Walking & cycling around Morecambe

2019 Dec Morecambe book shop and bay (5)
The view across the bay from Morecambe Promenade

Under lock down we have stayed at home, getting out most days to walk or cycle the paths, streets and tracks we can reach from our humble Morecambe abode.  One of the positive things about this dreadful period of isolation has been the chance to explore what is available from our doorstep and we have found diverse and beautiful areas in this marvellous corner of Lancashire.

If you aren’t lucky enough to live in Morecambe, I hope these walking and cycling ideas will whet your appetite to visit Morecambe when you can.

Morecambe’s Magnificent Promenade

I have to start with Morecambe’s Promenade.  The views across Morecambe Bay from the prom are panoramic, with the mountains of the Lake District a tantalising backdrop to the expanse of the tidal sands; it is said it takes the water from 40 Niagara Falls to fill the bay on a spring tide and looking out to the Irish Sea that is easy to believe.  Morecambe’s promenade is a mixed-use 8 km (5 mile) flat cycle or walking route with a good surface.  This is an accessible place to take your daily exercise and with the wildlife, tides and weather there is always something new to see.  From Heysham in the south curving around to Hest Bank in the north-east you are separated from the traffic on the elevated promenade and, depending on the tides, you can also step onto the sandy and pebbly shore for a truly sea-level view.  We pretty much always see oystercatchers and hear their familiar piercing calls as they wing along the shore, we might see a curlew or a redshank and black headed or herring gulls.  It is usually clear enough to pick out the familiar bumps of the Langdale Fells in the Lake District.  In different times we will stop for hot chocolate in a cafe or [for a treat] in the magnificent restored 1930s Midland Hotel.  Ice-cream at Bruccianis, another charming remnant of Morecambe’s Art Deco past, is one more pleasure we are missing at the moment, although we have been delighted to see that some of the ice-cream stalls have re-opened.

2019 Nov Morecambe Bay (2)
Morecambe Promenade

Seeking out Statues

Looking to add variety to our daily walk and give us a theme to explore, I took us on a tour of some of Morecambe Bay’s statues.  Starting at the Midland Hotel and The Stone Jetty you are surrounded by some of the TERN project stone sculptures of elegant coastal birds.  Not much further along the Promenade toward Hest Bank, don’t miss the cheery statue to local lad Eric Morecambe.  Born John Eric Bartholomew in 1926, he formed a comedy double-act with Ernie Wise and his statue is an outstanding addition to Morecambe’s attractions, it has even recently been adorned with a face mask!  Almost everyone has their picture taken in the iconic pose and sings, ‘Bring Me Sunshine!’

Continuing towards Hest Bank, leave the promenade at the side of Morecambe Town Hall and slip through a gateway to find a hidden fading cemetery opened in 1874 and attached to the parish church.  You are in what was the old fishing village of Poulton-le-Sands and among the tree-lined graves are two personality-packed fisher-folk sculptures carved from elm trees by Tim Burgess.

Return to the coast and maybe linger and watch the fishing boats before continuing towards Happy Mount Park.  At the end of the Promenade sits the colourful and dramatic Venus and Cupid statue, created by a local artist Shane Johnstone in 2005 in memory of his partner.  The two multi-coloured mosaic figures for me exquisitely symbolise love, loss and human connections and offers some sense of comfort during a pandemic.

Taking the road to Jo ‘n’ Lees cafe, looking out for oystercatchers that often sit on the rocks near here, walkers can follow the curve of the pebbly coast to Hest Bank.  One of the seven metal sculptures of a wader by Ulverston-based artist Chris Bramall is on the grassy area above the beach here, celebrating Morecambe Bay’s importance for wintering birds.  You have walked about 4.5 km by now [just under three miles] and you have to walk back but if you’ve got the time and energy it is worth carrying on along the shore or over the fields to Red Bank Farm to see the poignant and brilliant white Praying Shell sculpture that looks over the sands and is a memorial to the 23 cockle pickers [this is the reported number but it is hard to be sure] who died in 2004 after being left to the tides by abusive gang masters.  I will always stop here, remember and pay my respects.

 

Cruising beside the Lancaster Canal

The Lancaster Canal runs 66 km [41 miles] from Preston to Kendal and is a haven for tranquillity and wildlife.  We can reach it easily from Folly Lane that runs beside the new road into Morecambe, The Bay Gateway.  The canal was built to transport coal from Lancashire and limestone from Cumbria, the Glasson branch giving the opportunity of cargo transfers from the barges to seagoing vessels.  We begin on a section of the canal between Lancaster and Hest Bank that flows peacefully through lush fields, with views back to Torrisholme Barrow on the edge of Morecambe; we often have these first few miles to ourselves.

2020 March Canal cycle ride (1)
The Lancaster Canal at Carnforth

As you reach the outskirts of Hest Bank, gardens spill down to the canal side and views open out across Morecambe Bay to the Lake District fells.  On the banks of the canal look out for wild flowers and there are always mallards, coots and swans on the water.  In the spring sunshine we usually spot a string of tiny fluffy ducklings following mum.

You can return the same way but we like to make this a circular walk and the options are varied to suit the time we have.  Follow The Crescent and Station Road in Hest Bank and you are soon on the path along the shore [see statues walk above] that will take you back to Morecambe [a 12 km / 8 miles round trip from the centre of Morecambe].  We like to carry on to Bolton-le-Sands to enjoy the views and calmness of the canal for as long as possible and head down to the coast via Mill Lane.  This route gives us a chance to come by the memorial statue to the cockle pickers [see statues walk] and stroll along the lovely pebbly bay near there and adds about 5.5 km / 3.5 miles, making something like a 17.5 km / 11.5 mile walk.

