2020 – The Autumn Tour – Week 1
This is the first week of a two or three week break in Bessie. We’ve missed using the van over the summer months and were determined to have a good longish break. There was only one objective and that was to be at Lowdhams near Nottingham to have a twice cancelled habitation check to maintain the vans warranty. Apart from that we were free to wander there and back at our leisure.
Wednesday 7th of October – Beecraigs Country Park
With the increased covid restrictions announced today it was as good a time as any to head for the hills – the Bathgate Hills that is.
The Navigator and I were both born & bred and lived in the Falkirk area until we moved to the East Midlands in 1996. A few miles from where I was brought up in the village of Standburn are the Bathgate Hills which lie between Linlithgow and Bathgate. It is a hilly, unspoilt area dominated by Cockelroy, the highest of the hills which has stunning views and on a clear day you can see from Berwick Law to the east right up the Forth Valley to Stirling.
We used to come up here a lot and it was a particular favourite for the girls to roll their Easter eggs but we have only been once in our previous van so decided to make it our first stop on our leisurely way down to the East Midlands. Since we were last here the camping site has been upgraded to a high standard and the hard standing pitches are a huge improvement on the quagmire it used to be.
When we arrived in mid afternoon we had a cuppa then set off for a walk. The Beecraigs Country Park is owned by West Lothian Council and apart from the campsite there is a visitor centre, deer farm and miles of forest walks. There is a loch stocked with trout and boats are available for hire and back in the day there was a trout farm but it seems to be closed now. It was clear but overcast and the lights flashing on the Forth Bridges stood out. We walked around the deer farm then did a circuit of the loch before heading back to Bessie who was in splendid isolation in the section we were on.
Heating on, Spag Bol then YouTube and Netflix rounding off the night.
Thursday 8th of October – Beecraigs Country Park
Blue skies and sunshine greeted us this morning and after a lazy morning in the van we decided to try and get to the top of Cockleroy to take in the magnificent view. The summit is only 912ft above sea level and with Bessie parked not far from the base of the hill we thankfully were not having to climb the full 912ft, not without oxygen and some sherpas to carry some provisions (or me!).
It rained in the morning so we stayed in and I did some work and The Navigator busied about. After lunch the rain relented and it brightened up so the first stop was the visitor centre as I was keen to find out what happened to the trout farm, only to find out it was no longer in operation and they also had stopped selling venison, instead selling the animals on to be culled elsewhere. The visitor centre sells overpriced things that you find in any other visitor centre anywhere but the adjoining cafe was doing great business with lots of people sitting out enjoying the sunshine and the incredible view to the east. If you expand the following picture you will see the Forth Bridges in the distance.
From the visitor centre we set off to scale the east face of Cockleroy, not exactly the north face of the Eiger I know, but my feet were killing me after yesterdays walk. The lesson I have now learned is never turn up at a country park and head out for a walk in inappropriate shoes and socks!
Crippled or not I was determined to scale the hill and set off suffering with every step. In the following picture you could be fooled into thinking that this path took you straight to the bottom of the hill but instead it headed to the left through the trees and via a play area and car park before reaching base camp where thankfully there was a seat to gather our strength before the final assault!
In the grand scheme of things it is an easy enough walk up the hill and we stopped a few times to draw breath and remember the Easter Sunday days we brought the girls to roll their Easter Eggs. We eventually made it and it was well worth the effort even though it was a chilly wind blowing from the West.
The view to the east was all the way to Stirling and the hills of the Trossachs. The viaduct carrying the Glasgow – Edinburgh main line can be seen on the right in the following picture.
To the north it was Fife on the other side of the Forth with what looked like moored up cruise ships at Rosyth Dockyard. The ancient burgh of Linlithgow was below us with the Palace birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots plainly visible.
Looking east we could see the Bass Rock at North Berwick, Arthur’s Seat at Edinburgh and the Forth Bridges.
