A photographic look back over some of the favourite places we visited in 2017
A photographic look back over some of the favourite places we visited in 2017
Our first year full-timing in a motorhome – how much did it cost? Here’s a look at the costs, annual and daily, associated with our chosen lifestyle choice.
(4th September 2016 – 3rd September 2017)
It’s been a full year now since we took the plunge, leaving our professions, friends and family behind for life on the road. We thought it might be useful to others who may be considering a similar lifestyle change to see, for their planning purposes, how much we’ve spent over a full year, and on what.
Of course, what we’re happy with on the road may not suit you, and vice versa, so we should say first that our spending levels are absolutely personal to us. Our costs are at a level we’re comfortable with, and they suit our current financial situation; but everyone is different. If required it would be possible to live on much less, with patience and frugality. And it would certainly be very easy to spend much more too, if eating out, guided trips and expensive attractions are what interest you on your travels.
We like cooking, so eating out only very occasionally is fine for us. Most of what we really enjoy doing is free, like hiking in the mountains, wild swimming, cycling off-road or running trails. The one big exception to this is skiing, which is definitely an expensive week (or two) whatever way you look at it, even if bringing your own accommodation helps reduce the costs a little. We like seeing cultural sites too, but we’ve learned to be selective, as paying into every church, museum, fort, gallery or other attraction we pass would be exorbitant. We have occasionally volunteered our time at WorkAway projects and these social, volunteer efforts offer a variation that invigorates us, offers a welcome change of scene and keeps our costs for that time at a minimum. We also have a few winter house-sits coming up which will enable us to live a more rooted, normal life for a time, and allow a more detailed exploration of specific portions of rural France.
More detailed country Route Maps: (paper maps marked up by hand)
Our travels during our first year were split into two long trips of roughly six months (France, Spain & Portugal) and five months (Northern Europe and Scandinavia) respectively. We had a month or so in between where we returned to the UK for servicing, maintenance and a catch-up with friends and family. We sneaked in a quick two week trip to Scotland (no map) during this time too. The Scandinavia trip is still on-going as our ‘one year on the road’ anniversary has fallen mid-travels.
We have tracked all our costs and distances as we travelled, noting down spending and mileage counts at driver changes or stops as they occurred. We added these to a bespoke spreadsheet set up to record, count and analyse our activities month by month and county by country. Synopsis tabs with some complex formula then collate each category into, hopefully, easy to understand tables or charts, for a quick overview. Yes, indeed we do have too much time on our hands.
France / Spain / Portugal trip:
Scandinavia Trip: (note: still on-going)
After the completion of our first six month trip we tweaked the spreadsheet categories a little, adding in new columns to allow for a more accurate breakdown of our spending. This meant the spend percentages between each portion of the trip were not perfectly aligned, but the spend totals remain unaffected and it’s these we have used for this post. We also added in a column for type of accommodation, to track where we spend our nights. Here’s a typical (actually, untypically expensive) month from our current spreadsheet (June 2017) , for interest. (note our serious lack of cycling in Norway!)
Outside the daily costs of living on the road we also had many one-off or annually reoccurring costs that enabled the trip to proceed initially. (note: these are all included in the totals and are shown here purely as examples of other costs that you will / may incur)
This doesn’t include purchasing our Benny (a new Benimar Mileo 201) in the first instance, so the cost of your chosen van, whether new or used, should also be factored in here. All our ferry costs to and from mainland Europe, or within each country are included within the daily cost totals under the category ‘transport’.
We tracked everything in euros, as this was the predominant currency of our first six months and it made sense to continue with the same base. All Scandinavian currency spends were recorded in euros at a fixed exchange rate, that of what it was when we first entered the country, so there may have been some fluctuation in value during our time (in either direction) that we didn’t capture.
Our annual totals by portion of year:
This equates to (at current exchange rates) an approximate spend of £13354.00 for our first year travelling in Europe, or an average spend of £36.59 per day, all in for us both.
