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Winter Camping Pass

Blog Date - 16 December 2014

This weekend I am going to actually winter camp. If you recall last weekend we got all the way to Buxton only to fail (Winter Camping Fail), this weekend it's definitely going to happen. Definitely. For sure. Positively. To make sure it happens I'm going to take the easy option. I'm going to camp somewhere I know, not too far away and easy to find. No excuses. The only problem is that it's not cold. Not really cold. If I'm to see if this sleeping bag is up to the task of keeping me warm when it's cold, it needs to be cold. Still. I'm going. Definitely. For sure.

Timing seems to be playing it's part in this weekend. The gf has recently made contact with a long lost cousin, which is nice. What's even nicer is the said long lost cousin turns out to be a biker and his girlfriend is a biker too, how cool! Before long a plan is hatched to meet up with cousin PG and his girlfriend KS. The idea is to meet at Orrell Motorcycles then ride to Coast Riders Cafe in Blackpool. Aha! I spot an opportunity to camp. There's sure to be lots of campsites around there. 

So on this cool, damp December morning the gf and I ride to Orrell Motorcycles on our 125cc bikes. We are laden with clothes, camping gear, cooking utensils and food. It looks more like we're starting out on a world tour rather than a night in Blackpool. PG arrives a little late due to his lack of local knowledge and some roadworks on the M6. He's on a GSXR 1000, KS is on an old GSXR 600. I'm thinking they're going to be a little bored behind me and the gf on our 125's. After polite introductions and a brief smoke we set off.

Even though our companions are a little late time is on our side so rather than head straight up to Blackpool I lead us all a merry dance through the countryside around Parbold and Mawdesley. Considering how wet the roads are there's a surprising amount of grip to be had today. It feels good to carve a couple of soggy bends. I smile a little wry smile, the gf is on top of her wet weather riding and keeping apace with me no problem. The other 2 on larger, more powerful and therefore more lairy machines are struggling in the awkward, dirty and twisty sections. They catch us on the straights though, I doubt their machines are barely off tickover.

We stop at "Eccy Delph" (www.thedelph.co.uk) which offers a diving centre and warm cafe. As we park the weather is not too bad at the moment, cool, damp and breezy. That sounds quite unpleasant but for the middle of December it's positively balmy. Inside with hot drinks all around we settle in and get to know each other. There's always a concern when meeting new folks. Will we get along, will they be posh and look down on us, will they be thick or boring, will they be egotistical and full of themselves? I'm relieved to find both PG and KS are two perfectly ordinary people, I mean that in a most positive manner. They talk and listen, share opinions without forcing them upon us and can laugh at themselves and others. It's warm in here and the company is good, I don't want to move.

But move we must. Outside it's raining. I put on my waterproof pants but I can't be bothered with the plastic bags inside my boots. The gf is already in full wets, PG and KS decide it's merely a passing shower. We start to ride to coast riders in the wet...and it gets wetter and wetter. Croston brings narrow streets and rain. The A59 brings dual carriageways and heavy rain. Preston brings lots of traffic and rain. The Blackpool road brings more rain. There are many straight roads, my 125 and the gf's are screaming at full revs trying to sustain 50 and 60mph with our camping gear while I can only imagine the GSXR's behind us are being ridden by 2 bored and very wet riders. My throttle is back to the stop.

Coast Riders Cafe (www.coastridersdiner.com) comes into view with some relief. Inside it's good to feel the dryness, we take our jackets off and wherever we place them a puddle starts to form. We order breakfasts, tea and make for the toilets. Apart from my soggy feet I've survived. The gf seems to be fine, just a little ingress onto her jacket but she herself is dry. As for PG and KS they must be soaked yet they make no fuss as we all sit down among the our massive pile of kit. The warm tea and later the breakfasts make all well in the world again. 

An hour seems like a few minutes in good company. We talk of motorcycles and work, of family and friends, of places we've ridden to and where we'd like to go. I find myself rather comfortable, I don't consider myself all that social but I could sit here and talk all day long. Time is marching on and on these short days I have to consider putting the tent up before it's dark and our new friends want to get to Ghost Bikes (www.ghostbikes.com) and that will be easier to find in daylight. We haul ourselves out of the comfy seats and into the wet bike gear.

Ghost Bikes is an awkward place to find, I give them directions as best I can but I still think they're going to have to consult the map on their phone a good few times. We bid them farewell, the rain has eased but they wisely have their full waterproof overalls on now. I hear the engines roar in relief at not being trapped behind 2 overladen 125's.

Now its time for the gf and I to find a pitch and get camped, before its too dark to see the tent let alone the tent pegs. I've been studying UK Campsites (ukcampsite.co.uk), I believe there's a campsite right behind Coast Riders but I've no idea what its like. Just a mere half mile's ride away we find the site down a single track road. It looks rough and ready, basic and soggy on this grim day and in the fading light. By chance a man in a van stops to ask if he can help. He assures us the site is open, the price is cheap and it's pretty safe. It's getting dark and I'm not in the mood to look around, this will do.

