Adventures in Northern Ireland | Easter 2019 | A Summary

 

It’s been almost a week since we arrived home from one of our most favourite tours yet – our tour of Northern Ireland. Since the weather has been so good, and the schools aren’t quite back, we’ve been carrying on in holiday mode with BBQs, al fresco family lunches and trips to the Norfolk Broads. We’ve had time to catch our breath a little, and digest on what a wonderful time we had in Northern Irealand so thought we’d do a little final summary of our trip. We don’t tend to hear of many people travelling from England to Northern Ireland in their campervans and its such a great shame as its just spectacular, so we thought we’d put all the info down in one post here, with the hope it may inspire/encourage you to follow our footstep and go and experience it for yourself!

The Complete Series of Blog Posts

On the Road to Northern Ireland; Easter 2019 | Part 1

Adventures in Northern Ireland| Easter 2019 | Part 2

Adventures in Northern Ireland| Easter 2019 | Part 3 

Adventures in Northern Ireland| Easter 2019 | Part 4

Travel

We used Stena Line Cairnryan to Belfast crossing. Yes, we had to drive a bit further than Liverpool, but the crossing was only 2 and a quarter hours long  which is much shorterand we could bring Jazz upstairs with us in his travel crate (this had to be pre booked and he wasn’t allowed to get out of it). We paid mainly in Tesco Clubcard points. The small ferry at Strangford saved us having to go back on ourselves route wise and cost £6.80 (I think!)

Campsites

Glenariff Forest Park  £25.50 pn

Lovely facilities, and great view. Right on the start of several walking trails. The waterfall walk is strenuous but worthwhile – lovely and scenic. Be warned- you need to book in advance as you get sent the barrier code by email prior to arrival (this isn’t automated). No warden on site permanently but he came around 8pm to clean and check everything ok. 15 mins drive from the Causeway Coastal Route.

Ballyness Caravan Park  £26pn

Fantastic campsite. Spotless facilities – clean, modern and spacious. Great location. Walk to Giants Causeway (about 3-4 miles, mainly off road) or bus service which comes into the campsite and takes you to all the tourist locations along the coast. Dogs allowed on bus. Free Wifi. Walking distance to Bushmills Distillery.

National Trust Castle Ward Caravan Park  £25pn

Great location, but very dated facilities. Reminded us of an old scout camp! Needs some investment into new facilities block. Location excellent for Castle Ward/Winterfell and Strangford or Portaferry.

Dundonald Touring Park, Belfast £24pn

Great location, right on the bus route to Belfast City Centre. Facilities fairly good but shower pressure almost non existent! Nice washing up area/kitchen. You need to book in advance as you get sent the barrier code by email prior to arrival (this isn’t automated).

On all 4 campsites our pitch had electric hook up, waste water and a freshwater tap.

In Ireland there is a good selection of continental style overnight stopover “aires” you can use. We passed the one in Waterfoot and the one in Portrush- they looked fine, but we need facilities and areas to “spread out” now we’re in the VW rather than the motorhome. For help sourcing these stopovers, this Facebook page is excellent and has an very useful map of stopovers in Ireland. Britstops also have a number of locations in Ireland.

Sightseeingimg_2997

We used our National Trust Membership almost daily – the coverage of NT sites is excellent, including The Giants Causeway (although you only pay to park and visit the Visitor Centre and Toilets) and the Carrick a Rede rope bridge, and Castle Ward. We think our joint membership fee was made back on visits just on this trip alone. The Titanic Museum in Belfast is great and well worth the £19 pp entry charge (we debated whether it would be or not)

Food and Drink

We didn’t end up eating out other than Fish and Chips in Belfast. We did however stock up on local produce at every opportunity. We used the local Spa shops (which tended to stock local meat), Farm Shops and the fishmonger who visits Portrush on a Thursday and veg. We loved the local ice cream and also the Bushmills whiskey. There were lots of local ciders and ale to sample along with Guiness of course – oh and the Jawbox Belfast Gin was great. We often had to buy alcohol separately to food – the Spar shops didn’t stock both so we used Wineflair quite a lot. Centra supermarkets along the Causeway Coast had alcohol too, but not the one in Belfast city centre. McKee’s Farm shop near Belfast was amaaaaaazing.

Walking and Cycling

fe7ef116-90ff-4af1-997c-31f567e78088Ordnance Survey hasn’t mapped NI so memory map/ordnance survey apps don’t work. Routes can be found on Walk NI but we missed not having mobile maps tracking us. We enjoyed the walk around the city walls of Derry. There were good off road bike ride and walking routes at Glenariff Forest Park, Bushmills to Giants Causeway, Lough Antrim Shore Park, Castle Ward, Mount Steward andThe Greenway in Belfast.

Dog Friendly?img_5837

Along the North Coast, yes. Giant’s Causeway/Carrick a Rede – Yes. Derry City Walls – yes. Derry pubs – no.

Belfast – several dog friendly pubs, some which serve tasty looking food.

Use this site  to help you plan.

Fuel economy

From Norfolk to Cainryan in just over half a tank – go Ruby! Filled up at Morrison in Stranraer before the ferry. Only used just over half a tank in NI. Filled up at the docks for £1.30 pl. Most supermarkets were around £1.27 so around the same as England.

Holiday Highlights 

img_5091Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge – even if you don’t do the bridge walk the scenery along the coast is spectacular.

 

 

 

Giant’s Causeway – obviously!img_5234

Port Stewart Strand – still excited that we drove onto the beach for a posh picnic!

Titanic Museum Belfast

 

 

Now, what are you waiting for?! Get your trip booked- I promise that you won’t regret it!

 

Adventures in Northern Ireland| Easter 2019 | Part 4

Saturday Continued

We arrived at the National Trust Campsite at Castle Ward late afternoon. The campsite was a nice woodland retreat, set within the grounds of Castle Ward. It’s extraordinarily popular as castle ward farmyard is now famously known to Game of Thrones fans as Winterfell. 

We enjoyed a lovely Kung Po chicken for tea but our evening became disturbed as we began getting marginally annoyed at the people staying in the nearby “hobbit huts” who had absolutely no understanding of campsite etiquette where you don’t traipse across someone else’s pitch as a short cut to the loo (and who needs to go to the loo every 15 minutes anyway!); you definitely don’t come so close to your van that you stand on their electric cable. And you absolutely 100% do NOT let your kids (or accompany your kids) so close to someone’s  back window at 9pm and look through the window with their nose touching the glass that you nearly give the person inside a heart attack. Sadly despite a polite request that this was indeed our pitch and could they possibly walk the extra 10 steps around us, it was ignored so we closed our curtains and went to bed to the sounds of gravel crunching outside.

