs”. I thought you might be interested in a little of the beloved poet, Robert Burns history. He came from these parts and is held in high esteem by the Scots. He wrote from the heart, for example, ploughing a field he destroyed a mouse nest that it needed to survive the winter, hence his poem” To a Mouse.” No doubt we have all heard of or taken part in the celebrations held worldwide on or around his birthday 25th January, Burns night? If you are thinking no, I still don’t know him, I can safely assume you have sung Auld Lang Syne at some point? That was his. He had a little success with his writing whilst alive but apparently never received the acclaim he should have. He died 1796 aged just thirty-seven, (the day his son Max was born) legend says he was born in a blizzard and wrote about how the brevity of life was there in a snowflake:
“Or the like snow falls in the river
A moment white then melts forever”
For all his love of life and gregarious nature, he was, it appears as fragile in health as a snowflake.
His wife welcomed visitors to their home which she kept as a memorial to him. The likes of Poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth visited and later John Keats 1818 and writer Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850’s. Burns Cottage is kept as a museum now by the National Trust for Scotland, he is said to be one of the world’s best-loved poets, his words were touching and uplifting and are thought to have made the world a better place.
Julie Dumbarton fine art painter
We haven’t got up at six a.m. for some time but we rose and drove the three hours to get to Langholm in Dumfries and Galloway. It was a last-minute cancellation on a weekend course painting A Forest Pathway, Julie Dumbarton style. A quest of mine is to paint more freely and if you check out www.Juliedumbarton.co.uk you will see what I mean in her work.
Her bio reads, “artist for 20 years, lover of colour; owns a church, loves hugs” Her excited smiley hug as soon as you enter through the big old church doors she owns and uses as her studio, feels genuine and warm-hearted. Followed by tea and biscuits, surrounded by both tiny and huge canvasses bursting with colour, I was in my element, what’s not to like?
A group of sixteen, all ladies, the youngest probably mid-thirties, oldest in her seventies maybe. They came from all over the country and world, the furthest being Texas. As the weekend unfolded so did personal life stories, none more enthralling and emotional than Julies. I don’t think it’s a prerequisite to have trauma or heartache to reach into our imaginative souls but I’m sure our life events shape us and if we allow, can fine-tune us into the best and happiest person we can be, which often involves creativity of some kind.
Craig roped in to help demonstrate.
What was Paul up to whilst I was getting paint on my clothes? Paul and one or two other partners, explored mankind’s nature, in the pub for the most part! We then all continued the celebrations into the evening by all eating/drinking together until late, ready for the smiley hug from Julie, and tea and biscuits waiting for us in the morning. The next day was a repeat, when some of us inadvertently found each other in the pub at the end of the course and so the evening of swapping our different countries stories continued with friendships forged and connections confirmed on Facebook of course. Don’t you just love it when you take a chance and go with the flow of what life presents to you.
Sixteen paintings all of the same image taught at the same time but all different; individual and unique. That’s one of the things I love about art, allowing yourself the freedom, you can only be you. So, thank you to Julie for the tuition which I’m sure will inform my personal style. Thanks to Craig for the endless tea and lovely lunch and the colourful mix of ladies who made my weekend so special. Not forgetting Paul whose encouragement to fulfil my dreams is something money can’t buy.
By the way, we stayed at a basic site next to the rugby club Langholm, £13. Per night and the best water pressure in the showers we have come across, great result.
Kirkcudbright (pronounced Kir-coo-bree)
In our three-hour dash to Julies lovely old art studio church and my weekend of enlightenment, we passed a town many had recommended to us. Kirkcudbright, known as the Artist Town. So, we doubled back for a couple of days and found it to be a place where beauty creativity and community spirit reigns. We learnt that everyone in the town raised money and donated £2 each because they decided the town needed a swimming pool, now the council have joined in and help support it. Despite the town brimming with Artists of all genres, the community thought they should have a proper art gallery and with the same determination now have that too. The money we paid for the site we stayed in on the top of a hill overlooking the town, all went to local sports for the town’s children. Many of the shops are family run or collaborations and one pub, in particular, The Selkirk Arms, has played a key role in the town’s history dating back to 1777 and still does to this day. Poet Robert Burns was said to have lodged there on several occasions and it is said he even penned the Selkirk Grace there. A busy events calendar keeps the town alive and interesting whatever season you choose to visit. Doesn’t this sound like the best version a town could be?
