Showing posts from 2017

Making dreams come true: another slow road adventure.

When did you last make time to dawdle? Can you remember what it was like to do nothing more than meander, pootle or bumble along? And when was the last time you took the slow road, just because you could? If your answer is ‘too long ago’ then you need to keep on reading. And then possibly put 3 rd May 2018 in your diary. That’s because it’s the day my new book project, Take the Slow Road: Scotland gets released. That’s the cover, above. I love it. What do you think? I am really excited by it. Not only because it’s a new book, but also because it’s the product of a dream come true, and because of that, is a departure from the stuff I have done before. If my previous books were tender looks at food, camper vans and camping, this one is a love note to the journey that gets you there in the first place. It’s about taking the time to enjoy the road as a destination in itself, taking time to see and understand landscapes and to relish the moments that they give you.

Why I hate the Tegstove. And why I love the Tegstove.

Some time ago I was approached by the people at Tegstove. They asked me to try out one of their stoves. It uses Teg technology (creating an electrical charge by placing hot and cold surfaces together) to charge an internal battery in the stove, which can then be used to charge phones or gadgets. I said yes, because I like trying out bits of kit, but I did make a point of insisting that I would be honest about it because I only review products I actually use, whether good or bad. In due course the stove arrived and I unpacked it and read the instructions and looked at it and played with it. And then I put it away again. Why? Because I hated it. I couldn't see the point of it. I couldn't see how it could possibly be useful to anyone who is serious about camping. It looked gimmicky and nothing more than a bad case of form over function. Here's why: It's heavy. It weighs 1.4 kg, which is about 1.2 kg heavier than the Vango folding stove I use for lightweight c

These boots were made for…

I went to the Arctic in March this year as part of a convoy of 2 Bailey of Bristol caravans and a Bailey motorhome. It was cold, as you’d expect. But not the kind of cold you get in the UK. That’s a grubby, unhappy and hysterical cold that’s usually accompanied by wind and rain and slush and traffic jams and a partial collapse of infrastructure. It’s not good when the cold bites in our little island.  But in the Arctic, as I found out, the cold is crisp and clean and dry. It’s so cold that all the moisture turns to ice and falls as snow. There are no puddles or slushy hard shoulders, no black ice and no refrozen pavements. The further north we drove, around the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea through Latvia, Estonia and Finland, the colder it got. In Latvia we found a beach where the edges of the sea were framed by a four foot high wall of frozen sea spume. Later, in Estonia, we encountered our first deep snows. But it wasn’t until we crossed over from Tallin to Helsinki

The Arctic Adventure: days 14, 15 and 16

I woke before the sunrise at Sundsvall. I was very glad I did. We had parked the motorhome facing the view, so the minute the kettle went on I opened the blinds to check what the morning was threatening to bring. The timing was perfect. A deep and dark blue sky was giving way to an orange glow from the east, directly opposite our pitch. I got out of bed and walked carefully (it was very icy and steep) down to the water's edge to get a better view of the sun rising over the opposite side of the bay. There were huge chunks of ice floating in the water at the edge of the campsite, bobbing in the tiny swell. While I had recently walked on frozen lakes and rivers and been in a vehicle driving over an ice road to an island, it was still an inspiring experience to see chunks of ice in the sea. You should never get blase about sea ice. And while it was warmer than it had been, it was certainly pretty parky. Later on I actually regretted not stripping off and taking an icy dip. Which i

The Arctic Adventure: Days 12 and 13

I had been in Sweden for a few hours when I enjoyed my first interaction with a Swedish person. I'll get to the point in a minute but need to tell you about how I got there first. My contact came on our first Swedish campsite, just across the border with Finland. The site was deep in snow, its glamping pods half buried in white, and the pitches cleared between deep drifts. We had arrived from Ivalo, having said a fond farewell to the film crew earlier in the day. Of course we would miss them - and their vegetarianism - but, on the plus side it meant that our group of hungry, carnivorous males could enjoy some meat. I promised them all a reindeer curry (ironically, honestly) once we arrived at our next overnight. So that brought me to being in the kitchen block at the campsite, which just happened to be next to the sauna. Every campsite has a sauna. Did I neglect to mention that? Anyways, I was cooking the curry and needed to wash my hands so I went out into the changing rooms

The Arctic Adventure: Days 10 and 11

After our visit to Santa we schlepped through the snow and ice to Ivalo, our final destination in Lapland. Ivalo is home to Milbrook’s Arctic Testing Station, a place where winter tyres are tested to their limits in serious conditions. It was much the same with us. On arrival we met up with the team from The Caravan and Motorhome Club, the PR company and a couple of journalists. For us, the core team of drivers and crew, it was a chance to drink some pop, eat some good food and let rip. So it was all back to the motorhome after dinner to raid the drinks cabinet, play some tunes and party into the arctic night. It wasn’t pretty. We were a bit late getting to Milbrook the next day. And a bit cold. One of our Volvos lost all power so we had to drive there with no heating, windscreen blower or lights, which made for a very uncomfortable few miles from the campsite to the testing station. The temperature was minus 8 degrees. Once at Milbrook we were invited into a gorgeous round, woo

