Towing Willamina.

There are a few things I’ve notice when we’re towing Willamina…

Cars are faster than us. HGVs are faster than us. Most cars towing caravans are faster than us. Ernie the fastest milkman in the west is faster than us!

Everywhere we go it’s slow.  

 


Corners seem tighter, hills feel steeper and I’m suddenly aware of escape lanes! 

 

We politely pull over every third layby to let our traffic jam past and flash lorries to let them know it’s safe to pull in in front of us. 
At a leisurely pace of 50mph there is no rush! We simply have to make sure on our little bimbles through the Great British countryside is that the journey is just as much fun as the destination itself! 

 

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Painting Willamina – Good from far, far from good

To say I was daunted when we first picked Willamina up would be the understatement of the century. One look at her crusty, flaky, peeling paint and I realised I’d bitten off more than I could chew. It was going to take a little bit more than some pretty curtains and some cushions to make this van beautiful once more. Closer inspection revealed several other attempts at new paint jobs and it was hard to decipher beneath the layers of paint and exposed fibreglass what colour she had been originally. Even the slugs and snails had left their mark in the algae and moss which now formed her topcoat.

paint before

The first task involved a hose and a stiff brush as Leon did his best to shift 20 years of vegetation growing on her roof – this didn’t help the damp issue inside one little bit – but more on that in another post! Then it was on with the mask and “Operation: Vibration Whitefinger”! Out came the electric sander and off came the layers of paint. After several days of sanding and umpteen sanding sheets I settled on a finish I was happy with – not perfect but a huge improvement on the previous state. If we had all the time in the world (and more stamina) we would’ve stripped it all down to the bare aluminium and fibreglass, but as our motto has become “we did the best we could with the time and resources available”. If we were ever to go away in Willamina there would have to be a compromise (at the minute that means that we’re only just adding the final coats and the top of the roof hasn’t been sanded at all yet!). 

 

My paints of choice came in the form of a tremendous bargain from The Yorkshire Trading Company. Three tins of Smart Slate Gloss 10 Year Garage Door Enamel by International Paints. I bought three tins reduced from £12.99 to £1.99 each – a grand saving of £33.00! Unfortunately we couldn’t get any white paint the same so we opted for Wilko Outside exterior gloss paint in brilliant white (less of a bargain at £18.75 for 2.5L). The grey enamel is runny and difficult to apply with a brush without drips appearing but dries nicely when applied with a high density gloss roller. The white paint was much easier and more satisfying to apply but is so glossy it shows up all of the imperfections in my sanding efforts. Needless to say they made a huge difference to the appearance of the caravan…as long as you don’t look too closely. 

 

It seems there isn’t a good day for painting a caravan outdoors – not in the north of England anyway. If it is cloudy it will rain and leave your paint with a lovely splodgy effect. If it is sunny there will appear (as if by magic as you open the tin) hoards of flies of various shapes and sizes, all ready to commit suicide in your immaculately applied paint. Finally if it is windy the flies will stay away and your paint will dry more quickly but with the added pebbledashing of whatever happens to be in the air that day – dust, pollen, blossom petals, grass and miscellaneous muck – you name it, I’ve sanded it out from freshly dried paint! 

 

As I begin to prepare, sand and apply (hopefully) the final coat of paint on Willamina I remind myself how far we’ve come and what a huge difference we’ve made to this little van. Maybe next year I’ll smooth out the rough bits and give her another lick of paint but for now I’m satisfied with my ‘good from far, far from good’ finish! 

 

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.

IMG_2396
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…

badge

Will he…?

