Stołowe National Park Poland

Stołowe National Park Poland

Stołowe National Park is a hidden gem, tucked away in the south west corner of Poland on the border with Czech Republic. And you could be forgiven for looking at the Polish map and conveniently by-passing it both with your wheels and your eye as it seems a long way south. After all the draw of Krakow, Warsaw and the Tatra Mountains will undoubtedly entice you. Except you will be richer for the experience if, like us, you put your energies into this Lower Silesea region.

We have been flirting with the Czech border since we arrived in Poland ten days ago and we have taken a slow meander with no particular place to go other than a loose plan in my mind about seeing the Stołwe National Park in the Sudete Mountains. I’d seen pictures of rock formations that fascinated me enough to make this detour to this tiny peninsular south of Wrocław.  Weather, as per norm has proved to be our nemesis and almost influenced a left turn to the north than heading to our southern destination. Although we persevered as the camera loving spirit in me kept a firm eye on my goal.

This mountainous region of Poland is just wonderful. Not dramatic and angular like its Alpine or Carpathian cousins; more gentle, curvaceous and alluring as its topography seems to ebb and flow gracefully mimicking the ocean’s waves. These forest and fields of corn drape over this voluptuous landscape giving it a softness that melts your heart. Yet do not be fooled, these gracious mountains pack a mighty punch at up to 3000ft.  Who would have thought that within their embrace, this Sudete Mountain range would hold such a magnificent geological secret.

Stołowe National Park really does look unassuming as you arrive in the region and I found myself wondering if it had been worth our diversion south. Pretty enough although not the spectacle I was hoping for. Although parked up in our eclectic little campsite in Duszniki-Zdrój overlooking fields of Roe deer we were determined to set foot on this unique landscape and, with a great weather forecast we would be in for a treat.

Stołowe National Park (pronounced Stowlove) is about 10 miles long and in the heart of the forest are 100 million year old sandstone rocks that have been formed in layers, and through erosion, have created the most incredible formations. This landscape is unique in Poland and locals flock here to experience its magic. And I say magic for good reason as the two areas of the Park we visited, transport you into a world of fantasy. In fact The Chronicles of Narnia – Prince Caspian was filmed here. And it is easy to see why.

Area 1 – Blędne Skały 

22 hectares of protected natural beauty known as Errant Rocks would hold for us a memorable hiking adventure, although getting there was an interesting journey before we even donned our walking boots. Heading out from our campsite in blissful ignorance following SAT NAV we ended up in the back of nowhere with our faithful machine having a meltdown. Doing a double-check with maps.me it had, once again, taken us off on a magical mystery tour of the Stołowe Mountains – just not our planned destination. So a point to note if you do this route – when you reach the lovely spa town of Kudowa-Zdrój keep straight on the 387 carriageway – do not turn off left, even if Tom-Tom is screaming at you to do so!!

Reading reviews on t’interweb, I was unsure whether we would be able to reach to this region of the park by camper thanks to the numerous comments of ‘access is via an extremely narrow road’ being mentioned. So suitable doubt was lodged in my mind yet intrepid we always are, so decided to check it out and make an alternative plan B if A didn’t come off. Needless to say, reviews must always be taken with a pinch of salt because it was absolutely fine.

Indeed there is a narrow road, although it is simple one-way, single track road. Access and exit is controlled by way of 30 minute slots that allow you to drive up and down without meeting any on coming traffic. It is well organised and we had timed it beautifully and drove up instantly. The Ticket Office at the entrance, take a small toll fee of 20PLN (£4.00) and off you go. Now I will be honest that the road isn’t the smoothest we’ve been on and the road is punctured with holes and it is a little, what shall I say, bumpy, although we’ve been on far worse in Italy, England Bulgaria. So given that you are only doing 15mph, the road is completely doable and we’re driving a 7.5m camper. The journey takes just 15 minutes and you will be guided into the car park. We arrived at 11.30am after our little SATNAV detour and there was plenty of space for our length of vehicle.  There is no additional parking fee, although you do have another Ticket Office (Kasa in Polish) at the entrance to what they call the Labyrinth, which is 10PLN per person; £2 – a billy bargain for the experience we were about to have.

As we followed the well marked walking boards that protected us from the often muddy ground, I found myself wondering what delights would lay ahead. Whilst I had seen pictures on the internet, nothing can really replace seeing it for yourself – same is true for you as you read my blog. Although I hope words and images might entice you none-the-less.

So how can I describe this playground of geological genius? Imagine being a child again and in one of those mazes where you have to find your way out. It’s a bit like that except surrounded by rocks rather than privet hedges. And the word rocks is really an understatement of the reality. These are formations that reach up to 11 metres high that look like they have been sculptured by a giant not of this world. Sandstone boulders that have been weathered by rain, wind, snow and ice create deep crevices, weird and wonderful shapes that even have personalities such as ‘Hen’s Legs’, ‘The Ship’ and ‘The Gate’ to name just a few. It truly is a geological work of art.  Around every corner you will find yourself looking up, within, around and through as the Labyrinth really does take you on a mysterious tour of its unique world and we felt like we were privileged visitors in a special kingdom – The Land of the Rocks.  And just like that kid who is having a huge adventure in the maze, you will find yourself squeezing through the narrowest of gaps, crawling through low tunnels and clambering over rocks and tree stumps that have somehow found a way to co-exist in this secret world of nature.

