This latest holiday marked a big turning-point in my caravan holidays. There were changes, some of them small. But there were two biggies. Those first.
Every autumn, ever since 2012, and excepting only 2013, I have booked events at the Appledore Book Festival in North Devon. I did so again this year, although I booked fewer events than last year because I not only wanted to cut down on the overall cost, I also wanted to free up time so that I could actually get around and 'have a holiday' while in the area. Last year I ended up going to fourteen or so events during the Festival week and found myself absolutely tied to Appledore. Indeed, some people there thought I must be a local resident, and were lining me up for Festival duties this year! I wasn't going to have that: so I decided I'd show less of my face, and not get in touch with anyone in advance. I'm not saying that getting deeply immersed in the Festival couldn't have been fun, but I don't like being part of any team, nor being under any obligation, and certainly not under anybody's direction. I was on holiday: end of story.
I loved attending those fourteen events last year - especially the ones which were mostly a social get-together with local people I'd got to know. And all the time with various Book World celebrities on hand. There was such a buzz all the time. And it was an equally great pleasure to bump into other Festival-goers in the quaint streets of maritime Appledore, so often that you got to recognise and talk to each other.
But this year was different. I felt much less involved. I booked only half a dozen events, and ended up skipping most of them - though most definitely not the VIP Dinner for Friends of the Appledore Book Festival. That was at a newly-opened restaurant on the waterfront - The Royal George - and this sequence of pictures will show how lively it was.
Yes, that's me with authors Kate Mosse and Simon Mayo. Here they are in animated conversation.
The lady fascinated by Simon Mayo was called Sue. She got her dearest wish, a picture or two with the famous BBC Radio presenter.
I was sat between Sue and another lady called Joy, who was one of the Festival organisers. Kate Mosse took this one of us with my phone.
Festival patron Jeremy Vine, another major Radio and TV presenter, was his usual ebullient self. He always impresses me by listening carefully to ordinary people at these events, but of course he can be a performer as well.
Here he makes a speech of thanks for the night's event.
No, he wasn't looking at me and saying, 'And the Festival wouldn't be complete without Lucy Melford, our staunch supporter of so many years' standing', although he seems to be doing so in the shot. Though who knows, perhaps he thought it!
The food was excellent. It was a great evening all round. But it was almost the only event I attended. The Festival week turned out to be uniformly sunny and warm, and I found myself much more eager to meet up with friends from Guernsey (who were touring the South West), or to explore the area ever more deeply, than to sit indoors and listen to an author giving a talk about his or her latest book, no matter how interesting that might have been.
There had been a change. I still loved meeting up with people I knew, and seeing all these authors close up, and my appreciation of pretty places like Appledore hadn't diminished one bit. But I'd got into a routine. It was suddenly clear that I needed to do things differently.
It didn't help that I saw nothing of my best local friend there, Jayne. I bumped into a lady walking her dog Callie on the day Jayne was up in London, but that was all. And with Jayne unable to see me, I didn't make a great effort to seek out anyone else.
Later in my holiday, when now in eastern Dorset - it was on a lovely evening at Arne, specifically the beach at Shipstal Point, a peaceful spot on beautiful Poole Harbour - I saw that my annual visits to the Appledore Book Festival had run their course, and that I needed a break from them. I'd still want to visit North Devon every year, but no longer at that time in the Autumn.
If I could come at all. There was another factor. The other biggie. Phil and Ann at Higher Darracott Farm, where I'd been pitching my caravan every year since 2009 - so 2018 was my tenth year - had announced that in 2019 they intended to put their property on the market, sell up, and downsize. If they found a buyer quickly, my visit to them in the first half of 2019 would therefore be my last. Oh no...
Of course, I'd realised for a long time that one day they would give the Farm a rest, but the announcement upset me for the rest of my stay, and made me feel very sad. In the privacy of my caravan I even had a little cry. I was full of sentiment.
It would be the breaking of a long and cherished connection. And since I associated my September visits to them with the Appledore Book Festival, the loss of the Farm as a place to go to seemed to signal a necessary end to my Festival visits too.
The mould had been broken.
With future years in mind, I did look around for an alternative place to go, but Higher Darracott Farm had been the best original choice for my needs, and still was.
I didn't think I'd want to come once the Farm was in new hands. Nor would be able to. The new owners might be lovely people, but if they were minded to enhance the place as a holiday destination, then the caravan field would probably be sacrificed in favour of more self-catering. The existing caravan pitches were strung out along the west side of a long barn. If that barn were converted to self-catering units - and it was an obvious thing to do - then the view from them, complete with Lundy on the horizon, mustn't be blocked by the rear ends of any caravans. They'd all have to go.
