In July 1897, Thomas Hiram Holding invents the first portable lightweight tent for carrying on a bicycle. He and three friends go to Ireland and try a short cycle camping trip. Two of their bicycles are an odd type terribly unsuited to touring so progress is far slower than expected, and even the two more modern bikes are only single-speed, but they manage 140 miles over three days and two nights.
T.H. Holding enthuses about camping as “a bit more work, yet the utter self-willedness, the abandon … the independence it gives are incomparably superior to anything the Hotel can offer” to “untwist the over-strained brain, to relax the over-wrought nerve.” On hotel expense: “let these tariffs no longer stop the poorer cycle man from his rightful feast of fresh air and the grandest scenery his country offers.”
Holding describes in detail how he cooks full meals for four men on one tiny campstove. They buy hot potatoes and eggs from cottages, where sometimes cattle live in the same room as the people. In one Irish-speaking area he can’t make himself understood, even standing next to a field of potatoes, and they often find a strange reluctance to provide buttermilk when asked.
Their first-ever camp is preceded by a requirement to spend an hour helping a farmer fork hay into haycocks. They find a sheltered corner of his field which meets Holding’s requirements for a campsite. They start by spreading hay under the groundsheet and pitch the tent for the first time. Food..... The four men sleep on a six by six foot floorspace though one of them is 14 stone.
Along the way, one of their tyres gets a puncture from a ginger beer wire. Twice. A valve is damaged by accident and a visit made to a blacksmith for repair. A strong wind “in its spiral peregrinations twisted fine granite in wild waves and blew them upon us” as they ride, reducing their speed to four miles per hour. Rain makes the unpaved roads into deep slippery mud between ridges of sharp broken stone.
Along the way, Holding and friends visit castles, ruins, churches, standing stones, historic monuments, a cave, and much more. They pass donkeys loaded with baskets of peat, and a mailcoach drawn by two horses which serves also as local transport and has “always a policeman and a soldier, a man in tweeds and a serious-looking person in a soft-hat, and sometimes a couple of people on these coaches with their portmanteaus and trunks.” Another cart carries a man with a fishing rod and a woman with a bicycle and another, a piano. They come across a massive encampment of the Ordnance Survey at work in a valley. The impossibility of being told accurate distances is noted (“this, of course, everyone who has toured in Ireland has found out for himself before today”).
The four end their journey feeling it was a great success. Holding provides illustrations of how to make a tent and poles, compares linen vs cotton as tent material, shows essentials including how to tie knots, and make a hanging candle holder for light. He describes the complicated use of the double-wick copper campstove, ideal eating utensils, where to get small tins made, how to carry cooked fruit and bread, how to stay dry, and much more to help others enjoy this new activity. He concludes with “Should there be any difficulty in which the author - though a busy man - can help a brother wheelman he will promise to do what he can. If letters are not answered promptly by return or very lengthy ones should receive short replies this explanation must be taken as the reason.”
Note: Two Shillings a Day is a faithful adaptation of the true story Cycle and Camp written in 1897 by T.H. Holding, a London tailor who started today’s Camping and Caravanning Club and became known as the “father of modern camping.” Every word is in Holding’s own idiosyncratic voice from his book, which reads like a cross between a how-to manual, a travelogue, and a social history of Victorian Ireland.