Sunday 

This morning we were so fed up about the people endlessly using our pitch as a cut through we requested to move pitch. An hour later, having packed everything up and moved, then reset our stuff out, we enjoyed beans on toast for breakfast and watched as the annoying family packed their car up and left the site. Note to self – if ever in this situation again, perhaps before requesting to move we should ask when they are staying until! Massive face palm 🤦‍♀️ 

Trying to make light of the fact, we decided we preferred our new pitch anyway, and Keith unloaded the bikes as despite the wind still howling, we were going for a bike ride around the estate of Castle Ward. We followed the boundary trail, a very well marked out trail, which hugged the shores of Strangford Lough, through “Winterfell” before heading inland across the estate and towards the National Trust mansion.

The trail was scenic and enjoyable and although we found bits hard going as we are unfit lol, we enjoyed it nonetheless. 

At the property, we had a quick cuppa, sausage roll and a cake – I tried the fifteen cake, which is a local NI recipe containing digestive biscuits and marshmallows and coconut; it was delicious. We took it in turns to go inside – however sadly only got to see the basement as renovation works were overrunning so the rest of the house was shut still. 

Back at Ruby, we had some soup to warm us up as we’d got rather cold before indulging in a duvet afternoon. The wind was blowing and it was quite chilly outside so we had no desire to be outside anymore. For dinner we fired up the Remoska and cooked a fabulous local joint of roast beef, which was incredible and only took 1 hour,  before retreating into a food coma and an early night. 

Monday 

Monday soon arrived and it was time to pack up and move on from our Castle Ward campsite. We’d enjoyed the activities here but found the campsite very dated. The facilities need a massive overhaul, and at £25pn, considering this was just a pound a night less than Ballyness, it wasn’t great value for money other than location, in our opinion; the showers despite being hot and good pressure were housed in an old outhouse and the doors didn’t lock properly. 

We decided to take the small ferry across Strangford Lough rather than retrace our steps back the way we’d come and worked our way up the east side of the Sea inlet Lough.

We pulled in for an impromptu stop at National Trust Mount Stewart house and gardens. Happily the grounds were dog friendly, so we had an enjoyable walk around the formal gardens and lake, before taking it in turns to do the house tour

One of the most fascinating things inside the house was the fact that the entrance hall was done out in what appeared to be marble, but actually was wood! 

After our house tours, we had a very quick lunch in Ruby before making our way to the Titanic museum. We had ummed and ahhhhed about the best way to approach visiting this given that we were travelling with our dog. Should we go on public transport and take it in turns, or should we drive and leave Jazz in the van. This was the option we took, it made sense as we could stop there on route to the campsite and due to Ruby’s fabulous 1.9m height we were able to get into the museum underground parking, so Jazz wasn’t far away. It is worth pointing our that for units bigger than 1.9m in height, you may struggle to park in the nearby vicinity however public transport is very good – there is a bus to the front from City Hall.

The Titanic museum was wonderful. You could easily spend the day here- it was fully interactive and had some of the best 3 way projections I’d ever seen. We rushed round but saw it all in 2 hours, aware that we didn’t want to leave Jazz too much longer. We saw original artefacts such as the Boatyard gates, Table wear and china from the White Star line ships, an original Titanic lunch menu, and much more.

We also saw the slipway in which the Titanic was launched and the boatyard where it was built. We did however not realise that if we had carried on walking beyond the slipway you can get to the actual dock that Titanic sat in. We vowed to return to this tomorrow on foot.

As part of our ticket we were able to visit the SS Normadic which transported many of the passengers that boarded in Cherbourg from the port to the Titanic. It’s the last remaining White Star line ship to remain. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and thought that the £19 ticket price was good value. We can see why the attraction is listed as the number 1 thing to do in Belfast. 

We made the short journey to our final campsite of the trip, Dundonald Touring Park, a Campsite situated on the outskirts of Belfast, and right on the number 4 bus route into the City Centre. There is also an off road cycle track called the Greenway which links the campsite to the city centre. 

For dinner we enjoyed a homemade macaroni cheese. It’s no secret, it is one of my all time favourite dishes, yet I’ve never been able to make one in Ruby due to not having an oven. Now owning the Remoska, it’s opened up being able to cook dishes like this and I couldn’t wait to sample it!

On our journey to Belfast earlier we stopped at McKee’s farm shop.

Good job it was the end of our holiday, we’d have blown our budget here in one go! To accompany our Mac n cheese we picked up some home baked soda bread and some chilli chicken pieces and the finished result was delicious, even if so say so myself! I made a video which is below:

Tuesday

Sadly the weather turned during the night and we actually had some rain – not that we could complain as its the first we’ve had all the time that we’ve been away.

As the weather was poor we decided to have a rest and a duvet morning, before heading out to Belfast on the Midday bus. Just a note about the bus incase you find yourself at this campsite. Firstly its the number 4 bus and not the number 19 that is printed on the campsite leaflet. To get to the bus stop you need to go out of the campsite gate, turn left and walk up the ramp to the main road. The bus stop for Belfast bound buses is across the road and about 300 yards to the left. The bus stop exactly by where the path comes up onto the road is where you get off. This wasn’t very clear so we ended up missing a bus because we were in the wrong place. 🙂 A day return was £4.40 each and Jazz was allowed on the bus.

We got off the bus at City Hall, and picked up the yellow Titanic trail which took us from the main memorial in the city centre all the way to the pump house and dock which we missed yesterday. It was well signed and took us past some interesting sights including The Albert Memorial Clock, which is like a mini Big Ben, the Big Fish and much more – including a dog friendly pub, hurrah!

At the end of the walk and after our visit to the Dock and Pumphouse – we couldn’t get in as it was closed sadly – we caught the Glider bus back to the city centre (£1.20)

We then visited the Cathedral Quarter and the very interesting St Ann’s Cathedral with its very unusual and unexpected spire.

I hated it at first but then it grew on me in the end. The reason that the spire is so different stems from the need for it to be lightweight as the ground the cathedral sits on is basically a river bank and it just can’t take the weight. Inside the cathedral you can actually see the floor sinking.

During the day we passed some pretty impressive Murial Walls (Graffiti art is a big thing here) including a 3D one where we got glasses from the pub!

We managed to find a couple more dog friendly pubs, including the amazing and rather historical Dirty Onion where Jazz was treated to a homemade doggy treat.

We also both managed to rather embarrasingly have our first Guiness!

We also managed to find our first fish and chip lunch courtesy of Fish City. They were posh fish and chips but were absolutely gorgeous and fantastically cheap at just £7.15 pp.

I’ve since found this amazing doggie friendly Northern Ireland map which is vital for anyone travelling with their furry friends  – I just wished I had seen it before we went!

Dog Friendly Northern Ireland

After a full day and 7.5 miles walked, we made our retreat back to the campsite for our final evening before heading home tomorrow. Dinner was sausage and mash, once again done in the fabulous Remoska Electric Oven which we enjoyed whilst reminiscing about our fantastic trip to Northern Ireland.

