As I’m sure many of you have experienced, travel has become much more difficult in the last two years. We’ve been forced to quarantine, due to travel, twice this year – once on our way to Germany and once on the way back home to the UK.
To quarantine in a mobile home is easy, as long as you can find someone who will let you stay on their land and we were very lucky twice. We spent our German quarantine in Freckleben, a tiny village between Magdeburg and Leipzig. The authorities require an address – ours was Auf dem Schloss 1 (no.1 The Castle).
A grand title, but really it was just a meadow and a well. The weather was hot and we had 10 days to just stop and count the bugs in the grass, of which there were so many as I hadn’t seen since my childhood!
Freckleben is a village that time forgot. As we approach it, we drive through miles of 21st century landscape – huge fields and hundreds of wind turbines – until the road takes a turn and drops down into a crack in the landscape where the nights are pitch black and grasshoppers and jackals are our neighbours. I rig up a shower from the well – the water comes from 11m depth and is only 8 degrees – brrr. Perfect for those hot summer days!
The quarantine finishes in time for us to take part in the yearly summer festival at the castle, with entertainment that hasn’t changed for generations. Children climb on a wooden horse on tracks and, winched along by their parents, they try and spear hoops off poles. There’s a bowling alley where the main price is a local sausage, and a large effigy of a bird provides hours of entertainment for those who try and shoot at it from 25m distance to determine who is going to be this year’s Schützenkönig. Whoever wins, has to pay for a round of drinks at the end of the festival and will be collected to next year’s event by horse and cart. This year’s winner is someone from another rivaling village – Shock Horror! But, as someone points out, the good news is that he has to pay drinks for all the locals.
We were welcomed by the locals and fell in love with this quirky little village – for a few days, we even seriously considered investing in a cultural center that had fallen into a deep, 30 year long slumber. In the end we felt the task was too great – and Frank doesn’t think his German is up to living there.
On our way back to the UK, friends of friends offer for us to stay at their orchard near Cambridge. Yet again, we stay at a place that has its own special magic. The orchard is in fact only a small part of the land, with extended fields and forests. There are various outdoor buildings in one of the forests – a large open-air kitchen and dance space – and a magical clearing for tents. The trees in the orchard are in need of some TLC. We take on liberating one apple tree per day from the stranglehold of brambles and hawthorn. This is hard graft but very satisfying.
All in all, I’d say that to step out of our lives for 10 days and stop in one place, allowed us to get in touch with the plants and animals around us and was a really good experience for us. It brought an extra quality to this summer’s travel.
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After a lapse of travelling, due to Covid and house renovation in Cardiff, I thought I’d pick up my pen…particularly as we find ourselves in East Anglia.
For me it’s been an extraordinary voyage of re-discovery – I was a boarder at a Grammar School near Ipswich from ‘57 to ’65. Most people, when I say I went to Boarding School, assume that it was a Public School. It was, in fact, state run and catered for an unusual mixture of inner-city boys (Londoners), sons whose parents were in the armed forces and the diplomatic corps and who had often been to 3 or 4 other secondary schools before ending up at Woolverstone Hall.
My dad lived in France and I was born in London, so I somehow fulfilled the necessary criteria. My other connection to the county of Suffolk, and indeed only a few miles from the school, was via a beautiful little village on the river Orwell, Pin Mill where, 8 years earlier, my folks were moored in an East Coast (Thames) Sailing Barge.
I’ll never forget, on the occasion of our first cross-country run from the school, when I recognised the shore line and announced that round the next corner we would see the Butt & Oyster, a wonderful old riverside pub. They either thought I was bonkers or psychic…The school later became Ipswich High School for Girls and on our brief visit I took a photo of one of their mini-buses, on the back of which was an aerial photo showing the ingenious use of Ha-Ha s, which by a series of stepped-down terraces, made the river appear to be at the end of the descending gardens…when, in fact, it was nearly half a mile away!
Later that week, on a visit to an osteopath in Ipswich, we parked up by the quayside and chanced upon a barge similar to ours and that could also have come from the grain merchant R & W Paul, one of the only remaining old docks buildings nearby.
Like so many other ports, their original hearts have been ripped out and replaced with soulless wine bars and eateries. Extraordinary to think that boats like that had 4,200 sq. ft of sail and could be ‘handled’ by just 2 people, plying their trade up and down the East coast. It reminded me of one of my Dad’s favourite stories, when welcoming a Barge captain aboard The Serb, who was to guide us down to London for the first time. My Dad asked him where his charts were and got the retort ‘What d’you need them for, you keep the land to your right!’ What he failed to mention was that he knew every single sand-bank, tidal race and wreckage buoy on the way from Pin Mill to the Thames estuary…! From Hammersmith, we sailed across the Channel and were moored in the centre of Paris for a while. Sadly, on another cross-channel trip, she sank with my Dad s first exhibition of paintings on board – along with ALL our worldly goods….
As a kid, I’d covered a 15-20 mile radius of the school by bike, as well as being taken to many churches to sing and athletics, rugby trips to other schools in the area…but it didn’t quite prepare me for the huge landscapes, skies and varieties of architecture of neighbouring county, Norfolk. I would happily return to spend longer and discover more…
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