The NC500.

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Thank goodness the clutch went on my van; or rather thank goodness the clutch went on my van when it did, 3 days before I was due to start the North Coast 500.

Thanks to a very good friend who also happens to be a mechanic he squeezed the van in to have the clutch replaced before I was leaving which is a good job because some of the roads I drove up and down I needed a brand new clutch.

I was going to leave early Saturday morning, but that was before my Football team decided to smash 9 goals past Southampton on the Friday night and I may have had a few more pints than I intended to!

I should point out that Mel had started a new job and didn’t have any holiday to take where as I had two weeks to take so this was going to be a solo trip.

I decided to delay leaving until around 2pm Saturday to be on the safe side, A group of friends were already up in Whitby so the first part of my trip was a drive from Leicester to Whitby to meet up with them before I would head further up and start the NC500.

For those of you that don’t know the NC500 or North Coast 500 as it is also called, this is a 500 mile trip around the top of Scotland as can be seen on the photo below, although I technically didn’t do the whole 500 miles as I continued down the west coast rather than make my way back to Inverness.

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The NC500 route.

I was planning on wild camping the whole trip as money was a bit tight for my journey, I filled up at my local Costco as the fuel was cheaper and topped up again at the Edinburgh Costco as I was pretty much passing it anyway. I’d bought all the food I needed before I left so there shouldn’t be much more costs whilst I was away.

On leaving Whitby I travelled up the East coast until it started getting dark, I got just north of St Andrews when I found a decent sized lay-by a little way back from the road and parked up for the night.

To be honest, the first two nights of the trip were pretty uneventful, the second night being spent in the local town of Golspie, I’d used the “park4night” app on my phone which said it was a free car park behind a co-op with access to 24hr toilets for the price of 50p. The app also said it was fairly busy until 9pm after which it was much quieter.

Well it was bang on the money, I had a very nice quiet night’s sleep and woke up fresh as a daisy, well much fresher than I’d woke on the Saturday morning anyway.

This was kind of where the journey began for me, as I headed up to John O’Groats the scenery was getting better and better.

IMG_7674The harbour at John O’Groats.

I was very lucky with the weather on this day, I had shorts on and it was beautiful clear blue skies. I had a little wander around, bought a few souvenirs then decided to grab a bite to eat in the Roads end coffee shop.

IMG_7672Can’t get any further from home than this.

It was now time to head for the northern most point of the UK, Dunnet’s head, there’s a nice little lighthouse here, I jumped out the van and decided to take a couple of photos.

IMG_7686Dunnet Head, the most northerly point in the UK.

I have to say the drive along the north coast of Scotland was wonderful, if I had stopped and taken photos every time I wanted to on this trip it would have taken months.

I’d started quite early that morning so managed to get a lot of driving in before it started to get dark, I was driving along the Kyle of Durness so started looking for a good place to park up, I found a lovely spot and parked up for the night, Cooked myself a nice supper and sat looking out of the van side door at the beautiful scene in front of me.

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IMG_7711Tuesday’s wild camping spot.

Wednesday morning arrived and I was again up early and cooking some breakfast, sausage cobs (I’m from Leicester so it is always called a cob!)

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Most mornings I always get what I call “camp fear”, the fear of leaving the wild camping spot in the morning only to discover an amazing place 2 minutes further down if I’d just driven a little bit further, luckily this didn’t happen on this trip.

Everybody I had spoken to about doing this trip had told me to make sure I drove down to Applecross, the driving started to take a lot longer at this point, a mixture of single track roads and stopping numerous times to take photos so I didn’t quite make it to Applecross on this day and decided to find my next wild camp spot, I struck gold, more luck than planning but the spot I stopped at was going to give me a lovely surprise the next morning.

IMG_7776Wednesday nights wild camping spot

I woke early Thursday morning, before sunrise and decided to stand my phone on top of my van and film a little time lapse video of the sun coming up, you can find the video on my Youtube channel which is linked at the bottom of the page.

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After a start to the morning like that it was always going to be a wonderful day, the road around to Applecross was just breath taking. Once in the village there is a little self-service petrol  station with the below sign on it.

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I topped the van up here, £60 worth, it wasn’t much more expensive than your average petrol station and I decided to look on it as a little tax for visiting such a lovely village.

The road out of Applecross is as frightening to drive as it is wonderful to look at, there had been a frost overnight so parts of the road were still a bit slippy.

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Once over the worst/best of the road I decided to park up and make myself a brew and have a bit of cake, it’s one of the things I love about the van that you can park up and make a fresh brew.

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I’d decided I wanted to pop down to the Isle of Skye, I mean why wouldn’t you? Steve and myself had stayed here a couple of times, in a little bay just past Achnacloich but I remembered seeing a nice bay just along the road and just south of Tokavaig so I made my way to there for the night.

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When wild camping I always try to not only leave the place as I found it but leave it better then I found it, with this in mind I grabbed a bin bag and walked along the beach to do a little clear up. Gas bottles, plastic milk cartons and numerous other bits of rubbish were collected which I threw in the back of the van and took with me until I could find a bin to put them in.

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Does anyone else completely change when you’re away in the van? As I’m sure Mel will confirm I’m generally pretty untidy at home and I love nothing more than a nice lay in but once I’m in the van I’m Mr organised and tidy and like to be up at the crack of dawn!

And so it was on Friday morning I was up early, breakfast cooked and a lovely drive down through Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, I wasn’t sure where I was going to sleep that night, I’d just drive until I was tired and was maybe thinking the lake district somewhere, as it turned out I just kept driving really and once past the lake district I didn’t see much point in stopping anywhere so just continued all the way home, getting in at about 9pm, which meant I could watch the mighty Leicester City beat Crystal Palace on the Sunday!

If anyone is thinking about doing the NC500 then my advice is to just do it!, I imagine it gets quite busy in the summer though, I’m glad I went in the Autumn, the colours of the trees and the crisp bright mornings were amazing and the route was fairly quiet.

As ever the van didn’t miss a beat and I was very grateful for my diesel heater without which I think I would have struggled to get out of bed in the mornings!

The link to my Youtube video is below:-

Youtube video of my NC500

1600 miles

£260 in fuel

6 days

5 nights

12 Sausages

Thanks for reading.

Simmo.

 

 

 

 

 

Part three, Germany, Luxembourg, France and back to England.

Germany

We felt a bit low leaving Italy, it had been a lovely few days relaxing and doing very little, we were also aware that this was the start of the journey home but onwards and upwards and we decided to head to the black forest and see what was about.

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Sat by Lake Como planning the next destination.

After a fairly uneventful drive through Switzerland and into Germany we were approaching Freiburg when we decided to pull over and take a look at somewhere to stay for the night, after putting “campsites” into the Satnav we decided to take a look at Camping Schwarzwald on arrival we were greeted by the owner, who happens to be a VW fan, a T5 owner who took quite an interest in my van. He managed to squeeze us in and after a trip down to the supermarket for some supplies (read beer and crisps) we parked up for the night.

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The Black Forest and yes I know it’s green.

Once set up we decided to walk down into Simonswald and have a drink somewhere, we found a really nice pub and had a few pints before settling in for the night.

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It’s not every day you can stay somewhere where your name is in the name of a town.

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A morning brew in Germany.

Morning arrived and we had a shower and a brew and then looked at the map to see where we should head to next, with the lure of cheap diesel being strong and the chance to tick off another country we decided on Luxembourg.

One tip I will give you is don’t pull into the first services you get to once you cross the border into Luxembourg as the queues for fuel were massive. I had timed our arrival to coincide with the fuel light coming on (thanks to some tactical fuelling along the way) so was able to take full advantage of the 99p a litre fuel. I don’t think the van has ever been so full of fuel!

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Have to make the most of this.

We quite fancied taking a look round Luxembourg City but campsites we had found on the web just didn’t look very appealing; so we decided to take a look at Camping Krounebierg

This was a fairly small but very nice campsite; we got the van set up and then walked up to the bar/restaurant for a few drinks and to have a meal (there’s a theme growing here!)

The food was excellent and there is a shop onsite that stocks everything you would need, and quite a few things you wouldn’t!.  I’ve got to say the staff here were wonderful, very friendly and very helpful, this was definitely going on the list of campsites to visit again.

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Spot the hidden T4.

After a fairly lazy and late start to the day we were packed up and showered and heading onto the next, and final stop of our holiday. We had the idea of heading back to Ypres, we’ve been there so many times now but we know where is good to eat, it’s cheap to camp there and we thought it would tie the holiday up nicely if the last night was spent in the same place as the first night. Unfortunately the campsite was fully booked so we took the decision to head to Dunkirk and try and find a campsite not far from the ferry terminal so we only had a short trip in the morning.

After consulting google again (what did we do before smart phones and the web?!?!) we found Dunkirk Campiste and decided that would do us. On arrival we booked in for the night, only €15 so a real bargain and headed down to the onsite restaurant.

All the food on the menu was in French and shamefully my French is only what I can remember from school, if there is one thing this trip has taught me is that I really need to learn even the basics of some other languages. So the smart phone came out again and we both decided on the steak, the waiter asked me how I liked it cooked, I said medium and he said no, you will have it rare! Fair enough I suppose but I wasn’t sure why he asked me if he was going to overrule me anyway lol.

I don’t know if other people are the same as me but on every campsite I like to have a nosy around and see what other Campervans are about; sometimes you get good ideas of what to do with your own from other vans you see. A couple caught my eye on this campsite, the fire engine one being the best. I really wanted to ask the guy if I could take a look inside but didn’t want to disturb him!

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Certainly different.

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Can’t make my mind up if I like this or not, what do you think?.

After dinner we had a walk along the sea front, it’s easily accessible from the campsite you just walk through the sand dunes and onto the promenade, I have to say though there really wasn’t much about, certainly along the part we walked and we headed back to the van for a quick nightcap before the trip home.

And that was us done, 1935 miles after leaving home we pulled back up on the driveway, the kids hadn’t wrecked the house and the dog was still alive so all in all it was a good trip.

We are already looking at where we can go next time, Switzerland and Germany are going to feature, and we are thinking of spending more time around Lake Como and Lake Garda as we really enjoyed it there, but who knows, the great thing about our vans is we can go wherever and whenever we like.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. I am off to do the NC500 in October so will be blogging about that trip as well.

Part two, Italy.

We now came to the part of the trip I was looking forward to, we had no plan and nowhere booked to stay and were going to see where we ended up.

As I said earlier Mel had said she wanted to go to Italy so we put Lake Como into the satnav and set off for a lovely drive through Switzerland and down in to Italy.

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Quick stop at some Swiss services.

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If you have to drive over the Swiss Alps these are the cars to do it in.

We had been driving for about 3 hours and I was very aware that Leicester’s first game of the season against Wolves was getting close so we put campsites into the satnav and ended up arriving at Camping Ranocchio

This is a nice campsite and the pitches have a lot of trees nearby, this was only going to be a one night stop though as we really wanted to get to Lake Como.

With the free wi-fi at reception I managed to get a good feed to watch the Leicester game, although it was a rather disappointing 0-0 draw the ice cold bottles of Peroni from reception more than made up for it and we ended up staying to watch another game before getting a take away pizza to take back to the van.

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Always manage to see the City.

We had quite a good downpour overnight, I don’t know about other people but I love being tucked up warm in the van when it’s raining outside.

We were up bright and early the next morning, although our German neighbours had already got up and had more or less packed their awning away and were on their way as we made our way to the showers.

We googled campsites and read a few reviews and settled on Camping Panorama as all of the reviews seemed really good, on arrival we managed to get the last space they had, as long as we didn’t mind being right next to the lake!

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A nice little walk to Lake Como.

The weather here was very up and down, we went from nice sunshine and a gentle breeze to torrential rain and strong winds, a few people in tents behind us were clinging on to them for dear life! And then back to bright sunshine again within 10 minutes or so.

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I took this photo on my Iphone, no filter this is just as I took it.

We had decided that our 3 nights in Italy were to be spent chilling out so we literally did very little apart from eating, drinking and sunbathing. It was glorious, and it also saved us a bit of money as we had slightly underestimated how much we would spend.

I was woken from one such sunbathing/sleeping session by Mel screaming “oh my god”, I jumped up saying “what, what” to the sight of some poor persons speedboat on fire, luckily there was nobody on it and after it had been on fire for about 15 minutes the fire brigade boat turned up and put the fire out

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Thankfully there was nobody on it.

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A wonderful view to wake up to each morning.

After two nights in Lake Como it was time to hit the road again, showered and packed up we were on our way to somewhere in Germany, The black forest looked a good bit to head for and would mean not too much driving for me, so off we went again.

 

Part one, Interlaken

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Campsite in Interlaken.

They say bad luck comes in three’s and it looks like they are right.

The Wednesday before we left for our trip the key to my van snapped, I have a spare at my mum and dads so popped over and picked it up.

The Friday night before leaving we went out for a meal with our two daughters and when we came out the clutch had gone on Mel’s golf, no problem got an Uber home and my mate picked it up the next day on his recovery truck and sorted it for me whilst I was away.

So we set off Saturday morning from Leicester on our little adventure, just as I was going over the Dartford crossing the eldest rang and said “you do realise you’ve left your wallet here don’t you?”

We were starting to think the trip was doomed before it had even started but thankfully that was the end of the bad luck (with the exception of hitting a pigeon just as we got off the ferry in Dunkirk!) and with mobile banking we were able to shift money round to an account we did have a card for!

The first four days of the trip were spent in Ypres and Langres which I have written about before so will spare the details on those days and start when we left Langres and headed for Interlaken.

As we approached the Swiss border we were waved to one side by a customs guy and the following exchange took place.

CUSTOMS GUY:- “hello mate, you need to buy a Swiss Vignette to drive on the motorways here in Switzerland which is 40 CHF, or €40 euros whichever you prefer”.

ME:- “OK, no problem” and I hand over the money.

ME:- “Can I just say your English is fantastic”

CUSTOMS GUY:- “It should be mate, I’m from Bristol”

I felt a right idiot but it did give us all a good laugh.

I booked Camping Au Lac for 4 nights and what a wonderful campsite this is, everyone that we met there, workers and fellow campers were really nice and friendly, and the views speak for themselves. The 4 nights we stayed cost us 160 CHF  which is about £135 with electric hookup.

To give you a little idea of the nice people in Interlaken we got the bus one night to go out for a meal in Interlaken west, when we got on the bus the driver explained he only went as far as Interlaken OST and then he was finished for the night, no problem we thought we’d get off there and walk the 30 odd minute walk to the west as it was a warm and pleasant evening. When we arrived at OST everyone got off the bus and we said thank you to the driver, he put his “not in service” sign on the bus and told us to jump back on and said he’d drop us off in the west near the restaurants on his way back to the depot, gave us the number of a good taxi company as the bus service had stopped by then and even told us how much it should be in a taxi so we didn’t get charged too much. What a lovely bloke he was.

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A nice quiet beer next to the lake.

Bus ride into Interlaken OST

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Got to have a little swim, it was cold though but very refreshing.

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This was taken from the side door of the van.

The one thing I really wanted to do whilst in Interlaken was the Jungfrau railway, a train ride to the highest train station in Europe at 11,782 feet above sea level. It’s expensive but to be quite honest it’s worth every single penny. The cheapest ticket you can get worked out at about £240 for the both of us and leaves Interlaken OST at 7:05am, this meant an early start for us to get the bus from outside the campsite at 6:35am which got us to the train station at 6:45am which worked out really well. When we arrived at the campsite they gave us both a free bus pass that you can use as many times as you like which is great and we used it a lot to head down into Interlaken itself.

I’m not going to put any photos up of the actual train ride up through the mountains, they could never do it justice and it really is something you should see for the first time when you are there.

