Please bear with us whilst we undergo some renovation work.
Last year we were able to visit Saltburn-By-The-Sea in North Yorkshire (in-between lockdowns) and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We had heard about Saltburn on another blog and decided to investigate. From its tall cliffs to sweeping beach this is a great place to blow those cobwebs away.
History of Saltburn-By-The-Sea
This picturesque Victorian seaside town is situated on the Cleveland coastline, between Redcar and Whitby. The town has a lot of history including the Roman signalling station. Located on top of Hunt Cliff, a station was built to watch out for Anglo Saxon attackers from Denmark and Germany. Some excavations were undertaken upon its discovery. Some artefacts including Roman pottery, leather sandals and clothing are on show in the Whitby museum. Due to erosion this has now been lost to the sea. There was a sign up nearby however I am not sure if that is still there after the winter.
Smuggling was also rife on this stretch of coastline from Saltburn to Whitby in the 18th and 19th century. Everyone seemed to be involved, from clergymen and farmers to local gentry. Saltburn and other villages along the coastline that were quite rural and isolated, allowed for the illegal smuggling of contraband to become a profitable business away from prying eyes. This contraband included items such as tea, brandy and textiles which at that point were taxed heavily as imported goods. Robin Hoods Bay even has a smugglers tunnel leading from the beach inland and is another destination that we loved visiting.
The Victorian influence in the town is unmistakeable as the industrial revolution seemed to touch every corner of the country. Railways were built, factories churned out goods and the pollution started to cause health problems for those living in cities and industrial areas. The health benefits of being by the seaside lead to the development of seaside towns popping up for the wealthy to visit and escape the smog.
Henry Pease and the building of Saltburn.
During the industrial revolution, the discovery and recovery of Iron Ore would change the fortunes of Saltburn. Henry Pease came from a mostly Quaker family who were heavily involved in industrial enterprises. The family had several lines of business including woollen mills, coal mines and railways.
Henry’s father Joseph Pease was influential in creating the Stockton to Darlington railway. He then proposed to extend the line further. The SIC (Saltburn Improvement Company) was formed and development began on the extension of the railway line. It is stated that one evening by Henry’s wife, he returned home late for dinner. Explaining that he had walked to Saltburn-By-The-Sea “seated on the hillside he had seen, in a sort of prophetic vision, on the edge of the cliff before him, a town arise and the quiet unfrequented glen turned into a lovely garden”.
The railway line had already received royal assent in the North Riding Railway Act of 1858 by then and seemed to pave the way for Henry to build the town from his vision. Land was purchased from the Earl of Zetland by Henry and designs for a grid iron town with a mass of sea views able to capitalise on the steep incline up the cliff face from the beach. Plots were sold to developers and over the years the town was built Rapidly growing in size. The seaside resort benefitted greatly from the completion of the Saltburn stretch of railway by 1861.
As a result, today you can see how well they capitalised on the local geography to maximise profits on views. The town peers down in tiers to views across the bay. They also take a battering from the winds off of the North Sea too.
We found free parking easily on Marine Parade. With plenty of room on the road side for larger campervans such as our Iveco XLWB. From here, you could either use the steps provided for the descent from the cliff top or you could walk back along the roadside for a longer but easier gradient. There are pay and display car parks in Saltburn-By-The-Sea located at the bottom of the cliff near Skelton Beck should you require a closer parking spot to the beach itself.
Another way to get to sea level easily is a short ride on the funicular, or Cliff Lift! Providing easy access to the pier, this is the oldest working funicular in the UK. At 120ft high and a 71 percent incline, these 12 person cars still use water balancing to operate. How does it work you ask? There are two cars on the lines, one at the top and one at the bottom. Each car is fitted with a huge water tank, filled until the mass of the top car is heavier than the one at the bottom. The shift in weight allows the car to travel down using gravity and the movement is managed by the brake-person. When the car gets to the bottom, water is released and pumped back to the top.
Sadly, due to Covid rules, this attraction was closed when we visited so we couldn’t see it in operation. It looked splendid on the coast line in the sunshine and we hope it will be open again soon.
Across the way from the funicular is the famous pier. Famous because it is now the last remaining pier in Yorkshire. Originally 1500ft long and operating steamer excursions for passengers from Saltburn-By-The-Sea to Middlesbrough, and then Hartlepool and Scarborough.
In October 1875 a bad storm destroyed the end of the pier removing 300 ft and leaving it badly damaged. The pier has had some changes since then. Most recently a cash injection of £2.1m from the National Lottery Heritage Grant. This has led the way for conservation of the cast iron trestles and replacement of the hardwood timber beams. The Pier now sports a 680ft jetty with benches for visitors to enjoy the views. There are no structures on the pier such as amusements.
We had a lovely time sat here watching people with their kids and dogs, chasing waves and playing happily. The long beach golden in the waning summer sunshine casting a glow and shadows of the pier onto the sand.
Saltburn-By-The-Sea is home to a gently sloped sandy beach with some shingle. It is family friendly and has dog friendly sections of the beach all year round. The tide goes out past the end of the pier (well certainly when we were visiting!) at low tide. Multi-coloured beach huts for hire mark the edge of the promenade under the cliffs. There is one arcade and a small selection places to get your fish and chips and ice cream from.
The surf scene at Saltburn-By-The-Sea is also pretty well known in the surfing community. The waves here have baptised many to the sport that have gone one to do very well in surfing competitions. Some say Saltburn-By-The-Sea is the best surf spots on the east coast of England.
The Cleveland Way Walk
The Cleveland Way is a famous horse shoe shaped national trail. It runs 110 miles from Helmsley (in-land), on a north-eastern trajectory until it turns south along the coast line from Saltburn-By-The-Sea to Filey Brigg. It’s highest point is 454m above sea level and the route can be split into 30 smaller walks. Officially opened in May 1969, the Cleveland Way takes in all types of scenery, from the costal cliff top paths to heather moorlands and views ever changing with the seasons. The North York Moors national park is a very special part of England boasting unspoilt dark skies perfect for star gazing.
We took the path for the Cleveland way up the hill from the Ship Inn past the National Trust sign. Climbing steeply to the cliff top before we levelled out to fields on our right full of crops and butterflies and a few little cottages before walking alongside the railway line. A heavily trodden path lead the way towards the village of Skinningrove, tucked around the cove. Some wonderful sights along the way including these two pieces of artwork.
The drop at Hunt cliff of around 365ft straight down is one of the highest cliffs on the east coast of England and part of a nature reserve. The formidable cliff face is an appealing home for birds such as Cormorants, Kittiwakes and Fulmar.
Seats overlook the cliffs edge but with constant erosion you wouldn’t catch me on them for love nor money. There is also a sad history here, with many people choosing this location as one to end their lives. Rocks with messages on and the number for the Samaritans mark locations chosen by desperate people that visit here uncertain of where to turn. You can’t help but reflect on the sadness that this cliff has born witness to even though the location is beautiful and peaceful.
The suicides that happen here are not new sadly. This place has been chosen for centuries as a sure way to a quick demise. Evidence of that can be seen in the number of bodies recovered on the beaches below. With the local pub, the Ship Inn, being used as a makeshift mortuary until 1881. The 12ft by 18ft building that sits alone across the road was then built as the local mortuary. Long since closed and used as a wood store and photographers studio in following years.
Skelton Beck and Valley Gardens
Henry Pease had a vision of the unfrequented glen turned into a beautiful garden. Land was purchased from the Earl of Zetland for it and the location where Skelton Beck ends its journey from Guisburgh is where you will find Valley Gardens.
The railway line development needed to find a way of crossing the beck to reach Skinningrove. An incredible 11 arched railway viaduct was built to serve the limestone mines. The beck winding its way towards the sea below was not without its share of the news. Pollution from pig slurry killed the fish and needed cleaning and restocking many years ago.
The gardens are beautiful to walk around and include wooded areas as sell as steep banks and Italian inspired designs. A tea room, play area and miniature railway line provide entertainment and relaxation away from the beach. We saw children playing with their fishing nets paddling in the water here away having lots of fun.
Saltburn-By-The-Sea is a must see!
Ensuring you can explore locations where you have plenty of space is still a new way of thinking post covid. We all are desperate now for life to return to normal however there will be lasting changes for some. The highlights of Saltburn-By-The-Sea include…
- Dog friendly sections of the beach year around
- Beach huts for hire – if they reopen this summer it will provide safe areas for your family.
- Wide and long beach
- Cliff walk as part of the Cleveland way
- Gardens and beck for paddling and fishing for the children.
- Takeaways providing food and ice cream
We had a lovely time here and felt very safe in the area.
Please continue to follow all government advice and guidelines for travel in your area.
See other Locations we have visited
Pre travel check for a campervan or motorhome.
If, like us, the lockdown has left you staying put more than you would like to be, there is a good chance that your campervan hasn’t gone too far over the last year. The only good thing is that you are probably averaging about 3 weeks to the gallon! We have seen some of you put your campervans or motorhomes into storage, sorned them or left them outside your house, so how do we get them ready for when lockdown restrictions end? What checks should we be making on our campervan or motorhome pre travel?
We have compiled a list of things you need to check before heading off on the road.
Before you even think about turning the engine on you need to do some primary checks. A visual check of the vehicle first for any damage incurred either by other vehicles or storms etc. Look for any dents, scratches or changes to the vehicle. Ensure that there is no debris on the roof of the van that could fall off and cause an accident or damage.
Take a look under bonnet and chassis for any animals living in the van, nesting or causing damage to cables. Hopefully you remembered to take all the food out beforehand so as not to attract critters!
Prior to travel all lights should be tested. Enlist a friend to help you including hazards, fogs and all internal dash lights are in good working order and that no warning lights are displayed. Any bulbs or fuses that need replacing must be done so straight away. (We will talk more about the leisure battery and internal electrics later). Inspect the marker light casing and light fittings for any cracks or damage.
Screen wash and Wipers
Before taking to the road you need to ensure you have plenty of screen wash and that your wipers are working correctly, not stuck to the windscreen and the blades have not perished. Ensure the gutter between the windscreen and bonnet is clear from leaves and other debris, if not kept clear this could severely affect your engine such as water congregating and damaging the electrics and fuse boards. This should be a regular maintenance check.
