On Monday we left for our study tour with one of the lecturers (the most awesome one) from college.
Originally, the idea of the study tour sounded a bit naff as the feedback we received from people who’d been on them in years gone by had been rather less than favourable and there seemed to be a significantly frequent instance of students being fobbed off with a day trip and maybe a bag of chips. In some cases, not even the chips.
As the time grew closer though, our favourite lecturer (who seems to be an endless well of knowledge, humour and general niceness) suggested that we combine the marine survey required for our final assignments with the study tour and go somewhere really good and stay overnight.
We were all thrilled at the idea.
I was excited.
Until I heard we’d be camping.
Before you get on your high horse and defend camping (you have every right to if you love it and have fun doing it, as so many people do) I’d just like to point out the problems I have with it. Especially with our plan, which was to camp on Dartmoor (where it’s free and you can camp anywhere).
- No facilities
- Many biting insects
- No facilities
- Sleeping in a tent can simultaneously be too hot, too cold and sweaty to boot
- No facilities
- If it rains, you will spend your time perpetually damp
- Tents smell odd
- NO freakin’ facilities!
You catch my drift…
I have learned increasingly over the years that I am a girl who needs her creature comforts – I like my seats soft, my air mozzie-free and my toilets clean, flushable and within a short walk. What I got was a freshly-purchased camping chair, thousands of gnats (instead of mozzies) none of which knew that insect repellant was meant to make me taste disgusting, and a ravine (which could be seen from the road, but not from the campsite) with two conveniently placed large rocks so I could go ‘continental style’.
BUT in spite of my worry, I actually loved it. Well, most of it.
We camped in a wooded fairyland next to a village in Devon called Cornwood. It looked as though it had been lifted from Middle Earth and placed there just for us. The river was shallow, cool and rippled beautifully over rocks which could have come from a ‘God’s favourite types of rocks’ collection. The grass was short, springy and dry. The trees were evenly spaced and beautiful. The sun was golden and warm. There were frequent rhododendrons in lovely, purple bloom. It was so gorgeous I was almost convinced that we’d find upon return that the place never really existed.
We had a barbeque (cooked by our lecturer) and the smoke clouded through the still air and the sunshine caught it and made gorgeous crepuscular rays through the branches of the trees. Later, we made a big fire and sat round it chatting and drinking and listening to the gentle harmonies of two of the group on guitar and drum box…
Oh. Right. Drinking.
That ended up interesting…
I’d found some pear and cherry cider (gorgeous – I’ll look out for it again) and some cherry *something* which might have been a liquor, which wasn’t all that nice (drank it anyway – shared some) then by the time I got to that stage, we were all at *that* stage and everyone drank everyone else’s drinks. It was a lovely, sharing time, and we all ended up worse for wear by the time it was quite dark (though somehow, and thank goodness because booze does tend to travel through me quite quickly, I managed to continue finding my way to my rocks in the ravine, though my legs were decidedly wobblier each time, the slope which needed to be traversed to get into the ravine got steeper each time (at one point I thought I was going to be stuck halfway down it because I suddenly thought that the bottom of the slope had been submerged in a galaxy and I’d just fall off into it) and I still managed to find my way to the edge of the river to carefully wash my hands after…)
Around midnight, it was decided by group consensus that we’d go for an adventurous walk along the path we’d travelled many times earlier in the evening, which meandered alongside the river. One among our number decided not to go because “Something’s bound to go wrong.” I pooh-poohed that idea and determinedly walked off. Seeing a friend struggling with undergrowth to my right, I walked a seemingly safe path between two trees off to my left…straight off a three-foot drop and into the river, where I landed, prone like Cleopatra, on my right elbow.
The only good thing was that I was so drunk by that point, what could have been a very dangerous drop onto rocks covered by a foot of water left me with a small cut on my hand, a sore elbow and a bruise right in the middle of my bumcheek. And a pair of wrecked sneakers which will need to be machine-washed. I also wasn’t at all cold because I could no longer tell due to the level of inebriation I’d reached. This was also something of a blessing.
I rapidly hauled myself out amidst much laughter and dripped my way back to the tent, where I changed into dry clothes and went to sit by the fire and giggle with my sensible friend as I tried to dry my clothes without them setting alight. According to common consensus, I’d managed to utter a short cry of terror before a ‘Sound FX’-perfect ginormic *splash*! Every so often, one would look at me, grin and say incredulously “I can’t believe you fell in the river”, which would set us all laughing again.
Eventually the clothes were dryish and at 2am I went to bed…the worst part of the whole trip. I was *SO* cold. All night. I was in the tent, on a roll-mat, in a reasonable tog sleeping bag, fully clothed and absolutely chilled to the marrow. And it wasn’t even the dunking in the river that did it, because I’d warmed up beautifully by the fire.
I dozed fitfully, battling frozen feet, shivery back, knotted shoulders (from trying to clutch the sleeping bag around me and not let in any cold air) and sore hips from lying on the hard floor. Every so often I would try to jiggle and shake various bits of my body to get some feeling and a little warmth back into them. I was disappointed each time.
At 5am I’d had enough and got right down inside my sleeping bag, shut the drawstrings and just poked my mouth and nose out to breathe. It must have worked because I woke up again 2 hours later.
This time, though, I’d had enough. I struggled out of my sleeping bag, re-donned my wet bra (I could hardly have put that by the fire, now could I?) and wobbled out to the ravine like a baby deer just learning to walk. I wobbled back again and fetched my sleeping bag and roll-mat from the tent, then with my sensible friend (who’d also spent a terribly cold night) climbed up the hill behind the camp and sat in the morning sun, which was even vaguely warm.
Then I fell asleep again for an hour, which was lovely, as I was warmish.
We went to Wembury beach for our marine survey, and though we all needed to be treated a bit carefully, there were no mishaps, no-one fell in and we got the survey done in time to enjoy an hour’s sit down and a bite to eat before starting the journey home. I saw an orange-tip butterfly, and swallows were nesting in the ladies loos (real, proper toilets, of which I took full advantage).
The main disappointment was that by the time we’d all sobered up and realised just how amazingly beautiful it was and how much we all wanted to stay, it was time to go.
Back on the mini-bus for a 4 hour journey to Real Life again.
And somewhere, one of my friends has awful pictures of me, asleep! I shall just thank my lucky stars that when I fell in the river, everyone else was far to sloshed to remember how to use a cameraphone or even locate one!
Sleep and inadvertent river-dipping notwithstanding, it was an utterly, brilliantly gorgeous way to end the college course and I shall treasure the memories.
Ten Things of Thankful #2
1. The study tour and the generous lecturer who organised it and paid for the barbeque
2. My wonderful friends who’re also doing the course
3. A warm bed tonight
4. A toilet – my own toilet – in my house
5. Those two rocks – they really were handy
6. The absolute stunning beauty of our campsite
7. Walking in the river, nattering and enjoying the surroundings (earlier in the evening)
8. The campfire
9. Thinking to pack a change of clothes ‘Just In Case’
10. Seeing Husby again after missing him