A Perfect Time, A Perfect Place

A Piece Written In 2013 When We First Found Our New Home

Enchanted Acres has been found!! In all honesty we saw many acres of enchanted beauty in Portugal but we have definitely found the spot which will be our new base and the area in which we will spend many happy times with new and old friends!

We have just got back from our 10 day research trip, though we went over with a view to buy, we didn’t really expect to find what we hooped to find and had almost resigned ourselves to just making this trip one to decide where we would like to base ourselves when looking for land next year, fate as always had other plans!!

Having left the black steed (van) with family and dropped off all of the furry and shelled ones in their respective ‘holiday resorts’, we started our journey… Arriving in Faro we crashed for a night and after spending the next morning on the beach in gloriously boiling sunshine headed off to meet the lovely Nori, Lucan, Roger and the feathery furry family, after a fantastic evening, sharing, talking and laughing into the night with them we said our goodbyes and headed north to see Sophie and Andy and stay at their Quinta near Tabua, this really kicked the dream into gear, arriving in the dark, to music playing, the smell of an awesome curry on the go and exotic sounds coming from the trees we really started to get a feel for the life we soon could live and share with others, after yet more chatting, laughing and much food we awoke to another day of sunshine and a look around their beautiful Quinta which gave us an idea of the way we might dream to do things one day, ideas buzzing around our heads it was soon time to leave and onwards we went to Oleiros where our next new meeting awaiting with the gorgeous Michelle and her little boy Lucas in their beautiful converted house (which the photos confirmed literally had no roof when she purchased it a few years ago!) more inspiration drawn and more views and sounds to take in, by now we were really starting to get a feel for what the ‘real’ Portugal could offer, Oleiros is surrounded by mountains peppered with trees and crossed by huge wide rivers, day after day of sunshine ahead of us, soaking up as many of the sounds and sights as we could we went to see some land which Michelle had kindly asked around about before our arrival, the land we saw was green, peaceful and sunny but locals were asking a lot of money for even tiny amounts (foolishly believing us to be the wealthy foreigners)…I would be lying if I said we weren’t starting to feel a little concerned that we would be struggling to find something that would offer the many roles we needed it too within our meagre budget.

Within only a few days it was again time to head further inland to our next stopping point, once we had prised Tom and Lucas away from each other we said our goodbyes and made our way to Castelo Branco to meet the infamous Maria, Paulo and Chanel (the tiny and much adored dog) of Remax, Maria is well known by people flocking to Portugal because she has a true no nonsense approach to land hunters and almost always finds people the exact place they are dreaming of without even realising it…within the flash of a bleached blonde lock of hair and the click of a snakeskin mule we were handed a stack of papers and a man called Angelo who would show us the places she had in mind….a full 5 hours later, having seen various shapes of field with varying amounts of olive trees, driving in what seemed like an endless spiral we dropped Angelo off and headed to the tipi site near Penemacor which we would call home for the next 5 days. A warm welcome, dinner and a glass of wine all washed down with the wonderful Pam and Mark owners of Tippings Tipi Site, the stay started well!… Two further days of the same brain spinning task of looking, smiling, nodding, touching leaves and kicking soil while grasping at pieces of paper with numbers written on them which would tell us whether we could a) afford and b) have space…still nothing totally fitted the bill…Luckily for us Mark and Pam seemed to have rubber ears and having (12 months before) been through a similar exploration they had settled into a gorgeous 3 hectare Quinta complete with the most incredible old man face shaped rock and were more than well equipped enough to listen to our confused and exited ramblings, offering words of advice on how to consider the land we had seen and what might or might not be of much use to us. One thing had started to settle though, and after a few days near Penemacor things started falling into place, this area has something about it, something comforting, rugged but clean, peoples smiles reached us here more than they had in other parts of Portugal, it felt as though we had come home to a place we’d been many times before, we were certain Penemacor was the place we would like to live. We by now had seen at least 12 pieces of land and though we saw some incredible places, none were ‘the one’ smiling and cooing over soil quality was starting to wear thin. “No matter” Pam said “when it is right you will know” herself and Mark suggested we meet some friends who might be able to help and in stepped Jamie and Joshua who, within a few beers and brief run down figured out just what we were looking for, a few phone calls later and we heard some exciting news that they had something they thought we might like…off we all went Josh crammed in the back of the hire car playing with Tom on his computer game, Jamie in the back of Pam and Kens land rover trying to figure out where this land was that they had seen months before…For those of you who do not know Portugal well, imagine building a main road, adding countless tracks off of said main road each looking roughly the same and removing all signposts and natural landmarks, and you almost get the picture… These tracks had cattle grids just to add interest and make you believe you know where you are without realising there are in fact several cattle grids with a low bush and a cow stood next to them…somehow after only one incorrect journey leading through a field of large horned heifers which didn’t want to move out of the way we found the land they had told us about and, without being dramatic in the least we all instantly fell in love… we went through a gate, over a dry river bed to the first space which was an orchard complete with a well, many fruit trees and an olive grove, then around the corner to a huge field which stretches out up a slope into the distance, surrounded by woodland on either side and another separate triangle with a pigsty with a little fruit tree in it which would make a perfect medicine garden…more than enough space for the animals and humans and lots of stunning old trees, including the most twisted, beautiful wise old olive tree and two huge line trees which some lovely old fellow 50 years previously had clearly planted at hammock width apart… The smells around us were beautiful, more cork oak trees that we could count and plenty of firewood from the unmanaged woodland to last us years! Even though we were visiting immediately after the obsessive annual ploughing which Portuguese land is subjected too it still looked beautiful, with grass and wildflowers and ponds we could just imagine how much more beautiful it would be!! Sold!! We knew it was home instantly, the views of the Serra Estrella mountains where we can ski in the winter, the river beached and thermal spas nearby, the sense of peace and tranquility was all totally overwhelming and within a matter of days we decided this was not only the area we wanted to live, it was the land we wanted to become guardians of for the foreseeable future too, our feelings further confirmed more by the reaction of Tom who would sit in the same spot and peacefully dig while singing to himself each time we visited (something he hadn’t done on any of the other land we had visited so far)… It felt right, there was no doubt about it, and in classic portuguese style when we offered the farmer a 50% deposit instead of the usual 10% he offered us a beautiful stone barn as a thank you, which not only will help us to store our belongings in the time between arriving and building our home but will also serve as a wonderful workshop save or holiday cottage in the future… So here we are…back in the UK with everything now signed, deposit transferred, and the farmer hand shaken and hugged and kissed. And as an added bonus the people along the way which have taken this journey with us have been mind blowingly full of love and kindness and friends for life without a doubt. How lucky we feel to have cemented new friendships and found a new home all at the same time!!

For now it is back to Cornwall, with website to build, lists to make, lists for lists to make, things to sell and give away, lives to pack up, and animals to round up… the adventure has only just started, but already it feels incredible! The purge of so many un needed ‘things’ will be a huge release to us all.

We will keep you updated as we go, including with lists of things for sale and for free. I (hopefully) have attached some pics below of the new land, even though they are terrible pictures you will get the idea, plenty more time for more detailed ones when we make our final move in a few months time! Thanks for following our journey with us, we look forward to sharing the rest with you all too. Love and hugs xxx

Pigsty To Polybender

We have not posted in a while, as have been super busy since new year, strawbale building, flattening land, digging trenches, putting vegetables in, clearing brambles, fencing around the well, clearing the well, pruning olive trees, pruning grape vines, making tipis, planning for home ed holidays, workshops, and general holidays and much much more! More photos to follow in coming weeks of our progress with various projects we are undertaking, but in then mean time we can tell you all we are really starting to feel at home now, settling in and feeling like this is where we live, rather than holiday which is exactly how we should feel.  We have survived the winter in the barn with no insulation on the roof and with just a Woodburner, without doubt this is one of the warmest winters I’ve ever had, living in cold damp houses by the sea with no central heating has stood us all in good stead for being in a barn with no insulation, despite it being freezing here for the average temp in the area, five tonnes of wood burned later, we are through the other side and other than on damp days the Woodburner will be redundant for another winter.

We have been busy the last few days on a recent project which is to make a growing space, the vegetable garden has been cleared andy underway for some time now, in summer it’s too hot for most plants to be in a polytunnel however to get an early season started and maintain veg growing through the year we decided to make something at the lowest cost possible using the materials we have around us. We took twelve young eucalyptus, peeled their branches and leaves off and decided to make a bender tent/bow top polytunnel over the old overgrown pigsty in the veg patch by banging wood posts to the ground and attaching the eucalyptus with twine to the posts, slowly bending them to meet in the middle and tied off, a eucalypt for the central beam runs the length of the roof and at the back two other poles are bent from the ends inwards under the end arch, no nails have been used and and rough ends are wrapped in old horticultural fleece which was used for the new trees over winter, it is in a convenient spot at the bottom of the hill for Gravity fed water and cost us a grand total of £99 which was the cost of the uv resistant plastic, it measures 4m wide by 7m long and the pigsty walls will become the retainer for a raised bed and a low trough has been rebuilt with fallen pieces of stone to make a small pond heatsink. It’s been hard work, the brambles were decades old and way over our head in height, but we are happy with the job we have made and once a bit of tightening and earth on the plastic have taken place we will have a wonderful quirky, cheap growing space, which soon we hope till be the site for some avocados :) In total we made the whole thing in 4 hours, in reality it took much longer as baby jiggling, child playing, animal chasing/feeding etc slowed progress!

The site to the left was the pigsty, hidden under the brambles for a loooong time! 

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Table Fires, Stolen Generators & Drumming Away The Rain

Could all of these things occur in just a 6 hour period of time… Of course they could when we are involved!

We decided to have a big THANKYOU celebration party at the farm for people who have helped us and welcomed us since we arrived here, so with Samhain only a few weeks away decided this would be the date. I have not been well for the last week, tiredness meant a cold crept in and hung on fast, leaving me feeling awful for a good few days, also meaning the party preparations were stalled somewhat, still the day before the party after a mammoth haul around the city to buy supplies I came home and made a huge pot of vegan chilli with squash, yam, kidney beans and a million other veggies, a huge vegan tomato soup, a bat cape for Toms fancy dress and some decorations to dot around the place the next day.

We decided rather than trying to cram 30 or 40 people into our 35sq metre barn we would instead have the party outside in the olive grove, its the most accessible and with a generator for power we could have music and lights and use the large emperor bell tent as a kid space/rain shelter incase the weather wasn’t on our side. In the morning we were up, toffee apples, banana ghosts, green pepper toads, and tangerine pumpkins were made, and the olive grove adorned with red spider webs, balloons, paraffin lamps, candles. , hay bales covered for seating, a table from fence posts, three pallets and 6 hay bales, and a giant 10ft web made from wool with a 4ft spider made from bin bags, hay and wire popping out from behind a tree…naturally!!


As soon as the olive grove was sorted it was a quick dash back to the barn to get face paint on and pray the ranch owner didn’t come looking for a cow again while we were in our day of the dead get up!


Friends bought so many lovely things to eat, foraged chestnuts, pumpkin pie, homemade red wine, cookies, pizza, peanuts, cake, quince pie, pandoro, chocolate fruit fondue, gallons of Mojito, and pumpkin lanterns to name just some. Spooky halloween mega mix playing away, light illuminating the olive trees all was well, suddenly, noise stopped, just as the generator stopped, after ten minutes of faffing and getting nowhere Jamie, a friend of ours suggested we go and borrow the one we had borrowed previously (and only just given back!) from friends V & L and so with that, he an Andy whisked off into the night in the truck on a hunter(?) gatherer search of power, luckily other friends had bought some their fantastic drums with them and we had a drum session accompanied by Louise a friend who plays the spoons (brilliantly) while waiting and upon the teeny sprinkle of rain from above drummed more and more and away it went, leaving us warm and dry all nights. Soon enough the rumble of a truck bounced around the mountains and back came the boys with power, music back on, lights back on and party in full swing soon enough V & L (who were invited to the party but hadn’t arrived as yet) turned up, a serious face crept over the previously smiling Jamie and Andy… ‘Err, let us explain this one, don’t say anything Clare’ it turns out unbeknown to me they’d arrived on V’s Quinta and because they couldn’t get a reply on phones or door had driven off with the generator anyway… Huge thanks to V for not locking it away yet last night….

The kids had an amazing time, they all play really well together, and had fun toasting marshmallows on the fire, burning sticks, and running free like mad things, it was so wonderful seeing them all have fun, totally unrestricted, free to play and fall and jump and make their own memories, this is what its all about…they even got a free ‘chemistry’ lesson when something set fire to a felt pumpkin on the pallet table, setting fire to the tablecloth, and then everything thing around it after someone tried to put it out by throwing some homemade (very strong) liqueur on it – followed swiftly by a bucket of ice and water :)

I have to say my heart was warmed completely by the whole night, there were several points where I just sat back and looked on not believing this really was our life now, the freedom we had dreamed of, the laughter and close nit community we wanted and never found in the UK, these people are more like family already, we take care of each other, and there is a trust and warmth there which I don’t think you find everyday, we knew we were lucky before, but sat watching people laughing and chatting around the fire at our farm just made it all the more real. People here are here for the same reasons, and often with similar stories, in search of the same thing, its a winning combination.

It certainly feels like we have found our Portuguese tribe <3


Andy On A Hot Tin Roof

Finally we have light in the barn… Downside is it shows up all of the piles of junk and the dirt on the floor!! But we need strain our eyes no longer. Even with all the lights on, the bottle and glass brick window and the door open it was a struggle to see much once it went lower than waist height, so we decided to install a clear panel in the roof in place of one of the tin panels, and its a roaring success.

For some reason we couldn’t find panels the size we needed to took the aluminium panel and cut it in half and then fixed the clear panel to the section we’d cut out, it only took 2 hours to do from start to finish…more than can be said for clearing up the mess we now see all around us! We put the panel on the side where the sun comes up which is over the bathroom and instantly its made a hell of a difference, meaning now we can conserve the battery power in the lights for the night time… I say ‘we’ what I mean is Andy, on the tin roof, in the blazing sun :) and me inside jiggling baby, child, lunch and up ladders to push the brace pins through from the steel support up into the panels above where Andy was sitting…

The space feels much better to be in too and maybe, just maybe now the baby is getting more light he will sleep better at night…I can but hope!

Here are some pics of the before, during and after







A Brief Tipical Day

While sat watching the fire burn, smoke started pouring out of the woodburner door…. Add more dry wood, get it hot….nope, open all the vents get the flames up…nope… throw firefighters in…a whole pack….nope…. smoke starts billowing out of the door, the window, and now the flue joints…even at the bottom of the flue…..evacuate The Hermitage, remove cot mattress, baby, child, random things affected by smoke damage, turn the soup off the boil, remove kettles to avoid them boiling dry…go back inside, wondering what on earth could have caused the woodburner (at only three days old), to react in such an aggressive manner….half an hour later stood half in, half out, unsure what to do next notice the baffle on the flue is closed, tight…firm shut…..allowing no smoke out…. Open baffle to watch the fire roar to life, the smoke pouring out of the windows and door starts to turn to wisps, and instead comes billowing out of the flue, in the manner it should… Just as the sun comes out… And the temperature soars outside for the first time all week, and so we have an enormous woodburner full of wood capable of melting the polar ice cap…luckily the sun being out means we have enough solar to power a fan, so we can suck up and blow out the smoke which fills the inside..(oh the irony). The rest of today has been spent moving horses, sadly waving the fat pony goodbye, seeing a friend in the Camara to arrange a stall for the Xmas craft markets, arrange for firewood to be dropped off using a badly drawn map (sorry andy) sign language, Portuguese to make a 3 year old feel ashamed and the agreement to place a stick in the ground painted (salmon pink) to mark the track for our Quinta, collect 40 litres of water from the font, use the car to chase the huge orange thunder horse away from the fenceline in the hope he will soon give up his questionable advances at Tonto and his doe eyes, feed horses and dogs for a friend, collect some hay, eat soup, eat baked banana and chocolate cooked in the woodburner, make a bed for Tom, cut up wire to make pan hooks for the ladder above the sink, question whether it should sound so normal when you hear Andy say to Tom (not for the first time this week) ‘Tom please stop howling, its making the dogs bark’, massage the baby, sing, dance, open the bottle of champagne we were given by lovely friends for oscars birth because now is the first time its seemed there is time to drink it before falling asleep into a heap in bed. And some other stuff in between… :)


Cake Houses, Stone Barns, Prickly Tents

Can plans change any faster? I suppose its to be expected that in a naturally developing (non) planned house build they will change frequently, and its good as it shows we are considering all angles to ensure we do the right thing at the right time, not so much a change of plan, more a change of route.

After visiting friends the other morning with their roundhouse still in working progress we have decided to build exactly that (it was stunning to see!) still as planned but not rush to do it before winter, or before anytime really, just to build it and let it develop as it should, taking our time, as and when we have the money and importantly after the first rains have come. When it rains here, it rains, so we can see how the land fairs when they first hit and ensure our chosen spot is good.

