Woof! It’s International Dog Day!

It’s time to appreciate the love and value which dogs bring to our lives. According to several studies dogs really are good for our health. They can help us become calmer and more mindful, as well as becoming more active and responsible. In addition, just a few times stroking our furry friends can help our blood pressure and heart rate.

Here are 3 ways to spread the doggy love, celebrate International Dog Day and enjoy a life outside!

Have a dogtastic day out!

There are plenty of places which you and your dog can explore around the UK from ancient castles and monuments to forests, beaches and mountains. Try a train ride with your dog at the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway or embrace your animal side at the Cotswold Wildlife Park. For more ideas check out the English Heritage, National Trust and The Good Dog Guide websites for a wealth of dog friendly attractions.

Help your local animal shelter

Local animal shelters are always wanting more volunteers to walk their dogs and by doing this, you are not only helping the animals enjoy fresh air and exercise, you are helping yourself to do the same. It’s a win / win situation for all involved. Try the RSPCA or Dogs Trust for starters. Another option, if you live in the south east of England is CareDogs , a charity which provides opportunities for volunteers who want to do good, get outdoors and connect with people and nature by becoming dog walkers and befrienders. By volunteering for CareDogs you can encourage and accompany older people to enjoy more outdoor walks and activities with their dogs. The charity hopes to address the growing problem of social isolation, whilst increasing the adoption rate of older dogs from rescue centres and shelters around London.

Run or walk for your favourite furry friends

There are plenty of ways to enjoy exercising, boost your physical and mental health and enjoy a life outside. However, for extra motivation and to help animals in need, there are lots of charities who would love you to fundraise for them as part of your 5K run or marathon event. Here are just a few charities and links for further information about how you can get involved.

Dogs Trust

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home

PDSA

Guide Dogs For The Blind

Hearing Dogs For Deaf People

Happy International Dog Day everyone!

Cherry after her “International Dog Day celebration!”

For more information on each of the activities and charities mentioned, don’t forget to click the links to find out more! Please see the latest UK’s COVID-19 regulations in each country in the RESOURCES section for up-to-date advice on travelling.

For more ideas on outside adventures, follow me at alifeoutsideblog.com. If you liked what you’ve read, don’t forget to like, or share this page too!

Could these be the best tv tours ever?

“I want ye so much I can scarcely breathe…”

Fancy a bit of tv escapism and would like to discover more about places featured in your favourite tv series?

It all started from lines like the one above which grabbed me and left me in a week-long television coma, resulting in a completion of Outlander series 1 in one fellow swoop. Admittedly, I was late to the Outlander party, (fashionably I’d like to think), but I’m so glad I got there. Sweeping landscapes, Scottish history, adventure, intrigue and romance have ensured that this television series has generated a broad international fan base and justifiably so, in my opinion. Of course, the added fact that Jamie Fraser, the handsome hero is easy on the eye is an added bonus! It has also led to huge increases in visitor numbers to Scottish locations featured in the series.

Are you a TV tourist? Would you love to step into the shoes of your favourite handsome hero? Then read on for 3 tv inspired touring treats…

Outlander-A Scottish saor-làithean

Visit Scotland has a plethora of ideas to help you plan your Outlander style pilgrimage. From a 12 day Outlander Tour to a one day guided tour, there are plenty of options to whet your appetite and provide inspiration on its website. The obvious choice to start would be the main places and key battles mentioned in Series 1 and 2. The Battle of Culloden, (Culloden Battlefield near Inverness), Broch Tuarach or “Lallybroch” , (Midhope Castle near Edinburgh), and Castle Leoch, (Doune Castle in Stirlingshire), are all great places to visit. Alternatively, Falkland village in Fife features in the first episode of series 1 and a great stop off. It is here that Claire and Frank are introduced to the history and mystery of Scottish culture during their second honeymoon in a post war world. Culross, not far from here is also an interesting option and a location used in the first two series as the village of Cranesmuir, where the witch scenes of Claire and Geillis are filmed. Culross Palace garden nearby, was also used as the herb garden of Castle Leoch.

Fort William, mentioned frequently in the Outlander story is a fantastic base for many outside adventures. Not only do you have the spectacular landscapes of Ben Nevis, and Glen Nevis, (featured in other famous movies such as Rob Roy, Harry Potter and Braveheart), on your doorstep, but you also have easy access to Glenfinnan, (where eight months before the Battle of Culloden, 1 200 Highlanders gathered to pledge their allegiance to Bonnie Prince Charlie). Although it is not actually featured in the tv series, it is an excellent place to learn about the Jacobite Rising of 1745 and features a visitor centre and monument dedicated to the “lone Highlander” set against the stunning and atmospheric backdrop of Loch Shiel. Within an hour’s drive further south, you have the dramatic slopes of Glencoe, famous for James Bond’s Skyfall, and some of the most memorable Outlander scenery in the opening credits of series 1.

This area between Oban at the south and Fort William to the north is still my favourite stretch of Scotland. You have all the drama of the scenery combined with the serene beauty of the Scottish lochs such as Loch Linnhe running alongside. From here you can take a trip to several islands, enjoy mountain biking, walking, kayaking and climbing in the limitless outdoor adventure centres and sites up and down the shores of Loch Linnhe. Back to Outlander, and you are an hour and forty minutes away from Glencoe to Castle Leoch or Doune Castle which you may want to visit on your way up or down, near the delightful town of Callander, a great place to pick up locally sourced ingredients and products to savour at home.

Something not to be missed as part of your Outlander tour of course, is a splash of Whisky. There are plenty of distilleries across Scotland. Have a look at Scotland’s Whisky Map to decide upon your whisky tour of choice. Of course, you can’t complete a good tour without a souvenir. Even better, try The Sassenach, a whisky created by Sam Heughan, the actor who plays Jamie Fraser. So many Outlander locations and so little time…..

Great glamping or camping opps for your tour:-
Watch:-

Outlander series 1-5 on Amazon Prime

More inspiration:-

The Outlander Series of books by Diana Gabaldon

Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other by Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish

Culloden: Battle and Aftermath by Paul O’Keeffe

A pinch of Poldark

It would seem quite rude not to include Ross Poldark, the protagonist of a much-loved BBC drama, as our next tv tour option. According to studies, this BBC series led to a huge increase in visitor numbers in recent years. In 2016 alone, there was a 50% increase in visitors to the National Trust’s Levant Mine, the mine which Poldark owns in the series.

