Campervan, caravan or motorhome…Which one should I choose?

Thinking of buying a new leisure vehicle but not sure which one’s right for you? Well you’re in good company. The touring and leisure industry is huge in the UK, contributing £6 billion to the economy. It’s estimated that over one million leisure vehicles are being used in this country, meaning that plenty of other people have faced the same decision that you are now making. So, you want your very own home on wheels but there are too many questions whirling around your brain…. Where do I start? Who can help me? Which leisure vehicle is right for me? What’s a trailer tent? What does MTPLM mean? What even are folding caravans?

You may feel overwhelmed by the numerous options out there but don’t worry! There are lots of guides to help you make the right decision and some of the best are produced by the UK’s two main clubs – The Caravan and Motorhome Club and The Camping and Caravanning Club. Let’s start by taking a whistle stop tour of some of the key things to consider before you buy.

What should I consider?

It’s important to think about your lifestyle and your budget when you choose your new home from home. For a family with three large dogs, a tiny campervan might not be the best use of your space.  However, you can park up easily in a campervan or motorhome and if you’d rather stop at lots of little places along the way to your final destination, these vehicles are probably better suited to your needs than a caravan. Likewise, if you want lots of space and would rather just use the car when you are on holiday instead of packing everything up again to go to the shops, then a caravan, folding caravan, or trailer tent might suit you better.

What else do you need to think about?

1. Budget

Trailer tents are usually cheaper than caravans, folding caravans, campervans and motorhomes. All used leisure vehicles tend to be cheaper than new models and usually have fewer snagging issues, which you tend to get with new caravans and motorhomes. Another thing to consider is whether your new cheap as chips but older campervan or motorhome has a lot of mileage on it. Will you be able to enjoy enough holidays before something expensive happens with the engine?

2. Type of purchase

You could buy from a dealership where there may be special deals on offer and where you have a better likelihood of rectifying a problem, if it is nearby. Do your research and check out the reviews of nearby dealerships using Google reviews or the “Caravan Owner Satisfaction Awards” run by the Camping and Caravanning Club . A local dealership also brings benefits when it comes to your annual service, as it’s a lot easier to drop off and pick up your vehicle from a nearby location rather than having to travel across the country.

Some dealerships also have an adjoining site where you can try out your new home for a free night to check that you are happy with how everything works before you move on. We chose this option and decided to plump for Lowdhams in Nottinghamshire for our first caravan. For us, peace of mind was important. We were guided through the workings of our new caravan’s gadgetry and appliances whilst we could video the whole process in case, we forgot anything. We then stayed overnight and by the next day, we felt secure enough in our knowledge and happy enough with our purchase to start our new adventures.

You can opt for a private sale too. This is a good option if you know what you are looking for and are relatively confident with your technical knowledge. You can of course, always pay for a pre inspection check from the Caravan and Motorhome Club who are happy to check things over for you before you buy. This link gives you more information on the process.

3. Lifestyle

Will you be using your new purchase during the cooler or warmer months? Are you a large family? Are you bothered about having a bathroom? Would you rather have your bed ready for when you arrive, or would you rather make up your bed every night? These are all considerations when buying a new leisure vehicle, and in my opinion, probably the most important.

For us, we just couldn’t afford a campervan, whilst we felt that paying money for something which resulted in us having to use campsite toilets in the middle of the night, just wasn’t worth it. We also preferred the space which a caravan gave us. However, we decided to buy a cheaper preowned caravan at first. We knew that it would keep its value if we didn’t like caravanning after a year, and our initial outlay wasn’t too much. For us this was the perfect choice. Over the course of a year’s caravanning, we came to realise what else we liked: an “L” or “U” shaped lounge for cuddling up; a decent bathroom with a quality shower and lots of cupboard space, (mainly this was because I’m rubbish at deciding what to pack!). We also realised what we didn’t like – a bed we had to make up every night and a small space, (Andy was getting increasingly fed up waking up in the morning next to Cherry’s rear end!) We then invested in a bigger caravan, which now has nearly every feature we want to suit our lifestyle.

This was a personal choice for us. Different people will no doubt, have different priorities about what works best for them. That’s fine and probably the main reason why there are so many choices out there!

Another option is to try before you buy. In other words, you could rent a motorhome or leisure vehicle first, to see how it all works for you. You can try sites or dealerships like Preston Caravans which is very near the M55 and M6 or the Caravan and Motorhome Club which provides information about renting motorhomes across several UK locations.

What’s great about this option is that you don’t have the risk of buying something, if you’re not sure that it’s for you.