Julie recommended we stop at Kippford beach and wow how uniquely beautiful it was to see a thick carpet of cockle shells adorn the sand there.
The walk along the beach of shells is flanked by beautiful small and large cottages and holiday lets, colourfully set into the rocks and surrounded by flowers. Looking up at huge windows framing a circular lounge on top of the rocks we saw that ten people could let that property…hmmm an easy choice for us, who else is coming?
The Royal Yacht Britannia
We had regretted not visiting The Royal Yacht Britannia on our brief visit to Edinburgh so hot-footed it back for a quick overnight stay, wild parking along the beautiful beach there so we could visit at leisure the next day.
1997 saw the end of a tradition, the last of 83 Royal yachts that dated back to 1660. I was surprised by the homely feel, no luxury, very little pomp and ceremony visible in the furnishings and designs which the Queen and Price Phillip played a huge part of. The queen is extremely thrifty it appears, there are many examples, like not wanting to waste Queen Victoria’s ships bedding she had it fitted to size for her bedroom and the ships Wheel/helm came from an older Royal ship.
Perhaps this is why it is said she always felt so at home and relaxed when on board. Although her day still comprised of a full work schedule, she still found time to socialize and joke with those looking after her. With a band on board, there was often merriment, fun and games. Naturally, there are the other interesting facts like the Admiral would sometimes have to change twelve times a day, his outfit dependant on where they were, what time of day and who’s company he was in! Britannia was originally built to also work as a hospital ship so had a large working laundry area, which was lucky with all of those costume changes! One last interesting fact: Britannia has three masts, beneath the base of each one are hidden coins. They were placed there as payment to the angels to guard the souls of the sailors.
Countries Flags at the ready
Prince Phillip’s Easel and carefully concealed bar behind a painting!
Scotland’s Coal Mining Museum
We drove back via the scenic route of the A7 stopping off to visit Scotland’s Coal Mining Museum
We stayed in its car park overnight so we had a whole day there as the tour and displays take up quite some time. We had a personal tour by a retired miner Jim, which was so interesting as was the history of mining when children as young as 5 or 6 were given the boring job of sitting in the dark dirty mine with nothing to do other than opening and closing a door when needed. By the way, because of the way the distribution of air and gasses work if they didn’t close the door, they could kill everyone down there!
We, of course, tried the local (only) pub, The Dean, that has always played a huge role in the town and is now a community run pub. The miners used to collect their wages from the pub and the wives would also be in a line waiting for the housekeeping, not silly, are we!
Leaving Scotland, we headed into Cumbria from which we have fond very old memories of holidays with friends when the children were small. The Beatrix Potter museum and rolling hills where we experienced all weathers in one day. Nothing has changed, still great for kids and adults wherever you explore. We found ourselves parked wild the first night and searching for a site as we knew we were almost at the Beast limits, but literally all of them we booked. Travelling means we lose track of the calendar and of course being half term, we should have pre-booked somewhere. We visited Cockermouth town first then found a pub that allows motor homes to overnight park, even though there was no hook up etc, finding a place to wild camp is harder here so we got to know Terry and Nicola the helpful owners of The Posting House (can recommend mushroom stroganoff) stayed a couple of nights and swapped tales with a couple from the Netherlands as they were doing our trip the other way around!
Cockermouth is Poet William Wordsworth’s birth town.
You find yourself avoiding saying Cockermouth! But it simply derives from the river Derwent and mouth of the river Cocker meeting. Consequently, Mills grew and so did a town, Cockermouth!
A pretty area where medieval and Georgian streets nestle underneath the castle (privately owned and lived in) lots of independent shops and art galleries. We recommend Shills for lunch and a visit to William Wordsworth house. The bold terracotta coloured house and fine gardens stand proud on the main street just down the road from where the hangings took place in Williams day! The interesting visit included talks and a working Edwardian kitchen and recipes created by staff in typical Edwardian garb using utensils and methods of the day!. Looked after by the National Trust we very much enjoyed a walk-through history there.
