Friday, 26 June 2009

Plan? What Plan?

Our route to the Western Isles of Scotland was partly dictated by a family event and stop-offs for essential repairs. The pins in the map included my parents' golden wedding anniversary in Dorset and various ports of call, eg back to Airstream in Cumbria, where our 684 could be handed over to the experts in the reinforcing and replacing of trailer bits. Unfortunately we had to endure an unpleasant Bank Holiday in the Cotswolds on the way. I'll gloss over that for now because I'm still bitter and I don't need to go there right now. The story includes rude campsite wardens, hundreds of unfriendly campers and under-performing batteries. Let's leave it there for today.

On a very positive note, when we went into Chipping Norton we were firstly cheered up by that most rare of occurrences, a free car park! Perhaps there is hope for the future of civilisation and the sharing of warm fuzzy feelings throughout the land. If that doesn't do it I know a place that will. I mean the heavenly Jaffe and Neale bookshop and cafe. This place fulfils two of my two essentials for life, books and decent coffee. Oh, and cake. And warm, friendly human beings, and a peaceful atmosphere. OK there are several things essential to a happy life and Jaffe and Neale knows all about them and wants to share them with you. Get yourself in there and indulge and emerge a happier bunny, like I did, twice. I also bought from there, among other things, How To Be Free by Tom Hodgkinson, which has been making me chuckle out loud and reinforcing my conviction that it is possible to have a life separate from employers and institutions.

We left the nasty site with the rude wardens and spent a few days at a farm near to Bibury. It's always a relief after that packed-in feeling on the bigger sites to find ourselves in a field again, with views of trees and sky and a more distant horizon. Bibury is a very attractive village, the sort that people visit to mill about for an hour or so and eat ice cream. We did. You know how you do? You look at the swans in the river and at the well preserved, captured-in-time prettiness and at something of historical interest (in this case, Arlington Row, medieval cottages, still inhabited), and everyone you pass looks straight through you as if you weren't there. They probably wish you weren't there, getting in the way of their photographs and taking up space on the footpaths.

Anyway, there are plenty of pretty villages and towns like that in the Cotswolds and some good walking too, apparently. We checked out some ancient sites while we were in the area. Belas Knap, for example, is an enormous chambered long barrow about 55 metres long actually. It sits on the top of a steep hill, above Humblebee Woods, three miles south of Winchcombe. It has been well excavated and partly reconstructed and there are four chambers evident now. Apparently 38 skeletons were found inside. We were there at about six in the evening and skylarks chattered, bees buzzed about, electric pylons could be seen for miles. The Cotswolds are strewn with them. It doesn't detract, they're just there, ancient and modern side by side.

Earlier that day we had seen Chedworth Roman Villa. We all know how much the Romans did for us; roads, personal hygiene, etc. At Chedworth it is very clear how important bathing was to them and how skilfully heating and plumbing was incorporated into a villa. Naturally they had under floor heating too. Not a modern invention after all but a recycled clever idea.

On a sunny Sunday we took a drive to Oxfordshire to see the Uffington White Horse and Wayland's Smithy long barrow. We have seen a few white horses carved into the sides of hills on our travels. Some are Victorian impostors but this is the genuine article, a late bronze age carving, so about three thousand years old. We didn't really find a good vantage point from where to admire the whole horse. It sits almost on the top of the hill. You can literally walk all over it, but of course then you can't see what it is that you're walking on. People were enjoying the sunshine, sitting around and within it's outlines, chatting. A man flew a kite nearby.
This is its head, upside down.

About a twenty five minute walk along The Ridgeway took us to Wayland's Smithy. This was a beautifully atmospheric wooded place which had been a burial site since around 3700 BC. It was peaceful, shady and sun-dappled, a background of birdsong, old trees patiently displaying years of hand carved initials.