Some practicalities 

Having sold this wonderland experience to you, it is worth mentioning some important facts that will help you enjoy your adventure;

 

  1. Good walking footwear is essential and although there are good boardwalks, climbing over roots and boulders are necessary so sturdy shoes will give you a safer experience.
  2. Weekends are going to be busier than week days and coaches do come up here too. So consider this when you visit. Although there weren’t too many on our trip, on a Friday morning in June, if you can avoid school holidays and weekends I think this would enhance your experience.
  3. You need to be reasonably agile and not be holding any injuries as there is a lot of bending, climbing and squatting. Sadly this is not a disabled-friendly environment.
  4. Be cautious if you have dogs and very young children. This is not a great environment for these little guys either.
  5. Some of the crevices are incredibly narrow and means you will often need to take off rucksacks, watch for cameras around your neck as you squeeze through some really narrow gaps. So without wanting to be disrespectful in any way, if you are on the large side, then this may be tricky for you. My boobs just about managed although there was a little scrapage!
  6. The walk takes about 45 minutes and is done in a clockwise direction, so unless someone decides they have to turn around for some reason, then it makes for an easier passage.
  7. It is very shaded in the forest, so on a hot day it will be light relief from the sun; on a cold day, you may need some layers of warm clothing to take with you.
  8. There are toilets at the car park if you don’t have your own facilities.

 

Area 2 – Szczeliniec Mały

Ok so have I got your attention so far? So you fancy more? Well we have more to give you.

I have to admit that having seen the labyrinth I wasn’t sure anything much could top it. Although I was about to be proved wrong. Again my trustee companion Google showed me images of our next adventure and it looked nice enough. A plateau of forest and rock with two viewing platforms on the edge, over-looking the valley. Still those thoughts aside, I have come to learn that low expectations is far better than too high an anticipation of an event or situation. So parked up in a large field, that interestingly you can camp overnight at, we began our trek. There’s about 1km to walk before you get to the actual entrance of the park and you must run the ‘tourist trap’ gauntlet with little sheds offering you their wears, ice creams and scrumptious looking gofry (waffles to you and me) topped with jam or ice-cream.

You arrive at the entrance with the sight of steps; steps, steps and more steps, in fact over 665 of them to be precise. They were constructed in 1804, so in themselves there’s even history in them there steps! A steady if not slightly out of breath ascent, in about 15 minutes brought us to what we thought was the top. A restaurant and resting place afforded us stunning views across the valley into Czech Republic. This could have been our stopping point – although the icing on this veritable fruit cake was literally just around the corner.

With the parting of another 10PLN per person (£2.00) we entered the second wonderland, with the anticipation of Alice and the grins of the Chesire Cat. At first the walkway looks a little similar to Blędne Skały, they certainly look related and of course in geological terms you would expect it to be this way. Although it really doesn’t take long for the landscape to become more dramatic. Crevices deeper, boulders strewn across like bridges making for that perfect Instagram shot if it wasn’t for the railings to stop us. More characters greeted us along the way; the monkey was sublime, the table top, the chicken, all there for our entertainment and the incessant clicking of my camera.

And then there was a sign for The Devil’s Kitchen and with eyes wide open like a child at Christmas we headed down. Down deep into the earth into one of the crevices. And boy did the temperature drop. We were hurring it was so cold. Although somehow this really didn’t bother us partly because of the experience and we really had to concentrate with the steepness of the steps that lay before us. And then as we started to climb back up, with only chains as our support, we got the full scope of this magnificent place and the role that Mother Nature has played in its creation. Either that or there really are giants who are having the greatest of fun with us. This place just got better and better. Every corner we turned there was something new for us to gawp at.

Past the Devil’s humble abode, we were then showered with sunlight as the landscape opened up and huge boulders looking like lego sat in front of us with a viewing platform to climb. Wow this place was just incredible. Surely though this wasn’t what we had seen from the car park in the valley below?  No this was just the warm up show. Two outcrops of sandstone rock that signalled the end of the forest had views across Poland and the Czech Republic. It was just a stunning scene and after the hike to get there and the adventure with the Devil, we really felt like we had had a ‘Famous Five goes on a hiking adventure’ – just that there were only two of us.

And then was simply the descent to master. Whilst it didn’t feel as if there were 665 steps back down, the views were completely different here as we hugged the rock face on the well managed steps and forest paths downhill. So much attention and care has gone into this park and all for £2! The whole experience took us about 2 hours from door to door and we calculated that it was about 5km in total. So a good old stretch for our muscles and our lungs and one I would do again in a flash.

Some practicalities

A bit like our hike through Blędne Skały’s Labyrinth, this incredible walk comes with some health warnings.

1. You must have a good level of health and fitness to attempt this hike as there are no car parks at the top – you have to walk. From the car park in Karłow, it’s a good 2km to reach the restaurants and the Ticket Office, of which a good 1km is those 665 steps.

2. There are some incredibly steep steps up and down through Devil’s Kitchen, which have chains to help you ascend, so this doesn’t lend itself to pushchairs or wheelchairs or really carrying small children. And again although dogs are allowed on leads, as a dog-owner in a previous life, I wouldn’t have wanted to take Fleetwood on this walk with the steepness of the steps.

3. There are toilets at the beginning of the stairway and again at the restaurant at the top.

4. You pay 10PLN per person (£2.00) to enter the park at the viewing point past the steps.

5. On a hot day take plenty of water, on a cold or snowy day take plenty of warm clothing and on both days sturdy footwear is essential as once again you are climbing over tree roots and boulders.

6. Car parking in the area seems to be capped at 20PLN (£4.00 for the day) and there are plenty of them. We parked at Michalówka Restaurant (50.476, 16.33776).

 

Both of these areas of outstanding natural beauty will take your breath way. And whilst you’re in the area, why not visit some of the other hikes around where you can take in the Mushroom Rocks and other sandstone rock formations.  We really can’t recommend enough diverting here and having a couple of days to explore the area. It truly is beautiful and a great way to hop over the border into the Czech Republic if this is your route.  Check out the main Stołowe National Park tourist website here.

In terms of camping possibilities, there are two that we know of in the area, both of which are basic although perfectly acceptable to explore the area;

 

 

Check out our latest video below, to give you a real ‘bird’s eye view’ of our adventures.

