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.