In June Phil and I set off in our latest van (RIP the Bus-with-a-woodstove!) For our first-ever trip abroad. We’ve spent years exploring all the corners of the British Isles but this was the first time we’d taken the van on the ferry to Europe. As we now live in Hull, we had only a short drive down the Clive Sullivan way to the ferry. It was exciting to have a cabin of our own, and entertainment laid on for the night. (Yeah, I know: little things please little minds, etc.) We stood on the top deck as we sailed out of the Humber, while Phil helped me plot a future novel, which would involve this very estuary. There was a rainbow to cheer us on our way.
I can’t say I slept that well – I don’t like total darkness and so I had to keep putting the light on. No worries for Phil though, it takes a lot to wake him up! The next morning, we obtained a free breakfast because the card machine wasn’t working. Then we drove off the ferry and into Holland. We also passed through a corner of Belgium before entering Germany.
We were headed for Stuttgart and planned to arrive there the following afternoon. (The extra special purpose of the trip was to attend my youngest son’s wedding!) Phil drove and drove and after a while I kept falling asleep and waking up with a snort. It was hot, too. I was pleased when we stopped for the night in the beautiful Mosel Valley, surrounded by vineyards.
Fortunately, a wine-tasting session was just about to begin as we arrived. We bought six bottles. Later we went for an evening walk.
I had no idea Holland, Belgium and Germany were covered in so much forest. No wonder there are so many European fairy tales set in the deepest, darkest woods. I was blown away by the Baden Württemberg landscape. I fell in love with Germany.
Forests, forests as far as the eye can see. this is the view from the road and it goes on and on. After another long day of Phil driving, and me falling asleep and waking up to make tea and serve lunch in some of the beautifully-landscaped and well-provisioned laybys (no height barriers or ‘No Overnight Camping’ signs such as we’re accustomed to in the UK, here) We arrived at the final, busy stretch of road into Stuttgart. My son and his wife are both world foot-travellers. They met in Iceland, and I was privileged to be present at the time so I’m so happy he’s married Jacky. They’re planning to live and work in Stuttgart for a few years and they’ve just moved into an apartment. This is the view from their balcony: (as you can see, it’s only a short walk into the forest.)
Phil and I slept in a parking lot by a running track, a short walk from their apartment. The next morning, Jacky took us to the Stadtbibliothek Stuttgart, a library that looks as though it ought to feature in a Sci-Fi film. We climbed up to the roof for an amazing view of Stuttgart. It was humbling to hear of the city being flattened during the Second World War.
Phil and I went on into Stuttgart for lunch and a look around.
That evening, Phil and I met the rest of the family at Jacky’s parents’ house. We were treated to an amazing meal and lots, and lots of wine. The following morning we put on our glad rags and set off from the hotel with some of our new relatives-to-be for the train into Ditzingen where the wedding was to take place at the Rathaus (town hall). There was time to take tea in the market square beforehand.
I can’t even describe the joy of what followed…
Leaving the Rathaus, Jacky’s colleagues at the market stall presented the couple with balloons and a vegetable-bouquet. Caat, the dog Zak and Jacky rescued in Catalonia, was present throughout the whole day. Jacky wore a traditional dress that had belonged to her great-grandmother. Luckily, Zak’s outfit matched perfectly.
The three men at the feast are Zak’s father, stepfather and father-in-law 🙂
Photographs in the park between wedding cake and dinner… (Zak’s dad on the right and stepdad on the left)
An outdoor living-room…
Ulrika, one of Jacky’s grandmas, made the couple a personalised quilt as a wedding present.
I’ll finish up with some photos from the second week of Phil’s and my journey…
Holly Bidgood is the author of The Eagle and the Oystercatcher. Holly enjoyed writing from a young age, but it wasn’t until she was 18, and after a fleeting visit to the Faroe Islands that Icelandic culture and history began to influence her work. Now living in a community in Scotland with her husband and two young children, her values of community and creativity are clear within her writing. (Learn more about Camphill Community towards the end of this post.)
Though she grew up in Derbyshire, Holly has always had a love for and been drawn to the sea, and this only furthered her interest in Iceland. So much so that she went on to study – and graduate with a First Class Honours Degree – Icelandic at University College London and at the University of Iceland where she learnt the Icelandic language. She developed her interest in Nordic cinema, literature, and culture, which is very clear in her first novel.
From her time in countries such as Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands (where her first novel is set), Holly says that landscape, wilderness, and closeness to the elements influence her writing. The Eagle and the Oystercatcher features all these themes but also the themes of friendship, loss, and social change during the 1940s. The Eagle and the Oystercatcher was released at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on the 23rd August, 2016. A five star review on her GoodReads page calls the book ‘Beautifully written, with a captivating story.’
Holly values community and creativity, as she herself lives in a Camphill Community, in a shared house with her husband, two very young children and five adults with special needs. With 23 centres across the UK, the community includes schools and colleges, where individual abilities and qualities are recognised and nurtured as the foundation for a fulfilling life. They also specialise in helping those with learning disabilities, however they state that they see no difference between the carer and the cared-for.
