Poor old girl’s lost her spark

Poor old Jesamine’s lost her spark. You’d think it would gradually fade away, perhaps with a gentle putter, like a candle’s wick burning to the end. Or she’d be slow to start, as if she needed to warm up her aching bones. It all sounds quite romantic. With just a little rest and the right tweaking she might find it again.

Into the Common

Ha! When it comes to Jesamine you can forget romantic notions. What actually happened is that after I spent nearly £60 to quench her thirst, twenty miles later she decided to judder and jerk. She switched off and struggled to start (thankfully this was at 7.30am this morning and the roads were quiet). I kept talking nicely to her, cajoling her on. But just as were almost home she let out a humongous BANG! which must’ve woken up the whole village. Thankfully I managed to coast into a layby.

Lovely AA man arrived just 45 minutes later and explained to me that yes, Jesamine had lost her spark. He taught me about coils and spark plugs, the distributor and its cap. It was all very educational. But the end result was he couldn’t fix it. But he could tow me to the next village where there’s a car mechanic.

‘There are a couple of problems,’ he said.

I smiled and nodded my head. I was feeling chilled. I had the campervan vibe.

‘We’re facing in the wrong direction and can’t turn around here as the road’s too narrow. We’ll have to go on to the next village where there’s a roundabout.’

Where mountain bikers do their thing

I smiled and nodded. No problem.

‘Have you been attached to a pole before?’ he asked.

Well! I wasn’t sure how to take that. My smile a dropped a bit. He beckoned me over and whipped his pole out from the van (and if any of you are smirking at this point then I am lost for words!).

‘You’ll have no power steering,’ he said.

No problem. Jesamine hasn’t got it anyway (yes, I have fabulously toned upper arms!).

‘Handbrake off. Only look at my van. Follow my steer. Indicate when I do and break gently when I do. Just so the people behind can see what we’re doing.’

I gulped. His van looked awfully close.

‘Will it be scary?’ I asked.

He pursed his lips. ‘Well you look quite brave. Just follow the van and don’t try to look around it.’

This is how close we were!

I gulped again.

As kind as the lovely AA man was, I can honestly say that this was one of the scariest driving experiences of my life. I had no control and we were driving along country lanes – passing cyclists and parked cars. He was only a couple of feet in front of me and there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t see anything, or know why he was indicating and driving on the wrong side of the road has he overtook. I know these roads, I know the bends and the potholes. I drive in my own way, brake in my own way but now I had to put all my trust in the van in front. Logically I knew that I wouldn’t crash into him, but instinct is a powerful thing to overcome.

Well, that’s all there is to it really. We arrived at the garage. I’ll go back tomorrow to explain and hope they fix her soon.

‘Because of Covid,’ I’m really sorry but I can’t give you a lift home,’ lovely AA man said.

Leaving the farm

I didn’t mind. It’s only a couple of miles and I really needed to try and stop my heart thumping and get some feeling back in my legs (they were doing a great impersonation of Elvis). The walk home through the Common was lovely. I stopped and watched some mountain bikers doing very scary stuff and I realised what I’d just done wasn’t very scary at all. A couple of them stopped to chat, which was lovely. I got lost on the Common, which is a usual problem for me as I have no sense of direction. I ended up walking through a farm and having a chat with a lady there.

Finally I arrived home. I’d left at 5.30am to take Molly for a walk and to fill Jesamine with petrol. Just a quick jaunt. Five hours later I walked back through my front door. But you know what? I’ve had the best time. I’ve met some truly lovely people. My heart rate’s returned to normal, I’ve got feeling back in my legs.

Jesamine may have lost her spark, but I’ve got my campervan vibe back.

