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30/09/2010

A day at Rossnowlagh Beach

I think that will be my last time using a tent this year. It was last Sunday afternoon and the quechua pop up got pressed into service as a beach shelter on Rossnowlagh Beach. I managed to get a few bits of camping gear into the car along with my garden kettle barbecue. I brought two chairs, my new plastic table from Field and Trek and a picnic blanket, along with a bag of warm clothes and towels for the kids.

They did indeed try swimming in the Atlantic ocean but as it's the end of September nearly and it was a dull, overcast day with the temperature at about 9 degrees I'm not surprised they got out of the water as fast as they got in. They closed up the doors of the Quechua and got changed, something of a luxury on a beach.

Later the wind got up a bit and my friend Violet and I enjoyed the shelter of the tent. After a while a couple came over to us to ask about the tent and I had a giddy moment raving on about my Quechua and imparted with all aspects of the tent, whether they wanted that much detail or not.

13/08/2010

A one nighter in Ballyness

I'd like to share my thoughts on the practicality of camping for one night only. I'd planned to go for two nights, solo (well with dog) while kids were at grans only dental appointments put paid to that. Anyway the weather report showed there wasn't any real point staying the second night.


The thing is, I'd got all excited about going camping (even though I'm just back from a two and a half week jaunt - see 'BIG TOUR') and I couldn't bear the thought that it might not happen. Even the night before I hardly got any sleep, I was so excited about going camping! I was going on my holidays!!....even though I'd just got back from some.....


I'd written a list detailing the things I would need. It included the Quechua seconds base plus inner, a lightweight airbed, my XL sleeping bag, a flight blanket (thin but warm), pillows, one chair, the stove plus kettle, a mug spoon and sharp knife, the sigg bottle for milk, the dogs crate, a windbreak, a lantern and a change of clothes. I also took the airbed pump, my toothbrush and a container of coffee, and strangely, a melon.


My Quechua really turned heads. I was very proud of my egg like space pod and I think everyone else was secretly envious of my cool tent. My sister and BIL (and kids) arrived on site for the afternoon. They had two little dogs, but one of them got tragically killed on the road last week. The remaining dog seemed to really enjoy the company of my dog. It was decided that we would all go to the beach, a place called White Park Bay. I've been here before but came at it from the east end, I've never approached it from the main path. The path is very steep, it's not so bad going down but it's a 15 minute hike back up to the car park again which required a fitness level better than mine. It's worth it though. Once I'd got my breath back from the ascent of the path we went off in search of fish and chips (diet...what diet) and luckily there's a place nearby that has won an award from the Fish Fryers Association. The whiting was spot on. Life is good. Especially when washed down with a couple of cans of beer.


I have to say I didn't sleep all that well. I've got spoilt with my Intex double height airbed. It took a few minutes to get feeling in all limbs again come morning. However, the 10 minute walk into the village to The Copper Kettle, where I sat outside and had 2 slices of bacon and two poached eggs, made it all a distant memory. I started striking camp at 12.30 and was on the road by one. That's not bad going considering it took me longer to force my sleeping bag into it's sack than actually take the tent down.


I've come to the conclusion, and you all probably already know this, that when packing up the thing that takes longest is emptying the tent. The quickest part is dropping the tent. Even my Icarus can be dropped and packed in 5 minutes. It takes me an hour to take all the crap out of it! On this occasion I had very little to take out of the tent, which eliminated all the faffing around!

Trip report about the 'BIG TOUR OF ENGLAND'

I went, as some of you may know, on a bit of a road trip around England, which for me entails getting a ferry from Belfast to Liverpool. We went for 2 and a half weeks and went to three destinations. The first was a little place near the town on Frome in Somerset. It is a campsite behind a pub called the Bell in the village of Buckland Dinham, run by a couple called Jeremy and Lucy.