Still not visited Cornwall? Then try some of these tv treats….

A short journey from St Austell brings you to the Grade II Listed Charlestown Harbour, an unspoilt harbour and UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was used in the series to represent Truro Harbour in the C18th with its elegant tall ships resident even today. Find out more at the Shipwreck Treasure Museum.

The wild beauty of Bodmin Moor featured many times in Poldark too. The scenes surrounding “Nampara” cottage were filmed here, as were many of the clips involving journeys by horse and carriage. It is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a wonderful place to get away from the crowds who flock to Cornwall during the summer months. Whether you are a walker, nature lover or lover of history and literature, you’ll find that this location is not just a great place for Poldark fans. “Jamaica Inn” famous for the Daphne du Maurier novel of the same name is situated here, as are several ancient monuments and sixteen prehistoric stone circles such as The Hurlers. Other famous horse riding scenes took places along the clifftops near Chapel Porth at St Agnes. Famous in the past as a tin and copper mining area, this area is also rich in wildlife and dramatic coastal views and great for an inspiring walk in the footsteps of the past.

Of course, Cornwall is also a great place to visit for other TV series and films such as Doc Martin, where you can visit the quaint cove of Port Isaac on the north coast as well as the Eden Project along the south coast, a location for one of the action scenes in James Bond’s “Die Another Day.”

Great glamping or camping opps for your tour:-
Watch:-

Poldark series 1-5 on Netflix

More inspiration:-

Ross Poldark by Winston Graham

Poldark’s Cornwall: the history behind the history series by Hannah Greig

A Blinder of a break

Less swashbuckling and more antihero, Tommie Shelby played by Cillian Murphy, has built up quite a fan base. The flat capped Brummie street gang-based series has also won mass acclaim from tv critics and bagged several television awards including a few BAFTAS. But where do you go if you’d like to tour some of the places featured in this TV series? Despite being set in Birmingham, many of the locations for filming the series were actually produced in the North West of England.

Starting with a visit to the Black Country Living Museum , a 26 acre open air extravaganza of a site, you can find the setting for Charlie Strong’s Yard, as well as several locations of murders, arguments and secret meetings. Immerse yourself in the stories of the legendary gang and underworld of the 1920’s as you learn about the history of this period on a visit.

A few hours further north and you can visit several other filming locations from the series. Arley Hall and Gardens in Cheshire is a great stop off where the filming of Tommy Shelby’s manor house took place. A great pet friendly attraction, you can explore the hall and stunning gardens which have stayed in the same family since the C15th.

Sutton Coldfield in the series is actually Port Sunlight, a model village in the Wirral, Merseyside. It was originally built for workers at the Lever Brothers Factory, and is now a tourist attraction, famous for Aunt Polly’s house. Not far away, Formby Beach looked after by the National Trust and home to a red squirrel population, is a great day out for nature lovers and for beach enthusiasts. It was also the location for an epic scene during series 4 where Alfie Solomons forced Tommy Shelby to shoot him. Away from this gruesome plotline, you can enjoy a much more serene day out and take part in a red squirrel walk in the beautiful woodlands nearby.

If you’re still wanting more Peaky Blinder themed touring inspiration, try a half day tour around the Liverpool locations where many other scenes from the Peaky Blinders took place and revel in the beautiful Victorian architecture found in and around the city.

Great glamping or camping opps for your tour:-
Watch:-

Peaky Blinders series 1-5 on Netflix

More inspiration:-

Peaky Blinders – The Real Story by Carl Chinn

By Order of the Peaky Blinders by Matt Allen

I hope you’ve been inspired by these TV tours. For more information on each of the places mentioned, don’t forget to click the links to find out more! Please see the latest UK’s COVID-19 regulations in each country in the RESOURCES section for up-to-date advice on travelling.

For more ideas on outside adventures, follow me at alifeoutsideblog.com. If you liked what you’ve read, don’t forget to like, or share this page too!

A break from the norm?

A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men…

My good friend Sally and I said repeated this phrase many times at university. It rings true today. Life is busy and hard sometimes and it’s so important to take a step back and have a giggle. It’s as good as a break. I know the benefits of having a good break, having enjoyed one of the best holidays in recent years in the wild and beautiful scenery of Scotland. Yet again, it lived up to its magic, (perhaps I’m biased with my Scottish roots). Having a break was exactly what was needed! So, what about a bit of fun or a giggle to break up the routine for a day trip or holiday? Here are 4 weird and wonderful ideas and activities to discover across the UK this summer. They might give you a chuckle and will definitely help you to break from the norm!!!

It’s all gravy

The World Gravy Wrestling Championships 2021 is still planned to go ahead on the 30th of August 2021 but do check out its website here for Covid updates. Held at Stacksteads in Lancashire this charity-based event involves, (as you’d expect from the title of the championships), competitors wrestling in gravy, often wearing fancy dress. Just over twenty minutes away from Stacksteads is the tranquil Hebden Bridge Caravan and Motorhome Club Site where you can explore other great places such as the Singing Ringing Tree or Panopticon, near Burnley, as well as Saltaire, a UNESCO listed village and textile mill. You are also near the many other delights of West Yorkshire and East Lancashire like the Pennine Way, Bronte country and the Ribble Valley.

Hydrospeeding heaven

Love the fun and thrill of tobogganing and fancy trying it on water? Try the wild and fun filled hydrospeeding run at Lee Valley. Priced at £10 per person for an exhilarating and quirky adventure, you’ll be as giddy as a kipper afterwards and will want to try the vast array of other activities on offer at the White Water Centre located here. There are numerous options in terms of accommodation nearby for campers, glampers, tourers or those who prefer more traditional self-catering accommodation. Check out where to stay on the Lee Valley website.

