Settling in to routines…. .

Ok, so we felt we needed a break from vanlife to remain in one place for a while.  But what are we going to do during our static four months with so much time on our hands?  Certainly this lifestyle we have has given us the luxury of time.  Time to do as we please, live our life on our own terms and pick and choose what we want to do and what we don’t want to do.  I can’t deny it’s a super luxurious position to be in and it’s one we try not to take for granted.  Having so much time though also throws up a few challenges.  At least for me.  Tim is a much more laid back, live in the moment, don’t analyse it kind of person.  Me?  I can analyse something to the nth degree and then some!

I’m not talking about boredom here.  I’ve never been bored on our travels.  Yes, there have been times where I’ve felt flat, frustrated or cooped up during prolonged periods of rain but I wouldn’t say I’ve been bored.  I’ll always find something to do.  Pottering. It’s one of my favourite things to do but I’m not yet quite of an age where pottering about ALL day is fulfilling enough.  Maybe in a year or two;)  For me, the amount of time we have on our hands is more a question of purpose.  Throughout our travels I’ve always been plagued by the ‘P’ word.  Or maybe there’s a bit of guilt thrown in there too.  Drifting around from place to place with no end game in mind can, for me, feel a bit like I have no purpose.  I think I’m just the kind of person that needs a bit of structure and a ‘why’.  It was one of the reasons we had decided that as part of our travels we would do some volunteering.  We viewed it as a chance to meet new people, learn new skills, experience different lifestyles and ideas and generally make a difference to someone.  It was also a chance to have a focus for a while.

Painting the railings of the village War Memorial whilst on a Helpx in France in 2016.

It can be difficult to have a focus when you’re moving from place to place for an extended period of time.  It can also be difficult to justify what we are doing.  Lots of people nowadays take a midlife gap year which is totally understandable. Take a year or so out, explore, recharge and then pick up from where you left off.  People can understand that.  But take off with no idea of how long you’ll be gone for or if you’ll ever go back to a conventional life is a bit harder for people to take in.  If we meet people and get into a discussion on our current lifestyle we have occasionally had the awkward question of ‘yes, but what do you do all day’? If I’m honest it’s not an easy one to answer without sounding a bit lame.  It generally goes something like this: ‘Oh well, you know, we walk a bit, maybe go for a cycle, plan where to go next, sort out emptying and refilling the van, read, erm, go to Lidl, volunteer a bit, erm, you know, erm, stuff like that’.  You see.  Wishy washy and lame.  You can see in people’s eyes they don’t really get it and are probably thinking we’re just a bit work shy.  I think it’s partly an age thing as if we were in our late sixties or seventies I don’t think anyone would question what we do with our time.  You’ve earnt your retirement so live it large and put your feet up.  Or maybe it’s just my own perception of things.  I don’t know but it’s not always easy to justify what we do with our time and where it all goes. But it goes.  And very quickly too.  Filling the time whilst on the road in the van is pretty easy though as you’re constantly stimulated by new sights, different landscapes, a changing set of neighbours, the odd challenge and hundreds of questions going through your head about this and that.  Filling the time in one place though is a bit different.

Where does the time go?!

So, after nearly seven hundred words I’ve still not answered what we’ll be doing during our extended time here.  Well, for Tim one of the biggest sacrifices he made when taking on this lifestyle was leaving behind the music scene where we lived.  Music IS a huge part of his life.  HUGE.  He’s had to adapt to not being able to be a part of several bands.  He hardly played at all in our first year away but in the last two or so years he’s adjusted to playing solo.  In an ideal world he’d want to be playing in several bands but playing solo has been a compromise.  Over the last three weeks he’s been busy making contacts and putting out feelers to get into something here and/or start something new.

The compromise…. .

For me I have the donkeys!  I’m spending a few mornings a week cleaning up after them and generally enjoying some donkey time.  Mucking out wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I find it quite therapeutic and of course I love spending time with the donkeys.

Sunrise over Donkey HQ after a wet night.

One of the things I wanted to do when travelling was to learn a new language or two.  I’d dabbled in French on and off since 2016, did a few months of learning German when we were in Germany and then promptly forgot it all again and ditto last year for Spanish.  Unfortunately, spending an extended period of time in a foreign country doesn’t mean to say you miraculously absorb the language.  Alas, it takes consistent time and effort.  Consistency had never been my strong point regarding languages.  Or anything else for that matter but this lifestyle has forced me into creating a few routines as I know I feel more content if I feel I have achieved something each day whether that be physical or mental.  At the beginning of this year I set myself the challenge to improve my French and I’m glad to say, even though I’m not yet where I want to be with it, I have made some mprovement.  So a consistent effort at continuing to improve the French and learning some Portuguese will be a feature of my day too.

Time for a cup of tea and a French podcast.

