Hitch-hiking and Country High Spots

For me, the late 1950s and the 1960s - and later - meant a time of adventure and the outdoors. From Snowdon to Derbyshire, from Birmingham to Stratford, from Dover to Milan, quite a few blades of grass were covered! At a time when most ordinary people stuck to their holidays by the English seaside or beginning to jet away to sunshine beaches, here are the main summarised highlights of some out-of-the-norm-of-the-time trips (but in-between were many lesser but also enjoyable journeys):

1958/59 : As a 14-year old, I first got the 'cycling bug' and used my home in Birmingham to good effect in the days when the roads were relatively calm. It was on my bike that I explored the places on the way to Stratford-on-Avon and Kenilworth, and (more often) to nearby Earlswood Lakes, and Elmdon Airport for plane spotting. The airport has since become Birmingham International Airport, but in the days I was there the biggest plane it could take was the 4-engined turboprop Vickers Vanguard, and its predecessor, the Viscount. The more common planes were the biplane Tiger Moths and Dragon Rapides, and the ageing piston-engined Douglas Dakota airliner, and Airspeed Ambassador that in 1958 was a carrier of the ill-fated Manchester United football team that suffered at Munich.

1963 : My first belated venture into Youth Hostelling and North Wales. It was there I learnt a lot of patience through being allocated a sack of potatoes to peel as my first chore! The fresh air, roughness and openness of the country highly appealed to me, and I was to visit North Wales' valleys and mountains several times as the 60s wore on, but then as a camper - I only wanted to peel my own potatoes by then!

1964 : A week-end camp with a large group of friends to the hills above Matlock, Derbyshire! A beautiful site which we got to on a balmy Friday evening, some 3 or 4 cars with me a passenger in an open top Morris Minor and listening to 'Friday Night is Music Night' as we went! A very hot Saturday was, however, followed by The Night of The Thunderstorm, when I woke up to find my head lying in a pool of water! We had to quickly break camp at 2 in the morning, and evacuate the place, so heavy was the downpour!

1965 : My first hitch-hiking holiday, and into Europe! The two weeks saw me travelling the length of France (via Paris - the smell of coffee at la Gare du Nord is still with me today!) using my thumb to gain transportation, and regularly visiting the culinary delights of Les Routiers' restaurants! My co-traveller on that occasion was a certain Jasper Carrott, who was later to make himself well known as an entertainer. At Dijon I recall mixing up my French and asking for 'la guerre' (war!) instead of 'la gare' (railway station)! I received some very surprised stares! At Avignon we parted company - me to carry on to San Remo, Italy where we had both intended to meet up with two Birmingham girls we knew! On the way, I had to change trains at Ventimiglia (the French/Italian border), where I had to queue in a tunnel with hundreds of other passengers to show our travel documentation. To be well over 6 feet tall was then a rarity, and the largely small population looked up at me in some amusement! After a few restful (and eventful) days at San Remo, I started my journey back by taking a rail route from Milan, over the Alps and through the Swiss plain, ending at Geneva. What a wonderfully picturesque route! And who should I meet at the Genevre Auberge de la Jeunesse (quite coincidentally) but the same Jasper Carrott! From there we both came back to Britain.

1966 : I had been itching to fly for years (by plane of course!) and took 2 weeks off, firstly to take a return trip to the Isle of Wight via an aged Dakota, landing on a grass airstrip! The price a wicked £5 (return!). Having really got the flying bug on that week away, I planned for the second week a journey to Cornwall by plane (a Viscount - landing at the RAF base at St. Mawgen) and a return trip via Devon and Somerset by walking, hitch-hiking and local transport. First staying at a family friend's hotel at Bude, I moved on, knowing some of my family ancestry in North Devon. I spent a lttle while around Clovelly and Ilfracombe before moving on to Lynmouth and then I walked through the famed Doone Valley and into Exmoor. I walked for hours across the wild of the moors - in the company of sheep! - until evening came and the need to find accommodation. I was lucky to find a farmhouse that was open for Bed and Breakfast, and there I had the most sumptuous country breakfast after a night in the sack! That Exmoor hike was the highlight (although that week had all been very pleasant) - and I subsequently returned by train from Bristol.

