Hi Ho Sylvie!

by Sheila A Grant

I may have been overconfident booking Garlieston Campsite, but I had no qualms driving through familiar South Ayrshire. Then I stupidly allowed a know-all friend to convince me that the best route was via Galloway Forest. Driving a small car on a twisty country road is different from driving a campervan.

She would not know that… why do I listen to others?

The scenery appeared to be impressive but all I saw was trees, reaching out so often that the branches brushed along Sylvie’s immaculate coachwork. The twisty road, sharp bends, steep rises followed by sudden drops, plus the hair-raising encounters with oncoming racers reminded me of Duke’s Pass. Concentration was compulsory. The lack of road signs disturbed me.

Emerging from the forest I arrived at a Y-junction with Garlieston listed in two different directions. I chose the one that appeared to point seaward only to arrive back at the same sign half an hour later. I tried the other direction and, to my relief, spotted a sign picturing a caravan pointing down a narrow, albeit suspiciously rough road.

Dishes and cutlery performed a strident clatter in the cupboards as Sylvie swung from grass to gravel. A woman with a pram assured me I was on the correct road to a caravan site so I soldiered on.

The road terminated at a gate, where an empty and boarded-up reception office sat at the entrance to a field which was set up for about half a dozen campers. There was no-one to be seen! Evidently, it was a caravan site but not the caravan site.

Confined in a small space which was fenced on three sides, turning Sylvie was impossible. Reversing seemed beyond my capabilities but I edged towards a wider bend, triggering a harsh scraping sound. The culprit was a loose fence post waiting for a victim on which to leave a signature. Day ruined!

Reaching the main road, I was fortunate to notice a woman at her gate who patiently directed me to Garlieston. It was an idyllic little seaside village and the caravan site nestled in the curve of the bay affording screen-wide views of the beach and the sea.

Delighted with my pitch I headed to the water pump – another tight corner to test my maneuvering skills. A man relaxing at his nearby caravan observed my increasingly tentative attempts at positioning, discarded his newspaper, signalled me to draw close to the pump, and using an attachment that meant you didn’t need to stand and hold the pipe, took over the task, encouraging me to sit down and chat. Do all beginners attract an audience? He was a sharp guy and guessed I was a novice advising me against distress at the recent damage, dismissing it as ‘just a scratch’. Sylvie was just a tin box, he added, and no-one was hurt. Our chat was cut short when a man came rushing over to say the water was pouring out the taps on Sylvie’s other side! I had forgotten to close them after my last trip. With two kind assistants I soon had the water tank filled and the taps closed. I retreated to my pitch grateful but shattered.

Cleo deserved a reward for her long wait for freedom so we wandered along the beach where she ran in and out of the sea, tail wagging in joy. Back at Sylvie we relaxed outside. I was exhausted and embarrassed, hoping to keep a low profile, when I saw the man from the opposite campervan striding purposefully in my direction. What the hell have I done now?, was my first thought. I stood up and smiled tentatively.

“I just came to tell you how much I admire you.”

Speechless (a rare event), my mind raced with possibilities, not all optimistic.

“If I was to die,” he said, “my wife would sell that.” He pointed to his own campervan. “There is no way she would drive about in one on her own. Good on you!”

I smiled coyly, my spirits raised, and he returned to his pitch leaving me feeling chuffed.

At dinner time I hit a snag. Despite Sylvie being plugged in correctly, she had no power.

Resigned to a cold meal I spotted my recent admirer going into the facilities and wandered casually across. With perfect timing I met him at the door.

“I haven’t got a clue,” he said to my plea for help. “My wife attends to all that. She’ll come over later.”

And she did, very smartly dressed. I felt scruffy in comparison. I was scruffy in comparison! Equipped with power testers and other bits and pieces, she reset the switches on my leisure battery to the correct settings (I immediately took a photo knowing I would never remember). She checked the grill and oven to make sure I was familiar with them (I wasn’t). I offered her a bottle of wine for her trouble but she refused. Lucky for me!

It is so true that campsites are full of people more than willing to help idiots like me! It was a very cold night despite covers and jumpers. My next unsuspecting helper will need to know about the heating.

Catching the bus to Isle of Whithorn the next day meant I could relax and admire the scenery without worrying about the driving. Isle of Whithorn is not an island but at one time water did surround the area. St Ninian landed in the 4th century and created a church. Climbing the steep path to the white tower, the most southerly point of the headland, was worth every step. With a 360-degree view, I was the centre of unbroken scenery surrounded by beauty. Looking south, the varied peaks of the Lake District were not far away, and a small turn to the right revealed the clear outline of the Isle of Man out in the ocean, awakening fond memories of a holiday there 60 years ago. The view north-west looked over South Ayrshire with the Arran hills forming a background, while looking slightly east the vague outline of the lower hills of the Scottish Highlands were etched against the sky. Below eye level was the peaceful little Isle of Whithorn. With boats in the harbour it looked just like a postcard. And beyond were the Border Hills stretching a fair distance to the east.

I was reluctant to leave but the bus was due. I had also managed to lose Cleo’s lead so it was off with the trouser belt! I looped it around her collar and hoped that with a bit of luck (or fat) my trousers would remain in position.

Next morning, I was homeward bound. Despite my crises I’d enjoyed my holiday down Solway way. It was such a peaceful place where Mulberry harbours were tested during WW2, the remains still there to be seen.

Had I made progress? Yes! I can now fill the water tank, work the cooker, and the grill.

Reversing? Ah well… a work in progress. After witnessing a girl effortlessly parking an enormous horse box with ease, I enquired if she gave lessons.

“Get yourself a couple of traffic cones, go down to Irvine beach park, and practice.”

That is my next project.