Monday, 12 June 2017

Penmon, Isle of Anglesey: 8 - 12 June 2017

Thursday 8 June 2017
We woke to a work-time alarm at 0545, a bit of a shock to the system for a pensioner and a drop-out!  We were out and at the Polling Station for opening time at 0700; it was already quite busy.  Back for breakfast, load up and a drive to Anglesey through wind and rain.  We stopped off at the Waitrose in Menai then on to the house sit, near the village of Penmon on the Isle of Anglesey.  We've visited Penmon Point a few times and also parked alongside the Menai Straits on the odd occasion, so know the area quite well.

The cottage we're housesitting was down a long, narrow country lane.  Parked up, we were warmly and enthusiastically welcomed by Jess the golden retriever and Meg the springer spaniel!  We had a good, thorough handover with the owner, including doggy routines, before she left for a long weekend.  Car unpacked, we quickly changed into walking gear, grabbed the leads and headed off to take both dogs for a walk.  We were soon crossing the fields towards Penmon Priory, where we stopped to take a look at St Seiriol's Well.  We followed the road down to Penmon Point and on to the pebbly beach.  Jess had sniffed out the sea and nearly dragged Cathy into the water!  Both dogs had a good swim; Meg was content with a couple of dips but Jess really didn't want to get out.  It took a while to entice her out and back into her lead, before we followed the coastal path back along the peninsula, crossing several fields before returning to the cottage.  We'd already been briefed to give the dogs a hose down on return and that they wouldn't be that keen!  But they were fine and were soon rubbed down with a towel and back in the garden for a well-earned treat. I popped into Beaumaris for a couple of bits while Cathy lit the log burner in the upstairs living room, with views over the hills on one side and the sea on the other.  The dogs had a good snooze followed by their dinner, while we had a lamb and veg stir fry.  The forecast for tomorrow is better, so we'll take the dogs out for another good walk.  Once we'd eaten we spent a good half an hour outside with Jess and Meg playing pull the rope and chase the ball, plus Cathy gave them both a good brushing; it was blowing a hooley so the hairs soon disappeared, no doubt to become nesting material for the myriad birds.  They really are lovely dogs - Meg (the springer spaniel) is fairly quiet and reserved, but loves a cuddle. Jess is more of a handful and likes to play tug of war and 'test the waters', but is still a lovely, friendly dog.  When out for a walk she's very much the 'mother hen' checking to make sure we're all still there. We're all weary tonight so I think we'll all sleep well, ready for another day by the sea.



Views towards the Great Orme

Lovely view from our en-suite bedroom

Play time!

More play time!


Friday 9 June 2017
What an amazing, chilled out day!  It was peacefully quiet last night and we slept well, although woke up early.  I was first up, fed the dogs and sat in the kitchen enjoying a cup of tea in the peace and quiet.  Madness had descended overnight with the general election but I feel far enough removed from it here not to harp on about it.  We enjoyed our breakfast and took the dogs out for their first walk, down a footpath through an ancient forest with a stream flowing down the middle of the small valley.  It was cool but full of life, with lots of vibrant greenery and and abundance of birdlife, butterflies and bees.  The path took us down to the clifftop but no further, so we had no choice but to reverse our route back up; Meg was let off the lead and, in true cocker spaniel style, enjoyed racing up and down the valley and through the streams.  Close to the top we bumped into Ken and his border collie - Millie, who we both met briefly yesterday.  We had a good long chat - he was fascinating to listen to.  He grew up in Knutsford (like Cathy) and moved to the island about 20 years ago, having had to give up work due to failing eyesight.  He now renovates old organs in a man-shed in his garden. We mentioned visiting a place called white beach and he told us some of the history of the old quarry by the beach and how to get there.  Jess had other ideas though, dragging us back towards the cottage, so we went back to have a brew and play tug of war in the garden for an hour (while cooked a chicken for later).

