A Souvenir of the "Wanderer" Caravan
"If thou art worn and hard beset
With sorrows that thou would forget,
If thou wouldst read a lesson, that will keep
Thy heart from failing and thy soul from sleep,
Go to the woods and hills! No tears
Dim the sweet look that Nature wears."
Chapter I. Life on the Road
Taking my own home as a centre, I can radiate in my caravan, in any direction, for at least a hundred miles around, and find England all one sweet, cool, peaceful garden. This is the green and leafy month of May; the month of bird-song; the month when wildflower bloom and cluster and nod and float everywhere; the month when the nightingales sing by night and by day, and when every woodland and copse, nay, but almost every bush and tree is tenanted by melodious blackbird, love-throbbing thrush, finch or linnet, wren or robin, so busily courting that they heed not the presence of man, or deem him but part and parcel of the light and love and joy that dwell in all the land.
Southward, if I wander, my road takes me over a well-wooded rolling country, across, perhaps, the open plains of Salisbury - a veritable land of larks - and down into the New Forest itself, with its quaintry of cottage roofs, its wealth of roses and rhododendrons, its seas of ferns, its droves of geese, and pones and donkeys, its silent glades, its wondrous trees, and its wondrous story of ye olden time - a story that seems to cling to its moss and its hoary lichens, a story you cannot help reading as you run - till I bring up at last the most primitive of hamlets, where golden-yellow poppies, blue forget-me-nots, and crimson ragged-robins are literally kissed by the southern sea.
Should my way lead in a radius still further west, then, ere long, I shall find myself among the sunny flowery lanes of Devon; and Devon is early summer is all one rustic poem, all one pleasant dream. But choose I a route directly west, and as soon as I free myself of all evidences of the iron road and the puffing engin, I am in one of therichest and most charming districts in Merrie England. Ever-changing scenes of beauty, ever-varied landscapes, till, perched on the lofty British Camp near Malvern, I can count landmarks in half-a-dozen counties, and with my telescopic raise four or five cathedrals. Onward and westward and the scenery grows wilder, and I reach the most beautiful of all English forests, the forest of Dean, for its hill and glens and fairy dells are unrivalled or unsurpassed. Then comes the Wye, the sweet poetic Wye, and here you may wander for months and never grow weary. If my choice, however, takes me due north, or north with a little west in it, though the scenery is scarecely less beautiful, I pass through many very, very old-fashioned villages and straggling hamlets, the architecture of which, if indeed there be any architecture in it, and the primitive ways and manners of the people, take the mind awy back into the middle ages, to the days of Cromwell and the Roundheads.
All advancement in England follows the track of the iron horse, and the people cluster round stations, and there they build their villages and towns. Back from these some miles, all is as silent and still as the wilds of Africa. You may wander for a whole forenoon and not meet a trap or see a human being, save people at work in the fields, and you need not marvel to see grass and even poppies growing in the middle of the road. There is everwhere here a sort of Sabbath peace and stillness; the country is apparently given up to the birds and the wildflowers, yet at many a turn of the road you may come upon some little cottage-home, with its porch and garden, and terclus of wondering rustic children, who wave their caps and shout as you pass. You will pass about twice a day too, a thoroughly English inn, suggestive of curds and cream, strawberries and roses, plain fare, October beer, a chintz-draped bedroom, with honeysuckle tapping at the little window, and to crown all, a pleasant landlady.
Then, afar off, peeping brown through the greenery of the woods, are many a smiling farmstead, and ever on the hillsides, smoke from its chimneys rising over a cloudland of trees, some statelyhome of England.
In this direction journeying on from Manchester, I have come on a land of wealth, certainly, but of blackness, dust, and desolation, and there has been no rest for the sole of my horse's feet, and no pleasant field in which to lay my caravan by night for two whole weeks. Nothing but mines, and squalid over-populated villages - one village anastomosing with the other without break for days and days. Not a pleasant route, and no wonder I have rejoiced at last to find myself on a mountain top, two thousand feet above the sea level, and bivouacked in front of the highest hostelry in England, yclept the Isle of Skye. Peace dwelt here at all events; there was no dust, no noise, only the fresh breeze blowing over the peaty moorlands, and a view on all sides unsurpassed perhaps in Yorkshire.
