Return to Dartmoor – A Wild camping adventure

September 2023

As I drive the 4 hours to Dartmoor to rendezvous with my long time camping companion Rich, I try to get myself in the mood by listening to a podcast about the Yeti. I allow my mind to wander and before long, the hills and valleys of Dartmoor merge with the steep mountains of the Himalayas. 

That is until I arrive and pop into the nearest Morrisons to grab a sandwich, some bottles of water and a box of tea bags. Yes, it’s once more time for a bit of wild camping and our aim is to stay on the move for two nights. Our starting point is a hillside carpark with an excellent view into a forested valley below us and of the more sparse moorland that rises above us to several different hilly peaks.

We consult the map over a spot of lunch and decide to aim for the top of one of the tors to our north for our first night. If all goes to plan, we discuss then circling round to the South again the next day, with a stop in the village of Widecombe before finding somewhere out in the wild once more for our second night. Before we leave, I set out one of my camera traps to see if anything of note happens while we are away. 

Had there been a crane available, I would have used one to raise my rucksack onto my back. Alas, no such luck so I make do with sheer strength and grit. We crack on, leaving our parked behind us. 

It’s a heavy start up a steep incline and after mere yards, I’m concerned about my heart rate. Not wanting to show Rich any sign of weakness though I plough on, delighted that he seems to be struggling as well. Our route takes upwards and then around one of the tors before mercilessly pointing us downwards again into the next valley. Here we spot one of the first landmarks, an allegedly pretty waterfall called Becky Falls. So pretty in fact that they charge you £9.50 to get in. No thanks. We skirt around it and find ourselves passing Becka brook (a small babbling flow of water and not a flame-haired, news paper-editing harpy).  

As the going is relatively flat, we spend the rest of the morning enjoying a pleasant wander through some lovely temperate rainforest before coming across a small cluster of houses, too small to even be called a village but big enough that it has a pub. Annoyingly, as nice as a pint seems at this point, it is closed so we press on. 

We stumble across a church that looks as if it is straight out of either Midsummer murders or an episode of Jonathan Creek. If our maps are correct, we have to go through the graveyard and into the woods behind the church. The ones that look really spooky, even during a warm sunny day like today. With no alternative, we push forwards, uphill once more, trying our best to ignore the abandoned huts scattered through the trees, many of which have actual wooden crucifixes on them. 

Rich enquires about the large viking tattoo covering my left forearm, presumably trying to take our minds off the possibility of imminent abduction / demonic possession. I tell him it’s a transfer, left over from a friend’s viking birthday party a few days prior. I am concerned that it might not scrub off properly before I have to go back to work. He points out that, with the sunny weather, I’m likely to have tanned around the tattoo as well. Shite. 

With that ominous prospect in mind, we emerge from the trees and take in the stunning 360 views from Manaton rocks.

This brightens the mood somewhat. By now, it’s mid afternoon and we can see the tor towards which we are destined by now. It looms above us in the distance, one side covered in pine forest. That is is the side we roughly direct ourselves towards, passing an isolated house along the way with a box outside saying ‘eggs for sale’. There are none left. 

We reach the base of the tor along a windy road and begin to skirt around in an anti-clockwise direction, looking for a path up into the forest. Predictably the one we aimed for isn’t there so we carry on for a greater distance than we had intended before finally finding a way up. 

As we reach to forest it cools somewhat, but the incline is not messing around. This will be a slog, we think. Halfway up, now in deep pine woodland, we come across an abandoned log cabin, the spookiness of which far exceeds anything we have seen so far, particularly now as the light is beginning to fade. It’s name? Bogda. For some reason. 

According to the map, the tree line should break not far from here after which we anticipate a clear run to the top of the tor. What we don’t realise at this point is that certain features, not least accurate paths, do not show up on our particular map.

As every path we find seems to want to lead us back down the hill, we decide to strike off up the hill. “This is more like it” I think. “No paths. Just pure adventure.” As we reach the treeline, my thoughts of adventure quickly sour as I realise just how badly our map had betrayed us. Ferns. Oh the ferns. As far as the eye can see. So thick that to travel a few metres is like leaning against a gale force wind. The hill is getting steeper. With every brow of the hill we reach, we are met with more ferns. Ferns. So many ferns. 

We seriously consider going back down and finding a spot in the pine forest to bed down. But Rich and I are made of sterner stuff. We plough on, uncertain what we will find ahead of us. But then, just as we are about to give up hope, the ferns thin. The incline settles and the ferns gradually are replaced by a covering of sharp shallow thistle. Not something we can camp on. For a moment, we worry that the whole tor is covered in the stuff and we really will have to go back down. But then, we see grass. Oh lovely grass. 

The satisfaction is palpable and we are soon spoiled with ideal places to camp. A herd of sheep look up at us, no doubt slightly baffled that humans should emerge from this direction. The views we share with our fluffy companions are spectacular. It’s as if we can see the whole of Dartmoor and we suddenly realise that it has all been worth it. 

We pitch our tents and then crack open some beers. Rich cooks up some absolutely cracking tacos which we eat in front of a gorgeous sunset. Moments like this are rare. 

We retire to our sleeping bags finally under the cover of a clear starry night with satellites visible above. I wake a few hours later convinced I can hear radio chatter transmitted through my camping pillow. Thoughts of secret underground government bases fill my mind. I head outside to take a pee and find our campsite drowned in mist. 

In the morning the mist is cleared. After plotting out our day’s route over a pleasant breakfast, we pack up and head down, this taking choosing the opposite side of the tor. We begin to feel really stupid when we find a clear way down. 

Our aim is to cross a stream at the bottom to avoid a huge detour around private land through which we can’t travel. It turns out that the free land over which we have planned our route is not quite as simple as first envisaged. The way forwards takes us through a field. On the map, this looks impossibly simple. In reality, the field is a bog bordered by a stream, heavy undergrowth and fenced off with barbed wire. We spend about an hour probing the back of this field to find a way through but no luck. We eventually find a corner with some just about scalable barbed wire over which we vault. Rich catches his undercarriage on the wire and for a moment, I see in his face the look of a man who has lost something dear to him. We fear the worst. There is blood. I need to take a look.

Anyone spotting us as I inspect Rich’s groin area at this point could be forgiven for reaching the wrong conclusion. Fortunately, it is a small gash in the thigh and nothing more. 

The day has turned into a scorcher and, just as our last drama ends, a new one begins. We have very little water left. As we traipse through a series of fields, we stumble across a clear stream and we use this to refill our bottles, with the aid of Rich’s water purifier. 

As we continue, signs of civilisation begin to appear. We come across a small collection of houses and what seems to be a workshop of some kind. A sign over a tool box reads ‘Don’t even look at them.’ As we take stock, a man emerges and we have a quick chat. Very friendly and, although he is taller than both of us, he looks for all the world like a dwarf from Lord of the Rings. 

