Songs in the Highlands (The Ceilidh Trail, Part Deux)

We then headed north to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park (, where we had a reservation in one of their campgrounds, Broad Cove.  Having been told that all of the campsites would be full for Canada Day, we had decided that this would be the perfect place to celebrate.   Our site turned out to be huge with lots of trees.  No services but that is not a problem for us and the Blue Cat liked the site a lot. (It’s all about the cat.)

The weather on the day after our arrival was stupendous.  Sunny but cool and absolutely glorious for hiking.  We took the Middle Head hike of about two hours on a headland surrounded on three sides by rocky cliffs and ocean. 


It was quite beautiful with views of the ocean and the lobster boats out fishing.  At the very end of the headland, was a rocky cliff covered in seabirds. 

Quite spectacular.  We stopped on our way out to make some enquiries about a KitchenFest ceilidh  at the Keltic Lodge which we planned to attend that evening, and then had lunch on the cliff near the Keltic Lodge, overlooking Ingonish Cove. 

The ceilidh was excellent and featured four musicians playing a variety of fiddle, guitar, piano and pipes.

We walked on two more trails while at Broad Cove; around Warren Lake and on the Clyburn Trail. 

Both were enjoyable but the weather was foggier and gloomier and it did not inspire us to barbecue and eat outside.  We did attend a free KitchenFest ceilidh at our Campground on the night before we left.  It was quite wonderful with  Anita MacDonald and Ben Miller and a guitarist, Zakk Cormier. (

Note the tap shoes and floor board. (And a pedal board that would make a rocker proud.)

Because of the weather we were in a small activity center instead of a large open air theater and the atmosphere was electric.  Great fun.  A true informal ceilidh or gathering. Fred enjoyed the explanations of the lowland pipes and discussion of chord playing in DADGAD tuning.

We were in two minds whether it was worth heading up to the very tip of the island but the next day dawned sunny so we decided to go, which proved to be an excellent decision.  We found the Meat Cove Campground (and Chowder Hut) perched on the mountain slopes at the very tip of the island.  It was literally the end of the road!  (

The sites were not flat but we did not care. We could sit by our camper and stare at the ocean or watch the campers coming around each headland and descending each grade until they popped up in the campground.

We went down to the beach by the campground so Denise could dip her toes in the freezing water.  Just to say she had!  To be fair it was cold but only cold!  The views were spectacular with ocean on all sides, it seemed, lots of lobster pots and fishing boats doing the rounds to check them.  We decided to have dinner on the deck at the Chowder Hut, a very pleasant restaurant at the campground.  Denise enjoyed another lobster and Fred had a mixed seafood platter he liked also! Terrible name for a very nice facility. We were joined by a young lady from Seattle, traveling in a Westfalia camper with her dog. She was taking time off from software engineering. By the time dinner finished the campground was full to the limit with a big Class C camped in the restaurant parking lot. (Good deal, probably the largest, flattest site there.)

The next morning it was time to finish the Cabot Trail and head south.  We stopped at Pleasant Bay to visit the Whale Interpretative Center which was simple but most interesting. ( The harbor, industrial but pretty.  A lot of the fishing harbors are not picturesque at all, but simply places of work.  They can also be so touristy that they do not attract either. 

We continued south around the curves and the ups and downs of the Trail towards Cheticamp.  The grades are noticeable, in the 14% to 16% range for the most part, which Fred and the 917 found exciting at times. Let us say that Fred and the exhaust brake are good friends! Safely in Cheticamp, we headed for the Cape Breton Highlands National Park campground and checked in.  

It turned out that there was another ceilidh at the Campground Visitor Center that night, so we walked over to enjoy that!  The featured performer was a young lady on fiddle, accompanied by a pianist. Once again there was a subtle style shift, but not to the Francophone as we expected at an Acadian village. 

Flying feet!

Most Celtic musicians perform seated and, in lieu of a drum set, there is a lot of foot tapping, nay, stomping. This can get quite extreme, with musicians using resonant wooden foot panels, like those used by tap dancers, and, in some cases, wearing tap shoes. The guitarist at the Broad Cove campground did this, as did the fiddle player at Cheticamp. Indeed, she told us that she actually started as a step dancer and so it was completely natural. The sound, and sight, are quite remarkable and we found ourselves imagining a friend who plays for the McLean Symphony tearing up some Beethoven in tap shoes. The mind boggles!





Seriously, the beat is quite infectious. Much Celtic music uses exotic time signatures, but underlying it all is a steady 4/4 beat which makes it great for dancing. One musician told the legend that the seated foot tapping arose so that people could “dance” on Catholic holy days and a priest, looking in the window, would simply see people seated at the table. Don’t know if that is true, but a drummer might go hungry in this part of the world!  Especially when people add jingle bells to their trousers. (Same idea as in Bolivia.) We feel fortunate to have visited during the Celtic music festival called KitchenFest that has made so many ceilidhs available at different places.


