Category Archives: Travels in the Van

Holidays – the stuff that memories are made of (hopefully)

Arriving in Mull we suddenly realised that we had a problem.  Not a physical problem you understand, more of a memory thing.  We know that we holidayed on the island with the children back in 1993, but neither of us could remember how we got here, most of what we did when we were here, or more that a few isolated fragments of what should have been a memorable holiday.  We remembered a bit about our accommodation, we remembered that Jennifer spent much of her time trying to befriend a family of feral cats under the building and we remembered that Richard was less than well when we went out fishing for mackerel – but the rest of the trip remains a mystery.  Hopefully our memories of this this trip will last a little longer.

Scallastle Farm, Diane and Nigel’s lovely new home, which they share with a herd of Luing cattle, is just a few minutes drive from the ferry terminal at Craignure.  They (Di and Nigel that is, not the cattle) were perfect and generous hosts for our short stay, driving us hither and thither around the island and sharing their love and enthusiasm for their wonderful  island home. 

When you visit this part of the world at this time of year you have to cross your fingers and hope for decent weather – and for the first four days of our stay we had it.  Clear blue skies and bright Spring sunshine more than compensated for a slightly chill breeze and did justice to the stunning Mull scenery – and not a midge in sight.  Perfect! 

As I’m writing this we’re sitting in the van on Day Five with the rain hammering down, doing its best to compensate for the unseasonable sunshine that we’ve enjoyed since our arrival.  No matter, it gives me a chance to reflect on some of the highlights of our stay.

Speed Bonnie Boat ………

With only about sixty miles to drive from Luss to catch our early evening ferry from Oban to Mull we were able to make a relaxed start to the day and enjoy the scenic drive.  Once again the weather behaved itself and the glens and mountains looked magnificent with just a few traces of snow lingering on some of the peaks.

Along the way we paid a fleeting visit to the ruins of Kilchurn Castle on the banks of Loch Awe, which according to Wikipedia has the distinction of being the oldest surviving military barracks in mainland Britain – notwithstanding the current state of the Defence Budget I’m not sure that many units would fancy being quartered here. 

Interesting though the castle was, I was rather more taken with the old iron railway bridge that crosses the nearby head of the loch.
Arriving in Oban with time to spare we took a walk up to the impressive McCaig’s Tower which gives commanding views of the town and harbour and over towards Mull.  It’s a fascinating structure which was built around the turn of the nineteenth century, but for the life of us we couldn’t come up with a convincing reason for why it should have been built in the first place.

By the Bonnie, Bonnie Banks …………….

Leaving the lovely Peak District we wound our way through Macclesfield (site of one of the Ewbank ancestral homes) back towards the motorway and started the long flog north.  Despite a headwind of about 300mph we had good weather and relatively light traffic – both of which helped to make it a pleasant journey. 

As we were now a couple of days ahead of our original timetable we needed to find a stopover without straying too far off the motorway – after a bit of head scratching we remembered that about four years ago we’d overnighted at Hoddom Castle Campsite which is just over the border near Lockerbie and, despite the site being rather busier than we’d expected, they managed to squeeze us in for the night.  It’s a nice site, but we wondered quite what visitors from overseas would make of their spelling!
A short morning walk from the campsite up to the nearby Repentance Tower provided a more than adequate supply of fresh air and good views of the Solway Firth, both of which set us up for the next leg of the journey up to Luss on the western shore of Loch Lomond.  As we were still a day ahead of our schedule we were again fortunate that the campsite managed to fit us in for the extra day.

Repentance Tower
Repentance Tower – by the time you take up residence here its a little late to repent!

Luss is a pretty’model’ village, built early in the nineteenth century by the local Colquhoun family (who apparently own some 75,000 acres on the western side of the loch) for their workers in the local slate quaries; nice at this quiet time of year but I imagine it must get absolutely rammed during the tourist season.  The following day we cycled the 8 miles along the loch-side up to Tarbert – which I’m afraid to say had absolutely nothing to recommend it!

Biddulph Grange and a Night in the Peaks

It’s good to get out and about again.  Although this last winter hasn’t been especially hard, it does seem to have been a bit of a long slog.  So, this first trip of the year in the ‘van’ has been eagerly anticipated and we’re hoping that we’ll get some decent weather in which to enjoy our Great British scenery. 

We’re never stuck for interesting places to visit but I’m not sure that we’d have considered the Isle of Mull as a destination if Denise hadn’t received an invitation from her friend Diane who’s recently taken up residence there.  But I’m getting ahead of myself – we’ll get to that part of the trip later and no doubt have some tales to tell and pictures to show. 