Once this is done we will flatten the spot and slowly, slowly start with the frame. When you are juggling feeding a new baby, stopping dogs from getting lost, horses from escaping, a 5 year old who deserves as much attention as possible after the last six months he’s had, (soon to be) rain/punishing heat, eating and sleeping it leaves us with about 10 minutes 45 seconds to build per day, so we might be some time….

In the meantime we are going to do a quick conversion on the stone barn, at 10m x 5m it is bigger than the 2 bed house-sit we are living happily in anyway and at least gives us the head start with new roof and solid walls… It has an earth floor, no water and no electricity of course, but once the solar is running, and the pump is pumping water from up the hill it’ll be ok, and with a mezzanine bedroom and a window knocked out will be a lovely space, it also is at the very easiest part of our land to access so no need to spend time building roads yet either. All in all, much better and much less pressure. We have found a slate supplier who can cover the entire floor for 140€ which is a bargain and will be perfectly in keeping with the space, we then will make a bathroom with partition wall, and will make two window frames to fill the holes which have been slated over, it will be a basic conversion as we don’t want to spend money on something that just needs to protect us from the elements, we don’t want to be too comfy or we will never get on with the ‘real’ build. Once we have moved out, we can add some finishing touches, render the walls etc and it will be a stunning holiday let for spring/summer and workshop space. It’s very exciting, I’ve always wanted to build and design our very own ‘tiny house’ and it looks like we have the added bonus of now doing so!

The plans for there ‘big house’ are looking great too, thanks to the huge patience, ideas and love given by a soul sister friend who works on planning projects for Eco builds we are getting more confident that the plans we had in our head will work as hoped, currently to save it from sounding so daunting and technical she and I are using cakes as ways to describe the effects on a house or ways to see structures… Like a battenburg we will only have windows and doors on either pink or yellow squares, but not both… Like a cheesecake we will ensure the ground is level and tampered down solid… Cakes and house design should be applied together much more often, as should cakes mechanics, I would learn so much faster!

So with pressure off it means we can really enjoy the build and not stress, we will be building a stable area still for the horses and to store the things which are currently in the barn in for winter, tools etc etc and while the digger is there we will be building an experimental dew pond for water collection and for the horses to drink/wade in on hot days, I’ve always wanted to try one, so now is as good a time as any and it means we can use it as an example of what/what not to do for one of the workshops next spring, with current world unrest it feels more important than ever to be examining methods of water collection without using more typical rainwater harvesting methods which are already becoming illegal in some US states.

I digress…We have found a place which sells old telegraph poles very cheaply, these will form the henge part of the roundhouse, we have to go and chainsaw them and then move them ourselves…in Portugal you can’t carry anything which is longer than your vehicle legally, meaning we need a trailer or a long vehicle to carry the 4 metre lengths which we need for the build but I’m sure we will overcome this soon enough… You can have an electrical power cable 2ft off the ground in a children’s park, inviting them to (as Tom did) to swing off it (thankfully it was insulated with thin plastic along all but a foot either end of it so he’s still alive today… but safety first, you can not carry things longer than the car, because that, would be dangerous. We also need some long length poles cut and delivered for the roof poles, we can get Douglas Fir here and eucalyptus in abundance of course, but it all takes time… Unlike in the UK, where you pop along to a huge depot which sells everything you need under one roof, or you call and order a delivery in for the next day, in Portugal its like going back in time, you order sand and cement from the builders yard, maybe tiles and bricks if you are lucky, or they will be somewhere up the road with someone else, then you go to the woodman, tell him what you need, a tree is chosen and (if they remember) that week it’ll be cut and processed and then delivered the following week, then you go along the road again to the fence post place and order these, they all come with delivery generally but it means you’re at the mercy of people remembering, and when you have accounted for the fact that everywhere shuts for their 3 hour daily lunch break and you have no address for delivery anyway its a fairly lengthy process to undertake. Here like in ‘the good old days’ people don’t call on the phone (most don’t answer or have such a crap phone line it’s not worth it) you drive to and visit the person who’s services you need, it’s wonderful, much more meaningful than placing faceless phone orders, but takes much, much more time… Luckily the relaxed attitude in west Cornwall and the even more relaxed approach from most of the tipi material suppliers means we are well versed in this coming Tuesday meaning next Friday without any warning at all.

So for now, we continue our cake/house design and we will be making the barn habitable ASAP. The long term plan is to have a round house with living space, kitchen, sitting area and dining room, connecting via a glass walkway to the courtyard and a second straw bale, cob wall hallway to a second roundhouse which will be the bedrooms. The cob wall walkway will be north facing and will be pantry and boot room and the glass walkway will be south facing and will heat the house in winter and will be another growing space. It’ll be wonderful to see it take shape over the course of winter and spring!

In the meantime today we have had more of our stuff arrive today and have been getting ready for the official move tomorrow. The horses will be loaded at 8am all being well thanks to a lovely new friend carol who has a trailer and is happy to help us with the two hour round trip, they can then get to work shortening the horrible spiky dry grass which cuts your feet as you walk through the field. As our short-short term accommodation we have set up a bug 5m bell tent and will create an outdoor kitchen and shower and loo sometime tomorrow, along with setting the well pump up (once we have the 200metres of pipe needed and something to pump the water too) and getting the solar power sorted.

In other events this week, life is settling down, we are getting used to the heat, its still mid 30’s most days, but we hide from the heat in the afternoon. We have been to see friends for the last few evenings, and had a lovely time, we are socialising more now than since I was about 25, and love every second. There is talk of Pygmy goats, Estrela dogs and fluffy kittens on the horizon, we have pretty much already agreed to take in a lovely little cat who is currently a few hours up the road after being rescued from the streets by a friend…the zoo is taking shape :) – It feels weird to have been here nearly three weeks and only just be going ‘home’ needless to say, we can not wait though, we are desperate to watch the sunrise and set and be nearer to the people we have grown to know and already love!

Here below are pics of the short temporary home, before the medium temporary home is finished. I shall take regular pics of the progress, hoping we can have this building ready in the next two weeks, which is incredibly ambitious but it wouldn’t be us if we didn’t set stupid deadlines for things!!!

The campsite temporary home before the temporary barn home.


Our shade thanks to a big old olive tree


Preparing the ground for the tent


Setting up camp



Spiky grass



Home for a while



A brief update on things we’ve been doing during what is now known fondly as ‘pup gate’ while the boy wonder was yet to return we did manage to try and keep some normality to life and though trips were short as we weren’t sure when / if he would come home we made it out to look at the castle next to where we are house sitting Castelo Novo (New Castle) which is a stunning ruin with a visitor centre that doesn’t seem out of keeping and yet is modern, it’s rusty coloured exterior and granite coloured walkways mean it blends in beautifully with the hillside surrounding it. We decided to head on up after dinner one evening just before sunset, the views were stunning and Tom loved running and jumping on the rocks and parts of the ruin, typical Portuguese health and safety meant long drops were unsecured and low open window spaces with nothing to stop 5 years olds having a go and jumping through them despite being heigh enough to make you dizzy, of course, he loved it! Photos of the views from the top are below.

We also today visited the Serra Da Estrela Mountains and Glacial Valley, only 35 minute drive from where we are staying to the top, absolutely stunning views and scenery, and a much welcomed coolness on a hot day, today was around 36 probably higher in the hotter part of the day, up in the mountains it was only 21 which was lovely, we stopped for a picnic in the shade of the huge pine trees, and (as seems to always be the way in Portugal) hardly any other people to be found anywhere despite it being the weekend and much cooler up there, a few cars only every now and then, and barely any people during the whole beautiful drive, we forgot to take the camera, below are some not so good pics from my phone, still you get the idea. When the snow comes we will be able to go tobogganing and skiing there, and next week we will hopefully be joining some friends who know a great swimming spot in the river too. The water is incredibly clear and clean, as the mountains boast the source for a few major rivers in Portugal it’s one of the few places where you can be near enough the source to safely drink the river water. All the way along the winding road up, up, up you pass fonts with beautiful, pure water flowing out of them, and about halfway around the circuit there is a thermal spring too, when the weather cools we will definitely be visiting this! Surprisingly for a mountain range which only has a short spell of true snowy weather the houses and villages you pass look every bit the way you’d hope them too, sweet little cosy looking houses nestled into the sides of the mountains, peeping out through the trees with cute wooden shutters on every window and wood piles almost as hight as the roof ready for the cold weather. We are hoping next year or the year after we will buy a small patch maybe 1/2 an acre or so in the mountains, just enough room to camp for a short while in summer when it gets too hot and with room to graze the horses so we can take them with us and ride and mountain bike and explore, maybe in time there will be space to add a log cabin so we and friends can go and stay in the winter, would love to be able to have Yuletimes there with the snow falling, how romantic, and to be able to guarantee a white Xmas! It all sounds too good to not try and do!

This week we’ve also managed to make a tipi and get it posted to the UK, am in the middle of making one more which leaves next Tuesday and then we can focus fully on the plans for the build on the farm! Some very exciting ideas coming to the fore, to be updates soon!

This coming week we will be starting to get camp set up at the farm, ready for our move there in another week or so, we need to get fencing up for the horses, clear the track so we can drive onto the fields and we will also be starting to build a chicken tractor for some hens which we plan to purchase once we are living there, all possible thanks to the kind monthly donations from a lovely lady who supports Enchanted Acres. The point of the chicken tractor and hens is to start building soil up, thanks to incessant ploughing so much soil has been lost, the soil erosion is glaring and horrifying, much as it is across so many countries now, we hope to start replacing and rebuilding it ASAP, and the chickens will be the first part of this plan.

Tomorrow we are off to Fundao which is about 20 mins from here to meet up with friends and a group of people we don’t yet know to discuss home school ideas, there are some really exciting developments spanning an area of 35k around where our farm is, including some portuguese families who wish to home educate too, its exciting to be at the beginning of such a movement, especially in a country like Portugal, this is all really a big deal, and for us it really means we can have a great input to the shaping of it. Currently we are considering having home ed ‘centres’ each one being a centre which is specific to the skills of the people who run it, yoga, dance, music, art, language, book groups, growing food, so many things. In time Andy and I hope we can offer space at the Enchanted Acres for a regular home ed group, though there is much more to come of all of this yet, its only early days, but updates will follow as soon as we know more. All in all very exciting times, so, so much to be grateful for, such a lot to look ahead too and strong feeling lingering in the air that things are just going to get better! Bring it on!

Castelo Novo

Serra Da Estrela






Dog Lost

What a week we have had, its been so eventful I will update one part here and then the rest of our week on a separate page.

After settling in well things suddenly took a strange twist. Frugal, decided to take himself on an adventure and not return. Back in the UK he had free roam of the surrounding fields, and would go off for hours, returning always before dark or when it rained, looking muddy and usually smelling of something horrid.

We knew here because he didn’t know his way around yet we couldn’t just let him roam, and so he and Benji have spent much of the time on leads or tied up, something they do not relish (and neither do we) Our dogs off the lead act (almost) civilised, on a lead however they become wild howling banshees, foam at the mouth, leap around like a fish on a hook and generally are totally uncontrollable…far too free spirited to understand the point of a lead.

So when Frugal vanished, all we could do was shout for him, and bang his dinner bowl, usually the sound of food brings the little gutso running home, but we found nothing, no rustle in the bushes, no bark, no manic puppy coming flying towards us like a bowling ball from the undergrowth… The area around here is such that looking for a dark brown dog is nearly impossible, not a needle in a haystack, more a dog on a mountain, especially one that burrows and scuttles around in the scrub, no amount of searching resulted in him being found…Four hours passed, darkness came, still nothing, the next morning, nothing, Benji was beside himself, though usually he only just tolerates the annoying over excitable pup he does like his company, and spent the next day howling almost solidly, he was our main hope for finding Frugal. Andy walked Benji around the tracks in the hope that if Frugal passed by he would pick up his scent, given that he has had two years of being able to come and go as he pleased we knew he most definitely would be trying to get his way back, just he didn’t know the area well enough, we never have needed fences and leads and locks to contain our furry family, they choose to stay and come back…however with dogs barking all over the hills behind us, and a week long Festa at the local town the distractions could prove too much for a terriers nose, taking him ever further away from us.

By the time the next nightfall came we were giving up hope, still nothing, checking wells, aquifers, the river… Portugal is not a place for a lost dog, unlike the UK where generally dogs aren’t loose and people will pick them up and take them to the nearest vet to be scanned for microchips, here dogs wander around everywhere, some are stray, some have humans, you never know, and unless they get hit by a car or end up on the motorway it’s unlikely anyone would take them to the local GNR (police). Farmers leave traps and snares and poison out for all kinds of ‘pests’ we were losing hope, and every hour he was gone heightened the chance that something bad might happen to him. People on the Internet have been so helpful, putting in calls to local vets they knew, sharing ideas on where he could be and even putting out announcements on the radio twice each day in the search for him. Our neighbours all helped keep an eye out, the son of the family next door was really keen to hear good news, still nothing.

By day three we needed to go to Penamacor an hour away to courier a tipi to the UK, so at 8am we left, looking along the lanes as always for a little pair of eyes staring from a hedge, we spent a few hours in Penamacor sorting things out before leaving the parcel with friends who were kind enough to wait in for the courier for us, we got home by 3pm feeling really a bit glum, Frugals disappearance had taken the shine off things, we couldn’t enjoy this new adventure when we were one family member down…

…what was this?! Sat there, in the shade, waiting patiently, still with the harness on that he had gone missing in looking much thinner than when he left…was Frugal! After a thorough good cuddle and a prodding all over to check nothing was injured he seemed ok, sore in the mouth from something and looking utterly traumatised, after a drink of water he just flopped onto his bed, silent, no bounce, no spark just hollow looking. Goodness knows where he’d been, how far he has traveled and what had happened to him, he could have been stuck down a hole only escaping when he lost the weight he’d lost, or caught in a fence, or tied up and broken free, or just roaming, sniffing and trying to get home. What a clever pup though to get home from goodness knows where after less than a week of being here! We kept a good close eye on him for signs of poisoning, there is a vets near where our farm is in Penamacor who runs a drop in clinic after 8pm but we were confident he would be ok. We left him in peace with Benji, (who was curled up almost on top of him by this time!) and went out to buy them both a new bed and some special dog food, Frugal was born in August, but we don’t know when, at Toms suggestion we decided that the day he returned would be his birthday, it seems totally fitting.

This morning he’s eaten breakfast and is generally back to his usual self, slightly more annoying, though not quite up to full Frugal force yet. Soon the ultra annoying Frugal pup will be back under our feet, but safe to say, we wouldn’t want him anywhere else!


Our First Week

I can’t believe we have been here a week already! It’s flown by, and considering all we have contended with I think it’s a great sign that we are still smiling and enjoying Portugal more than we knew possible! Lots has happened in just a week, one of the tortoises has gone off for a walk somewhere and can not be found, we will be continuing to search for him, but sadly in this heat he will be turbo powered and I don’t know if we will ever find him :( we are gutted but I am not worried about his survival here as this is his homeland and he will be perfectly suited to the heat and food available, in the UK it would almost certainly have resulted in death within a short time. I I think Puck (who has been left behind) is quite happy, he is eating fine, and though Torsie was company for him they really did have quite a few arguments, and we had found one or other of them upside down a couple of times after they challenge each other to flip the other over, we always check them so it meant they couldn’t come to harm but I was worried it was a matter of time before one got hurt, so we may have to accept that we are now a one tortoise family. Really looking forward to getting our place built as we are planning to build a courtyard which means Puck can have full run of a large area in complete safety (from dogs and children)

In other animal news, the dogs are settled well and seem to be loving the heat, we have to tie Benji up in the shade as he loves the sun so much he’d sit all day long frying himself, Frugal cools off by running and jumping into the damp ground where the spring comes up and then drags himself through the muddy water on his belly, they both have met the neighbouring farm dogs, two huge Estrellas and get along well with them, Estrallas are like a cross between an Alsatian and a Newfoundland – they are huge, and native dogs to the Estrella mountains which border the area, around here they are put to live with flocks of sheep and herds of goats to protect them, they are fiercely loyal to anyone they consider to be their flock, so are brilliant with children and as watch dogs, we will be getting a puppy Estralla once on the land, they have an enormous bark, and not many people would want to walk on land where one was running free, but with the advantage that we wouldn’t have a viscous guard dog, if someone visits that they don’t know but the family is happy with, they are known to just keep their distance and ignore the person, but watch to ensure the person is no threat to their family. The Estrella will be the ‘free range’ dog with Frugal and will not be a house dog, Benji will be allowed in the house as his nature is one which means he needs to be indoors, Frugal needs to be outside, he’s no good for being in at all.

