A little camping adventure

21 July 2017

Way back before Vancouver, achilles tendon problems or RA, Commando entered a twenty four hour endurance race. For months Rob had been filling his head with talk of the Thunder Run and how much fun it was. Frankly, running a hundred kilometres or more in twenty four hours sounded anything but fun to me but, at the time, Commando was marathon training again and an endurance race sounded like an interesting challenge to him. He’d been talking about ultra marathon and endurance races for a while anyway so he didn’t need much persuasion. 

Of course things didn’t work out quite to plan, as if they ever do. The marathon he was training for didn’t happen, at least not for Commando, and the achilles issue turned out to be a symptom of something far more sinister. Still, he’d paid for the race, a hotel was booked for the first night and he’d even bought a tent. He might not be able to run as far or as fast as he’d expected but, after a few parkruns and a couple of RR10’s, he knew he could run a few laps at least.

The upshot of all this was us driving a hundred and fifty odd miles to Derbyshire yesterday afternoon. There was the normal amount of Commando ignoring the sat nav and getting stuck in traffic, getting lost, me trying to navigate on my phone and Commando getting cross when we missed a vital turn off. Eventually we arrived at the hotel, slightly more fraught and stressed than was ideal. Rob, Kim, Nicole, Mark, Tamsyn and Stuart were already there, along with baby M. A rest, a shower and a pleasant meal in a nearby restaurant soon had us smiling again. All the while I was trying hard not to think about tents. The last time I went camping I was in my teens. Back then it seemed like a wonderful adventure and we did it all the time. These days I’m rather fond of my creature comforts.

This morning one of the first things Commando said to me was, “I’ve just realised I left the air bed and the sleeping bags at home.”
“You are joking?” I said, getting ready to punch him when he laughed. He’s the man who packs several months in advance after all. I’m the one who shoves everything in a bag at the last minute and forgets things. He didn’t laugh though. He was deadly serious.
“I’m sure there must be a camping shop somewhere in Burton on Trent,” he said.

While he went off with the others to put up our tents I stayed at the hotel Googling camping shops. For a place with lots of wide open space to camp there seemed to be precious few. I began to wonder if I could book another couple of nights at the hotel and let him deal with the consequences on his own. Then I began to get hungry. Putting up the tents seemed to be taking a great deal longer than expected. At this rate there’d be no time for buying sleeping bags and air beds.

The hotel breakfast finished at ten o’clock. By this time it was nine fifty and there was no sign of Commando or any of the others. The breakfast area was almost empty and the staff were beginning to pack things away. Right at the moment I decided to grab a cup of coffee and a croissant while there was still chance they all piled through the door. Needless to say breakfast was a rather hurried affair. As we stuffed it down Commando explained that a gazebo on the plot next to ours had blown down and broken part of Tamsyn and Stuart’s tent. Luckily it was fixable but it had taken longer than expected and our tent still wasn’t up.

None of the above put me in the best frame of mind for camping if I’m totally honest. Our next job was to get supplies to suppliement the hot food on site. The drive to Burton on Trent was enchanting and frustrating at the same time. The place is known for its canals and breweries and, from what I saw, was chockablock with interesting old buildings begging to be photographed and explored. Sadly, there was no time for either. Rob was pretty sure we’d  be able to get an air bed and some sleeping bags in the Burton Place Shopping Centre along with our food though. As it happened we were in luck which was something of a relief.

So, with a car full of food, sleeping bags and an air bed, we headed off to Catton Park where we’d be staying for the next forty eight hours. Our next task was putting up the tent. This is always a great deal harder than it sounds. Luckily we had plenty of help and, apart from a bit of guy rope fixing, I basically stood around taking photographs of everyone else working.

Once the tent was up we all wandered off to the start finish arena to pick up timing chips and race packs. This was also where the hot food stalls were. While all the runners queued up I had a look around. There was an old style red bus set up as a bar. Although it looked wonderful I didn’t think we’d be using it much. Alcohol and running for twenty four hours don’t naturally go hand in hand and, as the only non runner, I don’t drink. Beside the bus was a row of shower cubicles. They looked quite nice but I had the feeling they would be filled with muddy runners as soon as the race began and I was likely to end up dirtier than I’d started if I used one. Besides I’d come prepared with enough wet wipes to last the average baby from birth to adulthood.

Opposite the tent where everyone was queuing to pick up their race packs I spotted the start finish arch. This knowledge would come in handy later and I duly made a mental note. There was also an ice cream van. I made a mental note of this too.

Most of the activity was centred around the registration tent so I took the opportunity to get coffees from the Finest Coffee and Crepes stall while there wasn’t a queue. The coffee turned out to be good, if rather expensive. In fact all the food was on the expensive side but it generally is at these events. When you have a captive audience of hungry runners I guess you can charge what you like.

