William the Conqueror meets Thomas the Tank Engine

Corfe CastleWhat a lovely way to say goodbye to Dorset, travelling on the Swanage Railway to Corfe Castle. Astonishingly, we’ve never visited this part of England before but we’ve fallen in love with this beautiful county. We’ve walked some of the South West Coast, Path (at 630 miles, the longest national trail in the UK) and cycled around the quiet lanes and thatched villages. We’ve never been far from the sea and my only frustration is that my photography skills aren’t good enough to do the views justice.

The Swanage Railway is a great way to approach Corfe Castle and its village. It’s run by volunteers, who rescued the Swanage to Wareham line after its closure in 1972 and since then have lovingly and painstakingly restored it to its former glory. We left Gertie at the park and ride at Norden station, and boarded a carriage originally in use in the 1950’s. I don’t know why this was so pleasing, but it was.

The castle is owned and managed by the National Trust, so there are the obligatory idiot-proof information boards, tea room, medieval dressing up booth etc, but once you get past these, the ruins of William the Conqueror’s iconic castle are impressive and strangely atmospheric. It dates back to the 11th century and commands a gap in the Purbeck Hills on the route between Wareham and Swanage.

Corfe village

Apparently, the name Corfe derives from the Old English ceorfan, meaning ‘a cutting’, referring to the gap. From the top (a pretty steep climb on a very hot day) the views are stunning; rolling hills and a glimpse of the sea in the distance.

So, a journey back through the history of this place, both distant and comparatively recent.  What a fascinating country England is.


Westward Ho

Kimmeridge BayWell not that far west, more west-ish, in Dorset. The weather is glorious and Kimmeridge Bay is laid out in all its Jurassic glory. Today we cycle (well, I cycle and John walks as years of neglect have taken their toll on his bike) to the pretty thatched village of Kimmeridge to have lunch and visit the Etches Collection, a ‘multimillion pound’ museum of fossils.

Luckily, lunch is excellent. Luckily because Clavell’s Cafe is the only place to eat for miles around. We don’t visit the museum, entry £8 each. We’re not mean or anything, but £16 to look at some old fossils seems a bit steep. Instead, we spend the £16 on coffee and sticky toffee pudding back at Clavell’s. Oh stop it. We’re on holiday.

Clavell's CafeWe are staying at a site on the Smedmore Estate and it’s incredibly peaceful here. Pheasants poke about in the grass like chickens and the only sounds are natural ones; wind, sea, birdsong, oh and the odd crack of a shotgun which usually signals the disappearance of one of the pheasants. There’s no shower block, no loos, just a fresh water supply and somewhere to put nasty, smelly stuff. And very efficient recycling bins. Simple, quiet and surrounded by beautiful rolling countryside.

The corollary of all this peace and quiet is that as well as Clavell’s being the only place to eat, the nearest place to buy food supplies is a Spar in Corfe, an exhausting six mile slog by bike up and down a hilly, narrow lane,  or all the upheaval of going in Gertie. So we do what all wild campers do. We order a delivery from Sainsbury’s. We don’t need much so to get the order over £40 we are forced to buy a bottle of gin. And tonic. And limes. And lemons. Goodness wild camping is tough (that’s a joke, by the way.)

Clavell's Tower and Kimmeridge BayNotes for campers: We stayed at Smedmore Caravan Site, a Caravan Club affiliated site. Seven nights with electric hook up was £105. Don’t follow a satnav for the last few miles as it may lead you down a very narrow lane with no passing places, with a 1:5 hill with steep drops to the side. Ask for directions from the site office when you book. It really is a  bit remote so it might be a good idea to bring adequate supplies of food and drink with you, or you too may find yourself compelled to buy gin…

The financial adviser tango

Retirement and escape in Gertie beckons so on Friday we meet the first of three potential financial advisers.  He arrives early, his voice so strident that it somehow penetrates the peaceful deafness of our ageing Border Collie who obviously thinks there’s an enormous punch-up going on.  She paces, concerned, and unusually for her avoids the visitor.

