When I was younger my mother would good a good meal each night – meat, potatoes and vegetables usually factored in each sitting; each nutritious and enjoyable; I recall being taught how to cook the more popular ingredients our family enjoyed – sausages, beans, bacon, eggs, chips and veg, such as peas and carrots etc.
When I left home at sixteen these lessons helped me well, but with fast food, microwave meals and dehydrated noodle packs the level of care to the food I was consuming was minimal; I viewed food as a “quick fix“; something that would take a lot of time out of my day to prepare and cook… and to do that three times a day? No thank you, I just wanted to run around and mess about in my twenties! If you were to calculate how much fast food I have purchased over the years it would easily be in the thousands of pounds from me…
So I am VERY surprised to find I have developed a sudden interest in cooking meals from scratch… and not the simple ones, some really nicely complicated ones full of different combinations of yummy ingredients – mostly plant-based as well (my body is wondering where all the vitamins and nutrients are coming from!), but mainly ones with ingredients I haven’t eaten for a while…
So, here are a few meals I have made recently and wanted to share:
My first ever Sunday roast (cooked on a Monday…heh): Lamb (in accordance with label instructions), caramelised onions and carrots, honeyed parsnips, roast potatoes and boiled sprouts (as soft as mother used to make – lovely!). Proud of this! I had been baking a lot of vegetarian food, so this was a change recently…
I subscribe to running blogs where runners review events they have partaken in and I thought I’d give it a go.
I’ve eyed up The Ridgeway Run for many months… in fact a year… but had forgotten about it recently because of all the changes happening. So, whilst browsing idly on Facebook on a lazy day a sponsored post popped up informing me that entries were open for this event. Having a glance at their website and Facebook page the event described itself as:
Whether you are a hare or a tortoise the event is for everyone; run individually or as part of a team. To qualify as a team you must all be running the same distance and be made up of 3-6 people.”
And being a big fan of walking /exploring the Ridgeway and knowing the local area I thought I’d enter this year. I wasn’t going to initially, as I thought I’d be in North Wales during the time of the event but as luck would have it, our tutor is in Slovenia this week so I would be back in Swindon during the time of the event… so I booked it without thinking twice.
At £18 for an individual entry, I thought this was a very reasonable cost. I have seen 5K (3.2 miles) entry fees for £25 before so an 8K (5mile) event for this cost is great.
The 5-mile route looked interesting; with a combination of hills, the flat Ridgeway, the Uffington White Horse and back again, I thought “I could do that“.
Finding the starting location was easy. Starting and finishing in the village of Ashbury signs direct you to the field car park close to the running start/finish.
The registration was quick and easy. We arrived at 9:15am (registration was due to close at 9:30am) and I was able to collect my bib number and sign the wavier about 8 minutes after I started queueing – even had time to go to the portaloo! The system they had for registration was efficient and it was great to see they had young people helping out.
Outside registration were the portaloos (queueing was quick), a trailer cafe serving hot food (bacon butties – yum!) and drink, a water station where you could top up or buy a Ridgeway Run bottle for a £1 donation and another event(?) being advertised (I didn’t look at this).
The 10 milers race began at 10 am and the 5 milers began at 10:10am. A nice time between the two to warm up and remove excess kit keeping you warm on this cold wet morning. When it was our turn to gather we all move towards the start.
After the countdown, the horn sounded and we all set off. The first part is along a ploughed field and the trail was the usual one person walking path on the edge of the field… so, you can probably work out that for the first 200metres there was a bundle of people trying to stay on this path and not on the muddy field… but this soon opened up as you passed the fenceline and then it opened up into open green fields and many people shot off to tackle the first steep part.
Steep is steep and luckily this steep bit doesn’t last too long. I vowed to walk the hill bits and run/walk the rest, as much as my body and mind wanted too, so I dropped back to the back of the group and took my time getting up and onto the D’Arcy Way path talking with the walkers at the back of the group (surprisingly there were only 2 people who had ‘officially’ adopted to walk the event, I thought they would have been more).