2 weeks crossing Germany

2 weeks crossing Germany

2 weeks in Germany is surely not enough to absorb a country’s culture let alone navigate its compass points sufficient well. In truth though we were only passing through en route to Poland, so we knew that it would be ‘short and sweet’.  Although now into year three of our full-time travels, we have evolved our travel philosophy and rather than racing from A-B, we have come to appreciate the journey so much more and to stop along the way to smell the roses, or the Lime trees as we have come to enjoy here in Germany.  Every journey is precious and should never be taken for granted.

It’s a bit like Dorothy’s dance up the Yellow Brick Road. Without the path on the way to see the Wizard of Oz she would never have met the Lion, Scarecrow and Tin-man.  It feels the same for us now.

So with hopes high and anticipation strong inside Scoobie’s walls, we donned our leder-hosen and turned our wheels to the Fatherland. Myles had three years in Germany as a Force’s child, so we had the added advantage of his fluency as we coursed our way through the Germany countryside. So what would Germany teach us along the way – plenty we were sure of that.

Check out our Interactive Map that shows our route, Points of Interest and of course our Camping spots with co-ordinates.

I’ll be honest, our arrival into Germany wasn’t blessed as a joyous occasion as I was nursing sciatica so it made for an uncomfortable initiation. Well I say initiation, we have been to Germany in Scoobie before – as we visited Bavaria in 2016, although this year our entry point was from The Netherlands so it did feel like completely new territory.  Whether it was my state of mind I’m not sure, our first day didn’t bowl me over. What did interest me though was to see how the Dutch culture seemed to temporarily fuse with German, as we crossed the border.  For a good 50km, bicycles continued to be ever-present and traditional style windmills still speckled the flat landscape with their sails. We’ve seen it before with other border crossings, although on this particular trip it really hit home how cultures blend before claiming their own unique identity. I wonder if it will be the same in Poland?

Rees 

Rees was our first stop, on the banks of the Rhine. Sadly we didn’t get to explore the town; well nothing much more than Lidls, and I even say ‘we’ loosely. I saw it from my bed at least. We were told how nice Rees is as a town and the Promenade along the river, certainly seemed to have promise as we shimmied past it.   There was a well organised Stellplatz just five minutes from town for €8 including EHU (co-ordinates 51.76422, 6.38886)

Dülmen

Our next station stop was driven by the wet stuff – no not rain, water…. we love being by water of any kind, although Dülmen sadly fell short despite the blue patches on the map. Our overnighter was though by the river, which was some consolation although sadly no exploration was permitted until sciatica decided to ‘do one’. Still the Stellplatz was lovely and worth the short diversion for one the few freebies in Germany.  Hausdülmen Stellplatz – 51.8074, 7.24697 no services

Heading for the mountains

After the disappointment of far too many autobahns, an enormous volume of traffic that we are just not used to in Europe and an uninspiring landscape, I headed for our trusty, slightly disheveled map, in search for bumpy green bits. We don’t use paper maps very much with our digital resources, although on this occasion with a weak internet that plagues much of the country, the map was actually a great source of info that guided us eastwards.

I found mountains, I found ski stations and I found Natural Parks. Yeah, at last! This was more like it and our sort of landscape. Perhaps finally Germany was going to deliver. Our vista changed after we hit Meschede and we thankfully exited the painstaking movement from the caterpillar style autobahn. Rolling hills, forest and reservoirs had our hearts sighing with relief. These mountains were simply gorgeous.

With red kites flying overhead and fresh forest pines as our borders, the ride was just lovely. And this region’s houses were changing too. Characterful black and white Tudor style buildings welcomed you into the countryside. No more cities to bypass, no more industry, just warmly embracing villages that oozed charm and delight. We finally came upon Schmallenburg, a delightful spot that is just hugged by forests and mountains. Our stop for the night was Winkhausen, a lovely Stellplatz in someone’s back garden; for just €8 per night with EHU and water extra, payable with coins. Why not treat yourself to a discounted visit to the Spa, which for guest of the Stellplatz was only €8 from 1800-2200  (co-ordinates 51.16073, 8.34074).  With walks, lakes and a 5* Spa just next door, there is everything you could wish for, for an outdoor experience.  

Now on first glance, Winkhausen may seem like a backwater place, although come April and you will be treated to an annual musical festival that puts this place on the German map.  

Edersee

Riding high on our success at finding some wonderful countryside, our spirits were raised and our hopes soaring as we continued our path towards Poland. It was amazing to think though that we had been travelling four days and still we hadn’t reached half way across this great land. I don’t think either of us had realised quite how expansive Germany was.

So water was our calling yet again and as we wound through the beautiful countryside full of bountiful crops and quaint towns, we found our home for the weekend – Edersee. A man-made reservoir that is heaven on a water-sport lover’s plate.  With wildlife abound, especially the nightly chorus of frogs, we withstood some pretty full-on thunderstorms that gifted us some amazing lake-side views in their  aftermath.  We stayed at a great Stellplatz – Rehbach (co-ordinates 51.18388, 9.026714) for €6 per night and it was ideal. If you have yourself a kayak or bicycles, then this is the place for you.  

Sondershausen

We love getting off the beaten track and if we can find ‘home’ in the middle of nowhere, then that is what drives us (and water!!) Just off the A38 autobahn is Sondershausen which, like so many of its village neighbours has an oversized castle for the size of town. And the houses are just so incredibly ornate, stately even.  Yet just ten minutes outside of the town you will find dense forest, which offers shelter to an amazing Wildlife and Adventure Centre for kids. After what seems like miles driving through the pine-scented woodland we arrived at a huge clearing where they have created this Adventure Park and you are allowed to park there for €4 per day, although there are no services.  A super diversion. (co-ordinates 51.33821, 10.86295)

A bit of Modern and Ancient History coming up

I have to be honest that our trip to Colditz came completely out of the blue. Whilst looking for a sensible halfway point to the Kromlau Rhododendron Park, which was my border crossing aim, I found a church icon on Search for Sites.  It revealed the name Colditz. With a growing excitement about the World War 2 links and our desire to expand our knowledge of this period, it surely had to be our next station stop?  And indeed it was.  With a small ACSI campsite about 1 mile from the town (co-ordinates 51.1302 12.8308) whose silence was only punctured by the orchestra of birds, we made our way for a tour of this infamous Prisoner of War camp.  Read more about our exploration of this fabulous spot on our blog by clicking here – Escaping from Colditz.  The history, both old and new (relatively speaking) was exhilarating and I got an overwhelming sense of resilience, camaraderie and respect and not the War-time horror that we are taught to expect from camps such as these. It was a great trip that enriched us beyond belief and one that will most certainly stay in our memory banks.

