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.