And so, after much internet planning frustration (it’s startling how difficult it is to find train stations a convenient weekend’s walk apart with a campsite in-between on the National Trails), we had a plan to get away for the weekend and to try out the shiny new tent. A Terra Nova Superlite Voyager, the whole thing is a mere 1.5kg, and the poles are so light they feel like toys.
And the North Downs Way did not disappoint, the section we hiked from Guildford to Box Hill is equally composed of gorgeous, endangered chalk grassland teeming with bees and butterflies with views over the rolling downs, and ancient woodland, with inviting tree tunnels lined by huge oak and yew, and those delicious steps composed of tree roots that make everything feel like an RPG or fantasy novel writ large. (Which I love, even though it has a tendency to put me just slightly on edge as I’m vaguely anticipating giant spiders)
This was the first time I’d hiked with any appreciable weight in my pack, and oh my word. At the moment I’d say I can happily hike a 10 – 15 mile day without finding it too tough, but with a full pack after 3 miles my thighs were sending sternly worded letters up to management. After 4 miles we saw a woman sporting a Mr Whippy ice cream and found new reserves of energy as we dashed off trail to locate the source, which helped a surprising amount, and only led to being mildly lost for a couple of miles. Clearly worth it.
Luckily the muscle complaints kind of plateaued at this point, and it turned out that 10 more miles did not hurt much more. Through the gorgeous woods we went, to camp in the grounds of a youth hostel. YHA Tanners Hatch was welcoming and cheap, with earnest people playing guitars and cooking enormous, accomplished looking stews in the rather nice kitchen. It backs onto a field of extremely vocal sheep, whose enthusiastic baaing along totally added to the attractions of the campfire singing for me.
And the new tent? Amazing. Incredibly light, easy and quick to put up, toasty warm inside, room for two people to sit up as long as they’re quite keen on each other, and just enough room in the porch for backpacks and boots. The porch area has no ground sheet, which I feel might cause some difficulties for keeping packs dry when it’s really wet ground, but this could probably be solved by taking along a bin bag or some such. Also, once it was darker, the tent blended into the background to an extent where we felt it would be possible to get away with wild camping in future, thus at a stroke solving a number of previous difficulties when planning 2 day walks.
Also new on the equipment front this time were Exped Winterlite sleeping mats. This pup is getting too old to sleep on the ground as I wake up hourly to groan ‘ooh my hip, aargh my shoulder’, before turning over and repeating on the other side. The winterlite mats are supposed to keep you insulated down to -17C, which sounds super, since I run cold, and having now tried one, I can believe it. Oh so warm. Oh so comfy. I’m a complete convert. What with the tent and the mats I even daringly kicked off a cover or two overnight – which would mean more to you if you knew that last August when camping I had to burrow into the same sleeping bag fully dressed, cover my head, add a hat, snuggle up to the loved one (who shrieked in a aggrieved fashion about the startlingly low temperature of my bottom) and was still cold. Also, the mats fold down to a tiny size and weight 0.4kg. Win.
So, sleeping arrangements definitely successful, next on the list is a new backpack. Our following day’s hiking this time was intended to be longer, but having hiked the pleasant 5 miles to Box Hill for a well-deserved pub lunch, a unanimous decision was made of ‘sod that’ regarding a further circular walk just for the sake of it. Mercilessly unpadded shoulder straps, nowhere for the dripping sweat to run to and no redistribution of weight to the hips definitely contributed to this, so it’s back to the camping shop before the next trip…