Expensive toilet stops and Spanish language problems.

Using a motorhome to explore cities is not the easiest thing to do in my opinion, but maybe that’s because we are novices. Also, we have been settled into the same campsite for a month now and moving the motorhome to use it as transport is a bit of a pain so we decided to hire a car for a week, and we have certainly made the most of it.

We are just back from a visit to the city of Murcia where we explored the old town and had lunch sitting outside in a charming restaurant. It’s the middle of December and the temperature reached 21C – Perfect! The Spanish were dressed in their winter clothes of thick jackets and scarves and it was like a good English summer day. The weather is one of the reasons we decided to spend the winter in Spain and when we hear that it’s bad snow in England it makes me feel a little smug!

Other places we have visited this week on our whistle stop tour of the Alicante region include the quaint town of Orihuela, famous for its cathedral, built between the 14th and 16th centuries and the poet Miguel Hernandez. We have also visited the seaside town of Torrevieja, which is instantly forgettable, although to be fair it does have a nice seafront promenade. We drove north past Benidorm and onto the delightful town of Altea, a must visit old town and sea front.

Santa Pola, La Marina and a drive up into the mountains to see Pinoso as well as numerous other small villages have all been visited this week with our little Kia, which incidentally cost the same for a week as 3 days car hire costs in the UK.

We have learnt some lessons this week! The first lesson learnt is that there are not many public toilets in Spain so you have to use them when you see them. Whilst walking back along the long promenade in Torrevieja to our car, Anne was desperate for the loo. All the public conveniences on the beach front were closed for the winter despite there being hordes of people wandering about. The only option was to call into a cafe for what turned out to be a very expensive pee, 12 Euros –  ( with a free ice cream sundae!).

The second lesson we have learnt is to learn more Spanish phrases. At the restaurant we visited in Murcia the waiters did not speak English and we ended up misunderstanding what he said. What was meant to be a cheap snack for lunch ending up costing us 50 Euros. We ended up with eight  starters and a huge Paella between us. A little embarrassing! I have now re-installed, the learn a language app, Duolingo and will try and learn one phrase a day from now on.

Our journey goes on and as Christmas approaches we have put Christmas lights on the outside of our motorhome and we have a small Christmas tree. It’s all looking festive and we have even put our food requests in for the restaurant on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Tapas and a turkey dinner, now that is what you call the best of both worlds.

As an ex- travel and tourism lecturer and travel agent I’m learning more than ever about Spain and witnessing Spain’s travel and tourism industry at first hand. Who knows – I might get offered a job!

We move on again on Wednesday and I read a phrase on another motorhome blog about life on the road – it’s a small living room but a very large back garden. Perfectly true.

One of the attractive buildings in Murcia.
Altea old town
Santa Pola fishing boats
Oriheula old town

Motorhome adventure – Missing Bonfire night but it was 27C

As I write this blog article about our motorhome adventure the weather here in Spain is sunny but windy, and I’m told that the rain we have had overnight is the first since August.  Since my last blog we have flown back to the UK to see our new first grandchild. I stayed two days and Anne stayed 10 nights, so that Anne could offer her services as a post natal midwife. I could only stay 2 days because our motorhome insurer would not insure the vehicle if it was left unattended for more than 48 hours.

Parked up on our pitch at Marjal Costa Blanca

Because we knew that we would be flying home for the new baby, but we weren’t  sure when, we had chosen to stay a month at Marjal Costa Blanca  where we knew that there was good security.

The campsite has a security barrier and regular security patrols and we also informed our campsite neighbours that we would be away for 2 days and they said that they would keep an eye on our motorhome for us.

Marjal Costa Blanca is a big campsite with fantastic facilities such as a restaurant, cafe/bar area, entertainment, spa facilities with an indoor pool, two huge outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a supermarket and many other facilities that I have not discovered yet! The pitches are 90 sq. metres which is a decent size although they do have bigger pitches for bigger outfits.

Since my last blog we have stayed at Bonterra Park in the lovely coastal resort of Benicassim. This relatively unheard of Spanish resort has one of the most charming promenades that I have ever seen and is famous for the The Ruta de Las Villas, a row of spectacular 19th century villas that were once occupied by the rich and famous of Valencia. The area is also good for cycling and we cycled along an old disused train line that has been turned into a very popular cycle way called The Via Verde  Green Route. We have also visited the beautiful city of Valencia, one of my favourite cities.

