Camping in the forest

Camping doesn’t have to become a massive expedition. Camping in the forest, wherever you are needn’t take your whole weekend, if it does, great, but if you have a weekend scheduled of seeing family, drinks with friends there is still no excuse not to get a dose of nature in your system too. 

Camping in the Forest of Dean, Sherwood, the New Forest, or even your local woods are places which can enlighten the senses and help reset yourself. Nature is proven to help with your mental and physical health.  (Mind)

Robens Challenger 2 Person Tent Pet Friendly
Robens Challenger 2 Person Tent

There are different rules for camping in the woods in the UK, however as long as you leave no trace and are considerate (we never light fires either), then why not head out for a sneaky one night away. If you prefer to have facilities, there really are some amazing campsites in the UK. 

I really enjoy woodland camping because I get to feel the change in air temperature, the wind rustling the leaves and I know that then the birds stop singing it is probably either bed time or time for a day of hiking. Camping in the woodlands helps bring me back to nature no matter where I am, in the UK or in Europe.

I have realised that I like writing tent camping blogs because it gives me an excuse to not only spend more time outdoors, but to photograph and to get the tent out. There is no better feeling than making your nest all cosy. Actually, there is one better feeling, the feeling of being cosy in a warm sleeping bag, on a thick air bed whilst it is raining outside and you don’t have to get up. That is a pretty good feeling… 

Even when travelling Europe, I have the tent and full camping gear in the garage, so when the opportunity arises I can go out into the mountains, and now with our new rescue dog, Alba. 

Featured reads: 

Read more about our Albanian rescue dog Alba here

Read more about my Robens camping gear blogs here.

Read my outdoor related blogs here.

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Self-build Campervan Conversion insurance with EU Cover 

It is a minefield when looking for a decent camper conversion insurance in the UK, who cover everything you need for a self build campervan. So I have complied my research based on quotes for a campervan conversion of a Peugeot Boxer for 365 EU days, including EU breakdown cover, 2 self employed people, fully comp and not work related. All information for a self build campervan insurance comparison is correct as of 14th June 2022. Of course everyone’s experience and quotes will be different, but I just thought this list may be helpful for some.

self-build campervan conversion insurance
self-build campervan conversion insurance

Stuart Collins & Co. (van conversion insurance cost: £716 plus EU Breakdown £190)

They offer no time limit abroad which is fab, the countries they cover which are not the ‘usual’ EU countries include: Hungary, Bulgaria, Bosnia & Hertz, Macedonia, Montenegro. The issue we had here is that the breakdown cover is another £190, but this does not include vehicles over 5.5m.

NFU 

Straight up no to insure us. Didn’t state why but pointed me to the British Insurers Brokers Association (BIBA) for help.

Safeguard

They won’t insure us as the van is not registered with the DVLA as a van with windows or a motor caravan on the logbook. 

Camping and Caravanning Club Insurance (£890)

Only offer 90 days EU cover with only 60 days per trip. EU Breakdown cover was an extra £82.

LV (£631)

They offer 180 day EU cover and you can add Albania and Turkey on for extra. Their policy however does not include Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro. They offer Breakdown cover for £24.62.

Brentacre (£540)

They cover for 365 days in EU however they do not cover Albania, Turkey, Bosnia and Montenegro. 

Sterling (£1,937 Gold)

Includes Turkey, Croatia, Bosnia and Bulgaria. 365 days cover.  Just expensive.

Devitts (acting for The Caravan and Motorhome Club)

They never got back to me.

A-Plan

Have had a really good experience with them in the past and would insure with them again, however they only cover for up to 180 days.

Adrian Flux (£698)

270 day EU cover, 365 EU breakdown cover for all the countries needed except Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia. We went with these guys. I need to double check the cover in Turkey. 

Conclusion

This is just my experience of course, when you enquire the costs will be different so please just use this as information, not a 100% guide. It really pays to spend time talking to each individual company on the phone. I found that Brentacre and Andrian Flux were both really helpful. Best of luck! 

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Best apps for van life

I have compiled a list of the best vanlife apps for Europe which we use on a day-to-day basis. They include overnight parking apps and where to find the best free camping spots. (No affiliates here, just pure useful content). There are of course many more, however this list is for day-to-day usage.

Vanlife in Spain, Monserrat

First on the list is one that helps find cool and quirky van life locations, CamperGuru.

We have found that Google Translate is the most useful translating app.

XE Money converter is the best currency converter we have used which is really helpful in Croatia, Bosnia and Albania where they don’t use the Euro.

Then of course there is the Park4Night app which everyone uses. It is great as it also tells you information like where the nearest tap is.

Then you get to the best free hiking apps with offline maps. These are hiking apps for android and the ones we think are the best hiking apps for 2022, in Europe:

Outdoor Active – is our favourite. It can track you offline once loaded, but in some more remote locations you have to take the footpaths with a pinch of salt, as we found out in Bosnia! They have a lot of community led routes which is one of the reasons why we use this.

All Trails – has a great amount of European hikes added by the community. We have found that All Trails loads slightly slower than Outdoor Active.

Maps.Me – shows all the footpaths and extra detail without any community created routes. You can download each country as you go.

Hiking in Italy
Hiking in Italy

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Vanlife in Montenegro

Exploring Montenegro in the van was high on our list of things to do when working out a (very) rough itinerary for our year long adventure. Below are some of the highlights of our one month Montenegrin road trip. There are many places which we didn’t visit, so this is by no means a full list but hope it helps you with a bit of planning or inspiration.

One of our favourite views of Skadar Lake is from the Pavlova Strana Viewpoint along the road to Rijeka Crnojevića. Here this tiny little village boasts great views over the river which feeds the lake and you can sit and enjoy in one of the many bars and restaurants or take a boat or kayak out to explore the waterways. Here we just parked on the roadside in the village over night but then spent the days just down the road at a mini jetty type space: 42.35135789838294, 19.040599260974165.

The wildlife in this country is some of the most abundant that we have seen throughout the whole trip, and we thought Albania had a lot, Montenegro definitely is diverse! There are about 351 bird species registered in Montenegro. Apparently, it also has more breeding birds than the UK.

The mountain ranges here are spectacular. We particularly liked Durmitor National Park. From the carpark in high season they charge you €3 per person to enter and a ticket lasts only for one day which means it could end up quite expensive if you were to park in the official car parks for each walk, however, we found some locations to camp on Park4Night and only paid once. Not that I have an issue with paying as the money goes into the upkeep of the parks, litter clearing, toilets etc. We stayed at this really cool park up next to an abandoned ski lift. Parking grid reference: 43.163385, 19.096200.

Durmitor National Park became a UNESCO site in 1980 and has over 23 mountain tops over 2300m. It is the perfect place to base yourself for a week of hiking.

The sunsets we have witnessed have been stunning, especially around the mountains. We parked up high above the clouds at 2000m in Durmitor National Park for a wonderful light display, followed by a night of howling winds and rain, but it was worth it 100%! Parking grid reference: 43.098699, 19.051080.