The Camphill founding values have a spiritual core of essential humanity, and each of the residents has a unique destiny to fulfil. This ethos has been at the heart of the Camphill Movement from the moment it was set up in 1940, expressing these values through building communities that ‘preserve and promote the dignity and potential of each member, with Camphill being a life choice, not a placement. It feels a perfect fit for Holly and her family.
Holly’s debut novel ‘The Eagle and the Oystercatcher’ is available on Amazon and in various bookstores now.
From The Eagle and the Oystercatcher
In April 1940, two British Destroyers sail into the harbour at Tórshavn. From that point onwards the lives of the Faroe Islanders are irrevocably altered. Eighteen-year-old Kjartan blames the war for taking away the last remaining member of his family. At the same time he struggles with intense feelings for his best friend Orri. While they puzzle over the true identity of the herbalist who lives on the spiky slopes of the islet Tindhólmur, miraculous recoveries of the sick begin taking place all over the islands.
There is one person above all others that Kjartan and Orri wish to be made well again, but when this finally seems to be happening, the war deals them its cruellest blow yet.
Peopled by a cast of characters worthy of Dickens, The Eagle and The Oystercatcher resonates with the evocative bleakness of the Faroe Islands, coloured by rain and snow. With her skilful writing, the author adeptly conveys the everyday details of the islanders’ lives.
‘The destroyers were bigger than any manmade thing I had ever seen, and I was gripped by a shivering sense of dread to think that man could assemble something so large and commandeering; that man should feel the need to. They dwarfed our little fishing boats into primitive insignificance – their masts now matchsticks, their sails tissue paper – and they did not just fill the vision, these cold-blooded destroyers, they grasped the soul.
Destroyer: that was the day I learnt that English word, and I remembered it instantly. Magnus’s English was limited – the little he knew he had picked up from trading with Scotland – but even he knew that word. He spoke it with a fragile caution, as though the sounds themselves might be dangerous, and the typical Faroese spin on the letter ‘R’ rolled off his tongue, through his beard and into the cool, dense air. Orri and I watched it curiously, that snippet of new knowledge, opening up a world that even then seemed dark and confusing. We could see no reason to trust it.’
Here’s a tantalising snippet from Holly’s second, as yet unpublished novel set in Greenland:
‘We cut small pieces of the whale’s nourishing skin and chewed contentedly, savouring the goodness of this mattak: I could taste it now, feel its toughness between my teeth. Never before had I tasted it so fresh.
The world around us had fallen into a tranquil stillness, serenity in the wake of a life taken, a struggle ended. The only sound was that of our voices and laughter, carried upwards and lost in the vastness of the broken pack ice and the blue, empty sky. My cheeks stung pink from the cold.
I had feared that the son of a white man would find no solace with those whose arctic blood ran pure. But at that moment I knew who my people were. If only it could have lasted; if only I could have stayed forever in that most wonderful, archaic of places where each life draws sustenance from another and the world moves in harmony.
If only I had not had to return home to find my own mother – loveless, lovelorn stranger – sprawled, like the narwhal, on the cold floor. Intoxicated to the eyeballs she stared at nothing, for her eyes were clouded over and her body lay lifeless. This creature did not speak to me of graceful, ancient beauty.’
Holly describes her writing progress at the moment as “spectacularly slow” due to her work in the community and her two toddlers, but she’s determined to finish her second novel and send it out into the world to join the first. We shall just have to wait with bated breath!
I’ve just completed the third draft of what will become my sixth novel, The Vagabond Mother. The material for this book has been heavily drawn from the young adventurers I’ve been lucky enough to meet and chat to over the past few years. One of them is 21 year-old Jacqueline Goede. She’s had experiences most of us could only dream of. Because she’s gone out there and DONE it! To find out more, read our interview.
Interview with Jacqueline Goede
Tracey: Hi Jacky, thanks for agreeing to take part in an interview for my website. I wanted to talk to you because you’ve lived first-hand some of the experiences of my character in a new novel I’m writing. First – could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Jacky: I’m 21 years old and grew up in Germany but left soon after my high school graduation when I spent all my savings on a round-the-world ticket in 2014. Since then I haven’t really turned back “home”.
Tracey: In my fledgling novel The Vagabond Mother, Maya can hardly lift her rucksack off the ground when she first starts out on her journey. What was it like for you the first time you set out carrying your belongings?
Jacky: My parents who both went backpacking in their youth constantly reminded me to only take things I really need. I was also more and more disgusted with the consumerist lifestyle I had led before, constantly buying new clothes when old cheap ones broke and it was a more than welcome opportunity to really go through my possessions and sort out the important stuff. Consciously making an effort to only get second-hand or fair trade clothes really narrowed it down. It also helped that I originally thought I’d return after one year of travel to start Uni, so I left a few things behind, knowing I could get back to them in a few months’ time. But don’t get me wrong, my backpack WAS heavy and towards the end a total pain in the ass to carry around.
Tracey: When was the first time you ever hitchhiked?
