I have just been reading about Ocean (what a lovely name) - the East Anglian Gypsy woman who wandered around Norfolk and Suffolk the whole of her life until she died in her early nineties. I wonder if you have heard of her Rachel?
These 'characters' don't seem to exist any more do they whereas at one time every country area seemed to have one or two. We certainly did on the edge of the Lincolnshire Fens. Our female 'woman of the road' was Pyewipe Liz, who used to wander through the villages with her daughter who, looking back, must have been of school age but never seemed to go to school. I must be talking of the years just before the Second World War - maybe 1935 - 1939 (I was born in 1932). I remember her well - she always called at our house because she knew my mother was friendly. She would give Liz any clothes I had grown out of, give them both some kind of meal and send them on their way. She was called Pyewipe Liz because she came from Pyewipe, about a couple of miles the other side of Lincoln.
Pyewipe is a small settlement on The Fossedyke, the 'canal' - dug by the Romans I think - which links Brayford Pool in Lincoln (the River Witham runs into that) with the River Trent at Newark. And as for the odd name 'Pyewipe' for a settlement (too small to be called a village) - Pyewipe is a colloquial word in the area for a Peewit or Lapwing.
We also in those days had 'Men of the Road' - my mother would never have them called 'Tramps'. Many of them were 'casualties' of the First World War - not wanting to live indoors they wandered about the villages, sleeping in barns, picking up a few days work as and when they could. As was the custom in those days, our gate post had some kind of sign on it, put there by the men, indicating that this was a safe house to call at. There was always a place set in our wash house in case a tramp called and he would always be given food - a hot meal if it was the right time, or maybe something as simple as bread (my mother baked her own) butter, cheese and a few pickled onions (she also pickled her own) but always something. And if there were any old clothes of my father's she would make them try them on in the wash house and if they fitted give them to them (my Dad would burn the old ones on the bonfire) but if they didn't fit she would keep them for the next 'caller'.
These characters seemed to disappear with the onset of the Second World War - or was it with the beginning of the so-called 'Welfare State' - and of course that is as it should be. There is something romantic about it all, and something to look back on with nostalgia but in the cold, clear light of day - there is nothing at all romantic about it all, is there.