4. Storage

This is something which you may think is less important until you realise how many things you end up accumulating as an owner! Some leisure vehicles can be stored in your garage such as a trailer tent, folding caravan, or pop top caravan. Most leisure vehicles are much bigger though. This is fine if you have a drive large enough and lovely neighbours but alternatively, you can store your new home at a nearby storage site. CaSSOA has a list of safe storage sites across the country with a bronze, silver, or gold rating according to the security measures which are in place. Some insurers even offer discounts if your storage facility is CaSSOA rated.

5. Weight  

Not yours, but the weight of your leisure vehicle! Pretty much anyone in their early forties or younger needs to check their DVLA licence. If you passed your driving test after the 1st January 1997, you can only drive vehicles, (or a combination of car plus caravan), weighing up to 3500kg in total. Many motorhomes and campervans match this weight or are lighter and many caravan and car combinations are available within these guidelines too, but quite a lot surprisingly, aren’t. A major factor in our choice of caravan was its weight. We had to check the car could legally tow its maximum weight when laden, (MTPLM), and this narrowed our choice of caravans considerably.

The leisure industry has started to adjust and smaller, lighter tourers are increasingly becoming more mainstream. However, in my opinion, some manufacturers are frustratingly slow at realising that most people in their early forties or younger, are faced with these restrictions and are less likely to pay for a B and E test to allow them to tow a heavier vehicle. Examples of manufacturers that do offer lighter models are Bailey, Elddis, Eriba and Caravelair.  

Where should I start?

The Caravan and Motorhome Club has a brilliant range of buying guides with advantages and disadvantages, clearly explaining each type of home on wheels. It also has information about pre inspections and matching your car to the right type of caravan. The Camping and Caravanning Club has a similar series of guides called “Getting Started” where you can find information about buying vehicles, different campsites and guides to your first caravan, motorhome or campervan holiday.

Another great place to get advice is the “Out and About Live” website which contains reviews of new leisure vehicles, a campsite finder, forums and lots of tips for starting out. Magazines such as Caravan Magazine, Practical Caravan, Campervan Magazine or Practical Motorhome are also great for beginner’s advice. They also have features on different models and layouts to suit different lifestyles. You can also compare makers and models of new caravans in terms of their weights, layouts and key features helping with ideas about what to buy. Of course, there’s also Caravan Finder TV, which has its own leisure vehicle search and virtual tours, just in case you prefer a different way of searching.

Visiting local dealerships or shows are also great ways to formulate your ideas as you can walk inside different models and get a feel for what you want. Even during the Covid-19 era, there are virtual shows and tours which you can experience such as the recent “VanLive” virtual event which ran in October.

So, are you ready to make the next step? Hopefully, you’re beginning to feel a little more confident about the options out there and where to start. Don’t forget to click on the links on this blog for further information. Good luck with your new purchase and let me know which leisure vehicle you decide to buy….

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Is now the time to buy a leisure vehicle?

As the end of the year approaches, the thought of buying a campervan, caravan, motorhome, or trailer tent might not necessarily be at the forefront of your mind. However, according to a survey by the NCC, leisure vehicle sales have hit the roof this year. Clearly, many people have been buying their new home on wheels including younger buyers who made up 34% of new sales. New UK caravan registrations increased by 20%, whilst used caravan checks were up by 50% compared to last year. This is not just a British phenomenon. RV dealerships in the US also reported an 30% increase in new buyers.

So why have so many people decided that 2020 has been the right year to buy their first leisure vehicle, and could it be the right time for you?

Covid-19

One reason for so many newbies this year could have been as a result of the rise in “staycations”. Many new buyers might have felt that holidaying in their own home from home was a much safer bet than having to fly or quarantine. Of course, once you’ve bought your new home on wheels, no one else needs to use your kitchen or bathroom, reducing your holiday risk considerably. On top of this, the space which campsites must maintain between units for fire regulations means that you are naturally going to be socially distancing by several metres anyway.

In fact, if you try a “Certified Location” site as a member of the Caravan and Motorhome Club, you won’t have to share your outside space with many other couples or families. In some cases, if you go off peak, you could even find you’ve got the whole place to yourself. One of our most memorable stays was at a site near a vineyard near Wroxeter. We shared a huge field with one other couple and a bunch of llamas, all for the princely sum of £15!

This leads us on nicely to…

Cheaper holidays = going away more

Apart from the initial price of your chosen new home on wheels, your outlay will be minimal, leaving you to enjoy a plethora of cheap nights away. You’ll have a choice of different places to stay too, from smaller sites to more expensive “all singing and all dancing” venues with spas, swimming pools and even sports centres on tap.

