Browsing Tag


Family Travel

Campervanning around Spain with two kids, a surfboard and a caterpillar

25 November, 2013

A Spanish señora, as bronze as she is old, as rotund as she is wrinkly, wearing nothing but the very clothes she was born in raises her ams in the air and claps, everything jiggling. This was not the start of a rude flamenco though, but the middle of a series of star jumps, half submerged in the Mediterranean sea. Superbly, gloriously uninhibited.

Only in Spain.

We are in a desolate, sheltered cove just beneath an old castle built by the Moors. I’m sat here with Juno, poking plump pink jewels from a pomegranate in to our mouths. Tim and Ramona are building the castle in miniature form out of sand and there in the sea just behind them was this buxom old lady, butt naked, tanned deep in every crease. Doing aqua aerobics.

The only other people in sight are a Wedding Cake Top couple perched on the rocks next to the castle having their photos taken. They preen into every classic pose, her glistening white dress billowing, his waistcoat stiff.

It’s as surreal as a Dali, who hails from just around the corner. The sheer peculiarity of the scene strikes my heart with the wand of joy and my brain with the wonder of how we get to be here now, doing this.

These funny little moments happen a lot on the road. I feel tender; easily surprised, amused, unbound and unburdened.

It is obviously the basic awesomeness of having very little to do but sit around in the sun having bizarre things take place around us while the alternative was simply slogging away in the grimey depths of winter in South London.

And perhaps this general, elated sense of feeling is simply just an extension of that; the sense of alternatives. After getting totally lost amongst a tangle of tiny, dodgy streets in the middle of a massive city, coming across a huge square in the shadow of a beautiful basilica where it seems a micro fiesta is taking place just feels completely exhilarating. Because the alternative was getting mugged and stranded and still lost. Waking up next to a roaring ocean, the sun bouncing into the window, is a moment filled with relief that we didn’t get turfed out of the free parking spot by the Guardia over night.

(Or maybe aqua aerobics in the nick, grand basilicas and sunrises on a beach are simply enough in themselves.)

I think I could travel like this forever. This lazy, wild, seize-every-moment or just-sit-around-if-we-want kind of living.


Back on the beach, the lady wades out of the water, pubes dripping, and two enormous Alsatians have bounded onto the castle tower and are barking aggressively at the Just Marrieds. Juno has cast the pomegranate aside in favour of a gob full of sand. Ramona has begun to cry and I realise it is way past lunch and all we have is a gritty pomegranate and half a packet of rice cakes we opened when we first hit the road 4 months ago.

When we first left England our Campervan was jam packed. But new things have been added everyday. There is a Julia Donaldson book, A Squash and a Squeeze, where a wise old man advises a woman who feel her house is too small to take in collection of farm animals. (Mansplaining, I think it is called these days.) At the end of the book she gets rid of the animals and realises her house is perfect for one.

We have acquired a double buggy, for rampaging over dunes. And a secondhand surfboard, which we couldn’t resist but takes up a lot of space. And a pet caterpillar which doesn’t take up much physical space but rather a lot of mental space, trying to keep him alive amidst the mayhem. (We shouldn’t have let him in. It will only end in heartache. His name is, predictably, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.) I concentrate on the principle of A Squash and a Squeeze; this is great preparation for whatever new home we end up in eventually – anything will feel like a mansion compared to this. But mostly I swear as my foot gets stuck in a potty as I’m rummaging in the dirty laundry for the least stinky tee shirt and I bump my head on a bunk. (We are still bumping our heads.) It is a tiny, tiny space but we’ve somehow managed to misplace our two knives so I’m crouching next to the surfboard cutting an onion with a pocket knife.

Calm descends on the beach again. The Guard Dogs have disappeared, the bride and groom have gone to their banquet somewhere and the bare naked lady has gone. We caper around the beach as uninhibited as her, the need for lunch suspended. We are roaring lions, we are diggers, we are splashers, we are laughing baboons.


