We have been out in our motorhome for just under two weeks and I thought I would post something here to share a bit of the story so far. I am writing a bit each day about our adventures but there is no way we could get the wifi or find the inclination to post everyday. I am realising there are a whole load of posts that can wait until our return. (reviews of places we have been, how to entertain two small boys on a rainy afternoon in a van etc) For now, in no particular order, here is a taste of our adventures so far.
We have a Chasson Flash 656, bunk beds at the back, exterior door opening out from the back, followed by a kitchen area opposite the bathroom in front of the bunk beds. Then a mid lounge dinette thing, four seats and a huge table, then a small table with two seats to the side. The cab upfront is separate from all of that. There is a huge overcab bed and apparently the lounge area converts into another double. It’s big but not too big. If I could change it I would probably put a side lounge seat in the main area rather than another separate little table area. But that’s to nitpick. It’s a good beast for this trip and if we had any money at any time we would love to get hold of some kind of motorhome. We are sold on the genius of it all. It is our home for this month and we’ve even begun putting pictures up and making it feel a little more like we live here. It’s pretty fun to drive, mainly for the vast views from the cab window. I’ve been doing all the driving so far as husbandface is still too sick to drive, he is on navigation/dj and child entertainment duties and is doing an amazing job.
We’ve put in a fair few miles already. The worst drive was the one in the pouring rain around a busy M25 with crying children, to family in Leighton Buzzard. I felt the time pressure and so didn’t want to stop. We have learnt to roll more with the kids moods, if they have had enough after an hour or so we try and stop and let them run around the nearest play park. It makes for slower but happier journeys. We have loved driving through the Peak District, an incredible desolate moorland of a road from Buxton to Macclesfield had me dancing for joy behind the wheel. Once we got truly North the M6 provided it’s usual wonders with the Lakes on one side and the North Yorkshire moors on the other. The best by far was the road along Hadrians Wall, empty wild landscape as far as the eye could see and so much sky. Northumberland is a dream to drive around. There are wide roads even in the most isolated of areas. I was slightly worried about driving to the most remote village in the UK (Keilder) but it was an amazingly clear wide road all the way. Loving it. Devon will be a shock.
So far we’ve stayed on 4 campsites. The first was a mainstream Camping and Caravan Club one in Ashbourne, lovely place, really good kids area and a very quiet site. Great facilities. The only thing that let it down was the rather scornful reception we received on arrival and the doubt cast on our ability to do anything with our van. The second was Hadrian’s Wall campsite, which was a great location, quiet, good facilities and a great stop over for the night. There was no playground so it was a good job we were only staying one night. Again, though, the owner wasn’t the friendliest and we felt looked down on as we settled in for the night. The third site was at Keilder water and was a brilliant site, lots of space, a playground, great location and with the most helpful warden ever. He even phoned a local shop to see if they sold the chemicals needed to go in our cassette toilet. There was a downside though. The midges. Ah well. You can’t have everything. This weekend we have been at Beadnell Bay on the Northumbrian coast. It’s in a beautiful location, just across the road from the beach. It’s been a fantastic site, great facilities, good play park and we loved the sandy beach with amazing rock pools at low tide. It’s been the busiest site so far, loads of kids running around but the noise levels have been quiet after 10 so that hasn’t really affected us.
I have grown to love campsites, the strange community they are and the joyous reality of everyone walking around in their pyjamas lots in the morning and evening. I am in awe of people who camp for more than two or three nights and I confess to feeling a little smug when it is lashing it down with rain and we are in the warm and dry.
We’ve seen a lot of pretty in just the last couple of weeks alone, Dovedale, Hadrian’s Wall, Keilder Water and the Northumbrian Coast have all blow my mind again in wonder at this beautiful world we live in. I am loving Northumberland for the space, the emptiness and the lack of people. I can’t really believe we are at the height of the summer holidays. And that’s a shame because there are wonderful places all around. We visited Chester’s Fort on Hadrian’s wall the other day and I was so impressed with the layout, the kids activities and the engaging people telling my awe struck boys about Roman life. Son1 took part in a pretend archeological dig and loved dressing up as a Roman solider.
I think we are all benefiting from being outdoors. The boys are increasing the time and distance they are willing to walk and we could probably compile a long list of play parks we have enjoyed in just this week alone. At Keilder Village we had to do the local Gruffalo spotting trail (despite it being a good 2 or more miles all the way round). Son2 insisted on doing it again the next day and loved finding all the creatures living in the deep dark woods. We have had to read the Gruffalo every night and I think he can recite it all in his sleep. Son1 has barely moaned at all (edit: since I wrote this I think I made him walk 6 or more miles over the last two days. There may have been some lying down in the road moments) and, as long as there are interesting things along the way is getting into his walking stride. We slightly overdid the walking thing in the last couple of days and have had to have a rest day today as we realised it was slightly unfair on the boys to expect quite so much from them. They are only small after all.
It was lovely to start at my brother and sister in law’s house to catch up with them one rainy afternoon and evening. The boys loved hanging out with their cousins, it’s great seeing their friendships develop and grow over time. We also stopped off at my friend Liz’s house near Preston on the way North which was a delight in so many ways. It was great to be out of the van for a bit after a few days travelling and was lovely to catch up. We’ve known each other since we were roommates in Durham and it was good for us all to hang out with her and appreciate her amazing hospitality and care for us. The boys declared their love for her as we drove off. High praise indeed. As we head down South tomorrow I am looking forward to catching up with several friends we haven’t seen for a long time, after a relatively solitary week it will be good to mix things up a bit.