I was both heartened and dismayed to read about William Wordsworth life. The joy I felt when I read that in an era of strict codes of conduct, William’s father and mother afforded their children the freedom that belonged not to the 1770’s but in the 1960’s. At a time when children were seen and not heard, beaten regularly, put to work as infants and even hung in the centre of town for the smallest misdemeanours. Williams mother and father encouraged their five children’s exploration of nature and the world about them with unprecedented freedom. Playing in their garden or out amongst the rivers and forests of the Lake District, William and his sister Dorothy were able to flex their creative muscle and both started writing. Dora became an author, poet and diarist whilst William’s love was also poetry, he became a key figure of Romanticism and the author of the most famous poem ever written about daffodils. (entitled Daffodils by William Wordsworth if you do google it. It’s simple and uplifting)
William and his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge invented a new style of poetry, in which nature and the diction of the common man surpassed their formal language of the day.
I found Wordsworth’s sentiments akin with mine and his fears then, unfortunately still so relevant today. Inspired by Wordsworth, I dared to write a poem:
With William in Mind.
Poetry is not hard to find, its right here now, as I look through the blinds. Its where the land meets the sky, especially if we view with our heart and eyes.
We will see what thousands have before, the wonder of nature right at our door.
If we stop for a while longer, eyes closed and listen,
We hear the song of the seasons; it steals into your heart and makes your eyes glisten.
In Edwardian times, the brutish realities of life, where each day was all but, toil and strive.
William Wordsworth in despair was said to have sat in a boat on a fine lake and recalled natures spirit finding him there.
As it got dark, in the quiet,
where he could hear as he did in the womb.
Mother nature spirits spoke to him there, and boom,
he recognised her anger, looked at the damage of mankind.
He felt there will be a penance for us being so blind.
Poetry connects to our inner voice, to give us the council to give us choice,
to give us the courage to truly be, to right the wrongs, to change history.
Ordinary, with will and passion.
Typical, with eyes that see.
Customary, with ears that listen.
Regular, like you and me.
Our voices can sing, shout or debate, to weave back into natures poetry, it’s not too late.
For hope is eternal, without it we would die,
but perish we must if we don’t have nature by our side.
Does it get annoying with each other 24/7? Many people have asked if we have killed each other yet! Going into week eight I can say no, we are both still alive and kicking. We have had the odd quiet moment, where one of us is probably counting to ten, (or plotting the murder!) but we have been together nearly 30 years, we have worked together many times, so we can’t really surprise each other in terms of being annoying. Some habits are highlighted but that works both ways for each of us. So, as well as the irritations highlighted, being together like this makes us appreciate what we love even more. Lastly, we are constantly reminding each other of how lucky we are in so many ways, so no time to grumble.
Food: I thought our diet would improve, instead we find ourselves eating more bread than ever, toast or a sandwich seems to be our easy default. As we have been avoiding the larger towns/stores we are reduced to a limited array of foods in the smaller shops, hence an easy sandwich! Eating out is sociable, interesting and convenient, we feel and act like we are on holiday, it’s happening too often, so we have decided to get a handle on our diet and finances.
Vegetarian sausage and haggis at the miners museum. The Haggis was very tasty.
As I do the cooking Paul has helped by eating my vegetarian meals so I am not cooking two meals every time. In fact, he is even eating more fish variety. This has unfortunately come at a time when I am learning more about veganism. The change for me, won’t be immediate, old habits are ingrained but I am making more considered choices where possible now. I do need to find a good replacement milk for my Yorkshire tea?
Exercise: Van life means some days we only do 1000 steps and others 24,000, today so far 1800. We walk and ride as much for the enjoyment but also the stretch and the cardiovascular exercise. In the van you do a lot of sitting or manoeuvring as opposed to walking freely. One thing we miss is our mattress, so the odd back ache is another incentive for a good walk.
