Anyone who’s familiar with my round-Britain trip will know I’m not the camping type. Perhaps it was the forced nights-under-canvas on family holidays, perhaps it was the cold, wet, and fitful sleeps I suffered as a festival-going 20 something, or perhaps it was simply that a duvet and a shower at the end of the day make me a happy cyclist. Whatever the trigger, I reached my late 20s a self-confessed canvas hater.
So, when I cycled round Britain, I spent the six months leading up to the trip making sure I had a bed to sleep in each night. I contacted everyone I knew, and many people I didn’t know, arranging my accommodation for each place in advance. I would sleep in comfort each night, and the kindness and hospitality I received from my hosts was a wonderful part of my ride. Knowing where I was staying each night helped me when the going got tough, and I could travel relatively light without all that camping kit. I relied so much on the luxury of people’s homes, I didn’t even take a towel!
But I couldn’t help feeling that, despite the advantages, I was missing out. I found myself envious of others who had the confidence to just pack a bag and go, leaving the details of the trip to beautiful chance. And planning to such a degree meant I spent a lot of time unnecessarily worrying about what might happen if it went wrong. On the few occasions when the planned accommodation fell through, it was hard to enjoy the journey, anxious instead about where I might stay that night.
It was in 2012, the year after the round-Britain trip, that I went on my first Otesha tour. And part of the tour was camping. If I am going to camp, I’m going to do it properly, I thought. So I spent real money on real camping equipment, and took my luxuries, including a REAL FEATHER PILLOW. And, to my surprise, I loved it. I was amazed that this thin little layer of canvas could be such an effective shelter; I mean, it was warm inside! And with my roll mat, my blow-up mattress, a cosy sleeping bag and my proper pillow, I had a comfy and satisfying sleep each night.
Since that tour I have gone on other trips with varying degrees of organisation, and over time I’ve learned not to worry about the minor things. You never know what might happen on the road, and planning things in too much detail can take away some of the beauty and freedom of touring. I now have the confidence and desire to just pack a bag and go – I know how to tour; it will be fine.
Now, I am cycling from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, promoting my book as I go. So in fact, the planning for this trip has been almost more difficult than any other, as I’ve booked and promoted an event at every stopping point along the way. The wonderful thing is that the cycling itself hasn’t worried me at all. I haven’t been concerned about what to pack and where to stay, or about what to do if I get lost. I have a simple guidebook to the ‘LEJOG’, and I have a tent and a sleeping bag, and I have a small collection of clothes. It’s so freeing to know that I will cycle to the next place and when I get there I can work out where to stay.
So far, I have ‘wild’ camped (camping without the express permission of the landowner) in the picnic area of a National Trust property, stayed in a hostel, had two beds offered at the last minute (from people who’ve attended my talks) and now I’m set up in a campsite. I’m hoping to do more wild camping as I make my way northwards; I have truly come to love my cosy sleeping bag and tiny little tent, that does an amazing job of keeping the elements at bay, even in high wind and rain. Perhaps I didn’t really hate camping before. I probably just never did it right.