At the cheapest end are “Certified Locations” which you can access as a Caravan and Motorhome Club member. Their prices start from as little as £5 a night, enabling you to go away more often and more safely. There are plenty of more expensive CL’s too, offering plenty of facilities nearby and onsite to suit everyone.

There are heaps of sites to explore which cater for different tastes. You can choose a site with a multitude of fishing lakes such as Clays Touring Park in Wrexham or Pearl Lake Country Holiday Park in Herefordshire. For those who want a little exclusivity, you could try one of the 43 “Tranquil Parks” sites across the UK which only allow adults. If you fancy something even more exciting, why not try Duinrell Park in the Netherlands which not only has its own waterpark with 21 different water slides on site, but its own fairground too?

Joining a community

It goes without saying that once you own a leisure vehicle, you belong to a community of like-minded folk who love exploring the great outdoors. There are many ways to get support and build friendships if you want to, through forums and rallies, (which are mostly virtual at the moment due to Covid-19).

You’re also in good hands if you are a first timer and a tad unsure about how to reverse, level your new home on wheels, or just want some general advice about buying something new. We’ve met many lovely people onsite who have helped us or answered questions when we’ve needed guidance. The most touching moment for me was when we turned up at a small site in Dorset with a breakdown truck after a rather harrowing journey involving our car breaking down. We were met by a couple in a campervan whose first words were “We’ve just put the kettle on. Do you want a brew?” I could have hugged them on the spot! If you would rather enjoy your holiday without talking to your neighbours though, that’s fine too. There are plenty of peaceful sites across the UK.

So which leisure vehicle should you go for? This might be a huge investment, meaning that it’s important to think about what suits your needs. Both of the main clubs in the UK have guides and support to help you make the right decision about buying a new leisure vehicle. In my next blog, we’ll take a whistle stop tour of some of the key things to consider before you buy.

Whatever you decide to do, good luck, and if you’re not sure whether or not to go for it, remember…

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Mark Twain

Tiers for fears… Is going outside this week still an option?

It’s been a difficult week for people in the UK as well as further afield. We ventured out to Southport beach this weekend, only to find out on Monday that like many areas around Liverpool, it has been placed into the highest level of Covid-19 restrictions. Sadly, this means that we won’t be able to visit for a while. As Covid-19 cases rise by the day and some areas face more restrictions than others, it may feel that staying closer to home is our safest bet. Of course, this is understandable. Everyone is in a different position and some people are more vulnerable than others.

So, can we still enjoy the great outdoors despite these restrictions? Not only is it possible, but it’s great for physical and mental health. According to the NHS, being physically active can reduce blood pressure, improve your mood, reduce your stress levels, and help you to get some serious shut eye. By taking time out to relax and enjoy your natural surroundings you can feel good and stay healthy during these difficult times.

Here are 6 ways you might be able to do just that….

1. Find a parkland paradise at the National Trust

There are miles of safe and accessible off-road paths at Blickling Estate in Norfolk offering a wealth of activities from fishing, cycling, running, or just wandering around the 4600 acres of historic parkland. A number of mobility scooters and wheelchairs can be hired out. It’s pawfectly dog friendly and even offers canine treats at the outside café! Don’t forget to book your entry tickets in advance at https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/blickling-estate/whats-on. There are plenty of other National Trust properties across the country to visit, subject to Covid-19 restrictions. Details of these can be found in the resources section of the website.

2. Pop up to Bleinheim for a stopover

The Caravan and Motorhome Club have created a pop-up campsite for its members in the beautiful grounds of Blenheim Palace this October. You’ll be able to see the majestic Blenheim Palace and enjoy its beautiful surrounding grounds which are a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Staying at the Blenheim Palace pop-up campsite until the 1st November will also provide you with easy access to the many other delights that Oxfordshire offers. For more details visit the pop-up campsite website here.

If Blenheim palace is a little too far, have a look at last minute availability in October for Caravan and Motorhome sites across the UK available at https://www.caravanclub.co.uk/uk-holidays/uk-search-and-book/late-availability/. Be aware of local restrictions currently in the Liverpool City Region. For up to date guidance visit https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus.

3. Teed off with Covid? Try Footgolf

Join the latest craze of Footgolf fans and find a site near you for a round of this new sports craze. Combining the skills of football and golf and played on a golf course, you aim the ball into the hole using only your feet with the fewest number of shots possible.  For your nearest Footgolf course try using the site search facility at https://ukfootgolf.com/ or try one of these sites in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England.