What else do we miss? I’m posting this on the day of my daughters baby shower. We have missed a friends wedding reception and other events we would have loved to attend. Missing out isn’t everything, those people are still special to us their place in our hearts are fixed and when we see them we can hopefully bring more of us to the party than we could have done before. So apart from our family and friends, Paul misses the open space our home and garden affords us and his weekly spiritual church meetings. He would also love his Lambretta to accompany us. Perhaps what I miss is time alone, large canvases and an injection of female camaraderie. At home Paul will go to work and on the days when i am not looking after our Grandson, I will go into the studio or office. Some would argue that Art is a lonely business because the process is a solitary one but. I write my morning papers, a kind of thought diary which helps me to focus on priorities; I deal with emails and the business side of Art and home affairs. Then sketch, research and develop ideas or techniques and prep and paint canvases. However, my routine is out of sync and so I have done very little of this along with personal time to meditate and believe it or not create art. Isn’t it ironic that these were originally key drivers for me and this trip along with engaging others! This is as a result of being on a road trip but it’s not a negative, our experiences are priceless.
Today we are staying put and I will do all of the above…Walking will of course feature too!
Inside the Beast: Our motorhome is old, depicted in the hardly used but outdated interior which irritates Paul no end. I on the other hand, I can live with that because the Beast delivers on so many levels other than aesthetics. The Vans quality, is regularly endorsed when talking to other Motorhomers about the pros and cons of their mobile home. We have however found we have developed what I call MHT, Motorhome Tourette’s, the outspoken check list that makes our mouth work involuntarily ten minutes after we have set off. You settle into the drive only to then shout FRIDGE or AERIAL!
Persevere with me whilst I explain. When we wild park the fridge gets switched onto our Gas supply. Before we start the engine, it must be in the off position otherwise it does something terrible to our engine battery. When driving it should be on DC mode; when parked up in a camp site, hooked up to electricity, it should be on AC mode! Of course, we have stupidly put it on gas when we have been hooked up to electric! Also left it draining the engine battery after being out all day!
Do any of you remember having to stand by the T.V moving the indoor aerial around? Well in the van it’s similar, from inside we raise the aerial on the roof and twizzle it to get whatever channels we can find. Can you imagine whizzing through the trees with the aerial up!
Every time we set off, we have to make sure the cupboards and draws are secured and anything we have out is tucked away. It’s not unheard of the have Spooky draws and flying objects though! The most alarming one was the fridge door and its contents but I was a good defender in Netball!
Things don’t always go according to plan. At this moment in time we are in a pub car park in the countryside. They allow us to park free assuming we will drink /eat in there (another meal out!) of course we do, intending to travel the next day, but it’s the next day now and the weather is doing its worst so we are staying put. The slight problem is that our living area battery beeps if we put anything on, Lights, heating T.V. That means its running low and needs charging: to be hooked up to electric, however every site in the Lake District for the next few days is full. We cannot let the battery level drop below a certain number shown on our circuit board or it ruins the battery so the pressure is on. Added to that we have just run out of water, both fresh and in the tank and the toilet container is full! By the way the pub is closed and now my laptop battery is in power saving mode! So its bye for now until we get electric.
We stayed at the Glen Nevis Camping and Caravan Site for four nights (pay for three and get one free) It’s the most well organised site we have been to and caters for small tents, new style wooden pods as well as MH and Caravans. There is plenty to do in and around the area, dominated by the stunning backdrop of the mountain range. With their own local Pub and restaurant, we would endorse this site.
In Fort William we liked the sound of walking the Great Glen way that leads you to Neptune’s Staircase, a unique damn system, plus a coffee shop.
Tourist info said it would take half an hour, two hours later we were grateful of the coffee but didn’t like the walk, as the path took us through housing estates, not the beauty we had been used to. However, the train back ran the next day and the busses were a mystery on Bank Holiday Monday so we walked back! Whilst we wouldn’t sanction this walk, we would recommend the Cow Hill Walk from the Glen Nevis Braveheart woodland car park (Created for the film vehicles) It said it would take nearly three hours and it did. At times, I really did feel like we were climbing a mountain. The forest is so diverse, it begs you to take up botany as it shows off it’s often unique plant life only found in the highlands, as well as the beetles butterflies and birds who enjoy it too. The shy sun is appearing more often now and gently coaxing the biota to unveil their stunning summer colours, it’s been lovely to witness the changes since we left in April. A well-travelled Danish couple commented on the vibrancy of colours they have not seen before.