Weird Wales

Head for heights? Then try walking to Worm’s Head Tidal Island in Wales along the Gower Peninsula. It was named after the Norse word ‘Wurm’ meaning ‘dragon’ from the Vikings who believed that the coastal feature was shaped like a giant sea-serpent. Do make sure that you check out the National Trust information centre for instructions and tidal information before heading out though! There are some wonderfully placed caravan and camping sites along this stretch of coastline such as Gowerton Caravan and Motorhome Club Site and Pitton Cross Caravan and Camping Park. Of course, if you visit this region you could also take a peek at the Baked Bean Museum of Excellence at Port Talbot which prides itself on being the world’s only museum dedicated to baked beans along the coast. No, I am not making this up!

It’s all in the name

Netherthong, Pratt’s Bottom and the River Piddle. Yes, they really exist! These funny sounding place names in Yorkshire, Kent and Dorset show what a great sense of humour British people have. However, most of these strange sounding names hide the fact that they are nestled next to amazing places and beautiful countryside nearby. The Butt of Lewis for example, is located on the wild and historical Isle of Lewis in Scotland. The Isle of Lewis is also home to the Calanais Standing Stones erected over 5000 years ago as well as stunning, almost tropical looking beaches such as Camas na Clibhe and Ardroil Sands. As for Muff in County Donegal, (sitting close to the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland), you’ve got the scenic Ards Forest Park in this beautiful region as well as the rugged and picturesque Malin Head coastline to explore.

Go on! Get a map, get giggling and find a new place to explore. In return, you’ll get to experience even more of the beautiful UK countryside…

For more information on each of the places mentioned, don’t forget to click the links to find out more! Please see the latest UK’s COVID-19 regulations in each country in the RESOURCES section for up-to-date advice on travelling this summer.

For more ideas on outside adventures, follow me at alifeoutsideblog.com. If you liked what you’ve read, don’t forget to like, or share this page too!

 

Dipping your toe into the Scottish Highlands?

I say immerse yourself!!! Here’s a quick video guide for the best route up to the West Coast of the Highlands with a caravan, camper or motorhome. You can explore some of the best scenery in the UK at every turn.

Morvich Caravan and Motorhome Club Site is a great location for touring Skye, the North Coast 500, and the wonderful delights of the Lochalsh area. Here’s a mini video guide to what’s nearby.

For more information on the lovely Lochalsh area have a look at my piece “Falling in love with Lochalsh” on my website.

Happy camping everyone!

The Wild West

Often overlooked for the pinnacles of Snowdonia to the north and maritime jewels of the south, the Mid Wales region offers visitors wild country, wildlife and wild legends in abundance. Not only is there plenty to do, but you’re guaranteed to find your own space in the seemingly endless landscape surrounding you. It’s a great location for those who don’t like to follow the crowds. Here are a few reasons why we just love the Mid Wales region for a perfect escape.

Wild Country

The countryside in this area of the UK is awe inspiring with mountains, forests, valleys, lakes and waterfalls aplenty. The wild and varied landscape is ideal for trying out a number of different outside adventures. Whatever outdoor activity you enjoy, you’re bound to find something that takes your fancy in Mid Wales. Do you have a head for heights? Then try the Mid Wales Paragliding centre. For water lovers you’ve got your pick of places from tandem kayaking and rafting safaris at the National White Water Centre near Lake Bala to surfing fun with Aber Adventures in Borth. For mountain bikers, there are some challenging routes around the rugged and varied landscapes of Rhayader and the Elan Valley.

The Mid Wales region is also fabulous for walkers. We have enjoyed several beautiful walks around the Hafren Forest area and the Clywedog Reservoir in Powys where we were able to find solace quite easily on less well-known routes. We even had a lovely picnic on a beach all to ourselves on the shores of Clwedog Reservoir last summer. There are plenty of ideas for different walks in these areas. Try the Ordnance Survey’s “Get Outside” guide to give you an idea of possible routes if you’re not sure what to try first. Alternatively, look at the 135-mile Glyndŵr’s Way, a Welsh National Trail taking you from the southern edges of Snowdonia to the Brecon Beacons. For more information about this route and walks along it try this link- Walks on Glyndŵr’s Way | Visit Wales

(A lovely walk in the Hafren Forest with a fantastic accessible pathway through the forest)

Wildlife

One of the biggest draws for tourists in this area has got to be the Red Kite Feeding Centre at Gigrin Farm near the town of Rhayader. If you time it right, you can catch these elegant birds feeding at 3pm every day from March from one of the hides at this working farm. It truly is a spectacle! You might also see red kites if you visit Llanerchaeron in Ceredigion, (a National Trust Georgian villa), set in woods designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest,or even some otters or herons if you’re lucky. The Elan Valley Estate is another great place for wildlife enthusiasts. Within the Estate are twelve separate sites of Special Scientific Interest as well as Claerwen National Nature Reserve. The Estate itself has been awarded an International Dark Sky Park Award, so it’s also superb for star gazers.

Of course, if you hit the coast, you’ll be able to make the most of one of the best places in the UK to spot maritime wildlife! From Cardigan Bay you’ve got a good chance of spotting bottlenose dolphins as it’s home to the UK’s largest resident population. If you’re lucky, you might also spot a minke or humpback whale. Check out the “Dolphin sightseeing hot-spots” page at VisitWales.

Wild legends

There are plenty of castles in this area of Wales, many of which are shrouded in mystery and tales. Dolforwyn Castle, (which is free to access if you’re happy with a bit of a climb), was originally built by Welsh lord Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (Llywelyn the Last). He had been warned in 1273 by King Edward I not to build the castle. He told the King that he did not need the king’s permission to build on his own land and carried on regardless, provoking a battle and subsequent defeat in 1277. Montgomery Castle, another great option for history buffs, is just up the road from Dolforwyn.

For those visitors who love a good yarn, try The Devil’s Bridge on the route to Aberystwyth where according to legend, the original bridge was built by the Devil himself. The story goes that he built the bridge for a little old lady in exchange for her soul, or for the soul of the first person to cross it. Find out more at Devils Bridge Falls | A place of outstanding natural beauty.

Finally, there’s mystery galore at the Lost Legends of The Stone Circle and King Arthur’s Labyrinth. At these two attractions you can explore winding paths and meet different characters and their bewitching stories or even sail by underground boat to listen to tales of dragons. In visiting these two attractions at Machynlleth, you may even hear chilling legends of the Changelings, (babies who were supposedly switched with fairies).

