What I did on my summer staycation

Well it's back to school for us here in the UK - and I'm sure school children all over the country are gearing up to write the traditional school essay - What I Did On My Summer Holiday (or vacation as they say in other parts).

Well here's a quick whip through my summer holidays!

I've read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffeneger, both set in historic Highgate Cemetery. It's just walking distance from my home and yet I'd never been there so one summer weekend, I marched He Who Likes Rugby and One and Only Daughter to do the cemetery tour.

Scenes from The Graveyard Book!

A sleeping lion marks the tomb of an Englishman from the Victorian era who assembled a menagery of wild animals  that he toured the countryside with

It was incredibly atmospheric. Cemetery buffs, this is the tour for you.

Later, we spent some time in the city of Portsmouth which is a harbour on England's south coast.

A city with a beach! 

I love wandering around Portsmouth harbour - in the background, you can see a ferry chugging across the sea, and one of the gun emplacements that dot the harbour. I was standing by the seawall when a massive ferry suddenly loomed from round a corner. It looked like a moving city stacked on different levels - and I suddenly thought, this must be where Philip Reeve got the idea for his traction cities in his amazing quartet Mortal Engines

We decided to try out the open air swimming pool at Arundel - I love that the magnificent castle towers even over the most banal places - like the swimming pool carpark

We went for a walk along the river at Arundel and there were all these boats moored along the shore, each with their own front door!

Being a very disorganized family, we suddenly realized we hadn't book accommodation anywhere for a holiday. So we rented a motorhome! It helped that Son Number One was in Ghana building libraries with Thrive Africa! and Son Number Two was in the Philippines, counting fish.

The campervan slept three and had neat things like folding taps, a folding loo and a folding shower (!!!). It was surprisingly comfortable.
We visited the Peak District. Yes, it's that gorgeous.

We woke up one morning, threw open the doors and there in the field was a mass of ducks. I didn't manage to get a shot of the ducks but this is the back bit of the motorhome one late morning.
We skirted the Yorkshire moors which were magnificently purple with heather (read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett!)
We went to the beautiful city of Newcastle and I attended a talk by illustrator/author Shaun Tan - who has not only won an Oscar for his short film The Lost Thing but many awards for his wordless novel The Arrival 

And here's my trophy picture with Shaun Tan! Woo  hoo!

We found a seaside town that was losing its land to the ocean (read White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick)

We saw lots of scenes like this ...

... and this ...
To take a break from sleeping in fields, we stayed one night at this swanky caravan park in Seahouses (yes, that's what the town is called) with a pool and spa and this Filipino nipa hut. We asked the staff where they got it but nobody could tell us ...

At the seaside town of Alnmouth, we found this fairy post box as we made our way to the beach!

And Son Number One turned up - with a backpack of rather aromatic and paint spattered laundry from Ghana plus bags of plantain chips!

Then we motored up to Edinburgh to catch the tail end of the Edinburgh Festival - this was what the Royal Mile looked like. It had stages and singers and massive crowds! On on our first day, we arrived at 4pm and managed to watch two comedy acts before the night was through.

It's one of the biggest festivals in the world - arts, theatre, books - but we were aiming for the Comedy Fringe - which has grown bigger than the festival itself.  There were a lot of strange sights on the street such as this street performer ...

Where's Wally? (or if you're in America, Where's Waldo?)

We saw this moving statue working the street every single day we were there.

Son Number One and Only daughter, cavorting in front of the poster splattered walls of Edinburgh

Did I mention what a beautiful city Edinburgh is? If maybe a little bit wintry for a summer holiday

Edinburgh by night
Edinburgh was an amazing experience - we only stayed three days. We didn't know what to see - there were HUNDREDS of acts going on hour after hour - eventually we based our decisions on the charm of the people handing out flyers about acts ... and yet every single performance we saw was terrific!

We saw two improv groups that improvised entire musicals before your very eyes: Baby Wants Candy and Showstopper; we saw comedy sketches by News Review and the brilliant Cambridge Footlights (it felt ilke we were watching the comedy stars of the future); we saw a Flanders and Swann tribute act and the spectacular acapella group Out of the Blue (who look like something out of History Boys); and a hugely entertaining, kind of rude Glee by Canadian cabaret performer Sharron Matthews.

Baby Wants Candy - a screenshot of them performing Sarah Palin The Musical - for the first and last time! The one they did for us was Steve Irwin The Musical. It was astonishing - a musical in sixty minutes! They made me feel ashamed of how long it's taken me to write my second novel!

When we returned to London, Son Number Two was back from the Philippines with tales of swimming with whales and giant turtles. He brought me back a Philippine sunset!

Leyte sunset. Photo by Jack Gourlay

At that stage, Daughter and I had had enough of sleeping in the motorhome in strange locations every night. But realizing that there were still three days left to our rental, the men in the family drove off for a day and half of surfing in North Devon!

It was what the British call a Staycation ... because we (well the parents anyway) didn't fly anywhere.

But oh what a beautiful country this is.

What other authors did on their summer vacations (will add to this when I find 'em):

Keren David hilariously tries to write against holiday odds


  1. Sounds and looks like great fun. We also had a staycation, but didn't even do the caravan thing. Very jealous about seeing Shan Tan!

  2. Oh! Shaun Tan was inspiring. He said he thought people were no longer in the habit of stopping and looking - in a contemplative way - and it made me think of how frenetic my life was. So i took out my sketchbook and sat and sketched for a bit of the holiday and he was right. If you just stop and look you can see a multitude of things.

  3. wow - you packed a LOAD of stuff into your holiay (as well as your van, sorry motorhome). Great piccies!

  4. I loved it ... well, apart from using toilet facilities in caravan parks. And thanks for having us to visit, Addy! After reading your Wilf blog, meeting the real Wilf was like meeting a movie star!

  5. Laura, I wouldn't do the caravan (it was a small-ish camper we rented from a friend) with anyone who needs nappy changing. It's nice that my kids are old enough to not get bored on long journeys, wash the dishes, and get into shows at the Edinburgh Fringe!

  6. I was popping by your site to find out more information on Tall Story and found this lovely post about your Staycation. I want to visit the graveyard that inspired the book by Gaiman and visit Portsmouth and Edinburgh now. Thanks for sharing all the fun pictures.

    My Head is Full of Books

  7. Oh you must take the Highgate Cemetery tour - just turn up on a Saturday or Sunday! I went to a talk featuring Tracy Chevalier (Girl with the Pearl Earring) and Audrey Niffeneger (The Time Traveller's Wife) where they told the story of how they met at the cemetery when they were both volunteering on the grounds. Here's a video I took of that talk.

  8. Isn't Edinburgh just such a lovely city Candy? Brought back memories of my visit quite a long time ago and seeing pianist Daniel Barenboim and his late wife cellist Jacqueline Dupres at the Usher hall. Just magical. I must go there again. Glad you had a good time.
    Helen x

  9. Candy, your staycation looks wonderful, and thanks for sharing your beautiful pictures. All that purple heather makes me want to go back to Yorkshire - and I really want to go to Edinburgh!

  10. We watched Baby Wants Candy again last night here in London - they always perform the first thing shouted by the audience which last night was Johnny Johnny the Boy With The Tractor Feet, The Musical. Impossible? They did it! For a writer,it's a great lesson in story structure!

  11. Oh wow! That's a terrific way to spend you weekends. I'm glad that you caught up with the Edinburgh Festival. We got lost somehow on the waves and waves of people gathered around and yes, the night at the festival was the best. If there's some time, I'd like to go back there along with my daughters.


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