Thursday, 21 August 2014

Happy Campers!

"Was there a club house?" my soon-to-be sister-in-law asked of our recent stay at a campsite in Pembrokeshire.

Our summer holiday this year needed to be dirt cheap. And the first rule of dirt cheap camping is to avoid sites with lots of facilities. Which we did. So no - no club houses.

We're huge fans of the Cool Camping books and website. They've never let us down when it comes to locating amazing campsites in stunning locations, and this year was no exception. Their recommendations often include small sites and the more quirky. (All our own judgement here - I'm not being paid or sponsored to mention them).

After rejecting a couple of Cool campsites further west into Pembrokeshire on the grounds of cost, we decided upon Skrinkle Bay Campsite. 

Photo swiped from Cool Camping's picture of the campsite
- that's not our tent.

Near the village of Manorbier, a few miles west of Tenby, it's a cliff top site, with spectacular views of the coastline and the ocean. And all this comes at a price of £8 per night for a small tent, or £10 for a large tent, regardless of the number of occupants. Although camp fires are allowed, the other facilities are few and far between: three loos, a 'cool' shower (appropriately enough for a Cool Camping campsite!) and a water tap. Definitely no club house. And absolutely no wi-fi. At the tail end of Hurricane Bertha, not many campers either. Fantastic! All the more room for the kids to fly the kite and play football.

Church Doors beach with the little Shoestrings
frolicking in the waves if you look very closely

And for much of the time we had the nearest beach, Church Doors (which is a few minutes walk down the cliff) all to ourselves.

The 'Church Doors' rock formation - wow!
At high tide you can swim through the doors

It was our first visit to this area of Wales and we loved it. There are beautiful beaches (as well as Church Doors and Skrinkle Haven, we visited Tenby, and on the way home, Pendine Sands) and coastal walks along the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. This kept us fully entertained for most of our visit.

For a slight variation on the theme of beaches we visited Caldey Island. I would like to think that the kids will remember all the things we learned about the Cistercian (Trappist) monastery (which owns the island) and the fascinating history, however I suspect that the highlight was the return boat trip at low tide, which featured a ride on an amphibious vehicle for part of the journey.

The Italinate Cistercian monastery on
Caldey built in the early 20th century
The joy of camping, especially shoestring camping, is that it's always a reminder of how little we really need to be happy. Agreed, the beautiful landscape and the relaxed, holiday mindset all help, but in the short term no-one missed hot water, fancy food or the internet. Seeing how the Cistercian monks on Caldey live a simple life of vegetarian food, study, prayer and work in the community, only served to emphasise the value of a simple life. It's continually a challenge, but we came back inspired to keep everyday life at home simple whenever we can.

Other top tips for a successful dirt cheap camping holiday
  • Keep travel costs down - don't venture too far from home. (We're lucky - for us the Severn bridge is not far; as soon as we're over it we're in a different country and it feels as if we are miles away from home!)
  • Acquire camping stuff second-hand. A lot of our gear is second-hand, including our tent (see a picture of our leaky tent here in last year's camping blog post!). And now is a good time to look for stuff in the sales, ready for next year.
  • Borrow stuff. Most people's camping kit sits around doing nothing for most of the time. This year we borrowed a top box for the car from our neighbours. And when we were at the campsite someone left their camping chairs by the bin when they left the site so we borrowed those too!
  • Our trip was from early Monday to late Friday, so although it felt like nearly a whole week it was actually only four nights. A tenner each for nearly a week's accommodation! Not bad!
  • Keep the catering simple - we had a hearty camping breakfast, a light lunch of sandwiches or rolls and usually pasta in the evening. 
  • Apart from the Caldey Island trip, by picking a location with lots of natural interest, we didn't need to pay for any other days out.
  • Ignore the weather forecast - we nearly bottled out of the whole trip when we looked at the weather forecast for our week, but it turned out to be one of the driest (although also the blusteriest) holidays we have had.
  • Good old fashioned games are lots of fun. Battle ships was the game of this holiday.
  • You're never too old for a bucket and spade. Nearly-14-year-old Daughter begged us for a bucket and spade in Tenby, which provided, perhaps not hours, but many minutes of fun!
  • Don't be completely miserly - make sure to budget for the odd ice cream, milkshake or cup of coffee!
Any other tips for frugal camping? Have you been camping this summer - any great locations to share?