Once reaching the D’Arcy Way it was on to the Ridgeway. This part of the route isn’t maintained so you have to watch your step within the ruts from the vehicles but once on to the Ridgeway the ground is more level and flat all the way until the route meets the Lambourne Valley Way, passing Wayland’s Smithy, then up the Chalky hill.
Before I mention the Chalky Hill, I just wanted to say that I passed so many DofE groups out in the morning. I think it must have been about five groups, all with their maps out, waterproofs on, oversized rucksacks and one member of the group trailing behind the rest… Still, it was good to see young people out and about on a Saturday morning.
The Chalky Hill is deadly in the rain – chalk doesn’t absorb water instead it mixes with the chalk to create a waxy surface which, when combined with inappropriate trail shoes (such as road running trainers with no grip) it becomes a bit of a mini nightmare! Sticking to as much grass on the trail until I was able to step off the chalk on to the grass verge took a lot of effort and mental calculations but thankful this was short lived until meeting the very friendly marshalls at the top (I must say, all the marshalls were lovely and encouraging during this event) with sweeties.
Then it was a run around the remains of the castle fort, this time though, using a lot of mental effort to avoid slipping downhill on the wet grass! Again, friendly marshalls with jelly beans and young children cheered the runners on to the next turning point up the tarmac’d road on to Lambourne Valley Way and back the same way we’d run earlier on.
By this time, being near the back, the first of the 10 milers begun passing – many of them encouraging us to “keep going” and congratulating us for making it this far – which was very nice of them and motivating as well.
Terry, my other half, was waiting for me by Wayland’s Smithy to show his support – he’d taken our dog, Bailey, out for a walk as well to pass the time. Bailey decided he wanted to run with me (he loves to run) for the last mile and a half and despite Terry’s best recall efforts Bailey wasn’t listening…
As we passed the finished point together Bailey was congratulated by many people, they found it amusing he was running with me (or somewhere near me) and many found it fascinating how he was running across the fields and back again to me and still had a lot of energy at the end. Has he run the 5-miler I’m sure Bailey would have completed it in half the time it took me…
The medal is beautiful. I’m so glad to have run this race. I had goal-planned what I wanted to achieve and happy to say I knocked 15minutes off my intended time with my intended plans. Go Jo. Whoop.
Overall, I would recommend this race to anyone interested in trail running. It was very well organised for such a small event. The communications and information beforehand was detailed, the registration and starting process was quick and easy, the marshalls and other runners were so friendly and encouraging (it has a family feel about this event), the medal was totally worth the effort but the best bit was the route and the views – I loved the variety of the trails you had to run on, from the easy flat to the chalky awkward uphill and very rarely on tarmac’d road/any road – I didn’t even mind the cold and the rain.
I’m hoping I will get another opportunity to run this event again, maybe even work my way up to the 10-miler one year, for now, it has inspired me to do some more trail running when I head back to Snowdonia.
A big shout out to the organisers for this event. Excellent event!
It’s the two-week countdown to when I leave this place for mountains, the sea and hopefully a more fulfilling career life so thought I’d give an update of what’s been happening so far with the van.
The van passed it’s MOT, it only had the side light (which I forgot to change) and a tyre replaced, so that was a plus. I’ve gone around the vehicle and identified points to be aware of in the future (beginnings of rust etc), but it all looks pretty sound for now. Just need to get a second set of keys cut. I still haven’t figured out how to store an additional key on the vehicle in case I lock myself outside (this would only happen if I exit via the side door and both front doors are locked, as the side door does not open from the outside once shut due to a broken lock). Will ponder on that.
Deciding and organising what is needed, especially with limited space, has been challenging but I think I’m getting there. I know I will need all my outdoor gear and have been given a rough idea of what Outdoor Activities teachers wear (skirts and blouses just won’t do in a kayak) so more clothes have been purchased… (boo!) I just hope no more surprises are sent my way.
