Bridget Ashton gives us a truly fascinating piece that reveals how her hitch-hiking days during her teenage years of the 1960's really was and the motivations and fun she had.

Author Bridget Ashton

Author Bridget Ashton

Digga Digga Dong – two charming French boys are teaching us a lovely song about the King of Spain who dances all night with the black-eyed girls on the mountains.  These words are in the chorus, and Mary and I, innocent nineteen-year-old English girls, sing along, unaware of any ulterior meaning.  Tout le soir, nous dansons.

It is the 1960s, and we are students training to be teachers at the all-female  Hereford College of Education.  Against the rules, at weekends and vacations we have learned to hitchhike along the roads of Wales, England and Scotland.  Over the three years, we venture overseas.  First we go to France where Jean Luc and Pierre are tempting us towards a tiny cottage in the forest.  There, although we like them, we are not ready to be plunged into romance, and escape we do.  There are frequently situations like this.

Now it is August 1965, and we have reached our destination - the Sahara desert.  We have hitchhiked through Italy, taken the boat over the sea to Tunis, then through Algeria and south beyond Marrakesh over the Atlas Mountains.  In the tiny village of Mhamid, we have smiled at the local caliph who is letting us stay in his fortress.  We know he has camels and we long to ride over the sand dunes of the desert. 

The caliph has a small swimming pool of brown water in which drowned black beetles must be fished out.  Water, here in this summer heat, is the greatest of luxuries, and we can’t wait to dip in.  He chases me around the pool, and I scream in alarm to rouse his guards.  This makes him very angry, and he goes off in a huff.  A little later, we are cooking our rice in his kitchen.  He joins us, a distinctly unromantic desert sheikh, wearing shorts and a loose white shirt over his pot belly.  He hovers and prowls. 

Nous dansons,” says Mary, and she takes his hands.  “We’ll do the Gay Gordons.”  I play on my mouth organ and the two dance merrily to the Scottish music.  Mary teaches him fancy footwork and to call out the heuch at the right moment.  His tummy is wobbling over his shorts as they swirl.    

Dignity is saved, and good humour established.  It is worth it because he agrees to let us ride his camels.  Next day two Blue Men escort us over the dunes.  What wonders we see!

August 15th arrives, and Mary’s 21st birthday is on August 30th.  Her parents will be broken-hearted if she is not back home in England to celebrate.  As we hadn’t told them in advance where we were going, we are hoping for forgiveness.  Hitchhiking from the Sahara to Swindon in two weeks!  Yes, it really was achievable in those days.

Once in Swindon, we change into our full length North African djellabas and facial scarves.  Only our eyes can be seen.  Carrying our palm leaf baskets, we walk barefoot to Mary’s house and knock on the door.  We plan to give her mother a happy surprise.   

“You mean to say you walked through the streets dressed like that?”  She is aghast!  What would the neighbours think!

But if she really knew …

Author Bio

Bridget Ashton is an explorer, mother, writer and photographer. Growing up in the Welsh border town of Hay-on-Wye, her family migrated to Northumberland in 1955. While at college in Hereford 1963 - 1966, she learned how to travel with only pennies in her pocket after which she spent a year hitchhiking behind the Iron Curtain. Later, she and her American husband brought up four children in Northumberland, where they still live.

Bridget explains: “During my travels I would scribble stories in my diary, never thinking I might use them later in a book. I took photos too with my simple box camera and glued the pictures into my diary later. These reveal the life of a curious girl and her friends growing up in the 1960s. We were seeking love and adventure, defying the all-girls fusty college rules in the early days of the sexual revolution when girls were supposed to remain virginal until marriage. We explored the freedom of the roads  encountering handsome boys in France who charmed us with their songs; having a near-fatal encounter with a gang of boys in Spain who had never met free English girls; bewildered by the men of the family in an Algerian village who prepared a silken bed and how the aged grandmother came to our rescue; dancing with a caliph in the desert so that we could ride on his camels.”

She continues: “We were an unremarkable group of girls, daughters of small traders, farmers, factory or office workers, tumbling innocently out into a world without mobile phones or internet, away from the influence of teachers and family. Isn’t this what all young people dream of doing?”

The Book

Hit The Road Gals

Hit The Road Gals an account of Bridget Ashtons 1960s adventures
The 1960s open roads

Travel back in time to the vibrant 1960s, and join Bridget and her friends, students at the Hereford College of Education, as they dare to defy convention and hitchhike their way through an era of change.

Armed with sixpenny Esso road maps and thumbing rides from friendly lorry drivers, they journey through Wales, Scotland and onwards to London. Venturing abroad, they find themselves enchanted by the romance of France, navigate Spanish landscapes fraught with both beauty and danger, fend off proposals of marriage on the back of a lorry travelling through the Atlas Mountains, and revel in the soul-stirring folk music of Ireland.

Bridget in the 1960's
Bridget in the 1960's

Hit the Road, Gals captures a time when the roads were open, the spirits were free and a group of daring young women carved their own path through a world in transition.

Bridget Ashton's book on her experiences 'Hit The Road Gals' is out now  ISBN: 9781916668157     Price: £10.99