As the weather is about to radically change I am wistfully packing away the last of the camping gear. The old scout tent has seen three decades of happy campers and is stowed with my new best outdoors buddy: a cast iron griddle, perfect on an open fire and ideal for our mutton burgers or scotch pancakes.
We had a fantastic warm and dry last week of the holidays camping in the woods on the farm but actually could have camped almost any week this summer. After last year there are no complaints from this farmer despite little grass! Beth and Jack lived as Bear Grylls, whittling sticks, sleeping in a jungle hammock and wearing the same t-shirt most of the week whilst I was more of a Rachel Mears, popping home for a shower and concentrating on nourishing food! Is it an age or time thing: will I ever return to the rugged days of camping at minus twenty degrees centigrade in the Rockies, surviving on dehydrated packet meals and a one-inch roll mat?
Well, no complaints about the weather but I was a decidedly unhappy and itchy camper after just 24 hours. I looked like I had chicken pox with a livid concentration of pruritic red pustules around my waist, shoulders and armpits. The loathsome larvae of the trombiculidae. Or the more commonly termed harvest mites. Often called chiggers in N America, they are tiny orange-coloured creatures, less than 0.5mm in diameter, related to ticks. The larval stage of this mite is particularly active at the moment, living on tall grass or other vegetation but preferring damp areas like woodland, and therefore also those sweaty waistbands and armpits! They bite the host, which could be a deer, dog, cat, other insect or you and me and inject digestive enzymes that break down the skin cells that they then suck up as a sort of protein soup. Believe me, this can cause intense irritation and sleepless nights despite an airbed and duvet accompanying me on this alfresco trip. Fortunately there is no disease transmission in this country.
It was no surprise then to see dear Bertie the spaniel chewing his feet like mad and finding tell-tale orange harvest mite larvae lodged between his toes in consults. I readily gave the poor chap an appropriate spray, anti-histamines and cortisone to calm the situation down. Personally I found a good slug of brandy in my hot chocolate around the camp fire very therapeutic!