April 2020 Canal and Coast walk (5)
Looking towards Red Bank from near Hest Bank

Historic Heysham

The coast draws us on our walks and reaching it we can choose to turn either right or left.  Up to now the walks have turned to the right, but turning left at the Midland Hotel it is about 5 km / 3 miles mostly along the Promenade to Half Moon Bay at Heysham.  This takes you to a different side of Morecambe, away from the bustle of the 20th century resort.  Reaching the end of the Promenade at Heysham you will see St Peter’s Church above the bay.  Follow the winding village lanes to explore its lovely graveyard and enjoy the views.  Take the time to go inside the church and you will find a carved Norse hog-back stone which would originally have been a grave cover.  Adjacent to the church is Glebe Gardens, a charming community garden that is a colourful place to linger.

Eventually you will want to climb the steps onto Heysham Barrows and Heysham Head.  Here are perched the ruins of St Patrick’s Chapel and the rock cut graves dating back to the 8th century.  We like to follow the coast around the hidden sandy cove lined with fragrant yellow gorse bushes and enjoy the views to Arnside Knott before continuing on to Half Moon Bay.  Heysham Port, where freight and Isle of Man ferries sail in and out, is now in sight and provides an active scene with the two bulky nuclear powers stations as a backdrop.  Construction on Heysham 1 began in 1970 and it came into operation in 1983, followed by Heysham 2.  At Half Moon Bay you will find Anna Gillespie’s SHIP, a sculpture that features two men sitting on the bow and stern of a ship looking in opposite directions.  The views along the coast are so good that returning the same way is no hardship.

Marvellous Morecambe

The seaside resort of Morecambe grew in the late 1800s from a collection of villages.  A harbour and a railway, linking the coast with Yorkshire, arrived by 1850 and the town expanded to absorb Poulton-le-Sands, Bare and Torrisholme.  The name of Morecambe was officially adopted by the town from 1889, after the bay it overlooks.  Despite many 1960s housing estates, there are a surprising number of snickets, alleys or ginnels around Morecambe and I enjoy exploring these and the streets of our home town and finding glimpses of the past.

Opposite the handsome 1930s Midland Hotel, built to look like an elegant ocean liner, is The Platform, today an unusual music and theatre venue, this was built in 1907 as a railway station for Morecambe Promenade.  Look to your left and you will spot the splendour of Morecambe Winter Gardens, a grand Victorian landmark building in red brick that is currently being renovated.

Follow the entertaining bird-themed walkway alongside The Festival Market, a cornucopia of stalls in pre-lock-down days that I hope will return, and set off along Victoria Street.  Keep your eyes peeled above and behind you for murals of fishing boats, motorcycles and celebrities.

Take a left back to the sea front and turn right, passing buildings constructed to entertain and house the abundance of visitors that came to Morecambe in its heyday; you will certainly see signs of cinemas and boarding houses.  The 1905 Clock Tower is another landmark and further on the Pier Hotel and the Old Pier Bookshop, a warren of a shop stuffed with second-hand books, both give you a clue as to what once stretched out to sea here.  Morecambe’s Pier, like many, suffered from fires and was demolished in 1992.

Take Clarence Street by the bookshop and admire the tall, bay-windowed buildings and look for old fishing cottages, you might decide to check out an alleyway.  Make sure you turn back near The Bull to see the large fisherman mural on the gable of one of the houses.  Left onto Poulton Road takes you by Queen Victoria Hospital and at the Police Station turn left into Church Street to wander around the Parish Church and through the old cemetery, noting the pretty cobble-stone wall.

Double-back briefly and take the narrow inviting lane opposite the school, crossing Thornton Road onto a snicket called Stuart Avenue that runs between playing fields.  Turn right onto Grasmere Road and you will eventually wind your way through tidy  bungalows to Bare Lane Railway Station.  Although now part of Morecambe, Bare still retains a village feel and on early 20th century maps is clearly shown as a separate village.  Even on our 1940s map, Bare is a one-road settlement clearly distinct from the resort.

Cross the railway line, turn left into Fairhope Avenue and right onto Low Lane.  You are now well away from the old fishing villages and are walking through a tidy housing estate of mainly bungalows that attract retirees.  In this flat landscape you will notice a rise to your left with trees.  Turn left down Fulwood Drive and look for the narrow path on your right that will take you onto the hill that is topped with Torrisholme Barrow, a round barrow from 2400-1500 BC.  Alternatively, continue along Low Lane and take the snicket into the trees and make your way behind the houses and uphill on informal paths to the barrow.  There is a triangulation pillar on the hill but only scant evidence of a barrow.  What Torrisholme Barrow has is views that surely make this a perfect spot for burials.  Some say this hill was an old moot or meeting hill and at Easter you will often find a cross placed here.  On a clear day, as well as seeing your route through Morecambe, you will gaze across the bay to the Lake District and Barrow-in-Furness.  Turn around and over the row of hawthorn hedging you will spot the line of the Lancaster Canal and beyond that the bulk of the Bowland Fells.  The elaborate and domed Ashton Memorial perched above Lancaster is another local landmark.