Wednesday 

Wednesday arrived and it was sadly home time. We set our alarm for 8am, and had a slow but thorough pack up of Ruby, stripping the bed and doing a full floor clean etc. Our ferry from Belfast Port was at 11.30 and ran to time, arriving into Cairnryan just before 2pm. We hit the road East and then South and East again – A75, M6, A66, A1, A14 and had a good smooth run, until we got to Cambridge of course and those hideous roadworks. We took it in turns driving and arrived home just before 11pm. 450 miles, 3 countries, 1 ferry, and only half a tank of fuel to get us home.

We had absolutely adored our time in Northern Ireland – it completely and utterly exceeded our exceptions and would recommend it to absolutely everyone we know.

Thankfully we don’t have that long until our next adventure – just 2 weeks – yippee!

So, Until Next Time

Lx

 

 

 

Adventures in Northern Ireland| Easter 2019 | Part 3

Thursday
Today we were supposed to be saying goodbye to Ballyness Caravan Park and moving towards Londonderry.

As you could probably tell on our previous post, we had fallen in love with this campsite so decided, based on the fact we could still day trip to Londonderry from here using public transport, we would extend our stay for two nights. Thankfully this could be accommodated, although we would need to change pitch. This was fine as actually we were intending on driving away from the campsite today anyway as we wanted to explore Portstewart Beach. We could get here from the site on the bus however we wanted to take advantage of the novelty that this was one of the few beaches where we could drive onto the sand and set our stall out.

On the way to Portstewart we stopped at the local fishmongers van at Portrush.

We’d been recommended this by the people who kindly fixed my bike yesterday – the visiting fishmonger visits the Eurospa car park every Thursday selling local fish and shellfish. Given that the wether was still fabulous, we took the opportunity to get some fresh fish. We stocked up on mussels, scallops, cod fillet and salmon and made our way to the beach.

Portstewart Strand is National trust owned, and as members this enabled us to drive on for free rather than the £6 fee to park on the beach otherwise. We would have happily paid the £6 as we’ve never come across a beach which you can do this at, although I am aware there is one in Wales somewhere I think.

It was exceptionally exciting driving on to the beach and we soon picked our spot, right by where the high tide was due to peak in just 15 minutes. Keith got the table and chairs out and the camp cooker whilst I found my Prosecco glass and mini bottle and a beer for Keith.

The weather was fabulous – we couldn’t believe our luck!

For lunch I got to tick off one of my bucket list items – “cook fresh mussels on the beach”. Never in a million years did I think we’d get to do it here, but we did and it was every bit as magical as I’d imagined!

After lunch, which attracted a few interested glances from passers by, I donned my new wetsuit, a Christmas present from mum, and had a dip in the sea. I was hoping to paddle board, but the waves were just a bit too big for me, still a novice!

We couldn’t resist doing a little video of our days adventure on Portstewart Strand.

After a good couple of hours of pure relaxation on the beach we turned Ruby’s wheels back towards Ballyness Caravan Park, stopping for a pic stop at Dunluce Castle and settled onto our new pitch and sparked up for our luxury fish bbq.

Keith did a tremendous job, scallops and Irish chorizo to start, then Cod and Salmon served with a simple vegetable rice. It was wonderful and the perfect way to finish our perfect day!

Friday

Today we got up early ready to take the 09.37 bus from the campsite to Coleraine, where we changed onto the train – which took us to Derry. The train journey was very scenic and hugged the coast all the way. The journey took around 1.5 hours each way, but it was relaxing and nice not to drive. Plus I was looking forward to sampling either some Guinness or the local Walled city brewery ale.

We enjoyed a meander around the City Walls – the walk is around 1 mile in length and the city walls are well preserved. In fact they are the best preserved in Ireland.

Unfortunately, despite dogs being allowed on the wall walk, we really struggled to find any pubs that welcomed dogs and due to alcohol laws here, we struggled to find pubs with outdoor or on street seating. This meant that our plans of a pub lunch were over sadly, so we ended up grabbing a sandwich from the supermarket before catching the earlier train back to Coleraine for our bus to the campsite. It was shame as we’d really been looking forward to a pub lunch. We did manage to grab a quick drink outside the Walled brewery, but it really was quick as by the time we had got served it left us than 10 minutes to finish it and get to the station!

Our time lapse video of some of the scenery on the train ride between Derry and Coleraine

Thankfully, as I had some diced beef to use, I had made a beef and tomato casserole in the slow cooker before we left with the intention of freezing it if we were full from lunch, so when we got back we enjoyed this along with some fresh bread.

Derry had been a nice day trip however we hadn’t found it quite as welcoming as other places along the coast.

Saturday
Today we bid a very very sad farewell to our home for the previous 5 nights, Ballyness Caravan Park. This was the first time we’d based ourselves somewhere for 5 nights, as usually we get itchy feet, but it really is a testament to the wonderful facilities and location, the fact that we’d been extremely happy there for 5 nights. For anyone visiting this area, I’d highly recommend staying here. At just £26 pn it was an absolute bargain.

Today we were leaving the coast and driving south. Our destination was Newgrange – a prehistoric monument that is even older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids! We needed to cross the border into the Republic of Ireland, so we set Google maps going and began our journey. As we passed Antrim we stopped for a top up shop at Asda before stopping at Lough Neagh shore park at Antrim for lunch and a leg stretch.

Lough Neagh is the largest freshwater lake in the UK, it’s circumference is 90miles long! Sadly, the weather had turned, and despite it being dry, the wind was blowing a hooley. This was a shame because this would have been a great spot for a paddleboard session. Also there was a lovely bike path too. So this would definitely be a place to return to. There is a nice looking caravan park here which would have been a good base for a few nights.

At this point, we looked at the map to discover that it was still almost 2 hours to Newgrange. As we were only having one night there, and we couldn’t pre book tickets as there is major works going on at the visitor centre, plus Newgrange Lodge, our intended home for the night was unable to prebook, and essentially just a car park with hook up, we made the joint decision to change our plans. It was too much of a risk to do a 4 hour detour for an activity that either may not be open, or wouldn’t be able to be enjoyed to full potential. We therefore have vowed to return when the works are completed.

We called our next campsite, to see if they could accommodate us a day earlier and luckily they could. We therefore set Google maps and Ruby’s Wheels East, heading towards the National Trust campsite at Castle Ward, which we arrived at just over an hour later.

Adventures in Northern Ireland| Easter 2019 | Part 2

Monday

After a wonderfully quiet night parked at Glenariff Forest Park, we enjoyed bacon rolls before taking ourselves off for a little walk. The campsite had immaculate facilities including a luxurious heated toilet and shower block, and hard standing, plus fully serviced pitches. In our opinion, excellently priced at just £20pn too.

