Hope the voyage is a long one

 

06.11.2018 Saillans (5)
I can’t resist cats, pretty tea-towels and net curtains

I heard the author Louis de Bernieres talking on the radio and {as so often happens with radio programmes] he took me to a new place – Ithaka by Constantine Cavafy.  He was sharing a poem that had changed his life and it resonated with me too.  The Greek island of Ithaca or Ithaka identifies with Homer’s Ithaca, home of Odysseus and his odyssey to return there.  Ithaka is our goal, the thing we get up for every morning or our own quest.  But like Odysseus, it is the adventures and discoveries along the way to our quest that are important and there are good reasons why we shouldn’t rush the journey just to get to the end of our odyssey.  Constantine Cavafy speaks of the importance of enjoying the road to our own Ithaka, pausing to appreciate the route but keeping ‘Ithaka always in your mind’.  We can then hope to arrive at our Ithaka older and wiser after years of learning on the way.  ‘Without her you wouldn’t have set out’, Constantine Cavafy reminds us.

Louis de Bernieres interprets Ithaka and ‘what you’re destined for’ as every human’s inevitable journey to death.  We take the first steps on this journey as soon as we are born and we all hope that this is a long and interesting journey.  ‘Ithaka’ and Louis de Bernieres’ response, ‘When the Time Comes,’ are poems that intimate that we would do best to enjoy whatever life throws at us and hope that we don’t reach the end of our journey until we are old.  Louis de Bernieres poem has become popular as a reading at funerals and I can see why.

To someone who adores to travel those words, ‘And if you wish, let there be Spanish music, Greek seas, And French sun, the hills of Ireland if you loved them’, make me smile.  Even if my own Ithaka comes tomorrow, I have been lucky enough to have found those and other treasured places … but hopefully my journey will continue a little longer. 

Ithaka, Constantine Cavafy
As you set out for Ithaka 
hope your road is a long one, 
full of adventure, full of discovery. 
Laistrygonians, Cyclops, 
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them: 
you’ll never find things like that on your way 
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high, 
as long as a rare excitement 
stirs your spirit and your body. 
Laistrygonians, Cyclops, 
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them 
unless you bring them along inside your soul, 
unless your soul sets them up in front of you. 

Hope your road is a long one. 
May there be many summer mornings when, 
with what pleasure, what joy, 
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations 
to buy fine things, 
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony, 
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can; and may you visit many Egyptian cities 
to learn and go on learning from their scholars. 

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for. 
But don’t hurry the journey at all. 
Better if it lasts for years, 
so you’re old by the time you reach the island, 
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way, 
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich. 
 
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey. 
Without her you wouldn’t have set out. 
She has nothing left to give you now. 

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you. 
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, 
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean. 

When the Time Comes, Louis de Bernieres

When the time comes, it is better that death be welcome,
As an old friend who embraces and forgives.
Sieze advantage of what little time is left,
And if imagination serves, if strength endures, if memory lives,
Ponder on those vanished loves, those jesting faces.
Take once more their hands and press them to your cheek,
Think of you and them as young again, and running in the fields,
As drinking wine and laughing.
And if you wish, let there be Spanish music, Greek seas
And French sun, the hills of Ireland if you loved them,
Some other place if that should please, some other music
More suited to your taste.
Consider, if you can, that
Soon you’ll shed this weariness, this pain,
The heaped-upon indignities, and afterwards — who knows? —
Perhaps you’ll walk with angels, should angels be ,
By fresher meadows, unfamiliar streams.
You may find that those who did not love you do so now,
That those who loved you did so more than you believed.
You may go on to better lives and other worlds.
You may meet God, directly or disguised.
You may, on the other hand — who knows? — just wander off
To sleep that seamless, darkest, dreamless, unimaginable sleep.
Do not be bitter, no world lasts forever.
You who travelled like Odysseus,
This is Ithaca, this is your destination.
This is your last adventure. Here is my hand,
The living to the dying;
Yours will grow cold in mine, when the time comes.

