Towards a new van life.
When we were on the road I loved to write up our tale.
Most days I’d get a couple of hundred words down, ready to pull it together and post on Saturday lunchtime.
Back in St Just I planned to write a post every month.
A letter from St Just. With more than a nod to the great diarist, Alistair Cooke.
But it didn’t happen. Life, and a hell of a lot of work, got in the way.
Time, its apparent speed, or lack thereof.
Recently I’ve noticed how not pausing to consider each day makes it easy for one day to fade into the next. Then it happens with weeks. I believe it’s this that leads people to comment on how “time flies”.
A life of frequent change makes for many memorable moments. Remembering the moments gives your history scope to expand and give you belief in a life well lived. On the road that’s easy.
What a shame then that so many of us are now experiencing sluggish moments, but, as there’s a lack of variety, the wider concept of time is that it’s flying. Flying with nothing experienced or achieved.
Yesterday I couldn’t remember the order of the last few days. I realised it was time to write a new post.
Tonight I cooked dinner in the van. It was the first time in ages. And it was brilliant. Hardly any space, but all the space I need. The fact that I was doing so on the drive of a friend’s beautiful house is another story.
It was enough to make me want hit the keyboard again.
Well there’s a hellofa lot on.
While many struggle with lockdown blues, here it feels we’re moving so fast we’ll soon need new shoes.
On the road we rarely missed Archavon, but back in the house it was a whole new exciting experience. After a few days of scrubbing we had reclaimed the home we loved, but it wasn’t for long.
Way back in August we mentioned to friends that we’d be selling the house. A couple of nights later those same friends called and asked if they could buy it. The process took a while, but at the end of January we packed up our lives again and moved out.
For a little while we’re squatting in the most fabulous Sennen house, lent to us by generous friends who can’t get to their hideaway under the current restrictions.
Curtain twitching neighbours soon had the police knocking on the door.
Here’s a note to remind me of today’s situation when I read this in many years to come. Xenophobia lurks under the skin of so many. Their fear manifests itself in times of crisis. The foreigner from Iran, the foreigner from Romania, the foreigner from up country, hell, especially the foreigner from St Just. Those in fear believe it is their duty to repel infiltration. And right now there are plenty who’ll phone the police when they see someone they don’t recognise. We’re four miles from home. Folk nearby called to report us. Hey ho. At least they’re on the watch.
The poor PC realised that he was dealing with something far worse than a holiday maker. Here he had a Redruth boy going through the lengthy process of converting to immigrant St Juster status.
When I explained that we’d soon be living in a caravan in Boscean he understood the attraction of Sennen, and wished me a good day. We were soon to meet again.
Towards a new van life.
Isn’t the word anathema to a dedicated van traveller?
You have a point. But. Hey. Needs must.
In a couple of weeks we’ll attempt to drag a 28’ static caravan into a field at Goldings, St Just. Then, if it’s still in one piece, we’ll set up home within.
It’s all above board, registered for Council Tax, mains water ready (a muddy process), and power from the grid (an extremely muddy and painfully expensive process), all we’re waiting for is to dig the drainage (more mud baby), that’ll be done in a few more days.
The lane is a challenge. Too much mud you see.
This man who would plant trees.
Goldings came with a few acres. It was the main attraction. We were lured by the opportunity to create an unashamedly modern home, linking to a fairly old barn, and the chance to plant trees. Lots of them.
This land was forested once, and our little patch is heading that way again.
With the help of the Woodland Trust we’ve planted 2,000 native trees. Downy birch and beech. Oak and bird cherry. Scots pine (just a few)(tall) and apples (short). Whitebeam and Field maple. Willow, more willow, and more.
There are as many shrubs to come.
Some trees can stand the salty wind, others like their toes in a bog. A few will fruit. And all will help support a buglife supreme.
Robert Swan, the celebrated explorer says that, “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that somebody else will save it.” We know we can’t save the planet, but if one in a thousand people did this…
Andrew, the policeman, called again. This time neighbours in St Just had reported the suspicious vans of the foresters who helped us with the planting.
