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.

More Campervan Comfort Food: Fennel & Cream with pasta [vegan or veggie]

Fennel and cream (2)

You return to your campervan after a long walk on a cold or wet day and what you need is something warming to eat that only takes 15 minutes max to prepare and cook.  In our Blue Bus, pasta is a great go-to dish for these evenings.

I love the taste of fennel but I wonder if it isn’t so popular in the UK.  I bought some in our local supermarket recently and the cashier didn’t even know what it was and when I asked admitted he had never eaten it.  For me, fennel brings back memories of Italy and the beautiful food that country produces.  I also love the fresh spicy liquorice taste and the crunchy texture.  You might read that it is good for you but don’t let that put you off, it just tastes great.

This dish can be vegetarian or vegan, depending on your own preference.  If you don’t like fennel you could use asparagus, broccoli spears or courgettes in this recipe too, they all also cook quicker than you can pour a couple of glasses of wine!

Fennel & Cream with pasta [for two]

  • 1 bulb of fennel
  • 3 or 4 spring onions
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 200 – 300 ml of sour cream or vegan cream, grated
  • 100 gm or so of cheese [I used half a packet of vegan Greek white cheese I had in the fridge but anything will do]

Wash and then slice the fennel thinly [I use pretty much all of it, including the outer bulb, the stalk and leaves – just cutting out the hard inner core].

Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan [or your Ridgemonkey grill] and add the fennel.  Stir and cook until the fennel is softened.

Meanwhile put your favourite pasta on to boil as this is fast food.

Add the spring onion, black pepper and garlic to the fennel and stir. then add the cream and warm through.

Finally add the cheese and then season [with the cheese you probably won’t need any salt].

When your pasta is cooked, drain and add to the creamy mixture, stir in well and serve.

After a long day walking I would serve this up with a bunch of rocket if we had it and a glass of red wine [we always have this].

 

 

 

 

 

Sunshine Blogger Award

sunshine blog

 

I would like to thank Jackie and Mark [and of course their canine companions] from the excellent blog World Wide Walkies for this nomination for a Sunshine Blogger Award.  They gave up work, bought a caravan and four cavapoos, sold most of what they owned and began travelling full-time, mixing up living in their caravan with rentals.  They have a tremendous sense of adventure and their posts are always entertaining and thoughtful.

The Sunshine Blogger award is given by bloggers to bloggers who inspire positivity and creativity in the blogging community.

The Rules

  1. Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you for a blog post and link back to their blog.
  2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.
  3. Nominate up to 11 new blogs to receive the award. Leave a comment on their blog to let them know they received the award and ask your nominees 11 new questions.
  4. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or on your blog.

My answers

1. What is the inspiration behind your blog and who do you want to reach?

The inspiration for my Back on the Road blog is two-fold.  It firstly gives me a chance to document some of our travels in our campervan, the Blue Bus, and secondly gives me time to practice my writing technique and try out ideas, without the constraints and word limits of magazine editors.  I hope to reach other people who are interested in living a purposeful and frugal life and who enjoy reading about beautiful and interesting places.

2. Which is your favourite blog post and why?

This is a tough question!  I like to write posts that are useful so my top tips for different destinations are great posts that I am pleased with as they get a lot of hits.  Everyone likes a drama and so the stats say it is my blog post about our Greek incident – not something I like to remember!  I like to tell stories and one of my favourites is the Tale of the Postman, because the incident marks my early retirement and a new life and it is a story of a helpful postman that you might not expect to encounter in Salford.

3. Tell us an interesting or unusual fact about yourself – do you have a hidden talent or claim to fame?

I write another blog about memorial benches I find on our travels and write a mixture of travelogue and the story of the person that is remembered in the bench.  This blog was featured on Radio Four recently.

4. Name your favourite song, book and movie.

Song – It is so hard to choose but pretty much anything by Black Sabbath would be in the running.

Book – Today it is Death and Penguin by Andre Kurkov [this choice might be something different tomorrow]

Film – Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe – it makes me laugh and cry every time I see it

5. What’s on your bucket list?

There is no bucket list.  I am happy that I am able to explore new and familiar places independently.

