The Art of Darkness - Part 2, Months One and Two: THE GLORY

As well as the terror, in the first two months there was quite a lot of glory.

8 Sept 2015, southwest France. I spend the morning in a total rage with myself because I’ve just paid over 14 Euros for a night at a forgettable campsite in the wrong direction, instead of facing my fear. I write in my notebook that the trick is to wait until night is about fall, and that expenditure on campsites can’t be justified purely for the purpose of having a shower. I feel slightly calmer for writing these ‘rules’ down and for buying the whole day’s food at LIDL. It’s a long day (140km) but I keep going because I can see a lake on the map. There are various camper vans (and a lot of human – specifically, karaoke – noise from a nearby holiday camp!), the lake is stunning and I feel thoroughly pleased with myself. Apart from the karaoke this kind of setting feels perfect and I sleep well.

20 Sept, eastern Portugal. Three weeks into the trip and I still spend every afternoon consumed with anxiety about whether I’ll be able to find somewhere I feel safe. This time I do something I still haven’t done enough of: I approach a fire station and ask if I can camp there. Instead, I’m ushered into the fire station gym where I sleep on a pile of mats and feel amused.

8 Oct, Costa Brava, Catalunya. After watching people watching Shakira filming a pop video on the beach at Tossa, and ruling out various camping spots on account of the extra police presence, I continue in the dark along the Costa Brava to the next resort where the map says there is a campsite. It’s closed but some lights are on. Some teenage boys are rowdily playing with their phones and I decide to approach them. They turn out to be German schoolboys on a school trip. I say I’m going to slip under the barrier and camp on the beach at the bottom of the campsite, don’t tell anyone, which they enjoy. I feel pleased with myself for how I handle this, and make a mental note to look out for more closed campsites. Bizarrely, the beach is automatically floodlit all night plus it’s very windy, so I don’t sleep well!

11 Oct, French Pyrenees. I cross the Spanish/French border via a high mountain pass as the sun sets. It’s completely dark and I’m very cold by the time I descend into Prats. I spot a couple of campervans by the river and briefly establish a connection with their middle-aged occupants before camping right next to them and sleeping well. I make a mental note to look out for more campervan parks like this.

14 Oct, Camargue. My friend Claire hosts me for a night in Montpelier and coaches me in the art of stealth camping. She says the secret is a remote spot you feel confident no one has seen you or will find you. Rationally I know she is right, so the next night I camp amongst pampas grasses in the Camargue national park, and for the first time while stealth camping sleep really well! This feels like an important turning point.

29 Oct, in the Corsican mountains. I cross another high mountain pass in the late afternoon and start to realise I won’t reach the town I had in mind. I stop at the side of the road to put on all my clothes. The autumn colours and light are absolutely stunning but I’m freezing and I start to get anxious, as usual at this time of day. As if from nowhere a campsite appears. It’s closed, but the pedestrian gate is open. I have a basically good night overlooking an extraordinary view, though the sound of two male voices on the road outside the campsite freaks me out for quite a while – had they seen my light?

1 Nov, Bonifacio, southern tip of Corsica. Last night in Corsica, first night of November. This is it: from now on I’m expecting to have to stealth camp every night and I feel exhausted by the prospect. I consider ducking under the barrier into the campsite (knowing it closed for the winter just the day before!) but there’s a car there. I’m just getting to the ‘highly agitated’ stage when I see a rare sight: a fellow cycle tourer, also searching for a camping spot. Without hesitation I ask if I can join him. He turns out to be a young Frenchman (whose parents saw fit to name him 'Alison'), we pool our ingredients and make a delicious supper. Interestingly (?) it sounds like Alison very rarely gets scared when stealth camping.