After Galway we decided to make the long drive down to the Ring of Kerry. We went via Limerick (as we obviously needed to see where limericks come from!). It took about 3 hours to get there but it was so worth the drive. We drove over a hill and suddenly had this incredible view and knew we had arrived. It is an incredibly stunning part of Ireland. We drove through Killorglin and stopped to see the wild salmon fishery, huge River Laune and statue of King Puck (the goat). The views were incredible. The towns are all super cute. They all had little petrol pumps on the side of the road, it felt like stepping back in time. We came across a campsite next to a river and decided to camp there for the night. We were the only tent there (there was one other caravan), but we were treated to an incredible sunset with boats passing by! It was probably the most beautiful campsite I've ever stayed at. The next day we made our way down to Dingle and found a B&B. We stopped at Skelligs Chocolate factory and the many roadside shrines, beaches and castles. Dingle was a great place. We went out for a few drinks at a pub with some live music and had a meal with some cooked oysters which I've never tried before and John Bennys Pub. Our last night was in Kinsale before making our way back to Dublin via the Wicklow mountains and a quick half guinness at the highest pub in Ireland.
I've been to the Lake District a couple of times now. The first time was in 2006 with a big group and we all stayed in caravans near Keswick and went on lots of beautiful walks. More recently we stopped for a couple of nights on our way back from our Scotland trip and camped with our friends. We stayed at a National Trust campsite in Langdale. It was a really good campsite with a couple of pubs 10 mins walk down the road... one of them also owned by National Trust. I didn't realise National Trust did campsites or pubs, but both were brilliant and had really good facilities! The pub was super cosy with fireplaces, blankets, boardgames and all sorts of cute things... they also showed movies upstairs and the food was really good!
The only minor issue with this campsite was it was in a valley in England... where it rains! Our first night was good. The next day we explored the area, went for a walk and checked out the shops and had tea and cake in Ambleside. In the evening after dinner the heavens opened and it poured with rain all night. Chris and I had a particularly bad night as in the very early morning while the rain was hammering our tent we suddenly woke up to the hiss of our blow-up mattress slowly going down. It was a long, cold night. It is not fun packing up when everything is wet but being a National Trust Campsite they had this amazing drying room where we hung everything up to dry while we packed. At least it was the end of the holiday and we could go home for a hot shower... :-)
Our second stop in Scotland was Loch Ness. We found a really good campsite, which to be honest was mostly caravans, but there were a few tents. The facilities were excellent, there was a breakfast van that did really good cooked breakfast and coffee, an excellent shop and it was right next to the loch!
We had been told that the highland games were on around the time we were there, and when we looked into it, realised the final day of the games was an hour and a half from where we were. It was such a co-incedence there was no way we couldn't go! The journey there and the location of the games were beautiful! The games were fascinating... even though it was the final, it was surprisingly small, on a patch of grass next to a river with multiple competitions taking place at the same time. We saw cycling (on grass), bagpipes, long jump, cross-country, highland dancing, tug o' war and some heavyweight men in kilts sitting around eating in-between throwing all sorts of heavy objects throughout the day...
Another fab day in Scotland!
We camped at Loch Ness Shores Caravan and Campsite
Norfolk is one of the most wonderful parts of England I have been to. Huge wide skies with so, so many stars, beaches, wide open spaces, the broads and lots of beautiful villages. It isn't polished, it feels rustic and real... there are lots of working farms and tractors driving around the country roads. We drove past heaps of houses who had an honesty box and little table of goods that they were selling out the front with tomatoes, strawberries, eggs, flowers, plants, jam etc... so cute and so English.
On the Saturday we hired a motorboat and spent a few hours on the broads. I didn't really know what the broads were before this weekend, but soon found out they are a network of rivers and lakes in Norfolk and Suffolk that you can navigate by boat. It is a lovely way to spend a day... you can hire a sail boat, canoe or motorboat and spend the day exploring the broads... slowly floating about with the swans and cormorants. In the evening we headed back to the campsite and had a braai and a fire with marshmallows.
On Sunday we walked around and had a seafood lunch in Wells-next-to-the-sea. It was a hot day and there were hoards of people eating fish and chips outside by the harbour. We walked around and explored the town, checking out all the cute little shops, of which the butcher, baker, deli and grocer are all owned by Arthur Howell (I'm not sure who he is, but he owned a lot of the town!). Afterwards we headed to the beach... which had a really long line of amazing colourful beach huts... all in different designs.
