I couldn’t really believe it is ten years since we had visited Haworth in West Yorkshire but Mr BOTRA’s diary doesn’t lie! And yet despite this evidence I still think this is a place I am very familiar with and that we visit regularly. Of course, over the years we have spent lots of time walking on the moors around Haworth but somehow it had recently fallen off the list of go-to places. We put that right recently and spent a night with a lovely view over the valley in a lay-by on Cemetery Road underneath Penistone Hill. In the evening light we had a stroll through the lovely village and walking up and down that steep cobbled hill window shopping. As has always been our habit in Haworth we also walked through the church yard and gazed across the gritstone graves and the trees to the Parsonage. There is no doubt that Haworth will always be associated with the three Brontë women, Charlotte, Emily and Anne and the novels they wrote were a significant part of my teenage years and stories I return to. The Parsonage is currently celebrating 200 years since these three and their brother Branwell were born between 1816 and 1820 with all sorts of events.
As it has [apparently] been so long since we had visited Haworth we chose to walk an old favourite and followed the paths to the Brontë Bridge and Falls, most certainly walking in the footsteps of the Brontë sisters as it is known this was a favourite spot. We climbed above the falls and followed the Pennine Way on to the higher moors to Top Withins. Since our last visit this isolated and ruined farmhouse that gives a sense of Wuthering Heights has been somewhat restored to prevent it from falling into further disrepair. We returned on a different route over the moors that was quieter and as light snow flakes drifted around us it was a perfect place to be despite the cold. By the path we found a recently dead hare; we normally spot these animals leaping across a field and to see one so close up revealed the beauty of the animal and the strength in those long back legs.
A brew and a slice of home-made cake back in the campervan soon restored warmth to our limbs before we drove home, vowing not to leave it another ten years before we visit Haworth again.
Between the glitzy tower blocks of Media City and the traffic on Eccles New Road nestles Weaste Cemetery, an oasis of calm and beauty where I always find something intriguing and new. Covering 39 acres, this is a large plot and over 332,000 Salfordians have been buried here since it opened in 1857. Weaste Cemetery was Salford’s first municipal cemetery and its Victorian design of winding paths, intersections and trees provides a space to enjoy a walk and the natural environment, as well as to respect and remember loved ones who have died.
There are a number of famous Salfordian buried here and I usually make a beeline for Mark Addy’s grave when I first arrive at the cemetery. Mark Addy lived from 1838 to 1890 and as an adult was the licencee at the Boathouse Inn by the river Irwell. During his lifetime he rescued 53 people from drowning in the Irwell, starting with his first act of life-saving at the age of 13 years when he saved a child. Mark Addy received local and national recognition for his rescues, including being given the Albert Medal by Queen Victoria. The river and his selflessness finally killed him; he became fatally ill after swallowing polluted river water during his last rescue. His memorial in Weaste Cemetery was paid for by grateful local people. On the Salford side of the Irwell the Mark Addy pub has long been a local favourite but in the floods of December 2015 the pub was severely damaged and it may be many years before it is re-opened and we are drinking there again.
After I have paid my respects to Mark Addy I might look for the memorial to the pianist and conductor Charles Hallé who founded the Halle Orchestra or seek out the grave of Eddie Colman, one of the Busby Babes at Manchester United who died tragically at the age of 21 in the 1958 Munich air disaster. Wherever I wander in the cemetery I always find something to interest me. This might be a small clump of snowdrops or bluebells, a gravestone with a particularly moving tribute, a thrush pottering along the grass or the poignant view of the tightly packed gravestones disappearing down the hillside.
When I walk here I often have the cemetery to myself but it is still used and on a sunny day there are often other walkers. Mr BOTRA and I often take a turn around the cemetery at Christmas when many people leave flowers, wreaths and grave cards on the graves of a parent or grandparent who is still loved and missed.
‘It will wear in’, is a phrase Mr BOTRA and I often use in our house and in the campervan for anything from a pair of shoes that pinch to a new bed that just feels strange after the old one. So when the oven door on our small Smev oven on our new Devon Tempest campervan was stiff to close, although we knew this wasn’t right, we thought it would improve over time. But it didn’t wear in, instead it got stiffer and more difficult to close until [you guessed it] the door refused to close at all [while we were mid-way through cooking some garlic bread since you ask].
