I have not written any blogs for a long while as we moved house, and I’ve just not found the time, but our recent trip to Mersea, a small island on the south Essex coast, deserved a blog, so I’m back.
With moving house, most of the trips Connie the van made this year were to carry large purchases, like sheds, green houses and wardrobes. The bulk of her trips were to Ikea, so having got most of the big jobs out of the way, and with a new grandson to visit, we needed a holiday.
We wanted to combine a final campervan trip of the year with a visit to my son and family. A browse of available sites found Waldergraves on West Mersea, somewhere neither of us had previously visited.
The forecasts had been dire the previous week, but improved day by day, and in the end we had lovely weather for mid October.
Mersea has a causeway that floods at high tides, and the day we arrived was such a tide, but we got there shortly after the sea had subsided, and settled in for a G&T before checking out the beach.
It was only a short walk from our plot on the edge of the large site to the beach.
The sun was dropping as we walked towards the town of West Mersea.
If you google West Mersea you will find lots of photos of the beach huts, and they didn’t disappoint. There are around 400, and a large section are identical huts painted in soft pastel shades.
The beach has very large tidal ranges, so can be very narrow, or stretch away into the distance.
While the background was not the most scenic, with a disused Nuclear power station, and many wind turbines, the sun on the water, and the groynes and seabirds was very pleasant.
The following day we ventured further along the beach, which the Puligans enjoyed.
As we approached the town, the huts became random, many different styles and paint palets.
I could have spent all day taking photos!
A few yachts were enjoying the fine weather
As we rounded the end of the island, there were many houseboats, all appearing stranded but on closer inspection each had a channel in the shore.
A boardwalk took us into the small town, and then a slow walk back to camp.
As it was Ians birthday we later walked to a local pub with the dogs for a mid week roast.
On Thursday the weather was forecast to be rainy, so we only took a short walk then, finding the weather was actually very warm and sunny, spent the rest of the day sitting in the sun and reading and relaxing.
On Friday we decided to walk the other direction towards East Mersea, but the coastal path has eroded making it unpassable. So we took the diversion inland and found ourselves at a vinyard, which we had to visit for morning cake and drink.
Our route then took us past the back of the site and onto a neighbouring campsite, where we dined on fish and chips, our holiday tradition.
It was then time to continue on to Dartford, but we will probably return as we thoroughly enjoyed our autumn break here.
After a tranquil nights sleep, we were woken by the sounds of the jungle, and some cheeky white faced Capuchin monkeys crawling around the site.
Any food we took into our cabin had to be shut away in the lockable cupboard, as these monkeys happily climb in and raid the cabins.
Todays activity was a Nature walk, and boy, did we see nature!
The scarlet macaws are very noisy, but you wouldn’t believe how well they hide in trees.
After all that adventure, Ian decided to try the sloth way of life
And another sunset to end day 2 here
Day 3 activity was snorkeling on the reef, one of my favourite activities, but Ian is not a great swimmer, so was not as excited.
Off we set in a small boat to the island of Cano would could see from camp.
En-route, our guide spotted a sea snake swimming along – these are deadly, and can jump from the water, so after a quick look we moved on
A few other boats were visiting the reef, but it was very organised, and I was soon enjoying the sea life
Eventually I had to end this adventure and head back to the lodge.
This was our last night here, but we ended with a night nature walk – no photos, as it really was dark, but very interesting – we saw a tarantula hiding in a log, and narrowly avoided a venomous Fer-de-lance snake resting in a branch we crept under.
We left Corcavado Lodge by boat again, and picked up our van for the rest of the trip, plus the remainder of our luggage, as the small plane couldn’t take it all, they had arranged for some bags to be left behind.
First stop was at Canta De Ballenas Hotel, in Bahia, a short distance from the Marina Bellina National park.
I don’t seem to have many photos of this park – I think I might have forgotten to take the camera. The park is shaped like a whales tail, jutting out into the ocean.
