After running FREEBIE MONDAY for the past 6 months or so, I’ve finally reached the decision to bring the weekly slot to an end.
GASP! SHOCK, HORROR!
So, does that mean all we’ll hear on the blog from now is crickets??? Of course not, dear blog readers! But it does mean that what I do post will be stuff which will sit on here for as long as WordPress can stand the content – not just for a week.
Anyway, please try not to cry about it all… Your tears might spill onto your keyboard, tablet or phone, and wreck the circuitry!
Without further ado, then, let’s get stuck into our final FREEBIE MONDAY blog, where we’ve got more mini travel adventures – this time, it’s an extract from chapter 10 of my original Campervan Capers book.
Before we get to read an excerpt, though, here’s the blurb for the book:
A Couple’s First Year
Exploring the World of Campervanning
What do you do when you’ve got itchy feet but don’t want to uproot your life?
Buy a campervan!
At least, that’s what this couple did.
After a rather nomadic life, the author settles down with her partner in Cornwall, England. But, after a number of years, those itchy, old feet want to get on the move again.
On a restless whim, the couple decide to buy a campervan. It turns out to be a great compromise. Now they can up-sticks whenever they want without having to completely uproot their lives.
Campervan Capers follows the capering couple through their first year of owning a camper, and blends travel tale with humour whilst also addressing some of the more practical aspects.
(Travels are within Britain and include: Wales, Derbyshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Devon, Cornwall and more.)
30 Top Tips for Novices, Useful Weblinks, & Considerations when Buying a Motorhome or Caravan.
CHAPTER 10 – Extract
Steve had already made use of the bike rack fitted onto the back of the camper on our trip to Derbyshire. And, having notched up a number of years as a Cycling Widow, I doubted he’d got a double rack with the thought of whisking me off on romantic holidays where we’d pedal off into the sunset together. No, he was thinking about his forthcoming cycling events and training schedule!
Coming up in June, Steve had a cycle race near Buckfastleigh in the neighbouring county of Devon; and he suggested we plan a trip around it – mixing business with pleasure as it were – by combining his cycling goals with a holiday break away. Well, why not? I thought. No point fighting it.
By midday on a Friday in mid-June, we were all packed up and ready to go; and, while the heavy holiday traffic pushed its way into Cornwall, we were flying by in the opposite direction, glad to be escaping the ‘Silly Season’ of tourism that descends upon our home region every year. (If you know which roads to take, of course, you can often escape the holiday traffic. Still, there’s no avoiding the ubiquitous tractor or muck-spreader when you take a back-lane short cut!)
By now, we were at the stage where we’d probably wave to the first ten or twenty motorhomes speeding past in the opposite direction, but with so many about at this time of year, the arms soon got tired and the novelty would wear off. So, just a note to anyone reading this who has waved in vain: don’t take it to heart – others might not be being snooty, they might just have muscle atrophy from waving at everyone else!
After only an hour and a half’s drive, we were at the heart of a whole new holiday experience. Our plan was to visit the famous Burgh Island (set off the south Devonshire coast at Bigbury-on-Sea) before heading north the next day to a site near Buckfastleigh, in readiness for Steve’s cycle race on the Sunday morning.
I’d been keen to visit Burgh Island ever since watching Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun years ago, since the murder mystery was set and filmed there. The Burgh Island Hotel, built in 1927, eventually fell into disrepair and was apparently restored in the 1980s by a couple of London fashion consultants to its original art deco splendour. However, even the cheapest room at the hotel (the only one on the tiny island) might well be considered to be way out of the league of the average holiday budget. However, since we now had a trusty Autosleeper at our disposal, we could stay on a campsite nearby and visit for free.
The 26‑acre tidal island on the ‘English Riviera’ has acted as a retreat for the rich and famous over the years; and, with any luck, we thought, we might even manage to spot a celebrity or two of our own.
Arriving so early in the afternoon, we decided to head straight to Burgh Island and do some exploring, rather than go to our campervan site. As we neared Bigbury-on-Sea, we were ushered by a Council worker into what was a long and, for the most part, one-car-width country lane, since the main road was being resurfaced. Looking at the map, it might have been considered a short cut, but with the number of cars going through (which some bright spark had omitted to regulate with either workmen or traffic lights) the traffic started backing up pretty quickly in both directions.