The weather since we arrived in Spain has been mostly warm and sunny. Last week the temperature reached 27C but in the last few days it has cooled to around 17C during the day and chilly at night, but compared to 5C in the UK we can’t complain.

We have been on the beach at several Spanish resorts and Anne has been swimming in the calm water of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s too cold for me to go swimming!

It’s the 2nd of December so we missed the fireworks of Bonfire Night. It’s probably the only time in my life that I haven’t heard fireworks on Bonfire Night. I haven’t really missed the fireworks but I did miss the traditional Yorkshire pie and peas with mint sauce that we always had!

So, after over 3 months living in our motorhome what is like living in a confined space? I think that we have adapted very quickly and easily. Our living room is the outside space around us and most days we are outside exploring or sitting in the sunshine. It’s amazing how many people are doing something similar to us by spending the winter in a warmer climate. There are people here who live on the same campsite for several months or in some cases live here all year. It’s easy to see the attraction. In England it’s usually cold, damp and grey, whereas here there is very little rain and the humidity is very low.

There is huge diversity with many Dutch, German, French, Spanish and British people all getting along well. There some incredible motorhomes/RV’s, Caravan set up’s and we feel a little inadequate with our meagre set up of just a motorhome with no add on, no cooking tent, no outside lights and so on. The other day a delivery lorry turned up at our neighbours to offload a full sized fridge that they put in their awning and some people have a full sized washing machine in its own tent! It really can be a home from home.

There is a lot more exploring to do in this area before we move on and we feel that we have barely touched the surface as far as seeing the best of what the Costa Blanca has to offer.

Benicassim promenade
Marjal Costa blanca
Marjal Costa Blanca
Marjal Costa Blanca security barrier
Marjal Costa Blanca
Marjal Costa Blanca
Large RV at Marjal Costa Blanca
Sunbathing by the pool at Marjal Costa Blanca
Meeting the local ladies in Benicassim
Cycle track along the cliffs at Benicassim

 

Avoiding Spanish bandits, and into Spain.

Well, we made it into Spain from France in our motorhome and even managed to avoid been robbed by Spanish bandits on the infamous AP7 motorway around Barcelona.

In my last blog about our motorhome adventure in Europe I wrote about our time in The Loire Valley and since then we have driven south down the A20 motorway stopping at various places including the very moving village of Oradour-sur-Glane, which was the place where 642 people including women and children were massacred and the village destroyed by a German Waffen-SS company on 10th June 1944. The village remains as it was after the massacre including the church where women and children of the village were killed. The place serves as a chilling reminder of the horrors of war. You can read more about Oradour-sur-Glane here.

Aradour-sur-Glane, France

Pressing on further south we stopped at a free aire for the night at Saint-Géry in the Lot, Midi- Pyrenees region of south west France, before heading past Toulouse and to our next stop at the Medieval city of Carcassonne. We parked up for the night at the municipal aire costing 12.40 euros, which did not include any electrical hookup or water. We loved the hilltop town of Carcassonne, famous for its citadel, medieval watchtowers and double-walled fortifications as well as all the small shops, cafes and restaurants inside the fortress walls.

Carcassone, France

Continuing on into Spain the motorway skims the Pyrenees as you cross the border. There were very strong cross winds on the descent into Spain and our 2.8 metre high motorhome was a little tricky at times to keep in lane. Our plan was to have an overnight stay at the motorhome aire in Palomas on the Costa Brava, north of Barcelona, but it was full when we arrived so we had to drive straight out again. Consulting our ACSI campsite guide we found a campsite further south at Calonge. This was a lovely campsite, apart from poor WiFi, and turned out to be a better choice than the overcrowded aire in Palomas that we had intended to stay in. There is a lovely beach only about 300 metres from the campsite, although the nearest supermarket is a good 20 minute walk away.

Beach near to our campsite at Calonge

The motorway that runs past Barcelona is the AP7 and I had heard that some motorhome owners had been robbed by scammers posing as police officers. The motorhome forums on Facebook have stories about drivers being given slow punctures at motorway rest areas and then being robbed when they had to stop. So, with some trepidation, we set off on the AP7 around Barcelona and it was one of the quietest and least eventful motorway journeys I have ever done! We stopped at several motorway rest areas without incident. Compared to the M62, M1 or M25 the AP7 was a doddle!

The brain can conjure up all sorts of fears of the unknown but as long as you are aware of the scams then it’s less likely you will be taken in by them. Anyway, a stubborn Yorkshire man like me is not easily taken in by such things.