6. What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t waste your time marrying that first husband, he will treat you badly and try and break you.

7. Living or dead, which three people would you invite to your dinner party and why?

Although I wanted to say three good friends would be my choice, I thought I would play the game.  If I was inviting people I didn’t know round for dinner I would get Geezer Butler, bass player with Black Sabbath, Chris Wolstenholme, the bass player with Muse and Stuart Maconie together.  We could start with music and see where the conversation went.

8. Is your ideal holiday lying on a beach, climbing Mount Everest – or anything else?

My ideal holiday is being pretty much anywhere with my partner Anthony in our campervan.  I like to be somewhere warm but never lie on the beach.  My ideal day is walking in the mountains among wild flowers and bird song, the warm sun on my arms and no one else around.

9. What would you do if you won the Lottery?

I did blog about what I would do if I had loads of money and writing my thoughts certainly helped me work out what I might do.  I would give some to my favourite local charities, some to our son and daughter-in-law and then spend some on travel, in particular going to visit our lovely friends in California and Australia.

10. How do you relax? Do you have a guilty pleasure?

I don’t feel guilty about enjoying myself and relaxing.  I have loved getting lost in books since I was a child and this a favourite relaxation.  My biggest fear is running out of books to read while we are away in our campervan!

11. Dogs or cats?

This was the easiest question to answer!  I have had the pleasure to live with six different cats in my life.

My Nominees

I follow lots of blogs and can’t nominate them all.  I am also aware that after the first flush of excitement has worn off about being given the Sunshine Blogger Award, you might realise it involves writing another post!  I tried to give this task to people who will grasp the opportunity with enthusiasm but if any of you want to skip the post that is, of course, your call.  I do hope you all think about following some of my favourite bloggers.

OurTour Motorhome Blog – Julie and Jason have reached financial independence and are travelling in their motorhome.  As well as blogging they have published several books.  Their posts are both practical and fun and always honest about the ups and downs of living in a van.

The Urban Wanderer – Sarah is a Manchester-based blogger whose outdoor travel and lifestyle blog always has something new and interesting to share.  Her enthusiasm will win you round and encourage you to get outside and have a mini adventure.

Gail and Keith Blog – Gail and Keith share their motorhome travels, delicious recipes [with mouth-watering photographs] and even tips on wine with a flair and energy.  Their blog gives you a feel for life on the road.

Bon Voyage Blog – Jane and Tim are determined not to let life pass them by and are travelling full-time in their motorhome.  Their blog is honest, thoughtful and interesting as they share what they have learned as they travel.

Tea & Cake for the Soul – Jo is a hardworking freelance writer and blogger, a music, cake and tea lover who enjoys reading, writing and upcycling.  Jo’s blog, like mine, is a mixture of travel and lifestyle.  She has tips on surviving the menopause alongside trips along the Basingstoke Canal.

(Get Your) Legs Down – To non-caravanners the title of Richard’s blog might seem unusual.  This beer-drinking caravan owner writes what he calls, ‘random ramblings’ but are useful and informative diary-style blog posts about his trips away in his caravan.  He has also written openly about his grief following the sudden loss of his partner, Trev, after 27 years together.

Eyes in the back of my Head – Joyce likes to surprise her readers with sensitive and well-observed posts about a whole range of topics.  Joyce shares stories from her travels in her motorhome, about life with her dog, reading, nature and astrological psychology and is always a kind and generous blogger.

In Pursuit of a Dream – Deb and Steve are a caravan owning couple, originally from the north, now living in the south and working as wardens for the Caravan and Motorhome Club.  Their posts are often funny and always compelling as they follow their dream to, ‘Work less, live more, see more and meet more.’

Brian Jones’ Diary – I have been enjoying reading the journey of this newish blogger.  Brian is 60 years old and transitioning into retirement.  He writes sincerely about the things that are important to him at this time in his life, his health, family and friends, finances and how to enjoy life in this transition phase.