As the morning turns to afternoon, we wander paths and roads in some idyllic countryside. We pass a dead mole at one point. Huge. Then a shrew. Signs of a rather predatory house cat from one of the cottages dotted about the landscape we suspect. From nowhere, the sounds of ‘Let’s get is started’ by the Black Eyed-Peas blare out. 

We stop to have supernoodles by the side of the road and I decide to loosen my boots which are chafing a little. We discuss the phrase ‘loosen the boots’ and decide it could also be euphemistic for opening one’s bowels. 

Early afternoon and we reach Widecombe where we resupply, plan our evening’s route and make use of the pub in the middle of the village. Inside, a sign on the wall quotes Kenneth Williams. ‘I can’t stand euphemisms in a script. As soon as I see one, I whip it out.’

It’s at this point also that we realise we are both riddled with tics. Tiny ones but tics nevertheless. We remove as many as we can find and cross our fingers that we are lyme disease free. (The tiny specs in the below picture are said tics).

Sufficiently recharged and possibly slightly drunk, we set out eastwards. In relation to its surrounding landscape, Widecombe sits within a big bowl which we must now walk out of. Like tearing off a plaster, we go for it. We reach the Bonehill rocks above a little while later and find an ideal spot right at the top where we set up camp once more. As we sit drinking more beer, a couple of shepherds emerge as they herd their herd of sheep off the hillsides. One rides around like a lunatic on a quadbike while the other just runs around. Rather them not me. 

The night is clear and warm, with good views of the milky way. I have a satisfying breakfast of sausage, beans and egg, swilled down with coffee and finished off with a fudge bar. The day is overcast and breezy which suits us. I ensure I am wearing trousers not shorts. As we descend, we talk about the fern craze of the 1900s and Rich furnishes me with the fact that custard creams (probably my favourite of all the biscuits) have ferns on them, which relate to this period in our history. 

So distracted are we by confectionary-related trivia, we fail to realise we have dropped down into a bog. This is no ordinary bog. It is the real deal. Like something out of Indiana Jones or the Return of the King. We each take different routes, finding islands of squelchy firmness amidst genuinely quite deep water. At several points, we each find our boots stuck and sinking into the mud, like quicksand. The heavy packs on our backs are no doubt not helping us but we have no option but to press on. Rich reaches safety. I am but a small leap across a watery section to reach him. I assess my options. I could retrace my steps and find another way but I’ve spotted what looks for all the world like a firm piece of ground with tufts of grass reassuringly growing out of. I go for it. It almost happens in slow motion. I sail over the water with the grace of a gazelle. I have spanned the chasm with ease. But as I place my foot on the patch of ground I’m aiming for, the point at which I would expect feedback from the ground beneath me soon passes. I am falling. Both feet now press down on the earth which sinks like an armband in a swimming pool. I plunge to my mid thigh into the cold bog. 

Rich lets out gleeful laughter as I swear and scramble to dry land. Clearly it could have gone better. There is nothing I can do now but carry on. With time, the water within my boots and trousers warms like a wetsuit. It’s not altogether unpleasant. 

We reach another smaller tor which takes my mind off things. Clearly the haunt of druids and hippies from the smell of incense coming from the nooks and crannies of the rocks here. Not long after this we pass the shepherds from the night before who we had seen traversing the bog as if it weren’t there. Their herd complete, they had set about sheering the sheep. All very English. 

Our journey nearing its end, we discuss the landscape through which we walk. Our final leg sees us travel through some dense forest and across a beautiful stream that looks incredibly similar to one of the stock screensavers you get on your computer. 

My brush with the bog is a distant memory and I could genuinely spend another night out there amidst the moss covered rocks and the sound of light running water. But before long, we reach our cars, safe and sound.

Dartmoor is an incredible place. Bleak at times, but full of hidden gems if you take the time to look for them. A wild and precious landscape that is there for all. As we refuel with a pub lunch, Rich and I are already discussing our return. 

 

 

Woodland pursuits

I was browsing on Amazon a while back, as one does. For those who’ve done it, you’ll know just how dangerous that can be. Sure enough, my cursor fell on a trail camera (or camera trap). – the kind they use on nature programmes to film wildlife covertly. 

I snapped it up. Living in a flat at the time, it was a little tricky to find good places to put it. I caught a door mouse and a Robin in the undergrowth just outside the building but little else. 

Having just moved house however, I am now lucky enough to live a mere 20 seconds away from a large area of woodland. Quite apart from it being a huge therapeutic escape (and a terrific new playground for my Corgi, Bowie) it is also begging for the trail camera’s attention. 

So, I thought I would give it a whirl. One Friday afternoon, I trekked into the middle of the woodland and found a tree that faced what looked like a bit of an animal highway through the bushes and rigged up the camera with all fingers crossed. In the interim, I actually couldn’t stop thinking about it. Tragic though some people may find it, I couldn’t wait for the next morning to come so I could go out again and collect it. I’ll admit, I wasn’t really holding out too much. I would have been happy that it lasted the night without running out of batteries. 

So it was with almost elation that I flicked through several captures of not one but four different types of animal.

This was the first video I saw. After that came a deer, then a badger and then, out of the darkness, a house cat! In the back of my mind, I’m thinking I probably won’t beat that so I had better just leave it there but the rest of me can barely contain myself to get back out there. I am not saying I am going to turn into some balaclava-wearing nutcase who hangs around in the woods after dark, but I can definitely see my next addiction coming along. To that end I’ve even set up an instagram account… (wilfredsnighttimecreatures)… to chart my discoveries. Who knows what I’ll find out there. 

The truth is, in a busy and sometimes bleak world, something like this is an incredibly therapeutic pastime. Even just being in the woods with nothing but the birdsong is a pleasure that seems to dissolve away the noise and pressure from the outside world. They say the natural world is a great healer and that is something I can certainly appreciate. The secret goings on of the forest add an extra excitement to that. Give me a follow on instagram to keep posted.   

 

 

One Week

 

I don’t think I can be alone in thinking how much energy must be wasted by the numerous office buildings and shops lit up at night with no one in them. It’s a thought I’ve had many times over the years but, as soon as all the unnecessary illuminations are out of sight, the thought always recedes.

Perhaps partly as a result of that, I’ve had a fairly simple idea in the back of my mind for quite some time, written down on a scrap of paper hitherto ignored or put to one side. The idea is based on the fact that we, as humans, are actually capable of some quite impressive feats individually but when we get together are collectively capable of the extraordinary. Unfortunately, often this is driven not out of simple curiosity but out of necessity – the codebreakers at Bletchley Park during WW2 for example or the incredible collective effort that made the Dunkirk evacuations possible or more recently the rapid development of covid vaccines.

The collective ability to deploy such ingenuity and hard work is always available. It is simply hiding in plain sight, sometimes deployed elsewhere and other times not at all.

In January, as some of you may be aware, the first One Week event took place. It was designed to utilize some of this unspent community effort by giving it a focus (energy consumption) and some coordination.

