Part 9 Homeward bound

Back in England, we spent the night at Gibraltar Farm campsite overlooking Morecambe Bay.

A nice site with modern facilities, it is just 2 miles from RSPB Leighton Moss, which we visited the next morning for a last walk. We managed to see Osprey, Marsh Harrier Pochard and finally a Blackcap, bringing our species total for the holiday to 105.

Then, a good drive south to our favourite campsite at Warwick, Paul and Pam’s drive. (We had planned to meet them for the weekend camping in Tewkesbury, but the site owner had cancelled us due to flooding!). On Saturday, we visited beautiful Spetchley Park gardens (HHA),

and then Croome Park, the first estate landscaped by Capability Brown,

with Adam interiors,

and some rather interesting art installations,

including some by Grayson Perry.

Sunday was home time, meeting up with Jen and Samson en route for a lovely walk near Newbury, up to to original Watership Down.

Then home and we got the washing on!

What a super trip. We enjoyed it more than we expected given the cool grey weather, and in fact, by being unplanned, we were free to pick our route, and follow the dry weather, which we did pretty well. We were certainly much drier than they were in England. Our route looks wiggly, but it was very logical!

By using mainly off site overnight stops, our nightly fees averaged £5.20 per night! Our fuel was by far our most expensive item at £450. We spent £30 on admissions, and this included the Falkirk Wheel. Our National Trust cards saved us £60 in admissions, and historic houses (HHA), a whopping £264. The Art Pass saved us £23, and RSPB £27. We cannot extol their virtues enough. HHA is particularly useful in Scotland, where many of the bigger, expensive castles belong to the scheme.

What a super Bimble with Boris.

Part 8 Dundee, Fife and Glasgow east!

Dundee is the 4th largest city in Scotland, and was always known for the 3 J’s.. Jam, Jute and Journalism. It has recently undergone a huge regeneration of it’s waterfront, culminating in the building of the striking V&A Scotland museum which opened last year.

Our main reason for visiting was to see Captain Scott’s Antarctic exploration ship the Discovery, which was built here and is now on display in it’s home port.

There is a wonderful exhibition about the construction and equipping of the ship, and the expedition itself. The hull was built of 5 layers of different timbers, filled the void with salt to absorb water, and had bridging struts to prevent crushing by pack ice. Provisions included 45 sheep.. many of which were lost overboard, and vast quantities of meats, bottled fruits and vegetables and cheese, to provide a balanced diet and try to prevent conditions like scurvy, but they could not last for the nearly 3 years that the trip took!

The purpose of the voyage was as a scientific exploration of uncharted territory, so scientists and research equipment were all on board, covering geology, botany, zoology, cartography, physics and engineering.

Many of their findings are in use today. The ship itself was remarkable. Solid, with beautifully polished woodwork, and giving a real sense of life onboard.

But nothing could simulate the privations of their stay in Antarctica, at -60 degrees and eating seabirds! Devilled skua was one recipe.. apparently it tasted like devilled rotten fish!

Next door, the V&A’s architecture is supposed to echo the rugged Fife coast. Inside we visited a fascinating exhibition on how videogames are conceptualised and created, plus the problems they can cause.

We were surprised, and impressed, at the amount, and quality of ‘real’ drawing that occurs before the computer graphic stage.

Some games used full orchestra and choirs to record the backing music! The permanent Scottish gallery celebrates all aspects of Scottish design. Highlights for us were the Rennie Mackintosh oak room, an exhibition on the Beano.. DC Thomson publishers are based here, and the last tiara Cartier ever made, which was commissioned here, and contains over 25,000 diamonds.

The Scottish fashion exhibit had a lovely line in 1960’s skiwear!

To avoid city centre parking problems, we had earlier driven across the long Tay bridge, with the lovely views… including of more oil platforms in for maintenance!

