Light at the end of the lockdown tunnel

So that was summer then, April and May. Endless days of waking up to a view of blue sky and sunshine streaming in through the skylight, no need to don woolley socks and a fleece before venturing out into the awning, hours of reading sitting in a deckchair in the sunny corner of Assistant No;2 compound. June arrived and the nice weather went, almost to the day. We shouldn’t complain its what is to be expected (good old British weather) and we have had an unusually good run of very decent weather, almost to the point where some were wishing for a break from the sunshine and heat- I say almost, but not quite.

We have still managed a few days out between grey skies and showers, and the easing of Lockdown meant we could begin to explore our new surroundings further afield other than the once a fortnight trip driving directly to the food shops and back. We used to catch a glimpse of the sea at Port Solent during these excursions but with a feeling that we ought not to stop and turn it into a sightseeing trip aswell, so a visit to see the sea proper was first on the agenda. I love looking at maps so the green light of Lockdown easing saw me consulting the local area maps to see where we could go. As shops, cafes, attractions were still out of bounds it had to be a scenery day out and I settled on the Chichester Harbour area. Our first stop was Bosham (pronounced Bozzum so im told) a picturesque coastal village situated on one of the small inlets 2 miles west of Chichester. It is a thriving centre for sailing and a favourite haunt for both artists and photographers, and I could immediately see why. On driving into the village it was obvious it was a “well to do” kind of place, thatched cottages with roses around every door, artisan shops, art galleries and tea shops unfortunately closed but available for window shopping as we peered through hoping to see what awaited us should we make another visit later in the year. The short main street lead down to the sea and after stopping at the ice cream shop – yesssss it was open! – we carried on wandering down to admire the view. And how beautiful it was, peaceful, serene and still as a mill pond. The tide was just turning on its way out and puddles of sea water were evident on the road where the water comes right up to the walls of the buildings situated on the front at high tide. There are signs up advising to check the tide times if you leave your vehicle parked there -so be warned! We strolled along the shoreline and around the corner to the small Quay area where sailboats bobbed about and a quaint village green area in front of the church was adorned by people, picnics and blankets, it was just like a chocolate box scene. The Bayeux Tapestry depicts King Harold (of 1066 fame) praying at this Church. The whole persona of the place oozed charm and style, Bosham is a place we will definatley return to at the very earliest opportunity, and not just for the ice cream which was very delicious by the way.

Bosham shore road
Bosham Quay

After reluctantly leaving Bosham we carried on our journey around to the next inlet. We were hoping to go to the beaches at Wittering but signs were out saying visitors needed to book a carpark space prior to arrival and the amount of traffic on the roads leading there convinced us to give it a miss. Instead we stopped off at Dell Quay an attractive little coastal hamlet which in the 10th century was a principle landing port for goods being transported on by road to Chichester. Sail boats were pulled up on the shore as the tide was now receding, we strolled along the shoreline pathway for a while and looked longingly at the pub situated on the slipway wishing it was open for us to partake in a long cool drink of something – cider most likely. Not to be this time around though, another thing to look forward to on our next visit.

Dell Quay

The next phase of lockdown easing was now looming, 4th July was “Campsite Independence Day” and so we were unfurloughed on the 22nd June in order to prepare for the grand re-opening. I kid you not it was a bit of a shock to have to watch the clock again and get back into a structured daily routine. Weeding, strimming, hedging, grass cutting all had to be done with earnest as it hadn’t been able to be touched during furlough, plus all the additional Covid measures that had to be put in place. Signage, social distancing markers, areas to be cordoned off and just keeping up to date with the latest Government and Club guidelines was taking up most of our working day.

Saturday 4th July seemed to have the whole caravanning/camping fraternity in a frenzy of excitement, beside themselves with sheer joy I could see on social media it was surpassing the anticipation of even Christmas Day. We were as ready as we could be and were full to capacity for the first night. We had preallocated everyone a pitch number and phoned them to take payment beforehand so on arrival all we had to do was meet and greet with a big smile and herd them all through onto site. The day went smoothly and the system worked very well, members were over the moon to be back out using their leisure vehicles again and the atmosphere on site was like one big party, unfortunately the weather was wet and windy but it still didn’t appear to dull their enthusiasm. Members embraced the Covid restrictions in place and praised the efforts of all in enabling them to once again escape in their home from homes. We collapsed into our beds that night happy and content we had played our parts in helping them to once again pursue their dreams. Every day since has been ridiculously busy, the whole UK seems to have embraced the caravanning concept with many new comers to the scene keen to get out there and start making their own memories. Business is booming!

Catch up with us next time as we hit the “silly season” full on and continue our lifestyle change journey.

Lost in Lockdown

We have just completed another month in lockdown (69 days to be precise and counting) and it has been, well, uneventful really. Sunshine has been endless, day after day of clear blue skies, occasional fluffy white clouds and light breezes, it certainly has convinced us that the South has better weather than we are used to hailing from half way up the Country in the North Midlands. Living our life 90% outside that makes being on the South coast a definite bonus. Considering there has been three Bank Holidays since the lockdown started its been hot hot hot here, a most unusual occurrence in British weather history. Steve is chasing the shade between the awning and the kitchen/bathroom pods, and I’m bobbing between one chair in the sun and one chair in the shade when it gets too hot even for me. Can’t even begin to imagine how different lockdown life would have been for us so far if the weather had been typically British, and we had been confined to the caravan and awning listening to wind and rain on the roof. Not half as pleasant is all I can say.