I have been pondering food provision within the van. Obviously, anything with a short shelf life/perishables can’t stay in there for long due to the van’s warmth (it’s so toasty!). I don’t intend to use the hob much, except for boiling water for noodles and tea (going completely with that student lifestyle here…), and I will have a spare stove as back up. I am pondering keeping some carb tinned food, like rice pudding, just in case there are times I need a snack and am parked away from shops or they’re closed. What I want to do is reduce any spills/crumbs within the vehicle to avoid attracting rats/mice/ants so will keep unpackaged food to a minimum. When the weather begins to turn cold and start snowing then I will stockpile tins in case I am snowed in and shops are closed (which, assuming North Wales, will happen at some point). This area will be a lot of trial and error moments, especially to begin with. Still undecided on how much cutlery etc to take but I can always buy more if needed.
I have opted to remove the water containers for the sink and use this space as extra storage and make more room for the outdoor gear! I think a couple of 2-litre bottles will suffice and take up less room- they can always be refilled. I don’t see me using the sink much anyway because of access to sinks at university/residentials/schools for washing cups etc. For rubbish, it’ll just be getting it to the nearest rubbish bin as soon as possible to keep the van clean and free from smells. Still, need to purchase that small wastebasket…
Clothing wise, I am thinking two weeks worth of clothing will suffice as I can go to the laundrette on a fortnightly basis. I have yet to organise my clothing but think the van will accommodate this proposed amount comfortably. I can easily switch from a winter set to a spring to a summer set when the seasons change, so that will reduce the amount I need to take. I now have shelving in which to store the clothes as well! Yippee!
I do still have the issue of drying wet clothing within the van. Now the fan is ‘fixed’ I can have hot flowing air and do have an oil heater for warmth as well as dehumidifiers – I just don’t want to run the risk of the van becoming mouldy or developing that lingering wet smell within the material. I’m not so much worried about wetsuits etc, just waterproof jackets and shoes drying for the next day. I think have to think on this one – if the school/residential has a drying room/tumble dryer then it won’t be much of an issue.
Toiletting – everyone is curious about this. I don’t have and can’t fit a portable toilet. I’m no stranger to peeing in bushes and as for emergencies number twos – I’ve watched a few interesting tips videos online and have decided to a) learn to hold it in as much as possible until a toilet is found and b) have a map of all public toilets and pubs in the area including opening times. I will just have to avoid eating any curries or spicy food for the next year and keep a supply of toilet paper with me (plus the emergency shovel for emergency hole digging).
Showering – schools and residential setting will have staff showers and public gyms have them. I have budgeted for paying for showers weekly and numerous wet wipes and dry shampoo sprays. I like to think I’m not a smelly person but this is probably because I’m paranoid about leaving the house without using deodorants and perfume so lavish them on daily. Again, this will be a trial and error area but, hopefully, by making other uni/teacher friends they might be generous enough to let me use their showers once in a while!
My van is able to charge several electronics and run the lights from the solar panel and cigarette charger comfortably after a bit of issue with inverters. I’ve managed to upgrade my mobile tariff so now I have 8GB of data each month for cheap, which combined with free wifi, I believe will be sufficient. I do have a smartphone, however, it does not have Google maps app but I can share the internet to my iPad so can source locations when needed (I have insured the van to cover these personal belongings although I imagine I will have access to a locker in my placements to store). When connected to free wifi I can download films and shows via Netflix and music via Spotify – I also have an app that lets me stream Virgin Media channels – I feel that I might be spending quite a bit of time sitting outside MacDonalds borrowing their free wifi…
I do have a lot of resource books with me. I suppose I could download them but I can’t read off a screen, it gives me eye strain and I lose concentration, so the books will have to stay. Hopefully, I can offload these somewhere when not needed.
I’m not sure if I’ve covered all the bases that I need to cover. The vital parts are keeping warm, dry, comfortable, fed and watered. Working to a budget that includes sensible eating and diesel will be very interesting – gone will be the takeouts I so often enjoy (as I won’t be able to afford them) but on the plus side as well, I’ll be buying fewer crap items via the internet as I’ll have nowhere to post them to! I might even erase some bad lazy habits I’ve picked up.
