13th till 16th of July, 2014
On week 47 of our tour, I scheduled a surprise for the boys. A few days with no gadgets, no TV, no electricity even. Some surprise, huh?
An all back to nature, All camping, all hiking, all campfire – boys own adventure – in a gypsy caravan.
After a long, wondrously scenic train ride we arrived in the sleepy village of Langwathby. We lugged children, luggage and two huge bags of shopping down to the town in the softly falling rain. We stopped at the Shepard’s Inn for our pre-arranged meeting. Here we awaited the arrival of Wanderlust’s creators Barny and Katus. I had been chatting to Barny for a long while via email and we had worked out a budget arrangement that suited us both. He was as impressed by our undertaking of a family gap year as we were by his crafting of gypsy caravans and the creation of Wanderlust. They sort to provide opportunities for people to experience an alternative lifestyle closer to nature. That’s what we were here for.
Soon we were all packed into a car and driven out to our site. Situated on the edge of a famers field, close to Public Walkways and (currently closed) paint-balling facilities, this would be our home for the next few days.
On Day two, we visited the nearby paintball trenches, then walked the public walkway to nearby St Michaels church in Addington. We were the only ones there and pleased to find the peaceful church open. We admired it’s simplicity and colourful stained glass before heading onwards to the village of Glassonby. Here we picked a few wild strawberries, played on the playground and had a picnic lunch before heading home. We had dinner than fell asleep to a grey sky.
We awoke to the same dim clouded skies and had breakfast before it began to dawn on us a few hours later, that it was not yet morning but probably the evening of the same day. It’s not so easy to keep track of time with no clock and no sight of the sun – also sunset occurs at 9.30pm at this time of year.
We thought we would make the most of our full day and walk our longest hike today. First through fields of ripening grain, then pushing through lanes of bramble,wildflowers and nettle. We stumbled on a field of Christmas trees no higher than Lucas. Then as we crossed an inclining field, the wonder of an ancient stone circle was slowly revealed. Long Meg and her daughters is the third largest stone circle in Britain. This “Druids circle”,it is actually much, much older, dating from the Neolithic (4000 – 6000 years ago). Distinctive cup and ring markings can be seen on the large sandstone Long Meg.
We then continued finally meeting the road above Little Salkeld. After a incorrect deviation: via a public bridleway; across a few back yards (containing apple trees); across a field containing a few miniature ponies and into a cow field – a kindly farmer redirected us in the right direction. We finally reached out furthest point the Little Salkeld Watermill. This was a warm haven from the drizzle and our weary band hunkered down for a few hours to recharge before the long walk back. We enjoyed seeing the workings of this mill and indulging in it’s excellent produce in the tearooms. The Watermill are specialist Millers of Organic & Biodynamic; Stoneground Wheat, Rye, Barley & Spelt Flours from British grain. They also supply, pack & distribute Organic Porridge Oats & Cereals.
So yes we indulged in it’s many delights, sharing: Home-made vegetable soup with a plate of different breads; Scone with butter home-made jam and cream; homemade cake; hot chocolate and a pot of tea. We walked the road route home so we could stop at the pick-your-own raspberry farm. Here the boys enjoyed picking these ripe red berries whilst tasting as they went. Then with a punnet to eat on the next mornings muesli we headed happily homewards. Dinner cooked on the campfire and bed.
This was our last day here. Our taxi would arrive at 4pm. Saving the best till last we set off to see the river and the renowned caves. On the public walkway and then along the edge of a field and into the dark woods. Finally we hit the River Eden and stumbled upon the beautiful red limestone caves. The caves were excavated from the soft sandstone by Samuel Lacy in the 18 century, when such romantic follies were popular on country estates. I was fascinated by their shades of colour and undulating texture.
We then walked along the River Eden. Had it been a warm day we could have happily swam in it’s inviting waters and lingered longer on it’s small sandy and pebbled stretches of beach. We followed the old track bed that served the Gypsum mines seeing a huge fallen tree and a part of the track that had totally collapsed. Then past a view of a spectacular railway viaduct before rounding a substation.
This is when we decided brashly to leave the public walkway and make our way through the cave woods. At one point we walked on tiny animal tracks as the woods darkened around us and it became increasingly hard to push through the undergrowth, especially with small boys in tow. A decision had to be made as we had become bogged down. We decided to head uphill towards the light of a field. Walking around the woods, made the going much easier and we soon found ourselves again at the stone circle where we were able to retrace our path of yesterday in reverse and weary but adventure filled return to pack and board the taxi as the rain poured down.
On our days here, we had lost track of time, built fires every morning and evening, seen few people and been plagued by rain. We had read Roald Dahl’s “The Giraffe, the Pelly and Me”, run across fields, explored caves, prayed in churches, painted pet rocks, been on adventures, cooked on the fire, gazed at the stars, shared beds, awoken to crisp mornings and talked by firelight.
Once while hiking, Reuben asked me if there was anywhere I would rather be and truthfully I could say no. I felt privileged to be with my boys at this very moment sharing this adventure together.