Energy is something that is very topical at the moment and many people have no choice but to limit their usage as much as possible. But, thinking back to the office buildings, this is not the case across the board. As the idea grew, I knew there was certainly more I could be doing to bring my energy consumption down and of course many people are already making sure they turn lights off and are saving energy where they can. One Week, however, asked people to go above and beyond their usual in that endeavour.

While the general message for energy saving is quite widespread, it tends only to skim off the tip of an iceberg of potential savings. The idea behind going all out for one week is to make a significant impact all in one go.

For the last week, I have tried to lead by example. At home I have had the lights off most of the time. I have used appliances only when absolutely needed and when not in use everything was unplugged (a minor inconvenience, but just for one week!). It’s thought that around 10% of a household’s energy consumption is from appliances that are plugged in but not in use.

To go the extra mile, the television remained off for the whole week, which gave me a chance to do other things (candlelit dinners, board games, reading by torchlight). The overall feel was a nice change if I’m honest. And that’s part of the design. To provide a bit of a change, bring people together, all in the knowledge that others are doing their part too.

I also made the decision to have cold showers for the week which is not for everyone I know but actually I found this far less challenging than avoiding hot tea or coffee for those seven days – that was a real slog!

One of the most rewarding parts of the week was seeing how enthusiastic some of the schools that took part were. Of course, while a lot of energy can be saved in one go, a key side effect of the event is in raising awareness of our need to save energy and there is no better place to start than with the younger generation. 

At the GP surgery where I work, we managed to save a total of 172 kWh of energy compared to a normal week (a kWh is the amount of power needed to power a 1,000 watt appliance for an hour) – about 11% of the usual consumption and enough to boil 1,720 kettles – a good achievement I think.

I managed to save a further 20kWh from home. I have calculated that if all businesses in the UK saved 11% of their energy consumption for a week and all homes saved 20kWh power, it would save 907 million kWh of energy which is equivalent to 1.4 million barrels of oil.

The saving in just that one week therefore equates to

  • the CO2 emissions produced by 138,497petrol vehicles over a year
  • the CO2 emissions produced by 1.6 natural gas fired power plants
  • the greenhouse gas emissions avoided by 175 wind turbines over a year
  • the carbon sequestered by 10.6 million tree seedlings grown for 10 years.

Hopefully that shows that the small gains made by us as individuals can have a significant collective impact. Particularly if you consider that I’ve not even included the energy consumed by transport which accounts for 40% of the total UK figure. Not quite as easy to measure but, for one week, it’s just as easy to reduce.

One Week is a project that I have developed gradually in snatched moments of my own time. It’s been fun and at the same time quite eye opening. It gives people a chance, if embraced, to take some ownership of the problems we face rather than relying on answers from elsewhere and is also a good chance for us to perhaps readjust some of our perspectives on the elements of our lives that we progressively take for granted. Having been just another person, vaguely aware of climate issues and the ins and outs of energy beforehand, it has certainly had that effect on me.

And don’t forget, it can be fun and may even spawn some new habits. You don’t have to take a cold shower to make that difference. Everyone will have their own ways of saving but simply saying ‘I do that already anyway’ is not enough unless you are living completely off grid. It’s only for one week after all. One Week doesn’t always have to be about energy. It can be applied to any problem to which a simple collective solution is applicable. As the slogan goes, large numbers in small sacrifices for huge rewards. It’s a chance to recapture a bit of that Dunkirk spirit of old. So if there is anyone out there that took part, I’d love to hear from you via the ‘contact’ page on the website: www.oneweekuk.co.uk. Likewise, in order to make the next one even more successful, I would welcome all the suggestions, ideas, contacts and advice I can get.

One Week

I don’t know about anyone else, but I have a bit of a restless mind. As a result, I have accumulated a long list of ideas and projects over the years, most of which will never come to fruition. Featuring fairly consistently on that list for a long time has been a rather vague idea for some sort of ‘blitz’ week. Loosely speaking, the idea stemmed from an ongoing thought about how effective a large number of people could be if they were all doing one thing all at the same time. 

Having read a lot about impressive feats of human ingenuity, namely the codebreakers during WW2 and of course the events surrounding the evacuation from Dunkirk (which gave rise to the phrase ‘Dunkirk Spirit’), it struck me that these all took place out of a collective necessity and did so via hard work and sacrifice, again on a collective scale. 

With all the problems we face these days, it struck me that it would be kind of cool if everyone in the country could be mobilised and co-ordinated to do something positive. A lot of the problems we face both economically and environmentally are driven and amplified by the untapped potential that sits with all of us. 

Energy is the best way to demonstrate this and, as I began to think more and more that this was quite a good idea, despite the indifference I faced from whoever I pitched it to, I calculated how much energy could be saved if one light bulb per household was switched off for 4 hours longer than usual each day for seven days. It was the equivalent of more than 55,000 barrels of oil. At a time when oil was becoming a real issue, I decided I had to follow this through and so, I made a website, had a logo created, then a video and am now trying to spread the word and make something out of this. 

It’s a bit of a win win – I can’t really see a downside to it and of course, if people were to really buy into the no energy for a week, it’s my hope that people will save money, find it fun and maybe a bit exciting (think cosy nights with the family round a candle) and above all foster a bit more of a sense of cohesion and community that we have been lacking for a while now. 

If successful, it can stand as an example to the rest of the world and there’s no reason to think it can’t be bigger than just a national endeavour focusing not just on energy but on other pressing matters that affect us all. 

Lots of work to do then and it will probably start out as a local thing for now but you never know. It is what we all make of it. 

www.oneweekuk.co.uk

@OneWeekUk

Instagram: One_Week_UK

Music Project Up and Running!

We are up and running, as the title would suggest. The journey travelled on this project has thus far been an extremely long one. Any moments of note have been subtle and certainly spread pretty far apart. The latest update therefore represents something of a significant milestone. It is the first palpable collaboration with outside parties since the whole thing was conceived. Very exciting.
 
Just yesterday was the first jam session with an assembled group of musicians – the first I hope of many (specifically 11). Without revealing too much about the song to take this opening accolade, I can at least give it’s name (Nightdrive) and a rough genre (prog rock). Enter Tom (bass), Marcus (drums) and Sanj (lead guitar). Never before have I and these three individuals occupied the same room together and yet, perhaps through some sort of universal musical magic, I think everyone hit of off well! Added to that we managed to get some passable music going and we are now poised to get the track down and recorded as had been the plan all along.
 
The day kicked off with a general chat through the track and some initial chatter. Sanj and Marcus bonded over some mutual appreciation of thrash metal and Tom brought along a ridiculous pedal board that lit up in many beautiful ways. Then we got down to learning and developing the song. Considering it was the first time any of us had really played it (including me having pieced it together into a demo bit by bit) I think we did rather well. A short break and a beer, during which we put the musical world to rights, pointed out some choice opinions on the local music college and discussed the pros and cons of life as a session musician. Then back to the music.
 