I have readjusted my bills etc and cancelled subscriptions I no longer need – the only thing I can’t bring myself to cancel right now is my magazine subscription app, Readly (referral link), as it’s £7.99 a month for lots of big named magazines (I subscribe to nearly 30, both UK and US magazines). I love reading and magazines are my guilty pleasure – at one point I was spending approx £40ish a month of them so this app is a saving grace for me… so, someone might have to pry this app from my dead hands before I give it up.
This whole endeavour has really been scarily eye-opening for me but it’s been really interesting and exciting; I’m glad I purchased it last year as it’s given me a lot of time to make any adjustments, try it out, get used to the van’s quirks and seek help and advice. I’ve watched a lot of videos on youtube and blog sites about van lifers and how they manage. It’s astounding how little one actually needs to live and the tricks they can do to manage without, though I don’t think I’m going to go to the extreme of the ‘all-natural-let-your-body-clean-itself‘ attitude of some van-lifers I saw…
The cost so far:
Car – donated (£800)
Solar panel kit- donated (£150)
Oil heater – gift card (£20)
Led lights – £40
Fire extinguisher – £8
Invertor – donated (£130)
Carbon monoxide alarm – donated (£25)
Leisure battery – donated (£105)
Dehumidifier – £13
Shelving – £30
Mot – £40
New tyre – £50
Road Tax – £140
Total spent (of own money): £321 Donated: £1,230
I recently received documentation from the university offering me student accommodation for the first five weeks whilst studying there – £20 per night… £700 in total for 5 weeks! The van costs just a little bit more than that and hopefully will last the 10 months I’m away (and more!)… I am forgoing a lot of comfort for cost saving but, due to repaying a loan (really, I wanted to give this a go), I can’t afford a lot.
Park anywhere for free?!
None of this would have been possible without donations (thanks to Rob M for the leisure battery and parents for the van and solar panel donation) and the support of others to help fix parts of the van (Shawnee and Chris for the shelving and Terry for the solar panel installation and discovering the trick to getting my fan to work; Stewart for telling me how to sort out my seat belt when it sticks). For all this, I am enterally grateful and hope I will adapt to the changes of a semi-freeloading life for nearly a year.
I blogged about four days ago that I was in Snowdonia and had a ‘moment’ where I lacked confidence on the hillside; I don’t think I want to talk any more about that, but I do want to talk about our other place visit last weekend.
Having been to Snowdonia several times we’ve never had the opportunity to partake in certain activities and visit certain places and attractions because of the dog being denied entry (plus, he’s not one for sightseeing!), so we decided to visit Portmeirion as it’s always been on our list of places to explore.
For those that don’t know Portmeirion, it is a beautiful place that was built by Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis from 1925 to 1973. Its name was changed to ‘Port‘, because of the coastal location and ‘Meirion‘ as this is Welsh for Merioneth, the county in which it lay. At the time of acquiring the site, Clough described it as “a neglected wilderness – long abandoned by those romantics who had realised the unique appeal and possibilities of this favoured promontory but who had been carried away by their grandiose landscaping…into sorrowful bankruptcy.”
Built in stages, the area has an Italian style design and now has shops, cafes, hotels and cottages as well as residents around the site and its woodland. It was the location for the television show The Prisoner and dotted around the site are shops, head busts and references to the show.
I think this blog warrants a photo drop of the site. It’s just so beautiful and we spent ages exploring every alcove we could find.
The woodland around the village was fun to explore. We found a dog’s cemetery, overseen by a carved dog guarding the graves. I read out the names on the gravestones (so many pups buried here).
After this, we went up to the viewpoint to look over the estuary…
.. before heading back for overpriced drinks and ice cream. We spent many hours at this place and would happily return again. Definitely, a place I would recommend to anyone to visit.
There’s nothing as liberating than knowing you have the freedom to get into your vehicle and go exploring in it.
There nothing that makes you feel independent than being able to pay for your own vehicle so you can go on your own adventures with it.
