Kiri and


A life-giving break

July 2nd, 2022 (by Steve)

We’ve never seen Fifi’s home before. Fifi belongs to my parents in law and is hired out for public use by the motorhome holiday company. In March this year, we left the kids with my parents in law and headed down to Hewish to pick Fifi up. There we had an amazing welcome from Nicola and Jordan and a lovely chat about our previous adventures in Fifi and how we could be trusted with her as we were old hands at this motorhoming stuff. And then we tried to start her with the wrong key. And then forgot to take off the handbrake before departing. Isn’t there a saying about pride and fall or something?

Our first stop was Lidl where we both stocked up with supplies, but also had lunch in the car park. Kiri remarked that it reminded her of old times – I think she might have been commenting on the fancy cheese we’d just bought, but it could have been the consuming of lunch in a Lidl car park. Lunch was swiftly polished off and we hit the M5, observing the new style pylons being installed in the fields and getting excited when we passed an Autotrail Chinook (it wasn’t Bertha). It was to be the start of a few days were we looked both back and forward, yet as we overtook a van daubed in messages of support for Ukraine which had just returned from delivering humanitarian aid, we also could not escape the present.

The first overnight was in a pub car park on the edge of Dartmoor, at first with just chickens and goats for company, but soon we were joined by other motorhomes. At 6 we popped into the pub for a couple of draught ales (Otter and Dartmoor Legend) which accompanied a burger and Irish stew – a small price to pay for an overnight stay. By the time we were replete it was 7:15 and we were both ready for bed, but decided it was a bit too early to turn in for the night. So we had a game of Uno Flip, some quiet prayer time and then we lowered the top bed (which we were testing out in preparation for a summer trip in Fifi with the kids). We were asleep soon after 8 – both stupidly and sensibly early!

Having not slept “up top” in a motorhome for nearly 7 years, we’d forgotten what it was like to have to climb down a cold ladder for the loo in the night, but that aside, we had a blissful, uninterrupted 10 hours in bed. Our pace didn’t pick up that much as we had an unhurried morning, doing our customary Worldle, Wordle and Heardle… before a horrible thought that we might not have put the fridge on gas and the milk might have curdled. We had. The milk was fine and the coffee that we had before our bacon butty hit the spot. We liked the style of the pub and hospitality for motorhomes. Over the pandemic we’ve been supporting a social enterprise called the Long Table; making sure everyone has access to food and encouraging community through shared food – wouldn’t it be great if at some point in our lives we could set up something like that for motorhomers?

Our plan for the day was to drive across Dartmoor to Lydford Gorge. As a child we used to drive down to Plymouth to see relatives. As a university student a friend took me across the moors in his Triumph Spitfire and I remember with fondness the rugged moorland and raw landscape. I was looking forward to a scenic drive. We pulled off and drove down the main road before beginning to head towards the moor. There was a sign warning of a narrow bridge and another bridge not suitable for long vehicles. Ah, but we can do this. We managed the bridge not suitable for long vehicles with ease, but I felt a little more uneasy as we counted down the miles to the narrow bridge. I was right to. As soon as it came into sight, I realised I had been too ambitious. 3 point turn, embarrassed faces and a circumnavigation of the moor that was in sight, but tantalisingly out of reach. Next time we’ll do our homework in advance!

We had an early lunch on arrival at Lydford Gorge so we wouldn’t be ravine-ous (sorry) before exploring as many of the paths as we could that were open. It was out of season for visitors, but in season for those managing the woodland, restoring paths and clearing away remnants of winter storms. Who knows – maybe managing woodland will feature in our future? Kiri certainly looked enviously at the huge chainsaw a worker was wielding in a picture at the entrance to the gorge. Oh, and the Whitelady Waterfall was just as impressive as I remember as a child.