We have all our projections and pension information ready.  The meeting begins but doesn’t exactly follow the path we were expecting. Instead we learn that he plays rugby ‘Like to keep trim’ he beams, patting a not insubstantial stomach.  We learn that he doesn’t travel from his local station because he doesn’t want to be ‘at the mercy of those RMT b*****ds. Oops, lady present, pardon my French’. We learn that he and his second wife have a ‘double D relationship, she drinks, I drive.’  We learn that he has three children and was left to look after them when his wife did a moonlight flit, which I’m beginning to think was an eminently sensible course of action.  We learn that although he doesn’t exactly say ‘Put the kettle on mother and leave the men to talk’,  I am not expected to ask questions, especially questions like what his charges are and how many clients he has.  Next to me I feel John twitching.

Me: So how many clients do you have?

Him: Lots

Me:  How many?

Him: Hundreds

Me: How many hundreds

Him:  Several

Me:  Five hundred?

Him: Of course not

Me:  Four hundred?

We finally settle on ‘around 200’ which seems like a lot to us, considering he says he believes in doing everything himself so doesn’t have any help.

The next hurdle is the fees.  We ask what they are.  A simple question, yes?  No.  Sentences like High Current Income Mutual Fund, Law of Large Numbers, Bear Market, time value of money (he kindly suggests that I might want to look this one up later), Quick Ratio trip easily, and loudly, from his smiling lips.  We finally interrupt:

‘Yes, but what fees do you charge?’

‘Ah now, that depends’

‘On what?’

‘Every client is an individual’

‘Yes, but do you have any documentation showing your fees?’

‘Well, you can have this’ as he slides a printout across the table.  This is his firm’s client agreement. ‘But those figures aren’t what I’d charge’


Next he asks for John’s national insurance number.  John asks why he needs this.  ‘Well, we won’t get far without it, will we?’  ‘But this is just an initial meeting, we’re interviewing other financial advisers too, obviously.’  Smile disappears.  ‘Yes, well it goes two ways. I’m interviewing you too.’  Then we realise that he assumed from the start that we were taking him on.  We’re not.

Oh dear, two more to go.



This post has absolutely nothing to do with travel or campervans or Hymers other than when we’re in Gertie and the weather’s bad John writes poetry. And as it was Mother’s Day yesterday I thought I’d share this one with you that was inspired by his mum.   It might strike a chord if you had or have a mother or grandmother who hoarded ‘treasures’. Hope you enjoy it.

Biscuit tin

Such things she kept, to hold her memories in.
A pretty box, a tin, a January journal
eternally returning to a long past year,
here in a pile atop her empty bed,
Here to be discarded or, at last, be read.

Rimed with a film of dust and breath
an ancient kitten gazes
from a festive tin.
Hazed and rusted, captured
unchanging in enamel glaze.

Under the reluctant lid the sleeping scents
of Bourbon Cremes and Wafer Pinks await
the long missed kiss of air. Draw in, exhale,
pale memories of sweetness and
long eaten Christmas treats.

And in their place are pictures,
packed and bound in perished bands.
Box Brownie ancestors, their Instamatic young.
Snap, a child; snap, a wife; snap, a life is captured.
Caught in silver salts.

A wartime bride who has my eyes,
a dark haired man in black and white.
They look out from a formal frame,
ready to claim the shining dues of youth.
They walk into a future now gone past.

A child, another child, until we stand five in a row.
The shutter snaps off shards of time,
suspends us in emulsion on thin card.
We grow and as we age
each frame grows younger.

The groom is gone, the bride in black
is girded by her young.
Her widow’s back curves in a question mark.
Where has the future gone?
She’s kept it in a biscuit tin.

I touch my breast to feel a final snap.
The bride, black bounded now,
surrounded by indulgence of all sin.
I place this one last memory on the top
and close the biscuit tin.

