There’s no place like home

After arriving back to our new home in the second week of November we threw ourselves into decorating and renovations, and also shopping for all the items we had either sold, given to charity or taken to the tip a few months previously. There has been a few items with hindsight we wish we had kept but who knew at the time that we would be back in a house within a year. Having disposed of every stick of furniture we owned it has been great fun discovering the many antique and pre-loved shops in our area finding pieces suitable for a 19th century cottage. We are very well placed in Shropshire with Ironbridge, Bridgnorth, Ludlow, Church Stretton and Shrewsbury on our doorstep to make the most of all that’s available.

Sunny Shropshire

The place isn’t very big and there wasn’t too much that needed doing, so once the tasks we could tackle ourselves had been accomplished we started to plan the bigger changes we wanted to make, like replacing the bathroom and adding a downstairs wc and cloakroom. Creating the new cloakroom would end up leaving the kitchen too small so an extension was then going to be needed to remedy that. Oh and while we were at it why not build a front porch and change the external doors for ones more aesthetically suited to the property. Ambitious plans costing alot of money and requiring planning permission unfortunately. Not to mention that we are also situated in a conservation area so negotiating with the local Heritage Planning Dept was going to need some time and patience. The bathroom replacement was a quick win so that was planned in to start when we leave the cottage to return to site at the end of February. Albeit it is then going to be sitting there unused until November it is going to be easier to carry out the work without us being there.

Through November the weather was mostly dry with sunny blue skies so we took days out combined with antique shop browsing to the surrounding towns and villages. Coalbrookdale and Ironbridge are 10 minutes away and we must admit to visiting several times for breakfast in a cafe along the River front. They do the best scrambled egg on toast. We park in the large pay and display by the Visitors Centre and walk up alongside the River Severn to the Bridge then browse the bookshops and gift shops before inevitably ending up in the Antique centre back by the carpark, with a few exciting finds having been purchased from here so far. The iconic bridge was built by Abraham Darby III in 1779 and was the world’s first bridge constructed from iron. Ironbridge Gorge is home to several museums and heritage sites preserving it’s national importance of being the roots of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. The Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage site covers 5.5kmsq and it was in Coalbrookdale in 1709 that Abraham Darby I developed the production technique of smelting iron with coke ( not of the cola kind!) which began the Great 18th century iron revolution. During the next century associated works and foundries sprung up in the surrounding areas benefitting from this new industry, and consequently dwellings appeared on Horsehay Common probably built by squatters drawn to the area by work, one of which is ours.


Right on our doorstep we are finding walks and discovering the history of the area along the way. The Coalbrookdale Company needed additional furnaces and Horsehay Pool provided a sufficient water supply and land for lease. The furnace at Horsehay first came into blast on 5 May 1755. A railway from Horsehay to the nearby Severn wharves was built and the first waggon of ‘pigs’ (iron) was shipped down through Coalbrookdale and on to the wharves almost within sight of the Ironbridge that was to be completed 24 years later. The Coalbrookdale Company further developed the area, constructing brickworks and later a pottery in 1838.

Horsehay Pool at the bottom of our lane

Shrewsbury is our nearest big market town, again set on the River Severn it is the county town of Shropshire and only 9 miles from the Welsh border. The town centre still boasts a medieval layout, has 660 listed buildings some timber framed dating back to the 15th century and is the birthplace of Charles Darwin. Its windy back streets and passages house many interesting independent shops, our favourites being an antiquarian bookshop and traditional ironmongers.

Shrewsbury Park alongside the River Severn

Bridgnorth, a town just along the River Severn, has also yielded a few choice pieces for the cottage from its many interesting shops. Built up on the hillside of the fast flowing River there is a Low Town and High Town. Also it is the main station for the Severn Valley Railway, a 16 mile heritage steam line running along the Severn Valley Gorge. A ruined castle stands on the hill and a cliff railway (when in use) can take you between Low and High town giving far reaching views across the Shropshire countryside.

As Christmas approached we put the DIY on hold and decorated the cottage ready for the festive season. The family were glad we had now got an oven big enough to take the turkey and that the task of cooking Christmas Dinner was safely back in Mom’s hands and her kitchen! I really don’t think any of them were relishing the thought of eating a barbecued chicken leg sitting in a draughty awning – they haven’t as yet fully embraced the caravan lifestyle.

Cosy for Christmas
Polar Express events at Horsehay Station Telford Steam Railway

However the week before Christmas things took an unexpected turn with my Dad who was 101 having a fall at his home and breaking his hip. Christmas and New Year was fitted in around hospital visiting hours but despite putting up a brave fight, fraility and old age took its toll and he lost his battle for recovery in mid January. The following weeks were taken up with organising his affairs and arranging the funeral. Two months short of reaching 102 he still looked forward to every new day and what he could learn from it, never looking or acting his ripe old age he was a true inspiration to us all.

Time was now marching on and with only two weeks left at home our thoughts needed to be focusing on getting back to work. It was a tall order as there was still so much we wanted to do in and around the cottage, still so many places to visit and many days to spend just sitting by the fire, reading and dozing. In reality our winter at home and our 4 months (nearly) off work had come to an end and our other life was now beckoning.

Catch up with us next time as we leave our winter home and return to our summer home on site.

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.


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.

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 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.