It was a grim and grey morning as we left base camp on our latest adventure. We were heading East to the Welsh Marches and the River Wye. Our aim was to spend the night in a Tipi. A tent in the rain can be cosy, or unbearable. Which would it be?
Over the last year or so we’ve had a loose plan to try out new places and activities. This has resulted in 4×4 off-road driving, a short break to Iceland, zip wires in West Wales, a brief raid on York and the North Yorkshire Moors and the relaxing Caer Beris hotel amongst others. The point is to experience a wide range of things. We can then choose to go back for a more in depth visit if we like them.
The Tipi sounded like a great idea. Originally a Native American dwelling, the modern ones differ very little in design from those recorded in the 19th Century. Why change a proven design? It is solid and yet portable; easy to set up and break down for the nomadic lifestyle of some of the Plains Indians. I was looking forward to it.
We reached the site early so we headed off to Hereford, only a few minutes away, and had a wander round the town. It was a mix of old and new but was spoilt in my opinion by the presence of a large and sprawling modern fun fair. The garish colours and lights and the booming 70s and 80s pop music detracted from the history and grandeur of the nearby Cathedral. Fortunately, inside it was tranquil and we were in a different world. We’ve visited a few of these buildings now and it’s interesting to compare them all. Hereford Cathedral was similar to other English ones but scaled down; not quite so tall, not quite so big inside etc. Brass memorial plaques on the wall commemorated notable folk from the area. On in particular stood out for me as very telling of the times. A large plate was dedicated to the officers and senior NCOs of the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry who died in India between 1863 and 1875. There were about 30 names on it. At the bottom, as an afterthought was written ‘also dedicated to the 346 NCOs and other ranks who also died during this time’.
After coffee and lunch in ‘The Imperial’, we drove back tot he Tipi site in time to meet Mike, who explained the situation and then drove us in his 4×4 across very muddy fields to the Tipi itself. Apparently, the week before one of the fields had been flooded. There was no sign of that in our field and Mike said it never flooded. Then we were left to our own devices.
The Tipi was about 20 feet high and around 15 feet in diameter. 15 tall wooden stakes formed the frame and canvass was wrapped around. A second inner skin rose about 4 feet to provide some insulation. There were several futons placed around the edge of the inside and there was a central open fireplace with a frame to support the essential kettle. It looked fantastic. The setting was gorgeous too. We were on the inside of a bend in the Wye. The river was a few yards away at it’s closest point so we went to have a look. Two swans were sheltering at the bank as the river was flowing quickly and quite high. Looking back on the site I could see that the Tipi was between the river and the flood dyke protecting the farmland beyond.
Back in the tent, we got the fire going to get a brew on. We’d been shown how to use the smoke flaps, which were intended to allow smoke to chimney out of the top of the Tipi without causing drafts in the tent itself. But the wind was blowing from the wrong direction and the flaps were blowing open and closed randomly. The fire caught and burnt quickly and the heating effect was almost instant, but as the wood heated up and before it started to burn, it smouldered, sending thick curls of smoke upwards to the vent. Some of that smoke was blown back and our eyes started to sting as it swirled back down again. It took a while to get the flaps open and working effectively but part of the trick was to get the wood burning quickly rather than smouldering away.
The kettle took a while to boil and in the meantime we got settled in. Once we’d had a coffee, we set off on a stroll along the river bank. It was clear there had been a lot of water in the river recently; across on the opposite bank there had been a lot of landslip and one massive tree was clinging precariously to the top of the bank, half it’s roots exposed to the air. It wouldn’t last long.
We planned on barbecueing our food so being a barbecue virgin, I set about getting the fire started early, to learn the ropes. I tried to use common sense and logic and sure enough, we had hot charcoal before long. The weather was clearing and although there was a wind blowing, it wasn’t too chilling. We guessed the cooking times and were pretty much spot on. Food over, it was out with the beer and some good old fashioned TV free entertainment (well, a game or three of Trivial Pursuit) until it got too dark to see, Then it was out with the portable DVD player for our piece de resistance – ‘The Blair Witch Project’. 80 minutes of being lost in the outdoors and camping, hearing unidentified sounds from the surrounding trees and woods in the distance. So atmospheric in the tent. If we hadn’t been so tired from the full day, we’d have been awake all night listening to the various unidentified sounds from the surrounding trees and woods in the distance.
I woke early the following morning. It was daylight, just. My watch said 5.15am. I was desperate to go to the loo in a way that reminded me of my first trek in Nepal. Lying in my sleeping bag, bursting to go but reluctant to venture out into the sub zero temperature. There I learned that if you turn on your side, you gain an extra five minutes before you have to go. I don’t understand human biology, I just know it works. I tried it again here and sure enough, it worked again. But eventually I had to go. Outside it was a glorious morning. Blue sky, golden sunrise, huge half moon and the sounds of the birds waking up. I stayed out after my loo break as the sun was warm and there was no cooling breeze. I wandered over to the river. creatures were stirring and a few fields over the farmer was spraying his crops and it wasn’t 6am!
Reluctantly I went back into the tent and climbed into the sleeping bag. I needed another hour or so of sleep as I was tired. But for a while I lay dozing and listening to the dawn chorus. It was so relaxing and reminded me of camping trips I’d done in the past.
Eventually I fell asleep, to wake an hour later ready for coffee and breakfast. We got up, freshened up, cleared up and decided to have breakfast in Hay. We left the site early and drove through rolling countryside until we reached Hay and the big car park. Delicious coffee and a sausage bap was procured at the sign of the Blue Boar and then we went book shopping.I love Hay and could spend days and hundreds of pounds there. But we were fairly restrained (you can’t see the pile of books by the sofa as I type) and after some lunch, we set off for home. It was such a lovely day that we took a break at the Brecon Beacons Mountain Centre near Libanus. I had a coffee and a scone and we were very soon joined by a number of sparrows, on the table, on the arm of the chair and all around on the low walls surrounding the patio. One even pecked a few crumbs from my outstretched hand. After I’d finished, another one climbed on to the plate to peck it clean.
All too soon we were heading home. I’m not sure I could do the Tipi again because of the smoke. It was comfy and warm and had the wind not been so strong I think it would have been better. Nevertheless, it was a great experience and one I wouldn’t have missed.
(I would have been happy to miss out on the clinging smell of smoke that attached itself to everything in the tent, including the notebook I write my journal in!)