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From Slovenia to Ireland 2015 PDF Printable Version E-mail


BY MOTORHOME FROM SLOVENIA TO IRELAND 2015

Margaret and Barry Williamson
April 2015
 

Follows on from: In the Balkans Spring 2015  

Introduction

After a winter motorhoming in the Greek Peloponnese, we crossed the Gulf of Corinth on the splendid bridge near Patras, and headed north on what was for us a new overland route back to the UK. This became a journey of 1,800-mile (2900 km) taking us through Macedonia (Republic of), Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, France,  the Republic of Ireland and along the north coast of Northern Ireland. It ended in Larne, north of Belfast, waiting for the ferry to Scotland and the beginning of a new journey.

See the article describing  our routes in previous years: To Greece by Sea or by Land.

Already we were thinking of a ferry from England to the Netherlands and a summer in Scandinavia.

The whole journey, starting in the UK at the beginning of August 2014, is summarised and linked together at:

A European Journey 2014-2015 

IN SLOVENIA - APRIL 2015

1.  Headlights compulsory 24 hrs a day on all roads.

2.  Currency Euros.

3.  Slovenia is a member of the EU, so British-registered vehicles are fully covered by their own insurance.

4.  The language is Serbo-Croat, using the Latin alphabet.

5.  There are regular tolls on the excellent motorways for vehicles over 3.5 tons (including motorhomes). Vehicles under 3.5 tons (including our motorhome) do not pay tolls but have to buy and display a Vignette. We paid €16 for the 7-day minimum.

At Camping Bled, Bled, Slovenia (at 1,580 ft or 479 m high)

Open 1 April to mid-Oct. www.camping-bled.com  ACSI Card €19.28 inc taxes (plus a one-off €2 registration fee), 16 amp elec, superb showers. Free WiFi. N 46.36155  E 14.08066

The site has excellent facilities (including a free dog shower and a dishwasher costing €1), all kinds of sporting activities, a shop and a nice restaurant with a terrace overlooking the lake. If only it had more marked level pitches, clear of mud and trees! For the first time in months we were on a busy site, popular with several nationalities. It was strange to see other motorhomes again, including a monstrous Carthago from GB as well as the tiny tents used by  French climbers.

Eventually we settled between Italians and Germans, had a late lunch, then made full use of the free WiFi.

Next morning we caught up on laundry, hanging it out to dry in warm sunshine. Also introduced ourselves to the campsite managers, Nejc and Nika, to pass on greetings from our mutual friend, Graham Peacock. They were delighted to hear news of Graham and presented us with a souvenir of our visit – a hand-made plaque of Bled Castle fashioned in rich dark chocolate.  It looked too good to eat but they insisted we must!

After lunch a short cycle ride (7 km) clockwise around the lake, only pausing for an ice cream. The footpath was a broad paved track into Bled, though narrower and sometimes gravel on the way back. The castle, perched high above the lake, is the oldest in Slovenia and Lake Bled with its island monastery is picture-perfect. The town was packed with tour groups from all nations, large coaches pushing their way along the main street to deposit passengers by the lake for boat trips. And this is mid-week in April – it must be hell in August! In past visits we've escaped the crowds by turning up the Bohinj Valley to the Triglavski National Park - 20 miles south-east from Bled - to Bohinska Bistrica and Lake Bohinj, where there are more campsites.

In the evening we celebrated M's birthday, which fell 5 days ago in Serbia, with a very good meal at the campsite restaurant. The only diners, we enjoyed chicken fillet with creamy cheese sauce, roast potatoes and salad, followed by chocolate mousse with strawberries and cream. The waiter also brought complimentary glasses of the local blackcurrant liqueur, good and sweet. A fine celebration for completing our route through the Balkans.

Bled, Slovenia (across Austria) to Camping Sport-Ecke, Chieming, Bavaria, Germany – 172 miles (at 1,700 ft or 514 m high)

Open 1 April-30 Sept. www.sport-ecke.de  ACSI Card €18.40 inc taxes, 16 amp elec, hot showers. Free WiFi. N 47.87636  E 12.52804

Squeezing through Bled, it was 4 miles back to the A2. At the last roundabout before joining the motorway, we turned right to shop. Lidl had a 3-metre height barrier, that we just might have cleared, but we continued to Hofer (= Aldi), with no parking restrictions. It had an in-store bakery and some drastic reductions on chocolate Easter bunnies and eggs. Well stocked, we took the A2 motorway and headed north-west for Austria. At the last Slovenian services, Jesenice at 16 miles, we bought the Austrian motorway Vignette (€8.70 for the minimum 10 days, for vehicles up to 3.5 tons). This doesn't cover one or two tunnels which have extra tolls.

INTO AUSTRIA

At the Slovenian exit post a friendly guard (born in Birmingham) practised his English and checked our passports. The border with Austria actually lies in the 8-km sub-alpine Karawanke Tunnel (toll €7). We entered the tunnel at 1,925 ft (583 m) and emerged into Austria at 2,220 ft (673 m). A little snow still lay on the peaks as we descended to Villach, then took A10 north for Salzburg. Daytime headlights are not compulsory in Austria except in the many tunnels, long and short.

At 68 miles we stopped for lunch at a service station, the air wonderfully clear outside at 3,000 ft. The motorway climbed to 3,715 ft (1126 m) at the entry to the 6-km Katschberg Tunnel (toll €11), then reached the day's maximum height at 4,260 ft (1290 m) on entering the shorter Obertauern Tunnel (no toll).

At Salzburg we turned west, with a break at the motorway services just before the German border at 146 miles, down at 1,585 ft (480 m).

INTO GERMANY

And so into Bavaria and onto Germany's busy network of free motorways, joining the A8 west towards Munich.

At 169 miles we took exit 109, then drove 3 miles north through Grabenstatt to the eastern shore of the Chiemsee lake, where there are 2 adjacent campsites (both ACSI Card listed) shortly before the town of Chieming.

On the first, Camping Sport-Ecke, we had a very friendly welcome from the manager who waived the surcharge for a waterfront pitch. It's a nice little site, with none of the irritating electric meters or shower tokens that are common in Germany. And the WiFi actually worked.

At Camping Sport-Ecke, Chieming, Bavaria

Next day we'd planned to ride some (or all) of the cycle route round the Chiemsee (approx 60 km on good level paths). However, with rain pouring steadily all day, we didn't even cycle the 6 km into Chieming and back!

We did enjoy a day using the internet for emails, route-planning and updating our website. After a tasty meatloaf for dinner, we started to watch the addictive '24' series, starring Kiefer Sutherland. We had bought the boxed DVD sets of Series 1 and 2 some time ago, back in the UK (a wonderful stall on Oswestry Market).

