Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Thoughts on the Soulpad

I feel like I'm getting to know the Soulpad now, after several nights camping in it, so I guess I can do a bit of a mini-review. We have the 4m PIG (pegged-in-groundsheet) model, or 4000-lite as Soulpad call it. The first thing is it's a big tent when packed up, and heavy too, despite the -lite models being lighter than the zipped or sewn in groundsheet models. For this reason it's probably not something I'd use at a festival - plus my rule of never taking anything to a festival that you would mind losing or being damaged applies.

Putting the tent up on the second go was a doddle, much easier than the first time where we had inexperience, a slope and long grass pushing the groundsheet out of shape to deal with. The process is essentially, peg out the groundsheet loosely, peg out the outer canvas loosely, put the single centre pole up, peg out the guy ropes. Then it's a case of tightening all the outer pegs and guys and pegging the groundsheet to the flap from the outer. Gemma and I did it together and it's a mark of how easy it is that we weren't shouting at one another, which we always end up doing with much smaller dome tents when trying to push poles through.

Breaking down is pretty much reversed and then roll everything up. The bag it comes in is a fair size so there is some leeway for the rolling up stage - again, different to nylon dome tents that seem to only fit in the bag straight from the factory. The big thing with canvas tents is that the can't be put away wet. It was raining the final night of our camping weekend, and dismal and damp in the morning when we left. We packed everything else up and waited for as long as possible to let it dry but the completely shaded panels were still damp and rain was clearly on it's way so we had to pack up and then dry at home. Because the footprint of the tent is wider than our garden this proves to be a bit challenging.

Gemma found it quite cold at night despite being in a sleeping bag with a duvet on top. I didn't think it was too bad (just in a duvet). It is possible to put a stove in these tents, but I would think a 5m would be necessary because you lose a lot of the tent to a safe zone around the stove. It's actually quite cool when it's baking outside, especially with the vents open and even the tiniest of breezes.

Size-wise it's plenty roomy for 2 with the attendant camping paraphernalia, and that can be quite a lot of stuff provided you're organised and on the ball with shifting stuff around when not in use.  It could easily get a couple more people in, although you'd potentially lose a bit of room for the extra bits and pieces, or just have to be incredibly organised. It's nice being able to stand up and get dressed and I much prefer having everything in the one large space.

This is a tent to accessorise, and I think we have some ideas how to decorate it, beyond the solar LED fairy lights that we string round it. I can see a future with a lot of wicker hampers in my house - we took 3 this time and they really fit well as storage in the tent. We had a couple of throws out on the floor, which looked quite nice, so I think we'll continue that theme and get more. Of course we only have a small car, so that's a big constraint on what we can take with us.

Overall I'm very happy with the tent and can't wait to get out on a longer trip. Fortunately I don't have to wait to long as we're off for 2 weeks in September.

Camping a New House Farm - part 2

Following on from our first visit, and having a couple of days leave to use up we decided to have a long weekend camping. Initially we'd thought of going somewhere in Norfolk or Suffolk and perhaps picking up Gemma's niece and nephew, but one of them managed to get a fracture so that one was out of the frame. Instead we decided to re-visit New House Farm and spend 3 nights there trying to get to know the Soulpad a bit better prior to a longer trip later in the year.

This time we camped in the top field, since Bob the farmer had been busy and cut the grass in the bottom field and was ready to bale it into hay. This wasn't a bad choice, since the field is flatter and the shorter grass on the top field meant we didn't have any problems getting the tent up. There was a group camped in the far corner from us and more people arrived throughout the day, which we spent on chairs outside the tent with beers and books in hand. Toward evening a bag of wood and some sausages were procured and we spent a nice chilled evening in front of the fire.

We awoke to a world shrouded in mist, but felt quite cosy in the tent. It wasn't quite so cosy having to walk across the dew-wet grass to go to the toilet though. After making a brew, and with the mists receding, we had a wander into the village of Kniveton. Summary - there isn't much there. As we were too early for the pub opening and thereby our chance of a feed, we went back to the campsite, jumped in the car and headed for Ashbourne. Ashbourne is a market town, and it was market day. Unless you have a love for cheap tea-towels there wasn't much to be said for the market. We did have some nice chips for lunch though. After a pint, and stopping at a supermarket to buy beer and a watermelon, we drove back to resume the position - beer in one hand, book in the other.

