Sunday, 30 January 2011

Piccadilly Circus

I think we've maybe got a little too used to having the campsite to ourselves.  This weekend, within the space of a few hours on Friday afternoon, we went from being an isolated little van in the middle of nowhere to being stuck in the middle of Piccadilly Circus.  Not literally of course, but the hoards of people who turned up on Friday reminded me of the chaos I thought we'd left behind in the South East.  Although it meant a temporary end to our blissfully quiet existence I'm also impressed at the number of families here with small children, all intent on enjoying the outdoor life rather than being stuck at home in front of a TV, Games Console or computer.  I'm also very impressed with the two tiny two man caravans that parked near to us, both containing two adults and three border collies - that must have been rather snug for everyone.

The weather this week has been nice and dry but has been becoming steadily colder as the week goes on.  Twice this week the water pipes on the pitch froze and we had to wait until late in the day before they thawed enough for us to fill up Delores.  Sod's law dictated that we ran out of water the moment the pipes froze and I'm waiting for the gas bottle to run out anyday now, though I suspect it's waiting until we're in the middle of a hefty downpour late one night before it gives up the ghost.  This will, of course, force us to trek outside decked in our finest, and sexiest, waterproofs, torch clenched between our teeth, as we wrestle with unfathomable straps whilst cursing loudly.  Meanwhile, snug & dry inside, Monty will be peering down through the window at us with the look of scorn on his face that only cat's can master, clearly convinced of the fact that if only the good lord had blessed him with opposable thumbs he'd have had it sorted in a jiffy. Why is it that dogs only ever seem to gaze at you with eyes full of undying admiration, whilst cat's glare at you with disdain and irritation - once they figure out how to open sachets of Whiskas their use for us will be at an end and their quest for world domination will begin in earnest.

Work continues to go well and I'm most proud of the fact that I can now navigate myself to all the training venues without the use of SatNav or maps.  It's really wierd but we're both more aware of how to get around up here after only four weeks than we ever were in Fleet after 4 years, maybe it's because there are fewer roads so our options for taking wrong turnings are greatly reduced.  We've even perfected the art of driving along single tack roads and performing the "pass me" shuffle when meeting on coming vehicles, and already we can spot the tourists who are far more cautious and somewhat less keen to hurl their car into a roadside hedge.  Mind you not that Steve's best pleased when I do that, but I figure a scratch free car in these parts is an idealistic dream.

Campsite from Arnside Knott this morning.
Yesterday my family all met up for one of our twice yearly family meals and it was wonderful to see everyone again.  Although we're busy making new friends, it's always nice to see some familiar faces.  The restaurant - The Walton Fox - had been recommended by just about everyone at work and rightly so, there was an extensive menu which catered for our very diverse tastes and dietry requirements, free refils on all the coffees and the waitess was really friendly and helpful.  Shame our next get together isn't until June - tough as it's only just down the road for us maybe we'll find a reason to pop back before then.

Today, having managed to do very little in the way of exercise all week, I decided I wanted to do some serious walking so I headed off before brekkie (9am, so not that early) and shot off up Arnside Knott.  I went on my own becuase a) Steve's not a morning person and b) he's already been up there.  (But the main reason was (a) )!  That only took an hour so after a hearty brekkie of bacon and scrambled eggs on toast we headed off for Wickbarrow Scar about 15 mins drive away.  From the top of there, on a clear day, you can see many of the fells in the Lakes to the north and away over the Dales to the south.  Sadly today wasn't all that clear but the views down over the Kent Estuary were still very impressive.  Whilst we were taking some pics on the phone at the top Steve's parents called and it seemed really wierd chatting away with them whilst we were at the top of an impressive hill in Cumbria and they were tucked up in the warm at home in Bucks.  I maybe a child of the digital age but these things still impress me - I remember when I was a kid that anyone who wanted to call us either had to ring our next door neighbours or call the phonebox down the street and get someone to come and knock on our door.  Man that makes me feel old!