The horses are settling well, other than yesterday’s incident with a broken fence and a fat pony. One of them bit the other one, then Tonto got frightened, ran into the electric fence, got a shock, ran off with it trailing behind him pulling the posts out in the process and Misty (aka fat pony) took his chance to bolt to the neighbours hazel nut trees… Greedily grabbing mouthfuls at a time before running off to the next snack stop while Andy desperately tried to catch him, eventually, once cornered he gave up and allowed himself to be led back in disgrace, thankfully the neighbours weren’t there so we haven’t shamed ourselves too much! Being typically us this all happened just two minutes before we were getting into the car to go out for the day. The key turned the ignition and chaos ensued, so coming up to the hottest part of the day we ended up having to juggle a baby, a very excited 5 year old, two dogs who were howling with excitement of watching the chase, an offended horse and a gluttonous pony while trying to put up a fence with a divide so we knew they would be safe while we were out!! And nothing being even half straightforward, dividing the fence meant needing two lots of water, so another 30 trips up and down the hill with sun beating down carrying with bottles and small containers in order to fill the new drinking station, an hour later and we were on our way!

The afternoon got a lot better, we were invited to a friends house for 3pm so to avoid driving in the heat of the day with no air conditioning we decided to head over early and find a river beach to laze by before hand. We ended up at Meimoa a quaint little place only five minute drive from our farm, you park up, cross the bridge and find a beautiful grass lined river with trees shading the whole way along, a weir at one end and a nice cafe and a park along the edge. We flopped down in the shade, as the thermometer tipped 40 and a cool breeze greeted us, unlike the UK and very like Portugal it was not at all crowded, a few families shade bathed, as kids jumped in and our of the perfect clear river water, and the cafe had just a few people sat reading papers and drinking coffee. Tom made a friend at the park and then he and Andy hired a boat (for just €3!) and went up the river, groups of old ladies stopped and cooed over Oscar and I managed basic conversation about his age etc etc, the people here really are so lovely, they are so happy and so enthusiastic even if you are rubbish at Portuguese, they love you trying and are so full of encouragement and more than that, they love children, people think of Italy being the country which adores its children, but having been there I’d say Portugal is equal to the obsession, people stop in the street and stroke the baby, or wants to smile and chat to Tom, in the UK children are not really welcome anywhere, here where adults go, children go, on Friday it was a religious public holiday, we drove back from a friends place quite late, around 10pm and there were still children playing outside and chatting with groups of adults, they don’t tag along, they are part of each event, it’s so nice to see.

From the river beach we went on to our friends and had another fantastic time, we met up with a couple we met last year, who’s little girl is just a few months younger than Tom and will be home schooling (I will write on that another time but there are some fab developments in that area and some Portuguese families doing it too which is brilliant!) We all sat, laughed, chatted, watched the sun move over the sky, ate gorgeous food, and looked out over the mountains in the distance while the kids all swam and splashed in the little swimming pool. The group of people here could not be nicer, or more welcoming, everybody totally on the same vibration and with the same hopes and dreams about the future, we couldn’t be more happy to be surrounded by people who believe in the same freedoms as us, and who’s children are being raised in the same way. We left having agreed to go to another river beach tucked into the Estralla mountains next week, and smiled the whole way home, feeling so pleased that we made this move.

Today has been a day of lazing, we need to make some Tipis next week, we don’t really want too, but we need too, and we need the money now as we have decided to crack on with the building ASAP, so today is the last guilt free day of doing nothing for a little while, off now for a swim and then later when it’s cooled Tom is taking Misty for a ride. Life is good. Portugal is stunning. And we feel incredibly blessed to be here, with such lovely people. X







Yesterday was manic, we went from having only two bags to having 90% of our stuff, the two dogs, two horses, two tortoises and a car in a matter of hours! The dogs arrived at 3am and then at first light Andy and the van man unloaded our stuff, we knew it hadn’t all fitted, but were a bit dismayed to find in the back of the van (which we had paid to have filled up from empty) was a cooker and a large sideboard which weren’t ours, equating probably to the same weight and size as the stuff which was left behind, van man said he forgot it was in there… Gradually as we are unpacking things we are realising what hasn’t made it out yet, and what has… It seems we have curtains, ornaments, plates and cutlery, lampshades, didgeridoo, baking trays and cake tins, and no dog bowls, cool box, garden and diy tools… We are hoping our old neighbour can load it onto a pallet for us and ship it to the van mans UK address so he can bring it over (for the special price of an extra £150 – soon to be up for discussion) in a months time, not much use really, but we have little choice but to wait. One thing is for sure we will be loading up the big wooden mushrooms I sadly had to leave behind and getting him to bring those too, without asking first.

All belongings unloaded by 9am, and I got a text to tell me the horses had loaded at 7.30am and were on their way, Jan and her husband were picking them up from Sophie who has been caring for Tonto since he arrived in Portugal and was bringing him and Misty over on the long drive around the mountain, Jans husband kindly agreed to drive the car we bought from Sophie over too, saving us a long return drive to and from and meaning we finally had a car again!!! At about 9.30am I had a call from Jan saying they were here and at the top of our drive!!!! So with the electric fence still in a heap in the middle of the road where it was unloaded I headed up the lane along with the dogs (who are thrilled to have acres to run on!) leaping at my feet, to see my beloved boy and latest addition! The trailer couldn’t make the turning into the farm so we unloaded at the top and walked them down the long drive, Tonto unloaded like a star and thankfully was calm as usual with me as in my haste I had thrown on only flip flops! Not much protection from stomping hooves! Jan held the horses and we all hurriedly started stabbing plastic fence posts into the hard ground and untwisting fence tape, in about an hour we had a rough paddock set up and hooked it up to a battery and the boys could be let loose together for the first time, Tonto getting predictably dramatic and screeching at the top of his voice, Misty grumpily putting him in his place with a swift kick in return! I think they will be firm friends, Misty is adorable, the perfect story book example of a child’s pony, titchy, cute, plump (to put it kindly), very sweet natured but with a naughty look in his eye :)

Once the boys were settled we headed on out to take get a lock for the barn door on our farm, the keys have been lost, not aided by Francisco the 92 year old farmer we bought from having had a fall and being in hospital so we needed to break into the barn and then replace the lock with one of our own. Josh and Jamie our friends who found the farm for us had the paperwork deeds and some keys for a new lock on the farm gate which they’d put on the day before so we arranged to pick up the deeds and keys while we were nearby, (I should add that the house we are house sitting at is about 60k from the people we know and Penamacor and where our land is, and by the time you have wound your way through the hairpin turns its a good hour long drive each way) we set off and got a message from Josh to say to meet at Pam and Marks place (our friends with the Tipis) and when we arrived there was a house full! Typically Portugal :) more lovely people to meet and some familiar faces to catch up with too! What was supposed to be a quick drop in ended up being a four hour visit, Tom loved playing with two of the visiting boys and we managed to get a tel number for someone who has a van and might help us move the stuff which came on pallets from Josh and Jamie’s farm to ours, saving us about 40 trips in an overloaded car, the van people also being folk who have built a reciprocal roof house just like the one we wish to build next month, so we can pick their brains!

We finally pulled ourselves away from our new friends and headed off to our farm, the sun was starting to set by the time we arrived, another sight we had yet to witness in our new home, now it was cooling down we could all go for a stroll around, exploring and finding yet more fruit trees, and oaks, the whole of one side of the farm is lined with oak trees, we paced out an area to build our winter home and are confident we can create a nice space which we can build on a budget, fingers crossed it shouldn’t take too long to build with some help. The views took a whole new look as the sun turned the sky deep orange and then red and sunk behind the mountains, you can’t see it here in the pics below but from the site we hope to build our house we have a view over Penamacor old town and the castle on top of the hill, it’s beautiful!

By the time we left the land and got home it was 10pm and dark, our crossed fingers worked and the horses hadn’t escaped their fencing, so with a last run around in the garden for the dogs and both children fast asleep being ferried from car to house we all crashed out for the night. Tom has fallen asleep in the back of the car three times since we moved here, something he hasn’t done in years, while still half asleep getting out of the car yesterday he opened one eye and said ‘Portugal YAYYY! – you are like a birds nest, you keep me safe and warm’ which pretty much sums up how I hoped he would fee about the move :) I’m sure the sunshine, swimming pool and pony have helped his opinion though!

Swimming pool fun!!



Hero the cat and Sheeba the dog, Pipette is camera shy



The furry family reunited




Sunset at Enchanted Acres



Grapes galore! We should be able to make a lot of wine here!


View from where our house hopefully will be


Our new car


Plan B’s And Undercover Tortoises

Where to begin?… We have had all manner of excitement and mishap both in the final days of the UK and since arriving in Portugal! Fear not though, all is well, we are all happy, we are all safe, we are not all together yet but soon the furry and human Monsons will be reunited and the all new Mediterranean version of the Monson circus will resume.

I will start in the UK…We spent the final few days UK side manically running around and getting the house as packed as possible. Having not been feeling right after having Oscar a couple of weeks previously, and the last few days spent feeling delirious, seeing double and with a temp of over 40 the doctor prescribed me with antibiotics, 10 days later I finally found myself feeling well enough to look forward to leaving again, it also meant I could help more, even so, with a 3 week old baby and a 5 year old, two idiot dogs blah, blah, blah it’s lucky if one of the four adult hands between Andy and I actually gets to do any packing… The predictable end result of the lack of time spent on packing meant bin bags and baskets having random things thrown into them, as it has for every single one of the many, many, many house moves I’ve been part of… (7 in the last 5 years, and double figures when you look over the last 10 years) so, into a wicker cat cage went cast iron griddle pans, heavy school dinner bell, a roll of sandpaper, a t shirt, a hairbrush and a stray shoe.

Finally we felt we were getting there, by the time Saturday arrived we found ourselves feeling remarkably in control, thanks so the help of a surprise visit from a lovely friend who helped no end with juggling baby, child and rolls of pallet wrap. This was so unlike us!! The van man was due to arrive in a couple of hours, we could load the van shaped mass of stuff up, clean the house, order a takeaway, sit around chatting about the funny things that have happened in the house since we moved there, opening cold beers while sat on boxes recalling merrily the times we had to go out in the pitch black and pissing November rain to retrieve the turkeys from the top of the wall or the inside of a hawthorn hedge with one of us pushing them with a broom from one side and the other holding arms out to catch them, praying their prehistoric like feet didn’t get you in the face on their way down, the birthdays, the yules and anniversaries, then we would have our last hot bath for a while, early to bed, and leave tomorrow feeling quite relaxed really after a last wistful look around at the empty rooms we would close the door, and head off into the sunset and a steady pace…

POP! ….

…we were awakened from our daydream by the enormous sound of the bubble bursting, as we waved off a set of friends who had come to say goodbye the van man called, I turned from the front door, smiling, to see Andy with a serious face saying ‘oh shit…hmmm, he’s, ok, ah no’ you always know this is not a good conversation, and soon it became apparent that this was not a happy conversation. The van part of the van man was kaput, it had has a sensor issue and wasn’t going to be repaired this side of Tuesday… A van man, with no van, is just a man… and this is no use at all when moving such a huge amount of belongings. Meaning we had two dogs, two tortoises, a shit load of stuff and as of 24 hours time no house, thank god there weren’t new tenants trying to get in! Fast arrangements were made, we would take the dogs to the kennels (the last one in a 60 mile radius with a kennel spare) leave the torts with food after bathing them also leaving the issue of how to cross border control with not only two tortoises being transported in a WW2 ammunition box but also with two tortoises who have paperwork which was valid (only) for three days previous to the day he crosses into Portugal… Accepting there is nothing we can do about such an issue, we then start the hellish task of re stacking and labelling all the items we had already stacked into an order that the van driver could load on his own in a few days time, knowing we wouldn’t fit it all in, but not by how much meant we had to move the pile (all 17 cubic metres and over 1.5tonnes of it) around like chess pieces into ‘definitely keep and load’, ‘could be left behind’, ‘can go on pallet’, ‘leave for the neighbours’, ‘can be stacked on top of anything’, ‘light’, ‘heavy’, ‘haven’t got a clue’, ‘fragile’ etc etc… By a miracle the baby slept solid for 3 hours and the sling rescued the rest so we spent 6 hours re doing everything so it could be left for someone we had never met before and paid a lot of money to in advance to come and load up and drive to us in Portugal. We made the decision that the van driver would pick up our two (absolutely stinking and hyperactive) dogs on his way to the ferry on Tuesday morning and would arrive with us at midnight on Wednesday.

The takeaway happened, but we were absolutely exhausted, and after yet more cleaning and clearing of the house it was midnight when we finally crashed onto the mattress on the floor, me getting only a few hours sleep, and sitting up with the baby facing the reality that the next day, our last in England would not be a relaxing, but would be a stress fuelled, manic race before heading up country! Right we were, by the time we’d caught up on what should have been done the day before we were over 2 hours late leaving, in belting rain with the knowledge that in such weather most often the garage, (where everything we owned in the world was now contained) would flood.

The rest of the day was much better than the beginning, we dropped in to see family, hugged, kissed, laughed and were packed off with the lunch we should have been having with them hours earlier instead in little Tupperware boxes so we could eat on the drive to Bristol. An hour late for the car return, a lovely Enterprise man told us not to worry and wished us well, and so off we flapped across the carpark to the terminal building, a blur of baby fabric wraps, child, straw summer hats, suitcases, bags, teddies, car seats and everything in between, once in the terminal the initial rush subsided, we had ages until the flight, at least an hour!! So after a much needed sip of coffee we sauntered down to the check in desk, to a wide eyed, jumpy lady who’s pillar box red lips told us to hurry the heck up as we only had 1 minute before check in closed! The blur resurfaced, and sped the entire length of the airport, only with one less bag in tow and after a 20 mile walk through corridor after corridor listening (rather ironically) to the Flamenco version of ‘Road To Hell’ following us through tinny speakers we entered the gate for our flight. Naturally being the last to check in, we were the last to board, one last blur from terminal to plane and we were on and flopped into our seats. Engines whirred, the plane moved to position, moving, moving, whirring……stop… Bing bong ‘this is your captain, a warning light has shown up and we have to stop and get it looked at’ 100 years of waiting, with Ryanair service ensuring we were allowed no food or water, until joy…bing bong ‘this is your captain, it’s fixed, the part is replaced, just need to do the paperwork and in a couple of minutes we will be off!’ A mere lightyear later we were in the air…FINALlLY!!

Two hours have never felt so long, but the boys were amazing, the guy in front even commenting he didn’t know he had a child and baby behind him when he stood up to get off the plane upon landing. We were here, out into the heat of the night, the smell of Portugal in the air… None of the rest mattered anymore, this was the start of a new life! Not too new though, we were still ‘us’ meaning in the line for passport control it was noted by me that Andy had left the entire bag of electrical stuff on the plane, iPad, camera, video camera, sat nav, the lot… Thankfully this wasn’t the UK, this was Portugal, meaning friendly people helping us to get the bag back, within ten minutes it had been radioed through, offloaded and returned to waiting hands in lost and found. This must be the third thing, the van, the plane and the bag…wasn’t it?…..

Car collected, lovely 5* hotel (thanks booking.com) we arrived and fell into bed by 1am, feeling totally ecstatic, the long journey and the trials from the days before had already melted to be nothing. We woke up early the next morning and after breakfast on the hotel roof overlooking the marina we started a long journey up country to the farm.

We couldn’t resist stopping off quickly to see the land, and we managed to only go wrong once when trying to find it again, I felt really quite sick at the thought of arriving, would it be what we hoped? Had we built it up in our minds to feel nicer, bigger, more welcoming? There was a very real chance that we might arrive and it not be anything like we remembered! We knew it would be massively overgrown and as we rounded the corner I had to remind myself this was the worst it would look, the wild flowers would be dried up, the grass spiky and long and access difficult, so if we still loved it now, in the hottest part of the day, when it had had no attention for 10 months we would be ok… Overgrown it was, the previously unkempt rustic track was now almost a solid mass of overgrown spiky things. But, it was home, and to make up for the tough access the land held out arms of dappled shade all the way around with the huge trees which bordered it, finally we were back, the smell was the same, the views of the mountains were more stunning than I remember, the trees bigger and more established than last year when we came, one field was just as we remembered it, and the other much larger than we thought, it was far too hot to brave crossing the land to go up into the woods so we just stood halfway, looking and taking it all in, it still doesn’t feel like we can be there long term, like we really have this opportunity to take care of such a beautiful special space it’s literally a dream come true. The smell of rosemary filled the air and that same feeling of welcome and calm was there, everything is new and yet totally familiar. The space we hope to build the house is a much better size than we thought, the blackberries are growing, and we found a huge old pear tree, an apple tree and a fig tree too, there is fruit everywhere! It will take a hell of a lot of work to get the land feeling more homely, I’m sure the horses will help shorten the grass when they arrive, in the meantime the first job is to cut back the brambles so we can pass through without getting stabbed, and then start seeing which areas need clearing so we can mend fences and start making the farm secure enough for animal and child! We left feeling relieved, and happy and only a little daunted :)

Night number two in Portugal and night number one in the area we would call home was spent back where it all started with our friends Pam and Mark who run Tippings Tipis, not only did Pam give me a heads up about the house sitting, she also kindly offered to put us up in one of their gorgeous Tipis for the night before we went onto the house sitting house the next day. We got out of the car to the loveliest welcome, hugs and kisses all round, and it was wonderful to see familiar faces again, including Josh and Jamie who found us the land, we all had a lovely dinner together, plenty of wine and lots of catching up! It felt like we had never been away!! The next door town has just had the hosted the BOOM festival for the week, meaning the local villages were full of colourful characters, beaten up old trucks, motor homes and converted lorries everywhere, people sat, with no reason to stay, no reason to hurry away, the area is buzzing with people smiling, there is a Festa on practically every night of the week somewhere locally too, it’s definitely a great time to have arrived!