Meißen

With our European travels we have come across many beautiful sights and some stunning cities and towns. We are fast accumulating our Top 10 lists of these stunners. And a new addition to the Medieval Towns compilation will be Meißen, famous for its porcelain – and so much more.  Poised on the edge of the Elbe river, this grand yet exquisite town will charm you and take away your breath. With its 12th century castle, its orange-roofed buildings and atmospheric square, you could almost have stepped into a scene from Pinocchio.  Scaling the heights to the castle to take in the river panorama will certainly impress; as will the descent to the hub of the market square, where horse and carts wait to escort you on a sedate tour. The chocolate-box houses with their brightly coloured facades draw you as if wanting you to be part of the cartoon animation waiting to be played out and all you can do is look and stare. So many different angles, shapes, colours – it truly is a feast for the eyes. And if you’re lucky a quick saunter over the bridge will give you a river reflective perspective of the castle as it states its regal place on the banks of the Elbe. 

We had a lovely, if not a tad noisy Stellplatz that was right on the river’s edge, with the castle as our back drop and our foreground the fast-flowing river. What a joy this place was and I think in truth two days would be perfect at this iconic town to really do it justice.  (co-ordinates 51.16767, 13.47332)

Not bad – Bad Muskau

Our final German destination was calling. Kromlau – a place that appealed to the photographer in me. This tiny hamlet may well be in one of the most remote places in Germany, right on the eastern border with Poland and certainly not on any tourist itinerary. Yet it was its Rhododendron Park and famous Devil’s Bridge that intrigued me.  And what a great shout it was too, although not for the reasons we expected. 

It was a really interesting drive here from Meißen as the landscape changed completely. We drove through a huge expanse of forest with not a car to be seen – not even a fast one! It was like we had entered the twilight zone. We found ourselves at Weißwasser, a place where we considered for overnighting, although throughout our whole German experience, it was the one place I felt the least safe. So needless to say we moved on. Bad Muskau in contrast, was a breath of fresh air and couldn’t have been more different from its neighbour. 

Bad Muskau is a delightful town that rubs shoulders with Poland – the border being in the middle of the river that dissects the two countries. Bad Muskau is full of goodies, each one with their own unique pleasure.  It has two churches, the most ostentatious castle I think I’ve ever seen, Russian War Memorials and gardens that serious put some of England’s Stately Parks to shame.  There are four official cycling paths that give you between 4-10km routes, each one allowing you to dip your toe into Polish water if you wish. Truly a delightful place that we would highly recommend.

Although what of Kromlau, the very reason we ventured this way, I hear you ask?  Well we knew that we would be too late for the Rhododendrons thanks to my back, although it was the iconic bridge that truly caught my eye. The Park is free to enter, you just pay €2 for a two hour car park, that leaves you free to wander around the grounds. Sadly even the bridge wasn’t presented at its best, as after 150 years, it has been fenced off for reconstruction so that it may be protected for generations to come. And much of the lake it spans has been drained in preparation for the work. So I did manage to get some shots, although not quite the iconic masterpiece I was hoping for. Still our joy at Bad Muskau completely made up for it, it has to be said.  We had a super Stellplatz run by Eric a fast-speaking Berliner who liked Myles’ fluency that he gave us free bread on our three day stay. It had all the facilities and was only a mile from this stunner of a town and all for €10.50 per night (or €10 if Eric has been out drinking the previous night and can’t be bothered to work out the detail!). Stellplatz Heideweg can be found at the following co-ordinates (51.53378, 14.71925).

What we’ve learned in Germany

So as we sit here with Poland reaching out its hand of friendship, what of our German experiences?  With memories of red kites soaring above us, a daily dawn chorus that made for a beautiful alarm call, mountains, lakes, castles and history, we will look back fondly at our two-week German route. 

The journey was seriously worth the ride and despite our initial disappointment, we came to love the country and all it has offered us. Interestingly it has been one of the places that we have planned the least and yet has given us some of the most memorable experiences – how often is this the case?  It seriously promotes the ‘travel loosely and let the plans evolve’ philosophy, which we will most certainly be adopting. This has been my most beautiful revelation on this trip.

Germany has many more insights, that we thought we would share as we close this blog.  We hope it helps and informs ready for your tour through Deutschland.

