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Settling In and Getting Out

Our arrival at our new home for the season coincided with a very wet and windy few days. We manoeuvred Bill the Bailey into our compound and started the mammoth task of unpacking all our worldly goods from both the caravan and van. Everything was stacked in the bathroom pod and site garage until we erected the awning the following day which actually then took 2 days to get sorted. The wind was ferocious, coming from the east blowing straight off the sea and up the valley where the site is situated, stepping out from behind the caravan was like being in a wind tunnel. Thankfully the awning was well secured down so it didn’t take flight across the site.

From our front windows we have a slightly elevated view looking out over our “front garden”. After 4 months of the site being closed there was an awful lot of grass out there that needed cutting. Problem was there was no let up in the rain forecast so that job wasn’t going to get done anytime soon. There was still plenty to occupy our time and thoughts to get the site ready to open on the 11th March. Water turned back on, electric bollards cleaned and switched on, boarding removed from windows and doors, weeding, pruning, machinery serviced, facilities cleaned, fences painted,  shop stocked and an information room to revamp. Oh and then we could cut the grass after we were blessed with a few sunny days in between.

Our front garden

Once we had finished the essential setting up we were keen to get out and about and see our new surroundings. We had holidayed in the area several times but living here gives it a whole new perspective. Trips to do the food shop are not a ‘nip’ and are generally planned in with a sightseeing day to make it a worthwhile journey. 3 of the major supermarkets can be found in both directions out of the site. Kingsbridge to the West and Dartmouth to the North, but for any other retail park shopping its a trek to Torquay, Newton Abbott or Plymouth.

Turning right out of the site takes you to Kingsbridge, the nearest small market town about 6 miles away which sits at the head of the Kingsbridge Estuary surrounded by lush green rolling countryside.The town takes its name from an ancient bridge built to link two royal estates – Alvington and Chillington, and by 1219 it had grown into a market town. By the 18th Century milling had become its major income and throughout the 19th Century Kingsbridge had an active coastal shipping trade, with thriving shipbuilding and tanning industries.

Today it has a steep main street full of independent businesses, antiques, art galleries, gift shops, cafes and a Saturday farmers market. Sailing boats are anchored in the estuary and it has a very upmarket water based vibe.

Kingsbridge

Turn left out of the site and you can see the sea of Slapton Sands and the freshwater lake of Slapton Ley Nature Reserve. A 10 minute walk from the site takes you to the seafront and pebble beach that stretches for 3 miles before the road turns inland and uphill to follow the coast all the way to Dartmouth. On the way you pass through several small villages on steep roads sometimes single width with sheer drops which isn’t for the faint hearted. But the views are spectacular if you’re the passenger, just best not to suggest the driver takes in the view too often! Blackpool Sands is a vista to behold as the road drops down one hill to the beach and climbs up the next. It is a Blue Flag beach backed by evergreens and scented pines, you could almost be on the Mediterranean instead of in Devon. Its privately owned and so has a parking charge, but does have a cafe, toilets, a beach shop and watersports hire so spending a whole day there is extremely popular.

Slapton Sands
Blackpool Sands and coast road view

Dartmouth is a beautiful town situated at the mouth of the picturesque River Dart. Its location and maritime heritage make it a very popular sailing venue and most of the activities and shops reflect and cater for this fraternity. River and sea cruises can be taken from here to pretty riverside villages further up the Dart and to Greenway the home of Agatha Christie which is now owned by National Trust. It has a castle where the river meets the sea, built in 1388 it is one of the most  picturesquely sited fortresses in England. Bayards Cove Fort was built between 1522 and 1536 to house heavy guns as defence against enemy ships that had eluded Dartmouth and Kingswear castles and the iron chain stretched across the Dart estuary between them. The cobbled Quay and its pretty pastel houses with window boxes filled with flowers has appeared in many historical TV series. There are two open air ferries to take passengers and vehicles across the river to Kingswear from where there is quicker road access to the resorts of Brixham, Paignton and Torquay. Also there is the train station for the 6.7 mile heritage steam train railway line to Paignton. The town hosts  festivals for food and music and Dartmouth Royal Regatta sailing week at the end of August is a must on the calendar for water enthusiasts.

Dartmouth

We have had lots more lovely days out along this stunning coast which I will tell you all about over the coming blogs, but for now to finish the story of the Sherman tank and Exercise Tiger connection to Slapton we jump from 1944 to 1969.

Whilst walking on the beach after a severe storm a local guesthouse owner Ken Small began finding large amounts of shrapnel, bullets and tunic buttons washed up. Wondering why these items should be here he began asking local residents who then told him of the stories that had been handed down from their families who had lived in the area during the war. A fisherman told Ken of an object on the seabed 60ft down and about three-quarters of a mile off shore that continually snagged his fishing nets. Divers were persuaded to investigate and found it to be an American Sherman tank. Further investigation then uncovered the Exercise Tiger story and the tragedy became public knowledge. Ken became determined to recover the tank and make it a lasting memorial to those that had perished. After years of negotiations the tank was purchased from the American  Government for 50 USDollars but it took until 1984 before the tank emerged from the sea. The publicity led to American survivors and families making contact and telling their own stories of events that took place that night in April 1944. Consequently the memorial is now recognised by the US Government and on 24th April each year there is a memorial service conducted at the site. Ken went on to write a book about the events and his quest to raise the tank from the seabed called ‘The Forgotten Dead’, and right up until his passing in 2004 could often be found sitting in his car on the carpark next to the tank always willing to talk with visitors and re-tell the story.

 Catch up with us in the next blog as we explore more of South Devon and its stunning coastline, make several journeys back home and officially declare ourselves full time van-dwellers.

Off we go again

Boxes were stacking higher and the house was looking emptier, the decluttering and downsizing was relentless and the local tip and charity shops were begging us not to bring them any more. Slowly we were getting the house cleared and with it so many memories as we came across items from our own and our childrens childhoods which interrupted the packing as we stopped to reminice. Countless boxes are now in storage of items we can’t bear to be parted from with strict instructions to our children that they must be kept for all eternity. One day  surely there might just be something worth taking to an Antiques Roadshow and we’ll be millionaires!

A last minute opportunity arose at New Year for us to grab a couple of days away in the caravan. We booked in at Chester Fairoaks as it a) actually had space and b) is an easy tow from home, with the intention of not moving much once we arrived there. Set up on a pitch it was a nice feeling to be on the other side of the fence and be able to watch the world go by at leisure without having to empty a bin or clean a loo! We hadn’t had any holiday time in the Bailey since taking ownership more than a year earlier due to lock downs. We walked across the road to Cheshire Oaks retail outlet, slept alot, read alot and had a very relaxed time that was about it.

Vinny and Billy enjoying a break

In between house sales and holidays we had also made the decision to get Vinny the Van professionally converted into a camper. Back in summer 2020 we had partially done a day van conversion ourselves which although we were very pleased with and proud of, we now wanted something a little more. After looking at layouts we decided we didn’t want the conventional cooker/sink option as we still needed to use the vehicle as a mode of transporting all our worldly goods around with us (even more so now we haven’t got a house) so the “mountain bike” layout was decided upon. Vinny went away for 3 weeks and came back with a pop top roof, full electrics, rear door tinted windows, side bench seat/pull out bed, fully carpet lined and insulated, altro sparkly flooring, swivel seat, table and a pull out canopy awning. This will now enable us to embrace camper life even more as we can escape on our time off to visit other sites and enjoy the areas we are working in to the max. Big shout out and thanks to The Conversion Shed for carrying out the work so expertly and fitting us in on such a tight schedule. The professionalism, thoughtfulness and communication by Lee was second to none. We haven’t got around to taking any inside photos yet as it’s mostly been stacked to the roof with boxes, so here’s an external one parked up at Start Point overlooking the South Devon coastline.