Throughout the course of the afternoon, it was noted how, seemingly for the style of music on display, there seemed to be some patterns emerging. Firstly, a propensity for physics and data analysis amongst us. Indeed, between us there were 2 physics degrees and one for electro-acoustic engineering. Secondly and more to the point, three out of four of us had long hair – something surely of statistical significance. I would argue that, if a straightener were taken to Tom’s curls, we could easily make that four out of four.
 
Anyway, satisfied that good progress had been made (and me safe now in the knowledge that I think this project is going to work!) we headed to the pub for some well earned beers. Amongst some fairly deep musical philosophising, we mused over the best decade for music. If you’re interested, the 80s won.
 
 
 
So far then, off to a good start. Keep your eyes peeled for updates on this trick and others as we begin to pick up speed.
 
W
Ps. if you haven’t the faintest idea what this is all about, go to the following website (www.wap-uk.org). I promise you the link is fine!

Dartmoor Camp

I’m wild camping again and this time it’s a two-nighter on Dartmoor. That’s right, we’re really raising the bar with this one. Rich is back, my long haired companion who looks, as ever, the professional camper. But that’s not all. We are lucky to be joined by a new character in our ongoing wilderness-taming saga that started by the Thames before moving to the coastal paths of Cornwall. Enter Ross, a former army soldier man who now plies his trade as a teacher. With his survival skills learned through both vigorous training  and from tours in Afghan and his intimate knowledge of key stages 1-4 in Geography, his presence could prove vital. 

The sometimes brutal peaks and troughs of Dartmoor are no joke so we’re going in prepared. While one might call the utilisation of all-terrain vehicles along with a full support crew ‘being prepared’, we’ve instead plumped for a Corgi called Bowie. Time will tell whether that was a good call or a terrible mistake. 

Our aim is to hike out into the wilds of Dartmoor, pitch up and lose ourselves in the midst of nature once more. As I drive into Dartmoor on the Friday evening, I have Ross in the passenger seat and Bowie in the back. The sun is getting low and once off the A-road, the routes become stupidly narrow very quickly. Bloody quaint though, as if Hobbiton is just around the corner. Just as we comment on how it’s like going back in time, a spectral white horse canters into the road out of nowhere, like an ethereal vision; an omen of the land we are entering. Not sure if that’s a good sign or not. 

As I mentioned, we are doing a two-nighter. For this we need to assemble our full team and for that we need Rich. He’s at the pub already in a lovely little place called Chagford. Screw camping for the night, we have some food and beer and decide to stay there. It’s a five-star inn after-all and we don’t want to get trampled by white horses in the night. There is a picture on the wall of a man that looks like a cross between Monica’s Dad from Friends (talented veteran actor Elliot Gould) and Prince Andrew (sweaty royal). The food is good and the company excellent. Bowie sleeps in my room and is mildly well behaved, if not a slight pain in the arse. 

As Corgis tend to be, Bowie is small and annoying. He has short legs and a long body. He is two years old now and is extremely intelligent. He can be charming and very sweet but I am convinced he would leave us all to die if it meant he was allowed to lick the plate after dinner. He recently developed a sudden and appalling limp after coming down some stairs that convinced me he had broken his leg, only for it to instantly disappear half an hour later when someone opened the back door through which he rushed with gay abandon. I am becoming increasingly convinced that he is a psychopath. 

Breakfast lives up to the five star nature of our digs. Cup of tea and an eggs benedict for me. We discuss that if Rich were to release his own run of cereal bars he would name the brand ‘Nutrient Rich’. Ross gets out his OS map like a pro and we plan our adventure on the wooden table of the pub beneath its ancient wooden beams. We identify a spot where we can leave the cars and strike out into the wild not twenty minutes away and so off we go. On the way, the scale of the moor opens up around us and we cut our speed to avoid the suicidal sheep that throw themselves in our path every twenty metres or so. 

We arrive at a visitors centre where we park up. Immediately two things become apparent. The first is that there are a load of spotty teenagers running around with oversized back packs on. Upon asking why there is such a high frequency of the greasy angst ridden vessels of emotion, complete with all their Harry Styles badges affixed to their clothing, we are told it happens to be the weekend of the Ten Tors Challenge. According to its website, The Ten Tors Challenge is attempted by 2,400 teenagers in 400 teams of six, navigating routes of 35, 45 or 55 miles (depending on age) over the Northern half of Dartmoor, visiting ten nominated tors / check points in under two days. Rich seems indifferent to them, Ross shifts noticeably into teacher mode, his face lighting up as if it’s Christmas. I briefly contemplate setting Bowie on them all. 

The second thing that becomes apparent is the lack of bins on Dartmoor. This particular issue comes to the fore as Bowie drops trow and squeezes a steaming pile out right in front of the visitor’s centre. Naturally I have to clear it up but, after some fruitless investigation, it looks as if the poo is coming with us. It seems that extra carabiner I brought along was worthwhile. I can’t fit the poo bag onto the back of my pack without help and so we invent a sophisticated code to help us. Whoever fastens it on shouts out ‘poo secure’ to signify the fact that the poo is secure and I can move off without disaster ensuing. 

Teething problems overcome, we set off and blimey it’s hot. I have been clever however as I’ve worn a white t-shirt and everyone knows that this is better at reflecting the sun on a warm day.  Presently, after passing several bands of teenagers, one of whom is carrying quite literally a ghetto blaster on his shoulder, we reach quieter climes and it begins to feel as if we’re finally in the grip of the great outdoors. Presently, we reach a stream and as we confront Ross’s OS map once more, it appears our chosen direction lies on the other side. While the stream certainly looks inviting in this heat, I note that we have full kit and a corgi who will definitely drown if he attempts to cross on his own. Bearing in mind we have only just made it through a muddy bog, I quickly rue my choice of attire. Bowie has, to this point, never been as wet and muddy as he is now. As I carry him across the river, my t-shirt will never be the same again. And the car is barely out of sight.

As we continue onwards,  and with the Queen’s jubilee approaching, I weather the obligatory comments from passing walkers and more teenage outdoor types, all eager to point out that Bowie is a corgi and that we’re all in the presence of royalty etc.  I smile through gritted teeth and just nod. 

Around midday we stop for lunch having climbed one tor and passed through several other monuments. Before we know it we have been walking for hours. Our task has been to find a spot as far away from any children as possible and late afternoon we hit the jackpot. Whether it be through blind luck or through Ross’s intimate knowledge of contour lines on the map, we find some stone circles on the side of a small valley that look as if they have been made for us. As we set up, we admire the lovely views into the distance and, mercifully, not a teenager in sight.

It has been a tough hike thus far and our water levels are running a tad low. While Bowie is content to drink from bogs and puddles, Rich, Ross and I have some standards. We locate a stream from which Rich can extract clean water with the help of his trusty water filter. As we set off over the ankle-breaking terrain I look back and notice a group of Dartmoor ponies sidling up to our camp. They have a swashbuckling twinkle in their eyes and so I double back to protect our home for the night from a proper ransacking. 