Empty pitches ready and waiting for members return

As we look around us surrounded by all the empty pitches, reading on social media how fellow caravaners, motorhomes and campers are missing out on being able to use their outfits, we are aware of how lucky we are compared to those who haven’t been able to enjoy the freedom of being away in their treasured home from home yet this year. The site should have been full to bursting this week with us run off our feet ensuring every blade of grass was in its rightful place and with a cheery smile and wave being dished out to all. Instead we have a very quiet back garden, we can hear every bird’s song, every fox’s bark and owl’s hoot – of which there are many. It is so quiet we even heard a nightjar calling which was a first for me. There is a lot of wildlife on the site that wouldn’t normally be so brave at showing themselves if there were people around. A family of deer are enjoying living in the copse right in the centre of the site, rabbits and hares are basking in the late evening sunshine nibbling the daises and buttercups on the play field, moles have claimed the tent area showing their presence by the many mounds of earth hills that appear overnight, pheasants stalk about the ferry pitch area and strut their stuff along the service roads. There are three species of woodpecker hammering in the trees overhead, Lesser Spotted, Great Spotted and Green. Blue tits, Great Tits, Finches of all descriptions, Thrush, Wren, Jay, Robin to name but a few that visit the bird feeders and of course Rooks that give the site its name sit on the fences keeping watch over their namesake. The glorious sight of Red Kite and Buzzards soaring overhead waiting to swoop down to catch their prey always makes you stop to look up and watch, mind you with Belle now living on their patch the rodent population is seriously scarce so they might be going hungry.

I have always had a fondness of wild flowers, seeking them out and learning their names from an early age whilst exploring during caravanning weekends in Devils Bridge Wales. When your parents caravan only had electric in the later years, never had any tv signal, mobile phones weren’t invented and books were the only source of information, many evenings were spent looking up the days flower finds, copying and colouring in the drawing and cataloguing where it was found. Oh what a simple pleasure that kept me occupied for hours, now I just take a photo on my mobile and within seconds its filed away on a ‘cloud’.

We are still crafting to while away the time, I’ve had a go at quilling, inspired by Kirstie’s Carry on Crafting program, Steve has moved on from drawing sailing boats to trying his hand at perspective street scenes and outlines of the female form – we shall say no more on that subject, just that I haven’t had to be a life model yet thankfully! He is now learning French and Spanish so our conversations may get a bit limited in the near future if I don’t keep up with him. He does grasp it quickly to be fair so that will stand us in good stead for our adventures in Europe once we are allowed again.

Quilling projects

Following the easing of lockdown to enable us to travel further afield we made the 340 mile round trip journey to home and back in a day. We needed items from home that we originally thought wouldn’t be needed for a while as we planned to be going back home plenty of times to collect them. Summer clothes weren’t initially even on the ‘leaving home list’ as it was February when we left with no glimmer of warmer days on the horizon, so when lockdown arrived along with the sunshine we were totally unprepared clothes wise. A trip to Tesco, being the only shop open to sell clothes alongside food, and being lent items by the other site managers got us through for a few weeks but we longed for our own favourite summer attire. Steve was also desperate for his bike and I wanted my mini sewing machine to have a go at various little projects. It was a flying visit to home to see Mitch and Chloe and the house. It still has a roof on so we are very proud of them for managing that! Neighbours were a bonus to see on the drive (you know who you are!) and a great socially distanced catch up was had. A socially distanced visit was then made to both Dads, then onto Jess, Simon and grandson Harry. Very strange and sad not to be able to hug our family but a necessity to keep everyone safe. We had a good journey back to site with a car packed to the roof of more ‘essential stuff’ and arrived back weary but very glad we had been able to get to see our loved ones even if it was for just a few minutes each and from the end of the driveways.

Days blur from one day to the next and we lose all track of time, day and date. How hard are things going to be to conform once again to a structured day of work life? Very I think. We are having a taste of retired life but we know luckily with the bonus of still being paid – although currently furlough pay- but a full wage is still a necessity for a good few years yet. Some days we quite like being semi retired but other days we really need to get back to a new normality and get on with what we came here to do.

Catch up with us next time as we go into our third month of furlough and semi-lockdown. Hopefully we will have some news about site openings and life resuming in a new normal way.

Lockdown Life

As you know from the last blog the majority of the CAMC sites network were closed on 22nd March, we waved the last member off site on the 23rd but as we were paid up to the 31st we were still duty bound to work our allotted hours until the last day of the month. So even though it was a nailbiting few days and many hours were spent running through various scenarios as we didn’t know quite what was going to happen to us come the 1st April, we carried on with the groundworks, cleaning, painting, office work and generally keeping the site looking its best. It was a strange sight after all the hustle and bustle of the last 9 days to see the pitches empty with no-one to wave and chat to as we went about our daily duties.

Empty pitches

Confirmation came that we were going to be furloughed and we had the option of remaining on site here or going back home for the duration. It was an easy decision to make which was to stay put here, this was now our home and we love it. We felt it wouldn’t have been fair on Mitch and Chloe for us to descend back on them and interrupt their daily routines just as they are beginning their life living together, and we are perfectly happy in our own little space with less housework, less cooking and less washing to do! So at the end of the day on 31st March we hung up our boots and uniform not knowing when they would be worn again. However long lockdown was going to be in place for the Club had already given us a date of the 30th June that the sites network would be closed until, so currently 1st July is our target to reopen. We watch and wait every day for a further update on this.

1st April, April Fools Day, and it wasn’t a joke – we really were sitting here in our caravan looking out at a deserted site and not allowed to touch a blade of grass, sweep a pitch or even answer the office phone. The gates were closed and locked top and bottom of the entrance drive and we were in effect cut off from the outside world, our ‘household’ consisting of the 6 of us, being Steve and I, the 2 other site assistants and the 2 site managers, who had all elected to stay here aswell. It was the first day of a new normal that didn’t feel very normal at all to any of us, this certainly wasn’t how we expected our first year of our new life adventure to be panning out, but we are in the same situation as most people in the UK and worldwide and in fact feel we are a lot better off than a good many. We have a safe haven where we can isolate but still be immersed in the surrounding countryside and appreciate nature and all the therapy it has to offer.