Where can I stay ?

A tried, tested and much recommended touring site in the Mid Wales region is the beautifully landscaped Red Kite Touring Park. It’s a justifiably popular site, but even on Bank Holidays it feels tranquil and relaxing due to fields and forests which surround you. There is an exceptionally clean facilities block complete with dog shower and plenty of dog walks both onsite and offsite, as well as fishing and nature ponds. In fact, in many ways, it is doggie heaven! This is probably why we have returned as visitors for several years. It’s well located to Llanidloes, a market town around 30 minutes’ walk down the hill, with enough shops and pubs to keep you going if you don’t like cooking whilst you are away.

Another option for families is Fforest Fields Caravan and Camping Park, (Red Kite is an adults only site), whilst for glampers it also has a lakeside glamping field on part of the site. This means you can still get back to nature even if you don’t have your own accommodation.

Whatever site you choose, you’re bound to fall in love with this area of Wales if you give it a try!

For more information on each of the places mentioned, don’t forget to click the links to find out more! Please see the latest UK’s COVID-19 regulations in each country in the RESOURCES section for up-to-date advice on travelling this summer.

For more ideas on outside adventures, follow me at alifeoutsideblog.com. If you liked what you’ve read, don’t forget to like, or share this page too!

First trip tips for your new caravan or motorhome

So, you’re the proud new owner of a brand new caravan or motorhome, can’t wait to book your first trip away and are hoping for things to go smoothly when you first arrive? Here’s a list of handy pointers to ensure that your first trip away starts with style and doesn’t become a caravan catastrophe!

Back to basics

It may seem that booking a pitch away from any prying eyes would be the obvious choice for first timers. After all who wants to become the campsite entertainment whilst trying your best to set up your shiny new home without looking like you have no idea what you are doing? What’s more, do you really want to attempt to put up your “divorce in a bag,” (a.k.a. the awning), which you have never assembled before on your first time away? To ease yourself in, I’d suggest a back to basics approach of staying local, (within about an hour), not going too mad on accessories and sticking with one of the main club sites on the network.

Here’s why…

Know where you’re going

If you are local to the site, you’ll be less tired when you arrive. It’s easy to underestimate how shattered you might be after arriving for the first time with your new purchase. The experience of driving a larger unit combined with trying to remember how to level/ work the new buttons/ reverse/ use the motor mover can take a lot out of you. You also want to chill out and relax in your new home too. So, by picking somewhere near where you live, you’ll not have to worry about how to approach the campsite or which turn off you’ll need to take. You’ll also have the energy to be able to set up and actually enjoy that first glass of wine and your surroundings at your new pitch.

Once you have mastered your first trip away, you’ve got the rest of the UK and Europe, (and maybe even further!), to explore. If you are still concerned about the exact location and directions to campsites in the future, you can always try You Tube videos of campsite entrances where some wonderful people on the internet can show you the final approaches. Bob Earnshaw’s videos are amazing for this. He has created lots of videos of entrances to sites around the UK, campsite reviews, ideas for days out and great tech tips too! These videos are brilliant confidence boosters for new motorhomers and caravanners who like to be prepared.

Another option is to use Google Maps to search the address of your campsite and then click on “Street View” where you can visualise the exact entrance to your campsite, so you know what to look out for. Isn’t technology just wonderful?

When you get even more confident and decide to go abroad for the first time, you can watch videos explaining the process of driving your caravan or motorhome onto the Eurotunnel or ferry. Although we were seasoned travellers to Europe before we bought our caravan, we watched quite a few of these videos before we went abroad with our van as we were curious about how we’d squeeze such a huge outfit into a tiny space. I’d really recommend Andrew Ditton’s fabulous video for the Eurotunnel journey.

He shows you the full journey, as well as road signs to look out for before you enter the terminal and board the train. It’s brilliant for giving you an idea about what to expect once you start your journey in France. He also offers great advice on taking your caravan abroad for the first time and preparation tips. Obviously, things have changed a little since Brexit and of course, Coronavirus. However, the advice on offer is really invaluable for anyone venturing across the waves for their first time. Thanks to his videos, our first caravan trip across the Channel was a breeze. For up to date European Travel advice for leisure vehicle owners visit Overseas Holidays | The Caravan Club and Foreign travel advice – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Now back to that first trip away….

Simplicity is key

Don’t take the newly bought awning away on your first trip, or for that matter anything that might take a while to put together. It’s that simple! Do you really want to be spending the entire trip away putting things up and then dismantling them all again? After all, buying and owning a leisure vehicle is about enjoying the great outdoors, chilling out and exploring. You can’t do much of that if your whole weekend is spent on working things out. It took us a few hours to work out how to put up our awning on our third trip away. That said, there’ll be plenty of other wonderful people on the campsite who are happy to help you if you do get stuck. The camping community are a friendly lot and we were so grateful for kind people helping us out on our first few trips away.

Another reason to keep things simple on your first few trips is that the more accessories you buy, the more you might realise you don’t actually need or want to use them on future holidays. Instead, have a nosy at other campers and their accessories. What do they use? What might work for you? Where will you store things when travelling? There are quite a few occasions when we never bother taking our awning, (weekend trips for example). We’d rather just enjoy getting on with our holiday.

For a good idea of basics for your first few trips away, have a look at these lists to start you off. The Caravan and Motorhome Club has several brilliant guides and videos. There’s a packing checklist, as well as plenty of technical and touring advice here. The Camping and Caravanning Club also has a great pre-journey checklist for different vehicles too, which can be found here. These are all fantastic for your first adventure!

Ask the experts

Once you’ve had a few trips away, you might want to try out a range of different sites such as pub stops, glamping sites, waterpark sites and Certified Locations, (small scale sites run by the Caravan and Motorhome Club and Camping and Caravanning Club). You may even want to pursue an off-grid lifestyle, perfect for budget conscious explorers. We like to try out a mixture of different places each year but for the first site, I would definitely recommend staying somewhere where there are people in the know if you get stuck. This is why I’d highly recommend the Caravan and Motorhome Club Sites or Caravan and Camping Club Sites for your first experience. By doing this, you have a bunch of experts on tap who are trained and experienced to help with technical issues if things do go wrong. You really can’t beat this level of expertise as a newbie.