What follows is a bit of a staring contest as they loiter 20 yards away from our tents. One of them has a mane that makes it look like Sheena Easton. Then, all of a sudden, they all just pause, as if someone has just switched them off. I had no real idea that this is how ponies sleep until this moment. I sit fascinated until Rich and Ross return triumphantly with fresh H2O. 

As the sun sets, we cook food and drink whisky from a flask. These are the moments that make this sort of thing worth it. The air is clear and though the temperature is dropping, it’s okay because we have jumpers with us. I have brought along a camera trap which I bought from Amazon on a whim and am keen to see what small rodents are running around at night up on Dartmoor. I move someway off from the camp and fasten it to a small rock in front of what looks like a natural trail through the grass. 

Then, bed time. I have anticipated that Bowie will be exhausted by now but it quickly dawns on me that I am utterly wrong. If anything he is more alert and active now than at any point through the day. I have to attach him to my arm via his lead to stop him from running off in search of Sheena Easton and so he just sits upright outside my tent for 5 hours, barking at the moon. Needless to say I don’t get much sleep.

When I finally do get some sleep it must be only for an hour or so before the little blighter jumps on me and starts licking my face. We emerge from our tents amidst a dense fog. Rich almost immediately digs into the overnight oats that he prepared the night before with a decidedly smug look on his face. To be fair, this was a rather impressive move and Ross and I glance at each other in silent acknowledgement. I get up and collect my camera trap, eager to find out what has been going on out there. Turns out absolutely nothing has been going on. Just the breeze rustling the grass. At least I have a sausage sandwich to gobble up. 

As I discuss our route off Dartmoor with Rich and Ross, we sip on tea and coffee and I inadvertently melt my spork on the camping stove. I wonder whether this is how spoons were invented. I am keen to walk back through the nearby forest but am quite rightly overruled by my companions who feel our odds of getting immediately lost in there are high. As the fog clears, we see a military helicopter appear in the distance, landing on the horizon before rising once more and disappearing into the beyond. Later, as we retrace our steps from the day before, we see two more, this time flying right over us in the valley. The first moves with a meticulous slowness – it appears to be following all regulations to the letter and is probably flown by a pilot called Roger or Colin. But the second is really giving it some. It flies much lower and banks at crazy angles. I can’t be certain as to whether the theme to Airwolf  is actually playing or is just in my head. Rich says it’s in my head. 

After what seems like a much shorter walk than the day before, perhaps as our packs are a bit lighter, we reach the cars again back at the visitors centre. We head straight to the pub for some food with no regard for the other customers on account of how bad we all smell. I am exhausted, as is Rich. Even Ross looks tired. But Bowie is decidedly chirpy. Corgis are tough little things I realise. We bid Rich farewell and as I drive home, Ross channels his inner geography teacher by falling asleep immediately.  Overall, a great success and one which we all agree needs to be repeated. Watch this space. 

 

 

Wild Camp in Cornwall

You may or not remember my wild camping trip last year with my mate Rich. It was such a success that we vowed to do it again. This is the one where we do it again.

This time, we decide to get a bit more ambitious. A number of years ago Rich and his wife decided to abandon me and move down to the coast. Treachery aside, it does mean that I have friends and (crucially) a base in Cornwall from which I can stage an epic camping trip if needed. Rich has had his eyes on the south west cost path (a pathway of such significance that I was unsure whether or not to capitalise it – having just looked it up, it turns out I should have done) for a while now. This path extends for 630 miles from Somerset all the way round the Devon and Cornwall coasts, ending up in Pool in Dorset. It even has its own website. For a path, I think that is pretty impressive.

Our aim for this trip was to tackle a small section of it over a couple of days, camping on the open road each night while we did so. Rich’s plan was to start in a small, innuendo-friendly bay called Welcombe Mouth. From there we would camp our first night and set off southwards towards the town of Bude and, should the wind be behind us and the carbohydrates within us, beyond.

Logistically we (I) was struggling to see how we could start in one place, finish in another and then exfiltrate ourselves using the same infiltration method we’d started with. I hadn’t counted on Rich’s excellent wife who was happy to drop us off at the beginning and pick us up when we’d had enough a couple of days later.

Trip sorted. The weather is another issue. Of course for the entire journey there, it pelts it down with rain, but as soon as we arrive in the welcome mouth of Welcombe Mouth, the rain leaves us and the evening sun creeps out from behind the clouds in a really rather generous fashion. As a result, the waterproofs never see the light of day.

For dinner, we build a fire on the beach, strewn with logs and pebbles after a brief discussion on whether the tide is likely to swallow us up before we’ve even opened up our beers. We decide it won’t, so we open up our beers. Proven correct, we enjoy a seabass and vegetable foil dinner that Rich had already prepared. Such is the quality of this meal that, frankly, I would have been happy with it in a posh restaurant. Aside from a rogue pocket of hot slate that explodes out of the fire and a small rockfall that falls on the exact spot we’d initially set up on, we enjoy a superb evening looking out onto the open ocean. The vista we look out on is worthy of a desktop screensaver.

As night falls, we set our tents up on the cliff and, apart from a lone van in the car park, we are the only ones in the whole valley. At one stage, just as the light is all but gone, I become convinced that the headlights of the van flash at us from across the other side of the stream that runs through the valley. “Doggers,” says Rich casually. I can’t quite tell if he is joking but from that point on, I keep a close, untrusting eye on that van until we leave the next day.

Generally speaking, during the nights when I am camping, I invariably get a very cold nose. This one is no exception. I’m convinced it is ever since I got an elbow to the face while playing football. As we pack up the next morning and hike out of the valley, tents and all on our backs, I speak to Rich about my idea for a nose cosy. I would call it a ‘nosie’. He doesn’t really say anything but, tellingly, neither does he laugh so I can only assume he loves the idea.

The path itself is breathtakingly scenic, something we discover through the course of the morning. Nothing quite beats looking out on a sunny seascape whilst watching a frolicking seal in the surf. On the other hand, quite a lot of things beat lugging a backpack of a weight equivalent to Matt Hancock’s conscience up and down the steep sides of each valley. The coastal path is rife with streams running into the sea, each with its own deep carving through the cliff tops and so what is quite a short distance as the crow flys turns out to be a hell of a lot more in reality. After one particularly strenuous climb, Rich almost bunders into a hedgerow just as a nice lady bids us a good morning. Ah to have been a crow.

By midday I feel like I’ve worked my gluteal muscles so fully that I would feel reasonably confident opening a can of baked beans using just the cheeks. Lunch is taken in a small gulley through which a babbling stream runs and from which we replenish our water supply. Luckily Rich has one of those water filters so thankfully neither of us subsequently die as a result. I come up with the idea of camping slippers.