Our last day in Fort William and we managed to get tickets on the Jacobite Steam Train used in the Harry Potter films. The chugging noise of the steam engine made us think of Dumbo, along with the Whoo whoo from the coal dust smeared train drivers pull on the cord. We went over the viaduct made famous in the film and visited Museums and the village of Mollaig on the way. It was a lovely ride, said to be the best steam train ride in the world.
We left Fort William looking to wild park in or around Glencoe, famous for the Battle and its beauty. As we didn’t come across anywhere, we took a left following the coastal route, normally luckier there, the drive was beautiful but took us twenty minutes away from Glencoe to a little place called Kinlochleven. It wasn’t the plan but we found a parking area next to the river, set aside for MH’s with the added bonus of toilets too, so went with it. (the thing about wild parking is that every time we use the loo we are essentially filling a container up, so to be able to use an outside toilet means we are winning!)
What a great find Kinlochleven was, directly opposite an Ice/ rock climbing centre with lots more to do inside. A friendly pub, chippy, hotel and the walk we did the next day was definitely a mountain climb, it included a waterfall and was really breath-taking, so much so we just sat at the top for ages in admiration, talking about how lucky we are.
We drove back into Glencoe but still was unlucky with parking so we just gave the town a miss! Next stop Loch Lomond and wow…
With lots of layby’s designed off road for overnight stops the beauty of the Long Loch can be enjoyed everywhere. It’s the largest body of freshwater in Mainland Britain. The scene was helped by the bright sunny day, so we made a picnic and joined everyone else on a grassed area by the Loch and stayed overnight. We couldn’t remember the last time Paul and I made a picnic with a blanket on the ground and seeing shapes in the clouds, probably before children! It was bliss I’d recommend it. It was also perfect weather the next day for an 18-mile round trip bike ride, from the pretty village of Luss
to Loch Lomond Trossachs National Park. We ate lunch on a Paddle Steamer being renovated, this was great as it was the last one designed and built in 1953 called Maid of the Loch and will be back in business in a couple of years.
We reluctantly left the area; the Beast’s engine was the only noise as we travelled further away from the Highlands we had come to love. We felt a quiet sadness descend and settle in as the roads got busier, the area built up, less scenic and no stopping points. We decided to follow the coast again and sidestep Glasgow. Unable to find anywhere I discovered a visitor centre in Greenock with good reviews about the things to do there. We followed the satnav down a one-track road that tested our nerves as it became more dirt track than road, with little to no passing places. The never-ending winding built the anxiety of the question, what would happen if a car came the other way, there really was nowhere to go!
We finally pulled into the empty car park of the Visitors Centre
which now being 6ish was all boarded up for the night. Note I said boarded up not closed for the evening. It was in the middle of the country with a rundown farm building as its neighbour. We questioned staying there but told ourselves we had nice plans for the next day didn’t want to face that road again for a while and couldn’t think where else we would park for the night so we cooked and out came the PJ’s.
A knock at the window surprised us first and resulted in us helping two lost eleven-year-old boys find their way home. After settling down again we were alone totally in the dark apart from the glow of our little T.V and the stars, until a boy racer BMW came spinning into the car park filled with youngsters parking beside us, strange as it was a big space? Once they left, we relaxed again and went to bed at midnight. Just before we got comfortable three fast cars came into our lonely car park and circle around us. We slowly undid the shutters to see what was occurring. It wasn’t young lovers finding a quiet place. It was fast cars headlights and young men. As fast as they arrived one left and went to the derelict farm, another went the other way and the other stayed? Paul had stopped trying to encourage me to ignore them and like me, was just watching… They went but I couldn’t go to bed and rightly so as two returned, on that note Paul got out of the van turned off the Gas and I was like Sulu from the Star ship enterprise, flicking buttons off, and locking down the inside. Now to pass the sinister waiting headlights and navigate the dirt track of a road with just our headlights warning us of the holes and bumps that made the Beast bounce and heave her framework clumsily, whilst not knowing where we were headed?