2016 is a leap year! 
It happens once every four years due to the fact that it takes 365 and a quarter days for the Earth to fully orbit the sun. If we didn’t have leap years over the course of 100 years our calendar would be 24 days out! Leap years were originally introduced into the Julian Calendar by Julius Caesar over 2000 years ago and now appear every four years in our Gregorian Calendar which has been used since 1582. 
Leap years are surrounded in superstition and tradition. Legend has it that Saint Brigid made a deal with Saint Patrick that on that one day alone a women would be allowed to propose to a man. Another theory goes that hundreds of years ago the day itself was not recognised in English law and was therefore ‘leapt over’ meaning that the day had no legal status and therefore it was acceptable to for a woman to break with tradition and ask for her gentleman’s hand in marriage. Meanwhile in Scotland, where it is deemed unlucky to be born on a leap day, a similar rule applied but the proposal was only permitted if the woman wore breeches or a red petticoat!
I had never wanted to get married. Leon knew this and so he vowed never to ask!
Then I woke up one March morning and had changed my mind!
There was only one thing for it…I’d have to do the asking!
Last year was not a leap year but I’m not one to do things in the traditional manner anyway!
Here’s my step by step instructions for planning your own proposal. 
1) Google it!!! Read stories about how other people did it, read about how it worked for other people, read about how it backfired, read about how you DEFINITELY SHOULDN’T DO IT as it emasculating for your partner. Then ignore the last piece of advice. 
2) book a child-free weekend away in Edinburgh.
3) start sneakily planning a video shoot with your son to help you pop the question. Shoot it in lots of different locations and almost get caught when he comes home from work to find you filming in the garden. Throw the props over the fence before he sees them and make up some elaborate lie about what your son is doing hiding in a rabbit hutch!
4) Edit your film to within an inch of its life! This is best done hiding in the bathroom away from distractions and prying eyes. Become ultra possessive over your phone so that no one ever sees the video by accident! Share your plans with NO ONE! They may try to put you off (see point one!)
5) arrive in Edinburgh after bubbly and posh finger food on the train (best not to spill the balsamic dressing over the entire train table as the train goes round a corner!)
6) accidentally arrange to go for breakfast somewhere far too fancy for a fry up! Struggle to eat your duck, new potatoes and purple broccoli with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce because you’re so nervous about what’s coming next!
7) climb to the top of Calton Hill. Persuade your boyfriend to climb up to the top of Nelson Monument with you (even though he whinges that it’s £4 each! That’s £8!!!).
8) wait until you’re the only ones up there and take a panoramic video of the view on your phone. Offer to show him the video but secretly switch it to the one you made!
9) allow him some time to collect his thoughts and maybe wipe a year from his eye (don’t forget it may be windy up there) and wait for his reply…..
10) persuade him buy you a ring!!!

Will you pop the question in 2016?

Go on…I dare you!

Ps you can watch my little video here!
 

#miscourage

At the end of last year the charity Tommy’s launched a campaign (#miscourage) to get people talking about miscarriage and raise funds to open the UK’s first miscarriage research centre. I’ve thought long and hard about writing this and have had various versions stored in my phone for months. Now though, with a little too much time of my hands it seems appropriate to share our story…

You probably know that we have the most fantastic little boy called Pookie, he is our sunshine! What you may not know is that I have been pregnant four times!

Our first began with the usual happiness and nervous excitement I imagine most first pregnancies start with. It ended abruptly at 12 weeks in the Early Pregnancy Unit when we were told our baby had no heartbeat and had stopped growing at 9 weeks old. A colleague of mine was one of the only people at work to really acknowledge what I’d been through and told me she knew how I felt, it had happened to her. 

“It will never go away, but it will get easier.”

She was right!
Our second happened just as easily as the first but resulted in an early trip to the EPU where we saw the first of many glimpses of our amazing little boy.

We never once let our guard down to enjoy the experience. His growth was monitored fortnightly due to IUGR from 20 weeks and we were under the close supervision of the most amazing and supportive consultant who said (thankfully after he was born) that when she met us at 20 weeks she didn’t believe he would survive to be born. He was born via emergency c-section weighing a tiny 3lb 15oz after a stressful and anxious 36 weeks of pregnancy and spent 12 nights in the special care baby unit before we could take him home.
  
