Homeward Bound

After the sale of the family home at the beginning of the year, and us initially thinking we would be fulltime van-dwellers for the foreseeable future, the ‘foreseeable’ only turned out to be a few months. It was a perculiar feeling not having somewhere to call ‘home’ and not one we had expected to feel at all. Far from feeling free and unshackled we felt lost and adrift, nomads with no roots. There may be many reading or listening to this who are living their dream of permanent vanlife and horrified that we have committed to bricks and bills again (but thankfully with no mortgage this time) there will be those that are in between lifestyles wondering whether to take the plunge and sell up and equally those who couldn’t contemplate life without a castle to call their own. Not one option is right for everyone and whatever you choose or believe to be the right decision at the time doesn’t have to be a forever decision. Its OK to change your mind and travel a different road, the main thing is to do what’s right for you. For us that’s having the best of both worlds, we love living in the caravan and the lifestyle our jobs as assistant site managers gives us, but after 8 months of that we are equally happy to have a proper roof over our heads for the winter and an oven I can fit the turkey in on Christmas Day!

So subsequently we started looking for a new abode, which wasn’t easy being 250 miles away from our search area. We’d settled on an area of Shropshire as it was equal distance between family and after Steve announcing he’d always wanted a cottage with 4 windows on the front and a door in the middle that’s what we were on the hunt for. It didn’t take long to find just that and on a day off we were whizzing up the motorway from Devon for a viewing. All the way up the M5 we were trying to convince each other there was no way we would be buying it, we were just looking. Yeah right, once we saw it there was no way we would be walking away! It was perfect, big enough for the two of us and small enough to lock up and leave when we were away during the caravan working season. We were looking forward to being home for winter already!

A misty morning in Shropshire

Meanwhile we still had 2 months of warden life to plough on with in Devon. After plenty of much needed rain newly seeded pitches were springing back into life with bright green blades of grass visible through the once bare earth. Trees were dropping their leaves early due to the hot weather and others were starting to turn towards shades of autumn. For so long the caravan door had been permanently flung open to cool down but now increasingly we shut out the cold, wind and rain and kept cosy warm in our small space. Days were still sunny but temperatures dropped once the sun went down.

Seasons starting to change

We were still keen to get out and about realising our sightseeing opportunities around here were numbered as time was drawing nearer by the day to us leaving the area.

Burgh Island and Bigbury on Sea are a short hop along the coast and an iconic South Devon landmark. Featured in many TV and film locations the Island is only accessible at low tide by walking across the sands or by way of a sea tractor at higher tide. It boasts an art deco hotel built in 1929 that welcomed many rich and famous keen on its exclusive location. Agatha Christie was a regular visitor and used the setting for two of her novels which she wrote in the beach house. You can walk around the island and climb the hill above the hotel for stunning views both back to the mainland across the sands and in the other direction out to sea. Don’t forget to make a note of the tide times though otherwise you’ll get wet feet or have to queue for a tractor ride back!

Views from Burgh Island

Away from the coast we visited South Devon Railway. A steam heritage line first built in 1872 where you can ride the 14 miles from Buckfastleigh to Totnes and back through the stunning valley of the River Dart. There is refreshments, a gift and very extensive model shop, a museum, gardens and a picnic area at Buckfastleigh Station.

Cockington Court and village is a lovely place to stroll, visit art and craft studios and have a great lunch at the Drum Inn. It is by Torquay so we try to combine it with a trip across the River for other reasons. Cockington Country Park is an area of woodland, parkland, rural countryside and formal garden landscapes and amongst the 450 acre site there are ornamental lakes, a Manor House, chocolate box thatched cottages, art and craft studios, an 11th century church, picnic areas and a cosy pub serving delicious food. Inside the 16th century manor house there are over 20 craft studios, a contemporary art gallery, a tea room and a rose garden, and housed in the stables behind you can watch craft makers at work blowing glass, a blacksmith creating items at his forge, a chocolatier, leather maker, jeweller and sculptor to name a few. The Cockington Estate was owned by only three families from 1066 through to 1932 when it passed into public ownership and was created into a Park in 1991. There is a visitors centre in the heart of the village together with a tea room and a number of gift shops and a game of cricket can be watched enjoying a picnic on the sloping grass banks in front of the manor house. All very quintessentially English!