By Tuesday we drove to meet Martine and Paul who’s house we are staying at in Castelo Novo for the next few weeks. When we arrived at the house we were met by two lovely warm characters who felt instantly familiar to me, Martine loves babies, she used to be the equivalent of a Health Visitor in Holland she is trained in baby massage and has said she will teach me everything when she gets back from their time away, I have always wanted to train in baby massage so this is music to my ears!! They are also musicians and have the most incredible collection of bongo and djembe drums I have ever seen! We are really hoping we can offer their drumming workshops as an added extra option when groups book to stay with us, and the same for baby massage too! I have a feeling we will be firm friends with them, they are lovely, as are their animal family, Sheeba an old lady though elegant as anything, and the two cats Hero and Pipette. We also got to meet a few of their friends who had come to see them off, one man who used to live a stones throw from where we will be and another lady who is just about to undertake the first ever retrofit earthship, it’ll be really interesting to see how it all unfolds! Sounds like it’ll be an amazing project!

Once we’d spent a good few hours together and were clear on where the horses would graze and how to take care of everything, we said goodbye and headed to Fundao to get food for the next few days, aware that we would not have a vehicle to get anywhere until late Thursday as the hire car needing to be back in just a few hours. Halfway around the hypermarket we had another phone call from the van driver who sounded like he was about to have a meltdown, the motorway had been shut and he was not going to make the ferry meaning he would now not be here until the next crossing which was midnight Friday… Again, faced with awry plans, horses due the next day, and all the horse fencing currently on a van somewhere on the M23 we calmly continued our shop and put it in the ‘what will be will be pile’ With luck finally on his side he decided to make a dash for it when the traffic started moving and Brittany ferries to their credit helped save the day by letting him on an hour after boarding closed! All being well he should arrive with the dogs here at midnight tonight, and then will grow to hate us on a whole new level when he sees that the road to the barn where all our stuff is being stored is impassable and everything needs carrying up a 100metre bumpy thorn lined track!… Lets hope he is in a good mood!

Once our things, the dogs, torts and horses are here, we will be well and truly living in Portugal, can’t wait for us all to be reunited! So far things are better than we dared to dream, Tom has spent yesterday and today in the pool, we have been lazing in the shade of the orange trees and daydreaming away!!















48 Hours

Here we are 48 hours before take off… After weeks, months even of manic packing, cleaning, sorting, chucking, selling, listing, shifting, stacking we are nearing the end, there is really not a lot to do now, other than move things we still need out from one place to another so it feels like we are doing something, and wait… Arrangements for the pony transport and the car to be dropped to us are now all finally sorted! Jan who is picking up Misty and Tonto from Sophie has a husband who comes with her on journeys, and he has kindly agreed to drive the car we have bought from Sophie to us at the Quinta we are house sitting at. All we need to do is get from the car hire place in Castelo Branco to the Quinta in Castelo Novo and then we are all sorted! In the uk we have a house and no car, in Portugal we have a car and no house :)

Today we said our final goodbye to lovely Bob, who has been adopted family for us since we moved down here, I found Bob through a forum online about making biodiesel reactors, it turned out he lived just a few fields away from us in an old coach, we met up, he put the reactor he was building in our garage and used the garage as a workshop for the winter while he carried on building it, he must have soon realised neither Andy or I had a bloody clue what we were doing with biodiesel reactors, yet he humoured us anyway, and our friendship continued. Regular visits where we would all sit in the kitchen drinking tea and eating packet after packet of biscuits became a thing of the norm, Tom adores him, we all adore him, he has helped us many many times in the years we’ve been here, life isn’t right when Bob isn’t around rambling on about complicated formulas and electrical set ups which neither Andy or myself ever understand, everybody needs a Bob, he found us the batteries which we will be using in Portugal, 6 large deep cycle batteries, worth hundreds each, for just scrap value, as they were pulled out of an old phone exchange by a friend of his when they needed replacing due to one of the collective cell set failing, he is entirely responsible for us having all the items we need for the set up, and a sketch on a scrap of paper showing us how to wire it all up, the fan and the lights being on will be entirely owed to Bob… Since living down here he is one of only a handful of people who we have truly befriended, people are hard work down here, most will never accept you, but those that do will open their hearts up and offer the nicest friendship you could ever wish for, little does he know it, but on many occasions Bob was the only person we would speak too for weeks at a time, he kept us the little sanity we have left. We owe him a lot, and can’t wait for him to come out and stay with us!

The tortoises are at vets as I write, hopefully passing their vet check, we failed miserably to get or make an IATA approved box as perfectly detailed on the CITES website, so should border control check them we can only hope pity will be taken on us by the officials when they find them strolling around inside the old wooden WW2 ammo box which we are putting them in… Or perhaps our attempt will be that pathetic they might roll around laughing so hard they won’t notice when van man Bill steps on the accelerator and heads speedily away from the check point…

The fridge has been taken, euros have been changed up, (hopefully) the last pallet has just been collected. Things feel weird, really weird, not just weird as in we have no furniture, definitely not weird as in we are just moving house, god knows I’ve done that enough times to be used to that feeling , but new chapter, maybe even new book weird… Familiar and totally alien at the same time, I feel like I’m watching all this happen through a window, I just walked into the lounge, a small pile of things sitting in the corner, and even though its the room I hate most in this house, and have spent the least time in I felt a sudden surge of emotion. It doesn’t matter if you hate a house, it doesn’t matter if its not a home, not when it holds memories which you love, so much has happened here, this is the longest I have lived anywhere since I was 18, we have laughed hysterically, pondered, panicked, argued, made up, got engaged, laboured, celebrated birthdays, got dressed for our wedding, celebrated yules, danced, cried, welcomed and lost animal family, got drunk, been sick, hugged, experimented, failed and succeeded here, it doesn’t matter anymore that the house is mouldy, and cold, and damp and oppressive, it is/was here that life happened, our voices have echoed in every corner of it, of course I don’t want to stay, but now we don’t have to worry about the bad things this house held, the good things are clear as day. We have worked so hard for this dream, all the dreams were made in this place, I will always look back on our time here fondly, we’ve faced some of the hugest battles with health and personal life here and when I think back to how far we’ve come, I can see how much we have grown as a team, for all the times we lock horns, we are an truly incredible force, somehow we have kept our focus, and managed to arrive at the point where we and our babies will be travelling off to our new life… What is held in store for us we have no idea, but if its anything like the memories which flash before me when I look in the empty spaces in this house it’s sure to be amazing… As always, the good will, the warmth of the wishes, the love and the people cheering us on is amazing, we are so blessed to have the tribe we have. Thank you all just for being you <3

Andy and Bob


System Suicide

Due to lack of time and brain space I’m starting writing this blog early, I’ve been up since 5am again, the baby insomnia continues because I’m so hungry all of the time! We didn’t finish until late last night, not helped by a certain mini Monson who didn’t want to sleep until 9.30pm… The house is looking decidedly bare, the walls are mostly sugar soaped and almost all re painted in dazzlingly fun magnolia paint where they need to be, I decided in the haste of it all to outsource some of my nesting instincts, so the carpet cleaner is booked, as is the oven cleaner for just before we leave.

The mountain of stuff is growing rapidly, each time a new load goes out into the garage it seems to double in size, we have filled three pallets, it’s looking highly likely we need at least one more and I’m confident the van man will tell us what we have left will tip his van over payload weight… But as always, we will worry about that if it happens.

Still waiting for baby Monson to appear, after wishfully thinking he would be two weeks early he decided to rebel (al la mother) and is sitting tight still as I write this update!!

Things are becoming very real now (yes about time I suppose!) and we sway between delirious excitement, can’t wait to see the land again, smell the pine and the rosemary in the air, look out over the mountains at the beautiful views, and stomach twisting sickness at the sheer journey ahead, we are pretty set on knocking up a structure for the winter at least now, which will not be our permanent house but will be somewhere which we will use as a holiday cottage or cinema / workshop space later on down the line, plans change like the cornish wind, but currently looking at some sort of cobbled together temporary reciprocal roof roundhouse type space…. Yes that’s as technical and planned as we are right now :) most of the plans will come to play when we know where the building will be put and what materials we have available, we want to use as much from the land as possible…

In the meantime it’s been a case of endless cleaning, clearing and jigsaw style packing in the hope somehow we can make two heavy old vintage chairs, a disco ball, potters wheel and a didgeridoo fit onto a pallet in the neatest possible way, and handing notice in on all manner of bills and agreements, the landlord has been notified, BT (Bloody Thieves) have told us the amount they will charge us to disconnect from them and leave the country (£30 apparently) tax return has already been sent to our accountant (much to his shock!) and after deciding we will (all being well) apply for Portuguese residency after a year or so we are now committing what I’m calling ‘committing system suicide’ and shall be refusing to abide by ridiculous contracts and agreements, especially with companies who don’t keep up their own end of the bargain… On we press, time flashing by, before we know it we will be there!!!

Oily Paper Circles

THAT’S IT!!!!!!!! Done! Finished! Nothing more to do!!!! Despite being 3 days away from 9 months pregnant and with only a few hours sleep last night, I sluggishly started sewing around late morning, and found myself a few hours in having almost finished everything, so I pressed on and here I am FINISHED!!! Wahooooooooooo!

Now…it’s time for me to tell you how the machine continued for so long without its usual weekly mental breakdown. Yes the all singing, all dancing brand spanking new steed which was sold to us as ‘the best machine ever’ (hence the £1500 exchange of paper notes for it) by Fred the snake salesman….after just over a year of ownership and close to £1000 in repairs, several gallons of tears, at least a bucket and a half of blood, and enough swear words to keep the neighbours kids going until they are well into their late teens, we were sent details of a man in Truro by lovely Lizzie Cornish, and upon hearing my plea around a month ago he dutifully drove on down the next day and came to take a look.

A lovely squashy, huggable man he was, Cornish through and through, and just like my much loved fabric supplier Brian with his Somerset tones and warm smile, Cornish David came in calmly and asked to have ten minutes to just take a look and see what was happening… Within the time it took to boil a kettle and make him a cuppa he shut his tool box and said….’all done! I don’t need to do anything really!’ Upon seeing my baffled and disappointed expression he pulled a little piece of folded lined paper out from one of his huge tweed pockets, and laid it on the sewing bench, he took a pair of scissors and cut a rounded corner off one side of the paper, following the shape of the end of his thumb, he then snipped off the pointy part of the shape he had left and opened it out, to make a perfect circle with a hole in the middle, the right size to fit in the bobbin case, he dabbed a little machine oil on it, a fitted it in and said ‘THAT….will be all you need to solve the problem here’ I started sewing and the expectation of the clatter, clunk and then jammed machine didn’t happen, he stood and sipped his tea while I continued and then once the cup was finished he went on his merry way, charging only £50 and refusing my request to cover his fuel bill….

And he was right, absolutely right, not once has the machine broken or threatened to jam in the way that makes £100 a pop Fred appear, by now the machine would have broken a dozen times at least, by my calculations, depending on the day it chose to break on we would have spent £900 more on repairs and I’d have had no hope of ever finishing work before the baby arrives! I shall not lie, knowing that the slithery one would have certainly known the issue causing the problem, and still continued to fix it and charge us for the pleasure has made me twitch a little… Though money is money, and it’ll come back to us in one form or another as all these things do…

But!!! To think that of all the things needed to fix this metal lump of clattering spindles, needles, cogs and pedals was a piece of paper leaves me more than a little dumbstruck!!! So thank you Cornish David, for your good humour, your honesty and your knowledge… Thanks to you, I can start to rest a little, and can start to focus on thing other than canvas! I will still be making the little mytipi minis for those who want them, shall upload some pics to the website soon, but I am thrilled and relieved that I can finally stop worrying about going into labour anytime soon with a pile of sewing staring at the from the corner of the room!


Keep It Clean

For once I thought I’d post less of a tale and more of an informative post – all is happening full throttle here at Monson HQ a van load of junk has been removed this morning, meaning the house is groaning less and less, wardrobes, cabinets and drawers left last night, we now have only two beds, a dining table, a chair and some benches left in the house. Tipi work is finally starting to become more of a slope than a mountain to climb and I’m hopeful that as long as the machine (and I) hold out it will all be finished within the next week or less! Must say I can’t wait!

All of this means that focus can be made on the logistics of the move and the reality of landing in 40degree weather and moving to a piece of land with nothing more than a well, a bucket, some trees and (currently) a fire risk covering the entire area. We have a small solar panel which will run two low energy bulbs, so we have some light to get us started. We will be buying a water pump when we get there which means we should be able to extract water from the well up the hill to a holding tank which will provide us with gravity fed taps and shower, and we need now to sort out a small generator which will be enough to power the sewing machine and some back up batteries when we first arrive. Of course, moving with a new baby, and washable nappies means one glaring issue….. Washing machines!!!!

We know we can’t power a machine on the meagre supply of solar panels we will be starting with, even in the summer, I had toyed with the idea of hand washing, then quickly abandoned it, and we were originally planning on taking over a bike or trike and making a pedal powered machine out of an old drum and some belts…logistically it’s proved a problem and it will still need setting up upon arrival so it’s not much use really, we will still be making one for the campsite guests, and times when we feel we want to keep fitter but in the meantime we have found a perfect happy medium, in the form of a twin tub! Low energy (because it doesn’t heat the water) and cycles which can be 1 minute to 15 minutes long, with a separate tub for spinning for up to five minutes, of course you can wash once or twice and rinse a few times too, more importantly the spin dry gets clothes as dry as they ever came out of our old machine! We have now been using the machine for 2 weeks and it is coping brilliantly with the washing demand we put upon it, once in Portugal we will use a black container to heat our water in summer, at the moment it’s a little tiresome heating water on the stove to wash and rinse in, so we are in the middle of putting together a quick 16 brick ‘rocket stove’ so we can heat kettles in super fast time. There is a hose attachment which means when we have a house and can hook up to a tap we will just turn on the tap to fill it up when washing (height of luxury!) which will be much less messy, but it’s no great chore for now and not waiting around for an unnecessary 40minute ‘Eco’ cycle certainly is worth a few buckets of water being carried from the kitchen to the garage where the machine finds her temporary home!

There are a few options of sizes of these machines, some as small as 2.5kg, I’m glad we opted for a larger 4.5kg one though as we already have to split the wash into threes or fours to enable to spinner to spin efficiently, once we have moved we will probably buy a mangle still for large bedding and thick towels which the spinner might not cope with too well, but that’s no biggie.

Energy output is fantastically low, and will hopefully mean we can use the machine through the summer and winter! :) on a wash it uses 200 watts and on spin it uses 120 watts which in comparison to the average machine somewhere between 700 and 1200 watts means we feel very happy indeed! It also means we can do tiny washes of just one or two items with a bowl of water which would never have been an option with our old machine!

Shall follow up more on the dodgy ‘rocket stove’ with pics and instructions ASAP :)




Oily Tears and Aeroplanes


This has been a weird week, you read this now, and find me 8 months pregnant I’m constantly aware that I’m nowhere near in the head space that I need to be and this baby I waddle around with in front of me is soon going to be here, I still have to remind myself I’m pregnant and not just knackered and out of breath from tipi making and packing the house up! The spare room is empty (or at least keeps being emptied) and I can hope soon to make it a nice little peaceful nest, away from boxes and packing tape and bits of stickle brick (which, incidentally hurt a lot more than lego bricks do at 2am when you have got up and stumbled your way down the hallway for the 7th time that hour to go for a wee) once the room is sorted out I will feel a little more relaxed about things, right now I feel more like a frantic flapping bumbling bird knocking the nest over and stamping all over the little twigs I’ve found while trying to gather them back up again than an elegant stork who calmly stands in meditation….