This park has a split personallity – it has stupendous wildlife all through it, but it also hosts some of the worlds best beaches. In order to maintain the park, there is a limit on the number of people in the park at any time. Despite this, I felt some resentment to people there just to sunbathe, with no interest in the scenery or wildlife.
As soon as we walked into the park, we saw sloths, weird insects, tree frogs and spiders.
However, when we took a rest on the beach, the raccoons soon appeared, and more monkeys, all very cheeky and unafraid of the people.
You can see why the beach is so popular – Ian even had a swim – this is almost unheard of, but the water was bath temperature.
One animal we hoped to see in the park was the squirrel monkey, but none appeared. But at breakfast at our hotel Manuel Antonio the next morning, this pair turned up, sat on the kitchen roof, so we didn’t leave disappointed.
This is a throwback special. A friend has said they have booked flights to Costa Rica, and wanted to know if I had blogged my trip. This was before my blogging days, so lets do one now!
The trip was Ian and my main honeymoon, we got married the year before, but wanted to miss the rainy season, so chose February 2011 for our trip.
We had no idea where we wanted to go, and I didn’t know where Costa Rica was exactly, but this trip stood out in the travel brochures. It was also an activity trip, whereas we wanted to see the wildlife, but it turned out the best option.
Our holiday began with flights into San José, the capital, and an overnight stay at the Rosa Del Paseo Hotel on the main road through the city. It is a quaint Victorian building, within easy walking of the centre, and here we met the rest of our party and our tour guide.
The second day began with a flight from San José out to Palma Sur airport in a tiny plane, where they had to weigh us as well as our luggage, and they decided that our bags had to follow on the next plane out.
The flight was not going high, so was not pressurized – this meant it could have huge windows, giving us a great view of the scenery as we travelled.
Soon we reached a Palma Sur airport, and transferred to a coach, and then travelled down to the river Sierpe, where we were loaded onto a barge like boat, and set off towards the sea.
However, we had noticed that this boat had rather impressive outboard engines, and once out of the town, the gentle trip turned into a white water ride! Wheee.
After an hour we reached the sea, and then went down the coast to reach our next stay – the Danta Corcavoda Eco Lodge, on the Pacific Coast of the Corcadavo National Park.
There are few roads in the park, so boat is the best way to arrive, even if this meant paddling ashore from the dingy to the beach.
We carried our bags up the hill to find our lodge, a wooden building with mesh windows, and a balcony facing the ocean.
The view from our balcony.
We still had some daylight left so wandered down to the exquisite beach.
The beach was covered in tiny hermit crabs, making it appear as if the sand was alive.
Back to the lodges for dinner, and then time to relax on our balcony. My one ‘must see’ on this trip were Macaws, and on our first evening we saw several fly across the jungle between us and the sea – Wow.
Sunset across this peaceful corner of our planet – bliss.
Our Saturday night was spent at Ullapool. where the site is right next to the town, on the shoreline. There is a walk down to the shore where the Puils had a great time running through the dunes.
The views from the site are spectacular, especially under the clear blue skies.
We ate fish and chips on the shore in the sunshine.
Ullapool Broomfield Camp site
The road from here goes inland, and is more moors, but when you reach Loch Assynt you find Ardvreck Castle.
Can there be a more typical ruin? And with a waterfall across the road for added interest.
The coast road then follows a B road around the next part, and rejoins the A road near Unapool. For the past few days we had been kept company by drivers following the ‘Knights of the Islands 2019’ road trip, with their vehicles all over 20 years old.
We met some on various site and view points.
Finally we reached the North Coast, and stayed at Sango Sands, again, right on the coast, with a walk down to the beach.
This had to be my favourite beach, with wild waves crashing on looming rock, and 2 crazy beasts dashing around like loons.
No wonder the van is full of sand! But I declared this our Happy Place and would happily have stayed all day/week.
After a morning bacon buttie, and another visit to the beach, we took the short trip to a nearby beach where enterprising souls had set up a Zip wire across the bay.
