Posted in Family, Travel

Travelling Light, Laura’s Way

A post about our latest trip in our camper van Debbie and her husband on their walk in Wales


Over a decade after buying our first camper van, I like to think we’ve mastered the art of travelling light. We’ve acquired all sorts of tips and tricks that I’m compiling into a little book, along with some anecdotes about our adventures, to be called Travels With My Camper Van. (I’m a bit of a one for obvious book titles, me.)

One of my top tips is not to pack bags at all. You can load some stuff straight into the cupboards before you set off – food, toiletries, books, games. Clothes can be easily transferred on their hangers from your wardrobe at home to the van’s slim wardrobe. Non-hanging items, such as pyjamas and underwear, are best stashed into cheap Ikea laundry baskets – one per person, plus a spare. During our travels, we gradually transfer clothes, as we use them, from the clean baskets to the laundry one – and that gets unpacked straight into the utility room on our return home. Laura crossing a stile


Or so the theory goes. We have had a few hiccups along the way. For example, we once carefully packed a weekend basket for the three of us and didn’t realise till we reached our destination, Ross-on-Wye, that we’d left the basked tidily on the bed at home. Fortunately Ross-on-Wye is well equipped with cheap clothes shops and charity shops, so we bought what we needed to remain clothed and hygienic until we returned home. (We always manage to boost the local economy wherever we go.)

Earlier this week, as it’s the half-term holiday (which means a week off school in this country), we were packing for three days and four nights away to walk the next stage of the Offa’s Dyke Path. That’s an ancient and historic footpath that traverses Wales. We’ve done about half of it so far. Laura had turned 11 a few days before, and in her enthusiasm to embark on this trip had packed her own basket before I had to ask her. This ability, like her new-found enthusiasm for making a cup of tea, is a welcome bonus of growing up.

Laura and Gordon on the path ahead


Only when I took out her basket on the first day of the holiday did I realise my confidence in her efficiency had been misplaced. She had packed precisely one pair of leggings, one t-shirt and a party dress. She was clearly expecting this walking holiday to be more fun than we were. Her constant companion, Heather the rabbit, who serves as ventriloquist’s dummy rather than cuddly toy these days, had packed her roller skates. WP_20140527_001


Still, I could hardly take either of them to task for bad packing: I had only one walking boot. Fortunately I wear the same size shoes as my husband, and he never travels with fewer than three pairs. Half term May 2014 Offa's Dyke Path - Copy


As he’d be the first to remind me, travelling light is all very well, but it’s possible to go too far.

Still, a good time was had by all – and the fact that we’d packed so little made the task of unpacking afterwards even less irksome. Like mother, like daughter – ever the optimists.

sheep in the fields

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll like this one about Laura’s earlier packing triumph: How to Pack for the Summer Holidays

And this one about my husband’s attitude to packing for a scientific field study course: Travelling Light

Plus another cautionary tale for travellers – be careful who you sit next to on the plane: Flight of Fancy

Posted in Travel

Wye I Run: 4 Miles Along the River Bank

My daughter and two swans on the WyeThe first sunny Sunday for weeks finds me on an action replay of one of my favourite runs, along the banks of the River Wye. We’re in Monmouth, Wales, for the Bank Holiday weekend and the sun is out in full force to remind us that it’s Spring. I don my running kit and before stepping out along the riverbank path, I retrieve my phone from my daughter, who has been snapping a pair of extrovert ducks from every angle. They are very obliging models, realising that she is the same little girl who earlier dispensed half a loaf of Hobb’s House finest sliced amongst them.

our camper van parked by the boathouse on the WyeThe path alongside the River Wye offers a varied, scenic, level route with plenty to see along the way, distracting my brain from just how far I’m running. The sky is cornflower blue, the grass a lush Granny-Smith green after all the rainfall, and the river is rushing by high and fast.

There’s surprisingly little mud along the way, considering we’ve just emerged from the wettest April on record. Eager teams of rowers are issuing forth from the boathouse, alongside which we’ve parked our camper van. They are swept along at a ferocious pace. Their return journey will tax their arm muscles, for sure.

sheep in a field by the River  Wye in MonmouthWatching the rowers is one of the great pleasures of this run. There are also plenty of creatures that are watching me. Sheep and cows turn their heads as if synchronised, as if to monitor my progress through their particular fields. Ducks and swans, gliding gently by, look slightly pityingly at my less graceful progress. Their silent sailing makes my running seem all too clumsy and energy-inefficient.

a Red Indian style tipi in a field on the River WyeI know this route well, field by field,  but, as ever, my run is not without surprises. As I enter a field that is usually empty of everything but pasture, I am startled to discover that since my last visit it’s been colonised by Red Indians. But then I spot an array of 4x4s nearby and I realise that these are not Pawnees but townies, following the latest camping trend. I wonder how they got their tent-poles in these cars.