We then caught the local train into and out of Dundee from Leuchars, crossing the railway bridge, under which you can see the stone stumps of the first rail bridge which collapsed in 1879 in a storm, killing everyone aboard the train that plunged into the river. A sobering thought. Back to Boris and we drive out to the Fife coast at St Andrew’s. This is the land of sand dunes and many, many golf courses, including the Holy Grail of Golfers, St Andrew’s itself.

The quaint town now has golfing hotels, and golfing apparel shops everywhere. On its south side are the remains of a magnificent 12th century Abbey, and castle, reminding us that St Andrew’s was here long before the first Mashie Niblick!

How has that tower stayed up for 800 years?! Of course, St Andrew’s recently had another claim to fame, and they are not shy about exploiting it!

Next, down the coast to Cambo Sands and our free car park for the night, again with a stunning sea view and the chance of an evening walk on the beach.

Next morning, a 6 mile walk along the lovely shore, and a pretty stream, watching birds and doing our usual beach clean as we go.

On the whole the beaches are pretty good, but we just pick up any plastic, ropes or litter that we see as a matter of course now. Something we can all do whenever we walk along a beach.

Fife is famous for it’s charming fishing villages, and we drove through Crail, Anstruther, St Monans and Elie

before turning inland to visit Loch Kilconquhar and then Loch Leven, a lovely RSPB reserve where we picked up 3 new birds for our species list, bringing our trip total to 99 different species in Scotland. We cannot leave without the elusive 100th! We also had traumatic ‘nature in the raw’ experience. I took this photo of a black headed gull chick on an island nest with it’s parent birds.

Seconds later, a greater black backed gull dived down and snatched the chick. Adult bh gulls mobbed it, but it got away. A sad Springwatch type moment!

We then started our drive across the more built up areas of central Scotland, until we reached the incredible Kelpie sculpture near Falkirk. Two enormous heads of Kelpies, mythical horses, that represent endurance and strength. They are 30 metres tall and stand by a turning pool on the Union canal. We could spend the night here on the lower car park for £5, which we did so that we could walk to see the Kelpies at night. However, being Scotland and mid June, it wasn’t dark enough until after 11pm! It was worth it though.

They gradually change colour, but my favourite shot is this one, with Chris standing next to one to really show the size and majesty of the Kelpies.

From here next morning, it was just 10 minutes drive to the Falkirk wheel. Scotland’s canal network was built 200 years ago as a major transport network for it’s burgeoning industrial output. The two main canals, the Union, and the Forth and Clyde canal, were linked here by a series of locks. The coming of the rail network, and road haulage meant canals fell out of use and were abandoned. Three blocks of flats were built on the site of the locks. In the 1990’s, interest in canals was renewed and a huge restoration project was begun. They no longer had locks, so they looked for ways to link the 2 canals, finally accepting this superb design from a team led by Tony Kettle.

This is the worlds only rotating boat lift, and has been a huge success both as a functioning boat lift and a tourist attraction.

After our boat ride on the lift, we drove to Uddingston, a leafy Glasgow suburb, and caught the train into Bridgeton, in the east end of the city, to meet Margaret, a dear friend from many years ago.

We had a super afternoon catching up, and visiting some fascinating places in a part of Glasgow off the main tourist trail. They certainly have a jazzy taste in cars!

Margaret works in the Glasgow Women’s library, which evolved from a small project set up in 1990, during Glasgow’s year as European City of culture. It has moved into a beautiful old library building, and is dedicated to women’s lives, histories and achievements, plus hosting workshops, literacy classes, history walks and many other activities for the community. Amongst their treasures is this beautiful umbrella stand, painted by suffragettes imprisoned in jail in Glasgow.

They also have an art space, and were recently chosen by the National Gallery to display a newly acquired painting. A self portrait of the little known but highly regarded, female renaissance artist, Artemesia Gentileschi.

Her story is remarkable. Her father was an artist, and recognised his daughter’s talent. He hired a tutor, who raped Artemesia and was put on trial! However Artemesia was subjected to gruelling questioning and physical torture during the trial that ensued, although finally, and very unusually for the time, he was eventually convicted. She rose to fame in Florence and Naples as an excellent artist.