Chieming to Der Freistaat Caravaning, Sulzemoos, Bavaria – 95 miles (at 1,665 ft or 504 m high)

Open all year. www.derfreistaat.de/en  Free overnight parking at large motorhome dealer with servicing, accessory shop and cafe. No obligations. Coin-op 16 amp elec at €0.50 per kWh. Coin-op water fill. Free WC and waste emptying. (Dealer closed Sundays but parking area still open.) Free WiFi. N 48.28205  E 11.26003

Just 3 miles back to the A8 motorway, westbound. We were headed not to Munich itself but an infamously named town to the north of the Munich Ring: Dachau.

At 53 miles we joined A99, Munich's busy outer ring, and drove anticlockwise to exit 11. Briefly north on A92 to exit 2, then west on rd 471 following signs for KZ-Gedenkstaette Dachau, the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. At 81 miles we reached the large car park (Cars €3, Buses €5) where we were classed as a Bus and informed that the gates closed at 6 pm, with no overnight parking. It was a short walk to the visitor centre with bookshop and cafι, beyond which lay the vast site (open daily 9 am-5 pm, entry free). First we had a bite of lunch in the cafι, joining visitors and youth groups speaking a variety of languages. French students seemed especially numerous.

Originally a camp for political prisoners, set up in March 1933 just a few weeks after Hitler became Reich Chancellor, this was the model for all the later camps – not only in design but in the brutal violence of the SS men who took command. In just 12 years over 200,000 people from all over Europe were imprisoned here, of whom more than 41,500 died. American troops liberated the survivors on 29 April 1945 – our visit fell 11 days before the 70th anniversary of liberation, when survivors and victims' families will meet here in commemoration.

We spent 3 hours, mostly in silence, following the Path of the Prisoners round what remains of Dachau Concentration Camp. The only entrance to the oblong site bore the ironic words Arbeit macht frei (Work sets you free), later used at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Inside the camp we saw:

The Maintenance Building - the kitchen, clothing store, workshops and baths. Written in large letters across the roof were the German words meaning: 'There is one path to freedom. Its milestones are Obedience, Honesty, Cleanliness, Sobriety, Diligence, Orderliness, Sacrifice, Truthfulness, Love of Fatherland.' It now houses a wide-ranging exhibition, with all information in both German and English, a film room, library etc.

The Exhibition – We were extremely impressed with the full and frank discussion of all aspects of the background history. There were many models, artefacts and reflections on the rise of the National Socialist dictatorship, the end of the Weimar Republic, the political and anti-semitic propaganda, the development of this very first concentration camp from 1933-39, the SS command through the war years and the camp's liberation by the Americans. A 22-minute documentary film was played regularly, in German and English at different times, and one showing daily in each of Italian and French.

The Bunker - the camp prison, with punishments and executions conducted in its courtyard. Now the site of another exhibition.

The Roll Call Area - a vast open yard where prisoners were counted twice a day, often standing for many torturous hours in the heat or cold.

The Perimeter – defined by a grass strip, a ditch with an electrified barbed wire fence, and the outer high wall. Guards in the seven towers shot any prisoner stepping on the grass.

The Barrack Blocks – in two long rows on each side of the central camp road. The first two barracks served variously over the years as canteen, orderly room, library, SS museum, training rooms and armaments productions. No less than 13 barracks made up the sick bay (with death chamber), scene of horrific medical experiments on prisoners from 1942 onwards. One barrack was specifically for priests and clergy. The remaining prisoners were housed in 15 barracks, each designed to hold 200 men, with dormitories and day rooms. Towards the end of the war they were horrifically overcrowded with up to 10 times that number. The original barracks were torn down in 1964 and only the foundations remain, though one has been reconstructed to show the conditions. An area behind the barracks held the camp market garden, herb garden and rabbit breeding hutches

Memorial Site – on the site of two buildings that were demolished: the Disinfection Building, and the 'Special Barrack' (a brothel set up in the spring of 1944 in which female prisoners from the Ravensbruck concentration camp were forced to work). Religious chapels and memorials have been erected in this area: the Catholic Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel (1960); the Carmelite Convent (1964); the Jewish Memorial (1967); the Protestant Church of Reconciliation (1967); and the Russian Orthodox Chapel (1995).

Crematorium – By 1940 the death rate among prisoners had risen dramatically and a crematorium was built, followed by a second larger one in 1942/3. A gas chamber was also built, though not used for mass extermination here. Murders and executions were carried out in the crematorium, many prisoners were worked to death as slave labour on the plantation, and more than 4,000 Soviet prisoners were killed on the nearby SS shooting range. In the last weeks before liberation in April 1945, the dead could no longer be cremated due to lack of coal and some 7,500 bodies were buried in mass graves. Yet this was not an extermination camp.

See our photographs: http://www.magbazpictures.com/dachau-concentration-camp.html

For more information, see www.kz-gedenkstaette-dachau.de .

See also: Barry's 'The Purpose and History of Dachau as a Prototype'

We were not shocked by what we learnt and saw at Dachau itself, having visited several other concentration and extermination camps in Germany, Austria, Latvia and – above all – Poland. But every experience reinforces the helpless bewilderment as to how this could have happened, how human beings could have treated other human beings in such a way, how the inhabitants of Dachau, so near to Munich, could claim they knew nothing of events at the camp. We found no answers.

Leaving Dachau in the late afternoon, we drove west on rd 471 for 9 miles to join the A8 at J78. From exit 77 (Sulzemoos) 5 miles later, we crossed the motorway and followed the signs to Freistaat Caravaning, an excellent free Stellplatz at a large motorhome and caravan dealer, featured in both the Bordatlas and Camperstop Europe. We joined a few German motorhomes for a peaceful night, sorry that we couldn't actually visit the accessory shop etc, as the premises were already closed (at 4 pm on Sat). Like most firms, including Lidl and other supermarkets, they do not open Sundays. German trading laws apply! The Stellplatz is conveniently near a McDonalds and a restaurant, and less than a mile from the A8 motorway.

Sulzemoos to Camping Waldpark, Hohenstadt, Baden-Wuerttemberg - 84 miles (at 2,640 ft or 800 m high)

Open 1 Mar-31 Oct. www.waldpark-hohenstadt.de  ACSI Card €16 inc 16 amp elec and 5-minute shower tokens. Free WiFi. N 48.54693  E 9.66794

A bright sunny morning after a cold night. Walked round the premises at 'Freistatt Caravaning' to look at the stock: everything from huge Carthagos to little Possl campervans, with a very impressive line-up of new Carado motorhomes. The showroom/accessory shop/cafe were all closed, being Sunday, meaning loss of business from around 20 overnighters!

