A Birthday at Lochranza

Lochranza castle is just a 5 minute walk from the site

Wow! How lucky am I? I have just celebrated my 62nd birthday at one of the most beautiful spots on Arran. Nor have my friends and family forgotten me in this slightly isolated spot, where the nearest shop is 7 miles away. The postal service did a good job delivering cards and amazingly flowers from as far afield as New Zealand. The flowers were from Carol and Barry in NZ and the process of ordering the flowers was complicated and a little tricky! But what a fantastic surprise!!! My only problem was where to display them as I only had a very small vase. Luckily Gazza has a penchant for fizzy water. So I just cut up an empty water bottle and Hey Presto an impromptu vase appeared!

Our van is rather compact inside and a bit short on display areas but I managed to string up my cards across the cupboards.

There was a very clever card from the other Dangerous Sister…….

Gary and I were working in the camp site office in the morning but caught a bus from outside the campsite at 12:50 to go into Brodick for a celebration lunch at Crofters’ Music Bar Bistro
https://croftersmusicbar.com/. This is a lovely bar which holds live music sessions and also plays a wide selection of Folk, Jazz, Pop and Country music on its tape loop.

This young man along with a great fiddle player was playing at Crofters when we called in a few Sundays ago.
Along with the Scottish Craft Beers they also serve a wide selection of different gins and whiskeys

The toilets are interesting too and have a musical theme with sheet music for wallpaper .
….and a guitar shaped toilet seat…..perfect for large bottoms!!1

Then sadly it was back to yet another beautiful evening at the campsite.


The Road to Arran

After a few setbacks we finally left Leeds and were Arran bound, due to arrive at Lochranza campsite Wednesday afternoon.

We had decided to complete the journey over 2 days having a stopover somewhere enroute. Being an ostrich sort of person I hadn’t really considered where we would stay on Tuesday evening…..just somewhere. Luckily I am married to “Google Gary” who for several weeks had been on line investigating all the possibilities and permutations and these depended upon which route we took once we hit the M6.

As we tottered up the A66 looking at the glorious views it provided we agreed to head for Dumfries and then to a little harbour close by called Glencaple. This would leave us about 80 miles to do the following morning to Ardrossan where we were catching the 12:30 ferry to Brodick on Arran.

Dumfries is just out of the picture on the map being about 5 miles north of Glencaple

Gary had found out about this stopover from the Brit Stops book
http://www.britstops.com/welcome.php and then had checked it out on other sites where it had been given great reviews.

Those reviews did not deceive. It was a beautiful spot with glorious views looking out towards the Solway Firth.

Although it was mid week in late April the car park’s designated space for 5 motorhomes was already busy by the time we arrived at about 4pm, but we did manage to squeeze in.This was despite the fact that 2 vans had been badly parked and, with their owners nowhere to be seen were occupying more space than was their due. No wonder motorhomers often get a bad press!

The stopover is provided by the local council and has designated space for 5 motorhomes. An honesty box with information about the site which includes a request that motorhomes only park in the designated area is in a prominent position. There is  no accompanying recommendation regarding the amount of donation, but we thought that for this delightful spot £5 should be a minimum. If the site is full then there is the option to go to Castle Corner which is about 3 miles away and has space for 7 motorhomes.

There are clean toilets in the car park which are supposed to be locked overnight but when we were there seemed to remain open all the time. A cafe/ restaurant is adjacent to the car park and opposite is a pub, the Nith Hotel.

We ate in the pub that evening and had a very enjoyable meal.

We had, for us an early start the next day and reached Ardrossan with enough time to stock up with provisions and fuel at the ASDA, which is very conveniently placed next door to the ferry port, long before embarkation was due to start.

The van at Ardrossan waiting patiently whilst we collected the tickets

As we were there quite early we were just about first in the motorhome queue for the ferry. For once, we didn’t seem to have to wait too long once boarding began, before it was our turn. But Quelle Domage! When Gary was beckoned forwards and he turned the ignition on the scary red ECU light came on which we know means bad engine trouble.

What should we do? If we didn’t move we would be in the way, if we did there was a slight possibility that we would wreck the engine……..

What did we do?

We moved!

We drove onto the ferry promising ourselves that on the other side at Brodick as soon as possible we would park up and investigate the cause of the menacing red light.

On the ferry at Ardrossan harbour

With great trepidation we restarted the van when it came time to depart the ferry at Brodick hoping against hope that the red light was just a glitch and it would have disappeared…..but no, it was still there.

