This blog describes our September 2021 journey southbound from Ardrishaig to Alicante – Week 1.
Before I describe our first week back on the road I’ll briefly update you on what we’ve been up to since the last blog…
Our family were back in Ardrishaig for a week in mid August and although the weather was not as kind as their last visit in July, we still all had a great time together – our last until Christmas!
Eilidh especially loves going to see ‘Bampa’s’ motorhome and maybe one day when they are older we can have a weekend away with them (that might be all the length of time we have the energy for!)
By sheer good fortune the day after they arrived The Waverley visited Ardrishaig for the first time in 20 years and people came from far and wide to witness the occasion. The Waverley is the last ocean going paddle steamer in the world and is classified as a “vessel of pre-eminent national importance.” It always attracts crowds where-ever it goes and is one of the most photographed vessels afloat in UK waters and I added a few pictures to that collection…
Once the family left we were left with just over a week to get Bessie ready for our next big travel adventure – ‘Ardrishaig to Alicante’ for some Autumnal sunshine. A month before we were due to arrive in Spain there was an article in the Daily Mail forecasting temperatures of around 116 degrees. Far too hot for elderly Scottish people so hopefully the temperature will be back to normal by the time we arrive. Saying that, the ‘normal’ average temperature in the Alicante region is 83 degrees in September, 77 degrees in October before crashing down to 69 degrees in November!
The (loose) plan was to take a couple of weeks to meander down to Portsmouth for the sailing on the evening of 16th of September, but before that Bessie had to be cleaned and a few improvements made.
First and probably most importantly was the purchase of a new Cadac BBQ. Any regular reader of these blogs will know that we like nothing better than a BBQ of an evening and our old one had been a great buy but was now showing its age.
The new one, a Cadac Safari Chef QR, is the same basic design but with loads of new features and I can’t wait to put it through its paces on this trip.
Check it out HERE.
I’ve’ve never used silicone mats on the BBQ before but have seen them used by people on YouTube videos who swear by them.
This pack of 3 were on offer on Amazon and came with a basting brush and silicone tongs.
See them HERE.
And finally, given the expected weather conditions ahead, we invested in a Chillmax 12v fan by JML.
I’m never really tempted by TV adverts as we hardly watch TV to see them in the first place, but the advert for this one was seen somewhere and noted. The fan is rechargeable by USB so it can be on the dash as we drive, used in the van in the evening or even outside.
Check it out HERE.
The other main bit of preparation in this era of Covid was to find out the documents required to enter Spain. Thankfully it was not too onerous a task and a paper copy of our vacine records from the Scottish NHS and an online form from the Spanish Government was all it took.
Despite the billions spent, at the time of writing the Scottish Government cannot provide a working digital copy of your vaccination record so a paper copy has to be applied for and posted out to you.
The link to this site is – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/nhs-covid-pass
A link from the Brittany Ferries website takes you to a Spanish site where you complete an online Health Control form (FCS form) and enter your travel details, date, ferry, cabin number, etc, where you’ll be staying, mobile phone number etc. Other details required are your your vaccine details and after all of that an email arrives almost immediately with a QR barcode. Obviously this can be scanned from your phone but I printed them off to pin onto the vaccine certificate.
If you are not double vaccinated you have to take a test within 3 days of sailing.
The link to this site is – https://spthm.puertos.es/
One of the major jobs that had to be taken care of was thoroughly cleaning Bessie inside and out, including the roof. This took two days and it was worth it as Bessie was looking like new again, even though I was a physical wreck afterwards!
There are things you can plan and there are those that can’t be predicted and two of those hit us in the last couple of days before leaving. The battery on my electric bike has been on the blink for some time and I bought a replacement and although it came with all the fittings to replace the existing one, it would not fit so had to be returned. It is an expensive piece of kit and as Argos had an offer on an electric bike which was only a few hundred pounds more than a replacement battery so I splashed out more of the children’s inheritance and ordered one to be picked up in Dumbarton on the way south.
The Navigator had been suffering toothache for some time but her Dentist could not fit her in to extract them before we set off, but on our final day at home a cancellation meant she could have one of the offending teeth extracted. Not the best way to start a holiday!
We set off in a gleaming Bessie at 9am on Wednesday the 1st of September and made it to Dumbarton in just over 90 minutes which was good going given there was a lot of traffic on the road, including many motorhomes. After picking up my new bike at Argos and a few necessities at next door Asda, we headed off again, through Glasgow and south on the M74.
A quick pit stop at Abington Services for lunch then on to Lochmaben for today’s final leg, arriving just after 2pm.
Kirkloch Caravan Park, Lochmaben
GPS = 55.127593, -3.442828
What3Words = ///winemaker.rips.shift
Kirkloch Caravan Site is owned and run by Dumfries & Galloway Council and on arrival you phone them to find out your pitch number as the warden is not on site until 3.30pm. We were fortunate to be allocated a front row pitch facing out onto the loch and sat out for the rest of the afternoon in the glorious sunshine.
