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Posts from the ‘A big Adventure’ Category

Moving from Darkness into Light

It is dark at night in rural Ireland. Very, very dark, especially in the rain – and especially in winter.  As we turned the corner into the village suddenly there were lights from houses by the road.  The shop and pub opposite the entrance to our little enclave had bright windows and outside lamps shone on sacks of fuel.  We staggered from the car and waited in the rain as the dogs sniffed and had a pee on the walls.  The front door was flung open and our friends were waiting with open arms – literally – to greet us.  Inside it was bright, warm and surprisingly crowded considering we were in the main room and there were four adults, three small dogs and one little girl.  A fire roared up the chimney in the ingle nook and we were ushered into chairs as we took off the dogs’ leads and blinked in the light.  It was a wonderful welcome.

After greetings, wine, sandwiches, more wine and a guided tour of the cottage from the little girl we fell into the beds that were already made up, too tired to unpack the car.  The next morning we found supplies for breakfast in the cupboards, provided by our lovely friends. We were able to finally stop and take stock.  We opened the last of the cards and presents from Saltburn and decorated the main room with them.  The fire had gone out and it was cold – very, very cold.  There had been virtually no visitors over the last year and the cottage was in hibernation. Storage heaters in the bedrooms took off some of the chill but we were going to need the fire on constantly to keep warm and wake up our home.

Our cottage and home for the next few months was one of eleven set around two little greens.  Built in the 1960s for tourists they were “traditional” in style.  Deep walls, stone floors, basic furnishings, small windows and very small rooms.  Perfect for a holiday but not perhaps ideal in winter for long-term residence. We unpacked the car and waited for a delivery from the nearest supermarket that Jacqui had ordered before we left.  Apart from unpacking our meagre goods and walking the dogs in the park behind the cottages we were pretty much comatose for a few days. 

We did manage a celebratory dinner on the second night.  Saltburn has a marvellous butcher, Gosnay’s, and we had one final steak from his meat counter along with some excellent wine carried in the boot and wrapped in towels.  We had ordered a large block of special sheep’s cheese from Real Meals before we left.  It and the steak travelled without harm and we raised a glass to all our friends left behind and our friends in Ireland who had made the journey possible.  

Musing on life and strange coincidences I remembered when we moved from Somerset 31 years before.  We had visited Street, the home of shoe making in the west, and I found a pair of painted boots with a picture of a cliff on them.  As we drove into Saltburn we saw Huntcliff – a distinctive shape that matched my boots exactly.  It looked like a sign. 

The week before leaving for Ireland I had packed an unfamiliar tea towel, probably from Jacqui’s great aunt, with a picture of a donkey outside a cottage.  Looking out of the window I saw a rainbow over the green and realised these cottages matched that picture.  Another sign perhaps? 

I looked at the news and saw Scotland and Ireland were both closing their borders to all travellers.  Despite the cold, despite the exhaustion I felt a great rush of relief.  With barely 36 hours to spare we had made it.

December is not a good time to move

December is never a good time to move house.  We should know – all of our moves have taken place in December due to differing circumstances.  This December however was the hardest of the lot. 

We drove off in the car loaded with bedding, three dogs and essentials of life for the first few days.  It was just after 2pm and already getting dark as the rain began to fall.  We had a satnav – something I have resisted for years, and after this journey I felt fully justified in my prejudice.  It assured us our journey was 253 miles to the hotel.  The miles ticked off as we ploughed through what developed into a storm but although we had followed it’s snooty voice without question a glance at a real map showed we were nowhere near Stranrae when it reached a mere 10 miles to go.  By the time we got to the hotel it was almost 7.30 at night and we had driven an extra 80 miles. And the satnav was now telling us we were still 10 miles away.

The hotel was dark, just a faint light in the reception area.  At first glance it could have passed as a set for “The Shining”.  We hauled ourselves up the entrance steps and across the lobby, footsteps and dogs’ claws echoing in the gloom.  I think we must have looked awful as the lovely receptionist persuaded the kitchen staff to stay on and make us something to eat.  We staggered to our rooms and collapsed, feeding the dogs first and covering the bed with a blanket to guard against paw marks.  The food was excellent, delivered to our door, and the dogs seemed happy despite such a disruptive and strange week.  We slept – oh how we slept.

Oh, how we slept!

