There’s plenty of time this season to get out there and make the most of nature - and staying in the UK - by combining camping with a snorkelling trip, says Andy Torbet.
Campsites have cautiously reopened across the country (at the time of writing). With limited-service hotels getting booked out by the late-season holiday rush, the open-air nature and self-sufficiency of camping has much to recommend it right now. This applies especially to snorkelling getaways, which, not being so weighed down with kit, allow us a lot more freedom of movement.
One of the obvious advantages of sleeping next to the shore is wasting no time in the commute. Not only does this mean you can accomplish more in-water time but also affords the opportunity to start and finish at a time of your choosing. A sunrise, pre-crowd dip or a late-night dive is much more appealing when it’s on your front door.
Another plus point of camping I’ve discovered over the years is the way it opens up my awareness of the natural world. I find myself more in tune with the wind and weather, the waves, the sunrise and sunset and the ebb and flow of the tide.
This is not some abstract ‘oneness with the sea’ but simply because I can hear and feel the effects of the physical world around me far more keenly than if I was living in a brick building. I feel more alert to the changing conditions and more relaxed about entering the underwater world.
I should mention my favourite campsite – Porthkerris Cove in Cornwall. It’s not really a campsite in the traditional sense, although it has a camping field and some pitches for vans. Strictly speaking, it’s a dive centre with some camping, located in its own picturesque bay in Cornwall with some fantastic shore diving straight out of the door (or flap). I can park my motorhome on the beach and happily live there for a week. And have done… I think it’d be my retirement plan… if I had any intention of ever retiring.
Andy’s outdoors options
The bivi bag - back to basics
The most basic form, where you will sleep under the stars (or clouds – this is Britain so I make no promises). Your home is just a sleeping bag inside a bivi bag, effectively a waterproof cover for your sleeping bag. And that’s it. Normally, if I was in the mountains, I’d also have a foam mat to sleep on but if snorkelling and sleeping I just use my wetsuit. In doing so I can snorkel from cove to cove – with a buddy and the requisite shore cover, naturally.
When engaging in this level of expeditionary snorkelling, I roll my bivi up in a dry bag, along with some food and a small stove, and tow it behind me as I snorkel around the coast. The bag acts as a bit of a sea-anchor so don’t plan on going fast or too far but it’s a fantastic way to be super-simple. Maybe one best left for the summer though.
The tent – an obvious choice
Cheap and simple. Make sure you’ve got a system to keep your wet things secure outside. Taking a little wind-break or similar allows you to create an area to store wet kit that’s not on view. If you’re wild camping on the beach – an amazing thing to do – remember the tide comes in. You need to be absolutely sure of where it’ll reach in the night.
The car – four-wheeled solution
When I did my Britain by Snorkel project (it inspired this column back in 2011), I spent most of the summer sleeping in my car. I converted it to a one-man-campervan. You can’t pitch it anywhere like a bivi or tent but it has the advantage of being ready to jump into, regardless of weather, as soon as you pull the handbrake on. Have a look online for converter kits that can help convert the rear seating area into something that resembles a bed. A tricky one for tall people, perhaps, but they’ve had it coming for a long time.
Motorhomes – the civilised option
Now we’re talking. After years of campervans, I now have a motorhome. This takes outdoor living to another level with toilet, shower and kitchen. I can live and dive out of this for weeks and continue to work as well, something less easy if you’re slumming it in a bivi bag. For longer-term adventurers, it’s a fantastic option.
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Article by Andy Torbet for SCUBA magazine, issue 107 October 2020.
The image used for this months online version is a clip from SCUBA magazine.
Find out more about learning to snorkel or discover snorkelling in the UK.