I'd have to pitch elsewhere, and not in the immediate vicinity. After getting over the initial upset, and in a positive frame of mind, I thought I could 'do' North Devon from one of the caravan sites between Barnstaple and Ilfracombe, which would at least give me easy access to the beaches at places like Woolacombe, magnificent coastal walking, and make Exmoor easier to reach.
But North Devon would no longer be my main caravan destination of the year. It would become just one stage in a grand annual West Country Tour that would have Cornwall as its new primary objective.
So, I would make the very most of my last stay with Phil and Ann, and then completely redesign my caravanning year.
Did I say that there were other, smaller, changes?
One was of course the urge to walk as much as possible, and not laze around. The Fitbit I bought at the end of August could have been a nine day wonder, to be discarded once the novelty had worn off. But that hasn't proved to be the case at all. I now have a daily need to walk at least 10,000 steps. This is enough to establish a basic level of fitness. The moment when my Fitbit vibrates and gives me a firework display - whenever the day's 10,000 step target is reached - still gives me a thrill. It's a personal achievement. Even if I've done nothing else that's noteworthy that day, I've done this. So every day can now be a Day of Success.
And I do feel fitter. It's clearly doing me good. My resting heart rate has definitely reduced, and I now find myself constantly looking for ways to be on my feet, and building up the step total for the day. I'm currently averaging around 11,000 steps a day, but often do better. This was the result for two days ago, on the very last full day of my holiday:
Drilling down into the statistics the Fitbit app provided, I could see how my resting heart rate had slowed down while on holiday, indicating greater fitness:
And my calorie burn continued to be much greater than it was pre-Fitbit:
Once back home - this morning, in fact - I weighed myself, to see whether all this extra exercise might have actually got some weight off. I wasn't expecting any weight loss at all. I'd got accustomed to having afternoon tea and cake (though without exceeding Slimming World limits) on most days - the exercise fuelling the need for refreshment, so to speak - and reckoned that any extra calories burned would be balanced by extra calories gained by scoffing a slice of sponge cake.
But I was wrong. The walking had make a difference. My weight on the morning I left home on 10th September was 84.9kg (13 stones 6 pounds), and this morning (after returning yesterday) it was 83.2kg (13 stones 1 pound) - so a 5 pound loss while on holiday, despite quite a lot of cake! And really all down to nudging from that device on my wrist. Many was the late afternoon, or sunset, or dusky evening, that I went out walking for half and hour, just to reach that 10,000 step target. On one night in South Devon, I did it in the rain! (And astonished myself, that a gadget, and the desire to hit a target, had made me do it)
One more small thing to mention. I junked the old (and somewhat shabby) cutlery in my caravan and replaced it with this shiny new 16-piece stainless-steel set. In its own way, a bit of a landmark, as I will explain.
I was in Wroes department store in Bude, and spotted these on a stand. There were several designs. You could buy any item singly, as many as you required. I decided on just four of each sort - there was only me in the caravan, and four would be quite sufficient - and in this traditional style.
There was nothing cheap or lightweight about these knives, forks and spoons. I was impressed with their finish and solidity. Much nicer than what I'd been using!
Even nicer was the price per item. Just £1. So the entire set cost me only £16. Apparently a cutlery salesman kept bringing them in as free samples, and so Wroes sold them at a small profit. But what a bargain for me. I saw something similar in Goulds department store in Dorchester a few days later, but at £3 a piece, not £1. The normal price per item for only slightly more stylish cutlery, if you buy it singly and not as a big boxed set, is more like £7.
So I have changed my caravan cutlery for something more impressive. It's another 'end of era' situation. The old knives, forks and spoons had had a long history, being first been used in the caravan (and it was the first caravan, not my current one) way back in 2002. And they hadn't been new even then. M--- had provided them. After she stopped caravanning regularly with me in 2009, and then stopped completely in 2010, she let me keep them. I carried on using them. Until now. They too had reached a natural end, replaced by something new, different, and nicer to use. And yet this too was an occasion for sadness. One more relic of our time together had now gone.
I often think about those caravan holidays with M---. We went to many places, including Scotland. Even as far as the Pyrenees in France. The pattern of those holidays was different to what it became later, from 2009, when I started to caravan alone.
And now the pattern will be different again.