Refreshed, we took the lanes and eventually branched off along the coastal path.  This particular stretch was lovely - along old field paths, through wildflower meadows and past old Welsh cottages.  Ken's directions were spot on and we eventually walked the final stretch down a single track road which ended in a small National Trust car park at Fedw Fawr.  We followed the path down and white beach appeared to our right, with Puffin Island in the foreground and the Great Orme in the distance - what a beautiful spot!  We let Jess and Meg off their leads and they soon disappeared down the path and steps to the pebbly beach.  They were both in the sea by the time we reached the bottom, enjoying a welcoming cool off.  Cathy was soon to follow (with a 'whoop' as the sea was a bit chilly!) and it was funto see them all swimming together. I took a few videos and photos then joined them in the sea; it WAS cold but I eventually got used to it and was whooping with the best of them!. We hadn't taken any swimwear or towels with us, so we swam in underwear and dried off in the sunshine afterwards.  The dogs continued to play in the sea and on the beach, as we explored the strand line and rocks.  It was the sort of place you could arrive early in the morning with chairs and a picnic and spend all day without seeing another soul. After a great swim, we dressed and reversed our route, enjoying the warm sunshine back through the fields and along the quiet lanes.  This part of Anglesey so reminds us of the secluded villages of France; not only the lack of traffic but the quiet lanes and stone cottages.

Back at the cottage, we showered and changed and I prepared our dinner - the cooked chicken, some new potatoes boiled and served with mint from the garden, plus a salad and a dijon mustard, raspberry vinegar and olive oil dressing, all washed down with a bottle of Portuguese rose wine.  Once we'd eaten I fed the dogs; Jess is on special, hypoallergenic food and Meg is on normal dog food. They were clearly ready for theirs as it was gone in seconds!  Now sat in the upstairs living room, both dogs are crashed out after their busy day.  I'm blogging (of course) and Cathy's learning some Greek via Duolingo.  Later, a pot of coffee and some bara brith beckons.  What a lovely relaxing day; for the first time I felt properly retired, enjoying a holiday-type existence on what is (for most people) a normal working day.  The weather forecast for tomorrow is dire - wind and heavy rain - so I think it'll be an in day; maybe I'll bake some soda-bread and watch the clouds scurry across the sea. It's a hard life!


Meg loves the streams

A short calm period


Our first sight of white beach

Come on in - it's lovely!



Kindred Spirits





Puffin Island plus the Great Orme

Reminds us of France

Dinner outside

Saturday 10 June 2017
Less done today due to the weather - very windy with occasional wet spells but still very warm.  After breakfast I popped into Beaumaris for some shopping.  I was back in the Little Chilli Shop, buying some dried chillies - smoked chipotle, habanero and kashmiri - plus some fresh tumeric. Back at the cottage we headed out with the dogs for a walk to Penmon Point, only this time the reverse route.  Jess was most dis-chuffed at her lack of sea swim time, but it was an ebbing tide and perhaps not so safe.  We were pretty wet by the time we got back, so a brew and some TV was called for.  I cooked dinner later - chicken fried rice - then the dogs had theirs too. After that the sky cleared although it's still blowing a hooley, so we played outside with the dogs for a mad half-hour.  Now inside, I'm watching the high white clouds scud across a blue sky.  Tomorrow is set very windy still but with less rain.  It's also National #2minutebeachclean day, so we plan to combine a first visit to Llanddona beach with a bit of a clean up.

Sunday 11 June 2017
Today has been a windy day - a very windy day!  Anglesey is known for the wind and it really hasn't let up all day (and is still going strong!).  I don't think it's dropped below 40mph all day and probably gusting way above 50mph.  But the sun shone so the combination of sun and wind has left us not only battered a bit but also very brown!

We packed a lunch for our day trip.  We wanted to visit Llanddona beach to do a #2minutebeachclean.  It's a no dogs beach at this time of the year, so we had to leave Jess and Meg at the cottage.  It was only about 15 minutes in the car, with the final mile or so down a 25% steep single lane road (in fact all the roads were single lane) - at the bottom I saw a sign for a road climbing at 35% - not one for the bike!  There's a large free car park by the beach with some toilets.  We grabbed our bags and walked up and down the beach, picking up litter - mainly plastic bags, plastic bottles and drinks cans, but also a child's shoe and some socks.  We also found some nylon fishing net, which we kept to take home for the garden.  We walked a little further towards Red Wharf Bay, but the very strong wind resulted in us being sand blasted, so we turned back to the car park.  Beach clean done, we drove back up the steep lane and headed for the small car park above white beach; it was quite full but we managed to squeeze into a space.  There were a couple of people on the beach this time, but it still felt empty.  We enjoyed our lunch sat on the (unforgiving!) pebbles down by the sea, then had a wander around, again filling a bag with rubbish.