Gum Trees and Galaxies – This Australian dog-owning couple have adventures in their teardrop camper.  The name sums up their trips out to the bush to escape the light pollution and stargaze.  As well as camping stories they are enthusiastic about books and their blog has reading tips and #BooksnapSunday.

My 11 Questions

  1. What is your favourite thing about blogging?
  2. What would be your top tip for a new blogger?
  3. Assuming you are still with us, do you think you will still be blogging in five years time?
  4. If you could have something named after you (either your real name, nickname, or blog name) what would it be?
  5. If you could have one super power what would it be?
  6. What is your favourite road trip film?
  7. What is your first drink of the day, tea, coffee, smoothie, water or something else?
  8. What song would you like played at your funeral?
  9. If you could go back in time, what event or period would you go back to?
  10. I was a chef in a previous life and love cooking and eating, what is your signature dish / favourite thing to cook / eat?
  11. Where in the world do you feel you most belong?

I look forward to reading your answers.  Thank you all and happy Sunshine blogging!

A Spanish Parking Challenge in Pedraza

Pedraza Castle
The castle at Pedraza

There are many places that travel writers refer to as one of Spain’s ‘best kept secrets,’ in truth when you visit pretty much any of these so called hidden corners you realise that they are no secret to the Spanish.  The Spanish value and conserve attractive villages and on a weekend you rarely have any of them to yourself.

That isn’t to say these places are not worth visiting!  We were in northern Spain in our campervan and had been seeking out some of Spain’s Los Pueblos más bonitos, their most beautiful villages.  The walled town of Pedraza in the province of Segovia in the Castile and Leon region is one of these villages and was just off our route one wintery Sunday.  We decided it would make a perfect detour for an hour or so.

Not wanting to get the Blue Bus stuck in the narrow streets that led to the large car park by the castle, we opted for the small parking area below the substantial walls.  It was already busy as we pulled in but this was before lunch time and there was still manoeuvring room.

Glad to find a space, we tucked in without turning around, an amateur error!  Almost immediately a small Spanish car came in behind us, so close its bonnet was under our bike rack!  An old VW ‘van then tucked in within centimetres of our bonnet and as the car park filled up around us we slowly realised getting out was going to be challenging.  We decided to explore the lovely town and hope that all these people were just here for a half an hour stroll.

The Plaza Mayor is the focus of the town with arcades of shops and restaurants, where people were beginning to gather for a long Spanish Sunday lunch.  We admired the San Juan church and its lovely square tower on the side of the square and walked to the imposing 13th century castle that has been restored.

After exploring the streets of Pedraza, admiring the view from near the castle and browsing in some of the shops, we returned to a still crowded car park.  Cars had packed themselves on both sides of the narrow parking area and turning a 5.4 metre ‘van was now impossible.

The entrance to the gravelly car park was at the bottom and it then sloped steeply up to a gateway which was blocked with hazard tape.  We realised we either had to stay here until the Spanish rolled out of the restaurants or, as this was in the direction we were pointing, we could try and use the higher taped-up exit.  While I provided extra eyes and waved my arms around, my partner shunted the ‘van backwards and forwards out of our space.  Once free he eased between the cars, skidding on the steep gravelly gradient.  I ran ahead and quickly hauled the post out of the ground and moved the tape aside.  Our Renault skidded through, trailing rubber and we were out!

As I attempted to replace the tape, excited Spanish drivers, having spotted there was now a 5.4 metre space in the car park and a new entrance, tried to drive past me.  I was worried someone in authority would suddenly arrive and tell us this exit shouldn’t be used and had to muster my most assertive Spanish to return the tape across the gateway.

We broke two campervan rules on this day.  Driving into a busy and tight car park is best avoided and if you do, always turn the ‘van around while you can!

We stayed at:

Camping Riaza, a level site in the Segovia province north of Madrid.  There are mountain views from the site and some road noise.  A pleasant small town with shops and bars is a short walk away and there is information about local walks.  The facilities are clean and the showers are continuous (no push buttons here) and very hot.