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A motorhomers friend: William Rees Jeffreys

2011 July on Rees Jeffreys Road Fund car park at Rhaedr y cwm above Llan Festiniog
A gorgeous view from a Welsh Rees Jeffreys rest stop

My introduction to William Rees Jeffreys was quite by accident one sunny Sunday in the summer of 2011.  Travelling back to Manchester after a weekend camping in Dolgellau to walk the Mawddach Trail to Barmouth.  Keen to extend the carefree holiday feeling as long as possible, my partner and I took the country road from Llan Festiniog over the hills.  Spotting a car park with a view, we couldn’t resist stopping for a brew and a stroll.  The splendidly positioned car park had a plaque and always one to check out such things I learnt that the car park had been funded by the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund.  It certainly was an excellent place for a motorhomer to stop; no height barrier, an extensive view, a babbling stream and Rhaedr y cwm waterfall and enough bilberries to fill a pie all within a few 100 metres.

Like many brief encounters, I didn’t give Mr Rees Jeffreys another thought until twelve months later I had another chance meeting with this enigmatic fellow.  Once again on the lookout for a good place to pull up in the Blue Bus and have a brew, although without the good weather, we pulled off the M6 at Tebay (Junction 38) and followed the road towards Kendal.  Spotting a lay-by with a view across the M6 and the railway line to the Howgill Fells we pulled in and realised we were parking next to a familiar plaque.  The kettle went on and I climbed out, despite the drizzle, to read that the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund had also funded the construction of this road side parking.  Over a brew I starting wondering what the story was behind this man, why he felt the need to pay for car parks as far apart as Wales and Cumbria and why he deserved a plaque.

Back home, an internet search revealed some information about William Rees Jeffreys.  He was born in 1872, before Karl Benz had patented his internal combustion engine for a Motorwagen in 1886.  William Rees Jeffreys was a keen cyclist and was initially motivated in his campaigning to improve roads for cyclist.  As cars became more widespread, William Rees Jeffreys held positions with the Road Board (the precursor of the Department of Transport), the RAC, the Roads Improvement Association and the Institute of Automobile Engineers.  From 1919 he was a leading light in the classification and numbering of the roads in Britain to help drivers navigate.  The road classification project was complete in 1926.

Following his death in 1954, William Rees Jeffreys generously wanted to continue improving facilities for road users and his estate provided the endowment for the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund.  This gives financial support every year for education and research related to road transport and also for physical road transport projects, hence all the lovely road side parking areas.

Motorhomers always need car parks and lay-bys and those next to roads often suit our purpose of a rest stop on a trip, giving a chance for a brew and a quick stretch of the legs without going out of our way and here was an organisation providing just the facilities the motorhoming community needs.  So, interesting as the Rees Jeffreys website was, it lacked a list of the road side rest areas the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund had supported and I wanted to know more.  An email to the Secretary quickly led to the arrival of a Rees Jeffreys Road Fund roadside rests list in the post a few days later.  This typed list showed 68 rest stops they had supported, from Wester Ross in Scotland to Cornwall.  With the list, I was now able to plan holiday routes to include a Rees Jeffreys Road Fund road side rest areas.

My next opportunity to meet my double-barrelled friend was on an early March trip to Pembrokeshire.  The delight of a quest like this is that you never know exactly where it will take you.  We had the small Cardigan Caravan and Camping site to ourselves and after star-gazing in the clear night sky; we woke to sunshine, white frosty fields and a frozen tap at the outside washing up facilities.   A warming breakfast slowly got us going and we drove the short distance to the small parking area on the B4582 for the Crugiau Cemmaes barrow.  The parking did not really merit the title car park but it had the usual Rees Jeffreys Road Fund plaque and did mean that we visited the round barrow, thought to be Bronze Age, and enjoyed the clear views over the Welsh countryside.

It is evident from the typed list that some local authorities have cottoned on to the availability of funding from the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund better than others and Pembrokeshire is clearly one of those, with six rest stops on the list, only matched by the Isle of Wight.  However, it soon also became clear that the list had some limitations; with no grid references or even road numbers, some were tricky to find.  Even with the help of online maps with street view, I never found the rest stop located at St David’s Road, Haverfordwest.