Despite all this, everyone involved was surprisingly cooperative, and we managed to sort ourselves out eventually. Such situations make you think twice about what at first appears to be a short cut – especially if you have a bigger motorhome or touring caravan – unless, of course, you actually like practising your reverse manoeuvring technique in a tight space!
The ‘economy car park’ (written in art deco lettering) on the right-hand side before you reach Bigbury beach, is a bit more roomy and works out a bit cheaper than the municipal car park if you are going to be around for more than a few hours – although the latter is right on the beach and handy if you have lots of gear to traipse about.
The low tide at Bigbury-on-Sea meant we’d missed our opportunity to ride on the Sea Tractor: a sturdy, long-legged, four-wheeled contraption which ‘ferries’ people between island and mainland when the tide’s up. Although there was a café on the beach, we were eager to get across to the island while we could, and plumped for a meal at the Pilchard Inn. Although our guidebook had ‘promised’ soup, baguettes and bar snacks, there was no soup available and, arriving late lunchtime, we were lucky to get a baguette.
We thought we’d wash the baguettes down with a nice, hot brew, but were shocked to discover that they “didn’t do tea”. Obviously, the writers of our guidebook were no tea-totallers, otherwise they would have warned fellow tea-baggers like us of such a beverage calamity. “I’ll just have water then, thanks,” I muttered, no doubt being charged for the privilege. Well, I suppose we were on Burgh Island – so what the heck, eh?
Despite the olde worlde charm of the pub’s interior, the clement weather invited us to sit outdoors on the pub’s picnic tables and watch the world (and hopefully a celebrity) go by as we sat eating our lunch. “Strange! My baguette’s got fig jam in it,” I winced. My ever-patient other half gently corrected my uncouth lack of culinary knowledge by pointing out that the ‘jam’ was in fact chutney, and proceeded to whip a lump of the apparently-offending condiment out of my baguette and place it in his own. “Yummm…!”
“That hotel could do with a lick of paint,” I commented, trying to change the subject. We looked about us. Children played merrily on the beach across the way, and a father and son chased each other up and down the length of a large puddle in the sand. It was the stuff of the ‘Peter and Jane’ books of my youth.
Looking across the coastline, we noticed a beach not far away as the crow flies (what looked like Challaborough on the map) packed with holidaymakers; and I was struck by the sheer numbers in comparison with the quieter beach here at Bigbury.
Our tummies filled, it was time for a long-awaited tour of the island. No celebrities had yet been spotted, either on the beach or in the pub, we remarked. We made our way up the lane and stopped outside the gateway to the Burgh Island Hotel. “Perhaps they do teas in there,” I mused, picturing us sipping away as we looked out over the bay from an art deco lounge window. The sign outside, however, announced that it wasn’t open to non-residents. No riff-raff then, we thought!
Getting onto the designated path which wound its way up towards the top of the island revealed views over the whole area. We could see the hotel’s helipad and, over near the tennis courts, what looked like an older, disused helipad, which no doubt doubled as an ‘overspill’ helipad in an emergency.
Atop the island, said the tourist blurb, there should be a chapel and huer’s hut, the latter used as a pilchard lookout post in the old fishing days. However, since all that remained was a sort of stone platform and the ruins of another small building, it was difficult to distinguish which was the chapel and which the hut. I later read that the huer’s hut was actually built out of the remains of the chapel, and that the platform was used for military purposes during the war.
As we did a circuit of the island, not only were there stunning open views from every vantage point, but if you have even a passing interest in geology or bird-watching, there would surely be something to engage the eye. According to the hotel’s website, numerous rare birds shelter and breed in the area, pods of dolphins and solitary seals frequent the bay, and foxes and badgers play on the higher slopes. Our luck was out: we spotted no marine or land mammals, and the only birds we got a good look at were a gull with its chicks perched cannily on a solitary rock stack near the cliff edge, and a number of cormorants on the crags below at sea level. However, several birds darted about on land, hiding in the bushes as soon as anyone got too close. All in all, the wildlife was proving to be as elusive as the celebrities.
