In Which We Come On Holiday By Mistake

Hello again and thanks for your patience!

As usual I have spent far too long pondering…plus I procrastinate horribly.

Undoing a traveling life is just as tricky as putting one together we found out when we decided to change things around…again.

My last post came from the blue skies, low country waterways and jungly forest paths of Edisto, South Carolina – a place we love very much.

This post comes from a place that has much in common with it such as…

  • An ancient, unique and unspoiled landscape
  • Huge, gnarled trees dripping with moss and sprouting with ferns
  • Lots of water
  • Lots of deer
  • Lots of space
  • Friendly locals and a smattering of much loved holiday destinations

Yep. We’re in Exmoor, North Devon on the South West coast of the UK!

Despite all the amazing adventures, places, experiences, new things learned and seen we had also lost our yacht home in a fire, had two major bus breakdowns and endured endless mechanical challenges.

Undoing a traveling life is just as tricky as putting one together we found out when we decided to change things around…again.

How to decide where to live when we could go anywhere? How to sell the Jeep, our bus home and all our possessions in daily use out from under us and then hop straight on a plane?

After our 18 month sea and road trip it was time to head back for a bit. USA immigration was getting very grumpy about our using our tourist visas to the max – apparently although they say you can stay for 6 months they actually don’t like it if you do, especially if you then come back for another 6 months!

One and a half miles from the road, past steaming cow barns, rutted farmyard tracks and concrete gutters channeling rain and slurry downhill. At the end of a narrow mossy lane worthy of a speaking role in The Hobbit, the house was…

L had also had 18 months of responsibility for fixing s*@t to keep us rolling on both the yacht and the bus.

Despite all the amazing adventures, places, experiences, new things learned and seen we had also lost our yacht home in a fire, had two major bus breakdowns and endured endless mechanical challenges. All that had taken its toll on the chief engineer and on me too.

It also became clear that traveling was not really as cheap as we thought – maybe we were doing it wrong? maybe it was all the fixing s@*t? We felt quite OK with our decision to call it a day. We started planning a new adventure in a house.

Heading back to the UK for my Christmas visit in the meantime I came armed with a list of rental viewings trawled from the internet by our chief researcher L. Borrowing my ever-generous Mums car I bombed through January drizzle and dark mornings to look at these potential new homes – some downright peculiar, some musty, some overpriced, some right next to the road and one absolutely perfect!

One and a half miles from the road, past steaming cow barns, rutted farmyard tracks and concrete gutters channeling rain and slurry downhill. At the end of a narrow mossy lane worthy of a speaking role in The Hobbit, the house was secluded, roomy, comfy and full of character. With not another roof or a road to be seen or heard I knew that “L the Hermit” – at that time suffering in a flu infested sweat box parked up on St Helena Island, South Carolina – would love it.

I started to enjoy the challenge of seeing if I could judge the food supplies exactly, so that we would eat the last olive, apple and drain the last of milk from the bus fridge on the last day. An invitation to visit super-bulk-shopping-emporium Costco…

Things these two places do not have in common.

As I write it is 10’C/51’F and swirling low cloud here in North Devon in mid April – it’s 20’C/68’F on Edisto right now even though it’s raining.

We have woken up surrounded by a white fog of low cloud for the last week.

The plan to get us from there to here was too complex for my noddle to grasp and required me to write a day planner visualising the steps and the snags. It proved useful in the same way as those street maps which they draw in bank heist films, showing the getaway car moving away from the scene and safely round the corner.

Step 1 was pick a date in March, book flights, ask Mum if we could camp in her holiday house for a while and arrange for the RV dealer we bought it from to resell the motorhome and the Jeep for us!

Step 2 was look for somewhere to live in the UK (sorted!) and get rid of loads of stuff after it was “agreed” that we would only take one large suitcase of clothes and possessions each. Having brought my English teapot all the way from Bath I was relieved to be able to re-home it – and the tea cosy too – with fellow tea lover Shelley on Edisto.

