I woke to a day that was as dark, wet and dreich as any day in mid-winter, so no rushing out on a bike this morning.
Reading through my e-mails I came across a lad that is intent on going wild camping. Something I know a little about. I camped with my dad from an early age, old heavy canvas tents at that time, ridge or bell in construction. Our tend did not even have a fly sheet so when it rained water would seep in at the seams (or if you inadvertently touched the canvas walls of the tent, this also causing bridging). Dry canvas is like that, but when the canvas becomes saturated the fibres will swell making the whole thing much more water and windproof. until that happened I was sent out to rub a bar of soap up and down the seems, pretty much a useless exercise.
The story goes that when the weather was cold, the highlander in his kilt would go sit in the burn to wet the material of the kilt. I can see the sense in this for a dry kilt material would, like the canvas of our tent, swell with the water and make it much more windproof.
When I started hillwalking I found you did not get far if you were weighed down with a heavy pack, so over the month’s stuff would be discarded until only the minimum (for safety) would be carried.
When I walked from Ben Hope to Ben Lomond, I bivouacked on the side of the hill at night, no point in losing height if you did not need to, so carried a bivouac sack. If the weather was bad I would look for some shelter in a cave or overhanging rock. Then again, I was young and fit at that time.
Cycle touring, I have always loved, I learned very quickly that you can get by with the bare minimum. So when I started long-distance cycle touring I did not go down the road of overloading the bike with four greedy pannier bags, but travelled fast and light, using Youth Hostels, (or European equivalent). Over the years you quickly learn, that whatever you take with you, you will have to carry. So I adopted the same strategy I had when hillwalking, the least you can get away with.
The tent I chose was not really a tent in the traditional sense, the inner tent was made from a net material with a sewn-in groundsheet that came up the side about 2 inches all the way around to form a sort of waterproof box. Over this went a very lightweight nylon flysheet that reached all the way to the ground. It was only about 18 inches high, and although I could not sit up inside the tent, the flysheet did protrude out over the entrance to form a shelter for your boots and cooking equipment and lying in the tent with your head poking out the entrance you could happily rustle up a meal, even when it rained. The whole thing could be pushed into a stuff sack and tucked into my saddlebag. I only carried a Brooks, long flap, saddlebag, if I could not get it in the saddlebag then it did not go. The sleeping bag and the self-inflating mattress were much bulkier, and when everything was in the bag the long flap of the bag was unfolded and this is where the sleeping bag and mattress were tucked.
That is until I had Tim (my mother’s Yorkshire terrier) along with me on my trips, necessitating the use of a tent, Youth Hostels are not keen on dogs staying for the night. At first, Tim had a basket attached to the rear rack and above the two 20L bags.
I later bought a child trailer for the bike, but Tim was having none of it, so back on went the basket for our Lordship’s convenience and the trailer carried our camping equipment and Tim’s chunky meaty bites. This worked well, and Tim and I travelled extensively around the UK, mostly England for that is where we were living at the time.
The big problem with camping today is it has become very commercial, mostly catering for families, with all mod-cons, alas this all comes at a price. Unless you can find a basic campsite you will be just as well to book into a Youth or Backpacker hostel, for the cost will be at least comparative or sometimes less expensive, (wild camping is not allowed in France or Germany). A sign of the times.