One’s Destination is Never a Place, but always a New Way of Seeing Things

21.04.2017 Delphi walk to Livadi plateau (16) edited

We are all heading somewhere aren’t we? Isn’t that destination we are aiming for what the journey is all about? Well not on my campervan trips; for me the journey is the main event. I might have a destination in mind but arriving there isn’t vital if something better turns up on the way and I don’t want the journey to end. For me, a trip is a whole event and is about more than getting somewhere and I concentrate on enjoying every moment, discovering all sorts of thing on the way.

We can never turn back time and change the journey we have made up to now but we can choose the direction we are heading in, the speed we travel at and where we linger on the way. Henry Miller’s quote tells us that by having one place as a destination we could be missing the bigger picture.

In life our target place might be financial independence, a bigger house, a new campervan or a happy-ever-after wedding. They might seem it at the time, but these things are never the end of a journey, they are just lay-bys off the road. Your journey will continue through retirement or marriage or the reality of paying for a bigger house.

Ever since I was young and found the travel section in our local library I have wanted to be a traveller. Even then, as a young teenager, I was drawn to those travel writers who didn’t necessarily have a fixed destination but wandered, and reflected on how the journey had changed them. As a teenager I felt that the small village I lived in was suffocating me and knew it wouldn’t be big enough to contain me. I wanted something that was beyond what I knew and I was sure that there were places where I would find new ways of seeing and being.

My early travelling

I was so excited about my first trip abroad to Austria on a school skiing trip. Safely dipping my toe in a foreign country by travelling with friends and trusted teachers taught me a number of things that have been important in future journeys. I learnt patience as we waited out rail strikes at stations and missed train connections across Europe. I discovered real coffee and delicious Austrian white wine and I gained confidence after managing to use my school-learnt German to buy a roll of film for my camera and coffee and cake in a cafe. I also learnt that being homesick, even over 24-hours away from home at the age of 13-years, was never going to be part of my vocabulary.

Confidence vs anxiety

There is nothing like having a problem in a foreign country and having to communicate with people whose language you hardly speak beyond the usual please and thank you to give you anxiety. Up to now every time we have had to deal with a problem in another country it has related to our campervan. Less urgent things have included buying new tyres and the most extreme incident was the accident in Greece. In every case I have lost sleep worrying about how it will work out and each time we have survived these incidents. I come away both stronger, I know we can deal with anything together, and conversely more fearful, as the list of things that I know can go wrong just grows and grows!

Learning tolerance

Even on the best campsite you are in close proximity to your fellow human beings and you quickly learn to live with your neighbours foibles or risk being frustrated and unhappy. We have had next-door campers who have been noisy [and then I will exercise my assertive skills when I ask them nicely to be quiet] and others who have invaded our small pitch with their stuff. I have met barking dogs and people who are shockingly judgemental. I am generally happiest on empty campsites with no one around but I have learnt to love [or at least tolerate] the breadth of human life and want us all to rub along as best we can.

A New Way of Seeing Things

Travelling to new places exercises our wonderment muscle. Away from home the flowers and trees are different, the weather is new, the houses are unfamiliar, the things in the shops are excitingly different. And so everything takes longer. I will linger over the shopping [something I rarely do at home] and stop to study and photograph flowers and insects. I am curious about the local history and stand in awe at new sights. Coming home, after all that exercise, my wonderment muscle will keep on working and I see all those familiar things as if for the first time.

I am happy that for the moment my journeys continue and my perspective on life keeps shifting.

‘One’s Destination is Never a Place, but always a New Way of Seeing Things,’ is a quote from Henry Miller.

Froswick Wearing it’s Winter Coat

2020 Feb Snowy day up Froswick (8)
Looking across The Tongue to Windermere

It was so quiet I could hear the snow making that spooky creaking noise as I placed each foot carefully.  The snow was so deep it came above my knees in places and melted into my walking boots and  I had no idea why I hadn’t put my gaiters on.  The wind was whipped through my layers of clothing and the hail was hitting my face so hard it hurt.  I simultaneously felt totally alive and sure I was about to die of hypothermia!