It was at this point I discovered that there was no flask of reviving hot tea or bar of Kendal Mint Cake in The Navigator’s backpack! You can use the comments form at the bottom to have a guess what she carries in it! I’m still none the wiser…
The walk back was thankfully easier and we just made it back in time before a heavy rain shower. The Navigator’s Fitbit indicated we had walked just over 6,000 steps but my feet were indicating it felt like 60,000. Tea and the heating blasting away soon put the world to rights!
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Friday 9th of October – Highfield CL, Lochmaben
We have to drop some things off to Emma in Leeds a week today so there is no real need to travel a lot of miles so I found a CL on the outskirts of Lochmaben and booked it for a night, although we ended up staying two nights. A CL is a Certified Location and listed by the Caravan & Motorhome Club to legally take 5 units.
After a longish lie in we serviced the van and first headed to Bathgate for a few things. We lived in Bathgate from 1975 to 1982 and it was fairly grim to be honest but although the heavy industry has gone – “Bathgate no more” – it has been transformed by huge new housing estates and a retail park with all the usual stores.
From there it was onto the M8 motorway to the M74 heading south with a stop for lunch at the services near Crawford. Another half an hour and we were in Moffat for a walk about. Thankfully Moffat seems to be surviving better than many Scottish towns and most of the shops are still open and a fair few tourists were milling about.
The highlight of Moffat for me is a visit to the Moffat Toffee shop for a ‘poke’ of sweets. Asking for a hundred grams of your childhood favourite sweets has lost a bit of the magic of asking for a ‘quarter’ of, in my case butternuts or soor plooms, and this time it was butternuts. A bridie from the butcher was our next contribution to the local Moffat economy!
For some reason Google Maps decided not to give directions to the CL in Lochmaben and after a circuit of the town including one street with about two inches clearance on either side of Bessie we eventually found it. It turns out that the wife of the gentleman who booked us in is from Argyll and knows Ardrishaig well. Small world!
Saturday 10th of October – Highfield CL, Lochmaben
I won’t go into the gory details but I had an email from KDP, the subsidiary of Amazon who host and sells my books online, stating that I had made a serious error in the description of the books that potentially could have seen all 350+ delisted so I beavered away late on Friday night and this morning removing the offending link to my site and updating the listings!
With 75% of the listings updated, we set off for a walk into Lochmaben after lunch. It is a sleepy little place with one grocery shop, a bakers, hardware store, chip shop, Chinese takeaway, ice cream shop, and that was about it. The town is only four miles from Lockerbie and the M74 and on a busy road from there to Dumfries.
The statue you see dominating Lochmaben’s main street is that of King Robert the Bruce who hailed from these parts. In the above picture take note of the tree behind the red car on the right hand side as it features in the next sentence.
After a brief walkabout we crossed the road and The Navigator went backpack over boobs just as we reached the other side as she slipped on wet leaves on top of some mud. She has form for taking a tumble and through experience I give her a minute to regain her dignity then help her up. A slightly skint knee and a bit of embarrassment were the only damage of note and a Latte and half a millionaires shortbread sitting outside the bakers had her as good as new in no time!
Lochmaben has two lochs, a quite large one you see from the road as you drive through and a smaller one you can’t see from the main road. This smaller one is called Kirk Loch and is very scenic with a municipal caravan park with twenty odd places on the shoreside. The caravans at the waters edge seemed to be there for the season and had lots of the menfolk fishing.
One of the things that I’ve always found is that when the government or local authority get involved in anything bureaucracy soon gets out of hand and to prove my point I give as examples the endless daily First Minister briefings we Scots are subjected to and a simple thing like the rules for a small caravan park and the evidence for this is this notice of the rules and regulations Dumfries & Galloway Council think is necessary!
That said, it is a lovely well maintained site and was duly noted for future reference.
This next picture is of the larger Castle Loch.
As my feet were in better socks and shoes today, coupled to having a bit of a rest yesterday, I was feeling no pain and easily managed 6,000+ steps today.