We discovered this on our third trip out, (before we had a motor mover), when we visited a lovely Lake District site which needed a good grasp of levelling expertise. After circumnavigating the site three times, realising that a Friday night really wasn’t an ideal time for finding the best pitch, it became clear to us that the only ones left involved some serious levelling if we weren’t to develop injuries in the morning after rolling out of bed. Not having the money for a fancy pants motor mover or all singing all dancing self-levelling system, it was down to us to reverse up on a slant. After some very embarrassing attempts, we were about to give up, so I asked the wonderful Caravan and Motorhome Club wardens at reception for their advice. They immediately drove up to our pitch, laden with levelling logs of every variety and showed us in 10 minutes how to level. What amazing people!

Wardens of both clubs are worth their weight in gold if you have a query and are essential points of contact for that first trip away. There’s a great selection of “Club” sites across the UK with the Caravan and Motorhome Club on their website and on the Camping and Caravanning Club website.

Get ready to pitch!

You’ve arrived, you’ve found your pitch and you are still talking to your other half after mastering the directions with ease! Nice work!

To continue with this success, I’d recommend having a few of these items to hand in the nearest drawer to the door. Here’s a list of what I include. It means that as soon as we arrive, setting up is easy…..

Toilet roll, wet wipes, and towel – Mucky hands, mucky dog, mucky husband and handy before you’ve connected your water.

Spirit level – level caravan or motorhome = happy fridge / showering (water actually drains down the plughole instead of loitering in the shower tray with intent).

Poo bags – dog (not us).

Various screwdrivers– TV sorted quickly = happy husband.

Laminated list of tooling down / tooling up checklist– rarely used these days, but handy to remember if my brain is feeling a little rusty. My list has never let me down! (I use this one)

The list above is not exhaustive of course, and I’m sure you’ll develop your own style, but hopefully it will make those first few minutes of setting up on your pitch nice and easy.

And finally, acceptance…

Accept that something might go wrong on your first few trips away and don’t sweat the small stuff! This is the best advice I can give anybody starting out with their first caravan or motorhome. There are a few times I’ve forgotten something when setting up or tooling down – the locker door swinging open on the road, losing the car tow ball cover, scratching the side of the caravan when departing after showing off my towing prowess to the warden as I waved goodbye, only to be followed by loud screeches as I squeezed past a bush…. Embrace these experiences. They’ll help you to remember what not to do next time! They’ll also provide you with plenty of anecdotes to laugh about with your fellow campers on your next holiday!

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

Albert Einstein

If you’d like any further information on any of the activities or advice mentioned in this blog, please click on the links in the article. Also, check out the RESOURCES section for up-to-date advice on travelling this year.

For more ideas on outside adventures, follow me at alifeoutsideblog.com. If you liked what you’ve read, don’t forget to like or share this page too!

Three thrifty things to do for nature lovers!

Thank goodness things are looking brighter! The weather is improving, days are lasting longer and this summer is beckoning us with a promise of better things to come. As more events and activities open up to us post lockdown, it’s easy to understand why we would want to enjoy them as much as possible. However, as much as we would like to catch up on visiting these places, each activity could cost a lot of money. Your financial situation may have even changed a little over the last year too.

So, you still want to explore, but how do you do it without upsetting your bank balance too much? Here are three budget busting activities to bring you closer to nature and to help you to enjoy your life outside…..

Animal adventures

If you shop at Tesco like I do, you may find that you’ve built up quite a few “Clubcard” points to spend as a result of last year’s lockdowns. Why not use them for an animal adventure in the UK later this summer? There are currently 35 different attractions where your vouchers can be turned into a fabulous adventure for all the family. From safari parks and zoos to butterfly farms and SEALIFE Centres, there’s a huge choice of activities, and each voucher is worth three times the cost of your entrance fee in many cases. Have a browse at the options here. Just remember that zoos and wildlife centres have struggled for funding during the recent lockdowns, so if you can donate a little whilst you are there, you’ll be helping to maintain the wonderful wildlife you see for future visitors too.

Discounted days out

There are plenty of websites on local areas providing inspiration to enjoy nature and wildlife for free. Visit Lancashire has a great selection of nature reserves and animal themed visits, all of which can be enjoyed very cheaply, or in most cases, for free. Visit Dorset has a wonderful top ten list of cheap days out for enjoying wildlife and the great outdoors. Visit Wales has some super ideas for both young and old including dolphin spotting in Ceredigion, Geocaching in the wild landscape of the Brecon Beacons, as well as walking along the magnificent 870 mile long Wales Coast Path. In fact, many regional tourist board websites have brilliant ideas for places to visit on a budget, where you can enjoy local nature and wildlife. Of course, if you are a family and your child has managed to earn their Blue Peter badge, you’ll be one of the lucky ones eligible for free child entry at over fifty zoos, parks and wildlife themed attractions in the UK already!

Nature on your doorstep

Many people have enjoyed getting closer to nature during lockdown in their own gardens. Thanks to the RSPB, they can continue to enjoy and encourage local wildlife by using their “Nature on Your Doorstep” ideas. The activities are designed to be affordable, easy for beginners and relatively quick to complete. There are plenty of ‘how to’ videos and new features on easy ways you can encourage more wildlife. There are masses of ideas to try out such as creating a bee hotel and bird cafe, or even building your own nature highways and byways. The RSPB also have a wealth of creative ideas for children as part of its “Wild Challenge” section, something which I have highlighted in previous blogs. Great for extending that budget, keeping families entertained during the summer holidays and maintaining that close link with nature.

The best thing of course about these budget friendly attractions and ideas is that the cheaper they are, the more you can do! Now get out and enjoy that summer……

Please see the latest UK’s COVID-19 regulations in the RESOURCES section for up-to-date advice on travelling this summer.

For more ideas on outside adventures, follow me at alifeoutsideblog.com. If you liked what you’ve read, don’t forget to like, or share this page too!

Falling in love with Lochalsh

(and it’s not just a Highland fling!)

Pristine white beaches and cascading waterfalls reaching majestic stretches of water, behind which lie mountains, glades and valleys shrouded in mystery….. Have you guessed where I have described yet? Of course, it’s Western Scotland! Where else can you find some of the most delightful and unspoilt scenery in the whole of the UK? On top of this you have a guaranteed packed itinerary for your Scottish staycation break.