  1. Germany, much like its neighbour France, is very well set up for motorhomes. Stellplatz appear in almost every town and village we passed through. They are well signposted and many of them offer you electrical hook up as well. So never worry about having somewhere to stay. And it feels so very safe here. I never felt threatened in any way – except for Weißwasser.
  2. There’s not much wild camping here, although the Stellplatz are so cheap, it still makes for a great value trip. I think the most we spent on a Stellplatz overnighter was €10.50.
  3. You will not find many touring vans in Germany, especially once in the centre of the country. Most seem to head south to Bavaria, The Black Forest and The Romantic Route. Central to east Germany certainly we saw very few Brits – 2 to be exact. All the other vans were German. No Dutch, no French, just us and our German friends. 
  4. The autobahns are horrible. When you look at a map of Germany, the web of motorways connecting all the major industrial areas and cities are extensive and on every single one, you will always encounter a right lane caterpillar of lorries. It doesn’t make for pleasant driving. So if you can, avoid them.
  5. If however you do decide to take one, then they are toll free for any vehicle under 7.5T.  
  6. Do be aware that there is no universal speed limit on Germany motorways. Although there are guidelines of 81mph, no one sticks to them and speeding is not punishable. So do take care when overtaking as the road may look clear and before you know it, there will be someone royally up your bum flashing you.
  7. Sunday is a great day to travel on autobahns as lorries are forbidden to drive on them and there is a huge fine if they are caught doing so. It made a huge difference to our journey experience on the day we had to course through the country via autobahn.
  8. Take plenty of cash with you (münzen is coins in German). The Stellplatz often have automated machines that only take coins. Manned areas only take cash and in fact in many places we went, cash was preferred and sometimes our Caxton card didn’t work. We were fine in petrol stations and supermarkets though. 
  9. Due to the lack of Brits travelling through, surprisingly there was less  English spoken than I expected. Although with a few phrases you can certainly get by sufficiently. The Germans we met were lovely, warm and welcoming and of course it did help that Myles is fluent. 
  10. Deisel is, outside of the main cities, cheaper than its west European neighbours (@ June 2018). The cheapest we found was €1.239. LPG is freely available and we had no problems filling up. 
  11. Internet is very weak in Germany – we remembered this from our trip here in 2016. So just be prepared that connection may not be easy at all times. Strange how we come to rely on internet…..
  12. And just a little side note – I’ve heard more cuckoos here, in June than anywhere in UK ever! 

 

And so with the heady smells of the Lime tree blossom hanging in the air, we say auf Wiedersehen to Deutchland, and genuinely hope that more Brits head your way to indulge in your joys. We have loved this short and sweet road trip and know that we will back.  Tschüss.

 

 

Escaping from Colditz

Escaping from Colditz

The day that Colditz suddenly appeared on my radar was a delight and a surprise given that I had no idea where it was in Germany let alone the intriguing history that it would surely reveal to us.

One of the things I have come to enjoy most about travel, is the heart-beat that appears in-between our planned destinations. Research is great and creates a real anticipation, although for me nothing beats the moment when I find somewhere on the map that instantly changes our direction and takes us into new and unexpected territory. As I start to explore my amazing find, I feel in a surge of excitement rising up from my feet with the realisation that I have stumbled upon something special, unexpected and a priceless experience that will enrich our adventures. 

That was exactly what happened for us with our Colditz visit. Out of the blue, searching for a place to stay en route to Poland, I saw a castle icon. And with a mere click of the mouse it revealed its identity – Colditz. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind it rang a bell and then its war-time story started to connect as I started a little interaction with my mate Google. So our next destination was sealed and the next chapter of World War education could unfold. 

Colditz so much more than a prison 

Whilst Colditz Castle, infamous perhaps for its escapades from 1939-45, it is worth remembering that this is so much more than a prison  – and the town so much more than a poor relation ebbing to the flow of visitors destined for a Castle tour.  

Commercially renowned for the manufacture of ceramics, Colditz has a surprising tale to tell with its porcelain and stoneware production that date back centuries.  The mining of clay in the early 1700 put this little town, south east of Leipzig, on the map and changed its financial fortune forever. So when ‘dining’ turn your plate upside-down and if you see a small ‘cp’ mark on it, then you are eating off a piece of Colditz porcelain treasure.

The Castle

Ok, so back to the star of the show! The Colditz Castle is indeed the main draw here, it has to be said. This regal building has a rich history dating back almost 1000 years and has had more identities than Madonna; from a hunting lodge back in the Medieval days, to a psychiatric hospital, a State Poor House, a general hospital and, more recently a youth hostel. And that’s before two fires completely refigured it and it became the centre-piece for a War-based film. How can one building reinvent itself so many times and still remain intact and magnificent?

Built 30m up on a solid rock face, this impressive building packs an immediate punch as you approach the town from Grimma – which also looks like it’s worth a visit. With its recent cosmetic facelift, Colditz Castle maintains its integrity as an impenetrable and imposing watchtower across the Saxony land.  The once grey building now offers visitors a visual feast with its cream and yellow fortress walls and orange tiled roofs typical of this region.  You cannot fail to be instantly wowed by this initial view as you cross the river Zwickauer Mulde into the magnetic belly of the town’s historic centre.

Of course World War 2 tells many harrowing stories of Prisoner of War camps during its epoc and I set out with a mixture of anticipation and a desire to learn. Colditz is one of the many places during our war-torn history that symbolises bravery and a fight for freedom. Yet there was a twist to this story which we were about to experience as we entered the Whispering Gate of this High Security Prison.

The Extended Tour

Armed with an extended tour with Steffi, we immediately got access to the inner sanctum of the Castle, where we could throw ourselves into the lives of the guards, prisoners and life behind these imposing walls. The first thing to notice was the ‘guest list’ of this place. Whilst between 500-600 prisoners were imprisoned in Colditz at any one time; these were not just any old prisoners. These were high ranking officers who had a reputation for being serial escapees. A collection of some of the greatest, most creative and imaginative minds of the war all in one place! Engineers, designers and ingenious inventors – surely a recipe for some of the best bid for freedom stories of the war! And it is this fact that serves as the backdrop for the Colditz story.

Our exploration starts with an immediate sense of respect; these prisoners had something special about them and as we continued our tour, craning our necks to the lofty roof lines, you got the feeling that this Prison Camp was pretty unique. Getting access into prisoners’ quarters set out with a bed, wardrobe and a desk with views, this was not what I was expecting. And as our tour unfolds we heard stories of the fair treatment of the ‘inmates’ and how well fed they were and how, thanks to the Third Geneva Convention, their well-being was high on the priority list for their captives. A theatre where shows were masterminded (indeed perhaps even an escape or two planned), visits to the local pub, regular exercise outside the grounds of the castle were some such activities allowed for these prisoners of war. Let’s not forget though, that outside of these walls we are still talking about the ravage of war, battles and horrifying death. Although strangely as we walked through the castle’s gates, horror is not the first sensation that struck me; no sombre feeling that reaches deep into my soul demanding my tears. That I’m sure will come when we visit Auschwitz in Poland.

