Wherever we wander, wherever we roam

There are just so many objectives to this year that I could probably have a blog for each one, why we want to achieve them and whether we manage it. As in so many areas of life the chances are that the objectives and reasons change along the way anyway and some of the early ideas get lost in the mists of time.

But certainly a side objective of the adventure was to see more of our beautiful country. I love the UK; I love the climate, the culture, the history. I love the diverse people, towns and cities and countryside. I love the regional accents and local phrases and customs. I adore the fact that within just a few hundred miles the scenery changes, the weather changes, the wildlife changes. There is no one particular county that I consider home really, I have roots in Sussex, in North Wales, in Manchester and friends scattered all over the UK. One of the things we quite liked the idea of was living in various parts of the country and seeing where best fitted us this year with a view to deciding where to eventually settle.

On our days off at each host we have tried to get a taste of the areas we are in. Not by visiting the local expensive tourist attractions but by spending time hanging out, chatting to locals, visiting free places of interest, going on walks, sometimes using public transport. I want Dragon and Star to have a really good understanding of our country, the geography of it and be able to hear a place name and have memories attached to it if we’ve been there – to have eaten a cream tea in Devon, paddled in the Chalice water in Glastonbury, seen the Menai bridge in the shadow of Snowdon, stood on the platform at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch station, know that there is a sign on the M62 declaring it the highest point of a motorway in the UK, stood on coasts on the south, east, west and north of our island and crossed off every single possible bird, animal and sea creature they could have seen in their spotter books. I hope this little taster of travelling, of broadening horizons and opening their eyes to what an amazing planet we live in gives them a thirst for wandering which leads them far and wide across the globe, fires their curiosity about their world and gives them confidence to ask questions, look for answers, find out all there is to know about people and places.

So this weekend we have been off exploring. Yesterday we walked into Bangor (city made famous by that Fiddlers Dram song from 1980!) for a good old forage round the charity shops. Bangor has no shortage of them, the massive retail park all along the main road in has made sure the actual city centre is full of charity shops and mobile phone stores. It was about 4 miles in, which meant with walking around all day and the walk back again we must have done a good 10 miles, accounting for our aching feet by the time we got back at about 730pm. We also had aching arms as we made a few purchases which we had to carry back. I got a pair of bib and braces work overalls from the army surplus shop, Ady got a rain coat from there too. Dragon got a new pad and some pens having used up all the pads we left home with – he has been creating stories about pirates, illustrations mostly with a few words and this rapidly filled the 3 sketch pads he brought with us. Star found a DS game she’d been after for a while second hand in a game shop and we bought some replacement storage boxes for our clothes cupboard as the stacking crates we had been using had proved not robust enough for the pressure of being hauled in and out of the cupboard every day and crammed with clothes.

Today we drove Willow across the bridge to the Isle of Anglesey. Ady and I had been before, several times in years gone by but I wanted to show Dragon and Star some of the sights. We started by going right to the tip to the island to visit the RSPB reserve of South Stack Cliffs. We had a bracing walk along the cliffs in the very sunny and warm but blustery and windy weather, stopped to chat to a very enthusiastic and informative ranger in the Ellis tower who pointed out various birds and talked to us about the habitat, why it was so diverse and unique and how important it was to preserve it. Then we walked down the winding steps and joined many other people hanging over the egde with binoculars trained on the thousands of sea birds on the cliff faces. There were guillemots, shearwaters, choughs and the occassional puffin – the real prize to spot! After a few minutes gazing I found three (identifiable by their orange legs and colourful beaks) and then had a little crowd gathered around as I tried to describe where they were so everyone could train their binoculars and spot them too. Ady spotted them and the kids and I wandered further down the cliff path and found a great spot where the rocks parted to create a natural seat. Both the kids then managed to see puffins with the binoculars too so that was a real highlight.

We then drove back to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch and stood on the train station platform to get the classic photo, before driving to a layby overlooking the Menai Bridge, pulling over to take some photos and make a cup of tea in Willow. Dragon was particularly enchanted with this, even more so when he needed a wee and was able to nip back in the van to use the loo and still have his view of the bridge at the same time! We looked at Snowdon in the background and talked about the height of the summit and discussed how many Star’s tall it is!

