Preparing for COVID safe Camping, in a VW Campervan

First Day of Spring 2021: The Spring Equinox | Spring equinox, Spring  wallpaper, Spring pictures

Today marks the first day of Spring, HOORAY – we have officially survived the long and mostly miserable winter. It’s now only a week to go until the long anticipated Easter Holidays (for our county anyway!), a date that for many heralds the first camping trip of the year.

This year however is different, with COVID still lingering and the UK still living in a restricted, locked down life, Easter Camping trips are a no go (unless you live in Wales). Who’d have thought this would be our reality still, a year ago today schools closed, then pubs and then well, you know the rest. Still, despite all the doom and gloom, the hard days are beginning to look a bit more positive and the road map set to return to us to normality will hopefully do its job. 

If all goes well, and numbers continue to fall, the magic date of April 12th is for many of us circled, underlined and highlighted in our diaries, as this is the first day that those in England can stay away from home overnight in self contained accomodation. As per the whole of the last year, there are of course rules; the main one being that campsites are unable to open any shared facilities, therefore toilet blocks and shower rooms etc will be closed until May 17th.  For many, even when shared facilities DO reopen, they would prefer not to use them. We are not here to cast an opinion on your views, but as we managed a large number of camping trips last summer, in that precious window of openness, we wanted to share our top tips on successful and safe camping during COVID, and how we are preparing for trips to come.

 1. Turning our tailgate area into our own private en suite.

Perhaps not for the faint hearted at this time of year, but, we have a fabulous Tailgate awning- a tent which is quickly placed over the tailgate door, and when the tailgate opens its turns the space directly behind the vehicle into an extra living space. Simply peg the bottom of the awning down, and we’re all set. It’s remarkable design means that we can still close the tailgate door and lock the vehicle, whilst the awning still stands in place (along with anything that is being stored in there). In there we place the portable loo and and a portable paddling pool, which we stand in to shower! Talking of showers, we have a 12v shower, and a solar shower bag, which we heat during the day and pour into the shower bucket, which the shower pump then goes into and we’re all set. We have not used this in April before, but we did use it in October. We topped up the solar water with a couple of kettles of hot water and were rewarded with a lovely warm shower. Crocs are a very useful addition to our camping shower experience. 

  1. Picking smaller campsites.

We tried to avoid larger campsites last summer, instead choosing small 5 van sites, with no facilities as we had no need for them with our wonderful ensuite. 5 van sites – called Certified Sites if affiliated with the Camping and Caravanning Club or Certified Locations if affiliated with the Camping and Motorhome Club are in our opinion WONDERFUL. Not only are they often much cheaper – some start as low as £5pn, they often have much more space, as they can be set on meadows or fields behind houses. They also are only licensed to have 5 vans on so you know they aren’t going to be crowded. Some are Adults only- not that we don’t like kids, but working with them can mean ‘Adult only’ sites are precious to us in school holidays when we want to completely unwind and have some peace and quiet. For the majority of these sites you do need to be a member of which ever club it’s affiliated to, but membership is around £50 for a year and we truly feel that this membership is made back again with the lower price of the small site fee.

  1. Sanitise, Sanitise, Sanitise. 

Unless you’ve been living in a cardboard box for the last year, I’m sure we are all well practiced in the art of having hand sanitiser in every single bag, coat pocket etc etc. In terms of COVID safe camping, we made sure we washed or sanitised hands before taking the chemical loo to the emptying point, and immediately after, and also before and after going to the water tap or bins.  The first trip in July that we took after Lockdown 1.0,  we were asked to use rubber gloves when using the taps etc, which we did, but we prefer to avoid using disposable gloves etc as we try to be careful with our waste and get upset with too much non recyclable waste floating in the ocean. Instead we would rather wash hands with soap and water before and after touching communal service points. 

  1. Making sure we abide by Campsite rules at all times. 

Rules change rapidly, and so whilst we think we may know what we are allowed to do/not allowed to do, the campsite owners have the latest updated info, and so we always make a point of seeking out their COVID regulations before we travel to them, a day or so beforehand. That way we can be prepared when we arrive. 

