Month: February 2016

February – across the moors and DIY

cropped-snails-poor.jpgAll these weeks in storage are not doing Portia any good:-( Her van battery is suffering and refusing to let us fire her up.  After several visits to the garage to charge her up and with some help from Linda, who runs the place, we got her going.  Clearly Portia was pining for the open road again but we had several jobs that needed doing in the back.  Why not do them parked in the sun beside the sea?  Charge the batteries, look at the waves and enjoy a nice cup of tea.  Life does not get more exciting than this in February!  So we took the road north,  circled around the top of the North York Moors and followed the road down into Sandsend.  There is a lovely wooden chalet of a cafe on the promenade there, just beside a length of road with parking along the sea front (free October to March).

Sandsend cafe from the beach

The wooden cafe


At first, being February, we expected to have the place to ourselves; being sunny we expected a few hardy dog walkers; then realising it was half-term, we feared the crowds would have turned out.  Ah well.

Our luck was in – there was a long enough space in the parking bay and Neil reverse parallel parked like a professional. Our luck went out – the sun disappeared.  There were the anticipated dog-walkers throwing sticks into the sea for their enthusiastic if foolhardy pooches,  a few well-wrapped families, but no crowds – clearly the chilly northern coast is an acquired taste.

The cafe and our parking place have an impressive view of St Mary’s Abbey (of Dracula fame) in Whitby to the south, and the sandy beach with its cliffs to the north. The coastal part of the Cleveland Way national trail comes over those cliffs and wends its way to Filey Brigg in the south.  You can do the Sandsend to Whitby section on the beach if the tide is out – a great little walk.

A cup of tea and toasted cheese sandwich later we got on with our van-enhancing jobs.  Firstly, the carpet.  We had taken the beige carpet out as it was getting a bit marked.  It is now clean, wrapped and in the loft.  We bought a black and grey carpet runner and the dark colour looks great and does not show the scuffs and muddy marks.  I forgot to take a picture though so will have to add that at a later date.

A short break to admire the view…. Sandsend from Portia

The second job was to improve the functional storage of the wardrobe.  I doubt if we will want to hang any clothes up, except maybe a coat or two, and this is the largest storage space in the van.  I can see that things would just end up piled in on top of each other and a lot of rummaging would be required to find anything – not good for the temper!  We were reluctant to start drilling into the veneered wood of the walls to install shelves Portia - shelvesproperly (despite having bought all the stuff already) and, with TV and satellite components on one wall, it would be difficult to locate more than one shelf in any case.

The solution is not beautiful, but very practical: a set of free-standing plastic basket-type shelves. As you can see, it  leaves room alongside for the table and space in front for last minute bunging when packing up. It even leaves a usable couple of inches of hanging space if needed. In line with our tradition of doing everything twice, we started assembling it before discovering it was too wide to go through the door. This was particularly annoying as I already knew this from all the careful measuring I had done before buying it.  Ah well.

Sandsend - snow ont moors

Snow in the hollows

With a drizzle starting we set off home.  We continued south over the top of the moors just to see how Portia likes steep and winding roads.  She ate them up!  “Plenty of grunt” is apparently the technical term.  The weather meant the views of the moors and the Devil’s Punch Bowl were a bit greyed out but there was a sprinkling of snow lurking in the sheltered parts for light relief. We will come back to the moors before long to experience the sights visible from the Dark Skies sites.

Sandsend - intrepid driver

Neil at the wheel

And that’s it for our day at the seaside.  Apart from finding a couple more levers that allow the seats to be adjusted to within a gnat’s crotchet of sheer perfection, there  were no startling new discoveries of a good or alarming kind today. Portia’s battery is full to brimming again and we cannot wait to get going for real.



October – over the Humber

Barrow Haven and Barton-upon-Humber

It’s only weekend three but we are daring to leave god’s own county of Yorkshire – conquering Europe one county at a time. The view of the wide, bleak Humber is well worth the £1.50 it costs to cross the incredible Humber bridge. Apparently, technically speaking, the Humber is not a river, but an estuary, born at the confluence of the Trent and the Ouse and draining into the North Sea at Spurn Head (a weird and lovely spot by the way). The far end of the bridge is in North Lincolnshire – land of my forefathers.