Walking in the local area we visited the People’s Palace, built in 1898 as a museum of people, and daily life in Glasgow from the 1750s.

Behind it are the glass Winter gardens, currently closed, and in front, the Doulton fountain. The largest terracotta fountain in the world, it was the centrepiece of the Glasgow Great Exhibition in 1888. Some fascinating museum displays, reflecting both Glasgow’s heyday as 2nd city in the Empire, and the extreme poverty experienced here. Pictures of ‘Steamies’, tile clad communal laundries, were given extra meaning when we walked across Glasgow Green and saw the metal poles that would once have been connected by lines for people to hang their washing on, after visiting the steamie!

The most dramatic building was a huge, ornate, tile hung facade resembling the Doges palace in Venice.

However, it was Templeton’s carpet factory, built this way in 1888 to appease local residents who didn’t want an ugly factory in their midst! Templetons created Axminster carpets that graced Royal Palaces and cruise liners…including the Titanic!

It now houses a brewery and restaurant, where we had an early supper before saying our goodbyes after a lovely afternoon, and heading south to Girvan on the Dumfiries coast… coming full circle as we again had a view of Arran and Ailsa Craig from our car park stop!

Possibly our last night in Scotland, and our last being lulled to sleep by the waves.

Our last day in Scotland, so we drove around the beautiful coast of Dumfries and Galloway to RSPB Mersehead where we saw Sand Martin to take our total to over 100 in Scotland. Yippee! We also saw Roe deer!

Then to beautiful Rockcliffe and a wonderful, if hilly walk along the coast where we had not one, but two wonderful wildlife experiences. Firstly, Peregrine Falcons, nesting on the cliffs,

and secondly, a first for both of us, two young badgers rooting in the grass on the hillside!

Scotland was really saying goodbye to us in style!

We headed towards Gretna Green and the M6. After nearly 25 days of virtually hold up free motoring, the first thing we saw was a road works sign!!

Easter Bunny Bimble – East Anglia

The urge to get on the road again was too great, and we found ourselves with a week off at Easter, so at 22.30 on Friday night we decided to go away for a week in Boris. The advantage of a campervan is that we keep Boris 80% ready to go, so 2 hours of adding water, toilet cassette, maps, clothes and food, and we were ready to leave at 8am the next morning! As usual, we looked for the area with the best weather forecast! Nowhere was great, but East Anglia was driest!

Places Visited:   Cambridge, Kings College Chapel, Oxburgh, Norwich, Norfolk, Suffolk, Hickling Broad, Minsmere, Dunwich, Strumpshaw Fen

(Summary of Campsites, Parking, Activities etc is at the end of the Blog!)

After a day visiting Margaret in Sussex, we headed north over the Dartford Crossing (Remember to pay in advance online or by phone – no paying at the crossing anymore), and aimed for our first Britstop south of Cambridge 216 – a tiny, very old pub next to a river with a Pizza oven! Excellent stop – faint noise from the M11 but it didn’t disturb us.

Next morning, just 11 miles to Cambridge. Park and ride excellent, so we were in the city by 9.30 on Easter Sunday morning. It was deserted, and we enjoyed a super walk around this wonderful, compact and historic city before the crowds began to arrive. One of the great charms of Cambridge is the proliferation of stunning buildings and history all around you, but you are just a few steps away from what is essentially a country walk along the river in the area known as The Backs. Added to that, there is an aura of achievement everywhere – here DNA was unravelled, there the electron was discovered. Stephen Hawking works here… Isaac Newton worked there – what a super place to visit. 20160327_112046.jpgWe took a free walking tour with Footprints Tours. http://www.footprints-tours.com . It was excellent – Charlie our guide was both a student and resident of Cambridge, and a mine of information. We were left in no doubt about Cambridge’s superiority over Oxford (89 Nobel prizes to Oxfords 48 – although he did acknowledge that was partly due to Cambridge having more science options!), and we were very glad that Cambridge won the Boat race later that day!

