Back in the 1950’s camping holidays in the UK were a pretty grim experience as there were very few dedicated camping sites other that farmer’s fields where you were as likely to wake up next to a ruminating cow passing wind, or, quite possibly, something worse. Thankfully our parents were aware of the dangers of Scabies from sheep ticks and that is one good reasons for our camping holidays in France.
My first recollection of a proper camping holiday, (I mean "proper" as opposed to a weekend or two getting thoroughly soaked in the English rain) was in the summer of 1957 when I had just turned 10, my sister Liz was 15 and our parents were planning a three to four week jaunt into darkest southern France; quite an undertaking all those years ago as you will read further on.
Of course these days such a trip is pretty much commonplace and we do it, or a similar self drive holiday nearly every year, but in the 1950’s things were just a tad different. For those of you whose geography lessons consisted of making paper aeroplanes to flick across the world in class it may interest you to know that the UK is an island – that means there is sea all the way around it, ok?
That being the case, if you wanted to cross the channel to France for your vacations then it meant taking a ferry – similar in shape to the ones in use nowadays but about one quarter of the size and with no stabilizers, which meant that in a stiff breeze (there is always a stiff breeze in the Channel) the ship, boat or whatever the ghastly thing was called, wafted from side to side like a drunken sailor, and people with hitherto robust constitutions turned a rather nasty shade of puce before rushing to be ill over the side. There were few exceptions to that rule!
There were no Motorways in England then so it took us most of a day to reach Dover from our home in the Midlands to where the ferry was based for the 22 mile crossing. Equally, there were no Autoroutes in France so a journey of nearly 800 miles or 1200 KM took a couple of days.
Does that sound a long time to you? Well ok, but just imagine that instead of skirting built up areas as is the case today, the road went through every hamlet, village, town and city on the route, and not only that but the approaches to them, the roads through them and for a distance the other side of them were cobbled! Probably they had never been resurfaced since before the Revolution!
The last time I did that trip before the onset of Autoroutes was ten years later 1967 and nothing had changed.
Now our Dad had been an Army officer in WW11 so it followed that he had been to some pretty inhospitable places and seen some awesome sights, in France and other countries, but I shall always remember when he told us about the WW1 cemeteries
which lined the road south of Calais for many, many miles. Thousands, hundreds of thousands of white crosses were to be seen on both sides of the road, and each one represented some poor chap who had perished in the line of duty during the wars. It was a time of deep reflection, even for a ten year old.
We finally made it to the South of France after stopping for a couple of nights on the way. Dad had aimed for a little place called Frejus, near to another village called St Raphael. They are pretty much joined at the hip now but back then they were both sparsely populated, dusty little villages, peaceful places where other Brits were not in abundance, something which pleased our parents because they had planned this venture as a learning curve for us as much as a holiday.
Both Liz and I had started to learn French at school aged about 5 years and this and subsequent holidays were the "practical exams" where we were expected to try out our (lack of) conversational skills on the unsuspecting French nation, and because Dad was ex army, then holidays were about some of those all important character building exercises to ready us for later life as well. Things like being able to cook, to put up a tent single handed (that came later, much later), but most of all to be able to stand on your own two feet and cope under different circumstances.
Thankfully our respectably well off parents owned a large car in those days as Dad was then what we would now call a Fatcat Legal Eagle, otherwise we would never have been able to cart our tent and all the other equipment such as stoves, sleeping bags, food etc. Everything was much bigger and heavier in those days, especially the tent which took ages to assemble.
Yes, the tent weighed a ton and I couldn’t lift it on my own, so Dad got inside and held it up whilst the rest of us attempted to fit poles into other poles and tie guy ropes onto thick wooden tent pags which were banged into the ground with a big wooden hammer which I was told time without number was a mallet, NOT a hammer. Sadly, Pop up tents and blow up tents had yet to be invented!
The great thing about the South of France, apart from it being "abroad" as it were, was the sunshine which seemed to hit you on breakfast about 7 am and staying ceaselessly up there in a huge blue sky until nearly bedtime.
Rightly or wrongly, our parents took us away not just for holidays but to learn about other cultures, and so it was that Liz and I both learned so much about the French, their way of life, (some) of their language and lots about their history.
We had masses of fun and the learning never seemed like lessons, so skilled were our mother and father in their knowledge of various histories, that they made the days seem too short when we were still wanting to ask questions and explore buildings put there by the Romans a couple of thousand years before.
We were also encouraged to travel whilst on holiday so that we could pick up bits of history from previous civilizations – in this case the Romans who had made settlements in southern France and the Cathars who had lived in Languedoc Roussillon and who were virtually wiped out by the Catholic Church.
The Cathars rejected parts of the old and new testament, were antimaterialistic, pacifist, and critical of the corruption of the established church, and so it was that in 1208 the Pope, Innocent III, proclaimed all Cathars as heretics, and persuaded the King to launch a crusade to crush them, which he and his successors did over the next 30 gruesome years. So much for Christianity in those days!
But back to camping and holidays where things have turned full circle a couple of times since the 1950’s. I got married in the early 1970’s and the result of that was a couple of kids who Pam and I took camping all over Europe while they were young, and who now follow the tradition set by their grandparents by taking their own children to some of the places they themselves visited years before.
The great thing about this is that Pam and I are often invited to go along, and as we are still reasonably fit we can do the walks, the swimming, the snorkelling etc alongside our own kids and grandchildren, but our days under canvas are numbered and these days we prefer a tad more comfort which mobile homes or lodges bring. We are now semi retired but still travel around Europe so that I can write for various websites about camping and travel, so please have a look at this site:
Article Source: Arthur W Johnstone
Image Sourse: Google