Thursday, 29 December 2011

Still in the commercial break

The silence here is very indicative of how we're feeling. We've been mostly staying with my parents, punctuated with shorter stays with various other family and friends. It's lovely to catch up with people, to sit on sofas, have baths, cook in kitchens, sleep in beds, have access to all our belongings (although remember we did declutter to a fairly extreme degree this time last year so 'all our belongings' is still a fairly small heap!), plug things in whenever we feel like it, be able to 'pop' to the supermarket open all hours across the road.

But it's also fairly stifling. There I said it!

We find the constant hum of traffic noisy, smelly, distracting and disturbing. The constant drone of the television with it's endless rounds of repeats and rubbish and adverts bleak and depressing. The waste of time and money and food caused by that very supermarket punting out cheap food at all hours which is supposed to free people of time and money.

I am not sitting in judgement of the way our family and friends live their lives. For the first 30 odd years (for me, 40 odd for Ady) we lived ours just the same and we felt fulfilled and happy almost all of the time. But now the four of us are hankering after those days we spent this year engaged in collecting and chopping firewood, sowing, harvesting or preserving foods, baking bread, fishing for our tea, looking out of our window and seeing the sun rise and set, or the rain tip from the sky and our beautiful world going by.

In lots of ways although we are finding elements of this period a challenge that reassures us that our future plans are right. That we won't be missing these aspects of our old life once we don't have access to them any more. That the simpler lifestyle we spent so much of this year living and enjoying is indeed the right one for us. Hand on heart we can all say that we didn't hanker after Sussex or central heating, or 24 hour Tescos or pre-packaged pasta sauce or indeed any of the things we are kissing goodbye to when we embark on the next step of our journey. It's been a good test to have access to all these things again just to see how we felt about them.

We visited Willow on Christmas Eve, just a fleeting pop in to collect something we'd left in one of the cupboards. It felt like a real wrench to lock the door and drive away from her again though. As lovely as spending time with family is I think all four of us would have been very happy to wake up in Willow on Christmas morning and have a go at cooking a turkey in our little oven.

So as 2011 draws to a close we are able to know for sure that we have had an amazing adventure this year and are more than ready to set off on the next one, knowing for certain that we simply don't belong here any more.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Part Two

Sorry for the silence. It's been a constant round of catching up with family and friends, doing festive stuff and also putting the first touches to our What Happens Next plans.

I'll talk about that a bit more once we actually know whether our hopes are to be realised as for now that is out of our hands with other people making the next decision. I'll update as soon as we know what our next move is to be but for now I'd like to share a newspaper story that appeared about us in the Scotsman, which will also spill the beans about what we'd really love to be our next move.

‘Woof’ family hope to head for Rum

The Goddard family who want to live on Rum The family who want to live on Rum
THEY went in search of the Good Life and believe they have found it on a remote Scottish island.
After nine months of travelling the country in a 30-year-old campervan, working on farms and crofts, the  family from Sussex are ready to put down roots and have set their hearts on becoming nearly a tenth of the population of Rum.
Ady, 47, his wife Nic, 38, and children Dragon, 11 and Star, nine, have applied for one of the first crofts created on the island after living an “off grid” lifestyle, travelling across the UK in an activity known as WWOOFing (Willing Workers On Organic Farms), using a network of hosts to facilitate placements on organic farms.
The family recently visited Skye and the community-owned island of Eigg where they learned islanders on Rum were offering new croftland to help increase the population and stimulate the economy.
The Goddards are now among those whose applications will be considered by tomorrow’s closing date with potential crofters due to be interviewed in January or February.
The crofts have also attracted inquiries from Edinburgh and even the Czech Republic, as well as existing islanders, despite being little more than rough ground at present.
Nic, who previously worked in retail management and marketing, said: “I believe everything we have been doing over the last year has been leading up to this.
“It’s down to the people of Rum whether we are successful with our application, but we feel we are right for the island.”
“Over the last ten years we have been moving away from conventional life towards self sufficiency. We had ideas of an idyllic life but we wanted to see for ourselves what it would be like so we could go into it with our eyes open.
“Undoubtedly there is a lot of work to be done building the croft, but there is a certain attraction starting something from scratch.”
She said the family also like the idea of being part of a population that makes its own decisions. While most of Rum is owned by Scottish Natural Heritage, the village of Kinloch is run by the Isle of Rum Community Trust on behalf of the 38-strong population.
She added: “We have learnt so much this year about living off the land. We know what the important things are to consider when looking at land, what crops are worth growing, which animals are worth keeping. We have practical skills such as fencing, building, growing. We have vastly extended our knowledge base on animal keeping, harvesting, tending to livestock and crops.
“We have learnt so much about alternative building methods, green energy, off grid living, low impact lifestyles.”
The two crofts on offer are located to the west of Kinloch and the trust admits they will both require a “significant amount of work” to improve he area beyond rough grazing.
Vikki Trelfer, Rum’s development officer, said the trust has a vision for the island as a vibrant and viable community for people of all ages and a sustainable and diverse economy.
She said new residents with children would help to keep the school open. At present there is only one P7 pupil in the school, one three-year-old in the nursery, and two children under three, while three teenagers go to secondary school in Mallaig.
“New residents will bring different skills and expertise to assist development of the community on Rum. Also, there are a number of opportunities for providing visitor services on the island in the private sector,” she said.
“Rum needs people with skills and drive to take advantage of its huge potential as a major visitor destination.”
The only other croft has already been let to Rum residents.

