Being a Brega I am Suffolk born and bred. That doesn’t mean I don’t like to travel – I love exploring new places, but I wanted to share some of my favourite places with you, these are my Suffolk Secrets.
Boxted, Hartest and Hawkedon
These three villages are in the secluded Suffolk countryside, near Sudbury and I love them because I grew up in them. Boxted Hall can be rented out for family staycations. The Queens Head in Hawkedon is a great pub for an afternoon in the sunshine, or by the fire in winter. There are some great places to visit when in this neck of the woods, including Wool Towns like Lavenham, Kersey and Hadleigh.
Here are some Suffolk places to stay near Sudbury…
Moving towards the coast now and as we head to the east we get to another place where my family has a connection to. Walberswick, this old fishing village, now labeled as the most expensive place to buy a house in Suffolk (Aug 2020) is where we spent many family holidays crabbing. The whole area flooded in 1053 and that was when my Dad’s side of the family ran the pub, The Bell Inn. My dad had to be rescued by boat from the attic window at the age of 3. We still have the newspaper from that time.
Here are some coastal places to stay near Walberswick…
The most southernly area on my list now is Dedham Vale. Mike and I went to explore Constable Country a year or so ago and this area is very characteristic of Suffolk with its meandering river and lowland arable fields. A visit to here isn’t complete without visiting Flatford Mill, where John Constable painted one of his most well known pieces of art.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my favourite places in Suffolk. I will be following up with a second blog about my favourite places in the Chilterns and the Lake District. There are affiliate links in this blog, but all the places linked to are truly gorgeous.
Welcome to Mike and Holly’s Vanlife blog. Here we will share our renovation stories, things we have learnt, found useful and that have gone wrong… Follow our story on Instagram here.
We had been keeping an eye on the market for a long wheel base since Autumn 2019. We had a great time testing out living in a van in New Zealand for 6 weeks the previous year (read blog here). So we knew 2020 was the year to make the leap.
We started looking for a van properly in March – just a Covid-19 approached and lockdown happened. That was when everyone was looking for a van as staycations were going to become more popular and people started delivery driving jobs. Vans soon became a rarity. After three months and hours scrolling through the internet we eventually found one! (We did find one sooner, but I wont bore you with the details, it had various things wrong).
Stage one realisations:
All garages will say they have that van coming in next week – they do not.
They say they will call you back – they will not.
That advert you see online isn’t of the exact van you are enquiring about – they just can’t be bothered to update the ad.
HPI checks complete and the van was finally on our drive, hooray! Our dream is now a reality. We have a set budget in mind and fingers crossed we stick to it. The first job was to sound deaden using Dodo Matting (you can buy it here) and take out the safe. We haven’t managed to open it yet – I wonder what is in there?!?!
We took a while deciding where to buy our windows from, but eventually chose the website and brought the fitting kit with them. It was the simplest thing to do and also doesn’t work out that much more expensive. Josh, Holly’s brother was the first person to help us out! He, and his tools were amazing with getting the windows in.
Our roof fan was the next thing to go in. We just wanted to get all the holes in the outside of the van cut as soon as possible, as you can’t move on with anything else until it is done. The fan we chose was a MaxxAir MaxFan Deluxe. We chose this because of the thermostat, remote and automatic features.
Stage 2 errors:
Make sure you clean off every teeny tiny bit of metal from cutting straight away, they will rust and are a pain to sort. We can’t stress this enough.
Don’t put the black primer too thick and wide onto the panels as you will see it once the window is on, and again, is a pain to hide.
Allow for the edging thickness when marking up the window cut lines, this will add an extra 6mm on (roughly) and will save you cutting it again!
It took us ages to find the right Solar Panel. It was a large expense which we didn’t want to get wrong and have to send back. We finally found the one that was right for our set up. We needed it to power our usb sockets, fridge, laptop (via inverter) and that’s about it as the oven, hob and shower will be gas. We chose a Perlight 320 Watt Mono Panel. The white one was cheaper than the black so we went for that.
