New beginnings; Adventures on the Norfolk Broads.. in Gandalf

Gandalf the Grey is parked up on a lovely little Certified Location (a 5 van members only site with no facilities other than EHU) in Thurne on the Norfolk Broads. Home Farm is just 45 mins from our house, and although not quite on the banks of the river, the River Thurne is only a couple of hundred metres walk away and we also have a rather nice looking pub a minute way too. A perfect location for us to try out our new wheels!

The best thing about Gandalf is that all our pre existing gadgets have transferred across from Ruby, apart from the tow bar of course. “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” and this is a sentiment close to our heart after a terrific summer of campervanning in dear old Ruby.

We have made one slight change though. Keith, who has only ever been happy bbq-ing on coals, decided to give up charcoal in favour of a Cadac Safari chef. Mainly because the boot is slightly smaller in Gandalf, this saved having to carry charcoal etc around. It’s compact size fits in our boot a treat.

We’ve changed a few other small bits and bobs here and there and I will do a full list of our new gadgets shortly.

On arrival to our site, we set about our first camp set up. We filled with water at the tap as our water tank is now onboard and accessed through the tailgate. Up went the roof, and I soon discovered that my setting up jobs were minimal as now the food boxes live in the cupboards permanently there was barely anything to transfer from the boot! I helped Keefy with the tailgate awning and we fought with the wind and got the canopy up for an hour or so. The passenger captain chair swivels effortlessly and so we were literally set up and enjoying lunch within 30 minutes. Perfect!

We went for a wander round the local area, following a 2 mile geocaching trail and finished with a pint or two at the local pub before making our way back (with takeouts!) for showers in the tailgate awning and then a bbq dinner on the cadac. Everything worked like a dream and we were loving standing up!

We set the bed up early, eager to try out the last gadget – the 3 seater rock and roll seat which transfers into a wider and longer bed than we’ve been used to in Ruby, so we soon crashed out.

I woke in the night to use to the portapotti and couldn’t believe my eyes- the windows in the pop top gave a panoramic view of the blanket of stars twinkling away. I couldn’t resist sneaking out in my onesie through the tailgate awning to marvel at the Milky Way whilst everyone else on site (including my husband and dog!) was deep in the land of nod. I stood in awe whilst listening to the owls circling around us on the surrounding fields. I blooming love CL campsites.

Saturday morning dawned bright and breezy, and luckily for me, Keefy couldn’t wait to get the kettle on- he was eager to make the morning coffee with the added novelty of being able to stand up! I clearly had no issue with this! We decided to have a lazy morning – I read my book in bed whilst Keefy tinkered, and tinkered some more. It was like he had ants in his pants. He tells me he was enjoying having a good explore and fiddle of every nook and cranny of Gandalf- I was enjoying my book so all was well with the world.

At midday we decided to have an early lunch as we’d eyed up the pizza menu at the pub. Brisket, goats cheese and red onion pizza (s) – yes, we had one each 🐷 – inhaled, we set about a 4.5 mile circular walk along with River Thurne and past 3 gorgeous traditional wind pumps.

The weather was just incredible, not a cloud in the sky. The river was busy with holiday makers enjoying the last few weeks of the season on hire boats and the wind, although slightly gentler now, was rustling through the reeds and making the sails tinkle. It felt like the perfect day.

When we got back to Gandalf we decided to get the inflatable Banana chairs out and enter serious chill mode. We really needed this this weekend- it’s been so stressful getting back into work mode after the summer with so many changes to negotiate, it was like our minds were just beginning to process the last 6 months.

Dinner was a homemade curry. Like Keith, the novelty factor of standing up was great! How have we managed 4 years without a pop up?

After washing up we settled in to watch the Michael Mckintyre Netflix special which was hilarious, before doing some star gazing at a sociable time! These Norfolk skies really are spectacular when the conditions are good.

We both slept like logs Saturday night. All too soon though, after a bacon and egg sandwich made on the cadac,it was time to pack up and head home.

Gandalf gave me a parting gift of almost concussion- I really spanked my head hard on the bed section of the pop up near the passenger seat, and almost knocked myself out! 2 minutes later Keith almost broke his wrist getting the awning pegs out! What a pair we are! Despite that though, we’d had a terrific weekend and are thrilled to bits with Gandalf. Absolutely smitten!

Until next time – which will be next weekend as we’ve (hopefully, no lockdown permitting) got another expedition planned- yay!