When you get off the train at Jungfrau station you are still technically in the mountain but when you walk out on to the viewing platform my goodness it is amazing. The views take your breath away.

I’d read about what clothes to wear due to the weather and also how the view could sometimes be bad in poor weather but we were lucky enough to pick a brilliant day to go, we walked out onto the snow wearing a tee shirt and jeans and felt fine.

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Jungfrau station, the highest train station in Europe.

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Inside the viewing platform.

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Outside on the viewing platform, such amazing views.

On the way back down from Jungfrau we were a little bit more flexible with which trains we could get so decided to stop off at Grindelwald station and grab a bite to eat.

This is a lovely little town and we had a stroll up the main road and found a nice little cafe called “tea and take away” which was quite reasonably priced and sat in the sunshine for an hour before getting the next train back to Interlaken OST.

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Grindlewald.

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Tea and take away.

Switzerland was very expensive, we had a burger king meal each that worked out at £28! But at Interlaken OST there is a co-op so we got the free bus to the station, did a bit of food shopping and then jumped on the free bus back to the campsite which worked out really well.

I can really recommend the local beer, Rugen Brau which was quite cheap to buy and was really nice.

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They sell the local beer at the campsite, 2 CHF a bottle.

It was with heavy hearts that we said goodbye to our fellow campers and the staff at the campsite and made our way towards Lake Como, before the trip started Mel said she wanted to go to Italy, we had nowhere booked for the second week and just thought we would go wherever we fancied at the time, not having a plan is sometimes the best plan!

So it was off to Italy!

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The view as you drive down into the campsite.

 

 

 

Wells-next-the-sea

This was the first real trip out in the van for this year, I booked it in January with the thinking if the weathers rubbish we’ll just have to make the best of it, but as I often say the sun always shines on the righteous!

We booked Blue Skies Campsite for the Saturday and Sunday nights as it was close to the sea front and what a lovely campsite it is, very friendly but word of warning, take your leveling ramps!

There is a shop on site with the basics but if you need anything else the co-op is about a 5 minute walk from the campsite.

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Lottie was ready for her holiday.

It’s a pleasant 15 minute walk into Wells and the town itself is very dog friendly, all the pubs welcome dogs and there are bowls of water outside most shops, restaurants etc.

Now, the first pub you get to when walking to the sea front from the campsite is The Lifeboat Inn and it is a lovely little pub, Carsten the owner is very friendly and the lamb roast meal we had here on the Sunday was fantastic, I would have taken a photo but it didn’t stay on the plate long enough to get one!

Carsten is a really interesting bloke and if you’re lucky he will tell you how he ended up getting from Denmark to Wells via Spain!, you might also meet Barney the dog who is the real boss of the bar.

On the Saturday we had a mooch around and ended up having dinner at The Golden Fleece although a little on the expensive side the fish and chips we had were fantastic and I would eat there again without a doubt.

Right next to the campsite is the Wells and Walsingham light railway Although I do recommend a trip on the steam train (it was £8 per adult return) there really isn’t a lot to do in Walsingham unless you are religious or like buying expensive food and drink from the nearby farm shop, we found a nice little cafe though and had toasted tea cakes and a cup of tea, in proper china tea cups no less!

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The Wells and Walsingham light railway.

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I don’t think Lottie was too keen on the steam train.

Now to the most important part of the trip, Mel was happy reading her book at the campsite in the sunshine I always tend to get a bit restless and like to go off for a wander to explore the surroundings so Lottie and me had a walk into Wells and headed for Whin Hill Cider which I had read about before we left for the trip. What a lovely place this is, a great building with a suntrap yard to sit and enjoy some of their traditional ciders, I plumped for a bottle of Browns which at £3.50 is very reasonable. It was a nice drop and Lottie and me sat in the sunshine enjoying the surroundings, I really wanted to buy some bottles to bring back but on the day we left we couldn’t park near enough and I really regret that now, still it’s a reason to return!

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On the Sunday evening we went into The Edinburgh which is also dog friendly and probably the cheapest pub we went in all weekend, it did get a bit loud on the Sunday night so we left fairly early as Lottie gets a bit scared when things get loud!

So Monday soon came around and it was time for us to head home, we packed the van up and decided to head down to Beach Cafe for breakfast before we left. In what I can only guess the staff at the cafe thought was brilliant timing most of their ovens were not working so things were a little slow but the staff  kept smiling and the service was brilliant, two sausage baguettes and a cup of tea later and we were ready to hit the road back to sunny Leicestershire.

This was my first time in Wells (although my mum told me I’d been when I was 3 years old but I don’t think we can really count that) and I would definitely go back, perhaps not when it’s a bank holiday though so it’s a little bit quieter!

Thanks,

Simmo.

A bridge too far.

Part one.

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From left to right :- Chris, Steve and myself.

We had been planning a trip to Norway for well over a year, so it was slightly disappointing that we didn’t quite make it, we did get as far as Northern Denmark though!

Kind of like being dumped by Kylie Minogue only to be asked out on a date by Danni Minogue five minutes later Denmark was definitely not a disappointment.

Chris, Steve and myself had been having planning meetings in the pub (or excuses to go drinking as my Mrs calls them) for well over a year and had decided that although Norway was the target we really couldn’t go wrong if we fell short and ended up spending time in any of the countries nearby, which is what eventually happened.