Jesamine, Molly, and me

Foraging… for a Lloyd Loom chair

Whitstable, Kent

I’ve been decorating my family room – a room at the back of the house that opens up onto the garden. I sit here a lot to read and watch the birds. I plan my trips and listen to the radio. On some evenings I browse through CDs and LPs and if I’m brave enough, I’ll revisit the past. It’s a special room. An extension that Tim and I added many years ago. In the winter we’d sometimes spend a lazy Sunday afternoon in here reading the papers and doing the crossword with the fire blazing. Since Tim died I’ve felt his absence in this room more than in any other and so I took the huge (for me) decision to give it a makeover. To make it mine but to keep the the little flourishes of our life together: photographs, pictures, ornaments…

Lovely son moved into a flat a while ago and I gave him the two-seat sofa from the room. His need was greater than mine at the time! As part of the makeover I’m going with comfy chairs. I already have two that I love and I decided that a Lloyd Loom chair would be just the thing to complement the others. And wouldn’t you know it – I found a lovely lady selling just the thing in Canterbury. Yay! I thought. Road trip!

Jesamine went like a dream. Molly stretched out and slept most of the way. I picked up the chair with no problems and it seemed a shame to waste such a beautiful day so we carried on a little way to Whitstable. I adore Whitstable. The sea here is different to my world of estuaries, salt marshes, and the raw North Sea. Somehow, at Whitstable, the sea seems gracious.

We were lucky to find a parking space right on the sea front and Molly and I walked along towards Herne Bay, enjoying the sunshine. Families zipped around us on bikes and scooters, Molly pranced and danced, sniffing the air. I bought some chips (well, I was at the seaside) and took them back to the van. Feeling gracious and refined, I sat in my Lloyd Loom chair with Jesamine’s door open, and Molly and I looked out across the sea while I ate my chips.

We stayed all day, not caring about the rush-hour traffic on the way home. I even enjoyed the queue at the Dartford Crossing as we waited to drive through the tunnel. I was full of romance… and chips. I told lovely daughter all about this wondrous day when I spoke to her on the phone. Her view of the day wasn’t quite the same as mine.

‘Oh, God!’ she said. ‘You’re turning into The Lady in the Van!’

You know, she may be right. And to be honest, I don’t think I’d mind that very much at all.*

*If I could live in my van beside the sea and have central heating and a bathroom, and a washing machine, and not just chips all the time…..

On the road again….but just for foraging

Travel restrictions are still in place and like most people, my itchy feet are itching like crazy – the end of lockdown is so close I can almost taste it.

I’d hoped to do some traveling around the UK this summer but it’s looking unlikely as I think everywhere will be so busy. Those of you who know me, know that I like to seek out the quiet places. But, we’ll see – fingers crossed I’ll be able to explore somewhere new.

Jesamine wasn’t taken off the road for the winter, but I didn’t actually use her. So a couple of weeks ago I set about ensuring she’s road-worthy, checking tyre pressures, oil, etc. I wasn’t surprised that the battery was flat but I’ve got a magic charger thingy so I’m a dab hand at firing her up! Last week Jesamine, Molly, and me hit the road to the supermarket and had a little walk along the canal. I am the Queen of Multitasking!

So, today we did the same. I needed a break from editing my novel and the fresh air usually clears some of the cobwebs away. In fact, my smiling starts as soon as I unlock Jesamine. Molly hops in, full of anticipation and settles on the back seat. And as soon as we’re on the road and my old 70s music is playing, my heart soars.

I’m very lucky in that Tesco sits next to a canal (The Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation). So I can pop into the supermarket for a quick forage, and then take Molly for a walk. Molly is fine in the van, she just lays on the seat and has a doze. A retired greyhound’s life is a very tiring one.

As luck would have it, we came across a couple of swans on the bank. I’d spent the morning editing a scene where a swan gets caught and my leading lady rescues it. The swan, of course, hisses and fights her – it doesn’t know what’s going on. And wouldn’t you know it, the two swans I came across this afternoon hissed and postured and flapped their wings at poor Molly (who actually would have liked to eat them, I’m sure) which was rather wonderful. I’d forgotten how vicious they can be and to see them so close has really helped me with the scene.

We walked along to Beeleigh Falls (not quite as dramatic as Niagara but it’s close!) and reminisced about a walk along here with Lovely Hubby. That had been at the height of summer and the place was mobbed. Today, I passed a couple of fishermen and a few dog walkers. The sun was shining and people were smiling. Moorhens and ducks glided along the water. I looked for tadpoles (far too early, I know, but I always do) and fought the urge to paddle.