Always check the oil when the vehicle is cold. Find the dipstick, no the one under the bonnet! Pull it out and clean it with an old rag or tissue. Note at the bottom of the dipstick there will be two lines, minimum and maximum. Carefully insert the stick back into the tube trying to keep it central. Once it is fully inserted, remove the dipstick again and see where the oil line is. Oil and coolant are the most important fluids in the vehicle so always check the owner’s manual for the correct specifications.
Check that the water reservoir isn’t frozen before starting the vehicle if it has been cold recently. If there isn’t enough antifreeze/coolant in the water it could expand when it freezes. This can create cracks and leaks. If you see the water tank is empty you need to refill it, check under the engine afterwards to see if water is escaping from somewhere.
If you have topped up and it hasn’t leaked, turn the engine over and let it run for 1 minute and then turn it off. This will allow you to get water into the system and refill the tank again. Run the engine for a little longer whilst you are doing other checks to see if any water is escaping. Move the vehicle onto a dry flat surface if you can.
Wheels and Tyres
Visual Check – inspect your tyres regularly for lumps, bulges, cuts, cracking, foreign objects in the tread (remove with a blunt tool if you can) and make sure these are dealt with urgently by a professional. The pre travel check could stop a dangerous situation from arising when driving your motorhome or campervan.
Always check the tyre pressure from cold. Check that you have the correct PSI. Campervans and motorhomes can be heavy vehicles so ensuring you have the correct PSI will keep you safe and also help on fuel economy. Most larger vehicles will have a plate inside the cab that will give you the correct figures. Having a vehicle in storage or parked up not moving for too long can cause damage to the tyre. Rapid deterioration from supporting the weight of the vehicle on one part of the tyre is not unheard-of.
Why are tyres so special?
There are lots of different types of tyres. A range depending on your budgets and performance. The purpose of a tyre is to support the weight of the vehicle at speed, they must be able to cope with corners and shifting weight, deal with all weather and surface types, from ice and snow to extreme heat in summer and tarmac to grass. The tyre is the only part of the vehicle that should be touching the ground and as such, they have to deal with traction of breaking and acceleration too.
As tyres are one of the most important parts of the vehicle in terms of safety as well as actually being able to move, it is very important not to overlook these parts of your vehicle and regularly check them over for damage/wear and tear.
What are the markings on the tyre sidewall?
Sidewall. This is the area between the tread and the wheel hub. You will often find writing on this area which to someone who doesn’t work with tyres, can look very confusing.
For example, a code such as 205/65 R16 95 V. Here we will explain what each parts mean.
205 – Width of the tyre in mm
65 – Section height in terms of a percentage. In this case 65% is described as the aspect ratio. It refers to the height of the tyre from the rim to the tread divided by the width of the tyre.
R16 – Rim Diameter. The letter R means Radial. The number is the diameter of the inner rim measured in inches.
95 – Load index in KG. related to the load each tyre is able to carry.
V – The last letter relates to the maximum speed for that tyre. You may need to search for this online to get the correct speed for your tyre. If you have different tyres, always stick to the lowest one.
Tyre Tread depth
In the UK, the legal requirement for tread is 1.6mm across three quarters of the tyres surface. The easiest way to check is to look for the tread wear indicators. These are small bumps built into the grooves of the tread. If your tread is level with the top of the bump, you are at the legal limit and your tyres need changing.
Tools and tricks.
Tyre gauge – the best way to check is to use a tool such as a tyre gauge. These come in many forms such as digital, pen shaped gauges and even laminated cards.
Trick – If you don’t have access to a tyre tread gauge, see if you can get your hands on a 20p coin! Place the coin in the tread and if the outer band is visible then your tyres may be illegal. Take the test in multiple places and in different treads as some tyres can wear herder if your tracking and balancing is out.
Types of tyres
Normal car tyre – Usually made from just two plies and inflate to approximately 40 psi and carrying up to 500kg
Commercial tyre – usually has about 2mm more tread to start with and made from 6 or 8 plies. This makes the tyre more durable and can carry a higher weight load up to 700Kg and inflate to around 65 psi.
Motorhome Tyres – A van of approx. 2700kg empty weight can put 675kg pressure on each tyre. Specialist motorhome tyres can be inflated to 80psi. They have tougher sidewalls and a better tread compound, helping in those tricky grass pitches in wet weather!
Here is a link for more information
Damp and leaks
As our vans start to age, we see more problems arising and this isn’t only related to the engine. Age shows itself in many ways, rust patches, peeling paint and seals perishing can all cause leaks, as can screw holes, air vents and unaligned doors. If you have an Iveco Daily like us, you probably already know about the door seal leaking! Pre travel checks on your motorhome or campervan are not limited to the engine and external features, the habitation are needs investigating too!
Inspect the ceiling, door/window seals, air vents and floors for any sins of water damage. This could be staining, damp and mould or actual puddles. Remember water can travel so where the water pools may not be where the leak is.
It is good to do a roof inspection and check any caulked areas such as sky lights. Door and window seals may also have perished and it is essential to replace these if damaged. External doors such as for a toilet access also should not be forgotten.
Rust must be sorted and stopped as soon as possible too. Any holes that have been cut in the body work, i.e. to fit a rear ladder or air vent, could quickly start rust. Treating rust with the appropriate products as soon as this work is carried out can stop rust from spreading.
If you find damp or mould in the camper, this mould needs removing and the items/panels replacing. Mould can affect the health of those living in confined space.
Leisure Battery and internal electrics
If disconnected, these need reconnecting. Clean the contacts and leads with contact cleaner. Reconnect battery ensuring the connections are the correct way around and test system. You may need a few days to charge fully if it hasn’t been charged periodically through winter. Using a battery charger indoors may be benficial to aid a faster charge.
Once the battery is charged and reconnected, check all of your wires and if safe, then your internal lighting and sockets etc. Please do check here for any water damage around electrics before turning on power.
If you have water pumps or heaters installed, test and flush all systems. Reconnect all pipes, fill with water and run through. Sterilise the tanks and pipes following manufacturer’s instructions, refill with clean water and run through a couple of times. Your tanks should have been drained through winter to stop pipe bursts however always check for any seals breaking and monitor for any leaks for the first while.
Caravan and motorhome gas systems should be checked yearly by a qualified engineer as part of your regular upkeep.
If you have gas bottles in your campervan or motorhome, it is good practice to remove them over winter and store them in the garden shed, check them again pre travel. If you are travelling to cold climates, it is advisable to use Propane – the red bottle. This is because this gas will not freeze and can be used down to -43 degrees Celsius. In the UK during the summer months butane is a good choice as the temperature is usually well above 3 degrees and butane contains more energy per unit of volume than propane. However if you are looking to camp in cold temperatures, you will find yourself in a spot of bother if you are unable to boil a kettle for a coffee due to the gas freezing, so many year rounders will switch to propane over winter.
Print our Pre Travel Check list for your campervan or motorhome
We have compiled all the above in a handy printable list for you! Download it now for your ease when starting your campervan or motorhome pre travel check.
A good service is also recommended for the campervan or motorhome if you are able to, in order to complete a full pre travel check.
The future of vanlife post Covid
The whole world has changed this year with the global pandemic causing chaos in societies world wide. Even now, in August, we still don’t fully understand the virus and its long-lasting effects on people. We do know however that it is unlikely that the world will return to how things used to be “pre covid”. So where does that leave vanlife in a post covid world?
Vanlife in a post covid world
Face masks and hand sanitiser still feel a little strange. They are becoming more normal and those that have been shielding since March are either starting to venture out or are now so used to shielding and listening to the news 24/7 that they believe the outside world to be too dangerous and are staying inside. There are also people that need to get back to the lives they had before.
I am talking about those who either live full time in their vans and have been forced to stay in one place, those who use their vehicles as weekend breaks and want a change of scenery or those who just enjoy camping out where it is quiet, when time allows. Campervans and motorhomes have the means to be a safe and self-contained bubble. Many of us choose to avoid tourist traps, stay away from the major tourist towns and yet are seen to be the devil by many people.
Last week the Daily Mail’s Mark Duell wrote an article calling for congestion charges for campervans in Scotland. He reported that police are sending patrols out to move on campers in the Lake District and New Forest as Fly-Camping becomes a new buzz word. “Fly camping” is the new practice of campers (the quote was aimed at tent users) just leaving their equipment behind for someone else to clear up. Broken chairs, tents and airbeds were mentioned. Post covid vanlife could be much harder to cope with.
The article, frowning on the community of holiday makers choosing to travel in a house on wheels, was quite offensive. Looking at the pictures used to illustrate their point it is clear that a car park full of 12 cars with two motorhomes parked up and a beach full of tourists seems to shine light on the real problem and it isn’t campervans after all. The picture of campervans parked by a sea wall is probably due to insufficient bay sizes in the car-park. Thus the article roused the community to take a stand.
They contacted local MPs to call for an educated look at the benefits campervans/motorhomes have on the local economy. Providing services like larger car parking spaces, service points for water/chemical toilet disposals and overnight locations, would only be a positive to their towns and local economy.
Self contained, self isolating.
Vans are self-contained vessels, with their own water, cooking equipment, heating and toilets on board (in most cases). We are much safer than going to hotels, B+B’s and caravan parks where the cleaning of accommodation between guests cannot be verified appropriately and cause concern to users. We know a few people who are (not campervanners) still paying top whack to use a holiday park. Due to restrictions, none of the facilities are available to them. No pool, no restaurant and no entertainment.
The ability enjoy vanlife, in a self-contained vessel, park away from society and have a few days of fresh air with social distancing being at its optimum, is so important for the vulnerable among us too post covid. A dear friend and member of the campervan community has been undergoing treatment for cancer through lockdown.
She has been shielding to protect herself but is now in desperate need of a change of scenery. Some fresh air and some healing from being in nature. For her, the ability to ‘wild camp’ in a safe but remote-ish area and not go to a campsite with other people from who knows where is the safest option for her to get that break, whilst still retaining full social distancing.