In the dark for some time we were in the countryside on our own, bullied only by the trees and bushes knocking on the Beasts sides as we lumbered up and down the landscape. Then we saw headlights parked to our right just off the road ahead, as we passed the white strips of the stationary Mini, we check our mirrors and noted they were behind us! Without realising we were heading down hills in this foreign terrain faster and faster bouncing higher in our pilot seats whilst still trying to keep our cool. We pulled over sharply when possible and the Mini sped on, now we were following, and the track thankfully became a road which eventually led us to a beach promenade at Largs, where we parked up with one or two MH’s and
… slept soundly!
Music of the Mountains…
We are heading into our fourth week of travel and it really does feel like a road trip with more time on the road than painting, walking cycling or anything else. It’s a tricky balance to strike, where to stop and for how long. Paul and I luckily love a road trip, some of the mountain ranges reminded us of driving to Vegas, it was only for a moment, Scotland is far prettier, but they were also fun memories made.
I’m writing this blog drinking a yogi tea from the shop at Gairloch; Buddha by the Sea (Womans Balance, thumbs up) Looking out over rugged hills that are cloaked in a raincoat of clouds filling up the Loch below and I’m deciding what recipe to go for out of Buddha bowls, grain+ green +protein book, a new addition, along with Tree spotters Guide, get me! I call it relaxed learning, it happens when life is simplified; we can focus on simple but essential pleasures to “feed the well,” as artist say. Nourishing the soul with life’s bounty in all ways.
Regretfully we left Gairloch, we continued West and we can confirm the scenery continues to excite the senses. So many photographs on my phone are now framed by the Beasts interior as I shoot whilst travelling. Its addictive; the light changes and so does the picture in front of you. You spot sheep standing perpendicular to the mountain and wonder how they do it, take a shot, add to the picture lambs frolicking, cows and their calf’s feeding, a few more shots.
The Landscape too has filled my phone with its lively charm. In the Beast out in the open, the shhh of the North Sea, the trickle of the waterfalls or the stillness of the lochs lull you to sleep, only to be woken by the array of bird song championing a new day, and this makes me feel very grateful, not only for our new day but the extra storage space on my phone!
Whilst driving in the never-ending indulgence of the landscape, we can almost feel the rocks waiting to rain down their giant jagged boulders in front of us, just waiting to reclaim the road channelled through them, or we look over to the eerie but beautiful lochs, silently weaving into the hillside showing us the way. Let’s not underestimate the sky that also commands our attention; with the changeable weather, the clouds make designs on the sky that so many artists endeavour to emulate with their individual styles that I don’t tire of seeing. A dance of mist across the mountains and you can almost hear the Gaelic laments of times gone by and lost loves. Suddenly a crash of grey cloud storms across the brightest of blue skies creating atmosphere and mood. Interlaced with the clouds are the stars of the show, an aerial display of birds of prey hovering or steeling food from another bird mid-flight. It’s a movie we watch most often in silence, interrupted only by our eagerness to engage in the wonder.
We drive for the most part without music, the silence is self-imposed, we don’t put the radio on because the Beast sounds like a bus inside and the view really is best enjoyed without extra barracking. Having said that, music is a natural desire, that one evening did have me looking for the CD’s we had brought with us, except we forgot them and found just one; NOW that’s what I call a party 2018. How that found its way in here I don’t know but it’s always fun reviving old tunes with a chance for a boogie! … “Came here for love”…The Greatest Showman pretended to accompany us but the case was empty, which is a crime, as we would have played that on repeat for six months!
Inspiring music poetry dance and creativity of all genres, you can see how the people and landscape enjoy and respect each other, we spoke to some fishermen recently looking experienced and weathered, I’m sure you can picture them, who said they never take their scenery for granted, they know how lucky they are. I went to find some enchanting music yesterday and found humour in the likes of The Red Hot Chilli Pipers! We ended up playing Michael Flatley’s Celtic Dream music on repeat through Paul’s phone! More Oil we discovered helped quiet the engine so I look forward to checking out the charity shops and finding more CD’s!
There is artistry in food here too, we had a lovely lunch in Sheildag, (creamy fish chowder) hidden in a charming village that sweeps around the bay of the Loch, listening to Eva Cassidy in the background slowing the pace down.
