Tales from the Campsite, 7

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!


I’ve encountered plenty of wildlife on various different campsites through the years.

I was reminded of one of my earlier experiences when my friend Jennifer found a bat in her kitchen this week. My close encounter happened on a trip through France as a young teenager. I was with my parents, and we were staying in the depths of the countryside, when we happened to notice a small and terrified bat stuck in a light fitting. It had its little paw trapped in the bulb holder, and some kind of tool would be needed to remove it carefully. Needless to say, we didn’t have the right kind of tool amongst our luggage, so we went to see the lady campsite owner. It was before the days of Google translate, all we had was my 1 year of school French and a phrase book.

Never, in my French lessons, had I been prepared to explain to the owner of a remote campsite: ‘Excuse me, Madame, but there is a bat in your light bulb.’ I tried. I failed. I suspect that I told her that there was a piece of cricketing apparatus in a spring flower. She looked at me as if I was mad. My dad tried, and failed even more spectacularly. He ended up trying to do a bat impression (high pitched squeaking and flapping arms). Now she was looking at all of us as if we were mad. In the end it was my mother who sorted it out. ‘Allez avec moi, s’il vous plait?’ and she led Madame to the bat. Madame shrugged, flipped something inside the light fitting, and away flew the bat. I suspect that kind of thing happened to Madame all the time …

Processions of ducks and chickens, begging for scraps, and even the occasional robin or seagull are commonplace on campsites. Cats by the dozen, and plenty of friendly mongrels too. What was less common was what woke us one night near Hadrian’s wall …

My husband and I were asleep in the camper van, and in the awning my son was sleeping in his little bedroom tent. Thoughts of ghostly Romans and wild animals flittered through our dreams, like bats. We’re woken by a rustling in the awning.

‘What’s that?’

‘Oh, it’ll just be Dan turning over in his sleeping bag.’

Now there is rustling and a tearing noise. And a snuffling.

‘That’s not Daniel. There’s something out there!’

‘Don’t be ridiculous. Of course there isn’t.’

Whatever it was sounded big. Now it appeared to be ripping something and the snuffling became a grunting. My husband climbed out of bed and picked up a big torch to defend himself. By now I’m convinced that my son is in peril from a ghostly centurion or a wild boar in the awning.

Hadrian’s Wall at Sycamore Gap. Image by yorkshireman from Pixabay

‘Be careful!’ I hissed as my husband pulled open the door. ‘It might be armed!’ There was silence as he looked around the awning.

‘What is it? Can you see it?’ I whispered, pulling the covers tighter around myself. ‘Is it a ghost?’

‘No I … wait … there’s something in the rubbish bag!’

‘Is it a wild boar?’

‘No. Not a wild boar. There’s a hedgehog in our bin.’

‘Ahhhh. Just a hedgehog?’ I got out of the sleeping bag. Hedgehogs are small and cute, after all. The cuddly heroes of children’s fiction, there’s nothing to fear from a cosy little … What the …

The biggest hedgehog that we have ever seen proceeded to extricate itself from the rubbish bag. It was a monster, about half the size of a Rottweiler (or at least that’s how I remember it). It had a ferocious glint in its beady little eyes, and it trundled about our tent with determined purpose, like a small, spiky tank. I didn’t want to go anywhere near it, it’s clearly poised to attack! It must have sneaked into the awning from underneath the van, but now it can’t find its way out and it’s hidden behind the inner tent where my son is sleeping. My husband took a deep breath and tried to usher it out, using a chopping board as a shield. I opened the awning door wide and stood well back. The pair of them executed a strange and frantic dance around the inner tent, where Daniel was still asleep. Eventually my husband manouevred it towards the open door and away it trotted, with an evil glance over its prickly shoulder and what appeared to be a piece of half-eaten cheese from our rubbish bag in his mouth. We were both shaking.

Hedgehogs. Not cute, not cuddly, but vicious tent-raiders. Image by Oldiefan from Pixabay

The next morning, Daniel was completely unaware that anything unusual happened! We chatted to the campsite owner about our nocturnal visitor, and it turned out a visit from Hector isn’t an entirely unusual experience for campers near Hadrian’s Wall. It appears the spirits of the old Roman soldiers live on … in hedgehog form.

Tales from the Campsite, 6

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 experienced all three. Sometimes I wonder why I still own a tent!


I have experienced fire on a campsite twice, luckily both times I wasn’t too close to the conflagration.

Both times were when I was a member of the Sealed Knot re-enactment society, recreating English Civil War battles. I never progressed as far as owning one of the amazing authentic tents that you see on display (they’re very, very expensive, and rather heavy too.)