After lunch, we set off back into the Cornish countryside (we had already crossed the border from Devon to Cornwall earlier that day). As we approach a cool-looking government radio station, we pass some walkers. Not just any walkers though; they mean business. I hadn’t realised but the South West Cost Path (capitalised) is kind of a big deal and people really do go all in on it. If you’re trying to do the whole thing then to miss even a small section out is sacrilege. Such is the opinion of the cheerful gentleman who passes us coming the other way. Apparently we are on a small detour inland which he too has mistakenly taken. He informs us cheerfully that he is retracing his steps in order to ‘do it properly’. It can only be a few 100 yards difference.

A little while later, he catches up with us (he doesn’t have Matt Hancock’s conscience on his back) and, with a spring in his step, declares “caught you up.” Stating the obvious I think to myself, while smiling back at him. To my shock, he then adds the following words verbatim… “And my anal fixation has been satisfied.” Must be the man from the van I ponder. I am too otherwise appalled to say anything out loud.

It’s a long afternoon of hiking but we eventually make it to some semblance of civilisation (a café on a fairly isolated surfing beach) where we grab some drinks and realise we have both been cultivating an impressive sun burn on our faces, necks and arms since we began earlier in the day. I buy some sun cream and aloe vera (pricey) and a snickers (affordable).

We begin to debate where we are going to camp. It is tempting to retrace our steps a way to a suitable spot seen earlier. The opposing temptation however is to carry on, even though we are approaching the outskirts of Bude, making it harder to find a place to camp without being blatantly obvious. We choose the latter option and live to regret it. More quickly than we had anticipated, Bude looms into view and we are forced to get a bit posh and pay a local farmer £10 to camp in his field. Not quite wild camping then but we do have access to one of the best equipped portaloos I have ever had the pleasure of using. We have noodles for dinner with a view of the ocean over the cliffs and I note how manly my hands look as a result of the work they have had to take on during our journey. I invent the word mands which I think is my best suggestion yet but Rich doesn’t look so sure.

The next morning we pack up and head into town where we have an excellent fry-up and a big coffee, (Rich has some sort of mocktail that I don’t know the name of). I buy some more butane for my camping stove in a department store straight out of the 80s after which we climb out of Bude back onto the cliffs to continue our journey.  I stop at one point to look at the lifeguard trucks below. Purely by coincidence, I have been watching a lot of Baywatch recently and I get a bit excited.

We stop every so often to apply our newly acquired sun cream and I eat a protein bar that tops any other protein bar I have ever had. As we grow wearier, we decide to pinpoint our exfil site – a beach not much further where we can eat lunch and await Rich’s wife to rescue us. The beach we get to is a bit ropey to be honest. We pass the ‘Beach House Hotel’ which looks like the house from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and decide to eat instead at the local café. I’m glad we do as the tartar sauce sachets they have there are cutting edge.

After lunch, we decide to retreat to the one pub in the bay for the final stages and, in contrast to the scenic tranquillity of the British coast we’ve just experienced, we witness the human element to this landscape. We watch with interest as five generations of one family race around on the mini go kart track outside as we sip on much anticipated pints of Doombar. There is a parrot in a cage in one corner and a child plays nearby who we can only assume is feral. In fairness to the locals, the breeding pool is small.

Overall, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed our journey over the last 2 days. According to Rich’s calculations, we have covered 15 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation. Rich is keen to get home now to address the ‘chafeage’ he has endured around his waistline (of all places) and I need to apply ice to my shoulders which feel as if they have been compressed beneath several tonnes of Matt Hancock’s promises.

Until next time.

My New Book!

With any luck, I’ll have a book out on Amazon in a week or so. That’s pretty exciting. As much as I would love it to be my novel however, that will perhaps have to wait. Instead, to get at least a foot on the ladder, I decided a while back to compile my medical columns published fortnightly in the local paper into a book. 

From an early stage I wanted to be realistic about what I wanted from this. Primarily, if any agents were swayed by my having published something then that would be tremendous. I had put a few feelers out to see if any agents wanted to get on board with this project but to no avail. Rather than wait forever, I decided to go the self publishing route. After a lot of research, it became a bit of a no brainer to go with Amazon. 

It is actually a pretty simple system. I have had to work pretty hard to get it all formatted and ready but once that is done, the process can be pretty much sorted in 10 minutes. I am at the stage where I have sent for a few proof copies to make sure the paperback version is not rubbish (fingers crossed) but once I’m happy, I just click the button. 

There have been a few choices to make along the way. What price I should sell it for is one of them. Amazon allow 60% of the royalties for the paperback which I guess isn’t bad in the circumstances and it is a print on demand system. In other words, people buy and order it online and it is printed once for each individual order. This avoids me having to print a bulk load of a hundred and then seeing me stand by as they are all pulped. Paramount in my mind when making this decision was the closing scene of Alan Partridge season two.

Lockdown has made the decision for me as to whether or not to buy any copies myself and flog them at book shops. My biggest outgoing therefore was a cover. I wondered whether this was something I could do myself and I gave it a go but in the end, to avoid hours of frustration and potentially getting the formatting all wrong anyway, I decided to hire a professional. This was also very easy via a great website called Reedsy and a chap called Anders helped me out with getting a nice professional design all worked up. He cost a fair bit but I didn’t really mind.  

If I make enough from the book, I might break even. To make any money on this was never the main goal and I realise that there will be a finite market for this one – essentially the readership of the paper. That market, although limited, is not insubstantial however. If I make a loss, quite frankly it will be nice just to see a book with my name on it. I could tick that off the bucket list at least and if I do make a bit of money, then all the better!

 

 

Camping Trip

We watch a lot of rubbish on our phones these days. While I may not be captive to the drudgery and soul sapping likes of Tik Tok and stuff like that, there is still a place for such mindless nonsense in my life. I talk of that specific point of the day in which you are tasked with something mundane but necessary. Making breakfast for example, or putting clothes on (not always necessary but, in general, recommended). Although I will occasionally binge something suited to background comfort viewing on the Netflix app, You Tube tends to be my go to medium for such things and I watch a plethora of useless output while I’m pottering around the flat. From videos of other people playing video games, some guy talking about watches, pens and spreadsheets (don’t ask), videos of what people carry in their pockets, the occasional compilation of people getting hit in the face with balls (my all time favourite thing) and, most recently, videos of people going camping.

In particular, credit here must go to a chap called Steve who has a channel called ‘Camping with Steve’. In it, Steve goes camping. It’s a simple as that (although the episodes where he goes stealth camping do add some variety and excitement to proceedings). Steve is an ultra-chilled, super friendly Canadian who takes the viewer on a trip into the Canadian countryside and allows you to imagine for a second that you are along with him on a nice sedate trip, away from the noise and responsibility of everyday life. Occasionally, he’ll bring along a mad looking gent with long hair and one of those beards so substantial that it muffles your voice, whom he refers to only as ‘Crazy Neighbour’ but whether accompanied or not, there’s something relaxing and calming about it all. 