Friday, 8 August 2014

We're all going on a summer holiday...

We're gearing up for our annual camping trip.

We're really last minute here this year and there have been all sorts of debates about where to go. Do we combine camping with visiting family in Devon, Norfolk or the North East? Do we go somewhere completely new to us? Do we go somewhere we've been before that we know we'll like? 

With these discussions going on at home, I've been observing the habits of our friends and neighbours. I haven't got any data to back up my hypothesis but from my observations I'd say that for summer 2014 most people round here are either visiting family or going somewhere they've been before. And we're just as unadventurous!

There are various family visits east and west over the summer but for the camping trip it's Wales. Again! Albeit a different, new-to-us, part of Wales. Pembrokeshire.

And of course I'm using my own camping checklist again to help make the prepararions easier!

How about you? Do you go back to the same place again and again? Visit family? Staycation?

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Summer Holiday Frugal Fun!

Random summer holiday frugal fun so far, in no particular order:

  • Picnics. We've been back to our favourite local river picnicking spot with a bunch of friends, and everyone from the 2 year old to the over 50s, as well as the teenagers in between, enjoyed themselves.
  • Parks. Whilst we were in London we visited two fantastic free parks: Bunny Park in Hanwell, Ealing (which has a small free zoo (except they call it an animal centre) and an amazing maze as well as play equipment and extensive green space), and Dukes Meadow in Chiswick which has a wooden adventure play ground suitable for both younger and older kids. It also has a water play area (which sadly wasn't working when we were there).
  • Decluttering. I've attacked a very neglected pile of paperwork. Not owning a shredder, I tried out a means of disposing of personal paperwork suggested by a friend. It involved soaking bank statements etc in a washing up bowl, mushing them up, drying them in the sun, and then recycling the whole lot. My methodology was queried by some but it was surprisingly quick and easy, and much more pleasant on a hot day as well as lower in carbon emissions, than burning it. Fortunately Husband is so used to my strange ways that he didn't bat an eyelid at discovering a ton of squodged pay slips sunbathing in the garden.

  • Reading. We all love a good read in the holidays. Inspired by our visit to the big smoke, one child is reading A bear called Paddington by Michael Bond and the other has his nose in Bob, No ordinary cat by James Bowen (the children's version of A Street Cat named Bob). I've finished Talking to Zeus and am about to move on to Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman. Husband doesn't do fiction but is happy with his newly arrived CTC Cycling magazine.
  • Guests. Friends from up country coming to stay with us for the night en route to their holiday destination. There's nothing like a houseful of boys fuelled with pizza and icecream performing magic tricks and gymnastics, sharing their loom band expertise, playing the guitar, fiddling and twiddling on their technological gadgets, and doing all this seemingly simultaneously.
  • Haircuts. Son and I have let Husband loose on us with his clippers; a number 8 seems to do both of us just fine! (Who needs a Cleopatra fringe anyway?!) Thanks to fellow bloggers Lovely Grey and Simple Suffolk Smallholder for convincing me that clippers are the frugal way forward when it comes to short hair cuts for ladies as well as gents...
A rare appearance on the blog 
by me complete with clippered hair.

If there's one thing I want to give my kids, it's the learning that real happiness comes from their relationships with others - time spent with the people that are precious to them and the people around them, not from desiring and owning lots of stuff and looking beautiful and having expensive haircuts and living a virtual life through Facebook, Instagram, or the like (blogs included!). I may never be able to persuade Daughter to let Husband clipper her long flaxen locks but in all other respects I think I'm just about winning in my mission this holiday...

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Unusual Food Waste on Food Waste Friday

It's been a looong looong time since I did a Food Waste Friday blog post. But as a blog ambassador for Zero Waste Week 2014 (check out the website here), all things wastey must go to the top of my agenda again, and that includes food waste. 

Most of the time now, we have our food waste well under control. But we're not perfect and every now and again something trips us up.

This week it's olive oil.


Now I never imagined that would be a food stuff you'd see me throwing away. I thought olive oil lasted for years. 

It probably does but here's the thing. When it's stored in a nearly transparent recycled bottle in the kitchen, it starts tasting funny. All this summer, I've been wondering why my salads had a decidedly pungent flavour. Yesterday when I poured some oil on my pasta, and the pasta also had the same distinctive taste, I finally realised that the dressing was the problem, not this year's lettuce crop. From there I narrowed it down to the olive oil.

