CAMPING. At its best, an edifying rendezvous between man and nature. At its worst, an excruciating week of bitter, sleepless nights and cabin fever. This summer, I camped with my family in the Yorkshire Dales, a stone’s throw from Leeds (provided you can throw a stone about twenty miles or so), and I experienced camping, and indeed Yorkshire, at its best and worst.
First of all, I should say, camping is a bit of a tradition in my family, and as with all traditions, it brings with it a selection of familiar objects every year: the rusty pan set that deposits generous amounts of non-stick coating into every meal; the airbed pump that imitates uncannily the dying breaths of an asthmatic hedgehog; the old lantern that emits just enough light that Dad won’t buy a new one, but not quite enough light to actually see by; and, of course, the tent.
If I were being generous, I’d say our tent refuses to comply with ‘traditional beauty standards’. In other, less polite terms, it’s an eyesore, if only for the curtains, which appear to have been designed sometime in the sixties by a hallucinating psychopath with melons for hands. Wait a minute, I hear you say, what sort of tent has curtains? The answer, you oddly vocal readers, is this one. Because the most striking thing about our tent is its inescapable resemblance to a house. Most tents nowadays are, well, I can only describe them as ‘tent-shaped’. Ours, however, manages to defy convention by occupying the shape and (almost) size of a small detached house. Thus we make our arrival into the natural world, by erecting this gargantuan purple monstrosity, drawing those abominable curtains, and sticking the kettle on.
THE YORKSHIRE DALES. I stand and breathe it in. We’re camped on a Dale, as it happens, and I can see for miles and miles, miles and miles on all sides, and, contained within those miles and miles I can see nothing more exceptional than a few hay bales, a single sheep, and a fish and chip van. No Lifestyle. No Culture. No civilisation beyond Wolds Way Camping and Caravan Site. It was going to be a long week. That first night we treated ourselves to fish and chips from the van and went to bed, who could know what adventures lay ahead of us that week? Read on and you’ll see.
“it has about it the air of a tourist destination not yet ruined by tourism, a rare thing nowadays…”
WHITBY. The scream of the kettle signals that the next morning has begun. A short drive and train journey revealed that no, we were not living in some post-apocalyptic utopia, and soon we came upon the seaside town of Whitby. The journey was notable for two reasons, firstly, we opted to take a train through the Dales to get there, and secondly, it was a steam train. Now, I’m sure you have some romantic notions as to what a steam train journey through the Yorkshire Dales must be. I can assure you that after the first hour upon this particular locomotive, the romance wore thin. Once the train had dumped our soot-covered bodies in the town, we dusted ourselves off and took in the view. It is no wonder the town inspired the setting for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The gothic abbey (fictionalised as Dracula’s domain) looms ominously ever-present above the seaside town, which boasts both the world’s best fish and chips and a rather splendid pier, among other things. Whitby is a glorious place for a day out, keen to offer up its history, it has about it the air of a tourist destination not yet ruined by tourism, a rare thing nowadays. This magical outing was tainted somewhat by the train breaking down for several hours (ah, the romance), although this did give me the opportunity to sink a couple of chapters deeper into Jonathan Coe’s “The Rotters’ Club” which happens to be an exceptional read, so I let the train off.
It seems in all this excitement and waffle I’ve exceeded a healthy word count, so I’ll try to rattle off the highlights. Scarborough has a handsome castle and is a lovely place to visit the beach (provided you’re accompanied by the sun); The Wolds are great for long, scenic walks to lose yourself on (provided you’re accompanied by the sun); York is an obvious tourist trap (see what I mean about how tourists ruin things?); but best of all are the Dales themselves, these lumpy expanses are anything but empty, devote just a few hours to walking off the beaten track, and you’ll find yourself lost deep inside a love affair with nature. Or just lost.