Torrisholme is one more village that is now incorporated into Morecambe.  The triangular green of Torrisholme Square remains and is surrounded by smart stone houses, some dating back to the 17th century.  Head down Torrisholme Barrow to your left and climb over the stile in the corner of the field onto Slyne Road, turning right.  Left onto Russell Drive will take you to the main road to Lancaster, turn right and cross the road to take the snicket enigmatically called The Way that cuts behind the houses.  Over the main road you will find a road [McDonalds to your right] which leads to a path following parallel with the Bay Gateway for walkers and cyclists.  This reaches the old railway line that is now a multi-use route.  Turn right towards Morecambe and you are soon back at The Midland Hotel.

This interesting circuit is about 10 km / 6 miles with options to make it shorter if you wish.

Perfect cycling along the River Lune to Caton

You can walk this route but 30 km [almost 20 miles] could be a long day and it is much easier on a bicycle.  The lovely traffic-free path is also perfect for cycling.  The popular old railway line runs from near Morecambe Railway Station to the historic city of Lancaster (5.4 km / 3.4 miles).  In spring you cycle under green birch trees, alongside drainage ditches and eventually reach the banks of the River Lune.  Look ahead and you will spot Lancaster Castle on the hilltop and the splendour of the 18th century waterfront below.  On the way you pass the cycle route to the fishing village at Sunderland Point (6.8 km / 4.2 miles) where you can stop and watch the wading birds on the tidal marshes.

In Lancaster the old railway line is well signed, continuing along the River Lune for a further 10 km (6.2 miles), although at the moment work on the canal aqueduct means that cyclists and walkers have to follow Caton Road for a short distance.  Cycling by the river you get occasional glimpses of the water through the trees.  Crossing a road, you might want to detour a short distance to look at Halton Bridge, a narrow bridge built from the remains of Lancaster’s old wrought iron Greyhound Bridge in 1913.  At only 6 feet wide, many a vehicle has lost some paint on the bridge’s bollards!

The best views of the River Lune are where the track crosses the river twice at the horse-shoe bend of the Crook O’Lune and pretty much everyone stops to take in the scenery at this much-loved local beauty spot.  You can find a grassy spot to picnic here, looking across the picturesque river to distant hills or follow a short circuit of the river bank.

April 2020 River Lune and Caton Moor walk (1)
The River Lune near the Crook O’Lune

We prefer to carry on to Caton and maybe cycle up the steep hill to Caton Moor to sit below the wind turbines and take in the wide views over Lancashire.  Alternatively we might leave the bikes in Caton and add a 13 km / 8 mile walk to our cycle ride.  Climbing up the quiet lane to Caton Moor, we will take the lovely track back down the hillside through the gorse bushes and bluebells and along the woodland edge to Claughton.  The Claughton Aerial Ropeway crosses high over the track.  Built in 1924, the ropeway carries shale from the quarry high on the moor down to the brick works.  Cross straight over the A683 in Claugton and leave the track for a footpath that takes you to a particularly picturesque stretch of the River Lune.  I could sit here watching the sand martins wheeling over the river for hours.  The grassy paths take you back to the cycle route and  Caton.

 

The River Lune to Glasson Dock

From Morecambe take the railway line / cycle track once again to Lancaster [see above].  In Lancaster a tarmac and later gravel track along the quayside and river takes cyclists and walkers to the hamlet of Conder Green and on to Glasson Dock (9.3 km / 8 miles one-way).  This is a quiet and peaceful route with occasional views across the river that is nevertheless popular with walkers and cyclists.  Today the pleasant village of Glasson has a marina packed with colourful boats, connected to a still busy harbour by a lock.  The harbour at Glasson originally opened in 1787 as Lancaster became un-navigable for ships and goods came through Glasson and were distributed via the Lancaster Canal.  If you’re lucky the village shop will be open and have some local Wallings ice-cream in stock.

Trying to co-operate with the inevitable as my travel plans shatter

16.06.2016 Herbeumont and Cugnon cycle ride (5)
A Belgian sign

 

I am sure most of us had plans for the spring that involved something more exciting than staying at home; everyone’s plans for celebrations, days out, weekends away and long holidays have all turned to dust.  So much upbeat anticipation of exciting places to visit and people to meet has vanished in a storm of viral infection.  As soon as lock down came into force the internet brimmed with advice on how to stay positive during a pandemic and I am working on staying in the present and co-operating with the inevitable, a wonderful saying that a loyal reader gifted me.  My mostly outward calm hides my inner turmoil where I feel trapped and the waves of anxiety that this will never end wash over me, as sure as the sea fills Morecambe Bay twice a day.

‘Set a routine,’ is the mantra of many self-help gurus.  My partner is good at this but I have never been one for regularity.  I like to think of myself as spontaneous and living in the moment, although you might see me as hopelessly restless.  If it is a sunny day I want to make the most of it, on the off-chance that it is my last, and I am the one who is always ready to drop any other plans and go camping or walking.

In an effort to endure this lock down stoically and with fortitude, I have tried to add some structure to my day to see if the gurus are right.  The daily strength exercises and tai chi are helpful, our morning coffee and daily outdoor exercise are all positive and there is some sense of adventure in going to the supermarket to see what they do and don’t have on the shelves.  I find I can fit these things into my day randomly, mixing them up to give me some sense of impulsiveness.  Our daily exercise from home can be hiking to the sea or the countryside, sometimes we take an evening walk along the sands to see the sunset over the bay, other days we take a morning cycle ride along the river Lune or the canal, taking best advantage of the tide or the weather.  We have a variety of supermarkets nearby and we can choose which one to patronise.  And still the days merge and seem almost the same and the happiest days for me are when we ditch the routine and do something different!

