Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Some of the vans at the ralley

The main street at Herirot

Party Time

The Capa Haka Group from Blue Mountain Collage


We arrived at the rally site about 3pm Friday in good spirits. The final part of the journey high into the green hills had reminded me of the Yorkshire Dales, and the long downhill vistas as we approached the valley were reminiscent of the road from Balmoral towards the Aberdeen. As we drove in to the rally area we realised parking was on the tarmac car park and so drove alongside one of the motorhomes, leaving the expected safety margin of 9 feet between the vans. This was watched by a group of 4 men opposite. Sylvia jumped out, saying, "You are trying to work out who we are, aren't you, and you don't know".

Soon we had 4 new friends before we moved on to report to the Rally Marshall and pay our dues of £3.80 per night; a figure which included the cost of a very good Christmas meal on the second night. I remarked that the fee was good value and was told that I might have to do some kind of performance at this evening's entertainment. Sylvia promptly informed that I would do some monologues and this suggestion was pounced upon to my surprise; I usually have to pay money to get a chance to perform.

Happy hour was low key, a chance to meet new friends and for old acquaintances to catch up with each other. The club president 'Tub' made some announcements and read long funny jokes from a folder. As it turned out, we were all parked on the tarmac rather than the grass area of the sports ground because a youth 'touch rugby' match was scheduled tonight. The participants and families then had a barbecue, including bottles of beer. This put the cabosh on us using the main room at the club for a 'rally get to gether' and so people either talked in small groups or spent the evening in their vans. I later learned that the match and barbecue was a fund raiser for the youth teams. Why the members of our rally weren't invited to join with them, so swelling the numbers and adding greatly to the funds, is beyond me.

Anyway, the club president 'Tub', who had earlier introduced himself and welcomed Sylvia and me, invited us to his motorhome for coffee with him and his wife Robin. We left our new friends at 10.30pm. This friendship was not long in the making and we hope it will last for a long time.

At 10am on Saturday was the official club meeting. We can attend but rightly have no vote on club branch issues, and felt we could spend our time more productively by walking into town and supporting the local economy. This proved to be the hardest task of the weekend. Herriot is a long one road town in the centre of a farming area which is away from the major travel road of the region. Although there are hardly any houses in the town the local hotel is said to do good business. Along the main road we observed several businesses such as a haulage firm, a depot of parked cattle/sheep trucks, farm machinery for hire, and a farm machinery repair shed.

We walked the mile length of the town, saying good morning to 3 well behaved children and several well behaved sheep. As well as the businesses, we had passed two shops. One was a supermarket and one which was closed appeared to have junk piled inside against the two dirty windows. We later learned that this one was the antique shop; which is full of junk. The supermarket had a table and chairs by the front window and advertised they sold cups of coffee. They must have forgotten about this probably little used service, because we caused consternation when we ordered two cups of coffee. Our other purchases were a large block of cheese, a newspaper and a puzzle book. Stocks on the shelves were low with little choice. Fruit and vegetables were sparse and must be delivered Mondays; never have I seen such brown bananas available for sale in a shop.

Back at the rally it was time for morning tea, which on this Christmas Rally occasion was a choice of red or white wine and pieces of home made fruit cake; how civilised. This was followed by announcements by Tub who also read more jokes from his folder; then I was asked to tell some monologues. With the help of Squeaker, my arm puppet, we told my well practiced tales of 'Don't take a Pommy Whitebaiting', 'Piddling Pete', and 'Aggie the Elephant'. I have noticed before that my audience's are much more appreciative after two glasses of wine and this occasion was no exception. Needless to say Squeaker was a much bigger hit than I was.

Whilst people were still socialising, one lady about my age appeared in one of those tarty long T shirt. This was the real thing with a back and front view. She had left off her skirt or trousers and so her bare legs appeared leading down from the outfit, carrying the whole thing off very well to much merriment; what a star. I later learned from her that she had bought the T shirt on her holiday in San Francisco.

After a snack lunch it was time for today's happy hour and more of Tub's funny jokes. Sylvia had been across to the kitchen to offer help with tonight's meal but none was needed. Soon it was time for the Christmas meal so each armed with our own plate and pudding bowl, cutlery, wine glass and wine bottles, we took a place at a table, and were pleased when our table number was called to go and be served. Each server put one portion of their product on the plate with quick efficiency. Soon I had a full plate containing a large roll of ham, a sausage, a burgher, fried onions, coleslaw, beetroot, potatoes and peas. Bread and sauces were available at another table on a self service basis. Pudding was mixed fruit salad or a large slice of cake, both served with ice cream.

As the main meal was being eaten Santa walked round throwing toffees about like missiles. It was more luck than management that only one wine glass was broken. When the club fines were later dolled out for weekend misdemeanours Santa was duly fined for misconduct with the sweeties. We all went to bed full and happy after being invited to a barbecue breakfast to help eat up the remaining supplies of sausage, burghers and onions.

At nine am I was at the barbecue with my plate. The burghers were the nicest I have had for a long time. All the meat was bought from a butcher at Gore and we will have to pass by that way on our travels. It was surprising how many were thrown away uneaten but I managed to rescue 2 sausage and 2 burghers for later heating in the micro wave.

Before the raffle of 31 prizes, we had a brief meeting, more of Tub's jokes, and a talk specifically appertaining to motorhomes by two employees who are vehicle inspectors. Although not an inspiring topic, it was interesting and so was the question time. Despite donating a packet of real Scottish Oat Cakes we had found in a shop, our luck was out at the raffle. Some van owners had indicated they were staying on for the town Christmas fete, to be held on the sports ground this afternoon. Sylvia and I had already decided to stay for the gathering and observe how the New Zealanders enjoyed themselves, so expected to stay the night on the Herriot sports field car park. In the event it turned out the fete was a very local affair which involved one roundabout, two stalls and competitions; the others decided to leave.

Sylvia and I enjoyed watching the school children perform some action songs, the competitions for Miss Herriot and Mr Muscle, (age groups under 5 and under 7), and the all ages throwing the wellie competition. Santa chucked sweets from the top of the fire engine and then was promptly forgotten about once he had run out of sweets, being left on top of the engine as the driver was busy in the wellie throwing.

The highlight of the entertainment was an invited children's group who performed Maori songs and hakas in costume and with actions. It was a mixed group of white and Maori children and in the interest of equality the most skilled girls were allowed to perform some actions traditionally reserved for males. The group had brought with them food prepared in a 'hungi'. This was silver foil trays of meat and vegetables prepared in an earthen pit, and after changing from their costumes the children were fed. Extra foil trays were available for sale as a fund raiser for the group and we shared one for an early tea and added a small contribution to the funds. Herriot is to start one of these mixed race groups next year. We are sure the involved children will enjoy themselves and racial harmony and understanding can only be advanced by such a venture.

We left Herriot before the grand finale, the 'pull the fire engine' competition, in case we were 'roped in'; puny eh! It had been a very good weekend and we expect to meet many of the rally members during our journeys. Tub and Robin have invited us to park on their property as we pass by Clyde on Monday night, and other friends have offered us a park on their property when we get to Invercargill. Nice people are to be found everywhere.

As we have decided not to stay in the Herriot sports ground car park tonight, we must find somewhere else to camp. It has been a very enjoyable rally of 41 vehicles and we have been invited to join in at the 'Woodstock' Country and Western Festival in January. Goodbye Herriot and good luck to the local community.

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