We are on the same team the four of us. It’s my favourite thing about this trip. With no agenda there are very few power struggles, with all the day to accomplish very few tasks there is no stress bleeding into the adult-child communication, making a gory mess. We all go to bed at 10pm and sleep until the delectable hour of 8am.

We’ve crawled slowly down the southern coast of Spain, coasting from cove to cove, and have landed in the barren, rocky beauty of the Cabo De Gata. We are climbing hills and collecting shells. Foraging pomegranates and oranges. We saw Africa on the horizon, it was pretty epic.

We are unfettered. Free as birds. Each one of us as wild and excitable as toddlers.


We pack up our beach things, now covered in pomegranate, sand and rice cakes gone mushy with sea water. We need to find a shop not having a siesta so we can buy lunch stuff. As we scramble up the hill we pass another old soul, kindred of the Señora, a man this time, himself completely starkers. We obviously missed the NUDISTA sign posts (again!) You know the Nudist Beach signs here are simply stick figures? Two stick figures, one with with two breasts and one with a penis almost as long as his leg. I imagine that for this beach they were probably naked male and female stick figures doing star jumps. An Official Aqua Aerobics in the Altogether beach.

Only in Spain.

PS For more parenting/ travelling / thrifty blogging follow through Facebook or Bloglovin or even just enter your email to get them pinged into your inbox. I don’t mention pubes THAT much…

Family Travel, Thrifty

Flea Markets in Secondhand Split

7 October, 2013

Ah, yeah. I know what you’re thinking- I needed to find the Flea Market in Split, Croatia, like I needed a punch in the face. We’ve sold a house full of stuff, pared down to just a few belongings for our travels round Europe, why WHY would I need to go thrifting in Croatia?

Welllll… My shoes really broke for the final time after much DIY repairing so I popped them in the bin and was one pair down. Also, we are flying back to England on Tuesday and have to somehow cart all our gear onto the plane… so we are keeping our eyes peeled for a suitcase or massive bag or two… But, really, honestly? I just love rummaging through people’s old stuff.

Especially if there’s a chance it could be retro communisty Iron Curtain style old stuff.

The Green Markets in Split sprawl out from the harbour up to the edge of the Old Town. On a Sunday they are packed with mountains of fruit and veggies and, tucked at the back, as you walk away from the harbour, was a vision of beauty to my eyeballs- a small but perfectly haphazard array of stalls selling old stuff. The ideal mixture – plastic tat, vintage fabrics, clothing, records, filthy things piled in boxes: YES, YES, YES!

We arrived at 11am and it was in full flow, but over by the time we passed again at 1pm. We had a quick mosey but I didn’t torture myself by searching too hard through all the things I couldn’t take back with me. I did score this SWEET pair of treads though, for about £1.20. Are these what you call brothel creepers? I’m sorry to womankind if so… But aren’t they The Business? I promise to be extra feminist whilst wearing them.Flea Market Split

(Communists don’t worry about matching laces.)

We then wandered through the old town and unexpectedly began to love Split. There are some astonishing Roman structures, the magnificence of which rivalling Dubrovnik, but with a massive dose of proper, gritty, city living. 20131007-080135.jpg
Ramona having a snooze on Tim’s back as we bask in the antiquity.

We then, outside the overawing Golden Gate, came across another glorious sight- another market of old stuff! Wheee! Sound the Trumpet of Joy! It was a bit more official, and featured almost solely antique stuff but for fairly good prices and still with the delight of rummaging through boxes and bowls.Flea Markets in Split

Walking past this rocking horse realising it would never be mine was probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life (possibly rivalled by child birth.)

Secondhand Split, I found you, you stealthy beast, and I loved you.

Linking up for the first time in YONKS with all the secondhand loving beauties over at Me and My Shadow.

