Devizes, winter ’18

Christmas is approaching and Fiona wants to visit the Bath Christmas market again so we book a few nights at the Devizes Camping and Caravanning club site from where we will visit the Bath markets.  With a home made Chicken jalfrezi and plenty of fresh food on board, on midday Sunday  we headed off  towards Devizes.  We arrived at Devizes  campsite shortly after 2pm, well  before the daylight had faded so once we had parked up we put on our boots and set off on a long walk down the canal footpath in the direction of Melksham, looking for the elusive pub ‘somewhere down there’.

The canal towpath walk in the late afternoon was pleasant; the weather wasn’t too cold with no wind and it was dry. The winter countryside is a lovely place to be when it is dry.

We walked for about 1 km before heading back as the skies were beginning to darken. Needless to say that we didn’t find the pub.

Back in the van we cooked a pan of Pilau rice and finished cooking the chicken jalfrezi for dinner. Delicious. Then it was over to the ‘Three Magpies’ pub for a drink before bedtime.

The chicken jalfrezi recipe comes from the Balti House, Rishton. Chef Hussain has made a few videos of himself cooking some of their meals. The videos are available on Youtube.

After a cooked breakfast on Monday morning we put on our boots and coats and headed off towards Devizes along the canal towpath passing the marvellous Caen Hill locks which are a masterpiece of early 19th century engineering.  The Caen Hill locks allow the river Avon to rise around 230 feet over a distance of 2 miles using 29 independent locks.

The area surrounding the Kennet & Avon canal is a haven for bird life. We spotted geese, ducks, kestrels and a Heron.

The hedgerows along the canal are bursting with the berries of hawthorn bushes giving many of the hedges a bright red hue.

Click on the photo below to see a selection of the photos we took as we walked along the canal towpath.

The hedgerows are full of hawthorne bushes with their berries

Monday evening saw the end of the dry weather. On Tuesday it bucketed down all day. We had chosen Tuesday to walk around the Christmas market in Bath so we caught a fairly early bus and headed to Bath for the day. The rain was relentless; we got soaked so took the 4pm bus back to the campsite where we hoped to dry our clothes before evening.

Fish & chips and a couple of pints of Wadsworth Old Timer in ‘The Three Magpies’ got my vote on Tuesday evening in Devizes .

The New Forest in October

It’s time to get back in the van and head for the New Forest. This time we are spending a few days at Long Meadow campsite with ‘Team GT’, our fellow motor-homing friends. Long Meadow is  a short walk from  Brockenhurst which is easily reached via forest paths from the campsite. We chose to park in the large grass meadow rather than the more cramped hard-standing pitches. Of the 72 grass pitches only 2 were occupied, and those were by ‘Team GT’ and ourselves so it was going to be a nice peaceful few days.

Camped at Long Meadow, Brockenhurst

The weather on arrival was sunny and bright, but not warm. Dinner for four at our place was a lamb tagine served with rice after spending an afternoon enjoying conversation, sunshine and wine.

It got colder the next day but the lack of sunshine didn’t spoil the gentle cycle journey to Brockenhurst where we enjoyed a wander around the village followed by a relaxing hot drink together before we set off back to the campsite. Despite the cold we were snug in Team GT’s van for scrabble, rummikub, a delicious curry and an uninterrupted flow of fermented grape juice.

The New Forest is such a magical place; a mix of animal grazing, heath land and forest land with a variety of wildlife; buzzards, kestrels, owls and more in the air and very many ponies, cattle, donkeys and deer allowed to roam freely.

The sun came out on the following day but Team GT had to depart early leaving us to our own devices. Fiona and I headed onto the forest tracks on our bikes and enjoyed a splendid autumn day in the New Forest before heading home the following morning.

Sadly, we were only there for 3 nights although I could have easily stayed longer. Long Meadow along with most of the other New Forest campsites closes soon for the winter and doesn’t open again until March or April.

Click on the photo below to see a selection of the photos we took while at Long Meadow

The journey home and lessons learned

Ah well, it’s Monday morning and time to set off for Calais. The holiday is over. Now all that’s left to do is to get to Calais in time for the 17:50 train, an overnight stop at Canterbury and then do the laundry once we get home.

