Well … now we are wondering why did we wait so long to get to Devon?
Despite its name, Devon Conversions are based in County Durham in the north of England, a long way from the south-west. We often meet people in other countries who smile and tell us how much they have enjoyed holidays in the beautiful county of Devon in South West England and we have to apologise for never having been there, until now.
We spent a few days exploring Somerset and North Devon and found some stunning coastlines and picturesque villages. We particularly enjoyed the Hartland Peninsular which was perfect for us. The spectacular rocky coastal scenery provided great walking country, Clovelly took us back in time and the clotted cream ice-cream was excellent. The sunshine in the photograph hides the stiff breeze that kept the temperatures down but in the sheltered corners it was warm enough to walk without a fleece jacket.
Devon is well known for its narrow lanes with tall hedges and I certainly held my breath plenty of times as we met oncoming traffic as we toured around what count for main roads in this part of the country. We are very familiar with single track roads in Scotland but this was different; in Scotland you generally have an open view over the moorland and the passing places are always regular and marked. Breathing in on the narrow sections didn’t help one bit for the ‘van to squeeze through the narrow gaps but it was something I just couldn’t help doing.
Since we have been home I’ve been telling everyone how stunningly beautiful north Devon is but then lots of people already know this, it is just the two of us that have taken so long to discover one of the delights of our little country.
Normality is a paved road; it’s comfortable to walk but no flowers grow
I am well aware that for many people even ticking along through life can be stressful and that life throws more tough times at some people than is fair. I am sure these folk must feel irritated by trite sayings like this … so apologies if I’ve got your back up but perhaps you will still read on.
The quote is attributed to Vincent Van Gogh and it is one of those quotes that appears in the blogosphere now and then to start a discussion on taking an unusual or creative path.
Firstly I need to say that I have had times when too many awful things are going on and I will be heard to complain, ‘I just want a quiet and normal life!’ I don’t think there is any shame in wanting a carefree and stress-free life. I also know that when I have survived a period along the rocky road and I return to the smooth path of ‘normal’ life I have a greater sense of strength and self-reliance … adversity can be character building.
What I also take from this quote is that sometimes I need to turn away from the easy paved road because it is taking me in a direction that will not make me happy in the long run, even if it seems the path of least resistance. This policy has stood me well in terms of my working life and my happiness [although not always my pocket]. If you saw a copy of my cv you might be horrified at the number of organisations [over 20] I have worked for since I first started work at the age of 16. This fickleness is partly because I am easily bored [the longest I have stayed in any job is five years] but is also due to my lack of patience with employers who either undermine me, pay me badly, set impossible targets, have ridiculous rules or don’t give me enough to do. It is best not to mention any of them here by name but I have had some employers who have excelled themselves and are guilty of more than one of these things!
As an example, let me take you back in time to an office in a Midlands city in the 1980s. I worked for a [very] short time for a company who insisted women [not men] wore tights even if it was 30°C in the office [this was before air-conditioned offices]. In addition, although the office of about 20 people was very busy processing wages for temporary workers Monday to Wednesday, on Thursday and Friday we were kicking our hosiery-clad heels. These were pre-internet days and having nothing to do at work was exceptionally tiresome; however, my practical and money-saving suggestion to management that I work part-time was refused. Needless to say, although staying in the job would have kept me on the smooth path of security, I soon left for the rocky road of short-term unemployment until the next opportunity came up.
I think this experience of constantly changing jobs makes me feel fairly confident that I will always find some kind of work if financial pressures mean that I need to because of some unforeseen catastrophe. This certainly contributes to giving me the confidence to take retirement as soon as I can.
Further thoughts in 2021
It is interesting to read this post during the Covid-19 pandemic, when all I crave is a return to the life that I was calling normal! Taking early retirement was certainly a good move and in the three years of expected early retirement I hung onto my resilience to cope with problems as they flew into my life without announcement. Then along came Covid-19 which certainly put pressure on that resilience. I am certain that lockdowns and this pesky virus are not the out-of-the-ordinary problems I was thinking about when I wrote this post. Some readers are looking for the good to come out of Covid-19 but for me, I don’t feel that anything positive [or blooming flowers] has resulted from it, apart from progress in science.
Many of us are wondering about how the pandemic will change us. I have written about how I have been cruising in neutral and feel I have lost a precious year of my life as so much has been on hold. My normal is to be travelling and exploring and I long to return to my travelling life and for my own version of that comfortable paved road of normality at the moment!
