Tents, Tea & Sea: Surfing in Devon

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I’m not sure where my love for camping first came from. Mine was not a camping family, so it was only in adulthood that I discovered great bliss in huddling under canvas, everything you need stuffed into a rucksack and the sense of satisfaction of, well, building your own house for the night.

Sure, the actual erecting-of-the-tent part is a damned chore. Wrestling with unwieldy, bendy poles and equally bendy tent pegs (because I never pack a  hammer, and insist on using my foot, and every time I declare NEXT TIME I AM BRINGING THE HAMMER) is the worst. But once that baby’s up, there is no person on this earth who does not then stand in front of their tent, nod proudly and declare, “Castle! I have built you!”

People are either campers, or they’re not. But camping itself falls into all sorts of categories. There’s festival camping, where a tent mostly serves as a place to store your box of cider, and for many, probably won’t make it back at all; laying broken and sad in a field, like canvas road kill. There’s Proper Wilderness camping, where you are carrying everything you need on your back and if your tent isn’t utilitarian and as light as a feather, you will have a miserable time or possibly die. Then there’s the Long Weekend Break, where any tent goes as long as you can fit it in the car along with the airbeds and Haribo, and all your tent needs to be is waterproof, because obviously it always rains on long weekends.

This August bank holiday, friends and I drove to Croyde Bay, in Devon, for a spot of surfing. A posse of pro-surfers, pasty-cravers, beach-curious, and those just wanting to be anywhere but London. We were lucky enough to have nabbed some places at Ocean Pitch campsite, so close to the sea that the sound of the waves lull you to sleep, and just a 2-minute walk from a place that serves cream teas in their picturesque veggie garden. All the glory of Devon on your doorstep.

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Ocean Pitch has to be the best British campsite I’ve stayed in. The guys there were brilliant, staying up late to let in our convoy of Londoners, loaning us a pump for the airbeds and always on hand for the surf report, weather forecast or to rent out the requisite gear.

The campsite facilities are spotless, and there are even a couple of teepees on site for glamping surfers who prefer their home comforts. In fact, some of our lot were staying in them, and as we sat around on the floor of one teepee, telling stories under the glow of fairy lights, we all envied the fact that the residents would sleep cozy in a double bed and have breakfast delivered in the morning.

But I don’t know… Personally, when it comes to camping I live for those moments when, after rolling out of the tent and through the hot shower, you stand around a camping stove drinking overly-brewed Yorkshire tea and watching sausages cook. This is the good life.

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The whole place is set up for surfers. If, like me, you’re a total novice, there are a couple of reputed surf schools nearby. Admittedly, I decided to skip these and just ‘give it a go’. It’s this sort of attitude that left me clinging to my surfboard as wave after wave slapped me over the head, until I surrendered and lay sprawled on the beach, cheek against the sand, scowling at the nearby surf class doing their warm-ups. Frankly, surf boards and I are just not a good match; certainly I’ve no idea how someone can stand on one, not just in the water but ON TOP OF A WAVE. Kudos to you surfers out there.

I was not the only one failing at surfing, but there’s no shame in it. Instead there are body boards! Body boarding was much more fun, coasting the rolling surf and riding massive waves on our bellies all the way to the shore.

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Of course, being the long weekend, it rained. Bloody told you.

I must say, rain pattering on a tent at night has got to be one of the greatest sounds in the world, reminding you that it’s cold and miserable outside, but you’re dry and warm in this glorious shelter that you BUILT WITH YOUR OWN HANDS THANKS VERY MUCH. You hunker down smugly inside your sleeping bag feeling contentedly pleased with yourself.

The sound of rain pattering on a tent in the morning, on the other hand… NOOOOOOO. You hear it long before you pry your eyes open, and slowly let in the realisation that you will have to emerge from your cocoon and step out into a world that is wet and cold, and if you didn’t really have to use the loo you’d just stay in there and wait for someone else to get up first and light the camp stove. (You even find yourself calculating how many tents you could pitch inside one of those teepes.)

Thank god for tea shops. I swear one of the main reasons Britain does so well with tea shops is because the weather is so uncooperative. Some scones, clotted cream and a pot of tea will lift the spirits until the rain has stopped. And then it’s back to the beach.

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Leaving Croyde after two days of surf, sea and far too many pasties, our crew wrestled our damp tents into car boots, (the glampers made their beds), and ventured on to Lynton, about 25 miles along the coast and home to a rather unusual water-powered railway lift. Since 1890 it has carried goods and people up and down the steep hill from Lynton to its sister town of Lynmouth, in the port below. Water from the river Lye is used to weight down one carriage, bringing it down to Lynmouth, while the other one, releasing its water weight, moves back up to Lynton.

Once down at the beach, we did the only proper thing – ate fish and chips on the beach, followed by pints in the local 14th century pub, The Rising Sun. Cheers for a great time, Devon. It’s been in-tents.

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