Towards a new van life.

    Why now?

    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 blog every month.

    A letter from St Just. With more than a nod to the great diarist, Alistair Cooke.

    But it didn’t happen. Life got in the way.

    A winter’s morning. Carallack. St Just.

    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.

    What a shame then if 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.

    Here goes.

    Trees. We could learn about time from these.

    Woz on? (January).

    Well there’s a hellofa lot on.

    While many struggle with lockdown blues, here it feels we’re moving so fast we’ll 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 lockdown restrictions.

    Striking out from Mill House, Sennen. Over Velandreath.

    Curtain twitching neighbours soon had the police knocking on the door. 

    Here’s a note to remind me of today’s situation should 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 in a neighbouring house 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 at Boscean he understood the attraction of Sennen, and wished me a good day. We were soon to meet again.

    Towards a new van life. (February).


    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.

    Our first moments within. The caravan at Long Rock.

    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.

    Mud on the tracks. Goldings. February 2021.

    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.

    22 Feb. Working in teeshirts. With my main man Jack Gill.

    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.

    Just the start. Soft power and ponds.

    Soft power.

    Our scheme. Many folk are curious. 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 trees 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.

    29 March. Willow breaks forth anew.

    Purpose and meaning.

    Those 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.

    Mining country. (March).

    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 rubbish. Today if you discover mining activity within your domestic curtilage you’re obliged to correct it.

    We discovered two shafts. Worse was discovering 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. 

    Staring into the abyss. A hole and the shadow of man.

    All our worked areas had to be cleaned out 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 trucks queued on our narrow muddy lane and your diarist lay awake in dread of the extent of these works.

    But then one day it was done. That pain was behind us. And now we can carry on.

    A new home. On our own patch of heaven. (April).

    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.

    Tony Oliver’s team flipped the Contessa onto their truck.

    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 had to capture the drama. This film is only 3 minutes long. The actual journey took 5 hours.

    Nothing other than being there can explain the incredible patience of digger man extraordinaire Ed McFadden. 

    Mobile home. Of sorts. Ed at the controls.

    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.

    Hammer work created a single bedroom with workspace.

    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.

    Sweet delight.

    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.

    Room with a view (and a lot of mud).

    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 open with Jay Marment at the helm. It’ll be good. It’ll be the place to stay.

    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.

    Tess. Getting up steam.

    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?

    It’s time to start a new blog.

    The Cornish Wanderer was built to record ArchieVan’s time on the road.

    I’ll retain The Cornish Wanderer site for that. Hopefully we’ll travel again before long.

    For our wilding adventure Bronco has registered I’ll repost this on the new site, with extra content too, and if you’re interested please sign up to follow us there.

    A mine. A farm. A dream of a wildlife haven.

    It’ll be a tale of life in St Just, and as I learn I hope to share information on species as well as the excitement and trauma of building in mining country.

    Kitchen window. With blackthorn snow.
    Of course Tess has a horn.
    Evening light. Kenython.
    Favourite tree. Goldings. 2021.
    Grow baby grow. Bottom field. The Flood.

    23 Replies to “Towards a new van life.”

    1. Janice Collins says: Reply

      Four months on but you’ve not grown rusty…you deserved your Friday cocktail!

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thank you.
        Cocktails for the girls.
        Driving duty for the boys.

        1. The Marmites says: Reply

          Your blog never fails to delight! But even though it shows so much that you’ve achieved, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. A pleasure to read, but no comparison to experiencing your adventures (and stresses) with you!
          Love as always,
          From The Marmites! Xxx

          1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

            Ah yes. It’s true.
            To update on all the goings on would have been a small volume rather than a long blog.
            Thanks for your support!

    2. Steve Rundle says: Reply

      Best of luck with the new build. Great place to live
      Cheers Steve

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thanks Steve.
        It’s a mad and demanding project, but we’re not in any hurry.

    3. Gillian Fawkes says: Reply

      Great to have you back and on good form. I guess your face will be appearing on ‘wanted’ posters around ST Just any time soon!