We have been able to explore the immediate surrounding area of the site on foot, which is something that we probably wouldn’t have had the time to do during the normal open season, any time off and we usually head to the coast. Rookesbury Park is situated in the middle of Hundred Acre Wood which is part of the larger Forest of Bere. A gate leads out of the site into the wood which is currently carpeted in bluebells, I have spent many hours strolling through the trees and exploring the pathways in the quest for the perfect bluebell photo. Through the wood a path leads to Wickham village via an approx. 40 minute walk down onto the Meon Valley Trail, a disused railway line. The original 22.5 mile railway was opened in 1903 and then closed to passengers in 1955 and freight in 1968. Its most significant place in the history books came in June 1944 at Duxford Station (just a couple of miles North of us) when Winston Churchill met with his war cabinet, Dwight Eisenhower and Charles de Gaulle in a secluded station siding to finalise plans for the D- Day landings. Tens of thousands of troops were camped in the area and the Leaders went on a morale boosting tour before returning to the Station to reboard the train. The 11 mile section of the railway from West Meon to Wickham was transformed in 2015 into a multi user route for walking, cycling and horses and connects with the South Downs Way. It passes under several bridges, through tunnels of over hanging trees and opens up into sunny open stretches to views of surrounding fields and villages. Butterflies flutter along beside you as you walk, busy bees buzz, all manner of birds attempt to out-sing each other and patches of bluebells, celandines, primroses and wild garlic are glorious in the grass at the sides of the trail. We have walked a few miles both North and South on the trail so far, and am building up to the whole stretch!

Meon Valley Trail

Immediately to the right of our entrance gate off the road is a Forestry Commission area of the Forest of Bere known as West Walk. It has picnic areas, a woodland adventure play area, den building area, off road cycling trails and miles of walking paths through open spaces, heathland, farmland and woodland. It also connects directly with the Meon Valley Trail so we have several accessible options to access the area. We have explored 2 routes of this Forest so far and look forward to finding many more in the coming weeks/months.

Plenty of trails to explore in Forest of Bere

The weather has actually been amazingly good since we stopped working so the non walking days have mostly been spent sitting in the lovely sunshine. Can’t believe how quickly they fly by when really we are doing very little other than reading, watching tv and snoozing. The first week Steve was a bit unsure what to do with himself, he spent the time milling about and frustrated that he couldn’t cut grass, which had become his favourite job on site – nothing to do with the power of being in charge of the ride on tractor of course! I have hardly ever had time just to please myself without having to sacrifice something I really ought to be doing, so this was quite a revelation for me and I am enjoying every minute! Thankfully I had brought some of my crafting kit back with me from the 2 days we went home just before the lockdown came into force so I am in my element having now got the time to devote to this. Had I known lockdown was coming I would have loaded up with alot more bits and bobs from home as now I’m frustrated that i’ve got all the kit I need for more projects but its 200 miles away and I just can’t get to it! Thank goodness for Amazon and Ebay, they are delivering practically on a daily basis to the site as we all turn our hands to new crafts, ideas and projects to keep us occupied. Steve has now settled down into daily furloughed life and is spending his time running, reading and learning to draw. Ships are the current subject matter and I must say he is doing very well, I have commissioned one that can be framed so the pressure is on to get it just right! I have been making cards from handmade paper which is what I used to do for my @gallery12 previous life, the subject matter of those has changed to caravans with the hope I might sell them in the site shop at some point. Also I have had a go at felting which is something that has been on my ‘stuff to try’ list for a while, and am quite happy with the progress on that craft so far. I have made flowers with needle felting and a little bag, and a seascape and landscape that I will embroider on at some point when further supplies arrive from Ebay! I also had a bash at crochet but have to report at this current moment its not something I have mastered, I can do the stitches ok but just cant get my fingers coordinated to hold the wool correctly, and it actually must be quite painful for a practised crochet-er to watch me! Still there’s plenty more time to get to grips with that one – hopefully practise makes perfect or at least an average attempt.

Papercraft cards
Felting makes so far

Belle has settled into caravan life easily and enjoys coming and going as she pleases in and out of the awning. Even when we batten the groundsheets down thinking we have her contained she manages to find a way out of the smallest spots to escape and go on her explorations. She happily follows Steve around the site and even up the driveway to the top gate and back just like a dog would travelling for miles on her little legs. Sadly the rodent population of Rookesbury will be very depleted whilst Belle is on site, she is an ace mouser and loves to bring her catch back to show us. Most are still alive and are carried in her mouth back to the awning unharmed so we are able to confine Belle and release the poor little creatures back into the undergrowth, hopefully they do survive and their little hearts don’t give in due to the fright! This is a daily occurrence usually just as we are sitting down at teatime, so everything turns into chaos as we chase Belle, chase the mouse/vole and return it to freedom to live another day, and stay out of Belles way in the future.

Belle keeping an eye on her territory

After a month of blue skies and warm sunny weather it has now turned showery, windy and much cooler so we are spending our time in the awning rather than outside, and occasionally in very windy wet weather retreating inside the caravan. Thankfully we have a great space in the awning and its set up to be a very comfy and roomy lounge and eating area. It has led us to think that you don’t actually need a lot of space to live comfortably and wonder why the majority of the population (us previously included) crave bigger properties, more rooms, vast areas of floor space, bedrooms that are never used except to store an excess of shoes and clothes, and one for “just in case anyone comes to stay” -which they never do. It has certainly changed our outlook on life as we can now see that living simpler with less clutter, less possessions and the stresses that come with it is the way forward, and at this moment can’t actually see ourselves wanting to live in a conventional house again. Oh dear, as I write this we can’t actually hear ourselves think for the sound of hail on the roof and thunder in the distance! Not to worry, the blue sky will be back again in a minute and serenity will return, we’ll be able to hear the birds singing, see the leafy trees gently swaying and the sun will bathe our little piece of heaven again right here.

Catch up with us next time as we go into our second month of lockdown and furlough.

Bluebells in Hundred Acre Wood

Settling In

After 13 months of planning the day had finally arrived for us to leave home and life as we knew it to embark on a new chapter in our lives. As we were now leaving on Friday instead of Saturday it was us that waved off Mitch and Chloe to work then set about leaving the house ourselves. It turned out it was actually the best way as it would have been even more teary if we had pulled off the drive whilst they were still standing on the doorstep. As it was it was just Belle the cat that we had to say our goodbyes too (for now) and that was hard enough. It was still surreal as we glanced behind us, with no caravan on the drive we remarked how lovely the house looked and how big the drive actually was without a caravan and 4 cars! Deep breaths as we pulled slowly out of the Close and we were on our way. The traffic flowed and we were soon leaving The Midlands behind and heading South. On the way we received emotional texts from no;1 daughter and no;1 son (we only have one of each so they are both no;1’s!) and at one time could hardly see the road ahead for the tears running down our cheeks, and then as we neared our destination we really couldn’t see the road ahead due to the torrential rain that was hammering down!