On our second night we opted from fresh bread (from Arthur Howell's bakery) and lots of different local cheeses (plus some Port Salut... obviously!) and another evening with a fire under the stars. I literally cannot wait to go back to Norfolk. I have fallen hopelessly in love with it. Discovering places like this are one of the reasons I love England so much...
My brother and sister-in-law live in Hong Kong. The world is such a small place now, we speak to them on FaceTime, constantly share photos and videos. We've been to Hong Kong and they come back to the UK twice a year. But since they had my niece, Savannah it has felt like they are really far away! We are all close close and even though we are in contact more than we were before, talking over FaceTime isn't quite the same as playing with her, sitting around the fire together, going for a walk... I really miss them now. They have just been back for their summer holidays and we all went camping in Wickham Market in Suffolk.
Chris and I went on Saturday and everyone else arrived on Sunday. We had a picnic for lunch and mom made a lamb stew for dinner and afterwards we all sat around the fire roasting marshmallows. On Monday we went to Aldeburgh and Thorpeness for the day, which are both lovely! Aldeburgh has a lovely long pebble beach, colourful buildings and loads of beach shacks selling fresh seafood. Thorpeness has a lovely little boating lake, windmill and the quirky House in the clouds which you can see from Aldeburgh. On Tuesday we visited Sutton Hoo which has an interesting history, though all you can really see now are some mounds of earth! There is quite a good museum that explains it all.
It was so special to have quality time all together and especially with Savannah as the last time I saw her she was just a few weeks old. Now she was running around, laughing and talking. I got to play with her and put her to sleep. Special memories I will hold onto until the next time...
We bought a new tent and thought we should test it out for a night or two before fully committing to a festival or holiday, so we searched for a few campsites and found one in Cliddesden which is a 15 minute drive from where we live! We had never heard of it and have driven through Cliddesden loads of times! It was a bit lame camping so close to home, but we thought at least if the tent was awful and it poured with rain we could always go home!
It turned out the tent was really good and the campsite was fantastic! We turned up after work on a Friday and checked in with the hippy couple who lived at and ran the place. We found a quiet spot in the woods surrounded by really tall trees with no-one else near us. One of the best things was that we could have a little campfire which we set about starting as soon as the tent was up.
We had packed some homemade rusks which I had made at home for breakfast, and made a really nice and easy camping breakfast with some tea. After a chilled out morning we went for a country walk and made our way to the village of Dummer to have a pub lunch at the Queen Inn pub. It is a good pub with home cooked food, but it does close in the afternoon which means that everyone has to leave before they open again in the evening, which we thought was slightly odd.
In the evening we headed back for another fire and a small braai on my bucket BBQ followed by a campfire. It was lovely just sitting under the trees and reading and then sitting out by the fire before bed.
This was such a great find and I will definitely go back again. We have camped with this group of campsites before and had an equally good experience. It looks like Inwood have recently moved the site recently and may move again, but it is still in the same area and they still have the same feel among trees with campfires... so if you fancy camping out among the trees with a campfire I would definitely check it out!
Last year, we had the most wonderful weekend camping in the New Forest. I love the New Forest with all it's ponies and yellow gorse, it feels like nowhere else in the UK! And it is only an hour away from Basingstoke, so we can pop down after work on a Friday! We found an awesome quite basic pop up campsite in Lower Lepe where they allowed you to have small campfire. This is now becoming a prerequisite for deciding whether we will go to a campsite or not as I think there is nothing better than sitting around the campfire when camping. We've been camping a few times recently and I really don't understand all the people watching TV in their caravans! The reason I love camping is being outside, sitting by a fire roasting marshmallows, stargazing and pointing out the one constellation that you know... things you would usually do at home! There were no caravans here and everyone was outside around their fires, it was lovely!
We went camping with our friends Gavin and Nicola who turned up in their MG packed to the roof with all sorts of things! I thought I was bad with packing too much, but they brought everything from candles to beautiful rugs... I have no idea how they fitted it all in that car, but it was great and made for a wonderful home away from home (and totally converted me to taking even more than I usually do :-))!
On the Saturday we walked through the countryside to Lepe beach for some lunch and caught the beach bus back to our campsite for a braai! We bought a disposable BBQ which was totally useless, so landed up creating our own fire and propped the grill from the disposable BBQ up with Strongbow cans! Gavin is an really creative cook! When I cook I tend to use a recipe and buy all the ingredients I need, whereas he can rustle up an awesome meal from some random ingredients sitting in the back of the fridge! We ate like kings that night from just a few ingredients from the local co-op! We had steak, salmon and pork belly all marinated in lemon, herbs and spices followed by toasted marshmallows... nom nom!