I constantly pinch myself, unable to believe that it is really true … do we really own our very own campervan? Owning a campervan was my dream from the age of 13 until I was 45 years old, when we bought our first ever ‘van and the joy of being part of the campervan community still hasn’t diminished and I hope it never will.
We have owned our Devon Tempest on a medium wheelbase Renault Master for just over twelve months now and driven over 9,000 miles. This is our second Devon conversion [and third ‘van] as for us Devon offer just what we need; good solid vans at a reasonable price and being a small converter they are able to include some modifications to the standard specification when buying from new.
Having owned firstly a short wheelbase Volkswagen and then a long wheelbase VW Devon Sundowner, at 5.5m long the Renault is as big as we want to go. The extra length gave us a sofa, a [small] bathroom and means we no longer have to swivel the front seats to have somewhere comfy to sit. Having lived for twelve months in our Sundowner we know we can live happily together in a small space and we enjoy having a ‘van that can [mostly] fit in a standard car park space.
We learnt a lot from owning our Sundowner and we specified the following modifications to our Tempest, which Devon Conversions were able to incorporate:
The ‘van has good lighting with spotlights and roof lights but we added a strip LED in the kitchen which has proved very useful for being able to see what we are cooking.
We have two 240v sockets in the kitchen [for kettle and hotplate] and two in the lounge [for charging phone, camera, laptop, tablet, MP3 player] both very useful when we are on hook-up and a 12v socket in the wine cupboard for when we are off grid [see below].
We have a re-fillable LPG canister which allows us to cook and heat the van and hot water when we don’t have a hook-up.
We don’t have a TV [we watch downloaded programmes on the laptop in the ‘van] but the TV cupboard makes a great wine cupboard with the addition of a couple of shelves that are great for jars and tins.
We didn’t want the open shelf for cups and plates and Devon were able to change this to a more useful cupboard.
We had shelves put in the wardrobe as these give more flexibility, provide more space and [being exceptionally scruffy] we never have a need to hang clothes up.
Modifications we have added ourselves:
Hooks for coats on the back wall and for jackets behind the driver’s seat
Hooks on the bathroom door for towels
Nets inside the ‘wardrobe’ door for the campsite log book and the ‘van quiz book
The Renault has not given us any bother [I can’t help touching wood as I type this] after the traumatic day when we collected the ‘van. Because it had only travelled seven miles and all of these miles had been shunting around the factory and the dealer’s forecourt, we got a warning light relating to the diesel particulate filter within a mile or two of setting off. We spoke to the Renault garage and then had to call roadside assistance out. The RAC thought it was amusing that our ‘van was the lowest mileage they had ever had called in but as we waited by the M61 in the February gloom and rush-hour traffic looking at our gleaming van we just wanted to cry. Fortunately, the story has a happy ending and once the RAC had arrived and revved the engine aggressively for some time the particles burnt off and all has been well since.
I can’t pretend that owning a campervan is a frugal choice but it is much more than that and does allow us to travel widely and cheaply. How I tend to look at it is this; living in our urban flat and owning the ‘van go hand-in-hand and only make sense to us together and the cost of these two places we choose to live in is equivalent to the average house price in Greater Manchester.
I am not complaining, last weekend was text book spring and April weather; one minute it was sunny, the next a shower flew across, obliterating the view and bringing the temperature down.
We were in north Staffordshire, near the Derbyshire / Cheshire border and walking in some of the loveliest countryside in England, over The Roaches. if you’ve not been to this lovely area, then I highly recommend it.
In the sunshine, the climbers were out on the gritstone crags, those who prefer bouldering were spotted with their colourful crash-mats strapped to their backs, the dog walkers, young families and photographers were all enjoying this beautiful natural playground.
On our first day we visited Ramshaw Rocks, on the quieter side of The Roaches, where you can find the Winking Man, an interesting face-shaped rock that protrudes from the crags and entertains children on the drive past on the A53, as if you watch carefully the eye appears to wink. We parked in the lay-by and had a brew in the ‘van and set off in the fine weather without waterproofs (clearly a mistake in April). As we reached the top the wind whipped up and a hail shower turned the ground white and my hands blue, the hills around us disappeared and I was back in winter.
The next day we walked along The Roaches ridge to Roach End and back behind the rocks. This time we packed the waterproofs (having learnt our lesson the day before) and the sky was blue and the sun shone all day; this was definitely spring. What I hadn’t taken with me on this walk was any money and so we had to walk past the ice cream van at Roach End without treating ourselves, so a frugal walk.
