Venturing North…. 21/5/22

Well we have wanted to get back up to Scotland ever since we came up here in Spring 2017 to do the NC500 …. far too quickly! Three weeks is just not enough to take in the beauty of the West coast of Scotland, let alone try and squeeze in Skye and the East coast too!

This time however we have been quiet focussed in our planning. We have 6 weeks and are only looking to take in Dumfries and Galloway and Northumberland… stopping briefly in Leek en route as I read something about it being an interesting market town a few months ago so felt it appropriate to do a little diversion as we were passing close by!

We had found a CL just outside Leek,(Roche House Farm CL £10 without electricity) which had stunning views out across the rolling hills. The Farm was a livery so we also benefitted from having lots of horses looking on curiously, although we were the only motorhome for two out of the three nights. We managed to get out into the fields and do a lovely circular walk taking in the beautiful countryside as well as make a visit to the Wednesday market in the pouring rain which stocked us up for the next few days. An interesting place but I wouldn’t go out of our way to revisit it despite finding a couple of very interesting looking eateries!

Leaving Leek we stop started all the way back towards the motorway as traffic was heavy and as we were passing a Morrisons we thought we may as well fill up as we had half a tank of diesel, probably wouldn’t get much cheaper en route and it was a long drive to Scotland… possibly a mistake considering what happened next.

We continued our journey and as we got two thirds of the way round the roundabout from the A500 joining the M6, Hattie flashed her EDC warning light and then came to a slow stop in the middle lane just over the traffic lights…. and wouldn’t start again. Not knowing what the issue was as there hard been no warning of a problem, I gave her a couple of minutes and tried again – nothing…. although I could smell Diesel. With Arctic trucks coming at us from behind at great speed and swerving at the last minute, Keith noticed some marks appearing on the road in front of us – that coupled with the guy in the van making hand signals as we were trying to start Hattie again made us realise that it may be us that was gently coating the road surface with diesel…..

I could think of better places to break down but to be fair to the police and the road traffic officers, it took them about 30 minutes to get us off the road and into a safe place and they were great…. we apologise to anyone who was in the area and had issues with heavy traffic on Friday lunchtime / early afternoon as it is fair to say it was our fault as they had to shut most of the roundabout to clear up the diesel spillage – thankfully it hadn’t spread too much further as there were talks of having to shut the M6. I’m dreading the clear up bill when it comes through…. although hopefully it will be covered by the Insurance. The RAC wouldn’t even log the call until we were in a ‘safe place’…. and then took 2.5 hours to get someone to us, although when he did come – the guy was great and we were fixed and on the road again within 20 minutes – absolutely amazing!

Somehow the fuel pipe from the ignition had come loose and all it required was re-attaching and we were good to go…. we lost about 1/5 of the tank…. it could have been a lot worse!!

Although it was mid afternoon by the time we set off, we did actually make it to our chosen location for the night – SilverCraigs Campsite, Kirkcudbright which is Dumfries and Galloway (£24 per night inc. elect.). The last 30 minutes of the drive made the long day worth it as the scenery was stunning…. beautiful rolling hills in every direction we looked.

We arrived just after 7pm and the site was full, but parked up and admired the views out to the estuary and the hills beyond as we prepared dinner which thankfully was simple and very tasty consisting of Halloumi and Aubergine, Onion and pepper harissa relish, Slaw and sourdough flatbreads…. just what we needed! Although sleep wasn’t great after a bit of an odd day it was incredibly quiet and we felt like we were interfering with the peace by doing our exercise in the morning … very laid back and tranquil.

Kirkcudbright is an artists town and you can see where they get their inspiration from as no matter where you walk – it is beautiful. It is an area to come back and explore further as three nights just wasnt enough to do it justice.

After amazingly beautiful weather it was unfortunate that it chose to break on the day that we should have been able to see the eclipse…. whether we would have been up in time to take advantage of it is another thing but as it was forecast to be grey and raining for 24 hours we shifted our ‘rest’ day to Monday morning and took advantage of an extra hour in bed!!

So, after a quick re-stock at the local Co-op, we moved further around the coast to Isle of Whithorn, stopping off briefly en route to have a walk around Wigtown which is Scotlands ‘Book’ capital. Wigtown is a small town where every third building is a bookshop / coffeeshop with a bookshop in it… very quirky, mostly second hand books although there were a few shops that stocked new ones as well…oddly in comparison to the other towns we have visited there weren’t many pubs – maybe there is some wierd Scottish rule of not selling alcohol and books under the same roof!

