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.
To update my previous blog post about the uncertainty of my salaried work, this is now sorted and I am so pleased that I won’t have to travel to the windowless cave-office [yipee]. Instead I have managed to negotiate home-working from the end of June. This means I can carry on working up to my retirement at the end of the year.
It is still a period of change in the office, as my co-workers are all being transferred to the precariousness of a new organisation that will be delivering the service or have successfully found different jobs to avoid the fun and games of the reorganisation. Either way, I am going to miss seeing them all every week, hearing their news and helping them plan their holidays [I can’t help taking on this planning role for people whether they want it or not – I really missed my vocation as a travel agent].
So now my mind is turning to the pros and cons of home-working. Will I lose the plot and miss other people so much that after just a few weeks I am talking to myself and have forgotten all my social skills [those who know me will ask what social skills]? Will I miss the regular requests for money for leaving presents, wedding presents, new baby presents etc? Will I be the person that sits in the local cafe relying on their WiFi and making one cup of coffee last hours just so that I can be around other people? Or will I love the freedom to be able to put the washing in the machine as a break from the PC and rustle up our evening meal at lunch time? Will I rattle through my work load and be even more productive because there are no interruptions? Who knows.
I already work from home two days a week as a travel writer and so I have my home office space organised and I think I have the discipline to stop work, pack it all away and not look at it again until my next working day. I will be able to keep in touch on the telephone but I will also meet with my manager and other colleagues at least once a month and I hope that will be enough to stop me being too isolated.
On the finance and savings front I think it is a win-win. Although I will have heating costs from working at home [unless I spend lots of time in the cafe] I won’t have travel costs plus I will be earning money that I wasn’t expecting to be earning just a couple of months ago. I always take in my own lunch [but no more office microwave for heating up left overs] so that cost won’t change. Currently my employer generously pays for the numerous cups of tea and coffee I drink during the day, so I will miss that perk.
And yet every day I am working at home I will remember that at least I have a window and a view of our gardens.
It was Mr BOTRA’s birthday a little while ago [apologies this blog post isn’t as up-to-date as it could be]. We have always been frugal with presents and don’t buy expensive gifts for birthdays [we either need things and buy them or it is just stuff we don’t need] but I did buy him something to read and some of his favourite chocolates.
Along with these gifts I wrote a note promising to buy him cocktails down at The Lime Bar on Salford Quays. You might say one of two things to this; it is either no big deal or an extravagance too far for two people who are saving up for early retirement. However, it was a lovely and enjoyable gift for both of us, as we got to spend time together, just the two of us.
We eat out or have drinks fairly regularly in Salford and Manchester but always with friends, sometimes to celebrate something or sometimes just as an excuse to get together or before seeing a band or going to the theatre. We enjoy these sociable occasions and want to continue being able to afford these luxuries [necessities]. However, going out for drinks or a meal when it is just the two of us is an indulgence; after all if we want to chat to each other we can do this at home.
And we do chat and talk at home; we talk about what we have been up to during the day, our plans and hopes for the future, our friends and family, what we are reading, the state of the nation, our finances and little things we have seen that have amused us [of course we also argue sometimes].
But it turned out that being ‘out’, that is away from the flat, was different. It meant that we weren’t distracted by chores or projects, the internet or the radio and so our time at The Lime Bar was special because I was able to just enjoy being with my lovely partner. We enjoyed good cocktails and nattered and I remembered why I have been happily married to him for over 30-years. Is that so extravagant?
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.
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!
I was planting geraniums in our window boxes yesterday and thinking about gardening.
Before we downsized to a small flat in the city, we lived in a semi-detached house and had a reasonably large garden. The garden had apple trees, a beautiful silver birch and a rowan tree, a pond that was always full of frogs and a pretty wooden greenhouse. The garden had been neglected when we bought the house and in the 20+ years we were there we tended it and made it a very special place.
I did get a lot of pleasure from the garden. We had good soil and the garden faced south and was sheltered and warm. In the summer the garden buzzed with bees, butterflies flitted through and we had plenty of birds visiting the bird table and bird bath and nesting.
However, the garden took up lots of my and Mr BOTRA’s time. Looking after the garden competed with our desire to be away in the ‘van as much as possible. The garden needed regular tending, particularly in the spring and summer when we most wanted to be away … so the time to move on had arrived.
Now, we live in the city and have a couple of pots by our front door and some window boxes. We chose our flat because it is in a development that was built in a time when land was cheaper and benefit from having large sheltered central gardens that the management company employ gardeners to maintain.
Sometimes friends ask if I miss having a garden. But why would I when I now have a garden that someone else cares for and the great outdoors to enjoy in the ‘van. Camping in the ‘van provides opportunities for the fresh air and tranquillity we crave and takes us to natural surroundings. The beauty of natural landscapes is that they can be different every day, we can choose coastline or mountains, moorland or woodland and we don’t have to spend time maintaining it.
Owning a flat and campervan work well together for us, helping us to be both financial independent and happy.
Mr BOTRA and I can’t help ourselves. Whenever we are out walking in the beautiful British countryside, if we spot any litter we have to pick it up and stuff it in the outside pocket of the rucksack. We just like to leave places looking better than when we arrived.
On a recent walk / litter pick, along with the usual cans and bottles, McDonalds packaging and plastic, we found a £5 note! We felt doubly blessed as litter picking always makes us feel good anyway.
I don’t just litter pick in the countryside. Although here in Salford the Council provide some street cleaning, this doesn’t in anyway keep up with the amount of litter on the streets. On my journey to and from work I often arrive with an armful of rubbish, mostly sweet wrappers and plastic bottles and I always pick up glass bottles as these are so lethal when they break, particularly for the tyres of bicycles. This doesn’t really take up any of my time but helps to keep our environment looking just that little bit better.
Another good find on a litter picking sessions some time ago was a fluffy [after it had been washed] chocolate brown hand towel that we still use in our bathroom. This probably was less litter and more lost but after seeing it for a few days it was morphing in to litter and I could only assume the original owner had no idea where they had lost it.
I would really like to live in a world where this litter picking wasn’t necessary but until then I carry on in the hope that for all those people who see me and think I am one crazy woman, just one or two will spot me and next time think twice about throwing litter down … until then I never know what I might find.