I suppose moving country with a host of animals, a business, a new baby and a child, with absolutely no help nearby whatsoever was never going to be something we could do calmly and elegantly – this is nesting on speed… Not enough for me to feel the need to clean out all of the cupboards and wash the curtains, for the last month we have been living in a house with almost no furniture, curtains removed from all but the bedrooms and (as of today) no lampshades, rugs or cushions anywhere to be seen. The living room is now the packing room, a mountain of things to take with us piling high up against a wall on one side of the room and on the other side of the room all of the camping stuff for the last few rentals we have to do balances precariously, casting shadows over the tortoises who sit quietly in their sun box, seemingly unaware of their impending move and almost taunting us with their ‘ready built home on a back’. The packing is slowly getting there, boxes are being filled, and lots and lots of stuff is being got rid of, and it feels so good, as a bit of a hoarder I thought I’d find it impossibly hard to see things leave, but it’s now become an obsession, the less stuff I see in each room the better, cardboard is the colour of this spring season. Originally we had planned a (slightly) madcap drive across England, Spain and Portugal with the truck, a huge old heavy wooden horse trailer and all of our belongings… however fate had other ideas when she decided to blow our engine up on the truck 4 days ago when we were driving home from a rare day out to the Eden project, luckily for us (and everyone else on the road that day) we managed to pull off the dual carriage way just as the burning hot oil started spouting from the gap in the bonnet hinge, the strong smell and the smoke coming through the air vents was also a key sign something was wrong, no sooner had I opened my mouth and looked in Andy’s direction did we hear an ENORMOUS clattering sound, the engine revved higher and higher, she ate her oil and that was it…the soul of the old girl flew upwards into the sky surrounded by thick black plumes… out we leapt, serenaded by people screaming from their car windows ‘get out of the car!! NOW!’ As we looked on from a safe(ish) distance, a black river pouring down the road behind her, it was clear this was not a job that Ruan our (overworked) mechanic would be bodging for us…It was with sadness that we advertised her on eBay and sold her for £700 two days later, leaving us with a trailer, a lot of belongings and no vehicle, in a village, with no shop, one bus a day, a child, and us heavily pregnant…

After a day of scratching heads and scribbling numbers, exhausting every other idea we succumbed to the direction we were clearly being now pushed, cancelled our ferry ticket and booked a lovely man called Bill to drive to us on the morning we had originally planned to leave the UK, load up his van with our life, take the dogs, drive off and hopefully take the 3.45 Plymouth to Santander and meet us at the farm in Portugal, meanwhile we will fly over (and spend some of the flight trying to remember how in the hell to find the piece of land we last stood upon 10 months previously)…… In the meantime on goes the search for a cheap (under £300) car to see us through the next couple of months… It’s fair to say we expected plans not to always go to plan, can’t say we expected this though! As is often the way, its all worked out for the better, and my recurring nightmare of us sitting on the side of a road waiting for a Spanish pick up truck in 40 degree heat to drag a wooden horse trailer with a broken axle and three tonnes of ‘stuff’ in the back away for us can be forgotten… hopefully leaving us a far less stressful journey to our new home and the joy of looking through the second hand car market of Portugal when we arrive –

Can’t say much right now, but there are many other plans afoot, we will keep you updated on them as frequently as possible! 12 weeks to go!!!!!!!

Our website is in a half finished state but new info being added all of the time, needless to say it hasn’t been read through and check for mistakes as yet, but feel free to hop over and have a look, you’ll see our plans for the space there under the visions tab : http://www.enchantedacres.co.uk

Hammerite A Horsebox

Still picking and scraping the blotches of Hammerite off my body but finally the horse trailer is finished, in the busiest week of the year so far, somehow I have managed to just about to single-handedly fit in the entire paint and refit of a horse trailer which was very much in need of TLC as Andy’s face showed when he hauled it onto the driveway after picking it up from Tiverton…holes in the wood and rotting chippings in the back turning white with mould, it looked a sorry sight indeed, however after rubbing down and balancing on a stepladder in positions that would delight the most hardened circus audience it is finished (all apart from the roof which still needs to be painted on the top but we can’t see it and therefore for now it does not exist) Starting with the hottest days we have seen in years (meaning the paint dried before you could slap it onto the designated area) and then on day three (coat 4 of hammerite) sun replaced by our more typical summer Cornish gales meant every dip into the paint tin resulted in half of the stuff being blown in ribbons up the driveway and decorating everything from the wooden gate, to the van and next doors children. My usual method of painting meant blobbing slate grey from the new woodwork onto the white metal work then re touching the white metal work only to blob white onto the grey woodwork and repeating over and over again until I run out of one or other type of paint ensued.

Still, new wheel arch lights, a newly painted inside, woodwork holes covered , a vinyl horse head decal, a rather smart bright green horseshoe which I painted with enamel paint, foam wall padding, rubber stable mat flooring and fake flowers (because ponies like something pretty to look at too you know!) and I must say I’m thrilled to bits with it. We have spent around £100 fixing the old girl up and have a trailer worth considerably more than we paid for it as a result of 5 days of arm aching, skin burning works. The trailer will be used to transport the little mini shetland of course, but will also be used for large set ups when the black steed van can be filled no more and will also be used to move our belonging to Portugal in too – all in all a good investment, see below for the full reveal!!!!













Slug And Harmony


This is the second picking from the strawberry plants in the last week!! I only have 6 of them but they’re old and the girls always produce us so many strawberries!! There are at least this many again waiting to be ripe. No nets, no killing of slugs or snails and better yet, no standing outside at midnight with a torch picking off pests.

I realised last night things are even more harmonious that I knew, as I went out at 10pm to bring Puck and Torsie the tortoises inside I watched about 30 slugs all heading over the wooden wall to the tortoise garden, I love where the tortoise’s are located because its right next to the veg patch so I get to watch them often and can also throw all the bits that are no good for us over for them to eat, what the torts don’t eat by the time they lazily trundle to their outside bedroom (at around 5pm) the slugs come and eat later, along with a couple of sacrifice favourites I grow for the slugs near the tort garden this keeps them happy and keeps them off the veggies…! No effort required!…everybody gets their fill and everybody gets to LIVE alongside each other taking whatever they need.

In other news we are super busy with work at the moment, the horse trailer is almost finished and Findus the pony is being picked up on Tuesday! It’s all go go go at tipi HQ. more to follow on Monday… Xxx

Enchanted Acres – Just The Beginning

I can not believe the last time I wrote was February!! Time seems to be whizzing past faster than ever.  Finally we are getting a burst of sunshine which means we are cracking on with the tipis and getting them delivered as soon as possible, people are booking their bell tents for summer holidays and we have finally cemented a plan of action which brings so much joy to me that I feel I might burst!

I knew when the dream of finding land in the UK dried up that it would be replaced with something amazing, something huge and something that we could never have considered doing in the UK…and it is fair to say that this most certainly is proving to be the case!  For a long time I have wanted to create a space where people with similar intentions can come together and share knowledge, enabling us all to start to live in harmony with the planet and free ourselves from some of the trappings of society, especially trappings associated with price tags.

As many of us know, the future for Mother Earth is looking desperate, far worse than a lot of people realise, tomorrow is not an option anymore, the planet is in need of help and she needs help now… What is happening ‘out there’ is reflected in some ways with people who feel something is missing, maybe in a spiritual sense, a lack of health, a sense of disconnection from community or family – It often manifests itself as something we can not quite put a finger on…Whatever reason we give ‘it’, it is more clear than ever that we need to start changing the way we live.  And from this thread of reality, Enchanted Acres is forming and it is taking us in a direction which means we can offer workshops to people on a variety of things which we feel are incredibly important for the survival of us all, things we should have never been allowed to forget – FOR FREE! No money, no hidden cost… I firmly believe this is the only direction that gives us all a chance of turning things around, the planet we live on needs us to get reconnected and needs us to share the path to do so…

Ok, so what about Enchanted Acres? – Well, we have known for a long while that Portugal was a possible place to look for land and, it seems it is calling more than ever…Parcels of land we could not consider affording at in the UK are affordable with our meagre budget, and we have a good chance of living somewhere in a building which we can not only afford to build but also build in a way we believe we should all be living.  Because we can live much more easily and need less money for land, we can afford to buy sooner rather than later and most importantly without borrowing, this also means we can start the dream of sharing such information and the space with as many people as possible as soon as possible.

Enchanted Acres will be a permaculture project aimed to reach as many people as possible, somewhere which will have wonderful examples of rainwater harvesting, trees growing along swales, food forests giving food security and reforestation to increase the biodiversity of the area.  We will build somewhere that we can run workshops and share our ideas with people, we hope to show people first hand that they do not need huge debt and tens of thousands of pounds to live in a way they believe in.  We want Enchanted Acres to become somewhere that offers an example of what can be achieved when you are working with nature.  We will be offering ALL workshops for free and they will cover a huge range of things from cob wall and straw bale building to planting and maintaining food forests, growing within permaculture principles, creating rainwater harvesting systems, creating our own clean energy, enhancing our health with herbalism, juicing, meditation and other complimentary therapies as well as workshops which will aid spiritual growth such as belly dancing, massage and positive birth, the list will continue to grow and grow!

As most of you know, we started a crowd funding campaign in the hope that we could get the project off the ground as soon as possible.  Having scrimped and saved for the last few years and thanks to generous guests giving us money towards our land fund for our wedding gift we already have money to buy land with.  The idea with crowd funding money was that we could get the project up and running ASAP so as many people as possible can start benefiting from it sooner rather than later – We have just kept saving money up, and we will do this in order to grow the project as much as possible, but this would have delayed the project by years, and given the way things are going on this planet time is not something we have on our side – Well, I am thrilled to say that today we not only hit, but exceeded our target! We have 2 days left to go and any extra money we get will go towards buying more trees for the land.

We can not thank everyone enough for the support people have shown us, your words of encouragement, your constant sharing of the project and of course your pledges! We have had offers of help from so many people – people who wish to write articles on the project as it unfolds and photograph our story, sponsor us with monthly donations, help with building work once we are there and we have even had an amazing musician offer to help raise extra funds through a gig in the UK!!!!!  The words of encouragement are heart warming, we can not wait to bring the workshops to reality and we promise we will deliver and more, we will not let any of you down!!

Together we truly can make a difference, and thanks to your support Enchanted Acres is one step closer to becoming a reality! Next step is to head to Portugal (at the end of this month) to hopefully secure the land that we can begin this incredible journey on!  We can not wait to share it with you and hope to meet plenty of you there!

For the next couple of days please do keep spreading the word if you can for the crowd funding page http://crowdfunder.co.uk/enchanted_acres/

I will be back with updates as soon as they happen!  Thanks for being part of this journey with us

Love and Hugs



Living the dream…

Bags Of Rainforest And Low Impact Houses

blue silkie

Just over a month into the year with the terrifying number thirteen and so much has happened already!  Warm beaches, super yachts and mountains covered in snow seem like years ago rather than a matter of weeks – The Monson family dropped in numbers when Mrs Fox came for dinner one night, taking three of our four lovely hens, numbers promptly grew again with the addition of a pair of Blue Silkies called Dande  and Cuckoo who are settling in well and we soon hope to hear the peeps of tiny beaks coming from the hen house, Puck and Torsie the tortoises are still in hibernation, Frugal the puppy is housetrained and crazy as a crazy thing, Molly the cat is finding her way around just fine and seems to be adjusting to blind living just fine, and Benji dog is still – well still hairless and stupidly lovely really…

January arrived and a last hunt to get some land in Cornwall started, with the thanks to a heart warming offer from a beloved friend to hike up the bank balance we found something!!!  Dreaming and planning followed immediately – but the elated feeling only lasted for a month sadly, reality bit hard when we accepted our slim chance of either living unnoticed for a full 4 years to get a Certificate Of Lawfulness or proving our ‘needs’ were enough to convince the planners to let us live on own piece of land in a low impact dwelling, it seems it will be a step too far for our local planning authority, even with a free forest school for the local schools to use, supplying local businesses with even more trade than we currently do in the way of putting people up in local B&B’s and feeding them at the local food places   during courses on our land and making local ‘green’ BBQ charcoal for the tourists to cook their horse burgers over rather than the rain forest in a bag they buy in tonnes from Tesco each summer (other supermarkets are also available) – still, it is more and more apparent it will just not happen….

We are all too aware that without people willing to pioneer low impact dwellings in each area and set precedents for future generations nothing will change…But along with this we also have to pick our   battle wisely and taking on a piece of land with slim to no chance of ever winning approval would be foolish on our part…So, no low impact dwelling for us in Cornwall it would seem.

One thing we are sure about is that we will take lessons from being here right now and wherever we end up it will be well thought through and somewhere truly wonderful…We are now considering everything else and somewhere in between, New Zealand has been discussed (again) – too far – Wales where One Planet Development is taking off with force thanks to LAMMAS – quite possibly – Southern Ireland where ancestral roots are buried and I can speak at my natural pace and still have people that understand me – Portugal who have planning laws I wish we had in the UK (if you own your land and you put down no foundations i.e. live in a low impact dwelling of a reasonable size you can live there with no planning permission needed) many, many families are heading this way at the moment for much the same reason… We are lucky to have the opportunity to choose, I will never lose sight of the fact that we are so fortunate to be in a position where we can buy our way out of a system and choose where to do it…Even so, the thought of leaving Cornwall will be a wrench like no other – Watching a new (and celebrated) housing estate being built less than half a mile from the land we found just makes it an even more bitter pill to swallow…This is seen as progress, while our little straw bale build which could bring security to a family and keep business local is not, the digging, the shifting of tonnes and tonnes of soil from small fields which have been grazed for hundreds of years, blades of grass to be replaced with concrete blocks and tarmac in the name of progress…  So February sees us positively head onwards and upwards, exploring new opportunities, nothing to say they will not be better ones and of course nothing to suggest anything other than the fact that this is ultimately where we are destined to head!  It seems 2013 has an even bigger adventure in store for us than we first knew!



Firstly I apologise for the large gap between Italy, Mont Blanc and New Years Eve – It is clear that we did indeed survive – even managing to dodge a lorry sized piece of sheet ice which flew and spun up the motorway towards us after being lifted by the wind off a lorry roof in front and beating some of the worst snow to hit the alps in decades – Those stories are for another day though and I feel the moment has passed since arriving home, fitting a wood burner and completing a million other things which needed to be completed in order to sit and be comfortable in our little house after it’s month long abandonment –

And here we are, after a year of adventures 2012 has been the best and the worst in equal measures – I am determined that next year WILL be truly magical, I feel a sense of hope I have not had for a long time when starting a new year –

Next year is going to be huge for our planet and every living thing upon it, I hope we all can learn to work together, to protect what matters most, to be able to ask for help and be willing to offer knowledge. We can all make this a better world, I am blessed to know so many people who care about what we will leave behind, who, like me know our little patch is purely put into our trust and is never ‘ours’, who have genuine care for how we act during the little blip that is each life, people who love unconditionally – If I know this many people, it reasons that everyone I know knows as many others… it stands us in good stead…

All being well our dreams will continue to span out before us, this year has been a massive awakening in so many ways.

I have had the honour of sharing special moments with people who I love so much I feel my heart might burst – I have made some incredible new friends both in person and on dear old Facebook – people who have inspired, pushed and shown kindness that knows no bounds.  By the end of next year where will we be? What will we know? Who will we meet? What new dreams will we have? Will the pedal washing machine be a success?! – Who knows? The mysteries that are around the corner are what makes life the most wonderful party we will ever get an invite too…

Personally I will continue my hope that we will have a bit of land (either our own or rented) on which to keep our ever-expanding menagerie (and if it’s our own land shoving bits of paper with drawings on under the planners nose frequently) – I hope I will have started making wooden spoons (and will have all/most of my fingers still) I will be weaving baskets again, all being well and providing I knuckle down I will be a qualified Herbalist Practitioner and Reflexology Therapist, we will have a rocket stove and a wood fired bread oven, our electricity usage will have dropped to the lowest point it can – along with our water usage, the monthly meditation in the tipi will still be going strong, I shall master the Ukulele, tinkle on the piano,  Tom will still be running away from monsters that hide under the bushes in the garden and the dragon that frequently roosts in the trees above the hens, I may be the proud owner of some beautiful Indian Blue Peacocks – ssshhh don’t tell Andy!, the wood fired bath will not result in bottom burns, I will start drawing again, practice Yoga regularly, sink my teeth right into charity work, I will eat healthier, grow spiritually, no longer feel so reliant on money, be a better wife and mother, meet the people I am yet to meet, hold hands with the people I love, make new memories and belt out much laughter and bad singing with old (and new) friends… and mostly, more than everything else on the list, I hope that everybody that I hold so dear in my heart has a safe, healthy and happy year, that your dreams be reached, that your aims are ones that will bring true happiness and that we all can look back on a wonderful year next year.  May next year be the year we get less angry about the things that don’t matter and show more love to the things that do.