1967 : Roger Barnes and I crafted a plan to travel the world - "two years away!", we said. Well, two MONTHS later we crawled back to Britain, tails between our legs! We were defeated mainly by lack of work opportunities in the Mediterranean (we left too early in the year!), and then the Israeli/Egyptian conflict opened up, adding a further deterrent to progress. But we did have an interesting time in France and North Italy in the two months away, often sleeping rough - meaning camping on very rough ground. There were also a number of events that stick in the memory!
Probably the most remembered is when we given a lift by a van driver and his mate. We were stowed in the back of the van (without windows) and went some distance before noticing that we had left the main road and were travelling down a rough road surface. This didn't seem right - particularly as we continued in this fashion for some time! We thought we were being kidnapped! Eventually the van stopped. We were let out of the back and were greeted by the driver's family and neighbours in their hilltop village. We were then treated to their local vin and hosted for some time before we continued on our journey! What marvellous hospitality!
Another day we were walking through the French Alps valley towards Grenoble, following the Isere. It was bitterly cold and we stopped to heat soup at the roadside. It was then already dark, and in a remote place we pitched our tent at a junction of the road and the river, and there we slept. Early in the morning, we were rudely awoken by a very noisy pantechnicon, and we realised that in the black of night we had pitched by a major roadway and were close to being squashed by heavy vehicles!
On another occasion, we camped on top of a hill overlooking the Med, only to be woken by a heavy thunderstorm in the middle of the night! Frightened of being hit by lightning, we scampered downhill to find shelter - only to find nothing of any real help. There we stood - sodden and gormless! We then went back to our tent, believing that to be preferable to getting pneumonia! In Turin, we were propositioned by prostitutes in the city centre - on a Sunday!
On the return journey back to Britain, we decided to go our separate ways, and after a while I met up with another hitchhiker finding his way back to Holland - except he was American! He suggested that we should travel together, and I soon found out that he was short of money and was using my funds to cover his expenses also! He admitted that he worked as a pimp in Amsterdam, and when I suggested that he should go his own way, he invited me to look him up there, and to ask for Sally in the red light area! To this day, I have his written instructions on how to find him!

1975 : I had recently made a painful exit from a marriage and found new work in a company back in Birmingham after seven years of living away. I found myself working with the most friendly group of fellers and we shared many activities and hearty chats in the relatively short period I was there. Around the Christmas period at the end of 1975, a plan was put together for us all to go and share a hillside cottage in Snowdonia, North Wales, for a long week-end. When we got there, it was mightily cold and the snow was falling, making it one of the prettiest sights you could find, half way up a hillside and overlooking a lake. It took some time to chop down some saplings to make a log fire, and to get the generator to work for some electricity, but the physical work kept us relatively warm. That cottage was a crofter's cottage with the most amazingly thick walls, and so remote that you felt totally cut off from the rest of the world.

1978 : By this time I had moved to London (two years previously) and had made a good friend in 'Kiwi' Weekley, a highly extrovert New Zealander. To renew his visa, he wanted to go out of the UK and return, and we thus contrived a trip to Brittany by ferry. Our few days was spent doing quite a lot of walking and looking around the coastal areas where, to our amazement, we found many rusted remnants of World War 2 conflict, more than 30 years after the event. This trip, in March, is remembered also for a visit to a hotel for dinner, and after a delicious meal asking for 'la fromage'. Well, 'la fromage' nearly walked to meet us (!), as the waiter produced a cloth-covered collection of highly hairy morsels which we deduced were cheese! But, needless to say, the cheese was delicious! I shall always remember Kiwi's description of the French language as 'la frogois'!

That 1978 trip was the last of the off-the-cuff adventures I went on, but that is not to say I stopped having wonderful travel experiences! Here are the main ones: