Camp isn’t the kind of word that people use to describe me. However as an activity, its rather cool.
The Chester and District walking group organised a weekend away in Wales with Sue C. at the helm, and I couldn’t resist it.
I got up early on good Friday, reached for my rucksack, and jumped on the train. Twenty minutes later, I get of at Ruabon station and begin the walk into Llangollen.
Its about 4 miles to the town, and a walk I’ve done before in a darker time (its nice sometimes to return to these places now that things are better, and sort of put things right).
As it was, I didn’t have to do the whole walk along the canal (that would come the next day, towards the end of a superb walk up high in the hills above Llangollen).
Sue had waited on the road to give me a lift. I jumped in and we sped towards the camp-site. I was especially pleased, as the road to the camp-site, is ludicrously steep (as I’d find over the 2 evenings, walking back from the pub !)
Wern Isaf farm camp-site has simple facilities, as its a working farm.
When I’m going camping, I don’t usually look for swimming pools and television rooms.
The 2 main things for me, are that the showers and toilets must be spotless (being outdoors is no excuse for a lowering of cleanliness and hygiene standards. In an outdoor setting, cavalier attitudes to washing and germs can be downright dangerous).
The other thing, is the people running it, and their attitude to anti-social behaviour. If some idiots arrive late in a van and start playing loud music, will the owners come and and throw them off the site, or just roll over in bed and leave everyone to their own devices. This is important as I’m not a social camper. If I’m sleeping in a tent at night, it means I’ll be out on the hill in the morning, and I need my sleep.
We set up our tents. I’ve brought a 3 man tent. A bit bigger to carry, but was expecting friends might want to stay over, and with the extra space, would just need to bring a mat and sleeping bag in the boot of their car.
Sue asks my advise re tent pitching. I stupidly position our tents on steep hill, reasoning with my feet facing down hill, it would be more comfortable (it wasn’t, I kept sliding off my thermarest).
I regail expertise given to me in the scouts some years earlier “Always put the arse of the tent into the wind”. I thought it was a fairly practical piece of advise, but Sue collapsed in stitches laughing. She had heard this advise before, but never in the graphic format I had demonstrated.
As I tended to my minimalist backpacking tent and super lightweight sleeping bag, Sue set up her air bed and 3 quilts.
I didn’t complain though. By the time I’d finished, there was a table and chairs set up, with 2 cans of Fosters. Result.
It was Friday, with exciting walks planned for Saturday and Sunday, so we decided to acclimatise to the environment. Walked over to the Abbey and had a cup of tea, in the tea shop near the other camp-site there. They have camping pods on this camp-site and when we politely ask one of the occupants what they are like, they are so proud, they give us a guided tour.
We wander back along the canal to Llangollen and I spot this duck.
I look closely, and it looks like a model or something, run by remote control.
One of the other people on the bank explains that its quite common to see it, its an oriental duck and probably escaped from a Zoo or something like that.
Back in Llangollen (a place I’m falling in love with) we have a wander around the shops. I pass the pro-adventure shop where I’d previously done canoing and mountain biking. We walked passed a really cool hardware shop, that literally had everything you would need for camping (and this place had everything INCLUDING the kitchen sink !).
Wandering further, we see this very diplomatic letter, that someone had left out, along with some local by-laws.
We visit the high street chippy. Only £3.50 for fish and chips, and their delicious. We head for the summit of everes. Sorry I meant to say walk up the hill to the camp-site, although it felt like the same thing !.
I relax in my tent with a book (I’m trying to extend my Japanese garden, in advance of my birthday in Chester on Saturday the 5th of May. Plug, Plug).
In the evening, we head into town, and I see this sign.
It appears to me, to be inviting people to urinate in the corner next to the cash machine. Thankfully, nobody seemed to be doing this.
We tour some of the local nightspots. First of, the Star. An absolutely brilliant pub I discovered one weekend after walking. We hang around, but leave when some live music starts playing (not really my thing).
Next up the rough one, The Bull. Idiots in pubs, don’t frighten me, but I prefer to give them a wide berth. As we arrived in the pub, somebody was re-enacting a fight he’d had recently, blow by blow. This wasn’t uncommon, when I was 13, but this guy is in his 40’s and should know better.
After one drink in here, we move onto Bensons. From the outside, it looks like a double glazing showroom. Its very friendly here, and we stay for 2 drinks. A final drink in the bridge end (next to the famous taxidermist).
As we leave, I realise, tragically, that the chippy is closed. I grab a hot and spicy pizza and head up the hill, wheezing. I offered the leftovers to some lambs in an adjoining field, but they weren’t on board with it.
