Thursday, 25 April 2019

What a great holiday! But no time for blogging...

No, I'm not dead; nor have I given up blogging; there has just been no time for it.

You will understand that better if I say that since beginning my holiday travels in Sussex on 1st April (25 days ago), I have driven 2,750 miles - 1,200 of them towing my caravan from the south coast of England to the northernmost part of the Scottish mainland, and halfway back again. The remainder - 1,550 miles - represents all my daily outings while 'on site', some of them very long and tiring. I haven't become brain-dead from fatigue; but bear in mind that I'm nearly 67, and there is a limit to what I can accomplish without feeling somewhat stretched. Nevertheless, almost every night I've cooked myself a proper, delicious evening meal - and done the washing-up - before settling down to the necessary hours of photo-editing.

And how many photos? Very nearly 3,000 in those 25 days. Why so many? Well, the weather has been remarkably good so far, sunshine and blue skies being the rule rather than the exception. Fine weather is always a spur to photography, even if it's often been chilly despite the sunshine. Scotland, with its magnificent range of scenery, and things historic, is definitely a photographer's paradise: and even in normal times, I need no excuses to blast away, recording everything of interest.

I'm also conscious that - at least so far as the most northerly bits of Scotland are concerned - this could be my last-ever visit. I can only get there by caravan, a tour using hotels being way too expensive, and I do wonder whether in (say) five years' time this trip can be duplicated. By then, the rising cost of diesel might make it too costly an undertaking; or I might need the money more urgently for buying my next car. Since I plan to buy an all-electric car next time round, there will be range and charging issues that will affect how easy it will be to tow my caravan long distances, and to which destinations. I'm all for 'going green' on my personal transport, but an electric car may not let me go so far from urban areas where fast-charge points might abound. I still expect to reach Scottish places like Fife, but remote Sutherland and Caithness may be out of reach.

Apart from range problems, will a 72 year old Lucy Melford be up for relentless day-after-day travel? I'd like to say a big yes to that, but you never know.

There you have it: a couple of reasons why I went to some places on this year's oddyssey with a sense of possibly never returning. Not because I wouldn't want to, but because I might not be able to.

So I blitzed them. Those places were well and truly photographed. And I got some excellent shots! But my goodness, all the hours that were needed, in order to process them all. For I've kept a high proportion of what I took.

You must imagine me sitting in front of the laptop, listening to Smooth Classics on Classic Fm till gone midnight, nearly every night. Which is actually a good way of passing my evenings: it's an interesting and creative activity, and it's really quite a pleasant task in a comfortable and well-heated caravan, with a break every now and then for tea or coffee. The evening hours fly by, and it's in no way a chore. And as I complete each batch and back it up, I feel that another set of experiences has been captured and preserved for later enjoyment. Truly a labour of love.

Some of the shots will be published to the world on Flickr; a different selection will find their way into future blog posts, tailored to a narrative meant for a more select readership.

But with so much time devoted to my holiday snaps, there was no slot available for any posts, not after the first couple of days. In fact for most of the time I've been anything up to five days behind on my processing, such has been the volume of pictures. Getting on top of that has been the priority. Now that I'm out of Scotland, and shooting less, I'm catching up.

And tonight I found time for this post. There may not be another for a few days, but once home I want to write several posts in quick succession. It's been a great holiday, and I want to share it.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Meeting the Gruffalo

It's extraordinary whom you can meet on a short walk in a wood!

This was yesterday, Day 1 of my Scottish Holiday. I'd reached the Stamford Caravan Club site - which is actually at Fineshade, in the countryside to the south-west. By four o'clock I was nicely ensconced. It was still a lovely warm, sunny afternoon, so I set forth into the adjacent woodland. The Forestry Commission were clearly very keen to encourage not only walking and biking, but also Gruffalo Orienteering.

I wasn't very familiar with the Gruffalo, believing him to be merely a kind of friendly monster found in children's books. I now know that the Gruffalo (introduced to the world in 1999 by Julia Donaldson) was an altogether darker and scarier proposition.

The original story had a mouse wandering in a forest, who encounters a series of animals who want to eat him. He scares them off by claiming to be a chum of the fierce Gruffalo, who loves to eat the very creatures who are threatening the little mouse. They all let him go, not wanting to offend his fierce friend. By and by, and to his consternation, the mouse actually bumps into the Gruffalo - whom he thought was just a figment of his own imagination. And the Gruffalo wants to eat him too. The quick-thinking mouse makes out that despite his tiny size he is a force to be reckoned with, and can prove it by taking the Gruffalo to see the animals already encountered. They of course run for their lives, which convinces the Gruffalo that he ought to do the same. And so the mouse survives.

