Truth be told, I am not one of life’s naturals when it comes to camping. I have as much in common with Bear Grylls as Piers Morgan does with Mother Teresa. But we all make sacrifices for our children, right?
Not that our kids are anything other than fair-weather campers, mind you. Literally. We had been camping once before, at Camp Bestival two years ago. That entire weekend it was a pleasant 20°C and sunny – the only time I got wet was when I accidentally spilled my beer. We spent three nights under canvas in a pre-pitched tent, having brought enough gear with us to make it look like we were moving house.
All the gear and no idea, that’s us.
So I had to chuckle when we joined our friends at Uffington last Saturday in 30°C sunshine. Fair-weather camping for us again.
However, they had arrived the previous evening in pretty much the only bad weather spell of this summer. Heavy rain. And freaky winds that appeared from nowhere to blow a double airbed into the air like a giant blue kite before ending up high in the branches of a tree. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen the video.
The kids didn’t care, of course. They dived straight in to playing with their friends. Some they had seen recently; others not for several months. It makes no difference. Kids are like that, right? They soon picked up wherever they had left off: chatting, playing badminton or football, plotting world domination. (That would be Kara, obviously.)
Oh, and waging war with the kids from the neighbouring pitch. That’s one of those summer holiday rites of passage, isn’t it? Amusing to watch it develop in a we’re-hands-off-super-chill-parents way. Less amusing when they start glaring at each other across an invisible battle line, firing off angry tweets in ALL CAPS at each other. Or something. It was like a junior recreation of the Korean Demilitarised Zone.
It’s noticeable how Kara – at six, one of the youngest of our group – is perhaps the biggest ringleader of the lot. She rallies her troops around her and employs a piercing hard stare that would make Paddington proud. You just know she wouldn’t hesitate to use the nuclear launch codes if provoked.
Anyhow, I digress.
Our Saturday afternoon started with a hike across parched fields to Uffington village for a revitalising beer (or three) and a pub lunch. (Table for 22, please.) This included an unexpected crossing of a steeply banked ditch which under normal conditions would have been a small stream. Fortunately it was dry or we would have arrived at the pub looking like we had just completed a Tough Mudder course. Obviously, I traversed this with my usual balletic grace and poise. Ahem.
After returning to the campsite a game of football broke out. That was the cue for a split between Competitive Dads™ (yes, you, Neil) and Pedestrian Dads® (that would be me). In my mind, I’m a N’Golo Kanté-style midfield ball-winner; in reality, I’m just N’Golo Can’t, midfield training cone.
Afternoon turned to evening, which meant getting down to the serious business of proper camping activities. It was a bit like a 21st century version of the Wild West. Circling the
wagons people carriers around our encampment. Manning the barbecues and later toasting marshmallows over an open fire. Stumbling to and from the portaloos in the dark. Trying to convince the kids that 11pm really was bedtime. Bare-knuckle brawls over who got to control the music playlist. #FirstWorldProblems.
Sod’s Law (Camping Edition) states that the last to bed is inevitably the first to rise. And so, after 4½ hours’ fitful sleep during which I gave myself friction burns every time I tried to roll over and stuck to the airbed, that ended up being me. Emerging from your tent at 6:15 on a Sunday morning in a sleepy, hungover campsite is like finding yourself in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. 28 Days Later, only with more kids’ toys to trip over.
Only on a camping trip could we feed the kids marshmallows for breakfast and no one bats an eyelid. Of course, the adults were much healthier with our repast of bacon rolls, eggs and barbecue leftovers. (Tomato ketchup counts as one of your five a day, doesn’t it?)
That left time for the kids to squeeze in a final play while we packed up ready to head off. A quick stop for ice cream – after the marshmallows, we figured we might as well double down on the sugar – and then a quick climb up the hill to take a look at the White Horse before finally heading for home and the comfort of a shower.
It definitely helped doing this trip with friends. We weren’t all there all the time but there were 24 of us – 12 adults, 12 children – from six families over the weekend and that mix and communal spirit just added to the fun. It was certainly more fun and less stressful than if it had just been the five of us.
In all, we were only away for a little over 24 hours but I came back feeling more relaxed than I often do after a week’s holiday. There’s something about being away with no fixed agenda and without all the usual mod cons (okay, except for phones) that helps clear the mind. And even though I’m not a natural camper, I was a happy one nonetheless.
Of course, the moment we set foot back in the house, the children were straight back on to their tablets. But I guess they’d earned that much.
Would I do it again? Absolutely, yes. Although I’m definitely more about the barbecue grills than I am Bear Grylls.