The roads in this country are fantastic. Prevoj Sedlo mountain pass in Durmitor National Park was awesome. Driving here has provided us with some of the best scenery of the whole road trip.

Finally, Biogradska Gora, proclaimed a National Park in 1952, is one of the smallest, but still rather big by that means and hosts one of the few rainforests of Europe. It has about 86 different tree species, 10 kinds of animals about about 150 types of bird.

To conclude, we have really enjoyed a place where many people we speak to only drive through. Montenegro feels more European that Albania, it is a whole lot tidier than Albania too. We have enjoyed our time here and look forward to popping back in on our way to Turkey for winter.

You can read about our whole road trip adventure here.

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Essentials for van life

I wanted to compile a list of our favourite van life essentials and cool things for vans which have made life easier. (I don’t do affiliate links here, these are purely items I have found useful and want to try to help you).

1. So one of our best camper van accessories is a collapsable washing bowl. We use this not just in the sink, I hand wash underwear more often than the bigger clothes, so this is great for a small wash. You can buy one from Outwell here.

2. Another van essential is an expandable garden hose for all those places where you can’t park right next to the tap, we use this instead of a normal plastic garden hose as it takes up much less space, and as we all know, space is key.

3. Mike put a pull up bar on the van which we’ve covered in a couple of instagram reels. This hammock chair is a van life luxury item and we are so happy that we have it! It even has a little pocket on the inside for a phone (or chocolate!)

Hammock Chair in France overlooking the Pyrenees

4. One of our must-have items for vanlife is eco toilet roll. We have a couple of toilet choices but for where we have to go and dig a hole in particular, we want to use natural toilet roll. The Cheeky Panda uses 100% bamboo, no chemicals and they donate money to the World Land Trust to offset their carbon. You can read about their commitments here.

5. She-Wee. Now this took a bit of practise in the shower. Top tip for how to use a she-wee: don’t hold it tight against your body, allow a bit of room for… flow (!) You can thank me later!

6. Walking poles. We love to hike and the routes we do are normally quite long so I always take a set of walking poles with me. I think they have the stereotype that only ‘older’ people use them but honestly one of the best things ever! Let’s make walking poles cool! You can get some great lightweight ones that pack down small from Robens here.

Hiking in Italy with Robens walking poles.
Hiking in Italy with Robens Walking Poles

7. LED detachable and rechargeable light. We have this in the cab as our cab lights don’t work, but the fab thing is that it is detachable so we have used it to help others jump start their vehicles etc and it is super bright. It’s just really useful for when the head torches are packed away.

8. Tupperware. We saw loads of stories online of people getting mice in their vans so we just put everything in tupperware, bread, stock cubes, sweets you name it, it’s in a tupperware!

9. Mozi net for the door. We wanted to get a bug net over the door before we took a trip to Scotland (for obvious reasons!) so we found a magnetic screen door net for a house and we just adapted the length to fit the van side door. Top tip: we attached the fittings velcro to the van using Gorilla Glue tape. Best thing ever!

If you want to find out more about our van conversion journey you can read our blog here.

To follow our EU roadtrip, you can do so here.

For other van related blogs you can check out this page.

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Rowley Mile Racecourse Book Launch

My new children’s book ‘Chesnut and Daphne‘ is now available after a great day at the Family Jubilee Raceday at the Rowley Mile Racecourse in Newmarket this May.

Suffolk Horse Society’s Former President, Nigel Oakley, stands with the Suffolk Women’s Land Army group at the Rowley Mile Racecourse in Newmarket, 14th May 2022. Chesnut and Daphne Book launch.
Suffolk Women’s Land Army girls with Nigel Oakley

This beautiful summers day saw over 5,000 people entering the Rowley Mile racecourse to join in the Jubilee festivities. Onsite we had a fabulous team including Suffolk Punch advocate Nigel Oakley and the Suffolk Punch horses from Banham. Nicky Reynolds and the Suffolk Women’s Land Army group also had a stand which was showcasing artefacts and sharing local women’s stories. The Suffolk Horse Society and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust were also there for the day!

I thought that the best day to launch the book is on the first day of the Festival of Suffolk. My story celebrates the work that the Land Girls did in the county and also the amazing work the Suffolk Punch did too. My aim with this book is to raise awareness of the breed and to inspire the next generation to care and understand the importance of conservation.

Suffolk Horse Society’s Former President, Nigel Oakley, stands with Holly Brega and John Thurman at the Rowley Mile Racecourse in Newmarket, 14th May 2022. Chesnut and Daphne Book launch.
From left; Illustrator John Thurman, Nigel Oakley, Holly Brega

The future of the Suffolk Punch horse will be in the hands of next generations, but why would youngsters today care about the breed if they do not learn about it in the first place? This is the question that I as a first time author I am trying to tackle.

‘Chesnut and Daphne’ is a historical, poetry, picture book which tells the story of a day in the life of Land Girl Daphne and her best friend, Chesnut, as they deliver milk to a local primary school during the 1940s. 

The Land Girls took over farming during the war years and many worked with heavy horses which is why this book aims to raise awareness of the jobs those hard-working ladies did, but also to encourage the next generation to take an interest of the breed to get it off the category red on the  rare breeds list. 

To order your copy and find out more, please visit here.

Illustrator John Thurman stands with Holly Brega and the Suffolk Women’s Land Army group at the Rowley Mile Racecourse in Newmarket, 14th May 2022. Chesnut and Daphne Book launch.
Illustrator John Thurman stands with Holly Brega and the Suffolk Women’s Land Army group at the Rowley Mile Racecourse in Newmarket, 14th May 2022.

Adopting a stray dog in Albania

There are many views on bringing dogs from other countries back into the UK, but that’s another conversation. It is estimated there are up to 40,000 abandoned dogs in the UK alone, due to the impact of Covid-19. The UK charity Dogs Trust sees an increase in our four legged friends needing to be rehomed after events like Christmas and especially after Covid, once people have gone back to work. But the scale is low compared to stray dogs over in Greece and Albania. It is estimated there are around 2 million stray dogs and cats in Athens alone.  

One of the many reasons that there are so many stray dogs in Greece is because the country wants to protect Europe’s oldest pure-breed dog, the Cretan Hound. However, by not neutering all strays, in order to protect one, now means that there are dogs who starve every winter, who have to fight for the next meal and have to bring up their young without the proper nutrition needed, and the cycle then goes on year after year.  In 2021 there was proposed legislation to make neutering mandatory, but it hit a brick wall. You can read more about it here.  

Cretan Hound Credit: Nationalpurebreeddogday.com

In Greece there is a form which all tourists can fill in the make a complaint to the Tourism Board about how seeing so many stray dogs has affected their holiday. If enough people use this form, then maybe the country may see how it is affecting tourism, and therefore €€€.

You can download the form here  and send it to the Panhellenic Animal Welfare Federation: info@pfo.gr and the Ministry of Tourism: kouremenou_i@gnto.gr. Further advise can be read here.

After Greece we headed to Albania. This is where we met Alba. 