The Arctic Adventure: Day 8 and 9

We woke up at Kuopio camping to more deep snow. It had snowed overnight and the skies were still leaden with the weight of more. It wasn’t a heavy day as far as driving was concerned as we had a crew to pick up from Bailey and Truma, the heating people. They arrived at Oulu airport and met us at the airport hotel where we had lunch before heading out to Finland’s longest ice road. It crosses the Baltic sea to an island and is 15 kilometers long. We parked up the vehicles by the ferry port and prepped the vehicles and film crew before the first caravan headed out onto the ice. The ice is apparently 50 centimeters thick and can carry weights up to 3.5 tonnes, which is about the weight of a Volvo plus fully laden caravan. So prepping the vans simply meant lobbing everyone’s luggage out onto the ice. I went over in the motorhome with Bernie for the journey out and then back with Niall, from Practical Caravan Magazine. It was one of those experiences that sounds more exciting t

The Arctic Adventure: Day 6 and 7

 The city campsite in Helsinki was surprisingly busy, considering there were a couple of inches of snow on the ground. Most were motorhomes, perhaps city workers, and a couple of families. We pitched up after 11 and then left early, but not before I had cooked up a full breakfast for all our team. Who said you can't feed 10 out of a van?! So we were in Finland at last! We still had a long way to go. A relatively late start (10 am) saw us weave our way out of the city and out onto the highways. Temperatures were around minus 2 degrees so there was a lot of sow and ice, but relatively little on the road surfaces. Until we got further north, that is. We drove another long day, arriving at a beautiful lakeside campsite late in the evening. Along the way we stopped to take pictures of the convoy by the side of a frozen lake. I walked out onto the ice to get a good view of the landscape. The causeway across the lake was a good place for the film crew to grab some aerial shots so we

The Arctic Adventure: Day 4 and 5

Being in Poland was like being in a film. It felt familiar, and yet not, like you'd seen it somewhere but couldn't place it. We passed wide open fields, forests of pine and birch, brown fields, frozen lakes and tumbledown wooden  shacks and farm houses. We passed through industrial towns with chemical plants, disused railways and blocks of depressing flats. But we also passed picture perfect shacks, beautiful lakes and rows upon rows of well tended allotments, each with tiny homes, sheds or summer houses. A place to call your own when you live cheek by jowl with your neighbour in a Post Soviet block? Perhaps. Our route, from Torun to Vilnius, took us across country, which meant it was slow and long. But a stop by a lake for lunch turned out to be a highlight. I cooked pasta for everyone, which we ate in a wooden pavillion over looking the lake. It was a restful place during a hectic driving day. We arrived in Vilnius after dark and parked up outside a city centre hoste

The Arctic Adventure: Days 2 and 3

Day 2 saw the convoy or caravans and a motorhome and campervan leave Bruges early for a 500 mile autobahn slog to Berlin. The roads were really busy, which meant traffic was slow and the day was very long. We can only travel as fast as our limits will allow, which meant travelling often at the same speed as lorries, getting stuck behind arctics or hemmed in. I had imagined the autobhans to be free flowing and fast but not so busy. We drove for 12 hours, following the back ends of the caravans as they weaved and wobbled between the trucks. I drove two shifts and Bernie drove two, with stops for tea and sarnies between. Being in the motorhome meant that we had easy and instant access to tea making facilities so the caravan driving teams often 'popped' round for a cuppa at rest stops. The advantages of travelling by motorhome, eh? We arrived at the campsite in Berlin at around 7pm, set up and then went straight out to eat at a traditional restaurant with two of the team at Tru

The Arctic Adventure: Day 1

Milbrook to Bruges Ok. The Arctic Adventure got off to an early start at Milbrook vehicle testing station near Luton, arriving just after 8 to make the most of ‘quiet time’. The plan was for our little convoy of vehicles (a motorhome, two caravans and a campervan) to set off around 0930 after shooting some stills and video of the ‘big departure’. But, of course with cameras and action deciding the action we did a few takes until we just sort of set off for the motorway and the first few miles of the 5000 we have yet to do on this most marvellous of adventures. We hit the M1, the M25 and then the M20  before cruising down the M20 to Ashford and the Chunnel. It probably took as long to load as it did to make the ‘crossing’ of the Channel to Calais. It seemed to be over very quickly.  But at least we could dive into the back and lounge around in the motorhome. You can’t do that in a caravan on the tunnel so we soon had a few wandering visitors looking for a comfy seat. There a

A secret squirrel adventure to the Arctic Circle

Okay. So I've been holding out on you. I have been withholding information. It's not my fault. I was under embargo (isn't that exciting!) from Nikki at The Caravan and Motorhome Club not to spill the beans on a project that I have known about  for a few months now. Until last Tuesday, when it was finally revealed at the NEC Caravan and Motorhome Show, it was known as the Secret Squirrel Adventure. Oh the agony of not being able to talk about it.  But now I can! I was invited by my friends at The Caravan and Motorhome Club (CAMC) to take part in the Arctic Adventure, a trip to the Arctic Circle in a convoy consisting of a motorhome, 2 caravans and a camper van. The journey, from the Milbrook testing Ground in the UK to the Milbrook Winter Testing Ground at Ivalo in Finland, will cover 5000 miles and take us through 12 countries in 16 days.  The point of the trip is twofold. Firstly, Bailey's of Bristol, the caravan and motorhome manufacturer, are demonstrating