Soon we’ll be able to spread our wings and travel. But I think how lucky I am to have this right on my doorstep.

A desert trek in Jordan

Tim and I had always planned to travel – as I expect most people do. It was always ‘one day’.

Then, in November 2017 he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma – a bone marrow cancer. It’s not curable but is treatable which centres around trying to buy you extra time. He was lucky, he hadn’t had any symptoms; it had been picked up by a routine medical. After the initial shock, we settled into a routine of blood tests and visits to a consultant every three months. Before each appointment the tension ramped up, but we were always relieved to discover that his blood levels had remained stable. So far, so good.

Tim was 55. The consultant guessed that Tim might have ten years before needing treatment as he was otherwise fit and well. We worked out our sums and decided to save as hard as we could to pay off the mortgage so Tim could retire at 60. We would outrun this thing. We began exercising and eating more healthily – Tim needed to be fit for the gruelling treatment ahead.

Originally, we’d thought that when we retired we’d rent our house out, buy a campervan/motorhome and travel around Europe and the British Isles for a year. That had been the plan. I still have the folder where we put newspaper and magazine clippings – all for our ‘one day’. The diagnosis of multiple myeloma changed that. Tim didn’t want to be away from our children now he knew the clock was ticking. We decided we would plan family holidays and make the most of the time we had. And we really did.

It came as a shock on 4th January, 2019 when I took Tim to hospital with a suspected stroke. It was even more of a shock to learn two hours later that he had a brain tumour. At first the consultant was optimistic but after a biopsy, we were told it was the worst possible kind. A glioblastoma. So deep in his brain that it was inoperable. He may perhaps have a year.

More tests followed and his condition deteriorated rapidly. The only way I can describe it is that it was like dementia taking hold at 90 miles per hour. Chemotherapy was arranged to ease his symptoms but unfortunately he was too unwell to start the treatment. The promised year was reduced to six months.

After a couple of weeks Tim began to confuse words. He thought he was saying the right thing and he was absolutely spot on with his thoughts. But his words were muddled. After about six weeks he lost the ability to communicate. He knew exactly what was going on but he couldn’t speak, or write, or type, or read. We communicated in a strange way – more guesswork than anything else. 

Right until the end he kept his sense of humour and he faced the end with a strength that I admire so much. He passed away in the early hours of the morning on 29th March 2019, at home, with me and our children holding his hands.

One of the places we’d hoped to visit (although not in the campervan!) is Petra in Jordan. Tim loved the Middle East and was fascinated by its history and landscape. He loved camels and the heat, sand-dunes and the people. He worked in Saudi for a fair amount of time and made many friends. When he died it was comforting to receive messages from people I’d heard him speak of.

Tim gave me a seashell from a beach in Yanbu in Saudi Arabia. I often hold it and I think of him there. I have a photo of him outside Laurence of Arabia’s house. This part of his life was foreign to me but I used to love hearing his stories.

It’s because of all this: these stories, our ‘one day’, the seashell, that I’m doing a charity trek with Dream Challenges to raise money for The Brain Tumour Charity, 2-9 April, 2022. We start our trek at Wadi Araba and walk to Petra over five days – I say ‘walk’, but this is serious stuff. On two of the days we walk for eight hours; on another two days we walk for a meagre six hours!

I’ll be setting up a Just Giving page and hoping to raise oodles and oodles of money for the charity. It’s too late for Tim, but I just might be able to help someone else.

I’ll also be blogging about my journey. I’m middle-aged, fat, and unfit. I think I might have bitten off more than I can chew. But I need to do this. I need to show Tim that I can do this.

I’m doing it for Tim. For my best friend.

This blog about my journey can be found here.

Just Molly and me

Happy New Year!

How to see the new year in is a conundrum this year. Thankfully, after ten days of self-isolation due to coming into contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus, today I was free! Gosh, how I’ve missed my walking boots.

