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 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.

Posted in Personal life, Travel

John O’Groats – via Hawkesbury

John o' Groats sign
Image by Auz via Flickr

Driving back from Yate down Sandpits Lane, I slow down to read a message on the backpack of a lone walker: “Land’s End to John O’Groats – for Derby Cancer Research”.  Is he lost? I wonder, and stop the car for a chat.

Not at all, it turns out.  Chris, for that is his name, has just chosen a spectacular route for his epic journey, including the Cotswold Way.  (He’s clearly a man of taste.) I slip him a few quid for his sponsorship fund and invite him to my house for a cup of tea, if he feels like making a detour.   Realising it would be cheating if I offered him a lift, I drive off, and that is the last I see of him.

So you can imagine my delight when our lovely postie, Ray, delivers to me a few days later a cheery postcard thanking me for my donation and offer of tea and giving me his web address so that I can follow his progress.  Here’s a snippet of his blog:

“I’m dedicating this walk to the memory of my late brother-in-law Michael, who lost his fight against cancer in October 2004 aged just 51 years.  There is a special magic about the phrase ‘Lands End to John O’Groats’, conjuring up images of challenge and adventure… My immediate challenges were planning the route, contacting and booking almost 80 B&B stops, and having to cope with my failing eyesight. I will be walking 1,150 miles in 79 days (11 weeks) … 15 miles per day. I leave Lands End on March 29th and cross the ‘finish line’ on June 15th (Lucy’s birthday, Mike and Jane’s eldest daughter).“

What a very special birthday present that will be for Lucy.  As the parish mag goes to press, he should just be passing through Derbyshire.  If you’d like to follow his progress, here’s his blog address which also tells you where you can make a donation:

Well, you can never have too much cancer research, can you?
This post was originally published in the May 2010 Hawkesbury Parish News.

Posted in Travel

Reverse Hitchhiking

Last week, driving back from Yate down a country lane that coincides for part of its length with the Cotswold Way, I slow down to read a message on the backpack of a lone walker: “Land’s End to John O’Groats – for Derby Cancer Research”.  I’m intrigued to encounter someone on a rather longer journey than the horseriders and dogwalkers that are commonplace on this route. And it’s not the most obvious route between the two famous points, either.

In 20 years of living near the Cotswold Way, this is only the second time I’ve come across someone who is including it in an LE-JOG trek.  The first time was when my husband was stopped by a pair of young lads looking for the local campsite, which had ceased to exist some years before I moved here.  We let them camp in our garden instead, rustled up an impromptu supper, cooked them a hearty breakfast and filled their backpacks with snacks to keep them going.  We felt like surrogate parents as we sent them on their way.

This time, I slip the lone walker a few quid for his sponsorship fund and invite him to make a slight detour to my house for a cup of tea, giving him my card so that he’ll know the address.  I realise it would be cheating if I offered to drive him there.  So this is like hitchhiking in reverse – stopping to refuse him a lift.

All credit to him, he resists temptation and continues on his planned route, veering away from the village and cutting across fields to stick with the Cotswold Way.  Over the next day or two, from time to time I wonder idly how he is getting on.  So I am delighted to receive, a few days later, a cheery postcard from him, thanking me for my donation and offer of tea, and giving me his web address so that I can follow his progress.

And here is a snippet of his blog:

“I’m dedicating this walk to the memory of my late brother-in-law Michael, who lost his fight against cancer in October 2004 aged just 51 years.  There is a special magic about the phrase ‘Lands End to John O’Groats’, conjuring up images of challenge and adventure. My immediate challenges were planning the route, contacting and booking almost 80 B&B stops, and having to cope with my failing eyesight. Having to retire early from teaching has allowed me to delight in my favourite passion …. walking. I’ve walked several long distance trails, on my own and with friends, but 2010 is the really big one. I will be walking 1,150 miles in 79 days (11 weeks) … 15 miles per day. I leave Lands End on March 29th and cross the ‘finish line’ on June 15th (Lucy’s birthday, Mike and Jane’s eldest daughter).“  What a very special birthday present that will be for Lucy.

If you’d like to follow Chris’s progress too, here is his blog address:

I’m sure any donations would be very welcome too.  Well, you can never have too much cancer research, can you?
Posted in Personal life, Travel

Let the Sunshine In

What a difference a week of sunshine makes!  On returning home yesterday after our walking holiday in Wales, the first thing I notice is that my front garden seems to have exploded.

In a good way, I mean.  Having suddenly appeared from nowhere is a  deep pink curtain of flowering currant blossom, theatrically suspended  above the front wall from a bush that seemed so much smaller when its branches were bare.  Behind the wall,  what had before my departure been bare soil is now festooned with a tangle of deliciously bright lime-green leaves.  This blanket of ground cover is dotted with the violet starbursts of periwinkle flowers.

In the back garden what first catches my eye is a triffid-like mass of rhubarb that I swear wasn’t there last week.  A mini forest of thick deep stems, marbled green and pink, underpin a volcanic eruption of sturdy curling leaves which look far more healthy and vibrant than should be allowed for something so notoriously poisonous.   Closer to hand, the grassy bank immediately behind the house is peppered with yellow and russet primroses, little joyous bursts of colour, random as sparks from fireworks.  Nearby, ancient plum, chestnut and apple trees that looked quite dead just a week ago now bear thick buds, their fruit apparently under starters’ orders.

Forget the holiday laundry, I think to myself, abandoning on the utility room floor the armfuls of clothes that I’ve just brought in from the camper van.  We’d better get straight out into that garden and take charge, before it gets the wrong idea of who’s in control here.  There’s clearly not a moment to lose.

I stride back through the house to call my husband who is busy detaching the bikes from the back of the van.  The sun is sending beams as strong as spotlights through the flowering currant and into the living room, and I suddenly realise that it’s not only the plants that have multiplied  at logarithmic rate while we’ve been away. I run my finger along the top of the piano.  Yes, the same has happened to the dust.
Oh well, at least I had a rest on holiday.