Ceilidh is pronounced “KAY-lee.” (Part One)

On to Cape Breton Island and yet another Visitor Center for information – we are beginning to feel like real tourists!  The Visitor Centers are wonderful, full of charming and helpful people and lots of information.  We acquired a map of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park with nice hikes pre-marked for us, a calendar of the KitchenFest music festival and leaflets of other interesting places.  ( They even helped with the next campsite reservation, so we headed off on the Ceilidh Trail hoping to hear some Celtic music.  Ceilidhs (pronounced “KAY-lee”) are music based gatherings and the music is traditional Celtic music of Scotland.  Most of the inhabitants of Cape Breton Island are of Scottish origin and to our surprise, Gaelic is frequently spoken and heard, in coffee shops and in supermarkets. Even some of the road signs are in Gaelic.

Music plays an important role in Cape Breton life and it has been an enjoyable experience for us to discover it in this form and meet some of the musicians. The Gaelic College in St. Ann’s is spearheading this and has organized the two week long KitchenFest music festival for the last five years. They organize other Gaelic focussed activities also.  By chance, we had arrived in Cape Breton during the KitchenFest festival so we have had lots of opportunity to listen to music.

We headed first for Mabou, which sounds like something from Star Wars, but is a thriving village on the west coast of Cape Breton in the heart of the Ceilidh Trail.  Our first night we went to the Red Shoe, a well known pub with live music. ( The food was much more imaginative than you might expect and we enjoyed a wonderful dinner while we listened to our first local performers, Joe MacMaster and friends. This turned out to be Joe, on fiddle, and a pianist, name unknown. 


Inspired by this and fascinated by the use of a piano to accompany jigs and such, we headed the next day to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique, a town just south of Mabou.  ( We first visited their interpretive room where we learned about the history of the Scots and Celtic music in Cape Breton, tried out a few dance steps and had violin lesson.  Never having touched a violin before, Denise found this fascinating.  We should add that Fred was (slightly) better than Denise was, due to his guitar experience!

We then headed into the restaurant for a light lunch and a Celtic music performance.  Lunch was excellent (lobster roll again for Denise!) and the performing musicians were Joe MacMaster, this time with Olivier Broussard on fiddle  and Allan Dewar on piano.  The music was even better than the food.  Joe played fiddle, bagpipes and finally piano and gave explanations as he went.  (Impressive for those of us who struggle with one instrument and even more impressive when you consider the vast differences in technique between these three instuments.) Fred asked Olivier about the differences between Francophone and Anglophone music and was fascinated to be told that there was no difference as there was only Gaelic music. (Easy to forget that the Bretons of France are Celts.) We stayed for the full event from about 11.45 to 3.00 PM. Then Denise sat down to discuss piano theory with Joe. Most of us think of the piano as a melody instrument, but here it was basically a replacement for a rhythm guitar (chords in the right hand) and a bass guitar (roots and arpeggios in the left). All of the pianists we heard were real theory monsters, responding on the fly to keys being called out at the beginning of each set.

Some Cape Breton music trivia:

— The dominant instrument is the violin, or fiddle. Why do Scots play the fiddle? Seems that after the Battle of Culloden Moor in 1745 (, the English banned the bagpipes as a way of weakening Scottish identity and introduced the violin as a way of “civilizing” the Scots. So the Scots happily started playing traditional pipe tunes on the fiddle, a practice that continues to this day.

— We heard it argued that Cape Breton music is more traditional than contemporary Scottish music as the island, and its musicians, were always more isolated. A similar comment has been made of US vs. UK English pronunciation – that is that the US pronunciation is older.

— We listened to a piper from Mabou who has been playing in Scotland for the last twenty years. Why? Bigger market. He introduced us to the Lowland or Border pipes, a simpler version of uilleann or “elbow” pipes. ( The uilleann pipes are more commonly associated with Ireland. ( And for the really hard core, Google will be happy to introduce you to a least a dozen other bagpipes. Who knew?

As it was pouring with rain the next day, we decided that an indoor event would be fun and stopped to visit the Alexander Graham Bell Historic Site at Baddeck.  ( A most interesting visit. Bell started his career studying speech and working with the deaf. His father had developed the system of “visible speech” ( and Alexander Graham Bell continued these efforts. It was his understanding of sound, coupled with a knowledge of electricity that led him to invent the telephone, even if it took him 20 years to prove it. He also developed a light based telephone, but this was less practical, until you get to the present day and consider fiber optic cable communication.

Bell was an early pioneer in aviation, using the money he made from the telephone. He, along with Glenn Curtiss, was a founder of the AEA, the Aerial Experiment Association ( He was instrumental in helping to develop the first manned airplane in Canada, the Silver Dart which flew in 1909.  The replica on display was built using the original specifications and materials (where practical) and flown again in 2009 in honor of  the centennial of the first flight.  He also worked on a series of hydrofoil designs. A most fascinating man.

We also enjoyed a cup of excellent latte in a nice coffee shop in Baddeck (Bean There Cafe and were fascinated to hear Gaelic being spoken around us.  We had no idea that Gaelic was so prevalent.

From Baddeck, we continued to the Broad Cove campground were we planned to hunker down for the the Canada Day weekend.