See our photographs at: http://www.magbazpictures.com/sulzemoos-dealer.html

Back on the A8, free of trucks on a Sunday, we headed west past Augsburg and crossed the Danube about 13 miles before Ulm. At 83 miles we took exit 60 for Hohenstadt, just after crossing the European Watershed at 2,590 ft or 785 m: the dividing line from which rivers flow west (like the Rhine) or east (like the Danube).

It was another mile or so uphill to a campsite/holiday village in the woods near the well-named little town of Hohenstadt at 2,700 ft/820 m. We were the sole campers on a small area for tourers, though several of the statics were occupied. The Italian restaurant on-site was open but we didn't try it.

The site WiFi worked well and we caught up with correspondence before an evening spent watching '24' and eating chocolate Easter bunnies.

Hohenstadt to Camping Rastatter Freizeitparadies, Pittersdorf, Nr Rastatt, Baden-Wuerttemberg – 119 miles (at 390 ft or 118 m high)

Open all year. www.rastatter-freizeitparadies.de  Mid-season €19.30 inc 16 amp elec and showers. No WiFi.  N 48.87356  E 8.14873

Back through Hohenstadt to join the A8 (1.5 miles), then a steep 2.5 mile descent, down to 1,715 ft/520 m, while the opposite carriageway took an easier line climbing through a tunnel. The busy 6-lane motorway, busy with trucks from all corners of Europe (Romania, Hungary, Turkey, Poland, Baltic Republics, Spain, Netherlands … but not Britain), took us past Stuttgart with adverts for the Porsche Museum, Mercedes-Benz Arena, Bosch HQ, etc.

Before Karlsruhe we turned south-west on A5 and lunched on a service station down at 430 ft/130 m just before taking exit 51 at 91 miles. Towards Iffezheim on rd 500, then left for Rheinmuenster and on to Greffern (100 miles), close to the Rhine forming the French border.

After shopping at Lidl we returned 3 miles to look at Freizeitcenter Oberrhein near Rheinmuenster, a large campsite with adjacent Stellplatz. The camp was a huge commercial place, its staff too busy on the telephone to bother with mere customers. At €23 for the night, the use of electricity for heating was explicitly verboten. WiFi cost €1 per hour and only worked in the 2 restaurants. The Stellplatz was a better price, though it had no security at all (€8, coin-op electric and water, free dump), with an optional entrance fee of €2.50 per person per day to the campsite to use the facilities. We didn't like the atmosphere at either.

So it was Plan B: Return north on B36 to Rastatt, via Huegelsheim (where we got a fill of diesel next to Aldi). We went on to cross the Rhine twice, first into France, then back over an old railway bridge into Germany, as the lane linking B500 to Wintersdorf was closed. Following a mix of diversion signs and the SatNav, we eventually reached Wintersdorf and drove north through Ottersdorf to Pittersdorf and a friendlier campsite next to a golf club.

There were many statics, a grassy area for tourers and a small lake popular with scuba divers.

At Camping Rastatter Freizeitparadies, Pittersdorf, Nr Rastatt

Early next morning it was 7°C, clear and sunny. A pair of French cycle-tourists with a small tent proudly told us they were riding Veloroute 6 from Paris to Prague. We explained that we'd cycled from England to Prague (and beyond) back in 1988. 'Quelle Velo-route?' they asked! There weren't even maps of the Iron Curtain countries then, let alone cycle routes.

The camp rules specified six categories of rubbish, each with its own colour of dustbin in a waste compound that was only open from 4-4.30 pm on 4 days a week! When Margaret went to investigate, carrying a bag of unsorted rubbish, a helpful German camper suggested she put it all in a litter bin on the lamp-post. It wouldn't go through the slot. 'Well, just leave it on the ground, they'll collect it' was the advice. M did so, turned round, and a camp maintenance vehicle immediately appeared to empty the bin and pick the bag up! Was she being followed on CCTV?

We stayed here for 2 days, did the laundry and took advantage of the fine weather to explore the Rhine Cycleway, with two very enjoyable (if dusty) rides.

Ride 1 – 59 km. Tried to follow the river towards Karlsruhe, with a head wind out and back wind home. The main Rhine proved elusive, as we followed Rheinradweg signs along quiet lanes from Plittersdorf, with glimpses of the Alter Rhein. Turned east for Steinmauern to bridge a tributary, then took gravel tracks through woods where cuckoos called and along the high water dam, seeing herons, swans, geese and a nesting stork. After 20 km, at Neuburg am Rhein, we turned off to see the Rhine and have a break, disappointed that the drinks kiosk by the car ferry there was closed (Tuesdays). Continued on a gravel track to Maxau, on the outskirts of Karlsruhe, passing a riverside nuclear energy plant where the bike path was somewhat problematic with roadworks and a diversion. Forced to turn east through an industrial zone, we eventually found a cafι for coffee and Apfelstrudel after 32 km. On the return ride, we took a couple of short cuts on quiet roads to avoid the tedious gravel.

Ride 2 – 49 km. Rode south-west, with a tail wind out, head wind home. Again it was difficult to locate the Rheinradweg. We rode cycle paths alongside the road through Ottersdorf, Wintersdorf, Iffezheim and Huegelsheim – where we enjoyed large mugs of coffee and excellent Sachertorte sitting outside the bakery. Eventually met the Rhine at Sollingen, had a picnic lunch and continued to Greffern (28 km), where our map showed a ferry over to France. The host at Das Boot riverside restaurant said it was another 2 km and he knew nothing of the timetable. With uncertainty about the boat and the likelihood of a path on the French side, we decided against crossing. Followed the badly signed Rheinradweg all the way back to the campsite, sometimes on gravel tracks, sometimes quiet lanes, yet rarely in sight of the river.

 For photographs, see: http://www.magbazpictures.com/cycling-the-rhine2.html

INTO FRANCE

Pittersdorf, Nr Rastatt to Camping Les Breuils, Verdun, Lorraine, France – 168 miles (at 630 ft or 190 m high)

Open 15 Mar-15 Oct. www.camping-lesbreuils.com  ACSI Card €15.10 inc taxes, 6 amp elec and showers. Free WiFi (not working).  N 49.15303  E 5.36600

Just 4 miles via Ottersdorf, Wintersdorf and the Rhine Bridge into France at Beinheim. It was another 3 miles to the toll-free A35, southwest towards Strasbourg. Before the city we took the A4 toll motorway which turned north, then headed west along the southern edge of the rounded hills of the Vosges du Nord.