Like many in the campervan community we had plans for 2020.  Each trip we make it our campervan requires some planning and days of research for the travel articles I expect to write after each trip.  In January this year I, foolishly it now turns out, had the first six months pretty much mapped out and it was going to be a busy time.  I had at least eight trips and corresponding travel articles planned and I was working hard, doing the preparatory research as the virus began to lurk.

Never having the patience to wait for spring or summer, we go away in our campervan all year and I have never been more glad that we were away camping in January, February and early March on different trips.  From early-March we were planning to be in Scotland for a full month; this was a trip we were both happily anticipating.  As it turned out we were in Scotland for a shorter time before we had to return home.  I am pleased we got there at all but still can’t bear to even glance at, never mind edit, the photographs from that trip; they remind me too much of what I am missing.

Last week I had to ring the ferry company to cancel our ferry to Europe in early May.  A small and fairly simple action that was distressing because it put me face-to-face with the reality that we wouldn’t be travelling around mainland Europe this spring, never mind summer and probably autumn.  My brain had been protecting me by compartmentalising; one half optimistic and ill-advised, thinking this was all a bad dream, while the pessimistic section is over-actively creating apocalyptic scenarios!  This simple administrative call shattered my fragile equilibrium.

The pile of guidebooks, phrase books and maps I had purchased and sorted for our springtime European trip sat on the living room floor taunting me for four weeks.  I would look over at them hearing my pessimistic brain area banging on about how much money I had wasted and that they needed putting away but in the background my optimistic brain put its hands over its ears and sang, ‘Don’t worry about a thing
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.’  It wasn’t until lock down was extended that I caved in and packed them all onto the book shelves where they still mock me quietly when I dare to glance across.

There are more bookings to cancel / postpone but small steps and one day at a time is what the internet recommends!

Planning
My pile of guide books, maps & phrase books

 

 

 

 

 

The Culture of Vanlife book review

A book just about campervans!  You can imagine just how much that appealed to me.  I was lucky enough to be chosen as a winner of The Rolling Home book, ‘The Culture of Vanlife’ in a Twitter competition.  If you’re thinking of buying this for yourself or think that it might make a great present for the campervan lover in your life, here’s my review.

Firstly I wanted a bit of background about The Rolling Home.  In 2016 they published a photographic book and today they are producing regular journals which are a platform for campervan owners from around the world to share their passion for living in a van through a collection of stories, illustrations, interviews and technical advice.  The Rolling Home story involves Calum Creasey, Lauren Smith and a 1996 VW Transporter.  They have been travelling on and off since 2010, creating their dream van on a low budget with an eye for style and finding their own community.  You can read more about them on their website.

The Culture of Vanlife is a delightful book to flick through.  It is packed with beautiful drawings and photographs that make you want to start travelling.  With an eye for an evocative image, you could just gaze at the photographs and cartoons in this hefty book and be happy.

But how do the words stack up?  Once you start reading you find a collection of essays and chapters by different writers that aim to explore the culture of vanlife through the ideas and people that make it.  On the first page they sum up their way of thinking about living in a campervan, seeing them as, ‘Catalysts for happiness.’

There is plenty of variety here.  The first chapter discusses the perils of social media against the urge to be nomadic and appreciate the present.  I was interested in Mattias Wieles’ chapter about vanlife and minimalism.  Mattias and his girlfriend travelled for a year in a yellow van packed with everything they owned.

‘We sold everything, threw out all financial burdens, cut all redundancies out of our lives.  All our possessions fitted in our little van now; ties had been cut, jobs left behind, subscriptions to magazines and the gym cancelled.  We said goodbye and felt free as never before.’

Mattias writes that a shift in how they viewed their trip happened when they left Europe and adapted to having limited opportunities to buy food and fill up with water and they found a simpler life.  He sums up perfectly how living in a campervan eliminates anything unnecessary from your life until there is no hiding from who you really are.  With no fancy job, the latest smart phone or new clothes to shield you, vulnerability can materialise.  Mattias writes honestly about how the road changes you and that in this simpler world there is just the earth and the people you love.

There is, of course, a chapter on the vans, although no mention of the vehicles I have owned, a VW T4 and T5 or a Renault Master … enough said!  Let’s move onto interior design, where readers can see there is no right way to do it and everyone has a different idea of a perfect campervan.  If you are a self-builder you will enjoy the case studies.  There is something for everyone here, a 4×4 Merc, a VW T25, a small Japanese van, some technical info, a van with a wood burning stove and one with a roof-top bed.

Chapter Three is about vanlife people and readers are invited to meet the ‘van dwellers.’  ‘The Adrenaline Junky’ fills her camper with kit for activities.  ‘The Digital Nomad’ is a working recluse who is always online.  ‘The Hipsters’ live in a Mercedes Sprinter and have a herb garden on the dash.  ‘The Eco Warrior’ has a recycled Transit van and ‘The New-Age Hippies’ have a converted horsebox which they share with their rescue dogs.  ‘The Golden Oldies’ have a coach built ‘van and travel around Europe spending the children’s inheritance.  These are just for fun; I don’t recognise myself in any of these vanlife profiles and there is still no mention of a Renault Master!

The real strength of The Culture of Vanlife is in the personal stories it tells.  Matt and Steph talk honestly about full-time vanlife as a young couple who spend six months a year on the road

‘For us, van living created a very intimate and close relationship.  Disagreements are dealt with immediately and we usually end up laughing about it an hour later!  As a result we have become excellent at communicating and knowing how the other feels, sometimes even without speaking.’