Jacky: The first time out of necessity in the countryside of Galway when my best friend and I were a bit lost and wanted to get to a paintball game we had signed up for. But I don’t really count that experience as the first time for some reason. The second timJe I hitched when I wanted to do the Golden Circle in Iceland. I even made a sign back then, something I don’t really do anymore because it seems to be a bit easier to decline people with a “bad” vibe (although I only had to do that twice in my nearly four years of hitchhiking).
Tracey: Do you feel especially vulnerable travelling alone as a woman?
Jacky: I wouldn’t pick vulnerable as the word for this. I feel jealous of my male friends since they seem to be able to do things I don’t really feel comfortable doing simply because I have a vagina and less biceps. I met a lot of guys who’ve slept in city parks and streets or subway lines, something I could probably do as well but chances that I’d maybe get raped or mugged simply because a women seems tobe an easy target, are, I think, quJacky:ite higher for me. Then there’s also the annoying question of other people: “So you travel all on your own? Aren’t you lonely/scared/concerned for your safety?” The quick answer: “Nah, not really.” I trust my gut feeling when it comes to people. What I’ve learned actually though is that there are A LOT of real, genuinely nice and compassionate human beings out there and most of them don’t qualify as serial axe murderers, rapists or thieves.
Tracey: When you first slept ‘in the wild’ on your own, where were you and how did you choose a spot to sleep?
Jacky: Truly in the wild and on my own I camped out in a place called Paradise, Glenorchy on the South Island of New Zealand. I got eaten by sandflies and mozzies, it was next to a beautiful glacial stream in the middle of an enchanted forest (they filmed Lothlorien in the Lord of the Rings trilogy there so imagine that minus elves and hobbits). I just wanted to be alone in the bush so I had hitchhiked there without really knowing where I’d end up. Back in those days I actually carried a hammer (yeah, you’ve read that right) with me everywhere I went. Not too big, not too small, but enough to seriously hurt someone if smashed in the right place. Felt a bit safer than just me, myself and I with a pocket knife. So after crossing that river, which turned out to be quite treacherous in places, and hiking upstream for a while I finally found a flat piece forest clearing with easy water access and simply put my tent up and read for a while with my hammer next to me.
Tracey: Tell us the countries you’ve travelled in.
Jacky: Since I left home I went to Ireland, Iceland, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Japan, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Morocco. Before that I travelled around France and Scotland quite extensively with my family.
Tracey: What drives you to live a life of – let’s face it – poverty and often deprivation?
Jacky: I like the simplicity and that I constantly have to figure out new ways of getting where I want to be. You have to work with the things you have or find out how to get the ones you need. In addition, the prospects of having an actual pension you can live on when you’re old are quite slim for my generation in Germany. I’ll work until I’m seventy or eighty anyways so why not do it anywhere in the world?
When I was still in school I really didn’t have a lot of faith in the good things in the world. Following the news can be quite depressing at times. But all the random acts of kindness and generosity and love I met along the way, they really restored faith in humanity for me. That’s also one of the reasons I chose this. Good things come to you all the time and you really realise that when you don’t own a lot of things that would distract you from that.
Tracey: In my WIP, Maya adopts the term ‘vagabond’ to describe herself. What description do you prefer? E.g. adventurer, explorer, foot-traveller, tramp, vagabond…
Jacky: It’s really hard to stick a label on myself when it comes to anything. People are never just one thing, you are made up of a bunch of traits that all come together in the grand colourful picture. I may be an adventurer at times but then there’s also weeks where I consider my adventure to be the trip to the grocery store or the beer in the pub when I meet up with my friends after work rather than climbing up some mountain side and nearly losing my shoe during a river crossing.
Tracey: Which is your favourite country or place out of all those you’ve visited?
Jacky: I’d consider Iceland to be my home and favourite place in many ways, because I have a nice life there, a lot of wilderness to explore and friends that I see as my family. There, I just like to be. After all though, home is just a feeling and I miss my time in New Zealand or even those two weeks in New Caledonia on some days as well.
Tracey: Tell us a funny story about one of your experiences as a hitchhiking traveller.
Jacky: Ufff there’s heaps of them but if I have to choose one, I was once hitchhiking in the middle of nowhere in North Iceland when suddenly this massive red jeep splattered with mud stops next to me. I was trying to get back to Reykjavik that day. The guy rolls down his window and tells me in very broken English over a lot of weird noise coming from the inside of the car that he can only take me to the next intersection. In these cases, when you’re out in the country side on the only road there is, a short distance is better than nothing so I opened the door, put my backpack in and climbed behind it. Turns out in the backseat there’s a big fluffy sheep fastened in the seatbelt, bleating at full force because this obviously is not its preferred mode of transport. Turns out this guy had found his neighbours missing sheep and was going to bring it to him, picking me up along the way because why the hell not?
Tracey: Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Jacky: Hard question to answer. I don’t even really know where I will be in a year or next month, really. I want to visit a lot of friends all over the world, trek through South America or the Pacific Northwest or even to Everest Base Camp but who knows where I’ll end up J Really I just hope to still be happy with whatever path future me has chosen.
Tracey: Thank you so much for answering these questions for us. I’m really looking forward to weaving some of your responses into my next draft of The Vagabond Mother.
Here are some of Jacky’s amazing photos, taken on her travels