The bus (and driver) handled the long days of driving without a wobble and ironically so began the smoothest trip of the whole 18 months…

As the weeks ticked down to our leaving date I started to enjoy the challenge of seeing if I could judge the food supplies exactly, so that we would eat the last olive, apple and drain the last of milk from the bus fridge on the last day.

The last of the fruit bowl arrives in Texas!

An invitation to visit super-bulk-shopping-emporium Costco in the final week was probably something I should have declined. But when you see a 1lb jar of almond butter for $6.99 you just have to get it so I made ALOT of things with almond butter in the last week

Step 3. We had many lovely last walks and said our fond farewells to the Edisto crowd thanking them with parting gifts of teapots, hand blenders, power washers, spanner sets and oversized blocks of cheddar cheese.

A final lovely evening with the good people of the Edisto Island Yacht Club

Step 4 involved a 950 mile drive back to Texas over 2 days, celebrating my birthday with a delightful overnight stay at an interstate truck stop and fulfilling one of my longtime ambitions which was to see the southern peach orchards in their pink blossoms as we crossed through rural Georgia. The bus (and driver) handled the long days of driving without a wobble and ironically so began the smoothest trip of the whole 18 months…

Parking up back in the Texas motorhome dealers yard where we had started our bus adventures 8 months earlier, next to many other motorhomes in the classic Foretravel style, reminded us of why we had fallen in love with this model.

It was with a little sentimental pride that I cleaned and polished before we handed over the keys, wondering about the next adventurer who would take it out on the road.

Bye bye bus.

In our rush to find a home we have picked a most beautiful spot to park ourselves – like “coming on holiday by mistake” but in a good way…

A hotel room, a hire car, two aeroplanes, another hire car and Bam! We were back in Mums house in a small Dorset town getting ready to unload everything we own from storage and move into the house we had rented on Exmoor.

Time to remind ourselves of the pleasures of English cake and crusty bread, fish and chips and walking to the shops.

I warned the furniture removals company to send their small van and chaps with strong nerves but even so volunteered preferred to carry our stuff a bit further rather than get the van wedged stuck in our lane. We had a kind offer from the farm to borrow a LandRover with trailer if we needed help and I had visions of loading our carefully stored sofas onto a trailer liberally coated with silage, cowpats and border collie dog hair. Thankfully not necessary!

…which means I also get junk mail advertising haybale wrappers, sheep worming medicine and all kinds of contraptions for keeping animals still while you do stuff to them.

Cliffs and rocks! This part of Exmoor is home to some of the tallest sea cliffs in Europe and the dramatic views from the Victorian towns of Lynton and Lynmouth just 5 miles away- known as “Little Switzerland” – are amazing.

The view from Lynton down to its sister town Lynmouth and the moorland-bordered cliffs beyond.

There is a cute steam railway at the end of our lane and people come here from all over the UK for seaside holidays. In our rush to find a home we have picked a most beautiful spot to park ourselves – like “coming on holiday by mistake” but in a good way…

There are some other similarities that fans of the film Withnail & I will recognise. Bleak, rain swept moors populated with dung encrusted hairy beasts and giant black bulls that glare with mean little eyes as you pass their field, as though you are some sort of competition.

Also common is a standard of dentistry as derelict as the old stone sheds and farm cottages occupied by old fashioned farming folk in baggy tweed jackets and bits of baling twine deployed for every conceivable temporary repair.

The house is old and quirky so new things to learn include how to use the massive oil fired range cooker.

Cooker, water heater, clothes dryer, radiator, bum warmer, friend…

It’s like a giant radiator and water heater that you can cook on/in but don’t switch off when dinner is ready – it takes a couple of days to warm up again.

In my mind if it is heating the room and the water too any cooking or drying of washing you do on it as well is free!

There is a price to pay for living in this rustic solitude – it’s a 1 mile drive to put the rubbish out and another 1/4 mile for the recycling! Nice view though..