We decided we wanted our solar panel to be able to lift up, one because we could clean under it and second because if we were say, in north Norway then we could angle it to make the most of the sun! Just note that it didn’t come with cables long enough so that set us back a few days as we had to wait for new cables.
Here you will see that Holly is repainting all the specks of rust (after being painted with Hammerite Kurust, we mentioned earlier. It took ages and was a pain but hopefully it will work.
Battening was the next job at hand. We tried to use what the van had in terms of panels. We used self-drilling screws. Our friend Jen came to see us and help out. Thanks Jen! I am looking forward to getting family and friends involved in this build, as that is all part of it I guess.
Stage 3 realisations:
We didn’t make too many mistakes at this stage actually but we did learn that having nice weather makes this process so much easier! We have now ordered our insulation for the next stage. Oh, and we have just brought the fridge. Exciting!
So before the insulation could go up, we had to wire in the electrics. This is something that neither of us have experience in. We decided to crack on and buy the wiring and put it in place ourselves. This is where we made a big mistake, we brought the wrong two-core wiring, who knew there were so many different types. So once it was in, we found out it was wrong so had to start again, this time with the correct wires! The wire we ended up using was 30 meters of 2mm2 Thin Wall 2 Twin Core Cable Wire.
We scheduled in a day with our friend James who happens to be an Electrical Engineer who slaved away for over a day but by the end of it we had power! Such a great day, thank you Upton!!
This is probably one of the stages that took the longest ordering things, we brought a sine wave inverter, a 12v battery, battery charger, battery isolator, a 12 way blade fuse box, mppt controller and little things like terminal connectors.
For our insulation we chose 10mm Dodo Thermal Fleece which is made from recycled plastic bottles, and then we chose to do a thermo vapour layer too. Might be overkill, we’re not sure yet. Our main reason was that if we wanted to go away in winter or to cold countries then at least we have the option without freezing.
We found the fleece really easy to work with. We applied it with a little spray glue and noticed the difference in temperature straight away whilst working in the van. The vapour layer on the other hand was okay to work with, the backing is really tar like, which I guess it needs to be. But it is definitely a two person job.
Stage 4 errors:
Double check the wiring you need, there is more than one type of 2-core!
It turns out you can’t buy everything for your van conversion from Screwfix and Wickes!
Don’t even bother with the wire clips where you need a little screw driver thing, just get yourself some of these orange clips in the image above and save yourself so much time and hassle.
Stage 5 (coming soon) – more battening and the beginning of carpeting! We have now brought the oven!
If I could sum myself up in a few words, I would like to think it involved the words ‘walking, filming and drinking tea’. These are a few of my passions (yes, I do enjoy tea that much…) However they delve much further than just those three things, I am passionate about connecting children with nature, I am passionate about spending time out in the woods and feeling the temperate drop before the rain comes, or the owls calling in the night to their neighbour. There are no other feelings like them.
I have been hiking and camping since I could walk, maybe even before. My parents would take me up to the Lake District, one of my favourite places to visit, where I later studied a BA in Wildlife and Media at the University of Cumbria. So I guess it is understandable why I enjoy being out in the fells so much now.
Walking is my passion, you can’t beat being out for the day walking amongst the hills, barrows, tarns and woodlands, actually, you can beat that, you could be out for the day and night! Wild camping is also something that I enjoy. I guess that is what led me to help develop Julia Bradbury’s online website The Outdoor Guide. I have made some great friends and been introduced to some wonderful brands; one of my favourite has to be Robens.
Robens is part of the Oase Outdoors family-run Danish company that designs camping gear for people who love real adventure. It was created over 45 years ago and they continue to provide high quality gear that looks great and can put up with demanding use.
I’ve been to the Roben’s HQ (video below) a couple of times now and the whole team are actual outdoorsy people who go camping and hiking in all weathers and seasons, so they know what to look for when designing outdoor gear.
I am proud to announce that I am a Robens Ambassador, this stems from a relationship which has blossomed from our shared love of the outdoors. This is not a paid partnership, the gear has been gifted and all my views are honest. As much as I would like to share some great wild camping videos with fantastic backdrops, Coronavirus lockdown has kept me in the garden. So I will be sharing some ‘Garden Camping’ videos over the next few months.
Up first, you can see me pitching Roben’s Challenger 2, followed by a 5 minute yoga session:
I was delighted to be invited to visit Oase Outdoors at their headquarters in Denmark to look at developments for 2020 from their brands Outwell, Robens and Easy Camp. Take a look at some of their gear here:
In the video below we will be pitching the Robens Ultra Lite Red Rock and Klondike Outback Tents.
So please follow myself and Robens on instagram to keep up to date with competitions, news and videos. If you have any questions please shout!
My ‘Let’s Explore…’ videos are snapshot POV edits that I put together to give a taster of what I get up to when I’m not working! Below you will find edits from a few of my adventures from the last few years from exploring the Chilterns on our doorstep to venturing in the Swiss Alps. There will be more to come so watch this space, and if you have any ideas on where to go next leave me a comment!
Nepal was the big trip in 2017. We walked the Annapurna Region which is just spectacular. I am looking forward to going back and walking some more, harder routes!
Gryon is a beautiful little village in the Swiss Alps. I have been going now for about 5 years. I always stay with Merlin and Gemma in Chalet Martin, you can check out their website here: www.gryon.com
It is Saturday night at Gatwick airport and I am still working on an edit of the wonderful Julia Bradbury planting trees with Premier Paper Group and the Woodland Trust in Surrey. Finally finishing the video, laptop shut, I boarded the plane, the adventures begin.. (video can be seen here) For this trip myself and partner Mike are heading out to New Zealand for a six week ‘vanlife’ trip exploring both the north and south island.
I have been to NZ before, but it was about 10 years ago, and so I was very excited to head back for a second time to see what I missed, which turned out to be a lot as 18 year old Holly was very different.. and no, I did not bungy jump again… nor will I ever!
Our first stop was Auckland where we met up with some friends then took our little van up to the Bay of Islands. We had the best kumara chips in the whole of NZ here in Russell and it is also where we booked an eco boat ride. We were hoping to swim with dolphins, but once we found a pod they had juveniles so we couldn’t. I am glad they stick to protocol and don’t take advantage just for the money. But luckily, as I was testing out the new mirrorless Canon EOS R from Park Cameras I happened to get some lovely shots from the boat! I found the camera much lighter than my 70D and the fact I could use my lenses with the adapter really helped. There are a few settings which are in different places which takes time to get used to, but once you have, it is a wonderful alternative to an SLR camera.
Our journey then continued through the north island gradually heading towards Wellington. During our walks we found some lovely hidden beaches, some gigantic Kauri trees over two thousand years old and of course some wonderful waterfalls. The best thing of all was the lack of plastic pollution, probably in the whole six weeks I saw about five pieces.
You can’t take a trip to the north without recognising some of the most stunning volcanoes (whether you’ve watched Lord of the Rings or not!) Maori legend says that the beautiful Pihanga has to choose a husband and all seven males had to battle for her. The last battle of the mountains was between Taranaki and Tongariro – which was a burning battle of rage, where, in the end Taranaki was defeated and he retreated to the west coast carving out the Wanganui River on his way. There are a lot of Maori legends but I think this is my favourite.
Once in Wellington, our ferry crossing was delayed by a few hours because of the weather, but once we were onboard it couldn’t have been nicer, even if it was a bit windy! Once on the south island we took to the water once again, and the perfect bag for this was our 20l Overboard rucksack. We brought it with us as it was lightweight, also it’s so easy to roll up in our luggage and pull out for snorkelling, kayaking and other water adventures..
On the south island, thanks to Viewranger we managed to plan and map out a decent day walk pretty much every other day.
Some of our favourite walking locations were along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, which was mainly flat but you had contact with the sea throughout. Inland we headed to Arthur’s Pass, where were trotted up Avalanche Peak. We woke up at 3am to start walking up to Roy’s Peak for the sunrise. They are all so different but all were truly spectacular!