We had to have a go!
A girl zipping across before us
The landing site
It was a peaceful glide, enjoying the views across the bay.
Adrenaline fix over, we continued along the top of Scotland, with wilder scenery but still many great beaches.
Our site for the night was Thurso, but as we had made good time, we headed first for John O’Groats, a tacky touristy place with a quaint harbour, for ice cream, and Signpost selfies.
Then we continued to the real top of Scotland, to Duncansby head, with its lighthouse, and true end of the country feel.
There were many people looking out for Dolphins and whales, but we didn’t see any. However, 2 Orca were spotted from the ferry here the very next day.
Thurso Bay site was yet another shore site, this time with steep cliffs down to the beach, and a short walk into town. We also found that the nearby Lidl was open on a Sunday evening, so restocked our cupboards.
From here, everything goes downhill, or South anyway.
The coastline down the east of Scotland Highlands is more about the fishing industry, with Herring harbours and fish farms.
One delight was Dunrobin Castle, this one is not a ruin, but a fairytale castle.
The road crosses some spectacular bridges, and the scenery changes constantly. However, drizzle was starting to arrive after a quick visit to Inverness.
Our next 2 nights were in Glenmore near Aviemore. I was expecting a small quiet site in the Forest, as this is run by Camping in the Forest, a joint venture between Forestry Commision and the Camping and Caravanning Club, but this was the largest site we visited,and we were close to a shop and bar. It was also raining, and our pitch was a puddle. The site was quiet and the staff very friendly and helpful.
To cheer us up, we spotted a red squirrel a few feet from the van, but he scuttered off before I could grab my camera.
Determined not to let this weather stop us, we cooked a hearty meal onboard Connie, and the next morning the rain stopped for long enough for us to walk around the Loch, and after lunch at the non-dog friendly visitor centre, we walked up to the green loch, An Lochan Uaine, despite the shower that turned into rain.
A quick visit into Aviemore before we set off, and the weather brightened as we headed south.
We crossed the new Forth bridge, but panels along the bridge prevented any reasonable photos.
In bright warm sunlight we reached Dunbar. The site is high on hills past the town, with great views across. We quickly emptied the wet awning and dogs beds, towels etc. out onto the bank and with a stiff breeze, soon had everything dry again, while a skylark sang away just above our heads.
The site has its own small castle
and a walk from the back of the site takes you to the lighthouse.
As the site was not in town, we went into Dunbar the next morning, and I love the place.
It has a great little castle, very cleverly upgraded with information and gardens, and a small amphitheater where they hold concerts, a working harbour, and other interesting shops and buildings.
Next stop was St Abbs, with the intention of another lighthouse visit, but we decided against the walk round, and just visited the harbour and shops instead.
Lunch at the cafe near the car park, and off on the road again.
We followed the coast road down past the wonderful Northumberland castle of Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh and Alnwick, and views across to the Farne Islands and Holy island. A leg stretch and run on Seahouses beach refreshed us all.
view across to the farne Islands
Our last night was at a small working farm site in Gibside, Rowlands Gill, with views across the green farmland, and horses and sheep in the nearby fields.
From there it was a walk on Seaham beach, where I had stiff competition for my sea glass collecting, but still managed a few very pretty items. Ian said most people on the beach had their heads down.
Further research says this is one of the worlds best sea glass beaches, as a glass factory used to sit at the top of the cliff and multicoloured waste scraps were thrown away into the sea. I didn’t find any of these wonderful, prices, but I will return to this beach whenever I can.
And then through the Yorkshire moors and home. Two happy sunwashed humans and 2 sandy happy tired Pulik, with loads of great memories and many photos.
One thing I failed to mention is that at almost every site and pit stop we heard cuckoos calling, and skylarks were everywhere.
But we must start planning our next trip with Connie already, once we have removed the sand from inside Connie and the dead flies from the windscreen.
