Why I shall never go camping again | Steve Canavan

Many people have told me over the years, ‘you should try camping, you’ll love it’.

Saturday, 19th September 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Saturday, 19th September 2020, 3:44 pm
Get me outta here! Steve will not be going back under canvas any time soon. Picture: Shutterstock

Maybe it’s because I’ve a beard and I go walking in the hills that makes them assume I would enjoy spending time in a tent.

But it doesn’t. I mean beds – comfortable ones – were invented for a reason. If God had wanted us to sleep in the middle of a field he wouldn’t have invented houses (God did invent houses, right?).

These camping enthusiasts babble on about being at one with nature and enjoying a feeling of total relaxation. ‘And you can’t beat the fresh air,’ they’ll add.

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They are, I’ve concluded after going camping on Saturday, liars.

Me and a couple of friends decided recently – because we’re all about 40, have young children, and are generally unhappy – to buy a tent each and camp on top of a mountain somewhere.

I admit I was rather less keen on the idea than my friends. ‘What’s wrong with a hotel?’ I said. ‘In a hotel you get a mini-bar, a TV and some nice lavender handwash.’ But they scoffed and claimed I wasn’t getting into the spirit of it.

Once I’d purchased the tent – 65 quid – I was told by my mates I needed a sleeping bag and a roll mat. Then I realised I needed a bigger rucksack because my existing one was too small to fit in all this new clobber.

I spent more than £300 – Mrs C hasn’t been told this, so keep it to yourself – and so we embarked on our first wild camping venture, sleeping halfway up a mountain in the Lakes.

I’d love to say it was an enjoyable, thrilling experience but I spent the night shivering, and was so cold I ended up trying to sleep in my full walking outfit complete with bobble hat and gloves. I couldn’t understand it in the morning when my two companions revealed they had slept only in their underwear because it had been so warm.

It later transpired – and I can almost hear the experienced campers among you openly snorting in derision – I was using a sleeping bag only fit for summer and with a comfort rating of nine degrees. That particular night it had been just above zero. Lesser men may have perished. Thank goodness I wore my thermal jockstrap.

So I shelled out another £50 on a suitable, warmer sleeping bag and we headed to the Yorkshire Dales for our second trip.

I checked I had packed all essential items – tent (it’s crucial you remember this I find), toothpaste, sandwiches, toilet paper (the latter is especially important – it’s bad enough having to awkwardly squat and defecate in the wild, it’s even worse if all you’ve got to wipe with afterwards is the cling film you’ve wrapped your sandwiches in) - and then said goodbye to Mrs C and the children, being careful to give the impression I was genuinely sad to be leaving them for the night when inside I was screaming, ‘yesss, freedom, let me out of here’.

We parked on a road in the Dales, walked uphill for an hour and then, with the light fading quickly and rain starting to fall heavily, decided to pitch our tents.

Because we couldn’t quite see where we were setting up it was only when I had my tent fully up – which took the best part of 45 minutes because I accidentally dropped seven of the 12 pegs into some deep heather – did I realise I had not only pitched on a slope but on top of a horrible circular tuft of raised grass that refused to be flattened.

After pitching our tents (we each had a small, two-man tent) we had a beer and then, because it was raining and starting to get worryingly windy, had no other option but to get in our tents. We had pitched them in a little circle but managed to do it so all the doors were facing out, not in, thus we had no way of seeing each other and could only communicate by shouting into the abyss.

This isn’t the best way to have a meaningful conversation and so, at 9.10pm, we gave up and decided to try to sleep. It is the earliest I have been to bed since 1983. But then came the realisation that sleep might be tricky.

This was because it was blowing a gale (apparently there were 70mph gusts on the tops) and the tent appeared to be trying to take off. I was so concerned I brought my rucksack inside, just to weigh it down as I really didn’t fancy waking up the next morning in Spain. For one thing I’d have to quarantine and I’ve not got time for that.

I kid you not when I say I spent the next seven hours staring at the inside of my tent, which was being relentlessly buffeted and pummelled by the wind (you never quite realise how loud the sound of the wind is until you’re in a tent on the top of a mountain). The only upside was that it made me realise the tuft of grass I had annoyingly pitched on was the least of my problems.

What made the whole night even more frustrating and annoying is that my two friends slept soundly nearly all the way through.

Being 44 I needed two wees during the night – on the second occasion, after carefully putting on my trousers and waterproof jackets, I zipped open the tent only for the wind to propel an empty water bottle into the wilderness. Not wanting to litter the countryside, I found myself, at three in the morning, frantically chasing a plastic water bottle across a barren Yorkshire moor.

I finally dropped off some time gone 4.30am and got a couple of hours sleep before waking again at half six to the sound of my friend – just rising from a pleasant nine-hour slumber – breezily shouting, ‘wakey wakey, anyone fancy a coffee?’

It’s fair to say I wasn’t in the best shape or mind-set for the 12-mile walk we then did and got back to the car later that day on the verge of both a physical and mental breakdown.

My mate texted that night to suggest ‘we get another date in the diary for the next wild camp’.

I deleted it immediately and put the tent in the attic, never – hopefully – to be seen again.

A message from the editor, Mark Waldron.

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