Then there’s the wildlife…
I am so glad I had my camera and brought a variety of lenses with me. The kea were very inquisitive and at the top of Avalanche Peak they joined us near the top as if to say ‘come on slow coach, nearly there!’ Then you have the seals. One of the best places we went was Surrat Beach and Shag Point. We went to the latter on Christmas Day and saw hundreds of seals just resting on the rock. We stayed for hours just watching their behaviour and how they interact with each other. It is fascinating. Then of course you have the whales. Kaikoura, whale watching capital… the good thing here is that there is only one company who have boats that go out, and they do not get too close and give the whales space. I have to say that I did get a bit queasy (twice actually) but that didn’t seem to matter when there were whales to watch.
This was our first van trip and the great thing about doing it in a campervan was the flexibility. Tired, no problem just pull up. Fancy a cuppa, no problem just pull up. Everywhere we stopped was beautiful, I can’t think of one place we went and thought we best be moving on. But if you do fancy something a bit more structured I found out that the Camping and Caravanning Club run escorted tours where they have packaged together some highlights on both the south and north island. It’s worth checking out. On our trip we were freedom camping, I could write a whole other blog about that! But I have to say, we found some spectacular spots.
I have been thinking about what was the most useful piece of kit that I brought with me.. and I have to say that my Water-to-Go bottle was probably up there in the top 5 pieces. Along with my mini photo printer and watercolours! Whilst the bottle can’t make salt water drinkable, it can be filled up from any water source. Now I know that there are more polluted countries than NZ but for the type of trip that we had it really was very useful! My TOG Buff is of course on my list too.. Also I am so glad I packed our waterproofs, so even if the weather was pants we still managed to get up the mountains. No excuses! I think that Cotswold Outdoor have the best selection of waterproofs and their staff are knowledgeable so can help you out.
Overall, I would most definitely go back to NZ. The scenery is just stunning, the people are lovely and the weather is pretty much perfect (who minds a bit of drizzle!) I would highly recommend spending no less than 6 weeks there though as it is a long way and even 6 weeks really isn’t long enough!
As the autumnal nights draw in and the winter days get closer I have been trying out my new tops from Zerofit. The two tops I have are the Heat Rub Ultimate and the Heat Rub Move, which both focus on making the most of your body heat.
I get cold quite easily so I have worn these tops when both walking and running. I found the Ultimate works best for walking as the more I walked the more I kept warm, the friction on this top seemed to keep the air close to my body and it didn’t make my hair stand on end when taking it off, (a bonus!) As soon as I put this on I didn’t want to take it off anyway! I also think that these tops would be great for horse riding.
I love to walk and share my images on Instagram (@walkingholly) but I also like to run! Fell running is my passion, but their are not many fells in East Anglia!I personally found the Move base layer was best for running, as it wicks the sweat away from my body. I am not a bit ‘sweater’ – my partner on the other hand would sweat just writing this, however during and after my run I didn’t get that cold damp feeling that I have done with other tops.
So overall, I am a size 8 and a small fits me perfectly and both tops are very effective. My only thought to improve the product is the packaging. I know the tops themselves are technically plastic (the Move is 45% Polypropylene) but at least it is reusable. The plastic sleeve packaging on the other hand is not and single use plastic is one of my bug bears. I hope that moving forward the plastic sleeve could be changed for a sustainable paper one. If one is even needed at all.
Nepal, the birthplace of Buddha. A country I have wanted to visit for a while now and in 2017 we flew into Kathmandu and drove up to Pokhara, where we were met by our guide Dawa. Dawa, nicknamed ‘D’, has been up Everest a mere 3 times so this trip for him would be a walk in the park, quite literally. D and his team, who consisted of ‘Nemo’, JB and B, all legit names of course, walked ahead of us the whole way, each carrying about 20kgs… After a brief break Nemo would often skip past us up the path in his flip-flops whilst we all watch in awe togged up in walking boots, poles and buffs galore.
The highlight of our walk was an early morning stint up to Poon Hill to watch the sun rise over the Fishtail mountain.
The Fishtail, properly known as Machapuchare, not unfamiliar in sound to Machu Picchu in Peru, has a fascinating story behind it.I am sure the story varies depending on the teller but our version is that adventurers tried to climb it and it was far too dangerous so the mountain was then declared a sacred holy mountain never to be climbed again.