I'm sure all little children love the Gruffalo, and aren't the slightest bit scared of him, not really. I certainly saw no reason for caution, and set forth into the wood without a care, although I was warned by a notice of a 'Gruffalo Statue' lurking somewhere.

I snapped my fingers at that. Ha, I thought. It can only be some flimsy plastic creation, wafting in the breeze; nothing I need worry about. How wrong I was.

I wasn't going to make this a long walk, and after half a mile I was ready to turn around and go back. But a side-track looked intriguing, and since the afternoon was still fine and sunny, I ventured down it. And immediately my FitBit vibrated on my wrist, telling me that I'd got 10,000 steps in that day, despite spending four hours in the car on the way up to Stamford. I ventured a bit further, and, around a bend, a glade came into view. And there stood a Gruffalo. I'd stumbled upon the statue. It was in fact a carved and painted tree-trunk, but nicely done, and amply imposing and awe-inspiring to any child. I got some pictures.

I did reflect that while the creature looked benign in daylight, it might seem less so after sunset, and positively malignant in twilight. Best not to be walking in the woods after dark! Not that you'd ever do that, what with mad axemen, werewolves, zombies and vampires prowling about, seeking victims.

Mind you, it could be that, if one did manage to make friends with the Gruffalo, he'd keep one safe. As you can see, I tried my best:

Monday, 1 April 2019

Sisterhood at Peterborough Services

The first day of my month-long holiday, and I've arrived at Stamford. Actually, I'm at Fineshade, which is just inside Northamptonshire and a whisker away from Rutland. 163 miles from home, and half-way to the north-east of England.

I've had a very good start to my holiday. The weather was glorious as I left Sussex - sunshine and blue skies, and it would have been warm were it not for the breeze. It stayed fine all the way here, although that clear blue daytime sky has led to a chilly evening. But I'm snug enough.

The traffic was, as expected, pretty dense close to London, but otherwise not a problem. Nor was there a shortage of places to stop at - I like to take a break every couple of hours. I don't mind using the service areas on the motorways, although not all make it easy to park up if you have a caravan in tow. This time I tried out Peterborough Services on the A1(M). It was a mistake: caravans and motorhomes had to park where the haulage lorries went. And the parking spaces there were so arranged that you had to reverse into them.

A car with a caravan hitched onto it is in effect a long articulated vehicle. And manoeuvring any vehicle with a hinge in the middle is no easy proposition, especially when having to go backwards into a narrow slot between gigantic haulage lorries! It doesn't help that haulage drivers are experts at what they do, and I am not. I've never been good at driving backwards, and it's even more of a nightmare with a caravan. What those professional drivers do so effortlessly is a serious challenge for me! I felt under pressure to back into my space quickly and competently, but kept misjudging it and having to straighten up and try again. And lorries were coming and going all the time: I was getting in their way. I hoped they understood that I wasn't parking there by choice - it was how the service area management wanted things to be.

Frankly I needed help - and I got it. A young woman gave me reversing directions. I was only too happy to do as she said. She was the driver of a massive green Scania lorry next to me. She assisted me with patience and a smile, and once I was properly into my space I got out and thanked her. Her lorry is left of my car and caravan in the next shot, and to the right in the following one.

The size of these haulage vehicles! Close up, they are quite intimidating. It's difficult to imagine what it must be like to drive such things, and all haulage drivers have my deep admiration, not least the young lady who gave me help and stopped me making a complete fool of myself. Not that anybody in that parking area showed any signs of displeasure or mockery at my amatuerish attempts to park successfully. I suppose that all of them were inept once, and all must occasionally get stuck.

I wondered about my saviour. She was slim and dark, and might have been any age between twenty-five and forty. She was chirpy and friendly, and had a Merseyside accent. I'm guessing that she got into haulage because her father did it, or might even own a haulage firm and could give her a flying start. Was it a world full of rednecks who had no time for girl drivers? Probably not. Driving has become markedly more professional, and is not nowadays an unusual career for a woman - for instance, an awful lot of buses are driven by women - and I don't imagine that great physical strength is needed any more, just good fitness. It might take an unusual woman to tolerate (and even like) all the hours spent on the road, but I'm guessing that haulage drivers are a close-knit bunch with a good attitude who look after each other, regardless of sex or background, and if there is any potential difficulty or danger in haulage driving, it doesn't normally come from fellow-drivers.

Well, she showed a very good attitude towards me. In fact she showed me sisterhood when I badly needed it. After my break, and before driving off, I made a point of walking round to the front of her cab, where she could see me, and gave her a big heartfelt thumbs-up of gratitude and appreciation.