Then we have some dog walking to do.  The AEZA refuge is a non-profit association taking in stray dogs and cats.  Three days a week volunteers are welcome to walk a dog or two.  Tim unwittingly gave me the idea when he said ‘I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to do the dog walking at the dog refuge’.  As a dog lover and having had four of our own dogs in the past he knows I have a weakness for them but when our last one went to the big kennel in the sky in 2013 we agreed we would have a period without the responsibility a dog brings. I’ve done pretty well in sticking to it.  It took all my resolve not to take home half a dozen strays from Greece a couple of years ago.  But, the dogs need walking and I have time on my hands so it was a fait accompli.

I don’t normally do selfies but needs must………………Gwen enjoying her walk!

I just have to hope I don’t fall in love with one…………or two.

Até já!

Loving being back in Blighty…. .

Ah yes, the blog.  I’d conveniently forgotten about ever having written a blog once we’d got our four tyres and four feet back onto UK soil.  In my head I’d given myself permission to have a holiday from the blog whilst back visiting family and friends but with it now being three weeks to the day that we arrived back in the UK I guess my holiday is now, strictly speaking, over. So, as it’s raining and I have a lovely view of a Scottish beach framed by the vans rear window which just happens to be next to the bed, I thought I’d do the next enthralling blog instalment from the comfort of my bed.  And why not?

You can’t beat a full English!

It’s hard to believe that three weeks have disappeared so quickly but they do say time fly’s when you’re having fun.  And we were having fun.  Friends and family in the west country to meet up with, appointments to attend and old haunts to check out.  Then the trip ‘oop north’ to catch up with my parents and enjoy some home cooking, a free washing machine and a couple of pets to stroke.  In fact the free use of the washing machine turned into a complete service wash and iron.  It’s the first time our clothes have had an iron run over them in over two years.  If we had more in the way of clothing we’d be saving them for ‘best’ but as the service wash constituted half our wardrobe that’s not really practical. Even the bedding and tea towels underwent the same treatment….imagine.  Thank you Mum for all the home cooked meals and for doing our washing with such love and care. I must say I’ve never seen Tim’s underwear looking quite so, well, flat!

And thank you also to all our other friends and family for fitting in with our tight schedule for meet ups.  It still amazes me how we can just slot back in to other peoples lives as if we’ve never been away.  Our return this year was made all the more enjoyable as we didn’t have to revisit the question of our ‘stuff’.   That was dealt with last year (you can read about it here if you feel so inclined).  We’ve had a thoroughly enjoyable three weeks ‘holiday’ but all good things come to an end and as of yesterday we are now back to ‘work’.  The ‘work’ being a six or seven week tour of Scotland. It’s a tough job but we’re happy to take it on!

A tranquil scene on the Grand Union Canal outside Loughborough on our way ‘oop north’.

I’m not going to talk about Scotland in this blog post though as we only arrived a couple of days ago.  Instead I’m going to give you some thoughts and musings on things that we’ve noticed or had forgotten about on our return to the UK after the best part of two years away from it.   Don’t worry, politics won’t feature.

Firstly then, the price of groceries.  You’ve never had it so good here in the UK.  I can’t say I noticed it last year as we came back to the UK from Spain which was maybe slightly cheaper than here or about the same but this time around we couldn’t believe the difference.  Especially things like fruit and vegetables, bread, tuna, biscuits, sweets and cakes.  A tin of tuna in Greece will set you back €1.79 (£1.57), here it will cost you a measly 87p.  A friend of mine asked what foods I missed whilst being away from the Uk and I think my exact words were ‘nothing really apart from real ale’.  Why then did I come out of Aldi with Hot Cross buns, crumpets, decent crackers, savoury noodles, Fox’s Golden Crunch creams, Branston pickle, Melton Mowbray pork pies, baked beans and spaghetti hoops piled high in the trolley?  Moral of the story?  If it’s out of sight then it’s out of mind.   We’ve calmed down now after our binge!

Walking the Harrogate Ringway again.

One thing we had forgotten about was that shopping at a supermarket in the UK accompanied by a 7m motorhome is much more of a challenge than we remembered, especially at Aldi or Lidl.  The carparks are generally much smaller and much busier than their European counterparts.  Unless you shop very early or late in the day then it’s probably best to find another place to park up and walk or find a bigger supermarket.  Also, we’d forgotten that it’s not always easy to find any parking at all with a motorhome and that you usually have to pay!

We really enjoyed watching the spring lambs frolicking about.

Next up, traffic.  There’s probably not significantly more traffic on the roads as opposed to two years ago but the volume of traffic here is much higher and it was noticeable as soon as we rolled off the ferry in Dover.  From local traffic to motorway traffic it’s just busy, busy, busy.  There are definitely more potholes and some of the driving has been reminiscent of the roads we experienced in Italy.  The worst has to be yesterday being shaken to bits whilst circling around the suburbs of Glasgow trying to find LPG.  It seems the ‘beast from the east’ has done its worst to the road network.

