Ultra lightweight camping in the New Forest
The CTC New Forest family camping week takes place in the last week of July. I've often meant to pay it a visit but had never previously got round to it. This year, I got organised for once, and booked myself in for the Wednesday night. As I was only going for one night it made sense to try to take as little as possible. I was very impressed by pictures I'd once seen on the CTC forum of someone who got all his camping gear into a saddle bag. Could I possibly do the same?
The first problem was that the guy in the pictures had a Carradice Camper Longflap, obviously designed for just this purpose. Unfortunately my saddlebag is about half the size and there isn't room between the saddle and the pannier rack for a larger one. The second problem was that my saddlebag was already half full before I even started! First task – remove all the junk and see what I really needed.
I obviously have a deep rooted fear of starvation! The big bag of tools would have to go – I replaced the Topeak Hexus with a mini 6 (I had 2 spare Powerlinks so shouldn't need the chain tool and I had a Crank Bros Speed Lever so didn't need the tyre levers either.) The CO2 inflator was a luxury I could live without. The emergency lights seemed a bit unnecessary in July but, in view of recent events, I decided the First Aid kit had better stay. That made a bit of space. Now for the camping kit. Tent, sleeping bag, thermarest and stove were obviously essentials. A large titanium mug served as both pan, bowl and cup. Half a Poundland camping mat protected the tent from damage by bungee cords and always comes in handy for sitting on. That just left spare clothes and food. I was tempted to not bother with spare clothes as the forecast was good, but decided I didn't really fancy wearing sweaty cycling togs all evening so added a thin long sleeved merino top, tracksters and underwear. Food was obviously a more important consideration. I considered just picking something up en route but decided to play safe and took a freeze dried Vegetable Tikka by Mountain House, an instant treacle pudding that had been a joke Xmas present and a measured bag of Muesli for the morning. 10 tea bags seemed likely to suffice.
So, the moment of truth, would it all fit in my saddlebag? (The tent would be bungeed on separately). Miraculously it did but it was a very tight squeeze and didn't allow for taking anything to eat en route (my jersey pockets would need to be stuffed with money, food and camera). I decided a handlebar bag could be added to give the desired extra capacity without undermining the ethos of the trip! There was no rain forecast but I also added a waterproof jacket as well as the wafer thin windproof.
Its a pleasant 20 mile ride to the ferry at Yarmouth to take me across to Lymington and the New Forest. The bike felt pretty light but trying to hammer up hills soon reminded me that, despite appearances, I was still carrying camping gear. I made my way to the rally site at Avon Tyrell (between Burley and Bransgore) in a big arc to give an extra thirty miles or so. I wouldn't normally visit the New Forest during school holidays. The tiny roads still gave good cycling but any road going directly to a tourist spot was very busy. I found the site easily enough. A huge field housed those in large tents, caravans and motor homes while a small wooded area was home to those more lightly equipped. I was made very welcome although my light load caused quite a stir, a few people were concerned that I couldn't possibly be comfortable with so little!
No prizes for guessing who had the smallest tent! It works fine for one. It may fit 2 scrawny fell runners on a mountain marathon but it couldn't sleep 2 in any sort of comfort. The tiny titanium pegs work well in hard ground but would need to be replaced with something more substantial on anything soft. My food supply was adequate. In fact the curry was surprisingly satisfying, but the treacle pudding was dire – more like an old washing up sponge than a sponge pudding! I'd cycled into Bransgore for the essential milk supply and had enjoyed meeting large numbers of cyclists returning to the site fom all directions. (There had been 250 cyclists there at the weekend.)
The organised ride the next day was to the Isle of Wight! I wasn't ready to go straight back so packed up and went back in another wide arc trying to avoid the traffic as much as possible. It had been a most enjoyable 2 days, I'll try to go for a little longer next year.
Finally no piece on the New Forest would be complete without some pictures of the famous wildlife.
If you want to know how lightweight it is possible to get see here.