Open to the elements

I have been camping with my son’s loads of times. If curled up under duvets, in three double beds, thermostatically controlled propane heating, four hob cooker with grill for breakfast, toilet and shower in the motorhome we have just sold counts.

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Forgive me if you feel I am boasting, I am trying to paint a picture of my boys camping experience. There was no raining pouring into the tent or waking up in a puddle. If the midges got bad we went inside closed the door, finished the dominoes with drinks chilled in the van’s fridge.

I tried to rectify this lack of roughing it, no campfires and no sleeping outside situation a few of years back, by buying a small 3 man tent from a work colleague. He stayed several hundred miles away in England, but was going past Stirling on the way to a festival, we were away on holiday when he left the tent in our greenhouse. There was no time to check the purchase before going back to work for the rest of the summer. The tent lay in the loft the until the following year.

It was slept in twice, a year apart in the same place. A small meadow in between Dunblane and Bridge of Allan, 3 miles from our house, it is a mile from the main road and civilisation, but far enough to feel like wilderness. 10 yards from the river Allan, an abundance of sticks and old branches for heating and cooking.

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I have come to realise children can’t distinguish between great distances or time, without food and activities every journey is a long and tortuous, it could be a short walk from the house or traveling from Scotland to Australia. Keeping them and me well feed, with a reasonable amount of planning any journey turns into an adventure, some adventures are bigger than others.

The meadow is flat, with plenty trees for boys to fall out of, during the summer the river does not impose much of a threat when children are supervised. The 3 man tent weighed a kilo for each man. The boys were loaded up with their own sleeping bags, clothes and a second pair of shoes. I am used camping in the motorhome with everything including the kitchen sink for the last seven years. My ruck sack was over 25 kilos for a single night camp, including the tent slung underneath it. Extra campers on both occasions differed but the results was the same. We went home with clothes reeking of smoke, lack of sleep but most of all a with sense of adventure, something we would have to repeat.

My camping experience is not extensive, my youngest camping memory is a week’s trip to Arbroath, my unkles dog, found my sleeping bag attractive and would perform a sexy dance with it every evening, pity I was in the sleeping bag at the time. I gained very little camping experience as I grew up, with a few chaotic nights up the woods with carryout’s of cans of Tennent’s and bottles of Thunderbird, things got messy, things set on fire, tents and stuff, including the crutches and plaster caste from a bloke with a broken leg. Imagine Lord of the flies mayhem with alcholpops.

I slepted in a Ray Mears bushcraft type camp for two nights it was a birthday present. We made shelters in the woods behind Blantyre, removed breasts from provided dead wood pigeons, we foraged for snacks, rubbed sticks together producing a glowing ember with the potential for a campfire. A few lessons stuck with me from that weekend and makes camping less stressful and more adventurous.

A walk last year in the wilds of Knoydart was a game changer. Most guys get a motorbike, sports car or trade in their wife for a younger more expensive model. My midlife crisis arrived with a new lightweight tent. The walk gave a renewed excitement for camping, more than, we should do this more often, but, times running out, life is short, a fear grew from awareness I might not discover all of Scotland’s Bens and Glens. With a realisation that camping opportunities in Scotland with favourable weather, disappear each year in a blink of an eye.

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Ben A’an 500m in the heart of the Trossach’s. The start of the climb started with the normal. Is this far? my legs are going to fall off, comments. But the views from the top and some chocolate helped, we had to return half way down the hill for firewood.

The boys slept in the new light weight tent. I slept outside in an army bivvy bag, I received it years ago, and had to remove the original packaging before packing into my backpack. The night had just enough wind to keep the wee biting midges away, it was truly an amazing evening looking down onto loch Katrine with a couple bottles of cider sundowners and mad chat from the three boys.

The last time I had an overnight in the Trossach’s hills in a sleeping bag was twelve years previous. The night before the summer solstice. Alan and myself decided to climb Ben Ledi starting at 10 pm getting to the summit around midnight just as it got dark. You could see street lights from Glasgow in the West to Edinburgh in the East. There was no areas on the central belt without light pollution, one big city, it was kind of depressing. The rain arrived an hour later sending us without a a torch towards the treacherous rocky corrie to the North. Sitting a couple of hours later, high up in the corrie wall. Spirits and the sun rose to a buzzard’s high chipping screech, circling looking for breakfast.

After Ben A’an the bivvy bag and lightweight tent were packed away for another year. As I went back off shore for the rest of the summer

This year I managed one night at Loch Drunkie in May. The first time sleeping under the christmas tarp Santa had delivered 5 months previous. I had to miss a celebratory party, my son was part of a national tournament winning basketball team. The coach was having a few drinks to celebrate.