Cost of camping – How much?
As holiday companies struggle to recover from a poor season, thanks to covid, many are in a deficit. Brand names such as Tui, Virgin Atlantic and Hayes Travel are reporting job losses. It will be a necessity if they are to try and survive the pandemic, to make staff redundant. UK campsites are well set up to accommodate the safe return of holiday makers and vanlife post covid.
With pitches already designed to be 6 meters apart for fire safety they are keeping everyone distanced on pitches. Due to the losses they made in the first half of the season and the demand now for holidays, we have watched the prices sore from what was an acceptable £15-30 per night to over £50 on some sites. One near London was an astonishing £200 per person for 2 nights (minimum stay).
We all understand that site owners have been hit hard in the pocket. They are trying their best to recoup as much money as they can. This is in order to keep paying their bills, insurance, wages for staff and providing a clean site. That being said, however, holding people over a barrel for the highest premiums will really effect those most disadvantaged in our society. They will be forced again to stay at home.
Take a family for example. 2 adults and 2 children. They live in a high rise and had no garden during lockdown. Now desperate to take the children on holiday in the UK. Once they add on charges of up to £50 per person per night and factor in how much it would cost to buy a tent and all the equipment that goes with it – it is unachievable. We all understand that costs will rise post covid but there needs to be some policing of the rates to ensure that it does not become out of control for users either in a tent or vanlife.
Benefits of campervans and motorhomes in the community
Campsites are found all over the country, providing different levels of facilities. From rural and basic to all singing and dancing pitches, fully serviced with water, drains and electric hook up. Most sites have services to empty your toilet cassettes and larger sites even have entertainment, pools and restaurants.
For some, that is exactly what they are looking for but others are looking for a different pace of life. The joy of the journey, rather than the destination perhaps. Being able to park up means that you can visit many more places and stay longer in each one. A new view every day and a new place to explore, shops to spend money in and attractions to visit. We are boosting local economies and getting to relay information about the place to friends, family and in some case hundreds or thousands of followers on their blog pages. A free travel rep if you like!
Explore and give back
Mobile tourists are able to enjoy the locations and learn about its history. From the castles to museums, the beach and National Trust locations. We purchase lunch, dinner and usually a bag of chips to accompany a stroll along the promenade… At the end of the day we are looking for a quiet spot, where we can park up and relax. Tomorrow we will be heading off to investigate another location. It is a very small percentage of people that are disrespectful as you get anywhere in society. The majority of us do leave no trace, even clearing up the mess others leave behind.
Many European countries have already seen the benefits of welcoming motorhomes and campervans with ‘Aires’ easily accessible when on the road. Coming back from Spain earlier this year, we had our first experience of them driving to Calais. We stopped to sleep in 2 of them and also parked up for short rests in others. Some were just gravel car parks, others had toilets (although not open at that time due to Covid) and others were a motorway service station. These also had the facility to fill up with water and empty toilet waste for a small charge of about a euro and shop for essentials. We even saw some that you could pay to hook up to the electric for a quick boost. Perhaps studying the positive impact of Aires in Europe could smooth a transition for post covid vanlife and highlight the required infrastructure.
We used an Aire in France
This one spot was close to a town that had the most beautiful architecture. Lots of cats that all came to greet us as we walked around. We would have driven straight past this town and not know it was there if not for the Aire. We also purchased some local products as a thank you to the town for their hospitality.
Lack of parking spots
Here in the UK we seem to have a totally different outlook on campervans and motorhomes. There are very few parking spaces large enough to fit us unless we pay for two spaces or find an overhang. Many car parks are planting shrubs on green areas which limit once more the spaces we can overhang.
We visited Robins Hood Bay in North Yorkshire a week or so ago. The local information prompted us to park in the coach parking spaces and pay coach prices. In a car space, if we could have found an over-hang, we would have paid just a few pounds for our visit. Instead we had to pay £10 for an all day coach parking spot even though we were only there for a couple of hours. It was a flat rate for coach bays. Not only was that an inconvenience to us, but also to any coaches that wanted to park in their designated spaces.
Robin Hood Bay
With tourism being encouraged in the small fishing harbour, bursting with holiday rental properties, ice cream shops, gifts shops and beach front catering huts, the parking situation was problematic. It is on a steep hill and the main car park is at the top by the train station. Two small other car parks can be found lower down the hill but for small cars and permits only. Just by making 2 or 3 larger spaces for motor homes could provide a solution. That ensures there are spaces for larger vehicles and does not interrupt the use of the coach bays for other tourists.
Same goes for supermarkets, town parking and attractions. In some situations where there are either low barriers or insufficient sized spaces, we have had to park in residential roads. Residents are then put out by large vehicles parking in front of their homes for the day. The council looses out on this lost revenue and residents are inconvenienced. In our own town, we can not park in our local supermarket. We have to drive to another one, 20 minutes away for heavy items. Our camper is our only mode of transport.
Aires in the UK for post covid vanlife.
As mentioned above, Europe has really grasped the benefits of Aires stop overs. France (as we have physically seen them) having many situated along motorways and within walking distance of towns. This enables parking in locations where money will be spent in the local amenities.
The majority of us want to spend one night, to see the location and then relax in it. We are looking for quiet spots tucked away from busy roads and residential streets. Not the motorway laybys, roadside parking or apparently passing places like the daily mail has reported.
In a survey held by a reputable Facebook group over 81% of participants agreed that they would be happy to pay £10 a night with most of the others selecting a lower fee. We are happy to pay for the facilities and the ease of being able to park up. Don’t think that we are freeloaders as often called.
Town Car Parks and attractions.
Car Parks nearer towns or the coast mean contribution to local economy. Visitors eat out, buy gifts or visit the arcades for example. If local councils were happy to make space for us with appropriate charges for over nights, the money raised could be ring fenced to initially provide the facilities like drinking water, grey water dump and chemical toilet disposal. Then the extra money could be injected back into the area. The benefits would speak for themselves and with very easy profit.
In a town near us, there are free overnight parking spaces for motorhomes. Situated at the back of the overflow car park, a 5 minute walk from town. The town council did debate whether to remove them and the local business were up in arms. As a small town in North Yorkshire, outsiders coming and purchasing items is important to the economy. Many independent shops rely on the passing trade to keep afloat. They felt that their business would be severely impacted on if motorhome/campervan owners were rejected from parking in the town and the spaces remain in situ.
Rise in motorhome sales
Popularity of motorhomes has been steadily rising over the last decade. The Motorhome sector reported increase of sales climbing 81% in the ten years running up to 2019. Since Covid, the demand for such leisure vehicles has sored to see traders selling a months’ worth of stock in just 1 week. Prices for these motorhomes are £30,000 – £60,000 on average. Some smaller motorhomes can be found in the £25-30,000 bracket but these are harder to find.
Self build campervans are also increasing in demand. Sales have also risen with websites such as Auto Trader reporting a surge in searches of caravans and motorhomes up 18%. Long waiting lists are in place with traders. The rental market has boomed with people trying multi stop destination holidays in such vehicles.
With the demand for rentals, it is a worry that the users of the vehicles are not being given clear instructions on how to use the vehicle properly. We read a first hand report where a member of the community approached a gentleman emptying his toilet waste into a brook that runs into the sea just a few yards away. When approached, he felt that it would be ok as it was ‘just water’. He was instructed that there are chemicals in there that are dangerous. Then he admitted he was a first-time renter of a motorhome and was unaware of what to do. He didn’t know there were chemicals in it. He literally picked the van up and drove off with no instructions.
This poses real concerns that rental companies are not giving clear instructions to the holiday makers. A little bit of education about not emptying grey water in a car park, not emptying you toilet where you feel like it and about the responsible way to conduct yourself could make all of our lives a little easier, especially in the tourist areas that these people are visiting. With people choosing to holiday closer to home post covid, the popularity of vanlife keeps growing.
Often, campervan and motorhomers get tarred with leaving litter. In fact it rarely is us – we are just more noticeable perhaps. Many of us are used to litter picking at places we stop and clearing the area. We apparently are responsible for leaving toilet paper and faeces in the car parks. However we have toilets on board so I can’t see that it is motorhomes or campers. It is more likely to be car drivers, hikers, motorbike riders etc.
With regards to rubbish, in a recent excursion we parked at the rear of a car park on a hill. The town was about a ten minute drive downhill, with the road being barely used except for farmers and people want to use the car park. We were very surprised when cars appeared about 9pm, emptied loads of bin bags from their boot and drove back off again.
Not an isolated experience either. It is too easy to blame motorhome and campervan drivers for the mess the locals are leaving. I am not defending bad behaviour. If ANYONE litters and it is witnessed then I firmly believe they should be held accountable, however, pictures of waste that has clearly come out of a house can not, and must not, be blamed on visitors when all the bin bags are the same make (easily identified as the same brand in a picture we saw) and looked like it was a house clearance. Vanlifers just don’t do that.
Post after post are appearing on social media about the dumping of rubbish by motorhomes and quite frankly we are concerned/frustrated and angry. During the covid pandemic we all marvelled at how the lands were healing. Yet as the first sign of lockdown easing the beaches were trashed, picnic spots were trashed and no regard whatso ever was given and this was not down to irresponsible motorhomers. This is a problem across all walks of life.
Where does this leave us?
Right now, the community is fighting for the right to resume traveling safely. None of us want to break any rules and have observed the guidance from the government with full time van lifers finding places to park up. Now that travel is allowed, we are free to move once more in line with the law. We are campaigning for the ability to install Aires in suitable locations and provide facilities for people to use. Motorhomes and campervans are here to stay and as mentioned above, the demand for them is clear.
If governments can see the potential goldmine they are missing out on and agree to install water, chemical disposals and appropriate car parking in appropriate locations then maybe we can all work together. Maybe who ever is leaving rubbish, will use the bins. Perhaps having chemical waste points will stop people from leaving faeces in the woods (although I still think this will continue due to it being other people) and perhaps local economies that are struggling to recover post covid, will get a cash boost from vanlife and tourism, helping to rebuild the towns they are so proud of.
What can we do?