Lx

We have some news…

On Friday we said a very said farewell to our beloved Ruby the VW.

And so, we’d like you all to meet our new wheels, Gandalf the Grey!

When we got Ruby in February 2017 it was an experiment. We had to get rid of Ruby’s predecessor Bluebell quickly. We knew we wanted to try downsizing to enable us to just have one vehicle that we used for day to day and holidays, and store at home but, with Keith being 6 foot 4 we had no idea if it would work.

3.5 years later, 75k miles and 160 nights away, we’ve decided, yes, it does work and we flipping love it.

So why have we swapped vans?

Ruby was ageing, and quickly!

This summer our clock passed 228,000 miles. Everyone says a VW goes forever, and to be honest we’re sure Ruby has got some adventures in her still to come. But as she’s our only drive we add 1000s of miles a month, and we felt it was time to slash our clock basically whilst we still could. We didn’t want to loose our investment in her and wanted to get some money (or a part exchange opportunity) in whilst we still could.

We spent some time whilst in Kent recently exploring some options as to what happens next in our Campervan journey. We thought this may be chance to go a touch bigger, and looked at a brand new Adria Twin, based on a Fiat. Whilst the fixed bed at the back was lovely, the rest of van didn’t feel spacious enough for what was going to be a big difference and many compromises in day to day driving for us. Keith was keen to explore the options of a van with onboard shower and loo, but, seeing as he couldn’t fit in it, it was pointless!

That looks like a perfect shower position… not!

We found ourselves at Bilbo’s and fell in love with their pop up roofs. Can you believe we’ve had Ruby all this time and never been in a VW with a pop up?! We specifically like the Bilbo roof as it’s side opening which means you get the height right down the length of the van. We ALMOST caved and ordered a brand new, custom built for us, t6 there and then.

It was a surreal moment sat in their show van with a shopping list of toffees what we wanted to be added! But alas, they couldn’t take Ruby as a PX and it was logistically too difficult to PX elsewhere and be without a van for 4 months. In the end the black horse finance that we would have needed to rely on came out at paying over £20,000 in interest. Er, no thanks! That was the end of that.

The very next day I just happened (and this genuinely happened) to see a second hand Bilbo conversion on Facebook marketplace. I’ve never even been on marketplace before! It was being sold by a dealer in Bedford and had only 19,000 miles on the clock! We made arrangements to see it the next day and 10 days later here we are about to be picking him up.

I’ll do another post shortly showing Gandalf off to you properly but the pics below were taken Friday night after we picked him up in the morning, kitted him out in the afternoon and went for dinner down the road in the evening.

We couldn’t NOT call him Gandalf, despite me never naming a car a male name in my life! He’s a Bilbo’s conversion (Bilbos named their company after Bilbo Baggins, a small and seemly insignificant character who travelled across worlds in the famous book Hobbit/ Lord of the Rings- taken from their website). Gandalf is a key character who travels extensively in both Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, both of which Keith particularly loves. There was no way our new van would be named anything else!

We look forward to sharing our switch over with you!

Until next time

Lx

Adventures in Kent

Friday

Ruby the VW is parked at Alderstead Heath Club site just off the M25 near to Caterham. Despite its very close proximity to the M25 it’s a delightfully peaceful retreat set within trees and countryside. We’ve stayed here before and we picked it again as it’s very close to Keith’s dad and step mum’s house. We’re down here catching up for a couple of days so other than a pic I took of Ruby using my new night vision mode on my new iPhone there’s not too much to say about our stay here.

But it’s an ideal base for touring Surrey- there’s a number of National Trust properties close by and Gatwick airport is also close (great for plane spotting and using the flight radar app to see whether everyone is returning from!) We were supposed to visit Chartwell whilst here with Keith’s dad but that ended up not happening due us having to whisk him off to A and E after slicing his hand open whilst washing up!

Sunday saw us change location; we moved down the road to the outskirts of Hever, Kent. Our site for the night was the absolutely brilliant Pigdown Farm. It’s a caravan and Motorhome club Certified location (5 van site) and had nothing other than a water tap, bin and basic emptying point. But at £5 a night and more space than we knew what to do with, plus an easy walk to the pretty and very historical village of Hever what more could we wish for.

We met up with Keith’s brother and sister in law and enjoyed lunch in the pub, the historical Henry VIII which sits opposite to Anne Boleyn’s childhood home, Hever Castle.