Glengariff Forest Park is known locally as Queen of the Glens, and it’s not hard to see why. It was different to how I imagined in that is was at the top of the glen rather than the base, but this made for lovely views from our pitch, but also a downhill start to our Waterfall walk – and the dreaded uphill back! The waterfall walk at Glenariff was recommended to us by quite a few people on various Facebook pages, and actually was the reason why we booked to stay here. The 3km walk did not disappoint, it was well paved and offered views of three separate waterfalls, and a pretty impressive gauge.

We returned from our walk for 11am and did one last wash up before hitting the road. Our first stop of the day was Cushendun, which is a pretty little seaside village.

We stocked up on some local beef steak sausages from the Spar and carried on along the coast road. Our next stop was the National Trust owned Carrick-a-rede Rope bridge and coastline. More recently the adjoining old quarry, Larrybne, now the NT overspill car park, was used as a filming location for Game of Thrones, so as you can imagine it was pretty busy here.

Perhaps now is the time to admit that Keith and I haven’t watched Game of Thrones. Anytime we’ve ever mentioned to people about this, we are gasped, gawped and god knows what else at! We did try to get into it, but after series 1 ep 3 we kind of gave up!

Carrick-a rede rope bridge connects the mainland to a tiny island which used to be used by salmon farmers.

They used to have their own rope bridge which looked terrifying, to cross to get their salmon fishing boats. Nowadays the rope bridge is still terrifying but much safer than how it was originally. It hangs 100ft above the sea, and really is utterly terrifying to cross. However, I’m so proud of say both Keith and I managed it, despite me having a phobia of heights, swinging things, uneven and insecure edges, plus a whole host of other issues that should have prevented me crossing!

It may have taken US BOTH about 30 minutes and a swift Carling tinny in Ruby- well it was lunchtime, and when else can you have a picnic lunch on a film set – to recover. But, we did it! AND we LOVED it (in our own terrified way!)

Check out our video here 🤣

Attempting to embrace the Games of thrones excitement we ventured for our last stop of the day to the famous (if you watch GOT) Kings Road- known here as The Dark Hedges. This rather spectacular and creepy mile or so tree lined road is now heaving with enthusiasts however for us we really found the tree shaping fascinating and great for a leg stretch and photo opportunity.

If you visit, please respect that is is now a huge tourist area, and whilst there is very generously no entry charge, or parking charge, please don’t park on the road itself. There are numerous signs asking people not or park or drive down the road, and the hotel across the road has generously providing free parking. So why on earth it was ignored by at least 5 cars in the 20 mins we spent there is just beyond me. I’m willing to bet in 5 years or likely less, you’ll have to pay entry or parking to manage the huge crowds flocking here.

Just 8 miles from The Dark Hedges was our home for the next 3 nights, Ballyness Caravan Park. This had been recommended to me by several and I can absolutely see why. The facilities are absolutely wonderful and immaculate. There is a regular bus service from the campsite to the attractions in both directions along the coast. There is a huge dog walk on site. It is by far the best campsite we have ever stayed on.

The weather is tremendous and as we don’t want to assume it’s here to stay, we decided to have a bbq tonight.

We enjoyed the local sausages, a lamb leg steak each we picked up (also local) and accompanied it with a jacket spud and stuffed mushroom each cooked in our new Remoska courtesy of Lakeland.

It was delicious, we stayed outside until it got dark. We can’t believe how much we’ve enjoyed our first day in Northern Ireland.

Tuesday

Another day, another bucket list item to tick off! Today it’s the UNESCO world heritage site that is The Giants Causeway. Actually it’s quite fair to say that both Keith and I were tremendously excited about visiting this site, it’s been a dream for years. And that old Irish O’Gorman luck was on our side – it was so sunny, we decided to get our shorts on. Not bad for April 9th.

Although there is a regular bus service from the campsite, we opted to don our walking boots and walk the 4 miles there. The route took us through Bushmills where we picked up the old tram heritage railway, and then the path ran beside the railway the whole way there.

We took the extended route around the headland just before the Giants Causeway. The scenery was beautiful and rivalled the Coastal path in Cornwall and Pembrokeshire.

Bu the time that we got to the visitors centre we were buzzing! Entry to the Giants Causeway itself is free for all, however National Trust members can gain free parking should you need it, an audio guide and access to the visitors centre and toilets as part of your membership (£12.50 otherwise) There is also a free shuttle down from the visitors centre to the causeway – 20 min walk otherwise. We found the audio guide was very informative into how the Causeway was formed and why it’s called the Giants Causeway.

The Giants Causeway was absolutely phenomenal. I mean seriously SERIOUSLY awesome.

The stones in large are shaped as almost perfect pentagons, and the columns are just mind bending. The scenery is breathtaking and we spent 4 hours there just in absolute awe of Mother Nature.

As you can probably tell, we absolutely LOVED our visit, and rate it as spectacular at the Grand Canyon. A real must for all to visit.

We took the bus back to Bushmills (£2.20 each) but disembarked a stop early than the campsite to replenish our alcohol supplies. We have found since being in NI normal convenience stores such as the Spar and Coop DON’T sell alcohol! Part of the joy of exploring new areas for us is to embrace the local ale/gin/cider etc so we were thrilled when we spotted a liquor store attached to a supermarket in Bushmills. I also brought a brush as I forgot mine and therefore my hair is resembling a birds nest as it’s not been brushed since last Friday! We stocked up on Irish ale, cider and of course gin before walking the last 3/4s of a mile back to Ruby.

I made from scratch a chilli con carne for the slow cooker before we left this morning, but accidentally left it on high! So today I got to use my Remoska to resurrect the chilli – I put the now dried up chilli into foil cartons, topped with Doritos and grated cheese for 20 mins and we ended up with a delicious chilli and nacho meal – something we couldn’t have done without the Remoska.

Thanks Lakeland,you got me out of the dog house! I absolutely definitely intended to do the chilli this way!

Wednesday dawned another fabulous sunny day. We are starting to become rather attached to this campsite, the showers are just phenomenal, as is the location, and talks are taking place in Ruby the VW as to whether we can change our next campsite, instead remaining here but still do the activities we’ve planned. Watch this space…

We opted for a bit of a lazy morning, that culminated in a home cooked Irish breakfast, which was cooked al fresco – the first of the year, except for the sausages which went in the Remoska and cooked beautifully for an hour whilst we got showered and sorted the rest of the breakfast out.

I’m loving having the Remoska as an alternative to gas hob cooking – I can get on with other stuff (including a cuppa outside in the sunshine) rather than having to sit and watch and constantly turn the food and turn the gas flame up or down inside Ruby.

We unloaded the bikes and took ours,eves for a gentle 2 miles bike ride to nearby Portballintrae. Here there is a lovely stretch of beach which we thoroughly enjoyed walking the length of, and I was eying up places to paddleboard from tomorrow perhaps.