Saturday, 3 December 2011


Feel free to play your own hold music!

We're currently staying mostly at my parents house back in Sussex. I say mostly because although we've been back in Sussex for a couple of weeks we have had various overnight stays with other family and friends scattered around and this coming week we're off again for 10 days.

It's lovely to catch up with family and friends properly, to take some time to look back at photos of our adventure and start to turn some of the stories of our adventures into memories and anecdotes, looking back fondly on even the challenging bits. It's nice to have electricity at the flick of a switch, hot water whenever we want it, access to a washing machine, a bath, our own bed and most of our possessions which have been stored here for us.

It's also incredibly stifling and in many ways far more challenging than WWOOFing, staying with hosts or living in a campervan. Which is no reflection on my parents or indeed where they live, but a very telling indicator of how much we have changed. It was a concern of ours that once we returned to a 'normal' setting we would not want to leave it again, that the things we were so adamant we had not missed would infact remind us of how wonderful they were and make us feel we'd never want to leave again.

Instead we are reminded daily of how much freer and happier we felt during this year. How much we loved the lack of traffic and people and bustle. How the convenience of a supermarket does not make up for the fact trees were chopped down to build the carpark. That the downside of a sofa and a TV is feeling unfit and unhealthy slumped on one infront of the other. All four of us are missing the lifestyle we led this year and are enjoying this period as a brief reminder of what we left behind and why it's just not right for us any more.

It feels rather strange not to be working in some capacity - either as paid employees or as WWOOFers but we have certainly been busy. We had so many things to catch up on: Doctors, dentists, opticians, blood donor appointments all round for routine medical maintenance. We had to empty out Willow, give her a really good clean, declare her SORN and leave her put to bed for now, resting on a friend's land until such time as she is called back into service again. We bought my car back out of retirement and had to do the reverse exercise with that; Tax, insurance, MOT, bit of mechanical attention from the time off road and get used to driving something smaller and with gears again. We had various financial things to put in order and paperwork to file. Finally we have given our tenants their two month notice and had an estate agent visit the house to value it and begin the proceedings for putting it on the market.

It's a strange sort of limbo period, not helped by it being so close to Christmas which is always chaotic and frantic for everyone anyway. For us, it is a time of biding our time, finalising our plans for what happens next and working on a new set of dreams and hopes and ideas. All very exciting and hopefully soon to be shared on here but for now, maybe listen to a bit of festive music while we're on hold.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

End of Part One

A phrase which for some reason always makes me think of Coronation Street even though I've not watched it for years and years.