A 4 hour journey of motorway all the way, a flask emptied of coffee, snacks, sweets, hot cross buns devoured and we were approaching the gates of our new 8 month home. Our new boss, the Site Manager, was waiting for us to open the gates as the Site was not yet open and we made our way down the mile long driveway into Hundred Acre Wood. Driving down the winding road we rounded a bend and as a clearing appeared the vista of Rookesbury Park opened up before us. We had a very warm welcome from our new colleagues, the kettle went on and we were helped to position Ruby in our Assistants area, every one pitching in to ensure we were in the perfect spot. It was beginning to get very windy and had started to rain again, so after unloading the items that had been packed into the caravan for travelling we called it a day and decided not to erect the awning until the gusts had subsided. The kettle was put on again and we started getting to know our new “work family”

Perfect pitch

We had a week of settling in and socialising before we had to officially start work, which gave us plenty of time to erect the awning and turn it into a comfy lounge and get our kitchen and bathroom pods kitted out. We had time for days out exploring the nearby coastline, surrounding towns and villages and had to keep pinching ourselves that we could just pop to the seaside and walk on the beach within a few minutes if it took our fancy. We had after all lived in The Midlands all our lives and from its very name you couldn’t get further from the sea if you tried! We strolled along the pebble beaches at Hayling Island, enjoyed morning coffees and pub lunches in the Inn on the Beach, walked the long coast footpath at Southsea and Lee on Solent, explored the ramparts of the Garrison to Old Portsmouth and Gun Wharf Quay, and visited our nearest village Wickham with its charming 13th century square surrounded by independent artisan outlets and abundance of antique/ bric a brac/collectable shops. I picked up a traditional old teddy bear and gave him a hug, intending to put him back once he’d had a cuddle, Steve said that he’d be expecting to come home with us now and I couldn’t just put him back on the shelf so we’d have to buy him. So we did and Rookie is now settling in nicely with us.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside Hayling Island
Gun Wharf Quay Old Portsmouth

Our ‘holiday’ week flew by and before we knew it we were pulling on our newly polished boots and donning our crispy clean uniform ready to face our first day in the new job. The days have been spent getting to know the layout of the site, cutting grass where it was dry enough, opening up and cleaning the toilet blocks, washing down light bollards, testing the electric hook up points, sweeping and collecting mounds of leaves, testing water temperatures and erecting the signage around the site. All this physical work and hours of fresh air every day meant we were barely able to keep our eyes open much after eating our tea and begging for our beds by 9 o’clock every night. Here we then discovered that the fixed bed in the caravan is not really condusive to both of us getting a good nights sleep. Being used to a king sized bed at home for the last 30 years it has not been easy sleeping in such close confines and we have both found it very difficult to adjust, at a time when sleep is the one thing we look forward to most! After 2 weeks of elbows and knees digging into each other in the wee small hours, Steve has now “moved out” and every night makes up the double bed on the front lounge seats of the caravan. Not the most romantic of starts to our new life being together but needs must and currently sleep is a big need.

As well as the general maintenance and day to day site jobs to do we each have had a little project of our own to get stuck into. Mine was to create the 2020 seasons information room, used by the members to find out about the local area, places of interest to visit and how to make their time with us a great experience. For those that know me well you already know that I was in my element with this one. I have been a wannabe travel agent for most of my life so was really excited to have the chance to help and advise others of places of interest to visit. I repainted the walls, rearranged and sourced new leaflets, put up posters, updated the walking and cycling routes folder, the local pubs menu folder, rearranged the book shelving and printed off anything I thought might be of interest and useful to members visiting the area. On a day off we visited a Tourist Information Centre in Gosport where they kindly loaded me up with more local info leaflets. I’m just waiting for posters of trees/wildlife/flora/birds to arrive and then going to create a nature quiz for the younger members to spot whilst on site. Its an ongoing project that I’ll be throwing myself into at any opportunity.

Information Room on site

Steve’s project was to bring the pitch and putt course back to life. At the end of last season the flags had been taken in and the grass left to grow whilst the site was closed, so it was great fun (and very time consuming) stamping our way all over the area with big sticks trying to find the original holes. We found 8 but had to concede failure to find the 9th so had to resort to creating our own 9th hole in a place where we thought one should be, and yes you’ve guessed it, as soon as we had we found the original 9th! Steve created “fairways” between the holes and left in between areas “rough”. Old poles were newly painted and striped and a teeing off area roped off. There was a grand opening with our fellow site managers and we all enjoyed a fun game before the members arrived. Hopefully by the end of the season with a lot of practise we might just get round in under 25 – wishful thinking.

Hole in one?

Opening day was soon upon us, the site looked very smart, everywhere swept, tidied, cleaned, strimmed, mowed and ready to welcome the Members. Countdown to 12 o’clock and the gates were opened. And they came – one after another, and another and another. A never ending stream of white pristinely polished caravans and motorhomes like a big snake winding its way down the drive through the forest and into the arrivals lanes. It was full on for a few hours checking them in in the office and outside directing traffic and keeping everything flowing smoothly. After having the site to ourselves for the last couple of weeks it was a new experience having to share it with others, but a very proud moment that it looked so lovely and that so many people were choosing to spend their leisure time at our site.