On our way back I managed to not only loose my chain, but get it completely and utterly wedged between the cogs. Keith spent at least 30 mins trying to get it out to no avail, and at the point we decided to just walk back, we noticed a local man working on his own bike in his garden, so we asked if he had some oil we could try. He was so friendly, he took over, and ended up using not only a chisel, but a hammer too to get my chain back to where it needed to be! What a nice man!

On the way back we dropped into Bushmills Distillery to get some miniatures to try – dogs aren’t allowed on site, so I nipped inside to the shop, before stocking up across the road at the Spar for some side dishes for our Irish steak dinner – we also tried a local ice cream which was yummy.

The rest of the afternoon was sat outside Ruby in our own version of heaven. The sun was gorgeous and we were about as chilled out as we could be. A far cry from this time last week!

Dinner tonight was not one but 2 Irish fillet steaks, served with chips and onion rings cooked in the Remoska and corn on the cob and mushrooms. Al fresco of course for the 3rd night running!

So the question remains. Will we move on from here, the best campsite we’ve ever stayed on ever in nearly 10 years of motorhoming, to our next designated campsite tomorrow? Or will we make a change to our itinerary?

You’ll have to wait and see 😉

Until next time

Lx

Cumbrian adventures; Part 3. February Half Term. Great Langdale

Ruby the VW campervan is parked in the spectacular Langdale Valley, our home for the next three nights is the National Trust Campsite Great Langdale.

We packed away at Coniston in damp and drizzly conditions and made our way to Ambleside for provisions- I was fairly confident we wouldn’t even find a shop in Langdale valley. On the way to Ambleside we made a stop at Yew Tree Farm which was filming location for the 2009 Blockbuster, Mrs Potter.

We used the opportunity in Ambleside to visit the local butchers for some sausages and steak, (and another sausage roll) in the hope we may manage a sneaky bbq tomorrow- the weather was set to improve.

Ambleside is a pretty little town, however it was swimming in tourists – which is off putting for us, so we didn’t stay too long at all. It was then only a short drive to Great Langdale. As soon as you arrive into the valley the grandeur of the mountains that surround you almost overwhelm you. I’ve visited here before when I was young and even despite the drizzle, I was thrilled to be back with Keefy and Jazz.

Our pitch on the campsite was one of the best on site. This was because we’d booked one of only 5 electric pitches back in October. The rest of the site is a kind of free for all. Fine when it’s quiet but by the end of the weekend parts of it resembled a car park and we would not have wanted to pay to pitch up like that. There are new facilities on site including lovely hot showers in a heated block. Again, perhaps not enough for a full site, but we managed well.

We enjoyed a ploughman’s lunch whilst we waited for those clouds to dry up, which they did and we were able to have a wander to a couple of the pubs – there are 3 within 15 mins walk. I remember many a (soft) drink in the Old Dungeon Gyll Hikers Bar when I was growing up on family trips to the Lake District. But it was pretty special to be having my first alcoholic drink here – a pint of Old Peculiar for us both went down a treat.

We took the footpath half a mile along to the next pub, Sticklebarn, a National Trust run pub and restaurant and enjoyed the local Lake District Pilsner lager before heading back to Ruby for our slow cooker Beef and Tomato Stew which was delicious and a night reading (no phone signal or Wi-fi!)

Friday dawned a stunning morning, and we enjoyed a lazy morning with our first al fresco breakfast of the year, a simple beans and sausages on toast. We opted for a lower valley walk today despite the weather being smashing as we were gearing up for a BBQ and to make the most of the glorious out of season weather we felt a lunchtime feast would be best. We stopped for a couple of beers at Sticklebarn as the route passed it, before winding our way back towards the campsite. We still clocked up 3.5 miles and the views were stunning.

Keith prepared the most fantastic bbq- consisting of local steak, and pheasant sausages and venison sausages. The backdrop was stunning and rivalled the top spot on our list of the best bbq locations of all time.

We made our way back to the pub for another beer – the lure of their free wifi too much for us!

Saturday was another beautiful day. We had to keep reminding ourselves that it’s only February, and we’re in the lakes! An area that is usually more familiar with rain!

We were going to walk up and have a picnic at Blea Tarn, but from our pitch we could already see some walkers up on the top of Langdale pikes and we just couldn’t resist, so after a quick omelette for breakfast we threw together a packed lunch and set off towards Sticklebarn to begin the ascent up to Stickle Tarn. The path was surprisingly good, and therefore resembled the m25! However it was lovely to see so many families out enjoying the great British outdoors – and it was boiling!

The first stop, stickle tarn was about 1.25 miles uphill from stickle barn, but with the easy path we breezed up with no problems at all.

The next stage of our route took us over Harrison Pike, which was less easy, however the views were absolutely breathtaking. In fact Keith announced it was the best view he’d seen in England.

The route carried on towards the pike of stickle, which took us rock climbing in several places and hanging on for dear life at one point. We managed the pike of stickle, I nearly bottled it, but I was proud that I carried on, before the long steep and terrifying descent back to the start. It was a fabulous walk but really challenging, and by the time we got down dusk was starting to fall as was some drizzle. We’d made it in good time but a 5.5 mile walk still took us 6 hours!

We had a couple of beers which didn’t touch the sides and then went for an Old Peculiar at the Old Dungeon Gyll, one for the road. Dinner was chicken fajitas at Ruby which was delicious, however I’m certain that if the chicken hadn’t have defrosted during the day we may well have indulged in a meal at the Old Dungeon Gyll as their fish and chips looked amazing!

Our time in the Lake District was sadly at the end, we got up early on Sunday and made the journey back south and then east. With aching legs and rosy cheeks we are returning feeling relaxed and ready to tackle the next half term.

Until next time

Lx

Cumbrian Adventures, Part 2; February Half Term

Ruby the VW Campervan is nestled underneath the Old Man of Coniston, right in the heart of the spectacular Lake District National Park. Our home for the next three nights is Conniston Coppice Park, a Caravan and Motorhome Club site just outside of Coniston.

Our journey from Dufton was only meant to be a short one of just over an hour, however however we made a number of stops so it ended up taking us several hours. Our first stop was at the butchers in Appleby, Low Howgill’s, which were the butchers that supplied the meat to The Stag in Dufton. When Keefy couldn’t decide which meal to have on Saturday night because everything looked so tempting, I promised to cook a traditional Cumberland cassoulet using their sausages so he could eliminate that off the menu!

The butchers/deli was outstanding, I could have had everything in the shop! We picked up homemade sausage rolls for breakfast, along with lots of local Appleby cheese, sausages, bread, local Cumbrian coffee, and pork pies!

We enjoyed a wander around Appleby doing the town heritage trail before picking up some fresh veg for the greengrocers and then making our way towards Penrith for more supplies.