Now the Buckland Bell is a very basic site. Before I went I was able to read very helpful reviews which did reveal that there are chickens roaming freely on site, and that indeed the only toilet facilities are in the pub, which aren't open at night. There is one portaloo on the campsite itself. What I didn't know was that there are approx. 5 cockerels among the 30 chickens or so, who start competing for the noisiest crowing at exactly 4am. I know this because it was a bit stormy, and on night one I was on extension watch. You know how Vango say that if the wind is up a bit it's probably quite sensible not to put the extension/canopy up, well I ignored that and subseqently sat up most of the night popping the elasticated bit back on every time it blew off. (I removed the extension the next day). Anyway I discovered the church bell went off on the hour every hour. So when the bell rang four times, the cockerels started. Over the coming week they would sidle up to my side of the tent, effectively splitting my ears as there's not much protection from a 2000HH bit of fabric!

Feeding the Chooks
 Night 2 I got nudged in the arm by unseen forces. The Propietor, Jeremy, lives in the corner of the field in a caravan because he's scared of the ghosts in the pub. So he was slightly worried when I informed him that I'd been nudged in the arm, twice, by a ghost and I could for certain rule out my kids playing a prank. Through the week a couple of other ghostly incidences happened. My kids saw what looked like a human form made up of white mist run across the garden of the pub. And there was a whole evening of unexplained doorbell rings in the pub itself, even though there was never anyone there. Then my son felt and heard a breath across his face. Now having watched a few episodes of Most Haunted I can catagorically say that these 'astral beings' were not out to get us and so we were not freaked out as we felt that if anything had malicious intent we would know about it!

There are no showers on this site, well, that is not strictly true. There's a pipe with a colander on the end which delivers freezing cold water in what Jeremy proudly calls his Bush Shower. When I got desperate enough to use it I hyperventilated for about 3 minutes. Then I went back to the tent and told my boys that actually it wasn't that bad. I was lying.

The 'Bush' Shower
 One of the most brilliant things about this site is that Jeremy provide beer barrels and upside down bin lids to light a fire with. I went to the nearest DIY and got a weber grill for £5.99 for a barbecue and the campfire really made our stay at this site special. We used this site as a base for sightseeing. We went to Longleat on four different days, then Glastonbury Abbey, the Clarks Village Outlet mall, and Wells Cathedral. I'm putting in a pic of Wells Cathedral because it is breathtaking and the town is such a gorgeous place. We also went to Bath, and got totally fleeced. I swear, Bath is a more expensive city to see than London. I know that because we went there too. We saw the Roman Baths (well you have to, don't you) and the Crescent and the Circus...very cool. I've seen so many documentaries about them and the masonic connection. 
The Roman Baths
 So onwards to London where we stayed in my little cousins back garden. We used that as a base to sightsee in London, so we did a few different things. We went to the driving range of the nearest Golf Club and banged a few balls. We took a boat from Kingston to Hampton Court palace and back again to Kingston. We went into the city and did the London Dungeons, then saw the Tower, the eye and Big Ben.

London was sticky and hot, phew! It wasn't any better at night. I had the wits scared out of me by an urban fox who clanged about the garden, before eventually scrabbling over the wall. I only read afterwards how three girls were attacked by a fox while garden camping.

The highlight, undoubtedly for my kids at least, was a day at Chessington World of Adventures. I even went on a few rides myself, although there were one or two I point blank refused. I have an inbuilt survival gene.

Chessington World of Adventures
 After 5 days or so I phoned Pillaton Pools Campsite on the off chance they would have some room for us. We wanted to go somewhere within driving distance to the ferry in Liverpool and Pillaton was a one and a half hour drive from the Ferry. I've heard so much about the site through UKCS and seen a few photos too and so it was a real treat to get in. We braved the M6 which wasn't as bad as feared and it was only a three and a half hour drive from Epsom, South of London.