A Warm Welcome

A busy week of comings and goings on site in which we had a couple of days off and went back home to fetch Belle to come and live with us. We had decided to leave her at home for a couple of weeks so we could get all the upheaval sorted in the caravan and awning ready for her to settle in. It was a whistle stop visit for a couple of nights, and boy it was good to be in a big bed, then back to Rookesbury ready for the next Friday rush. The Coronavirus had just started to impact and members were ringing to cancel their bookings both for that weekend and future bookings they had. We didn’t really know at that point how the virus was going to affect the camping and caravanning business but were receiving emails almost hourly from the Club implementing new safety and cleaning procedures for all to follow. On the morning of Sunday 22nd March the email came that all Club sites were to be closed with immediate effect. We were more than half full with members still on site so had the unenviable job of knocking on their doors to inform them all they were being asked to pack up and leave. They were all very understanding and had expected something to be imminently announced, many were concerned not for themselves but for us and how we were going to be affected. It was with tears in our eyes we waved the last one off site on Monday morning.

Time to reflect on our 9 days of being open. We loved every minute. We have never worked so hard, never been more physically tired, never had such a steep learning curve, and never walked, talked and smiled as much as we did. We might have only had 9 official opening days but they were the most enjoyable and satisfying days we have had for a very good while. We are staying on site whilst its closed and look forward to the day we are able to welcome visitors back to our beautiful home.

Catch up with us next time as we have the site all to ourselves and find things to keep us occupied.

Countdown

Having only being back home for 4 days following CAMC training at Lingfield we were due at Moreton in Marsh CAMC for machine training on the 13th February. After much deliberation about taking the caravan for a few days away we reluctantly decided to just drive to Moreton in Marsh for the day. We were on the road at 6am and promptly came to a standstill on the M6, lost half an hour in multiple traffic jams but thankfully still made it in plenty of time for the start. We got booted and suited in our PPE and knuckled down for a day of classroom learning, hands on machinery handling and tractor driving.

The weather was a mixture of sunshine and showers but was continually freezing cold throughout. My feet although clad in thick tights and thermal socks were numb for most of the time, probably due to standing about alot rather than being on the go. The morning whizzed by learning about strimmers, hedge cutters, leaf blowers and fuel ratios,- fuel ratios? still a mystery to me. The afternoon was about the ride on grass cutter, pedestrian mower and bin run tractor and trailer. Although we couldn’t actually cut any grass due to the mud and potential damage to the pitches we learned it all in theory and had a go at driving the tractors on a quiet part of the sites roadways. The day ended with a 25 question test to check if we had actually been listening and had learnt anything, thankfully it proved that we had. It has certainly been a back to school couple of weeks, proving every day is a school day and you are never too old to learn a new skill.

An early start in traffic jams but they can’t be blamed on caravans just yet!
All geared up ready for training

Back home we have been taking it easy, days have mostly been spent in front of the tv and just enjoying the fact we are at home without having to rush about and fit in jobs on an odd day off. Thankfully the weather has given us a good excuse to do just that. We took the saying “there’s always tomorrow” very literally! Piles are appearing all over the house as we are gathering things together ready to pack into the car and caravan, and a pile for Steve’s Dad who is coming down to us with a loaded car the following day. The Ikea chairs for the awning have been gingerly manovered into the ‘van, thankfully without having to dismantle them, the tv and a few other bits having found safe travelling spaces tucked away. We have done a couple of trial runs packing the car to see how much we can get in and where, but the caravan cover still hadn’t come off at this point due to the ridiculous amount of rain and wind from storms Ciara and Dennis hitting the Country.

The car went in for MOT and service as it was due the first week we would be on site, we spent the day strolling around Wolverhampton reminiscing about all the places we used to frequent and amazed how a lot of the buildings have disappeared and the shops that are now closed. We did manage to fit in a couple of visits to Weatherspoons, firstly for breakfast and as we were still waiting for the car to be ready again later in the afternoon for coffee and cake, although they had run out of cake which was very disappointing, as that was my sole reason for going back for coffee!

A breakfast treat

A family “see you soon” get together at the weekend was a fabulous opportunity for us to say our thankyous to them for being so supportive of us in our decision to embark on our greatest adventure. We had a lovely day entertaining 16 of our close family with an age range of 98 down to 5, it was so wonderful to be with them all and talk over our hopes and dreams for the future, aswell as reassuring them that we aren’t emigrating to the moon and we will be back!

Into our final week and we still can’t get our heads around that we are leaving home as we know it and will be making a new temporary home in Ruby 175 miles away in the middle of a forest. I wonder at what point it will? Finally the caravan cover has come off and we really need to get going on packing everything in. Lists have been written and rewritten several times as to what item is going where, and sleepless nights are the norm as I mentally pack and tick off every item we might possibly need from home. Steve keeps reminding me that they do have shops in Portsmouth! but we’ll have enough to think about once down there so if we can pre-empt the possible need, aswell as not wanting to have to buy something we already have back at home, then we can just get on with setting up home, living, working and enjoying the new lifestyle.

As days now turn into hours our tummies are also turning over with a few jitters. We wouldn’t be human if there wasn’t some apprehension I suppose, are we able to do the job? can we live and work together 24/7? will we earn enough money to survive? We have always had a glass half full attitude to everything we do so am optimistic that the grass will definitely be greener and the sun will always shine – well realistically maybe not the latter but it wont be for the want of wishing!

A sudden change of plan was needed at the last minute due to the forecast of another storm arriving at the weekend, we are now leaving home on Friday instead of Saturday to hopefully miss the worst of the wind gusts. It is still going to be torrential rain by all accounts but rain is the lesser of the two evils when towing. After sitting about chilled out for the best part of the last two weeks time is suddenly racing by at top speed and with a day less to fit it all in. Thursday has arrived and we were up early ready to dodge the impending rain/snow/sleet and gales whilst packing. The piles from all over the house have now all been found space in either the car, caravan or Steve’s Dad’s car. Surprisingly it all seems to have gone in without too much pushing and shoving and there may even be a square inch spare to fit in a last minute addition if I suddenly wake in the middle of the night and think of something I can’t live without! Mitch and Chloe have had their final run down on “how to keep a house” and we are optimistic it will still be standing when we return for our days off visits. Better just give them plenty of notice so the washing up can be done and lounge carpet hoovered.

Hoping it will all fit in

I don’t suppose there will be much sleep happening tonight, just a tummy turning mixture of excitement, apprehension, emotion and still marvel that our greatest adventure is about to begin.

