France, May 2014 PT 5 Honfluer

Wednesday:

Bluebell the motorhome feels like the poor country cousin! She’s parked up in the official motorhome aire at our beloved Honfleur, along with over 240 other motorhomes. It’s like the forecourt of Brownhills!! There are motorhomes in all different shapes and sizes here, occupying the 240 official spaces, and seeping out into the surrounding lane and squashed into corners. We’re fairly confident that we could leave our door wide open and not get burgled (although don’t think we will try!) there are some SERIOUSLY swish vans here, including my personal favourite- a very fancy looking RV with 4 pop out sides, smart car garage and the front looks like an articulated lorry front, rather than a bus! Seriously cool, and worth a fortune I would guess!!

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a jam packed aire!

This is our 4th visit to Honfleur (you can read about the others here, here and here) and we think the €10 for 24 hrs overnight parking including services and electric is worth every single penny. Clearly other people share our thoughts as we’ve never seen this aire so busy! The aire is situated 5 mins walk away from the picture perfect harbour, that is lined with tall historical buildings, all painted in different colours, and overlooking the sailing boats moored in the small square harbour. There are oodles of restaurants, art galleries, regional produce shops and cafés dotted along the way, all of which we’ve enjoyed before, and I am sure we will do so again next time- however today we chose a happy stroll through town for a couple of hours in the drizzle, nosing in gallery windows picking out the paintings we would buy if we were rich, and enjoying the atmosphere of everyone else spending their money! We’re not being tight – but we are being careful with pennies this time round with our wedding this time next year. 🙂

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gorgeous harbour here at Honfleur

One expense we did sort today was Jazz’s return to England vets trip. This time last year we stopped here to sort the same thing out, and our visit to Honfleur was with the same intention this time. You can easily travel to France with your dog(s) now, providing they have had their rabies jab and have their own pet passport. To re enter the UK you need to take your pet to a vet 5 days – 24 hrs before you intend on travelling home, and the vet will administer the pooch with a tapeworm tablet or injection, stamp their passport and charge you a princely sum for the privilege. Today we admit, we got stung €43- however in the end we outweighed the convenience with trying to find the best deal- the vet could see Jazz there and then, so we didn’t need to make an appointment for a future time/day, plus the vet was opposite the aire so we didn’t need to move Bluebell to get Jazz there. Also the vet spoke very good English- I am capable of making an appointment in French and some basic conversation during the appointment itself, but obviously if the vet speaks English it does make the whole experience slightly more stress free. 🙂

One other note for today- we’ve been very impressed with our Motorhome Wifi and Fon set up so far on this trip. It’s the first time we’ve tried it in France, and I was curious as I had read some conflicting reviews of its performance in France. We’ve only dug it out 3 times, but every time we’ve found an SFR PUBLIC WIFI FON within range and therefore entered our FON login and hey presto, we’re online! This has saved us some pennies (again, don’t mean to sound tight!) as usually we’re forced (!!) to drink in bars after a couple of days just to check emails (being self employed, as much as we’d like to switch of for 10 days in reality we can’t)

So there we have our day, money saving but soaking up the atmosphere none the less and having a really great time. Tomorrow we’re continuing south or is it west?! towards the WW2 landing beaches.

If you’ve never travelled to Honfleur before, be it in a motorhome or not, we would seriously seriously recommend coming here. It’s a beautiful place, and if you worked your ferry/tunnel crossings wisely, we think you could make it here on a long weekend trip easy peasy. It’s 3.5 hours from Calais on the payage. What are you waiting for?

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Until next time

Lx

France May 2014; Pt 4 Dieppe and Etretat

Monday

Bluebell the motorhome is parked up on the port side on the aire at Dieppe, along with around 20 or so other vans, all shapes and sizes, including a couple of other British vans. There are two aires here, both €7 for 24 hrs parking- one with services and one without. We naughtily filled and emptied at Dieppe 1, and on going to get our ticket saw Dieppe 2 across the other side of the port, so drove round and decided we preferred that location.

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The Aire at Dieppe

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a couple of choppers for company in the motorhome aire at Dieppe

The weathers been rubbish today, drizzling all day, but we still enjoyed our wander round Dieppe, taking in the history and the chocolate shops… ahem, along with the grand architecture. We both learnt about the first attempt of liberation of France by mainly Canadiens back in Sept 1942, and found the town a nice place to spend a rainy afternoon.

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The castle at Dieppe

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Dieppe town centre

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The Port at Dieppe

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Keefy getting our baguette from the bread van that visited the aire this morning

We had a good chat with another British couple on their way back from 6 wks in Portugal- lucky things, it’s always nice to swap stories with fellow motorhomer’s. Our spot on the port was brill- we watched the passenger ferry leave and also a beautiful wooden sailing boat, along with a large barge carrying what we think was wind turbine sails. a real mix of old and new.