Alba our rescue dog from Albania.
Alba

She wasn’t called Alba then, she was just another stray.

When we left the UK we decided not to get a rescue dog from someone like Dogs Trust or the Blue Cross, because even thought we fully support the work they do 100%, we thought it would be too hot in a van travelling around Europe for one year. However, we planned our route to chase the sun in the mid 20 degrees c as both Mike and myself like this temperature the most. We can bike, we can run and hike at this temperature. The van stays cool at this temperature and we live outdoors with the awning up, which is what I am doing right now. There’s a light breeze, birds singing, Alba sleeping, surrounded by greenery in the mountains of Thethi National Park. 

Anyway, straight away upon entering Albania we saw stray dogs at Permet Hot Water Springs. We had picked up some dog food which we have decided to only give upon leaving a location because it is not fair for the dogs to get attached to you and then leaving them. It will be heart-breaking for you both. 

Mike and Alba our rescue dog.
Mike and Alba

We saw strays again at every place we visited, all were skinny, one with three legs, some aggressive, some with scars on their nose, the dogs which are not strays here are shepherds dogs and farm guards (most look like they will bite your head off) but then others we gentle and looked at you with the kindest eyes. We saw many of these strays in the area of Shengjin near Shkoder Lake. 

Here is where we adopted Alba. 

Our process for adoption a dog in Albania:

We became attached to Alba at a beach bar on Kune beach, just outside Shengjin. The bar owner Mario said that she was born last summer and doesn’t know what has happened to her mother or the other offspring and that we can take her if we wish. We didn’t think it was sensible to have a dog, but we thought about it properly for a few days and then decided we have to have her in our lives. 

Some friends we made along the way had also just done the same, a week ahead of us, they adopted a stray from Theth, where she was very skinny and just wanted love, and food! 

Together the six of us went to the vets in Shkoder where they speak good English. The vet details are: Klinika Veterinare PUTRAT, phone: +355 695 601 111. The vet appointment you most probably will get will be at 7pm. He works for the government during the day and then is open all evening. Closed on Sundays. Call in advance.

At the vets I asked about the work they do, and found out they have a charity called Animals Need Me that is a volunteer based organisation which looking after strays in the Shkoder area with particular focus on promoting neutering and raising awareness. I would love to volunteer here however, if I am being honest, I would be in tears every day and probably break down. So I have decided to keep up to date by following their Facebook and Instagram page and make a donation. All donations can be made via paypal using their username email address anmshkoder@gmail.com. Below are some of the images of the animals they are rescuing and looking after.

At Putrat Vets Alba was given a 15 digit microchip, rabies vaccine, she was wormed, treated for ticks (of which she had maybe about 20 on her) and given an ALbanian passport. The cost of this was 9000 Leke which is about £60. 

One week later we went back to the vets for a Polivalent vaccine which prevents infection by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae. Basically stops dogs getting a fatal respiratory disease, Pneumonia. You can read more from the Royal Veterinary College here. We did this and also picked up some junior dog food as that is hard to find in the country. The only place we found dog leads and a bed was in the shop, Jumbo. The vets also have leads, shampoo and dog food.

In order to then the cross border we needed to get a Pet Health Certificate, which lasts 72 hours. We got our certificate for about €10 from the vet in Albania. Apparently, we needed this in order to get into Montenegro, however at the border they did not check it, or Alba’s passport, they just smiled at her. You may be able to get a Rabies Titer Test (FAVN) in Albania where the vet can send the blood sample to an approved centre, but we didn’t. (See below our experience of getting one in Croatia).

Then at the Montenegro / Croatia border Alba was laying on the floor of the van asleep and they didn’t see her, or check her passport. So not having a Titer Test was not an issue for us. (Technically, dogs need a Titer test to enter the EU, but we waited to get one in Croatia, so unless you get one in Albania, you’ll be crossing the border at your own risk without one).

30 days after the Rabies vaccine, Alba will need a Rabies Titer Test (FAVN) which apparently needs to happen in an EU country (as mentioned above you may be able to get one in Albania, if you have lots of time there). We got ours in Croatia. After this, and assuming everything is okay, Alba can then enter the UK after 3 months time. 

UPDATE: Alba has had her Titer Test at a vets in Karlovac in Croatia. (Vets details: Ambulanta Anima, Ul. Ante Starčevića 26, 47000, Karlovac, Croatia). We went in and said what we needed and had to come back the next day for the blood to be taken. We are now waiting three weeks in Croatia for the results. UPDATE 2: Alba’s test results came back positive for Rabies antibodies after about 2 weeks which is great, so we have now continued our travels and have been to Slovenia, Italy and back down south to Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia and only been asked once for her passport).

In order to bring your dog back into the UK they will need:

A microchip

A pet passport or an Animal Health Certificate

Rabies vaccination 

Tapeworm treatment within 1-5 days of travel which must be administered by a vet and must contain Praziquantel to be effective against Echinococcus tapeworm. The vet must stamp your passport or Travel certificate for confirmation.

The microchip

Needs to be an ISO 11784/11785 compliant 15 digit microchip, which is the standard for most countries, including the UK . You can find out more here.  You then need to register the chip on a worldwide microchip registration website. I am currently researching this and will update this blog with the best ones that I find.

Is Albania a rabies high country? 

Kind of. By this I mean it isn’t on the ‘low rabies’ list but the last rabies case in animals in Albania was confirmed in September 2014 in a fox in a village in Kukes region, so this means it is however still on the high list. You can find out more about the eradication of Rabies in Albania here. Not that we have been asked anything at any of the borders we have crossed. Since having Alba with us, we have crossed over about 15 borders and have been asked for her passport once.

How long can I adopt a dog in Albania before I can bring them home?

In case you need to get a Rabies Booster, this may add another month on so I would say about 4 1/2 months. In conclusion, if you are travelling and would like to adopt a dog, make sure the process is in motion with no less than five weeks until you have to get back into the UK.

Where can I buy dog stuff from in Albania?

As dogs are not really regarded as pets then the best place we found to by leads, beds, collar etc is a shop called Jumbo. It’s like a cheap and tacky Dunelm / toy shop. Dog food can be found in most Spar or Bio shops. Or the vets.

I really hope this shows how simple it could be to help change an animals life. Of course there are the continued expenses of having a dog, but by adopting you are stopping your four legged friend starve, get abused, impregnated and/ or poisoned.

My top tips for travelling in a van in regards to strays:

  • Pick up a bag of dog food to feed strays 
  • Feed strays when you leave to save heartbreak 
  • Make a donation to the local vets or animal shelter
Alba two months since adoption. Enjoying the Slovenian countryside.
Alba two months since adoption. Enjoying the Slovenian countryside.

UPDATE: Alba has been neutered in Croatia and she has healed well so things are all set for travelling back down to Turkey for winter before coming back to the UK.

How the use of DDT affected the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) in Great Britain

After the Second World War, 1945, having successfully fought for their country soldiers were reunited with their families would have to find a new means of work. These practical men would need to provide for their families and earn money once again. The ever expanding population would lead to a high requirement of food stuffs; this demand resulted in  a constant trade as food will always be required. The main aim in food production is to achieve the highest yield and create the greatest profit.  To do this a control method must be in place to stop pests reducing yield.  