We also learned that in days gone by they had some interesting interview techniques. One professor threw a rugby ball at prospective candidates. if they dropped it they were rejected, if they caught it they were offered a place and if they threw it back they got a scholarship! Another gave the interviewee a brick and told them to throw it through a particularly historic stained glass window! He had to intercept a few throws – they were rejected. if you could argue a good reason why you weren’t throwing you were offered a place but the scholarship went to those who opened the window first before throwing !

Admission charges to the colleges vary, but we had been told that to see Kings College and is amazing chapel free of charge, the best way is to attend evensong, which is open to all.20160327_104505.jpg

We were so glad we did. Because it was Easter Sunday we had the full choir. The chapel is unbelievably beautiful- it’s ceiling and windows have to be seen, but where it surpassed anywhere was with the acoustics. As the choir sang, you were covered in tingly goosebumps! This is the choir that sing the televised Christmas 9 lessons and Carols, and they were amazing. What an experience to end our day in Cambridge. There were lots of places left to explore further – just how we like it. We will be back!

A night at Britstop number  255. This was a super little pub with rooms. The carpark was tiny but sheltered, which was just as well because Storm Katie made her presence felt that night. Its full force hit the south coast, and at 2am we had a message from my son saying that one of our chairs had blown over a 6ft wall into the neighbours garden, and our little plastic greenhouse had broken loose and was now on the study roof! Luckily that was our only damage – other people fared much worse. In Boris we were snug as usual.

Next day the wind and rain were still in full force, so we visited Oxburgh Hall, a super National Trust moated manor, with a priests hole, which was quite a challenge to enter and leave! Highly recommend a visit! There was an EasterBunny Hunt for children – the person setting the trail had a sense of humour – Can you spot the bunny in the 2nd photo?!

By mid-afternoon the sun had come out and we did a lovely walk at Salhouse Broad before heading to Britstop  251 for the night. This pub is attached to the Woodforde’s Brewery, so of great interest to Chris as he uses their Home Brew kits!   Large Car Park and a very peaceful night.

Next day we caught the Park and Ride at Sprowston, into Norwich. It is a real mix of old and new, partly due to extensive bombing in the war, particularly as part of the Baedecker raids, when cities like Bath, Norwich and Canterbury were targeted, having been chosen from the Baedecker guide books as having great cultural significance.

The Cathedral is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown. It is a huge and beautiful Cathedral – started in 1069. The Cloisters are beautiful too, and the cloisters and Nave are famous for the carved and painted ceiling bosses at every junction.

In the city there are lots of old areas of narrow, historic lanes, and interesting shops and restaurants, as well as a newly opened riverside walk. The Catholic Cathedral is also worth a visit, and next to it is a super garden in a quarry pit – the Plantation Garden – a real oasis of peace.

Leaving Norwich, we headed to a campsite so that we could shower, empty the loo etc! After finding the site at Ludham, we drove to Hickling Broad Norfolk Wildlife Trust centre and did a wonderful early evening walk to the raptor roost. November to February is the best time of year, but it was a lovely evening, and we were rewarded with seeing 7 Marsh harriers flying in over the reed beds, and 3 Chinese Water deer grazing close by. A group of small birds appeared and we are sure they had literally just arrived from their migration back to the UK. They were feeding frantically. Then we heard a Chiffchaff calling – the first of the year for us.

Next day we did a different walk at Hickling Broad, but some of the view was obscured by the reeds which was a shame. However the beautiful Potter Heigham church was a real treat, with a super hammerbeam roof and beautiful embroidered kneelers. 20160330_131337.jpgThen we headed south to  Norwich Camping – a huge camping and accessories shop at Blofield, east of Norwich. Excellent base for supplies! Then onto Strumpshaw Fen, an RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) reserve where we did a super 5 mile walk and saw our first Swallow and sand Martins of the year – Spring and summer can’t be far away! We need reminding of this as the temperatures at night have been around, or below freezing, and in the daytime the windchill has made hat, gloves and scarves essential. But it is dry!!