Shopping procured we soon crossed into the Lake District National Park passing through Grasmere and into Coniston.

It took us a while to set up as we couldn’t decide which pitch to choose! The layout of the site is lovely, with lots of individual little glades, and as such we had the opportunity to park side on, a rarity on club sites. We’ve got our own private stream running alongside the side door, it’s lovely.

We needed to get our chocks out to level up- the first time since we downsized to Ruby and as such they were buried right at the back!

Once set up we enjoyed a late lunch, a delicious ploughman’s filled with local treats from our farm shop haul this morning, before a little stroll around the huge site.

Only half of it is open at this time of year, but it stretches right down the bank to almost the edge of Coniston Water,with the majority of the pitches entirely private on their own glade.

Dinner was a homemade carbonara before settling down to watch a film on Netflix.


Tuesday arrived dry but overcast. We began our day with bacon and sausage sandwiches, and I prepared the long awaited Sausage Cassoulet in the slow cooker, before joining the Cumbrian Way which runs at the bottom of the site towards Coniston. It’s a pleasant 2 mile walk and we were rewarded with views of The Old Man of Coniston and also Coniston Moor.

The weather seemed a little unsettled so we decided not to attempt the Old Man today, we’re not a fan of starting strenuous walks with a low chance of the rewarding view! Instead we opted for a lower level walk over Consiton Moor, yewdale fell and across the Coppermines.

It was a lovely walk, still quite strenuous in areas, however we were rewarded with great views all the way.

We enjoyed a couple of beers at the Sun Hotel and then the Bull – we got to try the local Coniston Brewery Bluebird and Old Man Ale.

Another stop at the local butchers for some more local sausage and of course a sausage roll, (not as good as the Appleby one!) and then we set off back to Ruby. We were surprised to see we’d clocked up 11.5 miles, but we’d escaped the rain which started just as we finished our ruby duties – loo, water etc!

Dinner tonight was a homemade leek and potato soup, made in my compact soup maker, which made light work of it, and then sausage cassoulet which was delicious!


Wednesday~ Rain stopped play today. Well we are in the Lake District where rain is to be expected- but we decided to use it as an excuse to have a rest and therefore declared a duvet day!

We therefore stayed in bed reading and drinking tea till almost midday! It is half term and we need to recharge, so recharged we did. Better weather is possibly on its way tomorrow – however you never know in the Lakes!

We had an amazing Cumbrian brunch which Keefy cooked- all produce from the local butchers in Coniston. Those sausages were amazing!

We then decided to have a small leg stretch to the local pub in Torver – despite the driving rain which drenched us even with all our waterproofs!

We were thankful for the prime spot in front of the log fire to dry out. Just in time to get drenched for the walk back to Ruby! Still, we clocked up another 4 miles for our target of 1000 miles in 2019 and we felt not quite so lazy as we had three hours earlier.

Dinner was a lovely chicken Balti before we watched a film on Netflix.

It didn’t stop raining all night and morning so sadly we decided to leave The Old Man of Coniston for this time. Next stop just over the valley- Great Langdale National Trust Campsite. Promise of finer weather is there!

Until next time

Lx

Cumbrian Adventures, part 1; February Half Term

Ruby the VW campervan whisked us away at the earliest opportunity after breaking up for half term. By lunchtime on Friday we were passing Wetherby Services after an early start, and by 2pm we’d arrived at the exceptionally pretty little village of Dufton, Cumbria and were enjoying the February sunshine with our first al fresco beer of the year.

Our location for the first part of our half term trip was Dufton Caravan Park, also known as The Grandie. The reason we were here? To attempt to walk England’s Grand Canyon – High Cup Nick. I saw this fantastic U shaped valley featured on Julia Bradbury’s 100 best walks programme a few years ago, and it’s been on my bucket list ever since. I was beyond excited that we were here and that the forecast looked fairly ok for our attempt tomorrow.

We spent the afternoon stretching our legs around the pretty village of Dufton before grabbing a couple of beers in front of the marvellous fire in the local, The Stag Inn, and settling in for an early night.


Saturday arrived rather earlier than I anticipated as I woke up at 06:15, however I was so excited I just couldn’t wait to get up and start our walk! Keith managed to grab a couple of extra hours sleep, so I had to wait patiently to leave until 10.30, by which time we’d had a lovely omelette and packed some soup and food for the day.

The route we chose starts at the campsite and through a lovely section of woodland before taking farm paths up to where the gorge is.

We approached the steep valley from the other side of the Pennine Way path and soon the path dropped down to the basin.

The steep sides of the gorge were impressive and the further in we walked the more spectacular it became.

As we got closer to the Nick – the head- we could see the route upwards was going to be tough but we’d come this far ( 5 miles) there was no way we were turning back now without the view I’d seen those years back on the tv!

The last scramble goes near enough vertical, and you’re on all fours, negotiating the loose boulders and stones under foot! I’m not going to lie, it was the toughest bot of walking I think I’ve ever done. There were a couple of areas to pause and appreciate the views looking back down the valley.

On this last pic above, you can see the people behind us on all fours!

Although the climb up is hard, it’s relatively short, so before I could talk myself out of finishing the last bit, we’d made the final hurdle over the rim. Keith’s first words to the couple looking down were “well that was an experience”. Mine I think involved a swear word! The sheer elation at reaching the top made my legs turn to jelly and it took me about 5 minutes on the floor with my back to the view before I even turned round!

When I did turn around, the view quite honestly took my breath away. I’ve never seen anything like it in the UK- it’s a perfect example of a U shaped valley and we reckon quite unique.

It was blowing an absolutely hooley, but the sun came out and we managed to sit right on the edge to enjoy our lunch before a local runner ( yes he ran up behind us!) took our photo, and then we took theirs as they were in shorts! 😱

The wind chill up there was extreme, and we were thankful we had our waterproof jackets as they took some of the wind off us. But it was just too cold to hang around there for too long so once we had all our pictures, we hit the old miners trail (now the Pennine Way) for our 4 mile return to Dufton. The route followed the upper ridge for a couple of miles and we had a great view of our walk, before bearing right away from the valley back towards to exceptional marker of the pub, the smoke billowing out of its chimney!

It was a tough walk back, we were absolutely exhausted, in fact Keith had hit the wall I think, he said he felt like he’d ran the London marathon – he’d know, he’s ran it 3 times! But luckily we had some chocolate and plenty of water, and the promise of a log fire and a pint of ale as soon as we got back to Dufton soon got us back down.

We passed a shepherd and his dog moving a herd of sheep up the track which was fun to watch.

By 4pm, we’d made it back to civilisation- and wasted no time in celebrating our successful walk with a pint of the local ale and three packets of crisps! Jazz made full use of the fire to rest his weary paws. We booked a table for dinner that evening as I didn’t fancy cooking plus the menu looked amazing.