Peregrine Falcon. Pixabay.

Our native species are the flora and fauna that were in England before the sea was formed between England and France around 7,500 years ago. When looking at species abundance, there is an average of 40 species known as native to Britain, every other one has been introduced. It is found (POST, 2008) that these invasive non-native species can and have posed many threats to our low abundance of native species of both flora and fauna. Bird and Seal species are called native if they are known to breed in Britain, there have been many habitats found along our coast line but cannot be classified as native species of Great Britain, for example dolphins and porpoises.  Many common species were introduced to Britain, like the rabbit purposefully as a food source and rats accidentally coming over on cargo ships. We have 60 species of mammal present in Britain, 18 of them are non-native. The climate continuously changing allows foreign species to spread to areas that before were unavailable to them, (Wildlife Britain, 2007). Over the last few years it has become apparent that the climate change of the world is changing the distribution of Britain’s species and their habitats (Buckland and Elston, 1993). It is known (Yalden, 2012) that another reason for the reduced number of native species is hunting many years ago and more recently, farming.  

Throughout time there has been a use of many different methods to control pests and unwanted weeds. This had led to a leaching of nitrogen into the water supply which destroys wildlife that lives in the water as well as land mammals and birds of prey (Kish and Martin, 2006). It affects all these animals by moving up through the food chain, from the fish swimming in contaminated waters, to the birds that feed on the fish.  This can result  in many species becoming endangered and extinct. Many species have however been reintroduced, for example the otter, peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) and many species of butterfly, (Yalden, 2012). 

Peregrine Falcon. Pixabay.

Natural England carries out a lot of projects towards conserving the animals that have been re-introduced. In England a huge number of species have been lost over the recent 200 years, including 12% of land mammals (Act for Wildlife, no date). It is known from work done by ornithologist, Robert Robinson that there are roughly 110 birds in the Britain isles of “conservation concern”. Nonetheless, Harrison (2010) says there are species that have flourished for example the Red Kite which has about 1,000 breeding pairs and there are many legal acts that help protect many other species.  

There are many types of control in place regarding the prevention of crop depletion including many variations of pesticides. Organochlorine pesticides and insecticides were introduced in the 1950s, the most well known and strongest one being dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), which was first used in the Second World War to prevent the effect of many infectious diseases on soldiers. In (date) Swiss physicist, Paul Muller found in 1942 that DDT was a highly effective pesticide, (Harrison, 1996/7). It is this same chemical that is responsible for the thinning of egg shells therefore leading to near extinction of the osprey, peregrine falcon and many water fowl (The Nobel Foundation, 1948). Even though DDT has been banned since the 1970’s it has the half life of around 15 years, (U.S Environmental Protection Agency, 2011). However, depending on the environment and the soil, water type or mammal it has infected the half life could vary, from 28 days up to, realistically, 20 years, (John, 1999/2001). 

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) Pixabay

DDT was designed as a chemical that cannot be destroyed, as the petrochemical era evolved this chemical it was originally sprayed onto humans as a use of defence against malaria and throughout time it was continuously used on crops says Muir (2007). There was then a pandemic of cancer spread throughout the areas sprayed and it infected those who ate the plants, those who have created a habitat in the planted area and thus resulting in many birth defects in humans, animals and the Peregrine Falcons. The strong chemical pesticides were soon stopped because of the impact they had on not only these birds but the overall environment. Many food chains became poisoned, including the Otter’s – it seemed to affect their immunity making them more susceptible to disease. Until now the otters were wide spread throughout Great Britain, however such charities like the Otter Trust based in Suffolk have recreated chemical free habitats resulting in successful areas where they are protected and offspring can thrive. In 1978 the otter was given legal protection as it had totally vanished in certain areas, they can now however be found in Cumbria and many places in East Anglia. 

There were a high variety of birds of prey species that declined due to the use of many pesticides, however it was DDT that affected almost all birds of prey including the peregrine falcon . It is known that the insecticide reduces the amount of calcium carbonate being transferred to the egg shell (Walker et al, 2006). Biomagnification of this organochlorine pesticide begins to build up in the bird’s fatty tissue as it is a fat soluble chemical, resulting in a reduced concentration of calcium carbonate in the egg shell, making it weak and reducing the abundance of chicks hatched. (Ratcliffe, 2009). A review from Ferns et al. (2008) states that the affected egg will show many different aesthetical signs, including the shade of the egg and spots on the shell. The fact that birds of prey are becoming contaminated shows that the problem is quite wide spread as they have a large territory upon where they feed. The Peregrine Falcon now has an estimated 1402 breeding pairs throughout Britain, RSPB (2011). This is proof that reintroduction and protection acts and programmes can successfully increase the biodiversity in Great Britain.  

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) Pixabay

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 has given full protection to the Peregrine Falcons, their eggs and their nests, making it a crime to come into contact physically or being held responsible for any damage to their habitat and ecosystem (Joint Nature Conservation Committee, 1981). There are many levels of protection within the Act, the peregrine falcon is in schedule 1, which is the highest, resulting in the highest penalty if any one were to be prosecuted (London Peregrine Partnership, 2012). There are many groups throughout the United Kingdom that run programmes to protect the breeding areas of these predatory birds, including the Forest of Bowland, an area not only of Outstanding National Beauty but also where their largest breeding bird is the Peregrine Falcon (Forest of Bowland, 2012). They have put together information about breeding attempts within the Forest for the last 34 years.  They currently have around 22.5 breeding pairs, with a total of 113 successful broods and 241 young from 320 nesting attempts, working out at 2.13 offspring per successful nest. With success comes failure – there were a number of unhatched eggs and chicks who didn’t leave the nest (Raptor Politics, 2012). Furthermore, it is the dedication from members of organisations who together are responsible for the ever rising numbers of Peregrine Falcons.   

The London Wildlife Trust is a charity that carries out numerous types of conservation methods and has built up a large range of partnerships that enables them to have a large impact on as many projects with a wide variety of biodiversity. For over 30 years they have worked with organizations such as Defra and Natural England to produce an array of environmental schemes including the protection of falcon nests, (Forest of Bowland, 2012). Now the ban on DDT has been in place about 40 years the main threat to these reintroduced birds is another farming impact. The principle with farming is still the same, to produce a high yield and create the most profit, however in order to do this larger crop fields are needed, reducing the land and habitats around and therefore reducing the biodiversity by removing hedgerows, ponds and woodland areas.  

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) Pixabay

The Sussex Peregrine Study founded by John Franklin is a group of raptor specialists who work together to not only create a summary of Peregrine numbers within the UK but also to educate others about this magnificent bird and construct relationships with other specialists, like their partners the London Peregrine Partnership. Franklin, (2010) states they currently have successful nesting sites throughout Sussex and have continued to grow since the first protected one created in 1990. It is groups of people like these men who are reliable for the ever increasing numbers.  

