Count Bettula

An icy wind snapped at our heels as we made our way around the weird but wonderful gritstone formations of Brimham Rocks under a sharp blue sky. Many of them looked like caricatures of dogs and some of the rocks even have names, but we were having fun making up our own. Drunk eagle wearing an American steam train was possibly the most inventive of these.

Rock and roll baby!

Dog asking for money

Milk tray

I'm running out of things to say about rocks.

Canal side

It was two years ago we had been nervously trying to pull out onto the bustling A3 near Guildford in our new to us campervan. Some fourteen thousand miles and many adventures later we were in Yorkshire. We’d definately taken the scenic route. As is fairly usual we didn’t have much in the way of a plan, other than to celebrate another year of van based tea drinking.

We’d followed the weather forecast in this direction looking for some sunshine or at the very least some dry weather. It was pretty grim at home. While the frigid wind would continue to torment us for much of the following week, the sunshine played by it’s own rules and came and went as it pleased.

It’s a short walk from a lonely car park above the small town of Pately Bridge, passing the ghostly remnants of an ancient lime kiln, up to Yorkshire’s largest piece of public artwork, Coldstones Cut. It’s a strange place, with views over the local quarry and the surrounding countryside. Quarrying was once a major part of the industrial landscape here and the Coldstones quarry workings are still immense. We made our way up the spiraling path to the top of the sculpture and looked down upon the Tonka like trucks to-ing and fro-ing below like a hyperactive child’s toys.


Tonka toys!

The wind had chilled us through, it was time for a cup of tea and maybe a slice of cake. Pately Bridge was closest and was just as we imagined a Yorkshire town would be, with stone built buildings, steep and narrow roads and a river running through the middle of it. And most importantly, tea shops. We picked one by the river and started to think about where we might head next.

The pace of life when you've got your home on your back

Each night we’d go looking for somewhere to camp. Most nights we’d use small farm sites. Tonight we’d found a slightly larger campsite, but who’s website had made no mention of the military helicopters that would spend the night buzzing us, or at least, that’s how it sounded from inside the van. The other issue that we faced was that our diesel heater decided it had had enough and filled the van with smoke rather than lovely warm air. We spent the evening wrapped up in our sleeping bags, waiting for the anti campervan missiles to find their target.


We’d thought about heading for the coastal town of Whitby but the recommendation of the medieval market town of Richmond changed our minds. The sun was shining and warming our bones a little so it seemed a shame to waste it travelling. Mrs TomTom said Whitby was an hour and a half away, but Mrs TomTom has never really taken to the idea that Betty Bus does not travel at the same pace as everyone else, especially so when faced with corners or a hill to climb. And there were are many corners and many hills around the north Yorkshire moors.

Richmond sounded idyllic, Whitby could wait until later.

With the castle ruins perched on top of the hill overlooking the maze of steep, narrow and winding lanes that lead down from the market square to the river Nidd and the waterfalls, Richmond definitely has that oh-so-quaint factor. It’s hard to imagine that once the lower part of the town had for a time been home to a giant gas works, Richmond being the first town in Europe to have gas lighting along it’s streets. The gas works had been built on the site of the old water mills that had served the castle. The town certainly looks better for loss of the gas works. We picked up some supplies from one of the independent grocers that still trade in the town. It had certainly been a good recommendation to visit the town.


A bridge.  Possibly over troubled water.

Church view

troubled water

Not Charlotte Church

I learnt everything I know about Freemasons from the Flintstones

We headed east across the moors, it was time to make for Whitby. It was a pleasant surprise to find all the car park ticket machines disabled for the winter, although there were many “no camping” signs about. The Abbey dominates the skyline. This gothic ruin must have been quite spectacular before it was all but destroyed during the last war. Down in the centre of Whitby is the harbour and a maze of narrow streets, it’s a place that has attracted writers and artists for many years. You certainly get a feel for how Bram Stoker once took inspiration from the town and Abbey for his legendary novel ‘Dracula’.

Facing west

Can you see any bats?

Almost Christmas

Abbey View Campsite.  They weren't wrong.


Count Betula

The town is also blessed with large sandy beaches when the tide is out and a breakwater that doubles as a pedestrian pier that arches out into the sea. Fish and chips on the pier is a must do really but there are so many fish and chip shops that it is hard to choose. We took the advice of a random stranger, a man with an accent so thick that Rosana couldn’t understand a word he said. His advice was spot on and we gorged on delicious fish lunches under the watchful eyes of the local seagulls.

Two fish suppers please

There was a queue for this photo

The Abbey Road LP

Along the coast is Robin Hood’s Bay, the end, or maybe the beginning, of Wainwright’s coast to coast walk. It’s another smorgasbord of steep, narrow and winding streets leading down to the shore with rockpools to search through while Oystercatchers fly overhead, all under the backdrop of the jagged red cliffs. We wandered the beach while above us geese flew south, seeking warmer winter homes.

Where's Marion?