4. Get wet and wild in the water

Go kayaking, canoeing or stand up paddle boarding and view the river landscape from a different perspective. On the water it’s often easier to get closer to animals before they notice. Rivers, streams and canals can be some of the best places to see British wildlife, normally hidden behind trees or thickly packed reeds along our waterways. For more information on where to start, water sports safety, accessible paddling and kayak tours, visit https://gopaddling.info/ for inspiration.

5. Get in that garden!

Days may be drawing in, but this is a wonderful time to look ahead to the promise of a new spring next year. Bulb planting is easy to do and reaps real rewards in a matter of months. Tulips can be planted in a few weeks whilst hardy summer-flowering bulbs like lilies, alliums and crocosmia, can be planted out in pots now.

You might also spot new wildlife in your garden or neighbourhood. Acorns dropping from the trees are one of the signs of squirrel season and you might also spot a jay scouting around for somewhere to bury fallen acorns and hazelnuts at this time of year. If you let seed heads form on flowers and allow weeds such as teasels and thistles to grow in your garden, you may even attract other wild birds.

For other garden ideas, have a look at the Wildlife Trust page to help to encourage more wildlife into your garden at this time of year. There are plenty of downloadable resources and ideas for all the family ranging from making a hedgehog house and decorating trees in your back garden, to spotting wildlife and different types of fungi! For more information visit https://www.wildlifewatch.org.uk/seasonal-wildlife/autumn

6. Plan next year’s adventures now

Perhaps it’s just too hard to get out at the moment. Instead, why not plan for better days beyond these troublesome times and look towards next year’s adventures instead? What’s more, by planning a new adventure you may also be doing yourself a bit of good in terms of mental health. Research suggests that planning a holiday or new adventure can make you feel better. In fact, people experience a significant boost in happiness during the planning stages of their holidays. Try websites like Roadtrippers, apps like Google Maps or just buy yourself a few paper maps and get planning that road trip of a lifetime.

I’ve got an eight week long European caravanning adventure planned and ready to go from our March lockdown, complete with budgeting, information on possible campsites and places to visit. Now, I’ve just got to find a very understanding employer, who’ll let me leave the country for an extended amount of time. Or maybe, (and probably more likely), we could do it in bitesize holiday chunks instead . A girl can dream, can’t she?……..

For more help planning your next outside adventure, click on my blog links or go to the resources section of my website.

A last “hurrah” to Southport for a while…

Hilltop spa in the Netherlands? You’ve obviously not been to Valkenburg….

Just for a minute, imagine yourself basking in the invigorating waters of a luxurious outdoor whirlpool. As you peek through the steam rising around you, you gaze outwards across the wooded valley beyond and watch the sun set, feeling any tension you had built up over the last few weeks melt away under the warm jets massaging your shoulders. This was my experience on the first day of our holiday at Valkenburg aan de Geul last October, and I couldn’t stop grinning!

In my opinion, Valkenburg is a much better bet than following the annual crowds who head to more obvious Dutch destinations such as Amsterdam or the bulb fields of Bollenstreek. In the last few years, mass tourism has forced tourist officials in the Netherlands to look at ways of reducing the number of visitors heading to these famous tourist hotspots. Of course, 2020 has seen a reduction in tourists across Europe due to Covid-19 and now might not be quite the right time to take a trip to Europe. But if you are thinking further ahead and fancy somewhere a little different, might Valkenburg fit the bill?

Valkenburg aan de Geul is a town located in the teardrop shaped south of the Netherlands and lies in the province of Limburg. Although it is not a stranger to tourists, it’s less well known to British holidaymakers which is a shame, considering it is only a three and a half hour’s drive from Calais and just over two hours from Rotterdam. This makes it a perfect place to visit for anyone who is nervous of long-distance driving across Europe. Perfectly nestled between Belgium and Germany and commutable to France and Luxembourg, it’s a brilliant base if you are the type of tourist who prefers to seek out lots of new places when holidaying. What’s more, Valkenburg is well connected by rail and is only eleven minutes away by train to Maastricht, a vibrant university city with exciting shopping opportunities and beautiful architecture.

We stayed at Camping Den Driesch, located on a small hill only five minutes’ walk from the centre of Valkenburg. Despite being close to the shops, bars and restaurants of the town, the site itself was very peaceful, surrounded by hedging and offering fine views of the nearby castle which was lit up every evening. We went for a pitch with a hammock as I’m a sucker for anything gimmicky but there were many different pitches to choose from across the terraced campsite. There was a slightly sharp approach to the site which we noticed towing our caravan, which is fine as long as you approach from the south, along Daalhemerweg, after circumnavigating the roundabout, (if you travel from the north like we did). The site itself was welcoming and brilliantly located next to an adventure park which, for big kids like my husband and I, was fantastic! Agogo Park, ran adjacent to the site and was so close that we decided at several points during the week, to squeeze in a quick toboggan run and cable car ride along the hillside before we went out for dinner.

