Summer Showers at Elder Fell Farm is set on a Lake District campsite. I thought I’d share with you some of my own camping adventures – and misadventures!
Fire, Wind and Water.
None of the above are exactly what you want to encounter in a campsite. I have to say that over the years, I’ve seen all three. Thankfully the fires (two of them …) were at a distance and nobody was hurt, the flood was on a beautiful sunny day, and when the hurricane hit there was a barn to shelter in … however, I do wonder why after all that I still own a tent thirty years later!
The hurricane came first, I can even give you the date – it was 25th August 1986. This was on one of my last camps with the Girl Guides. It had been a beautiful, sunny week camping in Goathland; utterly idyllic, sun blazing every day, until the day before we were due to go home. There were rumours of a storm – the farmer warned us. It was in the days before storms routinely had names in the UK, but this was Hurricane Charley, direct from the USA. When we went to bed that night, following the Guides’ motto of Be Prepared, we had ‘storm lashed’ our tents, made sure all the tent pegs were secure and double pegged the guy ropes.
An hour or so after we had gone to bed we were woken by the sound of steam trains in the valley below our camp. Now, it wasn’t that unlikely, as there was actually a steam railway in the valley below our camp and we’d been hearing day-time trains all week, but there weren’t any trains running at midnight on a Sunday. It was, in fact, the sound of the wind in the trees. The wind was starting to make the tent heave and flap (and when canvas tents flap, they don’t do it quietly.) The ropes started to strain. We started to feel nervous. My group decided to sing, as we weren’t going to sleep at any point soon. We thought it would take our minds off the storm but it didn’t!
Suddenly, over the noise of the trains there was a loud crack. A guy rope on one of the other tents had snapped – however, on the plus side, the pegs that we had hammered in so well earlier in the day hadn’t budged an inch! Peeping out between the lacing at the front of the tent we watched the bobbing torchlight as the leaders battled to make a repair to the broken guy rope and then scurried back into their tent, now lit up like a lantern from the inside. It was comforting to know that we weren’t the only ones awake in the storm.
The wind wasn’t subsiding at all, and at some point, the rain started to fall too. We had to stay away from the heaving tent walls, or we knew that the canvas would start to leak. However the wind battering the camp caused the water to start coming through even without our help. It was like a gentle drizzle falling inside the tent every time it shook. All around us were the vast open moors and the wind came screaming across them. Our tent was starting to feel very small and flimsy amidst this mighty force of nature.
We began to hear voices in the other tents. Some of the younger girls were audibly upset, and the leaders were in-and-out of the tents making sure everything was all right. It wasn’t. Not long before dawn there was an anguished cry from one of the other tents that their ridge pole had snapped and their tent was falling down. These were sturdy wooden ridge poles, of about 6 or 7 cm diameter, secured with hefty metal sleeves. Nobody wanted one of those falling on their head.
It was time to admit defeat. The farmer came to offer help, and we relocated to his barn for the rest of the night and the farmer offered the use of his phone to start the ‘phone tree’ (this was in the days before mobile phones!) to alert our parents to our plight. In the grey pre-dawn gloom we trailed all our belongings from the tents up to his barn. The leaders struck the damaged tents and pinned them to the ground with the guy ropes to try and save what was left. In the first light of dawn, as the winds and rain started to die down, there were two tents left standing out of the six or seven there had been the previous night. I have to admit a certain smugness to note that one of the standing tents was ours – all down to our superior pitching skills, of course!
That night made its way into Summer Showers at Elder Fell Farm over thirty years later! The night before the two families are due to pack up and go home, the weather forecast starts to suggest that they might be in for something of a wild night. If you read the story, you’ll recognise a few key incidents from that storm of 1986. It was a night I have never forgotten, and my first real experience of how vulnerable you feel in a tent when surrounded by the forces of nature. My first experience, but not my last …