And finally, my driving leaves a lot to be desired.  Apart from the odd occasion driving various cars when on our Helpx assignments I haven’t really driven for the last two years as Tim is driver and I’m navigator.  For overall harmony in the van it’s better that way.  This, though, has left me somewhat rusty on the old driving front.  We hired a car for a week to make it easier to get to friends, family and various appointments and to give Tim a break from driving it was just insured for me to drive.  Well, all I can say is my driving skills are now shocking.  Dithering at junctions, being in the wrong lane on roundabouts, hesitating before driving round parked cars when you could fit a bus through, passing too close to cyclists, forgetting which way to give way to on a roundabout and not quite making the turn on a mini roundabout and having to reverse are just a few of my motoring misdemeanours.  The worst was taking off and driving at least one hundred metres on the right hand side of the road before realising I should be on the other side.  Fortunately it was on a very quiet housing estate.  Even my navigation skills are shot as I’ve directed Tim to take the third exit on several roundabouts instead of the first as, in my head, I’ve gone round it the other way!  Shocking, shocking, shocking.  Of course, I’m now thinking should I drive more to keep my hand in so to speak?  After witnessing me driving a tiny Toyota for a week I’m not sure Tim would let me loose with driving the van now though.

So anyway, that’s us up to date now and we are thoroughly enjoying being back in the UK and feeling revitalised and re-energised.  We’re now getting layered up to take on whatever Scotland has to offer.


Highland cattle at Pollok Country Park just outside Glasgow:)

Beannachd Leat!

Reflections on twenty one and a bit months on the road…. .

We are over twenty one months into our life changing decision to give up our jobs, rent out our house and travel around Europe in our motorhome.  It may seem a bit odd to be writing a blog post about our reflections at this stage in our journey as twenty one months isn’t one of those milestone figures.  Six months, twelve months, eighteen months, two years, five years, yes.  Twenty one months, well, no.  The truth is that I had planned to do updates every six months or so but I simply didn’t get around to it.  Better late than never as they say.  So, I thought I’d give you those reflections today.  Just because.

Our journey so far (except Ireland and Holland which we visited before this trip).

Twenty one and a bit months is a long time and yet it seems that it has passed by in no time at all.  Time seems to speed up as we get older making me realise that we only have just the one chance at life.  Over the last few years during what I like to call as my ‘mid life crisis phase’ I’ve read several books on such things as mindfulness, simplicity, happiness and the like.  My twenty or even thirty something self would have scoffed at such a reading choice but as I’ve got older and (hopefully) wiser it’s dawned on me that life is short and we need to try to make the most of it.  I read Gretchin Rubin’s book ‘The Happiness Project’ late last year (downloaded from the library when I wasn’t even in the UK…just another bonus of living in the digital age) and a quote that she uses over and over ad nauseum, but which is so true is  ‘The days are long, but the years are short’.  Life passes you by if you let it.  We are trying to not let that happen.

We haven’t quite reached Hollywood yet………….but you never know.

Living in and travelling in a small space no bigger than a single garage with one’s spouse would maybe seem like hell on wheels to some but we muddle along just fine.  We’ve had a lot of time to perfect our routines now and can go through them practically blindfolded without getting in each others way.  It also helps that we are both a bit slimmer now and find it somewhat easier to squeeze through small gaps!  In terms of the stuff we carry in the van I think we’ve probably got it about right now after our final purge of clothes, shoes and bits and bobs almost a year ago.  Everything has its own place and can be got at without too much rummaging.  On the who does what front I have my jobs and Tim has his.  It’s best to keep it that way.  When we don’t stick to our allotted tasks the outcome is never a good one.  Twice recently we have driven off leaving the water cap behind after I have replenished the van with fresh water.  It’s not normally my job so how can I be expected to remember something difficult like that?  Equally, I’ve learnt that watching Tim struggle to change the duvet cover is really not good for my mental health.  Repressing the urge to snatch it off him saying ‘oh just give it to me’ is just too much.  Getting into bed with the innards of the duvet scrunched up and doubled over and not reaching each corner of the cover can make me feel a bit, well, murderous.  Therefore, even though our jobs are a bit genderist (is that a word?) we know what we are good at and we generally stick to that.

Things don’t always go to plan – getting stuck on our first Helpx in the UK.

We’ve truly settled in now to a life on the road and enjoy the freedom of having no rigid plans.  Occasionally we think it might be nice to be back in a house with more room to stretch out a bit, be a part of a community and see friends and family more but the financial benefits of renting our house out far outweigh those feelings at the moment.  Maybe in time we’ll feel differently but we’ve no plans, as yet, to return to a more conventional life.