To many people, this location might not appear as tranquil as other holiday destinations. However, visiting during Autumn meant that we were able to enjoy relatively warm T shirt weather and still do everything we wanted, without having to worry about too many tourists. Every evening was restful. Yet, our proximity to the town’s amenities meant that we did not need to use the car for the entire week that we were there. The train station was a thirty-minute pleasant walk through the town from our site and we were happy to distract ourselves, with a little bit of shopping along the way.

For those who prefer not to camp, there are plenty of hotels located in the town centre which are easily accessible for all visitors. Hotel Janssen is a popular choice and can be found on the edge of the town a few paces from the shops and bars. It is also close to the caves and castle and currently has excellent reviews on Booking.com.

So, what else does Valkenburg offer? Here are 8 reasons why Valkenburg is perfectly suited for a mini or bigger adventure

The Cherry Vlaai

I’m so pleased that Valkenburg was the type of destination which encouraged you to walk everywhere. Had it not been, I’m sure I would have returned to the UK several kilograms heavier after our regular stops to the bakers for another piece of delicious Vlaai on the way to the train station, or for a walk in the nearby woods. This Cherry tart is a local speciality and to say it is moreish, is an understatement.

Thermae 2000

Home to one of the largest wellness centres in The Netherlands , it would be rude not to sample the delights of the thermal indoor and outdoor pools, sauna, steam baths, whirlpools and treatments on offer at Thermae 2000. The centre offers many different packages, but if you fancy something simple like we did, just pay for a 4 hour session where you can explore, relax and swim through the inside pools to the outside baths and soak up those views. Thermae 2000 also has a hotel if you want to indulge in a spa break and information about it can be found here. Just watch out for the costume free, (nude) bathing days by keeping an eye on the timetable found on the website- unless that’s your type of thing of course!

Caves of wonder

Dating from the C12th, the caves of Valkenburg are connected by a network of passageways used when the castle above, was under siege. They allowed the knights and their footmen to escape the castle and attack the enemy from behind or secretly bring supplies in. During the Second World War, the Velvet Cave served as a shelter for 600 local residents and became a field hospital for American soldiers after Liberation. The cave tours are fully accessible by wheelchair and dogs are welcome too.

A castle round tour

As well as the castle ruins in Valkenburg itself, you can visit a number of other castles if you walk along the Oosterweg wooded walk through the Sint-Jansbos woods, heading east out of Valkenburg. We navigated this network of paths which led us past two charming castles, Kasteel Oost and Schaloen castle. At our second castle stop we enjoyed another slice of, (you guessed it!), Cherry Vlaai and a delightful meal at the Brasserie Kasteel Schaloen. You can actually stay at this picturesque national monument which is believed to have been built in the C12th. The castle’s elegant beauty surrounded by its moat is an alternative to a hotel in Valkenburg which is only twenty minutes’ walk away. Continue your walk eastwards to the village of Schin op Geul and you can catch a train back to Valkenburg, a few minutes ride away.

The people

Valkenburg is one of our favourite European towns for many reasons, but it is the friendliness which we encountered from the locals which is the biggest reason why we would return. Many Dutch people seem to like us Brits and on our visit to Valkenburg we were made to feel extremely welcome. English was widely spoken too.  Their brilliant sense of humour, as well as their directness was refreshing, and Cherry, our four pawed furball, was welcome anywhere we wanted to eat.  

The buzz of Valkenburg town

The sheer variety of eateries which we could choose from was a delight. Most bars and restaurants offered outside seating where in the evening it was hard to imagine we were not in some Mediterranean resort further south. The holiday atmosphere spilled out onto the crisscrossing walkways and over the Geul river. Castle walls intermingled with individual shops and boutiques, selling more traditional as well as out of the ordinary souvenirs to take home. Valkenburg Museum on the other hand, housed art and history exhibitions showcasing the local culture of the region. Valkenburg attracts many visitors at Christmas too, when many of the town’s Christmas markets are held in the caves. I think this is why the locals were so friendly. There is plenty to like about this small town.