At 51 miles we had a break in the Aire des Quatre Vents, recalling that we had once stopped here (appropriately) in our Four Winds RV! Up above 1,100 ft (350 m), it was indeed bright and breezy. Crossing the border from Alsace to Lorraine, we stayed on A4 bypassing Metz, with lunch on the Metz St Privat services at 131 miles (still high at 330 m).

Along A4 for Verdun, we crossed the Maginot Line and entered the First World War battlefields. After 164 miles we took exit 31, paying the fourth toll of the day (total €27.90), and spotted a Lidl just across the first roundabout we came to. A wonderful selection: fresh turkey fillets, frozen fish, a Belgian chocolate cheesecake, buttery croissants and other patisserie …

Then followed signs to the campsite we've used before. It has nice grassy hedged pitches alongside a small lake, a restaurant, free WiFi (which wasn't actually working), an open air swimming pool (currently closed) and extremely basic facilities. It's an excellent base for visiting historic Verdun and the surrounding memorial sites and forts, which we have thoroughly explored by bicycle on previous visits.

After the Franco-Prussian War ended in French defeat in 1871Verdun on the River Meuse became a frontier garrison just a few km from the border. The German siege of Verdun and its ring of forts in 1916 comprised the longest and costliest battle of the First World War, with 300 days of unbroken fighting, and the Battle of Verdun led to a mutiny in the French infantry – and the award of the Legion of Honour to a carrier pigeon! In the French psyche, it remains the equivalent of Gallipoli for the Anzacs or the Somme for the British. Read more on www.firstworldwar.com/battles/verdun.htm

This evening we were content to walk round the peaceful lake, watching Grey Heron and Mallard, and have a good dinner thanks to Lidl.

Verdun to Camping Municipal du Mail, Soissons, Picardie – 111 miles

Open all year. www.tourisme-soissons.fr/Hotels-et-Hebergements/Le-camping-Municipal-de-Soissons  €13.00 inc taxes, 6 amp elec and showers. Free WiFi. Free entry to adjacent heated indoor pool.  N 49.39328  E 3.32730

Next morning, bright and sunny again, we took the N3 to join motorway A3 (for Reims) after 7 miles. The road names recall the route along which French troops marched to the defence of Verdun - Voie Sacree and Voie de la Liberte, along which lie cemeteries of war graves, both French and German.

After 59 miles we had a break at the Aire de Reims-Champagne Nord  - a large services complete with motorhome parking area and toilet dump. Then it was 17 miles to exit 22 and a toll of €13.90. The final 30 miles or so to Soissons were along N31/E46, partly dual carriageway, with plenty of roundabouts and regular wineries offering Degustations. We paused for lunch in the Lidl car park at Fismes (but only drank tea).

Arriving in the main square of Soissons, the Place de la Republique, the easiest way to the municipal campsite is to turn right along Bldvd Gambette, left into Ave de l'Aisne and along Ave du Petit Mail to the camp entrance, just before the swimming baths. The barrier is always open in the daytime, with an instruction to choose a site and check-in later (after 3 pm). It's a friendly place with WiFi which works some of the time and free entry to certain sessions at the splendid indoor pool next door. We were last here in November 2011, when we attended a memorable Armistice Day ceremony.

At Camping Municipal du Mail, Soissons

Next day rain drizzled as we walked into the city (about 2 km) along the bank of the Aisne, where a fishing competition was being held – a serious business, with rods stationed at regular intervals and officials with clipboards. The huge Saturday morning market occupied the Place Fernand Marquignywith all manner of stalls selling live rabbits, chicks, hens, geese and ducklings, as well as clothing and household linen etc. Inside the market hall there was meat and fish, fruit and veg, cheeses, bread and cakes – even a Halal butchers – all busy with customers.

The local delicacy of dried white beans, supposedly the best in France, is celebrated in song with the chorus:

Ah! qu'ils sont bons, qu'ils sont bons,   (Oh! How good they are, how good they are,) 
Tout  le monde les aime!                       (Everyone loves them! )           
Ah! qu'ils sont bons, qu'ils sont bons,   (Oh! How good they are, how good they are,)
Les Haricots de Soissons
.                     (The Haricots of Soissons.)

One story goes that during the Hundred Years War (actually 1337-1453) a terrible plague ravaged the countryside. The people of Soissons who survived the epidemic fled, carrying their harvest but dropping some seeds as they went. On their return, they found a field of excellent beans, thanks to the humidity of the canal slopes, and the bumper crop fed the whole population. Another version attributes the enormous local beans to an 18th century gardener at the Abbaye St-Leger in Soissons. Whatever their history, the beans are sold here in pretty bags like sweets, and the Tourist Office by Place Fernand Marquigny has a free booklet with some recipes. You can also get a good free city map, as well as leaflets with a 2-hour walking tour and information about the local museums.

Fernand Marquigny, Mayor of Soissons from 1919 to 1942, inherited a medieval city that had been 80% destroyed in the First World War. He organised the reconstruction of the centre, with an eponymous new square in the shadow of the massive Gothic Cathedral to the west. The north and south sides of the square are lined with Art Deco buildings (1920-30). On the eastern side, behind St Pierre church (a remnant of the 7thC convent of Notre Dame de Soissons), stands the British War Memorial erected in 1923 and restored in 2010 by the CWGC. The French War Memorial, crafted by a famous local sculptor, at the centre of the square was completed in 1926.

We visited the 13th C Cathedral that was partly destroyed in the Battle of Soissons (1918), renovated and rededicated in 1937, just in time for the next war. A choir practice was under way, the organ music filling the vast soaring space as we walked round to find a restored Rubens painting: the Adoration of the Shepherds.

Back at the campsite for a wet afternoon, we caught up with correspondence on-line and the news on BBC Radio 4 until the WiFi faded away in the early evening.

Soissons to Camping Risle Seine les Etangs, Pont-Audemer, Haute Normandie – 154 miles

Open 1 April-30 Oct. www.camping-risle-seine.com  ACSI Card €14.00 inc 10 amp elec and showers. Free WiFi (log in again every 60 mins!)  N 49.36627  E 0.48730

On a dull chilly morning we drove through Soissons and west on N31, a good straight road, past a large French war cemetery at Ambleny. After 21 miles, before Compiegne, we took a right turn signed Clairiere de l'Armistice (Armistice Glade Memorial and Museum), 2 miles further along a country lane. We'd passed this way before but never visited the site.