The next morning we left the echoing, empty hotel that had been so kind and welcome and headed for the port.  The satnav, obviously inhabited by a malicious spirit of some kind, sent us round in circles for ten minutes until we turned it off and navigated ourselves, arriving just in time to load.  The worst part was leaving the dogs in the car.  We had chosen Stranrae to Belfast as it was only two hours.  Two of the dogs are good, experienced travellers but the youngest had never done anything like this before.  We settled them in their crates, left little treats hidden in their blankets and stumbled upstairs just hoping they would settle and sleep. 

Sunrise over Stranrae

On board the staff were lovely, there were coffee, tea and pastries available and excellent seating areas.  We chose a place away from the televisions which was just as well as the BBC was announcing new travel restrictions and an imminent lockdown in Northern Ireland.  If necessary we would claim ignorance – it was too late now and we had nowhere to go back to.  As we pulled away from the dock and set out across the Irish Sea I felt an overwhelming rush of emotion and began to cry.  It was a mixture of relief, exhaustion, fear (mainly for the dogs) and grief for all we were leaving behind.   Looking back now I can still feel that pain, lessened by time but still enough to hurt.  I’m only surprised I didn’t cry earlier but I think we were both hanging on so tightly we didn’t dare relax.

The dogs were, of course, fine when we got back to the car.  The little Trojans had just curled up and slept with no fuss and less worry than I had experienced.  As we drove out of the port we passed a large group of police and customs officials who were setting up cones and signs, the new checkpoint.  We drove on, trying to look suitably respectable which was not easy under the circumstances, not stopping until we reached the service area on the motorway.  Here we grabbed sandwiches and water and walked the dogs before heading for the border and our final destination.

The journey was quite uneventful after that, enlivened only by another storm and the bastard satnav lopping another 80 miles off the journey.  Oh, and a Gardai checkpoint on the motorway outside Dublin.  Although it was rush hour every car was stopped causing a long tailback.  When we got to the front of the queue a very young and very wet officer looking into the car, raising his eyebrows at the contents.  By this time we probably looked more like car residents than respectable travellers.

   “Can I ask you the purpose of yer journey today?” he asked, raising his voice over the barking.

I was very tired and in no mood to be stopped so close to achieving the impossible.

            “We are moving,” I said.  “We have rented a cottage near Nenagh and we are going there.”

There was a pause as he digested this before stepping back and waving us on.

            “You have a safe journey then” he said.

That was when I knew it just might all work out.

A Wealth of Experience (or too much)

There are some advantages that come with age and one is a wealth of experience.  My remarkable partner Jacqui had, in another life, been in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  Refusing to panic she rang the Stranrae hotel and explained – several times, using increasingly small words – we were not travelling for “Leisure or Pleasure”.  This was an essential trip, allowed under the regulations and we had no choice but to leave our home on the 8th of December. A subtext, not articulated but lurking just around the corner, was the threat to camp out in their car park overnight if necessary.  It worked. 

Now we had the problem of the sale.  There was not enough time to begin the whole process again, with viewings, surveyors, mortgage assessors, solicitors… But a number of our previous viewers had expressed a keen interest in the house and sent in offers, so we sent out messages.  “If you can guarantee to complete in less than four weeks the house is yours”.  Much to our astonishment that worked too.  All we had to do was finish packing and get ready to go.

We had found a removals firm in Ireland who claimed to be expert packers and experienced in handling antiques and fragile goods.  If I do not name them you will have an inkling that these claims fell somewhat short of the truth, but more of that later.  The move was planned for 2 trips, a week apart. A storage room was already arranged some seven miles from the cottage in Ireland. We had done a lot of packing ourselves but there were still large areas of the house needing an efficient and professional hand.  When the mover arrived he took everything we had got ready, filling half the van. Then he walked around the house and said he’d be back to finish the job on the 8th.  We were not sure how he planned to do it but he was confident and drove off after barely four hours. 

The next part of the move still gives me bad dreams.  When we looked around we found there were several items missing.  Two green boxes from the Pet Crematorium were gone.  We had lost Trevor, our cat and Saffron our oldest dog during the year and had not had time to find suitable urns for them.  And a red folder had gone from the table – containing the papers and passports for two of the dogs.  We were frantic, distraught and close to despair as without the papers we could not take our dogs abroad.  Already ill and exhausted from stress and overwork Jacqui had a relapse and was unable to do anything for most of the next week.  Sensibly she slept and recovered in time to drive to the vets where the wonderful Len issued two new, replacement passports.  We could only hope the green boxes were safe in the first load.