Our next stop was the town of Cambrils, just south of Barcelona and we turned up at La Llosa campsite. Sure enough, they had places and we found ourselves a sunny pitch. It was a short pleasant walk to the sea front and like many Spanish tourist resorts the sea front promenade is well designed and clean. The promenade is lined with restaurants and on the way back we stopped and ate tapas for lunch.

Cambrils marina

This was day 77 of our motorhome adventure and so far it’s going really well. The weather has been warm and sunny. Our motorhome is very comfortable for both sleeping and living. We are outdoors all day, walking cycling or sitting outside in the sunshine. It’s a healthy lifestyle. We have also met some very nice and interesting people, and they can be a source of useful information about the local area.

Cambrils sea front promenade

Motorhome touring in the Loire Valley

It was on a visit to The Yorkshire Motorhome Show on 25th March 2017 that it all began and we took the plunge and bought ourselves a motorhome. The one we chose was a Hobby T65 GE Optima Deluxe as it suited the motorhome layout that we required. After picking up our new motorhome in mid-August we set off for a trip to Scotland to test out the features and learn how everything worked. It was a steep learning curve (a really steep one) and we were also able to fix a couple of minor problems with our motorhome before our planned trip to France. So, as I sit here on Day 69 of our motorhome adventure typing this, it seems a long time ago. We are currently staying on the Amboise motorhome Aire on the River Loire, within 10 minutes walk of the beautiful town and Chateau. The Amboise Sunday morning market here is great and runs from 8am until 2pm every Sunday. It’s advertised as the largest in the area and it’s like a huge outdoors supermarket selling fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese and every other imaginable kind of food as well as clothing, leather goods, beds and furniture. Everything you could possibly need and a lot you don’t!

Our stop in Amboise is part of a short tour of the Loire area famous, of course, for historical and charming chateaux, and wine. The chateau at Amboise is well worth a visit. It was the 15th century residence of king Charles VIII and Amboise town is full of charming restaurants, cafes and shops.

Until today, 22nd October 2017, I have worn shorts every day since we arrived in France on 25th September. The weather has been mostly sunny and warm but now it’s Autumn it looks like the weather is changing so I’m looking forward to heading further south into Spain.

We started our tour of The Loire Valley in the town of Saumur and we stayed for the night at the motorhome Aire at a cost of 12.80 Euros per night, which is only a short walk from the town centre. The leaves were falling from the trees and we awoke the next morning with a roof piled high with dead leaves and the problem of how to get the leaves off the roof. The answer? Drive as fast as the speed limit allows so that all the leaves blow off your motorhome roof!

Our next stop was the campsite at the fortress town of Chinon costing 15 Euros per night and only a short walk across the bridge to the town centre. Chinon has a very impressive fortress that you access via a free lift from the town centre. We spent a couple of hours at Chinon Fortress which we really enjoyed. Standing on the fortress walls, as did Richard the Lionheart in the 12th century, I tried to imagine what it would be like being under siege for a year, which is what happened several times in Medieval times. We decided to spend 2 nights at Chinon so that we could take advantage of the washing machines at the campsite.

Chinon Fortress

After leaving Chinon we stopped to visit the chateau at Usse, famous for being the inspiration for the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty.

Our next stop for the night was at the pretty village of Azay-le-Rideau where we stayed at the village camping cars Aire costing 9.80 Euros. The beauty of French Aires is that they are usually situated at the edge of a small town or village so that you can walk in to do you food shopping and to sightsee. The more parking that is provided near towns and villages, the better in my view. After all good parking encourages more people to visit and to spend their money!

One of the things we have noticed about the French villages we have seen so far in the Loire region is how nicely they are landscaped and also how they put the pedestrian first. Many villages have traffic calming with a maximum speed of 20km/h, although the locals seem to ignore this.

The chateau at Villandry, our next stop, proved to be one of our favourites due to its beautiful colourful gardens. Again, we stayed at the Aire about 300 metres from the village and this is where we encountered our first vegetable vending machine. Put your money in and out pops a cauliflower. Ingenious!

David and Anne at Villandry Chateau

Motorhoming is a fantastic way to see many places. Wake up with a different view everyday. What could be better but what happens when you have a problem and you are in a foreign country and don’t speak the language. We had discovered a minor water leak from our shower so we located the nearest Hobby dealer and turned up just as they were closing for their 2 hour lunchbreak. No need to worry when you are in a motorhome because we opened the fridge, made lunch and waited 2 hours until they opened. Google Translate came in very useful in trying to explain to the very nice reception lady that we had water leaking from our shower and could they fix it under warranty! Two hours later we drove off after they had re-sealed the shower tray around its edges and they had said that will solve the problem but don’t use it for 24 hours.