Tuesday

Bluebell the motorhome is parked up on her 1st France Passion site of this tour- we’re on a dairy farm near Etretat, which specialises in butter and goats cheese. Nom nom. We arrived around lunchtime, went to say hello, check we could stay tonight and to find out what time the shop open/closes. The France Passion scheme works in the same way Brit Stops does- your host welcomes you to stay for free, but you’re expected to take an interest in their produce etc. There is never any obligation to buy, however we usually do as we’re local food and drink junkies!!

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Parked up by the chickens on our France Passion site
After a hearty lunch (Camembert, saucisson, baguette of course!!) we unloaded the bikes with the intention of cycling to nearby Etretat- a town we’ve seen signed when on the payage, but never managed to get too. Etretat is on the map due to its amazing 3 sea arches, and what a sight they were! Even if by the time we’d got there we could barely stand due to picking a particularly hilly cycle route! Of course once there we couldn’t NOT take the cliff path to the view point at the top, so by the time we were back at our bikes we were cream crackered. Oh well, we’d cycled pretty much the whole 7 kilometres up hill there, so we were quietly confident that the laws of physics meant that we would return downhill. I’m not sure how, but it seems physics weren’t on our sides today as somehow, we managed to pick an equally up hill journey back!

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The middle sea arch at Etretat

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The arch on the left is the middle of the three and the small arch on the right is the baby arch

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we enjoyed finally visiting Etretat having passed the signs for years!

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the town of Etretat is very pretty

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the larger of the three arches, that is only visible from sea or a hike up the side of a cliff!

Once back at Bluebell, we swiftly went up to the shop to have a chat with the owner of the farm (so impressed I managed a whole conversation in French!!) we’d discovered they made yogurts, butter and goats cheese, the butter is made on site but the goats cheese isn’t because she doesn’t keep goats, and that she thought we were crazy for cycling to Etretat. Oh how we laughed! We came away with some salted butter and goats cheese, both of which we’ve devoured as a pre dinner snack- well it’s been a tough day!! They were absolutely delicious!

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another pic of us on the France Passion

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We enjoyed visiting Etretat, the sea arches were better than I’d hoped and the town is also very pretty – there are some lovely wooden buildings to enjoy housing restaurants and creperies, lots of souvenir shops, a nice stretch of pebbly beach (no dogs though on the beach, although they are allowed on the promenade) and a really buzzing atmosphere. If you’re not a member of France Passion (you should be, it’s fab!) then there is a conveniently located motorhome aire just on the outskirts of Etretat that you can park at for €8, or day parking on the Le Havre road.

Until next time
Lx

France May 2014: Pt 3 Le Hourdel and Cayeux sur Mer

Sunday:

Bluebell the motorhome is parked up on the free aire at Le Hourdel which is just south of St Valery Sur Somme on the Baie of the Somme.

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On the pitch at the free aire at Le Hourdel

When we woke up this morning it was clear blue skies and we couldn’t believe our luck! Without further ado, we emptied, filled and headed to our next stop, situated on the seaside with plenty of cycle routes to try out. Perfect 🙂

We arrived 45 mins later, bagged the last space on the aire and enjoyed a cuppa in the sun before giving Jazz a little walk down to the beach. The beach here is stoney rather than the expanses of sand found further north or is it East, I’m confused!, but it’s equally pleasant to wander down, and there are lots of birds to watch if that’s your sort of thing. Across the bay you can see Le Crotoy and St. Valerie is to the right.

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View from the beach at Le Hourdel

On the beach there is a ruin of what we thought may be a WW2 Pill box, but there wasn’t any info about it so we aren’t sure; whatever it used to be on closer inspection it’s rather big, probably not in the same position as it used to be and now seems to be home to various wildlife.

We picked up our bikes from the van and cycled the easy 1.5Km to the village of Le Hourdel, where there were two restaurants, a small harbour and a not particularly pretty lighthouse. We then cycled back on ourselves and carried on beyond the aire on a special off road cycle/pedestrian track for 5km to the seaside resort of Cayeux Sur Mer. The weather by now was a mix of clouds and sunshine, and we enjoyed an hour or so looking round the souvenir shops, walking on the beach and eyeing up the pretty beach hits. The cycle ride was lovely and just the sort of thing we fancied doing today.

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The Lighthouse at Le Hourdel

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Think we may have took a wrong turn here?!

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Once back at Bluebell, it was chill time, so we’ve literally sat outside reading, listening to music, dozing and watching people come and go. The rain came about 6pm but it’s not dampened our spirits- we’ve been luckier than we could ever have dreamt of with the weather so far, considering that we are on the north coast of France and are both agreed if it changes from now, we won’t mind at all.