At the Clairiere (a clearing in the forest) there is a large free car park, a short walk through the memorial garden from the Museum (open daily 10 am-5.30 pm, entry €5). It was built to house the railway carriage of Marechal Foch's private train, which in 1918 – and again in 1940 - played its part in history in this very location, formerly a rail siding for rail-mounted artillery

The Memorial Garden: The central flagstone bears the inscription: “It was here on 11 November 1918 that the criminal pride of the German Empire succumbed, defeated by the free peoples it aspired to enslave”. It was installed in the glade in 1922, along with a monument to the people of Alsace-Lorraine. When Hitler had the glade destroyed in 1940, both monuments were dismantled and the stones taken to Berlin, only to be retrieved and re-erected in 1946. The statue of Marechal Foch, erected in 1937, was the only monument spared by Hitler, so that the man who wrote the terms of the Armistice would look out on a wasteland.

The Museum: A shelter was built in 1927 to protect the historic restaurant carriage of Foch's train - the office where the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, bringing to an end the fighting in the First World War. In 1940 Hitler, along with a German delegation including Keitel, Goering, Ribbentrop and Hess, avenged this humiliation by forcing the French to sign another armistice, capitulating to German occupation, in the same carriage in the same place. Hitler theatrically sat in the very seat and used the very same quill pen with which Foch signed in 1918. The glade was then laid waste and the carriage taken for exhibition in Berlin until it was burnt and buried by the SS in April 1945. The present museum, built in 1950, houses a restored railway carriage of the same age and design as the original.

The helpful curator played a 5-minute commentary (in English) telling the extraordinary story of the carriage, while we peered through its windows at the articles inside, including a small sceptre that a French soldier had removed from a car belonging to Kaiser Wilhelm II. Beyond the railway carriage lie 4 rooms with a wealth of displays giving a striking picture of life in the trenches of the Great War, as well as newspaper reports and hundreds of images relating to the events of both 1918 and 1940. A film depicted the death of Augustin Trebuchon, a French soldier killed in the Ardennes on 11 Nov 1918 just 15 minutes before the Armistice was signed. There are weapons, uniforms, soldiers' possessions and even photographs taken secretly in 1918 by a railway worker. Foch had forbidden photos out of respect for the German delegation – a respect that was not reciprocated in 1940. 

After this fascinating and sobering experience, we drove back along the lane to rd N31, which skirted Compiegne and continued west through Beavais. At Rouen we crossed the Seine, then turned south on E46 to meet the A13 at Oissel. We took exit 26 at 145 miles (toll €4.40), then D139 to Pont-Audemer. Over the bridge, then northwest along the River Risle (a tributary of the Seine) for the final 2 miles to a busy municipal campsite next to some small fishing lakes.

We settled on a hedged pitch and found that the free WiFi went off without warning once an hour, with a need to log in all over again. The Madame in Reception feigned ignorance of this frustration, which was probably to prevent downloading of films.

At Camping Risle Seine les Etangs, Pont-Audemer

With a day in hand before our ferry to Ireland, we caught up with laundry and emails. It was bright and sunny with a very cold wind, which we hoped would drop before sailing tomorrow evening!

After lunch we walked into Pont-Audemer (2 miles each way) along the banks of the Risle. After sitting with large cafes au lait in the old quarter, we took a look inside the huge 14th C cathedral. Its vast empty space must have been truly awe-inspiring to the peasantry. A few medieval half-timbered buildings remain, leaning out over the river and canal, and along the Rue des Juifs we noticed Masonic emblems on the old houses.

Pont Audemer to Ferry Terminal, Cherbourg – 130 miles

For Stena Line overnight ferry 'Stena Horizon' (Cherbourg - Rosslare, Republic of Ireland). N 49.64550  W 1.59988

After 7 miles west on N175 we joined A13, the Autoroute de Normandie. There were two tolls (total €7.50) before reaching the Caen Ring at 41 miles. Clockwise round this Peripherique to the south of Caen, taking exit 8 onto the N31, a good dual carriageway for Bayeux and Cherbourg. At Isigny sur Mer we turned off to park at the Intermarche supermarket, stock up on croissants and ιclairs and have a McLunch.

Further along N31, the Voie de la Liberte, past Ste-Marie Eglise where the figure of a US Airman still hangs from the 13th C church spire opposite the Airborne Museum: a poignant reminder of the D-Day landings by sea and air on 6 June 1944.  This journey across France has been haunted by the two world wars of the last century, a constant reminder of the importance of the European Union.

At the Cherbourg ferry terminal we waited in the rain on the large free car park until check-in at 6.30 pm for the 8.30 pm departure, noting that our GPS co-ordinates were at last west of Greenwich. The weather was windy, though not as strong as forecast. Stena Line had taken over 'Celtic Horizon', including our vessel named 'Stena Horizon'. It is a sister-ship to the ill-fated 'Norman Atlantic' which caught fire on its way from Greece to Italy last December. We trust lessons have been learnt and safety measures improved?!

In fact we had a smooth crossing with a good en-suite outside cabin and didn't try the free WiFi on board. We did wake at 3 am as the ferry passed the bright lights of Land's End.

MAY 2015

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND

1.  The currency is Euros.

2.  Road signs are in kms.

3.  DRIVE ON THE LEFT!

4.  For campsites we used two free publications: 'The Green Guide to Touring Caravan and Camping Parks, Ireland, 2015'  www.caravanandcampingireland.com; and 'Caravan Camping & Motorhome Guide, Ireland, 2015  www.campingireland.ie.

5.  There are small tolls on some motorways, where motorhomes and caravans pay only the same as a car.

6.  Put clocks back one hour if arriving from France.

Rosslare Harbour, Co Wexford to Hidden Valley Holiday Park, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow – 68 miles

Open 13 March-27 Sept & 23-26 Oct. www.irelandholidaypark.com  €26 inc 16 amp elec. Showers €1. Free WiFi.  N 52.93900  W 6.2277

On the Stena Line ferry from Cherbourg, we breakfasted in the bar on delicious fresh croissants and large milky coffees. The alternative was an expensive buffet in the restaurant or a 'cooked plate' from the self-service cafι with a long queue. There was little else to do on board, with just one small shop, so we returned to the cabin to read.

At lunchtime there was the same choice (restaurant buffet or a hot dish from the cafι). Back in the bar we opted for the Sandwich Combo Deal - excellent value with a choice of good sandwiches on brown bread, a choice of muffins and a coffee for €6 each all-in. While eating we noticed a dishevelled young man escorted to the bar by a crew member, given a sandwich and coffee, then taken elsewhere. Obviously a stowaway, he was nevertheless treated kindly.