We have really enjoyed our time in Belgium and The Netherlands.  Our eyes have been well and truly opened to the beauty of these countries. Or at least of the parts we have visited- we’re both well  aware that there’s a lot more to explore.

So, after our month in the van…the longest holiday either of us have ever taken…we have discovered a few things, some of which we will detail below.

  1.  The Belgians and Dutch don’t go in for large, out-of-town supermarkets. In France, we had got used to popping to a large Carrefour, and stocking up. Here it was different. We did once squeeze LC into a space at a Lidl, but mostly we cycled to the shops for food, using a pannier and a rucksack at most.
  2. It’s worth chatting to “locals”….it was by doing so, that we found out about the wonderful sand dunes, and the smaller type of campsites, often based on farms. Vekabo and SVR are the ones we discovered. These smaller campsites are quieter, but the facilities are still excellent, though some lacked a drive-over drain for waste water. We got around this, by finding the nearest Motorhome aire where we could dump waste water. No, we didn’t resort to emptying the waste whilst driving. We do have some standards!
  3. It IS possible to survive a month without a hairdryer. Yes, Andrew already knew this.
  4. It’s also, apparently, possible to survive without changing bedlinen every few days….
  5. Lidl do lovely cheap do Emtee, a Dutch supermarket..29 cents each, or, our best bargain- 4 for a Euro! ….nothing beats croissants and fresh coffee for a Summer holiday breakfast.
  6. After years of “making an effort” to speak French, when on our hols, it was of no use at all in The Netherlands…it had to be Flemish, or Dutch. Occasionally, a bit of schoolboy/ girl German, came in handy, but we have decided to at least try to pick up some Dutch for our next visit. It was quite embarrassing, not being able to converse properly.
  7. Belgian beers can be very strong! Watch out for the alcohol content on menus, and on bottle labels.
  8. Cycling in Belgium, and in the Netherlands, is an absolute breeze. Not only do they have proper cycleways everywhere(not just the few inches afterthought at the side of the road UK style cycleway) and bikes do rule the road. Oh, yes, and the lack of proper hills does help a lot!  It takes a bit of getting used to , especially when cars give way at junctions. Us foreigners always acknowledged their kindness.
  9. Also on cycling…we were constantly amazed by how families  get around…lots of wooden boxes, carrying up to 4 kiddies, attached to the front of their parents’ cycles. Very few cycling helmets were seen, and we certainly didn’t feel the need for ours.
  10. Eurotunnel will be delayed. Your cross-channel journey will not be at the time specified on your ticket. This makes a nonsense out of the ‘Flexiplus’ ticket type which costs pretty much double the standard, fixed date/time ticket.
  11. Book well in advance on Eurotunnel and use your Tesco vouchers.
  12. We managed to get into each of the campsites we stopped at, but a few of them had only a few pitches available when we turned up. The small farm campsites seem to insist on prior reservation. So next time reserve a day or so ahead of arrival, and maybe go a few weeks earlier next time.



Middelburg again

So nice we had to visit it twice and in doing so we travelled across the Oosterscheldekering (East Scheldt storm surge barrier), a 9km dam built to protect much of Zeeland from flooding.

The Oosterscheldekering dam is half open so allows tidal water into the eastern Scheldt, and when needed, can be fully closed to protect the eastern Scheldt coastal areas from tidal and storm surges. It also serves as a road and cyclepath between two of the Zeeland islands.

We arrived at Middelburg for the second time on a very hot Friday lunchtime having decided to stop here on our return journey to Calais. We chose to stop at Middelburg because it’s only about 3 1/2 hours from Calais so not too far to drive, and its also a very scenic area so we intend to get out on the bikes and have a good look around.

We stayed at the same campsite as before, but this time we were not so happy with the campsite management. The site was more than half empty, OK, it was about 20% full at most. We selected a pitch and settled in. On our return from the town we found that someone had been allocated the space right next to us so blocking our view with their van. An immediate visit to the campsite reception followed; the word ‘stupid’ was used a couple of times to describe their pitch allocation policy, and we basically informed them that we were moving to a different pitch. Grrr.

Our Saturday morning was spent wandering around the shops looking for the last few bits we needed and for a final look around the town.