Not a person to give up on a friendship easily, the exploration continued further south with a couple of nights near Saundersfoot.  The generously sized lay-by at Wood near Newgale on the A487 was easier to find, although the extreme slope meant that even walking up and down the van was challenging.  Ditching the idea of brewing we enjoyed the wide view over Newgale Sands and St Brides Bay with fruit juice!

Heading north back through Wales, I sought out the only roadside rest listed in Powys.  Pont Marteg on the A470 north of Rhayader in the stunning river Wye or Afon Gwy valley was easy enough to find.  The beautifully sited car park had room for the Blue Bus and provided the opportunity I sought to stretch my legs and watch the Red Kites circling above.  It looked like a Rees Jeffreys Road Fund road side rest but a thorough search didn’t reveal the familiar plaque, so I couldn’t be sure.

The Rees Jeffreys Road Fund has over £7 million in the bank and uses the interest earned on this investment each year to fund mostly research projects and educational bursaries.  In 2017 no new car parks or road side rests were built but funding was given to encourage wild flowers on road side verges.   In 2016 The Rees Jeffreys Road Fund published a report on the need for a Major Road Network across England.

Having visited Rees Jeffrey Road Fund rest stops in England and Wales, I thought it was time to seek one out in Scotland.  Only twelve locations feature in the list for Scotland, so I wasn’t overwhelmed by the choice but a trip up to Oban and Mull at Easter was coming up and I got the list out and checked the map for possibilities.  I soon spotted that just north of Glasgow a rest stop was listed at Queen’s View on the A809 between Mingavie and Drymen that would work well with our route.  Only 45 minutes from the centre of Glasgow, the car park, funded by my old pal WRJ, enables the locals to park up and enjoy some fresh air and exercise.  From the car park a quick five minute pounding of the legs will take you to the view point where it is said Queen Victoria stopped to take in the view of Loch Lomond, the more energetic can spend two or three hours walking up to the crags of the strangely named hill, the Whangie.

The list of road side rests doesn’t give a year when a particular site was funded but the Queen’s View car park must have been some time ago, as even given the extremes of Scottish weather, the tarmac would benefit from renewing.  On a bank holiday, it was also busy and this spot didn’t provide the peaceful respite from driving I have come to associate with our esteemed friend.

We also visited the Iron Gate car park in Flintshire on foot, as part of a snowy walk over Moel Famau and so now have 62 of the 68 roadside rests funded from the endowment of William Rees Jeffreys left to visit.  The list travels with us in the glove compartment of our campervan and I have no doubt that my acquaintance with William Rees Jeffreys will be maintained and I will continue to be grateful for his generosity to motorhomers and other road users.

 

 

 

 

Campervan vegan lemon cup cakes

Vegan lemon cup cakes
Vegan lemon cup cakes

Like many other campervans our Devon Tempest has just a small combined oven and grill that runs on gas.  While the grill is useful for comforting toast, I use the oven much less.  I sometimes whip up some garlic bread or make pitta breads but we don’t heat up ready meals in the ‘van [preferring to cook from scratch] and I usually cook meals on the hob.  I know there are those who cook a full Sunday roast in their oven but for others the oven is just the place to store the frying pans.  Recently I decided to get my money’s worth out of this piece of campervan equipment and make cakes.

We were taking a camping trip in the Peak District and were being joined for the weekend by working friends who were due to arrive on Friday evening.  As the two retirees with time on our hands we had arrived a day early and were in charge of the first evening cooking rota.  We wanted to spoil our hard-working friends and as well as a selection of curries we were keen to provide a pudding, but with one friend joining us who is a vegan, a shop-bought cake was not an easy option.

I spent a happy hour on the Friday morning having my very own bake-off in our tiny kitchen, not really expecting it to be too successful.  I have made vegan cakes at home and they are generally easy to throw together, not requiring the time consuming techniques you need for traditional sponge cakes.  In the ‘van I used reusable silicone cup cake cases to make a dozen lemon cup cakes and was pleased when they came out looking great.  Decorating cakes is not my strong point, I don’t have the patience for delicate work, so I cheated with ready-made icing to give the cakes the finishing touch to make them look special.

