This blog is about the days out we had as a family, the trips the chapel organised, about camping with the scouts and the expeditions we ourselves organised. My earliest memory of a day out was when dad took us to Butterby Wood near Croxdale, through which the river Wear flows toward Durham City. The area was one he knew well from his youth and he quickly found a spot where we could safely take a dip. I remember dad doing breast stroke in the river with Derrick on his broad back.
Family trips to relatives were minimum expense. Mother’s sister Maude lived at Willington Quay, north of and above Howdon and Wallsend. The skyline was quite different to that at Durham and dominated by shipyard cranes. Uncle Ernie worked in the shipyards. Not far away was a foot tunnel under the Tyne to Jarrow and we would go through it with cousin Ernie. Once Bill and I bought ice creams with pocket money mam had given us but did not get young Ernie one. We rightly got a scolding by our aunt. They had a budgie called “Beauty” and Maude talked to it a lot. Years later when we had a budgie I realised they could be taught to repeat phrases. Ours had quite a repertoire and was comfortable walking on the floor in front of our dog’s nose. Later still my dad bred budgies and canaries in our back garden. Any poor quality birds, skemmies he called them, he would dunk in a barrel of water.
Kelloe was where mother’s brother Sydney, a miner, lived with his wife Olive. They had a son Kenneth, whom I must have played with but I have no memories of doing so. Unlike our house at Durham they had outside earth closet toilets with bench seats.Nearby Sid kept pigs. I loved aunt Olive’s apple pies. They were about an inch thick and with very little pastry edging. Mam’s apple pies were not even half as thick and always had at least an inch of pastry edging.
Uncle Sid was in later life committed to Winterton Hospital, Sedgefield. We knew it as the lunatic assylum and had been given that name by the authorities when built. I saw him there once and though he must have had problems he seemed fine to me. I have to concede that not all things in the past are better than they are now.
A Betty and Tommy Nichol at Thorne, near Doncaster had accommodated dad in the early war years. We knew them as aunt and uncle. Tommy had a car and would take us to places in Yorkshire like Brimham Rocks. I remember him showing Bill and I how to adjust his car distributor points. It was our first introduction to car maintenance.
The Methodist chapel we attended would organise away trips, mostly to the sea side at Sunderland’s Roker and Seaburn. Many of the neighbourhood kids attended that chapel and so these were days out when the families in our street came together and linked up with known neighbourhood families.
Our first experience of camping was as Cub Scouts. We pitched our tents next to the River Swale between Reeth and Gunnerside in Yorkshire. Whilst sat round a blazing camp fire one evening the local farmer told tales of tidal waves on the river and explained how it would rapidly fill up the land on which we were camping. Off to bed and I was at the door end of a tent of six boys. My friend George at the other end had a distressed night and the following day when several mother’s came to visit he went home with them.
The 4th Durham Scouts were based at the Vane Tempest Hall and we would play games there like British Bulldog and make twist (pastry twirled on a stick baked over a fire) in the nearby Pelaw Wood. They organised a camp near Easby Abbey just outside Richmond in Yorkshire and we travelled there on the back of a lorry. We had great fun building a dam across the river using stones from the river bed and there were also rope walks and pulley rides between trees. I was one of the younger ones and left to stir a cauldron of rice on a really hot fire that was cooking me. The rice did not get stirred as much as it should have been and was burnt. I don’t remember one word of complaint.
One Easter weekend several of us went by train to Richmond. With rucksacks on our backs and under-slung tents we set off walking toward Reeth. It was snowing and getting dark when we spotted a small clearing by the roadside near Hag’s Wood. With a struggle we pitched our tents there and slept well but next morning we realised we were in a roadside lay-by. The snow was high on the tent sides and we upped sticks and retired to a local barn, Their we ate tins of cold beans and creamed rice and decided to abandon the trip.We later tried hitch hiking/camping in that area. Only Peter and one other, I forget who it was, were successful. They managed to get to the lake district and back but then amazingly ended up at the same camp site at Barnard Castle that we others had come to.
By this time a lad called John Earwaker had joined our group. He was in Brian’s class at Whinney Hill but had become a particular friend of Bill. As a group we went to Butlins Holiday camp, Filey occupying two chalets that each slept four persons.