It felt right to focus on this beautiful area of the UK this week. Having spent our honeymoon at Glenelg ten years ago this April and having enjoyed several trips since to this amazing area, I wanted to write about the Lochalsh area of Western Scotland. My husband and I were lucky enough to be married in a castle near Barcaldine in Argyll, around an hour and a half further east of Lochalsh, an area which we also love.

What’s so lovely about the Lochalsh area?

Well, to sum it up in a sentence, I’d say it’s magical, mountainous and steeped in history. Many tourists on their way to Skye drive past the peaks of the Five Sisters of Kintail, stop off for a few hours to visit the much photographed castle of Eilean Donean and then move on, joining the trail of cars, motorhomes and road trippers travelling to Skye. However, I believe that missing out on a longer stop to this area is a great shame, as there are so many worthwhile sites to explore.

Eilean Donean Castle

Here are 5 key reasons to stop a wee while longer…

Lush location

Nestled between the legendary island of Skye and the five sisters of Kintail mountain range to the east, this location is also part of the newly created North Coast 500 route. However, it really holds its own in terms of places to visit on your doorstep. The scenic village of Plockton lies to the north of this area, where you can catch a boat to visit dolphins or enjoy a serene kayak across Loch Carron. It is also famous as the village where “Hamish Macbeth”, (the ever-popular BBC TV series), was filmed. If you’re feeling adventurous, and you aren’t towing the caravan or driving a motorhome, (and if your vehicle is safe enough to try it), drive on one of the steepest access roads in the UK called Bealach na Bà. It raises you up over 2053 feet above sea level.

Plockton

Having driven up this road, I can honestly say, it was one of the most dramatic routes I have navigated and I was extremely grateful for being able to rely on our car’s braking system! The views from the top of the pass were spectacular. There’s a video of the pass itself which you can watch here. Beyond the road lies the Applecross peninsular where you can find a myriad of pristine white beaches to recover from your trip!

If you holiday in Lochalsh, you are also within reach of Loch Ness and the Ben Nevis range of mountains to your east at just under two hours’ away. From there, you could catch a dog friendly gondola ride to glimpse the spectacular views of Ben Nevis and the Inner Hebrides from 650 metres up Aonach Mòr. Alternatively, you could attempt Ben Nevis itself, the highest mountain in the UK at 4406 feet.

The added bonus of this location is the fact that it is relatively easy to access in terms of campsites in the area, two of which are just off the main A87 leading to Skye. Skye of course, is famous for its Cuillin mountain ranges and other geological features such as the Quiraing and Old Man of Storr, as well as plenty of other attractions.

Glenelg – a secluded gem

We lost our heart to Glenelg on our first visit and returned for our honeymoon a year later. The village of Glenelg is situated south of the A87. I call it a secluded gem because it’s not easy to get to and not recommended if you are towing a caravan. To reach this village, you must first brave the Mam Ratagan Pass whose single-track gradient can reach 15% in places. The start is gentle but once you’ve reached the summit, you are rewarded with a superb viewpoint looking over Loch Duich and the Five Sisters of Kintail.

The village itself has a small variety of independent shops and a wonderful place to eat, called The Glenelg Inn which is set in front of stunning views over the Sound of Sleat. It also offers accommodation, for those who don’t camp or own a leisure vehicle. Further south, you can visit Iron Age Brochs, (described below), or laze on the white sands of Sandaig Beach, famous for its location in the book “The Ring of Bright Water.” Do take note of tidal times though if you are paying a visit!

Further along to the west of Glenelg and you are treated to a historic ferry run by the community of Glenelg. It is the last manually operated turntable ferry in Scotland and still going, helped by local and national support on its JustGiving page. It crosses to Kylerhea on Skye from the Sandaig lighthouse normally between March and October each year. You may even get treated to a view of an otter or seal as you traverse the Kylerhea Straits.

Waiting for the Glenelg Ferry

Historical highlights

An hour’s walk from Glenelg village finds you at the first of two Iron Age structures, or Brochs. Dun Troddan and Dun Telve are believed to be roundhouses unique to Scotland. They are also some of the best preserved. Their purpose is shrouded in mystery to this day, but one thing is clear, you will not be disappointed if you walk along this gorgeous stretch of landscape through the valley of Gleann Beag to find each structure. There is a fantastic circular walk passing the Brochs starting at Glenelg village which can be found here, enabling you to soak up the wild beauty of this Highland region.

Gleann Beag

Wildlife wonders

There are few places in the UK where you could you honestly say that you drove past an eagle perched on a fence post, were stopped by a herd of deer and were treated to otters and seals swimming near the shoreline in a matter of hours. However, if you holiday in Lochalsh and you are a nature lover, you are in for a real treat! The Otter Hide at Kylerhea is a fantastic option and only a short walk from the Glenelg Ferry. From here, you could spot otters, seals, sea eagles and plenty of other highland wildlife. I wouldn’t, however, recommend taking Cinder Toffee with you if you decide to visit the hide as we decided to do on our first visit, much to the wrath of the rest of the wildlife spotters nearby! Quiet is best for the chance to indulge in your own David Attenborough moment…

To the south of Glenelg, you are also touching upon one of the most remote locations in Scotland, the Knoydart Peninsula. This land is a haven for elusive wildlife such as golden eagles, dolphins, otters, foxes, water voles and buzzards. You can only reach it by boat or on a long walk. The John Muir Trust bought a large area of land here and currently maintains its wildlife, encouraging the return of even more native species to this rugged and tranquil area.

No matter where you visit across the Lochalsh area, it is highly likely that you will be able to experience nature and wildlife at its best!

Activities aplenty

You are spoilt for choice in this corner of the UK for things to do from cycling, water sports and horse riding to hiking. Here are just a few ideas….

There are plenty of boat trips from nearby Plockton or the Kyle of Lochalsh where you can explore life under the waves in the Seaprobe Atlantis. From this glass bottomed boat you may be lucky enough to spot crabs and starfish as well as otters, seals, or porpoises. We saw seals and plenty of other sea life wandering around on the ocean floor on our trip.