Catch up with us in the next post – We arrive on site, set up home and start to explore the local area.

(Br)Exit, Training and a Hiccup.

Well to most people of the UK 31st January 2020 will always be remembered as the day we left the EU, but to Steve and I it will always be in our memories as the day we left the life as we knew it behind and embarked on our greatest adventure.

Friday 31st January was a very emotional day for both of us, we had both been at our places of work for 14/15 years so not only knew the job inside out and backwards but also the people we worked with. It was a fact that during an average working week we spent more waking time with our work family than we did with each other, so to suddenly be without them was going to be a tremendous tug on our heart strings. Even though we knew this day was coming for many months, as the day itself dawned it was with mixed emotions we set off for work for the last time.

“Goodbye” was something we didn’t particularly want to say so “see you soon” was said to everyone we could get around to speaking to. Good wishes, kind words and envious comments were in abundance, and we were amazed that not one person actually thought we were mad! ( well, that they told us to our faces anyway!) We each had lovely cards, gifts, and many promises to come and visit us, and had a jolly good get together with our work friends which ended with many hugs, tears and not a dry eye in the house. As the following day dawned (with bad heads and red eyes) the realisation that we weren’t going back on Monday hadn’t really had chance to sink in and we still didn’t quite believe that the start of a new chapter had really begun.

We didn’t have long to sit about dwelling on what we had left behind as we were off to Lingfield Racecourse on Sunday 2nd February ready to start our CAMC induction training for a week. We packed our bags and headed off towards the unknown, eager to learn all about what being Wardens entailed. What we did discover on arrival was that we have already had a promotion (along with existing site staff) – in name only though! Our official job titles are now Assistant Site Managers instead of Wardens.

The week whizzed by, hotel, food, colleagues and training were all brilliant. We learnt valuable skills in first aid training, fire safety, customer service, health & safety, manual handling and the IT systems, with talks on HR, Pensions and an inspiring introduction from the Director General Nick Lomas.

There were 27 couples on the training that had been offered sites as first years this season, to be forever known as Class of 2020. It was so amazing to listen to peoples stories of their personal journeys and how and why they came to be there. Some have been living in their caravans and motorhomes for a while, some have left high flying careers in pursuit of a slower pace of life, and some are still working waiting to leave their current jobs at the last minute. There were all walks of life and backgrounds but all with one thing in common -to live a simpler, calmer way of life, with the time to travel, freedom to explore and to be able to pursue their dream together.

The week ended with a Graduation meal and DJ entertainment. We put on our glad rags and dancing shoes and partied the night away feeling like we were back in the 1980’s. A great night was had by all and lifelong friendships were forged which will provide support, encouragement and plenty of laughs on the journey ahead.

Being back home was a bit of a shock after having 3 meals a day put in front of me for a week, not to mention standing on the weighing scales, that was the biggest shock of all. Perhaps they were trying to feed us up knowing we will be working hard and not even having time to eat once we get out onto site!

Not much downtime before we were due off again, to Moreton in Marsh CAMC this time for machine training. We were supposed to be taking the caravan for this one for 4 days but with the strong winds on the tail end of Storm Ciara on our departure day, and Storm Dennis due to arrive on the day we would be travelling back we very reluctantly made the decision to leave Ruby at home and just go in the car for the day instead. Ruby is kept on the drive, nice and cosy clean and dry under a cover when not in use, so it was with much excitement that we pulled off the cover in order to get her ready for the expected journey to Moreton site. We packed the essentials, being crisps, cake, wine and gin, then set about sterilising the water containers and pipework ready for the season. We ( Steve) doesn’t normally have to wash and polish the ‘van as it has a good clean before we put the cover on each time so a quick look out of the front bedroom window to check the roof is still ok is all that is usually needed. However on doing that this time we spotted some strange marks on the top rear corner pieces that hadn’t been there before. On a closer inspection off ladders Steve discovered that there were hairline cracks along the top edges. Hmmm not good. Coincidentally at that moment a neighbour came out and started chatting, and it turns out they had had the same problem and informed us it was a known fault and should have had a recall from Swift to get it put right. After many phone calls it was discovered the dealer we purchased the van from had gone out of business last month and Swift would not deal directy with us. We had to find another dealer to carry out a service and they would carry out the recall work at the same time, there was also a recall to the window seals needed. As time was running out to get this done before leaving home on the 29th Feb we phoned around far and wide but could not get the service and work booked in anywhere for at least 2 months. It appears that the original dealer had not registered servicing the ‘van before we had it so another service had to be done in order for the warranty work to be carried out. It became clear it wasn’t going to happen anytime in the next 2 weeks before we had to leave so we have had to book it all in for November, as once Ruby is sited in the compound at Rookesbury Park she wont be coming out again until we come back home then. In the meantime the cover has gone back on and she will be kept nice and dry whilst Storm Dennis does his worst over the weekend, and until November we will just have to live with waterproof tape covering over the cracks.

Cover is off, but unfortunately now back on!

Catch up with us next time as we do our machine training, pack up our possessions and spend our final few days living in a house…..

Homemaking

” Home is where you make it”

So now we know where and when we will be going to site to commence our first season as Assistant Site Wardens, and we ( or should I say “I” ) have been busy preparing for our new home away from home.

Being on holiday in your caravan/motorhome for usually no more than 2 weeks at a time is a totally different concept to continuously living out of it 24/7 for 8 months or more. A seasons wear and tear on drawers, cupboard doors, upholstery and blinds will be like using your van for 17 two week holidays, or 34 weeks continuous in total, which could be up to 3-4 years worth of use for the average holidaying caravanner. Meaning after a couple of seasons as Assistant Wardens we will have had up to 8 years worth of manufacturers predicted normal use from our Sterling Eccles. In a “normal” life most likely by that time we would have traded it in for a new one well before the 8 years, something we most probably wont be able to do every two years, so looking after it and trying to limit the daily wear and tear as best we can will be a priority. As electric on site will be free we are also intending to run everything off electric rather than use any gas.

