Spirit of adventure
PUBLISHED: 16:03 06 March 2014 | UPDATED: 16:04 06 March 2014
David Green catches up with Rachel Kellett, the woman who saved her Suffolk village shop and who just can’t keep still
Two years after settling down again to life in Suffolk, Rachel Kellett felt the pull of the “wanderlust” once more.
An independent minded “free spirit” who had previously lived in India and travelled extensively throughout Africa, she set off this time in a camper van with her dog, Kali, a 1998 map of eastern Europe and no idea of the route she would take.
Now she is back living in Halesworth once more after a 6,000 mile adventure across 18 countries, lasting six months and ending in Turkey.
“I had reached a bit of a dead end in my life. I needed to inject some movement into it,” Rachel said.
“I remember driving off through the main street and a friend of mine came out of his shop and invited me in for coffee. I said to him ‘No, I’m off to Istanbul.’ It was the first time I had said it out loud. I still didn’t know if I could make it.
“I was pretty unprepared and the whole thing was slightly tentative. I didn’t set off with a great deal of expectation.”
Lack of planning and scant regard for a set route is part of the attraction, excitement and satisfaction for Rachel.
A ferry journey from Harwich to the Hook of Holland set her on her way and during the first part of her journey she camped on official sites.
However, from when she reached Romania she camped “in the wild”, deciding each day where to draw up the vehicle, often near a river, taking Kali for a walk and settling down with a glass of wine to write up her notes.
“I purposely had no guide books and everything I learned along the way was through observation and curiosity and, of course, talking to local people.
“I met so many people along the way and was often touched by their generosity. I found generally that the poorer the people, the more generous they were.”
Generosity is also in Rachel’s character. When living in Metfield the village shop closed and the property was put up for auction with a likelihood it would be converted into a dwelling.
Rachel had just sold her home prior to leaving for India and she made the money available to the village to try to buy the shop. After she flew out to India, villagers went to the auction and succeeded in purchasing the property which, following extensive repairs and fitting out, reopened. It remains in business, now owned by a community trust and still run by local volunteers.
Born in Norfolk, she moved with her parents to Essex as a child and later worked in London, as a picture restorer and then in computing.
She did an extraordinary thing when her mother became seriously ill. With Rachel driving, the pair set off for France and had some very happy weeks together before, eventually, the illness became critical and they returned for the inevitable.
After her mother’s death in 1990 Rachel flew out to India to work with the Greenpeace environment group, helping to set up a network of organisations.
Five years later, still in India, she became a teacher at a Buddhist school with radical ideas for educating children, developing an environmental curriculum.
Back in Suffolk she settled down to a local life but the travel bug soon got to her and, in the company of a good friend, made a series of visits to Africa, to countries in both the east and the west of the continent.
Two years on and the feet were itching to go again – this time with her dog as companion.
The city of Istanbul had always attracted Rachel. Seven years ago she wrote a book telling the story of the life of a man she knew. One of the chapters was set in Istanbul in 1933 when the city – formerly Constantinople – was on the escape route for German Jews fleeing from the Nazis.
It was not until she reached Romania that the idea of reaching Istanbul took on even more importance. For she began to read a book called A Time of Gifts which chartered the first stage on a journey, also in 1933 and mostly on foot, of Patrick Leigh Fermor, an Englishman who, like Rachel, was ingrained with a wanderlust and an insatiable curiosity. His trek through Europe also ended in Istanbul.
The countries along Rachel’s outward route were: Holland, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Hungry, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey and she returned via, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Slovenia, Austria and Belgium.
Early in her journey Rachel spent days and nights camping outside the Auschwitz concentration camp, which she toured and found incredibly moving. She also camped at the former factory, now a museum, where the V2 rockets – used in the bombardment of London during World War II – were manufactured.
She camped beside some of Europe’s greatest rivers and walked in mountain ranges which, till then, had been just names in an atlas.
After 6,000 miles of adventure, she believes she has gained a greater understanding of the cultures of eastern Europe, its history and geography.
As a woman camping alone in often remote territory, did she ever feel fearful?
“Not really. Once when I was camping on a forested mountainside someone told me there were bears around and I didn’t sleep very much that night.
“I always camped with my van facing the direction to get out and always looked around the area first.”
Her dog, Kali, who provided so much companionship during the journey, also had a role as a protector.
“I wouldn’t have done it without the dog. He was a very important part of it – I wouldn’t have felt so secure without him. He was a very good companion. I had to walk him every day and I met people through him. It is quite different than travelling on my own.”
Rachel feels happier and more fulfilled as a result of her journey.
“I’m a travelling soul – I know that. I’m in the position of having no family, no father, mother, brother or sister, husband, child. And somehow this lack of root is there with me. I do well when I travel and it does me good. So I think I have to have this travelling life I little longer.”
Rachel, 56, has diverse interests, mainly in the arts, and is a trustee of the East Anglia- based Open Space Theatre Company which tours contemporary and classic plays. However, it will no doubt not be long before the wanderlust returns. Next on her agenda might be some of the former states of the now defunct Soviet Union, another region of the world which is unknown to her and, therefore, ripe for an adventure. http://kalikellett.tumblr.com/archive/