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.

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.

Lockdown Life

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

Empty pitches

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

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

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

Meon Valley Trail

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

Plenty of trails to explore in Forest of Bere

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

Papercraft cards
Felting makes so far

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

Belle keeping an eye on her territory

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

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

Bluebells in Hundred Acre Wood