Have a look at your towns, contact your MP’s and try to calmly explain that the motorhome and campervan community can be a real benefit to them in the future. Perhaps in this new post covid world, vanlife will finally be recognised as a positive thing and not frowned upon. Look at the facebook groups dedicated to promoting responsible parking and camping as they often have templates of letters that you can use to send to your local MP.
As always, camp responsibly, ensure you leave no trace, and give back to the locations you visit.
Admin days are expensive.
It is not uncommon for us to have ‘admin days’. We use these to catch up on the blog or keep us out of trouble on rainy days. This admin day started out as normal but took a very unusual twist. It led us to booking flights to Ottawa!
We were staying with our daughter at the time and it was just after Christmas. Louise and I sat down at the kitchen table, catching up with emails and blog posts. After a few hours, my mind started to wonder to travel (as it often does) and I started to look for last minute deals to Europe. I found some really good priced mid week breaks to Rome, Venice and Barcelona leaving in a month’s time. Eagerly I searched and priced up a 4 star hotel. Located in Romes city centre to include transfers, luggage and breakfast.
I looked across the table and asked Louise if she had anything planned for that week and she asked me why. Reasonable question as I was supposed to be sorting out insurance. When I told her that I was looking for a holiday she asked me to show her my screen. Louise then turned her screen around we were both on the same website but Louise was looking for flights to Canada!
From a mid week break in Rome to two weeks in Ottawa.
Louise has lived in Ottawa before and has lots of friends out there. I have never been but Canada is somewhere I have always felt a connection to. My parents and grandparents had been and told me so many tales of their adventures. I really wanted to explore Canada.
It’s clear how much Louise misses Ottawa and that she hasn’t seen her friends for a long time. I am not going to pass this idea up! We decide on dates go down to the travel agent in town to book the flights before we change our mind. We wonder if the travel agent will be able to get it cheaper than us so figure it can’t hurt to pop in.
Within no time at all we exit the travel agents with the confirmation in our hands. In just 4 weeks’ time we will be heading off for two weeks in Ottawa and we are so excited! Over the next few weeks we organise everything we need, from ski wear to travel insurance.
Upon checking the train times to London, we find out that part of the line will be closed for a few days before we fly. This really puts a spanner in the works. There isn’t really anywhere down there we can leave the van so she needs to stay at home. My parents let us come to London a few days early and we hire a taxi to get to Heathrow. It felt like a crazy week just getting from the house to the airport.
Check In Time
Our alarm went off at 5am, with the taxi coming at 6am. We bundled our suitcases in (bleary eyed) but were so excited to get underway. The journey was smooth and there was hardly any traffic. It was quiet as we went through the city centre before arriving at the airport. It was still dark when we arrived and unloaded our stuff onto a trolley before checking in.
We were able to check in digitally and print off all of our luggage tags and boarding passes. After dropping our luggage off and having our passports checked we decided that breakfast was in order. It was starting to get light out now. Once through check-in, there were plenty of shops and restaurants to choose from. The airport was still pretty quiet so we didn’t have to wait long. Our flight wasn’t for a while yet but I insisted we get there really early just so that we could really early. However 5 hours early proved to be a bit too much time. We spent ages just hanging around waiting for the announcement of which gate we needed to be at.
Fly Air Canada
Heathrow airport is massive. Once we were told which gate we needed to get to, it was a very long walk! We walked under the runway to our gate which was equally scary and exciting for someone like me who doesn’t fly much!
It wasn’t long after we arrived at the gate that they started to let people board. We were surprised that the plane was very quiet, only a third full. There were plenty of empty seats around the plane. Covid hadn’t really affected much of the world at this point. It was still mainly contained in China but it was on the radar. Even still, it was nice to feel that you had more space on the plane.
The flight was smooth and the staff at Air Canada were absolutely amazing. It was a day flight and the meals were pretty darn good for aeroplane food. I would have had more if it was on offer but actually the portion sizes were great! Drinks, including alcoholic and soft, were free and we were also given snacks of pretzels too. The staff were very attentive but not intrusive. All were happy and smiling and just a pleasure to fly with.
The screens in front of us displayed information about the flight as well as movies and radio stations. Eagerly wanting to land, we spent a large portion of the flight just watching our progress and looking out of the window at the view. We flew from Heathrow centrally up England to where we could see both the east and west coastlines of Northern England at the same time. It was then we changed direction towards Greenland before coming down the east cost of Canada to Ottawa.
Apart from being very ticklish at altitude for some reason I found the flight to be very easy. Is this a thing? I would love to know if anyone else has this.
Video of our first two days.
Coming over Greenland we started to see the white snow laying on the ground. Over Canada the scenery seemed very much like a desolate plateau with rugged but uninhabitable land. It was a long time before we saw any signs of human settlement and then towns and cities started to appear. As we got closer to Ottawa we were lucky enough to have a clear sky as we descended under the snow filled clouds so we could see the snow on the roads and the city coming into focus.
Landing was gentle and we were able to get through customs quickly after a few questions from border control such as why were we coming to Canada and did we know anyone here etc. After collecting out baggage, Louise noticed that there was a Tim Hortons in the terminal. Before we had even left the airport I had my first taste of Canadian hot chocolate and Timbits! Tim Horton’s is similar to Costa and Starbucks but better! It was to become almost a daily visit as we travelled around the city exploring.
First days in Ottawa, Canada.
We left the airport and took in the cold air and snowy landscape. It took my breath away as we had the smallest sprinkling of snow as if a “welcome to Canada” from mother nature. After taking a quick airport selfie we bundled into a taxi and left to find our air B+B.
Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, is located on the lower east coast of the country and is actually the fourth largest city in Canada. It didn’t feel much like a city as we took the short journey from the airport to Main Street in Ottawa’s Old Ottawa east. It wasn’t at all like I expected yet was exactly what I expected, I can’t explain it.
Everyone was really friendly and welcoming, Nothing was too much trouble and the atmosphere was very calm. We stopped off en route to buy some goods at the supermarket to see us through until the next day as we just wanted to get to the house and sleep. We had been on the go since 5 am UK time and didnt sleep on the plane.
Our apartment was set smack in between Rideau River and the Rideau Canal. It was a reasonable walk or short bus ride in to the city centre. We found the property on Air B+B and were really impressed. It was a basement apartment easily accessible by both train and bus.
Entering the property via a door next to the garage, we headed downstairs. to the left o the stairs was the ‘spare’ room, a blow up bed for extra guests as well as the laundry machines but we would only be using this area for our suitcases. To the right of the stairs was the main room. It was U shaped with cupboards making up the middle wall. Bed around one side, table and chairs on the other and along the back wall was a couch and the kitchen. We also had access to outside however it was just under the decking for the above house. A bathroom also came off of the main room with a massive shower, toilet and sink.
We were not planning on being in the property very much as we had so many things to fit in. We found the Air B+B met all of our needs tremendously, we felt very safe and it was always warm inside.
Our body clock was at odds with the new time zone it found itself in so we were awake very early on our first day. So early that we decided to walk into the city from our lovely basement apartment and see the sun rise. As soon as we left the front door at 6:45 am, it was clear the snow-plough had been out and they had even done the pavement too! Ottawa is peaceful in the morning and the crisp air was refreshing.
Sadly, it was overcast and the sky was full of snow so we didn’t get much of a sunrise however we did see a black squirrel which I hadn’t seen before but apparently is seen as vermin here (Seen on our video). Louise took me for a tour of the city and wowzers did we walk some miles!
Built on a grid
Ottawa was built on a grid system meaning roads are either going North/South or East/West. Louise taught me early to try and remember a couple of the streets in each direction so that I would be able to orientate myself and find my way home if we got separated. If you can find Gladstone Avenue and Bank Street, you can figure your way around from this intersection.
Using the Canal is also a great way to navigate as you can walk along the canal from Dowes Lake in the south to City Hall and to the Ottawa River in the north for views of the bridges and also see over to Quebec on a good day!
On the northern side of the city, next to the Ottawa River, the Parliament buildings sit upon a hill overlooking the city. Although there is some refurbishment work going on at the moment it doesn’t take anything away from the grandeur and elegance of the buildings. With a Gothic feel to them and some resemblance to our own parliament building in the UK, it is unmistakable and unforgettable. From it’s lawn stretching from the centre block down to the Centennial Fountain, even under they grey snow clouds, it still looked amazing.
Before Covid hit, you could take guided tours of the buildings however these are currently suspended.
The Senate of Canada building.
Completed in 1912 and just across from the House of Commons used to be the main train station in Ottawa for over 50 years although the first train ran in 1854. When the line was opened, Ottawa was then called Bytown, named after Colonel John By who was instrumental in the construction of the canal. Bytown became Ottawa in 1855 and then the names were changed to match. The first trains ran along an 84km track to Prescott. Initially used to transport lumber to markets in the US and Montreal.
Sadly the railway line saw decreasing numbers over the years and the rails were pulled up in 1966. It wasn’t until 2019 that a new rail line was opened which we will talk more about in future posts.
The Senate of Canada building became a conference centre before housing the Senate whilst restoration work continues on the Centre Block. 21 Senate offices and three committee rooms were made to house the government officials during this time.
Across the lock system from the parliament buildings is the Chateau Laurier, a luxury hotel often referred to as Ottawa’s Castle. It sits rather proudly in the centre of Downtown Ottawa. Boasting 429 guest rooms in 660,000 square meters of style and sophistication. It was build between 1908 and 1912 and although the city had changed lots since it was built, it almost seems like the focus has always been on the chateau and the Parliament buildings next door.
We had a little peak inside and were blown away by its grandeur. Lots of pictures line the wall charting the history of the building and some of it guests as well as documenting the history of the capital city.
Louise then took me on foot all around the city, showing me places of interest and pointing out that from lots of different locations you could still see the chateau and the parliament buildings towering over the city from up on the hill.
We saw parks, museums, Bywood market, the spider statue outside the National gallery of Canada and of course another Tim Horton’s!
After that, we allowed ourselves a well earned rest when we got home that day after walking miles and miles and look over the maps to plan the rest of our holiday. We also had a lot of organising to do in order to meet up with some very special people.