Humber brideg - lores

Distant Humber Bridge with the tide out – mudflats, reed bed and dyke

Another Caravan Club Certified Location (CL) a few hundred yards from the salt marshes and reed beds that border the water. These small caravan sites are a great invention! Especially this one at £11.00 a night including electricity. Five pitches, no shower but a nice spooky toilet in an overgrown grotto in the garden. The pub turns out to be a bit too far to stagger in pitch dark countryside but we can cope – some wine already on board and a Lidl in Barton three miles away! Only ourselves and two caravans tonight. We have been given a hardstanding on the drive (level!) as recent rain has made the grass a bit soft for motorhomes. We are secretly pleased as we are on the dry hardstanding looking at the grass and autumn trees and the others are on the wet grass looking at the drive and us!

Barrow Haven site cropped

Setting up already seems to be easier and quicker – water filled directly from the tap only by backing up two metres. Cool! Neil is in charge of all things electric and electronic and has fully fettled the satellite and TV. We feel we ought to wean ourselves from the TV but all the fixings came with the van so why not while we can. I love the BBC! We also have radio, and wifi – amazing! We use a Huawei magic box for the wifi but Neil can talk all about that at some other time and in some other place. Preferably when I am out of the room.

The main oversight – I forgot to bring proper pans from the kitchen back home. I have one middle sized pan, a steamer and a tiny frying pan that live on board so it was improvisation time that night. Not that hard as there is also a microwave oven and a big cooking bowl that can go in it. Excellent pasta again. I guess I am just a natural at roughing it in these primitive conditions;-) We decided that since we could not eat in the pub for dinner either night we would have a big lunch in Barton next day and test the grill in the evening with just a toasted cheese supper. With home-made apple chutney from August in France.

We walked to the waters edge and along to the inlet at Barrow Haven where there is an ancient, isolated wharf. Henry VIII landed here on 5 October 1541 on the return leg of his northern progress. He had crossed in a ferry from Hull. Who knew that? I didn’t, even though my family and I had spent six dislocated months in this remote corner of Lincolnshire on our return from Northern Rhodesia.

Wharf lores

Isolated wharf at Barrow Haven where Henry VIII landed in 1541 and Hull on the other bank

The wharf is concrete now and takes shipments of timber from Latvia and Estonia. I am beginning to love this micro tourism.

Timber with Neil

Neil and the baltic timber

We walked the other way along the dyke into Barton-upon-Humber the next day. The Humber one side, the lakes and marshes of the wild fowl reserve the other – a strange and bleakly lovely place this.

And then, stretching along the next inlet is the Rope Walk. No – not some exciting tree-top experience but the vestiges of the rope making industry the area was famed for. In this case it’s nearly quarter of a mile of low building along the inlet at Barton Haven. To make a rope you need a building as long as the rope you want to make – then you heckle the flax into strands and walk it and twist it into a rope. Amazing. There’s a lovely little museum to the industry there now (free), a pretty good café and an arts centre. Then a friendly bus driver dropped us off at the corner of the road to Barrow leaving us only a mile to walk back. Definitely a good day out!

Rope lores

Old rope

So far so good

And that is the end of our motorhome experiences so far. I won’t bore you with the two return trips to Huddersfield to get the broken battery locker door fixed (not our fault) and then get the habitation door lock fixed (also not our fault).

In three weekends away we have evolved from anxious mortals dreaming of taking to thecropped-snails-poor.jpg roads to more relaxed individuals enjoying sitting in fields with a glass of wine or slice of toast. Still a bit on edge waiting for things to go wrong – but definite progress into a relaxed alternative approach to life. Letting go is maybe the key, not sweating the small stuff. The real joy is discovering small tourist delights. Small delights that is, not small tourists.

September – to the seaside


We were in France, in a house, for the whole of August so Portia was safely stored away five miles up the road from home. Our road and driveway are not suitable for parking her unfortunately, so daily fiddling about and casual familiarisation is not possible.

