I have mentioned before that I am not a big fan of camping, but last weekend I once again succumbed and sallied forth for a couple of nights under canvas.
The occasion was the annual Blokes’ Weekend to Porlock in Somerset. A bunch of friends make the trip every year to get away from the wife and kids for the weekend – and the wives are surprisingly happy to let them go! I had never been before.
Part of the tradition of the blokes’ weekend is that those with bikes go on the bike. That was, in part, what won me over. I had already done what was, for me, a lot of miles on my bike over the previous week and I was enjoying it.
This was also the cause of some trepidation, however, as none of my very few previous camping experiences have been on a bike, and my bike is not exactly equipped for the job: I refuse to install a rack or top box, all I have are some very small throw-over panniers.
Also, the weather forecast was extremely good.
Normally, if there is one thing guaranteed to make it rain, it is me putting up a tent. In fact, just the previous week I had put the tent up in the garden to ensure that it was still in one piece and no sooner was it up than out of a perfect blue sky came a rainstorm – and I was only practicing.
But the day came. Armed with some bungy cords and bin bags I managed to attach my camping gear onto the bike and I was off. I met up with a couple of friends for the ride down and it was immediately apparent that my gear was somewhat bulkier than theirs – no doubt you get the hang of streamlining things for the bike after a while.
The trip to Porlock is about 100 miles and takes around 2 hours: half of it on the M5, half on the A39. The roads were fairly busy, but the weather remained dry. I mostly overcame my paranoia about losing my luggage after the first 30 miles or so and relaxed into the ride.
Very nice. Very restful. However, that is another problem I have with camping: I am not very good at just sitting around in a field doing nothing. On this occasion, though, I seemed to relax into it and enjoy it: so far, so good.
A lazy afternoon ensued with much tea drinking until it was time to head to the pub for dinner. During the weekend we visited three pubs in the village and they were all excellent: friendly, welcoming and with a good range of well kept beer. Friday evening saw many of these well kept beers consumed as well as a remarkable quantity of pork scratchings.
I awoke the next morning to a hangover and the sound of voices. The sun was up and the tent was already getting warm. Groggily I looked at my watch: 0645. Well, that’s the longest day for you! Needless to say I went back to sleep.
It was still remarkably early when I finally rose from my tent, to be greeted by the sound and smell of frying bacon from several of the other tents. I, on the other hand, had decided that it was far less hassle to eat at a cafe in the village. The problem is it didn’t open until 10, so I had to suffer the torment of other people’s bacon for a couple of hours.
It was late morning by the time we were ready to do anything: the sun was up and it was a gloriously sunny day. I had been in a dilemma about whether to take the bike out for a ride or take a walk down to the weir. Eventually the latter won out. Paul, who had been to Porlock many times, was expedition leader. Right, he said, we’ll go up through the wood, down into the weir, through the marshes and past the desiccated forest…
For a moment there I thought I had slipped into The Lord of the Rings.
Anyway, it was a great walk with a fine pub in the middle of it. The ‘desiccated forest’ was especially interesting: the result of allowing the long drained salt marshes to once again be claimed by the sea, resulting in the salt water killing off all the trees.
Saturday night was pretty much a repeat of Friday: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. One lesson learnt though is, despite the lovely hot sunny weather, it gets cold in the evening sat outside the pub. It pays to pack a sweatshirt. Everyone else was happy to point out how nice and warm they were in theirs.
And so, all too soon, the weekend was over. After a slow start on Sunday morning the bike was once again loaded up and off we went.
I’ll definitely be back again next year.