Sweden – perfect for a motorhome trip.

Our motorhome is parked up for the night on the Swedish coast in a sleepy village called Stocka. (N61°53’55”  E17°21’16.3″)

Our motorhome stop at Stocka, Sweden.

To our east is the Gulf of Bothnia, and this place has red coloured wooden houses with verandas overlooking the sea. How lucky are the people who live here!

We have met many very friendly people on this motorhome trip. This morning we met Andy who came to our motorhome to introduce himself and we swapped interesting stories about where we had been and where we were heading. We also were chatting to a biker German man and his new wife, who were eager to chat to us about where they had visited in England.

Driving our motorhome north on the E4 in Sweden.

The days are long here and the light woke me at 4.30am. After breakfast we drove north up the E4 to our overnight motorhome stop, a distance of 180 miles. The landscape was fairly flat but with lots of huge lakes and millions of trees. Many of the picnic stops along the way look out over lakes and make a wonderful place to stop. Totally different to the picnic stops you might find on the M1!

Our motorhome parked at a picnic stop in Sweden.

The motorhome life is proving to be just as we had hoped on this trip. It’s the option to stop in remote places with views that no hotel can offer that is so appealing: not that there are any hotels near here.

Sweden is very laid back. The person responsible for collecting the £10 fee for the motorhome stopover is a lovely lady called Marianne. Her English was very good and she told us that she had been living in this place for 50 years and the community was once well known for ships coming into the harbour to fill up with timber from the nearby mill. A house just along the road was selling fresh fish and there is an honesty box to pay. This place is a world away from the traffic congested cities we are used to in England.

Tomorrow we head further north heading in a few days time for Trondheim in Norway.

A selfie at one of the many picnic stops on the E4.

 

Over the Öresund Bridge to Malmö and Stockholm

The Öresund Bridge connects Copenhagen in Denmark to Malmö in Sweden. The bridge is an incredible feat of engineering and this morning we drove on the bridge in our motorhome, after leaving the wonderful city of Copenhagen.

Öresund Bridge

The bridge is a combination of a tunnel, an artificial island and a bridge with a total length of 18km. The Öresund Bridge itself is over 5 miles long and is the longest connected road and rail bridge in Europe. At its highest point the road is 57 metres above the sea.

Our motorhome is just over 7 metres long so it falls into a higher toll category and a higher cost. The cost to travel across the Öresund  Bridge for our motorhome was 100 Euro, making the trip an expensive one!

The Swedish city of Malmö has family connections so we wanted to stop the night and spend a day in the city. We found a peaceful place to park for the night at the marina (£16) and had fantastic views across the sea to Copenhagen. The number 7 bus runs every 10 minutes to the centre of Malmö. We had been told that you can only pay with a credit card and not cash but when we presented a card to the bus driver he said his machine didn’t work and we could ride for free!

Malmo, Sweden

Malmö is Sweden’s third largest city, although the city originally belonged to Denmark until 1658. Apparently, over 100 languages are spoken in Malmö and Thai food is just as popular as meatballs! We found Malmö to be a charming cosmopolitan city with historical buildings and fascinating architecture. Malmö is also home to Scandinavia’s tallest building the Turning Torso.

Waking to blue sky and after emptying our waste and putting water in our fresh water tank we set off north on the E6 and E4 to drive the 612km to Stockholm. Not wanting to drive for 7 hours we stopped  halfway at a lovely free overnight spot on the shores of Sweden’s  Lake Vattern. It’s always a good feeling when we find a free place to park up for the night. We found the place on the Camper Contact app. which I think is fantastic and well worth the £4.99 cost. We had a walk down to the waters edge, beautiful scenery with traditional red painted wooden houses along the shore. We had a stunning sunset and all this for free.

Next day we set off again to complete the remaining journey to Stockholm. The E4 motorway to Stockholm winds its way through lots of dense forests and past crystal clear lakes. There are plenty of picnic places and service areas on the way. The picnic stops are often next to a lake and they have toilets and information boards making them a great place to stop for lunch. They are perfect for motorhomes because we can just turn the gas on and boil a kettle or get something out of the fridge for lunch.