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Loch Drunkie is a small loch in the Trossach’s its shore side is forestry commission land, there are several areas round the Loch for temporary small wild campsites, similar to the camp friends had already established prior to my arrival.
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The tarp was quickly set up with a large view of the Loch and hills. I enjoyed a peaceful solitary hour and half swim in the loch, it was more drifting than swimming, The night darkened the sky, I returned to the shoreside after 10 pm. Cups of chamomile tea helped for an early night in bivvy bag. I was protected under the tarp from the large drops of rain that had started, the tarp also provided an unhindered highland vista. I fell asleep looking out as dusk settled on the tree covered hills and the loch. This stoked the burning need to spend more nights outside under the my tarp in Scotland. I departed soon after, for the Shetlands islands. A month of swimming in northern waters at every opportunity work allowed.

I arrived home a couple of days before the school summer holidays really excited. My time at home began with the best start I could imagine, my wife took the day off work, I somehow persuaded her to don my wet suit for a swim round the wee island at Loch Chon.

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I don’t know if it was the relaxing effects of the swim, submerged in the picturesque loch surrounded by the green hills, or the opportunity spend time together laughing, concentrating on ourselves. Perhaps it was the full focus on controlling our bodies, emotions and feelings, we were both out of our comfort zones, I was appearing to look calm swimming in only trunks trying not to be worried hoping Clare was enjoying herself, Clare’s comfort zone was being stretched in all directions in the middle of a Loch for the first time. Trying not to panic when she could not feel or see the bottom, then trying to stay tranquil when the loch bottom transformed into knee deep, soft viscous mud. For a short time we were not discussing children, finance’s or jobs lists, we were caught in the moment. It doesn’t happen very often, if we get a night off, or go for a meal or a walk together we end up talking, resolving home, family, work issues or end up creating more by considering the future. These discussions are hard by text, emails or intermittent satellite phone calls offshore. I focus, relax, and clear my mind type thing during running, swimming or mountain biking, Clare practices Pilates, these are solo activities we might get the odd day snowboarding together but they are like hens teeth. Drifting round the island was magical only focused on us, on that point in the present. Her smile was massive in between the big breadths of calming air.

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Or maybe it was the promise of more red velvet cake and warming coffee, Clare had after the swim, that we found ourselves in Glasgow 2 days later looking for a better fitting wetsuit.

The first opportunity to get the tent and tarp out was a Sunday evening.
Going camping always starts at 3pm never 7am on the road by 9am always 3pm on the road by 5pm. We had to drop the motorhome with its new owners and give them a run through on its procedures and routines to make motorhoming easier. The weather for the Trossach’s was not great and ten minutes heading north the window wipers were on full, we were looking for a suitable place to turn round and head east. My oldest son was put in charge of googling chip shops in Dundee, two sausage suppers for my son’s, a bag of chips for their friend and a fish supper and single fish for me (a full bag of chips for the first time in a while, it must have been the excitement or was I just starving). A Google map malfunction sent us 3 miles into farm land dead end requiring a 20 minute detour.

We eventually got to the Tentsmuir forest. Grabbing all the camping gear we headed for the beach. Not long after we discovered the tent poles were left in the loft. Bugger.

The boys were sent for fire wood stay together if you get lost head to the beach team talk first.

By the time they came back with the second lot of firewood a shelter had taken shape for the four of us.

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The tarp was secured on two sides with the 2 washed up trees then survival techniques kicked in sticks were buried a couple of feet in the sand, securing walking poles giving the shelter height. The tarp was big enough for four sleeping mats

We got the fire started. That was when I noticed the sand shrimps about 5mm in length bouncing about in the sand. When I mentioned this to the boys they did not seem to concerned. The sausages were cooked and consumed, the boys became transfixed with poking sticks in the fire. That was when I noticed the noculenti sky. When the sun below the horizon shines on the high altitude clouds highlighting them

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We climbed under the tarp as the fire’s fuel ran out. At five I was woken by the sound of rain. The rain noise was coming from sand shrimps bouncing on the tarp. They were bouncing all over our sleeping bags as well. The view of the sunrise was worth it.

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After more sausages cooked on my gas cooker and a mid morning siesta

The camp was tidied and we headed to a waterfall outside Stirling to get rid of the sand.
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My summer holiday was cut short by two weeks. There was more swim time with Clare in Loch Venechar and we got two days camping in Arisaig.

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The wetsuits were put to good use snorkeling in the clear waters.

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The tent poles came with us this time and the 3 boys slept well in the tent.

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I was under my tarp which I moved every night to get a better view of the sunsets.

We gathered mussels on the beach and our neighbour in tent beside us provided some Prawns for a last night feast

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On the way home we stopped and romped into Glencoe’s lost valley, we managed an invigorating dook in the mountain waterfall.

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It was a fast 2 weeks I only hope the
sun will still be shining in 6 weeks to continue the camping adventures.

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