How to endure the Winter..

31 March 2021

Still Slimbridge

So.. here I am.. writing this new blog whilst sitting on the fixed bed in the back of Ruby, nice and cosy. It is shocking rain outside and very, very windy. Bizarrely this is quite comforting and perhaps feels like sticking my middle finger up to the weather… ‘I am still here, warm and dry..so do your worst!’

 This is the first blog for over two months as, to be honest, due to the nasty Covid19 we have not done a lot. Certainly nothing exciting-so be prepared to be sleeping by the second paragraph!. 

Michelle commentates around a lap of the Campsite

We are still in the same place, same campsite, same county, same motorhome… though a different pitch. Wahey. Moving house is really easy when you have wheels. Occasionally we decided to start Ruby up and drive several times around the site (in different directions to stop getting dizzy)- total distance for one lap is about 400metres but it gets the engine oil warmed up, brakes polished slightly and tyres rotating (who needs square wheels!).

We decided in mid February that as the winter was moving on and the wind direction was forecast to change direction that we could move to another of the 80+ available pitches on-site. We moved from the the hedge protecting us from the prevailing South West winds and slid across (for those of you in need of detail…. from pitch 45 to pitch 40….). We now have a view across a field of sheep and at the time of writing we are expecting the pitter patter of tiny hoofs. We did sidle back to pitch 45 the other week for a few days as a storm made us scared and we needed to tuck back behind the hedge. We do love it here. Really.

We do appreciate that in future months and years we will look back fondly. Especially now that the spring weather is upon us. In reality this weather has not been too horrendous in the last month. 

How many times will you have a huge field – or two fields in this case- to yourself to share with nothing but birds and .. well just birds really? We even have the nice campsite owners turn up and cut the grass on our lawns every week which is kind. BUT we have been here for four months. ‘Help..! Let us out Boris..!’

As regular bored readers may recall we did have some neighbours on the site and we had to share one disabled toilet/shower wet room with about 10 others. The main toilet block was closed due to Covid restrictions so the site owners were ‘doing us a favour’ by giving us a key to this shower room!. It was however fraught with danger. You really don’t want to be going into a small room after someone else has showered and left potential Covid airborne moisture hanging around do you? We did have the option of using our on-board shower and toilet but the draw of a large wet room overcame the fears (just) of Covid. We were really obsessive in the early days with bottles of Dettol (other manufacturers are available) and spray guns everywhere. !

Over time however things improved, the vast majority of our neighbours have moved on. One lot bought a house, another was a temporary essential worker who has returned to his family home and a friendly Irish couple have returned to their home which was under renovation. This means we have only three or four other units on site. They are tucked away behind the office block and keep out of the way. We call them the ‘bottom feeders’ as they are in a bottom field and hardly seen or spoken to. Very occasionally we will see them using our shower room – but otherwise we are essentially the main users now. Just me and Michelle. Much better. And since we have had our vaccinations a couple of weeks ago we have lost our obsession with Dettol. 

This is so great. Biggest collection of frogs EVER…

Now don’t get me wrong…the winter has been soooooo long and dark and cold and wet and windy… It really makes you understand the winter and how long it lasts when you are right out in the middle of it. Every day we go out in all weathers, several times,  paddling to the loo/shower whereas normal people stay inside. We get to feel how bloody cold it is, which way the wind is blowing and where the big puddles are even in the pitch black. It does toughen you up a bit. We always go for our shower wearing shorts and flip flops whatever the weather (yes there is usually a shirt/jumper/coat as well- though to be fair, there is no-one around so we could go wearing a lot less!) This is about 150m away and can be challenging in the dark, wet and windy evenings but it is ‘character building’!

On the other side of the coin, we can feel every degree of warming weather, we see the first leaves on the trees and the first daffodils. We know where Orion’s belt, Polaris, Gemini, The Plough and many more stars are now and where to look to see the International Space Station flying over. We have spent many a clear (bloody cold) evening outside stargazing.

‘What do you do to keep entertained?’ I hear you ask..!

We spend most evenings playing cards, Yahtzee and board games…. well ‘No’ actually … what a romantic idea that is. Thank God for the TV. We have been tucked up watching telly most evenings though I admit to having been thrashed at Yahtzee and occasionally even at Scrabble ..! We never indulge in daytime TV during the week but the weekend sport gets a good look in. Thanks to a good TV aerial plus Apple TV, NOW TV, Amazon Prime etc we do not miss much. We do hope that when the better weather arrives we will be outside more into the evenings.

Though Leeds Utd on telly will always be a definite switch on.!

