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.
‘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.
‘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.
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.