But let’s start at the beginning, finishing work at 2 pm on Thursday 5th July, Chris and myself work in the same office so left for the 5 minute drive to pick Steve up (with a quick detour to pick up some samosas and onion bhajis from a fantastic shop here in Leicester) and head down to Dover.

We had looked at different ways of getting over to Europe such as Harwich to the Hook of Holland or the Eurostar but decided on DFDS Ferries Dover to Dunkirk partly down to cost but also down to frequency of ferries and the option of a flexi-ticket. We booked on as a car (2.20m x 6m) which cost us £223 although this included £12 per person each way for the premium lounge. The great thing about the flexi-ticket is it allows you to travel 3 days either side of your booked time which means the drive down to Dover was far less stressful knowing that if you missed your booked ticket you could just get the next ferry, I heartily recommend buying one.

Once on the ferry we made our way up to the premier lounge, it was the first time I had paid for this but I think it will become a permanent fixture on any future crossings. For your £12 you get Danish pastries, unlimited tea/coffee, fruit, biscuits, cans of pop, mineral water and much more as well as comfortable chairs, free Wi-Fi and charging points for your phones.

The Premium lounge.

We were luckily enough to be sailing as the sun set which was a lovely sight.

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Sunset on the Channel.

Once safely across the channel we were booked into Ypres campsite and arrived just after midnight so got the van set up, sat and had one beer and then got our heads down.

I’ve spoken about Ypres on here numerous times so I won’t repeat myself, safe to say it is one of my favourite places to visit, I also on my last journey here found a wonderful restaurant which does amazing food, inhetkleinstadhuis which is the first building after the Flanders fields museum, it’s easy to miss as it is tucked right into the corner, if you are thinking of visiting Ypres the campsite is a must to stay at and the restaurant is a must to eat in, it’s best to book as they do get busy, especially just after the last post finishes. I can recommend the steak, it’s amazing.

We spent all day Friday visiting Tyne Cot, Hill 62 and German cemetery made it back in time to watch The Last Post, I must be into double figures now for seeing this but it still has the same effect on me as it did the first time.

We had time after the last post for a couple of beers in my favourite pub in the world. Ypra Inn I’m not sure if it’s the location, the choice of drinks or the friendly staff or all of these things but I love the place.

The Ypra Inn, Menin Gate, Ypres.

 

So Saturday morning rolled around and we filled the van up with Diesel and headed for Puttgarden in Germany where we were planning to catch the ferry to Rødbyhavn in Denmark.

We knew we wouldn’t get there in one day so agreed to drive until around 5pm and then look for somewhere to stay, I’d done this when travelling down to France for the Euros in 2016 and never struggled to find anywhere with space but as we keyed local campsites into the satnav we chose the one at the top of the list and headed there. Let’s just say we didn’t get the warmest of welcomes and were left under no illusion that they didn’t have space for us. So we tried the second one on the list and I’ve got to admit as the satnav took us into a little town and then progressively smaller and narrower streets I wondered firstly if there could be a campsite at the end of the track and secondly what it would be like, I needn’t have worried about either.

Camping Erlengrund sits approximately 25 miles West of Hannover in Germany and what welcomed us weary travellers on our arrival was a beautiful campsite and a lovely lady that brought us out cold Veltins beer and Currywurst and chips, what could be better at the end of a long days driving!

One of the locals asked where we were from and when I said Leicester he shook my hand and said “Ah Leicester City, congratulations”, a strange occurrence that I still haven’t got used to since we won the league!

A warm welcome at Camping Erlengrund

I’m not sure what the VW art meant on the menu?

We got back to the van, set up for the night and settled in for what had now become the customary crossword before bedtime!

Sunday morning saw us rise fairly early and as a Red Kite flew above us we packed the van up and prepared for another long day of driving, at this point we were still aiming for Puttgarden and the ferry to Denmark but things were going to change today as we came to realise we had a choice to make.

We had 2 choices as far as we could see, we could still aim for Norway, but this would mean a lot of driving and not very much time actually in Norway, or we could stay in Denmark and have a good 4 or 5 days sightseeing and a lot less driving, there was only really one logical choice after all this was supposed to be a holiday not just 8 days of driving! So we consulted the map and after a couple of minutes discussion decided to head for Ribe on the West coast of Denmark, so Ribe was keyed into the satnav and off we went!

 

You need to keep your strength up when map reading.

Much more to come but I hope you enjoyed the first part, you can follow me on twitter @simmo_1977 and Instagram Simmo482

Any questions please feel free to email me at VWT4trips@gmail.com

 

 

 

Handy hints for driving in Europe!

We’ve travelled a fair bit in Europe the past couple of years and below are some tips that have helped us out that we thought we would share with you.

 

Booking the ferry

Book the ferry using the correct height and width of your vehicle, we always book on to DFDS with our LWB VW Campervan using the measurements “Car 2.20m x 6m” and I’ve never had any problems

 

Satnav

A good satnav is worth its weight in gold, and, pun intended, I’d be lost without mine.  I’ve got the TomTom version that tells you which lane to get in which really comes into its own in Europe. Before we leave we always key in important places we are going to be going to like campsites, ports or just places of interest, this makes it easier as you can use “navigate to recent destinations” which is quicker than keying in full addresses.