Family Travel

Croatia’s National Parks: Bears, waterfalls and figs

29 September, 2013

We were soaked to the bone, mother, baby and toddler standing on the corner with an outstretched arm and hopeful thumb. Fortunately the first car responded and picked up this little hitchhiking trio of drowned rats. We had been caught out by both a raging storm and a mythical local bus in the middle of one of Croatia’s National Parks, Plitvice. Our campsite, the beautiful Korana, was six kilometres away along a crazily unwalkable road, but thanks to the two Israeli tourists who picked us up, we we were soon zipped back in to our tent drinking hot chocolate. At one point on the ride home they said “We saw your little family earlier, in the rain, by the waterfalls and thought it was so cruel/cool…” We still don’t know which it was and I guess it could really be either depending on your view of weather/ children/ raincoats. We all enjoyed ourselves a lot more than if we’d opted to sit in our tent exhausting Ramona’s one book of fairytales! (Gah, just admitted we only bought one book with us.) (Also… we all do tend to have a but of fun when things go awry… I think it’s a part of my personality – the more dire a situation is the more cheerful I become; you know we are in a right pickle if you hear me belting out “You’re never fully dressed without a …. SMIIIIILE” in a broad American accent and busting out a bit of tap dancing.)

The fact that we first encountered Plitvice in a torrential downpour, while squished between tour bus group after tour bus group of tourists, and still found it to be singly the most beautiful place on earth, attests to its flipping awesomeness. (I originally had “breathtaking wonder” but then remembered I wasn’t David Attenborough.)

It is a series of lakes connected by waterfalls, lakes that are so clear that when you are standing on the shore the ducks appear to be floating in mid air, and when you are standing on a cliff looking from above there is a perfect mirror image of the waterfalls reflected on its surface. A wooden path weaves over and alongside the waterfalls, making you feel almost a part of it. As you trace the lake’s shoreline from one waterfall to another the sound fades until you are left with simply the chorus of crickets… Then you approach the next connecting fall and the sound builds gradually until you are right amongst the cascades, it’s ferocious noise causing you to shout.


We were so pleased we got the two day pass (about £15 per person) as the next day was bright and sunny and we explored the upper lakes at leisure. The upper lakes seem to be free from the cumbersome tour groups but are just as spectacular.

Someone we met later on in our trip told us they skipped Plitvice because of all the tourism and “Seen one waterfall, seen ’em all right?!” We nodded, not wanting to break it to him. But the answer in this case is really Heck No. The falls of Plitvice are gobsmacking in their seeming endlessness; everywhere you look there is cascading water, their scope; enormous, tiny, wide like someone busted up a damn, gentle trickles, and the water; like every Evian advert ever made melted together, like the water all water on earth would be like if we actually lived in heaven.


It was water that lured… Tempting throatily like the serpent… “Come in, splash here, dive down in my divine depths… OH COME ON YOU BORING OLD TOAD AT LEAST DIP A TOE”

But alas, Plitvice’s only bad point (apart from an unreliable bus service and crowds) – you can’t swim! Honest! It is a travesty that there isn’t even a tiny little designated area. Croatia, please sort this out. We won’t even wee in it, PROMISE.

(Also, another major downer: you probably won’t actually see a bear here. Even if you read about Plitvice and bears on the Internet and that was the main reason you came, really, that still doesn’t make it likely that you’ll see a bear because, hello?! They are so right in the middle of All The Nature not hanging out with all the tourists on the paths, okay, hahahaha SILLY! *weeps for self and lack of bear viewing*)

Back to the swimming thing… You can’t swim at Plitvice but swimming in other Croatian National Parks is ALL ON. Which is why we pootled a couple of hours south down to Krka (pronounced Krka) for more waterfalls.

Krka National Park was a fair bit less crowded and seemed to be loads more family friendly. Something about being able to swim there made it all feel as if everyone was there to participate in outdoorsy activity rather than just take photos of the outdoors. Like Plitvice, it was fall after fall. Any single one of them would have done the country proud but yet again there they were gushing all over the place. A bit showy offy there, Croatia, with all this breathtaking wonder.

