Last night of ‘freedom’

The ‘holiday’ or ‘transition period’ as I’ve been calling it is coming to a close. It’s been a mostly lovely week. Cold, not our ideal campsite in terms of view and general environment but a short walk from the campsite is a section of the River Teign and we’ve spent plenty of time walking alongside it this week.

Star was been bringing out her wildlife tracking books and after seeing what she was sure were otter prints yesterday she’s been desperate to actually see further signs of otters. We talked about them being nocturnal so highly unlikely to spot but right at the end of a walk this afternoon we did indeed see one. We’d been walking alongside a faster flowing portion of the river and enjoying the gorgeous scenery. It had been pretty busy, we must have exchanged smiles and hellos with about 50 people in the course of a 2 hour walk, mostly out walking their dogs. I am pretty dog-phobic but working very hard to conquer it and today I actually commented that I almost missed having a dog to walk along with us. We were returning and a load of noisy crows flew over our heads so we paused to watch them land and roost in their rookery when suddenly a flash of chocolate brown on the other side of the riverbank caught my eye in the setting sunshine and I realised it was an otter. We all watched as it went in and out of the river several times, giving us a fab display of swimming and clambering in and out of the water and followed it downstream for a few hundred feet. It was quite a while before we even thought to get the camera out and take a picture.

Tonight we’re having an attempt at a Campervan roast dinner in the van, comprising pork chops, roast potatoes, stuffing, some mixed veg and gravy. We’re watching a dvd and toasting the last night of hook up electric, before the adventure really starts tomorrow.

A visual on our week

We’ve parked under a willow tree at the campsite, it seemed fitting. We’re enjoying debating on how we’d run a campsite if we were in charge (it’s a revenue stream that seems a good match with landowning / animal rearing). This campsite seems to have lots of rules – Ady got told off for walking on the grass!

Here’s the lovely Willow at night, looks cosy doesn’t she? It’s bloody freezing at night this week (making us very edgey about sleeping in a tent next week) but the van is snug and warm.

 We’ve been experimenting with campervan cooking. We have a two ring hob, a small grill and small oven. They definitely cook slower than a domestic oven and we’re glad we brought thin camping pots and pans. We’re mostly lacking workspace though, so meals have to be planned in advance and everything kept very organised.I cooked a lovely breakfast of sausage, bacon, eggs and toast yesterday – a repeat has been asked for tomorrow.

We’ve done some eating seperately to the kids, prepping our dinner while they eat theirs and watch a film.

Today in honour of being in Devon I made some scones to have with some home made jam we’d brought along with us and some local clotted cream and we enjoyed a cream tea.

 When we’re not cooking, eating or otherwise hanging out in the van we’ve been walking. Lots and lots of walking. We’ve seen herons, buzzards and Star brought her animal tracking book out with us today and identified a front and back footprint from an otter at a point along the walk we’d seen yesterday and speculated on whether it was a path to and from the river for otters. We also picked some wild garlic to have in our dinner tonight and with the help of google, and
 identified some scarlet elf cup fungus, which apparently while edible is not particuarly nice to eat but is used to garnish salads as it is bright and colourful.

New normals

I remember sitting up at 4am with a newborn Dragon, over ten years ago now. I’d been in a proper full time career type job before I had him. I was a Manager and people did what I asked, when I asked them. I wore grown up clothes to work and talked to people in joined up conversations rather than that motherese way of talking we have when addressing babies. I’d never even really held a baby before Dragon, certainly never changed a nappy or been in sole charge of one so I was grabbing all the information I could from books, from parenting magazines, from the ante-natal classes we’d been to and from the other mothers each week at baby clinic with babies a bit older than mine. In my head I had this idea that there would be a sudden magic change at a certain magic date when everything would return to ‘normal’. When sleep would happen in one whole block at night again, when food could be eaten without a child jiggled on my lap, when tea could be drunk while still hot. I clung to this idea of ‘getting back to normal’ for a few weeks, pestering anyone who had already had a child about what age they slept through, didn’t cry for no apparent reason and allowed you to resume your life as a person in your own right. I realised, during one of those 4am moments, sat gazing down at him in his cot, stroking his cheek and listening to the tinkly Winne the Pooh song his mobile played that things had already become normal. The New Normal. What needed to change was me and my attitude towards life, not life itself.