  1. Social distancing from other guests.

Again, this is something that most of us are well practiced in now, but sometimes holiday head can prevail! We very much look forward to being able to be within 2 metres of someone, (although maybe if the solar shower thing isn’t such a hit in April camping trips this won’t be a bad thing!) but for now, we are making sure we keep our distance from people as we don’t want to unknowingly pass on COVID to you, or equally receive it as parting gift. No thanks! 

What precautions are you planning for your trips? Will you be rushing out in April, or waiting until facility blocks reopen? We’d love to hear your thoughts on how to plan COVID safe camping trips. 

Keep safe everyone, and all being well there is only 23 days til we can be back on the open road! 

Until Next Time

Lx

Emerging from Hibernation; aka Lockdown 3.0

I should start with a Happy New Year to you all!

It’s been a while since I blogged, and for that I apologise. In all honesty, like a lot of people, I’ve found the bleak and cold winter months in Lockdown difficult and I lost my “Mojo!”. Losing our “Twixmas” break to the Lake District wasn’t a surprise; it was a bit like watching a car crash in slow motion as we got closer and closer to Xmas, and we entered Tier 4 on Boxing Day. Just like that our dreams of seeing in 2021 under the majestic canopy of Scafell in Gandalf were shelved. Cosy thoughts of enjoying a pint in the Wasdale Head were replaced with a bottle of Wainwrights Ale on the Tesco shop.

We rescheduled our campsites to February half term and threw ourselves into life at home, trying to keep our spirits up as much as we could. When news of campsites being closed for the whole of February broke, we rescheduled everything again, this time to Easter. We spent our time working as much as we could online – feeling thankful to have the routine and focus during the week, but struggling massively once we logged off for the weekend. For me, my coping strategy involved working to a list. Weekends were mapped out, with things as menial as what we were having for breakfast and at what time, what film we would watch and at what time, how many chapters of my book would I read and when. Not everyone’s idea of a relaxing weekend I know, but for me it kept me focused, and helped me cope with this sense of loosing our freedom once more.

We’ve been spending a lot of time walking – something which has also helped both our minds. For the third year in a row, we enrolled to the walk 1000 miles challenge and whilst like everyone else so far, we have only managed local walks, which at times feel boring and repetitive, its giving us a focus, and its well documented about the merits of walking when you’re feeling a bit fragile.

Despite the fact that we haven’t been further than Thetford – 9 miles away and where our nearest supermarket is, we’ve found some lovely local walks that we’d never heard of before, and have spent hours pouring over the OS app trying to find some different routes. A highlight of this was finding a disused railway track turned into recreational path just down the road which we hadn’t walked before. Also The Devil’s Punchbowl – just down the road!

Reading has featured a lot in my downtime and I have enjoyed keeping a log of what I read since Xmas.

There have been two stand out reads – the Tim Peake autobiography and Where The Crawdad’s Sing. We’ve watched some great films too and Keith converted our living room into a portable ODEON cinema. Notable films that we enjoyed have been The Martian (we were inspired by the extraordinary NASA coverage of the landing of their Mars Rover), Edie, News of The World, White Tiger and Greenland. Keith rewatched the entire Star Wars collection and I enjoyed The Queens Gambit on Netflix. We also REALLY enjoyed watching Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boreman’s ‘Long Way Round’ and ‘Long Way Down’ documentaries of their travel adventures on Motorbike – the first where they travelled from London to New York but via the East, so Russia and then Alaska/Canada, and the second followed their journey from Lands End to Cape Town; super inspiring- and we can’t believe these were done in 2004 and 2007 and we’ve never watched them before.

We enjoyed taking part in the RSPB Bird count at the end of January and have been enjoying keeping track of our garden wildlife with this outdoor garden camera. We are super excited to bring this with us on our camping trips when they are allowed again, in the hope to pick up some interesting wildlife. 