As luck would have it my first summer holiday read happens to be a book entitled Talking to Zeus, My Year in a Greek garden by Jane Shaw. You don't spend a year in a Greek garden without harvesting some olives at some point, and on Thursday night the book answered all my olive oil puzzles. 

Jane Shaw's Greek garden mentor, Joy, asks her, "Oil should be kept in tinted glass bottles kept in a cool, dark cupboard. Now why is that?"

And Jane answers, "To stop light oxidising the oil. It would go rancid otherwise."

There we have it, rancid olive oil. 

I'm not going to stop using my recycled glass oil and vinegar bottles because I'm too fond of them but I will be keeping them safely in the cupboard from now on, with only a small amount of oil in, so that it doesn't get to hang around for too long.


I had a happy fifteen minutes wandering around the Filippo Berio website falling in love with extra virgin olive oil and the Mediterranean diet all over again. Olive oil really is wonderful stuff, full of wonderful things like monounsurated fats and polyunsaturated fats and antioxidants, and if, like me, you're an olive oil fan, the website is worth a look at. However I couldn't find anything there about rancidity. For that I had to go to this Dr Mercola article, which has lots of information about shelf life etc. It seems that my favourite olive oil, the extra virgin, is more prone to going rancid due to higher levels of chlorophyll.

My oil and vinegar bottles were bought in Traidcraft's summer sale a couple of years ago. This year their sale ends tomorrow, 28 July, so get over there quickly if you like a fairtrade bargain!

(Lastly, nothing to do with useful olive oil facts but possibly the funniest fictional audio book I have ever listened to from the library features olive oil, and is of course, Alexander McAll Smith's Unusual Uses for Olive Oil . He's the most prolific writer and I've read and loved a lot of books from his various series but this was one instance where I felt that the audio book version was so well read (by Julian Rhind Tutt) that it was perhaps even funnier than the print version.)

Over to you: Any favourite culinary oils? Ever had rancid oil issues? Favourite summer reads? Favourite audio books?

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Buzzing with excitement

In between Son walking back to school one evening last week to act as an eagle in his Year 6 performance of 'The Circle of Life', and Daughter heading off to rehearse 'Songs from the Shows' we were treated to an unscheduled performance on the allotment. So much excitement on one evening.

In the manner of the very first Winnie-the-Pooh story, there was a buzzing noise and "if there's a buzzing noise, someone's making the buzzing noise...". Yes, a swarm of bees had arrived.

Whilst they were swarming in the air we observed them from afar with binoculars. What wimps we are. Once they had settled Husband crept around the allotment gingerly to find out what they were up to.

Fortunately Corsham has a thriving bee keeping scene and after a chain of phone calls, we found a local bee keeper who was happy to come and see what could be done.

Feeling much braver with an expert on hand we chatted away near the bees before he donned his gear. He assured us that bees that have swarmed like this are usually happy, well fed bees. They are what is termed an 'after swarm', a breakaway contingent from another swarm, who are looking to set up a new home with a new queen.

Can you see any waggling?

Whilst they were hanging out temporarily at our allotment we could see the scout bees disappearing off for up to two or three miles to check out the credentials of new homes for the swarm. On their return these scouts bees were communicating the details of the places they had found (how far off the ground the new home was, which way it faced etc) to the rest of the bees in the hedge, via their waggle dance which was fascinating to witness. If we hadn't intervened they would eventually have come to a communal decision as to where to go, and all at once they would have buzzed off.

In this type of situation, it's an unwritten law of bee keeping to try and deal with a swarm to prevent the bees from setting up home somewhere unwanted like an attic or chimney.

Once he'd trimmed a few branches from the hedge to faciliate an easy transfer, our friendly bee keeper shook the bees into a basket called a skep.

The skep was then turned over and lodged ajar with a piece of wood and we waited anxiously to see whether the queen was in there (in which case the bees would stay inside and the bees that were still flying around would gradually make their way in). "You never can tell with bees" after all.

By sunset most of the bees had congregated in the skep and Richard was able to wrap the whole thing in a sheet and drive them to a temporary hive he had set up.

We haven't heard from the bees since then but we hope they are settling into their new home and that we can take up the bee keeper's invitation to go and visit them over the summer!

Ironically on the very same day that our honey bees arrived, I had read about Friends of the Earth's Great British Bee Count; our small swarm was estimated to comprise of 20,000 bees. Should I add that to the Bee Count?!