Our third pregnancy was monitored closely from the start and at a mere 8 weeks we knew that it was not to be. It was found to be a triploidy pregnancy and was brought to an end medically a few days later. A month afterwards, we were called in by the consultant to be told that it had in fact been a molar pregnancy and so began 6 months of fortnightly urine tests by the Sheffield Trophoblastic Disease Centre. Thankfully the cells did not regrow and after much worry I got the all clear in August, one month before our baby would have been due.
January 2016 started with a positive pregnancy test on New Year’s Day. After a couple of months of trying I was pregnant again. Sadly our 7 week scan did not confirm our good news. A blank ultrasound screen and hugely elevated hCG levels meant only one thing…another molar pregnancy!
And so, as I lie on my hospital bed following the necessary surgical procedure I have time to think and contemplate the future without a second baby and a sibling for Pookie. And it makes me sad. But it’s important to realise all of the things I am grateful for, the fantastic health care I’ve received and the amazing people I get to share my life with.
“I am not unlucky! Far from it!”
Far more terrible things have happened to people we care about over the past few years and we know just how lucky we are to have our gorgeous Pookie. He amazes us every single day!
We won’t try again! Instead we will count our blessings and move forward to make some fantastic new memories in our perfect little family of three.

Summit Attempt II

  In 2013, relatively near the start of our babywearing adventures, we attempted to walk to the top of Simonside with a 6 month old Pookie. It was cold and windy and despite our best efforts to join our friends at the top for mince pies, sloe gin and xmas carols we took the hint from our crying baby and walked back down the short distance we’d managed to climb.

Roll forward two years to this morning and we packed up the jeep, put on our boots and headed into the wilds of Northumberland to try again. This time with Pookie on my back all wrapped up snug and warm we completed the 50 minute uphill walk and hung our decorations on on the only tree at the top. After a few moments to admire the stunning views, a quick drink perched on a chilly rock and a few photos we descended rather more quickly and headed to the pub to warm up in front of the coal fire.     At the age of two and a half its nice to know that our carrying days aren’t over and we hopefully still have adventures yet to come!  

Well that was a long break!

It’s been a while since The Little Patch has seen any activity. A couple of months ago I decided to take a little break and decide whether the time and effort I was investing in my little business was worth it whilst I filed my tax return.

During my break I’ve reflected upon my successes but also questioned the future of The Little Patch. People who follow my Facebook page will have seen the finished carriers all folded neatly with my toadstool logo and cute little business labels. They see the swan gliding gracefully across the pond. What they don’t see is the frantic paddling which happens below the surface; the constant stream of email enquiries, the hours of searching for unique fabrics for individual customers (many of whom don’t then commit to having a carrier made), the chasing up of unpaid invoices which leave me out of pocket. They don’t see me sewing into the early hours when Pookie has refused to go to bed until late and when all of this is done and the packages are ready to post, it’s time to get back out there and drum up more business! It’s a never-ending juggling act!
Over the past year I am proud to have developed a successful business which has gone from selling my very first carriers at a significant loss on eBay to having a consistent run of orders that turned a profit. I have learnt the benefits of good communication with my customers and the importance of sticking to what you know and being brave enough to say ‘no’ to requests for carriers which didn’t fit my pattern or used fabrics I didn’t have experience with. I am proud of all of my successes and for learning from my failures too!

But now (with an ever demanding two year old tugging at my clothes as I sew) just over a year after we ‘officially’ began, we are drawing our business to a close. That’s not to say we won’t be back and that Pookie and I won’t be continuing our adventures in the world of babywearing but we won’t be taking any orders or making any carriers in the near future. 
I’d like to thank everyone who has made my venture so enjoyable and rewarding and helped me design carriers beyond my imagination. I want to say thank you for your support and your all of your gorgeous action photos that made it so worthwhile!
I wish you all well on your adventures and hope you all ‘carry’ on!