I managed to slice right into a finger whilst cutting a piece of watermelon for Gemma. Which was more than annoying. Still, it was a little finger and who needs them? We watched more people arriving during the afternoon, including a group of lads who jumped out of the car and immediately threw a rugby ball around for half an hour. Then they put their tents up. Then proceeded to play, I think, every other ball game known to mankind.

More meat was procured, and more firewood, and a repeat performance of the previous evening ensued - this time with more rum.

On the Sunday morning we jumped in the car and went down to Carsington Water. The car parking made me gasp at £4.70 and no change given. Ouch. We set off on a walk via the bird hides towards Carsington village. There wasn't much of massive interest viewable from the hides when we were there - lot's of cormorants and, I think, 23% of the world's population of coots. In Carsington village we stopped for a pint at the Miner's Arms. We had been intending to stay for lunch there, but it took so long to get served, with the bar staff more interested in gossiping than serving, and the beer wasn't great, so we decided against it. A power walk back to the car, and we drove up to the Knockerdown to eat. The beer wasn't much better there, the food was OK, if a bit over-priced and the staff were a little brusque - probably due to being over-worked.

Whilst eating the rain started, so we drove back to the campsite rather than continue wandering. The top field had completely cleared by the time we got back, so the only noises we could hear were the sheep and cows in neighbouring fields and the cry of a buzzard somewhere nearby. After cooking our supper we retired to the tent out of the intermittent rain and stayed there for the rest of the evening.

Camping at New House Farm - part 1

Earlier in the year, we decided to invest in a canvas bell tent and after much research and thinking settled on a 4 metre PIG (pegged in groundsheet) model from Soulpad in Norfolk. As Norwich indie geniuses Bearsuit said it's got, "more soul than Wigan Casino." A number of factors pointed us towards Soulpad rather than their competitors. They're the only company we found doing pegged-in groundsheets, which appealed to us as they provide adequate weather protection whilst allowing the sides to be rolled up on hot days and also keeping the weight down versus zipped in groundsheets. The 4 metre model seemed the right choice space-wise, since there are only two of us normally, and at a push it would fit a couple more in.

After receiving the tent (which arrived super-fast - great service), we decided we better go for a test erection (oo-err missus) somewhere, so went for a single night's camping with Daz and Jen on a sunny weekend in May before the awful weather truly hit us. I'd been researching campsites (UK Campsite reviews are a good source) and suggested New House Organic Farm near Ashbourne in Derbyshire.
View Larger Map

It seemed to tick most of the boxes for me - very basic facilities (standpipes for water, a couple of composting toilets, no showers), fires encouraged (in fire pits - plenty dotted around the site), wood for sale, organic meat for sale and importantly, no massive list of rules to be followed. It's also just about an hour away from home, which I was also looking for, aiming to have a go-to place if we just decided to pack the car up and get out into the countryside after work on a Friday.

This first visit we set off quite early on a Saturday morning, got the tents set up and then went for a bit of a random walk, using Ordnance Survey maps from the Backcountry Navigator app on my phone. We walked over some very pretty fields on a roundabout route to Carsington Water. In trying to make it a circular route we came a bit unstuck on the way back - the map showed paths that petered out, ending in hedges, so we ended up doing a fair bit of back-tracking and finally followed a road back to the campsite. Unfortunately this was all in blazing sun, we didn't really have much water with us, and I think Jen got a mild touch of sun-stroke.

Back at the camp we bought masses of meat from Bob the farmer and a bag of wood and drank a load of home-brew whilst grilling the meat and feeding the wood into the fire-pit. During all this at the bottom f the field was a 50th birthday 'festival' in a large tent that we quite enjoyed watching happening. The dog from the tent next to ours was happy that we put the grill on the floor after the barbecue was done with and kept visiting to try and clean it of meaty, greasy scraps for us.

(continue to Part 2)

A long time gone

It's been a very long time since I posted here, for various reasons. Not least of which is that I haven't really done anything that could be classed as travel for a while. Even local 'travel', such as walking in the Peak District has been restricted over the last year or so. There are a couple of reasons for this - Gemma has been head down and blinkers on getting her dissertation done, and the weather, certainly this summer, has been pretty awful. But Gemma has now graduated, so I'm hoping to be spending a little bit more time out and about. My ballooning stomach could stand to do more walking, that's for certain. I'm also going to make more of an effort to write things down, as I find this blog to be a useful reference and that is, after all, what I started it for.