Until next time
Lx

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France May 2014: Pt 2 Fort Mahons Plage and Montreuil Sur Mer

Saturday:

Bluebell the motorhome is parked up on a large aire at Fort Mahons Plage, along with around 40 other European vans (and one other Brit!). We paid €9 Euro to stay here tonight, which includes unlimited water and disposals and whilst at first I thought this was slightly pricey, Keith seemed happy enough to stay here and make full use of the water tonight and before we leave tomorrow. Long showers all around!

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The aire at Fort Mahons Plage

I have to say, I’m pleased we did stay as we’ve had a great time here! But before I tell you about that, let’s skip back to this morning’s adventure! We awoke to sunshine peaking through the roof vents again, and although there were definitely more clouds on the scene, it didn’t dampen our spirits after such a great day yesterday. After breakfast we drove the 20 mins inland to Montreuil Sur Mer, described as “an incredibly pretty fortified town” in my “What to do and see within 90 mins of Calais” book that I got a few years ago off Amazon for about a quid! We soon found the motorhome aire, conveniently located 2 mins walk from the town centre, and even better- free! We soon found the market square, which was a hive of activity seeing as the market was in full swing, and naturally our priority was to find the saucisson stall. 5 mins later and €10 euros lighter we emerged happy as Larry that we’d got 6 new flavours of saucisson to get stuck into at lunchtime!

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The next two hours were spent exploring the town ramparts and the beautiful and oh so typically French streets thanks to the free town map from the Tourist Office. It really is a gorgeous place to visit- the town walls are well kept, enjoyable to walk round (free) and offer lovely views of the surrounding countryside; the cobbled streets are so enchanting that they inspired Victor Hugo to make the town the setting for a major part of Les Miserables after only half a day here back in 1837. We absolutely loved exploring Montreuil, in fact it’s made it’s way onto our favourite/most pretty French town list. Happily, the weather behaved during our time here too!

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After lunch (fresh warm baguette, Camembert and saucisson!) we headed back to the seaside on a 20 min journey to Fort Mahon Plage. During our journey it tipped itself down, but luck seemed to be on our side as by the time we pulled up/topped up water/emptied etc, plus delved into the saucisson once more (rude not to, no?!) and cracked open and finished the €1.20 bottle of red we bought earlier as an experiment, the storm had passed and ever since the sun has been out!

Wanting to make the most of the sun, we took a wander through the resort to the beach, which is a huge stretch of Blue Flag beach, had an ice cream and sat and watched the world go by. On our walk back to Bluebell we passed a fishmongers selling fresh mussels for €3 a litre. I’ve always fancied cooking fresh mussels on one of our trips, so nipped in to grab a litre, and ask how best to cook them. The very French fishmonger slowly talked me through it patiently: (so impressed I understood him!) butter, onions, small glass of white wine, parsley and told me this is what’s known as Moules Marinaire- THE regional meal. I already knew this, having eaten it many a time here before in restaurants but having never cooked it for us myself, I was so excited I skipped all the way back to Bluebell (nerd alert!!)

After finishing off my wine sized bottle of cider we picked up for €1.80 (flipping love this country!!) I set to the Moules, and it was (even if I do say so myself!) AMAZING! Will definitely do this again- to think it cost less than €5 for a hearty and tasty main meal for us is extraordinary!

Oh and by the way- the €1.20 bottled of red experiment…. It’s no Pape but it’s certainly drinkable and dare I say…… Tasty! It complimented our mid afternoon cheese and saucisson feast admirably and we will definitely be picking up more!!

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Until next time
Lx

France, May 2014 Pt1 Le Touqet and Stella Plage

Friday: Bluebell the Motorhome is parked up on the coast behind a large sand dune on a free aire in France. But the question is, what coast are we on?! When we booked this trip, back in February, we booked with the intention of driving to the Mediterranean for a few beach days in the sun. But, given the fact the weather forcast was grim for pretty much the whole of France, and we are currently saving for our wedding day (exactly one year today to go!) we made the decision on our drive down to The Tunnel not to venture the 700 odd miles each way to the Med! This would save us at least £500 quid in fuel for the wedding fund, and with it being the 70th anniversary year of D Day, we thought Normandy would be a good place (and significantly cheaper!!) to head for, without feeling like we’ve compromised.

So, back to my opening statement: Bluebell the Motorhome is parked up in the blazing sunshine (not forecasted!!) on the Free aire at Stella Plage; just south of Le Touquet.

We arrived in France smoothly, quickly, (thanks Eurotunnel) and less stressed at the promise of saving some dosh, late last night and made the 2 minutes drive from train to Cite Europe aire, along with 10 or so other motorhomes for some serious shut eye. We must have needed it as we didn’t wake up til gone 10am!! Feeling heaps more positive, less knackered, and encouraged by the bright blue sky perking through our roof vents, we doned our shorts and picked a beach aire in our “All The Aires France” that was an hours drive away.

