Home again, what a year!

Well, we arrived home early evening to find that Charlie had been a great caretaker.  He made us a wonderful meal and we chilled out with a beer and a couple of glasses of wine and some Rockband.  Tomorrow and real life starts in earnest again.

Motorhome life by the numbers might be interesting for anyone thinking of doing the same.  We were not frugal but we also were not afraid to splash out for special days.  

We spent €20K in our year away  A simple breakdown is diesel was €2.5K, groceries: €5K, site fees: €3.5K, road tolls: €1K, days out €4K, meals out €3K, LPG and Misc stuff: €1K.  That doesn’t include road fund license, insurance, storage fees for when the MS2 is in her stable and other continued household expenses back home.  

Our biggest expense was clearly nosh.  We always ate well and bought local produce wherever we could.  We ate locally when we were out and about during the day (rather than packed lunches from MS2), but mostly in the Mothership in the evenings. We definitely could have reduced this a lot – perhaps by eating out less, perhaps by having meat less often or buying less local produce in favour of supermarkets. Groceries also includes drinks and we do like a tipple *hic*.  Luckily we don’t have a breakdown of liquid refreshments.

Money summary: We could certainly have done this trip much cheaper – we could have used aires more often.  We could have saved a lot in both Rome and Lisbon by using cheaper camp sites (nearly €1000 just for those six weeks of camp site fees).  If you do the same, you may be in a smaller or lower van with much better fuel economy. We could have saved a lot on groceries. But we actually budgeted more that €20K, so we are pretty chuffed to have come home not *quite* skint!

Diesel: well, it is what it is.  MS2 is heavy and tall. We get roughly 25mpg (in weird quirky British units) or 8.8km/l in SI units. We knew what were in for as far as diesel was concerned and although 25mpg sounds bad, it’s better than either our Defender or Saab so it’s a win for us.  It’s not too much worse than MS1 which was half the weight.

Environment: There is not really any way around this.  That 1700 litres of diesel plus 160 litres of LPG have created nearly 5 tons of CO2 .  Ouch. Using online calculators, this is the same as two return trips (each) to Cyprus or both of us taking a return flight to Florida.  So it’s not really as bad as it sounds. We may offset that once we are working again!

As we type this, the motorhome is slowly being emptied, cleaned and going back to the compound for a little while.  There are a few things to fix too. Minor problems and issues to fix. We are grabbing the Saab and getting the Defender out of mothballs.  Job Serve alerts have been set up and various household tasks are being scheduled.

We’ll continue to update the blog.  You may see some weird posts for old events turning up: primarily we want the blog to be useful to us as a reminder of what we did, so we have decided to put some of our old trips on here: it is a great searching tool for those times when we argue about whether that amazing walled town in the Sierra Nevadas was Namur or Samur!

We did this as a 50th birthday present to each other.  Our advice to anyone else is ‘jump in, don’t wait until you are too old/weak/unwell to enjoy it’.  A (nearly) grey gap year is a great experience. Brexit brings uncertainty for UK citizens doing long term trips abroad.  Our advice is ‘don’t let it stop you’. There will always be many reasons not to do it. Don’t let language be a barrier: we have apps on the phone to help us and pretty much everywhere we could get by.  Most countries speak better English than we do.

But stick to the UK if you feel more comfortable. There are many wonderful things to do and see and you could fill up a lifetime without ever leaving the UK. Equally, don’t feel tethered to Western Europe, many grey gappers get to Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and beyond.  And as for us? We are already thinking about ‘what next?’ For every place we visited on the ‘things to do’ list that we ticked off, there are two places that we didn’t get to see. As we follow other gapper and van-life bloggers, we are constantly adding new places to the list for lap two.  Of the EU27 we visited only a few countries. Between Holidays and longer tours we have so much we still want to do and see!

Bon Voyage!

Selina and Toby.

Rutland water and Burghley House

We are heading towards Burghley House and we have a campsite and a backup sorted out.  But this goes wrong quickly! We arrive at the first site to find out they don’t take ‘casual bookings’ so we can’t go there without some notice and presumably passing some kind of pre-qualification test or whatever. So we head to the second site, only to find that it’s mainly families and tents on a small field of a farm, so that’s out too.

We break out Park4Night – our goto app for overnight stops and discover a small campsite on the edge of Rutland Water.  That’s the kiddy!  It’s only a few km, but as we have done quite a lot today already, it’s nearly dusk when we turn up.

The campsite is next to Rutland Water sailing club.  It’s £10 a night in an honesty box by the gate. Perfect.  Fresh water is the only facility, but we don’t need much – mothership can be self sufficient for about a week. More if we are careful with the loo!

A quick walk and we discover that Rutland water is fabulous – there is a cycle path around the whole thing and the weather is due to be good the next day.

So now we have a dilemma – Rutland Water or Burghley House?  We really do only have the day – we have to be back in Horley in the evening.

Serendipity intervenes: T noticed a post from Colin Furze on Facebook that mentioned that his Kylo Ren Tie Fighter build was only to be there for a few more weeks.  Toby didn’t even know he had built a Tie Fighter, never mind it being at Burghley House.  That decided it. Spooky timing for Facebook.

Burghley House is amazing.  Huge stately home – now in a trust of course – with the rooms displaying a huge collection of art.  And being art themselves. Most of the walls and ceilings are Antonio Verrio and are in great condition having been restored recently.  Set all that in gardens and parkland landscaped by Capability Brown. Add a sculpture garden, shop, restaurant and you have it all really!

We spend an hour in the house and a few hours wandering the grounds and the sculpture garden.  Then back into the MS2 for Sausage Rolls and then on towards Horley. Rutland Water will be unfinished business for next time!

Castle Howard, Yorkshire

We visited Castle Howard a few years ago in a rental motorhome – way back before mothership I. At the time we were on a very tight schedule to get the rental beast back to the south coast, so we only did the gardens at Castle Howard and not the house.  This visit is intended to remedy that injustice.

We had a nightmare finding the place.  We knew exactly where we were and we knew exactly where the campsite was, but joining the two together was a bastard. Sally supposedly knows the motorhome dimensions but as you get close to the Castle Howard estate, there are quite a few narrow gateways and low arches.  We ended up face to face with a stone archway that – on paper – we could fit though – *just* with one inch / 10cm clearance. What? Yes, we know. We have exactly translated the height into real units and old english fuckery, but the actual arch had two wildly different numbers. With mirrors in, we should have been fine on the width, but the height looked too close and it was clear that the arch has been hit *a lot*.

Not only that but it was a dead straight roman road and we could see another arch 500 meters further on.

So even though we were less than 1km from the campsite, we embarked on a 30 km detour.  If you fancy a chuckle check out the map near Castle Howard. It’s a laugh watching the track run around and around like a rat in a maze trying to get to the campsite.  Whats driving us nuts is that we came here in the rental beast which is longer, wider and just as tall as Mothership 2, so we don’t know why there were no problems last time.

Anyway, the campsite is fab.  Mainly statics, but they have a touring field and a number of hard standing pitches.  IT ended up great value as the camping gets a two for one entry to the House and Gardens so that was a £20 saving.

After the detour, it was too late in the day to go into the Castle, so we put that off till Monday and instead went for a walk around the Great Lake. About twenty swans and ducks plus two or three hundred Greylag and Canada Geese.

Those geese were noisy buggers – the campsite is only a few meters from the lakes edge and the geese keep up the racket all night – very noisy neighbours!

Monday and the castle was brilliant.  It’s not really a castle of course – it’s a stately home.  The interior decoration is brilliant. 

Lunch was Castle produced Sausage Roll.  And this sausage roll was huge and scrummy – so good that we bought more in the farm shop for the next day!

Time is getting on, so no second night. Instead we head off down the A1 to Rutland Water.

Berwick upon Tweed

Our chosen campsite (that T has stayed at before) was full, so it’s a 8km drive out of town to a small campsite in Ancroft.  Despite the Scottish sounding name, Berwick Upon Tweed is definitely in England.  In fact, it’s 6km south of the border.  

It’s a great hilltop town – it still has Elizabethan town walls, a great viaduct across the Tweed (and a yeuchy concrete bridge too).  

We arrived at the backup campsite late afternoon on Friday and the weather this side of the border is amazing – bright sunshine.  So we broke out shorts and beers for the rest of the evening. 

The following morning and it was blowing a hooley. We had a failed bus attempt, then a failed Uber attempt and then finally a local cab company that got us from the campsite into the town.

The cab driver told us that it was the annual Honda Goldwing meetup that day, so it would have been rude not to check it out!

We checked out the remains of the castle and then did a lap of the city walls and ramparts.  We took in the Honda meetup and had an absolutely fab hog roast roll for lunch. If you came to the going away party last year, you will already know how much we like a hog roast!