We had chosen to visit the Isle of Whithorn as you should be able to see the ‘Five Kingdoms’ from the point – England, Ireland, Wales, Isle of Man and of course Scotland – just a shame that the weather was a little overcast as the only Kingdom we could see was Scotland, not that we are complaining as it is a mightily beautiful kingdom!!

We had seen that ‘The Steam Packet Inn’ – the only pub on the Isle of Whithorn – offered motorhomes a first come, first served parking spot so arrived just after lunch to give us a good chance of getting a space – It was surisingly busy for a Monday….obviously a popular place. Once parked up, we headed out Westwards along the coast through the fields with lots of curious calves and onto the cliffs.

As we walked the sun came out and the skies brightened up, giving us a beautifully warm afternoon with amazing, rugged views … but still no other land mass! Although Keith’s phone did switch to Isle of Man and then Guernsey briefly which caused a bit of concern as that is considered as ‘Roaming’ with Vodafone!

We had booked ourselves in to the Steam Packet Inn for dinner on Monday night as not only is it the ‘Five Kingdoms Brewery’, it also had fantastic reviews for the food. We were not disappointed – good beer and wine and excellent food (Curried Sweet Potato Soup and Sundried Tomato rolls as an ‘amuse bouche’, Seafood platter and Pannetone with roasted tomatoes as starters, Fish and Chips x 2 as mains and Cheesecake for dessert) with the prize for the best course going to the exceptional Raspberry Marscapone Cheesecake…. dare I say it – even better than my own!

After a very peaceful night listening to the waves, we woke to another overcast morning unfortunately … but it was dry! No views but after our morning exercise, shower and breakfast we battled against the wind and walked around the lighthouse and up the coast a little to the trig point… still beautiful no matter what weather you throw at it!!

We then hit the road again to search out a local cheese producer ‘Galloway Farmhouse Cheese’ which was en route to our next stop – which I saw on the menu the night before but was too full to try! The farm was just a couple of miles detour from our route and they produce unpasturised organic cheese – Cow and Ewe Cheddar, as well as selling Goat Cheddar, a Cow blue, using their cows milk but produced up the road and a brie which is also produced just round the corner. We tasted – and bought – both the Cow and Ewe cheddar as the flavour was incredible and you can’t beat zero miles for keeping the carbon footprint down!!

We normally try to stay three nights in each spot but if we are wild camping or for some reason the site can’t accomodate us for longer, we have to be flexible and when I was planning this trip, this next CL looked exceptional but I had to switch the dates around to even get two nights as they were full…. Greenloch CL, £20 per night Inc. and it was exceptional!

Despite the forecast of torrential rain on Tuesday afternoon we parked up, had lunch and then set off for a little walk to stretch our legs round the loch – it was just under 4km, a little wet underfoot, a few curious calves, an angry swan nesting, some skitty lambs and four little piglets… one of which was being licked by a dog – I think just checking it out for flavour… but all the same very cute!

By Wednesday morning the sun had come out so we got some washing done, made some bread and then set off over the hills into Stranraer to explore and do some shopping.

Stranraer is in a bay but still quite exposed to the North Irish Sea. It isn’t a pretty town as it is quite industrial and also has the ferry going to Belfast – its certainly not a place I would go out of my way to visit to take in the scenery as …. I guess you’d say it is a little run down. However the surrounding area is well worth exploring as the rolling hills and rugged coastline are second to none… whether the sun shines or not!

After a couple of nights with the piglets on their beautiful CL, we delayed our departure by an hour or so and cheakily got some more washing done as the forecast was good and we figured we could hang it out when we got all of the 10 miles down the road!

The next stop was just outside Portpartrick at South Port o’Spittal CL (£20 first night, then £15 thereafter inc. elec) and the decision to do the washing was a good one as to say it was windy was an understatement…. the jeans were dry within an hour!

Another beautifully maintained CL with absolutely amazing surroundings. It is a farm and obviously being lambing season we are surrounded by Ewes and their lambs in all different shapes, sizes and colours… including a couple that look like they have stepped in white paint and dragged their tails in too, angorra lambs and a devilled lamb with teeny little horns that look like someone has just stuck them on as a joke!!

Conscious that the weather was about to break we took advantage and headed along …and up and down… the coastal path into Portpatrick – a beautiful walk taking in the rugged coastline and the abandoned Dunskey castle just as the cloud started to come in. The village of Portpatrick is situated in a pretty little bay which is mostly made up of rental properties and a few cafes, restaurants and pubs but not much more unfortunately – one of those places that has unfortunately been a victim of its own sucess… which is a shame.

We chose to walk back to the motorhome cross country via the tiny winding single track road which was equally as beautiful, giving us good views of the fantastic rolling hills which were covered in lambs and calves in every direction we looked…. definately farming country!