Our mission this week is to travel this stretch of coast without using toll roads, and we enjoyed our journey leaving the motorway at Bologne on the Route Nationale road towards Stella Plage. When we arrived, we were pleased to see there were plenty of spaces free, and enjoyed a walk over the sand dune and on to the beach. We narrowly averted a storm with a lunch break in Bluebell before off loading the bikes and cycling the 30 mins journey to ale Touquet. Most of the journey was on a special cycle path resulting in an enjoyable 10kms or so round trip.

We enjoyed visiting Le Touquet, it’s got lots of character, and has some interesting Art Deco buildings, some tasty looking fancy chocolatiers, designer clothing shops and a lovely stretch of sandy beach and promenade. The town of Stella Plage, where we are staying is also really nice- it’s got a handful of bars, cafés, patisseries, shops and a small supermarket where we stocked up on Camembert, wine, cider, and sausisson- which we then consumed whilst happily sat outside the van in the sun, reading, chilling and marvelling at how something as simple as wine, cheese and fresh bread can taste so damn fine!!!

Who needs the Med anyway?!

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the free aire at Stella Plage

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Le Touqet

French Fancies- where shall we go?!

Bluebell the motorhome is taking us to France at the end of this week for 10 days and we can’t wait! Sunshine (hopefully!) wine, cheese and saucisson – yes, yes, yes!

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Our excited faces…..

We’ve got nowhere specific planned to go to, our only plan is to follow the sun! We have been having a little think about it this morning though, compiling a list of places we wouldn’t mind revisiting, and places we’ve never been to that we fancy trying. Ultimately though we will be looking at the weather forcast closely from Wednesday morning, again on Thursday morning at 6am when we get up for work, we will work from 08:40 to 13:00 in Norwich, nip back, final Bluebell prep, work 16:00-18:30 in Thetford, zip back load Jazz in lock up and be on the road for 19:00 ready for our Eurotunnel at 23:20! During the drive to Folkestone we will double check where the sunshine is, and once on French soil we will bed down at Cite Europe for some kip, getting up bright and early Friday to drive to wherever the sunshine is! Exciting!

Our list so far of places we’d happily revisit:

St Tropez
Ramatuelle beach , just south of St Tropez is a fab motorhome aire right on the dog friendly beach. Very tempting to head due south for a few days on the beach.

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this was me and Jazz on the beach at Ramatuelle last August on our return from Italy. It was a great beach to chill on, bonus that dogs were allowed and a good place to nose over all the luxury yachts through my super zoom camera…ahaha!
read about our stay at St Tropez in 2013 here!

Carcasonne: wonderful medieval walled town to explore again; eat, drink and be merry with fantastic surroundings. The aire is right next to the ramparts.

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these pics were taken on our 2011 visit in Bluebells predecessor, Daisy!
read about our 2011 trip in Daisy here!

Dordogne: we both fancy a week following the Dordogne river, enjoying France Passion sites – on our last stay in the Dordogne we experienced the clearest night sky we’ve ever seen- allowing us to view the Milky Way with no telescope or binocs!

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pics taken at an amazing France Passion site situated on the banks on the Dordogne on our 2011 tour of France in Daisy
read about our 2011 trip here!

Chataeuneuf Du Pape not sure a trip to France would be a trip to France without another stop over at the vineyards of our all time favourite wine

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Places that we’ve not been to that we fancy:

Narbonne Apparently (thanks Dad!) there is a nice aire here situated on a good stretch of beach, with ample cycle routes, and a nice historical town to explore. Our only worry is whether or not the beach is dog friendly at this time of year.

Canal Du Midi
Really fancy spending a few nights by the side of this UNESCO canal- which links two seas, the Med to the Atlantic. I’ve read a lot about how lovely it is and given that there are lots of pretty waterside motorhome aires and cycle paths it does seem a good place to visit
Canal Du Midi

Mont Blanc
One off my bucket list- a trip up Mont Blanc to attempt to stand on the viewing platform here I’ve had this on my list for a while now but recently Jenny (Dad’s partner) was there on a business trip and seeing her pics has increased the draw for us to head East rather than west!

Lake Annecy
We almost got here last year, but instead headed for the Med. I really fancy a few days chilling lakeside with the dramatic mountain vistas on the horizon.

Recommendations via Twitter:
@paul_jackson: @saxylydz We stayed on the aire at the Knight’s Templar village of La Couvertoirade last year. Very atmospheric: http://t.co/oVCJKzt3k7
Also sounds right up our street!