It was time to check in to a campsite so we could wash our bedding so a quick look online and we had found one 8km away in the suburbs of the city of Tours. We caught the bus into the city and had a nice lunch and a look around the old town before heading back to use the campsite washing machine.

The final stop on our motorhome tour of The Loire was Blois but this is where we had planned to meet up with our good friends Lynne and Mark and stay in a hotel for 2 nights. Parking up at the Logis Auberge de la Caillere it felt strange that we would be staying in a building rather than a motorhome. Real food rather than camp cooking was appreciated before we headed south through France on our way to Spain. This motorhome life is a good one and we are excited about the next stage of our motorhome adventure!

Meeting good friends Lynne and Mark at Chaumont sur Loire

 

 

Chaumont sur Loire chateau

5 Motorhome Life Hacks

Motorhome life hacks! A “Lifehack”, according to Wikipedia, refers to any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency.  So what motorhome life hacks have we learnt in the last 2 months of touring in our motorhome? Here are my top 5 motorhome life hacks!

  1. Fuel efficiency whilst driving our motorhome and French tolls.

Touring in a motorhome is best done slowly. In France, where we are now, diesel has been costing us between 1.22 Euros and 1.35 per litre, so whilst stating the obvious, the more miles you do the more is costs. There are times though where you might have to use motorways and we used the French motorways to get quickly to the Royan area. I have already mentioned in a previous blog about how good the Sanef-t-Tag is driving through France on toll roads. You can access your online Sanef-t account anytime to see how much the tolls have cost you and a copy of my account is pictured below.

Sanef-t Tag account summary for French tolls

Back to fuel efficiency, whilst driving a motorhome  I found that using cruise control made a big difference to the miles per gallon but only when driving on the flat. On some stretches of flat motorway I saw the average mpg go up to over 60 as opposed to our normal average of 30.5 mpg so it’s well worth getting to know how your cruise control works if you have one of course! On average with cruise control on we were getting about 15% more miles to the gallon than without cruise control.

2. Fresh water and waste

Before buying our first motorhome we read all sorts of horror stories about emptying a motorhome toilet cassette, but it’s really not that bad. The job of emptying it falls to me though and Anne refuses to do it. With her nursing and midwifery background I’m surprised at that!

I empty the toilet cassette daily and only put enough fresh water in to the fresh water tank to keep us going daily, although if we are wild camping I will put more fresh water in to keep us going a few days more. For those times that you can’t get near to a tap I suggest getting a 10 litre watering can. We have found this the easiest way to get water into the tank. Our toilet cassette is fitted with a SOG system and this avoids the need to use chemicals.

Our toilet cassette with SOG system on our Hobby motorhome

3. Buy steps to access your motorhome

Our motorhome step

Our motorhome came with an electric step but we decided to buy some stand alone steps, after we had a problem with the electric step. Stand alone steps are more robust than our electric step but they are also multi-purpose. For example we use our steps to clean the windscreen and to make it easier to to take our bikes off and back on our bike carrier. They are mini step ladders!

4. Refillable gas bottles – The Gaslow system.

What a wonderful system the Gaslow re-fillable system is in my opinion. It’s not cheap to fit but because we will be spending a lot of time touring in our motorhome we can re-fill our 2 x 11 kg gas cylinders from many fuel stations in Europe. I have the FillLPG app on my mobile phone so that I can easily find nearby fuel stations that sell LPG. So far it has worked out much cheaper to buy LPG because we only put in what we need.

Our Gaslow system with external filler point

5. Cadac Safari 2 Gas BBQ

Cadac Safari Chef 2 BBQ

We love this gas BBQ. I’ve always been an advocate of charcoal but we have never had as many BBQ’s as we are having now. I can set up the Cadac BBQ in 2 minutes and be ready to cook 2 minutes later. The hotplate heats up very quickly and it is very easy to clean afterwards. Cleaning charcoal BBQ’s was always a pain! I can highly recommend the Cadac Safari Chef 2. It’s easily big enough for 2 people and I have used it to cook for 4 people with no problems. The Cadac comes with several cooking accessories such as a grill, smooth cooking plate suitable for pizza and frying eggs and a pan/kettle stand.