We had so much to cram in to our visit to Ottawa that we didn’t know how we were going to manage!
Find out more about Winterlude, Skating on the Rideau Canal, Skiing, Beaver Tails, Hockey, Navigating the city and so much more!
We will be back soon with more about our adventure. Don’t forget to subscribe to the website and also to our Youtube Channel to keep up to date!
Travel Work Exchange and our experience.
Why you should consider a work exchange experience when you travel.
Travel has been important since the dawn of time. The explorers in us have always roamed this earth in search of new lands, experiences and views. Through all of it we love to learn about new places and cultures. For those of us not content with 2 weeks a year and who try to travel either full time or regularly, the costs can mount up. Looking for ways to save money when we travel is essential to make the most of our free time.
Why not consider a ‘travel work exchange’ programme?
What is a work travel exchange?
A work travel exchange is an amazing way to travel on a budget. You get to meet lots of people. You usually get to stay for free in exchange for some work that they need doing. This allows time for you to see the local area in your free time.
Travel/work exchange programmes have been around for many years. They have given those that love to travel the ability to move around for low costs. It is beneficial for businesses owners, private land owners, social projects, farms etc. to get assistance with an endless amount of roles. It’s a collaborative exchange between you and the hosts looking for a certain type of work to be done.
What type of work can I do?
You do not have to be trained in obscure roles such as ‘listed house roofing specialist’ or have a degree in landscape gardening. There are plenty of other roles available for almost every type of skill you can think of. However if you do have certain skills, particularly being able to speak foreign languages, it will certainly help you in some work travel placements. There are so many opportunities to learn on the job. The most important thing is to have an open mind and be willing to work hard.
Some roles could be helping out on campsites, in hospitality, fruit picking on a farm or helping to clear land. Teaching a language or subject, renovation and maintenance, cooking, child care, working in a rescue centre for animals. The list is endless and they are all across the globe. They are enticing you off of the beaten track into the more remote locations to get a real feel of the land and local communities.
What do I get in return for working?
In most cases accommodation is provided, sometimes a spot to park your campervan (sometimes there may be electric hook ups). All of this is relative to the individual location and host. It is important that you clarify all benefits before you travel to ensure you are prepared for what to expect. Occasionally they may be shared dorms and bunks similar to a hostel environment, if they are having regular volunteers. You may be lucky and have your own accommodation and bathroom or it may be shared with others.
In most cases we have found that one meal is usually provided communally. Cooking duties are usually shared amongst the volunteers so having some basic cooking skills will serve you well. Pun intended! If you are a really bad cook then perhaps agree to be the chief washer upper!
What don’t I get?
In most cases, do not expect to earn money. You are working for the host in return for your board. It is very unlikely that any wages will be included on top of that.
You will be responsible for your travel costs to and from the location. Any visas and vaccinations if you are going abroad, and medical costs will be your responsibility.
Food may be included for communal meals. All other food will need to be purchased by yourself as well as money for excursions and leisure activities.
Each work/travel exchange will be different depending on the host. You need to make sure you clarify all the fine details before you commit.
How long do I have to work for?
This will vary from host to host, however the usual amount is around 20 – 25 hours a week. We undertook a placement in an animal sanctuary and volunteered to do almost 12 hours days at times. In addition we also had night duty and were very happy to do those hours. I will stress that we didn’t have to and that the host was very accommodating to our needs. We loved it so much that we wanted to as much as we could.
What travel insurance do I need?
Due to the types of work you will be undertaking, there are some grey areas as to whether you are a worker or a tourist. In reality, you are neither and both at the same time. We did a quick search for volunteer travel insurance and found some information on gap insurance. This is catered for the younger age bracket taking their gap year between collage and university. Some of these insurance companies have a maximum age bracket as low as 35. We recommend speaking to insurance brokers and explaining the type of volunteering or work exchange placement you are undertaking to ensure you have the correct cover.
We suggest that for your first experience, consider starting in your home country. Once you feel confident then start to look further away. Perhaps arrange to go with a friend to have someone to travel with and share the adventure. Make sure people know exactly where you are and check in regularly. Provide your family with contact details of your host.
Where can I find out more.
There are lots of websites set up specifically for work travel exchange programmes, volunteering and working abroad. A quick internet search will bring them up for you. There are also lots of facebook groups set up for this. Connect with others that are looking to sign up for, or have experience in, travel work exchange programmes. Build a network of like-minded people. Start to make friends with them and ask them about the highs and lows of their involvement in the programmes.
Our experience of Travel Work Exchanges.
We have only done two so far but are looking at other experiences for the future. Our first one was in the UK and we found this on a facebook group for van-lifers. It wasn’t done through a specific website or company. We saw a post from an lady that had purchased some land. She was looking for people to help clear it and turn it into a campsite. The land was in Tairgwaith, Glamorgan, Wales. This is a part of the UK that we love near the Black Mountains. We were looking to give something back so volunteered to lend a few days helping out.
Speaking to the host a little bit about the types of things that were needed, it seemed like general weeding, tidying, maintenance etc. In return she would let us park our campervan on the land for free in exchange for the manual labour. We were looking forward to hearing about the business plans she had. Perhaps learn a little bit about what would be needed if we ever embarked on a project like that in the future.
We arrived at the location and were greeted by wild horses. The site was on a slight hill with a gravel path marking the small site, only catering for approximately 3 or 4 campers at a time. It wasn’t a large plot of land but it was beautiful. We met our host who was, shall we say, a unique character. After being given a tour of the site, she told us all about her exciting plans. We could quickly see that there was a LOT of work that would need to be done.
In order to get the most out of the time we had, the host set us to work on one area. Rather than just do bits here and there it made sense to concentrate on one area. During the time we worked there we managed to make a safe bonfire pit. We used this to burn small amounts of wood at a time. In the evening we also used this to cook our dinner on.
From moving big heavy branches, pulling weeds and moving rubble, the area took a fair amount of time to clear. We used rocks to line the edge of the path and discarded tree stumps as seats around the fire pit. The host would pop out every now and then to see how we were doing. She would remind us that we could stop when ever we wanted to but we were quite happy just pottering along and keeping the fire going.
Out for an adventure
On the second day, our host wanted to show us part of the local area. We all bundled in her yellow campervan and headed for the hills. She took us to a stunning part of the Black Mountain range to where there was a disused mine and lime kilns. It was lovely to go out with the owner and learn more about the surrounding area. After a little while she headed back to the van and told us to take our time investigating. We agreed to meet her and her dog back at the van when we were ready. This allowed us time to look at the views and poke about in the rocks, looking at the ruins.
After our walk we headed back to the camp site and continued to potter around. The next day saw us doing something slightly different. A beautiful stream runs through the site at the bottom of the hill. It had been all snagged up with fallen branches during recent bad weather. The host had asked us if we would be happy to help her clear it. With my wellies on I gladly followed her down the bank into the freezing water. We walked along the trickling stream that was largely rocky and very slippery. The host and I cut some branches back and cleared the debris that could have posed a problem if left to build up over time.
We passed the branches up to Louise who stacked them to dry out. The whole site was like something out of a hobbit film. Down in the stream the whole site looked completely different. The purple flowers appearing on the banks looked like a spring carpet. Tracks from animals could be seen using the water as either crossing locations or for a water source. Further along, back on land, were the remains of an old cattle shed. Sadly it hasn’t survived but would have been a beautiful building in its day.
We thoroughly enjoyed this experience. Even though there were not facilities to shower, it didn’t stop us from enjoying our time. We were helping this semi wild and basic site get a head start before opening properly.
It was thanks to this experience that we were eager to have another go at a work travel exchange, this time in Spain!
Galgos Del Sol
After our first season of travel, we settled up in Yorkshire for the winter. Being in a house just felt more restrictive and we needed to get out and about. We saw on another facebook group that an animal rescue charity was looking for people with a campervan. They wanted people to come and volunteer for a few months. This was to help do the night duty and care for the dogs. An interesting work travel exchange that was close to our hearts!
We love dogs, both having long careers in animal welfare under our belt, and we had a camper. Spain was warmer than Yorkshire and it was an area that we were sort of familiar with. A year prior we had stayed about an hour from there in my aunts villa. We loved it very much so we knew that should we have any major problems, there was an area (and possibly a villa if it wasn’t being used) nearby that we could find safety in.
Making the arrangements – even with the van rebuild not entirely finished, we made our way to the centre. On arrival, we were very impressed with the set up and facilities. This is a working canine rescue centre and it is still under some construction. Although most of the kennels are now built some work is still underway. Accommodation areas for volunteers and a communal shower facility for those camping are in the pipe line. We were able to use the shower in one of the finished apartments with permission from its current guest.
Agreement to volunteer
In the agreement we made with the hosts volunteer co-ordinator, we were given all the information we needed. This included hours we were expected to be available, safety information and site rules. It was clearly stated that there was a strict vegan policy in communal areas. You were allowed animal products in your own areas but not permitted in the communal kitchen or meals. Louise and I would be expected to work with the dogs 8am – 2pm then have lunch. The afternoons would be free time as long as we were back for evening duties. Duties would include being responsible for feeding, cleaning and training the dogs, caring for the guard dog at night and reporting any problems to the owner.
Louise and I were happy with these arrangements but it soon became clear there was a lot to do. We ended up working almost constantly, rarely taking any time off. We felt guilty on our occasional time off (due to covid, we couldn’t go anywhere anyway!) when we knew there was so much we could be doing.
For some of the longer term dogs, we would try to focus on enrichment ideas. This was to keep them stimulated and introduce new games and puzzles that they would need to figure out. We taught basic obedience, handling, touch acceptance, agility, lead work and settle. We loved them and played with them. After a snack we went to sleep and did it all again the next day.
Food Glorious Food!
Cooking is a passion for Louise and eating is a passion for me. This is one of the reasons we work so well together! Learning a whole heap of new recipes was a great joy. Being able to collaborate with other volunteers taught us a lot. We all took turns in the cooking and cleaning of the kitchen. At the busiest time, we were cooking for 13 people. That was until Covid hit and everyone had to leave, leaving just 4 full time and 2 part time helpers.