Stockholm, of course, is Sweden’s capital city with a population of about 1.3 million. It’s known as the Venice of the North because it is built over 14 islands and water dominates the landscape. We arrived at Bredangs camping, which we had picked out as a good place to stay, and it turned out to be a good choice. It’s a 10 minute walk to the nearest T-Bana metro station and cost 44 Swedish Krona (£3.70) to get to Stockholm centre. We got off the metro at Gamla Stan, which is the old town of Stockholm and walked to the waterfront to buy a ticket for the Hop On/Hop Off boat trip. At a cost of 220 Swedish Krona (£18.50) it was well worth the money.

Meatballs for lunch in Stockholm

After our boat trip we decided to see if we could find somewhere for lunch and we found a nice restaurant in the old town, which turned out to be Russian, but the meatballs were good, as was the price at a very reasonable £11 person including drinks. Our impression of Stockholm being reasonably priced was shattered, however, when we later had a coffee and a piece of cake each and the bill came to £22 which for a Yorkshireman was hard to tolerate. No prices were visible in the cafe and I should have known better! It’s a good job we will have plenty of free overnight stops, for which Sweden and Norway are well known for, to make up for the exorbitant prices in Stockholm.

Stockholm old town
Traditional Swedish roast Sunday lunch

Despite the high prices, we really enjoyed our visit to Stockholm and the warm sunny weather was a bonus. Stockholmers were making the most of the good weather and were sunbathing and walking in the many green spaces and along the waterfront where there are lots of boats and plenty of people watching to be done.

Cafe culture in Stockholm
Hotel ship in Stockholm harbour
Traditional mens toilet in Stockholm
Guard outside the Royal Palace in Stockholm

 

Eating pasta with the vultures – El Torcal

We have just spent the night in our motorhome in the car park at a place called El Torcal. It might not sound interesting to say we have spent a night in a car park but this was no ordinary car park! This car park was at the top of a 1200 metre high mountain called El Torcal Natural Park and it has the most amazing scenery that I have seen anywhere. I have visited the incredible Grand Canyon in the USA and The Blue Mountains in Australia and El Torcal is just as good. What makes El Torcal so good is the pre-historic landscape. This area has unique limestone formations that were formed 150 million years ago and there is even evidence of human habitation here dating back to 5500BC.

El Torcal Natural Park is located about 45 km north of Malaga and 13 km south of Antequera. There is a car park on the main A7075 road but I would recommend driving through the barrier up a 3.5km mountain road to the visitor centre at the top. There are spectacular views as you drive up this road and the road is wide enough to take a motorhome. There is a large car park at the top with plenty of spaces for motorhomes, but it can get busy at weekends and the top car park can get full.

From the car park you can see the coast at Malaga on a clear day but the highlight for me was the 45 minute walk we did along a well marked path that took us through the most remarkable landscape I have ever seen.  There are many walks in the area and you must do one to fully appreciate this place. My photographs don’t do the landscape justice but it was like walking through a prehistoric landscape. Vultures were circling above us, perhaps hoping for some lunch!

Despite a sign in the visitor centre saying “no overnight parking” we spoke to a German couple with a motorhome parked next to us and agreed between us to stay overnight in the car park. After all the visitors and staff had left it was eerily quiet, apart from  the occasional bells of mountain goats wandering by, and we set about making some pasta for our evening meal. Sleeping and eating in such a remote place at 1200 metres above sea level felt exciting with the added bonus that it was a free nights motorhome stop!

After eating we stood outside in the cold and watched an incredible night sky under millions of stars with no light pollution and slept well with no worries about safety. After all, who would want to drive up a mountain road with sheer drops in the pitch black in the hope of finding some motorhome owners asleep in a car park at the top of a mountain.

Here are some photos that I took at El Torcal but I don’t think they do the place justice. You have to be there to witness the beauty for your self.

Our motorhome parked at El Torcal car park
El Torcal Natural Park
El Torcal Natural Park, Spain
El Torcal, Spain
The limestone landscape of El Torcal Natural Park

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

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

Glencoe in the mist and glorious camping by Loch Linnhe

I was looking forward to the drive through Glencoe to Fort William but we didn’t see much of the stunning scenery at all. The A82 that runs through Glencoe was almost like the M62 on a bad day. Huge lorries, and dozens of coaches taking tourists to the popular sight seeing spots as well as driving rain, low cloud and mist don’t make for the best of driving conditions, especially in a motorhome, so it was a frustrating experience. I even drove straight past the entrance to the the Glencoe Visitor centre, as I was focusing on driving, so had to do a complicated u-turn in Glencoe village itself to get back to it.