But radiating to the north and east, the country is varied and often uninteresting if I take a bee line to Cambridge. Bear away through London, though a day's journey in itself for a large caravan like mine, a day filled with exciting experiences, and after a ten miles' tort I am embosomed in Epping forest. Then onward, for a week or two till, through the greenest of green countries, I reach the Land of the Broads - the fisherman's and the naturalist's paradise - and pull up at length on the bold rocky cliffs that overhang the northern ocean, amidst such flocks of sea-birds as one seldom sees elsewhere.
I have not mentioned Kent, the land of apple orchards, nor the Highlands of Surrey, nor the rolling Sussex downs, nor the heather-lands of Hants, with their forests of stunted pines; but, taking it all in all, the circle I have drawn, with a radius of from ninety to one hundred miles, contains within it the garden of England. The country gets bleaker towards the north wolds of Yorkshire, wilder in Cumberland and Westmoreland, where some of the roads are very bad. It is a rolling country through Durham, with some bad hills in Northumberland. And in England, the path always leads right over the hills, there is no going about the bush. When I cross the borders at Berwick, I may go west to Gretna Green, where the blacksmith of old used to make so many young couples happy. Then I am in my own romantic Scotland, and can visit many a historical castle and ruin in the land of Scott, the wizard of the north, and Hogg, the sweet bard of Ettrick; or westward and northward still, I find myself in the land of immortal Burns . But now north and east, if I push my way, after passing Perth, and making for the Grampian Hills, I am soon at the forest of Blait Athol; then the wild grandeur and romance of the stern Scottish Highlands begins in earnest.
The year in which I crossed the Caledonian Alps my record in all was one thousand three hundred miles, or over, and this without a single accident, though we had one or two narrow escapes. Once from a horse in front of us jibbing, and somehow locking the dog-cart to our pole, the whole expedition was within a foot of being precipitated into a cañon five hundred feet deep.
I sometimes find myself at eventide, especially in the wilds of Yorkshire and in Scotland, far from an inn of stable, but there is always a farm, and I never yet was refused a kindly welcome. I always travel with a large and beautiful dog, and often have one or two of my children, wee wanderers that help to brighten my caravan.
Nothing can exceed the gloomy grandeur that dwells for ever in the fastnesses of the Grampian Hills. The solitary heather-clad moorlands - home of the ptarmigan and moor-cock - the weird blackness of the pine forests; the awesome wildness of the mountain scenery; the rocks, the cliffs; the deep ravines, where, far beneath you, sullen brown streams go roaring and hurtling over the boulders; the general desolation, but, above all, the silence that reigns in this cloudland. Here is an entry I find in my log:
"The scene around us is now desolate and dreary in the extreme. When we stop for a few minutes the silence makes one feel eerie. The bleating of lambs, the cry of wild birds:
"Waik, waik, waik, waik; karry, karry, karry, karry," can be heard miles away on the mountain-tops. I am not sure my coachmen is not getting frightened, or that my horses do not feel a superstitous dread creeping over them; so I come back across the moor, where I have been culling heather, and the journey is resumed."
Compare a halt like this to one away down in Merrie England, on a bright, beautiful day in summer. We have put the nose-bags on near a wood, and close by the gates of an old-fashioned parsonage. Wells, my violinist and valet, has placed the stove beneath the caravan and put the kettle on. I am lying on the grass with a book, my head pillowed on Hurricane Bob, my Newfoundland.
Presently the gate opens, and half-a-dozen fresh young faces peep out, and towering above them is the parson himself. He advances smiling.
"Don't bother making tea," he says, as if he had known me twenty years. "It is all ready on the lawn here."
It is a child's party at the parsonage, and what a delightful hour we spend! Wells fiddling, I playing the guitar, and Hurricane Bob rolling on the grass with the children, and getting stuffed with buns.
All along the line of my route, which I take care shall be as far away from dusty cities, from railway stations, and the madding crowd as possible, I constantly meet with little acts of hospitality, which go far to show how primitive and kind at heart is your genuine John Bull, to say nothing of Mrs. and the Misses Bull. But the poorest people will bring me presents of fruit, and vegetables, and flowers, and will hardly wait to be thanked. Children will often thrust a little bouquet of wild flowers in at the back door, and run shyly off to be seen no more.
I have known ladies run out from garden gateways to hand up baskets of choice flowers as we went trotting through some rural village, early in the morning, from our pitch of the night before. They had been watching for us.
"Don't stop. Never mind the basket," and they would disappear before I had time to thank them.
Farmers' men, gipsies, and hawkers, have often taken up their horses from their own carts, to help the Wanderer up a bad hill. I do not remember that they ever accepted money.
