A week or so ago we packed up the old tent trailer and headed up the valley for our annual early-July camping trip, “The Great Ottawa Valley Tour,” as we call it. We’ve been doing this for more than twenty years. It heralds the beginning of summer for us.
When I was first teaching, I did not make the transition from the whirlwind of exam prep and marking, marks calculation, report card writing, graduation ceremonies, planning meetings… end of school year, full-on, frenzy mode… to full-stop vacation mode very well. For weeks, I moped around the house, trying to muster energy to do stuff that I needed to do (like cleaning) or even stuff that I wanted to do (like planning barbecues with friends, or shopping summer sales.) I sighed a good deal; I whined about being tired, being bored, or feeling fat. I was a mess and a total pain in the neck. Then I would have a melt-down and a “good cry,” as my mum says, and I’d feel better. Sometimes this melt-down wouldn’t happen until we were embarking on our canoe trip at the end of July. An hour or two from home, I’d start to sob and by the time we reached the access point and had to unload the truck, I’d feel better.
|Turner’s Road, near Bonnechere, Ontario|
And this happened every year for several years, until we clued in. Well, Hubby clued in… I was too busy sighing. His plan was that we would get away from home as soon as we could after the July 1 holiday. We’d be away from the piles of household and garden chores that had been left undone in the June “rush” every teacher knows about. Thus we would have no guilt about not completing them. We’d think about nothing but what we were going to eat or drink, where to golf (for him), whether to go for a bike ride or a swim, and which book to read. This worked a treat. I still had my melt-down. But Hubby would creep away to play a round of golf, leaving me to sit on my butt, drinking tea and reading or writing in my journal all day. And feeling much more cheerful when he returned. And after five or six days, we’d pack up and go home; our summer had officially begun.
We still do this trip even though I’ve been retired from teaching for a couple of years. It’s a tradition, now. Since we have more time to prepare these days, our menu is a bit more special, but it’s pretty much the same trip as it always was. Hubby golfs one day, while I sleep late, and then go for a walk, or just sit and read, and write in my journal. One day we head into the village of Killaloe for an old-fashioned greasy breakfast at Dan’s Diner, then maybe drive up to Wilno for a browse through the antique and craft store, or the art gallery there. One day we paddle up the Bonnechere River for trout fishing. And the rest of the time we ride our bikes, swim, and read, read, read.
|resting my paddle on Bonnechere River|
This trip, one of the books I read was Peter May’s The Chessmen, the third in his crime fiction trilogy set on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. May’s books feature Edinburgh detective (now ex-detective) Fin MacLeod who was born and raised on the Isle of Lewis. Each book brings Fin back to Lewis, whether to solve a case, as in the first book, or, as in the other two books, to start life over on Lewis after many years away.
|Peter May source|
Or the story behind the huge replicas of the famous Lewis Chessmen which May’s character, Whistler, carves. Apparently in 1831, an islander found the original twelfth century Norse chess pieces buried in the sand on a beach near Uig, on Lewis. You can read all about them here. May’s story particularly focuses on the rook, second from the right in the picture below. The rooks are carved in the image of ancient Norse warriors called “berserkers,” reputed to be fearsome beings who bit their shields and fought in a trance-like frenzy. I love it when books teach you interesting tidbits about the places or times in which they are set.
|Scottish Highlands near Durness|
The beautiful, harsh, and melancholy landscape of the Outer Hebrides features largely in May’s books. I love that sort of bleakness. We spent a wonderful few weeks in Scotland in 2005, and the stark, rocky hills of the highlands, and the ancient flat fields, crumbling brochs, and Viking ruins of the Orkney Islands are not entirely dissimilar to Lewis, I think.
|View from the ferry enroute to the Orkney Islands|
|narrow streets of Stromness, Orkney Islands|
We had one full day of nothing but rain on our camping trip this year. Rain. And wind. And more rain. It was too cold to swim, too windy and wet to bike… and there was nothing to do but hunker down in the tent trailer and read all day. And The Chessmen was the perfect book for this. I was lost for hours on the small island of Lewis, surrounded by the sea, the rain and wind, and the tangy smell of peat smoke.
I can’t imagine embarking on “The Great Ottawa Valley Tour” without a bag of books. In fact, I can’t imagine travelling anywhere without packing books to read. France, this May, was the exception for me. On every other trip we’ve ever taken, I can recall at least one rainy day spent reading, often with a cup of hot tea, sometimes a fire (even a peat fire in Ireland), and a good book. We always travel with books.
What do you read on holiday?