On the Sunday after attempting to make a full English breakfast in rain and gale force winds, it brightened up and we headed out on a drive. Nicola mentioned the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive which we checked out. I had never heard of it... it is a lovely narrow road with ridiculously tall trees on either side. I think if you go a bit earlier in the year there are also rhododendrons and azaleas in flower adding some colour, but it is definitely worth the visit any time of the year!
Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge fan of a seafood platter, which you can get anywhere in South Africa. I have never understood why a small island like the UK surrounded by sea doesn't have them! Chris recently heard about the Noisy Lobster who apparently did seafood platters so we obviously headed there for lunch. The restaurant is on Avon beach which is a lovely sandy beach with colourful beach huts! We tried out a cold platter, which I have never had before... we had crab, oysters, mussels, prawns and lobster with chips and salad with some lovely white wine! It was amazing! Definitely worth a visit!
After lunch we went to Lymington, a lovely harbour town with colourful buildings and cute shops! After checking out the harbour and all the cute shops, we headed back for some cheese and crackers for dinner and our final campfire. A lovely bank holiday weekend had by all...
I am not particularly good at writing about my experiences - I would much rather share them through photographs and let you see for yourself. But there are some things about being out in the wild, open spaces of South Africa that you cannot see or experience through photos alone. It is the feeling of the sweltering sun on your skin, the dust in the air, the constant buzz of insects... the silence! It is the incredible activity everywhere you look, from dung beetles to huge elephants slowly crossing your path. It's the feeling of sitting eating outside in the cool evening air under an enormous clear sky with more stars than you've ever seen, quietly waiting and watching for shooting stars, hearing lions roar in the distance while you lie in bed. It feels like stepping back in time, to a place where you are not in charge, to a wild wonderful place before people arrived. There is something about being in the bush that gets under your skin, and you come away with memories and a feeling you will never forget!
Last time I went home to South Africa, Chris and I stayed at Pilanesberg Game Reserve for 4 nights. One of my close friends recommended it as a wonderful game reserve that is small enough for you to explore (you can buy a self-drive licence for your visit), has all of the Big Five and is only a 3 hour drive from Johannesburg, which sounded pretty great to me!
There was a really good range of accommodation, from luxury chalets to campsites where you can pitch your own tent. We chose to stay in a fixed tent in Manyane Resort as it was a fairly cheap option, and meant we didn't have to lug camping gear across the world and we got to sleep in proper beds! There was a little shop in the campsite and a braai outside our tent so that we could cook our own food. Our tent had a little fridge too so we could bring our own food and drinks. There was a bar, restaurant, swimming pool and mini-golf which kept us entertained when we weren't on a game drive or chilling with a beer and book on our verandah.
On our first morning we woke up to a herd of deer walking through the mist just past the trees, followed by a troop of baboons being chased by one of the game rangers. It was so beautiful and exciting, I didn't want to spoil the moment running for my camera!
We decided it was worth it to pay for a self-drive licence so that we could take a drive through the game reserve each day we were there. It meant we could really take our time exploring and getting out at the different hides where you could see more birdlife. We also paid for a game ranger to take us in for one morning and one night drive which was really worth it. They shared a lot of their knowledge with us and had walkie talkies to talk to the other rangers and share where some of the Big Five might be so we got to see more of the big animals than we might have seen on our own.
On our morning drive with the ranger, we were so incredibly lucky to see a lion kill a wildebeest! We had been distracted by a rhino crossing our path and all of a sudden there was this chase happening right next to us. The first lion was quickly joined by another, and once they'd suffocated and dragged the wildebeest into a bush, they brought out all their baby cubs to enjoy the feast. It was really one of the most incredible things I've ever seen and one I'll probably never see again.
Sun City is only 10 minutes down the road, which if you haven't heard of before, is a sort of oasis/ resort/ Las Vegas in the middle of the bush. It has a world class golf course, casinos, a wave pool, and various luxury hotels. It is worth visiting for the day to have a cocktail, lie by the pool and have a nice lunch (and of course a game of golf or bit of gambling if you're into that sort of thing)!
My only other experience of game reserves is Kruger National Park, which I went to with a school friend for a night when I was younger. Though I have some incredible memories there, I think I was too young to really compare, and Kruger is on a totally different scale. But if you're looking for a nice small game reserve close to Johannesburg I couldn't recommend Pilanesberg more! I think I will probably return again for another visit next time I go home.