We have finished our planned nine months of WWOOFing. We have seen Spring, Summer, Autumn and the beginning of winter since we set off from home, travelled over 5000 miles, visited England, Wales and Scotland, on motorways, single track lanes, busses, recovery trucks, tractors, canoes, speedboats, ferries. We've been through almost every county and slept in campervans, caravans, tents, strawbale houses, yurts, regular houses, holiday cottages, friends houses, beds, sofas, camping mats, futons, bunk beds, floors. We've had mains electric, no electric, solar, wind and water power. We've pooed in compost toilets, flushing toilets, buried it in the ground. We've bathed in showers, baths, public toilets, lochs, swimming pools, campsites, springs and holy water, using boiled rainwater. We have cooked over open fires, on camping gas, woodburners. We've watched births and deaths, been to slaughterhouses and caught and killed, we've gutted, butchered, packed and processed. We have sown, weeded, picked, dug and harvested. We've pickled, bottled, peeled and preserved. We've been covered in sheeps milk, cows milk, pig poo, chicken blood, mud, mud and more mud. We have mowed and strimmed and chopped and dug, driven tractors and vans and pickups and cars, sold at markets, bought at auctions, bartered and swapped. We have seen sunsets and sunrise, moonlit nights and star spangled skies. We have seen sun and rain, wind and snow, fog and ice and many, many rainbows. We've had suntans and freckles and freezing cold toes. We have seen mountains and seas, gorges and valleys, lochs and rivers and caves. We have seen deer, otters, eagles, dolphins, kingfishers, sloworms, birds, beetles and butterflies, handled pigs, cows, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, dogs, cats. We have met so, so many people. People who inspired us, amazed us, taught us, made us laugh, made us cry, annoyed us, enchanted us, were just like us, were nothing like us, people who challenged us, people who delighted us.

It has truly been the most amazing, fantastic, fulfilling, challenging, inspiring, exciting, educational journey and adventure. It has been everything we dreamed it might be and so, so much more. We left with dreams and hopes and wishes and they have all come true and pushed us to reach even further to grab even more. We left everything behind to look for something more, something different and oh how we have found it. We have spent time together this year, real quality time. Hours and hours of sitting, talking, walking, playing games together, reading stories, listening to music, learning together, sharing new experiences together and learning so much about each other. You simply can't live in such a small space together for such a long time without getting to know each other inside out, understanding what makes each other tick, where our strengths lie and what are our failings.

We have learnt so much this year about living off the land. We now know the answers as to whether it is possible to be self sufficient and if so, how? We know what the important things are to consider when looking at land, what crops are worth growing, which animals are worth keeping. We have practical skills such as fencing, building, growing. We have vastly extended our knowledge base on animal keeping, harvesting, tending to livestock and crops. We have learnt about preserving and processing, selling and storing. We know about good ideas for revenue streams and things not to bother trying. We have learnt so much about alternative building methods, green energy, off grid living, low impact lifestyles. We know where we stand on ethical and moral dilemmas, what our take is on what is important and what doesn't actually matter. We have a line in the sand, a starting point, a place to stand at and shout 'Go!'

We know the sort of people we do and don't want in our lives, we know where we want to settle and what we are looking for from a home. We know our goals, our ideals and our limits. We have our wish list, our priorities and our planned next moves. The questions we started this adventure with are now answered.

But that's all for part two. For now, let's enjoy the break at the end of part one.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Crofting on the Isle of Eigg

Our final WWOOF hosts (for now - never say never!) were Neil, Sue and Struan on their croft on the Scottish Isle of Eigg (I really recommend clicking the link and reading all about it).

Eigg is one of the Small Isles of the Inner Hebrides with regular ferry crossings from both the mainland at Mallaig and the isle of Skye. During the summer it is a very popular tourist destination, in the winter months although people still visit there is more of an intimate feeling of seeing the island 'off duty'.

Our trip to Eigg was initially thrilling as the usual ferry was not running and a replacement much smaller boat service whisked us across the water in a very speedy fashion. This was fantastic for the first half of the journey as Dragon, Star and I sat outside and got soaked with sea spray and buffeted about by the wind. Eventually though the cold and wet soaked through and we all started to turn blue and shivery so moved back inside, where the choppiness started to get to us (along with pretty much everyone else - the whole boat went deathly silent and people started to look quite green). I think another ten minutes would have resulted in sickness all round but just at that point where lying flat on the floor was starting to look like an attractive idea we arrived.

Our first impressions of the island were helped by the friendly woman chatting to us on the boat and the people milling around the tea room / shop at the pier all of whom smiled or said hello. The smaller boat had been quicker so we were in much earlier than expected and Neil didn't arrive for about ten minutes, which was good as it meant we'd all regained our normal colour and taken lots of deep breaths before we had to get into the car. We got a very brief introduction to the island as Neil drove us across it to the far side where their croft is and showed us into our WWOOFing accommodation - a cosy byre complete with wood burner, bunk beds and a futon, table and chairs, sink, cooker and supply of books and magazines. It was lovely :)

Our work included all manner of things giving us a real taste of life as crofters - we did animal feeding and mucking out, pruning, harvesting and weeding of fruit and vegetables, breadmaking, fencing, wood processing. hole digging and loads more. We worked in all areas of the croft and with the various livestock they have there; chickens, ducks, pigs, cattle, cat and dog.