The swim was majestic, just as you’d imagine swimming under an enormous waterfall to be. We all went in and all thought it was pretty cool. Ramona calls waterfalls “mountains” – rationally i figure it is because they are like “fountains” but massive and with added grandeur. She still talks about swimming under the mountain, a week later.

The path was lined with fig trees too, so we got to partake in my favourite hobby, and foraged our way from waterfall to waterfall. They were tiny and juicy and we scoffed them like we scoff blackberries on our walks in England.

We spent four days in the Krka region, two of them in the park (a two day pass was £12) as we just really liked it. At the southern end of the National Park, in actual Krka town you can swim in the river and it is the point at which it meets the sea. It is a crazy feeling; the chill of the river water on top, the warm, salty buoyant water below. We found a walnut tree and got about a billion and just sat munching walnuts and figs feeling that beautiful foragey contentedness.

Juno, at five months old, is really swiping at all our food now. You should see her trying to get our figs, she bustles about, purple with determination, pivoting 180 degrees on her rotund belly. She managed to hustle Ramona’s cheese sandwich yesterday, I’m unsure if that’s better or worse than the twigs and dirt she is usually scoffing. And then there is Ramona who is thriving on our “Pick Every Ripe Fruit You Pass” and “Ice Cream Every Other Day” policies.

We have been on an Island for the last few days, can’t wait to tell you about it…


Family Travel

The forest Kindergarten: Autonomy, wilderness and sharp knives

6 September, 2013

There is a flash of movement in the pine tree above my head; a young lad has climbed high up one of the dark, wizened trees the Black Forest is famous for. All around me are little pockets of children- some are digging into the stream, carefully constructing a dam, others are sitting on a bench with perfectly sharp knives, whittling boats out of wood. They are so young, between two and a half and six, yet all are absorbed in their activities, discovering and learning with mud and tools without any adults disturbing their flow. It is an official German preschool but feels a lot more like Neverland. There are grown ups here, but they help only when invited and mediate only when necessary. They are often as equally absorbed in their own activities, crafting photo frames out of sticks or something, and the kids might join them if they are inclined. The adults “see with their ears” – knowing the impact grown up eye balls can have on kids and their ability to resolve problems.

We have spent this week at the Waldkindergarten outside of Freiberg, in south Germany. It really translates as Forest Kindergarten, but in my head I call it the Wild Kindergarten. It is as wild as it gets- I don’t think you’d even believe most if it!


There is no plumbing- each tot heads into the trees with a spade to deal with their toilet needs, there is no electricity, and just one tiny shed to store tools, musical instruments and art supplies. Every single season is spent out here under the pine trees.

The mornings begin at 8:30 and last until 1:30 and of that time only one and a half hours is structured (a story, some music, some food, some meditation) – the rest of the time is the child’s. What incredible and accurate faith this puts in a child’s ability to learn without our assistance. I saw a bunch of girls building a mud hut, fishing rods being crafted (sharp knives were involved) and used, a group playing on a rough seesaw made of two logs and a million mud pies being baked; they are playing but learning more than we could teach them, I’m sure.

There are several big reasons for why a preschool like this is important.

The adults who work here seem to often come from a social work background- they have worked with addicts or delinquents and have felt unequivocally that an early grounding in nature is the key to preventing these behaviours.

One of the founders, Franz, who has been there the whole 15 years, mentioned the importance of “empty space” – the idea that when we are young we need to learn to be okay when faced with unfilled space and time, to learn how to be content with it. This builds a resilience against addiction, which can so often be people trying to fill a void.

Another worker, Louisa, talks of how it is only children who have come to love nature who will grow up to be its protectors. Forests and rivers will only be kept out of the hands of greedy corporations if upcoming generations truly recognise its value.