A band of miners once extricated me from a veritable slough of despond. They were Scotch, and knowing that an offer of money would give offence, I invited the thirty of them to an inn. Only three would come!
I could give scores of instances of the same sort. of course, on the road I am taken for all kinds and conditions of men; for a showman; a photographic saloon; the Salvation Army; a celebrated quack; a crazy captain; a Bible waggon; Lord Essex; the Duke of Newcastle; the Liberal van, or the King of the gipsies. The last guess is about as near right as any other, for though I have not yet been crowned King of the Youngs, or the Faas, "travellers" hail me as brother whenever we meet.
"Well, well," I heard a country woman say to her husband once, after looking at my little campe for ten minutes. "Poor things! I suppose they are happy enough in their own way."
Cozy, dreamy little inns are quite a feature in English rural life. Those who travel by coach or in dog-cart know nothing of these; they have to hurry on, because only at large hostelries in towns, can they find accomodation. I have house and hotel with me, and every long, quiet summer's evening to myself, which I spend in riding or walking in the green lanes, thus making thorough acquaintance with the people and all their ways. Then towards nine o'clock my valet and I drop into the inn parlour, and make ourselves at home with the company, be they what they may, and we often take fiddle and guitar with us.
At ten the inn closes, and then we wend our way to the solitary meadow where the great caravan lies snugly under the whispering, swaying elm trees. And no mortal ever fell asleep to softer lullabies than those old elms sing.
Early in the summer's mornings I have often been awakened with the patter of bird-feet on the carriage roof, and the sweet twittering voices of swallows or reed warblers, and when I have once more dropped to sleep they have gone with me into dreamland.
Altogether, I think caravan life in England is idyllic. I feel I have not done the subject justice, simply because I have too much to say, and too little space to say it in.
Some day I hope to tell you of the wildflowers, the hedgerows, the trees, and the dear rustic children I meet in my tours. Till then - farewell.
(An extract from the London Figaro)
It is probable that during the summer and autumn, a huge caravan will be seen and heard of in several parts of the country. There will, of course, be speculations respecting the occupants, and many fruitless conjectures will doubtless be hazarded. Those who read this sketch will not need to be told that it contains Dr. Gordon-Stables, R.N., author of The Cruise of the Land-Yacht "Wanderer" or 1,200 Miles in my Caravan, the narrative of his adventures as a gentleman-gipsy. The name of Gordon-Stables is known in thousands of English homes as the friend of animals, and as one of the most successful writers of stories for boys. Yet he may fitly be included in this series, if only for the reason that his forthcoming work is likelyh, from all accounts, to surpass in interest any that has preceded it. Moreover, this remarkable and singularlyversatileman is little over fifty, and it is fairto assume that he will in a variety of ways add to the quite unique reputation he already enjoys. It is almost superfluous to say that Dr. Gordon-Stablesis a Scotchman. He was born at a pretty place called Aberchirder, in Banffshire, notable for the fact that from the village the first free minister left the Scottish Kirk. When Gordon was three years old, his father, having purchased some property in Aberdeenshire, quitted Aberchirder, and there being no school in the neighbourhood, he got others to join him and founded one. It was good enough for children, but when Gordon was nine he was flogged until he was half dead for some childish antic. He was then taken away and sent to the parish school. Here he commenced his classical education, it being intended by his parents that he should eventually "wag his pow" in a pulpit. The school was a flogging one indoors and a fighting one in the play-ground. Often the teacher caned the whole school. But if Gordon-Stables grew strong in fists, he also grew strong in intellect. The distance to school was three miles and a bittock, over a rough country. He took his time on the road, but carrying a burden of books, including a Latin and a Greek lexicon through summer's sun and winter's snow, was, for a boy of ten, a tough job. However, he bore it without flinching and although a love of nature was probably born in him there is no doubt that in these journeys to and fro he found ample scope for its development. He was a more practical naturalist at twelve than many men of forty, and, though he knew no classification, he was familiar with the habits of every creature of the wilds that crept or crawled, or swam or flew. But when he was thirteen his country life ended, and he was sent to study at the grammar school of Aberdeen. He subsequently entered the University, and after three years' classical education doffed the scarlet toga. He refused, however, to be elevated to the pulpit. He was afraid to face its responsibilities. Thanks to his parents' teaching he was early and deeply imbued with religion, and did not think himself "good enough