After the city walls we mooched around the town for an hour or so. Lots of charity shops is a good summary of the town.  It was a heritage day, so lots of normally closed buildings were open including the old gaol in the top of the town hall. Then we grabbed a bus back to the campsite and did a little planning for the three days trip back to Horley *sniff sniff*.

Edinburgh

We arrived a bit late to do anything on the first day.  We elected to go for a walk before we left Falkirk, so it was a post 1PM departure from Falkirk and then the campsite is a few KM outside the city.

We are at a Caravan and Motorhome club site so there are rules – the motorhome has to be parked a specific way around in the space.  There are bike lockers that we need to use thanks to a spate of recent thefts. We have a spot of late lunch and get the bikes down. Then it’s a few km each way down the Firth of Forth.

Day two and we grab a bus (the campsite is 7 km outside the city) to the royal yacht Britannia and that ends up being the while day gone.  Fabulous boat. They get a massive amount of tourist traffic so we cannot get quite as hands on as some of the boats we have visited over our trip, but it was amazing.

Lunch was on-board the boat, but the queen was not in attendance.  All the food is cooked in the on-board kitchens and we grabbed some fudge to take away for later 😉  A superb meal!

The evening was spent catching up on emails and laundry plus bakeoff. We have still not quite got used to having UK TV in the mothership again.

Back to town on the bus the following day and the National Museum of Scotland.  It’s free to get in and has just about everything that you can imagine as long as it has a Scottish link: Science, technology, natural sciences, architecture and even art.  The museum is built around an old iron framed victorian building which is amazingly light and spacious. Think Ally Pally meets Kew gardens and you will not go far wrong.

The Tower Restaurant was our lunch venue and it was superb.  Two days in a row we have felt like royalty at lunchtime. Late afternoon and it was over to Mary King’s Close for a look at a preserved close.

On the third day in town, we went to the Surgeons’ Hall Museum.  This place is amazing and frightening in equal measure!  Time for a walk down to Hollyrood Palace and see the Scottish Parliament buildings, then check out the New Calton Burying Ground and walk up onto Calton Hill to see the Burns Monument and the Nelson Monument.  The Cemetery is really interesting. It dates from the time of Burke and Hare and their notorious killing spree in 1828 – grave robbing was so common that many of the graves had full cages around them and the ground has it’s own lookout tower.

Fast and Furious number 73 or whatever is at Edinburgh filming at the moment, so we had to fit in around various streets being shut for the movie people.

This is our last day in Scotland – tomorrow takes us back into England and land of the Xenophobes. Toby has to forget he is a Munro and start being a Seaman again!

Falkirk Wheel and Kelpies

We picked the Falkirk Wheel as the overnight stopover.  Our app told us that it was £10 a night without services and with a great view of the wheel.  In the end, it was actually priced at £15 for 24 hours. No great problem – parked at the top of the hill with a view of the landscape and the wheel was a million dollar view, never-mind £15!

We parked us and had a spot of lunch then down the hill to the wheel itself.  Very impressive both form an artistic, engineering and architectural point of view. We had the normal conversation that we always have when we see a system like this, for example Strépy-Thieu boat lifts: namely Archimedes.  Both the canal sections on the wheel weigh exactly the same regardless of what boat(s) are in them. Takes a little thinking about, but yep, it’s true. The wheel is so well balanced that it runs with a 2KW motor. Just a few quid a day to run it.  Pretty cool!

We went on the tourist boat trip – it is a 45 minute trip on the wheel and through the tunnel section at the top.

After the Wheel, we got the bikes down and cycles along the Forth and Clyde Canal canal along to the Kelpies.  It was a great 5 km cycle. Great to be back on the bikes again.

On the cycle ride back from the Kelpies, we stopped to help some cyclists in distress: Donald and Fiona were recently reborn to cycling after a couple of years gap and had managed to get a chain well and truly jammed in one of their bikes. Our tools were not perfect for what was needed but we managed to make do and between the four of us, got the bike running again.  In the process discovering that they were fellow motorhomers and had visited a few of the places that we have been over the last year. Donald and Fiona, we wish you all the best!

Mothership and a few beers for dinner.  Next morning, the parking ticket machine was not working.  The visitor centre validated it for us and when we told them we had stayed overnight in a camper it ended up a freebie – awesome!  Next stop is Edinburgh proper.

Blair Atholl & Pitlochry

It’s back through Grantown and further along the Spey, so we add a few distilleries to those we’ve already spotted: Grants, Aviemore & Dalwhinnie.