Glencoe, of course, is infamous for the Glencoe massacre that took place on the 13 February 1692 when the Campbells massacred 38 members of the MacDonalds family.

As we travel further north on our motorhome tour of Scotland we are discovering places that we have not visited before. Yesterday we were in Killin and tonight we are staying at the Bunree campsite in Onich, 6 miles south of Fort William. Our motorhome is parked at the water’s edge of Loch Linnhe and has breathtaking views of the mountains. We arrived in pouring rain but the sun came out shortly after to reveal spectacular views of Loch Linnhe. If we were staying in a hotel we would have paid a huge amount of money to have such a special view.

Our motorhome was parked right up to the waters edge as you can see from the photo below.

Bunree camp site overlooking Loch Linnhe

The Scottish Highlands are wonderful and as we drive along we are witnessing some of the best scenery in the world.

Keeping and updating this blog about our motorhome adventure is a bit of a challenge, because obtaining a good internet connection is not easy. Back in Leeds I was used to a 70 mbps  internet connection and I could download large files in minutes. In the Scottish Highlands I’m lucky if I can get any connection at all and when I do get one it is frustratingly slow. Uploading images is a problem so I am tending to use my smartphone for taking images, rather than my proper camera, because the file sizes are smaller.

Tomorrow we are heading for Morvich and we will be joining the North Coast 55 route.

Killin for a few days and walking into the ladies shower block by mistake!

For the last 4 nights we have been staying in our motorhome at a very nice Caravan and Motorhome Club campsite in Killin, Scotland. Situated on the shores of the very picturesque Loch Tay, the River Lochay running alonside our campsite and into the loch.

Having been a travel and tourism lecturer until a month ago I should I suppose give you some brief information about this popular place. It’s a place you could easily drive past without noticing because the main A85 does not run through the village.  If you are feeling energetic there are plenty of heritage trials and climbing in the area including the 521 metre Spron a Chlachain. There are also several cycle tracks for mountain bikers. For the less energetic you can visit the spectacular Falls of Dochart. We also visited Moirlanich Longhouse, an example of cruck frame building. Owned by the National Trust of Scotland this traditional building used to house people and animals together under the same roof.

It’s been a good few days here. There was a bit of fun on our first day, and Anne still hasn’t stopped laughing  about it, when I accidentally walked into the ladies toilet and shower block. Whilst in a cubicle I suddenly heard Anne’s voice saying that I was in the ladies so had to make a hasty retreat! The weather was even warm enough for me to try out our Cadac gas BBQ. Having always used a charcoal BBQ I must say that I am very impressed with it.

Next we are heading through Glencoe to Fort William.

David & Anne in Killin, Scotland

 

Sold house and quit jobs for touring in a motorhome.

It’s been an eventful few weeks. Our house sale completed, we have both left our jobs and we no longer have a house! That sounds pretty drastic but it does not feel quite so bad to us. Our house sale went smoothly and we said goodbye to our neighbours and moved a mile down the road to our temporary accommodation.

The removal company came to put our possessions into storage

We are in limbo, I suppose, because we are living for 3 weeks in a very nice Airbnb before going on a pre-planned holiday to Provence in France, so it feels like we are on holiday already. When we come back from France we will be picking up our motorhome to start our adventure. Our plan is to spend a year or two  touring Europe but we will be returning home on a regular basis to see family and friends.

Our empty house on our last day

Our temporary home has minimal kitchen facilities; just a  kettle, fridge and a microwave so we have been eating out most nights at some of our favourite restaurants including one we visited for the first time – The Ox Club in Leeds, which I can highly recommend. This has given us chance to meet up with friends , family and neighbours before we leave the area although we will be returning on a regular basis. We’ve also eaten at The Agora in Horsforth , which we love and tomorrow night we are trying La Cour in Horsforth for the first time.

Living in this Airbnb accommodation is also getting us used to living in a smaller space, after all living in a motorhome is going to  be a really tight squeeze!

In the next couple of weeks we intend to whittle our belongings down even further because I’m getting a little worried that we still have too much ‘stuff’ to fit in our motorhome.

Some people have wished us a “happy retirement” but I don’t see it as retirement. I intend to be busier than ever exploring new places, writing travel blog articles, taking photos and making video’s of our travels. I have told my ex-colleagues in the travel and tourism department of Leeds City College that I see it as extended CPD!