photo with view through the gatehouse on the Monnow Bridge, MonmouthThis is indeed a timeless route, surrounded by a sense of genuine history, both cultural (I’m thinking of you, Mr Wordsworth) and imperial (pay attention,  Offa, and Admiral Nelson). I cross bridges ancient and modern, running through the narrow gatehouse on the landmark Monnow Bridge. A blue plaque informs me that the Monnow Bridge was built in 1270 and is the only medieval bridge in Britain to support its own gatetower. And, my overseas readers, I mean Britain, not England: as the Welsh translation reminds me, we are in proudly Welsh territory here. (Yes, Owain Glyndwr, I haven’t forgotten you either.)  I’m so overwhelmed that I add a few loops to my run so that I can cross this unique bridge several times more.

bilingual sign for Offa's Dyke PathBeyond the Monnow Bridge, I travel further back in time, reaching a stretch of Offa’s Dyke Path. Very loosely speaking, this is Wales’ answer to Scotland’s Hadrian’s Wall, only a few hundred years newer.

In all, I think I cross the Monnow seven times, but with hindsight I think it must have been six or eight, or else I’d still be on the other side of it.

old bridge across the MonnowIt beats me how an athletics track or treadmill can hold anyone’s interest when our countryside is awash (lately quite literally) with such scenic routes, all free to access. This run is satisfying on so many levels: luscious fresh air, stunning scenery, pensive solitude, and an inescapable feeling of being a part of national history. The whole experience is enormously life-affirming.

church near MonmouthExcept when  I’m passing the beautiful, tiny medieval church whose churchyard borders the river the other side of the boathouse. Its whitewashed walls are luminous in the morning’s brilliant sunshine. If I were an artist, I’d want to whip out an easel and capture nature’s bright blues and greens that set it off so well. But then I notice, also glinting in the sun, two shiny new gravestones at my feet: these weren’t here last time I ran this route, less than a year ago. I pick up  my pace and scarper. It feels very good to be alive.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like this piece about Running  In Wonderland or this one about our walk along more of  Offa’s Dyke Path

Posted in Family, Reading, Travel

Offa’s Dyke Path, Laura’s Way

When my daughter Laura had just turned two years old, we decided we’d walk the Offa’s Dyke Path – the national trail that runs along the ancient English-Welsh border.

From the start, on the banks of the River Severn near Chepstow, we agreed we’d be realistic about our ambition. Accordingly, each year, we’ve done just two or three short segments of the 177 mile long Path. At first she would tire easily and we’d have to carry her, but lately the problem has not been her energy – she literally skips up some steep slopes – but her willingness. With the squeamishness of most seven year olds, she has developed an aversion to cross country routes due to the presence of animal poo. So we’re developed some handy diversionary strategies to keep her marching on.

Our first tactic was to let her play with my mobile phone. As it was loaded with the Mamma Mia soundtrack, Laura positively danced past the sheep that day. On her sixth birthday, this was replaced with a pink iPod shuffle, featuring all her favourite songs and stories, and providing the important benefit of earphones. (The sheep had a whip-round.)

Second, we now always load our pockets with snacks, preferably the kind that can be made to last a long time. As Laura’s diabetic, I always have a packet of LoveHearts to hand in case of hypos. Not only are these handy for instant inflight refuelling, they also provide entertainment as we read and discuss the slogan printed on each one. These have moved with the times since I was a child, now saying things like “Text Me” and most recently (and bizarrely) “Me Julie”.

Thirdly, we allow a couple of lightweight toys to stow away in our rucksacks. These are useful for impromptu games along the way. This week, the sight of Ken helping Barbie courteously over stiles provided excellent entertainment for us all.

Community singing is a great standby, especially songs that can be adapted to suit our walks. “The Wheels on the Bus” easily accomodates “sheep on the bus”, “cows on the bus” and so on, though I wouldn’t like to be a passenger on that particular double-decker. “One Man Went to Mow” proved popular during our Easter walks, with the dog-mad Laura enthusiastically providing the “Woof-woofs” for up to 27 men going to mow before the game started to pall (and Mummy to run out of puff). I’m keeping “10 Green Bottles” up my sleeve.

But best of all is my latest ploy: to read books as we walk along. “Multi-tasking at its finest,” as a friend described it when I told her about our Easter trip.

For some reason, Roald Dahl has become a natural companion on Offa’s Dyke. Maybe it’s his Welsh upbringing coming into play. “The Fantastic Mr Fox” saw us out of Hay-on-Wye and will be forever associated in my mind with the sublime views from Hergest Ridge. (Though I did manage to finish it in time to catch Mike Oldfield’s glorious eponymous album on my own iPod before we descended.) “The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me” took us up the steep rise out of Kington, and “Danny the Champion of the World” saw us down the other side.

I think I may have discovered a whole new pastime here. I’m keen to find further books that will take us on appropriate walks. Some are blindingly obvious: “Three Men in a Boat” along the Thames towpath, “Cider with Rosie” for the Cotswold Way. But contrasts would be fun too: the alpine story of “Heidi” in Holland, “Born Free” on a city break. There’ll be a packet of LoveHearts for the sender of the best suggestion.