Vinny with a view

Way back before Covid, before Mitch and Chloe were buying their own house and before we knew we would be selling ours, we had booked a cruise to Northern Europe for mid February. Suddenly amidst all the ongoing upheaval the date was rapidly approaching. Some of the Covid restrictions were being eased thankfully in time for our travel then a week before we were informed of an itinerary change. No more Hamburg, it was Le Havre instead. Then the day before – no more Northern Europe at all, it was now Portugal and Spain. OK, not what we planned but on the plus side it would be warmer. Predicted storms were dictating the schedule and as it turned out we only got a day in Lisbon and one in Vigo then had to sail full steam ahead to get infront of the weather and make it back near to Southampton. The ship took refuge in a Bay off Northern France for 2 days instead, on which we ate, drank and were entertained 24/7, so not really a hardship at all! It was a lovely break and much needed downtime off packing and it will probably be our last overseas travel for a good while unless we figure out how best to take Belle to foreign climes.

Lovely Lisbon

Back home and we had 5 days to go before leaving for Start Bay. Days off packing the house turned into packing the caravan and van instead. Initially trying to think what was needed for 8 months then remembering that this was now going to be our full time life going forward, so then also trying to decide what we might want for the foreseeable ‘forever’. Difficult decisions for some items, time will tell if we pine for certain things or quickly forget all about them. Keeping an eye on the weather forecast for both locations prompted us to delay the journey by a day so that blue skies and sunshine was on order for both departure from Staffordshire and arrival in Devon on Friday 25th February. We set off at 7am and as expected it took 5.5 hours to site. Motorway all the way to the last 15 or so miles then following the site recommended route rather than the satnav version. Having an 8ft wide caravan we had hoped to time our arrival to avoid the possibility of meeting the oncoming bus between Torcross and Kingsbridge, but as is often the case it didn’t work out that way! The lanes around Start Bay site are more suited to a horse and cart in places so us meeting the bus was ‘challenging’ to say the least. After holding our breath for a few hair-raising minutes we were soon pulling in through the site gates and viewing our new home, the grass was lush green, daffodils nodded their yellow heads, the pitches were bathed in sunshine and the sea beyond the treetops was deep blue, a perfect sight to greet us. Bus? What bus? Oh that bus? Yeah no problem, so soon forgotten.

Start Bay CAMC
Slapton Sands
Slapton Ley Nature Reserve

Continuing with a prequel to the history lesson of the area from the previous blog; The area around Slapton was commandeered by the War Cabinet in November 1943 when over 3000 people in the surrounding villages were given 6 weeks notice to evacuate their homes, farms, pubs and shops leaving nothing but ghost towns behind. Most had never previously left their own villages before but were now destined never to return. Over 30,000 acres of farmland was cleared making way for 15,000 American troops to arrive in the spring of 1944 to begin practice landings for the DDay invasions. As per the previous blog it turned into a tragic event that was kept secret for more than 30 years, until in 1969 a local man by the name of Ken Small started to find unusual items washing up on the beach and began the quest to uncover the truth about that fateful night.

Catch up with us in the next blog as we bring the history lesson up to present day, settle back into  ‘wardenlife’ open the site to visitors and get out and about in South Devon.

Changing Seasons, Changing Life.

The beginning of September arrived and once the shock and excitement had sunk in of knowing where our new home was for next season we continued to dedicate ourselves to the remaining 8 weeks left at Rookesbury Park. The sun was still shining and days still warm, but there was a misty dampness creeping in each early morning and daylight was slowly getting shorter as the month progressed. Autumn was on its way. Pitches were still full to capacity, booked up mostly by motorhoming couples during the week venturing back out now the school holidays were over and families still enjoying the late summer sunshine at weekends.

Rumours began to arise concerning a fuel shortage, members were arriving with tales of queues at petrol stations and several were phoning to cancel their stay as they were unsure if they would be able to get enough fuel to make the journey. Living and working on site we are mostly shielded from goings on in the big wide world outside of our own small existence, but we were kept up to date by members regaling their stories of how many hours they had queued for fuel so they could get away for their longed for breaks. Some already on site just extended their stay with us and sat it out until the panic died down and all was well again, which it was within a couple of weeks.

The leaves on the trees were starting to turn to autumn shades and fall from the branches at a never ending rate, and so began the mammoth daily task of gathering them into piles, loading grab bags and carting them off to the grass dump area. By the next day the same areas were carpeted with just as many leaves as we’d just swept up. Being immersed in the changing seasons is one of the main things I love about the job and lifestyle we chose. Being out there every day makes you so much more aware of nature, the cycle of the seasons and the great outdoors. Buds appear on bare branches, then blossom turns to leaves and suddenly canopies of green shades cover the landscape, then just as quickly they have changed to oranges and browns and are falling to the ground leaving bare branches again.

Non stop sweeping of leaves

Even though the seasons were on the change the sunshine was still holding on and it was still warm enough to spend a day on the beach on the 22nd of the month.

At the beginning of October we had the opportunity to visit our next seasons site Start Bay. We went in Vinny the van and spent a fun and fact finding couple of days with our new Site Managers. The site was looking glorious and we began visualising ourselves doing the bin run, trimming the hedges and carrying out the many daily tasks as we strolled around trying to commit to memory what pitch numbers were where. We are already familiar with the area and coastline where the site is situated from many years of family holidays around Dartmouth so were soon feeling comfortable re-acquainting ourselves with the villages and tourist spots. We were introduced to some of our new neighbours over a few pints of the locally brewed cider in the nearby microbrewery – and you can’t get more local than it actually being right next door to the site, so I have a feeling we may be getting more than familiar with this establishment during future months!

Sunny Start Bay CAMC

Purely for research purposes – of course – we ate out at the Start Bay Inn for our evening meals and had coffee and cake at the Billy Can both a short 15 minute stroll down to the seafront at Slapton Sands. Both were very friendly and welcoming places and will be regularly used by us I predict! The Billy Can Cafe’s interior plays homage to the historic tragedy that took place on the Sands in 1944. On the night of 27th April during World War Two 946 American servicemen died during Exercise Tiger, which was a rehearsal for the D-Day landing. The area around Slapton Sands was selected as it was almost a perfect replica of the French coast at Utah Beach where the Normandy Landings took place. Exercise Tiger was designed to be as realistic as possible with landing craft loaded with soldiers and tanks and equipment deployed along the coast. However unbeknown to the military nine German E -boats had slipped in under the cover of darkness and wiped out several of the American landing ships in the bay. Despite the tragedy the exercise continued and later that year on the 4th June the residents of Dartmouth were ordered to stay indoors as tanks rolled through the town and troops converged on the harbour. The following day 485 ships set sail and at dawn on the 6th June the invasion of France began. The whole event at Slapton was such a fiasco and embarrassment that it was kept secret for 30 years. If you visit Slapton Sands now you will find an American Sherman tank on the beachfront carpark that was raised from the seabed in 1984 and now stands restored as the unofficial Tombstone for the soldiers who lost their lives during Exercise Tiger. I will end the history lesson there for this blog as there is so much more to this story and the part the area played in WW2 and continue with more in future blogs when we will be actually living and working there.