In our downtime we spent hours walking the beaches, including the famous Singing Sands, watching amazing sunsets and stunning scenery. We did lots of walking and visited the museum and the island swap shop (a sort of freecycle arrangement where islanders leave unwanted stuff for other islanders to take). We had a fabulous evening at the Bonfire and fireworks on Guy Fawkes night which was just magical with the whole community out together watching the fireworks and the kids playing with sparklers before retiring to the tea room for a jamming session on spoons and bagpipes with plenty of drinking, chatting and laughing. We also visited the Neighbourhood Pub - a little converted byre complete with circular pool table, darts board and juke box in the shape of a big screen TV with internet access.

Dragon and Star loved meeting all the island kids and fell in with the pack learning all about island life from a childs' point of view. They particularly loved spending time with Struan and are hoping to stay in touch having enjoyed many happy hours getting to know him and playing games together.

Neil, Sue and Struan were excellent WWOOF hosts, sharing their lives with us literally - meals, evenings and social occassions during our stay aswell as in conversation in telling us all about crofting, island life and the inevitable swapping of life stories that happens when you meet new hosts. They were the perfect end to a fantastic run of people we have met this year and their croft and Eigg was the perfect location to close this chapter of the adventure too.

We left early (we went to visit nearby Isle of Rum, more on that later, and the only way of visiting was to return to the mainland and go back across to Rum as ferries were on winter timetables) and missed a birthday party we'd been invited to and were looking forward to attending.
Good: The accommodation, the people (our hosts and the other islanders).
Learnt: About crofting and life on a small island.

: That Struan had to go to school! We really enjoyed playing with him and it would have been great if he'd been around all the time.
Good: I loved the beaches, especially the Singing Sands, Bonfire Night and the socialising with the other islanders.
Learnt: Lots about whales.

Due to the time of year we didn't have enough daylight hours to explore the island as fully as I'd have liked. Had we been there during summer we would have had several hours each evening to go off walking and see more of Eigg.
Good: Living on the island in a community,  Bonfire night was really enjoyable.
Learnt: About crofting.

Bad: I spent a lot of time pacing the beaches trying to get straight in my head what our next move should be. The trouble with constantly travelling to beautiful places meeting interesting people with desireable lives is we keep on finding something even more attractive to us for a next move than the lifestyle before!
Good:A fitting end to what has been an amazing year so far. This host experience had everything - livestock and crops, beautiful location, green, self sufficient way of life, spirit of community, learning opportunities, interesting work, lovely accommodation.
Learnt: That there remains still so much more to learn! About crofting and island life.

off to Eigg we go

on the boat, it had a lot in common with a theme park ride!

tending to the pigs

on the croft - Rum in the background

Cleadale, Laig beach in background, Rum in the distance

beautiful sunsets

the whole community out for Bonfire night


Rum and the singing sands

the singing sands

Thursday, 3 November 2011


A very brief picture post to say we arrived safe on Eigg (although at various points on the rough boat trip it felt like we might not!) and are having a fab time.

Hosts are lovely, Eigg is lovelier and time is rushing past.

Saturday, 29 October 2011


So many feelings as we leave the holiday cottage in the morning ready to travel across to catch the ferry on Monday that will take us to our last WWOOF host. Before every host we have had feelings of trepidation. Will they be nice? What will be expected of us? Where will we sleep? What sort of food will they feed us? Will we like them, will they like us? Will we have to run off in the dead of night to escape?

This is our biggest gap by far between hosts as is also tinged with that end of term is approaching type feeling. In many ways this feels the same as just before we were leaving our house to start this adventure - lots of uncertainty about what happens next, lots of excitement about the next phase being imminent, lots of looking ahead and wondering what will happen next, lots of looking back and thinking about what we are leaving behind us.

We have toyed with the idea of not doing this last host. It will be our first host where we have to leave Willow far behind - the island does not allow vehicles so we'll be boarding the ferry on foot with an even smaller percentage of our belongings than we are currently used to - and we thought we were already being pretty darn minimalistic! The weather is changing and is wilder, windier, wetter - not quite so inviting to be living the outdoorsy lifestyle in November as it was back in May. We've had a taste of the comfortable lifestyle back in a cottage for a week. Also the call of friends and family back south is getting louder - we'll be heading back to Sussex to catch up with people and put our affairs in order in just a couple of weeks and there is a temptation to just do that now.

