Preparing to go
Ever tried moving house twice in a week and deciding what items should go to each house, or be discarded?
What on Earth Have You Been Doing?
This is the cry I hear from above the sound of the sea. A month out from my departure I think it’s about time to start giving you all an update.
Trafalgar Day and our 21st wedding anniversary dawned wet and windy – Storm Brian was buffeting the UK, and HMS Victory: the start of my marathon coastal walk looked shrouded in gloom. It was soon cheered by the first donation of £20 from one of the Dockyard Gate Security Team – good man, and I’m hoping for many more!
After many years thinking about it, following our purchase of the ‘Victory Van’ and six complicated weeks of preparations, we made the Start Line on schedule; hard to believe the moment had arrived. I ‘stepped-off’ from HMS Victory at 1000 and left the Naval Base by Victory Gate. A pause to take a few deep breaths while listening to the Cathedral bells in old Portsmouth – in two weeks’ time I’d be back there on duty for a WRNS100 event.
I moved on to the Sally Port from where Admiral Nelson had started his final journey to HMS Victory and the Battle of Trafalgar 212 years before. I wondered if he knew what challenges had been ahead of him: I know some of mine, but it is like taking a leap of faith into the unknown. Within 30 mins I’d been drenched by the squalls – this was a taste of the future!
Toothache and Teething Troubles
Despite all the planning and checks, initial teething problems are inevitable – most affected the Victory Van, and some me. A bout of toothache began within the first week, as always at the most inconvenient time. I decided the pending Halloween played a part – my ever reliable camera decided to ‘give up the ghost’, shortly followed by the mobile phone failing to hold charge. Frank too was wrestling with vehicle problems – no hot water. Bravo Zulu (naval term) to Daz Sharman the mobile technician who came to the aid of our boiler. A blown light bulb indicated problems with the electrics, and then it was the new Sat Nav, followed by Blue Tooth problems. As each problem presented itself, Frank hurdled the barriers in his former steeplechaser style. But we were not alone. Like Signs Express beforehand, Somerset Motorhomes, Halfords, Mobile Car Solutions and others were all there, helping and willing us on.
Life in the Van
Wherever you are in the Victory Van, you’re in the way. You can never find anything. When you’re looking for something all you’ll find is the thing you were looking for two days ago! Everything takes twice as long because 2 adults are living in a doll’s house! Despite this, we know that as we shed our ‘shake down’ L Plates life will become easier, and perhaps even fun!
Although keen to get away from Portsmouth – we aim to be in north Scotland by April - I knew I’d be required to return on occasion. My commitment to WRNS100 events, the Naval Service and the Project Group continues until the WRNS100 year concludes. Those duties have been like a bungee elastic, pulling me back before firing me forward again.
Project meetings and follow-on actions one week. Next, the Thanksgiving Service at Portsmouth Cathedral, a Reception and unveiling of the Commemorative Stone with 1,000 women (and one First Sea Lord!) This was followed by being the Royal Navy representative in Bristol at the funeral of Mrs Alison Robins, a WW2 Wren who worked for the ‘Y’ listening stations. She passed information to Station ‘X’, much later revealed to be Bletchley Park. I was accompanied by a Phase 2 female communications trainee from HMS Collingwood; it was an honour to be present at the funeral of a gutsy and ambitious Wren who had always been proud of her service in the WRNS. Still to be planned is a Reception in the Houses of Parliament for 100 former and serving Naval Service women.
Along the Way – Part 1
While battling strong winds and driving rain on the southern most tip of Thorney Island (not a soul in sight) I was reminded of the Royal Marines advert “It’s a State of Mind” – is that a sane, or insane mind I asked myself as I ploughed on. But there has been sunshine too. On another part of Chichester Harbour (would the inlets ever end?!) it was time for T-shirt walking as I headed into West Itchenor and an overnight stop, courtesy of Birdham Marina. It was here that WW2 Wrens once worked as maintainers on Landing Craft prior to D-Day.
Along the Way – Part 2
Passing through ‘The Witterings’ and into Selsey Bill which proved to be a disappointment – the Bill was indefinable. The vast loop of Pagham Harbour (which included a tranquil overnight stop at Sidlesham Quay) kept my legs busy for a good few hours before reaching Bognor Regis. Bognor was a mix of old, new and sad – and I couldn’t walk the pier. But a low tide gave me the chance to walk along the beach weaving in and out of the Elmer loops before reaching Littlehampton.
Along the Way – Part 3
Littlehampton was a town of surprises. Its West Beach reminded me of my childhood home, Slapton – both beaches had been used for D-Day rehearsals in 1943. Littlehampton’s former shipyard provided some South Atlantic memories too: the barque TROSSOCH had sailed on her maiden voyage from here to the Falkland Islands in 1877 carrying the very first consignment of Scottish sheep and their shepherds to establish what would become the Islands’ main industry, sheep farming. This small town also has the UK’s longest continuous seafront bench, measuring 1,000 feet/304 metres, while a beach café sign advertises ‘Doggy Ice cream’ ….. with tantalising flavours your doggy will love’!
Along the Way – Part 4
Onward, through the Goring Gap to Worthing where the local ‘Boys in Blue’ kindly took a picture of me approaching Worthing Pier – this time no Storm Brian to stop me ‘doing’ the Pier. The town is a mix of beautiful older architecture, nestling beside acres of modern blocks of flats. The monotony of shingle and groynes continued but was broken by the wonderful view of Lancing College up on the hill, overlooking Shoreham. The airfield, witness to the tragic Shoreham Air Disaster in 2015, was busy with planes constantly flying in and out. Shoreham’s real working harbour was a delight to watch and I spied the former RNR Unit, HMS Sussex, with its commanding view over the water.
Clocking my first mileage century, Hove the quieter end of Brighton came into view, as did the derelict West Pier – it took many steps to get me there and yet more to reach the main Pier where I experienced all the good and bad it had to offer.
Along the Way – Part 5
After an almost flat walk from Portsmouth, the first hills at Saltdean were a rude awakening for the thigh muscles, but worth the clamber. Turf on top of the chalk cliffs was a welcome change to feet and eyes. The Greenwich Meridian memorial at Peacehaven listed both familiar names such as Halifax, Nova Scotia, with ones that have changed: Aden, listed as being in Arabia – now South Yemen. Next port, Newhaven with its sweeping protective breakwater and where thousands of troops departed for Europe. It was depressing to see the railway station a shadow of its former self.