Swale to Swaledale
|01/10/2013||Filled under caravanning, Carradale, England, Scotland|
Ducky feels more and more like home to us during this extended period of travelling about. Before we left Carradale we had a long list of places to visit, people to drop in on, but the next stopping place on our grand tour only occurs to us after we realise we would be passing so close. This is a surprise visit, it turns out, because we have no phone number to warn ahead that we are coming, but Geoffrey and Mary prove welcoming and accommodating just the same. We knew they would, of course, because they are from our own village of Carradale and only recently took up residence here in Suffolk. Their beautiful new home is in many ways more suitable than their house in Carradale but they miss the place like crazy and are keen to hear all our news. The fact is that were it not for Geoffrey’s efforts a few years ago we might not have been visiting them at all for it was he who once converted the original minibus into the motorhome we arrive in – he is ‘the man who built Ducky’. As well as fitting out motorcaravans, Geoffrey is also a talented artist and many examples of his work now adorn his new home, romantically inspired pieces out of which peer some familiar faces. We share a sunny afternoon with them but regrettably we have to leave as we still have the task of locating our next caravan site ahead of us.
Despite there being hundreds, if not thousands of camping sites in Britain, if there is a single up to date publication which includes every one, we have yet to find it. Using the Internet as our primary reference we have found that many listed sites no longer exist (or at least we cannot find them). Fortunately, however, out in the real world there are plenty which are clearly signposted with brown road signs and there are still more surprise ones whose existence only becomes apparent on arrival by chance at the entrance. Then there are the barren lands where nobody camps. These ‘camping deserts’, as it were, only become evident when we have nothing planned and are driving along relying on chance to find a site for the night, becoming more and more desperate as the day lengthens. Like buses, of course, they will soon all arrive at once and we have a cluster of them to choose from.
It is a combination of chance and planning, however, that brings us to a campsite in Yorkshire’s Swaledale where the red-haired manager directs us to a position backing onto the River Swale itself. Perhaps he senses we have travelled so recently from that other Swale back in Kent and wants us to compare and contrast, to see which we prefer. The two pieces of water could not be more different, however. This one runs in a single direction, fast over stones, clear water which is alive with sticklebacks and other tiny fish, water which is slowly eroding itself deeper and deeper into the land. The Swale we are more familiar with back in Kent sits on its bed of mud which each year becomes thicker, the water shallower, the creeks gradually silting until they become land and only the faintest outline remains of what was once sea. We conclude that it is only the name that these two waters share.
What might be the last visit on this journey around England takes us to see friends Adrian and Jill who live in Barnard Castle on the edge of the north Pennine hills. We take tea with them whilst catching up on our separate stories since we left them outside Kew Gardens some four years ago. The intervening years have seen us sail around Britain once or twice whilst they and their three young children emigrated to New Zealand for a spell. We take pleasure in showing off Ducky to them giving them ideas for their next adventure, we hope.
Leaving ‘Barnie’ we have high hopes that our GPS lady, K2, can guide us across the country to the tiny village of Colby in Westmoreland where our guidebook tells us is a large, superbly appointed camping ground with every possible facility on offer.
The air is spectacularly clear and as we drop down from the moor the whole of the Lake District is spread out before us, Colby nestling in a quiet valley somewhere below. Eventually the voice on our dashboard politely informs us we have arrived at our destination, the centre of a quiet village of less than thirty houses and an unlikely setting for a large campsite. But then, through a gate, we spot a sign welcoming us to a tiny field no larger than our own back garden so we squeeze through and make ourselves comfortable. This is certainly not what we expected, the amenities are sparse, to say the least, but we have a self-contained camping style and need only the basics to keep us happy. The real charm this place has, which is not to be found in the guidebook, are the guinea fowl, rotund, grey birds with disproportionately small heads, who strut around beside us as we watch the sun go down. That, and the fact that we share the place and the night with no other campers.
Despite Britain being an island we realise that we have travelled many miles since our last sight of the sea back at Oare Creek near Faversham in Kent. Because we missed seeing the River Thames estuary by driving beneath it, the next time we catch sight of the sea is on crossing the Erskine Bridge over the River Clyde in Scotland, with home only a few hours away. Throughout this long journey north the sun shines bravely on us, one single weather pattern progressing across the country at about the same speed as our own movement so that the rain behind it never quite catches us up. Fortune smiles on us, although one result of this is that our fly-spattered windscreen badly needs a wash by the time we arrive home.