The pitch we got was No. 175, just right beside the Chase pool. Four large steps took you to the waters edge. It was absolutely idyllic, although the ground was the hardest I've ever come across to put a peg into. I had only 8 rock pegs. Most of my pegs are a variety of pin pegs. I have some plastic pegs too which are usually great but no use to me on this site. I had to use a claw hammer to insert a rock peg in every point and every guy, then use the back of the claw hammer to pull it out again, and carefully, without losing the hole - insert an ordinary peg. I then poured a little water down each peg to swell the soil around the peg to make it hold fast. I also used all of the rock pegs on strategic points. The whole process meant it took about an hour to pitch my Icarus, which is usually up in 10 minutes. We even had a bit of an audience, which I hate because I had become a bit ratty at that stage. Pitching in this ground was a real endurance, and when I removed the pegs (with great difficulty) I found even some of my rock pegs were bent which says alot in itself. We were staying four days and made the most of the Farmers market in Penkridge which is on on Wednesdays and Saturdays. There was also an excellent meal to be had in The Star, a little pub in Penkridge, but again the highlight was going to Drayton Manor theme park, we even saw an actress from Eastenders there! I don't know which one but she was always miserable and also I think married to Phil Mitchell. I suspect that doen't narrow it down much.

Apart from how difficult it is to peg a tent down in Pillaton, I'd say it's one of the best sites I've ever been to, and I've been to a lot. It's well appointed for amenities and I like the rectangles which ensure the tents are 10m apart (for fire reasons according to the propietor). They were created using one of those machines that makes white lines on a football field, with a bit of Roundup mixed in with the paint to burn the grass into lines. I've never come across the technique before, but if a site wants to have designated pitches it strikes me this is the way to do it.

View from the tent over Chase Pool at Pillaton Hall campsite

01/06/2010

A 'thumbs up' Bank Holiday weekend

On this occasion I decided to travel to the Share Centre to set up, then return to our home town to pick the kids up from school. Then the idea was to go back to the Share Centre again, and we could properly start our holiday immediately! The reality was that the journey was tiring because the most direct road wasn't good and so I was being rattled to the teeth. In hindsight I think that hour long journey three times in one day was a bit too much.

When I first arrived at reception the bad news was that I wasn't allowed to take the car into the campsite because they've had issues in the past with the ground being churned up. So I was faced with lugging everything, on my own, over to the spot I wanted to pitch on. I didn't go too far, but between all the driving and the lugging and having to hitch myself over a chain repeatedly, the next day I felt as if I'd been beaten up!


I managed to get the tent up ok and I was pleased as I hadn't attempted it on my own before. I did have a moment of panic as the tent was quite saggy in the living area over head. I had a good headscratch and walk around. I could see that the ground wasn't completely even, and one corner was in a slight dip. But then when I tightened the bands in the corners at the bottom of the tent, the straps that you peg through, the tent magically went into it's proper shape. I put up the pup tent (which didn't get used anyway) and I put a small canopy over the door of my tent. The canopy had come with another tent, and is a bit like a tarp but it's got two straps with C clips on the end. I wasn't sure it would work out so this was an experiment. I had to get some more guy rope before the trip, and I already had the king poles. I was very glad of the extra canopy as it rained steadily all day Saturday. Had I not got it I would have had a very wet tent through the sloped doorway. So it meant I could keep the door open and sit inside watching the world go by. I had a camping neighbour in his Gelert Horizon 6 which is a very sturdy looking tent. He brought a rotary washing line which he put the TV aerial on. I've not come across many campers who bring a TV with them! I'm not sure I approve. It's my first time camping beside a TV and it was noisy, more noticeably so when it was approaching midnight. It didn't ruin my holiday but it was an annoyance. I got talking to my neighbour throughout our stay and discovered that they had a games console as well, he was quite pleased with his 'home from home'. I wasn't so delighted that he had pitched so close.

Unfortunatly the wine was flowing and I over indulged. So today, I packed up with a hangover. Probably the worst hangover I've had since I was a teenager. When I bent my head, I felt dizzy - the worst thing when you're packing bags and taking tents down and rolling airbeds and sleeping bags up! Everything is at floor level! My parents stayed in their Caravan so they weren't in the camping section which they said was a shame as the atmostphere is definately better in the camping area. She's not been well recently as she's been diagnosed with heart trouble and so we were careful not to stress her out with too much activity, but she did give the Archery a go. My kids went banana boating, joined by my nephew, and they also went out on the canoes. Today they went on the rock wall. The activities have gone up in price, so although there are two sessions a day for activities I limited them to one per day. The rain on Saturday is forgotten as the rest of the time it was pleasantly warm and dry too. It even dried up by saturday evening so we barbecued two nights. The first night we just got a chips and burgers from the takeaway. Today, my 9 year old nephew got into a strump when his parents made him leave. He wasn't speaking to anyone just stomped out of the reception and slammed the car door after climbing in. I said thats the sign of a good weekend, when they don't want to leave. For us all, it was a 'thumbs up' weekend!