We have started to use the barbecue now too. We have a gas supply direct to our mighty Cadac bbq and we have an awning light so it is increasingly usable. Fry ups are pretty easy, paella, steaks and even an actual classic chicken, beef burger, sausage barbie works well. Once the bbq has cooled down, simply put the cover on and leave it outside. (Don’t tell Michelle but I often don’t even clean it between cooking..!)

BBQ in the sun. Increasingly an option.

During the daylight and almost every day we walk, cycle, run or workout. We have routines that we can do inside Ruby – though clearly not at the same time. (No… stop it… that is rude!). 

Being so confined within a motorhome we know we have to get loads of exercise that most people get just walking through the house and up and down the stairs. We counted over 350 km that we have walked since December and cycled a similar amount. The vast majority of our walks have been on the flat and level along the canal. We know every section between Sharpness and Gloucester Docks. Sharpness is dull and broken so most of our efforts have been towards Gloucester which is 20km away (16miles in old money ! ) As you may recall we still have our Mini with us so we have driven the short link to a bridge at another section by way of a change. A couple of weeks ago we caught a train from nearby Cam into Gloucester and walked the whole route back thereby joining up all the sections we had previously walked in bits. Quite exciting to be out and about on public transport as it has been months since we even went on a bus. Twasn’t too bad as it was not busy and Covid distancing was evident. 

There is a hole somewhere….. where are you?

We have more recently now completed a cycle ride into Gloucester along the canal as it has finally dried out enough to cycle on. Our purpose? For a terrific Hunter Toasty from a small take away directly alongside the picturesque docks. This is well worth a round trip of 40km for the best toasty you could ever taste. There was a slight drama when Michelle got a puncture half way into Gloucester. This was inevitable due to the terrain and it was not the first we have had. 

Normally we would just inflate and pedal like hell to get home but this was too far and too fast a leak. This inner tube was starting to look like a patchwork quilt now with all the repairs we have had to make in recent months. ! 

The biggest problem through the winter is mud, mud, mud.. which curtails much of what we would want to do. We have met up with all kinds and flavours of good old mud and always claggy and deep. Our poor walking boots have had a right kicking… Thankfully we have also been able to visit the nearby Cotswolds and do some slightly more hilly walks (though still retaining the joy of mud!.) Cycling has been a bit hit and miss. On one memorable occasion we cycled in 2º with a wind chill of about – 4º. It was bloody awful. Five layers of tops, woolly hat, three pairs of ‘trousers’ two pairs of socks and two pairs of gloves. I repeat..Bloody awful. We even had neck warmers wrapped around our mouths but we completely froze and couldn’t see much due to streaming eyes. Character Building?. No. Just Stoopid..!

Since the improving weather we have started doing circuit training outside. Thanks to the empty pitches we can use all the space we want and we do not feel embarrassed as there is no-one around to gawp at us and critique (!) our press-ups, star jumps and sit-ups. Win win. 

This was quite fun. Thanks to a shortage of neighbours this is a big opportunity that won’t be available normally.

One of my highlights of recent weeks was the arrival of my new drone. This is a replacement from my hard worked previous DJI Phantom models with the more high tech DJI Mavic Mini 2 which for some random reason we have called Derek. This is much smaller and therefore easier to transport when out and about. Not only is it tiny but it is faster, more manoeuvrable and can apparently travel much further (my confidence is not yet sufficient to let it go too far-don’t wanna watch him fly off into the distance, never to return!) but also has 4k video and improved camera. It is so much easier to get up and running which adds to the fun. 

Stoopid children..!

Now you may remember me pointing out there are very few other residents on this site…..well one of them has chosen to make a complaint to the site owners about me flying it around.! Bearing in mind that we are at least 200 metres away from her caravan and I have only ever flown over on the way to the canal once or twice, she somehow has been upset by this. It just reminds me that there are still many people out there afraid of what drones are capable of. It just means I have to be more sneaky..! But the fun goes on… 

As mentioned on the previous blog we have handed in our notice after working for far too many years. ( Well don’t we all work too many years?! ). We have been lucky enough to make the most of the opportunity and though we will be losing a lot of income, our quality of life is much improved. No more having to log onto a laptop and grind through the daily pressures. It was a cause for celebration returning to the office for the first time in almost a year to hand over our laptops, identity passes and other bits and pieces. Officially still on the payroll until 31st March but otherwise disconnected. Not sure if we pointed out before but we have had this date in mind for some considerable time and were working towards it steadily. Covid got in the way but I was then keen to continue working from ‘home’ whilst parked up in Portugal…It then became apparent that we would not be permitted to take the laptops out of the country so that helped confirm the retirement date. In addition…. as we had technically moved house in order to live in Ruby, we needed to update our security vetting certificate. Trouble is The Establishment say ‘You cannot live in your motorhome whilst working as we cannot check your address ’ Ha! We would have to get each campsite and roadside lay-by checked out every few days then….. Oh dear. How difficult was this.! Anyway it confirmed to us that it was time to really let go. Shame about working from Portugal but…..