If two wheels are more your style, there are world class mountain bike routes a little further north near Torridon, whilst the Lochalsh area has plenty of challenging routes for you to discover. A decent circular route in Lochalsh can be found here, whilst further information about the Torridon routes can be found here.

Finally, it would be remiss for me not to include information about our favourite walk in the area. This is the walk to the Falls of Glomach. Dropping from 113 metres high, this waterfall is a true sight to behold as one of the highest waterfalls in Scotland. You can reach the falls if you set off from the National Trust for Scotland Morvich countryside centre, opposite Morvich Caravan and Motorhome Club Site. It takes between 5-6 hours from here, but it is definitely worth it for an amazing view and a fearsome drop. Do make sure you pay attention to the signs near the waterfall itself though, to avoid putting yourself in danger. For a full route guide, click on this link . We can’t wait to walk up this route again this year!

There are plenty of other walking routes for different tastes in the Lochalsh region. You can find a selection from this article on other routes in the area.

Where can I stay?

There are several excellent options in Lochalsh. The Caravan and Motorhome Club’s Morvich Site is a great bet for soaking up the picturesque mountains and hills, designated a National Scenic Area, surrounding the site. Its 88 pitches and washroom facilities provide a relaxing break and the site itself is easy to reach, located just off the main road to Skye, (the A87). It welcomes campers with tents too. Don’t forget, you can also enjoy that amazing walk up to the Falls of Glomach from here! An alternative option is the equally well located Reraig Caravan and Camping Site which is a little nearer Skye, (further along the A87). This site has bathroom facilities as well as landscaped surroundings and is only 10 minutes from the bridge to Skye itself.

If you’ve not been north of Edinburgh or Glasgow, I’d recommend the Lochalsh area for its wild beauty and its potential for an action-packed Scottish adventure. Of course, you may just want to soak up those staggeringly awesome views and chill out instead. I’d recommend springtime or early summer before the midges visit if you’re not sure when to go. Whenever you decide to go, I’m sure you’ll not be disappointed!

If you’d like any further information on any of the activities or places mentioned in this blog, please click on the links in the article. For the latest UK’s COVID-19 regulations in each country, check out the RESOURCES section for up-to-date advice on travelling this summer.

For more ideas on outside adventures, follow me at alifeoutsideblog.com. If you liked what you’ve read, don’t forget to like, or share this page too!

How to be an “Appy” camper

Could these 8 apps make your holiday even more carefree and enjoyable?

Let’s be honest, when planning your next touring or camping trip, you’re probably thinking of relaxing, enjoying the beauty of your surroundings and catching a bit of sun. It’s time to switch off that laptop and just use your phone for those all-important holiday snaps. This is what holidays are all about. However, before you do, you may want to check out these cool apps for android or iPhone users which could help you enjoy your holiday that little bit more. By using them, you’ll also cut down on your packing, leaving more space in your luggage or camper for that all important sun cream!

Fun in the sun!

The Sun Locator Lite app is a great little app to help you work out the sun’s position from your pitch. Great for sites where you have a choice about how to pitch up and to catch that perfect sunset over a glass of wine. Or for stargazers, how about trying Sky Map? This brilliant app allows you to point your phone anywhere at the sky and tell you which star or constellation you are looking at. You can then wow fellow campfire chums with your astronomical knowhow!

The birds and the bees

The World Wildlife Fund has a fantastic Seek app which you can download. It helps you to identify different species on your holiday outings like plants, flowers, insects, birds and animals. When you identify a species, you’ll be able to find out all about it, as well as seeing how common or rare it is for the area and the time of year. Great for keeping families entertained on walks or trips. Alternatively, have a look at the Wildlife Trusts’ Nature Finder app which is full of fabulous places to visit near your campsite, as well as events and the kind of wildlife which live in each location. You’ll also have access to over 900 UK species and habitats. What’s more, it gives you all you need to plan your trip to each location. Find out more by watching this video. If you’re an iPhone or iPad user, you can access the Nature Finder app here.

Level up!

It’s true that levelling your caravan or motorhome can be a pain after a long journey to your destination but it’s always worth getting it right, instead of cursing the shower floor which doesn’t drain properly once you are set up! Help is at hand with a quick, easy to use basic spirit level. You can go for a traditional bubble style level like the Bubble Level, or a more singing and dancing levelling app which gives voice instructions instead. You’ll be set up and ready to start your holiday in no time!

Location, location, location!

It’s likely, you’ll be wanting to fill up on your journey to and from your destination, as well as once or twice whilst you’re there. The problem is, if you don’t know the area, you might end up paying more at the most expensive petrol station in the region. How can you stop this? Look no further than the Petrol Prices app. It can be downloaded for android phone users as well as for iPhones . A really easy to use app, you simply type in the area or town you want to look at and it will produce a list or map of the current petrol and diesel prices in this area as well as which petrol station to get your fuel from.

Walkers of all shapes and sizes might also want to check out new walks in the area by using ViewRanger. As well as being able to download route guides, outdoor maps and powerful GPS navigation features, you can also share walking routes with other people. This is fantastic if you like to compare walks with your friends or want to arrange walks together.

Of course, whatever your camping or holiday style, I hope you have a brilliant holiday! For the latest travel advice during Coronavirus restrictions or for more holiday planning, don’t forget to look at the “Resources” section of my website to help you plan your next one. Happy camping everyone!

There are plenty of other ideas about outside adventures, as well as holiday inspiration if you want to follow me at alifeoutsideblog.com. If you liked what you’ve read, don’t forget to like, or share this page too!

Northern Lights

Wide sandy beaches, ancient meadows, stargazing in the UK’s largest Dark Sky Park, and home to more castles than any other county in England, Northumberland is a great choice for a holiday adventure any time of the year! The landscape of this huge county has been used as the backdrop for many TV series such as Downton Abbey as well as Harry Potter and Marvel films, one of which we were lucky enough to stumble upon during our visit to this beautiful area.