It was a powerful moment and one which made me shake up and change some of my approaches to parenthood and life in general I guess. I let go of a lot of the parenting manual and magazine mentalities and dictats. I learnt to trust my own instincts and ideas, to listen to my son rather than the world around us and by the time I had Star two years later I was almost an old hand in adjusting my view and our life to suit what was happening in it rather than trying to make it fit my view. It’s a skill that I think all four of us have in varying degrees, Dragon, Star and I perhaps slightly more so than Ady but he’s learning and whilst his adaptation may be slower with a little more hiccups and clinging to old routines than ours it is one of the things he has said he hopes to get out of this year.

We knew when we started planning this year that there would be the things we could anticipate in advance would be testing and challenging and then there would be things that cropped up along the way and just tested our ability to cope with curve balls and living in the moment. Lots of people voiced concerns about how we would cope living in such a confined space. We’re a week in now and this is probably the most intense period of living in the van we will have to deal with as we are cooking, eating, sleeping and full-time living in the van. When we are with WWOOF hosts we will probably only actually return to the van to sleep. So far we’re doing fine, the dynamic has shifted and all four of us are equal partners in making things work. So far we have all made each other laugh, given comfort, shown compassion and empathy for each other. We’e also all shouted, been grumpy, felt fed up or hankered after home, got cross with one, two or all three of the others and been tested, challenged and learnt stuff.

Yesterday Star told me stuff I didn’t know about squirrels, Ady told Dragon more stuff he didn’t know about squirrels, we all learnt about spirit levels thanks to a random question and an answer provided by google, we all walked slightly further carrying heavier stuff than we’d have chosen, Star and I had a fascinating conversation about plastic surgery and body image, we all watched a film together and shared a dinner that none of us would have chosen as a favourite but all enjoyed nonetheless. We’re getting used to moving things around the various spaces in the van depending on whether it is being a kitchen, a lounge, a  bedroom or a vehicle. Currently I am sat in the van writing this, Ady is doing the washing up, Dragon and Star are out playing in the sunshine in the field next to the campsite, so there is more than a shred of our ‘old normal’ still very much in evidence too.

I don’t know what next week will hold- our first WWOOF hosts where we are due to sleep in a tent, what next month willl hold, as we ask Willow to get us another 100 miles or so along the route and I’ve no idea what next year will hold when our adventure is complete and we have to decide what happens next. But I know that living in this moment seems to be suiting us all pretty well and as Ady has just come back from the washing up room, I can hear the kids laughter calling me and the sun is shining I’m off to share the next moment and probably the one after that with the rest of the Wanderers.

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Wandering. And quite a bit of wondering too

Tonight will be the sixth in the van and we’ve already had adventures aplenty.

Saturday night was spent at my parents; a nice evening complete with beers and wine, fish n chips, a lovely hot bath and a night back in beds for Dragon and Star who slept in the house while Ady and I went out to the van.

We had a lovely lunch with Mum, Dad and my brother and grandmother on Sunday before heading off for our mid-point stop. We had two visits back to the car in storage during the stay at Mum & Dad’s – one because I had forgotten to grab the tax disc out of the car (it still has four months to go so will be sent back to DVLA for a refund) and the second because I had also forgotten to pick up the tent which is coming with us. In theory we may never use the tent but if the van needed to be repaired at any point along the way it would render us homeless so it’s good to have a back up and it may come in handy to stick up for extra storage or space along the way too. The first time Dad managed to lean in the window to grab the tax disc but the second time the car needed to come back out of the garage to get to the boot. Mum, who is much, much smaller than me slipped in and drove the car out, then I reversed it back in, doing a much better job this time enabling me to actually get out. When I’d put it in on Saturday morning I had spent a comedy ten minutes trying to work out how to actually get myself out of the car without getting rammed inbetween the car and the garage wall. I’d eventually had to go behind the car, along the passenger side and duck under the wing mirror, much to my Dad’s amusement. This time I parked much closer to the wall on the passenger side. I am hoping by the time I retrieve the car in a years time I will be considerably thinner anyway!

