The Way we Were

Having resorted to trips down the highways of past excursions for inspiration, this week ‘Anecdotage’ returns to present day. 2020. The internment year.

I’ve had to take a break from my long-term photo-essay on French net curtains. I realise this is going to sound like figurative nimbyism, but I’ve taken camping holidays all my life and now everywhere is blocked up with new campers. And I’m deeply suspicious that these are the same, lip-curling, sniffy holiday makers that have turned their noses up at the very thought of camping until now.

We’ve never felt the need to plan-or wanted to. The spontaneity of our kind of travel is one of the joys. We have a vague idea of where we’d like to go. We set off. We research nearby sites. Where is the weather lovely? What is of interest? Where looks good? Are there accessible bars and restaurants for some evening life? Are there walks and cycle paths? Having selected a few possible sites we head for one. In reception we are asked how many nights we’d like. We choose. Maybe two? Maybe more if need be?

Once we’ve explored a place we leave; we move to the next desirable location. We stop en route for some groceries or to have lunch overlooking a beautiful view. If we are travelling in Europe and want to do some distance we may only want overnight stops, in which case we can stay in ‘aires’, often paying only a few euros, sometimes paying nothing. Some aires are in the centres of iconic cities, such as one in Reims. You can park up and be sitting in the sunshine outside a bar sipping a glass of champers in the champagne capital of the world within five minutes of arrival.

Now here we are in 2020. We are contained within our own island of the UK. Many people are contained within their own homes. We must be content with travel within our shores.

But what is this? In an unprecedented rush, a huge portion of the nation wants to camp! Each and every site is as full as they can be [given the distancing] with new vehicles, hastily bought tents, hired rigs. In an instant, pre-booking is mandatory. Spontaneity? Not a hope in Hell. We have to plan ahead. This does not come easily to us.

We are on our third van outing of the year, the first having been a short, local break on the Dorset coast, close to where we live. Stuck with booking, these were possibly the first cloudy, drizzly days of the summer. We walked. We made the best of it. The second trip was to the Kennet and Avon canal at Devizes and it rained-and rained.

Now we are attempting to tour in East Anglia, a place where some of my childhood was spent. We came via Chertsey, where the Thames Path provides some wonderful walks and cycling, as we know from a previous visit. So far so good. We had reserved a place. Now we’ve moved on up to Suffolk, to another pre-booked place [Felixstowe]. This is as far as our bookings went. We had thoughts of visiting Cambridge, Southwold, Aldeburgh.

It is all full. And while the sun shines this morning, rain is promised.

Felixstowe is an odd mix of gargantuan port and archetypal British seaside. Tall pylons and cranes form a backdrop for garish amusement arcades and fish and chip shops.

There is scope for walking and cycling-if the weather holds.

We’ll be continuing our exploration of the Eastern UK-bound by where there is availability.

I’ll let you know…

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