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.

Changing Seasons, Changing Life.

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

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

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

Non stop sweeping of leaves

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

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

Sunny Start Bay CAMC

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

Slapton Sands

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

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

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

Hitched up and ready to roll

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

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

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

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

Season in full flow

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

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

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

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

Salisbury Cathedral
The Close Salisbury

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

New Forest Ponies and Highland Cattle

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

Mudeford Beach Huts

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

Port Solent

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

On the Isle of Wight ferry

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

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

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

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

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.

Lost in Lockdown

We have just completed another month in lockdown (69 days to be precise and counting) and it has been, well, uneventful really. Sunshine has been endless, day after day of clear blue skies, occasional fluffy white clouds and light breezes, it certainly has convinced us that the South has better weather than we are used to hailing from half way up the Country in the North Midlands. Living our life 90% outside that makes being on the South coast a definite bonus. Considering there has been three Bank Holidays since the lockdown started its been hot hot hot here, a most unusual occurrence in British weather history. Steve is chasing the shade between the awning and the kitchen/bathroom pods, and I’m bobbing between one chair in the sun and one chair in the shade when it gets too hot even for me. Can’t even begin to imagine how different lockdown life would have been for us so far if the weather had been typically British, and we had been confined to the caravan and awning listening to wind and rain on the roof. Not half as pleasant is all I can say.

Empty pitches ready and waiting for members return

As we look around us surrounded by all the empty pitches, reading on social media how fellow caravaners, motorhomes and campers are missing out on being able to use their outfits, we are aware of how lucky we are compared to those who haven’t been able to enjoy the freedom of being away in their treasured home from home yet this year. The site should have been full to bursting this week with us run off our feet ensuring every blade of grass was in its rightful place and with a cheery smile and wave being dished out to all. Instead we have a very quiet back garden, we can hear every bird’s song, every fox’s bark and owl’s hoot – of which there are many. It is so quiet we even heard a nightjar calling which was a first for me. There is a lot of wildlife on the site that wouldn’t normally be so brave at showing themselves if there were people around. A family of deer are enjoying living in the copse right in the centre of the site, rabbits and hares are basking in the late evening sunshine nibbling the daises and buttercups on the play field, moles have claimed the tent area showing their presence by the many mounds of earth hills that appear overnight, pheasants stalk about the ferry pitch area and strut their stuff along the service roads. There are three species of woodpecker hammering in the trees overhead, Lesser Spotted, Great Spotted and Green. Blue tits, Great Tits, Finches of all descriptions, Thrush, Wren, Jay, Robin to name but a few that visit the bird feeders and of course Rooks that give the site its name sit on the fences keeping watch over their namesake. The glorious sight of Red Kite and Buzzards soaring overhead waiting to swoop down to catch their prey always makes you stop to look up and watch, mind you with Belle now living on their patch the rodent population is seriously scarce so they might be going hungry.

I have always had a fondness of wild flowers, seeking them out and learning their names from an early age whilst exploring during caravanning weekends in Devils Bridge Wales. When your parents caravan only had electric in the later years, never had any tv signal, mobile phones weren’t invented and books were the only source of information, many evenings were spent looking up the days flower finds, copying and colouring in the drawing and cataloguing where it was found. Oh what a simple pleasure that kept me occupied for hours, now I just take a photo on my mobile and within seconds its filed away on a ‘cloud’.

We are still crafting to while away the time, I’ve had a go at quilling, inspired by Kirstie’s Carry on Crafting program, Steve has moved on from drawing sailing boats to trying his hand at perspective street scenes and outlines of the female form – we shall say no more on that subject, just that I haven’t had to be a life model yet thankfully! He is now learning French and Spanish so our conversations may get a bit limited in the near future if I don’t keep up with him. He does grasp it quickly to be fair so that will stand us in good stead for our adventures in Europe once we are allowed again.

Quilling projects

Following the easing of lockdown to enable us to travel further afield we made the 340 mile round trip journey to home and back in a day. We needed items from home that we originally thought wouldn’t be needed for a while as we planned to be going back home plenty of times to collect them. Summer clothes weren’t initially even on the ‘leaving home list’ as it was February when we left with no glimmer of warmer days on the horizon, so when lockdown arrived along with the sunshine we were totally unprepared clothes wise. A trip to Tesco, being the only shop open to sell clothes alongside food, and being lent items by the other site managers got us through for a few weeks but we longed for our own favourite summer attire. Steve was also desperate for his bike and I wanted my mini sewing machine to have a go at various little projects. It was a flying visit to home to see Mitch and Chloe and the house. It still has a roof on so we are very proud of them for managing that! Neighbours were a bonus to see on the drive (you know who you are!) and a great socially distanced catch up was had. A socially distanced visit was then made to both Dads, then onto Jess, Simon and grandson Harry. Very strange and sad not to be able to hug our family but a necessity to keep everyone safe. We had a good journey back to site with a car packed to the roof of more ‘essential stuff’ and arrived back weary but very glad we had been able to get to see our loved ones even if it was for just a few minutes each and from the end of the driveways.

Days blur from one day to the next and we lose all track of time, day and date. How hard are things going to be to conform once again to a structured day of work life? Very I think. We are having a taste of retired life but we know luckily with the bonus of still being paid – although currently furlough pay- but a full wage is still a necessity for a good few years yet. Some days we quite like being semi retired but other days we really need to get back to a new normality and get on with what we came here to do.

Catch up with us next time as we go into our third month of furlough and semi-lockdown. Hopefully we will have some news about site openings and life resuming in a new normal way.

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…..