What I’ve learned during a spontaneous weekend of solo camping in Sussex

How did I end up pitching my old festival tent by myself in 35-mile-an-hour winds and lashing rain after work on a Friday evening?

I’d like to say that it was just a fun, spontaneous idea I had because I’m just a fun, spontaneous sort of women… but actually, it was more of a necessity than anything.

Here’s the situation. I’m currently pimping my flat out on Airbnb to summer holidaymakers who want to sample the delights of Eastbourne in exchange for money. Unfortunately, a covid-related incident meant that I no longer had an alternative place to safely stay for the weekend, and I didn’t think my guests would appreciate me hiding out in the spare bedroom. I thought about sleeping in my car. My parents offered me their summer house (not as fancy as it sounds – it’s essentially a shed in their garden). But I decided it would be a nice opportunity to go somewhere a little different with my tent.

For security reasons I won’t say exactly where I am, but it’s somewhere near the South Downs and it’s LOVELY.

It’s so lovely that I don’t know why I’ve never done this before. Yes, as I drove towards increasingly dark, ominous skies with a car full of duvets on Friday, I was a little worried my trip was going to end up on the news. ‘Fun spontaneous woman who fancied a spot of solo camping found drowned in her own tent’ kind of thing.

And yes, as I sat in my car with the rain hammering my windows, eating a vegetarian sausage roll I put in my bag at the last minute (well done, past me – it turned out to be all I had for dinner), I did once again question my decision to go camping in a storm.

Finally the rain stopped and I knew I had just minutes to act before it started again. At lighting speed, I rushed to get my tent, which I hadn’t opened since Reading Festival 2010 (no remnants of it thank god), pegged into the waterlogged ground before it could fly away. It was a challenge getting it up without assistance (everything outdoors-related sounds sexual by the way) but amazingly, I managed it. I spent about 10 minutes proudly viewing my tent from every angle, with my hands on my hips, before it started to hammer it down again.

But this time the rain was different. It was golden: illuminated by rays of sunshine escaping through cracks in the wind-whipped clouds, so it looked like a shower of glittering confetti.

Nature is always astounding but I think you notice it more when it aligns with how you feel inside. So even though I kind of knew the weather wasn’t reading my mind or communicating with me, I still felt pretty epiphanic when it popped a strikingly vivid, glimmering rainbow right in the field ahead of me, as though saying ‘you did it, Zoe. You erected (hehe) a tent in the wind on your own and now here is your reward.’

So, with my home for the weekend constructed, I made myself a comfy duvet nest and opened a bottle red wine my mum gave me, called A Fistful of Schist, which is an excellent name.

That night it was windy and rainy but in my expertly pegged tent, with a hammer cradled in my arms just in case, I felt safe.

The next morning I awoke bright and early (5.30am) because in the countryside, everything wakes bright and early and they like you to know about it, via various hacking, hawing, donkey-being-strangled kind of noises. You know, nice nature noises.

The rising sun pooled across the valley, highlighting the hills in a patchwork of green and buttery gold. I set off for an aimless wander, knowing I had the luxury of an entire day to explore. I found wildflower meadows filled with butterflies, neolithic burial mounds, far-reaching views across Sussex and, eventually a much-needed cup of tea with oat milk. I sat and drank it at a tiny church and thought pensive thoughts about life the universe and everything, but mainly about how delicious the tea was.

Solitude is an interesting thing. For some people it’s hell on earth. For others, especially introverts, it is balm for the soul. It is being worry-free. It’s doing exactly what you want, when you want. Next week my partner is returning to me after 6 months of absence. When he left, I felt like part of me had been removed. It is unusual for me to feel like that, because I’m an introvert and good company for me has always been a bonus, not a necessity. And of course, I can survive alone. We all can, if we handle it properly. But this time I felt his absence in my bones.

Over the months I got used to living alone again. I missed him and longed for him but I didn’t feel lonely because – as weird as this sounds, I have a close bond with myself. I’m alright, you know? I like my own company. I’m cool. And if you’re thinking ‘but I hate being alone, what does that say about me?’ all it says is that you’re probably overthinking it. If you want to feel more comfortable being alone, let yourself be alone. Practice it. As we yoga teachers sometimes say: sit with it. Notice the feelings but don’t let them become you. Or, just fill your social calendar up to your eyeballs and have a ball. There’s room for all of us.

Anyway, my take-away pizza has arrived and my battery is dying so I’m going to stop writing now and get back to my luxurious solitude. Thanks for reading!