Free Camping in Wales
We’ve just got back from another excellent weekend away camping for free in Wales courtesy of Chain Reaction Cycles and their series of MTB Marathons and Road Sportives.
Morgan was on one of the floats in the Borth Carnival dressed as Doctor Who on Friday, so we packed the camping and cycling kit while he did that and then joined on to the back of the procession in the car. We then met him on the field where the carnival procession ends and all sorts of festivities begin. We had some lunch had a chat with a few friends in the sunshine and then headed off towards Crickhowell.
It was a nice enough drive on familiar roads, with just a bit of slow-moving traffic but we made it there within two hours as expected. Part of the deal with these events is that you pay for the ‘race’ entry which this weekend was £27 for the mountain bike ride on the Saturday, £27 for the Road Sportive on the Sunday or £50 for both. In with that you get to do the ride and receive the finishers souvenir, join in with any entertainments such as the band that plays on Saturday night in the main marquee and generally enjoy the weekend. You also get free camping and free teas and coffees all weekend too.
The camping is fairly basic, but its a nice flat field with plenty of space, portaloos and showers and a water tap. You don’t really need a lot else and it all works well. Lots of people actually turn up for just one of the races on the day and don’t camp so the campsite is usually quite quiet and this weekend was no exception.
We arrived at around 5pm and had a pretty much free choice of camping spots. We chose a corner just a little out of the way from the main marquee and toilets etc. but not too far. It was backed by a big oak tree and several smaller beech trees where we could set up the slack-line. The sun was still shining but dark clouds were looming and the forecast was for rain overnight so we quickly got the tent up before wandering over to the catering trailer to buy some dinner and I registered for the two races. We then sat there chilling in the sunshine and defending a space next to our tent for my borther Jay and his tents as they were due to arrive later.
Jay arrived just as a few spots of rain started falling. He had two of his children with him, Megan and Harry and they set to putting up their three little tents and one large event shelter while Anna, Morgan and I watched on whilst eating our dinner. The rain was beginning to fall now so once we’d finished eating we helped them out with their tents and we were soon all set for the night.
It was now raining heavily though so we ended up taking shelter under our canvas and sat there chatting and watching an impressive display of lightning accompanied by a the rumbling soundtrack of thunder and pouring rain on the tents. Some of the thunder rumbles went on for ages and ages. I know it’s typical Welsh camping weather but sat in our dry tents watching it was actually quite nice.
It got dark pretty early thanks to the weather so we soon retired ready for a relaxed start in the morning.
I didn’t sleep much thanks to the sound of the rain and then other people’s children but Saturday dawned bright and sunny so I was up early and starting to dry things out and eat breakfast. The morning routine was something along the lines of coffee, breakfast, more coffee, more breakfast, portaloo visit, more coffee, more breakfast and then a few more trips to the portaloo. In between this we set up our bikes, got kitted up and prepeard to head off into the hills.
Brad, my other brother arrived along with Mike. They were only doing the MTB ride, not the Road Sportive so were just here for the day. The ‘race’ didn’t start until 10am so it was a fairly relaxed morning and I set the slackline up for Morgan and his cousins to play on before we all headed over to the start line to join the crowds of fellow mountain bikers.
Before long we were off on the CRC Schwalbe Mountain Marathon, Crickhowell – I’ll write a separate blog post about it so won’t go on about it here. It was good fun though and we were all back at the campsite by early afternoon where we could chill in glorious sunshine. Whilst I was out Anna had been relaxing in the sun reading her book whilst Morgan was occupied playing with his cousins. There was loads of room on the campsite for them to run around, climb trees and generally do what kids do. They were certainly looking pretty grubby by dinner time so had obviously been having a good time. Ann was enjoying herself too with very little to do and lots of time to herself.
None of us did much in the afternoon really, we all had a go on the slackline and sat around eating and chatting. Brad and Mike headed off early and the rest of us sat around the campsite watching the world go by. We had planned on simple cuisine from packets for dinner but as the weather was so nice Anna and I quickly headed into Crickhowell to buy some burgers and sausages for a barbeque and then we all sat around eating barbequed food with salad and coleslaw and various chocolate biscuits and marshmallows for pudding as the light faded. I filled in my food diary and had eaten close to 8,000 calories today.
Jay had a nice off-the-ground Barbeque so we used that to cook on and then as the light faded we sent the boys of in search of sticks and built a little campfire in it. The band started paying in the main tent sop we sat around listening to them and tending to the fire, eating more marshmallows, drinking cider and chatting before gazing at the stars for a while. We headed over to the marquee for a quick look before eventually we all headed off to bed as it was a slightly earlier start tomorrow for the road sportive.
I didn’t sleep much again and then the rain started at around 3am. I was therefore up and about fairly early. Too early really as we had run out of gas in our stove, Jay had locked his stove in his car and he was still asleep and the catering trailer with the free teas and coffees didn’t open until 7am. I therefore had to make do with just some weetabix and UHT milk until other people were up and about and the usual morning routine of lots of coffee and several breakfasts interspersed with portaloo visits could start.
The Road Sportive sets off at anytime between 8.30am and 9.30am and Jay and I headed off in about the 4th wave. Again, I shall post separately about the CRC Schwalbe Road Sportive but it’s most notable feature was that it was WET!
Everyone seemed happy enough in the campsite upon my return though, despite the pouring rain.
It had been torrential for hours and everything was soaked. There was little we could do about it though so after a quick lunch and a shower all we could do was don our waterproofs and start taking the tents down and loading up the cars. It really was pouring down and by the time we’d taken the poles out of the tent, a job that takes a minute or so, the tent was looking more like a paddling pool and was difficult to move thanks to the weight of the water on it. We had to tip it up from one end and try our best to fold it up whilst draining the water from it. There was no way we were going to be able to fold it up small enough to get it in the bag so we just stuffed it into the roof box as it was. Even this was difficult as lifting it up there was quite a task thanks to the weight of the water in it.
We jumped into the car feeling pretty soggy, said goodbye to the others who were also getting into their car and headed off for our journey home feeling damp and uncomfortable. We stopped off in Rhayader for a break but made good time and soon arrived back home where the rains had yet to come. Time to unpack the car, although only partially as the tent will have to wait for a dry day. We then had nice warm baths all round.
As usual, despite the rain on Sunday it was a good weekend. The rides are nice, but it’s the camping that really makes it. It’s nice to get away without too much to do and just relax for a few hours. Morgan likes seeing and playing with his cousins, Anna enjoys some time to relax and I like the riding and the whole atmosphere. There are other like-minded people around on the campsite but it’s generally a very chilled affair and everyone always seems really nice. It’s a perfect family weekend away really and it doesn’t cost too much which is always a bonus.