We were waved off (again – we are really getting used to goodbyes) and headed for our first overnight stop in Dorset. When we were first planning our adventure I built in a weeks holiday before we start at WWOOF hosts, thinking we would need that transition time between leaving our jobs, the house and our old life and starting on our new reality. Time to get used to living in the van, de-stress and get used to a different pace of life, to iron out any teething troubles between the old life and the new and re-establish a dynamic of being a full time family of four rather than a three with Ady around at the weekend. Our first hosts are in Devon but one of the things we learnt in the first 48 hours with Willow is that you need to allow about double the travelling time we are used to. She drives at a steady 45-50mph rather than the more speedy pace we are used to in a brand new company car, plus we need to factor in a rest stop every 90 minutes or so – both so that we all don’t get too motion sick and so that we treat her with the respect she deserves!

So I booked a campsite really close to our first hosts. I found it trawling the internet and reading reviews of campsites open all year, suitable for campervans, with electric hook-up. It sounded fab, had made it into Cool Camping and when I talked to the owner on the phone a couple of weeks ago I was reassured that it would be a perfect place for the week. Then we needed to find a mid-point overnight stop between my parents and Devon so I flicked through the C&CC book to find somewhere with hook-up and found somewhere equally lovely sounding with chickens and ducks, rang and booked a one night stay there and felt all was nicely organised. Of course life never does work out that way so last night when we arrived at the campsite (really poorly sign posted, had to do scary turning round manourveres and then head up a very, very puddly and holey road then across a rather uneven and muddy field) it was to the news they had no running water. Very, very fortunately we had picked up a big bottle of water from the supermarket, the guy charged us half price and we were not in need of showers or toilets or water supplies.

So we cooked a first dinner in the van, I read to Dragon and Star while they ate and it all felt very cosy and comfy. Unfortunately Star had been feeling a car sick earlier and once food had hit her tummy it rebelled and she brought her dinner back up again 🙁 She is very calm and unpanicked about being sick and managed to get to the bathroom, position herself over the portapotty and hold her own hair back (sorry if TMI!) then proclaimed herself feeling ‘much better’. Dragon joined in by feeling icky and needing an emergency dash of his own to the portapotty. They both looked very washed out and pale so we got them into pjs and up to their bunk, put our bed down and I snuggled into my sleeping bag and read them a couple of chapters of story before they fell asleep. Just before they went to bed though Ady called us all out to stand just outside the campervan for a few moments as it was an amazingly clear night with no light pollution and the stars were just stunning. The longer you stood gazing up the deeper the layers of stars came into focus.

We all slept well in the end and ate breakfast looking out over the field while a buzzard treated us to a spectacular fly-by circling over the field, hovering and gliding and giving us thrilling glimpses of it’s gorgeous feathers and huge wingspan. Hurrah for skies and all the wonder they provide!

I’d determinded a mid-point in our 80 miles or so for today of Morrisons in Bridport. We sort of consider it ‘our’ Morrisons as we have been there so many times, choosing that area of Dorset for many holidays over the years and using the Morrisons as a stop off point for trips further along the South Coast too. We needed fuel – both for us and for Willow so we called in to get food, ate in the van, then filled up with petrol before the second leg of the journey.

We arrived at the campsite and were warmly greeted by the owner who took us on foot to the couple of choices of site for the van – one was in the garden, next to a fab oversized swing off one of the apple trees, the other at the foot of their land next to a little babbling stream, both gorgeous. Unfortunately 20 minutes of terrifying backwards and forwards, scraping of underside of the van on the muddy uneven ground and sides of the van on branches, fence posts and trees and revving to the point of smoke starting to emerge we had to conclude both also totally inappropriate for us and Willow. With regret we had to say goodbye to the owner and drive off, hoping we would be able to find somewhere else before Willow protested any further and conked out.

