Bank-holiday Campers in Exmoor National Park, United Kingdom

I spent last weekend camping in Exmoor. You may laugh as it was the wettest and coldest bank holiday on record, but I can honestly say I had a great time. There is something innately satisfying about sleeping outdoors.

Our campsite, located in the middle of Exmoor National Park, is hidden down a tangle of narrow windy roads. The car was laden with blow-up beds, duvets, pillows, sleeping bags, pots and pans, and everything bar the kitchen sink. With three grown ladies in the car, heads pressed against the glass, we had to pray there was no-one coming in the other direction.

From my window I could see a patchwork of landscapes, rolling green hills, the sheer cliff-tops facing the Bristol Channel and field upon field of mauve brown scrubland. Occasionally my view was shrouded by trees looming up from the side of the road and enveloping the car in a blanket of darkness.

We arrived at nightfall, after a very bumpy ride, which meant we had to make do with a glimmer of moonlight and a couple of flickering lighters to set up tent. Forty-five minutes later, after fumbling around in the dark, we were all set. Clearly we were not the seasoned campers we liked to think we were.

The campsite had 3 modest sized fields; ours was roomy enough for at least 12 pitches, but the relentless weather ensured that our field was only half-full. We swung the car into our chosen spot alongside a babbling brook and set up tent.

The hills behind were lively with the sound of goats, sheep and cows. Only the soft murmur of voices in neighbouring tents broke the tranquillity of our surroundings.

At nightfall we all sat around in our camping chairs swaddled in layers of jumpers, trousers and waterproofs. Our “mummy-esque” costumes provided just enough warmth for us to sit outside in the cold, in true British style. The beers came out and chatter flowed. By midnight we were exhausted, and despite the beautiful night sky we decided to turn in.

One of the treasures of camping has to be sleeping outdoors. It’s ironic that in so many ways it is the most uncomfortable night’s sleep you will ever have.

Sleeping by the brook seemed a good idea during the day, but at night I was judging a competition between the river and my friend as to who could gurgle, fizz and froth the loudest. Comfort also had little to be desired.

Despite the blow-up mattresses and thick sleeping-bags I could feel the cool/damp ground. A sandwich of sleeping bags, mattresses and huddled under duvets, brought for added warmth, did little to help and we spent the whole night tossing and turning.

A shrill “cock-a-doodle-doo”, the thud of a football and kids running alongside the tents woke us early. Weary from lack of sleep we were able to get washed and dressed using the campsites excellent facilities. Spacious clean showers, toilets and washing up amenities. The only problem being that we were in one of the furthermost camps from the showers, so a trip to the loo was a bit of a trek. As with most of the camping trip, this was not something we had considered.

Washed and dressed, we were pleased that we had remembered everything bar the kitchen sink. We managed to rustle up a splendid cooked breakfast of pork & apple sausages, bacon, beans, eggs, tomatoes and a hunk of fresh bread (to mop up the bean sauce).

Over breakfast we discussed plans for the day. Weather permitting; we entertained a plethora of options from pony riding to rock-climbing. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t permitting us to do anything, so we plumped for a walk in our wellies.

Exmoor has an abundance of beautiful walking trails. The route we chose, took us through the scenic village of Pollack. Starting by a quaint white church with a thatched roof and continuing up a steep woodland path we arrived at field upon field of gorse and shrubbery criss-crossed by various walking paths. At the apex we came to Selworthy beacon. It had a spectacular panoramic view across the Bristol Channel and in the distance I could see a few buoys bobbing gently in the sea. The fields surrounding us were devoid of activity. It conjured up an eerie feeling of being the only person on earth. The sheer peacefulness of the Exmoor parks was breathtaking.

Not wishing to miss out on Exmoor’s other delights we headed for a more lively location. The cliff-side drive down to the village of Lynmouth, really gives you an idea of the landscape and diversity of Exmoor. We stopped off at Foreland Point, above Lynton, to admire the view. A magnificent picture of undulating mountains and gorges overlooking the sea.

Lynmouth is an excellent place to stop off for a cream tea. Ours arrived, pilled high with huge mounds of clotted cream and raspberry jam for spreading. The souvenir shops, tea rooms and arts and craft shops proved a good excuse to walk off all that lardy goodness.

Back at the campsite it was still torrential rain, so we took the opportunity of cover at the local Crown Hotel. This old coaching inn oozed charm with its open log fire, low wood beams and barrel shaped tables providing a cosy atmosphere, while the stuffed moose eyed us warily. Packed with locals sporting pro-hunting t-shirts and a few stragglers seeking refuge from the rain, we tucked into a delicious feast of pan fried black bream with oven roasted new potatoes, beetroot, glazed button onions, fish chips and mushy peas and a delightful sticky toffee pudding washed down with some local ales.

With the hotel being quite a distance from the camp we considered going back early. Luckily, the pub landlord overheard our plight and agreed to drive us back to camp should we want to stay for a few drinks. Not ones to turn down a kind offer, we played cards and drank ourselves merry until it was time to head back.

The following morning was a complete wash out. We decided to leave early, as the rain was pelting it down. Running between car and tent trying to keep cover, we disassembled the soaking tent which was (despite being a shame) a good laugh. So although our trip was blighted with bad weather, we arrived home sodden but satisfied.

About the author Ashley Canavan : A summer relocating from Cambridge to Bath, being in between jobs made me review my passions. I decided that if I really want to do something I am passionate about then it would be to travel and to write.  I have spent the past eight or so months researching the travel writing industry, attending courses and writing.

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