Throughout the most recent years many areas have become protected and there are areas that will keep expanding for the nesting of these remarkable birds. They are important, as are most animals that help create a larger biodiversity within the shore of Great Britain. The farming industry is continuously expanding but with the combination of education and grants being widely available to farmers throughout England our wildlife, and especially peregrine falcon numbers should keep rising. Defra offers grants to farmers who keep wildlife corridors, hedgerows and set-aside fields to harbour wildlife.  They also review programmes regularly such as the recent Habitats and Wild Birds Directives in November 2011 where they look at the current projects and analyse whether they are being conducted to their full potential. (DEFRA, 2011). These reviews are required because it keeps the initial purpose in focus and that all requirements are filled within the environment.  

Overall it is proved that the conservation techniques in place are helping with the rising of peregrine falcon numbers in Great Britain. The ban of DDT in early 1970’s was the first step towards this escalation, even if it had been used continuously in the agricultural industry for consecutive 20 years. Technology has advanced and produced many different alternatives for crop protection, for example organic pesticides and a new organic farming methods have been thrust upon modern day farmers. Defra plays a key part in promoting this style of farming, paying farmers who choose this scheme, also, the public are becoming more informed with the use of media that they choose for their family organically grown produce, (Organic Farming, no date). The media can portray certain subjects in whatever way necessary, good or bad, right or wrong. It is known DDT causes bad effects on the ecosystem and humans therefore a medium can be produced to promote the farmers who use environmentally friendly control methods. A conclusion that can be made is that there is a high requirement for people to have an interest in the protection of species within the UK, and creating areas for these species to thrive. The Peregrine Falcon is one of many species that because of a reintroduction programme is starting to thrive within the shores of the United Kingdom. 

References  

Act for Wildlife (no date) UK Wildlife Conservation. Available at:  http://www.actforwildlife.org.uk/projects/uk-wildlife (Accessed: 3 January 2012). 

Buckland, S.T. and Elston, D.A. (1993) ‘Empirical models for the spatial distribution of wildlife’, Journal of Applied Ecology, 30(3), pp. 478-495.  

Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) (2011) Habitats and Wild Birds Directive- review of implementation. Available at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/rural/protected/habitats-wildbirds-review (Accessed: 3 January 2012). 

European Commission, Agriculture and Rural Development (no date) Organic Farming. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/organic/organic-farming/what-organic_en (Accessed: 3 January 2012). 

Ferns, P.N., Gosler, A.G., Jagannath, A., Shore, R.F. and Walker, L.A. (2008) ‘Eggshell Pigmentation Indicates Pesticide Contamination’, Journal of Applied Ecology, 45(1), pp. 133-140. [JSTOR] Available at: http://www.jstor.org (Accessed: 3 January 2012). 

Forest of Bowland (2012) Peregrine. Available at: http://www.forestofbowland.com/wild_birds_peregrine (Accessed: 3 January 2012). 

Franklin, J. (2010) Sussex Peregrines. Available at: http://www.sussexperegrines.co.uk (Accessed: 3 January 2012). 

Harrison, D. (April, 2010) ‘Britain’s Wildlife – birds, mammals and insects under threat’, The Telegraph [Online] Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/7601665/Britains-wildlife-birds-mammals-and-insects-under-threat.html (Accessed: 5 December 2011).  

Harrison, K. (1996/7) ‘DDT a Banned Insecticide’, University of Oxford, Department of Chemistry. [Online]. Available at: http://www.chem.ox.ac.uk/mom/ddt/ddt.html (Accessed: 3 January 2012). 

John, C. H. (1999/2001) ‘Half-Life of DDT’, Ask a Scientist. [Online]. Available at: http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/gen99/gen99996.htm (Accessed: 3 January 2012). 

Joint Nature Conservation Committee. (1981) Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Available at: http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-3614 (Accessed: 3 January 2012). 

Kish, S. and Martin, J. (Apr, 2006) ‘Organic and Integrated Farming Key to Lowering Nitrogen Leaching’, National Institute for Food and Agriculture, [Online]. Available at: http://www.csrees.usda.gov/newsroom/news/2006news/nitrogen_organic.html (Accessed: 3 January 2012).  

London Peregrine Partnership (2012) Peregrine Falcons and the Law. Available at: http://london-peregrine-partnership.org.uk/the-law.html. (Accessed: 3 January 2012). 

Muir, P. (2007) A History of Pesticide. Available at: http://people.oregonstate.edu/~muirp/pesthist.htm (Accessed: 5 December 2011). 

Raptor Politics (2012) Historical and Statistical Data of Peregrine Falcons and Hen Harriers, Lancashire. Available at: http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/historical-and-statistical-data/ (Accessed: 3 January 2012). 

Ratcliffe, D. A. (2009) The Status of the Peregrine in Great Britain. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00063656309476042 (Accessed: 3 January 2012). 

RSPB (2011) Peregrine. Available at: http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/p/peregrine/index.aspx. (Accessed: 5 December 2011). 

The Nobel Foundation (1948) The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1948, Paul Muller. [Online] Available at: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1948/muller-bio.html (Accessed: 3 January 2012).  

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) – PostNote (April, 2008) Invasive Non Native Species. Available at: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/post/postpn303.pdf Number: 303. (Accessed: 3 January 2012).  

U.S Environmental Protection Agency (2011) ‘DDT’, Persistent Bioaccumulative and Toxic (PBT) Chemical Program. [Online]. Available at: http://www.epa.gov/pbt/pubs/ddt.htm (Accessed: 5 December 2011). 

Walker, C.H., et al (2006) Principles of Ecotoxicology. 3rd edn. Boca Raton, CRC Press.   

Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) Part 1 Wildlife, protection of wild birds their nests and eggs. Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1981/69/contents (Accessed: 3 January 2012).  

Wildlife Britain (2007) Introduction to the wildlife of the UK. Available at: http://www.wildlifebritain.com/britishanimals.php (Accessed: 5 December 2011). 

Yalden, D.W. (2012) A History of British Mammals. The Mammal Society. Available at: http://www.mammal.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=250&Itemid=283 (Accessed: 3 January 2012).  

Mike and Holly’s Road Trip

Ferry from Dover to Calais

This is the personal blog page where we will share some notes about the places we visit and the walks we do for our friends and family who are interested in where we go and have gone on our road trip through Europe. There are also some grid references to various free camp spots we stayed in throughout Europe and the Balkans too.

Enjoy! H&M x

Click on the buttons below to skip to a country of your choice!

6 month overview video

France

We watched the sunrise and light up the Dover Cliffs on the ferry to Calais. Upon arrival at Dover we had our Covid passes on our phones checked but not the ‘engagement-sur-l-honneur’ document which they said you must have. We also got our passports stamped so we have visual proof of entry.