Jess and Meg were pleased to see us and after a brew and a game of tug the blanket, we took them out for a long walk.  We stuck to the lanes to start with and again came across Ken and his dog Millie, stopping for a good chat.  It turned out he used to be the rent collector the the house Cathy lived in in Knutsford - small world.  We took a footpath and made our way down to the village of Llangoed, walking through the nature reserve including visiting Castell Aberlleiniog, a small ruined castle on top of a hill surrounded by a large but now overgrown moat.  We carried on through some lovely wildflower fields with small copse of young oak trees, before returning to the lane and walking back up the road through Penmon towards the cottage.  On the way we met a lady walking the other way with a border collie; she recognised Jess and Meg and we had a brief chat.  Everyone is so friendly here.

Back at the cottage Cathy kept the dogs occupied outside while I prepared a spanish tortilla and salad.  She then came in with a package of newspaper containing 5 small mackerel. The neighbours were chatting to her and mentioned they'd caught them off white beach this morning; the same beach we sat on for our lunch.  So the parcel was passed over the fence and I quickly cleaned them - what a kind thought.  We enjoyed them grilled with sea-salt and eaten with our hands like sardines, followed by the tortilla and salad - a lovely meal. Cleared up, showered and dogs fed, we're now relaxing in the upstairs lounge as the wind continues unabated, with the occasional sharp shower hitting the velux windows in the roof.  We're both tired so I don't think we'll be late to bed, ready to pack, clean up and hand this lovely cottage and the dogs back to the owner tomorrow.  We've had a very relaxing few days in a beautiful part of Anglesey.  We'd not really explored this area much before, but the countryside, quiet deep lanes with high hedgerows, plus the many paths and lovely beaches really remind us of Cornwall.  It's only served to reinforce our wish to move to the island.

 
Llanddona Beach



There were loads of sea anemone shells

#2minutebeachclean.....done






Castell Aberlleiniog


Lovely neighbours gave us some mackerel



Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Retirement Trip

Thursday 1 June 2017
We're sat in a large field of grasses and wild flowers, surrounded by dry-stone walls and with far-reaching views over the hills.  This is a temporary holiday site (THS), run by the Camping and Caravanning Club.  These are set up all over the country at different times of the year and are great value for money; in this case £5.75 per night, with fresh water, rubbish disposal and somewhere to empty the loo. There are social events organised if you want them, but absolutely no pressure to join in. This THS is just outside the village of Shap, a few miles from the M6 in Cumbria.

Van packed, we had an easy drive up, arriving about midday.  We parked in a corner, facing the views and walked down to Shap Abbey, in the valley below. The Abbey has been around since the 12th Century, with later additions up until the 1600s. It still has atmosphere and it was easy to imagine the monastic life of the canons who lived there.  The rest of the afternoon we spent sat outside reading and relaxing.  Some RAF typhoons broke the silence occasionally but, once they'd returned to base, peace and quiet descended.  We heard the curlews before we saw them, then a pair flew across, returning 10 minutes later to roost - a rare sight. Dinner eaten with the van door open (and thanks Graham for the lovely soda bread leaving gift!) we enjoyed the peace and quiet of this lovely spot - not a bad way to spend our first day of full-time retirement.


Lovely view

Shap Abbey




Friday 2 June 2017
This retirement lark is bad for the memory - I was already struggling to work out what day it is! It rained quite hard in the night and I was a little concerned about reversing off the grass pitch, but all was well. We stopped off at a supermarket in Penrith before driving across some serious hills and up the A1.

Nido's sat in another field of grasses and wild flowers; another C&CC THS, this time in Beadnell Bay, Northumberland. It's right next to their main site but about a 3rd of the price. Again we were warmly welcomed on arrival, given a run down of the local amenities (mainly pubs!) and invited to park up wherever we liked. I'm a convert to these pop up campsites where we can just turn up and pay a few pounds. In this case  we were just over the road from the beach so, after a quick brew sat outside in the sunshine, we walked along the beach towards Beadnell; the tide was out with some interesting rocks exposed. There were good sea glass pickings and Cathy soon had full pockets, both jacket and rucksack! We walked past the old harbour and along the sandy bay, enjoying a refreshing paddle in the North Sea, before stopping off by the harbour lime kilns to sit in the warm sunshine.