And on that note I shall call it a day.  We're currently warm and toasty in the campsite bar nursing a find bottle of Shiraz and catching up with our friends around the world via email and Facebook.  And to think it was me who thought the youth of today were wasting their time on computers and social networking sites instead of enjoying the great outdoors.  The words 'pot' and 'kettle' suddenly spring to mind...

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

You had me at "Free WiFi"

Well, back again, and still somewhat giddy from the free WiFi thing.  When I discovered that we could log on and cruise the internet for free I sent Steve a text that read "Free Wifi, bottle of red and BBQ Pringles in the bar."  Of course, being the old romantic that he is his reply was "You had me at Free WiFi".  Bless.  Who says the way to a man's heart is through his stomach - I firmly believe it's through his liver and his laptop.

Monty looking typically stressed out...
The one 'person' I've not metioned through this is the eponymous 'Monty'(Note: This blog has been migrated from our original site where it was called "Monty's Blog").  Well he's just fine and is settling into life in the wilds.  Our pitch is the last one on the site, right at the very end, miles from anyone and right on the edge of the woods.  Last week we started letting him out and at first he wasn't too sure, there's many things here he's never encountered before, not least of all screeching pheasants.  But gradually he's found his feet and these days he's out and about for an hour or so in the mornings and dissapears off again for a few hours in the evenings.  It means he's getting some decent exercise and we're getting some decent sleep.  Nothing like being cooped up with a sitr crazy cat to ruin a good night's sleep.  On a brighter, if rather more lavatorial, note he's now taken to performing 'number twos' outside, which we're both very pleased about.  You have no idea how much sharing a van with the digested remains of Whiskas can ruin a romantic mood.  Lord knows it smells bad enough on its way in...

Gorgeous but cold!
So what's life really like living on a small motorhome full time?  Well it definitely has it's ups - it's cheap to heat, is *very* cosy and warm, neither of us mind being that close to each other and it only takes 15 mins for a full spring clean.  On the down side it's a 100 yard trek to the loo block, we have to top  up with water regularly and you can't just collapse into bed - you need 15 mins notice to dismantle the living arrangements, stow the TV/ laptops etc. and make up the bed.  Would I rather be living in a house right now?  You betcha!  Would I rather be living in the South East in my house or up here in Delores?  No contest - up here wins everytime.  This is a fantastic adventure and we always knew it would take time.  Of course there are moments when we could cheerfully pack it in and head for bricks and mortar, but one day we'll look back on this with a wry smile, lots of fun tales to tell and a laugh.  Granted it might be a rather nervous laugh accompanied by a nervous twitch and a mild look of hysteria, but it *will* be a laugh.

Today we took a peek at the outside of another house, we're still looking for that perfect combination of head and heart.  This one has plenty of parking *and* amazing views so we've decided to take a look around the inside next week.  We don't want to put anyone to any trouble for a viewing unless we've checked out the outside first, we know how excited we get at the prospect of a viewing and we don't want to raise anyone's  hopes unnecessarily.  We have noticed that there are a lot of new places coming on to the market just now though, so maybe that perfect palace is just around the corner.  Well actually it might be - I've spotted the perfect place just yards from the campsite and with the most incredible views, but it has two minor drawbacks.  One, it's not on the market and two, even if it were we couldn't afford it.  Having never been one to be put off by mere practicalities I shall hang on to my dreams to the bitter end.

The rest of this week sees me working back down in Alston and Steve negotiating delivery of a posh new lens for his camera.  On Saturday we're meeting up with my family for a meal near Preston.  We try to get together a couple of times a year at the mid point between where we all live and, as luck would have it, thanks to my big bruv living near Newcastle and my big sis living near Kidderminster, half way is just down the road for us.  It will be wonderful to see some familiar faces and enjoy a loud and lively lunch.  Bet they don't have free wifi there though.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Head or Heart

My commute to the station
OK , I know it's been a while, but things should pick up now as I've just discovered that the site has free WiFi in the cafe/ bar.  Well, I say cafe/ bar, clearly I'm in the bar.  Whilst I'm on the subject of the site I have to tell you that it's a truly excellent site.  There are only 2 things I can possibly think of that make it less than 100%, firstly the only showers are push button ones with no temperature control so you get timed bursts of scalding hot water and secondly the entry and exit system is done via a number plate recognition system which doesn't always work.  The friendly and helpful reception staff (and I'm not being sarcastic here, everyone we've met is a delight!) will tell you to clean your number plate, well mine has never been so clean yet still it won't let me in.  Now, when I approach the gates the camera checks the number plate, raises itself to take in the panorama of my fuming face and lets me it.  I think it recognises that it's days are numbered if it doesn't!

So what have we been up to?  Well after the biblical downpour last weekend the weather during the week has been very kind.  Workwise things continue to go well and I flit between the various sites and courses.  I haven't seen or spoken to my boss in over a week and, seeing as it's only my 3rd week, I'm taking that as a goood sign! Steve continues to take amazing pics which I promise I'll start to upload now I know I've got free wifi - but I only found that out tonight and I'm just not prepared.

Kent Estuary
Our estate agents down south have perked up a little and now we have two people very keen to buy our house but sadly neither of them have yet sold, still there have been a lot more viewings and as the house is a good 'un I'm sure it will sort soon.  We've been busy house hunting and this week have seen two houses that have got us thinking.  The first one is the 'heart' house in Arnside and is a very pretty semi.  On the plus side it has utterly stunning views from the upstairs bedroom windows of the estuary and the mountains of the Lake District behind, it's in a very quiet cul-de-sac and is in Arnside, an absolutely gorgeous little estaury village.  On the downside it's a semi, has no existing parking but does have a front garden we could reluctantly butcher.  The second place we saw is the 'head' house and is in Allithwaite, another very lovely little Lake Disctrict village (and the very same village where Steve went to school when he was little.  Well, littler than he is now anyway...).  The house is on a small but very modern estate and has all the inside space we could ask for and then some.  It also has a garge and plenty of off road parking BUT it doesn't really have any nice views and it is very modern and thus, in my personal opinion, lacks soul.  We're looking for a house that we can live in for the next 40 years or so, so this is a big decision for us.  I think we're leaning towards the heart decision, or at least I am, and isn't that all that matters when house hunting..?

"Heart" house had pretty much this view.
Today we were absolved of all househunting duties by virtue of the fact that there were no more to see, so we decided it was time to truly start to get to grips with the Lake District.  I can't quite believe we live here yet, despite the fact I've been working for the past three weeks, so we headed off towards Coniston for the day.  It's only 32 miles away.  32 miles!!  That means we can be there in a shade over half an hour, go for a mega walk (which we did) have lunch on the top of a gorgeous fell with amazing views down over the lake (which we also did) and be home in time for dinner (which we did, apart from the fact we discovered free wifi in the bar and are now being horribly side tracked!).  There are hundreds of peaks around here all asking to be climbed and, once we're done with the Lakes, we can head to the Dales, or the Peak Disctrict, or Dumfries and Galloway - OK, I need another drink now!

Life may still be incredibly chaotic but we both know we're in absolutely the right place.  Life on Delores isn't too bad, it's cosy, but as the site is so wonderful we can escape whenever it gets too much, and it's never cold - despite what everyone seems to think!  It sounds incredibly cheesey, but we're both spectacularly happy and these inconveniences really are minor.  Of course we'll be better off in many ways when we finally find a home, but for now our hearts are happy and, at the end of the day, isn't that all that really matters - even if everyone else's heads are telling us otherwise?

Sunday, 16 January 2011

And isn't it ironic, don't you think?

Well this week bought with it another string of setbacks & challenges, but it also bought some good stuff too.  It didn't bring good weather though but luckily we're finding the gentle rocking of Delores in the wind soothingly soporific.

