CAMPING WITH WALLABIES
20th August 2015
This camp followed after our two camps in Devon where we visited a friend in Totnes and camped on two organic farms.
The need to get away from traffic and people pushed us into the hills behind Exeter where we began looking for a camp. The majority of the farmhouses were hidden behind hedgerows with front gates closed securely, not at all welcoming. Open gates are more inviting so we went in search of one. The search involved driving up narrow dead-end country lanes and when there were none to be found we returned to the main road and tried again.
During our search we came across a sign ‘Working Pottery Visitors Welcome’. Potters are usually down to earth sort of people and we thought we may have been able to camp in their car park for the night. The owner of the pottery suggested a better place would be to go further up the road towards Ottery-St-Mary and from there continue to the top of a nearby hill where there was a flat spot with a view towards the sea.
Unfortunately the hilltop was in the clouds and we thought a night there when it’s cold and windy was not going to be all that comfortable. When it’s damp, cold and almost dark one is tempted to ask ‘why are we here’ but after going in an open gate and meeting with Chris and Rita we soon realised there was a very valid reason for us to be there.
Just inside the gate was a perfect flat spot for us to bivvy for the night, but first we had to seek permission. The time between when you knock and the door opens is an anxious time for you never know whether the person you are about to confront is going to be grumpy or welcoming. Rita answered my knock and without hesitation assured us it would be ok but would get her husband who might suggest a better place. Chris arrived and was fascinated with our approach of going into properties and asking the owners for permission to camp on their properties.
They insisted we park adjacent to the rear entrance of the house and not down by the front gate. Parking next to the back door was not so simple as Chris was building a covered vestibule and there was a mound of gravel and a backhoe where they suggested we park. Chris subsequently moved the gravel making a level spot for us. We shared a bottle of wine and, as to be expected, our hosts asked lots of questions about our bike riding and Encountering the Past adventures over the past few years. After the wine and a lot of chat Rita suggested we not sleep in the back of the van but come inside and sleep in one of their spare rooms. As generous as the offer was we declined as we feel a tad uncomfortable about causing any inconvenience.
When our hosts saw how simply we were travelling they asked us how we cooked: ‘We have a small gas stove and we can make a surprisingly good meal’. Rita, who runs a restaurant at a nearby garden centre could not imagine a good meal being prepared with only one pot on a single burner stove. After saying we were having noodles she asked us in for dinner. It is not our intention to inconvenience people when we ask if we can camp on their property however, because it was cold and damp, being invited to join them for dinner was music to our ears. The baked dinner came with Yorkshire pudding too!
Next morning after breakfast with Chris he took us to his workshop where he sculpted life-sized creations of wild animals and birds. The sculptures are made from builders’ bog over a chicken wire frame and when complete are painted with acrylic paint. Following are a few photographs showing his amazing work.
Foxes are a problem in England, not only in country areas where they harass the chicken coop and foul gardens but in cities as well. Our friends in London had a fox come into their house scavenging for food. Local government guidelines on fox control include baited traps, snaring and shooting. These methods are not approved by the RSPCA who urge people to use humane deterrents such as ultrasonic and chemical scent deterrents. But I’m thinking these methods push the fox from your garden to your neighbour’s garden so maybe they are not the answer.
Traditional foxhunting with dog packs is banned in most areas of the UK although modified forms of hunting foxes are still within the law. In Australia hunting foxes with dog packs is still legal. A thousand member strong club in Victoria hunt in the traditional way. Foxes were introduced into Australia (much to the detriment of native fauna) so the landed gentry could indulge in their favourite sport.
A walk around the property followed the workshop tour and the highlight was an enclosure where a family of Tasmanian Bruny Island wallabies were housed.
The Bruny Island white wallaby is a rare genetic mutation of the Red-necked or Bennett’s wallaby. The genetic mutation is associated with a melanin imbalance causing white fur, pink eyes and claws. A melanin deficiency in humans shows up as fair skin causing sensitivity to sunlight.
How did these wallabies get to England? Chris and Rita’s daughter visited Tasmania some years ago and after visiting the Bruny Island colony decided she wanted some on the farm. After returning home she discovered there was a breeding program in England and was able to buy a couple of pairs.
Both kangaroo and wallaby for the indigenous peoples of Australia were, and still are in remote regions of the outback, a staple food. Bev and I once stayed with an aboriginal family in the northeast of South Australia who took us out bush for a live off the land experience. A kangaroo was hunted down and the men decided we should know how to cook it. I’m not sure if they really wanted to show us or they wanted me to do the hot laborious work of continually stoking the fire.
The cooking took about two hours, not long enough as far as were concerned as the meat served up to us was very bloody. The vegetable matter was squeezed out from the intestines and it was obligatory for us to try some. This might sound revolting but the green matter is a source of vitamins and nutrients not readily available for hunters and gatherers living in remote regions in days gone by. Eating kangaroo, goanna, bush turkey and other animals these days is not a matter of necessity as most remote communities have small supermarkets. It’s more a matter of not letting traditional culture slip away.