Frosty mornings

We headed back inland to taking the most indirect route imaginable. As we zig zagged across the moors we found ourselves faced with Betty Bus’s biggest test yet.

Mrs TomTom said to turn right. The road sign said 33%. We couldn’t see the top. It was narrow, it was wet and there was no real run up. There was no going back (it upsets Mrs TomTom) so we engaged 1st gear and went for it. The needle on the temperature gauge climbed degree by degree as we gained altitude, metre by metre, hoping nothing was coming the other way, hoping our soft winter tyres would maintain traction, hoping all of Betty’s 78 horse power would keep galloping forward. As the engine temperature stabilised the summit came into view and as we rolled over the top we gave the old girl a good pat on the dashboard – by this point she was far too dirty to hug.

Our destination was Knaresborough, another old market town. Here the river Nidd has carved a deep gorge in the rocks and a viaduct was built to allow the railways to cross the valley. The first viaduct collapsed into the river before the first train had even crossed it, the result of poor workmanship. The viaduct was rebuilt is the centrepiece of a pretty town, with yet more narrow streets winding up the side of the valley to a ruined castle and multitude of cafes. It’s odd though, watching modern trains make the crossing. It’s easy to imagine how magnificent it looked during the age of steam.
Rosana forced a little old lady to move her car for this shot

Full winter jacket

The first castle sank into the swamp

Is it a bird?  Is it a plane? No...err...yes, yes, it's a plane

Is it a bird? Is it...err...yes, this one's a bird.

The second of Knaresborough's viaducts

The second castle, that sank into the swamp too


Heading Home

There was no avoiding the fact that we were running out of time. We’d enjoyed our time among the Frisian Islands, but we needed to start heading in the direction of home or at least, towards the ferry terminal at Dunkerque. It was Friday and we had a Sunday afternoon crossing booked.

Rosana had mentioned Köln several times and Dan finally took the hint. It looked conveniently located in terms of the route we needed to take but presented a large, umweltzone shaped, problem. Parking didn’t look great and to make matters worse there was a large demonstration taking place in the city on Saturday. We decided to find somewhere to camp outside of the city that was near a train station, that seemed to be the simplest solution. We trawled the Bord Atlas and ACSI guide and eventually found an ACSI campsite on the banks of the Rhine just outside of Düsseldorf that fitted the bill.

It was a bit of a trek, but German trains are pretty efficient even if their ticket machines are a bit baffling, plus the location offered less of a drive on Sunday.

Like Xanten, Köln was initially a Roman town and like many German cities, it’s a mix of old and new, with much post war rebuilding and it’s an easy place to spend a day or more wandering around, getting lost in narrow back streets, enjoying the street art and taking in the beautiful, if crowded, cathedral.

With one last strawberry topped ice cream the sun set on our journey through Germany and we headed for France and our ferry home.

Having a Whale of a Time

We managed to catch the ferry to Borkum this time and we hardly had to rush at all.  Maybe just a little bit.  But really, getting to the island of Borkum was quite a stress free affair.  It looked lovely in the guide book, with some unusual features and the possibility of seals.

The ferry terminal on Borkum is quite a long way from anywhere else on the island.  For foot passengers there is a train service into the main town, but we had our bikes along with no real sense of direction or map to guide us.

So we followed everyone else who was on a bike.  The thing with euro bikes is that they all have bells.  We don’t have bells.  A bell on a mountain bike is an annoyance.  Maybe not so much for Rosana who is very sensible, but we have to bear in mind that Dan is an idiot and more so on a bike.  As we reached the edge of the town we found a bike shop, so decided it was time to fit bells.  Dan got a cool black one with a shark on it.  Rosana got a pink one with a princess on it.  Rosana was not happy with Dan.  Dan giggled to himself quite a bit.

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As with most places, our first stop was tourist information.  With our shiny new map we headed off.  The first thing we wanted to see was the whale bone fence.  While we don’t condone whaling, at least every part of a whale was put to use.  On Borkum that meant using whale bones for home fencing.  It was quite impressive.

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From there it was to the huge sandy beaches.  Large sandy beaches are not something that you would necessarily associate with Germany, but Borkum has them in abundance.  After being reprimanded by the police for cycling where we shouldn’t, we locked up the bikes and went looking for seals.  We found them but on a cordoned off section of beach and a very long way away.  We considered it mission accomplished and headed off for a ride around the island, taking in the wildlife and eventually stopping for an enormous ice cream with strawberries.  It was strawberry season after all and Germans take their seasonal food very seriously.

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Another year

It’s now two years since we brought home an old camper van to see how we got on with it before buying a newer, more shiny one.  As with any Betty Bus occasion we celebrated with a road trip, this time to have fish and chips on Whitby pier.

A few stats from the second year:

  • 7,100 miles travelled
  • 49 nights away
  • 4 ferry journeys
  • 6 Countries travelled through
  • And importantly, she did not need rescuing by the RAC, although she did break down on the driveway.  Twice.

Let’s see where the next year gets us…