But we had a plan and we needed to keep moving. One of our Airstreaming friends, Andrew had put word out that he would be touring around the Outer Hebrides in May/June and we liked the sound of that. With a bit of organising we should be able to meet up along the way. En route we could also do a bit of Wales and get our repairs and maintenance seen to in the North West. People often ask us how far ahead we plan our movements on our Airstreaming road trip. This is a typical plan. There's usually a direction (north-west) with some possible fixed points along the way (Airstream headquarters) and the rest we decide day by day, pretty much.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Life's A Beach

We are on the Isle of Lewis and we had driven along the B895 until it ran out and became what is known as The Bridge To Nowhere. One minute it's a road, then it's a bumpy track, then it's a bumpy track with grass growing on it and sheep grazing. We looked down on cliffs, tried to identify sea birds (there will be a test at some point), watched gulls and gannets diving into the deep turquoise sea. (I need to find some alternative words for turquoise because if am to write about the outer Hebrides it will get worn out). We wondered at the chunks of quartz embedded in the rocks and where does all the water come from to form a waterfall? I guess all this peat and moss is one giant sponge which gradually wrings out its moisture which then trickles to meet the other trickles until they gush and tumble over the rocks.

And that is when I thought, what a perfect way to occupy ourselves right now. Or any time really. We are free to wonder at the incredible beauty and dignity of this place. We are breathing the sweet-smelling air, walking on beaches and hillsides, dressing for rain AND sunshine and wowing childlike at the resulting rainbows.

These islands, I have discovered, are where rainbows are made. Often there is rain or mist with sunshine. You can see a whole rainbow from end to end, which is pretty amazing. You can be underneath a rainbow. You can see its ends disappearing into the grass. Until just a few years ago I had lived most of my life in London where rainbows just peeped above the rooftops, here I have been enveloped by them.

Then there is that turquoise sea. (I looked it up in the thesaurus, no joy, and blue-green simply doesn't cut it). I love being close to the coast anyway. On this trip we have followed a lot of coastline and, if we had needed to visit a more inland area we would soon get a yearning for the salty air and make a beeline back to the sea. What I usually find so invigorating is splashing, crashing waves, the air and the breezes and winds which blow into your face and mess up your hair. One campsite warden in Cornwall told me, "Every day is a bad hair day round here."

I like sand, pebbles, cliffs, seaweed, shells, lighthouses, deckchairs, piers, random detritus, joggers, dogs endlessly fetching a thrown ball.

Best of all, I like a deserted beach with crystal clear sea and talc-soft sand. Welcome to the Outer Hebrides. I've mentioned rainbows, well turquoise was created here too. The colour of the sea is psychedelic. It has this wonderful uplifting effect. Your eyes want to soak it up, your chest expands and your lungs want to breathe it in. No photograph can capture it, no words conjure it. It cannot be imagined.
I like it. I like it a lot.


Friday, 19 June 2009

The Parish Notices...

OK, so I lied about there being more soon, but it's not our fault. Honest!

We're in the Outer Hebrides where our mobile internet provider hasn't even bothered to give us a phone signal for most of the time, let alone a 3G connection for internet access. But now we've found a campsite where they possess that supernatural being of the airwaves - WiFi. So rest assured that there will be a whole lot of updates going on in the next few days.

in the meantime, there are a couple of things I'd like to draw your attention to, if you'll indulge me....

Firstly, following on from the great time we had back in March, I'm organising another Airstream get-together. It will be at the Bracelands Caravan Park and Campsite near Christchurch in Gloucestershire over the weekend of 11th - 13th September. If anyone would like more details, please use the Contact details here. If anyone is even remotely interested, please let me know ASAP so that I have an idea of numbers and can work out costs, though I expect it to be no more than £30 or £40 for the weekend. Please don't contact the site directly since they probably don't know about it yet - I'm dealing with central office.

Secondly, we've done a bit of a face-lift on our website. It's mostly a collection of our better photos, but there's a bit more info about the four of us too. Have a look and please, if you have any feedback, drop me a line.

Thirdly, again following on from the meet in March, we've created a forum for UK Airstream owners. The US Airstream Knowledge Sharing Forum, Airforums, is a brilliant resource for all things Airstream, but isn't really a good tool for UK owners to keep in touch. If you have an Airstream and you need any help/advice/sanity from other owners, please have a look and join us at the UK Airstream Forum.

Finally, I hope no-one is offended by the inclusion of GoogleAds on the page. I'm guessing that many of you haven't even registered that they're there. GoogleAds programme policy prevents me from encouraging you to explore those ads, so I am in no way asking you to click there, but if I can ever find out how to make something other than plumbers and B&B's in Norfolk appear, there may be something of interest to you.

We will be back with more about the journey soon. Honest.