The new Cadac and silicone mat were used for the first time and were a great success, especially the mat as it prevented the grill from coming into contact with the meat which saved (The Navigator) time cleaning the grill later. There was a lovely sunset over the loch as people used their paddle boards and the swans, geese and ducks settled down for the night.
Thursday dawned grey and cloudy, a distinct change from the blue skies and heat of yesterday. The main task for today was to assemble the new bike and make sure it was in working condition and after about an hour I was on it and putting it through its paces.
As the morning went on the clouds cleared and gave way to clear blue skies although it was not quite as scorching hot as yesterday. As we had our lunch sitting in front of the van and taking in all the bird life on the loch we were joined by John, from the caravan behind us, who sat and chatted to us for about ninety minutes. John’s early career was in the Army and was stationed abroad for most of his time including the Falklands and Germany, where he spent ten years. We really enjoyed our wide ranging conversation with him and his wife, Margaret, who joined us as well.
A high proportion of the caravans on this site are seasonal pitches and the owners are here from April to October and form a close knit community before they all put their vans in storage and hibernate at home over the winter. In the evening, after another delicious BBQ, we headed off for a walk along the edge of the adjacent Lochmaben golf course on a circular route which took us into the top of the town and back to the site in the dark.
Crakehall Water Mill, Crakehall
GPS = 54.306917, -1.627451
What3Words = ///ridiculed.riverbed.opposing
It was another dull, grey, start to the day and after breakfast and getting the van ready for the drive ahead, we set off at 10am.
We had enjoyed our stay here, helped by being on a pitch with uninterrupted views over the loch. It is quiet and peaceful although the greenkeepers on the golf course next to the site were buzzing about on their tractors cutting grass from 7am. This will be news to The Navigator when she reads this as she slept on for another hour, blissfully unaware of the activity a few hundred yards away!
First stop today was Aldi in Carlisle then Asda for fuel as the next five nights would be spent in small villages without access to a supermarket. From Carlisle it was back on the M6 to Penrith where we headed over the A66, passing by Appleby and Brough before joining the A1(M) at Scotch Corner. The traffic on this cross country route was horrendous and every time it went from dual-carriage way to single lane the queues went back miles as everyone filtered into the one lane.
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Not exactly the shortest route to Portsmouth I hear you say, but the reason for the detour will become apparent early next week so keep reading!
After a brief pit-stop for lunch at the Leeming Bar rest area, it only took ten minutes to arrive at the pretty village of Crakehall and the CL we were staying at, Crakehall Watermill and you can read about the watermill HERE. The CL field is on a slope and our chocks made a valiant attempt at levelling Bessie but didn’t quite make it!
After setting up, we set off for a walk around Little Crakehall and the much prettier Great Crakehall which has the quintessential cricket pitch on the village green overlooked by a magnificent manor house and pretty olde English cottages. Apart from the historic properties there is a Jet filling station and a hotel so no opportunity to spend any money, thankfully.
Back at the van it was impossible to sit out or barbecue as there were swarms of tiny black insects everywhere so we stayed indoors listening to podcasts and reading for the rest of the evening.
The Village Field, Norwell
GPS = 53.149310, -0.845929
What3Words = ///chapels.term.annual
After a long lie in and a leisurely breakfast we set off from Crakehall heading back to the A1(M) but this time I drove though the historic market town of Bedale where there has been a Tuesday market for over 750 years! Bedale is mentioned in the Domesday Book but its heyday was in the Georgian period which is reflected in the impressive properties in the main street. Well worth noting for another visit in the future!
It was a straightforward drive to our next destination, the village of Norwell, six miles from Newark. We were the only van on the CL when we arrived, although a camper van joined us later in the afternoon. After lunch we had a walk around the village, and, like Crakehall, it was a pretty village with some very desirable timber framed homes. Even though it was a Saturday afternoon it was deserted and the one shop, pub and garden centre were all closed, as was the church.
Norwell had a church, a priest and a watermill in 1086 when it was mentioned in the Domesday book. There is still a church in the village but no priest which is probably why it was locked. After our walk we returned to Bessie and relaxed for the rest of the day, topped off by one of The Navigator’s trademark curries!
Sunday started cloudy but as the day progressed it became very warm and we had a very lazy day listening to podcasts and reading. The camper van moved on heading for Sussex and we were alone on the site again. It was hot late into the evening and I barbecued again and we ended up watching Vera on TV. The Navigator, who reads every crime fiction book she can get her hands on failed miserably to pick the person who committed the murder, a rare event!
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The forecast on Monday was for another lovely day so we decided to get the local bus into the market town of Newark-on-Trent in the morning. Newark is a town we know well as we used to live about 45 minutes away and visited often. As well as a good Saturday market in the main square it is an interesting town with an impressive castle on the banks of the River Trent.