Of course, by this time we were outside the Devon Conversion’s twelve month warranty on their conversion so I sought help. An internet search revealed that Smev is part of the Dometic group and I emailed them asking if they had any advice on how to loosen up the oven door. They replied promptly telling us that the warranty on their products is two-years [luckily for us the ‘van has not yet reached its second birthday] and sent a list of local service partners. One of these was a mobile service engineer we had used before and I arranged an appointment for a few days later.
I thought the problem was as good as solved but our difficulties were not over. Dometic, in their wisdom, put the model number required to order a replacement door on the side of the oven, meaning the appliance has to be removed to find this. Working in a small campervan is challenging and even the experienced engineer couldn’t work out how to remove the oven. A call to Devon Conversions provided some tips on where the necessary screws were tucked away but still neither the engineer nor I had thin and long enough arms to safely reach the required screws and he left us with the unyielding oven door.
That evening, feeling disheartened I decided to check through the pile of stuff we received with the new ‘van and had ‘filed’ at the bottom of an ottoman we call the ‘Treasure Chest’. I wasn’t really expecting to find anything useful but incredibly, there I found a small plastic bag with a screw in it and a label with the required model number for the oven. I was amazed we had even kept this and I am grateful that Devon Conversions had passed it on to us. I am also relieved that despite being minimalists with little spare storage in the flat we occasionally keep things ‘just in case’.
Once the engineer had the model number Dometic quickly provided a new oven door and the engineer fitted it, at no charge. We now enjoy its smooth action every time we are camping.
The Caravan and Motorhome Show and Destinations Holiday and Travel Show is in town and I’m not going to turn down a chance to mess about in campervans and learn about new places to visit at an event that is right on my doorstep. This event has marked the start of the motorhome show season in Manchester for a number of years and this was my third visit and I have seen it grow into a busy and lively show. This year I found old favourites like Leather Genie, who buffed up my shoes for me beautifully and new ideas like the Moskito Guard Insect Repellent; a deet-free repellant that smells pleasant and is non-greasy. Time will tell if the latter works but with a trip to Scotland’s West Coast planned this summer it seemed a good idea to be prepared.
At the Caravan Club stand Matt Allwright was running question and answer sessions with members of staff responsible for different areas of the Caravan Club’s work. It was great to hear these experts in specific areas of the Club’s business speak; I had certainly never considered the complexities of running a club campsite before. I was interested to learn that around 50% of their sites are leased, rather than the land being owned by the Club, and how this can affect the club’s ability to invest in improvements. I also learnt about the complexities of acquiring planning permission for a new campsite. More information on the Caravan Club membership discounts was also useful as we’re always keen to save money. We’ve saved with the discount on the M6 Toll Road when we are travelling south and booked our ferries through the club but there are other benefits that had passed me by and there are future offers planned that sounded very exciting.
Watching Julia Bradbury, the Camping and Caravanning Club President, on the Food and Travel Stage was entertaining, Julia’s enthusiasm for walking in the British countryside and camping is infectious and she is a great ambassador for the outdoor life. I heard about her latest venture, The Outdoor Guide, a website where routes Julia has followed on her TV shows can be downloaded as well as other information about places to eat, stay and gear to wear.
There weren’t many campervan converters at the show, which was disappointing as what we hear is that it is van conversions that are leading the way in the increase in motorhoming in the UK. Our local converter, Leisure Drive, had a stand and I looked at their ‘vans nostalgically remembering the Leisure Drive campervan we owned. Leisure Drive make great campervans, the quality of their current conversions looked first-rate and in addition everyone at Leisure Drive is always friendly and helpful; I think they really do build their ‘vans with love.
It was a grey day in Manchester so spending so much time indoors wasn’t a hardship but after over four hours at the show I was footsore and desperate to see the outside world again. I came home with leaflets about campsites I wanted to try, places I wanted to visit and clean shoes; I think that all adds up to a successful day!
I tell anyone who will listen that I am retired now [with a huge smile] but I am still working at writing travel articles for MMM , as well as this blog and occasionally posts on my Memorial Bench Stories blog. I have been publishing my writing for about eight years now, starting with our Blue Bus Blog and moving on to magazine travel writing not long after. But still, every time I write a piece I struggle to be comfortable with what I have written, feel it is truly finished, let it go and put it out there for judgement. Being able to decide that something is good enough to publish doesn’t seem to get any easier [in fact I think it gets harder]. I want my writing to be interesting, entertaining and just perfect and so I edit and edit again. I read it out loud, I print it and read it through repeatedly and I keep procrastinating, trying to reach some idea of perfection that I am not sure I would even know even if I created it.