As good as satnavs are we always like to have a proper map with us, satnavs can break or get stolen so it’s always best to have a backup plan, plus I’m a bit of a map geek and I enjoy planning my routes using maps.

 

Plan where you refuel

I know this makes us sound tight but if you’re doing a lot of miles it can make a real difference to how much you spend on fuel, for instance we’ve just come back from Belgium so we put enough fuel to get to Dover and travel about an hour in France so we could fill up over there. As it is in this country, avoid filling up on motorways as the price is always much higher than local petrol stations. Linking to a good satnav above your “points of interest near you” can always direct you to a petrol station off the main routes.

This is a good website to use to find out rough prices in different countries, if you can ALWAYS fill up in Luxembourg!

Fuel prices in Europe

 

Tablet case

When you’re driving in Europe you will need to carry the following documents:-

  • Your valid full (not provisional) driving licence
  • A copy of your DVLA driver record and a licence check code if needed.
  • An International Driving Permit (when necessary)
  • Your vehicle’s registration document (V5c) (the original not a copy)
  • Your motor insurance certificate (Your insurer may ask to be told when you’re going abroad and only provide third party cover when you do.)
  • Your passport(s)
  • Your travel insurance documents
  • You may need a visa for certain countries too

Buying one of these tablet case means you have a place to keep everything safe and zipped up and you can put any money you might be taking as well as campsite confirmations and any other documents you may need. They also fit well in your glove box.

 

Kit needed to drive abroad

It’s worth buying one of these kits on Amazon AA Europe kit however remember that you need a reflective jacket for every person that is travelling in the car/campervan and these must be ready to hand if you breakdown (not locked in the boot for example)

 

Travel money card

We’ve got one of these Travel card with £100 on it that is kept in the safe in our van, if I lose my wallet or money I’m carrying with me I know I can always use this and I can always get more money put on it should I need to. You can also change the currency around without being charged but check which currencies it covers as I’m going Norway in July and the card doesn’t have the Norwegian krone on it.

 

Toll roads

Make sure you put aside enough money for toll roads, although it’s nice to avoid them and pass through some nice villages and small towns if you want to get anywhere quick it’s best to use the toll roads. Doing a bit of research it seems in France it works out to about €1 for every 10 miles of toll road you use.

I can highly recommend using one of these Sanef tolling as they will add up all the toll roads you use and bill you a month after you get back direct from your chosen bank account, these make it easier as you travel as you don’t have to keep paying at every booth and can use the prepaid lanes which are much clearer and quicker.

 

Download whatsapp

With data roaming charges due to be reintroduced post Brexit this little app was brilliant whilst we were away, find any bar/café/pub with free Wi-Fi and send messages, photos, phone or even as we did video phone back home for free. (We had two teenagers at home to check up on!)

Finally the best piece of advice I can give is to just get over there and do it, you will soon work out what you need to take and what you can do without and what you should never forget! it’s all part of the fun!

A whirlwind trip to Harris and Lewis.

Most of my trips away in the van are conceived in the pub, and this trip was no different.

I had 4 days holiday left to take so decided I would take off in the van, I didn’t know where I was going to go or for how long and my original idea was to pack the van up on the Thursday night and start driving Friday morning and see where I ended up.

It was whilst having a drink with some friends when we realised that my mate Graz had the same days off as me and that he hadn’t seen his Aunty Penny and Uncle Tony that live on the Isle of Lewis for a few years. Well, it seemed like fate, so Friday morning I picked Graz up at 9am and pointed the van north.

This was the start of a long day of driving, 570 miles to be exact!

After a few stops for refreshments on the way up and by not hitting any traffic jams whatsoever we pulled into Uig port at 20:30pm on the Friday night, we soon got the van set up and tucked into a campervan curry (two tins of curry with a tin of new potatoes thrown in) washed down with a can of carling. This was the first time I’d really tested the thermal wrap for the pop top and the Eberspacher heater and both did a superb job of keeping us warm.

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Waiting for the ferry at Uig port.

Early Saturday morning saw us buying our return tickets ( £84!) to Tarbert and joining the massive queue to board the ferry. Well, 6 cars, a small van and us.

It was a little bit windy on the ferry.

Last time I was up on Harris I had ummed and ahhed about buying a Harris tweed flat cap but hadn’t and regretted it so the first thing to do on this trip when we arrived in Harris was to visit the Harris tweed shop and buy myself a new hat.

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A proper Harris Tweed hat!

We swung a left out of the port and made our way to Stornoway, we had things to do, very important things! First up was the butcher’s to buy some black pudding and Haggis, second up was to have something to eat and thirdly find a pub with sky sports so we could watch the football results coming in. This turned out to be much better for me (a Leicester fan) than Graz (a Spurs fan!)

By this time it was pitch black and we had to make our way to Tony and Penny’s house, we had some directions but tony came up with the cracking idea of putting his hazards on his car, this meant as we turned the corner we could see their house very easily and pulled up straight onto their driveway where we would sleep that night.

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Home for Saturday night.

I cannot even begin to tell you how welcome Tony and Penny made us feel, we enjoyed a lovely Chinese take away Saturday night and then Sunday morning we were treated to a lovely cooked breakfast. The best part of the whole trip for me was meeting two wonderful people who I can now call friends.

