Five go camping; in the Enid Blyton Era
As village children we didn’t go abroad for holidays; instead the Lancashire beaches and Yorkshire Dales
provided exotic locations away from the flat farmland of Lincolnshire.
Every summer we had a week’s holiday by the sea with our grandparents, but one year we sampled an alternative. Father’s cousin had a farm beside the river in Wensleydale with a field
flat enough to take a tent. One memorable year Mother was brave enough to tackle a camping trip there with five of us, aged between 2 and 12. The preparation for this ‘Swallows and
Amazons’ trip was exciting for us but must have been exhausting for my mother. I was directed to go to my bedroom and empty my clothes from a strong wooden drawer so that she
could refill it with supplies for our adventure. When we arrived at the Yorkshire riverbank to make camp, I unloaded the food from the drawer and prepared a bed inside for my youngest brother Jonty.
Peter and Jonty
As Jonty was only 2 it was a worry in case he wandered on his
own too near the river. But naturally Mother had already thought of that and packed the washing line! This was used to tether the toddler to the long wire running on top of the nearby fence, thus
giving him a fair amount of freedom in relative safety. We four older children couldn’t wait to get down to the river with our home-made fishing nets and jam-jars; but Jonty, however, had
to be patient until the camp was set up and my father could be on hand to entertain him in the shallows.
In places the water was deep enough to swim but the main
child-friendly feature on that stretch was the set of shallow cascades and narrow rapids which made for exciting playtimes. Upstream from Aysgarth Falls there are flat limestone slabs on
the river margins many with miniature pools scoured into them. These pools were perfect for paddling and sometimes we were fortunate to find stranded fish. We caught stoneloach and
bullheads and displayed them in jam-jars, but the cray-fish were for eating.
In the ancient woodland downstream from our private campsite
was a spring from which we fetched water. The legend was that anything left in this hard calcareous water would petrify after many years; but the
short time we were there provided no proof, much to our disappointment.
Aside from fetching water, there were several daily chores which we shared out: collecting milk straight from the milking parlour; gathering firewood;
and digging for worms for the evening’s trout-fishing lesson. Most of the cooking was done on a primus-stove but it was imperative to have a proper
campfire to keep away the ‘wild animals’ and provide the right atmosphere. This was the era of cowboy films on television where the obligatory blaze
kept away wolves, bears and pumas. (And if you’ve ever heard a grunting hedgehog from your tent, you will know they make an unbelievably loud noise)
Some of the wildlife - such as rabbits - we watched at dusk by peeking out from under the tent side. (This was before groundsheets were attached to
the main tent) The pheasants cried out raucously as they roosted in the trees above us. Later in the evening the tawny owls sent shivers down our spines as they hooted to each other.
In the early morning, the noises were different: the high pitched piping of the kingfisher as it flew up-river or the low mooing of the cattle as they meandered in for milking. You
have to be sharp to catch sight of the flash of brilliant blue, which is the kingfisher. Often we would dash out of the tent at the sound of the piping only to find a common sandpiper
bobbing its tail on the flat rocks. The dipper was easier to spot as it stood on a rock beside the waterfall. It bowed its smart white chest like a waiter and we spent many hours eagerly searching for its nest.
by courtesy of Peter Sharman
To see more of Peter Sharman’s photographs, please click here
Father’s speciality was trout fishing, something not possible
on the canalised Lincolnshire rivers. The worms that we had harvested made a good substitute for the fancy flies that were the ‘correct’ bait. We learnt how to attach the worm,
cast a line into the fast flowing stream, play the ensuing catch onto the bank and dispatch the wriggling fish with a lump of wood. Cooking the trout over the campfire was a joy,
but the taste of fish, fried with a rasher of streaky bacon was magic!
One summer school-day
It’s a Monday morning and Mother calls up the stairs for us children to get a move on. Before breakfast I like to go into the yard and collect eggs with the poultryman Albert. Most of the hens lay in the nest early before they are let out of the henhouse but a few find a more remote place in the
stackyard or tractor shed. I will search for those after school.
My siblings and I set off walking to school together but we often separate to collect friends. One of my class-mates, Margaret is still having the
rags taken out of her hair when I call. I am amazed that her mother has time for this daily chore but I do admire the resulting ringlets.
Yesterday I called on another Margaret who has a family chip shop and was fascinated by the potato chopping mechanism. A hole the size of a
cricket ball has been cut into the kitchen table. Into this opening was fitted a sharp grid with a heavy-duty lever attached. A peeled potato is placed
on the grid and the lever pulled downwards and hey presto; chips plop into the bucket below the table. I am awestruck by the ingenious gadget but mainly by the family’s willingness to damage the table.
Having discussed what we will take to school, skipping ropes, balls or wild-flowers for the nature table, we hurry to get there before the school bell is
rung. There are only three teachers for ages 5-11 so it often happens that siblings are in the same class. This can mean that if a child has been
naughty the parents soon find out from a sneaky brother or sister.
We have a large playground and field for skipping or chase games. Individuals skip chanting traditional playground songs or sometimes two people
can be persuaded to turn a long rope. Children then line up to take turns running in, jumping and then leaving without getting tangled-up.
Games are seasonal but I don’t know who decides when it’s time for marbles, whip and top or jacks. Running and chasing are always in season and
someone will always be mischievous enough to cry “The Dilly-man’s coming!” when there are a gaggle of girls in the outside lavs. We still have privies
at school (a hole in a wooden bench over a bucket). These have to be emptied by the ‘dillyman’ and no-one wants to be caught-out by him. We were
told that one unfortunate cyclist had sped down West End too fast to stop safely and braking too hard had flown over the handlebars and straight into
the open dillycart. True or not, it made a good story. We might avoid being caught in the lavs, but there is no escaping inspection by the nit-nurse.
After school in the summer there is plenty of time to play and brother Peter and his friend John go down to the Haven to fish for eels which they will
then put live into our horse-trough. My girlfriends and I go off to check that our den has not been sabotaged by the boys. If it has we retaliate or make
a new one. On a farm with sheds, stackyards and orchards there are plenty of secret places for dens. In the orchard there is even space for a small
bonfire too. We haven’t got anything to cook on it, but we can have fun with an old syrup tin. When heated on a bonfire the lid explodes off in a very
satisfactory way. Any resulting burns can be smeared with Vaseline which seems to be Mother’s answer to any physical injury.
The end of the perfect summer’s day is the ringing bell of the Sargent’s ice-cream van as it tours the village and the heavenly taste of a delicious cornet.
P.S Sargent’s ice-cream still tastes as scrumptious.
Other stories by Katharine:
Stopping a pig in a passage
A bloody good childhood
When the bough breaks
Multi-tasking in a Fifties Farmhouse