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        There are folk around here who would be delighted by that Gillian.
        Thankfully most people are not only behind us, but strongly supportive.
        Cheers. KC

    4. How lovely to hear all your news and how very exciting. Looks a mammoth task but I am sure you will enjoy every minute and the end product will be amazing.
      All good wishes to you both and I do hope you don’t run into too many problems – especially the expensive ones!
      Love yo you both
      J & J xx

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Good to hear from you.
        Well, all the scary expense so far has been buried with nothing but a piece of paper to show for it all.
        We’ll certainly be busy for a while. Hopefully we’ll make the time to head north before too long – September has been mentioned.

    5. I didn’t realise how much I missed your weekly updates until I read this today! How wonderful to hear from you and read about your recent exploits.

      As a petrol head I shiver at the thought of a caravan, but at least yours is a static caravan so I’m unlikely to be stuck behind it on a country lane. It looks great though I am sure the Kelvin touch has been applied to stripping it out, and the Minty touch will be used to make it homely.

      So does this mean your travelling, nomadic days are over? Or will you now lead two lives developing your biodiversity home in Cornwall between van-based adventures??

      I’ve missed the updates …… it would be good to catch up when you have a moment, but in the meantime big hugs (and best wishes) to you, Minty and Polly. xxx

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        I feel like Gulliver in the caravan.
        I’m not sure you’d fit at all.
        It’s a different life, but a good one so far.
        For several days an easterly has hitting us hard and rocking our little house. The dog is terrified, but we’re snug and grinning.

    6. Sarah Franklin says: Reply

      How exciting! I shall look forward to following your latest adventure, Sx

      1. Ah you’re back…awesome! I’ve missed reading your updates , actually checked a couple of times during the last few dark months to see if I had missed an entry – St Just has been in my mind a lot for sure. Then as I’m finally on my way down, after way too long, whilst sitting in a three hour delay on the M5, up pops this, fantastic!
        Your plans sound fascinating, will be really interested to follow you guys on this one. Since moving to Derbyshire and discovering the centre of the National Forest is at the end of our road I’ve learnt so much about woodland & forestry from local people and the organisations working around the area so following what you’re doing but in St Just with your backs to the coast will really interest me….Good luck to you both. Might stick me nose over the gate this week!

        1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

          Hey Jo
          Come and say hello. I’m usually pottering around, shovel in hand.
          I have always wanted to plant trees, now seeing them emerge is a new excitement that I wish I had invested in years ago.
          Have a great time in the far west.

      2. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Come and see us sometime.
        Our accommodation offering is rather spartan at the moment, but plans can be made.

    7. How lovely to see your blog appear in my in box and to read all your exploits. Im looking forward to reading all about your new adventure – good luck with it all!

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Gail – I was chuffed to see your name pop up.
        I hope life’s treating you well.
        The north is in our plans. But when we’ll make it I don’t quite know.
        Cheers. KC

    8. Missed hearing your news. Hope you are both keeping well. Look forward to visiting your piece of paradise one day

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        We talk about the Bulgarian adventure regularly.
        It’s one we want to repeat.
        I hope you’re both well, and seeing warm days again now.
        In Cornwall it hasn’t rained in six weeks, it’s unheard of, and quite a worry now that I’m father to so many trees.
        Best to Jon and thanks for taking the time to write.

    9. You two do nothing in halves, awesome story and we love reading about our favourite place. Good luck with whatever you plan to do and an incredible initiative in the re-forestation of your land, can’t wait to see how it grows over the years. The video of the van being sited was priceless with the backing track, a digger, a rope and SeaSick Steve running aournd in every shot 🙂 Hopefully if we’re passing in the not too distant future we can stop by for a chat.

      Take care

      Dave and Louise

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Great to hear from you Dave.
        This is a mad venture and we’ll be stretched to the limit. But it’s exciting too. We can’t believe we’re on the land, even if only in the caravan so far.
        Old Sea Sick Steve never could run!
        It’d be great to see you.

    10. A delightful post as ever and even though it quite apparent that you have been a bit busy, it’s nice to have you back. I look forward to reading your future scribes!

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