Anyway, knowing that we’d be travelling pretty much past his front door I arranged some time ago that on the way north I’d drop the Stag off with Cliff Griffiths in Wolverhampton for it to be fitted with a new hood.  The old one was getting pretty tatty and the folding mechanism had become a nightmare, so I’m hopeful that by the time we call in to collect the car on our way back home it will be resplendent with a new roof and it will no longer be a three round wrestling match to put the thing up and down.

We’d originally planned to spend a couple of days on the way up with the family in Bramhall, but unfortunately the girls went down with bad colds and chest infections, so we decided to defer our visit and call in to see them on our way home.  So, with a couple of days to spare we decided to fit in a few visits, the first of which was to Biddulph Grange near Congleton.  The National Trust gardens have fairly recently been returned to something like their Victorian splendour, but I was also keen to see the house, which was where my mother spent the first part of her nursing career in the early forties.  Sadly the house isn’t open to visitors and anyway much has undoubtedly changed in the eighty intervening years, but it was nice to establish a link with her past and to see something of what she experienced as a sixteen or seventeen year-old living away from home and family for the first time.


Leaving Biddulph we Googled a few local campsites and eventually ended-up at Berry Bank Farm at Wildboarclough just south of Macclesfield on the edge of the Peak District National Park.  A little bit on the basic side but perfect for our needs, cheap, scenic and not exactly crowded – in fact when we arrived we were the only guests (perhaps that had something to do with the fact that we were at 1,250 feet and it was blowing a hooley).  By the time evening came there was just us, 250 sheep and their lambs, three ponies and a young Polish couple who spent the first part of their stay trying to pitch their tent in a Force 8 gale – so we weren’t short of entertainment.

What The Romans Did For Us – A Walk to Spoonley Wood Roman Villa

One of the many things that the Romans did for us was to leave us with a great many souvenirs of their 400 year occupation of Britain.  Some have been discovered and made accessible for visits by those of us who take an interest in such things, others lie beneath the earth awaiting discovery in years to come, and a very few have been discovered and, well ……….. just left!

One such site is Spoonley Wood Roman Villa which sits in the grounds of Sudeley Castle near Winchcombe in Gloucestershire – about 15 miles from home.  Discovered and partially unearthed in the 1870s it’s largely been left for nature to once more reclaim and is sufficiently remote and inaccessible that it now receives very few visitors.  In fact you could quite easily walk within yards of the site and never know it was there.  Having been alerted to its existance by a mention by Bill Bryson’ book ‘Notes from a Small Island’ we decided to take a look.

The walk from Winchcombe is just over a couple of miles and on a fine day you could probably do the return trip in not much more than two hours – unfortunately, whilst the day we chose was bright and sunny, the ground underfoot was extremely wet and in many places the path (such as it was) was a quagmire.  When the mud starts to go over the top of your walking boots you know its wet!

When you eventually get there the site itself is at first a little underwhelming.  You can more or less make out the outlines of some of the buidings (partialy reconstructed by enthusiastic Victorians) but the woodland has largely overwhelmed their efforts at conservation and the structures that they erected to protect some of the finds have, in the main part, long since disintegrated.  There is, however, one small ‘lean-to’ structure doing its best to protect a small patch of floor and beneath a piece of rather grotty plastic sheeting is ……………….. a wonderful roman mosaic!  Lift the sheet and there, covered with mud and definately not looking its best , is a floor that was apparently laid by a Roman workman some 16 or 17 centuries ago.   Who said the Romans never did anything for us?

The Robin seemed to be just as interested in the mosaic as we were!

Whitby, Flamborough and Hull (Again)

As it happens Pickering is the start point (or end point, depending upon whether you’re coming or going) of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, so it would have been downright rude to have visited this wonderful part of the country without taking a trip to Whitby (and back) on a steam train.  One of the (few) good things about the pandemic has been that certain attractions that would normally be crammed with fellow holidaymakers have actually been fairly quiet – so we were able to enjoy our trip down memory lane in relative space and comfort. 
Unfortunately we weren’t able to say the same about Whitby which was heaving with crowds of visitors, not one of whom seemed to have heard about social distancing or mask wearing.  No wonder we’re in the realms of a third (or is it fourth) wave of infections.  Still, mustn’t grumble….. that’s the spirit.  A quick trip around the abbey (not a vampire to be seen) followed by fish and chips sat on the quayside rounded off the visit before we slowly chugged our way back to Pickering and our little ‘home from home on wheels’.
Next stop on our blitzkrieg tour of Yorkshire was Flamborough Head – scene of Thomas Robinson Ewbank’s (my 4 x Gt Grandfather) minor maritime triumph when, in 1805, as skipper of the Sarah and Elizabeth (a Hull based whaler), he saw off a dastardly attack on local shipping by a French privateer.  Of course I was surprised and disappointed that there was no plaque to commemorate the event, but this was slightly mollified by being able to watch the resident puffins, gannets and razorbills that inhabit the impressive cliffs in large numbers.