Château de Chambord
Château de Chambord, France

Château de Chambord is the biggest chateau in the Loire Valley. We are passing through to get to the south of Spain whilst the weather is still bad ‘up north’. We will be driving further south towards the border near San Sebastian over the next few days. Overnight Free Camp Location at Château de Chambord: 47.6171981,1.51454,16.48

Ustaritz, France
Ustaritz, France

We have had engine trouble! Well, the engine oil cap fell off and oil leaked everywhere. We have been to a garage and they led us to a scrapyard, who couldn’t help us. We then went to Peugeot who were not helpful considering we have a Peugeot Boxer. However, Citreon were amazing, as were Norauto. When travelling in a van it’s good to know that the European (and better) version of Halfords is Norauto. Overnight Free Camp Location at Uztariz: 43.386605,-1.4941218,16.96

Basque Country, Spain
Basque Country, Spain

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Spain

Our travel video for Flight Free UK

We have made it into Spain. There were no checks at the border near San Sebastian. We decided to head up the hill near Hondarribia to Jaizkibel. The views were beautiful and so we went for a walk and had lunch. It then started to rain, so we took that as a hint to continue our journey south. Overnight Free Camp Location at Jaizkibel: 43.3531357,-1.8424644. We were asked to make a film about our trip to Spain to promote travelling on the ground instead of flying, you can find out more about the company here.

Salamanca
Salamanca, Spain

We had a lot of driving today crossing the vast emptiness of midland Spain, which looks like one of the centre of the concrete industry. We finally got to the beautiful UNESCO city of Salamanca. This roman bridge was declared an Artistic Historic Monument in 1931 and was the main road into the city until 1973. Overnight Free Camp Location at Salamanca: 40.9596571,-5.6753829

Mogarraz in the Parque natural de Las Batuecas-Sierra de Francia, Spain
Mogarraz in the Parque natural de Las Batuecas-Sierra de Francia, Spain

Camino Del Agua is the woodland walk that we did today. It is a circular route through the Parque natural de Las Batuecas-Sierra de Francia and finishes at the beautiful village of Mogarraz. It is quite a popular walk full of little bridges, glens and bird life. This village has unique architecture and the square had a really nice atmosphere which we would recommend visiting. You can see the route for the walk we did on AllTrails here. Overnight Free Camp Location at Alberca: 40.4889649,-6.1169799

View from Peña Carbonera 1505m, Spain
View from Peña Carbonera 1505m, Spain

The image above is from our Puerto Del Portillo, Peña Huevo (1414m) Peña Carbonera (1505m) Walk. This has been one of the best walks of the trip so far with amazing views and we saw águila real (golden eagles), buitres negro (vultures) and cabra montés (mountain goats). We have a great little park spot so will be staying in this area for a while as it is also pretty quiet. Overnight Free Camp Location at Batuecas: 40.4572106,-6.1364564

pine processionary caterpillar (Thaumetopoea pityocampa)
Pine processionary caterpillar (Thaumetopoea pityocampa), Spain

On the walk today we saw a few of these caterpillar trails. They were touching head to bum in a row of about nearly two meters. A little bit of research shows that these are all following the pheromones of one female and are heading into the ground to cocoon themselves.

portugal wild camp spot near lake
Portugal wild camp spot near lake

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Portugal

Today we drive to Portugal just north of Badajoz. There were no border checks on the back road we took in. We then travelled through Alentejo to a lakeside where there was a bar called ‘Bar da barragem do Caia’ which was open and had sunset views. We saw another campervan parked down by the lakeside and so we joined them and then decided to walk back up to the bar for another beer.  Overnight Free Camp Location at Barragem do Caia: 39.0058751,-7.1405687

Herdade Paço Do Conde
Herdade Paço Do Conde Winery, Portugal

Today we visited a winery which now features on the website I am working with, CamperGuru, a cool new site listing loads of great camp spots. We parked up by the lakeside and listened to the birds for the evening. We also tasted some of their olive oil in their tasting barrel room, and brought a bottle. 

Park up spot along the Guadiana river
Park up spot along the Guadiana river

We have spent a few days following the Guadiana river through Alentejo, which happens to also be the Spanish / Portuguese border. The Parque Natural do Vale do Guadiana is where they have reintroduced the Lynx, unfortunately we didn’t see any even though we did find a cool park up spot in the middle of nowhere down a track, just down the road from Mertola. Overnight Free Camp Location near Mertola: 37.623659, -7.664010

Guadiana river in the background
Guadiana river in the background

As we get into the Algarve region, we explored the small town of Alcoutim which has toilets and showers at the marina. It is a small marina where the boats can moor up for free away from the Algarve coastline and they had a great cafe with our favourite treat, Pasteis de Nata. Overnight Free Camp Location in Alcoutim: 37.4683443,-7.4723328

Overnight Free Camp Location near Alcoutim: 37.4227384,-7.4555543

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Spain (again)

We are back in Spain now and are exploring the Costa de Luz, the coast of light, however it is more like the Costa de viento, the coast of wind. There are a variety of places along here where some the motorhomes just do not move on, it is full of German, Dutch and Spanish vans who look like they live here full time. Rota seems to be the Benidorm for motorhomes.. I wont bother sharing the link to this place as we didn’t stay long and wouldn’t recommend it.

There are however some cool spots, which are choca-block again with full-time vanners, who don’t move on. So we did spend a night in a quiet woodland near the Parque Nacional de Donana, but decided to move on the next day. The coast here is too close to the industrial area of Huelva which pollutes the estuary.

Views across to Gibraltar and Morocco
Views across to Gibraltar and Morocco

The wind which was scheduled for the week has made us head inland over the top of Gibraltar into the Parque Natural Los Alcornocales. Here we found a beautiful little walk through the Cork and Gall Oak woodlands following a stream with views through the mountain range and vultures overhead. It was peaceful here, but we have been inland for a while so needed to head to the coast. We found a cool park up which is one of our favourite so far, just outside Gibraltar, not far from the drug smuggling area of La Linea. Overnight Free Camp Location at Parque Natural Los Alcornocales: 36.2273115,-5.5862262.

Parque Nacional Sierra de las Nieves
Parque Nacional Sierra de las Nieves

After a few days enjoying the sunshine with some yoga on the beach, a bit of sea swimming, only a little, then we decided to head inland to the Parque Nacional Sierra de las Nieves. We walked up 1778m and in the morning woke up to a frozen ice land. The drive up to this spot was 8km on track and we were just hoping the road wasn’t icy. Mike ran down and I followed in the van. All was absolutely fine.  Overnight Free Camp Location at Parque Nacional Sierra de las Nieves: 36.6903393,-5.0463962.

Puente Nuevo bridge in Ronda
Puente Nuevo bridge in Ronda

We then went to Ronda. It is a mountain town which is home to the birth of bull fighting, which is not why we went in the slightest, however I wanted to see this bridge. The Puente Nuevo bridge is crosses a gorge over about 300 feet.

The Sierra Nevada

The Sierra Nevada mountain range is Spain
The Sierra Nevada view from La Boca de la Pescá 1518m

We spent three days in this beautiful national park. I have wanted to visit the Sierra Nevada for a while now as it is where you can find some of the biggest mountains in Spain. One of the walks we did was up Cerro del Trevenque (2083 m). We also did a circular route up La Boca de la Pescá at 1518m. Overnight Free Camp Location at Sierra Nevada: 37.0635514,-3.5585236.