So as you can see, although our plan is to have no plan and follow the sunshine, we’ve got some ideas – let’s just hope Mother Nature plays ball and throws us some mid 20s sunny days 🙂

Have you got any tips on where to head? Any must see sites? Beaches? Rivers we can swim in? We’ve got a list, and we’re not afraid to add to it!! 🙂

A weekend mini break exploring the beautiful Essex countryside

Day 1Bluebell the motorhome is parked up behind Brit Stop number 216- which is nestled in an absolutely gorgeous part of Essex’s countryside. The sun is shining despite the forcast warning of rain all day (win!) and we are having a brilliant weekend, that has been a combination of a little work and some play!

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Brit Stop 216

Yesterday, after a gig in Suffolk, we hit the Friday rush hour traffic (although in reality we had a great run) with the destination of Thaxted, a pretty town in Essex, that was on our map for three reasons: it was close to a gig we were doing the next day, it was listed in both our Brit Stop bible and our Europe Camper Stop book as there being a motorhome aire in the car park, and it was close to the Secret Nuclear Bunker at Kelveden Hatch.

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Thaxted Motorhome Aire- the parish council welcome motorhomers to park for up to 48 hrs, free of charge

We arrived at the carpark in Thaxted at around 18:30 and were instantly made to feel welcome as motorhomers in their village. If only all towns had this mentality, the amount of space allocated for motorhomes was minimal, however because of their welcoming attitude we relaxed and went for drinks and a meal in their pub.

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The Swan Hotel, Thaxted, where we enjoyed a lovely meal

The town of Thaxted is just gorgeous: it has a picture perfect windmill, a good example of a traditional long house and Armshouses, an interesting Engine house that houses the village fire engine, a medieval Guildhall, the house where Gustav Holst lived, and numerous other medieval properties.

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Thaxted Windmill

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LongHouse and Armshouses

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Engine House

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Guildhall

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Standing outside Holst’s former house! Very exciting treat for us

Next morning, we decided on another quick wander around the town of Thaxted, before a 40 minute drive south towards Kelveden Hatch- a small village which is home to a decommissioned Secret Nuclear Bunker. The bunker has been on our list of places to visit for a while; it was only revealed in 1992, prior to that it was run by the government and would have been used to house up to 600 Government officials, including the Prime Minister in the event of a Nuclear War.

Visiting Kelveden Hatch was absolutely incredible – it was without a doubt one of the most interesting places I’ve ever visited. It stirred up a mixture of emotions from us both- fascination at how it was built, maintained, and how it would have been used to “run” the country in the aftermath of a nuclear blast; fear over the prospect of how it would have affected not only our country but the world, how close it came to happening, the impacts of it happening, the preparation that civilians needed to undertake in the event of an attack; the questioning of morals when we discovered that the survival guide written for civilians was giving false hope in order to maintain calm and order in the hours running up to an attack; and amazement at the engineering of this humongous underground city, that was built underneath what looked like from the outside, a normal farmhouse!

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the farmhouse which sits over and disguised the bunker below. scary!!

What made the bunker even more interesting to visit, aside from its amazing history, was the way in which it was presented. All the equipment and materials displayed were as it was during the years it was in operation, meaning you really didn’t need to use any imagination at all whilst waking around the dimly lit, long cold corridors. Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos whilst inside due to the numerous signs informing visitors that to do so required a £5 permit, something which in hindsight I wished I’d done – I didn’t because I was intending on getting a guide book or postcards at the end of the visit, but once we got to the end they didn’t really capture the atmosphere. I know though, that our visit will remain in my memory for a very long time.

It was also incredibly good value for money- at just £7 per adult, this fee included a very comprehensive and engaging audio tour, and we both came away agreeing that we would have happily paid several more pounds each to visit.

Once we’d completed our humbling tour, and after a quick lunch in the car park, we made the journey north for 36 miles (though a tremendous rain storm!!) towards Castle Hedingham, another picture perfect village which is home to one of the finest kept Norman Keeps in Britain, and where we are intending to visit tomorrow. As luck would have it, as soon as we pulled up, the rain stopped and the sun returned, and so we celebrated with a cheeky beer in the amazingly characteristic saloon bar of Brit Stop 216 before a village wander past all the old pretty houses. This area rivals some of the pretty villages we are lucky to have in Norfolk and Suffolk, and we had no idea about how chocolate box pretty it was going to be here.

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having a beer at Brit Stop 216 and decided what to eat later!

So tonight we are booked in for a meal at 216, we have worked up an appetite that’s for sure, and Keith’s in his element as he had an interesting chat with the guy that brews the beer for the pub, two pints of which he enjoyed this afternoon! I’ve got my eye on the Turkish specials board!

Day 2
After a delicious meal accompanied by several pints (well, we were researching the gravity fed ale!!) we enjoyed an early night and a lay in this morning, helped somewhat by the rain that was pouring when we awoke this morning! Last night our meal was delicious- I tryed the Turkish special, Lamb and Aubergine casserole, and Keefy tried a homemade burger. Both were mouth wateringly good, and were enjoyed washing it all down with some of the local ale.

