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Last WWOOF

So many feelings as we leave the holiday cottage in the morning ready to travel across to catch the ferry on Monday that will take us to our last WWOOF host. Before every host we have had feelings of trepidation. Will they be nice? What will be expected of us? Where will we sleep? What sort of food will they feed us? Will we like them, will they like us? Will we have to run off in the dead of night to escape?

This is our biggest gap by far between hosts as is also tinged with that end of term is approaching type feeling. In many ways this feels the same as just before we were leaving our house to start this adventure – lots of uncertainty about what happens next, lots of excitement about the next phase being imminent, lots of looking ahead and wondering what will happen next, lots of looking back and thinking about what we are leaving behind us.

We have toyed with the idea of not doing this last host. It will be our first host where we have to leave Willow far behind – the island does not allow vehicles so we’ll be boarding the ferry on foot with an even smaller percentage of our belongings than we are currently used to – and we thought we were already being pretty darn minimalistic! The weather is changing and is wilder, windier, wetter – not quite so inviting to be living the outdoorsy lifestyle in November as it was back in May. We’ve had a taste of the comfortable lifestyle back in a cottage for a week. Also the call of friends and family back south is getting louder – we’ll be heading back to Sussex to catch up with people and put our affairs in order in just a couple of weeks and there is a temptation to just do that now.

But this host is on an island, something we have not done yet and we are excited about the idea of that. They sound nice and interesting and able to teach us new stuff which is of course the whole point of this exercise. Plus there is certainly a part of me at least that wants to actually know it’s our last host while we’re there, not looking back retrospectively thinking ‘oh, that host five weeks ago was our last one after all’. I want to do my saying goodbye to this section of the adventure while we’re still actually there to do it properly.

So, no idea what we’ll have in the way of phone signal, internet connection, electricity to power things up. Don’t know if toilets will flush, showers will be hot (or indeed there at all). No idea if we’ll be working inside or outside, eating dinner at 5pm, 7pm or 10pm. But at some point in the next few weeks I’ll be back to tell you all about it. Until then, we’ll be off WWOOFing again.

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Hosts Jim, but not as we know them

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We’ve met some amazing people this year. As we move rapidly towards our last WWOOF host (Monday! Eek!) I’ve been reflecting on some of the interesting, inspiring and incredibly hospitable hosts we’ve stayed with. We have also stayed with various friends and family over the course of this year, often at times when we really…
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Wild Camping – summing up

The Wild Camping phase of our adevnture is over, infact it actually ended a week ago when we arrived at a holiday cottage for a week but that’s a post all of it’s own.

We spent six weeks living in the van from leaving our last host, that’s 42 nights. Only 9 of them were spent on campsites with electric hook up, showers and toilets. All of the rest were spent parked up wherever we could find each night. This included lay-bys, carparks, roadsides, closed-for-the-season campsites. We parked in woodlands, lochsides, beside the sea, on the side of mountains, in remote places. We have seen stunning sunrises, sunsets, starry skies and moonlit nights. We’ve seen so much wildlife and scenery amd watched late summer turn to autumn and start to turn to winter.

We have been stripped back to the most basic of human needs – food, drink, warmth, shelter, where to go to the toilet and how to keep clean. At no point have we struggled, suffered or been in any danger, but it is the closest I’ve ever been to more basic survival and not knowing where I’d be sleeping each night.

So how was it?

It was fun, it was fulfilling, it was interesting, exciting and challenging. These six weeks have probably embodied the whole year in many ways. We have seen new sights and sounds, had new experiences, found what we want to do next and learnt something new every day. One of my favourite quotes is Jonathan Swift’s ‘May you live every day of your life’. We did that. We lived every day.

Over to the others…

Dragon:
Bad:
Stuff I didn’t do. I have not seen the Northern Lights, didn’t have a go at shooting, never caught my own fish and cooked it in the van.
Good: How much we did do! Still wowed at how much we saw on the very first week. We saw an extremely beautiful stag (mostly in sillouette). It was brilliant visiting Skye, it’s certainly the place I want to live. I really liked the house we went to visit.
Learnt: That it is possible to live in a community in this country by living on an island instead of just a remote village in somewhere like Africa, or somewhere like the communities we’ve stayed at where people choose to live together.

Star:
Bad:
Seeing roadkill – we saw a dead otter and what we think was a dead hare. There is not much space to live in when we’re in the van all the time.
Good: We saw snow! I liked playing games in the van with everyone, that was fun. I also liked the evenings in Willlow, it was really nice all being together. We’ve seen lots and lots and lots and lots of wildlife, like golden eagles, deer, otters, seals.
Learnt: You don’t need TV, consoles or other electronic things to entertain you, you can play really basic games like cards.