After lunch we enjoyed a couple of hours exploring the grounds of Hever Castle with our pre booked tickets. We didn’t have Jazz on this trip because we’d read Hever wasn’t dog friendly, but there were loads of dogs out and about so we must have made a mistake. Sorry Jazz, we deprived you of a trip!

Having said that, on our return to the campsite it became clear that not having Jazz was a blessing when our campsite field got invaded by sheep!

We made the most of the fact the campsite was empty other than one caravan literally the other side (probably a third of a mile away!!) by inviting Keith’s brother, sister in law and our friend who live ten mins down the road over for a drink and a catch up which a lovely and the canopy really came into its own as the heavens opened! They were in hysterics as the sheep came! It’s was a lovely afternoon and evening.

Monday arrived and we moved on; our first stop was to Lullingstone Roman Villa,a bucket list visit for Keefy.

Lullingstone was uncovered in the 1930s and is deemed one of the best preserved remains of a Roman villa to be found so far in the UK. It includes a fabulous mosaic floor along with some original paintwork and plaster! Also lots of artefacts have also been uncovered. We enjoyed a brilliant visit here, it blew me away when I got my first view of the villa.

From here we moved onto the nearby Eynsford Castle, equally as impressive because it has absolutely huge (and rare) curtain walls, and they are almost complete. Eynsford is also quite rare because it wasn’t changed or adapted since it was built in the late Norman era.

We had lunch here before stocking up on some supplies and moving onto our next campsite, a 30 minute drive to Hilders Farm, overlooking Bough Beech reservoir. We have electric hook up tonight but no other facilities and at just £12 pn we feel this is a fair price. This site felt much smaller than the previous one (the other one was HUGE!), but we were the only ones here in the end.

A caravan packed up and left after we set up (they were escaping the storm due) and the other caravan was in storage. The weather became slightly mixed but our canopy allowed us to sit out nonetheless. What a great investment that’s been!

We had a bbq for dinner before having an earlyish night. The winds started softly during the night but our tailgate awning did well in it.

Tuesday dawned rainy and we set about our first rainy pack away of the summer! We’ve got it down to a fine art now though and it took us just over 30 mins. We headed the short drove to Penshurst Place and Gardens. When we booked this at the beginning of Aug the Baron’s hall was not open but luckily for us and the wash out that is today, last week the Baron’s Hall reopened so we were able to go and look.

Baron’s Hall is a medieval hall house dating from 1340 and is absolutely wonderful! It’s 60ft high and has a hammer beam roof similar to Westminster Hall (but on a smaller scale obviously!). No pics allowed sadly.

The gardens are extensive and we enjoyed a wander around despite the wet weather.

From here, we could have visited Hever as we were once again very close. There is also a carriage route turned into a footpath between Penshurst and Hever Castle. If it hadn’t been so wet we’d have had a wander down that.

We were close to Chartwell and Emmett’s Garden National trust here, so as you can see this area is certainly worth basing yourselves in. Keith’s stepmother tells me them at Emmetts garden is worth a visit for the Bluebells so we will make a visit next spring for sure.

We however moved an hour further south from Penshurst for our third and final campsite of our mini break. We arrived at Devenden Farm just near to Cranbrook, Kent. At just £7pn it was another no frills basic site with just a tap and emptying point, but the views were fabulous across the Kent Weald.

Again the field was large and as we didn’t have hook up we could pitch anywhere. We are both really enjoying these quiet sites. We shared the site with a tent right at the other end. By now the rain had stopped but it was a bit drafty so we got our canopy and awning out to dry which it did very quickly. We managed the awning up until bed time but took it down as it was blowing a hooley!

We cooked a lovely chicken saag curry for dinner and enjoyed watching the sun go down whilst drinking Kent ale and Kent gin!

We slept very well despite the wind and woke up Wednesday to glorious blue skies and sunshine.

We packed up and drove the short distance to Bodiam Castle. What a treat!! Bodiam Castle is a spectacular fairytale moated 14th century castle. The inside is ruins (and also not open currently due to Covid) but the outside is worth a trip alone! We LOVED it!

From here we made the short journey to Bateman’s National Trust site- once home to Rudyard Kipling. I made Keefy laugh as I thought it was the home of exceeding good cakes! But he reminded me all the books I had read by Kipling, my personal favourite being the Jungle Book.

The house itself is a wonderful Jacobean Manor House. It also has a brilliant example of a Oast House; we’ve seen many as we’ve driven through Kent this week. They were built to store hops. We’ve also noticed many of the houses in these Kent villages have slate on the exterior walls.