I am not suggesting by the photograph that this discussion will be unpleasant and I have no illusions about being irreplaceable but I have been wondering when I should tell my employer that I intend to leave and enter a non-working state of retirement very soon. The company I work for won’t be expecting my retirement just yet as I am [only] 56 and most of my generation are expecting to work at least until they are 60 years old.
Before the chaos of the forthcoming reorganisation I had been thinking that I wanted to give my employer what I consider sufficient warning [about three months] but as my leaving date is now up in the air I had decided to keep quiet until I know if I will be offered a suitable working base beyond the summer.
I have concerns that once they know I am leaving they will treat me differently in some way, maybe give me all the jobs no one else wants to do or just cut me out of business discussions. However, keeping quiet brings its own problems. I have recently been given a new area of responsibility that takes up about three days a month, as a colleague has moved on. I have no doubt I wouldn’t have been given this responsibility if they knew I was leaving in the foreseeable future. This change to my role suggests my employer doesn’t intend to make me redundant but leaves me feeling guilty. I have now been trained up to carry out an important and vital role within the company and as I work in a fairly small organisation and I am the only person that is trained to carry out this task and only I know that I am planning to leave in at least eight months time [and counting down].
This new responsibility has left me feeling even more that unless I want to leave the company in the lurch [and I don’t] I do need to give a few months notice so that I can train someone else in all of the tasks I carry out but the options relating to the re-organisation continue to confuse the picture.
Things are a bit more stable and straightforward for Mr BOTRA and he plans to inform his employer in December, giving them three months notice. This decision is partly dictated by practicalities, as he holds a company credit card and will need to stop using that in enough time for all transactions to be processed before he leaves. But also like me he wants to keep his cards close to his chest for as long as he can, just in case …
While storms blew in the south we travelled around Scotland in the sunshine, feeling blessed and happy with the world.
We travelled first to St Andrews, a charming stone built town with plenty to see and do, including a ruined castle and cathedral and two bays. Our campsite overlooked East Sands, the smaller beach. West Sands is near the famous golf course and is a wide stretch of sand where motorhome parking is possible overnight.
We travelled further north to the area around Nairn. Here you can either explore the charming fishing villages along the coast or travel inland for the hills and we did both, although the weather was always better on the coast and we craved the blue sky and sunshine. We were so taken with some of these small coastal villages we started to plan moving to this part of Scotland when we retire … we shall see.
We spent a night on the coast between Aberdeenshire and Peterhead at the Port Erroll Nightstop near Cruden Bay. This harbour has space for five ‘vans, no hook up but there are toilets and asks for a donation of £10 a night. The harbour is slightly removed from the village of Cruden Bay and the harbour is a peaceful and beautiful spot. We were the only ‘van there on a sunny evening and we parked with the huge ‘van door facing the sea and watched oyster catchers and herring gulls as we sat with a brew. Later there was a deep red sunset to watch while we ate.
From Port Erroll we walked along the coast to see the striking ruins of Slains Castle high on the cliffs and the dramatic collapsed cave and sea arch at the Bullers of Buchan. Here the cliffs were alive with hundreds of pairs of kittiwakes, as well as fulmars, guillemotts and razorbills. Both these sights have car parks that are suitable for motorhomes.
I don’t know how this happened, but somehow I was born at the wrong latitude. I have no doubt I was designed to live in a Mediterranean climate, with mild winters and hot summers but instead I was born in the northern half of England, where the summers are mild and the winters damp … how did that happen?
As a lover of sunshine and warmth, I rejoice in the start of spring; this is the season that announces that the long days of summer are on their way. On country walks during March I exclaim with the excitement of a child at every sign of spring; new born lambs, daffodils, birds nesting and buds on the trees all give me pleasure. By the time the blossom is out I am beside myself with the anticipation of the forthcoming warmth of a summer’s day.
In our shared garden in Salford, the daffodils are flowering, the pink blossom is starting to show on the trees and yet, this morning I still couldn’t easily spread the butter on to our breakfast toast and for a moment I forgot I have no influence on the seasons and the weather and I moaned, ‘I just want butter I can spread!’
Although it hasn’t been a very cold winter here in the North-West of England, it has felt like a long slog through autumn and winter. It has been unusually wet and stormy, with floods even here in Salford. I know I am impatient for warmer weather but the truth is I am impatient for retirement so that we can take the ‘van south early in the year and follow the spring back north, feeling the warmth of the sun on my bare arms every day … and being more concerned about keeping the butter cool than how to spread it.