Sunday morning after our lovely breakfasts our hosts took us around the island to see some of the sights, it was so good having Tony and Penny take us around, it meant we saw a lot more of the island in a fraction of the time it would have took us. First stop was the Callanish Stones, Wikipedia can tell you all about them much better than I can but the stones are said to be older than Stone Henge!

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Graz and me at the Callanish Stones.

Our next stop on our personalised tour of the island was the Dun Carloway Broch, again Wikipedia is your friend if you want to read more about it, and I don’t think I’d even begin to do it justice if I tried.

Dun Carloway Broch

Next on the agenda was Dailbeag beach, this is a beautiful little beach on the west coast of the island, and it was really nice watching the waves from the Atlantic Ocean crashing into the rocks here.

The sun also made an appearance for us just sticking out over the hills and on the way back we had the good fortune to see a Golden Eagle as well which was amazing.

A few photos of Dailbeag beach.

The final destination of our tour was the Black House Village

I know I’m taking the easy way out with these wikipedia links but they really do explain things a lot better and in much more detail than I could do.

The black houses.

An added bonus of having local knowledge meant we were taken to a house which used to be a restaurant but is now sadly closed but it was worth the trip up to see the dragon the previous owner had built and the lovely moon entrance.

 

 

All of this walking about and fresh air gave us quite the appetite so it was back to Tony and Penny’s house for wonderful homemade trifle and a dram of whiskey before sitting in the living room and having a good old chat whilst admiring the view from the living room window.

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Relaxing with a wee dram.

On the Sunday night Tony and Penny treated us to a lovely meal at the Cabarfeidh hotel , I had roasted Lamb in red wine sauce and it was quite possibly the finest lamb I have ever eaten.

So it was with heavy hearts that we had to say our goodbyes Sunday night and make the short journey down to Tarbert to make sure we were there first thing to catch the ferry back to Uig and begin the long journey home.

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Set for the night at Tarbert port.

Once we had set the van up for night we had a walk over to the Hotel Hebrides for a couple of pints before retiring to bed, we had to be up bright and early in the morning for the 7:30am ferry back to Uig. There is only one thing to do when you are on the ferry that early of a morning and that’s to head straight for the restaurant and have a full cooked breakfast, we were driving down to the Lake District today so it was important we set ourselves up for the long day ahead.

Once off the ferry we made good progress and with only a couple of stops for food/toilet breaks it was nearly 8pm when we turned into Eskdale campsite in Boot. I love this campsite, I always stop here either on the way up to Scotland or most likely on the way back. The Boot Inn is a great pub that does really good food; I can certainly recommend the Texan Burger!

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I can certainly recommend the Texan burger at The Boot Inn

Tuesday morning and we decided to skip breakfast and make the relatively short 4 hour drive back to Leicester. We were lucky that not once in the whole trip did we get stuck in any traffic; the weather was generally very good for us.

It was very much a whirlwind trip but we crammed loads into the 5 days, made some new friends, saw some great sights and I came home with black pudding and a new hat!

Thanks for reading!

 

Simmo.

 

 

Cycle to Mablethorpe? Are you mad?

One of, if not THE most important thing to remember if you are going to cycle 100 miles in a day is to get a good night’s sleep the night before you attempt it. I don’t know if it was nerves, excitement or a bit of both but I just couldn’t get sleep and finally managed about 3 hours in total.

But let’s start at the beginning, back in 1962 my dad was having a tough time at home and as an eleven year old boy was sent to Mablethorpe Childrens Holiday Centre,  it was a charity run Holiday Centre where kids who wouldn’t normally get a holiday could get to visit the seaside.

Fast forward 55 years and my dad is the Mayor of the small town they live in and has to choose a charity that he will raise money for over the course of the year he is in office.

The Holiday centre was established in 1898 by Lady Rolleston, she was so moved by the poverty of children in Leicester that she started a committee that selected children from Leicester for an annual holiday in Mablethorpe. The charity is still running today and relies wholly on donations from the public and businesses to meet the £185,000 yearly running costs.

Our plan started, as all good plans do, in the pub, if you’re going to do something stupid it really helps if you have a best mate who is equally as stupid as you are to join you.

So my best mate Steve and I decided we would cycle from the Council offices in Wigston to the Mablethorpe Holiday Centre, a distance of just over 100 miles.

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A pair of idiots at the starting point.

Now, I’ve been cycling the 7 miles to work and back on and off (more off recently if I’m honest with myself) for a couple of years now, I try to put the £20 a week I would spend on fuel in the van still so if we decide to go away I normally have a full tank ready to go.

Steve started cycling to work a couple of years ago so we both do a fair bit of cycling.

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A pair of idiots 10 miles in.

We set off under blue skies at 6:45am on Easter Sunday with my dad and sister in my van as support crew, now when people say they couldn’t have done things without other people’s help they sometimes don’t really mean it but we would never have done it without our support team. They helped us with directions, got us hot drinks, provided us with peanut butter sarnies (Steve’s favourites!) and gave us a lot of encouragement; we quite literally would have been lost without them.

The first 60 miles were quite nice, it was only when we got to Boston that the rain started and I’ve got to admit it became hard work, soaking wet and more and more tired I think my brain just switched off a lot of the time and it was just a case of getting to the end. The push of looking behind and seeing Steve there really helped me to keep going.

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Trying to stay out of the rain.

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Having to cycle in the rain.