I resisted temptation to jump straight in. Instead, I took Molly for a walk this afternoon as I wanted to be near the water when the sun set. Living on the sunrise coast means our sunsets over the sea are purely in our imagination. And it’s been a flat sort of day – I glimpsed the sun ghostily doing its thing behind thick clouds earlier. By the time I got outside it had given up the ghost (ha! great pun there).

But there was something about being in mud, with the temperature just above freezing, and the breeze freezing my ears off that was pleasant. Yes, I’m going to use the word ‘pleasant’.

Much of today, the grand finale of the year, has been quite underwhelming. The day here in Essex has been grey. The temperature hasn’t changed much. We can’t socialise. Even the supermarket wasn’t very super. It’s felt as if all the air has been sucked out of it.

I’m very much aware that this is a good place in which to be. I am very much aware that in hospitals and in many households life is very different. For there, the day will not have been underwhelming. Today will have been about life and death.

I walked along the sea wall and watched the Canada geese and, as always, I was grateful for the moment. An underwhelming day is good. It means that I, and all those that I love, are safe. And who could ask for more than that?

Happy New Year, dear friends. I hope the new year is filled with love, peace, happiness, and good health….and laughter – we all need a bit of that.

Jesamine, Molly, and me

Heybridge Basin, Essex

Swimming in December? Just look at that smile!

Deep into edits today, I realised I’d become stuck. All had been going well and suddenly a piece of dialogue just wouldn’t work. The conversation wasn’t sounding right – the characters weren’t doing as I wanted them to do. So I grabbed Molly’s lead and my camera, and we jumped into Jesamine for a winter estuary walk.

This time last year I was still full of the excitement of returning home from Shetland. This year is very different. So many people I know are struggling and bad news seems to be everywhere. I feel as if I’m missing Tim more than I ever have (last night I wondered if it would be weird to stuff some of his clothes that I’ve kept and spray them with his aftershave because I wanted to hug him so much – bonkers, I know). There’s a Maroon 5 song called Memories, that always makes me think of Tim, and last night, when I was scrolling through social media (a huge mistake before I try to sleep), I came across the song by One Voice Children’s Choir and I realised it’s based on Pachelbel’s Canon in D, one of my all-time favourite pieces of classical music, and I played it over and over and….well….I had a rough night’s sleep.

Where’s all the mud?

So this afternoon I headed out, tired, frustrated that I couldn’t find the right words, but Pachelbel running through my mind. The car park was busy but when we got onto the sea wall, there were only a few people around. Before I knew it I was saying hello and chatting to people working on boats or walking their dogs. The tide was in which is unusual for me. I always seem to time my walks for when the tide is out and I realised how much I’ve come to love the muddy moonscape of the riverbed.

I came across a small group who were swimming, and I got chatting to one of the ladies. She said they swim almost every day. Her smile was infectious and I felt my heart settle. Molly and I only walked for an hour or so. It was cold but not bitterly so. The landscape was a steely blue – almost impossible to tell water from sky.

Sky or sea?

I came home singing along to Johnny Cash and A Thing Called Love. For a little while I found peace – and love. For a little while I let the estuary hold me and I allowed myself to let go of my fear and sadness. I started humming Pachelbel again, but this time I was smiling and thinking of the line in the pop song: memories bring back you. To remember is usually comforting but sometimes it’s painful. That’s the risk I have to take – what’s the alternative? I have to trust that everything will be okay.

So, back home and back at the keyboard. I tried having a word with my characters but they just wouldn’t cooperate. There was only one thing for it. I highlighted their boring conversation and pressed delete!

Sunshine

Just Molly and Me

Northey Island, Essex

It’s been a while since I’ve been on an adventure. Since I got back from Happisburgh I’ve struggled with my mental health and although I can’t say I’m tickety-boo, at least I feel hopeful again. This is all part of grief, I’ve been told. There’s no rhyme nor reason to it. You’re swimming along and think everything’s fine, and then something grabs you by the ankle and pulls you under.

Anyway, Jesamine’s poorly (an electrical problem) and it’s nearly a year since I went to Shetland, and I thought it’s about time I took some time out and spent a few hours invoking some of the spirit I found at my November home. I’m calling it: be more Shetland.