We drove further down scary up and down hill, narrow road bends before stopping in a layby to regroup. Star felt sick again, Ady and I both needed a cup of tea (at the very least!) and we needed to rather rapidly find somewhere to stay the night, it now being nearly 4pm. A peruse of the C&CC book, several hasty phonecalls, a visit to the portapotty and a kettle boil later we had a destination for the night sorted, a caffine hit satiated and a child making the rest of the journey in the loo! Star has veered between fine and cheery, and wobbly and a bit vomitty. I think tomorrow we’ll get some more travel sick tablets.

The campsite we’re at tonight is pricey, empty and not very us at all with it’s manicured pitches and holiday club onsite (closed this time of year) but for one night it has been perfect. The kids got to play in the little playground, we’re plugged in to hook up and have water just outside the door, we’ve had lovely warm showers, I’ve sat for 90 minutes in the laundry room and processed all of our washing while reading a book on the kindle (already our most loved campervan item I think).

We have a nearby campsite booked for the rest of the week. It’s a working cattle farm and has an on site shop selling their own meat and eggs. It is not too expensive, has hook up and nice sounding showers and is close enough to the local village for us to walk in each day. I’ll retain judgement further until we’re there of course…

I think today the enormity of our adventure has rather hit us all. Both Dragon and Star are missing ‘home’ although when I asked them tonight how they would feel if I said we were going home tomorrow they both looked horrified at the prospect and said ‘sad’ and ‘disappointed’. We are already learning loads – nappy sacks have made it onto our must have list of items for their perfect sick bag properties, we will always carry water, we are filling glasses only half full as it is less to spill if knocked over (remember our sofas are also our bed!), distraction techniques work wonders for homesickness, travelsickness and being super organised about where stuff is stashed and thinking about the next time you are likely to need stuff and how accessible it will be then is a really useful exercise.

Oh and our tenants? Apparently they are *definitely* going in tomorrow. I’ll update then.


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It’s a great day to start an adventure

So we survived our first night in the van 🙂

It was cosy, warm, comfortable and already feels like home :). I stirred a couple of times in the night – once for another visit to the portapotty (curse that tea!) and at least once just to revel in the fact I was asleep in my campervan :).

Dragon and Star slept well up in their bunk and we all properly stirred just before 8am and it just felt lovely to open the van curtains and see the world outside while still being snuggled inside my sleeping bag.

We’ve already shed a few things – the spare blankets and sleeping bags have gone back into my car which we have with us until the weekend when it will go into storage complete with anything stashed inside it. We’re getting used to the idea of living in different  spaces – the kids bunk is effectively a storage space during the day and the cab becomes the storage space during the evening / night time.

After a lovely day with family we headed just a mile or two along the road to stay with friends. Dragon and Star’s very close friends (and ours too) who live a similar sort of lifestyle to the one we hanker after ; growing their own food and being very much part of the local community. Dragon and Star instantly headed off with their boys and infact are sleeping in the house with them tonight while Ady and I have the van to ourselves. C & B came in the van with us and toasted adventuring with wine and crisps around the little table inside Willow.

Tomorrow we get a taste of WWOOFing joining in with our friends’ Volunteer work day where local people come along and join in with growing in exchange for a share of the eventual produce.

Today the sun has shone, we have been outside in T shirts, shared food and stories with friends and family and particularly for Ady the first steps towards being free with no schedule, no time keeping and no pressure have begun. As first day of the rest of your lives go it’s been a pretty good one.


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Swoosh rattle

Did you hear that? It’s the sound of February hurtling past us.