Staying at Chainbridge Touring Caravan Site, a small but perfectly formed “Tranquil Park“, a short drive from the historic town of Berwick-On-Tweed, we were ideally placed to enjoy our Northumberland adventure. The site itself was welcoming, complete with 16 flat pitches, quirky touches and a lovely view of the fields beyond. It offered a peaceful place to stay for adults on 4 wheels. A mere 30 minutes’ drive and Cherry could scamper along the sandy beaches in front of Bamburgh castle, whilst other landmarks such as Lindisfarne, Alnwick Castle, Northumberland National Park, Kielder Forest and St Abb’s Head were all under an hour’s drive away. Added to this heady mix, was a sweet treat of a visit to a honey farm next door to the site, meaning that our break in this northernmost county of England was truly the “bee’s knees!”

We loved the diversity of Northumberland, and its very friendly people. From jaw dropping coastal views to wild moorlands, massive forests, islands and plenty of castles to keep any historical buff entertained, it seemed to offer everything we needed for an active break. What made our holiday even more special was the space that we felt we had during the entire holiday. According to ONS figures, Northumberland is the least densely populated county in England. Although, busier in several more popular locations such as Bamburgh Castle, the places we visited never felt as busy as other locations which we have visited elsewhere, meaning that we had plenty of opportunity to enjoy time to ourselves and not have to queue up to visit the attractions which we wanted to see.

Why else did we love Northumberland? Here are some highlights and ideas for holidays to this wonderful area of the UK.

Buzzing about the location

We loved the novelty of walking to Scotland every morning, mostly due to the border with England being located across the historic Union Chain Bridge, across the River Tweed, a few minutes’ walk from the site. Built in 1820, it was the longest wrought iron suspension bridge in the world at the time at 137 metres long, (like the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol which was built later). It is currently closed for renovation but it’s due to reopen in 2022.

What’s more, next door to the Touring Park was Chain Bridge Honey Farm, complete with as much bee related skin care, lighting, polishing, edible and gift products as you could imagine! They also have an online store during lockdown which can be found here. The farm itself, houses an observation hive where I have never been so thankful of glass separating me from the thousands of bees living in the colony! The highlight for us though, was the cool cafe on a double decker bus where we enjoyed a honey related cream tea on you guessed it, top deck!

Stunning seascapes!

From the beautiful harbour locations of Seahouses and Craster to the wildlife rich Farne Islands, there are enough coastal gems along this stretch of coastline to fill several trips, let alone just one! We were lucky enough with our caravan’s location to be able to reach rugged cliffs, rocky islands and expansive golden beaches within 30 minutes by car.

The Farne Islands, is the name given to the rocky outcrops which were once dangerous to ships but are now one of the largest sanctuaries for seals and seabirds, including puffins, in the UK. They can be reached in the summer season by daily boat trips from Seahouses, a picturesque harbour town. Further north along the coast is the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, an English Heritage site complete with an iconic castle and monastery ruins.  It is believed that the priory was built 1,400 years ago and became an influential centre of Christianity due to the influence of St Cuthbert, a bishop of Lindisfarne, and one of the most popular saints in Britain before the Reformation. It was also the scene of a dramatic Viking raid in the 700’s. This beautiful coastal island offers visitors plenty of space for relaxation and exploration and is accessed by a causeway from the mainland at low tide.

Further north of the border with England, and we were into the stunning south east Scottish coastline around Eyemouth and St Abb’s Head. It was here, where we stumbled upon some filming for Marvel’s “Infinity Wars.” The town of St Abb’s, (a.k.a. the “New Asgard” for the purpose of the film), and surrounding countryside it seemed, had been adopted by Hollywood royalty. Had I known that I was close to none other than “Thor,” (Chris Hemsworth), I might have rethought my clothes choice for the day, but despite the excitement of seeing various camera crews and actors from afar, we were not successful in star spotting as we made our way along the jagged and spectacular Berwickshire Coastal Path. However, the beautiful views were awe inspiring enough for me!

Castles galore

From one famous series of films to another…. The Harry Potter film series captured the imaginations of fans throughout the world and Alnwick Castle was the film location for Harry Potter’s “Hogwarts” school. This grand castle is the second largest inhabited castle in the UK and dates from the Norman Conquest. It is a justifiably popular place to visit, but don’t worry, Northumberland boasts 70 different castle sites, so there are plenty to choose from if you prefer to explore without the crowds.

Other wonderful castle options are the lovely Dunstanburgh Castle which is a picturesque walk from nearby Craster, Bamburgh Castle, (famously set against a backdrop of vast sandy beaches and another popular TV and film location), and less well known Prudhoe Castle and Aydon Castle which are both fabulous spots for a picnic after a day out exploring.

Unique experiences

In addition to the aforementioned double decker cafe experience, there are plenty of activities different to the norm which you can indulge in as part of your holiday to Northumberland. You could walk on “Northumberlandia” or The Lady of the North on the southernmost tip of Northumberland, a unique piece of public art in the shape of a reclining lady, designed in 2010 by architect and artist Charles Jencks. Alternatively, you can rock climb, swim, scramble and jump along the coast, as part of a coasteering experience, courtesy of Adventure Northumberland. Or you could even try your hand at Segway, canoeing, zip wires or star gazing at the Kielder Observatory in Kielder Water and Forest Park. There is a huge variety of activities for every taste and budget within its 250 square miles. Check out its website for more information.

Big country

One of the things which we loved most about our holiday was the fact that that Northumberland and its surrounding countryside is so vast and so varied. You have the stunning AONB coastline to your east and over 1000 square kilometres of National Park incorporating the Cheviot Hills, and beyond that, Kielder Water and Forest to your south and west. If you venture even further north, you have the beautiful Scottish Borders region to explore too. It really felt that it was easy to get away from the crowds and Cherry loved gallivanting on all of our walks across the ever-changing landscape. There are many amazing moorland walks to try on the Northumberland National Park website, as well as the scenic coastline walks of the Northumberland Coast Path. For those, who prefer to explore on 2 wheels, there is a good range of both short and longer routes to discover the coast on a bike on the Northumberland Coast website.

It really does seem that Northumberland has it all!

Please see the latest UK’s COVID-19 regulations in each country in the RESOURCES section for up-to-date advice on travelling this summer.

For more ideas on outside adventures, follow me at alifeoutsideblog.com. If you liked what you’ve read, don’t forget to like, or share this page too!

%d bloggers like this: