Touring The Thames Valley: Part 1, Chertsey

The Thames Towpath has been on our list of places to visit for quite a while now, but as with all these things, things get bumped up/down, life or sometimes long haul trips get in the way, you know how it goes. We both naturally enjoy being around water and enjoy walking and cycling along Rivers and Canals. For one thing, they are usually dead flat – so no sneaky hills for us to contend with!

This Summer Holiday gave us the ideal opportunity to get cracking on our Thames Towpath walk, and luckily we were able to get booked on to a couple of Club sites in ideal locations for us. So, after a gig on Friday morning, we threw everything we needed into Ruby the VW Campervan and set off south, only getting caught up briefly around Heathrow, which wasn’t bad considering it was the Friday before the last bank holiday and we were travelling in the afternoon.

Our first campsite base was the Camping and Caravan Club site at Chertsey – situated right on the banks of the Thames, overlooking Chertsey Lock and Weir it was an ideal location for us. The Club Site was clean, spacious and tidy and we were very happy with our pitch which had a lovely view of the river.

Last night I made a homemade Chicken Dhansak which I’d portioned up for our dinner tonight – an easy and delicious meal for our first night. Across the road from the club site is a 24 hours Spa and Petrol station so after a quick wander down the Thames and a pint at the local pub, The Kingfisher, we popped in and picked up a samosa to accompany our DIY curry night. The fresh samosas heated up very well in our Ridgemonkey.

As the site is situated close by to Heathrow, you get to watch the planes as they are ascending. We downloaded an app called Flight radar which was amazing as it told us where the flight was going and how long its flight was. We are so nosy and probably a bit geeky but we enjoyed ourselves!

We had a great night sleep and actually didn’t wake up until 10am – which must be a camping first for us! The noise of the planes or the M3 certainly didn’t bother us!

After a quick bacon bap, we made a packed lunch and donned our walking boots – we were heading off onto the Thames Path for a walk towards Shepperton.

The walk was a suggested walk off the C&CC website and took in the section of Thames Towpath between Chertsey and Shepperton, then we crossed the river via a 500 year old passenger ferry, before returning back to Chertsey via Weybridge and the River Wey. It was a lovely walk – and there were some absolutely magnificent riverside houses to admire the entire way round.

We enjoyed a half way beer at The Old Crown in Weybridge which was a quirky and historical little pub with a lovely terrace overlooking the river. The second half of the walk passed by a charming lock-keepers cottage, managed now by the National Trust.

You can view the walk as a PDF here: Chertsey-Shepperton

When we got back to Ruby, I put two jacket potatoes in the slow cooker (see recipe here) and settled in our chairs outside with a cider watching the planes and making the most of the late summer sun. 3 hours later, I reheated up a mexican bean and beef chilli that mum had made us whilst we were away in Cuba (thanks mum!) and we served it along with the jacket spuds and tacos and salad. It was delicious, and just what we needed after a long walk – plus the temperature was just starting to drop – proper comfort food.

Sunday dawned wet, wet, wet!

Well, it wouldn’t be a bank holiday would it without some rain. Actually we didn’t mind it at all – some on the site were packing up and heading home, but we made the most of the enforced rainy day, but staying in bed till almost 2pm and having a massive chill- reading, catching up on crappy tele. All the things you don’t do when its clear and you feel you should make the most of the day!

A break in the rain around 5pm meant a mad dash to the pub (well we had to walk Jazz!) for a swift pint – Keith enjoyed the local Windsor and Eaton Brewery Ale whilst I had a glass of fizz. Dinner on Sunday was a delicious Swartz Slow Cooker mix – chicken in red wine, served with mashed potatoes. It was gorgeous even if I do say so myself!

Bank Holiday Monday arrived and it was time to move to our next site. We’d brought the Kayak and Stand Up Paddleboard with us to try out, as the Chertsey site has a launch point onsite. However because of the rain yesterday, we didnt get chance to launch, so we decided to stop enroute to our next site in Henley on Thames for a go instead. On our walk on Saturday we had spotted somewhere suitable for us to drive to and launch, so shortly after breakfast we waved bye to the Chertsey Club site and drove the short distance to Chertsey Mead B carpark. *This carpark has a height barrier of 2.1m in height

The Aldi Stand Up Paddleboard was fantastic – it took less than 10 mins to roll out and inflate. The Kayak sadly had picked up a hole in its bottom chamber and therefore we couldnt use it. We both had a good go on the SUP and I even managed to STAND UP! (for roughly a minute and a half!) It was exciting and we both felt proud that we’d given it a go and got across the Thames and back without drowning! (we do wear lifejackets!)

After a clean down of both the board and ourselves, we made our way to Runnymead National Trust- the site where the Magna Carta was signed and sealed over 800 years ago! The National Trust Parking is right on the river bank and is the perfect place for a picnic – something which everyone was doing. It was wonderful – I loved having a picnic of pizza (cooked in the ridgemonkey) and cheese, and salami whilst watching the boats going by. If I’d have realised we would have been picnicking here, I would have gone to far more effort – but we will definitely return here.

After lunch, we took a wander down to see the JFK memorial – apt as we will be visiting the site where he was assinated in just a couple of months in Dallas. We also looked at the Magna Carta monument. There were tons of walks that were avaiable and wonderful open meadowland. I really recommend a visit before the summer is out if you’ve not been and have time.

Next stop before our next campsite was Ankerwycke – which is just across the river from Runnymede, but 15 mins in the car. Here lies a 2500 year old yew tree which is just astonishing.

There are some theories that now say that this was the site of the sealing of the Magna Carta, not across the river, due to it’s proximity to a Benedictine Abbey – the remains of which you can see by the tree. The tree has a girth of 8 metres and is said to have been a location that Henry VIII canoodled Anne Boleyn. National Trust have devised a short circular walk that takes in some more of the Thames across the bank from Runnymede and some ancient woodland. It’s very pretty but not brilliantly signposted so watch out!

We really, really enjoyed our visit to the Chertsey and Shepperton area of the Thames Valley- but for now it was time to move upstream for our next leg of our adventures.

Until Next Time

Lx

Trying out our new Inflatable Kayak

Last week in Lidl, they had inflatable 2 person Kayak’s for sale for the measly sum of £39.99. Always looking for our next adventure, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one! Annoyingly though we only managed to get it out for a test today: cue the longest week ever as I drooled over everyone else’s Instagram pics of inflatable Kayak adventures.

Neither of us has kayaked before so I decided to pick up a couple of life jackets from Amazon and also a waterproof phone case.

It wasn’t until I looked at the box of the kayak at home that I realised our combined weight was slightly (ahem!) over the maximum weight of 160kg that the kayak could handle. This, along with a well timed Aldi offer of an inflatable Stand Up Paddleboard set becoming available this week, led to another rather more expensive impulse buy! 🤭 bet you can guess what else we added to Ruby’s collection?!

Anyway back to today- I was working until 1pm in Norwich but for the first time in several weeks we both had the afternoon and evening off. That and the fact that it was glorious sunshine here cemented the fact that today would be test day for our new inflatable water crafts.

After a few errands, including a stop off at Norwich Camping and Leisure to get a refill Camping Gas cylinder, we arrived at Whitlingham Country Park where there is a lovely small broad fit for two novices to make their debut launches!

If you don’t have your own kayak or SUP you can hire one here for a very reasonable amount. To launch our own it costs £5 per craft.

We agreed we would try the Kayak first. It took us about half an hour to unpack and inflate and instructions were easy enough to follow. Luckily, with the SUP kit came a large pump, which helped enormously on the larger air chambers- our 12v pump coped well with the smaller ones.

Life jackets on, we put a blanket in for Jazz to sit on without his paws piercing the kayak and in we went! At first we struggled to get a comfortable position going on our bums (I think it was because we were too heavy!) so we decided to kneel which gave us more height for the paddle in the water. There was quite a breeze but the small contained broad was ideal for us to practice on especially as it was now after hours so no one else on it!

Keith did the majority of the paddling and I along with Jazz sat up front taking pics.

It took me a little while to get my water legs but we had lots of fun trying the kayak out!

After a while our bellies started grumbling so we heaved the kayak out of the water and left it to dry outside Ruby whilst I cooked us dinner inside Ruby. The sun was beating down despite it being almost 6:30 now!

We enjoyed burgers for tea followed by some local Lakenham Icecream- yum. I hoped that I could get the SUP inflated for a play, but realistically by now it was just too late. It’s been a very busy week of work and we were both feeling exhausted so we decided to return perhaps next week for a go on the paddleboard instead. So keep your eyes peeled for our review on that new toy sometime soooon!

It didn’t take long at all to deflate the kayak and pack away! It stores away well in a bag for easy storage.

I’d highly recommend a trip to Whitlingham Country Park. For kayaking and water based activities (not swimming though) needs you can either go solely on the Broad for £5. Or you can go on the river which takes you to Norwich in about 6 miles- for this you need a permit which is £7 approx and last for 7 days.

For cycling or walking there are ample paths- including a well surfaced circumference path around the broad.

There is a huge array of wildlife to enjoy, whilst we were there we saw numerous dragonfly’s, and there were some bird watchers with huge camera lens’.

There are two large pay car parks (you pay on departure- it’s camera recognition, so you can’t avoid it) we paid £4.20 for 3.5hours. The car park isn’t gates so you can enter or exit at any point.

There are toilets and a cafe along with an info centre open during the day.

There is a basic campsite right on the Broad which allows fire pits but has no electricity. However if you prefer the more well serviced pitches and campsites the Norwich Camping and Caravan ClubSite is just down the road.

We would highly recommend a trip here- we had a wonderful afternoon chilling and having a mini adventure.

Need another reason to visit Norwich? Check out our “reasons to camp in Norwich post

Until next time

Lx

Our Annual Scotland Pilgrimage – May 2018 Part 2: The Isle Of Harris, Outer Hebrides

Sunday Continued – on the Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides.

After disembarkation we pulled into the Isle of Harris distillery carpark to meet Rodney from Surf Lewis. We had hired some wetsuits and snorkelling equipment for the duration of our stay, and he very kindly agreed to meet us off the ferry to give us the equipment. Wetsuits, fins, snorkels etc in hand, we waved bye to Rodney – we are meeting him again on Wednesday as we have booked a Stand Up Paddleboarding session with him. Next stop was Huishnish Beach. I was worried about this as our ETA was 5pm – when we visited in 2012 it was very quiet and we stayed here fore two days and barely saw another soul. Now though, toruism has well and truly hit, and I knew Huishnish was a popular spot. To get there you drive for 40 mins over a mountain pass for 14 miles and Huishnish is the dead end. If we got there and there was no space, I’d have been very disappointed and we’d have to retrace our steps. 

Thankfully the luck of the Irish was on our side and there was a small space for Ruby to squeeze in to. As we turned the corner and saw Huishnish for the first time in 6 years, it literally took my breath away. It is absolutely BREATHTAKING. The beach is just stunning.  We wasted no time and got straight into the wetsuits – this is our first time in wetsuits and I’m sure we caused a lot of amusement to our fellow campers. It was honestly like trying to truss a chicken! 

Our first experience in a 5mm wetsuit in the Hebrides was just amazing! Rodney had sorted us with the whole kit- hood, gloves, shoes, fins etc. I adored being in the sea, it looked so inviting and now we were able to enjoy a swim. We got our snorkels on and had a little look around the rocks. 

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After our swim the prime spot had become available! We wasted no time, so still in wetsuits, we moved Ruby and vowed to stay there for at least 2 nights. We used the shower facilities (£1) and got on with dinner, overlooking the beach and sea – a salmon and prawn risotto washed down with a lovely white wine. 

We didn’t get the chairs out because our side door was facing the view and to embrace the view from our pitch meant we struggled to open the boot with the bikes on- so we used Ruby’s step for seating which worked really well! We felt like proper Veedubbers now! 

Monday dawned another beautiful sunny and hot day. We couldn’t believe our luck! We enjoyed sausage sandwiches before donning the wetsuits and snorkelling gear and trying some snorkelling out on the other side of the bay (the right hand side) As it was so uncharacteristically hot, we couldn’t leave Jazz in the van – it was mid 20s and just way too hot to leave a dog in a vehicle, so he came down to the beach with us and we took it in turns to snorkel.

I’m not sure what Jazz made of the wetsuits! Exploring the underwater world was really fun – we saw lots of colourful sea-weed and plants, sand eels, pollock, crabs etc. We used following underwater camera

【Upgraded】Action Camera,Campark ACT68 Sport Cam Wifi 4K/1080P Full HD Underwater Camera with 170° Wide-Angle 2 Inch LCD Display with 2 Rechargeable Batteries and Mounting Accessories Kit

It cost only £25 and was absolutely amazing!! Would highly recommend. It came with all the fittings needed to attached to helmets, bikes, surfboards, arms, legs – you name it. 

Snorkelling Highlights Video here

After ham and cheese paninis for lunch we spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach on our inflatable sofas, chilling. I don’t think I can remember such a relaxing campervan trip. It felt like we were on a beach holiday!

For dinner, Keith knocked up an amazing bbq, we’d picked up some venison steaks from the Amhuinnsuidhe Castle Stable shop that you pass on the road to Huishnish. This along with some sausages and chicken and a rice salad was yummy. 

We walked up the hill to the 5 campervan with electric spaces to watch the sun go down and I tried to use my drone but it didn’t have enough battery (we were off grid and with the heat and the coolbox, the battery was struggling a touch so we didn’t want to charge anything non essential) That was a shame cos I bet it would have been a good view. 

Our solar panel is doing well, Keith’s placed it on the roof and it’s soaking up the sun from 7am to 9pm!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B013VVUQM6/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=advinamot-21&camp=1634&creative=6738&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B013VVUQM6&linkId=3f554e22dcfacad0b676fa9c1c4e699a
Tuesday

With a bit of a lump in our throats we bid Huishnish a fond farewell. Before leaving we used the motorhome service point to empty the loo and refill the water tank for just £3. Considering the parking was free, and showers available for just £1 this is excellent value. We actually shoved a fiver in a donation box to say thanks. Up the hill is a 5 space campervan site with electric for £5 a night but you have to time it well to get a space during peak sunshine I imagine!

On the way we stopped and watched a golden eagle through the binoculars- what a special moment that was, neither of us has seen one in the wild.

We popped into Tarbet to pick up some local gin. On the way we tried to stop off at two more snorkel trail locations but sadly we could not for the life of us find the correct place. In our opinion – North Harris Wildlife trust could probably do with signposts at the locations and visible parking as at one point we drove 2 miles down a farm track trying to find the place and could not find it!

During this period of time, my phone went nuts (without me realising) and decided to emergency call 112. I had no idea about this and because there is absolutely no phone signal I was blissfully unaware that my phone had not only rang 112, but had also text my dad, my mum and Keith (who also had no phone signal!) to tell them I was sending an emergency SOS message and where my location was. 

Once buying the gin, we carried on towards Luskentyre beach – which is regarded as one of the best beaches in the world. Again we’ve been before, but it still doesn’t fail to impress.

The size of the beach is just overwhelming! We managed to get a great spot overnight spot overlooking part of the beach – provided by the West Harris trust and only £5 a night.

We set our stall out and enjoyed steak and stilton wraps for lunch before taking a walk on the beach with our wetsuits and trying some more snorkelling.