So yesterday I made some tattie bread and boiled some eggs. And today I headed for Northey Island – just seven miles down the road. I’ve been before, a long time ago, and it’s the inspiration for the book I’m writing, although I’ve given it a fictional name and taken huge liberties with its location, size and layout. The island’s owned by the National Trust and you need a permit to visit which sounds very important but it’s just a case of dropping them an email with your request. I was lucky to get in, visits are stopped from 1st November till spring because of the number of overwintering birds that use Northey Island as their home, the short days and the weather.

And speaking of weather – it was Shetlandic, shall I say? The cold, wind and rain took me right back to last November, and having boiled eggs and tattie bread for lunch was perfect. There are no facilities on the island: just a farm, a house that’s used for holiday rentals, and a bird-hide. And that’s the beauty of it. As the wind buffeted me I felt miles away from home. The only sounds were the birds calling, the wind in the trees and occasionally the tap-tapping of rigging from boats across the water.

The farmer’s field was filled with Canada geese, dunlins toddled around on the mud picking for food, I watched an egret spread its wings and take flight. The plants that make up the saltmarsh were in glorious colour, and I spotted a path through the reed grass down to the water, which surely must be a sign of water voles. The air was salty with seaweed, the clouds were low and grey, and my face was wet with rain. Trudging along with Molly by my side, I realised that my heart wasn’t racing, my hands weren’t shaking and my brain-fog had gone.

On an island, just seven miles from home, I found peace.

Jesamine, Molly, and me

Happisburgh, Norfolk

Happisburgh lighthouse

I went to Happisburgh simply because of the name. Intriguingly, it’s pronounced ‘Haze-bruh’ but I shall always pronounce it Happys-berg in my head. I stayed at Manor Caravan Park for two nights which was lovely. I had a view of the Grade I Listed church and the lighthouse, and the sea was just a fifteen-minute walk away.

I’ve read about houses sliding into the sea and remember seeing Happisburgh on the news. But nothing prepared me for actually being there.

Sandy cliff

The beach is shallow and sandy and the shoreline has boulders in places, and old groynes and timber posts a little out to sea – all to try to protect the village. The cliffs are made of a sandy clay and they look so fragile. Mounds of cliff top sits on the beach where it has broken away, the grassy clumps looking out of place.

Signs warn about getting too close to the cliff edge – they say to stay at least five metres away, but I wonder how old the signs are because the path runs precariously close in places. As I walked along the cliff, I came to a row of houses that looked to be so close to the edge. I thought they might be abandoned but, shockingly, they still appear to be inhabited. It made me shiver and worry. At what point do you decide to abandon your home? There is no government compensation or rehoming scheme – everything is destined to be lost, claimed by the sea.

The coast is eroding at an average of two metres a year. Over the last twenty years, thirty-five houses in Happisburgh have been lost to coastal erosion. The village has a population of just 900.

That evening, the wind picked up and rain set in. I could see the lighthouse blinking softly in the gloom, and Jesamine was swayed by the gusts. I closed the curtains against the night and as I drifted into sleep I thought of those residents near the cliff’s edge. Were they able to sleep, or did they stay awake, keeping watch? Did every creak make their heart lurch and make them want to run? Unaware that their houses had been built on shifting sand, and consequently, their lives, too, were they clinging desperately, hoping for the best?

I’d wanted to have a happy time in Happisburgh, and mostly I did. I had lunch at Hill House Inn where I got chatting to a lovely young family. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was inspired to write one of his Sherlock Holmes adventures here. The village has also been visited by Turner, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Sir John Betjeman, and the Queen Mother.

Cormorant – how I love these guys

Tim would’ve liked it here, I’m sure of it. And I missed him very much. It’s alright this driving to places and walking and seeing things. It’s alright spending my evenings with the radio on and writing or reading…. filling every little piece of time to stave off the yawning chasm of loneliness threatening to swallow me up. Although it’s alright, it’s exhausting. I miss the time spent sitting back in companionable silence, or chatting about the day. I miss times spent laughing at a shared joke needing no explanation. It seems that I keep busy to stave off the emptiness – I do things to try to fill the ragged crater that is all that remains from when he was taken.