Other bee facts:

  • The situation for bees is generally not good at the moment - according to FoE 97% of wild meadows have gone in the UK in the last 60 years, so bees are going hungry and homeless. Not only is this bad news for the bees but as polllinators of our fruit and veg it's bad news for humans. It really is a circle of life.
  • 20 species of bee have become extinct.
  • We can help bees by planting wildflowers in our gardens and building bug hotels (see the Friends of the Earth website above for links on how to do this). One of our allotment neighbours who came to join in the fun last Thursday says that he plants borage especially for the bees as they love it.
  • Richard the Bee Keeper told us that his honey has relieved the symptoms of local hay fever sufferers. I've put my name down for a jar next year! Propolis (which is made by the bees and used to seal small gaps in the hive) is also a great pain reliever.
  • In the few hours that our bees were in the skep they would already have started making honey comb. It's too late in the season for this swarm to produce any honey but hopefully they will make some next year.
  • Honey can have the flavour of the plants that the bees have been visiting. This year in Wiltshire, chestnut and lime trees have flowered well and been a good source of nectar for local bees.
  • Gale's honey originated in Wiltshire and our bees were collected in an old skep that came from their beehives and workshops towards Marlborough. The picture below, however, shows Richard with a skep that he made himself.
  • Sadly, as well as habitat loss, disease kills many bees. 
  • In times gone past, bee keepers would kill their bees at the end of the season so that they didn't have to keep them alive over the winter, safe in the knowledge that they would be able to gather a new feral colony for their hive in the spring. Nowadays the feral colonies just aren't out there.
  • A hive of bees is affected by the queen - an angry queen means an angry hive of bees whereas a gentle queen means a gentle hive.
  • Corsham is doing its bit for bees - there are at least 12 hives belonging to bee keepers in the centre of Corsham and Transcoco has a sub group, Corsham Community Bees, which looks after some community hives. This year we even have an unoccupied decorative bee hive in the town centre as part of the Corsham in Bloom display.

Although we were already very aware of the plight of bees in the UK and learnt all about them when we visited the New Quay Honey Farm in West Wales a few years ago, it was a real education and privilege to see and hear about bees first hand and so close to home.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

The 7 day walking challenge...

Last month the Guardian's Live Better project's focus was Health and Wellbeing. The challenge was to walk for 30 minutes every day for a week.

The health benefits of regular walking are many: lower risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, some cancers and diabetes. Aside from the physical benefits to the body, walking is good for the mind. It's mood boosting and keeps the brain's circuits connecting healthily.

I've often blogged about family walks (remember last year's river walks?) and I have a friend with whom I try and walk once a week. (We say that we're 'power walking' to elevate the activity's status!) Its always therapy for us; we've walked our way through everything from bereavement and marital breakdown to issues with our children and career dilemmas.

Walking's wonderful and you need no special gear to do it, just a pair of legs and comfy shoes. 

Yes, I'm a keen walker, and we're fortunate that despite living very near the centre of town we can also be walking in green fields within 5 minutes of home. There should be absolutely no excuse for not being able to fit in a 30 minute walk every day for seven days, right? Easy peasy, I thought.

Shady path not far from home

Surprisingly, it was a genuine challenge! Over the course of a week, I heard myself deliver all sorts of excuses.

Here's how it panned out:

Day 1 Thursday 19 June: 
Excuses: "I've got too much to do!" and "It's too hot!" 
Solution: I had an errand to run that if I walked it, involved a long shady track, and if I took the long way home, would meet the 30 minute target.
Result: Errand ticked off, and a walk! Win!

Day 2 Friday 20 June:
Excuses: "I've got too much to do! I won't fit in a walk"
Solution: It happened to be Olympic fun run day at work, so I walked around the route with a lad I work with. 
Result: Getting paid to walk! Win!

Day 3 Saturday 21 June:
Excuses: "I'm too tired and it's too hot!"
Result: Although I walked up to town and back twice at different times and was on my feet for most of the day, I didn't fit in 30 minutes of continuous walking so I reckon this was a Fail!

Day 4 Sunday 22 June:
Excuse: "It's too hot!
Solution: Daughter and I were in Bradford-on-Avon for most of the day for musical reasons. When Daughter wasn't rehearsing or performing we relaxed in the shade but we also slapped on our sun hats and slopped on the suncream and walked by the canal, which was partly in shade anyway. (On this occasion the health benefits of the walking may have been outweighed by the large blackberry icecreams we ate at the end of the walk...)
Result: Not outdone by the weather! Yummy icecreams! Win!