Canada Here We Come

So, we set off for Canada and stopped for a homemade, pot luck brunch to eat up as much open food as possible in case Canadian Customs wanted items destroyed.  Well, the border was absolutely deserted and we passed through with no questions of food items in the camper or pets on board.  Like true tourists, our first stop was the information office just over the border.  They were exceedingly helpful and told us where the supermarket was and suggested we visit St. Andrews by the Sea, a nearby resort town. We followed their advice and spent two nights there, camping right on the ocean.  (


They had live music there the first night and we listened until we got too depressed by the country music they were playing.  None of the songs ever end happily!  So we went back to the 917 and fixed dinner. That did end happily.

The next day we walked the small town and booked a whale watching cruise on a tall ship.  (  The sun went in before we boarded and it was a chilly afternoon on board but a cup of hot chocolate followed later by homemade pea soup, warmed us up. we saw a couple of Minke whales, plus a selection of basking seals and several porpoises. Minkes are not exceptionally large whales, but they do meet the test of having-seen-a-whale. It was a well run and fun cruise. Fred spent much of the voyage chatting with the owner’s father, who was crewing. The Jolly Breeze was built in New Zealand from the plans of an English pilot boat.


Minke Whale

Denise has noted and enjoyed a mass of lupins wherever we are both in New England and Maine and now in New Brunswick.  It brings back memories of reading the children’s tale “Miss Rumphius” to our daughter when she was small.  She even bought a Miss Rumphius t-shirt with a scene from the book.  Lupins do not grow wild in Virginia!


Lupins were to become a constant theme during our time in Canada, flowering along almost every road.

We decided to visit the Museum of New Brunswick in St. John’s so we went to the campground in Rockwood Park. ( A lovely spot; a huge park only about thirty minutes walk from the old downtown. We headed into town on foot, enjoyed the museum and a cup of coffee in town before heading back. 

Most US history books imply that there was general rejoicing at the end of the American Revolution with all of the colonialists ecstatic at winning their freedom. In fact, the country was deeply split with at least 100,000 loyalists fleeing to Canada. St. John was founded as a loyalist refuge, growing from a tent camp to a city in only one year. There are some interesting aspects of the loyalists that are overlooked in most US history courses. They include:

— Black Nova Scotians. The ships carrying loyalist refugees to Canada had an odd admixture of black passengers – free blacks who had gained their freedom by enlisting in the Royal Army, and, on some of the same ships, enslaved blacks being taken by their loyalist owners to Canada. 

— Militias. It is an article of faith of (too many) Americans that we won our independence with home brew militias that somehow defeated the regulars of the Royal Army. The truth is very different – rebel militias were notoriously unreliable, prone to desert at harvest time and unable to withstand the fire of British regulars. Washington depended on the Continental regulars and thousands of French soldiers to win our independence. (A tip of the hat to Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and our other first diplomats for negotiating with the French for ships and troops and with the Dutch for recognition and money.) In fact, there were more French troops at the battle of Yorktown that Cornwallis was not entirely out of order wanting to surrender to the French. What all of this have to do with loyalists? Only that there were loyalist militias as well as patriot militias and, with the end of the war, they wanted to escape the United States to avoid retribution.

One of the attractions of downtown St. John is the preserved loyalist house, survivor of innumerable fires and urban development.

We think our round trip was probably close to 4.5 miles with the last part decidedly uphill!  So we stopped by the lake in the park to listen to live music and enjoy a glass of wine before tackling the last hill to the camper.  An enjoyable interlude.

Leaving the next morning, we headed towards the Hopewell Rocks ( to discover all about huge tides (up to 46 feet) of the Bay of Fundy.  We checked into the Headquarters Campground of the Fundy National Forest ( and watched the rain fall.  As the afternoon progressed, it began to clear a little so we added layers and raincoats and headed for the Rocks as it was almost low tide.  It was indeed amazing.  We visited all the viewpoints and descended to the beach where we ambled among the shaped rocks  on the sea floor.  Somewhat chilled, we headed back to our campsite for dinner.  We returned in the late morning of the following day and with much better weather, and duly admired the views with high tides, this time in shirt sleeves! The “rocks” themselves resemble nothing so much as the “temple” monoliths of the Capitol Reef in the western US being made of compressed earth with lots of rocks mixed in.

Low Tide

High Tide

Low Tide

High Tide

Denise down on the sea bed.

We stopped in Moncton to shop and continued just over the border into Nova Scotia. We spent the night at a lovely RV Resort called Loch Lomond We always like it when campgrounds don’t make us pay for the hookups we don’t use! The next morning we headed for Cape Breton. Picking a side road at random to stop for lunch, we ended up at the Barney’s River school museum. It doesn’t open until July, but we were able to have lunch safely off the road. (

Reefer Madness, or The Saga of the Refrigerator

The Norcold two door refrigerator had given us problems from the very beginning.  We took it to a Thetford dealer in Manassas, Restless Wheels, who had twice performed warranty service on it, replacing first the cooling system and then the thermostat.  It completely died during our visit to Portsmouth, NH and we were managing with a limping refrigerator, which worked sometimes, and an ice chest.  We found a dealership, Harvey RVs, in Bangor, Maine who were prepared to replace it under warranty and so after our stay in the Acadia National Forest, we headed to Bangor to confirm the arrival date.  ( We expected to be told that it was due the following week, so we had made plans to visit friends in Portland. 