Happisburgh driftwood beach art

While I was doing my final washing up at the campsite, a man disregarded social distancing and took a place next to me. He glibly informed me that it was ‘all b*ll*cks’ and if he had coronavirus, he wouldn’t be at the campsite. He told me that he works at Newmarket and he’s seen how people panic about Strangles in horses but there’s nothing you can do about it; you have to let it take its course. He said that Covid-19 is the same and there is no point in social distancing. I said I’d lost my husband last year and I couldn’t bear it if I lost one of my children and that one is classed as vulnerable. He scoffed and said: ‘It don’t maaa-er. If yer get it yer get it. Corse there’ll be fatalities. It’s only natural. People are just selfish.’ I don’t think he saw the irony. I shut up and let him rattle on.

I left Happisburgh trembling and tearful. I drove along the coast to Eccles on Sea where I was informed by a local that it’s a private estate and it’s impossible to park there. On I went to California where there were no spaces and all I saw was a sea of holiday chalets.

At Winterton-on-Sea I once again found calm. The lady in the parking kiosk was friendly and the dunes were spectacular. I spent an hour walking along the beach, letting the sun and wind caress my face, and the softly breaking waves soothe my mind. I was so engrossed in the moment that I didn’t see the wave curling over my feet. Never mind. Canvas shoes soon dry out.

I arrived home exhausted and tearful. Yesterday was spent doing chores and today I had booked to go on a workshop. But after a night of insomnia my nerves are on edge and I’m opting to stay in bed for the day. I can’t risk an offhand comment that will send me sliding into the sea, scrabbling in the sand to keep my head above water and stay ‘normal’. I know that the gentleman who’s running the workshop is lovely and kind. But what if there’s someone there like washing-up-man?

I’m just not strong enough right now. But tomorrow, well it’s a new day. And tomorrow I’m grateful for work at a coffee shop. Tomorrow, I shall do my best to have my sunny side up.

Jesamine, Molly, and me

Mersea Island, Essex

After a night of insomnia I finally got up at 3.45am yesterday. The weather forecast was for rain and thunderstorms all day but I decided, on the spur of the moment, to take Jesamine and Molly to Mersea Island – just 40 minutes away.

Now, I have spent a lifetime planning and I’m gradually learning to let go and just go with the moment. Thankfully I haven’t completely forgotten my Girl Guide moto of ‘Be Prepared’ and Jesamine is loaded with supplies, so the thought of a cuppa by the sea in the rain (with nothing to do but get in and drive) was most appealing.

The sun, trying to do its thing

Visiting Mersea Island is always exciting. The journey takes you through little villages where the road sometimes dwindles to one lane. Chocolate-box cottages line the lanes and straw bales lay in fields. The road meanders through Tollesbury (known as the village of ‘plough and sail’; and a filming location for Great Expectations and Liar), through Goldhanger (you remember Jeremy Bamber and the White House Farm murders? – I always give a little shiver as I drive through), Great Wigborough (where I volunteer at Essex Wildlife Trust‘s headquarters).

Mersea Island sits in a creek as it opens out to the sea, and is connected to the mainland by a low bridge, called The Strood. It often floods at high tide, completely cutting off the island. Somehow, that sounds rather magical and Agatha Christie-esque!

I’ve only visited the island by car before, and never this early in the morning. No parking is allowed by the waterfront and the car parks I usually use had locked gates, or a barrier that poor Jesamine couldn’t limbo under. It felt rude to park outside someone’s house on a double-yellow line, so I drove around and around – there was nowhere. No room at the inn to put the kettle on and let Molly stretch her legs.

Then I remembered an App I’ve got for my phone called park4night which shows places where campervans and motorhomes can park. Ha-ha! There was one spot that had four parking spaces. It was a long-shot, but…success! It was just a five-minute walk to the sea, and so worth it.