Large pond at Alston Hall
On Thursday I was working at Alston Hall, another gorgeous old stone manor house in the middle of breathtaking countryside.  I needed the car so rather than leave Steve stranded he drove me down there, with the intention of taking off into the hills for the day and picking me up at home time.  The first part of the plan went well but at lunchtime I got a text saying "car packed up".  A quick call to Steve reassured me that he wasn't, as I first thought, stranded on a remote moor but was in fact somewhere near sunny Preston.  Luckily we're covered by Green Flag and a very nice man towed him to another very nice man in a dark & oily garage.  After much sucking of air over teeth a part was bought, replaced & Steve was on his way.  Unfortunately it wasn't the right part and the car drove as if it had four square wheels and refused to go much over 40mph.  It took us over 2 hours in thick freezing fog to nurse it back to the campsite where it collapsed into a crunchy pile of expensive looking smoke.  Exhausted by the events we collapsed into the site bar and got stuck into two excellent home made pizzas.

On Friday Steve became acquainted with the village garage who promised to mend our little car and have us back on the road in no time, but that was all we heard on Friday.  We were worried as we rather needed it for the viewings we had lined up on Saturday, plus we had hot tickets for the Village Hall cinema on Saturday night and didn't fancy the 40 min walk each way in a the howling tempest that arrived during Friday night.

Over breakfast we got the call and legged it over to the garage to collect the car.  £76 to change something important and reboot the on-board computer.  It's a 9 year old Ford Focus, I'm impressed it had something more sophisticated than "Speak & Spell" on-board.  With minutes to spare we raced north to Kendal in time for our viewings.

We're definitely becoming disenchanted with Kendal, parts of it are lovely but it has some enormous sprawling housing estates and most of what we can afford is in the middle of them.  Definitely not what I envisaged for our 'forever home' in Cumbria.  But on a brighter note there's a few places come on the market in Arnside so we went to see one of those in the afternoon.  The house was smaller but with bags of potential, which is the polite way of saying it's shabby and needs a serious lick of paint, but the most encouraging thing was that the guy showing us around is a self employed IT consultant who may well have potential work for Steve - you just never know what's around the corner.

And so we made it, with fully functioning car, to the big cinema night out in Silverdale.  So, what's so ironic about this whole tale?  At the end of a week overshadowed by expensive car repairs the movie for the evening was "Made in Dagenham".

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

When life gives you lemons, make lemon drizzle cake!

Well after my last post on Sunday we got up, had a looooong lazy breakfast and then went for a good long hike all around the Arnside headland.  The village sits on the south side of a beautiful big estuary with the mountains of the Lake district rising up in the distance to the north.  From the promenade you get glorious views over to Grange-over-Sands and can watch the trains as they make their way around the coastline and across the viaduct.  It's a shame that they're only diesel trains these days, I'm sure the viaduct would look much better dressed with a fine old steam engine hauling across.  We got home in time to watch a stunning sunset over the bay which we toasted with a nice cup of tea and a nice relaxing evening readying ourselves for our first full week at work.

Fighting to stay here will be worth it.
It's amazing how quickly you settle into a new routine.  I've got the buses and trains sorted now - though still have no real idea which route the bus takes as it twists and turns through the village.  There are only three roads in the village but it seems to drive all of them at least twice.

Monday meant a trip to a team meeting in Chorley and a return to the site of my interview, at least this time there was no sleepless night beforehand.  In fact this time I not only slept well the night before, I also snoozed through most of the meeting.  Not that the meeting was that bad, it's just that I have a very low boredom threshold and the attention span of a gnat. Still at least by the end of it we'd got a fair amount sorted and my diary is now starting to look pleasingly full for the rest of the year.  So workwise things are still going fabulously, which just leaves us with the house...

