Friday, 28 September 2007

Island Hopping Second Leg Ardrossan to Isle of Arran

Three hours and 166 miles after leaving Kendal, we arrived at the ferry port of Ardrossan, north of Irvine. Whilst we normally buy all manner of things online, because of the nature of this trip, we wanted to ensure that our plans would work, and needed to check ferry times/days – especially ferries for Islay, which were particularly confusing. The staff were very patient with all our questions, and pre-booked all our ferry crossings with the exception of Arran to Claonaig, which is not bookable. It's important to reserve crossings for motorhome/ caravans to and from Islay as these get booked up very quickly. £220 lighter and wanting to fill up with diesel before embarking on our adventure, we drove back down the port approach road and fuelled up. An Asda Supermarket being built adjacent to the port, which will be ideal for stocking up on essential before departing for the sticks. Back at the port, we were first in the queue, and first on the 5 pm ferry to Brodick, the main town on Arran.

Caledonian Macbrayne Ferries pretty much have the monopoly on the ferries in this part of Scotland, and run an incredibly efficient, and (we think), value-for-money service. The ferries hurry into the port, their front ramp coming down as they approach, the anchors are crammed on and within seconds of docking, vehicles of all sizes, including juggernauts, pour off. In no time, the waiting vehicles are loaded with expert guidance from port staff, and off the ferry goes on it’s return journey. We were both excited and nervous about taking our beloved motorhome on so many ferries, but there’s no need to worry about anything. It’s a whole lot easier than Cross Channel ferries, and really nothing like it. Dogs are allowed on board and there is a lounge where they are welcome with well-behaved owners, and you can walk them on deck too. The cafe on the larger ferries serves reasonable food relevant to the time of day, and there’s a small shop selling newspapers, sweets, gifts and books. It’s well worth having a look at the books – we picked up “Hebridean Island Hopping” by Martin Coventry, which became our bible for the islands we visited.

The crossing to Brodick, the main town on Arran, was smooth and took just 55 minutes. On arriving at Arran, we turned left and headed for Seal Shore Campsite, Kildonan, on the south of the Island – a pictureque journey of 12 miles, 40 minutes. We were nervous about travelling on narrow roads, but the journey was a doddle – we hardly met another vehicle, and there was plenty of room for passing at most places when we did. The short drive down to Seal Shore had us full of anticipation at what looked like a beautiful site......

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Saturday, 22 September 2007

Island Hopping - The First Leg - Derbyshire to Ardrossan

The AA route planner advised that our original plan of driving from Derbyshire to the Kintyre Peninsula would take 8.22 hours (based on a car) – a distance of 413 miles – flamin’ heck – we’d be exhausted. Plan B – Island Hopping had us driving to Ardrossan at 5.39 hrs, 315 miles – still a long haul in a motorhome, so an overnight stay was advisable. We broke our journey at Ashes Exclusively Adult Caravan Park, south of Kendal in the Lake District, so we could take in some of this beautiful area. This site is ideal for stopping off, as it's only 3 miles from the M6 motorway.

Ashes used to be a CL, then a few years ago gained permission to become a 25 van site. Run extremely professionally by Alison and Ian Mason, the site is set in lovely countryside about 3 miles from Kendal. With country views from all pitches, this was a very quiet and peaceful site, despite being full. The pretty, small, but very adequate, heated stone-built toilet and shower block is luxurious – hotel standard in fact, and there are two separate unisex toilets with washbasin, which are equipped for the less abled.

Walking or cycling into Kendal isn’t really an option from the site, unless you are super-fit, and taking our motorhome in to the town wasn’t something we wanted to do on a Saturday, so we got a taxi both ways, at a cost of £10 per journey. Kendal was delightful on the weekend we were there as there was a Street Art Festival, with all sorts of performers doing weird and funny activities. Did anyone else see the bloke in the window of Toni and Guys with a huge blob of shaving foam in a strategic place (which wasn’t his face) or the Black and White Men on the minute tandem? It was a great start to the holiday.

Back at Ashes, there are several walks from the site, and Alison has folders of information on the area which can be borrowed for the duration of your stay. This is also a site where you can just sit and enjoy the views and the fabulous English sunshine(!). We could have stayed on longer, but Scotland was calling, and our ferry was departing soon………

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Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Scottish Island Hopping in a Motorhome?

We’d not planned to go Island Hopping in Scotland, but that’s what we ended up doing. Island hopping in a 23 foot motorhome? A crazy idea? Were we mad? No! It’s dead easy. So here’s the story.

Originally, the plan was to drive from Derbyshire to the Kintyre Peninsula and back, taking in various stops both ways. Then a friend asked had we thought of taking the ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick, and another from Lochranza to Claonaig? Where to where? Who was Brodick and what was Claonaig?

A visit to the excellent
Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries Website, and online ordering of their brochure made things a little clearer. We ended up chosing Island Hopscotch 16 ticket (£220 for up to 10m motorhome and 2 passengers) – Arran – Kintyre – Islay, which took us from Ardrossan to Brodick, Lochranza to Claonaig, Kennecraig to Port Ellen, and Port Askaig to Kintyre. Sounds confusing? Yes, a bit, but all will become clear in future blogs.

One hiccup occurred, resulting in us having to change our return journey plans at short notice - we mistakenly thought the Hopscotch ticket got us back to our starting place of Ardrossan – uh-uhh - not true – it only got us back to Kintyre Peninsula. That’s what happens when you don’t read the small print. So instead of retracing our steps, we travelled back via Inveraray and Loch Lomond, down through Yorkshire, and back to Derbyshire - seeing places we would otherwise have missed. All done in two weeks – and it felt like we’d been away for a month.

And what an absolutely amazing holiday experience it was. We will be writing about it in bite-sized chunks in the next few blogs.


Saturday, 15 September 2007

Woodland Caravan Park Revisited

The sun came out at last, and everyone was looking for available pitches for the weekend – including us. We were very fortunate to get in at Woodland Caravan Park,just outside Ashbourne in Derbyshire.
This is a new site; it only opened at Easter 2007 and we were invited to their launch day, so it was great to actually stop for the weekend. The setting of the Park is delightful and access is a doddle, being almost immediately off the A515. The level spacious pitches have been thoughtfully integrated into the ancient woodland, and the pitches arranged so that you do not directly overlook your neighbours or the folks opposite. The dappled sunlight through the trees is enchanting, and the natural woodland and bracken setting creates a lovely restful atmosphere.

Linda-Jane and Charles are working extremely hard to make this site a very special place. The shower and toilet block are kept scrupulously clean and there is a useful laundry room (sleeping bags washed and dried in a trice). L-J is also planning to put a microwave oven in there too for the use of caravanners shortly. Exclusive walks in their grounds can be arranged with the gamekeeper, although we did it DIY and got hopelessly lost, and somewhat covered in cow dung and nettle stings. I understand that signposts to help the cartographically challenged are imminent.

Ashbourne is a short drive away, and the site is very convenient for Dovedale and Ilam. However, on a rare hot and sunny weekend, Dovedale was more like Blackpool, with hundreds of people picnicking, paddling, boating and sunbathing.

Back to Woodland, and we were pleased to see food available from The Two Women in a Kitchen (the Lemon Drizzle Cake is still wonderful), and special orders are taken. Five minutes walk down the lane is a stall selling plants at extremely welcome prices. There is a pub within walking distance, but it’s a reasonable hike, and uphill on the way back.

We loved this site – its less than 20 miles from home and the very warm welcome from L-J and Charles makes you instantly relaxed. We’ll be back in Autumn when the trees will be particularly wonderful and the crowds should have gone from Dovedale.

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