Advice we have received is telling us that you need to make your caravan/motorhome environment homely and relaxing, as it will be your only private space during your months on site. The awning will become our lounge, a place to relax and unwind, watch tv, put our feet up or have a snooze after a busy day out working on the site. It needs to be kitted with comfy chairs, cushions – (an item that always provokes a groan from Steve), lamps, family photographs, things that are personal to us, just as you would when you were in a lounge surrounded by bricks. Also depending on the set up of our on site compound it may need to be our kitchen and wardrobe areas aswell. Of course this was all like a green light to me who loves to shop.

I love to ebay, great satisfaction is felt when I win an item I’ve had my eye on for a fraction of the new price. Thankfully Steve’s current job takes him all around the Country so there is usually somewhere in the UK I am asking him to go to collect an item Ive just won! All in a good cause I remind him, I’ve saved us a tremendous amount of money over the years.

So with the prospect of kitting out our new home, I was on the case without delay. Within days I had sourced an all season full awning from Bristol, only been used for one season. A day later there was a full height annexe for sale to match the awning, never been used and £150 less than new cost, thankfully sent via courier as it was about 250 miles away from home! We now had the framework of our new “lounge” so we needed something to make it homely. Ikea chairs and footstool were sourced from Nottingham. A tv stand was found for £1.50 in Birmingham and they even delivered it to us for that price! A folding kitchen table was just the job from Conningsby and a side table from a local charity shop matches everything perfectly.

In the post Christmas sales I sourced a combination microwave/grill/oven and also managed to use a gift card we had as an Xmas present which made that a double bargain buy. We took a trip to a local Caravan supplies shop and came back armed with more goodies to tick off the list, mains water system, additional electric hook up and socket bank, bin, clothes airer, awning carpet, new step, electric hot plate, camping kitchen unit and most importantly a new kettle! The spare room and garage are filling up fast, the only thing we need to sort out is how on earth we are going to get it all transported from Staffordshire to Hampshire?

With weekends now down to single figures before we go to site we thought we should make a journey down to our new home town and suss out the area. After a sunrise start we made good time with clear motorways and were soon nearing the area. Following the satnav it took us off the motorway earlier than I would have done if following a map but we decided to go with it and see what route it would take. Winding our way through pretty lanes and very picturesque villages we soon realised that it may be the quickest route in a car but certainly not a way to tow the caravan, as we hadn’t got the van this time it was a lovely introduction to the local scenery, but we made a mental note not to follow “satnav Susie” next time but stick with good old faithful “mapreading Sally” instead.

Sunrise as we hit the road

We found the driveway entrance to the site but it was gated and padlocked ( as we knew it would be) so decided against jumping the gate and walking the mile down the muddy drive, we were content in just knowing where we have to turn off the road. We have already viewed the area on Google Earth so basically know the site layout. Having forfeited breakfast in our eagerness to get on the road we then went on the hunt for food. Recommendation came from our Head Wardens to head for Monster Micks a mobile café with views across Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight. A quick Google search gave us the location and a short time later we parked up in a panoramic viewpoint layby and judging by the queue Micks was a very popular spot.

Breakfast with a view

Suitably fed and watered we headed down to the coast below us. Parking up on the front in Southsea we were just in time to see the hovercraft departing off the beach to the Isle of Wight. It was a spectacular sight and something we look forward to doing on our days off. From there we walked along the esplanade and Royal Garrison to Old Portsmouth, an area where the original medieval town is situated. Cobbled streets are lined with many historic buildings, quaint tea rooms and several traditional pubs, which we also look forward to visiting again on our days off! We didn’t have enough carparking time left to make it to the Spinnaker Tower and the ships at the Historic Dock, but im sure we will in the months to come.

Hovercraft to the Isle of Wight
Spinnaker Tower

Next we made our way around the coast to Gosport on the opposite side of the harbour, spotting the locations of supermarkets, shops, petrol stations and anything of interest we thought we should be aware of on the way. Steve spotted the submarine museum which he is unlikely to forget about, so that’s another day out on the list ( oh joy)

The light was now fading fast and dropping cold so we decided to find the hotel we had booked nearby. Heading back towards Rookesbury Park area we drove through Wickham and as it is the nearest village to the site we parked up in the market square and had a wander around the small selection of shops and historic buildings. It looked very pretty with twinkly lights in the trees and inviting roaring open fires in the cosy pubs. We did only look through the windows this time though, honest. Wickham is a conservation area with the Romans establishing a settlement here as it was on the road between Chichester and Winchester. A traditional gypsy horse fair, the oldest and biggest in England is held in the square annually in May, a 4 day music festival in August and Taste of Wickham in September which is a food festival with stalls, crafts and music displays. Sounds like we might be kept busy then!

Continuing onto our bed for the night at Botley Park Hotel and Spa we were feeling very happy with our new found home County and cant wait to explore the area more and really get to know where we live.

A beginning and an end

you can’t cross the Ocean unless you have courage to leave the shore

So after a few nervous weeks wondering where our 2020 home will be we finally received the phone call with the news. We are overjoyed and so lucky that the site we have been given was one of our top 3 that we submitted as our preferred options. We will be going to Rookesbury Park in Hampshire at the beginning of March for 8 months.

Now that we had a definite contract, hours and pay all confirmed and a start date to be on site, the time had come to start closing the chapter on our current lives and moving on to our new adventure.

We have both been in our current jobs for 14 and 15 years, we are well respected, well paid and they are probably jobs that others would give a right arm for. We really had no need or desire to ever leave – until the option of chasing our dream came along. Since that dream started to seem possible our days have been spent longing to be somewhere else, doing something else, being together, but it was still with apprehension and mixed feelings we wrote out our resignation letters 2 weeks ago. Were we really going to be able to give up this comfortable life? were we being brave? perhaps we were being foolish? So many unanswerable questions but we believed it was a road worth travelling, an adventure we had to have, an exciting journey we just had to take.

Both of our employers had been tipped off a few months ago of our intentions to change our lives so were not surprised when the letters were eventually handed in, but both still couldn’t quite believe that it wasn’t just a pipe dream, that us chasing a new lifestyle was finally becoming a reality, that we would be leaving the life we currently had to pursue the life we wanted.