What followed was a lovely leisurely drive up to the car park of the Yarde Orchard cafe; a rural spot on the Tarka Trail near Torrington next to a disused railway station. We checked in with the kids (just to allay fears, they were with grandparents – we didn’t leave them on their own!) and had a hot chocolate at the cafe before wandering along the railway line; now part of the Sustrans network. We had the luxury of uninterrupted time to read before making tea, so I got stuck into reading a political book, whilst Kiri read the book of Amos. So nothing too heavy really. A burger completed the day, followed by a game of crib and another early night.

Birdsong. A much less abrupt alarm call in the morning than a child. With no fixed timings for the day, we took our time over another fry up, read through Amos together (a prophecy of impending judgement for all nations… but ultimately restoration in the end) and chatted about the current state of the world… feeling very much that there is big stuff on the horizon (which I’m not saying is judgement), but knowing that ultimately there is restoration in the end. This trip away really felt like an oasis. Like we were able to take precious time away from the storm to reflect and recharge – almost like being in the eye of a storm.

A winding road through Barnstaple and over the hills took us towards the Valley of the Rocks, where we drove around the roundabout the wrong way (for old times’ sake) and parked up. This time the white lady we sought was not in the shape of a waterfall, but a gap between rocks at the top of cliff and we climbed up to take a closer look. Whilst Lee Abbey and the surrounding area was a formative place for both of us as we grew up, we’d never been there together until now.

The next few hours were brilliant. We wandered along the toll road to Lee Abbey and down to the beach, looking back and sharing memories of our very different but significant experiences of this special place. It was too cold to paddle, but we scrambled on rocks and reminisced. When I first came to this place, my Mum was the age that I am now. That made me feel old! We tried to wander back to Fifi via the scenic route through the woods, but came across fallen trees at every turn. After pushing our way through the first few, we soon realised that it probably wasn’t the most sensible of ideas to continue to press on, so we headed back up the road and took a minor detour to the wood store that kindled (get it!) Kiri’s love affair with axes and chainsaws.

We thought we’d top up with some supplies on the way to our campsite for the night, so set the course in the satnav for Sainsburys in Barstaple… but couldn’t work out how to get to it. This is the satnav that took us around Europe (so not new-fangled and internet-enabled), yet we couldn’t get to Sainsburys – we could see it… but it was tantalisingly the other side of a park. So we gave up and went to Asda. We then had a lovely drive where once again our conversation was incredibly deep and philosophical. We always wave at other motorhomes… but sometimes find ourselves waving at horse-carrying vehicles. What is it that makes these vehicles not motorhomes, if they have sleeping compartments? If there’s a satellite dish on top, should we wave? What about if there’s a canoe on top?

Our musings were cut short by a shut road. No short cuts for us. Initially we were happy that we’d be spending a little more time on an A road… but then the satnav moved us onto a B road… then an unnamed road… then there was a telecommunications van totally blocking the road. We reversed Fifi, turned around and took the alternative, alternative route… where the sides of the hedges were brushing Fifi… and we went through a ford! Well that was an unexpected adventure. I think we need a bit more practice at this motorhoming malarkey!

We finally arrived at a lovely farm where found a pitch that suited us (plenty to choose from), filled up with fresh water (our “wild camping” of the last two nights had been on slightly less than half a tank), hooked up the electrics and got tea on the go. Then the standard Fifi routine of crib and another early night. This is the life.

It certainly wasn’t -2 degrees in the van when we woke the next morning (memories of Serbia in Bertha), but it was cold enough for us to hop out of bed to turn on the heater, then get back into bed until Fifi had warmed up. Once warm, it was breakfast and packing things away as we wanted to pop in on some elderly relatives (ahem!) in Somerset on the way back. We had a swift cup of tea and slice of cake in the garden (we’ll come again!) before raising Fifi’s sails and setting her on a course for home.

We knew we were cutting things tight and we needed to return her with a full tank of fuel, but once again the satnav failed to deliver with regards to the Sainsburys petrol station – we got as far as Sainsburys… but couldn’t work out how to get to the associated petrol station. Once again we gave up on Sainsburys… this time saved by Morrisons. Fifi was returned, we hopped into our little car and headed back to relieve the grandparents who described their time with our kids as “life-giving”.

Yep, that’s a good way of describing our break too.

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