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Rock Maze
  • Writer's pictureNeil

A Sleeping Bag and a Cow

When I hit 60, still thinking I was immortal, I thought learning to swim might be an interesting thing to do. But like most of us it was something I pushed to the back of my mind. Once the first chapter of my cancer story was done, while I was still in recovery, having recognised my fragility I resurrected the thought and resolved to act upon my idea. I learnt to, after a fashion, swim.

Now I don’t know about you but I thought swimming was swimming. You know different strokes for different folks. I learnt front crawl or freestyle or something. Away from the pool I was given advice about the ‘correct’ way to breathe every 2nd or every 3rd or every 4th stroke. Who cares! Am I moving? Am I breathing? Then I’m swimming, spare me unnecessary clutter. I learnt back stroke but I failed to make much progress with breast stroke. Apparently I was really good at diving in off the side of the pool and was often called upon to demonstrate.

Since lockdown it seems a new type of swimming has arrived and it’s called wild swimming. I think it refers to any swimming not carried out in the confines of a swimming pool. So I must have been taught mild swimming. I think for mild swimmers the water needs to be heated or something. Tricia on the other hand is a wild swimmer. Who knew? So if you're afraid of the sea, the horrible sand between your toes, jelly fish, the occasional seal? Did you know fish wee in the sea? Stick to mild swimming, only people wee in a swimming pool. So let’s agree wild swimming is for the brave and mild swimming is for the maybe not so brave.

That got me to thinking about wild camping. In these covid crazy times when motorhomes, campervans and caravans seem to be flying off the dealers forecourt I increasingly hear the term wild camping associated with motorhomes and campervans. I think they’ve mistaken wild camping with something completely different. In England wild camping in a vehicle either means camping illegally or simply on a campsite that offers nothing other than a supply of potable water and suitable disposal for waste materials (poo, etc.) Wild camping in our motorhome means no microwave. Nothing else just no microwave. We still have every camping basic such as central heating, a bed with interior sprung mattress, hot and cold water, a cooker, flushing toilet, shower, fridge freezer and satellite TV.

I’m no expert but I have some experience of wild camping. The only place wild camping is acceptable in England is on Dartmoor. Wild camping is a leave no trace activity. Turn up, pitch tent, spend the night, do what you need to do, clear off but most importantly leave no trace. Now, I’d completely forgotten about a wild camping trip on Dartmoor until my friend told me of her Selk bag. It’s a kind of sleeping bag onesie. All those people who are now working from home may be asking themselves the same question. How am I going to keep warm? Are they all going to heat the whole house all day? Well one solution is a Selk bag. What’s all this got to do with wild camping? Well, I’d completely forgotten about an ex military sleeping bag I once owned. I think it was Scandinavian. It had sleeves and a zip across the knees so if you needed to you could easily wriggle your legs out and go walkabout. Best of all it was completely waterproof apart from the chest area.

So I find myself with a couple of friends, on Dartmoor, wild camping. The weather is warm and dry. I choose to sleep under the stars in my special bag. I’m comfy, I’m warm, my tent is the night sky. Bleddy ‘ansom. I must have fallen into a deep sleep. During the night I dreamt. I dreamt I could hear someone ripping cloth. A kind of soothing rip – rip – rip. Was it getting louder? Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t, I couldn't really be sure. Then I thought I heard breathing, I still wasn’t sure. You know that short period we sometimes experience between asleep and awake.

I seem to remember holding on to my dream as I woke up. Slowly I opened my eyes. There, about a foot away (30cm for young people) was the head of a cow, with breath that smelt of sweet fresh silage, happily munching away at the grass with no doubt about ½ ton of body attached. (½ tonne for young people). I don’t suppose anyone would know how they would react in a similar situation. I was cosy, I was warm, I just lay still until she ambled away. Rip – rip – rip. Absolutely one of the best ways to wake up. Thank you for buying a Selk bag. Now where’s my camping trowel.

In the intervening years I lost track of that sleeping bag.

The last time I camped wasn’t so long ago on a road trip to Gibraltar and back. I probably knew it would be my last camping odyssey, I enjoyed it all the more.

I’m looking forward to a quiet week but not so quiet that I can’t stir my bones enough for a coffee on Thursday. I think I’m shifting the circus back to Charlestown and trying Charlie’s Coffee House. (Not the Boat House) See you there.........10am.

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