It was my final full day and I woke to yet another lovely morning. I lay for a while listening to the birds in the trees behind me and the breeze whispering through the leaves - somewhere a dog barked briefly but other than that the camp site seemed to be still asleep. I only moved when the sun shining on the side of the van made it too warm to stay there - after putting the dogs on their line outside the awning I made some breakfast then joined them outside while I ate it at leisure.
Sitting there in the sunshine my thoughts turned to Eileen and Ron, a couple who I had become friends with twenty years ago when my son was in his teens; they had lived out at Clippesby, not too far from California, and were great animal lovers. Their cottage had a fair amount of land attached to it and they had a pony and donkey, hens, ducks, a couple of dogs and several cats, and a double-ended caravan which was a source of constant fascination for me. They also had a boat moored at Acle and would often take us for days out in it; we had many happy days messing about on the water. Over time though, and through personal circumstances, we lost touch and I hadn't seen them for fifteen years. It was only a couple of months ago, through a boating forum, I found out that during those years their boat had been sold on twice but had unfortunately been lost in a fire about four years previously at a boatyard in Potter Heigham. It was thinking about all this which made me decide - while I was on my travels that day I would try to track Eileen and Ron down.
By this time the site was coming to life so I cleared away my breakfast things, put my table and chair back in the awning, then took Sophie and Sugar for a walk up to Lands End and back. After a shower and a quick tidy up I topped up the dogs' water container, put them in the back of the van, and hit the road - I was aiming to take photos of a couple of places I hadn't managed to photograph earlier in the week because of the dull weather. I started off at Winterton - there's a lovely row of houses there, set back from the road and looking really attractive with their painted walls and thatched roofs. I couldn't quite make my mind up if they were old houses done up or new houses made to look older, but whichever it was they looked very nice.
From there I went on to West Somerton, which is little more than a few cottages and a narrow backwater off the upper reaches of the River Thurne - it was one of those 'blink and you miss it' places, but nevertheless looked very attractive in the morning sunshine.
From West Somerton I drove on to Horsey, which was only a mile or so along the road. Although it was only a couple of months since I was last there, and I had got some good photos of the mill, this time was different and I was going to the beach. Now I don't know if Horsey beach is a well-kept Norfolk secret or I've just never spoken to the right locals before, but as many times as I've been to that area of Norfolk I didn't even know it existed until a few days previously. I had been down on the beach near the camp site with Sophie and Sugar when I got chatting to a local lady who was also walking her two dogs, and she had mentioned it. And when she said there are seals there it went straight on my list of places to visit. It isn't the easiest of places to get to though - you can only drive so far then you have to park up and walk a good mile along a track before reaching the dunes which separate the fields from the beach.
The dunes are high, with a concrete sand-covered ramp cutting through them and leading onto the beach - it wasn't easy walking up the slope as the sand was soft and quite deep, but as I emerged through the dunes onto the top of the beach I knew it was worth the effort. In front of me lay miles of unpopulated sand, backed by the dunes and broken up at the water's edge by groynes made up of large boulders. Now maybe I'd just happened to pick a day when it wasn't busy, maybe people don't go because of the walk involved, or maybe it really is a 'secret' beach, but there was only a handful of visitors there. And maybe I shouldn't be mentioning it here - if everyone knows about it then it won't be 'secret' any more!
The lady I'd spoken to on the beach at California had told me whereabouts the seals would be so that's where I headed for, but if I was expecting to see groups of them sunning themselves on the sand I was destined to be disappointed as there were none at all. However, there was about half a dozen of them swimming a hundred yards or so off the beach - I stood there for ages trying to get some shots of them but it wasn't easy. Every time one came into view I clicked the shutter, only to find that the seal had gone back under the water just as quickly and all I'd got was a photo of the sea. I got snouts, whiskers, and backs of heads - everything except a full seal, till I struck lucky and one popped up just long enough for me to get a reasonable shot.
While I was standing there I noticed a little to my left a group of five people in the water wearing wetsuits and with masks and snorkels - I don't know what they were doing but the seals didn't seem to be bothered about them and were actually swimming quite close to them. So that's another thing that's gone down on my list of things to do in the near future - get myself a wetsuit, go back to Horsey and swim near the seals!