Getting to grips with mountain passes.

When we left the UK again to start our second year of travels I did feel a bit overwhelmed and unsettled for a while.  For our second year we’d planned to travel further and all the countries were new to us.  I just didn’t know where to start in planning a route.  After struggling for several weeks to get to grips with it all I decided to change my mindset.  I told myself to just deal with where we’d go the following day and leave it at that.  That change of mindset has definitely made a big difference.  It’s got us as far as Greece anyway. My little brain can’t cope with too much information at once so I try not to over stress it!

It wasn’t so bad planning a route across Luxembourg!

The minor niggles we’ve had with the van such as the recent demise of our water pump have been just that, minor niggles which, although inconvenient, aren’t enough to send us into a downward spiral of ‘woe is me’.  Tim, if he’s honest, has quite enjoyed flexing his practical skills from time to time and has felt satisfied at tackling repair jobs that we would have previously left to a garage to sort out.  Fortunately we haven’t had anything fail that has needed us to leave the van with a repairer for more than one day thus we haven’t, as yet, faced the dilemma of ‘where do we live’ whilst it’s sorted out.  Oh we know that will happen at some point but we’ll no doubt find a solution if we need to.  We have, though, spent more in repairs in the last two years than I think we had in the first six years that we owned the van. Living in it all the time does take its toll and it has come as no surprise to us that certain things are at about their life span and will fail at some point.  Modern appliances and gadgets just aren’t made to last in this day and age.  The one thing that has been fine has been the fridge which seems to be the bane of the motorhomers life if speaking to other people is anything to go by.  Of course the fridge will be on death row tomorrow after having now written that.

Resealing the kitchen window near Thessaloniki, Greece.  Tim didn’t tackle this one but may take it on next time it happens.

Nothing much has changed on the internet side of things.  At the six month stage in our travels we’d (that’ll be me) just about learned to live without unlimited internet access………..and I’m still learning.  We still generally try to find wifi when we can but we have relaxed a bit on using our mifi in the van and now that we are able to buy data cards loaded with up to 12G of data that are valid for twelve months it has made life a bit easier.  I still update the blog using wifi as my pictures take up so much data (I am compressing them now via Google, which also takes up lots of data, as they were taking up way too much space on the blog too).  In terms of getting a signal on our mifi the only times it has let us down has been when we really needed it!  Like when I hadn’t written down the address of a Helpx we were going to and on the morning we were due to arrive there we had no signal so weren’t able to look it up and ended up driving around for an hour or so trying to get a signal.  Something we could have done without but if I’d been a little more organised and written it down in advance it wouldn’t have been a problem.  Note to self: the internet is an excellent tool but don’t completely rely on it.

Too much time spent glued to a screen and you miss days like these.

We’ve done seven weeks on two different Helpx’s this year, both in Germany – one a Dairy Farm and the other an Alpaca Farm.  The two experiences were very different and we enjoyed them both.  Having the opportunity to learn about and work with different people and animals has been one of the highlights of our travels.  It’s fair to say though that volunteering in this way doesn’t come without some frustrations.  The two Helpx’s we did this year we found a little trying at times mainly because we didn’t have the autonomy we would have liked and the number of hours we worked did push the boundaries of the ethos of what Helpx is all about.  Every opportunity we have done has been different though and it hasn’t put us off doing some more in the future but we’ll just try to be a little clearer with our hosts about expected working hours when we apply.

A wonderful experience to wake up to a new born Alpaca on our seventh Helpx.

One thing I haven’t mentioned on the blog so far is whether either of us has missed conventional work.  The answer to that question for both of us would be ‘NO’.  Tim has settled into this early retirement thing with aplomb and doesn’t miss his previous job and doesn’t think about it at all.  In his words ‘not one bit’.  I haven’t missed working for an employer at all but do sometimes think about what my purpose in life is and feel a little guilty about bumming around Europe with no set plans.  I’ve learnt to deal with it though!  We are never bored and it never ceases to astonish us that time just seems to vanish when living a life on the move.  We try to get into a good routine balancing our time between reading, our own projects, exercise, sightseeing and general everyday stuff like laundry, shopping and driving.  When on an extended tour like this sightseeing everyday quickly becomes a going through the motions affair and isn’t sustainable.  Less is more as they say.

Oh yes, Tim’s settled into pensioner life like a pro!

I do find it a constant battle trying to live in the moment and try to stop myself thinking too far into the future.  I’ve said it before that the truth is we just don’t know what our future is going to look like and I’ve found that constantly thinking about it detracts from what we are doing in the here and now.  But it’s a hard habit to break as that has been my default thought process for such a long time.  I mean, all we need to do really is check in with each other every so often on whether we are still content to continue this vagabond life and whether either of us has had some revelation about what they want in the future.  Surely that can’t be too hard?  We are fortunate and grateful that we do have choices though.  I really need to get over myself, lighten up and enjoy the present moment more.  It’s a work in progress!  Tim doesn’t seem to have any problems living in the present which is probably why he is a happy bunny 99.9% of the time.