From aubergine parmesan, curried cauliflower and chick pea curry to vegan burger and chips. We had a real variety of food and everyday we would look forward to seeing what had been created. It was the one time of day that everyone could be together. We would discuss the plans for the next day or so. Through these experiences we made some really strong friendships that cover many countries and have remained in place even since we have returned.
Although we know we gave a lot to the dogs we cared for they also gave a lot back to us. They were our comfort, our security, our children and our friends. On one particular day I was feeling really tearful and frustrated so I went to sit with Fiji and calm down. She knew something was wrong and kept licking my face, practically sitting on me and forcing me to stay still until I felt better. Fiji is a heavy girl and if she sits on you, its hard to move her! We all loved Fiji and know that she will make an incredible therapy dog!
The puppies needed us to be on top of our game. Constantly feeding them and picking up poo whilst nursing their mumma back to health as she was in such a poor condition was one of the most rewarding elements of our time there. Nerina, the mother, was very wary at first about strangers coming in and touching her puppies.
She didn’t have any milk so to start with her babies needed feeding until she was able to take over again. She had to quickly learn to trust us. We took it as slow as we could. Always wearing gowns and respecting her space. After a day or so it was clear that Nerina was happy we were helping out and used us coming in as an excuse to have some alone time away from the pups and stretch her legs. Once we were done she would come back and settle down with the pups, once again latching on and starting to feed from her.
Some of the dogs needed a lot more socialisation than others and just spending time building bonds of trust were the most important sessions we would be involved in. It was a slow process with some of them but Marie, a dog who had spent almost her entire life at the rescue centre, was very scared of leaving her kennel. Louise and I spent lots of time slowly getting her to trust us and accept touch before we even tried to do any more than that. After a week or so we were able to start work putting the harness on – still not leaving the kennel.
Once the harness was able to be put on and off we started just going outside the gate. Marie had a favourite spot in the weeds just outside the block and we used this as her thinking spot. She felt safe there. Over time, and using lots of food bowls with high value treats in, Marie felt able to investigate the bowls and get a reward for doing so. During our time there we slowly moved the bowls further away, replacing them with vocal rewards and treats from the treat pouch. Now Marie can walk with other dogs and on her own, she is now kennelled with a friend and is enjoying playing in the large paddock.
Libby and Javi
As you know these two dogs became very close to our hearts. We spent a lot of time with these dogs and they gave so much back to us that kept us engaged with them. Javi has a broken back. He was hit by a car and when found, he had learnt to walk on his front two legs only. Sadly, Javi was paralysed from his hips down and his injury was inoperable. Tina, the director of GDS did not give up on him and was able to start him on hydrotherapy, electronic stimulation and physiotherapy.
Working with a dedicated team of vets and specialists, Javi began to make progress and can now walk again as his muscles are strong enough to hold him. Not only that, but he can play again almost like a normal dog. He still has the occasional wobble and certain weather may make him stiffer in the mornings but he was given a second chance to live and he has embraced it with both paws. Javi always looks happy, always has the biggest smiles and never complains about anything – other than that breakfast is always too late! He was a true inspiration to us both.
Libby is his best friend in the whole world and she look after him like a mother/son relationship. Libby has spent her life at GDS too and although her needs were very much looked after, she needed some Basic training to help give her the skills she would need in a home setting. We taught her to sit, to lay down, to wait and also a few tricks such as weaving, paw and using the agility equipment. She was a lovely dog who had so much enthusiasm for human interaction.
A shared experience
It is hard to sum up the experience of volunteering with GDS and the above are just a few examples of the different work we were doing with different dogs – however there were over 200 dogs on site and to tell you about each one would take some time. Lets just start by saying that we will never forget this experience and it taught us so much about ourselves, as well as about breeds of dogs that we had never worked with before.
We got to learn all about how front line rescue works, the effort it takes to rescue these beautiful dogs in the first place (countless hours sat waiting for these stray dogs to go in the humane traps to be captured, vet checks, medical bills, food and rehabilitation) before they can even be put up for adoption.
We learnt about volunteers from all over the world that came to help, including America, Belgium, Denmark and beyond. Connecting with other like minded volunteers and staff was incredible and easy as we all had a common interest in the well-being of these dogs, and therefore had a subject to talk about straight off the bat.
We also learnt a lot about ourselves, working under pressure in a foreign country in the middle of a pandemic – not knowing if we would be able to go home at any point soon and having to navigate another countries requirements with a significant language barrier proved quite entertaining at times.
Travel Work Exchange programmes
Travel Work Exchanges can leave an important mark on you, as we found out. They can help you grow your knowledge of people, places and skills as well as change you forever. You will meet people like you that like to travel and have common goals, adventurers, wonderers, hard working passionate people that want to get as much as they can from life. Above all, you will be able to travel with a low budget and have the most amazing time of your life!
If you have been on a work travel exchange, please tell us your story below and tell us how it changed your life!
Back to Blighty with a bump! Puppies to Covid-19
We are home and so the adventure had to come to an end. We cant believe where those three months went! It seems like only yesterday we were planning how we were going to raise the funds needed. Can we please say a massive thank you to everyone that donated and supported our volunteering stint. We are so grateful to each one of you who helped us to have an amazing adventure. We healed ourselves, the dogs and puppies and survived a global pandemic hidden away behind 8 ft fences for as long as we did.
It started with a rough crossing on the ferry and ended up with a mad road trip to cross the border. We had to get back into the UK like Indiana Jones before further restrictions took hold during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
We really hoped to post more about nearby locations, little towns as well as stories of the dogs as we went along. We planned to investigate the area on our down time. This didn’t happen (except for one trip to Mar Menor) as just after our arrival the whole world went into various stages of lock-down. This had a severe impact on the rescue centre. Having not encountered anything like this before no one really knew how to react. Most of the volunteers followed the advice of their countries government recommendations to return asap. Suddenly the centre went from 13 volunteers plus a few staff to just 3 volunteers and a few staff. We were pulling close to 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week most of the time we were there.
With the centre holding over 200 dogs this put an immense strain on the running of the shelter. Seeing as we had our house on wheels – and what it seemed at the time like it would be a short lockdown, we decided to stay and help for as long as we could. We were hopeful we would bridge the gap until the volunteers were able to return again.
We had no idea how severe the pandemic would become but knew we were safe where we were. The kennels were 5 miles from the nearest town and surrounded by fruit and pepper farms. Our groceries were bought in for us and we had all the facilities we needed there to keep us safe. It seemed like we would be more at risk to try and get home as the ferries had stopped running.
What did we learn?
We both have experience of working with rescue dogs in the UK. Volunteering with Tina at GDS has taught us so much more than we ever expected. From medical conditions we don’t see often in the UK such as Leishmania to working with breeds of dog that we had never worked with before such as Galgos, Mastines and Podencos. There was dog training to undertake and also ground works to maintain.
We don’t know where to start with telling you about our experience but what we do know, is how we want to move forward. It was incredible and we would do it again in a heart beat. We would also recommend others consider volunteering if you ever get the chance.
It has been a healing, rewarding, humbling and educational experience. I was craving something before we left in February, I felt like I hadn’t given enough. I wanted to do something worthwhile and we both found that at GDS. From rearing day old puppies, helping a dog overcome agoraphobia and falling in love with a dog that has a broken back, it has been a real adventure and we feel like we had the opportunity to learn, grow and give back with the skills we have to help the lives of these dogs.
So where does that leave us now? Well, currently day 6 of self isolation. It has been a blessing because it gives us a chance to research, learn and make plans for the future. We will reveal those plans shortly but we want to show you what we have been up to first!
Here is our first instalment – The ups and downs of raising puppies.
On 9th March, just 2 weeks after we had arrived and still finding our feet, Tina had set off on a rescue mission. Reports had come in that a pregnant Galgo had been spotted on some land. Although they had been out to try and find her many times, she had evaded capture. That morning, a call had come in that she had been spotted by a house. She had dug a hole and given birth to a litter of puppies. The mum was very thin and it was unlikely that the puppies would survive without intervention.
A short while later, Tina arrived with the mum and pups and their health was poor. One puppy in particular was looking very weak and cold. Tina quickly passed him to us and asked us to try and warm him up but not to hold out too much hope. Little Pablo fit in the palm of our hands. We gathered heat pads, heat lamps and towels, puppy milk and cotton buds. His face was covered in dirt but he was alive.
We managed to clean his mouth and nose out carefully. He was cold and refused to drink. Over the next two hours we battled to save him. We gave him CPR and mouth to mouth when he stopped breathing. We tried to revive him many times, a few times successfully, but sadly he was just weak. His life was short, but we was loved. He died in our hands despite everything we tried.
We couldn’t mourn for long, the rest of the litter needed us.
The rest of the puppies were now our priority and over the coming weeks, until the day we left, we were responsible for them. It wasn’t an easy road for them either. Mum was so underweight that she didn’t have any milk and was unable to feed her babies. The vet came and gave her some medication to stimulate her milk production. We needed to feed the whole litter day and night until she was able to take over. This involved many late night room service trips to feed the remaining puppies on top of our day shifts. We worked non stop.
When Nerina (the mum) did manage to feed her babies again we noticed the pups were becoming ill. With wounds appearing on their feet like they had been burned with acid. In places, their skin was peeling off. It took several trips to the vets to be able to diagnose the cause of the problem. Nerina had a nasty infection and was very poorly. She was passing the infection to her puppies through her milk.
Checking the puppies one morning we found that due to the infection, one puppy had lost a toe. She was at risk of losing her whole foot, if not her life. Treatment was started which meant mum was again unable to feed her pups. Nerina had to be removed from her puppies for a short time. As a mother, she was desperate to get back to her babies. Her health improved and as soon as possible, she was successfully reunited with her litter.
It takes a village to raise a litter!
Most of our time spent with them in the early days was medicating, bathing wounds, applying cream and feeding the puppies. Mum was starting to gain weight and was tolerant of us both handling her pups although wary at first. Once she was used to us and trusted us, she soon welcomed the surrogate nannies. Nerina would take the opportunity to go for a walk and relax outside whilst we took over and she could have 3 meals a day in peace without puppies hanging off of her very sore nipples.