We managed to do just over 100 miles in 7 hours and 11 minutes, a great effort I’m sure you’ll agree for two overweight lads that spend too much time in the pub than is healthy or indeed recommended.  As we arrived at the Holiday Centre all our families were there to welcome us which was really nice. Helen, who is the lovely lady that runs the Centre, made us the best tasting cup of tea I’ve ever had and then showed us all around the Centre and explained a lot of the work that they do there.

 

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We made it!.

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The route we took and our time.

At the time of writing this Steve and I have managed to raise over £1200 which will pay for Sports kit for 30 children or 2 weeks of day trips on the bus.

We stayed over at a hotel called the  http://www.grangeandlinkshotel.co.uk/ where I had the best shower I have ever had, a wonderful meal and by 11pm both Steve and I could barely keep our eyes open or lift our pints of beer so we headed back to our rooms to get some much needed sleep.

Next morning Steve, his wife bex, his two sons and Mel and I met up for a full English breakfast and had a walk down to the sea before heading back home.

It was a fantastic experience and raised a substantial amount of money, looking back I would do it again or something similar as it gave us a real sense of achievement but above all else I hope I paid a little bit back for the help they gave my dad when he was younger and I hope I made my family proud.

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The best cup of tea I’ve ever tasted.

If you would like to sponsor us you can still by visiting https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/simmo-steve

Thanks for reading!

To Hamburg and back.

“it’s not flying you should worry about, it’s crashing” I’ve heard this a lot whenever I tell people I’m scared of flying, don’t get me wrong I have flown lots of times, as far as Mexico before now but I just don’t like it so if there is an easier way of getting somewhere I will take it.

That is why whilst most of my friends were sat having a drink in the bar at Stanstead airport I was driving through Holland and Germany on my way to Hamburg for a stag do.

My journey started straight from work on Thursday 30th March, I’d already loaded my van up so got changed and headed down to Harwich port to catch the overnight Stena ferries boat to the Hook of Holland.

The ferry at Harwich

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I had booked a single cabin hoping to get my head down and wake up fresh the next morning for the five-hour drive up to Hamburg. I’ve got to say the cabin was brilliant, very comfortable bed, TV and an En suite with a very hot and powerful shower. I paid just under £280 for the return journey which I thought was quite reasonable. Although there were bars and a cinema etc on the boat I went straight to my room for a shower and then went sleep. The boat docks at 7am in Holland and you get an hour warning over the tannoy system so I was up early Friday morning.

My cabin

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I drove off the ferry, put the campsite address into my sat nav and started my drive up through Holland, into Germany and up to Camping Bucholz  on the outskirts of Hamburg.

After an hour or so of driving I was getting hungry so stopped at one of the many service/parking areas and made myself some sausage cobs and a cup of tea. One of the things I love about having the van is being able to stop whenever you like and make yourself something to eat.

Always time for a snack

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Certain parts of the Autobahn don’t have a speed limit which although my van was never going to trouble maximum speed limits it does make driving a lot easier as you are not on the lookout for speed cameras or police you can just concentrate on driving.

Camping Bucholz is perhaps a little misleading as it’s basically a hard standing car park, I did notice one couple in a tent but they were clearly struggling to get their tent pegs into the ground. It’s fine if you are in a camper van though and for €70 for three nights, without hook up it seemed more than reasonable.

My van at Camping Bucholz

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If you leave the campsite and turn left and then walk about 50 yards and cross over the road, you can catch the bus into Hamburg centre. For €6.20 you get a 24hr bus ticket which also allows you to use the underground and some boat rides! The Bus drops you off at the town hall where there is plenty of shops and bars. If like me you were heading to the Reeperbahn then near the town hall square you jump on the U3 underground to St Pauli which takes you to the Reeperbahn.

Once I had met up with the rest of the lads we had a walk around the bars and even managed to play some German lads at table football, a rematch of 1966 that unfortunately we lost (Where is a Russian linesman when you need one!) but they were really friendly and we ended up playing for quite a while and having a few beers with them.

1966 – The rematch

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As anyone who has been on a stag do will tell you, what happens on the stag do, stays on the stag do! Suffice to say we all had a great time, drank and ate too much and spent too many euros!!

Hamburg is a great city, the bars are brilliant, one highlight for me was bumping into a Kaiserslautern fan wearing a Leicester City tee-shirt, we had our photo taken and had a quick chat about football then he was on his way!

Us Leicester City fans get everywhere

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Monday morning and it was time for me to head back to the Hook of Holland for my overnight ferry back to Harwich, it was an amazingly smooth crossing and I slept like a log. Tuesday morning as I left the ferry port I was quite hungry and craving a full English. I drove past a few little chefs  but didn’t fancy paying over the odds for a rubbish breakfast when just off the A14 near Bury St Edmunds I spotted this place, the hill top café, if you’re passing then I can heartily recommend this place, for £7.95 the breakfast I had was superb, a mug of tea and a free fill up of hot water for your flask if you buy a breakfast! I honestly can’t recommend it enough.

A quite superb cafe

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And that was the end of my trip, 967 miles later I pulled up on my drive and started getting the van ready for a rather different trip I would be taking in a week or two.

If anyone would like info on ferries, campsite etc.  Drop me a message on any of the below or comment here.

Thanks for reading.

As usual any comments/criticism please feel free to get in touch!

Twitter: – @simmo_1977

Email: – vwt4trips@gmail.com