September 15, 2014 by campingmag
If nothing else, this challenge has been an education. Until I started, I’d never been to Hertfordshire and, to be honest, I wasn’t even very sure where it was. I thought I did know two things about the county, but it turns out it’s actually Herefordshire that’s famous for cattle and cider. Awkward.
So I checked a map and discovered to my surprise that Hertfordshire is actually quite near London – in fact it’s one of the Home Counties, along with Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Surrey and Sussex.
And while it may not have cows or apple drinks, it does have some claims to fame, such as the world’s first garden city (Letchworth was created in 1903) and Britain’s first post-war New Town (Stevenage). Rather more interestingly it’s also the home of Elstree Studios, where some of our favourite film and TV shows have been filmed, including the first three Star Wars movies, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Grange Hill, Eastenders, Big Brother and many more.
Anyway, now that I knew where it was I had no reason not to visit so I booked a pitch at the Lee Valley site at Dobbs Weir. My trip tied in with a review I was doing of the new Opus folding camper, meaning I had a touch more luxury than I’m used to.
If you’re a regular reader of Camping magazine you may already know that I have history with folding campers. Back in 2010 my family enjoyed an extended summer holiday touring round Britain in a vintage (i.e. old) Pennine and the following year I actually lived in it on a campsite for several months. My abiding memory was having to poke the roof with a stick at dawn every morning to get rid of the birds that were feeding off the assorted detritus that had landed on it overnight. Good times.
The old Pennine was great for what it was and we had some wonderful family holidays in it. In its day it had been the height of folding camper luxury, but by the time we got hold of it, in truth, it was a bit of a wreck. In contrast, the Opus was pristine, comfortable and packed with the sort of extravagances tent campers can usually only dream of. A cooker, a microwave and a fridge were all standard issue, as well as LED floor lighting, comfy sofas and REAL BEDS. “That’s not real camping, it’s caravanning,” I hear some you complain. And to you I say, “Thphhht”. It is camping (it’s called a folding CAMPER for heaven’s sake) and that’s the end of it.
The Opus took about half an hour to pitch (you see, “pitch”. That’s camping, that is. You don’t pitch a caravan) leaving me plenty time to explore the area. Dobbs Weir is part of the 10,000 acre Lee Valley regional park – created as a “green lung” for London, Essex and Hertfordshire where you can enjoy relaxing walks, do a spot of wildlife watching, try some fishing or take part in various watersports. The Weir itself is just across the road from the campsite and is an oasis of tranquility. It’s the ideal spot for a picnic or you can pop into the Fish and Eels pub for a pint of real ale or a bite to eat.
I wandered around for a bit until the rain started and I was forced indoors. My plan for the evening was either to go to the pub or head to nearby Harlow, where the local football team Harlow Town were taking on Essex rivals Romford in the Isthmian League. Surprisingly I chose the latter, which is why I found myself with 200 other dedicated souls at the grandly-named Harlow Arena. Forget the highly-paid prima donnas of the Premiership, this is where real football happens. It’s a world away from Falcao, Costa, Balotelli and co but the passion for the game among the players, fans and officials is still there – in fact it’s probably even greater.