The thoughts on solo van travel might touch you; the van owners who make music and busk on their travels might inspire you; or reading about the family in a converted bus might encourage you to reconsider your life’s trajectory.

‘In Norse mythology, Valhalla is the great hall that warriors go to after falling in battle … there is a lesser-known land, Vanhalla.  Some say it is a fictional place, where camper vans and their inhabitants go to when they no longer travel.’

I hope I won’t be ending up in Vanhalla soon but this fantastic idea introduces a list of favourite places to travel, from Europe to South America, India and Canada.  There are stories from New Zealand and rugged British Columbia.  You will find plenty here to inspire your own trip.

This is a book that asks questions and tries to get beyond the hashtag campervan lifestyle on social media.  The book reflects on the tension between the simplicity of vanlife that so many people seek and digital connections that allow remote campervan fans to reach out to others.  The authors find both real communities and those in cyberspace and consider their value.

Yes, this is a book that will look beautiful on your coffee table and any campervan owner could buy it to browse and learn from.  If you are looking for a gift, I would suggest you buy it for that reflective and discerning friend who is yearning for a campervan.  If they sit down and read some of these stories they will either buy a ‘van and set off on their own journey the next day or realise the lifestyle isn’t for them.  Either way they will thank you for the present.

If you want to know more about The Rolling Home you can sign up for their newsletter here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An abundance of days out from Devizes Camping & Caravanning Club Site in Wiltshire

Wiltshire 3
Delightful topiary in Bradford-on-Avon

We didn’t know in February that in less than a month the country would be locked down but with the hindsight we now have I am so pleased we got away for a ten-day campervan holiday while coronavirus made its way across the world to the UK.  We toured around Wiltshire for most of that time and for five nights stopped at the Camping and Carvanning Club site at Devizes.  Our average stay on a campsite is less than two nights, so five nights is a chunk of time for us to settle anywhere but in February open campsites were not easy to find and the Devizes site turned out to be a great base with lots of options.

On the way to Devizes we drove up to the high car park near The White Horse of Westbury.  It was a windy day and our walk to see the horse carved out of the chalk, although now covered in concrete, and around Bratton Camp blew away the cobwebs after a long drive.  On the northern edge of Salisbury Plain, the views from the 17th century Westbury White Horse stretch for miles.

We walked, took the bus and also drove from the campsite.  Here are the places we visited.

Taking the bus from the campsite

Leaving the Blue Bus at the campsite, we used the local buses to visit a couple of attractions.

Opposite The Three Magpies pub, at the entrance to the campsite you can pick up a bus to Devizes.  Alternatively, a short walk over the canal bridge and along the quiet lane takes you to Seend.  Here you can catch the number 49 bus to Trowbridge in one direction and to Avebury and even Swindon in the other.

Bradford-on-Avon – Taking the 49 to Trowbridge, we picked up a train to Bradford-on-Avon on a day of bright sunshine and showers.  Visiting this pretty town sitting on a steep hillside by the River Avon was perhaps the highlight of our time in Wiltshire.  With stone buildings that are warm and elegant and charming cobbled streets, Bradford-on-Avon has plenty of old weaver’s cottages from its time as a cloth-making town.  Overlooking the Town Bridge, which has an old lock-up perched on it with a weather vane known as the Bradford gudgeon, we found Il Ponte Italian restaurant, a great choice for coffee and lunch.

Wiltshire
The long flight of Caen Hill Locks

Away from the town centre we explored the enchanting and strangely proportioned Saxon Church of St Laurence with narrow arched doorways and windows and crossed the river to reach the 14th century Title Barn.  With sunlight filtering through the slit windows of this monumental building I gazed up at the impressive timber roof, the stories from the past echoing among the beams.

We climbed steep lanes and steps to the highest buildings in the town that have views across the Avon valley to Salisbury Plain and The White Horse.  At the end of one lane, perched on the hillside we found the splendidly situated medieval chapel of St Mary Tory.  Tory here means hill [tor] and we looked over the town from what was once a pilgrimage site between Glastonbury and Malmesbury.  The chapel was restored in the 19th century and more recently the east window was replaced with modern colourful stained glass.

Avebury – Using the bus in the opposite direction we spent a day walking seven miles around the many Neolithic sites of Avebury.  After walking around the huge circular bank and ditch with impressive standing stones, we walked to West Kennet Long Barrow, passing the mystery that is Silbury Hill on the way.  This long barrow is my favourite site out of the many at Avebury and on a fine sunny day the views from West Kennet Long Barrow were worth the exertion.  A burial site for many individuals, along with pottery, beads and a Neolithic dagger, large sarsen stones hide the entrance to the barrow’s 42-foot-long passage which has two side chambers and another at the end.  We returned to Avebury by East Kennett and the Sanctuary, another baffling site that you can be creative imagining what it was used for.

Walking from the campsite

The Kennet and Avon Canal runs alongside the Devizes campsite and an easy and enjoyable walk of about two miles each way will take you to Caen Hill Locks, 29 locks rising 237 feet.  It is an exhausting trip for boat owners, taking the best part of a day to travel up or down this row of locks and you are bound to spot one or two as you walk.

Carry on a mile or so more and you reach Devizes.  We were there on market day which always adds an extra bustle to a town.  We admired the outdoor stalls and then walked through the indoor market which has a wide array of goods from cakes and cards to wooden crafts.  Chatting to one stall holder he recommended Times Square for the best coffee in this agreeable town.  On market day it seemed that everyone had decided to enjoy a break in this friendly cafe but it is big enough to accommodate everyone and the stall holder was right, it was good coffee.