Chalets may sound posh but they were just sheds suitably partitioned. Each partition had an entry door with a window each side of it. Inside and behind each window were two bunk beds. Opposite the door and between the beds was a wash basin. Toilets were nearby for “lads” and “lasses”. It was a luxury form of camping with many events organised by “red coats”. You could take part in them if you so wished. The tv program hi – de -hi is not far from how it was
When we were at or near 18 in age Scotland became the place for trips and Loch Lomond was our destination. We assembled at Durham Station for our first trip but John was not there and we left without him. At the southern end of Loch Lomond was Balloch Pier station. You couldn’t have got nearer to the loch and as it was a beautiful sunny day the scene of numerous bright coloured small pleasure boats, some with sails, remains in my memory.
We had not planned any walking route and set off up the east side of the Loch, going via a wood and the village of Drymen to Balmaha. Here we pitched our tents on the top of a hill and experienced a night time downpour accompanied by thunder and lightning. Unknown to us John had got a later train to Balloch Pier but had there decided to walk up the west side of the Loch toward Luss. We never met up with him but can I say a belated well done to John.
Next stop for us was Rowardennan and its Inn where we asked for halves, What we got was a Scotland hauf n hauf, a wee whisky and a half pint beer chaser. We didn’t argue but on hindsight I think the Scottish landlord was taking us for a ride. A paddle steamer service operated on the loch and called at Rowardennan and we took it to Tarbet, on the other side of the loch, and then were back on foot to Arochar near the top of Loch Long, a sea loch. We walked around the top of the loch and camped at the base of Ben Arthur, otherwise known as the Cobbler. From here we could see Arochar on the other side of the loch and the West Highland Railway line above it that ran on the hill side. We weren’t far from and could see the submarine base on our side of the loch, in later years the scene of protests when its submarines became carriers of Trident missiles. Whilst camping there we climbed the 900 metres to the top of the Cobbler and discovered coming down was worse than going up. The much slipping and sliding removed a heel of my boot. How I repaired it I remember not.
From Arochar we trecked up the long steady roadway climb to the appropriately named “Rest and be thankfull” and then took a mostly downward route to Lochgoilhead. where enquiries led us to camp in its church field. Here we visited the local pub and got “our” halves. However, when the landlord learnt from us that we were staying in the minister’s field, he decided we would be limited to that one drink.
At Lochgoilhead our camping ended and we took the steamer service down to Dunoon, and then the Ferry Service across to Gourock and trains home.
A second trip to Scotland quickly followed, with reduced numbers but I do not remember who they were. This time we took the “Maid of the Loch” steamer from Balloch that criss crossed the lock before arriving at Inversnaid with its loch side hotel. We walked via Loch Arklet and visited Stronachlachar on Loch Katrine where the “Lady of the Lake” steamer was anchored. Signs told us it was Glasgow’s water supply. What we did not know was that we were in the area of the outlaw Rob Roy McGregor made famous by one of Sir Walter Scott’s novels and that “Lady of the Lake” steamer bore the name of one of his poems.
There were no inns en route for “refreshment” as we walked the roads between wooded hills and past Loch Chan to an overnight roadside camp before proceeding via Loch Ard to Aberfoyle, which was busy with tourists. From here we headed north and saw the colours and beauty of the Trossacs before passing via Loch Achray and Loch Venachar, beneath Ben Ledi to Callander.
At Callander we took time out to visit the spectacular falls of the river Leny as it descends from the hills. The only photograph I have of this whole trip is of me by the falls acting cool. From Callander we went north via Lochearnhead to Loch Tay.
Approaching Killin on Loch Tay we must have been getting walk weary because I remember us debating and deciding to take the longer (on the map) but less winding road along the north side of the loch to get to Kenmore where we camped. From there it was to Aberfeldy and trains home.
Later, dad bought a family car under pressure from Bill and he and then I learnt to drive. Scotland became a place where we would go and camp as a family. I remember us camping in Glen Coe and taking a morning dip in a mountain stream there. Brrrr. On a later camping trip the site was a farmer’s field near Comrie. That trip led to my youngest brother Derrick making many subsequent motor bike trips there and marrying the farmer’s daughter.
As lads, our numbers were now being depleted by girl friend and work involvements and so the last trip I mention involved just George, Ed, myself and a friend of George, one Geoff Winter. We flew from Newcastle to Jersey, stayed in a hotel there and did some serious drinking around the Island. George must have said something on our arrival back at Newcastle airport because the bus was kept waiting for him whilst he underwent a strip search.
My advice to all youths would be to enjoy it while you can because you can never return to it.