The ferry at Brodick…. plus random finger!

Brodick was very busy and we struggled to find anywhere to park our long vehicle. Finally we staggered into the Coop car park which was rammed. Gary was driving and I as navigator got him stuck in a dead end by the recycling bins.

Tempers were becoming fractured. I jumped out to see him reverse out of the dead end…..he revved the engine hard twice…not in anger as I erroneously thought……and miraculously…… the red light cleared and we were on our way again.

It was only 14 windy, twisty  miles to Lochranza through stunning coastal scenery past Goatfell, over the tops and we were finally there on site and pitched up!

Phew! What a view. It was definitely worth it!

Bluebell Memories

Spring is definitely my favourite season and this part of spring when the bluebells are in full bloom is the best. Our garden shimmers with a haze of misty blue and in doing so recalls memories.

A haze of bluebells on The Ridge yesterday

Unlike the usual stereotypes of a cosily married couple it is Gary who remembers our special dates and anniversaries. He is the memory man. I tend to have a more vague memory for such occasions pinned to the back of my mind more by a slight flavour or essence of the original event.

So indeed, I do remember our wedding day. It happened at this time in spring when the bluebells were in full dance and the smell of the May flowers hung in the air. It happened on the Friday of the May Day bank holiday and, so Gary tells me, it happened 30 years ago yesterday. Perhaps if I write the date out here, the numbers will stick to the front of my mind and not disappear in the clouds of remembrances which clutter my mind and fill up my memory bank. April 28th 1989!

….signing the register with our lovely Laura

With Gary’s Mum and Dad
The three Lovelace siblings

Bob was our best man and I remember him leading everyone in a fit of the giggles during the wedding vows due to the pompous nature of the male registrar. I also remember him lewdly sticking Laura’s posy down the front of his trousers in this photograph….until we insisted he removed it!

The very special French gateau ordered as a surprise wedding cake by our good friends Jeff and Neil
A picture for Elsa……of her Mum, Dad and Uncle Alan in different times!

We don’t usually celebrate our wedding anniversary but as it was a special one we thought we would, after all our kids had made the effort earlier in the week for us.

So, in the late afternoon we wandered down through the wooded Ridge breathing in the heavenly scents of the May flowers, past the haze of bluebells and wild garlic to a small Italian restaurant/cafe in Meanwood- Culto.

Now as you cannot book a table in advance and as it had been very busy the last time we were there we were a little concerned that we might not be able to get a table. But the restaurant section was empty and we had our pick of where to sit. This situation did not last long as within half an hour the place was completely packed , mostly with young families seeking an early evening meal. And no wonder, great value, high quality eating !

Food was delicious, Gary had a great pizza Diavola with spicy sausage and a nicely risen crust and I had a fabulous Mille Folle- layers of aubergine, courgette, tomato mozzarella and ricotta.

Later we met Laura and Maggie and went to the Meanwood Institute to watch a friend’s band, The Hollow Men previously Full English Breakfast perform a gig they called A song for Europe and other English Tunes.

The institute is a very small and intimate venue, not much bigger than our sitting room.

We have seen the band play many times before, they are all very talented musicians who can play a wide variety of instruments.One of their specialities however are the beautiful and at times haunting songs which they sing A Cappella.

Most of the music they play are covers of fairly well known songs but all done in the bands own style.In last nights selection the most famous items included Bus Stop by the Hollies, Cliff Richards’ The Young Ones, Debris by Ronnie Lane and Michelle by the Beatles. They also played two songs especially in honour of our imminent departure for Arran….a very tongue in cheek Donald Where’s Your Troosers and a moving song by Robert Burns about a happily married old couple called John Anderson, My Jo.

Yet another brilliant musical evening, this time to raise money for Leeds Refugee Forum and also for those affected by cyclone Idai in Malawi. And at a mere £5 per person what a bargain!

Fun and goodwill all in one event!

The Final Countdown

Less than a week to go to our Arran adventure and our preparations have continued apace.

On Easter Monday our lovely friend Maggie organised a goodbye party for us with close friends. This was a fabulous day and all down to the hard work of Maggie who provided a sumptuous feast for 14 hungry people.

The Pearce ladies + one

Live music by Chris and Neil in the blazing sunshine of an unseasonally hot afternoon gave an extra sparkle to the occasion.

The next two younger generations had exhausting fun too. Here they are keeping Lady Edie busy…..or was it the other way round! She certainly seems to be in command!

Maggie, as well as starters and mains of dolmades, spanakopita, mixed olives, Greek salad and moussaka provided no less than 4 desserts including a Victoria Sponge cake and a rich chocolate torte…..all home cooked. She must have been cooking for days! But for the diners the effort was definitely worth it!

The balcony wasn’t sloping…..special camera effect possibly due to use of Prosecco lens!

On Tuesday we had our very, very dirty van washed at Coney Park where we store our Classic Hymer van by Adam from Clean Bay Marine Valeting Servicehttp://www.cleanbay.co.uk

Before Adam

I was very insistent that he take great care to wash our pop up roof vent…..only to discover that most of the extreme filth was on the inside! While he washed the exterior I cleaned the interior including the walls, windows, doors and floors.

Post Adam
Our Hymer Classic restored in all its glory…so shiny and gleaming it looks like it has had a respray!

When he had finished, after 4 hours of ceaseless work the van looked so much better and less battered almost new.

This was the second time we have had the Van cleaned by Clean Bay Marine Valeting and it certainly wont be the last.

On Thursday we took the van to a BP petrol station on Kirkstall Road which Gary had espied as selling LPG. The place we used to take it to in Meanwood had stopped trading a few years ago and we had struggled to find somewhere local that was easily accessible.

As ever we approached the self service LPG pump with trepidation. I know everyone will say its easy but we never quite remember how to use it. The loud blaring blast of gas as you undo the nozzle once you have finished always takes me by surprise as at that point we are usually so intent upon disconnecting the ruddy thing correctly. Additionally, the steps 1,2 and 3 of the instructions of how to use it had been ripped off the pump and so we had to try and work it out for ourselves. But we or rather Gary did….quite easily in the end…. my mind seemed to have been blown. Think I have let the caterpillars into my cabbage of a brain again so that it is full of holes!

Anyhow, job done we filled our tank up to 85% for less than thirty quid. That should meet our heating and cooking needs through till October.

Today, Friday has been a day of catching up with little bits that needed doing. So Gary has had his hair cut and met up with a friend at the cricket at Headingley…until miserable weather sent him home.We have also organised an internet shopping delivery of essential items for the van for late on Saturday evening. The nearest shop to us on Arran is 7 miles and either a bike ride or a bus ride away. so we want to be well stocked up for a bit whilst we establish what our work shifts and shopping options might be.

So finally,this weekend we have just our clothes to put into the van, a few last bits and pieces, books, DVD’s and crochet stuff and then somehow manhandle our bikes up to Coney Park and onto the back of the Van so that we are ready for our Grand Depart on Tuesday morning sharp!

A Pearl of an Evening!

Last night our wonderful grown up children presented us, Gary and myself that is, with a surprise evening!

About a week ago Laura and Arya had invited us to their house for a family “going away to Arran” goodbye meal. So far so good. The designated date was last night and we all had to ensure that we were free. Little did we know that Jamie, Laura and Arya had been secretly conspiring together in the background.

Arya is a chef and doesn’t work on Tuesday evenings, Laura took the day off work…allegedly to help Arya shop and prepare the evening meal and Jamie managed to swap his days off, as otherwise he would have been doing an afternoon shift. So,the only sticking point was…….. Gary.

Although he has been retired for a good few years now he is a very busy man, both socially and with football related duties. He has been Secretary for Leeds Modernians football club for over 30 years and felt very honoured when 2 years ago he was asked to be President of the Yorkshire Amateur Football League which has been in existence for 90 years.

Unlike his involvement at The Mods, this position has few duties and he is more of a figurehead attending League committee meetings and any special functions including football semi -final and match finals where he is expected to present medals, cups and trophies. This time of year is the end of the amateur football season and accordingly is littered with such occasions.Last night being one of them….and yes…. you have guessed the rest Gary had agreed several weeks ago that he would attend last nights semi final match.

Now we have a rule in our family that if you have agreed to do something you do not give back-word if something more appealing turns up. You should always stick by the first arrangement and not let people down. At times our children found this hard and especially when they discovered that others do not do the same. They would be disappointed and hurt by others changing their minds about attending events, often at the very last minute when it is too late to invite anyone else.But as in Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies, Mrs Do-as-you-would-be-done-by featured largely in our family’s moral code.