That evening the cakes were all wolfed down in no time and there is now no stopping me in terms of campervan baking, look out Martin Dorey!

Recipe for Vegan Lemon Cakes – makes a dozen cup cakes or one loaf

  • 255 gms plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder + 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 65 gms sugar + pinch of salt
  • Zest + juice of 1 lemon [around 60 mls]
  • 120 mls vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of water
  • 240 mls of vegan yoghurt [milk-based plain yoghurt is fine  if you are not vegan]
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 50 gms melted vegan margarine

Preheat the over to 160C or similar.  Grease & line a 1 lb loaf tin if you are using this.

Sift the flour with the baking powder & soda and salt in to a bowl.  Add the lemon zest & sugar.

Add water, oil, yoghurt, lemon juice & melted margarine, combine quickly so that the flour is mixed in but do not over mix.

Pour your mixture in to your cup cake cases or loaf tin & bake until firm [about 40 minutes for the loaf tin, around 15 mins for the cup cakes].

Remove from the tin or cup cases & cool.  A simple topping is a glaze of 100 gms icing sugar mixed with the juice of a lemon [add this while the cake / cakes are still warm] or with other icing or topping of your choice.

 

 

Finding beauty and tragedy in the Dolomites in Italy

05.27.2018 Celina and Vajont valleys (10).JPG
The village of Casso sits high on the slopes of the valley

Northern Italy is pretty much all jaw-dropping beautiful.  We had been driving through green alpine valleys, stopping often to stand and look in awe at the craggy mountains above and the ice-blue river we were following.   Leaving the stunning River Cellina valley we followed the Torrente Cimoliana to the pretty village of Cimolais, all the time making a note to come this way again.  We drove over the Passo di Sant’Osvaldo coming down to the village of Erto.  Ahead I could see a scoured hillside, devoid of trees or vegetation, this certainly looked out of place.  We stopped the ‘van to take it in, at first wondering if this was a quarry but quickly realising the mountainside was too steep for such activity.  The scale of the ‘M-shaped’ scar on the hillside was hard to take in but we realised we were looking at a landslide.  What we didn’t realise at that moment was how devastating the landslide had been.  We had stumbled upon the Vajont Dam and the legacy of the disaster that occurred here on the night of 9 October 1963.

The Vajont Dam, a 265-meter high arch dam was in 1963 considered an amazing construction that created a large reservoir in the mountain valley.  The dam was well built and still stands as it withstood the unprecedented destructive power of that night.  On the 9 October 1963 a huge slice of the mountain slid in to the reservoir behind the dam.  Around 260 million cubic metres of rock hit the water and this created a massive wave that breached the Vajont Dam, the displaced water rising high and pouring with unimaginable force in to the Piave valley below, gaining speed all the while.

We stopped below the Alpine village of Casso that clings to the mountainside.  From here we could see the scar on the flank of Monte Toc and look down on the Vajont Dam that stands as a memorial to the thousands who lost their life.  We walked below Monte Toc trying to take in the scale of this avoidable disaster.  As the dam was planned and built many people warned about the geological instability of the area and the risk from the dam but corrupt and powerful institutions failed to listen.

We drove down the mountainside to the town of Longarone.  This lovely town is below the dam and in 1963 it was flattened by the tsunami of water that poured over the dam.  In the moving museum in the basement of the modern church there are photographs showing the aftermath and the names of people who died.  It is estimated that around 2,000 people were killed that night and I thought about all those lives cut short.

Although I left feeling somber, I was glad we had stopped to learn about this disaster that has left its mark on this beautiful landscape.

For photographs of the reservoir and the destruction of the landslide take a look here.  Today the Parco Naturale Dolomiti Friulane has been created to bring tourism back to this incredible and beautiful area.

