“Maybe we should buy a tent.” Six words I thought would never fall from my lips.
Now, I’ve never been one of life’s natural campers. Pitching a tent has always been a mystery to me. I’m not overly keen on portaloos or chemical toilets. Fundamentally, I like my creature comforts too much.
In nearly 49 years, the sum total of my experiences of camping is as follows:
- A two-day camp with Cubs, aged eight or nine.
- An overnight Duke of Edinburgh group expedition as a teenager.
- One night in a borrowed one-person tent (which a friend put up for me) at a korfball tournament.
- Three nights at Camp Bestival in a pre-pitched tent.
- One night in Oxfordshire last year in a tent provided and put up for us by friends.
And that’s about it. As far as I’m concerned, Guy Ropes was part of the Gunpowder Plot and staying in static caravans is the closest I will ever get to owning a caravan myself.
That’s not to say I don’t see the attraction or benefits of camping. I do. It’s just that I’ve always been happier with a proper roof rather than canvas over my head. Preferably with an en suite bathroom.
However, my resistance has definitely softened over recent years.
Starting a family played a significant part in this attitudinal shirt. Pre-kids we travelled all over the world, staying in smart hotels in far-flung locations. But then the kids came along. Long-haul adventures were replaced by long weekends at Butlin’s. Four and five-star hotels were sacrificed at the altar of cheap family rooms and family-friendly holiday parks.
When there are suddenly five of you and you can only go away during school holidays, everything is much more expensive and complicated.
All of a sudden, camping didn’t seem like such a bad idea after all.
Camping with friends
We’ve just come back from a long weekend away with local friends. Six adults, seven children, one caravan and two tents at a campsite just outside Gloucester.
Our friends are all experienced campers, which was just as well. We have some of the gear from our previous, limited camping experiences. But we were reliant on our friends to (a) lend us a spare tent and (b) help us put it up. Now I’ve assembled plenty of flat-pack furniture in my time but putting up a six-person tent is definitely next-level stuff. You might as well ask me to design and build the Shard, Blue Peter-style, out of old cereal boxes, toilet rolls and some double-sided sticky tape.
Camping with seasoned pros has other advantages too. They have knowledge, experience and equipment that would never even occur to me to bring. Fire-pits and tripods for cooking. Axes for chopping up wood. Candles, torches and electric air pumps. Fairy lights and bunting for decoration. Even rugs and mats to make the inside of a tent more homely.
I know my place in this hierarchy. My role is to occupy the kids playing badminton and football while the real grown-ups do the serious stuff. And to occasionally ask if there’s anything I can do to help, bearing in mind that I have all the practical skills and utility of a chocolate oven glove.
But it works when you’re part of a big group. Everyone finds their own role and chips in however they can. For instance, I’m particularly good at making cups of tea and fetching beer. And providing music, portable chargers and other tech-related stuff. If it needs a plug or a USB cable, I’m your man. If it involves any form of survival skills or bushcraft, yeah, that’s not me.
The kids, of course, love the camping experience. Why wouldn’t they? They got to run around outdoors all day with friends. A couple of trips to swimming pools. Toasting marshmallows. Staying up late.
Okay, there was the occasional Lord of the Flies-style descent into madness which required some strong-armed mediation between tired and grumpy children. But that was about as stressful as it got. The kids had time and space to do stuff they wouldn’t normally do at home. And the adults got to sit around an open fire late into the evening chatting and drinking gin.
It was, dare I say it, really good fun.
Back to basics
Maybe it’s me getting older but I can increasingly see the attraction of a camping holiday. The more advanced and technologically cluttered our lives become, the more we benefit from getting away from it all – or at least getting away from most of it.
I’m not quite ready for a full-on back-to-basic approach, but I can appreciate ‘simpler’. The campsite we stayed at had a good toilet and shower block – these are ‘essential’ rather than ‘nice to have’ as far as I’m concerned. As are pitches with electricity points (to keep phones charged up and beers cold). We’re not talking about full-on glamping here – but you can keep your portaloos, thanks very much.
We’ll never be the sort of family who goes off camping on our own for a week at a time. However, the idea of spending long weekends with friends – as a low-cost complement to our bigger overseas holidays – no longer terrifies me. In fact, I’m positively excited by the prospect of doing this at least a couple of times next year. So I’m just off to browse some tents online now, just in case …