Talking of future camping trips; we’ve finally gotten around to planning some trips for when (or should we say IF) the campsites open again any time soon. We’ve got a few weekend trips lined up for April and May- where we will be using our tailgate awning and using our own facilities, and possibly a few days in Cornwall at the end of May – I say possibly because technically we should be in Peru, which hasn’t been cancelled yet… but I think is highly unlikely to take place. From the end of June, we’ve booked every other weekend away until the start of August, in the hope to complete the Thames Path, an ambition of mine for a while. I spent hours and hours with my head in this terrific book planning a way for us to use Gandalf the Campervan as we walk along the 184 mile National Trail and will be very excited and proud to share our plans and experiences if the country gets itself out of lockdown in time for us to get walking! 

Short term plans for the next level of lockdown lifting on March 29th are to walk the Peddars Way path, which goes very close to our house at its most southerly point. We’ve walked as far as Castle Acre a couple of years ago, but have decided in the name of training for the TVP that we will take 4 days over the Easter Holidays to walk the whole length of it from Knettishall Heath to Hunstanton. With the help of my Mum and her car, we can do this as day trips and I think it is allowed by then as we will be remaining in Norfolk (unless things change that is!)

We’ve got Gandalf booked in for his towbar fitting in a couple of weeks which means we can take the bikes out when restrictions ease a touch. I can’t put in to words how much I am looking forward to using him as a leisure vehicle again. Even the thought of just being able to go and pop the top and have a picnic within Norfolk makes me emotional right now. 

Having said all of this, we have lots to be thankful for. All of our family have remained safe and well and everyone (including Keith) except my brother in law and me has had their vaccine jab no.1 (or is booked in and about to have it). Whilst I have found it difficult at times to remain positive at times since Christmas, just this last paragraph alone is proof that we have come a long long way since the end of December, and that in itself brings enormous hope for the weeks ahead.

I hope you have all been keeping well. Have you got any trips booked in, or are you waiting to see what happens next?

It’s been lovely writing out my thoughts – I promise not to leave it so long until next time! 

Lx 

A Christmas escape, full of light and hope; Blenheim Palace Dec 12th/13th

Gandalf the VW Campervan is parked on a fairly quiet Caravan and Motorhome Club Site on the outskirts of Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire. We are sat here pinching ourselves, quite amazed that we’ve managed to make this trip. The odds seemed so against us fulfilling a trip that we booked months and months ago, we’ve barely dared mention it, let alone think about what to expect.

When we booked this back in July I think, we were just coming out of lockdown #1. Christmas seemed ages away and talk was that we’d be near enough through the end of this awful pandemic by then. It seemed a good idea to not book a European Xmas market trip, but we felt sure a trip to Blenheim Palace Christmas Light trail would be an easy escape. The days and months ticked by, new restriction upon new restriction came and then changed. We quickly realised that things weren’t as close to returning to normal as we’d hoped so shelved any further plans and just let this little trip to Blenheim sit in our diary, not daring to think about it at all. Lockdown #2 came and went, and then came the tiers. The chances of us and our destination being in tier 2 to enable us to make this trip seemed unlikely, but here we are. We were immensely lucky to be able to grab a change of scenery and we were going to enjoy it as who knows when we will manage it again.

The C&MC club site on the outskirts of Blenheim Palace is great (Bladen Chains). It’s walkable to Blenheim Palace and the pretty small town of Woodstock, where every building is built in Cotswold Stone.

On arrival to the site we enjoyed a quick set up and cracked open some fizz. The weather gods were shining down on us, and although it was cold, the sun was out, so we wrapped up and had half an hour sat outside the van, watching the day visitor cars exit the Blenheim estate.

We enjoyed Mulled wine and amaretto before walking to nearby Bladen, and The White House pub where we’d pre booked a table for dinner. The White House was allegedly Winston Churchill’s old local- I hope the food and service was better for him – we had a so-so meal and left underwhelmed. We walked in the footpath towards Woodstock (20 mins) where we saw 4 or 5 much prettier pubs – but sadly tier 2 restrictions on having to have a meal meant they were largely empty.

