As the wind trundled us over the final undulations, my companion hazarded an inquiry as to whether there was any likelihood of other camping company apart from that of our own particular club, and my mount swerved wildly. I recovered physical and mental balance, and bade him be prepared to share his camp-site with a few score of tents, for we were riding to the Bolton-by-Bowland meet, a function well liked by the Bedouins of the bicycle, and usually productive of record gatherings of the tribe.
We glided around a corner, and I pointed downward. Half a mile away, framed against the fresh green of grass and the more sombre timber, were a round score of tiny tents — green, white, brown — and even as we looked three more sprang simultaneously, as though conjured by some occult hand, from the earth. Then the swooping road carried us out of view, and we rode through a drizzle of thin rain into the grey village to the inn yard.
We dismounted with half a dozen other riders and unstrapped packs with them, walked across a glistening, springy field towards where, on a strip of meadow bounded by twin streams, tents stood and were being unfurled, stoves purred their lay of promise to many an aching void, and the broad-vowelled dialects of a score of Northern towns drifted uncannily out from the depths of the tents.
More and More Arrivals.
We spilled the contents of our packs and panniers. and. within a few moments had the baffled drizzle crackling malevolently on the frail, yet all-sufficient, shelters. I pawed hastily amongst my scattered kit, then, can in hand, dived-neatly through my doors into a cluster of belated club-mates who, even ere they dismounted, were demanding milk. Their two tents flickered swiftly up, and I hastened over the lea with the milk cans. Cyclists, man and maid, came towards me with luggage held tightly in their arms and "Cheerio!” coming easily from their lips, despite their rain-beaded hair and gleaming capes. Scores of brakes were squealing and feet dragging in the inn-yard, and, as I entered the inn, feeling vastly self-conscious with my twin tins, I saw the village alive with the invading. riders, vibrant with the hum of wheels, the clang of bells, and voices merry despite the grouse which some of them conveyed. And still they came.
Back in the tent again, and through the rustle of the rain and the song of the stove, new voices — singing, greeting, complaining — of still more weather-contemptuous cyclists came; still more tents arose. The vain, mocked thus into impotence, ceased, and, at the call which went around our four tents, our party passed out into the calm, sweet-smelling evening, The tight-packed huddle of machines in the yard grew apace.
The rain came again as we made our varied purchases at the little general store and emerged counting over the plentiful halfpence which formed the bulk of the change. We spent the remainder of the evening in the firelit warmth of the inn, amusing the natives by our efforts to master the tiny billiard table, drinking in moderation, commenting occasionally and bitingly upon the spectacle, often seen through the blurred windows, of campers almost hidden neath burdens of hay. I once forsook cue and glass to go hunting hay for a pair of lady club mates, My before-bed census revealed that, at Bolton-by-Bowland on that wretched night in the merry month of May, ninety-four lightweight tents; were pitched, and later came the official total of their inhabitants, one hundred and forty.
A record, this, for gatherings of this nature, and a circumstance that was naturally commented upon by the speakers who drew us, on the following afternoon, to the village green and its ancient stone cross. The speakers mentioned the figures and drew the inevitable moral from them. But I am inclined to doubt whether all of these findings, delivered eloquently to an audience of some 400, were quite accurate.
It is rather to be doubted that, for instance, this remarkable spectacle was even in the slightest way due to the industrial depression which has so cruelly ravaged our Northern shires. Good camping kit is expensive, and up to the present I have been unable to discover that cycle-camping is the least expensive form of touring. We campers were told that we were courageous beings, noble crusaders in the fight against present-day indolence and pampered living.
That, if it be true, is a dreadful thing. It implies that camping, like cycling and wearing shorts, is another glorious game which stands in grave danger of being converted into a mere "movement.” But possibly, and happily, the halo may be undeserved. We cycle campers may not be idealists, we may be just plain — well, irresponsibles, fools, what you will, Mr Non-cyclist! In that case, the sight and sound of us should convince anyone that Folly and Happiness are twin sisters, and growing with each other. Possibly this camping is just a habit with us, and draws us out, willy-nilly, wet or fine, even as does the parent pastime.
The Soul of Camping.
Let us cease fencing over this matter, Why do we camp — who do I camp? I enjoy a full night’s sleep — I have never had one in camp. Chill winds and rain are almost torture to me. I am not a strong rider, having taken to the cycle comparatively late in life, having only at the age of 22, turned my feet from accelerators to pedals. Yet I am a cycle-camper, and my reasons for being one are best summed up, deplorably enough, in an Americanism. I, through the medium of the game, “do places, meet folks, do things.”
I am living, learning, and, above all, making friends, for in our game one meets many who worship the same things, have certain feelings in common. Our friendships last, too, for many of us do not meet often enough to get to know each other thoroughly. We meet on such occasions as Bolton-by-Bowland, and shall keep on meeting. What matters wind, rain, cold, when at any moment one may have the thrill of the ritual with which these mad English cement their friendships, the back-bruising blow, irate eyes meeting quizzical ones, dawning, spreading grins, swearwords, and lastly, reluctantly (because it is so darned demonstrative) the grip?