We are trying this summer to avoid having every weekend booked up in advance so there is room for spontaneity, and are mostly succeeding, although I suspect it’s because we’ve got no weddings – apart from our own – to attend. So last weekend, with nothing planned and armed with the sunny weather forecast, we decided to go camping in Devon and spend some time surfing, reading and drinking Leffe in the sunshine. We loaded up the car on Friday night and, despite the typical M5 jams, made it down to the loveliest camp site in the world by 10pm. The site was heaving but we managed to find a great spot overlooking the sea, took the surfboards off the roof of the car and opened the boot, only to find…
… we had no tent.
S had been super-efficient the night before and got everything assembled in the spare room. Unfortunately that efficiency did not extend to carrying the tent down the stairs to join the rest of the mountain of equipment we seem to require for two nights away.
Fear not, said I, the ex-Girl Guide. We shall go to the office and see if they have a spare tent we can rent/buy. But my stipulation was that S had to explain the situation to them as I was too embarrassed to admit we’d been that stupid.
It turned out that, luckily, they did have a tent for sale, so the lady in the office called up a very nice man called Scott and asked him to come and unlock the shop, and take £30 off us for what was advertised as a 4-man tent but which should have been done under the Trade Descriptions Act as it was really more 2.5 at a squeeze. It also looked extremely thin as it only had one skin. But as there was only going to be we two sleeping in it for a couple of nights, I didn’t worry too much.
That is, until we drove back to our lovely spot and started to assemble said tent, only to discover that a) the central pole ripped the canvas in 10 seconds flat and b) a vital clip simply fell off as soon as I touched it, leaving only a piece of frayed tent fabric and some loose stitches.
By this time it was 10.27pm, the office was going to shut in three minutes, we had no tent, nowhere to sleep and the people in the yurt next door (yes, a yurt! With fairy lights strung up inside and a cast iron trivet complete with tea kettle! I swear they were there to mock us for our shortcomings) were starting to look at us strangely, these people who drove up, drove away, drove up again and then swore a lot.
We admitted defeat with the Pile O’Shite tent and went back again to the office, where the lovely people not only refunded us the tent money but also our two nights’ camping fee (which they weren’t obliged to but bless them for doing). The site was so full that we were advised coming back tomorrow was pretty futile unless we could make it there at the crack of dawn.
But goddamn it, we were in Devon, and we had surfboards, and I wasn’t going to give in that easily. S – amidst his profuse apologies – was all for just driving straight back, but I was determined to give it one last shot to find somewhere to sleep. We’d passed a number of B&Bs on the way to the campsite, so I said that we ought to try them for vacancies before throwing in the towel.
At the first one – which still had lights on – S got out and rang the doorbell. No-one answered but he was convinced he heard a dog barking and then someone saying “shush!” So I came to the conclusion that they didn’t like the look of us. This paranoia increased as we found a second one and exactly the same thing happened. I was starting to think that Devonian B&B owners weren’t interested in paying guests. The Premier Inn on the edge of Barnstaple did have a room free, but at £72 for one night our cheapskatedness wouldn’t allow it.
So we admitted defeat, and slunk back east to Bristol, arriving around 1am.
To make up for it, we had a lovely day on Saturday, culminating in a barbecue at a friends’ house complete with lashings of Katy Rose cider. Shame S then had food poisoning from a piece of dodgy chicken and spent Sunday groaning.
The moral of the story? Never eat chicken off a barbecue. And always double check you have the tent.