Following another minor setback I decided to take the bull by the horns and have negotiated a joint agency contract with no increase in rate between two agents that hate each other, so hopefully that will liven things up a little!  We've also decided we rather like the area around here and have started house hunting locally, though obviously we're not the only people to fall for the charms of Silverdale and Arnside so you don't get so much for your money.  Despite what everyone seems to think house prices in this neck of the woods aren't that much different to where we've comd from - but the views are an awful lot nicer!

Today we discovered Borwick Hall, the nearest place I can work and plug into the LCC network.  Mind you it did mean tackling the rush hour traffic for the first time - if you can call half a dozen cars and a small bus 'rush hour'. Borwick Hall is a huge old stone built manor house with heaps of history and bags of character, a stunning place to work though best make sure you've got a big woolly pully on.  These old places look amazing but they're always a little draughty.

So life is still treating us well. Yes, life has dealt us the odd lemon this week but, as I suggested in the title, why only use them to make lemonade when, with just a little more effort, you can have a full blown Lemon Drizzle cake.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Highs and Lows

Well it's no good pretending that it's all plain sailing, we knew there'd be times when we wondered what on earth we'd gotten ourselves into as well as times when we're really excited about the future.  Luckily, when we wobble, at least we have each other to hang on to.

Yesterday was a bit of a downer.  We went back to see 'bonkers house' and realised that it's not for us.  We hadn't previously spotted that there's almost zero privacy in the lounge - it has lovely big windows but they're all completely overlooked by the neighbours.  Plus there were several other compromises which needed to be made and in the end they all outweighed the good points.  On top of that our estate agent down south was mysteriously quiet about the viewing on our place, never a good sign.  So all in all we're feeling pretty frustrated at our inability to move forward right now.  Oh and on top of that we had howling gales & torrential rain all night rocking the van - mother nature certainly chooses her moments!

Still, on the plus side, everytime I set foot outside Delores I'm confronted with glorious views across Morecombe Bay and whenever we drive anywhere the views are spectacular.  Take yesterday for instance, after we were done in Kendal we drove over to Ambleside to buy some Cumbria-proof clothing.  Our route took us all the way along Windemere with the snow topped peaks of the mountains all around us.

Today we're going to be trawling the Internet for houses, chasing our estate agent and taking a nice long walk around Arnside - oh and maybe trying to track down another possible route to the station I've spotted on the map - now I've got my fabulous new waterproofs I'm feeling adventurous again!

Friday, 7 January 2011

Friendly faces and cosy places.

It's tough starting a whole new life - leaving friends, family and familiar lanscapes behind and leaping into the great unknown - but the whole process has been made so much easier by the warm welcome we've had from everyone we've met.  At work, around the campsite and even on the train everyone has been friendly, chatty and keen to help.  The only challenge still facing me on my train journey is remembering which side of the carriage I need to sit on to get the best view of the sea! My commute takes just under an hour but is absolutely delightful, the train's busy but I always get a seat, no one shoves me or tramples me and the scenery is fantastic.

Sunset from the campsite.
This morning we had a little snow which, when added to the rain, wind, hail, frost, solar eclipse & earthquake means we've probably experienced most of what the winter has to throw at us up here and we've only been here 5 days! We're still struggling a little with the geography though and each time someone tells me where they're from I need a grid reference - or at the very least some indication of whether it's up, down, left or right from where I'm standing.  That said we've found our way to the main shops & discovered that the nearest Waitrose is in Liverpool! Someone down south is going to need to start sending me Strawberry Licquorice!

Steve is taking masses of amazing photos and I'll try and upload some as soon as I can.  We've had some really clear skies and the number of stars is mind boggling.  He even spotted the International Space Station as it zipped across the sky last night. He's also getting plenty of yomping in so will be fitter than me in no time.  Despite all the challenges we're both utterly convinced it was the right thing to do.  Monty's not so sure mind, despite being cosy & warm in his mobile cat palace I think he'd rather like to run around outside a little.  If the campsite stays as quiet as it is we may try letting him out over the weekend.