I am not perfect … sometimes it is very difficult for me to remember to enjoy the moment and be grateful for all the good things in my life … normal service will be resumed very soon.
When we are camping in the ‘van it is breakfast that is my favourite meal of the day. I particularly love breakfasts when the weather is fine enough to sit outside and I have been known to sit wrapped up in jackets and a hat just so that I can eat my breakfast outdoors and watch the campsite wake up around me.
I think I love eating breakfast on our camping trips because it heralds the start of another day with all sorts of possibilities and adventures spread out before me. We often don’t know where the day will take us and what our view will be the next morning but for the first hour of the day my priority is sustenance while I excitedly anticipate another day on holiday.
When it is just the two of us we might toast crumpets and eat these with lashings of butter and marmalade, or warm up rolls to dribble honey over or fry soft potato cakes. When we are on holiday in mainland Europe we will buy fresh local bread and savour this with blackcurrant jam and mugs of tea maybe accompanied by a bowl of creamy yoghurt.
When we are camping with friends our breakfasts become more elaborate and we will share the cooking, producing vegetarian sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, potato cakes, fresh bread and beans to create a feast that is the vegetarian English breakfast. These breakfasts set me up for the day and are always co-operative and jolly times, our small camping table heaving under the weight of so many dishes.
I am sure you all have your favourite breakfast when you are camping; is muesli or a bacon butty your breakfast of preference?
In an effort to free up space in our small flat I have been steadily working my way through the receipts and bills we have for almost everything we have ever bought. Some of these receipts tell stories and have bought on a spell of reminiscing. The hand-written receipt for the wool rug [which we still have] from 1984 when shopping was a slower and more civilised experience will always remind me of the two of us, in our early 20s, sitting and drinking tea in china cups with the elderly shop owner before deciding on the rug to buy. The receipt for my backpacking rucksack from 1981, when Karrimor gave a lifetime guarantee, and which [of course] I still have, reminds me of all the pre-campervan trips when I carried that rucksack across Europe and Scotland. When I needed new walking boots recently it was great to be able to look back and see that my old boots had lasted 13 years. The receipts also remind me of previous DIY projects; it seems in 2007 Anthony was busy building us a new PC and past extravagance like my lovely Pearl Izumi cycling jacket which cost £85!
All these receipts have been scanned, organised in folders, triple saved and the paper shredded. In Greater Manchester we can recycle shredded paper reasonably safe in the knowledge that no one will take the time to piece the shredded paper back together to steal our identity. A few years ago it was reported that in Germany former DDR Stasi files are being re-assembled after they were shredded when the Berlin wall fell, let us hope our receipts are pulped in to toilet paper before anyone can do this.
This industrial-scale shredding has [not surprisingly] put a strain on our home shredder [strangely there is no sign of the receipt for this to know how long we have had the shredder or what we paid for it] and last week it moaned and complained and then stopped. I spent an hour clearing out its blades to coax it back to life but it only had one further spurt of life before it gave up the ghost.
The rule I have set is that new purchases have to be considered for one month to be sure we really need them but in a month I would be drowning under the pile of shredding. And so I broke the rule and a new shredder was purchased.
It is spring and Mr BOTRA and I find our thoughts turning to Scotland.
Most years since before many of you were born (1981 was our first joint trip) we have enjoyed a trip to Scotland at this time of year. On these numerous trips we have stayed in tents, in luxurious castles and occasionally in damp, cold and decidedly scruffy houses. Some years we have also visited Scotland in summer, autumn and / or winter but it is the spring holiday that has been consistent.
So for me Scotland is primarily a land of yellow gorse bushes, blossom on the trees, wood anemones flowering in birch woodland and patches of snow on the hills. On these springtime trips we are always sure we will get weather, it is just hard to predict exactly what and we tend to pack for every season. We have had days when we have worn shorts [although not too many of these] and days of heavy snowfall. We have chipped ice off the tent and watched the rain scurry across a bay, followed by a rainbow.
We now mix and match with a wonderful combination of the campervan and staying with friends in a large house. We get the perfect mixture of freedom to do our own thing and peace and quiet and time with old friends enjoying good food, excellent company and the chance to share a dram in a lovely Scottish country house.
Self-catering in a large house [there can be up to 17 of us] works out cheaper than self-catering as a couple and in Scotland no-cost camping in the ‘van is possible and this keeps the holiday within our annual holiday budget.