But first we made a preliminary visit to Harvey RVs as we wanted them to see the layout of the camper and look at a broken drawer. Upon our arrival, we were mobbed by salespeople, all admiring the XPCamper. If the Tiger drew attention, the XP draws crowds! Took a few minutes to discover that the service section was actually about a quarter mile deeper into the site. When we got back to Service, we learned that rather than arriving next week, the refrigerator had actually arrived an hour previously and Harvey was ready to install it that very afternoon.  So, we gleefully removed all our stuff and left them to it. 

Technically, it takes 30 minutes to install a Norcold refrigerator. 

Practically, the fridge is too large for the door and it had to be installed through the skylight. We were a bit annoyed, but the Service Manager at Harvey merely snorted that that is a common problem and that with the proliferation of large residential refrigerators in large Class A RVs, they often have to remove a slide to replace a refrigerator. Our skylight caper didn’t look so bad, after all.

We had made plans to visit Tiger owning friends in Portland, Maine, but, the refrigerator having arrived early, it was all change to staying in Bangor. One of Fred’s imaginary friends from the Internet is Kirk Ramsay who is, among other things the owner of Ramsay guitars. Our first stop that evening was to the downtown offices of Ramsay guitars where Fred and Kirk disappeared into the basement to ooh and aah over blanks of wood. So now there are two new guitars that Fred wants! ( Several famous electric players have commented that you don’t have to plug in an electric guitar to tell if it is any good, you just have to strum it and see if it rings. Kirk’s guitars ring like bells. Let’s just say he knows how to make a neck joint! As to the rest, the actions are great and the finishes? Off scale beautiful.

We then repaired to the High Tide for a lovely dinner overlooking the river so that Fred could recover.

After a night at the scenic Ramsay campground (Five stars! *****) we were back at Harvey RVs for some adjustments to a drawer which had developed the annoying habit of opening while we were driving along. This site is going to develop a “Best of the Best” section where we will list the best campsites and other services that we have encountered. Harvey RVs will be one of the first entries. The Service Manager had one of the best lines ever: “Well, all we can do is fix it.” Oh that some others had the same attitude.

Maine Meanders

Our first night in Maine was amazingly warm, with temperatures in the high 80’sF.  We thought Maine was supposed to be cool!  We have not had this camper long enough  to really know how long we can run the air conditioner on the batteries, though we have successfully run it for several hours.  So, rather than a Walmart, we picked the Twin River Campground at Skowhegan, Maine, where we knew we could get shore power. We were offered a waterside site, with the caveat that there was a pot luck dinner and pig roast taking place and it might be a little noisy for a while. We agreed that we could live with that and headed to our site which had cars parked on it!  Once that was all organized we sat outside to enjoy the view and enjoy a glass of wine.  Our solitude was brief as all the neighbors came over to say “hello” and those holding the pig roast immediately invited us to join their dinner.  This massive spread, fresh off the grills, looked much better than our leftovers so we accepted with great pleasure and enjoyed a social evening meeting charming people who spend the summer season at this campsite enjoying the boating and the outdoors. While we learned about the concept of seasonal RV camping, they lined up for tours of the XPCamper, noting that it is not at all like the usual RV.

The next morning we were thinking about coffee and breakfast when a knock sounded on our door.  Our new friends wanted us to know that a snapping turtle was laying eggs in front of our camper so of course we went out to look. 

It took Mrs. Snapping Turtle at least an hour to complete her task and then she returned to the lake! 

Fortunately we were not ready to leave before she had finished.

We headed off to Acadia National Forest, where we had Seawall Campground reservations.  ( The weather on our first day was rather threatening so we headed off in the 917 to the main Visitor Center to watch the movie and gather information.  We are unfortunately too tall to complete the Park Loop, due to a number of low bridges, though we were able to do a section of it. We enjoyed a lovely lunch at the Upper Deck in Southwest Harbor; Denise ate her first lobster roll and thoroughly enjoyed it. (,%20ME&id=1610) After returning to the campsite, the weather had improved so we had a walk in the surrounding forest, offering ourselves as a sacrifice to the myriad Maine mosquitos and miscellaneous flies.

Highlights of the stay were two bike rides, one to the Bass Harbor Lighthouse at the point about 2.5 miles from our campground and one on one of the carriage roads in the National Park.  Both days were beautiful and it felt wonderful to be back on the bike again.  After watching the chaos in the tiny lighthouse parking lot we were most happy to be on our bicycles and not in the 917!  In the afternoon we walked over to the Seawall Picnic Area and enjoyed watching the waves breaking on the rocky shore. 

We also spotted Mrs. Duck with at least six ducklings swimming along in the surf.  We did not know that ducks ever swam in the sea!  Some of the ducklings had a hard time in the surf, but they all paddled furiously back to mum.