We continued into Blenheim estate for our timed entry to the light show. Immediately we knew we were in for a treat- the projection/light show on the house alone was absolutely sensational.

The rest of the trail did not disappoint- in fact it completely overwhelmed us and we both ended up crying several times on the circuit. Each section was carefully constructed with its own theme/song. The lights utilised the landscaping of the grounds, and the mix of Christmas music used was fabulous. It was atmospheric, tasteful and just utterly mesmerising. By the far the best Christmassy experience we’ve been on in the UK, and we’ve done a few now- nothing ever has surpassed Kew Gardens, until we visited Blenheim.

We took our time, making a couple of stops at the festive bars of course and drinking the atmosphere in. We were pleased to see that although it was fairly busy, everyone was making an effort to adhere to social distancing throughout.

After we exited we walked the short distance alongside the estate exit road back to the campsite, where we enjoyed a dram under the stars, watching the meteroid shower that happily was peaking this weekend.

Sunday dawned wet and grey but this wasn’t going to dampen our spirits. We’d got timed tickets for the inside of the house thanks to our Tesco Clubcard points so after a bacon butty and a hot shower in the heated block we made our way back to Blenheim Palace.

The Christmas tree display inside was stunning and we enjoyed our visit – although sad that we couldn’t see the room in which Churchill was born, it gives us an excuse to return another day.

After our self guided tour we headed back into Woodstock for lunch at a pub, before making our way back to Gandalf for mulled cider and a big chill. It felt wonderful to be away and enjoying chill time in Gandalf as so far our trips since getting him have been more jam packed and faster paced.

Sunday night we were treated to another wonderful display of the meteroid shower- I’ve never seen so many shooting stars. They were like natures own light show.

Monday morning soon arrived and we had set our alarms bright and early as we had to return in time to begin work.

We arrived home feeling re charged, thankful to have escaped for a couple of days and ready to face whatever comes next.

We’re supposed to be away for New Year but that’s looking unlikely so for now we’re hunkered up at home keeping ourselves and our family safe.

Christmas is going to be different for many of us this year, but whatever you end up doing, keep safe and well. Fingers crossed there is light at the end of this dark and gloomy tunnel.

Merry Christmas

And until next time

Lx

Kitting out our VWT5 SWB Bilbo’s Campervan

We started motorhoming in 2010 in a large traditional shaped white motorhome.

Over the following 7 years we acquired more and more “stuff”, then suddenly we had to downsize to Ruby, with was an experiment in itself. Would we cope with the smaller leisure vehicle? We were amazed that most of our stuff from our motorhoming days still fit in – Ruby was a LWB T5 and significantly smaller that Bluebell and Daisy. But over the 3.5 years we had her, we felt we were becoming more and more cluttered. We did carry A LOT! So when we downsized once more, this time to a SWB T5 we decided a ruthless sort out was in order. As we reloaded Gandalf we couldn’t believe how much we fit in once more, but with space to spare! Below we’ve listed exactly what we carry to enhance our camping experience, along with where it gets stored!

Bathroom

12v Shower with bucket – stored in Boot

Folding Paddling pool to stand in to collect waste – stored in Boot

335 Porta loo – which fits underneath the seat when travelling. It sits under a piece of carpet which makes sliding it out very easy and smooth. As soon as we are parked up (if we put up the tailgate awning) this is transferred into the tailgate awning. The cupboard is then used for our clothes bags and shoes.