I wanted to give him my number. I’m sure we’ll transgress again soon.
While the men who appear to know what they’re doing attack the ground with JCBs and mini diggers I retreat to the flooded bottom field where I have started digging a pond. Even in October the dragonflies, darters and other pretty flying things were a joy. A kingfisher flitted by.
I want to help more creatures establish territory.
Cornwall Wildlife Trust suggested ponds and scrapes. Perfect.
Any sensible budding builder with a mini-digger on site would take that incredible tool and make light work of the digging.
I respect, but eschew such a wise approach for I am armed with shovel.
For a week I toiled, a little each day, and a fair puddle I have now created.
Amanda calls this toil therapy. It’s also an exercise in soft power.
Many folk are curious about our plans. Some are up in arms. Most are delighted.
Working away in the field across the stream I have a perfect opportunity to engage the passers-by in banter and tales of the land.
I have spoken to birders, and tree obsessives and people who simply care about the world their children will grow up in. I’ve discussed the merits of tress on farming land – a good point, and if our land could be used for crops it’d be better to do so, but its slope and bog mean it’s only good for grazing. I’ve chatted with those who believe that every new house should be built to PassiveHouse standard, and others who’d prefer the wind whistling through their lounge, or at least they claim that’s the case. There are the granite lovers, and there are those who have lived in a modern house and could never go back to the damp and cold. I’ve spoken to a fascinating number of St Justers who have had life changing experiences in our barn, generally the exploration of another’s body, sometimes the exploration of a new state of their own mind.
Two couples who were influenced to object to our planning application have since apologised – their kind words mean so much.
Purpose and meaning.
Those of us who struggle are generally taken up with the effort to ensure they see the next day.
Those thinking people who have money, time, or both, often seek meaning for their lives. They may find it in God (which one?), or money, or ideally in love.
For me, for now, this project is my purpose. To deliver it to the best of my ability. To be close to the bees, to encourage new life, biodiversity, with our home, our controversial home, at the centre of it all. I consider myself as rich as any man because I have the good fortune to spend time in this place, to shape its future for the better. And yes to change it, because change is the only way of standing still.
I grew up in mining country. Shafts that had been stable for decades would open up with no warning. Houses would disappear overnight. There were two on my walk to school. A friend’s house in the evening, a gaping hole next day.
In Redruth those I remember were in the centre of town. In St Just the mining activity was on the outskirts – but that’s where we now live.
Our land came at a fair price, a price driven by the degree of risk.
In the past if a hole opened up on your land you’d probably see it as an opportunity to lose some old tyres, bits of a broken tractor and other hard to dispose of rubbish. Today if you discover mining activity within your domestic curtilage you’re obliged to correct it.
Thankfully we didn’t discover shafts, but there was a considerable amount of worked ground. This is land where prospecting miners have dug around, hoping to discover a workable lode of copper, tin or occasionally silver. Unsuccessful areas were simply backfilled with whatever rubble was to hand.
Digger star Ed McFadden cleaned all our worked areas before a metre and a half of concrete was poured to form a solid plug that’ll ensure nothing goes awry in the future.
Fearless Davros would reverse his behemoth concrete mixer to the very edge of a deep hole to ensure the concrete hit the spot.
For two weeks concrete trucks queued on our narrow muddy lane and your diarist lay awake in dread of the extent of these works.
Then one day it was done. That pain was behind us. Of course one day soon a huge invoice will land from the aggregates company, but when that has been dispatched we can move on and plan the next stage.
A new home. On our own patch of heaven.
We didn’t expect getting our static caravan to site would be easy.
We didn’t realise it would be so hard.
The amazing haulage team from Tony Oliver Transport popped the Contessa onto the back of their articulated truck in Long Rock and headed for St Just.