Arriving in Rosslare at 3.30 pm Irish time after an easy 20-hour crossing, we were actually first off the boat and soon heading north on N25/N11. We bypassed Wexford, drove through Enniscorth past the castle, continued on M11 past Gorey, then took exit 21 for the R772 and R747 to Rathdrum in the Wicklow Mountains.

The campsite (sorry, Holiday Park) is a well organised, if overpriced, site around a small boating lake. The free WiFi worked on our pitch and the facilities were good, though tokens for showers and electric hot plates cost extra. Ireland is not a cheap country.

We learnt that tomorrow (May Day) is the start of a bank holiday weekend and the site is fully booked. Time to move on!

Rathdrum to Lough Ennell C&C Park, Carrickwood, Nr Mullingar, Co Westmeath – 81 miles

Open 29 March-30 Sept. www.caravanparksireland.com  €24 inc 7 amp elec. Showers €1. (No WiFi.)  N 53.46492  W 7.37450

At Glendalough, 9 miles north of Rathdrum, we joined the coaches in a free car park. The helpful attendant swiftly appeared to redirect us to another parking area and we had the first of many interesting discussions with the ever-voluble  Irish. The new Glendalough Visitor Centre has an entry fee but you can freely walk round the remains and towers of the early monastic settlement founded by St Kevin in the 6th century in the Glen of the Two Lakes.

From Glendalough we drove northwest on N756, climbing through the Wicklow Gap for 5 miles to the summit at 1,585 ft/480 m, then dropped 1,000 ft over the next 10 miles to a village named Hollywood, where the bells of St Kevin's were chiming noon. Coincidentally, this is the 'Braveheart Trail' with scenery that stood in for Scotland.

The narrow twisting road R411 took us north for 9 miles via Ballymore Eustace and across the Liffey to Naas, where a May Day funfair was causing a traffic jam. We continued north, over the M7 (Limerick-Dublin motorway) to Sallins, at 36 miles, where we parked to shop and eat lunch. Our first Irish Lidl had an excellent choice at the fresh bakery, including the best scones ever, as well as local veg, meat and fish - open for long hours, 7 days a week, including bank holidays.

North on R407 to Kilcock, to join the M4 westbound. We paid a toll of €2.90 on entering the    motorway (same price as a car), leaving at exit 15, Mullingar East. Then it was N52 southwest to Lough Ennell, right at the sign and left by the lake into the campsite. Mainly static holiday homes, with a few places for tourers (both grass and hardstanding) and a small cafι.

The owner gave us a copy of the 'Green Guide 2015' booklet with details of many Irish campsites (free from any site listed).

At Lough Ennell C&C Park, Carrickwood

Rain poured solidly all the next day, true to form for a holiday weekend. M worked on the Travelog of our current journey from Slovenia while B installed the ACSI Sites disk on both laptops. It was also a joy to listen to Irish radio, with a rich mixture of music, poetry, drama and stories. Good to return to a familiar culture and language but without the pressure and traffic of England.

Carrickwood, Nr Mullingar to Strandhill C&C Park, Strandhill, Co Sligo – 93 miles

Open 1 April-27 Sept. www.sligocaravanandcamping.ie   €25 inc 10 amp elec. Showers €1.50. (WiFi not free, but not working!) N 54.27152  W 8.60762

Sunday morning was a mist of fine drizzle (what the Irish call a 'soft rain') as we returned to the N52 and drove northeast, turning northwest on N4 after 6 miles. By Lough Owel it was disappointing to see a 7'6” height barrier on the rest area but this preoccupation with keeping 'travellers' out is common to both Ireland and England.

At 31 miles we were able to park at Lidl in Longford (a mile off the N4), buying more scones. Cherry or sultana, highly recommended! Then we continued along N4 for 25 miles, following the River Shannon and its lakes to Carrick on Shannon where we crossed the broad river with many moored boats. Sadly the parking spaces along the bank were all taken so we drove on, past busy shops and a large car boot sale. As in England, Sunday shopping seems more popular than attending church.

Turning off N4 onto a very narrow road through Lough Key Forest, we checked out a campsite that was small, grassy and full! So back to the N4 and on past Boyle as the rain turned heavier. At 71 miles we spotted the Lough Arrow Viewing Area off to the right, with free parking, picnic tables and no height restriction. A good spot for lunch with a showery view.

Continuing along N4 towards Sligo, there were many crosses indicating accident victims on this busy road, with 2 narrow lanes and no shoulder, making overtaking very risky. We turned off on R292 for Strandhill, a small beach resort on the wide Sligo Bay, below Knocknarea Mountain and near an airfield for light planes. A large campsite among the sand dunes was busy and disorganised but we managed to get the last pitch on the seafront.

When the rain stopped we took a short walk into Strandhill with its cafes and surfing centre, then along to the airfield where the weekly market had just finished.  Most visitors were now watching a football match on the nearby pitch. 

Strandhill to Belleek C&C Park, Ballina, Co Mayo – 46 miles

Open 27 Feb-2 Nov. www.belleekpark.com  €20 inc 10 amp elec. Showers €1. Free WiFi throughout site.  N 54.13234  W 9.15829

From Strandhill we took R282 east to Sligo (a better wider road than R292 we used yesterday). The weather was cold and windy but at least dry. Placards on lamp posts read 'Don't redefine marriage – Vote No' referring to the imminent referendum on gay marriage (in fact the vote was 'Yes', the Catholic church losing its grip on the Irish people).

After 6 miles we joined the N4 heading south but turned off a mile later into Sligo Retail Park with all the familiar British names: Halfords, PC World, Homebase, McDonalds, KFC etc. All open on Bank Holiday Monday. After a little shopping in Halfords and Homebase we rejoined N4, then turned onto N59 at the next exit.

N59, branded the 'Wild Atlantic Way' by the tourist board, took us to Ballina: the 'Salmon Capital of Ireland'. Along the way we passed whitewashed thatched cottages and occasionally glimpsed the grey Atlantic to our right, as the thick grey clouds began to drizzle again. Cattle and sheep, all with young, grazed the green fields and there were black peat trenches cut across the bog land.

Entering Ballina we crossed the River Moy, famed for its salmon and trout, then drove through Belleek Forest Part, past the drive to Belleek Castle (now an exclusive hotel), to a quiet wooded campsite with very friendly resident owners.

The WiFi was very good and we spent the afternoon on-line before cooking dinner: Lidl's best Irish beef, cheese & onion burgers. Beats McD!

At Belleek C&C Park, Ballina

Another very wet day, on the best campsite we've found in Ireland (including previous visits). It has a kitchen with cooking facilities, games room, TV room, well equipped laundry and reliable WiFi. We made good use of the last two. Also descaled the kettle, finding Irish water much better than that in Greece – not to mention more plentiful!