12/05/2010

New trip planned for this weekend at Six Mile Water in Antrim, where I hope to be collecting the Vango Premium Extension from the shop and trying it out.

Edit: I was very disappointed to learn through UKCS that Six Mile Water have deliberately moved their tent area away from the amenity block in order (as the warden was overheard saying) to discourage the tenters. I promptly sent them an email containing a link to that information on UKCS and can honestly say they'll never get any business from me.

18/04/2010

Reflections on seasons first trip

What a brilliant trip! I learnt however that no matter how comprehensive my list was, it didn't include ear plugs (for noisy neighbours) and a football. I learnt that my new bells and whistles double height airbed just about fits into the sleeping pod lengthways and no more! The new Intex air bed was comfortable, but took a little bit of jiggling around. The first night it wasn't firm enough, the second a little too firm. I must take a 'reading' of how many minutes and seconds it takes to inflate to get it just right, and write it down somewhere. I didn't feel any cold from under the airbed as I usually do, but then this one is so much farther off the ground, and also I had a roll mat underneath.


The first night I put my air bed, and the boys two 75cm ones into the sleeping pod, with the dividing curtain separating them from me. We all had roll mats underneath, and there was a picnic blanket down as a 'carpet'. Elan quickly figured out that he didn't like having his camping gaz airbed covered with a bedsheet, as it made it too slippy with his sleeping bag. Cormac did like the sheet, so they had their airbeds the way it suited them. The pod was pretty much filled up by all of this, the two airbeds had a 5 cm walkway between them, and I had a narrow strip too where I put the clothes bag.


Elan slept in the Teen Tent the 2nd night, and our sleeping pod looked much better. I got rid of the dividing curtain, I put the rug right in the centre with edges tucked under the airbeds, and it was more airy, comfortable and I swear I slept better and warmer! Elan seemed to get on fine that night, he didn't have any problems with cold or the wet leeching through except the next day when a little Westie came along and cocked the leg on the corner. When we left he packed his little tent away by himself which for a pop up tent is a challenge in itself!


Verdict on using picnic blankets instead of a tent carpet


I didn't really like having the picnic rugs as carpet in the main tent. I did like having a carpet, it really was an asset, but having separate rugs didn't really work out. They kept getting rucked up and it's not really practical to keep dog and kids out - it's not a show tent we have to actually use it. I put an eco mat over the joins but that just created more rucking. I think there's no substitue for an actual made to fit carpet. The only positive side to having separate rugs was that it was easy to lift one and shake all the new mown grass off it. You couldn't do that with a carpet.


Noisy neighbours


We had noisy neighbours on our first night. A couple and their two small children in their 'Halfords Special' and obviously not hardened campers. The Mum arrived over to me after dark looking for large batteries for her camp light, but although I do carry spares for my own lights I didn't have the correct size for hers so I lent them my spare UFO light. I was amazed and horrified to see she'd been using her cigarette lighter up until that point - naked flame, in a poly tent! No way!


Anyway most of the noise came from their baby, who screamed like a Banshee from 3am onwards. On three different occasions they turned the ignition on their car and kept it running for about 20 or 30 minutes, probably to warm themselves and the baby. In fairness I recognise that babies do make noise and I would never hold that against anyone, but that was hard to bear in mind when I didn't get much sleep. The problem for me (as well as them) was the cold which I probably wouldn't have noticed much if I'd slept through it.


They were to stay until Sunday, but I wasn't much surprised when I woke up about 9 on Saturday morning and they were gone. I was saddened that being so ill equipped will probably put them off camping for life. When they talk about camping, they'll relate the horror story of their terrible night without the basic realisation that they had a bad experience because they weren't prepared.