But this host is on an island, something we have not done yet and we are excited about the idea of that. They sound nice and interesting and able to teach us new stuff which is of course the whole point of this exercise. Plus there is certainly a part of me at least that wants to actually know it's our last host while we're there, not looking back retrospectively thinking 'oh, that host five weeks ago was our last one after all'. I want to do my saying goodbye to this section of the adventure while we're still actually there to do it properly.

So, no idea what we'll have in the way of phone signal, internet connection, electricity to power things up. Don't know if toilets will flush, showers will be hot (or indeed there at all). No idea if we'll be working inside or outside, eating dinner at 5pm, 7pm or 10pm. But at some point in the next few weeks I'll be back to tell you all about it. Until then, we'll be off WWOOFing again.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Hosts Jim, but not as we know them

We've met some amazing people this year. As we move rapidly towards our last WWOOF host (Monday! Eek!) I've been reflecting on some of the interesting, inspiring and incredibly hospitable hosts we've stayed with.

We have also stayed with various friends and family over the course of this year, often at times when we really needed friendly faces and welcomming arms and we are so very grateful for the times friends have come through for us. There are various people who deserve special mentions - and believe me I have a whole Wondering Wanderers awards ceremony type blogpost waiting in reserve for just such a time, with theme music, tearful acceptance speeches and some sort of gong based loosely on Willow, oh and spangly dresses and guest presenters and.... oops sorry, drifted off a little there!

Anyway, where I am going with this is a rather long winded but heartfelt and slightly tearful THANK YOU to Lynda and Stuart. Friends who have become family and who have been supportive, kind and very hospitable to us this year. We have stayed with them several times on our way past their home and had hoped they would be able to visit us on our Scottish leg of the adventure. Sure enough they came up to Scotland AND we got to share the holiday cottage they booked.

Luxury. A bed, a bath, flushing toilets, sofas, TV, plug sockets and a kitchen! In exchange for welcomming us into their cottage and giving us lifts and supplying lots of ingredients we did the catering for the week and got to bake bread, cook roast dinners, boil broth, make crumbles and pies and generally remember what life is like with more space and more facilities.

Willow was fixed and is now up and running again - thanks to our breakdown cover and fab service by a local recovery service we are able to complete this last bit of the journey.

So we've had a lovely week exploring Fort William. We climbed the very first little bit of Ben Nevis which we could see out of the windows of the cottage (we'll be back one day with proper footwear to climb the whole thing), we did loads of walking, we watched the steam trains each day running close to the cottage, visited Inverlochy Castle and enjoyed full days activity knowing we had a warm bath followed by a soft bed at the end of each day.

Thank you so much, we love you lots xxx

Wild Camping - summing up

The Wild Camping phase of our adevnture is over, infact it actually ended a week ago when we arrived at a holiday cottage for a week but that's a post all of it's own.

We spent six weeks living in the van from leaving our last host, that's 42 nights. Only 9 of them were spent on campsites with electric hook up, showers and toilets. All of the rest were spent parked up wherever we could find each night. This included lay-bys, carparks, roadsides, closed-for-the-season campsites. We parked in woodlands, lochsides, beside the sea, on the side of mountains, in remote places. We have seen stunning sunrises, sunsets, starry skies and moonlit nights. We've seen so much wildlife and scenery amd watched late summer turn to autumn and start to turn to winter.

We have been stripped back to the most basic of human needs - food, drink, warmth, shelter, where to go to the toilet and how to keep clean. At no point have we struggled, suffered or been in any danger, but it is the closest I've ever been to more basic survival and not knowing where I'd be sleeping each night.

So how was it?

It was fun, it was fulfilling, it was interesting, exciting and challenging. These six weeks have probably embodied the whole year in many ways. We have seen new sights and sounds, had new experiences, found what we want to do next and learnt something new every day. One of my favourite quotes is Jonathan Swift's 'May you live every day of your life'. We did that. We lived every day.

Over to the others...

Stuff I didn't do. I have not seen the Northern Lights, didn't have a go at shooting, never caught my own fish and cooked it in the van.
Good: How much we did do! Still wowed at how much we saw on the very first week. We saw an extremely beautiful stag (mostly in sillouette). It was brilliant visiting Skye, it's certainly the place I want to live. I really liked the house we went to visit.
Learnt: That it is possible to live in a community in this country by living on an island instead of just a remote village in somewhere like Africa, or somewhere like the communities we've stayed at where people choose to live together.