The queue was moving slowly so I left the runners to it and went on to explore the Finest British Burger, Fish Chips and Dips and Tasty Taters stalls, none of which were ready to serve food at this stage. Then the smell of cooking pizza drew me back towards the Coffee and Crepes stall. Next to it, at the Wood Fired Pizza stall, a huge pizza oven was being fired up. No actual pizzas were ready at this point but the smell made me make yet another mental note to come back later.

Although the race wasn’t due to start until midday tomorrow Commando needed to get as much rest in as he could so, once he’d picked up his race pack, he went back to try out the new air bed in our tent. As I wasn’t planning on staying up for twenty four hours or doing any running of any kind, I decided to go off to explore.

While I was in the hotel waiting for everyone to return from tent putting up duty, I’d Googled the area around the Thunder Run venue. There were a couple of interesting looking places within a couple of miles of our tent. To the west was the unpronounceable village of Alrewas with an arboretum. To the east was Walton on Trent with a church, St Lawrence’s, founded in the ninth century by an Anglo Saxon called Aelfgar. My plans to visit both were scuppered by a narrow, winding lane with no footpaths and a lot of fast moving traffic. Given all the disasters that had already beset us it would be tempting fate to walk four miles or more along it. Chances are I’d have been run over.

All was not lost though. The Thunder Run field was directly across the road from Catton Hall, a country house near the boundary between Derbyshire and Staffordshire. Once upon a time there was a village of Catton, although these days the hall falls under the remit of Walton on Trent. While the runners were snoozing I went to have a look.

We had, in fact, parked our cars on the field in front of Catton Hall so I’d seen it in passing. What I hadn’t seen was the River Trent running along side it. As I wasn’t entirely sure if I was trespassing or not I steered clear of the former and headed for the latter. Despite the far end of the field being filled with cars there was no one else about and I was glad to get away from all the hustle and bustle of the race village and wander along the river bank.

After a while I discovered a spot where I could clamber down the bank right to the water’s edge. A little earth cliff, about four feet high provided shelter and I sneaked a photo of the hall from there. The Manor of Catton has been in the same family for over six hundred years and the original Manor House was built in the fifteenth century. The imposing three story red brick building I looked longingly at was actually a replacement built in 1745 for Christopher Horton. He was a fusy man, rejecting several designs before he finally settled on this one  by William Smith. I’d have liked to get a better look but I was worried someone would see me and tell me I was trespassing so I daren’t get any closer.

Instead I wandered slowly along the river bank with my back to the house trying to look as if I hadn’t even noticed it at all had every right to be there. The tranquility of the river was soothing after what had turned out to be a rather fraught day. The Trent is the third longest river in the United Kingdom flowing from Biddulph Moor in Staffordshire through the Midlands to the Humber Estuary and the North Sea between Hull and Immingham. Unfortunately, I would only get to see a small stretch of it.

On its long, meandering journey this river passes through busy cities like Stoke, and Nottingham and bustling towns like Burton on Trent. It flows past power stations, the race track at Castle Donnington, the Nottingham Forest Football ground, the Trent Bridge cricket ground and across the borders of Staffordshire, Derbyshire Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, the West Midlands, Lincolnshire, South Yorkshire, Warwickshire and Rutland. Looking down at the swirling green water it seemed odd to think of all the things it had passed before it got to me.

There were Canada geese on the far bank playing hide and seek with me. Further on a small, tree filled island looked inviting if only I’d had a boat. As I got closer I could see the purples pinks and yellows of wild flowers but not what they were. There were swans too, with several almost grown cygnets, or at least they looked like cygnets. For a while I stood and willed them to come closer but they swam further away instead.

When I reached a fenced off field full of sheep I could go no further. The swans were slowly disappearing behind the island and a few spots of rain were beginning to fall. The weather for this little adventure had always been a concern. The forecast was for showers throughout and the sky had seemed threatening all day. It was time to head back towards the tent. Maybe I’d come back later and have more luck with the swans?

When I got back to the race village a lot more tents had sprung up. Luckily I’d taken note of a landmark before I left, a dead tree, almost completely stripped of bark it’s gnarled branches pointing skywards stood on the hill just above our tent. Careful not to trip over guy ropes or the tape stretched between the various plots, I headed towards it. The sky was getting darker by the second although so far it was only drizzling.

For once I didn’t get lost. Thanks to the tree I soon found Rob and Kim relaxing under the awning of their tent. In our tent Commando was snoozing, wrapped snugly in my grey furry dressing gown with the hood pulled up over his head. It had been a long day and it was about time for me to join him.

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Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

4 thoughts on “A little camping adventure”

    1. It was a good job this one didn’t leak! It was fairly easy to put up and take down too. Much easier then the ones I remember from the 1970’s.

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