Back in 2010 I heard about the Backpacker's Club
and joined. It seemed obvious to combine two of my favourite activities, walking and camping. 2011 saw us making plans but we got a puppy which grounded us until he was tent trained. All the time I kept reading of backpacker's adventures in the club magazine. Daydreaming of getting outdoors with everything needed for an adventure in my rucksack.
This year I was determined to make it happen. Unfortunately the club didn't have any events in my neck-of-the-woods that I was free to attend. Searching for inspiration I asked on the forum. Tony Wilson and Darren Tipper suggested the Uffington to Lambourn weekend David Topley had put together in 2008. It looked perfect. Not too far between the campsites (7 miles), easy walking along the downs, and with ancient monuments on the way.
Talking about my plans on the club's Facebook page generated a fair bit of interest for exactly the same reason I'd not been able to make a club meet, not much on in the South East in June. So, from just an idea, all of a sudden my Berkshire backpack was an official club event. My first backpack and my first club meet. What had I done?! However, after emailing the local county liaisons, and Tony, and Darren, I received so much support in reply that my fears were allayed. Also using David's weekend as a basis for mine made it very easy to arrange.
In preparation, my husband, our two dogs, and I did a few training walks. Packing our Lightwave Wildtrek rucksacks with our lightest tent and everything we thought we'd need. Surprisingly it was easy to carry the load, probably because our rucksacks are so well designed. Thanks to blogpackinglight for the review that sent us in Lightwave's direction.
Before I knew it, it was Friday the 22nd of June and we were driving to Uffington. Rather than using the motorway we took the scenic route through Streatley and Wantage. It was a beautiful evening and a lovely drive. We arrived at Britchcombe Farm to find everyone already pitched and friendly greetings were exchanged. Geoff Gadsby had been knocked over by a car walking to the site but was okay apart from a few scrapes and a sore wrist. The car only stopped to make sure he was still moving before driving off! He'd pitched his tarptent at the bottom of the hill out of the wind. The rest of us braved the cold wind in the top field and we all enjoyed the beautiful sunset.
Britchcombe Farm's a surprisingly big site with multiple fields, portaloos, water taps, and (in most fields) campfires allowed. Up at the farm there's a washing up area and a shower and I saw a sign for teas. It was £7 per person (which I collected & handed in Friday night) and we were allowed to leave the cars Saturday night for a small donation to their favourite charity. The best bit is their proximity to the Ridgeway although the footpath to get there from the farm is pretty vertical!
Saturday morning dawned bright and clear with sunshine. Geoff Gafford arrived early to join us and we packed up and, in a number of small groups, headed South towards the Ridgeway and Uffington's White Horse. It was perfect walking weather. A cool breeze, sunshine and intermittent light showers. My husband, Nev, and I stopped at Waylands Smithy for a bite to eat after wandering around Uffington Castle and admiring the view North from the White Horse.
We took a footpath South, West of the Lambourn Downs Way path. Unfortunately the path disappeared under waist high crops and we ended up having to force our way through for a few kilometers. Exhausting hot work until we reached a small copse of trees where the path became clear again. There we stopped and brewed up some hot chocolate and attacked the jelly babies.
The way was much easier after that and we made good progress towards Lambourn, meeting friendly locals on foot and horseback on the way. Despite big black clouds and heavy rain in the distance we kept missing the showers and arrived at Farncombe Farm at 3.30pm after walking a total of 10 miles. Anne and Donald were already there enjoying afternoon tea and we pitched our tent nearby and did the same. Later on, after a much longer trek (in some cases including pub and chips), Geoff, Geoff, Grant, Frank, and John arrived too.
We were joined at Farncombe by a large group of DoEers. They pitched in another field and were no trouble at all. Liz and her family are terrific. They left their back door unlocked so we could use the house toilet so we wouldn't have to share with the school girls. A very welcoming site and at £4 a night a bargain too. I collected the damage from everyone and took it to SaraJane at the house, who was looking after the campsite for the weekend. Lambourn village is a bit of a trek down narrow country roads 2km away so we all settled in for the night and, as it got dark, the rain and wind arrived. Luckily the hatches were battened down. Grant was under his green handkerchief but was still there in the morning, along with a little group of black beetles who'd decided his tarp was the best place to shelter during that wild night.
Sunday morning, just in time for breakfast, the weather cleared up and we all headed off together, taking the most direct route back to Uffington. Once again it was a clear day with great visibility, windy with dramatic dark clouds on the horizon that we never caught up to. We walked along the gallops on the Lambourn Valley Way. Stopping for a snack in a lovely grassy spot where Don found the perfect sitting stone. Eventually we strung out as everyone walked at their own pace enjoying the fresh air and long views.
By lunchtime we were back at Britchcombe Farm picking up the cars and saying our goodbyes. It was such an enjoyable weekend I immediately decided to do it again as soon as possible. I can't thank the attendees enough and the other club members who offered advice and support for my first meet. Extra thanks go to Donald Betts who picked up Anne Ling at short notice when her lift fell through. It wouldn't have been the same without her. Backpackers are an easy-going and independent lot so it's very simple to arrange a meet. Low maintenance! I urge anyone whose thinking of having a go to do it, especially if you're in the South of England