Seeing roadkill - we saw a dead otter and what we think was a dead hare. There is not much space to live in when we're in the van all the time.
Good: We saw snow! I liked playing games in the van with everyone, that was fun. I also liked the evenings in Willlow, it was really nice all being together. We've seen lots and lots and lots and lots of wildlife, like golden eagles, deer, otters, seals.
Learnt: You don't need TV, consoles or other electronic things to entertain you, you can play really basic games like cards.

Condensation. The damp and mould that started in the last couple of weeks living in the van. I worry about the impact of it on our health and it was a daily battle trying to keep on top of it.
Good: Loved being parked overnight and waking up to snow capped mountains all around us. I like being with the kids in the evenings. The wild camping experience has been so lovely, eating, talking together and having no outside distractions. I have slept better, eaten better and lived better.
Learnt: Lots about the Scottish property market - totally different to buying and selling houses in England. Also learnt that the remoteness of the highlands means that people are  more helpful and able to do things than in the densely populated area in the south where we lived.

: The mouse! Also the needing to curtail things like splashing in puddles and walking in the rain due to lack of places to get warm, dry and clean for us and clothing.
Good: We found where we want to live :) We ticked off loads of things we wanted to see, do and experience on our list. We had some fantastic quality time together chatting, playing games, singing songs, reading books, learning about each other.
Learnt: Precisely how long I can go without washing my hair before I start to feel really skanky, how very little money we can feed ourselves for. Finely honed our lists of what we do and don't miss about conventional living.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Mice and Mould

When I started this blog I wanted to document the highs and the lows of the adventure. The challenges and the victories.

We've recorded the tough bits at the various hosts and the issues along the way. We have the usual family falls outs, thankfully not very often. I guess we simply couldn't live in such a small space if there was constant squabbling or the need to have more time and space away from each other than our rather limited accomodation affords us. Dragon and Star are very close siblings and probably fall out a lot less than most other brothers and sisters I know (I certainly would not have wanted to share such a tiny space with my little brother when we were children, much as I loved him and get on well with him now) and there is a certain intensity to sharing 24 hours a day with your spouse when you both used to have seperate days from each other Monday to Friday.

In the main though I think the impact on our relationships with each other has been all positive. We have all got to know each other better, both as a group or team or family unit and as four individuals with intermeshed relationships between each of us. There are tears, tantrums, shouting and strops of course, it would be terribly unhealthy if there was not and I think putting feelings out there for discussion, talking stuff through and continually communicating is hugely important - both for the sanity of the four of us today and for learning those skills for the future. I like to think that yet another side effect of this adventure for Dragon and Star will the increased levels of tolerance for others, compassion and empathy, negotiation and conflict resolution skills, knowing when to diffuse a situation and when to air your views with a big shouting session is appropriate. The upshot of this lifestyle is that you simply cannot be selfish, you have to take into account the feelings and needs of others, you must take accountability for the impact of your actions on others. Co-operation, working together and playing to everyone's strengths is essential.

So while living in this small space with others has it's challenges the lessons being learnt from them are sufficient to weigh that up as a positive.

Other positives include learning to live with less stuff, live on less money, appreciating the simplicity that is possible and feeling so much more engaged with the world around us. The turning of the seasons having a true impact on our daily lives over and above turnning up the heating or switching off a light. Overall we continue to love every day knowing we are making memories that will last us forever and having an adventure that we will talk of for the rest of our days and will shape what happens to us from here.

But the downsides? There are not many, probably way fewer than most people experience on their normal daily lives with houses and jobs and TVs and sofas. But there are difficulties with this way of life which mean we know it's not a forever option for us.

For the last two weeks we had a mouse in the van. First evidence was a chewed up carrier bag in one of the cupboards along with some droppings. We assumed it had got in just to that cupboard which has a hole down to the outside so cleaned it out and blocked it up. But the mouse was clearly in the van and started making it's presence felt in our food cupboards and in the cab of the van, nibbling through some packets and leaving more droppings. And keeping me awake at night with it's little mousey scuttling and gnawing noises. This was Not Good. We moved all the food into a plastic box, set traps in every palce we could think the mouse could get to, continued to keep everywhere very clean and also strew tumble drier sheets in all sorts of places having googled and found mice in campervans is a pretty common problem and turned up various bits of advice for dealing with them.

