For camel trekking, try Somerset

Surreal? Certainly. But if you've got the hump with horse riding, why not go west aboard a charming, stately creature, asks Rupert Isaacson
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The fire, laboriously built, is now crackling nicely. The tents are pitched and dinner is not far off. Around you lie the camels, relaxed and contented after their day's trek. A little stiff, you sit, equally contented after your long day astride a slowly swaying beast, nursing a mug of coffee and staring at the flames. You look up to see the moon come up over the bare heights of Gaza, over the acute silhouette of the Great Pyramid, over the massed palm trees of the Nile Bank, over the cracked and jagged peaks of the Hoggar Mountains of the Sahara's harsh interior, over the endless expanses of the Gobi. Anywhere your imagination wants to go. Because you're not in the Middle East, nor North Africa, nor central Asia, but in Somerset. You look up and see the moon rise over the Quantock hills, the camels munching contentedly on their hay.

It sounds strange. Yet why not? How very British and eccentric to find a camel trekking centre nestled in the lush hills of the West Country. You've certainly freaked out everyone else on the bridleway that day, including shying ponies, barking dogs and open-mouthed children, as you made your stately way along the track to the open moor. For camels are nothing if not dignified, responding not to kicks of the heels, nor even to pleading entreaty as they go at their own pace, thank you very much, (adrenaline junkies might get a little frustrated on a camel trek) but they get you there and can cover more ground in a day than any other trekking animal. Why take a camel trek in Britain? Apart from the sheer surrealness of it (as good a reason as any, let's face it), camels do offer a very different perspective on a landscape. You are much, much higher than you would be on a horse and sit far above hedgerow, and sometimes even tree height. You always have a commanding view, whether into someone's back garden ("Mummy, it's those camel people again") or out over the green patchwork of the countryside. The beasts themselves are also charming, despite their reputation for kicking and biting. They graciously consent to let you on their backs by kneeling down for you to clamber on, they will not, like horses, shy at plastic bags and run away from imaginary ghosts in the gorse.

The Bridgwater Camel Company, which operates from a farm at the foot of the Quantocks in Somerset, offers guided camel rides by the hour, half- day, day or overnight treks sleeping under canvas, the camels forming a protective ring around your tents. You have to supply a sleeping-bag, sleeping-mat, clothes and toiletries, but food and other equipment are provided.

Pretty much anyone can take a camel trek; there are even opportunities for disabled people. But if you've got a bad back don't try it, and if heights scare you, give this one a miss. You are seated way up high, are precariously balanced and there is much swaying into the bargain.

If you have a decent sense of balance, however, you'll enjoy the strange motion, as it is very much like being on a boat in a strong, but steady swell. But best of all is the dinner-party mileage it gives: "Do anything last weekend?"

"Oh not much, just trekked through Somerset on a camel; nice creature ate a rambler's woolly hat; would keep groaning at night though ...."

camel trekKing Fact file

BASICS

Camel Trekking, the Bridgwater Camel Company, Orchard Farm, Plainsfield, Over Stowey, Bridgwater, Somerset, TA5 1HH. Tel: 01278 733 186.

SEASON

All year.

ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD

Camping or, if bad weather, in an old chapel. Full board provided.

CHILDREN

Children over three welcome.

DISABLED FACILITIES

Some disabled people can be accommodated, ring the company to discuss possibilities.

INSURANCE

Riders should provide their own holiday insurance.

AFFILIATIONS

Somerset Tourist Board.

TARIFFS

Hour's ride, pounds 10 adult or child; half-day ride, pounds 36 adult, pounds 18 child; full day's ride, pounds 69 adult, pounds 35 child; overnight ride, pounds 120 adult, pounds 50 child including lunch, dinner and breakfast, as well as tent.

BOOKING

pounds 10 deposit for each person, for any type of ride.

ACCESS

Between Minehead and Taunton in Somerset. From the M5, exit at Junction 23 (the Bridgwater exit), then go north to the A39 to Cottage Inn and follow the sign for Taunton. After two miles you'll come to the hamlet of Plainsfield, where Orchard Farm, the camel centre, is located.

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