On the Road spending pie:
FOOD – Food from a supermarket/shop. Includes wine & beer, but not eating out
FUEL – Diesel for Benny
LPG – Propane gas for cooking, heating and running the fridge when not on sites
TRANSPORT – Tolls, vignettes, ferries, bridges, public transport & day parking
EATING OUT – Eating & drinking in restaurants & bars (includes snacks & ice cream)
OVERNIGHT STAYS – Cost of sites, aires or parking overnight, where a cost applied
CLOTHING – This includes personal items such as clothes & shoes and laundry costs
ENTRY FEES– Entry fees for museums, galleries, castles, cathedrals and other events etc..
MISC. – All other items not separately designated (from stamps to ski passes)
If we removed all the up-front facilitating costs and only looked at expenditure on the road, we are spending under €950, or £870, per month, and for the incredible experiences we’re having and the beautiful places we are seeing, this seems like a very good deal to us – long may it continue.
Part 4: Bays and harbours
After our arrival at Calgary bay, we walked along the beach to a farm track on the opposite side, before cutting right to a public car-park and walking up the road to see the local artist’s studio and workshops, Calgary Art in Nature. We had a brief look in the store window before following signs for a woodland sculpture walk up through their garden and over the local hills.
We passed many interesting and colourful installations, from wood carvings to pottery to bronze castings, all integrated into the trees or the elaborate pathways created for ease of exploration. At the top we surprisingly arrived at a short light aircraft landing strip, ideal for microlights, before descending again past more sculptural oddities to reach the road.
Tiny little Calgary bay on this remote north-west corner of the Isle of Mull was also the seed for a much larger settlement. A gentleman named McLeod, an officer in the Canadian Mounties, had once stayed at Calgary Castle. On his return to Alberta he was tasked with the naming of a new fort and, with fond memories of his visit, he chose the name ‘Calgary’. From this fort, the modern city of Calgary was eventually born.
The next day we awoke to more rain, but by the time we had dressed for our planned walk the changeable clouds had evaporated and the sun lit up the beach. We headed up the farm track we discovered before, hugging the coastline on the north side of the bay on narrow sheep tracks all the way to the rocky headland. From here we walked across the end fields with superb elevated views out to Tiree, Coll and South Uist.
A bright sun and a glorious blue sky greeted us as we clambered around this green, bumpy headland. We climbed the steep mossy banks behind to reach the boggy high plateau above, skirting along the edge of the bay at a much higher elevation than before. We passed difficult, jaggy trees and curious sheep before dropping back down on another farm track and returned to the beach by the same route we originally took out.
We made it back just as the changeable weather turned again into a sodden deluge, so we passed the remainder of the afternoon snug in Benny as we watched the rain fall outside. We organised our next steps, deciding that it was off to the main town of Tobermory the following morning for us; no island visit is complete without at least a short visit to the obligatory whisky distillery.
We set off in the morning, with the rain back in full force, and slowly made our way along the narrow, single track roads back to Dervaig and through on to Tobermory where we parked up at the harbour with a delightful view over the water to the well-known colourful facades of the town’s main street.
The persistent drizzle, or dreich weather, continued unabated for our time in the town, so we had only a short wander to the opposite end. We returned the same way and heading indoors, into the Tobermory Distillery. The small shop and reception was a little disappointing for not having much to browse, and we didn’t feel quite up for a full tour, having been on many similar jaunts before. So we decided to move on and call our time on Mull to an end. We drove south to Craignure and sneaked on the next ferry back to Oban, having to wait for only a few short minutes before being allowed to board.
We drove east from Oban, following the same route on the A85 as before, passing Ben Lui, now buried deep in cloud. The weather was a far cry from what we had experienced when we climbed the peak just a week or so ago. We changed tact at Crianlarich and went south to Dunbarton, through Glasgow, and on to just south of Dumfries, to the quaint village of New Abbey to overnight.
We parked up at the old abbey and relaxed, after our long drive. We spent a very pleasant evening and early morning here, before heading off for the final five hours of driving back to our base in Lincolnshire. This marked the end of another lovely little tour in Benny, with the final preparations and packing for our main summer jaunt to the northern wilds of Norway now set to begin; we will be off in only a few short weeks.
Part 3: Beaches and Islands
From the moment of our arrival at Fidden Farm, we settled in quickly and loved the natural beauty of our position. We walked a while around the white sandy beach, clambered over the rugged seaweed-covered rocks and enjoyed the beautiful views over to the nearby island of Iona. We spotted two seals swimming nearby, their heads comically bobbing around in the clear water, with us hoping they would join us in our shallow, sheltered bay; no such luck.