So after a freshen up and a rest, we made our way back out again for our meal at 7.30pm. The pub is fantastic- a real walkers pub with slate flooring and thick stone walls. We ate a delicious meal of black pudding fritters and Appleby smoked cheese soufflé to start and then the stag baked suet pudding – crammed with venison and veg and absolutely huge. A perfect end to a fabulous day on the Pennines.


Sunday dawned sunny and despite our intentions of a duvet day at the van, we soon felt restless so whilst I cooked us a full English breakfast, Keith devised a small route that would take us low level around the base of the imposing Dufton pike, which is the backdrop to this tiny village.

The short circuit was lovely and we enjoyed the scenery all the way around the pike. We returned to the campsite through the very scenic Dufton Gyll woods which had banks upon banks lined with beautiful snowdrops. We whizzed through the walk, and were surprised that it was 5 miles- but after yesterday it seemed like a walk in the park!

The rest of the day has been spent chilling – we’ve got a joint of ham in the slow cooker and had Steak and Stilton panini’ s for lunch.

Dufton Grandie Campsite is lovely and quiet and a perfect location. There are lots of lovely little touches, like a water tap on each pitch, free Wi-fi, and fairy liquid in the washing up area. However the showers could do with a bit of TLC, and actually a couple more for each sex. For a site that holds up to 40 units, 1 shower per sex is probably a little sparse. The chemical loo point is a little grim too. However as it’s still out of season, it’s very quiet here, and at only £20pn it’s not bothered us for the short time we’ve been here.

Tomorrow we move on into The Lake District for some more walking and scenery.

We can’t wait!

Until next time

Lx

Our Escape to Colditz

Keith is a huge history enthusiast and has expressed a desire to visit Colditz Castle for as long as I’ve known him. In fact, we almost made it there in Bluebell the Motorhome in 2016, however decided to stay in Austria and revisit another time when we were a little more prepared. The opportunity finally arose this year as I decided to book tickets for Keith’s Christmas present – the man who has every gadget under the sun – and it went down brilliantly! Due to work commitments, I decided that rather than drive, we would grab a quick weekend return flight from Stansted to Berlin, however I’ve included motorhome/campervan stopovers too on this blog.

We stayed overnight prior to flying at the Holiday Inn Express Stansted, which was convenient as it offers onsite parking and evening meals – we wouldn’t arrive until gone 8pm following work so would need dinner. Free breakfast was also offered, and was actually very pleasant despite it being 5am! A shuttle bus took us to the departures terminal in just 7 minutes at a cost of £3pp.

10.30am local time on Friday saw us touchdown at Berlin Schönefeld airport and by 11am we had picked up our wheels for the weekend – a VW Golf hired from Sixt.com. They did manage to sneak some added extras on which meant we ended up spending over €100 extra to the hire charge which was a bit of an irritating beginning.

Although we had flown to Berlin, due to the regularity of flights available to ensure we got the most time possible from our limited time away, our destination was 2 hours south – Leipzig. It is possible to fly direct to Leipzig however they only fly twice a week from Stansted and it didn’t work timing wise for us.

Leipzig is a very exciting place to visit as a musician, and I can’t help but feel that it’s massively overlooked on the tourist trail. Leipzig was home to J.S.Bach, who worked at Thomaskirche as the Kapellmeister for many years.

His family, many of whom were also musicians, also were based in Leipzig, and although their family home no longer exists because of WW2 Damage, the cathedral does and their neighbours and friends house is now The Bach Museum and Archives.

Inside the church you can see Bach’s grave along with many very rare and historical musical instruments from the Baroque Period.

We were lucky enough to hear the organist perform some Bach’s Organ Pieces which was incredibly moving and really very exciting.

 

Our visit to the Bach Museum also didn’t disappoint, we got to see some very rare, handwritten by Bach manuscript, which was ridiculously neat and just completely awesome to see. (No pics allowed)

We did some of the Music Trail although time was not on our side – you could easily enjoy 2 days + here. Other famous musicians who are linked to Leipzig are Felix Mendelssohn’s who died here- his house is now a museum which we’d have liked to have visited but we ran out of time, and Richard Wagner.

During the walking tour we enjoyed looking at some of the beautiful buildings which have survived the war including the opera house.

We also stumbled across a traditional winter fayre, which was a great chance to warm up with some Gluwein.

We had three delicious meals in Leipzig – lunch at Ratskeller, a really atmospheric beerhouse which serves local Saxon Fayre, a bratwurst at the winter fayre, and finally our evening meal at the historic and atmospheric Auerbachs Keller and tried loads of absolutely delicious local beer and even a Leipzig gin!

Our home for the night was the Mercure Hotel which as just down the road from Mendelssohn’s house and had an underground carpark for us to leave the car whilst we explored on foot.

On Saturday we were up fairly early and checked out at 9am. Keith was very excited as today was our trip to Colditz Castle. His reaction as we caught our first sight of the beautiful looking castle was priceless.

I’d booked us the extended tour (€18 pp payable in cash on arrival) and we were surprised to learn that we were the only one booked on the tour – so it was to be a private tour – an unexpected perk of being out of season. Our guide Steffi, began leading us around the vast corridors, cellars, and grounds, giving us brilliant commentary throughout.

Colditz Castle is a striking Renaissance Castle, sat perched on a large rocky outcrop, high above the River Mulde and became best known during WW2 – it was used as a High Security Prisoner of War camp for allied officers who had repeatedly tried to escape from other POW camps. Despite being considered as a high security camp, it had the highest number of successful escape attempts and only one assassination, and that was, according to Steffi, an accident. Prisoners here were treated with respect and a little more dignity than elsewhere and had huge libraries to peruse, a fully functional theatre in which they used to put on full scale productions and also the dorms were less crammed in and some officers even had their own rooms which were bigger than you may expect.

During the tour we got to see the famous gap in which Pat Reid managed to escape from – he later went on to develop the famous boardgame “Escape from Colditz”;

The French tunnel which ran 44m in length right underneath the chapel

The end of the British tunnel

the attic room where the famous glider was built in secret and found when the Americans liberated the castle

and much more. We saw the theatre, complete with secret trap door under the stage,

the officers rooms, the British Dorms, and heard story after story of escape efforts – some successful and some not. Despite the nature of the history here it was hard not to feel inspired here, the sheer determination of those who were held here almost lives on in the walls, its just truly fascinating – even for someone who isn’t such a history buff as her husband!

Our tour was supposed to last 2 hours, but Steffi, encouraged by our enthusiasm and interest I think, showed us some extra places and we actually ended up being there for over 3 hours!

There is a Campsite within walking distance if you go in your campervan/motorhome and also a Stellplatz (overnight parking area) in the next town – although Colditz is very small and I’m not sure I’d fancy driving our old motorhome up to the castle.