The hardest setback of allAlmost a total disaster

We would not have managed as much as we did without our wonderful friends.  Always a tower of strength, Lynn turned up every day to help us pack, sort and manage the dogs.  As the final deadline loomed and it was obvious I would not get everything done two other saviours materialized.  Paul and Su offered some much needed muscle (Paul) and organization (Su).  Together they helped us salvage something from the disaster of the house and we were thankful we would have a professional packer to clear the china cupboards and take down some of the furniture. Ha!

When he arrived, four hours late, it became obvious he was not expecting to pack anything even though I had phoned and warned him we were way behind. Also we and hadn’t been able to get any more boxes.  After he threw a hissy fit we walked him round and showed what was needed.  We had been due to leave at the time he finally arrived. Four hours to help and answer questions built in to the day had seemed enough and we had a long journey ahead.  Instead we had to rush through what was left, trusting him to make proper notes. 

As we set off, late, shaking with fatigue and sick with worry we were buoyed up by the unexpected rush of kindness shown by friends and neighbours.  We had cards, wrapped gifts, kind words and people waving from doors and windows as we finally left our home in the north-east.  It was two days short of thirty one years since we had arrived and as we set off through the increasingly dark and stormy weather the enormity of the whole enterprise finally hit home. 

Full speed ahead to nowhere

With new restrictions and rules changing almost weekly it seemed we were moving at full speed but going nowhere. Suddenly time seemed to speed up as the deadline to move came ever closer yet we were still floating in a sea of uncertainty. Moving home was one of the exceptions to the lockdown but only in England. We were hoping to go abroad, a journey through four countries, each with their own rules. And still no-one seemed to know exactly what could be done. Or answer their phone.

The only course of action was to get on with what we could control and hope the rest worked out. After some difficulty we finally managed a (socially distanced and masked) meeting with the estate agent. They liked the house – a lot – but noted it was extremely untidy. Yes, trying to pack up a lifetime whilst not being able to throw out or recycle will do that to a home. We settled on a stratagy for photographs. Do the front of the house one afternoon and move the boxes to the rear. Then do the back one morning and reverse the process. This required several days of “wasted” effort but the results were quite stunning. In fact I was almost tempted to buy the place myself, it looked so good.

Knowing we were hopefully about to get some (socially distanced and masked) visitors, we focussed on tidying and clearing as much as we could, much to the disgust of the dogs who wanted this to all stop and get back to normal. Alas, there was no going back and we were heading for a totally unknown “normal” in an unknown place. As we waited for viewings we began to look for a place to rent in Ireland. This was far more difficult than we had imagined. Ireland was undergoing something of a housing crisis and rental properties were rare and highly prized. This pushed up the price and it was impossible to get anyone to take us seriously. We were English, still in England and with only English bank accounts and no references. We also had three dogs, albeit small dogs, and most landlords didn’t want any pets.

It looked as if we were heading down a slope with nowhere to land when our wonderful friends in Ireland stepped in. Somehow they managed to persuade a holiday cottage owner to let us have an empty cottage for a long term. It was actually the one place we knew, where we had stayed on our visit four years ago. We breathed a huge sigh, sent off the deposit and blessed our friends for a miracle. We turned our attention back to the house and I knew I was falling badly behind. In desperation I began to heave stuff into big boxes, seal them and label them “TBS” – “To Be Sorted”. Even so, I made a total hash of the whole thing. The whole experience was made worse by the fact my other half was already at work on the kitchen and the china. A wonderful friend had cleared the rooms with us for photographs and was busy on the bedding. I felt like an abject failure and the memory of those days still haunts me.

Absolutely the worst packer in the world

Despite the barely concealed chaos most viewers were impressed with the house and after only three weeks we had a number of offers. We accepted one and then waited for the surveyors, the Energy Performance Certificate and then the second survey for the purchaser’s bank. Everyone was fully booked, delays were inevitable and once more time was slipping by. Then came two hammer blows.

We were supposed to be driving to Stranrae to stay overnight before catching the early ferry but there was a change in the rules. We got a phone call from the hotel telling our booking was cancelled as “non-essential”. And then, with no warning, the sale fell through. We were almost out of time, we were heading nowhere and if we tried to go we’d be sleeping in a lay-by with three dogs overnight.

That was not a good day.