Tim in contemplative mood.

The other thing that has changed since the last time I reflected on our travels is that we no longer have our stuff stored in a container.  When we left on our journey in April 2016 we’d held onto a large part of our possessions.  Even though in the run up to our departure we’d purged more than half of them we still had a container full of stuff.  On returning to the UK in April 2017 we made the decision to give it all away to a charity so we no longer had the associated costs of storing it all.  It wasn’t the easiest decision we’ve made and I did spend time afterwards wondering if we’d made the right decision.  For a time, I felt like the security rug had been whipped out from under me.  I felt, oh I don’t know, like I’d lost my connection to a home if that makes any sense.  That feeling has worn off and I feel differently about it now.  We have a clean slate without the mental drag of our stuff getting in the way of what decisions we make in the future.  If we decide to move back into a house then we are completely free to start afresh.  If we don’t then we no longer have to think about our stuff.  One thing is for sure though we definitely won’t be accumulating as much stuff again.

The ‘stuff’ has gone.

Part of our decision to do this trip now, instead of waiting until we got to a traditional retirement age, was that we both still have the physical capacity to do the things we enjoy like walking and cycling.  And that is something that will change as we get older.  Another ten years sat behind a desk wasn’t going to improve our physical abilities.  After nearly two years away from an office environment we feel that way more than ever.  We are far more content, far more active and far more in control of our own destination (pun intended).  Obviously living this kind of lifestyle isn’t all hunky dory all of the time but then neither is life no matter what your status, financial position, family situation etc etc.  Things will go wrong or not quite as expected and acknowledging that makes it easier to deal with when it does happen.

‘Le bump’ we had in France three months into our trip.  After having it repaired we’ve since damaged it again when parking up on a campsite!  Hey ho, c’est la vie.

To wrap up this rather rambling blog post then our travels so far have exceeded our expectations and we are thankful that we have had the opportunity to take the plunge to try a different kind of life at this stage in our lives.

Sign at the campsite in Split, Croatia.

For now, then, the journey continues:)

So long!

Sharing the Blog Love…..The Liebster award…. .


You may be wondering what this blog post is all about going by the title.  The Liebster award?   What is all that about?  I too was thinking that very same thing when Suzanne from Globalhousesitterx2 left a message on my blog to say she had nominated me for the award.   I headed on over to her blog, then, to upskill myself so to speak and find out what it was all about.  Ah right, after a bit of reading and digging I got the low down on it.  Originating in Germany, it’s basically an internet award where a blogger nominates fellow bloggers whose musings they enjoy reading and asks them to answer some questions in a blog post.  Once the nominee has answered the questions and published them on their blog they then nominate blogs that they enjoy reading asking those bloggers to answer the same or different questions.  And so it goes on.  It’s all about sharing the blog love and it’s aimed at newcomers to the blogosphere.  Are you all with me so far?  Great.

Suzanne and her husband are New Zealanders living an extraordinary life of world travel combined with house and pet sitting.  I enjoy reading all about their globe trotting lifestyle and Suzanne’s musings on life.  Thank you Suzanne for nominating my blog.  I’ve done my best to answer your questions.

And without further ado here they are:

What country, city or continent would you most like to visit and why

Ooh, that’s a toughy.  I couldn’t really pick just one.  In truth, I’m not very well travelled in terms of having visited many other countries.  Until we started on our trip around Europe I’d only visited a handful of countries as, for eighteen years, we holidayed in the UK due to having our dogs.  I don’t have any one specific stand out destination that I would most like to visit.  I’m happy doing what we are doing now travelling and discovering new areas and countries in a loose haphazard kind of way.  Anywhere new is good enough for me at the moment.  Maybe in years to come, after having experienced and visited more countries, I’ll have an idea of somewhere that I think ‘yes, I have to go there’.  Having said that, Scotland is somewhere that I have never been to that I would really like to see but we keep putting it off because of the weather!

What was the most inspirational time in your life so far?

I think that has to be the years leading up to us taking this huge long trip around Europe in our van.  Up until about five or six years ago I’d been pretty content with my life.  My job was a means to an end.  It wasn’t something I was passionate about but, you know, I felt I did a good job and I didn’t hate it anything.  I didn’t feel like I was in the rat race and life was pretty good.  But then a combination of things happened including an enforced job change to another department which left me in a working environment and job that I felt, deep down, was not for me and I started to think ‘gosh, is this as good as it gets….am I going to be able to do this for another ten or fifteen years’.  I don’t know why but I started to peruse a few different blogs on people taking time out to travel around Europe in their motorhomes.  As this was something that we wanted to do when we reached traditional retirement age I devoured them all.  This then morphed into delving into blogs about minimalism, simple living and living intentionally.  Blimey, I was on fire!  It made me completely change my mind set and perspective on life.  When it came down to it, time and experiences were more important to us than stuff.  Living with less and wanting less has definitely changed our lives for the better and enabled us to pursue our current life of travel.