The air cooled considerably on our return trip and the warmth of the van was welcome. Dinner was lamb chops with a Greek salad. After washing up, a read and a snooze, the clouds disappeared and we sat in the warm van watching a lovely sunset, with light in the sky way past 10pm. We're here for a couple of nights so tomorrow we'll walk north along the beach to Seahouses where, just over 5 years ago, we enjoyed fish and chips sat on a wall by the beach. I wonder if they'll be as good this time? 


Red hot pokers growing by the sea

Beautiful, large poppies

Beadnell Harbour


Saturday 3 June 2017
It was warm enough to cook and eat breakfast outside this morning. With another night here we didn't need to rush. We walked across the road and along the beach towards Seahouses, having a paddle along the way. The footpath took us across the golf course and we had a wander around a busy Seahouses, not surprising given it's a half-term weekend. We bought a few groceries and walked back along the road to the van. By now a sea mist had come in but, weirdly, despite this, it was hotter. Normally it's the opposite but it was like the mist was magnifying the sun's rays. Back on the beach, we had a wander along, watching the seabirds and collecting more sea glass before returning to the campsite. By now it had started to rain a little but we chanced it to walk back into Seahouses for fish and chips; it rained very heavily on the way there. And we're they as good as last time? I'd say they were better; this time we bought them from Pinnacles, the fish & chip restaurant visited by the Hairy Bikers on one of their UK tours. Later the sky cleared and we enjoyed sitting outside in the evening sun, reading and chilling.  We're both shattered after a day of walking so an early night, then off to Bamburgh tomorrow. 

Sea mist rolling in
I spotted a housesit in Cornwall in the daily email listing; an old farmhouse with veg gardens and a couple of lovely dogs to look after, a Patterdale and a Jack Russell. I contacted the owner, who quickly replied and we're now set up for a 10 day sit in Cornwall in July. We'll take the van so we can have an extended journey there and back, plus add on a few days if we want to.  It's close to Eden and Heligan, two of our favourite places, so this is a great way to revisit them. Retirement's turning out to be very busy! 

Sunday 4 June 2017
Morning saw us reluctantly leave the THS at Beadnell. They really are great VFM and our current campsite at £20 per night emphasised the point, some £12 more than the THS, with the only extra being electricity. So we're charging 'all the things' but even we can't use £12 of electricity in one night!  

We drove north, through Seahouses and out the other side, pulling over soon after alongside the road and opposite St Aidan's Dunes. A sandy stomp over the dunes and it was sandals off and in for a quick, refreshing paddle. There were a few more people (and their dogs) out today, enjoying the warm sunshine when it appeared from behind the scurrying clouds; it definitely felt fresher today. After a couple of miles Bamburgh castle came into view. As we walked across the dunes towards the road in order to find the loos, the heavens opened and we were soon wet through. Once the storm was through we bought a couple of 'Northumberland Pasties' to scoff on the walk back to the van. By the time we returned we'd dried off, although Cathy was complaining of a wet dog smell (and it wasn't me!). A quick check of the map showed our next campsite only a mile away, inland at Westfield Paddock Caravan Site, an adult only site comprising 10 pitches. There were only 3 caravans and one Motorhome here so we picked a nice pitch, but then saw we'd been 'allocated' pitch 8, so reluctantly moved.  It's a quiet site away from the main road, but with plenty of birdlife (including some enthusiastic cockerels!) and sheep in the adjacent field. It was a bit too chilly to sit out so the rest of the day was spent snoozing, reading and eating dinner.  The forecast for the next couple of days doesn't look great, so we'll see how it goes. One thing we've learned in this part of the world is if you don't like the weather, hang around for half an hour as it'll soon change!

Bamburgh Castle....just before the rain started!
Monday 5 June 2017
Regular readers will remember us staying on a campsite in Norfolk known as Stalag 19. Well, we're now at staying at Stalag 20!  I'd say this one is more like a Russian Gulag - multiple signs telling us we cannot do.  Toilets and showers out of the 1950s, everything painted in totalitarian dark green.  I'd booked a pitch without electricity - £18 - but then found that we have to pay another 10p to use the shower.  10p! - what is the point? It must cost more to install and empty the 10p machines than it does to just suck it up in the price. There were a few more inmates pitched around. We didn't see them - perhaps they're only allowed out during roll call in the morning.  It's difficult to judge campsites unless visited before; in this case it was some research and reviews and they were, in the main, quite positive.  I can only suggest we have different 'tastes' to other inmates campers.  