Sierra Nevada Cerro del Trevenque 2083 m
Cerro del Trevenque (2083 m)

We then headed to the coast for a few days where we visited Almeria and had a brake pad change, then overnight at beachside town of Roquetas de Mar. Overnight Free Camp Location at Roquetas de Mar: 36.80440897142173, -2.576065098369255.

Carboneras
Carboneras

Then we went over to the quiet cove of Carboneras where we went for a swim, walked up the Torre del Rayo and explored the ‘Templo Hippie de Miguel Ángel’ before heading inland to the Sierra Espuña National Park.

Templo Hippie de Miguel Ángel
Templo Hippie de Miguel Ángel

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Sierra Espuña

La Santa, just outside Totana
La Santa, just outside Totana

I have been to the Sierra Espuña, just outside Mercia, once before with Julia (read the article here) and really wanted to go back with Mike. We stayed in the carpark at La Santa monastery which had an amazing cafe with great coffee! There were loads of walks and bike tracks around and we spent 3 nights here just exploring the mountains and the small village of Aledo.

Some of the CamperGuru team
Some of the CamperGuru team

After leaving the mountains we met up with the CamperGuru team who we are working with to help create an awesome website for cool and unique spots to sleep for campervanners. After this we stayed along the coastline at Santa Pola as there was good signal, good weather and the 6 nations was on!

Cala del Faro de Santa Pola
Cala del Faro de Santa Pola

We bypassed Alicante and headed up into the mountains above Benidorm to a free campsite outside the small mountain village of Castell de Castells. Here we did a couple of walks through the olive groves and up into the mountaintops. Then we stayed at a campsite in Campbell which is going to feature on CamperGuru. Will post the link here when it is live.

Castell de Castells olive groves
Castell de Castells olive groves

We were going to head to Valencia for the Fallas Fesival however the Sahara sandstorm came over and now there is just a storm and it is raining so we couldn’t see any fireworks so just headed to a monastery in the hills above Valencia to sit it out.

Monserrat Mountain Range outside of Barcelona
Monserrat Mountain Range outside of Barcelona

The weather has turned and so we have decided to drive up the coast to go hiking in the Monserrat Mountain Range near Barcelona. Now, instead of heading inland at Tarragona towards the Pyrenees we are going to take the ferry to Italy for the better weather. We will take the Barcelona to Civitavecchia ferry with Grimaldi Lines. Our tickets have a cabin which I think will be useful for the 20 hour, overnight journey.

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Italy

Riserva Naturale Regionale Montagne della Duchessa
Riserva Naturale Regionale Montagne della Duchessa

When we arrived we headed inland to the mountainous national park after visiting some thermal pools.

Cusano Mutri, Province of Benevento
Cusano Mutri, Province of Benevento

We drove to Cusano Mutri in the Province of Benevento as we didn’t want to drive the coastline between Rome and Naples. We found this beautiful mountain top village and an easy park up spot. We were shown around the village by an 83 year old man who spoke no English and then had amazing pizza at Millenium Pizzaria.

Pompeii
Pompeii

We then drove to Pompeii which was really interesting. We stayed at a campsite we found on CamperGuru as we didn’t want to risk free parking as we heard stories about van break ins around the Naples area.

Port of Acciaroli
Port of Acciaroli

We then decided to drive the other side of the Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park in the province of Salerno along the coastline. Probably wouldn’t advise this route unless you are in a VW T5 as this is probably the worst road we have been on! We did find some cool ports and beaches but the road was pretty tricky and falling away down the cliff at some points.

Alberobello trulli Unesco World Heritage Site
Alberobello trulli Unesco World Heritage Site

We visited the Alberobello Trulli houses which is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. I am so pleased we came here off season as it was pretty quiet, I would hate to visit in the peak season, you wouldn’t be able to move!

Puglia Sunset
Puglia Sunset

We spent some time in Puglia exploring the olive groves and beaches. We parked up one night on the west coast and watched a beautiful sunset as bats danced around our heads. After a few days exploring this area we took the ferry from Brindisi to Igoumenitsa.

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Greece

Exploring the islands off Lefkada
Exploring the islands off Lefkada

From Igoumenitsa we took a few days to get to meet our friends on the island of Lefkada. We were based in the Town of Lefkada which makes a great place to stay to mountain bike, go out on the water, and hike. After this we went to Vikos Gorge  Pindus Mountains of north-western Greece. Eripus is the region and there were many bridges built between the villages of Zagori.

Pindus Mountains
Pindus Mountains

There are 45 bridges throughout this region connecting all 46 hidden villages, apparently paid for by a wealthy resident or a nearby monastery the local priest to help the locals go about their business and the goods to be imported.

Pindos Mountains Bridge
Pindos Mountains Bridge

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Albania

From the mountains we headed further north into Albania. At the border of Kakavia we were asked for our passports and the vehicle ownership document, which we showed the V5C which seemed to suffice. Our first port of call was to pick up a sim card from Vodafone in Gjirokaster. We got 30gb for 2000 Leke which is about £13. The secret tip I will now share with you is to download the My Vodafone AL app to get an extra free 10gb.

Permet Hot Springs
Permet Hot Springs

From the UNESCO town of Gjirokaster, and after visiting the castle, which was amazing, we headed into the moutains to the Lengarica Canyon and to stay in a meadow at Permet Hot Springs. There were about five other vans and a few stray dogs which we fed. There was only one walk which was an eight mile circular route along and over the canyon which was pretty cool.

We drove to Vlore and then to Berat, which was okay but probably wouldn’t go back there because Vlore had loads of building work going on and it actually was really smelly, which I wouldn’t normally mind but this was pretty intense, the beaches were full of litter and the stray dogs looked in such poor condition. Berat castle was nice to look around and we had lunch at this highly recommended place, Temi, which turned out to be pretty average. The highlight to the few days in that area was a trip to Apollonia. It is a really preserved archaeological site which is really easy to get to in a van. The information boards are in English, French and Albanian.

Apollonia
Apollonia

We spent then a few days at Buona Vila near the Shkumbin river which flows down from the city of Elbasan. It is near the Divjaka-Karavasta National Park which is great for wildlife but also full of litter that has flowed down from the mountain villages and from the city.

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Buona Vila
Buona Vila

Here at Buona Vila we made some amazing friends, Serge, Haffsa and Luca were a French/German/Moroccan family travelling in their amazing van and we really got to know them well and had a right laugh. One evening together we had a bonfire with marshmallows and in the distance we saw another bonfire, which turned out to be a cabin on fire, whether it was deliberate or not who can say, but Mike did see car headlights drive down that dead end track about 20 minutes before we saw the fire..

Syri i Ciklopit
Syri i Ciklopit

The Syri i Ciklopit cave near Tirana was amazing. There was a great place to park at a restaurant where we had dessert and a drink before heading further north. The walk to the cave takes about 45 minutes and the restaurant owner asks if you need a guide, we didn’t, it’s only one track, but his son will try and follow you and get money from you to use him as a guide, but with a firm ‘no’ he backed off. The cave was one of the most amazing caves I’ve been in, remember to take a head torch!