This re-enactment isn’t the right era, but the tents were similar. Image by spencer from Pixabay

Both times, I was in the ‘plastic camp’, away from the public view, where most of the re-enactors camped. Our sites tended to be more like festival campsites than a historical camping experience.

The first event (I think it was at Witney in Oxfordshire) took place on a farmer’s field, where a crop had recently been harvested, and the field was stubble – ploughed mud with the dry stalks of wheat which had been left behind. It’s really unpleasant to camp on; muddy if it rains and really spiky and stony underfoot. And do you remember what, in the old days, farmers used to do to clear stubble from fields? It seems that the organisers of the event didn’t know.

Yes, they used to burn the stubble to clear the field.

So, there are several hundred re-enactors on the field, about a third of them are carrying muskets, and there are a dozen or so cannons. There’s a lot of black powder about. With a shout of ‘Have a care!’ the battle begins, and one of the big cannons is fired. The burning wadding from the cannon’s mouth falls to the field, and we all watch in horror as the stubble smokes, then catches light. A wave of flame races across the field. Those who can try to extinguish the fire, but lots of the participants are carrying black powder weapons and the last thing you want to do when you’re carrying a flask of gunpowder is walk into a grass fire. So we watch, helplessly.

Soon, the carpark is on fire. There are rumours that the car-park blaze began separately from an overheated catalytic convertor amongst the cars, but whatever the cause, several cars were burnt out. This was terrible, and several people were injured, but in some ways we were lucky. If the wind had blown the other way it would have taken the flames straight into the ‘plastic camp’ which was full of the non-participant partners and children of those on the field, and a lot of highly combustible camping equipment. Lives would possibly have been lost, and some of them could have been children.

The fire was soon extinguished – the fire brigade arrived, the event was cancelled and the Sealed Knot never staged a battle on a stubble field again …

Image by Matthias Fischer from Pixabay

But the fear of what might have happened never left me. A couple of years later on another Sealed Knot event in Devon I heard someone shouting ‘Fire’. It was the middle of the day, and most people were still arriving and setting up their tents; I’d just finished mine and I suspect I was having a quiet cup of tea. I came out of my tent, nervous, to see smoke from an area about fifty metres away. Our fire precautions had improved since Witney – there were now breaks between areas on big campsites, and minimum distances between tents, but it was still quite a crowded campsite.

It seems that the owners of a big frame tent had arrived early, set up their tent and gone out for the day, leaving their gas-powered fridge happily cooling their beer for the evening. That is, until something went wrong with the gas-powered fridge, and it set fire to the tent wall. Thankfully, it had been spotted quickly, the tent must have been treated to make it fire-retardant, and one of the first people on the scene was an ex-soldier who knew exactly what to do. He and a couple of others removed the gas bottle and tackled the fire, and the rest of us were told to collapse the tent to minimise the risk of the fire spreading if the whole thing went up. Luckily it didn’t. The fire was quickly extinguished, and all the real harm done was the terminal overheating of a few cans of beer.

In the final scenes of Summer Showers at Elder Fell Farm the wind is high, and sparks from the campfire start to drift dangerously close to Amy’s tent, but I couldn’t bear to see her tent (or Matt’s beautiful red-and-white camper van) destroyed by fire. I transferred my own fear of fire on a campsite to Matt, and he very sensibly puts out the campfire before anything can go wrong. However, even though it doesn’t catch fire, Amy’s tent doesn’t last the night …

Tales from the Campsite, 5

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 experienced all three. Sometimes I wonder why I still own a tent!


I’ve finally left behind the tales of my camping days with the Girl Guides. I’m a few years older, and I’m a student now, and I’ve moved on to festival camping and modern nylon tents instead of huge canvas things. I say ‘festival camping’ as if I was ever some cool young thing who went to Glasto. Nope, I was a very nerdy student who went to folk festivals.

I think this was the first time I had camped by myself, though I was with some friends from my local folk club who had given me a lift to the festival, and were camping next to me. I had a small, second hand brown nylon tent which was big enough for myself, an air bed and not much else, which as it turned out was quite lucky.

The festival campsite had been carefully chosen in a sheltered location down in the valley. My friends told me that this was because a previous cliff-top site was decimated by a bad storm a few years previously – my money is on that storm being Hurricane Charley! I nod wisely. I know all about the perils of camping in a storm. So the new site was tucked away between the railway and the river, on a nice, flat, lush green field, and I feel nice and safe there. Sheltered, even.