Extract from ‘The Hull Packet’ of 29th July 1805

Whilst in the neighbourhood we took the opportunity to visit the lovely house and gardens at Burton Agnes.  The walled garden was spectacular, combining fabulous planting with a huge range of fruits and vegetables – and once again the absence of crowds made the visit a real pleasure.

As someone who has a long term interest in his family history, it would have been unthinkable to visit the East Riding without making just a fleeting visit to Hull to dig up (metaphorically, of course) the relatives.  I already knew that Spring Bank Cemetery, where a number of my forebears are allegedly resting, was reputed to be in a bit of a state, but the reality still came as a bit of a shock.  It’s a massive space in the centre of the city but sadly it clearly hasn’t been maintained at all since it was last used in the early seventies.  With trees and bushes covering pretty much the entire area virtually all of the grave stones are broken or have fallen over – in fact this would have been a much better place than Whitby for Bram Stoker to have made Dracula’s home.  By some miracle we stumbled over the last resting place of Thomas Steel and Harriet Ewbank but I don’t doubt that in a year or two’s time that too will have been lost to nature.  Shame on Hull City Council (or whoever’s responsible) for allowing a graveyard to fall into such a state.  Rant over.

Oh, we do like to be beside the Seaside ………

In point of fact we didn’t start our latest ‘adventure’ at the seaside – that comes a little further down the page.  This time the start point of our ‘vanathon’ has brought us to ‘God’s country’, home of the Yorkshire Pudding, Yorkshire Tea (I’ve never really understood that one) and Matthewson’s Classic Car Auctions. 

Now, as everyone knows, I’m a man of iron will and the proven ability to resist any temptation – except when it comes to car buying.  So before visiting the hallowed home of ‘Bangers and Cash’ I had to make a binding promise to myself to keep my bidding arm firmly by my side.  As it turned out I needn’t have bothered as all the bidding for their July auction was online and anyway there was virtually nothing on offer to lead me into temptation ….that’s if you discount a brace of well-constructed Batmobiles and around three hundred other likely candidates for the Ewbank stable.  In any event it was an interesting visit and we managed to get away with no purchases – not even a mug featuring that great truism “There’s Dad’s Way, and then there’s Dad’s Way”.

I’m sure there must be an unwritten law somewhere that you can’t visit East Yorkshire without visiting the seaside.  That said, even with the new E-bike I think that I’d have found cycling from Pickering to Scarborough a bit of a test – and just how Denise would have kept up without the benefit of electrical assistance is anybody’s guess.  Fortunately, we were able to take the bus from just outside our campsite via Malton all the way to Scarborough and enjoy seeing this part of the lovely Yorkshire Wolds from the upper deck.  Once in the town, a walk along the beach to see the donkeys was followed by a quick paddle in the briny and we were lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins playing in the bay. 

The promenade itself has lost much of its Victorian splendour, and I’m not sure that my grandmother and father, who lived here for a while in the 20s and 30s would recognise much, but once you get away from the seafront the town still has lots of charm and the castle that overlooks the town and dominates the coastline is well worth a visit.  

So What Happened Next?

The trouble with keeping an ‘occasional’ blog is not knowing what to include and how often it should be updated; I have a tendency to miss some notable experiences or events completely, and then to spend too much time (too many words) describing things that I’ll look back on later and wonder ‘why on earth did I write about that?’.

Anyway, having failed at the time to capture the remainder of our latest trip ‘ooop north’ I thought that I’d better do a quick catch-up before we set off again on our travels.

For our last full day in the Lakes we were fortunate to enjoy a sunny day for our boat trip down Windermere, which provided great views of some of the lovely, and no doubt extremely expensive, houses lining its eastern shore. SS Tern on Lake WindermereLeaving Cumbria we drove the sixty or so miles south to visit Cleve and Claire Forty in their new (to them) home on the West Pennine Moors above Bolton – an area of open moorland and numerous reservoirs that neither of us had previously explored.  It was good to catch up with old friends, enjoy their generous hospitality and to hear their exciting plans for their new home – good luck with that!