No, Colditz has a different vibe and even the staff portray a deep respect for the events that occurred here over that six year period. A respect for the prisoners’ fair treatment and the masterminded exploits of the imprisoned. And it is this theme of admiration and respect that emerges time and time again from our tour guide. Unlike so many other camps, there were no murders or intended deaths here. Only one man died. The Guards’ policy was not to ‘shoot to kill’, only to injury and yet in September 1944, British Officer Michael Sinclair was unintentionally killed when, after attempting to escape, he was shot in the elbow that then ricocheted into his heart.  He was subsequently buried with full military honours and a seven-gun salute. 

The Escape Stories

Colditz is immortalised by the tales of attempted and successful ‘Home Runs’ as they were called, each one captivating us during our tour  as we got the inside scoop on so many of the failed attempts and some of the 30+ successful ones.  The French, British and Dutch were the most successful, with the British attempting some 191 escapes; by far the most prolific activists. 

Some of the plans were hatched in the most ingenious ways, which goes to show the brilliance and resilience of the human spirit when faced with adversity how their determination is fuelled.  From tunnels, shafts, impersonating German guards and even dressing up as a woman; every method was a serious consideration conceived by genius minds, shared during furtive conversations and whispers in corridors.  

The escapees generally headed for the neutral territory of Switzerland, which alone was a journey full of hazard and danger. So not only did they have to get through the challenge of this high security prison, they still had to negotiate their onward journey to final freedom.

The Colditz Cock 

Bar far the most elaborate of them all though has to the epic Colditz Cock – where a team of British Officers designed and built a glider that they planned to launch from the roof behind the Clock Tower, that was hidden from guards’ view.  Such an elaborate plan brought together thanks to a book in the prison library on ‘how to build an aircraft’, constructed behind an artificial wall in a tiny space with tables at the ready for the temporary runway. Fortunately the gallant attempt was superseded by the end of the War and the surrender of the Colditz Prison to the Allied forces. Interestingly there is only one photograph of the constructed plane and all other evidence was destroyed – the reasoning behind which we can only imagine.  

Beyond the castle

Outside of the castle, which is the main reason for many people’s visit, the town itself is a beautiful and strangely serene place despite its master’s reputation. With a subtle market square with café bars, I was struck by the surprising lack of tourist tat that so often accompanies itinerary hot-spots such as these. Throughout the town, architecture as creative as the prison escape plans will feed your eyes and intrigue your soul as you inevitably walk towards the panoramic bridge viewing point. Here you will gaze in historical wonder at the yesteryears of this evolving masterpiece that has stood the test of time and will be forever immortalised in people’s memories and hearts. 

Get yourself to Colditz

Colditz was an intriguing experience. From the facade, this impenetrable building defies you to even think about escape let alone successfully complete what they called a ‘Home Run’.  Yet within its walls you get a strange fusion of bravery, ingeniousness, creativity, solidarity, resilience, craft and above all respect. This is the one thing I have been gifted from my visit. Whilst war is a terrifying and horrible waste of life, the Colditz story shares something more colourful and offers a sense of how strangers with differing beliefs, can not only live and work together they can also create a peaceful culture built on respect and compassion. Perhaps after all there is hope for humanity.

Some practicalities

  • There are two tours available. The first is one hour duration from 10.30am that is €8 per person. The second is called the Extended Tour which can take up to 2.5hrs, depending on the passion of your guide. If you get Steffi, then you will be blessed with the best ever tour host. This tour costs €18 per person and gets you into cellars, rooms and up staircases that the other tour will not. So in our opinion completely worth the investment.
  • From April to October, there are three Extended Tours available; 1030, 1300 and 1500. And November to March there are two; 1100 and 1430. 
  • You can get access to just the museum for €4 and then do a self-tour.
  • Colditz can be reached from either Leipzig in the west, Dresden in the east or Chemnitz in the south.
  • If you are camping, then Campingwald Colditz is a large site just a mile up hill from the castle which out of season costs €20 for a pitch and two people. You can get an ACSI discount if you have a card.
  • Parking for the town is generally limited to 2hrs and is chargeable, which can feel restrictive. We found a free parking area next door to Lidl supermarket, which accommodated our 7.5m motorhome, which is right in the shadow of the town. We parked here for over four hours without any problems. 
  • Tours for the castle get busy in high season, especially as this is on the Tour Itinerary from Berlin. So worth checking availability to avoid disappointment.
  • For more information, check out www.schloss-colditz.com  
Five reasons to visit Zeeland

Five reasons to visit Zeeland

Ever thought about a visit to Zeeland? Could you even pin-point where Zeeland is on the map? I’ll be honest I didn’t, so I promise I’m not being judgemental in any way. Isn’t that the amazing thing about travel – we learn every day… Although I implore you, visit Zeeland now!

For most of us crossing from UK to Europe via Calais we are given plenty of options. Heading south gives us access to the sunny climes of Provence and the Côte d’Azure or may be Spain is in our sights. Perhaps it’s Italy and beyond to Greece. Turning right (after a few hours of travel) offers us the joys of Normandy and Brittany and their incredible coastlines. Or there is left! Left passed Dunkirk, Bruges and Antwerp and there we will find the treasures of Zeeland. A series of islands and peninsulas that make up The Netherland’s Zeeland region.

As a traveller, I have held a slightly skewed view that travel must be curvaceous, mountainous and breathtaking in its presentation for it to feel memorable.  That picture-postcard vision that will have Instagram hearting all over the place. Although what living on the road for over two years has taught me is that beauty comes in many forms and it is not a mountain lake fringed with snow-covered tops that is the ultimate definition for a travelling student! I have come to appreciate the beauty in the flatter landscapes, as it too has charm in its formation and the creative story that goes on beneath its soil. Zeeland is for me, a perfect example of this type of beauty that has had me mesmerised from day 1.