We found one of the most incredible beaches, almost deserted
With the weather forecast for Scotland looking warm and sunny, yes, that’s right, we decided to make our desired trip to Scotland in May, when the midges are not yet in their thousands.
So we sat down and planned a route, as since the North Coast Road has been turned into a must-do drive, the campsites can be busy.
After spending our first night at Lytham St Annes for a family visit, our next site was Hoddom castle a beautiful site near Lockerbie, set in the grounds of the castle, and with facilities inside the castle. It was special to take a shower inside a castle.
doorway at Repentance Tower
View from tower looking down at castle and site
bridge over the river
where the Salmon go
under the castle arch
view from the field behind
There are also lovely walks around, including up to Repentance Tower, and along the river. They also have cute pods if you don’t have your own accommodation.
After a lovely quiet night and a morning walk along the river we set off north, stopping briefly at Lochmaben Castle, very much a ruin, and most of it closed off due to crumbling masonry.
Rita getting delusions of grandeur
This part of the journey took us past Glasgow on mainly motorways, but there were still lovely sights to see.
Our next night was spent near Oban at a site set within a walled garden. You can walk down to the loch shore, but there is a Fish farm factory alongside. However from the back of the site there is the delightful balcadine walk through the woods, with fascinating iron railing down steps to an enchanting chasm.
Wrought iron gate looking through walls to site
sun dropping through the trees
the chasm pool
ooh, that looks a bit scarey
The shore near the site
tree growing in fence post
From here we stopped in Fort William, a fairly drab town, for some supplies, then detoured a little off our track to visit Fort Augustus and the bottom of Loch Ness.
While the town is small and mainly filled with tourists, it is charming and the locks on the canal are worth a walk up, and then walk down to Loch Ness. Of course, everywhere we go Reggie and Rita create a stir.
We set off on the A87, enjoying the mountains and lochs, and crossed the bridge to the Isle of Skye. However, we didn’t find Skye as enchanting or picturesque as other places, and our site, though lochside, was a bit bleak, but did provide a colourful sunset and a bright start to Thursday .
Our next stop was Applecross, the the faithful among you will travel the famous Bealach na Ba road, with hairpin bends and steep hills, but we decided Connie was a bit big for the road, so we took the alternate road up to Sheildaig.
En route we stopped by a loch for lunch, and I walked down with the Puli to the lochside, started taking photos, when 3 deer appeared and calmly walked towards us.
The road from here becomes single lane, but with plenty of passing places. The road is popular with not only campervans, but motorcyclists and flash cars, but was not too busy to enjoy the drive.
Shortly before arriving in Applecross, as we were early, we stopped at a small car park, and found one of the most incredible beaches, almost deserted, with a vast stretch of clean soft sand.
The pulis has a wonderful time, and we even caught a glimpse of a seal in the bay.
the perfect beach for hide and seek
Rita came for a paddle
shaking off after a paddle
The site at Applecross had been in a list of top 10 site on NC500, but as they were building a new shower block, the existing facilities were very poor, with insufficient showers, and the field we were on did not have much view. Hopefully this will improve later this year.
For dinner we walked down into Applecross and had a delicious meal at The Junction, where they allowed the dogs upstairs, and there was a great view across the shore to Skye.
As we had 2 nights here, on Friday we took the walk to Applecross walled garden and beyond, a lovely walk with forest, rivers, hills, and the sweet gardens where we also stopped for lunch and both had Haggis and Cheese melts – mmm.
On our way there we met 10 red deer, just standing by the public footpath that goes along the roadside. They didn’t care about Reggie barking at them, and just stood grazing and watching us pass within a few metres of them.
On Saturday, after revisiting the wonderful beach just up the road to gather more sand into the van, we swapped driver and set off towards Ullapool, passing many pretty fishing towns and lochs.
One pit-stop was to Inverewe Gardens, a lovely sub tropical garden, kept warm by the Gulf Stream. The azaleas were in bloom, and the lovely handkerchief tree.