Slapton Sands

Back at Rookesbury we were on the last push to the close of season which mainly consisted of weeding, sweeping and maintenance ready for next season. In between we were beginning to pack up our belongings and do alot of head scratching at the thought of trying to fit everything we had accumulated in the last 2 seasons into a caravan and Transit van to get it all back to our house home. Piles began to appear in various corners of the awning and cardboard boxes filled to brimming. Last November we were spared from taking most of our gear home as we knew we were returning to the same site in the March so were able to leave it in storage there, but this year it all had to come back with us. Every nook and cranny was getting stuffed to the max.

We still had days off and made sure we visited our favourite haunts for the last time- for a while anyway. Port Solent, Southsea, Titchfield (and the Toby Carvery!) were all said goodbye to with a tear in our eye. We have so loved Hampshire, these places and more, and even though the road systems still continued to baffle us the area really felt like it was home.

The days flew by, last bin run, last toilet block clean, last duty rota and finally the last opening day of the 2022 season. The last night and morning saw a half full site of members squeezing in the last few hours of their memory making caravan times before mothballing their happy places until the next year. It amazes me now to think that we in our time as holidaying caravanners did that same thing – packed it all away, put the cover on and looked at the caravan sitting on the drive from November to March. Why? Why did we do that? And I really cant think of a credible answer or reason for it. Hopefully with the last 2 years of enforced staycations and peoples freedoms having been restricted it might just prompt a different mindset that your happy place is available for use all year round not just for summer time.

Hitched up and ready to roll

A week of closing down the site and cramming all our worldly goods into Billy the Bailey and Vinny the Van and we were ready to hit the road. Pulling out of Rookesbury was very emotional, it was where we were inducted into the culture of vanlife living that was now going to be our full time life – oh yeah more on that in a minute – where we learned new skills both practical and lifestyle, where we were given an opportunity to reinvent ourselves, where we enjoyed living closely with nature and where we made friends for life. It was a tough one but everyone was telling us we were ready for it. It was now time to head back out into the big world and start that adventure all over again.

So we arrived back home to our bricks and mortar. It took a while to get used to stairs and opening doors with handles and everywhere felt very big and open. Having so much room to move about was quite a novelty. We were home for 3 weeks then escaped to the sunshine of Fuertaventura for 2 weeks of all inclusive hotel life. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t wall to wall sunshine and towards the end of the fortnight we were itching to get back to our own surroundings, albeit we were very grateful and fortunate to have had some downtime before we had to hit the ground running as soon as we returned. During a visit down to us in the summer our son and his girlfriend had broken the news that they were buying their own house and so would be moving out of our family home. They had been living in and looking after it from when we made the move to our new caravanning life in February 2020, but now felt the time had come for their own property. This then prompted another lifechanging decision on our part – keep the house? – sell the house? We did alot of sums and soul searching and finally decided that we don’t actually need, and mostly don’t actually want a house any longer. The upkeep both in bills and maintenance was more than we wanted to commit to going forwards, we will have neither the time or inclination to keep returning to Staffordshire on our days off just to cut the back lawn and spend a night in a proper bed, we would rather be in Vinny by the sea. So the house went on the market on the 21st December and we accepted an offer for the full asking price on the 23rd December. New life sorted! Things are now progressing as they do in Solicitors time and we are drowning in a sea of boxes and ebay sales. Everything has to be sold as we are not going to have another house for the time being, choosing instead a life on the road for the who knows how long future. We have a storage container locally so everything that we aren’t quite ready to part with or that we know we’ll never part with, has been loaded into that to be stored for whenever the time comes to open it up again and decide what happens next. We are amazed at what we have found and didn’t know we still had, and are in constant awe at why we have kept most of it.

So that’s where we are currently in our constantly evolving life adventure, the next chapter has begun and will be continued as we leave the house on 24th February to head for Start Bay and our new season as Assistant Site Managers there in Devon.

Catch up with us next time as we leave a house behind, settle in on our new site and begin full time vanlife.

Season in full flow

Firstly apologies for it being a while since the last post, 6 months actually. Time just escapes me when the season is in full flow, working days are long and full on busy, and then our much needed days off are mostly spent away from site sightseeing and enjoying our local area, so again no time to squeeze in admin. But now our 2021 season has ended and we are back to living in a house for a while I can catch up and fill you in on what the summer months had in store for us.

As the previous blog said Rookesbury Park reopened on 12th April in line with the Govt lifting another level of Covid restrictions, from then on the site continued to adhere to guidelines of cleaning, sanitising, disinfecting and mask wearing. Everywhere felt totally safe and manageable as the nature of the job for the staff and the holiday for the members means interaction between everyone is conducted mostly outdoors, whatever the weather.

Work around site continued with a new level of gusto. Grass pitches were now open and along with the hardstandings they were all getting booked to capacity every weekend. There were a few spare pitches during weekdays in June and up to the school summer holiday breakup but it seemed like the UK was going to continue its stay cation boom again this year. Arrivals were an even split of ‘first timers’ and ‘seasoned’ members, both with equally high demands on our time and resources. The site and its number of occupants now the visitor restriction had been lifted aswell was taking alot of managing, not to mention the increased groundwork as we were now in the full flow of our sunshine and showers summer. Grass and hedge cutting was a constant task, there was always the need for at least 3 staff out there for the hours straight after the bin run right up to arrival time. Hence the arrival in mid July of a fourth set of Assistant Managers, and very welcome they were. Ady and Nina @lifewithaview.co.uk were a great asset to the site and their enthusiasm and experience helped carry us onward and upwards through to the close. They will be returning to Rookesbury for the 2022 season so will be continuing to make their unique mark there.

Our time off days out continued with a trip to Winchester. A lovely city with a good mix of shops and the famous Cathedral where we spent a while strolling around and admiring the buildings. Another city visit was to Salisbury and yet another even more famous Cathedral. It was stunning inside, so peaceful, cool and calm and plenty to read up about on the information display boards dotted around. We saw the worlds oldest clock, Britains tallest spire and the best preserved of only 4 surviving copies of the 1215 Magna Carta. Adjacent is Cathedral Close, the largest in Britain where amongst the houses with their pretty walled front gardens is Arundells the home of the former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath, Mompesson House a NT property, and 2 museums. We then found a place to sit on rolling manicured lawns under shady trees and take in the view of the magnificent spire. A whole day could be spent just visiting the Cathedral and Close, then there’s all the artisan shops and buildings adjacent in the town itself to browse around. I think I’ve just talked myself into needing another visit to explore some more!

Salisbury Cathedral
The Close Salisbury

Moving onto our coastal days out we paid a visit to Lymington which took us on a very lovely drive through the New Forest and towns of Brockenhurst and Lyndhurst. Lymington is a quaint coastal Georgian town of named and independent shops, with a cobbled area winding down to the quayside where we enjoyed our picnic lunch on a bench in the sunshine. On our drive back through the Forest we saw ponies and Highland cattle by the roadside.

