My beau­ti­ful over­seas sum­mer fam­ily hol­i­day

A week tour­ing Corn­wall in a vin­tage Kombi with her hus­band and two teenagers de­liv­ered Pippa de Bruyn the hap­pi­est of hol­i­day mem­o­ries

Getaway (South Africa) - - Travel -

‘I’m not spend­ing an­other night sleep­ing in a flap­ping plas­tic bag,’ Tom said the first night we took the kids camp­ing. At least I think he said flap­ping; it was hard to hear above the gale-force wind tun­nelling through the Bain­skloof cliffs, the weight of our bod­ies the only thing an­chor­ing our newly pur­chased tent to terra firma. It wasn’t al­ways thus – in the early days of our courtship we’d had a heady week camp­ing wild in the Scot­tish High­lands, plung­ing into inky lochs and braai­ing in fields of daf­fodils. Then there was the month trav­el­ling up through the Namib to Kaokoveld and east to the Caprivi, sleep­ing on the rooftop of the Toy­ota bakkie we’d crowd­funded with our wed­ding. But the yen for soli­tary es­cape wilted with the ar­rival of a baby, sleep de­pri­va­tion, bath-time rou­tines and a crush­ing sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity. Camp­ing in the wilds didn’t seem quite so much fun any more. That’s not to say we didn’t try – there was that night in Bain­skloof, and the time in Eng­land when our youngest man­i­fested a pollen al­lergy in the tiny patch of shade we’d found amid the tall grass. The final straw was a jolly paenkind­kamp held on the school ath­let­ics field. When Tom re­turned di­shev­elled at 1am with a sleepy daugh­ter over his shoul­der, I knew the tent would never see the sun again. We had other fine fam­ily holidays and week­ends away – of course we did – but in ret­ro­spect, far too few. One minute the kids were small and in awe of us and the magic of the nat­u­ral world;

the next they were rolling their eyes and mak­ing plans to trawl the mall. I should have put my foot down, should’ve slipped away on Fri­day af­ter­noons, opened the hatch and es­caped from the dreary de­mands of tidy­ing rooms and pack­ing away plates. But there was time enough, I thought. Be­sides, I wanted the in­ti­macy and can-do at­mos­phere of camp­ing com­bined with a road trip – the land­scape rolling past, un­bid­den thoughts and con­ver­sa­tions bub­bling to the sur­face, dis­cov­er­ing each other in the air­ing of in­ter­ests and trou­bles of our un­con­scious minds. One day we’d over­land to Kenya, or head off across the States, just the four of us. I’d look into home school­ing, re­search the routes. I did noth­ing of the sort. I slipped into a kind of per­verse lazi­ness, one in which you work all the time – try­ing to make money, an im­pres­sion, a legacy, I don’t know – while time con­tracts and 17 years later your daugh­ter has a learner’s li­cence and you wake up rub­bing your eyes like Sleep­ing Beauty, only with­out the beauty, blink­ing as you look around ask­ing, ‘What the hell hap­pened to the years?’ With those frayed apron strings dan­gling so loose, I started feel­ing by turns pan­icky and tear­ful. We had got to the point where we would soon play a small sup­port­ing role, largely fi­nan­cial, while our el­dest headed into the sun­set with her friends, prefer­ably – she dropped hints so heavy they may as well have been lead – in a vin­tage Kombi. It was Tom who found it. He showed me the site late one night when I was whin­ing about the fact that this July would be our last hol­i­day with two de­pen­dent chil­dren: O’Con­nors Cam­pers, a Devon-based com­pany with a small fleet of vin­tage VW Kom­bis avail­able for hire – even a few split-screens, the orig­i­nal Type 2 that first rolled off the Volk­swa­gen fac­tory floor in March 1950. O’Con­nors’ camper vans were se­ri­ously cute and looked in mint con­di­tion. ‘Shiny Norma’ caught my eye first be­cause she was the ex­act baby-pink hue favoured by our el­dest. But Shiny Norma slept five in a dou­ble bed, sin­gle bunk and two can­vas bunks. The prospect of shar­ing a 1,5 x 6m space with our two teenage daugh­ters was daunting enough; the de­bate on who got which bed would be psy­chol­o­gist­fod­der in years to come, and there was enough of that al­ready. So we set­tled on but­ter­cup-yel­low ‘I Am Spar­ta­cus’. Spar­ta­cus of­fered a dou­ble bed and a choice of four solid bunks in its roof space, a fridge, gas plate, oven, all the kitchen equip­ment you could pos­si­bly need, cheer­ful le­mon-pat­terned cur­tains and even some polka-dot bunt­ing. We typed in our dates, paid the de­posit and I ex­pe­ri­enced that bizarre semi-vi­car­i­ous rush when you think you’re do­ing some­thing that’s best for your chil­dren, when in fact you are the child. ...