On a baking hot Saturday afternoon we headed towards the north to have a look at the sea-side. There are marked cycle paths all the way making cycling safe and easy. The lack of any hills also helped. We passed this field of cornflowers and had to stop to take photos.

After an hour or so of cycling in the heat we arrived at the small town of Veere and stopped and have a look around. The Eyewitness guide said very little about Veere, but it was very hot and I needed an ice-cream.

As we entered the town we heard the sound of ‘local’ music and headed in its general direction. The music accompanied a ‘ring driving’ event, which is a traditional Zeeland competition.

We spent the rest of the afternoon watching the competition so never made it to the far north of the island. Maybe next time because we will be back.

Ring driving participants dress up in very specific period costumes, their horses are decorated with ribbons and their traps are festooned with flowers.

Competitors use a lance to try to hook a suspended ring as they race along a course. There are four rings suspended along the course and competitors are awarded points for each ring they manage to hook.

Apparently, the tradition goes back to the middle ages. It was good fun to watch.

We spent the rest of the afternoon watching the competition so never made it to the far north of the island. Maybe next time because we will be back.

We ventured out on the superb cycle paths again on Sunday morning. This time we headed for Domburg, north west of Middelburg, and it was scorching again. We stopped briefly at the beach at Domburg before heading to Veere where we stopped for another ice-cream and a wander around. Then it was back to Middelburg for a well deserved cold beer in Markt square, well, we had cycled 24 miles in the blazing sunshine and both felt that we deserved the break.

Veere waterside


It’s Wednesday and we are heading south. Camping at ‘t Hoog at Helvoirt was much easier to find than either of the last two campsites. We arrived shortly after noon and had a choice of pitches. One near to a kiddies’ play area, the other near some older caravan folks.  Needless to say we didn’t overlook the swings.

We treated ourselves to a brief lunch and then headed off on bikes to the town. Only we headed for the wrong town, eventually finding the right “centrum” a few more miles from where we had been headed. We meant to head for the centre of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, known as Den Bosch, but we had  instead headed in the direction of Vught, which is next to Den Bosch.

Good job we’d set off early. A visit to the tourist info office resulted in us being provided with a map and printed instructions on how to get back to the campsite. Result.

After a good walk around the town and a visit to the local worshipping house, we enjoyed a few drinks and an hour or so ‘people watching’, before heading back to the campsite in the correct direction,  courtesy of our new map and instructions.

Our neighbour at the campsite struck up a conversation. Well, we were the only Brits on site, and the only ones in a Moho.  On hearing that we would only be staying one night she pointed out that we were camped next to the largest set of sand dunes in Europe and that they were a delight to cycle around. This persuaded us to stay an extra night, well it was only €18 per night, and another very well maintained site….the only “fault” being that our pitch was too close to the trees for us to be able to watch the footie…so, England’s demise was witnessed only on radio.  On the croissant front, we found  4 for a Euro, at the local EMTEE store.

Anyway, we spent the following day in the sunshine cycling a round trip of about 25 miles through the dunes and stopping to enjoy a lunch and a beer to break the day. The dunes were quite magical.  Picture the New Forest, plus some lakes, plus miles of warm, golden sand..oh, and all that safe, off-road cycling.

These were no ordinary dunes, we had in fact, camped right next to the Nationaal Park de Loonse et Drunense Duinen, nicknamed the Brabant Sahara. The park extends to around 10km by 4km and is criss crossed by cycle paths.

What a place! We were so glad our neighbour had suggested this trip. The evening was spent enjoying some more cold beers, in the rural quiet. We were  off on our travels, next day.


Click on the photo for more sights from our stay here.

St John’s Cathedral, s-Hertogenbosch
Click on the photo for more sights from our stay here.

Moving further South towards Utrecht

Well we decide to avoid going to Amsterdam- we didn’t fancy a Big Touristy city (yes, we know, we are tourists!)  and instead head off southwards towards Utrecht. We find a small farm campsite a few miles outside of Utrecht from where we can cycle to the city and take a good look around. Camping Vliert was very difficult to find and we nearly gave up, however it was well worth persevering with that damned sat-nav.