Micro fibre towels

Kitchen

Cadac Safari chef – stored in Boot

Slow cooker – stored in Boot

Remoska – stored in Boot

Moules pan – stored in Boot

Ridge monkey – stored in Boot

Multi pan for breakfasts – stored in Boot

Hairy bikers cast iron frying pan – stored in Boot

Square griddle pan with folding handle – stored in Boot

Small egg frying pan – stored in Kitchen cupboard

Camembert baker – stored in kitchen cupboard

2 saucepans (from Home bargains) – 1 large, 1 small – stored in Boot

Corelli Unbreakable Plate set– stored in kitchen cupboard

Melamine mugs – stored in kitchen cupboard

2x pint glasses -stored in kitchen cupboard

2 x on the rocks glasses – stored in kitchen cupboard

2x wine glasses – stored in kitchen cupboard

Cafetière – stored in overhead locker

Silicone colander – stored in kitchen cupboard

Grater – stored in kitchen cupboard

Steak knives – stored in kitchen cupboard

Small Spice jars – stored in kitchen cupboard

Collapsible washing up bowl– stored in boot

2 soup flasks– stored on overhead locker

Whistling kettle – stored under seat

Travel Kettle for EHU – Stored under seat

3.5 litre electric kettle to aid our shower bucket! – stored under seat

Bedroom

For the winter; fleecy duvet set and 13 tog duvet

Fleece blanket

2x hot water bottle

For the summer; lighter duvet with cotton cover set.

Storing them…. Day to day, the duvet and pillows are stored behind the seat. When we travel we add our clothes bag on top, along with the food box.

Garage / in the boot

Short hose pipe with attachments

20l plastic Jerry can with screw on hose nossel – stored in boot

Levelling chocks stored in boot

External screen – stored in Boot until on site

Tailgate awning – stored on bedding until on site

Eurohike Windbreak – stored on bedding until on site

Canopy for awning rail (attached permanently in the roof gutter) stored on bedding until on site

Folding Camping Chairs stored on bedding until on site

Table stored on bedding until on site

Dog spike stored in boot

Inflatable Loungers stored in Boot

Storage

Folding storage cube for extra seat and foot stool. – Folded up behind the drivers seat next to the table.

Plastic boxes x 2 – one lives under the seat with cleaning items in; washing up liquid, micro fibre clothes, floor wipes, kitchen roll etc. One has gin, wine, food that is brought out from the house as we leave. It travels on the back above the bedding, and when we park up it sits on the pop top shelf along with the cleaning box.

Entertainment

Roberts radio

iPad Pro – loaded with Netflix, bbc iPlayer, prime video, and Monopoly

Kindle

iPhone 11 Pro Max for photos/videos

Polaroid and Sproket Instant Printer

Inflatable paddle board – this only comes on occasions that we know we will use it and when parked up on site is stored either in the tailgate awning or in the front footwell.

Walking boots – put on the floor and moved into the front footwell when parked

Cagoules and Fleeces/Hats and Gloves – stored in Wardrobe

Walking books: 1001 Walks AA Pub Walks in a Box

Insect and plant book

Foraging book

Campervan cooking book 200 Slow Cooker Cookbook – above books all stored in overhead locker

Navigation

Garmin CamperVan Sat Nav

Click here to buy Garmin Campervan

Other

Atera Strada Tow Bar mounted bike rack and 2 Electric Bikes – these come on most trips but not all

110W Flexible Solar Panel – sized to the pop up roof permanently.

110w Leisure battery

Adventures with our National Trust membership card…

Gandalf the VW Campervan is parked at Alderstead Heath Campsite for the night, just off the M25 in Surrey. This is our third trip here; the reason for our return visit is that Keith’s dad lives just ten mins down the road – although the campsite is well worth a visit in its own right.

We’ve spent the weekend giving our National Trust membership card a bashing. On Friday we stayed local but took Keefy’s mum for a day out to Ickworth House National trust on the outskirts of Bury St Edmunds. We’ve visited before and it’s one of our favourites. Ickworth’s iconic Rotunda is just re-emerging from many months under scaffolding as the NT undertook a large re roofing project but the extensive woodlands are worth visiting, especially at the time of year as the leaves start to turn into a wonderful autumnal display.

We spent some time geocaching and also really enjoyed looking at an outdoor photography exhibition too before showing off Gandalf whilst we had a picnic lunch.