There is a lot of talk here about the relationship between mind and body, and how children who spend all this time outdoors have a real grounding, they are connected. The adults here instil confidence in the child’s physical ability, never stopping them from climbing and not intruding on a child’s progress onto their feet after a tumble. And these kids are SO physically able! We went on a trip out yesterday, up the mountain on a gondola for a hike (a HIKE? What teacher in their right minds organises a hike for a preschool day trip?!) and it was wonderful seeing them all walking for miles together, being allowed to investigate plants, the big ones helping the tinies carry their rucksacks – while the tinies carried all manner of things- one a clump of moss half the way. We went under electric fences and found our way to a lake where everyone stripped off for a splash. (Yep!)

Autonomy is nurtured here. A pair of girls found what looked like an ediblemushroom in the woods today and picked a mushroom encyclopaedia (these exist) off the shelf to check. Patrick, the other founder and the brilliant fellow whose farm we are currently encamped on, tells a tale of when one kid went on to primary school and a strict old teacher told him off for writing the wrong way. The little chap replied “It’s not the wrong way, it’s MY way.” Even the littlest kid is trusted here, allowed to express their power, their way, and in turn they become confident and secure.


And then there are smaller, little bonuses I notice. There is hardly any gender divide. Leaves, sticks, rocks- they don’t come in pink or blue. Every child does every activity, nothing is prescribing who can use it or how to play with it.

There is also a real peace here, evident in the atmosphere and relationships. The workers say it is the forest; nature has a calming effect on both the adults and children.

They are wonderfully sociable too. Patrick says they arrive at school with social skills way beyond their peers. He puts it down to the fact that there is so much imagination required when playing with nature that you have to explain what you are doing. With a whole load of toy cars, kids can just join in and brooooom around. But when you are digging, carving (did I mention how properly sharp the knives are?!), mixing with leaves and mud, if someone wants to participate a conversation has to take place “Ah, yeah, we are just baking the most badass cake here yeah, then we’ll cook it in this oven…”

Suffice to say we are shall-we-stay-here inspired. Or maybe we have found the thing we might do in New Zealand. Anyone want to join in? Just bring a sharp knife, yeah?


PS Don’t miss a thing! Follow through Facebook or Bloglovin or even just enter your email to get them pinged into your inbox. I won’t be spamalot, promise!

Family Travel

Intentional Nonpurpose (we are rubbish at it)

23 August, 2013

We had been at our very first campsite for an hour or so. Ramona was busy filling her bag with the bare necessities- a balloon, a shoe, a tiny hippo. She looked up and, with her bag in hand, hand on hip, said “RIGHT! Let’s go!” “Where to?” I replied (confused, as she seemed to have much more of a clue than I) “To see what we can see!”


Tim and I have found it a bit harder than we thought we would, this settling in to doing nothing business. We spent the first couple of days almost down in the dumps, intimidated by the gaping hole of three empty months – where our biggest achievement is getting to the end of the day having bumped our heads less than the day before. (Becoming used to living in a van is a headache- I feel like how Ramona’s Cabbage Patch Kid feels being made to hang out in her tiny doll’s house.)

We realised on our third day that we’d be a lot happier if we just acted as if we were on a short holiday- something about knowing you’re going back to Real Life and Work in a few weeks somehow frees you up for nonpurposeful living. (And then strangely, sometimes holidays can be hard to get into because there is so much pressure to relax and have fun BECAUSE you are going home soon. At least we don’t have to worry about that…)

So we are trying to take each day as it comes, to get used to being aimless. And just by waking up and “seeing what we can see” we have come across some cool stuff-

A campsite where every tent had a caged parrot (we obviously didn’t get the memo about the BYO parrot thing) – one of them kept chatting away and Ramona totally didn’t believe me when I told her it was the parrot; “You’re tricking me!”

Some amazing azure lakes and crystal clear rivers (and one flipping MAHOOOSIVE LEECH- it’s a whole blog post in itself) where we have swum and swum and swum.

Loads of incredible free camping spots, with views and forests and swimming- the French are well cool when it comes to wild camping.

A perfect nest of swallows who all slept with their bums straight up, poking right out.

A little family from the Midlands whom we spent the afternoon with, drinking tea and talking about childhood, attachment theory and emotional health (some of my favourite things)

A forest full of the tiniest frogs, we chased them around and around for an afternoon.