Wrought iron gateway
Walk along the terraces
Office with a view to die for
Luckily, the weather had stayed warm and sunny, reaching 22 degrees some days, and not too many midges had found us.
Stay tuned for week 2, as we head further North and around the top of Scotland.
We left our camp by the Selous park, for the short drive to an airstrip just inside the Park. Our plane was early!
Here, our jeep drove right up along a small 13 seater plane, and we joined the other 8 people already on board. No passport or security checks, just clamber on board. One spare seat was the co-pilots seat, and Robert was only too pleased to take that one.
He did a very good job of keeping us safe, and we took off from the grass airstrip (making sure there were no wildlife on there first) and enjoyed the views over Tanzania and Dar es Salaam and the coast as we flew over.
Dar Es Salaam
Coast by Dar es Salaam
We then had a taxi ride to our first hotel, the Zanzibari, at Nungwi, near the northern tip of Zanzibar. The surrounding area was quite poor and untidy, so it felt a bit odd to go through the gate with security guards into the hotel and be met by beautiful grounds next to a white beach .
The Zanzibari Hotel pool
The Zanzibari Hotel beachfront
This one is on Zoopla
The Zanzibari Hotel beachfront
The Zanzibari Hotel beachfront
The dining room bar was a full sized dhow, including sails, and the grounds were full of flowers, our room was in the Bougainvillea wing.
View from the pool
After a wander around the grounds, we had a lovely 5 course meal, accompanied by a local drum and dance band.
The next day we were scheduled to have a walking tour of the fishing village and see them making the dhows, but we saw a leaflet for a trip to Zanzibar’s Jozani Nature Reserve and a butterfly center, and the hotel were happy for us to change.
We set off in the same taxi with Robert, Ann and Amanda opted for the village trip, for a 90 minute trip down Zanzibar. One noticeable difference from the mainland is that Zanzibar has banned the use of thin plastic bags, and so there is far less litter around.
The butterfly centre was set up by a Scottish man, who arranged for farmers in Zanzibar to farm butterflies, and send the chrysalises to the centre, where they are used to hatch for the centre, or sent to Butterfly houses around the world, giving the farmers a good source of income.
We were shown various life stages of the butterflies, then visited a large mesh arena full of them flying around.
Chrysalises in the hatching cabinet
Next we travelled on to the reserve, where we hoped to see some endangered monkeys.
Once we had listened to our guide explain about the reserve, we walked across the car-park, and met some Sykes monkeys climbing above us, then saw the rare red colobus monkeys.
Baby Sykes monkey
Red colubus monkey
One even sat at eye level for some amazing photographs.
Red colobus monkey
Red colobus monkey
the mangrove boardwalk
Red colobus monkey
The red colobus monkey is endemic to Zanzibar, and has a population of around 1000, so it was rather special to get such a good look at them in the wild.
We had a walk around the rain forest and then a short drive to the mangrove swamps, with the guide explaining about the environment and wildlife.
After the drive back to our hotel, we enjoyed a swim and relax before another delicious meal.
Our last day took us in the taxi back to Zanzibar city, and our last hotel, the Dhow Palace, in the Stone Town area. Stone town was a medieval town, and many old building remain, including a fort. We had a walking tour and also visited the food market where we bought some spices.
Market stalls in Stone Town
House of Wonders – closed for renovation
Stone town is also famous for its carved doors, though a lot are fairly modern now.
Our guide took us the the Anglican church that stands where the slave market used to be, and has a very good museum showing the history of slavery in Zanzibar.
We had a chance to explore the hotel after the tour – its a very interesting building with wonderful features.
The swimming pool is in the centre of the hotel
the history of the Dhow Palace Hotel
Steps down to pool
swimming pool taken from roof terrace at night
Sadly, this was the end of our trip, as our plane to Nairobi left at 02:00 the next morning.
I hope you have enjoyed the blogs and photos as much as we enjoyed the trip.
We sailed in the North and South Ionian this October.
Despite a few days worrying about our Monarch flight out, when they went bust, Sailing Holidays soon sorted us a new flight, and we arrived in Nidri late on Sunday and were shown to our yacht, and then enjoyed a quick drink at the bar to get into holiday mood.
On Monday morning, we had our boat briefing and set off for Sivota. winds were light so we stopped in a bay for break, and Mary-Ann and Colin, friends from previous flotillas met us for a quick chat.
That evening we enjoyed a meal with the rest of the flotilla crews.
We made the most of light winds the next morning, but as i needed my first swim we motored to One House Bay on Atoko island.
The sea was blue, and warmish, and lots of fish for me to enjoy
Light winds took us to the nights port of Kioni, a pretty village we first visited in 2006.
Destination for Wednesday was Fiskardo, the setting for ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’.
It is a very pretty village, but maybe too popular with tourists. On the plus side, it had old Venetian lighthouse and other ruins in the hillside, and as we had to arrive early we had the chance for a walk around the hillside.
Next stop was Ay. Euphemia
The next day was a free sailing day, and despite the distance, and our yacht having a very poor engine/prop, we decided to head for Kalamos.
George, the owner of the taverna at the end of the harbour, helps everyone moor, and can always find more space. Luckily it wasn’t busy and we also had time for a stroll around town, which is so steep the locals drive golf buggies.
The next morning, as winds were light again, we headed over the hill to see the windmills, and for a swim.
This lighthouse would make a wonderful holiday let.
While there is an air of decay about the place it still charms us.
We even found a project for Jason on the end of the pier
After our stroll, we headed off for Little Vathi, but not before we were approached by ‘pirates’, OK, crew asking for our spare diesel for another yacht in our flot who had engine problems.
Little Vathi was our last harbour in the South Ionian, so the next morning we set off under sail for the Lefkas canal
This canal separates Kefkas Island from the mainland and runs between swamps.
There is a boat bridge at the top end that only opens for 10 minutes each hour, but good timing meant our 2 flotillas all safely got through and headed on to Prevesa.
This town is off the tourist trail, but is now loved by locals who promenade along the seafront in the evening. We enjoyed a pleasant meal in the Mermaid and Crepes in the Tram Cafe.
That brings us to the end of week one, and the start of our North Ionian sailing – be back soon
After we parted company with Andy and Kelsey, we picked up our rental car for the next adventures. Andy had suggested we visit the Coromandel Peninsula, so we made our way down and around the Firth of Thames, and then up the wonderful coastal road up the Coromandel, stopping here and there to enjoy the views.
Our stop for the night was a cabin at Long Bay Motor Camp, at the end of the road to the Long Bay Reserve.
Our cabin at first appeared to be a garage, but once inside, all we could say was WOW.
This is the view from the bed, bliss.
We were treated to the view of the sun sinking into the sea, and some sea-glass collecting on the beach.
Of course, we had to have wine..
The next morning, after a visit to town, we drove over the peninsula and down the East Coast road, again with superb views.
Next stop was Rotirua, for a second fix at the Luge. We arrived too late for the planned 5 runs, so made do with 3, and once again had huge fun.
Do I need to tell you the views were incredible?We spent the night at Taupo. Who can fail to be impressed by the snow-topped volcano Tongariro behind a lake with black swans.
Next adventure was the Forgotten World Highway, a twisty road through native forests, a real feel of the wild. A sign at the start of the highways tells you there is no fuel for 155km.
First stop was Nevins Lookout, up a steep hill (close the gate), but with 360 degree views forever.
While waiting for me to catch up, Ian spotted this wasp making her nest on an old fence post.
From here, the road leaves grassy hills behind and hugs the contours of the native forests like a roller coaster. We stopped at Josh Morgan’s Grave, the surveyor who created this road.
We ended the Highway at Stratford, names after Stratford-on-Avon, with its glockenspiel clock tower.
and on to New Plymouth for the night, were my next blog will pick up the story