Minty and I had walked the streets with a twelve foot bamboo to check that it was possible to fit a ten foot caravan through the gaps. We knew it was possible, but it depended on so many variables that would be beyond our control. In St Just our man Julian (photographer, and new owner of Archavon) was on hand to capture the drama. His film is only 3 minutes long. The actual journey took 5 hours. Watch it on this link. It’s fun. https://fb.watch/46fv0VgVSu/
Nothing other than being there can explain the incredible patience of digger man extraordinaire Ed McFadden.
In fact this whole project would have been a whole lot harder without him.
Tin house to home.
Our only previous experience of static caravans was at Lake Vrnwy in North Wales with friends Emma and Daz. We remembered great fun, with challengingly tight sleeping and bathroom arrangements.
Our little tin house started with two bedrooms, but a few whacks with a club hammer soon reduced that to one. Enthused by my success I stripped most of the existing caravan, leaving only its kitchen and a cabinet as reminders of what once was.
Our man with a saw, Ben Rawlinson, insulated the little box with multi foil, and boarded everything ready for paint action and love.
Within a fortnight we were in, with (hideously expensive) mains electricity, water and drainage connected. Gas comes from LPG bottles for the cooker, fire and hot water.
When we embark on a project we rarely go halfway.
Our 24m2 caravan is a small home for two, but it’s a wonderful space to enjoy.
The expanse of glass means that it’s hardly an efficient space, even with its insulation, but it warms with a hint of sunshine, and the views compensate for the early morning shivers.
Just sitting here is enough to spread a grin across my face.
Lying in bed the view has a base of spikes from the hawthorn beyond, and at different times it’s topped by a sky filled with birds, or stars.
From my desk I can watch the progress of our cuttings garden, protected from the rabbits by a chicken wire fence.
But it’s the living space that crowns it all. With the sea behind us we look up the Tregeseal valley, encompassing the mast that brings the internet via our phones, Kenython, and all the way across to St Just church. The ruin of our barn overlooks us like the battlements of some long dilapidated castle.
St Just prepares to rise again.
After years of living at Archavon in the middle of everything, St Just is now a ten minute stank across the fields for us. It makes our town on the edge all the more special.
There’s a new food offering in town. The Copper Kettle is only a take away so far, but demand for its superb world foods will soon encourage its owners to open a dining space.
The Square has upped its game. Already excellent, it now offers more. The Commercial is open for take away. Even Warren’s has had a spruce up. We’ll have to wait a little longer for the inside space at The Dog and Rabbit.
And ArchavonStudio is ready to reopen with Jay Marment at the helm. It’ll be good. It’ll be the place to stay.
A holiday at home.
It’s easy to forget the paradise on your doorstep.
Minty declared yesterday (23rd April) a holiday. And for our holidays we went to Penzance.
The water in the geothermal section of The Jubilee Pool is a comfortable 35oC, After 10 minutes you’re likely to think “I’ve done that, what now?” But after 20 minutes you’ll ideally slow down, absorb your surroundings, and the incoherence of lazing in water Greek style salt water, with a backdrop of a very English church tower.
Penzance really is a joy. Go on a sunny day and take it all in. Idiosyncratic Chapel Street, lush Morab Gardens, the endlessly inspiring Edge of the World Bookshop.
There’s hardship too – it’s a real town.
Another day on the edge.
This morning I was delighted to pass the rugby club and spy a group of gaudily dressed senior St Just folk out enjoying their version of training with music blaring as they danced to the command of their leader.
The sights were to get better.
A little further down the road our nearest neighbour Treve was pulling out of his garage in his 8 tonne behemoth Tess. This beauty may only reach 15 mph flat out, but at that speed it’ll deliver an adrenaline rush that any racing driver would find hard to handle. 68 turns of the wheel to take it from lock to lock, a furious furnace of coal heating water to deliver its power, and brakes? well, let’s just say that it doesn’t have ceramic discs.
A new story, a new blog?
If you have found this then you have found the new blog.
The Cornish Wanderer was built to record ArchieVan’s time on the road.
I’ll retain it for that. Hopefully we’ll travel again later this year.
It’ll be a tale of life in St Just, and as I learn I hope to share information on wildlife species as well as the excitement and trauma of building in mining country.