Zeeland, translated as ‘Sea Land’ is The Netherland’s most westerly province that has the smallest population of its twelve regions. Tucked away just above Antwerp, this enormous delta landscape which is made up of 25% water from three different rivers, has had a tempestuous yet now commanding relationship with the sea. Throughout history the ocean was once Zeeland’s nemesis, with the North Sea reclaiming its lands with epic floods and high tides. Now, living by their moto ‘I struggle and emerge’  Zeeland has really taken charge and shaped their land to enable a sustainable life amidst the water that still tries to defeat them. After the last flood of 1953 where over 1,800 people were killed, Zeeland invested in the most incredible Delta Protection project that would see flood defences built between the islands to ensure the safety of their fragile existence. Today’s Zeeland landscape is a testimony to the inhabitants rising up to create a home that would no longer be challenged by nature and in fact would become its greatest income generator, through tourism.

 

With the context set. we can now begin to explore what this incredible landscape has to offer the humble traveller and how to while away a week or two enjoying the fruits of Zeeland’s historical labour.  Having an all too brief excursion around these parts, it is very clear to me how this region benefits the visitor and here are five reasons why turning left at Calais and taking a visit to Zeeland deserves its place on your travel agenda.

 

1. Water sports

If you love to take to the water, then Zeeland offers you plenty of options. In safe waters, whether it’s a Stand Up Paddle Board, Windsurf or Boat, this is a haven for water lubbers. With little islands to explore and interconnecting waterways you have plenty to explore under sail power. With so many marinas on Zeeland’s shores, you’ll be spoilt rotten and many campsites are attached to these marinas giving you a chance to get on board and get your feet wet!

 

2. Birdlife

If like me you are a twitcher, then this is a bird-lover’s paradise. From Oyster Catchers, Grebes and Geese to Harriers and Terns this region is rich in birdlife. Take your binoculars and be ready for a feast.  Especially great during the spring as the new-borns entertain with their investigative antics.

 

3. Beaches

For some reason, I never really pictured The Netherlands or Holland having a beach culture. I can’t tell you why – I guess windmills and clogs took up the space in my mind when it came to creating an impression of what the country had to offer. Well I couldn’t have been further from the truth. Zeeland has some of the nicest iconic sandy beaches we’ve seen since New Zealand – strangely enough. Miles of uninterrupted dunes and North Sea plages that have the crowds a-flocking when the sun comes out. And with the on-shore breezes don’t be surprised if you see a kite or surfer or three.

 

4. Cycling

One of the many things that The Netherlands and Holland are well known for is cycling. In fact I would go as far as to say that bikes rule! You give way to them on roundabouts, generally and they have their own dedicated road network and traffic light system. Ferries accommodate bicycles for free and every village, town centre is littered with racks and all shapes and sizes don the streets. I don’t know about 9 million bicycles in Beijing in Katie Melua’s 2005 song, I think The Netherlands is a serious contender for that record – if you pardon the pun. Bring your bike or easier still hire one from the many bike stores in every town and get to feel the province at a slower pace. Smell the air, really see the scenery and feel an integral part of Dutch culture, perhaps without the blue hair though!

 

5. Culture and History entwined

Zeeland in particular, although also its neighbour Holland, is steeped in culture and historical prowess. From the emergence of windmills in 15th century to assist with drainage of the dykes, to Zeeland’s more modern battle with Mother Nature’s elements and their trade routes to the rest of the world – this region has it all. To see the engineering feats of the Delta barriers, constructed following the 1953 floods just blow your mind and are strangely artistic in their design and their spirits. What saviours they are.

And come just a little further south-east to Rotterdam and Dordretch and you start to experience the importance of the Dutch mariner. Their barges sailed up through the North Sea and down through Europe by way of the rivers that converge at the Zeeland Delta connecting the whole world and facilitating global trading.

In fact Dordretch is Holland’s oldest town, which is easily seen in the architecture and the old quays that hold ancient mariners’ tales from their travels. There’s a real buzz during the last weekend in May when they hold their annual Steam Festival along the quay. Paddle steamers and boats of all shapes and sizes cruise up the river pipping their horns. And alongside their road vehicle compatriots steam is seriously the name of the game. Traditional costumes are everywhere as steam enthusiasts show off their prides and joy. Well worth a visit.  Check out their website here.

And on top of that the UNESCO site at Kinderdijk is a must see. 19 of the finest 15th century windmills I have ever seen line the dykes to protect the land from flooding and they were a major influence in securing the inhabitants’ livelihoods. Today they still operate although as museums giving them a new role in holding the integrity of the past showing how they shaped both history and the landscape over the last 740 years.  It is free to get into the site and walk or cycle the dykes or for a small fee you can gain access to the museum and the canal hop-on and hop-off canal boat ride. Check out their website for more details and even download their free app that shows you how to get the best from your visit.

You can reach Kinderdijk by waterbus from either Rotterdam or Dordretch on the 202 route. It takes only 30 minutes to get there and bicycles go free. For €8 per person return (from Dordretch) you start your unique experience with a water perspective of these important waterways that still buzz with the activity of tourism and trade.

 

So how does a visit to Zeeland stack up for you now? I genuinely hope that a place that was perhaps not even on your radar now is a consideration at least.  Whether you travel by plane to Antwerp, Rotterdam or Amsterdam, or come by camper, a visit to Zeeland will not disappoint. Its architecture, culture, landscape, natural beauty and its abundant outdoor pursuits will have you entertained plenty.

Camping in Zeeland is easy with each island littered with independent, ACSI sites and the odd Camperplatz thrown in for good measure. This interactive map will give you a sense of our highlights and camp sites, although you will not be disappointed or stuck for somewhere to stay.  Why not check out Search for Sites for a robust directory of options in this lovely area?

Maiden Solo Voyage

Maiden Solo Voyage

With our trip back to UK full of long To-Do-Lists and high priority actions that were more strategic than a plan for battle, having a weekend sojourn with my bestie was just the tonic I needed. Three years is a long time not to see your nearest and dearest and whilst I love the ability to Skype and FaceTime, it’s never quite as good as seeing someone in the flesh. So as one of our lovely followers aptly named our meeting – it was going to be a weekend of Gin-Wagging and two Birthday celebrations to boot.

