Friday, 17 November 2017

May Morris on the Joys of Camping

IN SUMMER 1934 May Morris and Mary Frances Lobb (MF) took their annual camping holiday in mid-Wales – ‘an enchanting place by little Severn singing over his stones’, opposite ‘a grassy slope rising high to the sky’.
Postal deliveries never seem to have been a problem.  One day ‘a letter came addressed “To the Ladies in charge of the Camp” asking for an account of it’.  So, as it was blustery with icy wind and some rain, they composed an article.

Which was printed four days later in The County Times under the headline: ‘Reader’s Account of Life under Canvas / Defying the elements’ and quoting in full from Miss May Morris, of Kelmscott Manor, Lechlade, Gloucester:
From our home in the flats of upper Thames valley our holiday thoughts always turn to the hills and wild places of the west, where the curlews call.  This year it was to be somewhere near the source of the Severn, and study of the map showed Lanidloes as a point to start from in searching for a suitable camping-place.  Exploring up the valley, the trouble was to find a sheltered flat for setting up the tent.  But the ideal spot was discovered as though it called for us: close by Severn, in the lee of a  wooded hedge and sheltered from the winds; a mountain to north of us,  a mountain to south of us, and everywhere lovely growth of trees.  What is also important was it was well-fenced against cows and horses and wandering bulls.  Here for some peaceful weeks we listen to the hurrying water, keep house and cook (light tasks these, though we are house-proud and the tent always neat) and explore the glorious slopes of Plynlimon.  We are often asked, “How do you manage in bad weather?  Do you go up to the farm to sleep?”  Never, indeed!  We have camped in Outer Hebrides, on the Scots border, on the Cornish coast, by Cardigan Bay, on our own Berkshire Downs, and whatever the weather, we sit tight, wet or fine, sometimes listening to the drive of rain roaring on the tent or watching the veils of mist dancing fantastically across the hills, sometimes (rarely) making a trench to run the water away.  To take everything as it comes is the very spirit of adventure, and this one wouldn’t miss for all the comfort and security of stone walls.

It was fine when we set up tent and moved in, and the next day we sat and basked by the river; after that real mountain weather wet in – wind and rain with rare gleams of sun.  Severn often came gloriously in spate, so that our friends the ducks would not face it, but came quacking importantly and insistently to our front lawn, demanding bread, fighting and tumbling over each other  when they got it.   Of course the unexpected happens: i.e. coming back from a  long walk on the mountain one evening we received a shock: on opening up we found the provision-hamper upset, bacon , butter and lard gone, and all other goods strewn about, including our chief treasure, a huge pot of tent-made winberry jam well spread over everything, and the tent full of wasps.   This was the work of a very intelligent sheepdog, who astonishingly broke never an egg, nor a pot, nor a crock in getting what his soul craved for (having incidentally chewed a guy-rope to get inside).  So two tired women who had looked forward to a half-hour’s rest before getting supper, had to set to work to clean up. After the first surprise, we laughed till we ached – with always the note of sorrow – the winberry jam was gone.

One is never dull in camp, even in the worst weather: there are books, writing up diary, sketching, embroidery, cooking (easy and quick with a Primus stove) and the hours pass with incredible swiftness.  We are close by a  delightful Welsh farm, full of interesting furniture and fittings, the farmer and his wife the kindest and friendliest of people, a  pretty wee maid of two running to us talking Welsh – to which we always reply “Bore da i chwi” – our only Welsh.  It is a peaceful contemplative life.  When home again by the upper waters of the Thames we shall look back on our stay by this mountain river as a happy dream; at time there may be some sound or scent that brings it all back, and we shall say longingly, “The curlews are crying over Blaenhafren”.

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