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Pitch perfect – not!

In an ideal camping experience, you awake to dawn breaking over the valley below with the stove ready for the morning brew. High in your eyrie, the tent faces the rising sun and all is well with the world. Would that it was always so. Hard-won lessons mean that forward planning now has a fairly high priority. It was not always so.

On a trip to Corsica to explore the GR20 long distance path running the length of the island, casual planning had the trip unravelling from the start. Confident that methylated spirits would be readily available, the trusty Trangia had been packed along with a new fuel bottle – empty to avoid a strip search at the airport.

Wandering around Ajaccio’s streets at noon, it became apparent that forgetting French customs had been an oversight. No shops opened until 2pm and, when they did, nobody had ‘le meths’.

By 4pm, the bus to the village at the walk’s start had left and it was time to fall back on the universally reliable Camping Gaz (as it was then). Buying a picnic stove and gas cartridges took only minutes but the day felt wasted.

The first bus in the morning left early – too early to head up the coast to a campsite. Instead, with a couple of beers and some fresh food, we headed out of town. A pleasant park seemed an ideal place to eat and bivvy, ready for an early start. It almost worked out.

As night fell, so the gendarmes arrived and moved us on. Happily, they recognised that we were outdoor folk rather than vagrants but the monument to Napoleon deserved respect (it had escaped our attention).

By now, it was dark and we had forgotten our torches in the mad rush to catch a train to the airport that morning. Stumbling along the road, we considered options. The tight budget ruled out a hotel and the houses lining the road ruled out pitching our little tent.

On we strode with fingers crossed, until we noticed a rough track off to our left. It didn’t look like the driveway of a house so we peeled off. Before long, level ground opened up and we dropped the packs. Distant thunder meant we decided to pitch the flysheet only, in case of rain, and were soon asleep.

After such a long fraught day, it was a combination of the heat of the sun full on the tent and a horrible smell that woke me in the morning. Unzipping the fly, it became obvious that we were camped on a rubbish tip. Hideous. Waking my brother, he slipped out of his sleeping bag and trod on a dead rat.

We rushed to regain the road and head for town. The bus left with us clutching new torches tightly. We agreed that one day we would laugh about the experience. We did – about ten years later.

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