Feeling bolder this time we looked further away. Flamborough – on the North Yorkshire coast. Doubling the distance to fifty miles seemed daring enough. Possibly down narrow country roads! There is a little caravan site a mile or so outside Flamborough: level pitches, shower, toilet, electric hook-up, 15 minutes to the pub. Only six places and no children – what’s not to like.

We took the wider roads, despite Stella Satnav’s preference for goat tracks, and found the site had peace and quiet, charm, gladioli and a view over the fields.

flamborough bikes

Portia and gladioli

Portia felt particularly at home when the nice man on the site brought us some flagstones to level her up on yet another deceptive pitch. Must buy those levellers. The site had only one toilet and shower in the same dankish but OKish room. I suppose this is enough for six pitches but I hoped there would not be too much queuing in the morning. We have not tangled seriously with our toilet yet – reserving it for minor night time visits if you get my drift. Our little shower works fine however for the hosedown-latherup-rinseoff sort of wash – so another tick on the list. Hair washing may be a bit water-greedy so I may get a very short haircut.

The north sea coast was less than a couple of miles away and the weather was the idyllic Indian Summer we all dream of as we sit through the rain in July. We cycled downhill into one of the several pubs in the village and had a good meal on Friday evening. Then pushed the bikes back uphill – well, I did, Neil was OK on his. Eating main meals out, even in modest, good value pubs would be a bit expensive as a regular thing. I cooked the next night – one of these weekends I will be properly organised and get enough food in to cook dinner both nights, and feel very virtuous. The night sky was clear, un-lightpolluted and starry. And a bit nippy to be frank so, time to test the heating and the double bed.

New things this time:

  • the double bed is pretty easy to set up but so huge that it is best done right before bedtime. Moving around after that is strictly one person at a time.
  • the blown air heater came on in the clear cool night – lovely.
  • The bed is comfortable after turning cushions around to get them flat(ish) but a mattress topper would be good.
  • Not a good idea to stand on a bed constructed of a jigsaw of cushions. Feet can slip between cushions and the slats below leaving torn sheets and grazed shins:-( (It was a thin and ancient sheet.)
  • The new flat blue water carrier on wheels has many openings, none of which are the right size for a neat fit for the pump. It can be used with attention. Consider a regular Aquaroll.
  • Cycle rack works OK but my newly acquired second hand bike is all wrong for me. Consider swapping it.
  • My fitness level is all wrong for cycling. Consider doing something about it. Other than blaming the bike.
  • Cooker works a treat and pasta is easy. The space is small, the challenge is to be systematic so you do not end up wielding more boiling pans than you have space to put them down again. The floor is a poor option for this even though the carpet is now dirty. Consider taking the carpet up and/or get a mini vacuum cleaner.
  • Urgently consider starting a written list – insufficient personal memory capacity for all the bits and pieces that seem to be necessary.
  • Take swimming things next time.

Swimming things? Yes – we could have swum in the North Sea in mid-September! Other people were doing so. And living. We took the walk to down to the beach at the bottom of Danes Dyke: through the wooded valley, past the café kiosk that time forgot (tea £1.00) onto the sandy beach with the bright white cliffs. Amazing.

And here we are: Robina and Neil, white cliffs and North Seacropped-snails-poor.jpg


First – acquire your van

portia fuzzed

Meet Portia-the-portly: a three year old Bailey Approach 620. She is English-made but despite this does not seem to leak oil. We bought her unexpectedly in July 2015 having planned to carry out much more, sensible, in-depth research in the months up to April next year. We are happy with our purchase.

Built on a Peugeot Boxer van she is a two person, low profile, end kitchen motorhome with two parallel benches behind the cab for the living and sleeping area. These can be two singles, for hot countries, or one huge double for cooler climes. We did not like the idea of a space-hogging, albeit convenient, fixed double bed and at least this arrangement means we can avoid the hassle of making up the bed if we cannot be bothered.

portia floorplan

There is a free-standing table that can be set up in the aisle between the benches but it is way too heavy for easy handling and so large that it gets hopelessly in the way once up. We have already found a smaller, lighter camping table to replace this.

