It was the summer of 1977. Two young men, just out of university and living a carefree life, were walking the Pennine Way, a long-distance route leading from Derbyshire, which is roughly in the middle of the country, up to the Scottish borders. "Along the backbone of England" is the phrase used in the guide books and maps showed something that looked like a line of mountains. On the ground there proved to be areas of incredible beauty connected by stretches of endless dreary moorland. Or, from our point of view at the time, long trudges between one pub and the next.
Today's exertions had led us by Cotherstone Moor to Balderhead Reservoir and eventually down into the fabled Teesdale which Pete had been talking about incessantly for the last few hours. Pete was an enthusiastic botanist and Teesdale held promise of rare specimens not to be found elsewhere. But that was in another part of Teesdale. We had descended beneath grey and ominous skies into a rather dreary Middleton-in-Teesdale where there were rumours of a campsite.
We stumbled upon it as the skies began to open. The charge for pitching a tent was outrageously high. "There's a space over there", said the man in the office, pointing to a rough slope of stony ground, "Come back and pay once you've settled in", he shouted through the steady-falling rain. Our fellow campers were comfortably accommodated in chalets and touring caravans, eating their evening meal and quaffing their wine. We'd be much happier crouched in our leaky tent and cooking our freeze-dried ready-meal on the camping-gas stove. We lied a lot to ourselves in those days.
We huddled damply around the simmering slops of food. The little pieces of grass added both flavour and protein to the meal and we wolfed it down voraciously before wandering off through the drizzle in search of the nearest pub. It was a cheerless place but after a while it was enlivened by the arrival of some loud Welshmen. We fell into conversation with them and discovered that they were staying at the same campsite - "Hanging on the side of a mountain our tent is, see?"
Funds were running low and we knew we still had to pay for the night's camping so we swayed back to our inadequate quarters and crawled into our sleeping bags. Just as we were drifting off to sleep we were rudely awakened by the sound of "Men Of Harlech" getting closer and closer. A loud banging sound came from close by, "Wake up, you softies. ******** caravanners! It's lovely out 'ere in the dark and rain!" Laughing and more crashing about ensued then a quite lovely rendition of "Land Of My Fathers", lovely if you're not trying to sleep anyway. Following this, rather than the deserved applause, were more curses and insults in Welsh accents, then an unmistakable English accent with a reasoned argument for repatriation. Pete and I listened with amusement for some time.
"Right now, Bonny Lads, we've been summoned here to remove you from the campsite. You've occasioned the annoyance of other campers and the manager has asked us to evict you, which is what is about to happen forthwith."
"Aw, sorry, officer," said a pleading voice, "Just 'aving a bit of fun, no 'arm done, see"
"Come on, Bonny Lads, or do we arrest you for a breach of the peace?" said a stern voice. Much mumbling and muttering and the sound of a tent being taken down. Then, suddenly, the roof of our tent , which we were observing disinterestedly while trying to stifle our mirth, descended with worrying rapidity.
"You drunken Welsh ****!" I exclaimed.
"Very sorry, sir, must've tripped on a guy rope." said the apologetic voice of the law as we struggled to extricate ourselves from beneath a large policeman.
"I suppose we'll laugh about this one day", philosophised Pete next morning, "The Night The Law Came Down Heavily Upon Us", he chuckled as he pulled on his socks.
"You know what cheers me up at the moment?" I asked, "We haven't actually paid for this shenanigans yet. Reckon we can be gone before anyone's about?"
We didn't see why we should pay for such a terrible night and hastened to leave without paying. The tent came down with unusual speed. But just as we were about to stow it in the rucksacks the manager of the site hove unwelcomely into view, obviously about to charge us the extortionate fee.
"Sorry about the little problem last night, boys," he said, "Here's a full refund." And he pressed a crisp banknote into my hand. Well, what would you have done? Come on now, what would you have done?
What we did was the next four miles in just under an hour!