I really suck at camping. Really, really, really suck. I get very cold, I’m squeamish about mud, I’m downright scared of worms, I panic if I have to get out of the tent in the night to pee in case there’s a slug on the door/ceiling and I brush against it, I worry about food poisoning from gas-stove cooked eggs, I still worry if the clouds start looking a bit thundery – it embarrasses me just how much of a delicate little flower I turn into when faced with a weekend in a tent. Audrey, however, has been involved with the Guides since she was tiny, and is therefore some kind of expert camping veteran. She can actually put up a tent blindfolded. I’m dating the female version of Bear Grylls when I’m more like one of those awful, precious, panic stricken celebrities who go to pieces in I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!
We camped for two nights at a little festival in August, which wasn’t *too* bad, because the ground was dry, there was a camp fire at night, the weather was really well behaved, and so on. However, in a fit of the same sort of extreme optimism which led me to book flights, alone, to the conference in Alexandria last year, back in February I proposed to Audrey that we go to an autumn star camp in Kielder Forest. It was just after we visited Kielder Observatory for Audrey’s birthday, and didn’t see anything because it had been snowing and was very cloudy. The man who runs the observatory gave a very interesting presentation, but we were still a bit disappointed, particularly because I miss my nice dark skies in Dorset. The next day we were looking at other events on the Observatory website and discovered that twice a year, Kielder Observatory Astronomy Society holds a star camp, in which various hardy astronomers from all over the country trek up to the forest in the middle of March and/or October to set up camp with their telescopes for a few days and pray for a clear night. So naturally (?!) for someone so rubbish at camping under the best of circumstances, I wanted to go.
So we went.
As I said, Audrey is a tent-putting-up genius. I was just her lovely assistant: I held things up, stomped a few pegs into the ground, then squealed when I saw a worm in our porch.
Now here’s something I can do! My telescope is pretty bottom-of-the-range, but there were tens of thousands of pounds worth of equipment in that field. Some people had bought huge scopes with beautiful mounts, or scopes with motorised tracking for astroimaging, but I can see some lovely things through my little Skywatcher so I was quite content. It *almost* didn’t make it out of the car though, as at the last minute I discovered I was missing the two screws which attach it to the tripod (ha! We all know I have a screw loose). Luckily a man with a toolbox noticed me grumbling and struggling to put the mount back in the car, and came to ask if there was anything he could do, so I availed myself of his screws. Blimey, that sounds wrong.
The air was so clear, lichen was growing like fur on the trees. My lungs were very happy. I could feel the difference – I never noticed the transition from living in the country to living in a city, but now I’m all like “Kielder air! Bottle it!”.
Sunset on the first night. Gorgeous 🙂
In fact, the whole of the first night – Friday – was beautiful. It was completely clear, so I got to see more stars just with my eyes than I’d ever seen before, including when I lived in Dorset, where light pollution isn’t so much of an issue in the rural areas. I wasn’t even showing Audrey anything particularly noteworthy through my telescope and binoculars, we were just looking at the sheer depth to the sky. I love just pointing my telescope at a random patch of Milky Way and seeing what’s there! Not really how you’re supposed to do it, but whatever.
On Saturday there were talks and displayers at Kielder Castle, which were interesting. Afterwards we had a quick wander around the play area attached to the castle.
Yes, this is a giant Xylophone in a field. Every play area should have one!
Saturday night was damp and cloudy, so we hid in the pub for a bit, where we chatted to two Daves who both reminded me a bit of the Dave (Lister) on Red Dwarf, partly because of their Liverpudlian accents. I swear I only managed to meet people because I was wearing a giraffe hat the majority of the time we were there, and it was a bit of a talking point. I’d teased Dave #1 on his far inferior hat the previous day. So there you go: when you suck at camping, be sure to wear a giraffe hat. It covers a multitude of sins. This is pretty much the only camping advice I am qualified to give.
On Sunday we had a more thorough walk around the trails near the castle, revisiting the red squirrel hide we’d briefly seen the day before.
We assumed we could be there for half an hour and see nothing, but the squirrels were everywhere! There were several points when two or three were fighting over the feeder, and every time one ran away to bury something another would be there in five minutes. They were so cute, I hope the red squirrels of Kielder survive. Down with greys, etc!
After our walk, we went back to the campsite, packed up the tent, had lunch and drove back, stopping a couple of times at different view points.
Thank you, convenient boat!
This is the same place I took the photo in my last post from. So pretty!
Picturesque rain cloud…erm…coming straight for us. Okay, back to the car!
After one more. Just one more? And another one? (Cue raindrops obscuring my camera lens so I actually had to stop!)
Not so bad being caught out in the rain, though.
And if anyone is curious about that giraffe hat…
O HAI. I’m a giraffe, taking your picture…
That, ladies and gentlemen, is a highly mature twenty eight year old trainee counsellor, wearing about seven layers of clothing, jeans tucked into her socks and a giraffe hat on her head. I thank you, and goodnight.