WRITTEN BY MARGARET SKIPWORTH
From China to Paris to a caravan on a farm – with the right person, the humblest holiday can be wonderful…
“This is definitely not my idea of a romantic setting.” Angela looked around her at the flat, featureless fields as she and her husband trudged towards the caravan.
“You can say that again,” Paul said breathlessly.
Talk about being in the middle of nowhere. Not exactly the five-star luxury break we’d planned for our anniversary, is it?
He’d given up trying to wheel the suitcases along the pothole-ridden track and was now carrying their luggage which, along with clothes and toiletries, contained bedding, towels and essential food supplies. He was rather red-faced, Angela noticed. But she knew that could be because he was still annoyed that no one had met them at the railway station.
After they’d got off the train, they’d waited nearly thirty minutes before taking a taxi to the farmhouse where the owner of the caravan lived. Pinned to the door, in a freezer bag, they’d found the keys to the caravan and a hastily scribbled note of apology. According to the note, there had been an emergency – something to do with broken fences and injured sheep.
They could see the caravan, their holiday home for the next five days, tucked into the corner of a field about a mile from the farmhouse. But the taxi driver refused to take them any further.
“That track’s full of holes and looks a bit boggy,” he’d said, scratching his head. “I don’t want to get stuck and have to wait for someone to come and dig me out.”
He’d given them a shrug and a sympathetic look before driving away.
They’d debated whether to wait for the farmer to return and then decided, as the caravan didn’t look too far, they could walk to it. Now, as it was starting to rain and the caravan had disappeared in a blanket of mist, Angela wondered if they’d made the right decision.
In fact, feeling cold and weary, she was beginning to wish they’d stayed at home and celebrated their wedding anniversary with a takeaway and a few glasses of wine.
As if reading her mind, Paul said, “We could go back to the farmhouse and wait for the farmer…” His voice trailed away as he placed the cases on the ground and pulled the hood of his cagoule over his head. He forced a smile. “But then I might be tempted to ask him to take us back to the station to get the next train home.”
“He might be away all night,” Angela said sensibly. She couldn’t help chuckling. “And, in this remote place, the trains probably only run every other day.” She squeezed Paul’s arm. “It can’t be much further now. I’m sure the caravan will be lovely and everything will seem better once we’re dry and warm.”
Paul raised an eyebrow as if he wasn’t convinced but didn’t say anything. Angela crossed her fingers and hoped she was right. She heaved a sigh as they picked up the bags and started walking again.
As Paul had remarked, this was not how they’d expected to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary. They’d decided one evening that – as twenty years was a China anniversary – they should splash out on a holiday in Beijing. They’d put the Forbidden City and the Great Wall at the top of their must-see list.
Of course, Beijing was way beyond what they could afford so they’d settled on Paris where they’d spent their honeymoon.
Unfortunately, days after they’d started planning their trip, Angela had had to give up her office job to care for her elderly mother. Then, a few weeks later, Paul had become unemployed when the heating firm where he worked as a plumber closed down. It was several months before he was able to find another job and they’d had to dip into their savings to pay the mortgage and bills. Along with their bank balance, their hopes of a holiday in the French capital had diminished rapidly.
Shortly after Paul started his new job his brother, Rob, told them about this caravan, owned by a friend of a colleague.
“It’s on a farm and a bit out of the way,” Rob admitted. He added with a wink,
I mean, there are no on-site facilities and no tourist attractions nearby. But it would be ideal for a cosy, romantic break.
At first, they weren’t too keen. A caravan holiday on a farm in October sounded bleak and boring, rather than appealing. But, after months of stress and worry, they decided that a short break would help them recharge their batteries.
When their car broke down the day before they were due to set off, they felt they had no choice but to cancel. However when they rang the farmer, he had kindly offered to pick them up at the station.
“Well, at least it’s a modern static caravan, not a dilapidated old tourer.” Paul’s voice broke into Angela’s musings and she realised they’d reached the caravan. She smiled. From the outside it looked quite promising.
Inside, they were even more pleasantly surprised…
The van was clean, nicely furnished and well-equipped, and the owner had placed a vase of fresh flowers and a bowl of fruit on the coffee table.
After unpacking and taking a shower, Angela tried to text their daughter to tell her they’d arrived safely. But she couldn’t get a signal on her mobile. When she told Paul, he shook his head and laughed.