New Forest Ponies and Highland Cattle

Another coastal day out was to Mudeford Quay, a little further over the border into Dorset. We met up with friends who were holidaying in the area and spent a happy few hours there. We took a ferry boat from the Quay over to Mudeford Spit, which is a stunning strip of soft white sand housing equally stunning and very expensive beach huts. When we saw a for sale sign we of course Googled the price just to see, 375k was the price tag so I think we’ll be sticking with our caravan!

Mudeford Beach Huts

More visits to our old favourites of Titchfield Haven, Southsea, Hamble le Rice, Warsash, Port Solent and Porchester Castle were regular spots to sit in Vinny on the not so sunny days, taking in the seascapes whilst drinking our flask of coffee and having a slice of cake.

Port Solent

Then came the opportunity for a rare night away from site when we took a trip over to the Isle of Wight and were able to stay over at CAMC Southlands site. We went in Vinny the van thoroughly enjoying the whole campervan experience. The site is immaculately kept and the sunset views across the countryside were stunning. Thankfully the weather held out until a couple of hours before our return ferry was due, so we managed a quick tour of the East side of the island and its seaside towns before dashing under cover from the rain, ending up in a pub in Cowes for a feast of a meal.

On the Isle of Wight ferry

August, the month of next year’s site selection was suddenly upon us. All conversations seemed to end up talking about possible sites, weighing up their pro’s and cons, not too big, not too small, not near a main road, has to be near the coast. So many boxes needed to be ticked but we also knew there would have to be compromises. Our selection was duly submitted, fingers, toes, legs, arms and anything else that was crossable was crossed and we waited. It was the longest 4 weeks in history. In the meantime being at fabulous Rookesbury kept us focused on the current season and job in hand, no time to dream of next year yet, still nearly 3 months to do here.

It was a glorious hot sunny day, the last day of our weekend off time and we were on the beach. The clock was ticking towards 5pm, surely they must be sending the email out soon, it was nearly headoffice going home time. And suddenly a flurry of pings from our phones, the jungle drums saying the selection decision was out. The sun was shining so brightly I had to dive under the beach towel to read it, listed alphabetically by site name I scrolled quickly down straight to the S’s to see whose name was next to our no:1 choice. It was ours- actually ours- Steve and Sally Hadley were going to Start Bay! As tears of joy and amazement mixed together with sand and suncream it began to dawn on us that we were about to embark on the next chapter of our life.

In more ways than we could of imagined our lives were going to change next year, living and working in Devon for 8 months was only going to be part of the story.

Catch up with us next time as we draw the season at Rookesbury to a close, we pack up to come home to the house, take a sunshine holiday and make another life changing decision.

The Season starts

Our few settling in days on site since our arrival have flown by, we longed to have days out to the coast which we had missed so much but apart from the fleeting view of the Solent as we travelled to our essential shopping store we resisted the urge. The winds for the first 2 weeks of the month were amongst the worst we have experienced in a caravan, night after night we were convinced the awning was going to take off and fly across the site taking everything with it in its wake, the hailstones were so large that with the force of them hammering the roof it was a wonder the skylights didn’t crack and the roof get peppered in dents. The gusty winds continued day and night but thankfully the rain held off and so we were able to set about ticking off the maintenance jobs needed around site. Fence painting, gutter clearing, service point repairs, fire point signs and bells repainted, jetwashing mossy areas under the trees and all the behind the scenes paperwork ,online training and yearly assessments were done in the days leading up to our contracted open day. The site was ready, we were ready but the UK sadly was still not ready. We were being furloughed again from the official day of opening until the week before the next phase of unlocking, the 12th April, the date the whole touring fraternity was waiting for.

Bluebells in Hundred Acre Wood

Since we arrived back the trees were now beginning to bud with new leaves and blossom, the yellow gorse out in all its glory brightening up the landscape, ivy has been removed from tree trunks and the lower tree branches in the coppices to open up the view across the site. Daffodils, primroses, bluebells and hawthorne blossoms are appearing on a daily basis and the grass is beginning to grow, unfortunately also in the places where we don’t want it to. Wildlife is still laying its claim to the site with the acres of empty pitches giving them a few more bonus weeks of tranquillity before they have to disappear off into the depths of the woods to make way for the members and their white boxes. Muntjac, rabbits and pheasants are all common sites as we share the same big back garden, buzzards circle overhead and the occasional sighting of red kites has us all scanning the sky for more. The woodpecker is back as our morning alarm call, hammering for all he’s worth on the tree right outside the caravan, the bird feeders are visited by chaffinch, blue tits, great tits, nuthatch, goldfinch, long tailed tits, bullfinch, siskin, coal tits and greenfinch to name a few. The big picture window on the front of Bill the Bailey gives us a prime view of them.

Bill the Bailey is proving to be a very nice space to live in. The floor space and openness created by being 8ft wide and having the G format seating layout is very beneficial to full time living. No more dancing around each other just to get from one end of the caravan to the other we can actually pass each other side by side, and no more me having to clamber over Steve to get out of bed for the 3am bathroom visit! Positive luxury compared to last year! We still seem to have the same sudden urge to both try to get through the door at the same time though only to discover that that isn’t any wider than the previous one! Belle has settled in like she’s never been away following us on our walks around the site, climbing trees, chasing leaves in the wind and there’s been a few unfortunate mice and vole casualties that didn’t get the message she was back so ended up spending their last living seconds in her clutches.

Wet and windy days of furlough enabled me to spend some time thinking about a facelift for our social media accounts and so a new logo was designed to mark reaching 500 Instagram subscribers. Also we have added vinyl advertising stickers to Vinny and Bill – thanks to @theweepinkvan- to promote the sites and hopefully reach out to anyone interested in our lifestyle and the places we visit.

After the initial site tidy up the few weeks of furlough passed quickly and before we knew it we were all systems go for the 12th April. The site was booked to capacity for opening day as we were still on hardstanding pitches only. One- o -clock arrived and they were queueing down the hill, a white snake as far as the eye could see. In through the gate came a steady stream of white boxes all shapes and sizes, all eager to find their perfect pitch and start making their memories once again. It was a whirlwind of smiles, waves and catching up with familiar faces from last season. There were an enormous amount of newbies who like last years holidaymakers had migrated over to the caravanning lifestyle due to the “new normal” holidaying restrictions. It was now a very different view looking out of Bills window across our big back garden.

We have managed a few lovely days out when the weather has allowed, aiming for a mix of city and coastal experiences. Emsworth is a picturesque old fishing village at the north end of Chichester Harbour, with narrow streets, walled gardens, Georgian houses and a mill pond. The small town has interesting antique shops and independent art and food shops which are a delight to browse. In the Middle Ages it was a busy port importing wine and later became known for its oyster beds. Oyster production is no more but you can still follow the Oyster Trail which is a historic walk starting from the Museum. Its most famous resident was PG Wodehouse who incorporated several local characters and names into his books.

Emsworth

Another sunny day took us to Titchfield Haven and a walk along the coastal path which rises above Meon Shore Beach giving extensive views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight and all the sea traffic navigating the waterway. A walk along the beach passes properties which are a step up from beach huts but not quite permanent residential bungalows the path then climbs up onto the cliff top passing through blossom filled narrow paths then dropping down onto the shingle beach at intervals. We turned back after an hour or so as coffee and cake was waiting for us back in Vinny parked up on the beachfront.