While the men cooked the kangaroo the ladies made damper. Tbear was particularly interested in damper as it is usually spread with either golden syrup or honey, both of which he likes. If you happen to be in an area where there are honey ants or native bees the honey from those sources can be substituted with supermarket honey or golden syrup.
Golden syrup is a thick honey-like sugar product that was originally a waste product from sugar cane processing. In 1885 it was marketed as an alternative to honey and jam and since early colonial days it has been a favourite damper spread. It was called Kidman’s or cockies’ joy. Kidman was a wealthy rural property owner who was known for his thriftiness even though he was a philanthropist. He supplied his workers with golden syrup rather than jam as it was cheaper. A cockie is a slang term for farmers.
Damper is yeast-free bread made from flour, baking soda and sometimes milk and after kneading and shaping is placed in the ashes of a fire to cook. The word damper comes from ‘to dampen’, a process carried out by stockmen and drovers prior to retiring for the night. The damper was placed in the fire and covered with ashes and by morning it was cooked and ready for breakfast. Golden syrup and damper is an iconic Australian tradition dish.
After tastes of kangaroo and damper we were offered witchetty grub. The following photograph shows Bev about to taste her first witchetty grub.
Witchetty grubs are cooked lightly in hot sand then, when still warm, held by the head and the body portion nipped off and eaten. The head is discarded. Witchetty grubs are an ideal survival food, being rich in protein, fat and energy and are valuable sources of vitamin B1 and the essential minerals potassium, magnesium and zinc.
The wallabies on Chris and Rita’s farm, along with endangered English animals and birds, are very safe as they are kept in a two acre paddock surrounded by a two metre high fence.
As the ‘Wallaby Camp’ has drifted into our memory Bev and I thought meeting and sharing for a short time the lives of people such as Chris and Rita was a privilege. We thank them for taking us in and giving us a travel experience we will never forget. From now on we will only go into farms with open gates.
GLAMPING at THE BRUCE ARMS, EASTON ROYAL WILTSHIRE
25th -27th August 2015
Because the weather was less than clement we decided to look for a camp around midday. I didn’t want a farm camp on this occasion as the fields were wet and I didn’t fancy getting bogged. Fortunately we came across a pub with a camping area behind it. The Bruce Arms was closed, however at the rear was a covered area reserved for smokers. We backed our van up to it and proceeded to cook soup and settle out of the rain until the pub opened at five.
Over the years Bev and I have avoided pubs as the atmosphere for non-smokers was less than desirable. It was in 2007 in England that smoking in enclosed areas, including pubs, bars and restaurants and work places, was banned. Non-smoking bans all over Europe now have made travelling for the likes of us much more pleasurable.
One reference I came across relating to the Bruce Arms said, ‘Since 1919 the pub has had only three landlords. Little has changed over that period except for the addition of a nice little external seating area and an ablutions block for campers’. The nice little external seating area suited us fine while we waited for someone to emerge from within the pub.
Visitors to England in days past had difficulty in understanding pub opening hours and they couldn’t believe it when at three in the afternoon the publican would call ‘time gentlemen please’ indicating the bar was about to close. The owner of the Bruce Arms didn’t have to call time, as he didn’t open until five because there was little custom during the day due to the pub’s isolation.
Part way through our soup lunch the publican Matt appeared. Following my invitation he joined us and over lunch told us he was about to go on an adventure tour in India riding a Royal Enfield Bullet motorbike. I asked about parking our van and camping for a few nights. He suggested we would be much more comfortable sleeping in his yurt down by the hedgerow, saying the van was too cramped and it was going to be a wet night. He was not worried about us suffocating in the van, he just wanted us to be comfortable.
Hiring a permanent tent such as the one above is becoming popular in Europe. It permits people to camp without having to carry their own gear, get close to nature and it costs much less than a hotel.
Some tent providers supply tables, chairs, queen-sized beds and other luxuries, which has earned them the title of glampsites. The following photograph shows a glamorous tent site.
If the reader would like to try glamping in Europe go to blog.gruborpub.com/9awesome-glamping-locations-in-europe/ Bev and I are returning to Europe in September 2017 (Encountering the Past Part 5) and we will definitely look into glamping.
Sleeping in the yurt was a good move as the wind and rain raged but the yurt stood it well. Unfortunately our neighbour’s tent didn’t fare as well, her tent blew away in the night and she fled to a drier accommodation situation.
Bev and I camped behind the Bruce Arms pub for three nights because we used it as a base to revisit Honeybottom, the estate where we lived in the early 1970s and mid1980s.
Above is a simple touring rig which came into the Bruce Arms camping area while we were there. It took us back to our travels in the 1970s.
Again we come to the end of another post and again the people we have met and the things we have seen have enhanced us in some way. The experiences and the learning as we go get me to thinking ‘He who travels much learns much and learning is living’. The next post takes us to Tincleton where we stay with an artist friend. Joan is the daughter of the late John Saunderson who owned the estate ‘Honeybottom’ where Bev and I spent time during the 1970s and 1980s. The story relating to our times there with John will be posted soon and I guarantee the reader will not be disappointed. In fact, I think the story about John’s WW2 RAF experiences is the best of my Encountering the Past writings so far.
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