Saturday 18 November 2017

Winning travel competition entry: Memories on canvas

Joe Palmer

Many regard camping as the economical end of the holiday spectrum. Perhaps so. But for most aficionados, and there are legions of them, it ranks near the top among holiday experiences.

It's where I started 50-odd years ago. In the interim I've been through all the accommodation options, across the star chain too, from basic one to luxury five.

Now, I find I'm back to where I started, longing to re-visit those simple times of yesteryear -- under canvas.

I vividly recall my boyhood senses being assailed when the hot sun first shone on our canvas tent at the Greenlands in Sligo's Rosses Point. That tent was green in colour and homemade by my mother. It was stored in 'The Rome Box' made by my newspaper-editor father to fit his open-top Singer convertible for their extraordinary 1951 motoring holiday -- from Sligo to Rome, camping all the way.

Seven years later, my parents packed us into a Commer station wagon and we headed off on a family camping tour of France. We were local celebrities, almost. In those days, there were no Irish ferries to drive-on, drive-off. Instead, we headed for Larne, were craned on to a ship for the crossing to Stranraer, then drove England north to south to catch a passage from Dover to Boulougne.

It was a thrill at 10 to see my first set of traffic lights and speed-limit signs. Not that these warranted special attention. Our fully laden wagon, containing three adults, four children and three tents, with all the associated equipment, was flat out at just 45mph.

We drove down the west coast of France to Lourdes to join in the 50th anniversary commemorations there, then back up through the Massif Central to Paris. Then it was back through England along the A1 (the motorways were still under construction), with a quick detour to visit the awesome Giant's Causeway before reaching home.

I sampled my first 'huîtres' at Hossegor, stuffed myself on gâteau Basque in St Jean de Luz, and was permitted an occasional vin rouge -- well watered down, I hasten to add -- over my mother's evening cook-outs at a dozen or more campsites along our unforgettable 3,000-mile-long tenting safari.

When I reached my teens, my very first holiday abroad was camping -- of course! This time, I flew on the Aer Lingus turboprop Caravelle, as I recall, from Dublin to Cherbourg-Maupertus. I pitched tent at Coutainville, near Coutances, and soaked up the Normandy sun while listening to 'We all Live in a Yellow Submarine' in French. The Bastille Day fireworks were another unforgettable highlight.

Last year, my wife and I flew to Bordeaux to join up with my daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. In deference to modern living, we all stayed in mobile homes. Since coming home, though, I've bought myself a tent. I've erected it a few times in the back garden during the past summer, just for practice.

She hasn't yet committed to turning the clock back with me, but I'm working on it.


The ‘Irish Independent’ is looking for Ireland’s next top travel writer. So get to your keyboards and tell us all about your latest trip. You could see your story in print and win a pair of return flights courtesy of Aer Lingus to any of their destinations in Europe.


Simply email your entry, in no more than 500 words (no attachments please), to

For more terms and conditions, visit

Irish Independent

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