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enjoying our meal

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the beer here is gravity fed

Our intention today was to visit The Castle at Castle Hedingham and once the rain had stopped we made the short journey there. The Castle is said to be one of the best preserved Norman Keeps in Europe, and is set within several acres of enjoyable gardens and woodland. We enjoyed walking round the gardens and woodland walks first, tiring out Jazz so he could sleep in the van whilst we went for a look inside.
We were lucky to see some lovely displays of Rhodedendrums and bluebells.

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the gardens at Castle Hedingham

The keep is astonishingly well preserved- the arches and a real treat to be able to not only enjoy from the outside but also have a look around the inside.

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never too old to dress up as a Knight, eh?!

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The arch in the banquet hall is said to be the largest Norman arch in the world that is fully survived, and is 28 feet wide!

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We really enjoyed our visit here, and again, thought it was a bargain at only £7.50 each to enter. On our way to the castle we had passed a road sign saying that the local Water Mill was open today as part of a national Mills Open weekend. Since the weather seemed to be behaving we decided to head on over for a look round.

We had rather a narrow approach into the car park and negotiated several low flying branches but I thing we survived with no damage! It was a lovely way to spend an hour or so, chatting with the volunteers who were very knowledgable, and we even got to try som biscuits that had been made from flour that had been ground at that mill. They were delicious. I was allowed to turn the wheel to make the water wheel go round and we’ve got a video of this, so il try and figure out how to include it on here.

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Alderford Watermill

During our visit, we were recommended a short stroll that left Alderford Mill and walked down to another local mill, Hulls Mill. It was not possible to visit inside as it was privately owned and had been turned into a very large house, but nevertheless, we really enjoyed the pretty circular walk, and the mill itself was gorgeous. I would love to live somewhere like that!

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Hull’s Mill

Both these mills were recorded in the doomsday book, giving an idea of how old they are and it was really enjoyable seeing them.

This marked the end of our visit to Essex, so we grabbed a quick cuppa for the road and headed home- but we had an amazing weekend and we both are quite smitten with this area, so I know that we will return soon!!!

Until next time!
Lx

Easter Holidays 2014: Pt7 Dundee – home

Bluebell the motorhome is safely parked up back home after an immense journey south from Dundee to Newark, then Newark to home.

Our last night in Scotland was spent happily parked up at a farm shop Brit Stop close to Dundee, where we were able to stock up on Aberdeen Angus burgers and sausages (we literally filled the fridge with meat!) and have a very quiet and relaxed evening enjoying the sunshine.

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Bluebell parked outside the farm shop for the night

The next day dawned a sunny one, and not wanting to waste the sunshine we decided to stop at Tentsmuir Forest/Beach, just south of Dundee, for a walk in the sun, before hitting the road back south to near Newcastle.

Tentsmuir Beach is without a doubt the best beach we’ve been on in the UK, and that includes all those fantastic white sandy beaches on the Hebrides, the white sands of Morar- all of them are beaten by this magnificent stretch of golden, perfect sand which literally goes on for MILES. It must be a mile at least in depth, sea to sand dunes, and then it stretches round a headland for well over 2 miles I’m sure. Have a look at this aerial pic I’ve borrowed from Tentsmuir.org

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We were literally the only ones on it, we saw not another single person on the entire beach. Incredible. The weather was gorgeous, the beach was amazing – we felt like we were in heaven!!

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What is lovely about this amazing place is that there is the beach and dunes to explore, a pine forest nestled behind, and loads of way marked trails to follow, be it on bike or foot. Hidden in the forest was an 18th Century Ice House, and a World War 2 Pill box, that was actually only discovered recently as it was hidden beneath the sand!

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18th Century Ice House,

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WW2 Pill box

We had a brilliant time exploring this area, and couldn’t believe it was free (apart from £2.50 all day parking- bargain!) We reluctantly hit the road after lunch and had a smooth journey south, arriving just north of Newcastle around 6pm at a pub stop. Naturally we went in for a taste of the local ale, and after a pint of the 7.something % cider I nearly needed carrying back to the van! Keith however enjoyed a couple of pints of very reasonably priced local ale, coming in at UNDER £3 a pint- and half of that went to the local lifeboat charity. Great idea.

Next morning we were on the road before 9am, aiming for Newark for an Easter Sunday meal with Dad and Jenny which was lovely. Easter Monday, before leaving dad’s house, we borrowed his power washer, to get some of the sea salt we’d accumalated on our 1500 miles off!

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Keefy with his hose, ahem

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A nice and clean Bluebell, all ready for her next adventure!

Our final mileage was approximately 1600 miles, we filled with diesel 5 times, and are dead happy with the mpg we got (although we don’t know how to work the actual one out, we are pleased with our fuel bill!) we stayed on only one campsite during the 17 days away, and managed to fill with water/empty our loo every day!