for a clergyman." Gordon-Stables wished to be a soldier, and had the offer of a cadetship, but his mother objected, and, like a dutiful son, he gave way. He abandoned the lance and adopted the lancet. Even as a medical student, his love for a roving life impelled him to visit the Arctic regions on two occasions. Having finished his medical education he took to sea in earnest, and in ten years obtained a fair insight into naval life in many lands. When he was thirty-three he was invalided on half-pay, and getting married two years later, settled down - as far as there is any settle in an incorrigible rover. Finding young children rise up around him, and that his half-pay barely supported him, Dr. Stables began to consider how he could supplement his cinome. In a happy moment for the public, and for himself, he decided to try his hand at literature. When he arrived at this determination, he had written a book called Medical Life in the Navy, but his knowledge of the conditions of literary success was strictly limited. He supplies a striking proof in support of the contention that previous training is necessary for authorship. He had scarcely any of the disappointments beginners usually suffer. At the outset his copy was accepted. Chamber's Journal was his literary father, then Cassell took him up, and since a great many others. The author has written in sixteen years nearly eighty books in all, mostly bulky, including books on Popular Medicine and Science, books on Tea, on Cyclinc, Baths, &c. He contributes a novel every year to Tillotson's well-known syndicate, and writes for about a dozen London magazines. As a constant contributor to Boy's Own Paper and Girl's Own Paper, as well as to the Young Man and Young Woman, the doctor will be known to half the youth in Great Britain.
Although he has a beautiful house and grounds, he never goes indoors winter or summer except to eat and sleep. He works in all weathers in his wigwam and caravan. Like Her Majesty the Queen he never goes near a fire, nor has a fire in his bedroom, and has a cold bath every monring even when the temperature is below zero.
It is needless to say he is never seen without a lordly dog.
Dr. Stables attributes what he modestly calls "his little success" in the literary world to his love of nature and the quiet country, and to hard work; and he may be right so far as he goes. But he also owes a great deal to the conviction that he writes as he feel - that he will always stick up for children, and fight the battles of lower animals against the tyrannical and selfish members of the human species.
It is one of the great merits of his books that they are as healthy in tone as they are full of fun and animation. No one can be the worse for enjoying the excitement; some may be all the better, if, while appreciating the startling episode, they imbibe the spirit of the author. The pet subject of Dr. Stables are natural history, popular medicine, and tales of humour, but there is not apparently a single topic which he has touched, and failed to invest with interest.
The “Wanderer” is replete with every luxury and convenience that the heart of a gentleman-gipsy could desire. But it would not be fair to anticipate his own recital of his adventures. He has made his mark in the medical profession, he has won laurels as an author, he has distinguished himself as a specialist, and he seems destined to be the pioneer of a most charming mode of traveling. It is safe to predict that his new book will largely increase the number of caravanites, and will place the community under yet another obligation to Dr. Gordon-Stables.
Preface to Advertisements
This is the age of swindling advertisements. The people of this country learned the trick from the Americans, just as parrots always learn to say bad words before good. The motto of the business Yankees seems to be-
“Early to bed and early to rise,
Never get drunk and ------ advertise.”
I have, therefore, made a special point of, all along, supervising the advertisements that my publishers put in the end of some of my books, and have discarded those that look like quackery. Only once was I swindled, and that was not my fault.
But the advertisements in this little brochure are all those of genuine specialities; surely I cannot speak better of them than to say that I use them myself, inside or out. Inside, for instance, Fry’s Cocoa, Mazawattee Tea, Robinson’s Barley Mustard and Oatmeal; all Goodall and Blackhouse’s delicious specialities; Bovril, of course, when tired and weary and last but not least, Robertson’s Scotch Whisky, in strict moderation mind you, and only with meals – no spirits should be drank on an empty stomach. Outside I wear Jaeger’s all-wool; honest John Piggot is my boy’s tailor, and very often my own; Homocea, and Bunter’s Puriline; also Sanitas Soap or Sanitas Fluid in my cold morning tub. Spratt’s Biscuits my dogs have lived on for years. I never have much time to be ill myself, but my bairns are at times, and then I know nothing better than Neave’s Farinaceous Food for them; and as for medicine, the fact that Messrs. Burroughs and Wellcome, of Snowhill, made me the “Wanderer” ,medicine chest, and fill it when empty, is proof that I believe in them.
- He adopted my plan of seeing the country in 1892
- Coming Men series