I became starkly aware when my anticipation of the weekend had moved from purchasing a few bottles of Rhubarb and Ginger Gin and getting our meals pre-prepared, that actually this was my first solo trip without Mr Sunshine! Whilst I have driven Scoobie on my own, not for more than five minutes and both events resulted in a war wound. So as you can imagine my anxiety suddenly increased at the thought of 100 miles without my right-hand man.  Still our travel lifestyle has always been about confronting fears head on. Fear these days really doesn’t stop me, although it does make me just a little bit more mindful – which is no bad thing.

The day approached to embark on my maiden voyage to Bristol Airport to pick up my ‘bestie’. With the fridge packed, a full tank of LPG despite the UK shortage and all we needed for a fun-filled weekend of RnR, I headed off. And what a trip it was, save a small graze on the wing mirror when my battle was lost with an oversized tractor who thought he was king of the Somerset roads. Aside of that, all was well with Scoobie and my it was great to be back onboard our faithful chariot.

Here are our highlights should you decide to put North Somerset on your list.

Bristol Airport 

You can get into the drop off zone with your moho. Although you have to park across 2 parking spaces, getting in and out was doable. £1 for 10 mins.  For ease, there are a number of lay-bys about 10 minutes away, where you can pull in to wait for flight arrivals. This makes it slightly easier than waiting around in an expensive car park or trying to get into the short stay parking areas, which have limited parking options for 7.5m+ vans.

Stanton Drew – Druids Arms Inn – Motorhome Pub stopover

One of the things we have enjoyed about coming back to UK is experiencing the Pub Stopover scheme. I guess similar to France Passion, it has been lovely to camp out at a public establishment and enjoy their local tipple. The Druids Arms didn’t disappoint with its charming stone village houses, Standing Stones and narrow roads, there was plenty of charm. The car park is just past the pub on the left and is up on the upper tier. Although the ground is on a bit of a slope, nothing that a set of chocks won’t resolve. Talking to the owner, they have big plans to develop the car park to make it more attractive to motorhome visitors. For the moment, you are blessed with great views across the fields with the sound of church bells to gently rouse you in the morning and the prospect of fresh eggs from the hens all named after the pub’s staff. We arrived too late to sample their food, although I did promise that we would give them a great plug here in return for our free night’s stay. For more details click HERE.  Their co-ordinates are 51.365715  -2.579927

Bath Marina Campsite – A4 Bath

Bath is one of the most alluring Spa towns I know and it draws me back time and time again without hesitation. Its blend of history, architecture and natural beauty entice the humbled tourist to sample its offerings. And let’s not forget the shopping that presents unique boutiques as well as your brand name shops.  And what better way to enjoy Bath’s deliciousness than by stopping overnight at the Bath Marina Campsite. It is only 2 miles from Bath on the A4, which you can reach either on foot, by bike on the adjacent canal or by one of the many buses that pass by on the main road. For £2.50 you will arrive in the hub of Bath ready to walk your socks off.

The campsite is a fairly large site with 64 pitches and is open all year round, although I would advise booking, as it was really busy when we arrived. Large hard-standing pitches are available at a price of £28.40 per night (prices quoted at April 2018 for a 7.5m van plus two adults.) Each avenue of pitches has its own drinking water station and grey waste dump and the shower facilities, whilst look very basic are clean and efficient. Sometimes it is just worth paying a price for the location and accessibility. Parking in large towns and cities is so difficult for us motorhomies that having somewhere like the Bath Marina site is a bonus.

You can find out more by contacting them through their website at Bath Marina Campsite. Their co-ordinates are 51.388. -2.403617

Bath Spa

Iconic Bath where you can learn, discover, shop, eat, people watch, walk and rejuvenate. So many appeals to the mind, body and spirit. If it’s a walk around the historical studded town; The Pump Rooms with its World Heritage status shows off the most ancient religious spas of Northern Europe or perhaps Bath’s Cathedral would please you. The Royal Crescent will stop you in your tracks and through every street you will get a sense of history balanced with an elegant modern face that honours its past.

If you fancy being more in the now than the past then why not indulge in a spot of rest and relaxation. Bath’s natural thermal springs make this town a focal point for well-being and no better a place to visit than the modern twist on Roman baths at the Thermae Spa. This 21st Century building has history at its heart together with your well-being on their agenda. With two hour slots available you can enjoy three floors of relaxation delights; from an outdoor rooftop pool that overlooks Bath’s historical roofline to a heady bath in the basement with its lazy river flow that makes you feel weightless; or may be the Wellness Suite that gives you diverse range of multi-sensory experiences.  Why not commit to some personal well-being and check out this luxurious Spa although watch out for weekends when it is incredibly busy and you will have to share the space! Check out their website for more information; Thermae Bath Spa

Chew Valley Lakes

The home of Yeo Yoghurt this stunning rolling countryside is full of Somerset sumptuousness. Whilst the roads are narrow in places and tractors here are kings of the road or so they think. So driving with caution is necessary for your sanity to stay in tact. After leaving Bath, a trip to the Chew Valley Lakes is more than worthwhile. Although there looks to be no camping opportunities, for a day-time stopover, the Picnic areas on the lake are well worth a visit. Parking isn’t easy for motorhomes as you can see from the picture, although there are larger spots on the coach parking area if it’s too busy to park lengthways. 

The Chew Valley Lake is the 5th largest in UK and is renowned for great fishing. To park in the official car parks is £2 all day.

So as I look back at my Somerset road-trip I can feel proud of my solo efforts and joy of not only being able to share our home with my bestie, also being able to get to see a stunning part of the country. A triumph for my solo confidence and an elevation in my capabilities. And yet again proof that we can overcome our fears as they are only hidden in our minds and are so often not reality. Step out of your comfort zone and surprise yourself in how easy and joyful life can be.