So it is then, that I am now standing next to my car in a small gravel layby alongside a sleepy village green in the middle of nowhere, as if I’m a spy waiting for a drop. My bag, laden with the new equipment I have accumulated over the last week or so, (much of it snatched up in a frenzy from the, frankly obscene, sale the local Millets were putting on), lies on a grassy bank nearby. I am waiting for my mate Rich who will be my companion for the next 24 hours or so. My girlfriend has already made it clear she is ‘not up for it.’

Rich pulls up in his car, all suited and booted, straight from work. Like Crazy Neighbour, he too has long hair (that I have always been very jealous of) and a beard, but his attire does not paint him as someone about to embark on a wild camping trip. He dives into the back seat of his car to change and emerges looking like a different man. He now wears all green and camo, sports an army issue back pack and, with his hirsute appearance, looks as if he is just about to join a sit in for Extinction Rebellion.

‘It’s a short 30 minute walk to the spot’, he tells me cheerfully. Rich has been here before and knows the area better than me. As we set off, it’s a good chance to catch up as we’ve not seen each other for a while. We soon pass some ridiculous houses; the sort that have remote gates and the actual house is too distant from the road to be seen clearly.

I have quite a lot of stuff in my pack, including a tent and it quickly becomes apparent that this is not a ‘short 30 minute walk.’ My knees are screaming at me but I don’t let on so as not to lose face. Rich seems unphased by the slope we are descending while all I can think about is the fact that we are going to have to climb this again in the morning.

Like an accomplished Sherpa, Rich guides me first along undulating paths and then into woodland (at one point identifying a rare type of fern as if Ray Mears himself were here with me) and soon, down a perilous slope which we have to edge down sideways. Arduous as this is, it’s great to be outside in the fresh air doing something a bit different. I see the glisten of the river through the trees and I know we’re almost there.

We reach the bank of the river and move northwards along it, past loads of rubbish left by wankers. This is why wild camping is not technically legal, we remark to each other. Not much farther, we find a perfect spot to set up camp and we crack open a couple of beers to celebrate. As we sit on a log by the water, we watch an Aryan-looking cohort of public school boys row past us. (Collective noun for posh public school boys? A cox-less four? A Parliament??). Instructors wail at them through megaphones from motor boats.

One lanky kid in a single tries to take a rest, completely unaware we are there a few feet away and watching with amusement. From some way away, he is suddenly told via megaphone to ‘get the bloody hell on with it.’

As the sun begins to set, we set up camp. I pitch my tent while Rich strings up his outdoor hammock. (Of course he has an outdoor hammock). I must admit, it looks pretty badass. There is a brief moment of horror as Rich discovers what looks like a lower jaw bone tucked into the trunk and it takes us a few moments to reassure ourselves that it isn’t human.

Next up we have dinner. I have managed to pick up some pretty nifty cooking stuff and I quietly congratulate myself on not only this, but also the fold up stool that I am sitting on as I cook; arguably the best thing I’ve brought with me. I heat up some tomato lentil broth with some delicious veggie sausages mixed in and I can honestly say I would be pleased with that in a restaurant. Quite the woodsman, I think to myself.

As the sun gives its last, we gather some firewood and light a small fire. As we compare notes on Netflix and Amazon programmes to ensure neither of us has missed anything awesome, we hear a rustle in the bushes. So dense is the darkness by now that not even my awesome head torch can make anything out. With the severed jaw in mind, we retire for the night, Rich to his hammock and I to my tent. It’s a comfy night and it is not long before I drift off. The next time I wake, it is still pitch black but I can hear rustling in the bushes again, this time closer than before. It’s fine, I tell myself. Rich has probably just decided to have a wander. The trouble is, I need a pee. I remind myself that this is the UK and it is unlikely there are any wild animals out to get me. (I am reminded of another time when I was camping in the Rocky mountains – legit bear country – this time in the same tent as my mate Dave who woke in the middle of the night having suddenly realised that the rustling outside our tent might have something to do with the sandwich he had left in his pocket.)

I leave the tent, take a piss and am not mauled to death or indeed horribly murdered. Other than distant machinery, probably work on the railway which is not too far from here, the night is otherwise unremarkable and come morning, I feel pretty satisfied. Rich tells me he has also had an alright night but was perhaps a bit cold and I am not sure if he senses my smugness.

While sitting on my trusty stool, I brew some tea and cook some bacon on my stove as the mist rises from the river. The tranquillity of the moment is rudely interrupted by the sight of an enormous spider crawling up my jumper towards my throat, which I have to get rid of pretty sharpish. I briefly remember a moment when, half asleep, I brushed something from my face; I thought this was my ever growing hair (my aim is to be as long as Rich’s) but I now realise that the spider was most likely with me all night.

This aside, it has been a huge success. Full with bacon and tea, I pack up my gear and as Rich and I walk back along the banks, we spot two nutters swimming down the rider with dry bags pushed in front of them. Lo and behold they reach the bank next to us and climb out. One guy is literally just in his pants.

‘Ya, hi guys. Did you camp out last night?’ (said really poshly).

We confirm to them that we did. It turns out that these two like to go for runs, then take a dip in the river midway through before trail running their way out again. Sure enough, a bit further along we are overtaken by the two of them, this time clothed, thank God. While Rich and I lug our massive packs up the impossibly steep hill, they prance by energetically, giving us a friendly lycra clad wave.

The familiar creek of my knees gradually returns. We have done our bit and taken away as much of the rubbish left further down the river bank as we can, so we are still weighed down somewhat. Halfway along, it is Rich that signals for a rest. I make out like that’s fine, if he needs it. In reality, I am rejoicing.

As we reach the cars, I realise we have made it and without a hitch. Rich’s expert location scouting has done the trick and though we part ways, it is on the understanding that this is but the beginning. I could really get into this camping thing and it beats just watching other people do it on You Tube!

Haunting at Frimley

This ghost hunting is fast becoming a thing. As we had a bit of time to spend away again not long after our trip to Bath, Rach decided we should go on a nice relaxing spa trip. I, on the other hand, had other ideas. More ghoulish antics were definitely called for. 

Step in Frimley Hall hotel – Spa and gym package on the one hand, haunted house on the other.

With our weekend all booked, our journey to Surrey is comfortably short and, whether it is a spike in confidence or just plain denial, Rach seems annoyingly calm. Perhaps she is focused on the impending dressing gown and slipper combo (slippers which, I would argue, provide sub-par purchase on the ground should she need to run from a ghost and that’s not even factoring in the trip hazard).

I’m not ashamed to admit that I am a little disappointed at her laissez faire attitude but I am rewarded for my patience as soon as we arrive on the driveway at Frimley Hall. Her exact words are ” Oh my God, this is horrible.” Turns out she has just been hiding her anxiety a bit better this time around. 

Excellent, I think to myself. Her words are, in fairness, a little harsh to the good people at Frimley Hall. The building and grounds are lovely but I can also see what she means. It has a stately feel with lots of intricate nooks and crannies across its ivy-covered facade. It looks like the sort of place the location scouts from Jonathan Creek would be all over. 