After 5 nights of traps with the mouse getting increasingly bolder to the point of clearing all the traps of bait each night at around midnight one night one of the traps went off. Sure enough in the morning we had a dead mouse to dispose of. We left traps set again on subsequent nights to check it was just the single mouse living in the van and it would appear it was, so we've blocked up all holes we can, stuffed more tumble drier sheets in places and are keeping fingers firmly crossed that we won't need to use the traps again. I hated the need to kill it (and infact we had a mix of live capture and killing traps) but sharing Willow with any more bodies, even a tiny one, simply was not a long term option.

Another issue we are still dealing with is damp, condensation and ultimately mould. Willow showed few if any signs of having damp problems when we bought her but then she had not been lived in through the winter. The combination of body heat of four people, cooking and boiling kettles for washing up and drinking and simply breathing in the van as the temperature outside drops means we are constantly wiping down misted up windows. Where possible we are keeping a vent or window open for ventilation but when it's really windy or rainy (as it often has been up here in the Highlands) that isn't feasible. So the kids bunk where we store all the sleeping bags and pillows has to be dried out every night and all the bedding aired for half an hour before bedtime, the curtains and sofa have to be constantly monitored and kept away from the windows, the kids soft toys, our clothes, our towels, our bedding all need to be kept an eye on and made sure they are not stuffed up somewhere going mouldy. We have already chucked out a few things which suffered from a lack of vigilance but hopefully we are on top of it now.

The season has definitely changed now and where we were enjoying T shirt weather (albeit a freak heat wave rather than usual early October conditions) we have now seen snow, rain aplenty and had the van rocked by windy nights. But is is cold. And dark. And wet. Cold is not the most serious of these really - we can get warm by putting more clothes on, we have very good sleeping bags and hot water bottles so once we're cosy in bed we stay warm. Dark is combated with good torches and lanterns but wet is a trickier one. Coming into the van with wet outdoor clothes, even coats is a problem. Where do you put them? Bringing wet things in only serves to exacerbate the condensation issues and when getting through as few clothes as possible is a priority - partially because getting them clean and dry again is expensive and difficult and mostly because you only have a very finite amount of changes of clothing anyway - this is hard.

Finally the miles, the weather and perhaps her age have gotten to Willow again and she is currently residing in the local breakdown recovery yard having spluttered to a halt last Thursday. We had our first need to call on our breakdown cover and were towed to a layby for a couple of nights near to the yard by the very understanding of our situation garage owner before being given a lift to our holiday cottage while Willow is being looked at. As ever the universe (and friends!) seem to have provided in answer to our needs and we had already got a stay with friends lined up in a holiday cottage just 20 miles or so away which we were on our way to when Willow gave up. So while we luxuriate in comfort, heat, light, beds, baths, kitchens and sofas with splendid company Willow will hopefully be sufficiently patched up to get us back down the country again.

We have one last WWOOFing host lined up, which ferry crossings and Willow permitting we'll be heading to next weekend and then we have decided to head back to Sussex for a few weeks to catch up with family and friends and retire Willow for a while. More on that to follow.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Skye's the limit

Friends will tell you I am guilty of glass-half-full-ism to the extreme. In Nic world everything is fantastic, amazing, wonderful. There are times when this seeing the joy in everything approach means no one believes me when something truly is fantasic, amazing, wonderful of course. A bit like the boy who cried wolf I guess. I am the Nic who cried wonder!

But you really do have to believe me when I report that Skye is all of the above and more.

I can prove it. Look.

We've spent a very happy week travelling around most of the island, spending all but one night in the same closed for the season campsite where you are welcome to park for free. We looked at a couple of properties just to get a handle on what we would get for our money, registered with all the estate agents on the island, spent time in the bigger towns checking out the shopping, culture and community facilities, drove around large chunks of the coastline and tried to get a real feeling of the different parts of Skye.

We were particularly taken with the Sleat peninsula, and loved our visit to Rubha Phoil. We had some beautiful walks including climbing to the Old Man of Storr (I got about halfway and then paused to admire the view and had a lovely chat with a fellow view-admirer about deep stuff like what life is all about. Amazing who you bump into on the side of a mountain. The others climbed to the top) and of course we saw yet more breathtaking scenery and abundant wildlife.

We definitely left part of our hearts behind when we crossed the bridge back off Skye and onto the mainland yesterday evening as the sun set. But that's fine, because we'll be back.