Van life with two small people.
The boys have taken a while to adjust to van life. The first few days were spent establishing all the motorhome boundaries and impressing on them which buttons they couldn’t press and which window blinds they couldn’t play with (all of them). They seem to be settling down now. As the days have gone on and we’ve established van routines they have been only their usual level of crazy/grumpy/joyous/cute/irritating and hilarious.
We are working on quiet time in the middle of the day where they stay in their bunks and listen to a cd whilst I read and husbandface naps (son1 could do this all day long, son2 takes a bit more convincing.) We have uber amounts of sticker books and paper and more stickers (I’m such an inventive craft mum) which help fill some time in the van on rainy days. We’ve also made fridge cake a couple of times for an easy, fairly cheap, way of luring us away from coffee shops and into making our own mid morning sugar rushes in the van without the price tag.
If it’s not raining we are outside going for walks, throwing balls and frisbees around or exploring any play park we can find. We have made the decision not to switch on screens for the boys or our entertainment. We have books, drawing, story CDs and games. My phone takes our pictures and as I emerge from a few days with no social media interaction I want to try and limit it to some time in the evening and not much more. I have felt free from the constant noise my phone brings in my day and I wonder what better patterns I can adopt in the future. I am very intrigued as to what a month without TV will do for us all. (and whether or not we will crack when we hit Mum and Dad’s house and the call of their sofa…)
It’s not easy to make myself sit and be with the small ones rather than just get annoyed at them. I can feel myself pulling away from interaction with the boys, always thinking there is just one more thing to wash up before I pay them some attention. I am slowly learning to put down the washing up cloth and sit with them, to play before I sort and tidy.
The evenings are good in the van if the boys haven’t napped in the day. They go to sleep at 6.30 and we get an evening of chilled reading books, pottering about outside if the weather allows and some time to relax. If they have had sleep in the car it all goes a bit wrong and struggle to go to sleep before 8 or 9. Mornings are brilliant at the moment, they wake up an hour or so later than their normal 6am wake ups.
We are still learning how to help husbandface get the rest he needs each day. Van life is lovely but fairly full on and it’s hard to learn when he should withdraw and when he can push through. He pushes himself too hard so we are trying to slow his pace down. There is space up high away from us all in the over-cab bed which can be used but obviously he wants to hang out and have fun with us. It’s a hard balance and I hope, as the days go on, that we can get a better rhythm for him.
My mental health is feeling pretty good right now. My head feels clear and empty. I am loving the space provided from the family when I am driving the van. No-one is touching me and I can’t deal with small peoples demands because I am driving. My eyes are feasting on the beautiful world around me and my soul feels alive and well. I love being outdoors. I love rolling with imperfect days because the pressure of the ‘perfect’ holiday doesn’t really exist in my head when we are away for so long. It doesn’t matter if we have a grumpy rainy day in the van because there will be other days when we can enjoy the sunshine and each other. I am feeling free. It is amazing to just have to love the three people in this van and not worry about anything else. It feels like a luxury in our times to have such a simple slow life and I am appreciating it lots. I still think we are called into community in Brighton but it’s good to step back for a bit from our life and see what turns up in this space we have created.
Interestingly as I finished this blog post a couple of nights ago I found I had left out a whole category in my reflections. Faith is really the fundamental part of what makes me who I am and the hope was that this time away would provide space to figure out some of where my faith is right now. Life with God feels very tentative at the moment. 5 intense years of small people care and a year and a half of husbandface being ill have provided little space for my faith journey to look anything like it did in previous years. Time with God is hard to find in the ways I have been used to in the past. Consequently I’m just not sure what it means to have relationship with the Maker of the Universe in this everyday all consuming life. There are moments of connection each day but it is hard to remember the nature of reality.
Maybe coming away has cleared some space for awareness of God to creep in again. Maybe. I found myself walking to the loo block the other night gazing at the mist surrounding the pine trees and sensing the space for the presence to fill. I sat on the seashore tonight and read this from Psalm 22:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.b]”>[b]
3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.c]”>[c]
4 In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not disappointed.
I am glad this is in the Bible. I echo this prayer and I long to trust and not be disappointed in God. I don’t expect him to change our circumstances but oh I ache for my husband to be healed and for a deeper sense of the divine in all of this. It was good to paddle in the sea, be held by something bigger than me and to find a moment of peace.
This week I’ve also just finished a book of sermons written by the vicar of the church I grew up in. It reminded me of where my foundations lie, of the deep truths written into my soul, of the base reality that God is real, is here and we can expect him to be at work in this world. It’s a start on this journey anyway.
So there you have it. Life on the road. A whole mixed bag of wonder, whinning, grumps, being outdoors curing grumps, walking, sticking, reading, eating, absorbing, cuddling, weary sighing, eye rolling, bangs and scraping (son2’s face is a little red raw tonight after a tumble off a slide), joyous moments, exhausted moments, gazing in awe moments and more. I kind of like it.
Your correspondant, realising that when the choice of footwear for a month is flip flops or wellies, it must be a pretty good month.