We arrive just as the sun is setting and I can tell Rach is eager to get things sorted before it disappears altogether. Despite her barked instructions on how to carry our bags in, I can’t help be be distracted by the massive tree out front. I comment that perhaps it is the biggest tree I have ever seen in this country. The trunk is thick certainly, but the sheer height of it is quite something. Rach tells me to stop going on about the tree. 

We enter reception through a stone archway, its heavy wooden doors opened and propped either side. Pretty much everything in here is wooden – the stairs, the floor, the desk. I note that the tree outside is lucky to be still standing. The guy at the desk who checks us in has a really calm and sleepy voice and I have to stifle a yawn. As I stand there a bit dazed, Rach is staring up the wooden staircase, a little frown just visible on her face. This, I realise, is the exact epicentre of the hauntings at Frimely Hall. 

Legend has it that, back in the depths of time, a nanny took her eyes off the child she was looking after just long enough for it to have fallen down the staircase, dead. (Frankly, the stairs are so shallow and are so nicely carpeted that, for a child fragile enough to die from a tumble down these stairs, it was only a matter of time anyway).

Either way, from then on, it is said that the ghost of the nanny frequents the top of the staircase and the landing along from it, wailing in anguish over the time she dropped the ball. 

All checked in, we get to our room, not too far from the aforementioned landing but because it is a newer part of the building, I sense Rach instantly relax. Even more so when she realises there is a bottle of Prosecco waiting for us within. 

There’s a quick turnaround before dinner, punctuated by a brief panic when we realise there’s no hairdryer in the room. Rach leads the outcry but, as I’m currently growing my hair, I’m secretly bricking it also. Fortunately a quick call to reception (its the guy with the relaxing voice again) saves the day. 

At dinner, it becomes clear that the hotel is far from full. The Covid 19 pandemic has hit the place hard. The dining room is uncrowded and there are apparently only 6 staff present forming some sort of skeleton crew. The parallels with a Jonathan Creek mystery are beginning to strengthen. 

Dinner is lovely and halfway through Rach feels a chill behind her which neither of us can explain. She goes a bit pale while I examine the cutlery, with which I am very impressed – weighty, with a premium feel but really quite small so my hands look and feel massive.

Over desert, I whip out my phone to read a bit more about the building. Originally a family home, Frimley Hall dates form around the 1800s. After changing hands several times over the years, it became a hotel from the 1930s, briefly providing a location for the women’s naval service during and for a time shortly after WW2. 

To me, it is the wartime era that it most retains from its history. I can imagine the dining room as a mess hall and the drawing room next door somewhere the officers could retire to for cigars and brandy. 

It is to the drawing room we move to after dinner and, a little caught up in the feel of it all, I order a whiskey. The waitress hesitates when I asked what selection they have. Rach doesn’t hold back in asking why – they’re not exactly run off their feet so we have a good old chat here – and she admits she has to go to the cellars to get the whiskey I have ordered. 

‘Awesome,’ I say, as Rach recoils at the realisation that there are cellars here. Of course, we then ask about the ghost stories and it turns out they are ‘legit’. She talks of people having seen a white figure at the top of the stairs, of strange wailing noises at night, and of doors slamming for no reason. 

While we are talking, Rach grabs my arm and whispers to me that she can feel the chill again. I point out to her that we are sitting directly next to an open window. 

That night, we get to sleep without any drama. In Bath, our previous trip, I was woken quite early on. This time, I manage to sleep through a good portion of the night. However, around 4am, I am prodded awake. Rach is staring at me in the darkness, clearly terrified. 

‘What is it?’ I ask. 

‘Are you awake?’ she asks. 

‘Uh, yes,’ I reply.

‘Who were you talking to?’ she asks. 

‘What?’ I ask, extremely confused by now. 

‘You were saying “Yes please”. Who were you talking to?’

I had apparently been sleep-talking. Not something I usually do (with one exception in my early twenties when I was witnessed to have jumped upright while fast asleep shouting “cover me!”.)

I admit I have no idea as to what I was accepting, nor from whom I was accepting it, but I quietly acknowledge to myself an element of satisfaction that I remain polite even while unconscious.

This is only half of the story though. Rach then draws my attention to the sound of the zip on my suitcase. I hear nothing now but apparently something, or someone has been causing it to rattle for some time now. I laugh, thinking she is joking but her wide eyes tell me she is deeply concerned. I go back to sleep. 

In the morning, she tells me that the preceding night had been worse than anything experienced in Bath and that my nighttime conversation had been very creepy. I tell her I have no memory of it and suggest I may have been possessed. She hits me. 

The gym is booked after breakfast where we have a good workout and then finish with a dip in the pool. We discuss our plans for the day. At the George, we have the historic city of Bath on our doorstep. Here we have Camberly, Brookwood cemetery and Basingstoke canal. We decide to relax at the hotel. 

That afternoon, we return to the drawing room for some afternoon tea. We are challenged by the waitress to guess the flavour of one of the sweets. I realise this is a far cry from the pub crawls of my youth and half expect them to switch the T.V on just in time for Countdown. Mercifully, I realise it is the weekend, so no Countdown for at least 2 days. 

The afternoon tea is delicious, the scones artery-clogging. We have the obligatory ‘clotted cream or jam first’ discussion. Rach orders some chips. 

After a nap, we escape the confines of the hotel to have dinner at a local pub. The portion sizes here are north American and Rach orders the ‘Ultimate Burger’. I order the salmon and when they bring them to our table, the waiter assumes the burger is for me as it is literally the size of Rach’s head. 

As large as it is, both meals are delicious and make us rather sleepy. We pull up to Frimley Hall again, lit in moonlight and looking quite spooky. Rach is emboldened by an espresso martini or two, so we explore the landing and examine a picture on the wall we assume is of the nanny. I swear blind the eyes are following us and Rach hits me again. 

Fortunately the night passes without even the faintest of zip themed interruptions. Nor it would seem am I offered anything else in my sleep. We wake up ready for our morning gym session and I am in big trouble for making Rach go. The espresso martinis may have something to do with this. 

After this, we sit down for a nice leisurely breakfast and I marvel at the ketchup sachets. Rather than tearing unevenly down one side like the ones in Burger King or Macdonalds, these almost miraculously tear in a perfect horizontal line across the top. I don’t know why these things aren’t everywhere. 

After breakfast, we go for a full body massage. Rach gets the short straw – her masseuse apparently ‘didn’t have her heart in it.’

If hers didn’t, then mine certainly did. I’ve never had a massage this long or extensive and I walk out of it feeling like a million dollars. I didn’t realise they did the toes as well. And to top it all off, we weren’t murdered by ghosts. So, as we bid goodbye to the silken voiced receptionist, I think to myself that this spa thing isn’t such a bad idea after-all. I could certainly get used to it.

W