Experienced motor homers will have heard all this advice before but as newbies to motor homes it’s a steep learning curve for us and I wanted to share this information for other newbies!

 

Motorhome in France – How we pay for stuff

Having been in France one week now in our motorhome I thought I would mention how we pay for stuff in supermarkets, shops and restaurants etc. and give you an update on how our motorhome adventure is going.

Our motorhome on the Royan to Le Verdon ferry

We are now in the Royan area of south-west France and have taken our motorhome on the Royan to Le Verdon ferry. The last two days have been poor weather after previously been in the mid 20’s and sunny. The weather forecast is for the sun to return so in the meantime we have been cycling on the many cycle tracks in the area and swimming in the indoor swimming pool. We are using the ACSI camping card and this campsite is 17 Euros per night. The ACSI Camping Card is great and is full of campsites you can use at cheap prices, off peak.

We have been living healthily on salads, melon and ham for the last 2 nights although I made bacon rolls today with a pack of bacon we bought at Sainbury’s in Folkstone, before we used the Channel Tunnel. That’s the last of the British bacon for a while unfortunately!

In a few days we will head north again following The Atlantic coast to La Rochelle and Nantes before heading east along The Loire Valley to meet up with friends in Blois on the 22nd October.

On the banks of the River Loir at La Fleche

On the way to Royan we stopped overnight at our first French Aire in the pretty town of La Fleche which lies on the Loir River. This is a free Aire next to a busy road but close to a supermarket and the shops in the town. For those that have not heard of an ‘Aire’, they are parking areas for motorhomes and there are thousands of them all over France. Many of them are free to use or cost only a few Euro’s per  night, depending on the facilities they have. The idea being that motorhome owners will use them to park and then use the local shops and other facilities. Because there are thousands of motorhomes in France it’s a smart move to have motorhome parking as it improves the economy of that area, something that the UK could learn from.

When we arrived in La Fleche I thought that we were on the banks of the famous Loire river  (France’s longest river at 629 miles long), but I soon realised that this was a different river completely. There is a subtle difference as the famous river has an ‘e’ on the end!

Anyway, I thought that I would mention whether we are staying within our budget of £60 a day that we set ourselves. In September we just exceeded our budget and spent £65 a day but there was a lot of diesel included in that because we drove a lot of miles in the UK because we were at a wedding. In the last few days we have only spent about £35 a day in campsite fees and food, so I’m pleased with that.

Before our motorhome adventure in France I took out a Halifax Clarity credit card and a Caxton pre-loaded cash card. With the Halifax Clarity card there are no fees to use the card, no cash withdrawal fees and no annual fee. The Caxton card can be pre-loaded with Euros and the exchange rate you get is good. The last rate we got was 1.12 Euros to the pound and I noticed in Sainbury’s that their exchange rate was only 1.10 at the time.

One week into our European motorhome adventure and we are really enjoying things so far. It’s very relaxing, we are speaking French although Anne’s is far better than mine! Our diet is better than we had in the UK and we both feel healthier, although the bacon roll that we had today and the British sausages we still have in our freezer is a reminder of the UK! I haven’t shaved for 3 days and I’m looking like an ageing surf dude. Anne says that’s rubbish and I’m the exact opposite of a surf dude – whatever that might mean!

Finally, for anyone interested in World War 2 history, we have seen a monument dedicated to the 10 men killed in Operation Frankton in 1942. 12 British commandos launched their canoes from a submarine in The Gironde estuary and planted limpet mines on German ships at the French port of Bordeaux. Only 2 made it back alive and the rest were executed by the Germans, even though they were in British uniform and should have been treated as Prisoners of War. The daring raid was the subject of a 1955 film called The Cockleshell Heroes starring Trevor Howard, Christopher Lee and others.

Beach in south west France

Our European motorhome adventure begins – France Day 1

After spending a night at the Caravan and Motorhome site in Folkstone, only 15 minute’s drive from The Channel Tunnel, we paid a visit to Sainbury’s at Folkstone to fill our motorhome with diesel and buy some groceries to keep us going a couple of days. Our European motorhome adventure was about to begin!

We had booked a crossing at 11.50am costing £80.64 one way and arrived at the terminal early. Having never used the Channel Tunnel before I wasn’t sure of the procedure but it was all very straight forward. Pulling up to the terminal barrier the system recognised our registration number and asked us if we wanted to travel on the earlier 10.50 train, at no extra charge, rather than the one an hour later that we had booked.