“We are a bit off the beaten track, Ang. We ought to be grateful we’ve got electricity and running water.” He picked up a leaflet. “I was looking at this. If you can face another walk, this pub’s only twenty minutes away. They serve food and we should be able to get a signal. If not, they might have a pay phone.”
Angela nodded. “Why not? Now the rain’s stopped, it looks as if it’s going to be a nice evening.”
A short time later, they retraced their steps along the farm track until they reached the footpath which led to the pub. The path bordered a wildflower meadow on one side and on the other side, a grassy bank sloped down to a stream. Angela linked her arm through Paul’s and allowed the heady scent of the flowers to soothe and refresh her.
“Look,” Paul said suddenly, pointing. While Angela was trying to make out what he’d seen, Paul started running and then slithered down the bank. When she caught up with him, she could see a cycle halfway down the bank and a figure huddled near the stream. She fumbled for her mobile; still no signal.
She called out, “Shall I come down or run to the pub for help?”
“Wait there, Ang. We’re coming up.”
Angela watched nervously as Paul helped the cyclist – an elderly man – scramble up the bank. When they reached the path, the man grinned and held out a trembling hand.
“Ken Watson. My bike wheel got caught in a tree root and sent me flying. I don’t know what I’d have done if you two hadn’t come along.”
He had a graze on his cheek but, as far as Angela could tell, no other injuries.
After introducing herself, she said, “I’ll wait here with you while Paul…”
“No, honestly, I’m fine,” Ken interrupted. “I’ve twisted my ankle and I’m a bit shaken up but I’m sure I can hobble to the pub. They’ll send someone to get my bike.” He pulled a face, then started laughing. “My son and daughter-in-law run the pub. They’ll give me a right ticking off for speeding.”
As they walked slowly along the path, Ken limping between them, he told them about interesting places they could easily reach by bus and nature trails within walking distance of their caravan. When they arrived at the pub, Ken introduced them to his son, Brian, and daughter-in-law, Sandra, who thanked them profusely.
“Please, order whatever you want to eat and drink,” Sandra said, while Brian helped his father upstairs to their living quarters. “It’s all on the house.”
“Thank you very much,” Paul replied. “But I’ll have to go back to the caravan and get cleaned up.” He wrinkled his nose and gestured to his mud-caked trousers.
Sandra looked thoughtful. “You’re about the same size as Brian. I can lend you some of his gear while I wash and dry yours.” When Paul began to protest, she dismissed his concerns with a wave. “It’s no problem. It’s the least I can do.”
While Paul changed, Angela sauntered out to the beer garden and sat down at a table near the stream. She took out her mobile, saw that at last there was a signal, and sent a message to her daughter.
Angela turned to see Paul striding towards her, carrying a tray with glasses and a bottle of champagne. When she gave him a questioning look, he smiled. “I told Sandra it was our anniversary weekend, so she insisted on champagne.”
“That’s kind of her,” Angela said. Then, noticing his baggy T-shirt and jogging pants, she erupted into laughter. Paul looked down at the joggers, several sizes too large. “Not exactly Savile Row, but they’re comfortable.”
“I thought Sandra said you were the same size as Brian?” Angela spluttered between her giggles.
Paul patted his midriff. “I think Brian’s waist is a bit more generous than mine.”
Hope you don’t mind, I’ve ordered your meal for you.
When they’d stopped laughing about the clothes, Angela asked, “What have you ordered?”
“Salmon pie with prawns and fennel, topped with creamy potatoes. It’s one of Sandra’s specialities.”
Angela couldn’t stop her thoughts drifting to Paris and the dinner cruise on the Seine they’d planned. The meal boasted several courses and dishes Angela had never heard of. But right now, in this peaceful beer garden, away from the bustle of a large city, she knew the fish pie would taste as good as anything in Paris.
“That sounds delicious,” she said.
After Paul had uncorked the champagne and poured them both a glass, he said, “Well, it’s certainly been an interesting start to our anniversary.” He reached across and took Angela’s hand. “You’re not too disappointed we didn’t get our romantic break in Paris, are you?”
Angela glanced around her. A romantic break had nothing to do with a place, she realised. It was about spending quality time with someone special. And here she was, enjoying the caress of the evening sun on her face, watching ducks paddling in a stream and drinking champagne with the man she loved who had just taken the time to help a stranger. Things couldn’t get any more romantic than that, could they?
With her free hand, she raised her glass and clinked it against her husband’s.
“I’m not disappointed at all,” she said. “This is absolutely perfect.”