Ballina to Keel Sandybanks C&C Park, Keel, Achill Island, Co Mayo – 66 miles

Open 2 Apr-7 Sept. www.achillcamping.com  €19 inc 10 amp elec. Showers €1. WiFi €1 for 24 hrs from log-on.  N 53.97561  W 10.07581

After a Wild Atlantic night we called at the busy Lidl store in Ballina, to restock with fresh scones, cheese rolls and croissants. Then we drove west on rd N59 as the rain eased.

It was slow going through Crosmolina on a narrow 2-lane road with road works but it gave the opportunity to notice the family-run shops along the main street: an amazing hardware store, traditional butcher and so on. Continuing to Bangor, the road followed a river which ran between peat bogs and fields of woolly sheep. A fill of diesel at 29 miles in Bangor cost €1.37 a litre, (a little more than France but less than the UK).

Staying on the N59 (Wild Atlantic Way) we now turned south, stopping 11 miles later at the Ballycroy National Park Visitor Centre (www.ballycroynationalpark.ie).  With free parking, free entry, cafι and toilets it was a good place for lunch and a base for hill-walking. The weather was now bright and sunny but with a fiercely cold wind that deterred us from taking a walk. This national park covers a vast uninhabited wilderness of blanket bog and small loughs, dominated by the Nephin Beg mountain range rising to 2,380 ft/721 m on Slieve Carr. We did spend some time in the splendid new visitor centre, with excellent displays and films on the history, geology, habitat, flora and fauna of the area. The video of the long-distance Bangor Trail walk (across the mountains from Bangor to Newport) did not appeal! Also had a very interesting talk with the Warden, a young Philosophy graduate, discussing religion and Richard Dawkins.

Further south on N59 to Mulranny, where we turned west on R319 for the bridge to Achill Island (www.achilltourism.com). Now in the Gaeltaecht with road signs only in Gaelic, and truly Irish scenery: blanket bog cut through by peat trenches, fish farms in Achill Sound and Fifty Shades of Green on the island. Keel Beach, 9 miles after the bridge, stretches from the Minaun Cliffs to the village of Keel, with a large windswept campsite by the shore. The site was busy, including a coach full of tent-camping students who came to surf but were crowded in the kitchen using the coin-op gas rings and free fridges.

After finding a pitch, though no shelter, we took a blustery walk along the strand into Keel village. There was a shop, a post office, a take-away and a couple of restaurants, though all the eateries were closed. Returning over the fields, the cutest black-faced baby lambs bleated round their mothers.

Over a dinner of corned beef hash, while the wind still howled, we decided to return to Ballina. That site is more sheltered and has reliable free WiFi – important for listening to the BBC news, as tomorrow is UK Election Day!

Keel to Belleek C&C Park, Ballina, Co Mayo – 72 miles

Open 27 Feb-2 Nov. www.belleekpark.com  €20 inc 10 amp elec. Showers €1. Free WiFi throughout site.  N 54.13234  W 9.15829

A dry morning as we returned 17 miles to Mulranny. A 42-km long cycle/foot path, the Greenway (Achill to Newport), took much the same route following an old railway track. A few brave cyclists were battling the wind. Meeting N59, we turned south for Newport and Westport (as did the Greenway, with a dedicated fenced lane after Newport).

In the busy and tidy town of Westport we turned northeast on N5 (signed Dublin). The road skirted Castlebar (Mayo's county town) at 45 miles, after which we parked for lunch at the Edinburgh Woollen Mill/garden centre/cafι. Here Margaret bought a good pair of winter trousers, half price in the summer sale. Just the thing for the prevailing wind!

A couple of miles later we took N58 to Foxford, then N26 back to Bellina and the campsite. The owner was so pleased to see us again that we received 2 shower tokens free of charge! She had very few campers as most are attracted to the coast but we much prefer the shelter here.

After dinner (salmon-en-croute and chocolate ice cream) we listened with increasing disbelief to the UK Election coverage on Radio 4, sustained by a bag of liquorice allsorts.

At Belleek C&C Park, Ballina

So Britain has a Tory government with a small overall majority. What a catastrophe – and whatever happened with the opinion polls predicting another coalition? The SNP also did well, wiping out Labour north of the border with just one MP left in Scotland. Even Ed Balls lost his seat. The Lib Dems are down to 8 seats. Nigel Farage did not get in. Nick Clegg has resigned as party leader, as has Ed Milliband, though both remain MPs. The only good news is that the single Green Party MP (for Brighton) has an increased majority.

Leaving Barry to consider this disastrous result, M went for a long walk through Belleek Forest Park: 1,000 acres of natural woodland with 6 miles of pathway along the River Moy. Turned back at the Victorian Gothic pile known as Belleek Castle, now an upmarket hotel and banqueting hall.

Heavy rain set in for the afternoon while we were busy with emails. Also made a chocolate cake for B's birthday (tomorrow).

Ballina to Dungloe Touring Caravan Park, Dungloe, Co Donegal – 123 miles

Open 1 May-13 Sept. www.dungloecaravanpark.com   €22 inc 16 amp elec and hot showers. Free (weak) WiFi.  No tents.  N 54.94933  W 8.35827

At last the weather feels warmer, with sun rather than rain. We drove 2 miles into Ballina, crossed the River Moy and returned northeast on N59 to Sligo. The only rest area en route had a height barrier, so once again we turned into Sligo Retail Park for a coffee break.

Continuing north on N15 our next stop, at 45 miles, was St Columba's Church at Drumcliffe to visit the grave of W B Yeats and his wife, George. There is a large car in the grounds of the Protestant church where Yeats' grandfather had been Rector. (www.poetsgraves.co.uk/yeats.htm). Although the poet was born in Dublin and died in France, his last poem expressed the wish to be buried here in sight of Ben Bulben with a plain headstone bearing only the words: “Cast a cold eye on life, on death. Horseman, pass by!” Today there were no flowers. Nearby are the remains of a round tower and a high Celtic cross dating from the 11th C, the site of a monastery founded by St Columba in the year 574.The tearooms were full, as was the Yeats Tavern restaurant a little further along N15: no chance of a birthday lunch here.

Reaching Ballyshannon we looked at the Lakeside Caravan & Camping site but didn't stay, due to the rudeness of the man in Reception who reluctantly stopped grass-cutting to talk to us. Although the site is listed in the ACSI Card book at €18, he demanded another €3 for electricity 'because all the hook-ups are 16 amps'. When we argued about this he became quite aggressive and we drove away.