So here is to 2013 and me finally being rid of the Triskaidekaphobia!!!!! xxx

The Shining – Italian East Coast

After getting lost only the once we arrived late at the final stopping point for our heavy cargo, the Tipis are destined to be used in a yoga retreat on the olive farm. Bazz and Liz bought the traditional ancient Trulli five years ago and had totally rebuilt it and turned it into a comfortable home, they also had a small flat in the nearest town where they live in the summer when holiday makers rent the Trulli for holidays. They have both lived in Italy for a few years and missed nothing about the UK, who could blame them, everyday breakfast and lunch was eaten by the pool and once the morning mist had burned away the temperature would be 21 degrees at 11am even in winter. The poles were offloaded onto the flat roof section of the house and the van (and we) groaned a huge sigh of relief, the space between the top of the tyre and the wheel arches looked normal once again…

The Trulli is a stunning round building, 6ft thick walls and a stone cone shaped roof with tiny windows in the walls, almost like a stone roundhouse. Trullis are found in this part of Italy and are nestled everywhere through the countryside, peeking out from huge masses of prickly pear cactus and olive groves, other than Bob and Helga next door, who moved here from their native Belgium 12 years ago the rest of the houses and olive groves are owned and farmed by Italian families, all out everyday working together to gather the olive harvest and get it to the local press – 20 Euros gets 100kg of olives pressed and bottled into a huge silver container, given that the local lady next door to the farm uses a litre a week at least it is no wonder that they all need so many trees, a good large mature tree on a good harvest can give around 150kg of olives, this amount would produce several litres of olive oil… Bob and Helga were both fantastic musicians. Helga a classical pianist and Bob had been a drummer in his band for years but now they both taught music students over the Internet from a room in their house.

I love Italy, the food, the friendliness of the people, the countryside… I now know I could never live here though, the constant obsession with looking good where even going to local shop meant getitng dressed up is too much, I have no problem with caring about appearance but in Italy it seems materialistic, vain, too uptight, that said the women and men looked incredible all of the time, I hpwever am too happy in a tunic and pair of jeans and bare feet or flip flops (on a smart day) The scenery though… wow! Now we are through the industrial side it’s everything and more that I thought it would be, the drivers are insane…in a fantastic way, my ‘Toad Of Toad Hall’ style driving fits in perfectly, aim, drive and then look… Just don’t faff around, if the driver behind you wants to come past they’ll flash their lights to tell you they are overtaking, they’ll toot with the horn once to tell you they’re there and twice if they want to get past and can’t, nobody gets offended, the horn is an instrument on the car as much as the accelerator, no road rage, no malice, just matter of fact driving…I feel totally at home on the roads… In the whole drive across Italy we have only seen one accident… Say the same for a four day trip via M5, M4 and onwards? I think not…

The streets are like something from a film set, perfect, no doubt you are in Italy. Such simple dishes of food that taste of a million things, even service stations have coffee bars where fresh coffee and pastries are eaten by locals not just by people hauling themselves up the motorway…  Liz and Bazz have been so kind, feeding us, taking us out to their local eating place where the Antipasti for two was shared between four adults and a child and seemed to last forever, after 12 dishes I stopped counting. For a vegetarian, Italy is a wonderful place to eat, the Italians do not understand the concept of vegetarianism as such, they believe such good meat should not get missed out on and often a bit of Parma ham is thrown into something vegetarian because they don’t see it as ‘much meat’ – Still, so many of their meals do not include meat at all, we have eaten the most incredible homemade pastas and local vegetable dishes, in this small village not a single thing comes from more than sixty miles away, almost everything comes from only ten miles away. The markets are stunning, row upon row of colourful veg, cheese, fish, baked goods, pasta, olives… The way we should be in the UK, a bunch of beautiful plump grapes costs €1 per kilo!!! Liz buys all her food from the market and on average spends €15 on all fruit, veg and cheese per week…As we strolled around the bustling Monday morning market in the sunshine I can’t help but wonder what the hell we are still living in the UK for.

We have been treated to the sites of Ostuni a beautiful old town with a winding maze of streets which sit like a white beacon on top of the hill 40k northwest of Brindisi and Alberobello, the Trulli capital of the world, which looks totally eccentric, the old town is a mass of over 1000 Trulli’s forming small streets and spilling down the side of the hills, it is like walking on another planet.  The Trullis are still lived in by families who sell knitwear, linens, liqueurs and the most incredible almond milk chocolate slabs I have ever eaten right from their door. After sampling a dozen liqueurs we finally settled on a few small bottles of prickly pear, hazelnut and chocolate chilli and hiccuped our way back to the van… We have stuffed ourselves full of amazing food and met some incredibly lovely people… It feels like we have been here forever. Over a few drinks one night I told Bob my opinions on the monetary system, how we wanted to ‘opt out’ of the systems that we have been entered into without any consultation, how I felt showing Tom this way of life would only ever help him, it’s far easier to leave a non money led life and join a money led one than to the other way around – far from the bemused look and million questions he simply said – ‘ah man, you should have been a 70’s chick, you’re a proper hippy living decades later, I haven’t met anyone with ideals like this since the 70’s how fab to see those days are still living on, I thought they were lost forever!’ A compliment but tinged with sadness that he thought his views were a lost cause, when we left I gave him the Daniel Suelo book, in exchange he gave me an album he recorded 15 years before when he lived in Belgium, inside he wrote ‘Thomas, Andy and Clare, never leave the unbeaten track xxx’ – never have I been more sure that I most definitely will not… Friends made for life.

By now we had been sleeping in the van for 2 weeks, 2 adults, a child and 2 dogs, carrying all food, clothes, medical equipment, repair equipment and such like, living in a floor space which measures 2ft x 4ft when the bed is folded up to seat position and 2ft x 2.5 foot when it’s in the bed position. Things are starting to become cramped, mud was getting everywhere thanks to the dogs and child running all over the farm and the hugely sticky red clay like soil which clung to anything that touched it. We needed to think about heading off and getting some time on our own as a family, without driving deadlines or sightseeing, just time to sit, stroll, play, do nothing. The guys at the farm suggested we head just south of a town called Vieste, surrounded by incredible National Parks, the hope of open campsites and plenty of stopping places filled us with enthusiasm and after 4 days of wonderful hospitality we decided to head off, we had plenty of time to kill before needing to reach Paris on the 10th and the thought of 7 days at the beach was perfect… 2 hours of driving later we reached the coast, the views were spectacular, one one side huge arches carved through the rock out in a turquise blue sea, mountains and forests on the other side, just for the drive it was worth coming… This would do perfectly…! Our joy and excitement was short lived as we passed campsite after campsite with gates shut, ‘NO SLEEPING’ signs everywhere…Nothing open anywhere along this beautiful stretch, we would have to head to the nearest town. Arriving at dusk neon lights for ‘Sexy Shops’ flickered and hotel shutters were pulled down, there was not a sign of life in the place, any minute I expected to see a swarm of zombies come dragging around a dark corner… The place looked like a worse version of Newquay surrounded by Beirut high rise which had been heavily shelled, all inhabitants frantically packed up and driving for the hills… There was no way we could or would sleep here in the van for the night, after two weeks of stubbornly searching out somewhere to stop each night we would stay in a hotel. We had a choice of two, one wanted 70 euros for the night without breakfast, the other, nicer by a smidgen from the outside and wanted 65 Euros for the night with breakfast. The horror movie theme continued from zombie world outside to haunted hotel inside…we were the only people staying and the girl at the desk was an incredible ghostly shade for an Italian, not the bronze image of health we had seen everywhere else…We took the lift silently to our floor, the door whined open onto a dimly lit hallway with a single dusty dresser sat against the wall, onwards stretched door after door, I would have believed Kubric based the set for The Overlook Hotel here if it wasn’t for the fact that he never left the country… No point looking forward to a comfortable bed, rock solid mattress and pancake pillows were the style here, were we really in one of the most stylish countries in Europe or had we spun off a cliff and ended up in some type of purgatory?… At about 10pm trying to drift off on our concrete slab droves of escapees zoomed through the town, suitcases piled high on the car roofs, strapped down with ropes and old belts tied together as makeshift ratchets, the traffic continued until daylight, loud enough to keep us restless all night and yet invisible in the darkness of the night. Breakfast was as beige as the decor, we paid our fee, feeling totally robbed… what a rip off, this wasn’t low season, it was non existent season… To soften the blow we took all of the complimentary soaps and showered the caked on red mud from dogs in the bathroom…

Feeling totally dejected, no chance of a beach holiday here the only other option was to head North. We had planned of visiting Venice, Verona and Lake Garda anyway, maybe here we would find a place to truly stop for a few days. After 4 days off we were back to long haul driving, Venice is around 2 days from here, we will have to stay in hotels on the way, the weather is much colder as we head north, snow chains are compulsory, from Garda we can take the Mont Blanc tunnel and head through France along the border of Switzerland, drop in and see a friend on the way past and continue through to Paris, by stopping the French side of the tunnel and then Dijon we could reach Paris for the 10th December as planned…

The hotels are an unexpected cost indeed, having originally planned on staying in the warmer weather South for a while and then making a mad 3 day dash through Northern Italy and France it meant we would need to pay out for at least 10 days accommodation we weren’t planning on… Now a few miles from Venice we have spent the last two nights stopping in places which are non descript and other than taking in some average scenery feel we have wasted days, bargain hotels have been found for both nights though thanks to booking each of them on the morning of the day we were staying, continuing this way we will save ourselves at least 300 Euros, we have paid between 30-40 euros a night slashed from as much as 95 euros a night, this coupled with the fact that most Italians around here speak such poor English that we can book a double room and set Tom up on a camp bed from van knowing the receptionist can not be bothered with the effort of arguing with people who cant understand what she says we are scraping back on the overblown budget…So far we’ve had no problem at all and not been stopped once, the Italian love for children means Tom is welcomed in with open arms, as are the dogs at every hotel we have stayed in so far, he even gets his fill of breakfast the next morning at no charge!

So onwards to Verona we go, staying in a private flat within the walls, the last part of Italy has been a let down – mostly because it has been closed and out of season but on the flip side I can not imagine being here in crowds of tourists either… certainly South of Verona I can say the itch has been scratched…

Aliens In Antibes – Onwards To Italy

Awoken by the prison dawn chorus we dragged ourselves up for another day on the road, it was Monday and the day we needed to deliver the tipi…having slept lightly at best, listening to every noise in the car park I had begged Andy only the once to get up and check the van in the night, certain I could hear our beloved tipi poles being taken to be chopped up for firewood or fence posts…’they are safe’ he assured me and told me there was a man on the little desk downstairs all night (the next moring I realised this was just a ploy to stop me worrying and get me some sleep…it worked perfectly)…at the first signs of daylight I breathed a heavy sigh of relief that we all had made it through, had a shower which I got out of feeling more dirty than when I got in and tried to prepare myself for another day of staring at never ending roads.

Having loaded up belongings, dogs and child we were back on the road…Two hours later, having gone nowhere, stuck in traffic and feeling jaded with seeing so much from only the view of a van cab and we made the call to ring London and tell the buyer to tell her client that we would be delivering the next day instead…The nights draw in so fast and having planned on arriving at midday and finding ourselves not even halfway there by 2pm we knew putting the tipi up today would be impossible…

Part of the trouble of travelling this time of year is that it gets dark so early, it takes half an hour just to pull out all of the bedding, remove everything from the front of the cab so Tom’s bunk will fit across between the two doors, make Tom’s bed, move everything from the back and stuff it onto Tom’s bed, pick up the stacks of books that have slid across the back of the van that day, empty out 100 items from under the bed to get something at the back, put the 99 items you don’t need back again, move the dogs and tie them up somewhere near enough to the van so they can see us and won’t bark at the shadows and not so near that they can’t tie us up in knots with their leads, keep a close eye on Frugal the puppy who now waits for us to corkscrew his tie point into the ground and turn our backs before setting to work enthusiastically digging it back up again…set up our bed, find our bedding, empty 98 items from under the bed, replace 97, put the thermal blinds up, move everything else from our bed and all our clothes for the next day back from the front cab and then think about the jig needed to make something to eat…by this time it is half light at best – keep in mind all of this and add in the darkness from the beginning, trying not to drop things in the dark, scratching around the dimly lit van to find your socks, stopping Tom from vanishing into the far reaches of a car park and you have something to avoid if at all possible… something that so far we have failed to avoid… all the same, aiming to get sorted by nightfall limits our driving times massively, we need to start looking for somewhere to sleep by 3pm and hurriedly looking by 4pm…

We reached Antibes just before dusk and found somewhere to stop only a stones throw from Marineland in Antibes busy, smelly, noisy industrial area, next to a main road and a train track… Marineland for those who do not know is thought to be the destination for 2 of the most recently captured dolphins from Taiji in Japan – home to the annual mass (brutal) slaughter of dolphins and whales (all but 4 from the whole pod in this case were killed, the babies left to down in nets as they panicked, 2 adults taken for a life in captivity and 2 others set free to a doomed certain death – they are reliant on their pods for survival) The captured dolphins will perform tricks for people until they die early, easily replaced, captive for the rest of their miserable lives, their trademark ‘smiling mouth’ ever fooling people with the incorrect belief that jumping through hoops for a peep on a whistle and a dead fish is something that comes naturally to them, that they enjoy to do, rather that swimming wild and free with their families…The huge poster shows an Orca whale jumping over the sign, another creature kept in a watery misery – for our entertainment…I refrained from defacing the posters, there was no point handing out leaflets to people coming in to tell them what their ticket fee was supporting, the place was shut for winter, time to train up the new captives before summer…If you haven’t seen it I urge everyone to watch ‘The Cove’ it uncovers the truth behind dolphin cove’ in Taiji and why the Japanese fishermen and polive are so protective and wanting to keep the place a secret and away from public knowledge, it also shows ex-trainers who now realise the error of their ways and openly discuss how the captures in Japan supply organisations who use ‘conservation’ (Sea World and Marineland to name just two) to hide behind while making fortunes from their acrobatic animal shows…

By the time we had set up it was dark, we were knackered so decided to treat ourselves to dinner out. What a site we must have been, walking along a derelict piece of dumping ground, the sea on one side, two dual carriageways and a bust railway line on the other leading out of Antibes, here, people are too wealthy to walk, they drive everywhere. Following the bright lights we stumbled upon an expensive looking Bistro, far to high class for us to go into, but we were hungry, tired and cared not what they thought…The only other diner, an older gentleman sat alone, diagonally to us, I could see him wince at the bedraggled, noisy, unwashed sight before him as we pleaded with Top not to stroke the oil paintings, knock over the expensive glasses and smear food over the immaculate white tablecloths…We ate quickly and in silence, other than the crack of lobster coming from our observers table and Tom trying to bounce his voice off the walls…once out it was off to bed, ready to put the tipi up in the morning…

The next morning we found the house easily, helped along by the fact that it was nestled in the most exclusive road in the area, not many houses to choose from. Winnie the housekeeper let us in. We gasped at the immaculate shining example of a modern manor house before us, even for a hotel this would be a big place….Winnie had worked on yachts and cleaned houses for the wealthy for 18 years, she and her husband had worked for this family for just 2 years, since the house was new…the family only come in June and stay for 6 weeks a year, the rest of their time is spent in their other 5 houses…By a long way this is the most wealthy family we had ever dealt with…The man in Godalming with the electronic field around his mansion which blasted me as I tried to press the gate intercom has been pushed down to second place (don’t tell him though, I am sure he is overworked enough as it is) The money here is astounding, the yachts, the super yachts, row upon row upon row of them, most only used for a few weeks a year, along with the fast cars and mansions.  While chatting to lovely Winnie she told me she had not been back to the Philippeans in over 14 years, her husband who has 4 children has not seen his youngest (aged 14) for 8 years, they post money back to support their families, the air fare at 1500 Euros is needed more in cash than it is in a visit…Two worlds collide… A paddle in the sea, a sit on the beach spoiled by the noise of the busy roads nearby and I was ready to get some air, some space, not manicured greenery but real open space, we were temporarily saved by a good stomp through a park with a forest in the middle, letting the dogs and boy run wild for a while…

By the next morning we were Italy bound and after a quick spin around the Formula 1 track in Monaco and a 2 hour crawl as we scraped and wound our way through Monte Carlo I was desperate to get out, enough was more than enough, I could look at ‘things’ no longer, the money, the constant buzz of traffic, the trains and the sirens, the fumes which scratched the back of my throat, I had reached the limit…  We clung to the cliffs, winding around hairpin bends, through countless tunnels for another hour before reaching San Remo, we were in Italy! I felt good!…this was where the ‘holiday’ would begin, the warm sun, the fresh air…my wait would have to last longer than I hoped, San Remo to Pisa is mostly motorway veins running coursing through industrial blood… Thousands of greenhouses clung to the cliffs before each tunnel, row upon row, gleaming in the sun with factory smoke pouring out in the backdrop.