Today was something of a Day of Days in that we finally were reunited with Willow. Not for long, but it was tender and emotional just the same. We collected her from DMM, paid the very reasonable (I suspect he knocked at least £50 quid off in a combined ‘sorry I was shit about getting it done / sorry you are mental enough to think that will get you past Hampshire, let alone all around the country’ discount) amount he asked for in return for a new battery and a key operated switch so we can jump start it. He had left the passenger window open though so that seat is sodden (maybe there was a bit of ‘sorry you’ll get a wet arse’ discount in there too.). Ady drove it along to HBM and the kids and I followed behind

I’ve never really looked at the back of the van and certainly never driven behind it so it was pretty exciting watching her go. The kids and I were in very high spirits and Ady said he’d really enjoyed driving her, both from a ‘hurrah we’ll be off soon’ point of view and I suspect because she actually started and went and felt reliable. Even in very heavy rain.

HBM *promised* to have her bodged sufficiently to get an MOT and back to us by next Wednesday which gives us a whole week to pack her up, give her a good clean inside and out and spend time stroking her and being glad she is back.

In other news we have a van hired to move furniture booked for the week after next, much of the house is boxed up and we have plans to get more done over the weekend and I really enjoyed taking a phonecall from Sky TV this afternoon asking why we have cancelled our subscription and replying that we won’t have a TV so we really won’t be needing Sky. This week’s top well wishers and ‘I wish I could do something like that’ are our dentist, the bloke at Sky TV customer services and a little old lady at the library who invited me to come along to their pensioners reading group as a guest to one of their meetings and when I told her why I couldn’t agreed our adventure did sound rather more fun that debating The Grapes of Wrath!

We’re all really enjoying watching One Man & His Campervan which I know has had some rough reviews but simply couldn’t be more timely for us. A bloke *loving* campervan living and foraging or buying local to feed himself using basic cooking facilities and seeing fab places around the UK.

Two weeks to go

Two weeks from now we will have left our house. Three weeks from now we hope to be somewhere in Dorset or Devon, enjoying the early onset of Spring and sleeping in our van. Four weeks from now we’ll be sleeping in a tent at our first host.

Today was another ‘last’ at work for me, my last Wednesday shift. I have two shifts left at work. I told a couple of the regular customers today – both retired women well into their senior years and got resounding positive responses from both. I do sometimes wonder if the older generation look at my age group and wonder just where all our adventurous spirit has gone, hopefully we’re reassuring them it’s still there if a bit hidden under worrying about pension plans and plasma TVs.

A neighbour also came knocking on the door for a nosey chat too and was also very encouraging and supportive, telling me that her and her husband have a series of virtual boxes that they like to think they will tick all of before they die and aim to tick at least three or four per year. Ady and I both chatted to a very dear friend on the phone tonight too (waves at Rob) who was also full of the sort of positive encouragement it’s nice to hear.

But let’s have some ‘firsts’ shall we? Today I had my first real life conversation with one of our hosts. The place we will be staying at second. The host rang to confirm and to just tighten up plans, introduce herself with a real voice and say she is looking forward to meeting us all. There will be another family (with four kids) staying there the same time as us and she has loads planned to keep us all busy and give us a real flavour of what the lifestyle involves. It felt really exciting and very real to be actually talking to someone. We have had another couple of yes replies from hosts in Zone 3 and are now as booked up as we need to be, which is a great feeling.

Willow will be very briefly in our hands again tomorrow too as we are picking her up from Doom Monger Mechanic who is thankfully charging us a very reasonable rate indeed for the battery and some leads to make jump starting easier (the battery is in a *very* inaccesssible place, only really get-able to from inside the van, he’s fitting some leads with a key operated switch meaning we can jump start the van from the outside if the need should arise. We have a really good charge-holding power pack with jump leads which should mean we have a first line of defence against unreliable older engines, with decent breakdown cover being our second line of defence. I’m not thinking too hard about a third – I suspect it will resort to chocolate, alcohol, sobbing and quite probably ringing my Dad to come and bring us all home again because we’ve had enough! Let’s hope we never reach the third line of defense… So we’ll be collecting her, finally, and then taking her straight to Happy Bodger Mechanic who assured me on the phone today he could pug the manifold and get it through an MOT *and* have it back to me for next Wednesday. It’s tight, it’ll cost money and it will mean we have just one week with Willow to get her packed up and ready to go but it’s doable. A big characteristic of this whole adventure is the fairly small margin for error. We’re on a tight budget, travelling in a van which is well into advanced years while we are not far behind ourselves but hope, optimism, sheer bloody mindedness, a huge support network of friends wishing us well is enough to propel us at least halfway round the country and I reckon the van is up to the other half at least.