We ate and drank some fine local produce and came back needing to shed a pound or two, that’s for sure.

Anyway, next trip is a mini break in Essex next weekend, the. We’ve got ten days in France to look forward to at the end of the month! Hurrah for school holidays

Until next time
Lx

Easter Holidays 2014: Pt 6 The coastal trail – Aberdeenshire

Bluebell the motorhome is parked at Brit Stop 810 not too far from the fairy tale Glamis Castle.

Thursday
We set off from Brit Stop no 828 at 8am in the pouring rain with the intention of following the coast road east. Aberdeen council have very handily provided a brown sign tour of the coast road, which is well signposted and takes in many places of interest between Nairn and Aberdeen. This has proved to be the basis of our tour today, following the route through the extremely pretty fishing villages of Portgordon, Buckie, Findochty and onto Portknockie to see some interestingly shaped sea rocks named locally as the Bow and Fiddle.

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We then carried on the coast road to Cullen, which is, as it’s name suggests, where the fish soup, Cullen Soup was devised. sadly as it was breakfast time we didn’t get to have any soup today but next time we will make a point to!

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Viaduct and seaside at Cullen- a nice spot for breakfast

Next stop, 10 miles or so down the road was the charming 17th century fishing village of Portsoy, which we thought rivalled the picturesque fishing villages found in Cornwall and Devon. The tall warehouses that stand next to the waterside have been restored into quirky shops and cafés and we spent a happy hour wandering around here.

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The old harbour at Portsoy surrounded by warehouses. You can see the newer harbour on the left.

It was then on through Whitehills, Banff and Macduff where although the housing wasn’t quite as pretty, the harbours were small and all had character. Gardenstown was the next stop, which was different to the other places we had visited today in that the village is built on a series of terraces which are set into the cliffs rising up behind the harbour. It was steep drive down into the village and in the end we couldn’t find the parking so turned round and came back up, stopping to admire the views half way up.

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The terraced fishing village of Gardenstown

Next stop- our most anticipated of the day and tour- the small handsome village of Pennan. The hotel and telephone box were featured in the film local hero (you may remember we found the beaches last week on the west coast) and finding the village was every bit as exciting as we’d hoped! Again, it was a very steep drive down, with three hairpins and a tight negotiation round the hotel itself, but even this was exciting as the drive down also features in the film! The village is gorgeous and although the weather was changeable we loved our visit here! We didn’t go to the pub- mainly because dogs weren’t allowed, but the interior scenes were filmed elsewhere- this and the frosty welcome we received when nipping our heads through the door meant we didn’t mind missing a pint here.

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Pennan

After a quick lunch, and a careful drive back up the steep road to the main road, we headed to Fraserburgh- home to the first lighthouse, Kinnaird Head, that The Northern Lights society introduced in the 1700s. It’s unusual in that it’s built into the structure of 16th century Fraserburgh Castle. Although the original lighthouse is now “retired”- a new automatic one lights up the shores these days- there is an excellent visitors centre and lighthouse museum, plus you can have a tour of the old lighthouse. We absolutely loved it- for a very reasonable £6 each we spent almost an hour in the museum, and another 45 minute on a particularly interesting tour of the lighthouse.

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Trying on the light keepers uniform!

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Looking at the different methods in which the lights work.

Once on the tour (we were lucky to be the only ones as it was the last tour of the day) we were taken right up to the very top- and shown the light, how it worked and even allowed to go into the light room where the lens was. Unfortunately the high winds meant we couldn’t go on the roof (90mph gust had been recorded the hour before!!) but we were allowed on the balcony where we had a great view.

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inside the lens! Amazing experience

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The outside of the lighthouse- we were at the very top on the previous picture!!

It really was a brilliant tour, and we learnt some amazing things!

We are now at our BritStop for the night, which is perched up on a harbour wall of a town near Aberdeen. It’s got an amazing beach, but we are too snuggled on Bluebell to go out now, it’s been a long, but brill day exploring and sightseeing, we can’t believe how much we managed to fit in! Tomorrow we are heading for Glamis Castle.

Friday

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BritStop ao4

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Panoramic of the beach we were overlooking- truly spectacular

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enjoying being on the beach in the sun!

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Glamis Castle

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The beautiful gardens at Glamis Castle: The walled garden, The Pineteum and The Italian Gardens

Easter Holidays Pt 5: the East Coast of Scotland

Monday
Bluebell the motorhome is tucked safely behind BritStop 824 whilst her owners enjoy the ale from the on site brewery!

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We left Skye this morning via the bridge and headed to the pretty town of Plockton for coffee and a wander. Plockton enjoys a micro climate and is totally sheltered, therefore there are palm trees that line the sea front- it’s quite a sight to see!! The sea front is very pretty, and hosts a hotel, a small shop where we picked up some delicious highland blue cheese, and a number of b and bs. I should imagine in the summer it’s heaving! We enjoyed a coffee outside the Plockton hotel- it was a bit early for anything stronger and we’d got a long drive ahead of us.