Tonight was Britstop 246. The pub has new owners who are really trying to turn it around. there was a bit of noise from the road but we slept well.

Thursday we drove to the National Trust carpark on Dunwich Heath and used the Geocaching website to plan a 7 mile circular walk on the Heath and in Dunwich forest. A great walk  (which included spotting a Dartford Warbler), and by finding a sheltered spot we were able to remove our coats and have a picnic on Dunwich beach. A long history of coastal erosion has meant that Dunwich, which was an important, thriving port in Roman times, is now virtually all buried under the sea. At very low tide, remains of buildings etc can be seen and mapped. 20160331_145759.jpg

After the walk, we headed a few miles to the lovely RSPB flagship reserve at Minsmere for an evening walk looking out over the Brackish ponds and scrapes where birds gather to breed at this time of year. Lovely.

We stayed at a small campsite a few miles away at Eastbridge Farm – very basic but just £8 and so peaceful – and a Tawny owl flew right past Boris!

Friday we made an early start back at Minsmere and walked all around the reserve. Lots of different birds but highlights were the Avocets, a close up view of a Cetti’s warbler and 2 rarities – an Iceland Gull, and Mediterranean Gulls. Oh.. and did we mention the wonderful Marsh Harriers hunting very near the hides – great views. They have also created an adder walk, and there were 3 good sized adders basking in the sun – apparently they are quite predictable first thing in the morning, when they need to bask in their favourite spot to warm up before they glide off to start feeding.

Finally, we started the long drive home, but made much more enjoyable by stopping in Beaconsfield to visit Peter and Tracy and have a super dinner in the Thai Rack restaurant in Goddards Green – their treat!! Then we couldn’t resist staying for a game of Diminishing Whist – so home about 1am! A great Bimble!

Car Parking:

Cambridge – Park and ride excellent. £1 to park, £2.70 return on bus. BUT ONLY the Trumpington Park and Ride just off M11 Junction 11 has no height barrier – look for the special lane. All other P&Rs are 2.1m. No overnight Parking

Norwich – Park and Ride excellent. £3.50 return on bus. No parking charge. No overnight Parking

Dunwich – Free car park at Beach. National Trust Car park on heath free for members. No overnight Parking

Minsmere – Free parking. No overnight parking.

Overnight stops:

As usual we made great use of the Britstops Guide – just £27 for 1 year. We stayed at 5 different ones – all pubs this time. Ate a meal in one, had a drink in all the others, so most nights cost us about £5 – and we might well have gone to a pub for a drink anyway.

Tuesday night we stayed at  Ludham – Grove Park Barns, a Camping and Caravan Club certificated campsite near Hickling Broad which was a lovely quiet location, with 2 toilet/shower units. Very clean but not the most powerful shower we have ever had! Still – all freshened up again! We thought £16 was a bit expensive for what you got.

Thursday night, in the absence of any Britstops , we stayed at Eastbridge Farm Campsite – just £8, but you need your own loo! there is a water point, and CDP. Essentially just a field, but SO peaceful and within a mile of Minsmere RSPB reserve.

Places to eat:

Cambridge – very busy but we had an excellent meal at Cote Brasserie near St Johns College.

Norwich – Excellent lunch menu – Soup, Sandwiches, Paninis, Quiche, Jackets etc, but all excellent quality and great value – in the Refectory at Norwich cathedral.

Things to do:

Cambridge – Kings College Chapel, Walk along the backs, Take a guided walk, Visit Colleges – Trinity plus Wren library, St Johns, Granchester,

Norwich- Cathedral, Plantation Garden, Meander the lanes. Excellent Tourist Information has many walks.

Birders – Hickling Broad boat trips, walks and raptor Roost. RSPB Minsmere and Strumpshaw Fen.

National Trust – there are lots of great properties in this region – we only visited Oxburgh on this trip – excellent.