So, there I am, tucked up in my sleeping bag. It’s the middle of the final night of the festival and I hear shouting. I turn over and pull my sleeping bag over my head. Somebody’s come back to the site late and drunk after a few too many choruses of Wild Mountain Thyme. It happens. Ignore them and go back to sleep.

But now there are more voices. There are car engines too, and people moving about. A lot of people seem to be shouting about the water, but although it rained a lot yesterday it’s been mainly dry today and it certainly isn’t raining now. And then I hear my friends in the next tent are shouting my name. I open the zip of my tent and look out. It’s a strange sight – all around me, car headlights are on, illuminating the site, and people are taking their tents down. Why? It’s not even nearly dawn yet!

Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay

And then I look behind me, towards the river, to see a little wave of water moving inexorably across the field, illuminated by the beams of light from several pairs of headlights. It’s only an inch or so deep, but it’s going to be at my tent in a matter of minutes, and the tents nearer the river are already under several inches of water. The spring tide has combined with all that rain we had the day before coming down off the moors, and the tide is rising in the campsite. I just have time to put my wellies and my waterproof coat on over my pyjamas. I get my clothes into the back of my friends’ car, but it’s too late for the airbed, the sleeping bag and the tent, as the water is now lapping around my feet. My friends are moving the car, while they still can, to the higher part of the campsite, and I follow, dragging my soggy tent behind me.

I learnt a lesson that day too – lush, flat, green fields by the river might look tempting to camp in, but they’re probably water meadows! I don’t think anybody has written a folk song about it yet, though. As I camped out one midsummer morning, I saw the tide wash away my tent …

This incident didn’t make it into Summer Showers at Elder Fell Farm although at one point I was tempted to make the beck break its banks during the storm that brings the story to its conclusion, but I thought that was a little bit too much drama to throw at poor Amy. It is her very first camping trip, after all …

Tales from the Campsite, 4

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!

Hurricane Charley

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.

Part of our camp, before the storm.

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.

Image by Droma Xu from Pixabay

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!

Image by jatin verma from Pixabay

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 …

Tales from the Campsite, 3

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!


Every campsite has one. Some campsites have several. Toilet blocks? Water points? Spiders? No, unsupervised children who just hang around the campsite all day, now known in our house as ASBs. This stands for ‘Annoying Small Boy’. They aren’t all boys, of course, it was just that the first one we encountered was a boy and the name (and the abbreviation) stuck. You see, a lot of kids don’t actually find camping that entertaining. And when they get bored on a campsite …

Image by sabinamajoor from Pixabay

It goes like this. You arrive at the campsite and start to pitch your tent. The next thing you know, there’s a child, standing at a short distance away, watching you intently.

Judging you.

“My Mum and Dad’s tent is better than this one.” ASB might then tell you, pointing at the biggest tent on the campsite. “That’s theirs.” Their tent is, indeed, impressive, but of Mum and Dad there will be no sign. They’re probably hiding from ASB somewhere.

Chances are that ASB has a ball, or another piece of play equipment, banned from the camping area, which they are playing with very close to where you are trying to set up your camp kitchen. “Is your kid going to play with me?” they ask. Of course, anything seems better to my kids than helping to pitch the tent, so …

So you end up at the play area, where, of course, the ASB will insist on playing on the one piece of equipment that your child has chosen, in order to force your child to play with them. I always seemed to end up trying to supervise an uneasy truce between my child (who will inevitably be significantly older or younger than the ASB and quickly decides that they don’t want to play with them) and the ASB. It won’t be a happy truce for anyone. Especially me.

Image by Vlad Vasnetsov from Pixabay

The other territory of the ASB, when they’ve done with the playground, is the toilet block.

I don’t know why this should be the case. I mean, if you tried to suggest to a child anywhere other than a campsite that they should play in the toilets they’d think you were mad – especially when said campsite has an expensive outdoor play area, a stream, trees to climb and an indoor play area with a pool table in case of rain. But no. All this is ignored in favour of formica cubicles, a few sinks, and a door which slams loudly whenever you go in and out. ASBs will head straight for the toilets where they will lurk, all day, ready to entrap the unwary camper, usually only with embarrassing questions about what you are doing at the toilet block. However that’s still better than the time that a whole gang of them started lurking outside the toilets with water pistols.

Of course, I realise that there’s another side to the existence of ASBs. They are bored children, hanging round the campsite all day with nothing to do, and adults who aren’t interacting with them. They’re making their own entertainment, I suppose! But I couldn’t write a novel about a campsite without an ASB in it – so the character of Ty was born. He makes a fleeting appearance to contrast with the two boys at the heart of the story, and he cuts rather more of a sad figure than an annoying one.

But he does have cool Spiderman pyjamas!