Sunday 11th of October – Hawes Caravan & Motorhome Club
Another lazyish morning before heading off, first towards Lockerbie then down the M74 for half an hour before pulling over into Carlisle for our Sunday video chat with the girls. Eilidh was on good form and after the call we headed on south.
We were heading for Hawes, our favourite North Yorkshire town and almost missed it as the satnav forgot to tell me to come off the M6 at J37 so for a change it was J36 which was a long road for a shortcut.
It was a lovely bright day and we were in no hurry as the Caravan and Motorhome Club sites don’t let you on until after 1pm anyway. This route takes you along the A65 past Kirkby Lonsdale before turning onto the B6255 for an amazing 17 mile drive to Hawes. The scenery is rugged and every spot to park was full of walkers enjoying a Sunday hike in dry sunny weather. This road also seemed to be a favourite with bikers and there seemed to be hundreds of them on the road. You go past the tourist attraction of White Scar Cave which claims to be the longest cave tour in England, then on to the famous Ribblehead Viaduct and there were hundreds and hundreds of cars parked here either with walkers or photographers taking pictures of trains crossing the viaduct, or it could be people out enjoying the outdoors before even more restrictions are announced tomorrow by Boris. Here is a clip from my dash cam to show the amazing amount of people out and about today. Unfortunately you can’t see the viaduct as it’s off to the left between the bridge I go under and the Ice Cream Van.
In Hawes itself there were dozens of bikers parked up in the main street and the whole place was mobbed. We arrived at the caravan park just before 1.30pm to find we were 8th in line to check in and the woman on reception said that 52 outfits were booked to check in today. In mid October! We serviced the van and contented ourselves with a walk around the site as it looked to be too busy to go into the village. That will be tomorrows entertainment if it stays dry as the forecast is not good for the next couple of days.
After dinner we caught up on the YouTube videos of people we follow and that was about it for today.
Monday 12th of October – Hawes Caravan & Motorhome Club
A rather inclement day to say the least so we were confined to the van in the morning and it was not until mid afternoon that we could walk into Hawes for a wander about. As the campsite was almost full there were lots of fellow retired couples doing the same so it was quite busy, but nothing like yesterday with all the bikers and Sunday day trippers.
We had lunch in the van before going out so The Navigator could not indulge herself at the Wensleydale Cheese visitor centre restaurant this time. When in Hawes there are two shops we always frequent. Elijah Allen is best described as a Yorkshire delicatessen and there is always something edible that catches the eye. The other must visit shop is J. W. Cockett & Son which is the local butcher/baker and their carrot cake is to die for as is their home made sausages and this time we bought the pork and bramley apple variety. We also bought 2 bacon chops which we’ve never had before. They were thick and meaty and looked like a cross between a pork chop and a gammon steak and were devoured for dinner tonight. Having distributed some Scottish pounds into the local economy we made it back to Bessie before the next heavy rain shower.
Tuesday 13th of October – Dyke Bottom Farm CL, Harrogate
Another rainy day to wake up to and the plan for today was to head off in the direction of Harrogate to a Caravan & Motorhome Club CL less than 2 miles from the city centre. The 32 mile drive is one that we did last year, but in the opposite direction and it is a beautiful drive through typical Yorkshire countryside and villages made even more spectacular with the autumnal colours.
As I drove into the farm the farmer gave us an enthusiastic wave which I returned not realising that his friendly gesture was actually to try and warn me that I had overshot the camping area gate and was heading for the wrong gate! It reminded me of the story of a man on a beach returning what he thought was a friendly wave from a swimmer out to sea, not realising the swimmer was in fact in distress and signalling for help.
We arrived at Dyke Bottom Farm just after lunchtime in lashing rain which The Navigator didn’t much like as she was dispatched to open the gate to the camping area. A relaxing, cosy afternoon and evening was spent with the heating on and listening to the rain battering down.
COMING UPIN THE NEXT BLOG…
Meeting Emma for the weekend.
Bessie gets checked over – 7 months late!
A surprise encounter – to you, not to us, obviously…