05.27.2018 Celina and Vajont valleys (13)
In the museum in Longarone

 

Fortuna favours the bold: In Murcia Spain

2411 Fortuna Cueva Negra 031
Evening sunshine at Banos de Fortuna

Fortuna was the Roman goddess of luck and fate and she must have been smiling on us benevolently the day we decided to meander up to Baños de Fortuna, approximately 25 kms north-east of Murcia some years ago.  In pursuit of the Spanish coast, many people overlook small inland Spanish towns and yet we constantly find such places are well worth a stay and offer a different perspective to Spain that is a million miles away from the Costas.

Baños de Fortuna is a village developed around a hot spring and on the edge of the Sierra de la Pila.  It is three kilometres from the small town of Fortuna with a population of over 9,000; enough to ensure it has a supermarket and a weekly Saturday market, as well as a useful tourist information office eager to give out leaflets.  Situated in a dry and arid landscape that will bring to mind cowboy films, this part of Spain has warm and sunny winters that suit us northern Europeans.

The Romans must also have thought that Goddess Fortuna was smiling on them, when they found running hot water near Fortuna.  Banos de Fortuna has now developed into a small settlement, with two campsites and a spa resort.  We chose Camping La Fuente, a very well provisioned and excellently presented site; the main attraction being a large naturally heated swimming pool.  The site has generous gravel pitches, many with their own bathroom and all with sun-shades during the summer.  Laid out in crescents and small terraces you never feel that you are surrounded by lots of other campers, even when it is busy.  Around the pool are a bar and reasonably priced restaurant with terrace, the staff are helpful and knowledgeable and the campsite facilities include a hotel and bungalows.  At around 08.30 every morning we heard the welcome horn of the bread van that tours the campsite and tempts you with crusty bread and Spanish cakes.

Campsite guests can use the pool for a reduced daily rate and with a temperature of 35C some campers will spend most of the day lounging and chatting in the warm spring water, relieving their aches and pains and putting the world to rights.  A dressing gown, flip flops and swim wear is almost all the clothing you need if the pool is your prime reason for staying at Camping La Fuente and clearly many people visit to relieve their mobility problems.  The site is popular with German visitors and is busy through the winter months and it might be worth ringing ahead and booking if you plan to be here from January to March.

Fortuna continued to smile on us and during our week long stay in November.  We enjoyed sunshine and temperatures in excess of 20C each day; warm enough for shorts and to sit outside and enjoy a breakfast of fresh bread rolls from the bread van, greeting early morning swimmers on their way to the pool.

Lovely as the baths are, it would be a shame to come here and not explore the area.  We enjoy walking and cycling and found this was a campsite with plenty of opportunities to indulge in both.  Just a few minutes’ walk from the campsite is the spa resort, this has been renovated and the hotel buildings have been painted in bright colours that pick out attractive plaster work details.  There are benches and shady gardens of palm trees dotted around the spa and a smart souvenir shop which are certainly worth a wander around.

Using a photocopied map from the campsite reception and Spanish instructions, we set off to climb the 585 metre high hill visible from the site.  The walk was graded on the map as being of medium difficulty and it proved to be a steep and interesting climb through aromatic scrub of fragrant rosemary, lavender and thyme, with occasionally yellow and white splashes of paint on jagged rocks to assist our route finding.  The last few metres were a scramble that required hands and knees, but we were rewarded with extensive views across the dry, semi-desert landscape, dotted with brilliant green areas of cultivation and a peace and quiet you don’t find on many British hills on a sunny day.  We managed to navigate a less precipitous route back down the northern flank of the hill, eventually finding a trail through bushes and past tall agave plants.

The main road to Fortuna is a fairly busy one and the fast rumbling lorries from nearby quarries mean this isn’t a pleasant route for a leisure cyclist.  However, there is no shortage of quiet minor roads that make for very pleasant cycling.  The road to Capres from Banos de Fortuna is a little used, but well-surfaced road that climbs steeply up to the village for around five kilometres.  We rested on benches outside the low white church in Capres while we ate our picnic, the only thing to disturb us were the sounds of sheep grazing among the trees above the church, watched over by a sleepy shepherd.