Once there, we have an agonising wait for Mr Farmer to come to reception, then a further wait for Mrs Farmer, who does speak English, to confirm that we have a reservation..phew! Camping Vliert is really neat; with good pitches and excellent facilities, including undercover bike storage, and it offers fresh farm produce for sale at the gate. We duly indulge ourselves with fresh plums and eggs, but bought  cherries elsewhere. The nearest Lidl, at Houten,  is only 1.3 miles away and sells 4 croissants for €1.16 so its a quick dash on the bike each morning for breakfast. Houten also has a branch of Boots, but Fiona resisted the temptation to try to use her staff discount card.

Oh dear. The skies are grey when we emerge on  Tuesday morning so we take waterproofs with us when we cycle to the city. And we need them. Mid afternoon the skies open and its wet for a time, but all clears up by the time we are finished and we enjoy a cycle back to camp in the dry.

Click on the photo of Utrecht to see our other photos of Utrecht.

Utrecht is a maze of narrow interlinked streets,  dominated by its 367ft tall Dom Tower and its Sint Martin’s cathedral; it was also very crowded and has the near mandatory canals. Maybe our experience of Utrecht was spoilt by the rain.


Moving on from Delft,  we arrive at a very small campsite on a farm outside Gouda. OK, it was 6 miles from Gouda, and only accessible via a single track road which was perched on the top of a dyke. Needless to say,  our stress levels were tested to the limit during that 6 mile drive.

On arrival at the campsite we were told that there was nobody at reception for the whole weekend and that we should find a pitch that was not reserved and settle in. This we did. On speaking to some other, very friendly, campers, this was quite normal…a very “hands-off” style of campsite management.

Camping de Mulderije was out in the sticks; no street lighting, no noise apart from the odd tractor. The nearest village with a shop is about 2 miles away so it’s on the bikes to get something for dinner, stopping at a farm shop on the way back to buy some cherries.

A view from my room …we had a great view across the fields.

Although small, the campsite lacked nothing in the way of facilities apart from somewhere to dump our dirty water. The showers were hot and the toilets were nice and clean.

Across the fields,  we were entertained by a resident kestrel almost permanently hunting above the adjacent fields. We also saw buzzards, herons and even a stork flying above the fields, and rabbits (hares?) darting about. We also spotted some hot air balloons flying in the distance. What a treat and all this for the princely sum of €17 per night.

On the Sunday we cycled the 6 miles into Gouda. There was very little traffic on the road apart from bicycles. Bicycles,  bicycles everywhere, frequently with 1 or 2 small passengers aboard. The occasional bike with a kiddies car seat complete with infant in its front carrier.

Gouda town square – click on the photo to see the other photos we took in and around Gouda

Gouda is a pretty town, it has a City Hall that dates back to the 15th century; the Thursday cheese market that we missed, and more canals. It looks like every town in the Netherlands has its canals.

Next morning, having still failed to find anyone to pay our site fees to- no answer at the farmhouse door, which was wedged open, we put the cash in a makeshift envelope, and parcel taped it to the inside of a drawer in reception. Happily, they emailed us later to thank us for the cash.


We left Zierikzee for Delft on Thursday morning, arriving shortly after lunchtime and headed straight for the campsite to book in, set up and head off into town. Hmmm, Delftse Hout campsite is a bit noisy and there are far too many small humans running around. On the Thursday evening, there was a Europop kids’ disco, but it did finish by about 7.30pm. The campsite does offer easy and quick access to the city, which is a big advantage.

An hour or so after arriving, we are on our bikes, on the 5 minute ride into town. And what a town it is. Delft is a medieval city,  once the seat of William of Orange, of ‘King of England’ fame; it has not one but two large old churches in the city centre, and it was the birth place of the artist Vermeer but we didn’t manage to see his ‘Girl with the pearl ear-ring’ painting. The city is ringed by canals and is mostly pedestrianised and is a real pleasure to wander around with its numerous eating places and small and varied shops. The scorching weather added to its allure. We were tempted by some of the Delft pottery, but I think the price labels had the decimal point in the wrong place. We visited both the New and Old Church in the city centre, and our tickets also gave us a free coffee at a local cafe, a nice bonus. Early evening, we discovered a really “buzzy” square, where a few beers and ciders were enjoyed..did I say it was only a 5 minute bike ride back to the campsite? Just as well….

Delft is one of those unmissable places, and we would love to return there one day.


Click on the photo to see a selection of photos taken on our meandering around Delft.

