Willamina on tour: Cut Thorn Farm, Gibside

Date: Saturday 30th April – Monday 2nd May 2016

Location: Cut Thorn Farm, Gibside, Burnopfield, Newcastle upon Tyne NE16 6AA

Prices: £15 per unit per night

Total cost for our stay: £30

Our Stay: Cut Thorn Farm lies on the edge of the National Trust’s Gibside estate and is also home to West Wood Yurts which are situated a little further along the farm track from the campsite. The campsite is small and as a Camping and Caravan Club Five van site you must be a member of the club to stay there. Access to the campsite is via a rather steep and bumpy farm track which then opens up to views across the countryside. When I was younger we used to stay on the farm quite regularly and I have fond memories of playing in the hay bales and helping the farmer with his jobs. The farmer’s wife still remembers us!

Gibside is within walking distance of the campsite through a field of cows and emerging from the woods to pick up the track to The Stables where there is a small coffee shop (opening hours seem to be flexible and we just missed out on a cup of coffee and an icecream after our walk there) and regular minibuses to the main buildings at Gibside.  

 When we returned from our walk we were just in time to meet my sister, her husband and baby Lily who had come to visit and stopped for a cuppa and some ginger cake.   This was our first trip away in Willamina and we were soon compiling a list of things we’d forgotten to take like a tin opener and a chopping board. Having no gas or running water and only a petrol stove to cook outside on we opted for a Chinese takeaway on the first night which we picked up from Rosie’s in Rowlands Gill (tel 01207 272672). We’d anticipated tucking Pookie into bed and enjoying the last bottle of Champagne from our wedding outside together as the sun went down. But the refusal of an almost three year old to fall asleep and miserable drizzly rain stopped that plan in its tracks and instead we all had an early night snuggled up in our little van. Two adults, one child and two dogs.  

The second night ended in a similar fashion but we did manage to finish the bubbly and raise a glass to everyone who had given us money or vouchers as a wedding gift which we’d put towards renovating Willamina.

 Monday morning arrived and after bacon sandwiches cooked by our son we celebrated his 3rd birthday (a day early!) in Willamina with his grandparents.  

After opening his presents he kindly informed us that he wasn’t a little boy anymore, he was a man! 


What we loved:

  • Being away for the first time ever in our fantastic little van
  • Revisiting childhood memories at a special little friendly site
  • Being so far away from everything yet so close to home

What could’ve made it even better:

  • Having an awning so we didn’t have to take off our muddy shoes (it is a working farm) in the rain and a little more room for the dogs when we needed them out of the way
  • Pookie having his own bed so we didn’t all have to go to bed so early
  • Electrics and gas would’ve been nice but then you can’t have it all!

In summary: a busy first weekend away with lots of visitors. A lovely little site with sufficient amenities to make our stay comfortable. A great base for exploring Gibside. 

Willamina on Tour: Broom House Farm, Wallington

Date: Saturday 28th – Monday 30th May 2016

Location: Broom House FarmWallington, Morpeth, Northumberland, NE61 4AT

Prices: £15 per unit + £3 per person per night. 

Total cost for our stay: £48 (+ £2.50 for  Pookie to meet and feed the animals!)

Our Stay: Broom House Farm lies within the grounds of the National Trust’s Wallington Hall and is currently managed by tenants Ian and Yvonne and home to their cattle, sheep, pigs, donkeys, goats, chickens, cats and dogs. The camping facilities (comprising of a very large fenced in field, four hot showers and two portaloos) were all we needed for a peaceful weekend away.  


Upon arrival just after 12noon (prearranged as normal arrival is after 3pm) we knocked at the farmhouse door to be welcomed by the farmer, Ian. He showed us to the field and told us we could pitch wherever we fancied just as our friends arrived with their tent, the field was ours for the time being! With the gate closed the field was completely secure for us to allow our dogs to explore while we got set up. We pitched around the large picnic table provided and soon set off for a walk to Wallington.   


Wallington Hall is just a mile away from the campsite and takes you through fields of lambs and curious young cows before picking up a well kept footpath through the woods to one of the wildlife hides. Whilst our party (three children under the age of 7) was a little too noisy to spot any wildlife, the woods are home to Roe Deer, Red Squirels and Badgers. At our slow pace it took us about 45 minutes to reach the main buildings at Wallington and more specifically the icecream shop before moving on to the Train Station playground. As well as the Hall at Wallington there are three playgrounds, a beautiful walled garden, several large lily ponds, a cafe and miles of walks. After an even slower walk back to the campsite we set the BBQ away and gathered some wood to keep us warm later. The food went down well (as did the wine) around the wonderfully huge picnic table and then with the children finally tucked away in bed we chatted until the sun went down…which was much later than you’d imagine.  


Sunday morning arrived with this distant call of several cockerels and the loudest of moos from the smallest of calves. We ate breakfast (cooked outside on our petrol stove as we still haven’t got round to servicing the gas pipes in Willamina) and met Yvonne on the farm so the children could meet the animals and bottlefeed the calves and lambs. 


Our friends packed up their tent and we all drove the 5 minute journey to Wallington and did the river walk before stopping for lunch. Then it was back to the site again for us, a nap for me and fun in the field for Pookie and his dad before dining al fresco yet again on the second night there was no resistance at bed time and Pookie fell asleep on my knee before being cunningly transferred to his new bed in the caravan…so much better than sharing with us! We stayed up until the solar lights eventually turned on and finally opened the bottle of port to celebrate our achievements with Willamina. 