I have been reading about writing and story telling recently and I am starting to try and change my mindset and stop trying so hard. Although I still don’t think it is a bad thing to aim for perfection, I see that I need to recognise that point when I must embrace imperfection, face my fears and publish. I need to let go of striving for an ideal piece of writing and concentrate on publishing something that is honest and true.
Of course I make mistakes and have to learn to laugh at the goofs I make. I am a flawed individual making a mockery of the perfectionist I want to be. But it isn’t really this that makes me hesitate over the publish button, it is the fear of demonstrating my vulnerability that stops me and a concern that critics will concentrate on my faults, rather than anything I have achieved. On really bad days when my confidence is at rock bottom, I compare my writing with the writing of my heroes and it doesn’t stand up at all and so I wonder what is the point of even trying. The grip this anxiety has on my output is interesting to note and sometimes difficult to break out of.
Julia Travers in a Be Magazine article wrote brilliantly on this subject; ‘I had a friend in college who called editing “shooting puppies,” because it was so painful to cut off valuable pieces of a work to make the whole stronger.’ This describes perfectly the physical pain I feel when I have to ditch what seems like a nice phrase or paragraph that perhaps took hours to research and compile because I know in my heart that it doesn’t fit the narrative I am creating or the word limit.
So, although I can’t promise I won’t make mistakes or post duds that are boring festooned with shoddy photographs, rather than hang my head in shame I will try and remember that those rough edges are part of what makes me a human individual and that one person’s perfect is really annoying to another.
One of the reasons I am proud of my adopted city of Salford is the way it has pulled itself up by the bootstraps in terms of redevelopment. Despite the ‘Dirty Old Town’ label, post-industrial Salford is now a better place to live and the emergence of Salford Quays from the derelict docks to must-visit destination is a remarkable story.
Salford Quays is just a ten minute walk from home and no matter the weather I always enjoy taking a stroll around the quays. In the sunshine, the reflections in the quays are beautiful and on a wild weather day the wind whipping across the water can be invigorating. In the sunshine there are plenty of visitors sightseeing and on a misty day you can feel you have it all to yourself. Salford Quays is a great place for a walk, even at night, when the colourful lighting on the bridges and the buildings reflects in the water, adding another dimension to the views. Mr BOTRA and I have a number of favourite routes for walking around the quays; we might encircle Eire Basin, or cross the two footbridges to take in the Trafford side of the quays, or stroll around Media City. We always stop to watch the wildlife; the Canada geese and black headed gulls are always in residence and we can usually spot a cormorant or two sitting on a buoy drying their wings, as well as a few swans and coots.
The docks closed for good in 1982 [fuller history here] and the local authority took ownership of the 37 hectares of wasteland a year later and worked with private developers to create something new and exciting. Road building started in 1986 and the heavily polluted water was cleaned and re-stocked with fish in 1988. The redevelopment didn’t happen overnight, from the first meeting of the Lowry Centre Steering Group in 1994 [with many notable founding patrons] it took three years until the building work started on the Lowry and the footbridge. Metrolink trams arrived in 1999, giving the area a much needed link with Manchester city centre and the Lowry was opened in 2000, the shopping mall with cinema a year later and the Imperial War Museum North a further year on. Alongside the public buildings, the quays has housing and offices but for many years the Lowry had an air of being on a neglected building site and it really wasn’t until 2012 with the opening of Media City and the BBC moving in that the area truly felt alive and bustling.
Salford Quays keeps changing and there is always something happening. It might be the festive lights in December, a food market or open water swimming and early in the morning it is lovely to watch the rowing teams from the water sport centre out practicing. Stopping to watch these activities is free, a great bonus for the frugally retired!
We took the campervan south to the Chilterns for a few nights camping recently. The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty [AONB] is a narrow strip of countryside in the south-east of England that is 46 miles long and up to 11 miles wide, stretching from Goring-on-Thames in Oxfordshire north almost to Hitchin in Hertfordshire. Close to London, this wasn’t an area we had ever explored before but it was perfect for a short break. The AONB website has plenty of suggested walking routes and in the dry weather we enjoyed we were able to spend every day out walking in the countryside.