Oops, we’ve done it again….

We’ve now extended our stay here in Zierikzee to 5 nights…well, if it suits us, and there’s enough to see and do, why move on? We have another site booked at Delft, but that’s not  till Thursday, and what better place to spend the interim.

It’s now time to spend a couple of days exploring the coast by bike. It appears  we weren’t the only ones with this idea…but it’s a very civilised affair, everyone is very polite, and when, on the odd occasion,  we encounter a road (i.e motorised vehicles) cyclists are still very much in charge.

Tour de Zeeland. The cycling was brilliant; dead flat and priority over all other traffic.

Our journey includes cycling  over dikes and along the coast road, stopping for some photos – the area is a haven for birds- we spotted a few herons, and geese, even a family with their goslings, who we shooed off the path…some cattle dipping their hooves into the shallow waters inland, sheep sharing an area with geese (who muttered “mutton and foie gras” as we passed them? ).

The land is flat as far as the eye can see.

The Dutch are clearly very proud of this natural environment, and there are several noticeboards (with English translations, phew!) giving info about wildlife, and how the landscape/ seascape evolved. We can’t stop to read them all, we have places to go….Eventually, we decide we’d gone far enough, and (after a quick beer at a seafood restaurant) we started the return journey. Argghhh…..the wind was definitely against us this time….we battled it, then did a bit of “inland” cycling, on the wide cycleways alongside the N57 road. Then, back to the coast, and to Zierikzee, where a second beer was on promise. After a bit more people- watching in the bar, we headed back to camp….I was, by this time a bit “giggly”..I blame the heat!

Back at camp, it’s a bit breezy…woohoo!

Early showers tonight..apparently Andrew wants to watch something on TV  ?????

We suffered a few hours of really stressful TV on Tuesday night. On Wednesdays,  a ‘flea market’ is held in a field right next to the campsite so off we went to see what was up for grabs. Lots of vinyl..”ooh, I’ve got that one!”..toy collections, old hand tools, even a stall selling those hideous “reborn baby dolls”  Oh, and we’d never seen so many manual  coffee grinders in one place. We bought nothing. It was well worth €1.50 entrance fee, just for the atmosphere.

There were also loads of toys including the huge display of Thomas the Tank Engine models show in the adjacent photo.

There must be around about 150 of them. A kiddies paradise.


On Saturday morning we left  Middelburg and headed up the N57 for Zierikzee, crossing the spectacular East Scheldt storm barrier which is a 6km half-open buttress dam (look it up). This was the easiest ever campsite to diversions sent to frustrate us, and within an hour, we were checked in at Camping Kloet, which is part of a working farm, and the main rule here is NO DOGS! Quite a brave rule, given that there are so many dogs travelling with their owners. The young man at reception was helpful, and spoke good English..further visits to reception, he hasn’t been there, so we have to attempt to speak to the older farmer, in German…Ich spreche nur ein bischen Deutsch.

Our pitch here is well sheltered by high hedges, which is useful in this baking heat! On arrival, there was a choice of 2 pitches, the other being quite exposed, and close to the children’s play area…no contest. The area here is part of a National Park, and the town itself has some lovely little side streets, and quite a busy harbour area.

We popped in to the Stadhuismuseum, partly to escape the  heat..and it was  €15 well spent…we found out lots about Zierikzee, in particular its history of producing red dye from the madder root. and there was an exhibition of  some stunning paintings by a modern Dutch artist, Theo Voorzaat, which have made us want to research him a bit more.  In town, later, we tackled a Dutch menu for some lunch…ending up with some prawn and beef croquettes, which are apparently a Dutch’s easier just to order beers…we did have some of those too, all in aid of hydration, of course. Further cycling round town, and around the harbour area, ensued…wonder if there’s an offence in The Netherlands of “slightly drunk in charge of a cycle”?

Back to camp for bread, cheese, pate and salad…yip, Fiona’s turn to cook! Washed down with a 1litre bottle of Rose, purchased from the local  Lidl, for the princely sum of €3.30. This Lidl is a bit of a find…it’s even open on Sundays…10am till 5pm..and there’s currently an offer on freshly baked croissants…5 for €1!

Click on the photo to see a selection of photos taken while wandering around Zierikzee in Zeeland, Holland