Camping with dog was more successful than ever we've tried. I think the crate was an invaluable piece of kit which was well worth the packing space. I was able to contain her when we were sleeping rather than have her raiding the kitchen bag and spreading dog hair all over the tent. I was able to control her when Mum and Dad came round so she wasn't (as much) of a nuisance. In the evening she nodded off rather than being on high alert (I'm so impressed with this I'm keeping the crate in the living room!). It was a pleasure to have the dog with us. I think a successful camping trip is evident when I've got a younger (and of the two, more reluctant) son who says on the way out, Mum can we do this every weekend! I really enjoyed getting away, especially seeing family who all came to admire the new tent and see how we were. My sister took us for a walk around an amazing and for me, previously undiscovered piece of coast line, which took us eventually to Portbradden and the smallest church in Ireland, St Gobbans.


We really enjoyed our first camping trip of the season, and it's actually the earliest in the season we've ever gone camping. On this occasion I didn't have the patience to wait, and with the advice from UKCS forum I felt better prepared for the colder nights. I just wanted to say a big thanks to Mum and Dad for the new football and the scones and doughnuts!

15/04/2010

First trip of the season

The car is half packed and the spag bol is made, and tomorrow, straight after the kids get home from school, we're heading off to go campin. It'll be interesting to see how my new tent works out!

I test pitched the tent last week and was really disappointed that there was a little bit of damage to the groundsheet. I considered going through Vango to get a replacement, but the reply to my email was to take it back to the retailer. I rang the Scout shop and they said the process could take weeks. The damage is small, so i'm going to repair it myself.

I'd like to take enough things with me to be comfortable this weekend, but at the same time I don't want to take too much. It's always the same old quandry. I'm only going for 2 nights, but our needs are the same as if we were going for a fortnight. Food, warmth and entertainment!

My sister and co are joining us for an afternoons walking followed by a takeaway, so I really only need the suitcase stove for heating up the Spaghetti Bolognese for the first night, and heating the kettle. We won't have EHU which is a pity because I'd have liked the use of the heater. We have got a gas cartridge heater but you can't leave it even for a second, never mind go to sleep with it going.

Of course we need beds and bedding. It's April so we'll need extra blankets and warm things to wear in bed, as well as socks and hot water bottles.

We need chairs to sit on and I'll only take one table which we can use to cook and eat on. I'll not take the cupboard because I'll only find things to fill it with.

I need to buy Washing up Liquid.....and I think.....that's all!

05/04/2010

introduction

I always have to start somewhere. It might not be the most informative post but at least it gets me going. Apparently I can add photo's and video to my new blog, but I've no idea how. (I'll get there though)

I've been camping for 6 years, but it's more accurate to say I've been camping on and off since before I was able to walk. In days gone by, camping took place in a huge canvas tent with brown and orange curtains that took two people turning the air blue to put up, and needed a trailer for transportation. I hated the process of 'going'. I prefered it when we'd got there and everything was in place, then I could start the serious process of widening rabbit holes with my plastic spade in the hope of catching sight of one or two of them.

Camping nowadays take place with two fairly reluctant male children who would rather stay in a 5 star hotel. Now they have a radio instead of games consoles, and the loo is a five minute walk away. If it rains (which it invariably does) they're miserable, bored and hyperactive.

This year, camping is going to be a whole new experience. We've got a new tent on order from the Scout shop. It's a Vango Icarus 500, part of Vangos new weekend range but for me it will serve as a longer stop tent.

We've also got new sleeping systems in place. No more sleeping on a cold, flimsy Readybed. It's double height, stable edge airbeds with layers underneath and sheets on top and a 2 season single XL sleeping bag on top of that again! Well all that is for me. The kids are on new 73cm airbeds, with mats underneath and new Royal Mummy sleeping bags. Elan might be in his own 'teen' tent too, in which case there'll be all the more room inside for all the camping gear which seems to be on the 'must have' list this year!
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