Only one fine day was forecast for the week between storms Ciara and Dennis.  ‘Let’s go to the Lake District for the day,’ I suggested, thinking it would be good to make the most of the fine weather after two weeks of being trapped by DIY.  The weather was still expected to be cold and breezy so I pictured us wrapping up for a brisk walk through some attractive sheltered woodland, but I left the planning to my partner.  As I have mentioned before, he is trying to walk up all the Wainwright Fells and so after consulting his lists and our maps, parked the Blue Bus near the church at Troutbeck.  We weren’t early birds and our favoured car park by Trout Beck was busy even on a week day in February and we had to resort to the lay-by up the road.

He pointed up the valley to a snowy ridge and told me we were here to climb Froswick; it was clearly a hill!  There also was not even a hint of sheltered woodland, this was a completely exposed route.  Only 720 m high, Froswick is on the ridge between Thornthwaite Crag and Ill Bell, both of which we have climbed.  Any sensible person would have included Froswick on a walk up one of these bigger neighbours and hardly even noticed the extra exertion.  For some reason Froswick had been missed on all of our trips to the surrounding hills and remained without a tick on the list.

In the valley it was a pleasant enough February day but we set off well wrapped up against the cold we expected as we climbed higher.  The ground was sodden after the heavy rain during the first storm and we jumped over becks and sloshed across bogs on the path from Limefitt Park, following Hagg Gill.

The hardy Herdwick sheep were sheltering where they could and the other walkers we met were all climbing The Tongue, the distinctive hill that sticks out into the valley.  As we climbed higher the landscape became white and the gusts got stronger, the clouds chasing across the horizon and blue sky just occasionally peeping through.  Walking in deep snow is hard work and I was plodding on with my head down, using my walk leader’s footprints to show the way.  I was wearing five layers of clothing and yet could still feel the chill of the wind on my skin!

Looking up from the plodding, I could see the clouds were still high and the top of Froswick was in sight.  I was beginning to think we would get to the top, although I was tired and cold but common sense kicked in and after a brief huddle over the map we jointly decided it would be most sensible to abandon the hill that day.

Descending in deep snow is lots of fun, and much quicker than going up, but it was still almost four in the afternoon by the time we were back at the ‘van.  Although we did have our head torches, walking on wet ground is easier in daylight and it is doubtful whether we would have got to the top and back down before dark.  Knowing when to turn back is an important skill for hill walkers.

I have no doubt we will be back to attempt to walk up Froswick on another day, I just hope it is a bit warmer.

 

 

2017 Campsites through France, Italy to Greece

Greece (98)

We spent a month driving through France and then touring Greece.  Here are the campsites we stayed at until our dream trip was cut tragically short.

 