A man walking his dog relieves us of £10 for the night in a welcoming and friendly manner. Not exactly cheap but it's 50% of the price of another campsite I'd contacted nearby. We find a pitch near the toilets and start to make camp. This place is basic, at it's most basic. The pitches are in fact gravel with a patches of grass between so we find a patch of grass. The ground is soggy, the grass is mostly weeds, the toilets are ancient old cabins in need of replacement and water comes from a pipe screwed to a fence post. It's a case of "it'll do" rather than "it's nice". It'll do fine for one night to test our gear, if I was to be staying the week I'd be broken hearted.

the 125 parked on gravel by the tent at the campsite near blackpool
It...it doesn't look so bad in this picture...

The tent is up as the last of the daylight fades away. At least the rain stopped long enough to get pitched. Right, I've paid a tenner so I'm going to have a shower come hell or high water! There is one male and one female toilet, one male and one female shower. Basically it comprises of a small room with a shower in the corner and a tile floor that doesn't look like it's seen a mop in a while. It's cold and unheated. I undress and use the shower to wash a little of the floor where I'll stand. The water is at best a tepid light drizzle. I wash, shiver and dry, shiver. Yeah, this is adventure, real adventure. Me in a dodgy little cabin with soggy clothes and a tiny little towel, freezing my bits off when I could just ride home in under an hour. Real manly adventure. Go me!

a small pair of rough and ready cabins make up the toilets and shower block
"And here are our luxurious facilities sir."

The best part about a tepid shower in a grungy cabin is getting out. I feel surprisingly refreshed, the gf is all ready to crawl into her sleeping bag and it's only 1630. Nope, no if I go to bed now I'll be up at 0200, that's just silly. It takes a while but eventually we clamber back into the wet bike gear and go 2-up on my 125 to a local "Flaming Grill" pub just to get warm, pass some time, dry out a little and feel like we've made an effort. We stick out like a sore thumb, 2 scruffy bedraggled bikers sat in a corner drinking pop surrounded by wet jackets, pants, helmets and scarves. We stick out but no-one passes comment or gives us a dirty look. I don't think British people actually hate bikers, it's the bikers that believe British people hate bikers.

By 1900 the gf's feeling a little off. She can't explain why but she's light headed and a little queezy. By the time we get back to the tent she's not right at all. She gets into her new sleeping bag wearing 2 lots of base layers, fleecy pyjama bottoms and a thick fleece top. Blimey, it's not even cold. As she fades in and out of sleep I set myself up to pass some more time. Tablet computer, check, mobile phone set to tethering for internet access, check, e-cig and brew, check, biscuits, check, airbed and sleeping bag as a chair, check. I pass an hour or so on facebook. I check and reply to a few emails. I write a few notes about the day. It's only 2130 by the time I accept defeat and crawl into my sleeping bag.

Not only is the site basic but the surroundings are hardly top notch either. From 2200 until midnight performance cars appear to be chasing each other, is there a race track nearby? Dogs bark all night long, are there some kennels nearby? I can hear the motorway. And I'm a bit chilly. This new sleeping bag is rated to something like minus 10 degrees and it is not even freezing tonight. I manage a night of intermittent and fitful sleep, which is normal for me when camping.

The next morning we decamp as soon as it is light and get the hell outta there. As I ride the easy, familiar and fairly short ride home I write a campsite review in my head. It Includes words like "poor", "run down", "strange", "disappointing" and "noisy". Still, we did what we set out to do. We tested the sleeping bags and camped out in December. Adventure can be found anywhere, even in a peculiar campsite round the back of your favourite biker's cafe.

What I've Learnt.

You can't climb into a minus 10 sleeping bag in just a t-shirt and simply expect to be warm, even at plus 3 degrees. I suspect this minus 10 rating is a triumph of marketing over substance. You may manage to sleep at minus 10 if
 - you have someone zip you up and pull all the drawstrings to correctly seal you in. 
 - you have thermal pyjamas and base layers on
 - you have a high BMI
 - you are trained in SAS Arctic survival techniques.
I do believe my sleeping bag is up to the task for Scotland In Winter, but I need to ensure I have suitable clothing on underneath. It may be worth my while learning how to use the various drawstrings to seal myself in as well, I played with these and they do make a difference. 

Other than that everything else worked OK, which is good. The tent is up to the job having proven itself in high winds and heavy rain. I've yet to test it in glorious sunshine that lasts for weeks and weeks though, that will be the toughest test. My stove works even though it's 10 years old now. My tablet and phone give me great internet access although I doubt I'll get a good signal in the highlands. My charging system charge 2 mobiles and the tablet overnight and the tiny battery on my 125 still wasn't flat. That's a big concern. Yeah, it was worth the effort.

Oh, and just in case you're worried about the gf. She slept for about 12 hours and felt back to her normal self the next day. We've no idea what was up with her, just one of those things I guess.

sharon is bent over showing her bottom while in the tent
I ask her to smile for the camera and this is what I get...she must be feeling better.

So, borrow some films to transfer onto the tablet for those cold, lonely evenings. Make sure I've got some base layers. Check the bike over, it's due a service before I go. Other than that I'm ready to rock and roll. Oh crap...what am I letting myself in for?

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