Cockington Village and Church

Middle of October was time to take down the awning and assess what had to go where ready for taking home or staying in the caravan for next season. Lists were made so as not to misplace anything and piles of our belongings began to appear on every available inch of floorspace. Who knew we had so much or even needed so much stuff in such a small space. The site numbers dwindled first week into November somedays with no comings or goings at all, so slowly the site began to prepare for closedown. Goodbyes and best wishes were given to the seasonal members who had become good friends during their time with us and then it was our time to go too. We pulled out of the gates at 7am to be sure to miss the bus and anything bigger coming the otherway. Vinny the van pulling Bill the Bailey are 40ft long and 8ft wide so meeting another vehicle on these Devon lanes was not going to be a pleasant experience. Luckily it all went to plan and we were soon on the wider roads heading North. We waved goodbye to Devon, its stunning coastline, glorious beaches and picture postcard villages and focused our sights on the next adventure – home.

Don’t forget to read next time as we begin work on the new house and get out and about in Shropshire.

Summer Sunshine

July and August saw an influx of families and holidaymakers spending their 2 week annual summer holiday at Start Bay site. After having mostly couples stay during the early part of the season the change in site dynamics was very apparent. Add to that the hot summer temperatures and being by the sea in Devon, the site definitely had that holiday feeling. Caravans and campers arrived laden down with paddleboards, kyhaks and all manner of water sports equipment that was carried down to the sea every morning by eager enthusiasts and then wearily trudged back up to site just before sunset. Wet suits and swimming gear were hanging out to dry on every washing line ready for use again the following day, and ice creams were outselling the cream teas. The location of our site was a winner for coastal activities and even just for enjoying being by the sea and not necessarily in it – as is the case for me!

Steve was keen to embrace the water sport culture and so had a days paddleboard tuition on a course in Dartmouth. After a theory lesson on land they hit the water and paddled down the estuary heading for Dartmouth Castle at the mouth of the river, weaving in and out of the creeks, amongst the moored boats and getting enviable views of the millionaires houses clinging to the steep hillsides overlooking the River Dart. Thankfully the weather was still very hot so his (quite a) few dunkings into the water was actually welcomed and he had the last laugh over those that had mastered the art of standing upright and staying on the board better than him! A few days later he got the chance to have another go at North Sands Salcombe, whilst I watched from a dry spot on the beach.

Steve paddleboarding at North Sands Salcombe

At the beginning of August we made a trip back to Rookesbury Park site in Hampshire where we had worked the previous two seasons. We went in Vinny the van and really enjoyed being “the other side of the fence” for a few days staying on a pitch amongst other members and using all the site facilities for a change. You really do appreciate the standard of cleanliness  knowing all the hard work that’s gone into it. Rookesbury had a little makeover during last years closedown and now boasts 10 fully serviced pitches which were proving to be very popular and the whole site was looking splendid, even with brown grass. We were able to catch up with familiar faces and friends we had made during our time there and it was good to see so many still returning for their weekends away and main summer holidays. In fact we enjoyed being back there so much it got us thinking about next years placement and without having to confer and with no debate we both confessed we wanted to return for next season. Selection 2023 process was announced and Rookesbury Park was our choice, we then had to wait another month until the beginning of September to find out our future. 

Weekend at Rookesbury Park

A few days after returning from Rookesbury our world was rocked and our hearts broken. Belle our beautiful cat was found lying at the site entrance by a passing motorist and carried to a patch of grass just inside the gates. There wasn’t a mark to be seen on her and she was always very mindful of cars and traffic never venturing onto the road, so we will never know what really happened to her, she was just in the wrong place for a split second and her 9 lives were obviously all used up. For quite a while afterwards we spiralled into despair, overcome by sadness and loss and it became tough to then love and appreciate the site and the area that had taken Belle from us. We knew then for sure we could not stay another season working here in Devon, the memories were too painful to bear.

Our beautiful Belle

Without Belle to keep us on the site in our time off we planned another few days away in Vinny at Trewethett Farm CAMC on the north Cornish coast between Boscastle and Tintagel. We bagged a stunning pitch on the front row with uninterrupted views of the sea and the famous sunsets and enjoyed a couple of days as holidaymakers. We caught the bus which stops outside the site entrance and got off in pretty Boscastle a couple of miles away. We had visited there previously and so had a nice wander around the village and walked down the inlet past the harbour to where the river meets the sea. A hundred years ago Boscastle was a busy commercial port and the only place where a boat could pull into harbour along the 40 miles of the north coast of Cornwall. Perhaps it is more famous  recently due to the flash floods in 2004 that washed many cars out to sea, flattened around 1000 trees, destroyed homes and businesses and deposited 20 years of silt and sediment on the village in a few hours. The Visitors Centre shows news footage of the scenes as it was unfolding and its incredible to see the force of water as it rages down the valley taking everything with it in its wake. Today the village stands proud and picturesque with little signs of the devastation in endured that day.

Perfect pitch at Trewethett CAMC
Boscastle

I had heard of a picturesque spot just a few miles along the coast called Newton Ferrers, so a day trip was duly planned to see it for ourselves. Well it certainly didn’t disappoint. Set on a creek of the River Yealm estuary it is a stunning location with breathtaking views at every step. Parking is a little limited but being able to visit on weekdays we managed to find a space in a side road and walked down the hill to the harbour. Pastel painted and thatched cottages with flower filled gardens line the waters edge and modern designer glass fronted properties stand higher up the hillside overlooking the perfect bays below. We spent a long while sitting on a bench by the jetty, soaking up the sun and watching all the activity out on the water. Yachts, ribs and tiny row boats all jostle for a spot to bob about in the picture postcard scene. It has a pub and shop but other than that its the views, peace and tranquillity that are the main attraction. A pure gem of a place.

Newton Ferrers

6 weeks of mayhem and madness soon drew to a close. August Bank Holiday saw a mass desertion from the site and we could once again see sight of empty pitches and areas of grass. Albeit still brown grass from the long hot summer and endless comings and goings. By mid September the member clientele had reverted back to pre-school holiday mode and couples were venturing back out on their road trips. Devon lanes in July and August are not for the faint hearted, especially with caravans and larger motorhomes. After doing battle with oncoming vehicles in Vinny the van, and sometimes feeling like we were reversing backwards more times than we were going forwards, we decided the best idea was to get a small car to whizz around the country roads in instead. After much scouring of the Internet and  garages we found a Hyundai dealer in Torquay who had just the job, an i10. Right mileage right colour right price so I drove it back the same day. We love it and so much less stressful to drive around Devon and get parked in the tourist hotspots.

September also brought us confirmation that we would be returning to Hampshire for the 2023 season, back to Rookesbury Park our second home. I say ‘second home’ as our other news is we bought a house again.

Keep a look out for our next blog as we prepare to leave Devon, move back into a house for the winter and take 4 months off Vanlife.

Sunny scenery

June arrived and the weather continued to remain sunny and warm with the odd torrential downpour just to remind us we are in Start Bay Devon and not St Tropez! Mostly the rain has been overnight so it hasn’t interrupted work or play too much.

Jubilee weekend the site was full to capacity for the first time this season with members taking advantage of the extended 4 day Bank holiday. Bunting was hung from every available structure and flapped away welcoming them to partake in bucks fizz and cream teas provided by the Club to mark the celebrations. Several of the surrounding villages were holding events over the four days and thankfully the threatened downpours held off for them to enjoy the celebrations in dry conditions.

Work on site has continued in earnest with the combination of warmth, sunshine and showers  encouraging everything to grow at an alarming rate. The days fly by juggling office paperwork, facility cleaning, site maintenance, grass cutting, departures, arrivals and pitch checking. Whatever the weather the same jobs need doing every day.

We needed to visit a major town to access banks and shops that are non existent in rural Devon so headed out to Plymouth for a spot of retail therapy. The city is just over an hours drive from Start Bay and there are 3 park and rides situated on the outskirts. We used one on the east side called Coypool which is motorhome friendly with no height barriers. The bus whisked us swiftly into the city and the first stop was right outside the large Drake Circus shopping centre. We got off here not knowing where else to and walked through the retail centre out onto the vast pedestrianised shopping streets. The bus does stop at several other locations in a big loop around the main shopping area so you can get off or on wherever it suits. After conducting our business at the banks and browsing the big brand shops that we have been denied of the past few months, we made our way to the Hoe. Plymouth Hoe is steeped in history and probably most famous for being where Sir Francis Drake had a game of bowls whilst waiting for the tide to turn before heading out to defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588. On the wide green area overlooking Plymouth Sound stands the well known landmark of Smeatons Tower, an iconic red and white striped lighthouse. The lighthouse was originally built on Eddystone Reef in 1759 but was moved stone by stone in the early 1880’s when it was found that the rock it was standing on was crumbling away. It stands 72 feet high and offers views across the Sound and Drakes Island from the restored lantern room at the top.

Smeatons Tower and Plymouth Hoe

Below the Hoe is the Tinside Lido an open air Art Deco swimming pool. It is a Grade II listed salt water swimming pool originally constructed in 1935. It closed due to neglect in 1992 but after a campaign and fund raising it was extensively refurbished and reopened again in 2005.

A short walk along the seafront takes you to the Barbican harbour and historic waterfront famed for being the departing point of the Pilgrim Fathers who set sail to discover The New World in 1620. The back streets boast the largest concentration of cobbled streets in Britain and contain 100 listed buildings. Plymouth Gin was founded here, originally the building being a merchants house dating from 1500, it was then a gaol before being remodelled and extended into a distillery in 1793.

Barbican

Another day out was spent at nearby Buckfast Abbey. The Abbey forms part of an active Benedictine Monastry that was first built on the site in 1018. The site now includes extensive award winning gardens, a conference centre, restaurant, shop and exhibition centre. There is a very peaceful calming ambiance as you stroll around the immaculately kept grounds and the cooling interior of the Abbey itself was very welcome.

Buckfast Abbey

Moving on from the Abbey we arrived on Dartmoor, a National Park covering a vast area of central Devon and famous for myths, legends, Sherlock Holmes, a prison and wild roaming ponies. We stopped to admire the far reaching views and enjoy the eerie stillness of the moor and were suddenly surrounded by ponies joining us from all directions clearly interested in what we might be having for our picnic and not at all bothered by humans or their vehicles.

Ponies on Dartmoor

National Trust properties are always on my agenda to visit and so we went to Saltram House, Grade II listed Georgian mansion House near Plymouth. It was transferred to NT in 1951 and has since been used in many period dramas and films including Sense and Sensibility in 1995.

Saltram House

Another we visited nearby is Buckland Abbey. Originally built as a Cistercian Abbey in 1278 it was remodelled and converted into a house around 1576. It was then bought by Sir Francis Drake in 1581 and remained lived in by the Drake family until 1946 when it was bought by a local landowner and presented to the National Trust. There is a very interesting Drake interactive exhibition and a ‘lost’ Rembrandt painting on display.

Buckland Abbey

That was our travels in June and there has been plenty more since, so join us in the next blog as the weather hots up in July and we continue to explore Devon.

Covering the Coast

The weather has been so much better the second month of our arrival in Devon that we have been out and about exploring on nearly every day off. There is so much to see and do around here I’m like a kid in a sweet shop not knowing where I want to go next. I’m a massive map lover and study maps like reading a book, Steve often remarks “how on earth do you know about these places?” as I’m guiding him yet again down some tiny green lane with grass growing in the middle to get to a spot on the map I’ve found. The lanes in Devon are not for the meek and mild, most requiring nerves of steel as you approach blind bends on single track roads with passing places few and far between. That’s why these places are so spectacular but even when you think no-one else would be mad enough to find their way there there’s always other people thinking and doing the same.

Devon lanes

The site is looking stunning in the sunshine too. Grass and greenery has now been mowed, preened and pruned, kerbing painted, signs renewed and facilities had a fresh coat of paint. It’s looking very smart out there. Easter was a busy weekend, the site was full as we were just on hardstanding pitches still and thankfully for all who came the weather was great. The sky was blue and the sea was even bluer as you caught a glimpse looking across the treetops. It makes me smile everytime to think I can now see the sea every day- that’s what living in the Midlands for 55 years does to you!

Sun setting on site

We have had three trips back to home and the house since our arrival in March, which is a mighty long way from down here taking 4 and a quarter hours on average each way. First was for a music concert we already had booked in Birmingham so that was a 24hr dash up the M5 and arriving back at 4am in the morning to start work at 10am. Next was for my Dad’s 101st birthday which was a fabulous family celebration get together. Then lastly to do the final clearance and clean of our house ready for the sale completion date. We had anticipated a very busy and emotional 2 days but not quite as emotional as it turned out to be. Our initial thoughts of how liberating and exciting it would be to be free of responsibility and bills was overshadowed by the stark reality that everything our 33 years together had accumulated was either in a charity shop, sold to someone else or packed into a storage container and our castle was now an empty shell. Instead of walking out heads held high we handed the keys over in floods of tears. It will take some getting used to and we try not to think about it too often but life is a journey as they say and this is the road we now travel.

We console ourselves with amazing days out and the stunning scenery that we are lucky enough to be surrounded by. Trips to Hope Cove an idyllic old fishing village with two beaches, pub, restaurant and a gift shop is reached by the obligatory hard to negotiate Devon lanes but is well worth the stress. The sand is clean and golden, the sea a hundred shades of blue and green and the coastal path in each direction gives you stunning views for miles.

Hope Cove

Thurlestone is another coastal village with spectacular views just along from Hope Cove so walking the coastal path from there is the easiest route to take. There are two beaches in close proximity with no facilities at the beach by the golf club but the larger South Milton beach does have toilets, a cafe and watersports. The bay is dominated by Thurlestone Rock an ancient arch shaped formation that is best viewed at high tide.

Start Point is spectacular with its lighthouse and Mattiscombe Beach around the headland. Another narrow winding lane for a few miles up, down and round the Devon hills culminates in a grassy privately owned capark on the hilltop with a little hut where you currently pay £3.50 to park. From here you can walk down a long tarmac path along the rugged peninsula that juts almost a mile out into the sea to reach the lighthouse whilst taking in amazing views of Start Bay and on clear days you can see Beesands, Torcross, Slapton Sands and all the way over to Blackpool Sands. The coastline around the Point once claimed 52 lives in one stormy day in 1892 as 4 boats perished on the rocks.

Start Point Lighthouse and Start Bay

From the same capark in another direction there is a stoney pathway down to Mattiscombe Beach to the south of the lighthouse. This is also an unbelievable view with a perfectly placed bench to sit awhile and listen to the waves rolling in on the Sands or crashing onto the rocks below. The final decent to the sand is a bit of a scramble but do-able and worth it.

We spent a very relaxing couple of hours- after we’d made it back up the hill from Mattiscombe- sitting in Vinny the van having a picnic and admiring 360° views out of every window. We sat in the van as even though it was beautiful blue sky and sunshine the wind was actually blowing our heads off.

Vinny with a view

Another outing has been to Brixham and then onto National Trust Coleton Fishacre. We have visited Brixham several times over the years but still enjoy a stroll around the harbour and onto the marina and beach. It was ‘pirate week’ so everything was decked out in appropriate flags and swashbuckling paraphernalia, including a party of young school children who had visited the pirate ship in the harbour and then were led very enthusiastically by their teachers all around the harbour singing pirate songs and challenging us ‘landlubbers’ with their swords!

Brixham

Coleton Fishacre is a National Trust house and gardens near to Brixham. It was built in the 1920’s by the D’Oyly Carte family as their London weekend escape house and hosted many celebrity parties in its heyday. The gardens are beautifully landscaped and as the property is perched high on a cliffside they extend very steeply in places down to a private cove they used for bathing.

Coleton Fishacre NT

The weather was still sunny and warm through most of May so more coastal days out were had. The park and ride was now in operation for Dartmouth so taking advantage of that we parked up and took the bus into the town. Now the tourist season is taking off the parking in Dartmouth itself is very limited especially for a van/camper so its much easier to use park and rides wherever we can. As we were there on foot we decided to walk to Dartmouth Castle. A very pretty woodland walk along the Dart estuary and past plenty of luxury properties perched on the cliff edges with walls of glass making the most of the stunning views.

The Castle was begun in 1388 and is now managed by English Heritage. The gun tower was added almost a century later and the complex incorporates St Petrox church. The castle saw action in the Civil War and was in use right up to the Second World War. There is a lovely cafe and plenty of outdoor seating to take in the view.

Our coastal visits so far have only covered a very few miles of the stunning South Hams coastline but you’ve probably already got the idea – and seen the photos to prove it – that there’s alot to see and do down here. We are enjoying being tourists whilst also having the good fortune to call the area home, if only for 8 months. There’s lots more days out and photos to come so catch the next blog where we visit a city for a change ( but it’s still on the coast! ) find peace at an Abbey and have lunch with the ponies on Dartmoor.

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 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.