The gardens were lovely at Batemans and we will definitely revisit when the house reopens as apparently it’s been left exactly as it was during Kipling’s time here.

For now though, it was time to head back home. We’d had a lovely time away again. Interestingly we’d used Ruby differently this time, moving on to a new campsite each day. I was worried about this when we booked the trip however I needn’t have. We’ve got it down to 30 mins now set up and pack away!

The stars of the show were the 5 van sites with no hook up. We are Loving these whilst it’s warm enough to shower in the awning. We perhaps need to consider a larger leisure battery to enable us to do more of these in the future. Who knows. The thing about our camping is it constantly evolves!

Hoping to have a weekend away towards the end of September but for now it’s all about the return to work. So wish us luck on that!

Until next time

Lx

Adventures in Stonehaven

Adventures in Stonehaven 

Ruby the VW is parked up on the now dry Stonehaven Caravan and Motorhome club site. We’re just on the outskirts of Stonehaven, on the East Coast of Scotland underneath Aberdeen. The site is a standard C&MC Club site, although after the last few nights of being surrounded by terrific views, we can’t help but feel a bit ‘meh’!

The purpose of our visit here is to visit the quaint harbour and the hidden gem that is Dunnotter Caste. The campsite is ideally located for both of these – just a short walk to the harbour and a little further to the castle along the coast path.

As its Friday we decided to treat ourselves to a nice fish meal in one of the pubs here. Seeing as the campsite facilities were open we also decided to treat ourselves to a long hot shower beforehand so I decided to declare it a date night, and therefore I even put some make up on for the first time in over a week! 

We walked along the sea front to the harbour and enjoyed a nice meal in The Ship Inn. Cullen Skink to start and Haddock and chips for main, both of us enjoyed the meal and the view out to the harbour. 

After dinner we took a wander around the harbour and enjoyed looking at all the fishing boats before heading back to Ruby for an earlyish night; the weather had turned a bit cooler on the coast and all our excitement of the previous days had begun to catch up on me!

Saturday dawned not quite as bright as the weather forecast has suggested, but no rain which meant our 10th day with no rain during the day. Hurrah! First job was to extract a tick on Jazz’s eye lid. Thank goodness I had my tweezers! We donned our walking books and set off again back into the harbour area, stopping for lunch at The Seafood Bothy – which we’d eyed up last night. They are a converted horse trailer which sell posh seafood lunches for takeaway – and all the seafood comes off their own boat. We ordered two lobster wraps, for collection in half an hour; just time to nip and try a pint of lager in The Maine Hotel bar; 6 degrees north. They brew their own lagers and ales. In fact we’ve noticed more and more local lager becoming more of a thing on this trip. It was very nice and refreshing.

The lobster wraps were delicious. Whilst we were enjoying them the fisherman (and assuming husband of the lady in the trailer) asked us what we’d gone for, when we told him he said “good choice, I caught those lobsters less than 20 hours ago!” Great!! 

After lunch we set about our walk to Dunnottar Castle. The first bit out of the harbour was very very steep! But once up on the cliff top it was a fairly easy walk and we were rewarded with lovely views, especially when the castle came into view. 

On Wednesday, after all the rainfall, Dunnottar Castle suffered a landslide which resulted in them closing the castle. Saturday was its first day reopening and we could see the damage caused as we descended to the entrance of the castle. 

Dunnottar Castle is a hidden gem, let me tell you! We LOVED our visit so much. There is absolutely loads to see including some amazing bread ovens that have survived since the 1400s, an original cistern, brewery! Also some of the walls and chimneys that have survived all these years were just incredible, considering their position on the coastline and the years and years of battering they must have endured.

The Scottish Crown Jewels were hidden here from Oliver Cromwell’s army in the 17th Century. We spent a good few hours here exploring the nooks and crannies, before making our way back along the coast path to Stonehaven. It took about 45 minutes the way each way from the harbour.

We stopped for one last beer on the front before walking back to Ruby via what should have been the Coop. Although. We got distracted by the Carron Fish Bar and its huge sign saying that it had ‘won the best fish and chip shop in Scotland award 2020’ and also ‘top 10 in UK’. I’m sure that it will come as no surprise that we changed our meal plans and went for our second haddock and chips in 24hours! The Carron Fish Bar was also the birthplace of the deep fried Mars bar but Keefy drew the line at me having one of those. We had a very quick walk back to Ruby to be able to enjoy our fish and chip supper with a nice glass of white at Ruby.