We crossed the damp beach and climbed the largest grassy mound in the bay, simply for the walk and the views. It felt good to explore the pools, humps and bumps of the beach, child-like and investigative. It may have been only light exercise, but mentally it felt restorative and renewing, and lots of fun. We enjoyed a lovely afternoon and evening, watching the sea slowly rise and the sun slowly set on our pretty corner of the bay.
The following morning, as we had already decided to spend a second night here, we readied our bikes for a short cycle to the ferry port in Fionnphort and packed a nice lunch. We set off through the quiet, moorland hills, enjoying the quiet ride. It was a shorter trip than expected, maybe two miles, and we arrived at the slipway with the ferry in port and a short queue of pedestrians waiting to board. We dismounted and joined them, bought a day return ticket, then deposited our bikes on the lower deck before climbing to the top to watch our jaunt over to the island of Iona.
On arrival, we pushed our bikes off the ferry behind a lady and man struggling to push a large wooden cart full of vegetables, before cycling north past the monastery and tourist centre, to reach the end of the road. Here we parked our bikes and walked through a field of sheep and spring lambs to reach the north coast of the island. We discovered stretches of beautiful white sandy beaches in volcanic black rocky coves, flanked by long, flowing lime-green sand dune grasses; picture postcard perfect. We walked over and around the rocks before following the coastline around to an even larger expanse of white beach punctuated with more jagged, black volcanic outbursts.
We returned to our bikes and this time headed south along the same road. We briefly stopped into the island’s community shop and welcome office where we bought postcards for family, before continuing back past the ferry slipway and onwards, to an open area of machair, sandy grasslands, that bordered the sea on the west side of Iona. Here we cycled to the far end of the beach and sat a while to eat our lunch, looking over the beach and out to sea. With immaculate timing the sun arrived to warm us, so we laid down on the soft grass and enjoyed a restful snooze.
Deciding we had to visit the highest point of the island, we returned to the north end again by bike. We found a footpath to the left leading to the Bishop’s Walk up to Dùn I, the largest hill on the tiny island at 101 metres. It took us all of seven minutes to reach the top, from where we could see almost the full extent of Iona. We pointed out the northern beaches and our western lunch spot as we pottered around the trig point and beehive stone cairn. From this vantage point the island reminded us a little of Easter Island, Isla de Pascua, with its rolling green fields, a distinct lack of trees and rugged, sea-battered coasts, but without the multitude of Moai.
We later caught the ferry back to Mull and cycled the short distance back to Fidden where we passed another relaxing evening exploring the beaches and watching out for seals. We held out a small hope for the aurora to visit us this night, but it wasn’t to be as there was a full moon instead and the night never really got very dark.
In the morning, with the dull grey clouds bringing light rain, we packed up and headed off for a long drive to the furthest point of the island from us; Calgary bay, on the far north west corner. To reach it, we had to return to Craignure on the east and then head north. We stopped for lunch in a damp picnic spot near Fishnish, before making the remainder of the drive on tiny single track roads to Dervaig and then to the wild camping spot at Calgary Bay.
After hearing nothing but good things about this area, we arrived in heavy rain to see a puddle-strewn grassy pitch by a scruffy river and were at first slightly underwhelmed. But we squeezed onto the site, picked our place and settled in, waiting for the rain to abate. A few hours later the clouds cleared and blue skies appeared, lighting up the surrounding hills and giving us the signal to get our boots on and go explore. We crossed the river and the local machair to reach an impressively wide expanse of white sandy beach that wasn’t visible from our site, and we instantly saw the appeal of this setting. The calm blue sea rolled in gently, with tall grassy cliffs on both sides framing the view.
Part 4 to follow.
Part 2: Mountains and wildlife
Leaving Dunblane we followed the A85 north and west for several hours, until we made it into the heart of the southern highlands. We stopped at Glen Lochy car-park, with the intention of climbing the munro Ben Lui the following morning. There was a picnic table on a small rise that offered a peaceful spot to view the north face of the mountain from, in between the brief moments when the low clouds dissipated enough to allow a view.