Our final stop of the trip was 1.5 hours down the road on the border of Czech Republic, at Bastei. This addition to our itinerary was last minute after reading about it in the Lonely Planet Germany Book and my goodness are we pleased we discovered it.

Bastei is a large area of rock formations which tower 194m high above the River Elbe. There is a fabulous bridge nestled amongst the rocks and lots of viewing platforms dotted around – some of which aren’t for the faint hearted, especially when they are covered in ice and snow as they were for our visit!

I managed to put my big girl pants on and conquered them all, despite a few deep controlling breathes and jelly legs as you can just about see from this pic!

We managed an hour of exploring the paths before we lost the sunlight

and enjoyed a bratwurst sausage and beer (alcohol free for me being Des, but it was fab!!) at the kiosk just as they shut, before returning to our car and discovering a car parking ticket -whoops!

Our journey back to Berlin Schönefeld Airport took just under 2 hours, where we stayed in an airport hotel (which was grim but served its purpose) ready for our extremely early 06.30 flight back home. We had a lovely traditional meal of Schnitzel at the local Gasthaus – which we needed to drive to as there was nowhere within walking distance of the hotel and no restaurant at the hotel. Check out the size of those Schnitzel’s!

We had a brilliant time – and can’t believe we were actually only in Germany for a day and a half. We covered 582km/361m and found German roads brilliant. A note to myself, next time the car hire kiosk asks me if I would prefer automatic or manual – get automatic! I kept going for an invisible gear stick!

Until Next Time (which won’t be long as this time next week we will be in the Lake District for half term in Ruby- woo)

Lx

 

Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival, Jan 2019

Sometimes the best laid plans are those that are conceived after a few too many sherbets in the village local. That’s certainly how this little weekend’s escape came about; an unplanned pub session on Halloween saw us chatting to a local about all things Pagan. Keith was explaining to anyone who would listen about the end of harvest festival Samhain, and a local farmer went on to tell us that if we liked that sort of thing then we should check out Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival. A few days later and after a Google and Instagram reccy, we were booking a campsite and blocking the January weekend out of our new diary.

Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival has been happening longer than records exist. It begins on the Tuesday following Plough Monday (the 1st Monday after Twelfth Night), when it became customary to dress one of the confraternity of the plough in straw and call him a Straw Bear. The Bear then is led around the town to entertain in a clumsy and frantic manner whilst the townsfolk provide great spreads of beer, beef and tobacco. The straw for the bear was carefully selected and the whole point of the exercise was to hope for good fertility and a good harvest in the year ahead.

We originally booked to stay at nearby Northey Lodge campsite due to its close proximity to Whittlesey- an easy walk apparently. However, on arrival on Friday we had one of the most bizarre arrival and check in procedures that we’ve ever encountered, leaving us both rather creeped out to be perfectly honest, and so as the site itself was an absolute dump and the electrics were hanging off with loose wires on show, the shower covered in plastic and the next door caravan sporting a large “no valuables left inside” we made a sharp exit and went elsewhere.

Thankfully The Camping and Motorhome Club have a Club Site, Ferry Meadows Peterborough fairly close by and they could accommodate us for the weekend. Phew.

Friday night was spent downing a few beers and a homemade turkey balti whilst mulling over our day; it had started with us playing a gig and accompanying the State Secretary for Health in a dance with a resident at a celebration lunch and finished with this bizarre encounter at Northey Lodge.

Saturday arrived and it was time to figure out how we would get to Whittlesey. There was a bus stop nearby to the Campsite which we could have used along with a connecting bus in Peterborough, and also a train service from Peterborough but to get to the station was around a 4 mile walk. We needed up grabbing a local cab for just £14 each way for ease, speed and laziness. Once in Whittlesey we soon found the heart of the festival, on Market Street, and it wasn’t long until the Straw Bear had been located for a selfie! 🤳

There were loads of different Morris dancing teams, all with their own individual style and costume. Some had black face paint, others had multicoloured.

We found a souvenir programme and found the history of the Morris dancers really interesting. We also learnt that this is the biggest Morris dancing event in the UK and teams come from across the country to participate.

We followed the Straw Bear and his team of minders and musicians along the high street towards the Ivy Leaf where he was to have his lunch.

We made use of the hour and half gap to enjoy Morris Dancing displays outside the Wetherspoons, and of course sampling a few beers whilst we did. We particularly enjoyed the Straw Bear Ale. it was amazing to see some of the teams using really traditional instruments- we saw two hurdy-gurdy’s which was amazing!

After his lunch, the Straw Bear came back along the high street and weaved round the small streets and alleys, stopping at each pub for a dance with whichever Morris dancing team was already dancing in the car park or beer garden.

I don’t know if it were a coincidence or not, but as time ticked on and more pubs were visited, the Bear’s dancing became more and more lively. 😜

He’s being fed something in a tankard 😜

By 3pm, we’d found ourselves right in the heart of the Parade, humming along the tune of the March thoroughly captivated into the spirit of the event. It seemed like the entire town, young and older were out enjoying themselves- it’s obviously a real tradition here.

By 3.30 the finale had taken place, the Straw Bear had been joined by another and also a smaller bear and a mass dance along with the Morris dancers took place to mark the end of the day.

It had been a really unique experience for us “outsiders’ but we were made to feel welcome and we really enjoyed ourselves. What really surprised us was how many younger people were part of the Morris Dancers- it’s obviously still a very popular pastime.

Back at the campsite we settled in for the night and enjoyed a homemade carbonara and a bottle of wine. Ferry Meadows campsite is lovely and we will definitely return with our bikes next time as there are loads of off road paths.

Sunday dawned a beautiful winters morning, however it was chilly! It dropped to -4 last night as whilst we were snug as a bug in bed, the doors and windows had frozen up so we had to spend a few extra minutes in bed whilst we defrosted with the heater and kettle on. What a shame!

We decided to make the most of the beautiful day and do a walk so after a hearty breakfast, we waved goodbye to the site and drove 5 miles to nearby Elton.

Our 7.5 mile walk took in some really beautiful scenery along the Nene Way. The weather couldn’t have been any better – I just love this crisp winter sunshine on a frosty ground.

Half way into the walk we stumbled across the birthplace of Richard III and also the place where Mary Queen of Scots got beheaded in the small quaint village of Fotheringhay. The motte and bailey is really well preserved and although the castle remains are no longer there the views from the motte are spectacular. The church at Fotheringhay is also really interesting as it has a octagonal tower.

Fotheringhay Bridge was the earliest bridge over the Nene. This stone one dates from 1722 and replaced an original timber bridge.

We stopped for lunch at the Falcon Inn and made a note of the Certified Location Campsite right next to the Motte and Bailey- right on the river banks it looked a definite for us to return to someday.

What a varied but lovely weekend. Have a great week,

Until next time

Lx