Travels around our beloved UK
The time in our lives had arrived where we could be free to take a new path in life, a new adventure.
My husband and I chose to tour the UK in an old motorhome. So I left work and told the family, it seemed important to me that they gave us their blessings.
We decided on a trial period to see if we would be compatible to this lifestyle, choosing three months and Scotland as our first destination. The first night in Scotland certainly tested us, the temperature fell to minus eight degrees and when we woke in the morning having had a really good nights sleep we found that even the toothpaste was sluggish to come out of its tube. It was stunning outside with deep drifts of snow, white coated hares in abundance and highland cattle munching contentedly on hay with their collective breaths creating a misty scene. We had electric hooked-up and the site owner came out in the morning to see if we had survived the night.
We moved off, carefully, in high spirits further north. The three months flew by with many places, people, wildlife and buildings of fascination and interest. The compact ruined castle of Sinclair teetering on the coast was extremely atmospheric, the old stones emanating history. The massed voices of eider ducks in the north sea was evocative and brought smiles to our faces. Wildlife is to be found in unexpected places too, as I stumbled upon basking seals beside a carpark in Thurso. We discovered with astonishment that many people had been travelling in their motor homes for several years, one intrepid lady all alone bar her friendly terrier dog.
At the end of this three month period we returned to our cottage in the lovely Wye Valley, suddenly and unexpectedly feeling as if we had fallen through a gap, we no longer belonged and felt decidedly boxed in within the four walls. So although a motorhome is so much smaller than a house and one ought to feel claustrophobic, in reality it was the other way around. For every morning you open the door to the motorhome you can be in a totally new area, one to be explored in depth with the leisure of time to do so and really see the world around you. It is an addictive sensation.
Next step, how to fund it for a longer stretch of time. My husband had just come into his pension and we could put the house up for rent. Phew, big step. Many journeys to the tip and car boot sales ensued, not to mention our long-suffering daughters storing the bits we didn't want to sell or throw away. The finances didn't stretch to a storage unit. We found a lovely couple who were eager to move in, on a six monthly renewable rental basis. The other practical pieces were the redirection of our post to our daughter's address and lists made of bills to be paid, and when, along with their account details. We had also received the very useful presents of membership to the RSPB, National Trust and English Heritage, thus giving us access to many areas of interest. My husband and I also agreed on the only ground rule to be imposed; if either of us felt in need of our own space, for whatever reason, we had to speak about it openly and agree to go for a walk or some such. It only happened a very few times, but it was vital to our continued enjoyment.
Oh my word, we were ready to go. We fully intended to explore Europe, but at every turn in the great British Isles there was ever more to see and do.
We stayed reasonably close by for the first month, to ensure all was well with the house rental. We explored the Somerset Levels and were lucky enough to witness the spectacular murmuration of starlings, it was even better than any of the television programmes that had whetted our appetite. Then we paid our first visit to the Isle of Wight where we stayed on the friendliest campsite and became firm friends with the owners. The island was so enchanting we stayed for several weeks. We saw water voles and red squirrels every day and one day the red squirrel came right up to my husband's camera and placed his front paws on it.
We spent many an evening poring over maps and books to decide where to go next. We decided on the area around The Wash, East Anglia. Again it gave us fascinating glimpses into wildlife behaviour. One morning we rose at dawn and cycled to Snettisham where, along with many other people, we stood in awe as flocks consisting of thousands of birds flew quite low over our heads to roost from the rising tide to the safety of the lagoon. The sound was unforgettable. Whilst at their roost they moved restlessly in waves of changing greys and as the rising sun shone there were beautiful pink tones too.
Another memorable sighting of birds was that of a huge sea eagle coming in low and fast with talons outstretched to the neck of a swan on the lake in front of the hide. When it had nearly made contact the swan lifted its head, much to the surprise of the eagle who managed an inelegant swerve, looking quite embarrased. It turned out to have been a yearling eagle who had been feeding off carrion swans during the previous harsh winter and mistook this feeding swan to be the same.
People were immensely kind during our travels. Our poor old motorhome had been struggling to the extent that it kept cutting out if we had to stop, entailing me having to leap out and press a particular part in the engine. We limped on to a garage and finally stopped for good just on their forecourt. The mechanics pushed and shoved until she was safely out of the way. On booking her in we were told it would be a month or more before she could be fitted in. We began to panic explaining that she was our home whereupon a manager appeared and told us we could happily stay overnight – up by 7am though when work started. We even had electric hookup and a supply of water. The following morning we disappeared to explore the town and drink many coffees. Later in the afternoon the manager rang to say we could return and all was well. They had only ordered the part the night of our arrival and it had been sent over from France and fitted that day. Still, it was cheaper than spending several nights in a B&B. What service.
During travel like ours you are able to experience things that you could not in your everyday life. One such was volunteering with the English Heritage for four months at Salisbury, Wiltshire. My husband and I were part of a core group of six working to build the Neolithic huts behind the new visitor centre at Stonehenge. Many other volunteers came and went, some brilliant others not quite so. We built the huts from scratch under the guidance of the Ancient Technology Centre. It was totally absorbing, satisfying, freezing and infuriating. Did you know that you can take a length of hazel and twist it so it becomes as pliable as rope to be twisted around a pole or to use lengths of willow to bend into strong and intricate fastenings to hold down roof thatchings? Or that when you daub the inside of the round houses with white chalk that it makes the whole space light and airy or that when you make the fire hearth it brings, not only warmth, but a strong sense of home? The Neolithic peoples were certainly not stupid and were highly skilled in construction techniques and organisation with intimate knowledge of their surroundings. We were able to pass on the knowledge to the staff at the museum in Salisbury that you could indeed cut down trees with flint axes as we had done.
We came to know Salisbury quite well and loved the Cathedral. Another journey we took was to Ely and its cathedral, which offered a choice of tours, the tower or the angels. We decided on the angels. It transpired to be a most wonderful area, having negotiated the winding staircase and looked in awe at the ancient and huge oak beam contruction, the guide surprised us by opening doors around the octagonal tower. You could look vertiginous feet below to the wonderful flooring and you could look across to see life sized angels painted on panels placed around the tower. When monks were at Ely they sang in two parts in an answering call, one group from where we stood and one from the floor of the Cathedral, the sound must have been electrifying.
We walked many, many miles over several years, as can be imagined. We reached the summits of the three highest mountains in the UK, Snowdon in Wales, Scafel Pike in England and Ben Nevis in Scotland. We also took delightful train journeys with integrated walks, such as the steam Talyllyn railway where you disembark then take a wonderful walk, with the train as the last leg of your journey. I was also extremely happy to have been given the chance to "drive" the train as it performed a turning manoeuver. In the car park we also spotted a very unusual car which turned out to be a Messerschmidt Bubble car.
Sadly, one way and another, it was time to settle back down in our cottage. We had been away for an amazing four and a half years, this article being the merest snapshot of our adventures, criss crossing the British Isles from Lands End in Cornwall to Dunnet Head in Scotland and on to the Orkney isles with many counties in between. We feel immensely grateful that we had the opportunity to do this and that we had the courage to break ties with normality, for a while at least.
So here I am, back at Stella Books, thoroughly enjoying this next phase of my life.
Contributed by Rosemary