The drinking laws are much tighter here than in England which means Paul can’t enjoy a pint of Guinness as he was, but it doesn’t stop him later in the day. A Dutch family had overloaded on Guinness and were going home so asked Paul to take them off their hands, which he kindly obliged.
Another great find was The Old Inn at Carbost on the Isle of Skye, I’m jumping forward here but this find was so unexpected. We stopped at a CL site. (Certified Location Sites just have the basics, electric hook up and water, no frills and this place didn’t even look nice in this setting!) The chap said there was a shop and pub about a mile walk away so we braved the hail storm and went for supplies. They were of course mega expensive because this is the only shop stuck in the middle of nowhere, but whilst there, we confirmed that the Pub was just a little further on and the shopkeeper told us we wouldn’t want to leave, “it’s the best pub on Skye” Yeah right, we thought there are no signs, no anything to suggest anything happens here. We walked into a warm-hearted, busy, internationally filled pub where people of all denominations just kept coming. To top the atmosphere, the food was delicious and service friendly. So many gems tucked away.
Before heading to Skye we wild park on Loch Marie, said to be the prettiest Loch in Scotland where we skimmed stones and walked around Beinn Eighe looking for eagles.
Skye initially was like the East side of Scotland, brown hills and moorland as we headed up to Portree the main town, but as we followed the Art trail around the coast the hills and mountains seem to double and treble in number and size and became more scenic. We wild parked at Staffin Beach, checking the tide wouldn’t reach us
and the next night Carbost CL site, mentioned earlier. We met friends in Portree on our last day, and after relaxing in the Beast together, convinced them to buy a motorhome! We missed out on the bottom part of Skye and Fairy Pools, said to be magical, but we wanted to get a move on, back to the mainland and out of the wind. Ironically, we found ourselves up a mountain on the Ben Nevis range, where it was windy and snowing!
There is so much to do at the Ben Nevis Range, we thought it a great location for an active family holiday. Fort William is on the doorstep and the largest town we have seen for ages, so lots of boxes ticked.
Our zest for painting, people and a party has us staying at The Ben Nevis motorhome camp site for a few days, where we have made new friends and planned a night with music in the local pub! (More photos on fb art page)
The highs and lows of the of The Beast on the Highlands.
Can you believe we have been on the road for just over two weeks without eating chocolate? Not even an Easter egg and with all this walking and cycling, roll on summer body!
Talking of well-being, I learnt that Edinburgh city is 45% green space which makes for healthy and happy people, it does also have the benefit of access to a great beach that goes on for miles. Inverness is no different, the wildlife and scenic views are all around, rivers canals and lochs wherever you walk makes every excursion a pleasure. We wild parked for a couple of nights in Inverness which is allowed in Scotland. In fact, Scotland’s roads are well organised with clearly marked stopping spaces and bins and every view is a good one.
The bike ride from Inverness to Loch Ness is a lovely one, most of it off road and catered for bikes. It takes about an hour and is not too hilly (helps if you have an electric bike too!) There are two routes there, we went to Dores where the pub sits right on the edge of the Loch nestling in its glory, and treated ourselves to lunch as it was Easter Sunday. I had Shetland muscles in cider but they were too small for my liking, Paul’s roast was good though and it’s an easy place to stop for a good while whether to play, swim, skim stones or do the many walks around the forests there, something for everyone. Nessie Hunter.com is also resident which makes the trip more interesting as he has been looking for Nessie for over 25 years so has many stories to tell if you catch up with him. In case you were wondering we didn’t see Nessie either!
It seems we along with the rest of the country enjoyed beautiful sunshine over the Easter period and that helped us to slow our pace down. We research how to go about the North Coast 500 route and decided to do it backwards. We met two chaps older than us, setting off to ride the NC500 on their pushbikes, we thought we were good, riding a few hours that day, we didn’t mention that! Good luck to them.
About the NC500
The route is like a pick and mix, you read about the next stop and decide if that’s what you want to see, perhaps something the Vikings left, or a world war two relic, or one of nature’s highlights. There is something for everyone and without the book you would drive through what looks like a few houses and a post office and not realise it has hidden gems. However, although six months sounds like a long time, we have to be selective and so enjoyed just driving for a couple of days on what is a great road, never thought I’d be saying that, but with the big Beast on a single carriage way you appreciate Scotland’s Passing places frequently interjected along the route. As well as the scenic Stopping places off set from the road, it’s easy to wild camp here. The NC500 stops are often only a fifteen-minute to half an hour drive apart, so you could park and make it your base camp then cycle or walk to nearby points of interest.
NC 500 Anti clockwise.
We left Inverness and stopped at Evanton and the Black Rock Gorge. The main village car park will take a motorhome so that’s a bonus. The post office lady suggested we walk through the woods to see the Gorge and we were so pleased we followed this advice. A beautiful wood that is a must to visit with children, dogs, or just you. It is well looked after and catered for by the community, you can tell the children have a ball there with camps, fires and play areas. That aside the wood evokes fairy-tale and fantastical thought. We found ourselves creating stories of fairies, elves and nymphs dancing in and around the gnarled old trees, it was magical. The Gorge is a force of nature dramatic and mesmerising, worth the stop off. By the way we didn’t stick to the path as is suggested, we were distracted by the bird song, fauna and flora, streams and waterfalls, consequently we added about two and a half hours to our walk!
Just a 15 min drive and I’m lured to what is described as the Jewel in the highlands, Dunrobin Castle and Gardens. This one of course, is also not part of English Heritage or the National Trust! It has a lot of personal artefacts on show from the history of the family which I love. Its location on the beach and the gardens are stunning. They have plants that look like something out of a prehistoric era which they explain to the children are dinosaur food. (part of the rhubarb family but you can’t eat them) and regale you with stories of ghosts and legends. I’d like to tell you what they are called but after the chap said it three times, I just nodded and smiled.
Rock Stop part of the Geo Park of the Highlands, was a unexpected surprise, so tucked away, you may even think you are passing someone’s house. Apart from the shop and café there is a room with a large screen playing an interesting introduction to the geology of the rocks and mountains you are driving through, as well as an exhibition of studies, finds and research.
We decided on visiting the isle of Skye to the West, as opposed to The Orkney Islands so cut the tip off of Scotland, missing John o’ Groats. It depends on who you talk to as to whether that was the right choice or not but hey, we can come back.
From Scrabster along to Betty Hill A836 the route just gets prettier and with everyone saying on the West coast every corner is a photo opportunity I can’t wait, but know I will be testing Paul’s driving patience!
Well we are into our third week and I think we mentioned the Gaffa tape didn’t we? So, our wing mirror kissed a passing similar motorhome and knocked itself out…Paul = Gaffa Tape. Then we stopped to repair it properly, when Paul opened the tool box hidden under the van the whole thing just dropped off! Paul …= this is going to take more than Gaffa tape! After putting the contents in the shower, not easy, when we next stopped, we couldn’t understand why the pump was making a funny noise? Yes, the shower had been knocked on for a while! The next stop and we realised we were missing a wheel trim, Paul… = needs cable ties! And lastly back on the road and water started dripping in front of me onto the dashboard, we had only had a little rain so we were concerned but… Paul… = silicone or mastic, by this point Paul was talking and I was just nodding! So, So far so good.
For those interested in camping, we stopped off at a site at Brora which was just a minutes’ walk to a windy beach, a few nights wild, then we stopped at Tongue and then Gairloch, again right on the beach. All site are good but Gairloch really grabbed us so after one wild night! we stayed just outside at Sands Site which is well equipped, spacious and on a great pathway to the town of Gairloch which is spread right around the Loch, so just when you think you have come to the end of the town, a short cycle and there’s more. We stayed for a few days and enjoyed sitting on top of a hill looking for Porpoise and Whales. Finding shops like Budha by the Sea and the Trading Post to hang out in. This and the Cove are popular places for Yoga retreats so had to include some photos for you.
We stayed at Sands for three nights, we would highly recommend it. Paul = maintenance! We shared some drinks with some lovely people, enjoyed a live band in The Old Inn and painted outside with a view you can’t tire of. What the Highlands don’t have in abundance is connection, but everyone is relaxed about not having wifi at home for months, their answer is, they have the view, and you can’t argue with that.