Mrs Do-as-you-would-be-done-by in the Water Babies with Tom

What a quandry for Gary. This was the only evening we could all be together and just to add to the moral dilemma another tenet held by us is that wherever possible family should come first. I callously suggested that as is his wont he should try to do everything. In other words go to the game and then come to Laura’s and Arya’s meal afterwards and have whatever scraps were left over. Laura was horrified.

As it was the game wouldn’t finish until 9:30 and then the presentations would begin so attending both wasn’t possible. He was in turmoil torn between family and duty.

What on earth should he do and what would you have done?

In the end, but only at almost the last minute, he came clean with the League chairman and emailed explaining the situation but still offering to attend the game if it would leave them with too few league officials in attendance. This was especially as the previous match final which he had attended on Saturday had become rather “tricky” with spectator dissent with the ref and linesmen.The response was quick and very positive….no worries, Gary could easily be replaced and he should put his family first.

At last all the stars were aligned and the family meal with full attendance was definitely on!

We agreed to meet at Gary’s favourite bar in Meanwood, Alfreds for pre -dinner drinks. I was a little surprised at this as timings for cooking a meal can be precarious but was assured by Laura that all the preparations were in hand. Jamie dissuaded us from taking wine and beer with us, as is normal for dinner guests. He was quite emphatic that they weren’t needed as Laura had insisted that she had already bought enough for everyone. This was rather a relief, as with me in strappy sandals and a dress, heavy bags of booze would be an encumbrance I could do without as we were planning to walk there.

So at 6 o’clock we walked down the Ridge to Alfreds where soon we were all happily ensconced. By 7 o’clock, with the exception of Jamie and Gary, we had finished our drinks and Laura suggested that the rest of us should return to their house so that Arya could begin cooking with a view to the other two coming soon after.

So off the three of us went. Along the road we were due to pass one of our favourite restaurants, Zucco. As ever it looked quite busy inside although there were still one or two tables free. To my amazement Arya opened the door and then Laura beckoned me inside. She, Jamie and Arya had booked a table for us all for the evening. The meal was a present from them for our soon to be 30 th wedding anniversary, the Pearl Anniversary.

What a wonderful surprise and what a wonderful evening we all had. Laura explained that they hadn’t known what to give us as we already had everything….well anything within their financial range ….there was that Hymer Duomobile motorhome that we had fantasised about!

Jamie managed to manoeuvre his dad out of Alfreds and steer him to Zucco’s soon afterwards and Gary was astounded to see us all waiting there.

Our lovely family evening was set to continue in style with the kids paying for everything. Of course ,Gary did offer to pay for the drinks at least but they were adamant the whole evening was on them.

Service was friendly, helpful and efficient and the food itself was utterly marvellous.It was such fun to be able to share and then discuss the various merits of our individual choices as the menu is based upon tapas style, small, sharing plates. For me the star of the main dishes was the ox cheek risotto while Gary’s was the calves liver.

What a good job he didn’t go to the football match!

How very lucky we are!!

We’re Desperate…..Dan!!!

Only 2 weeks to go to our Arran adventure and there is still so much to do!

One burning issue has been to make sure that the van is ready. Having got it through its annual vehicle and engine MOT a week ago……yet again at great expense…. the only problem remaining was our lack of hot water.

On our trip south to Oxford and Eastleigh last month we discovered, when we filled up with fresh water, that the dump valve wouldn’t close properly and so was flooding water out and that we couldn’t get the hot water taps to work. At first we were convinced that it was just us being inept and that the cause was something simple and easy to rectify. We tried turning the valve on and off several times and although the flood lessened to a constant dribble the problem remained and no matter how long we left the taps on “warm” nothing came out.

In desperation we emailed “Caravan Dan” http://caravandan.co.uk/, where we had had our interior serviced in February, could he tell us simple fools what we were doing wrong.

We knew that this was his busiest time of year and that he was fully booked up for weeks so we were just looking for advice. But he was better than that and offered to squeeze us in to his packed schedule, if we could only get the van to his workshop in Keighley on Friday morning at 9:00 sharp he would sort us out before he began his days work!

Fabulous! As the journey from Leeds to Keighley is a bit gutty in rush hour traffic and as we would have to first drive out and collect the van from its storage in Yeadon first we thought we would make a trip away out of it all. So we booked up to stay at Newsholme Manor http://www.newsholmemanor.co.uk/ on Thursday evening.

This certified site is just 5 minutes outside of Keighley and has hard standing and hook up for 5 vans with wonderful views across the valley as it is situated at the top of a hill. There is a restaurant at the manor but it was closed on Thursdays. The only downside of the site is that it has no toilet facilities although it does have a chemical toilet disposal point.