Campsite name Comments
Pont a Mousson Aire, France Busy aire by river Moselle and pleasant town, full even in April, shops nearby, toilets and shower until 20.00
Les Cent Vignes Municipal Site, Beaune, France Tidy site with hard-standing near the town centre, facilities clean, showers warm, hot water for wash-up, water on pitch and 6 amps.
Le Bourget du Lac aire near Chambery, France Marked pitches, next to campsite, no EHU, can use campsite facilities, open views
Camping Du Bourg, Digne les Bains, France Good views, chalets, friendly welcome, showers have very hot water but shower head hopeless!  Facilities clean but basic, 10 mins walk to town
Camping Val Fleuri, Cagnes sur Mer, France Marked good-sized pitches, pool, 4 km from sea, facilities clean & modern & showers hot, although push button.  Bread brought to pitch in the morning.
Campeggio dei Fiori, Pietra Ligure, Italy 800 m from the sea but peaceful.  Marked pitches, hot water, showers small, 15 mins walk to shops
Le Fonti, Cervarezza Terme, Italy Large site with lots of bungalows, pitch had spectacular views over the valley, sanitary blocks modern with doors, friendly welcome, roomy hot showers & hot water in sinks
Camper Club Mutina, Modena, Italy Well laid out sosta with some grass & trees, clean facilities & good hot showers, 30 mins cycle ride to centre & given a map at reception
Camping Village Mar Y Sierra, Stacciola near Mondolfo, Italy Terraced site & shaded pitches, lovely views across a valley to a pretty Italian town, peaceful.  Facilities clean & modern, showers cramped but hot, adjustable & continuous
Camping Acrogiai, Riza, Greece Had a pitch facing the sea, lots of statics, right on beach, pitch sloped, facilities clean & spacious, water lukewarm, 2 small yapping dogs run around freely!
Camping Apollon, Delphi, Greece Terraced site with stunning views across the bay.  English spoken at reception, bread, marked pitches with some trees, hot water for wash-up & showers, clean facilities, good
Afrodites Waters, Ancient Corinth Very friendly welcome and given fruit & honey.  Small gravel site with marked pitches but little space, 2 toilets & shower & wash-up, water lukewarm, 10 mins walk to Ancient Corinth
Nicholas II, Epidavros On the seafront and under trees, facilities shabby but clean, water only lukewarm for wash up but very hot for showers
Camping Apollon, Delphi As good as the first time!
Camping Sikia, Kato Gatzea, Pelion Peninsular Simply the best campsite.  Friendly owners, beautiful facilities, peaceful coastal location with lovely views from pitches, great walking from the site, lovely bistro.

Meet a Frustrated Travel Agent!

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If I was a travel agent I might send everyone to Austria!

As Thomas Cook disappeared from our high streets I thought about the travel agent’s role and wondered if it will exist for much longer.  This got me thinking … is this a job I should have taken up as a teenager?  I could see myself sitting behind a desk with a PC and a stack of brochures, getting paid to inspire customers with ideas for their dream holiday.  I would explore with each person what makes them tick, what type of holiday they want, what their interests are and try to fit the people to their ideal destination.  Instead travel advice has become something I do freely and perhaps too enthusiastically.  I am always chipping in to help [or overwhelm] friends, colleagues and strangers in the planning of their trips.

A typical example is a friend who was taking her first trip to the West Coast of Scotland and asked if I had any places I would recommend.  Quite sometime later she left with a long list of what I considered were just a start on my top tips of places to visit in this beautiful part of the world, from the grandeur of Glencoe to the stunning Torridon.  When it comes to travel I can never be accused of being unenthusiastic!

Another friend was beginning to plan a trip to Slovenia and asked if I had any recommendations.  Never short of ideas, I emailed her a list from my own experience in that gorgeous country and last year I was able to help a fellow travel writer with suggestions for places to camp on a a trip across Germany from the Czech Republic.

In this last month I was asked for ideas for campsites in the Lake District.  I had to make myself stop after I had listed ten recommendations, each with a link to the website, a review of each site including its pros and cons and what they can do from the site.  At our tai chi class recently I was recommending at length some nearby gardens for snowdrops to a fellow class mate.  My enthusiasm knows few bounds and I don’t always spot the signs that I am overwhelming people!

I can’t help putting my two penn’orth in on social media too and this is a fantastic place for the frustrated travel agent.  I spot a question about somewhere I have visited and I pile in with ideas and tips for campsites and special places to visit.  People ask so many questions about places that are new to them on the various motorhome and campervan groups and lots of fellow travellers will willingly and enthusiastically pipe up with their own recommendations.  I don’t need to yearn to be employed as a travel agent these days, I can just spend my days [when I am not travelling] cruising social media looking for people that are longing for my input!

It isn’t all one-way traffic, I am a taker as well as a giver and I am inspired by other people’s trips.  I note down new places to visit, ideas for walks and campsites and countries to explore that I find on social media.  I also avidly read other travel writers who generously share their favourite places and secret corners to visit via blogs, MMM and Campervan magazines and books.

It is too late for me to be a real travel agent but I can keep sharing my love for travelling with others so that they can also enjoy amazing trips and on the high street Hays Travel seem to be making a success of taking over Thomas Cook, so the travel agent certainly isn’t gone yet!