Ady:
Bad:
Condensation. The damp and mould that started in the last couple of weeks living in the van. I worry about the impact of it on our health and it was a daily battle trying to keep on top of it.
Good: Loved being parked overnight and waking up to snow capped mountains all around us. I like being with the kids in the evenings. The wild camping experience has been so lovely, eating, talking together and having no outside distractions. I have slept better, eaten better and lived better.
Learnt: Lots about the Scottish property market – totally different to buying and selling houses in England. Also learnt that the remoteness of the highlands means that people are  more helpful and able to do things than in the densely populated area in the south where we lived.

Nic:
Bad
: The mouse! Also the needing to curtail things like splashing in puddles and walking in the rain due to lack of places to get warm, dry and clean for us and clothing.
Good: We found where we want to live :) We ticked off loads of things we wanted to see, do and experience on our list. We had some fantastic quality time together chatting, playing games, singing songs, reading books, learning about each other.
Learnt: Precisely how long I can go without washing my hair before I start to feel really skanky, how very little money we can feed ourselves for. Finely honed our lists of what we do and don’t miss about conventional living.

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Mice and Mould

When I started this blog I wanted to document the highs and the lows of the adventure. The challenges and the victories.

We’ve recorded the tough bits at the various hosts and the issues along the way. We have the usual family falls outs, thankfully not very often. I guess we simply couldn’t live in such a small space if there was constant squabbling or the need to have more time and space away from each other than our rather limited accomodation affords us. Dragon and Star are very close siblings and probably fall out a lot less than most other brothers and sisters I know (I certainly would not have wanted to share such a tiny space with my little brother when we were children, much as I loved him and get on well with him now) and there is a certain intensity to sharing 24 hours a day with your spouse when you both used to have seperate days from each other Monday to Friday.

In the main though I think the impact on our relationships with each other has been all positive. We have all got to know each other better, both as a group or team or family unit and as four individuals with intermeshed relationships between each of us. There are tears, tantrums, shouting and strops of course, it would be terribly unhealthy if there was not and I think putting feelings out there for discussion, talking stuff through and continually communicating is hugely important – both for the sanity of the four of us today and for learning those skills for the future. I like to think that yet another side effect of this adventure for Dragon and Star will the increased levels of tolerance for others, compassion and empathy, negotiation and conflict resolution skills, knowing when to diffuse a situation and when to air your views with a big shouting session is appropriate. The upshot of this lifestyle is that you simply cannot be selfish, you have to take into account the feelings and needs of others, you must take accountability for the impact of your actions on others. Co-operation, working together and playing to everyone’s strengths is essential.

So while living in this small space with others has it’s challenges the lessons being learnt from them are sufficient to weigh that up as a positive.

Other positives include learning to live with less stuff, live on less money, appreciating the simplicity that is possible and feeling so much more engaged with the world around us. The turning of the seasons having a true impact on our daily lives over and above turnning up the heating or switching off a light. Overall we continue to love every day knowing we are making memories that will last us forever and having an adventure that we will talk of for the rest of our days and will shape what happens to us from here.

But the downsides? There are not many, probably way fewer than most people experience on their normal daily lives with houses and jobs and TVs and sofas. But there are difficulties with this way of life which mean we know it’s not a forever option for us.

For the last two weeks we had a mouse in the van. First evidence was a chewed up carrier bag in one of the cupboards along with some droppings. We assumed it had got in just to that cupboard which has a hole down to the outside so cleaned it out and blocked it up. But the mouse was clearly in the van and started making it’s presence felt in our food cupboards and in the cab of the van, nibbling through some packets and leaving more droppings. And keeping me awake at night with it’s little mousey scuttling and gnawing noises. This was Not Good. We moved all the food into a plastic box, set traps in every palce we could think the mouse could get to, continued to keep everywhere very clean and also strew tumble drier sheets in all sorts of places having googled and found mice in campervans is a pretty common problem and turned up various bits of advice for dealing with them.

After 5 nights of traps with the mouse getting increasingly bolder to the point of clearing all the traps of bait each night at around midnight one night one of the traps went off. Sure enough in the morning we had a dead mouse to dispose of. We left traps set again on subsequent nights to check it was just the single mouse living in the van and it would appear it was, so we’ve blocked up all holes we can, stuffed more tumble drier sheets in places and are keeping fingers firmly crossed that we won’t need to use the traps again. I hated the need to kill it (and infact we had a mix of live capture and killing traps) but sharing Willow with any more bodies, even a tiny one, simply was not a long term option.

Another issue we are still dealing with is damp, condensation and ultimately mould. Willow showed few if any signs of having damp problems when we bought her but then she had not been lived in through the winter. The combination of body heat of four people, cooking and boiling kettles for washing up and drinking and simply breathing in the van as the temperature outside drops means we are constantly wiping down misted up windows. Where possible we are keeping a vent or window open for ventilation but when it’s really windy or rainy (as it often has been up here in the Highlands) that isn’t feasible. So the kids bunk where we store all the sleeping bags and pillows has to be dried out every night and all the bedding aired for half an hour before bedtime, the curtains and sofa have to be constantly monitored and kept away from the windows, the kids soft toys, our clothes, our towels, our bedding all need to be kept an eye on and made sure they are not stuffed up somewhere going mouldy. We have already chucked out a few things which suffered from a lack of vigilance but hopefully we are on top of it now.