After countless more tunnels we started the Aire search, nothing in sight, no campsites open, Aires less readily available than in France, most roads too busy or too narrow for our huge load to park overnight, all parking signs threatened to tow us away while we snoozed.  I had registered us for a vineyard and farm stop scheme before we left, the book would give us the maps to hundreds of small farms and rural sport on our journey which would let us sleep the night for either a small fee or in exchange for buying some home made pasta or local honey… I expect the book and membership card will be waiting patiently for us on the doormat when we get home…It was dark…Having tried and failed to find somewhere with room to park up at several different places we went for a final attempt and took an exit from the motorway to a small seaside village called Lerici, one of the few places which (though noted as a wealthy persons holiday retreat) was not a millionaire’s playground or a rough port…our high spirits soon dashed when we found ourselves winding down a steep narrow road to the beach front, squeezing down lanes between tall old houses, there was not a chance of stopping here, it is hard enough to find space in these little spots as a van, let alone a van with 24ft long poles on the roof. We had been driving solidly since 10am it was now 8.30pm, we had eaten every meal on the road.  These dark searches were becoming a regular event, definitely one of the bad things about travelling in winter, one of the only good things about the darkness coming in early is that you get the chance to suss a place out for sleeping over in the dark which gives a better representation than during the day.  In all of my travels I remember many times when I have stopped on the side of the road in a ‘perfect spot’ when was daylight only to realise I had made a totally wrong call once it got to nightfall…places change in the dark.  This whole trip would have been a breeze in the summer, but in winter with stopping places few and far between it was becoming a total pain.  We could drive no further, we needed a break from the road, especially the dogs and Thomas, a hotel would have to be the answer, there were 5 hotels open in Lerici, all along the sea front, all very expensive looking and all but one full up thanks to a big business meeting which was taking place the following day.  The second most expensive hotel has one double room left, a combination of my poor Italian and the receptionist’s poor English told me we would be charged 108, 118 or 180 Euros for the night, even at 108 Euros this was at least 100 Euros too much…but what choice do we have? Drive to the next port side town knowing there was as much chance of stopping there than there was here? Drive through the night when we were both exhausted? Park up in a no stopping zone knowing we would almost certainly get woken at 2am and get moved on with nowhere to go, we could not afford a hotel this expensive but totally defeated, grubby and road-weary we accepted our fate, this place had parking, the dogs would be left in the van and our belongings would be safe and secure.  Wearily we drove off up the dead end street to turn around and park up in our expensive parking space…As we turned the corner to back up, there it was, a huge, flat car park! Not just a car park but a car park with a camper van in it, the lights were on, and behind the camper van a huge motor home which clearly was going nowhere soon as it was up on jacks and had a cable running directly up to the mains electricity wire overhead…To be sure I knocked on the camper van window, the van was from the Netherlands, inside was a thick set lady reading a book and wearing a very frilly floral dress and a knitted cardigan making her look decidedly frumpy, as she came to the window she straightened what looked like a very bad wig, I could see her thick 5 o’clock shadow in the light from the car park, she gruffly told me that she had been parked there for a few nights with no trouble, after Thomas had gone to sleep we chatted to her further and it turned out she had been travelling around Italy for some time just stopping here and there and never had any trouble. In one right turn we had saved ourselves at least 108 Euros! We realised the next day that we had only got 50 Euros left on our travel card, we could never have had the room anyway! Yet again, as on every other occasion on our journey so far we had found what we needed – It is rare we worry about something that doesn’t end up solving itself in the long run, yet we waste such a lot of energy projecting forward and worrying about things that almost always are out of our control – I have been reading a lot recently about how money affects the way we live to the extent that most of us live in the past and future (debt and credit) but not the present, and the present is just that, a gift, if we learn to do it wholeheartedly…There is a verse from a song sung by Joan Baez ’ If living were a thing that money could buy, Then the rich would live and the poor would die’ It lead me to read the book by Daniel Suelo – The Man Who Quit Money.  Daniel tells how along his journey to becoming money free he noticed the way humans rarely live in the moment, in the present, the way animals do.  Most animals do not worry about their next meal or where they will sleep, they live in the moment and as a rule get what they need all the same, their lack of worry might mean they east a bit more one day than another but they do not starve or have nowhere to sleep, every moment of every day they get what they need.  The journey so far has allowed me to learn to fear the future less and enjoy each moment as a gift that it is, having read his theory I have tried to see each day travelling this way and so far have had no doubt it is the right way to exist, in Lerici I had a wobble for the first time, how could this theory really work, a hotel was not provision for us really, was trusting this method a way of just avoiding accountability …as we turned the corner to the car park I got my answer, just like a few nights before when for no reason I could understand I turned down a random country lane and found us a perfect Aire to sleep in for the night, this was the confirmation I needed that fearing the future immediate or distant makes no difference, I have been given all the belief I now need to live in the moment and appreciate the present, what a wonderful way to learn a lesson!  We slept soundly, strolled around the stunning village, photographed the beaches and houses with washing hanging out on the balcony giving the impression of the town being a huge patchwork quilt rather than a place people lived.  The sun was hot, onwards we drove, we were nearly in our final dropping point and could rid ourselves of these poles!

Lonely Planet showed us a thermal spa which was just north of Rome.  Viterbo was the residence of popes in the 13th century, 1000 metres up in the mountains and 45k inland from the motorway but just about the right place for us to stop for the night, from the mountains we could cut down around Rome to rejoin the motorway without losing much time…Tomorrow morning we could swim in the mineral rich healing hot waters of the thermal pools for only 12 Euros each and 8 Euros for Tom.  We could also have a decent hot shower for the first time since we left the UK. At 4pm we pulled into the car park of the plush spa, it’s impressive marble front telling us we had reached Termi de Papi.  We agreed with security (aided by plenty of hand waving and large arm gestures) that we could sleep in the car park for the night…One of the most renowned spas in Italy, visited by all of the popes and graced with the presence of Michael Angelo and we were sleeping in the car park for free, too perfect to be true!

After a very smug sleep we strolled across the car park in the morning sunshine and headed for the hot pools, even better than we had imagined, shallow enough in the hot end for Thomas to walk around and for us to wallow, a hot shower and clean clothes which we washed and dried at our previous stopping place and we were indeed some very happy campers. An Austrian man we met in the pools told us he had just driven from Bari which was 90 minutes North of where we were heading and made it in one full day drive…if we left before lunchtime we could be at the olive farm by nightfall… So, this is where we are headed as I write, we have passed Rome and cleared Naples, now heading over the hills to Foggia, we hope to reach the farm by late evening…Onwards from here we can relax a little, we will spend a few days at the farm and try to figure out just how we are planning to cross the Alps or Pyrenees in mid December in a van which even with snow chains ‘doesn’t do snow’ – Until we write again, Ciao for now xxxx

Inmates and freezing France

As I write we are now three full days into our ‘voyage’ stunning forests and mountains whizz into a blur through the passenger window and, just like all other long journeys, eventually even the most stunning scenery bores the eyes…so with the outlines of the trees perching on mountains etched into my brain I turn my attention to writing up our journey before I forget it all…

So far our journey has consisted of incredibly friendly people, breathtaking views and freezing night time temperatures. We knew calamities would arise on this journey, and we started off well by arriving in France without a French road map… With us we had every book on France you can imagine (and any other country you care to mention within Europe)… A fantastic spiral bound 200 page road atlas of Italy but nothing for France…!  Upon realising our dilemma we also realised our European travel card could not be actioned for a further two hours, leaving us in a Roscoff service station at 7.30am with only a ten euro note to buy water and a map and get on our way, typically our style we are still yet to buy a more detailed map than the one we could afford at that moment, so we are making our way merrily around France with one of the a cheap fold out variety which accurately identifies all of the motorways in France (to save toll money we decided before leaving that we were not using any of the motorways…) we are navigating our way around France with a map which tells us exactly which roads not to take… We have had a child with temperatures in the top 30’s and I’ve damaged my thumb somehow which now means I cannot pick things up in my left hand…the car charger for the only phone which works here has broken, the ‘universal’ one we purchased from a service station here seems to actually be universal in another universe and, as we have no way of hooking up to the mains, any charge we have has to be used wisely and eeked out for as long as possible…other than that we are making good progress, the client in Monaco doesn’t want the tipi until Monday, and lucky too as our progress has been slow and steady hence we are still over 450k away from her today (Sunday)…

We scraped though the check-in at port in Plymouth as a standard vehicle, trying to merrily hush the comments from a terribly jolly fellow in his Chrysler who (standing right next to the check in booth) loudly joked that ‘the check in guys were just looking for their extra long tape measure to check the length of us…!’ Doing our best to be direct without looking hurried we scanned the dogs microchips, went through the standard tipi jokes and Native American ‘wah-wah!’ war cry, smiled and thanked our stars that our check in agent had taken a liking to us and chose to ignore his colleague who muttered ‘that way over 7 metres!’ on several occasions… Off we went at 10pm, loading our 7.8metre steed into the hull of the boat… Watered the dogs quickly (they had to stay in the van throughout the journey) and after several excited trips running around the boat, looking at every shop and waving England goodbye from the deck, Thomas dragged us off to our cabin where we would get our heads down for the night, in the morning we would wake up in France ready for a marathon journey!….

Of course dropping an hour from our limited sleep quota sleep didn’t help the fact that we dragged ourselves out of our slumber the next morning late and with gritty eyes, neither did the fact that the crossing was rougher than rough. I woke up sliding down the bed at some ungodly hour and continued to doze on and off all night with bizarre dreams which flitted somewhere between Titanic-esque and a living picture of The Great Wave off Kanagawa… Little did we know when we all blearily sat at the table in the self serve cafe the next morning we were only third from the front for the people to first exit the boat, the groans were louder than the revving engines as we tumbled down the steps to our parking level, fumbling for keys and dropping items of clothing in the rush to try to get started and moving before facing the shame of being overtaken while still inside the ferry…

Our first journey took us just under 500k from Roscoff as far as Saumur on the bank of the River Loire and within Troglodyte Valley where mushrooms are the local produce thanks to the 10tonnes of horse poo dumped daily by the 400 horses kept at the local stables, currently used by the Olympic team and home to Cadre Noir ‘dancing’ horses. Here we stayed on a deserted campsite on an island in the middle of the river, which was due to close the following day… Us knackered and Tom wide awake after an unbroken sleep the night before, he finally gave into sleep around 10pm and we woke the next morning raring to go and enjoying some much needed sunshine…

Another 400k driven taking in scenery as it flashed by. The Limousin region is stunning, the countryside so pretty, we passed stunning aires all with just enough people sleeping over to feel safe, but not so many to feel crowded, a cafe nearby, toilets, electric and water, onwards we pressed, each aire more idyllic  than the last, each with more incredible views… ‘This is what it’s all about’ we thought, freedom of the open road, driving your home around, stopping whenever the urge took you… Onwards we pressed to Aubusson, roughly 90k on from Limoges and 90k before Cleremont-Ferrand where we would join the motorway to Montpellier and hopefully make up some time on our current 40mph average speed… Our guide book said “a wonderful aire, one of the nicest in the area, free water, electric, wc and showers and just a short walk from idyllic historic town with creperies and cafes which are open all year” as we pulled into the carpark dusk was upon us, the ‘camping cars’ sign definitely directed us to the carpark and the signs upon entry told us this was indeed our aire, the cafes and creperies ‘open all year’ were closed…’all year’ meant not in November, in just the same way ‘water, electric and WC’ meant an old clapped out, un-lit portaloo in the darkest corner of the Tarmac slab…. Still, parked next to a couple of smart looking motorhomes  we set up the table and cooked dinner, feigning enthusiasm that this would be fine for the night…now…I’m not sure if it was the number of men walking around with chainsaws slung over their shoulders (this was just hard grafting men straight in from a days tree felling among the thousands of trees which lined the roads on the way down- of course) or the endless testosterone fuelled screeching and wheel spinning up and down the road next to the carpark bringing flashbacks to the time I parked up for the night near the beach in Lawn – Australia, only to be rudely awoken by the local ‘youf’ doing handbrake turns only feet from my van in the pitch black, daring each other to get closer with each go, while the others circled around blocking us in and screaming ‘WE’RE OUT OF CONTROL’ through a megaphone until the local blue heelers arrived flashing lights and all to tell them to ‘rack off’ … But by the time Tom’s bed was made up, dinner was eaten and the washing up done the town and carpark had a bad atmosphere and upon seeing someone vanish into the shadows to take a piss no more than 10ft away from my boy who was merrily sat on our bed playing with his toys, it was decided the flickering orange glow from the lights overhead was not enough to let me rest easy for the night…The trouble is, driving around with a camping loo, a tipi and 4 sets of tipi poles at 24ft long you draw attention to yourself, and sleeping in carparks on a Saturday night in the wrong place was going to draw the wrong attention…  up we packed and off we drove well into the night, following the upwards winding roads, following nothing more than gut instinct which told me to take a turning up a most unlikely looking lane… finally after two hours of driving, here was home for the night, we stumbled upon an aire in the middle of nowhere, perfectly secluded away from town crowds but secure in front of a large old farmhouse and shared with just one other motor home who’s inside lights were glowing and booming male voices were so welcoming… Finally settled down for the night we dozed on and off to the sound of a huge rave in the field no more than half a mile away, quiet enough for a child to sleep but too loud for an adult to totally switch off too…the noise being a wonderful comfort however that we were in a safe and happy spot for another freezing night of no sleep…Incidentally Thomas is warm as toast with a double thickness sleeping back, thermals, pyjamas and two thick blankets…which he seems to enjoy gloating about each and every morning…

Today we have travelled 450k (completely unwashed) 1400 metres in altitude over mountains, crossing bridges and going through tunnels all giving the most picture perfect views teamed with the smell of hot break-pads and burning clutch as we made our steep 5 mile descent…we made Montpellier for dinner time, leaving us a four hour drive tomorrow to put up the tipi and then be free of time restraints as we make our way down to Tuscany…maybe sticking to a rigid schedule is the cure to not getting ourself into such trouble?…I speak too soon of course…our sleeping place tonight is a Formula 1 hostel style hotel just outside Montpellier, the fence around the parking area is topped with razor wire, there are CCTV cameras on every corner and the view from our window is a very, very large and gloomy looking prison… 8pm must be lock in time as I can hear the inmates shouting to one another through the barred windows… So having driven around the corner, away from beady eyes to take the tipi canvasses off the roof to be locked in the van overnight, we retreat to bed, the dogs are thrilled not to be shut up in the van for the night, we are thrilled to know we have warmth and a hot shower in the morning in the shared facilities, we are safe, the hotel is very basic (costing 24euros for a 3bed room what can we expect) but it is clean and our beloved black steed is sitting outside at the mercy of anyone who happens upon her… Let’s hope she’s ok in the morning!!!

For now we will bid you adieu and I will try to add photos as soon as I work out how! Xxx

Rum Soaked…

And so in a predicable fashion the first day of our move onto the tipi site started with an issue or two…The first issue totally self inflicted – created by our desire to drink rum, whisky and possibly some cider the night before, marinading ourselves until 2 am, only to wake up the next morning to a house that desperately needed a deep clean, food cupboards and drawers that needed packing, tidying and scrubbing inside and out and clothes that remained on their hangers instead of neatly folded into the large steamer trunks which lay hollow on the bedroom floors… I have no idea why we chose the last night in our house to drink to oblivion – nerves at how the site would work out?… or maybe because we hadn’t had a blow out in a while (I don’t drink like I used too but when I do I still have the same ‘only stop when you physically can’t lift a glass to your dribbling face anymore’ – self destroy button) … once I have my two loves (rum and music) around me (rum can be substituted for Rioja from time to time) I am off in a cloud of singing and swaying until I awake with my head down the loo… Britain’s 30 year old ‘teenager’… or maybe…just maybe, the reason could be found in the fact that we chose to drink and sit in the tipi all night for the first time in weeks, we lit the fire, got music playing and away we poured… maybe subconsciously we wanted to share something with our beloved tipi… the tipi which has been there for every moment of out relationship and family life so far… first birthdays, Yule meals with huge heaving tables of food and a blazing wood burner, Samhain complete with 3ft spider and fake cobwebs, my 30th birthday gathering, numerous parties with our most loved friends, Winter Solstice Releasing rituals, meditation groups, and of course a marriage proposal…This time the tipi was staying at home and we were going away to make a memory, a major brain photo in our lives as a family which it couldn’t be there for… maybe, just maybe we were trying to include it, or us in some part of the web of this new adventure…

So I found myself the morning after the night before…several disastrous attempts at trying to think and instead opting for my favourite packing method of ‘pack everything and forget nothing’ and so I emptied drawers, shoe cupboards, coat racks and wardrobes into bags, trunks and boxes in the hope that I would sort it out when I eventually sobered up… this was one of those days that, if I had a normal job with a boss and a desk, I would have pulled a sickie…no sickie here…Family arriving for a 3 week stay in our house in 5 hours or less and the clock was ticking – A good dose of Wonton soup and somehow the sweats left and the action happened… We managed by the skin of our slimy booze coated teeth…

So off we set… waving goodbye to the family, house, tortoises, hens and rainbow striped tipi…

And now we are here, we should have been here for 4 days by now – however we actually arrived only yesterday, thanks to the land owner forgetting that he had part dug a trench with his digger the day before, therefore blocking our access to the tipi field and able to do nothing about it at 5 pm on a Saturday afternoon, as he was too busy drinking and celebrating his birthdays all weekend with the other folk who life at the farm… Within 15 minutes of watching our rooftop vanish in the rear-view mirror we found ourselves homeless… hung over and homeless and in a van so badly packed that when you looked through the side window you saw a straw hat, a shoe, an empty bottle of water, the corner of what might be a duvet, a toy boat, a dining chair and a large oak framed antique mirror – Luckily some friends who own a brilliant campsite nearby called Noongallas took us in for a few nights – We chortled to ourselves that we would have an unexpected break, a lazy Sunday… alas what happened once our hazy bubble burst was we found ourselves on what has since been hilariously named ‘the cockerel pitch’ thanks to a garish, Jagger-like idiot of a bird who, for some reason felt it necessary to prove what a cock he is to his feathery women by bellowing his scratchy scream into our tent at 4 am each morning and then again every 20 minutes until nightfall – If we weren’t having the wedding there I guarantee there would have been bloodshed…I think we looked almost convincing as we tried to disguise our ever increasing eye bags while laughing along with their new name for our little tented piece of land…

Three days late all is forgotten about the digger incident, the rut has been squashed by a 4×4 as a temporary driveway, we are moved in, set up both connected bell tents and added futons on top of futons in order to try and create a comfortable nest to sleep in… (how curious is it that the more futons you add the more hard a surface it becomes to sleep on…?) So far everything has gone smoothly, though warning signs are showing after being told to avoid the strange man – known locally as Stig Of The Dump (I find this a curious name if it isn’t meant affectionately, because I for one always felt I would very much like Stig of The Dump after reading about his adventures, most memorably his industrious use of jam jars to create windows…) who only leaves his caravan to use the toilet and shower which he (apparently) will be sharing with us as his caravan (which at some point in the last ten years been dropped from height into a large bramble hedge) has no water running too it… And only the most minor brush with stress has been had today in the sweltering heat when we tried to put together our E bay bargain, £50, 80’s frame tent (which is soon to be a kitchen) while following instructions which consist of coded sellotape pieces (most of which have peeled off in the heat) and a collection of photos helpfully taken by the previous owner who, I can only assume wanted to test his new camera zoom by taking some artfully blurry shots from the roof of his house aimed roughly at the pieced together frame lying in an overgrown back garden to show us which colour co-ordinates with each pole… After an hour of delicately placing all the poles into their correct slots we lift the frame to move it a couple of feet to the right into the position…of course, you see what happens here and as always we don’t…we give an almighty heave upwards while standing inside it’s huge metal spidery frame and every single one of it’s legs drops onto the ground… ah, ha! flashbacks to the greenhouse incidents?! no, no… now we are wise to a metal frame, out comes the trusty gaffer tape and we stick away…with each joint double wrapped she shifts (almost) gracefully to her new home – But…umm…gaffer…? you ask? Yes…We are ignorantly pushing aside the day that will come in a few months when we have to take it all down again…for that, is another day and another sticky problem…and maybe by that time Stig will be looking for an awning anyway.

