NAOMI TOLLEY: Life on open road with gypsy caravan break away from it all
UNINTERRUPTED views of Saddleback Mountain stretch out before us as Bob and Charlie slowly plod to a halt.
We settle at the roadside on an elevated, grassy clearing, bordered by hedgerows and a dry stone wall — the most perfect, flat spot to watch an April sun sink over the northernmost part of the Lake District National Park.
"We'll sleep here," says softly-spoken Barny Maurice, who is already happily preparing his beloved horses, one a Cob and one a Clyesdale, for camp.
It's our first night 'on the road' in Roma — one of Barny's handmade, beautiful horse-drawn, bow-top gypsy caravans (or 'vardos') as we journey west from his family home near Penrith, across the Eden Valley into Britain's largest, and perhaps most beautiful, national park.
This charming, undulating, romantic landscape of fields, fells, lakes and mountains has inspired poets, writers and painters for generations, including John Ruskin and William Wordsworth.
It's a land synonymous with creativity, inspiration and wander.
So it comes as no surprise that Barny and his half-Czech partner, Katus (pronounced Katoosh) Young — herself a beautiful, multi-lingual, world-famous musician who has performed alongside the likes of Seth Lakeman and The Levellers — have set up their family home not far from here, from where they also run their unique, completely off-the grid business, Wanderlusts.
As we veer off the long, winding road, I can think of no better way to experience this magical English 'Eden' than from here: the seat of a traditional gypsy caravan, albeit higher spec, just as the Romany Gypsies, too, have done for generations.
A former circus trapeze artist, including working with the Mongolian State Circus, life 'on the road' is in Barny's blood and his love for sharing the experience is infectious.
His grandfather had also travelled in these caravans as a teenager.
It seems Barny is as comfortable sleeping under the stars, being in the thick of nature, and working alongside horses as he is in his own skin.
As we settle in for the night, put the candles at the ready and set the fire to gather around for an evening of good-food, live folk music and merriment with new found friends, I feel a pure sense of privilege just being here with such wonderful people.
"We hope to offer couples, friends and families alike a truly memorable, unforgettable experience, sharing in the same simplicity of travel," says Barny.
And after just one day on the road, plodding no faster than Bob and Charlie will allow — even through traffic-clogged Penrith town centre (which raised more than a few eyebrows), I can wholeheartedly vouch I've collected enough memories to last a lifetime.
Each gypsy caravan is a complete work of love with each vardo featuring ornate paintwork, rich and luxurious upholstery, a double-bed with a bay window, and a small wood burner to take the chill out of the British air.
The need for home 'comforts': from televisions to kitchens with all the mod-cons, have already begun to melt away and breathing in the fresh air, and taking in the views of the Fells, I feel a deep sense of gratification for the simple things in life: fire; food; live music; wonderful company and a vardo in which to rest my head — what more could I want or need?
"This is the life," I hear Alex say, who has been working alongside friend, Barny, to offer these gypsy caravans as overnight accommodation at his base, Wild In Style, at Low Wray National Trust campsite near Ambleside.
From here, you can stay in one of Barny's caravans 'in situ', including Roma, which come complete with an Andrassi tent, housing a fully-stocked kitchen, comfortable seating and a table and chairs.
If you prefer an authentic experience of country life, like a true Romany family, however, and would rather go off-grid for a real sense of life on the open road, I couldn't recommend Wanderlusts highly enough.
I can still hear the rhythmical plod of Bob and Charlie's hooves as we wind our way through the Eden Valley; and feel the real sense of adventure; not to mention the freedom gained from living a simple life.
And if I close my eyes, the view of Saddleback Mountain from the open door of the vardo, is as clear as it was yesterday, as is the memory of sitting around a campfire at night, at the side of the road, mesmerised by the flames and the sound of Katus' singing voice.