We drove over the bridge and back – breathing in as it was very tight for Willow – before driving back over the Britannia bridge again.

So, some landmarks, some natural wonders, some wildlife and some celebrated feats of engineering. A great mix of the stuff that humans do well and the stuff we can take no credit for at all. Dragon and Star will definitely remember this corner of North Wales.

Story so far…

 We’ve done five weeks of WWOOFing, nearly seven weeks away from the house and totted up over 400 miles so far so we’ve been chatting about how we’re finding it. I think we’ve all hit a wall here and there, had moments of loving it and moments of wanting to click our fingers and make it stop. We’ve all learnt loads and made an excellent start to achieving some of our list of aims and objectives for the adventure.

We have had a pretty diverse mix of host in just the first three – slept in a tent, in Willow and in a cottage. We’ve had time living communally, time left to our own devices and times spent mixing the two. Work has been varied, expectations have been different and we have met the biggest mix of people from the most amazing variety of backgrounds and cultures.

Unexpected advantages have been Ady and I enjoying working together so much, I miss the kids being off doing their own thing so much but I don’t remember the last time Ady and I had so much child-free time together, even if we are technically working. Not having as much time with the children as usual for me has been tough, in our previous life we were together most days, all day, often doing our own thing around the house or garden it’s true but always with time cuddled up together watching half an hour of TV, reading a book, chatting about something or finding out answers to their questions together. I’ve missed that and they tell me they have too, I’m keen to find time to make sure that has been a temporary blip rather than a long term casualty of the year. We are definitely on the way to a fitter and healthier lifestyle – again this past two weeks have been a slight blip but even so we are eating and drinking far less and spending far more time outside, being active. I think regular swims and walks more than made up for the less physical work anyway.

We’ve learnt lots about nature – we’ve seen buzzards, sparrowhawks, otter, deer and various other wildlife, spent time with dogs, pigs, chickens, sheep, ponies, goats as farm animals and learnt about feeding and keeping them. We’ve sampled local delights including eggs and sausages from places we’ve stayed, local wine, cider, beer, cheese, ice cream, butter and so on. We’ve experienced an extreme off grid lifestyle, done tent dwelling in heavy frosts, lived in the van without hook up, seen some beautiful sights, some stunning scenery and above all met some amazing, inspirational and interesting people.

It’s been a fabulous start to our adventure, everything we hoped for and more really. We’re starting to anticipate what might be potential issues and discuss how we will deal with them as and when they might arise, getting a real flavour of what our year might bring at the same time learning that unexpected twists and turns to our careful planning are around every corner, along with new opportunities and unforeseen offers. We need to be flexible, subject to change and ready to roll with whatever comes along. These are great lessons to learn, a fab code for living and teaching all four of us so much about ourselves, each other and all the other people we meet.

I was expecting to only stay on farms, I was expecting to stick to our planned hosts rather than get invited to stay with people we only just met. I thought living in Willow would have been harder than it is. I’m not missing electricity as much as I thought I would, not missing a real bed, I probably sleep better in Willow than my bed at home. I’m having lots of fun, I feel healthier and think I sleep better. Before we left I thought I’d miss our house so much but I don’t miss it at all. I am missing friends who live near us – Toby, Archie, Eliot, Jack, Maisie & Lorna and Granny & Grandad. I am missing friends who are far away but can’t wait to see them while we’re travelling. I love the fact that before we go to each host I am never sure what they will be like or what that part of the country will be like and so every time it is new and exciting, not like at home when all our days out were to places we had been before.

I was expecting us to have to work or we wouldn’t get fed and there to be lots of rules and do as we were told even if we didn’t know how to but it hasn’t been like that at all. I really miss the chickens, ducks and our house but I am loving the freedom to run around, play in woods, going for adventures with dogs, goats. I like living in Willow because I like the fact everything is all here like our beds and the sofa. I like spending more time with Mummy and Daddy.

So far I am finding the adventure far easier than I thought I would. Living in the van, travelling in the van and the work were all things I was worrying about but so far they have all gone really smoothly and far easier than I expected. The variety of people we are meeting, the generosity of people we meet is overwhelming and I never realised people could be so kind. I struggle with moving on from place to place, I get really at home and find it hard to say goodbye and move on. I like the work, being physical and outdoors.

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.