The Joy of Camping

John Burns nearly lives up to his name when a campsite buddy gets more than they'd bargained for...


t's a lazy Sunday morning on Glenbrittle campsite. The first thing I do is feel my legs and, sure enough, they remember yesterday's climb and respond sluggishly letting me know that they would like another couple of hours sleep in an "if you think we're taking you up there again today you've another think coming" sort of a way. I manage to free an arm from the confines of my sleeping bag. As I unzip a tiny portion of the door my head recalls last night's beer in the Sligachan and joins my legs in pleading for slumber.

A (slightly better) view from my tent at Glenbrittle campsite ;-) - see other piccy with a similar title, 113 kb
View from my tent at Glenbrittle campsite photo: Dominion

"The blade of Davey's Swiss army knife pops out through the canvas like a shark fin and cuts a long vertical slit in the rear of his tent"

They need not have worried, outside the tent air is thick with a mixture of drizzle and midges and it takes me a millisecond to agree with both ends of my anatomy and decide that today is a "rest day." All around me other members of the mountaineering club are stirring and all are reaching the same conclusion.

Then I hear it – Ting! Ting! Ting! I can only see the rear sealed end of the tent next door but I know what's going on.

Ting! Ting! Ting! The unmistakable sound of a primus stove being charged with pressure. 'Where's the bloody matches?' Comes Davey's deep Aberdonian drawl from inside his canvas abode.

'I'm reading'.

That's Pat, his elf-like, red-headed wife, curled up with a book in the door of the tent.

'Aye, here they are,' scratch, scratch, scratch. Davey's bear like paws are fumbling with the Swan vestas. Then it comes, a faint, "boof," followed by the roar of the primus coming into life and the rattle of the kettle going on to the stove. 'Keep an eye on that will ya?'

'I'm reading.'

I'm scanning the horizon, reassuring myself that the Cuillins are snoozing comfortably under a blanket of wet clouds, when I hear 'Pat! Pat!'

'I'm reading.'

Pat, a lover of detective novels, is far away in the back streets of New York, desperate to see if Scarface is about to get caught by the Boothill mob and take the big sleep. It's at this point I hear a strange tearing sound. So far the morning has been filled with the domestic sounds of the wakening campsite and every little noise has betrayed the activities of my tented neighbours. This sound, however, is different and I'm trying to work what it is when the blade of Davey's Swiss army knife pops out through the canvas like a shark fin and cuts a long vertical slit in the rear of his tent. Then Davey's moustached head appears followed by his broad shoulders. He stands for a moment staring at the tent like he's forgotten something. I'm trying to work out why he didn't use the door at the front when he suddenly lurches back through the makeshift opening again only to remerge clutching his sleeping bag which, to his consternation, is smouldering. Davey runs about frantically trying to extinguish the smoke only becoming calm when he is clearly satisfied that all is well with his bag.

Fires over glen brittle , 54 kb
Fires over glen brittle
© Joe Noake, Apr 2013

'Oh my God!'

Suddenly Pat's voice cuts through the air of the sleepy campsite, and she comes flying through hole in the back of the tent like a jet propelled fairy. It's then that I notice flames beginning to leap up from the door end of Pat and Davey's tent. Instant pandemonium breaks out. Moments later I'm running about in my underpants trying to fetch water. Other club members are also hurling not only water but tea and porridge, anything wet at the rising flames. In the struggle between a tent and a fire, however, there is only ever one winner, and within minutes we are all standing, gazing forlornly, at a rectangle of charred grass which marks the spot where, minutes ago, stood the couple's temporary home. There's one thing I've learned over the years about paraffin stoves; you can't trust them. One moment they are purring away, nice as pie, warming your soup, then you turn your back and they flare up making a lunge for the roof of your tent giggling like a gremlin.

I notice Pat's book, black and smoking in the ashes, and silently hand it to her. She takes it disconsolately, turning it over. The last few chapters have been lost to the flames.

'Och, now I'll never know who did it,' she declares and you can see a thought passing through her mind. Furious, she turns to Davey. 'Why didn't you drag me out the tent instead of that bloody bag?'

Davey is hurt, as though the question is too ridiculous to ask.

'This is a damn good sleeping bag, these are hard to get!' Then he adds, 'You can always get another wife.'

Robinson, living the dream at Glenbrittle, 189 kb
Robinson, living the dream at Glenbrittle
© Tom Last, May 2010

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