We woke to a breezy grey day (no sirens or searchlights during the night so clearly they'd been no escapes) and moved on down the road to a car park at Low Newton on Sea. Despite the wind and rain, we walked down toward the large sandy beach.  At the bottom we came across a horseshoe of cottages and, in the top right-hand corner, saw the Ship Inn.  We'd seen no signs for it on the way down, so wasn't sure if it was still a functioning pub, but a quick Google search shows that it is. It even has it's own micro-brewery on site. It was morning so we didn't get the chance to go in, but it looks well worth a visit.  We walked along the quiet, sandy beach with Dunstanburgh Castle in the distance. It was Monday morning - normally a busy motorway commuting day - and we enjoyed the solitude, with a sharp wind and occasional showers, with the waves pounding on the beach.

Our busy Monday morning commute!



After checking in at Stalag 20, we walked down to the village of Craster.  We'd been here on our first motorhome trip, buying some great produce from Robson & Sons, the smokehouse near the harbour.  We bought some bread from the local cafe, then enjoyed an excellent crab sandwich and a pint at the Jolly Fisherman pub, with views out to sea.  Back at the van, we spent the rest of the day reading as the rain pounded on the roof.

Tuesday 6 June 2017
It rained long and hard all night and the forecast was for more, so we decided to cut our trip short by a day.  It meant we missed a visit to Vindolanda, but we'll return in the future.  The journey home in rain and strong winds was interesting, but we have another day to prepare for our housesit on Anglesey in a couple of days' time.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

FIRE Escape to our Gap Life

Thursday 1 June 2017

Today is the first day of the rest of our life.  Today we start our 'Gap Life'. 

For many years we've been planning our FIRE Escape, aiming to retire early and live our dream.  By being frugal, overpaying on our mortgage (now a distant memory) and saving hard, we're in the position that we have enough passive income to stop paid work and do the things we want to do. 

The original plan was to finish at the end of March 2018; that's when we were forecast to 'hit the numbers' on our savings and investments.  But a couple of things happened earlier this year, which led to a change of plan.  So we sat down, had a long chat and a good, hard look at the finances and decided to finish work earlier than planned.  Ideally we'd have held on until we hit our financial target, but we realised we'd be OK if we jumped early. We have no debts, we have savings and investments and I'll have my armed forces pension from next year.  We can always make more money, but we can't make more time.  

We realise we're really, really lucky.  Many have to work on well into their old age, with little chance of a comfortable retirement. Others never reach retirement, my parents included. So, you know what?  We're going to make this work!

Several people at work were also really interested in our FIRE journey and wanted to learn more, so it was cathartic to chat to them at lunchtime and send them a few links to others in the FIRE community.  

So leaving my job yesterday was very much a bitter-sweet moment.  But I left with very happy memories working with a great company from the very early days of building the software development team; I know they will continue to grow and achieve amazing things.   As for Cathy - she retired three weeks ago - she is one happy bear!  

So what next?  Well, today we're heading off for a short trip to Northumberland in our campervan.  We just want to decompress for a while and let it all sink in.  Then perhaps a couple of Trusted Housesitting gigs; we already have one arranged in mid-Wales in August. We're also planning our first long campervan trip to Europe, heading for southern Spain and Portugal later this year to avoid the worst of the UK winter.  It's going to be an amazing trip and give us time to chill out, explore and think about what we want to do after that. We have a list of places we want to visit over the coming years: Greece, Croatia, Slovenia, Scandinavia, to name but a few.  

The next few weeks are going to feel weird, more like an extended holiday. But once we settle into the routine, we have a whole bunch of things we want to do. Our house is up for sale as part of our plan is to return to living by the sea.  We have a target to walk 5 miles a day and I want to get out on my road bike more.  I'm going to get back into cooking, including making more bread and perfecting some spice and masala mixes. We'll also continue with learning the basics of the languages of the countries we'll visit.  As we start to travel more I'll also be writing more blog posts.

So here we go, we've leapt off the FIRE cliff - yeeeehaaaaaa! The world is ours to explore. We have the rest of our life to enjoy.....this is our Gap Life.