Tomorrow we're off to take a second look at a house we rather liked back in November and we have a viewing on our place in Fleet, so fingers crossed all round. After that we're going to nip over to Ambleside to pick up some proper northern winter coats as our southern Jessie waterproofs feel somewhat inadequate!

Right, I've just changed trains now so time to see if I'm sitting on the sea side!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

God -v- Slartibartfast

The scenery up here is amazing.  Yesterday we walked all around Silverdale discovering the shops, golf course and train station.  It's a very pretty place though sadly out of our price bracket when it comes to finding somewhere to live.  All stone cottages and pretty gardens and the most stunning views out over Morecombe Bay. It got me wondering why the south wasn't so pretty.  Maybe God got bored as he worked his way south or maybe he just ran out of "Earth putty" having blown it all on the mountains in the north.  Or maybe Slartibartfast used Morecombe bay as a practice run for all those award winning fjords. Whatever the reason it is truly stunning up here.  Of course all that beauty comes with a price, every journey inevitably involves hiking up or down something, but it's a small price to pay.
Think I'm going to like it here.

We rounded our day off with a very pleasant dip in the pool.  All this luxury on our doorstep!  I may find it hard to leave it all behind when the time comes.  Mind you we did see the details for a house near Ulverston with it's own outdoor pool - can't imagine that get's a lot of use.  Or perhaps it was just a large hole in the garden which had gradually filled with rainwater..?

Today was my first day in the office and it started with a VERY soggy 40 min treck over a hill in the pitch dark and pouring rain.  When I got to the station I discovered there's a reliable bus service from the site to the station so think I'll try that in future, at least when there are apocalyptic rain storms in progress.  As with all first days everyone was terribly friendly & pleasant and the building seems vast and unfathomable - but it's amazing how quickly you settle in once you've finished being inducted (or is it induced?) so I'm sure everything will be fine.

I'm currently on the train 'home' and once I've got changed we plan to nip out for a drink to celebrate my first day.  In a week or so's time I may need the drink for entirely different reasons, but for now everything is looking rosy, though still a little damp around the edges.

Monday, 3 January 2011

It's not a leap of faith if you know where you're going to land.

Well we did it - yesterday we left our perfectly lovely house in Hampshire, drove 262 miles north and will now be living in a Motorhome for a month or two. Or maybe even three.  The journey itself was uneventful with just one stop for coffee and bacon rolls.  I drove Delores and Steve followed in the car, which gave me the opportunity to play my own 'classic' tunes and sing along very loudly.  We arrived on site around 3:45pm with me hoarse from singing and Monty sulking from having to listen to my caterwauling.  The singing had been getting louder & more enthusiastic since we'd passed Lancaster services and spied the mountains of the Lakes rising up in the distance - I guess that's another thing about leaps of faith, it helps if the view's nice too!

The site is fantastic - Holgates Silverdale Caravan Site - all the pitches are fully serviced (for non campers this means they have electric, tv point & water) plus they're all pretty level & hardstanding.  Loo blocks are warm & pristine but the best part is the main communal block.  We have a lovely pool, sauna, steam room & jaccuzzi, bar, restaurant - with take-away facilities, shop, games room and laundrette. Oh, and an on-site gym for an extra £25 per week, but who wants to walk and cycle in a gym with all the gorgeous countryside out there?

In answer to the question just about everyone has asked, yes we are warm enough.  Last night we were all cosied up watching Iron Man and Enchanted on TV.  Lazy I know but after a long drive some serious vegging out was called for.  We celebrated our arrival with quiche, oven chips and prossecco and a nice early night. Today we need to check my route to the station ready for tomorrow and then explore Silverdale and it's beaches.  This morning I've noticed that from our pitch we can see over the northern part of Morecombe bay across to Grange-over-Sands and the mountains behind.  As commutes go I'd say this will be a pretty good one!

Anyway, no time to hang around, need to get breakfast brewing so we can start exploring!