Getting ready Mar16.JPG
Everything packed up and ready to go into storage before our trip started in April 2016.  In April 2017 we let it all go and gave it to a charity.

What are you passionate about?

I really feel at home around animals and like to be with them.  We don’t have any pets at the moment though.  We made a conscious decision when our last dog sadly went to the big kennel in the sky, towards the end of 2013, that we would have a break from the responsibility of having a pet to enable is to pursue other things.  Some of the volunteering we have done through Helpx in the last eighteen months has been with various different animals including donkeys, dogs and alpacas.  If we ever settle back into a normal life or even if we don’t then I’m sure we will have another dog……….or two.  I also love travelling in our motorhome, reading, walking and cycling.  I quite like birdwatching as well but I’m not serious about it and generally can’t identify what I’m looking at.

Doug Brighton 2010.JPG
Douglas, sadly missed.
A day out at the Donkey Sanctuary, Sidmouth, Devon.

What is your favourite book and why?

Reading is one of my most favourite things to do and there are sooo many books I could choose.  Instead of choosing one book then I’m going to choose my favourite author.  And that would be, hands down, Alexander McCall Smith.  I just love his books.  He’s a prolific writer and just when I think I’ve read everything by him I’ll be casually flitting about on the Amazon Kindle book pages and see he has published another book.  My favourites by him are all of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series and the 44 Scotland Street series.   He has a very simple, subtle way of writing with beautiful observations and reflections on life and a whole host of wonderful characters.  Overall, his writing just exudes compassion and kindness which is something we should all aspire to.  With every book I have read of his I always learn a few new words which I have to look up but I can’t confess to remembering them.


What is your favourite time of year?

I love all the seasons, well not so much winter, but if I had to pick one time of year I would say it would have to be Spring.  The days start to get longer, migrating birds return, new shoots appear and you have that feeling of the whole summer stretching ahead of you.

Spring 2016 walking the Harrogate Ringway.

What other interests do you have besides blogging?

This varies year to year as I am a fickle soul and don’t seem to be able to stick at anything for very long.  Currently I enjoy spending time trying to improve my French.  It’s a lofty goal of mine to become fluent in at least one other language and be able to get by in another two.  The other two would be German and Spanish.  But I’d also like to learn Portuguese too.  And maybe Italian.  Did I mention I was fickle?  I’m so envious of polyglots who speak several languages effortlessly and I’m a late starter to this so we’ll see.  Time will tell.  Maybe by telling it to the world here I’ll make myself more accountable.  Peut-etre.

Do you prefer the beach or the mountains?

Now, I think the answer to that question for me would be ‘it depends on the weather’.   If it’s dry and bright then I would choose the mountains over the beach any day of the week.  As walking is one of my passions then I need to be able to get out and about amongst those peaks.  If the cloud is low or it’s raining and I can’t see them then I can find them a bit oppressive.  You see, I’m a fair weather mountain person.  In contrast, I love beaches in any weather and at any time of the year.

You can’t beat the hills on a sunny day.

Where did you go for your most memorable holiday?

One holiday that stands out was a trip to the Isles of Scilly back in 2009.  We had our lovely dog Lulu then.  We travelled with just our backpacks and little tent on the train from our home in Wiltshire to Penzance and took the ferry to St Mary’s island.  We stayed on St Agnes, which has no cars, spending a wonderful week exploring the islands, visiting the pubs and generally enjoying a slower pace of life.  The weather was amazing which was just as well as our little tent was a bit cramped with the two of us and Lulu.  We took the least amount of stuff we felt we could get away with but bought two cheap camping chairs in Penzance.  I can’t do without a chair.  If I go camping I want a chair.  If I sit on the beach I want to be in a chair.  If I go on a picnic I want to be in a chair.  No romantic picnic rug for me.  I want a chair.  That’s all I want.  A chair!  Anyway, when our week’s holiday was over we gave the two chairs to a couple of backpackers who were just arriving on the campsite.

isle of scilly 087.JPG
Tim with Lulu, Isles of Scilly, 2009.

Do you prefer a sunny or a rainy day?

Oh, sunny.  Sunny.  Yes, definitely sunny.  I’m no sun worshipper though.  Lying on a beach slathered in chip fat slowly cooking is just not for me.  My idea of sunbathing is sitting in my shorts and T-shirt under the shade of a tree reading a book.  I love sunny days because they make me feel happy and energized.  Everything just looks better on a sunny day.  Sunny days allow me to do the things I love like walking and cycling.  That said, if I’m tired after a busy few days I’m more than happy to sit watching the rain roll down the windows whilst supping a cup of tea.

