#VanLife | Blog 080 | VW-T4 Camper "The Big 50 Tour"

June 02, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

Day1: With a 15:30 ferry crossing on a very chopping Irish Sea, we landed in Scotland just after 6 pm and headed South. It's been well over 8 years since I headed in that direction as we usually take a left turn out of the port and head for Glasgow, in this instance, we were travelling towards the Lake District. Our first stopover was determined by the fantastic App park4night that highlights great spots for campers to stay across Europe. The information it provides covers such things as parking costs, limitations on whether you can sleep over or not, what's local to do, and the best parking spaces within a particular destination.

We plumbed for Keswick town centre, more specifically the Co-Op car park where it was said would cost you £1 to park overnight, with the added convenience of having a supermarket less than 50 feet away to buy supplies, which we did. The two 'Pay and Display' machines were out of order, which to my mind is a win! So free parking it was. Having sorted out the living accommodation for the evening, we looked for a nice place to relax and enjoy a pint, settling on the Bank Tavern. This was a real oldie world type bar with exposed beams, wooden floors and packed with trekkers slash hillwalkers who'd obviously been out enjoying the fantastic scenery has to offer. We're not so inclined, opting more for a more sedentary lifestyle of finding places to chill and relax, which this bar certainly had in abundance. Drinks-wise, in terms of cost we paid a little over £10 for a Guinness and Gordon's Gin and lemonade, we'll be basing our expenses overhead on this metric :-)

Having had a few settlers, and enjoying the company of those fitter than us, and their pets (as this whole town seems to be dog friendly (so long as you don't allow them to lie on the carpet)), we made our way back to the van for a few more sociables and listened to some music before sorting out the van for bedtime.

Keswick Town CentreKeswick Town CentreKeswick on a cold January morning. Day2: As it was still Sunday, neither of us had any work to do, so, once we'd sorted out the van back into 'Day Mode' we dressed and headed back into Keswick in search of somewhere to have breakfast. This is where the confusion of the situation started to appear. In any hotel in Ireland, you can walk in and enjoy breakfast along with the residents, not so in Keswick. Repeatedly we were turned away as breakfast was only on offer to residents, which strikes me as foolish. The hotel industry has been on its knees since COVID, so you would assume they'd be glad to make any money being offered, no matter how it was earned, so refusing custom to visitors when they already have a fully staffed kitchen and waiting staff seemed a little odd.

Sunday morning in any tourist spot we would expect to find an abundance of premises offering food, not so here. We did eventually find a small cafe, which again catered for dogs, and ordered breakfast. A little on the expensive side has to be said, but tasty nonetheless. Once that was out of the way, we made our way back through the town, peering in through the countless hiking shop windows, taken aback at some of the prices people are prepared to pay for waterproof jackets and the like. Our next destination was Blackpool.

Blackpool TowerBlackpool TowerThe famous Blackpool Tower My only experience of Blackpool was as a child, and it was always cold, raining and not a very pleasant experience. I didn't hold out much hope for this trip either, but, foolishly I'd suggested it to Kathy (my wife) and she'd said she'd never been but had always wanted to go. Which is why it was on the tick list.

Our two-hour journey through the lake district was lovely, the VW-T4 managed the undulating hills without a hiccup. We even managed a few returned waves from fellow VW camper van drivers, which was super nice.

I found a suitable parking spot not far from the tower, as many of the spaces were off-limits due to height restriction barriers. Fees were a little steep and the website booking sites for card payments did not offer a 'stop paying' feature, it was all pay-in-advance as you would at a pay and display machine with cash.

Having secured the van, we headed straight to the tower!

In my previous childhood visits, we never went into the tower, it was always viewed from ground level. Prior to our arrival, I did look up the opening times and found that it was only open at the weekends between 10 am and 4 pm. The cost as an adult to go to the viewing area at the top was £16.20 each, which also included a 4D cinema experience, which was short-lived but still fun. Then up the lift, we went!

The down view through the glass at Blackpool TowerThe down view through the glass at Blackpool TowerYou can stand on the glass viewing deck and look straightdown. The lift takes a little over 60 seconds to ascend 300 feet to the first-floor viewing area. Here, you'll have the ability to look through the glass floor to the streets below, the sensation is very weird, you're fearful of falling along with placing trust in this inch thick safety glass is certainly in conflict. Kathy did venture on it briefly but instead chose the safety of solid floor coverings. There are bar facilities on this level, however, they were closed, possibly due to COVID, but you're there so you can get a 360 view of the surrounding area, not a pint. There are stairs available taking you higher still, which we took advantage of, another open deck meant you felt the wind smack your face, plus an even higher level available, which again we went up to. The views were amazing, well over 400ft, so very much higher than my drone wouldn't have been able to capture. Which, incidentally, I had in the van the whole time and never flew. I'll get into that in more detail in my next post.

Anyway, having 'done the tower' we made our way back down and out through the visitor gift store, yes, we bought a fridge magnet. That seems to be our thing these days, finding the local gift shop to purchase the local magnet to bring back to our fridge. This started in our old motorhome. The fridge had a metal door, so all our magnets would stick to it, but since we've now sold that, the magnets now reside on our home fridge, in various states of damage from being knocked off and chipped and damaged, some are just clattered in superglue. 

The plan was to stay in Blackpool overnight, but because of the very restrictive parking in the town, I thought it would be better to just make our way over to Darlington (our next stop) and grab dinner and stay there. Which is what we did. It felt strange coming 'home' to my place of birth has not been there for getting on 8 years. I went to what used to be the small village of Middleton-Saint-George, only to find that it had expanded beyond its boundaries from when I was last there. New builds, new road layouts, new shops, everything just seemed less village'esk, and more, town orientated. I eventually found my mother's childhood home, and I reminisced about visiting there as a child when my parents would take us back to visit my Auntie who had taken on the home after her parents had passed. I'd never met my grandparents from my mother's side, as they were basically gone by the time of my arrival. The house seemed 'smaller' than I remember, it had always felt so big when we were children, but that's probably everybody's experience, isn't it?

Having done that little tour, we decided on The Old Farmhouse. This again has a little history for me, as in the month before my first marriage I worked there to get some more funds together to cover the cost of the wedding, so it was nice to come back and find that not much had changed in terms of layout. Obviously, with my first wedding taking place some 28 years previously, nobody was going to remember my little 4-week stint, but still, it was nice to come back. The food was nice enough, and the parking to the rear was free and uninterrupted, apart from the wind. But all in all, it was a great start to our trip in England, before heading up North to Scotland.


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