Parks galore

In addition to the two amusement parks on the outskirts of Valkenburg, (De Valkenier and the Sprookjesbos or ‘fairy tale wood’), was Agogo Park.  Running alongside our campsite and hosting a crazy golf course, summer toboggan run, cable car, tubing rides and a laser quest experience, this park provided a huge amount of fun during our stay. The fact that it closed at 6pm at the latest, meant that our campsite was not disturbed through the night, ensuring that we could fully recharge our batteries.

Perfect location

As already mentioned, Valkenburg is easy to get to from Rotterdam’s ferry terminal and the Eurotunnel terminal at Calais. Its train station is located to the north of the town and is well connected to mainline services. Maastricht, a university town lying along the River Meuse, was a brilliant day out and we admired the beautiful basilicas and spacious squares surrounded by stunning architecture. Cherry enjoyed both the river boat and “bendy bus” tour of the city, skulking away from any over friendly tourist.  She took the eleven-minute train ride from Valkenburg in her stride and received many smiles from other rail passengers. We just didn’t have the time to squeeze everything in and were sad that we missed out on visiting many other places nearby. In just over an hour’s drive away, we could have visited Aachen, (home to the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Germany), and Cologne, (famous for its fragrance, one of Europe’s largest cathedrals and Rhine river cruises).

If you’re the type of tourist who likes the buzz of big cities, heading to well known destinations and ticking top tens off their lists, Valkenburg probably isn’t for you. It doesn’t have the oldest castle or the tallest hill in the Netherlands but what it does have is character, charm and a bucketload of things to do for a great holiday and break from the norm. And that spa? Mmmmmmm……

For more information on the latest Covid regulations for travel to the Netherlands now and in 2021 visit https://www.government.nl/topics/coronavirus-covid-19/tourism-in-the-netherlands

A weekend of wild wonders… 3 ways to enjoy the great outdoors this weekend

Join the “Big Wild Walk”

Discover your local nature reserve, enjoy the fresh air, make memories and raise money as part of the Wildlife Trusts’ campaign to protect our countryside. You could even complete their “hedgehog” or “migration” challenges! There are lots of ideas on the their website to help you get moving and enjoy the outdoors. Just click on this link.

Up, up and away!

World Space Week starts on the 4th October. Why not get out after sunset and look up to the skies to view the myriad of stars and satellites above you? Gaze in wonder at the natural and human made marvels overhead. For tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your star gazing experience visit the World Space Week website.

Watch a virtual marathon and get inspired

Love running but not quite ready to do a full marathon? Then consider sponsoring a lady who is running the Virtual London Marathon this Sunday, and raising money for the Dogs Trust at the same time. Annie Rawlinson completed a marathon during lockdown in her own back garden. This weekend she will join thousands of runners, joggers and walkers across the world to take part in this event. Many charities have lost money this year, as the traditional methods of fundraising such as indoor activities have been restricted by the Covid-19 pandemic. For more information on her story visit the Dogs Trust website here.

Have a safe and happy weekend!

For more ideas on places to visit this weekend, don’t forget to go to the Resources section of my website.

 

Cool camping or just cold camping? October in the great outdoors

The weather has definitely taken a turn this week. I can usually tell when Autumn arrives. Doggy muddy paw prints appear on the carpet and I’m sure we’d only been on pavements… But the colder temperatures bring with them a sense of excitement. I can start to unpack my boots, scarves and various fluffy accessories and get ready for the great outdoors. Autumn is a season when many people decide to ditch the idea of camping or caravanning outside, uncertain of what the weather will bring and put off by the shorter daylight hours. Yet, I’d like to challenge this view and prove that October and November are the perfect months to consider for a short, or more extended trip to explore the British landscape, (safely of course). Here’s why…

You might have the place to yourselves

Many British people are weather wary. This is totally understandable due to the ever changing weather fronts moving across our shores. However, if you can live with this, you’ll find that there’s a lot more space at caravan and camping sites at this time of the year. This means that your chosen site is much more likely to actually match the tranquil atmosphere you had in mind when you booked it. Do be aware of local restrictions before you plan your trip, though. Due to recent increases in Covid-19 virus rates, several areas in Wales are currently out of bounds for tourists and information about these areas can be found here.

The landscape can be beautiful

As Autumn leaves transform into rich reds and orange hues, many tourist destinations have proved that they are not just one season wonders. The Lake District is an obvious choice for some. Its countryside, expanding outwards over 2000 square kilometres, offers visitors some of the most beautiful scenery in the UK. The beautiful areas to the north and west tend to be less busy, whilst Sizergh Castle towards the south, is also worth a look. Its gardens host many plants and trees bursting with fruits ripe for harvesting. The copper hues of its Japanese Maple trees meanwhile, are radiant during this season.

