1,000 Nights in Our Campervan Journals

Our campervan journals
Our Campervan journals

Does everyone keep a journal in their campervan?  We started doing this early on in our campervan career and I am often glad we have a simple record of our camping life.  We didn’t keep a journal for our first ‘van; we were newbies and it didn’t cross our mind … but once we got in the swing of being campervan owners we wanted a record of where we had stayed.  I grabbed a spare exercise book [no expensive notebooks for two frugal travellers] drew in some columns and started our first journal.

In each journal I write the date, the name of the campsite and place, the overnight cost, the number of nights we are staying and a brief description and review of the site.  I also use the journal to note things that we often forget such as when we last emptied the loo!  These journals started when we bought our Devon Sundowner in 2007 and have continued ever since.

We are now on our third campervan journal.   The notebooks all live in the ‘van and we refer to them regularly.  We often arrive on a site we have been on before and wonder how long ago it was since we were last there [it is usually longer than we think].  At other times we might want to remind ourselves what we thought of a particular site while planning a trip to help us consider if it is worth returning to.  Sometimes we just browse the journals for some misty-eyed reminiscing.

Although there is no journal from our holidays in our T4 we do know how many nights we spent in it thanks to photographs and diary jottings.  On the front of the journals I keep a tally of the number of nights we have been away during the year and in a particular campervan as well as a total of our nights under a tin roof.  Last summer we passed the milestone of 1,000 nights sleeping in a campervan in the eleven years we have been practising this van life.

We passed this 1,000 night’s milestone while we were camping in northern Italy.  We were staying near Arsiè and although neither of us were getting flashes of déjà-vu I was looking through the journals because we were both pretty sure we had stayed nearby back in 2009.  Flicking through the book to check where we had stayed we found we had been on the same site!   We were flabbergasted!  Where had the large sweet-smelling walnut tree we are sure we camped under gone?  Where was the green gently-sloping field down to the lake?  Either our combined memories were seriously faulty or they had re-developed the site beyond all recognition.  We would certainly never have known we had been there before without the journals.

These notebooks are packed with happy and vivid memories that I don’t want to let go of.  If you don’t keep a campervan journal then I suggest you start now.

Meet Fern: her green stems are packed with memories

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Hello Fern!

Meet Fern.  She is one of my older acquaintances.  As a youngster she lived with my grandma, growing into the fine specimen you now see.  Her exact birth date is lost in the mists of time but could be sometime in the 1970s as she was always there when I visited my lovely grandma.  When my grandma died in the early 1980s, no one else in the family wanted Fern and she was in danger of being abandoned so I happily adopted her.

My grandma lived next door to my childhood home and her house was a haven of calm.  She always seemed pleased to see me, always had a full biscuit tin and always had interesting stories to tell.  It was my grandma who bought me my first comics, tried to show me how to crochet, took me on my first trip to the Lake District and, when I had a house of my own, taught me my first lessons about growing flowers.  Fern was always there, thriving in the sunny hallway of her bungalow next to the kitchen door.

I took Fern to the cottage I lived in when my grandma died and since then she has moved with us to all the different houses we have owned.  When we had a garden she would spend some time outside during the summer and she regularly gets a haircut, otherwise she would take over the living room!  Occasionally she gets transferred into a new pot.

When we were away for 12 months travelling in our campervan I worried about who would look after Fern.  Our son and daughter-in-law happily stepped up to the mark and fostered her and now she has her own holidays at their house every time we take a long break.  She gets bed and board in their sunny dining room and only occasionally gets harassed by their cat.  She always returns looking bigger and shinier than ever.

It might be a little fanciful but I sometimes imagine all the memories of different window sills and different people that are held in Fern’s bushy green stems.

Fern is an asparagus fern which are renowned for being tough and so, despite being around 50-years old, she isn’t a demanding lodger.  She gets fed when I remember, watered irregularly and mostly she just watches the world go by from her current post, an east-facing window that catches the morning sunshine.  I am pretty certain now that Fern will outlive us both.  My plans for her long-term care are that she will go and live with our son and daughter-in-law permanently and I like to think of them having a link back to my loving grandma that neither of them ever met.

Frugal win and plastic-free fail

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Delicious vegetarian food

After the panic halfway through 2018 because our spending seemed out of control we changed our shopping habits with a plan to get things back on track and frugal.  We continue to purchase consciously, rather than conspicuously, only buy what we need and use the think-about-it-for-a-month method for expensive purchases or for something new.   We also continue to make do, wearing clothing until it is only fit for scraps and fixing things rather than replacing them.