We have decided that 31st January is our last day of work as we currently know it and the process of recruitment to fill our roles has begun. Phone calls from colleagues around the business are flooding in as the news is reaching all departments and the story telling of our journey to this point, our plans for the future, and trying to answer questions that we hadn’t even thought about happens on a daily basis – several times a day. Apologies to my work family who have to hear it over and over as I enthusiastically tell our story to anyone willing to listen!

The feeling of excitement is very contagious and the news is received with amazement and awe, aswell as slight disbelief at what we are doing. Everyone is very eager to hear the why, how and when, particularly the why. As we explain the reasons behind the move and regale our hopes and dreams for the future, the overwhelming feedback is one of congratulations, envy and the question – “can I come with you?!”

So as we head into the Christmas break and then the last 4 weeks in our conventional jobs in the New Year, we are just a little bit smug that the rat race is coming to an end, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and our greatest adventure is what lies ahead.

Will it be easy? – nope

Will it be worth it? – absolutely

The Waiting Game

” … for one who is waiting time feels at a standstill”

… and we waited, and we waited, for what seemed like an eternity. Every day checking emails until at last one popped up at the beginning of February.

The good news was we had passed the online assessment and would be invited for an interview – and to wait for another email to tell us when.

So we waited, and we waited again until in the middle of April it arrived. We had to choose 3 options of interview dates and locations, after a brief discussion we had decided and eagerly sent back our choices, and sat back to wait again.

And finally at the end of May our interview date was set for 13th August, another 3 months to wait.

In the meantime we had 2 weeks in Brittany, a couple of music festivals and weekends away to look forward to, all the time wondering if this was to be the last summer we would be staying on sites as holidaymakers. Next summer we might be on the other side of the fence.

August arrived and a warm sunny day dawned as we set off for our interview. Everyone’s advice was “just be yourself” so we took that on board and hoped they would like us for who we naturally are. We were interviewed separately whilst the other was being shown around the site by the Head Warden. We thoroughly enjoyed the day and could really envisage ourselves in the life and the job role.

On the way home in the car as we each debriefed our respective interviews it was amusing to find that we had given the same answers to most of their questions, although we had not rehearsed anything and of course had no idea beforehand what the interview questions would be. It appeared that it had amused the interviewers aswell!

They had said it would be 2 weeks to wait until we heard next and bang on 2 weeks to the date another email arrived. We were successful at the interview and would be invited for a weekend of work experience. We were asked to give 3 weekend dates when we were available so these were hastily decided and sent back and we waited to hear when we would be travelling to a site.

Not long to wait this time and we had a date set for mid September. The weather forecast was for a beautiful weekend and as we set off on the Thursday afternoon we were excitedly looking forward to a taster of what might be our new life.

We had a fabulous weekend, although it did end up raining on the Sunday. But that didn’t put a damper on our enthusiasm and we tackled every duty and took on every instruction with zest. As guests on the sites as we sit in our cosy vans with a cuppa, or lounge in the sunshine with a long cool glass of something we have all watched the wardens walking around, occasionally stopping to chat, picking up the odd bit of rubbish, and no doubt have all commented ” I’d like a job like that- can’t be hard can it?” But who knew just what was involved behind the scenes, we couldn’t even have imagined what has to be done to keep the site running like clockwork, and to the high standards we have all come to expect, and we had just had a very brief introduction to a small part of the mammoth role of a Site Warden. As we arrived home on the Sunday evening we fell into bed totally whacked but with big smiles on our faces. We had a great sense of achievement and satisfaction and both with no doubt that this was the life we wanted.

The waiting was definitely getting shorter as it was only 2 days later we had the most important email of all – they liked us! We had been offered positions as Assistant Site Wardens.

But the waiting was still not over, we are now waiting to hear what site we will be offered to take up our positions in March 2020.

Watch this space…………..

The Idea

“The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have”

September 2018 was our deciding moment that it was time our lives were given a shakeup.

We were on holiday in Sardinia with our best friends Michelle and John when they got the news that their house had sold and they could now make their permanent home move to live in Italy. During much celebration of the liquid kind they asked- ” so what are you two planning for the future” We looked at each other, looked back at them, looked back at each other again and realised that that was a very good question and one we needed to work out an answer to.

We had been thinking for some time that we couldn’t envisage ourselves staying in our current jobs until we were officially due for retirement at 67, or even longer if funds dictated. Although they were a secure, comfortable option, we always chased the idea of freedom, travel, and more time together. But what should we do? What could we do?

We still needed a regular wage to pay bills and a mortgage, and an obligation to provide a roof over our youngests head for the immediate future, so “upping and offing” wasn’t a viable option for us at the current time.

We made a tick list of requirements we wanted from our new life, and set about thinking of jobs that could fulfill if not all then most of them.

Although we have been fortunate to visit many countries and stayed in beautiful places around the globe our happy place was always in a caravan/campervan/tent, of which we had rotated through each of them a number of times in our 30 years together. So it didn’t take long before the eureka moment arrived. How about becoming Caravan Site Wardens?

Enthused by the idea we set about exploring what that actually meant. What did the job entail? what skills were required? what were the hours? pay? What did a warden actually do? We had 101 questions and we needed answers. We made phone calls, researched online, visited sites, spoke to wardens and in October headed to the Caravan and Motorhome Show in Birmingham. There we were able to speak to real people doing the real job and living the real lifestyle. It was so inspiring we came away with heads buzzing and a very real excitement that it all might be possible.

November and December was spent doing yet more fact finding, working out finances, exploring our pension options and broaching the ldea with friends and family. Mostly swinging daily ( and often several times a day) between the “shall we- shan’t we” “can we- can’t we” dilemma.

New Year 2019 arrived and what better time to decide to change your life than that. Saturday 4th January was spent applying online. It took 8 hours to fill in all the sections and after several deep breaths we hit the send button.

We had started the journey.

“…and then there is the greatest danger of all – the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later”