Cliff top walk along the coastal path at Meon Shore

On a City day out we went to Chichester for a spot of retail therapy and culture. We parked easily (the advantage of having weekdays off) and had a very short walk into the main shopping area. The town has a mixture of High Street names and independent retail and having had our fix we then headed for the 12th century Cathedral unfortunately still not open for visitors other than for prayer, but it was very tranquil walking around the grounds and through the cloisters, a calm oasis amidst the bustle of the City.

That’s been our March and April, if you would like to see what we do and where we go next please subscribe to the blog on WordPress and you will automatically be notified when the blog is posted. Alternatively watch out for when the next update is out via Instagram and Twitter @2gocaravanning.

Leaving Home and Arriving Home…

Way back on 4th November 2020 when we arrived back to the house at the end of our first CAMC season, the weeks ahead seemed to be endless especially as the following day the whole Country was plunged into lockdown#2 so life was not exactly going to be the whirlwind adventure we had planned. Fast forward to February 2021 and we were now counting down in days before we returned to Rookesbury Park for our second season as Assistant Site Wardens.

After an uneventful January, February was gearing up to be super busy from the off. After the initial flurry of getting jobs done when we arrived home we had come to a stop after Christmas so suddenly realising our time in the house was now getting shorter there were a few jobs that we wanted to get done before we left. The conservatory walls were given a fresh coat of paint, as was the downstairs loo and the garden given the last tidy up. Then started the task of trying to remember where we had put all the gear we had brought back with us all those weeks ago, and once we had found an item then putting it in a pile in various corners of the house according to where it was going to be packed for travelling. Which of the saucepans in the kitchen cupboard did we bring back? did we leave the patio umbrella there or was it buried under a mountain of other stuff in the garage? where on earth did the caravan tv remote get put? Bearing in mind we also swopped the caravan for a new one during the winter so items that would normally have been stored in the caravan ready to take back had also had to be unpacked and distributed around the house and garage in the meantime. Then it was also time for Bill the Bailey to have his wheels put back on, Steve had taken them off and put fixed winter wheels on as soon as we knew it wasn’t going to be used for a while, mostly as an extra security measure so it couldn’t disappear off the drive in the middle of the night without our prior permission!

Snow fell for the third time in a fortnight and we were keeping an eye on the forecasts for the week we were due to travel, no wind, no rain and no more snow please was our request to the heavens above. The days leading up to travel day were bitterly cold but mostly sunny and we managed to get out for the last of our local walks, having been used to scenic countryside views for the last 4 months we were looking forward to a change of scenery and enjoying sea views again.

Snowy Staffordshire countryside

No family farewells could be planned this time around, no party, no tears and no big send off. Goodbyes were said using WhatsApp video calls and then the time came for us leave. It was a grey day but dry and bright as Vinny and Bill were hooked up ready for their maiden journey together. It was easier to get everything in this time around as we now had much more space in both vehicles than a year ago where we had to squeeze it all in a single axle Sterling and a Kuga, but not forgetting that we had also left a cupboard full of gear at the site as we knew we were returning, not going to be so lucky at the end of this season though as we know we will have to move on for next year. The outfit looked very impressive as we pulled off the drive, 8 feet wide and 43 feet long it was a formidable presence on the road, we just hoped we didn’t meet anything just as wide coming down the lanes on our way out of the village as we were straddling the white line on occasions. We reached the A5 without meeting another vehicle and breathed a sigh as we now knew the roads ahead were all more than wide enough to accommodate our cherished vehicles, Steve is an experienced tower and was soon tuned into the wider width of Bill and how Vinny was coping with the towing, to the point where we had to keep an eye on the speedometer as Vinny was so at ease cruising on the motorway. Belle was again coming with us of course and happy sitting on my lap for the majority of the journey, occasionally sneaking over to Steve’s side to look at the passing traffic out of the side window and attracting a few smiles and waves from the other motorists. The miles were effortlessly whizzing by, the flask of coffee, chicken sandwiches and snacks all consumed and before we knew it there was the signpost. We let out a whoop whoop of joy as we crossed the County line announcing we were in Hampshire but the sky became dark and cloudy as we drove on and the rain became more persistent the nearer we got. By the time we arrived at site it was hammering down hard but the smiles on our faces were not any less as we turned into the gate and rolled down the driveway through the forest towards our home from home for the next 8 months. It felt so glad to be back.

Ready to Roll

A warm welcome was waiting from our Head Site Managers and we eagerly swopped news and stories of our respective time away from each other, they had continued working through lockdown #2 and into the beginning of January so they were now only being able to enjoy their downtime. As the wind and rain continued we manoeuvred Bill the Bailey into our wardens compound which was no mean feat as we were going in crossways this time, so thankful we had paid the extra money to have 4 movers fitted to the twin axle wheels just for such occasions as this. We were in position and level, apart from unloading the caravan so we could access the bed and front seats and finding the kettle we decided to call it a day, the awning could wait for a small window of better weather due the following afternoon. We settled in for our first night living in Bill and were so excited at finding out how comfy the bed was (as this was basically the reason we had bought it) that it wasn’t long before we’d turned in for the night and were falling asleep in our oh so comfy big bed. At that moment life could not have got any better.

Back in our home from home

A busy couple of days followed, the awning was erected and kitted out as our lounge and dining area again, the kitchen and bathroom pods refilled with our essentials and our uniforms unpacked and hung up hoping the creases would drop out. The rain mostly held off but the wind was very strong and we were battered by some horrendous gusts for a few nights, lying awake with fingers crossed that the awning had been secured down well enough to still be there in the morning. Everything had now found its place to be tidied away so we could sit back, relax and enjoy a few days “holiday” before our start work day. Even though by “holiday” I just mean a change of view as we could still not go anywhere other than essential shopping and exercise. Boris was still assessing the effects of the jab on his Corona case numbers and compiling a roadway out of lockdown so at this point we were still unsure if we would actually start on our contracted date or be furloughed to await a date announced sometime in the future. In the meantime the weather took a change for the better and we enjoyed our time during the warm sunny spring days out and about in our big back garden seeing what work had to be done to get it ship shape to open, and hoping we hadn’t become too unfit during our 4 months off to do it!

Catch up with us next time as we hopefully learn when we can open the site and welcome back the members to start making their memories with us once again.

The Year that Wasn’t…

2020, the last year, 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, however you want to say it, it really wasn’t the one that we were all expecting. Plans were made by the masses for new adventures during the year, sites booked, journeys planned, and for so many their dreams were finally going to become a reality. Along with most of the population we aswell had all that to look forward to. We had high hopes for 2020 it was going to be our year, time to turn the tables on a “standard” way of life, take a different route and embark on an adventure of our own making.

A quick resume of our year goes something like the following; – I won’t go into too much detail for each month as you can catch up in the relevant blogs if feeling so inclined –

January {see Homemaking and Brexit blog} – we left our old jobs and life as we knew it on 31st January. February {see Countdown blog} – we packed up our belongings and arrived at our site that was to be home for the next 8 months. March {see Settling in blog} – we started our new jobs as Assistant Site Wardens, opened the site to members on 12th and closed the site on the 23rd. April {see Lockdown Life blog} – we spent endless sunny days taking local walks, cycling around the site and watching the grass grow. May {see Lost in Lockdown blog} – more sunshine and blue sky, crafting, painting and watching nature return to site. June & July {see Light at the end of the Lockdown Tunnel blog} – the hot weather ended, we opened the site again and excitedly welcomed back the caravanning fraternity. August & September (see Silly Season blog} – days went by in a blur of smiles, waves and happy campers and we bought Vinny the van. October {see Our Season draws to a Close blog} – the end of our season was in sight, arrivals began to slow down and we started packing up our caravan home. November & December {see Returning to Home from Home blog} – we returned to a house, got used to living in 4 walls again and got stuck there in another lockdown.