By shear coincidence, after booking the campsite I found that less than a mile down the road (literally – down) is Knockinaam Lodge which evidently has a pretty good chef who has managed to get them 3 rosettes… so we thought it rude not to try it for lunch!

Not only was the location and setting amazing, the food was incredible. It is a five course tasting menu which is set although they will adapt it should you have any dietary requirements… so mine was pescatarian but Keith got the beautifully pink duck. There weren’t many differences between what we both ate as they tried to overlap the menu as much as possible but every course was exceptional, full of flavour and not too rich… they even gave the option of having cheese rather than dessert…. although Keith would have happily consumed both!! We will be back…. but we will be staying in our own accomodation up the road as I think £600+ a night is pushing it a little for our budget – the food however at £42 for the set lunch was exceptional value!

I assure you that we have, as always, been cooking alot as well but mostly the deliciousness that we have already shared with you… we have however weirdly made two different pestos in the last two weeks – one with nettles and cashew nuts to go with BBQ veg and pittas and the other with wild garlic and hazlenuts which we will be eating next week!

Blown away by Norfolk 8/5/2022

…..and yet another month has passed us by without us knowing where it has gone! The sun has been shining and there have definately been at least two good spells of amazing weather where we have happily been out and about without jackets – I just wonder what havoc this weather is going to play on the crops in the long term as the fields are so dry. We aren’t going to complain though as it has made life more pleasant for walking and exploring further afield.

We have been venturing out a little more enjoying food cooked by others rather than just ourselves and were particularly spoilt by trying another amazing restaurant in London courtesy (well we did pay…but it had added benefits) of American Express… Fallow. An incredible tasting menu that introduced us to new flavours and combinations, locally sourced and sustainable…. It was a bit of sharing plates menu – although made more complicated by Keith eating meat and me not – so consisted of the following…. Corn ribs with lime, Pork Croquette, Mushroom Croquette, Tunworth Cheese and Caramalised Onion Flatbread and Black Garlic and Blue Cheese Flatbread, Mushroom Parfait, Cornish Crudo Pork with Turnip, Confit Leeks, Dairy Cow Fillet of Beef with Boulangere potatoes, Chelsea Tart with Caramalised Whey and finally Guiness and Dark Chocolate Soft Serve… not bad at all. The favourites of the evening were weirdly the corn ribs and probably the Black Garlic and Blue Cheese Flatbread – just really unusual, although quite rich!

With a new trip on the horizon and excited about exploring a new area and trying out some of the local produce – most specifically Cromer Crab – we headed off on the long haul up to Cromer the Tuesday after Easter, only to come to a halt after an hour or so just before Waltham Abbey on the M25… a spot that we now know pretty well considering we then didn’t move for 7.5 hours!

After alot of consideration – it’s certainly not our favourite location – views were mostly made up of cars and trucks with the odd police car or fire engine going past, i’d definately say that we would pass on the opportunity next time if given the chance! It doesn’t sound like anyone was hurt but apparently a vehicle collided with a food oil tanker which then spread its load across all carriageways on our side. If the sunflower oil shortage wasn’t bad enough beforehand… it’s certainly got worse in the last couple of weeks!

Our afternoon was lit up however by a tap on the drivers window after a couple of hours – it is quite high up so the walking stick was necessary – by a 92 year old lady, who needed the toilet…. our good deed was done…we were just grateful that there weren’t hundreds of people to follow suite! She obviously quite liked the motorhome as she came back a second time too!!

Joking aside though, the lovely lady was well and we did check that she had ample food and water to keep her (and her 72 year old daughter) going and we were all pleased when we were finally able to get moving a couple of hours earlier than expected as the travel news had said it would be after 9pm, instead it was only 6:30pm.

As it was late in the day and we still had a good 3+ hours ahead of us to get to our planned destination for the night, I had called around to try and find somewhere more local to stay and thankfully the Theobalds Park (£32.10 per night), Camping and Caravan Club site manager at Waltham Abbey came to the rescue. The site was tranquil and actually quite pretty despite being literally a stones throw from the M25 and where we were parked up just ten minutes beforehand!

So… after a morning run – the M25 was still shut – we headed on our way up the M11 and into Norfolk…. a lovely, easy journey arriving at Antonia Villa CL (£14 inc) in Cromer at lunchtime. A lovely little CL despite being grass only and mostly quite slopey – so you definately wouldn’t want to be here if it was very wet – we found a nice flattish spot to park up on and relax in the sunshine, eating our lunch and listening to the birdsong around us.