Given that we are not prepared to give up our holidays, one of our bigger budget lines is food and grocery shopping.  This represented 14% of our spending in 2018.  We decided we would target this area of our budget and make some changes.  The main alteration we made last summer was to switch pretty much all of our shopping while we are in the UK to Aldi, the German discount supermarket, rather than a combination of Tesco, Sainsburys and Morrisons.

Since last summer we were away during September and October but it is now four months since we returned from this trip to mainland Europe and I have been able to review what we have spent in supermarkets during that period [which includes Christmas].

The savings are clear.  We have saved an average of around £50 a month [£600 a year is not an insignificant amount in our budget]  As we all know, in terms of staying frugal shopping in Aldi is a win-win.  This has certainly helped with our budget and although it is really too early to say, at the moment this year’s spending is on track [there I did say it].

I am less happy with the amount of plastic packaging we come home with from Aldi and this was the main reason we hadn’t shopped in Aldi previously.  I do try and buy as much plastic-free fresh fruit and vegetables as I can from the store but this seriously limits our diet.  Baking potatoes, spring onions, aubergines, peppers and celeriac are all favourites that are plastic-free.  Fantastic, there are good things here that make great meals.  But we also like to include carrots, tomatoes, onions, courgettes and mushrooms in our diet and these generally come wrapped in plastic, whereas in other supermarkets I could find them loose.

Being frugal and taking care of our planet are both important in my life and at the moment it feels challenging to balance these two principles.  I have been an environmental campaigner for most of my adult life and this is very much a part of who I am.  Travelling in our campervan is also something that is close to my heart.  Spending more than our budget [the amount of savings we have are pretty much fixed] isn’t really optional.  The only way we can live the life we want to is by keeping our spending in control.

If we squander all our savings before our pensions kick in we will have to go back to work!  Not the end of the world I know [and don’t get me wrong I am not complaining and I know how privileged we are] … and yet I do wonder who would want to employ either of us in our mid-60s?  And so our shopping continues to compromise our environmental credibility until Aldi start to reduce their packaging.  Hopefully that is only a matter of time.

 

 

 

Caroline Birley: #surprisingsalford #42

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It was a fascinating heritage walk around Seedley and Buile Hill Parks that sparked my interest in Caroline Birley.  She lived in a house, no longer standing, that looked over Seedley Park on Seedley Terrace and we were told she kept her huge collection of fossils and rocks in a building that was constructed on the back of the house that she called the Seedley Museum.  She opened this home-museum to the public in 1888.

Born in Manchester in 1851 [or 1852] Caroline came from a wealthy family that made money from textiles and rubber in Manchester.  She was the youngest of four and had an early passion for science and despite having no formal education was lucky enough to be able to follow interests that were considered the realm of men at that time.  She travelled widely collecting specimens; between 1887 and 1907 she travelled across the world from Denmark to North America and South Africa with her friend Louisa Copland.  A number of fossil species were named after her and although Caroline collected and catalogued her own finds publication about her findings had to come from a man, Dr Henry Woodward, the Keeper of Geology at the British Museum.

She left Salford and moved to London in 1896 and her collection moved with her so didn’t make it in to the Salford Natural History Museum in Buile Hill House.  Before she moved she made a will stating that she wished her collection to be given to the London Natural History Museum and The Manchester University Museum.  During her lifetime Caroline also gave many specimens to Oxford University.  Her executors wanted to see some museums in the north-west of England benefit after her death and so her collection was further fragmented as specimens were sent to Bolton, Bury, Rochdale, Radcliffee and Warrington and the Manchester Grammer School museum.

Between 1879 and 1898 Caroline Birley also wrote several children’s books, including the intriguingly titled J

Caroline returned to Salford just before her death in 1907 at the age of 55-years.  She had not married and had no children.  Her obituary, published in The Geological Magazine, said of her:

‘By the death of Miss Caroline Birley, a most ardent and enthusiastic student has been lost to the science of Geology, one who from her childhood to the end of her life never wavered in devotion to this her cherished pursuit, nor thought any fatigue or personal sacrifice too great in order to visit places of geological interest and obtain specimens for her beloved museum’

 

A Communal Hiking Lost & Found Box

‘I think winter wear is communal. You get some gloves and a scarf from a lost-and-found box, wash them, wear them for a while until you lose them. Then somebody else does the same thing.’ Adrian Grenier, actor

I share Adrian Grenier’s ideas about winter wear and I am pretty much working towards never buying hats, gloves or scarves again.  Certainly a frugal win!  It seems you can’t walk far in the British countryside these days before you find a piece of walking gear that someone has dropped and lost.  We found we were picking up so many pieces of gear that we started to wonder if it would be possible to kit yourself out entirely from found items, particularly if you didn’t mind wearing un-matched gloves.