John D. Rockefeller had covered Mount Desert Island with a network of gravel carriage roads, all joined with beautiful stone bridges. We chose to ride on one of the carriage roads from the Visitor Center around Witches Hole Pond, a lovely ride of about 5 miles, with beaver lodges and lots of turtle nests. ( 

We enjoyed the beautiful views before heading out to Bar Harbor and a schooner ride on the Margaret Todd. ( It was such a beautiful afternoon it was wonderful to be out on the water. 

Unfortunately, Fred’s ball cap blew off in the wind so we had to buy him a new one on our return to Bar Harbor!


Back into the mountains, we looked for a campground to spend the night and do all our laundry.  We found a lovely one called Terrace Pines near Center Ossipee, and acquired a campsite beside the Little Dan Hole Lake.  ( A beautiful site, which we enjoyed as we completed our three loads of laundry. 

The is the type of picture that they always used to use to sell Blazers, Broncos, and Jeeps!

The campground covers 600 acres and it was a (really!) long hike to the laundry area, we had plenty of exercise!  Our view reminds of a song Denise sang as a Girl Guide in the UK;

“Land of the silver birch, home of the beaver,
Where too the mighty moose, wanders at will.
Blue lakes and rocky shore, I will return once more
(Drum noises, etc) .… ”

We were warned about the bears and there are moose around but we have not seen either!  But we have seen lots of tiny red squirrels (smaller than the DC ones) and chipmunks and the Blue Cat had many meaningful conversations with the squirrels.  That is, they hurled deprecations at him from a safe distance up a tree!

Our final New Hampshire adventure was to ride the Cog Railway up Mt. Washington.  (

MountWashington in the distance, with its famous windy clouds.

As the Cog is part of Harvest Hosts, we had arranged to spend the night in their RV Car park, which turned out to be a huge area so we had no difficulty finding a space.

The Cog bills itself as the first of its kind, but the folks at Cadillac Mountain in Acadia will tell you that the first actual cog track was actually taken from a smaller such railway built up Cadillac Mountain.

 Early the next morning, we gathered our warm clothes and presented ourselves for the ride in what looked to be good weather. 

Obligatory Tourist Shot

The ride up was lots of fun but it got cooler and cooler until we arrived at the summit with a temperature of 40F and a windspeed of 40 mph, which equates to a wind chill temperature of about freezing.  Boy was it cold!  It was even colder than that! We headed for the snack bar and found hot chocolate and a snack or two, both much needed.  We braved the elements for some photos and to watch the end of the road race up the Mt. Washington Road.  We could not believe the runners who had run up the mountain in running shorts and shirts in those temperatures.  Once their time was clocked in, they could be seen huddled in purple blankets.  We slowly warmed up as we descended and returned to the 917 for a much needed thaw out and lunch.  

We then set off on the road into Maine.

Reunion Ramble – Our First Real 917 Exploration

Timing for this trip was ruled by Fred’s 50th Reunion (Class of 1968) at Northfield Mount Hermon, a prep school in Massachusetts.  We travelled via the Hudson Valley for a short family visit and then on to Gill, MA for the reunion weekend.  On the way, we stopped at Amherst to visit the home of Emily Dickinson, the poet.  ( We took the final tour of the day visiting her home and that of her brother and his family.  The houses and the history were fascinating and the gardens quite beautiful.  Apparently, Emily spent her time either writing or gardening.  (Sorry, no original pictures as photography is prohibited inside the buildings.)


The weather was glorious for the entire weekend and NMH was at its best. 

Campus view of new science center

A fun weekend with lots to do and friends to see.

Fine camping behind the Gym. (With a great view of the Connecticut River Valley.)

Fine dining in West Hall – as it never was in the old days!

A personal high point was an hour long 60’s revival concert with Fred playing with members of two bands from back in the day, the former school sponsored band, the “Hermon Knights” (a word play on “Hermonite” the name for a Mount Hermon student) and the “Recitation Parking Lot” a band named, with tongue in cheek,  for the place where the buses picked up the Northfield girls to take them back to their campus. Also known for another school tradition – “Animal Hour.” Fred was happy with his playing and the crowd was out of their seats and on the dance floor, a universal sign of success.

iPhone photo by Denise Cook

A quick and dirty, hanging-from-the-mic-stand, audio of our first songs. Rocky, but fun. (Courtesy of Paul “Buzz” Tuttle)


As members of Harvest Hosts (, we then moved into Vermont to spend the night at the Autumn Mountain vineyard near Brandon.  We arrived in time for a fun tasting and found a variety of fruited wines, some of which tasted like Kool Aid!  Others were quite good and we acquired a bottle of cranberry wine, which we both liked.  ( After a pleasant night amongst the vines, we headed back towards New Hampshire over the Brandon Gap, with some lovely views of the wooded mountain slopes both near and far. One nearby mountain rejoiced in the name Mt. Horrid!  We wish we had stopped to take a photo of the sign!  It looked like a normal mountain to me.