Herefordshire too, with its orchards producing many of Britain’s best apples, has “Cider Circuit Trails” perfectly suited for an Autumnal jaunt. The trails allow you to soak up the region’s characterful hamlets and wonderful scenery. At various points along the route, you can stop off and discover the plentiful bounty of nearby apple and cider producers and also sample their products.

Dumfries and Galloway’s beaches, forests and mountains offer much for the outdoor enthusiast at this time of year. At Grey Mare’s Tail you can soak up the exquisite autumnal views, catch a glimpse of visiting wildlife such as pink footed geese and then stand in awe at one of the largest waterfalls in the country. The viewpoint to the waterfall has wheelchair access too.

Snuggle up afterwards

One of the things I like most about caravanning outside in the Autumn is stepping outside into the crisp air, knowing that I have a wonderfully warm retreat to return to at the end of our day. This is where campervans, motorhomes and caravans come into their own, in my opinion. Unfortunately, many caravanners pack up and put their vehicles in storage during this time of year. To me, this seems such a shame. The joy of having somewhere with heating, hot showers, plenty of hot chocolate, and of course, a little mulled wine, means that you can enjoy your time away when the weather gets chillier. Many new leisure vehicles even have appliances installed like Truma’s iNet system which allows you to turn on the heating before you return back to your home on wheels. Isn’t technology fantastic? I’m afraid we’re not that posh! However, our caravan is always warm enough in the colder months. Cherry, our dog, looks positively disgusted if I even try to reduce the settings on the heating, as she loves to sit opposite the heating vents at the front of the caravan.

There are a few things I might advise though, (having learned from experience). Unless you want to get caught out, pick a sheltered spot to avoid any sudden breezes, ideally not directly under trees, (to avoid pinging and dripping all through the night after a spot of rain). Also, keep an eye on the wind for travel to and from your chosen site. We discovered this after a brave and never to be repeated “Beast from the East” caravan stay a few years back. Thankfully, this was a rare occasion and we really love outside adventures any time of the year!

Cherry doing “Hygge”

For more information on any of the places mentioned, click on the links, or go to the resources section of my website. If you like this and would like to keep up with my latest blogs, don’t forget to subscribe using the link below.

Castles, Combes or Coast? Discover the lesser known Lake District..

“The fleeting hour of life of those who love the hills is quickly spent, but the hills are eternal….These are for the seeking, and those who seek and find while there is still time will be blessed both in mind and body.”

Alfred Wainwright

The Lake District has long been known as a popular destination for hill walkers, culture vultures, artists, and those of us who are keen to escape the hustle and bustle of modern life. As a visitor, it’s hard not to relax as the majesty of its vast landscape unfolds before you in a National Park containing England’s highest mountain and longest lake. Tourists flock to destinations such as Windermere, Ambleside and Keswick hoping to conquer nearby peaks in the footsteps of serial fell walker and author, Alfred Wainwright. Others, prefer to take a step back in time, inspired by the life of Beatrix Potter or William Wordsworth, visiting historic houses such as Hill Top or Dove Cottage. These destinations are all enchanting in their own right but as a result, can get rather crowded, even in the less popular seasons of Autumn and Winter. If you want to try something a bit different and a little less busy, you might want to give these destinations a go instead…

(please be aware of the current Covid guidance found in the link to each attraction)

Muncaster Castle and Gardens

Home to 77 acres of beautiful gardens and a Hawk and Owl Centre, Muncaster Castle and Gardens lies on the less visited western fringes of the Lake District. It offers much to visitors, whilst allowing them space to soak up the centuries old history which the castle exudes. Believed to have stood on Roman remains, the castle has been home to the Pennington family since 1208. The castle even offers a ghost tour for the bravest of visitors! There is a café and tearoom and daily flying displays which, I can say from personal experience, are awesome! Many of its pathways and indoor facilities are accessible for everyone, whilst mobility scooters and wheelchairs for hire can be booked in advance. What’s more, its miles of garden paths are dog friendly and water bowls are available at several locations in the grounds.

Black Combe

On a clear day, the ascent of Black Combe, located towards the south west of the Lake District, offers spectacular sea views from its 600 metre summit. If you get the weather right, you can see as far as Wales, Ireland, Scotland and even the Isle of Man. The trek to the top is achievable for most walkers and takes several hours, so be prepared to take layers as well as a good packed lunch. Most people start their walk near Silecroft where its beach is another reason to visit this area of Cumbria. With the fell as your backdrop, this quieter beach, popular with dog walkers, provides you with a perfect opportunity after your climb of Black Combe, to paddle in the ocean waves and refresh those well-worn feet.