A beautiful sunny day perfect for cycling along the Moselle in Germany.

If you had a day all to yourself how would you spend it?

Ok, I’d start with a cup of tea in bed whilst reading a book, a blog or something educational followed by a swim, ideally on a sunny day in a nice fifty metre outdoor pool.  After breakfast a long walk in beautiful countryside preferably one where I would come across a field of donkeys to pat.  A cheese and pickle sandwich for lunch followed by an afternoon kip.  I’d listen to a few language podcasts, read some more and finish up my day with a homemade chilli.  Rock and Roll I am not!

My ideal pool for a morning swim.

So there we have it.  And now it’s my turn to nominate some of the blogs I enjoy reading.  I’ll leave the questions as the same or if you want to mix it and match it with some others I’ve listed below, or answer some but not others, do what you like really……..or not.  It’s up to you 🙂

What books have you been inspired by and why?

What would you say has been the biggest challenge of your current lifestyle?

What has been the biggest benefit of your chosen lifestyle?

I would like to nominate:

Adventures in Life, Love, Travel…….and Puppies!

Love Motorhoming

The Wanderlings


Phew, that was, I think, my longest blog post yet.  If you’ve got to the end then thanks for reading.  I’m off for a lie down!




Reflections on our first six or seven months on the road…. .

In a slight detour from my usual posts of what we have been up to I thought it would be a good time to maybe reflect on the first six months of our new lifestyle.  It’s actually been just over seven months since we passed over the keys of our house to the agent, closed the doors on our storage container and said our goodbyes to family and friends.  Over the course of that seven months we have had ample opportunity to chew the fat, as it were, on what we are making of it all and how we, and our van ‘Ollie’, are bearing up!

Just to let you know, there will be some random photos interspersed with my musings to break it all up a bit as this is a long one and I wouldn’t want anyone to lose the will to live whilst perusing this post.

This took me back – a Citroen Dyane – my first car in 1986 (not this one obviously!)

How is the van bearing up?

Ok, let’s start with our van, which is affectionately known as ‘Ollie’ (until this extended tour he had only been used for ‘ollie-days’!) How’s he been bearing up to the extra stresses and strains of full time living?  Mmmm, let’s see.  In the past 7 months we’ve had a list of little niggly minor things that have needed attention.  These being, in no particular order:

  • The small plastic catch on the fridge door, to stop it flying open when driving, snapped into two pieces
  • Various pieces of cosmetic wood trim have fallen off
  • Several door hinges have needed tightening up
  • A blocked sink
  • Various screws needed to be tightened on bits and pieces
  • The tow hitch electrical socket has grounded out several times when entering carparks and the like
  • Indicator lights on the bike rack not working
  • Glass door underneath the oven jammed
  • Slight leak on the gas pipes which needed tightening
  • The roof vent above the bed got stuck in the ‘open’ position
  • The van radio has ‘cooked’ in the sun a few times and been too hot to work properly

So, as they say in France ‘ce n’est pas grave’ with Tim able to fix them all with a bit of glue and a smile 🙂  In truth, Tim has enjoyed the whole make do and mend thing and is, more often than is surely necessary, rummaging for his toolbox at even a slight sniff of a problem!

Street Art in Valencia.

The three ‘issues’ we currently have that we need a pro to look at are:

  • The boiler is leaking
  • The shower tray has a crack in it around the plug hole and is, once again (sigh), leaking after the last running repair
  • The habitation door catch broke three months ago so we can only open the door via the window like you do on a train

On the whole, things aren’t too bad as any motorhome isn’t really designed to be lived in full-time and we have to expect some things to go wrong from time to time.  The good thing is that, unlike at home, where a niggling problem would be left for months, if anything needs attention in the van then Tim is onto it like Usain Bolt out of the starting blocks!

I wouldn’t fancy driving that rig.

How are we coping with living in such a small space?

Living in such a small space hasn’t really been a problem. We’ve always holidayed in a campervan or caravan of some sort so we had a fair idea of how things would pan out.

Nice little Citroen H Van.

Throughout the summer  and autumn the weather has been so good that we’ve spent pretty much most of the day outside so haven’t really felt cooped up in the van at all.  I think being able to chase the sun makes a huge difference when living in a van for an extended period of time as does moving on every few days for a change of scene.  Winter is now upon us though so things could well change.  I, personally, prefer living with less stuff and still feel that we have more in the van than we really need.  I’ve already put half my clothes in the locker with the spare tyre just to get them out of the way as I really don’t feel I need them.

Legal graffiti in Niort, France.