We discovered as we headed into New Hampshire that the State Parks and National Forest campgrounds do not accept pets.  As one of the residents of our camper is, of course, Blue our cat, we kept going until we found the commercial campsite closest to Portsmouth. This was the Sea Coast RV Resort.  This turned out to be a very pleasant campground with amazing landscaping from shade trees to flower beds and plenty of space.  The bathroom facilities are impeccable also.  The only drawback was that the new owners had not yet set up a laundry so we determined to check on the status of laundries at our next campsite.  ( 

Denise wanted to visit Strawbery Banke, a preserved neighborhood with 32 historical buildings from the 1700’s. ( Most are still in their original locations.

Strawberry Banke

The name was given because the first English arrivals found wonderful wild strawberries there. The name was later changed to Portsmouth as the area, first a fishing town, became known for shipbuilding and became more respectable!  We enjoyed the visit and exhibits of early building techniques and also wandered down to the Piscataqua river bank to admire the view and the boats.

Denise develops a new hobby – weaving.

We also discovered that the refrigerator had died again, for the third time! This was annoying to say the least.  After an unsuccessful visit to a local dealer, we called the manufacturer, Thetford, who were most helpful and immediately agreed to ship a new one to the dealer of our choice in Maine.  After several calls, we were able to set this up with a dealer in Bangor and get the new fridge installed.  So, we bought a cooler and with a daily ice purchase are managing to keep cool bare essentials, as we await shipping information.

Before leaving the area, the following day we visited the Fuller Gardens in North Hampton, a lovely private botanical garden.  ( The roses and dahlias were not yet in flower but the rhododendrons were beautiful. 

After a stroll along the coastal path to admire the ocean and the huge seaside mansions, we headed for a seafood lunch at Rays of Rye.  ( As the sign says, “Lobzsta!!!”  And fried clams for a belated birthday lunch for Fred.

Several of these houses are for sale. But we followed the rule, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

Bringing Home the 917

California to Colorado – September 2017 

After selling our Tiger in the spring of 2017, we looked around for a different vehicle, one which would give us a little more storage space and permit us to use the high sulphur diesel fuel found in Central America.  In the fall, we decided to purchase a Mercedes Benz 917, a former fire truck from Austria, which had been converted into an overland camper by XPCamper. (


So, armed with a couple of boxes of enough camping equipment to get us home, we flew to Grass Valley, California, the home of XPCampers, to pick it up.  We had previously seen the XP and knew we would love the camper part.  After a few tweeks and a few additional purchases, we set off over the Sierra Nevada towards Route 50, through Nevada and Utah.  This was a route we had taken and enjoyed in 2016.  We even managed to stay at the Cave State Park Campground just east of Ely, Nevada, so we could have dinner in the Chinese restaurant on Main Street.  We had enjoyed our lunch there on our previous visit to Ely in 2016.   In Utah we took a detour off road, down Route 21 towards I-15 to so we could test our new vehicle on dirt.  It drove beautifully and we were pleased.


We had made plans to visit La Junta, Colorado to get some work done at Rob Pickering’s shop, Terry Lee Enterprises.  ( ) Rob is an expert on Unimogs and old European trucks and, because of the 917’s age, we had arranged that it be completely inspected and overhauled.  We had no idea when such basics as an oil change had last been done and were sure that other issues would come to light.  As indeed they did, although somewhat sooner than we expected!


While on I-70, about ten miles from the Colorado border, just west of Grand Junction the truck began to swerve violently.  Huge clouds of smoke appeared in the rear view mirror and keeping the vehicle on the road was a major challenge, especially as we were being passed by a tractor-trailer at the time. Things were quite sporting for a moment, but Fred was finally able to pull over to the side.  We got out to take stock of the situation.  We had a shredded and burned tire, minimal tools, and only one jack.  Fortunately, we had good cell phone service so we called for roadside assistance and with the aid of the charming gentleman who responded, we mounted the spare.  A this point we discovered that the problem was not a defective tire, but rather that four of the 40 bolts which held the two halves of the wheel together had sheared off.  And we still had Monarch Pass ahead of us. The manufacturer of the wheels basically told us that it was our fault, implying that we kept driving on a flat tire – NOT a company that we would ever recommend! Grrr!

Denise points to the missing bolts.

We continued very cautiously towards La Junta, checking the wheels every hour or so.  We replaced several more bolts on other wheels as they sheared off, before arriving at the KOA campsite in La Junta on the Sunday evening.  The next morning we presented ourselves bright and early at Rob’s shop and set out the list of what was needed, which now included new wheels, as we could not drive further with the current ones.


We spent about four days in La Junta, waiting for the wheels to be delivered and planning the truck’s renovation.  Among other tasks, all fluids and filters were changed, the spare tire was moved to the rear, and, to Denise’s delight, we installed swing away steps on the cab. We also ordered air conditioning for the cab and the camper.

The 917 on the lift at Terry Lee Enterprises.