The bus took about 20 minutes taking the long way through some lovely villages although it shouldn’t have bothered as no one else got on after leaving Norwell. Thankfully it came back a marginally shorter route. It was baking hot as we walked about especially for me as I was left outside as The Navigator went into a few shops she hadn’t been in in a long time. The town was as lovely as ever and we enjoyed an al fresco lunch sitting on the steps of the Town Hall on the edge of the market square.
After lunch we meandered about some more and ended up down on the bridge over the Trent to get a great view of the river and castle.
We headed back to Norwell on the bus and got off at the opposite end of the village from where Bessie is parked as we wanted to visit the Nurseries which was a real treat. Half wild garden and half plants for sale, it was a riot of colour and inhabited by loads of butterflies. There is a pavilion where you can make yourself a cuppa and have a piece of cake with an honesty box for your payment. I sat in the Pavilion while The Navigator chose a plant and I chatted to a woman taking shade from the baking heat who was here from Sheffield to volunteer in the garden which showed a real enthusiasm as Sheffield is well over an hour away. Read about the Norwell Nursery HERE.
Back at Bessie we sat in the shade of the van as it was baking hot now. The Navigator made a cuppa and we polished off a Belgian Bun from Greggs. The farmer came to collect our money and after dinner we listened to some podcasts and watched some YouTube videos. The roof window was left open but there was no cooling breeze so The Navigator commandeered the aforementioned fan to try and keep cool as she slept.
GPS = 52.990318, -0.991006
What3Words = ///bricks.standards.audible
After three relaxing days in Norwell it was time to move on this morning half an hour down the A46 to Lowdhams at Gunthorpe, a village on the banks of the Trent and home of the dealer where we bought Bessie. We were here to pick up some parts for Bessie to fix when we eventually get home in December. As a customer of Lowdhams we can stay on their site for free and we would be taking advantage of their hospitality. We are Scots after all and a free night hooked up to electricity is not to be sniffed at!
Last March when we left Spain in a marked manner three East Midlands couples and ourselves had made arrangements to have lunch near here to celebrate The Navigator’s approaching birthday but in the end it was cancelled as we all had to get home and isolate because of Covid. Thinking we could all meet again and have the long overdue lunch, unfortunately, for various reasons two of the couples couldn’t make it but Garry came to pick us up and take us back to their house where Carol was waiting for us.
Garry and Carol have a Swift Kon Tiki and if you know nothing about motorhomes just imagine Bessie on steroids! Bessie has a great specification but Garry is skilled in all things technical and we had a guided tour of the upgrades to their van since we last saw it in Spain, the highlight being a state of the art air conditioning unit which put our little JML 12v fan to shame!
After a catch up chat we headed out for a very agreeable ‘pensioners special’ lunch which we all enjoyed.
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This dear reader, is where the afternoon took a bizarre twist that saw the four of us ending up being driven in an unmarked police car by a young female detective from Nottingham Police as we followed Garry’s car which had just been driven off by another detective!
And no, I’m not making any of this up to embellish the blog and to prove it here is the Navigator, Carol and Garry about to get into said Police car and the detective on the phone cancelling the call for uniformed back up she had just made a few minutes earlier.
So how did we get in this position I hear you ask.
Well, we were only a few hundred yards from Lowdhams and about to cross the bridge over the Trent when Garry had to stop as the traffic had ground to a halt. A message then flashed up on a screen on the dashboard to say there was a gear box problem and as the traffic in front of us started to move on, we didn’t, as the car wouldn’t engage a forward gear.
The queue of traffic behind us was stretching back and the three of us quickly got out to try and push the car onto the verge and only managed it with the assistance of the driver (a plain clothes detective) of the car behind us. He told us to cross over to the other side of the road and on to a pavement where Garry tried without success to call the AA and the female detective tried to phone for uniformed back up as their car did not have blue lights.
This could not have happened at a worse spot as the traffic approaching from the opposite direction was coming round a blind corner at speed so the traffic behind us had difficulty getting past.
Eventually the male detective asked Garry for his keys and went across to see if the car would start and after about a minute of turning the key and fiddling about with the (automatic) gears we were a bit dumbfounded to see him driving off. That’s when we got back across the road and into the police car. It wasn’t exactly a hot pursuit as he only drove a few hundred yards where he found an entrance into a field to pull into. As the female detective drove us it was funny to see the male detective running back to tell us where he had parked!
We had no idea what had happened to the gear box but it made it to Lowdhams where we all had a reviving cuppa and here’s a picture of Garry and Carol relaxed and seeing the funny side of the events of the previous hour! We were glad to get a message to say they had made it home without further incident…
I wonder what week 2 of Ardrishaig to Alicante will bring us before we get the ferry in Portsmouth…
We visit Shardlow but our planning leaves a bit to be desired…
We stay at Onneley and our planning could not be better…
We stay at Winchester for our final stop in England before boarding the ferry to Spain…