Candy, the family Cairn terrier, sadly passed away in 1981. Up until this point, my Mum and Dad had always said that we wouldn’t go abroad because she wouldn’t cope with the quarantine very well (Candy, not my Mum). So the following summer, plans were made to head abroad, instead of the usual migration into the cloud and drizzle of North Wales. Dave, my best mate Nick’s Dad, had a Ranger caravan and was mad enough to lend it to us. My father had just taken delivery of his new car, a Toyota Cressida, and had had a tow bar fitted. Two weeks were signed off, and Dover bound we set off for our first real trip abroad.
Our first stop was in some dingy caravan park on the border of France and Belgium on the outskirts of De Panne. I say Caravan Park in the loosest sense of the word, being nothing more then a dry grass field behind Meli Park (or “Smelly” Park as it became known), a truly dire idea of an amusement park themed around a bee (!). This was always a temporary stop, before moving on to Blankenberge and one of my mum’s favourite campsites. I made friends with 3 boys from Holland, and long safe afternoons and evenings would be spent playing. I’m sure we only spent 2 or 3 days here, but it seemed like an eternity.
Heading further north, we went to my Mum’s favourite haunt of Brugge, ending up in some campsite that completely surrounded a lake. We pitched up far from the bar and the lively end of the campsite in the trees, and once again making friends with our neighbours we would spend many happy hours swimming in the shallow cordoned off edge of the lake. We moved north a few days later to the edge of Belgium and a campsite on the outskirts of Ghent. I don’t remember a lot about here, apart from my Dad chasing my sister around the caravan and running into an open window. He hit it squarely in the middle of his forehead (something that could explain a lot), and bent the window frame so out of shape the glass smashed. So the rest of our trip to Ghent wasn’t spent touring the great cathedrals, the art in the museums or the chocolate factories, but in some DIY store called GB getting new glass cut.
We crossed the border into Holland, and headed up to Croydon’s twin town of Arnhem. I’d only seen the place in the film “A Bridge Too Far” and we even ended up pitched in the woods like you see in the film. This once again was a stopover before heading further north to Amsterdam. My father, in his infinite wisdom, found us a campsite that was surprisingly cheap, and surprisingly empty. The name should have been a clue, being called “Schipol Camp.” We were next to (and I mean next to) Amsterdam’s main airport, and even without the planes flying all night, still a lot less sleep was had then should have been. Mind you, before long the planes were so frequent we didn’t even notice them. We went for a meal in Amsterdam, and I’ll never forget my mother trying to shield my innocent eyes whilst my father positively feasted his as we accidentally wondered into the huge red light district.
We headed over the border into Germany (“Don’t mention the war”), and I seem to remember us getting lost in the one way system in Düsseldorf. I’m sure we must have spent the night there, but I honestly cannot remember it. We headed south, ending up in Heidelberg for the night overlooking the Rhine, before heading west and into Luxembourg. We found a campsite on a tiered hill, right next to a sports centre. I remember my mum drinking a can of beer and swallowing a wasp that had got pissed on the fumes of her beer and fell in. She complained it was hurting so she drank more beer until the pain went away! We drove up to Brussels a few days later, taking in the Atomium and even finding the café from Secret Army, before returning to Brugge for a few more days and then heading home.
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