The machine printed a boarding card that we hung around our rear view mirror and we then went to the passport control barrier where our passports were checked. Once through passport control we were pulled over by security so that they could check that our gas was turned off.

There are two big car park holding areas at The Channel Tunnel and we parked up in the car park that was for vehicles over 1.85 metres high. In the car park there is a flicker board that tells you when your train is boarding. We were on train D and we only had about 15 minutes to wait before the flicker board said that boarding was commencing. This is when you drive from the parking holding area and just follow the signs that say FRANCE. You then have to queue again until it’s your turn to board the train. It’s a strange feeling because you have to drive along what is effectively the station platform before driving onto the train. You then have to drive through the train until the vehicles in front of you stop but you have to be careful that you don’t straddle the doors dividing each carriage.

Emerging into France after only about 20 minutes we were soon driving off the train and starting our motorhome adventure in France. This is when things started to get stressful because in my infinite wisdom I had changed the satnav settings to avoid toll roads. This turned out to be a bad decision because the satnav then took us off the main roads, down country lanes and back towards the Channel Tunnel. After a lot of swearing and cursing we decided to turn off the “avoid tolls” setting on the satnav and we seemed to be getting back to the correct road and direction but our satnav still tried to make us turn left when the signposts were saying we should turn right. I took Anne’s advice and followed the road signs and ignored the satnav.

The good thing about using French toll roads, apart from being quiet and fast, is that using them gave us chance to test out our Sanef Liber-t Tag that I had bought a few months ago. It’s an electronic tag that sticks near your rearview mirror so that you don’t have to pay cash at toll booths. I can highly recommend this tag to anybody who uses French motorways. Despite an initial cost to set the Liber-t Tag up you save loads of hassle because as you approach the toll barrier the toll system reads your tag and the barrier lifts. You don’t need money.You then get a bill at the end of each month for all the toll roads you have used. I think this is brilliant and I highly recommend the Liber-t Tag system.

Our first day of our motorhome adventure in France was going well and we had decided to spend a couple of nights in the French seaside resort of Le Touquet Paris Plage and we had set the satnav for a campsite we wanted to stay on. Nearing the town of Le Touquet the satnav cocked up again by telling us to take the 2nd exit on a roundabout instead of the 3rd exit and we ended up facing a security gate for the huge French company Valeo and had to make a 3 point turn on a narrow road to make a U-turn. A fairly simple manoeuvre was complicated by the fact that it must have been the start of a new shift because there were dozens of cars piling past us and there were no gaps for us to turn around.

Le Touquet, France

We eventually reached the lovely town of Le Toquet and found a nice flat pitch to park our motorhome at Camping Stoneham. There is a Camping Car Aire at Le Touquet but it’s one of the more expensive ones at 15 Euros a night so we decided we would pay a little extra to have a proper campsite. Two nights at Camping Stoneham cost us 52.80 Euros, which is more expensive than what I would have preferred but at least we get an electrical hookup and toilet and shower facilities.

When we were on our motorhome trip around Scotland we didn’t get chance to use our bikes so we decided to get the bikes off the bike rack and cycle to the beachfront and town. Le Touquet has very good cycle lanes, and it’s flat, so we cycled along the beachfront to the sand dunes at the far end of town and then came back through the town centre, which is full of very nice shops and cafes.

Beach at Le Touquet

Our first day in France in our motorhome has been a good one, despite a few minor problems with navigation. This trip is intended to be an adventure and there are bound to be problems and things that go wrong. That’s half the fun. Life is full of challenges whatever we all do and the measure of a man is how quickly he gets back up after a fall….. so the saying goes!

Sand yachts at Le Touquet

Scotland’s North Coast 500 – To the finish in Inverness.

Scotland’s North Coast 500 is fast becoming a ‘must do’ experience for motorhome owners as well as bikers, drivers using B&B’s as well as anyone else who loves incredible scenery, history and an incredible driving experience. Our journey in our 7.5 metre motorhome has seen us witness beautiful coastlines, deep lochs, isolated communities as well as the full spectrum of weather, from torrential rain to blue sky and sunshine.

In my previous NC500 blog about our journey from Scourie to Kyle of Tongue I mentioned the rugged scenery but as you travel through the villages of Bettyhill and Melvich on the actual north coast of Scotland the scenery quickly changes from rugged peaks to undulating moorland and coastal cliffs. Fields start to appear as the land becomes more fertile. Halfway between Bettyhill and Melvich the road becomes two lanes and you feel like you might soon see civilisation once again!