Denise, Cleve, Claire and Wanda the dog

A rather attractive old ruin (the building!) on the hillside facing Cleve and Claire’s new pad.

One of the reasons for visiting Lancashire (which as most Yorkshiremen know is unfortunately on the wrong side of the Pennines) was to become better acquainted with the area surrounding Ormskirk where many of my mother’s ancestors hailed from.  We managed to pick a nice little campsite just outside Burscough about half a mile from the Leeds/Liverpool Canal, which is vastly more attractive than the name suggests.  The towpath provided an excellent cycle path to some of the surrounding villages so once again we were able to spend several ‘happy’ hours wandering through local churchyards visiting long dead relatives!   

The Lake District

I suppose the clue’s in the name.  If you visit a place that’s renowned for its lakes, rivers and lush green scenery you can probably expect to get the odd drop of rain from time to time – so for the last few days leading up to this trip we’ve been watching the weather forecast and hoping that the recent run of dreadful weather (apparently the wettest May on record) would come to an end.  It was a bit of an inauspicious start as we motored our way up the M5/M6 between torrential downpours interspersed with short periods of brilliant sunshine, but our arrival in Hawkshead coincided with a break in the clouds and we were able to sit outside a local pub and enjoy a pint.  As it was the first time we’d been able to do so for about 18 months it tasted especially good.

Hawkshead sits (or ‘nestles’ as they say in the guidebooks) midway between Windermere and Coniston Water and is an especially pretty little village with what appears to have one of the highest concentrations of pubs in the land.  Its other claim to fame is the little known (unless, of course, you happen to live or work here) fact that it’s where William Wordsworth went to school – there, now you know it too!

Yesterday (Tuesday) morning we met James and Esther Brown and their children for a quick coffee before they had to high-tail it back home at the end of their short holiday break – by coincidence they happened to be visiting the area for a few days so the opportunity for a quick catch up was too good to miss.  In the afternoon we risked the elements and walked about five miles up to Outgate and around Blelham Tarn which provided some nice views of the surrounding countryside and across to the mountains in the northern lakes.

This morning started with the usual and predictable downpour, but once the skies cleared we managed a walk in the other direction through Hawkshead and up towards Esthwaite Water which, after a bit of a climb, took us through a large area of Forestry Commission land before providing us with some more nice views and great scenery.  This afternoon was an opportunity for some R&R followed by the usual French and Spanish lessons courtesy of DuoLingo – are we creatures of habit, or what?

Off we go – again…

Our (my) close encounter with a Portuguese wall during our 2019 travels left the van with a few wounds that needing tending.  Unfortunately these dragged on while spares were sourced from Germany and ultimately meant that we didn’t get to use it again last year.  Then the arrival of the pandemic in early Spring and subsequent lockdown kept us at home for the early summer before the return of the family from Germany meant that we were happy to stay home until August had come and gone.

Come September, however, and  it was time to get back out on the road and see whether the British weather would hold out long enough for a few short trips away.  

A three day trip to North Wales provided us with an opportunity to make a flying visit to the family in Bramhall before  we  headed out to Aberafon on the Llyn Peninsular for a couple of nights.  The first evening was an interesting experience with 50+ mph winds and driving rain, but the following day brought some welcome sunshine and we enjoyed a nice walk to the tiny harbour at Trefor.

The view from Aberafon campsite
The view from Aberafon campsite

Trefor HarbourThe next day we headed back along the coast, stopping briefly to do a bit of family history research at Rhuddlan and taking in Carmarthen and Conwy along the way.  An overnight stop at Ruthin on the edge of the Clwydian range of hills took us into an area that we hadn’t previously visited and ended a short but enjoyable break away from home.

For our second trip we’d planned to visit the Devon coast but it seemed that everybody had the same idea and we struggled to find a decent campsite close by the sea that had space, so we eventually settled on a three day stay at the Dart Valley Country Park on the southern edge of the Dartmoor National Park near Buckfast Abbey.   On the way we stopped briefly for an icecream at the lovely little seaside town of Teignmouth which looks as though it will be worth a longer visit some time in the future.  One spectacle we hadn’t expected to see was the plethora (fleet?) of cruise liners at anchor out in the bay – one has to wonder when anyone will want to be cooped up on-board ship in close proximity to thousands of others? Not for me, thanks.

Yesterday we cycled the few miles across to Buckfast Abbey which is a lovely site and a remarkable achievement for the community of Benedictine monks who spent thirty odd years building it.

Dragonfly at The Dart Valley Country Park
You’re never far away from nature in the ‘van’

Buckfast Abbey