Have we missed any of our possessions we left behind?

We haven’t missed any of the possessions we have put into storage and, frankly, we can’t really now even remember what is in there.  The jury is still out on what to do with it all but we have agreed that a decision needs to be made as to whether to get shot of the lot at the end of our first year on the road……or not!  After twelve months of this lifestyle, having done a winter in the van, we hope to have a better idea of where this life is taking us and whether or not our possessions fit into it.

What about Internet access?

For internet access we have two options.

  1. Mobile mifi device using 3G cards
  2. Picking up free wifi where we can

In preparation for our trip we cut the cord on our Virgin Media internet package exactly one month before we left home.  Tim coped with this remarkably well with no complaints.   I, on the other hand, felt like my right arm had been cut off!  Boy was I frustrated when I didn’t have internet access on tap.  It didn’t help that our mobile wifi, which we’d had no problem getting a signal on whilst on holiday, seemed to have an aversion to working from the house.

This little wire fox terrier chased us off his property!

Since being on the road we have been through the internet woes and come out the other side.  At first, I used the mifi device everyday but even just browsing the internet for short periods was just gobbling up our data cards.  Tim continued to just use free wifi when he could get it and has settled into that with no problems.  For me, let’s just say, it’s been a gradual process of adjustment!  Now we just tend to use the mifi data cards for our online banking and if we need to look something up in a hurry.  The rest of the time we try to stick to using free wifi.

We’ve purchased a wifi boost which has been working pretty well but I’ve just had to get used to not having wifi when I want it.  In my defence though, trying to update the blog with flaky wifi has, at times, been a nightmare and tested my patience to the limit.  Now I try to let it all wash over me and remain in a state of karma.  Yeah, right!

How’s the Budget bearing up?

In the years of planning for our trip I’d spent many many hours perusing the blogs of others who, very kindly, have shared all their expenditure whilst on the road.  Info from a few of them can be found here, herehere and here.  Combining all this information we were able to have a fairly accurate guesstimate as to what we thought we would need per year to do what we wanted to do.  We have also allocated a large margin for error within our budget as well.

Spot looks so pleased to be with Tim……not!

When we left the UK in May 2016 the exchange rate was at €1.30 to £1.00.  Following the Brexit vote it has steadily tumbled and is now hovering around the €1.12 to £1.00.  Has this made a difference to us? Well, yes and no.  We obviously aren’t getting as much bang for our buck so to speak but our view is that the less we spend the less it affects us.

Frog in a tree stump (I said the pictures would be random).

The lifestyle we are leading, which wouldn’t be for everyone, is not particularly expensive and we have several different options available to us if we felt the exchange rate was an issue.  We could do more volunteering, another house sit, stay longer in one area or even, ahem, work!

I’ll have the one at the bottom please.

It’s not an issue though and we are still under budget by quite a margin and we are more than happy.  We’ve spent much less on overnight stops than we’d anticipated so all is good.

Is Helpx for us?

Since leaving home in April 2016 we have done four Helpx assignments each lasting between 2 and 3 weeks at a time.  They have all been different and we have enjoyed all of them.  We weren’t sure how we would get on with the whole Helpx thing but we have been surprised at how well we slotted into other peoples lives and routines.

Oh the joys of narrow streets and balconies!

The important thing for us on all our Helpx experiences is that we want to feel we have made a difference to the hosts and moved them forward on whatever tasks they needed help with.  On balance, I think we’ve achieved that and learnt some new skills in the process.  We’ve really enjoyed the physical side of the work and improved our fitness.  Tim has shed loads of weight and is a shadow of his former self.  I’ve kept off the weight I lost working as a post woman for the five months before our trip started.

Mmm, maybe Tim’s lost a bit too much weight!

Overall the last seven months have been pretty amazing.  We’ve only visited three countries, well four if you count the UK, but that is all in the grand plan.  We don’t want to feel that we are in any hurry and under any pressure to get round the whole of Europe in a year.  There is so much to see that we don’t want the ‘fear of missing out thing’ to stop us enjoying the whole experience at a pace that is right for us.

We do occasionally relax!

That may mean that we perhaps don’t see as much of Europe as others have seen on their travels but we are both in agreement that spending at least a few days in one place to explore is far less stressful and enjoyable than moving on every day.  Equally, spending three days in a city is enough for us before we feel the need to get back out into the countryside, away from traffic, to do some walking or cycling.

Tim surfing!

So, tomorrow I’ll be off back to sunny Yorkshire to see my parents whilst Tim holds the fort here in Portugal.  We’re staying at an excellent aire at Praia da Falesia on the Algarve.  Tim’s going to spend the week here whilst I’m away.  He’s got wifi and a list of chores to do to keep him occupied in my absence as I wouldn’t want him to get bored without me!


Adeus por agora!