As well as stunning scenery this area has an infamous history. As we drove through the ruined houses in Bettyhill we were wondering how the village got its strange name. It turns out that Bettyhill is named after the Countess of Sutherland who created the village to accommodate evicted tenants of the Highland clearances to create sheep farms in 1814.

We continued our drive east towards the town of Thurso and the rest of Caithness. It’s on this road that you will see Dounreay nuclear power station, which is being decommissioned.

When we reached Thurso we parked our motorhome in the car park near the harbour and took a stroll around the harbour area and along the beach front. There is plenty of parking for motorhomes near the harbour and this is good to see.

Thurso beach

Thurso was an important place in Norse times but we didn’t find much to interest us. The town seemed quite drab to us but maybe that was because it was a grey Sunday. After a quick coffee in a pleasant cafe near the beach we headed off again to Dunnet Bay. There is a good beach here and this is where you will also find the Dunnet Bay Distillery which is well known for its Rock Rose Gin and Holy Grass Vodka. You can also drive out to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point in mainland UK, and here you can see the lighthouse built in 1831 by Robert Stevenson.

I’m at John O Groats

After the obligatory visit to John O Groats, named after a Dutchman named Groot who had a house here in 1488, and a distance of 876 miles from Lands End, we headed south towards Wick.

Wick has a very interesting history and is where my wife’s ancestors once lived. There is even a ruined castle named after one of them! If you ever visit Wick, and are interested in history, then a visit to The Wick Heritage Centre is a must. It was in the early 19th century that Wick rapidly developed into Europe’s largest herring fishing port. At its peak there were over 1,000 ships in the harbour, 16 firms processing the herring into barrels and hundreds of people employed included many women who were responsible for the herring packing. You won’t find any herring boats in the harbour now because greedy over-fishing eventually led to the demise of the herring industry in Wick.

Whist in Wick we stayed at Wick Campsite. It’s a nice site with good sized pitches but the toilet and shower building needs demolishing and rebuilding with something more modern!

The final leg of our Scotland NC500 motorhome adventure took us from Wick to Inverness on the A9. The road follows the spectacular coast road where we stopped a couple of times to admire the views.

We spent, in total,  just over 2 weeks in Scotland and covered about 1,300 miles. We didn’t do as much ‘wild camping’ as we had hoped. As motorhome ‘newbies’ we preferred campsites although these campsites were in amazing locations. The best location we stayed at was Ardmair Point near Ullapool as the views were incredible and we were parked up a few feet from the sea. We met very nice people on the way and we both wore shorts throughout the whole trip!

The Scotland NC500 is a journey we can highly recommend and you won’t find such amazing scenery anywhere else in the UK. driving the Scotland NC500 was fine in a motorhome, although being novice motor homers we didn’t see as many of the tourist attractions as we could have done because parking was often difficult. I would like to see more parking available, especially for motorhomes, at interesting tourist spots.

One final point I would like to mention is about the infamous Scottish midges. They were not as bad as I was expecting. We were only ‘attacked’ by midges once or twice on the whole trip and I only suffered 3 midge bites, but maybe that was because midges don’t like strong winds and rain, of which there was plenty!

Other blogs about the route include Scotland’s Route 66

Scotland’s NC500 – Scourie to Kyle of Tongue

The road from Scourie to Durness on Scotland’s North Coast 500 is spectacular. The A838 is mostly single track but there are passing places every 100 metres or so. I had read much beforehand about how local drivers don’t give way to motorhomes on Scotland’s NC500 but our experience was that all the drivers we encountered were considerate and we had no problems at all. The landscape between Scourie and Durness has some of the most complex geology in Britain. The whole area is rock with sparse vegetation and it gives the whole area a prehistoric feel. You almost expect a dinosaur to rear up from behind a rock.

The open spaces make driving on single track roads fairly easy because you can see way ahead of you so if you see a vehicle driving towards you it’s easy to pull into a passing place. The passing places also allow you to let faster vehicles such as local traffic, and bikers (of which there are many) overtake you. You don’t want to be driving fast when there is so much to look at.

Scotland NC500 single track road

The North Coast 500 official map says that you need to be able to reverse confidently 100 metres along a single-track road before you attempt this drive. Whilst this may be true we found that we did not have to reverse at all because I always pulled into a passing place when I was aware of on-coming traffic.