Keith received his flu jab first thing on Saturday, following this we made a mad dash to Alderstead Heath, arriving just after midday. We had a super speed set up as my father in law picked us up promptly at 12:30 and we set off for a couple of hours wandering around the grounds of Chartwell, former country home to Winston Churchill. (Dog friendly)

The remainder of the day we spent at Barry and Valerie’s enjoying some quality family time together before getting dropped back to Gandalf later on that evening.

Parakeets visit my father in law’s garden

Sunday dawned really sunny and a perfect autumnal day. We started as we meant to carry on; a full cooked breakfast. Yum! My breakfast pan copes very well on our new hob layout and I LOVED being able to stand up whilst cooking it!

On the way back to Norfolk we stopped at a (pre booked) visit to Emmetts Garden.

Emmets Garden stands at one of the highest points in Kent. The views from the hillside gardens are fabulous and the gardens host many exotic species of plant, tree and shrub. Neither of us had been before and we really loved our visit. The colours were sensational and the blue skies did wonders for our mood after a hard few weeks back at school,

I also achieved a week long ambition – yes really!- of spotting a Fly Agaric. Any ideas what that is?!

A popular pastime this week has been spotting as many different types of fungi as possible. Here’s just some that we spotted on our local dog walk last week…

But my top two have been…

This Beefsteak Mushroom at Ickworth House NT
An arial view of the Beefsteak mushroom

… and this pièce de résistance today

Just two more weeks til (hopefully, Boris allowing) we can dart off for a week in Half term. We’re keeping everything crossed! For now we are feeling reenergised and grateful to have had some time to reconnect with nature this weekend; and of course spend some family time with our nearest and dearest.

Until next time

Lx

PS I need a haircut!

Adventures in London 🇬🇧

Gandalf the Grey is nestled underneath a rather famous landmark on the London Skyline. No, it’s not the Big Ben, or the London Eye; it’s the radio transmitter mast at Crystal Palace!

We’ve had this break booked in for some time, and have been carefully monitoring whether we’d be able to able to travel and actually make the trip for some time too. The reason for the visit was to make use of our historic Royal Palaces membership which we invested in for the coming year: in February.

After a fairly smooth journey to London on Friday morning we had a very quick set up before jumping on the conveniently located number 3 bus which stops near enough outside the campsite and takes you all the way to Westminster. We then made our way west on the District line towards Kensington. We paused for a drink before making our way to Kensington Palace; childhood home to Queen Victoria and many of the young royals over the past few years; including Princess Diana and even now, HRH Prince William and the Duchess Kate.

Kensington Palace turned out to be a highlight of our visit. They focused on 3 different eras of Royals, one of which was Queen Victoria and there were quite a few original items on display that belonged to the young Queen, including an old dress from when she was 12 years old and her Coronation Robe.

Because of a Covid tickets are pre book only and we hit jackpot as we were the only ones there! We had a very happy few hours wandering around taking in every room. Personal highlights for me were seeing a room where court composer Handel played and seeing a dress of Princess Diana’s.

After our visit we took a wander around Kensington Gardens, enjoying the bright Autumn sunshine and the fact that we’d escaped terrible weather in Norfolk!

We popped for a drink at another pub in Kensington before making our way to our previous booked table at a local Thai, which was fabulous! New laws had just come in meaning we needed to wear masks which we were more than happy to do as we entered and exited pubs and restaurants, and the whole system was working well and we felt safe.

Can you believe this was taken at 7.30pm on Friday night in central London.

Saturday dawned bright but chilly and were were up fairly early admiring the Crystal Palace mast through our pop up windows! We took the number 3 bus again, this time alighting at Brixton before jumping on the tube to Borough Market. We had a drink at the historic National Trust pub, The George, a Galleried pub underneath the Shard, before picking up fish and chips at Borough Market.

We then walked along the River Thames to Tower Bridge before crossing it and entering The Tower of London.

Like yesterday it was very quiet, there were no queues for the Crown Jewels, we could take our time and when there were areas that clogged up (the Bloody Tower) we were able to stand back and wait for others to clear out. It was amazing seeing not only the Crown Jewels but all the other coronation equipment such as the 12th Century spoon that is used and even an 11th C chess piece.