Off we trundle into a week of scrubbing, scraping, mending, mowing and raking… We will no doubt learn a huge amount and this will be yet another massive curve to go around as with most other things we have done in the last year. Living without power will be very odd, though the solar panel will hopefully give us enough to get by on the phone to help lost people desperately wondering if this never ending bumpy track really is the place they will spend a week of their holiday…

So far the lack of noise is the main thing I am noticing… It’s like someone has put their hands over my ears… we have noise so much in our house, sewing machine, washing machine, lights humming, cooker fan whirring, radio muttering away – it’s all there buzzing in you ear… I can’t wait to see how we interact differently over the weeks, and of course how we go back to living under a roof again after this adventure…for one I have always preferred living in a van or tent to a house I accept a house when generally it is my waking life but right now, sitting listening to the grass blowing around and the canvas flapping gently in the breeze, I am already wondering if in fact the transition to go back to bricks and mortar will be harder than leaving it… I have no doubt that a smattering of usual calamities will too be well documented… Incidentally, as I finish this page of writing I see Jon the land owner telling Andy how to use the tractor to mow the field, push this, pull that but whatever you do don’t push and pull that at the same time, or within the same 10 minute spell, and don’t crank this but do push this and crank that… Jon think’s Andy is smiling… I can see the bemused look even from the other side of the field…

Human Scarer

The last five days have been spent travelling accross the country (again) to deliver the last large batch of tipis for the season. We move over to the tipi campsite in exactly 1 week today, bookings are trickling in, we have nowhere near enough furnishings, and the only idea so far is to make a roughly thought out ply-board table with bits of smashed up pallet for legs… In typical fashion, instead of using the hours and hours of time spent in the van during the 1500 miles we have driven in the last few days to make lists and plan what we need, we decided to plan a travelling expedition to Eurpoe next year… Who needs to worry about tipi furnishings when you can think about how to strap a solar panel to the roof of your van in order to charge a 12v battery while crossing the Pyrenees?…
So far the last week has mainly consisted of to’ing and fro’ing (I hesitate with the apostrophe when I write to’ing and fro’ing, but when it’s not there it would read in a similar way to boing… curious because you wouldn’t write do’ing or go’ing…still, I shall stay on the side of caution and add the ’…what do you think? Answers on a postcard…)
Meanwhile, here is how not to run a business delivering tipis if you want to A) have a sound and healthy vehicle and B) have a sound and healthy mind… The usual mix of stress, fun, and bizarre have followed us along the A30 and M5, up the M4, over the the A421, around the M25 (which, perhaps most bizarre of all was totally free running and clear of problems, not once but three times!) and god knows where else… must… keep… going…
A total of 4 nights in our own bed in the last few months, we are firmly part of the travelling troop who live their transient summer in a state of confusion, maps and bags of unwashed clothes… No time for weeding, watering, strolling or reading for us, think of us as you sit in your armchair, cup of tea nearby…
Totally knackered and having put a fresh cocktail stick in each eye, we load up a van for the third time in a week…because of the broken trailer last week, we now have half the  amount of space we usually have to carry the huge swathes of canvas we need to carry up and down the blue lines that crisscross the road map…still never to be put off by a challenge we crack on… By now it is 11pm, it’s raining and we have spent 4 hours packing, finding and counting things that we need to deliver and set up for the next two weeks, almost finished, great! But oh…wait a minute… what about the 70 or so poles we have to collect on our way up country – weighing a tonne or more…pause… glance at wheel arches, barely room to slide the latest mechanics invoice between the bottom of the arch and the top of the tyre…utterly defeated, we accept we have to empty most of the stuff back out of the van, knowing, but trying to ignore that this now means a good 7 or so extra hours of driving and another day of unloading and loading as we make what was one trip into two.. .On the bright side though we do get an extra night in our own bed as a reward and with the broken trailer axle day still firmly in mind we know to only overload the van with twice the maximum weight that Volkswagen say it can take…
Leaving at 7am, having blearily spent another hurried hour unloading the rest of the temporarily redundant ‘stuff’ into the garage, we stop to get some supplies – the hairless dog decides this is the perfect time to shit in van, painting poo paw prints all over the chairs, windows, dashboard and child seat… Too tired to even react, rain still pouring, we wrestle the car seat out of its position, strip off the covers, clean up with the only thing we have to hand (about a dozen baby wipes and a couple of old napkins) and then spend 10 minutes rounding the child and dog up along with the litter from the previous two weeks which are now swirling around the carpark in a weird game of crisp bag, animal, child, chase – We all sit silently, trying to block out the the stench for the next 30 miles until the rain gets light enough to be able to open a window without us getting soaked… As the rain stops, the sun comes out turning our black van into a dog poo/breakfast bap/latte scented furnace.
Next stop goes smooth as ever and without delay we strap the poles onto the roof and instead of looking at how low the van now is decide to ignorantly continue and just avoid as many bumps and pot holes as possible…So begins the next 10 hours of motorway driving, wincing at every squeak and avoiding looking in the mirrors to see if any poles are bouncing off up the M5 behind us…
 Off we go to deliver tipi number 1 to a couple called Ken and Adrian – possibly two of the nicest people we have ever delivered a tipi too…Adrian is tall and chiselled, Ken has the eyes of a man who knows it’s best to just go with Adrians latest project (Andy related well to Ken) Within two minutes of getting out of the van Adrian has poured a large glass of wine for me which turns into a bottle and half of wine during the course of putting the tipi up – An hour and a half later we somehow find ourselves accepting their offer to join them both and their friends for dinner – At around 9 ish we head off to get our bedding, some fresh clothes for the next day and more wine – A few more bottles and an invite from us to them to come to our wedding, we start considering the next tipi delivery and crash to bed.
The second tipi delivery is to a man in Godalming… I have never spoken to him on the phone, his order for a tipi came via email and I have had a maximum of 3 emails in the whole process of payment and ordering…These types of orders always excite me, I know nothing of the person we are going to spend the next few hours with…It only happens once or twice a year and almost each time (just like in this case) comes with a deposit in the post written on a Coutts cheque…Creeping up a winding lane, smelling of wine and mud we reach two huge solid oak gates – At least 10ft wide each and a good 12ft or more high…The sign on them tells trade and deliveries to keep following the arrow past them which we do and soon we arrive at another set of matching giant oak gates…We can’t get the van near enough to press entrance button without scratching the beautiful gates with the tipi poles, so I dutifully get out of the cab and upon reaching the front of the van I suddenly feel all weak and floppy… I’ve had an ability to hear high pitched noises from being very young – I can easily hear an electrical ping from the tv and shrews squeaking in hedges – I suddenly realise that everytime I move, I hear the ear piercing high ping sound similar to the type a cat scarer makes and feel all fuzzy and confused…This is not a cat scarer… It’s a human scarer, I am being zapped by some sort of electric field designed to stop people snooping – I can literally feel it like static all over my body and face…Just before I puke on their gold studded tarmac I reach out and hit the button and blurt out to the staff member on intercom that I was delivering a tipi so please stop blasting me, but it comes out as one big slurring sentence (this could also be the after effects of the wine) I retreat quickly to the safety of the cab, the gates smoothly and silently open, I daren’t even speak due to being highly aware that somewhere deep inside the mansion we are being watched on a black and white monitor, we pick our chins up from floor as we wind our way along the estate road and soon appears the mansion, the manicured lawns and the woodland out of which three boys appear, I would say typical bratty type boys, but I excuse these types of brats because they know no better and, as is the case here have spent most of their childhood in a boarding school… Shame its the holidays…The next two hours are spent in the pissing rain putting tipi up while getting smacked on the arse and mocked by the middle child and laughing merrily har de har ‘oh isn’t he a dahhhrling’…  Andy jokingly asks the Coutts man which sport caused the five knee operations that make him struggle to crawl through the tipi entrance – only to be told that though it was originally a sports injury, the several expeditions to the Arctic didn’t help either… chin back on floor and ignorant smiles all around… Coutts man takes us into his mansion to sort out paying the rest of the invoice… We enter via the  panic room, inside the metal walled panic room is a safe bigger than our front door, through to a kitchen bigger than our house and kitchen island bigger than our…well you get the idea… this man uses the deep end of what used to be the indoor pool (fear not, he has built a new indoor pool in the grounds of the house) now covered with a solid marble top complete with marble electronic hatch door as a wine cellar. And that my dear, is what bankers spend their bonuses on…
The next tipi delivery goes without a hitch…other than me casually telling the man how strange things sound inside a tipi before you put the flooring down as your voice bounces around and sounds all tinny…only to then realise he has hearing aids in each ear…
We decide to leave the fish concentration camp early in order to make a mad dash up the M25 while it is clear and instead camp near to the final delivery destination… My hit rate of finding bizarre campsites without meaning too is high, so far, an adult only sex camp, a site run by a possible slave who twitched when he mentioned the owners names ‘Mr and Mrs Boss’,  a filthy static caravan on a traveller site, a pub car park next to a train line and a motorway… ah the list goes on… and this next one didn’t disappoint in terms of filthy services, I almost showered under the outdoor tap just to avoid another shower incident where I dare not touch the walls… However 10 out of 10 for quirkiness… In we drive to the most amazing brain explosion ever, we are camping out the back of one of the largest antique sellers in Essex, lovely old things everywhere, they hang from the front of the little wooden shop shacks, which line a dusty road like something out of a Western movie… Somehow the next morning we find ourselves sitting in the owners front room watching breakfast news, eating a fry up, and talking about his dream of creating a tipi site out on his camping field, only to then be asked to move the van because the bloke who played Boycie in Only Fools and Horses was there to take part in some antique hunt programme and a rather muddy, black van with a load of tipi poles on the roof and bits of branch sticking out from the various trees we’ve scraped under on our journey isn’t antique enough… Just another day…
Homeward bound…  Three hour drive…Collect the child and dog… A further three hours… Stop to collect two large tents which have been up for a couple of weeks and turns out not been looked after at all, sift through the urine, mould and mud stained cushions to see what we can salvage, wring out the soaking rugs and blankets,  fill bin bags of ruined things… A further three hours of driving we finally arrive  home at 5 pm to an empty fridge and no dinner, we are beyond exhausted and dirty but press on and mow the lawn, put on three loads of washing, catch up on emails, unpack the van and then repack it all for an early morning drive back to North Devon… now – really must get thinking about this tipi campsite…

Mud, axles and AA men…

Following a longer than average drive from Bristol through floods and rapids to Stoke on Trent we spent a night in a filthy caravan next and got next to no sleep, the trip hadn’t started well, when we found ourselves getting dragged onto a field by a tractor to set up tipis for a festival we knew it didn’t bode well…  Still – we trooped onward, pushing pegs into the sodden ‘jelly bowl’ ground, which had the added sensory pleasure of being recently covered in 3ft of silage. A night in the van, a trip on a steam train where the hairless dog puked in front of revolted onlookers, another dragging off of a field, loading up and another night in what can only be described as the most soulless campsite I’ve ever been too in my life we found ourselves packed and ready to head home…with a trailer axle deep in mud, an hour of waiting to be dragged back out of the very field we had been dragged into 48 hours earlier a field we should be well on our way home… ‘Phew’ I here you say, ‘no, no, no’ I say, ‘because this is us, not normal people…!’

What instead happens is the strong smell of burning rubber heads us off the motorway to Burnham on Sea, where we investigate and notice that having being dragged through several mudslides we’ve broken the axle on the trailer, wheel sitting at a frightening angle and wood and rubber all but worn through…So off we head to a garage who helpfully remind us that because this isn’t a ‘proper’ trailer but actually something thrown together by a person after too many nights on the scrumpy and not anywhere near enough baler-twine they can’t simply ‘fix it’ and, instead we can choose between a few nights on the road waiting for ‘whatever the part is’ or ‘the local drunk to sober up enough to be trusted with a welding torch’ instead we call upon our close associates the AA… Who hate us with the increasing amount of call ups for wheezing this and oily that but, still, after a sigh and some finger tapping agree to get the trailer on a pick up and bring it back to Cornwall…. providing one of us stays with it the entire time, and with the added delightful news that they won’t do a full run but will go to Exeter and then around 5-ish will take it the rest of the way over the course of the next 48 hours… A bit of begging from me and they’ve agreed they are indeed capable of picking it up themselves without me being there to encourage them and mop their brow… Andy, Tom and dog all trudge off in the van to take the other tents down near Bristol while I bore the AA man to death for an hour as he takes me and trailer to Exeter services.  Just to make this more ‘us’ Andy has no battery so has no clue where I am or what is happening… So I sit here, telling you all about it, while drinking a coffee and watching the rain come down…no point getting stressed, ‘the key to happiness is to remove all attachment’ my Buddhist meditation teacher tell me…  One way or another we will all get home, when or how is anyone’s guess… In the meantime I will sit here trying to telepathically will Andy to come and find me at this table in Costa, if you all have the time to help with such willing I shall forever be in your debt…. And so the weekend ends, nearly….. ‘but what will you do now?! Aren’t you worried?’ says the AA man as I slide (and nearly break my leg from the unforeseen drop) from the lorry cab… ‘nope’ I say, ‘this sort of thing happens all the time, we are quite used to it really’ he gave an agreeable nod as I closed the door and stood in the pissing rain waving him off with our lopsided trailer beside me… A Tipical Day indeed…See you on the other side…

The start of the ramblings…

Hello! Welcome one and all!!! Over the coming weeks we will be moving from our brick built house with (most) mod-cons to a canvas single room dwelling on our tipi campsite which we are running for the summer…no electricity, no running water and only flames and coals to cook on..eek!

I should explain that ‘we’ consist of myself Clare, my long suffering, numb-eared other half Andy, our little boy who is 3 plus, (if you include animals, which I do) a range of hens, two rescue tortoises named Torsie and Puck, a hairless dog called Benji who spends most of his time chasing his tail and the love of Benji’s life, a grey cat with orange eyes called Molly.

Myself and Andy make tipis for a living – when I say ‘living’ I mean providing you only eat as much as the average sparrow and have no high hopes of seeing the world or owning clothes with labels… luckily this suits us (just) fine!

Driving all over the country to deliver tipis in our big black converted transporter van with it’s fluorecent orange flowers stuffed in every nook and cranny, along with the learning curve of animal husbandry, the never ending quest to buy some land on which we can ‘live light’, mixed in with the magnetic attraction I seem to have for total chaos are the main theme of this blog. Expect rants, ramblings, musings and no doubt a lot of drama!

So…The intention is to begin updating on here during the course of our move and onwards – following us as we make and deliver our tipis all over the place.