A quick visit to Blair Atholl, just to walk the town – it’s where Toby always used to go on holiday as a child, and then down the road to Pitlochry for the dam, salmon ladder and distillery.

It’s the wrong time of year to see any Salmon, but it was interesting to see the hydroelectric plant.  Pitlochry dates to the 1950’s. There are two 7.5 megawatt turbines that both seemed to be running. There was a wonderful hum as we walked over the dam.  There are quite a number of plants along the path of the river Tummel, so these 15 megawatt stations soon add up. Although obviously controversial at the time, the lakes behind the dams are picturesque and are good for fishing so they help the economy in a number of ways.

Aberlour

We are now on the whisky trail proper and as we wind our way along the Spey from Grantown to Aberlour, we pass distillery after distillery – it seems like every turning is to a distillery: Cragganmore, Tamdhu,   Knockando, Dalmunach, Dailuaine and finally Aberlour itself. 

Our stop for the night was intended to be a lovely campsite on the edge of Aberlour, but the campsite neglected to mention the height limited bridge just before the entrance to the campsite.  Seriously, they didn’t bother to note this anywhere on the website. Argh!

So we parked in town and then found a carpark down by the river that allows overnight parking.  So in the end, it worked out great – a freebie and a stay by the river, perfect.

No distillery tours were available at Aberlour, but we were allowed to wander around the outside of the distillery buildings which was a close second!

We also paid a visit to the Walker shortbread factory, where a few kilos of xmas presents were procured.  Plus some factory rejects for the mothership!

A big vat of chilli which will last a couple of days and TV rather than a movie in the van.  Tomorrow it’s back through Grantown on Spey and down to Blair Atholl and Pitlochry.

Culloden, Brodie and Grantown on Spey

From Inverness, it’s up to Culloden to remind ourselves of the Jacobite uprising or the ‘45. No problem with parking – there is a large visitors centre. It seems sort of fitting that we are here the same day as the SNP (assisted by labour and the rest of the opposition benches, not to mention a few soon-to-not-be Conservatives) sticks it to Johnson on No-Deal-Brexit. We walk out onto the battlefield for an hour or so – quite sobering.

From Culloden, a quick visit to Balloch were T grandparents used to live and then along to Brodie castle, their final resting place!  A tour of the castle (sorry, photos not allowed) and a visit to the Smith Memorial bench.

Time was getting on and we decided to just sit tight in the NTS car park and see if we were moved on.  Nope. It ended up a quiet (but rainy) night.

The next morning, we visit the Brodie Country Fare and top up on regional products.  From there, about 35km south to Grantown on Spey. Our neighbour in Horley moved here about fifteen years ago and we wanted to catch up – we have not seen her for ten years.

We got settled in the campsite – a lovely place called Grantown on Spey Caravan Park.  Becky came and picked us up after lunch and took us to see her house. She and her farmer husband Graham are just completing a self build of a wonderful house on the hills overlooking the Spey.   They are rightfully very proud of their place but it was hard not to be just as entranced by the view across the valley taking in the Spey. Back to Grantown and then Graham and Becky took us to a pub on a backstreet in the town that serves amazing pie and chips – the Craig Bar.  Beer, farming, politics and pies.  A great evening. We vowed not to leave it a decade before we next meet up!

Urquhart castle and Inverness

Urquhart castle on a Sunday didn’t work out.  Although there is a reasonable sized car park, it was almost full when we arrived.  The couple of available spaces would not accommodate MS2. Coaches get their own area, but jobsworth would not let us in even though the coach park was nearly empty.  So we had to give Urquhart a miss and carry on to Inverness. 

No drone flying permitted around Urquhart, but at a lay-by up the road we had a cheese and biscuits lunch and a brief flight of the Mavic.  It was short-lived though – Airmap suggested the airspace was fine, but it was only a couple of minutes after takeoff that the DJI app warned of an airspace issue, so the flight was curtailed.  We have a still of the mothership on the banks of Ness and that’s about it!

Our Inverness campsite is about 2 km outside the town behind a motorhome dealer.  It is expensive at £28 per night, but this seems to be the new normal for us. A good day exploring the town and a walk by the river in the afternoon. A trip to A&E for T due to ‘hurty-finger’.  We explored the Tomnahurich cemetery and walked the canal to the Inverness locks. Tourist trap of the castle viewing platform (although it was only a fiver) and a visit to the museum rounded off the day.