Staveley and Crook

If you’ve ever headed along the main tourist highway towards Windermere and Ambleside on the A591, it’s likely that you will have been greeted by a stunning vista of mountains, hills and sheep filled fields, which has usually been your first glimpse of the Lake District. However, rather than continuing along this route and then a few minutes later, having to wait in traffic, (as you realise everybody else also decided to take a trip to the Lake District today), consider stopping off at Staveley instead. Home to the Hawkshead Brewery, the Eagle and Child Inn, and the beginning of many beautiful paths along lowlands and highlands, this is a destination, which many tourists totally ignore, preferring instead to head to the more popular resorts. It’s a shame to miss this village, as it provides you with beautiful scenery and amazingly easy access to many of the fells surrounding it. If you fancy more of a lowland amble, walk to Crook, where you’ll discover a very friendly landlady and amazing Sunday lunches at the Sun Inn. She also provides dog friendly food and has been more than happy to serve our dog, Cherry with a small bowlful of carrots when we’ve visited! Burn off those calories along the route back, whilst enjoying the Lakeland views from every angle. Of course, there’s also a short cut from here to get to Bowness to avoid those slow car queues, but that’s for another post!…

Cherry enjoying a sunset in the Lake District

For more information about Lake District attractions visit https://www.visitlakedistrict.com/

Covid claustrophobia? Then read on..

Next weekend is fast approaching and all you can see on the news are shocking figures telling you how much more scared you should be about Covid than yesterday. What do you do? Continue building up your Brexit / Covid “just in case” stash under the stairs? Just accept the inevitable and book yourself in for a box set Saturday? Or maybe, look to the outdoors as a way of giving yourself time to take stock and appreciate that you can still do something outside, just even more safely than normal. According to Mind, the UK mental health charity, there are many studies which have shown that doing physical activity can improve mental health. Even better, being one with nature helps us to live in the now and lifts our spirits. This is something which can improve our outlook on the world and ability to cope better. Here are 3 top ways you can enjoy the great outdoors safely this weekend…

Go walking in the woods.

  • It’s that time of year when Autumn leaves begin to turn, showing their glory. UK woodlands are home to many different wildlife species and many of them offer a choice of clearly marked paths which cater for different abilities. There’s nothing quite like the scrunch of leaves under your wellies and then, enjoying a post walk hot chocolate. Even better, take a hot flask and enjoy your hot drink al fresco! The Woodland Trust has plenty of foraging tips this season, as well as a “Woodland Finder” section if you’re not sure where your nearest woodland is.

Picnicking pleasures

  • Picnics are not just for summer days. It may be true that less people are seen having a picnic in the colder months but September temperatures aren’t too extreme. If you pack a few items which will keep you snug, you might even enjoy picnicking outdoors in cooler weather. Considering that fair weather tourists tend to stay in when the weather gets colder, it can be easier to socially distance too. Think hot drinks and soups in a flask, burritos wrapped well in foil and finger foods which are quick to prepare and easy to eat. You might want to pack some tissues too, for runny noses when the weather gets chillier. Of course, it would be a good idea to include plenty of extra layers such as scarves, gloves, hats and a cosy winter picnic blanket if you’re the type of person to feel the cold easily. Don’t forget that rubbish bag though, to take home!

On your doorstep

  • Some of the nicest walks we’ve been on have been on our own doorstep. These are places we might have either stumbled across or found by exploring our local area a little. The best thing about these types of walks are that they are quick to get to and can be less popular than other tourist destinations, (unless you live in a National Park or city that is). This makes it easier to socially distance as you are less likely to be joining throngs of day trippers heading for well-known beauty spots. In fact, you are more likely to find your own beauty spot, personal to you. Local walks can give you a greater link to your local community and you may find something nearby which you hadn’t even realised existed. This could be a beautiful church, park, or lake. Try looking for local public footpath signs on your route home to get you started. Alternatively, look at online map applications to give you an idea of places which are more likely to have quieter country lanes or footpaths to give you a starting point. You can even ask your friends, particularly if they are dog walkers, as they will no doubt have plenty of local circuits in mind. The Walking Britain website can also get you started with a free local walk finder tool. If you need more inspiration or confidence, try something like ViewRanger, where you can download Ordnance Survey maps to your phone and try out your local area without getting lost. Just remember to stay safe and keep an eye on the daylight. Now the Autumnal Equinox has passed, daylight hours will get shorter.

What tips do you have for staying safe whilst enjoying the great outdoors?

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