On a recent trip to the Lake District we returned home with the following list of found items.  A micro-towel, one hardly used dhb cycling glove, one Sealskinz padded glove and a Montane beanie, at least £50 worth of gear!  I was already wearing a hat and a fleecy scarf that were both finds from different days out walking over the years.  At home we have a collection of hats and scarves we have picked up.  We had tended to throw odd gloves away but these have now been added to the lost and found box until they can be matched with another one of a similar style.  This collection doesn’t really fit in with my de-cluttering aim but I do hate to waste good quality gear.

Please understand that we don’t pick up items of clothing if we think they have been dropped that day and the owner might return in the opposite direction and be reunited with his or her lost piece of clothing later.  But if something has clearly been there for more than a day then it is really just litter and we always pick up litter!  The wellingtons in the photograph above were one of the few things I dithered over.  They were my size but we left them where we found them as we were sure someone would return to collect a pair of wellingtons.  Yet we were back in the same car park a few days later and the wellingtons still stood in the same place, waiting to be claimed.

I am not fussy about what I wear, but there are some things we find that neither of us is willing to add to our wardrobe.  We give these items to a charity shop or to our local homeless shelter.  In winter homeless shelters are often looking for warm clothing.

When we find something new I think about things that we have lost.  I like to think that items of clothing we have mislaid have been picked up by someone else and they are out there somewhere enjoying wearing them.  On a memorable day out walking to celebrate my partner’s 50th birthday, it was such a windy day we lost firstly a hat that blew off Mr BOTRA’s head on the summit of Pike of Blisco [more alarmingly taking one of his hearing aids with it].  Later while struggling to put my waterproof overtrousers on the wind smartly whipped them away and they disappeared down the steep hillside.  We gave chase but the wind was so strong they were quickly gone.  This was a hugely expensive day on the hills for us but I like to think that someone thought it was their lucky day finding a pair of Karrimor waterproof trousers!

 

A Nostril of Sunshine in the Lake District

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On Nanny Lane

‘Did I see a nostril of sunshine out there?’ the shop assistant asked as he deftly wrapped three packs of Grasmere Gingerbread up for me.  This was our second visit to this tiny and charming shop alongside Grasmere church is just a few days.  A cross between a biscuit and a cake, Grasmere Gingerbread is one of the best things produced in the UK but it does taste better fresh and is only available from Grasmere [or by mail order] hence the multiple visits.  I had never come across the expression ‘a nostril of sunshine’ before and smiled at the use of it.  Imaging it meant a gap in the clouds I nodded and agreed that yes there was a bit of blue sky out there just at the moment.  Perhaps this is a local saying, although when I tried searching for it on the internet I was only offered information about blocked noses!

The heavenly nose had been clear and wide open for us during our week in the Lake District.  We had enjoyed fine days that were just perfect for walking.  After the family outing from Haweswater we took the youngsters up to Orton Scar for a breezy walk among the limestone pavement and to see the view from the Queen Victoria Jubilee Monument.  We had lunch at Kennedy’s in Orton looking through the windows into their chocolate factory then waved as the son and daughter-in-law returned home.

On our first visit to Grasmere we walked up the steep grassy slopes of Heron Pike from Greenhead Gill, returning by the pretty Alcock Tarn, Grasmere lying below us.  Our final visit to Grasmere was on foot from Ambleside, always a favourite walk that takes you around Loughrigg and Rydal Water and back along the old coffin route.

In between these Grasmere visits we hiked up Wansfell Pike from Troutbeck and followed the undulating walled ridge to Baystones.  We chose the route up Nanny Lane, an old track that I thought was a more enjoyable and interesting ascent than from Ambleside.  Nanny Lane is well maintained and we put a small donation into the honesty tin at the gate in Troutbeck for its upkeep; heavy rain can do severe damage to these steep hill tracks and I like to see this lovely lane cared for.  The views from Wansfell Pike and Baystones are hard to beat.  We could make out the remote Kirkstone Pass Inn tucked in between the mountains, the blue length of Windermere shimmered in the sunshine and bustling Ambleside lay in the green valley below.  I can’t help but love the Lake District!