Portia is only six metres long (not counting the bike rack) and under three metres high (not counting the satellite dome). Fingers crossed that ferries, trains and toll roads count the same way:-( She is also 2.42 metres wide which is apparently a little on the portly side.

Newbies in North Yorkshire – Thirsk Racecourse Caravan site.

Why Thirsk for our first outing in our new motorhome? Because it is only 23 miles up the road, is flat, has toilets, has hot showers and is close to Lidl (yes, we have been reading OurTour religiously). And principally, this being a trial run in Portia, we wanted to be close to real home with all its comforts, just in case. Why is the prospect of staying in a well-equipped van so nerve-wracking to house-dwelling, drain-connected, power-supplied, centrally-heated, normal people? Beforehand it seemed to represent freedom – throwing off the shackles and heading for the wild blue yonder. Suddenly the wild blue yonder threw back a whole bunch of unknowns and what-ifs. OhMyGod – no electricitygaswaterdrainstelevision! What’s the worst that can happen? No hot water – boil a kettle. Cooker does not work – go for chips. Shower does not work – well – do your skin a favour and don’t wash for once. Anything else does not work – go find a B&B. So with well laid fallback plans in place we set off.

Accommodation for the weekend

Taking off in a great big vehicle for the first time is also nerve-wracking. Even though both of us have driven large vehicles in our chequered pasts, none of them had a body wider than the cab. We had to keep reminding each other that delivery vans, builders lorries, emergency vehicles and so on navigate our not-very-wide street every day. And we made it to the small caravan site with only one instance of van-on-van wing mirror action and no harm done. The main driving lessons: go slow, don’t drive like you do in a car and adopt a more phlegmatic attitude to other vehicles (yes, even the ones clearly driven by idiots), slow down a lot and well in advance for roundabouts even if the way seems clear, and do not try to nip into any gaps where you would have in your other car. In fact, do not try to do any nipping of any sort – motorhomes do not nip. Reflect that although you often see car drivers snarling rude words and making rude gestures, you never see HGV drivers reacting like that. Whatever they may be thinking, they seem to manage a professional zen-like calm behind the wheel.

Portia in thirskWe parked up, unpacked and connected the electricity. Things worked! The fridge lit up and the lights came on. Then we disconnected the electricity, repacked and drove around to the water supply. Note to selves: get the sequence right next time; get a water carrier of some sort. We have a Whale pump system so the best option for filling is to be within 7.5 metres of the tap. Note to selves: get an extension hose. Reparked and friendly neighbours advised that we should disconnect the lead from the electricity source as well as the van rather than leave a live cable lying on the damp grass:-(

Amazed at how, despite appearances, “flat” really isn’t. Note to selves: get levellers and chocks. Amazed at complexity of Truma heater and hot water system instructions. Even more amazed when the water came out hot! Disappointed when it did not do so the second time and much knob twiddling was required to get it going again. Think this may be a fault. Amazed at goodies and value in Lidl. Bought a bottle of champagne (real!) for £9.97 and amazed at how good it was. And so to bed (on the single benches – only so much new stuff a brain can take in one day!)

Thirsk is a quiet North Yorkshire market town with some charm and enough to do for a day or two. Did you know “Lord’s” the cricket ground has nothing to do with the House of Lords or any peer of the realm? It is named after its founder Thomas Lord who was born in Thirsk in 1755. His birthplace now houses a small museum of cricket memorabilia and displays of local life of the time (free, but donations appreciated). And it is just opposite “The World of James Herriot” (not free). How much culture do you need in one day in one small corner of North Yorkshire?

On a less elevated note, we also hit the local pound-type shop to pick up things we had forgotten – hosepipe connector, watering can, cheese grater, sieve, wiper blade for shower and so on. Should have paid more attention to Our Tour’s Essential Packing list which I have now printed out and started ticking off:-)cropped-snails-poor.jpg