Had the orig­i­nal de­sign­ers known that their util­i­tar­ian Kom­bi­na­tion­skraft­wa­gen would be an­thro­po­mor­phised by surfers, hip­pies and mid­dle-aged moth­ers, they may have tried to put things to­gether slightly dif­fer­ently, but look­ing at Spar­ta­cus’ but­ton-black wheel-nose and head­light-eyes peek­ing out of his bright yel­low face, I feel an over­whelm­ing fond­ness for what will be both char­iot and home for the next four days. It’s a fairly lengthy process, the han­dover, but the sun is still shin­ing when we fi­nally set off from O’Con­nors’ work­shop, bunt­ing flap­ping, grin­ning at each other. Spar­ta­cus – tricky to cor­ner and slow – does in­deed come with ev­ery­thing bar the prover­bial kitchen sink, like trav­el­ling in a neat lit­tle stu­dio flat on wheels. But it’s when we pull into Henry’s Camp­site that I know we’ve struck an al­lu­vial stream far richer than any five-star lodge my job has on oc­ca­sion in­tro­duced the fam­ily to. While Henry’s of­fers a host of fa­cil­i­ties – a tiny but im­pres­sively stocked shop, restau­rant, in­for­mal theatre, four groovy show­ers, seven toi­lets, charg­ing fa­cil­i­ties, laun­dry, braai ar­eas, bra­ziers, wood, gas, elec­tric­ity – it is re­ally like camp­ing in a large sprawl­ing gar­den, with hedges and colour­ful flower beds and views of green hills rolling down to the sea.

‘we shower and shop and cook and play games and talk in this gen­tle, gen­er­ous, beau­ti­ful place’

Once parked in what is ef­fec­tively our own mini-gar­den, we can’t see our neigh­bours and it’s hard to be­lieve that Lizard vil­lage, with its pubs, shops, gro­cer, butcher, deli and fish ’n chips shop, is just a few min­utes’ walk away. There’s a sep­a­rate field where the pigs, chick­ens and goats live; ducks wad­dle past at feed­ing time. It’s a com­bi­na­tion of wild and cul­ti­vated, ru­ral and vil­lage, but there’s also a tan­gi­ble gen­eros­ity: the next morn­ing we pick up free-range eggs placed in re­cy­cled egg car­tons. They’re left on a shelf for cam­pers to help them­selves, next to an hon­esty box in which to de­posit money. Henry’s shop is more of­ten than not un­manned; you are sim­ply ex­pected to let them know what you have taken and pay what you owe. And ev­ery­thing is cheap – from the daily charge of £11 per per­son to the fab­u­lous pair of vin­tage shoes that mirac­u­lously fit our youngest per­fectly, and cost (when we could find some­one to tell us) the grand ran­som of two quid. Ad-hoc mu­sic evenings are held free of charge, and the evening we ar­rive we are told that ‘Dan Chap­man and his boys’ are per­form­ing. Once Tom and I set up camp – which sim­ply meant an­gling Sparty to my sat­is­fac­tion and open­ing a bot­tle of wine – we join the girls at the com­mu­nal in­door firepit, where Chap­man’s haunt­ing voice is anoint­ing the mot­ley ar­ray of trav­ellers perched on benches around the large bon­fire. He ends with a ren­di­tion of StrangeFruit that none of us will ever for­get, and we leave clutch­ing his CD, ready to en­joy our own fire un­der a star-filled sky. The next day we walk along the coastal path in a cleans­ing wind, then re­turn to our lit­tle yel­low home for break­fast in our gar­den. I feel hap­pier than I have for years; the kind of hap­pi­ness that re­cal­i­brates. A few days back Tom had ac­cused me of be­ing ad­dicted to work. It an­gered me at the time, but for the first time in months I feel free, and my com­puter and phone re­main un­touched. We shower and shop and cook and play games and talk in this gen­tle, gen­er­ous, beau­ti­ful place, and I feel alive and per­fectly present in the re­la­tion­ships that fa­mil­iar­ity can dull but are the most pre­cious. We will be sad when we pack up to leave Henry’s, but this is a road trip so there are a few new ad­ven­tures to look for­ward to. We will go to St Ives next, ne­go­ti­at­ing through the nar­row lanes to see what the artists in Corn­wall are pro­duc­ing. I will watch my el­dest look wist­fully at the kids lined up for a surf­ing les­son – an­other un­re­quited wish we both share, but I can still re­deem for one of us – be­fore set­ting off, now in heavy rain, for Love­land Farm. Here we will aban­don our beloved Spar­ta­cus and sleep in one of Love­land’s big dry geo-tents; still to­gether, the four of us in the one room, per­haps for the last time. Again we will cook and eat and pre­pare for bed, and I will no longer pon­der the loss of all that I could have done, the missed op­por­tu­ni­ties, the times I could have been the par­ent I wanted to be. For now, we are to­gether, the sound of our breath­ing send­ing us to sleep, con­tent in this sin­gle shared space.

The en­chant­ing Cor­nish coast from Lizard Point, close to Henry’s Camp­site.

FROM ABOVE Henry’s is as much a gar­den as it is a camp­site, with lots of lovely sur­prises, such as the tiny over­grown house (hid­den in the bushes, at left) that only a child can en­ter; the quirky in­te­rior of Wel­combe Pod at Love­land Farm.

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