Mid & Northern England, Southern and Middle Scotland, August, 2013
Mark and Vicki shipped their RoadTrek to Europe in May, 2009 and are now in their 30th month of European RVing. They will return to the US in November. Their website is TheRoadGoesEverOn.com and their blog is at www.roadeveron.blogspot.com.
I haven't been keeping up with where we have been this month very well, so I will probably miss some things. However, if you go to the blog you can find everything except the practical stuff. To start let me list some things for you to plan ahead for if you will be driving or RVing in Great Britain. The National Trust pass is wonderful and if you visit more than three properties it more than pays for itself. You can join the Royal Oak society in the US and get your membership for less with the same privileges in England and Scotland. The Trust properties are mainly grand houses and gardens along with some nature preserves.
England, Scotland, and Wales each have a Heritage Association. They sell short term passes for foreign visitors of a few weeks and annual passes. Whichever you join gives you free admittance to their sites and half off the other two countries. If you join a second year, you get free to all three countries. Wales is half the price of England so we emailed them and by paying double got the full free admittance. However, we haven't used it much this trip as almost all of the properties are ruins and we went to all the famous ruins on previous trips. Frankly, I have no problem repeating a great house with all its history, antiques, and art but after a while ruined castles truly do get old.
Several of the great houses are still privately owned and belong to different groups. One group is Historic Houses which I learned about from a guide but only know that you can join on line but not at a house. A second group, Treasure Houses, includes some must-sees such as Blenheim, Chatsworth, Burghley, etc. However, once you pay full price at one you can ask for a special brochure that gives you buy one get one free at the others. Some houses are completely independent.
The Royal properties are all quite expensive and we haven't been to any on this trip but I think they have some sort of scheme for visiting several for one price. The Cathedrals are also expensive and each is priced individually. Luckily many museums and art galleries are free.
Even with a good GPS, GB is a place to have a detailed atlas so you can check that you are not being sent down single lane shortcuts. Also on the ferry over be sure to buy headlight deflectors to attach to your headlights so you don't blind oncoming cars. It is illegal to drive without them. We also put a hand lettered sign in the rear window “Left Hand Drive.”
We have saved quite a lot of money by wild camping all over England and Scotland. We did this by joining a web site called wildcamping.co.uk for $23. It has been wonderful and saved us hundreds of dollars. It is extremely difficult to find places to park overnight on your own and the cheapest alternative is to go to the certified locations of the Caravan Club. However, we found that most of them are no longer the 5£ of four years ago but now 8-12£ and want you to call ahead. If you don't want to join the Club you can still stay at most of their campgrounds but you have to pay an extra nightly fee unless you have a Camping Card International or similar. You can only make reservations by phone but you can see availability on line. The Club also offers fairly good discounts on ferry fares and discounts on other attractions. Regular campgrounds run $20-40 a night depending on the season and hardly any belong to the ACSI discount plan for off season camping.
So what have we been doing this month? We headed north from London and our first stop was Sudbury Hall and the Museum of Childhood which was somewhat disappointing for the museum but the hall had impressive plaster work and staircases. We spent the night at Darley Abbey parking lot which can get crowded but we just waited in front of the garages area until a spot cleared for us. N52.94181 W1.47662. Darley Abbey is a World Heritage Site for its historic factories but we didn't go to the mills.
What we were really in the area to see Chatsworth House again as we loved it last time. We were not disappointed and watched the movie of The Duchess the evening before to get in the mood. The garden is one of the best in England and the house is enormous. Plan for an entire day and be sure it is not raining!
Heading north again we stopped in Carlisle and were able to join an English Heritage tour of the castle that was a fascinating rendition of the battles between the Scots and the English over the borderlands. Dozens of Scottish prisoners were held in the dungeons for weeks before being hung, drawn and quartered for their support of Bonnie Prince Charlie. It is said that one of them composed On the Bonnie, Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond before his death. Don't miss the wood carvings by some very talented soldier in the sixteenth century while he whittled away his time. We spent the night near Gretna at N55.00628 W3.06744.
We had read about New Lanark, one of the first mill towns built purposely to provide mill workers with decent housing, schools, and cultural opportunities, so we detoured to take a look. Which was all we were able to do. New Lanark sits at the bottom of a gorge with no parking for a 7 meter van. The car park at the top of the gorge is also small and a very steep 2/3 mile of steps down to the town. Fortunately, we were able to turn around at the bottom but no real visit for us.
We enjoyed Glasgow four years ago especially for the Burrell Museum. It is one man's fabulous collection of art from Ancient Egypt to Impressionism and includes one of GB's best collections of stained glass. Though the building was purpose-built fifty years ago the roof is failing and many paintings and tapestries had been removed for protection. Buckets were everywhere. The guide said they would be closing soon for two years for repairs. The other huge attraction for us was the architectural work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Ever since our first sight of Gaudi's work in Barcelona, Mark and I have pursued Art Nouveau buildings and art all over Europe. Macintosh was a Glasgow son and we visited The House for an Art Lover, the School of Art, and the Willow Tea Rooms. The School of Art is particularly impressive as it has over 200 pieces of his furniture. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed.
There are no campgrounds near Glasgow so we wild camped at a scenic county park just south of the city in Paisley for three nights (N55.81052 W4.46050). During the day we parked at the Silverburn Shopping Center and took the bus into town or drove to the ample parking provided at House for an Art Lover and the Burrell Museum. We still didn't get to all we wanted to see, and we heard later that the Kensington Museum is very nice.
The country north of Glasgow is the southern Highland,s filled with lochs and mountain and forests. There were several wild camping possibilities on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond but we stayed at the boat docks at N56.20340 W4.71008. The nearby hotel said campers parked there overnight all the time. Many trails converge at this point and lots of walkers combine the scenic cruises with their hiking. Be sure you fill up your gas tank in Glasgow though as in this whole area gas stations are few, expensive, and far apart.
We decided to take what the signposts said was the scenic route to Oban. Not. Lots of clearcut forestry and not much else for our extra 40 miles. Oban, however, is a touristy, but still interesting town which is the jumping off point for trips to the Inner Hebrides Islands. Parking was almost impossible and the only possible wild-camping spots near the Tesco for 10£ a day were all full. We started out along the beach following signs to a campground but realized after 2 miles that the walk back to town would be too far even if they weren't full. We lucked into some street parking on this same road just before the ferry terminal and ended up spending two nights there without any problems. In between we took the all day ferry and bus trip to Mull, Iona, and the tiny isle of Staffa. $177 for the two of us but very worthwhile. The abbey on Iona was where the Book of Kells was created and Staffa has a huge sea cave, Fingal's Cave,that inspired the composer Mendlesohn. Its basalt columns are the other end of the Giant's Causeway in Northern Island. I do think Oban would be far easier outside of August and bank holidays.
About twenty miles outside of Oban heading east we stopped on a peninsula jutting out into Loch Bonanne near Taynuit N56.44405 W5.22872. There were several other campers there; one even with a Honda generator. We only spent one night but if you are looking for a place to fish and relax this would be a good one.
The next day's drive west to east across the southern Highlands was particularly lovely and uncrowded. We ended the day in Pitlochry which is definitely on the tourist route, but hasn't been really spoiled by it. There were lots of interesting shops and overnight parking allowed next to the Tourist Office and in the Coach Park (pay & display.) Another good place to park would be the carpark for Black Falls just before you come into town. There is an archway you have to clear and I didn't get the height, unfortunately. From the carpark you can walk up a nice trail to the smallest distillery in Scotland. Mark declined the 7￡ tour and tasting saying that having been to the Holy Grail distillery of Highland Park in the Orkneys he didn't need to go on any others. He would rather spend his tour money on buying Scotch!
On to Edinburgh and the Caravan Club Park. After 11 nights in the wild we needed a washing machine. August is Festival Month in Edinburgh and I had made our camping reservations piecemeal beginning in January. (Of course, I cancelled some of them in July, so it is possible to catch some openings later.) The many Festivals going on make the entire city electric with excitement as every block has 2-3 street performers and there are shows of all kinds starting at 10 am and running to the wee hours at every bar, theater, church basement, etc. in town. It can be overwhelming and we felt overwhelmed even though we had been before. We did get to four great performances plus the Tattoo. What you read about the Tattoo is sounds interesting but only being there can convey the dazzling atmosphere of marching bands from all over the world. Tickets need to be bought well in advance and are not cheap. We were in section 16 and still paid $112 for two. For my third Tattoo I am going to splurge and move up to the middle or closer to the front where some of the dancing and acrobatics take place.
We were in Edinburgh only five days but we did fit in another trip to the Castle and loved the presentation on how to fold a kilt from 5 meters of cloth. Also we visited the free Scpttish National Gallery for the first time. It has an excellent small collection including a Leonardo you can actually get close to. In the past we had stayed at the Morton Hall campground but liked the Caravan Club site somewhat better as the pitches were marked and separated unlike Morton which is basically a big field. Our bucket list firmly includes renting a flat for August in Edinburgh even if it is only as big as an RV! By the way we also had our windshield replaced and some maintenance done on the camper and were pleasantly surprised that the prices in UK (outside of London) are somewhat less than on the Continent. It is also very nice to be able to actually talk to the mechanic!
Our first stop south of Edinburgh and back in England was the ruins of Lindisfarne Abbey. The Holy Isle is cut off from the mainland for 4 hours twice a day at high tide so if you want to see the Abbey and Castle you may have to wait a while. You cannot park for the night on the Isle but you can stay in the parking lot on the mainland. We did along with at least five other campers. There is also a Caravan Club CL (max. 5 rigs) right on the same road. Having seen both before we just drove over and came back as we like the setting a great deal.
I had wanted to stop at Alnwick Castle where some of the first two Potter films was made but when we arrived it was raining. We paid the 3.5£ to park and walked up to the gate—admission was 14£ per person and another 11 for the re-done gardens. We enjoyed the shop and walking around the huge wooden tree house restaurant but decided to forgo the castle itself. We did drive around to the very pretty village and see the castle from the other side. We just weren't in the mood for the whole nine yards.
The city of Durham was next with its great old Norman Cathedral. We got there late afternoon on Saturday and found parking on a street by the river at N54.77940 W1.57732. A 15 minute walk to the cathedral brought us to the Close with its fine view of the Cathedral's length. Mark had been very disappointed last time in the no photo policy. It was still in effect but absolutely everyone was taking pictures and no one was saying a word. The Cathedral is open till 8 though not the Tower, gift shop etc. The spot where we parked was marked as a wild camp so we actually stayed for two nights and Sunday, since no feeding of the ￡ an hour daytime was required. Durham is a lovely, compact city just to stroll around. It was worth our repeat visit.
Another spot we had liked very much four years ago was Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. This is one of GB's best preserved Abbeys. Henry VIII ordered the lead roofs removed and sold but even most of the outbuildings remain as the site was too far from populous areas to become a quarry for building materials. We skipped the excellent Abbey tour and decided to repeat the garden tour leading down from the Abbey for almost a mile through the gardens of Studley Royal. The grand manor house burned down years ago but the five artificial lakes carved into and around the River still delight with their many faux Roman temples and other follies. Truly a landscape to enjoy. That night we spent just west of York, off the A1, at Wetherby N53.92826 W1.38301.
Nostell Priory certainly doesn't have a very grand sounding name but the Robert Adam designed house is filled with the largest collection of Chippendale furniture in the world—most of it in the rooms it was designed for. In addition, there a beautiful doll-house, fully fitted out in the 1700s with gilt furniture, marble fireplaces, and servants in the Winn family livery. Paintings include a huge group portrait of Sir Thomas More's family that was probably started by Holbein and finished by Lockey. It is full of symbolism and maybe even a young Henry the VIII with one of the long lost Princes of the Tower. Be sure to have the volunteer give you the whole story. There is also a lovely Breughel the Younger Procession to Calvary. We spent the night at Sprotbrough at a pub stop—The Boat Inn N53.50688 W1.19280
Though we have been to Chatsworth twice somehow we had never made it to Hardwick Hall so it was at the top of our must see list. Hardwick was the family home of Bess of Hardwick, the richest person in England after Queen Elizabeth. She literally owned everything as far as the eye could see or a horse could gallop in a day from her home. She rebuilt her birthplace home (now an interesting ruin run by the English Heritage) and then after 4 years decided it was not grand enough and built Hardwick Hall right next door. Then she built Chatsworth twelve miles away. Since her time almost all the Dukes of Devonshire have preferred Chatsworth so Hardwick underwent few changes over the centuries. Also it became the storehouse for all the “outdated” furniture and tapestries from Chatsworth so the collection is truly amazing. More tapestries, in better condition, than anywhere else we have seen in Europe. In addition there are several pieces of needlework by Mary, Queen of Scots, as Bess's husband one one of her jailers. The Hall actually looks almost modern with its immense glass windows—see Mark's blog for pictures. If you are in the Midlands try to see both Chatsworth and Harwick—but not in one day! That night we followed a little lane to a nature reserve parking area—doable if you are not over 7m. N53.10244 W0.99259
The Workhouse in Southwell is worth a stop if it is on your way, where you can see England's 18th and 19th century solution for the poor. It is an eye opener even if you have read Charles Dickens. We spent the night in the industrial estate area near the BP station.
We doubled back to visit Kedleston as we found we were running ahead of scheule. Another Trust property that was designed by Robert Adam as one of the first neo-classical homes in GB and it still has most of its original furniture. In addition the 4th Baron was Viceroy of India and brought home an amazing collection from Nepal and India of carvings, swords, jewelry, furniture, etc. Though the earlier houses were all demolished the church next door's original parts date from the 12th century and the earliest burial we saw from the family was 1275. They managed somehow to survive through thick and thin and are still living in the family wing. The house has a large park for walking but no gardens to speak of so it is only a half day stop. However, like many of the houses, it is not open 7 days a week so you do have to plan ahead.
Since it was in the area we stopped at the Denby Factory and Outlet but didn't do the tour. That night we stayed at Cauldwell Dam in a small parking area on a dead end road. It was isolated but sign said CCTV in operation and there was no evidence of beer can-type partying. N53.12055 W1.20643.
After a day of laundry, shopping, etc. in Grantham we found a pleasant stop just off the A1 (N52.80345 W0.59860) on our way to Stamford and the Treasure House of Burghley. Since Kathy wants me to send this off today, I will cover our last week in England next month.
In terms of spending we have done pretty well this month. Since we have driven from London to Glasgow, Edinburgh and now back almost to London we have spent $672 on diesel. Twice as much as last month when we stayed put more. However, last month we stayed 23 nights in campgrounds spending $750, this month only 4 nights in campgrounds for $150. So things tend to even out.
Happy Traveling, Vicki