The season has definitely changed now and where we were enjoying T shirt weather (albeit a freak heat wave rather than usual early October conditions) we have now seen snow, rain aplenty and had the van rocked by windy nights. But is is cold. And dark. And wet. Cold is not the most serious of these really – we can get warm by putting more clothes on, we have very good sleeping bags and hot water bottles so once we’re cosy in bed we stay warm. Dark is combated with good torches and lanterns but wet is a trickier one. Coming into the van with wet outdoor clothes, even coats is a problem. Where do you put them? Bringing wet things in only serves to exacerbate the condensation issues and when getting through as few clothes as possible is a priority – partially because getting them clean and dry again is expensive and difficult and mostly because you only have a very finite amount of changes of clothing anyway – this is hard.

Finally the miles, the weather and perhaps her age have gotten to Willow again and she is currently residing in the local breakdown recovery yard having spluttered to a halt last Thursday. We had our first need to call on our breakdown cover and were towed to a layby for a couple of nights near to the yard by the very understanding of our situation garage owner before being given a lift to our holiday cottage while Willow is being looked at. As ever the universe (and friends!) seem to have provided in answer to our needs and we had already got a stay with friends lined up in a holiday cottage just 20 miles or so away which we were on our way to when Willow gave up. So while we luxuriate in comfort, heat, light, beds, baths, kitchens and sofas with splendid company Willow will hopefully be sufficiently patched up to get us back down the country again.

We have one last WWOOFing host lined up, which ferry crossings and Willow permitting we’ll be heading to next weekend and then we have decided to head back to Sussex for a few weeks to catch up with family and friends and retire Willow for a while. More on that to follow.

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Skye’s the limit

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Friends will tell you I am guilty of glass-half-full-ism to the extreme. In Nic world everything is fantastic, amazing, wonderful. There are times when this seeing the joy in everything approach means no one believes me when something truly is fantasic, amazing, wonderful of course. A bit like the boy who cried wolf I guess….
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Reasons to be cheerful…

One: We’re free to wonder and wander
Two: The world is beautiful
Three: We can share it with you thanks to Three

One of the most important skills I believe we possess is communication. The ability to articulate ourselves, use language to make our needs, our views, our ideas, our emotions understood and got across to others. There are so many different ways to communicate – talking, writing, art, body language, facial expression, singing, playing instruments, shouting, actions…

I like to talk. I try to adhere to the rule of two eyes, two ears, one mouth and do twice the amount of watching and listening as I do talking, but I do love to talk. I also love to write. I have written something somewhere since I very first learnt to write. With a chunky crayon on scrap paper as a little girl, in countless tear smudged diaries through my teens and in latter years tapped through a keyboard and uploaded to blogs that float somewhere out in cyberspace.

When we embarked on this journey we knew communicating with family, friends, random strangers who found us online and were interested in our adventure, WWOOF hosts would be a priority. We would need some internet access and we researched the options. From talking to friends and looking online we found our about the Mifi from Three. A nifty little device that allows you to connect multiple things to it and creates it’s own little wireless hotspot with high speed internet to phones, laptops, games consoles.

For eight happy months we have uploaded blog posts and photos (oh so many photos), downloaded music and streamed iplayer and youtube. We have emailed, shopped, googled, skyped and generally retained our connection to the rest of the world. It is compact, lightweight, has amazing battery life, as good if not better coverage than the various phones we have on different networks, charges by USB / mains / car charger and is an all round vital bit of our kit.

But last weekend disaster struck! The Mifi was disconnected and we were left stranded. But never fear, by the power of technology (anyone else thinking of He Man now?) and friends and truly exceptional service we managed to get a message to Three who swung into action and within hours we had arranged for the nearest post office to accept a parcel for us and 24 hours later we were in reciept of the new and improved version of Mifi on all you can eat tariff

I can’t praise Three enough really – their customer service, speed of response and communication skills are faultless and first class. The Mifi is an outstanding product – whether you live in a campervan and travel around like us (admittedly a fairly small niche market!) or are on the road a lot for work, or simply as an very good alternative to home broadband.

My communication brought to you using high tech communication tools and a fantastic communications company. Everyone playing to their strengths.

This post, as with all of the post since we’ve been on the road is brought to you thanks to the Mifi from Three.

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Thinking Ahead

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Half way into the wild camping part of the adventure we’ve been reluctantly starting to think ahead. We were in a shop buying a lantern earlier this week and telling the guy in there about what we’ve been doing. He was really interested and asked the tricky question ‘how do you think you’ll feel going…
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Going Wild

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We’ve had two whole weeks ‘wild camping’ in the highlands of Scotland and are back in a campsite for an overnight touch with modern conveniences again! We have parked in a different place for every overnight stop, every meal time and every cup of tea and woken up to a different view every morning, each…
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