A little further north we turned off N15 to Rossnowlagh on Donegal Bay to check out Boortree Camping, at 76 miles. Disappointed to find it resembled a parking lot in a characterless estate of holiday homes, we had a bite of lunch then returned to the highway. From Donegal it was N56 north via Glenties to Dungloe, noticing that we were on the Donegal Cycle Route (a narrow 2-laner with no margin for error!)

Shortly after passing both Aldi and Lidl, there is a small well-run campsite on the left of N56, by a roundabout at the entrance to Dungloe town. It even has a good take-away at the gate, offering fish & chips, pizza, Indian or Chinese food. So Barry's birthday meal was a great success - huge cod, chips & salad, followed by home-made chocolate & cream cake.

The free WiFi, with a 26-digit code that we had to copy down, scarcely worked. 'Blame my son-in-law, who installed it' said the owner - 'he's English!'

Dungloe to Wild Atlantic Camp, Creeslough, Co Donegal – 35 miles

Open all year. www.wildatlanticcamp.com   €25 inc 16 amp elec and hot showers. Free (weak) WiFi.  N 55.11985  W 7.90268

It's Sunday morning and we shopped at the nearby Aldi and Lidl (both open all day). Then drove 29 miles north to Dunfanaghy, across bleak blanket bog dotted with small tarns, a barren wilderness that didn't even support sheep. We were still on N56, following the Wild Atlantic Way and Donegal Cycle Route No 1.

As we parked for lunch in Dunfanaghy the skies blackened and torrential rain gusted down. Abandoning plans to travel further, we stopped at the next campsite, 6 miles along in Creeslough. The overpriced site was crowded with young backpackers, most of them French. The tiny kitchen was full of dirty pots and pans, the small shower room packed with wet campers trying to dry their kit under the hand-driers. And the free WiFi only worked in the little cafι which was full. We only stayed to keep out of the raging storm.

The disinterested Receptionist said she'd asked some lads to clear up the kitchen but they only spoke French. No problem – Margaret used their native language and things improved slightly!

FROM THE IRISH REPUBLIC INTO NORTHERN IRELAND

As part of Great Britain:

1.  The currency is Pounds Sterling.

2.  Road signs are in miles.

3.  DRIVE ON THE LEFT!

Creeslough, Co Donegal to Ballyness Caravan Park, Bushmills, Co Antrim – 86 miles

Open mid-March to 1 Nov. www.ballynesscaravanpark.com  £25 inc 16 amp elec and hot showers. Free WiFi.  N 55.19537  W 6.51630

Dry but still very windy, with gale warnings out for Malin Head and the Irish Sea (across which we have booked a ferry in two days' time!)

We drove 16 miles along N56 through Letterkenny, stopping a mile after the city centre at Donaghey Motorhomes (www.donagheymotorhomes.ie). If only we'd known that there is free overnight parking here with hook-up and water (and WC inside when open) – it's not mentioned on their website or the advert in the Green Guide! The accessory shop was well stocked and we were pleased to find a new hinged inside cover, with blind and insect screen, to fit the rear rooflight, replacing a broken one.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Continuing to the next roundabout, we took N13 (signed Derry). At 34 miles the N13 became A515 (signed Coleraine and Belfast) as we crossed the border into Northern Ireland. We immediately saw a difference: more traffic, separate cycle path, speed limits in mph and prices in Sterling. We noticed that post boxes and phone boxes were now red (rather than Republic green) and some field walls were painted red, white & blue, albeit faded. Skirting round the north of (London)derry, we bridged the River Foyle and headed east on the A2, signed Causeway Coastal Route. It was a dual carriageway as far as the City of Derry Airport, then a 2-lane highway.

At Limavady the scenic coastal route turned north, becoming narrower. The first rest area had a height barrier but the next, after the Mussenden Temple folly above Downhill Beach, overlooking the sea at Castlerock was good for a coffee stop. This Causeway Coastal Route from Derry to Belfast is now promoted for the 'Game of Thrones' locations, as the TV series was extensively filmed here. The stunning Antrim coast and its glens represented everywhere from Winterfell to the Iron Islands. Fans should visit www.discovernorthernireland.com/gameofthrones - or come on a customised 3-day tour.

On to Coleraine, circling south of the city and across the River Bann, then A29 north to Portrush. Familiar shops like Boots and Asda had busy car parks; N Ireland is clearly more prosperous than the Republic, where we never had a problem with supermarket parking at any time. After Portrush we passed the gaunt ruins of Dunluce Castle looking out to sea.

Reaching Bushmills we turned south on B66, past the world's oldest legal whiskey distillery (1608 and still in production). The campsite was less than a mile further along – a large, highly organised and expensive site (prices now in Pounds, not Euros!) with very good facilities, WiFi that works and a regular bus service to the Giant's Causeway. Indeed, you are constantly reminded that it's a former winner of the AA Park of the Year for NI and Scotland, which obviously increased the charge!

We settled in, hardly able to stand outside for the wind! Today's sailings from Larne to Scotland are all cancelled, so what will tomorrow bring?! We did a load of laundry and decided against visiting Bushmills Distillery.

Ballyness to Ferry Terminal, Larne, Co Antrim – 55 miles

For P&O ferry 'European Highlander', Larne to Cairnryan, Scotland. N 54.84835 W 5.79775

Next morning was still windy but the P&O information line said that all ferries were running and the sea was 'stable'. So we had an early lunch and set off for Larne, unconvinced, soon after noon. After 3 miles we passed the turning for the new Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre, glad that we'd experienced the Causeway many years ago while cycling along the Antrim coast, when the site was freely open to explore.

Driving east along the famous coast we passed Ballintoy Harbour and continued through Larrybane, Murlough Bay and Fairhead, Glenarm (where Steensons Jewellers created King Joffrey's crown and other pieces for Game of Thrones) and Cairncastle to the port of Larne, a few miles north of Belfast. Most rest areas along the route had height barriers.

With time in hand before our 4.30 pm sailing, we made a pot of tea and surveyed the waves. The wind was dropping and the sea did look calmer on this east coast so we checked in. In fact it was a remarkably calm 2-hour crossing to Cairnryan, though very few people bought a meal! The boat was quiet, mostly trucks and a few cars, with no other motorhomes or caravans.

Arrived promptly at Cairnryan, a new port with 2 separate docks: P&O from Larne and Stena Line from Belfast. With nowhere to park, we exited straight onto the A77 and drove 13 miles north to the conservation fishing village of Ballantrae, where the King's Arms pub/restaurant offers free overnight parking to customers, with free WiFi in the bar (see Britstops Guide www.britstops.com). We stayed here, enjoying an excellent meal and a good rest before the next journey, through Scotland. 

(to be continued)