Siobhan Daniels reveals how a dramatic decision to leave her former life behind and head for the coast has healed her in body and mind, all thanks to her motorhome journey.
As I sit looking out over the sea on the Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides I am reflecting on my motorhome journey over the last three years. I have gone from being overwhelmed by life in my fifties to being here, realising that my life is good in my sixties. It’s a feeling I want to help as many people as I can achieve in their lives.
A few years ago, on one particularly bad day at work I decided I no longer wanted to live the way I was doing. I knew that I had to find another way of living if I was ever to be truly happy again. But what would I do? I then came up with the idea of a motorhome, even though I had never driven one before. I told everyone I was retiring at 60 and travelling to challenge ageism and champion positive ageing.
Many thought I had gone crazy. Others said that I was brave doing something at an age when lots of people seem to do less or play it safe. I did not feel brave, I felt that my life was forcing me to be brave.
I got rid of my home and most of my worldly possessions, to show you could live life with far less ‘stuff’ than we often persuade ourselves we need in order to be happy. I found the perfect motorhome for me – Dora the Explora – a six-metre, two-berth, Autotrail Tribute 615, complete with all mod cons. I then personalised it with my all-important gin bar!
When I turned the key in the ignition in September 2019 and set off to explore I did not have a plan, just a feeling that somehow if I went with the flow then life would work out for the better. At first I was a bit lost and scared. I just hoped that if I took the first step the rest would miraculously follow.
It took me a while to master driving the vehicle as I weathered severe storms in the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District. I headed up to Loch Morlich in Scotland, where I healed my emotional traumas by reflecting and crying at the edge of the loch. I vowed then to leave behind all the anger and negativity I had been harbouring and to move forward.
Not long after that I was stopped in my tracks by the pandemic. It was scary but I managed to bunker down at a site in Lancaster for lockdown, doing lots of walking and cycling.
It was during that time that I discovered the beauty of the classic seaside town of Morecambe and its beaches that stretch for miles. The views out over the Irish sea from the West Shore beach are very dramatic. It was here that I realised being by the sea was my happy place. Now I always find a coastal walk or beach to regroup when the going gets tough.
Fortunately, once again I found myself not far from sea in my second lockdown in November 2019. I was stuck in a field near Blakeney, which thankfully is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It was the perfect place to explore the north Norfolk coast.
When I found myself struggling mentally with the lockdown I would walk the three miles from Blakeney to Cley next the Sea, along a section of The Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path.
On other days I would pack a sandwich and a flask of coffee and head off on my electric bike to Blakeney Point, secure my bike by the car park, then walk along the stony beach to the nature reserve. I spent hours just sitting wrapped up in the winter sunshine, watching the heads of the passing seals protruding from the waves. I marvelled at the seals that felt brave enough to emerge from the choppy seas onto the beach not too far from me.
Throughout my motorhome travels I am constantly blown away by the beauty of the British coastline. One of my favourite experiences has been along one stretch of The Seven Sisters, a series of chalk cliffs stretching from Cuckmere Haven to Birling Gap, in the South Downs National Park.
I left my motorhome on the seafront at Seaford and headed off towards Eastbourne. As I gazed out over the glistening silvery grey sea I became quite emotional with the wonderful feeling that I was truly happy with my life. I was no longer going through the motions. This was an experience I had not encountered for a very long time. I have revisited that moment so often in my mind because there was a period in my life when I wondered would whether I would ever be able to experience genuine happiness again. The sea gives me that peace of mind.
Earlier this year, after over three years on the road, I realised my lifelong dream of exploring the Outer Hebrides. I got the ferry from Oban to Barra where I parked up on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and just took in the beauty of nature. The 66mph winds just added to the drama of it all. The icing on the cake was getting to experience the Northern Lights on my first night just sitting outside the motorhome. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone on the island of Vatersay by swimming in the Atlantic in March; it was certainly very bracing.
One pivotal moment during the whole journey for me was standing on the top of a hill on the Isle of Lewis with my arms outstretched, reflecting that I had battled through so much in life to get to this point. Without thinking I shouted out at the top of my voice “I feel like a warrior” and ever since I have felt this overwhelming strength. I have my own voice. There was something about the rugged coastline around Lewis and Harris that added to my feeling of being invincible. Over the next few weeks I just sat for hours being windswept, living in the moment taking in the various shades of blue and turquoise alongside miles of sandy beaches.
In July this year I decided to face another fear of mine, getting a big ferry on my own in the motorhome and heading further afield. So I boarded the Holyhead to Dublin ferry. I started off by exploring beautiful County Wicklow, going through the mountain ranges before heading for Brittas Bay, which is a little piece of heaven. I walked for miles along the long sandy beach with hardly a soul in site, then I just had to have a swim in the sea. I felt so invigorated afterwards.
From there I drove down to West Cork to meet up with friends. We swam in the seas near Skibbereen and Bantry Bay. I even got to take a dip by Graham Norton’s house in Ahakista, as they were putting up a marquee for his wedding the following weekend.
One thing I learnt on my month-long travels in Ireland was to listen to the locals’ advice about where to go.
I was dead set on just following the Wild Atlantic Way. Thankfully, someone said that I should explore the Beara Penninsula. I am so glad I listened. Around every corner there are breathtaking views, with the sea in the distance. I kept thinking can this get any more beautiful?
At the western tip of the peninsula I found the most wonderful campsite near Allihies. It is very laid back…you park up where you want in one of the two fields and then an old fella in a buggy comes along randomly to take your money. Goodness knows how but he knows exactly who is coming and going and how much you owe him!
The hour-long walk along the cliffs from the site to Allihies is well worth doing – you are rewarded by the sight of brightly painted houses and two vibrant pubs on the main street, with seating either side of the road which creates quite a party atmosphere.
There is an interesting history of copper mines in the area but I did not have time to do one of the walks; next time perhaps.
Another gem I got to experience – thanks to a local telling me to turn off the main route and head along the Skellig Ring – were the magnificent Kerry Cliffs in Portmagee. There is plenty of parking and admission was only a few euros. The cliffs are over 1,000ft high with the Skellig Michael crag on the horizon. I had the 400-million-year-old cliffs virtually to myself and enjoyed the blustery conditions as I looked out over the rugged Atlantic coastline. It is believed that they were actually formed when Ireland was a desert.
The highlight though of my month-long stay in Ireland – which was not nearly long enough – was the walk along the Kilkee Cliffs in County Clare. The breathtaking landscape just goes on and on. I was blessed with sunshine. I stood looking out over the spectacular Atlantic Ocean and just shouted out “warrior” several times and felt so happy and blessed that my nomadic life enables me to experience places like this and the raw beauty of nature.
I have become the woman that I always should have been, the mistress of my own destiny. I have gone from being broken in my fifties – like many women feel due to issues like menopause, family bereavements, feeling voiceless and marginalised at work, due to ageism – to feeling truly mended in my sixties.
Siobhan’s book about her travels, Retirement Rebel, is out now. More details here: shuvonshuvoff.co.uk