The Ecrins National Park in France

02.06.2016 Mont Dauphin marmots and fort (3)

We are back from our annual fix of European culture, weather and food.  As well as enjoying excellent and unbeatable mountain walking in the Ecrins National Park in south-east France [don’t worry no one seems to know where this is – find Grenoble and go slightly to the south and east], we found some adorable wildlife.

The Alpine marmots were abundant in the Ecrins and we saw at least one or two every time we were out walking.  Sometimes we firstly heard a marmot, calling out a warning high-pitched whistle and searching the rocky landscape we would spot the look-out marmot on a rock, sitting up on its hind legs apparently warning the other marmots of our presence but really drawing attention to the presence of marmots.  At other times we would spot them scampering low across a meadow or moving easily down steep craggy hillsides, twitching their stubby tails as they move and then disappearing down a handy burrow.  At Pré de Madame Carle the marmots were pottering around the car park and finding shade under the cars.

If you don’t want to climb the steep paths of the Ecrins to see marmots, there are a group that are easy to find at Mont-Dauphin, south of Briançon.  Since we last visited here in 2009 [Mr BOTRA had lots of fun making the video embedded in the blog post at the time] the humans have been managed so that the marmots can now run in and out of their burrows freely and avoid the humans if they wish to.  Marmots hibernate for more months than they are out and about so you need to be around in summer to see them.

 

Some thoughts on the sense of place

2014 Oct Panopticons (40)
The Halo sculpture above Haslingden in Lancashire

There are places that mean a lot to me and this meaning comes from a combination of things; the experiences  and memories I have of the place, the stories and folklore of that area, the scenery and the vistas and the history of the area.

I got to thinking about how I feel about places

Continue reading “Some thoughts on the sense of place”

Campervan security

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A secure ‘van is also a happy ‘van

I read motorhome magazines [MMM and Practical Motorhome] cover to cover, as well as other owners blogs and forums.  Through these I read lots tales about campervans being broken in to and valued items being stolen.  I know it must be dreadful when this happens; a campervan is after all a home as well as a vehicle.  Touch wood, in our ten-years of motorhoming over 90,000 miles we haven’t had many problems but we do take a few precautions.

  • We try not to own anything too expensive [no really flash camera, no top of the range tablet] although with a small ‘van where space is limited everything we carry is valuable [to us.]
  • We think about where we are leaving the ‘van and consider whether it feels safe; if one of us is unhappy with a car park they are allowed a veto.
  • We never leave money or credit cards in the ‘van but always choose to carry them on our person [walking trousers/shorts and shirts have the benefit of lots of pockets]
  • We put any valuables [to us] that might be left in the ‘van out of sight
  • We prefer to park with the back doors reversed to a wall as they feel like a weak point and this makes it impossible to access the ‘van this way.  Parking in this way also makes it difficult to get at the bikes when they are loaded.
  • We have added Lock M Out window locks to the two large side windows and we always lock the ‘van doors at night.
  • If the worst happens and someone steals the whole ‘van, we have a tracker which we hope will mean it can be found.

During our year travelling we did have a couple of problems which were both [coincidently] in Spain.  The first time, someone attempted to take the bikes off the bike rack when it was parked in a small town that had felt safe enough.  They had buckled one of the wheels in the process and we had to replace this.  A few week’s later someone tried to force open one of the van side windows and scratched the plastic and then scored the drivers side window [perhaps in frustration] and we had to have that replaced.

 

Why we won’t get bored in our retirement

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These are our plans for retirement

Pinned up in the van is the above list of things.  Mr BOTRA and I think of the lines of this verse as our ‘to do’ list when we are on trips in the van.

Our plans for our [hoped for] long and happy retirement are to spend lots of time on campervan trips and doing all the things on this list.

This list is not ours it is one of those oft quoted things you find on a fridge magnet or a postcard but it does nicely summarise the things we like to do on our campervan trips.

Walk in the rain – or [hopefully] in the sun, or the wind; whatever the weather we will just walk [or cycle] every day.  We will walk up mountains, along valleys, traverse ridges, follow coastlines and explore towns and cities, at walking pace we can really appreciate the great outdoors.  When we were away in the van for a year in 2009/10 (blog here) we walked most days, slept well and were fitter and healthier than we had ever been.

Smell flowers – There is no better display than the one nature provides and I always take time to smell the flowers [and watch the birds and animals], as well as try and identify what they are with the books we have in the ‘van … sometimes this is very hard.

Stop along the way – In a campervan there is really no rush and no excuse not to stop and explore whatever we find because being in the ‘van is part of the fun and the journey.  Sometimes these unscheduled stops take you to unexpected and interesting places.

Build sandcastles – Or beach comb, or bird watch or just more walking but on beaches.

Go on field trips – For me every day in the ‘van is a field trip and the blog is my field note book.  When I was a geography student the field trips were my favourite part of the course and I picked modules to maximise the number of trips I took part in.  Field trips are about taking everything in, observing, experiencing and soaking in the sounds, tastes, history, smells and stories of a place.

Find out how things work – I will admit to a liking for interpretation boards and Mr BOTRA reads these avidly.  I am also addicted to looking things up on Google.  As far as I am concerned, every day is an opportunity to learn something new.

Tell stories – To each other and to others [when they will listen].

Say the magic words -These must be ‘Let’s go camping!’  I say these all the time.

Trust the universe – Okay, this is a bit dippy, I trust it to just keep expanding and be there.