One thing I loved about Nepal was the wildlife, and the abundance of it. I saw an array of beautiful butterflies to bees, a praying mantis, song birds, birds of prey, grasshoppers, monkeys and the spiders were huge! One thing I did spot when out camping on a 4 day rafting trip were these large cat footprints. Out of the 208 mammal species that it could have been I somehow don’t think it was a snow leopard! I thought it might be a fox, D didn’t know but after doing a bit of research it would make sense if it was a Fishing Cat..
Kathmandu is an interesting place, and I think you can get to know it very well if you were there for a long amount of time. We however were not there long but in that time we explored Monkey Temple, Swayambhunath and also explored the hindu crematorium Pashupatinath Temple which felt very surreal. Once a family member dies in Kathmandu the body is purified and prepared at the Pashupatinath Temple, then lit on fire beside the Holy Ganges River.
Overboard Bags are a British company who’s products I never go travelling without. Starting off small, Overboard have become a leading brand in waterproof bags. Whether I am going for a stroll in the Suffolk countryside or a mountain hike in the Lake District, my rucksack will always be packed with colourful Overboard dry bags.
I prefer using dry bags than just relying on the waterproof backpack cover because the rain will always find a way to get in, especially in the Lakes, and also it is a more organised way of packing. I know that my phone and purse are in the yellow one, that my spare clothes are in the blue one and my lunch is in the red one. So no matter what the weather is doing I can get into the right one quick and easily.
So after using the dry bags for a few years I thought I’d try out their 90 litre Adventure Duffel bag for my upcoming trip to Nepal.
I was going on a multi day hike through the Annapurna Mountain range near Pokhara. This would really put the bag to the test. When on the multi-day hike I had my day bag, with all relevant dry bags full of sweeties and such, then a wonderful, stealthy porter will carry your overnight bag, so ideally this needs to be as light and squidgy as possible. He will then tie said bag to another bag, of equal weight, put a rope around his head and off he goes, bouncing up the path in flip flops. The same path you are about to take, but in your expensive walking boots and poles. I don’t think a Nepali has ever used walking poles!
The duffel bag faired very well, it was picked up and put down on rough stone surfaces, also known as chautaras (resting spots) for 5 days straight, it was brand new before the trip and by the end it looked used (which in all honesty is how we like our outdoor gear to look isn’t it!) After walking we went on a 4 day rafting trip where the bags proved themselves yet again!
I would recommend Overboard gear for all sorts of adventures no matter what country!
One thing I love almost more than walking, and exploring, and that is tea. A strong ‘builders tea’ to start my day, and finish it.. And of course a few in between.. But when out filming walks you can’t just put the kettle on. Of course that isn’t a complaint but there is one thing I always carry with me when out walking and that is my trusty green Flask. The proper name being a Lifeventure Thermal Mug.
It’s the equivalent of about 2 cups of tea and fits in the side of your rucksack perfectly. It’s lightweight and keeps your drink hot for hours on end, so even if you forget, which is the depressing reality all tea drinkers experience now and again, it should still be warm by the time you really need it.
It is often odd weather when filming in somewhere like the Peak District, one moment it is warm, the next it is hailing, and that is just what happened during this trip, but no matter what the weather I will always have tea!
If it’s not builders tea I often go for a Clipper Organic Peppermint Teabag too. This isn’t only a refreshing drink but they have a great ethos. They are, I believe the first tea company in the UK to go Fairtrade, they also use unbleached teabags, it’s a win win!
So whether you’re taking a walk in the woods, up a mountain, or exploring some fab National Trust locations, a thermal mug is the perfect companion! And yes, Mike you are too!
2016 was the Diamond Anniversary for the DofE Awards and through The Outdoor Guide I have been commissioned to create an end of year edit that collates all their events from their 60th Anniversary year.
Throughout the year ambassadors and celebrities had taken on challenges to raise money and awareness of the work the DofE does with young people. On top of creating their end of year celebratory video, I filmed the Countess of Wessex cycling 450 miles from Edinburgh to Buckingham Palace, London. I also edited together a film of Julia Bradbury sleeping on top of the O2.