Further wibbling

Yesterday we had a reply from one of the potential zone three hosts we’d contacted which was cloaked as a sort of ‘we have these concerns, can you let us know what you think’ type response but I suspect was actually an excuse to rant a bit at us. Maybe they’d had a bad experience in the past with WWOOFers. Their concerns were quite how we’d earn our keep with two children in tow and how much of a liability the children would be. This is of course something we have considered and talked about between the four of us. We know of one other family who have done UK WWOOFing with children before and another family about to set off. Within the listing of hosts there is a tick box to say whether or not you welcome children by arrangement.

One of the chief reasons we have got the campervan is because we know putting up a family of four is a big ask, in places where they are able to host us in the house that is great but often we will be sleeping in the van so all we really need is access to a bathroom, water and electric if possible (minimal use required, just charging phone / laptop / batteries) and food. The children will of course need supervising but that will be done by us, we appreciate it may limit the tasks Ady and I are able to complete if we need to have a child alongside us but they are not toddlers, or unused to that environment.

I did respond to the email and have since had a reply back to say they can’t host us, which is probably just as well as I think we’d all been put off them anyway but it was such a contrast to the usual replies we’ve had from potential hosts. Reading around the WWOOF forum I have seen talk of hosts who do not adhere to the ethos of WWOOF and are out to get cheap labour for commercial operations. I had thought we would avoid any such places by virtue of not looking an attractive option but I suspect this was one such place where we simply wouldn’t be able to work enough hours per day to pay for the couple of quid it would take to feed us. I know you can feed four people easily for a tenner a day which is pretty cheap for the work of two adults…

Fortunately I did get two, possibly three yes replies from Zone three (the possible yes is that they can’t do the dates we were asking about but may be able to do others so I have emailed them some po. ssible other dates). Plus I am less worried about filling that final zone right now as we are still 6 months plus away from it so know a lot can change between now and then and any booked hosts will be provisional really. We are renewing our WWOOF membership and getting a paper copy of the directory too so will have phone numbers of hosts we can ring along the way to make arrangements as we go.

The second wibble is regarding Willow. I chased the mechanic today and he has had an initial look at her and gave me a long long list of things wrong with her. We talked it back down to a way shorter list needing to be done to get the MOT done (which actually doesn’t run out til May anyway but we wanted to have it done before we go so we don’t need to think about it during the year). He agreed that things like a minor oil leak can probably be dealt with by carrying oil and checking it regularly. There is clearly a balance between ensuring it is roadworthy, safe and reliable enough to get us round and chucking all our available funds at it. I think we’ll go for bare minimum, good breakdown cover and learning as we go, hopefully from some hosts who will be mechanically minded anyway.

Ady will fret about this, poor Dragon had a nightmare last night that we’d gone to the host I mentioned earlier and they’d been really mean to us making us sleep on beds made of mud and eat cat fur ridden meals. Fortunately between the four of us we pretty much strike a balance of the crazy risk taker with a live for today attitude and an airy ‘everything’ll be okay’ view of the future, a sunny natured ‘isn’t life BRILLIANT?!’ optimist, an awake at night fretting over things which probably will never even happen worrier and a cautious, ‘it’s all in the details’ thinker. I think between the four of us we manage to laugh in the face of adversity while still having a healthy respect for the chance of the whole thing crashing round our ears!

Off to research breakdown cover…