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Next stop was the Eileen Donan castle, for elevensees- a tradition of ours that started 5 trips ago on our maiden voyage in Daisy. We visited that year, and enjoyed it- but these days we just pop into the car park for the obligatory pic of the outside and a brew.

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From here, we took the stunning road towards Inverness – which takes in some breathtaking scenery through the 5 sisters mountain range, with a brief stop to take in the battle site of Glen Shiel; and we were lucky with the weather today, resulting in a gorgeous drive.

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We got as far as Loch Ness, Brit Stop 824- a hotel and micro brewery. Let me tell you, the outside doesn’t look too much, but the food and beer is amazing. We’ve stocked up on bottled beer for the van, fed on haggis- Keith had a haggis pizza and I had haggis in the traditional form with neeps and tatties. Delicious! What’s more- if it hadn’t been for Brit Stops, we would never have found this place as it’s nested behind some houses, off the beaten track. For us, this is what we love most about this scheme. It takes us to places where we can have a true experience rather than a touristy/mass produced one.

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Tomorrow we continue with our exploration of Brit Stops/ food tour- we’re heading to a cheese farm!! Sounds right up our street!

Tuesday
Bluebell the motorhome is parked at Brit Stop no: behind a cheese farm, near Inverness.

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We couldn’t have been made to feel more welcome today, our hosts are lovely, and from the minute you pull in this is evident:

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Our taste buds are going bonkers- we’ve been sampling (and buying) the cheese that is made here this afternoon, and it is delicious. The main cheddar they make here is voted in the top 10 in Britain, and I can see why. It’s creamy, but also mature- and as soon as I popped a taster in my mouth I knew it was a winner. We bought three variations in the end; the lady told us that the crumblier one was made from milk taken in the winter months, which then needed to be left to mature for longer. It was very interesting, and we can see why the shop/cafe have been awarded 5 stars from Visit Scotland. We especially enjoyed watching through the glass partition to watch cheese being handmade!

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Other purchases that we picked up here were Scottish oatcakes with garlic and rosemary in, also lovely, and some ice cream from the nearby Black Isle dairy which was am.maz.ing!!! Keefy’s honeycomb flavour especially! And Jazz loved it!! Cheeky mutt!

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Other than eating- which we started at Loch Ness this morning with a ginormous bacon baguette with this lovely view……

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we did a little walk to a pretty village nearby, on the banks of the Moray Firth to try to spot some dolphins, as this stretch of water is popular with dolphins. Unfortunately despite a lovely hour sat waiting, we failed to see them this time, but will definitely return next year.

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Whilst we were chilling tonight we saw 2 barn owls hunting for their tea and the beekeepers came to collect the honey from the nearby bee boxes. It’s been fantastic, and yet again another favourite spot has been born! Thanks Brit Stops 🙂

Wednesday
Bluebell the motorhome is perched on the seaside behind Brit Stop 828. Excitement is lingering in the air, as word in the van is that tonight is Fish and chip night! Yum yum.

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We were on our way early (well… 9am) this morning, and just like the old saying goes- the early bird catches the worm- or in our case, lots of sightings of dolphins! We headed to Nairn harbour for our brekkie, and whilst cooking up eggy bread and beans (you can imagine the smell in our van this week!) Keefy exclaimed that he’d seen a dolphin! Eggs abandoned, I joined the search, and sure enough over the next hour we saw several sightings – one was pretty close too. I failed miserably on the photo taking- I was too busy squeeling every time it reappeared. However, that’s one thing to tick off the list, as it was an amazing sight to watch these beautiful creatures playing in the wild. Apparently bottle nosed dolphins are called this because their long snout is said to look like an old fashioned gin bottle. It made me smile- I wonder how much truth is in it.

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From Nairn, we drove east to Burghead, where they celebrate two New Years- the 1st and 11th Jan under the Julian calender and to discover about the Clavie tradition and also see some Pictish stone engravings. The visitors centre (donation entry) is excellent and enjoys a panoramic view from the roof. There is also the remains of an Iron Age fort here, as well as the Burghead Well. It was a nice place to visit, and we are glad that we made the journey off the main road to get there.

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We then took the coast road east, towards Lossiemouth, making one final surreal stop at the small fishing village of Hopeman. It’s got a pretty harbour here as well as an alladins cave type shop/gallery that we nipped into. Half an hour later we emerged £60 lighter but having gained this bad boy for our living room (at home not in the van!!) luckily we are traveling in a large vehicle as it’s got a few miles to cover before it’s installed with a couple of malts next to the sofa at home!!

So now it’s time for fish and chips after a great day exploring this lovely stretch of Scotland.

Until next time
Lx