Regular readers may remember that my first experience of camping wasn’t quite the experience I’d imagined it would be. I’d hoped for the adventurous, romantic camping experience suggested by Famous Five novels, but instead found something much more uncomfortable and somewhat boring. But that experience was just a preparation for the real adventure to come, when we would be off camping again, but this time, with a multitude of dogs.
And so, on Friday 13th, we set off for Otterburn, a small village on the edge of Northumberland national park, amidst the Cheviot Hills. We had initial flutters of unease when the sat nav wanted to take us east and we knew we needed to go west, but by going old school and reverting to the map, we foiled her and got ourselves on the right road. The drive took us through rugged, but traditionally beautiful English countryside, with sweeping hills and valleys, heather covered moorland, clumps of forest and craggy cliffs. The weather, which was forecast to be dry and bright, was grey and windy, but since our virgin camping trip had been in gale force winds, our confidence didn’t falter.
One of the biggest army training ranges in England is in Otterburn, so we set up our tent to the sound of shotguns and machine gun fire, but by the time we were ready, the army had given it up for the weekend and all was quiet. The camp site was a sports ground in a rural setting. All around us were fields full of sheep, cows and horses, enclosed by dry stone walls and lined with hedgerows. An old barn beside the camp ground was piled with bales of hay that had recently been harvested.
Participants travel from all over the country to attend Borderfest North, where scores of Border Terriers and their people get together. We know most of the dogs before we meet them, as they have their own Facebook pages which are regularly updated in doggy speak by their perfectly sane owners. These ‘celebrity’ dogs were joined by a bone fide celebrity dog, Eccles, the Border Terrier who stars in the soap Coronation Street.
There was nothing boring about this camping trip – scores of people and dogs to meet, stories to share, home-cooked food and a lullaby of howling dogs as we settled to sleep. All would have been well if we’d just gone for the day, but unfortunately, we still had the camping to do. That is, the endless night in a freezing tent during which we decided we were never doing this again…
As always, despite the discomfort, there are moments that are precious. The first hour or so, snuggled in our sleeping bags, warm and comfortable, as rain pattered on the tent above us. Getting out of the tent in the early hours, everyone else asleep and seeing the stars so clearly against a deep blue sky. Waking just before dawn to see the mist cloaking the hills, while the sheep bleated and the birds began to sing. These are all moments I wouldn’t have experienced without that long, sleepless night under canvas. But I’m afraid to say, our days in a tent are over. I’ll always love the wild places, as long as I have a comfortable bed to return to when the day is done.