We visited The Wiltshire Museum to see its exceptional collection from the many ancient sites in the county.  If you are confused about the timeline of Wiltshire’s history then this is the place to help you get it straight in your head.  If you don’t want to immerse yourself in local history then the tour of the Victorian Wadworth Brewery might be more your glass of ale.  After walking back along the canal [or you can take the bus] a visit to the Three Magpies pub next to the campsite for a glass of Wadworth was a great way to round off the day .

Walk in the opposite direction and you reach The Barge Inn after just over a mile.

Days out in our campervan from the campsite

As well as walking and taking the bus, we took our campervan out for a couple of days.

Stonehenge – We last visited Stonehenge in our first campervan in 2006.  The stones are the same but the organisation of the site has changed massively since then.  Today the visitor’s centre is one mile away from the circle and one of the roads alongside the stones has been closed.  We purchased timed tickets in advance and arrived at the large car park [with dedicated motorhome parking] with a comfortable amount of time to visit the exhibition before taking the free shuttle as far as Fargo Plantation.  This enabled us to approach Stonehenge across the green pasture land, skylarks singing above us and the stones in the distance.  Of course, the scene isn’t as it was in the Neolithic era but it is more peaceful than it was.

In 2006 we paid extra to be able to walk among the stones as the sun set, a truly magical experience.  Today, the stones are surrounded by a low fence and with controlled visitor numbers everyone has space to walk around the stones and get an uninterrupted view from different angles and in different light.  There is no doubt that Stonehenge is a popular place to visit and given the limitations, English Heritage are doing a good job at enabling everyone to enjoy and understand the structure.  For me, Stonehenge remains a special place and I look forward to coming back when the A303 is out of sight.

Wiltshire 4
The huge stones at Stonehenge

Marlborough & Savernake Forest – If you want somewhere to stretch your legs, enjoy a spell of window shopping followed by some people watching in a cosy cafe then Marlborough, with the second widest high street in the UK, will fit the bill.

Nearby is Savernake Forest, an expanse of woodland with a network of footpaths, deer and a remarkable collection of ancient oak trees, each with a name.  In the mixed woodland, with so many paths, we were soon disorientated and only knew where we were when we stumbled upon the sign for one of these gnarled oak trees.  We found The Saddle, The Cathedral and Old Paunch; these trees already have character but knowing their names made me consider the features of each tree and admire the ridged bark and dripping moss.

Lacock Abbey & village – Owned and managed by the National Trust, Lacock Abbey is a 13th century abbey that was converted to a family home in the 16th century.  If you recognise the building and the village this is probably because you have seen it on a film or TV programme.  Downton Abbey, Cranford, Harry Potter and others have all been filmed here.  The car park isn’t huge but it does have some large spaces for motorhomes.

The house has plenty of personal touches that retain an intimacy in the rambling building and there are knowledgeable guides in most room.  William Henry Fox Talbot lived here and in 1835 captured the first photographic negative of one of Lacock Abbey’s oriel windows.  You can see this image and others in the small museum by the entrance that tells the interesting story of photography.

Wiltshire 2
The courtyard at Lacock Abbey is charming

Devizes Camping and Caravan Club site is an open and green site with friendly and helpful wardens.  The facilities would welcome an update but are totally satisfactory.

I realise that none of us can travel anywhere just at the moment due to coronavirus but I hope this post and these ideas might contribute to your planning for future trips while we can only dream.  Happy future travels!

 

 

Scenes from Morecambe in a pandemic

2017 July August Scotland (118) Stromness
Early morning in Stromness, Orkney

Three years ago we spent a couple of months without our campervan while it was being repatriated from Greece and repaired after a bit of a bump.  Loyal readers will remember that being without our campervan was agony.  Of course, in retrospect those two months don’t seem so tough … we could still travel and we tried different ways of taking holidays while we were without our Blue Bus and I learnt that nothing compares to being away in a campervan.  The coronavirus pandemic lock down is a whole new scenario, one that is shared worldwide; we are all staying at home so that Covid 19 patients don’t overwhelm the NHS.

I know there are people far worse off than me and that I have a lot to be thankful for.  We have a private garden that I never expected to give so much attention to and although we will be hit financially I am confident we can cope.  I am used to being away from friends and family for months at a time and don’t feel lonely, what I have lost is the rhythm of my year.  It is Easter weekend as I write this and we have spent this time in Scotland pretty much every year since 1979.

I have always enjoyed seizing the day, making the most of the time I have knowing I might not be here tomorrow.  I am finding it tough to have to watch, what feels to me like the apocalypse approaching, from my sofa.  In my imagination I always pictured that when the warning sirens rang Anthony and I would leap into our campervan and drive to the mountains to witness the end of the world.

As much as I love Morecambe and feel so glad that we can walk to the sea, I only really expected to be here for about half the year!  I can see how shallow I am, there are people living with much greater hardship than not being able to travel in a campervan but the loss I am feeling and the fear that I may never be able to go camping again is real.  Reading about how others are struggling I find that my anxiety has a name, it is anticipatory grief.  I hope that with a label for how I am feeling I can maybe  deal with it [I am bringing myself back to the present right now, looking around I can see a futon, some herb seedlings, a candle, a cushion and a roll of sellotape].

In the past I have worked through anxiety by writing but for almost three weeks I have been silent, unable to write down any words.  Sitting in front of the laptop is where I spend my time planning campervan trips or writing travel articles.  This association is so strong, I haven’t been able to face the unkind reminder of what I can’t do and I have sought out other ways to occupy myself.  On top of this my embarrassingly self-pitying inner voice asks, ‘What is the point of your ramblings when the world is ending.’

