Posted in Travel

The Unusual Souvenirs of Camper Van Travel

Our camper van outside Linlithgow Palace, Scotland
Outside our last stop in Scotland this summer: Linlithgow Palance

As regular readers may know, my family’s favourite mode of holiday transport is the camper van. For me, one of the many joys of camper van travel is that no matter where you go, your vehicle gradually turns into a mobile museum of everywhere you’ve ever been. I don’t mean we fill our van with souvenirs acquired in gift shops. I’m thinking more of everyday domestic items acquired from local shops in whichever country we’re passing through.

The Esperanto Kitchen

Take the kitchenette. The kitchen roll is French, printed with puzzling slogans about champignons, whereas the tea towel depicts the Outer Hebrides. Snacks are offered up on a French tray printed with macarons. A wooden Provençal tomato punnet is now filled with wrapped Welsh sweets. Having used the last of the Belgian soups that broadened our knowledge of Flemish words for vegetables, we’ve just restocked the soup shelf with tartan tins of “Granny’s Scotch Broth” in the North West Highlands of Scotland. Currently in the biscuit tin are handmade lavender shortbread, purchased at the Achiltibuie Piping School Café, which was quieter than expected because the Pipers were on a summer tour of France. Admittedly some of our supplies have more prosaic origins, i.e. Tesco, but at least they came from the Inverness branch.

Reading on the Road

Cover of the memoir of the founding of the Highland Folk Museum
The best book I read on holiday this summer

As I like to read books about the places we’re visiting, our on-board library bears price labels from distant bookstores. (If you’re ever in Inverness, seek out Leakey’s.) We also buy novels from shops raising money for charities that we’ve never heard of. Blythe Community Care was everywhere we went this summer.

This cosmopolitan mix may be taken simply to indicate a lack of advance planning – I admit that we did once set off on a month’s tour of France without a map or guidebook for that country – but for me the eclectic atmosphere is part of the fun.

Tropic of Tetbury

Preparing to head home after this summer’s adventures, it occurred to me that one man’s exotic is another man’s local. As we import our latest Scottish bounty to Gloucestershire, others will be heading away with treasures acquired in Tetbury. They’ll be dropping Hobbs House crumbs into the pages of the books acquired in the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, and remembering to tell their friends about cafés named just as eccentrically as our Highland find. Can there really be a Two Toads anywhere else?

And probably, just like me, as they walk back in through their own front door, they’ll be congratulating themselves that no matter how much they’ve enjoyed their holiday, there really is no place like home.

Picture of lavender shortbread from Achiltibuie Piping School Cafe
We left a trail of these crumbs all the way home

(This post was originally published in the Tetbury Advertiser, September 2013 edition.)

More tales of our Scottish summer holiday will follow shortly.

but here’s one for starters:

Beachcombing in Ullapool – A Story Behind Every Stone

 

Posted in Family, Travel

Beachcombing in Ullapool – A Story Behind Every Stone

wp 20130802 002
Laura looks for treasure on Ullapool’s shore on Loch Broom, Scotland

We’re in Ullapool, on the north west coast of Scotland, and my husband, our ten-year-old daughter Laura and I are beachcombing along the pebbly shores of Loch Broom. It’s a sea loch, which means it opens out into the sea rather than being enclosed by land and its water is salty. Who knows what treasures we might find here, washed up on these ancient shores?

My husband always casts a scientific slant on these expeditions. His natural reaction is to classify the rocks with their correct technical names.

“Ah, that’s an aggregate, ” he declares, dismissing a glorious hotch-potch of a rock with a single harsh word.

A couple of days earlier, on Nairn beach, I’d been pleased to find a heart-shaped piece of sea glass, particularly because I’m working on a story of lost love called “Sea Glass”. Its pale, opalescent surface, gently scoured by the sea, hints at secrets locked within.

“It’s only a basilisc pebble,” is Gordon’s reaction to my find.

I decide not to tell him how much I paid for a pair of delicate green sea glass earrings in Strathpeffer en route to Ullapool.

wp 20130802 004
So where’s the rest of the house?

Although not all our beachcombing finds are so classically pretty, all are beautiful. Today I’m intrigued by a house brick, its once sharp corners softly rounded by the sea. Where is the rest of the house? I wonder. Has it fallen into the sea? How far has this brick travelled?

My daughter has tuned in to my thoughts.

“I can’t stop looking at all the pebbles,” she declares. “There are so many of them, and behind every stone there is a story.”

And every stone is different, ground to a unique shape and size by relentless, indiscriminate tides. The sea is an unbenevolent creator.

For a moment, I see myself as a pebble, tiny among a universe of pebbles that extends in either direction as far as the eye can see – inland to the far end of Loch Broom, out to sea where the loch broadens to segue into the sea, flowing out around the Outer Hebrides before rushing towards more distant lands. Its next stop: Canada and the USA, to whose shores so many impoverished Highlanders fled in the wake of the unspeakably cruel Highland Clearances. For most of these reluctant emigrants, these pebbly shores of Loch Broom would have been the last they ever saw of their beloved Home Country.

As Laura slips three carefully chosen stones into her pocket as bounty, I touch my sea glass earrings with renewed appreciation. We’ll treasure the few stones that we can, each in our own way.

The rewards of beachcombing