So that in a nut shell was the year that really wasn’t supposed to be like that. But even so, everything we have done, experienced, achieved and learned in that year has meant we have had some of the most satisfying and enjoyable days of our lives. We have been together – all day – every day – yes absolutely every day – so that in itself has taught us both alot! Mostly patience and toleration I think, which is very much needed in order to keep harmony in such a small space. It is quite surprising how many times you both seem to want to get through a very small caravan door at the same time, and then have a debate on who has the most right to go first! But in the main we have had a ball being together, we laugh all the time – both at and with each other! We are proud of each other for all the new skills we have learnt and handling the new situations we find ourselves in, and have supported and relied on each other through times when the going got tough. So whilst 2020 wasn’t what we expected it to be all in all it was a year we won’t forget for so many more reasons than just Corona Virus.

The novelty of being back within 4 walls was quickly wearing off, being confined to base in the middle of the Country we were really missing seeing the sea. Our planned travel and holiday destinations had been scrapped and replanned several times so now there was no point in planning a Plan D and with lockdown restrictions imposed for a third time we took to exploring the local area. Snow arrived and made everywhere look pretty for a few days so when weather permitted we took walks around our local lanes, trudging through snow, mud and puddles imagining it was the sand and sea on the Spanish coast as per Plan A would have been. The canal and fields around us did look mighty pretty though in the weak winter sunshine.

Local walks around the village

Vinny the van has had a facelift since we have been home, with his wheels being black powder coated, and a rear door spoiler and front bumper splitter being fitted he now looks very smart and ready to face the world out on the open road. A few more areas inside have been covered and carpeted and we look forward to warmer drier days ahead when we can go further afield and get some camping time out of him. Bill the Bailey is having little tweaks and additions ready to become our next home from home. New bedding, throws, cushions and rugs have been added, plate racks and wine glass holders fitted in the cupboards and a clothes rail fitted in the shower area. Although there are more cupboards in the Bailey than the Eccles the wardrobe space isn’t as large so having to take a wide range of clothes to cover every possible weather variant for 8 months it called for an extra rail to be fitted. As the caravan shower area isn’t needed whilst we are sited in our warden compound it seemed the ideal place to be used as an extra wardrobe. That aswell as it being the wine cellar now makes it a much more useful space! Unfortunately he has been covered in snow several times since his arrival on the drive which is making us jittery, we didn’t buy a new cover for him as we had thought we would be out and about travelling during our time off, but it will be on our ‘to get list’ for next Winter as we would prefer him to be tucked up nice and warm and dry when not in use.

New look for Vinny
Bill out in the cold

Desperate for a change of view whilst out taking our daily exercise we went to Shugborough Hall our nearest National Trust property a couple of miles away. It was a beautiful sunny day so we made a flask of coffee wrapped up warm and headed out. Shugborough was the home of the Anson family who became the Earls of Lichfield, the most recent noteable one being celebrity photographer Patrick Lichfield who was the photographer for the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981 and the Queens Golden Jubilee in 2002. He continued to live in apartments in the Mansion until his death in 2005, although he had given the estate over to the National Trust in 1960 to cover death duties arising from his grandfathers death. There was plenty of space out and about on the estate without coming into contact with any other walkers, and thousands of acres of big blue sky and fresh air, although a great deal of the gardens and pathways were under several feet of water so impassable in many places. In the walled garden there was an installation of boards showing images from the Garden Photographer of the Year competition which was both very interesting and inspirational to look around. The coffee (and cake) was very welcome when we got back to Vinny after several hours of rambling, and we sat for a while sunning ourselves on his step albeit wrapped up in woolly hats and scarves. Herds of deer also were visible enjoying the warm winter sunshine in the grounds aswell as on Cannock Chase as we drove back through.

Shugborough Hall
Large areas of the estate were flooded

January has proved to be fairly uneventful, mostly days when there was nothing we had to do and also days when there was nothing we actually wanted to do! It has been nice to just sit and watch TV, films and box sets which is something of a luxury as there’s never the opportunity to do that whilst on site, and as the time back here at home is now dwindling fast, weeks now turning into days, we are savouring the little luxuries that would have been taken for granted 12 months ago. Things like a bath, a king size bed, lounging on full size settees, having a bathroom and kitchen you don’t have to go outside to get to, and having every item of clothing and pair of shoes I own available to wear should I fancy to!

It will soon be time to start writing lists and creating piles of items ready to pack up Bill the Bailey and Vinny the Van again and head back down to Rookesbury Park for the 2021 season. I wonder what this year will have in store for us all? who can begin to imagine, but what’s for certain is that we’ll have an exciting adventure every day.

Catch up with us next time as we spend our last couple of weeks living in the house, start packing for our 8 months away and make the return journey to our other home and life.

Returning to Home from Home

Our journey back home from leaving Rookesbury was a strange affair. So many emotions were hitting us, initial sadness at leaving the site and the people behind, happiness at the thought of sleeping in a king sized bed again, apprehension in case we felt hemmed in 4 solid walls, excitement at not working for 4 months, then frustration as we remembered we wouldn’t be picking up our new caravan and heading off on our own holiday adventures anytime soon.

The traffic was moving and the tow an easy one. It was the first time towing with Vinny the Van and he did it with ease. Belle had been zipped into her house, a large carrying case with her bed in it, and placed in the rear of Vinny, hoping she would settle down to sleep as she is not normally a good traveller. We hadn’t gone far when I could hear her scratching about and then suddenly to my amazement a little paw appeared between the front seats then the rest of her as she squirmed her way through the seat gap and onto my lap. And there she stayed for the next 4 hours happy and content either looking out of the window or curled up purring herself to sleep. It seems she’s decided where she will be travelling in future.

Are we there yet?

Gradually we lost the signal for our favourite Hampshire radio station and the road signs for “The Midlands” grew more frequent. We marvelled at new constructions that had appeared and old landmarks that had disappeared during our months away, but one thing that hadn’t changed was the amount of traffic on the M6, how thankful Steve was that he wasn’t sitting in those traffic queues every day now. Pulling onto the drive was surreal, had we really been away for 8 months? It didn’t feel like it. The house looked warm and welcoming, it was clean and tidy, the roof was still on and all the walls were still standing! the kids had done a marvellous job of keeping house for us.

We left everything packed where it was in Vinny and Ruby until the next day whilst we just enjoyed sitting on proper settees and walking up stairs, then began the mammoth task of finding a place for everything to live for the next 4 months. It took 3 days to unpack it all and we are still living with piles of stuff on our bedroom floor and various locations around the house as there’s just no where for it all to go. Belle settled straight back in to her old routines, spending the days sleeping on our bed and sitting by the pond in the garden in the hope of a fish supper. The Rookesbury rodent population must be breathing a sigh of relief as they get a few months off from being hunted. Ruby the caravan was cleaned, hoovered and polished in anticipation of us being able to change it for the new Bailey Pegasus Grande we ordered way back in May during the first lockdown. We were supposed to be picking it up on the 9th November but second lockdown put paid to that. Oh how I wish now that we had arranged for the dealers to deliver it to us during the summer as they had offered, hindsight is a marvellous thing. We had booked 3 weeks away in the new caravan starting the following week which now all had to be cancelled as a: we hadn’t got the new caravan and b: Staffordshire was Tier 3 and so we couldn’t travel out to any sites that were still open. We pinned our hopes on December 3rd and rebooked for then keeping everything crossed we would then be Tier 2.

