‘It’s probably ok to walk along, the waves aren’t hitting it that hard” says my host, with a touch of faux confidence, before adding “although this is the spot where people tend to get washed out to sea.” With that comment bouncing around my brain, we both stride forward and brave the advancing sea, as it fires shots across our bows. There may be a huge hint of folly about our actions, but I trust the person I’m with to plot a safe route through the spray, and well I ought to as he is a man with a reputation as an accomplished pathfinder, albeit usually with a set of maps. He is Ian Canavan, or ‘Camper’ to those that know him, well respected navigator, and the current HERO-ERA Golden Roamer champion.
We’re walking along the shores of Scarborough, a route that Ian knows well as this has been his home now for several years, but the Scotsman, born in Galashiels, began his life on this side of the border as a child. “My dad’s work took us all over, and we were living in Northern Island although it was the height of the troubles. Dad’s office was bombed, and it was just too dangerous, so we ended up in Leeds.”
Leeds would become home for many years and see plenty of highs, including marriage and the birth of his sons, as well as tragedy and all of the patches that stitch together to create life’s tapestry. Before all of that though Ian would leave school, and despite wanting to be a mechanic, “I just wanted to work on cars”, would end up as a catering engineer, a job he was pretty much press-ganged into at the end of his education, but one that he would go at full guns and make the absolute best of in a career that would soon see a switch to service manager and eventually a designer and installer of catering kitchens.
As we walk and chat, we touch on all manner of Ian’s past, present and future life and the anecdotes are punctuated with information about the landmarks we are walking past, such as Scarborough’s Grand Hotel, built in a V shape to honour Queen Victoria. Ian recalls the various other facets of the building that were designed to honour the monarch and I wonder if this is just idle interest or if this desire to learn and gather facts spills into other parts of his life. “I try and learn a new skill each year” he tells me, “This year I would love to learn to use Photoshop, but at the minute I’m trying to find a version that is old enough to run on my Mac!” As a photographer it is music to my ears to listen to someone that understands Photoshop is a skill and not something one can just “do”, but as well as the desire to learn this software I find out that Ian has cajoled himself into studying everything from web-design to baking and has even worked in restaurants in the past purely for the work experience.
“I love the buzz of the kitchen” he tells me, “I’m not skilled enough to work in that environment properly though. I was involved in the fitting out of the kitchen in Betty’s Tea Rooms in Harrogate and did the patisserie course whilst I was there, I love to bake.” I smile at the trajectory of our conversation, jumping from learning to use cutting edge digital software to studying patisserie in the world-famous kitchens of Betty’s in just a few sentences, and the chat continues follow this seemingly random path all day. We chat about music, ‘I booked to see Don McLean once, turned out to be Don Maclean of Crackerjack, more evangelist than rock and roll’, and Ian reveals a love of brass bands in amongst more mainstream tastes. We speak about his French mopeds, aviation, dolls houses, mountain biking, walking, history, in fact you name it, and it was probably covered. There is of course plenty of time dedicated to discussion of his and wife Fran’s adventures in their campervan as well.
Despite its seemingly haphazard arc, there is a definite pattern to the conversation, it’s the kind of chat that comes about when one takes an active interest in the world around them, which for Ian seems to have become a hobby in itself since retiring from his successful engineering business in the mid noughties. Hobby is probably the wrong word, the infatuations and interests that Ian develops probably mean more to him than being merely leisure pursuits, although he perhaps doesn’t know it himself.
In amongst all of these things though, one that has been a constant is his love of rallying, which began like many of his generation with membership of the local motor club and progressed from amateur involvement to co-driving in a fully sponsored outfit in the national championship and WRC outings with finishes in the RAC Rally. Much of his experiences in stage rallying came sitting alongside Ken Ridley, a man of whom Ian speaks fondly and candidly, and someone with which he competed in some of the best loved events in the late eighties and early nineties. After a break from the stages classic rallying beckoned Ian back to the sport he loves, during which time he would navigate for Ron Roughead, with whom he had competed in the early eighties in a Talbot Sunbeam and would now take on events such as the much-revered Roger Albert Clark.
We also chat about the time commitment that rallying demands and the strain it can put on a family budget, and I can sense the man for whom in car mathematics is second nature doing the sums on whether all of that time away was worth it, but it is clear through our conversation of his devotion to family, especially his sons and grandchildren, and the pride with which he has for his three lads that have found success in their chosen and varied paths of web designer, music composer and an early years practitioner.
We all know Ian as being one of the sharpest navigators in the HERO fraternity, but that part of his life is still relatively new, but with Paul Bloxidge he has built another formidable in car relationship, that displays what is possible through practice and dedication, and they are now both double Cup and Roamer champions. It’s clear that he thrives on the challenge of navigation and has a passion for lifelong learning and experiences, but has he any ambitions to switch seats and drive in the future? “I once won a competition for a day’s tuition with some pro drivers, including Roger Clark, his appraisal was I should stick to my navigating as all my brains were in my right foot.” With that in mind then, it seems likely that we will be seeing Ian in his natural environment of map master for some time to come, but with his recent forays into route planning as well as some other behind the scenes work who knows where Camper will pop up next. You can bet though, that wherever and whatever it is, he’ll be doing it with full commitment.