La Cueva Negra, north of Fortuna, is also worth a trip.  This large cave, as the name suggests, has black walls which are covered with graffiti inscriptions, some dating back to those Fortuna seeking Romans.  There is plenty of parking here and public barbeques and it is clearly a popular spot at weekends, although on a November weekday we had it to ourselves.  We walked up to the cave and watched the Crag Martins and Black Wheatears flitting around the rocky cliffs as we looked down over an expansive landscape of low modern villas and citrus and olive trees.  On the same cycle ride we took in the Ermita at Cortao de las Peñas on the edge of the Parque Regional de la Sierra de la Pila, a roadside monument painted white, that is an extension of the surrounding cliffs.

A different day’s cycle ride found us exploring the area to the east of Fortuna and the nearby town of Abanilla.  We cycled through a confusing criss-cross of lanes, through lemon and orange groves and small housing estates, past industrial farming units and along irrigation channels.  This area is less hilly and more suitable for the lazy cyclist.  Although arid, many crops are grown in this area, as well as citrus fruits, peaches and olives, you will spot almonds and market gardening.  Abanilla is a pretty little town, with an attractive town centre and steep narrow streets and steps leading to pleasant plazas.  This is not an area where you will find stunning crowd-puller attractions, but we always enjoy the chance to explore small towns that are off the tourist circuit and ignored by the guide books.  Our 35-kilometre cycle ride saw us returning via La Huerta and on the eerily quiet A-21, through a landscape of dry gorges with peregrine falcon’s calling overhead.

Once you have exhausted all the nearby attractions, or if even the hot springs can’t ease your saddle sores, there are places of interest to visit in your campervan.  We had a splendid day driving along the Rio Segura valley north of Murcia to Archena, another ancient spa town and Cieza, where the huge fields of peach trees must be a riot of colour in spring.  To the south east is Orihuela, a charming town on the banks of the Rio Segura with fine buildings, a hillside castle, swathes of palm trees and a fascinating underground museum, the Museo de la Muralla, where you can see the remains of the old city walls and Arab baths

Hopefully, the Goddess Fortuna will smile on me and let me visit more of this interesting area of Spain at least once again.

La Villes-aux-Dames and Tours

06.19.2018 Tours (12)
La Ville-aux-Dames mural on one of the schools

In 1974 the good people of La Ville-aux-Dames near to the city of Tours in France decided [very appropriately] to give only women’s names to their streets and roads.  I loved finding La Ville-aux-Dames [the town of women] but didn’t expect the town to have taken the female theme to such amazing heights.  Even on the lovely campsite, Les Acacias in La Ville-aux-Dames all the chalets are named after women; you can stay in Edith Piaf, Maria Callas and others.  Taking a stroll around the local area I found not only are the roads named after women, the local schools are too; as well as Avenue Jeanne d’Arc, Square Mary Queen of Scots and Rue Colette I found École élémentaire Marie Curie.  Some names were less well known to me and had me checking them out; Gabrielle d’Estrées advised Henry IV and had three children by him and I learnt that Anna de Noailles wrote three novels and poetry.

The mural in the photograph above is on one of the local schools and has images of nine French women;  Marie Curie, George Sands, Colette, Lucie Aubrac [history teacher and resistance member] and Berthe Monsit [impressionist painter] and others.  I was delighted to think that all the children who attend this school will know who these women are and what they achieved, adding a bit of balance to the male-dominated history my own schooling involved.  Just walking around the streets was an education.

The name is testimony to the abbey for nuns that was here and it is said the name La Ville-aux-Dames comes from the old name for the area, Villa Dominarum, the Latin for ladies town.  Surrounded by excellent agricultural land the local people produced milk for Tours and the inhabitants became known as ‘Caillons’ after their curd cheese.  In November La Ville-aux-Dames’ Marche des Caillons, a sponsored walk, attracts over 400 people.  Today the inhabitants of La Ville-aux-Dames call themselves Gynepolitains from the Greek words for women and town.

The campsite proved to be fantastic for visiting the lovely city of Tours.  On the confluence of the Rivers Loire and Cher we had no expectations of this city and so its beauty and charm was a surprise.  We cycled the seven kilometres in to Tours along the Loire cycle route and chaining up the bikes pottered around fairly aimlessly.  We knew of no ‘must see’ sight so we were free to just wander and admire with no pressure.