And so to bed. Sleeping in a tent, is one of those things that you always remember with a certain romanticism, but while your actually doing it, it isn’t like that at all.
Driving rain, lambs with the attitude of gangster rappers and a family with a young child suffering from tourette’s made for a poor nights sleep.
No matter. I get up early and go for a lone walk with my ipod (I know that I’ll be spending a lot of the next 48hrs around other people, so grab my own energy space while I can).
We wait in the canal side cafe, to meet up with the days walkers (who unlike us, haven’t had the stomach for camping). A few people have breakfast (ridiculously, the children’s breakfast is just the right size, and the “normal” breakfast is too much food for man or beast.
We head out for the day. Walking up Dinas Bran (which means Crows Hill, the site of the old castle that overlooked Llangollen).
We head back down the other side, then the path gets steep as we head for the much higher hills, that overlook the valley.
Somewhere I’ve not been before, with spectacular views (you can see from this photo, that were much higher, than Dinas, Bran, the hill in the background. The weather is still changable with some rain, but its not cold at all.
Further up the hill still, is leftover snow, and in places you can wade through snow up-to your thighs and possibly try an ice axe arrest (if you can do it in 8 feet !).
A decision is made that some people will go back after a couple of hours, and head home. A few of us stay on, and wander further up hills…
Through forests …
And the Prospect tea house. Just before this, we come upon an injured woman (who had driven to the top of the hill, then tripped up, walking from her car to a picnic spot. Were ready to provide assistance, but an ambulance has already been called (and when they arrive, they don’t look impressed).
A few people head home, some people are staying for the evenings meal booked at the Cornmill, and yet others are waiting for us back at the camp-site.
We go back to the camp-site to get ready. I notices Dave’s tent.
Its one of those special moments. Nobody on the camp-site is even vaguely aware. A tents a tent isn’t it ?. Not really, Dave’s tent is a Hilleberg. Just about the best you can get and nobody notices it.
I joked later, if he offered to give me his car or his tent as a gift, Id take the tent.
Back in town, I realise the famous Cornmill has 3 floors, and our table is booked on the top floor. The food here is famous throughout the country. I decide to go for something simple, and have burger and chips. A couple of pints to wash it down, and some great company. Its then I realise just how tired I am. Its been a quieter evening than last night, but relaxing all the same.
More torture in the tent, but in the morning, its forgotten (although I give the lambs a stare that tells them how I’m feeling).
As I take the tent down, I’m reminded of the advice from Ray Mears, for breaking camp. When you first arrive at camp, all your kit tidy and organised, as you’ve probably preped it at your house, where its warm and there’s plenty of room.
When you break camp, the temptation is to cut corners and throw things together quickly. Avoid this at all cost, and prep things as though you were in your living room.
This time, we drive into town to meet everyone for breakfast. We briefly visit a bring and buy sale, then sit down for breakfast at a cafe that doubles as a book shop (they were very disorganised, and although my cheese on toast was cooked ok, I really think they should stick to books).
But we’re not in Llangollen to sit down. We jump back in the cars, and heard for the Ponderosa. The weather is quite bad, and there are discussions about walking at a lower level (and in some cases, going home altogether).
Maps are consulted, and an improvised route is decided on. Its a different group today, from the previous day (only Gaynor, Sue and me have done both days). We head downhill, and cross fields in drizzle (which is concerning, as I know every step we take downhill, means another step back up hill, when we’ve finished !).
We continue walking, and find a farmhouse.
Its called Glyn cottage and is really remote. It doesn’t look like it has electricity, and instantly reminds me of the building in Withnail and I.
No sense wasting a wind break. We sit down next to the wall, and have lunch.
Passing through various stiles there’s a heated discussion about the boat race saboteur.
We wander down a lane, and I see this house.
Its then it hits me. 3 years ago, Tony and I drove top the countryside (which at the time, felt like the middle of nowhere) to look at holiday properties he was thinking of buying. I’m actually standing next to the exact house now !. Small world.
We continue our wander, but with the enthusiasm and friendly conversation of the group, I hardly notice the steep hills, and were back at the Ponderosa.
I queue behind a disorganised family to buy some hot chocolate. Settled with friends in a corner, nursing hot drinks, I realise our adventure is over and its time to go home.
Good news for me, is that Pete is driving back to Chester and Ill be dropped at the front door, so no messing about with trains on a bank holiday.
Im in bed by 8:30 that evening, and sleep most of the following day. I must have really needed my rest.
Thanks for everyone who came, and especially Sue for taking the time to plan and organise everything.
Same time next year ?