The BIG goodbye. Last working day. Wahey. !

The team at work were very generous and supportive on our departure. Strange that we have not physically been in contact with them for a full year. ‘Thanks guys. We will still miss you.’ 

Of course the other side to this is that over Covid, Michelle and I have not earned a penny from photography. All the student graduations have been cancelled since March last year and all the other photography related jobs have hit the floor. For those of you that are aware, one of our photography incomes was working for a national company involved in taking graduation photographs from Uni’s and Colleges around the South West and Wales. Michelle running the event and me pressing the shutter button.! All this work has gone. There is hope that this will return later this year though in a very different way. This may determine some of the places we visit when in the UK.

Overall…we are genuinely enjoying living in Ruby despite the inability to travel where we would like. It has caused us to look inwards and see the limited world in more detail. From Ruby’s front skylight window we can see a couple of rooks as they struggle to build a nest.  (we have called the male Kevin!). Unbelievably they have taken the nest down several times themselves and other times they have had visits from neighbouring rooks who have stolen their nest bedding. They are bonkers. 

Two fat wood pigeons can be seen out of the side window nesting inside a bush nearby. 

Not sure why we have to give things these daft names? Ruby, the Motorhome, Kevin the Rook and Derek the Drone. Perhaps we need to get back to civilisation…!

So do we want to leave on 12th April when Boris opens the door? Hell Yes!  Despite the improving weather and the sheep and big empty campsite and no neighbours and the big shower room and the canal. Yup. We want to get back on the road. 

‘Would you do the same again next winter if Europe remains closed?’ …  Hell NO. The winter is soooooo very long, and soooo very dark, and soooo, cold and wet. Maybe the South East (Kent) would be better as it is always dryer and warmer but English winters are to be avoided.

‘Where do you go now I hear you ask..?‘  Well we have accepted that Europe is not going to happen this year as Covid is still rife and restrictions in place. We can only hope that come late Autumn we can head over and spend the winter away somewhere warm. In the meantime … we have some bookings in the Yorkshire Dales in Pateley Bridge in May for the month and we have a couple of weeks booked in Keswick in the Lake District in July but otherwise we have no firm plans. We will be ‘wild’ camping for several days a week hopefully and moving onto a small site otherwise in order to fill up with water and empty our ‘cloakroom’. Which direction? Probably north but we can start to get some kind of route sorted once we are confirmed as free to move in a couple of weeks. 

PS 

So when I started writing this a couple of days ago it was wet and cold and yucky weather. The last two days however have been a very tiny heat wave. Here’s hoping it turns out like last April/May… Wow.

The excitement from yesterday was being able to drive out onto the main roads….. we had an appointment to have a motorhome bike rack fitted, which had been postponed twice due to Covid. So a gentle drive to Sodding Chipbury and back was the height of dizziness. Thankfully the campsite staff were happy enough to let us out for the day ‘on licence’! 

Today’s big excitement was a trip a few miles up the Severn Estuary to watch the Severn Bore (see below). This was a three star (out of a possible five) and was pretty impressive and rather weird. This wave just appear from nowhere and ploughs up the river against the flow. Certainly the five star ones are popular with surfers and canoeists who try to ride it all the way into Gloucester. We took the opportunity to put Derek the Drone up to video it and share the excitement. I am still rather nervous of flying over water (due to a previous expensive drone drama!)  but we keep surviving and the video footage works ( though to be honest I need a bit more practice..!)

The 3-star Severn Bore drone footage. Curious slice of nature.
Hi. Defo Spring now.

Oh and…. We have lambs in the next field now. The gift that keeps on giving. !

Did you know…The Severn bore is seen on the tidal reaches of the River Severn. It is formed when the rising tide moves into the funnel-shaped Bristol Channel and the surging water forces its way upstream in a series of waves, as far as Gloucester and beyond. The bore behaves differently in different stretches of the river; in the lower, wider parts as a slight roller, while the water creeps across the sand and mudflats. In the narrower, upper reaches, the river occupies the whole area between its banks and advances in a series of waves that move upstream. 

Bores are present about 130 days a year, on the days immediately following the new and full moon. The size and timing depend on the time of high tide, the barometric pressure, the wind speed and direction and the amount of water coming down the river.

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