We had a huge lie-in, exhausted from the recent hectic visits and late nights, so were slow to rise. The wet weather cleared up nicely, so it was worth us waiting until later in the day to begin, as we avoided the early rain. We forded the river then passed under a low, short bridge to cross under the nearby railway line. The path cut through some managed forests with lots of recently cut trunks stacked in neat piles, ready for collection. We proceeded along the wet and boggy path, taking careful steps in an attempt to keep our feet dry for as long as possible.
When we reached the end of the tree line, the path ran out and so we had to simply make our way up the steep grassy mountainside as best as we could. It was a long, difficult and steep slog for an hour until we reached the low ridge. We passed pockets of snow still gripping to sheltered hollows high up on the slope. The springy moss covering was a delight to walk on, but the gradient was unrelenting.
We reached a flat viewpoint that allowed fantastic views in all directions, but we were not yet at the top, so after a brief look we continued up the ridge to the cairn on the south west corner. We passed sheer cliffs sprinkled with ice and snow as we scrambled over rocky outcrops to reach our goal. From the top, 1130m high, we were rewarded with full panoramic views of what seemed like half of Scotland; hundreds of similar fawn coloured peaks rising and falling away into the far distance. The only sign of human intervention in the landscape were the unnatural straight lines of the distant A85 and the too-neat truncation of the area of managed forest. All else was natural and wild.
We descended by a different route and found an equally boggy path back to the bottom. We spent a quiet, relaxing half hour slowly rinsing out our muddy gear in the gentle flowing river waters. We carried a steaming cup of tea to the raised picnic spot and traced out our route up and down the mountain face, enjoying reliving where we had just been and what we had seen. We passed a second night in the same spot, where we were joined by a few other vans late in the evening. We had a nice conversation with our neighbours in the morning, discovering we both have plans to travel to Norway this summer; maybe our paths will cross again.
Back on the A85, we doodled along in the direction of Oban where we unsuccessfully checked out a few possible overnight spots, before deciding that our most comfortable option was to stay in the car-park of the Wide Mouthed Frog pub and restaurant. Here we enjoyed a lazy evening and a few very decent ales as we enjoyed their free Wi-Fi.
The following morning we stopped briefly in Oban again to have a flying visit around a few outdoors shops, then we hopped on the ferry to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. The crossing was smooth and quick, and arriving on the island for the first time we drove all of one mile into the nearest campsite, Shieling Holidays, so we could fully empty and fill Benny in anticipation of a week or so of enjoying wild camp spots around the rugged coastline. Wild camping may be fine in Scotland, but finding places to service your motorhome is much more difficult than in France or Spain, so official campsites are still an occasional necessity.
We enjoyed a bracing, weather-beaten walk around the nearby coastline, as we looked out over the nearby islands and watched the next Calmac ferry smoothly pass us in the bay. Then we settled in for a very lazy afternoon and evening of reading, resting and recuperating, our three main objectives for this peaceful, slow-paced west coast trip.
The following morning we headed off, turning right out of the campsite and following the main road on Mull along the coast in the direction of Tobermory. We stopped in several picnic spots to check out the coastline views, before reaching Salen where we turned left and followed a long loop around the base of Ben More, via Killchronan and Loch Na Keal. We passed cows and sheep on the narrow, single track road, stopping occasionally to allow faster vehicles to pass.
We noted very few sensible and non-intrusive places to wild camp on this route, as the roads were too narrow and the grassy verges too wet and boggy at this time of year to risk. We noted two potential spots should we need them later, but we pushed on around the loop, almost back to Craignure, before turning right at Loch Spelve to follow the even tighter, almost claustrophobic track down to Loch Buie. The route was lined for long stretches with huge bougainvillea bushes, tall and overhanging, that were just beginning to flower in places and we imagined how impressively colourful it would be in a few short weeks. Instead we had bright rows of daffodils lining the verge providing our colour. Thankfully we only faced one other vehicle on this stretch of road, and it was a tight squeeze to pass, even with the designated passing place.
Finally the winding road reached Loch Buie, a protected bay deeply recessed from the main coastline, with a dark, pebbly beach curving around the small hamlet. We parked on a grassy verge side-on to the beach with a fantastic view out to sea. We had pebbles extending beyond our grassy standing, which gave way to larger, smooth boulders that met the calm sea. We cast our eyes around the bay flanked by beautiful mountains, a mixture of exposed dark, rugged granite and orangey bracken covering that made a pretty backdrop against the lush spring grass, the pebbly beach and the clear blue water. A small, well-stocked honesty shop called ‘The Old Post Office’ sat open on the corner near us; a very useful service had we forgotten any essentials.