Starting at the cathedral we had coffee and cake in a lovely cafe and then followed lively streets to the old city.  Here there are pretty squares surrounded by 15th century timber-framed houses with amazing narrow extensions on the back for staircases; these looked very Disney-esque and heath robinson.

In the big market hall we explored the lovely stalls and bought fresh vegetables and local cheese and yogurt for our evening meal.  We ate at a cheap and cheerful burger and kebab cafe in a lively square and finished up with sweet peppermint tea.  Walking back to our bikes by the River Loire I fell in love with the elegant fountain [below] in the Place Anatole in front of the library.

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Beautiful and vibrant Tours

Failing frugality: Year two of financial independence

05.28.2018 Lago di Corlo walk (2)
The pan is empty

It is now over 18 months since I finished the nine-to-five and 15 months since Mr BOTRA last had any paid work.  At the end of 2017 I was feeling pretty smug as our spending of £24,000 in our first year of retirement was well under budget – clever us I thought.  Now it feels as if all manner of expenses were just waiting in the wings for year two.  We are just over half way through our second year of spending our savings and we are on target to spend £3,000 more than last year.  You may recall £27,000 was our budget for each year. What has gone awry?

The campervan

Just over £1,000 of our additional spending in 2018 has been on the campervan.  Our Devon Tempest is now over three years old and with over 30,000 miles on the clock has needed some TLC this year; two new tyres [it will need two more before the end of the year], new brake pads all round as well as general servicing.  The conversion has also needed a bit of work as we had to have the water level sensor replaced.  There have been other odds and ends such as a new kettle and replacement levelling blocks too.  This year has been spend, spend, spend on the ‘van.

Holidays

Holidays remain our priority.  As well as the usual costs for ferries and campsites we have had a long weekend in Milan this year for a significant birthday [not the cheapest city to visit and our trip cost just under £1,000] and we have paid almost £400 up front for a holidays for 2019.

Health

Our health is important but this has been the year we have both had to have new specs and Mr BOTRA has had some expensive dental work, totalling over £900.

Clothing

We wear everything until it falls apart and when it comes to gear we like to buy quality kit but with so much free time we are out walking a lot of the time and it seems that even quality gear doesn’t last forever.  This year we have had to replace walking shoes and other bits and bobs of clothing, pushing this budget line to over £800 already this year.  Last year it was much less, maybe next year it will be too!

Increased cost of living

We know the cost of food has increased in the UK and we have noticed this in our spending.  In 2018 we are spending an average of around 16% a month more than we did in 2017.  I don’t think we have changed what we eat or where we shop so this must be related to an increase in the cost of fresh vegetables and other staples.  In addition with the pound falling against the euro our supermarket shops on our holidays abroad have become more expensive.

Don’t panic

We monitor our spending so that we can keep it in check and avoid any problems but there are three reasons why we aren’t in a panic yet about this increase in our spending.

Firstly, we had given ourselves what we thought was a generous budget of £27,000 a year and we are currently projecting around that amount for 2018.  It could be that our first year of not working was particularly cheap and the budget we set was accurate rather than generous.

Secondly at the moment my travel writing income will more than cover the £3,000 projected increase in our spending for 2018 over 2017.

Thirdly, we have that emergency fund.  We are glad we saved what we needed and a little bit more to give us a cushion in the tough times.  This emergency fund increased last year as we spent under our budget and it increases every time I have a travel article published.  We don’t really want this to dwindle to nothing and hopefully it won’t.

Looking ahead

On reflection our campervan, our health and our trip to Milan together more or less account for the increase in our spending.  Only the wonderful trip to Milan was really optional and we won’t be repeating this in 2019.  We will keep monitoring our spending and see if we need to revise our budget and perhaps rethink some of our regular spending.  We have already arranged to switch our gas and electric supplier to save us a small amount and we have come up with some new water saving ideas too but there are others areas of spending that we could pull back on if we need to in the future to keep us on track.