Arriving home on the day before the second lockdown came into force meant we were suddenly confined to our immediate inland vicinity and it took some getting used to after having had the freedom of coastal excursions on our doorstep for so many months, but the weather was decent and we managed to get external maintenance jobs done on the house. The garden was tidied, gutters cleaned out, patios and drive jet washed and Steve demolished the leaky old shed and erected a lovely new one. Holiday? this was no holiday it felt just like being back at work! Rather different to our planned down time of breakfasts out at Weatherspoons followed by leisurely shop browsing and sightseeing in various locations around the UK. Last January, before we started our new roles, we had booked to spend a month in an apartment on the Spanish coast for January 2021 determined to take advantage of the time off our new life was going to allow us. As the year went by we were increasingly resigned to the fact we weren’t going to be able to go abroad and so it was cancelled. So instead we booked to tour Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Cumbria during January and February, happy that at least we would be seeing lovely sights in our own Country albeit probably in rain and zero temperatures rather than sun and 20 degrees.

December 2nd arrived and we were back in Tier 3 so we were still stuck in the house. There was good news from the caravan dealers that they would deliver the Bailey to us as they could travel for work purposes. Bill the Bailey arrived and was manoeuvred onto the drive, taking up even more room as it is 8ft wide and 26 foot long. At least for now we could admire it and even sit and sleep in it on the drive if we wanted to. December 16th’s review still had us in Tier 3 and in December 30th’s we moved up to Tier 4. January and Februarys travels were cancelled and we are now working on a Plan D.

Bill Bailey arrives on the drive
A snowy walk along the canal
Our view “on site” on the drive

In the meantime we are lucky that we live in a lovely village with scenic views on our doorstep so are able to get out for walks along the canal and lanes, then return to sit in Bill on the drive to drink our coffee pretending we are on a site somewhere! So until we know what Plan D can be along with the rest of the Country we await with baited breath for the next review and update of our Tiers.

Catch up with us next time as we try to to put together a Plan D and review our first season as Assistant Site Managers.

Our Season Draws to a Close

The end of October was rapidly approaching, after weeks of blue sky and sunshine the weather for the last 2 weeks had turned very wet and windy. This was stripping the trees of their leaves at an alarming rate and in turn giving us the massive task of blowing huge piles of them off the pitches and roadways every day. The awning was getting battered by the wind gusts and the sound of rain on the roof was drowning out the tv! so into the caravan we moved. We have only been using the caravan to sleep in for the whole time we have been on site as the awning had been set up as our living dining and lounge area, so having decamped to the caravan it now gave us the opportunity to sort out all the stuff it appeared we had accumulated over the season. Who knew you could cram so much into such small spaces!

We started to sort out and lists were made of what was staying on site to be stored for next year, what was going back home that was needed in our time off, what was going back home but being brought back next season, and what was going back home and staying there. With piles appearing in corners according to what list it was on the floor space was rapidly filling up. We thought we were living minimally but the piles seemed to suggest otherwise.

Packing up

Work had progressed well on Vinny the van just in time for us to grab the last days of decent weather for trips to the coast. We had been told about Titchfield an area of coastline and a National Nature Reserve on the shores of the Solent near Fareham, so to there we headed. It has two shingle beaches – Hill Head Beach and Meon Shore either side of the small harbour with a sailing club. Brightly coloured beach huts line the promenade of one beach and the cafe/tea room has views across the water to the Isle of Wight. Parking is either on a small carpark by the sailing club, along the seafront or on the roadside as it climbs at the far end above the beach huts. We like to park along the seafront wall and sit in Vinny with the side door open onto the beach watching the waves which at high tide crash over onto the walkway. It is very therapeutic watching and listening to the waves rolling in and out on the pebbles whilst having our coffee and cake. I always take a book but very rarely end up reading it as I just get drawn into watching the waves instead. The walk along Meon Shore Beach is backed by high cliffs which is a good area for fossil hunting, also this beach is a prime spot for wind and kite surfers.

Parked along the seawall at Titchfield Haven
Beach huts at Hill Head Beach
Hill Head Harbour and tea rooms
Meon Shore Beach
Coffee and cake in Vinny watching the waves

Another lovely day out was to Portchester Castle. We had passed the signpost off a roundabout every time we went shopping or headed Portsmouth way but for some reason had never quite made the detour. This time it was a specific outing to the Castle and boy did we wish we’d done it sooner. It was a glorious but chilly day in the wind so we wrapped up, made a flask of coffee and headed off hoping as it was midweek that not too many other folk had had the same idea. The road off the busy A27 roundabout soon gave way to historic houses surrounding a quaint village green and the Castle looming ahead. Originally built in the 3rd Century the Castle is the best preserved and most impressive of the Saxon shore forts. It has welcomed Henry Vlll and Anne Boleyn, was transformed into a Palace by Richard ll and was later used as a prison. From the carparks there are walks around the walls and along the coastal path where there are benches to sit and take in the stunning views across the Solent to Spinnaker Tower and the Naval Dockyards, which on our visit had the two aircraft carriers in dock. We sat for quite a while in the sunshine with the binoculars watching their manoeuvres. Inside the walls is housed St Marys Church, a Norman church featuring highly decorative stonework, arches and a medieval font, and a bonus of now being a cafe serving drinks, cakes and more substantial meals, of which we partook all in the name of local area research of course. The homemade Victoria sponge was particularly good, we took a slice back to Vinny and had it with our coffee sitting on the settee/bed in the back admiring the view of the Castle. If you wish to climb the Norman keep of the Castle, or explore further inside and visit the exhibitions there is an English Heritage entrance fee.

Portchester Castle
“I see no ships, only hardships!”

Our official last day should have been the 31st October which was originally the last open day of the site (before the season was extended) we then had a leave site date of 4th November giving us the days between to close the site down. When it was announced the site was staying open we were informed that it only needed one couple to stay on and manage it for the additional 2 months so that meant our leave date was still the 4th November, just getting home in time for the second lockdown to begin. As it turned out, that last weekend was our weekend off duty so we only had to work on the Tuesday before going home on the Wednesday. The day we arrived on site all those many months ago as brand new newbies we were told “before you know it your first season will be over and you’ll be heading home” well they were certainly right on that score. It seemed unreal that we would be returning to the big world beyond the safety of the site gates, and to be honest we weren’t at all sure it was something we were looking forward to. Rookesbury Park had been not just our home but also our life for 8 months and possibly if family and friends could have visited us regularly as per pre-covid life used to allow, we might not have actually left at all!