Very happy with our spot for the night, we got our walking boots on and explored the local coast, heading east towards Castle Mor. We walked along the path at the top of the beach, enjoying playing on the rocks and looking across to the simple square-towered castle in the distance and sandy beaches occupied with highland cattle beyond. The next morning, despite the light drizzle, we walked the opposite way around the coast, in the direction of Carsaig.
We made just beyond Glenbyre when we suddenly spotted dolphins in the water. They were in small groups of three or four at a time, maybe twenty or so in total, heading into the Loch. We spent many minutes watching them pass before deciding to follow them back as they were being shadowed by a huge bank of dark muddy cloud that spanned the width of the whole loch. It ended as a shorter walk than planned, but having seen the dolphins more than made up for it. We spent a second night on the same beach, never boring of looking out to sea, amazed that none of the other motorhomers we’d seen had made the trek out to this little part of the island; we felt quite selfish, but privileged, to have it all to ourselves.
We drove back along the narrow road out from the Loch, again happy to only have one oncoming car to pass on the way. We headed west to Loch Beg and Pennyghael, and then onwards to Bunessan, where we detoured south to Uisken to see their beach. The road down was terrible, the narrow surface all ripped up and the passing points a sea of mud, so we were very glad not to face any traffic coming towards us. We stopped only for a few moments on the scruffy beach before retracing our steps and turning west to the ferry port at Fionnphort, where we planned to catch the short ferry to Iona the following day. After a quick look, we headed south out of the village to Fidden where we camped on the edge of a wide grass mound overlooking neat sandy beaches and a shallow, turquoise sea; an absolutely stunning spot for a few chilled days.
Part 3 to follow.
Part 1: Visiting friends and quirky landmarks
Since returning back to the UK, we enjoyed several full-on weeks of zigzagging up through England, calling in to visit all the friends and family we could in the time that we had. Benny had his annual service and habitation check and we both had dental check-ups on the way. We also had a quick flying visit to Northern Ireland to visit family, a trip that included a drive down to Carnaross to visit old friends recently relocated there from Dublin. It was a very full-on and fun if rather tiring few weeks, trying to catch up with everyone we could, knowing it could be another year before we see many of them again.
After returning to Nicky’s mum’s in Lincolnshire to reorganise and pack, we headed off in Benny again – this time north to tour a little bit of Scotland. We headed first up the east coast of England, where we passed through the Wolds, then up past the Angel of the North on the way to our first stop – Northumberlandia.
The sculpted landscape feature, in the guise of a supine nude female, was designed by the celebrated landscape architect Charles Jencks. It was constructed from millions of tons of waste extracted from a nearby coal mine, top-coated with grass and gravel paths, formed primarily as a local tourist attraction. We walked around and then over the lady, nicknamed ‘Slag Alice’ locally, standing on her forehead to take in the views and later eating our lunch on her left breast, overlooking the deeply excavated mine behind. The mine is due to close in 2018 to be replaced by extensive parkland, including 88000 trees and several kilometres of paths, so we plan to return again to see the completed site.
We had hoped to overnight on the side of the road near Bamburgh Castle, but this proved impossible due to the plethora of height restriction barriers and large, prominent signs stating that staying overnight was prohibited. We tried a few other possible spots, but being still in England we held out little hope, and were proven right. Instead we pushed on up into Scotland and stayed on the tiny harbour front in the small settlement of Burnmouth. We walked the stony, seaweed-covered beach both in the low dusk light and again in the morning, enjoying the simple, freshness and relative silence of the cool air.
After a lazy morning and slow breakfast, we made our way back through Berwick-upon Tweed and south into England again, to visit the previously bypassed Holy Island. We arrived and checked the tide tables, finding we had plenty of time available on the causeway for a thorough island visit. We drove across the wet, seaweed-bordered road to the island and parked in the large field car-park set aside for visitors, before walking into the small, quaint town of Lindisfarne to check out the sights.