We had booked ourselves in for three nights but obviously with our little delay on the M25, missed the first night and although we had kept the owners updated and had said that we were happy to pay for the night missed, they were having none of it – very kind…. we rounded up the two nights and bought some of their duck and hen eggs though to help support the local producers – although would have done that anyway!!

Cromer was a lovely little town from what we managed to see of it with a good selection of boutique type shops, master bakers, butchers, wine-makers (not candlestick makers!!) and deli’s. The beach went on for miles and was lined with rusty old tractors ready to pull the fishing/crabbing boats in and out of the water each day… most definately an area to explore some more.

We walked up into Overstrand and back along the beach into Cromer and were suprised by the quantity of award winning foodie type places – pubs and restaurants galore with ‘AA Rosettes’ and ‘Michelin recommended’… so as we had passed The Grove on the first day, we thought it rude not to try it and were blown away by the sustainability and ‘local-ness’ of all things served from Gin, wine and beer to squid ink, fish and asparagus… it is a lovely elegant family run hotel and restaurant but not as good as the next one we tried – it just whet the appetite for a return visit to the area!!

Leaving Cromer keen to return, we moved all of 10 miles along the coast to Blakeney where we had booked to stay at Villeroche CL (£22 per night inc.). Another lovely site just on the edge of open fields as you enter into Blakeney, looking out onto the nature reserve and sea in the distance… say it was exposed was an understatement – the high winds certainly helped freshen things up in the morning!!

We were really impressed by Blakeney and the area around it and although we only had three nights there we managed to get a good taster by walking in different directions to explore. On the first afternoon we walked – or should I say were blown – along the path through the nature reserve and along to ‘Cley next the Sea’ where there is an amazing delicatessen stocking all things local from wine, gin, cider and beer through to cheese and home made pies and pastries… somewhere not to visit when you are hungry!!

Then on the second day we did a short walk through the nature reserve in the opposite direction along the coast in the morning, then headed over to a farm shop to stock up in the afternoon. Although the Courgette and Lime cake was delicious we were actually less impressed by the cafe and shops’ support for local producers… they prioritised Organic over local. It was a lovely walk though.

The third day was the biggest success though as after a lovely walk in the morning through Wiveton, Newgate and the other part of Cley next the Sea, we had lunch at the Wiverton Bell…. a truly spectacular feast!

We both had cod cheaks with curry sauce for starters, Keith had a full Roast with Pork Belly for main, I fell back to my favourite of Haddock and Chips, all followed by Ginger and Stout Pudding with Clotted Cream Ice Cream…. The whole area is stunningly beautiful – we will be back but to be fair would have returned for the food and drink alone!

Blown away by the food… not just the wind, we had unfortunately booked to move on again on the Monday otherwise we would have gone back to the pub…..ah well guess it will have to be another time!

We made the last hop of the trip down to The Old Sun Inn CS, Bungay (£16 without elec.) which is right on the border between Norfolk and Suffolk. Another lovely site, although this one takes more people there were still only 4 of us for 3 nights and then 5 for the last night… not exactly busy!

We had booked for 4 nights as Bungay is a market town and with Thursday being market day I got excited by the prospect of a nice local food market…. unfortunately the market was made up of 1 fruit and veg stall, some local preserves and a hot dog stand…. thankfully they had a lovely deli and greengrocers to make up for it otherwise I would have felt very sorry for the locals.

We had time to explore the area though and find a local farm shop that had goats and two of the nanny goats had just given birth… one to twins and one to triplets – very, very cute….although it appeared that two of the triplets were thicker than theives and the other was a bit of a mummies boy as the three didn’t seem to play together!! We sat and watched them cause huge amounts of mishief whilst we ate our sandwiches and put the world to rights…. not bad really!

Despite being very different to the North coast of Norfolk, there was alot of walking through forests and fields. The area is full of rape seed and obviously at this time of year it is just coming into its own, so as we were exploring we managed to benefit from some of the natural outstanding beauty…

Despite the eating out, there has still been lots of cooking and a reasonable amount of experimenting over the last month… and you know how much we love our food!

Kimchi – taking less time than saurkraut to ferment, looks very authentic and tastes great!
Dhansak – courtesy of Stevie B with a few vegetarian adaptions!
Pea Hummus – looks a bit odd – i.e. very green – but tastes great
Orange Chocolate and Pistachio Brioche Buns – amazingly delicious breakfast treat. Not too sweet and perfectly light
Brioche Aubergine and Halloumi Burgers with Harissa Relish – delicious combination of flavours and so quick and simple
Sourdough Pittas – first try at using Fergie on pittas and it worked brilliantly with our roasted spicy cauliflower and romesca sauce.