I am taking the writing one small step at a time.  Here are some pictures of life in Morecambe over the last three weeks.

Holding back the tears

I don’t need sympathy, I am just trying to be honest; it is a pretty good day if I don’t start weeping about something.  There is no doubt there is plenty to be distressed about; in no particular order, here are some things that make me cry:

  • People all over the world being very ill and dying and health services unable to cope with the numbers
  • Favourite small businesses facing financial difficulties due to the temporary closure
  • People being judgemental and spiteful about the actions of others
  • Empty supermarket shelves
  • Finding strong bread flour on the supermarket shelves for the first time in three weeks
  • Watching the oystercatchers on Morecambe Bay
  • The moment after waking when I remember that nothing is normal anymore
  • Those tormenting inner thoughts, ‘Where would we be camping now?’
  • Not being able to meet up with our son and daughter-in-law
  • Being so anxious and tense for most of the day that I go to sleep with a headache almost every night

A small scene from life in Morecambe …

I am waiting in our local Co-op, at a safe distance from all the other shoppers, clutching my milk and essential hot cross buns.  At the checkout is an elderly woman.  The assistant was calm and patient as the woman slowly placed her shopping by the till and she asked her to move back to the line marked on the floor.  The elderly customer looked confused and shuffled to the side, although she had a stick she was more comfortable with the counter to help her stand while her shopping was rung through and bagged.  The assistant noticed and smiled, ‘Oh you need the counter, that’s fine you can stand there.’  Once the shopping was totted up, the customer got her purse out.  ‘We are only taking cards now, not cash,’ the assistant reminded her; she was clearly a woman who usually paid in cash.  The customer understood and fumbled for a little used card and with help tried to use it contactless.  After several assisted attempts, the assistant relented and let her pay in cash.  The woman looked as if the world was spinning way too fast and trying to throw her off, everything had changed, she had seen the news but hadn’t realised how this would affect her weekly shop at our little Co-op.  A lump in my throat I hid my face, desperately wanting to go over, take her arm and offer comfort.

Connecting with friends

For the first couple of weeks our What’s App groups were buzzing, everyone checking in on everyone else.  The novelty of social distancing is now wearing off, no one has anything to say and I can go all day without my phone pinging.

My Twitter friends have been supportive, as always and often make me smile.  I find Facebook a bit more of a challenge and although useful for connecting, I limit my usage.  We have an inter-continental quiz game going on with our friends in Australia that is getting pleasantly competitive.

We have chatted to six households at one time using Zoom, our friends in little boxes on our laptop screen, sitting on top of each other like they are on University Challenge.  Although it is hard to have much of a conversation with around ten people online together and the ‘meeting’ bears no resemblance to seeing them in real life, it is lovely to connect with them all and the laughter is great medicine.  No one talks about how awful social distancing is at these gatherings, everyone stays upbeat with stories of what they are achieving in isolation and says they are fine.  I wonder if it is just me that is crying inside.

Too much socialising during social distancing

One evening, after two video calls with different groups of friends, we both collapsed into bed exhausted from so much socialising!

Empty supermarket shelves

As I mentioned, seeing empty shelves in the supermarkets triggers tears and panic.  One day there is no butter, strong bread flour was becoming just a distant memory and there is still no yeast.  It seems the small 568 ml of milk are no longer worth producing and we have to find ways to use up a litre while it is in date in sauces etc.

Sending parcels of joy

While we can’t meet friends, the post office is still open and we can send small gifts in the mail.  We have sent out books and jigsaws we have finished with and food parcels to other friends and I have other surprises planned.

I have also volunteered for our local food bank.

Happy talking

We chat to our next door neighbour over the fence most days and when we are out for our daily walk or cycle ride I say hello to pretty much everyone we pass [at a safe distance].  I do this partly to use up some of my surplus words, I have words to spare these days and I can give them freely.  Some people just grunt a response or ignore me but others cheerfully say hello back and maybe for just one person I am the only human being who has spoken to them all day … here come the tears again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doing the Shower Shimmy!

Showers

I like showering.  No lazing in long baths using up gallons of water for me, I am happy to have a short shower and save some water.  But showering in the dark is taking being environmentally friendly a step too far!

On our last trip to Spain we found that many campsites had invested in lighting that reacts to movement sensors, an excellent idea in theory.  The lights sense your presence and come on when you enter the facilities block and, when no movement has been detected for some time, will go off, by which time you should have finished your ablutions and left.  By not relying on unreliable humans to remember to turn the lights out precious energy can be saved.  A marvellous small step towards tackling climate change.

And yet, this system all depends where you put the sensors and how long the timer for the lights is set for.  On the Spanish campsites we visited, the sensors were usually placed above the main door, convenient for detecting people as they came in and out.  The flaw in this system is that while I am hidden behind the shower cubicle door in an evening, the not-very-clever sensor detects no movement.

Picture the scene, I will be scrubbing off the Spanish dust after a day walking or cycling.  I am happily humming a tune and thinking about the wonderful places we have seen that day when suddenly blackness descends as the timer clicks the lights off!

As I see it, at this moment I have three choices, none of which make for blissful bathing.

Option one is to continue showering despite the dark.  Do I really need to see what I am doing?  Do I want to risk falling over the soap, mislaying my flannel or banging into the door?  Having decided being light-less is impractical, I start to hope option two might work out.  I continue to run the water, hoping another camper will decide to use the facilities, come through the door any moment and trip the light sensor so that I can once again see what I am doing.