Day 5 Monday 23 June:
Excuse: "It's too late and I'm too tired!"
Solution: In our town, with my phone on me, and when the evenings are so light, I feel safe taking a walk at 9.45pm. The other advantage of a late walk is that the temperature has dropped and it's pleasantly cool.
Result: A cool walk! Win!

Day 6 Tuesday 24 June:
Excuse: "Too hot!" (Are you starting to see a pattern emerging here...?)
Every other Tuesday involves an hour where I'm waiting for a child whilst they play in string group. Sometimes I read, sometimes I chat to another mum, and sometimes I do two laps of the very large school field which amounts to half an hour's walking.
Result: I told myself it was way too hot so I wouldn't walk, however by the time we got to the school there was a pleasant breeze. I could have walked but I hadn't got any sun protection with me, so I didn't. Fail!

Day 7 Wednesday 25 June:
Another evening walk.

What did I learn?

  • For me, the best option to make sure I get enough walking into my week is to try and incorporate it into other aspects of daily life: running errands and whilst waiting for children.
  • The perfect weather for a walk in the UK is a rare thing. It may be unusually hot at the moment (and perhaps I was silly to choose midsummer week for my challenge) but if it's not hot then it'll more likely be rainy or too cold. Fortunately a half hour walk doesn't require expensive Gore-tex but making sure I have the right sun protection or wet weather gear with me at the right time will increase the likelihood of completing a walk.
  • Although I felt tired beforehand, an evening walk gives a beneficial energy boost. There were no early morning walks for me this particular week but they similarly are a great way to start the day.
This month the Guardian Live Better project's focus is on saving water and the challenge is to restrict your showers to four minutes. Now this one should really be easy peasy shouldn't it?

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Catchy uppy blog post

Everyday Life on a Shoestring has been busy...

getting inspired...
  • by the free business advice that the Wessex Chambers of Commerce offers to the people of Wiltshire. We attended a free Become Your Own Boss seminar which was really useful for people without an entrepreneurial bone in their body (like us) and for the more entrepreneurial. In Wiltshire it seems much support is available, including a grant of up to £1500 for specialist advice on, say, building a website or marketing your business. We've got a couple of ideas for the future and the seminar really helped clarify the next steps.
  • by Peter White MBE (the BBC's Disability Affairs Correspondent) who was giving a talk as part of the local Arts Centre's Senseability week (which focused on the issue of disability and inclusion within the Arts). Blind from birth, Peter's positive, can-do approach and insights into his life and disability issues, made for a really interesting and inspiring evening. This event was free, and I found myself feeling paranoid that the Arts Centre staff will think I'm Corsham's ultimate cheapskate who rocks up for anything free. (True, of course, but I DO buy tickets for other stuff too!)
  • by the Bristol Big Green Week . Lots going on, including Bristol's biggest bike ride and lots of cycling stuff this Sunday.
  • our plants struggle! One cat likes to sleep in a plant pot with a (now very squashed) fuschia. The sunny wall against which my tomato plants are growing is also the wall that Son likes to kick a football onto. Football + tomato plants = more squashed plants. My bargain Magnolia tree/stick purchased last month, was sporting four healthy leaves. Turns out slugs like Magnolia leaves. I do hope it recovers.


  • frozen grapes. They were being suggested as a 'palate cleanser in between courses' or 'like a grape sorbet' at a local food festival. The sort of simple meals served up in our house don't generally call for 'palate cleansers' but in the recent hot weather we've decided we really, really like frozen grapes for an any-time snack or a pudding (using reduced price grapes obviously). Try it - they're scrummy.


  • Daughter's signed up for a World Challenge expedition to Iceland in 2015 and needs to raise the jaw-dropping £1600 costs herself. After a slow start, this money finding challenge is gathering momentum, with two supermarket bag packs recently, selling a load of her old toys, clothes and our clutter on eBay, getting paid for watering our neighbours' garden while they're on holiday, and a sudden flurry of local events involving mountains of cake baking and selling. Amazingly she's on target to meet her '£500 by the beginning of July' target.

If I'm missing from the blog over the next few weeks, you'll probably find me in the kitchen making cakes or supervising a cake stall...