Along the way, we met a Dutch couple who were staying at the hotel. If they’d been hobnobbing with any celebs, they weren’t letting on. But in any case, they reckoned they could only afford to stay there one night, what with having to fork out for booze and cigarettes on top of their hotel bill. A likely story! No doubt this was a cover‑up for the truth: they were famous Dutch actors trying to escape the national limelight for a few days. But we weren’t about to press them on the matter.
Looking down over the hotel as we came to the end of our walk, I had to wonder at past celebrities who had stayed there to escape the world’s gaze, and could only guess that they must have felt like prisoners, trapped inside the hotel until high tide, when – like vampires at sundown – they could come out from the shadows and enjoy the delights of the island unhindered by doting admirers.
Again passing the hotel gate on the way down, we saw a couple of ‘chancers’, the husband trying to persuade the wife that riff-raff really could get into the hotel even though they weren’t staying there. She held back, unconvinced, as he determinedly dared to push through the gate on the driveway which would lead to the hotel entrance. You had to admire his gumption.
As we walked by the Pilchard Inn on our way off the island, we were brought back down to earth by the pub staff sitting outside on their break (no tea in sight!) discussing the nitty-gritty of work rotas and washing up. We may not have spotted a Dawnus Frenchicus or any Poirot lookalikes, but the beauty of the island and the surrounding coastline were satisfying enough. And, in any case, just what would we have said to a celebrity if we’d met one? “Nice day, int it?”
By now, we were desperate for a cuppa and ambled back up the hill to our campervan for a tannin fix.
Suitably quenched, we headed off to our site – this time along the now-chipped, main road. With only a few narrower spots to drive through, we found the roads were surprisingly wide. Despite this, the turn-off to our site, only a few miles from Bigbury, was a bit hairy, with bad visibility in all directions. From the manoeuvrability point of view, we were just glad we had a smaller vehicle.
The owner of our farm site met us at the entrance with a big, genuine smile – in fact, probably the friendliest welcome we’ve ever had. Although, you never know with country folk. Maybe he’d just inhaled too many manure fumes that day.
Our site at St Anns Chapel was one of the closest to Burgh Island and Bigbury-on-Sea; and our fees gave us access to toilets, showers, electric hookup and country views. There are, however, other sites within easy enough reach, making a nice day trip out from towns like Modbury, Kingsbridge or Salcombe. If you time it right, you can even cut across the estuary from Kingsbridge via a tidal road, thus avoiding the longer trip along the main roads. If you’re staying on south Dartmoor for a few days, you could even punctuate your stay with a visit to the coast.
For our evening meal, we cracked open a humble, easy-cook tin of soup each and downed it with slices of bread and butter, but after the light baguette lunch, we still had room for more. Our hunger was in no way quelled by our site neighbours (to our right) unwittingly flaunting their delicious fish and chips supper in front of us, which we couldn’t help but notice through their large plush bay-windowed awning.
At odd times, the farm dog would appear from nowhere with a posse of four sheep, acting as if he were trying to earn his keep by rounding them up. None of them seemed at all scared of the mutt, despite their feigned bleats; and the farmer seemed pretty jovial about his enthusiasm despite his lack of sheep-herding skills (the dog’s, not the farmer’s). It was clear he’d never win any ‘One Man and his Dog’-type prizes.
Outside their motorhome, our neighbours (the ones to our left this time) were airing their duvet on a handy little collapsible rotary drier, explaining that they’d been travelling for a few weeks now and their ‘van needed a bit of freshening up. They were working their way around England, staying on a site for three days at a time before moving on by about fifteen miles. I dreaded to think how long it would take to complete their tour.
They extolled the tranquillity and spaciousness here, telling us they’d just left another campsite, displeased at the number of ‘vans packed in like sardines on a plot the same size as the one we were now on.
The Caravan Club’s CLs are limited to taking only five caravans or motorhomes on site, although since our inception into the CL world, we’d noticed a few sites letting in the odd extra one-nighter. We could only guess that the ceiling of five pitches might be imposed by planning law, although no‑one seemed to mind so long as they enjoyed their holiday and didn’t feel overcrowded.