In the winter it is easy to enjoy the dawn and the sunset without losing any sleep and we had dazzling pink mornings when the sun glinted off the frost on the fields and glowing sunsets when the landscape was bathed in warm light. We also had a foggy day when we walked along the rolling downs cloaked in fog, cocooned in a world with nothing beyond the few feet we could see. This is red kite country and these elegant birds surprised us when they soared out of the fog over the ridges. I enjoy walking in just about any weather; we have plenty of gear for anything the British climate can throw at us and the miscellany of the elements in our island country is part of the experience.
The Chilterns is a landscape of rolling chalk hills of grassland and woodland. In the villages we stumbled up on on our walks we admired pretty churches and cottages built using flint stones. These blue-grey or black compacted crystalline silica rocks are found in the chalk in nodules or bands; flint is a hard rock that formed from the siliceous sponges that once lived in the waters of Cretaceous seas. As well as a good and attractive building tool, flint was valued as a useful cutting tool.
Fog is often patchy and throughout the day the sun threatened to break through the cloud. After walking through the murk for a few hours we emerged into glorious sunshine at Lacey Green Windmill for just a short time. This beautiful restored 19th century windmill with four sails and a fantail was stunning in the sunshine and we stayed until the fog once again veiled the landscape in its mysterious qualities.
I do like to mark occasions with a celebration and I also love bringing friends from different segments of my life together. Last night was my retirement party and I had a ball. Mr BOTRA and I hosted an informal drop in at The Lime Bar at Salford Quays so that those who were already retired and lived further away could come early and leave when it suited them or those more local and still working could come along after work and stay late. The Lime Bar provided a lovely selection of nibbles and I made a selection of cakes as gifts for everyone to eat or take away [like a party bag], so it wasn’t a party that took a big chunk out of our savings.
By the end of the evening my cheeks ached with laughing and grinning so much; the love and friendship in the room made me feel cherished and really should be bottled – its true to say I am still smiling today and the whole evening was like one very big hug. I was on my feet all evening, determined not to feel regret at not talking enough to someone after they had left but inevitably there were a few people who I didn’t feel I had caught up with enough. But I did re-connect with previous colleagues from Preston, many of my NHS Manchester colleagues, who are always game for a party, and mixed these up with local friends; I feel gratified that they were all willing to come out on a Thursday night to celebrate with me.
Despite my instructions for no presents my generous and loving friends bought gifts that were beautiful, useful and interesting. I received books, flowers, bottles of fizz, useful stuff for the ‘van, smelly stuff, a beautiful scarf and a fantastic mug that sums it up really, it says ‘Retired and Loving it!’
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s fantastic version of the optimistic tune ‘Let The Day Begin‘ [originally by The Call] was a great way to bring in 2017. BRMC’s reverberating cover is more to my taste than the original and was included on the Spectre At The Feast album in memory of their singer/guitarists father and band mentor, Michael Been.
Here’s to the babies in a brand new world Here’s to the beauty of the stars Here’s to the travellers on the open road Here’s to the dreamers in the bars
The song reflected my mood of waking up eager for each day to begin. Mr BOTRA has returned to work for another eleven weeks and so my days are free for me to structure in the way I want to and I am enjoying the liberation of not being tied to the work laptop and phone. If I waste a day doing nothing there will be no one to tick me off. Of course, I have articles to write, people to see, trips to plan and litter to pick up but I do these all out of choice and no one will be performance managing me, except myself.
It is January and so it is also time to sum up our finances for 2016. Mr BOTRA and I had a joint income for 2016 of £36, 747. We spent this in the following ways [2015 figures in brackets]:
Groceries 7% [8%]
Concerts, theatre and meals out 7% [6%]
Bills for the flat & running the campervan 12% [20%]
Holidays & campsites 14% [12%]
Everything else [gifts, clothes, stuff, public transport & healthcare] 19% [18%]
Savings 41% [36%]
We have made some good savings on our electricity and gas bills by moving provider to Ovo, on our broadband by changing to Hyperoptic [although we got a new customer deal and so this will no doubt be more expensive next year] and we saved on our house insurance through the Caravan Club. Fortunately, our two year old Renault campervan hasn’t needed any maintenance.
We are happy that we spent £23,603 on our living expenses during the year as this means our budget of £27,000 for our first year of retirement is looking realistic.