Walking back along the beach with the dogs I began to feel quite peckish so I decided that rather than go any further afield I would pay a last visit to Lathams at Potter Heigham and have my final treat of coffee and cake. And that tied in nicely with my quest to track down Eileen and Ron, as the turn-off to Clippesby was on my way back from Potter Heigham to California. Now the last time I'd been to Clippesby was nearly sixteen years ago, and as I had always travelled in the back of Eileen's car I wasn't really sure of the route to their house. I remembered that at some point we had driven past the entrance to Clippesby Hall holiday site but other than that I hadn't a clue, so I thought I would just drive round the area in the hope that inspiration might strike.
There is really only one 'main' country road going through Clippesby and as I drove along I saw a sign pointing the way down another lane to Clippesby Hall, so I took that turn-off. A little way along, the lane turned to the right and the Clippesby Hall site was on the right - further down and to the left were a couple of cottages set back off the road down a private lane. I wondered if that was where I was looking for but as I went past the end of the lane there was nothing which looked familiar. As I drove on I passed a man walking a border collie on a lead, though I thought nothing of it and assumed he had come from the Clippesby Hall site. Further on the lane went round to the right but there was still nothing which looked familiar - there was a small hamlet of new houses, developed from old farm buildings, so I turned the van round there and retraced my route. The man with the Border Collie was still walking down the lane so I decided to stop and ask him for directions - and that was when I experienced one of the biggest coincidences of my life. As I pulled up at the side of him I recognised him as being the very person I was looking for! He didn't know who I was at first as I had my glasses on for driving, but as soon as I took them off he recognised me. And the cottages down the private lane was where he lived - things didn't look familiar to me because he had sold off some of his land, his own cottage had been extended and the gardens had been landscaped. I asked about Eileen and he told me she had suffered a stroke eight years previously but apart from needing to walk with a stick she was okay, though she didn't go out much. He said she didn't get many visitors so she would be pleased to see me if I wanted to go along to the house - and my dogs would be welcome too.
I parked the van on Ron's front driveway then let the dogs out to play with the collie who was called Joe, and Ron took me round the back of the house to meet Eileen. I was really surprised at how much things had changed - what had at one time been little more than a small two-up two-down place with a poky kitchen was now much larger, with a sizeable extension to the rear which housed a good-sized modern kitchen, and there was even a conservatory on the back. The 'waste land' which had previously been their back garden had been landscaped and had a nice long lawn, a patio, decking, raised flowerbeds and a turntable summerhouse down at the bottom end overlooking the open fields. Ron said the pony and the donkey had long since gone to other homes, but I didn't like to ask what had become of the ducks and chickens!
Eileen was sitting in the conservatory when Ron took me to see her; having been told she'd had a stroke I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but apart from her hair being grey - it had been jet black when I'd last seen her - she looked just the same as all those years ago, though maybe a little frail. She knew who I was straight away though, and was really surprised to see me after all this time. Ron made a brew and while the three dogs played together outside we sat and had a lovely chat. It was nice to see that the stroke hadn't robbed Eileen of her brainpower or her speech, and we spent a lovely couple of hours catching up on family news and reminiscing over the pets they'd had and the times we had all gone out on their boat. Eileen even solved my puzzlement over Stalham market - I had been right in thinking it used to be much larger than it is now, but the Tesco supermarket and petrol station had been built on the old market ground. No wonder I couldn't find it and I thought I was going potty!
It was really pleasant sitting in the sunshine in the conservatory and I could have stayed chatting for the rest of the day but all too soon it was time for me to leave, though I promised them both that now I've found them I will keep in touch, and also call to see them again next time I'm staying at California.
I thought about Eileen and Ron a lot that evening - I was so pleased that I had found them again after all this time and I went to bed with a smile on my face, thinking what a lovely end it had been to a lovely holiday.
- Hi! I'm Eunice and I live in Bolton, Lancashire, with my two dogs Sophie and Sugar and an assortment of cats - well it used to be Sophie and Sugar, now it's Sophie and Poppie. I first began camping back in 1997 when my then partner took me to Anglesey for my birthday weekend. We slept in the back of the car - a hatchback - using the cushions off the settee at home as a mattress, and cooked and brewed up on a single burner camping stove. The site was good, the views were great, the weather fantastic and I was completely hooked. Following that weekend we got a two-man tent and some proper accessories and returned to Anglesey two weeks later, then over time we progressed to a three-man tent followed by an old trailer tent, then a new trailer tent, a campervan and finally a caravan. When my partner decided that the grass was greener on the other side of the street - literally - in April 2009 and I suddenly found myself alone after fifteen years, I decided there was no way I was going to give up camping and caravanning if I could cope on my own. This blog is the story of my travels, trials and tribulations since becoming a solo camper - I hope you like it