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

(Br)Exit, Training and a Hiccup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover is off, but unfortunately now back on!

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