We visited the ruins of the monastery and then walked out along the headland, taking in views of the hermit St. Cuthbert’s island. We climbed up the observation tower to enjoy views over the bay and the currently exposed sands, getting our bearings and watching for wildlife. The weather was grey and drizzly as we stomped around in our waterproofs, but the peaceful serenity of the quiet isle was captivating. The 16th century castle was under renovation and unavailable for us to visit, so instead we looked around the visitor centre that described life on the island and pointed out the key wildlife to look out for.
We returned in time to beat the tide and crossed the causeway back to the mainland before heading north again, through Berwick and back into Scotland, to visit a friend in nearby Chirnside. Dougie, a mad-keen cyclist greeted us as we pulled in to park at his home. We spent the day and night catching up with his and our recent cycling trips, swapping tales of where we’d been and of trips to come, over a few beers and some traditional Scottish food. It was great to catch up.
The following morning we said our goodbyes, yet again, and headed off in the direction of Peebles. We stopped off for a bite of lunch in a forest picnic parking spot with wonderful views over the rolling borders hills. We decided to bypass Peebles at first to go on to nearby Eddleston to see the ‘Great Polish map of Scotland’ in the grounds of the Mercure Barony hotel. This was another curiosity we’d been keen to see for some time; a 40m x 50m long scale map denoting the topography of Scotland cast and carved in concrete. The vertical heights of the hills and mountains were cast five times greater than the actual map scale to create a much more dramatic three dimensional picture.
On our return to town, we had a difficult moment after unwisely following our sat nav on a short cut along the river bank in Peebles. Here we met with a very tight route between riverbank bollards and a carelessly parked car. We slowly threaded through the gap, carefully checking all sides with every slight forward movement, with only two or three millimetres to spare on each side and no hope of backtracking. We just made it through without an incident, after a long sweat, and finally arrived with Nicky’s former triathlon friend Craig and his wife Kate.
After our quick hellos we were taken out for a long hillwalk south of Peebles, up over wild hills and peaty bogs to the trig point on the top of Dun Rig. We were joined on our route by their two highly energetic spaniels, Jess and Fids, who bounded around covering many more times our not-inconsiderable distance of around 12 miles. We arrived back in town dirty, weary but exhilarated from our efforts.
On our return we gave Craig and Kate, keen campervan owners themselves, a quick tour of Benny, where they suffered a little van envy. We then had a restful hour or two in their local pub as dinner cooked, pouring over maps of the west of Scotland and the Isle of Mull, us seeking knowledgeable advice on where to visit next and which peaks to climb on our way west. After a lovely dinner and several more drinks we said our goodbyes and retired to Benny for the night.
After a lazy morning we headed off north, first stopping off in Falkirk after an hour or so, to visit the impressive canal side equine sculptures known as ‘The Kelpies’. We parked outside in an empty car-park space and walked the last kilometre to the site, enjoying the approach along the canal in slightly spitting rain. We looped around the site admiring the detail of the works. With a quiet word we even managed to gain access to the canal facilities and serviced Benny in the canalboat elsan point, a helpful bonus before wild camping began.
We drove on a few miles to the Falkirk Wheel for a short look on our way out of town, before proceeding further north to the town of Dunblane. It was here that Stephen, Nicky’s primary school friend, and his wife Klara, with their children Maya and Finlay were to be our hosts. We soon settled in and relaxed into their family home, enjoying good food, wine and company as we chatted about our experiences over the past decades. Klara is Hungarian, so it wasn’t too long before Palinka made an appearance.
In the morning we all had a walk around Dunblane town centre, passing the golden post box painted to celebrate the Olympic gold medal of local boy Andy Murray. We spent some quality time in the central toy shop, to the delight of Stephen’s young kids. We visited the cathedral, with its memorial to the school massacre that happened 21 years ago, back when I was a student in Strathclyde University in Glasgow. I can still remember that dumbstruck, empty feeling of incomprehensible loss that permeated the National mood during those terrible, sad days. We later walked through the central, grassy park and skimmed stones in the cool, dark river; a lovely, slow morning stroll.
After giving the excited kids a quick tour and short ride in Benny, we headed ever onwards, our ready supply of Scotland-based friends exhausted. It was now back to just the two of us and the open road for the remainder of our Scottish tour.
Part 2 to follow.