Of course, we are usually in Spain when it is out of season, the campsites are quiet and most people shower in the mornings, so after waiting a minute or so I have to resort to option three.  In desperation and now hoping the opposite to option two, that no one does decide to use the facilities, I grab my towel and rush dripping out of the cubicle.  I then dance in front of the sensor, waving my arms and kicking my legs like an unhinged bather until the lights return!

Should you ever witness this shower shimmy, please don’t judge me too harshly … perhaps I should just take a torch to the showers!

via GIPHY

 

In an Uncertain World & a Pandemic who needs a Travel Writer!

05.29.2019 Eshaness (1)

I am feeling discombobulated and not particularly useful at the moment. No one wants to read a travel writer’s blog in these days full of coronavirus disease [Covid-19]. We are all feeling confused and worried in different ways; some of us are concerned about elderly friends or relatives; some motorhomers are wondering whether to stay in Spain, Portugal or France or come home; we might worry about whether we washed our hands enough and why we can’t stop touching our faces [or is that just me?] and others are wondering where they can buy toilet roll or dried pasta.  In this period of social distancing a full lock-down is only a matter of time and even though my fear of when this will happen doesn’t help, the fear remains.  On top of this global apprehension, the campervan and motorhome community is arguing amongst itself about whether anyone can follow social distancing rules in a ‘van and what essential travel actually means.  The only certainty is that very few people are looking ahead and planning holidays and trips away.

I am not alone in living during a time that just a few weeks ago seemed fairly humdrum, I was blogging about being a frustrated travel agent and also busy writing and planning my own campervan trips for the year.  Those days seem very carefree and distant as uncertainty has mushroomed and I am finding this increasingly difficult to deal with.  I am sure I am not alone in wishing that I knew how long this state of emergency was going to go on for.  Last night we watched an episode of Countryfile from a few weeks ago, it was in many ways a calming escape to a world before all we thought about was a virus but as soon as we switched off the TV I remembered and the dread returned.

I long for the pandemic to be declared over, returning some stability to everyone’s lives but I realise that isn’t going to happen soon.  It may be that we never return to how things were but I hope that eventually people will begin to look to the future with confidence again.

In addition, of course … and this is only a minor worry … I am also aware that if I can’t get away travelling and camping then I will have no income.

Please don’t think I am feeling sorry for myself. Although we are both over 60 years of age, we are both in good health and have every reason to feel confident that Covid-19 will make us poorly but not kill us … but as apparently we are all going to get Covid-19 eventually, if it is my time than I have had 60 good years.  It is not for myself that I am anxious, what I dread is anyone across the world suffering unnecessarily and I fear for my close friends and relatives.

I Know that I am not alone in feeling anxious and fearful about the difficult and stormy future road ahead, so I am no expert but here are …

… My ideas for coping with coronavirus anxiety

  1. Although I have a strong need for information, too much news consumption is more than I can handle. Limiting my access to the news and Facebook does help to keep me on an even keel. I try hard to be aware of what is factual and what is conjecture and keep a reasonable perspective.
  2. In contrast, the social media that is supportive is Twitter. My Twitter friends for the most part keep me positive and are kind – thanks guys!
  3. I have always been an obsessive hand washer after too many years in the NHS and the annual infection control talk, so we are washing our hands thoroughly.  We are maintaining social distance and keeping a check on our own health.
  4. While we will miss our tai chi classes, closed during this social distancing period, we keep practising most days.  Tai chi is fantastic for focusing the mind and relaxation.
  5. I might not be sure when I will once again be able to travel to mainland Europe but at the moment I continue brushing up my German so that I am ready for when those borders open. This half an hour a day of language learning is time when I am not worrying about any end-of-the-world scenario.
  6. Reading is always my favourite relaxation and I have sought out uplifting and funny novels to get me through. This is not the time to read Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 – save this roller-coaster novel for happier times, although it has been haunting me this last two weeks.  Instead I have been re-reading Magnus Mills and getting lost in his comedic and fantastical world and I have a Neil Gaiman on my reading pile.
  7. After living in a small village for 25 years I am accustomed to always keeping well-stocked kitchen cupboards and what might be stockpiling for some is my normal. We could live for a couple of weeks at least on the food in our house and yet I have to admit to a real fear about the shortages and I struggle to keep this in any kind of measured perspective. For example, as a bread maker we are down to our last two bags of flour and haven’t been able to buy more as the whole country appears to have taken to baking bread! While I am pleased everyone has discovered the joy of homemade bread, when I think about running out of flour I want to weep and I have to remind myself that at the moment we continue to eat well on healthy home-cooked food.
  8. We are keeping in touch with friends and family, making sure everyone is coping and keeping the love and care flowing between us.
  9. It might be twee but I count my blessings, knowing I am so lucky to live with my wonderful partner in the amazing town of Morecambe with the sea and the bay only down the road. We get out for some fresh air every day which helps my mental health and my sleeping.
  10. I am not naive, I know that everything will not be okay in the short-term but I try and make myself step back and give myself space to reflect on what the numbers of cases and deaths and the shortages of essential items actually means and why they are making me feel so anxious. With effort I can think it through, sort out the speculation from the facts, calm my brain and remember that this too will pass.

What are your own tips for avoiding overwhelming anxiety?

All in all, this seems like the right time for me to take a short break from travel blogging, although I might try and conjure up some light-hearted content in the near future.

Take care everyone, stay kind and we’ll catch up soon.