I’ve never been keen on tents. I acknowledge that they come in handy in situations were no other accommodation is possible, such as when spending the night on a mountain top, but beyond that, forget it. Tent-dwelling people I’ve seen on campsites always seem to be a breed apart, almost a different species. They always look haggard, always wear coats when the caravaners are strolling around in t-shirts, and are forever on the move, cleaning their dishes, visiting the loo, the laundry room and so on. Nevertheless, I recently allowed myself to be talked into a two-day tent-based holiday in Glencoe. I will never, ever make that mistake again. Like, ever.
The first thing that went wrong was that we (and when I say “we”, I mean Susan) forgot to bring one of the segmented poles that provides the tent with structure and rigidity. In this case, it meant that the porch area was a bit floppy. That wouldn’t have been a huge problem in itself, were it not for the torrential downpour that ensued a couple of hours after we’d left it to climb a hill called “Beinn a’Chrulaiste”. I don’t how exactly how to pronounce that by the way, but I suspect it’s supposed to sound like the curse one might mutter when one’s foot sinks deep into a hidden bog, because that’s what happened pretty much every other step. It would have been worth it if we’d been able to enjoy the spectacular views of neighboring peaks that the hill is supposed to provide, but by the time we made it to the summit the weather had turned nasty and made everything north of our ankles every bit as wet as our feet.
A brief glimpse of what Beinn a’Chrulaiste has to offer, before the mist and rain closed in
It had taken ages to reach the summit, but the mist and incessant rain made the journey down seem even longer. On top of that the hill became super slippery; we went over more times than Jennifer Lawrence at the Oscars. At least we could get cleaned up and snuggle together in our comfortable, dry tent, right? Well, no, not really. The main body of the tent had indeed stayed dry inside, but the saggy porch had let water collect at the entrance point so it was virtually impossible to get into the tent without getting soaking wet feet and knees (again). Nevertheless we made the best of it and got ready for a good night’s sleep. Armed with a thick duvet instead of restrictive sleeping bags, we actually had ample room for ourselves and our two wet and somewhat smelly Beagles, and it was warm enough too. However, compared to a caravan or “hobbit hut”, the tent provided almost no sound insulation from the outside, and we were frequently awoken by our two furry alarm clocks every time there was movement in the campsite. The odd thing was, it was Beanie rather than Biggles who was first to sound off each time, yet she couldn’t actually be bothered to come out from under the duvet. We’d just hear this muffled “Grrrr-Aaaa!” from under the covers, then Biggles would leap out of bed and join in at full volume, usually just a couple of inches from my now partially deaf right ear.
Eventually I reached my limit and decided just to get up, head out around the loch and try to get some shots of the sunrise. I somehow crawled out of the tent without getting too wet, but when I tried to stand I was so stiff from sleeping without a mattress that I lost my balance, stood in a puddle and nearly collapsed the tent in my desperate bid to stay upright. Still, it was a relief to get back to the solid, dry enclosure of the car. I drove off, quickly found a good location, and had the most peaceful and pleasant couple of hours of the whole trip, even though I was cold, half-asleep and beset by midges.
Dawn, with 30 minutes or so till sunrise..
And finally, here comes the sun…
On my return to the campsite I discovered that the early sun hadn’t yet managed to dry everything out, so I got wet feet & knees again as I crawled back into bed for more sleep. There were no more Beagle alarms this time, or if there were, I was too far into a coma to notice. When I eventually got up for the second time that morning (and got my feet wet on the porch yet again) I headed for the shower in the hope that it would make me feel more human. As I walked across the site, I felt different from everyone else. They were strolling about in t-shirts and shorts without a care in the world, while I was walking about all hunched up, wearing my jacket because I felt tired, cold and fragile. I was carrying three bags; one containing fresh clothing, one containing my shower gear, and one for my toothbrush and toothpaste. Finally it dawned on me: I really was different from everyone else, because now I was one of The Tent People.
Later that morning I discovered what is probably the single biggest drawback of a tent: it’s a truly lousy place to hang out. You can’t stay in the tent because it’s cramped and quickly becomes too hot in the sun, but outside you feel on display to all the other occupants of the campsite. And when you’re trying to have your breakfast and your Beagles decided to have a noisy play-fighting session, well, good luck finding somewhere safe to put your bowl while you try to restore peace. Yep, Beanie thinks those Alpen tubs of instant porridge taste just great!
We’d planned to spend two nights in the tent, but we’d had more than enough of that saggy and soggy thing. After killing a bit of time at the Glencoe Lochan we jammed the tent and all our belongings back into the car then embarked on our second walk of the holiday: a return to the Pap of Glencoe, the signature dome-topped peak that sits above the village. We knew we’d be tired on our return, but a long drive followed by a sleep in a proper bed back home was easily preferable to another night in the tent.
Susan showing her improved handstand at the Lochan, with the Pap visible in the background.
Heading up the Pap. We’re both tired out but there’s plenty of time for rests along the way..
Higher up, the weather’s shaping up nicely, and Beanie and Biggles are eager for the climb!
As we reached the plateau just below the dome top of the Pap, it seemed as though this second day was going to be perfect. Surely nothing could go wrong? Well of course it did: a group of young deer showed up. Now I have to admit that Beanie and Biggles have been getting a little better at behaving themselves around sheep, but when those deer registered on the Beagle radar, they went absolutely berserk. Getting to the summit was now out of the question. I managed to snatch one quick shot from the plateau, then we had no choice but to start back down before one or both of our two managed to hurt themselves in the frenzy of their deer lust.
A taster of what we could have enjoyed from the summit..
Of course the deer fled before us as we headed down, ensuring that Beanie & Biggles stayed fully in hunt mode all the way. The path for the Pap seemed to have been improved from previous years, but it still felt dangerously steep and unstable as I struggled to keep hold of our two crazed mutts. Somehow we made it back to the car without incident, but I felt like I’d just done ten laps of an army assault course. We didn’t get back home until after 3am, but oh god that bed felt good.