As I contemplate the map, looking for inspiration on where to head in the summer, it occurs to me what a big part the summer trips away played in my own childhood. There was little in the way of sitting on beaches for two weeks that many of my school friends talked of but we didn’t miss out there – with both parents from Barrow by Morecambe Bay the seaside experience was there for my sister and myself throughout the year at half terms and weekends. No – the Summer Holiday was always the Great Adventure.
The choice of where we went fell largely to Dad and I with Gill’s only concern being that there were horses somewhere nearby and Mum trusting to our judgement as we pored over the maps laid out on the kitchen table like some latter day mariners planning a voyage of discovery. Mountain areas were a firm favorite with Dad and I both wanting summit challenges while Mum was content with the picture postcard views. As long as there was pony trekking nearby we were onto a winner. The only remaining decision was whether to head north – which meant the Scottish Highlands – or south which meant a leisurely journey through the idyllic French countryside ending in the Alps or occasionally the Pyrenees.
North or South? This decision was always Dad’s; after all he was doing the driving and paying the vast cost of a ferry to Calais in the days before (relatively) cheap travel. As for me I wasn’t bothered by the weather and like Mum preferred it not too hot but Dad always longed for the sun baked lands of the South and if the previous summer had been one of wind and rain in the Highlands then France it would be. Usually the right balance of hills, horses and sunshine would maintain a status quo that kept everyone happy for most of the time though there were odd moments of discontent.
I recall the second time we headed overseas and the wall to wall sunshine of Italy that greeted us at the far end of the Mont Blanc tunnel. The Aosta Valley should have been perfect but rebellion was in the ranks as Mum claimed that ants were invading the tent. Now I do remember seeing a few ants around though I don’t recall them causing any problems but the result in any case was a move over the Col du Grand St Bernard to Switzerland. Here in the Rhone Valley in the green and wooded hills near Aigle it seemed everyone was happy once again. That was until Dad who was missing the Italian sunshine, pointed out that this area must get as much rain as the West of Scotland. I guess it was a bit damp and while the rest of us didn’t mind temperature in the sixties instead of the eighties he had a point.
I’d been happy with both locations being discouraged by neither ants nor rain but my turn was to come. The route back into France took us to a large organised campsite close to the town of Bourg en Bresse that I later dubbed The National Wasp Centre. Dad had the sun back and Gill got to go horse riding but no matter how hard I looked I couldn’t see the Alps from anywhere in the site and to eat food outdoors was to invite wasp attack!
I guess that overall though, the problems were minor and I can look back at this and all our family trips as great experiences. I just hope that I can give my own boys as much enjoyment through travel as I had. Now where was that map…