A bright and sunny early morning saw me en route for Elvaston Castle in Derbyshire and my second UKCS meet at the weekend steam rally. Always the early bird I had left home at 6am for an 8am arrival at the camp site but with little traffic on the roads and no hold-ups I made good time and it was only 7.30 as I drove down the lane to the site entrance. Expecting the gate to still be closed, and fully prepared to park up somewhere and wait for a while, I was quite surprised to see it open and a show steward already on duty. After telling him that I was joining the UKCS meet he pointed out the UKCS steward's tent but as there was no sign of life from there or from any of the other tents, and knowing just where I wanted to set up camp, I thought I may as well drive in, pitch my tent, and book in later when everyone was up and about.
Driving through the main section of the site I went into the next field and right across to the far side, choosing a nice level spot near the hedge and several yards from the nearest tent. I'm not anti-social - far from it - but I do like to have some space around me when I can, and in such a big field it seemed pointless pitching too close to other campers when there was so much space to be had. Working quickly and quietly I soon had my tent pitched and pegged and the bed made up with my matching blue bedding. After buying the two single camp beds the previous weekend they were now in use for the first time - I had fastened them together with a couple of bungee straps and with my thick double mattress on top I would be sleeping 1ft off the floor rather than at ground level. With the smart blue bedding it really looked the business and I could hardly wait to try it out that night.
With everything finally set out I was ready for a brew and some breakfast so clipping the leads on the dogs I set off to get something from one of the catering stands on the showgound, stopping off on the way to book in with the UKCS steward. I had to do that first as my fee for the weekend included unlimited entry to the show, for which I was provided with a wristband, and without that I wouldn't be able to get in without paying. Once on the showground I did wonder if the guy with the big catering wagon, who I'd got talking to last year, would be there again but there was no sign of either him or his wagon (or his sour-faced assistant) so I walked round the stalls until I found a smaller wagon doing breakfast barms and milky coffee. I ordered a bacon and egg barm and a coffee and with the dogs fastened to the nearby A frame of the wagon I sat at a table in the sunshine and watched the comings and goings of various exhibitors, then with breakfast over I went for a wander round the stalls before the general public arrived and things got busy. I didn't buy anything though and once I'd looked round everywhere I made my way back to the tent, then with the dogs on their beds in the shade between the van and the tent I spent an hour or so relaxing with a magazine.
It was early lunchtime when I decided that instead of going back over to the show I would pay a surprise visit to Christina, Sophie's 'other mum' - the lady I got Sophie from in September two years ago. I have kept in occasional contact with her since I got Sophie and although I've sent photos on a few occasions I thought she might like to see Sophie 'in the flesh' instead. She lived about fifteen miles from Elvaston so I got out the map book, worked out the route to her road and jotted it down on a post-it note which I stuck on the dashboard where I could glance at it if I needed to. I had only ever been there once, which was the day I got Sophie and I had been a passenger in a friend's car then, also we had gone by a different route, but I hoped that my good memory would serve me well when I got to the outskirts of the town and I wouldn't have too much trouble finding the house.
The drive was relatively easy and passed through some very pleasant countryside, and as I reached the area I was looking for things began to look familiar. Up ahead was a roundabout and as I approached it I recognized the large area of parkland on my right as being where I had to turn - and that was it, the road I was looking for, and a few hundred yards along was Sophie's old house. As I parked up outside I realised I was taking a gamble by visiting unannounced - Christina may not even be in; she could be out shopping or even away on holiday, but there was a car parked on the drive so that was a good sign. And if it turned out that there was no-one home then I would take the dogs and explore the park down the road. However, when I rang the bell the door was opened by Christina who was both very surprised to see me and absolutely thrilled when I said I had Sophie in the van - she invited me in and insisted on taking both dogs into the house, and after making a coffee for me she made a complete fuss of the two of them. I must have stayed for over an hour, chatting about various things and telling her about my camping trips and how much Sophie enjoys them, but all to soon it was time for me to leave, with the promise to continue keeping in touch.
By the time I had driven back to the camp site I was ready for something to eat - there was a tea stall over at the show run by a Womens Institute type group and I knew they did good sandwiches and cakes at very reasonable prices so I decided to get something from there, take it back to the tent and make my own brew. However, as I got out of the van a young boy from the tent further down appeared and asked if I would like to join his family at their barbecue as they had cooked far more food than they would eat - I don't normally 'do' barbecues but I didn't want to seem churlish and it would save going over to the show to get something so I accepted and went over to join them. They actually turned out to be two families together and they were a really friendly bunch - I ended up sitting cross-legged on a cushion on the grass with a paper plate piled high with various bits of food and a glass of Coke which somehow got topped up every time it became almost empty. The converstion was good, the jokes were plentiful, and to say I had only just met these people I had a great time. They were all going over to the showground for the entertainment later that evening and asked if I wanted to go with them - I would have gone on my own anyway but to go in the company of others would make a nice change.
The fairground rides were still open when we got to the show and the kids wanted to go on various things, so while the two dads went off to the beer tent I stayed near the rides with the mums. It had gone dark by then and the rides looked lovely decked out with all their coloured lights so while the mums waited for the kids I wandered round and took a few photos, then when the kids had been on everything we all went to join the dads. The group providing the entertainment was the same one as last year, a comedy skiffle group called Kick 'N' Rush, and I had a great time listening to their jokes and joining in with some of the songs.
It was gone midnight when the entertainment finished and we all made our way back by torchlight across the showground to the camping field - it was quite a distance, so having the dogs with me meant that would do for their pre-bedtime walk and I wouldn't need to take them anywhere else. Back at the tent I said goodnight to everyone, turned my lantern on and settled Sophie and Sugar on their beds, then prepard to try out my own new bed for the first time. It felt surprisingly comfortable and a big improvement to lying at ground level - as I snuggled down I heard a lot of laughter coming from the tent further down, which meant that my evening companions hadn't yet gone to bed, but after my long and rather unusual day I didn't hear it for long before I finally drifted off to sleep.
- Hi! I'm Eunice and I live in Bolton, Lancashire, with my two dogs Sophie and Sugar and an assortment of cats - well it used to be Sophie and Sugar, now it's Sophie and Poppie. I first began camping back in 1997 when my then partner took me to Anglesey for my birthday weekend. We slept in the back of the car - a hatchback - using the cushions off the settee at home as a mattress, and cooked and brewed up on a single burner camping stove. The site was good, the views were great, the weather fantastic and I was completely hooked. Following that weekend we got a two-man tent and some proper accessories and returned to Anglesey two weeks later, then over time we progressed to a three-man tent followed by an old trailer tent, then a new trailer tent, a campervan and finally a caravan. When my partner decided that the grass was greener on the other side of the street - literally - in April 2009 and I suddenly found myself alone after fifteen years, I decided there was no way I was going to give up camping and caravanning if I could cope on my own. This blog is the story of my travels, trials and tribulations since becoming a solo camper - I hope you like it