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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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

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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

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Slug And Harmony

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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

xxx

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Living the dream…

Bags Of Rainforest And Low Impact Houses

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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!

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Triskaidekaphobia

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.