While waiting, we borrowed Rob’s truck and had a wonderful visit to the Bent’s Old Fort, a National Historic Site run by the National Park Service. Bent’s fort was a trading post on the Santa Fe Trail.  Built in 1833 in adobe it is of considerable historical significance.  A most interesting place with costumed interpreters explaining the life and times of the era.

Towards the Fort

Inner courtyard

Rob managed to find five wheels for us but it became clear that the wheels would not arrive in a time for us to make it to Overland EXPO East on time, so we decided to fly back to DC from Colorado Springs and return when everything was closer to completion. So we gave our money to Frontier Airlines and flew home.


Following the Arkansas River – November 2017


We discovered that the final direct flight from Washington to Colorado Springs on Frontier Airlines (ever or for the season, it was unclear!) would be on October 31. As we were flying with our cat, who, as a rescue, had probably never flown before, we wanted to make the transit as simple as possible.  So we booked our flights and packed up a bit more camping equipment and headed off to pick up the 917, which was still not quite finished, but would be soon! Staying in it this time was impractical, so we headed to the Midtown Motel, which was in easy walking distance.  ( We ended up staying a week and now feel we know La Junta very well!  It was a pleasant week, the motel was friendly and helpful and as a fridge and microwave were provided, we were quite comfortable.  We did eat at the three best restaurants at least twice each!  Meanwhile, the wheels had arrived and the tires mounted, the air conditioning installed and the camper battery charging system upgraded.

Our patented “Twisted Sister” charing system – 24v to 12v and vice versa!

During the weekend, we again borrowed the pick up and went exploring locally.  One day we went to Boggsville, one of the first non-military settlements in southeastern Colorado.  It was most prominent in the early 1860’s to the 70’s.  The inhabitants were a mixture of Spanish, European and Cheyenne.  It was also the last home of Kit Carson, who died there in 1868. Several homes remain and the location is interesting, on the banks of the Arkansas River and on the Santa Fe Trail.

The next day we went southwest of La Junta to the Comanche Natural Grasslands and Vogel Canyon.  We enjoyed two short hikes within the canyon, one of which gave us a good view of the canyon as a whole and one of which led to some Indian pictographs on the cliffs.

Then we set off, back on Route 50, heading indirectly south en route to Orlando, Florida. After getting interested in the Santa Fe Trail, we stopped briefly at the Santa Fe wagon track site, just west of Dodge City in Kansas.  The grass was high at the end of summer so it was hard to see the tracks, just the irregularities in the earth showed where the wagons had been.

The old wagon ruts are well eroded and hard to see

We went looking for the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Foraker, Oklahoma. After wandering the countryside, courtesy of the GPS, we reverted to Siri and found it.  Definitely a low-key site, it was fascinating to see what the prairie looked like when the first Europeans arrived.  You can also see what your lawn would look like if you allowed it to revert to its natural state.  We did not see many of the bison, which roam the prairie there, but we enjoyed the short walks laid out nearby.

We had a strict timetable for this trip so we were not able to discover Arkansas, though we were still following the river!  We shall reserve that for a future trip.  We did stop at the Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi on our way south.  We drove the battlefield, which is huge and of course visited the museum.

Cannon on the battlements

We also liked the display of the remains of the USS Cairo, an ironclad, which sank nearby.  The most fascinating was the selection of personal items, retrieved from the sunken ship, which are now displayed in a separate museum, definitely a site worth visiting. (

After an overnight at a favorite campground on the banks of the Mississippi in Natchez, we continued south.


Our next goal was New Orleans, which Denise had long wanted to visit. We were able to get a reservation at the French Quarter RV Resort, which, while expensive, worked out beautifully as we could walk everywhere.  (  And walk we did….We wandered the French Quarter enjoying the architecture and eating beignets at the Café du Monde.  (  )

Fountain in Jackson Square

Classic French Quarter building

We visited the Cemetery as part of a fascinating carriage ride.

We discovered a wonderful courtyard restaurant

We sailed on the Creole Queen paddlewheel boat to the Chalmette Battlefield ( to learn about the defense of New Orleans during the War of 1812.

New Orleans is famous for many historic homes that you can visit. The 1850 house, on Jackson Square is an interesting example of a town house, built above a store. (


We shall most certainly be returning to New Orleans, there is a lot more to see!


After visiting our son for a week or so in Orlando and spending Thanksgiving there, we returned to DC after making a fascinating stop at the Fort McAllister State Park in Georgia.  The campground at the park was lovely but the Fort itself, a State Historic Park, was most interesting.  It is a massive earthwork with seven gun emplacements and a mortar battery built by the Confederacy and guarding the Great Ogeechee River as well as local plantations. (


A visit to the island of Malta was also on our “Must Visit List” as Denise had spent a month there with her family when she was twelve and she was keen to see how much she recognized. In fact, Floreana and Valletta had not changed much at all but most of the old decorated buses with crucifixes hanging from the rear view mirrors were nowhere to be seen, only a few preserved as tourist attractions. The island’s history is long and varied. Held by the Arabs from 870 AD, it was given to the Knights of St. John in 1530 by the Holy Roman Emperor.  Charles V. Napoleon captured it in 1798 but left in 1800 after British involvement. It was an important British naval base during World War II and British influence continued until independence in 1964. You can read more of Malta’s amazing history here:

The day dawned cool and cloudy and we watched as the island came into view. We took on the pilot and then approached the breakwater. The Queen Elizabeth maneuvered slowly into the port and made a compete 180 degree turn to her docking space. Valletta is a challenging port to enter with hard turns and minimal clearance. Fortunately, the winds were low. I grew up traveling by sea and later served briefly as a Midshipman. Put bluntly, the maneuverability of modern passenger ships, equipped with pods and thrusters is amazing. And it is generally all done without tugs.