Readying the garden for travel

My gardenNo, not a garden on wheels. It’s not going anywhere, but we are, eventually, and when we go off on our travels in Gertie the garden is going to be left to its own devices for months on end.  So I’ve got started now, fine tuning it so that we don’t come back to a tangled mess.  Of course I could wait until next winter but doing it now makes our longed-for escape seem nearer somehow.

During my working life as a garden designer I was often asked by clients to give them a garden needing no maintenance. There’s no such thing.  I blame Charlie Dimmock.  What there are though are plants that are born survivors.  Plants that can see off the most determined weeds. Plants that can do all the hard work for us while we’re gallivanting off to the Peloponnese or the Anti Atlas or the Alentejo region of Portugal (you may have guessed by now that I’m feeling a bit restless.)  Throw in a few easy going shrubs and it will be just as beautiful when we come home as when we left it.  Well, that’s the theory anyway…

I thought fellow travellers who are also garden owners might be interested in some of the plants I’m using  to try to control what happens while we’re away, so here they are. Hover the cursor over the picture to get the name. Contact me if you want any more information on them.  Right, I’m off to the garden…



Ikea on a Saturday…argggh!

Gertie's new laptop standI love Gertie so much that today I sacrifice my Saturday morning and go to Ikea at Lakeside. This is not something you will usually hear me say.  Normally I would, to use John’s quite disgusting expression, rather eat my own earwax (forgive me, he’s from Birmingham), but instead at 8.30 this morning I am eating frukost in the Restaurang, although not the meatballs, you have to draw the line somewhere.

We’ve taken Gertie’s huge table out.  It’s given us a lot more room but nowhere to put cups, glasses, laptop etc. Then someone on the excellent Hymer Owners Group Facebook page said we should check out a laptop stand, which looks good on the Ikea website.  It costs £15 and they will deliver for £7.00. Ha! Way too easy.

What we do instead is go to the store.  We spend £124.05.  We buy: the laptop stand, an artificial sage plant, a pot for the artificial sage plant, two glass cafe latte cup thingys, some stuff you put under rugs to stop them slipping, a bedside cupboard, two packs of napkins, three spotlight ceiling sets, seven bulbs for the ceiling sets, a doormat, a wooden chopping block and a metal sieve.  The only things we actually need are the laptop stand and the napkins.

You know that bit in Father Ted when all the priests get lost in the lingerie section? That’s me in Fjällsta Florvåg.  After seeing the same room setup for the fourth time I realise that I’m lost and can’t find John.  Ring him. No reception in the blodig place.  It’s beginning to fill up with people who are walking like zombies.  It’s a strange phenomenon I’ve noticed before. A slow, ambling, aimless gait.  I’m in the kitchen bit now and feel like whacking my way through them with a stekpanna.  And then I find him.  I’m not going again for at least the next ten years, Gertie or no Gertie.


Riding along on the crest of a wave

DGertie the Hymer waveso you remember, for those of you who are old enough, the excitement of spotting a car with GB plates on the way to holidays in some Spanish Costa or other? As children, we played ‘spot the car’, with the winner getting a point. That’s all we got, a point, but the competition was enough to make sure we stayed glued to the windows, faces screwed up in concentration, at least from the ferry to Arras (there were lots of points given out from the ferry to Arras.)

Well, I’m happy to tell you that waving is big in the motorhome world. Being as tribal as any other group of human beings, the warmest, most excited wave is reserved for other Hymers, naturally, but we do wave at other makes. Obviously never, ever at cars towing caravans though. That would just be a step too far…
Of course, the problem with waving at large white vehicles is that sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between a motorhome and any other large white vehicle, like a delivery van. Some wave back, some look straight ahead and some stare blankly at you wondering if you’re a nutter chasing them because they’ve forgotten your Oxo cubes.

I like it. It’s a warm sort of feeling when you’re lost and in the middle of nowhere to get a friendly wave. Sometimes, if you look like you’re in trouble, it’s not unusual for another campervan to stop and help you out. We’re really nice that way.