 

 

Do you all come from Devon?

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The ruined St Mary’s Church in Colston Bassett in Nottinghamshire

With nine Devon Conversions ‘vans grouped together on the campsite near Nottingham it wasn’t unreasonable for a perplexed fellow camper to ask, ‘do you all come from Devon?’

We had gathered for the spring Devon Owner’s Group rally and once again had lots of laughs, met old friends and made some new ones, learnt plenty of useful tips and came away with new ideas for places to visit.

We were camped near the village of Cotgrave near Nottingham and Mr BOTRA and I caught a taxi to the pretty village of Colston Bassett with a plan to buy some delicious and creamy Blue Stilton cheese from the dairy there and then follow the lanes and the old canal back to the campsite (approximately 13 kms).

The taxi driver was a chatty character and told us he had been 20-years a miner at the Cotgrave pit before it closed and came from a family of ten generations of mineworkers.  This took me back to the 1980s when we lived in the East Midlands and were surrounded by the hardship of the mineworkers and their families as they endured the long strike.

Colston Bassett, as well as having a dairy that makes fantastic creamy and tangy Stilton, also has an atmospheric ruined church on the edge of the village that was worth exploring.  All the villages around here had charming names and we found a second cheese shop in Cropwell Bishop and opted to buy their tasty Beauvale soft blue cheese.

The Grantham Canal is no longer navigable and is now mostly a greenway of shrubs and plants and proved to be a haven for wildlife and we enjoyed watching a Willow Warbler flitting among the long grasses.  As the canal reaches Cotgrave we walked through the lovely country park, landscaped on some of the land that was the mine.

The weather forecast had been for showers and so we had packed the waterproofs but we never needed them and we felt lucky as the day stayed warm and pleasant day for walking.

 

A labyrinth is a symbolic journey

2011 March Grassington signpost with grid reference
A map always helps to decide which way to go

I love maps!  I gaze at them and imagine journeys I can take and try and picture the places they represent.  My fingers follow the patterns of the paths, rivers and ridges and how these affect the pattern of the towns and villages.  For me, maps open up possibilities and going out with a map gives me the confidence to explore; this also means that without a map I feel a bit lost and all-at-sea.

I like to think of our plan for early retirement and financial independence as a map.  This map also has a path I am wandering along but the benefit of the map is that I can spot the opportunities for short-cuts and longer more scenic routes, should I fancy deviating from the path.  This map gives me confidence and the ability to be flexible around the route Mr BOTRA and I have mapped out and with this map I am hopeful that I won’t end up in a dead end or get lost along the way.

And so, not surprisingly, I love the look of these literary maps.  They are designed as a sort of mobile and self-taught creative writing course, with exercises to help a writer explore a particular environment.  There is a writing map for the city, for cafes and bookshops, for writing by the sea and in crowded places  and others.  Each map is designed by a different person and is a beautiful item to own and look at and make use of.  I am hoping someone buys at least one for me some time soon.

As a travel writer and a blog writer I am not too proud to take any help I can get.  I get loads of inspiration from other people’s blogs, from conversations with other people, from observation and from reading.  These literary maps look like a great way to initiate the generation of new ideas in my brain.  Take a look and let me know how you find inspiration for your ideas, projects and writing.

A quick word on the quote I have used: “A labyrinth is a symbolic journey . . . but it is a map we can really walk on, blurring the difference between map and world.” From Rebecca Solnit wonderful book Wanderlust: A History of Walking.

… and one week later it is warm enough for shorts

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Last weekend we had the heating on, fleeces and hats during the daytime and were wrapped up at night in pyjamas, silk sleeping bag liners, duvets and blankets.  One week later, here we are at last in shorts and able to sit outside the ‘van.  We have moved from Please make it warmer! to putting the thermals and thick socks to the back of the drawer in just a few days.

As we set off walking in the rolling Shropshire countryside Mr BOTRA and I both felt lighter and we were.  We were carrying just the camera and binoculars, no need for waterproofs and those extra layers.  In the ‘van making the beds was easier and now we could eat outdoors, there were no crumbs in the van after eating.

We had a glorious weekend near Shrewsbury; walking up and around Lyth Hill, where we were congratulating ourselves for our excellent navigation skills and Shropshire Council for their excellent signage and then [you guessed it] we got lost.  We found our way back to our route and then got lost again due to poor signage through a farmyard [we suspect the farmer was trying to deter walkers and had removed the helpful yellow arrows].

On the Sunday we visited the beautiful ruin of Haughmond Abbey, a tranquil and scenic spot and then moved on to Hawkstone Park Follies.  If you have never been to this fantastical wonderland of grottos, narrow bridges, tall monuments and stunning woodland, all set on a sandstone ridge, then you should try and get here soon.  I last visited in the late 1970s, when it was neglected and over-grown and not operated as a visitor attraction at all.  Then we felt like we were the first people to discover it as we fought our way through rhododendron bushes and along narrow paths.  Today, the paths are well marked and with your entrance fee to see the 200-year old park you get a map.  Despite this taming of the landscape, the walks are both fun and demanding and there are still uneven paths, steep steps and dark caves and gullies to explore.  We particularly liked ‘The Cleft’, a rocky gash in the hillside that is dark, damp and mossy and the rain water has eroded circular patterns in the sandstone.

It was cheering to see so many people having so much fun in the outdoors.  What a difference the sun makes!