Solo Camper – To Coldly Go…

Why would anyone want to go camping alone? Really? I’m not talking about life affirming treks and feats of survival, or wild ventures of scientific discovery – simply eating, sleeping and relaxing outdoors under a thin polyester veil for the sheer sake of it

As far as I see it camping is about deprivation, griminess and making the best of less-than-ideal situations.

To enjoy this it’s essential to have camaraderie to:

  • calm you down when cobbling two mis-matched tent parts together which don’t fit so one of you gets soaked
  • entertain yourselves when it’s 8pm, dark, your fire’s gone out, you’re bored, wide awake and surrounded by sheep
  • mock the person who gingerly edged down a slope to the loo, slid through a mud patch on their back and wet their pants
  • encourage each other when you get lost in the woods trying to find the lake but instead found a bear
  • take photos of you when you drunkenly fall into a puddle and can’t fight your way out of your own sleeping bag
All of the above have happened to me on past group camping excursions but I wonder if they’d be so amusing when going solo.

I got the chance to try this out when I worked a few days at a small festival. As the only volunteer from outside the village there was no accommodation and it was suggested that I camp in a nearby field. Imagining it would be an adventure, I agreed.

Hay-on-Wye is an unusual place. If you think 100 book shops on one street isn’t enough or you like rummaging for antiques, bric-a-brac and a bedsit under one roof – a ruined castle roof – then you should pay this microcosm of old-fashioned country values and bohemian coffee shops a visit.

I don’t drive so I hitched my kit on my back and took the bus through the windy lanes to ‘the countryside’. Mobile signals don’t infiltrate here and my signal disappeared as soon as I entered the village. Not particularly comforting start to the trip.

With no signs or maps, finding the field took ages and the locals had no idea what I was talking about asking for a named field. Eventually I spied a very small wooden sign hammered into the grass with ‘tangerine’ painted on it. Hurrah.

Rugged and isolated, my pitch was in a disused field on the riverside, completely empty and although it was lined by trees, there wasn’t any wind shelter.

~

Pitching was the first hurdle. One of my few practical skills is being able to pitch a tent and pack it back in its original bag, so I was reasonably confident. This waned however when I felt raindrops and a sudden sense of urgency. My tent is a classic ‘put rods in then nail it to the floor’ type deal but even this took longer than expected and one side of the tent was damp by the time I secured the waterproof flysheet. The damp half was designated as the ‘storage area’ and I hauled my gear in and hid from the now quite heavy rain.

Setting up a mini home was fun; I laid a heavy, woollen bed blanket across the floor then blew up my airbed which, incidentally, had a puncture. I tried to use it anyway perhaps because it was bloody heavy and I’d lugged it around for hours.

Food was rationed out: I had a cereal bar and bagel to see me through the evening. Bored, stuck ‘indoors’ I pulled out my teach yourself to crochet guidebook with the sorry attempt I’d made earlier (I have since learned to crochet and found that it is virtually impossible to learn it from a book). Determined to have another crack at it, I took out my trusty camping lantern to stitch the night away.

Trusty, yes. After three minutes of controlled, steady winding – and one more of impatient yanking – it was clear that the lamp only shone when being wound and the second it was released slipped into a selfish, contained glow which barely illuminated its own casing. A major let down and I knew that without a decent light, the wet evenings would linger.

Wide awake in the gloom and trumped by a lantern, there was only bed time left. Getting dressed in the pitch black ice air was ridiculous! I psyched myself up to take my clothes off one item at a time. I can only imagine how crazy I looked racing to get dressed and had poked my head through a sleeve hole and tried to squeeze two legs into a t-shirt!

I slunk off to my semi inflated bed, of which the long section was a brushed cotton sack and the pillow proudly buoyant, and attempted to sleep through a storm. The wind blasted from all sides and managed to sneak inside the tent and the rain heaved down. They say that all your fears and irrational worries come out in force at night, but any reservations I’d had about sleeping alone in a field were overcome by – who on earth would go out in this monsoon?! At some point I guess I fell asleep.

~

Morning came and like some kind of cruel trick, you wouldn’t know that there’d been a storm. The field was a tad unkempt and the river higher, but otherwise it was bright and crisp and I emerged like Smeagol from a cave, cramped, blue from cold and very weirdly dressed. But, pleased at surviving, I fastened my door flaps up and watched the ducks on the river while I ate the remainder of my cereal bar. After a shockingly negligent wet wipe wash, I tripped off to the fayre for work.

~

On my return a mini tent town had grown around me. With the choice of an entire field neighbours had hemmed me in on both sides so that my only way in was the brambled bank which sloped off to the river. How very kind. I couldn’t wait to meet them. It had been a tedious day at the grindstone and I needed a good night’s sleep. I threw myself into my travel home and lazily gorged on boiled eggs and crackers with cheese, and used the remaining light to prepare for bed.

Another dreary night loomed so I layered up my floor blanket as a mattress, draped my airbed skin over the top to protect from the rough, itchy blanket and found the foam earplugs I had in my toiletry bag. Oh joy, that was a night which bordered on cosy! At one point I opened my eyes and saw the entire top of the tent furiously shaking back and forth and could see the rain lashing down. Warm, voluntarily deaf and content, I closed my eyes and ignored it.

Nature wasn’t about to let me win this fight and decided that I should venture outside: I needed the loo. I tried to delay it as long as I could but I had to give in and angrily got my boots and coat on, and took my pointless excuse for a torch; I shot out with no idea where to go. It was crashing down with rain but the wind had eased off and I clambered through the brambles to get beyond the tents and to the trees. They sheltered me quite well from the rain, if not from any wandering eyes. Nature satisfied, I hurried back to the tent and under covers, sopping wet and ice-cold to re-commence what was otherwise a relatively comfortable night.

By morning the river was swollen and encroaching on the bank a little. No fellow campers were around although their scattered of bottles, cans and food packets suggested that they were out for the count. Unimpressed, tired and filthy, I un-pegged my tent and dragged it out from amongst the tangled guy lines and rubbish to re-set it away from the river. Somehow, being in a field where I knew I was alone was preferable to being a solo camper amongst drunken strangers. I worried they might steal stuff, be offended that I moved and play a stupid prank on me or, vaguely realistically, stumble home in a drunken stupor and completely take out my tent with me in it. It plagued me.

Sympathetic friends were visiting the fayre and offered to rescue me. We drove to the riverside, disassembled my tent in record time and high-tailed it out of there. Thank you, friends.

~

Solo camping is not fun and I can’t imagine that I’ll ever choose to do this again. Without the joking, stories, wood gathering, fire building, singing, trekking and general company, camping is reduced to huddling in the cold, dark, real world pining for the luxury of a conversation.

For the hardy amongst you, still curious about an outdoor solo adventure, I’d recommend smuggling along a friend for emergencies. Even if it’s a furry one.

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