A path up a waterfall that we could climb and splash and float twigs, leaves and berries down.

A meal with a French couple of fish baked on the campfire – we had very little shared language (I did French for 3 years at school but there’s a limit to how many times you can say J’aim le tennis) so it was a conversation made up almost entirely of hand gestures and wild facial expressions.


We’re not quite good enough at this intentional nonpurpose yet but fortunately we are with Ramona who is the PROFESSOR of it. Most children are perfectly expert at simply BEING- hopefully we’ll learn a thing or two from her.


We have been following Dan Start’s Wild Swimming France around the Jura region but we’re about to gatecrash my sister’s family hols in the Alps. Will try and get to a McDonald’s soon (we are totally abusing their free wifi) to tell you about the leech, as I know you are on the absolute edge of your seat waiting to hear about that little sucker…

Family Travel

Our European Bombaround- Roadtrips, robberies and risks

21 June, 2013

We had just begun one of our many family roadtrips around Europe, it was our first night and we had, unusually for us as we are hardcore campers, bunkered down in a cheap motel with just our toothbrushes to see us through to the morning. I was 14, my sister 17  and it was one of our last family holidays. We woke in the morning and headed down to our car to discover it had been broken into and every single tiny weeny item of ours had been pinched. They even took my sisters A Level revision!

We were completely devastated. I was a clothes obsessed teen and had taken all the very best things I owned; counting all of our clothes and gear, it was thousands of pounds worth of stuff. We carried on the holiday bravely, stopping in the first supermarket to buy one dress and a swimming costume each – we literally didn’t have the funds to splash out on proper wardrobe replacements.

We had lots of family chats about how things aren’t that important and although it was a bit of a tough holiday I think my parent’s philosophical response to it really rubbed off on my sister and I. There must be something about my upbringing that is allowing me to get rid of nearly a whole house full of beautiful things in a car boot sale next week! *cheerful face* *wails despairingly* *smiles bravely through tears* ALRIGHT DAMMIT I’M ONLY HALF COPING WITH THAT PROSPECT.

When we got home from that holiday and the insurance money came in  I was able to go to New Look and spend it all  kitting myself out exactly like a member of All Saints. Ooh yeah, I was WORKING that camo. I mean, literally, everything in my wardrobe was camo. Cripes. So yeah, sometimes there can be an upside to shizzle going wrong.

We had a fair mix of shenanigans happen to us on our childhood holidays and the odd bit of thievery and vehicle mishaps and bodily bumps and breaks on holidays since. (I guess something needs to happen, what with all the fun and frolicks otherwise happening on hols, to balance out the cosmos?!)Little family
My sister, my Pa and I one one of our family holidays.  In the modern day version my dad would be staring at his Iphone but instead he is meditating on a pebble, hehe.

We’ll be doing a few things to keep safe on our European adventure and avoid any accidents. We’ll go next level with our travel insurance.  We’ll get some kind of secure safe system for our valuables. And *a bit proud*  I’ve also done an incredibly thorough paediatric First Aid course and attended a lecture in managing childhood illness the natural way by Dr Donegan in preparation. (Do check Dr Jayne Donegan out, loads of great advice.)

In some ways we are swapping risks – the glass covered pavement of South London for the lake leeches in Hungary (what, do I keep going on about leeches?!) and hectic, busy roads for eerily remote necks of woods in Germany. But all you can do really is prepare as much as possible and then focus all your energy on having a blast, and if we can be as philosophical as my ‘rents were in the face of catastrophe then we’ll be doing okay. And if we do have a similar situation to the car robbery fiasco at least I’ll have a great excuse to kit us all out in matching camo outfits like a little family pop band.

Not that I’m one for focusing on the bad, but have you got any horror stories that outdo a fourteen year old having to wear the same supermarket dress for 2 weeks?

This post is sponsored by Irwin Mitchell and Tigerlily training who sent me on their First Aid course. More info on my disclosure page. Thank you!