An additional plus is that only a short walk away …..downhill…is the lovely Turkey Inn at the village of Goose Eye.

We had a delicious meal there, as ever, on Thursday, but were sad to hear that the present owners were leaving.

We arrived at Dan’s workshop bright and early on Friday morning at 9 to find he was just opening up for us. He soon identified our first issue…the lack of hot water. The pipe leading from the boiler was entirely bunged up with gunge and detritus that had accumulated from the boiler. Once he had cleared that and replaced the pipe he discovered that the dump valve was broken and so replaced that too. By 10 o clock the job was finished and we were on our way…..to our next campsite at Hebden Bridge where we were meeting some friends in their newly acquired camper!!

All thanks to “Caravan Dan”….our hero!

Long Live The Remoska !!

The best cooking gadget we ever bought for our van was a Remoska which we first acquired for the blue van many, many moons and happy holidays ago. This wonderful piece of kitchen equipment is a sort of small electric, very portable, Dutch Oven. Apparently this type of oven has been made in the Czech Republic since the 1950s, we bought ours from Lakeland about 20 years ago…… with a lifelong guarantee. As it uses only a small amount of electrickery, just over 400w it is perfect for vans and campers.

The original version of the Remoska which we bought from Lakeland

The heating element is in the lid which has a central glass insert so you can view the food you are cooking. There are two sizes of Remoska and we bought the larger one, rather marvellously called The Grand Remoska. We also had two sizes of base pan, a deep one and a shallow one. Having the two pans was a boon as when we were cooking for a large group (we have used it to prepare food for 16!) we could swap cooking between the two pans using a spare pan lid to cover the food not currently cooking under the Remoska lid. We also had a variety of small silicone pudding and muffin bowls which we could use inside the Remoska so that we could cook food separately in the same pan. This was particularly useful if we were cooking something sloppy like a meat curry alongside a differently spiced vegetable dish. A further advantage of having a spare base pan is that it provides somewhere to rest the lid when you remove it to stir, or add ingredients to the cooking pan which becomes a rather difficult feat if one hand is fully occupied by holding the hot lid.

We have used our Remoska to cook a huge variety of foods from toasted sandwiches to roasts, jacket potatoes, cakes, tarts, pastries and pizzas. In short if you can cook it in an oven you can cook it in the Remoska. One memorable holiday we cooked a roast leg of lamb complete with roast potatoes and Mediterranean roast vegetables one day and then the next day used the remainder of the lamb for a superb moussaka ….much to the amazement of our friends whom we were cooking for.

Another advantage we found was that during very hot days in the South of France you could cook a dinner without overheating the inside of the van.

At times we were rather naughty and would put our dinner on in the Remoska and then go off to a nearby hostelry for a pre dinner drink and return to our cooked meal. I say naughty because as events later showed that is a very dangerous practice, but after years of problem free Remoska use we had become rather blase…

Then last September disaster struck. We were at Lochranza campsite on Arran and I was cooking our evening meal in the Remoska as usual. Suddenly, and without any warning the electric cable leading to the lid burst into a bright, blue flame just at the junction with the handle. Luckily, I was able to quickly smother the flame with a damp tea towel and unplug the Remoska from the electric socket. No harm done to us or the van but our beloved Remoska was decidedly dead and done for.

We knew that originally Lakeland had offered a lifetime guarantee with their product but after 20 years of use it seemed rather cheeky to ask for a replacement. This little oven had certainly seen many years of use and abuse. However, a replacement was expensive at £169 not something we could easily afford.

So we agreed to struggle on and manage for at least a few months without a Remoska. But it was hard, we were so used to its adaptability and ease of use. I remember camping at York in December feeling particularly bereft at its loss and hinting to Gary that perhaps we should look into the Lakeland shop as well as the Christmas Market…but to no avail. Then at Christmas Gary’s lovely sister and brother in law , Carol and Barry, insisted upon giving us some money to spend upon the van. Of course, this was instantly earmarked to go towards our purchase of a new Remoska.

Finally, last week a parcel from Lakeland arrived with the latest sparkly, model of the Grand. It is slightly different, but essentially the same.

The stand is different, less bulky so easier for packing away……but how does it compare for cooking?

Wonderful, no difference at all. Here is our first meal cooked in our new Remoska, a tasty vegetarian, bean stew.

Long live the Remoska, king of the camping kitchen!