|How we got started - Happy Wanderer|
I was born to roam. My father was in the ‘Signals’ in the R.A.F. and I travelled extensively with the family until leaving school and home in 1960. Those early years of flitting from one R.A.F. base to another, which included postings abroad to Colombo and Singapore, only served to feed my interest in travel. Looking back now, it seems only natural that I should have chosen a career in telecommunications and joined the foreign service staff of a British Company. Here my interest was satisfied for a further 21 years until that fateful day in Mauritius in 1981 when my wife’s horse riding accident forced a premature return to the UK. Wendy’s resulting paraplegia and specialised accommodation needs put an end to this lifestyle, so we set about putting down some roots in the UK.
For a time, I was content to satisfy the ‘wanderlust’ by taking holidays where ever we could find suitable facilities in the UK. Not quite so glamorous as the Mount Lavinia Hotel, Sri Lanka of my boyhood or the Whispering Palms Hotel Mombasa and the many luxury hotels in Mauritius which I had the opportunity to frequent in later years, but these holidays had a certain freshness about them, no doubt brought about by a prolonged absence of UK residential status ! It didn’t last. Roundabout 1986/87 my thoughts turned to what lay across the English Channel. Not just a new country where I had never been before, but a whole continent was waiting to be explored.
Our experiences of wheelchair travel were growing and, urged on by the lack of a suntan, we set off for the south of France in 1988 on a camping holiday. The sort where you drive to your destination and move into a tent already erected on site. It was cheap and a tent has its plus points for a wheelchair user. You’re at ground level for a start, there are no internal level changes and if the doorway is too narrow it is simple enough to pull the canvas open a little further! The days spent camping on this holiday proved very enjoyable but unfortunately pre-booked overnight stops in hotels were a disaster. Contrary to research and promises, hotel access with a wheelchair proved most frustrating and afterwards provoked much thought and investigation on how best we could travel, at will, on the continent and elsewhere. The eventual solution was to buy a modified touring caravan.
Early in 1989, we took delivery of our first caravan, an Abbey Somerset modified to our design. Travel became almost an every weekend occurrence in the summer and was only limited by the available time off work. Three years and 8,000 miles later we traded our first caravan in for an Elddis Typhoon GTX, a higher specification model incorporating modifications which experience had shown were more suitable to our needs. These included a changed layout to give more space and improved heating to meet our winter caravanning needs. Yes, we do use it all the year round and at the time of writing this, a long weekend to the February Jorvik Festival in York was being finalised. We have found that not only does the caravan provide holidays, it also is a social tool and can be used for attending weekend gatherings (rallies) and visiting friends and relatives. It also provides an extra bedroom on those family occasions when not everyone can be found a place to sleep in our home. With early retirement in 1995, true ‘Old Aged Traveller’ status and freedom to roam at last arrived. However, our style of caravanning changed. Our trips were less frequent but we toured for longer. In 2001 we exchanged our caravan for a motorhome. There are very few corners of mainland Britain we have not visited and in 1996 I fulfilled an ambition to tour around the coast of Scotland, a four week journey of 1700 miles. Our trips to the continent have taken us to France, Spain, Gibraltar, Portugal, Austria, Luxembourg, Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Slovenia, Croatia and Italy, some places more than once. In 2010 we made our first trip to Africa, joining an escorted tour of Morocco. There are just as many countries we have yet to visit and still countless corners to explore in those we already have.