One place I forgot to mention in my first blog about the Scotland NC500 is the pretty village of Kylesku and the magnificent Kylesku Bridge which is south of Lochinver. It’s worth a stop in the village where there are boat trips in the summer to Kerrachar Gardens and the waterfalls. It’s also worth a stop at the parking area at one end of the Kylesku Bridge so you can admire its 276 metre span and 24 metre height.

Kylesku Bridge

Durness is the remotest and least populated community in the UK There are spectacular cliffs around Durness and they reach 190 metres high at Clo Mor. A radar station was built in Durness in 1940 as part of an early warning system and hundreds of personnel worked here. New buildings were built after the war but never used although they are used today as Balnakeil Craft Village. Our favourite place here was Cocoa Mountain, a chocolate shop, café and factory.

Sango Sands just outside Durness is also worth visiting. The beach here is stunning and there is a motorhome campsite on the cliffs which is worth staying at. We found a rock on the beach to sit on and had our lunch here. You will also find Smoo Cave here and there is also a zip wire ride for the more adventurous visitor.

Sango Sands, Near Durness

After Durness the road continues as single track and winds its way around famous Loch Eriboll. 10 miles long and 130 metres deep in places Loch Eriboll has long been used as an anchorage for ships. Norwegian King Haakon and his fleet of Viking ships anchored here in 1263. In 1937 HMS Hood anchored here for 9 days and in May 1945 the loch was the site of the surrender of over 30 German U-boats.

Our next stop for the night was at the stunning Kyle of Tongue There is a causeway and bridge here with parking areas at either end. We parked up for the night at one end of the causeway and watched the sun go down over the water with Ben Loyal mountain in the distance.

Cocoa Mountain Durness

Scotland’s North Coast 500

After driving through the popular tourist destinations of Glencoe and Fort William we stopped overnight at Morvich, a stunning location surrounded by mountains. It rained most of the night and when it rains in Scotland it really does rain, there is no such thing as drizzle in Scotland it’s torrential! This is where we joined Scotland’s North Coast 500. The next few days will see us drive through some of the best scenery in the UK and one of the remotest and least populated parts of The British Isles.

After Morvich we drove north up the side of Loch Carron, through Shieldaig and Kinlochewe where we stayed at Sands Campsite. Due to all the rain over the last few days the ground was fairly wet but firm but the views were fantastic. We could see the Isle of Skye and The Outer Hebrides from our pitch. By the way, the shower and toilet facilities at Sands are excellent and worth mentioning.

Sands Campsite

The next morning, we set off with a plan to drive to Ullapool about 56 miles further north. The drive took us past amazing scenery and the historical Loch Ewe. Loch Ewe was used as a naval base between 1939 and 1945. It’s a natural deep-water sea loch that links to The Atlantic Ocean and used by Arctic convoys taking vital supplies to Murmansk in northern Russia. Loch Ewe was protected by anti-aircraft guns a boom net and a mine defence system to protect the ships from German submarines and air attacks. There is a museum here dedicated to the Arctic convoys and the men who bravely lost their lives. The 56-mile drive took us several hours because there were so many panoramic viewpoints to stop off at.

A few years ago, we used the Ullapool to Stornoway ferry to spend a week on The Outer Hebrides. On that ferry journey, we had seen a fantastic campsite on the headland that we had planned to stay on. When we arrived, however, it was far too boggy to stay. A sign saying “Call us if you get stuck and need a tow out of the mud” said it all really so we left and found probably the best campsite so far at Ardmair Point, 3 miles north of Ullapool. The views from this campsite are truly breath-taking and we parked up only a few feet from the water’s edge.

Ardmair Point camping near Ullapool
Ullapool sea front

Whilst it was tempting to stay an extra night at Ardmair Point we decided to press on and head up the A894 to Scourie where stayed on the cliff top at Scourie campsite. It was a well spent £20 and we treated ourselves to an evening meal at The Scourie Hotel where I had ‘chicken in a basket’ for the first time in many years. The food menus from the 70’s are the best!

The scenery so far has been breath-taking and The North Coast 500 is living up to expectations. The route is popular with Germans and we have seen plenty of other motorhomes and convoys of bikers, all of whom are very considerate and gave us a wave when we let them past on the narrow roads.

Tomorrow we will be driving further north and to the northern most part of mainland UK, and this is when we will encounter a lot of single track roads. I can’t wait!