Now, the puppies are doing so well. They have changed so much and developed such amazing characters. Being able to work with these puppies from just 1 day old has enabled us to learn so much. Although we have fostered many puppies in our past, we have never had them from this young and so poorly. It was such an amazing moment to go in one morning and see that Mini (aka Mini-Milk), the puppy with the missing toe, had her eyes open. Of all the puppies that were bigger and stronger than her, it was Mini that opened her eyes first. We got to see their ears open, their mouths change shape and their noses elongate.
Now they are playing, excited, growing so fast and learning life experience by annoying each other. It has been such a turbulent journey. They had the first part of their vaccines, which made them feel poorly for a few days and been wormed. Saying that, I think Louise and myself ended up with more wormer on us than in the puppies!
Although the story of the puppies has been full of highs and lows, we know that because of Tina, her dedication and our efforts to keep them alive, they will now go on to lead happy, healthy lives.
Why did we leave?
Simply put, we didn’t want to. We have already extended our original term and enabled the centre to have our help and support for the time that we could. We had family back home that were all dealing with their own struggles, from lock down related worries to all the things that go on in normal life. Being in another country to them was already hard but we face timed regularly and tried to be present for each of them.
It was becoming apparent that we were really needed back at home and had already started to look at options to return. We were hopeful it would be in the next few months as the already strict legislation’s in Spain were starting to be relaxed. You could get up to a 30,000 euro fine at the time we left for being out unnecessarily if stopped by the authorities.
Ferries were still not running and the company constantly saying they would be restarting, then cancelling and delaying sailings again. We had started to look into alternative travel and had some hard decisions to make. Either leave the van in Spain and fly home, putting ourselves at risk in an airport and taking only essential items with us OR drive through France and catch the Eurotunnel that was still working.
A hard decision
On the Monday evening, reports that the borders were actually going to be tightening were making the news and rumblings that as of the Friday at midnight, mandatory quarantine at the borders would be enforced. This would potentially involve us being put into the sports complexes and arenas that we have watched being transformed into make shift hospitals over the last few months and was not somewhere we wanted to end up down the line.
We had a tough choice to make. Leave first thing in the morning and drive home, getting us home Friday afternoon if all went smoothly, or wait and be sent to a medical facility both ends of France causing a month delay in getting home. The risk of being thrown into an area with thousands of people from who knows where, that have been in contact with who knows what was unbearable. We have been kept so safe up until now, that we certainly didn’t want to risk being infected at the quarantine facility. We really had no option but to drive home through the tunnel. It was the safest option.
We cried most of the way home, stopping only to plan how we could see the dogs again. So much hard work and effort has gone into building GDS over the years, a lot of hardship, loss, sleepless nights and financial input, to make it what it is today. We have been forever changed and inspired by Tina, Nomi and the team at GDS and want to build something in the UK to make them proud.
Plans are afoot!
Louise and I will explain more in our next update but for now, just know we are home, safe and sound, missing the dogs and so humbled by our experience there. Check out our videos and don’t forget to share our posts to help us reach a wider audience and support our next project.
Once again, a massive thank you to everyone who donated and helped us have the most amazing time, full of hard work and long days but it was so rewarding.
If you can, please donate to our next project – it is a big one, and will be in the canine welfare sector. Paypal Link paypal.me/VanLifeDiary
Ice Skating on Rideau Canal
The Canadian capital city of Ottawa is a stunning destination to visit. Full of history, culture and beautiful architecture. Winding through the city is the Rideau Canal. Although beautiful in the summer – in winter Rideau Canal turns into the world’s longest natural ice skating rink. Ottawa’s canal system is 7.8 km (4.8 miles) long and weaves along Downtown Ottawa. You can walk alongside the canal most of the way on Queen Elizabeth Drive. It is a popular route for joggers and dog walkers and beautiful in the fresh snow.
The canal was originally built as a supply route from Kingston to Montreal and was finished in 1832. It is the oldest continuously operating canal system in North America and has been named a UNESCO site. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the Rideau Canal opened for ice skating. Every year nearly one million people experience skating on the Rideau Canal!
The Rideau Canal ‘Skateway’ includes the canal and ends Dowes Lake. The total skating surface area is 165,621 square meters, larger than 105 national hockey league rinks or 90 Olympic sized hockey rinks! Underneath the ice rink, the water is frozen between 1 and 4.3 meters thick. The Rideau Canal Skating rink is checked regularly by safety teams and Froster’s.
What is a Froster?
A Froster is someone who is charged with maintaining the surfaces of the lake, 24/7 throughout the season. They will flood the top layer of the canal with fresh water. This will then freeze on top of the building ice. This repairs damage by skates and helps to thicken the surface.
Using a special drill, they dig into the ice and examine the core that is removed (about the diameter or a can of pop). They do this at various points along the canal and if any parts are not safe, they simply won’t open that part.
To get a really nice surface on top they then use a machine, commonly called a Zamboni after the inventor. They are specially made for the purpose of flooding the canal and have a reach of 60ft wide. It takes just one minute to fill the Zamboni with water, making the machine between 15/17 tonnes in weight! The machine floods around 400 meters of canal at a time and levels the surface. This practice is commonly done after 11 pm when the canal is quiet.
When you are skating on the Rideau canal, you don’t have to worry about food or drink. Concession stands are at hand selling Beaver Tails (like a flat donut with toppings, not actual Beaver!). Fast food, skate rental, sleighs and rest areas line stretches of the canal. Skate rental is reasonably cheap at around $11 an hour (plus a $50 deposit) and the atmosphere is amazing. Children of all ages, and adults, learning to skate with friends and family. Once open, the skateway is available 24/7 and totally free to use. If you have your own equipment, you can enjoy skating on the Rideau Canal for free all season.
During Winterlude festival, all sorts of other activities can be seen on the Rideau Canal or Dowes lake other than Skating, including a winter triathlon and dragon boat racing! We also spotted a mobile DJ booth and disco on the ice!
Check out the official Canadian Tourism page for more!
We go Skating on Rideau Canal!
We had planned our trip to co-inside with Winterlude festival and we were desperate to go skating on Rideau Canal. We had some setback with our planning as we had so much to fit in. If we were off doing something else, the Canal was open and the weather glorious. If we had a day in mind to go skating, the Rideau canal was either closed due to strangely mild temperatures melting the surface or it was snowing so heavy you couldn’t see!
We walked or took the bus past the canal every day whilst we were exploring the city of Ottawa. We were always on the look out to see how it was doing and amazed at the more advanced skaters. Commuters would just be zipping down the canal to and from work! How many people can say they ice skate to work – it is breathtaking.
A couple of days before we flew home we were lucky enough to find a break in the weather and our schedule where we could actually have a go.
Face your fear
Stood at the edge of the canal, rented skates in hand… we looked at each other and took in the enormity of what was about to happen. We had always been told not to stand on frozen water as it could crack but here we were, about to join hundreds of people along the canal, and all stand on it at the same time. I was feeling nervous but the fact there was a 4×4 parked about 100 meters away on the ice filled me with some comfort that I wasn’t going to be too heavy etc.
We sat on a bench in a marque that had been erected, children of school age are being rallied together to get their skates off. A family with a toddler only just used to walking, is being fitted with his first skates by his Canadian parents. They are blue just like his all in one outfit to keep him warm and his crash helmet to protect his head. I look at him and wonder if he is as scared as I am and know he will be skating better than me by the end of this session!
It is then, once the boots are laced, that I remember I haven’t skated in about 20 years and have completely forgotten how to stand up – this is straight onto the ice, there are no matts or carpet like in Streatham ice rink!!!
Step and Glide!
Cautiously, I stand up, and move to the poles holding the marquee up. They look sturdy enough for me to hang on to for a second and then I remind myself there are little kids watching and try to look confident. I step and glide, step and glide, catch some ice, stumble about looking like a windmill and manage to stay on my feet. Once we get past the area by the marquee the ice smooths out nicely and there are less jagged patches to catch.
There are no railings to hold on to, and people are slipping and sliding about all over the canal but the air is full of laughter. People of all ages and abilities are there mixing and enjoying the sunshine even though it’s -14 today. Markers lining the canal tell you the distance from the city centre in kilometres and we aim to get down to one of them.
Once we finished skating, we took our boots off for some well deserved relief and then went for refreshments. We were so tired from trying not to fall over and can report that we stayed upright the entire time!
I can’t believe we can say that we have Skated on Rideau Canal. Something I never thought we would do but had the most amazing experience doing it. Honestly – it will be a memory we will treasure forever!
Check out our other Ottawa posts!
Spanish lockdown, and how we are being affected.
Oh your such a dirty one, a dirty one, when you gonna have a day off – Corona
As you may know, if you are a follower of ours, we are currently in Spain volunteering at a dog shelter. We have been here a month now and are amazed at the set up, location and team/s we have been working with.
We have tried not to write too much about the COVID-19 pandemic and Spanish lockdown. There are a few reasons for that.
1. Everyone is talking about it and people are becoming saturated by stories of what’s happening.
2. The fear in humanity is at an all time high and we didn’t want to do or say anything that would add more gasoline to the already burning fire.
3. We actually have (so far) been very lucky and are in a safe place. Would posting that we were very lucky then come across as gloating?
Are you safe in the Spanish Lockdown?
With all of that taken into account, we are often being asked by people back home “Are you ok?” “What is going on out there?” “Are you safe?” “When are you coming home?”
We wanted to let you know that we are indeed safe. You may have seen in a facebook post recently that we have decided to stay here in Spain for the foreseeable future. Louise and I had many discussions, alongside Tina, the director of the charity to come to a decision as a team.
We had several options open to us at that point, before the Spanish lockdown came into force. Drive home before the borders closed and ferry’s stopped running. Fly home and leave Chewy behind. Stay put and remain at the centre until this all blows over and things return to normal.