So the day of our contract end dawned, we had spent our last night in a caravan for a while. Who knew when we would sleep under the stars again now that the second lockdown had been announced. The awning had come down the day before taking advantage of a rare dry spell, the final last minute items were packed back in the caravan and Belle was safely zipped in her travelling house. We took one more walk around the site which was looking magnificent under the clear blue sky and sunshine and then it was time to hitch up. We unlocked the front gates to our compound but they didn’t want to budge, they were stuck fast -was this an omen?- didn’t the site want us to leave? After much tugging they finally gave way and we were able to pull the caravan out and hitch up. The time had come to say goodbye to our work family, strange to think that 8 months ago we didn’t even know these lovely people and now we couldn’t imagine a day without them! With tears in our eyes we climbed aboard Vinny and waved off the season that was 2020. As we pulled away up the driveway we had so nervously arrived down all those months ago as we started our new adventure on our journey into the unknown, we knew for sure we would most definitely be back in March to do it all over again.

Ready to roll

Catch up with us next time as we settle back into life within four walls, hopefully pick up the new caravan we ordered during the first lockdown, and try to plan our own holiday time.

Silly Season

Firstly apologies for it being so long since the last blog update. The last one ended just as the site had reopened on 4th July, so basically that’s the reason I haven’t had the time to write one since! From that day on as we raised the arrival barrier to welcome members back once again it has been non stop. There wasn’t a night where we weren’t full to capacity all through July and August and right up until the last week of September. The weather held out into early October so weekends were still chocablock as we then took capacity down to hardstanding pitches only. From July it would normally have been a steady build up to the school holiday break up at the end of the month with weekdays having a constant tickover and weekends full, but it was noticeable that from day one the site was full of children and families as although the lockdown had eased for travel and some businesses, the majority of schools remained closed and many parents were still furloughed. Having had 9 days of warden life back in March then 96 days furlough, meant that July and August was quite a hard slog and felt like a continual groundhog day. Days went by in a blur, a whirlwind of bin emptying, checking in, block cleaning and keeping members happy on their holidays. It was unbelievable just how many people were wanting to get out in their caravans motorhomes and tents, and also how many families were embracing the lifestyle for the first time. I guess everyone has had to rethink their holiday plans for 2020, those that would have normally spent their time abroad have now had a staycation instead and the freedom and ease of caravanning seems to have appealed to many.

So our summer season was spent in a whirlwind, when at last the August Bank Holiday was over a gentle decline in the numbers on site would normally have begun, families having had their fill of nights in a wobbly box, burnt bbq’s and the sound of rain on the roof. But no, the site was still full weekdays and weekends, everyone was intent on making up for their lost leisure time during the lockdown months and so our season was still going at full steam ahead. It was certainly a full on introduction to life as a Campsite Warden, but as we didn’t know any different it was just another day in paradise to us. The site was taking a hammering from the amount of people using it, grass was looking threadbare in places and there just wasn’t enough time to grass cut, hedge trim and carry out repairs as we would have liked. But members were still very complimentary about the happy atmosphere, friendliness of staff and how they felt safe being on site with all the sanitising and Covid measures we had in place, mask wearing, hand sanitising and social distancing now being normal as part of everyday life. What will normal life look like when they return next season – who knows?

Belle on guard cat duty

The hot sunny weather of lockdown was now hit and miss during the holiday summer months but we did still manage our days out when the rota allowed. We ( I mean Steve) has always hankered after a van instead of a car, both to tow the caravan and just because he enjoys driving vans. In our previous jobs it was me who drove our own car everyday for work and social outings so for practicality a van was not on my agenda. But now, since I hadn’t actually driven any vehicle other than the site tractor since February, it was decided to change the Kuga for a van. More practical now that we had so much stuff to carry about with us and also we wanted a vehicle that could double up as an overnight stay in case we ever got the chance to stay on another site on our time off. So the hunt was on, ideally a VW camper conversion was our goal but we soon realised this wasn’t going to be within our budget so alternatives had to be thought of. After much searching we finally found a possible within a few miles so headed over there to view it on Steve’s birthday at the end of July. It was a Transit Custom, still a panel van but we had big ideas for a conversion to suit our needs and were quite excited at the prospect of doing the work ourselves. The purchase was made and we picked it up two weeks later, our journey into nomadic living had just taken another leap forward, we now owned a van and a caravan.

Vinny outside before
Vinny inside before

Vinny (the van) was now about to be transformed into a day van with a pull out bed, a Club requirement for staying on a site is that the vehicle has to have a proper fixed sleeping area so a blow up Lilo in the back would not suffice. We felt we didn’t need to have a permanent kitchen area, sink or wardrobe as it would only be used for the odd 1 maybe 2 night stay away and we could erect a driveaway awning or tent to house the cooking facilities if needed for then. What we mainly wanted it for was to drive to the beach and sit looking at the view drinking coffee and eating cake. Spare time was spent researching the “look” we wanted and many purchases began arriving daily from ebay and Amazon. The first thing we did was remove the bulkhead and have windows fitted either side. The sides, floor and roof were sound deadened and insulated, new side and roof panels lined with carpet, lights installed and carpet floor tiles fitted. Now the basics had been done it was time for the part I’d been looking forward to – all the furnishings inside. We had a trip to Ikea in Southampton and found a pull out sofa bed that was the exact size to fit between the wheelarches, cushions, throws, curtains and rugs were added and our little home from home was transformed. There are still some areas around the rear doors and pillars that need carpet lining but unfortunately by this time it was the middle of October and the weather had changed to wet and windy. We still managed a few day trips out in Vinny and are eagerly planning many more.

Vinny outside after
Vinny inside after

We had a day trip to Brighton which is about 50 miles away from the site. It was a lovely blue sky and sunshine day and quite warm still, after taking an age to find somewhere to park we then had a walk along the seafront and pier and enjoyed a free icecream. There was a sign out infront of an icecream shop saying “have a free icecream if your name is Sally” so I did! We didn’t get to see much more in Brighton due to parking time restrictions so on the way back stopped off at Arundel and its Castle. Arundel is a picturesque market town with a magnificent medieval castle and Cathedral. It is stylish and full of history with many independent boutiques, antique shops, art galleries and pretty waterside pubs and cafes. A very nice place to wander around its charming back streets, walk along the River Arun and enjoy views of England’s second largest castle.

A great day out in Brighton
Arundel Castle

Back on site Autumn was now visibly on its way, trees were turning all shades of red, orange and yellow, some with their red fruits hanging low ready for birds to feast on, conkers and acorns dropping on those who were unfortunate to pitch under overhanging branches. Leaves were falling ankle deep in places, the leaf blower going into overdrive to keep the roadways and pitches as clear as possible. Threadbare grass pitches were scarrified, raked and reseeded, then we eagerly waited to see the bright green new grass growth, relieved when it started to appear that the birds hadn’t pecked all the new seed away. With the member numbers now dwindling Rookesbury’s animal life was beginning to emerge once again, pheasants strutted their stuff, squarking and showing off their colourful feathers, squirrels were busy collecting acorns stashing them away in their secret stores ready for a winter supper. The woodpecker had also returned to the tree overhanging our compound and could be heard hammering away acting as our morning wakeup alarm call.

Autumn arrives on site

The wildlife should have been lining up to reclaim the site back as their own from 31st October as this was the official season end date, that is up until 10 days before that when we were informed the season had been extended and the new close date was now 3rd January. The phone started ringing off the hook again and bookings began mounting for Christmas and New Year. Members were elated they now had the opportunity to continue making memories and see out the year, one we’ll never forget, in their happy places.

Catch up with us next time as our season comes to a close, we pack up our belongings and prepare to head home.