This time we snorkelled in with the tide all the way back to Ruby, taking it in turns again to stay with Jazz and always keeping one step ahead of the tide. We saw lots of crabs and had a lovely time. It’s just so nice to be underwater where you wouldn’t normally be as the water despite being crystal clear is blooming cold!

 

We both had a solar shower to wash the salt water off when we returned to Ruby and enjoyed some gins, before cooking with meat another wonderful seaview, chicken fajitas.

Yellowstone Camping Shower – 20 Litre

 

What a cracking spot. 

Wednesday arrived and it was time to set an alarm as we had to leave at 9am to get to Scalpay for our 10am Stand up Paddleboarding Lesson (SUP) I have fancied giving this a whirl since we saw people giving lessons on the Norfolk Broads. Just as we arrived on Scalplay i received many worried messages from Dad and Jenny asking if we were ok. It was at this point we realised what had happened with my phone – they had received an emergency message from us and then couldn’t get hold of us for almost 24hurs due to no phone signal. Quite understandably they were going out of their minds with worry!! Sorry Dad and Jenny! Mum on the other hand, had replied – “glad your having a good time!” It turns out that Apple to Apple (which is what our emergency SOS message was to mums phone) just sends a map link to your location. Apple to Samsung which is what it was me to Dad sends an upscaled “THIS IS AN EMERGENCY SOS MESSAGE”! Whoops! A quick phone call to say we are fine cleared the air and put Dad and jenny’s mind at rest!

Back to the paddle boarding . The weather couldn’t have been any better. We met Rodney again at the designated place and along with 6 others donned our wetsuits, and took our boards to the water. Luckily the wife of someone also taking a lesson wasn’t taking part, and had her own dog, so offered to look after Jazz too, as the heat (which was totally not expected when we booked it) was too intense to leave him. God knows what we would have done had Ruth not been there to Jazz sit! 

The SUP lesson was FAB!!! We are complete beginners and have no balance, so our hopes were not high that we would achieve the end result of standing up. However, we both managed it and it was exhilarating, exciting and quite hard work. I can’t think of a more lovely way to experience the coast line of this stunning island.

 

Lessons are £40 and Rodney was just a brilliant and patient teacher. I can’t recommend the experience enough! See our video highlights here

Feeling completely exhilarated and little sad that our Hebridean adventure was nearly over we handed our wetsuits back to Rodney and waved goodbye.

We made use of the spotlessly clean and FREE showers at Scalpay Community Centre before booking a table for evening meal at the Anchorage Restaurant, Leverburgh, the opposite end of the island. If we had any criticism of the Isle of Harris it would be that despite fishing being a huge part of life here, we found it impossible to find some fresh seafood to buy and cook. We were both craving a seafood meal so decided to splash out on an evening meal. We visited the Anchorage when we last visited and had a fab meal, so table booked, we jumped in Ruby and made our way to the south of the Island. 

The restaurant were happy for us to stay overnight in their carpark, right next to the ferry to North Uist, so we made use of the time before our reservation by having a HUGE tidy – wetsuits and snorkelling equipment had put a serious strain on our storage – we managed, but we had half of Luskentyre beach gathered on the floor!  As the weather has been so good we haven’t packed Ruby’s bed away since Saturday so we’ve effectively had a fixed bed which has been nice.

 

Ruby with the Cal Mac ferry behind

Ruby soon was sparkling clean and organised again, so we went for a couple of drinks in the restaurant garden – I enjoyed the Barra Gin, before dinner. We even managed a celebrity spot – we only sat next to THE Billy Connelly! Amazing – such a gent (sorry no pic as I didn’t fully realise it was him – I said to Keefy he looks and sounds like Billy Connelly, then later on instagram I saw someone down the road at an art studio had posted a pic of him!) 

We had a brilliant meal, it really is a spot to visit if you like fresh fish and seafood. We both had identical meals – hand dived scallops to start, fresh cod with chive mash and pak choi, and chocolate fondue. It was FABULOUS.

 

Read our next instalment here

 

Until Next Time

Lx