Armed with our sweatshirts, we set off to Mdina, along with the rest of an organized tour. Mdina flourished under the Romans, and was held by the Saracens until the Normans took over in 1090.


View from Mdina looking back towards Valletta.

We liked Mdina with its curved streets and small squares and escaped from the group for a short wander around.

The doors of the traditional houses were fascinating. Each door, with its individual lock and knocker, almost certainly led into a lovely and unseen courtyard. Some were in better shape than others but all were interesting.


Knock or ring the bell.

We also came across a lovely little church with ornately painted ceilings and paintings.

It has been written that some church ceilings were intended to be literal representations of looking up to heaven – this church certainly reflected that image – the Virgin, the Christ, and the angels were looking right down on us.


We then returned to Valletta where we were shown the main street, the new outdoor theater and we visited St. John’s Co-Cathedral. The Cathedral was completed in 1577 and was dedicated to the patron saint of the Knights of Saint John and linked to the Cathedral in Mdina. ( The interior is incredibly ornate and there are many great works of art.


Not exactly the same as the typical American protestant church interior.



Highest of High Baroque.


We then seized the opportunity to escape from the tour and set out to find lunch. We ate al fresco (and it was windy and chilly) in a small restaurant behind the Cathedral. Lunch was excellent, Denise’s swordfish was fresh and Fred’s ravioli with Maltese sausage was tasty.

We noted that the sun was finally breaking through so we decided it was time to head out. As always we did a little shopping and then we headed for the Lascaris War Rooms 40 meters underground.

We had heard that the War Rooms had recently been restored and opened to visitors and, naturally, Fred was keen to see them, having seen them in any number of WWII movies.

The War Rooms are located in a network of tunnels and chambers, which housed Britain’s War headquarters in Malta. Operations rooms for the Air Force; for Anti Aircraft Gun Operations, for Cyphers and Code Encryptions etc. can all be seen. The War Rooms were used by General Eisenhower and his team during the Allied advance on Sicily and they remained in use throughout the Cold War until 1977.

We received directions towards the port and set off through a Government ministry to the street. The offices were all open to a wide verandah through which we walked, which felt rather odd but no one seemed to mind! One advantage of Valletta is that ships dock very close to the city and no transportation is needed to return to our ship. We had planned to take the Barrakka Lift to carry us down the cliff but we emerged much further down than we had expected so we went for a cup of coffee and an ice cream instead in a little café beside the water.


The famous lift. Note the massive scale of the fortifications everywhere. Malta was besieged many times and the Knights took defense very seriously.

We then returned to the ship on foot.



Denise had  visited Athens in 1964 and had memories of a coach tour to the Acropolis with Beatles songs playing in the background. Remember Eight Days a Week?!!


Porch of the Caryatids (Denise Photo from 1964. We had a nicer day.)

We chose to join a Cunard tour here and while we are now sure that we are not big tour people, in Athens this worked, as viewing the Akropolis was part of a group effort with at least 25 tour guides and buses at the same time. No way to get far from the madding crowd. Also Athens was basically closed for the Orthodox Easter weekend, so options were limited anyway.

We stopped first at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.athens-18


The honor guard performs an interesting, slow motion, drill.

Our first view of the Acropolis.athens-17

We fought our way up onto the hill in company with all the other tour guides speaking various languages and bus loads of tourists from all over the world. All seemed to concentrate on the Parthenon and it was impossible to hear anything! The Parthenon was finished in 432BC and dedicated to the goddess Athena, the patron of Athens. Considerable renovation is being undertaken on the site to stabilize it and give a better idea of how it looked. It is fascinating to see the new column pieces waiting to be put into place.


We managed to escape the crowds on the rear side, where there is a view over the city of Athens towards the port of Piraeus. We could admire the Queen Elizabeth in the distance.

We also managed some photos without the hordes near the Erectheion, an ancient temple to Athena and Poseidon built around 406 BC. Supporting part of the roof are the famous Caryatids, or female figures as supporting columns. All are replicas as the originals are kept away from the corrosive air of Athens in the Acropolis Museum. One original can be seen in the British Museum, as it was appropriated by Lord Elgin, along with the Parthenon marbles, back in the 19th century.


Compare with Denise’s 1964 photo, note that the steel supports are gone.

We then took advantage of free time and wandered the streets before finding a café, where we could sit outside and enjoy a sandwich.

A little more wandering and then back to the ship.


Taking on Fuel from a Lighter