Monday, 30 September 2013

camping in the Highlands

The washing machine is turning quietly, the little ones are in bed, the older ones and Richard busy elsewhere. Time to sit down and enjoy the tiredness and contentment that comes with a busy weekend spent outdoors. And what a weekend it was! The last weekend in September is a bank holiday weekend in Glasgow and the schools were closed. It is a family tradition to go camping on bank holidays whenever possible and this weekend we went up North, to a campsite between Glencoe and Kinlochleven on the shores of Loch Leven. The campsite is small, the owners are laid back and the facilities are just fine (but not luxurious).

We don't often camp alone and this year, too, we were joined by two families and my friend Christine and her daughter Annie. 
The weather was glorious and unseasonably warm, there was no need for hats and gloves and three layers of clothing and the waterproofs remained unused. We barely touched our piles of clothes, packed in anticipation of a our usual Scottish weather (the surprisingly small mountain of washing adds to the general feeling of happiness).

The campsite was nearly empty and we had the pick of the pitches. We were scattered alongside the water's edge, which maybe was not the best choice as the winds were high and one tent collapsed under the pressure of the gusts. Not ours this time! We are however well used to rescuing children and stuff from under collapsed tents and formed a rescue line to get all out and piled up high. This is the Highlands after all and one tent is a small prize to pay for a fantastic weekend. It was on its last legs anyway.

Funny, over the years all "standard" family tents in our large and loosely organised camping group have been replaced by sturdy storm proof Outwell palaces with 22 mm metal poles and panoramic porches big enough to seat 20!

The days are lazy and full of chatter when we are camping. The kids form little groups of friends, fall out, regroup, play and explore the surrounding hillsides, conquer the hills, dam the brooks, throw stones in the water, fish and play hide and seek. 

Every now and then, hunger brings them back to the hub where the responsible adults make sure there is always a cake or chocolate ready. The Brussels sprouts are left behind and food is simple, barbeque, pasta Bolognese and curry, usually prepared at home and frozen to keep cool boxes cold for as long as possible.

Us adults spend our days around the hub, which is usually near the campfire. Some go for walks, some for a bike ride, some never really move away from the hub. I am quite happy to knit or crochet and chat for an entire day, as long as there is a thermos with hot water for tea and coffee. This is my newest project, a roll neck jumper knitted from the top down in one piece, knitted from wonderfully scratchy New Lanark Aran wool. It is more portable than my crochet blanket!

It was all very relaxed, no plans, no schedule. Wood collecting does play a major part whenever we go camping. This is a man's job according to the men and I couldn't agree more -for once! A camp fire is a must, if not to keep warm then at least to toast marshmallows. We do as a matter of principle only choose campsite that allow fires. There aren't many within driving distance and we tend to visit the same ones again and again.

Come night time, children are counted, sent to their respective temporary homes, washed and wrapped up in their fleecy pj's and sleeping bags. They sleep like logs, usually without waking up during the night.

I don't usually sleep as well, particularly during the first night. And I am always cold, really cold. No more! After years of shivering through the nights, hoping for morning to come, I splashed out on a down sleeping bag. Being a little obsessive, I spent weeks researching down sleeping bags, different makes and styles. I finally settled on a Cumulus Lady sleeping bag. This is slightly shorter than the average bag but with the same fill volume and a fleece lining around the feet. I should have invested in this years ago! It is suitable for alpine winter camping and did keep me toasty indeed. I did still not sleep well but for once it was not the cold but the howling winds, making guy ropes "sing" and loose bits of canvas flap madly. It is a startling, somewhat scary experience, lying in a tent in these conditions. Dreams are surreal and invariably involve storms. Despite the noise, the tent was barely moving, which was particularly strange. It does pay out to have a Beaufort 10 certified tent!

It was particularly difficult to pack the tent away but with the help of children holding it down and folding it over one peg distance at  the time we managed without incident (I have seen a tent lift off, including the owner who was trying to hold on).

I am happy and ready to tackle the next three months with renewed energy.

What a wonderful way to end the summer!



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