And there’s something depressing about having to lose your favourite vehicle.
My little Suzuki Vitara JX 2000 model came at a time when we needed two cars. My brother, Peter, knows a guy who gets cars. So, all the way over in America he contacts his mates and one says they have a small 4×4 that “would be perfect for Scouting”.
His mate drives it all the way from Southampton to Swindon, clocking a max of 60mph all the way up, just for us to see. £400 freer, the Suzuki is mine.
I’ve not owned many cars myself, that last being was a Peugeot 306 and the one before a Vauxhall Corsa- I’ve tended to drive other people’s cars as low wage makes it hard to manage my own car, so I was thrilled at having this one.
The little Suzuki, my “Tomb Raider” car, had a fantastic low mileage of 60,000 when I got it. Unusual for a sixteen-year-old model, but it had been kept on a farm for transporting hay bails out into the sheep fields. A quick glance under the bonnet showed evidence of mice nests and straw, remnants of its previous life. Sadly, this life has caused its demise, but I wasn’t to find out the extent until two years down the line.
My little Suzuki,
Joyous to drive.
My little Suzuki.
A lot of people would comment on the car, especially elder women who used to drive similar Suzuki Vitara models when they were my age; each would comment on the same aspect of it – the way the car would drift on the motorway if there was a strong side wind, the way it would struggle up a hill if it didn’t have a good “run up” and the way it was a nippy little car that, if it ever reached 70mph, could weave in an out of the traffic with ease. Yes, the sight of mine would bring back those nostalgic memories of independence and freedom for them. They would happily smile and walk back to their air-conditioned, new family models with airbags, safety features and assisted parallel parking technology and eventually forgetting all about their own little Suzuki’s and the fun they once had in theirs.
I won’t forget this little car. I’ve looked for similar models, but with only 300 left registered in the UK I doubt I will find the same… and it won’t ever be the same. I will never again be told that the flooring under the back seat is so rotten that, had someone sat in the seat and we’d driven over a “sleeping policeman” too quickly they would fall through the floor! I never will have a flooded driver’s footwell again and spend months trying to find out the source of where the water was coming from only to discover one day that the water had mysteriously stopped entering the footwell and dried up, never to be wet again. I will never be able to drive that little 4×4 in heavy snow up to Barbary Castle, passing the stuck arrogant BMW drivers on the steep incline roads in Old Town as they refuse to believe their high powered up cars can’t take them to get their Costa Coffee in the morning…
Yes, down tiny twisty down roads, over the ruts on the Ridgeway, down farm lanes and tracks avoiding the free roaming chickens, in heavy fluffy snow and on the manic M4 my little Suzuki has been undisputedly fun the drive. Sadly, it’s time was very short lived. I had intended to keep it until the mileage reached 120,000miles, double what it started out on with me, but at 66,355miles I’ve had to say goodbye. The MOT list read like a breakup letter, piece by piece, word by word, breaking my heart at its faults, for me, the car will always remain perfect- even if a piece of paper rejects that notion. Those words picked out its flaws, exposed its secrets and ultimately acknowledged that the car would have ended up being a Frankenstein monster, forever having to be patched up, welded, screwed together and rejected because of its defects. In the end, it was the heavily rusted parts that caused the structural parts of the car to be unfit for road use. Had it been loved more on the farm, kept safe, used often and maintained, it may have lasted for another few years…
I must sign off now, work beckons, but I don’t feel ready to yet. I want to keep writing, keep the memory alive, convince you, dear reader, that I am not obsessed with this car but it will be frivolous… our time together has to end.
My little Suzuki, the most joyous little death trap I’ve ever had the pleasure of owning. At least you were loved at the end, wanted and needed, enjoyed and honoured, considered and cared for, sadly your rust cancer was your demise and I couldn’t stop that from happening, it was too deep inside of you- we could have prolonged the inevitable but it wouldn’t have been for long, you probably wouldn’t have even survived the welding… Thank you for being so fun the drive, I will cherish the memories and I will miss you little Suzuki. Drive high in the sky!