We will either wake up one day to a horror show of dead, exhausted blue tits strewn around the house or…

I have now joined a farmers cooperative in order to get discounted oil delivered for the range and boiler, which means I also get junk mail advertising hay bale wrappers, sheep worming medicine and all kinds of contraptions for keeping animals still while you do stuff to them.

I decided to hold off on telling our organic beef farming landlord that we are not meat eaters on a hunch and 6 weeks later we are still secret pescatarians. I am pretty sure everyone hereabouts knows each other so when hunting for Cornish pasties in our local corner shop/garage the conversation went like this.

Me: Do you have any cheese and onion pasties?

Woman behind counter: Cheese and onion pasties? Nooo… aren’t no call for ’em round ‘ere. Not ’nuff vegetarians.

Me: Oh…yes of course…hmmm…

We have massive red deer grazing on the ridge above the cows and so many birdies to watch in the garden we are not sure which direction to look. We also have feisty blue tits who have locked onto their reflections in our back door glass and windows and have been pecking at their imaginary rivals for days now, perfectly illustrating both the phrase “bird brain” and the power of hormones.

We tried sticking paper on the door glass, then a photo of a hawk cut out of paper. Once the blue tits started actually chewing on the end of the paper hawk’s tail feathers it was time to accept we had lost the battle and just live with the constant pecking noise. We will either wake up one day to a horror show of dead, exhausted blue tits strewn around the house or their bird brain clocks will switch to “Go! Make nest!” instead.

Devon is a wild paradise full of ferns, mosses and woodland plants I have never seen before. Even the top of our garden wall is a whole world of mosses, lichens and tiny ferns and flowers all on its own!

The marvelous mini-world on our garden wall

Now that the moving in is done I have a wonderful English garden to work on, clearly loved by the original owners of the house and now in need of some TLC. I am anticipating the opening of roses on about 15 different rose bushes which will either be a gaudy mess or rather lovely. Judging from their classy choices of the beautiful creamy magnolia outside our bedroom window and this incredibly exotic peachy coloured rhododendron by the back door I am rather excited!

I learned that arriving somewhere on a yacht with its privileges and difficulties still invites curious and kindly people to chat and help you. And an English accent is a damn valuable asset, thank you fate.

So we are having a little Devon adventure – not as exciting, challenging or hot as before but very lucky all the same.

We saw many wonderful things, new places and marvelous people in our 18 months on the catamaran and the bus, achieving things I personally never thought I could do and testing ourselves and our relationship to the limit many times and surviving.

As other travelers know, I learned that just living and doing the simple tasks of life is a great way to discover a new place from an angle a holiday maker can never see. Bought plywood from a builders yard in the Turks & Caicos? Had a lift to the petrol station in the Bahamas? Spent the night with 50 long distance lorry drivers in Virginia? Now that’s traveling!

I learned that arriving somewhere on a yacht with its privileges and difficulties still invites curious and kindly people to chat and help you. And an English accent is a damn valuable asset, thank you fate.

I found that the anticipation of something going wrong can be worse than it actually going wrong and that when there is no one else to fix it you can do amazing things ‘cos you have to.

I learned new mental resources for getting through difficult times, making myself exercise, being scared, staying awake, not wanting to do something, rainy weather boredom and missing my family. Hurrah for Skype – it is amazing!

Thank you to the fabulous folk on land and sea whom we met along the way who have befriended us, laughed with us, given us good advice, saved us from many rookie mistakes and made it such a memorable adventure.

Special gratefulness always to the Christiansens and the Kleinschmidts who made themselves our great friends in a real time of need, as well as the Hendersons and Charlie at Edisto Island Yacht Club, without whose help we would have been stranded on the river!

Thanks too to all of you who have read along, liked and commented on my stories and pictures as I have battled with the internet to record my thoughts – it has been a wonderful thing to have you along!

Green dreams…

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