Invited on a tour of our neighbours’ ‘van, I couldn’t believe how Tardis-like it was. From memory, it was probably six metres in length (seven at most) and inside, there was a spacious bathroom (with shower) and a sizeable worktop in the kitchen. Noticing a flat-screen TV in a wall recess, I asked, “Does it pull out?” The gent grabbed hold of it and swung it out on an arm. “We’re watching a film later,” he remarked. “We can tilt it round and you can watch it from your campervan next door,” he offered, tongue-in-cheek.
As they showed me around, it was clear that, far from being a paragon of simplicity, our neighbours’ ‘van was seriously geared-up to be a ‘home from home’. Their huge fridge-freezer was stocked to weather a third world war and, judging by the electrical items that were plugged in or being recharged (electric bike packs and a couple of mobile phones), they were certainly getting value for money from their site fees. In the average home environment, having so many electricals feeding off the mains goes unnoticed, but not so in the smaller confines of a motorhome.
I mentioned that I’d seen on the CAT (Centre for Alternative Technology) website that you could now get mobile phone chargers which generated power via solar or wind‑up. I think I’ve even seen ones where you can charge a mobile phone as you ride your bicycle – a bit like the old dynamo system for charging bike lights. Although, somehow, I couldn’t imagine them winding up rechargeable gadgets while they watched their evening entertainments.
I could well see the attraction of such a plush and spacious motorhome. Yet, with a larger ‘van also come drawbacks. Our neighbours found that trying to negotiate smaller roads or car park spots was a hassle. To get around the problem, they often left their ‘van on site and used their electric bikes or local buses to get round. Of course, having to recharge bike battery packs means you’re tied to sites with electric hookup to a certain extent. And bus ticket prices can often easily compete with Pay and Display fees. Having spent many years commuting in the past myself, I also know that bus routes can sometimes take you off the beaten track, leading you to discover places the tourist literature doesn’t tell you about.
I went back to our ‘van in awe. I’d never met our neighbours before, and I might never meet them again, but they’d let me into their lives without blinking an eye. It all seemed to be part of this unspoken motorhome fraternity. And yet, perhaps it was more than that.
A few years earlier, when owning a campervan was just a twinkle in our eyes, a dream for the future, we were on holiday in France. We met a French couple on a tour and, when we went back to the car park, we noticed them in their motorhome. Enthusiastic (and perhaps a little cheeky), we knocked on their door to say we liked their ‘van. They invited us in without hesitation and we ended up chatting for quite some time. Was it travel itself that opened people up? Or did motorhomers just love meeting people and showing off their ‘vans?
Setting the bed up before dark, we watched out the window in amazement as the farmer drove round and round in circles in his tractor in the next field, seemingly without rhyme or reason. His dog was riding shotgun and looked most contented. But what were they up to? When the farmer started doing figure eights, we were really confused. Were they getting in some training for a forthcoming tractor-driving competition? Or was this just the kind of thing that a farmer (and his dog) did for fun on a Friday night round these parts? Yep!, I thought, definitely too many manure fumes!
As the sun set, orange hues were painted across the open country landscape like the dying embers of a fire. We eventually settled down for the evening, but during the night, I awoke and decided to pop outside for a bit of stargazing.
The fresh night air hit me as I climbed out of the ‘van. It was typical country air – not the kind that lets you know ‘Farmer Giles’ has been about with his muck-spreader, but the wholesome kind that makes your lungs involuntarily fill with volumes of the stuff. Not a peep of traffic could be heard in the distance.
As I looked about and breathed in a deep bellyful of night air, I couldn’t help reflecting… We may not have seen any stars on Burgh Island that day but, looking up at the sequined vista, I easily found consolation in the fact that one could not fail to spot a star here!
[END OF EXTRACT]
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If you’ve enjoyed reading our travel tale in Devon, why not check out the rest of the Campervan Capers book?
In case you missed the recent blog, I have a new mystery series kicking off shortly with the first book, KILLER CLIMATE. So if mysteries are your bag, click to get Part One of the book for free. It’s available for a limited period only prior to launch!
As I mentioned, this is the last FREEBIE MONDAY for now, but I hope you’ll look forward to reading my other posts in future – including a few Sneak Peeks at Killer Climate coming up shortly.