Brightlingsea beach huts

The sky was misty and heavy. Oyster shells crunched underfoot. The tide was out and sailing boats sat listlessly in the calm water. I stood where the foot-ferry usually waits to take passengers across the water to Point Clear and Brightlingsea. I’m not sure if I was too early or if they’re not running at the moment but it wasn’t there. On the opposite side of the creek, the pretty beach huts of Brightlingsea lined the shore, their seaside colours muted by the mist.

Campervan James, as he’s saved in my phone – the lovely man at Keen Kampers, Oxon who partnered me with Jesamine – has kept in touch. He gently pushes me on and encourages me to embrace life with a campervan. He shares playlists and tips, and suggests things that seem to be way out of my comfort zone and yet makes me think I might give it a go (wild camping, traveling through France and Switzerland). I’ve joined a Facebook group called Connecting Campers: Solo adventures for women around 50+ (give or take a decade) and I’m in awe of the journeys some of these women make. I’m amazed by the friendliness of the campervan community and I hope, when I really hit the road next year, that I’ll meet up with some of these inspiring people.

It didn’t rain yesterday. And I had my cuppa in a tiny car park looking out at a footpath and hedgerows. I hadn’t planned the trip, and it didn’t end up quite how I’d thought but it forced me to visit a part of the island I haven’t been to before. This is what it’s all about isn’t it, this not planning? Grabbing what life throws at me and finding my own path. I’m not going to lie, it’s lonely and scary having only myself to rely on. The old me would’ve seen yesterday as a failure – unable to get into a car park, I probably would’ve just driven straight home. The new me sees yesterday as a success (a small one – I didn’t climb a mountain, or anything) but it’s giving me the confidence to make longer journeys next year. And I drove home happy and thankful.

Batcombe Vale, Somerset

Jesamine, Jilly and me

My travels are supposed to be about exploring the coastline of the British Isles but lockdown has put that on hold for a while. Lots of people are flocking to the coast and so Jilly (a friend I made in Shetland, who actually lives in Cornwall) and I decided to meet inland. As luck would have it, we found a small campsite nestled deep in the Somerset countryside.

Jesamine

So last week I took Jesamine on my longest journey yet – 175 miles to Batcombe Vale Campsite. I’d decided to leave Molly at home with Lovely Son as I had some visits to make on the way, and I’m glad I did as the temperature was sweltering. I melt in the heat, and Molly is far worse.

Jilly and I were both nervous – we’d never actually camped in our vans overnight before. As I drove in, I was afraid I’d feel like an imposter among all the serious equipment transported by very expensive cars. But I needn’t have worried, everyone was friendly and welcoming and on our first evening a lady opposite came over for a G&T.

Hello

I’d left my walking boots at home (it was a mistake, honestly!) and so any hikes were out of the question but with the weather so warm it was lovely to just mooch around the campsite and catch up on the things we’ve been doing since Shetland.

I still think about that time and know that I’m lucky. I hadn’t realised it then, but I was running away, allowing my brain to rest and my heart to find stillness. Being in Shetland gave me that, and more. I found confidence and the time to just be. We don’t often get that in life.

I’ve wondered, too, about Jesamine – am I running away? Am I simply finding another way to keep the grief at bay? I don’t think so. Buying a campervan and travelling around the UK and Europe was something Tim and I had planned to do and so I feel as if he’s there, with me. Only now I have to do all the planning, map reading, and driving. I’m not doing it in the way that he would (he was so good at all that stuff) but I’m finding my own path. It’s a bit rickety at times (I got lost on my way to the campsite) but I’m learning that it doesn’t matter. I can go at my own pace. I’m lucky. I have so many people who are helping me and looking out for me.

Almost bedtime

I’m itching to hit the road, to take a longer trip. But the pandemic is making me twitchy to go too far. I’ll stay in my homeland of East Anglia for now – there is so much I haven’t seen – and then next year (if all goes well) maybe I’ll be confident enough for a month or two away.

When I first bought Jesamine, the lovely owner said I should explore France and Switzerland. That seemed like such a huge, scary thing to do. But now, just nine weeks later, I’m thinking about it. The idea is churning away in the back of my mind.

I have a new-found confidence. I have a sense of humour. But more importantly, I have breakdown cover. What more could I need?