Having failed to remember to bring enough food for breakfast we nipped over the Kirkharle for bacon sandwiches, coffee and a look around the shops before packing up and heading home. 

  Pookie was heartbroken as we took down the awning and cried “no – leave it up!” through real tears. We’ve taken that as a sign that he, as well as us, had a thoroughly enjoyable weekend! 


What we loved:

  • A secure, clean wide open space for our free range child (and dogs) to explore – with the added bonus of animals everywhere
  • The proximity to Wallington Hall was a huge plus and the scenery on the walk there was beautiful
  • Fantastic hot showers…far better than ours at home! Though I felt bad not having a mop to clean up the muddy footprints I left on the way in. 

What could’ve made it even better:

  • The portaloo toilets – don’t forget to take a torch if you have to go through the night!
  • Somewhere to get hot water and wash our dishes. We ended up filling our bowls with the shower and taking them back to the picnic table. 
  • If the owners had a selection of fire pits or chimineas we would have happily hired one for the duration of our stay and bought firewood from them each night

In summary:

A little hidden gem with huge potential run by two genuinely kind and interesting people. We will be back again! 


And so it begins!

With Pookie squirrelled away to Grandma and Grandad’s house for the morning Leon and I had some real focussed time to assess what needed doing and get a start on making Willamina habitable again. The sun was shining, gloves were on and I’d been bought a handy new screwdriver for the occasion. 

Our first stumbling block came when we found that some had discovered that the lock on the door didn’t work properly and had taken the opportunity to help themselves to our electrical equipment leaving onlysevered wires behind. That would be a new Zig Unit to take from our very small budget then! 

Our first jobs was to remove all of the cupboard drawers and doors to be sanded and repainted, and the curtains which were destined for the bin. The window blinds were found to be a bit old and crumbly with a few cracks of daylight peeping through here and there. Their inner wooden poles are sound though so it shouldn’t be too hard to replace the fabric and reinstall them later on. At least now I know I can spend less of the curtains as the fabric won’t need to be so heavy to block out the light.   

Next job was brushing away the crumbling remains of the window caps. It felt satisfying flicking off all of the little bits and a replacement was duly found and ordered on ebay.

The carpet was lifted to reveal another carpet. This was removed to discover an old newspaper page (would’ve loved to have discovered the date!) and a small triangle of original Lino just outside the toilet. The floor in the main body of the caravan appears to be fine apart from a patch by the front door which will need replacing and what can only be described as a puddle beneath the Lino in the toilet….we’ll leave that for another day! 


And then it was time for the fun part…

Upon removing the curtains I found one of the joined on the wall had come away and beneath it lay soft black plyboard – it had to come off. Little by little removed the vinyl, ply and insulation to reveal rotten ply and crumbling batons and luckily without too much mess, fresh dry wood. The water it seems has come in behind the aluminium seals that wrap around the outside of the the caravan at three different heights and in places where the rubber seals have perished and the screws have rusted through. There are four areas in total in the main caravan that will need fixing and reboarding so luckily it’s not as big a job as I had feared.  


With the door and lock fixed we swept up the dead wood and cobwebs and called it a day. Not a bad start but certainly lots to do! 


Meet Willamina

I’m happiest when I have a project!

My projects in the past have been:

  • my motorbike (a ZXR400)
  • my dog (who I adopted at 16 weeks from a local shelter and ate one of each of my favourite shoes!)
  • My list of 30 before 30 (which you can read about here)
  • The Little Patch (an adventure in babywearing)
  • keeping chickens (we currently have two and 6 eggs in the incubator!)

When I have a project I become a little obsessive! I need to read all the books, join all of the groups and forums and search all of the websites. My latest project is no exception…

Meet Willamina…a 1970s 2-berth Viking Fibreline Caravan.

Willamina – named in memory of Bill.

I’ve had my eye on Willamina for a few years now and have always thought she could one day look fantastic. She belonged to my husband’s childhood friend’s dad, Bill,  who has sadly passed away. Recently on passing her sitting cold and damp at the end of the short track to I mentioned to my husband’s friend David that I thought she could be beautiful and I’d love to get my hands on her. To my surprise he said she was mine (sorry husband….ours), and on 16th February 2016 we drove down in the Jeep to collect her.

After much grunting and rubbing of chins David and Leon managed to change both of the tyres, made sure she was roadworthy and hooked her up to the Jeep. We’d intended on leaving early afternoon so we could drive back in the daylight but whenever you go back to Leon’s home village there seems to be a time difference of about 3 hours.  So a little later than expected and just as it was getting dark we set off with a caravan that hadn’t moved in 16 years! And, to top it off, our usual route was closed and as we found on the way down, the diversion would add 1 and a half hours onto the journey. I was put in charge of navigation and chose a route I believed would cut off the corner and bring us home more quickly! What I didn’t realise was that the route took us to the top of the moors (there was snow!) and up and down some significant hills. The 14% decline made me nervous but nothing could describe the fear I felt when we started the descent following the sign stating ‘20% decline for 2 miles’. Sitting in the passenger seat with no control over the brakes I’m not ashamed to say I was terrified. I now know how my dad felt when he taught me to drive – “Dad – I’m sorry!”

We made it home 4 hours later, tired and relieved. The cold light of day the next morning would show us what we’d taken on…