We thought about heading into the mountains from here up to Ulza Regional Nature Park and beyond, but as we got to a park up we found on Park4Night we weren’t 100% convinced. We went in for a drink and then decided to turn around as the weather was due to come in with a whole load of rain. We then drove further north to near Shëngjin.

Bar Ledh, Kune Shëngjin
Bar Ledh, Kune Shëngjin

This next location is where we have done something which has changed our life. At Mario’s Bar Ledh, near Kune Beach, near Shëngjin we adopted a stray dog, Alba. You can read about that story in full here.

Alba
Alba

We then spent a few days at Thethi National Park which was beautiful. The drive up was pretty steep and took a fair amount of time. I managed to use my Water to Go refillable filter bottle here as there were rivers and waterfalls all around.

Thethi National Park
Thethi National Park

There was some beautiful wildlife in the national park, birds of prey, wild horses and lots of amphibians.

Wildlife of Thethi National Park
Wildlife of Thethi National Park

We then stayed around Shkoder until Alba, our newly adopted dog, could get her next jab. We stayed on a campsite, which you can find out more on CamperGuru, here, which was right on the lakeside.

View from Lake Shkoder Campsite
View from Lake Shkoder Campsite

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Montenegro

Pavlova Strana Viewpoint
Pavlova Strana Viewpoint

We drove into Montenegro and were pulled over at the border, but no asked to open the van, they just asked us some questions about where we were going and what the trip was for. We then drove along the edge of Skadar Lake National Park. Which is the same place as Shokder, just spelt differently.

Rijeka
Rijeka

We parked up at a dock near this cute little village and met a Spanish couple who were lovely, they had two dogs and so Alba made some new friends. We were asked to not sleep at that spot so we just pulled up to the roadside in this village and then back back to the spot the next day.

From here we had to head back to Podgorica as I had to fly back to launch my new children’s book ‘Chesnut and Daphne‘. We had a wonderful wedding with Guy and Sophie and Mike had a fun time travelling with Callum too. Top of page ↑

We’re back in action!

We had a fab time at home and seeing all our friends – congratulations to Guy and Sophie on their beautiful wedding in Devon. The boys went for a morning swim in their OddBalls budge smugglers!

Guy and Sophie pre-wedding swim at Tunnels Beach, Ilfracombe, Devon
Guy and Sophie pre-wedding swim at Tunnels Beach, Ilfracombe, Devon

Back in Montenegro we went to stay with Mike’s brother, Stephen for a few days to check out his new cabin in the hills above Kotor. He is also writing a blog which can be read here.

Kotor Cabin in the Woods, Montenegro
Kotor Cabin in the Woods, Montenegro

After visiting the cabin we went down the coast to Budva Old Town where we had a lovely meal within the walls of one of the oldest urban towns on the Adriatic.

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Budva Old Town Marina

After exploring on foot Budva Old Town we drove further along the coast for a really quiet overnight spot on Luchina Beach at Petrovac, then we headed north to Biogradska Gora National Park.

nose horned viper
nose horned viper, Vipera ammodytes

It was €3 each to enter the park and then if you want to stay overnight in the carpark it is €22 which is quite expensive for the fact you are still in the Balkans, but we paid it, had a hot shower and the use of the toilets (squat toilets!) Here we did two walks, one around the lake, we went off course a little and saw a beautiful nose horned viper (Vipera ammodytes)! The second walk took us through the trees up to Bendovac. Grid reference for where we slept: 42.8963608,19.6010097. Top of page ↑

Biogradska Gora
Biogradska Gora

Durmitor National Park – this is probably one of our favourite places so far. We spent about 4 or 5 days here. We hiked to the foot of the tallest mountain, Bobotov Kuk. We didn’t go up as there was still snow and this was Alba’s first proper mountain day. There are so many cool places to park here, either at the abandoned ski lift or up on the Prevoj Sedlo mountain pass.

at the foot of Bobotov Kuk, Montenegro

CROATIA

After our visit to the mountains we decided to head back down towards the coast and go into Croatia back to the Prevlaka Peninsula. Here we met our friends Rob and Rabia and their dog they adopted from Albania, Gaia. We also made some new friends, Charlie and Tasha who have a great Youtube channel, you can check it out here.

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We stayed here about a week or so. I will be uploading a full vanlife in Croatia blog soon. Watch this space.

SLOVENIA

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We came into Slovenia from the south, just north of Karlovac, and headed for a night at Zuzemberk, we then found a climbing book in an Iglu shop in the capital. After this we went to scout out some climbing at a mountain side place called Creta, then to explore some castles, and north up to Logarska Dolina where we stayed for about one week before heading west towards Italy.

NORTH ITALY

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We entered Italy at Kranjska Gora and then explored the area and took a cable car from Camprosso and hiked to the amazing Cima Del Cacciatore. From here we went to Sella Nevea and up into the mountains on one of the narrowest and steepest roads we have done yet, give or take.

There are quite a few different footpaths up here depending what sort of walk you want to go on, including some via ferrata sections.

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We are now 6 months into our trip and below is a video overview of some of the things we have been up to.

We got into Tarvisio and found a nice park up just on the edge of town. In town there were lots of choices of places to eat. I tried to practice my Italian but the waitress just spoke to me in German, I think she just assumed I was another german tourist, to be fair to her, there were no other UK vans. In fact, on the whole trip so far, we have only seen about 4 other UK vans. 

Mould in my campervan conversion!

A subject which many self builders may face, or have faced. Not the most prettiest of things to talk about but necessary. So, the main questions are why does my campervan conversion have mould under my mattress and how do I get rid of it. Read below to find out!

First, where has the mould come from?

When we sleep we perspire (the average person loses around 2lb of moisture during the night) and although most of this perspiration condenses on windows in the cabin, some of this moisture travels through the mattress and condenses onto the wooden or fibreglass base below. As there is no air flow under the mattress, the moisture is trapped there which causes damp and musty smells to form as well as mould and bacteria to grow. This causes the bed to become un-fresh and unhygienic which devalues your investment!

How do I get rid of it?

First we sprayed the slats and the mattress with anti bac which removed the mould. Then lifted the mattress and put the heater on high to dry the whole thing out. Once this was dry we did some research and brought this Dry Mat mesh which seemed to have good reviews.

Dry Mat is a 10mm layer of mini springs which apparently doesn’t compress under pressure. It claimed that it prevents condensation and helps keep things fresh and hygienic! It’s marketed at being used on boats but I don’t see why it can’t be used in our campervan.

So far we have had the Dry Mat in the van for 3 weeks now and it is still in great condition. I hope that has helped, or will be useful to you in your future van build.

You can buy a Dry-Mat here

You can read my other van blogs here:

The DIY Vanlife Adventure

Our Favourite Van Conversion Features

Recycled Parts in the Van Conversion

(This blog includes an affiliate link to the product we brought).