Tina had spoken to us about the volunteers that were due to arrive in the coming months. They had either cancelled or been forced to stay away by their travel operators. Although we all know that it is not what anyone wanted, it is totally understandable that these steps had to be made. It would leave just Tina, Nomi and 3 part time staff to run the centre and look after 200 dogs.
Some volunteers that were here also decided it was time they went home (to different parts of the world including USA, Belgium and UK), while another trooper, Michele, risked it to stay a little longer.
Spanish lockdown – Should we stay or should we go now?
If we decided to go back to the UK, would we be putting ourselves at risk being in transit. We would be in close contact with lots of people on the ferry, plus we would need shopping and fuel on the way there. There were already police and army out in Spain stopping people to ask where they were going etc. If we stay put, we are in a secure compound with a small group around us.
We decided we would be better off staying here and helping with the dogs. They need our help and even though with a vastly reduced staff and volunteer level, we are still here to ensure they all get fed, medicated, walked and have clean bedding.
Isn’t that selfish?
We don’t think so, quite the opposite. Our family back home are safe and able to look after themselves. They are scattered across the country so even if we went home and then further travel restrictions were enforced like they are here in Spain, we couldn’t get to most of them anyway,
We feel we are being responsible by just staying put and adhering to all the government advice during the Spanish lockdown. We wouldn’t want to leave our home on wheels behind. At the time we were in real discussions, we were hearing about other motor homers who were being turned around and quarantined at the borders as they were trying to make their way home. Aires were closing, campsites shutting down and no where for them to go.
How is the lockdown affecting your daily Spanish life?
Well. To be honest… Not drastically. We are so lucky and we know it.
The set up here it that there are a handful of on site staff and volunteers. The compound is far away from the nearest town, a necessity when you have around 200 dogs barking. There is a fully stocked kitchen, laundry facility and pretty much anything we need.
Although we can go off site when we want to, it’s only to do a bit of shopping or go exploring – which we currently cant do. We are currently having food bought in for us so that is easing pressures.
With less hands on deck, we are all taking on more responsibility so pulling around 12 hour shifts to ensure the dogs are all exercised, fed and cleaned. Everyone us also taking responsibility to do their share of cooking and cleaning around the centre. The food we have eaten is amazing! this centre is 100% vegan and we have delighted in learning new dishes.
What is it like outside the compound?
It’s a little scary to be honest. Currently, we are still in lockdown. Only one person is allowed in a car unless you are with a minor or disabled person. No non essential trips are allowed.
At the supermarket, you must wait with your trolley outside in a queue. They are only allowing a few people in at a time and you are instructed to antibac your hands for 20 seconds and then put disposal gloves on. If you are thinking of cutting corners, don’t. A burly security guard with a large baton watches you.
Cash is not being accepted. Only card payments to stop germs being transmitted on the coins. In the cars, the drivers are all wearing face masks and gloves.
In the cars, the drivers are all wearing face masks and gloves. Everyone looks suspicious of everyone else and wants to just get home. It won’t take long for this “new normal” as they are calling it, to become easier as we all get used to the restrictions but we all want it to pass.
In Spain, we are lucky. Despite some early frustrations with the government not acting sooner to close Madrid, the majority of people are calm and following orders. Spain acted very quickly with the whole country shut down fast. It has been quite scary to watch how slow the UK were to catch up. It seemed at times that the UK thought that it was immune to the virus and just carried on. However, we wouldn’t be surprised if the fatality rate per population percentage will be higher than Spain.
In the UK we are hearing reports of vigilante behaviour, of fire extinguishers being let off in hospitals, ambulances being sabotaged and an uprising of anger and mob mentality. With that in mind it isn’t a welcome site to come home to.
Wellies and waterproofs at the ready 7 days a week at the moment. We have been having days of torrential rain, thunderstorms like you have never heard and strong winds. The centre has partially flooded in areas (including under the van) and drying clothes is a real nightmare.
Our waterproofs are not waterproof and we can’t find any in the local supermarkets – all other stores are closed – so we are doing the best we can. When it was dry the air was covering the van, inside and out, with a layer of red sand/dust that made it harder to breath, and now we are swimming in muddy water!
We are hoping that the weather dries out a little but we are forcast more rain in the coming weeks.
What about support?
Well we are here carrying on in our own self isolation. We are taking pride in caring for the dogs and are loving watching the puppies grow every day. We are having some real breakthroughs with some of the dogs with behavioural problems and Tina is still able to rescue dogs.
Sadly, with people being made redundant, having to cut back on spending etc, sponsorship’s are being cancelled. Rehoming can not happen during the Spanish lockdown, neither can home checks etc.Dos that were supposed to be going home can not travel at the moment and this has a knock on effect in terms of income for the charity.
We know this is a difficult time globally and things are going to be a bit strange for a while. But if you can spare some money, even just a couple of Euros, Please consider sending them to the charity to help pay for the veterinary care and food bills for these beautiful and precious dogs.
You can log on to www.galgosdelsol.org to find out more.
From small sea to large pond, this area has had many names but all describe the natural formation that we see today at Mal Menor, its name translating as “minor sea”. Europe’s largest salt water coastal lake is located on the Iberian peninsular near Cartagena and home to 170km2 of sun warmed salt water. Not only does it provide an amazing view, but is a great location for water sports such as stand up paddle-boarding, windsurfing and kite boarding.
La Manga (meaning sleeve) is the area that separates the salt water lagoon from the Mediterranean sea. A strip of land full of holiday apartments and hotels provide a modern looking tourist resort that can be easily spotted from the main land. Originally the bay was open and La Manga was the natural end of the salt lake. Over many years, the volcanic reefs at either end of the bay started to hold back sand and sediment in between two meeting seas, the Menor and the Mediteranean. Now, La Manga is the result of that natural phenomenon. The resort has been being built since the 60’s and now very commercialised.
The mainland side of the Mar Menor lagoon, looks out to sea and to the right of us are the blue and purple silhouettes of the mountain ranges. Taking our first outing from our volunteering stint with Galgos del Sol, we ventured to Mal Menor as it looked interesting on the map.
Mar Menor and it’s ecological importance
The northern end of Mar Menor still has salt flats and these now include a wetland protected by the regional government and is a special protection zone (known as a Zepa in Spanish) for bird life. It is a humid area with its own micro-climate. It has been included in the list of wetlands of international importance since 1994.
With reeds standing 15 ft tall, sea lily, sea thistle and more, a broad representation for varying flora can be discovered here providing all sorts of food and habitats for the wildlife. With birds such as the grebe, large cormorant, black neck grebe, stilt, plover and tern for example, there are also reptiles including the Iberian skink, red-headed lizard (which we didn’t see) and common chameleon (which we could have looked straight at but not seen). Endangered insects, crustaceans and fish also live her and mammals such as shrew, weasels and bats.
There are more than 8km of beaches around the Mar Menor lagoon. Three most popular beaches are Las Salinas, Beach Barraca and Punta de Algas although there are many more options for quieter locations depending on what experience you are looking for.
We headed to a location given to us, just the other side of Murcia airport and near a couple of motorhome campsites. They were full of holiday makers even in early March so that was a good sign for us! After a few failed attempts we finally located Kinita restaurant and beach club and found somewhere to park.
Visiting the conservation area
Walking through to the beach was like looking at a postcard, blue sky, warm sunshine and palm trees lined our way as we walked through to the beach. Although not golden sand like the Caribbean, the beach was small but a great location to keep an eye on little ones! The sea was a bit mucky today but that could have been tidal so don’t take our word that it is always like that as we don’t know and we have had a few storms recently in the area.
At the end of the beach we noticed some steps and what looked like a little wooden footbridge so went to explore. This was the entrance to the conservation area. Wooden boards and railings lined the footpath to keep all visitors in designated areas instead of walking anywhere and damaging the reserve. A look out tower and some viewing platforms made for great photo opportunities. We saw some birds hopping around in the shallow water and watched them for a while. It took around 15 minutes for us to take a gentle stroll for us to reach the other side and onto the next stretch of beach. It was here we swapped wooden boards for a paved esplanade next to the sandy beach.
Playa de Los Narejos
Kite suffers lined the horizon as we looked out towards La Manga and beyond, twisting and turning in the breeze. Children played in the sand and groups of people were gathered in the communal areas (If you know what I mean!). A few bars and watersports schools lined the path as we took in the sights and aromas of Spain.
As we walked around looking at the area, we heard a chirping noise above us. We tracked it down and found out that it was a green parrot, sat in a tree!
We really enjoyed our afternoon off in Mar Menor and took a drive through San Javier on the way back to base camp. As the sun started to go down, a chill in the air bought welcome relief to what had been a hot day when out of the wind. With the breeze on the sea front, we forgot quite how stong the sun was and burnt a little but even though we were wearing sun cream.
A nice relaxing evening of sorting out our laundry and cooking some dinner (first time we had properly cooked in 2 weeks for an evening meal!) before we head off for an early night. Although we enjoyed our afternoon off we really missed the dogs and cant wait to see them again in the morning.
We heard just now that Maria Jose has caught another stray this evening that will be coming to us after her vet check and we will be making sure she feels safe and loved. Add on to that our ever growing list of favourite dogs (Bonjo, Marie, Javi, Fiji, London, Peugeot, Joaquim, Kissy, Libby, Penny, Wella, Violetta, Tania, Blossom, Isabachi, Tomi, Montanna, Quid, Madrid, Moschu Anton and Twinkles – oh dear….) its going to be more than 10 days before we want to take any more time off!!!
Your donation are saving lives
With the money you have donated, we have been able to help care for the site whilst Tina and Nat have been off assisting with rescues as Galgos del Sol. Yesterday they caught a poor galgo that had been seen with a nasty trap around her stomach. After saving 3 other dogs the day before whilst trying to catch her they finally succeeded. She is now safe and being taken care of. We saw her ourselves today and she will be looked after medically and emotionally as she recovers.
We are so grateful that you helped us get here to the front line and you honestly don’t know what a difference you have made to the lives of these dogs just by helping us. We are dedicated and cant wait to bring you Marie’s story soon. But for now, we have to go and finish a few things around the centre for our night duty before we try to get a few hours shut eye and wake up ready to bounce into kennels in the morning!